I MAY BE INSANE BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN I’M CRAZY
Themesong: Land of Confusion by Disturbed
“Sooo… where to now? Please tell me it’s not to some new version of the Star Wars Universe.”
“Had enough of that?”
“For now. But no, this time it’s a place for you to show off just how powerful you are?”
“Oh god, you’re going to send me to a Comic Book, aren’t you. Super hero or Shonen?
“Oh. Yay. Not back to Marvel, I take it?”
“Not yet. DC this time.”
“Excellent. Can I be a Daxamite?”
“Why one of them instead of a Kryptonian?”
“Daxamites may be vulnerable to lead instead of Kryptonite… but they have a serum that protects them from it… unlike Kryptonians and Kryptonite. And Lead isn’t normally radioactive, so the lead has to actually be inside the Daxamite to do damage.”
“Ah. Well, no, you can’t be a Kryptonian or Daxamite… at least not this time. The DC universe is far too vast to just be encompassed with a single Jump. No, this isn’t the DC Jump… this is Teen Titans.”
“Teen… Titans… The Comic Book?”
“Oh… so… huh. Which one? Banker? Hello??” Bollox. I looked around the Void as the Warehouse portal began to reestablish itself. The place was, as usual, a madhouse of crazy people doing marginally crazy things and animals running, flying, or sleeping everywhere. Home to nearly 50 souls, it wasn’t cramped, not at 80,000 square feet, and that was before multilevel structures were added in and subspace structures made the whole thing much more spacious than it seemed, but the common areas were where most of the day to day socializing happened and consisted of a massive gaming area, a pool and yard, a fake cafe, a little fake bistro, a fake shawarma shop, and a fake bar. All the staff were humaniform robots, realistic enough to fool anyone who didn’t know better, but all were controlled by the House’s central AI, VIvian… at least when she wasn’t deployed as a starship.
“Just got news folks. Our next stop is a DCU jump… this one’s based around the Teen Titans… which could be extremely silly or extremely… not. Just a heads up.” No one was paying attention to me, so I went and grabbed lunch and waited for the Tourney to end. No point disturbing their fun. Most jumps had fun little side activities for the Off Duty Companions to engage in, but very few of them had wanted to spend any more time in plague-ridden Dunwall than they’d had to, and I certainly hadn’t blamed them. If nothing else, the stench had been oppressive.
I called up the new Jump Tree on the tabletop and skimmed through it, idly spinning the Wheel of Aging and getting 17… close to the top of the chart… Teen Titans indeed. The Background section was divided into two categories; Species and History, three options for the former, four for the later. Among the Species, Human was, of course, free. The other two were not just pricey but incredibly so. Tamaranean, the species to which Starfire and her sister, Blackfire, belonged, cost a mere 800 CP, while Raven’s kinfolk, the Half-Demons, not only cost an even 1,000 CP but came with not one but two mandatory drawbacks… one of which transformed the Jumper’s body into a portal for the insane and vicious demonic overlord named Trigon. Oh… such… fun. How… could… anyone… resist?
Still, even if Half-Demon wasn’t worth the pain, suffering, and potential loss of self and chain, Tamaranean was very tempting. Not only did they have an interesting (if extremely brutal) society, but they came with an entire raft of otherworldly powers, including but not limited to Super Strength, FTL Flight (at least in space), the ability to fire plasma bolts or create plasma shields, laser vision, Super Speed, Super Toughness… it was a variation of the Superman package, though not nearly as tough… but lacking any fundamental weakness. They could even learn any human or alien language by… er… lip-to-lip contact… plus they were immune to extreme heat, extreme cold, harmful radiation, and could survive in vacuum for hours without breathing equipment… and indefinitely with it. All it in all, it was easily worth the [800/200/1000], even if it meant coming with orange skin (I despise Orange except in OJ.).
Of course, that meant I got the whole Tamaranean Physiology… 9 stomachs, accelerated healing factor, a long lizard-like tongue, self-sustained flight in vacuum and atmosphere, superhuman strength, reflexes, stamina, endurance, agility, longevity, conditioning, durability… Omnilinguistic Assimilation, extreme environmental tolerance… the only thing buying the race didn’t give me was the background in how to act like a Tamaranean… and that meant I couldn’t go in as a “Mystery”, which was a shame as it was, since it was the drop-in option, free. I had to hope that the companion import option was affordable… or there was a higher than normal drawback limit.
My options were Athlete, Nerd, and Thief. Athlete offered nothing that my species didn’t. Nerd was mostly technical, although it did have two psi powers… one of which (telepathy) I already had… I’d really have to develope Technopathy one of these jumps… That left Thief… and oh lord did Thief have some nice stuff. Elasticity like Plastic Man, Teleportation via portals, Shapeshifting that allowed me to be specific people (the perfect counterpart to my Samurai Jack Aku-Like Shapeshifting), and even Self-Duplication as a capstone. That last was exceptionally tempting, and I only stayed clear as it didn’t indicate if duplicates were reabsorbed or remained permanently separate… or if losing one would be a chain ender. Better safe than sorry.
