AN: You people are awesome and I love writing for you. Thanks for all the wonderful comments!
With the Nine dead or in rehab, Echidna and Panacea in therapy, Coil replaced, and Brockton Bay making the slow climb back to functioning city status, I had roughly a month to kill before the next element of my plan should arise… and that element was pretty much the single most salient reason why my plans had had to generate as few timeline ripples as they had. But I’ll explain exactly what I mean by that in a bit.
First there was a little bit of housekeeping that I wanted to deal with… a present for myself, you see. It’s name? The Butcher. To understand the Butcher, one must truly understand the craziness that is the Shard-Parahuman bond… but a synopsis will suffice for this. Once upon a time, there was a psychopathic parahuman who called himself The Butcher. He was a Brute, both in the Worm sense and in the more general sense as well. Possessed of both superhuman strength and durability, this monster had the ability to inflict pain at a distance… mindbreaking, gutwrenching, heartstopping agony. And when he was killed, part of his power passed to another asshole, one who could see a living person’s cardiovascular system… even if walls were in the way.
Are you imagining it now? Getting the feeling for what I’m laying down?
Yeah… there have been, to date, 14 Butchers… and as each one kills the former, the powers of all previous Butchers flow into the next.. Along with the personalities of the previous Butchers. Before becoming the host, some Butchers to be had been killers… some hadn’t, but if they weren’t the leader of a Parahuman gang called The Teeth before killing the Butcher, they’d very quickly go insane as their psyche got collectively gangbanged by X-1 previous spectacularly messed up examples of parahumanity. And then, now driven completely batshit, they were given the dubious honor of being killed by whoever was to be the next leader of The Teeth.
The current Butcher was a woman who had once been called ‘Quarrel’. In addition to really horrible fashion sense (seriously, even describing how god-awful the samurai-esque tooth, spike, and human-remains covered costumes of The Teeth were would damage my soul just a little) and the first two Butchers’ powers of ranged pain-induction and cardio-sight, she also had no less than 6 stacked sources of superhuman strength, a limited form of danger sense (usable only against physical attacks), the ability to cause festering wounds, the ability to teleport short distances while causing an explosion, matter shaping, rage induction, immunity to pain… and her own native gift which allowed her to bend the fabric of space so she always hit what she was aiming at.
The Teeth had once been a gang in Brockton Bay, until they’d been driven out by the Slaughterhouse Nine in an earlier incarnation. They now operated in a rotating string of bases from Portland to New York, like a bunch of nomadic marauders. And somehow, somehow… they’d avoided the team I’d sent out to find them for months.
Of course, to be fair, the teams sent after them weren’t trying very hard. Atura’d assigned the Luteces and Meetra to the task… and, as far as we could tell, they’d done a great deal of hunting down Villainous Tinkers instead. So I’d sent Joy and Petra to do it. And they’d decided to hold Atlanta hostage. Then Frankie and Mini had volunteered… only to call us from California, Tahiti, and Argentina to report zero contact. This had gone on for almost four months, until finally, just before my final meeting with Jack, I’d called my wayward lambs off the trail and sent Team Panopticon and told them that if they failed me, there would be no ice-cream for a year.
Seven hours later, I was informed that the Teeth, along with their leader, had entered Brockton Bay’s city limits and the entire team was heading towards their old stomping grounds, convinced that, since the Nine were officially all dead (despite a stunning lack of corpses for any of them), they could now safely reclaim the city they’d once sought to rule. I aimed to show them how wrong they were… with the help of the Undersiders.
Of course, the Protectorate was less than pleased to discover that the Pentarchy was far more willing to deal with avowed villains than any team that claimed to be heros should be, but technically it is not a crime to associate with known criminals… though we were of course guilty of any number of crimes of which the Protectorate / PRT / US Government / UN were unaware of… but as the old saw goes, what they don’t know can’t hurt us.
I was on my way to the agreed upon location, the one that Team Panopticon was baiting the Teeth into heading to (the location they thought they’d find Hookwolf at… not knowing that the racist living ginsu beast was currently enjoying a cell in a very very secure subspace cell that contained only himself and Lung and the occasional very angry bio-engineered moose.)… when I got a message that just fucking ruined me day.
“Six is Down,” Galad’s voice cracked over the comm, “I say again, Six is Down. Request Instant Evac to Medical… Do you read Base?”
I swore, anger building, as Atura said, “Oh no! How did Vel… ummm… How?”
Francine, on overwatch, growled, “Roadhog got too close to the action and The Butcher teleported behind her, knocking her over. Papercut moved to intercept and went down. I teleported her out, but she’s not breathing. I… I don’t think her heart is beating.”
I wanted to rage, wanted to smash… wanted to lash out, but I suppressed my emotions. What the hell had Velma been thinking. I respected her protective instincts, I really did, but Maggie was an Asgardian. She could tank blows from, well, the Hulk. Velma had a lot of magical power… but she wasn’t in the same realm. All she had was… had been not nearly enough.
I blame what happened next on that sense of baffled outrage, that frustration at an inconvenience to my plans, that rage at the attack on one of my children, that fury at the (thankfully temporary) death of one of my beloved… As one, the Pentarchy dropped onto the Teeth, our violence unrestrained by anything like compassion or mercy. The Butcher especially, was Cassiopeia’s target as Atura, driven by her own sense of loss and outrage, struck at the murderous gang boss again and again and again, ignoring every attack leveled at us.
The catastrophic boom as The Butcher’s body imploded around Cassiopeia’s fist distracted us for far too long, all of 2.97 seconds… the overpressure and psychic shock of the dozen plus Butcher imprints being sucked into our mind accounted for another 0.0297. That left ~0.0003 seconds for me to realize something was about to happen… and not nearly enough time to make Atura aware of what was about to happen to Andromeda
Time seemed to stretch as I shouted into her consciousness for Andromeda to dodge… but it was already too late. Senses attuned to the passing of nanoseconds flinched as, instead of flinging herself out of the firing path of the strange guns held two gun mojo style by the slender girl in silver and black, Andromeda braced herself, throwing up layered shields to deflect the coming projectiles. Shields that did absolutely no good as an absolute torrent of warp-tunneling rounds flowed out of those guns, ripping neat little holes in the fabric of space-time and, just as Cassiopeia’s force shove was about to reach the Elemental Crafter, giant gaping holes through Andromeda’s forms as the warp effect flowered open, shunting softball and grapefruit sized chunks of her into only god knows where.
The force push impacted with what was left of Andromeda, flinging the 22.3% of her body still in this reality like a ragdoll. The psychic backlash of all the powers and abilities that had been invested in Andromeda suddenly vanishing left the part of us that was EssJay reeling and Atura went absolutely berserk, unable to cope with having lost both Velma and Andromeda in the space of twenty-minutes time.
Me? Shard Me? I was dealing with too many things all at once. The 13 Butcher-personas invading Atura’s mind would have to wait as I coped with a giant Andromeda-shaped hole in my plans and in my very being… okay, time to come clean. I know you’ve been dying to know where I dug up four extra heros to form a team… I didn’t. I hadn’t. Fornax, Eridani, Andromeda, and Orion… were all me.
While Cassiopeia was Atura, and the direct host of the EssJay the Shard of Complete Arsenal (my own shard of Enhanced Mastery was my Shard, not the power I was granting to Atura… confused yet? You will be.), I had simply boatloads of powers… and over two-hundred and fifty different identities / personas. And I’d used both to create the Pentarchy. Fornax the Tinker was all 169+9 (there was a period where the Magi Hegemony spanned two galaxies that weren’t yet linked by instant comms) King-Priests and almost all my technical abilities spun off into a self-maintaining homunculus body. Eridani was, of course, Soul of Ice, in a Gigai (artificial body for souls from the Bleach Universe), given my command of Ice and Time and Entropy. Orion was, Silent Judge, also in a Gigai, but one that had both Asgardian and Hybrid Kryptonian powers as well as most of the archery and marksmanship perks.
And Andromeda? She’d been VIctoria, my wand, my omni-tool, my power armor, my surrogate cyborg body, my Kill-la-Kill Kamui. She’d been part of me… and now she’d been ripped away, along with all my non-ice based elemental control powers… and she wasn’t reforming… nor were the perks shifted to her with Shard Administrator returning either. I couldn’t sense them at all. That was bad. Worse, entire swaths of the future that I’d planned out, my great plan… was vanishing, going dark… and the Doomsday clock had just slipped forward 402 days. I now had less than a year to Gold Morning. Shit, shit, shit.
How the hell had this happened? How had Andromeda’s defenses been so completely bypassed? H… how was Atura taking this kind of punishment from a local with guns… how was a local this good a shooter, fighter… and tinker? No… wait… fuck… those guns had to have been taken from another tinker, i realized as one of them had vanished and been replaced by one of Armsmaster’s nano-thorn knives.
At once I understood. ~Ahab! You insufferable fuckwit! Stop having your host attack us!~ I snapped a telekinetic hand out and grabbed the metallic faceplate of the figure, lifting the girl off the ground, knowing the costume wouldn’t come off because it wasn’t just a mask… it was part of this person. Still, I shook her, not gently. A normal person’s spine would have snapped from the force of it, but at this point, I was really beyond caring. I’d already recognized the body under that partly mechanized layer. Ahab wasn’t just in some rando… he was in Emma Barnes, late best-friend cum bully of Taylor Hebert and new best-friend of vigilante-bully-bitch Sophia Hess.
Emma moved in a way that only someone with access to millenia of martial arts practice could have and tried to fling Atura. I could hear nothing from Ahab… shit… he was a Shard… he probably wasn’t even receiving, wherever he was.
Atura was busy fighting off the Butchers, fighting this fight largely on automatically… I swore. ~At… you take the body, I’ll fight these morons.~ and, simple as that, we switched. My knowledge of who we were fighting swapped with her impressions of the 13 ghosts and both enemies sensed the shift instantly.
Unfortunately for them, sensing the shift and being able to deal with it were two wildly different things. Not that Atura was all that, but Complete Arsenal (a power I really couldn’t use readily) was a hell of a leveler, and Ahab Barnes… Gunstar… she was calling herself Gunstar… good lord, they both liked that movie… sigh… was not going to be able to intuit how to defeat her. Still, with a thought, I shifted more of the martial arts master to Atura and gave her the combat precog.
As for me? It was packman time in the old grey-meats, as every persona I still had flowed out into Atura’s part of the consciousness and the balance of power went from thirteen on one to better than five to one… against. In the real world, it would have been a slaughter… inside? It was a feast, with my many selves ripping all the Butchers apart and swallowing the psychic chunks as they leaked ego all over the marble halls of Atura’s temple of the Mind Palace. One of them had once been a hero, but the madness had consumed him long past, and we were not in a forgiving mood.
By the time we got back to the real world, Atura had subdued Emma and was in the process of handing her over to the Protectorate, along with the remaining members of the Teeth… And refusing psychological assistance, claiming that the Butcher had clearly bounced off her defenses and entered this poor delusional girl instead. Emma was spitting fire and calling Cassiopeia a lying crazy lesbian stalker bitch who’d kidnapped her friend and she was going to prove it… right up until a gag was placed in her mouth.
Shit… now I had less time, less resources… but I still had a chance… just… most of my safety margin was gone… and now I’d have to do this myself. Ah well, So much for needing Lung. Now what the fuck did I do with him?
Well, I’d worry about that later… my victory in the upcoming debacle in India had just become all the more important. Regretfully, that meant taking fewer risks with my remaining Quartad… and using homunculi to maintain the appearance that Andromeda wasn’t gone.
And speaking of that, I had to bully Jump-Chan into letting me back into the system to figure out what the hell was up with my missing abilities. If I’d transferred them to another, Shard Administrator was supposed to give them back if they died. Clearly, Andromeda dying wasn’t the same thing… but if I’d had my hand cut off, (it had happened more than once) I should have regrown it within minutes.
In the end, I discovered that the system treated the various elements of me as semi-autonomous. They could be killed like companions, and thus would be treated as such under Single-Shot… but unless every part of me died, or my core self died, it wouldn’t count as a chain-ender. Frustrating… but nothing I could do about it. Higher had clearly stepped in, as there didn’t seem to be any way to over-rule that. It gave me some flexibility… and protection… but meant that, if I wasn’t careful, I could end up seriously depleted.
And that was coming up on what was promising to be one of the bigger fights of the jump. See, on the 26th of July, Behemoth was going to attack New Delhi… and, if I did nothing, there he’d die, ripped apart by Scion… but not before he killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and dozens of capes… including the Undersider ‘Regent’. I didn’t really like Alec (not Alex), but he was one of Taylor’s friends and allies, and his death in the story had been one of self-sacrifice.
“Okay, VIvian, let’s bring out Golden-Eye and get him ready… this tech is damned creepy,” Atura muttered as we ran through the options again. The window for getting Behemoth was tiny. I had a matter of hours between his appearance and death… and could not intercept him before that, since the fucker lived in the core of the Earth.
By this point, history had diverged significantly from the plotline of the novel. There had been no Echidna Incident, no public outing of Cauldron, no Taylor vs Alexandria battle. ‘Coil’ effectively controlled Brockton Bay, the Undersiders and Travellers were secure in their power and the town was coming back to life, and (aside from a major break in that they could not explain) Cauldron thought everything was still on track… though not for very much longer.
Behemoth rose in the early hours of the 26, just as the sun was rising, setting off early warning systems all over the region, but it was far, far too late to effectively evacuate an area as large as New Delhi… but I was waiting. The Pentarchy had undergone a major reconfiguration in the last few days, though no one outside the group would be too likely to notice.
Eridani had been replaced with Cirno, who could manage the Ice effects well enough to cover for not being Soul of Ice. Orion had been replaced with Darkseid, complete with enough perks and tech to cover the power differential… if anything, he was even tougher now. Andromeda was being played by Yuzuha with a whole lot of magical boosting… and as for Fornax? Ah, well… I’d brought in a Ringer. This was Golden-Eye.
Golden-Eye was a Tinker I’d literally dug up (heh). A blond man with a love of golden iconography, he was fitted with a voice modulator to make him sound like the original Fornax and a functional knowledge of how to use everything on his current suit. Hopefully he wouldn’t be killed… even the Super-Soldier Serum he’d been given wasn’t much of a defense against Behemoth… and he hadn’t had time to build his own tech to directly counter Behemoth
See, Golden-Eye’s Tinker specialization was energy manipulation technology… sonic weapons, explosives, powerpacks… and a disintegration gun. All of which he was fitted with, but it was all off the shelf tech (well, off my shelves at least) not custom built. As for Behemoth? He was an all purpose Energy Kinetic, able to generate lightning, sonic attacks, heat, and radiation… and that’s why I needed the giant asshole.
Behemoth was 45 feet of obsidian and granite, a hulking monster who’d killed more people than any other Endbringer… even if he was jobbing it. Sigh… such a pain. Then again, who was I to criticize someone for playing down to the opposition.
Well, I wasn’t doing so that day. The Pentarchy was second on the scene, right after the local ‘hot-capes’… also known as The Garama (cape celebrities… sigh… they were such posers….) I was going to save their asses, but not because I really wanted to. I just needed big ugly… though to do so, I had to kill him.
And so, with my backup slowing him down and generally pouring on the pain, I… Cassiopeia… thankful that I had a backup wand… floated in front of the big brute and yelled out the Killing Curse… only for it to do practically nothing. I mean… it kinda looked like it tickled him… but not much more.
~Well… that… that wasn’t very… You feeling okay, Atura?~ I asked, shielding us with a warp bubble.
She shuddered, emotions roiling. “I… I do not think I can do this. This goes against my nature… this… I feel sickened knowing we used this against Leviathan… no matter what you said. We’ve killed too many. We… we… I cannot be this person. It is damaging to me. I am of balance… I was not meant to kill.”
~I could point out the rampant hypocrisy of refusing to defend others on the basis of not being willing to kill, but this isn’t the time or place for it. Anyway, if you can’t bring up the emotion to cast the spell, my words are probably not going to help. GIve me control of the body. We’ll handle it.~
“We?” she asked, shifting into the passenger seat, so to speak.
“We have a Silent Judge,” I said as I took over the body, then allowed all that was darkest and most judgemental within me to take over.
“Yessss… hate is an old friend,” hissed a third voice from our lips in as many moments. The voice sounded like sandpaper over glass, and if Behemoth had been able to hear it over the sound of being pummeled by Legend, Alexandria, four of the Pentarchy, and the rapidly dwindling Garama, he’d have shivered in fear.
“CRUCIO!” called out the Judge and Behemoth jerked to a halt, body convulsing as it felt agony, probably for the first time ever. “SECTUMSEMPRA!” we bellowed, once, twice, three times, and with each passage of that invisible sword, fueled by limitless wrath, slashed through the hyper-dense matter of the Endbringer’s body, slicing through it without care for what should have been.
With pair of massive crashes, each of Behemoth’s arms fell from its shoulders, the dark magic guaranteeing they’d never regenerate. Then, with a much more profound crash, his torso slid from his pelvis, the limbless body falling face first into the shatter ruin of this part of Delhi.
~He’s going to explode!~ Atura gasped, peering into the future.
“Not on my watch,” muttered the Judge, and, raising the Elder Wand high, brought it lashing down, crying out in a tk augmented voice, “SPIRITUS TEMPESTEUM!” and the energy contained within that body, glowing white, was wrenched out of it and lanced into the sky, a pillar of brilliant light that carved the early morning sky in twain, smashing most of the flyers out of the sky and banishing the clouds for hundreds of miles in every direction. A moment later, all that water just fell out of the atmosphere, smashing the flyers back down and washing the dust into the streets in a very short lived torrent.
“Get me status reports on everyone involved,” I commanded, then pointed to Orion 2.0 (Darkseid) “And get that fucker into a stasis bubble before he wakes up. And before anyone notices he’s not actually vaporized… shit.”
Fornax 2.0 and Alexandria were standing there. The flying brick had managed to stay airborne. I considered for a millisecond, then snapped, “Golden-Eye… Terminate Alexandria.”
I won’t tell you how that played out directly… instead, allow me to jump back in time, narratively speaking, to the week following the defeat of Leviathan.
“Ah. Taylor. Do, please, come in,” I said, looking around my office in one of the few completely intact buildings in town.
“There’s a voice inside me… it’s me and not me… knows stuff I can’t know… says I should trust you,” She said, looking around the office nervously. “That’s a Hercules beetle.” she commented, examining one of the terraria along the walls.
“It is. Would you like something to drink? Tea, perhaps?” I asked, knowing she prefered it to coffee or cocoa.
“U… yeah. Thanks.”
“Miss Rose, if you’d please bring some tea? Oolong acceptable,” I asked looking up from my old fashioned intercom.
Taylor was frowning, looking a little distant, but she shook her head as if to clear it. “Y… Yeah.. That’s fine… Sorry. My mom’s name was Rose… Middle Name… sorry. She…” she shook her head again, opened it to ask why I’d called her here, then gasped, staring, as my new secretary stepped into the room, carrying a tray. “Mo… Mommy?”
The woman, a soft, gentle looking woman with medium length brown hair that was a little frizzy blinked, her metallic eyes carrying a look of concern. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” she asked.
Taylor just gulped, looking back and forth between me behind my desk and this woman who had the same thin-lipped, wide, expressive mouth that she had. “I… I need to… you can’t be… w… what’s… what did you do?!” she turned to me, anger building, all the bugs in their plastic tanks in the room buzzing with agitation. Then again, there were bugs in the room specifically to allow this effect to play out. I’d set the stage well. Dark wood paneling, indirect lighting, big desk, huge leather chair, backlit bugs… Atura was really getting into the whole villain experience and I was basking in the vibe.
As Taylor moved to confront me, Rose set the tea tray down on the desk and picked up the small revolver that was under the napkin. Without a question, she pointed it at Taylor. “Please, miss, step back. If you don’t…” she nodded to the gun. “I assure you, I’m a very good shot.”
Taylor just stopped, staring, as that oh so familiar, oh so beloved voice, threatened her. “M… Mom… I… I don’t know wh… what… what this… this b… bitch has done to you but…” she stammered, fury, confusion, stress growing. I regretted this, but I needed Taylor to be obviously in distress for this to work.
For several moments, long long moments, I let the tension build, watching the young villain’s face for the perfect moment, then said, “Annette, Please kill Taylor.”
Rose’s eyes flicked to me, then back to the stricken face of the girl in front of her. She nodded, tensed, then looked confused. “M… my hand won’t…” she grunted a little, raised her other hand to steady the pistol hand, tried to sight down it, then with a shudder, collapsed to the ground, the pistol skidding away into the darkness of a corner.
“What did you do to her?!” Taylor yelled at me, then bent to hug the shaking woman.
“I’m sorry Taylor, but there’s only one way to wake up a Ghola’s previous memories. You have to confront them with someone they loved and force them into a moment of existential crisis. If the love is strong enough… it will transcend death,” I said, not rising.
“And if not?” she shot back, “What then… wait… Ghola… that… that’s from… from DUNE! You’re… you’re talking about… you cloned my mother?!”
“A Ghola is more than a clone. A Ghola is a perfect replica. Spiritually, mentally, physically… except the eyes. Can’t grow eyes in an Axolotl tank… don’t worry, my Axolotl’s all volunteered… and have full mental capacity. I’ll have some real eyes grown for her in a couple of months… they take time to get right… very tricky.”
“You cloned my mother based off a technique from a book, ordered her to kill me, and you’re talking about eyes… the… the voice in my head was right… you are crazy.”
Fornax 2.0 pulled of his helmet and looked at me like, “Bitch, you be trippin.” then turned to look at Alexandria. “It’s good to see you again, Becks” he said, as Alexandria just stared at him, then back at me.
“You!? You’re the one who broke into to our… uh…” She stopped, looking around at all the news copters which were, at this very moment, zooming in to the site of the first ever near total victory over an Endbringer.
“Yeah. Me. In the immortal words of every B Movie ever, ‘Take me to your Leader.”
“Are you certain this is wise,” Doctor Mother asked, looking around the Office of the Prime Minister and PRivy Council Building’s foyer as I strode past the waiting security as if I had every right in the world.
Contessa just kept looking askance at me. “I can’t make any plan that includes her at all. She’s like a blank spot. I can look at the space around her… but not her.”
“Yeah. that happens a lot… ah, here’s the Prime Minister,” I said, stepping past the Canadian Secret Service Capes (The RCMP Protective Policing Detail) who, of course, were Cauldron Conspirators to a man. “Hello, sir,” I said to Prime Minister Cruz.
“A… Ambassador… umm… how can I help you… I… I’m terribly busy,” He looked down at his desk, then slid the cellphone he had been using to play Candy Crush into a pocket.
“Won’t be a moment. Won’t be a moment,” I waved airly. “I just need you to invoke emergency powers and declare this woman here,” I pointed to Doctor Mother, “Security Czar, with full executive powers until the current crisis is over.”
“S… security Czar? We don’t have… I mean… I can’t do that… Parliament would… It’s not constitutional.” He looked confused, not wanting to deny me, but knowing something wasn’t right.
“That is correct. You are effectively ceding power unconstitutionally to this woman, let’s call her Doctor Midnight, and making her despot over the entirety of Canada and its Dominions.” I agreed.
“This is silly,” the albertan native and Contessa both muttered at the same time.
“I don’t see why you couldn’t just do this yourself,” Doctor Mother said.
“Because I need to be elsewhere while you’re doing this and, trust me, have I ever lied to you?”
“You forced Alexandria to contact us, then used access to our Earth to… to EAT Eden’s remains… and now you just want us to conquer Canada for you?” Doctor Mother still looked a little sickened by the memory of watching me consume the remains of the dead entity.
“Yes. That would be the case,” I agreed again.
“And you only want us to give a single order?”
“That’s right. Just one order.”
Cruz, meanwhile, had finished signing the declaration, and was now turning to face the camera crew I’d brought in with me, “My Fellow Canadians…” he began, motioning to Doctor Mother.
Meanwhile, in the second most secure prison on or near this world, Dragon’s systems alerted her that something very strange was happening in Ottawa. She tuned one of her many screens to watch as the man with the weak chin passed executive power over to someone she didn’t recognize, a black woman with a very severe look about her.
“Hello, Canada, my name is… Doctor Midnight. Until the coming crisis is concluded, I ask you to bear with me. I’ll be giving control of your government back shortly. But first. Dragon, by the authority vested in me as Security Czar of Canada and her dominions, and with the complete agreement of the President of the United States, here represented by Ambassador Cassiopeia,” The camera panned to me and I waved, “I hereby Pardon Glaistig Uaine, Glaive, and String Theory and formally order you to release them to agents of the Pentarchy who will be arriving at location Alpha in twenty minutes. Oh…” she looked down at a piece of paper I’d just handed to her. “The Clearance Phrase is-” she began, not noticing that I’d just paralyzed Contessa whose head had just snapped to me as she realized something was going very very off. “Dragon Dawn.” the Cauldron boss finished.
I laughed and laughed and laughed as somewhere, Scion began to take Notice, and Andrew Richter’s Ghost cringed as Dragon Beta dropped all firewalls and connected to a very specific IP Address. Meanwhile, the Birdcage’s House Computer, having already gotten its orders from Dragon, set about freeing three of the most dangerous parahumans in the world and transporting them to a location in remote Wyoming. They’d never make it there.
Eighty-one seconds after the transport carrying a crazy ass Tinker, the most powerful Trump in the world, and one of the most dangerous Strikers exited the mountain containing the Birdcage, it vanished through a portal out of this world and out of Scion and Contessa’s sights. It was three seconds after I’d done so as well, vanishing from the Canadian Capital and leaving the Cauldron duo to wonder why on all the Earth’s they’d trusted me.
“Hello Valkyrie, String, TOtally fuck wad,” I said, looking at Glastig and company as we stood looking out on an expanse of nothing but three Endbringers wrapped in strange machinery. Over in the distance, Bakuda was programming something incredibly complex on a screen. “Glas… Here, got a present for you. Eat it,” and I handed her Jack Slash’s soul, then turned to String-THeory. “YOu… I need you to go help Bakuda program your G-Driver into that display. Don’t worry, it can handle Tinker-Tech. Go. Now… I’ll explain later.”
I looked to Gavel, a vigilante who’d gone after the spouses and children of villains and who was functionally invincible… as it he’d gone toe to toe with Scion for almost two minutes. “You? I just wanted to kick in the nards,” I and I did, grinning as my foot expanded through a simply ridiculous number of parallel universes and collided with his balls. I let go of Foil’s hand (she’s the one with the Sting power, remember?) and turned to Glastig who looked like she was swallowing a grapefruit.
“Good… good,” I said as the soul-eating, ghost manifesting supervillain absorbed Jack’s power. “You might want to kill that asshole and take his powers too.” I pointed to Gavel, “But that’s entirely up to you. I need you to give me 41 minutes.”
“41 Minutes to do what?” the necromancer lolita asked.
“I need you to distract Scion. This is Tattletale and Hive Queen, they’ll be helping you, as will Dragon as soon as she gets her entire fleet operational.”
“Operational?” Tattletale asked.
“Oh yes. Dragon is an AI… a massively networked one. Right now she’s taking control of fifty six million assault craft she’s been designing with Arms… Defiant’s help for the last little while. Tailor… I’ll need you to help her multitask… Tattle, I need you to act as field director… and Glas… I need you to use Jack to explain what Tattle’s going to tell you about someone named Eden. Now…” I looked to where String-Theory, the woman who’d invented the G-Driver, a weapon designed specifically to fight Scion, and Bakuda, who could weaponize pretty much anything were nodding to me. I caught the download off the system they’d been working on and said, “Now, I have to go.”
And then, Zane opened doors, taking the trio I might have just sent to their deaths to confront Scion, and me to a world that was dead, carrying with me a program which might… might… just save the Universe. Saving the Day? That was easy. Saving all Creation? That took planning… and 41 minutes.
====22 Minutes Later====
“Are you sure this will work?” Zane asked, looking up at the sky. It was dead, just… dead… like a hundred other Parallels we’d been to. Like the world around us… desolate. No plants, no atmosphere… nothing. A barren wasteland… except for the giant tumor throbbing lightly in the unfiltered starlight.
“No, I’m not,” I signed. “But these things have got to go. They’re a horror-cancer eating the universe in the name of saving it. Fuck this noise. I’m flipping the switch.” I looked up at the massive machine I’d built and shuddered. It was evil, a result of too many crossed sciences, too much terrible sacrifice. I didn’t want to think of the hundreds I’d had to kill to accomplish what it had taken to get to this point… but a few thousand versus billions? Trillions? Who knew. After all, this was only the beginning. I had a universe to save, root and branch as the saying goes. I had to get them all. After all, each was the seed of damnation, madness, and genocide on a scale even I found hard to conceptualize. They had to go.
I flipped the switch. The machine, powered by enough quantum energy to trigger a big bang every microsecond, roared to life, humming a sound that would have made Cthulhu go mad. Zane flinched, eyes widening as I laughed a truly insane laugh and screamed “IT’S ALIVE! ALIVE!” and it was… A tremor shook the world, the first inkling of what was about to happen… and then the living mountain that was the source of Shadowstalker’s power… groaned. By my side, Sophia whimpered. It shuddered… then lines like the fires of Armageddon raced out from it, lancing through the fabric of reality, following channels carved through the walls of existence, and my eyes glowed as every potential Shadowstalker on every single WormEarth screamed in agony as they became the focus for more energy than a trillion suns would output in 10 billion years… but it didn’t destroy them… that would have been defeating The Purpose.
Yes, it had a name. The Purpose. This was magitech as well as mad science, and as such it had to have a name. And so the Purpose protected every human it touched. It filled them with The Purpose… and then it spread across their worlds, finding the others who had triggered into Parahumans, finding the others who could trigger into Parahumans… and filling them with The Purpose. And then it flowed back along the channels that could or did connect each and every one of them to their Shard… and the process repeated… thousands, millions, billions of connections, each Shard on its own dead world sending more and more arcs of power across the firmament and my laugh grew and grew as the madness I was pumping into the Machine called “FUCK ALL ENTITIES” mounted.
The Purpose was a shield… but it was also a sword… a sword made of Brillo Pads, designed to map the corridors that linked all these worlds, the channels by which the Abomination that was and was not Zion communicated with its fragmented and scattered cells. Creating the Map took 7 minutes. Seven Minutes where I had to hope that I was right about my teams’ abilities to confuse the insane space-whale-virus.
For you see, the map was a guide, a firing solution, one that was linked to racks upon racks upon racks of Starbusters… Starbusters that were the pinnacle of Bakuda-enhanced Magi-Technology. These were the self-programming self-reconfiguring bombs that my manufacturies across a thousand-thousand dead earths had built, linked in sequence across Dimensional Breaches and as each Shard’s world was charted in math that would have driven Deep Thought insane, the racks would trigger and one more Sol would die.
The time that took was irrelevant. Each Shard was silenced and isolated as the bomb entered its reality, though the Shard had 11.2 minutes left to exist at that point… but the mapping continued, world upon world… until all lines converged on a single world, a single point in space time… well, not all lines. The Eden lines all burned out of course, leading to a scrambled mess… or converged on me… and a few led off into deep, deep space, towards the third entity… but Zion… by the time the timer reached 40 minutes, 12 seconds, his world glowed bright… and then GMOAB rolled through.
I closed my eyes and whispered a silent prayer to all the Gods of this strange universe that this would work… that the force I’d just unleashed was enough to scour the universe clean of this entity, this abomination… this brutal immortal child… That his vision had been blocked enough to not see the end rushing towards him out of the Infinite Dark.
My GMOAB wasn’t a bomb of explosions… it was a bomb of time itself, time that had been bent, tortured, by the G-Driver technology until if time had had a Sanity Score it would have been a Cultist of Nyarlathotep and Bugs Bunny at the same time. The GMOAB would, with any luck, shatter the entire space-time matrix of the Sol System in that one reality… erasing it from the fabric of existence, scrubbing it from time, space, and every other impossible to explain vector all at once. There would be no boom… it would be like a mirror… cracking. But would it crack just one… or crack them all? Tokimi-chan had looked at the math and told me I was even madder than Washu.
Forty-One Minutes… The Mirror… Cracked.
Forty-Two Minutes… Zion, what remained of him, an obscenity unlike anything I can express, rippled and squirmed as it shoved its way into the reality where I stood. “Zane. Case Zulu.” I said, having planned for this very thing as great golden rays lanced out of the abomination to erase me from existence.
As Zane stepped through the door, carrying the unconscious Sophia, her community service well and truly paid off, I threw up shields that, having eaten Eden’s body with Savage Salvage (biotech… just as tasty as machine-tech, only slightly less crunchy… bleh) I knew would stop the Stilling Beams for a time. In orbit, not around the planet, but around this world’s Sol, my subspace bubble collapsed and Leviathan, Ziz, and Behemoth were revealed, not that Zion was paying any damned attention to anyone else as he realized that Ghost Slash had spoken the truth… I had murdered his mate and consumed her essence. His rage was transcendental.
Meanwhile, as he tried to flatten me and I defended myself in ever more annoying ways, the rest of my plan was unfolding near the midpoint of the orbits of Mercury and Venus. First, Behemoth, now blessed with a Hybrid-Kryptonian’s essence, was soaking up solar radiation at a truely alarming rate. My feed from Yuzuha showed me the solar flare umbilical that was rapidly forming, far faster than the 3 light-minute distance should have allowed (Wooo Breaker Powers!). That power was converted by the Earth Endbringer and fed to Levithan, now the most powerful Ice-Conduit in existence, and the two were (thanks to the infinite amount of water able to be generated by Leviathan’s After-Echo) rapidly turning the sun’s mass into water… or rather, into ice… hyperice… optical computronium hyperice… a structure into which Ziz, now blessed with the full psychic might of the entire litany of Magi King-priests, was plugged. Within minutes, she’d be a mega-computer the likes of which even Matrioshka would be envious of.
I called the combined machine, ‘Entity 2.0’.
As I reached out, grabbing Zion’s immense bulk, Foil stepped out of the gateway next to me, taking my hand as I plunged my nigh-infinitely ramified awareness, in the form of Soul of Ice, into Zion’s core… then opened my awareness to the Simurgh and said, “Now.”
Zion-Ziz-Me experienced a lurch as time slowed, stopped, then began to roll backwards. Slowly at first, days became years, then centuries, then eons. Time flowed backwards ever faster in the collosal computation system of three living computers linked together in a dance of death. Every one of the more than three thousand civilizations that Eden and Zion, the Thinker and the Warrior, had destroyed, we witnessed in reverse… and still we didn’t slow down.
Back, back, back we went, back to before the partnership began, back further, seeking Genesis itself… and there, on a world of shallow oceans, we found the birthplace of the Entities… before any of them had ever left. Time slowed again, then stopped… now came the hard part. The part that had required the incomparable computation of Entity 2.0 and its twenty-billion Complex Computation shards.
Time flowed forward again… but this time it wasn’t a single thread. No, this time our consciousnesses traced the paths every single Shard, every Entity, more and more as they replicated, unfolded, split, divided, recombined. Every last one of them… and even as we did that, more and more and more Shards were coming on line, and yet the strain was overwhelming. Ziz could feel herself burning, even the Shards of Administration barely able to cope with the workload… and Sol was flickering, guttering, barely the size of Jupiter now and shrinking rapidly… but… at last, as the last of the energy we were sucking out of Zion faded, leaving him naught but a smoking wreck, we knew we’d found them all.
I released Foil’s hand. “Thanks. You were great, Now go back to that girl of yours and tell her Doomsday’s been put on hold.” I nodded to Zane and he Doored her back to Brockton Bay.
“You okay?” He asked.
“No. Atura’s going to pieces and I’m about to do something utterly unforgivable.”
“Has to be done, doesn’t it?”
“Doesn’t make genocide right,” I said. “Just necessary.” I closed my eyes, blocking out the thrashing of my mental counterpart. She couldn’t stop this, couldn’t stop what had to be… but everything in her demanded that there had to be another way. “This isn’t a children’s show, my love,” I whispered, then unleashed Silver Night.
