World 77: Honor Harrington – Part 1

LET THE CHILDREN DANCE

Previously: So Much Senseless Violence

Themesong: We Shall Overcome by Mahalia Jackson

AN: I don’t normally do this, but trigger warnings for the end of this chapter. Also, just an FYI, this is a long chapter, and it barely scratches the arc planned. There will probably be a total of three more chapters covering this world, so buckle in, hold on tight, and, as the woman says, “Let’s be about it.”

There was a little girl, four years old, daughter of a friend of mine and a former master of mine, running around my Warehouse, giggling and trying to catch Ziggy. Ziggy, being a silly thing, thought this was a lot of fun. Atura and I, being (in theory) reasonable people-like objects, just stared in open confusion.

“Did you…” Atura began.

“She’s not mine… either way,” I said, waving my hands in negation.

“So you…” she started to suggest.

“I did not take a four year old from her parents. I only shanghai people, I don’t kidnap children… not counting Black Bullet. That was a rescue op.”

“Then… how?”

“I don’t know. Look… I’m sorry you had a rough time. I… I’ll hook you up with a better vacation from the violence next time.”

“Actually,” she said, blushing and scratching the back of one arm. “It was strangely cathartic.”

“Whahuh?”

“I was not… perhaps… being fair. About the Entities. I knew they were evil. I knew it… I just… there was so much collateral damage. We destroyed entire worlds… and it wasn’t the first time. You did it while I was incubating. In Halo Collection. Worlds full of living people. And… and I couldn’t understand how you could kill all those innocent people.” I opened my mouth, but she shook her head and kept speaking. “I… I didn’t have the perspective. It’s not that you were killing them… you were just unable to save them without putting everyone else at risk or making victory impossible. Gastrea, Fleet/Flood, Entities… I had my own… mutants, cybrid joes… not as bad… cartoonishly evil at times… but I understand now. Like the Zombies you faced so long ago… it’s like an infection. Sometimes healthy tissue has to be cut away because it’s too close to the rot to save. Like…” she swallowed hard, tears in her eyes. “Like cutting down healthy trees to make a fire break.”

I nodded, feeling the weight of all the lives I’d sacrificed over the ages as a firebreak against one creeping horrible threat or another. Against Imperial Guards, against Serpents, against Vord… Against the uncontrolled rise of Planet. The blood on my hands would drown the world if brought together, or so it seemed. “Still. I’m sorry I forced you to be part of that. Most of the Entities were on uninhabited copies of individual worlds, but sometimes they or their Shards… I had to get them all. The cycle was cosmic cancer and we only had one shot to get them all.”

“I know… and I know that for every world you… we… destroyed, millions… billions of copies of that world and its people were saved… but dealing with numbers and transdimensional math… it’s hard to think of those things as real. It was like…” she trailed off then, then sighed. “So I was angry. Not really at you… just angry… and then… then you must have messed with the system to send me to a world where I could let off steam. A world full of horrible people and horrible…” she shuddered. “Horrible mutants. And so we had to fight every day to survive… because I didn’t want to let them win. I didn’t want to go down fighting. I wanted them to stop being horrible, but they couldn’t… not as long as they lived.” she hugged herself and sighed. Then she smiled a wan smile and asked, “So… how was your decade?”

I blinked, then laughed. “There was a great deal of punching, kicking, elbowing, kneeing, and in general hitting people with parts of my body and trying not to get hit by parts of theirs. But almost everyone I hit was trying to hit me, so it worked out well.”

“Almost everyone?”

“There was this one shark-toothed elf-like kappa-boy. He was just… creepy and opportunistic. I only smacked him through a few walls… but I’m not certain if he actually took damage any of the times I used Sense Bestowing Fist.”

“Is that like Get a Clue Kick?” she asked archly.

I laughed, “I haven’t used that since Ranma. Ah… Good times… Anyway, that little girl is named Akira Hopachai. She’s the daughter of a very sweet and simple Muay Thai master named Apachai Hopachai and a very silly young woman named Shirahama Honoka who mostly studied Chinese Kenpo, though only to the Disciple level. And I have no idea why she’s here… I guess it’s something we should ask the ‘expert’ about,” I said, referring to Jumpchan.

“Is she doing any better?”

“Still a raging booze hound and meth head, but yes. Martially functional. Has taken up gardening over the last few years… why are you giggling?”

“You said Martially functional!”

“Oh… I meant mostly… or mentally. Not sure. Anyway… you coming back inside? It feels empty up here,” I tapped my temple. “And I can’t imagine it’s very comfortable in there with Soul and Judge and no extra space.”

She nodded and her form dissolved as she (and all the abilities she’d taken from me) flowed back into me, along with a decade of memories of fighting mutants and cyborgs… and wow… that was a lot of bacon. And a lot of really cringe-worthy dialogue.

====

“Jump…” I asked, opening the door to the new greenhouse I’d installed for Jumpchan. “Why is the…” I trailed off. Holy shit that was a lot of… “Is this… weed?”

The Chamber came out of the near jungle and snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. These aren’t weeds. It’s mostly a mixture of Piper Methysticum, CBD-Dominant Cannabis Indica, and THC-Dominant Cannabis Sativa… though there are soma Papaver Somniferum over there and some Erythroxylum Novogranatense in the back. And I’m setting up smaller groupings of others.”

I blinked, then groaned. “So you’re saying you’re growing Kava, Marijuana, Opium Poppies, and Coca? You’re growing drugs?”

“Purely recreational. Not medicinal!” she protested, as if (somehow) that would make it all better.

“You’re growing all this for personal use?” I asked, keeping myself as emotionally contained as seemed reasonable. In general, I only use emotional controls when I absolutely need them… they have a tendency to blunt the experience of living. Also, I was faintly amused by this in addition to being a little outraged.

“Not only for personal use! I’ve also been selling some!”

“Oh. right… because what’s a timeless methhead to do if she’s not also a drug-pusher?”

“Not the drugs. The plants!” She fumed. “My plants are healthier and stronger and have improved chemical loads with greater ease of extraction and fewer counter-whatsits!”

“Riiight… great. EssJay’s travelling interdimensional quasi-legal pharmacopoeia… fuck it… I don’t care. Not my shitshow, not my concern what people do to their own bodies. Anyway-”

“Seriously? You’re fifteen thousand years old, largely immune to side-effects, and you haven’t experimented with psychoactive substances?” It was like being lectured by an aunt about doing drugs… except in bizarro-land.

“Mm… no? I mean some weed… and a lot of booze… and some skooma… but uppers and levelers and psychotropics bug me. I don’t mind depressants so much I guess. But I don’t like things that fuck up my thought processes too much. Awareness Spectrum Narcotics are okayish… hallucinogens? Not so much… But that’s beside the point! There’s a four year old chasing Ziggy.”

“And?”

“And how the hell did she get into the Warehouse, Chamber? I didn’t clear her and, as far as I know, I’m the only being who can clear anyone for entry!”

“Mmm…” she said, then brought up the command console in midair. “She’s listed as a paid companion.”

“What? I didn’t pay for her… and she’s four… she belongs with her parents!”

“Free Companion, one free for all. ‘Master’.”

“Wait… what? Master is a Companion option? It didn’t say they came with… and I picked her father, not her!”

“Mmm… nope. It says you entered Ryozanpaku Master: A. Hopachai.”

I opened my mouth… closed it, then summoned a book to smack my head against. Several times. Finally feeling a little better, I asked, “What… exactly… is she supposed to be a master of? She has trouble even staying on her feet. She’s barely mastered being potty-trained! SHE’S FOUR YEARS OLD.”

“Four years and two months,” The Chamber pointed out pedantically.

“Thaaanks,” I drawled, then shook my head. “I can turn down freebies. Put her back.”

“I can’t.” She shrugged.

I narrowed my eyes and half growled, “Why not?”

“We’re already disconnected from her home reality. You can’t use a return for at least a jump. I suppose you could put her in stasis until we can return her… but…” she slowed, considering something.

“But what?”

“Well, you’re planning on sending Atura to someplace nicer, this time? Yes?”

“I…” How did she know that? Of course. Silly me. “Higher’s sent you a plan for something, haven’t they?”

“They have. They suggest something called ‘Disney’s Frozen’.”

“Frozen?” I paused long enough to recall the film and all my feelings about it. It’d come out a few years before I’d entered the chain and I’d loved it… and even joined in the shipping war on the side of Elsanna. Elsa was, in fact, a bit of an idle of mine way back when I’d first become an Ice Conduit and more than once on Svalbard I’d stood on a mountaintop and sung ‘Let it Go!’. On one hand, it was a great place to send Atura and the little one… but on the other… “Awww… I kinda wanna go to Arendelle,” I muttered, pouting a little, then asked, “Speaking of which, where am I going?”

“Somewhere called the HonorVerse,” Chamber replied, spritzing some budding Sativa. She watched me do a little happy dance and remarked, “I assume this means you are pleased?”

I was, in fact, so pleased that I kissed her cheek and whooped. “Remember the uniform I wore in Kantai Collection? That was a Royal Manticoran… aaawwww… poopy.” I sighed heavily, part of my elation falling away.

“Poopy?” She asked, arching an eyebrow. “This, by you, is appropriate speech for a Senior Jumper?”

“Senior huh? I dunno about that, but yes, it’s appropriate for me. I’m so torn!”

“Torn? Torn how?”

“Well… I kinda want to be a naval officer and do all the official stuff… but I also kinda want to be a treecat! I mean, I can probably get my own treecat… probably not wise to import the Zig as one… but it would be really cool to be able to be a treecat… so I’m torn… but still Honorverse! YAY!”

“Higher has An Offer they believe you will want to take, a form of challenge mode, with a reward they believe you will enjoy.”

“Oh? Cool. I like that kind of thing… as long as it’s fair. Is it fair?”

“Yes. You will be paying for it by taking a number of drawbacks, some of which you will know about, some you won’t until they become self-evident. The reward will be secret until you’ve managed to earn it.”

“I suppose the earning it will require a secret test of some kind?”

“Simply do your best,” she assured me. “Would you like to know the restrictions?”

I looked around the greenhouse, then asked, “You got any product ready? Of the high THC variety?”

As it turned out, she did, and we retired to my lounge to get well and truly blazed as we discussed the options and limitations, as well as Atura’s build for Frozen. I was quite looking forward to sampling her experiences when she got back. It sounded like a lot of fun.

======OF FROZEN WATERS=====

“This won’t quite be a normal Side-Jump. Atura will be the Jumper, not just the Primary here. This does mean that should she die, you face chain failure, I’m afraid, but Higher does insist, since you and she are effectively one being. You’ll have to trust her to be able to avoid danger. The benefit of this arrangement is that companions of hers need not take drawbacks to pay for the vig as you call it. She’ll be starting, in fact, with 1000 CP and your Floating discount from Single Shot, and each companion, 8 of them, will gain 700 CP to spend on perks, but not items, as well as gaining a free origin and associated freebies.”

I consulted with Atura, and she seemed to think it was reasonable. Not like there was much of a threat in Frozen… but it wasn’t without risk. “Okay. Anything else?”

“Yes. She’ll have to face her own challenge, a hidden drawback, and do so without any access to superpowers, that being anything overtly OCP and ‘vulgar’, or your more extreme clarketech. Local tech plus a reasonable amount.”

“Ummm… huh… I suppose… We suppose…. But we want a guarantee of no accidental deaths or stuff that there was no reasonable way to anticipate and stop. If she’s going to be nerfed that hard, we need to make sure nothing ridiculously unfair is going to happen.”

“Very well. Nothing unforeseeable or out of context or totally random shall befall Atura during the next jump. I don’t think it would have anyway, but I understand your caution. Now, who do you want to accompany her?”

“We don’t know,” I said, speaking for the both of us. ‘It largely depends on what origins are available… So what is available? Something based on Elsa & Anna, something based on Hans, something based on Kristoph, and something based on Olaf?” I guessed.

Chamber exhaled slowly, the cloud of euphoriant smoke coiling lazily, and consulted her notes. “Royal, Townsman, Foreigner, and Nonhuman.”

“Is control over Ice the Royal Capstone?” Atura asked, using our voice.

“No,” Chamber said, shaking her head. “Elemental Queen is an undiscounted 500 CP… though the ability to be an Elemental yourself… Atura’s self… is the capstone of the Nonhuman line. But the element in question is not limited to merely ice. Elemental Queen allows one to command one of the elements on a grand scale, be it fire, water, wind, earth, rock, lightning, wood, gems… common physical elements… not things like darkness or magic… though like Elsa, Atura will need to learn to control it or risk hurting others… though never herself, of course. Abominable X-Man uses the same elements, but turns you, Atura, into a living golem of that material. The actual Royal Capstone is True Love’s Kiss, which can be used to heal someone you truly love or be healed by someone who truly loves you. It will heal even the worst wounds, remove any curse, and even clear away madness… though it can’t be used too often. Once every ten years per person, it can be used to bring someone back from death if they’ve died only a short time before… and once per jump, it can be used to bring you back from the Dark God’s realm.”

“Oh… that’s… uh… Nice…” Atura managed. I understood her reluctance. She was a caring sort… but the emotional bond of love was something spirits really didn’t do. To love… or to hate for that matter, as a spirit? It was to fundamentally change the nature of the spirit… forever. “Nonhuman? Is that just snowmen? Or… I guess… woodmen, firemen, or rockmen?”

“Oh. No. Normal animals and magical creatures too… though they don’t come with powers unless you spend points on them.” The living avatar of a stone room wrinkled her brow… “Though the description is a bit… wonky. It says you can be an animal or a magical creature… then says you can only be a normal animal… that’s not very consistent… I’d say you can be anything that’s not human that doesn’t have any special innate powers.”

“Hmmm… Arendelle is Norse, right?” Atura asked. Then I nodded, which to an outside would seem as if I was agreeing with myself… which to a large extent I was. But Atura and I did have separate personalities and she couldn’t automatically access my memories nor I hers. There was a degree of compartmentalization, no matter how close we were.. And that was when we were in total sync. Right now we were mending our relationship… but it wasn’t there yet. A little more distance and cooling off was probably warranted… especially considering that the coming jump for me was likely to be one of war and intrigue. Atura could really use a relaxing Disney Vacation… man… I miss Disneyworld.. I used to love going to Disney… it was the most magical place on Earth… funny how infrequently I went to amusement parks now, even when they existed in a given setting. Funny I hadn’t built one on any of my worlds… I wonder why not.

“A stand-in for Norway, yes,” Chamber agreed. “Why?”

“Oh… I was thinking of maybe being a Sjora?” Atura proposed.

I had to dig deep into my mental records for that one, though I did find it. A ‘ra’ was a spirit or troll in scandinavian lore… but the lore of them was very spotty at best. The most well known was the Huldra, or Forest Troll. A Sjora was a freshwater spirit, more a nymph than a troll, but still a bit famous for drowning the unwarry. An image came into my awareness as Atura showed me what she was thinking of. It looked like a furry lamia or naga, a dark-skinned, white haired… maned really, half woman (upper half), half snake (lower half). It would probably have worked as an image of a selkie as well, if selkies weren’t shapeshifters.

“Pretty,” Chamber said, examining the projected image. “Seems fine to me… So… freebies… Every gets the ability to sing quite well, even while dancing about or coming up with a song right on the spot… that seems to fit with what I know of the Disney milieu… and as a Nonhuman, you gain the perk ‘Talking Up a Storm’, which means you’ll always be able to communicate with someone else, even with just body language, gestures, and facial expressions, as long as you know a language they understand. You can also speak without the needed speech organs if you like.” She paused then, making a face and rolling her eyes. “As for your free item… I remind you that you can turn down freebies.”

“Is it that bad?” Atura asked.

“That depends on how you define bad. Not bad per se… more like extremely annoying in an attempt at being endearing,” was the reply. We just fixed Chamber with a steady gaze and, after a few minutes, she sighed and said, fine. Fine. Remember, you asked for this. Jumpies are copies of you, only ankle height. Mischievous, troublesome, clumsy, clueless, easily distracted… and dedicated to trying to make sure you’re having fun… a dozen of them or so. And they come back a few minutes after being killed.”

“Soo… ferrets?” I asked.