Still, Elasticity and Shapeshifting cost me as much as Self Duplication would, and would be nearly as useful. I’d just have to resist the urge to yell “GUM GUM CEREBRAL ENEMA” every time I punched someone a mile away. I also got the freebie ‘Rogue’ which was a nice little booster, allowing me to perform feats of great skill and agility, running over obstacles, dodging enemy attacks, navigating treacherous terrain… charming people with my words. It was, perhaps, a little bit of everything, but it was free.
And speaking of free, I got a costume that would tell people who I was and, sure, it wasn’t much protection, but better than being naked, right? It came with a free Themesong for all my combat needs… but before I considered buying anything else, I had to see how much the Companion buy-in was.
Turns out it was a 2-for-1 like Star Wars the Original Trilogy… in fact, it used the same general language… must have been designed by the same fan the of material. Spending nothing would get me 8 companions with a background and a human body. Spending up to 400 CP would get them freebies, perks, discounts… and twice whatever CP I spent… each. Of course, I wanted to give my companions the best… but I was already 200 CP over my initial pool, and that meant I’d have to, as it turned out, max out Drawbacks to get my friends their 400. In the meantime, I announced that it was open season on getting into the Companion of the Jump club and I wasn’t playing favorites. They needed eight methods that were, in theory, fair to pick who’d come in at full power and who’d be a bystander.
Then, with no small amount of dread, I opened the Drawback file, scrolling to the end of the document to see what the worst ones were… and promptly understood The Banker’s refusal to explain if this was Teen Titans or Teen Titans Go! Go was the lighter comedy incarnation of the Teen Titans animation, more superdeformed and silly… and apparently whoever had penned this Jump Tree had really not liked TTG! The toggle to put the Jumper into TTG was worth 600 points and had a warning label saying “For the Love of All That’s Holy, DO NOT pick this!”. It called TTG a mockery of the original show and, the reason I decided to avoid the drawback, it stated outright that there was a very high order probability that I’d die randomly for a dumb joke. I didn’t remember TTG being that bad… but with entities like the Banker and Mensarius running around I wasn’t taking the chance with a warning like that.
There were two +300s on offer, one of which (Nemesis) held very real threat, since it would saddle me with a sadistic, intelligent, intimidating, enemy whose mission was to take me down and who’d hold nothing back and always be able to challenge me in some way. Noooo. Not unless I had to. The other (Overheating) was annoying, as it meant that harmful energy would build up inside me and have to be drained regularly or I’d explode and destroy everything for miles… but the explosion wouldn’t harm me. I’d written a novel about a character who had similar trait once, so I had a good idea how bad that could be… but I was also relatively certain I could figure out ways to drain the energy relatively easily, so I wasn’t worried that much. Hopefully the energy wouldn’t build up too fast.
The +200s were similarly balanced. One was a pain in the ass (Coveted), the other potentially lethal (Weakness). Weakness would mean that something out there in this world would be able to cut through my defenses like butter, take away my powers… and (if the exposure was long enough) kill me. I wasn’t sure I’d take that option for 400, and for 200 it was right out. Coveted just gave me an insanely wealthy stalker who’d do whatever it took to capture me and add me to his or her collection. There didn’t seem to be any chain ender potential there, so it seemed safe enough.
That just meant I had to pick one of the two +100s and I was full up and ready to go… And while both were doable (+100s are seldom gamebreakers), neither would be fun. I could either go with ‘Annoying Super-Team’, which would saddle me with, well, a group of super powered people to constantly muck up my plans. And then there was Empathic Empowerment, which linked my powers directly to my emotions. They both sounded unpleasant, but I had control over my emotions for the most part, and controlling some teenage twits would be much more… frustrating. I went with EE and called it a day.
As I closed the file, Zane sidled up to me. “Am I ungrounded yet?”
“Are you still evil?” I asked, fixing him with my steeliest gaze.
“I didn’t mean to be evil!” He complained. “The frog guy made it seem really cool to be evil!”
“Zane. You are my best friend… but you’re a twit.”
“In a good way?”
“Most of the time? Yes. But you’ve got to work on being less… impressionable.”
“But I’m ungrounded?”
“You are… tentitively.”
“Excellent. Because I drew the short straw.”
“That was the first contest? Drawing straws?”
“You said it had to be fair!”
“I did at that. Yes.” I was considering something, but it hadn’t fully materialized in my head.
