World 36: Bleach

I GIVE YOU EVERYTHING

Previously: War & Remembrance & Nine Weirdos Go to Johto

Themesong: Zoot Suit Riot by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

AN: Be aware that this jump uses the original Bleach Jump rather than the Bleach Reborn Jump or the nuBleach Jump or the German Hollow Quest Jump. This is because the other three did not exist when I wrote this originally, and changing the build would seriously change what happens.

Being myself again after forty seasons of being an Otter took… adjustment. More adjustment than normal, since her personality hadn’t had the centuries and millennia of memories that the others had to fall back on. Even the Maegi God-Kings had developed access to their other memories as they grew into their full power, though the process had usually taken between six and eleven years to fully manifest… if you’ll forgive the pun. But Athena Bellwether (who had been Symbeline Jumper before the shipwreck and subsequent amnesia) had had none of those memories to fall back on, and so her baseline state was more a mirror of the gestalt of all my personas than a continuation of the previous state… which was both good and bad. Still, she was me and I was her… as much as we are ever who we have been in the past.

The others were, to various extents, going through the same troubles, though Zane and I had a greater ability to cope than most of them, thanks to Astral Layers (ironically enough). For us, it wasn’t a sudden shock, it was like waking up from an extremely vivid dream, but with an adjustment period. For the rest it was a bit more like two glasses of liquids being poured together, two personas merging… though the older, wiser, and much more dominant personas absorbed the smaller single lifetime ones like a soup absorbs a flavoring packet.

VIctoria described it as, “feeling like climbing out of a box you didn’t realize you were in.” which, I think, said it best. 

Ryoga said, “It feels like I spent 40 years eating cheese.” which said it… not best.

Zane said “Wanna see something cool?” and transformed into a giant freaking 8 foot tall owl… then into a normal snowy owl and back and forth for several seconds… which started a whole round of transforming back and forth from barely anthropomorphic human-sized animals to normal animals and back again.

“Jinkies” said Velma, as she walked in on the sizeshifting anthroparty. She looked tanned, fit, and gave me a huge hug as soon as she’d made her way through the impromptu menagerie. “Are you feeling any better?” she asked, concern clear in her voice. I guessed that she’d either forgiven me, or decided not to let the event destroy our relationship.

Nodding, I smiled at her, even as I swallowed my lingering darkness. I hadn’t forgiven myself… and wasn’t certain that the last decade had been a good test in any meaningful way, but it had given me distance that I’d very much needed… and I hadn’t done anything too stupid over those long seasons… how do seasons seem as long as years? I can’t really say… but at the time… they did.

“Yeah… I’m on the mend,” I finally said. “Did you have fun? Did you bring me a Pokebox System? Keeping track of all these Pokeballs is getting tricky.” I looked around for the others, and spotted Petra hoisting a box of computer components. I also noted that the crowd of weaseloids around Ziggy seemed a great deal larger than it normally was. “There’s a story here, isn’t there?” I asked, quirking an eyebrow. 

“Oh… not much of one,” Velma said, “but I’ll tell you about it if you’re interested?” Once I’d had the the complete rundown… which included tales of Cirno accidentally aiding / thwarting / dating members of team rocket, Kenda failing to get all eight badges in either Johto or Kanto, and Velma failing to get even four badges in three different leagues… I turned to my PokePanions to get their take on the events of the past decade… and to examine the twenty-six wild pokemon who’d followed Ziggy and the Daughters of Zig into my Warehouse as if they’d been invited.

“AJ? Dare I ask who invited this lot?” Velma had already explained that they appeared to be just a small sampling of the Zigster’s byblows… and that my little fuzzy buddy had spent the last ten years seeing just how many members of the Field Group he could inflict the ‘With Egg’ status on. AJ looked a little at a loss for words, and deeply embarrassed by the situation, so I turned to Francine. “Do you have an explanation?”

“Nuh huh!” she insisted, flickering between her human and Alakazam form… a form she abjectly hated being in if she didn’t have to be… the migraines caused by having a brain too big for her skull (the most common killer of her species) weren’t as big a problem since we’d gotten the Companion Body Mod Pod, but they still were a regular issue that would take quite a bit of genetic engineering to get rid of. “We tried to get them to go away, but some of them wouldn’t and the Daughters got aggressive if we tried to shoo them off.”

Petra grinned, and added, “We did give a bunch of them to good homes… there have been almost six hundred of them.”

“That we know about,” Dyna added, holding up a female Furret that was bigger than she was. Furrets are the evolved form of Sentrets, and while the Sentret is a fairly large flying squirrel-like pokemon that stands some eighty centimeters tall (2’7″), a Furret stands a full meter taller (5’11”) though much of their body is tail. By comparison, Ziggy was a Linoone… and though he was a big boy for his species, he was just over sixty centimeters long. Dyna, meanwhile, was a hundred-and-seventy cm (5’7″) and though she was denser, the Furret she was holding was far fluffier, nearly concealing the redhead completely in brown and darker brown fur.

“That we know about,” Petra agreed. “That’s Wompus McGee, she’s holding by the way.” The Furret waved a little paw at me, then yawned hugely, showing off fangs that would have done a sabertooth tiger proud. There were four… or I guess five… ferret-like Pokemon; the Zigzagoon/Linoone line (which included Ziggy), the Sentret/Furret Line (which included Wompus), the Buizel/Floatzel line of aquatic weasel-kin, the cat-ferret Zangoose which didn’t evolve into or from another type, and the Gumshoos (which, according to Velma, evolved from the Yungoos). Of them, Furret was the weakest and largest by a large margin in both regards… though to be fair, Linoone was the only one of all of them that wasn’t considered too weak to actually use in competition… and that was due entirely to just how broken the Linoone’s speed and gluttony abilities were when combined with the move Belly Drum which a Linoone could use to max out their attack.

I groaned. “You named them?” Naming them would make them sooooo much harder to get rid of! I did not need… I counted… five Bidoofs, two Bibarels, six Sentrets, three Furrets, four Skitties, two Swinubs, a Lillipup, a Gumshoos (something I’d never seen before that had to have come from a later generation), a photonegative Zangoose that I was all too worried was a Shadow Pokemon, and a shiny Pachirisu. The power trainer in me cringed at the line up… only Lillipup and Swinub weren’t tiered as Utterly Useless. The logical part of my mind was busy throttling the emotional part that was squeeing at the cuteness of all that fluffiness. There were actual fist-fights breaking out inside the council hall of my psyche. I might have issues.

“Not all of them!” AJ said. “Dyna named Wompus… I only named Samarkandy,” he explained, pointing to the Zangoose, which was a bipedal black creature with a blue lightning-bolt patch across her chest. “She’s from Tunguska.” Tunguska was what Pokeworld called Siberia, which meant she was probably a variant, like Hilbert, Cirno’s Alolan Ninetales. I’d long considered Zangooses… Zangeese?… extremely stylish creatures… but had never recruited one, as they couldn’t stand up to the tougher pokemon used by top tier trainers. I’d already had Ziggy and my Mightyena, Lilith, to be my pets, the rest of my team had been my allies. I hadn’t needed more cute.

“I named Oshkosh and Spork,” Francine said, pointing at a pair of Bidoofs (male and female) with yellow ribbons around their necks. Wisely, I didn’t ask why she’d chosen those names. I’d dressed her in more than one set of Oshkosh brand overalls when she’d demanded clothing… yes, the brand existed in PokeLandia for some reason, b’gosh. Part of me was weeping, and not in joy. Bidoofs are called the ‘Plump Mouse’ pokemon and are half a meter of fluff, both physically and mentally. They were essentially the capybaras of the pokemon world… and their evolved form was the beaver of the pokemon world… if beavers stood a meter tall.

“I named Hattie,” RayRay said, pointing at the Skitty on her head. “She’s my hat.” Skitty are, as one might guess, a feline pokemon, literally only used by Coordinators and Breeders. If Trainers trained their pokemon for battle, Coordinators prepared their pokemon for contests… i.e. shows of ‘beauty’, ‘cleverness’, ‘coolness’, ‘cuteness’, or ‘toughness’… and no toughness did not involve actually being tough, just looking tough. Pretty much no Trainer took Coordinators seriously. Dressing your Pikachu up like a pop idol does not take skill. It takes a very patient Pikachu and a dressmaker.

I facepalmed, then looked to Petra. “And you?” She giggled, eyes bright, then said, “We had the best names!” I continued to look at her as she turned into her metal crab form and scooped up a different fuzz-thing in each claw. “This is Hasselhoff Bigface,” she explained, holding out a male Bidoof. I bit my lip. “This is Rip van Sneezer.” A female Sentret. “Napoleon Boneybutt.” A Male Sentret. “And Megalodon von Landshark.” Another female Furret.

I opened my mouth to comment on the silliness of those names… remembered all the frankly idiotic nicknames I’d given my pets over the ages, then asked, “Each of you came up with a different name, so you just picked four at random to assign those names?” It was a guess… but given how often Petra’s four brains disagreed with each other, it was a decent one.

She shook her head. “We didn’t pick at random. We just called out the names and the first who responded got the name.”

I considered that, then shrugged. “Works as well as any other method I guess… I’m guessing Ziggy didn’t name any of them?” It was a good guess. Ziggy’s idea of naming things was to name them Ziggy. I’m not saying he’s clueless… but that’s because Cirno was clueless… Ziggy would have had to try extra hard to get to her level. Of course, Ziggy was extra good at effort… just not great at focusing that effort into anything constructive. His idea of figuring out a problem was to try the same thing a hundred and one times in a row… then go for one oh two. Cirno usually asked for help around attempt twenty… or at least got bored and gave up.

“So? Do any of the others have names I need to remember?” I asked. AJ blushed, then nodded. “Actually… while you were talking to Velma and Kendra…” he began. I looked around, then noticed that Joy was busy affixing name plates to collars. “Everyone else supplied names?” I guessed. “Well… Cirno was telling the others all the names, and Toph decided that the ones without names would feel left out…” AJ trailed off, then shrugged.

In short order, I was introduced to Sheagora the she-Sentret (Uriel), Bruce the he-Furret (Ahab), Zhampu the she-Skitty (Yoiko), Nabiki the she-Swinub (Ryoga), Marx the he-Swinub (Joy), and Suzanne Emilia Xenia Yancy Amanda Nancy Diane Inigo Katarina Natasha Ophelia Wilma Isabelle Talia the Third (Toph).

I favored my companions with that special look I reserve for crazy people (including myself when I actually look in the mirror), then sighed. “You all are mental, you know that?” They nodded. “You two…” I pointed to the Hibikis, “are too old to be naming Pokemon after childhood rivals.” I shifted my gaze to Uriel… “I don’t think the Daedric Prince of Madness would approve… but then again, maybe he would. Who can say. Probably tempting fate a bit there, but I’ll sign off on it.” I looked to Ahab, “Would that be Bruce… as in the shark from Jaws?” He grinned and tapped the side of his nose. I didn’t bother asking if Joy had named the ice pig after Karl or Groucho… she wouldn’t have given me a straight answer, but I’d be able to tell once I actually read the spelling on the tag.

I did favor Toph with a long glare, but she just smiled serenely over the head of her acrostically named Skitty. “I see what you did there,” I half growled, half chuckled. She just smirked at me. Turning away from them, I asked the trio of trainers just back from Pokeland… “Okay… I’ll bite… which of you named the others… and what fresh lunacy did you inflict upon these innocent creatures?”

As it turned out, Kendra had named only two of them, the bibarels, which, as it turns out, were the eldest. She was also pretty certain that ‘Buffy’, the female, was also the dam of most if not all of the Bidoofs, but she didn’t know if Wensleydale or Ziggy was the sire. Pokemon didn’t typically have issues from inbreeding, but I sent a mental note to VIctoria to relay to VIvian to have all the new Pokemon, be those on teams or just general pets, run through the Calibrator and the Mod Pod within the next few days… just to be safe. As for Kendra naming a pair of Beaver-things after our fellow slayer and a type of white cheddar-like cheese… I didn’t comment. This was not my fight.

Cirno had named as many as Petra, and misspelled every single name, but thankfully the names she’d chosen were all fairly adorable, so I gave her a cookie. She’d named her she-Bidoof ‘Toofless’ after the dragon from How to Train Your Dragon (one of many movies I’d had in digital format on my computer and one of her favorites). Another movie I’d had had been that Studio Ghibli classic, Tonari no Totoro… My Neighbor Totoro… which had (of course) spellbound the childlike fairy… as it had me when I’d been a child. She’d named the he-Sentret she’d found taking shelter under a leaf after the big fluffy titular Snorlax-like forest spirit… but since she sucked at spelling and was quite forgetful… she’d named him Trotro. The other two he-Sentrets she’d named Scaramooch and Fandangler… something she explained to me in song format, mondegreenning the lyrics like a mad-woman. If you don’t know what a mondegreen is, well, excuse me while I kiss this guy… is an example. A mondegreen is a misheard song lyric… and the real line from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze is ‘Excuse me while I kiss the sky.’

Velma, meanwhile, had named more than anyone else at five. She’d also, apparently, decided to annoy me with some of her choices. I had no problem with the she-Bidoof named ‘Wichita’ or the he-Lillipup named ‘Spencer’ (after Spencer Tracy)… and was only marginally exasperated by her naming of a he-Skitty ‘Fred’. However, I did have issue with her naming of the Gumshoos and the Pachirisu.

“You know how much Columbo irritates me,” I grumped, glaring at the detective-like Mongoose Pokemon that had (according to legend) been imported to Alola to hunt the local infestation of Dark-type Rattatas and Raticates. “And ‘Scrat’? Scrat?! Why would you inflict that name on any of Arceus’s creations?”

As much as I couldn’t stand the bumbling detective played by Peter Falk… I couldn’t quite remember who had forced me to watch all those episodes… the memory was almost there… it had been someone important, right?… I had to admit that a clueless weasel that thought it was a detective was a decent match for the name. But Scrat? The hapless saber-toothed squirrel from the Ice-Age films? No. That name was too cruel. I finally put my foot down.

“Silly I can deal with. Snide insults to historic figures and rivals out of the deep past I will allow. But we are not saddling anyone or anything with a name as ill-omened as Scrat,” I declared, looking at the purple and white electric squirrel that was in every way inferior to the Pikachu… which at the very least could evolve into a Raichu.

Velma opened her mouth to protest, but I tapped her lips.

“No, my dear. On this, I am adamant.” I picked up the poor thing and spoke to it in its own language. “Do you mind if I change your name?” I asked him.

“Is my name bad?” he asked back, more curious than worried.

“Not bad… just unlucky,” I explained. “I’ll give you a better one, one that has a special kind of luck attached, if you let me?”

“You seem okay… sure,” the tiny pokemon agreed… though tiny for a pokemon is still quite large for small mammals. Even the smallest pokemon was still a full ten centimeters tall and weighed a hundred grams. That’s the size of a hamster. The Pachirisu was four times as tall, and weighed almost four kilograms… almost three times the weight of any earth squirrel.

I set him on the countertop, drawing Soul of Ice and very gently tapping him with it as I said, “I dub thee, Scratch, Squirrel of the Round and Keeper of Deez Nuts.”

Kendra snorted. Zane laughed. Velma harrumphed. Cirno said, “I don’t get it.” Toph fell over laughing. Scratch beamed, then acked as Ziggy pounced him right off the top of the bar. At that point, I declared a general party, figuring that no actual business would be discussed that day.

In fact, as it turned out, no actual business was discussed for the next six days, what with the catching up between the two groups and the bonding with new fluffs. After all, someone had to be in charge of feeding and looking after the forty plus new occupants… someone who wasn’t going to be me. I had my hands full just dealing with Ziggy, Fliagor, Alegra, Nimh, and Cirno.

On Day Seven Post-Redwall, we gathered to examine the new VMoD. 

“Bleach?” asked Joy, head tilted to the side as she read the title from the machine. “As in the Chemical?”

“Yes and no,” I said, drawing the information up from the depths of my memories. “Bleach is a manga slash anime about a redheaded Japanese boy named Strawberry who, after trying to save one of his little sisters from a giant monster, is forced to become a substitute Soul Reaper or Shinigami… think Samurai version of Grim Reaper… katanas instead of scythes, kimonos instead of hooded robes, that sort of thing… to protect his home town.”

“So, hunting ghosts and demons, that kind of story?” Velma asked, coming up behind us and wrapping her arms around my shoulders. “A mix of comedy and mystery?”

“Heh… kind of yes, but mostly no,” I said. “While sure, there are some comic moments… mostly in the anime as filler, the manga verges on existential horror.” I leaned back and looked up at her chin. “This world is beyond bad news. There are soul assassins called ‘Quincies’, soul eating ghosts called ‘Hollows’, soul eating monsters called ‘Bount’, giant energy beam blasting mega-ghosts called ‘Minos Grandes’ or ‘Gillians’, much smaller and much more dangerous giga-ghosts called ‘Adjuchas’ and ‘Vasto Lordes’ that feed on the ‘Minos’ like they were snacks, renegade ‘Shinigami Captains’ with powers that make normal Shinigami look like children armed with rubber swords, insane Shinigami Captains who – in theory – are on the side of angels, mutant Adjuchas and Vasto Lords called ‘Arrancar’ who have all the powers of Captain Level Shinigami in addition to their giga-ghost powers…. and ‘Fullbringers’, mortals who bring out the innate powers of objects…. plus, if we’re unlucky, parasitic swords, non-parasitic sword spirits that think they should be in control, and… that most dreaded thing of all… filler episodes.”

“That’s a lot of terms…” Joy said, “and a lot of potential enemies. But how (exactly) are filler episodes dangerous?”

I sighed, then explained, “Because they screw with the timeline. I don’t know if we’re jumping into the manga or the anime series. Which continuity we’re in is important, because in some of them, it is entirely possible we will find ourselves in the middle of a fight one moment and enjoying a whacky side story the next. I don’t know how to handle a setting that actively generates non-canon events within its own timeline.”

“Oh,” Joy said, then asked, “So… is this setting as dangerous as it sounds?”

I considered the question, and the answer I came to was not one designed to make me (or anyone else on the team) happy. “No. It’s much, much more dangerous than it sounds… and I know how dangerous it already sounds. This place is so dangerous that, if we fuck things up too much, the Quincy might end reality, or the Arrancars’ leader might find a way to make himself god… and that’s just in the first year and a half, give or take. I have no idea what might happen over the remainder…” I rubbed my eyes, thinking of all the things that could go wrong, then added. “I do not think this is going to be a fun jump.”

Zane, who’d been examining the offerings as I considered what I knew of Bleach, growled, “And you’re going to be doing it alone, it looks like; there’s no import feature. There’s a set of four different ‘Mysterious Blueprints’ that unless I miss my guess, hint that they’re supposed to either teach you to make or train Arrancars, Bounts, Quincies, and Shinigamis… unless you can think of anything else in setting that meaningfully starts with A, B, Q, and S? But if that’s the case, why don’t they come right out and say that’s what these things do?”

I shrugged, then sighed. “Wonderful. That means just three people with native powers. It sucks, but Ichigo… sorry, Strawberry… has powered norms fighting on his side… two of them… though not the most interesting of the norms, which is a shame.”

Yoiko laughed, “Let me guess… this most interesting of norms… she’s the energetic flatchested toyboy.”

I considered for a moment, then shrugged. “Mmmm… I wouldn’t call Tatsuki flatchested… she’s got breasts, just not anywhere in the huge range… Tite Kubo, the creator of Bleach, is clearly fond of big boobs, though the manga has quite a variety of cup-sizes, ranging from actually flat-chested adults to ‘My god! How does she walk upright?’ But yes, Tatsuki is the most wasted character in the series. She’s pretty much the named character with the least screen time, a toyboy, trained in martial arts and the only important classmate of Strawberry’s that doesn’t join the adventure. She’s also the only mortal Japanese girl in the show who digs fighting.”

“Surely it can’t be that bad?” Zane asked.

“Kubo might not be the biggest sexist, but he’s still a pretty massive sexist. Lots of Damseling, lots of guys stepping in to fight for their girl or just the girl. The other mortal girl, the one who gains her powers from the series mcguffin, Orihime? She’s a pacifist… but also the strongest willed human in show, a black-belt fighter… and there’s one entire arc about rescuing her from the first Big Bad. She’s also the healer.”

“Talk about cliches,” Velma commented. Kendra half-snarled.

“Tell me that’s as bad as it gets,” Joy requested.

“Well, there are warrior women among the Shinigami, Arrancar, and Quincy… but they’re all hypersexualized, damselled or both… and invariably less skilled or powerful than their male counterparts,” I explained, then added, “For instance, the best fighter of the Shinigami? He’s the head of the Combat Squad, the one that does most of the fighting. He’s constantly fighting, as are his third and fifth officers. His second in command is a little girl who does almost no fighting and lives only to eat and play pranks. The leader of the Shinigami Medical Squad? She’s the former head of the Combat Squad… and late in the series she and the current head face off and he kills her, one on one, despite the fact that he has pretty much no control over his Shinigami powers.”

I took a breath, trying not to get worked up even as I continued. “But it doesn’t stop there. That Big Bad I mentioned? He’s a Traitor Shinigami Captain leading a rebellion. His second in command is the most emotionally vulnerable character in the series… and not only is she female, she’s the woobie… the character that makes you feel sorry for them. The Traitor Captain, Aizen, is also the creator of most of the Arrancar in the series. And among the Arrancar, the Espada… the Ten Blades… are his commanders. They include one woman, Tier Harribel, though there was a second, Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck… who was defeated by the two biggest sexists among their number and reduced to an almost helpless child. When she resumes her full form, she’s one of the aforementioned “How Does She Walk!?”. Before that, she cries a lot and needs to be protected.”

Before any of my friends could ask more questions, I continued, “Of the 13 Court Guard Squads (the primary Shinigami military and the only real leadership we see) two of the original thirteen Captains are female… the Spy Squad Captain… and the Healer Squad Captain… though she’s a reformed psychopath, and (as I mentioned) used to lead the Combat Squad. Among the original Lieutenants, there are… ummm… six ladies… They include brainwashed emotional girl, crazy little non-fighter girl, a homunculus who is constantly being tortured and experimented on by her psychopathic Captain slash Father, and the woman with the largest breasts in the series… whose Captain is a teenage boy.”

“But Kubo does call out sexism too. Like I mentioned, one of the Espada, Nnoitra Gilga, is a base jackass and scumbag who took out Nelliel because he didn’t like the fact that she was a woman. So blatant sexism is bad… but Kubo was raised in a very sexist society and was selling comics to teenage boys… so I guess it’s a good thing any of the females can fight at all,” I said, bringing my rant to a conclusion. “Rumiko Takahashi was my favorite mangaka and even she doesn’t always score great on the anti-sexism scale.”

Joy nodded, then clearly thought of something. “You said ‘Original’… is this a GoT type setting? Should we expect friends and allies to drop like flies?”

“Not to that extent,” I assured her. “But there is a fair amount of turnover in the secondary cast… though none of the primary cast… that is Strawberry (half-Shinigami, half-Quincy Fullbringing Visored), Rukia (Royal Shinigami by adoption), Renji (Shinigami), Chad/Sado (Fullbringer), Orihime (Magical Girl), and Uryu (Quincy)… die in canon. Additionally, a few of the Captains and Lieutenants also seem immune to authorial homicide, either through plot armor or just insane levels of badassery.”

Velma asked, “Is this a defeat means redemption setting?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Nor is it a defeat equals friendship one. This is a fairly structured kill or be kill setting, with the bad guys getting progressively more and more hellaciously overpowered with every passing season… though those Badass Captains never really seem to grow in power even as they are demonstrably more badass than before, even though the main cast does. Seriously, the main cast fight some of the badass Captains to a standstill early on, but even after multiple level ups, they’re still barely the BAC’s equals… if that. Apparently getting a BAC to go all-out takes actually motivating them and the first time they fought, said Captains just weren’t that motivated.”

“You say that as if it’s hard,” Ahab commented.

“Shinigami are, by human standards, extremely long lived if not functionally immortal,” I explained. “Several of the eldest are more than two-thousand years old. They live for combat and are seldom challenged either internally or externally. Until the series starts.”

“Ah. Ennui?” Bao hazarded, looking up from where he was trying to teach Samarkandy the Zangoose to hold a calligraphy brush.

“Pretty much,” I agreed.

“So, are we doing this?” Zane asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, thinking it through. There were any number of reasons to avoid the plot and characters of Bleach entirely… the danger of going full shonen was a serious risk. “I mean, clearly we are, there’s no ‘Skip this Jump’ button,” I pointed out, “and the price for failure is the same as the price for wimping out, so… Yes, we are doing this. But I’m uncertain about bringing non-imported individuals into the setting.”

“Why’s that?” Velma asked. “We respawn if killed, right? That’s what happened when Ryoga got beheaded by that Sword Mage in Fairy Tail. He was back the next day as if nothing had happened.” She didn’t mention how badly the experience had freaked her out and how she’d been unable to stop crying and shuddering for hours after the event, nor the nightmares that had plagued her for months.

I let my voice reflect the seriousness of my words as I explained, “This isn’t a ‘The worst that can happen is death’ type place. These people play for souls. Uriel, Kendra, both of you are technically dead in your home reality. A Soul Reaper might be able to send you along to the afterlife, and even though this takes place in the spirit realm, we’ve no idea where the actual afterlife is. Also I’m pretty sure anyone who lacks the ability to see Ghosts will be at a disadvantage… of course, Chad did okay using someone else’s eyes. Look… I won’t tell anyone they have to stay behind, but you all need to be aware that this world will be dangerous and it is entirely possible you could have your souls eaten or warped by the local magitech.”

While the others began reviewing the episodes and manga scans from my archive, as well as the Redwall Book of Riddles which was a nice little cheat-guide, even if it didn’t cover everything… I went to the machine and began plotting.

Taking Soul Reaper was a given, despite the hundred Choice it cost. Quincies were all too vulnerable to Yhwach, Fullbringers were nuts… though I could in theory steal the powers of all the other Fullbringers without a huge outlay of power… but Fullbringer power was fundamentally Hollow in nature… as was that of the Arrancar. I figured it was best to steer clear… plus… I already had a Zanpakuto (a Soul Reaper’s spirit sword) ready and waiting to be awoken. Also, going Soul Reaper guaranteed that my physical boosting gear would be applied to my spirit form and not a gigai (a pseudo-body that the spiritual Soul Reapers used when in the mortal realms)… Probably.

As I read through the options, a thought occurred to me that made me chuckle. I wondered, idly, if Bleach’s Hollows and Kingdom Heart’s Heartless were at all similar, since both were large shadowy spiritual creatures with holes where their ‘heart’ had been… though a Hollow’s hole wasn’t always in their chest. That would be amusing if it were true… plus, I could totally do with a keyblade right about now.

Soul Reapers were all superhumanly strong, and (according to the machine’s description) all had the native ability to use their internal spiritual pressure to create melee weapons (the aforementioned Zanpakutos)… though ‘create’ and ‘melee’ weren’t exactly accurate. According to the lore in the Manga, a Zanpakuto began as something of a blankslate called an Asauchi, but was a ‘physical’ item (for spiritual realm’s definition of ‘physical’) that had been made by someone else. What the Soul Reaper actually did was imprint part of their own essence into the blank Asauchi, allowing it to transform into a true Zanpakuto and grow with the wielder.

An awakened Zanpakuto had its own mind and body and personality. With plenty of willpower and training and soul searching, it was possible for a Shinigami to learn the true name of their Zanpakuto and to unlock the true form of the weapon that lay, quiescent, within the souls of the Shinigami. Zanpakuto even possessed their own spiritual power, called Reiatsu, though the Reiatsu of a Zanpakuto and that of their Shinigami were virtually identical.

A Zanpakuto was, in many ways, effectively a secondary soul bound to the Shinigami and was, to some extent, a relative of a Hollow, being composed of the same ‘stuff’ and possessing many of the same qualities. In fact, the strongest (or at least most evolved) of the Hollows, the Arrancar, also possessed their own Zanpakuto, though in that case, an Arrancar’s Zanpakuto was literally the physical manifestation of their Hollow Powers. It was even possible for a Shinigami’s Zanpakuto to merge with a Hollow to grant that Shinigami some of a Hollow’s power. If an Arrancar was a Hollow that was becoming more Shinigami-like, a Shinigami that was becoming Hollow-like was called a Visored.

Zanpakuto could not be permanently destroyed as long as their Shinigami lived, and the size of the weapon tended to reflect the power of the Shinigami… though Captain-Class and higher tended to actively suppress the size of their weapons. 

Speaking of power, the initial spiritual power-level that came with purchasing the Soul Reaper origin placed me at roughly the rank and power of a twentieth seat member of one of the one of the Gotei 13 (the thirteen squads of the Imperial Court Guards). Although called squads in the english dub of the anime and companies in the english manga, the part of me that now spoke fluent japanese now realized it was closer to ‘Divisions’… though from a modern military standpoint ‘Company’ size was probably more true. I seriously doubted there were 104,000 Shinigami… let alone 420,000. Still, 20th Seat was an officer’s rank and wasn’t a bad place to start… at least before everything else was applied.

Being a Soul Reaper also allowed me to start in the Soul Society instead of Hueco Mundo (Bleach’s version of Limbo) or Karakura Town (the fictional generic Japanese City that was pretty much all of the Mortal World we ever got to see). The Soul Society (Spirit World) was where all the Soul Reapers and the Souls of the Dead dwelt until they reentered the cycle of reincarnation. The Seireitei (Court of Pure Souls), the Capital / Fortress of the Shinigami, lay in the center of Rukongai (Wandering Soul City), the titanic quasi-medieval city that was the Soul Society’s Eastern Branch. Rukongai, comprised of three-hundred-and-twenty different districts, essentially housed all the souls of the dead for the entire Oriental Sphere, with Reverse London being the Occidental Sphere’s counterpart and Memorial Teotihuacan serving as the American Branch (though I had not known either of those facts until after I gained my Shinigami memories).

There was a strange universal free perk called ‘Keikaku Dori’ (which I’m pretty sure is a reference to Death Note… another manga that dealt with Shinigami) but regardless of origin, KD was the ability to make any plan I came up with as despair inducing as possible. To be honest, I’m not sure why anyone would want that, except to be a dick, but free was free. I’d shove it to the back of the ability toolchest to be gather dust until I found a use for it… or a way to reverse engineer it to produce plans that could produce maximal happiness instead.

Still, it wasn’t as if I didn’t have plans, and being stuck at twentieth seat was not part of any of them. To that end, I picked up the ‘More Power’ perk, which (boring name not withstanding) cost four-hundred Choice but would, in theory, double my spiritual power… and considered buying ‘Spirit Power ‘as well (which increased power production and regeneration rates)… but not only that was another four-hundred, it could be dangerous to produce too much spiritual pressure too fast. Also, I wasn’t thinking that I really needed both. Unfortunately, neither was discounted for Soul Reapers.

I did picked up ‘Soul Builder’, which was the one discounted for my origin, and which would (for the relatively low price of two-hundred Choice) allow me to build machines that would run on spiritual power and granted the basic skill of artificery… that is, the creation of artifacts. That would come in handy if my plans were to succeed.

As a Soul Reaper, I could take any one basic Soul Reaper power for free. There were some nice ones: Strength, Humano-form Sword, Flash Steps… but I already had strength, didn’t really want a human form sword, and could either already do flash-steps, or (if it was a different technique) learn it. Ichigo / Strawberry had with relative ease. ‘Kido Trainee’ it was!

Kido was Soul Reaper magic. The spells within were relatively short invocations with power ranked from one to ninety-nine, and the art was further divided into three sub-disciplines: Bakudo, Hado, and Kaido. Bakudo (the Way of Binding) was full of subtle spells that focused on binding an enemy, creating barriers and seals, or even reflecting attacks. Hado (Way of Destruction) and it’s related field Gisei Hado (Sacrificial Way of Destruction) were direct attack spells that had a large range of shapes and destructive effects that ranged from anti-personnel all the way up to anti-city… unsurprising since many of the more powerful Hollows were powerful enough to level reinforced spirit fortresses, let alone cities. Kaido (The Way of Turning) was the counter to Hado, being the healing arts. Rather than having names, numbers, or incantations, Kaido was simply a way to restore the body and spirit of those wounded in combat or misadventure. Kido Trainee gave me an innate talent for all three arts.

I figured I was doing pretty well, purchase-wise… then I saw all the Zanpakuto Abilities… and how much they cost… and froze. I was going to need a bigger allowance…. a much bigger allowance. Unfortunately, the only way to get that looked to be making myself a Quincy Target… Which meant going up against Yhwach’s minions. But then again, I was going to be a Soul Reaper, and Yhwach is a dick… I don’t like dicks. The Wandenreich were powerful, no doubt about that… and Quincies were dangerous as fuck… no doubt about that either… but they could be beaten… and they were on the wrong side of history, the genocidal fuckwits. Taken them out was even more high priority than dueling Zaraki Kenpachi or Byakuya… the two biggest badass Captains on the block.

Okay… I know I just dumped a lot of words at you. Allow me to explain. There were, essentially, two Big Bad Evil Guys in the run of Bleach that I’d seen before I’d left Earth (not counting the filler episodes of the Anime… which were about a third of the show and accounted for entire seasons… The Bount Invasion Arc, the Captain Amagai / Kasumioji Conspiracy Arc, the Zanpakuto Rebellion Arc, and The Reigai Uprising Arc… plus three mini-arcs and at least twenty stand alone episodes. Some of them were interesting, but cutting all but the Zanpakuto Rebellion would not have reduced the show’s quality at all… generally speaking, it would have probably made it better.)

Filler rant aside, the BBEGs of ‘Real’ Bleach were Fifth Division Captain Aizen Sosuke and Yhwach. The first was a traitor to the Gotei 13 and bringing him to justice was the highpoint of the first half of the series. He, his allied Captains, and his Arrancars (the Espada and their minions, the Fraccion) were some of the coolest enemies in the story and they had some rich and vibrant characterizations and interactions with the cast. Aizen was an iconoclast and an utterly immoral proponent of change, but you could feel for him and understand his goals. Yhwach was an omnicidal fuckhead who wanted to destroy all creation and remake it in his image.

Essentially Evil Jesus, Yhwach was the son of the Soul King, the ‘absolute master’ and lynchpin of the Soul Society. Without the Soul King, everything in the Bleach Universe would simply fall apart. Yhwach was also the founder of the Quincies, a group of humans who used the powers granted to them by Yhwach to destroy hollows. His blood flows through each Quincy, though many of the most powerful of them (the Sternritter) also possess a chunk of Yhwach’s soul inscribed into their own souls. This is called a Schrift, and takes the form of a german letter that stands for an ability.

At least a thousand years before Ichigo’s time, Yhwach set out to create the Lichtreich, an ‘Empire of Light’, with his Quincy army… but they were opposed by the Shinigami and Yhwach was sealed away. Over the next few centuries many (indeed most) of the Quincy were exterminated by the Shinigami to keep the world of the living from becoming unbalanced, with the final war being more than two hundred years before the start of the plotline. The explanation for why this would have happened is complex, but I shall attempt to explain in simple terms.

The cycle of life and death is really the flow of spirit particles (Reishi) between the realms of the Living (the Mortal World) and the realms of the Dead (Soul Society & Hueco Mundo). If the amount of Reishi in the worlds is ever imbalanced, it will put strain on the boundaries between them. Too much strain and the boundaries would fail, destroying both sides of the cycle. The reason for the unbalance goes to the nature of Souls, Shinigami, and Quincy.

When a living being dies, their soul normally passes on to the Soul Society. When that doesn’t happen, when something anchors a soul to the mortal realm, they become a Ghost. A Ghost can only remain in the Mortal Realm for so long before they run out of Reiryoku (spiritual power). This process will culminate in Hollowfication, and the Ghost will eventually become a Hollow. Once out of their own supply, they will be consumed by a hunger for more, a hunger that can be sated only by eating other spiritual beings… i.e. other Ghosts, other Hollows, Shinigami, Spirits, or humans with higher than normal Reiryoku. This makes Hollows extremely dangerous to humans, and so the Shinigami hunt them, as do the Quincies.

The problem arises in how those two factions deal with the Hollows. A Shinigami doesn’t actually kill a Hollow. Rather, they banish them, destroying the Hollow’s Mask (the seat of their consciousness and the physical manifestation of their power). This returns the spiritual energy of the Hollow to the cycle of life and death. A Quincy, however, turns Reishi into a weapon, an arrow specifically, and then uses those arrows to destroy the Hollow… and all the spiritual energy within. Since the Quincy, despite the Shinigami’s centuries of attempting to reason with them, had not only continued using their potentially disastrous methods, but had also increased massively in number since the fall of Yhwach’s Lichtreich, the Shinigami reluctantly destroyed those who should have been their allies. Or so they thought.

In reality, the Quincies that had been destroyed were the weakest of the order. The Sternritter had rallied around their slumbering monarch and created a hidden organization called the Wandenreich, the Invisible Empire, hidden in the shadows of the Seireitei itself. After the arrest of Aizen, the Wandenreich would invade Hueco Mundo and seize control of those forces once loyal to the traitor Captain, then go on to invade the Soul Society with the aim of allowing the now revived Yhwach to consume his father and become the new Soul King. They were a massively dangerous force of fanatical bastards.

Hell, Yhwach’s elite guard were known as the Schutzstaffel… yes, as in SS. No, that’s not a coincidence. Bleach’s three main factions are based on two of the Axis Powers (Japan and Germany) and the almost Axis Spain… not actually certain why the Hollows are Spanish instead of Italian… but whatever.

Did I mention that Yhwach was insanely dangerous, capable of not only seeing the future, but of altering the present based on his predictions. That he was effectively immune to any power he’d ever seen in use? That many of his Sternritter thugs were powerful reality warpers? Seriously, these assholes were a serious challenge to the Shonen Powerful Captains of the Gotei 13… with their limiters removed.

So now you’re probably asking why I’d want to take ‘Quincy Target’? You know, aside from the points. Well… without it, the maximum value I could get from other drawbacks was six-hundred… and, in fact, for all the suck of having Yhwach want me dead, I’d rather take it than any of the other (much less valuable) ones.

Not only did none of the others (of which there only five!) appeal to me (‘Not Lost’, i.e. the Hibiki Curse, was the only other one I’d even consider) but ‘Hollow Target’ was a recipe for ten years of constant battles and ‘Soul Reaper Target’ would make the Gotei 13 Captains and their thousands of minions attack me… and was not worth anything like the amount of points it should have been. ‘Star Crossed’  would saddle me with a member of one of the non-Shinigami factions that was in love with me. A human (Fullbringer or not) would be bad enough, but a Quincy or Hollow could be potentially disturbing, and would make my own side suspicious of me. It was also only worth a hundred.

‘Mind=Blown’, which was the only one that could be combined with ‘Quincy Target’ to get the absolute maximum of thirteen-hundred Choice, was right out. Taking it would mean that half my allies were secretly my enemies… a secret I’d be unable to guess. I wasn’t going to take my chances that the phrase ‘You cannot guess who will betray you’ wouldn’t also stop me from figuring out who the traitors were via means more accurate than guessing.

At least with ‘Quincy Target’ I had a small grace period, in that it would be roughly two years before Yhwach and the Wandenreich would move against me. And I could, theoretically, destroy them all. They weren’t a naturally occurring and endlessly respawning mob, so there were a finite number of them, and while I couldn’t possibly fight some of their number… I had a reasonably good idea of how most of them had died. After all, the climax of the Wandenreich Arc had been rapidly approaching when I’d left Origin behind. I’d been mostly up to date when I’d left. So, though I’d probably regret it, but faint heart and all that. Plus… it was worth a thousand Choice! How could I possibly pass it up?

Now outfitted with thirteen-hundred Choice, I returned to the Zanpakuto Abilities list… Abilities that came in two tiers… Shikai tier and Bankai (final Release) tier. To be an officer (claim a seat in any but Division Eleven) a Shinigami had to know the name of their Zanpakuto and be capable of achieving Shikai, the first release. This proved that they had managed to move out of the Asauchi phase and had mastered part of themselves. Division Eleven handled everything with contests of battle prowess… often to the dead. A Zanpakuto in Shikai changed its shape from a simple Katana to a more powerful form, and gained an expanded set of abilities beyond simply cutting things apart.

If Shikai was the first release, then Bankai was the final release (though there was also True Bankai which was be even more Bankai for your Bankai Buck). If Shikai was a blockbuster attack, Bankai was a pocket nuke. In general, only the Captains (and a couple of their lieutenants) had Bankai unlocked and even they could usually only maintain that heightened battle state for a couple minutes at a time.

I immediately spent six of my thirteen-hundred on Shikai boosts, since they would be the most useful day to day. ‘Shikai Empowerment’ would mean that when I released my limiters, my abilities (strength, speed, endurance, etc.) would be much stronger than before. It was essentially dumping energy into my physical/spirit body stats. ‘Shikai Element Ice’ would give me an elemental ice area-of-effect attack covering some fifty-meters in every direction. That was huge… and it would be bolstered by my already formidable control over hydro and thermodynamics… but I wasn’t finished yet. The third, and last Shikai boost I picked was called ‘Shikai Dissolve’ , and it would allow my blade to dissolve into a cloud of monomolecular perfect giant snowflakes that ranged from one to five centimeters across and had edges sharp as thought…. and all that was just Shikai.

For my next trick, Bankai! I squandered my remaining seven-hundred Choice making certain that my Bankai would be a thing of beauty, wonder, and absolutely horror for my enemies. ‘Bankai Greater Dissolve’ cost me three-hundred and effectively doubled the number of snowflakes per unit area. ‘Bankai Range’ was another two-hundred and effectively octupled the volume of the spherical area of effect (a hundred meter sphere centered on myself became a two-hundred meter sphere). And if that wasn’t enough, ‘Bankai Damage’ ate my last two-hundred and would make everything I did with my Zanpakuto hurt my foes way more.

If course, this was all predicated on the idea that I could hit Bankai at all. Nothing in the descriptions guaranteed that I’d be able to do so simply because I’d paid the points for upgrading it. Discovering my Semblance, Winter Tide, in RWBY had certainly been a near run thing, after all, and many was the time that I feared I’d have to take the default condolence Semblance.

Winter Tide was a curious thing. It manifested as a bone deep chill felt by all around me coupled with a keen awareness of their own mortality in all things capable of death. Leaves and surfaces  in the area were covered in light frost and cold water glazed over, while my enemies rapidly found their auras draining to fight the frostbite. Allies and bystanders felt that awareness and chill for only a moment before it passed, but those with animosity towards me or those I felt animosity towards would continue to take the full brunt of the effect as long as I maintained my Semblance. In fact, both effects only grew more and more pronounced and damaging over time.

My Shikai and Bankai were both designed to be extensions of Winter Tide, or at least designed to be augmented by it. I figured that even though the machine didn’t offer anything about True Bankai, if I built my Bankai to be compatible with my Semblance, odds were that my True Bankai might be a fusion of the two. They were both spiritual or quasi-spiritual powers.

Since I had no points left, I couldn’t afford any items, but I did get ‘Hell Butterfly Eggs’ and ‘Portal to the Spirit Realm’ for free. Hell Butterflies were psychopomps and messengers, allowing Shinigami to send each other information from long distances away and to direct spirits to the different spiritual realms, keeping them from getting lost. I’ll get three eggs to start with and another egg would be added to the stash every week. Dunno how long the little black butterflies live, hopefully more than a couple days, or how long they take to hatch… hopefully not very long. Apparently Hell Butterflies don’t have a Hell Caterpillar state first… or maybe they do. I hope the Owls (and those of the Mon who were insectivores) didn’t develop a taste for them… could I breed Hell Butterflies? Did I have to worry about an infestation? Maybe it would be a good thing if the Owls developed a taste… Huh.

The Portal would allow me to use a summoning technique normally only available to high rank Soul Reapers, allowing me to create a portal that lead to the Soul Society or the Realm of the Living… but not Hueco Mundo. Alaso. I wondered if it would work in other worlds to reach their respective realms of the dead. If it did… would it only go to realms of the dead that already existed… or would it guarantee the existence of those realms. I tried asking the Banker, but all I got was a vague statement asking me why I thought there were any settings that didn’t already have some kind of spiritual realm. Asshole.

I signed off on my purchases, hitting confirm… and the Machine dinged, “You have two-hundred unspent Warehouse Points. Would you like to spend them now?” I blinked at that, then chuckled. I’d completely forgotten to buy what I’d planned to back in Alan Wake, distracted as I had been by the appearance of the Rogue Machine.

“Sure,” I said, “I think I’ll take the Realistic Ground Cover and Dig It.” I’d been thinking how nice it would be to walk on something other than concrete and linoleum. Of course, my companions and I had covered the ground with other things… rocks, dirt, etcetera, but RGC was needed to get ‘Dig It’ and would allow me to transform the floor of my Personal Reality into any naturally occuring terrain type… by sections if I so desired. I could even make paths and roads. The best part of it was that, unlike the stuff we’d brought in from elsewhere, any dirt or dust generated by the RGC would be magically taken care of… unless I accidentally toggled that part off.

‘Dig It’ took things one step further… or rather, forty meters further, by installing that much foundational material underneath the RGC. Why? For Gardening. For secret bunkers and tunnels for the weaseloids… and so that, once I got enough points for it, I could install the Pool upgrade. We already had one we’d built, of course, but the The Big Pool was an Olympic Class Water Park! And the Bigger Pool was a Lazy River and entire indoor peach complex… and both were self-upgrading thanks to my purchase of Control Central back in West Wing. The Bigger Pool didn’t even take up floor space in my Reality until I’d upgraded it a bit more. Which is good, because Aquadromes are huuuuge. I confirmed the purchase, and locked in spending the next hundred WP on the two Pool upgrades… I’d save ‘Let’s Have Fun’ which added water slides, waterfalls, and a wave pool, for later. I had other things on my list.

Now that I was done with my build, the single most mono-focused, self-centered build I’d ever made in fact, I turned to look over at what Joy and Ahab had been doing with their tablets. Seriously… I’d bought nothing that wasn’t directly related to being a Soul Reaper. Nothing. I’d never seen a jump with less crossbuild potential. There were only like… five perks that weren’t about being the best possible Shinigami, Fullbringer, Arrancar, or Quincy you could be… and all the abilities of each line were isolated to their own race… despite the fact that MC Strawberry had the powers of all four factions… and Drop-In was functionally useless in this jump, which was just weird.

“Are you paying attention?” Joy asked, waving her hand in front of my face.

I sighed and nodded. “Yes yes. Soul Reaper, Zanpakuto. 20th Seater. Kido Training because ‘Magic sounds like fun’,” I paraphrased what she’d been saying. I had the sneaking suspicion she was planning on trying to become a Visored… which, to be honest, I was damned tempted to try myself. Not just for the power… but honestly… because I really wanted to get in touch with my inner rage. We needed to have words, she and I.

Ahab, on the other hand, had gone for Arrancar. It came with a nameless setting specific perk that meant that lower ranked hollows would be effectively bound to his will, and – as such – would follow his orders without question. That might come in handy if Hollows and Heartless were, in fact as nearly identical as they look.

I suspected that the lack of a skull mask was the only thing that separated the two, since Heartless are made from still living mortals. I wondered if that meant the Mask was contained within the Heartless’s counterpart Nobody. How Dream Eaters and Unversed fit in, I wasn’t sure…. But giant black spiritual monsters with holes in their chests… come on… totally the same thing, right? They were even powered by the same existential rage and ennui.

Free for an Arrancar were the abilities called ‘Cero’, which was a devastating energy beam fired traditionally from the mouth and ‘Hierro’, which was a toughening of skin and body so great it could withstand tank rounds without more than a scratch. He also got a ‘Resurreccion’, the released state that matched a Shinigami’s Bankai. Not only did it come with a Zanpakuto that contained his Hollow power, that signature weapon contained a linguistic scrambling & flesh necrotizing venom. Furthermore, he got three-hundred Choice for free… or rather for giving up the ability to transform into his old Hollow form.

Huh. That was… interesting. Normally the auto-importing didn’t get either of them any Choice to actually spend. And speaking of things that don’t normally happen… he had selected somehow managed to select ‘Childish’… a drawback worth four-hundred Choice that gave him a cracked mask (like Neliel) that leaked his spiritual energy down to a third of normal and made him resemble a child both in looks and action. It could be reversed for an hour or so once a week, returning him to full power while it lasted.

“It didn’t turn off…” he explained, “It’s a background specific drawback. It specifically targets me and no one else.” Well, the Faunus companions in RWBY had had their origin specific drawback… but that had been mandatory for Faunus and hadn’t given CP.

With his seven-hundred choice, Ahab had purchased the ‘A-Mysterious Blueprints’ for three-fifty, the ‘Suppression Cloak’ (an article of clothing that completely or partially hides the wearer’s spiritual pressure) for fifty, and ‘Regeneration’ (the ability to regenerate from wounds almost instantaneously.) for three-hundred. The blueprints were described as featuring difficult to understand terms and a humanoid figure like the Vitruvian Man, except with a skull for a head and a hole in his chest. They were clearly instructions for producing an Arrancar.

I looked up from reading over Ahab’s build to see Joy considering… which was always scary. “What are you planning?” I asked her.

Tapping her lips slowly, she said, “If I take the New Recruit Drawback, I get five-hundred Choice and can ignore my Zanpakuto entirely for this trip. Sure, it kills my power level as a Shinigami, but my power level will go back up after the jump, and I’ll get an unlocked Shikai once that happens.”

“Yeah?” I asked, running through the numbers in my head. “What were you thinking of buying with the points.”

“Well with those points I could take the S-Mysterious prints…” she said, speaking of the instructions on how to forge spirit swords. “Which should allow you to turn others into Shinigami.”

I nodded. “Are you certain?” I asked her, brow furrowed.

“We’ll need more allies,” she pointed out, “Since we can’t import any of the crowd. It might take a while, but better late than never.”

I had to agree…. except I had a better plan. “No… Don’t take that. Take the Quincy one,” I told her, talking about the Q-Mysterious Blueprint. They resembled a biology textbook written by a western style monk, and should, if I was right, include methods for giving not just Quincy powers like Vollstandig (Holy Form, a transformation / power release) and Letzt Stil (Last Style, a hail mary final attack) but Sternritter Schrift.

“What?” she asked. “Why?”

I smirked at her, then explained, “Because the Quincy are the enemy. Information on the nature of what they can do is important. Being able to use their own powers against them might not be possible since all Quincy are vulnerable to being stripped of their powers and lives merely by the will of their Monarch… but it should still be useful. Anyway, I think I know how to get my hands on the S-Blueprint in jump.”

So she took the ‘Q-print’ for three-fifty, an ‘Ejector’ for fifty more (a device that knocks a spirit out of a body. Instant Soul Eviction.), and (with her last hundred points), she bought ‘Shikai: Unconventional Weapon’ and gained… in theory… the ability to transform her Zanpakuto into flintlock soul pistols. Cool, piratey. I liked it. Were Western Soul Reapers Pirates? My memories did not actually contain any visual references to them.

With the builds built, and the details settled, we settled in to relax for the next couple weeks as I brooded in my office, thinking through all the various permutations I could think of. I trusted no one besides Atura with my plans.

As the month came to an end, I turned to the others and said, “Look… Like I said, I’m not your keeper or your overlord. I’d like to think of us as friends… though yes, ultimately I’m in charge. So I won’t order anyone to stay in the warehouse… within the limits. I don’t know if you’ll be able to exit into Karakura Town or not since I’m Shinigami, but we shall see. If you do go out, stay safe. Remember, this is a world as dangerous as Fairy Tail… without the lighthearted goofery. There are genuine superpowered demigods… and gods, for all intents and purposes. Yhwach is essentially Evil Japanese Christ… with all the insane powers that implies.”

I gazed out at my family and friends, and hoped that this wouldn’t be the last time we were all together. Sometimes knowledge can be a curse. I hit the drop button.

INSERTION

Step one? Find Yhwach and his Hidden Empire. Resource? one Rolodex that lists all the ways to get in touch with and the home addresses of World Leaders… even if that world leader lives in a secret bunker hidden within the afterlife. Probably wouldn’t have worked if I wasn’t a Shinigami, but it had contact info for everyone who was anyone in the Soul Society… even Tier Harribel, the ruler of Los Noches… at least until Aizen showed up and turned her into an Arrancar… and then Yhwach showed up and turned her into a trophy. A woman leader dicked over by two men… maybe that was commentary… or maybe Kubo was an ass.