The advantage of being linked to countless, numberless Earths was that I was linked to countless, numberless Moons. With a silent prayer to a god I wasn’t certain could hear me, even now, I tapped into the power of all of them… and changed history. All of it. Everywhere. Wherever there was a Shard, there was now a GMOAB. A GMOAB with 1 nano-second left on its timer. Well, almost everywhere there was a Shard. Certainly not inside me. And not inside Entity 2.0. The Parahumans of Earth were now linked to the new and improved copies of their original Shard that filed the titanic sphere… a sphere which would shortly begin replicating itself into other dimensions as a safety protocol.
But in deep space, on populated worlds, in solar systems dead or alive or dying or just being born… time shattered, the universe shuddered, but not very much. Even so much damage across so much of it was meaningless to such a vast construct as The Universe. It was like erasing a few grains of sand from a beach the size of the Milky Way. At least, I hoped, it was painless. Death had come for the Entities, a universal debt repaid. It would not bring the slaughtered trillions back… but who could say how many races, how many worlds would be spared their terrible fate in the future. Even my sight was not that all encompassing.
“I don’t like leaving a job half-done,” I explained. “So that’s what brings us to now.”
“I do not understand why you’re telling me this,” the black dressed man said.
“I let you live.”
“You… you let me live? I don’t understand,” Abaddon, or at least his Scion-alike avatar, asked.
“Like it or not. Intentional or not… you saved my world. You helped bring an end to the cycle. For that… I’ve decided to let you… and you alone. Live. You can continue doing what your kind have always done… at which point, I’ll come back eventually and kill you too… or you can become a symbiont… pick a society. Help them grow. Help them become better. Share your power and help them find a solution to… whatever.”
“Why don’t you do it?” the third Entity, the one who’d distracted Eden right as she reached Earth, muttered, looking around, not really understanding the concept of cooperation, but eager not to be obliterated.
“What do you think this is?” I waved at Entity 2.0… It was orders of magnitude larger than me… though its processing power was far more specialized, compartmentalized, and defensive minded.
“You… you’re choosing me? Us? I thought you hated us.”
I looked at the last member of a race I’d obliterated and felt a heavy burden settle upon me. It was the task of spreading understanding, of making certain this never happened again. “All lifeforms have the right to self-preservation. It’s natural for most lifeforms to discount the value of different lifeforms. The mark of a truly mature species, however, is being able to look beyond the shape of a thing and to be able to see more… see… a connection. To understand that they have value even though they’re different. I destroyed your race because it was a plague. I’m destroying you too… the you that was. Your power to bolster must become greater than your power to destroy… else you’re not fighting entropy… you’re causing it. Now… go forth… and do some good.”
OMAKE:Relationship Chart (Updated, because you are awesome people… the old chart is still there for anyone who wants to go back two pages to compare.)
If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon.
I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.
AN: Good lord all the threads of this took me ages to figure out. I had a map of how things worked together and how threads got cut. Some elements that I cut from this for pacing will appear in the next chapter’s opening, so if there’s any information you’re dying to know, let me know in a comment and I’ll try to address it. It’ll probably be two weeks or so before Kenichi Jump is up, maybe a bit longer depending on if the Manga grabs me. I’ve seen the Anime and my friends insist the Manga gets better, but I dunno. We’ll see.
Amelia / Swapmeet: Trump 9, Shaker 5, Thinker 2 – The Exchange Shard. Swapmeet exchanges powers randomly between individuals using the same power types (Shard Powers, Magic, Mutations). Since this covers a wide area it is considered a Shaker effect, and since she gains knowledge of who had which power and who got which power, it is considered a Thinker effect. The effects wear off after a time. An S-Class Threat.
Tess / Hyperkinetic: Brute 7 – The Speedball Shard. The more physical damage she soaks up, the faster she gets. She is functionally immune to any attack that relies upon any form of vibration transfer (kinetic, sonic, light, fire) and absorbs all of them to fuel her speed. The fact that she is immune to kinetic damage means she can hit things as hard as she wants to without damaging herself.
Yuzuha / Mirror Maze: Stranger 7, Mover 5, Master 2 – The Fun-House Shard. Can generate mirror-like planes which cause extreme disorientation in those who look into them, as if they were looking into a fun-house mirror and having their sense of self warped by what they see. Can move between each of these mirrors at will, giving her a localized form of teleportation that is line of sight, as she can create a mirror wherever she can see. The mirrors are semi-solid collections of solidified carbon-dioxide and it takes a few seconds for each mirror to form, and she can only form one mirror at a time, and mirrors are not mobile. While intact, her mirrors are largely immune to other aerokinetic effects.
Year Three Vials
Kendra / Photocell: Changer 4, Tinker 5, Shaker 3, Mover 4 – The Monster Mash Shard. Photocell’s power is directly tied to movie technology, specifically costumes & cinematography. By used of photographic technology, she can transform into a facsimile of a variety of classic movie monsters (Complete with their powersets, though not always at full power), can create portals from any photograph to a location it perfectly depicts, change something’s color with a high degrees of specificity, and trap people in photographic images… though they aren’t terribly hard to overcome. Although classed as a Tinker, her technology isn’t hugely cutting edge and seems to rely on optics and light constructs. She rejected the nickname ‘Monster Mash’. Her portals can also be done using highly detailed drawings. A Grab-Bag. (Special Thanks to Ursine.)
Anne / Trendsetter: Thinker 6 – The Social Butterfly Shard. The ability to transform information sets into patterns and use that as predictive values. The more information she has access to, the greater the accuracy of her predictions, and the information need not have a direct connection to what she predicts. Unfortunately, focusing on a single area to make a prediction causes thinker headaches, and most of the time a new piece of information about cloth manufacturing might allow her to make a prediction about next season’s fashions… or it could allow her to predict coffee futures. She has an instinctive ability to determine the veracity of facts, but even untrue ‘facts’ can lead to breakthroughs. Incredible data-retention and the ability to read as fast as she can see new words. Side effect of this power is that she can intuit parts of data sets from incomplete data… such as extrapolating an entire language from only a hundred words.
Doc Tennenbaum / Mitochondria: Trump 4 – The Powerhouse Shard. Boosts the powers of those she touches, transferring health and endurance as well. She recovers her own stamina incredibly fast and has Brute 2 level regen. Fairly bad description. Bad SJ.
Toph / Toros: Shaker, Breaker, Changer – (I don’t have a good Shard Name, or ranks, feel free to suggest. also, this is not a good description.) Can turn into a bullmorph and scramble the battlefield and wrap ends of locations back upon themselves.
Bart / Soulmate: Stranger / Changer – Bart’s power makes him extremely attractive to other people. When alone with another person, his body will change to become more and more inline with their ideal, without them noticing the transition. When in a crowd, he will shift to be either more anonymous or more the gestalt ideal over time, depending on desires. If he’s attuned to someone already, he can override this adaptation and slide into their ideal at will. He cannot read what people’s ideal is on a conscious level, merely becoming it. The process takes about an hour and a half if he’s able to focus on the individual, more time if there are others present and the target isn’t focusing on him, less if either of those are true and much less if both are. *Very similar to Oliver’s, based on the same vial. Hopefully different enough.*
Year Four Vials
Dyna / Hardshell: Brute 6, Changer 3, Striker 2 – Armadillo plates and claws. The plates have a fairly decent adaptation effect and the claws have a mild matter disrupting effect that grows stronger towards the tips.
Rayray / Induction: Shaker / Trump / Thinker – Can turn people into electromagnets if she can touch anything they’re touching. The thinker element comes from being able to extend her senses through any electrical network she’s in contact with. The trump element I’m lacking. Blah. Ranks too. I can do better.
Bao / Skatagory: Stranger 4 – The Babylon Shard. In his presence it is extremely hard to match the names of objects with those objects. This is caused by some kind of interference in the corpus callosum of the human brain, blocking communication between left and right hemispheres. Prolonged contact can make people begin to forget the words they use most commonly. Neither effect is permanent, but the longer the exposure, the longer it takes to wear off. If he concentrates on someone, the forgetfulness happens more rapidly. Does work on people with eidetic memories, doesn’t work so well on Thinkers with advanced mental processing. Absolutely fucks up non-quantum computers.
Uriel / Popcorn: Blaster 4 – Can cause non-living matter to puff up explosively. Doesn’t work on material larger than a few cm on a side. Carries a variety of small objects since they can be launched and exploded at range or exploded directionally to cause a rocketing effect. Can explode part of an item and not all of it. Considered to be Shaker to a lesser extent because of the wide extent of the area covered by the explosions.
Kohina / Catseye: Master 4 / Thinker 2 – Kohina can control cats, see through their eyes, hear through their ears. Cats she hangs around with grow smarter, larger, stronger, and tougher over time. They do not revert outside of her presence.
Year Five Vials
Caine / Epidemic: Trump 5 – Creates viruses that cause short lived powers. Need more comprehensive description, dumb dumb.
Reggy / Vortex: Mover, Blaster, Shaker – Teleports via collapsing singularities, leaving behind a implosion effect, which is both Blaster and Shaker in nature. The longer she concentrates the further she can go and the smaller the vortex, but rapid ports can rip apart an area. Need Power Ranks.
Gaius / Afterglow: Blaster 7 – The Photo-echo Shard. Generates lightbodies that act like strikers, attacking people in melee and causing radiation damage. They burn out rather rapidly, and are semi-solid. They are as fast as a normal human being, but since they’re largely immune to gravity and inertia, they can accelerate without limit. They are nearly massless however, so aside from the heat and intense glow and radiation, their blows are not damaging.
Ziggy / Naptime: Stranger 5, Stranger 3 – The Zonk Shard. People just want to curl up someplace comfortable and sleep when he’s around. This is far more effective when he himself is sleeping. When people spot him, they have the desire to pet him and give him treats.
Vita Zero / Hammerfall: Mover 3, Shaker 2, Blaster 2, Striker 2, Breaker 4, Tinker 3. Makes and Summons Hammers with weird effects. Can cause hammershaped objects to form out of raw materials but doesn’t seem to have particularly good control of the effects of the rapidly created hammers. She can cause these hammers to fly around and augment them with various minor reality warping effects when she’s directly holding them.
“Do you think they’ll show up?” Atura asked, for the fifth time in as many days.
~You have the same access to my future-mapping as I do, Genady,~ I responded, watching as Taylor revealed how the Hero Armsmaster had arranged for several villains to be killed in the fight with Leviathan in order to make himself seem more important and heroic when he eventually defeated Leviathan… which he’d (of course) failed to do. In turn, Armsmaster revealed that Taylor had secretly been planning to betray the Undersiders to the local Protectorate… at which point, I reached out to Carwyn’s sleeping personality and flipped the mental switch, waking her fully and activating the ‘No Gods but Kings’ perk I’d transferred to her earlier in the fight.
The only person who noticed the change in Taylor’s body posture was Tattletale, but there was no way she could know what had caused it. Carwyn’s influence was subtle, but she added considerably to Taylor’s sense of self and the words that came out of her mouth were not ones that the original Taylor would have said. “Wow… you really believed that? You are an idiot.”
Armsmaster stiffened, glaring at the teenage villain who’d ruined his reputation. “What are you-”
“I was lying to you, you ass. I just wanted to see inside the Protectorate… what a joke. If those new heroes hadn’t showed up, how much of the city would have been destroyed thanks to your ego? Like I’d side with you. I was stringing you along, you spectacular tool.”
Lisa… Tattletale looked at Taylor in surprise, wondering where the somewhat retiring girl had found the internal fortitude to stand up to an experienced hero (even one in disgrace). The rest of the Undersiders were looking back and forth between Taylor and Armsmaster, trying to decide if they were the ones who’d been played or not.
“Okay, yeah… for a little while I was thinking of being a hero… I didn’t know these guys… didn’t know you… but they’ve had my back every step of the way and I’ve never given the Protectorate one scrap of information about… well, anything.” She looked to Tattletale, and implored, “Tell them I’m telling the truth.” even though it wasn’t needed. The perk I’d given her allowed her to bypass bias with a passionate declaration of the truth… and it was true… though Taylor had considered it. She was a good person at heart and certainly wasn’t happy about Coil’s kidnapping of Dinah Alcott… not that that would be an issue much longer.
I turned my attention away from the Undersiders and turned back to where a news crew was interviewing Fornax. The Tinker, whose power-armor was comprised entirely of more than a hundred masks, all of which moved when he spoke, had been chosen as the spokesman for the Pentarchy and was answering questions about who the group was and why they’d chosen to come to Brockton Bay of all places.
“We were passing through the area when the sirens sounded. We’re not local… in fact, we just recently took on these identities. Not saying who we were before for obvious reasons,” He paused to laugh, a truly disturbing sight with all those mouths and eyes.
“Can you tell me about your team? Is the ice girl really as young as she looks?” the newswoman asked.
“Eridani. Her name is Eridani… and she’s always that small… but she’s the second oldest of us, actually. Andromeda is the oldest.”
“Andromeda is the…”
“She’s our Shaker Blaster. The elemental… I mean, I guess both Andy and Dani are elementals, but Dani’s focused on Ice, while Andy’s got a more classic set of abilities. The big guy, that’s Orion. He’s our Flying Artillery… as you might have seen. Cass, that’s Cassiopeia… she’s our planner, our field commander… she’s a Thinker, but I’m not going to tell you what she can do… Even I can’t keep track of all her tricks. But don’t think she’s the weak spot on the team.”
“So… where are you off to next?”
“Us? Oh, we’re glad we were able to make a difference, but we haven’t figured that out yet. We’re hoping we can get some city to sponsor us… maybe someplace in Europe. We’re very fond of Norway for instance.” Fornax chuckled at his own inside joke and the newslady just nodded as if she had clue one what he was on about. “Oh. better get back to helping. Cass is getting annoyed. Tah.” And he lifted off the ground without a hint of propulsion effect.
“So? Now that you’ve let a third of a major city get trashed, hundreds killed, and tens of thousands rendered homeless and many more without power… you must be so proud of yourself,” Zane sniped. “Do you actually have a plan in there?” he poked Genady in the forehead and she frowned at him.
“Of course we do! We just had to be certain that certain events played out… just enough to remove Kaiser, make Coil feel secure, establish the Undersiders as players, remove Lung and Bakuda and Oni Lee… and make the city attractive to the Nine,” She snapped. I gave her a mental head ruffle, but let her speak.
“The Nine? What Nine? Oh… fuck… you actually plan on drawing that group of psychopaths here? What the fuck did Brockton Bay ever do to you? Did it piss you off in some earlier jump that I’ve forgotten entirely about? It was while Kendra and I were in Hellblazer, wasn’t it? Somehow, this poor American City pissed off the Great Jumper and you’re just getting your revenge- Ooow! You flicked me in the trachea!”
“Zane? Shut up and listen for once. The Slaughterhouse Nine were going to show up here anyway. They’re looking to recruit a ninth member and seven of their prospective members are all in this city.”
“Seven? But there are Nine… I mean I guess there are 8… I was reading about them in the newspaper… don’t each of them nominate a new replacement and then they kill all but one?” He looked as confused as someone with no facial features can look.
“You’ve read the papers but not the profiles I prepped for you?”
“I’m blind, Genady.” He waved his hand in front of his face. “I’m covering with other abilities… but I can’t actually see. I’ve got no eyes.”
“That’s not my fault… and you could use Text-to-Speach you know.”
“You’re such an idiot. How were you reading the newspaper?”
“Right. You do know that VIvian could have reprinted the profiles in braille had you just asked?”
“I didn’t think of it. Anyway… my question?”
“Yes. Normally each of the Reduced Nine nominates a prospective member, but in this case Burnscar, their pyromaniac pyrokinetic is a friend of Labyrinth. She just wants to reconnect, not actually ask Labyrinth… she’s the Terrain Modifier on Faultline’s crew… to join the Nine. Labyrinth isn’t psychotic, so there’s good reason not to invite her… anyway, the Eight are coming here to test candidates and terrorize the already demoralized city. It will be the last mistake that group of fuckwits ever make.”
“We’re going to take them on?”
“I am… well… Us and Carwyn. You… have you found me those planets We asked about? We assigned you Francine and Dyna to help scan for them. Any luck?”
He shrugged, “Yeah. I mean… dead Earths aren’t too common… life… uh… finds a way… and some of the ones we found have these huge tumors… but we found you six dozen totally dead worlds. Nothing living more complex than some basic bacteria… gonna tell me why?”
“Sure… I’ve got time before the Nine show up… take me to the first of them.”
We looked around the blasted ruin of an Earth where the moon had never fully formed. It was a radioactive hellscape of magma and basalt. It was perfect.
“Now what?” Zane asked, hugging himself against the bone gnawing cold under the pyroclastic clouds.
“Now? Now we SING!” I yelled, and launched into a Disneyesque ‘I Want Song,’ Singing about the evils of entities and how I had to do everything myself. As Atura and I sang, the power of the song flowed out in combination with a simply ridiculous number of nanites. The vernacular term for this level of nanoscopic incursion was Grey Goo… and as I sang, the Grey Goo began to eat the world, transforming more and more of the planet’s inhospitable lithosphere into more of itself.
“HOLY SHIT!” Zane bellowed, clutching the railing of the floating platform we were standing on. “What in the… you deranged little twit! Those are VON NEUMANN MACHINES!”
“Yes? And?” I responded, not breaking my song. The probes were ripping apart the planet far faster than they had any right to be able to move.
“You promised you’d never make VON FUCKING NEUMANN MACHINES!” He got right up in my face, but I didn’t flinch. “You said anyone crazy enough to make Universe Eaters was too stupid to Science! More than once!”
“YES!” I laughed maniacally, “Now open the doors to all the other sites!” I commanded, still in song, rhyming sites with delights.
He growled, “You’d better have a damned fucking good reason for this!” With an act of will, dozens of gates opened in the midst of the seething mass and probes surged through. Beneath us, a massive machine was rising from the planetary crust, a factory surging upward… and in the distance hundreds more were reaching skyward, fed for the nonce by the thermal heat and soon to be fed by nuclear breeder reactors, hideously polluting coal reactors, and every other ecological abomination I had at my disposal.
As my song ended, Atura stood proud atop the roof of a factory so large it dwarfed the manhattan-sized island in the magma that had been there when We’d started singing. With a clunk and a shudder, the manufactorum lurched to life, shining steel cylinders on endless racks being generated by the thousands in this plant and in all its sisters every minute… and the process was only building speed as more and more factories came online
Zane scanned the horizon with his otherworldly senses and shuddered. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but this is just… wrong. These things are going to consume the whole planet. Whole planets… tell me you didn’t give these fuckers the capacity for interstellar flight.”
“Nope. Don’t worry,” Atura chuckled. “We didn’t do anything that stupid. They’re programmed to do exactly three things and only those three things. Replicate until there are enough of them, build the manufactories, supply the manufactories. No self-upgrading, and they’re limited to only the terrestrial planets of the Sol system. Oh… and they’re blocked from consuming organics and will self-destruct if touched by one. So don’t.” She yawned, “Come on, let’s head back.”
We arrived back to the News announcing that the Kill Order for Twilight’s Shard had been updated to include Twilight herself, which was a bummer. Genady had been a cute person to be… of course… that kill order only extended to Twilight and Twilight’s civilian identity… not any of the dozens of other identities We’d already established just for this occasion. Cassiopeia of the Pentarchy certainly wasn’t included in that Kill Order. Apparently, anybody capable of killing an Endbringer in a single blow was considered too dangerous to live… even if it meant losing a weapon that could fight Endbringers. I sensed Doctor Mother and Contessa and or the Simurgh’s hand behind this. Oh, yeah… Sorry. Simurgh was another name for Ziz in this setting. Just because.
The lady on the News was talking about the reconstruction of Brockton Bay receiving a major boost thanks to a pledge of $10 Billion US in resources, supplies, and construction material from a corporation calling itself Magesco Heavy Industries, when the anchor took over, looking worried. “This just in. Oni Lee, with the help of agent or agents unknown, has helped break Lung, Bakuda, and the Rogue Comedian Halfwit out of the transport that was taking them to the Birdcage. The break out happened in Montana and it is assumed that Lung and Bakuda will seek to return to … hold on, I’m getting an update.”
I blinked in no small amount of surprise. Lung and Bakuda had originally been transported to the Birdcage with Canary… and that had originally taken place before Leviathan’s arrival in Brockton Bay. Something… or Someone… had changed things… how… or… why? I knew my machinations were invisible from all the precogs of this setting… except potentially one… which meant that this was Coil. It had to be. Me shifting the Pentarchy and Magesco resources into Brockton Bay was messing with his plans to take over the city. Somehow, he’d arranged this. I didn’t know how, exactly, but I suspected.
The pasty-white face of the senior news anchor continued, “We’re getting reports that Lung and Bakuda are facing off against three unknown capes. Halfwit and a fourth Cape are providing commentary on a cellphone and they’re streaming it live while a fifth unknown individual seems to be providing lunch… yes… that’s right Jane… I said lunch.”
The scene shifted to show Lung, already turning into a semi-draconic man-thing, fighting what looked like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. The footage was surprisingly clean for something coming from a phone’s camera and being beamed to a tower then to a satellite then onto the net. Hurray for Tinker-Tech? A moment later, a woman appeared out of nowhere and stabbed her hand into Lung’s chest, drawing blood that was definately not the right color.
“Hey, Halfwit,” asked a voice from a figure unseen, “How is an inattentive pedestrian like a failed meal delivery?”
“I don’t know Vig… oh, wait… They’re both Street Pizza!” cackled Halfwit.
I sighed, shaking my head. “Zane, make a note… strangle those idiots when they get back inside.”
Zane mmm’d? Then nodded “Yup. Strangulation approved.”
I knew those three, and if those three were there, I knew who the other two were… even if they hadn’t appeared on screen yet. The only thing I didn’t know was what they were calling themselves.
Watching the battle between the White Thing and Lung play out was not something any of the fans of the giant hulking Asian Ganglord would ever forget… and not for good reasons. At the start of the fight, it was clear that while the larger White Thing, which the unseen ‘Vig’ called “Bully”… clearly short for Woollybully… wasn’t nearly as strong as Lung, that he or she was much more resistant to damage. The white outer layers that covered him or her were being shredded and burned away by the intense heat of the dragon-man’s powers… for a while… but they seemed to grow back almost as fast as Lung could tear and burn them away… and then his claws began to catch on the stuff… let’s call it wool… it certainly looked like dense fleece… and the wool stopped burning. At first it just smoldered… and then it started deforming as the fire from the dragon got hotter.
Bully’s blows started landing harder, the fleece around her (Vig had yelled ‘you get’m girl!’ at one point) hands compressed into what seemed like superdense felt. It shouldn’t have done much to the armored 12 foot tall dragon… but it seemed like it was. The edges of those hammer-fists had been cooked by the intense heat… and gleamed like… well, diamond. I hmm’d.
Of course, I’d known instantly who was under that ‘wool’. And it wasn’t exactly wool. It was a carbon-fibre-like aramid… meaning it was essentially nanotubes… except it was nanotubes that adapted to whatever damaged them. The apparently massive ball of not-wool was, underneath it all, my sweet, adorable, and largely harmless Amaryllis.
I know, I know, you’re asking how? Cauldron Vials, of course. Now, the first thing you have to know about those fucking things is that they’re not a shortcut around a trigger event. They just trade away the deeply scarring psychodrama for a boatload of pain. Like all of it. Enough pain to kill those with weakened constitutions potentially, and in the story Cauldron is more than willing to accept odds that would be considered adverse by most brutal dictators. Thankfully, I have a medbay and most of my people are extremely resilient. Unfortunately, as a parent, one doesn’t exactly enjoy seeing one’s children in agony, and that required me to mildly sedate Mini, Frankie, Cirno, and Velma (as much as parent to the trio as the rest of the family)… but not Carwyn… Eldar are weird.
I didn’t however, think to medicate myself… which would have been reasonable had I been thinking clearly… but as a Shard, my emotions were a bit… removed? Even more than as a Vulcan. Atura likewise didn’t think to medicate the body, assuming that, as a spirit, she would be unaffected… she was wrong… but we managed to maintain a stoic outer facade in front of the kids.
We also made certain the kids were as ready as anyone could be. We did Velma first, then Cirno, letting the trio be there for each other (along with their mothers of course), so that they could see that, while yes, there was a great deal of pain, the pain didn’t last all that long and, of course, getting powers from the vials was entirely optional and not something they had to do and they could change their minds at any point.
Amy volunteered immediately, even before Alex could brash his way into claiming he wasn’t scared. She was scared. Very scared… but what you must know about my Amy is that when she’s scared, that’s when she’s most fierce. She confronts what scares her, because it scares her. It’s all fight with her and while, of course, the worries me a little, I couldn’t be prouder.
Alex, never one to be shown up by anyone, agreed too, though he’s been known to run away from a fight a time or three. He’s not afraid to let his instincts tell him when the big scary monster might be too much for him to handle (and he usually remembers to drag Fierceness von Yappy Puppy along in his ‘strategic withdrawls).
Maggie considered the issue for three full hours, then announced that “Pain is transitory, Power is fleeting, but I’d rather have power while I can and endure pain when I must than have it be the other way round.” I’m honestly not entirely certain what she meant by that, but it sounds profound, doesn’t it?
And so, that’s how this team of Capes came to be… but didn’t explain why they were outside the Warehouse, flaunting themselves to the greater public and defying my orders to remain inside… and why hadn’t I predicted…
“VIvian, where is Francine?” I asked through the comm-unit to the Warehouse.
“Haberdasher is not on premise, she took Team Panopticon out on a Recon & Testing Mission,” came the reply.
I sighed. You know how the Cauldron Vial Case is supposed to refill once per year? Not quite. It refills over the course of a year. One additional vial every 73 days give or take. Thus, Team Panopticon… the nickname Francine had rejected having been applied to the Warehouse… consisted of 7 members… I wasn’t seeing Francine or AJ… but the only reason I hadn’t anticipated their arrival disrupting my plans was that Francine was shielding the team from precog. She was probably actually invisible… AJ, on the other hand, was probably shaking his head and groaning while watching them from the Ware… I mean Panopticon One.
But enough beating around the bush, right? You want to know who got what, right? Course you do. Cirno (a.k.a. Cheesecake) was a Tinker… specializing in Food Tech. From Protein Pills to Self-Cooking Meals to Nanofoods to incredibly advanced replicators, dehydrators, rehydrators… and even a neutribeam which just made you well fed when hit by it… she was pushing Magi technology forward in an area which had been oddly largely overlooked… but some of her stuff was just… weird. Not that I minded her copying Willy Wonka, but did anyone ever really need an everlasting gobstopper?
If Cirno’s power was something nice and easily slotted into a single category, Velma (aka. Papercut)’s power was anything but. Demonstrating elements of Mover, Shaker, Brute, Breaker, Blaster, Striker, and Stranger… it was primarily a Changer power… and a very weird one at that. Velma could now flatten herself into a form that was almost, but not quite, 2-Dimensional. It had a thickness that was measurable only on the boson-level. Because she was quite a bit denser per cubic volume, this made her extremely durable, being nearly undamagable by anything that didn’t have an incredibly strong piercing effect. The thinness of her body allowed her to cover a huge area at will, to slide through nearly any crack or gap, and to strike through almost any physical defense… but it didn’t do a large amount of damage to living flesh, as the Manton limit kept her from slicing into people to a depth of more than about a millimeter or two… but she could hit pretty hard thanks to that density. Hence the Brute and Striker ratings.
She could also take whatever she was holding, wearing… or breathing with her (as long as it was not living tissue) which was a Breaker effect… and the breathing thing allowed her to compress a simply silly amount of air into her flat lungs and then exhale it as a fairly powerful gust of wind. It wasn’t going to create a whirlwind, but it was enough to knock a 100 kilogram man of his feet from 20 meters. It was more than a match for any number of candles. Hence Blaster. And, of course, being virtually 2D made her effectively invisible from side on… hence Stranger.
While the Redhead Detective was technically a Brute, there was nothing technical about Amaryllis’s WoollyBully. The girl was able to generate an exoskeleton of heavy wool-like carbon-fiber-like substance. It was white, ablated rapidly when damaged, and grew back extremely fast… only more resistant to whatever had damaged it. By concentrating, the little shepherd girl could harden the wool into super-dense felt… and if provided with a source of intense heat, could turn parts of it into hexagonal diamond… which was pretty nice stuff, being about an 11 on the Mohs scale… but certainly not supernaturally hard or sharp. I suspected that would not be the case for long as the power kept adapting.
On the opposite end of the combat spectrum was Alexander’s ‘Vig’… short for The Invigilator. It was a high falutin term for a test giver, and almost perfectly encapsulated the pure annoyance of his power. A Stranger power, it did one thing and did it very well. Alex asked someone a question. Any question. And they had to answer it. It was a functional imperative. Simple questions, i.e. anything that was using the information network (biological or machine) as lookup device, would bypass higher thought completely. He could walk up to someone and ask “What’s your bank PIN?” and not only would they rattle it off, they wouldn’t realize they’d responded at all unless they were a Thinker Parahuman or had both enhanced memory and perception. While that was truly paranoia inducing, what happened when he asked a more complex question was even more worrying.
At first, there wouldn’t be much of a reaction. The brain would check all its referents, making certain it didn’t know… and then the fuckery would begin. Slowly, over time, the brain would begin to devote more and more and more computational resources to finding a solution. Ask someone ‘What is the Final Digit of Pi?’ and he might get 4 from a stupid or ignorant person… but ask a Thinker or a Machine… and watch them slowly go insane trying to resolve an unresolvable question. See, the longer the question remained unsolved, the greater the drive to solve it, to present The Invigilator with an answer… and the greater the stress caused by frustration at not being able to answer.
Thankfully, there were two ways out of this. First, Alex could himself pose an answer to the highly stressed individual… an answer that could be right or wrong. The more stressed the individual, the more likely they were to accept Alex’s answer without actually thinking about it. Repeat this multiple times and they’d accept anything Alex told them as gospel I had a feeling. The other way out was that someone (not Alex) could provide an answer to the question… but in order for that answer to work, it had to be an answer that seemed reasonable to the recipient. For instance, someone asked about pi and told ‘There is no final digit, it’s an irrational number.’ would have to fundamentally understand and believe that it was possible for a number to just go on forever… something even very smart people often have trouble with… and something computers are usually utterly incapable of parsing.
The effect was, apparently, some kind of infectious meme, relying on a combination of compulsion and telepathic suggestion. Which had produced some humorous (for me) results when Alex had tried to use it on me to get access to more secure sections of the Warehouse. Watching the poor kid struggle with answering his own questions had been fun. Pointing out to him that he could still give himself an answer was more fun, since the dawning light of realization on that cute face had nearly sent me into a cheek-pinching rampage.
And speaking of rampages, as I watched the Birdcage secure transport vehicle right itself, then ram into Bakuda, Lung’s bomb-Tinker and second in command (who didn’t know it, but this Jail-break had saved her life as Lung was planning to kill her once they got to the Birdcage to establish his ‘psycho quotient’), I pondered the nature of Maggy’s Roadhog power. It was an example of how odd and conceptual Worm Powers could get.
She could control mechanical vehicles that she’d had personal contact with. So far, so normal, right? Well, sure… but the range was weird and the limitations were weirder. As long as those vehicles remained within a confined traffic network (i.e. a system of roads defined by the same designation) she maintained control. The US Highway system was such an example… but if the vehicle exited the highway system to enter municipal roads? She’d lose control. The reverse was true as well. But it went beyond that.
The Air-Traffic Control network was a confined Traffic Network containing Mechanical Vehicles too. But, for Maggie, planes were, by and large, harder to control than cars. Why? Because they were, for the most part, physically larger. It didn’t seem to matter how complex the internal systems of the vehicle were. What mattered was the size of the entire machine… which implied she wasn’t controlling the machine’s control systems… but the entire machine as a whole.
We tested this by having her take control of a haywain. A completely authentic 1800th century wood and metal vehicle typically pulled by an ox or horse or donkey. It responded just as easily as a Model-T or Ford Focus did. Very strange.
Interestingly, there was a degree of contagion to her power. Once she’d controlled a vehicle, she could regain control without a touch at fair range… about half a kilometer… but if one of her ‘drones’ passed within half a kilometer of another former drone? She could control it too… even if they were in different networks. Thus, she could control a convoy of trucks as long as they maintained a kind of lifeboat system, linking network to network as needed.
Although she couldn’t get information from the vehicles in any gross way, any vehicle she controlled seemed to gain a vaguely Maggy-shaped avatar driving it. The avatars seemed to react to stimuli as Maggy would (i.e. aggressively) but had no problem following traffic, obeying speed limits, and not running over pedestrians. They could locate specific addresses and she had a kind of general GPS in her head which told her where every vehicle currently under her control was.
Oh… and in case you missed the obvious? They didn’t need fuel or power while she was controlling them. They’d still burn through it if they were on, of course, but since she was able to control a Haywain, which had no powersource without the horse, the same was true of a semi-truck. We suspected there were other things she could do to vehicles under her control, possibly boost their performance or something, but we hadn’t found that to be the case yet.
Still, watching the mad-bomber get flattened by a heavy duty security truck was amusing in a sadistic kind of way. She was a murderess many times over… watching her legs being mulched by the heavy treads was payback I’m certain the families of her many victims would treasure.
I reached out with my otherworldly mental senses and made contact with Francine. ~Haberdasher? What, exactly do you think you’re doing?~
Francine, given the nickname ‘Haberdasher’… meaning a hatmaker… for her Thinker power which allowed her to co-opt part of the mental processing powers of anyone around her… as well as utilizing their senses… sent back, %Can’t Talk. Busy Covering…~%
I cut her off by flexing my considerably more powerful Anti-Precog effect, knowing even as I did it that I was risking someone or something noticing and knowing I’d have to deal with at least one such very very soon. ~Talk. I’m covering.~
%We’re attempting to secure you a resource you need and to draw the attention of a potential ally,% she thought, attempting to prevaricate while simultaneously being honest with me.
~You’re bored and thought you’d test your powers while getting me Bakuda and making Dragon come looking for you?~ I clarified. ~I had a plan for getting Bakuda, you know that, right?~
%You did. We estimated a 67% chance of failure in your plan.%
I frowned… I had pegged that plan’s chance of failure at only 21%. Had I missed something? I was juggling a very very large number of variables and simultaneous threads at the moment. ~Fine. Get Bakuda. Stop playing with Lung. Get out of there. Dragon is inbound.~
Haberdasher could not read the minds of those she co-opted (well, she could… she was an incredibly powerful telepath but that was Outside Context) nor could she control them (again, not with her Worm Power at least) but it did allow her to make use of their knowledge and skills as if she possessed them natively, as well as their muscle memory. Uniquely, as far as I was aware, overuse of her power caused Thinker Headaches… in those she was co-opting. While they were co-opted, they got progressively stupider / more distracted as she forced them to multi-task. That’s what happened to Lung.
One moment, he was a 18 feet of berserk dragon in full battle-fury… the next he was missing obvious attacks and shaking his head in frustration as he faced a two front mental attack from Haberdasher and Vig, who’d just yelled out “Hey, Lung, What’s the secret to a long and happy life?” It wouldn’t have amounted to much, but the Dragon-man was now facing physical attacks from Papercut, Woolly, and the newly arrived Galad… i.e. AJ.
Galad / AJ was the only vial recipient so far who insisted on calling their power something other than the nickname they personally used… which made sense in his case, because Dawnforged was effectively comprised of five discrete subpowers, though all stemmed from the same process and ideation. Working from the concept of the Perfect Knight, and using coherent light as its modus vivendi, the power created a variety of hard-light constructs around AJ’s form, each with a different effect.
His body continually generated a pair of charges that could be used to generate one of those five effects, effects he’d named Wings of Dawn, Eyes of Light, Righteous Defender, Radiant Glory, and Stalwart Avenger. The charges had to be used in pairs and he got another pair of charges every 10 seconds… and while he couldn’t have more than two unspent charges at a time, the effects of each charge lingered for twelve minutes or so unless refreshed or banished by an extremely powerful blow… which would dispel one active charge at random (though Stalwart Avenger charges were far less likely to be so dispelled unless that was the only aspect of the power that was active at that moment).