“Did you want us to do our builds one at a time and report to you? Or just present them in a group once everyone’s finished?”
I thought about what he’d said, then plugged that into my nascent avatar, and smiled. The background profile for my new self was looking to be fun. I tweaked some of the details just a bit, testing to see if I could have white hair and black eyes as a Tamaranean. The system allowed it after a moment, though it took a bit longer to agree that I could have dark silverish skin… really not a fan of orange. It did warn me that such would be viewed as the equivalent of albinism among the ethnically homogenous Tamaraneans, and I acknowledged the warning, and signed off when it notified me that my chosen starting location on Tamaran was a slight risk. “No. I think… why don’t each of you do your planning in secret. Tell no one else what you’re going to be doing, not even those who aren’t importing.”
“You’ve got a terrible idea, don’t you?” He eyed me suspiciously.
“Of course it’s not terrible. It’s… amusing.” I smirked.
“We’re going to end up fighting each other, aren’t we?”
“You mean before the inevitable team up? I certainly hope-so. This is a comic book. Warn the others, this is a low power setting, so they’ll be limited to only the supernatural, super human stuff they buy here unless I remove the limiters.”
“Aside from Memory and my third eye? And some key life-saving stuff… Yeah. I think so.”
“Might I ask why?”
“Teen Titans isn’t that hardcore. It’s like the comic books light. People don’t really get killed, and all the characters are a little bit characters of each other. At least from what I remember. I only watched the first season of the animated series… up to Slade Wilson trying to break Robin… and no, I don’t know if it’s supposed to be Tim Drake, which it looks like, or Dick Grayson, who it should be. Drake’s version is Young Justice and doesn’t have Starfire in it.
“Thank you, oh Pedantica, Queen of Exposition, for that. I meant why are we being incognito to each other?”
“Because we should have a team formative moment. Speaking of, I should find out where we’re going to be… or at least, where you Hooomans are going to be.”
“Oh? You’re Tamaranean?”
“Of course! How could I pass up the opportunity to hilariously misunderstand Earthling culture?”
“If you weren’t my sister-like entity I’d spank you.”
“Yah Yah. I’m sooo scared. Go tell the others. Scoot. I’m going for insertion immediately this time. No point waiting. The last Jump was too short to warrant the full month. Or even a week, really.”
He walked off, shaking his head, and the Tabletop cleared, filling with the words. “I am intrigued. You don’t have the power to lockdown your companions’ abilities. You’ll need me to grant you that capacity. Especially since Tokimi just won the dice game.”
“I find it hilarious that Tokimi… A God… is playing dice in my game room. But she’ll play along. As long as she remains in Tokimi-chan state. I find it fascinating as well that, even though she knows of your existence, she’s convinced that I’m more fascinating than you are. I’ve checked. Unless she’s hiding it better than I can determine, she’s honestly more convinced that I’m closer to her Omni-Deity than you are. Want to clarify why that might be?”
“I cannot claim to understand existences like yours or hers. But you haven’t sold me on the value of granting you this capacity for this jump.” The words were subtly throbbing, as if to accentuate the Banker’s emotional state.
“Normally, I’d be all in favor of going into a situation all guns blazing… but this is pretty much silver age comic books, though the setting is more… modern… for certain definitions of modern. The logic is not that of a normal setting. Starfire, who has superhuman strength, is not noticeably more mighty than Robin, who is a teenage boy human… a slender one at that. Cyborg, who is mostly machine, floats in water… and they all float at the chest level, which isn’t possible. People get flung across rooms into walls and don’t die. It’s a cartoon based off of comic book logic… and that means secret identities, fights when new heroes meet for the first time, and shenanigans.”
“Those would be your reasons for the request. Define my reasons for granting you a lockdown on your companions’ abilities… or even your own, for that matter.”
“What part of Shenanigans do you not get? Would it be better if I classified such behaviour as ‘Hijinks’?”
“Ah. Very well then. I agree to this on the basis of hijinks. What would be a reason you’d unlock full access?”
“Alien Invasion. Looming Megadeaths. Darkseid, who counts as both. DCU and its various incarnations have this thing about escalation. Keeping things on the largely street level will hopefully keep things from spiralling too rapidly into the city-buster range.”
“What is street level?”
“Heros tend to be classed by how much damage they can do. Street is the entry point for most heroics. Keeping the streets clear of crime.”
“What is above Street Level?”
“Blockbuster. With the upper limit of that class being called Casual Blockbuster. Such a being can easy level an entire city block. Then Citybuster. Then the jump to Planetbuster. Hulk is a Citybuster, but at the lower end. Superman is a Planetbuster… and also at the lower end.”
“What are you?”
“I try not to think about such things. I prefer to place myself on the side of those who don’t destroy to achieve their goals… though clearly I’ve failed at that more than once. Is everyone ready?”