“More sapient and tricksterish than most ferrets,” Chamber explained. I favored her with an ‘Oh, please.’ look and she blushed faintly.

“Wait… would they be tiny versions of me? Us? Her?” I asked. “And if her, you mean as a Sjora?”

“Yes. The last. Little tiny amphibious fur-snakes girls,” Chamber said with a nod.

“Oh. That sounds… like they’d be chased all over the place by Ziggy… and probably enjoy it emensely.” I commented.

“It’s free… I’ll probably regret taking it, but it’s free,” Atura said. “So what else do nonhumans g… oh… right. I wanted to buy Elemental Queen… can it be Metal?”

“Mm… yes. I guess. Seems a bit vague, since the vast majority of chemical elements are, technically, metal. Let’s say yes, but that it must be classical metals. Tin, Aluminum, Copper, Nickel, Zinc, Cobalt… say everything that’s not radioactive between Titanium and Gallium, Zirconium and Tin, Halfnium and Bismuth… and aluminum… and only in alloy with each other or relatively pure forms, no yanking iron out of people’s blood. Does that sound reasonable?”

We nodded. It was pretty reasonable. Of the first 118 physical elements, 90 were metals or Metalloids. Removing everything in the first three and last three groups, all the metalloids, and everything radioactive left 33 elements (it would have been 34, but Technetium was odd-man-out in group 7, being the lightest element that existed only in radioactive isotopes). That the power would grant the ability to create and control most of the more useful metals was just… bwahaha… and when the two of us came back together… my control over ice and her control over metal (which would be insanely more powerful than my control over metal) would allow us to do some very real fuckery. Good Fuckery… i.e. against our foes… and the laws of physics. Always a good thing.

“So… what does being a nonhuman have to offer… aside from being a golem?” I asked for Atura, who was distracted trying to figure out what kind of dress she could make out of metal… and how to work a dress around a mane and tail.

“Two other perks. Memories of a Batter Time and Troll Magic,” Chamber said.

“Batter Time?”

“Sorry. Better Time… I was thinking of making some brownies… I’m starving,” she said, looking around for something to eat.

“There’s always food,” I said, clapping my hands and summoning Butlerseid. “Bring us approximately a hundred thousand calories worth of junkfood… sweets for her, chips and dip and greasy food for me. So… tell me about Memories. I think I already know Troll Magic… healing, weakening curses, nearly perfect memory alteration?”

“Yes. Essentially spot on,” she agreed. “Memories fills you with cuteness and an eternal wellspring of joy, happiness, and innocence that will last through no matter what you experience or how long you live. One could honestly mistake you for the personification of a little girl’s memories of childhood wonder. Other people can sense this in you, making you a lot easier to get along with and a lot harder to do nasty things to.”

“Oh… well… huh. I guess I’ll take both… that’s 300?” Atura asked.

“Yes indeed… ooo, cake!” the benefactor said, snagging a whole chocolate cake the size of a dinner plate from the cart Butlersied was pushing.

“So… I’ve spent 800 of my thousand… What costs 100 or 200?”

“Not taking any other drawbacks?”

“I… mmm… no. I don’t think so. This is a vacation, right?”

“Indeed. Well, lets see, there’s a Valley of the Living Rock for 150. That’s a secluded valley-”

“Full of annoying love obsessed trolls. No thank you,” Atura said dryly. “Next.”

“Lets see… For 100 we have an unbreakable sword… winter clothing… a canon companion… an elemental dress… an unlimited supply of snow and ice…”

“Wait, what was that?” I asked.

“An unlimited supply of snow and ice? It’s called ‘Winter Supplies. It’s 100 CP. all dispensed from your warehouse.”

“Atura… think what we could do with that.”

Atura hmmmed, about to protest that we could already generate as much Ice as we needed… then she paused, realizing that this would cover the one major limitation we currently operated under… we needed a source of water to generate ice. We could store up and expel cryonic blasts and huge amounts of water… but it wasn’t unlimited. With this we could terraform worlds… or just drown them if we wanted to. “Ah… yes. We’ll take it. Thank you… oh, and the elemental dress too.”

“Power Clothes. It’s called Power Clothes. Able to form itself out of any element you can control or the four basic elements of fire, water, wind, or earth. Despite their material, they’ll never be able to harm you or any other person.”

“Excellent. We’ll take it. We look fabulous in elements,” Atura joked. “Now… unless EssJay objects, I think I’ll take Ziggy and Sophie, who could use the romp in the snow, Petra, Cirno… taking Ice to an Ice Fairy… AJ and Francine… Tokimi-Chan… and of course Akira.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said, my voice the same but the intonations and accent were different.

“It’s very disturbing when you two do that,” Chamber commented, then sent build information to the tablet on the table next to me. We had two builds to do, since Akira wasn’t old enough to do her own build and Ziggy wasn’t smart enough… arguably, in the past, Cirno hadn’t been smart enough either… but that’s beside the point.

I left that process to Atura and chatted with Chamber about inconsequentialities while scarfing down mexican springrolls and nachos. By the time Atura was done, records indicated that everyone else had filled out their own builds and were lined up at the door to mooch snacks and present.

First in was Sophie, who wuffled, dropped a drool-soaked pad on my lap, then padded over to where Ziggy was sleeping and flooped on top of him. A moment later, a small nose poked out from under the fur, but that was the limit to his protest.

We’d given ZIggy Nonhuman of course, making him a Fylgja, a norse animal spirit that follows a person and marks their fate in some way. A white mink of course… and yes, that meant he’d be followed by a dozen or so goofy tiny ferreties, which was win-win in my book. We also gave him Memories of a Better TIme, because he already was a little girl’s sense of innocence and joy and wonder… and True Love’s Kiss… because Ziggy LOVES EVERYBODY! Lick lick lick.

Sophie had also taken Nonhuman, as a Polar Bear apparently, though I was looking forward to her singing only slightly more than I was to Ziggy’s, as well as Memories of a Better Time…. Because again, she was a font of joy and happiness and fluff. She’d also gotten Troll Magic, and the Townsman 400 called ‘Nice Guy Syndrome’ which was where, when you did nice things for people, they were genuinely grateful and liked you more… unless they told you to fuck off and you ‘kept doing it… because that wasn’t what Nice Guys (or Good Doggos) did… and Sophie was Best Doggo.

Petra was our third nonhuman, and between stuffing her face with mini pizzas, she explained that she’d picked Arctic Mountain Gorilla… i.e. a yeti for all intents and purposes… and one with elemental control over magma… if that was okay with Chamber.

“Magma?” Chamber considered, then shrugged. “Lava? I… I guess. It’s a commonish physical elemental substance. Why?”

“Not Lava. Magma. Lava is just surface Magma. Magma is all of it. The underground, the on the surface, the solidified into Basalt, Pumice, Scoria, or Obsidian,” Petra explained.

“Oh. Right. Very well then,” Chamber agreed agreeably.

Among the humans (well… people who’d be in human guise) were Akira (who’d gotten the entire Townsman line), Francine (who’d taken the entire Foreigner Line), and AJ, Cirno, & Tokimi-Chan who’d apparently decided that Elsa and Anna didn’t have enough siblings to enhabit that big old palace. For Akira, this amounted to the Nice Guy perk, the warm winter clothing, a freebie called ‘The Real Me’ which meant that people would see her and judge her for her inner self, not for acting like a Hopachai… or her mother, the brocon twit, and a perk called ‘Wild Man’ that would allow her to get along with animals (nearly to the point of speaking with them)… even normally hostile ones, and make her good at wilderness survival. The capstone was called ‘Bit of A Realist, Mostly a Hero’, which would encourage people around her to be a bit more realistic and likely to think about what they’re doing rather than going off of superstition and impulse. It encouraged people to be reasonable and have more common sense, to reach solutions that were morally good and ethically sound and would generally make them happy. It was an all round perk that seemed entirely fitting for the little girl… and would also work on her… so, double bonus.

We also grabbed her the royal freebie ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” which would make her words and please easily pierce through the mental, emotional, or physical barriers people erect to keep others out, forcing them to listen to her and judge her words fairly and genuinely consider her requests… as long as she can find the right words.

If the Townsman was the nice guy package… the Foreigner was the scumbag package and we regarded Francine long and hard when she presented it. That she started off with “I thought we were going to be doing intrigue and spaceships… not tea-parties and snowball fights,” did not endear her case to us particularly.

“I am,” I said, “Atura is taking the little girl and you guys to Disneyland: Norway for the decade. Now… why?”

“Someone has to be the badguy?” she ventured.

“Riiight. Try again,” I drawled, then pointed out. “Francy… the freebie specifically states ‘The Real You is a slimy, sneaky, devious little snake!’ and ‘in reality, you’re as villainous as they come!’. This is not a good thing to take!”

“Hyperbole. I checked. It’s not an enforced personality trait. It’s an example. It just means you… me… I’ll be fantastic at hiding how bored I’m going to be surrounded by mental midgets.”

I eyed her suspiciously, but she just smirked. Finally I muttered, ‘Go on.”

“Well, Head Heir makes me the favored child of my parents, or adoptive or surrogate parents, meaning I’ll get the best treatment and best toys… the best inheritances!”

“Sounds reprehensible,” I muttered darkly.

“New Age Conqueror makes me a master at infiltrating courts and organisations, making myself established and influential and indispensable until it’s time for me to take over the position of a superior! Repeat as needed! And with Claim it for Yourself, the capstone, I’ll always have that one chance I need, whatever my current goal. Well, once a year at least. The more outlandish the goal, the less progress the chance will offer… but it’ll be there!”

“Yes. I know. I read the blurbs when doing Ziggy and Akira’s build. It’s… really sketchy.”

“I know! It’s going to be soooo much fun! I always wanted to be a Grima Wormtongue!”

“No you didn’t,” I growled.

“Yuh huh! I mean, not really, but playing the role is fun! It’s like smirking and rubbing your hands together. The Vizier, the power behind the throne! The whisperer in the dark.”

“Siiigh. You’re doing this just to get on my nerves, aren’t you.”

“Maaaaybe!” She said, bouncing out… and then we realized all the spoons were gone. Damnit!

AJ just shrugged as if to say, ‘Hey, I just sleep with her… you’re the one who recruited her.’ I frowned at him and he bounced a pearl onion off my nose, then caught it on a plastic cocktail sword before it fell into his drink.

“I represent the only boy and middle child of the family. At 15, I was twelve when King Agnarr and Queen Iduna disappeared at sea. We’re assuming that Arendelle’s monarchy passes to the eldest child regardless of gender here. Cirno and Tokimi are twins at 14. They haven’t decided if they’re going identical or fraternal yet. We’ve all got ‘Loved by the People’ which makes us clearly royal and gives us the talents to be excellent queens… or I guess kings, though it doesn’t say that. They’ll accept us for our selves, not holding unnatural powers or beliefs against us… unless we purposefully hurt them for fun… but as long as we treat them nice, they’ll like us…. I was torn however. I bought True Love’s Kiss… just in case… but that left me with 200 CP and I didn’t want to take Favored Heir from Foreigner because that would probably make me the next king instead of Elsa… and I didn’t think it was right to take Memories of a Better Time since that would have made Anna much less lonely… so I went with Wild Man and decided that I routinely escaped the palace to go running off… Cirno and Tokimi took Elemental Queen each… Plants for Cirno, Gemstones for Tokimi… and the explanation is that they’ve been secretly raised by the trolls and Elsa and Anna don’t know about them, remembering them as the daughters of their aunt Griselda thanks to Troll Magic and stuff.”

I considered that, then conferred with Atura, and in the end we felt that was a reasonable and respectful treatment of the story, so we wrapped up the meeting, and called for a family dinner to say goodbye for another decade, then, after a long party, sent Atura and her companions into the jump and got down to working on the details for Honor Harrington.

=====THE CHALLENGE INTRODUCED=======

Once more back with Chamber, this time without the drugs (at least on my part) and in my office, not the lounge, I was looking over my Honorverse notes and asked “Okay, Chamber, you mentioned challenge mode for a prize… what are the rules of the Challenge?”

“Well, first, instead of starting the jump at age 35 in PD 1900, you’ll begin the jump when you were born, and only regain your memories slowly over the course of several years… along with your skills and abilities, of course. Your companions will likewise be starting the same way,” she said, settling back, and I could tell from her posture that this was not going to be a short list. I nodded, not saying anything, but indicating for her to continue. “Second, you’ll be here at least 100 years, but you may stay as long as you like or until you die of old age.”

I quirked an eyebrow at that, since I was effectively immortal and ageless, but merely added it to the growing list of questions I had, still not interrupting.

“Third, your ships are limited to the local tech level in terms of weaponry and propulsion, shielding and communications. No intersystem FTL-Comms, no hyperdrives, no planet busters… though you can still bring out Disco-Moon and War-World, or Paradiso or the Executor in all their massive glory.” I smirked at that. So far, while I did have questions, I had no direct problems. “Fourth… this is a space opera. It would look silly if you flew around freezing starships in ice and TK detonating missile salvos or using the Killing Curse on the Field of Honor… so all your out-of-jump superpowers and all abilities or items that could be considered magical are hereby locked out… though of course you can make full use of your Warehouse, your advanced intellect, your skills, and all of your out of jump technological knowhow, you incredible cheeselord.”

I blinked at that, then decided I had to ask, “a) who the hell taught you the term Cheeselord? b) what about technomagic, c) do my companions get anything for being forced to live through infancy and childhood again, and d) does that include things like my Mental Palace, Astral Layers, Soul of Ice, and SIlent Judge?”

She grinned, then chuckled. “To answer your questions in order; Your Son, if it can be taught to in-setting scientists without perk-sharing or giving them magical potential it’s technology, they get another +100 if imported and it only applies to imported companions, and while the Mental Palace and Astral Layers are purely mental, it would normally include Soul of Ice and Silent Judge… but we’ve got an offer for you and them that we believe you’ll take, as it addresses your previous concern.”

“Oh? Really? Care to lay that out?”

She pursed her lips, then shook her head. “Allow me to finish the list of challenge restrictions first. Next… fifth… as you enter this jump, you and your companions will be stripped of all knowledge about the Honor Harrington novels, storyline, or setting, retaining only whatever in-setting your jump-identities manage to gain or gaining a basic generic citizen level of knowledge for the locale they start in if not imported. Any attempts to cheese around this by leaving yourself reminders, stored memories, copies of the novels, etc… will automatically fail and such things will mysteriously disappear until after the jump ends.”

I frowned at that… shit… that was a lot of my plans out the window… and how the hell was I going to keep from upsetting the very delicate web of cause and effect now… Shit.

“Last, at least of the drawbacks you’re allowed to know about, is The Salamander. Because we… Higher that is… expects you to be exciting… you’re going to be a trouble magnet to outright fate-bending levels, always guaranteed to find risky adventures, death-defying battles, and harrowing crises on the regular. You know… just like Honor herself. Worry not, you’ll have opportunities to rest and recuperate, but leading a truly quiet life or just running off and hiding? Not going to happen. Now, to be fair, if you’re near the Salamander herself and not in a different faction, this will simply guarantee you place among her supporting cast as long as you remain in her vague proximity.”

“Oh? Is that all?” I snarked, shaking my head slowly.

“No. There are a further 300 CP of Drawbacks that you will have to discover on your own. That brings your total to 800 CP worth of Drawbacks plus 100 CP just for Items, your floating discount from Single Shot, and +200 for each of your companions, of which 8 have been paid for, each of them getting a background, all freebies, and eight hundred… sorry, one thousand CP to spend as they like, though not on other companions of course. And as for your Frick and Frack,” she said, referring to Soul and Judge, “They will be given access to a different jump-tree that also leads to the HonorVerse… one where they will be incarnated as Tree-Cats for the duration. Your fleet girls… and Odwet will also be using that document to outfit their shipselves, as they will be locked into the mode of Ship’s for the duration.”

I muttered at that… Yuzuha might not be happy about that. Ziggy was spared it, since he was off with Atura… “What about VIvian?” I asked, since technically my Warehouse’s central computer was a Third Generation Juraian Treeship, though she seldom left the Warehouse for any reason.