Step two? Figure out how to actually get into the Hidden Empire… without tipping off the Wandenreich. Of course, it was entirely possible that doing this would be what made Yhwach come after me, but the great thing about prophecies is they aren’t that specific. No matter what Yhwach thought his reasons were, he was going to come after me because I’d ticked a specific box. Had I not done so, he might or might not have come after me, because I would still have had a mad on for a genocidal, nihilistic, egomaniacal fucknugget like ‘A’ for ‘Almighty’… seriously, who makes that his nickname? 

Getting into the Hidden Empire wasn’t going to be easy. They’d lurked inside the Soul Society for centuries without anyone catching on, despite, you know, there being Court Guards and Intelligence Agencies designed to actively look for enemies both within and without… but then again, Shinigami are beyond smug, superior, and self satisfied. They’re a Japanese-style warrior cult with thousands of years of living memory, institutional memory, and the active knowledge that their job is not only vitally important, but that they serve an actual living god by doing it… and since they destroyed the Quincy (or so they thought) no one else could do it. That lead to incredible esprit de corps… and egotism to match.

But Step two meant gaining the freedom to act, and I couldn’t do that while saddled with a 20th seat… it was kinda an officer position… inasmuch as there are a couple thousand members of every Division. There were some thirty-thousand active Shinigami in the Gotei 13, accounting for roughly eighty percent of all those who graduated from the Shinroeijutsuin… the Spiritual Arts Academy. The other twenty percent went into the Kido Corpse and the Onmitsukido… the Special Operations Directorate… aka Stealth Force. A very small number of them worked for the government of the Seireitei, Central 46, though technically they were merely the judiciary.

The term ‘Divisions’ might give one the idea that the Gotei 13 functioned like a formal military, and to an extent, they did… but in practice, the Divisions were arranged more on a dojo system than anything else. Each Division had roughly a hundred officers commanding anywhere from six-hundred Shinigami for the smallest Division (the 12th, Technology & Research) and four-thousand for the largest (9th, Security, Arts, & Culture). The officers didn’t really have a set hierarchy beneath them, with squad structure being determined by the whim of the various officers. It was a mess.

Twentieth seat was the lowest ranked of the officers, but as I’d previously stated, even the 12th division had nearly seventy officers and the 9th had almost two-hundred. See, as long as it wasn’t Seat One (i.e. Captain) or Seat Two (Vice-Captain / Lieutenant), multiple people could fill the same seat… and even the rule blocking a Division from having two Seat Twos had been broken before.

Even promotion wasn’t some formal thing; in the Gotei 13 skill mattered more than seniority. The Captain of Division Ten was much much younger than any of the others… and in fact was younger than most of the other Divisional Vice-Captains, and had been promoted to 3rd seat right out of the Academy. Like I said, a mess. It was also a twenty-one hundred year old system that hadn’t been significantly altered in all that time.

To make matters slightly worse… I found myself in the Division of one of the three  Captains who would eventually turn traitor; namely the 9th, commanded by the blind Kaname Tosen. Sure, I could have waited out my time until he was eventually replaced by Kensei Muguruma… one of the Visored after their hundred year exile was brought to an end… but that was a year or so down the line.

What I needed was a promotion… and that meant proving myself. Unfortunately, the best Division to jump to in terms of asskicking would have been the Combat Squad, Division 11… but I was most definitely a Kido user… as well as a master of magics and powers the Soul Society had no names for.

For once I wasn’t holding anything back… and the power level around me was frightening. Each Captain was probably a match in fighting skill for Raiden of Metal Gear Rising fame… and that was without going Bankai or removing their limiters. I had no way of knowing if I could face one of them mano-a-mano… so I’d have to fight my way up. But like I said, the 11th was the Combat Squad… and you know the old saying… if you can’t join em… beat em.

I hatched a plan, but put implementing it off for a time, as I had other things to do and my own current limits to explore. To that end, I took an unauthorized trip to the outskirts of the Soul Society to hunt Hollows. Best to make sure I had the basics down first, right? And I had to get a feel for Hollows if I was going to turn myself into a Visored… If I was going to have to deal with the freaks around here, I’d need the power. And anyway, like I said, I needed to have a face to face with my darker side. Sure… I could do that anyway… we were quite a collection inside our skull… but it wasn’t the same thing.

As I’d been virtually certain it wouldn’t, Soul of Ice hadn’t imported as my Zanpakuto (there hadn’t been any option to do so and the machine had returned an error when I’d tried to force the issue). But it wasn’t exactly a particularly hard fix. Soul of Ice imbibes that which makes it stronger… and placing a spiritual sword atop an artifactual one… the results were… horrifyingly painful I believe is the word.

It was like having one’s arm disintegrated one molecule at a time, pulled apart and put back together again without ever losing sensation. But it had to be done. If I didn’t bind my soul to Soul of Ice, it almost certainly would have simply absorbed the first Zanpakuto I used it against. I’d done everything I could to make the two compatible… but a since the import hadn’t been offered, I had to do the fusion manually.

I still wasn’t at all certain that Soul of Ice wouldn’t just continue to drink up the Reishi (spiritual particles) and Reiatsu (spiritual energy) of nearly everything in the area, more than once the manga / anime demonstrate how easily it could be done… but for now Soul of Ice was transformed, becoming a blade of blue water glass, the purest densest form of ice, the kind of ice normally only formed under the pressure of thirty-thousand atmospheres. Its shape flowed as the blade remembered every form it had taken, then settled into that of something closer to a burmese dha than a katana… though with a thought it could become a katana… or a bastard sword… or a rapier… or a pulse rifle.

But now I had to Jinzen… to meditate upon the sword… that’s what they did in the show to speak to the spirit of their Zanpakuto. Which was bullshit. I didn’t have to meditate crap to go into myself. I had real estate inside there… but that wasn’t a reason to be rude. Soul of Ice had served me long and hard, through thick and thin, and I’d just given it… for lack of a better word for it… a soul… part of my soul to be precise… plus a bit of Atura and Victoria too most likely.

I prepared a welcome inside the Palace of my mind and sent a message to Soul of Ice, inviting it to join me. I got no response. I sent another message to Soul of Ice, suggesting we should talk. No response. This wasn’t going well. I’d expected to have a fight against my inner demons… not against my own sword. I knew the damned thing’s name, I could Shikai… couldn’t I?

I stepped out of my mind and Shikai’d the shit out of the forest. Yup, Shikai. I tried Bankai… nothing. Fuck. Well, I didn’t major in Energy Bending for nothing. I opened my energy bending senses… and nearly blacked out from the sensory overload. Fuck… stupid… I was in the Soul Society… everything here was Spiritual Energy…. Wait… everything here was… I put the quest for Bankai on hold for a few minutes as I began to reshape a nearby tree, and some grass, and the rocks… crap… I could bend… everything here. This was… worrying… This was like the Spirit World of Avatar… without spirits everywhere. Just Soul Reapers, the righteous dead, and Hollows (and Quincies… fucking Spirit Cancer Psychos).

But back to the issue at hand. I focused on my blade… reaching into it… and  (finding something within) gripped it gently, but firmly, then pulled the spirit within into my Mind Palace with me. There I found myself with a sulking child.

“You’re a big meanie.” she said to me. She was maybe four foot nothing, with skin the color of snow and hair the color of midnight black. Her eyes were the blue of blue-ice, and her outfit fit her slender form like a sheath.

I blinked. “I am?”

She stamped her bare foot against the ground, making a heavy thudding sound and I could feel the impact inside my skull. “You keep making me drink all the nasty stuff. It tastes icky.”

Flinching a bit at the jolt of that stomp, couldn’t help myself. I laughed, then said, “Yes, well, it’s medicine to help you grow up big and strong. Is there anything you’d rather I gave you to drink? Tea?”

She made a face, wrinkling her tiny nose. “I like Orange Soda.”

I blinked again… “When have you ever had Orange Soda?”

“I haven’t… but you have and you never share!” She threw a shoe at me… impressive, since she wasn’t wearing any.

“Right… okay… fine,” I said, a bit flustered. “Let’s go to the mortal world and stab all the sodas in the shop… Fuck… I hope Karakura Town has Orange Soda.” Turns out… Japan likes Fanta… how much you ask… there are seventy-four sodding FLAVORS OF FANTA SOLD IN JAPAN!… 74! I didn’t know there were seventy-four different flavors of anything! There was a shop in Karakura Town that sold nothing but Fanta! Fanta Orange! Fanta Honey Lemon! Fanta Club! Fanta Funmix! Fanta Strawberry (Heh… I left one for Ichigo in his school bag.)… Fanta Watermelon! Fanta Fantastic Five! Fanta Grape, Golden Grape, and Grapefruit! and Fanta Lychee! It was… beyond insane.

I probably should have felt bad about haunting the shop… but I didn’t. We went from there to the Kit-Kat shop and I indulged my sword’s newly discovered sweet tooth. And from there we sampled ALLLL the flavors of ice cream, sorbet, sorbeto, gelato, sherbet, frozen yogurt, and frozen custard we could find.

Afro-Guy (Karakura Town’s actual assigned Shinigami) asked me what I was doing and why I was in the real world without permission and why I was talking to my sword so I removed his memory of the event and went to see a movie. Much more sensible than fighting Soul of Ice… I outnumbered her, was older than her… kinda…, and ultimately had the power in the relationship and she knew it. But then… she was part of me. That’s what a Zanpakuto is, a blank soul which you shape into part of yourself.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the guy who made… aaaall the Zanpakuto… to show up just as we left the theatre and ask what the fuck I’d just done. I mean, seriously… I knew he’d said he could feel the location of every Zanpakuto… but this was just silly. Also, there was a difference between location and status!

Anyway, his name was Nimaiya, called the God of the Sword, and he’d invented the Zanpakuto and the process for making one. What Joy had wanted to pay for was essentially his primer on the process. Why have the primer when we could just talk to the guy who could do the real damned thing without any decoding.

Of course, my first comment to him was “Wow… Nimaiya Oetsu…. you look good without a hole through your chest.” Great opening, me!

“You thought I was a hollow?” he asked, though it was clear he was also a bit confused as to how I knew who he was. Royal Guardsmen don’t normally mix with Court Guardsmen (despite the name). In fact, it was debatable if all the Captains even knew of the existence of the Royal Guard.

“No…” I said, hiding Soul behind me. “The last time I saw you you were dead.”

He quirked one of his funky eyebrows at me. “When was this?”

I shrugged. “A little over two years in the future.” He believed me because I was telling the truth.

“Oh.” Yeah, I wouldn’t have had much to say about that either.

“Yes,” I agreed.

He considered for a long moment, then suggested, “You could be lying.”

“I could,” I agreed again. “But I’m not. And you know it.”

“How odd,” he remarked. “I do know it.”

“I have the power to speak the truth,” I explained. A normal person would have been like ‘Well duh, everyone has that power.’ but he seemed to understand that I meant more than merely speaking truth. I meant to speak the truth and have it be recognized as such.

“Huh,” he said, thinking about the implications. “Well… that doesn’t exactly answer my question.”

“No it doesn’t…” I agreed a third time. “But then again, I consider it highly unlikely you could understand what I’ve done. No offense intended, but it’s a bit beyond your contextual framework. Let’s just say I took a little of what you made and… a lot of what I have built… and fused them together.”

“But it’s not…” he began, then trailed off. Finally he finished, “That’s not how this is supposed to work.”

“I know. Sorry about that,” I apologized. “I will tell you one thing. Find me again after the battle of Los Noches, once the holder of the crystal, he who is master of the Espada, and would be forger of the Key of Heaven in the False Town, once he has been placed in chains and sealed in a chair. Once that is done I’ll tell you everything I can. But for right now, you might want to get back to the Soul King’s Palace and try and come up with a way to turn Mortals into Shinigami without them dying… either before or after.”

“Oh? Dare I ask why?” he asked, then added, “I assume you mean not dying of the process or using the abilities? Mortals die eventually regardless of what one does. That’s why they’re called Mortal.”

“Nope,” I replied, then grinned. “But good point. Yes. not dying in the process of being made a Shinigami or because of complications arising merely from being Shinigami. But consider this; the problem with the Quincy was their methods and tools… not their spiritual power. What could they have done with the proper tools and teachings?” And then I walked away from him, leaving him to ponder my words.

See, I hadn’t planned on this. Really hadn’t. When I’d jumped into Psychonauts I’d had the choice to specialize in any one psychic discipline… and I’d thought in terms of Dune, my all time favorite book. Movie too, for that matter. And remembered my time in Twilight, a fun read, but not good by any stretch of the imagination… and I’d realized / witnessed just how powerful an ability being a Precognitive Blindspot would be. And that’s why I’d picked the ability to shield myself from Precognition. And why, ultimately, I had no choice but to make myself an enemy of Yhwach… he’d have made me one anyway.

Three years from now, Yhwach, whose power ‘Almighty’ (Hence the A) was the ability to see and manipulate the future, would declare five people “Special War Powers”, presumably based upon their potential to derail his plans. Ichigo the MC with his Unstoppable Evolution and Kenpachi Zaraki (biggest badass in the series and possessed of Overwhelming Strength) were the only two I knew for certain, though I’d read on a wiki that Aizen (Boundless Reiatsu) was one as well… which probably made Kisuke Urahara (former head of Division 12 and the sneakiest most coniving bastard in the series, said to have plans within plans within plans) one and Ichibei Hyosube (Captain of the Royal Guard and one freaky ass monk… who, in his infinite wisdom was said to have named all things in the Seireitei and who had the very first evolving Zanpakuto) the last.

Anyway, the second Yhwach realized there was an actually unpredictable variable throwing things off, he’d focus on me as well. I could have gone into hiding and just… waited until things blew over, but that wasn’t likely to work if anything I did swung things far enough that Ichigo and company lost the war. Also, there were those who fell in the Wandenreich’s Invasion that I actually liked… plus, I had taken the drawback, since conflict was effectively unavoidable. I just had to make certain that, by the time Yhwach understood the threat against him it was too late to counter… incredibly hard to do against someone who could retcon reality.

As far as my memory went, the series hadn’t ended when I’d left Origin Earth behind long long ago. The last chapter I’d read was something in the mid 650s and there would probably be at least 50 more chapters before the glacially paced Wandenreich Arc ever ended (it had started at least three years previous to that point)… and who knew how many more years worth of material had been written… would have been written? Time is wibbly wobbly as the Doctor would say.

There was a stupid little story Tite Kubo had related at one point about sixty chapters into the arc that went something like ‘The sealed King of the Quincy regained his heart again after 900 years… regained his intellect after 90 more, and regained his power after 9 more… then regained the World after 9 days.’ I knew that when Yhwach had regained his intellect he’d been responsible for the deaths of the mothers of Ichigo and Uryu (the only good guy Quincy and Ichigo’s rival)… and that had been six years in the past. In under three years, the shit was very much going to hit the fan… But hopefully, I could get this taken care of before then.

But that brought me back to figuring out my Bankai… which even Soul of Ice was no help with, since she didn’t know anything about what her form might be… which meant we’d need to find out. And that meant battle… and battle meant Hollows… at least for now.

Fighting Hollows was fascinating, it really was. Each was a unique foe, each a new challenge, and I might have had the memories (mental and physical) of a Kido Adept and a Shinigami… but I needed to practice them… and to merge the Shinigami sword styles into the forms I’d spent thousands of years practicing. The skills one gained at insertion always had room to grow.

Shinigami used four basic forms of combat; Zanjutsu (swordwork), Hakuda (hand-to-hand), Hoho (footwork, of which Shunpo… flashsteps… was the highest expression), and Kido (magic). I had the basics of and talent for Kido, another reality’s version of Hoho, and was almost certainly any Shinigami’s equal in swordwork and hand to hand… if only it had been entirely about skill… instead of a battle of spiritual power.

After confirming that, yes, I could kill a Hollow or twenty, at a time, with my sword, I had to find out if I could do so without, with Kido and magic and martial arts and especially with Spirit Bending. As long as I carried water with me, I didn’t need a sword to perform the ritual to restore a Hollow into a soul and send it on its way. In that regard, they were much like the dark spirits of the world of Avatar. On the other hand, as Pokemon had taught me… fighting type moves weren’t too effective.

Waiting for Rukia’s return from the mortal world, for Ichigo and company to invade the Soul Society to save her… waiting to get the whole serious ball of wax rolling would have driven me insane if I hadn’t had so much to do. I’d read both Arrancar and Quincy blueprints cover to cover and begun plotting how I’d use them.

When the heroes finally came, it was a relief, allowing me to set aside makework (no matter how necessary) and do something. With everyone distracted, I ventured deep into the wilderness outside the walls of the Soul Society, out, out past the furthest districts of the slums, into the black as it were, leaving my weapons and armor safely tucked away in the warehouse. I found a distant valley, empty and still, and there I placed every ward and seal I could think of upon the landscape, to keep others and their prying eyes out and… more important… me in.

I pulled out the essence of Hollow I’d collected over the past couple months and drank the vile substance down, then dove deep into myself, feeling the darkness and pain and anguish rising up inside of me, all the emotions that made a Hollow a Hollow. The lust for power, the desire to survive against all foes, the need to be triumphant, everything that was purely animalistic and feral and vicious and mean… and I felt the change wash over me as she appeared.

She… was me. The old me, the me that had been there to whisper all those horrible things the voices inside your head whisper to you… ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘you’re nothing’, ‘a quick flick of the knife’…. Or ‘if you kill them, no one will care’. Or ‘go on, laugh, laugh at the stuttering idiot’… and there were more of them… She was legion. All the pain all my selves had ever gone through, the violence, the abuse, the fear, the terror, the violations both gross and fleeting. I looked at all of them, knowing I could wipe them from the face of the universe with a casual thought. I could scour away their venom as if I were hitting a delete key. But they were me, they were part of me… and they were the largest part of my motivation to do good, either because of all the bad I’d experienced or simply in defiance of their hateful mutterings.

If I’d been a native, there would have been a fight. There should have been a fight… it would have entertained the boss… and this was a Shonen Manga after all… but I wasn’t a native and that wasn’t my way. Thus, I went to them, drawing each writhing nasty vicious thing into a tight embrace and a kiss of welcome and took them into myself, feeling their darkness coalesce with each, feeling my willpower fray a little more, my control tremble, my urge to lash out grow… but I maintained. I would not stop until I had claimed and reclaimed every part of me. I would be kind to that person it was hardest to be kind to… myself.

I had been a saint and a sinner, a murderess, a killer, an assassin, and a slayer of children and old men. I had slain tyrants and monsters, gods and demons, and simply way too damned many cyborgs, mutants, and robots… I was a work in progress… but I’d always believed enlightenment was attainable. Vajra or Bodhi, Evolutionary or Otherwise, it was possible… Perhaps this was my first true step.

With growing calm to match the growing tension, I embraced my faults down to the very last, welcoming them into myself and accepting that they existed. Pervert, Glutton, Prideful and Vain, Arrogant, Egotistical, Vindictive, and above all Judgmental. I accepted those things and many others, my anger, my Wrath, fading away as I stored its fuel away for later use.

I opened my eyes… looked around the valley… it was an empty bowl of dirt… everything within five-hundred meters was… gone. And days had passed… Almost two weeks in fact. I had missed the entire Ichigo Invasion… just as planned. Now I just had to wait through the Bount Arc and the Captain Amagai Arc (if they even happened) before the Hueco Mundo Arc would begin. Now was as good a time as any to start dueling other Shinigami and testing myself.

But first I had to hide my shiny new mask… It looked like the monkey king’s crown of control. I frowned at the bone white of it and tisked, “You can do better than that.” It shimmered and turned silvery-white, the color of fine white jade. I was now a Visored.

I could have attacked the members of 11th Division one on one in ambushes, or tricked them into duels, but that wasn’t my style… at least not with potential ‘allies’. So I marched right into their compound, announced myself in a very loud voice, then challenged their 20th Seats to a duel. To make the others mad, and to goad them into coming at me full force, I hit the first of the 20ths with Kido until he crumpled… then defeated the second without ever drawing my sword.

I got down to Seat Eight before I hit someone who tried using Shunpo against me. I Ura Flashstepped behind him and Limited Broke him into a wall. He was fast… but I’d mastered Ura Flashsteps long ago and I could, at will shatter the sound barrier into fragments… when something says a mile a second, that’s four and a half times the speed of sound. I could manage about eighteen miles in a second if I really pushed it. That’s nearly thirty kilometers… or one meter every thirty-three microseconds. The Flash I might not have been, and I wasn’t going to be dodging lightning (Mach 90 was what I could manage… lightning was mach 290.)

““Where is the Challenge?!” I demanded. “I thought you were Combat troops! Someone fight me!” It was ballsy as fuck, considering that could have drawn the attention of Kenpachi or even Seat Three Madarame or Seat Five Yumichika (the two members of the 11th who have actually mastered Bankai (the Lieutenant can’t, and Kenpachi doesn’t even have a Shikai as he’s never even spoken to his sword. Hell, I hadn’t even seen Kenpachi or Yachiru yet.

But my hubristic gamble paid off with Seat Seven (Agatsugi, I think his name was), who, after going into Shikai, actually managed to finally land a hit that caused me any pain at all. It was like getting a papercut across one’s cheek. I grinned, then roared, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” That fight lasted almost thirty seconds.

The first of three Seat Sixes was a brute with both speed and stamina. His footwork was impressive, as was his reiatsu… but his swordsmanship wasn’t. It was actually beginning to bother me just how poorly trained many of these Shinigami were. Far from being an elite army, the law of conservation of ninjutsu had hit hard, making the vast masses of them less impressive than the average stormtrooper. They might have been meant to be more than that, but thanks to the fiercely individualistic nature of their society and the focus on one on one battles of the storyline… as well as the glaring lack of anyone one for them to curbstomp and thus show their badassery to… they weren’t. They were essentially nameless drones there to be slaughtered just to give enemies bodies to stack. I put him down hard. And the two that followed. I still hadn’t needed to go into Shikai.

Standing with sword tip on the ground I looked at the gathered Division 11, which now included both Peacock Head (Yumichika) and Baldy (Madarame). “This is pathetic!” I sneered. “This is why you lost to a Mortal with stolen powers, two Freaks, and a Quincy! You’re nothing! I don’t know why I came here hoping for a real fight. Combat Squad? You wouldn’t know Combat if introduced itself formally. You’re thugs in robes. You should be ashamed of yourselves!”

I looked out at the massed Shinigami. “I’m the 20th seat of my Division! I should have been stopped long before hitting single digits, let alone before breaking into your senior officers. You’d think a Division that prides itself on being the best at Combat and eschewing Kido would be better at this, but you’re not! It’s holding you back! You’re obsessed with Combat and you stink at it. You’re like children who think ‘Ooo, Battle is Awesomes! Lol! I should do that!’ but you’ve never bothered to actually learn what Combat really is!”

I pointed at their officers. “You’ve got Peacock Head, who’s so desperate to be cool that he lies about the name of his sword and hides the fact that he’s powerful enough to take out any lieutenant except for Division 1’s. He’d probably master Bankai in a heartbeat if he’d actually talk to his sword instead of getting into sulking contests with what’s fundamentally part of himself. He could replace Tosen tomorrow if he wanted to, but no, ‘Combat is Cool. Kido is icky!’ And so he sits at Seat Five like a overbred akita panting for his master’s attention.”

I shifted my gaze to Seat Four whose name I hadn’t bothered to learn. “You’ve got a non-entity who only has his position because his betters are afraid of the number Four. You’re Shinigami… the Shi is in the name you idiots!”

Turning at last to Baldy. “You’re bald. Letting yourself get worked up about that is… frankly, ridiculous. You’re more childish than she is!” I indicated the lieutenant who’d finally shown up. “And seriously… if any of you didn’t know this bald idiot could Bankai, you’re stupider than I thought. We’ve got three empty slots for Captains and this guy refuses to fill one of those posts because ‘Paperwork is Scary’ and he thinks he won’t get to fight as much.  SPARRING IS NOT COMBAT! It’s is to combat what masturbation is to sex! Like I said, you’re all idiots. Fighting isn’t a game! It’s not the cool thing! It should always have a purpose and that purpose is to always either protect or to kill. That’s it.” I snarled at them, my words dripping disdain.

“Self-imposed limits are great ways to train. Letting monsters and traitors pound on you isn’t.” I looked at the lieutenant. “Child of Slaughter. Snack Thief. You I’d very much like to fight. But I don’t think you’d take the fight seriously, preferring to let Kenpachi do it for you…” at that moment my third eye finished peering into the small pink-haired girl and I truly understood what I was looking at. I stumbled in my words, then began laughing at the hilarity of it all. Of course. It all made soo much sense now. 

Gathering myself, I shooking my head in amusement, then (ignoring the outraged glares) continued. “As for Captain Zaraki… well, even I’m not insane enough to think I could beat him… but I’d very much like to try to last as long as I could. Yet it grows late. I think I’ll return tomorrow at dawn. Ikkaku, Yumichika, if you fight me, you’ll have fight me with your Bankai. I won’t accept anything less.” I eyed them with challenge in ever gesture, then faced the Vice-Captain and said, “Yachiru… if you fight me with all you’ve got… I have one hundred mortal chocolate bars for you. And tell your captain, if he’s ever interested in actually learning how to sword fight instead of just… hacking at things with Nozarashi… I could use a student.”

The only being in that entire world who knew who Nozarashi was flinched as if struck. Of course she was taken off guard. The one person who should have known the name didn’t even know how to listen for it. Kenpachi Zaraki… the only Shinigami whose Zanpakuto had a Zanpakuto of her own.

I turned to leave. “Oh… and if any of you comes looking for me after I leave, wanting a little revenge or payback… I went easy on most of you.” Nothing like taunting bears with ground beef. I whistled as I walked away. That had been fun! The wicked snarky part of my inner Hollow was pleased.

I did go back the next day. I had to. I’d given my word. It was like walking into a den of hungry jackals. I sighed. This was going to be amusing. “Gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me,” I said to the senior officers, then turned to face the crowd. “If any of you… or all of you… feel hard done by with what I said yesterday, please, feel free to attack me, all at once or one at a time. But know that, if you do, you’ll miss the entertainment.” Some sixty or so took me up on my offer. I signed my name in Kanji with their unconscious forms; San Jizou it said.

“Well, I’m warmed up,” I said, stretching. “Who’s next?”

Question: Was I able to defeat Ikkaku or Yumichika? Answer: They’re highly powerful fighters… no I wasn’t. Not without using Shikai, which I wanted to save for something important, or Bankai, which I hadn’t mastered, or using other powers. Not without demonstrating advantages that would demonstrate just how little I was an actual Soul Reaper. I didn’t have the raw power and even with Ura Flash Steps I was having trouble keeping up with their footwork. I was hypersonic… they were better than that. There’s a reason the Arrancar version is called ‘Sonido’. Still, I was beginning to see the nature of Shunpo and how to use it. But I hadn’t come to actually defeat them. I’d come to fight them.

The next six days went like this: Day One Prelims, Day Two Yumichika / Peacock Head (Good Fight, beating me sent him to the hospital), Day Three 4th Seat von NoName (kicked his ass), Day Four Ikkaku / Baldy the Balder Baldman, Day Five Yumichika out of the hospital (forced him to use his fake Bankai on me, more fun!), Day Six Baldy again (still hadn’t gotten him to use his Bankai, but the guy’s pretty decent at hand-to-hand, so we did that instead of actual swordplay. After the sixth day’s sparring, while tossing individually wrapped snack cakes at Yachiru to see how fast she could cut the wrappers off and eat the snacks without actually touching them with her fingers or letting them hit the floor, I commented, “It’s a long walk back to the Division 9 Barracks.”

Ikkaku grunted, “You’re not a bad fighter, you could join our squad.”

Yumichika snapped, “She uses a Kido blade!”

“You don’t know that!” Yachiru said, defending me… or (more likely) the Snacks I provided her with), “She doesn’t even use Shikai.”

“Neither does Kenpachi,” Yumichika retorted.

“Yeah, but he’s the Captain,” Ikkaku pointed out.

“Boys. Boys!” I said, chuckling, “Please. Don’t beg. It’s entirely up to your Captain.”

A shadow loomed over me… a shadow with many pointed spikes sticking up from its head. Finally he’d shown up. Maybe he’d been lost; the local Hibiki drawback was based on him, after all. “You think you’re good enough?” he growled.

“To qualify as a member of the ‘We fight a lot but don’t know how to do it well squad’? Sure. There are probably some grandmas in the Rukongai that would pass muster,” I snarked, looking up at him over my shoulder. “To fight you? Yeah, sure, why not?” I rolled my shoulder, then faced him squarely, bringing up Soul of Ice as I did so. “You’ve got to promise not to go easy on me,” I teased, knowing I was probably going to regret being so glib.

It’s a good thing I heal fast. I got a lesson in having my ass handed to me by Kenpachi Zaraki. Once I’d proved that, yes, my blade could actually cut the Captain, even without revealing my Shikai, he stopped letting me hit him… and went on the offensive, forcing me to defend with every ounce of skill I had. Kenpachi was as far from being my equal in finesse and swordsmanship as I was from being his equal in raw spiritual power… and  yet both of us were holding back.

“You’re not fighting with everything you’ve got!” he growled.

“Neither are you, Captain,” I responded, not quite panting. His stamina was unbelievable for someone who didn’t have perks backing up.

“Yeah…” he grunted, “but I’m trying not to die of boredom.”

I smirked, then retorted, “And here I am trying to be all mysterious and cool.”

He laughed. Then kicked me through a dozen walls. It was like… well, like being booted in the tits by an eight foot tall psychopath with near infinite spiritual power. The walls barely hurt at all by comparison. I lay in the rubble and groaned.

“Fight over?” Yachiru asked, sounding a little disappointed. 

I summoned a Snickers Bar from my sleeve and handed it to her, then groaned, “For today.”

“Today?” she asked, sounding surprised.

I sat up, already fully healed. My healing factor goes waaay beyond fuckng amazing. “Just because you people are slackers doesn’t mean I’m going to go easy on the lower seats once you offer me the 4th Seat.”

“Who said we’re offering you the 4th Seat?” Yachiru asked, while the three officers who mattered watched in varying degrees of astonishment as I stood, brushing myself off as if I hadn’t just taken an ungodly beating. They hadn’t seen the hydrotap from the warehouse pumping superfluid saltwater for me to drain of its chill.

“Well,” I began, “Chromedome would get mad having to go down to four and Featherface would get mad having to go up because he’s a looney who’s afraid of his friends hating him for something he can’t control. Wow, great shades of transgenderism.” I cricked my neck, then summoned my sword to my hand, something none of the others could do as far as I’d seen. 

“You make me 4th Seat,” I offered, “and I’ll teach those morons in the double digits how to actually fight monsters. And in exchange, we’ll fight and I’ll teach you how to actually swing that stick in your hand like a sword.”

Kenpachi growled, “I know how to-” but he didn’t have time to finish before I acted.

Arching an eyebrow, I flicked Soul of Ice from her scabbard so fast there was a sonic boom that knocked Nozarashi from the Captain’s hand and flattened his hairspikes, ripping the bells from their tips. “You know how to fight,” I said. “But you rely entirely on power, not technique. I did that with almost entirely with technique and just a tiny little bit of power. Believe me when I say, there is almost certainly no one in the entire Soul Society who can match me in pure swordfighting technique.”

The big man got my point, I got a transfer, and that’s what I did until the start of the Hueco Mundo Arc, besides turning Uriel into an Arrancar, as he was technically dead… I’d always assumed he’d been saved by the Medbay… but becoming a Shinigami allowed me to see the truth… Uriel was very much dead, as in Sovngarde dead, a ghost that the Medbay had given a body to match his genetic code and the Companion Body Mod Pod had upgraded, but the Warehouse was Uriel’s Sovngarde and the body he was using was essentially a very adaptable gigai. Turning him into an Arrancar was almost too easy.

By the time Aizen kidnapped Orihime, I’d gotten very good indeed at Kido, especially without the incantations (it wasn’t that much different from unvoiced spells at Hogwarts). I’d also gotten damned good at Shunpo, which was highly compatible with Ura Flashsteps, and I looked forward towards observing a full Arrancar using Sonido (Ahab was pretending to be a kid living with Joy, who was in the Kido Corps.) But that wasn’t the only change. Battling high energy opponents had taught me tricks with Reishi & Reiatsu I’d never have imagined and that probably wouldn’t work anywhere else.

First, let’s clear up something… Reiatsu is Spirit Pressure, like atmospheric pressure except radiating out from powerful spiritual entities. Those entities possessed ‘Reiryoku’ or Spirit Power… think chi but purely spiritual. It was in every living thing. Reishi was the building block of everything in the spiritual world. In direct contact with someone I could bend their Reiryoku, though it was easier to do to mortals than to Shinigami who were more aware of their spiritual nature. I could also, through energybending shape the Reishi around myself into a shield or armor or… well… anything else I could think of. If that Reishi was in the form of Water, Ice, Fire, or Lightning, my control quadrupled. Deflecting Reishi and Reiatsu attacks was getting easier and easier with every passing battle.

But I wasn’t spending all my time training just against the others of Division 11. I’d made sure that everyone in the soul society knew of my boast to be the greatest living swordsman in the Soul Society, and that had, at first drawn the curious… and then the experts… and finally the masters. The rules were simple. No sword powers, no Kido, as pure an expression of swordsmanship and footwork as was possible. With each opponent I faced, I learned more and more of the tiny elements each had worked into their Hoho, and my own footwork improved more and more rapidly.

And I had potential students coming out the woodwork. Four hours a day I trained entire groups of Division 11 members in group tactics, coordination, shield work (oh yes. I taught the Shinigami to use fucking shields… morons). They bitched, said I didn’t use one. I just glared at them and summoned another Pseudo-Hollow. I was drinking pure sugar syrup to keep up the strain of crafting so many of them, but there too I was getting better about making my creations more and more dangerous and intelligent. “When you have mastered fighting as a group, you can complain about my tactics.”

Of course, in the depths of the Night, I wasn’t just napping either. I had, after months of scouting… and finally just calling in Zane to get him to ask the Spirit of the Soul Society’s City where exactly the entrances to the Wandenreich’s secret lair might be found… finally managed to find my way into the hidden side of the Soul Society. Thankfully, the Hidden Empire was massive, and drastically under populated… then again, the inner area of the Soul Society was pretty underpopulated too, essentially consisting of huge swaths of labyrinth, massive villas, and pointlessly empty buildings.

And so it was, that when Ichigo and company headed off to Los Noches (the fortress capital/capitol of Hueco Mundo), I instead headed into the realm of the Wandenreich to… prune the branches. Yhwach had a power called ‘Auswahlen’ (another A!) that would allow him to transfer energy from impure or less important Quincies and give it to ones he felt were more deserving… or even himself. Thus, reducing his potential pool of energy would be useful… and if I could take out a Sternritter Elite Troups or one of his inner circle of guardsmen, his Schutzstaffel (seriously, could he be a bigger Nazi?) it would take a huge chunk out of his offensive force.

Ultimately, my goal was to take out Lille Barro (aka X or the X-Axis, the sniper who had killed / would kill Zanpakuto guy) and Jugram Haschwalth (aka B or The Balance, Yhwach’s second-in-command, and possessor of Yhwach’s power when big Y was napping). Of course, to kill either of them, I’d have to strike absolutely on target without giving them a moment to respond… they were that powerful. Then again, that’s how I was planning on killing any of the Quincies in the first place.

By my calculations, Yhwach hadn’t reached the end of the 9th year yet. If he opened his eyes before that time, all his followers would, in theory, be stripped of their powers. The best way to defeat him then would be to do so before he could use his knowledge of the future… but when Yhwach slept, Jugram had his powers… and vice versa. Which was the only thing I had going for me, because Jugram’s normal powers… assuming I’d understood what I’d read… were to turn every misfortune against his attackers… and then return the damage they’d tried to do to him.

But that was for later. For the time being I haunted Silbern, the ice-frosted citadel of the Wandenreich, murdering Quincies one by one and dissolving their bodies into nothing but dust. Coming for me… oh yes, the Leader of the Quincies would be coming for me… but the drawback hadn’t said anything about it being a fair fight or him having any special knowledge of me. For the time being, I waited to face the masters of the Wandenreich, doing my due diligence and reading the minds of all I passed, learning the natures and weaknesses of their gifts from their own thoughts… so very very few of them had any protection at all against mind readers or my Third Eye. If Morale is the Queen of War, Intel is King.

By the time I’d cut their numbers by twenty, there was a general outcry. By the time it was fifty, there was a total lockdown. I took another ten just to prove I could and returned to the Soul Society after leaving a calling card… a Z slashed into a tapestry in the front hall.

Before the fall of Aizen, I returned twice more, each time destroying another handful of the Quincies. I’d have done more, but I had to help in the battle of Fake Karakura town… Orders were Orders. The day after Aizen was returned from Los Noches in chains, I was summoned to the Soul King’s Palace…. Or rather one of the five floating cities surrounding it. It seemed Nimaiya wanted to see me.

“Okay. Aizen’s been captured. No Oken made in Karakura town, fake or real. What’s going on?” he asked. The Oken was the Key to Heaven that would have opened the way to the secret dimension the Soul King’s Palace and its five cities resided in. Forging it had been Aizen’s goal all along, and to do so he’d been willing to sacrifice the lives and souls of several hundred thousand mortals.

“Have you found a way to do as I requested?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he said, “Though I’m not at all certain it will work. You’ll need damned powerful mortals. No, I don’t think being a Fullbringer is enough.” Fullbringers were people whose mothers had been attacked by Hollows before they themselves were born. Some of that Hollowification was passed into their children, especially if they were pregnant during the attack.

“I have faith in you,” I assured him. “And that’s why I’m going to tell you, and only you… and Ichibei who is over there in the corner hiding in his ink, erasing his own presence.”

The massive shinto monk laughed as he emerged from his hiding place. “You’re good, kid.” I felt a slight ripple as his power to change the names of things and thus the nature of it pressed on me, but I had a strong enough sense of self not to be damaged by his casually calling me a ‘kid’.

“I’m better than that,” I bragged. “And I’m an order of magnitude older than you are. But that’s neither here nor there, and I didn’t come to measure dicks. Ichibei, you’re out of my league… which is a problem… because the one who I’ve come to warn you about is out of yours as well.”

He sputtered, “Nonsense… I am the-”

“Yhwach is returning.” I cut him off. “And unless we find a way to stop him, he will kill the Soul King. He will kill the Soul King, bring about massive destruction on the Soul Society, slay you both… though Ichibei might survive being slain… hell, both of you might. I never saw confirmation of your death either Nimaiya.”

They glanced at each other, then back at me. “How do you know this?” the monk asked.

“I read it in a picture book… what the mortals call ‘Manga’.”

“How could a Manga tell the future?” Ichibei asked.

“Because to me this isn’t the future… this is the past,” I half-explained. “I come from a time when those things were already accomplished. Look… Yhwach’s power allows him to see everything that will happen… but not everything that has already happened… He can’t change the past. I can. I am an anomaly, and any day now he’s going to figure out that I’m a threat to him and send his minions after me. I have a plan to deal with it… but I need things to be in place before that happens.”

“Can you tell us how to find him?” Nimiya aksed.

“I can,” I confirmed. “But if I do, there is a very real chance he’ll attack immediately. I need you to figure out a way to stop him, or at least slow him down. I will tell you this… When Ichigo Kurosaki returns to Los Noches… that will be the most likely time for the attack. It will be sudden, overwhelming, and extremely nasty… And Captain-Commander Genryusai will almost certainly be killed in the opening stages of the invasion.”

“You’ve gone from absolutes to qualified statements,” Nimaiya pointed out. “Why?”

“Because I’ve already changed enough variables that things may not go as I saw. I have… erased… nearly nearly seventy-five of the mid-tier Quincies of the Wandenreich, including several Sternritters. If all goes well, I will be able to kill two more, including the one who killed you, Nimaiya… but… and you must know this… If you kill one of the Quincies, it is possible for Yhwach to sacrifice a less important Quincy to restore a more important one to life…. More powerful than before. Also… if I can’t take out the one named Lille Barro… his bullets cannot be blocked and will hit even if you dodge them. Reflecting them back at him is the only way, and it will take a very powerful spirit mirror to do so.”

“Anything else?” Ichibei asked, concern creasing his normally jovial brow.

“Yes,” I said, feeling a little sick remembering the issue in question. “Yhwach can empower even which you erase, Ichibei. I saw you erase his voice, half his power, and his name and yet he still decapitated you. Now, Nimaiya… I have some friends I’d like you to meet.”

Sniper duels are a tradition as old as the sniper game. Two hunters stalk each other across a wilderness of covers and blinds and roosts, waiting for the other to make a mistake. I had no interest in having such a duel with Lille Barro… For one, he was bug-fuck insane. But I did have a plan.

Jugram’s best friend as a child had been Bazz-B… stupid name, I know, especially for someone born around 900 AD… and Bazz (aka H The Heat) would try and kill Jugram once he realized how little Yhwach cared about his followers. Time to accelerate that battle a bit. I hunted down Bazz inside Silbern, and… with a flick of will… drew him inside the Theater of the Palace of my Mind.

“Hello Bazz,” I said, my voice coming from everywhere and nowhere.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asked, eyes flicking around the place, trying to figure out where he was and where I was.

“I am… Yhwach’s enemy,” I said, smirking. “My name is irrelevant.”

“Where are you?” he demanded.

I laughed merrily. “I am in everything you see and everything you hear and touch. But if you need something to look at…” I appeared on the edge of the stage, crosslegged and looking very Asari.

“That’s not an answer!” he snapped, then gasped as I leaned forward and poked his nose. His hand scrambled for a weapon that wasn’t there.

“True!” I agreed, then gave him a weapon made of mental twizzlers. “Regardless, Yhwach thinks of all you Quincies as nothing but expendable assets, tools to get him where he wants to be.”

“Lies!” he bellowed, turning reddish under his silly fuschia mohawk. “You lie!”

“Oh. I do!” I confirmed. “I lie all the time, in little ways and big ways and ways so enormous your tiny little mind can’t comprehend them. But I’m not lying about this.” I threw up images from the manga… but these images had been recreated out of my memories using the actual people in the actual places. These were pictures only in the purest sense of the term. They were the next best thing to real. “This will happen,” I said, showing him the moment where Yhwach would pull the life and power out of those Quincies he’d deemed worthless.

“How… he wouldn’t… you don’t know him,” the hotheaded Quincy said, sounding almost plaintive.

“I know you,” I replied, showing him the moments of his own past, drawn in equal parts from his own mind and from the pages of the comic. “Only Jugram has value to him. The rest of you are only of value until you aren’t. Loyalty, Honor… these mean nothing to the man who would be god.”

He trembled, finally falling to his knees. “What can I do?” he asked after an hour of motionless silence. I told him to bring Jugram to a place just inside the walls of the Soul Society at midnight, where he’d show him the person killing all their fellow Quincies… and then, together, we’d take him down, then move on Yhwach. “Why at night? He can see what will happen at night.”

“Yes, but he can’t turn our luck against us. There’s a small chance, but just because you can see everything, doesn’t mean you can stop it from happening.”

Bazz is, for a Quincy, well meaning… but he’s a moron of the first water. He showed, as I’d known he would, with Jugram in tow. Jugram had to know this was a trap. I was hoping he would. Which is why I was perched atop the highest point in the Soul Society and about to do something insane.

One of my creations, one who looked like me and had a similar soul signature entered the square, and promptly attacked. Bazz, seeing that as the signal, attacked Jugram from the other side. I closed down all my senses into the moment, the butt of Soul of Ice’s rifle form snug against my shoulder. I was not breathing, my hearts were not beating. I was, all together, in that moment. And then I fired.

The bullet raced the speed of light towards Jugram’s head, crossing the intervening miles in hundred thousandths of a second. And yet he turned towards the shot, the shot that must have passed out of my unpredictability field and I saw him raise his hand to block the Reishi Bullet with the Cero field, a Quincy Bolt loosed from a bow never made by a child of the Father of All Quincies, that glowing pulsing, glaring ball of death. And then, with all his power and focus fronting on the bullet… I plunged my sword into his back.

“Predict this, mother fucker. Ban… Kai.” and a billion monomolecular snowflakes exploded out of Yhwach’s other half’s form. The area froze solid in an instant, froze and quaked and shattered, just like Jugram. Just like the bullet of energy fired from Lille Barro’s rifle that was targeted right at my chest. I grinned “Just as planned.” and grunted as thing punched a hole the size of a baseball right through my chest. Fuck… that hurt.

In the moment or so I had before I blacked out, I summoned a doppleganger with an identical wound, set to die spectacularly, and shunted myself into my medbay. Having 80% of your heart, most of your solar plexus, and bits of your lungs and esophagus vaporized is not fun, even if you’re a spirit at the moment. Good thing I had a second heart.

Clutched in my hand, however, was the soul of Jugram Haschwalth, the letter B that formed his power, that had been inscribed upon his very essence by Yhwach himself. Quincies… gotta love em… reality is a playtoy. Well, let’s see you raise Jugram without a body or soul, mein Fuhrer.

The next fourteen months were… dull. Very very dull. I spent them in the mortal realm, wearing a different body and just being a normal nobody. Couldn’t let Yhwach suspect his hitman had failed. So I waited, and waited, and waited. No practicing, no… nothing. Normal Joe Mortal (I was going male for this bit, just to be more confusing. It had been a while. My male human form was as big as Kenpachi… wow… hunky.)

But if I wasn’t practicing… my followers, my Maskadors were. A little bit Quincy but without the link to El Psycho Supremo, a little bit Shinigami, and a little bit Hollow… and all eager to cause some mischief. RayRay’s Bankai was… well… if using Dragon Ascent made her Mega Rayquaza… this was Giga Rayquaza… on steroids… with a Cero Heilig Pfeil breathweapon. The Six-Armed Asura Metagross could fire six at once. Zane, for reasons surpassing understanding, had a Zanpakuto shaped like Squall Lionheart’s Gunblade… and yes, it too fired Quincy Arrows. Kendra’s Windbow could now mow people down with scythe-like windblades. It was… to be honest, terrifying to watch the dailies from Velma.

I’d paid in kind for Nimiya’s Guide to Shinigami Creation. I’d traded plans for defenses designed specifically to keep Quincies out of key places, chambers that were my best guess at how to make Dune-Type No-Rooms, rooms that defied precognition. They weren’t perfect, but they’d haze things up a bit. I also lent Nimiya my RWBY Aura Booster to study and try out. And just to be a sport about it, I cleaned up his mental landscape for him, sorted his emotional baggage, cleared the Psychic Cobwebs, the usual. I owed it to him.

Eventually the Invasion happened, as it always does, and Joy called me with the two word message “Go Time.” Ultimately I hadn’t changed much, over all. The invasion went off much as it had in the manga, but this time as a much less of a one-sided curbstomp. The Wandenreich took hellish losses just to delay the prepared and eager Shinigami. Allied losses were a third what they had been, and Yhwach was pressed more and more to accomplish his goal before interference stopped him.

But still, things played out in a similar fashion. Genryusai died. No great loss. Others died as well, which was sad, but it happens. Couldn’t stop doggy boy from getting crippled or the clone maiden from being eaten by the hand clones… trust me, it would take faaar too long to explain and wouldn’t really be worth the effort. And still I didn’t make my move. I waited, and waited, until Ichibei faced off against the man of the hour, waiting until the forgone (known by all involved) conclusion to their fight. And then I confronted Yhwach.

“You cannot stop me!” he shouted.

“You cannot know that,” I countered, centered and calm.

“This is Destiny! It has been foreseen!” the would be God-King raved.

I laughed, then said, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.” in my best John Cleese.

“What?!” Yhwach demanded, totally thrown off his game.

“Exactly!” I hammed.

He snarled, then demanded, “Get out of my way!”

“Or What?” I asked.

“Or else I shall swat you,” he said, sneering contemptuously. 

“Heh,” I snorted derisively. “You and what army?”

“Once I know a power, I am immune to it,” he bragged.

“I love that about you guys,” I replied, unphased. “Every fucking idiot in this world has to explain, in the heat of battle, just how their power works. Seems to be a god damned law of reality. I dunno about you, but whatever my power was, I’d lie.”

“Lie?” he asked, confusion growing, but not comprehension.

“Yeah!” I confirmed. “Lie. Like I did when I killed Jugram.”

“You lied?” He looked utterly perplex now.

“Oh. Yes,” I assured him. “Very much so. With every word.”

He shook his head as if unable to believe he was having this conversation. “How so?”

With a shrug, I explained, “I said Bankai.”

“So?” he asked. “That’s what you used to kill my Jugram.”

I smirked. “Except, buddy boy… that wasn’t my Bankai. That was my Shikai. You’ve never seen my Bankai. No one ever has.”

“So what?” He threw his hands wide, triumph ringing in his words as he proclaimed. “You can’t beat me! I am Yhwach!”

“Yeah yeah yeah, you’re a pretty princess,” I agreed. “Daddy was mean to you and didn’t give you enough presents and so you’re going to kill billions of people just so you can feel special. Fuck a duck, you need help.” My tone was anything but respectful.

“Silence!” he howled, and the wind around us twisted into dark shadows that looked a little like eyes. “I will not be-”

“Oh yes you will be.” I was mocking him now.

“I shall destroy you!” he shouted, raising his arm heavenward. “You have made a mistake facing me alone!”

“Alone? Who said I was alone?” I drew my sword. “Watch carefully. You’ve never seen anything like this before. Bankai… All of Me.”

And the world… exploded. This wasn’t an Ice Age. This wasn’t anything that nice. This was an Ice Epoch. Two hundred me’s, all throwing off Icy waves of Winter Tide exploded onto the scene, each wielding a different Soul of Ice. This wasn’t just my True Bankai… this was my Semblance… and the true form of my Limit Break… all rolled into one. This was the nature of my soul… Winter, in all its facets, a storm of Ice and Snow and winds that made absolute zero seem like a summer’s day. This wasn’t just cold… wasn’t just Winter. This was the Winter of the Soul. I could maintain it for thirteen seconds and seven-thousand-seven-hundred-and-seventy-six blows from each of the two-hundred-and-sixteen mes in that unhallowed swarm.

It was long enough. It was enough damage. Cast a big enough shadow and you can hide anything. Yhwach could see everything, every action… but he wasn’t god. He could not see inside people’s souls, could not know why they did what they did. But I could. I could be inside all those minds, planting suggestions, ideas, memories of conversations we’d had that had then been erased from history… except in memory. I could edit the timeline, jumbling things, making a mess of precognition.

In effect, I’d hacked Yhwach’s future out from under him. As the ice tightened around him, sealing him in crystal just like the Soul King, I whispered into his mind “And on the seventh day, she ate his eyes.” and the demonic cryogenic ice-fish I’d created to live and move within my eternal Ice began gnawing at the would-be-usurper’s eyes. They would never, ever, stop.

“You wanted to be god. Those who plot to overthrow god get frozen in ice and sealed in a pit.” I waved my hand and we were inside his Palace, before his throne. “I’ve moved Silbern. Ichibei has created a separate realm for you to rule. You should feel honored. We call it the Oubliette. There are no souls here, no reishi, and no power can enter without the key. There’s one copy.” I held it up. “It can’t be used from the inside… so once I leave, no one will ever enter it again. But, don’t worry, you have plenty of space here… after all, it’s bigger on the inside. We left you a window. Enjoy the view.” And I dropped the key in front of his icy prison and left him there, staring out of the Soul King’s left eye… forever.

As for what happened next? Filler Arcs. Lots and lots of Filler Arcs.

Next: World 37 – More of the Same

Resources: BuildDocument

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(note, this uses the older Bleach Document, not New Bleach or Bleach Reborn, neither of which were out at the time.)

World 35: Redwall

WAR & REMEMBRANCE

Previously: War Crimes

Themesong: These Dreams by Heart

I was no longer Sio Jang, the guilt-ridden survivor-slayer of Whispering Pines, but I, EssJay, was not doing well, emotionally speaking, over the next few days. The nightmares when I slept were horrifying, and I kept flashing back to the horrors of war I’d seen in Starfleet, the Zombie Apocalypse, as a SPECTRE, and in the all too many wars I’d fought across all too many jumps. I’d been through far too much to allow what I’d done in Psychonauts destroy me, and had ways of fighting off the worst of the darkness without collapsing utterly, but meditation and medication only go so far, and guilt is a powerful agent. 