“Indeed. Though I have reviewed your Jumpself’s history. This seems most… unwise.”
“It is. Sometimes unwise is best.”
“And thus the reason for limiting yourself?”
“I do not think rational thought will be my strong suit this time around.”
“So I see. Yes. The last of the 8 has just locked themselves in. Shall we begin?”
I thrashed against the straps of the jacket, my eyes blazing a virulent black as I placed my strength against the restraints. The noise from outside my cell had ended several days ago, and no one had been by to feed me or give me the pills that made me calm and content to remain in the cell. I could feel the grothak growing inside me, as it had before I’d been placed in the facility for the safety of others. I needed my pills… no… I needed… wanted… to be free.
I struggled more and more, pushing my strength to the limits, but the jacket had been made to contain an adult and could easily stop me from escaping… but my struggles were not in vain, as the grothak grew stronger, needing release. If my captors had abandoned me, they’d brought what was coming down upon their heads. I would not remain caged to wither away and die like a trombgip in a fronsh.
With a roar, I unleashed the grothak, letting the unstable power of it expand from deep inside me, my eyes wide as that which was within me expanded outward in all directions, smashing through the walls of the cell and the hallways beyond, blowing the ceiling up through the floors above. As the night sky of Tamaran glowed down upon me, I started laughing. Free! I, Salamand’r, was free. The Imperial Family would pay for locking me up! I would have my VENGEANCE!
Well… that sucks. I stood in the ruins of the Imperial Palace, idly kicking the skull of one of the Gordanians who’d beaten me to my revenge… and laid waste to my homeworld in the process… something I was pretty sure I didn’t approve of. There were many voices in my head and we all agreed the Gordanians sucked the large vrongoi… sideways.
After reasoned discourse with some of my fellow Tamaraneans, who, for some reason, seemed scared of me, I have learned that the Princesses Komand’r and Koriand’r have survived. One was taken by ship to the Citadel, the other having left to seek allies to free her imprisoned sister. The planet looks like runklak, all purple and dusty, with much of the ecology destroyed by the Gordanians… as was the town my parents lived in… and so now I have to hunt down the Gordanians and make them pay. A voice in my head says I should go after the Sister taken to the Citadel. Clearly she is the weaker of the two.
I have arrived on a lush planet of weak primitives. One of the voices tells me this is Earth. The others call it Terra, or Gaia, or Maegi Prime, or Sol III, or Sol IV, or Sol IIIa. As usual, the voices aren’t very helpful. It has taken me several moons to find this place, but the Citadel’s records recorded this as being the last place the ship carrying Princess Koriand’r had been seen. Slipping in and out again had been all too easy, though I’d been unable to gather enough grothak to destroy the massive station. I’d had to settle for placing many of the small explosives in places that would cause much mayhem and death among the Gordanian brutes.
Oddly, I have not had to even apply my lips to the lips of one of the locals, as somehow I am understanding their language… except for the strange idioms they speak. This is a city called Star City in the local language, heavily populated, very dirty, lots of sky water. When I land amid them, one of the locals points at me and laughs, asking me if it is a local spiritual holiday. I reply that it is, to the best of my knowledge, not. Her mate, a large man with no hair and many tribal markings, asks me if I come from outer space or something, and I reply that, I do in fact. He does not seem happy with this statement, but he moves away rapidly, taking his woman with him, rather than explaining why he asked.
I consider following, but a rolling box with flashing lights arrives and a man with uniform yells at me and points a black object at me. He tells me to solidify, but there does not be any particular reason I should. I move towards him to ask why in a more conversational tone, and the black thing barks at me like a druwig in mating season, and there is a small stinging sensation in my shoulder. I look at it, but see only a smear of copper on my jacket, the same one I woke up in, though the locks and inhibitors melted in the explosion.
“I will not go back in the cell.” I tell the man, though I might have been yelling, as I crush the barking stinging device. It is made of metal and some softer, brittle substance, and has several seeds within, also made of metal. I chew one, and it tastes not unpleasant. Perhaps he was sharing a snack, though the delivery system seems… inefficient.
“Where is Princess Koriand’r?” I ask the man, but his friends show up then, and they yell at me some more, but I am no longer interested in them. It is clear he, and they, are not interested in helping me. I look around, then launch myself into the air, only to be tackled by a reddish animal that looked like a modug, but uglier and with more hair.
“Do not resist!” the not-modug demands, even as I am surrounded by a swirling vortex of wind and local detritus. “We are here to help!”
I look at her, as the voice is feminine sounding, and wonder who she means by ‘we’, then look around as see that she has several friends, wearing very strange outfits, and annoyed expressions. After a brief inner struggle, I decide to allow them to assist… if this is a betrayal, I would certainly know it… my inner voices are very good at telling me when someone is attempting to deceive me.