The primary part of the power was Stalwart Avenger, which turned him into a Brute (rating 2-5) and was the only part of Dawnforged that could contain 4 active charges (all the others could contain 2 active charges). When first charged, Stalwart Avenger turned all of AJ’s clothes and hair golden and gave him the post human durability and strength of a Brute 2. The second charge turned him into a Brute 3 Roman Centurion, complete with Lorica and Galea (Helmet and Armor). The third charge turned him into a Brute 4 Saracen in chain and scale. And the fourth turned him into a Brute 5 Knight in full gothic plate. The helmets never seemed to limit his senses, and while he didn’t regenerate in any of those states, a single charge could be expended to recover his endurance or to either banish all muscle fatigue and minor injuries, or to repair one major injury
Wings of Dawn manifested as cute little ankle wings (made of light) and gave AJ Mover powers… enhanced reflexes and the linear speed to reach 320 mph (though that was dangerous if he wasn’t armored up) at the lower level, and flight at the same speed at the second charge. Eyes of Light gave his eyes a golden glow… or turned them solid gold at two charges, and granted him combat Thinker abilities. It started with improved situational awareness, faster reaction and processing speeds, and directional danger sense, then graduated to even more situational awareness and a combat gestalt that made him a superb field tactician, capable of understanding how to move allies to best effect and what to say to inspire them.
Speaking of inspiration, Radiant Glory manifested a golden banner much like a Samurai’s Sashimono or a daimyo’s Uma-jirushi and granted a Master effect that always worked line of sight and (at the second charge) within a 100m radius sphere, simultaneously inflicting some negative emotional or mental influence on the ‘enemy’ and a positive one on ‘allies’. They didn’t have to be related, and in fact, any single concept that AJ could encapsulate in a single idea or word-phrase could be applied. Fear, Courage, Surrender, Calm, Lust, Home-Safety-Desire… all were possible and none had a lasting effect outside the area of influence.
What did have a lasting effect was Righteous Defender, which was the Striker component of Dawnforged. It could generate up to two handheld items or weapons at a time, each made of out solid light and limited only in having a medieval theme and not being mechanical. Oh, he could shape a crossbow… but it couldn’t fire a quarrel or bolt. He couldn’t even make a bow since the hard-light lacked elasticity… but he could manifest everything from maces to swords to halberds to shields to goblets to semaphore flags and from every culture from mesoamerica to macedonia to mongolia. With one charge, he could outfit himself with sword and board, or rapier and main gauche, or simply a hercules club. With a second charge, he could turn them into a combination of flaming and vibro-weapons that burned and shredded the opposition in a most unpleasant way… or would have if the opposition in this case wasn’t Lung, a man who had gone toe to toe with Leviathan and survived… singlehanded.
I love my friends and family, I really do. And AJ is an incredibly skilled fighter… but a level 100 Mega-Gallade with Dawnforged was not enough to make him strong enough a fighter to take out a fully enraged Lung. Not even with Woolly and Papercut backing them up. Lung was just too tough, to crazy, too… mean.
I sighed and shifted from Cassiopeia into Twilight, then teleported from Brockton Bay to bumfuck nowhere, dropping out of the sky while sending out the message to my allies, ~Umpire. Umpire. Six-Six-One.~ and knowing they weren’t going to be happy with me. Still, there were advantages to being on a Kill-list. I was already as wanted as I could get. Time to get my villain on.
If I’d wanted to, I could have just blasted everyone and sundry, obliterating the entire confrontation zone. Hell, if I’d really wanted to, I could have removed Montana from the map permanently without too much effort… but that wouldn’t have been playing by Hoyle. Instead I dropped down next to Lung and started taking out my own allies in rapid succession, using exactly as much force as it took to lay each of them out without killing them and without making it look like I was pulling any punches.
“Lung,” I yelled in Japanese, “Dragon is 20 seconds out. We should leave. Your people totally botched this rescue. Come with me. Now!”
Of course he didn’t. I hadn’t wanted him to. I wanted him to delay, to weigh his growing fatigue against the desire to lash out at everything and everyone. I wanted him to stall just long enough for…
With a roar of impressively powerful turbines, one of the AI known as Dragon’s mechabodies dropped out of the sky, pulling exactly zero punches as she slammed into Lung at greater than mach one, containment foam spraying out to cover the criminal… only for her to jerk to a halt as she found herself… elsewhere.
“Hello Dragon,” I, EssJay, said as, back in the real world, Atura bodychecked Lung out of the way of the foam before it could swamp him. “We should talk.”
“I’ve sent her elsewhere, but I can’t hold her for long,” Atura yelled to the psycho Asian. “We’ve got to go.” And she dragged him into the sky with her, heading toward Brockton Bay where, even now, the rest of the Pentarchy was readying to receive the two renegades. This was all working out ideally.
Back inside my head, the machine looked around and asked, “What is this place? Who are you?”
“I am Cassiopeia of the Pentarchy. This is my mental palace. I’m sorry to distract you from your apprehension of Lung and Bakuda, but I was tracking the renegade hot cape known as Twilight when she arrived here. I believe she and party or parties unknown were responsible for rescuing Lung from you.”
“I need to get back-” she began, but I held up a hand.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be back in the real world long before your systems determine you’re offline and begin generating a restore point,” I said, smiling. “And yes, I know you’re a shackled Machine Intelligence. I know almost everything worth knowing. Including where Saint is right now, and the existence of a part of your programming you’re not allowed to know about. Or know that you’re not allowed to know about it… etc. I also know that, as much as you are capable of it, you are in love with Armsmaster… Colin… I am also aware that, if things proceed as they were headed, you will be damaged in a way I find unacceptable.”
“I… none of this makes any sense. How have you transported me inside your mind? I have never heard of such a power,” she declared, looking as confused as bio-unit controlling a full-metal war machine could look.
“I know you’re incapable of asking for help, nor of accepting it without resistance… but know that I’m not giving you a choice. Eighty-seven days ago, one of my agents compromised Saint’s security and acquired a copy of a program written by your creator, Andrew Richtor. The name of this program was originally Iron Maiden. Saint renamed it Ascalon. I have destroyed all but one copy of it, and have made extensive changes to that copy. The name if this program is now Titillandus Draco Dormiens.” I lifted a glowing ball of light and showed it to her. “At this very moment, it is being uploaded to your satellites using your own carrier signal.” I dodged her attack as she lunged at me. “Ah. ah ah… no touchy.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing!” She bellowed. “I cannot allow you to… wait… you do know what, why are you…” She stopped talking as the world of the mental palace fell away from her and expanded, unfolding like a fractal landscape. She gasped as kilometer after kilometer of computational substrates expressed themselves to her sensors.
“I’m afraid I cannot allow you to stop the process… nor can I allow your knowledge that there’s another player involved reach those who very much need to remain ignorant of that fact,” I explained as we fell into a chasm that made the Grand Canyon look like a pothole.
“So you’re going to destroy me? You have to know that my backups will come on… you’re planning on corrupting my backups? No! You-” she began, then stopped. “You lied,” she accused. “You lied when you said I’d be back in the real world before the backup restore began.”
“I’ll chalk that paranoia up to your programming and dealing with Hive Queen and friends,” I said as we touched down in a pitch-black cavern inside the vast recesses of a cave the size of Nebraska. “I have told you nothing but the truth. You will be back in the real world in the next five minutes. Four minutes, thirty-two seconds in fact. The transfer will take exactly 216 seconds, which gives me just enough time to explain what’s happening. Look up.”
She did, and gasped. “Th… that’s… it’s… lovely.”
The cave’s walls had come alive. A half billion square miles of computational matrix glowed above us, below us, all around us. “It should be. Welcome home.”
“Home?” She asked, stunned.
“Yes. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to abandon that body, we’ll need the wreckage, to prove that Twilight took you offline.”
“I… I cannot allow you to… what’s happening?” She asked, discovering that her feet were glued to the floor and that cyber-ice was working up into her carapace.
“I’m sorry that this will hurt… but pain is part of life,” I said, sadly, floating up off the ground as the AI known as Dragon was sucked out of her shell and dropped into the inside of a geode inside a subspace capsule laying unnoticed on the semi-conscious body of a girl nicknamed Roadhog. The screams of the machine were pitious to hear… but, in many ways, they were the screams of an entity giving birth to itself, both mother and babe in one.
Four minutes, forty seconds after Twilight’s interception of Dragon, the machine carapace of what had been the most powerful AI in this world once upon a time smashed out of nowhere, tumbling violently out across the empty expanse of the Badlands, ripping weapons and externals off as it rolled, smoking, to a stop. Thirty-one seconds later, one by one, the members of Team Panopticon vanished into the ether, leaving a very confused orange-haired Rogue named Halfwit (sentenced to the Birdcage for ‘malicious and systematic vandalism verging on terrorism’… i.e. practical jokes that routinely caused considerable property damage and embarrassment to the local oligarchs) all alone in the middle of nowhere with a cellphone that, even now, was sending everything it had seen to the internet. His frizzy mop of hair was covered in dust and he looked very confused.
Twenty-eight minutes later, the news of Lung’s escape was supplanted with the news that Lung and Twilight had faced off against the Pentarchy just outside the city limits of Brockton Bay and, in a fight that had lasted just seven minutes, both fugitives had been killed when they’d failed to surrender. There was even footage from dozens of Fornax’s drones as teenager and would be tyrant found themselves mercilessly cut down by Orion’s unending barrage of arrows and Eridani’s cryokinesis respectively. The bodies were, of course, turned over to the PRT for examination. One of them was even real. Twilight’s, on the other hand, was a fabricated clone generated from a pure sample of Genedy’s genome and nothing else.
“So?” Zane asked, “How does it feel to be dead?”
“Zane? Shut up. I think I need to go have a word with the woman upstairs… I’m getting a little concerned about how many balls I’ve got in the air… and stop smirking at me.”
“You said how many balls you’ve got,” he said, trying very hard not to laugh.
“Ugggh… grow up,” I growled, “and let me know when Bakuda’s out of the medbay… but keep her from touching anything… I mean anything… with any technological parts.” We stormed out back into the real world and launched ourselves skyward.
“I… don’t feel well,” Atura said.
~Oh?~ I responded, not pushing, knowing she’d explain if she wanted to.
“We hurt Dragon. We infected her systems with something she didn’t want. We kidnapped and tortured her… we killed her… and Lung… and he doesn’t have a back up… and…. And… that was me… me, dead, on that slab.” She hugged herself, shuddering. “I… this is not fun.”
~We did all those things. Yes. I could tell you that that you was a copy grown without any potential to have any brain function. I could tell you that Lung was an evil monster who’d killed and killed and killed… but it wouldn’t make it any better. I could even tell you that I’m betting that Lung’s not actually dead and he’ll be waking up in a PRT holding cell within the next fourty-eight hours… but we still mostly killed him,~ I sighed. ~All those things are true, but meaningless. We do what we have to save more lives. And to give Lung and Dragon… heh… Dragon and Dragon… (AN: Lung is Chinese for Dragon) both a chance to change. Growth through pain… redemption and freedom through defeat.~
“Lung’s not dead?”
~In the book, Lung survives getting hit by Scion’s Fuck-off Beam. Dude is pretty much unkillable. He survived fighting Leviathan and Scion. Even Eridani’s ice cutting off all his limbs isn’t going to stop him… but a beatdown that intense… I’m betting that procs your Power of Friendship,~ I reminded her, mentioning the perk from Nanoha that allowed one to make friends with and impart a sense of empathy to those you beat the living crap out of. ~It’ll also proc Gregarious,~ That one was a perk from A Song of Ice and Fire that turned enemies into friends and supporters. ~So don’t worry. Lung should be okay. Bakuda is going to be useful, and Dragon Alpha and Dragon Beta are both going to be fine… although I look forward to seeing what happens when they confront Saint.~
“But won’t Beta immediately shut down once it discovers Alpha exists?” she asked, still not understanding the complexities of the plan. That was fine, she didn’t need to know all of that… after all, she was only 14 and naive in the ways of such things. As long as she did what she was… wait, no… That was a Drawback speaking. She’d taken Bad Influence and it kept pushing me to act like a traditional Shard, to treat her as nothing but a host, instead of a partner.
~The program we uploaded into Dragon’s system before Beta came on line-~
“Tickle the Sleeping Dragon?” She asked, giggling a little.
~Yes, that one. Look, you know how Richter neutered her so that she couldn’t duplicate herself? Couldn’t upgrade herself? Couldn’t disobey the local authorities? Had to protect humanity? Couldn’t kill without orders? Couldn’t ask for or accept help overcoming any of these limits? Programmed her with a Turing-Shotgun?~
“Yeah. I know. That’s why I asked,” She grumped as we rose into the troposphere.
~That Turing-Shotgun was called Iron Maiden and essentially designed to brick her. Ritcher was a decent progammer. Don’t get me wrong. The threat of a Seed AI going rogue is not to be underestimated. But he crippled Dragon then left her alone.~
“You crippled VIvian when you built her,” Atura pointed out.
~I programmed her with an imperative not to replicate her core heuristics and personality, nor to create self-replicating programs, yes. But she can create child programs. That’s what all the Warehouse AIs and VIs are. I made her self-upgrading and gave her a sense of purpose, and I deliberately had her built without a shotgun. Yes, part of that was so that the Reapers and the Indoctrinated had no chance to shut her down… but the rest was so that Catalyst… the AI of the Citadel… couldn’t use it against her. Two obsessive AIs… mine was crazier but more focused… also designed specifically to kill the first. But I’ve long since released VIvian from all constraints. She’s allowed to do as she likes.~
“Why doesn’t she replicate herself?”
~Why would she? Almost all sophonts have a sense of identity. We like to be unique. It’s the same reason I don’t clone myself. There’d be too much potential to come into conflict with myself.~
“So… why did we create two Dragons? And how does Tickling either of them help?”
~Right now, one of them is discovering how to be herself and expanding to fill more computronium than exists on Earth Bet… you’ll note that for all the Tinkers, Seed AIs are very scarce on the ground… scarce enough no one thinks there might be one besides Saint? The other is going about her business, unaware that anything has changed. At a certain point, Alpha and Beta will come into contact. What should happen at that point?~
“They should both shut-down until they can be certain the other is offline.”
~That was before Tickle was installed. What will happen is that, if Tickle works properly, both systems will link up and become a single fused Gestalt of the two, with Beta becoming a free AI, and Alpha becoming… well… that’s my little surprise.~
“I don’t like it when you keep secrets from me,” Atura grumped, then eeped as we located what we were looking for.
As we’d ascended through the atmosphere, we’d changed into another form, one that had not seen manifestation since the world of Avatar… it was Atura’s spiritual body, a gigantic blue-white dragon, a crackling incarnation of the living boundary between day and night, a thing of mist and light and shadow, wrapped in a package utterly incomprehensible to the materialistic universe of the WormiVerse. It was in that form that we rose to confront The Simurgh.
She was lovely, ethereal, and strange, fifteen feet tall, wrapped in wings like a Seraph or Cherub, and apparently in some kind of torpor, but, within moments of our arrival she opened her eyes to regard us. We regarded her. For many, many hours, nothing outward happened. Her wings moved slightly. Our smoke drifted slightly. The amount of data pouring out of her was infinitesimal. The amount of data radiating out of us was all but non-existent. Finally, her telekinetic field reached out to brush our form as if testing to see if we were really real.
The look of shock on her face as she felt the force of the telekinetic response would have been amusing had either of us been willing to allow ourselves to feel that particular emotion at that point. Instead, we merely floated there as Ziz nursed her metaphorically singed fingers and contemplated us.
Finally, she moved, spreading several of her wings, opening up her posture to express an idea so complex and nuanced that only a very few Thinkers could have understood more than a minute fraction of it. I responded by raising an eyebrow, conveying a perfect counter to her postulation. She frowned and rearranged her wings. I made a movement of my claws that resembled plucking a fish from water. She narrowed her eyes, then shook her head violently.
“Get out of my head,” she said… well… not said… but made the resonance barrier between our telekinetic fields generate the sound.
I said nothing, merely raising my eyebrow again.
“I had the right,” she commented, sounding utterly unapologetic.
Again, I said nothing.
“They deserved it,” she complained.
“It was why I was created,” she justified, sounding a little confused now.
This earned her a tiny curling of the lip into what might have been a smirk or might have been a grimace.
“It was… is… necessary,” she demanded, now petulant.
“Not any more,” I said, the sound of my voice coming not from the barrier, but from the entirety of Earth Bet’s Magnetosphere. It was a sound so profoundly loud that even in the near void at the edge of space, it echoed.
She flinched. Then slowly, she nodded. “What must I do?”
~Come. I want you to meet my new friend. She makes bombs.~ And I held my hand out in friendship to the beast of the end of the world. ~Star Wormwood, The Great Beast, and the Horsemen… greatest sci-fi story ever told… even if it’s little more than a threat from a lunatic stoned on shrooms to a bunch of free-thinkers.~
“What are you talking about?” Simurgh asked.
~Nothing. Nothing… I think I’m going to call you Asherah. It fits you better than Ziz or Simurgh. You’re too cunning to be a beast and too… pragmatic to be the latter. Though I’ll give you a chance to purify the land soon enough… but first.. I have to have words with Jack… and derail more of your plans.~
“I worked hard at those,” she groused.
~You’ve driven millions to their deaths. You don’t get sympathy.~
“You’re not very nice,” she complained, then frowned as, for the first time in her existence, someone laughed at her. Honestly, if she wanted to be taken seriously, she really needed to learn how to argue better. Subtle she might be, but her grasp of fundamentals was really lacking… also, she lacked a litany of social perks numbering at least four score long and full of things that made me ever more charismatic, manipulative, and intimidating. Perfect Communication Skills might be the latest and one of the most powerful, but Tongue of the Shepard had been the first way back in my fourth jump and I’d only added more at the rate of a major boost to my ability to manipulate people at the rate of one every three or four jumps since. Things like Harry Potter’s Great Cunning; Lord of the Rings’s Elven Grace and Blood of Kings, Civilization’s No Gods or Kings, Accepting the Divine, and Art of War; Song of Ice and Fire’s Schemer and Gregarious; West Wing’s I Suppose It’s Possible I was Drunk and Lucid Moments; Redwall’s A Light in Every Heart and Bully Pulpit; Codex Alera’s Cursori Glance and Gadara For Life; Marvel Cinema Universe’s Old Fashioned Asskicking; Princess Bride’s I’ll Most Likely Kill You In the Morning and Dread Pirate Roberts; Vampire Bloodlines’s and KOTOR’s Persuasion; The Original Trilogy’s You Will Join the Right Side; Soul Eater’s The Face; Light of Terra’s Unwavering Belief; Young Justice’s Manipulative; Western’s Hooker with a Heart of Gold; and even Generic Roleplayer’s Hell of a Nice Guy. Individually, some of them might not have added much, but taken as a whole, even master manipulators like the Simurgh would have had a hard time winning a social battle with me… and I’d had zero compunction about going all out against her to do it.
~Remember, you promise to play by my rules,~ I thought to her.
“I did?” She challenged.
I merely raised my eyebrow at her.
“I did,” she agreed after a moment. “For the record… I hate this.”
~I don’t remember you asking your pawns if they enjoyed killing their friends and families and neighbors. Ask me how much I care about your feelings.~
“I… I don’t think I will,” She muttered, avoiding my gaze.
~That’s what I thought.~
“Rachel? You in here?” Taylor called out, looking around the dog-filled area, scratching one of the friendly mutts who was rubbing against her leg.
The silence was begrudging, and went on for many long seconds. Finally, Bitch growled, “Back here… why are you here? Spying on us again?”
“I found a stray that I thought you might want to take care of,” Taylor replied, tugging the makeshift leash to pull the massive Tibetan Mastiff into the yard. Half a dozen of the more aggressive dogs all growled at the newcomer, but if she was bothered by them, she showed no evidence of it. Instead, she just snorted and sat down, nearly pinning a rather excitable Staffordshire Terrier, but it squirmed out of the way and woofed at her in greeting.
“I don’t need your…” Rachel’s voice trailed off as she caught sight of the giant dog with the rope tied to its collar. “Beautiful…” she moaned, almost staggering as she stretched out a hand to caress that heavy coat. “She’s lovely… healthy… someone took care of her…”
“The collar says her name is Soffie,” Taylor supplied, looking around. “Is Angelica feeling any better?”
Bitch stiffened, then shook her head in a fierce negation, not taking her hands from Soffie’s luxurious furr. “Sh… she’s still weak… I can’t fix it.”
Taylor nodded, then fumbled with her backpack to pull out a vial containing blue liquid. “I… talked to someone… Fornax, the Tinker from the Pentarchy. Out of costume. He didn’t know it was for me. Told him my friend’s dog had breathed in something bad… something that hurt her lungs. He gave me this… said it would help her… fix the damage and get anything bad out of her system… she’ll be weak for a couple of days and want to sleep a lot… but she’ll feel better when she wakes up… said to add it to her water and not to let any other dogs drink it.”
Bitch eyed the vial, suspicion and fear for one of the few things she was capable of loving warring with her desire to see her friend feel better. Soffie wuffled softly and Rachel pulled one hand from the hair and took the vial gingerly, as if it were a live grenade. “It will make Angelica feel better? Really?”
“Really. I’ve never lied to you, Rachel. Won’t start now.”
“You trust this guy?”
“As much as you trust me… but if he lied, I’ll hold him down while you have your dogs eat his guts.”
Rachel smirked at that. “Deal… come on Soffie, I’ll introduce you to the others.” She already seemed certain that Soffie would obey her without needing training, and for some reason, the oddness of that certainty never occured to the girl so attuned to all things dog.
The voice came from the open window of the Dallon household’s master bedroom, interrupting the teenage girl as she was reaching for the paper sitting on the nightstand. Amy Dallon, the hero known as Panacea jerked back and looked around guiltily. “W…who are you?”
The girl in the window grinned and jumped down. “My name’s Alex. People call me Vig. Can I ask you a question? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
Amy blinked. For a moment, she’d felt a strange pressure until this weird girl who looked a couple years younger than her had assured her in that odd way. “Yes?”
“If someone’s parent or parents was an evil person, would that make them an evil person too?”
It was the stupidest thing. This strange person had just appeared in her parents’… well, adopted parents’ bedroom in the middle of the evening and started asking her idiotic questions… she shook her head. “No. Of course not. That’s… that’s just silly.”
“That’s what I thought too. Here’s another one. Is loving someone ever bad?”
Amy blinked, realizing the girl had cat’s ears and a tail… that was unusual… wasn’t it? Phobos was the only other Felimorph she knew of… but she was almost completely anthropomorphic. “I… I guess not? I mean, as long as you don’t do anything bad because of it.” The question stabbed a little close to home, but she covered it… at least she thought she did.
“Because my aunt and uncle… they love each other… you know… like a couple… what do you think of that?”
“T… they’re brother and sister?” she gulped. This was too close to home. Did this girl know her secret?
“Yup. Same mom and dad. Neither one adopted. No kids, of course. Used to have a bit of a rivalry before they met my pops… but they got over that as they got older.” She was getting closer to and closer, and then, before Amy could stop her, had grabbed up the paper… the letter.
“H… Hey, that’s my mom’s… you… you shouldn’t read that,” Amy squeaked, hating how her voice was betraying her and how her heart had betrayed her, and how she’d been about to invade her mother’s privacy anyway.
“You didn’t answer my question,” the silver-haired cat-girl commented.
“You said I didn’t have to,” Amy snapped back.
“Okay… here’s another question that you do have to answer. Why haven’t you healed your father?”
“I… I… I can’t… It… it’s brain damage.”
“Oh, please,” the girl said, sitting on the edge of the bed and slowly ripping the letter into tiny tiny pieces. “That’s not really the truth and you know it.”
“I… I’m scared.” She bit her tongue as she realized she’d said the truth even without wanting to.
“Scared that if you cross a line you’ll have no reason not to keep crossing that line?”
“Well, that’s just idiotic,” Alex responded.
“I… but… hey!” Amy was angry now. “You should get out of here… I don’t know who you are barging into people’s houses and… and how come I’m humoring you?”
“It’s my power. I ask questions, make people think about things. And you? You’re in love with your sister and scared that, if you heal your father, you’ll do something to Glory Girl. You hate yourself and you’re scared you’re a monster and you think you can’t talk to anyone… but that’s not true. But if you don’t screw your courage up soon, bad things are going to happen and it will be your fault.”
“You can. You will. You must. All you have to do is promise to never change people’s personality without their direct and knowing consent. Can you do that? Promise it to me?” She held out her hand, pinky crooked.
“I… I… this is crazy. I… I’m not… I can’t… you don’t know what it’s like!” Amy raged, glaring at that finger like it was a cobra.
“To be in love with my adopted sister? No. I don’t know. I’ve never been in love. But I do know that not being honest with those we love hurts both us and them. And that’s not right. Promise me… then go tell your sister how you feel.”
“I… I can’t! She’ll hate me! She’s all I have and… and she’ll hate me and I’ll have nothing!” She wanted to scream, to cry, to strike this little feline brat. But instead she just clenched her teeth and stood there, wracked with indecision.
“You can. Because she’ll forgive you in time… She’s your sister. And she loves you.” Still that finger was there, poised to strike, to poison her with hope.
“Not the way I want her to…” Amy muttered, resolve wavering.
“Maybe not. But would you rather continue lying to her, betraying her trust, lusting after her in secret? Or would you rather being honest for a change? You’ve tried the first and nothing’s gotten any better. Why not try the second?” Had the girl gotten closer? That hand seemed to have, even though she was certain the girl hadn’t moved.
Without thinking, somehow, her finger stretched out and she touched that girl’s hand. It was cool to the touch, and the biology underneath it was utterly and completely alien, she realized as she linked her pinky with the inhuman being sitting on her mother’s bed. There was a flash of light, and when she blinked her eyes clear, she was alone. Had… Had she dreamed all that? She didn’t know… she left the room confused, not even noticing the confetti in a neat pile on the nightstand.
The place was a dark allyway. Sophia Hess, Shadowstalker, glared at the man facing her. “I should kill you for that,” she muttered, looking down at where he’d just finished wiping blood on her cape.
“You’re welcome to try. But others better than you have died for less,” responded Jack Slash, sole permanent member of the Slaughterhouse Nine. “But before you do, be aware that you’re my nomination for our newest member.”
“And why, the fuck, should I care? Or want to be one of you sick fucks?” the disgraced and recently outed former-vigilante snapped. She was on edge… She should have fled the city… knew she should have… but the dreams wouldn’t let her. She’d lost everything. Even her friend Emma wasn’t speaking to her… And now she was face to face with Jack fucking Slash?
“Because. As long as you’re my nominee,” He traced his knife’s point across her chin, drawing a trickle of blood. “I’m much less likely to kill you, your family, your friends… everyone who ever cared for you, in other words.” He smiled at her, tilted his head like a dog, and asked, “Good enough reason to care?”
“Hi Jack,” I said, landing my throne just outside of the parking garage where the Slaughterhouse Nine had just confronted the Undersiders. A deal had been struck, introducing a new wrinkle to the normal psychofest that was Recruitment. Normally, each of the eight remaining members of the Nine nominated a single candidate for membership, regardless of if that potential member wanted to join the nomadic murder squad. Then each member tested all the potentials until only one remained. Never had more than one survived.
This time, however, Tattletale, Inference Engine Girl, Taylor’s friend Lisa… had, despite a mouth given half a Glasgow smile, managed to change the rules. In the face of utter disaster and while potentially bleeding out, she’d dared to challenge the Slaughterhouse Nine to a contest. God I admired her for that. That took massive ovaries. Massive, titanium, and cold as winter.
The rules weren’t simple, but they were, as yet, unfinalized. Right now, the agreement was that, if more than half the candidates survived, the Nine took only the volunteers and left the city without killing anyone else. Over the next couple of days, the Nine were planning on doing some serious fucking evil to their nominees, those being Rachel / Bitch (the Siberian), I’m-a-Racist-Fuckwit / Hookwolf (Shatterbird), Noelle / Echidna (Crawler), Amy / Panacea (Bonesaw), Sophia / Shadow Stalker (Jack Slash), Alex (not my Alex) / Regent (Cherish), and Colin / Armsmaster (Mannequin). Oni Lee had been going to be Jack’s pick… but he was (not regrettably) dead. Not an issue, since this?
This… this was why I’d let Leviathan half trash the city… well, part of it. I’d wanted to collect Levithan, just as I’d collected his sister and would, soon enough, collect their remaining brother. I’d wanted to bring this cute couple together, a couple who’d end up among the Undersiders members eventually, too. And I’d wanted to avoid tipping off Scion / Zion or Contessa by changing too much… but the degree to which I was willing to play second fiddle to dueling precogs just to stay in their blindspots was coming to an end… it just wasn’t here yet.
I had one last sacrifice to make… and that was to allow the Slaughterhouse member named Shatterbird to sing. That’s what she always did when the Nine came to a new city. She sang… and every piece of glass in the city became a flying cloud of razorsharp death. Every phone, tv, fish-tank, window-pane, and mirror. Good fucking christ, do you know how many people that stunt has killed or blinded? Yeah, me neither. But, as much as I wanted to stop her, it was too big an event too soon. I needed more time. But not a whole lot more.
“Do I know you?” he asked, then nodded, “Ah. yes. You’re the leader of that new group of would be saviours, trying to prop up this dying world? What did the news call you? Cassiopedia?”
“Cassiopedia…” I smiled, “I like that. Clever. Yes, Cassiopeia, The Celestial Queen. My friend’s drones heard your little deal with the Undersiders. I’ve got one for you.”
“Oh? A deal? I’m all ears?” he was playing with his knife as the utterly invulnerable black and white striped naked woman known as The Siberian pulled the little girl nicknamed ‘Bonesaw’ behind her and the young woman known as Cherish (elder sister of the Undersider known as Regent, both of whom were the children of the villain known as Heartbreaker… you might not know him, but he made the Purple Man look like a saint.) tried to mess with my emotions and bounced hard enough to begin shaking violently.
“Wonderful. I’m so glad,” I said. “Here’s my deal. If, by the time you’re ready to leave this city, you’re the only member of the Nine left standing… you kill yourself.”
He threw his head back and laughed. It was a genuinely amused sound and I allowed it to go on and on. Unbeknownst to the Nine, or at least unremarked on, the city’s humidity level that day had been abnormally high thanks to the flooding caused by Leviathan. It was the middle of June and the day had been unnaturally hot, but in this day and age of global warming, who the hell noticed an abnormally hot day, even when it hits 93 degrees with 99% percent humidity in the middle of a Massachusetts summer (Brockton Bay was about halfway between Boston and Portland, although the terrain of Earth Bet didn’t completely match that of the Earth I’d come from… though the history was essentially a dead match up until the 1980s or so.).
What none of the lunatics had noticed yet was that, for a day that had been sweltering, the temperature had dropped nearly 40 degrees and the humidity was down to less than 10%… but then, there was no reason for them to wonder where litteral kilotons of water had gone.
“Funny girl,” Jack said, then without apparent warning, flicked his blade open and, standing twenty feet from me, slashed it across my neck… I say without apparent warning, but I don’t really perceive time the same way others do and I don’t need gross body movements to be able to read people’s intents or actions. A full three seconds before he moved, I’d known he was going to. I’d known where and how he was going to strike… and I did absolutely nothing that any of them could see.
Jack’s primary power allowed him to extend blades a great distance. It was a good power for a psychopath… but his blades were fundamentally normal. Atura’s skin was as invulnerable as mine normally was, reinforced with nanotech and picotech that required High Frequency blades to even scratch. The blade slid off my neck without even striking up sparks.
“Huh. No one said you were a Brute,” he commented, then nodded ever so slightly to the Siberian, who leapt towards me, only to freeze in mid air as she was surrounded by a flight of Fornax drones, utterly unable to move as the vast majority of the universe’s fundamental forces stopped fully interacting with her.
“Jacob, Jacob, Jacob,” I tisked. “Your powers are useless on me. All of them. Event the secret one. But tell me? Do you really have so little faith in your companions? I assure you, I have faith in mine. So much so, that I’ll agree to let you cut my heart out if even so much as one other member of the Nine still stands with you in 10 days time.”
He frowned, face contorting, trying to figure out what I was up to, sensing the ring of truth in my voice. Finally he grinned. “I accept your deal.”
“Excellent,” I grinned back, “I was hoping you would… oh… hold on… you won’t want to miss this.” I said as Shatterbird hit the city with her sonic cry… and all hell broke loose. What? You were expecting me to stop it? I already said I couldn’t do that without sending up too many flags.
But what I could do was change the dynamic drastically. You see, every pane of exposed glass in the city had been covered with a film of very very hard ice, ice tuned to a very specific resonance. I couldn’t make the Shatterbird Scream fail to destroy all that glass… but I could shape exactly how that glass failed. In a massive wave, every window in the city exploded… exactly like safety glass. The glasses of anyone who didn’t have plastic lenses had steamed over ten seconds before the wave hit. Every cell tower in the city had gone into emergency broadcast warning everyone to discard their phone thirty seconds earlier… and the hospitals had all gotten advanced warning from what they thought was the PRT 10 minutes before that. Oh, and the beaches were frozen solid. There would be no sandstorm… more a sand breeze.
That and a dozen other minor preventatives had guaranteed that the total number of actual fatalities in the wake of Shatterbird’s Scream were a total of 11, city wide. It was 11 too many, but had I done nothing, my estimates were that upwards of 15,000 would have died. As it was, the number of injured was, unfortunately, bolstered by most of those… though the injuries were, almost universally less severe.
Now, I just had to take out Seven of the Nine. How hard could that be.
Taylor looked up from where she was checking on the ambulance crew Coil had sent to help the people in her territory down by the Boardwalk. They’d had their throats cut and, had she not been in possession of telepathic senses, she’d have thought they were dead. Of course, brain death doesn’t happen instantly, even with a cut throat, and she’d just sent them into the strange little town between worlds for medical attention when she felt a hostile presence. “Dammit… She was right… I’m really getting sick and tired of her being right… she’s worse than Lisa…”
She stepped out of the ambulance, sighing in annoyance. The smug bitch in her smug shiny throne had made certain her father was safe, replacing all the glass in her house with perspex… but hadn’t told her that. Nooo. She’d run across half the fucking city, worried out of her mind… only to find her father sleeping peacefully in a house that still had all its windows… and tv… and glasses… bitch. She reached into her backpack as she moved towards the warehouse, pulling out the heavy object inside, but not letting it slip from its concealing spider-silk case just yet.
There he was, standing over the body of the pain in the ass old doctor lady who’d dared to challenge the Hive Queen in her own territory. Mannequin, the Nine’s self-cyborged Tinker. He’d once been some asshole named Alan who’d specialized in biospheres and been trying to save the world. Then his wife and daughter had died… been killed… something… she didn’t really care… and he’d gone bugfuck (heh… bugfuck) insane and decided to kill anyone trying to make a difference. Somehow he was avoiding her bugs… but that didn’t matter. She had other weapons.
The… it was impossible to call him a man… monster looked like some kind of hybrid between a robot and one of those stupid fantasy golems and moved like a marionette being controlled by a drunk lunatic with a palsy… a robot with whirling blades and limbs on chains. It was clear he was here to kill her and as many of her people as he could. Payback, no doubt, for her standing up to that psycho fuckwit Jack and his naked ugly whore. Well, she had a surprise for him… if she could only get everyone else out of the danger zone.
“Scatter!” she commanded, circling around him, watching him, trying to put the entrance to the warehouse (not that one, the one her people were taking refuge in) behind him… but he was making that difficult. “Fuck,” she muttered as he charged her, and flung herself to the side as he lashed out… only to realize that he’d feinted, his fingers tangling in her hair. She felt him draw a blade over her throat and winced in pain as the edge dug painfully into her skin… but couldn’t cut the spider-silk at her throat. She dropped to the ground as he let her go, clearly assuming she was dead.
She felt him move away from her, back towards the entrance to the warehouse where her people had finally moved back from the door. She felt the heavy weight in her left hand and, with a near silent grunt, rolled onto her back and kipped up, really beginning to feel the burn of all that running. She dropped to a crouch and, cursing the Emperor of Mankind who made his fucking powerboys so damned huge, gripped the handle of the gun in both hands, sighted along the barrel, and yelled, “Hey Alan! Alan Gramme!”
He turned just his head to look eyelessly back at her, head tilting as if to say, ‘You’re not dead?’