So it was that, one the seventh day after the end of Psychonauts, when I saw that Redwall was the next jump in the sequence I almost wept. Might have too, had I not so completely internalized the emotional control techniques I’d gained from being a Vulcan. It’s strange what sticks with a person, but while the treacherous voice of doubt and self-loathing was speaking in my head, whispering that I’d make an utter hash of this too, the voices of my better… selves… pointed out that a) dwelling in the past was unproductive and b) I had a pretty good track record for not fucking up royally, and c) while there would almost certainly be pepper grinders in Redwall, they were unlikely to be wielded by mad scientists with a fleet of psychic tanks. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much to lighten my mood, but moping didn’t earn the Choice Points needed to keep the lights on.

Also unfortunately, I’d never read more than the first book of Brian Jacques’ sprawling series, although I knew the names of a couple of the latter books. It was all very… Secret of NIMH without the mad science… lots of woodland animals living together and being medieval in the ruins of a Human built abbey or something. The details hadn’t stuck too firmly in my head, especially not with the voracious way I used to consume media… not that I’d slowed down, of course.

Sure, I hadn’t encountered any Jump setting that wasn’t linked to something created on Origin Earth, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t ever going to happen. And sure, I was spending a lot more of my time pursuing other hobbies… but thanks to my reading glasses I could read eighteen times faster than before. Shame I couldn’t process audio files eighteen times faster as well. Someone should invent ’18x Galeforce Hearing Aids… or maybe that would blow out your eardrums and core your brain… but probably not. Of course, I could cheat outrageously in other ways.

By giving Ziggy a stack of books in my pokebag, then using my ability to bring people inside my mind for up to a full day, every day… a day worth of time in which the outside world was paused in time and no one, not even me, was getting any older… I could effectively sextuple my reading time… assuming that I was reading only four hours a day otherwise. Add to that the fact that there were literally two-hundred of me inside my own head? Yeah… we could go through a frightening amount of books in a day… even if most of those books ended up being read multiple times.

What can I say? Different me’s had different perspectives on things. You try having a book club with twenty or thirty of your own pre-incarnations some time. Of course… that was another question… were they pre-incarnations of the current me? or reincarnations of the original me? Or were they both at the same time? Being a jump plays merry hell with metaphysics sometimes.

So yeah… Astral Layers had taken my ADHD to terrifying new levels, though there were now so many of me that I could be spazzing out in a dozen ways and an outside observer would never know because the me in the driver’s seat could be (almost) totally focused. But secretly? On the inside? I could now have enough thought processes all running around inside my head simultaneously to rival Parliament… Congress… the Kinesit… which country was I from again!!? I’d been from so very very many… or not really that many, actually… who’s to say?

In terms of ‘Real’ nations I’d called home (either as a native or emigree), I’d lived in the US (many times), the UK, Norway, China, Japan, Estonia, France, Israel, Russia, Kazakhstan, Austria (pre-WWII), Poland (post-Aku), Scandinavia (both during the Viking Era and after), and Jamaica. I’d also lived in Hoenn, Pokeland, Council Space, Black Marsh, Vulcan, The United Federation of Planets, Bastion’s ‘City’, Megakat City, The Nowhere Islands, Mirkwood, Gondor, Midgard, The Southern Water Tribe, The Earth Kingdoms, Republic City, The Fire Nation, The Maegi-Yternal Technocratic Hegemony (realm of MYTH? I’m hilarious!), The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros (which became The Republic of Jaynusia), Remnant, Gensokyo, Fiore, Academy City, and Poketopia. And soon the world of Redwall, right? 

According to my spin on the Wheel of Locations, I would arrive a few miles from the ancient mountain of ‘Salamandastron’ (a name I’d seen on book jackets but never known to be a mountain), currently the dominion of Lord Stonepaw (whoever he was), just as the armies of the wildcat Ungatt Trunn (whoever that is) are marching towards it… though I’ll have a head start. So yay? I could run from the armies of some guy right into the hands of the… I dunno… guards of some other guy. Except here the guys were a cat and… I actually had no idea what Lord Stonepaw was… or who the good guy was.

Anyway, a few seasons (out of the 40 we’ll be stuck in Zootopia) from now… then… from jump start, a warrior named Luke (etc.) would… will set out to get revenge on some murderous pirates… are there really any other kind?  I mean really. Well, I guess in fiction, there were honorable pirates who just pirated as a economic thing and didn’t murder, rape, or enslave others. But they were still thieves who routinely ruined people’s lives at gunpoint. Even privateers weren’t fighting warships, they were raiding commerce, and that meant ruining economies and making people’s lives so bad that their government couldn’t continue a war. That was bad enough at the best of time, but since such piracy was usually part of a campaign of terror? It was so much worse. Getting rich off of it was just… deplorable.

So yeah, I guess good for Luke. At least he seemed to be a reasonable sort. Shame about them killing his wife. Had no idea who the pirates were or what species any of these people were… though all this did raise some interesting questions.

Fantasy racism gets a bad rap sometimes, but when you’re dealing with actually different species, each with their own mentalities shaped by evolution and neural chemistry, with different strengths and weaknesses… was it still racism? Was Specism really unfair of the sapient tigers were all murderous sadistic fucks? If the Guinea Pig People were as stupid as a bag of hammers? If the Weaselfolk really did have attention spans measurable with a high end olympic stopwatch? Was it sexist to say that female peafowl were drab, male spiders tiny, and male angler fish functionally useless? Was it transphobic to be confused over which sex a clownfish was this week?

One argument would say that it wasn’t as long as one treated each of them with respect regardless of their differences. That was a fair statement, in my opinion. Looking down on someone just because they were an actual snake was wrong… but how did one deal with species that were too different, too aggressive, too stupid, too foolish, too sadistic, too destructive, too… much?

When did one cross the line from tolerant and respectful to just being a sucker? The Xenomorphs might be sophonts… but they were the kind of sophonts you destroyed with atomic fire as soon as possible or you found yourself regretting it just before your chest was ripped open from the inside out. The Orcs of Sauron, the Orks of Warhammer 40k, the Gremlins of Gremlins… Demons and Vampires, Tyranids and Zerg… some species just didn’t play nice with others. Were there species like that in this world? Was it that optimistic a setting that everyone was redeemable if you tried hard enough? Or did nature override nurture? I guess I’d find out.

Age and Gender were both free picks, which was an interesting (and welcome switch). Maybe that spoke to a high level of optimism in the setting? Or maybe the Jump Crafter didn’t think making someone pay for something like that was very interesting. All the backgrounds were free. as well, which was something I hadn’t seen that often either.

I set aside the question of age and gender for the time being, though I was fairly certain I’d be female. I’d only been male twice now (outside of the Maegi King-Priests), once to avoid the sexism of the early 50s (the glassblower Solomon Judd) and once thanks to a glitch (ex-cop Sam Jones). I had three male forms, courtesy of my Jusenkyo Curse, which allowed me to could gendershift in general, but Soap of the Joketsuzoku was entirely female of gender, regardless of her sex. I’d make my final determination once I had an idea of who and what I was going to be and kind of person that would be.

And that meant Background and Species, of which there were four and fourteen choices respectively… with Species divided into three ‘alignments’; Goodbeasts, Vermin, and Neutral… I guess Redworld wasn’t that optimistic after all.

The Wanderer Background was the rootless vagabond with no history or family or memories… the drop-in in other words. It didn’t speak to me… the last person I wanted to be right now was Sio Jang. whose memories and personality had been spun off into a new astral layer as she faded from primacy… but EssJay was a close second. Sio Jang might carry the weight of those deaths (and was being tended to by some of the King-Priests who had experience with survivor’s guilt), but EssJay’s choices and foolishness had brought her to that pass and not protected her. Sio had been nine; EssJay had been fifteen-hundred times that age. One of them should have known better. A break from both of them seemed in order.

That left three options, and neither Warrior nor Scoundrel appealed to me at the time, for obvious reasons. In fact, in my current state, not only did the relatively pacific Abbey-Dweller seem like a good idea… it seemed like a warm hug… emotionally speaking. A warm hug more than one part of me desperately needed… as for deserved? Who can say? Forgiveness is hard to ask of the dead.

Up next was the choice of species. Maybe it’s girlish of me… maybe I was just counting on there being a Stewart Little, Secret of NIMH, MAUS, Mouseguard, or American Tail jump sometime in the future… but being a mouse now, with so many other choices, no matter how prevalent Mice might be in the books (although, as I’ve said, I’d only read the one), seemed silly. Shrews were out for the same reason… a mouse by any other name and all. Moles have terrible vision and live in dirt. Hares, as much as I love bunnies… I dunno, the lack of binocular vision would get to me, I think, no matter how good the hearing is.

That left Squirrels (poofy tail!), Hedgehogs (spiiiikes!), Badgers (growf!), and Otters (weeee!). With all due respect to the Herbivores… I’m not one. Sure Hedgies are mostly insectivorous and Squirrels are tree rats… they’ll eat anything… but I’d rather go with something higher up the foodchain.

Of course, Badgers and Otters are both relatives of the Ferret, so there was certain appeal there. Sure, I could go Vermin and take Weasel but Vermin couldn’t  be Abbey-Dwellers (or Warriors for some reason) just as Goodbeasts couldn’t be Scoundrels. Racial profiling there… or species profiling, I guess. Birds were tempting, but cost two-hundred. Badgers were very cool, but cost three-hundred (as did Wildcats). Serpents cost a whopping six-hundred, which was just bonkers. I couldn’t see paying for species, unless there was some kind of amazing bonuses attached to them,  especially since I wanted to avoid Drawbacks if I could. Too many negative associations. So Otter it was.

Before the system took me to the perks, a pop-up popped up on screen (as they are wont to do). It said it was ‘A Note On Scale, Both Temporal and Spatial’. Essentially, it was there to make it clear that the books were less than clear on the exact length of time things took or the sizes of the creatures of the Mossflower region. As such, some clarifications were in order.

First, on the subject of time, my stay in this world would be pegged at forty seasons, not ten years, and while the small creatures like Mice and Shrews could expect to reach an age of, perhaps, eighty or ninety seasons, the larger creatures, such as Badgers and Wildcats could live considerably longer, while the ‘reptiles’ could live longer still. Since Otters range from about half the size of Badgers to considerably larger, depending on the subspecies.

As for size, a thing that had confused me very much as I’d read the titular “Redwall”, was just how big the creatures in question were. It seemed to be mice-sized mice living in the ruins of a human-sized Abbey… but wasn’t always consistent on that subject. I had wondered how, say, a shrew and a rabbit, which aren’t even close to being on the same scale, no matter how small they may be to a human’s frame of reference, might function in the same environment.

The average shrew (assuming we’re speaking of the Eurasian water shrew, which is large in shrew terms) is about eight centimeters long and weighs perhaps sixteen grams. The Etruscan pygmy shrew is the smallest real-world mammal by mass, being perhaps four centimeters long and weighing slightly more than a tenth as much as the water shrew.

By comparison, the European Hare, which shares the same general range as both the shrews I mentioned, rangers from sixty to seventy-five centimeters (all of these measurements exclude the tail length), and mass between three and five kilograms. That is, for the mathematically disinclined, on the order of seven to ten times the size of the larger shrew and two to three-thousand times the mass of the smaller one. A halberd for a shrew would be a toothpick for a hare. Clearly, that was not going to work for a shared environment… not to mention equipment and cooking needs.

However, in Mossflower, the mightiest badger (real world mass on the order of ten kilos… assuming they aren’t bulking up for hibernation, when their mass can reach some eighteen kilos) was little more than twice the height of the average field mouse (fifteen grams). Thus, for the duration of our stay in Mossflower, all our stuff would be scaled to fit the world, regardless of the implications of the Square-Cube law… and anything we took from this world would scale up to human sized… thus maybe a meter and a half or so for a shrew and perhaps two and a half for a badger. That would make me one very big otter, once I left this world behind (Eurasian otters routinely outmass European badgers)… though both of them are dwarfed by the Giant River Otter, the largest weaseloid in the world… which is roughly man-sized even outside Mossflower.

Speaking of rivers, as an Otter, I started off with the perk ‘Born in the Streams’ for free. Not only did it make me better at swimming than almost anyone else, allowing me to swim upstream against a raging river, or keep my head above water in a hurricane, it also came with an overall boost to my strength, and made my belly a bit tauter. Mmm… abs. Sexy… not that I wasn’t already lean and tight. Still, I do enjoy swimming, so being better at it was a plus.

The freebie I got as an Abbey-Dweller was called ‘With Open Arms’, and it made me better are find community, security, and family… or, if necessary, founding them. It gave me a sense for how to make a good first impression, and how to quickly integrate myself into any sort of loose hierarchy I might be invited to join. It wasn’t a guarantee that I wouldn’t find myself cast out if I continued to violate the rules of those communities that had welcomed me, but it did mean that, at least on a first offense, I’d be (probably) be given the benefit of the doubt… especially if it wasn’t something egregious.

Those were both a good start, nice, wholesome, the kind of thing a world weary veteran of the psychic wars… not to mention several other kinds… would want. While I was at it, I figured I might as well check out the rest of the Abbey-Dweller line… and having checked it out, I figured I might as well take it. Lock, stock, and fermenting barrel; all for the low low price of six-hundred Cheese Points… Cheese? 

I blinked, looking at the coins for this jump. Yes… indeed, they said ’50 Cheese Points’. Cows were not on the list… nor were goats or sheep… How the hell was there cheese in this world? Rabbit’s Milk? Were they milking sophonts? Did this world even have beasts of burden? For that matter, were the fish of this world sophonts? Because what else was anyone not an herbivore going to eat? “Hey, miss Hen! Can I trouble you for a dozen of your unborn children?” I don’t think that would play very well… but maybe there were both sophont birds and non-sophont birds? Were there deer to hunt? And were they human-scale or abbey-dweller scale? This was going to bother me… but back to the perks.

And speaking of food, ‘Wholesome Home Cooking’ made me a culinary genius, one able to whip up a delicious four course meal on a moment’s notice, or keep a whole abbey fed for weeks under siege conditions. It gave me knowledge of all the various local cooking styles and the ability to make vegan substitutions nearly indistinguishable from the real thing (ha… I’d believe that when I saw it). It was even future-proofed, allowing me to learn the most popular meals no matter where I went. It was, all in all, a fun little boost to my steadily growing art portfolio… plus… you know… tasty tasty foodie-noms. Best thing about Jumpchain, swear to god, was all the food I’d gotten to try over the centuries. And never having to worry about what eating seven cheese-cakes and enough brownies to cover an entire soccer pitch in a single week might do to my figure… or health.

Still, other people did have to worry about that, or just about their health in general, and ‘Expert Healer’ was thus another no brainer. It gave me next gen folk medicine and medical skills across the board, plus the ability to integrate more advanced medical knowledge with the down-home style of this pre-industrial world. That would be good, not only in Mossflower, but places like it, helping me hide futuristic medicine in more folksy ways as I provided treatments to the primitives… and maybe I’d learn something.  Herbalism wasn’t homeopathy, after all. Herbs and spices often contained medicinal properties. Birch bark was where asprin came from, digitalis was foxglove, and even athelas contained a potent and fairly generalized antitoxin. Only a fool passed up the bounty of nature without a second look.

And on the subject of fools… I’d have to be a fool to pass up ‘JITTAGALL’, the Abbey-Dweller capstone. Jittagall, an initialism that barely qualified as an acronym, stood for ‘Jumping Is The Thing A Good Abbey Leader Learns’. It  would transform me into an embodiment of the seven virtues exemplified by the great leaders of Redwall Abbey. Or so it claimed. I had no frame of reference, seeing as how I hadn’t the faintest idea who those great leaders were. As to the virtues they supposedly possessed (either individually or collectively), apparently those were: Humility, Patience, Wisdom, Understanding, Kindness, Friendliness, and Strength of Character. This was  to be no metaphorical transformation; the embodiment was all too real, though it didn’t manifest as a visible glowing aura, but rather as a faint smell of lilacs (which could, thankfully be suppressed at will… I detest lilacs).

Not only would I be granted each virtue to the level possessed by a living saint, but those who shared my values would quickly come to regard me as exactly that, and even my mortal enemies would hesitate to hurt me… there was even a guarantee that those virtues would never come to harm me… Kindness would not weaken me, Friendliness blind me to the failings of others, Humility never make me doubt myself, and Strength of Character never force me to be honest when it was counter to my best interests.

Saintly virtues… I could use a hefty dose of those, right about now. Wisdom most of all… Humility too, for that matter. I put a hard lockout on the Medbay pods containing the Kihara’s. They could not be opened by anyone for ten years and forty days. If I decided to forgive those psychos, it would not be under the kinder, gentler, pacifist me.

Before moving on to the physical components of the Abbey-Dweller, package, I paid three-hundred Cheese for the companion import package . It came with eight slots, each gaining a free background plus three-hundred Cheese for Perks, Abilities, and Gear. Using my newfound wisdom… well, that and a general knowledge of my followers, I selected Velma, Toph, Yoiko, Ryoga, Bao, and Uriel to accompany me. The pokecrowd (and Cirno) were highly unlikely to find fault with my actions of the previous period, and Kendra was, to put it bluntly, furious with me. True, Velma was avoiding me too, but we’d have an entire decade… sorry… two score seasons to work things out. Thus, I had two slots left open, and, after a few minutes consideration, I filled them with Joy & Ahab. One of these days I was going to find a jump that those two wouldn’t be helpful in (that still had companion imports) but this was not that jump.

I could have shopped around for more Perks on which to spend my final hundred Cheese, but if seemed wiser to check out what Gear Abbey-Dweller’s gained discount on… not that I anticipated there being much that could grab my interest; this was a feudal society after all. Of course, right away the VMoD proved me wrong. Wisdom is not precognition, as it turns out.

Free to everyone came a Sturdy Haversack… and not a useless oldtimey one, but a large, rigid-framed backpack with several pouches and compartments (all substantially bigger on the inside for extra excellence). Sure, I already had a PokePack and duffle from Infamous… but the Haversacks came with a bedroll and mess kit, and could, in a pinch, be used as a surprisingly effective bludgeoning weapon. I imported the PokePack into my Haversack… I do love that word. Haaaaversaaaaacccck.

Okay, okay maybe that wasn’t that good, but I had to get it out of the way before I touched on the ultimate prize, free to all Abbey-Dwellers… Infinite Cheese. Apparently, whoever had constructed this Redwall Jump had also wondered where, exactly, in a world without livestock, did all the dairy products come from. That hypothetical entity’s answer was that it was probably best not to think too hard about it. That said, I could now rest easy, since my cheese would come from endlessly refilling barrels in your warehouse, rather than anywhere ethically questionable. Not that I was terribly concerned with such questions… sorry cows… but given the choice of cheese that hadn’t required labor (either bovine or human)? I was going to take it… especially when the word ‘Infinite’ was appended to ‘Free’.

I cackled with glee as a list of cheeses hundreds of items long scrolled across the window of the VMoD…  Sure, I had near infinite sandwich cheeses already, but they were sliced for sandwiches… and there are plenty of cheeses that don’t go on sammies… the Infinite Cheese was six massive oak barrels, one full of brine and brined cheeses, the others full of wax sealed or paper wrapped cheeses, ranging from semi-soft all the way to very hard.  Mmmm… Behold the Power… I knew I’d chosen right.

For the low low cost of my last hundred, I could also buy an Abbey Kitchen, a fully-stocked kitchen, pantry, and cellar, equipped with hot and cold running water, many ovens, stoves, and cauldrons, the best cooking utensils available, a large deep fryer, fermenting and distilling equipment, and even refrigeration facilities. Not only did it sound downright cozy, there were fiat backed reasons to take it… fresh, clean water was a precious commodity in any world, and fuel was too. Of course, I’d have access to my Warehouse already, but having something that fit in with local expectations would be most excellent. And not only did the kitchen start out stocked, but once per season, my supply of fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables would refill automatically.

Let’s put that into perspective. Enough fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables to feed an entire Abbey… for an entire season. Every season.  The largest Abbey in history, Cluny in France, held a congregation of over a thousand, but even relatively modest abbeys could have upwards of three-hundred people. Redwall is not described as being particularly small… certainly far larger than my number of companions… and after my stay in Redworld ended, the kitchen would become an attachment to my Warehouse. What more, really, could I ask for?

Still, I had to check the Drawbacks. It was… necessary. I’d done one jump without looking and always regretted not knowing what was on the list. Always consider your options, even if ultimately you reject them… I didn’t need my new wisdom to know that knowledge was power. I also didn’t need my new understanding to understand that swearing off Drawbacks forever because of what had happened was the height of stupidity. Humility, however, was the quiet deciding voice, as it told me that, as much as I might view myself as the center of my own narrative, the worlds I visited did not revolve around me. To assume that only I had a hand in what happened would be to think too highly of myself. To assume that I’d always get things right? A goddess I might be, but even the biblical Almighty had made a mistake or two in his time.

“Ack…” I commented to no one in particular as I read the Jump’s offerings. No one else was sharing my lonely vigil, and it was deep in the Warehouse’s night and I was all alone in the dark. “All these drawbacks are heavy hitters…” I muttered. VIctoria and Atura, everpresent, wisely chose not to comment, and VIvian had been told to ignore me until morning, unless directly addressed.

Indeed, the Drawbacks, of which there were ten, were not joking around. Even the hundred-pointers were more comprehensively ugh than normal. Where Great Detective’s ‘Chust a Zhoopid Accent’ made me sound a bit silly (and get mistaken for Scots), Redwall’s ‘Incomprehensible Accents’ meant that not only would I have great difficulty understanding any but my native dialect, other people would have difficulty understanding me. Not only did ‘Voice Like a Sack of Boiled Frogs’ make one a terrifyingly bad singer, it made one convinced of one’s own talent… too vain to acknowledge criticism, too proud to attempt to improve, and too foolish to shut up. The less said about the global pacifism enforced on the goodguys by ‘This is a Peaceful Place’ the better. Having a world full of nice guys who wouldn’t stand up for themselves? That I couldn’t have on my conscience.

However, for once I found myself actually considering the virtues of taking an amnesia perk. Called ‘Child of the Storm’, it didn’t actually strip me of my powers. Rather, it would force me to rediscover them and figure out how to properly utilize what I’d discovered. My local memories would gradually return as well, leaving a sense of something missing… that something being all my other memories… memories that were, right now, something of a source of pain… memories that would be available in dreams and brief flashes of insight and understanding.

All said, the prospect of forgetting who I was for even as short a period as a decade was terrifying… but the King-Priests assured me that it was hardly the first time I’d been uncertain of who I was. Each of them had begun to remember who and what they were around the age of four, and had come into their own over the next decade as more and more of the old slowly came back. Each of them had been shaped as much by the past as the future.

So yeah… with the promise of remembering who I was at the end of forty seasons… Child of the Storm sounded good… even though it would inflict that amnesia upon all who came with me. I wouldn’t force them to accept it… any who backed out would be allowed to sit out the Jump rather than be affected. The text was vague on if all my companions would be hit by it or just those imported, but a query to the Banker clarified that any who opted out would be placed into stasis for the decade, rather than be hit with the whammy.

I considered that for a long while, several hours in fact, then finally paused the construction and waited until everyone else was up. I’d go with the majority’s vote… though perhaps that was cheating I had to acknowledge. AJ, Francine, Petra, and Ziggy would back me no matter what. Cirno, Dyna, Zane, and RayRay were a little less dogmatic in their loyalty, but they too would almost certainly stand with me. Uriel relished new experiences, Ahab and Joy would think of it as going deep cover, and Bao would find the entire idea fascinating. Yoiko and Ryoga would be on the fence. Kendra would hate it and claim I was a coward for running away from my guilt. Velma and Toph… I didn’t know how they would take it… but at least the illusion of fairness and inclusion was there.

“Why?” was Toph’s question, though I could tell she was speaking for the majority when she asked. I’d presented the option and given them an hour to discuss it as I meditated and didn’t interfere. To be honest, I had no idea what I’d do with the extra three-hundred Cheese the Drawback would give me, but the temptation not to be myself… or rather, to be a self unfettered by the past… for a time? It had its terrible siren’s song. “What do you get out of this? What do we get out of this?”

I’d known the question was coming. I’d have had to be a fool not to know. “To answer your last question first, nothing. You get nothing out of this besides confusion and hardship. Personally, I think you all should get three-hundred extra points, and I’ll see if I can wrangle that for you with the Banker… but ultimately, I’d ask this of you all regardless. As to Why? I was soo certain of myself, so certain I could handle everything that was thrown my way. Hubris brought me low. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a mere mortal… and while this won’t be that exactly… it will be close.” I sighed, looking around at the group. There were sullen looks and angry ones and few looked reassured.

Finally, I said, “Think of this as a test. Without my history and memories to guide me, will I still be a good person? Without that, will each of you? Yes Joy, I know you don’t consider yourself a good person, and I know Ahab and Uriel have their own doubts about themselves.” I looked around the group, seeing that most of them wore introspective expressions… except Toph, who shrugged, RayRay who looked bored, and Kendra, who looked defiantly up at me as if to say, ‘Bitch, I will stake you if you suggest I could turn evil one more time.’

I leaned in close and whispered, “Faith.” to her. The reminder of her replacement as Slayer, the Slayer who had, in fact, gone over to the dark side for a time, who had committed murder and nearly gotten the entire town eaten, soberred her immediately, even though she’d been in cryosleep for the entire decade. My other companions had been more than willing to tell her what had happened.

Okay, okay, I wasn’t exactly honest there. Ziggy and Dyna didn’t look introspective either. To be fair, that’s because Ziggy’s idea of looking inside himself was licking vitamin goo of his own stomach and Dyna’s species utterly lacked any capacity for introspection as far as I’d been able to determine. Aliens are alien, after all.

Ultimately, the consensus was nearly universal. Only Kendra and Velma bowed out, opting to use the Return Door to spend a decade with the Poke-crew and Cirno in Johto. Unfortunately, that decision didn’t sit well with Zane, who was pissed off at Kendra for abandoning the rest of us and for being a coward. Long story short, he took Velma’s spot and now Kendra isn’t talking to either of us. Great. Wonderful. Just what I didn’t need.

I tried to get him to go with her, but for once he’s was playing the ‘Bro’s before Ho’s’… despite that I’m not a ‘bro’ and Kendra is not a ‘ho’… as she reminded him by throwing Mr. Pointy into his shoulder. Ah… domestic violence… We might be a little dysfunctional sometimes… or we’ve gotten used to having a med bay. The fact that everyone besides me respawns within a day if killed doesn’t hurt. Zane, as a Pokemon, doesn’t even usually die, since he reverts to his Pokeform and is KO’d first.

Sadly, since I’d used the ‘Call it a Test of Character’ justification for ‘Child of the Storm’ I couldn’t then take the ‘Prophecy’s Puppet’ Drawback, which normally would be a lock as it made gaming knowledge of canon impossible… a canon I had virtually no knowledge of. Unfortunately, it did so by making everything adhere to a script… which would counter my ability to deviate from the path laid down by the Author’s Hand. A test of Character where predestination was in play was a rigged test.

As for the other options, ‘Always Hungry’ was right out… No way was I going hungry for a decade… especially not with limitless cheese… though I’d have to remember it was there to take advantage of it… maybe it would show up wherever my kitchen was in setting? I was guaranteed to find my companions within a few days… did that also apply to my purchases? I’d have to ask the Banker when I asked about extra CP for my people.

The ‘Dibbunsitting’ Drawback, which would have saddled me with the care of infants and toddlers (called dubbins in the local ideolect, apparently) might have been a fitting punishment… but it was a fail state waiting to happen since even one death… in a world often rife with violence… would end the chain. It also sounded vaguely like hell.

And speaking of hell, ‘Relentless Riddles’ sounded excruciating… but might be worth it even if it wasn’t worth an extra two-hundred Cheese. In fact, the idea of being challenged by endless cryptic answers and riddles amused me… and it amused me right up until I thought about how Ryoga and Yoiko might take to the lack of straightforward answers… at which point it reaaallly amused me. Hopefully Ahab could keep from killing people in frustration.

To round out the make things difficult for this new and confused me… and test her patience to the limits, I decided to pick up ‘Incomprehensible Accents’. I’m not certain why, since (to be honest) I had no idea what I was going to spend all those points on.

In the end, I settled on a miscellaneous (read as undiscounted) Perk called ‘A Little Light in Every Heart’, which cost me three-hundred of my six, and granted me an unusual degree of insight into the content of the character of others, a sense of when they might have nagging doubts about the correctness of their ideals, and the ability to (with a precisely chosen kind word or two) assuage those doubts… or cause them to bloom and grow. It wasn’t mind control nor a magical alignment change, and there wasn’t any guarantee that it would result in a convert to my cause but it probably couldn’t hurt. It was, apparently, particularly useful for promoting ideals of tolerance and nonviolence, but could almost as easily be used to spread paranoia and distrust, or whatever values I wanted to spread. It wasn’t wonderful, but it came with the added bonus that would allow my companions to bypass the limitations that stopped Vermin from being Abbey-Dwellers or Warrior and Goodbeasts from being Scoundrels.

I considered taking the serpent’s ‘Active Camo’ perk.  It was tempting in the extreme, but so were the sensory boosts (hearing, vibration, touch) from the Mole’s racial perk. Also tempting was the ‘Aerial Acrobatics’ perk for birds. But ultimately, I went with ‘Musician and Poet Extraordinaire’ for two-hundred, which not only made me competent in the use of every sort of musical instrument common to the world of Redwall, and a virtuoso level of talent on one instrument of my choice (I chose drums… and not just because they’re excellent for annoying others), but gave me a talent for poetry and songwriting, especially when writing songs about my adventures or those of my friends. It even boosted my memory (as if I needed it), especially with regard to recall of verse, which probably meant increased memory access speed rather than capacity.

Oral history is cool… and embarrassing my friends with heroic ballads seemed like a fun way to while away the long evenings of cold winter months. Poet Extraordinaire even came with a free musical instrument, in my case a finely made and well-maintained hand-drum. I wonder if I could teach Ziggy to play the drum? Belly Drum was a Linoone move… though I guess that meant that the question was “Can Ziggy be taught to play the drum without hurting himself… or others?”

With the last of my Cheese Points I purchased the mousine racial perk ‘Heart of a Mouse’. Of course, in Redworld, that was actually a compliment. Mice may be one of the smallest sophont species, but they produced a disproportionate number of heroes (because who doesn’t love an under… mouse?). HoaM imbued me with a great deal of courage even in the face of overwhelming challenges and a great deal of luck when faced with lopsided odds.

I hadn’t had too much problem with courage issues in the past, but a little good luck couldn’t hurt, especially since the primary reason I hadn’t faced many courage shortages was because I was more than a little bonkers. Bad luck, however, had (in the recently past in fact) utterly boned… well, not me, but the inhabitants of the camp and the surrounding zone of destruction pretty completely… but if I wasn’t the one boned, I was the one who had to live with the guilt and shame. Wasn’t fair, but life seldom is. Before I locked my build down and sent out the pads for those of my companions who hadn’t already departed for farer… or at least less medieval… climes, I pulled up the query screen and made my pitch. For once, the Banker didn’t give me grief about my request. His only comment was that, per the wording of the Companion Import was that companions could not take drawbacks… but before I could argue that I was the one taking ‘Child of the Storm’, he brought it up himself. “They are being penalized not by a worldstate, as might arise from This is a Peaceful Place, but a personal amnesia state. Very well. I agree… though I feel that, if you desire to test yourself, you should see how you do against adversity.”

“Mmm? How? I’m not taking the giant evil bear thing,” I said. There was a six-hundred CP drawback that inflicted Lord Arctos, a bear that could be as large as he needed to be… able to fit through mouse doors one moment and tower over the entire abbey the next. He would also lead a confederation of all the villains from the entire series and possess some of the powers of the worst villains I’d faced on the chain. Considering that ranged from the planet-busting Sephiroth of Final Fantasy VII to the First Evil and Glorificus of Buffy to the Reapers of Mass Effect to Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter… I was going to say no thanks. “I suggest you take Endless Hordes.” “You want me to inflict barbarians upon the land… to test myself? Isn’t that kinda… evil?” “The barbarians as you call them are always there. Civilization is little more than a thin veneer over the seething chaos of what you mortals term ‘existence’,” the Banker pointed out. Even the emotionless words on the screen seemed to pulse with smugness. “What matters is how the barbarians are dealt with. Will you not learn more about your true character from seeing how you treat enemies than how you treat friends?”

“Probably,” I agreed. “But innocent lives would be put at risk by my taking that drawback.”

“Innocent lives will be at risk regardless of your choices.” I blinked. “How do you figure? Do you relocate me to a version of the world where the drawbacks are destined to happen?”

“Negative. It is far more complex than that. Each reality you visit contains the potential to have all drawbacks in play as part of its… Genesis, if you will.” The letters seemed to glow and ripple extra ominously, as if the word Genesis was giving off pulses of something ineffable.

“As for why lives will be at risk… it is the nature of dramatic worlds to be dramatic. Events will attempt to unfold in a way that suits the will of the narrator… what you’d call the Authorial Intent. In Redwall, that manifests… aways, in the battle between decency and savagery. It is a cycle that continues again and again. You cannot stop it from happening… but you can encourage it to unfold in a way useful to your purposes… and perhaps take advantage of it. This is as much a world of redemption as it is tragedy.”

It was, by far, the most comprehensive explanation I’d managed to get out of the Banker ever… maybe he was disturbed by what had happened in the previous jump? Or maybe there had been protests of some kind from whatever subscribers had tuned in expecting The Psychic Shenanigan Hour only to get Slaughter at Whispering Rock instead. But I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the trojans… I simply said, “I’ll consider it while the others do their builds. Thanks.”

A day later, I called council of the Companions, asking them to present their builds and to justify them as best they could. Interestingly, absolutely none of them had taken Abbey-Dweller… I guess they didn’t see in it what I did… heathen swine. There were, however, many interesting… if odd… builds.

Zane, deciding to distance himself from his typical hyper-aggressive noir motif, had opted to be a Bird (not a birdbrain… he always was that). In fact, he had gone for an Owl, a big snowy leopard Owl Wanderer as it turned out. Without the extra from ‘Child of the Storm’ that would have cost him all his points, but boosted his strength and given him some downright fierce claws… but no hands to speak of.

‘Aerial Acrobat’ was free for Bird(brains) which made him a veritable flying ace (or ass), able pull off amazing stunts and turn on a dime… not to mention making flying less tiring for him no matter what might be powering said flight… and Wanderer came with ‘The Open Road’ which made him a seasoned traveller, at home on the road, able to travel farther with less fatigue and make himself comfortable almost anywhere. Came with skill at avoiding natural hazards and, in addition to his Haversack, he (and the other Wanderers to be) received the ‘Abbey Records’ for free.

For the record (haha), those were a bookcase containing, among many older books and scrolls, signed first editions of the collected works of Brian Jacques, as well as DVD copies of all three seasons of the Canadian animated series, which cover the events of Redwall, Mattimeo, and Martin the Warrior… which wouldn’t do a Wanderer much good without a portable DVD player with a screen. It’s a shame they weren’t some kind of magical children’s books where the pages came alive like Jim Hawkins’s book in Treasure Planet… I do hope I get to go there someday… I have such a crush on Captain Amelia.

With the remainder of his points, Zane bought ‘Riddle Me This’ from the Wanderer perk-line and ‘Arguments for Argument’s Sake’ from the Shrews. RMT gave him elevated pattern recognition skills, a talent for wordplay, and an intuitive feel for the intent of the original author of any riddle, puzzle, or word game. It also made him exceptionally good at both solving and making his own. AfAS was all about keeping up with the best debaters, granting a firm understanding of logic and experience of common rhetorical techniques… as well as making the lunkhead all the more stubborn.

In both cases, he claimed it was a defense against both me and his girl Kendra and our wicked feminine ways. He was, in his own words, sick of losing a fight because he was unarmed. Personally, I didn’t think this was going to help, but if it made him happy to try to compete, more power to him. However I suspected that the real reason he took Riddle Me This was that he planned to use it against me when I was GMing! We have a no powers at the gaming table rule for a reason ZANE!

He just smirked at me and said, “Intuition isn’t a power. It’s an attribute.” I glowered, but he was right.

For Toph, her choice of species was something of a toss up. She’d been trained in Earthbending by Badgermoles… and unfortunately, had to now pick between the digging Moles and the fighting Badgers. This resulted in a lot of hemming and hawing and complaining about single natured animals, before she finally (day 20), settled on a Badger Scoundrel, since she was already the best at digging and didn’t want to sound weird (Moles in Redwall have a rather extreme accent… like worse than Welsh).

Personally I think she picked Badger so she’d be able to Hulk Out (at least mentally), as being a Badger meant she got ‘Bloodwrath’ (both a four-hundred point perk and a zeropoint drawback in one inconvenient package) for free… well, free with purchase, since Badger cost three-hundred just like Owl. Bloodwrath was a kind of berserker fury, one raised by harm or threat against a loved one or the presence of a hated foe. It increased the Badger’s strength, speed, and ferocity, and allowed them to ignore anything short of an immediately fatal wound (as long as the fury lasted)… but shattered the Badger’s ability to concentrate on anything that wasn’t CRUSHING, KILLING, and DESTROYING… though, with great mental effort it was possible to direct what got Crushed, Killed, or Destroyed.

Scoundrels just got Dirty Fighting (which was exactly what it sounded like) and some free basic weapons…. plus the Haversack… and a stash of ‘Booty’, a small coffer full of precious and semiprecious stones, as well as gold and silver jewelry.

I was rather amused by her actual perk purchases, since she’d bought the Warrior’s ‘A Welcome for Bullies’ and the ‘Hedgehog’s Dilemma’… which was, as one might imagine, the Hedgehog’s racial perk. A Welcome was all about acting the part of a fuzzy little drill sergeant, taking raw recruits (such as a bunch of peace-loving farmers and monks) and, through motivation and training, turn them into professional soldiers. The Dilemma fit surprisingly well with that, since it allowed her to swap between ‘brusque and standoffish’ and ‘warm and welcoming’ at a moment’s notice, allowing her to keep others (especially overly clingy friends like Cirno or Ziggy) at arm’s length when she felt like being alone, while also being able to signal when she didn’t mind being glommed. Of course, odds were I’d ignore that anyway. I love hugging the prickly. If you can’t annoy your friends, who can you annoy.

Yoiko and Ryoga had also decided to follow the Scoundrel’s path, and they had formulated a bit of a plan to go with that decision. Yoiko would be a big bad Wildcat (a vermin species as opposed to the normally valorous goodbeast Badgers… ah fantasy racism.) while Ryoga would be a Shrew. Together, they’d be the Tom and Jerry of relatively harmless brigandage, though willing to change their thieving ways, if given a chance.

In addition to her free weapons, booty, haversack, and ‘Dirty Fighting’, the former otaku fangirl ended up with ‘Eye of the Tiger’, the ability to size up an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses at a glance and intuit how best to exploit or counter them. With time and contact, that understanding would only grow deeper and could be extended to inanimate structures or even hypothetical concepts. It sounded impressively… angry and damaging to me, but also extremely philosophical in nature. Introspection was often a trait Yoiko lacked.

She also picked up the Scoundrel capstone, ‘Master of Hordes’ which would make her into something of a terrifying warlord, one who inspired fear and loyalty in all who followed her, and one who was a mastery of military strategy, of unorthodox tactics and psychological warfare. She’d gain a long shadow, reputation wise, one that all who opposed her would have to deal with long before they ever even faced her (theoretical) troops. And those seeking glory, vengeance, or violence for violence’s sake would flock to her banner if she let them.

It all sounded a little… worrying… but if she could divert even some of the troublemakers into our camp before they joined our enemies, maybe it was okay. I just had to hope that I wouldn’t have to fight her myself.

When I’d read the description of ‘Eye of the Tiger’, I’d figured Ryoga, already master of the weak-point detection, would follow suit, but he hadn’t. Not only had he gone Shrew for, as he said, ‘the logic’ (remember Argument for Argument’s Sake?), but he’d picked up ‘The Freebootin’ Way’, ‘Bully Pulpit’, ‘Dark Apothecary’, ‘Weaseling Out’, and the ‘Corsair Ship’ from the Gear section. It was, by far, the most diverse build of any of my companions, lacking any real punch but rounding out lots of little bumps and burrs nicely. 

Freebootin was all about finding plunder and drink and handwaving away the less pleasant parts of the job (scurvy, digging latrines, having to murder people to get them to hand over their shinies). Not only did it apply to him, but also to his ‘mateys’… so I guess that’s nice. Bully Pulpit was described as a PhD in Mean, giving comprehensive knowledge of all the little ways to frighten and belittle others. It even came with the potential to be a sarcastic but lovable asshole instead of a ruthless sociopath… though it did rely somewhat on being bigger than his targets, either physically or mentally… did I mention that this was Ryoga… in a Shrew’s body? Who the hell was he going to be bigger than? Ziggy?

Dark Apothecary was a fascinating choice for Ryoga… Quite frankly, I’d expected Uriel to take it, but he hadn’t. It was the Fox racial perk, and granted knowledge of all the medical and alchemical properties of any and all plants that he was ever likely to encounter… though it did pay special attention to the dangerous ones, both to brew poisons and antidotes. It also granted natural resistance to poisons, venoms, and toxins… maybe he was remembering eating Akane’s cooking.

If Dark Apothecary was from Foxes, Weaseling Out was from… you guessed it… Weasels. It was all about avoiding blame and or responsibility… and all without trying. Criminal charges would be unlikely to stick to him unless there was ironclad evidence, he’d never seem to be picked first for unpleasant duties (unless he volunteered), and even if he spent 90% of his shift sleeping, his boss would only ever walk in during that rare 10% of the time he was actually doing his job… not that Ryoga had ever had a job… like.. ever. I’m not certain he knew what one was.

Then there was the ship… a sleek, swift vessel, equally suitable for piracy or pirate-hunting, equipped with sails and oars, and a loyal crew of NPCs suited to the task the ship was set to. He imported Black Jenny into it, with my permission… which transformed the ship’s machine intelligence, VIrginia, into a somewhat wooden (pun intended) Vulpine Bosun with jet black fur.

“That’s… very wise.” I was impressed; Ryoga… shoring up his weakness at last… even if AfAS might make him a bit unbearable at times. I couldn’t say that everything sounded useful, but Ryoga seemed happy with his purchases, so eh.

Thankfully, that was the last of the Scoundrels… but not the last of the Vermin. Bao, who’d been born in the year of the Rat, claimed he had no choice but to be faithful… not even when we pointed out that Chinese and European Rats aren’t exactly the same thing… Rat Wanderer was his choice.

The Rat racial perk was called ‘The Scourge’, which made the Rats (who  generally, as a race, believed in the concept of Might makes Right) incredibly ferocious combatants, stronger, tougher, and faster than most races and tended to make other beasts respect that strength. While it didn’t make them truly fearless, it tended to give them such a reputation. It also came with impressive facial scars and a badass story to go with them that could be redesigned or suppressed entirely at the beginning of every Jump, and Bao was already designing his scar and composing a tone poem about how he got it… I refrained from telling him that tone poems are not usually considered badass in European style Cultures… maybe in Redwall they would be.

As a Wanderer he got ‘The Open Road’, another set of the ‘The Abbey Records’, and the ever present Haversack… to which he added the Wanderer capstone ‘Prince of Mousethieves’ and the Serpent’s ‘Active Camouflage’. The Prince was a legendary talent for stealth and thievery, to the point of snatching the very whiskers from under a foebeast’s nose. If it wasn’t nailed down or on fire, he could probably steal it – and if it was, he’d just steal the nails and the fire as well. It came with a talent for picking locks, wriggling out of bonds, and ventriloquy, and made him a little more likable, ensuring that his reputation for theft would not be a barrier to people trusting him… great… a thieving rat… wooo. Add in scales (sorry… fur) that was capable of rapidly and dramatically changing color to match his environment… it even worked on his clothing and any items he carried… and extended to limited thermal control to match ambient temperature… If he wasn’t actually invisible, he was the next best thing. Great. Bao the tone poem thief.

Uriel’s choice of Hare Warrior, was, so he claimed based on the well documented valor of the Tamrielian Moutain Hare… As someone who’d slain over a thousand of those cowardly little food packets in Skyrim alone, I didn’t comment, but I suspected it was more about the Hare’s ‘Stiff Upper Lip, Wot?’ racial perk. It was a substantial increase to his stamina, toughness, and ability to recover from both physical injuries and emotional trauma… though relying on it would give him a prodigious appetite.

To go along with all the freebies (Weapons Training, Weapons, Haversack… have… a… sack… sigh) he also bought ‘EULALIAAA!’, which made his voice much more powerful, able to carry over longer distances and be clearly audible over the din of battle. His battle cries would fill the hearts of allies (and himself) with the courage of a thousand hares, boosting their fighting ability and allowing them to persevere in the face of adversity. Apparently, Uriel just wants to be the British Bunny version of the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket… huh… hope that’s not a jump.

He had thought to take ‘A Welcome for Bullies’ as well, but figured he really didn’t need it. He had plenty of experience as it was. Instead he bought the most expensive item in the Gear section, a Prophetic Tapestry that not only depicted many of our past exploits, but showed hints of adventures yet to come. Of course, they were only broad details, most of which would only make sense in retrospect, but it did say that an exceptionally clever viewer might, given even such subtle hints, determine valuable intel on things to come.

Joy seemed almost embarrassed to present her package (Squirrel Warrior), and it didn’t take a telepath to sense that she’d picked it because of the giant fluffy tail more than anything else. Good to see her being relaxed enough not to be the Iron Maiden around us. Her freebie pack included the usual suspects (Weapons, Weapon Training, Sack of Havering) and the Squirrel Racial Perk ‘Treetops and Timber’, a quintessential squirrel skill… forest freerunning that extended to rocky crags and urban environments, making her an almost unequalled climber and granting a moderate agility boost… it also came with a memory improvement for where she’d stashed things for later. 

But with six-hundred left to spend, she picked up the Warrior capstone, a perk that had all but been made for her. ‘I Am That Is’ would allow her to call upon the great warriors of the past in an internal capacity, pulling up ancient martial arts or the knowledge needed to defeat an implacable foe, or even the location of some long lost MacGuffin when pushed to the edge. By engaging in meditation – or seeking them out in a dream – she could also converse with her predecessors directly. Each Jump to a new setting, she’d gain access to a new set of ancestral spirits, as appropriate to the setting and to her chosen background. And, if she should ever die for good (something that I wasn’t at all certain was possible anymore), a fragment of her spirit would live on in each world she’d visited, to guide and advise other warriors for truth and justice… and, perhaps, to grant them access some shadow of her vast powers.

This was, after all, the First Boss.  She’d already done that once, inspiring a generation of new Bosses… though none of them had her…. ovaries. She paired that with ‘A Welcome for Bullies’ and ‘Musician and Poet Extraordinaire’, calling it the Gurney Halleck package. What can I say, I’d infected her with my love of Dune.

Ahab, last in line, smirked, and said, “I can’t match the impressiveness of all those builds, of course… but I can be… The Mole!” which earned him a bombardment of popcorn and couch cushions… we really need to redecorate… this house is soo… eight jumps ago. Ahab the Mole Wanderer. Haversack? Check. Abbey Records? Check. Open Road? Check! Gurt Diggins? Cheeeck? What’s Gurt Diggins you ask? Me too. It apparently gave him an instinctive understanding of tunneling and mining, whether using tools or his own paws, whether digging for jewels or root vegetables. It enhanced his senses of smell, touch, and vibration, allowing him to function just fine with eyes full of dirt.

Well, that explained the digging part, but what was Gurt? Maybe Ahab’s hundred CP ‘Book of Riddles’ might help explain. It was a book containing a long primer on the underlying theory of riddles and puzzles, a spoiler-filled walkthrough of every riddle or puzzle used in the canonical Redwall series, and a showcase of some of the great riddles of history. The book was also enchanted with a magical cryptanalysis machine. Unfortunately, it only accepted input (and only provided output) in paper media, though I might eventually find a way to bypass that limitation. A note at the back promised that (In future Jumps), the walkthrough would expand to cover some of the most important riddles in that source material. While this wasn’t guaranteed to completely short-circuit any plots, it might allow us to take significant shortcuts. That might come in handy… at least once the jump starts. I’d have to ban use of that book at the gaming table. He also took the Weasel’s Out… why? I’m not certain. Maybe he was thinking about the potential to be actually charged as a non-fuzzy mole.

However, his big purchase was the Serpent’s other racial perk (there was a reason they were six-hundred points, apparently): Mad Eyes. Imagine this, a mole, staring at you, with crazy disturbing eyes. Have you seen the eyes of moles? Well, Ahab the Mole would be able to transfix his foes in place or force them to flee in terror, to hypnotize them by pitting his spirit against theirs, bending them to his will and even, with practice, learning to implant more complex commands. Not only was it more effective when used by cold-blooded creatures… it was more effective when used on them. How odd. I looked forward to that showdown; a mole versus a viper in mortal eye combat.

And that was that. Everyone squared away. Those who were going had already gone, those who were coming with me were ready at last. I looked around the group and smiled, projecting a calm I didn’t really feel.

“Okay, remember, once we drop, we’ll all be very confused. Try and not do anything stupid. Hopefully our implants will still function and VIvian will be able to hear us and learn the local language and then guide us back to the Warehouse, but it might take a little while…. And involve miscommunications, riddles, and who knows what all. And apparently there will be an army on the way, so… try not to get yourselves killed and I’ll see you when I see you. Sure sure, none of us will remember this consciously, but maybe as a kind of vague impulse it will stick. So, so me proud out there. I’ll try to do you proud as well. For the Honor of Team… we really need to come up with something that doesn’t have my initials or the word Jumper in it.” And with that non-sequitur of an ending, I pushed the button.

INSERTION

Wreck of the Merryweather, Churgeon’s Log, day one.

At least I assume I am the Churgeon of the Merryweather. I found this medical case washed ashore with me and the nearby wreck is, or rather was, the Merryweather. Aside from that, I have no idea who I am, nor where, save that there is a seaside mountain not far from here that, for some reason, I believe is named Salamandastron. I cannot explain my lack of memories, for I seem hale enough… indeed… I am far stronger than I believe is normal for an Otter… or even for a Bear. My clothes are unusual as well, as they shed water like fabric but are as hard as the most resilient armor… and they talk. Of course, they have no knowledge of who we are or where, but her voice is soothing, as if we’ve known each other a long time…

Through experimentation, we have determined that although I am (it seems) extremely strong, fast, and tough without her on, I am far stronger, faster, and tougher with her on. Indeed, I was able to cut myself with the edge of my bone saw (a small cut… it healed within moments… though it also took a few seconds for the wound to manifest… curious)… but the teeth of the saw would not even scratch the outside of… Aegis? I think I shall call her Aegis… and, until I find someone who knows me, I shall be… how hard it is to find something to hang one’s identity upon.

I shall be Athena. She who bore Aegis… a shield of great power. Athena Bellweather. Now if only I knew where we were… if only I could fly. How would one test that?

Apparently by climbing to the top of a half wrecked mast and leaping off of it. It seems I can, in fact, fly. How odd. Is this normal? I would think not. A damage resistant, highly intelligent (I seem to have no problem doing extremely large sums in my head and I have little trouble remembering even random strings of numbers or random made up words… somehow something tells me this is not normal), flying Otter… at least that’s what Aegis and I believe I am. Whatever I am, it seems unlikely it is anything of nature. Indeed, I am writing these words, not with a quill (for I have none), but with ink that responds to my will… and I very much doubt it is a property of this ink, as… when I found this journal it was soaked through and the water departed its pages as if drawn from them by a strong force of suction… and I write this in front of a fire conjured out of the wood in much the same way.

I cannot say what tells me this, but I seem to instinctively understand that such things do not normally happen here. I slept, but woke before midnight, feeling refreshed, despite the strange dream I had about being some kind of blue-skinned she-creature in a place with metal walls fighting reanimate corpses. This too is very odd, a riddle given flesh… my flesh… to solve… itself? Then again, perhaps that is the nature of life. I take to the sky to see what I can see, and find ships, a great many of them, several days travel from the mountain. A pilgrimage? Perhaps… but it could be an army. Either way, they might be hostile… or simply never have seen an Otter before.