“No. She lacks a human form. If she leaves the warehouse, she’ll be restricted just like your other ships are, same for VIctor as humanoid robots are not part of the HonorVerse mythos, but they are not technically companions or fragments of you.”

“Mmm… Fine…”

“In that second document, you’ll be allowed to select up to two drawbacks to add to the 1000 CP that will be available to spend on the cats and ships. You, and not the cats, will have to deal with those drawbacks, and they cannot contradict or overlap ones you take from the primary document.”

“Gotcha… shit… ummm… What’s the Drawback limit on the primary?”

“There isn’t one,” she said, waggling her eyebrows at me suggestively. Of course there wasn’t. Higher was just trying to get me to bite off more than I could chew.

“Riight. FIne… Fuck it… show me the Cat Document’s drawbacks first… just the ones I can take…” I tapped on my desk surface as the list showed up as a set of 11 boxes, prices ranging from +100 to +300. “Just two?”

“Just two,” she confirmed.

“Mmmm…” The +100s were a lunatic’s idea of a good time. ‘DNR’ would give me Honor’s inability to use Regen therapy… and amp it into a fatal allergy to all but the most basic first aid… fuck that, not for +300. ‘Ordering a Pizza’ would make everything more complicated and take longer… not for +200 would I take that one… and ‘Reporting With Precision’ was almost exactly the same thing, meaning every report I gave or received would be needlessly long. Space battles might be long tedious affairs during the closing and missile flight sections, they could and usually were split-second affairs in the thick of it. Idiocy. “No. No. No.” I said, sliding them into the garbage. Not a promising start.

The +200s were just… so much worse! ‘Manticoran Missile Massacre’ meant that wherever I was in battle, the Missiles would prioritize my ship as target… fuuu… huuu… ccck… that. Even at my full power that would mean taking multiple IMPELLER-POWERED 500 Megaton plus nuclear warheads to the face, and it scaled up from there. X-Ray Pumped Fusion Lasers? Dozens, or hundreds of them? The Deathstar would not have lasted particularly long against the kind of missile salvo a single squadron of Manty Pod Super-Dreadnaughts could pump out… and certainly didn’t have the range to fight them… Hell, even my upgraded DS2 (now called Disco-Moon) would have trouble shrugging off the kind of missile salvos that got thrown around in the later books… Hundreds of thousands of advanced fusion powered ECM protected missiles accelerating at over a thousand gravities and protected by impeller wedges? Good Grod no thanks. What was the builder thinking?

‘A Little on the Young Side’ was marginally better, but not in the fun ‘I’m jailbait’ kind of way. Nooo… If I took it I’d be being blackmailed by the Young Family, the Manticoran Earl of North Hollow… rapists, blackmailers, and scum through and through… errr… And killing the North Hollows would see the release of the information, information guaranteed to see me shunned and possibly lynched by any society. Couldn’t pay me enough CP for that one.

Then there was ‘Cut Yourself On the Bleeding Edge’… which would make the concept of tech advantage even more fleeting and would effectively lead to power escalation that would likely see the Honorverse plunged into an era of planetary extinctions being the norm. For god’s sake, does no one at Higher actually consider the ramifications of such things?

In fact, the only one I’d have considered taking was the final +200s, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. The +300s were actually a mixed bag of idiocy and bonkers. ‘Aircar Accident’ would only cost you 30 seconds out of your stay… but could result in you killing an ally or a surrendered foe… or just blowing yourself up… or worse? Using the unrestrained powers of a jumper. +300 for something that might have you commit uncontrolled genocide or kill yourself? Not for +1000. ‘Nova in the Chamber of Star’s’ and ‘Peace at Last’ were both chain-fails waiting to happen. The first required making the Solarian League function as intended by the end of (at most) 52.5 T-Years… and the second required reuniting Grayson and Masada without allowing either to be destroyed or without overt tech… as a man, it would be hard. As a woman? Nearly impossible. The less said about the blacked out ‘Satan Cat’ drawback, the better.

Which left me considering the +200 ‘Jumpower Incorporated’, which was horrible, but doable. It would shift my starting location and genetic origin to a Manpower Incorporated slave pen… on my way to the euphemistically named ‘Phenotype Technicians’… i.e. trainers for sex slaves… for ‘processing’… i.e. rape and torture. Fuck it. I didn’t need a reason to hate Manpower, but with my knowledge of the setting removed, having my slave number tattoo’d on my tongue would guarantee my everlasting hatred of those eugenics embracing bastards. Also, it was one and done for 200… If I couldn’t escape on my own at first… well… would tell… and it’s not like I wouldn’t have my technology.

“Okay… that’s set,” I said, leaning back and shaking my head. “Most of those were garbage. I could have done the Solarian one or the Grayson Masada one with knowledge and or powers… but I wasn’t sure how far the tech ban for the second extended and I don’t like the Solarian League enough to save it in its current form.”

“Very well,” Chamber said. “Do you want to do the cats and ships first? Or your main group?”

“Which is shorter… never mind. Cats. Let’s do that. That’s only 1200 CP and the ships… I think I’m getting a headache from the myriad options… okay… so… what’s up with the Cats?

====UP WITH CATS====

“First things first. This document has nationality and background, as does the main one. In this, there are (in fact) more of each than in the other, but the overall options are less. For Nationality, this one features Manticoran, Havenite, Grayson, Solarian, and Mesan… all of which are in the main document; Beowulfan, which is included in Solarian one would assume; and Silesian, Andermani, Erewhonese, and San Martino, which are not. In the main document, each of the nationalities has their own perk tree but not an item tree, while in this, each merely has a single trademark perk that’s free for that and 200 for everyone else. For occupations, they both have Drop-Ins called Drop-In, but while the main features only two others in the form of Navy and Civilian, both with complete perk and item trees, this one features three others in the form of Marine, Spy, and Commander, each with a complete perk tree and two discounted items.”

I considered all that for a moment, wondering why there were two different jumps… then realized that there had been three different Star Wars Jumps to date… and were probably more out there… The main one was probably based on Honor and the other on Treecats? Or the Torch Series? Or maybe the short stories… it was a fairly massive series, well on its way to 40 books back when I’d left Origin. “Okkkay… I mean, I guess the overview is nice… but aren’t Treecats only from Manticore? Or can Soul and Judge… heh… Soul-of-Ice and Silent-Judge are pretty decent Treecat names… be Andermani or Grayson Treecats… technically there are Grayson Treecats by the end of the series… but not when I’m starting or for years after. And Treecats are all spies… or marines kinda.”

She chuckled a bit, took a sip from her Tom Collins (I’d spent some of the last decade educating Chamber in the finer points of food and drink, and while she was still too unpicky, if that’s a thing, she was getting more discerning and less liable to eat actual garbage or drink lite beer… especially not American Lite Beer… uuuugh. “I mention it partly because being a Treecat technically means being a Manticoran Drop-In, but also because you have 6 ships and 8 slots, so you’ll have two leftover slots for more traditional companions here… or you could import the ships as people and not as ships,” she explained.

“Oh… well… cool I guess. Now… do I get the perks they buy? Or do they?”

“You’re still technically the same being. So you’ll all have your admittedly reduced perks as a collective… though you’ll have to communicate on a less soul to soul basis assuming you can locate each other… though Higher says that won’t be impossible… you’ll still have much of your luck. Regardless, since the Cats are Manticoran, you’ll be collectively receiving the freebie called ‘BuWeps’, which means you’ll inherit the advantages of the Manticoran techbase… a thorough grounding in local technology, from material sciences and counter-gravity to Warshawskis and molecular-circuitry… as well as gaining a significant boost in R&D capabilities paired with a ‘feeling’ when there’s more to explore, allowing you to make progress even when the rest of civilization assumes a problem is insoluble.”

I grinned at that. “Groovy. I love tech perks,” I said, rubbing my hands together in glee. It really wasn’t anything I didn’t already have per se, what with Civilization’s ‘Tech Tree’ allowing me to see all the steps between what I had and what I wanted to develop… but that assumed I knew what I wanted to develop. If I was in the dark… I was in the dark. This wouldn’t exactly provide a map out of the cave… but it would be like a breeze tugging at my consciousness… and that’s not a bad thing. [AN: because of using both the Honor Harrington and HonorVerse jumps, I’m renaming perks from the secondary jump (HonorVerse) that have identical names to ones from the Primary (Honor Harrington). My reasons for using both will become apparent eventually. BuWeps originally bore the name Jeune École. The other that got renamed is The Saganami Tradition, which (as you’ll see below) is renamed A Tradition of Excellence.] “So… What’s free for Drop-In, or is this one of those jumps where the Drop-In’s get hosed?”

“No, no. Nothing so cruel,” she hastened to assure me as Judge and Soul manifested themselves as phantom cats (normal four legged felines, only transparent) and sat on the desk, watching the proceedings since they hadn’t been asked for feedback yet. “Though it’s not particularly useful for Cats, seeing as how they can’t speak… it’s called ‘Bridge Repeater’ and allows you to convey data quickly, accurately, and with an efficiency of effort. No tripping over strings of alphanumerics or failing to be hyper-accurate because of limited time concerns.”

“Yaaaaay?” Soul hissed, ears back, then yelped as Judge swatted her.

“It’sss Free. Don’t complaaain,” the darker feline said, then curled up, head on paws and eyes slitted to stare at Chamber.

Soul meanwhile just flopped over on her side and sighed, “But it’s booooring!”

I had to agree, but didn’t say so outloud. Both cats knew it anyway, since they were part of me. “Now… about being a cat?” I asked, “Does that come with anything? Like Empathy or improved balance or something?”

“Well, yes. It comes with the Treecat body as an alternate form, as well as the upgraded version of the Empathy Perk for free. If you buy it again, you can upgrade it to Memory Singer, thus allowing you to share not just emotions and thoughts, but also memories with other treecats… though honestly, your psychic powers already allow that, and since that’s not a superpower for cats in this setting, those two will retain it… will they be a single cat or a pair of cats, by the way?”

I was about to answer that, when Silent Judge mrowled, “Meee? Share space with herr? For EssJay knows how long? Noooo thank you.” Soul drooped her ears, then noticed Franchesca’s Ombra in the branches of VIvian and decided to chase the eternal panther cub.

“I guess that answers the question,” I said, wondering if Treecat fur was really as soft as the books said it was. In the books, the cats were 140cm long obligate carnivores with six limbs and telempathic powers… though a full half of their body length was from their big fluffy tails. Every part of the Treecat was dedicated to survival, from the centimeter long retractable claws on feet, handfeet, and truehands, to the needle-sharp teeth to the prehensile tail that could unfurl to reveal a dorsal gripping pad or coil up tight for more balance. They were arboreal hunter-gatherers, and not only could they take out a human in a fair fight, but in groups they were able to bring down even the most dangerous of their world’s apex predators… the Sphinxian Hexapuma and Kodiak Max… They were generally viewed by most of society as cute but mostly harmless and as intelligent as a Terran Dolphin.

This was a charade, and one that had lasted centuries. In fact, despite being the smallest known sapient in the setting, they were, thanks to having not one but two brains, full tool users and arguably as intelligent as human beings. That they could read the emotionals states of human beings and even form very real mental bonds with human bondmates was an impressive example of cross-species adaptation, though between their own kind they were fully able to communicate telepathically and empathically, with Memory Singers being able to read, store, and distribute the memories of other cats, thus rapidly propagating any new skill or innovation across the global population… hence the centuries long charade. They could even adjust the emotional levels of their bondmates, making them happier, more stable, and more emotionally healthy in general.

They were one of the selling points of the series, to be honest… though also one of the settings greater tragedies, since, prior to the development (relatively recent in the timeline of the HonorVerse) of Prolong, the Cats had almost always outlived their human bondmates, since the Cat’s normal lifespan was on the order of two and a half Terran centuries. That the cats had continued bonding with humans even after realizing that their new friends would age and die long before the cat did was testament to the strength of their affection for humanity as a whole, since a cat whose bondmate died often soon wasted away as well. That some of the fandom felt the cats were secretly manipulating humanity was just idiotic…

I turned to Chamber. “The hidden drawbacks better not be that the cats are secretly evil or i’ll be seriously pissed off.”

“No no… that is an option, of course, but one locked out by your purchasing of Treecats as allies.”

“Good… Now… any other freebies?”

“Well, yes. A free Hang Glider that will make you feel more centered and make your traumas a little easier to push away after you take a brief glide… and a Celery Patch so fertile it can be harvested multiple times a week, full of Sphinxian Celery.”

All three of me perked up at that. Normal celery was like… ambrosia to cats. Sphinxian Celery contained the trace nutrients that the cats relied on to keep their telempathic organs in top function… something only available prior to its development by humanity by locating a rare and not particularly tasty native plant. In fact, it was the Human colonist’s development of the local version of celery which had brought the two species into contact, as prior to that the Cats had deliberately hidden themselves away from the strange invaders.

It was Honor’s great-to the umpteenth power-grandmother Stephanie (she was born 352 years before Honor) who discovered the Treecats after one of them, known to the cats as ‘Climbs-Quickly’ and to humans as ‘Lionheart’, began stealing celery from the various greenhouses in her town of Craggy Hollow. Stephanie (from whom Honor inherited her middle name), at age 11 T-Years, figured out how to photograph the thief and tracked him into the Sphinx Bush… only to have her hang-glider crash. With a broken arm and a wounded leg, she would have been killed by a Hexapuma but Climbs Quickly felt her fear and panic and came to her rescue. After he was wounded defending her, she managed to mortally wound the hexapuma with a vibro-knife.

Not only was she the youngest person ever to discover an alien sapient species, and the first person to bond with a Treecat, and the only human to ever survive a Hexapuma armed only with a vibro-knife and survive, but she was responsible for transforming the Sphinxian Forestry Service into what is described as ‘the finest eco-management organization in the sector’. Furthermore, she was the driving force behind the Ninth Amendment to the Manticoran Constitution (which she also wrote) which formally recognized the Treecats as sentient beings with full (minor child) legal status. She had six children, kept her maiden name, and lived a little over a T-century. When she died, Lionheart suicided, but their legacy lived on in all the hundreds of other bonded pairs over the next three T-Centuries. She even married a man who was part of a bonded pair. Long story short, it would be very interesting to learn exactly how celery tasted to the six-limbed arboreals.

“Oh… that will be nice… now I just need a bunch of raisins and peanut butter… or a bottomless pitcher of bloody marys… Ah, thank you,” I said as Alegra, my fox familiar brought me a squeaky California Raisin toy someone had given Ziggy at some point. The Warehouse, for some reason, kept all of Ziggy’s toys from wearing out… anything of mine not CP backed? Needed maintenance or occasionally to be replaced… I knew which of us was the favorite. But to be fair, he was my favorite too… but I scooped up the white furred red fox and tickled her belly. “Okay… anything else?”

“Indeed. While not technically free, for accepting the Shipping ban, you’re being given two minor items from this document, gratis. The first is called ‘Old Tilman’, which, in addition to being a regular supply of Honor’s favorite beer, also comes with a refilling set of drink specific containers each for an excellent beverage of your choice, be that cups of cocoa, sweet Potsdam wine, or simply some hot Earl Grey with Ginger. Your drinks will always be at the perfect temperature.” As she spoke, a highball glass containing yes, a bloody mary, appeared on the desk in front of me. I sipped it as Alegra savaged my fingers with her tiny teeth and Chamber continued. “The other is a set of Skinsuits for you and your… cats. They come with all the amenities, be that an automated first aid system, self-sealing capability, and biofeedback servomechs to allow even suited personnel to thread a needle in vacuum. Normally, they take some time to prepare, but yours slips on and off incredibly easily, even over other clothes… it can be donned or removed in less than ten seconds and you won’t even muss your hair. Your personal suit will be integrated into VIctoria, who will serve as your suit’s ensuite AI… not that there are such things in this universe normally.

“Excellent, excellent,” I nodded, then asked, “When, exactly, do I get access to my Warehouse?”

“When you turn twelve,” Chamber said, and I grimaced, but nodded. That would be a reasonable time… but it meant that I couldn’t rely on any of my equipment to escape Manpower.

“Wunderbar…” I muttered, then said, “Okay… hmmm… tell me about the perks on offer… oh… how many CP do each of the ships get? And how much will that cost me… us?”