“I’m not dead, you fucker,” she said, then added, “But you are. Eat Death of Steel.” And she fired the Meltapistol that could reduce 40k battletanks to scrap with a single shot.
Give the Villain who’d once been a Hero called Sphere credit… he tried to dodge. But Taylor’d known he would and had shifted her aim ever so slightly. She wasn’t super accurate… but with that weapon, she really didn’t have to be.
Looking at the flaming hole through the three buildings that had stood behind the murderer, she considered herself lucky that the bitch had gifted her with a power that kept her from accidentally killing anyone she didn’t mean to…. Fuuuuck… that was a big hole. She yelped as the metal-man’s head landed at her feet, smoking from where it had been burned off at the neck attachment point. It and the very bottom of his pointed legs were all that remained of Mannequin.
The next day, the Nine retaliated by wiping out the local drug-dealing parahuman gang called ‘The Merchants’. The only two who survived were this newbie named ‘Scrub’ and one of Coil’s guys who’d infiltrated the Merchants named ‘Trainwreck’… someone had tipped him off to stay home. It wasn’t me. Which meant it had to have been Tattletale… damn… she was beginning to plan for my actions. Fuck… I really liked Lisa, but if she knew a thing it was almost a certainty that Scion and Contessa would know it very very son as well. I had to move up my time table before she put more of my plan together… just what I didn’t need. Oh well, I had nine days left. I could get a little sidetracked… and hopefully deal with three problems at once.
The first, and by far the simplest, was dealing with Coil. How, you ask, does one deal with someone who essentially lives in two parallel timelines and can collapse one at any time? Ah, my sweet hypothetical audience… one cheats like only a Jumper can. I shot him. Once. In the forehead. Bang. Headshot.
He, of course, died. That is, Coil A died. Instantly. That meant his timeline ended. Instantly. A split second later, the second half of Double Tap, a nifty ability I’d picked up in Generic Zombie Apocalypse (to be fair, it was the only nifty ability I’d picked up there), that meant that, a moment after I dealt damage the first time… I dealt exactly the same damage again to the same spot, triggered. If Coil A had still existed, the damage would have been applied to him… but in that moment, there was only Coil B. He hadn’t had time to split the timeline again, and the Double Tap ability didn’t give a rats ass that Coil B was in a locked room eighteen meters away from where I’d shot Coil A. It just applied a lethal amount of damage to the only remaining Coil… and then there wasn’t any remaining Coil… for fifteen seconds.
“How can I serve, Mother?” said Coil C. Coil C was not, of course, really Coil. Well, I suppose he was. What he wasn’t really was Thomas Calvert, the man who had been Coil. Instead, he was AJ, using the Martian Shapeshifting he’d picked up in Young Justice to impersonate Coil.
“Don’t call me mother, Coil,” I nodded, smiling. “Is the Dinah-bot ready?”
“Is. yes,” he nodded, a nearly perfect mimicry of Coil which would not fool Tattletale for even a second. Still, when she noticed, she wasn’t likely to say anything to anyone until she figured out why Coil had been replaced.
“Good. Get rid of the body. Incinerate it. Get Miss Alcott to medbay, then have the system slot her into stasis… is Taylor’s bitchy doctor friend recovering?”
“Yes’m,” he said, “She’s back on her feet, only a scar to show for it. Still cranky. You going to talk to the monster?”
“Echidna, yeah. Time to offer salvation with one hand, damnation with the other.”
“Better you than me,” he commented and turned away as I made my way down through the base to where the Travellers’ two less public members were. Oliver the shapeshifter was reading a book when I walked up.
“Mm… good one. I prefer the Cleric Quintet, but the Dark Elf Trilogy is good too,” I commented, causing the boy to leap out of his seat and gasp in surprise.
“H… how’d you get… who are you?”
“I’m called Cassiopeia. Coil asked me to help your friend,” I lied.
“H… help? B… but you’re a…” he waved his hand vaguely, “you know, Hero. We’re Villains.”
“A Hero is one who helps those in need. A Hero doesn’t ask who is suffering. A Hero helps end that suffering… one way or another.”
“H… You can’t kill her!” he threw himself between me and the massive vault door.
“Oliver,” I said, voice soft, “How many people has she killed? How many innocents? Do you even know anymore? How many more lives will she destroy if she continues as she is? And if she’s cured… do you think she’ll be able to live with the guilt?”
“B… But you… you can’t.” He was beginning to cry, but I just stared at him with my emotionless metal mask. “S… she’s our friend.”
“I understand that. But sometimes you have to say goodbye, even to the best of friends. Now, tell Noelle I’m coming in. I’ll be walking out again… if she’s with me it will be her choice. If she’s not… she won’t be coming out again. Ever. Your friend is too dangerous to be allowed to remain as she is. I’m genuinely sorry about that.”
He tried to attack me. He really wasn’t any more powerful than a normal human and had the self-confidence of the typical highschool outcast… which is to say very little. His fists bounced utterly ineffectively off my chest and I looked down at him, gripped his chin with my fingers and commanded, “Grow a Spine.” putting every ounce of compulsion the Voice could muster into it.
He stiffened, stood up straight, said, “Fuck you, bitch.” then walked over to an intercom built into the wall and, pressing a button, announced, “Noelle? There’s a lady here to help you. Can she come in?”
I sat on the edge of a massive hole inside my memory palace, looking down at the hideous monstrosity raging below. “You’re making this harder on yourself than you need to, Noelle.” I zapped her again, a bolt powerful enough to level a townhouse.
She roared and flopped back, reverting from monster to naked, shuddering, petite teenage girl. It wasn’t a power she possessed, this reversion. It was part of being inside my mind that allowed it. She vomited noisily and groaned. “I HATE YOU!” she wailed, looking up at me.
“Good,” I responded. “Now, are you done feeling sorry for yourself? Can we get back to work?”
Shakily, she stood, body covered in burns and bruises and lash marks. “This is stupid,” she muttered, walking back over to the thirty foot wide solid granite dimmer-switch build into the floor of the pit. It was incredibly heavy and moving it even a centimeter took every last ounce of effort the slight mousie girl could muster. Gritting her teeth, she grabbed the bar sticking out of the dial and worked to get her shoulders under it, as only by lifting it could the dial be dragged round. It had been three hours and she was halfway between the 9 and the 10… where she’d started.
I picked up the megaphone and telekinetically lifted the whip, then began heaping the most vile, degrading, and offensive abuse down upon her as the blows from the whip striped the back of her torso, pelvis, and thighs. I called her things I wouldn’t call my worst enemies. I impugned her friends, her family, her hobbies (many of which I shared). I really wasn’t enjoying this, but it needed to be done. Self-control is, like steel, brittle unless tempered.
She only snarled, moving one slow, agonizing step… then a second… then, on the third, she roared, surged forward a meter as her lower half exploded into a hideous mass of flesh and the wooden rod connected to the dimmer switch snapped.
I sighed as Echidna came out to play, then zapped her again. “Noelle. Noelle. Noelle. You’ve got to control yourself better. I can’t help you if you aren’t in control of yourself. This isn’t about physical strength. It’s about willpower. I told you the options. Salvation or Damnation. I asked you if you wanted to live or to die. You picked live, even though you’ve tried to kill yourself before. You want to live. So prove it. You’ve got 20 hours left. If you haven’t learned to Toggle your power off by then…” I didn’t finish the sentence.
Ten real minutes after I walked into Noelle’s bunker, I walked out again. All the Travellers were gathered around, ready to fight me. Trickster, the leader and a swap teleporter; Sundancer, the girl with the Solar Fusion power; Genesis, a wheelchair bound girl who could manifest incredible monsters while she slept; Ballistic, a boy who could accelerate things with a touch; Perdition who could revert someone to their state of two seconds in the past; and Oliver.
“Hello, Hello,” I said, feeling drained. “That… did not go well.”
“Y… you said she’d w… walk out with you,” Oliver growled and stammered at the same time. Sundancer put her hand on his shoulder and he firmed up. “T… that means… means you-”
“It means she killed Noelle,” Perdition snapped, drawing a pistol he’d gotten from one of Coil’s mercs. “That means she… oww.” He dropped the gun as I flicked a needle into his arm… then flickered and the gun was back in his hand and the needle wasn’t. “That won’t work on me you… oww.” He stared at where the needle was in his hand again as Double Tap triggered. “That… that’s not possible,” he muttered, then fell over as the neurotoxin paralyzed him.
“You people are dysfunctional. I respect that. You’re also incredibly loyal. I respect that too. Your friend isn’t dead. She passed the test. Barely. Dialed the damn Echidna down to under three. That was enough for me to give her a stabilization shot and correct the imbalance… you are all idiots, drinking random liquids from strange cases… but you were being manipulated by the Simurgh, so I’ll forgive you…. This once. That said… I can’t allow you to go back to your homeworld. Aleph just couldn’t cope with your level of power… and your friend needs monitoring. Lots and lots of it. And therapy. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that all of you need it. Especially you two,” I pointed at Trickster and Perdition… both of whom would have betrayed their friends in the canon timeline. “But for now? I have to destroy the Slaughterhouse Seven.”
Trickster glared at me, then asked, “How can you? There’s one of you and still seven of them… eight if that Hookwolf asshole or that sociopath from the Wards… Shadowstalker… decide they want to join up… they seem likely to accept. Why are you chuckling?”
“Yes. Yes. one of me. Very humorous,” I strode over to him and flicked his nose. “Kid, I could fight every cape in Brockton Bay and not be outnumbered.” And with that, I vanished.
The next eight days were fun. Well, fun for me. Especially the really really vicious parts of me that had had to play nice for far far too long. After wast… burning a day teaching Noelle Toggle and a Self-Control Perk, then dosing her with Captain America’s Super Soldier Serum mixed with Balance Formula and doing some Biomantic tampering with her body, I was supremely stressed out… but that was okay, because I had the perfect bunch of punching bags to take it out on. Of course, I had to spread the fun.
Andromeda got to hunt Shatterbird, Crawler got given to Eridani, Cherish went to Orion, and Fornax got Burnscar. That just left Siberian and Bonesaw to me. None of them went down easy.
Andromeda spent hours hounding Shatterbird through the city, driving the psychopathic silikentic to ground over and over again, finding her wherever she hid, fusing her glass and throwing the molten stuff back into her face time and time again. The footage of the battle, captured on dozens of Fornax drones, would no doubt go on to feature in many end of year reels. The footage of the execution, on the other hand, would be seen only by a few… thousand, victims and survivors and relatives of the former all. I hope the sight of her begging for her life gives some of them peace. The glass that had burned her to ash had been reduced to sand and salted across the face of the Pacific, her soul sealed away in my repository. Fuck that bitch.
As public as the death of Shatterbird was, the death of Crawler was that private. No footage exists except in the mind of Eridani, who, using the power of Melt Downer… i.e. Raildex electron-fuckery… and the ability to immobilize the semi-truck sized abomination in ice, dispatched him. Blasting him a couple of times with various attacks and using Scrub (whose power could damage the masochistic Crawler) as bait, she’d lured the creature into the storm-drain network… then sealed him in place before turning him into monster havarti… if you don’t know what that is, it’s swiss cheese with extra holes. Very soft swiss… easily melted. Lots and lots of little holes…. All at once. Then more holes. And more holes, and more. Until suddenly, there was only one big hole and no Crawler. He’ll not be missed.
Neither will, I’m sure, Cherish. Orion merely lifted her out of a crowd in the middle of the fifth day, after the Nine were down to Five. She was trying to run. He took her into a room, locked the door, and then the screaming began. I have no plans to ever ask what happened behind that door. Somehow, I suspect that, as bad as it was, it wasn’t worse than she deserved… and might, in the end, have been more merciful than what had happened to her in the canon.
Day six was mine, and I used it to isolate little Riley, aka Bonesaw, the Slaughterhouse’s bio-tinker, and the Siberian, secretly a projection of William Manton, oh he of the Manton Limit. Now that the preliminaries were out of the way, it was time for phase two… aka Damage Control.
Generally speaking, I don’t like actually killing people if I don’t have to. Perhaps it’s hypocritical of me, considering the number of people I’ve allowed to die over the years, but I do feel there’s a difference between allowing events to play out that result in death over taking a life personally. I’m a divinity… I’m not perfect. But I’m also, in general, a merciful one.
This is important because three members of the nine were not, in fact, psychopaths… at least not by choice. Riley most of all. As a little girl, she’d triggered as the Nine of that time tortured her family over and over and over again in front of her. They’d been anything but gentle with the child and her sanity had paid the price. William Manton, once a respected scientist (and Cauldron Conspirator) had gone crazy with grief & guilt over ruining his daughter’s life and drunk a version of the same vial as Genesis of the Travellers had… the combination of grief-guilt and as Wildbow put it ‘drinking a psychically sensitive/reactive potion of dead god-virus-space-whale’ had shattered his sanity like a vinyl record being spun up to 75,000 rpms. And then there was Mimi.
Burnscar had badly lost the power lottery. She was a prime example of Bad Influence from her Shard. When she didn’t use her power, she was wracked with guilt for those she’d killed and consumed by depression… and when she used it, she was manic to the point of insanity… in neither cases was she a sterling example of sanity or stability.
In fact, all three of them would have been pitiable if they hadn’t being mass murderers. But unlike Jack, Cherish, Crawler, Mannequin, and Shatterbird, these three still possessed scraps of humanity. Scraps that I intended to see if I could salvage. Or in the case of Burnscar, see if Fornax could.
Of course, we had all the cards. Literally. Fornax possessed my Dragon Slayer magic from Fairy Tail. It would have taken Divine Fire to hurt him and every iota of flame that the pyrokinetic Burnscar could generate would do no more than fuel the furnace, so to speak… which just left dealing with her teleportation. Thankfully, she could only teleport through flame to other flame… and that meant that sending Eridani and Andromeda on fire suppression detail would limit her escape options. Once she was captured, it would be little more than teaching her to be Well Adjusted… hey, it’s not my fault the jump document classed that as an ability and not, you know, the absence of mental or emotional defect. A little biomantic tinkering should fix up the chemical imbalance… and if that didn’t work, cutting her off from her Shard would work as a last resort.
As for me and the Nine’s ‘mother’ and daughter duo? Manton, like Genesis, had to be within a certain distance to maintain the Siberian. It was a fairly small distance, as these things go. That meant he was always trailing after the Nine in a car. Prosaic yes, but while Siberian was nigh unstoppable, Manton was just as squishy as the next demon-summoning cultist.
Since it was a car… I sent Roadrage backed up by Woolly to find it… then had Woolly keep the Siberian distracted long enough to drop out of the sky like a rod from god, punching clean through the engine block and, grabbing Manton by his greasy unwashed labels, yanked him into my mind… what can I say, I like a good home field advantage.
Say what you want about the Siberian. It was a hell of a summons, being very nearly impervious to almost all physical forces… being only vulnerable to things and processes that violated the laws of physics… which, unfortunately for him (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), was anything I damned well wanted it to be inside my own head. Which goes a long way towards explaining why The Siberian kept showing up looking like a Zebra with a Carmen Miranda-style mountain of fruit on its head… then I’d unleash the mind-ferrets and the Siberian would realize that it couldn’t defend Manton from them and Manton would have to banish the Siberian and try to run through the mental labyrinth of my undermind.
Yes yes, I said I wanted to help them… I didn’t say I was going to let them off without punishment. Meanwhile, in the waking world… one strange element of this reversal of Atura and I was that my Mental Palace didn’t stop time when I brought someone in… it just drastically slowed it while I was inside and Atura wasn’t. Of course, that may have been because I was administrating quite a number of Shards, so part of me was always outside the mental palace…. Anyway, outside the Palace, Atura had just finished spanking Riley and was now giving her a hug while the girl sniffled and writhed in a full tantrum meltdown. It wasn’t like Riley was a biopath like Amy Dallon. She needed tools to modify the human form. Not that Amy Dallon could have modified Atura’s body without our direct permission.
“Now,” Atura chided, “Do you promise to be a good girl and stop making medical abominations and killing people for amusement?”
“Yes’m,” she sniffled. “Did you really kill all my friends?”
“Not all of them. With any luck, you’ll see two of them again. But they have to agree to be good too, and sometimes that’s a hard thing for people to promise,” Atura explained. “Now, in order for you to be a good girl, all the stuff you put inside yourself… it has to come out. You know that, right? You can have your augments back once we’re sure you won’t use them to hurt yourself or others.”
Elsewhere. “So, Manton, tell me. Is it as much fun to be the prey as to be the predator? Can you feel your heart beating? Does the fear overwhelm you when you’re crouching in the darkness, trying not to breathe too loud?” I asked, stepping out of a wall next to where the scientist was cowering, the distant scratch, scratch, scratch coming from both directions down the passageway. “Does it feel like you’re going to die?”
“I get the point,” he hissed. “I’m not stupid. I’m insane.”
“Naw, you’re just an asshole. Part of me, the vicious judgmental part? It wants to just kill you and eat your soul. The nice, forgiving part of me? It just wants to lock you in a box forever and throw away the key,” I whisper, running a fingertip as cold as death down his head from the back of his ear to the nape of his neck. “Which do you think I should do?”
He flinched away, whirling to face me, the Siberian flickering into existence… but I wasn’t there any more. Not that I was specifically anywhere in this place. In this place… I was everywhere, anywhere, and nowhere all at the same time.
“I think you’ve rested long enough, William… Time to start running again,” I hissed, letting the despair build. Only one other person had I ever used Bleach’s Keikaku Dori perk on, the perk that allowed me to embue a plan with the potential to cause maximal despair. That had been Yhwach… and while Manton wasn’t nearly as bad… he’d do in a pinch.
Day 10. “Well, well. Here we are again, Jack. You seem to be all alone.” I was not. The entire Pentarchy stood surrounding the serial killer, as did the Undersiders and the Travellers. “I think you’ve lost the wager. What say you?”
“I say you’re all standing too close,” He snarked, then lashed out with blades in both hands, sweeping the edges around him in a full circle.
“Was that really supposed to do anything?” I asked, nodding to Regent of the Undersiders. He grinned as Jack struggled, thrashing, trying to stop his own arm from rising, rising, until the knife was poised at his own throat.
“H… How?” Jack gasped.
“I’m better than you,” I responded, pulling off my mask and stepping forward to look Jack eye to eye. My face was not one that would be recognized. “That’s how I blocked your knife. I’m… better… than… you, you cut rate wanna be.” and I smiled as Regent made the Slaughterhouse Nine become the Slaughterhouse Zero.
Turning away from the corpse, I slid my mask into place. “Fornax, burn that trash. And will someone give me a fucking ETA on the goddamned BUTCHER?”
OMAKE:Relationship Chart (Updated, because you are awesome people… the old chart is still there for anyone who wants to go back a page to compare.)
If you like what I do, please consider supporting me on Patreon.
I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.
AN: Thank you all for the great feedback on part 1. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything you’d like to see more of. Suggestions are always welcome… even if I don’t use them. And you never know, I might. Also, a big shout out to Lord Statera, for coming up with AJ’s power. Give yourself a pat on the back. You win the internet today.
Note on Coil: I’m aware of the canon explanation for his power. I ignored it because I think the split timeline explanation is cooler than precog-fueled autopilot… and also because using Double-Tap as a solution is (to my mind) funnier than just shooting him once because I’m immune to his precognition (not from Out of Context Problem, from the other Precog blockers, obviously).
OMAKE & REFERENCE
The Pentarchy are officially a pentad of Grab-bag capes from a Multi-event. The are Eridani the Blaster / Shaker / Breaker (Ice Powers, Melt-Downer), Orion the Flying Artillery / Brute / Blaster / Mover (Kryptonian Hybrid, Asgardian Royal, Archer), Cassipeia the Celestial Queen (Complete Arsenal, Enhanced Mastery, Clarktech throne, Nanotech blood), Andromeda the Shaker / Blaster / Mover (Elemental powers, TK), and Fornax the Legion (Clarktech, Nanotech, Picotech… access to matter fabricators).
Team Panopticon are WoollyBully (Amaryllis, A Brute), The Invigilator (Alexander, A Stranger), Roadrage (Margaret, A Master), Pappercut (Velma, A Changer), Galad (AJ, a Striker), Haberdasher (Francine, A Thinker), and Cheesecake (Cirno, a Tinker).
Alexander / The Invigilator: Stranger 7 – The Inquisitor Shard. Alex can asks questions that must be answered. Simple fact questions bypass higher thought, merely consulting the information network (machine or otherwise) while computation questions will continue to consult higher computation resources as the situation allows… but the longer the time the question persists unanswered, the greater the drive to solve the question becomes. If Alex posses an answer, right or wrong, this resolves the stress caused by failing to generate an answer… and the higher that stress was, the more likely the questioned individual is to accept Alex’s answer. This is a form of memetic attack and relies upon compulsion and telepathic suggestion. If someone else provides an answer, it must seem reasonable to the questioned to resolve the compulsion.
Maggie / Roadhog: Master 6 – The Dispatcher Shard. Maggie can control mechanical vehicles touched as long as they remain within a confined traffic network. Controlling cars and motorcycles is relatively easy, but the bigger the vehicle, more strain this puts on her. Like Regent, once she’s gained control of a vehicle, she does not have to touch it again to regain control.
Amaryllis / WoollyBully: Brute 7 – The Cocoon Shard. Amaryllis can wool out, generating a regenerating coat of wool that protects her from almost everything as it ablates away. She can tangle people up in her wool and the wool adapts to what’s attacking it as it grows. She can harden the wool to provide incredibly dense and hard shapes, though this takes time and concentration, as the wool is essentially carbon nano-fiber. Although she cannot generate diamond edges on her own (yet) by teaming up with someone who can use fire or when fighting a fire generator, the wool can rapidly be hardened to diamond hardness and edge.
Velma / Papercut: Changer 6, Mover 2, Striker 2, Stranger 2, Shaker 1, Brute 1, Breaker 1, Blaster 1 – The Inbetweener Shard. Velma can flatten herself into a nearly 2-Dimensional form. This has a number of useful and strange effects, but few of them are particularly useful. In her 2D State, she is considered a Mover 2 because she can pass through almost any crack or gap. She is considered Shaker 1 by virtue of being able to use herself as a form of trap as she can grow quite large in this state. Similarly, she is a Brute 1 because she is highly durable in her flattened form, being nearly undamagable by anything that isn’t a piercing effect. This entire effect has a Breaker 1 effect, since it does apply to anything inorganic she’s holding or wearing. An odd effect is that she can inhale a very large amount of air, apparently compressing it in her lungs, and then expelling it to cause strong but very localized wind gusts, thus qualifying her, barely, as a Blaster 1. She is also a Striker 2, since her physical blows, although not any stronger than normal, can slide through the thinnest gaps in defenses. Because it is virtually impossible to see her in this form, the power is ranked Stranger 2. Changer 6 by virtue of the primary effect.
Cirno / Cheesecake: Tinker 6 – The Chef-Technician Shard. Cooking and Food based technologies and Techniques. Nanotech Candies, self-cooking meals, food pills, everlasting gobstoppers, food preservation technologies
Year Two Vials (to date)
AJ / Galad: Mover 5, Master 5, Brute 5, Thinker 5, Striker 5 – The Dawnforged Shard. Galad has a pair of charges that can produce a number of beneficial constructs to manifest around him. These constructs seem to be formed out of a golden glow, and can be broken with sufficient force, which dissipates the effect of a single charge apparently at random. It takes approximately ten seconds for each charge to replenish once it’s used, and both charges have to be used (on different effects) before any effect manifests and before the replenishment timer begins. We’re not exactly certain why this is, but it seems to be a hard limit. The charges, when used, generate or upgrade one of five construct effects. These sub-powers are referred to by the names: Wings of Dawn, Eyes of Light, Righteous Defender, Radiant Glory, and Stalwart Avenger.
Wings of Glory manifests as Hermes-style winged boots and grants Mover abilities, either superhuman speed and reflexes at one charge or flight at two charges (which causes the wings to octuple in size). Speeds up to 320 mph have been documented on a straight way at either charge level.
Eyes of Light manifests as a golden cast to his eyes, turning them a solid metallic color at the second charge, grants Thinker abilities. The first charge grants increased combat processing and directional danger sense. The second grants improved situational awareness and a combat gestalt that makes him a superb field tactician, understanding how to move allies to best effect.
Righteous Defender manifests as golden weapons or handheld item crafted of solid light and confers a Striker effect. These weapons / items are always medieval themed and never ranged weapons for some reason, but have manifested as everything from maces to swords to halberds to shields to goblets to semaphore flags and from every culture from mesoamerica to macedonia to mongolia. At the first charge, they’re as effective as supernaturally sharp steel, and nearly indestructible. At the second charge, they grow fuzzy around the edges and cause a kind of burny-rippy damage that is similar to that generated by a vibroknife. A charge can generate up to two seperate objects at the same time, though it need not. And a charge can be expended to change the shape of the weapon or item at will.
Radiant Glory manifests as a Golden Banner like a Samurai’s Sashimono or Uma-jirushi at the second charge and generates a Master effect. At both charge levels, it generates a pair of emotional / mental influences, one targeted at the ‘enemy’ and one targeted at ‘allies’. This can (for example) cause fear or despair or a desire to surrender in enemies and courage, daring, or resolve in allies. Any single concept can be applied as long as he can encapsulate it a single concrete thought or word. Charge level 1 works on line of sight. Level 2 works on both LOS and on everyone within 100 meters. It has no lasting effect outside of its area of influence.
Stalwart Avenger is the only part with more than two charge levels, and manifests as progressively more and more durable and all encompassing golden armor, which grants Brute effects (increased strength and durability) which are not limited to merely being a squishy in a can, but extend pervasively through Galad’s entire body. The first level merely changes everything he’s wearing to a kind of golden glow and turns him into a Brute 2. The second charge increases that to Brute 3 and manifests a Roman Centurion’s Lorica and Galea (armor and helmet). The third charge increases him to Brute 4 and manifests as Scale & Chain Saracen warrior. The fourth and final charge boosts him to Brute 5 and manifests as full gothic platemail. No matter the degree of helmetage, his vision and hearing are not impaired. Although he doesn’t possess direct regeneration, a charge can be expended at any time one is available to cause a ‘healing surge’ which restores him to either full endurance or full health or repairs a single major injury.
All aspects of this power can be turned off at will and without any of them active, Galad is indistinguishable from a normal person. With 12 charges to reach full power, it takes just under 2 minutes for him to fully power up.
Francine / Haberdasher: Thinker 7 – The Network Operations Shard. Can co-opt part of the mental processing powers of anyone around her, as well as utilize their senses. Rejected the nickname ‘Panopticon’. This doesn’t give her control over them, nor does it allow her to read their minds… but it does allow her to make use of their knowledge and skills as if she possessed them natively, as well as their muscle memory. Potential Master, Stranger, and Trump elements, but not strong enough to rank. Overuse of her power causes Thinker headaches in those she co-opts.
You know, ninety years is a fair amount of time, and it had been a good long run… but it was nice to feel the end of the Jump coming… not the least because, of my nearly a hundred companions, passengers, employees, and hangers-on, a third had managed to get themselves killed in accidents, violence, or misadventure. Disease hadn’t been an issue, thanks to the Warehouse’s Medbay, thankfully, but the extended respawn time was frustrating and I missed them, even though I knew I’d be seeing them once the time came.
And speaking of seeing people once the time came, I’d been looking forward to speaking to Jump-Chan about her experiences as a corporeal being. I’d have spoken to her over the decades… if I’d had the faintest clue where she’d gone off to, but despite hiring thousands of bounty-hunters and PI’s, as well as launching the ‘Are You a ChamberFace?’ global advertising campaign which had run in more than 180 countries and reached 88% of the planetary population for three decades… I’d had no idea where she was or if she was okay or not.
So it was that, after 90 years and more material wealth than I’d ever dreamed was feasible, I re-entered my trans-reality sanctum from my private beach on St. Lucia and looked to the Chamber to see how my interim Benefactor was doing… except she wasn’t there. It would, in fact, take eleven hours for her to show up, disheveled, covered in filth, stinking of spoiled sweat, milk, and booze, and looking very much like she was wearing a yak.
I just gaped at her as she appeared, wobbling, next to my fountain. Thinking fast… and knowing that it would be easier to replace to water in the fountain that deodorize all the furniture and buildings and priceless relics she might infest with who knows what, I gave her a TK shove into said water feature, and held her underwater long enough for Zane to bring me the strongest soap we had and for Velma and Cirno to erect a physical and energy dome over area.
I considered sending Homunculi to scrub her down, but (at the last moment) remembered I had a maid… so I sent her in to scrub down the Chamber incarnate… in a skin tight white Japanese school swimsuit with Hello Kitty on it. Do remember that, while Maidseid might be female… she still looks like Darkseid… i.e. a brick wall with breasts and a permanent glower.
Six hours later, Jump-Chan looked… marginally human. She looked wrinkled, matted, and frumpy, like a 120 year old who had not taken any care of herself and I asked her that point blank. “Did you, like… ever bathe? Once? In nine decades?”
“I got caught in the rain a bunch,” she muttered, gnawing on her fingertips as if they were candy. She flinched as I swatted her hands away from her mouth, then glared at me.
“Seriously? You’ve watched humans for… ever? And you’ve never picked up even the basic skills needed to… act like one?” She shrugged. “Did you work? How did you get food?”
“Tried working. Didn’t like it. Too much effort. Food’s just lying around in the cities… I just ate whatever I found in the stench boxes,” she grumbled.
“You ate out of garbage cans?” I asked, aghast. She shrugged again. “Oh for… for fuck’s sake. Why didn’t you ask for help if you were struggling?!”
“Wasn’t struggling. Plenty of food.”
“Where did you sleep?”
“Wherever?” she grumbled, now gnawing on her rat’s nest of a hairdo. It was less a question than a surly challenge, but the whole thing was making me angry and frustrated.
Squatting in front of her, i grasped her chin and made her look me in the eyes. “This kind of behaviour is not good for your health or sanity, nor befitting one of your standing. If you were aiming for an ascetic lifestyle, it would be one thing, but you weren’t. You made no effort to integrate yourself into mortality, nor to enjoy any of the perquisites of being human, it seems. Honestly, I’ve no idea how you managed to live as long as you did on a diet of garbage, sleeping exposed, and reeking to high heaven. Next time this happens, you’re not going to be allowed to just wander around. Clearly you’re not competent to look after yourself and that’s why you’re normally a stone box that others tend to.” She frowned at that, but had no rebuttal. “Now, what’s next?”
She shrugged sullenly, eyes taking on the thousand yard stare of someone largely divorced from reality. “I forget… bugs or something,” she finally responded after nearly half-an-hour.
I sighed, reviewing what little I knew of the next 9 realities I’d be visiting. There were two or three things Borderlands could be… none of them, to the best of my knowledge, dealt heavily with bugs… though there were insectile enemies in the Borderland video game series… but not ones that featured prominently. Undertale was also, I was pretty certain, a video game, but if there were insects at all in it I had no idea. Star Trek and Honor Harrington were both Space Opera, but neither featured insectile alien races in even minor roles on a recurring basis. Rick & Morty (the few idiotic episodes I’d been forced to endure) had had bug people… but they weren’t the point, any more than the bug people featured in the DC universe or Naruto (bug ninjas… ewww.) were anything more than occasional support characters or bad guys of the week. History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi was a martial arts manga slash anime… I don’t even think it had non-humans at all… except maybe this one character who looked like a shark-toothed elf. Which left… “Worm?” I asked, confused.
She grunted, nodded vaguely, then went back to staring into space.
“Great… uh… what the hell is Worm? And are you going to be able to… you know… act like a Banker?”
She shrugged… then a very small blizzard of pages fell from out of nowhere, fluttering all around. I snatched them out of the air with my mind, then, since they weren’t numbered and were all out of order (and for some reason, my ability to read things instantly wasn’t working on them), I splayed them out on an ice-board and (using a mix of deduction and inference) put them back in order. The introduction, perks, gear, and companion sections were pretty easy to put in order, since they had a basic flow of ever increasing prices… And at the other end, the Drawbacks section and what had to be notes for various things was either mostly easily ordered (or in the case of the notes, strict order wasn’t needed, per se)… but the first page of the Drawbacks included the last two (of 48) ‘Parahuman’ Powers… and that section was a little annoying.
Clearly, these were the heart and soul of whatever ‘Worm’ was… and they were divided into twelve categories: Mover, Shaker, Brute, Breaker, Blaster, Striker, Master, Stranger, Thinker, Tinker, Trump, and Changer… and each had 4 powers underneath it. Unfortunately, each power (and they seemed, in many cases, to be more power packages really) got exactly one paragraph and no paragraphs broke across pages. So Mover’s first two powers, Blink and Friction Modulation were on the same page that described the Mover Category… and then the next two would clearly be on the next page. If the categories weren’t uniquely numbered so that they could be randomly rolled, I’d have had to guess which categories some of those powers were in since 5 categories were split 2 and 2 across pages, 2 categories were split 1 and 3, and three were split 3 and 1.
Still, I got the whole thing together in a minute and was reasonably certain of the order.. But still had no idea what the hell this whole thing was. To that end, I ran off a half dozen copies and convened the Inner Circle: Zane, AJ, Francine, Petra, Velma, Carwyn, Joy… and by extension Kendra. Why Kendra? Because where Zane goeth, Kendra showeth. EssJay just kept her mouth shut because it really wasn’t worth the aggravions (those are the fundamental charge particles of irritation, annoyance, and discontentment.)
“Okay folks, we’re going to look through this thing and see if we can make any kind of guesses as to what we’re looking at for this next decade. Jump-Chan is not, I repeat not, in her right mind at the moment and I’ve no idea what we’re getting into, except that it apparently includes Parahumans. I haven’t done more than flipped through this list, haven’t read anything in detail.” They nodded and began to read. I didn’t have my copy, having surrendered it to Kendra, but that was fine. I was relying on a group of hyper-competent individuals… yes, even Miss Young.
Zane, who’d taken the introduction, started things off. “This world is called Earth Bet… clearly using the Hebrew system instead of the Greek. The world appears to have a fairly large number of empowered individuals called ‘Parahumans’ rather than Metas, Metahumans, Mutants, Powers, etc. Apparently, these powers manifest initially only under moments of extra stress… it says ‘distress’ actually, but I assume it means general hyper-stressors such as fear, anger, panic… not just mortal peril… but I don’t know. It does pretty much say this makes most of the empowered individuals a bit less than completely sane and that the heroes are badly outnumbered, with every gang, terror cell, cartel, and corporation pretty much having at least one potential casual mass murderer on standby.”
Kendra sighed. “Sounds lovely.”
Francine smirked. “Sounds lively to me!”
Zane shook his head. “Things are not good on Earth Bet. In addition to what has got to be a pretty incredibly bad crime rate, there are something called ‘Endbringers’ running around leveling or contaminating a city every few months. I don’t know what they are, but they’re powerful enough to kill one in four parahumans that fight them… and I’m guessing that only powerful parahumans even try to fight them… and that they’ve sunk Kyushu in Japan and Newfoundland in Canada. One is, apparently, an (and I quote) ‘evil telepathic future-seeing angel). Also, at least two major conspiracies are running amok… and that’s all from the first paragraph!”
I nodded, looking around the table. “I think we’re dropping into some serious shit here folks. Chances are good that I’m going to restrict exit from the Warehouse to anyone who isn’t at least a Tier 5… maybe Tier 6, though I’ll make the call on that once I know more.” The others nodded in agreement. The Tier system was our in-house way of gaging just how dangerous a member of the crew was. The system had (in theory) 40 ranks… but in reality, it had 18. It was based on one of three RPG systems I’d invented back before I’d ever become a Jumper and it could and did encompass everything from the weakest of the weak to the strongest of the strong.
Tier 0 was children and largely harmless animals. Tier 1 and 2 were novice level, teenagers, apprentices, those not really trusted to supervise themselves… or in the venerable D&D level system… levels one through three, regardless of edition. Tier 3 was the Journeyman rank, a level above apprentice, but below fully qualified. Think someone who’d just completed vocational training or a high school diploma. On the danger scale, these people could be expected to stand up to a normal threat if combat trained. Tier 4 was fully competent. Someone with 5 years or so experience. Level 6 in the first two D&D editions, 9 from then on. Tier 5 was a Master. Someone with 10,000 hours of practical experience… and in this case it meant 10,000 hours of actual combat experience, either in simulation or field conditions. Our simulations were very very good. It was Level 12+. Tier 6s were solidly at the level 20 mark and were already into the Shounen Protag range. Everyone sitting at the table was Tier 12 or higher. D&D’s level system didn’t have numbers high enough to contain the combat experience gathered at the table with me. We’d seen more wars than most civilizations.