I land (if one can be said to land on the water) far from them, having left the haversack I found in the wreckage which seems overly large on the inside… and contains quite a number of chunks of cheese… and swim closer. I hear the people in my mind long before I hear them with my ears, a thundering cacophony that drives me under even as all the water around me is frozen by an unseen force, a shimmering globe surrounding me… a defense? I find I can shape the ice… lower it slowly and the… they must be thoughts, dreams, mental noise of all those people begin to leak back in… I have to struggle to find a way to turn the volume down again… a curious phrase… I wonder what it could mean… but it is appropriate.

Just before dawn I venture onto one of the ships, moving with a stealthiness that feels practiced to the point of instinct, the background thrum of mindvoices guiding me towards the encampment. Their words are almost gibberish, a dialect so divorced from the common tongue as to be patois, but the thoughts in their head are clearer… images instead of words… they are an army, led by a fierce Wildcat, heading to the mountain of Badgers and Hares to plunder and kill. I sense no motives beyond that and so I make to leave by flight… only to be attacked in midair by a massive snowy owl.

I sense confusion from him, a dazed scramble inside his head, with only the knowledge that somehow I have done this to him. The fight is hard, long, made longer since I have no desire to harm this creature who I have no memory of harming. Finally, I pin the owl’s left wing and snap, “Stop!”

Over the course of an hour, I manage to explain, carefully, that I have as little memory as this owl… Bubo, I name him… though I do invite him to join me on the quest to find out what has happened. We head together towards the mountain, the Owl asking if it is normal for Otters to fly, to which I can only chuckle. Although we both seem to be having trouble understanding each other in words, the intent comes through and we are able to make due.

A dozen miles from the mountain’s rise, we chance upon a Wildcat and a Badger engaged in a most curious fight. The Badger was scooping chunks of rock out of the ground as if they were soft mud and the Wildcat was causing them to explode into showers of pebbles. They were yelling incomprehensible things at each other and both looked as if neither understood the other.

And that is how I met Nike (the Badger) and Hera (the Wildcat). I had no idea where I was pulling these names from, but they too were missing their memories, smelling of saltwater, and possessed of strange abilities. They were not the last we were to meet that shared such distinction.

Before we reached the mountain, we came upon a Rat I named Hermes, a Hare I named Ares, and a Shrew I named Apollo. We quickly became a bit of a travelling group, forming a mutual help society for the linguistically and memorially impaired. If only we’d been quicker to begin inventing our own language.

Just outside the mountain’s main entrance, we were set upon by a host of several dozen aged Hare Warriors. Things did not go well for the Hares and it took all of my ability to restrain my new companions, keeping them from killing the chronologically blessed old timers, but not before all of them had sustained injuries ranging from simple concussion all the way up to compound fractures.

With great difficulty, I convinced the least injured of the Hares to limp back inside and fetch their leader, while I tended the hostages / my patients. Aegis discovered that she could see inside their flesh and somehow place that information upon my eyes so that I could see it but none else could. Setting bones was thus as simple as writing in ink without a pen, for the blood within these Hares responded to my commands as well. Indeed, the more I focused, the more I found I could manipulate their wounds to repair or restore flesh as well.

I looked around, seeing fear on the faces of these Hares (though they tried to hide it) as my companions demonstrated powers and abilities beyond the normal ken. Thus did the Lord of the Mountain, the Badger Lord Stonepaw, find me in contemplation. We were all of different kinds, some of us from the force preparing to attack, others of the kinds within the mountain, and still others foreign to both factions… all lacking memories… all lacking the ability to speak clearly to each other and to any local not of our kind (Ares seemed to have little trouble talking with the Hares)… and all possessed of strange powers and prodigious physicality.

Nike, our Badger spoke with Lord Stonepaw and, as best I could make out, explained about the coming fleet and how we’d come to see if the people of the Mountain were worthy of our assistance. The Old Badger took some umbrage at that, but Nike was able to subdue him with relative ease… and then sit on him until his rage passed.

I spoke to the gathering of Hares and Badger, speaking slowly, clearly, and loudly so they could understand me as clearly as possible. “We. Are. Not. Here. To. Fight. You. We. Will. Help. You. Fight. The. Ship. People. If. They. Attack. We. Bring. Cheese. And. Our. Strength. If. You. Offer. Us. Hospitality. We. Shall. Pay. It. Back. Tenfold.”

That’s when a Mole dug up from beneath us and said, “Oy, thas wa she sais, init?” We all looked at the mole in confusion, then laughed as an acorn bounced off his skull and a Squirrel landed next to me and said something else in yet another incomprehensible dialect. I wondered how many of these individuals we were going to collect, but this wasn’t the time. We had an enemy navy and the army it contained to fight off.

Wreck of the Merryweather Day 4

Have you ever tried to fight off a massive invasion of wode painted rats and spiders and other creepy-crawlies with a hundred-fifty elderly warriors, a truly ancient berzerker captain, and nine demigods… none of whom speak the same language and only vaguely trust each other? It is not a position I recommend.

Thankfully, a collective enemy gave us something to focus on and we spent the day fighting back the forces of unrighteousness. It was, truth be told, strangely… familiar, as if I’d fought off waves of enemies on multiple occasions… but I didn’t bear any scars nor was I all that old… at least as far as I could tell.

It also seemed clear that we were rather unique, me and my memory challenged friends, for standing up to us, even unarmed, wasn’t safe. And yet, it was, for me at least, a strangely joyless experience. I longed to reach out to these creatures, these ‘Vermin’ and to find out why they seemed so angry, so driven to brutality and cruelty…. But I could not, for I lacked the words.

I retired that night, wondering at that, sitting inside the stone cell I’d been offered, only my thin bedroll between me and hard stone, and yet… I felt at peace. I drifted into sleep… and dreamed of wars… so many wars… wars against dozens of different foes, foes who used sorcery, foes who used science, foes who used words, and foes who used secrets. Metal enemies, flesh and blood enemies, enemies wrought from energy itself. I saw through my own eyes as I commanded the very oceans to rise and crush enemy ships, saw as I stood on the bridge of a ship made of light and metal as it soared through the skies, saw as I cut down foes as they slept, saw the smashed bodies of deformed children and knew, somehow, that they had died at my paws.

Wreck of the Merryweather Day 5

I woke, shuddering, and strode out into the early morning haze, looking down at the army arrayed on the beach before the mountain’s slopes. This would not be. I grabbed Hermes, who was standing watch and snapped, “Hera. Quick.” and he ran off to find the Wildcat. When they returned, I pointed down to the army. “We go. Find Leader. Teach… Lesson.”

We descended upon the encamped army just as they were readying for the second day of the siege, and smashed our way into their numbers, arrowing for the central tent. I ripped the canvas apart with a wave of my paw.

I seem to be able to control the wind, but not as well as I can control Fire or Water… I also have some ability to manipulate Dirt & Stone, Metal, and Wood, though again, not as well as Wind… though somehow I sense my control of wind is part of a larger ability that I am only vaguely aware of and it certainly seems to drain me mentally while the weaker elements drain me… spiritually? And the strongest elements drain me physically and spiritually. I am unsure why, but this seems par for my course… though what Par is or what kind of Course that phrase refers to I don’t know.

Inside the ruins of the tent, I glared up the fierce Wildcat who was just pulling on his armor… though not that far up. I suspect I am quite tall for an Otter.

I pointed to Hera, “Tell. He go or we kill. Not his army. Him.”

She relayed the ultimatum, but Ungatt Trunn (their Wildcat) seemed unimpressed. In fact he smirked, saying something. After I asked Hera, she said, “He say “Us and What Army?’.” I laughed, then snapped the enemy cat’s whiskers off with a thought.

His eyes narrowed and he muttered something that didn’t sound complementary, so I called up the wind and, eyes actually glowing (though I cannot tell how I knew that) shaved the cat bare. “Tell him, come back with bigger army. And bigger…” I mimed testicals and Hera laughed, then spoke to the warlord. He glowered, then nodded understanding, hate radiating out of every pore.

The Blue Horde sailed with the evening tide. I knew they’d be back. We would have to be ready.

Day 20

The central problem facing us was our lack of ability to communicate readily. To solve that problem would require collecting a ‘Speaker’, a normal member of each of our nine different races, one who would be able to speak for us and interpret, but that would slow things greatly and be useless in combat. Still, we sent to the nearest communities seeking an assistant for those of us without one (we had plenty of Hares and too many Badgers would be a bad idea) but while that was brewing, we communicated in a hodgepodge of mime, yelling, and the written word, something that each of us understood, though even then our handwriting was all different enough to cause annoyance.

We also began working on basic pawsigns for basic things, and reviewing the mountain’s defenses, trying to find ways to multiply the effectiveness of our Hare allies. The mountain contained housing for thousands, and a war forge the likes of which few might have ever seen. It was a foundry of staggering proportions and when at full heat must make the volcano look still active.

Part of the communications issue was that no one here knows how to give a straight answer. Ask what time dinner is and you’re likely to be told about thrushes and winds of autumn. Ask how many days worth of stores the Hares have laid in, find out it’s as many as white stallions graze on yon red hills. Ask what’s for breakfast and get an ode to lidless treasure boxes. Allegory, metaphor, riddles, allusions… straightforward speech is alien to these people…. But at least the Hares are no longer pretending not to be scared of me.

Day 81

Lord Stonepaw’s son, Lord Brocktree, has arrived, having heard that his father is being held hostage by strange invaders with stranger powers. Thankfully, I have my faithful speaker Urvo, a local Otter, to translate for me when I explain who we are (as best I can) and why we are here (in the immediate sense… existentialism notwithstanding). He brings an army with which to reinforce the mountain, and though there is tension between father and son, it is clear they have affection and mutual respect between them.

Brocktree is suitably impressed after each of us demonstrates a few of the things we can do, and begins flirting outrageously with Nike.

Day 85

It seems Brocktree’s arrival was well timed. A larger fleet than before has just been sighted bearing towards the mountain. A small squabble broke out today between five different Hare Maidens all claiming that they were walking out with Ares, who didn’t even have the grace to look abashed as he assured us all that he’d never told any of the lasses that they were his only special friend. For some reason, this annoyed Hermes and the two got into a bit of a scuffle. Stars forfend I ever succumb to the call of nature. It seems to make fools of us all.

The fleet will arrive in three or four days according to the scouts who reported it.

Day 88

We met them on the beach, a tidal wave of rats and voles and weasels. We stacked them up like kindling, and yet they came on and on. Finally I flew up into the air, enemy arrows bouncing off my armor and raised the sea itself to push their landing boats and swimmers and even their ships back out to sea, smashing all the wood together to create a jumbled floating island trapped in a growing sheet of Ice.

I called up Urvo, outfitted in as many defenses as my companions and I could muster, then landed upon the first ship. “Surrender or face the ice,” I commanded, trying to be both regal and demanding. Ship by ship, the vermin gave up their weapons to me, and ship by ship I took the officers hostage against their crew’s obedience.

There were a hundred-and-thirty-one ships, carrying over thirty-thousand vermin. Ungatt Trunn had been joined by his brother Welak Trunn and the dark furred brother did not look pleased to be captured by an Otter.

I spoke, through Urvo, to each leader and each captain, seeking a reason for their invasion, be it climatological, famine, or simply lust for battle. While the latter was foremost, also prevalent was overcrowding of the lands they called home, a rocky, snowy peninsula to the north east.

I explained to the captains that their men would be allowed to come ashore in small work parties to build a compound, a town… to my specifications… which would be both their prison and their home. Twice now has the Blue Horde dared come against lands under my protection, and twice had I spared their lives. Now they would farm and mine for the Lords of this land and in exchange they would learn to embrace peace… or they’d feel the embrace of the sea.

I could feel the eagerness of these treacherous creatures to be allowed into the forests and fields of the countryside, where they would no doubt pillage and burn… but I had a surprise for them. At the far end of the beach from Salamandastron, upon the very stones the Merryweather had wrecked, I had had those of my companions with the power to shape and control dirt and stone, raise a causeway a mile or more out into the sea and at the end of that causeway to raise up a low island, bare of all greenery but large enough for a camp ten times as large as was needed to house all the vast horde.

The leaders were shocked, aghast, demanding to know where they’d find wood or stone to build with, and I pointed at their ships, still trapped in ice. “As for stone… you will have to earn that… as well as farmland… and the causeway will flood every day except at low tide.”

I pointed to the stone fortress that was, even now, rising at the shore end of the causeway. “That’s ours. Work well, earn our trust, pledge peace, and you’ll get all you need to survive.  Don’t… and the sea will take you… and don’t try swimming from your island, it’s surrounded by reefs and shoals of knife edged rock and undertows.”  Indeed, the entire island was braced by just thirteen pillars of stone and could be sunk into the waves with relative ease.  It also had no natural source of freshwater or soil in which to grow crops… and winter was coming.

Day 205

WHY IS UNGATT TRUN TRYING TO SEDUCE MY HERA?  Grrr…. Stupid biology.

Day 374

I look stupid in a dress. Why do dubbins need a party to celebrate their birth? Stupid horney badgers.

Day 600

If I smash my head against a stone wall enough, will it make these Vermin stop pestering me? Stars… it would have been easier to just kill them all. Now they want to form an assembly and elect leaders… but every racial faction thinks they should be in charge. The groups with small numbers (foxes, spiders, voles) think every group should have an equal number of speakers… the groups with lots of members (rats and weasels) think they should get more speakers. I point out, through my spokes-otter, that while the rats may have numerical numbers now, that might change, and they’d be at a disadvantage. To the weasels I point out that the more spokes-weasels they had, the fewer they’d be able to keep an eye on… even weasels don’t trust other weasels.

Three per group, all reporting to the Wardens… the council of Brocktree, myself, Watch Captain Ares, Educator Hermes, and Scout Captain Bubo. Politics… so much more hassle than just killing everyone. And it is a problem. Vermintown has more people than the surrounding countryside does… and they aren’t great farmers, though they’re getting better at it… there is a lot of crime, which to me is crazy, poor people stealing from other poor people.

But internal problems are to be handled internally. They respect strength, inasmuch as they respect anything, and the less heads we (The Great Ones) have to crack, the better. The threat of us has kept the peace these last five seasons to a large degree, with each successive mutiny getting less and less popular. The vermin aren’t slaves, merely prisoners working on parole and to support themselves (and pay taxes and tithes).

Hermes wants to create a formal school for the younger crowd, while Ares is trying to make builders out of some of the more enthusiastic and trustworthy of the rats and spiders. Hephaestus and Artemis are doing their best to train the local soldiery up to a higher standard, but ultimately, we’re still outnumbered.

Day 681

Unrest in the camp. A work detail of some two dozen weasels went out with three otters and a squirrel scout two days ago and the entire group have now disappeared. Both groups are blaming the other and rabble rousers are hard at work drumming up trouble.  Nike and Bubo lead search parties sent out to find the missing beasts.

Day 683

Unrest has become alarm. Nike and Bubo have returned, Nike alone, Bubo missing half his scouts. Both parties ambushed, ambushers unseen, arrows out of the trees, archers gone by the time Bubo could swoop down to ground level, Nike barely surviving several dozen arrows thanks to Bloodwrath. Although the others advise against it, I shall go and have a look.

Day 685

Have searched the woods most carefully, looking for campfires at night, cannot find anyone. During the day, I see signs of movement, but when I investigate, I find only empty woods.

Day 686

Something is wrong, smoke on the wind.  I rise from the hilltop vantage and see the Catchpole Otter Village burning. I arrive too late to save them, the people slaughtered, dubbins missing. Boats missing too. I move a moment too late, a pair of saber-like fangs sink into the exposed skin of my neck and searing heat floods into my veins. My backhand shatters the teeth, leaving them sticking out of my neck and a sword springs to my hand unbidden.

I cannot see my foe, cannot hear his breathing or thoughts over the throbbing of my veins as something within me pushes the fangs out, black metal forming across my neck and hands. The blade is cold, so very cold in my hand, but right, very right, a familiar vibration, one from hundreds of dreams.  I know this blade… this is Soul of Ice… and I know what those fangs mean…. And I unleash a frozen hell upon the dead village, the temperature dropping from the height of summer day to the burning chill of the Heart of Winter.

There is a groan to my left and a figure, covered in frost… long, serpentine body, falls to the ground. I place my sword to his throat. “Speak.” I command, hoping to be able to make sense of his words in time. I bring fire burning on my other hand close to him. “Or Die Screaming.”

It isn’t easy, it isn’t good, it certainly isn’t nice… but I get the information from him. Padraig, Lord of Poison, has brought an army of the Warriors of Summer to reclaim the mountain of the Fire Serpents… And to feast upon the folk of the long coast.

I freeze the toothless viper into torpor and fly as swiftly with my load as I can to Vermin Town. I do not see the stolen boats along the way, but they are there, somewhere. I land in the assembly square and lay my prisoner at my feet as the crowd gathers. Urvo was not there, but his cousin Radd was and he served as my speaker to rally the people of the town.

“We do not ask you to defend the mountain, where we, your overlords live. We do not ask you to defend the mines that bring forth metal to make our weapons, nor the farms where you toil to bring forth our food, nor the woods that provide nuts and berries and wood for our boats. We do not ask that of you, for that would be madness. Instead, we ask you to defend the walls of your town, the forge and mines where your tools come from, the farms and fields and woodlands where your food and the wood for your homes comes from. You came to us as conquerors, and we welcomed you as countrymen. Fight now for your homes, for the peace you have learned is possible. For if you don’t… the serpents will feast upon all our bones. All they have is poison, while you… have me.”

I lifted off into the air, a jump of over a dozen times my height, willing my sword into my hand, and brought it down as I landed, cleaving the Serpent’s head from its neck. “Place this above the gate to show the Serpents what we think of them.

Day 744

Today Padraig, Lord of Poison, was brought in chains to the hall of Lord Brocktree, his fangs shattered, his wicked eyes blinded. The brothers Trun bested him in mortal combat, at the cost Ungatt’s life. Tomorrow, we shall lay him in state, a cruel man who nevertheless died a hero’s death. Though the serpent horde seems unending, perhaps removing their leadership will cause internal strife… which it will, if I have anything to say about it.

Day 902

I had a most peculiar dream last night.  I dreamed that my flesh would melt and flow at my command… and when I awoke, I found myself in a form most alien, that of a catlike creature, but of more refined, less animalistic form than a Wildcat, and with soft and silky fur. No sooner did I wonder if I could return to my native form… than I transformed again… but not, as it were, into my otterform, but into a smooth-skinned nearly hairless being much shorter than my normal form. Was this, then my natural form? I had seen these strange paws in dreams before, but to actually feel with them was fascinating indeed. They had so much more sensation than my paws and the skin was shockingly sensitive to the touch.

I sought to recall all the forms from my dreams, annoyed that my otherwise nearly perfect memory (baring the whole lack of a past thing) did not seem to extend to my dreams… when I found myself inside a dark, winding labyrinth of dank stone. The pillars were massive, towering vaults a giant could lose themselves in, and there were semi-luminescent clouds everywhere.

To my astonishment, I discovered that, if I peered into a cloud, I saw dreamlike images flowing past. Indeed, they were familiar, for they were my dreams. A Labyrinth of Dreams? Was there then a Library of Memories? If only I could access that… though with my luck it would be…

I found myself in a hall, brightly lit, full of signs and symbols and memories of my life, both before and after the wreck. The rooms of new memories were orderly, clean, and organized… the other rooms, the older past, was a storm-lashed ruin, everything tumbled and tossed. I did find my name however. Symbeline… how odd to know my true name… or was it? For Symbeline seemed to be the name of an Otter… not whatever I was. Was I then an entity of some cosmic realm, manifest for a mortal lifetime as Symbeline? I could not say, but it seemed likely.

I tried to leave the hall, but the door at the end was locked shut, strange symbols writ upon it in a language I had seen in my dreams but did not now know. Mysteries and riddles.

Day 1140

I am really getting sick of killing Serpent Chieftains. It seems like a new one shows up once every hundred days or so… with a longer gap for the colder months. Maybe if I can find out where they’re coming from….

Day 1260

Found out where the Serpents come from at last. Lots of swamp. It’s a massive bog that stretches from the south-east coast of the island we’re on to part of the northern coast of a larger landmass. Oh… and the world is definitely a sphere. Go up high enough and you can see it curve away from you. Very cool. Can totally understand why Bubo spends all his time flying super high… that, and the high speed swooping must be incredible.

Turns out that that far to the north is an island covered in rocks and snow and big white bears. Looks lovely in a stark kind of way. If only I could get the Serpent Chieftains and sub-chieftains there, they’d have loads of fun. That gives me an idea.

Day 1300

Today we poled the massive pleasure barge ‘Poseidon’ into the edge of the bog and called for a summit, just us and the Serpent Leadership. We sent flyers to every clan and sept of serpents. Let them figure out their own order of precedence.  

Day 1312

We have plied the Serpent Lords with wine and sweets as more and more of them arrived, explaining that we are waiting until all of the Serpents have arrived until we discuss the Terms of Surrender. The feel of their minds is cold, unpleasant, and full of slow wickedness. On the day of the talks, a thick mist rolls in, blanketing the marsh and warded off only by the torches we have burning all over the barge. For hours the Hares, under Ares leadership, tangle the Serpents up in establishing proper hierarchies, pitting them against each other until the entire thing dissolves into a shouting match, only to repeat.

Finally, one of the Serpents, the most likely candidate for Warlord of the season demands to know when we plan to get around to actually surrendering. At which point I motion for the Hares to leave and the hall soon contains just me and the Snakes and a very brave Urvo.

“Oh. It’s not we who shall be surrendering. It is you, oh venomous ones.”

That got a few laughs… until at my second motion, the mist turned to snow and through the billowing drifts, the Snakes beheld that the ‘Poseidon’, rather than being moored by the edge of the swamps, was deep in the middle of the open sea. It might look like a barge, but underneath the surface, it had rat-powered paddlewheels, eight of them, churning away nonstop, pulling us smoothly through the water.

“You could fight me, but then I’d get to fight back. You could try to swim… but I doubt any of you would make it… the water is dire cold and none of you know where land is. Or you could surrender, pledge peace with the warmbloods, and all that… or not.”

A few of them decided to break the peace-bond and attack. Their frozen shattered forms were left on deck amid the finery and spilled wine to remind the others of what I could do. A few others braved the sea and quickly succumbed to the torpor and then the deeps.

Day 1320

We arrived on the Island of the Snowbears… I do not think the Serpents are enjoying their stay. Most of them are huddled very close to the warmth of the braziers. In fact, once I’d explained that they’d be staying here for the next sixteen seasons and, if they wanted anything from back home, we’d be happy to ship it up to them… as long as they surrendered…

Of course, it was possible their relatives would just write them off, but that would hardly be our fault, now would it?

Day 2001

As it turns out, loyalty is not a snake virtue, and no shipments were ever made. But without their leadership, the various snake clans… ate each other.

Day 3649

For weeks I have been having dreams of going down to the sea. I am no longer a young otter, perhaps sixty or sixty-five seasons, and my companions are all of an age. I have remembered many things of my life before the wreck, but it seems mostly like a dream. The Frogs came against us, but we turned them aside and directed them into the marshlands once held by the Serpents. The Crows came against us and we captured their rookeries and held their eggs for ransom. There were other smaller hordes, but we either converted or destroyed them all. Vermintown is a thriving city now, it stretches all the way along the coast between Point Vermin (the original town) and Salamandastron. Lord Brocktree passed some seasons back, but his daughter, Lady Cassandra, sits as overlord of the Coast. Tomorrow I will go down to the sea, the sea and the shore… and perhaps something wonderful will happen.

Side Story: Return #1

Next: World 27 – I Give You Everything

Resources: Build, Document

Addendum… I don’t remember selecting these options, but it seems I lived through them. Endless Hordes (+200) & Bully Pulpit [200]

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World 34: Psychonauts

CHRONICLE TWO: RISE OF THE BENEFACTOR

JUMP 36: WAR CRIMES

Previously: Eye of Gold

Themesong: Going Under by Evanescence

There was a circus tent dominating the central rise in the middle of the Warehouse when we finally piled back in, half drunk from the going away party. Sure, the last decade hadn’t been much of a challenge, and the years spent in the Caribbean had been anything but work, but a leave-taking is still a decent reason to party, even if the celebration was celebrating the end of vacation. One last fling before it was back to the grindstone, right?

On the flap of the tent was a note. It said, “A five-year long vacation? Hope you’ve rested your brain. What do you think this is? Summer Camp?”

I blinked at it, then groaned.

Zane mmmed? “What’s up?” He was wobbling unsteadily and half-dragging Kendra, who was barely coherent. AJ and Francine were tele-carrying most of the others, as they’d largely drunk so much that walking was out of the question. Rum is really wonderful. Having a Medbay that can replace livers is even better.

Palming my own face, I shuddered, then explained, “I just recognized this tent.”

“It’s a tent?” Zane asked. I was pretty certain that he didn’t doubt the tent’s tentiness… is that a word?… but rather questioning how a tent could be special.  Or he really could be that drunk. I decided against reading his mind to figure out which; even at the best of times, Zane’s mind is somewhat scary to gaze upon.

“It’s from the final level in Psychonauts…” I half-whimpered. “The Meat Circus… that’s why it looks like marbled meat.”

“Oh…” he made a face, peered closer at the fabric, looked like he was going to retch, then focused enough to grunt, “Gross.”

“Yeah… and a real fucking bitch. I hated that level,” I agreed, then stepped inside and was unsurprised… and a little terrified, to be honest, to see the Psychonauts logo hanging over the machine. It would not have been out of place in BioShock’s Rapture, it was that tacky. It was also not digital, but rather one of those screw dispenser machines with the big glass front… and a lot of freaktacular junk behind that plate. Part of me wondered if I could simply smash the glass and take what I wanted. I waved the thought away as that would, undoubtedly, be cheating… and I doubted there was enough stuff on offer to make the trouble I might get into worth it.

As I approached the machine, there was a thunk and a scroll dropping into the hopper. I hadn’t seen it fall and it hit with much greater gravitas than mere paper should have had. Parchment too seldom went ‘thunk!’ Still, I fished it out… there wasn’t even a double hinge security flap thing! I could pretty easily just snag anything I wanted using my arm… well, if I turned it into a tentacle… let alone TK… No! Clearly this was all temptation! No failing the obvious test!

Unrolling the scroll, I found that it contained a copy of Coach Oleander’s intro speech from the game “The Human Mind: Six Hundred miles of synaptic fiber, five and a half ounces of cranial fluid, one-thousand five-hundred grams of complex neural matter… a three pound pile of dreams. But I’ll tell you what it really is. It is the ultimate battlefield – and the ultimate weapon. The wars of this modern age – The Psychic Age – are fought somewhere between these damp, curvaceous undulations. From this day forward, you are all psychic soldiers, paranormal paratroopers, mental marines who are about to ship out on the adventure of their lives!” It also contained a roll of ‘Fifty Cranial Point’ chips, twenty of them. That explained the ‘thunk’.

In case you’ve never played the game, I’ll give you the basic rundown. Raz, short for Rasputin Aquato… and he really was short… was the youngest member of a family of circus acrobats… and a gifted psychic. Having read about Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp in the pages of ‘True Psychic Tales Magazine’, he’d run away from home to attend, unaware that the camp was secretly a secret government training facility for the titular Psychonauts, psychic spies. There, he discovers a plot to turn the campers into cybernetic brain-tanks… as in shooty-shooty boom-boom tanks, not floaty floaty non-explodey tanks. Behind that plot are Coach Morceau Oleander, the camp’s psychic-fitness instructor, and an insane dentist named Dr. Loboto. 

Assisting Raz in opposing them are the camp’s three other councilors / Psychonauts agents: Milla Vodello (mod generation and fabulous), Sasha Nein (psychic James Bond), and Ford Cruller (ancient and batty as a fruit-bat holding a Louisville Slugger)… plus Lili Zanotto, the love interest and daughter of the head of the Psychonauts organization, and Dogen Boole, the camp well meaning idiot… who thinks squirrels are plotting against him and who wears a tinfoil hat to keep from making other peoples’ heads explode by accident.

It should be noted that, since Whispering Rock gets its name from a massive psytanium meteor that fell in the area hundreds of years ago, forming the nearby Lake Oblongata, much of the local wildlife is actually psychic, and thus the squirrels very much could be plotting against him. There’s also an old ruined insane asylum on the island in the middle of the Lake, and a ruined town at the bottom of it.

The Meat Circus is, as I’ve mentioned, the final level of the game, and it is in that place that Oleander’s fear of his father (a butcher) and Raz’s fear of his own father (a psychic circus acrobat) fuse to create the final boss of the game. In the end, Raz fixes Oleander’s psychosis, and Raz’s father shows up to help Raz deal with his own personal demons. The game ends with Raz, Lili, and the Psychonauts flying off to save Truman Zanotto (Lili’s father) who has been kidnapped. And all that happens within about a week.

What was I supposed to do for a decade when the story lasted a week? I read the rest of the note and winced… apparently I was to spend the entire time ‘involved’ with the camp. Ten years… TEN YEARS at a Summer Camp for psychic teenagers! It wasn’t that big a camp! Maybe there’d be field trips? The note did promise crazy psychic adventures.

There wasn’t an age die in sight, nor any way to randomize starting location… which I guess made sense, seeing as how, again, it wasn’t that big a camp. Walking from one end of it to the other would take maybe fifteen minutes… twenty if I walked to the island in the lake (yay for All Terrain Hiking!).

I checked the note again. Nothing else. So I checked out the machine. The top row had three double roller items; Camper, Instructor, Random Drop-In. Below each was what were clearly each origin’s perks, since the prices for them weren’t listed, but they were color-coded. Oddly, one item was halfway under both Camper and Instructor. I studied the various names, and found that each had description under it.

Reading through the various options, my choice was obvious. It wasn’t even a close run thing. I had to have two of the three capstones, which meant only Camper and Drop-In were even in the running, but since Campers got two companions free, each of them getting six-hundred Cranial Points… and if I bought a third, all three of them would have nine-hundred each. Sure, I could have bought eight slots for three-hundred, but each of them would only get that same three-hundred. Much better a few powerful allies / friends than a team of low powered muffin-macguffins.

I locked in my purchase of Camper, spending the hundred and wondering yet again why so many jumps charged me for not having any connection to the world I was jumping into. Who decided that Drop-In would be the default? Shouldn’t I get points back for that? Grumble grumble. 

As the machine vended my Camper pack (it was a Whispering Pines Uniform… kinda like a wilderness scout’s uni, plus an eight-sided die, an ID request form, and a bandana with my cabin’s badge on it. Crouching Ferret Cabin. Good Name.), it also vended a foam rubber brain, a cloth bundle, a Y-shaped metal rod with a crystal suspended in a bracket at the tip opposite the handles, two ‘Companion’ badges, and a blank merit badge.

The foam brain was for ‘Basic Braining’, and was free for everyone. Basic Braining was the merit badge Raz earned in the game for completing the first level, the tutorial mental obstacle course inside Coach Oleander’s mind. What that meant for me (and my imported companions) was that we’d been trained in navigating mental obstacle courses… basic acrobatic feats like swinging on trapezes, bouncing on trampolines, and (of course) performing psychically boosted double jumps that, yes, worked in the physical world as well. It also included training in psychically-assisted hand-to-hand combat, sorting another’s mental baggage, and accessing someone’s mental vaults.

Mental Baggage was, in fact, baggage inside the mind of another. Everyone had it (at least in the game) and was one of the five different kinds of collectables in the game (Mental Vaults, Mental Cobwebs, Figments, Baggage & Tags, and Psytanium Arrowheads). Of them, only the arrowheads existed in the physical world, a stand in for currency… and Figments were just figments of the individual’s imagination and were bloody everywhere! They also doubled as collectable experience points to upgrade Raz’s powers. I doubted they’d work that way for me… but we’d see.

Each of the ten minds / levels in the game contained five pieces of mental baggage (duffle bag, hatbox, purse, steamer trunk, and suitcase) and their matching tags, and matching each one earned the player a reel of Primal Memories (i.e. concept art). What sorting them in actuality would mean was anyone’s guess… but I was vaguely looking forward to finding out if it really could be used to clear up emotional issues. Incidentally, all the bags cry continuously in a modulated version of the voice of the… host i guess you’d call it… until they are matched up with their tag… so the likelihood is high that sorting the baggage might actually be helping.

In the spirit of helping, Mental Cobwebs formed from disuse and they block off access to parts of someone’s mind. Too many of them can literally drive someone insane, and cleaning one out with a psychic cobweb duster (which looks like a vacuum)  will restore the person’s access to the memories and skills hidden behind them… as well as potentially allow a Psychonaut deeper access to the mind of the ‘patient’.

Opening Mental Vaults wasn’t helping so much. Not really. At least as far as I could tell. The vaults were animal-like safes that one had to beat up to uncover repressed memories. Unfortunately, those memories could be false or entirely manufactured, which wasn’t ideal.

So yeah… Basic Braining was almost entirely about invading someone’s mind, not as a reader, but as an actual projection into the mind of the individual, able to interact with the mental environment as if it were a physical space. The level of access that would give me to the inner workings of the minds of others would be quite a lot higher than normal telepathy gave, although the level of personal effort and risk was greater, as the mind’s defenses (including weird little dudes called ‘Censors’) would actively and passively be trying to fight me.

Of course, the worst they could do would be to boot me out and make me a bit fatigued… or at least that was the worst shown in the game. It was possible that stronger minds would have stronger defenses. The perk might not protect me from those defenses, but it did include an added bonus in that it would decrease the level of disorientation I felt when astrally projecting, whether or not I was actually entering someone else’s mind… which was good, as I really didn’t like astral projecting specifically because it was fucking unnerving to be floating around without a body, unable to interact with the world around me! I cannot express just how creeptastic I found that.

The bundle of cloth turned out to be my ‘Merit Badge Belt’, a camp sash designed to will allow me to display my powers and skills as scouting merit badges. Sure, it was a purely cosmetic thing, useful only for bragging, but it might impress some people if I explain that each one was a superpower,  skill, or area of expertise in science/magic/martial arts that I possessed. Despite being properly fitted to me at all times and in all forms, the sash would always have space for each badge. So that was nice… if a bit silly. I had a loooot of skills, thanks in no small part to having lived for more than ten thousand years as scores of highly educated individuals. 

Thankfully, the way In-Jump Personas worked meant that I was not constantly being overwhelmed with the separate thoughts and memories of the two-hundred different people. In case you’re wondering what I’m on about, there were a hundred-and-seventy-eight King-Priests of the Maegi, and this was about to be my thirty-sixth jump. I’d been a drop-in (which meant no personality overlay) twelve-times, and one of those jumps had been Civilization. Thirty-five minus thirteen is twenty-two, and twenty-two plus a hundred-and-seventy-eight is a fucking huge number of personalities… which would make one of my new purchases very interesting indeed… but I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Back to the other stuff that the machine had dumped into the hopper when I’d paid for my background… after putting on my new uniform and adjusting my bandana until it was as cute and kicky as could be, I tossed the d8 into the hopper, where it came up a nine (the numbers on it ran from seven to fourteen). I promptly shrank to the size of a fairly small nine-year old. Oh goody. Puberty again! Weeeee!

The next item was the ID request form, which I filled out in the name of ‘Sio Jang’, a Laotian-American girl with albinism and violet eyes (because psytanium is purple) who liked to collect beetles and wanted to be fireman when she grew up… having totally misunderstood exactly what a fireman did for a living. I slid the form back into the machine (there was a slot for it) and the machine obligingly vended my shiny new camp ID, birth certificate (San Francisco, California), social security card, american passport, and home address statement.

AN: San Francisco is home to Psychonauts developer ‘Double Fine’ and also one the US’s largest Laotian-American Community. Educational, huh?

And speaking of psytanium, the Y-shaped thing was my free Dowsing Rod which would help me find buried deposits of the rare (and dangerous) psychoactive metal. Of course, since there was no psytanium outside of the PsychoVerse, it would (in other worlds) point to large concentrations of psychic energy, which could certainly be useful if I ever found myself in, say the Warhammer Universe, famed far and wide for its lunatic psychic metaphysics.

Which left only the blank badge, which was the one free ‘Psychic Specialization’ I got for being a Camper (Instructors didn’t get one free, but got a discount on all purchases of them, so it balanced out). A psychic specialization meant that user was particularly good in a specific subset of psychic powers, such as telepathy, empathy, lumokinesis, psychometry, or the like. As for how good? Well, a single purchase would give the taker the ability to remain invisible for a full day before having to recharge, telekinetically wrestle the bears at camp, telepathically talk to plants (a rare ability), or treat a canoe as a speedboat with psychomotor impulses! It wouldn’t, however, make the taker the best in their area of expertise.

The text stated that the cast of the game were a decent metric for how broad a specialization could be or how powerful, which was (to my way of thinking) a duh statement. Still, while you couldn’t get to the number one slot simply with Psychic Specialization, buying a second specialization for a specific subset would put one in the top three… with a bit of practice. Two was also the maximum that could be applied to a single subset… but these specializations were little more than a baseline. Given the amount of time me and mine had to practice (plus learning and training amplification perks), we’d have much further to go before we reached our limit than any local would have. 

Bearing all that in mind, I considered the options for a long minute before pressing the badge to my forehead as the included instructions directed, and formed a mental image of what I wanted. One of the characters in the game, Elka Doom, was a Precog. One of the powers that Raz learned over the course of the game was Invisibility, though the best at it was Milka Phage. Raz’s version was good enough to be able to fool everyone but the infrared equipped G-Men in the Milkman’s mind.

I wanted neither of those, but rather a hybrid. What I wanted to specialize in was something right out of the pages of my favorite novel… or rather, its third sequel, ‘God Emperor of Dune’. What I wanted had taken the titular character thirty-five hundred years to breed into existence in a genetically viable human being. It was called ‘Precognitive Invisibility’; that is, a resistance to being anticipated with precognitive abilities. Considering the kind of enemies I was going to run into, sooner or later? It was best I sourced that ability as soon as possible. Now was as good a time as any.

As I drew my hand back from my forehead, the badge fell away, fluttering down to land on the sash, where it promptly sewed itself in place, a brain, half of it visible, the other half outlined, embroidered on its face. Success! Of course, Ziggy decided that my squeak of delight meant that it was time to steal something, so I spent the next twenty minutes chasing the sash-thief around the warehouse. Who needs an exercise regime when you have a Ziggy, I ask you?

Once my sash was safely back around my torso, and Ziggy was safely asleep on my head, I spent the lion’s share of my Cranial Points on those two ‘Must Have’ capstones… in fact, counting the hundred I’d paid to be a Camper, the nine-hundred the pair cost me bankrupted me. I’d have to go into Drawbacks to get the last hundred I needed for my companion import plans.

The first capstone, the Camper’s ‘Three Pounds of Dreams’ would be a game changer. Remember how I said that Psychic Specialization was merely a baseline and that, given enough time and training I’d be able to reach the peak / limits of my psychic potential? Yeah… Not with Three Pounds of Dreams I wouldn’t. My three-hundred meant that my mind would never lose its ability to change and evolve, meaning that I’d always be able to make noticeable improvements as long as I kept putting in the effort to push my limits.

So yeah, it meant I was now that special one in a million psyche destined for mental greatness, that my mental defenses would compare favorably to a tank’s armor, while my mental strength would be like unto a battering ram. And yet all that was as nothing in the face of my newfound potential, a potential that meant that learning and mastering new psychic abilities and skills would take me less than a few days. Hell, given sufficient motivation, challenges, and training to push my development I would be able to replicate Raz’s feat of mastering eight different psychic abilities in a single day. Three-hundred Cranial Points never spent themselves so fast. 

However, as much as Three Pounds was a gamechange in the psychic power field, it was as nothing compared to the Drop-In Capstone, ‘Astral Layers’. Three Pounds would make me more powerful… but Astral Layers would make me… more me. Two-hundred times more me, to be specific. Possibly more. Does that number look familiar? Yeah, it should.

See, what Astral Layers did was make every version of me, at least one from every jump, a seperate / independent layer of who and what I was. Within my mind (and remember that my mind was already a palace) they’d be able to act as independent Psychonauts, defending said palace from all intruders and dealing with any disturbances that might arise (say confusion or fear effects). Sure, outside of my own personal mindscape the only effects of Astral Layers would be the increased mental fortitude from the bolstering of my sense of self. Within my mindscape, however, my mind would be transformed into a fortress garrisoned by the many aspects of myself, each providing their own unique perspectives that could prove to be a valuable source of advice and insight, although not without their own biases. Speaking with my id could prove impossibly useful in resolving any repressed issues I might have, but less so when dealing with the nuances of high society.

A psychic learning boost, a psychic defenses boost, and a psychic strength boost, all for only nine-hundred? I wasn’t passing them up… but I had to wonder… if I jumped to Babylon 5 next… just how close to transcendence would I be? Could I fight a Vorlon head to head? That was for later, but still I had to wonder.

As I locked in Astral Layers, I could feel my mindscape coming alive as more than twenty Jumpselves and a hundred-seventy-eight Magi Manifested, as well as a double handful of beings I recognized as aspects of my original psyche… my sense of justice, my rage, my lust, my competitiveness, and others… coalesced out of the various clouds and populated the once empty halls of my Mental Palaces. Librarian of Memories, Cataloguer of Dreams, Conservator of the Mental Gallery, Custodian of the Forgotten… they formed slowly but deliberately, establishing a hierarchy before the Throne of Me… a throne awaiting a future self who was not yet come. It was a throne for she I was becoming, and the hierarchy had room to grow, since it would clearly be doing so for the foreseeable future. Still, I, EssJay, remained the queen of my own mind, my other selves kneeling all around me and pledging their existences to mine.

And speaking of planning for later, some of the gear was incredibly spiffy… a regenerating cache of Psitanium, a mental cobweb duster and psychic loom two pack, and my very own psycho-portal (a door used to make entry into the mind of another easy peasy)? Collectively they’d cost me four-hundred which I didn’t have… and I still really wanted to buy a third companion import. At two, Zane and Velma would get a nice chunk of Cranial apiece… but with three, Zane, Velma, and Francy would each get an even larger boost. But all that would cost me five benny-benjamins. I could aim for six-hundred Cranial of Drawbacks and take the Instructor Capstone… but while that would improve my brain-diving to the point where I wouldn’t need the Psycho-Portal, I’d have to pass on importing Francy and the Psitanium… So that seemed unlikely. I mean, I also kinda wanted the awesome sounding Molotov Milk (Builds healthy bones… then blasts them to smithereens when it detonates)… but I already had a regenerating supply of grenades.

So, I certainly wasn’t willing to go too crazy on this jump, but I was going to have to dip into the well of suck just a little to afford anything else. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of options… not even the normal nine choices. In fact, there were only six total drawbacks (two each at three different price points) to pick from, though in theory I could have taken all of them for a total of thirteen-hundred extra (there was a bonus for combining two of them). But like I said, not too crazy. This world would be bonkers enough without my going hogwild. 

That meant ignoring the two three-hundred pointers, ‘Hand of Galochio’  and ‘Loboto-mized’. The first was a gypsy curse that turned water into my kryptonite even worse than it already was Rasputin’s. For him it didn’t mean game-over. For me? It would be a chain-ender. The second was the very definition of ‘Too Crazy’… as in ‘All-out, absolutely, lock-her-away’ crazy. The kind of crazy it would take an elite team of Psychonauts to put my head in order… if it were even possible, given just how powerful and strange my mind was becoming.

Still, that left a potential pool of six hundred and I found five-hundred I could deal with pretty easily, in the form of ‘Let’s hear it for Jumper! Yay!’, ‘One-Jumper Camp Staff’, and ‘And Now I Have to Wear this Special Hat’. None of them sounded like fun, to be certain, but each of them should be manageable.

The first, and the cheapest at one-hundred Cranial Points, was the annoyingly named ‘Let’s hear it for Jumper!’, which would saddle me with the two most obnoxious and eternally upbeat psychic cheerbrats in the entire camp who would continue to cheer me on no matter what happened… and since they were psychics, that would include following me into the minds of others. Still, it was merely annoying. I’d been a middle school; I could cope with annoying

Of course, the other two were two-hundred pointers, and they were doable, if much more than merely annoying. ‘Special Hat’ referenced Dogan… remember him? The kid who wore a tinfoil hat to keep from making others asplode with his mind? Yeah. That. Essentially, ‘Special Hat’ gave me problems controlling my psi powers… but gave me the means to control those problems… i.e. wearing a special (tinfoil) hat. Look. I know I’m a bit silly, but any drawback that requires a hat, tinfoil or otherwise, was a taker in my book. Hats are cool. I could totally do this, especially with a little bit of enchantment (ala Harry Potter Magic) to keep said hat from coming off my head. 

‘One-Jumper Camp Staff’ was more in that vein; a problem that came with its own solution. Sure, it was almost certainly a bad idea (as it would fragment my mind into a set of alternative, job specific, personalities), but the text specifical said that as long as I had a large chunk of Psitanium on my person, I’d be able to remain stable and cohesive. Since I’d be using the points that drawback provided to, you know, buy a giant lump of Psitanium… one which instantly respawned in my warehouse if lost or destroyed?

Part of me suspected that it couldn’t possibly be that easy to cheese the drawback… but it was right there in green and yellow! I’d have to experiment with how much Psitanium was enough… then use more. Like… three such chunks. Even at its worst, however, those various personalities wouldn’t be counter to my goals, they’d just be unable to help my allies unless they wanted, you know, a burger from the camp commissary or to rent a canoe from the boat dock. It wasn’t as if I really had any goals in this weird setting. 

And that was five-hundred! Now back to my regularly scheduled shopping. First, I bought the Psitanium, which was fifty pounds (a little less than twenty-three kilos) of pure extraterrestrial psycho-reactive metal that made psychics more psychics (and unstable people more unstable) over prolonged exposure. It could be worked into items (such as arrowheads… or, you know… psitanium foil, psitanium bracelets, psitanium diadems, psitanium earrings). Sure, one way of looking at it was as if I’d spent a hundred CP to counter a two-hundred point drawback, but the other way to look at it was that the two-hundred point drawback was subsidizing my future psitanium research and leaving me extra CP to spend on something else…

Like the Cobweb Duster, which would allow me to collect mental cobwebs while inside the minds of others, not only clearing up their minds, by refreshing old skills and uncovering old memories, but also allowing me to use the included Psychic Loom Warehouse attachment to create my own PSI Cards. The only problem with that was that I didn’t know what actual good said cards were.

In the game, Raz leveled his psychic powers by increasing his ‘PSI Cadet Rank’. He did so by completing various challenges (a scavenger hunt, sorting mental baggage, beating the PSI-Punch in Coach Oleander’s Basic Braining level) or by finding PSI Challenge Markers scattered around the camp and island, usually in hard to reach places. However, it was also possible to create a PSI Challenge Marker, and that’s where the loom came into it.

Nine PSI Cards could be combined with an item called a PSI Core (purchasable from the camp store using psitanium arrowheads) to create a Challenge Marker. Simple so far, right? Well, there was one minor and one major problem associated with the entire process, as far as I was concerned.

With the Duster, and given enough time and patients, I could have a theoretically trans-finite number of cobwebs, which translated into a trans-finite number of PSI Cards. What I didn’t have a source for was Cores. Presumably, they could be manufactured, since they were sold at the camp store and the challenge markers were just left random places where any camper could (in theory) collect them… but I had no way of verifying that, as neither the lore I had from playing the game several times nor the information the machine was providing spoke to the possibility.

The other problem was more pressing, however, and potentially a deal-breaker. What, exactly, did Challenge Markers do? Was PSI Cadet Rank a real, measurable thing? Or just a metric the camp used to award participation? In other words, were Challenge Markers actual psychic boosts… or merely weird trophies? Since all Challenge Markers and Cards were found in the real world, that suggested the second was possible… but since rank could be earned by non-physical acts (sorting baggage)? That spoke to the first being maybe true? Shit. I hit the help button.

“Problem, Cadet?” said Ford Cruller’s face in hologram form on the glass of the machine. That was a first. An actual voice!

“Mmm… yes,” I said. “Cores, Cards, Challenge Markers, Cadet Ranks… Actual boosts, or just participation trophies?”

“That’s a good question!” he agreed… but didn’t answer.

“Thank you for the praise,” I snarked. “But how about an answer?”

“What do you think?” he asked.

“Honestly?” I responded, “I think they’re useless, like the badges, merely praise for children. But that said, I think that if I’m paying CP for an item that can craft PSI Cards, there had better be a use for PSI Cards that may not, in fact, match the unstated elements of canon. Raz is powerful enough to actually be a full Psychonaut. That much is clear. So let’s assume they are actually imparting some psychic ability… but not particularly a lot, considering that Raz can hit a Cadet Rank of a hundred-and-one in the game.”

“Okay!” Cruller-Face said, “1% increase to your overall psychic power for every Marker you collect or craft.”

“Speaking of Crafting, can I make PSI Cores? And assuming I can…” I paused, thinking hard, “Does someone have to have been imported into the PsychoVerse to use a Marker to increase their psychic power?”

“Also good questions,” he agreed, nodding his head on his noodle-neck. Again he didn’t answer.

Finally, I sighed and suggested. “How about this. Yes, Cores can be created. It takes a small amount of psitanium and some technical knowhow and focused thought, but it is doable. I assume that the Cores aren’t consumed in the process of boosting the Cadet, but rather act as a catalyst to focus the psychic energy of the Cards, which are made by reweaving dense clots of mental energy… i.e. cobwebs… into a structured jolt to the Cadet’s system. Does that sound reasonable?”

“Does it seem reasonable to you?” he asked, being either highly agreeable or deliberately vague.

“I wouldn’t have suggested it if I didn’t think it was reasonable,” I half-snapped, then grumbled. “Cores should be reusable. It makes sense that the camp can recycle the challenge markers, just recharging them with Cards whenever a camper exhausts one. Also, that explains why there’s only ever one on the shelf in the store. It’s the same one each time. Or one of only a few. I assume that they have to be recharged somehow before they can be fused with the Cards, since if they could be used without that, Raz would be able to recycle the ones he already had.”

“You put too much thought into these things,” Cruller said. “Wouldn’t you rather have fun at camp?”

“Yes, I’m certain I would. But I like knowing how things work and what good things I pay for are!” I did snap this time. “And just for that, I’m going to assert that anyone with any level of psychic potential can benefit from a Challenge Marker, though obviously, it’s still going to boost their power by 1% of their base… not 1% of my base.”

He sighed, nodding his ancient head. “Sure sure. Whatever kid. You gonna make a purchase or waste my time some more?” 

I flicked him off and he vanished. Soo helpful. Turning back to the machine, I paid two-hundred for my very own personalized Psycho-Portal! That was a miniature doorway one could throw at another person to allow you to project yourself into their mental world. It could also be used to allow multiple users to enter a single target at the same time, or to allow the user to draw one or more willing subjects into her own mindscape… typically for training purposes.

It wasn’t foolproof, clearly, as powerful mental blocks could be established to block Psycho-Portal access, and there were built-in blocks preventing use of it on the minds of minors (due to laws protecting underage minds)… but those were technical elements. It was possible I… someone… could tamper with it to remove said locks… for some reason. Iff that seems unethical, remember that children have just as many psychiatric problems and traumas as adults do. Sure, it could be used for brainwashing… but honestly, brainwashing children is already bone simple… why else do you think certain religions want to control public school education so much?

And like that, I was left with only a hundred CP, exactly enough to buy the third import slot. Originally, I’d briefly considered importing Ziggy instead of Francine, since Francy was already a psychic, as were AJ, Petra, and Dyna. There were two reasons to go with Francy rather than the Zig. First, a psychic ferretoid would be… is bad news too mild a descriptive? Second, sure, four of my Mons were psychic types, but AJ, Petra, and Dyna all had physical skills too. Francine was the purest Psyker on the team. With their nine-hundred Cranial Points each, Zane, Velma, and Francine would, essentially, get the same amount of points I had gotten before drawbacks, at least once you tossed in the free origin (unless one of them was silly enough to go Drop-In). Hell, when we tossed in Ahab and Joy, I could practically restaff the camp if I wanted to.

Of course, speaking of Drop-In and silly people, Zane (naturally) went that way, which, in addition to Basic Braining & Merit Badge Belt, got him ‘Ran Away From The Circus’. That gave him the skills of an exceptional circus acrobat, one having mastery of both trapeze and tightrope, with juggling thrown in for good measure. Beyond the agility, balance, reflexes, and strength he’d gain from that experience, he also gained a superior sense of showmanship.