“The price has already been paid for importing 8 ships or companions. They will get their choice of nationality and occupation, as well as the associated freebie perks and discounts, and 600 CP. Like you, they will be destined to rise to the heights of their professions. The ships will get a ship form dependant on how much you pay for it and you get 1000 SP to start with and may buy more Ship Points from BuShips at the cost of 50 CP for 100 SP. Importing each is free for smaller vessels and 100 each for Ships of the Wall… plus paying the cost of the actual form.”

I thought about that for a minute… then grinned. “Cool. But let me see if I’ve got this right? I pay 100 for each ship of the wall to import them… and more for upgrades I guess?” She nodded. “Could I import, say, Executor? Make it a CLAC?” I asked next, referring to the Light Attack Craft (LACs) Carriers that were developed part way through the First Havenite War. LACs were non-hyper-capable intra-system mini-destroyers, essentially a hybrid of patrol boats and fighter jets and previously thought to be all but useless in the modern military before the CLACs changed all that.

Chamber nodded. “Of course. But that won’t make Executor a companion, merely give it a local form, and any systems you’ve bought for your shipyard.”

“Great!” I grinned, then asked, “Is there anything that stops Ships who are also Companions from spending their own CP on SP?”

Chamber blinked, face falling, then checked the document… twice. “Uh… well… huh… technically? Maybe? Depending on how you interpret… no. Nothing that comes right out and says so. But since that would allow you to simply buy all the upgrades by purchasing them once… I’m going to say that the Ships can only spend their points on their class.”

“Excellent. I’ll leave it up to them to decide how much they want to do of that. But… let’s drop 300 CP into SP… that gives me 1600 for systems… and I’ll make four of them Ships of the Wall, assuming they want it. If not? Well, more systems. She’s my flagship and the one most likely to bitch at me… You said the various forms have a cost? How much are we talking?”

“LAC is free, Frigate is 100, Destroyer 200, Light Cruiser 300, Heavy Cruiser 400, Battlecruiser 500, Battleship 600, Dreadnought and Pod Battlecruiser 700, Superdreadnought 800, and LAC Carrier or Pod Superdreadnought 900… plus 100 each for Q-Ship or Flagship” she responded, still looking at the document as if it had personally betrayed her. “Be aware, the extra 100 CP comes from the fact that they’ll have to wait until any technology you pay for them to gain is invented to get it. So, for instance-”

“For instance, if I make Paradiso a CLAC, she’ll start out as something else then be magically refitted as a CLAC once those exist? And I only have to buy the technology once, right, not once for each?”

“Yes and Yes… though not ‘magically’… her consciousness in the form of her XO will be transferred from to the new ship that bears the same name… assuming she hasn’t been destroyed, captured, or scrapped before then.”

I frowned at that, but didn’t say anything. This was, after all, war. “Well… I’ll send out the suggestions…” I looked at my desk, then composed a brief message explaining what was going on and my planned Flotilla. Two CLACs in the persons of Paradiso and Ark Magna, two BCPs in the form of Yuzuha and Bargain, and two Heavy Cruisers in the form of Odwet and Jenny… and then I blinked and looked up at Jumpchan. “Uh… you miscounted and I didn’t notice… what about WIndjammer?”

“Oh. She opted to go into Frozen with Atura. Said she didn’t want to do more Space Opera and wanted to be on the water.”

“Didn’t pay to import her,” I pointed out.

“No. She invoked the general rule. For that matter, so did Toph, Korosensei, Lizzy, Beth, Caine, The Bookers, Bao, Uriel, Kendra, Buji, Simon, and Reggy and her daughters. I believe Invidius and Scipio are quite… irritated at the moment,” she said with a smirk, flipping her pencil… where had she gotten a real wooden pencil from? Stupid Chamber. I didn’t allow writing implements that didn’t use nano-ink that VIvian could scan and wouldn’t get into any of the various systems. You would not believe what graphite could do to certain systems after a few hundred years.

“Wait… Kendra went someplace without Zane? Are they fighting again? He didn’t say anything.”

“I don’t know anything about that.”

I frowned, sent him a message asking if he was okay and then sent off the invites to the rest of the group, as well as to Anne and Amelia to accept the last two slots in the secondary set. For the primary, my thoughts were still spinning but I was hatching a pretty good plan, even if it was skirting close to cheese.

Zane sent back a thumbs up and a smiling round faced icon that it took me far too long to realize was supposed to be a baby. Ah. Kendra was feeling pregnant. I guess that made sense, as she was now four months along or so. This was the slowest pregnancy on record, but I wasn’t in a hurry to deal with another screamer… oh, good lord. If this kid grew at the rate of one month per jump… I’d have to shoot it. These months in-between Jumps were my sanctuary from madness and adventure. Good lord… what has my existence come to when I need an occasional vacation from adventure and awesomeness…

The system pinged six times as the fleet signalled their agreement in rapid succession. Well… mostly agreement. Jenny asked “Are you saying I’m fat?” Heavy Cruiser Humor… I hope she wasn’t being serious… one of these days, I’m going to have to create a text system that carries nuance… but I’m a goddess, not omnipotent. So that was 400 of the 1600 gone buying what Chamber said were called ‘Keel Plate Owner Plaques’; 1200 left for upgrades.

I tapped the desk again and a list of the major technological advances for the next half century popped up on the screen. “It’s just tech that already will exist right?” It looked like it, Manticoran innovations like the FTL Comms, Ghost Rider, Apollo, Keyhole, Mistletoe, and Bow / Stern Sidewalls; Grayson’s Compensators; Haven’s ‘Donkey’: Mesan cheats like the Graser Torpedo or Streak & Spider Drives… and even Manticoran duds like the Grav Lance and Energy Torpedo… though no Multi-Drive Missiles, I noted.

“Well… yes and no. it’s each of them… but Jumpchain enhanced versions of each… although you do get Enhanced Automation free, which bumps you over the curve, meaning your ships will be two orders of magnitude more efficient, requiring 1/100th their former crews instead of 1/10th. LACs or Frigates could be run single-handedly.”

“Christ… really?”

“Yes. Really,” she confirmed.

“Dang.  okay… So the compensator? That’s based on the unique Grayson design for compensators that allows for drastically improved acceleration, right? Like twenty or thirty percent higher, I think.” She nodded. “Let me guess, this one has no chance of failure even running at 100%?” She chuckled, nodding again. “Right. Don’t need that one. All my ships are fitted with Necrontyr Inertialess Drives. I’ll accept those being nerfed down to Grayson levels with 100% safety though.” That earned me a frown, but she nodded.

Necron ships never had real space drives that ran at 80% of light speed, so the drives could, in theory be stressed too far, but I’d copied the tech from what I’d found in the depths of the Court of the Heathen Star (which was obviously the result of my battle with that rogue Jumper, only set loose in time and space), and the maneuverability those drives gave my ships normally would make BuShips’s eyes bug out if not limited, so it was a compromise.

“Now… it looks like I can afford a fair amount of this stuff… Not the Streak Drive…” i said, referring to the Mesan Alignment’s super secret hyperdrive which was capable of using the Kappa band of hyperspace, two full bands higher than anyone else could, making Mesan ships nearly 40% faster point to point than even the fastest normal courier ships. A Theta-Band Courier ran at an apparent velocity of 2500c. Kappa’s exact numbers weren’t known to me, but the Zeta band was only 60% of the Theta, so assuming the ratios held stable… “It would be impossible to explain in setting and useless out of setting… what’s the bonus on it, anyway?”

“Not at all useful outside of this setting. It makes your ships count as being 40% lighter when going through a wormhole. But if you buy it, you’ll know the theory is possible,” She pointed out.

“Yeah. and that’s why I’m going to buy the Streak Drive,” I said, referring to Mesa’s other More than Top Secret drive, this one designed for real space. Spider Drive ships used tractor beams to push themselves off the hyperspace walls rather than the huge gravitic wedges that doubled as impenetrable force fields protecting the top and bottom of normal ship drives. It made them incredibly stealthy… but much slower and offered no protection at all… not even the sidewall energy-shields which were used to protect the parts of a standard ship not protected by the wedge “I’m hoping the bonus there is that I can use it with a standard ship design instead of having to completely redesign the ship?”

“Yes. This can be easily retrofitted to work in any standard ship,” she confirmed.

“That’s 200 of my remaining 1200, so 1000 left… While we’re the subject of Sidewalls,” I hadn’t spoken my thoughts aloud, but the leap was not unobvious, “I’m going to assume that the Bow and Stern Sidewalls (front and back for you landlubbers out there) don’t kill acceleration if bought through you?” Normally, a ship could create port and starboard sidewalls without a problem, but that left the throat and tail of the wedge utterly undefended. The invention of Bow and Stern Sidewalls covered that weakness to a degree, but normally a ship couldn’t use its impellers to accelerate (in space there is no deceleration, just acceleration in a different direction) with the Bow or Stern walls up.

“Are you certain you need me to be here for this?” she asked dryly.

“I’m just thinking of the biggest weakness for each piece of tech and countering it. That’s another 200 SP, so I’m down to 800… FTL Comms… That’s an omni-directional system… So it’s counter is a whisker transmission mode?” Faster than light communication had been mankind’s dream ever since leaving Old Earth roughly two thousand years previously. In the early years of the 20th century Post Diaspora, the Manticoran military had solved the issue on the intrastellar scale. While it didn’t work across light years, gravitic pulses did propagate FTL and by using morse-code at first, then more and more complex coding methods, the light-speed lag was largely eliminated in system. But anyone could pick up the pulses, even if they couldn’t decode them. It wasn’t particularly subtle. A Whisker Comm was normally a focused laser carrying information in a tight beam. If you weren’t at the other end of that beam, you weren’t going to get the message.

“Yes, again. Your grav-pulse generators will be able to generate tightly focused gravitic pulses, though you’ll have to be extremely accurate.”

“The ships I’ll be targeting will be lit up with their own gravitic wedges. I just have to aim. They’ll get the message at FTL speed. Compensating for distance is easy.” I waved off her concern, marking down another 100 SP, leaving me at 700. What was next? Weapons or sensors? Did I even want ‘Donkeys’… Donkeys were, I supposed, the natural extension of Missile Pod technology… but I guess I should explain Missile Pods first.

A ship can only carry so many missiles in its magazines and can only dedicate so much of its surface area to launch tubes. The solution then was to build disposable pods that were self-contained launchtubes and storage. Simply dump a pod out a podbay door and then command the pod to flush its tubes. If you win, you can go back and collect the spent pods and reload them. Hence Pod Superdreadnoughts and Pod Battlecruisers, or rather Big Slow Pod Platform and Smaller Faster Pod Platform.

But internal storage was a problem, especially with the developement of the new and larger multi-drive missiles (MDMs) and Donkey was the solution. Instead of being limited to what your SDPs could carry internally (or externally using Andermani Flatpods, you brought along a bunch of fast supply ships loaded to the rafters with pods and then parked them way outside the fightzone and used Donkey Pods, essentially tractorbeam generators to tow a simply ridiculous number of pods… but the Donkey Pods slowed you down and were defenseless, so if you lost a Donkey, you lost the Missile Pods it was towing… and even giving a Donkey shields wouldn’t help much. The entire system relied too heavily on being able to bring along those supply ships and having time to set up. Donkey wasn’t useful in a defensive position, because a space station didn’t need to haul around pods… it just needed them someplace nearby and fitted with attitude thrusters and maybe some shielding.

I crossed Donkeys off the list… then turned to the other specialized pod design. See, Single Drive Missiles had had one huge weakness. The drive ran full out until it burned out and then the missile was essentially ballistic and unprotected by its wedge. You could increase the powered range of SDMs if you launched them while accelerating your own ship towards the target, since they inherited your velocity when launched, then added their own… but that was it. The advent of MDMs changed all that. Adding just a second drive to a missile allowed it to have an initial boost phase, a ballistic cruise phase, then a final attack run under power and protected by its wedge. Or the drives could just be run in sequence or together. And some missiles had as many as three drives.

But that massively increased range presented its own problem, and that’s where Ghost Rider and Apollo came in. See, that problem was that old foe, light speed. The missiles now had such monstrous range that command lag was getting unworkable. The solution had been obvious… sacrifice some of your missle space for a bigger missile that contained a grav-pulse generator and a grav-pulse transmitter. These Apollo Missiles had no warheads, and were the size of two of the already massive Three Drive Capital Ship MDMs, but they allowed the capital ship the ability to control their missiles at huge range with much less lag. Also, each normal control channel on the ship no longer controlled a single missile… now each channel controlled one Apollo, and the Apollo controlled its own swarm. I couldn’t imagine how that had been improved, but I wanted it regardless… still, I asked.

“No light speed barrier at all. As long as you can still get the signals, you can control the missiles in real time.”

“Hmmm… not what I would have improved… I’d have given the … mmm… no… I guess not… that’s a dumb idea… no… not that either…” I shrugged. “I guess it works. I’ll take it… what about Keyhole? I need Keyhole II for Apollo.” I asked. Keyhole were sensor platforms that Manty ships tractored out through their sidewalls which allowed them to better control their own missiles even while facing their wedges towards their enemy… the Wedges normally interfered with sensors something fierce. Keyhole also allowed the ship to see past the wedge interference created by their own counter missiles, making those missile-killer-missiles much more effective. “What’s improved about them? And do they upgrade to Keyhole II when that comes out?” Keyhole II was the FTL upgrade.

“Yes they upgrade, but no guesses?”

“I mean, the only weakness of a Keyhole platform is that it’s not protected… what, do these have shields?”

“No… nothing like that. You’re just always guaranteed to have another somehow. People won’t notice you’re burning through more of them than your ships should be able to carry.” I opened my mouth to say something smartassed, but she cut me off. “They have to be taken offline by enemy action or accident… you can’t just throw an unlimited supply of them out there for your allies.”

“Darn,” I said, snapping my fingers. “Okay, so Apollo & Ghost Rider are 200, that’s 500 left, and Keyhole is 100, so that’s 400… And would you look at that… there are 400 SP left of systems. Mistletoe, Grav Lance, and both the useless and the useful torpedoes.  I guess I’ll take them all… Mistletoe’s a stealthed recon platform… how is it upgraded?”

“It comes with a small single-shot laser on each platform you produce… and they’re easily reproduced. It won’t punch through a sidewall, but it will be devastating against an unprotected ship… even a warship… and all without sacrificing stealth. Your drones are good enough to get visual prints off an opponent’s hull, even if they’ve got their wedge and sidewalls up.”

“Christ… that’s fucking evil… Okay… the Graser Missiles are those Mesan fucking monsters… even having them without being Mesan is going to be evil… I guess at some point I’ll just be inspired to make them? Are these any better than the Mesan ones?” A Mesan Graser Torpedo was a gamma-ray laser (graser) attached to a missile body. In the old days, ship to ship missiles were just Nukes. But Nukes required contact to take out a spaceship and with the advent of sidewalls, Nukes had fallen out of favor. They’d been replaced by nuke pumped X-Ray Lasers, or Laser Warheads as they were called. The nuke fired, lasing a fuel rod which pumped out X-Rays hard enough to smash into a ship. The beams generated by each warhead lasted milliseconds, and each warhead generated several of them to maximize coverage. The Graser fired for a full three seconds in a single focused beam, able to sweep a single ship or even multiple targets if they were close enough together.

“You graser torpedoes will be easy to reproduce and can be reprogrammed on the fly, making optimization of attack runs easier.”

“I guess it’s something… okay, now the Grav Lance and Energy Torpedoes are essentially useless… does buying them make them other than useless?” In the series, the G-Lance and E-Torps had only appeared in the first book and both had been less than ideal. The Grav Lance was a spinal mount, single-shot weapon that could, in theory, take down a sidewall with a single shot while doing massive damage to the target ship’s propulsion systems. It took almost all the power a Light Cruiser could output to fire the thing and had a disastrously short range. The Energy Torpedoes were actually pretty awesome. They could be fired rapidly, didn’t take space for ammunition, and had a halfway decent range (about a light-second… not great for missiles, but not terrible for energy weapons… x-ray lasers could do about 500,000km against sidewall protected enemies). Since they were energy, they travelled close to lightspeed, so they were incredibly hard to stop… unless a ship’s sidewalls were up… because they were stopped cold by the sidewall, not even damaging it. So… useless.