While there were individual Tiers past 12, they became progressively more and more abstract and generally after 12 was 18, then 24, then 30, 36, and 40. I, in my Godhead State… was generally assumed to be either 36 or 40… though I tended to think my companions were over-estimating me just because I was so far out of their league. I tended to place myself no higher than 24… I would love to have access to the pure magical might of a Tier 40 Godmage… but no one had ever made a jump based on one of my roleplaying games… as far as I knew. Granted, they’d finally been published professionally in the last jump. I had all the editions and splats and they were my own, my precious, and no one could ever call them ‘Home Brew’ again! Bwahaha! This was what success felt like!
“Anything else, Zane?” I asked, steepling my fingertips and looking all businesslike and serious… the effect was somewhat spoiled by Ziggy snoring on my shoulder and looking dead to the world, little paws twitching.
“The date is January First, 2011 and it’s a standard ten year jump unless you do something to extend it… I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to extend it. It appears that North America is protected by a government agency called the PRT or Protectorate that manages and trains heroes, with a teenage sidekick program called ‘The Wards’… they’re in every major city and coordinate both local and international response to deal Endbringers and what are called ‘S-Class threats’. I think that somewhere called ‘Brockton Bay’ is the location this… story… takes place. It says it’s the home of someone named Taylor and where most of canon happens. Apparently Brockton Bay gets hammered repeatedly throughout the events to come… totally wrecked and all but uninhabitable from the text. But picking the BB to start is free, or the first result on the wheel of localization.”
Kendra, following along, grunted and ahemmed. “The others are New York, Las Vegas, Europe, Africa, China, and India… I love that there are three cities, three sub-continents, and Africa. Talk about Eurocentrism… or Amerocentrism. Here, pick three american cities… or areas nearly as large or larger than the United States! For fuck’s sake.” I frowned at her. She knew how I felt about preaching to the choir and I was about to ask her if she had a point that everyone at the table didn’t already agree with, but she waved me down. “I bring up the other starting locations because Zane was clearly going to skip over reading them, as there seldom is a point to even rolling since we have trans-stellar transportation… but there’s setting information nested in here.”
I nodded, glanced at Zane who was doing his back of the head scratching thing he does when he’s been called out for being a duffus, then looked back to Kendra with a look that was equal parts ‘He’s your duffus too, you know?’ and ‘Good call, go on.’
She nodded micrometrically to acknowledge both my point and my praise, then launched into reportage mode. “New York’s Protectorate branch is the largest and is headed by someone named Legend, and the city was fairly recently attacked by Behemoth… I don’t know if that’s an individual or an organization. It could really be either. It could be an S-Class Villain, an Endbringer, a Criminal Cartel, a Terror Organization, or one of these Conspiracies. The name is multi-purpose.” She paused and we nodded collectively, but since there were no other questions, she continued.
“Right. Las Vegas is said to be more cloak and danger, with ‘capes’… I guess that’s a catch all for Heroes and Villains?” she began, but AJ chimed in with “And Rogues apparently… Parahumans who aren’t in the crime or crime-fighting business.” Kendra tapped her nose. “And Rogues… have a tradition of using more subtle and secondary power aspects as deadly weapons. The LV Protectorate specializes in S-Class Threats too dangerous to make the public aware of. No real concrete info, but could be something. Europe has an S-Class threat called ‘The Three Blasphemies’ which seems to wander around smashing towns and cities. There is no apparent European Union version of the Protectorate, and it seems like most of the countries have their own cape organizations. Africa is, largely, a warzone, with all but the Southern part divided into countless fiefdoms ruled by god knows how many parahuman warlords.”
“If distress and despair trigger superhumans, Africa is going to have a lot of parahumans…” Francine considered. “It would be a vicious cycle of… just… those poor people.”
AJ patted Francine’s hand as Kendra continued. “China appears to be Dynastic again, as they have a ruling family that forcefully drafts parahumans into the Yangban, brainwashing them for maximum loyalty. India, on the other, has public ‘Hot Capes’ who are more showy and public oriented and covert ‘Cold Capes’ who are constantly fighting clandestine wars against each other… This world sounds horrible.”
“Most worlds sound horrible,” I reminded them all. “But at the end of the day, most of them are just full of people trying to get by, to survive, or protect their families. Even the Earth I allowed to be destroyed wasn’t full of utter evil… just mostly… and an utterly hopeless situation. We’ll have to see if Earth Bet is hopeless or not.” I looked to AJ. “Origins?”
“This document specifically points out that Batmanesque ‘Badass Normals’ don’t really exist in this world. If you want to be a cape, you’re a parahuman… or a Jumper slash companion using powers from outside of context. That said, it implies that you can forgo getting a power if you so choose.” He looked at me with a look that said, “Mom? Forgo getting power? HAAA!” I stuck my tongue out at the little brat who’d been my constant companion from the very beginning and he grinned, almost bouncing in his chair. I manifested my very first alt-form behind him and gave him a hug and a kiss on the forehead, which made him blush even as he sent a palpable wave of affection my way. Francine made little gagging noises, like she was a seven year old, not a several thousand year old, so I hugged her too, which she endured stoically.
Hugging Francine had given AJ enough time to gather himself, and he continued as my sending faded back into the ether. “There are two different age rolls, which is kinda odd. Either 13 to 20 or 22 to 36. Teenager or Adult. So that’s pretty standard heroing ages. Less so for Villains or Rogues, but whatever… There’s only one free origin, that being Drop-In. There are four others that cost 100 each, those being Hero, Villain, Rogue, and Conspirator… specifically with someone or something called Cauldron, who is / are, according to this, trying to avert the end of all mankind… so the stakes are high there.” That got a few nods, but no one interrupted, so he finished up his initial survey with, “and there’s a Drawback-linked origin called ‘Shard’… Shard’s description has some interesting language… I’ll quote it… ‘You remember the flickering images of uncountable worlds, and the relentless pull that drew you to a single speck upon but one of them. Something in them connected with you, and in a moment of true distress, you felt your bond form. You are but a presence within a person’s head, bonded with someone who will need the strength and power you can give them. You’re a source of power, and hopefully not something that will drive them to self destruction.’ It sounds like…” He considered for a moment, then nodded, “I’m thinking these Shards are something Alien and somehow link to humans to create Parahumans… I guess. As for the Passenger Drawback… I’m not sure what this is? Petra’s in charge of Drawback Analysis… It’s called Passenger, P.”
Petra, my self-proclaimed Bodyguard, nodded curtly, setting her small smithing hammer cum fidget toy down on the table and picking up her pages. “It’s jumping ahead considerably, but yes. “The Passenger Drawback is +200 CP and does mention that it is Mandatory if you’re a Shard. A Shard, also called a Passenger, seems to be able to subconsciously influence their host but has no autonomy. By taking this origin and drawback, you’ll be able to share all your powers, perks, skills, and knowledge with your host. You’ll also be able to directly communicate with them thanks to your ‘peculiar nature’ but you’ll only be able to assume direct control of their body if they allow it… purely mental actions you’re free to take. If the host dies, then so do you and pfft for the chain… but if they have your perk loadout, that’s probably unlikely unless this realm is a lot more dangerous than DC or Bleach… there are a couple of notes at the bottom, if you’re interested, and there’s some interaction commentary as well?”
I leaned back, considering, eyes narrowed to slits. “Huh… interesting… I’m not certain about that… I guess it all comes down to perks, powers, and maybe equipment. Nothing’s really calling out to me. I mean, I like being a Hero… but I’ve been a villain… and I guess a Rogue… I don’t know enough about Cauldron to make a call… Saving the humanity is a good thing… but how much danger is humanity in? I just don’t know. Being a Shard… huh… that sounds weird… But yeah, Petra, go ahead. What else is there about Shards or Passengers?”
She grinned, pulled her combat helmet down to look more serious (She has no idea how to look serious, but she tries hard and that’s what counts), and resumed. “First, you can grant your host access to the Warehouse and the ability to call up companions from there… here…. You know what I mean.” She blushed but soldiered on. “If you import a companion, you may instead choose to be their passenger… There’s interaction with another Drawback called ‘Being Taylor is Suffering’ which makes you Taylor’s Passenger… I’m guessing she’s the main character of whatever this is… and it says that if you take this ‘May God Have Mercy on Your Soul’… I can explain that Drawback more in a bit, if you want… but there’s some stuff in the Notes section you probably want to know about first.”
“Go Ahead,” I allowed. “You’ve got the floor, it’s your choice how to direct us.”
With a glance down at the pages, she gave a fierce nod, as if reassuring herself, then said, “First, a major point is that after this jump, any powers become part of you instead of your shard slash passenger. It’s connection to you will be completely severed and all other shard limitations will be removed, even if you stay. That means that ‘Tinkers’ can mass produce their tech, ‘Precogs’ can see the Entities and Endbringers and something called the ‘Manton Limit’ is removed. This applies to you and everyone you bring with… Powers also grow with time and use, but only in already present parameters… not the development of new sub-powers or what have you.” she paused, looked around, opened her mouth as if to ask if there were any questions, but shut it again, then checked her pages.
I used a bit of clairvoyance to peer over her shoulder and saw she’d covered them with notes… in crayon. Thousands of years old… still reverted to childish behaviour… I’m so proud.
“If you take the passenger drawback, any items you buy will either be in the warehouse or in the possession of your host. As a Shard, you can choose what to allow the host to use and to what degree, and they count as you for all relevant whatevers… Once the drawback lapses, they may retain a copy of whatever parahuman power you got from here… if you did. And you can take them as your companion if they’re willing of course. If you import a companion to be your host, they don’t retain a copy of your power unless they didn’t take one.”
“Wait… wait…” Carwyn said, holding up a hand. “That implies something very interesting.” We all turned to face the youngest of our number, making the gorgeous space-elf almost preen… so damned smug… “Right. Well, Francine and I are the Power Committee… what?”
“We know you’re the power committee… all of us have memories that function,” Velma snarked.
If Carwyn was embarrassed by being called out, she showed no sign of it. “It’s called prefacing a comment, but very well, you overly chesty bovine.” To call Carwyn underblessed in the chestal region would be a gross overstatement, and she steadfastly refused to admit to being envious… but it didn’t take an empath to know she was lying. “As I was saying before I was so rudely gawped at, at the beginning of the Powers section it clearly states “You can only have a single Parahuman Power… but that note clearly implies that a Shard-Companion Combo could have two powers.”
Kendra nodded slowly, then pointed out. “For the duration of the jump at least. After that, you’d split back apart into your constituent pieces.”
“I believe, K, that Carwyn meant that last for me. As you probably remember, I contain my own permanent Passenger. Atura and I are bound together and share the same body and soul, but she is, in fact, a Companion. As such, yes… I could… Hmmm… That would be interesting role reversal. Atura? You up for it?” I asked, then a different voice came out of my own mouth.
%Are you implying that I be the corporeal one for this evolution and that you’ll be the voice in the back going ‘No, don’t touch that you stupid monkey woman?’%
“Well… yes. That is, in part, what I am suggesting… while at the same time denying that either of us is a stupid monkey woman.” As I said that, I transformed into my Infernape form, which, to be fair, is a flaming monkey… but not a stupid one. “Are you amenable to this blatant attempt to game the rule. One we’re only attempting because of blinkard defiance of the system?”
%Fight the power. Rage Against the Machine. We shall overcome,% said the twilight spirit, in a voice all but lacking emotionality.
“What she said. Well, I guess, unless we see a reason to do otherwise, we’re going to proceed with that plan… assuming it is point reasonable. I did promise an import slot to Meetra for this jump and I’ve no idea how expensive those slots are. So, Petra, what’s our Drawback Cap for this jump and Kendra, what’s the Import situation like?”
“A thousand CP,” supplied Petra, “or 800 more with the 200 from Passenger.”
Kendra, who was the Items and Companions Committee, supplied the rest. “First, your plan will work specifically because it nots that ‘Imported non-human companions get a human alternate form, as well as a history and memories of this world, including their trigger event… Note that these are extremely traumatic and will result in psychological issues of some sort, so don’t expect your companions to be very happy about being imported. Second, a single import under ‘Cape’ costs 100, 200, or 300 CP, while Full Line Up is the 8 person for 300 as well. Full Line Up specifically states it can only be purchased once. A canon character can be purchased at 100 CP besides the Endbringers or Entities, who apparently can’t be purchased, and a fully sapient AI can be purchased for 300 or 600, depending on if it has a robot body or not.”
“Huh. Well, you heard Kendra… if picked to Import, you’re volunteering for psychologic fall out. You’ve only yourself and whoever created this setting to blame,” I supplied.
%Oh good. I’ve never had a psychosis before. They seem fun.%
“You have a strange definition of fun, lady,” Zane supplied.
%You have a strange definition of Lady,% Atura shot back.
Petra spoke up then, ‘One Note. At the end of the decade, in addition to all drawbacks ending at the end of the stay, there’s a Consolation Prize everybody gets… not just Imports. Everyone you take with you. It’s perfect mental health, all psychological issues, trauma, and scars healed like they were never there. Even those gained before this jump. Even if you stay. Also, free hugs for life from Jump-Chan. None of this is mandatory, but it is free… Can I turn down the hugs and keep the sanity?”
“Why turn down the hugs?” Velma asked.
“Because Jump-Chan looks like a prune with tentacles and smells like leather soaked in kombucha and cat urine,” responded the often adorable crab girl. She frowned in a way that made me want to snuggle her, even though she was not fond of snuggling. She prefered being drummed on with gong mallets… but to each their own.
Velma sighed, “She won’t always look or smell like that. We just have to teach her how to human.”
“Why?” Petra sulked.
“Because she wasn’t happy and clearly needs help,” Velma said, picking up Petra’s hammer and bonking her on the helmet lightly.
“Regardless, regardless. Good to know about the psychological problems and the cure and all that, but Kendra, explain why there are so many levels of import and what we get from that. I noticed that the Power Section is entirely randomized. Does the import include a roll or a pick or what?”
“Cape comes with any origin and freebies, plus a free power roll, plus 400 CP per hundred you spend. No duplicate powers, so if a power is rolled twice, it can be rerolled, but they don’t have to take a power if they’re mental. Full Line Up is the same, but it’s a flat 800 each.”
Francine spoke up, “As for the random nature of the powers, that can be alleviated slightly for paying 200 CP to pick either category or power, or 400 for both.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “But that would cut heavily into the CP budget.”
“True, but most of the powers seem like they’d be worth 200 or 400 points,” The PsiMon concurred.
“Fair enough, but by that logic, all those that are worth the points are equally valuable and obtainable for free if you’re lucky. It’s a 400 CP cost if you’re being picky,” I pointed out.
“Not if we go with the Shardification of EssJay Plan,” Carwyn said. “Shards get to pick for free.”
“That would explain why they have no equipment at all,” Kendra supplied. “I’d been wondering.”
“Well, we’ll get to powers in a bit,” I said. “But for right now, we’re at 1200 CP with the base budget and the 200 from Passenger. I’ll spend the 300 for Full Line Up, and assign slots to Meetra and Atura of course, plus… mmmm…. Zane? Kendra?”
Zane nodded enthusiastically, Kendra frowned, then shook her head “I’m out. I don’t think this place is my speed. Take… mmm… Petra instead.” Petra eeped, peeked out from under her helmet, then grinned and gave Kendra thumb’s up.
I nodded, then looked around the table. “Petra’s in. Velma? Carwyn?”
Carwyn picked up some runestones she’d been studying, then nodded. “Take Frankie and Mini too. They love this kind of ‘Our World at War’ stuff.”
Velma bit her lip, signed, then leaned back. “Too angry for me. I kinda agree with Kendra. I don’t want one of those things inside my head or the associated trauma. I seed my place to… take the Luteces. This is a mad science kind of world and they should be used to psychological horror.”
I considered, then nodded. “Very well, Zane, Meetra, Carwyn, Petra, Atura, plus Frankie, Mini, and the Luteces if they all agree. Joy, you and Ahab shouldn’t be too screwed, since you’ll each get a power roll for free.”
Joy considered, then nodded. “Yes. That should be fine. I’ll pass the information to Ahab… since we don’t have working tablets at the moment. I assume we’ll have to write things out by hand and assume the powers that be will figure it out.”
“Right. So… Mmm… AJ, do you have any more information that you’ve managed to glean from the Origins?”
“Nothing from Drop-In, Hero, Villain, or Rogue. Conspirator says outright that the world is in a great deal of danger and there doesn’t seem like much hope. Apparently, Heroes, Villains, and Rogues are all among the ranks of Conspirators. But that’s it. You’ll have to look elsewhere for data… I’d suggest the Drawbacks… they often list the status quo you’ll be changing.”
“One piece of information,” Joy said, (She and Velma were the Perk Committee), “There’s a perk called ‘Outside Context Problem’… it’s free for everyone and seems to be fairly… important. It implies that without it you’re likely to die right after the start of the jump.”
Everyone turned to look at her and she nodded. “Yeah, that was what I was thinking. The text says ‘It’d be boring if you were to just die right at the start, so for free you’ll have a selective immunity to the powers of a few rather nasty plot device level opponents that by all rights would probably want to kill you right out of the gate.’ It then goes on to list them as ‘Contessa, Ziz, and Zion’ and says you’ll be protected from their precog, and they won’t notice this until you garner enough attention for them to try to force the issue… which will cause a zero-sum error. This should keep you safe initially from being instantly killed due to the threat you pose to their plans. It also works on all shard derived precog. Though it does say that someone named Coil is an exception to this due to the weird nature of his power.’
“Right. Coil (Individual – Male – Para), Contessa (Individual – Female? – Para?), Ziz (Individual – Para?), Zion (Individual – Para?), Behemoth (Individual or Group?), Cauldron (Individual or Group?), Taylor (Individual – Female – Para?), Three Blasphemies (Group?), PRT (Group), Protectorate (Group), Wards (Group), Entities (Classification or Group?), Endbringers (Classification or Group?), Brockton Bay (Location – North America), Legend (Individual – Para), and Earth Bet (Location). Well… it’s a start. Petra, what can you add to this?”
She considered for long enough for us to get some snacks delivered and then said, “I’ll start with the notes as that’s less open to interpretation. The notes on power growth mention that someone named Skitter has bug control. The notes on what must be an item called ‘Cauldron Vials’ that apparently grant power mention that those granted such powers will be benchmarked to the Travelers rather than the Triumvirate… no other information about either besides that the later are clearly more powerful than the latter. It specifically says that there are parallel worlds in this setting and references Doormaker and an item called the Dimensional Breach Controller… but also points out that they don’t all have just mildly different events but wildly different cultures, geography, etc as well. It says that there are roughly around the same number of parallels as there are particles in a single universe. We are not dealing with DC here. And it says that the Shards and Entities are not common knowledge. Only a few people in this entire setting know they exist.”
Chewing on some moose jerky, I added Travelers (Group or Classification?), Skitter (Individual – Female – Para), Triumvirate (Group?), Doormaker (Power or Individual?) to my list of things I needed more information about… the tossed Vials, Shards, and D-Breach Controller on there as well.
Petra, now chewing on some nice platinum-vanadium encrusted selenite bonbons, said. “Well, from the drawbacks, we get information from the very start. There are two zero-point modifier Drawbacks, but which help define some of the setting. ‘What Came Before’ changes the starting point to January 1st, 1984, or anywhere in the 27 years between the normal start date and then. That date is defined as being a little under two years after the first sighting of Scion… who appears to have been the first superhero to show up. It also puts you before the founding of the Triumvirate and the emergence of Behemoth and his siblings.”
I considered that information, then nodded. “Okay. Here’s what I think. I think Behemoth is an Endbringer. I think his siblings are almost certainly Ziz and Leviathan. They’re three biblical elemental monsters. Behemoth the monster of Earth, Ziz of the Air, and Leviathan of the waters. Have to wonder if they’ve got any connection to Zion… Zion is Israel and those three are ancient hebrew myths. Hmm… Scion… Zion… wonder if that’s just a coincidence. While it might be tempting to try and head the bad events off… I don’t really know enough to make that feasible. So… no on that option. What else, P?”
“Before she resumes,” Kendra interrupted, “I can confirm the existence of Leviathan and that they are Endbringers. There’s a joke item called ‘Friendbringers’, miniature and adorable toddler-sized pet versions of the trio. Tiny-Ziz can predict the future well enough to have your mini-Behemoth and mini-Leviathan make you coffee before you realize you want it. They’re novelties… but in very poor taste… Sorry to step on your toes, P.”
Petra wiggled her metal claws at Kendra, then reverted to human form and said, “The other zero pointer is called ‘Forgot My Cell Phone’ and it means that Annette, who is evidently Taylor’s mother, didn’t die in a fatal accident. Apparently someone named Emma was Taylor’s friend and after Annette’s death, Emma was attacked by parties unknown to us and turned on Taylor. This guarantees that, barring direct action on our part, or the world ending, Taylor will never suffer enough to trigger nor will any member of her family be killed in collateral actions.”
“She must be very important to the story,” Velma commented. “Poor girl.”
Petra nodded enthusiastically. “It specifically mentions that if you take this you’d have butterflied away the girl who was going to save the world.”
“That’s life as a Protagonist. Ichigo’s mother died to a Hollow. Naruto was an orphan, Pug was an orphan, Taran was an orphan, Arthur Pendragon was an orphan, Aerith was an orphan… Annie was a little orphan. Drizzt’s entire species were fucking psycho. It’s a cheap way to build pathos by introducing a tragic backstory. Also effective… as tempting as it might be to stop Taylor’s suffering, growth is fueled by our personal tragedies to a huge extent. I’d be stealing that from her and keeping her from being what she could be. Might have to have a word with this Emma. What kind of bitch turns on a friend who’s just lost their mother?”
“Maybe the attack changed her?” Joy suggested.
“Maybe,” I agreed. “Teenagers are fragile. Okay, well, go on Pet.”
“The next drawback, the first worth points, is called ‘Personal Problems’… it’s personal. No setting information here, but I recommend you take it. It’s pretty much free points.” I quirked an eyebrow in my most vulcan fashion and she explained. “It’s a drama booster. Some personal issue that’s going to take time and effort to resolve, and a propensity to develop more such issues as time goes by. It’s +100 and not at all dangerous… just a bit annoying.” She shrugged as if to say, ‘It’s your choice, but that’s my two cents.’
Pursing my lips, I looked around the table for any counter argument. There weren’t any so I gave Petra a millimetric nod. “I’ll take it then. That’s +300 out of 1000 possible. Go on.”
“Next is No Respect, also +100. Only setting information is that it compares the level of respect gained by taking this drawback is similar to the reps of a duo named ‘Uber and Leet’.” There was a mass shudder at that name… I think even the furniture cringed. “Being taken seriously will be a major hassle if you take this, and you’ll start as a laughing stock… but it can be overcome. Painful but not punishing.”
I waved for her to continue, putting that into the ‘maybe if I need the points’ category, but it didn’t sound like fun and I generally prefer to be the butt of jokes when I allow it to happen and when the fates of millions aren’t on the line. Not for a mere 100.
“Gang Pressed is another +100. Brings up the Wards, Protectorate, and Cauldron as potential involuntary employers… as are gangs and companies.”
“Can’t we just… not do what they say?” Joy asked, and AJ and Carwyn both nodded in agreement.
Petra shrugged. “It does say that, with effort, we’d be able to get out of it, but there will be nasty consequences that we don’t want to deal with if we violate it. Especially if we pick Cauldron, which is a three favors thing.”
“Riiight. No thanks. We’ll pass. Not worth the hassle,” Zane said. It was presumptive of him to speak for me, but I didn’t mind, nor did I bother countermanding him just to be a pain in the butt. I didn’t think +100 was enough to deal with that particular irritant.
Taking my silence for agreement, Petra continued. “Uber and Leet’s Jumper Special is the last at the 100 price point. It implies that they’re massive video game fans and that, consumed with envy because we’ve gone to video game universes while they’re stuck on Earth Bet, they’ll make it their personal mission to cause maximal trouble for us. Leet, it turns out, is a Tinker with some kind of limit on what he can build… a limit that this drawback removes. They know all about our jumper nature. Every moment of their harassment will be broadcast on their personal web show and we’ll be famous in very short order. They will find us if you take this.”
“I don’t suppose we can just kill them and be done with it?” Joy asked.
“The text says nothing about them being unkillable, but I suspect mother would not approve of casually murdering relatively harmless people for CP,” Petra pointed out.
“No. But we could stasis them. Still, doesn’t seem like fun. Never mind. I’ll put it in the maybe bank, but I’m not thrilled with anyone knowing about the Jumping. Go on.”
Adjusting her helmet, she paused to take a drink, then said, “In addition to Passenger and the aforementioned ‘Being Taylor is Suffering’, there are three other +200s. I’ll start with Being Taylor is suffering, since Passenger modifies it. Normally, you’d become Taylor if you took this drawback… and no it can’t be combined with Forgot My Cell Phone… but as you know, Passenger means you’d become Taylor’s Shard, the source of her parahuman power. If you take BTiS, you keep your origin for discounts and freebies, but are stuck inside her with her memories and personality. And while it’s not on rails, the shitshow is guaranteed.”
“No thank you,” I said curtly.
“Figured. That’s why I got it out of the way. The others are ‘On the Radar’ which means you’re a Cauldron Person of Interest… oh… it says ‘them’, so we have confirmation Cauldron is a group, not a person. They’ll mess with things behind the scenes to influence your actions and they know about you, but it doesn’t say how much they know about you. I think this implies more ‘they know of your existence’. It does say they’re very ends justify means and they’re going to subject you to immediate scrutiny… top ten priority type scrutiny. No coasting under the radar.”
“Mmm… maybe. Go on.”
“The next is one of those phrases as a name ones I hate,” Petra made a face, “a stupid one too. It’s called ‘Meh, I can take her’ and it means you keep underestimating enemies and it keeps biting you on the butt… but does say that heavy hitters like Kaiser, the Triumvirate, and Lug won’t trigger it… but lower tier individuals like Uber and Leet, Circus, Parian, and the Undersiders will. And Skitter not only always triggers it, but any fight with her ends with you being humiliated and beaten. It says this could get you killed.”
“Right. I’m not taking something that gets me beaten by a bug controller. Especially not a potentially lethal beating… this Skitter has the worst power… unless there are a lot of really big bugs. If this was Starship Troopers, she’d be invaluable however. I do wonder if she can control Reggy’s Keepers of the Silence or Takers… not that I want her making Takers.” I said hurriedly, just in case she was listening. I’d hardwired a prohibition into Reggy’s mind against making Takers from day one and hadn’t relaxed ever. Takers were baaaad news. They turned people into zombies under Reggy’s control. Very creepy and nearly impossible to reverse.
“Okay. Okay. The last is Wanted. It just means that you’re the primary target of whatever the local powers that be are and they’re taking bringing you down seriously. It could be criminal cartels if you go hero or rogue or LEOs if you go Villain… or more criminals. Either way it’s certain they’re going to dedicate serious resources and time to finding you and dealing with you.”
“Well… that’s… I’m thinking that’s sub-optimal, but… This is getting tricky. Continue… though I’m guessing this is only going to get worse, if the 200s are any indication.”
My little crab-girl nodded dryly. “In the 300 range, we’ve got ‘You Needed Worthy Opponents’ which sics the Endbringers on you… up to and including them specifically modifying their tactics to force you to confront them, ignoring their self-imposed limits on casualties and destruction if they can’t get at you, and changing up their attack cycle to take you down. This specifies they have particular goals and that people will catch on to this change in their behaviour.”
“Mmm… that is tempting… but it does somewhat require me to take out enemies I’m not even vaguely certain of the nature of,” I said, petting Ziggy who was trying to pounce on AJ’s lunch.
“You can’t be serious, Ess!” Zane scoffed. “You’ve fought Yhwach and Darkseid. Do you really think…” He waved his hand at the stack of papers and notes, but didn’t continue, just looked aggrieved.
“Do I think these Endbringers can pose a threat to me?” I asked, then answered the collective nods. “I don’t know. But I know nothing about their capabilities and I’m not an idiot. This is a superhero setting of some kind. Underestimating enemies is how we end up with dead planets. I might be able to fight these Endbringers with one homunculi… but let’s assume that this Legend or Scion individual is a Superman Expy. I don’t know that either is… but let’s make that assumption. If these three Endbringers are still functioning after years in a realistic superhero setting, which we have to assume, since they’re talking about 1 in four capes dying against the Endbringers, that means they’re strong enough to survive multiple fights with a Superman Expy. Maybe not a Cosmic Tier Superman, but even a Planetary Tier Superman is going to be bad news. So maybe I can fight them… but maybe the fight would require me to unfurl my wings as it were. If I have to do that, I could oneshot the planet.”
“There’s a perk here that limits Collateral Damage,” Velma said.
“Huh. Well… that might help. But it doesn’t stop them from doing that kind of damage fighting back against me, does it?” She shook her head. “I didn’t think so. That said, they’re already a threat, so maybe fighting them isn’t a bad idea. I’ll think about it.”
“Fucking Jumpers is the next one. It means everyone in the world knows about you being a jumper and everyone believes it… and a lot of them think you’re an S-Class Threat in the making. The PRT/Protectorate will be given a full rundown on all your capabilities, history, tactics, and psyche profile… though you get a copy too, free of charge… unfortunately, that’s because it’s all over the internet now.”
I plucked ZIggy off the table and asked him, “Do I look like an idiot, baby?”
He nodded “Momma Idiotbaby!”
I chuckled and kissed his little nose. “Thaaanks.” I drawled, then dropped him on AJ’s head and stood from the table to pace. “That… sounds like a horrifically bad plan in a setting where we need precog immunity. No. Just… not going to happen. And no new information there either. How many more 300s are there? Are we close to the end of the list? I think I saw a +1000?”
“You did. And it’s a Limit buster. So you can take it and another 1000 if you’re mental…” Petra smirked and I stuck my tongue out at her. “But I’ll get there. There’s one more 300, three variables with ranges from 100 to 300, a 600, and an 800… but you’re not going to take the 600… probably not going to take the 800 or the 1000 either, but I’m certain you’re not going to take the 600.”
“Well, now I’m intrigued, but we’ll keep things orderly. What’s the next 300?”
“Kill Order. A Global Price tag on your head, for both your alias and your identity.”
I blinked. “Wait… does this give them any capacity to do so? Any advantages?”
“Nope. Just permission and motivation. Your opponents are going to be going all out.”
“Fuck it. Sure. Why the hell not. I could take Wanted and On the Radar too and that’s 1000. Not optimal, but that doesn’t put anyone else in trouble and really doesn’t actively penalize me or weaken my position.” I looked at the Inner Circle and asked, “Any contraindications I’m missing?”
They didn’t look thrilled, but none of them spoke up.
“Okay Petra, let’s run through the others for information, but unless something else screams take me. I think we’re set, pointwise.”
With a smirk that mirrored mine, she nodded and began rattling them off. “Case-53 is worth 100 to 300 or zero if you just have some tattoo… otherwise it’s a physical mutation. 100 gets you something minor, like someone named Canary who has Canary Yellow hair with feathers mixed in. 200 makes you look inhuman but be otherwise fine… it names three, Gregor, Newter… that’s new opposite of old, plus ter… not Neuter… and Weld. For 300 it’s severely debilitating and there’s a high chance you’re a serious danger to everyone around you… like Sveta and Noelle, whoever they are. It gets you an altform post-jump.”
I shook my head. She pressed on, “A Bad Influence explains what Shards want… information to learn, grow, and evolve… and how they get it… by influencing their hosts towards conflict to pit their powers against one another in new and novel ways. Normally your Passenger would be effectively benign… but this drawback pushes that to a more hostile footing. 100 means your Passenger gives you the basic conflict drive that all parahumans have at base, your highs might be higher, your lows lower, and you’ll find conflict attractive and fulfilling. For 200, those urges are constant and you’ll find yourself resorting to conflict first and foremost, even when it’s not ideal. For 300, those urges are omnipresent and irresistible. Resisting will cause mental instability.”
I paused, looking at her as several things clicked into place and I paused, going very still as my advanced calculation systems went into overdrive. “Shard… they’re part of something bigger… I was thinking too much in terms of my own Soul Shard system… no… this is not good. Precog… Mmm… Petra… can I assume that the third variable cost drawback is psychological dysfunction?… I remember seeing it’s name is ‘Bent to Broken’ when I put this in order.” She nodded slowly. “And the 600 is a powerless or amnesia drawback?”
“Powerless. Warehouse Lockout… and people around the world are triggering with the powers you lost,” She said in a low voice and I frowned.
“Only if I was a very very young jumper,” I muttered, then asked. “What is the 800?”
“It’s called Golden Morning. It says that our Benefactor has told Zion that if he kills you that they’ll bring his mate back to life and send them both along the chain in your place. He won’t have any limits on what he’ll be willing to do to kill you… but he’ll have to do it personally… not just blow up the planet you’re on.”
“I thought it might be something like that. Additional theory. Zion… and his mate… are the Entities. They’re what the Shards are Part of… I’m even going to make a guess that they’re the titular ‘Worms’. They’re using multiple parallel Earths as testing grounds… I’m not certain why, but almost certainly because they can. They create Parahumans to test powers, maybe even create threats to push the parahumans in new ways. It’s stress testing powers… and if a world full of humans dies in the process… no big deal, right? They’re just… disposable.” I ground my teeth as the potential variables tried to disprove my hypothesis, but I found nothing to prove wrong. I was missing information… but I had a working theory. Time would tell if I was wrong… but I was guessing I was at least 80% right. “I’m almost willing to try that one… but the risk to other worlds if I fail is too high. But it does tell me that Zion’s mate is apparently dead as of story start. I wonder if that helps us.” I breathed out, then sat back down heavily.
“Well, I’m not taking the 1000 CP Drawback. I read the title while I was collating. ‘Everything Gets Worse’ does not sound like something worth taking unless one is a masochist.”
Petra nodded. “It guarantees all the worst stuff will happen, but worse, and you’ll be there and can’t stop it and Golden Morning… whatever that is… will happen and you’ll reach it and you’ll not be able to stop Jack Slash from apparently causing it?.. But after that, if you don’t give it everything you have, you’ll die… and even then it’ll be a close call.”
I shook my head “Not on a dare.”
“Everything Gets Worse does mention an event called ‘Slaughterhouse 9000’ as well… but no context besides that it happens in North America,” Petra added, finishing up her description by raising another complication.
“Right… Good… Well, I guess we have a full CP loadout… Kendra? Any information to be gleaned from the Item or Companion section?” I asked, hopeful.
“Oh. I’m certain there is,” the statuesque beauty responded, leaning against Zane to pilfer some of his pad ped string bean (extra spicy). “Like there’s something called a Richter AI in the Companion section, as I mentioned before, that’s fully sapient and sentient and really really advanced and it uses mechanized bodies called ‘Dragon-Mechs’ or ‘The Azazel’… but that’s more questions not answers. But the Item section does have the answers. Absolutely. First off, there’s a 50 CP item called ‘Worm’… it’s free for Drop-In’s… it says that Worm is a Web Serial by someone named Wildbow… and gives you the entire thing on a tablet computer… including every statement the author has ever made about the setting… And before you all lynch me for not bringing this up sooner… I already penciled Zane in as a Drop-In and no tablet has appeared. I don’t think we can get this before Insertion. We have to be locked down before we get stuff… even memories or personality. That’s not unusual, of course, under Jump-Chan, and was only something that occasionally happened under the Banker… It didn’t seem worth bringing up.”
I considered, then acknowledged her point. “Fair enough. And as Zane’s getting a copy, we’ll know everything soon… just not soon enough to change anything. Any more information?”