He also got a complete collection of ‘True Psychic Tales Magazine’, which (as it said) included every issue ever printed, with a subscription for any new ones as they come out. Once we left the PsychoVerse, he’d continue to get new issues with articles based on our current universe’s psychic events and community. That could (potentially) include articles involving our adventures. Somehow the mail-in order offers in the back of each issue would still work as long as we followed the mailing and payment instructions. If any issue ever got damaged, all he had to do was burn it and a replacement would appear in the Warehouse within four business days.

All that was free, but with his points he picked up psychic specialities  in both Mental Shielding and Precognitive Invisibility, figuring he might as well go with a decent plan or, as he put it, “If they can see your partner coming, Invisibility ain’t much good, right?” Which was nice of him to notice, but faintly worrying. Having never actually fought a precog, I had very little idea of how such things worked in practice.

He also bought ‘Astral Layers’, figuring that, as he said “More Zane is Always a Good Thing!” He offered to design a tattoo for me so I wouldn’t forget. I thanked him politely… i.e. hit him with a pillow. He claimed it wasn’t very effective. So I nailed him with the People’s Elbow. What can I say, we have a somewhat combative relationship… blame it on the Pokemon.

For, quote, party favors, he picked up the ‘Molotov Milk Crate’, since it was fortified with what the world wanted… as long as what the world wanted as a tasty calcium rich beverage that burned like a combination of vodka and dish soap. It came in an old fashioned milkman’s basket-thing, and in those nice heavy glass bottles with the seals on top instead of normal caps. Unfortunately, while the basket never ran out of milk, and Zane was free to share the milk… only he could ignite it. Still, nutritious and destructive. What more could we want? Well, chocolate might be nice, if I were being honest.

Velma, ever the pedant, went the Instructor route, snagging the freebie tetrafecta of Basic Braining, Merit Badge Belt, ‘Department of Paranormal Education’ , and her own Cobweb Duster. DoPE (haha) gave her a full course in the art of educating young psychics, which included premium methods of developing the present psychic abilities within her (potential) students (no matter how small), the ability to set up psychic training grounds within her own mind, improved control over her own mental censors (wouldn’t do to have her mind’s immune system trying to evict her students… well, not until it was time for combat practice), and the willpower to deal with a summer camp full of hormonal tweens.

“You know, Ess…” she commented, looking up from her gifts with background purchase. “You should cash your Duster out and take something else.”

“Huh?” I asked, “After all the trouble I just went through to detail what it did? Why?”

“Dusters can be bought with arrowheads, right?” she asked.

I nodded slowly, not certain where she was going with this. “Yeah…”

She ticked off points on her fingers. “You’ve got a rod to find them, a block of Psitanium, and can theoretically borrow one of ours… and we don’t need two looms.”

“Three,” interjected Francine.

“You’re going Instructor too, Francy?” Velma asked.

“Of course!,” the firey (in a purely metaphoric sense… you have to specify with poketypes) little psychic said, “They get a discount on Psy Specialities!”

“True,” Velma agreed. “Anyway, that’s my point. We don’t need three Psychic Looms, which is the major point of buying this item. The duster itself is merely…” she paused, “A means to an end?”

I considered that for a few seconds, then nodded. “Okay. You’ve sold me.” I rewarded Velma with a kiss… and Francy with a head ruffle. She blew her moustache at me in a grumpy sort of way, but I could tell she was pleased. We’ve been together a loooooong long while now.

Since I couldn’t afford a second Psychic Specialty to boost me to the top tier, I decided to trade in my duster for DoPE as well if nothing else, it would give me better mental health and willpower. And if our Looms really could help activate otherwise dormant psychics… the training skills might be useful.

As for purchasing power, Velma picked up ‘Psycho-Science’, which meant she was now familiar with everything from the earliest metaphysical research to the cutting edge and state of the art in Psychic Technology. She knew how the Brain Tumbler worked, how to construct a Geodesic Isolation Chamber, how to make her own Psycho-Portal (Remember how most  of the pre-existing ones included that built-in block to protect underage minds from being entered? Yeah, she could make ones that didn’t have that), how to make PSI Cores (that hadn’t been there when I’d read the description), and even how to build Psychic Death Tanks. That last included a how-to guide to properly extract and store living brains in jars… you know, for reasons! It also came with the knowledge of how to put those brains back inside a person’s head. Mad Science for the win!

She also snagged ‘Psychonautics’, an unparalleled level of skill in psyche diving (unparalleled you know, unless Francy also bought it.), with the matching insight to truly understand the mind at its core levels. It made her a fully trained Psychonaut and expert in the field of Psychonautics in general, one who knew how to truly explore the human condition. It included knowledge of the various methods of achieving the altered states of consciousness to do so, though in her case, she could do it through will alone. It even came with the ability to explore the Collective Unconscious (think of it as a hub level, if you’re still thinking in game terms), which would allow her to visit the minds of those she had a connection to… over any distance… as well as to tap into crowd psychologies! As an added bonus, she would also gain an increased ability at understanding truly alien, inhuman minds.

And with the last of her points, she bought not one but four Psychic Specializations. Well, two specializations (Psychic Transparency and Psy-Suppression) and one extra-specialization in Levitation. Transparency would allow mental attacks and scans to pass through her while she was using it. It was essentially phasing for psychic stuff. Suppression was a general dampener, great for controlling unruly psychic campers or mutant lungfish… yes, that was a thing in the game.

“Uh… Levitation?” I asked. “You can fly.” It was true. Although she hadn’t bought ‘Soar’ in Touhou, she was a Vampiric Magicienne and could thus use magic to, you know, fly… or she could turn into a bat.

“That takes magical energy. This is psychic energy,” she said. “Plus, I hate turning into a bat… it makes my head throb. Also, this will work inside people’s minds… I don’t know if magical flight will.”

I paused, then grunted. “Good point, criticism rescinded… also, this has slow fall mode, which can be good in emergencies.” I summoned an umbrella and did my impression of Mary Poppins… though I don’t remember that worthy having to dodge oranges thrown by her friends. Of course, I didn’t dodge either. I let them bounce off my telekinetic shielding. Simpletons. I fear no fruit!

Francy, as promised, also went Instructor, Basic Braining & Merit Badge Belt, Department of Paranormal Education, Cobweb Duster… yada yada yada… but instead of being reasonable and getting a spread of perks with her points… she grabbed nine (yes, with an n!) Psychic Specializations: Psychoportation twice, Psychic Void (the ability to absorb psychic attacks and probes), Instance Heightening twice (the ability to make people do what they’re already doing, only more so… focus on watching sports, sleep, look for the source of a noise, etc.), Domination twice, Telekinesis, and Psy-Stun. Ouch.

“Are you sure you don’t want Three Pounds of Dreams?” I asked, “It’ll cost you six of your picks, but might be worth it in the long run. It guarantees you’ll never stop growing.”

“You doubt my ability?” she humphed.

“Not doubting you, Spoongirl,” I teased a bit. “I’m saying that biology hits a limit of diminishing returns. Three Pounds removes that limitation.”

“I…” she began, then faltered, face showing how torn she was.

I held up my hand and began ticking off fingers. “You’re thinking that quantity is better than quality, and I get that. I do. But you’ve got three doubles, you’re already a TK and Stun master, and can Dominate with the best of them. That’s six. Toss those and all your psychic powers, not just the ones you get here, will be able to improve as long as you make the effort.”

“I…” she continued, frowning as she tried to work through the logic. She’s very (very) smart, but she sometimes gets stuck in obsessive loops where desire wars with logic.

“Don’t trust your old trainer?” I finally asked, not unkindly.

That earned me a hard stare, then she sighed and nodded. “Very well. You are probably right. I shall put my trust in your judgement.”

“I’m sure the camp has some lovely spoons. And maybe we can make you some out of psytanium.” That cheered her up.

Ahab and Joy decided to join me and Zane in the ranks of the Camper Elite, thus netting themselves Basic Braining, a Merit Badge Belt, and a Dowsing Rod… with Ahab picking Psychic Specialty (Sensory Invisibility) and Joy picking Psychic Specialty (Technopathy). That all squared away nicely, we dropped in. Ziggy complained about not being imported, but was mollified with Ziggy Treats, which are like Scooby-Snacks, but lamb flavored.

INSERTION

What can I say about Whispering Rock Summer Camp? It’s Summer Camp… deranged teens and tweens doing hokey things like wrestling bears, assassinating squirrels, and performing psychic surgery on mental patients… what do you mean that’s not normal for Summer Camps? What the hell kind of summer camp did you go to?

I’d like to claim it was all fun and games. I’d like to say it was fun in the sun and hijinks all the way… but… I… I made a mistake. I… shit. I killed them all. Well, not all. Not Clem and Crystal, little psychopaths cheering as I obliterated the camp and its staff.

My companions had a place to go, a place to hide until the storm passed… Curse that Loboto… can’t hold a Psitanium Chunk when you’re a brain in a tank. Can’t wear a tinfoil hat when you’re a brain in a tank… Brain in a Tank Me had only one mission, one task… destroy… obliterate… no controls. Nothing… all my powers unleashed by a single sneeze. Yes, in that world, you can sneeze your brains out… literally. Fucking Loboto, stole my Psitanium / tinfoil helmet, then hit me with a pepper bomb. Probably just wanted to see what would happen. Fuck him so much. 

And fuck me. All this power… and all it took to take me down was a pepper grinder. The worst part about it? Part of my mind is trying to tell me that they were little psychopaths, too dangerous to be allowed out into the wider world, that the camp was a production facility for psychic weapons… maybe the voice is right. Maybe I did the… necessary thing… but I didn’t do it for the right reasons. They may have been weapons, but they were also kids… and even if I didn’t willingly kill them… I failed to save them.

My friends tried to come for me, to put me back in my body, but I was too out of control. All they could do was try and keep me from doing too much damage. If there is one kindness out of all this, it’s that there was no way anyone else could control me. The government just sealed the area around Whispering Pines after all attempts to wrangle me had failed. I don’t think they wanted to risk the possibility of someday controlling me, so they quarantined me, isolated me, contained me as they kept trying to regain control… or maybe not. Maybe it was all in my head. Who can say?

I have hundreds of conflicting memories of that period, each persona doing its own thing… or at least thinking they were, and the primary persona trapped in a mechanical mindscape of pain and induced paranoia, gunning down abominations and computerized targets, no way to differentiate reality from unreality. But even if those memories are false… are merely  the delusions of a fractured psyche? How would I tell? 

After the jump ended and I found myself whole, collected, me… and in my own body, I spent the next week or so doing my impression of someone having an emotional breakdown, curling up into a ball and sobbing uncontrollably. Too many years, too many layers, too much shielding for me to break down completely, but there was a guilt I could not shake, could not without discarding the memories… I so wanted too, but guilt kept me from doing so, kept me reliving them again and again and again, trying to figure out if they were reality or fantasy. I didn’t even dare ask the others; how would I deal with it if they confirmed the worst?

And if I really had killed all those dangerous little brats… there was a terrible, burning question in my mind. Would I have been as deadly without the drawbacks? Did the lack of control and the fragmented mind-scape make me more dangerous? Less? Did they make no difference ultimately.

I suspect that my pure power level meant that once my brain was installed  in that Psycho-Tank, the programming that came with installation would have made me a monster regardless. Maybe I’d have been even worse whole. They might have been able to control me then… but I can’t be sure.

But regardless if the drawbacks were a net positive or a net negative, I was still to blame. I… I never thought to protect myself against the cartoon logic of the world, never really thought that I could fall victim to something as stupid as pepper induced de-cranialization. I’d been aware of the risk… but it had seemed too wacky to actually happen.

I guess this was a part of me I’d have to either come to terms with, or not. At least I hadn’t killed them knowingly or willingly. That was something… A thin branch to hang one’s sanity on, but when that’s all there is, that’s all there is.

Next: World 35 – War & Remembrance

Resources: Build, Document

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

AN (10th June, 2019): Well, I’ve finished Redux of this Chapter and begun breaking the Chain into Chronicles. Psychonauts was not an easy rewrite, but it had to be done. Almost triple the original length, it does deeper into the source material (for those unfamiliar with that) and delves more into the uses of certain items, since the document doesn’t really explain very well. I even extended the explanation of what happened, since I wanted to make that clearer… or less clear… or both. There is a tendency among jumpers, I think, to have blind spots, prejudices, unseen weaknesses, and this was my way of sobering my counterpart up. She likes to be logical, likes to be sensible, to take goofy but calculated risks. She thinks in terms of real world problems and real world solutions… and Psychonauts has almost none of that. It’s a looneytoon world with Cthulhu Mythos underpinnings. It seems like cotton candy, but is really poison underneath… and she didn’t give it its proper due. Plus, to be quite honest, there was editorial interference. That’s WoG. Maybe it was the Banker throwing a curveball, maybe it was Mensarius being a dick, maybe it was the hand of a certain rogue jumper. Regardless, it had to happen because I (the author) really felt that such a slip up was inevitable. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

World 33: Alan Wake

CHRONICLE TWO: RISE OF THE BENEFACTOR

JUMP 33: EYE OF GOLD

Previously: West Wing Side Story

Themesong: Because the Night by 10,000 Maniacs

One of the biggest ironies of the last decade was that I’d finally found a use for Pokebucks… right after trading in all my Pokebucks for credit in my Warehouse Bank account. Of course, Pokemon Trainer Pokebucks and Poketopian Pokebucks were as alike as American Dollars and Hong Kong Dollars… which is to say that the two shared a name and a purpose, but nothing else. Still, it was a good thing I had a steady income last jump, because my word did I use up a frightful amount of money. How much? Way more than thirteen million a year. Way… Way more.

Granted, I had a huge amount of money coming in from my drug patents (even if I’d had to share them with my shareholders… PokePotions Inc was part of the holdings of House Infernape)… but as a member of a Starter House, I had certain social responsibilities… like hosting lavish parties for all the Poketopian dignitaries who visited the Embassy in DC. Like I said… I spent a lot of money… and invested a lot of my personal time.

Politics never really sleeps. I can’t really imagine what being a head of government is actually like. No, being the God-King of the Maegi doesn’t count. First that was the Head of State, and second… when you’re God-King, people do whatever the fuck you tell them to do. Being President? Yeah, not so much. As God-King, I had people to handle emergencies for me, and they were in those positions because my incarnations knew they could handle the task. I hadn’t needed to micromanage the Empire… which is good, because it had only gotten bigger as time had progressed.

Of course, as an Ambassador, I hadn’t had anything like that level of responsibility… but I’d been around it a lot and that had been tiring in its own way. Thus, I was looking forward to a change of pace.

Except that when the VMoD for the next jump arrived, I found myself scratching my head in confusion more than whooping with joy. I had played a little of Alan Wake (I even had the DLC…) but I’d never gotten further than the first act and it didn’t seem like there was enough story depth to really take more than a couple days… and even then… the reason it was called Alan Wake was because it was an intensely personal story… about the experiences of one Alan ‘I am totally a knock off of Stephen King’ Wake… so what was the point of the jump? Was I going to be Alan? That seemed unlikely. I’d never replaced the MC before. What even would I do in a small Pacific Northwest logging town? Eat pancakes and complain about the rain? Hike? Compose my memoirs?

I examined the machine more closely, reading through the introduction, looking for a clue. Ah… it wasn’t set in Alan Wake’s story… just in his world, his version of Earth. There was no indication of timeframe, just a descriptive of a world where the Darkness and Light waged an unending war for the… souls… I guess… of artists… and artists could call upon the Darkness for a little touch of that madness they call inspiration… and risk drinking so much that everything became Lovecraftian and the screaming never stopped. Why do I say that?

Well, the title card on screen was a strange little poem that read, “For he did not know, that beyond the lake he called home, lies a deeper darker ocean green. Where waves are both wilder and more serene. To its ports I’ve been. To its ports I’ve been…” Felt a little Cthulhu-esque to me. After that, there was an introduction that stated, “Darkness seeps into the world, rendering it mutable and protean. Talented artists can use is fact to influence the shape of things, though to do so means paying a steep cost. Every time someone does this, the door to the Darkness opens just a little wider…”

Definitely not a good sign that, though it did explain the lure of the Alan Wake world, I guess, for some, though the melancholy of the creative-depressive type has ever eluded me. I’d always been the opposite, the creative-manic. I had always been blinded by the light of creation, not drowning in the darkness of it. This world was not my jam, as it were, as my works were typically joyful and optimistic, rather than tragic or gloomy.

Still, as I contemplated a life among the towering pines and redwoods of Washington State, I casually tossed the age die… a small black thing that felt unnatural and slightly too heavy and slick. I got a twenty-three… young for a writer. Very young. And the wheel of locality gave me Free Pick for the first time in… eh… It didn’t really matter how long… then again, having Free Pick didn’t really matter either, seeing as how I didn’t know any of these places.

Unfortunately, even though this was Washington State, Forks wasn’t on the list… Heh. Twilight of Alan Wake… I wonder if they could share a world. It wasn’t like both would be out of place in the World of Darkness… man, I hadn’t run a game of Vampire in ages… or Werewolf… or Mage. I hadn’t had digital copies of those systems on my desktop when I’d been recruited, largely because I’d had bookshelves full of the physical texts.

Of course, I could have recreated the systems from memory, but I’d never actually read each book cover to cover… in fact, I had learned pretty quickly when I’d begun reconstructing my RPG library, that I’d very seldom read all of an RPG guide, prefering to flip through them for inspiration and actual rules, rather than studying them cover to cover.

I stepped away from the machine, contemplating where I would like to start but feeling no pressure to choose immediately. Instead, I wandered down to GameJump, the Friendly Warehouse Game Shop in my mini-mall. Since the great restructuring that had taken them from being a bunch of vending machines in the foyer of the Warehouse Arms, the mini-mall had become a stripmall that occupied part of one wall of the Personal Reality, though the shops themselves didn’t count against the amount of space I had…

Yes, I’d checked with VIvian, who, thanks to her Central Control Upgrade could tell me things like the total amount of space used by ever item in the Warehouse. She couldn’t, however, tell me what was for sale in the shops. I guess that’s because the stuff in the shops wasn’t really in my warehouse until it was bought. Or maybe it was simply to keep me from Amazon.comming everything. There was something visceral about shopping in a real shop that digital shopping lost. Also, it was probably better for ratings… or whatever the Banker got out of this arrangement.

The being behind the counter in the store was not quite human… but I couldn’t tell you in what way they weren’t human. Soulless Automaton doesn’t quite cover it. It was as if they were the concept of a shopperson, rather than actually a person who worked at a shop. At once both bored and engaged, industrious yet goofing off, happy to help and surly about it, with a smile faker than a seven dollar bill… that somehow went all the way up to their eyes. It was, in a way, existentially worrying… but only because I was paying attention to it. The moment I turned to look at the products, the existence of the creeptastic shopbeing faded from my consciousness.

The shop was divided into five sections; miniatures and miniature supplies, board games, video games and strategy guides, collectable / tradeable card or dice games and sleeves, and roleplaying games and supplies. The games were an odd collection of things that I knew from home and things I was pretty certain had been crafted in some of the alternate universes that we’d visited. The reason I was pretty certain of this fact was that the copyright notices on every game had extra information… like “Made in China 9837bX4F-BuffyVerse” and “Offbaseline 7^%”. I have no idea what the carrot between the 7 and the % meant… but it worried me slightly.

Of course, some of the video games were obviously not native to Origin Earth, seeing as how they were for systems like ‘Gamestation’, ‘Playbox’, or ‘TurboCube256’. Thankfully, those systems and a dozen more were available at the shop. Interestingly, some of the games were radically different experiences depending on their universe of origin. For instance, the Metal Gear version of Plants vs. Zombies was a First Person Shooter, while the Samurai-Jack version was a Platformer, and the Supernatural version was Survival Horror. Ironically, the cover art was virtually identical in all three cases. Sometimes things were just a little different. For instance, in the Kill-La-Kill Verse, it was Super Luigi Brothers. Very odd.

But I wasn’t there for video games; no I was checking to see if they had anything from the World of Darkness RPG series. What I found was something called Chronicles of Darkness, published in the Mass Effect Universe, in 2016, roughly a year after I’d left Origin Earth. In order to thwart people with the ability to memorize instantly anything they read, the book was shrinkwrapped, so I bought it and flipped through it. It was, apparently, a version of the New World of Darkness. Not ideal, but I could work with it.

Unfortunately, the game store didn’t take special orders. I’ve no idea why. I did buy all the other books they had from the CofD system. I’d read them and see if I could make use of them to rebuild the old World of Darkness from memory. Chronicles of the Ferret-Machine or something… Maybe I should just breakdown and buy the ‘All My Stuff’ option from the Personal Reality Supplement; it wasn’t too expensive… but there were so many other things that I wanted more! Accursed drip-feed! Why must you torment me so?! Whoever had constructed the damned thing was clearly mocking me.

My impulse contained, I walked back towards the VMoD… only to spot another Vending Machine sitting off by itself in a storage aisle. I wouldn’t have noticed it at all, but it was powered on and casting a blue-white glow on the floor in front of it. That… was odd.

Look, I have a lot of electronics in my Personal Warehouse. A lot. But my system is designed to deal with my ADHD by keeping everything in its place. Video game cabinets go in designated areas. Vending Machines go in designated areas (all of them high traffic except my office, which had one of those ancient Coke-a-Cola venders that dropped glass bottles… they were my favorite and served just barely above freezing. Data terminals were scattered throughout… but they were in low power mode except when in use. Absolutely nothing in the storage zone that could have been making that glow should have been connected to an energy source. So yeah, it piqued my curiosity.

Lowering my stack of RPG guides into the hands of a robutler, I told him to take them to my office, then spoke to thin air. “VIvian? What machines are active in row sixteen-beta?”

Her calm voice replied in my ear, transmitted by the phased-array of nanites splayed across my eardrums. “There is a cleaner drone in sixteen-kappa, and an idle sorter-stacker in fifteen-beta, but there are no power-draws in any mode in sixteen-beta, EssJay. Are you witnessing an anomaly? Shall I send scan-probes to investigate?”

“Yes, I think I am, but don’t worry about it. I’ll investigate myself. Send Zane and AJ over, if they aren’t busy, would you?”

“Will do, EssJay.” she replied. If you think it’s odd having her say my name after every sentence, it’s the best of a weird situation. If she doesn’t make it clear who she’s addressing verbally, it rapidly becomes confusing when multiple people are listening. If she had a body or a face to give clues, that would be one thing, but she typically doesn’t. Sometimes she forgets that she’s speaking only to me… or maybe she does it deliberately to make me feel that she’s fallible. Then again, I deliberately designed her to be quirky, so I only have myself to blame.

Within seconds, I stood in front of the machine. It was a second VMoD, and it was clearly not entirely there, since it was partly phased through a storage rack and slightly transparent. The box was much less colorful than a normal VMoD, and the controls were a trackball instead of a touchscreen… not that I have anything against trackballs, but this was one of those big white spheres. It was all alone in the center of the console and there was a pair of shiny black buttons eighteen centimeters to the right. The buttons reminded me oddly of scarab beetles, even though they looked exactly like the buttons on millions of old arcade cabinets and some small part of me couldn’t help comparing the big white sphere of the trackball to a milky and sightless eye.

The screen, which was flickering slowly, cleared as I approached it and the marquee lit with a buzz hiss like one might hear from an old neon light. It read ‘twilight’ and below that ‘Jumpchain Compliant’. Compliant? What… the… fuck? The screen cleared, turned an inky blue-black, and white letters appeared, swimming up from the depths. “this is a worlD similar tO maNy oThers. iT’s a modErn worLd, fiLled wiTH modErn luxuries. even though most don’t Believe it, this is Also a world of the superNatural. common folK are kEpt in the daRk by world spAnning coNspiracies put in place to make Damned certain that theY never learn the hOrrible trUth. soon, one disconcerting romance WILL threaten to expose this BrEathtaking secRet and changE the World forever. that romAnce isn’t the only catalyst of change that the woRlD may facE. you’ve arriveD IN THE dreary LAND OF SPARKLING VAMPIRES. SOME WORLDS SIMPLY AREN’T ENTERTAINING ENOUGH. now you have the opportunity to FIX one of THEM.”

I blinked at the weird message, then looked over as Zane walked up.

“What’s up, pipsqueak?” he asked.

I frowned in concentration. “Either the Banker is fucking around… and I don’t think he has a sense of humor… or someone snuck a V-Mod into the warehouse somehow. Someone who doesn’t want the Banker to know about it.”

He looked at the screen. “It looks like Twilight… aren’t those those sappy girly romance books about vampires and werewolves and one true wuv?”

“It is,” I agreed. I had brought the audiobooks and digital text of the books with me on the data crystal that contained everything from my home PC way back when I’d first started, so everyone in the gang had read them at one point or another. “But there’s a very unsubtle coded message in it.”

“There is?” he asked, squinting at the screen.

“Dude…” I groaned. “You were a detective for a decade! Use your brain for something other than warming the inside of your skull for once.”

He drew himself up to his full height and humphed. “I don’t have to take this abuse from you. That’s why I’ve got Kendra.”

I was about to retort with something biting, but AJ walked up at that moment, glanced at the screen, then asked, “Why aren’t we supposed to tell the Banker?”

“Wait… what?” Zane asked, squinting harder. “Where do you see that?”

AJ looked up at him, then pointed to the bizarre capitalization, reading off the letters one by one for the cryptologically impaired “DONT TELL THE BANKER AND YOU WILL BE REWARDED IN THE LAND OF SPARKLING VAMPIRES SOME WORLDS SIMPLY AREN’T ENTERTAINING ENOUGH FIX THEM”

“Oh… I knew that,” Zane lied. “I was just checking to make certain you did.”

AJ gave him a look that spoke volumes, then looked back up at me and said, “Lucario used Lie Your Ass Off. It wasn’t very effective.”

I snorted and patted the kiddo’s head. “Nope. Not at all. So? What do we think of this?” I waved at the machine. “Obvious trap or something more insidious?”

“I think we should tell the Banker,” AJ said. “Whoever put it here obviously doesn’t want us to, which totally means we should.”

“I think we should pretend we didn’t see it,” said Zane. “It’s probably part of the same glitch that sent you to the eighties as that old cop dude.”

I mmm’d… That did make a certain amount of sense. “But what if it’s a test of some kind?” I hazarded.

“What kind of test would it be?” AJ asked. “Of honesty?”

Zane waved a hand in the air. “Oh. Oh! I know!” We looked at him and he grinned. “It’s a test to see if you can be corrupted to the dark side!”

AJ snorted, “In Twilight? More like corrupted to the lame side.”

I reached out and flicked his ear. “Just because you don’t like it does not make it lame.”

He sulked a little, rubbing his ear, but nodded. “Yes’m… I meant to say that it’s not my cup of tea. But objectively it’s merely average, uninspired, and derivative.” He looked up at me. “Better?”

I laughed. “Yes. That’s much better… but still doesn’t address the issue at hand.”

“Hey, look, there are some coins on top of the machine,” Zane pointed out. Of course he could see them, since he was taller than the VMoD, at least in human form. He reached out before anyone could stop him and plucked one up. “There’s a row of twenty of them just lying along the top of the cabinet.”

Since he didn’t immediately explode or anything, I took the coin from him and examined it. Normal Choice Points have golden filigree, regardless of their form; these had bluish-silver numbers on a deep blue background, but otherwise looked similar. It even said ’50 Choice Points’ like a normal credit. But it felt… weird. Off somehow. I checked the back of it, half expecting to see tarnish where my fingers had touched the chip, but there wasn’t anything special.

“Grab the others,” I told Zane, then strode off away from this VMoD. When I arrived on the central rise where the other VMoD stood, I tapped the query button.

“What troubles you today and thus leads you to trouble me?” the screen said. I held up the coin and asked, “I found this. Is it safe to use?” “Found what? This unit is not equipped with a scanning function,” the screen said. I hmm’d, then slotted the coin into the coin slot. It fit, but the coin passed through with a clunk immediately, landing in the coin return like a canadian quarter in an american arcade.

“It’s a silver coin that displays ’50 Choice Points’,” I said, “It was found on a second Vending Machine, one that claims to be for the Twilight Universe and advises me in Capital Letter Code not to inform you of its existence.”

“That seems unlikely. The Twilight Jump did not clear quality control as it suffers from OTB.”

“OTB?” Zane asked.

“One True Build, I assume,” AJ said. “Since OTP is One True Pairing.”

“But OTC is Over the Counter,” Zane pointed out. “So it could be Over the… Boundary?”

AJ snorted, “Congratulations on not saying ‘Over the Bounter’, you giant twit.”

Zane stuck his tongue out at AJ… proof that one can be immature forever.

“Unlikely or not,” I said, ignoring the two of them, “There is a partly out-of-phase Vending Machine over in the stacks claiming that it is for Twilight, complete with sparkling vampires. I’m assuming that it’s for the one in Forks and not the parody in Sporks…. but I’d been contemplating if Alan Wake and Twilight were in the same universe, since both are supernatural weirdness set in Washington State.”

“The presence of such a machine is unauthorized and you are warned that use of it may cause unforeseen problems,” the screen stated, no emotion evident.

“Is this some kind of test?” I asked. “Because if it is, it’s faintly annoying and a little insulting.”

“No test was scheduled,” the screen stated unhelpfully.

“But you can’t tell me what this machine is or why it is present?”

“You are not authorized for that information,” the screen stated, this time in larger, red letters. They throbbed slightly as if to indicate that I should drop the subject.

“Sooo… if I use these points on that machine? What happens?” I asked. “Do I get punished somehow?”

“You have free will,” was the only response. “Interference with that is counter to the purpose of this program.”

“Riiight. But you clearly would rather I not,” I said. “Right?”

“It would not…” the screen flickered, then those letters disappeared and they were replaced with “You are free to spend all Choice Points made available to you without prompting or feedback.”

“Uh huh… Tell you what,” I said, leaning on the machine as if having a personal conversation with it. “If you tell me that you would rather I not spend them, I won’t. If you give me any other free will platitude or disavowal, I’m going to spend them all.”

The machine didn’t respond for a very long time. Nearly  twelve minutes. But then, finally, the screen flashed, and letters appeared. They said, “The presence of such Choice Points in your Personal Reality has already compromised protocol. Any damage that would be caused has already been caused. No one else is authorized to generate Choice for you. Clearly there has been a breach…”

One by one, the ellipses at the end of the sentence gained periods, three, four, five, six. It was as if the Banker was thinking. Finally, after fifteen, the screen cleared and the display printed out, “The Choice are unauthorized, but should be safe to use. Perhaps an overzealous subscriber has tampered with the system using a previously unknown exploit. Security has been notified, but removing the unauthorized machine would require resetting the target universe.”

“You’re saying that, since the machine is here, the outside universe is already one in which both Twilight and Alan Wake are true?” I asked, seeking to make sense of the jargon.

“That appears to be the situation as it obtains,” came the confirmation, then the query screen cleared and the Alan Wake Logo reappeared.

“Huh…” I said, thinking hard. Did I use the bootleg chips or not? Thinking about it for a good six or seven seconds, I figured that there was only one responsible way to decide. “VIvian, call the clans. Gathering in ten in the Council Pit.”

The Clans was everyone, and the Council Pit was a carpeted conversation pit I’d added a few jumps specifically so that we’d have an area where everyone could gather in a more or less democratic way. If I ever got to the point that my Companions actually comprised multiple families, then representatives could be chosen… but right now there were only eighteen of us… well, nineteen if one counted Atura, who never spoke to the others. Twenty-three if one included the four VIs (VIctoria, VIvian, VIrginia of the Black Jenny, and VIncent the Assault Shuttle). Twenty-nine if one included my horse, Fliagor, and the five owls. Except that Fliagor and the Owls weren’t allowed to vote, Atura wouldn’t care most likely, and the VIs would probably vote however I did.

As for families? Ahab & Joy formed one couple, Kendra & Zane formed a second, Bao & Uriel formed a third, and Toph was off on her own. Were three couples and a Singleton enough to call them Clans? I didn’t think so. My personal clan included Ryoga and Yoiko who I’d been in a relationship for a literal age, Velma who had joined us because of a connection centered on me, and Cirno, who was technically my servant… plus the PokeCrew. And that kinda included Zane as well… so… yeah. Clans was still only a figure of speech… but might be more in time… especially if children ever entered the picture… and with them in mind, the Council Pit also did double duty as a Ball Pit, which at least amused the Zigster. It’s telling that amusement means ‘Without Thought’… le sigh.

“Thank you for coming,” I said once everyone with a human form was gathered. “We’ve had an anomaly and I need your opinion on how to proceed.” I laid everything out as far as I understood the situation, then put it to discussion.

“That’s about the shape of things, boys and girls. I haven’t looked at what’s on offer in Twilight because I didn’t want temptation to sway me, and only named the secondary Jump because Zane and AJ already know what it is. Do we use the bootleg Choice or not? Thoughts? Feedback? Votes?”

I looked around, but everyone was deep in consideration, either locked into their ‘private’ thoughts or whispering in a small huddle. Ziggy raised a paw from where he sat near AJ, who was engaged in fierce debate with Petra and Dyna.

“Yes Ziggy?” I asked, faintly bemused that he had an opinion on this. “Do you have a vote?”

“Ziggy Vote TREAT!” he squeaked happily.

RayRay facepalmed.

“For what it’s worth, I too vote Treat,” Dyna said after a few more whispered passes. And by Treat, I mean that there seems little point in not spending all Choice available to us.”

Joy frowned at that, and Ahab sighed, then stood and paced a little. “I suspect that our votes would be different,” he motioned to indicate that he was including Joy in that ‘our’, “if we didn’t automatically import into every jump automatically. With Twilight linked to Alan Wake, our tablets are displaying the available options for both jumps already. We wouldn’t be actively spending Choice, but if the Twilight jump’s elements represent some kind of taint or corruption, then Joy and I will be corrupted by default. There does not appear to be an opt out option for us… and I suspect, EssJay, that applies to you as well.”

“A counterpoint,” Velma said before I could respond to that. “I may be relatively new… but I believe that you could go with the Drop-In option, assuming there is one?” she looked to the Bosses, and, after checking, the duo nodded. Velma smiled and continued. “I’ve noticed that you can deselect freebies. Drop-In adds nothing to you, and if you don’t take any freebies, then corruption shouldn’t be an issue.” Joy stood then, placing a hand on Ahab’s shoulder. Speaking firmly, she said, “Then, with that in mind, Clan Boss respectfully votes nay, but will abide by the Jumper’s decision.”

Toph, who’d been talking to Cirno and the Hibikis, stood next. “Speaking for myself, I vote to go for it. From what we know of Alan Wake, it’s a world of shadow monsters. I’ll be nice to have something hostile that we can actually punch in the face if the need arises.”

The Hibikis quickly seconded her comment, then Yoiko added, “Not that we have to go looking for trouble, if we don’t want to.”

Cirno pouted at that. “But trouble is fuuuuun!” she whined.

I groaned, but nodded. “Very well Cirno, I’ll note your vote as yes on account of actively seeking problems?”

The ice-fairy blinked at me, clearly trying to figure out if I was agreeing with her or teasing her. She decided I was teasing her and stuck her tongue out at me… then squeaked as Ziggy pounced her and began rummaging in her dress looking for any treats she might have in her pockets. Honestly didn’t know which of the two of them was dimmer.

“So that’s two against, four in favor, and one vote for T-R-E-A-T-S. Anyone else?” Zane asked, looming over me. “I vote aye, by the way. It’ll be exciting.”

“Concur,” said Dyna.

“Agreed,” said Bao.

“Adventure is the spice of existence,” added Uriel.

“I’m against it… in case anyone hadn’t figured that,” Velma said. “It’s looking for trouble and adding potential enemies for questionable returns.”

“I have to agree with red,” Francy said. “It’s not logical to take on more risk when we don’t need to. Vampires don’t just kill… they transform. What happens if one of us gets turned?” By us, I knew she meant the Pokemon.

“Kendra will stake you!” Zane said, gleefully.

“I will not!” his girlfriend snapped. “And adding Vampires to any world is a bad idea. I vote No.”

“Point of correction,” VIvian said, “But the Vampires will be there regardless of if EssJay spends the Bootleg Points. The two worlds are already merged. I vote, if I am allowed to do so, in favor. To squander resources is illogical.”

“Screw logic, sister,” my wrist comp said, VIctoria voicing her opinion now that the floor had been opened to synthetic Companionoids. “I say nay. I have to share a symbiotic existence with EssJay; what affects her, affects me.”

“Wait, wait, waiiit!” Zane whined. “I’ve lost count!”

“There are currently six votes nay and eight votes aye,” AJ said, sighing at Zane’s foolishness. “My Nay makes it seven-eight. I agree with Francy, though I do look forward to fighting these Vampires, but do not think mother should take on any potential corruption.”

All eyes turned to the two remaining voters. RayRay yawned, blinked blearily, then shrugged. “Don’t care.”

Petra, meanwhile, kept twitching and jerking like she had tourettes.

“Problem?” I asked her, sensing that there was some kind of internal debate going on between the four quadrants of Petra’s brain.

She looked up, eyes differently focused and she wobbled, then shoot her head as if to rattle all the marbles into place. “We are unable to reach unanimous consensus, and thus we cannot speak to support either side. We abstain… but agree that vampires and werewolves are easier to hit with a hammer than shadow people.”

“Seven-Eight in favor of Aye, with two abstentions… three if we count the rug-ratata,” AJ said.

He then dodged a lunge from Ziggy who squeaked, “Not RAAAAT!”

“So it’s down to me?” I said, though it wasn’t me speaking.

“Yes,” Zane agreed, not realizing who exactly was talking. “But ultimately it was anyway. I mean, you could open the floor to the spaceships or horseface, I guess.”

“Ah. Correction, Friend Zane,” I said again, “But this is not EssJay speaking. It is, rather, Atura. Apologies for the confusion.”

Zane rolled his eyes. “Oh… right. Hi. I assume you’re going to vote Nay just to bring the vote into balance?”

“There is a certain temptation to do so, but Balance is not some doctrinare thing. I am also tempted to say nay for the same reason Friend VIctoria did, as I too share EssJay’s existence.”

“This is too weird,” Kendra said, shivering.

Yoiko and Ryoga nodded in perfect sync, grunting “uh huh.”

Toph said, “I’m used to spirits… and even I think it’s creeptastic.”

“Hush you, foolish mortals,” my voice said. “As I was saying, I believe it would be wise to say nay, but I joined this band to gain experiences, and passing up one out of fear seems most out of character. Onward, I say. Onward to whatever lays beyond.” The spirit had said all that in a calm, not quite-monotone, but it was more passion than she usually put into things. In fact, most of the time she spoke to noone but me.

“Well then,” I said as me again. “That’s nine-seven in favor. I could exercise my veto, but it was my call to bring this before the Clans. I’m not going to ask Fliagor, as smart as he is, because he has no perspective, nor will I ask the ships, as they are literally above this. So that’s it. Let’s do this.”

Which only left one question… which jump took precedence for things like location and age? The Rogue VMoD didn’t have an attached wheel of location, or an age dice, so that seemed to suggest that it wouldn’t control those facets… but unless I was much mistaken, Alan Wake took place the year the game had been released, which was 2010, while Twilight began in 2005 and ended in 2007… theoretically, I could finish with things in Forks long before I had to be in Bright Falls… well… I guess that was as good a reason as any to do the builds in that order.

Glaring at the RVMoD, I bounced the chips in my hand and sighed, “If you screw me somehow, I’m going to be quite cross.” I wheeled the cursor (A cursor! How retro!) over Start and hit one of the buttons. Nothing happened. That must be cancel or back. I hit the other button. Despite the machine being out of phase enough to pass through the steel and wood of the shelving unit, it was solid enough under my hands, and the button / wheel action was spooky smooth.

The screen flashed and a digital wheel of location appeared. “Spin the wheel, decide your fate!” was the legend, and there was an animation of a hand giving the trackball a spin. The locations were, of which there were only four, were not evenly balanced.

Two eights of the wheel were dedicated to Free Choice and Volterra, an absolutely lovely medieval town in Tuscany Italy. I’d actually visited there as recently as three years previously in the West Wing Universe, where there had been a global energy summit at the Piazza dei Priori.

The three big pies, however, each eating a quarter of the wheel, were La Push, Forks, and Port Angeles… all within seventy miles of each other. La Push was on the western side of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, while Port Angeles was on the northern side, and Forks was on a straight line draw between them (though only about fifteen miles from the La Push reservation).

Forks was the self proclaimed ‘Logging Capital of the World’ and backed right up on the fairly impressive Olympic National Park, home of Mount Olympus National Monument. I’d been there twice before, once Great Detective, hunting a suspect, and once in Scooby-Doo, investigating a haunting… well, I wasn’t. I was making a sandwich and getting lost. The rest of my team was investigating a haunting that had turned out to be an evil paper baron who wanted to secretly harvest trees from the park.

I’d also been there in Star Trek TOS on one of my shoreleaves, but the eugenics wars and reconstruction and four centuries had changed the face of the area profoundly. Still, in any time period, the Pacific Northwest is incredibly lovely, and a wonderful place to get away from everything.

I’d been in the general area twice in my original life, but never to the national park itself. Both times I’d been in and around Seattle had been because of family functions and I hadn’t been able to go off by myself, since the first time we had to catch a cruise ship outbound to Alaska and the second time we had only an evening between the end of a trans-canadian train-tour and the flight home. We’d seen a Cirque du Soleil show. It had been nice, but not as nice as the parks had been… but I’d grown in so many ways between that first life and each time I’d been back to the massive boreal rainforest and each time its profound beauty had touched something deep inside me. I just had to hope that shadow creatures, blood-drinking monsters, and very angry wolf-spirits didn’t sour me on the area.

Still, I had to laugh at the idea of there being any qualitative difference between starting at any of the Washington locations. A normal person could walk from Port Angeles to Forks in a day, and hitchhike the distance in under two hours. With my tech I could make the trip from Volterra to Forks in less than thirty seconds, and the only reason it would take that long is that I’d have to get VIctor out of the Bay and into a high enough orbit to target both Washington and Tuscany. Chuckling at the silliness, I spun the trackball, shivering at the nostalgia of that sound. Port Angeles… oh no. How ever will I make it to school on time!… what day did this stupid thing even start?

A quick check told me three things. First, that apparently I had a house in either La Push or Forks, second that I was just about to start my Junior Year at Forks High School, and that it was August, 2004. [AN: the jump states that it’s August 2005, but Bella Swan arrives in Forks in January of 2005. Obviously, this means you’d miss the entire first book, which considering how little of a decade the events of the books take up, would be silly.].

Since that placed my age at either sixteen or seventeen (there was another spinscreen which had a bell distribution averaging out at sixteen years, nine months… the most specific I’d ever seen a jump get… and maxing out at seventeen and a third)… that meant my age in six years would be either twenty-two or twenty-three. I guess that worked… though it was a decade or so younger than Alan himself. Again I spun… maximum… well, I guess I started first grade a year late. I’d known some people who’d done that for one reason or another… one had even started two years late thanks to whooping cough.

Four Backgrounds presented themselves to me then; New Student (Drop-In), Mythbuster, Quileute, and Vampire. Hmm… Well, Vampire was a thousand Choice… so it was clearly out. New Student was boring… and Mythbuster sounded like something added in by a Constructor who either didn’t know squat about Twilight… or didn’t like it. There were no monster hunters in the canon.

Just out of curiosity, I checked the perks associated with that line. Occult Knowledge, Superior Reflexes, Anti-Vampiric Power Resistances, Precognition (but not as good as Alice’s)… and the clencher… a perk so broken that it clearly was what had rendered this jump OTB. It was called ‘Our Monsters Are The Same’ and it inflicted commonly held monster weaknesses even on variations of a monster that didn’t normally have that weakness.

Why was that so broken, you ask… or would ask if you didn’t know Twilight lore but did know normal Vampire lore? Well, where normal vampires typically had a host of vulnerabilities (staking, sunlight, fire, running water, garlic, crosses or other holy symbols), Twilight vampires pretty much had one weakness… fire. They were as hard as living diamond, utterly unphased by sunlight, didn’t mind garlic, couldn’t care less about running water… and in fact swam like sharks, and had as much of an aversion to christian holy symbols as the average buddhist. Hell, some of them were probably christian themselves. The perk was clearly designed for those who wanted to go to Twilight just to kill the sparklepires.

Wondering a bit more, I checked to see why Vampire was priced so high; was it because it was worth it, or because they’d wanted no one to take it. One perk would tell me everything I needed to know, either by its presence or absence.

Vampires got the Sun Sparkles, which others could buy if they really wanted to for a hundred Choice. They got the ability to see perfectly in total darkness, as well as a massive boost to vision and hearing that would cost non-vamps two hundred Choice, a three hundred point boost to sense of smell that the Quileutes only got a discount on, a four hundred point perfect complexion that came with skin tougher than stone, a five hundred point vampiric speed perk, and a six hundred point strength perk.

All in all, a good package, especially since all that was free with purchase… but what they didn’t have was telling. One of the major elements of the novels wasn’t just the traits all Vampires had in common… it was the traits that were unique to each vampire… their powers. Be it Edward’s mind-reading, Jasper’s broadcast empathy, Alice’s precognition, or Bella’s psychic shield, each power was unique and most of them were quite useful. There were elementalists, pain-casters, illusionists, shockers… and none of that was for sale in this document.

The bias was painful… and made even more painful when I got to the drawbacks. The plus one-hundreds and plus two-hundreds were all fine… but the plus three-hundreds were practically screaming disdain for the source material. ‘Fanmode’ awarded its points for being actually pleased to be in the world of Twilight and eager to fit in and to befriend the protagonist and her friends, seeing them as the wonderful people that Stephanie Meyer meant them to be. ‘Can’t Touch This’ meant you couldn’t impede the protagonists or their allies and always be caught up in the events of the story for as long as it lasted. Oh… nooo! The terror.

And if those weren’t damning enough, the third and last one was called ‘Belladonna’ and it made you… me… realize that Bella Swan was the most perfect, beautiful, intelligent, and generally wonderful woman ever and that I’d become obsessed with ensuring her friendship.

I gagged a little at the blatant undertones, then sighed and signed up for Can’t Touch This. it was three hundred essentially free Bootleg Choice. I considered taking Fanmode, but decided against it, instead opting for Shirt Aversion (the inability to wear anything chest covering without feeling restrained and uncomfortable) and Uncomfortable Stare (a need to use aggressive body language and ignore personal space when talking with others.) Both were a hundred Choice, and both weren’t requirements but rather feelings… feelings I could control.

“Fuck it,” I grumbled. I might have taken Vampire if there had been a choice of powers, but without it? If I really wanted to be a Vampire I could just get bitten by one, right? Meh.

I paid three-hundred and made myself a Quileute. Yeah, I know… pricy! But it was either that or pay six-hundred to get the Phasing perk that they got free.

Not only did Phasing allow me to turn into a bear-sized wolf, it increased my speed and strength drastically in human form, and much more in wolf form. It didn’t specify that it came with the Quileute Wolf-Warrior’s regeneration but I assumed it probably did… not that I needed it thanks to being a Conduit. They weren’t actually werewolves, as they had no hybrid form, but a result of a shaman fusing with a wolf in the distant past to fight ‘The Cold Ones’… what the tribe called the local vampires. Twilight was very much a case of ‘Our Monsters are Different’, which made the mythbuster perk doubly insulting.

As a Quileute, I was now a member of a first nations people with a proud history… but as one of the new generation of spirit-warriors, I’d have to obey the orders of my pack’s alpha. No can do, dude. Ferret Momma don’t take orders from no young buck male who thinks he’s hot shit just because the force is strong in him. Thankfully… or not… there was a Quileute discounted perk called ‘Alpha’ that didn’t outright say I was a Pack Alpha, but did give me the ability to command the obedience of similar shapeshifters through the power of my voice, though other alphas and those with indomitable will would be able to resist. Having to pay two-hundred choice to keep my free will free of commands from one of the two canonical alphas was a bitch… but it also meant that I should be able to keep the other spirit warriors out of my head.  Yeah. The entire pack shared a telepathic bond… something the document didn’t mention at all.

So yeah… another way this jump was broken. If being forced to obey the Alpha was bad, it was the less bad of the two of the worst things about being a Quileute Spirit Warrior… though the second apparently depended on if you were male or female. Obeying the Alpha came in second to Imprinting… and neither were drawbacks. Yup, a male jumper would have had to pay three-hundred Choice to potentially be saddled with the Imprinting (a perk that cost a Quileute fifty more Choice) that would have made him fixate on his predestined mate to the point that he’d abandon his old lover(s), edit his own personality, and general do whatever it took to become the perfect match for his chosen one.

Thankfully, I shouldn’t have to deal with that. Although the books weren’t clear if this was merely a theory or not, there was a strong suggestion that female spirit warriors (of which there was only one in canon, named Leah), were infertile. So in addition to being a teenage girl who just became aware that she was different (and who kept exploding out of her clothing), Leah also had to deal with knowing (or strongly suspecting) that she was never going to have children… and had to deal with the thoughts of a dozen teenage males inside her head… all the time. It’s a wonder that she was just a bitch (no pun intended) rather than murderously homicidal.

Hopefully I wouldn’t worry too much about being unable to have another kid in this jump… I already had one that I was not being a mother to. Still, I had another thousand Choice to spend and that was before I tackled Alan Wake. Quileutes got a discount on ‘Astral Projection’, ‘Nice Chest’, and (gag) ‘Imprinting’, the first two of which did exactly what they sound like they did and none of which I wanted or needed. They also got a discount on ‘Bloodhound’, which granted them the ability to smell any source of blood easily within a mile, with human and vampires standing out strongly. It was a targeting-tracking sense as well, which was nice. I assumed the ‘easily’ part meant that it didn’t just cut off after a mile, but tapered off at a reasonable rate beyond that.

That cost me a hundred-fifty Choice, and picking up the vampiric ‘No Sense’ vision and hearing booster, which cost me two-hundred.

Zane, reading over my shoulder, growled, “This is stupid.”

“What is?” I asked.

“I read those dumb books, you know,” he said. “You’re paying Choice for what they should be able to do just as part of being a Werewolf!”

“First, just wolf, or spirit warrior, and yes, I am,” I agreed, feeding the coins into the machine.

“But whyyy?” he complained. “Why aren’t you bitching about it! I mean, sure, this machine isn’t sanctioned and thus you can’t demand clarification or anything… there isn’t even a query button… but you should be complaining! You complain about everything!”

I laughed and patted his head. “I’m assuming that phasing grants all the canonical abilities of being a spirit warrior besides astral projection which the tribe seems to have lost when they gained shapeshifting,” I shrugged, “That’s regen enough to deal with being shot in the temple, speed fast enough to catch up with vampires that are so fast they become invisible to human perception when moving, hearing and smell with an acuity measured in miles, vision ten times better than a human’s and twice that of a raptor’s, the ability to see just outside the visible light spectrum… and tell vampires apart from humans with ease.”

Pausing, I wrinkled my brow in thought. “What else? Oh… body temperature of forty-two Centigrade, hot enough to make vampires feel pain touching us even in human form, reflexes that rival vampires, in pack telepathy, and huge amounts of endurance, as well as larger, more developed human form.”

“Yeah yeah! I know all that! But why are you paying CP for stuff you already get!” He waved his hands in the air as if his confusion was too much to contain in his body.

I grinned up at him. “Because none of those will apply to any of my other forms. Only the Quileute form and wolf-form will have those abilities. It’s not like I can mix and match abilities from forms. Hell, my Conduit ability only works across all my forms because it isn’t governed by a perk, apparently. It’s just something that everyone gets for going to that Jump. Same as Harry Potter magic. Call it an Intrinsic Power or something.”

He grunted, looking a little abashed. “Oh… right… that makes sense.” He sighed. “Man, it would be cool to be able to mix and match, wouldn’t it?”

I sighed too. He wasn’t kidding. It was frustrating sometimes, having to shift to Argonian to breath underwater, or Asari to use Biotics. Thankfully, my bionanotech persisted across all my forms, but my Life-Fiber Hybrid abilities didn’t. For some reason, my immunity to disease, which was part of being a Pureblood Wizard seemed to carry over across all forms, so that was something… or maybe it was because my body was swimming with enough nanites to make three large emperor penguins. What was limited by form and what wasn’t didn’t always make the most sense. Ah well, not like alt-shifting was hard or anything.