“It depends on what you’re looking for, I suppose,” She said, then expanded on that. “The Lance is far more easily recharged and much more precise, reducing power requirement and allowing to be used in rapid succession… enough that it can be used as a form of point defense against incoming projectiles… As for your torpedoes, they generate negative interference in the target’s sidewalls, causing fluctuations in their reactors, leading to power surges and eventual overload.”

I blinked at that, then stared. “You’ve got to be shitting me… a Light Grav Lance and… those torpedoes are fucking evil,” I started chuckling, then cackling. “Oh… that’s evil. I just hope I remember this idea once I get to that point.”

“Idea?”

“Oh yeah… the major problem with a Grav Lance is the power requirement. It means it can’t be mounted on a LAC… or Missile… and LACs equipped with these Disruptor Torpedoes? Oh, yes please. Come to momma.” I rubbed my hands gleefully, then, seeing that only Amelia and Jaan had finished doing their builds, I brought up the Perk & Item Menu to contemplate how to spend my remaining 900 CP.

I immediately discounted most of the items; I didn’t need the instructions for Prolong, or a suit of Battle Armor, or an Assault Shuttle, Pinnace, Vibroblade, Cybernetics, a self repairing Mess Uniform, a Flechette Gun, Pulser, Armored Skinsuit, Sword, Plasma Gun, Recon Armor, Tribarrel, a Grayson Dome, or a Hab Tower (think skyscraper / archology, but built by a society that’s mastered Anti-Gravity and super-tensile materials). However, the Viral Nanotech and Joyful Station items were not blatantly obvious, so I didn’t know if I needed them.

“The Station is a spaceborne theme park, while the Viral Nanotech is an assassination and subversion tool that compels the infectee to perform acts out of their control. It is nearly undetectable and all but impossible to resist,” The Chamber explained. “Do you really want either?”

Huh… I’d just been thinking about how I hadn’t built any theme parks… but no… I could build one. I didn’t need one handed to me. “Mmm… not really. Maybe if I can’t find more than 600 CP worth of perks worth buy.” I closed the items section and slid the perks section up on the desk. There were twenty-five perks I didn’t have already, one general, nine national, and fifteen vocational. Most of them were grey’d out to show that they would do little to nothing for me.

The remaining Drop-In perks were Summervale’s Match, a duelist’s package including heightened reflexes and senses, and sharpened focus and opponent reading, but only on the field of honor; Beauty and the Beast, a thing that kept subordinates assigned to my team regardless of what BuPers (Bureau of Personnel) might have to say on the subject; and Duty of an Officer, a perk that would make me into a better teacher… if I wasn’t already so good at it. All were marked as limited utility, a service provided not by Chamber or Higher, but by VIvian, who was able to see the same information Chamber was. I could have too, but I prefered to get reports than to read long descriptions. I’d read them later to make certain of what I’d gotten myself, but discussing options with another was always the best way in my experience, to separate the wheat from the chaff as it were. I slid all three into the waste bin.

Next were the Marine perks. Time on the Range would make me an Expert (in the military sense) with all of the personal weapons (from tiny sidearms to armor mounted impeller missile launchers) as well as enough skill in using Battle Armor to juggle eggs… it also made it so I’d never get bored in my armor or need to scratch an itch. I didn’t need it… my armor scratched my itches for me and had a really good audiobook selection. Martial Arts Master would make me an eighth degree black belt in either Coup de Vitesse or Neue-Stil Handgemenge, two of the more common and lethal martial arts of this era… I figured I had the hand to hand element down fine, thanks. Genie would make me marginally superhuman… I didn’t need it. And Resistance Leader would make me an expert at every step of overthrowing a government, including the inspirational charisma needed to be a leader of such a group. I had that in spades and had no desire to overthrow the Manty Government… even if I could have used more experience rabble rousing… but it was 600 and I wasn’t paying that. Into the bin they went.

From the Spy line there was Cachat-ing a Break (a truly terrible play on the name Victor Cachat, one of the more sympathetic Havenites and a master spy). It was, of course, the expert spy package, including torture. Meh. Join the Club, at 200, was more interesting, as it made the taker a master of improvisation and switching plans on the fly, as well as accounting for new information to gain the best results… VIvian had that listed as potentially helpful, can’t hurt… so I tentatively added it to my list and applied my floating discount to it. That left 800 CP.

Crying Onions granted an uncanny ability to detect major conspiracies and secret organizations based on very little and entirely mundane evidence. It was tempting, but that’s what I have spymasters for… as well as Sarah. Naw. And that left Oops, which made the taker a galaxy-class hacker, both of computers and all other electronics too for that matter. Again, useful but the kind of thing I farmed out to subordinates. I slid the others into the trash, but made a note to Joy and Ahab about Crying Onions.

That left the Commander line for vocational perks and there was much there to recommend it, at least from my standpoint… but I suspected there’d also be stuff like this in the primary document as well, so I was looking for something very specific. I discounted the 200 and 400, Operation Smoke and Mirror Box and Crushed The Crusher respectively. The first was about taking the enemy by surprise and wasn’t bad… but I’d have rathered a perk that protected me from being taken by surprise. I guess I’d just have to be on my A-Game. The second was a genius for military tactics, someone to rival Harrington or McQueen… and if I wasn’t one of those already… well, there’d probably be something pretty much identical on the flipside… and probably for cheaper than 400 since I’d get a discount over there.

No, what I was more interested in was the Commander’s freebie, Javelin-Jockey, which would make me an expert ship-handler, giving me top notch astrography and piloting. Now I already had the piloting, but the astrography was new and dealing with impeller wedges was something I hadn’t had to do before. I’m certain I could pick it up without the perk, but for 100, it was a steal. That left 700.

And I promptly squandered 600 of it on the Commander’s Capstone because of one single line of text. A Tradition of Excellence was a charisma boost, the kind of charisma that inspires death-rides and projects calm and control even in the face of disaster. All that would have been enough to inspire me to take it… but what really sold it was the line ‘There’s nothing that happens on your ship that you don’t know about, from ratings bullying other ratings to truly minor engineering accidents.” I had to have it… that it came with a guarantee of legend making was just gravy.

And then I had 100 CP left, which meant I wasn’t getting any of the national perks, but there was that single 100 CP general perk…Paper Neo-Tiger… which would allow me to trick people into underestimating me in politics and warfare through a combination of acting skills hiding my true personality and just plain chutzpah to try. Sure, once I dropped the act and got serious, they’d realize they were supping with a serpent, but by then it would be far too late… and like that I was done.

=====PASSING THE BAR=====

I stretched, then checked the fleet. All but Odwet and Paradiso were done. I told them all to join me at Bar Ziggy and motioned for Chamber to join us. Yuzuha swaggered in at the head of the group, with Paradiso looming behind her, Iana and Jann chatting behind them, Jenny arguing with Amelia, and Anne tugging Odwet along as he tried to pull his uniform into a semblance of neatness… and failed. Joy, Ahab, and Emma arrived a few minutes later, Emma looking extremely cross and Ahab looking smug as a bug in a rug.

“Okay you two, what’s up?” I asked as I invited everyone to sit down.

“He… He’s a pig!” Emma snapped, pointing the J’Accuse! finger at Ahab. He just smirked.

“Oh?”

“He’s picked a barbarous lot of… of… of polygamists! As our starting point!” she fumed.

“Yup. That I did,” he agreed. “Tried to get the system to drop us on Masada, but had to settle for Grayson.” He was teasing.

I could tell it.

Joy could tell it.

Emma could not. She just fumed, glaring at him, then turned to me. “See! You… you can’t let him do this to me! These people are savages! Misogynists! It’s a culture of Rapists and Bible thumping child-ra-” She didn’t get any further as I backhanded her telekinetically. Not hard, but enough to snap her head sideways. She clutched her cheek and glared around the table, unable to tell which of those around it might or might not have had psychic powers. She’d been with us for a decade and hadn’t bothered to learn most of my companions’ names let alone powers.

I placed both hands on the table, shifting to a more imposing physical form and said, voice cold as winter… seriously, there was snow falling on the table… “You will not speak of what you don’t know in my presence again or I will personally spank you. I cannot ground you, as you’re linked to Ahab, but if you honestly think I’m going to side with someone who’s been with me and served me well for longer than recorded history based on a temper tantrum thrown by a spoiled brat who bullied her own best friend into what amounts to a psychotic break, you have another think coming. When I first read of your world, I thought surely it was Sophie Hess that was the primary bully, but it was you, you horrible horrible person. I have literally killed people for acts less inhumane than that. In a world full of the fucking Slaughterhouse Nine and Empire Eighty-Eight, I despise you the most. So sit down, shut up, and feel grateful that I don’t simply murder you at the beginning of every jump just so I won’t have to see your bitch face again for another decade.”

She sat, gaping at me. No one at the table bothered to look at her.

“Now, as for your commentary on Grayson… yes, they are in many ways backwards. They start the series with many sexist cultural markers and some of them are absolute scum… even discounting the ones who are secretly aligned with Masada. And yes, the faith of Masada is an abomination. But just because Masada condones child-marriage, unwilling marriage, and spousal rape, and denies personhood to their women, that does not mean that Grayson does. Grayson and Masada are products of history and their environment and the Graysons have done the best they could under conditions that would have broken most of humanity. And over the course of the books, they have made every effort to set the sexism behind them!” I stared at her for a long moment, waiting until she squirmed, then snapped. “What? Speak!”

“But the… the polygamy!!!” she whined.

I just stared at her for a full sixty seconds.

“T… it’s b…. Bad… right?” she stammered, gulping, looking around the table for support. She didn’t get any.

Another sixty seconds passed.

“I… its sexist… on… one man having m… many wives,” she insisted, but her voice was tiny and if I hadn’t had enhanced hearing I would have needed to be able to lipread to make out the last two words.

“No it isn’t. Monogamy is not a measure of equality. Many monogamist societies are just as sexist as the Masadans. Polygamy and Polyandry, collectively called Polyamory, are just different cultures’ ways of dealing with such things. For the Graysons, where women outnumber men four to one thanks to a genetic defect that makes male births fail three quarters of the time, and where more men died working the land and in wars, it made sense. In fact, for most of human history, it makes sense because many men are off serving. In fact, I’d venture to say that the ideal family group probably consists of two to three men, with a decade or so between them and a dozen or so women.”

“Wh… buuu…” was all she managed to get out.

“A family like that provides enough support for raising the children, enough variety of skills that most household tasks can get handled, and enough workers to support the family economically.”

“And enough whores for the men,” she muttered and I thought about slapping her again, then just rolled my eyes.

“Grow up, you narrow-minded prude. First off, nothing I said implies that any of the people involved are straight, and no, that doesn’t mean I think they should be gay either… and if you say anything about homosexuals being pedophiles or bisexuals being confused or sluts I’ll change my mind and just dump you into a box for as long as I think it will take for you to get a clue. I said ideal. An ideal family of such a breakdown should probably include multiple overlapping pairings both straight and homosexual. The ideal family shouldn’t be divided by outdated convention that serves to foster envy and jealousy. And the concept of slut, while entirely real, should not be used as pejorative for women who have a healthy amount of sex. Perhaps for people of any gender or sex who crave it and indulge it to an unhealthy level. As for whore? Some of my best friends have been prostitutes. I’ve been one. The difference between a wife and a whore is vaste. The difference between a sex-slave and a whore is even vaster. In the world you came from? Most of those who worked the slave trade were slaves. A little fucking respect for their suffering is in order, you useless…” I exhaled, then shook my head and turned to Ahab.

“Why Grayson?”

“Honestly? To teach this twit how good she’s had it all her life. Also, the Grayson perk, Well-Tested, grants both resistance to heavy-metal toxicity and other environmental hazards, as well as the ability to recognize less apparent options when I see them.” He shrugged… “But mostly because it pissed her off.”

“Fair enough. Occupation? Did you go with Spy?”

“I did. Maybe we’ll be infiltrators into Masada was my thought,” He agreed, though Emma made a face. “I’m hoping the overlay for this empty vessel is more useful… I also took Spy because giving her a perk for spycraft might help her understand how not to act like… like her. Spent the 200 on Crying Onions… nice to have 200 now… though starting as a child is going to be a bear. The completely silent, never dulling Vibroblade is a nice freebie too.”

I nodded. Apparently it could cut through hull plating if you were patient enough. “Great. Sounds like a plan. Joy? Spy?”

She shook her head. “Silesian Marine, though on the flipside I’ll probably go Solarian or Manty, assuming I was born in Silesian and immigrated. Not certain what’s there, but I got a pop-up warning that there was no Silesian origin in the other. Or maybe I was Solarian born but to parents stationed in Silesia… whatever. Anyway, I went with Marine to get the Genie perk and, I guess the free Battle Armor with the battery that never runs out is nice too, but the  Silesian perk ‘Chalice of Blood’ will give me impeccable connections with dozens of different pirate fleets and all sorts of bargains on lightly used vessels or goods, or mercenary contracts. Or, you know, scare off any pirates I run into. Also works on most undergrounds… so it’s a kind of spywork, right?”

I considered her words as checked to see if Odwet and Paradiso had finished their builds. Neither had. I checked their progress. Paradiso had 50 CP left, Odwet hadn’t started, having 400 points left since I’d told him to spend 200 to make himself a Heavy Cruiser. I pulled of the fleet order of battle and blinked… that wasn’t right. I looked to Iana and Yuzuha, frowning.

“I thought I told you two to buy Pod Battlecruiser.”

“It was her idea!” they both accused the other in near perfect sync.

“I didn’t ask whose idea it was… why are you both Podnoughts!?”

Yuzuha humphed, “Well, it’s not fair that those two get to be CLACs,” she pointed to Paradiso and Iana pointed at Jaan… had to admire their teamwork if nothing else, “While we gotta be dinky little cruisers!”

“First off, BCPs are huge for Cruisers, being practically half the size of pre-pod Battleships. Second, CLACs are usually Dreadnought sized, not Superdreadnought… and you knew that and that’s why you’re both using this one chance to be bigger than Light of Paradise and Ark Magna.” They flushed like children caught being naughty. “I wanted you two to be Battlecruisers because BCs are lighter, faster, and more nimble than Ships of the wall and pretty much untouchable by smaller classes unless manned by idiots. BCPs are able to fight Pre-Pod SDs and win. Now you’re going to be slow and clumsy.” I fumed a little.

“We asked the system. We can be BCPs early on and SDPs later… essentially it’s like Fearless… you just buy the biggest ship you want and you can be smaller ones until then… can’t go down though. And once the jump is over, it’s all locked in,” Iana explained.

I looked to Chamber, and she nodded. “Essentially, it’s putting down the most you’re willing to spend and the final form you want, but the ships will start out at something that reflects your current rank… just don’t get them destroyed.”

“Huh… fine… I guess. Now… Paradiso… why haven’t you spent your last few points?”

Draken Paradiso looked at Yuzuha with annoyance. “I wanted to buy Flagship with it, but she,” it was her turn to point the Finger of Accusation and Yuzuha’s turn to be pointed at, “has commanded me not to.”

“I’m the flagship. She’s just got bigger boobs,” Yuzuha snapped back, as if that made any sense. While yes, Paradiso had the largest breasts of any companion besides Maidseid, Yuzuha was utterly flat in all her humanoid forms. She had no boobs to speak of.

“Is there anything else you can take?” I asked.

Jaan said “I took Q-Ship. So did Iana. Only Yuzuha and Paradiso haven’t.”

I quirked an eyebrow at that, then looked at the duo.

“I ain’t pretending to be a merchy,” Yuzuha growled. “I’m important.”

Draken looked like she was about to agree with Yuzuha, then grinned and said, “Ah. Silly me of course. Makes perfect sense. I shall, of course, be happy to be a Q-Ship, Admiral.”

Yuzuha frowned at that, feeling that somehow Draken had scored a point over her, but Yuzu isn’t the most astute of my ships, and she often fails to pay attention or try to understand people.