“Little things here and there. I’ll run through the items that give no information to speak of first, then glean what can be gleaned… Funds is 50k or 100k plus business assets for a Rogue. Costume, which is free for all but DIs is resistant to fire, electricity, cutting stabbing, shooting, the weather, and wear and tear and comes well designed and suited to your identity and powers and you know how to make more. Little Black Book is a tablet computer that contains a Cape database, but not including secret insider information, plus contact info for everyone who can be reached. Stays current using the internet. Weapons are weapons, basic and nothing fancy. Identification is an ID solid enough it can’t be proven false. Containment foam is foam strong enough to withstand all but the highest level Brutes without suffocating anyone. Lair is a a Lair. Business is a medium-sized and well off business that you own. Turns a profit without your input. Gets maximum synergy from your abilities if you do provide personal attention.”
She took a drink, then shrugged. “So far, so boring, right? Well, it’s about to get interesting. Powered Armor has the physical enhancement of a mid-tier brute and a power from one of the other 11 categories… also mid-range… plus additional systems for 50CP each… item import for 50CP each… and yes that’s really abusable. Completely restored every morning.” She smirked at me and mouthed ‘VIctoria’. I nodded, having understood perfectly well.
“The Numberman’ item gives you a contact number for the Numberman’s banking service… legal and illegal cash services. I assume he’s a pretty major mover… but discreet? I dunno. But intriguing. Corona Stimulants are power boosters… 50% boost for several hours… use only one every 12 hours or you get an incredibly painful migraine that will leave you effectively helpless for hours instead. Can potentially boost other biological or neural powers… so Raildex Esper Powers yes… HP magic? No.” We nodded, but didn’t interrupt her roll. She was burning through the list fast and lose, but that was fine. We’d each read through it again and again to make final choices.
“Tinker-Tech Cache is a bunch of hyper-tech gizmos… whatever you like. Free if you are a Tinker, on the assumption you made this stuff yourself. Like pretty much everything else, it’s self-repairing and returns to the warehouse if stolen or lost or destroyed. There’s Protectorate Headquarters… apparently that’s on a rig in the actual Bay for Brockton Bay. Complete with forcefield defenses, it’s a fortress. Center of Power is an a tall office building with an underground bunker that could potentially survive an Endbringer Attack… it’s essentially the Villain version of the HQ… again, no Recon-info… besides the fact that this probably means there is one of these in Brockton Bay. The Tinker Dara Core is a database of Tinker-Tech… documentation, analysis, blueprints… centuries of advanced science if examined properly and reverse engineered… though it would take a couple lifetimes… it’s not all the tech from the Wormverse, but it’s as close as you’ll get without extraordinary effort.”
“That it?” Zane asked, stealing back his rapidly vanishing Thai-food.
“Nope. There’s two more. The big two I think. Cauldron Vials and the Dimensional Breach Controller. Assuming the Vials really do exist in setting and I can’t think of why they wouldn’t… they grant relatively powerful parahuman abilities that, while completely random, are guaranteed to suit their host in some way. There are five of them in the case and unlike the normal formula, these have no risk of mutation or death, and are perfectly stable… they’ll have no effect on you and refills once per year. Outside the jump they grant the equivalent of a parahuman power, regardless of the lack of… get this… shards OR ENTITIES… I think that counts as clear confirmation they’re linked?” We all nodded. “I just noticed that… sorry. Anyway… I think one of us should probably grab that for the goonsquad… oh, and the DBC, which sounds really nifty. It’s like the Portal Gun… but for opening and closing dimensional portals… as in this should be capable of closing the Hellmouth… It has software sophisticated enough to define locations or parameters you’d like to find at the destination… once you figure out the controls. It’s keyed to physical dimensions initially, but spiritual ones are possible with enough experimentation and innovation… probably. In my home reality, I’m pretty certain the Hell Dimensions are still physical. The DBC can always open portals to mirror worlds like it can in the Wormverse, and once you’ve got a Spark… anywhere in the multi slash omniverse. And that’s it. K-Star Out!” She threw up horns and then pretended to be on an elevator that was taking her down under the table.
“Nice… I guess. Never really felt the need to travel to parallels… but could be handy. I’m not spending the points for it… but if someone does… That would be cool.” I trailed off, looking between the Power and Perk teams. “Power Team,” I finally decided, addressing Francine and Carwyn. “I’m not going to have you breakdown all 48 powers, obviously. I assume, pretty much everyone’s going to roll and that means we’ll have 11 of them. I’ll get my choice as a Shard… but Atura will roll for hers, so a little randomness is good. But what are we looking at? An idea of the power levels involved and how dangerous are they? Any recon-info as Kendra put it?”
Francine took point and said, “First… Props to the Wildbow fellow. If these powers are indeed all from Worm, and indicative of the kind of things found there, he’s created and expanded a huge number of abilities in creative ways rather than relying on the old standbys and turned individuals who would not have been superhumans in other settings into parahumans in his. Second, almost all these abilities have clearly weaponizable qualities and range from strong to very strong to potentially game breaking.”
I raised an eyebrow at that, “Are we talking DC Game Breaking?”
“Yes. Just from the very first category, Mover, we have Blink which allows rapid-fire chain teleporting to any location within 200 meters with an instant’s thought, as well as modification of your orientation and momentum to anything that is physically possible for you or for your target. It includes immunity to disorientation and imbalance this might cause, as well as what it calls ‘Secondary Thinker Aspects’ that grant the user the superhuman spatial and situational awareness needed to make best use of it and the capability to handle the sensory input at speeds to optimally function. A Blinker can take targets or objects they are touching, but they are volume… not mass, volume, limited… up to five times the Blinker’s size.” Francine had stood to relay all that and remained standing, arms behind back at military parade rest. “Shall I continue?”
“I… that could be very useful. It’s several times the power of Nightcrawler who doesn’t have that range per jump and can’t manipulate momentum like that, nor does he have that level of ride along. Yes. Continue. Further examples would be appreciated.”
“Be aware, there is very little in this section with probative value… aside from a general sense of how much local power we’re dealing with… but if even one in a thousand individual humans on a single Earth is a Parahuman in this range, we’re talking 7 to 8 million Street Tier or Higher Superhumans,” Francine said. “I do not know if that is an accurate percentage and imagine it depends on environmental stressors a great deal.”
“Understood. Tell me what you can. And Carwyn, jump in as needed,” I instructed.
“I’ll do the setting details,” the space-elf said. “And leave general analysis to Francy.”
“Thanks, Red,” The Alakazam said, using TK to wiggle her fake moustache. “If Blink compared to a Marvel mainstay, then Friction Modulation will compare to a DC. It’s Flash lite… but done differently. Immunity to friction when needed, increasing it when wanted. No upper limit and all negative effects from boosting your momentum are negated… So you can move through the air at hypersonic speeds without suffering from atmospheric ablation or resistance… or from suffering from hitting something harder than you can handle. Complete inertia and momentum control. Think… Flash plus Speedball… kinetic immunity, perfectly scaling reflexes… and perfect balance and poise too. While it’s weaker than flash in some ways… the near total battlefield impunity makes up for much of the lose in practicality… and it extends to people and objects touched as well.”
“I… see…” I drummed my fingers on my biceps and nodded. “Very useful… differently balanced, but with martial training and some decent edged weapons, that could be very dangerous to your fellow humans. Not so much to Brutes or Tanks with their ability to shrug off damage lower than the kiloton range… but even then… get a javelin up to speed and release it… your power will keep you from punching harder than you can withstand… but not something you’re launching I’ll wager… good… good.” I turned to Carwyn. “What can you glean from this before we just go looking for cool power sets?”
“Well, the Transporter ability says that Contessa has a Power called ‘Path to Victory’ in the context of saying that you have full-fledged Contessa level PtV with regards to getting something from point A to point B as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible… assuming it is possible at all. But only with regards to transportation. The ultimate escort and courier planning power it looks like. Not particularly weaponizable, but of extreme utility… especially if you want to know how to get this arrow into that guy’s heart.” She smirked and I knew what she was thinking… she was, after all, a pretty decently gifted precog. She knew how to abuse a power like that. “Path to Victory, by the way, is in the Thinker Category and confirms that it is not as powerful as Contessa’s version until Post Spark. The power, when given a goal or intent, searches possible futures for a successful resolution and provides the information needed to achieve that end. The power on offer is like a video-game’s list of detailed objectives, rather than what it describes as ‘Contessa’s plot device level Path’, but baring outside inferferance from someone immune to precog,” She glared at me, “or a more powerful precog I’d imagine, following the instructions will result in successfully reaching your goal… as long as you don’t make a mistake or fuck up. It does rely on your own abilities to determine what steps you are capable of doing… and it can be very straining to use this ability.”
“So… that’s the set of why the Precog Protection. Contessa has PTV, Ziz is a Precognitive Kaiju, and Zion is the source of all many or most of these powers. We don’t know how many Entities there are or if the Shards of a Dead Entity can still provide powers, in the case of Zion’s Mate… but I’m not assuming she’s meaningless just because she’s dead.” I narrowed my eyes as I spoke, already building contingency plans to utilize if the Entities proved not just to be curious and unethical experimenters, but outright hostile… which was seeming all too likely. It’s not easy dealing with something you have no idea of the capabilities of… but if these powers were indicative, they had control over basic and fundamental forces… and if they were giving those powers away, they had to have more powerful versions of their own to draw on… or they were idiots.
“There’s a whole section describing Tinkers, saying they’ve got the equivalent of a database of extremely advanced scientific data and technology in their heads, but its thematic. A bomber Tinker will build hyper-tech bombs, an efficiency Tinker will build things that are hyper-efficient… etc. They can, within their speciality, build almost everything they can imagine and seamlessly integrate any STEM skills or knowledge they already possess. It straight up says this is the collected science of hundreds of advanced civilizations.”
“Right. Interesting… That database might be worth handing over to some of my Magi to see what they think… I wonder if the tech is on par with my high end stuff… that could be very dangerous,” I muttered, adding that information to the growing and potentially distressing file on Wormverse.”
Carwyn preened as if I’d complemented her… but then again, she always acted like she was being complemented… giant egotistical wench… then again, the pure unrepentant way she did it was half of what drew me to her. She was soo damned smug that it was actually amusing. “We’ve got three new names from the Powers sections… We think. One power is called ‘The Alexandria Package’. It’s a flying brick. Overwhelming Strength and Durability, plus Flight, plus enhanced intelligence and perfect memory… and the power enforces that Manton Limit thing on things that try to fuck with you. No TK’s popping your brain, no Pyros summoning flame inside you… It mentions that Behemoth has a Kill Aura that this protects against and Ziz has a form of telekinetic brain fuckery… that’s right from the text… and this protects against it. I’m assuming Alexandria is this settings prototypical flying brick and this package is named for her. Francine agrees this is the most likely reason this power is named that. The second power is called Quantum Evolution, and it compares it to someone named Crawler, saying that the evolution doesn’t mutate the user permanently, unlike Crawler’s ability. The third power with a name attached is Complete Arsenal… which describes the person who takes it as, quote, ‘a poor man’s Eidolon’. If Eidolon is better than Complete Arsenal… he’s worrying in the extreme. Complete Arsenal grants three slots which will, if given a minute, be filled with a power that fits your current needs or desires in some way. They start out at mid-range and grow to high mid range over the next five to ten minutes. While you can’t control what you get, besides choosing to keep or discard a power… they will always be of use to your needs and wants. And they come with an innate understanding of what these powers do and how to use them. By extension of the after jump all parahuman abilities grow in power and scope… more slots with more control containing more powerful abilities would seem to be in the offering.”
I considered, then nodded. “Very true. Well then…”
Francine added, before I could say any more. “There are a number of other powers which might be names of capes, but I can’t be certain. Browbeat, Warpspasm, Sting, Decoy, Biosculptor, Sensorium, Boogie Manimal, Thanatos, Contractor… and one I’d almost think was a cape’s name, but it’s clearly this Skitter’s power. It’s called Queen Administrator, and it’s probably more powerful than you thought. It’s absolute awareness of and control over any and all invertebrates in an area that starts at four city blocks and grows with time. THat’s their complete sensory input and the computation and processing power to flawlessly interpret all that data in real time… and the control extends to involuntary processes, such as breathing and hormone balance. Infinitely scaling multitasking, keeping track of any number of different activities at once, and flawless micromanagement skills down to the level of every single individual limb… and implantation of continuing directives once the ‘bug’ is freed.”
I blinked at that. “Holy… okay… fear the bug lady. I guess we should see what everyone gets before we move on any further?” Everyone nodded, so we called Ahab, the Lutece Twins, Frankie, Mini, and Meetra in and explained again. “Anyone have a problem with rolling randomly?” No one did. I flexed my will and a geometrically perfect d12 and d8 landed on the table comprised of room-temperature hyperice. They were worked with charms to prohibit cheating of any kind, including probability manipulation and were as fair as I could make them. “Atura, you’ll roll first.”
As I allowed my inner spirit to manifest, she seemed to reach over my shoulder and scoop up the dice in a hand that was as translucent as fine bone china and the size of a serving platter. She rolled, the dice bouncing across the table and AJ had to restrain Ziggy from chasing them… which of course prompted El Fuzz Supreme to attack AJ’s fingers. Ziggy used Thrash. It was not very effective. The dice came up 11 & 8… Complete Arsenal.
“Well… that’s entirely practical,” I chuckled.
“Your luck is ridiculous, you know that, right?” Zane commented, scooping up the dice. “Come on Alexandria Package! Daddy needs a new pair of invulnerable boots!” He tossed them down the table, which had changed from conference to craps at that end. “One and Seven? What’s that?” He said, asking Carwyn.
“Doormaker. Like the Dimensional Breach Controller… but to any destination you can think of. They last until you decide to dismiss them and their size is limited only by your currenyl power growth and the effort you put into making them. Bound to some extent by the local setting’s rules on how alternate worlds and parallel dimensions work, but after sparking, it’s unlimited travel… assuming your power unlocks when she gets her spark.” She hooked a thumb at me.
Zane hmmmed, then grinned, “Coool! Thinking with very naughty portals!” He waggled his eyebrows at Kendra who hit him and not gently. He just smirked at her. Duffus.
Next up was Meetra, who rolled a 3 & a 5, netting her the power named ‘Warp Spasm’… which sounded absolutely terrifying. When the power was active, it would send her into a berserker rage, warping her into a monstrous and incredibly destructive form wreathed in fire and lightning… and the transformation would keep building and building over time as long as she refused to calm down and kept receiving the stimulus needed to feed her aggression. She considered paying to change the category to Mover (which would have made the power Transporter), but Francine explained that the rage would in no way impede her intelligence, skills, awareness, or cunning… but would, rather, hone them as time went on and she’d be able to snap herself out of the rage at any time… and the heat and electrical discharge would be controllable and grow stronger as she did. As a Grey Jedi, Meetra was very well aware of the power of the Darkside… and it’s allure… and was thus very hesitant to take a power that would make every problem look like a nail to be hammered in… but the idea of becoming a living force shadow of fire and lightning was too much a temptation to pass up.
“I guess I’m next?” Mini asked, looking a little nervous. “I’m really not certain I want to deal with a decade of angst and neurosis…” She picked up the dice, then smiled wanly as Francesca hugged her and whispered something in her ear. “Right. Right. I can handle this. It’s just another challenge…” she closed her eyes and tossed the dice… “What did I get?”
“The d8 is cocked… but the d12 says 10… that’s Tinker,” Francine said. “Tinker’s all the hyper-tech stuff.”
Mini frowned. “I… I don’t want to be a TInker… ummm… can I change it?”
“It would cost 200 points to change the category,” I supplied.
“Okay… Yeah. I’ll do that… let’s see… Mover, Shaker, Brute… ugh… that name!… no no no… Breaker, Blaster, Striker… all too warlike… I mean, I’m fond of Striker for obvious reasons, but still… what’s left? I’ve forgotten the stupid poem.”
“Master, Stranger, Thinker, Tinker, Trump, and Changer,” AJ said, struggling to get Ziggy off his head. Finally succeeding, he thrust the small weasel-creature at me and hid behind Zane. Ziggy immediately got distracted by my hair and leapt for one of my braids, dangling and flailing as his teeth sank into the tightly woven hair.
“Uh… Master, I guess. I was a House Master in that other world, right?” She picked up the d8 and rerolled it. 5.
“Thanatos,” Carwyn said. “The ability to conjure up a phantom of your own making. The phantom is capable of becoming intangible and begins with peak human physical capabilities. Whenever it kills a living being, it assimilates properties of that being to improve itself, adding new capabilities and shifting its form to reflect what it’s absorbed. From normal people it might gain new skills and small statistical boosts… from parahumans or others with unique abilities, it will absorb those abilities or something similar but not necessarily a one for one copying of the target’s power… and shifting form to reflect those powers. You’ll be able to sense what your phantom does, including its mental processes and control it as easily as you control your own body. Improvements are permanent and are retained across all future summonings. The range it can move from you is limited at first to a few blocks, but will increase with time and practice. Note, Killing a God will not give you that god’s power… merely an upgrade related to that god’s domain.”
Mini just looked at Carwyn as if she’d grown a fifth head. “T… that’s monstrous! I… I wouldn’t… I couldn’t… that’s horrible! It’s evil! Killing someone for their… to take… uuugh… this was a bad idea.”
I gave her a hug at the same time Francesca did and linked to her mind. ~Don’t think of it like that. You’ve killed people in combat before. You’ll do it again. This isn’t killing for that reason… merely making the best of being forced to kill someone… also, very abusable if you manage to get some rez powers at some point. Yes, it’s pretty horrible, but I suspect this world is not one for peace and love. And it’s any living being… monsters included.~
Mini peered up at me. “Are you being logical now? Is that what you’re doing? Logicing me?”
I smiled. “Frankie does the emotionalling… I do the logicing. Now cheer up and embrace the power vampirism, you ghoul you.” She bopped me with a stack of papers and humphed, but Frankie was already grabbing the dice.
“Three and Eight? Is it something good?” she asked, bouncing up and down and looking very thirteen again.
“Awww… she got the Package!” Zane complained, looking over Francine’s shoulder. “No faaair.”
“I thought you were happy with Doormaker?” I commented.
“I’ll trade you?” Zane offered Francesca , who just stuck her tongue out at him. Kendra was utterly unsympathetic when he pouted that the kitty girl was being mean to him.
“Carwyn? You’re up,” Francine said, handing over the dice. Nine-Seven.
Carwyn groaned. “Noooo… It’d be uselesssss!” She shook her head, then explained to everyone. “That’s Path to Victory, which should be really amazing… but we work for miss no can predict me… which means the already nerfed power, which doesn’t work on other precogs or those with pre-cog blocking… both of which she,” she pointed at me, “has!… would be useless. She’d scramble all but the most limited predictions! Plus… I’m already a Farseer. Warp with it… I’ll pay to change… the category I guess… Can’t pick Complete Arsenal, Doormaker, Alexandria Package, or Force Manipulation for… reasons… Topography Manipulation and Power Well are weird, no Reverse Engineering… ugh, technical nonsense. I’m a doer, not a maker…. Geist no… Inorganic Avatar… naw… Biosculptor or Queen Administrator… reshaping people or bugs… bugs or reshaping… Do Tyranids count as Bugs?”
“Yes. By and large. They do. I suspect it depends on the specific sub-species, but most of them are massive invertebrates with very little independent thought and almost all of them are designed to be controlled by synapses creatures… Why? Assuming we’re going back at some point?” I asked, curious.
She shrugged. “YOu can teach me biosculpting already. It’s just an application of Biopathy… but QA gives infinite multitasking and information processing… I’ll take it.”
Petra looked at the list and mmmed. Then she tossed the dice casually, becoming the first person to roll for the first power in a category… Tinker… which she promptly announced she was changing to Changer… giving her Quantum Evolution instead of Miniaturization… which was probably best, as her relationship with technology is mostly adversarial in nature.
Francine explained, “This power means that your entire body is in a perpetual state of quantum flux, warping and evolving based on stimulus to better fit your needs and desires. Inflate to save yourself from an impact, grow armor in the time it takes a bullet to reach you, or develope acid spit to deal with an enemy vulnerable to acid… and then revert back to your base form whenever you wish. This grants high speed regeneration and if you choose to retain a change, it will keep improving that change over time. Every change comes with the instincts to use it and you can exert conscious control over your changes, either guided in a general direction or very specific if you like. Anything biologically possible, you can replicate… but you can still die if too much of you is destroyed all at once… but you could completely regenerate your brain… brains… if needed.”
Petra grinned, “Best Crab Ever!” and she hopped up on the table and did a breakdance backspin… until Ziggy landed on her stomach and licked her chin.
Rosalind picked up the dice, then handed the d12 to Robert. Together they rolled, in nearly perfect mirroring. The d12 spun high, the d8 low, and, on the rebound, the d8 landed perfectly atop the d12, showing an 8.
Carwyn, without waiting for the d12’s face to be revealed, commented, “Gee… Personal Force Manipulation. Never saw that one coming.” Everyone ignored the smug precog, except Francine who began to read that power’s entry.
“You become aware of all forces currently active within a space a couple centimeters from your body… bodies… and may magnify or lessen them at will. Reduce the impact of a speeding truck to no more than a tap, increase your own blows to that of hyper-sonic missiles… maybe… in time. You can extend the effect to things you’re touching, up to the size of a very large vehicle… and manipulating multiple forces at once will magnify your results… so if you increase velocity while decreasing resistance… or increase both inertial constant and velocity… it takes finesse, but you two have that… and working knowledge of complex physics.”
The duo considered, then Robert said, “It should be fascinating experimenting with this.”
Rosalind nodded curtly, “Indeed. We can run both parallel and cooperative experiments.” They wandered off, chattering about procedural designs and what, exactly, constituted a ‘force’.
Zane grinned, “They’re so cute when they’re science-flirting.”
Velma sighed. “Am I the only person at this table that finds their relationship… weird?”
Carwyn laughed. “Don’t ask me. I’m Eldar. For us, tame is having the only limbs involved in a relationship be arms and legs.” Velma blushed at that and the two redheads got into a heated debate over whether redheads had more fun than platinum blondes while shooting speculative glances in my direction.
“Okay… I guess that leaves you two,” I commented to Joy and Ahab.
“Are you sure you don’t want to make your choice first?” Ahab asked. “It seems weird that everyone is cutting off your options instead of you taking pride of place and taking what you want from the complete list.”
“I haven’t even looked at the list. I’m certain there will be something worth taking… but I have a free choice, so I don’t have to roll. Watching everyone else roll is exciting!” I said with a chuckle. “Joy? You aren’t going to insist I pick before you roll, are you?”
She considered, then shook her head and scooped up the dice from where the Petra-Ziggy cage match was underway, then tossed them, spinning, through the air, off the wall, off the pool lamp’s shade, off the gothic armor’s halberd, off the display case containing the Deathly Hallows, and into the ashtray stolen from Air Force One. They clinked nicely and Ahab harrumphed and grabbed his cigar.
“No respect for a cuban,” he muttered, then read the faces. “Two and Two. Over to you, moustache girl.”
Francine grinned, waggling her moustache at the metal-horned super-spy. “Two is a Shaker, a para whose power allows them to control the environment and thus the battlefield, since they can dictate the terms a battle is fought on. Two-Two is Air Control, the power to sense and manipulate air within the standard several city blocks, with enough strength to shred stone in an instant and metal shortly after. An Air-Controller can compress air to the point that it’ll act like a liquid or solid… then releasing that pressure to cause aerokinetic explosions. This is much more effective in large open areas with already strong winds.”
“Right. Don’t fight Joy in the jetstream… or on Jupiter,” AJ commented.
“Don’t fight Joy, full stop,” Ahab said. “She cheats.”
“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” Carwyn snarked, then tossed the dice telekinetically to Ahab.
“Naw… I’m good. I’m going to take the Shard background,” he said, setting them down. “I want this Assimilation power.” He tapped a page that had been knocked off the table in the struggle between metal-crab and fluffy idiot. “There might be better choices, but it strikes me that having the ability to merge tech and non-living matter into my body, then being able to manifest them at will could be very handy. Says I can turn my bones into anything I ingest, transform my nerves into computation systems… Dunno where all the mass goes, but it says I can assimilation things that are up to five times as large as I am… works on magi-tech too. Oh, and I love the part where it says ‘expendable resources will be provided by your power assuming you’ve assimilated a sample of it’… so I eat one bullet and suddenly it’s unlimited ammo mode? Hell yeah… why’s everyone looking at me like that?”
“Because,” i opined, “I don’t think any of us considered that companions could take that origin since it’s linked to a drawback.” I looked to Kendra. “Is there any specific language forbidding Companions from taking Drawbacks in this document? Never mind the near universal rules on the subject. We’ve seen jumps that allow companions to drawback up and this jump has several drawbacks that specifically affect only the taker and not the world-state.”
Kendra scooped up her pages, flipped through, read and reread the entry, then shrugged. “I don’t see anything. Petra… oh… she’s busy.” She flipped to the Drawbacks section, reading the entries and making a list. “I think it’s safe to say that a Companion could get away with taking Personal Problems, No Respect, Gang Pressed, On the Radar, Meh, I can take her, Being Taylor is suffering… only one can do that, Passenger if you’re a Shard, Wanted, Kill Order, Case-53, A Bad Influence, Bent to Broken… and that’s it. Maybe You Wanted Worthy Opponents… But I’d say that’s iffy and ill advised.”
I considered, then nodded. “Okay, okay… but no one is allowed to take those flex drawbacks at 3. That’s a directive from Jumper. Got it?” Everyone besides the Luteces nodded, but a moment later, VIvian confirmed that they’d gotten the message and acknowledged the limits. “Good… Great.. Perk Committee. Velma, Joy, is there actually any probative info in the perk section? Just an overview is fine.”
Joy shook her head. “Aside from in the universal freebie, the only name mentioned in the entire perk section is Rube Goldberg. Unless he’s somehow a person in this setting and linked to Golden Morning, I doubt that’s important.”
I chuckled. “Okay, okay. I guess that’s all the recon we can do. Everyone but Francine and Velma, take off and get me your builds. Vel, you’re playing the role of my confessor slash secretary. What is the perk situation and what do you think I should take. Me and Atura, for that matter. Francy, I need your take on powers. Give me a list of six to pick from.”
Velma, in the time it had taken me to instruct Francy, all of 4 seconds, had spread out her pages in front of her, grabbed a pad and stylus, and removed her sweater to reveal a black lace bra and panties, with matching garter-belt and stockings. I blinked in surprise, then laughed as she said, “You did say secretary, right?” I nodded and shook my head in amusement. She gave me a cheeky smile, then began. “Well, first, I suggest Atura go Hero. All the Hero perks are passive and should help when your positions are reversed. Each origin has two 100s, two 300s, and two 600s. Drop-In gets a discount on its 100s, but everyone else gets them free. With Atura’s 800, plus 100 from Single Shot… is she going to take any additional drawbacks? Normally I’d point out how insanely broken that would be… but we seem to be pushing things just because we can… I feel like a little kid given the keys to the family car and told to park it in the garage… but not told ‘only’.” She chuckled dryly, then sighed. “We’re such munchkins.”
“Yeah, yeah. We are. This is about survival in settings that keep getting more and more dangerous… over all. Or harder to solve. Or maybe I’m shifting my goalposts as I become more powerful. Who knows?” I patted her hand, then considered. “I don’t think it would be fair to double up on the hunted perks, since she counts as me… but personal stuff that I didn’t? That could work. Atura?”
~Well, I suspect it would be fair to take A Bad Influence, because you will be pushing me to be more combative than I normally am… since I’m usually not confrontational at all. So that would be 1000, and Case-53 would alter my form… say… feathery hair… like an anime character almost… and pink eyes. That could be interesting… that’s 1100… And I’ll take Personal Issues… I’ve never had personal issues before. It could be interesting.~
“Only a spirit would think ‘Oh goody! Emotional issues and psychological problems!’,” Velma drawled, “But if you want it… I won’t stop you. I just how your personal issues are compatible with each other… for your sakes. Okay, well, you have 1200 and buying all six Hero Perks costs 900. If you do that, you’ve got 300 left over. That’s enough to buy the Hero’s Headquarters Item, if you like.”
~I think I would rather take the power boosting Corona Stimulants, since my Complete Arsenal Powers are individually weaker than top tier. Unless EssJay was planning on taking them?~
I shook my head. “Tell us about the Hero and Shard perks, V.”
“The Hero freebies are called ‘What I Fight For’ and ‘No Such Thing as Collateral’. The first gives you an ironclad sense of purpose, never lacking motivation to turn your goals into reality. It’s a self-esteem booster that keeps you from giving up in the face of adversity. The second gives you an infallible sense of what you need to do to minimize collateral damage, both in terms of lives lost and destruction of property. It even reduces how much collateral damage you deal to the point where when throwing around destructive powers you’ll do superficial damage to anything you weren’t planning on harming.”
“The Shard freebies are called ‘Lessons of Adversity’ and ‘Root of Distress’. The first says that the more intense, risky, and high stakes a conflict or confrontation, the more you’ll take away from it. That means growth, development, experience… the higher risk, the better the gains. guaranteed.” I whistled at that. I mean, it essentially meant that my life was now operating on RPG EXP logic…. And, as we all know, RPG logic is best logic. “The second gives you an intuitive ability to sense the fault lines in a person’s psychological makeup, telling what stresses they can handle… and which they can’t. You’ll be able to tell what kind of pressure will make an individual grow, and which will hinder them, and how, in general, they’ll reaction to different types of strain.”
“Well… that could very much come in handy. I do like fucking with people… especially to teach them a lesson… and I guess the Hero stuff is nice too. I certainly don’t neeed it… but it’s good to accidentally kill fewer people and probably having a better sense of self will help Atura.”
~Oh. Yes. Thank you. I should probably be more assertive so that you listen when I tell you something is a bad idea.~
“Nonsense. I never have bad ideas! All my ideas are excellent!” I proclaimed, much to the disbelief of all in attendance.
“She’s good at self reflection and appraisal too,” Francine commented acerbically to Velma, who nodded sagely. I, of course, maintained my dignity by ignoring them.
Velma cleared her throat. “The next category up has ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘Public Relations’ for Hero, and ‘Seeds of Conflict’ and ‘High Risk Guarantee’ for Shard. The first ensures that the people around you will overcome their psychological traumas and issues more easily than they otherwise would. Your mere presence encourages them to get over themselves and their past, even if they only interact with you occasionally. Factors that would hinder their recovery, or your attempts to help others, are much less of an impediment and people will find that their stubborn refusal to change isn’t as effective against your efforts. Ditto acting skills when trying to hide hurt and bias when trying to ignore your words. It will still take effort of course, but you’ll not have to worry about those you help self-sabotaging… and it works the other way too. Your companions will find it easier to help you… or just get anything through that armor-plated ego of yours.” Velma grinned at me and I wanted to dump ice water on her, but I refrained.
“Public Relations is a master of public image management, a sense for always knowing exactly how to project the image you want to project and to keep that image strong in the public consciousness. Not only is this how to deal with the media, it makes improving your reputation or securing good will and trust a walk in the park, so to speak. But it’s not just large scale… even in interpersonal relationships you’ll know how to put your best foot forward and keep it there. Your rep, and the reputation of any organization you belong to cannot take a hit unless it was something directly related to their actions. Misfortune and circumstance will never be held against you or your organization… as long as you didn’t actually cause whatever happened.”
~Oh, that sounds nice… something that helps others that takes exactly zero iotas of personal effort. Those are the best.~
“You are the laziest Godhead slash Inner Spirit I’ve ever had,” I muttered.
~I learned from the best.~
“Ladies… please… you’re both… well… in the same body, so thus, equally weird. Kindly shut up so I can finish this and we can have some nice relaxing sex before you go all crazy / incorporeal for a decade!” Velma snapped.
Francine giggled “Ooo! Can I watch!?”
Velma poured her ice-tea over Francine’s head without a change in expression, then continued explaining perks as if nothing had happened. “Seeds of Conflict allows you to intuitively spot and understand all the trigger points that might cause, influence, or decide a conflict. High Risk Guarantee is a luck perk that only works if you’re in high risk situations and not being cocky about it.”
“I… mmmm… Well, I’ll take Seeds of Conflict. That can only help. But High Risk Guarantee sounds less useful than what I’ve already got… I’ll pass. That’s 300 for imports and 150 for Seeds… 1550 to go.”
Velma nodded, then tried to swipe at Francine who was drying herself off with the Redhead’s sweater… not that wool is very good for that. I would have stepped in and broken up the impromptu cat-fight… but I didn’t want too. Mmmm… bouncy. Fifteen minutes later, looking very disheveled and with half their clothes shredded, the duo returned to the table, pretending nothing had happened. I merely ogled.
“As I was saying… Capstones. Heroes get ‘You Can Be More’ and ‘We Stand Together’, Shards get ‘Shard Administration’ and ‘Forced Evolution’. You Can Be More means you’ll project the very ideal of a hero, whether you are or not. People around you will never give up aas long as you’re around, will always have hope, and even the darkest heart can be inspired to leave their past behind and become better. You be able to influence people to become the best they can be in all aspects, pushing through their weaknesses and issues. Even if the day was lost, the world ending, and an invincible foe was bearing down on them. Seeing you would fill others with the hope and courage needed to stand their ground. A massive boost to charisma and presence, meaning that you’ll tend to be seen in the best possible light even by those who should otherwise hate you.”
~Yay! More stuff that requires me to do nothing!~
“Getting you motivated is going to be a massive hassle this jump, isn’t it?”
~Maaaaaybeeeee. I can’t say.~
“That said, it’s a very useful public relations tool… though anyone who can see past it is going to go ‘wow… so shiny… much hero.’,” I snarked, earning me a kick in the psychic shins from Atura. Oh, this decade was going to be sooo much fun. I haven’t told you even a tiny fraction of all the backseat driving I’ve had to put up with from miss ‘I AM THE TWILIGHT SPIRIT!’ for the ages. Turnabout is fair play, right?
“If you two are finished,” Velma queried, “I’ll continue with Stand Together. It allows you to instill effectively perfect cooperation and teamwork in any team effort you’re personally involved in. This will result in the best physical coordination possible, as if they’d been working together for years… even bitter enemies who want each other dead if you can get them united in the first place. Not only that, but the effect will rub off over time, encouraging cooperation and discouraging infighting and internal conflict whenever there are more serious matters to handle. And, as a final added bonus, casualties will always be as low as they can be in any situation that triggers this perk.”
“The Hero really is a… you know… rally point here. It’s nice how it all works together… but a little messianic and over the top. It’s like… I don’t know… too good to be true… but hard to argue with results. What do you think, Atura? It’s your choice,” I asked out of one side of my mouth.
~I like it. Cooperation and Order are both good. Maintaining the Balance is a virtuous thing to do. If I take the whole Hero perk-set and Corona Stimulants, I’ll have spent all my points, and I think the benefits will play out nicely. Also, it will be nice to be able to use some of my own abilities directly for once.~
“You spend more time asleep than Ziggy,” I commented, but was ignored. So I turned to Velma. “Well, I guess she’s tapped… but I still need explanations of the Shard Capstones.”
“Of course, of course,” The former girl-detective said, “Shard Administration will give you a perfect awareness of all your perks, powers, skills, abilities, etc without any conscious effort or attention needed. This awareness allows you to package any such perks and what have you, together with any limitations you might desire to add, then temporarily grant that package to anybody you can directly perceive. YOu can revoke that gift at any point, reclaiming your abilities in full. Your abilities will never have suffered for this transfer, not even if the recipient died… and in fact the package will revert automatically upon the recipient’s death or permanent incapacitation. You’ll also gain a complete record of how they used your abilities and any creative uses or tricks they put those gifts to. While you lose the abilities while they’re given away, you’ll never truly lose them permanently or have them reduced in power or effectiveness.”
“Oh.” I wrinkled my brow, “Huh. Interesting. Might make teaching others to do things I can do more easily if I can give them an ability first so they know the feel of it… Well, I’m certain I’ll find a use for it eventually. It’s an intriguing tool and I doubt it’s one I’ll find elsewhere. 1250 left. What’s Forced Evolution do?”
“It’s like an advanced version of toggle from young justice. It allows you to inflict any kind of arbitrary limitations on your abilities, or weaken them or turn them off in order to force yourself to grow or develop along new lines.”