“I shall not, as you say, resist… but why are you willing to offer the assistance to me?”
“SJ? It’s me! Yoiko!”
“I am not Essjae… I am Salamand’r of Tamaran…” I begin, but my voices tell me that I was once Essjae and will be Essjae again… which is news to me. They also tell me that Yoiko is one of my companions from a previous lifetime… or many. This agreement between my many voices is a novel concept, as usually they spend much of their time arguing minor details or discussing various forms of entertainment I have never experienced. After a moment’s pause, I correct myself, “I might be Essjae. We seem to have a concensus on this fact, if nothing else. But we do not remember Yoiko being an… orangutan?”
“Gibbon. And I wasn’t. Not until this jump. Now can we take this someplace less public?” She sounds annoyed, so I nod.
“We shall go to the place of privacy and not resist unless we are attacked.”
The place of privacy turns out to be a building shaped like the local letter ‘A’ on a local mountain side. “It’s for Adolescent Alliance. That’s what we call ourselves. Cause we’re teenagers and we’re allies.” She was talking too fast, but it seemed familiar, so I let her. There were eight of them, all told, gathered around me in a large room full of many rectangles that the voices in my head called “buks” and claimed were full of knowledge, but when I checked, all I saw were squiggles and shapes that didn’t make much sense… I grabbed Yoiko and pressed my lips to hers.
When I let her go, she was even more red than before, but I now understood the squiggles and shapes better. The voices told me that I could have asked, but I ignored them. They were very noisy.
As Yoiko calmed herself, one of the others, a largish male, introduced himself. “Hiya. It’s me. Zane… only I’m called ‘Myriad’ here.” he split into several duplicates of himself, then each of them shifted to look like one of the others. “See? Cause there are many of me!” he seemed super pleased with himself. “I also got a cool car,” he added, as if I knew what a… oh… that’s what a car was. Huh. Caaaaar. Transportation. Status symbol, especially for adolescent male humans. Zane was apparently, the voices said, our brother… but he didn’t look Tamaranean. The voices sighed at me. It wasn’t my fault they didn’t make any sense.
He proceeded to introduce the others one by one. Yoiko was ‘Cardinal’, apparently because that was the name of the color she was, regardless of which species she currently was, and she seemed able to duplicate a great many such local fauna. She also had empathic senses she claimed, which is how she’d been able to recognize me despite us never having met. And she could manipulate the air itself, enough to generate windstorms or telekinetically move things or even fly, even in non-avian forms. She also had a belt with many little gizmos and gadgets in it that she was very proud of for some reason… and her lips tasted very nice, I had to admit.
A small petulant female was named Tokimi, or ‘Lightfoot’, and she was extremely fast, faster than a Tamaranean in fact, and trained in a martial art called “Hapkido” which she claimed went well with her enhanced velocity. The book room was hers, and I was, very politely, told not to touch the handheld reflecting device in the transparent case since ‘we all knew what happened last time’… the voices promised to tell me later.
The only other non-human in the room, who had leathery wings and large tufted ears, introduced herself as “Temporarily grounded Flagship Yuzuha…” then muttered “But these knuckle heads keep calling me “G. Imma Tree.” Yoiko and Zane made strange noises that sounding like laughing but came out their noses, and Tokimi just patted Yuzuha on the head. The voices supplied me mental images of a large spaceship that seemed to be made partly out of wood. It seemed silly at first, but there was a tangible sense of menace contained within that sleek form. Tokimi explained that GIT (and didn’t that make the voices giggle for some reason) could manipulate Probability and was also a “Speedster” and could draw power from something called “Xenothium” if she needed to. The voices said it was a high explosive and would give us a tummy ache if we ate it.
That left two males and two females, one of which was drapped across one of the shelves of books and looked extremely… planked?… no… that is not the correct word… beamed! Yes. Extremely beamed! I am good with words, though sometimes I must scream them at people to make them understand me. It does not always help, but it makes me feel better and they often go away then. I realized I’d missed an introduction and was about to ask for a repeat, when one of the voices sighed and said “She said her name is Joy, and her code-name is Vortex. She’s a teleporter… strictly speaking a teleportal creator… and a shapeshifter too. She owns this facility. She also mentioned having Admission Papers, though you would not care about those. Oh… and I’m going to kill the Banker for this little stunt. I swear to me.”