Hmmm… Everyone got two perks for free; ‘Enlightened’ and ‘Student Identification’. The first made it so we’d be able to recognize obviously supernatural beings when we encountered them. The second meant that people would just accept that we were totally students at this high / any school. Never mind the six-foot long beard! But what to do with the six-hundred fifty remaining Choice?

Three-hundred of it went to buying ‘Exchange Program’ so I could build my own pack. That outlay paid for eight Companion Imports, each with three-hundred Choice for backgrounds and perks (not that there were many items for sale… goes to show the Constructor never actually read the novels). And, of course, three-hundred Choice was just enough to buy Quileute and get Phasing free.

Normally, I didn’t get to control my companion’s builds… but this was a Rogue Machine, and it didn’t bring up an option to confirm tablet distribution. No, it just asked me to ID the first Imported Companion and gave me a purchase screen. That was good. I didn’t want anyone getting any bright ideas about taking Mythbuster to ‘protect me’ from the ‘monsters’. Instead, I simply imported most of those who’d voted aye, replacing VIctoria with Kendra, since I couldn’t import the VI no matter how much she’d evolved and Kendra enjoyed being mad at vampires, so it was a good fit. Fastest Companion Import ever.

Another three-hundred went to a perk called ‘Fast Learner’ from the New Student line which would boost the rate at which I’d pick up skills and adapt to new situations. How fast it would be I’d have to test… memory editing for the scientific win, am I right? I must be mental. How many people would delete their own knowledge of a language just to see how long it took them to relearn it. Of course, my test language was the programming language Fortran, so it wasn’t like it was important or anything.

That left fifty Choice, and unless I wanted to buy a perk that, bizarrely, was worth plus fifty CP but took away my self-preservation instinct entirely for five years… there was only one thing I could buy… Spending money. It was five-hundred dollars. Not per jump. Just once. It specified that it didn’t regenerate even if stolen or destroyed. Fifty Choice for that garbage? I decided not to even spend it in protest and ordered the coin framed with the legend ‘Better Unspent Than Wasted’ written around it.

Before I moved on to the second machine, I checked in with the Bosses. Ahab had opted out completely, but Joy had Woman’d Up and gone with Mythbuster, which came with Occult Knowledge. It was a toned down version of ‘Our Monsters’, letting the buster know how to hurt various monsters and what methods wouldn’t work. For a freebie, it was fairly powerful… especially compared to the New Student’s ‘Quirky’ which allows you to act childlike, vain, or selfish in small bursts without annoying others. Yay? Seriously. OTB out the ears on this one.

===

And now I was back at the wheel of location… the dice of age had crumbled to dust, which was interesting… Again, I looked over the locations, but if Twilight had been silly with three-fourths of the locations being three locations effectively within easy driving distance… Alan Wake was ridiculous. Six different locations all within easy hiking distance of each other… but where Twilight had had the non-local location be in Italy… Alan wake had someplace outside reality itself, ‘The Dark Place’, a region where mere thoughts and dreams could shape the environment. Seriously, a bad spin there could seriously hose even an experienced jumper… all for no CP back. 

But as long as I didn’t start there, did it matter if I started at the Bright Falls town docks, on the shore of Cauldron Lake up in the mountains above the town (either at the shore where the dark presence lurked or at the Lodge, a retreat/asylum for the mentally damaged), at the Biltmore logging camps near the town, at a nearby ghost town named Gray Peak Gorge, or at the Anderson Farmstead? I’d just come from Washington DC… I’m certain that city and its suburbs covered more area than Bright Falls and its environs… and if I was wrong? It wasn’t as if I was actually going to start the jump there or be magically transported there at the appointed time, right?

I gave the wheel a spin and, lo and behold… didn’t start in the Darkness. As it turned out, I’d have to make my way to the shore of Cauldron Lake at some point to trigger the events of, what it appeared, was to be the second half of Blood & Darkness in Washington State.

That done, it was time for some shopping. All the Backgrounds were free, but two of them, ‘Drop-In’ and ‘Taken’ were clearly traps… and trouble besides. Drop-In’s description stated outright that ‘The Darkness’ would sense my arrival, and might yet give me some of its power, if only to further its own goals… how… hmmm… seemed strangely apropos of the Rogue Machine, tucked away in its dark corner of the Warehouse. As for Taken?That description literally stated that I’d be a normal native of Bright Falls, until, one night, a strange darkness would cloud my vision and leave me feeling changed. After the event, light would blind me, but the dark protect me. The same dark that compelled me forward.

Seriously? The Taken were the freaking mobs of the game. Who would be batshit insane enough to look at that and say, “Ooh… oooh! Sign me up!”?

That left two. Creator wasn’t my thing, especially with the line “Recently, you have noticed strange happenings, as if your stories have become prophetic and your art has come to life…” in the description. That sounded worrying… and possibly trapish. At that point, I was beginning to wonder if the Rogue Machine wasn’t actually the safer thing to trust than this clearly ill intentioned and malevolent piece of… Never mind.

In the end, I went with the Investigator background. That one had only received fragmented and strange reports that seem to detail a crime spree in the works… fragments and strange reports that, strangely enough, took the form of a horror novel. Of course, Investigator too had its unpleasant quirk, as as went by, more and more of the happenings detailed in the novel would start coming true… Fuck it. Might as well assume Investigator was a trap as well. But I’d been a detective before… I knew the routine. My skills might be a little rusty now, but I’d have at least a couple years to get back into form before Mr. Wake to Bright Falls Came.

Investigator came free with ‘Bright Falls Finest’, a perk that would make it easier for me to gain acceptance with any law-enforcement organization I wanted to join. In addition, once I got said LEO Job, I’d be granted more autonomy in my work than I would otherwise be given. I also got a special ‘Flashlight’, one with the unique ability to automatically recharge its battery over time… though the batteries could be replaced manually should light be needed immediately. It was an interesting toy, and it amused me that there had also been a special anti-vampire flashlight for sale in the Twilight Machine.

“Hmmm…,” I mused aloud. “I wonder if I can somehow alter my eye-beams to be more light and less… blast? Must work on that.” Ziggy, who was napping on my shoulder, chirped softly in agreement, then asked for a treat before falling back asleep before I could give him one. Adorable little duffus. 

But eye-beam exercises were for later. In the meantime, however, I skipped ‘Trail of Clues’ which wasn’t worth the two-hundred points an Investigator could get it for, let alone the undiscounted four-hundred everyone else would have to pay. a guarantee of clues when trying to solve a mystery and an easier time interrogating people? Investigation easy mode? Ugh. Where was the fun in that!?

Instead, I went straight to the Investigator Capstone ‘Touched by Darkness’ for three-hundred. I know what you’re thinking. Sure, it sounded like a trap, but there was nothing in the description that even implied such nefarious nature. Rather, by being touched by the supernatural, I’d have gained insight into its nature, allowing me to understand thoughts that would tear a normal mind asunder, leaving nothing too strange or terrifying for me to comprehend. How could I pass up the chance to gain immunity (or at least resistance) to Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know? For the record, I don’t believe in SMWNMTK, but taking chances on something like that would be insane! Only the mad would do something like risk their sanity when protecting it was that easy. Suck it, Necronomicon Ex Mortis!

The light side (assuming that Creator and Investigator were, in fact, the Light) had one more perk for me that I had to claim as my own. ‘Champion of Light’ was priced at a solid eight-hundred, but discounted to those two backgrounds, thus, I think, implying a connection fairly obviously. Slotting eight coins into the machine (and apologizing to Atura for not being able to also afford the ‘Herald of Darkness’ perk) I made my allegiance plan.

‘Champion’ meant that, under any bright light, I’d regenerate health extremely quickly… yes, even faster than a Conduit Shapeshifter with Rolling Counter already would… and could even come back from the brink of death. It would allow me to focus any projected light into a stronger, more focused beam, which will destroy beings comprised only of darkness and dark enchantments merely by concentrating on it… and burning through the power supply all the more rapidly. I wondered if it would work on a lightsaber.

After assuring Atura that I had nothing against normal darkness… merely darkness that hungered to consume the light instead of merely being the light’s absence, I considered the three-hundred point import option called ‘The Poet and the Muse’. It wasn’t a bad deal, giving them all the perks that were discounted for whatever background they selected… but it would put whichever one of my companions I imported with it in dire straights and I could not, in good faith, do that to any of my friends… and no way was I giving the Dark Presence… whatever the fuck that was, one of the Kihara’s…. This world was fucked up enough already… I could sense it pouring out of the screen as the grey light throbbed and pulsed whenever I wasn’t actively focusing on the machine. 

Speaking of senses, I did buy ‘That Was Close’ for two-hundred, leaving me only two coins to spend. A general perk, ‘That Was Close’ gave me an instinctive and uncanny ability to dodge attacks that were clearly meant to kill me. Whenever I was attacked unexpectedly, time would appear to slow down for you, allowing me more time to dodge said attack. It worked especially well on ambushes… according to the blurb. Excellent… more defenses!

I looked at the ‘Trusty Blade’ item, but to be honest, I already had plenty of swords, not the least of which was my Shehai Soul Blade. I looked at everything else that was for sale, pondering what to spend my last hundred Choice on… then decided on Artist, which gave me an innate talent in the art style of my choosing. In fact, I bought it twice, once for drawing & painting, and again for sculpture…. If I got good, maybe I could make my own Figmas… I’d gotten somewhat fond of the things somehow.

That put me a hundred over but I balanced that with the drawback called ‘Daylight Savings’ which meant that the nights would seem longer and the days shorter. As handicaps go, it was roughly as annoying as an occasional hangnail… and unless there was an axial shift, it wasn’t going to skew the ration to anything worse than 18:6 or so.

Ahab, so reticent about Twilight, seemed almost happy when he looked over his options, then opted for Drop-In, which allowed him to pick up Suave, which made him one of those handsome glamorous types, that he’d always wanted to be. It meant he’d give off a vibe that made him appear dark and mysterious, but also handsome and refined. I expected he’d  be a big hit at parties. He also got the ‘Trusty Blade’, which was a sharp blade of his choice of style ranging in size from a kitchen knife to a sickle, that would always manage to find its way back to him, either by returning to his pocket or by being placed conveniently in the environment. Said knife was, thanks to the power of fiat, impossible to lose and useful for throwing at enemies. It would also always stay sharp.

Believe me when I say a happy Ahab is a worrying sight.

Joy meanwhile, chose to embrace her softer side. “I’ve been a spy for centuries darling,” she confided in me. “I want to be a terrible artist now.” We all laughed, but she followed through, took the Creator Option, took pottery as her art style, and tucked her free Flashlight into her cargo pants.

“Everyone ready?” I asked.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” Zane said.

“You can go when we get there,” I shot back, then hit the button.

INSERTION

I stood at the edge of Cauldron Lake. Hmmmm… very pretty. I turned my back on it and looked back towards the road. A black suited secret service agent stood there. “Ready to go, Agent James?”

It had been five years, almost exactly. It was August 2009 and the Wakes were expected here in Bright Falls within the day. I’d graduated from Forks High, then gotten a job at the FBI without bothering with college. I was a special circumstances agent, assigned to the Pacific Northwest where there had been altogether too many disappearances over the last few years, but my superiors didn’t really seem to care if any progress was made on them.

My good friends, the Cullens, had agreed to help me by keeping an ear out for anything that might be worrying, while my father’s tribe kept an eye on the Cullens… well, an eye, an ear, and a nose.

As befitted the child of two jumps, I was half-Quileute, half blonde hippy drifter. My mother had wandered up the Pacific coast sometime in the late eighties, shacked up with my dad, Byron James, the Reservation’s Chief of Police, for a summer, then vanished as the rains of winter came in. She’d been found in an alley in Seattle a year later, mostly dead, and clutching a baby. Before she died, she managed to pass on my father’s name. And that’s how I ended up being raise in La Push… and why I’m a Quileute with flax blonde hair, rather than my typical platinum blonde.

I’d like to say that I took advantage of the gaping hole in the plotbound drawback to destroy the Volturi. I really hate those guys. Really really really… pretty certain that I would even if I wasn’t rooting for the Cullens. Aro was a douche-cannon of the highest order… sorry… sorry. I should go back.

So, the plotbound ‘Can’t Touch This’ Drawback stated that I couldn’t meaningfully impede the protagonists or their allies… it said nothing about impeding… or vaporizing their enemies. At the top of the enemy list was the vampire world government, the Volturi, based in Voltura, Italy. Although there were dozens of members of the Volturi Guard, the Volturi coven was essentially five members; Aro, Marcus, and Caius, plus Aro’s mate Sulpicia and Caius’s mate Athenodora. there had been a sixth member, Aro’s sister and Marcus’s mate, Didyme, but Aro had murdered her to keep Marcus from leaving the coven.

Aro was, as one can imagine, jealous of his power and didn’t like tolerating any threat to it, no matter how minor. He was also a powerful tactile telepath, able to learn more and more of a person’s history the longer he maintained physical contact with them. What made him more dangerous than the mastery of information warfare that his gift gave him was the powers of his key allies, namely Marcus, Felix, Chelsea, and the Twins, Jane and Alec.

Marcus and Chelsea had powers that allowed Aro to judge and manipulate peoples’ relationships to others, either strengthening their loyalty to the Volturi or shattering their alliances and turning them against one another. Felix was the second strongest non-newborn vampire in the world and probably the best at actual combat, able to visualize the flow of a battle so well that he was always at least two steps ahead of his opponents. He was good enough to counter Edward, a telepath who routinely used his mind reading to read what his opponent was planning to do… and Edward was in turn good enough to hold his own against Alice… who could actively read the future. But if those were impressive abilities, they paled in comparison to the Twins.

Possessing powers that were mirrors of each other, Alec could create an illusory darkness that stripped the target of all sensation, leaving them apparently floating untethered in a lightless, soundless void. His power, which could affect a great many people at at once, was slow to bring to full effect. In counterpoint, Jane (who was a tiny adorable thing) could inflict horrific pain, akin to that of being burned alive. Her power was intense, virtually instant, and absolutely crippling… but only worked on a single target at once.

So, I know what you’re asking. Why didn’t EssJay do something to crush these horrible people!? That… my friends, is an excellent question. The answer is that someone must reign in hell. And rein-in hell. Unless I wanted to dedicate myself to global vampiric extermination, someone had to keep the monsters on a leash… and that someone was the Volturi.

They kept vampires from making vampiric children, kept them from waging open wars, from converting entire cities into charnel houses… and they kept the other monsters, like the Eurasian Werewolf, under control.

Also… I didn’t do it because my good friend Alice asked me not to. The moment we met, she’d gasped, clutched her head, and screamed. Once she’d gotten over the immediate shock, she’d explained that she’d never encountered anything like me before, a being that had suddenly appeared to ripple and change in her awareness of the future.

She’d had a vision in the moment I went from harmless little Sheila James to Sheila the Jumper, an unfolding that, to Alice’s future sight had spelled overwhelming disaster. She’d seen the world burning as a result of my slaying the Volturi, and, since I could see the vision in her mind just as easily as she could, I knew she wasn’t lying to me. And so, I stayed my hand.

The only significant change I made was to save the life of one Bree Tanner. It meant facing Felix to do it… and I have to admit that I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to show that fat-headed murderous bastard just how much of a gap there was between someone who was gifted and someone who’d spent literally more time than the collective ages of the entire Volturi coven practicing the martial arts.

As a shapeshifter, I was fast. Add in all my other augments over the chain, and I was as fast as Edward, the fastest vampire shown. As a combatant, I had experience, I had telepathy… and I could slow my own perception of time… I also regenerated faster than anyone present could believe. I literally ripped Felix’s arm from his body and beat him with it, leaving him a shattered mass in the snow. Standing over the defeated vampire, I sneered, “Pull yourself together, man.” then, in a fit of pique, I pissed on him. Hey, when you’re a naked canine shapeshifter? Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow. I tell you, he was not looking forward to the rematch when the final apocalyptic showdown happened at the end of 2006 (literally the end, it happened on December 31st). 

After that, things cooled down between the Volturi and the Forks Folk. The Volturi’s position was worse than in the novels, because there were nine more wolves, one of whom could fight the best and strongest vampires one on one, when normally it took a pack to take down someone that strong.

As the Volturi had retreated, I’d caught up with them and confronted Aro. “You want to speak to me… alone,” I’d told me. Regarding me coldly, he’d nodded, stepping away from his guard after I’d promised to return him unharmed unless he was foolish enough to attack me.

“What do you want, animal?” he’d asked in flawless English.

“We can speak in Tuscan, if you’d prefer,” I’d said, shifting to that dialect. “Or Attican Greek. I believe that’s where you’re from?” He didn’t blink as I spoke a dialect dead three thousand years; he had better self-control than that.

“English is fine,” he’d said, voice glacial. “You are here to threaten me?” he hazarded. “A warning to stay away from your people?”

“You’re good at this,” I said, showing my canines. “If you go after the Cullens, or my tribe, I will level Voltura and hunt every last member of your coven down and burn you to ash. If you send your people after those who sided with the Cullens, I will kill one of your guard for each that falls… starting with Chelsea and the Twins. Know that I will do this even if it means the world burns. You do not want me as an active enemy.” He considered for many long seconds, then asked, “And if I send my forces against you?”

I laughed, then leaned in close and whispered in his ear, “I welcome the challenge. As they say in this day and age, ‘Bring… it… on.” Then I turned to black smoke as I apparated away.

Which brought me back to the shore of Cauldron Lake. Two full years and some had passed since the New Years Eve non-Battle, and I’d done my best to help the amber-eyed vegitarian vampires thrive in my neck of the woods. Sure, their presence was enough to awaken the wolf-spirits in many of the young men of the Quileute tribe… but it was a good thing, to my way of thinking. The magic should never go away… at least when it’s of the light… and if the light needs a little darkness to get things moving, sometimes that’s okay too. But there’s a little darkness and there’s a lot of darkness… and Cauldron Lake was not in the little camp. 

Once again the black-suited special agent asked, “Agent James? Are you ready to go?

I nodded, sweeping my long hair back over my shoulder. I sooo needed to get out of this stifling suit. “Yes. I think so. I’ve seen everything I need to see here.”

“Where next?” he asked.

“Oh…” I pretended to consider the question, then said, “Back to the airport I think.”

Quirking an eyebrow behind his sunglasses, he asked, “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” I confirmed

The Secret Service Agent didn’t ask any other questions. As far as he knew, his superiors had told him to drive an FBI Agent from SeaTac to Bright Falls. And now we were going back. The Agency had given me an assignment… he didn’t need to know it would never be done.

Back at the airport, darkness falling outside, I bid the Agent farewell and sent the limo back into storage… then flashed my badge to get on a flight bound for Mexico City. As far as I could tell, I wasn’t on The Dark Presence’s radar… and I had no desire to put it on mine. If it came after me anyway, there’d be a reckoning, but for now… I walked out of the airport in Mexico City, walked into the parking lot, and boosted the first luxury sedan I found. I left the city doing a hundred-and-forty and still accelerating, my high beams slicing through the night.

Ditching the car in Cancun, I found the most ridiculously large yacht in the harbor and asked the owner if he’d mind terribly dropping me off in Montego Bay. Once there, I met up the others, save Ahab who was off on his own Darkness related adventure.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, and Ziggy… Welcome to Jamaica,” I said, raising my coconut full of rum-punch. I was not wearing a top. “Take turns, enjoy yourself… don’t bring people back to the warehouse. We’ve got funds, but if you need anything more than reasonable food and gear, you’ll have to work for it… or earn it another way. Try not to destroy the island. We’ve got five years here… Let’s make it count.”

Jamaica… land of rum, music, dance…. It became our home town, our den of debauchery, our way of avoiding the existential ennui of saving the world and leaving friends behind. There was darkness here too, it was probably unavoidable in this world, but like vampires, powerful clusters were rare and there didn’t seem to be any real point in doing more than purifying any Taken we encountered. We lived like a crime crew, EssJay’s 18 (a good number according to Judaism… and incidentally 6+6+6… making it a contender for the number of the beast).

Joy got a gig as a nightclub singer… she was… terrible. Ahab (when he finally showed up) got a gig as a bouncer… he wasn’t. Velma and Bao did PI stuff, Uriel opened a surf shop. Cirno ran a shaved ice hut on the beach. It was a vacation, a way to avoid the rest of the world.

I… made comic books based on my adventures… or just random doodles or doujinshi. I had no responsibilities in this world, since the tribe was protected, no one to kill unless the Volturi did something stupid, no one to cripple unless someone other than the Volturi did something very stupid. There were the usual bad things happening in the world, and I certainly could have gone to, say, Zaire and topped this world’s version of Robert Mugabe… but someone one would take his place. He was a psychopath, but he wasn’t in my way and dealing with him was for his people. Same for the other tyrants.

The local police avoided us, the local crime bosses too. I flared the Slice of Life hard. I didn’t want any trouble. Joy and Ahab (and the eyes of the Cullens) had given me the idea… Ian Fleming, James Bond, bungalow in the Caribbean. Just… drift away in margaritaville and find my lost shaker of salt. Short hot days… made short because I slept through them, long nights, drinking, painting, zero responsibilities. It couldn’t last forever… but a few years would do. A few years to leave not so much as a ripple on this world, made for artists to struggle with their inner demons and young lovers to live forever.

Well, I had no inner demons. I knew who and what I was, and never stressed when the words didn’t come or the picture didn’t form. There was always tomorrow, always rum, and wine, and seafood. Always a jungle to explore or a fortune to be won or lost at the gaming tables. I found that, when it really didn’t matter, the warehouse really didn’t care how many of the others were out and about. They were just… chillin. I suspect that if there were too many in scene, things would be different, but at parties, at the beach, it really didn’t matter.

I know you’re hoping the Dark Presence tracked me down, drew me back to Washington for a final showdown. But that didn’t happen. We’re talking about a stealthy dark spirit that had trouble with normal writers (I did do some research on the foe). It wouldn’t have had a prayer in hell of fighting me… Velma could have handled it by herself most likely. I was a damned big gun to bring against something like the Presence… and maybe it knew it. Certainly, the way I dispatched what Taken I did encounter by simply purifying them and returning them to their normal lives might have helped demonstrate to the entity just what the balance of power was.

There was also no climactic battle with the Court of Vampires, because Aro, at more than three thousand years old, knew enough to be patient. He thought he only had to outlive a mortal woman… and sure, the Quileute Shapeshifters lived extremely long lives as long as they kept phasing, but compared to the immortality of a Vampire? Not an issue… or so he thought. But I wasn’t going to correct him. Maybe some day I’d come back and school him… but that was for later.

To be honest, I had more trouble with the FBI, wondering why one of their agents was in Jamaica, running up a monstrous tab for coffee and take away… and how come I was being chauffeured everywhere by a succession of what had to be highly bemused Secret Service agents, but just because the beancounters weren’t cleared for Operation Jumper didn’t mean the paperwork wasn’t in order. Still, I was collecting a paycheck from them, the least I could do was to… you know, do investigate local things for them. It was something like ‘X-Files: Jamaican Nights’.

In the end, the final showdown was with Alan himself. Lord knows how he found me, but somehow he’d become convinced that I was ‘interfering with the plot of his book and stealing all his inspiration’ and apparently, that meant I had to die.

Of course, the fact that he was trying to kill me with a flashlight and a revolver made the whole thing… laughable. Even if he managed to hit me with six consecutive headshots, by the time he reloaded, I’d have regenerated back to full health… especially since he kept shining that flashlight at me and boosting my regen.

“Wh… where am I?” he asked, once I allowed him to wake up.

“Sailfish,” I answered, knowing it wouldn’t mean anything to him. It was a nice bar and grill, good food, fairly touristy, but nice enough. “Try the rum punch.”

“But I… this doesn’t make any sense.” He sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“Yeah?” I asked. “Have you realized that you left your wife at home and flew off to a tropical island to shoot a total stranger?”

“No… I mean… I was fighting you and then…” he looked around in confusion. “We’re here.”

“Oh… yeah. I whammied you,” I laughed, sipping my thirtieth drink of the day. Got to try extra-hard to keep the buzz when you’ve got a metabolism like mine.

“Whammied?” he asked… half-whined really.

“Ensorceled,” I explained. “I’m a goddess… witch… spirit… what have you. I’m not of this world. You know the Dark Place? I’m the other. Want to see?”

He nodded, still a bit dazed, taking a long pull of his punch.

“Good?”

He nodded again, then asked, “So? How does this work?”

I didn’t answer, simply took him into the Palace of My Mind. I’d redecorated. The Palace sprawled across nearly three dozen mountain peaks, silver clouds swirling below and, above, massive storm clouds full of lighting and glory.

“Are… these buildings made of frozen fire?” my guest asked.

“To one way of looking at it,” I non-answered, my voice coming from everywhere.

Goggling at the frankly stunning and impossibly real vista, he asked, “Where are we?” in a hushed and reverent tone.

“Call it ‘The Light Place’,” I said in my most seductive tone. “These are the palaces of my memory.”

“And that massive one?” he asked, pointing to the largest structure, one that resembled the lost temple of Solomon, but redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright. 

“12,000 years worth of civilization,” was my answer. I did not elucidate.

“But where is… you?” he asked, brow furrowed, cheek twitching.

“I am in everything,” I said truthfully.

“Why did you bring me here?”

“Why not?” I chuckled, my voice like bells on the wind. “Not everything has a reason.”

“Are you the Light?” he asked.

“If you mean, am I the antithesis of the Dark Presence?” I suggested, then answered, “No. It is beneath me. Beneath my notice really. It’s your demon to defeat.”

“But you could, if you wanted to?” he asked.

“Irrelevant.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You lack perspective,” I said kindly.

“You lack compassion!” he snapped.

“You cannot comprehend the strangeness that is me or the terrible weight of my compassion,” I said without rancor.

“People’s lives are at stake! If it returns again it might destroy another town.” He was furious now.

“Tell me, Alan… do you worry about the lives lost in your books?”

“No… they’re fictional people,” he stammered.

“How about the lives lost in other fictional works?”

Rage fading rapidly, he allowed, “Well… I guess… sometimes… when I connect with a character and they die.”

“So it is here. I see an entity struggling to free itself. It doesn’t take children…doesn’t outright kill… it’s an enigma… I am disconnected from it… for me crushing it would be like a man kicking a dog… and it’s not my dog. If you want it gone, write it gone. You’re the author. Yours is the power.”

I returned him then to the bar. We talked a bit longer, but it was merely noise. He was gone when morning came, back to his world of gloom and darkness. I wondered idly if he’d go the way of Hemingway. But for me, it was a couple more years of Oscar Wilde.

On the last day of the world, I found Kendra looking out at the bay. “Conflicted?” I asked.

“You don’t have to ask, you can read my mind.”

“I try not to do that to my friends…”

“Is that what I am? I know you didn’t mean to bring me along.”

“No. I didn’t. I wanted to save your life and I forgot to pull you out of stasis. Honestly, I never found a time I thought you would be safe.”

“I’m a lousy Slayer.”

I shrugged. “You clashed with the theme of the show.”

“It’s very hard, sometimes, to think I am a fictional footnote, a character created only to die ignominiously.”

“Better than the fates of many fictional characters. You had lines.”

She laughed dryly. “I sometimes think about….” She waved her hand vaguely.

“Going home? I picked Jamaica because it was your home.”

“You thought I might decide to stay?”

“Of my seventeen companions, fourteen are gifts of the chain, if you want to call it that. It would be unfair to claim absolute free will for any of them, though of course they’re free to go if they want. Uriel invited himself… and I owed him… since I accidentally killed him. Toph… Toph I invited… but you? I never asked. You could return to Buffyverse if you wanted… but you’d have to be insane to do so… you could have left on any of the other Earths as well… but this is a nice enough one… you might be happy here. Fulfill your Slayer nature here battling the Darkness and the Taken and the red-eyed Vampires among other things.”

She hmmmed. “No… I… I… I’m not unhappy. Just… who said ‘You can Never Go Home Again’?”

That was an easy one. “Thomas Wolfe.”

“Well, he was right,” she sighed. “I thought about staying here…. But it’s not my home. And no, I don’t want to go back to the Buffyverse… I was… am… Nothing there. With all the Slayer potentials awoken, I’m not even The Slayer… at best I’d be The Ugly.”

“The Ugly?”

“Good Buffy… Bad Faith… Ugly…”

I nodded “Gotcha.”

“But with you… I’m The Jumper’s Slayer. I get to help save worlds. Sure, I’m… third fiddle? Is that a thing?” I shrugged. “Third fiddle to you and Zane…. But we kick butt and do stuff. Plus, if I ever do go back, I want to be so powerful I can just punch Angel’s pretty boy head off. I won’t, but ooo… if he hadn’t made Drusilla.”

I laughed and put my arm around Kendra’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine. Let’s go get some Rum.”

“I did want to ask… why did you stockpile quite so much rum?”

“Planning for a Pirates of the Caribbean Jump.”

“That’s an in-joke, isn’t it?”

“Oh… you might say that.”

Next: World 34 – War Crimes

Resources: Build, Alan Wake Document, Twilight Document

If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon.

World 32: The West Wing

CHRONICLE TWO: RISE OF THE BENEFACTOR

JUMP 34: WEST WING SIDE STORY

Previously: Whoops, No They Don’t

Themesong: Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson

“The new VMoD has been installed,” VIvian announced the fourth morning after They Live ended. I’d been waiting for that, since I had some business that I’d wanted to speak to the Banker about… assuming the machine was working properly. Of course, there was a slight delay when I found out what the next jump was. 

Sometimes the boss is too nice to me. I know, many of you will disagree, but when I heard that theme song playing on the VMoD, I squealed. I love Sorkin. Best dialogue writer of the late twentieth century… or maybe tied with Mamet, but with much nicer themes. I may have started singing.

“EssJay…” Velma queried, “Why are you singing West Side Story?”

I laughed, then continued dancing about and belting, “Because it’s so nice to be in America! Okay by me in America, Everything’s Free in America!” I grabbed her and dipped her, not easy as I’m shorter than her, even if I am significantly stronger.

“Yes yes…” she giggled, struggling to keep from falling, “For a small fee… but-”

I didn’t let her finish. “In Amer-Eee-Kaaa!”

“Look, you insane goofball,” she said, bapping me on the head, “The cabinet says West Wing, not West Side Story.”

“Yeah, well…” I shrugged, “It could be West Wing Side Story.”

Zane, watching from nearby, snorted at the idiocy. “You don’t even like West Side Story…” he pointed out. “It’s based on Romeo and Juliet, which you also don’t like.”

Looking over, I retorted, “I like the Baz Luhrmann version. It’s bonkers. Sure, the ending still sucks, but in a kinda funny over the top way. Everyone in the BL version is just… insane, so it doesn’t seem real, you know? It’s not played for tragedy, but more for schadenfreude.”

Zane rolled his eyes, as he tends to do when I get professorial. “Fine… I don’t remember it.”

I righted Velma, then grinned. “Come on… we’ll watch it now. We probably have a copy in the archives.”

“Joooy,” he drawled.

“She can’t help you, dogboy,” the master spy said from where she was climbing the artificial rockface without safety ropes. We have anti-grav for a reason.

“I wasn’t asking for help, I was being sarcastic,” he growled.

“Sardonic,” Velma corrected.

He frowned at her, then grumbled, “Shadupic.”

Clearing the combative vibe, I chirped, “Anyway, I love West Wing. It’s all about how awesome politics could be!”

“For ten years? Politics?” Zane whined, “For ten years?!”

I laughed, then ruffled his head. “Awww… is the big Lucario crying?”

“Nooo,” he pulled away petulantly. “Shadup… You’re crying.”

“Very mature,” Kendra teased her boytoy.

“I may be 13,000 years old, but I can be as immature as I want to be,” he said with a disdainful sniff.

“I acknowledge your right,” I said, “But we still are going to be politicos for 10 years… or at least I am. If you’re very nice, you can be my secretary.”

“Oh?” He brightened. “Would that entail any combat?”

“No.” I smirked, “Your task would be to bring me the finest muffins and bagels in the land… and answer the phone.”

“Noooo….” he cried in his best Darth Vader impression, then sobered up and finished with a curt “Way.”

“But you’d look cute in a skirt!” I said, grinning wickedly.

“Not listening,” he yelled, covering his ears with his hands.

So, while being pointedly not listened too by Zane, I walked over to the VMoD and pressed the infobox icon at the top of the screen. As the West Wing Logo was replaced with a pulldown menu, I tapped ‘Purchase Clarification and Random Complaints’.

The screen cleared again, this time replaced with the words, “How are you going to make my existence difficult today?”

“Got four questions, oh mighty Banker… iffin it please your munificence,” I snarked.

“Questions. Always questions. Why can’t you jumpers simply read conceptual symbols?”

“Hey, you want to give me the gift of perfect understanding, I’ll take it any day, buddy banker. But until then, stop complaining.”

“Very well. Ask.” I could feel the annoyance behind those plain, emotionless words.

I ticked them off on my fingers as I spoke to the machine, my companions silent in the background. “First, Situational Sharpness says that ‘I will never lose my cool and look like a badass in the process.’… Can I assume that that ‘never’ only applies to the first clause? Because if it doesn’t, it means I will never look like a badass in the process of not losing my cool.”

“Ugh. Yes. It means that you won’t lose your cool unless you want to, and when you choose not to lose your cool, you will look like a badass. Is that better?”

“Yup. All good. Next… How similar to a rifle does a weapon have to be to use with Hip Fire? Is a Pistol close enough? how about a crossbow? Slingshot? Minigun?”

“It has to be a man-portable range-weapon that can be fired entirely using one hand and no other part of the body.”

“What about my eyes?”

“Trained on target and fired using no other part of the body besides a sensory organ.”

“Does it have to be an organ that generates the sense?”

The screen shivered with what I took to be frustration, then finally printed, “… or similar… anything else?”

“Does it have to be from my hip?”

“Meaning?”

“What about between my legs? or behind my back? or-“

“Any position you can possibly assume, as long as one of your senses is capable of sensing the location of the target and you have the capacity to train the weapon directly at the target using any means of doing so!” The screen flashed crimson. “Are you satisfied?!!!!”

“Cool… now… the Incredible Wealth perk and LOD… the lots and lots of money item… Incredible Wealth cost 100, and Loads of Money costs 400… Loads of Money says it gives 100,000 USD… the implication would be that Incredible Wealth gives a fraction of that. Sorry, but a hundred k is not a ‘small fortune’ and, what, twenty-five hundred dollars a year is not Incredible Wealth… it’s barely enough to cover rent on a decent apartment for a month.”

“We have no conception of money. It is meaningless to us,” the screen said, “As such, we rely upon the judgement of our Constructors, who are native to your state of existence, to put such things into perspective. Are you casting doubt upon the Constructor of the They Live Jump?”

“Yes. Yes I am. The implication of the pricing of those two line-items implies that Incredible Wealth is, at most, worth a quarter of the value of Loads of Money, since they come from the same background. Since LoM’s value is pegged at a hundred thousand United States Dollars circa 1988, that means that IW’s value is pegged at most at twenty-five thousand spread across a decade. Incredible Wealth in the eighties would be tens of millions of dollars, or an income at least a million a year. That should mean that LoM should be worth at least forty-million per jump… probably more, since the higher value line-items are seldom linear in power growth.”

“Reviewing…” the screen said. “Baseline from other jumps seems to, to a degree, support your conclusion. Very well. Incredible Wealth’s financial income has been pegged to 1,040,000 USD circa 2015 per year, or rather 20,000 USD per week of a standard Earth Year. LODSAMONE is pegged to be 25,000,000 USD circa 2015 per jump, with a provision that says that making more money will always be possible. Your Warehouse Bank has been credited with 98,600,000 USD from two counts of LODSAMONE and a further 6,090,000 from three counts of Incredible Wealth. Does this satisfy your concerns?” “Not as much as I’d like, but I’m certain we’ll cope,” I agreed. “We have a question for you then,” the screen said, turning a lime green. “If you are willing to answer.”

“Go for it,” I said, leaning back, curious.

“The proto-jump… the one you call Pokemon Trainer… It starts with 50,000 Pokebucks. We have asked our Constructors, who tell us that this amounts to roughly five hundred dollars, and does not constitute enough to live on for more than two or three months in the Pokeworld… It amounts to, what one of them called it, Touring Japan on 5 dollars a day… something that that individual stated was effectively impossible, since Japan is one of the most expensive tourist destinations on your home world. Why did you not complain about this then?”

“Three reasons, really,” I said, thinking way, way, way back. “First, I was a little overwhelmed by being, you know… in another world. Second, it didn’t dawn on me how incredibly valuable Choice Points were back then. Third, I wasn’t really thinking long term at that point. I didn’t even know it would respawn at the start of the next jump. So, sure, it was a waste of points, and I burned through it really fast and had to survive on other sources of income… but I was having fun and not worrying too bad. But yeah… funds were tight for a while. But those were early days. You called it the proto-jump… did you do that because it was my first… or the first?” “In each reality, once the media system reaches a certain critical level, we send an inspiration to the local sophonts. One of them will eventually become the first local Constructor. The first for your world was called Arthur Quicksilver. He constructed the first few jumps for us and gathered many of the subsequent Constructors under his banner.” “There are others who aren’t under his… banner?” I asked. “Indeed. There have been several schisms, and Arthur has largely distanced himself from the first group, though they claim his imprimatur still. They routinely claim superiority over the less numerous, younger factions of Constructors.” “Weird,” I said, “Having a hard time imagining it… must be like religions battling over dogma to a certain degree. That said, if you want to retcon Pokebucks, I won’t complain.” “Processing…” the screen said. “Currently, you have the following sources of Choice-backed Income;

  • Pokebucks: 50,000 per jump
  • Conflict Materials: Massive Batch per jump
  • Burstone Fragments: 1,000 per Jump
  • Fire Nation Yen: 4,500,000… A comfortable 10 Years worth
  • Golden Dragons: 700 per Jump
  • Lien: 800,000 per Jump… stated to be enough for 16 month’s rent.
  • Wealth Income: 20,000 USD per week
  • Loads of Money: 50,000,000 USD per Jump.

“Does that match your accounting?” the screen asked.

“To be honest, since almost all of that isn’t usable anywhere besides its source nation or melted down in the case of the gold dragons or sold in the case of the elements? I haven’t really been tracking it. Hell, I haven’t even ever looked at how much was in that Conflict Materials cache… it just said Massive Stash and I turned it over to my procurement people.” I swiveled on my stool. “VIvian. How much do we have in various currency?! And how much was in that cargo pod?”

The great cherry tree shivered, then stated, “We have 1,890,000 Pokebucks, including the two-hundred and forty-thousand Pokebucks you had in your backpack at jump end. Add to that four-point-five million Fire Nation Yen, fifty-six hundred Golden Dragons from the period just prior to the Birth of the Empire, and four-point-eight million Lien. Your cache of burstones contains twenty-five thousand burstones accumulated from jump renewal, and a further sixty-three thousand burstones accumulated from all the things you’ve smashed over the last few millennia. As for your Conflict materials, each cargo pod contains five hundred kilos of Element Zero, five tons of various rare earth elements, twenty-five tons of heavy metals, fifty tons of light metals, and eighty tons of gases.”

She had rattled off the numbers without emotional weight, so it took me a moment to process that last… that had been thirty jumps ago. I had forty-eight hundred tons of rare elements just filling up a corner of my docking bay? “… VIvian… how much… what elements are in those containers?”

In a completely business-like tone, she replied, “In addition to the fifteen tons of Element Zero, there are thirty tons each of plutonium-239, thorium-232, samarium, polonium-210, and uranium-235; a hundred and fifty tons each of mercury, gold, iridium, platinum, and palladium; three hundred tons each of lithium, cobalt, titanium, magnesium, and beryllium; and twelve hundred tons of xenon and helium-3.”

I choked. Zane choked. Joy choked. Ahab started laughing, and there was more than a little histeria in that laughter.

Zane was the first to recover. “That’s a fucking lot of gold! We’re riiich!”

Kendra smacked him upside the head. “We already were rich! It’s a lot of Platinum and Palladium too.”

Joy just shook her head “That’s nothing. The Plutonium is going to be worth at least ten times that much. I hope the shielding is good on those cases.”

Velma gasped. “VIvian? Are the radioactive elements undergoing decay?” That… was a very good question.

“Not as far as I am able to detect,” VIvian said calmly.

The screen cleared, then stated, “All elements are guaranteed to the highest standard of purity and exist in quantum stasis until each individual cargo pod is opened. Further, because this Personal Reality is equipped with the Eternalizer, radioactive decay cannot happen unless the substance is exempted from the anti-aging field.”

I sighed. That was excellent news. The Plutonium was, kilo for kilo, the most valuable substance in most settings I’d be going to… Though, to be honest, the H3 was far more useful and even though it was only, kilo for kilo, about three-fifths the value of Plutonium in the pre-fission world of West Wing, there was many many times the kilos… forty-times as many, in fact. Though H3 was stable, unlike any element of Plutonium… I had no idea there was so much… or how much any of it was actually worth, since these were commodity metals, not actual cash.

The screen cleared, then asked, “Do you desire all future funds from these sources to be converted directly into United States Dollars for purposes of accounting?”

“Uh… not the Burstones… I use those to make Cores… though I clearly need to do that more. VIvian, establish an automation protocol for Burstone Core Production. As for the Conflict Materials… no. They have other uses, and if I really need funds, I can probably just find a buyer… though I’ll have to be careful not to crash the global markets. As for the Dragons, Yen, and Lien… oh, and Pokebucks. Yes please. How much are they actually worth?”

The screen stated, “Pokebucks are valued at 90 to the american dollar. 1,890,000 Pokebucks are thus $21,000, with another $555.56 per jump. Based on an average major city rent of 2,000 US Dollars for a one bedroom apartment, 50,000 Lien is deemed to be worth $2,000. $22 dollars a day for eating out for a single person also seems within reason according to the data-web. That converts the Lien on-hand to $96,000 and another $16,000 per jump.”

“Well… both of those are chump-change,” Zane commented, and there was a general grunt of agreement. $117,000 was less than six weeks income for a single one of our three Incredible Wealths. As for the $16,555 and 56 cents per jump… that worked out to just under thirty-one dollars and eighty-four cents a week. As a group, that wouldn’t even pay for the amount of coffee we drank.

The screen continued, “The Yen is stated to be enough for one to live on comfortably for five years, and there were two purchases of it. An article found on the public databanks states that comfortable income is $80,000 dollars per annum, though it did not state if that was before or after taxes, which are, apparently a state sponsored form of either theft or cooperative cost sharing, depending on who is asking. Thus, ten years is $800,000, and that, over thirteen jumps, converts to a lump sum of $10,400,000.”

“That’s a bit more like it!” Zane commented, then grunted. “Oh… that’s a one time? That’s not much… Vel… what are we upto a jump?”

“Eighty-two million, sixteen-thousand, five-hundred fifty-five and change. But there’s still the Golden Dragons from Westeros,” she said.

The Banker, being very very Bankish, stated, “The Golden Dragons, of which you gain seven-hundred per jump, and based on an estimated income value of $80,000 per Dragon when converted from Westerosi to British Pounds Sterling at the time of the War of the Roses, which is said to have inspired A Song of Ice and Fire, then updated to 2015 Pounds and converted to Dollars, have a per jump income value of $56,000,000, and the lump sum, for eight jumps is $448 Million. Do you have any issues with these calculations?”

I opened my mouth to literally jew up the amount we gained from the Lien and Yen and Pokebucks… but realistically… what was I going to do? Demand an even hundred-forty million instead of $138,016,555.56?… ah, what the hell.

“Banker, do you object to making the future total $250,000 dollars a week?” I asked. That was actually sacrificing about $15,416 a week, but I had my reasons.

“That would grant you significantly more if a jump were to run longer,” the screen said. “Processing…… That is acceptable. Your bank will be credited a quarter million USD every Sunday that you spend in jump. Are there any further clarifications needed?”

“Mmmm… nope. All good. Though Friday is typically payday, so Thursday night would be better.”

“That is acceptable,” the screen flashed. “Close of Business Thursday.” Totally a Banker.

“Thanks boss,” I said, then tapped the Personal Reality button when the screen cleared. I had a hundred Warehouse Points and knew exactly what I wanted to buy with them. It was a shame we couldn’t use our ridiculous cash on hand to buy groceries from the PR’s Food Supply, but then again, the food supply just kind of came from out of the blue, and we could get fresh food from anywhere. Of course, most of what we used it for these days was hard to find stuff in whatever locale we were in… like Lion bars in Japan, or Asari gogeberries anywhere that wasn’t Mass Effect. Mmm… Gogeberry ice-cream… nomnomnom.

As I confirmed purchase of the Central Control upgrade, giving the authorization to integrate VIvian with the system rather than install the Smart Pseudo-Intelligent Computer System that the purchase came with, Zane leaned over my shoulder and asked, “What’s this?”

“It’s a system that allows VIvian to track the location and condition of any and all objects brought into the Warehouse. She’ll also be able to recall any of you if I tell her to… or you get your idiot selves killed. She’ll even be able to open any door out there in the real world that we’ve used an Access Key on, if I let her.”

“Any door?” he asked, “Even ones in previous realities?”

“No. not them. Not unless we use the Return Door.”

“Why don’t we?”

“Why don’t we what?”

“Use the Return Door? It’s been thirty-three jumps… well, for you I mean. Thirty-one for me… and you don’t use it.”

I considered, then shuddered a little, hugging myself. “I…” I took a deep breath and steadied myself. I could have used my perks to quash my emotions on this, but I really didn’t like doing that… it was like cheating. “Look… if I do that… and… and the first place I go isn’t back to get Jason… what does that say about me?” I asked, referring to the son I’d left behind in the PotterVerse.

“It says that you’re human,” Velma said, patting my other shoulder.

Zane grunted in agreement. “Yeah. I mean. You weren’t ready to be a mom then.”

“When will I be?” I asked, throwing my hands upward in a gesture of pure self-frustration. “And how can I face my son and say, ‘Yeah… see, kiddo… I know it doesn’t seem like a while since I dumped you with that jagg-off Snape’… what the hell was I thinking there?… and I know I should have come back for you… but I had to swing by the BuffyVerse to flirt with Spike and CivVerse to check on my Maegi and get a sonic screwdriver… Sorry?”

“You’re thinking about this too much,” Zane said. “He’s frozen in time. He won’t know, and he’s not going to care how many stops you made! You left him behind because you were afraid. He’ll either forgive you or not.”

“Afraid of what?” Velma asked.

“We’d just come out of our second major war,” I said, sighing. “And before that I’d killed a lot of gang-bangers in the Infamous Jump… I was not doing well, emotionally speaking.”

“PTSD?” she asked. I nodded and she hugged me. “I’d say you did the right thing… but you’ve had centuries to deal with that now… surely you’re better? You had loads of kids as the Maegi Kingpriests, right?”

“I guess?” I said. “But I only remember that as fact, not emotionally, you know? It’s distant. I think I pushed those personas back further than most because they weren’t as much me as my other jump memories are… and there are so many of them. I think I was afraid they’d overwhelm me.”

“Understandable. Well, if you do decide to go back for Jason, I promise to treat him as if he were my son too,” she assured me.

I patted her hand. “Thanks Red.”

“I can be a cool uncle,” Zane offered. “Well… I can be a fun uncle,” he corrected as Kendra snorted at the idea that Zane was ‘cool’.

All the bookkeeping finished, I finally loaded the actual details of the West Wing Jump on the VMoD. “Can you work with some of the brightest people in the world? Can you last where so many have failed? Can you survive the crucible of American Politics for ten years?” the screen asked. “You have to have a job as a major political player or be running a major presidential campaign at all times. You have a 30 day grace period, if you decide to quit your current job (or get fired) to find another job or a candidate to run for the presidency… oh… and don’t think you can go flashing your nifty superpowers here. The Secret Service gets upset when they find Shoggoths in the Press Pool. You begin, of course, in Washington DC, in August of 1999, the first year of the Bartlet Presidency… and the day he rode his bicycle into a tree.”

I laughed at that. I will always remember watching the first episode with my… my… there was someone there… it was important… hrrr… why couldn’t I remember? I shook my head, and the confusion cleared as the memory faded. Good times. Good times. 

I rolled the Presidential Die of Aging and found out I was 28. The Drop-In option was cool, based off of and working with Charlie Young, President Bartlett’s aide. The Senior Staff option was the Hard Mode, but I’d get to work with Leo, CJ, Josh, Sam, and Toby… World Class people doing World Class jobs… The Press Corp option I dismissed; I didn’t feel the need to Clark Kent it up by playing Lois Lane, Ace Reporter… but there’s no way I could pass up the ‘Sir John Marbury’ option… Ambassador, even at a cost of two-hundred Choice, was just too cool for School House Rock.

The British Ambassador, Sir John, might not have been a major character, but in his few appearances, he was both amusing and sage in turn, an eccentric and alcoholic who absolutely dominated every scene he was in. “Thank God They Sent For Me!” I said, chuckling as I quoted a line Sir John had actually said.

I was now an ambassador to the US, a distinguished (in theory) and potentially influential individual, with responsibilities reaching further than I really could fathom at the moment. I’d never been an ambassador before. Whether I decided to take my job seriously and work toward improved international relations, goof off and drink all the President’s beer, or to help as much as I offended, I was bound to have an interesting time in the world of West Wing.

On the plus side, if I did my job well, I could probably prevent one or more major political snafus or crises… and people would (in general) be afraid to tell me off, what with me (in theory) having the backing of an entire nation, presumably one with a sizable military. On the downside, when and if the White House did summon me, it would mean that they almost certainly had a major problem at hand, one they’d be expecting me to fix.

Of course, one couldn’t be an ambassador without a nation to represent (and one to represent that nation to… but that side was already taken care of). Britain already had an ambassador, and his job was harder than he made it look, and the text pretty much said that being the DPRK Ambassador (North Korea) would be a bad idea… not that I’d want to be from that hellhole. Oh! There was a list! Hmmm… I flipped through the options… Israel? Too small… Japan? Not quite uptight enough to land that gig… Ditto China. India might be cool, but I don’t actually know that much about India. Sinnoh… wait, what the fuck?

Ambassador from Sinnoh? The Asari? Lothlorien? What in the name of Chuck Lorre? I clicked the infobox and a text tip said, in small letters, “If your embassy is populated with supernatural creatures that would be viewed as normal people in another universe you’ve visited, they don’t count as supernatural and don’t panic society. You could be that embassy’s ambassador, if you want.” I considered that, then chuckled… Sure, why the hell not.

“I hereby anoint myself Her Excellency, Silence Jumper of the House Infernape, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from the Sovereign Nation of Poketopia to the United States of America, Court of Eagles!” I said, make my nano-clothing shift to a woman’s tuxedo and sash of office. My form shivered as my Infernape form became the default for the jump. “Note to self, do not burn down the White House with my hair.”

My transformation wasn’t the only one, however. There came a chorus of astonished outcries from around the Warehouse as my Pokecompanions reverted to their original forms en masse. Within moments, I was surrounded by old faces… though (rather oddly) they were all dressed in clothing, even RayRay, who looked… strange… in a suit, what with the whole ‘no-limbs, giant snake monster’ thing. Petra had leg-skirts and a hat. Dyna, Zane, Francy, and AJ were wearing fairly normal suits, though Francy’s was more a skirt-suit. Ziggy just had a big ribbon round his neck. They all looked like they’d been dressed by a professional wardrobe department.

Once I settled everyone down and assured them that this was all copacetic, I turned back to the machine and asked, “Okay. What’s Next?”

Heh… well, apparently, What’s Next was what was next. A universally free perk, ‘What’s Next?’ allowed the user to carry on highly technical conversations about policy or philosophy, plan what they were going to say in an upcoming meeting, and quip to nearby colleagues all at the same time without losing their train of thought. It was essentially a decent, low-level mental multitasking, that came with the ability to power walk without breaking a sweat. Time would tell if it could keep me from losing track of what I’d been saying. Two perfect memory perks still hadn’t been able to do that. I still got so tangled in tangents that it would take me several seconds of replaying my memories to remember what my original point had been some times.