On the other hand, I’d understood almost immediately. Draken had been a flagship before. While the extra bridge offered by the Flagship and the shortcut to the boatbay for emergency evacuation weren’t part of Light’s design, a luxury suite for the admiral was. And as a Q-Ship, if I needed a Q-Ship, I’d have to use Light as my flagship not Yuzuha, who didn’t have the disguise ability needed to blend in with freighters. It was not going to be a pretty scene when Yuzuha figured that out. Ah well.

Buying all that ship stuff had burned most of their points, of course. 1000 SP was 500 CP and they only had 600 to spend, so it was down to freebies and a single 100 CP perk for each of the four biggest ships. That had been another reason I’d suggested BCP, which would have given Iana and Yuzuha another 100 CP to spend, but they were big ships (literally); they could make their own decisions.

“So, what are your origins and vocations?” I asked. “And how did you spend your last 100?”

Yuzuha started, of course. “I…” she said, affecting the worst fake german accent ever… honestly, it sounded more russian… maybe she thought she was doing a Prussian accent? “Am an Andermani Spy!”

“Are you now?” I asked.

She nodded, pulling a Totenkopf Hussar’s hat from nowhere and plopping it on her head. It looked ridiculous and too big for her skull, but it rested on her ears in a way that probably wasn’t that comfortable. “Yus! Andermani Totenkopf Perk means Yuzuha can intimidate people no matter how silly Yuzuha is! Substance of Actions over FORM!”

I nodded, then pointed out, “Yes… but the substance of your actions swings wildly from loonie to evil to juvenile.”

“Aaaaaaand?”

“That hat is silly.”

“AAAAAAAAAND?”

“Yes, you can have a cookie,” I siiighed. “Once you tell me what you spent the rest of your points on.”

“Am Spy. Joined Club. Good at Improzivation,” she said, now mangling english.

“Riiight. Good.” I tossed her a cookie, then turned to Iana. “You?”

“Same, but Erewhonian… do I get a cookie?” I smirked, then tossed her one as well.

“Go ahead, ruin your supper… ahhh.” At that moment the food arrived and I waited until everyone had been served before praising the chef (Me from Soul Eater / Three Stars, able to manifest on her own thanks to the magic of Bar ZIggy).  “What does the Erewhonian perk do?”

Iana paused, looked at her smoked lobster bisque, then ignored me long enough to take a taste while it was still piping hot. “Erewhon Nam? It makes me a master smuggler, knowing all the tricks about how to hide stuff, but also giving me a sixth sense if the Authorities might be looking even before I enter a system.”

“Huh. Cool…” I turned away from her, letting her get back to her soup and turning to my CLACs. “Jaan, Paradiso, what about you two?”

“We’re both Commanders,” Jaan said, starting to rise but I waved her down. “I’m Solarian, Draken is Beowulfan… so on the same side initially… not certain how we’ll all end up under your command? Maybe we’re just ships that were named for Beowulfan or Solarian individuals or something? I don’t know… anyway, I took Paper Neo-Tiger and got Six Mandarin free… that’s a mastery of political manipulation and delegation so that either I look brilliant if I succeed and my underling takes the rap if he fails. The Solarian League sounds remarkably like a less functional version of the Imperium of Man… I should really read these books… do you have a copy?”

“I’m having them run off from my memory, yeah… but the end of the series hadn’t happened when I left Origin… Paradiso?”

“Right.. Well, Jaan already covered most of it, but I took Operation Smoke and Mirror Box… actually, I changed it from Paper Neo-TIger after I took Q-Ship… and the Beowulfan freebie is Cherwell Conventioneer which makes me a master of the biosciences and genetic engineering… especially when it comes to fixing and countering harmful bioengineered issues, like removing genetic slavery conditioning, dangerous adaptations, and maybe finding a way to block nanoviral programming. I assume the Cherwell Convention is some kind of strategic limitation on genetic engineering and biowarfare?”

“Yeah. The Final War, so called because it nearly destroyed Old Earth, was fought with bioweapons and supersoldiers. It was apparently horrific and Beowulf’s Biosciences League or their BIological Survey Corps… their covert operations force, helped repair the worst of the damage. Beowulf and Mesa are like Grayson and Masada, except with biosciences instead of religion. Mesa was founded by renegade bioengineers from Beowulf and now Beowulf runs around trying to cleanse the universe of Mesa’s tainted philosophy. Honor Harrington’s mother is the little sister of an officer of the Biological Survey Corps who eventually becomes one of the Planetary Board. Her father’s people are from a heavy grav world, genie stock, called the Meyerdahl Beta line, with enhanced strength, reflexes, and intelligence. The royal house of Manticore is also genie stock, though there just enhanced intelligence and, apparently, blackness.”

“Enhanced blackness?” Joy asked.

“Even after a dozen generations of intermarrying with people of pale skin, Wintons are chocolate brown,” I explained. “Incidentally, that enhanced intelligence is almost certainly what is responsible for the disproportionally large number of Harringtons and Wintons who have been bonded with Treecats.”

“Really? How does one make skincolor superdominant like that?” Joy asked, looking to Draken.

“I’ll tell you once I know, I guess,” he responded. “Why?”

“Curiosity. I can think of ways of doing something similar with nanotech, but designing it into the genome directly? Never thought of that… hyper dominant? Something that recodes the other side of the genetic donation to match the dominant side?”

I left them to their consideration and turned to the last pair of ships. “Jenny, you’ve picked… why don’t you start, then I’ll help Odwet with his build.”

“Oh. I helped him already. He thought you would want to do it so he didn’t do anything. But we’ve got it squared away, right sprout?” She asked the smaller boy and he nodded, then slipped under the table with a basket of sourdough muffins. We all sighed.

That boy was a mixture of puckish and painfully shy, often verging on what might be considered Autistic, though it was more personality than neurology in his case… I’d checked. He just didn’t like making eye-contact, and not for the normal reason. He was, at his heart, a wild animal. A huge spaceborne wild animal, but a wild animal nonetheless… and a predatory one at that. Eye-contact usually meant he was either about to attack or thought you might attack him. With me and some of the others, he knew an attack was like being pounced by a sibling, play fighting… with others? He couldn’t be sure and so he usually hid… then ambushed with pranks.

“We’re both Marines, me Mesan, Oddy San Martino… San Martinian? from San Martin. Heavy Cruiser cost each of us 200 CP, leaving 400 to spend. I took Genie and Operation Smoke and Mirror Box, and Mesan gave me Jumper-Line. That’s peak human performance in intelligence, reflexes, strength, healing, toughness, resistances… plus a lifespan of 200 plus T-Years before prolong… with it? Six hundred… and there’s probably some synergy with Genie as well. It also comes with an education in the basics of genetic engineering and the biosciences… but nothing as good as Paradiso got.”

I peeked under the table, then handed Odwet the honey butter, then looked up and nodded to Jen. “SOunds like a good build. Oddy?”

“Oh. Resistance Leader and Cachat-ing a Break. I figure the charisma boost and spy training will help bring him a little more out of his shell.” She smiled like a big sister and the shrugged. “Better than nothing, right?”

Considering if ‘fixing’ Oddy was right thing or not… he certainly wasn’t happy with the status quo, but nothing said that he had to be outgoing… I looked to Amelia and Anne, then had to wait while the soup dishes were cleared away and the salad course was served. Once everyone was tucking into their duck, almond, and asparagus salad, I asked, “So, Ladies?”

Amelia nodded for Anne to go first, and Anne grinned, then straightened her silverware just so before reporting. “I am a Havenite Spy, though one in the pay of Manticor, and dedicated to toppling the Legislaturalist government. I am deep cover, and was… or will be, sent to Haven as a young woman where I will join one of the people’s committees and do my best to infiltrate the resultant government, should I survive that long. To that end, I have taken Crying Onions, Join the Club, and Oops, where the ability to discover plots, improvise, and hack should stand me in good stead. The Havenite perk, The People’s Power, is a study in organization and efficiency, or work schedules, public information campaigns, and legislation designed around getting the best out of a group of people. Even to the point or rearranging entire economies and making a Basic Living Stipend that actually works.”

I nodded at that. A BLS wasn’t fundamentally bad… it was just incredibly tricky. Funding it was a nightmare, distributing it fairly and without corruption a headache, and making certain that your people were dedicated to their work ethic enough to still work was a challenge. The trick was to make the BLS enough to survive on, but not enough to thrive on. Find that balance and people would still work, and work hard, but they wouldn’t be afraid to take economic risks, like looking for a new job or demanding fair pay and fair treatment from their bosses. The major benefit of a BLS was, once you had it up and running properly, it was self-sustaining as long as you could keep it in the sweet spot. More money in the hands of the lower and middle classes meant more spending per capita, and that meant a healthier economy, improved investment in the arts, and in schools, and in public places… but if you allowed your people to become complacent, to lose hope for a life better than mere survival? You got the People’s Republic of Haven, a system that cannibalized other nations to feed an ever growing cancer.

“Amelia?” I asked, after a pause long enough for the salads to be finished and the steaks to arrive. Mine was a tomahawk, medium rare, in tarragon butter and cracked black pepper sauce, and exquisite.

“Solarian Commander… hopefully I can get high enough to kick Rajampet’s Arse,” She said with a snarl. We’d talked about the Honor Harrington books before… in fact, I’d read her the entire series from memory, and if she’d ever hated a fictional character more than Fleet Admiral Rajampet Kaushal Rajani, the Solarian League’s de facto military Commander in Chief and an associate member of Quintet (aka. The Five Mandarins, Permanent Under Secretaries all… Commerce, Education & Information, Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Treasury) who actually ran the Solarian League. The only reason it wasn’t a Sextet was that the other five only included him when direct military force was needed. They were bureaucratic scum of the first water. “Of course, I’m probably too smart for that, so I took Operation Smoke and Mirror Box, Crushed the Crusher… I can always be a better tactician, right?… and Empathy. Just in case I can find a Treecat… I like cats,” she said with a feline smirk. She was, after all, as catlike as a human is monkey-like… if not more so.

====THAT WAS SUPPER, TIME FOR DINNER====

After desert, Chamber and I retired back to my office for the second, and no doubt longer of the planning stages. I was already at 800 points of drawbacks and Chamber had indicated that there was no official soft limit on drawbacks (the hard limit would, of course, be to take all of them… unless, like Generic Roleplayer, there was something that could be taken over and over and over again. I pulled up the list while Chamber pulled out a crackpipe and stepped onto the balcony to light up. VIvian helpfully dropped a forceshield between us so my office wouldn’t smell like burning cocaine.

At the top of the list were three zero point toggles; Long-Running Series, Self-Insert Mode, and I Reject Your Canon and Substitute My Own. Interesting. LRS just meant that, as Chamber had said, I could stay as long as I wanted. I assume this was why she’d said that. I toggled it on without even a first thought.  

SIM would allow me to import myself into any canon character whose age, origin, and faction matched my own… with Drop-In being the default for anyone who wasn’t either Naval or Civilian… wow… there were people who weren’t either? Fascinating I guess. Technically, that meant I could become Honor if I wanted to. I didn’t want to. Meeting Honor and being friends would be enough. I didn’t even want to recruit her… In fact, if I was going to recruit anyone from this setting, it would be the Havenite tech expert Shannon Foraker or Manty Captain Ivars Terakov… but I probably wouldn’t. So I left that one alone… and double checked that it was off so that my companions didn’t try pulling what they’d pulled in the DUNEverse.

IRYCaSMO was a fanfiction toggle. I hadn’t even known there was fanfiction for Honor Harrington… but I guess anything that popular must have generated at least a little. Still, I didn’t know of any, so I ignored it.

There were eleven more drawbacks that weren’t toggles, and I scanned down the and immediately selected more than half of them for discard. Even the names were enough to tell me that I didn’t want them, though the fact that a couple were pulsing a sullen red (VIvian’s tag for NOOOO Badbad no touchy!) was a bit of a clue. Immediately off the list was Cats are Evil… what the fuck? Both Builders had included this nonsense. Feh. FEH, I SAY! Although at least his one was worth +600… not that I’d have taken it for twice that. Cats are niiiice.

Also at +600 and also flashing red was Enslaved (it had a note saying POWER REMOVAL / WAREHOUSE LOCK). Into the trash that went.

The final +600, and not flashing Red… in fact it was Yellow for doable but annoying or risky, was Ballroom Target. Fuck no I didn’t want to a target for the Audubon Ballroom. They were awesome! An anti-Mesan terrorist organization, the Ballroom was almost entirely comprised of ex-genetic slaves and, occasionally, their descendants and they dedicated themselves to killing slavers and freeing their victims. Even if I hadn’t been planning on going in as Mesan G-Slave, I’d have hated Mesa and respected the crap out of the Ballroom. No thanks.

I also ditched ‘Cat’, which would make me a cat… I had that from side 2; Dolist, which would cripple my motivation and work ethic; A Short Victorious War, which would have taken my ability to plan for the unknown (either known or unknown) or sheer blind bad luck or chance out behind a shed and throttled it, then buried it in a shallow unmarked grave; and Disgrace, which would have, well, made me persona non-grata for reasons real or imagined. No. No. No. and GOD NO. As for Sanctimonious? I was already preachy enough at the best of times. I didn’t need it reinforced by drawback fiat.

That left exactly three out of eleven. And I could live with all of them. Seniority was only +100 and would make people believe that I’d gotten my current position by being either rich or well-connected. It was overcomable, but it would be a struggle and would require proving myself over and over again when dealing with or for people who didn’t already know me well. I guess I’d have to make a lot of friends, what?

For +200 or +400 was Over-Dueled which, at either level, meant that I’d be challenged to a duel at least once a year… and have to duel them or face ‘epic social disgrace’ for the rest of the jump. At the lower level, those duels would be fought under the Dreyfus Protocol, which was single shots until first blood or one party yielded. Death was still a risk if someone shot to kill with the first shot, but it was a rarity. At the upper level, it would be the Ellington Protocol, which was pretty much a keep shooting until out of ammo or one person was leaving on a gurney. Serious injury was practically the minimum outcome of an Ellington duel and death was extremely common. Yielding in an Ellington duel was considered the same as confessing guilt… but killing a lot of people in duels was reason to consider someone as being slightly off.  What the drawback didn’t do was remove any of my tech or skill advantage… and even nerfed as I was, there were very few who could outdraw or outshoot me… and that was before dealing with luck and my nanotech subdermal armor, or whatever remained of my increased toughness. I signed up for the Ellington. Screw em if they couldn’t take a joke.

Last was Nemesis, at +300. A powerful, influential individual who lacked any fundamental human decency whatsoever… and hated me. Hated me enough to dedicate their life to ruining mine. Utterly unable to be reasoned with… it wasn’t scaling, wasn’t respawning, wasn’t unbeatable… in fact, it was pretty much free points and a potential annoyance. Eh. I could cope. All told, that was another 800, bringing my available CP to a whopping 2600 plus 100 for items and a floating discount of 100. I guess it was time to start spending

First, I locked in Manty and Navy. No point in being on one of the loosing sides… plus I liked Manticore. I’d once designed a fantasy setting where the playable races were humanoids named Kymera, Sfinx, Mantikor, Syrn, Gryffon, and Bazalyzk and so I’d instantly taken to Manticore when one of my brother’s friends lent him a copy of ‘On Basilisk Station’, the book that had started it all. I’d been 18 at the time, and believe you me, the revelation of Honor Harrington as a dominant and competent female lead had been transformative.

Before reading the first three books in less than 24 hours, I’d been a far bigger fantasy fan than a sci-fi buff, viewing sci-fi as largely sexist, boring, or weird. The only sci-fi series I really liked before that were DUNE and Foundation, with some Star Trek and Piers Anthony books thrown in for good measure. After Honor? Military Sci-fi became my favorite genre and I’d go on to read the Familias Regnant, Vatta’s War, Kris Longknife, Dahak, Lost Fleet, Aldenata, Troy, Cyteen, Prince Roger, and Safehold Series to name but a few. So yes, Honor was very much a hero of mine… and Nimitz of course. I’d even considered naming my first ferret Nim… “huh…” I said.

Alarms were going off in my head.