I shrugged. The voices spoke about this Banker a great deal, but I did not know who she was. I was perfectly willing to harm her if I met her, however. She had clearly crossed me at some point… even if I could not remember when. I smiled at Vortex as a handsome boy who seemed far older than the others, even though that was more about how he held himself, spoke “I’m called Wiseguy… though you might remember me as Gaius… the Elder.” My face had twisted in annoyance at the name, but it relaxed again at the mention of his age. The voices did not explain. “Me and Knowhow… that’s Ahab’s alterego this jump,” the other boy waved a mechanical arm… he had two of them under his strangely ceramic-like skin, “are the brains of this outfit. I’m the bio-sciences, he’s the mechanical. I’m the telepath, he’s the technopath. I’ve got the Super Bike and Admission Papers-”
“And I’ve got the cybernetic augmentations. Just like the first time, eh, Little Boss?”
One of the voices laughed, and I found myself nodding, a strange feeling of gnovro… no… nostalgia… yes… that was the Human word for it… welling up inside of me.
Yoiko pointed at the girl, who looked barely adolescent, up on the top of the book housing structure. “That’s RayRay… Sparkler this time around. She’s a Super-Strong, Super-Fast, Super-Durable Kung-Fu Gageteer.”
I nodded as if I understood… then asked “And you wanted me to know all that… because?”
Tokimi rolled her eyes “We’re your allies?”
“Ah… good… In doing what?”
“We’re a teenage super team. We save the world…” Yoiko supplied.
“Or at least the City,” Zane added.
“From what? Are the Gordians attacking this planet as well?”
“Who are the Gordians?” Joy and Ahab asked at the same time.
“Aliens. Not Weak Aliens. They conquered Tamaran and stole one of our princesses. That is why I’m here.”
“I’m sensing extreme anger,” Yoiko told the others.
“She’s very confused,” Gaius the Elder added.
“I am standing right here,” I reminded them. “Will you help me find Princess Koriand’r?”
“Can you describe her?” Zane asked.
“Orange Skin, Green Eyes, Annoyingly superior behaviour. Flies. Does this.” I fired a plasma blast from my hand and destroyed a potted plant… it was silently judging me, I could tell.
“Well, aside from the Superior Behaviour, that sounds like Starfire. She’s out in Jump City.” Ahab said, and Joy nodded in agreement.
I thought about that. Star… fire… yes… that is how Koriand’r would translate in this language. “Ah. I am Salamand’r… but you can call me Jetfire.” My eyes blazed softly. “Please to be directing me to Jump City.” They looked at me as if I was speaking an alien language, so I repeated myself. After a long minute, the one called Joy pointed to a topographic image upon the wall that I recognized as being the landmass we were on. I hadn’t been paying too much attention when I came in from orbit, but it looked familiar.
“Jump city is right here,” she said. “But why do you need to find Starfire?”
“We are friends of old, and I am wishing to check on her condition.”
“Oh. Okay. We can get you there pretty quickly, if you want.”
“That would be apreciated muchly. I am thanking you.”
“Zaaane? Why is SJ acting like this?” Yoiko asked me, sounding worried.
“I don’t know… but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts it’s tied up in why we can’t use our out of jump powers.” I patted her on the shoulder, trying to hide my own nervousness at the situation. Sis wasn’t just acting a little off. She was acting… totally weird.
“And why is she trying to blast Starfire?”
“Oh. I’m pretty sure that’s how Tamaraneans greet each other.”
After sharing many words with the Princess, I have decided not to blame her for her family’s actions. She is clearly to simple of mind to have engineered my imprisonment. Plus she has invited me to go to a place where we can procure foodstuffs and consumer products of an attractive nature. She likes my jacket, though she thinks the length of the sleeves might be problematical.
I had been here on Earth for three of the local moon cycles, and had been splitting my time between the two cities. These beings who claim to be my friends of old seem nice enough, but the green boy is most amusing, and Starfire is the only one from back home. Both groups spend much of their time performing an activity they call “Fighting Crime” though I am uncertain how all the myriad beings they fight are collectively “Crime” rather than “Lunatics”.
Then the Titans ran afoul of a being known as Slade, who made their lives difficult and seemed to be attempting to drive the Bird Wonder to abandon his compatriots by threatening their lives. So I intervened.
Robin and Beast Boy were most upset with me. “W… what did you just do?” the shapeshifter asked me, staring down at the crumpled body of the one-eyed Slade.
“He was threatening your lives. So I have ended his. Did you wish to finish him yourself? If so, I am most sorry.”
“Y… you killed him!” the Cybernetic one commented, stressing the words unnecessarily.
“Yes. This is what happens when you snap the neck of most species.” I confirmed.
“B… But. We don’t kill!” Robin looked most upset.
“Have you tried it? It is most effective in making certain one’s enemies do not return to threaten you a second time.” I shrugged, then – having grown bored of the debate – flew off. A few days later I was detained, most politely, but the local keepers of the peace, who questioned me at some length about what had happened Slade, and I explained most carefully, and then they went away and, after one of them brought me a most delicious substance called “Tunafish” in something called a “Sand Witch”, they released me, explaining that, since I had acted in defense of others, I was free to go. They also explained that, normally, Super Heroes in this world did not kill their enemies.