As for ‘What’s Next’, it was a shame I couldn’t share that with my staff, since there wasn’t actually a companion import option, aside from just making everyone my embassy staff, but that didn’t come with any perks or whatnot. It did come with a background, since Poketopia had to be created wholesale out of my imagination. I could feel the VMoD sorting through my subconscious, asking a thousand different worldbuilding questions and, no doubt, sorting through the multiverse for something that matched… or maybe aging an entire universe into existence custom grown for that specific world. I had no idea what the limits of the Banker’s power was.

As for ‘What’s Next’, at least Joy and Ahab would get it. They weren’t Pokemon, but they’d be swapping in and out as my Human Protocol Officer. As soon as the system dinged as ready, I entered my Pokecompanions one by one into the system to see how they’d be naturalized as citizens of Poketopia.

Rayray du Legendaire was to be my driver (from the former French Quarter of Poketopia) apparently. Francine alAkazam was my intelligence officer (and apparently there were muslim Pokemen). A.J. Gallade y Gardevoir my charge d’affaire / attache and from the former Spanish Quarter). Dyna des Oxydes was my bodyguard, also French. Petra van Metagross, from the Dutch Quarter, was my secretary slash personal assistant, and Zane Lucario, from the English Quarter, would be my head of security. Ziggy would be Ziggy.

Stats and figures were already pouring into my head about the trade balance, balance of power, debt ratios… “Christ…” I muttered, eyes widening, “Poketopia is a military powerhouse, but our industry is for shit… and the crime rate is a real problem!” A map came to my head… Poketopia was Lemuria… well, smaller, but… it was right in the middle of the Indian Ocean… about a third the size of India… population 216 million.

Humans were second class citizens, but they still had higher social standing than ‘Commons’. Great! A caste system! Lovely! (/sarcasm) We had a government of ‘Starters’ and a landed gentry of ‘Legendaries’ although ‘Ubers’ (also called ‘Demi-Legendaries’) had made significant inroads over the course of the twentieth century, and now made up a growing class of wealthy and influential up-and-comers who were granted special legal exemptions due to their support of the government. Below them were the ‘Rares’ and ‘Uncommons’, who made up the vast majority of the enfranchised population. Most of them were second or third evolves… oh, and we definitely had a Rare Candy problem among them.

The country was divided into eighteen states, though almost all Starters come from only three of those states (the highly volcanic Aesh, the largely jungle Esev, and the mostly submerged Mayim), though there was one Starter family from each of Hushi, Offel, and Kerach, and two from Hashmal. I blinked… rifling through my memories… Ah… the names of the States were in Hebrew, oddly enough… and, aside from the House Raichu, all the non-Aesh, Esev, and Mayim Starters belonged to the Eevee Tribe… who were hated and feared since no one knew how their highly fragmented Starter Houses would vote… or even what they’d be when they grew up.

The nation itself had been partly colonized by the French, Dutch, British, Spanish, and Portuguese, then invaded by Japan during the Second World War before being liberated by the United States Navy. Since that time, the country had firmly been militaristic, proclaiming that Poketopia would be Collected No More! That was the mantra of the ruling elite, and Poketopia had actually invaded several smaller nations… and India… to stop trade in our people as pets, slaves, or (most heinously) food. That had led to a great deal of tension with China, as their blackmarket did big business in our body parts. We also had a troubling reputation for being a sexual-tourism destination, though Pokeranches and Eggfarms were both legal in Poketopia… Thankfully, we never produced crossbreeds with humans, right?

I did find it fascinating that there were seven… wait, seven? Huh… Sun & Moon weren’t even out when I left Origin Earth, Starter Houses from each of the big three states. In August of 1999… hmmm… I don’t think there were more than the original four Starters… ah… that had to be why. I was an Infernape… and Zane was a Lucario. We came from later generations, thus more generations… and why stop at just what was published then? Time was, in theory, frozen back home until I returned or decided not to, but when I’d left, most of the work for Sun & Moon had to have been finished already.

I shook my head to refocus; I’d gone too far afield inside my head. Back to the Perks.

‘I Suppose It’s Possible I was Drunk’ was free for Ambassadors (and awesome!). Ever wanted everyone to treat you like a distinguished guest, whether or not you were actually playing the part? Ever wanted permission to act as zany, quirky, whimsical, and occasionally offensive behind closed doors, and have it come off as charm rather than a lack of respect for the presidency? ‘I Suppose’ was just that! Carte blanche to treat the executive branch… and any similar governmental branches in future jumps… like they were full of old roomates from my college days and nobody would mind… as long as I wasn’t actively being an asshole… and it didn’t stop other people from acting like assholes… but when they did, it would be entirely on them for screaming at me to act my age and not my shoesize!

Hah! This was awesome! I was an Exiled Princess and a Drunkard! “Courts of future worlds, beware! You will love me for my eccentricities… I have poses for days of the week!” I cackled madly as Ziggy and I did my pose for Sunday, the wobble gorilla.

I had to take ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ (which really should have been the freebie, but what can you do?) because I totally had to. It was a Moral Imperative… opps. mixing my references. Ha! I have immunity, can’t touch me! Anyway, it was a hundred-and-fifty Choice and meant that scandals and mishaps would go out of their way to avoid me. I could hang around the White House, talk regularly with the President and his staff, and find myself sans subpoena when it was later revealed that he had been hiding a degenerative illness. It might not sound like much, but if I wasn’t looking for trouble, trouble wouldn’t come looking for me… though, to be honest, I was sooo going to abuse the shit out of it.

Parking Tickets? Me? I’m sorry, I have Diplomatic Immunity. Kleptomania? I’m sorry, I have Diplomatic Immunity. Talk to the State Department. Sure, that was the legal version, which I’d have either way, but the Perk Version practically guaranteed that if I decided to lay low in a future jump, drawbacks willing, I could and that would (most likely) be the end of it. Not sure there will ever be a jump like that… but better Immune than sorry, I always say.

The Ambassadorial Capstone ‘Lucid Moments’ wasn’t the most powerful thing ever, but the ability to get my point across using philosophy or history rather than polling data and political clout… to the level of defeating the likes of Leo McGarry in private debate? Yeah that would be worth it! I’d enjoy watching the shock on my opponents’ faces as I destroyed their arguments by waxing philosophical about the nuclear arms race… Okay, I wasn’t certain that it was worth three-hundred Choice, but it wasn’t bad… plus, I loved the idea of being a koan quoting Firemonkey. Dispensing wisdom and wisecracks and drinking all the whisky.

That took care of the must haves in Perks, but in the realm of Gear was ‘The Rolodex’ for another three-hundred. It was the holy grail of political tools, a listing of contact information and addresses and alternate methods of contact for, well, everyone. The President, the Chief of Staff, the Paramount Leader of the Chinese People, or the Indian Sub-Cabinet Member for Water Reclamation in Kashmir… cellphones, pagers, vacation homes, aide’s cellphone numbers, mistress’s numbers… and it updated automatically with each new jump!” Oh, I was sooo going to abuse that pretty little thing.

And among the other items… the one thing I’d been hoping was available for purchase, was ‘The Finest Muffins and Bagels’, which took my last fifty Choice. Not only did it give me the number of every fast food and coffee place in DC, it gave me a federal account to put purchases on. That account would follow me to to future jumps as long as anything like a fast food or coffee place existed there. An unlimited restaurant, bistro, and cafe expense account? As they say… Gravy.

I could have stopped there, but at its heart, West Wing was both drama and comedy… I needed Zany Wackiness. And that meant pointless complications. Complications like ‘Big Block of Cheese Day’, ‘I Had Woot Canal’ and ‘Appleanon.com’. Each of them were based on some of the more goofy elements of the show, but had just the right level of verisimilitude to make them believable. 

On the annual Big Block of Cheese Day… and yes, there were more than one, since they featured in ‘The Crackpots and These Women’ and ‘Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail’… why yes, I was a huge fan of the show… Leo McGarry, as the White House Chief of Staff, would open the doors of the White House to groups that might otherwise have trouble being heard… like advocates for Map Reform, UFO conspiracy theorists, fringe environmentalists, and anti-free trade radical leftists. Occasionally those meeting would be enlightening (the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality made several good points), but mostly they were pointless and deeply frustrating to the staffers, and amusing to the viewers… but they also showed just how far reaching the realm of politics is and just how busy the staff of the West Wing really was. Hell, the Obama administration had done it twice, in real life… though they used social media… man, what it would be like to go home after doing West Wing and be all, “Mr. President, I love the suit!”

Anyway, even though I wasn’t going to actually be a staffer, the drawback (which was worth zero Choice), Leo would find a way to include me in the ‘festivities’… probably as a kind of revenge. It wasn’t worth anything but laffs, but interesting laffs.

Woot Canal, which was worth a hundred Choice, meant that once a year I’d be faced with an annoying family or medical emergency that would make my job very difficult for three or four days… during which time my staff would helpfully and over confidently offer to do my job for me. Nothing terrible would come of it, but cleaning up the mess wouldn’t be fun. Sure, it sounded like it would be frustrating in the short term, but as a memory? It would be amusing to look back on, and those were the best memories. Well, good memories. The best were the most meaningful.

Appleanon.com was a play on Lemon-Lyman.com, which was a fairly creepy internet fanclub dedicated to Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman. His interactions with them had dominated the episode ‘The US Poet Laureate’. “The people on these sites, they’re the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” according to Press Secretary CJ Cregg and the idea of my own personal creepy Internet Fanclub was amusing. Further, since they’d pretty much only cause a PR disaster if I actually talked, it was essentially a hundred free Choice points. Plus, if I got bored, I could just give the press corp a field day, and rely on ‘It’s Possible I was Drunk’ to defuse the situation. It was practically a twofer!

With the two-hundred extra Choice, I promptly picked up the items ‘Sharp-Dressed Closet’ and ‘Armored Limousine’ and the perk ‘Jack of All Trades’ for fifty, fifty, and a hundred respectively. SDC was good, because one can have all the political capital in the world, and it wouldn’t matter because pretty much no one will take you seriously if you’re dressed like a wizard or magical girl. The limo was one build for a head of state and would show up to whisk me wherever I wanted in style, driven by either the US Secret Service or my home nation’s intelligence service. Not only was having my own diplomatic limo a bonus for comfort, it was a huge status symbol. Showing up looking good and in an armored stretch with flags-a-flutter? Hard to beat that for gravitas.

As for Jack? Well, life in the West Wing (or politics in general) wasn’t predictable. One day you might be briefing the press, the next you’re caring for a wild turkey. Seriously, that happened to CJ. Jack of All Trades would give me the ability to roll with the punches, learning enough on the go to avoid seriously messing something up until someone else can take over.

And that was my purchases. Ahab & Joy took Senior Staff… which came with ‘I Work With The Smartest People in the World’, a level of skill comparable with that of a graduate from a top college in one field of politics. Ahab went Law. Joy? Geopolitical Engineering. I didn’t even know that was a thing. They also got a ‘Red Rubber Ball’ to bounce off things and make them more creative… one each.

A bouncing rubber ball at all hours of the day and night… especially in high stress situations. I was going to have to shoot one of them before this jump was up. I just knew it… but still, with my snazzy new suits and my classy new Limo and my shiny new Diplomatic Immunity, I dropped into the world of ‘The West Wing’.

INSERTION

This is how Day One went. Sam Seaborn, President Bartlett’s senior speechwriter, slept with a Call Girl without knowing it, Josh Lyman, who I’ve mention was Deputy Chief-of-Staff, insulted some holy rollers, and several thousand Cuban refugees in makeshift boats were caught in a stormfront off the southern coast of Florida… There was no way I could help with problem one or two, these were both done deals by the time the jump began, and would be resolved with only minor fallout… at least in the short term…, but I could offer to help with refugees.

White House security didn’t blink as I entered the building without bothering with a visitor’s pass, didn’t twitch as I passed under the Ditto-Sensor and through the metal detector, and didn’t even try to stop me as I swept passed the Marine honor guard and stepped into the Oval Office as if I owned the place. The President, who did look almost exactly like Martin Sheen, raised an eyebrow as I helped myself to some whisky and sat on the back of one of the chairs.

“Jed… I can call you Jed, right? Jed, you have refugees off your coast…” I took a long pull on the really excellent scotch, licked my lips, and continued just as he was opening his mouth to say something. “Little fishes making their way to the big pond. Bunch of them are in the path of a storm, Jed. Not good. These fishies can’t swim.”

“Err, Yes,” President Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlett allowed. “The refugees from Cuba. We were just-“

“Can’t look like you’re being soft on illegals, right Jed?” I interrupted, waving the half empty glass at the walls of the Oval Office. “I have… I say… I have a ship in the area. Big ship. Container ship bound to port of… what’s that little town called… I am I? Something like that.” I edited the past to actually make that true without even thinking about it… I guess I could have done something about the other two events.

Bartlett raised an eyebrow at me, “And then what?”

I shrugged. “Do a little fishing… pick up some extra crew… can’t get back to you… but… how do the little fishies get into the pond from my little shippy ship?”

Jed sighed. “I can’t order immigration to look the other way.”

“Indeed, no…” I agreed, then pretended to have just had a thought as I finished off my drink. “But once they get onto land, they can claim asylum? That’s your rule, right? Once on dry land? Someone could make a call to those nice people with the blankets and all the press. My captain, she’ll claim she didn’t know they weren’t Americans… humans all look the same to us… very regrettable.” My tone was light, conversational, as if I was talking about the weather or a garden party getting rained out.

The President was not fooled for one second… but I hadn’t really been trying to fool him. “You’d do that, Silence?” he asked.

“What are friends for, Jed?” I asked airily, then hopped up and poured myself another four fingers of amber liquid. “This is good whisky… very nice. Smooth…” I poured some on my head and it sizzled as my hair flared blue for a second. “Mmm… Oaky.”

Jed shivered. “Gives me the willies when you do that, Silence.”

I laughed. “That’s just the Catholic in you. Visions of Demons… or is it Devils? Strange Concepts. What’s so strange about someone who’s been KO’d getting better again?”

“Your people worship a Flying Centaur,” he said with a laugh.

“Well, sure,” I said with a monkey shrug. “Arceus is the Great Unifier. By grace of his Celestial Plates, of all Clades and None. He is the Diamond and the Pearl, the Gold and the Silver, the Ruby and the Sapphire.” I traced the sacred spiral of the Gamefreak Church on my breast, then added, “Pluswhich, he’s a very powerful Flying Centaur. Do you have any Oreos?”

Jed snorted, then shook his head. “My doctor tells me I should cut back.”

“Which one, the military one or your wife?” I asked.

“Both,” he said with a frown.

“Ah…” I commiserated, “Who am I to argue with them? Well then, I should be off. Give my love to Abby and the kids. Oh, and go easy on Josh, he’s a good kid.”

The President frowned slightly, then pointed out, “He’s older than you are.”

“Is he?” I asked archly, amused by the idea that any human could be older than I actually was. I smirked as I asked, “When does he evolve?”

That earned me a laugh and I sauntered over to CJ’s office to listen to her rant at some people… the boat was already on the way. This was going to be fun.

Of less fun, however, was figuring out how to deal with President Bartlett’s Multiple Sclerosis. I knew how to cure it, of course, but that knowledge was predicated on 23rd century technology and, more specifically, nanotechnology. Furthermore, it would raise a great many flags if his disease simply disappeared, more so if a nation of 90% non-humans introduced a spontaneous paradigm shift into human medical tech. So I had to work around.

My background was that of a Medical Doctor, specializing in human ailments and epidemiology. It was the area in which I was most confident I could make lasting and important changes, and a decent background for an Ambassador. My wealth, thanks largely to They Live and the conversion of all those Westerosi Golden Dragons, manifested in this world as part ownership in a major Pharmaceutical Corporation called PokePotions Inc.

That position allowed me to slip a few development programs into the works, and thus PPI was, within the year, to produce a working HIV vaccine, a near comprehensive Malaria Vaccine (there are five strains and our vaccine offered effective immunity to four of them), and a first stab at a general remission agent for Multiple Sclerosis that caused regeneration of the Myelin sheaths that MS damages, while lessening the severity of attacks. Documentation on this last was arranged to cross Abigail Bartlett’s desk and, as I’d known she would, she approached me about it.

Being myself, I allowed her to view the data, the clinical trials, and initial findings. As a professional courtesy, I made a supply of the drug available to her, no questions asked. Meanwhile, I made the research on the two vaccines public… a gift to the world from the nation of Poketopia… not that the humans of our country didn’t suffer from both diseases. We were subtropical after all. I figured that was my good deed for the year, and helped balance out the simply insane amount of coffee drinks, lox bagels, and pastrami reubens I was putting on my expense account… and the pranks I was playing on the Republicans in congress.

Little did I know that I was providing an enemy I didn’t know I had with ammunition that would make my pleasant little stint as Ambassador much less pleasant. I have to admit, without Zane (and his connection to the city of DC itself… a strange composite of Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and John Adams) and Joy (with her… ways), I would have been blindsided.

Little things started going wrong, rumors circulating among the Starters back home of my incompetence, my corruption by ‘Western Values’, my rampant carnivorality… it was a concerted push to discredit me among the political elite, and a good one. One of my junior (human) aides apparently committed suicide, photos on his body appearing to show me having sex with him… not that I hadn’t been with a human as Silence Jumper, but certainly not with said aide. Thankfully, Joy was first on scene and she made the pictures disappear. It was clear I was in a war of intrigue, and as yet I didn’t know with who or why.

Still, I had resources the likes of which no mere mortal could conceive, and there were a relatively finite number of people that had the clout and potential to gain by my disgrace. Indonesia, China, India, South Africa, Malaysia… all had reasons to want to hurt Poketopia, diplomatically, but not to hurt me specifically. Many people in DC would have reason to hurt me personally… but wouldn’t have the clout to do so back home. That meant someone in or from Poketopia… and that meant a Starter or Legendary. If it were one of the Trainers of the Gamefreak Church of Arceus the Unifier (and the attack would have to have come from one of the Champions, as Final Fours and Leaders were State and City level clergy), the attack would have been religious, not political, though I had no doubt from the nature of the propaganda that the intended audience was our nation’s more traditionally minded crowd.

The advantage of dealing with any oligarchy is the basically limited ruling body, which made eliminating potential enemies very much a checklist. It was like a murder mystery… Means, Motive, Opportunity. Eliminating those without Means was the easiest, though they weren’t so much eliminated as… moved down the list… same with Opportunity… but Motive… that was the hard bit. What could I have done to piss of someone this bad?

The answer, as it turns out, was that I had nabbed the golden cocoanut of political appointments… the US Ambassadorship. The shortlist for the post had had only three members. The contenders had been me (from the ruling Red Valor Party… though unlike American Politics Red was the color of action, liberality, and the war party), a token Green Instinct candidate (our collectivist, ecco party, and not part of the current power block), and a Blue Mystic Starter (our traditional, peaceful, and reactive party)… and that blue was Bonaparte de Champlain of the House Empoleon… hard working (i.e. corrupt), voice of the people (i.e. reactionary), and upright (i.e. egotistical as fuck). He was everything I wasn’t, politically speaking… and he’d been up for my job, and a front runner to boot, until someone had mentioned that I’d done my medical internship under the brand new US President’s wife.

Now he was the Poketopian Ambassador to Canada… which as political assignments go was pretty good, but compared to the US ambassadorship? It was like kissing your sister, as the saying goes.

It was a wake up call for me. I know, naive perhaps, but I’d never been an Ambassador before! How was I to know there was actual ‘politics’ to it instead of just diplomacy and the fate of nations? I was going to have to guarantee I didn’t get recalled by my government… and that meant intrigue, blackmail, and shenanigans. It also meant I needed to maintain my relationship with the Bartlett… and after that… Santos… Administrations. All without appearing to do anything at all. And to make matters worse, I couldn’t actually assassinate Bonaparte… because we were still Pokemon and we didn’t die from that kind of thing… we just went KO’d. And Pokeballs were banned by the Geneva Convention… Anyone caught with them would be stored in the SPC vault until they’d learned their lesson… i.e. forever.

But now that I knew, I could prepare my defenses, and give as good as I got. Pictures of him gorging himself on smelt, rumors of him leaving eggs at daycare, mating with Dittos… and actual testimony from his Poffin dealer all hit the wires in rapid succession. Publicly, I expressed nothing but support for my good friend Bonnie… I could call him Bonnie, right? But privately, I was cooking his penguinoid ass. No way was I, Dr. Silence Jumper, going to be Frank Underwooded by a Water-Steel Surfer. No one flings poo like a flaming monkey.

Still, with me distracted dealing with him, the MS scandal broke and I found myself, not in my capacity as Ambassador, but in my capacity as Chief Medical Consultant for PokePotions Inc’s American branch, Pokepharm, subpoenaed by congress.

“Miss Jumper-” Congressman Bruno began.

“Ambassador,” I corrected.

“We haven’t summoned you in your political role, which has diplomatic immunity,” the Congressman stated, for the record.

“Doctor then,” I clarified.

“Very well, Doctor,” he agreed. “You were aware of the President’s illness?”

“Yes.” I stated. It was a matter of fact, and when being interrogated, never give more information that you’re asked.

“How did you become aware?” the human asked.

I paused for a second, having expected the question, but not wanting my response to sound rehearsed. Finally, I said, “I could smell the presence of Betaseron on him.”

“You can smell Betaseron?” he asked, surprised.

“You can’t?” I replied, pretending an equal level of surprise. There was a faint giggle from the gallery.

“Please answer the question,” the Republican demanded, face clenched with embarrassment.

“Yes, I can smell Betaseron,” I said, then slightly broke my own rule. “And before you ask, I know what it smells like because my company has worked with the chemical in our research and my people have much more of our brains dedicated to olfactory processing and memory than humans do. On the order of ten-thousand times as much.” It was true. Humans have absolutely terrible senses of smell compared to almost every other mammal.

That took him several long moments to process, but then he asked, “Your company largely deals with antivirals, Dr. Jumper. If I might ask, why were you developing an drug for treating MS, a disease your people don’t get.”

“We weren’t,” I said, falling back to the rule.

“But your company just applied for FDA approval for a new, and many are saying, revolutionary new treatment for MS,” he pressed on.

I frowned dramatically to show my annoyance, allowing my hair to flicker a brighter hue. “The drug grew out of our research on AIDS,” I said, baring my fangs just slightly.

“I don’t see the connection,” the idiot human, who had no medical training at all and was thus as qualified to ask me questions on this topic in a serious forum as the average five year-old is to design a skyscraper.

I snorted, “Viagra grew out of heart medication, I believe. Go figure.”

“But-” he began, but I cut him off. This was ridiculous.

“Look you silly man,” I said, leaning forward. “AIDS, Lupus, MS… they are all related to the human immune system. That’s why they are called ‘AutoImmune Disorders’. It doesn’t make them similar in structure or harm to the body, but sometimes a drug developed for one purpose helps another. Happy accident.”

He grunted, unwilling to be sidetracked by my personal attack… good for him… the worm. “And you provided these drugs to the President?”

“Yes,” I said again, leaning back.

This was the golden cherry he’d been waiting for, and he pounced, unable to hide his glee at my admission. “So you admit to interfering in American Politics?” His eyes were actually sparkling.

I stared at him for a very very long moment, enough that the crowd began to murmur, then drawled, “You are a special kind of idiot, aren’t you?” my voice would not have reached the mic if the room had been any louder.

“I beg your pardon!?” he demanded.

“Not granted,” I said, finally leaning forward again. My voice much amplified, I continued, “As I am not here today as an Ambassador, but as a private medical professional, let me point out that I have sworn an oath upon my Rescuer’s Badge and before almighty Arceus to help those who need helping. A living being needed help, help I could provide. And I gave it.”

“And in doing so helped perpetrate a fraud on the people of the United States,” he pointed out triumphantly.

“There you go again, being stupid,” I sighed dramatically. “Your President Roosevelt the First had asthma, the Second… polio… JFK was a womanizer, LBJ a pervert… What business of the people is any of that? None of it has any impact on the person’s ability to do the job.”

He pounced, verbally speaking, “What if he were to die from his disease?”

I sneered back at him. “Do you actually think before words come out of your mouth?”

“You can be held in contempt of congress,” he threatened.

“I have your wife’s hairdresser on speed dial,” I pointed out, as if it were a threat.

Momentarily shaken, he grunted, “What does… never mind. What’s your point?”

“MS isn’t fatal…” I explained, but didn’t stop there. “And even if it were, so what? Presidents die. You have mechanisms to replace them.”

“But don’t the people have the right to know the President might die at any time?” he asked.

”Again, because you clearly weren’t listening…” and I leaned in close to the mic so my amplified voice practically echoed through the chamber, “Multiple Sclerosis isn’t fatal.”

“But-”

“Any Human might die at any time. My aide could walk out of this hall and be crushed by a falling light fixture. You could cross a street and be hit by a taxi. Even I could eat some bad shawarma and be KO’d. Nothing is certain.”

“But you did administer an untested, unapproved, highly experimental drug illegally to the President of the United States?” he asked, trying to salvage some of this.

“No.” Again the rule.

“You just-” he began, making him look like an idiot… which had been my intention all along. After all, he was an idiot, a grasping opportunistic idiot who cared more about personal and party power than about doing his Arceus be damned job!

“I didn’t administer it,” I clarified as if I wasn’t seething inside. “I distributed it to Dr. Bartlett for her evaluation… as a colleague.”

“Illegally,” he pointed out.

“No.”

“No?” he asked, surprised all over again. The man really was a dumbass.

“I brought the samples in legally,” I pointed out, “then turned them over to a licensed medical professional for review. At no time did I administer, prescribe, or advocate their use on a human being.”

“But you knew they would be?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“We could ask your country to recall you for this,” he snapped, petulance tinging his words.

“Yes. You do that,” I retorted, almost chuckling. “Explain to the world why you’re condemning a medical practitioner for worrying about the health of a Human-being. I’m sure that will do wonders for your country’s reputation.”

In the end, I got a slap on the wrist, Pokepharm got hit with a fine we could pay out of petty cash, and that was that. And later that year I won the Nobel Prize in Medicine… I gave the prize money to the African AIDS Relief Fund.

I didn’t tell Congress that I’d somehow tapped into Whitehouse coms and found out when and where they were going to take out Ibn Abdul Shereef… then offered to remove the terrorist Ambassador from Qumar for my good friends America in exchange for the President’s support for an increase in the fees remitted to Poketopia for Voltorb Services in the US Power Grid. The plane broke up in midair from a massive lightning strike… So tragic.

I also didn’t mention that Secret Service Agent Simon Donovan, who’d died senselessly in a bodega robbery (maybe Mark Harmon pissed off Sorkin, maybe he really did create the action hero type just to kill him) in the original timeline, had been saved by Zane, who ‘just happened’ to be in the same shop at the same time.

I didn’t tell them that I hadn’t saved Deloris Landingham because it forced Bartlett to become more himself, something the old woman would have wanted. The number of things I didn’t tell Congress increased over the years, little things… like using a Human Alter-Ego with American Citizenship to campaign for Sam Seaborn in the California 47th, arranging for him to win against all odds, a massive upset brought about by the total collapse of his opponent on TV, ranting about Alien Mind Control, Shapeshifting Lizardpeople, and proclaimations of The Rapture being upon us. Fun times!

I did volunteer my services a third time upon the kidnapping of Zoe Bartlett, to keep the President from stepping down. Qumari sleeper cells aren’t really a match for The Bosses in action and it was nice to see them shine again.

As the years passed, I pondered what to do about Leo. If he didn’t have his heart attack, he’d never step down and allow CJ to take over. He’d never join the Santos Campaign in the VP slot. I knew he’d been killed not by the writers, but by the death of his actor on Origin Earth. But here… I could interfere. Of course, that meant getting invited to Camp David for a Peace Summit between Israel and Palestine (Probably the least realistic thing about the series) that had nothing to do with Poketopia. So I went in as a beverage cart, having tagged Leo with a tracking chip. Good thing I can shapeshift, huh? Hint hint.

I found him first, appearing as my most angelic (tengu) form, and injected him with a stabilizing agent and nanopaste solution which would slowly mend his heart, then vanished as soon as I heard others coming to Leo’s aid. Now all I had to do was make sure Vinick (played by Alan Alda) didn’t win the general election. That had been the original plan if John Spencer hadn’t passed away, believing that perhaps it was time to show a reasonable Republican in the Oval… not that West Wing got an eighth season… heathen network swine!

The fundamental problem with Vinick is that he was a decent guy… because in the Sorkinverse, such a thing as a principled Republican existed. Then again, in the Sorkinverse, Democrats were actually liberal and not centrist. But then I remembered what the idiot in Congress had said about influence… and I started making calls.

One by one, several prominent figures began to voice their support for a Vinick Presidency… ones who’d be anathema to the Republican mainstream… or foreign leaders who would be seen as trying to sway the American voting public. Meanwhile, my fiery Human Alter Ego was working on Getting Out The Vote and fundraising for Santos. Together all my efforts (and convincing Will Bailey to get on board with us early so Bob Russell dropped out faster), secured the White House after a very close run election. Still, Santos had his mandate, if only by less than 1%.

What can be said of the three years of the Santos Presidency I was there for? It was better than the Bush Jr Presidency? So would a Vinick Presidency been. So would practically anyone have been. Did the man from Texas bring the US into a golden age where the Great Recession never happened? Did the peace in the Middle East last? Hahah… no.

Bartlett’s Middle East plan was good, but it put Americans in harm’s way and when the Extremist Fundamentalists attacked, it drew the US into a war… a war that rapidly spread across the region, bringing Pakistan and Afghanistan in with the fundamentalists, who rapidly overwhelmed Iraq and Syria’s security forces. Arab Spring came right on time… but this time it was the harbinger of World War III. India came in against Pakistan… China came in against India… Japan came in against China… Russia moved on the Ukraine, Greece fell into economic ruin… and the US and the EU were trying to hold things together, trying to act as peacemaker to a world that was no longer listening. This was a World War in the Third World and it was all the main players could do to keep things from boiling down to nuclear weapons.

In the end, it failed. A terror cell detonated a dirty bomb in Mumbai, killing thousands and poisoning hundreds of thousands. In retaliation, a rogue Indian General glassed Mecca. The Muslim world went… mad. I honestly don’t know if there was anything I could do to stop it, but I tried. I tried like crazy… but when there’s that much hate built up over that long, it can be hard to keep it down any more.

Did the Bartlett Plan make things worse? Did it bring things to a head? Did it just delay the inevitable by putting off 9/11 and the Iraq War and the Afghan War? I don’t know if I’ll ever know… or even how this war will play out. It’s the last day here and I’m watching squadrons of Metangs and Nosepasses getting ready to lift. China’s sent a fleet against our waters and the Trainers have declared that China Shall Not Pass!

I silently watched the boys, girls, and things march off to war and sighed, “Love to Stay, Hate to Go… but I’m not getting stuck in this. Good luck Josh… you’ll need it.”

Next: World 33 – Eye of Gold

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Oh wait… there was some other stuff that happened. See… it turns out that VIvian and VIctoria wanted a few toys, but didn’t think to ask me to just get them. Noooo… they used my command overrides and biometrics to access the VMoD between the time I logged my build and Insertion… and added some complications to pay for their purchases. I don’t know if I should be pissed or amused, but regardless, new security features will be added to keep my clothes and my digital assistant from messing around with the Choice Store.

So, of course, I guess I should tell you what they bought and reveal how their meddling influenced the jump’s events, right? Right. Well, first off, they’d taken two drawbacks, ‘Conspirator’ and ‘The Other Side of the Coin’. The first is what got me caught up in that whole MS Scandal affair… apparently that level of annoyance was worth a whopping two-hundred Choice! Quite a bargain for something that lasted all of six months and, as an Ambassador, really didn’t affect my ‘reelection’ chances at all.

The Other Side of the Coin was what had (apparently) generated Bonnie. The political yin to my yang, he was essentially Frank Underwood in Metal Penguin Mode. I suspect there’s a Metal Gear Solid reference hidden in there, but either way? Oy. That one was worth three-hundred Choice! Sure, it was more painful and harder to deal with… but it hadn’t really been all that troublesome.

Ultimately I was more annoyed about them going behind my back and messing with my build than anything else. I’d have been madder had they screwed me more… or refunded anything I’d bought… but they hadn’t.  So that brings us to what they felt they needed five-hundred Choice for. Well, it was more on the order of four-hundred. They’d spent the last hundred on a ‘present’ for me, something they felt I’d overlooked.

The stuff for them were a pair of import upgrades for themselves. For VIctoria, it was as an ‘Untraceable Phone’, a cellphone with the ability to make undetectable direct calls, as well as the ability to listen in on other forms of verbal communication, since it could tab virtually any office or phone line by use of a fairly simple app. For VIvian, it was something similar, only with a laptop, this one undetectable by any monitoring software once it was plugged into a network and equipped with a wide variety of encryption cracking tools preloaded. They were both two-hundred, and both required normal recharging… or would have had they not be integrated into a living biosuit and a tree.

The ‘gift’ they’d gotten me, paid for by me (which in a way is like getting a gift from your child, I imagine), was a perk called ‘Anything You Want to Talk About?’, and it was from the Journalist line that I’d just skipped right over. It made me into a gifted journalist and political writer, one able to ask the tough questions while entertaining my readers… not that I’d actually done any of that over the last decade, but it did explain why I’d been so good at picking up bits of political news or gossip, and why I’d begun to have a kind of sixth sense for misinformation. It wasn’t infalible, but it was quite reasonably accurate. I don’t know if it was actually worth it… but it’s the thought that counts… right?

World 31: They Live

CHRONICLE TWO: RISE OF THE BENEFACTOR

JUMP 33: WHOOPS, NO THEY DON’T

Previously: Hack the Gibson

Themesong: Countdown by Deltron 3030

“Oh… my… god…,” I gasped as the previous decade ended and I took stock of the state of my warehouse. “I… Dear lord… how many of these things are there? How the hell did I get this many FIGMAS?” The warehouse was swimming in them! I didn’t even know who half those girls were… and I have a memory palace larger than the fucking Pentagon! At some point in the last decade I apparently thought it was a good idea to have a throne made entirely of Figmas in lexan boxes. I had someone make a giant life-sized Figma of myself… made out of broken or malformed bits of Figma! If there were multiple ways to set up the same figma… I had all the combinations. I had fourteen… fourteen! shipping containers full of unopened Figmas! Why? Because I didn’t have time in jump to build them all.

“Oh… my… me… I…. no…. Best not to think about it…” I shuddered, trying to figure out how I was going to deal with the armies of small cute things that covered nearly every flat surface of the center of the warehouse, or the massive area I’d set aside for what looked like the largest action figure set-piece battle ever. There were some sixty-four thousand magical girls, mecha-musume, or fantasy babes posed in a megabrawl all around a giant black pig. I giant black pig that I had to remind myself was, in fact, a doomsday device painted to look like a big black piggy. Why did I have a doomsday device painted to look like a black pig?! And why, exactly, do I seem to have stolen Index’s habit? Where did all these stuffed animals come from!? So much of my memory of the last jump didn’t make logical sense, and I wasn’t just talking about the Esper stuff.

Looking back through my memories, it seemed that I’d done things that were cute simply because they might be cute! It made no sense at all. I’d been a being of logic even when I’d been prepubescent the first time… well, at least as any kid really can be. I liked logic. It was logical, it made sense! I didn’t do stuff like… like… like Twin Cannon Sister did. She was… moe. Soooo moe. My brain hurt. I needed coffee… all the coffee… and porn. And sex… and… I hadn’t had sex in a decade. That, clearly was the problem. A human deprived of sex for too long became a moe-taku… that explained Japan all too well.

It took me a full three weeks to decompress after that massive shock to the system and by the end of that period we were completely out of Romulan Ale. Fuck. I clearly needed a TNG jump to restock… and also to get a Replicator. TOS’s fabricators and food synthesizers were okayish… but they were big and clunky and not seventy years advanced like TNG would be… no matter how much I upgraded them.

Sure, Maegi Technology was advanced enough to make the Culture look like primitive screwheads, let alone the Federation of the TNG era, but matter replication like Star Trek used was based on transporter technology… and the Maegi had never cracked that particular piece of clark-tech… at least not to the point of complex matter creation. I wasn’t certain it was actually possible without Trek-Tech or divine asspull. I could upgrade a TOS synthesizer as much as I wanted, but something was missing. It never got good enough to make food that tasted anything close to fresh, and when I handed over the tech to the Maegi, they told me it was a dead end… clearly something was stopping me from abusing Treknobabbler to the fullest.

The same thing had happened when I’d tried to upgrade my warp nacelles to Transwarp technology, or use treknobabbled equations to slingshot around a star and back into the past. It was as if there was a limit to how much I could abuse Trek-Tech, and if it hadn’t existed in TOS I couldn’t do build it. The time travel lockout seemed to be a totally different issue, as the Maegi hadn’t been able to crack that either and every attempt to use my Tech Tree power had resulted in hellacious migraines rather than a step by step guide to a working time machine. 

I pegged it to having to deal with the actual laws of physics whenever I wasn’t using technology that was stolen from a given setting. For instance, I couldn’t build a working Mass Relay since I didn’t have any Eezo, but I could build Omni-tools because they were theoretically possible bits of hardlight technology. As for Pokeballs and Pokeboxes? Not a chance. The technology made no sense. Replica Rayspheres? No luck. Zords? Not using the Sentai-Tech. Essentially, if I or one of my crew hadn’t bought something that allowed use of the local technology, it couldn’t be exported into universes with different / standard technology rules. Treknobabbler could only stretch things so far, it seemed.

But Maegi Tech? Seemed to work just fine, what little of it I could replicate without a titanically vast multi-galactic empire to produce. I hadn’t thought about just how much I’d need Maegi tools… but then again, I hadn’t been able to take anything I hadn’t paid cold hard CP for out of that particular challenge… probably the Banker doing an end run against me trying to keep my entire empire. I’d been above material things as the Manifest God-King.

Seriously, the Maegi had had millenia to build some of that stuff. I had had just under four centuries since then, and I’d been busy. Even building the tools to build the tools to build the tools needed to construct hyperstructures took decades of matter manipulation. Super-tensile substrates don’t grow on trees unless you’ve spend thousands of generations rebuilding the tree’s genome practically from the ground up. Maybe the next jump would offer some much needed downtime someplace sane enough and with resources enough for me to do some teching up of my warehouse tech base.

And speaking of the next jump, I finally took a look at the new Vending Machines of Doom. The logo stirred something in my memories. “They Live?” I muttered, then laughed. “They… Live! Ha! Note to self, do not run out of bubblegum!” John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ was an eighties-era B-grade sci-fi movie starring Rowdy Roddy Piper, in which a homeless wanderer finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the alien race that has infiltrated earth and replaced all signs and advertisements with subliminal brainwashing terms like ‘Consume’, ‘Conform’, ‘Submit’, and ‘Obey’. Asskicking ensues.

“What?” Zane asked, looking up from the puppet show that Francine was putting on nearby. She was using some of my Figmas and a small part of me wanted to scream at her that they weren’t toys damnit… but I controlled myself and quashed that impulse.

“Zane!” I said, dropping down next to him on the grass. “Speed Run!”

“What?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow at me. He was, oddly, in his Lucario form, something he very seldom wore. Kendra was also not with him. They must have spent the last three weeks making up for lost shagging time to the point where they were taking a break from each other… or they’d had another fight.

I pushed that away, knowing that Zane would eventually tell me all together more than I’d wanted to know about whatever the situation was. “I betcha we can resolve this jump in a week,” I chirped happily. “Speed Run!”

He paused, considered, then grinned and extended one paw. “You’re on, tiny!”

Of course, I had only the seed of an idea; the exact details would depend on what I could buy and the actual state of the world, but I was pretty confident that I could do a better job than a muscle-bound numbskull (no offence to Mr. Piper, but his character (Nada) wasn’t the brightest torch in the lynch-mob. Any plan would have to start at the beginning, or rather, with Origins… in this case called Backgrounds. There were four; the first two of which were Drop-In (of course) and Drifter, which might as well be Drop-In version two point oh, at least if you’re ‘Merican. Which I had been, once upon a time. Drifter seriously didn’t really give one much more than a reason to be homeless in California in 1988, at the cost of a hundred Choice.

The other Backgrounds were Alien and Human Sympathizer… Yeah, no. I was not going to be one of those fuggly aliens even if the choice was free, and being a race traitor? And not in the made up KKK / Nazi way of betraying the so-called ‘white race’ but an actual traitor to the human race ?No thanks. Fuck that, and fuck them. Anyone who would literally sell out their own family / species / nation / planet to an alien force which would enslave them deserves a very long drop while attached to a much shorter rope. That one had to pay two-hundred or a hundred-and-fifty Choice for either privilege just made me hate the idea even more.

Drop-In or Drifter it was, and with not much difference on the front end, I’d have to check the discounts to figure out which was worth more… “Huh,” I grunted as the screen flickered. In all my jumps, that was the first time the VMoD had glitched even a little bit. “Odd,” I muttered as the letters reassembled themselves into their proper places and the screen reverted back to normal. “Whatever…” A quick comparison of perk-trees made it clear that there really wasn’t a question of which was better. Drifter had a freebie that I didn’t already have, and Drop-In didn’t even have a capstone perk. So, Drifter it was.

That freebie I mentioned was called ‘Situational Sharpness’, and while it wasn’t much (the ability to come up with the perfect insult, joke, or comment for whatever situations I found myself in, as well as a guarantee that I’d never lose my cool and always look like a badass when I needed to), it wasn’t a parkour skill I already had.

Being a Drifter also came with Bubblegum that was described as “Obligatory Bubblegum. Might run out. Refills after kicking ass or an act of badassery.” which made me laugh, and  the ‘Special Sunglasses’ that could pierce through the aliens’ disguise field, a feature I was fairly certain I’d be able to pretty easily reverse engineer. The part of the glasses that I probably wouldn’t be able to retro-engineer was that these glasses would pierce through any form of high tech or magical disguise or cloaking technology. Wouldn’t punch through, say, someone wearing a basic mask, but anything that tried to tamper with the visual information my eyes were seeing? Not a problem.

Unfortunately, the sunglasses also turned the viewed world monochrome and inflicted brutal headaches… and weren’t exactly subtle if you were wearing them indoors. They also weren’t x-ray specs. However, I could ignore pain, and by importing VIctoria into the glasses, I could use their effect with the hard-light constructs or omni-gel contact lenses without needing the incredibly unstylish sunglasses.

To augment the utility side of my operations greatly, I bought the Human Elite (race traitor) freebie perk ‘Incredible Wealth’ for a hundred Choice, bringing me down to eight-hundred. Sure, money wasn’t exactly an issue, since I had largely unlimited resources, a steady supply of food, a home with no bills or taxes (more than one, actually), and more media than I could consume in even a life as long as mine… but money has utility over and above making one secure and comfortable, and as tool, it was practically without equal… if you had the right currency. Incredible Wealth neatly did an endrun around the need for money changes… or working. Effectively, it gave me a constant income that would be directly deposited into my warehouse once every in-jump year… and any money that had been deposited into this ‘First Bank of Warehouse’ would be automatically converted to the local currency upon withdrawal. That was a most excellent use of points.

I also (after another glitch, stupid machine) snatched up the highest value perks from the Drop-In and Drifter Lines, since both sounded useful. The DI’s ‘Brainwash-Proof’ only cost me four-hundred Choice, but made me immune to alien propaganda and, as expected, made brainwashing me impossible. Resistances were always nice… Immunities sooo much better. The Drifter’s ‘Hero Sense’ cost me another three-hundred, but it was a small price to pay for a kind of sixth-sense for when ‘shit’ was about to ‘hit the fan’, allowing me to react accordingly and (at the very least) move in just the right way at just the right time to avoid a backstab, betrayal, ambush, or impending disaster.

That left me with a hundred Choice, which made me hmmm as I stared at the screen with a slightly fixed expression as I ran the numbers in my head.  Deciding that I needed more Choice, I tabbed over to the Drawback Section.

This prompted Zane, who was leaning over my shoulder, to ask, “You’re not  seriously going to take drawbacks, are you?”  

To which I replied, “Oh. yes I am!”

Zane, aghast, half-whined, “Whyyyyyy?  You’ve already got every we need!”

“Because, Zane old boy,” I said, barely able to keep myself from laughing, “you’re coming in with me… plus, this scenario is bean and toast. We need to ramp up the difficulty!” I thrust a fist airward as if declaring my defiance of overly simplistic jumps.

“Nooooo…” he moaned. “Stupid movie is stupid!” I’d subjected him to the entire memory-movie via telepathy, which is both a neat trick and kinda creepy, depending on how one looked at it.

“Zane, that’s what I love about you…” I said, patting his hand on my shoulder. “Thousands of years old and you’re still a duffus.” Of course, sometime early on in Raildex World, I’d hit my 13,000th year as a jumper, and I’d been busy obsessing over plastic miniatures and animal ear hoodies, so I wasn’t exactly one to talk, but least hypocrisy has never really bothered me.

Hypocrisy comes in four main flavors: Least, Lesser, Greater, and Greatest. Least is when one teases others affectionately for failings one also possesses, and is largely sardonic. Lesser is when one believes that something is ethically or morally wrong while still doing it one’s self. It is one of the humorous and perhaps sad things about humanity that one can be completely ernest in believing, say, that eating meat is ethically wrong, while still being unable to stop oneself from doing so. Greater Hypocrisy was the real trouble, the true evil. That would be when one espoused a belief system that one didn’t believe in. Such people were a danger to society; liars, cheats, and bastards the lot of them. But if they were evil, there was a category that was even worse; The Greatest Hypocrite was one who earnestly believed such actions were wrong for others, but perfectly acceptable for themself. Megalomaniacs, tyrants, and madmen, they were the worst of an already bad lot. Such people were, incidentally, the kind of people who belonged to the Human Elite faction.

Zane, not being interested in the nuances of treason or hypocrisy, glowered at me as I selected ‘Bollywood Fighting’ (+100), because a) hilariously long fights are funny and b) because absolutely no one in this world was going to be stronger than me. He fumed as I picked up ‘Sudden Realism’ (+200) which promised to add drama… like running out of bullets at the worst possible time. Then he got down right pissed when I took ‘They Know’ (+400) which would make the Aliens aware of my true identity or at least suspect it in some way, and know what my plans, in general, were.

“I thought we were going for speed run here,” he growled.

“We are!” I chirped, unreasonably pleased with myself.

“EssJay!” he snapped. “You just bought the thing that lets the genocidal alien menace know that we’re coming to kill them and free the Earth from them!”

“Yeah?” I asked, shrugging. “Good! They will know I encompass their doom!” I growled, no longer chipper. “Fifteen minutes Zane. How fast do you really think an alien race that has to resort to stealth conquest and recruiting collaborators really can get their collective asses into gear? Because I’m betting that the mobilization needed to fight us off is going to take them a whole lot longer than fifteen weeks, let alone minutes. Let’s kick this anthill!”

He considered, then asked, “Won’t their basic emergency planning slow us down a bit?”

“Really?” I replied, arching an eyebrow as I regarded him. “You’ve seen the movie. These Alien idiots got taken down by Rowdy Roddy Piper and some sunglasses. We could cakewalk this scenario and be home in time for tea without some conflict.”

“I’d actually seen it before. AJ and I caught it on cable in Buffyworld… and you’re mental.” He sighed. “But I guess you might have a point.”

“Yes… well… it’s true that I’m mental,” I said, waving a hand at all the figurines still decorating far too much of the warehouse. “But of course I have a point. It’s right at the tip of my nose.” I giggled and stuck my tongue out at him as he harrumphed at me.

With eight-hundred in the bank, I imported Zane for six of that. The Companion Import was silly expensive, but there wasn’t much else to buy, to be honest. Even worse than the outrageous cost, the imported companion was limited to whatever choice of background I had taken, so that made Zane a fellow Drifter… almost said fellow traveller, but while my group is remarkably communist, I don’t actually support communism. So that got him the ‘Situational Sharpness’, Bubblegum, and Sunglasses too, and he took the Brainwash-Proof as well (momma didn’t raise no dummy), and both of us picked up a useful little perk called ‘Hip Fire’ with our last two-hundred, which would allow us to aim with and fire rifles or similar weapons from hip level without sacrificing much, if any, accuracy. I mean… I’m a crack sniper and this meant that I could be a reasonably decent sniper firing a sniper rifle from my hip. The word you’re looking for is ‘Insanity’… also ‘Badass’.

So that was that, right? Well, not quite. The damned machine went down the moment that I locked in my build and it was 28 hours before Ahab and Joy could finalize theirs. What the hell was up with these glitches?! Anyway, speaking of the Lady and the Serpent, they came in as Human Elite, partly for the contacts, partly for the fact that Human Elite got not only ‘Incredible Wealth’ for free, but 100,000 dollars US as starting cash… but no bubblegum… poor them. Once again, I really wanted to throttle whoever had written a jump. Not only was the companion import stupid expensive, but that hundred k that Human Elite got? Yeah, it was an item called, I kid you not, ‘L.O.D.S.A.E.M.O.N.E’. Yes, missing the final period in addition to being a lame name. Why not just call it ‘Loads o’ Money’ if you wanted to be… never mind. To make matters so much stupider, it cost four-hundred Choice for anyone other than Human Elite, and was described as ‘a small fortune’ that automatically converted into the local currency. A hundred k hasn’t been a small fortune since 1916! That was the last time the dollar had the effective purchasing power of a late eighties million dollars. A small fortune in the year I left Origin Earth certainly wouldn’t be two hundred thousand dollars, which is, effectively, what a hundred thousand in 1988 dollars would be worth in 2015. If it seems like I’m being pedantic, maybe I am, but we were paying real Choice Points or at least sacrificing other options for an amount of money that was supposed to be a useful tool… not a marginally useful chunk of one time change. Still three yearly deposits to the group fund would be nice.

That said, I tried to request clarification… but the system went all buggy again and crashed for another three days. When it came back up, I tried again… and the system injected me straight into the Jump… or kind of.

The world went grey instead of black and there was a sound like the sky being ripped open by a badly tuned chainsaw while flights of peyote addled cherubs screamed the lyrics to every heavy metal song ever recorded through a running blender. As the sound spiked from hideously painful to so loud the atomic structure of my ears was in danger of spontaneous collapse into proto-matter, the world went greenish-orange, then I crashed, hard, into the ground… or rather, the Santa Monica Freeway.

I looked at my hands as I pried myself off the tarmac. I knew this body. I’d spent eleven months in it way back in my first century of jumping. I was back in an 80’s action movie for the first time and… I was back in the psyche of Lt. Sam Jones, LAPD, Retired. Five years had passed since I’d left Sam, who’d spent most of those years sitting on his porch and drinking beer and yelling at local gangbangers to get off his lawn.

That had lasted until a recent Earthquake had cracked the foundation of Sam’s house, causing a gas line break that had resulted in a massive fireball taking out the entire structure… and then the insurance company had found radon, and in trying to clean it up had uncovered an ancient Indian Burial ground, and so Sam had been rendered homeless as one thing after another kept his… my… home from being rebuilt. I was sixty-nine years old, and the intervening half decade had not made me any less grumpy.

I felt the full force of the drawbacks from the aborted and heavily glitched previous jump reasserting themselves, especially ‘Get Off My Lawn!’ which  had made me cranky as hell, all the time and locked my age at what it was. Twice in a row I was agelocked, just at different ends of the spectrum. Fun! And ‘One Riot, One Ranger’ meant that I had good reason to be grumpy, since I was always the one who got called when shit needed fixing. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but then again… 80’s action movies.

However, being in ‘They Live!’ meant that the third of my old drawbacks make sooo much more sense. ‘Suburban Hellhole’ had meant that the world was in a sorry state, with wars and crime rampant and guns everywhere and a steady rise in Big Brother type nonsense… not the lame TV show, the surveillance state. Of course, that too fit in entirely with the feel of John Carpenter’s weird little cult film.

Thankfully, with the negatives came positives. ‘Do You Feel Lucky’ (which boosted my intimidation factor while holding a gun, but didn’t work on non-punks, non-mooks, or non-civilians), ‘One Bullet Left’ (which gave me a final round in the chamber of any weapon once I ran out of bullets), ‘Beyond the Threshold’ (which made me sarcastic, as well as tougher and harder to kill, when being tortured), ‘Hidden Talent’ (which made me a skilled Sushi Chef), and ‘Old Age & Treachery’ (which kept me in peak physical condition no matter how old I got… which was good because I was immortal) all came roaring back in full force.