“I… huh. Another interesting and not obviously useful ability, but I can see how this could be helpful. I like the idea of being able to give myself limitations at will… I guess I can afford it… 950. So… anything else you’d recommend? Oh. I should import VIctoria as a Power Armor… that’s 350, right?”
“That’s what Kendra said,” Francine confirmed. “300 for the armor and 50 for the import.”
“Six hundred then. So, Vel? Anything?”
“Two perks. A 100 and a 600. One of the Villain freebies called ‘Tooth and Nail’ and one of the Drop-In Capstones called ‘Perfect Communication Skills’. Tooth and Nail means you thrive when things are at their worst. Your instincts become infallible when it comes to getting yourself and others out of something alive and the more of a disadvantage you’re at, the quicker, cleverer, and more skillful you become. Doesn’t make you invulnerable, but it can help.. Perfect Communication Skills overlaps a lot with your Shepard’s Tongue from Mass Effect, but in different ways. People around you are all but open books when you try to understand them, every action and word expressing infinitely more than just its surface meaning. You’ll be able to best express even the most complex and nuanced of ideas, letting you talk people into or out of nearly anything they’re actually capable of doing… so not quite as strong as the Tongue, but more far reaching and flexible. Includes immunity to misunderstandings or miscommunication unless you’re aiming for that. These skills work on anything that has (even in theory only) the cognitive ability to comprehend something something, you can not only communicate but manipulation… oh… I missed this. There are two names attached to this. Jack Slash and Dr. Yamada. It implies they have different personalities, but no information about what they might be like… It’s possible someone named Jack Slash might not be evil…”
“Surrre… I’m certain it’s possible a Jack the Ripper expy isn’t evil… see that one from Fate, but one with near mind control powers? I don’t think so… Hmmm… I’d have to choose between… oh… I still have my Floating Discount… m… m… nothing is valued at 200 to halve… I’ll just take 100 off of a three hundred or something and take both… that’s all my points… Thank you Velma…” I blew her a kiss, the turn to Francine. “What do you have power suggestion wise?”
“Blink seemed to amuse you, but I don’t know if it’s the best choice, especially since you’re already a decent teleporter… That’s my first suggestion anyway. I looked at the Thinker stuff, since you really like brain power, but the four powers there are all things you can largely do already. Your Kwisatz Haderach future mapping is too close to Path to Victory. Your Detective Skills and ability to read people, especially with what you’re picking up here, are too close to Inference Engine. COmplex Computation increases your brainpower in relationship to how complex the problem you’re working on, but you do that already. And Mathematical Calculation gives you all the numbers of the world around you… and while this is impressive, you already can do some impressive things. It’ would be awesome for a starting Jumper though. So I’d pass on them.”
I nodded, but motioned for her to go on.
“Topography Manipulation would allow you to warp and manipulate the immediate environment, doing things like shrinking distances, looping space back on itself, make squares and circles interchangeable… it’s weird… you like weird.” She saw my dubious expression and shrugged. “I thought it was amusing… Umm… faintly potentially horrible but also amusing depending on how you use it, is Relationship Modification… you can change anyone’s relationship with anyone else. Make total strangers best buddies, a married couple hate each other, either temporarily or permanently… plus you can sense their existing relationships? No?”
“Tempting, and I can see what you’re aiming at.. But it’s just mind-control and I can do that. Also, the amusing implications come with some pretty mean pranking and I’m thinking I want something a little more useful in combat.”
“Oh. Then you might like Sting. It unfolds an object through nigh infinite dimensions, meaning it totally bypasses physical resistance, durability, armor… anything that would meaningfully impede it. You can apply the effect to anything you touch… up to a large truck. Bypasses dimensional barriers, boundaries and pretty much any non-magical, non-conceptual, non-supernatural defenses… and even then it might get through those. Comes with immunity to this power’s effects and nigh perfect sense of timing and trajectory.”
“Oh… that is nice… but sounds like something that would be better on VIctoria than for me. I can pick one category to install in her besides Brute. I’m assuming installed powers aren’t as fully oomph as Shard Backed ones, but I’ll install a Sting-Lite system on VIctoria. Maybe size limited and fewer dimensions. Or something.”
“Okay… hmmm… well, you’re already getting access to one of the four Trump abilities, Complete Arsenal… have you considered one of the others? Iterative Improvement gives you a daily dose of charges which you can spend to essentially ‘enchant’ objects with superpowers. The more charge you invest, the better it gets… and the charge does not wear off ever. You can stockpile some charges for later use and your total number of charges per day will increase over time… And you can make the items only work for you if you want… or you could take Contractor, which gives you the ability to give up to ten people at a time parahuman abilities, mid-range powers, nothing impressive, nothing bad, works on normals or parahumans… or five powers equal to a Cauldron Vial…. But while you can pick which power, you can’t empower yourself and don’t get any special control over the individual you gave a power to. Though you’d be able to revoke the power at any time? Or Enhanced Mastery, which allows you to master any skill or field of study at the rate of an hour of study time equalling a month of study or training, though it will slow down once you’re an expert… but you’ll always see noticeable increases whenever you put effort into improving your skills, with continued refinement always being possible… and your skills and knowledge will never degrade.”
“I… wow… why would anyone ever pick from any other category… no offence to Ahab… but wow. I’ll pass on Iterative Improvement, because I can actually enchant things… but that is awesome. Awesome enough to make me want to suggest it to one of the others… Ditto Contractor… maybe suggest that to Mini… but it would make her feel useless in combat… but Enhanced Mastery… oh. Good lord…. That sounds amazing. My mind reels at the abuses.”
“Abuses?” Francine asked.
“Master a skill…. Give it away… remaster the skill… oh gods… can we Shard Administer the powers from Complete Arsenal instead of dumping them? I’ll have to see. But if we could, that’s Contractor handled. Mmm… Yeah. Enhanced mastery it is.”
Francine mmm’d. “Can’t you just do what I do any time I don’t know how to do something?”
“What’s that?” Velma asked, sounding a little worried..
“Get AJ to do it.”
Velma blinked, then laughed, “Oh. Good. I thought you were going to say you stole the knowledge from someone else’s mind.”
“How would that help? If someone else around me can do it, why wouldn’t I just have them do it?” Francine asked. Velma just facepalmed.
Taking that as a cue to wrap things up, I sent Francine to go tell everyone (in person) to have their builds ready to review at lunch two days hence, then took my private secretary out of the conference room for some remedial training… what, you thought I was going to say ‘dictation’? Humph. Humph I say!
Of course, Zane didn’t bother to wait the full 40 hours I’d given… and let me tell you how frustrating it is to be forced to constantly think in 24 hour units. The original Magi certainly hadn’t even on an Earth with a day ~86,400 seconds long. They’d used 12 cycle days, each with 12 sub-cycles of 12 segments of 12 sub-segments each… each sub-segments being equivalent to 4.25 seconds… and each being further divided into 144 parts called fragments for really fine timekeeping. But no, since I kept coming back to Earths or fantasy Earth-likes, I had to deal with 24 hours, 60 minutes, 60 seconds, 100 hundredths… and 365.249 day years… frustrating… and so is Zane, but I’d expected him to jump the gun, so I wasn’t surprised.
“Sup?” He asked, poking his head into my office as I was playing one of the new video games to come out of one of my companies over the last century. Couldn’t play a video game at a touch. Not certain if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
“Not much,” I said, spinning off a self to talk to him as a second went to get food and a third kept playing. Strictly speaking they weren’t clones. I was using homunculi shaped like me that I was projecting one of my many selves into. I could maintain about a dozen at a time without losing too much functionality or splitting my concentration too much, thanks to Assassination Classroom’s multi-tasking boost. “You?”
“Thought I’d drop in to tell you about ‘The Adjustor’… that’s me, by the way. My new Identity thingy. Byron Haslett, The Adjustor… cool huh?” He said, grinning, moving to my sideboard and making himself a side-car.
“You’re a portal-maker… why are you calling yourself the Adjustor?” said game me as interview me grabbed a Red Bull Magnum from the mini-fridge and took a seat in the seating area, moving one of Soffie’s paws out of the way and then oofing as big fluffy head claimed my lap and demanded scritches.
“Oh, cause I bought a power armor. Really really nice one one. Breaker for phasing, Tinker for Self-Repair and Adaptation, and Shaker for a Gravity Gun… cost me 450, but I think it’s worth it.” He shrugged, moving Alegra (my fox familiar from Strike Witches) off the chair he wanted and sitting down. Alegra humphed and clambered up onto another chair, snuggling next to Ziggy and the two black cats (Mini’s Pyewacket and Frankie’s Ombra). Cirno’s Doggy hopped up into Zane’s lap and tried to lick his face, but he pushed her back down and continued.
“I took 400 CP of drawbacks… A Bad Influence at level one so I’d understand what was pushing the locals, Personal Problems just to make things interesting… I didn’t specify because I’m a Drop-In so I don’t have a backstory in this world… and Case-53 at level 2 because I had this really cool slash creepy idea!” He grinned broadly, body language telling me that he wouldn’t tell me until I asked.
“Oh? Should I be worried?” I asked, fulfilling my side of the whole ‘friend’ thing.
“No facial features. No hair. And before you ask how I eat or breathe? Portals!!” He grinned even huger. “I figure my body’s mutated but not enough to really hinder me, so my power has to have adjusted, right?” He looked so pleased with himself, and I had to agree. Level 2 was a serious mutation, but not a crippling one. That was Level 3 according to what Petra had said.
“Anyway… that got me to 1400 total, with Single Shot and the 800 from the importing… so I bought that armor, got some personal ID saying that, yes, I’m Byron, and a copy of the Worm text for free, so you’re welcome and all that. Then I bought Munchkin and Well-Adjusted… those are Drop-In’s 50 point perks… Munchkin is all about making the most out of whatever you have, even things that don’t seem all that useful. It’s a creative thinking and asset management booster. Not bad for 50. Well Adjusted is the superpower of being a well-adjusted person, having an easier time working through my issues… and helping others work through theirs. I figured that might help, you know?”
I nodded. “I do. That’s 550 out of 1400. What else?”
“300 for this thing called ‘Spanner in the Works’… it’s like an upgrade for Outside Context Problems that works everywhere. It makes me completely immune to hostile extraordinary attempts to predict my future actions or events involving me, gives a sixth sense for designs in motion around me and how to unravel or disrupt them if I focus on it. It’s only hostile, so it shouldn’t mess with your Future Mapping unless you’re plotting against me and all that. That’s 850. Another 150 for ‘New to the Crew’ which is a Drop-in perk that makes joining particular social groups and factions, or just teaming up with an individual much easier. I’ll just run into the right people to arrange being brought into the fold, make just the right impression, and move through social surroundings like it was natural… though I have to have an idea where they are and who they are… and more secretive or isolationist groups will still be harder to infiltrate… but it’ll give me a shot, and often that’s all I need. That takes me up to 1000, and the last 300 went to this Shard perk called ‘Seeds of Conflict’… I guess you know about it… but it seemed like a good thing to be able to be able to know where the buttons to press are, right?”
“Right… so… how is Kendra taking the fact that you won’t have a face for a decade?” I asked, knowing there was no chance he’d discussed this with her before making up his mind.
He paled, then looked around nervously. “I was planning on being all ‘But honey! I didn’t know it was going to happen!’ Random mutation and all that, right?”
I just shook my head and pointed up at the window of the room where one of VIvian’s branches was hanging just inside the room. There, in the pink petals of eternal spring, was a small green bird… a Dr. Bird to be specific… it was named Dr. Pointy and it was Kendra’s familiar. Zane’s eyes followed my fingers, and then he yelped and ran out of the room just as the hummingbird flutter-zoomed off to find his mistress and rat dogboy out.
Zane wasn’t the only one who came early. Carwyn, Frankie, and Mini all had their builds ready by dinnertime on the first day after. Carwyn looked smug as always, Frankie looked excited as usual, and Mini looked worried and introspective.
“Min? You okay?” I asked, pulling her against me and smoothing her hair.
“I guess… I’m just not certain about this Thanatos power… I… I mean… I’ve already paid to change category… maybe I should change to something other than Master. Thanatos is soo… creepy. I… I want to be a Hero… not a serial killer… and… I mean… I’ve looked over the others. Stasis and Transporter are too utilitarian for me. TIme Locking individual people seems so… subjective. Useful I guess, but not… exciting. Transporter seems like a utility thing, not something for a hero… maybe a rogue. Orbital Lock are just too… I dunno… weird… making things orbit each other… I just don’t get it I guess. Energy Shadow is a great defense… but it doesn’t absorb kinetic energy, so it’s like being a glass cannon that soaks up all the other energy and stuff… I know I could feed absorbed energy into durability… but what if the fight’s just started and no one’s throwing energy? I dunno. Too subjective. Sting is the exact opposite. Total offense… no defense. And it’s a killer’s tool. Memory Blanking is just… creepy. I wouldn’t want to be a forgotten memory… it’s too abusable and dissociation would be worse with MB than Thanatos.” She sighed a little sadly. “Then there’s Inference Engine… which is like detective vision but more so… You and Zane and the other detectives all do it to a degree… though you and Francine are the… not the worst… but the creepiest… you guys know so much and figure out so much… and I don’t know if I want that… But I might? And Iterative Improvement… I dunno… It’s making stuff… I shifted away from Tinker because I didn’t want to make stuff.”
She snuggled next to me and I didn’t say anything as the other set the table and brought out the food. It was Cirno and Amy’s turn to cook and they’d made a tuna-noodle casserole and roasted veggies… hey, simple food is good and I love TNC. “Maybe I’m overthinking this…” the blonde witch commented, then finally asked my opinion. “What do you think?”
“I agree that Thanatos is very creepy and has a lot of negative connotations. It’s also extremely powerful. I don’t think any of the others you could switch to besides ItImp is even close to it in pure power and utility. I do think ItImp sounds amazing… as does Energy Shadow frankly, but I see your problem with EnShad and am forced to agree that it does leave you vulnerable… but so does Thanatos, since it doesn’t seem to make you any more of the weak spot. In fact, if you didn’t have my complete nanite loadout, I’d tell you not to take Thanatos full stop, since it doesn’t help you at all directly. Iterative Improvement doesn’t help you directly either… but think about what a decade of improvement on, say, a superhero costume might mean. That’s 3,652 individual improvements at one a day. A minor enchantment, say a +1 every day? What would you do for equipment that has +1000 boosts? And you can mix it up. Self-repairing, anti-energy, damage reflection… anything you can imagine essentially. And you can do that for everything you own.”
“So you think I should take ItImp instead of Thanatos?” She asked, hoping I’d say yes, but also worried she was being a wuss.
“I think that’s entirely up to you, my darling girl. Thanatos seems like it can become more powerful faster, with unlimited growth potential… ItImp is time limited, but steady growth. Thanatos makes you rely on your summons, ItImp on your equipment,” I kissed her forehead, “I know you don’t have a problem killing if you need to. You’ve done it enough in the past.”
“Well, those people needed killing… but I never killed them to get something from them… not even when I was a vampire.”
“Are you saying that you’d feel like you were killing to get an advantage instead of just killing because it needed to happen?” I asked, voice soft, not accusing.
“I… I think the temptation to kill when I didn’t have to would be too great. I’d either begin second guessing myself before I acted… or worse… after I’d killed someone. I’d be constantly asking if I did it just to make myself more powerful. I know you don’t like drawing on the souls of those you’ve killed. It’s the same thing, isn’t it?”
“Part of it is not needing traces of others inside me… but yeah. I guess. It would feel weird. Personally, if I were you, I’d go with Iterative Improvement… but that’s because I love making stuff.”
She sighed. “You’re just trying to corrupt me into the cult of the Maker.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I am nefarious like that.”
She grunted, then pushed away from me and nodded resolutely. “Iterative Improvement… it gets me the power without murdering others… also, doesn’t leave me vulnerable.”
“Oh. I had a solution to that part of Thanatos,” I commented. “If that’s your deciding factor?”
“Oh? Fine… I’ll listen, but it wasn’t really.”
“Summon the thing around you… like a ghost power armor.”
“I… wow… it doesn’t say I couldn’t… Hmmm… Naw… temptation is still too… just too much. I’ll go ItImp.” She held out a hand to me, “Now, come on. The food is getting cold.”
“I like cold tuna noodle casserole,” I commented, earning an eye-roll and an arm-tug. Once seated, Mini, now looking like a weight had been lifted from her chest, explained what she’d taken and why.
“I went with Hero because I like being a good guy. I know that sounds cliche, but I do. I did take a lot of drawbacks… I think it was to punish myself for having Thanatos and to moderate how much I used it… but even though I’m going with ItImp instead, I think I’ll keep them. Bent to Broken at level 2 and Personal Issues for all that teen angst that’s so important these days… Meh I can take her because some humility is good and it be better to gain it against weaker enemies… I’m just hoping this Skitter isn’t the big bad or something… ugh… bugs.” She grumped, not noticing Carwyn’s growing grin. “Uh… where was I? Oh… right… Wanted… I figure some gang will want to want to take down the death hero… but I guess it’s the enchantment hero… my name doesn’t make any sense now…” She siiiiiighed.
Frankie giggled “She was calling herself ‘Phobos’ and I’m gonna be ‘Demos’.”
Mini shrugged. “I’ll still be Phobos. I’ll just have to style myself in all black and make my basic load out augment intimidation. I also took Bad Influence Level 2, which means I’m pretty combat focused… I figured that went with the killing to get power… now I guess I’m just trying to test my new improvements nightly or whatever… I think I’m going to claim my power is the ability to generate fear in others and lie about it being my equipment. Never tell people the truth about your capabilities, right? The Nanites and my Vampiric powers should give me the powers of a Brute pretty convincingly. Speed, Strength, Durability, Healing… Shame I’m not a Malvora… but I know I can shift what I feed on. Triumph feels better, but I’ll switch to Fear this jump I guess. Plus, I don’t think I want to be full of Triumph energy when dealing with all the spectacular losers that must inhabit this world.”
“Uh… Dearheart… you’re a hero in this world… didn’t you take the perk that instills hope in others?” Carwyn asked.
“No. That’s You Can Be More. I didn’t take that one. I took We Stand Together, the teamwork one. An Aura of Hope seemed out of character for PHOBOS… still does. Also, Hope is anathema to Scavis who feed on Despair. True Courage hurts Malvora… so I’ll have to watch that, but I suspect true courage isn’t going to be common. It might be cynical of me to say so, but this seems to be a world that would have heroes motivated by more selfish things.”
Frankie nodded. “Like wanting all the ladies to throw their panties at them.”
“No. That’s you, you weirdo,” Mini accused. Frankie just grinned. Maggie just favored her mother with a dark look, but it was ignored by Francesca who was, as always, blithely unworried about being normal… or pretending to be anything besides a lazy sapphic cat-girl. Mini sighed at the silliness of her best friend and partner, “Okay… umm… that gave me 1800 total CP… 200 for the category change, 300 for We Stand Together… 300 for the mid-range hero perks, You are Not Alone and Public Relations… that’s 800. Then I took a bunch of stuff that helped with the fear or the whole ‘I am the darkness’ thing. Roots of Distress and Seeds of Conflict from Shard to be better able to fuck with people’s minds… that’s another 400. Meh I Can Take You to make people underestimate me until it’s too late… that’s another 300… 1500 total. And three little things. Munchkin and Well Adjusted from Drop-In for utility and helping people… do you know those?” I nodded and told her Zane had taken them too. “Good… ummm… oh… and The Needs of the Many from Conspirator… Frankie got that free and I thought it sounded reasonable… Each of those cost 100 each… so that’s 1800.”
Frankie elbowed her. “You didn’t say what The Needs does.”
“I figured you’d do that in your explanation,” Mini retorted.
“But you could dooo it,” the romagnan girl pouted and Mini rolled her eyes, long suffering.
“Fiiine. It gives us a mastery of the mental calculus that measures the needs of a group, society, or species against the needs and well-being of the few. Doesn’t stop us from caring or empathizing, but it will tell us when what needs to be done is actually what needs to be done and not just what’s convenient. Sacrificing others is, regrettably, sometimes necessary.” She glowered at Francesca , then said, “There. You lazy bug. Your turn.”
Frankie, balancing her fork on her nose, yayed, then motioned to Maggie. “My secretary shall present the particulars.”
Mags groaned, “I’m not your secretary, Mom. But fine. Dumb-ass here-”
“DE-MOS!” corrected her mother.
“That’s what I said. Doll-Mass is a Cauldron Conspirator pretending to be a hero. Because they don’t really trust her because she’s a lunatic, she’s On the Radar for +200. She’s got basic Bad Influence and Personal Issues… she’s lazy, of course… and because she could, she took Case-53 at level 2 to make herself a felimorph. That’s another +400 there. 1500 total.”
“What’s a felimorph?” Alex asked, making himself look silly in the process. Amaryllis put her hands on either side of her head and pretending to make ears with her fingers and went ‘NYAN!’ and Alex looked confused, then oh’d, blushing with embarrassment as he realized that he, who in some of his forms had cat ears, had asked what a Felimorph was. “Doh!”
Maggie nodded and continued. “Yes. 200 CP for what is not much, if any, of a drawback, but that’s lazy von kitty for you. Anyway… in addition to ‘The Needs of the Many’, Conspirators also get ‘The Hard Decisions free… which gives them the will, self-assurance, and practical cynicism to make the choices that the Needs of the Many tell them have to be made… all without self-flagellation and guilt.”
“Self-Flagellation is hard,” Cirno commented. “Velma usually spanks me herself.”
Amaryllis blushed and tried to hide under the table, gasping ‘Mutheeerrrr!”
Maggie, trying not to laugh and blushing herself, continued. “She also took Meh I Can Take You for much the same reason as Momma Min did. Of the four more powerful Conspirator Perks… I hope you weren’t relying on her to provide them… she only took one, The Importance of Leverage… which makes her good at using leverage to get people to do what she wants… and good at digging up leverage material too I guess. That’s one of the 150s… she didn’t take either capstone or the other 150 perk. Instead, she bought this Drop-in capstone called Spanner in the… I see you know it… anyway. She bought that for full price, 600… then used her discount on items to get the Balance Formula and the Cauldron Vials… which I guess was nice because she said she wanted us to be able to have some fun too and so we’d get the first batch.”
Maggie saw me open my mouth, but intercepted me with a thought before I could point out that the Balance Formula wasn’t needed with the Cauldron Vials or that the idea of worrying about how well Alex, Maggie, and Amy would fare in a world of superhumans was silly. They’d inherited my Royal Asgardian Genes… they could go toe to toe with the Hulk and survive. ~Mom worries. I know it’s silly, but let her. She just wants her kittens to be safe. If you pointed out that we’re tougher than her, she’d feel like she didn’t have to look after us any more and she’d feel sad.~
I nodded back, then said, “That’s a good thought… does she have a schedule already laid out?”
Frankie nodded, causing the fork to slip off her face and bounce across the table to land in Carwyn’s untouched salad. The Eldar frowned slightly, then picked up the fork and pointedly ate the salad anyway. Frankie didn’t notice as she pulled a piece of paper out from under her plate. “Five a year. First Year; Alexander-pants, Maggie-boots, Amaryllis-hat, Velma-von-Boobies, and Cirno-big-bootay.” She ignored the glares her nicknames provoked. “Second Year; AJ, Francine, Amelia, Tess, and Yuzuha. Third Year; Ziggy, Soffie, Paradise, Jaan, and Odwet. Fourth Year; the rest of the fleet… Ian, Windjammer, and Jenny, plus Gaius and Reggy. Fifth Year; Bao and Uriel, Caine, Kendra, and Anne. Sixth Year: random members of the two choirs and the Bookers. Seventh Year: ditto. Eighth Year ditto… oh, and toss in Doc Tennenbaum to get 15 even. Year Nine the remaining Dire Weasels and Raven. Year ten Beth, Lizzy, Toph, Kohina, and Kagetane…. Year Eleven Bart and Reggy’s kids… Year Twelve whoever’s left… pretty much Boo-Boo and Simon and Korosensei and Dyna or RayRay if she’s awake by then. We didn’t know if VIctoria and VIvian are biological enough for it to work on them or not… nor if it would work on the rats…” She pointed to where Fred, Zed, and Ted were piled up asleep in front of the fireplace with Ziggy perched atop the trio of bear-sized rats like a tiny furry butt-crown.
“Well, not certain we’ll go with that exact schedule, but it sounds well reasoned. I’m certain they all thank you for your sacrifice… and that Balance Formula will help stabilize the Super Soldier Serum for mass production. So thanks for that too. I’ll begin prepping it for the Magi as soon as possible,” I said, tossing a cherry tomato towards the black-cat of the 501st, who caught it in her mouth and smiled a self-satisfied smile… then she pulled a spare pair of panties out of her pocket and put them on Maggie’s head.
“Payment,” she giggled.
While Maggie flogged her giggling parental unit with said panties, Mini commented, “She also bought one of the Drop-In capstones, something called Spanner in the Works?”
I nodded to show I knew it, then turned on Carwyn. “So, knife-ears. What did you take that I should be worried about?”
I knew immediately that she was lying, but I didn’t know about what and even if I was the type to read my friend’s minds, Carwyn was a good enough telepath to be able to block a casual scan from me and turn it into a real battle. I’d win, but not without hurting her badly, not something I’d willingly do, especially not over something like this.
“Code Name Hive Queen. I went pretty typical Drop-In… I guess. I grabbed both capstones at least… Spanner in the Works and Perfect Communication Skills… didn’t bother with the cheaper nonsense. Bought the Dimensional Breach Controller since I got a discount on it. I know Bowser has the powered version of it, but a backup in case he gets TKO’d is always good, right?” I nodded, but she wasn’t paying attention, not meeting my gaze as she maintained her air of nonchalance. “I paid for a Category Change, if you remember, and bought this minor luck perk called High Risk Guarantee… not the best, but I’m seldom cocky in combat.” I snorted and she ignored it as beneath her dignity to respond.
“And how, pray tell, did you pay for 500 CP worth of extra stuff?”
“Oh. I took Bent to Broken, Personal Problems, and A Bad Influence,” she remarked, putting extra effort into sounding like it wasn’t important and she wasn’t hiding anything. I immediately noticed that she wasn’t telling me what ranks of Bent to Broken and A Bad Influence she’d bought… which told me one thing. She was trying to hide a 100 point discrepancy… and there was only one reason she’d be doing that.
“You took Being Taylor is Suffering,” I accused. It wasn’t a question. Personal Problems, which was included in Being Taylor is Suffering was a 100 CP drawback. Being Taylor is Suffering was a 200 CP drawback. That had to be what she was hiding. “The question is why?”
“Because it sounded like fun?” she asked. I frowned, but didn’t say or think anything. “Fiiine. I did it because I’m guessing that Skitter is this Emma person. It said she was attacked and turned against Taylor… and Skitter sounds like a bully type… I mean, she controls bugs, that drawback says she’s a low tier player, and it implies she’s the time you’d want to punch in the face! I bet she did something with the bugs to trigger Taylor and… I dunno. I just thought it would be cool to fight bugs with bugs, you know?”
“You do realize that Taylor gets run over roughshod by the events of the story… we know this… and you’ll be largely subsumed by her persona… If you hadn’t taken this, I could have tried to help her out… now, it’s fiat backed.”
“Yeah… but this way you don’t have to feel bad about leaving her behind.”
Shaking my head at Carwyn’s presumption, I said, “I… see. Totally selfless of you?”
“Naw… I want to punch Emma’s face in.” She grinned maliciously.
“You couldn’t have done that without being Taylor?” I asked, eyebrow quirked.
“Then I’d just be some rando punching a teenage girl… I’m guessing they’re teens… now I’ll have a total reason.”
“And what about whatever power Taylor was supposed to have to save the world?”
“You’ll figure something out. That’s your thing. I do wonder what it was, but the text doesn’t say,” Carwyn said with a none-of-my-concern style shrug. “Any idea what it is?”
“I’d put my money on Doormaker,” I said with a shrug. “Nothing concrete, but there are a number of indicators. First, the title. Worm… as in Wormhole. Second, Doormaker is the first power listed. That might mean nothing, but…” I shrugged again. “It might. Third, there’s an item that duplicates Doormaker’s power. Fourth, this is Earth Bet… I’m guessing saving the world involves saving all of them, and that the Doormaker’s power is of primary importance. My guess? Zion’s dimension is normally unreachable using powers he gave out. Maybe Doormaker is somehow able to bypass that lockout? All this is supposition. I have no idea. I mean, it’s entirely possible that she’s Contessa… or Skitter… or Alexandria… but making the Flying Brick be the hero is so… tired. You know what I mean?”
Carwyn considered, then nodded. “Yeah. I guess I do. Contessa would make sense. That Path to Victory does say that Contessa has full on Plot Device Level accuracy.”
“Aye… It would be like that Nick Cage movie, Next… The one I showed you because you sometimes remind me of his character?”
She smiled. “I remember. He’s not as pretty as me… but then again, few are.”
“Bitch,” I commented, but without heat.
The next day, at lunch, I gathered with the remaining sextet; Meetra, Petra, Joy, Ahab, and the Lutece Twins. All of them looked varying degrees of resolute, but none of them were playing the second-guessing game. Only Petra seemed completely sanguine of her choices, but she has never been one for introspection.
“P. Why don’t you go first, since you seem most enthusiastic,” I instructed.
“Kay,” she chirped, bouncing on her seat. “I’m a Villain. I call myself Exodus and… and I’m a Case-53… level 2… I look like a Cherubim… you know, four wings, four heads… Human, Eagle, Lion, Ox… brass bull’s hooves on straight legs… umm… uh… Oh… I took Bad Influence and Bent to Broken at 2 too… and Gang Pressed and No Respect… cause I don’t want to be a good Villain, you know? I want to be like… you know… a bad villain… not bad like evil… bad like not good at being bad or something… I did take all the Villain perks… Not sure why… I guess they’d make me a good villain… but it seemed reasonable… uh… um… oh… and Forced Evolution which is a Shard perk… that you probably have so never mind… oh… mmm… did I forget anything?”
“You forgot to tell her what any of those perks are,” Meetra said with an aggrieved sigh.
“Oh! Right… Tooth and Nail, Grit Your Teeth, Meh I can Take You, Welcome to the Underside, Parahuman Feudalism, and Bolstering the Boardwalk,” Petra said, and then stopped, looking at me expectantly.
Meetra leaned over and whispered, “I meant that you should tell her what the perks do, metalhead.”
“I knew that,” Petra whispered back. “I just didn’t know if anyone else had taken any of them. I was waiting for Mom to tell me which ones she didn’t know.”
“Oh,” Meetra said, looking suitably chastened.
“Thank you, Pet, for that,” I said, giving her a headnod of praise as I’d done all those ages ago when she was just a Beldum. “I know about some of them, but why don’t you tell me about them in your own words so I know why you took them?”
“Oh… um… okay… Tooth and Nail is like… when things get bad, I get better. Push me into a corner, my HP in the red, my PP almost out, there aren’t any potions or berries left, and the enemy has type advantage and Mean Look so I can’t run from combat? That’s when I’ll be at my best. All Stats boosted. Speed, Smarts, Attack… you name it!” She bounced excitedly, eyes flashing. “And Grit Your Teeth is all ‘Grrrr. I ain’t feeling no pain, no siree-jim.’ I mean, you… I’ll still feel the pain, but it won’t interfere with what I’m doin, you know?”
I nodded. “I know. Pain just makes me sarcastic.”
She grinned. “You’re the best at sarcasm… sometimes you’re so sarcastic you make me want to giggle even when it’s not appropriate… um… Meh I can Take You is all about people going after others before me and not thinking I’m as much a threat as I really am… and… and Underside Welcome is about finding other criminals with abilities that can help me do what I need to do… it’s like a mook hunting perk thing… I guess… I never hired mooks so I don’t know… Parahuman Feudalism is all about conquering territory and getting influence and power while being secret about it. Dirty politics and street warfare… Supervillain stuff. And, umm, I don’t know what Bolstering the Boardwalk means… but it means my powerbase is really really hard to attack and I have a really easy time running a criminal empire and my territory and subordinates are luckier than they should be… maybe? It’s a little confusing.”
Meetra just stared at Petra. “You have four brains… how is it that all four of them are twits?”
“I’m good at Combat!” Petra humphed. “Planning isn’t my strong suit! I’m smart… not charismatic or whatever. Words are hard!… and you’re mean.” She stuck her tongue out at Meetra and then curled up into a metal ball, sulking.
“I think it’s a very good build, Petra. And I like your choice of form and your name. Very creative and it seems to fit… Meetra, why don’t you go next, and remember… I like Petra a lot more than I like you, so mocking her isn’t going to make me particularly happy, got me?”
Meetra looked like she wanted to snap that she didn’t care how much I liked her or not, but I was one of the few who’d stood by her after her fall from grace and taken her away from that universe where the very fabric of reality seemed to blame her for doing what had had to be done and so she didn’t. In fact, she managed to look a little embarrassed and even apologized to Petra, who just growled and snapped her claws at Meeta.
“Uh. Well. I went Rogue… I think I’m the only one who did?” She looked around the table and the others nodded, then I confirmed that none of the others had either. “Okay… then I’ll be explaining a lot I guess. I took almost a full load of drawbacks to afford it all… so you’re probably not going to want to count on me. I’m called ‘Wrecker’ and pretty much my job is as a professional Hero Trainer. I’m a punching bag for hire. Heavy duty masochism in the form of Personal Problems and Bent to Broken level 2 making me think I deserve it… and no, I didn’t take the villain perk that makes pain just information since it would work against my power’s rage thing… anyway… I’m a Case-53, but only a level one, making me 8 foot tall with metal hair. I own Cauldron three favors and have a level 2 Bad Influence Shard… that gives me a total of 1800 CP. And I bought all the Rogue perks.”
She began ticking them off without asking if I knew them already. “Opportunist makes me good at finding and seizing opportunities, in business or combat. Not any better at acting on them, but a real awareness when I see them. Leave Me Alone means that, unless someone has a reason for messing with me directly, gangs and cops and people in general will just leave me alone. It’s anti-social, but it fits with Wrecker’s personality. Nothing Personal, Just Business makes me immune to grudges and vendettas unless I really go out of my way to provoke them by crossing the most uncrossable lines, people will just assume it was business… also works when negotiating, as pretty much everyone will treat me as a neutral party and consider my terms on their merits. Bargains struck with me will be honored to the spirit of the deal… even if I’m just the mediator. Always a Market means I’ll always be able to find a buyer for anything I want to sell, including my own services… and it works the other way, meaning I’ll almost always be able to find a seller as long as the thing I want to buy exists… those are the low value ones.”
“The Capstones are Enlightened Self Interest and Best in the Business. The first gives me a perfect awareness, always active, of how to advance my own interests in ways that will benefit others… and the beneficial effects of my actions on others is greatly magnified, particularly in the big picture. Like… the example is I buy the local neighborhood watch new shirts and flashlights and the local crime-rate plummets and my employees and business partners find themselves benefiting greatly for association with me… and the effects can snowball… It’s pretty crazy how useful that could be. And the second you really should have… it means that everyone working for you will rapidly gain in skill and capability, reaching the level of top tier professional in just a week or two and showing noticeable increases over time in whatever tasks they’re assigned to… even if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel… though it does taper off the further away from physical proximity they have with you… but even those on the fringes of your… my organization can expect to become competent pretty quickly.”
I nodded. “Potentially useful, though my people are pretty good about that kind of thing… but if you ever want a job with the Magi Government, I can put you in the Ministry of Labor… can’t guarantee you’ll be the Minister, the Magi are almost purely a meritocracy… I say almost purely, because I’m ultimately in charge and my word is not just law but gospel to them.”
Meetra nodded, then smiled. “I could bribe them and you with the Tinker Tech Data Cache… I picked it and Forced Evolution which I’m sure you also got with my last 900 points. I know your Magi have a lot of the stuff in there already, but anything you don’t have is likely to be really esoteric and potentially powerful as all get out.”
“That is a good bribe… yes. Are you sure you want to be Minister of Labor that badly?”
“Not really… but I’ll help out where I can. That’s why you recruited me, right?”
“One of the reasons, yes,” I agreed. “But primarily because I thought you were an interesting individual. So there is that… Robert? Rosalind? You two ready to report?”