Once back with Yoiko, I asked her what a Super Hero was.
“Someone who fights against badguys and has super-powers.” was her response.
“And Badguys are?”
“They’re… you know… villains. People who do what they want without regard for law or personal property or other people’s lives.”
“And Heroes are allowed to damage personal property in order to protect the lives of the innocent?”
“Ummm… well, it’s usually kind of hard not to damage some stuff while fighting super strong enemies. But yeah. If the choice is a few busted walls or windows, or someone’s life, we usually prefer to break the wall.”
“Ah. I thank you for that explanation.”
“Robin? It’s Cardinal. We… we may have a problem.”
“Cardinal? What’s up?”
“Salamander just ripped Brother Blood’s head off.”
“H… he’s dead. T… there’s blood everywhere.”
“He was trying… he had used that mind control on Z… on Myriad and was making him attack the rest of us… and she dropped out of the sky going so fast and… and she grabbed Blood by… by the face and… and his head just… it just ripped off like she was popping the head off a dandelion.”
“I… we’d better call the adults.”
“What do you mean she just took out Batman?” Cyborg gasped.
“Not out… He’s fine… or will be…” Robin assured the others. “Bats just… tried to give her the talk… and they got into a fight.”
“And she beat him?” Beast Boy asked, nonplussed. “Did she use alien jujitsu on him or something?”
“Actually, she appears to have used my fighting style against him. And about a dozen others. Then, half way through the fight she just… freaked out and flew up into the sky and… and vanished. Then, about 10 minutes later, there was another one of those deep space explosions.”
“I think, maybe, that she is venting…” Starfire told her friends. “The jacket she wears is Tamaranean. I think it is used to restrain those with unstable powers or minds.”
“So, she’s a crazy person who can fight Batman to a standstill, and has all of Star’s Powers?” Beastboy asked, sounding plantive.
“Actually… it’s much… much worse than that,” I said, finally breaking my silence.
“Go ahead, Myriad,” Robin invited.
“We think something’s messing with her memories. She doesn’t seem to remember us very well. We’ve been friends for awhile, and she’s recently changed. More moody, more distant… quicker to resort to violence to solve issues.”
“I had trouble controlling my power when I first got here,” Terra said. “And Raven meditates every day to control hers. Do you think we could help?”
“I… don’t know. There’s a being called the Banker that might be able to help, but only S… Salamander knew how to contact him. I think we have to assume that we’ll have to confine her… somehow.”
The betrayal of those who had claimed friendship with me was not unexpected, but it still hurt. Still, the voices in my head… their betrayal was much worse. They stopped me from defending myself against the traitors… and now I am locked in another cell, this time in a prison with dangerously unstable humans. It is called “Arkham” and the man who runs it is evil. If I can get free of these restraints, and the device that drains my powers, I will have to dispose of him… as well as many of these others. The man with all the cuts on his skin and the man with the wide grin are most worrying. My voices know their names, but I am not listening to them anymore.
There is a new voice now. It calls itself Trigon and says that if I serve it, it will free me from my prison. I consider for a great many moments before agreeing. Freedom would be nice. Of course, I can’t trust this Trigon. I will have to betray it before it betrays me… but for the moment, yes… an alliance would be of benefit.
The sky ripping itself open was… perhaps… not a good sign. All the prisoners and guards turning to stone and the building itself instantly transforming into a ruin was, in retrospect, an even worse one. What was, perhaps, a good sign is that, in that instant, I, SJ, was back in the driver’s seat. I felt all my powers and the breadth of my consciousness unfolding like a flower. I felt the shattered thoughts of Salamand’r fitting back together like a window shattering in reverse as the parts of who and what I was clicked back into their assigned slots, the voices no longer threatening whispers but welcoming insights.
“Baaaankerrrrr.” I growled.
A half-melted window pane glowed softly, and letters of white fire burned upon it. “You wanted-”
“Don’t. Just… Don’t. I wanted to honor this world and its conventions… not experience the inside of Arkham. Not be plunged into disarray as you remove key parts of my mental architecture. I didn’t mean for you to make my Stalker be Hugo FREAKING STRANGE! Sure, I’d have killed Slade and Blood… but what crazy me did to Mad Mod or Mumbo Jumbo was unwarranted. She’s a sociopath!”
“That is within you, you know.”