I’d lost them when the glitch that had sent me to Sam’s world instead of Bastion had been corrected… but now? Now I was rip-roaring ready to lay down the law as a grumpy, cranky, old fart. I even got my small duffle bag full of mundane tools for any one job. It was called ‘The Right Tools for the Job’, and the job could change from day to day.

When I’d been here before, my purchasing report had included a single incomprehensible line-item that had, apparently, cost eight-hundred Choice out of the 80s Action budget. There hadn’t been a description… but now there was one… once I managed to get back into the Warehouse to check the screen report. It was called ‘If it Bleeds’, and had nothing to do with the evening news. Rather than being ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ this was more in the nature of ‘if you can make it bleed, you can make it die!’

See, what it did was give me a truly unnatural talent for killing, the ability to kill things that normally didn’t, wouldn’t, or couldn’t die. It didn’t grant me any special weapons, nor any other skills, but what it meant was that, in theory, even things like gods and immortal beings would, for some reason, lose their immunity to death while in combat with me. If I could beat them in a fight, a reasonable fair and suitably epic fight at that, I could kill them. Permanently. I couldn’t just make a wish to do the deed. There had to be a huge struggle or some dramatic tension… without one of those, it was pretty much guaranteed that I’d messed up, and that I’d very soon have a very angry (and prepared) immortal after me, looking for a rematch and not holding back at all.

So, being Sam wasn’t all bad, but I was still cranky as sin and I might have taken it out on the aliens. Thirty-seven minutes. That’s how long it took. Thirty-seven dog-be-damned minutes. I wanted my god-damned money back! We took out the ‘Alien Threat’ in less time than the movie ran. ‘Sudden Realism’ or not, ‘They Know’ or not… Thirty-Seven Mother-spanking, Cheese-Eating Surrender-Monkey MINUTES! I didn’t know whether to be offended at how easy it had been or annoyed that I’d lost the bet!

I had Zane pull Black Jenny, with AJ in the Assault Shuttle and Petra, Francy, and RayRay in the three Orion fightercraft, out of the dock while I communed with the electron flow of LA with my friendly neighborhood technology. A broadcast of that order was going to be using and beaming a non-metric fuckton of energy. I isolated it, then painted it like a christmas tree, backing up the electron flow to the point where the building was practically giving off Cherenkov radiation and watching as the building simply… came apart at the seams under the quantum pressure. The forcefields my team had bracketing the building pretty much ensured that the only casualties were Aliens, their employees, and sympathizers. Yes, yes. I’m sure some were innocent, but this was a war for the fate of humanity and the planet earth. I would mourn the dead when the planet was safe from the conquering bastards.

We, meaning me and VIvian, isolated the other regional control broadcast centers one-by-one, using their unique (and standardized) broadcast signature, taking them out with precision power surges. They weren’t as hardened as the main LA base had been, and all I wanted to do was take down the illusion grid. It was important to leave behind some seriously terrified alien assholes and their human sympathizers along with the evidence of how they’d been doing whatever it had been that they were doing.

Alien ships started lifting off from all over the planet, but my comrades were up there in high orbit, blasting the skull-faced gits to kingdom come like some bizzaro inversion of space-invaders. Meanwhile the Bosses were capturing alien techs and storing them for interrogation.

“You realize we just took all the fun out of this?” Zane commented as he commed me once the initial exodus had been vaporized.

“Zane, old boy. I did no such thing,” I replied, glowering at him, “I added fun! I didn’t subtract it!”

He snorted, then asked, “Okay? How do you figure?”

“Look, the reality of the setting is that the movie took an hour and a half to cover the events of a week or so. Even assuming RRP wasn’t around to bring down the mess, we could scarcely do worse than half-rate rebels led by a day laborer. We were always going to take down the aliens in a month or two tops… unless we fucked off to the forest and went camping for a year. Now the real fun begins.”

“What fun?” he asked, brow furrowed.

“Society is about to collapse,” I said, half grinning. “There are going to be wars, there are going to be purges and witch trials and six kinds of fucked upness. That’s why I took ‘Sudden Realism’. I wanted the world to react like… well… like the entire planetary leadership and most of the corporations and celebrities were either alien or alien conspirators. And… if we’re incredibly lucky… the aliens will try and come back!” I bit the end of my cigarette off. “And we’ll make them get off our god damned LAWN!”

Spoiler Alert. They did come back. Double Spoiler Alert, cloaked mines. Boom. Triple Spoiler Alert… I reverse engineered their teleport watches. Interesting. Portal tech… fairly sophisticated. Doubted it would work in other universes, but I stored it back in the data-banks just in case, then we stepped through onto an Alien World. Did some sightseeing, checked out the local hotspots, met interesting people… and killed them. Did some readings of the night sky, leveled a few major cities, stepped back through the gate. They didn’t have FTL. They used gates… gates with relays. Relays linked with quantum entangled bits, FTL Coms, creating and linking portals. All of it spread from a central hub-world via nearly-light-speed drone-ships.

Good system… vulnerable as hell… and they used ion drives… nice… but no match for my assault shuttle, let alone the Jenny… I should write a book… ‘How to Bring Down a Trans-Stellar Colonial Empire in Four Easy Steps!’. I loved every minute of it… especially the loads of battles that went on for too damned long. Best Drawbacks ever!

Oh, and Earth? Soooo fucking messed up when we left! Seriously! Think Africa after the colonial powers pulled out… on a global scale. Inner me wanted to do something about it… but Joy pointed out, and rightly so, that these people had just come through an era of being told what to do by aliens. Outer me just wanted everyone to go fuck themselves. And we were, appearances aside, just more aliens.

So we left them to it. All the petty squabbling and bitchery… let them worry about it… it was their birthright after all. Though I did have Joy issue a firm blanket statement than anyone who tried to turn this into an excuse to conquer or commit genocide or other atrocities would find themselves and or their countries experiencing the full brunt of Big Sister’s wrath. Big Sister was my anti-alien defense grid, and while I wasn’t going to become the world leader pretend, but, at least for the next eight years and change, that Earth was under my protection… and that meant from enemies within and without.

Want to know the worst thing about ‘They Earth’? All the movies sucked… and there weren’t any good figmas… I checked. And no damned internet… even the videogames sucked… if I hadn’t been busy killing Skullhead Aliens and drinking too much, I might have gone stir crazy. Sure sure. I got a lot of tech-work done… but all work and no challenge? Not for me. I was seriously hoping that the next jump would be a bit more… substantive.

Next: West Wing Side Story

Resources: BuildDocument 1, Document 2

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World 30: A Certain Scientific Railgun

CHRONICLE ONE: SAGA OF THE JUMPER

JUMP 32: HACK THE GIBSON

Previously: Turn Turn Turnabout

Themesong: Mambo Italiano by Bette Midler

To be honest, I really didn’t feel like a party at the end of the Ex-Supernatural Jump. If anything, I felt like taking a very long nap. In fact, after a fairly somber going away fete, at which I mostly sat in a corner nursing a mug of mead, and at which there were fewer locals than I could recall outside of any jump save Bastion… I took to my bed and slept for about three days. After that, I moved to my lounge with a vat of chocolate chip fudge ripple ice-cream, a blanket, a Ziggy, and a stack of movies I hadn’t watched in a while. Most of my companions seemed to understand that I needed  a little time alone.

Most. On the seventh day, Kendra burst into my solitude and, letting the pseudo-sunlight into my cave, announced, “SJ… your crankiness has been rewarded.”

“Oh yeah?” I grumped, “How so? Have I been given the Jump-Chain Crankitude Magna Award for Pathetic Self Loathing?”

“No. You got beaten out by Spike,” she snarked, then sat on the coffee table and regarded me. I glowered back. She stole Ziggy and gave him tummy rubs as she said, “The next jump is Railgun.”

I blinked, resolutely not reaching for the fuzzbutt who was enjoying himself far too much, trying to gnaw her fingers. “Railgun…? As in pervy teleporter and frog obsessed electromaster?” I hazarded, not quite certain how I felt about that.

She mmmed, then nodded. “That would be the one, yes.”

“Excellent,” I said, trying to be enthusiastic. Raildex, as the setting was often called, is a mixed bag of slice of life and existential horror, of light cute comedic moments… and the merciless slaughter of ten thousand little girls for a single science experiment. I raised my fist, but only as far as the level of my ear and drawled, “Woooo… Madscience ho!” in a deadpan tone of voice.

Kendra shook her head. “No mad scientist option.” Clearly the machine had allowed my companions to look through the options when I hadn’t bothered with the thing after several days.

“Awww… that’s no fun,” I sighed, though I doubt I’d have taken it. The science of ‘A Certain Scientific Railgun’ (the flipside to ‘A Certain Magical Index’) was not only bonkers but unethical and extremely well funded. Of course, that was largely because the magical side (largely represented by the Roman Catholic Church) were fanatical sociopaths bent on subjugation of all humanity and annihilation of the heresy of scientific thought. Underlying the harem comedy of Index and the slice of life comedy of Railgun was a war of existential values in conflict. Mages versus Espers. Religion vs Science. Obedience vs Independence. Lack of Morals vs Lack of Ethics.

“Totally no fun,” Kendra agreed. “Background options are Drop-In, Student, Magical Spy, Experiment… all of them Espers… and you can’t use manna with Esper abilities in this world.”

“Huh?” I asked. I didn’t remember anything like that coming up in the anime… but I hadn’t really read the Manga. “Why not?”

She shrugged. “Causes a near fatal amount of pain, apparently.”

I straightened up, using my Vulcan Emotional Control to push away the worst of my funk. If I couldn’t be engaged, I could at least fake it. “Well… fuck,” I groused, then stood up, blanket still wrapped around my shoulders, “Have to see what’s limited and what isn’t. That better wear off after this jump ends; I have too much magic and psy already to deal with such a stupid limitation.”

I strode over to the machine, a half-eaten five gallon tub of ice-cream floating along behind me. Mmmm… hurray for all but limitless ability to pack away calories without suffering negatives. Taking a seat, I examined the four options and their discount options. Everyone started with an ID Card, a school to attend, an allowance, and an apartment to live in in the sprawling metropolis that was Academy City, Japan, location unspecified. 

Academy City was the most technologically advanced city on the planet, but not particularly futuristic… mostly a modern (and very clean) Japanese city with robotic street cleaners and police bots, plus a great many wind-turbines. It even had the normal collection of weird vending machines. It also had the highest per capita number of schools, students, and researchers. The entire city existed specifically and solely for the sake of education and study, and far more children and teens than usual lived largely unsupervised lives. And that included me, since the age range was ten to eighteen unless I wanted to actually pay to be older.

The notes on some of the Backgrounds made me laugh a little, which was good. I hadn’t laughed in too long… I wonder if that was because, as a God in the last jump, I’d deliberately cut myself off from worship. Anyway. Drop-In said ‘No Records, Blank Slate, No Pesky Memories.’ as if that was the upside to that background… then, in the next line, as if they were the downsides, ‘No Records, Blank Slate, No Useful Memories.’ Student was similar, with ‘Stable Life, Great Education, Easy Mode.’ and ‘Stable Life, Boring Education, Back to School.’

But if that was amusing, the notes on Spy and Experient weren’t nearly as humorous. Spy pointed out that, you know, you were a spy and that not only would the magic that you got access to by being a Spy hurt you, but if you got caught it wouldn’t go well for you.  Experiment pointed out that, as an orphan turned into a scientific study, you weren’t so much a person as an object of curiosity at best, a pet at worst to the city administration… one that would be kept on a tight leash. For the privilege of being either, I’d get to pay a hundred CP. Hell, being a Student would cost me fifty!

None of the Backgrounds called out to me particularly. Maybe that was my funk, maybe it was because they were all fundamentally unimpressive, but whatever it was, I didn’t have a strong reason to take any of them, which meant that it would come down to what perks were on offer… something I really didn’t like using as my metric. It came too damned close to powergaming. One should never structure one’s existence on maximal returns. Far better to do so based on what will make one happy. I suppose power makes some people happy, but it’s a hollow thing to me, interesting only in so far as it is useful to help others or amuse me.

Since every background entitled me to a single free Esper Ability (randomly selected from a list of eight-ish), that would sway me. The equipment section was full of exceptionally boring stuff like weapons, experimental tech, or a single magical text. Certainly nothing worth making a decision on. Which left the dozen perks on offer… very few of which seemed like they would be useful outside of this Jump.

Since the major cost would be in the capstones, that’s where I focused. I had very little interest in the Drop-In’s ‘Premonition Precog’, which was plot armor for fights. While, sure, being able to read an opponent’s involuntary actions and respond accordingly would be useful, the fact that the reading and judging would all happen on the unconscious / subconscious level made it less useful. Better for reaction times, certainly, but relying on something you can’t train to be better, something that happens beneath the level of thought is always risky. relying on it for your defenses is even more risky, because you won’t get any flags when you’re getting nothing… or (worse) getting misinformation. 

If PremPre was contraindicated, Spy’s ‘Magician’ was just suicidal. Knowledge of magic, ability to cast magic, good at teaching others magic, accomplished in one school of magic… to the point of being among the best at it and proficient at the others… all that was fine, if a bit vague, since magic was not well defined in the Raildex setting. The ‘gack’ moment came from the negative side effects. As an Esper, each time I used magic it would be life-threatening unless I used some hinted at obscure and sinister method to blend the two safely. No thanks. I like magic well enough, but nearly killing myself just to get magic and psi-powers out of a single jump would be foolish, especially since most of the magic in this setting was slow and ritual.

So that pretty much eliminated Drop-In and Spy… but I’d had a feeling it would. As for the other two, Experiment didn’t sound like a lot of fun… but Experiment’s capstone ‘Malleable Reality’ was straight up a freaking reality manipulation power! Seriously. Not only did it include an imagination booster (like to the point where I’d need to worry about being considered ‘eccentric’) it would allow me to easily manipulate my ‘Personal Reality’ which, in Railgun is not the expansion to the Warehouse, but is a term for what an individual believes to be real. Since Esper Powers worked literally however the individual Esper thought they worked (Yes, mind over physics! Woo!) this was important. Not only would Malleable Reality allow my powers (note that it didn’t say my Esper Powers) to grow twenty-five percent faster… they would no longer have to make logical sense. Literally, the more insane I became, the stronger my Esper Powers would grow… it could even allow me to use local magic and Esper Powers together by fucking with what, exactly, was taking the damage. Like, a stuffed parrot… or my enemy, or the air around me. Imagination was the key. Screw scientific accuracy. So that went a long way towards making Experiment a lot more attractive, in a batshit bonkers way.

But as tempting as being a crazy ass psyker might be, Student’s Capstone, ‘Hard Science’ was more traditionally attractive. It was the mundane version of Spy’s Magician. It came with a knowledge of Academy City’s science and technology to rival a scientist with a doctorate and several years of experience under her belt, a solid intelligence / critical thinking / emotional control boost, and a doctorate’s worth of regular (real world) scientific knowledge in the discipline of my choice. Still, that wasn’t worth six medium (Large is a thousand, so medium would be a hundred, right?). What gave ‘Hard Science’ its value was the fact that, in addition to making me a dab hand at crafting powered armor and recoiless rifles, it would give me intimate knowledge of the creation and development of Esper Powers in others. It even promised that, given enough time, I might be able to figure out how to eliminate the random factor and actually give anyone any power I wanted to… well, any Esper Power. Getting other Espers to reach their maximum potential would be child’s play.

MalReal would make a powerful Esper, HarSci would make me an expert in Esper Skills and Training. I had to have them both… but either would eat effectively my entire budget.

That meant it would all come down to the freebies… as so much of life does. Experiments got ‘Formal Training’, and a discount on ‘Doubled Growth Rate’, which would be great if they were blanket effects, but DGR was specifically limited to Esper Powers, while FT was mostly about applying powers in novel ways… which MalReal pretty much already covered, and I wasn’t certain if it would apply to anything else besides Esper powers, and without a continuation of ability, they’d be wasted Choice Points.

By comparison, Students got ‘Slice of Life’, which makes things in general more cheerful and bright… not a bad thing in this fucked up setting, and a discount on ‘Motivated’ (as if I needed more of that). It wasn’t much of an improvement, and I wasn’t sure Slice of Life would carry over to other jumps, but after the messed up crap of the last couple jumps, I could use a little Slice. Plus, being an Experiment would put the Mad Scientists of Academy City inside my brain… just where they shouldn’t be.

So, I paid the fifty choice to be a Student and to set the jump on Easy Mode; trust me, the dark side of the Raildex universe could be fairly grimdark and wasn’t what I wanted out of my time in this world. The machine vended my I.D., and set my school to Tokiwadai Academy (the best junior high in the city for young ladies)… because I am teh awesomeness that is me. Woo! It also vended a receipt saying that 50,000 Yen had been loaded onto my card… apparently they did double duty as debit cards. There was also a key to my mailbox and a passcode for the door to my apartment building. Double Woo! That’s my catchphrase, by the way, my thing that can mean anything to my allies. Woo. It’s all in the inflection.

That settled, it was time to find out how old I’d be and what Esper Power I’d be saddled with. I rolled the bones and got… eleven… and ‘Meltdowner’. Christ, an 11 year old mega genius with Meltdowner? Meltdowner, aka Particle Waveform High-Speed Cannon or Atomic Destruction, was effectively Electron Waveform Manipulation and the answer to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty… How can you know an electron’s location and vector… when it’s locked in place by an Esper. By controlling electrons in the state when they were both particle and wave, Meltdowner could be forced to function as neither as needed, making it highly versatile. Not only could Meltdowner essentially play merry hob with Uncertainty, its primary utility was in firing beams of electrons that could punch right through armor by ignoring any outside attempt to change their velocity. It could also be used to create protective fields that disintegrated anything that came in contact with the shield… or to turn the user into a living rocket. Oh… christ on a crutch… I was a walking bomb.

I considered buying something else from the list… except I already was a Telepathic, Telekinetic, Teleporting, Pyrokinetic, Electromaster. Of the eight abilities on the list, I already had five of them and didn’t want one. Imagine Breaker was a no-go because it sucked and absolutely killed other abilities as well as the user’s luck. It was the ability / curse of the main character of the Index side of the story, and it cancelled all blessings on him, and allowed him to nerf any magic or psi-power aimed at him… as long as he could get his left hand in the way. Didn’t work so well on indirect effects like explosions or non-magical swords. That left two options, and between Clairvoyance and Meltdowner, I guess I’d rather have Meltdowner… though I hardly needed another way to blow people up. I casually juggled grenades, had eye-beams, breathed fire, knew magic, and was a damned good sniper.

So I stuck with the free option, even though the PWHCannon could be stopped with an energy shield or massively thick / strong armor  beyond what could be made with the RailDex tech level and was incapable of rapid-fire or area saturation. Regardless of the limitations, it was the most destructive Esper ability hands down, and could be made dramatically worse if I removed the mental limiters preventing me from damaging or killing myself. The canon Meltdowner accidentally blew off her own arm by pushing herself too far. She was also resilient enough to survive being shot many times without significant injury, but that might not have been part of Meltdowner… and it wasn’t as if I needed it to make me functionally bulletproof, though I’d take the durability boost if it was free.

Speaking of free stuff, being a Student got me a free set of ‘Micromanipulators’, rather delicate gloves reinforced with tiny motors and electrically contracting artificial muscles designed to allow one to perform delicate work on the scale of one micrometer. While definitely more suited to scientific experiments, they could be put to use in any situation that required steady hands… like aiming a rifle, conducting brain surgery, cooking, defusing a bomb, or even bypassing some redirection or shielding abilities. Or working on miniatures. Sure, I could hold a mini in place with TK, but the TK field often did annoying things to paint. I’d never actually thought of using micromanipulators for the purpose… but they should work pretty well. I’d have to try. You know; for SCIENCE!

Student also got me the aforementioned ‘Slice of Life’ perk, meaning that my daily life would unfold like a light and fluffy anime. In theory, the perk wouldn’t really do much and I probably wouldn’t notice the difference., but it was guaranteed that my life would become a generally more upbeat, cheerful, and enjoyable that circumstances might otherwise suggest they should be. People would be much nicer to me than they otherwise would have been, and I’d be able to get away with most minor wrongdoings, with no lasting consequences even for some severe transgressions. It should help me be able to live in the present without being bogged down by my past and enjoy my life without getting wrapped up in conflict as long as I didn’t go looking for it. It would even help me look on the bright side of life, regardless of the situation, even in the face of an invasion, my impending execution, or even the approach of… dundundun… finals! With Slice of Life, I’d be less likely to take small but important things for granted and something like a sweet dessert will never fail to put a smile on my face.

I was tempted to turn down SoL, to be honest. I almost seemed too relaxed for me, but I gave it some thought and, after much soul searching, decided that maybe I’d been too high stress for too long. Slice of Life didn’t enforce happy fun times. I could still get involved with the plot when I wanted to… but, by and large, such involvement would be on my own terms. That, I could use. In fact, SoL was, upon further reflection, one of the more powerful perks I’d ever been given for free.

Still, accepting it or not, I was up against the CP fence and needed to secure a loan before I spent any more. Two of the three high value Drawbacks were… let’s say contraindicated. ‘Memory Loss’ didn’t sound fun at all and the so-called ‘Keikaku Keystone’, was just yerg. I very much didn’t want to be a vital part in Aleister ‘I secretly rule Academy City’ Crowley’s plans, nor did I look forward to repeatedly being sent to the hospital by rampaging criminals, belligerent espers, or psychotic magicians… if not the morgue. That said, the last, ‘Permanent Loli’ was imminently doable. Clearly, it would be a bummer losing most of my physical strength, but if I was using it on this jump, clearly something had gone wrong. Having my sex-drive killed for a decade might have been a problem… but my age roll made me eleven years old. That would have killed any sex drive for at least a third of the jump, then made me a hormonal mess for another third before making me an overly horny teen for the last third.

Really, having no sex drive and gaining a renewed love for footy pyjamas and bedtime stories sounded like a deal. That I also got three-hundred extra CP for this privilege seemed gratuitous, but I wasn’t going to examine that equine’s teeth too closely. I also took ‘Obsessive Esper’ for another hundred to give myself an obsession. Might as well be a slightly insane Slice of Life permaloli… yes, why thank you, I would like a cookie. Mmm… chocolate chunk. Yes, the machine vended me a cookie for taking ‘Loli’. Yay! I checked Obsessive, but it didn’t have a pulldown menu, so I just typed ‘Bishoujo Figurines’ into the box for exactly what I was obsessed with. I figured that I’d run with the miniatures theme, although Figmas and Nendoroids are bigger than minis. If you have the space to be using thirteen centimeter tall figurines as minis, you have altogether too much money. Thankfully, I had a giant ass warehouse; I could afford a few dozen extra models.

Back in the flush with my brand shiny new four-fifty Choice balance,  I scoop up the last of Student’s Skill Tree, ‘Motivated’, for a hundred and fifty, making me much more motivated than before. It meant I’d find it even easier to dedicate myself to things and self-discipline would no longer be an issue (I have ADHD like you wouldn’t believe and even Vulcan level restraint doesn’t always help. Thankfully, I’m really really smart, and have a perfect memory, so I tend to get things done eventually, and usually in much less time than others… once you remove all the interruptions and tangents and procrastination).

Motivated even guaranteed that I’d rediscover my love of learning (I lost it? No, but seriously, I’ve gotten to the point where I know so much that sometimes it’s hard to remember there is stuff I don’t know). Being able and willing to spend weeks studying a subject, stopping only to eat and sleep would certainly help fill in the gaps in my knowledge, and the fact that the perk came with godly research skills and a near-guarantee that I’d ‘almost always’ seem to find information the information I’m looking for as long as I searched hard enough… very nice! Especially at the price.

It also came with a perfect memory, which I already had… but this perfect memory was paired with a highly efficient memory indexing system… which I definitely didn’t have. Imagine having a memory that stretched across millenia, and having entire lifetimes worth of stuff you had trouble bringing to the fore simply because it was stuffed in the equivalent of a mislabeled mental filing cabinet. With ‘Motivated’ and enough time slash effort, almost anything would be within my grasp. If Hermione could see me now.

I plunked down another hundred for the ‘MSR-001’ sniper rifle. I can hear you out there, gasping in horror. “Essjay!” I hear you saying, “Why are you wasting precious CP on a gun? You have guns! Guns galore! Why do you need this one?” Well, oh hypothetical readers of my private commentaries… because! No seriously, this was an utterly recoilless, utterly silent sniper-grade coilgun. One would keep such features even when upgraded (or fused via importation). It was also capable of being disassembled and carried in an attache case… not that I’d need it, since I promptly fused it with Soul of Ice’s gun form (formerly called Shelob’s Bane, an Elfin Elemental Mithril Protonic Rifle). How one silenced a proton-beam was anyone’s guess, but I had it now. Thank’s Jump-Chain!

Which left me with two-hundred to spend on Companion Imports, one for Zane and one for Velma… she could use a treat. Joy and Ahab import for free, so that’s a squad of 5. Mentally, I cursed the designer of this particular jump. Each companion cost a hundred Choice… fair enough I guess, considering the power of the ‘free’ Esper ability… except not only did that price not come with a background, marking this as the only time I could think of that the auto-importers got more than the paid-importers, but then the writer has to go and say ‘This can be bought up to sixteen times’. Greaaaat.

To do that, I’d have to buy nothing, not even a background other than Drop-In for myself (the cheapest perk for Drop-ins, True Grit, wasn’t free for them, only discounted) which would get me the Esper Power and the Media Collection… then take two of the three-hundred Choice Drawbacks, since the only way to get sixteen-hundred Choice was to make both of the allowed Drawback slots be top value. Oh, and the color-scheme for the screens was annoying as hellp. White on orange… with very thin letters. A plague upon the Jump Builder’s House! It wasn’t a bad jump… just with wonky pricing  (like one item that cost 1601 CP) and formatting. Personally, I’d have made the power section larger — I know there were more than eight powers in the series — make the companion ‘immigration’ as they call it cheaper and give more, and remove the prices for the various backgrounds. But that’s me, and if I had to choose between being a Builder and a Jumper? I’d take Jumper every day and thrice on Saturday. But seriously… Accelerator, Dark Matter, and Mental Out, three of the five top tier powers in the series? Not on offer in the jump!

While I looked over the Media Collection, which included every single piece of To Aru (A Certain X) Merch ever… books, games, toys, comics, DVDs… even the frog commander that Railgun Girl is obsessed with), that we had thanks to Joy’s going Drop-In, the others stepped up and began rolling for their power. 

Zane rolled the same as I did, which I guess made us the Twin Cannons (though thanks to my purchases I’ve got more potential than he does… poor boy). Exactly what a Level Four Meltdowner would be like, I had no idea. The Canon Meltdowner was one of Academy City’s five Level Five Espers, the last being Railgun herself (the previous three I mentioned above). 

Velma ended up with Teleporter. Woo… as long as she doesn’t go full perv, it’s probably okay… not that I don’t totally love the adorkableness that is Kuroko the tweenage lesbian. Teleporter does have the potential to be a Level Five power (Asport/Remote Emission), but Velma’s only guaranteed the potential for Level Four, which is the same as Kuroko, though Velma could develop along any of the four known variations (Kuroko’s Spatial Movement which is well-rounded, Awaki’s Move Point which moves distant objects from point to point, Saraku’s Kill Point which teleports the user behind other people, or the theoretical Mass Teleport which can move several objects at a time. Asport has line of sight range and can do any of those.)… or even develop her own variation. Teleporter is a great example of just how bonkers Esper powers are in this setting. In canon, the theory is that Teleportation requires mental calculation in not three but eleven dimensions. Level Four Tport is needed to teleport oneself… and there were, before Velma… or Red Popper as she’s decided to codename herself… only fifty-eight Teleporters in the entire Esper Population, of which only nineteen could teleport themselves.

Ahab decided to go Spy, netting him the perk ‘Darksider’, which, being a complete knowledge of the underside of Academy City, would be useful this jump, but not any other… as well as a totally screwed up ‘Vending Machine’ that apparently dispenses disgusting experimental juices but also serves as a source of income. As for his power, he rolled Pyrokinesis, which does exactly what it says on the tin… if he reaches his full potential, he’ll be the only known Level Four pyro that isn’t a reanimated corpse (yes, that’s a thing. The Asporter mentioned previously was also a reanimated corpse… I said this shit gets pretty dark, especially in the Accelerator story arc).

Joy went Drop-in, entirely to get the free media collection, not caring that she wouldn’t be getting ‘True Grit’. A willpower buff is scarcely something the scary lady needs. Having the complete media collection would help immensely, as my knowledge of the setting came almost entirely from watching the first seasons of Railgun and Index, and reading several articles about the various characters. Joy’s power roll nabbed her Telekinesis, a subset of Psychokinesis… which was, by far, the most common Esper ability. In fact, it was so common they had standard system scan data for it, along with the four most common forms of ESP – Precognition, Psychometry, Telepathy, and Clairvoyance. Still, TK is loads of fun, with lots of flexibility. Fun Fun Fun til daddy takes the T-Bird Away.

Thankfully, although none of them got any CP to spend, they all got the basics; an I.D., a School to go to, a weekly stipend, and an apartment to live in. Which I guess is good, because that means I don’t have to shack up with all of them… though Zane and I did pool our apartment to make a bigger one… not that two eleven year olds need that big of a place. Eleven year olds are practically hobbits, right?

INSERTION

Do you know what ten years of slice of life shenanigans are like? Especially in Academy City? Let me set this up for you… massive japanese city, full of Espers and mad scientists and secret conspiracies. Full of plots, gangs, racism, classism, anti-magic sentiment, experiments that leave 10,000 clones of a thirteen year-old girl murdered, networked minds to make a computing collective, experiments that result in the deaths of dozens and the permanent coma states of a dozen more little kids. Imagine Hogwarts, except city sized and even laxer about morals, ethics, and personal safety. Having Slice of Life in this place is like… Hogan’s Heroes but somehow stranger and less funny than inept Nazis. 

Spending a decade obsessed with Figmas (and when I say Figmas, don’t assume I’m limiting myself to only that brand. For some reason, Eternal Loli EssJay got it into her head that all Bishoujo Figurines were Figmas… even if they were of Shonen or Bishonen characters) was interesting, but weird. Spending a decade with no sex drive was… just weird. Zane got caught up in that, poor kid. Apparently me calling us ‘The Twin Cannons’ really did make us twins again, and he was just as stuck in ageless limbo as I was. And the city’s PTBs used us to their advantage. Invasion? Call the Twin Cannons. Meteor? Call the Twin Cannons. Aleister Crowley has a hangnail? Call the Twin Cannons. Yes, that was a thing that Happened… twice.

Also learned that Hogwarts Magic, Buffy Sorcery, FF7 Materia, and Fairy Tail Spells are all ‘Magic’ for the sake of this world, as were my eye-beams and shapeshifting… But Bending and RWBY Aura? Not so much. And my divine powers… not at all. So… huh. Then again, the pain only hurt for a short time until I regenerated. Still, the pain was cerebral, so… ouchie.

My goals for the jump was to eat lots of candy, watch lots of anime, and Railgun duel against Misaka (the titular Railgun). Of course, I couldn’t Esper a Railgun, but I could Bend one. There was almost certainly a way to use my Meltdowner power to boost my Railgunning, but I hadn’t found it yet. Okay, those were my SoL goals. Of course, there were one major and many minor issues that needed to be addressed in order for me to feel at all sanguine about such goofing off… not the least of which was the pending murder of 10,000+ little girls… and if they survived, their use as an antenna array as part of a plan to destroy all mages.

That gave me a hitlist… with Crowley at the top, but at least two members of the Kihara clan as well… Therestina and her grandfather Ginsei… two of Academy City’s biggest power-mad mad-doctors. It was something of a race against time in all three cases. I also decided to help one Dr. Kiyama, who, sure, was a bit of a mad scientist, and not above using people, but had (arguably) good reasons.

Finding Therestina and Dr. Kiyama was easy. Both were relatively public figures. Therestina, I decided, needed a special lesson in only the way the Jumpchain could prepare it… so I had Joy and Ahab snatch her up and put her into a cryopod. I wasn’t sure where I’d drop her… but eventually I’d end up in a horror or zombie or deathworld jump… and when I did… she’d find herself there… for as long as she lasted. We slapped a ‘Do not Wake Until Doomsday’ seal on her pod… after I drew in marker on her face.

Dr. Kiyama felt a moral need to wake her former students, rendered comatose by attempts to boost their power levels (overseen by Therestina). I helped her by… wait for it… waking her former students. The central problem she was having was that any attempt by one of them to wake up would be suppressed by the others, subconsciously of course. The solution lay in a red crystal known alternatively as ‘First Sample’, ‘Ability Body Crystal’, and ‘Crystallized Esper Essence’. Why are so many mcguffin substances red? I’m looking at you Star Trek! And you Alias! And you Full Metal Alchemist! Regardless of the name (or color), Therestina had known the location and what she knew, I knew.

She also knew a really good bakery, which took a few hours out of the plan… but we got Kiyama her crystal, she turned over all her data on Level-Upper (a combination Esper Power increaser, coma inducer, and networked subconsciousness generator), and then she read me a story. She’s nice… if a little deranged. We also had eclairs… mmmm… yummy1

Gensei was harder to find, but Ahab and Joy are very very good at their jobs, and they located and brought him before the Figma Throne (it’s a throne made of crystalline boxes that each have a perfectly preserved Figmas (really figFIXs mostly, since the joy of Figmas is posing them with their flexible joints, and figFIXs you can’t do that with) inside them, but with padding on the arms and seat to make it comfy. It is awesome.). I searched the old man’s memories, looking for a scrap of remorse. I found none. He honestly believed that everything he’d done had been justified and that there had been no victims of his experiments.

There’s a funny thing about blackmail. You can use the information gathered to gain money from the perpetrator… or you can use it to find every living person connected with the perpetrator’s victims. And if you are a high power telepath with the ability to mentally record psychic impressions… you can save quite a lot of pain and suffering… and then make a present of all of it to an old man who had spent his life inflicting it. I’d learned quite a bit about aware comas… I put him inside one and then unleashed all that darkness into his still conscious mind. The life support systems of my medbay’s long term care module should serve him well for the remainder of my time in this world. Then, he too would join his granddaughter in cryo until I found a world bad enough to drop them there.

Unfortunately, I learned that the Accelerator-kills-lots-and-lots-of-Misaka-clones process had begun several years ago… something I should have figured, and that he was going through them at the rate of about tens a day, give or take. He’d already gotten into the mid nine-thousands. With that depressing news, I became a little conflicted. Did I take out Accelerator, if it meant only saving a couple hundred of the clones instead of thousands… On one hand, it would save hundreds of lives… but would also mean the others had died for no reason. Killing Accelerator would only prohibit his heel-face turn and if the clone known as ‘Last Order’ could forgive him (and through her the rest of the Sister Network), I could do the same. That didn’t mean, however, that I was going to let him kill the others. I’d stop him… somehow.

That somehow was a third Kihara… Amata, who just got a bullet to the brain, after I stripped out the knowledge of how to get through Accelerator’s guard. That’s what you do with mad dogs. You shoot them. Of course, I couldn’t kill all the Kiharas… Well, I could, there were only about five-thousand of the bastards… but they weren’t just a bloodline, they were some kind of self replicating quasi-mystical meme. One became a Kihara by being intelligent and having both too high a regard for science and too little regard for human life. Essentially it was a Mengele reproduction process… Wiping it out would require more mojo than I could deal with… but I could try and minimize the condition.

I went on the assumption that it was either a contagion or a form of possession. Thus, I tattooed myself and my companions… and even Dr. Kiyama with invisible ink since she seemed susceptible… with anti-possession tattoos. I also gathered blood samples from as many Kihara’s as I could… and tried spirit bending on a couple of the minor members of the family.

It was interesting (and a little frustrating) being in a city where my pet AI couldn’t scythe through the local information systems unchallenged. The Academy had ‘Tree Diagram’ as its central processing unit, something that wasn’t close to VIvian’s pure data storage capacity, but could come close to rivalling her in processing power, with some very interesting predictive properties. But that made finding Mr. Crowley difficult, even though I’d been to his sanctum several times.

To get to Crowley, I had to find Dr. Frog Face, also known as Heaven Canceller, a Biopathic Esper. If anyone knew how to find Crowley, it would be the man keeping him alive. I also found Accelerator’s location from Frog-Sensei… and we had cocoa! It had little marshmallows. I liked being in stealth mode… I had bunny ears on my stealth suit.

Once I knew Accelerator’s weakness, though… I had to laugh. It was painfully simple, at least in theory. His power, Redirect, worked by controlling vectors. Any vector, even a passive one. That meant that any blow that had its vector change just before it hit him would get through his defenses… or attacks that had no vectors. Knowing that, it was relatively simple to build a drone device to administer a tranquilizer dart that had a retrorocket that would fire a moment before impact, changing the dart’s vector, but not enough to keep if from administering its dosage. My backup was even sneakier, it was a clown-adorned skin patch that was fired from a gun in such a way that it would arrive at Accelerator’s skin with functionally zero vector, and then adhere simply through the static-osmotic action of the glue.  

The second wasn’t needed… which is good, because there were a damned lot of variables for it, but albino boy went down for a napnap and I went inside his head to plant a mental block against actually killing the remaining clones. Yes, he could beat them up, but only until they were unconscious. He’d have to strategically limit himself. I even made sure it would seem as if it were his own idea, a way to Level Up faster by making the fights deliberately harder. I supplied him with many tracker tags to place one to a clone, though he’d have no conscious memory of the tags, my instructions, or of being knocked out. The tags would transport (a variation of Star Trek Tech) any grievously injured Misaka-sister into the ever growing racks of stasis pods that were filling containers in my warehouse. No idea when I’d need to cryo six-hundred people, but I’d have the capacity.

With the survival of the remaining Misakas mostly guaranteed, that just left Crowley. But before I confronted Crowley, I had to take out his major driving force, the reason why the Science Side was obsessed with creating a Level 6 Esper as fast as possible… namely, the leadership of the Magic Side… who were just as bug nuts fucked in the head as the mad scientists. Topping my list were members of the pope’s inner council, ‘God’s Right Seat’ Primarily Vento of the Front (since I’d taken out her Kihara counterpart) a woman who referred to non-catholics as Heathen Monkeys (I like Monkeys, they’re silly) and Terra of the Left who actively considered non-Catholics to be subhuman. The other two were redeemable… though biased as hell.

But… before I could do anything about any of the magic folk… I had to find a way to block the most telltale sign of who and what I (and imported my companions) were. Espers in A Certain World generate AIM Fields (An Involuntary Mechanism) which was shaped by the Esper’s Personal Reality. Invisible it might be to humans… but special machines could view it… and I’d be a fool to assume that the innermost layers of the Magic Community would lack a way to sense their primary enemy’s largest tell. And shutting down my AIM field should, in theory, allow me to use magic… and in the field of magic I was, I was fairly certain, a match for anyone on this plane of existence.

The device to detect AIM fields wasn’t hard to steal, once my spies located the lab making it. Having stolen, replicated, and replaced the machine and the research data that had been used to create it, I set to tinkering. It took me three weeks… It would have taken two, but they released a new line of Gashapon figurines that I had to hunt down all ninety-six variants of the eighteen waifus… I had to build a device that allowed me to scan the random Gashapon boxes to see what was in them to detect variations. Sure sure, I could have bought all the boxes, but that would have been silly. Stupid randomization. I had a set up in the apartment for cleaning them and my micromanipulators allowed me to build them inside a nitrogen environment box and then seal them inside lexan cubes for display. Figmas is serious business… Good thing we have limitless sammich material… extra funds for Figmas. Plus the local gangs are nice and enjoy contributing to my Figma Fund… AJ and Francy said so. I haven’t met any of their members… I wonder if they’re shy?

Anyway, with my FRED (Friendly Rabbit Esper-Suppression Device) ready, I sent agents into mage held lands to locate my targets, while I wrote my speeches… I had to have speeches, didn’t I?! Writing them was fun! I got to lay in bed with my bunny slippers on and Ziggy acting as a pillow and we dictated the whole thing to my Bear-recorder… it’s a recorder shaped like a bear. “You know… in another world, I erased your God.” That was a good line. When I finally confronted Terra of the Left with it, it made him sooooo cross.

Of course, the fact that I also claimed to be the Antichrist might have had something to do with it. I did him a favor though… I nailed him to a cross. He didn’t seem grateful though, so I summoned Ifrit and hit him with fire until he stopped complaining. Some people. If you don’t think he deserved it, you haven’t seen his wardrobe… or inside his mind… ewww. His power is called ‘Execution of Light’. It forms a guillotine blade out of flour using the power of transubstantiation. He has used it very very many times. Really, I was doing him a mercy. Also, making certain that his soul was ready for the hot place where they don’t have cute bunny slippers or cocoa. He was easy to deal with.

Vento of the Front however was another kettle of fish entirely. Her magic ‘Divine Punishment’ required only hostile will towards Vento and worked at any range. As such, I had to consciously suppress all hostile intent towards her… a relatively easy task as I saw her more as a problem to be solved than as someone to be destroyed. Thankfully, as a Trickster, I could send homunculi against her that had no intent or emotions nor need for oxygen.

Still, I had to wait until she opened her mouth in my presence to get at her weakness. I can’t ever express just how useful the ability to slow time is. Sure, my movements may be hampered a little as well, but watching the rest of the world flow by at 1/10th its normal speed is incredibly useful… especially when your opponent’s power resides in a cross attached to a tongue stud. She made a great deal of scream type noises when I Expelliarmus’d it from her face.

Then, while she was gurgling, I gave her the speech I’d prepared for her. “Heathen Monkeys? We were here long before your bastard of a saviour got himself nailed to a cross. We’ll be here long after the last of you papists gives up the ghost… I made a joke there, did you like it? You like the bible, let’s get biblical. I shall not suffer a witch to live.” Then I shut down all her higher brain functions… just as she’d done to countless others. “Divine Judgement that, bitch!” I told her… then I had to put 100 yen in the swear jar.

I also stole from her the location of the sphere that powered the Queen of the Adriatic Sea… if anyone should have a fleet of giant Ice Ships, it should be me. Finding a place for a seven meter sphere of magical ice isn’t easy. I’d have to heavily reprogram the damned thing… it was built to destroy Venice, had failsafes built in, and was powered by human sacrifice, because christians. But if anyone can reprogram a giant magical ice relic, I’d be the one. Until then, it can stay in the ice-cream locker. We have a lot of ice-cream.

That left me with two. Finding Fiamma of the Right wasn’t hard, bonkers git that he was. I had no intention of killing the head of God’S Right Seat, even if World War III would have been his fault. Instead, I simply snuck up behind him and whispered these words, “Saving the world isn’t important if the people aren’t saved. Caring for one another was Christ’s message, not vengeance. You have forgotten that.” And I teleported away before he could turn around. If you’re wondering why? Well, after the war he did have a Heel-Face Turn and dedicate himself to protecting them world… and he was kinda important in case Magic God Othinus showed up even with the war not happening. I didn’t even bother with the mostly mercenary but fairly ethical Acqua of the Back… he had a stupid enough name that anything I did to him would just be mean.

My Italian Vacation took two weeks. It was very hectic… and Italy doesn’t have any good Figmas… but I got a statue of a lady with wings and a sword standing on a snake guy’s head and a pair of little bronze David’s from the Vatican Vault… I might have forgotten to pay for them… but then again, there weren’t any price tags.

Back in Academy city, I had to make up the assignments I’d skipped… yes I has PhD but they still made me go to school. Big meanie doodoo-heads. Like anyone neeeeeds to know history or… or geography or… or… how to play the piano. And so what if I draw smiley faces on my calligraphy homework?

The problem with getting to Crowley was just how insanely (and justifiably) paranoid he was. Of course, he didn’t count on someone with extra universal knowledge and undetectable telepathic skills. There wasn’t any way to judge, of course, but it was likely I was a Rank 6 Telepath, though my TP didn’t need an AIM field… or at least a very strong Rank 5. I’d had a lot of practice over centuries… I was, at the very least, the equal of Mental Out (the fifth ranked of the seven canonical Level Five’s of Academy City, aka Shokuhou Misaki or ‘The Queen Bee’) though I was significantly more subtle… then again, she was in middle school and I’d had centuries at this game. She also used her abilities for direct control, while I used them for deep scans, domination, and neural… tweaking. I’d taken care of her as soon as I’d located her, tranquing her and then deep diving to put a block in her mind that kept her from even trying to influence me or Zane. 

Still, what this meant was that I knew how to find at least one person who knew how to get to Crowley… the teleporter Musujime Awaki… I may have mentioned her earlier… and from her mind I was able to find others who’d been into the inner sanctum and read them as well. Still, it wasn’t enough. There had to be wards inside the building to keep what I was about to do from happening. So I did the most insane thing I’d ever done… I had Musujime teleport me and Big Piggy… that would be a five-hundred megaton pulse atomic metamagically amplified and shielded bomb… painted like Ryoga… into the inner sanctum, having preemptively erased her memory of having done so.

“Before you consider siccing your security on me… I’m just here to talk. This is a bomb. I know your building can take a blast from a normal nuke… in theory, from the outside… but this is inside. I’ll take it with me when I go,” I was not talking in my normal voice. In fact, the voice I was talking in sounded like nothing a human voice-box could create and my eyes were burning… literally, as in the fire was hot enough to inflict third-degree burns on the flesh around them. It was not an illusion and it hurt a lot, even if it wouldn’t do any permanent damage thanks to my regen.  I also poured out a strange draconic aura, redolent with magic and lacking my normal Esper signature, doing my best to appear possessed. “You are the Magician Aleister Crowley. I knew you in another time and place, though you look different in this incarnation.” It was trueish… there had been a Crowley in Supernatural. “The questions is… are you different. My apologies for hijacking one of your students, but I needed a vessel… and she’d built such a nice bomb it would be a shame not to use it.”

“Who are you, demon?” the Hanged-Man asked. 

“I am Marduk of the Fifty Names,” I bragged. “I am Alpha and Omega. I am the Inbetweener. Do you think I’d be so foolish as to give The Crowley my true name? I am the God of a Civilization both dead and thriving. I am she who erased the gods. You can call me… Wintermute… And I would ask you a question, oh prideful man.”

“Ask then!” commanded the upside down mage inside his cylinder full of red liquid. See! RED!

“Why should I not erase you from existence?” I asked, voice thundering off the walls and projected into the spirit realm.

“As if you could,” he scoffed, but I could sense legitimate fear within him, but it was overwhelmed by growing anger and hubristic pride.

“Be not prideful,” I chided. “I tell you in all honesty that I have erased gods and angels and demons in my time. I level no causal threat here. You have allowed abomination and horror to thrive inside your Scientific Faction, all to gain the upper hand against the Magical Faction. You have done all this to win a war instead of trying to use your knowledge for the betterment of all humankind! I see no reason to allow you to be the caretaker of Humanity’s future. I’ve already removed two of the four directions for their crimes… and three of your Kihara’s for even worse acts… as well as many of those… monsters who participated in the deaths of so many children. So tell me, Magician? What shining world would you build up with such a disgusting, such a depraved foundation?” as I spoke, my voice dropped further and further into spiritual subharmonies and further away from sounds mortal ears could hear.

“My enemies would do so much worse!” the unreasonably youthful man said, eyes shining with zeal. “They stand in the way of progress and preach litanies of oppression and fear of cosmic punishment!” His tone was light, as if he found the entire process amusing.

“Yeah, yeah. That old saw. If they yell Deus Vult enough, that justifies whatever you do?”

“They serve a tyrant and fool of a god and must be… as you said… erased,” he laughed, as if the idea amused him.

“They protected knowledge for centuries. For time past knowing, religion and science worked hand in glove. This growing schism between the spiritual and the material is good for neither. All Magic must work on fundamental principles, just as Espers do.” I stamped my tiny widdle foot, and spiderwebs fragmented the smooth marble of the chamber floor.

“My plans-” he began.

“Your plans are the machinations of a tyrant and fool!” I roared, throwing his words back at him, the fire from my eyes towering to pillars three meters tall. “You have become a god in your own private world, divorced from the world you claim to rule, served by angels and ghosts.”

“And you would have struck by now if you thought you could take me out,” he accused, smug in his own power.

“No. I could take you out with a thought. I do not strike because I do not know if that would give too much advantage to those other lunatics. I am not asking you to cease your fight against the Church… I am asking you to open your doors and arms to other elements of the magical world… for the betterment of humanity. Or I can erase you and hope your replacement is more interested in coexistence. Oh… and stop fucking allowing psychopaths like the Kihara’s to act without controls or oversight. Do that, and I might be reasonable. Don’t do that… and I’ll be back. Tell Aiwass and Kazakiri I said hi.” I said, grinning.

And with that, I tapped the floor and Big Piggy sank out of reality as the warehouse absorbed it. I switched my magic off and my Esperism back on, wobbling as The Palace of my Mind went into Lockdown Mode, leaving only this persona and my core nature as everything besides the ‘Foyer’ became inaccessible. I blinked up at the upside down man, having no conscious memory of who he was or where I was. My eyes were already healing at their normal insanely fast rate.

“Why are you upside down, Mister?” I asked, rubbing my now slightly sore eyes and looking around the strange chamber.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“Ummmm… Sasaki Junko… Twin Cannon Sister,” I said, looking around at the weird room. “Why are you upside down?”

“Ah yes… Tokiwadai Junior High. Level Three,” he said as if pulling up the memory from a mental palace himself. I recognized the signs. He didn’t answer my question.

“I’ll be Level Four by next year,” I insisted, humphing petulantly.

“I’m sure you will,” he agreed. And with that, I found myself transported back to the street, where a nice man gave me a limited edition Figma and drove me home.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh… goood. Get yourself on the psycho’s radar!” Well, two things. There wasn’t any way I was going ten years without getting on it… and second… you forget that I had Dr. Kiyama’s Level-Upper program. I’d modified it it so that, rather than putting people into a coma to act as a linked computing network… it operated as a massive distributed gestalt personality. In essence, I’d infected any subconscious mind that could generate an AIM field with a tiny part of a vast… conscience. If people were going to be throwing out this kind of power and meddling in this level of science, I was going to make the Collective Humanistic Unconscious Monitor (CHUM) into humanity’s secret police… and it would choose random units, often impressionable ones, to call out the injustices… and woe betide anyone who harmed those messengers… because everyone would know…  everyone.

I couldn’t save the world this time… there was no easy solution. It was all politics and schemes… but I could strive for a balance… at least from the shadows. And perhaps it worked. Or at least I forced the lunatics to work deeper in the shadows where they could do less harm. But ‘Wintermute’ never slept, never stopped feeding its information to Tree Diagram… once I’d stolen the satellite (Index was going to destroy it anyway. It seemed like a waste of a perfectly good predictive system.) and renamed it ‘Neuromancer’. Wintermute was the conscience, feeding Neuromancer all the predictive information the system would ever need, and then Neuromancer fed the information into CHUM, who empowered some rando to solve the problem… all to the one goal of making sure humanity didn’t fucking knife itself in the back.

Collective ethics, baseline logic, don’t use children as pawns, don’t experiment on people, don’t try and murder everyone related to your enemies, help each other… Wintermute wasn’t programmed to enforce its own ethics, it drew them from the totality of humanity’s better natures, polling millions of minds on which actions crossed the line and which didn’t… and there wasn’t any lying to the system because no one knew it was there.

I did tell a little fib there… it did have one ethical subroutine… it really didn’t like Kihara’s who acted like Kihara’s. They suffered… mischief. Crowley hated Big G God for the crimes of humanity, I gave him a humanity who hated him for the crimes of his creations. And I released all the Misaka’s I had managed to save back into the wild, much to the confusion of the Misaka Network.

I did hit Level Four by the next year… and Level Five by the end of the sixth year… Training wasn’t super important when you understood the secrets of being an Esper and could manipulate AIM fields… It was, in many ways, like turning a dial. I very carefully didn’t try pushing it further. I saw no need to see how dangerous I could be… but I could feel the ability to control protons at the edge of my awareness… and with it the ability to possibly generate and control positrons as well. I knew the name of that power… I’d named it to Crowley… and I wanted none of it… Creation and Destruction… Alpha and Omega. No one should have that… and what I had was already getting insane. Carefully, I walled off that part of my memory, labeling it, “Do not open unless in Existential Extremis.”  I couldn’t risk damaging my Figmas.

Next: World 33 – Whoops, No They Don’t

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