Chamber was saying something, but I wasn’t listening… how long had it been since I’d thought about what I’d left behind. I’d had a life… friends… family… pets… back on Origin. And I’d bought a perfect memory in my very first jump… so why couldn’t I remember the names of those people… or their faces… or… I had a feeling that if I could ask the Banker he’d tell me something like “A Jumper Pining for what was left behind wouldn’t be very interesting. I just suppressed those memories until you could get comfortable.” Fucking asshole… and he wasn’t around to kick. Shit. I couldn’t remember my father’s own name. Or my brother… or… did I have a sister? FUUUUCk… this was hard. It was like… like… digging through time.

“VIvian. Bring up every copy of Earth’s internet you’ve got cached and pull up the record for… for…” shit. “Never mind. I can’t remember my own name… or where I grew up… or… or… I mean, I have all the memories… but the specifics are all… they’re not there. I know I had a friend… or two? Someone I cared about… very tall. Damn…” I turned to face Chamber.

“Do you know why I can’t remember most of the specifics of my original life?”

“No,” she said. “But I imagine it’s because it doesn’t really matter. I do know if you choose to Go Home at the end of any jump, you’ll gain a fresh memory dump of your original life.”

I leaned back, rubbing my eyes, then sighed heartily. “Well, I guess it’s a kind of proof that I’m really me and not some fictional character.”

“Why do you say that?” She asked, sounding honestly curious as she settled back into her chair and propped her feet on my astoundingly expensive and delicate coffee table. It had belonged to Jane Austen and I’d paid upwards of 12 million for it in Yugioh at auction… good lord having buckets of cash was liberating as hell.

“If I was fictional, none of that would matter and I’d still know all the names… I have to be real, if only because those names might be a source of vulnerability so they’ve been removed from my mind as a form of security.”

“What, so… oh… so whoever is the audience for this adventure of yours doesn’t learn of them and try to use them to get you to throw the game, as it were? That must mean there’s gambling going on. Beings gambling over what you’re going to do next!”

“You’re altogether too pleased at that idea,” I grumped.

She shrugged, and I didn’t blame her. It wasn’t her concern, but it was the type of thing she’d find amusing.

“Anywaaay,” I said, wrenching the conversation back on track. “Manty… Navy… What do I get free?”

“Aside from Manticoran citizenship and a guaranteed commission, you mean?”

“Yes. Aside from that. But good to know on both counts,” I agreed.

“You gain access to the Prolong Treatment. You’ll gain it yourself of course, but also the knowledge and information needed to administer it to others or mass produce it. Within this jump, unless you or one of your minions solves the age limit, you’ll only be able to administer the treatment to those young enough to benefit from it. Afterwards, age won’t be a limiting factor, though obviously, the older the patient, the less extension they’ll gain. Unfortunately, this is a genetic treatment, so you’ll need to science it up a bit if you want to adapt it to people who aren’t at least mostly homo sapiens, genetically speaking.” She was studying her fingernails as if to show disdain for the concept of ‘humanity’ in general, but I knew she was beginning to come around to having a physical body and she certainly enjoyed abusing it.

“Hmm… I haven’t done that much in that regard… some anti-gerone research, but Yuzuha has made that a secondary concern… but I can take a look at the notes and see what I can find. Might be a nice way to make a few trillion dollars in a normal setting. Especially if I can stockpile the doses in stasis,” I commented, sending off a note to the construction crews to begin a massive expansion to the medical wing’s drug storage lockers. If I couldn’t produce at least 200,000,000,000 doses over my time in the HonorVerse, I’d be shocked. That would be enough to treat nearly thirty Second Millennial Earths, every man, woman, and protohuman. I also made a note to begin planning production of Beowulfan Uterine Replicators… I was thinking perhaps half a million of them would be a decent stock. And then, because I was thinking of it, I commissioned a Theme Park feasibility study… and a blackbox hyper-advanced Video Game Console… “What did you say?” I asked Chamber.

“I didn’t. I threw a bonbon at your head. You were lost in thought,” she snapped, frowning, then asked, “Can we continue? I have been sober far too long.” I rolled my eyes, but nodded for her to continue. “Right. Next is a general perk called Anti-Chaos Theory. It’s free while you’re here, but if you want to keep it, it’ll cost you three hundred CP.”

“Yeah? Well… you forgot to tell me what it does.”

“It keeps you from butterflying away plot points. Essentially, as long as you’re not deliberately trying to derail a given plot point, or haven’t caused such utter chaos that the plot point happening would induce an outright plot hole, the overall storyline will remain reasonable intact. It’s togglable, but once off, things may rapidly spiral out of control to the point where turning it back on won’t help much.”

“Ah… well. Hmm… that sounds like an excellent investment. Too many times I’ve had to be extra careful to keep butterflies to a minimum and I’m astounded in retrospect that some of those panned out… So yes. I’ll take it. That’s 2300 left,” I said, then thought about it for a second. “There’s no point in companions taking this, as it procs off my having it, right?”

“Yes. as long as you have it active, your companions are covered in the blanket protection. It specifically calls out that you have to be deliberately intending… so unless your companions are really trashing the place, you should be protected against their actions.”

“Great… Great… Now, I assume Navy and Manty both freebies? A perk for Manty and a perk and item for Navy I think you said?”

“That’s correct. No item lines for the national allegiance. For Manty, the free perk is called ‘The Saganami Tradition’, which reflects the fact that the RMN has arguably the best training in the galaxy and you’ll have been through that training program eventually… assuming you don’t get yourself killed first.” I stuck my tongue out at her. “You may pick one military speciality or profession involving violence and or war, and become an expert at it. While this won’t make you the best in the Star Kingdom at it… at least not by itself… you’ll be top ten at the very least. It also comes with a boost to your moral courage. Unless you allow it, you will never let fear, pain, or even certain death stop you from doing what you believe to be the right thing.”

“Oh… thats, hmm… I mean, don’t get me wrong, that’s very nice… even if I was unlikely to let any of those things get in the way anyway,” I chewed my bottom lip, considering. “No, the real issue is picking only one… Ah. Asymmetric Warfare. You know, siege warfare, commerce raiding, resistance groups, anything with an adverse correlation of forces.”

“Yes,” she said dryly. “I have sponsored enough knights to know the concept. Not particularly honorable, but war seldom is. Next, the Navy Perk is called ‘Commanding Presence. It, rather obviously, gives you an intensity of charisma, a presence that allows you to take control of most situations, guiding and directing even the most panicky or recalcitrant of individuals into doing as you direct. Be aware that this isn’t mind control, simply knowing how to speak, how to act, decisive and authoritative.” I opened my mouth to comment, but she help up a hand preemptively, “Aht! Add in the ‘White Beret’ item, the traditional RMN headwear of a ship’s commander and you’ll be taken much more seriously with it on, the sigh of you in it serving as a massive morale booster to any forces under your command… of course, it needn’t be just the White Beret. You can combine it with any hat you already own and in each future jump, it will transform itself into the headgear of any military you find yourself part of.”

“Well, I do love a good hat,” I said, smiling, then sighed. I missed Ziggy… sometimes, I’d put him on my head for no reason and claim he was a hat. I could do that with Alegra, of course, but she didn’t curly up as well as Ziggy did, making a better shoulder wrap than a hat. “Regardless… tell me about the Navy Perks, if you would?”

“Certainly. At 150 each, we have ‘Legendary Intuition’ and ‘Foraker-Hemphill’. The first gives you the almost supernatural intuition for when something is not right… and a sense of how you can take advantage of it. The kind of intuition the best commanders have, the kind that allows you to plan entire maneuvers in your head and rarely, if ever, leave an important factor unaccounted for. When it comes to leading ships and fleets, it’ll make you one of the best,” she said, looking to see if I was impressed. I wasn’t, but it was a good perk for the price. I kept quiet, waiting for her to explain the other.

“As you no doubt know, Shannon Foraker and Sonya Hemphill are among the most innovative people involved in the Havenite Wars. This makes you an innovator on their level, able to design and build technology literally decades ahead of the competition… or build at the normal levels but with a tiny resource base… or built so quickly that it staggers belief. Each faction has a tech perk which boosts this and defines your specialization, but at even if you don’t take one or more of them, you’ll gain the vast knowledge and in-depth understanding of this Universe’s tech.”

“Each faction has one? Really?” I scratched my chin, thinking about that. There were five factions in this document; Manticore, Haven, Solarian, Grayson, and Mesan. “Manti’s are Weapons and Communications? Grayson Propulsion? Or is that Mesan? Can’t think of what it would be for Haven and the Solarians.”

She looked smug, as she wagged a finger at me. “Ah! No! Bad guesses! I guess you need Accurate Assessments!” She teased. I didn’t rise to the bait, however, and she humphed, then ticked them off on her fingers. “Most of these is the 400 point perk for that faction… Manty’s get ‘Jeune Ecole, which is a genius among geniuses for new and improved tech, especially, yes Weapons and Communications, but across the spectrum as well. It doesn’t help you when it comes to making whole ships or shipyards, it does make you all but unmatched in your field. You’d be able to take a normal design and come up with a hundred new and feasible ideas for it… though getting them produced may be expensive and time consuming. Haven gets ‘Bolthole Protocol’ which is specialized in reverse engineering with a thousandth the time and effort it would take anyone else. The Solies get ‘Rapid Engineering’ which covers mass production, shipyards, and support systems, churning out an entire fleet in the time it would take others to make a prototype… though it probably won’t be the best quality.”

I grunted in amusement at that, but she didn’t slow down.

“Grayson’s ‘Never Goes Out of Style’ is a talent for finding new uses for old tech, for making systems that are extremely adaptable and robust… especially environmental systems. And then there’s Mesa’s ‘Behind the Shadows’, which is only 200 CP. It’s stealth technology and building things in secret.”

“Mmm… right… well, I guess I’ll pick up Legendary Intuition… that seems like it will be extremely helpful in and out of this universe, sensing ambushes or opportunities like that… and sure, the two discounted tech perks, Foraker-Hemphill and Jeune Ecole. Might as well, though I don’t know how much they’ll help what I’ve already got… but better to have and not need than want and not have… that’s another 500… so… back down to 1800… Now, explain about Accurate Assessments,” I commanded.

“Don’t you want to finish with Navy and Manty?” She asked.

“No. Explain.”

“It’s the capstone of the Drop-in Line, so it would be 600 for you. It’s an incredible ability to review and study data utterly without any kind of bias-”

“SOLD!” I yelped, leaning across the desk and startling Judge and Allegra who were playing Sorry.

“Don’t you want to hear the rest,” Jumpchan complained.

“Sure, sure… but it’s not going to change my mind. The ability to set aside my own bias is something I’ve struggled with for ages. I’d probably have bought it if that was the only thing it did… but I’m certain it does more. Doesn’t it?”

She nodded, then continued a little more subdued as I marked down my available points to 1200 and gave out scritches to apologize for startling the fox. Judge should have been paying more attention. “You’ll find you can extract unbelievably, incomparably exact analyses and assessments. Comes with the skills of a top-grade intelligence officer and analyst, one capable of divining plans and intentions from all but the sparsest actionable intel… as long as you have some.”

I sighed and shook my head, “Well, the bias removal isn’t the only thing in that that’s worth it, but close. Still, we shall have to see how much this is able to boost my predictive abilities… of course, in this jump, I won’t have an IQ measurable in YottaFLOPS, so I’ll probably need it.”

“Yottawhat?” Chamber asked.

“Floating Point Operations Per Second, FLOPs. It’s a measure of computational capacity and speed. Yotta means one Septillion in the short scale, or ten to the twenty-fourth power in base ten… regardless, it’s a lot of mathing around. By my calculations, the human brain performs at roughly an Exaflop, give or take. An exaflop is one one-millionth of a yottaflop. My planetary brain runs at about 20x the capacity of a human brain per unit volume… in other words, for every 1500 cm of volume, on average, I run 20 exaflops.”

“Is that a lot? I’m not sure.”

“Chamber… my planetary brain is the size of Neptune. I contain 40 yottabrains, each running 20 exaflops. That’s 800 Quintillion Yottaflops or the calculating power of 800 Septillion average humans.”

“Oh… that would be many… But back to the perk trees… umm… where was I… oh, right… Navy… Flying High is the capstone. It means you’ll be first in line to be promoted-”

“Pass.”

“Pass? But… I don’t understand.”

I rubbed my eyes, then sighed. “Look. I’m perfectly willing to bend all kinds of things in my favor. I’ll reshape entire societies because I can, and I’ll abuse the heck out of improved charisma and intelligence… but that’s cheating.”

“Che… this is all cheating. Normal people don’t get to choose what they’re good at and they certainly don’t get to keep stockpiling abilities lifetime after lifetime.” She harumphed.

“Yes. That’s true. But if I get a promotion, I want it to be because I fucking earned it. I want to have done the thing and made the mistakes and come out on top. No thank you.”

“But-”

“Next.”

“Fiiine… um… Manticoran… Getting Along is the next one… it’s about integrating different ideologies into your organizations without… never mind, you do that fine on your own…” I nodded to signal my acceptance of her moving on, “The Capstone is The Harrington Effect. It’s a luck slash plot armor effect that guarantees that, all things being equal, you’ll pull out the win… though it may cost you and this won’t protect you from trials and tribulations along the way. Even if the odds are really stacked against you, this gives you a non-zero chance at victory. Be warned though, abuse this or be incompetent and it will abandon you. You have to try. Heroes always Try.”

“I think I can manage that.”

“On the survival side, however, you have the kind of death insurance that only the MC of a long-running and extremely popular series has. Unless you’re actively trying to get yourself killed, you won’t be. Maimed, imprisoned, tortured, slandered, shamed, discredited, discharged, or beaten on… and this won’t protect your companions, allies, or friends, but unless you commit suicide… either intentionally or via epic stupidity… you’ll probably survive… unless you’re rendered helpless and then your enemies deliberately confirm the kill ‘on-camera’ as it were.” She grinned at the meta humor, then said, “Yes, this means that no matter how many flagships explode out from under you, you’ll probably still escape in time to show up for the next thrilling installment.”

“You have been watching too much TV,” I told her, then added the plot armor to my build…. I was down to 900. “Any interesting items?”

“A Cartel in third place after Hauptman and Dempsey? That’s 400. The North Hollow Files for 200? The Audubon Ballroom for 400? A document that serves as valid authorization for you to enter any military or law enforcement building. By reading it out, you may take temporary command of any military operation or facility… at least until they check with base… but they’ll only do that if you do something incredibly suspicious.”

“Mm… okay… yeah. The Cartel and the Ballroom are interesting, but a little pricey… can companions buy them?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Then I’ll pick up the orders… now… I’m looking for… hmm… charisma boosts, things that will help me recruit and maintain a cadre. I know I have this stuff already, but I’m not certain how nerfed it’s going to be… and little boosts do add up.”

“You’re looking at… huh… would you look at that. You’ve got 800 CP left and you’re looking at two perks that cost a combined 800… Rabble Rousing, it’s from the Havenite line and is all about manipulating people with your words, knowing what to say to get your words into their heads and provoking whatever response you want. Also gives you all the tricks to get your message out to the masses. That’s 200, and for 600 from the Grayson Line is ‘Grayson Loyalty’ which flat out means you inspire incredibly lasting loyalty, be it through grand gestures or simple interpersonal relationships or just being a likable person. People will hold to you through thick and thin, as long as you make the effort to maintain that loyalty. You’ll gain a sense for what will cause someone’s loyalty to you to fray and how to counter it… or to subvert someone else’s loyalty to their old ingroup and shift it to yours.”

“Yes. That was the type of thing I was talking about… hmmm hold on. I have my floating discount and 100 CP from the ship limitation… the Shipping Ban… that’s for items… what items cost 200 CP?”

“Oh. Don’t worry. We spent that for you. We bought you a shipyard. It’s the Navy Item Capstone…” she looked to where I was restraining my annoyance. “Oh, don’t give me that look. We know you. It’s a fully fledged orbital shipyard capable of making any and all ships you have the knowhow to make. It’s as automated as it can be and has a… let’s call them NPCs… essentially a bunch of locals who’ll be loyal to you… they’re expert technicians who are not and may never become companions. Anyway, the Shipyard will create the resources to build ships or space stations ex nihilo, out of nothing at all… generating enough to build a Manti Superdreadnought every three months… and that’s before you supply more resources of your own. It’ll update automatically, creating new docks as you find or make new schematics, along with generating any specialized materials you might need besides super-rare materials… those it does generate, but much slower… so if you want a second Death… er… Disco Moon, you’ll need to wait for it to generate more Kyber Crystals for the main gun.  If the ship absolutely requires sapient beings to create, the station will generate NPCs with whatever qualities you need.”