“It’s inside everyone, You batshit Insane jackass. Sociopaths are what you get when you yank out some of the key wiring that separates civilized beings from the primitive brutes they evolved from. Sociopathy isn’t something that gets inserted. It’s what happens when you remove the ability to relate to people, the ability to process emotions, the ability to see people as other than puzzles to solve! And I can only assume I’m back together now because something disastrously bad has happened, triggering the failsafe? I assume it’s Trigon?”
“That would be the case. And normally, I wouldn’t be talking to you durring a jump… but you seemed… upset.”
“You twisted my request into something horrible, you fucking Djinn. I hope you and your asshole buddy had a good laugh at my expense. You and me… we’re going to have words… but right now I have some venting to do and there’s a being of pure evil who can take a lot of pounding in the neighborhood.” And with that, I launched myself up into the atmosphere, accelerating towards Jump City as I combined Tamaranean speed and power with Ura Flashsteps and Sonido. I hit Trigon at mach 60.
The blow sent the 10 story demon flying out of his throne, skipping across the sea of lava that filled the heart of the dead city. “Who D-” he began to thunder, but I was already growing to full size as Stormengander, and I slashed across his torso with the blade in my head.
The hellfire that rained around me was intense, but it felt like a warm bath and it filled me with growing power as I drank it in, my eyes blazing as I vented my fury upon the architect of so much evil.
“Change it back,” I hissed, voice full of rage. “Undo what you have done to this world, you bastard.” We’d separated, eying each other across the distance of a few city blocks. Trigon was no pushover, and I’d managed to surprise him with my initial attack, but his strength was very close to limitless, and my immunity to hellfire only so-so. His magic couldn’t hurt me, but his fists could, and he was monumentally strong.
“Who are you to tell me what to do, mortal?” the four-eyed thing demanded.
“Do I look like a mortal to you, fang-face?” I snarled, “Now change it back, or I’ll teach you how it feels to die.”
“Fool! If you had that kind of power, why would you use it to defend these pitiful beings?”
I lunged at him across the intervening space and smashed him flat, slashing my horn-sword at him again and again, roaring as he hit me back, blow for blow. As we parted again, I growled “Not too long ago, I killed a mortal who called himself Mad Mod. You might know him. I killed him slowly, watching as he died. Before he died, he asked me why I was causing him so much pain. Do you know what I told him?”
“The death of a single mortal is meaningless to one such as I!”
“Yeah, well… what I said to him was, ‘Isn’t that what this game is all about? You do what you do because you believe you have the right. You have the power to inflict your will upon others, and so you do it because you can. I am merely following your own chain of logic.’ That’s why I’m going to kill you unless you fix this world, Trigon. Unless you fix it and go back where you came from and never return. Because I can. Because I believe I have the right to do so. Just like you believe you have the right to kill and enslave. Only neither one of us has that right… but the only one who suffers from my belief is you. I’m going to kill you to save all those you will kill, and to avenge all those you’ve killed.”
“Then you’ll be just like me… why do you laugh?”
“Trigon… You wish you were my equal. You wish. Killing you is no more to me than killing a rabid coyote. That’s all you are. An insane, murderous, piece of vermin. A threat to others and of absolutely no saving grace. Oh… I guess it’s too late. Your daughter’s come. I believe she would have words with you.”
The expression on the interdimensional tyrant’s face as he turned to see Raven in all her alabaster fury, floating there, empowered by witnessing her supposedly unbeatable progenator getting his ass kicked. He tried to intimidate her, telling her she could not beat him. I laughed at him, and whispered in her mind that she could beat him, no problem, feeding her confidence to match her fury… and then she… well, Stephen King said it best, I think.
“Behold, the coming of the White. After Evil Ways, and Evil Days, the White comes again.” And Trigon and his evil hellworld vanished like a bad dream. I floated there, bathed in the White and sighed, then transformed back into Salamand’r, and landed lightly in the middle of the street, eyes blazing. The Titans stared at me, falling into battle stance.
“Be at peace, friends. You’ve fought one Eldritch Abomination today. I believe that is enough for any group of heroes. My apologies if my… scattered thoughts have caused you concern. We had a little trouble on entry into your universe. I do regret some of the concern and heartache I caused… though I will say, either you need, very much, to improve your prison system, or you need to start killing your enemies. Also, you should not be stopping bank robberies. That is the job of the police, not of superheroes. You are not sworn keepers of the peace. For all your heroics, you’re vigilantes. If you want to do the police’s job, become police officers.” I smiled as they stared at me as if I’d gone really and truly crazy.
“Are… are you kidding?” Beast Boy asked.
I laughed “Of course I am. Like I care what whether you obey local laws. Now… who wants pizza… the food at Arkham is absolutely terrible. Oh…” I stepped close to Robin and whispered in his ear “Bruce Wayne is Batman.” then turned away, skipping into the Pizzeria. “Pizza’s on Robin! He can afford it!”
Next: Line in the Sand
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