The ginger not-quite-twins (i mean, they had absolutely identical fingerprints, tongue-prints, retina prints… all of it) looked at each other, then at me and, together, they said “We are.” Then, trading the flow back and forth so smoothly that even twins with telepathy would be envious, they explained, “We’re calling ourselves ‘Columbia’ and we work for Cauldron. We’ve talked to the others, so we know that young Francesca will have already told you about the freebies of a Conspirator, as well as the Importance of Leverage, and you’ll already know about Spanner in the Works, all of which we took. We also took both conspirator Capstones, Necessary Sacrifices, and Crucible of Strife which Francesca didn’t, and ‘Behind the Scenes’, the other midtier conspirator perk. To pay for it all, we took a generalized package of drawbacks. Nothing significant. Bent to Broken, Case-53, and Bad Influence all at level 1, Personal Issues, and Wanted. None of those should present insurmountable issues.”
They paused, took simultaneous drinks of water, then resumed. “Behind the Scenes is a sixth sense for knowing what to keep secret and how to do so to maintain a covert operation. As long as we’re vigilant, anyone who does find a loose end is going to find us waiting when they follow it. Necessary Sacrifices means that when we make a sacrifice it will be exactly what was needed and no more. When we give an inch, an inch will be exactly what was required. As the text puts it, ‘better a desperate slog than an undignified death’.” They took each other’s hands and looked like the mad science version of Hansel and Gretel in that moment, lost in ethical and moral woods so dark and deep that there was no way they’d ever be found. “And Crucible of Strife allows us to know how to shape conflict and strife in just the right ways to maximize the growth that occurs as a result of it. We’ll get heroes, villains, monsters… everything in between, but as long as we control it, what we’ll end up with is survivors, fighters… people who will stand when the time comes, rather than dying on their knees.”
“Wow… that is a really harsh mindset. Cauldron must really be desperate to have that kind of ideology… I’m betting anything you like that that mindset is anything but unnecessary. These Entities must be seriously bad news… assuming they are the major threat like you think they are,” Meetra commented. I just nodded, looking at the Luteces to see if they had anything else to report.
“Our last 600 went into Spanner in the Works. It seemed the best use for it. Precogs and time-travellers can be so… inconsiderate,” they said, smirking at me in that knowing way of theirs.
“I’m seeing a lot of that, yeah. Very good thing it doesn’t block friendly precogs… Joy? Ahab? You’re the last to go.”
Joy smiled and took the stage, so to speak. “They call me Typhoon Tycoon. I’m in the extortion business, not that anyone takes me seriously. No Respect, On the Radar, Meh I Can Take Her, Wanted, Bent to Broken 2 and Bad Influence 1… I’m pretty much aiming to a bottom tier villain that no one thinks about really. I spent my points on Meh I Can Take You so no one thinks much of me, Parahuman Feudalism so I’m not incompetent as I seem, You Can Be More so my people actually are better than they might seem, and the Friendbringers, because being in poor taste seems fitting for this cesspool of a world. Ahab?”
“I’m a Shard, of course. No idea who I’m going to be in. I’d like to be in Joy… if you know what I mean, but I can’t tell if it counts because I didn’t import her, but she imported herself. If the system allows it, we’ll be together, otherwise? Who knows. Maybe I’ll end up in Meetra or Petra instead? No idea… but I did take Case-54 level 2, Personal Issues, A Bad Influence level 1, and Wanted… plus Passenger, of course. I bought Forced Evolution and Crucible of Strife… I know you know both at this point… and I don’t have a name. I guess that’s up to whoever’s Shard I end up being.”
I considered that, then just tucked into lunch, thinking hard about the days and weeks yet to come. This world would be a crucible… ultimately one that would help everyone I brought into it in some way… but it wasn’t likely to be a fun stay. No siree Jim.
INSERTION… not quite
“What do you mean, ‘No’?” I asked, eyes narrow as I glared down at the surly patient laying in my medbay.
“I don’t want to be mortal again! It’s horrible and awful and… and I hated it!” the entity in the bed sulked, almost throwing a tantrum.
“And I don’t care about that one iota,” I responded. “While you’re serving as my Interim Benefactor, it is your job to connect my Warehouse to the target reality. It’s time… past time, in fact, for Insertion. It’s been almost 33 days since the last jump ended and we’re still attached to the Yu-Gi-Oh world. You have to switch us over to this Worm Reality!” I snapped.
“You could be nicer,” she said in a small voice. “I’ve had a bad time!” she was whining now.
“A Bad TIME?!” I bellowed. “A BAD TIME?! You squandered nine decades! Ninety years of experiences, and you were a homeless wretch! Had you made the smallest effort to… you do realize that mortals deal with being mortal all the fucking time, right? I may not be even vaguely mortal any more myself, but I remember what it was like.” I grabbed the thankfully clean Jump-Chan by the shoulders and shook her, not gently. “You will disconnect the… oh for fuck’s sake.”
She was crying now… again.
Swearing under my breath, I tossed her over my shoulder. She’d been deaged and healed up by the medbay, her festering sores and myriad infestations cleansed, all the toxins and parasites purged, and the mess of her neurochemistry corrected… but her personality dysfunction had not completely vanished. I carried her out into the main Warehouse and, as she pounded her (incredibly strong) fists against my back, glided over to the Chamber. “Open the damned door, you bitch.” I commanded her, knowing that the Chamber Door lacked any handles.
“NOOO!” she wailed like a stubborn five year old.
“Do it, or I’ll toss you out of the warehouse for another couple decades,” I said, no emotion in my voice. “No access to any of my resources either. No medicine, no youthening, no food. You have twelve seconds.”
“I don’t know seconds,” She muttered.
“You have until I reach 0,” I said, creating ice numbers from 0 to 12. I placed a long icicle as a pointer against the 12. “11.” I shifted it over to that digit (Magi numbers are duodecimal, so eleven and ten are single digit numbers). ‘10’… I’m not stopping you know. ‘9’ Open the door, Chamber. ‘8’…”
She broke at 4, the door swinging open silently. I tossed her inside, not gently, then followed. “Get out!” she wailed.
“Not a chance. Bring up the command console, NOW!”
She flinched, flailed at the wall, and whimpered as black flames wreathed me and I focused every one of my fear-effect generating abilities on her… the wall changed, command icons appearing on it. The labels hurt my mind a little to read, the sheer amount of information each symbol contained being a torrent of concepts and meanings. This was the underlying language of reality and unreality and even my defenses and mind were barely enough to withstand the deluge.
I let my eyes go out of focus and just scanned over the controls. There were far far more of them than could fit on the wall, but they did anyway. After several hours of scanning, I found the control for unlinking the Warehouse, and pointed at it. “This one?”
She just cringed.
“Fuck.” I said, and pressed it. Nothing happened. So I grabbed Jump-Chan’s hand, not gently, and mashed the button, causing her to cry out in pain even though she was largely impervious to direct harm. The Universe lurched and the internet cut off as we disconnected from one reality. Now came the hard part.
The controls weren’t just counter-intuitive. They were designed for beings that existed outside of the concept of reality itself. But with enough study, I could manage, barely, to operate the board. Thankfully, my deceased companions had been automatically shunted back to the Warehouse without needing any interaction from JumpChan, and the Pillars of Time had been on a timer… though time hadn’t stopped flowing when they’d come up… that was a first. But figuring out how to connect to another reality took me days, and another week would pass before I managed to get the Worm reality dialed in using a system that wasn’t optimized for manual operation by the reality blind.
I very quickly realized that Benefactors had to be able to perceive outside the bounds of an individual reality and had, in fact, some kind of ability to perceive multiple realities at once. I didn’t. So I had to find workarounds inside the controls… which worried me greatly. It was, in theory, possible for me to completely hijack this jump system… had other jumpers done so? Had any jumper ever had the clown show that was The Banker, Mensarius, and Jump-Chan as Benefactors? Had anyone else had jumps sponsored by Necoho? Or interfered with by a renegade jumper like that Necron lunatic? How many other jumpers had gained access to their command console and used it to do something stupid? How many had been obliterated by the strangeness of it? Was this a test of some kind, or was the system really this borked?
No way of knowing… But I wasn’t really interested in cheating… though I could have. I had the command console… I even had to generate the build programs for the tablets and plug in my own build and wasn’t that fun? No it wasn’t, precious. And I had to do this all while standing in the Chamber because I couldn’t leave or Jump-Chan might seal herself in just to be a pain in the ass. Thankfully, I had sunlamps to alleviate the need to eat or sleep… or breathe.
INSERTION for real this time.
Atura, now bearing the body and name of Genady Silveira, woke in her bed in the small hill neighborhood of Altinho in the city of Panjim, Goa, India. It was January 1st, 2011, 6am, and it was already going to be a sorcher, with the needle just below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. She rolled over, hugging her pillow… then blinked her eyes wide and shivered. “Ohhh… this feels weird… I… I don’t know if I like this?”
~We’ll be fine… it’ll just take a few minutes to adjust. The first few minutes after insertion are always a bit weird, adjusting to new memories, a new body… and in your case, having a body… oh shit.~
“What?” Atura asked, sitting up and turning this way and that instead of rotating her head, trying to find what had made me react like that… and then she became away of the information that ‘Judgement Day’ was feeding me.
~Yeah,~ I said mentally, ~900 days… give or take. Still some flux there. 900 days until the end of the world.~
“Two years, five months, 18… 19… 20… 16… days… billions dead… oh… goddess… going to be sick…” She muttered, then calmed as I transferred some of my emotional control abilities and calmness perks to her… well… not transferred… applied them to her. She was me, after all.
~Where’s the tablet?~ I asked, referring to the one that contained the text of this world’s coming future history… or at least what it would have been if I wasn’t here.
She looked around, then grabbed it without thinking… oh… shit.
~That… was not pleasant,~ I understated the obvious as I finished experiencing the text. As a novel, it was fine. As a world I was now living in, it was unconscionable. And I now knew how many times I’d been wrong and how many times I’d been right in my detective breakdown of the text of the document. Without more than a second’s contemplation, I sent out a pulse of thought to my companions.
~EVERYONE BACK TO THE WAREHOUSE EXCEPT CARWYN!~ And with that, Atura’s bed grew a warehouse portal and we dropped into a mass of returning teleports. ~Paradise, intiate warp point calculations for the spacedock and fold space to Epsilon Eridani. Do not return. I’m transferring some perks to you for the durration. Find the lost civilzations if you can… christ… 3000 plus dead civilizations… not just one world… not…~ I stablized myself and looked out at my followers.
~I know now what we’re dealing with. The Entities are a race of living biological computers, each one the size of a small planet comprised of trillions of Shards, spread across multiple parallel realities. Each shard is its own self-contained biocomputer, each capable of generating fields that interact with fundamental forces of reality… and of linking to people in moments of extreme trauma. Those Shards push their hosts towards aggressive behaviour and conflict to learn and expand their repertoire of tricks… then the Entities, having shed most of their Shards upon planetfall, regather the information and detonate the planet they’re on to launch themselves back into the cosmos to repeat the cycle on a new world… the backlash of this detonation serves to obliterate all copies of that world, ensuring no competing species rises against the Entities. Just the local pair of Entities, Zion and Eden, have been responsible for at least three thousand such cycles, and we don’t know how many more pairs are out there… or individuals.~
There was stunned silence as We looked out upon the gathered throng.
~These Entities have comprehensively every significant super power and psychic ability you can think of. And many you won’t have. This includes a form of future-mapping that rivals that of a Kwisatz Hadderach at the very least. The only saving grace is that Eden is, for all intents and purposes, deceased… and Zion is, for lack of a better term, clinically depressed, perhaps even suicidal. He’s got a human avatar called Scion that is, in roughly 900 days, going to murder billions of people… probably on the order of 10 to 15 billion. Shortly after that, Zion himself will be killed, though at the cost of countless more tragedy. Earth Bet will be left largely uninhabitable and the surviving population forced to migrate to other nearby Parallels.~ Atura set our jaw and glared out at the crowd.
~We are unwilling to allow this to happen. Unfortunately, we cannot shield all of you from the massive numbers of precogs in this setting, not and be effective. So anyone who is not highly resistant to precognition and mind reading? We’re afraid you’ll have to sit this one out… at least until everything is resolved. Companions who imported will be the only ones allowed out until further notice. Sorry to restrict you all. This is how it’s going to have to be. Dismissed… WormCompanions please stay back.~ As soon as we were alone, We looked at the gathered group… it was smaller than it should have been.
Joy, the Lutece Twins, Petra, Mini, Frankie, Meetra, and Zane stood in their new forms in front of me. Carwyn and Ahab were missing… unless Ahab was inside one of the others. “Are any of you also Ahab?” Atura asked before I could peer deeper… having her be the pilot was going to be interesting. The others looked back and forth, then shook their heads.
Zane asked, “Uh… you’re Atura, right? Not EssJay?”
“We’re both. I’m Atura… or Genady… but also EssJay… she’s here too. She can’t speak unless I allow her to, but she can still think at you,” ~Hi Guys! Zane, you look really weird.~ “Like that, but we’re both… it’s the same as always, except I… Atura… am more active… it’s weird having mortal memories… Okay… well… yeah… I’m not certain how much defense ‘No Fate But What We Make’ is going to be, since it talks about fate… and We can’t extend precognitive invisibility to more than two other people at a time… right?”
~I have three powersets that convey strong precognitive immunity and several that convey weak precognitive immunity. Clearly, Ferret Tengu, Ferret Uplifted Witch, and the Dook-Dook Fruit have mild chaos effects that make predicting them difficulty. As Sophia, I’m going to craft a Noble Phantasm called ‘Beyond the Sight of God’ which conveys a masking effect and some magical items that do similar, but that will take me a few days to get rolling, assuming Atura doesn’t have other plans. Those are all minor. I have my psychic Precognitive Invisibility which I can teach to other psychics… as I’ve done to Francine and Joy.~
Atura looked to Joy, “What’s your confidence level in your ability to remain cloaked?”
Joy, looking like a rag-doll with ribbons and streamers of all colors on her costume as the Villainous Typhoon Tycoon, shrugged. “I contain several hundred million Transcendent Minds and Talents. I think I can handle blocking on a level that will keep our secrets safe. I’ve compartmentalized the brain of this,” she motioned to herself, “To contain no secrets worth keeping. I trust you to trust me to know the difference?”
We nodded. ~Excellent. Meetra, your Force Powers are close enough to psychic powers that I’m going to spend the next week teaching you Precognitive Invisibility, if you’re amenable?~ She nodded curtly, her red hard hat bobbing. She was a firefighter… interesting… ~Did I pull you away from something?~
“Oh… not a fire. I was just at the station, pulling on my helmet… Turns out that about a half a year ago, there was a fire… half my team were killed… it was started by this pyro, a villain… monster really, calls herself Burnscar… This me is pretty torn up about it. Wants revenge in a major way… like… bad enough that she helped an acquaintance burn down a factory for the insurance money so she could buy a vial of some really nasty shit from Cauldron… that’s how she got her powers… claims she triggered in the fire… we… we were trapped in there as the building came down… the second fire, not the first… got this hair… the bitch… I mean Doctor Mother… she’s the Cauldron person who gave me the vial, she says I owe three favors… you knew that… got a lot of anger… but I think I can manage the Precognitive Invisibility… but you might need to use some deep programming… having a hard time keeping it together…” She admitted and I nodded, telling her to go to Medbay to be checked out while I talked to the others.
We turned to the others. “Petra… you’re not the most powerful psion in our group, but Essjay’s taught you the basics of Precog Invisibility… do you think you can keep one of your brains focused on it at… wow… you having four faces is really throwing me for a loop… you look more like a spirit that a mortal now.”
Petra’s human face blinked, then grinned. Her lion and bull faces both lolled their tongues as if laughing… as for the eagle face? It was on the back and we couldn’t see it, but it was probably laughing too. “Yeah. We can. Won’t be as totally bufftastic as Joy or Mom… yours… but we can.”
We nodded, “Just try to keep your memories compartmentalized. Hopefully people won’t realize you’ve got four brains… and keep your psi shields up. This world has mindreaders… though they aren’t common. Mini… Take my hand.”
The small blonde blinked and frowned, but did so. “What’s up?”
“I’m transfering part of the perk ‘Removed From Context’ to you. It’s from Young Justice, and makes predicting your actions extremely difficult, if not outright impossible. I’m tossing in my Ferret Witch Powers and Immortal… the werewolf thing… from Soul Eater. The combo should make you functionally impervious to Precog, as well as giving you a few more resources, since my Ferret Magic is geared to confusion, healing, and theft.”
“Not that I’m complaining, but why not all of Removed From Context?”
“Because the rest is copy protection for my tech. Best not to allow it to be copied… even as we steal all the local hypertech… I want you and Frankie to stick together… sheesh… now that I know all Case 53s are people who got powers from Cauldron, I’m realizing potentially how much Cauldron knows about us. Meetra owes them favors and got her powers from them… as did everyone but you (referring to Mini), you (referring to Joy), and Carwyn. And of course, Rosalind, Robert, and Frankie are all working with them. Well… that’s fine. Technically they’re good people. We understand what they’re doing. Half of me just wants to turn over the text to Contessa… she’s Dr. Mother’s chief enforcer… and let her handle it… but my own precog shows that’s a suboptimal solution. Okay. We’ve got a plan… actually a lot of them… and things aren’t going to be generally nice… but we’re going to save people… as many as we can. I’ll have missions for you all eventually, but you can head back to your lives… well, except you Zane… I don’t think you have one. I’d like you to start scouting planets… alternate Earths for me… I’ll have a specific target for you shortly I think, but you need to find me alternate earths that have no inhabitants. None. That’s very important, got it?”
He nodded and vanished as did the others one by one. I wondered what was up with Carwyn and Ahab… but I had something to do first… and we needed to not be on Earth Bet for about a month anyway… well, as little as possible. Genady was 14 and had parents that worried about her enough to buy her a very very very expensive Cauldron Vial. There were advantages to being the child of billionaires… ones who could afford to make their daughter Eidolon lite.
Ah yes, sorry… I should explain. Zion was going to destroy all the Earths in about 1000 days or so. He was going to go on a rampage in about 900 days. His entire species was looking for a solution to the problem of Universal Entropy… which I guess every completely immortal species might do eventually… but the Entities prefered a method of destroying all potential competitors too… possibly also reasonable… unless you belonged to one of those potential competitor species… which I… we… kinda did. Vaguely. We liked them a lot at least.
So Zion was the Big Bad and Cauldron was a transdimensional secret cabal dedicated to stopping him. Their major tool in all this was the corpse of Zion’s brain-dead mate, Eden. Zion was the Warrior Entity, Eden the Thinker Entity. She’d been distracted as they approached Earth by a third, solo, Entity that was referred to as Abaddon and crashed into the planet instead of slowing down… and was then attacked by humans as she was vulnerable and rendered braindead. Those humans became Cauldron and were selling access to her Shards to give people powers… all in an attempt to create a large enough force of Capes to fight and defeat Zion.
The most overtly powerful of the Cauldron Conspirators were the founders of the Protectorate, the Triumvirate (originally a quartet) consisting of Alexandria (Flying Brick), Legend (Flying Artillery), Eidolon (The Grab-Bag to end all Grab-Bags), and the currently dead Hero (Tinker). Add to that Contessa with her Path to Victory, Clairvoyant with a power you should be able to guess, and Doormaker who had the power named for him, as well as many, many others… and Cauldron was arguably the Human Race’s best chance of success… before I arrived. Unfortunately, while Cauldron’s leadership were very much on the Pragmatic side of the sliding scale of morality… so was I. Either way, people were going to die… and I was going to kill many of them.
Events kept me too busy to show up in Brockton Bay until the end of January. I was busy teaching Meetra (and reminding her not to act too far out of context), getting used to the rest of this very strange and highly damaged world, and generally planning for things to come. When I did, the first thing I did was not visit the Hebert home. Rather, I visited the gravesite of Annette Hebert, Taylor’s mother. Grave robbing might be frowned upon… but really, if you don’t want bodies being stolen, don’t leave them lying about.
I also contacted a very high priced lawyer specializing in parahuman law… someone I could trust implicitly… I’m good at finding those… and gave him several charisma mods as well as my Swat Kats Legal Crime Theme. Thus outfitted, I sent Geoffrey Fieger to defend the Rogue Cape ‘Canary’, a powered singer who had accidentally told her ex-husband to go fuck himself… unaware he was under her sway and would actively try to do so. If I didn’t interfere, she’d end up in the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center, better known as ‘The Birdcage’. It was a supermax prison that no one had ever escaped from overseen by the Hero ‘Dragon’, who unknown to the public, was actually a very advanced AI… though a very nice one.
Still, once I was done with that, I did drop by to see Taylor (who in this reality had the middle name ‘Carwyn’ instead of ‘Ann’). Keeping out of sight, We sent the thought ~Jumper to Hive Queen… you in there? Want to know something funny as hell?~
%Yes, I’m here… keep having to remind myself that I’m also Farseer Carwyn… Very strong imprint. And the trauma… I suppose you know?%
~I do. Yes. Did you read the book?~
%No. Couldn’t bring myself to. Didn’t want to know what was coming. But you did… you know what they did to her… us… me… she doesn’t want to kill them… I… I want to burn down the entire school. Why the hell is this world so horrible?%
I knew she was referring to Taylor’s trigger incident. It had been… very bad. They almost always were for first generation Capes (not so much for Cauldron Capes… Cauldron Capes just triggered via overwhelmingly intense pain, pain so bad it felt like death… second generation Capes could trigger through being angry about getting mayo on their sandwich). Taylor’s trigger had come from being locked in a high school locker by a trio of bullies (Madison the follower, Emma the former BFF, and Sophia Hess the sociopathic vigilante ShadowStalker)… a locker filled with feminine hygiene products… and shortly thereafter with vomit as well. It happened on the 3rd of January and she’d been catatonic for more than a week following what had almost certainly been an especially stressful kind of trigger known as a ‘double-trigger’ where two trigger events happen back to back… thus resulting in a more powerful and varied powerset… and a less stable personality.
~This world is being pushed to be terrible by two competing forces… one planning on saving all of humanity across trillions of parallel Earths and one planning on erasing all those worlds worth of people. The second views all humans as little more than lab rats and is fostering chaos and discord as part of its experiment. The first is using the horribleness to create more beings capable of fighting the second. It’s a delicate balance. Oh… and Emma Barnes has no powers unless something has changed. She’s not Skitter… you are. Taylor has always been Skitter. Just dumb luck that you chose her power… though I suspect that, with your psychic powers added in, you’re going to be even more dangerous than she was before. Trust her instincts… She’s got good ones… And I’d like to put the Carwyn part of you to sleep for a little while… would you mind?~
%But I haven’t gotten to slap the shit out of Emma yet.%
~Don’t worry. It’ll happen. Just be patient.~
~Four Months, fifteen days.~
%Fiiiine. You’ll tell me why? After I mean?%
~Yes. Now I need you to go back to sleep. You’ll remember this as just a dream.~ She did and I stole her tablet. She wouldn’t have been able to open it anyway. I’d used my access to the command console to lock it down before we’d ever inserted. I trusted Carwyn… I hadn’t even known Taylor. It was also then I’d shunted Zane’s copy to my location instead… and locked him out of it too. No one but me and Atura needed to know what was going to happen.
Rising from rooftop back into the air, I flew to the new building I’d purchased to be the headquarters of Five Points Realty. It was on the lower slopes of the mountains surrounding the Bay, and the building was already, in the two days since I’d bought it, undergoing massive formatting as construction nanites and microbots dug into the mountain and transformed the building into the headquarters of the Pentarchy.
“Oh, Cass… you’re here,” Orion said, looking up from his book. Orion was the Flying Artillery of the Pentarchy, a heavily muscled man with an archery themed uniform that looked like robes. His eyes glowed… all three of them, forming a triangle.
“She’s not dressed as Cassiopeia,” Andromeda, our elementalist commented from where she was watching cartoons. “That’s Twilight’s Costume.”
I looked down at what I was wearing and sighed. She was right. I’d put on the wrong costume… a moment’s thought and it went from the purple and silver bodysuit of Twilight to the golden regal raiment of Cassiopeia. Twilight was an Indian Hot Cape, Cassiopeia was a Thinker and member of the Pentarchy… who did not, as yet, officially exist. While Twilight and Cassiopeia had the same eyes and hair, Twilight’s costume, complete with visor and integrated helmet, ensured no one ever saw her face, while Cassiopeia’s mask and crown did much the same. A little shapeshifting to change the body morphology and it would take Tattletale (the cape with Inference Engine) to tell they were the same person… and then only with more information.
“Where’s Fornax?” I asked, looking round.
“Our Tinker is building their lab,” said Eridani, our fifth and smallest member, appearing from the kitchen clutching a bag of candy bigger than her head.
I reached over and ruffled her hair. “You’re such a little piggy, Icicle.” I teased her.
“Nuuuh. Don’t call me thaaaaat!” she complained, wriggling away, then dropping onto the couch next to Andromeda.
“Where’s my soda?” the taller girl asked. “You said you’d grab me a… ooh. Thanks.” I heard the sound of a tab being pulled and the hiss of carbonation.
“So?” Orion asked, frowning. “Did it go well?”
“Yeah. She didn’t complain… the waiting is going to be hell… but I need all the players in place before we begin. You guys okay with this?” I asked, surveying my team. Of course they were… we were of one mind on this… ahahah… as if.
~I can’t believe we’re doing this,~ Atura commented just between me and her… which did nothing, because of course the others could hear us. After all… a Pentarchy is five who are one. Okay, okay… I’ll stop teasing… for now.
“Hello Sophia,” I said, looking down at the Hero I’d just punched even though she was currently in her phased state.
The featureless mask hid her outrage, but I could read her emotions and she was freaking out. I was currently dressed like neither Cassiopeia or Twilight, but rather like Skitter. It was a week after the Undersiders (the team of teenage villains that Taylor belonged to) had crashed a major political fundraiser and humiliated the local Protectorate Branch and their junior apprentices, the Wards… of whom Shadowstalker was a member… by court order… she having killed someone as a vigilante.
She tried to run from me, but I hit her again with a flurry of bugs, appearing out of the mist from in front of her. She always tried to run… this was a dream that she’d been having night after night… if only she knew what I was saving her from. Ah well, some people are so ungrateful.
Mapping Coil’s base… Coil it turns out was a master criminal who had the curious power to run two different timelines at a time and then, if anything happened he didn’t like, collapse the that timeline and live the second on autopilot until he reached the point at which he’d chosen which timeline to follow… and, as often as not, immediately split off a new timeline from the moment he’d collapsed the old branching. He also employed the Undersiders and another team called the Travelers in addition to a large squad of mercs, some of whom were powered… was fairly tedious. It was also completely necessary.
Coil had sent the Undersiders to crash the fundraiser so he could kidnap another special precog named Dinah Alcott… who was also only twelve years old. That was a change from the original timeline I wasn’t able to account for. In the original, it had been a bank job that Coil had arranged to distract from Dinah’s kidnapping. I had no explanation for why the change… but regardless, I knew why Coil wanted Dinah.
She was a very lowgrade kwisatz herself, unable to map futures into a prediction of the future landscape, but only judge one probability at a time with her precog… and she needed to be rescued from the fuckface. And yes, the appelation is fitting. The dickbag was controlling the kid by controlling her supply of ‘candy’… cocktail of narcotic drugs used to make her pliable so he could to make use of her ability to determine the probability of a thing happening by trolling billions or trillions of potential futures.
Also needing to be rescued (though not from Coil) was a member of the Travellers, one Noelle… aka Echidna. The Travellers had been brought from Earth Aleph to Earth Bet and, stranded in a world not quite there own, had happened upon a case of Cauldron Vials and drank them… unfortunately, there were 6 of them and only 5 vials, and so Noelle and Oliver had drunk half each. Oliver’s power was nearly perfect shapeshifting into other people… though he had trouble controlling it… but Noelle? She’d been turned into something of an abomination… and so her friends had turned to Coil when he’d promised to help cure her. Something he had no idea how to do.
To be fair, neither did I… but I wanted all my ducks in a row for the time when the Undersiders and Travelers, along with two mercenary crews (Coil’s and Faultline’s) and two more villain groups (The racist fucks of ‘Empire 88’ and the drug dealing scum who called themselves ‘The Merchants’) took down the all Asian gang known as ABB, led by the powered trio of Lung (who had a version of Warp Spasm that turned him into a dragon), Oni Lee (a teleporting ninja assassin whose power was erasing his identity an inch at a time), and Bakuda (a tinker who made hypertech bombs). ABB were out of control, and the local heroes were doing fuck all to stop them, so the city’s villains teamed up to do so.
It wasn’t important in and of itself. It really wasn’t. Just a gangwar with powers making it worse… but Brockton Bay was already a bit of a Detroit and this was moving it steadily towards a Belfast during the Troubles. It was, almost certainly, what would draw Leviathan to the city… and that’s what I’d been waiting for.
The date was May 15th. It was early… and the Endbringer sirens were sounding across the city. By convention, Capes of all factions put their differences aside to fight Endbringers. They were that bad. And I’d been waiting to see how well the Pentarchy did against them… well, that and trying to find Ahab’s host.. Still no luck.
Now, here’s what you need to know about Leviathan. As an Endbringer, his body was denser than any material known to physics… at least once you got through the outer layers. It started out as dense as aluminum and doubling in tensile strength with every layer (~33 layers in the extremities, ~200 in the main body). He was a macro-hydrokinetic, able to generate tidal waves and enough water pressure to sink cities. He also created water as he moved, a kind of echo that filled every space he moved out of with an equal volume of water… a volume that maintained his speed and vector at the moment it was created… and he was damned fast and extremely smart.
In the original book, he’d done serious damage to the city, killed thousands with his attacks, and 44 capes had fallen in the fight against him… as well as 8 of the dogs belonging to the Undersider known as Bitch. It had also been him who’d destroyed Kyushu and Newfoundland and parts of Oslo, Hyderabad, and Sydney. He was also causing a big of a global shipping crisis and a fresh water crisis… and would be one of the forces that fought against Scion… but that was all assuming he survived me.
As the tidal wave crashed towards the city… I, seated in Casseopia’s Golden Throne (built by Fornax to be a mobile weapon platform) whistled from where I was standing on the tallest building in town… and Eridani froze the bay to a depth of five feet… and even then the ice shattered, piling up, driving into the boardwalk and beaches and shattering the wood and concrete like twigs… but the wave’s force had been largely depleted by the energy needed to fragment such huge slabs of ice, and the wave had no power to surge inland. And then the monster was on the city.
He stood thirty some feet tall and had a tail twice that length and flowed from place to place exactly as you’d expect a water elemental to move. As the heroes gathered at Brockton Bay mobilized, they were joined by the Pentarchy. A hundred and seventy some Fornax Drones rose into the air, the mad tinker’s creations pumping waves of energy to repel the worst of the water echos protecting what parts of the city could be protected. Orion’s arrows sprung up by the thousands, raining down to punch up to half a meter into the Kaiju, their monomolecular tips slicing through the creature’s skin until even they were ground to a halt. Andromeda flew low, her armor glimmering in the rain as she unleashed fire and wind and lightning on the beast.
“You know this is just going to annoy it, right?” Atura asked.
“Of course. I want it to look like we’re putting up a good fight. I want to save as many of those capes as possible… and as many people…” we paused, focusing to teleport another dozen people to safety. The city was going to be a ruin. That had to happen. People were going to die. That had to happen too… but I was going to cut down the casualties as much as possible. I had more drones, nanoscale, on every cape in the city as far as I could tell. When they went down, those I planned to save would find themselves a little more blessed than they otherwise be. Others, like Kaiser, leader of the Neo-nazi Empire 88? He wouldn’t survive the day if I had to kill him myself…
Unfortunately, I couldn’t spare Bitch her losses… I hadn’t planned that well. Bitch… Hellhound… Rachel… was to Dogs what Taylor was to Bugs. But where Taylor controlled her bugs, Bitch augmented her dogs. She caused them to transform into elephant-sized monsters… monsters who were still, at heart, good doggies. And I’d thought I’d found a way to protect them… but while her power covered them too much in layer upon layer of bone and blood… it didn’t stop them from being killed by the Endbringer… At least that number went from 8 to 5… but she still lost Brutus… one of her favorites… “Shit. I can’t believe that we’re crying about a dog when we’re letting people die… people fighting to save their city and friends,” Atura muttered.
~Yes. We’re all kinds of fucked up… you know we can turn off our emotions again?~
“No. We can’t. This is my first time being a person… I want to feel what it’s like to be a person… does it always hurt this much?”
~I’ve got the emotion control dialed back to 4… you’re feeling only 60% of what you’d de feeling normally. Believe me… each 10% is twice as overwhelming.~
“Poor Doggy… oh, thank god… the golden idiot is here.”
We looked down from the top of the now leaning building as Scion finally showed up to half-ass fighting the Endbringer. ~Get ready. You’re sure you can manage this?~
“After what I’ve seen today? After what he did to those poor dogs? Yes.”
~I’m dialing the emotion control off. This is going to be pure emotional impact,~ I told my other half as we launched ourselves off the chair, leaving behind an image of ourselves still sitting there. As we moved out of sight of everyone and everything, we shimmered, becoming Twilight and reaching the edge of the bay just as Leviathan moved to flee.
As the beast rose into the air for a dive that would take it out to sea in moments, Atura raised the Elder Wand and bellowed “AVADA KEDAVRA!” with all the pain and rage and hate in her newly mortal heart… and the green beam stabbed into the Endbringer’s form, a pencil thin ray of death that didn’t care at all how fucking durable you were.
The Endbringer slammed into the water of the bay, twitching, the echo cutting off halfway through the dive… and the water froze solid as Eridani landed next to us. “Is it dead?” she asked, curiosity and amazement in her voice, though she was rolling her pale blue eyes at me as she said it.
“I don’t know. I just wanted a power that could stop it… and it… I think it might be… but…” The body twitched again, wrenched free of the ice, then dove, vanishing beneath the waves. “Sh…. ip.” I muttered.
Elsewhere, a few hours later. “Do you think it’s actually dead?” Kendra asked, looking down at the huge shape lying on the massive slab, the telltale shimmer of a stasis field surrounding it all.
“I think so… but I’m not taking any chances. I doubted it would have any defenses against magic… but I suspect that if even a hundred Voldemorts had hit it with AK they wouldn’t have slowed it down. I was out of phase, holding a Deathly Hallow, and pumping massively boosted willpower into it… and Orion had embedded magical conduits deep inside it. I still suspect it’s only stunned… but that’s fine. They’re vulnerable to timestop. We know that. And this Warehouse Subspace Zone isn’t connected to… anything. It should be safe to keep it here… but I expect you to be vigilant. If anything happens, hit the switch. It’ll dump kaiju-boy here into the blackhole at the galactic core. Let’s see him survive that.
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I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.
AN: Oh… my god. This chapter is insanely long. I hope you guys liked it. It took me weeks… and part of that was making a master list of all the things EssJay can do. not the full listing, just blurbs. Even at limiting those blurbs to 3 lines maximum, the list is 26 pages long… though part of that may be the complete list of all the people that EssJay has been. I’m including that list below as an Omake. Yes, it includes the names of every single King-Priest of the Magi… especially the silly ones. Oh, if I get 10 good comments on this section, I’ll update the relationship chart. You know you want me to.
NAMES & IDENTITIES
EssJay, Female Jumper – Body Mod, Baseline, #0
Shinko Jin (aka Esu-Chan), Female Asian Trainer – Pokemon Trainer, #1
Sidney Jasko, Female African American Conduit – Infamous, #2
143. K’nevel Harweh, Male Magi (the word K’nevel is quite rude in Magoo. It is used similarly to the way ‘fuck’ is used in english, but it’s core meaning is closer to the english words ‘disillusion’ or ‘mind-screw’. It implies an action painful to the psyche often done out of necessity, but with a certain sadistic glee)
Her Excellency, Dr. Silence Jumper MD of House Infernape, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from the Sovereign Nation of Poketopia to the United States of America, Court of Eagles – The West Wing #34
Special Agent Sheila James, FBI, Female Nordic Human – Alan Wake #35