“So… you’re telling me that this Shipyard can make, say, Dahak? Or a Shadow Battlecrab along with a telepath to be its operator?”

“Dahak… Dahak… oh. Yes, the Lunar-sized fleet carrier from that series you’re inordinately fond of. Yes. It could make an Uttu or Asgerd if you knew how to make… are those schematics for an Asgerd?”

I grinned. “I have a brain the size of a small gas-giant and access to Magi, Juriyian, and Alpha Centauri Clarketech. No. That is not an Asgerd. That… is a Haddad Class Superplanetoid… Using all my best tech. Now, granted, it’s no Asgerd… it’s faster for one thing. And it’s using retro-engineered Shadow and Vorlon tech, with Magi transgal drives, Necrontyr anti-inertials, Alpha Centauri Chronatonic shielding, and Asgardian transmatter beaming technology. The weapons include Chaostatic projectors, psychic disruptors, antiproton beams, phase-state collapsar missiles with neutronium shells, and the point defense systems are Deathstar cannons…”

“And you have this ready to go, why?”

“Every mad scientist should have at least a dozen plans for doomsday weapons,” I replied, buffing my fingernails on my blouse.

“Am I to understand you have eleven more… plans like this?” she asked archly.

“Are you calling me mad?” I asked, grinning maniacally.

“Yes.”

“Then of course I do!” I giggled, then flopped down. “Send all the companion imports to my desk.”

That got a look from Chamber, a look that was part surprise and part worry. “What are you up to… you never tell your companions what to buy unless you’re annoyed at them or importing them against their wishes.”

“I’ve figured out a way around your lockout of all details I wouldn’t know about the HonorVerse… and I’m pretty certain you can’t argue that this is cheesing the challenge,” I said, looking a little grim as I regarded the 8 blank slates in front of me. One by one, I started assigning origins and perks to each of my chosen eight, and then I went further, penciling in background details for their nascent personas and their families and social circles, planets… I was shaping specific individuals for specific tasks.

Chamber walked around behind me to look over my shoulder. “What are you… oh… I see…” she commented. She’d seen it too.

See, nothing in the challenge changed my people’s fundamental loyalty to me. If I couldn’t get information from out of context sources like the original books, I had to get that information from in-setting sources… and if those sources were loyal to me rather than the Star Nation they served? Well, it had worked for Mesa, hadn’t it? Deep cover agents conditioned from before birth? Yes please.

As a group, I called my chosen eight into my office and explained why I had done what I’d done. “You won’t remember the details, and I can’t give specific instructions, but here are your orders. You are to serve your organization faithfully and try to rise to the highest position you can as effectively as you feel is reasonable. The build system is limited, but gives me some control over your lives until the age of 12, at which point your full memories and what abilities you’re allowed to bring in will be nearly fully manifested. It is also then that all safeties will be fully removed. You’ll be relatively safe from random nonsense until then, but not outright stupidity, so try not to indulge.” I favored them with a smile and a wink, then continued.

“That said, remember that ultimately, you’re not one of them, you’re one of us, one of mine. I expect updates as often as you personally feel is safe, via the Warehouse Communications network.” I looked each of them in the eyes until I’d gotten a nod of understanding. “Good, Now, I’ll explain in detail so each of you understands as best as whatever mindscrub will allow. Maggy, you’re up first.”

My eldest stepped forward, snapping to attention. “Yes Sir, Papa Sir!”

“Oh, hush… You’re a Peep Drop-in, child of escaped genetic slaves and child of the streets. It’s going to be fucking hard as nails and you’re going to need to make allies and ones you can trust. I’ve given you Accurate Assessments and Rabble Rousing, which should allow you to read people and anticipate trouble. I’ve also given you something called “Theisman Tough’ which will keep you from giving up, no matter what happens. You’ll also get skill in dueling and a dueler’s pistol… but I expect you’ll be using them more on the streets than on the field of honor. You also have the North Hollow Follows, or your version of it. It’ll give you the political dynamite you need to find high value targets and make a name for yourself. And you’ll have the Ballroom at your back. I can’t be certain you’ll remember the details, but remember this… The Legislaturalists are the enemy of the Havenite People. They must be brought down. Your task is to make certain you’re among those who do so… but try to keep the collateral damage down, if you can?”

She thought about that, then nodded. She knew I was pushing her to join what would, eventually, become the Committee of Public Safety… and hopefully as one of the Aprilists or a faction like them that was more focused on rabble rousing and targeted attacks rather than outright terrorism. If she could become part of the ruling body, it would be amazing, and I wasn’t aiming her at one of the top three slots (Rob Pierre, Oscar St-Just, and Cordelia Ransom)… nor even hoping she could become the fourth member of that clique of tyrants… but I was aiming for a high placed People’s Commissioner, someone who would become important in the restored republic. She stepped back into line, falling into what I would call ‘Parade Slouch’.

“Mini, my love. You’re up,” I called, indicating Maggy’s half-mother.

“Do I get to be something spoopy?” she asked, giving me puppydog eyes.

“No… because that’s a stupid term and it doesn’t mean anything,” I growled. Sometimes slang is the dumbest thing in the universe. “You’re a Manty Drop-In. I gave you A Glowing Mind, which will make you attractive to Treecats, and Dancing Skills, which will make you a fighter in spirit… well, I know you already are… but this will help make certain you’re an agent for freedom, for liberty and justice, without being a blind idealist. It’ll give you a bit of pragmatism that you’re going to need, since you’re the head of the Androdyne Cartel… or at least the heir apparent. And yes, I chose the name because Androdyne means Manpower. You also got Accurate Assessments, which you’ll need to help you help channel money and agents into fighting Manpower. Androdyne is now in the business of building custom ships for the Beowulf Biological Survey Corps. Think you can handle it?”

“You know it, babe.” She blew me a kiss, then grinned. “If I do a good job, can we have a wedding in this universe?”

I blinked, then blushed a little at the giggles from all three of my children. To deflect, I hrrmed, then said “That, my good woman, is entirely up to Velma, Franchesca, and you. Carwyn couldn’t care less about such things, right?” The elf shook her head, tossing her crimson hair. “Cirno doesn’t get a vote, and the Hibikis are gone. If they come back and get upset, we’ll cope with it then, but the joy of seeing them again will be worth the headache. But I’m certainly not in a position to say no after getting married to that idiot,” I hooked a thumb at Zane who grinned and howled. “So if you three can agree, fine. But until then, no weddings. And no, Zane, you don’t get a vote.”

“I never vote. Politicians are all liars and cheats,” he said, not meaning a word of it.

“Good for you. And since you volunteered, you’re up next, brother mine.”

He stepped forward, tilting his head, “Oh? Are we to be siblings again?”

“Indeed we are. Of a sort. You’re a Manty, Civilian… Diplomatic Corps hopeful. That’s your Professional Expertise, Diplomacy. And you’re an ordained priest, or will be. I bought you Religious which comes with a knowledge of practically all galactic religions and your understanding will match the greatest priests and scholars… plus, you’ll radiate an aura of calmness and authority, making you a dab hand at resolving spiritual issues and conflicts… In other words, you’re going to be a confessor and arbiter, and thanks to Getting Along, you’ll try and make certain people do just that. And you’ll have Credentials… thats proof you’re qualified to do anything you’re actually qualified to do… and a really nice power Suit… but I also bought you lands, your lordship… which unfortunately makes you the eldest… but that’s fine. Oh, and if playing fair isn’t your strong suit, you also have the Solarian Freebie, ‘A Gift for Graft’ to let you sniff out corruption and understand how to use it to achieve your goals. Find those willing to take bribes and use them… or get them out of your organization. I’ll have to trust you to know which is which.”

Zane considered, then shrugged. “I don’t get it. Maggy and Mini are infiltrating the Havenites and Beowulf and both are helping the Ballroom… what am I doing? Just… talking religion with people?”

“Zane, Zane… you’re just going to be yourself. You are going to be exactly what you see to be… an agent of her majesty’s government and a Rabbi who travels to distant lands and convinces people to get along. I imagine your list of contacts will be suitably massive in a few decades. Any information that crosses your desk? Much appreciated. I would prefer it if you were a Liberal or an Independant in the Lords, but will understand if you’re a Crown Loyalist or a Centrist.”

“Why… oh, right. You could tell me, but I’d forget. Right. Right. Never mind.” He nodded, then stepped back into line. I hadn’t told him about the undetectable to security needler I’d spent his last 50 CP, but he’d figure it out.

“CT… Got a hard one for you. Also civilian… but Mesan. Professional Expertise in Genetic Engineering. Expertise in Blackmail. And you’re going to be a very very big name in the Alignment. I’ve gotten you The Perfect Combination, which means you’ll be an upstanding pillar of the community, richer than most nations, more influential than several heads of state… wealth, power, respect… and the knowledge to use them to maximum effect. Your skills in politics and finance will grow to match Pierre and Hauptman respectively. And you know how to make everything work together, looking like a saint and smelling like roses the whole time. I also bought you Alpha Line, so you’re going to be pretty close to superhuman, and all your genes will have massive stability and the ability to manifest anything in your genomic past… Together, unless I very much miss my guess, you’re going to be very very close to the center of the Onion from birth. Go with it. You’re pragmatic enough to do so… so do it. I… we, need that information, and you’re going to give it to us. Oh, and you’ve got All for the Profit, which will make you good at convincing people to do terrible things for you, and Alignments and Factors, which will make you a true master of intrigue and conspiracies. If you’re not at Detwiler’s right hand by the time someone shoots him in the face, I’ll be astounded.”

“Taking one for the team, am I?”

“Not at all. I know you’ll enjoy the game… Taylor. You wanted to be a hero, wanted to join the bad guys to bring them down from within? Well, this time you can do so with a clear conscience.”

She pursed her lips, then nodded. “Okay… but only because you’re a devious, manipulative bitch.”

“That’s why you love me,” I said without a hint of a lie in my voice. Carwyn and I were a good match in many ways. We were both egotistical, smug, sarcastic, self-satisfied bitches. And more than a bit perverse at times. “Now, get back in line and let me talk to Frankie.”

Carwyn flopped into the chair next to Chamber and whispered something to her as the Romagnian witch hopped up onto my desk and licked my nose.

“Yes, you’re very cute,” I confirmed, “but you’ll have to set that aside a bit, my dear. I’ve set you upon the path of Peep Naval Officer… and people, I know you won’t remember this, but I want you to remember that the People’s Republic of Haven is not the enemy here. The Solarian League is not the enemy here. Mesa is an enemy, but our real enemy is corruption. Remember that. Corruption is the enemy. Human societies are undermined by it, twisted into unnatural shapes and sabotaged from within by it. The idea is to make a better future not just for whatever society we find ourselves part of, but a better future for as many as possible. That’s not limited to just a narrow view of humanity. Humanity is not just Homosapiens. It’s all beings capable of feeling and thinking. We should treat all of them with respect and strive to help build societies that encourage that respect.”

“Even if they’re yummy?” Frankie asked.

“You can respect the sow even as you eat the bacon, pet.” I ruffled her hair. “There’s a reason all Magi livestock are treated well, and that’s part of it. Pain and suffering makes us tougher, harder, meaner. We don’t want that in our food, and we don’t really want it in our friends. A little suffering is natural, vital even. Progress requires stimuli, but we don’t want it so hard that it makes us bitter… either as food or friends. Now please stop gnawing on me.” Frankie grinned and I flicked her nose.

“Right, Peep Navy. With Legendary Intuition and, for you I’m willing to cheat and I got you Flying High. I want you to be a major peep naval officer… And a good one. I’m aiming for a sector commander or maybe even one of Thomas Theisman’s inner circle… Also picked you up Teisman Tough because you’ll need it, and Getting Along because it’s best to be surrounded by people who like you and will protect you. And you get a private pennace that’s always parked nearby for emergency escapes.”

“Can I paint kitties on it?”

“Sure.”

“Yay!”

“Now get off my desk, it’s Alex’s turn.”

My son looked at me, then at the desk, “Do I have to climb up and give you kisses?” he asked, smirking.

“Only if you want to,” I responded, which made him blush furiously.

“Papa got Alex good,” Amaryllis stage whispered to Maggie who nodded, then gave me a thumbs up. Alex squirmed away from his mother who decided to ruffle his hair. The fact that her default form looked two years younger than his current default would have made the scene seem farcical, but farcical was part and parcel of my universe… often interspersed with the darkest of human tragedy.

Alex escaped his mother, dodged his half mother, then hopped up onto the corner of the desk, turning into his female form as he did, complete with cat ears. “Okay, okay, enough teasing. Whatcha got for me, pops.”

“Don’t call me pops… and You’re going into BuWeps. I’m setting you up to be a brilliant young turk in the Manty Navy. Commanding Presence, Legendary Intuition, Harrington Effect… those should get you noticed by command. Saganami Tradition specialized in engineering, especially high energy systems like weapons and shields, plus Jeune Ecole and Hemphill-Foraker… take risks but don’t cut corners. I want you squarely situated someplace you can do some good work… also, I think you’ll be a good fit there. I also got you a Shipyard to play with… that’s the second we’ll have access to.”

“Nifty… should I be male or female?”

“This is Manticore. It matters not an iota. Be what you like.”

“But I like booooth!” he complained, shifting back to teenage boy as he hopped off the desk, flashed me a salute, then flopped onto Chamber’s lap and said, “Hows yooos doin’?” A moment later he oofed as she shoved him onto the floor with a disgusted ‘hhmmmph!’

“Am I next?” Amaryllis asked. Gaius pushed her forward, giving me a look that asked ‘Why am I here?’

“Yes, Amy… you’re up. I’m afraid I have a somewhat boring job for you.”

“I don’t mind boring… can I take my speeps?”

“Some… a couple. I’m slotting you into the Solarian Navy, and giving you A Gift for Graft and Bewildering Bureaucracy, so you can navigate the byzantine corridors of the Solarian Navy. I also got you Rapid Engineering and Behind the Shadows, two tech profiles… but instead of giving you Foreaker-Hemphill, I’m giving you The Big Bluff… That’s so that people will overestimate you a lot. I’d love to make you super-competent at tech… but in the Solarian Navy, it’ll be better if everyone thinks you’re hot stuff. I want you to try to get into a major position, preferably in the Maya sector… sorry… in a largely self-sufficient but geographically remote part of the league… of your starting nation. Grr… hard to judge what will and won’t be edited from memory… anyway, do your best. You’ve got our third shipyard, just FYI.”

“I’m gonna make a Speep Drive! It’s like a Spider Drive, but fluffier.”

“I’m certain you will… Now, Gaius… You’ve drawn the short straw, I’m afraid. I need someone absolutely pragmatic… someone who I already know is willing to allow slavery on a huge scale to continue without batting an eye. Someone willing to sacrifice an entire city… and then do it again, and again, and again… to win the war.”

He sighed, then grunted. “I’m your man, then Septima… I’m going to be Mesan Navy, aren’t I? Mannerheim?”

I nodded. “I need to know where Mesan’s military forces are. And that’s you. Commanding Presence, Legendary Intuition, Flying High for the military side. All for the Profit, Alpha Line, Alignment and Factors for the political. If it gets hard, remember that this is all in service of bringing down someone a billion times worse than Kalare. Oh, and you’ll have an undetectable, untraceable needler in case anyone needs to be removed… be circumspect… be ruthless. I have faith in you.”

“Great. Wonderful thing to have faith in someone for.”

“Hey, it’s all about the right tool. And you… you’re a pretty decent tool.”

“Thaaanks.”

And with that, the meeting wrapped up. As they were leaving, Ahab, Emma, and Joy, currently looking like Deirdre Skye, came in.

“I take it you two and a half have managed to spend your paltry sums in an appropriate way? Ahab, I take it you doubled down on Grayson? Civilian or Drop-In?”

“I did, and Civilian. Expertise in Engineering, and I bought Lands, which I’m pretty certain makes me a Steadholder. Are all the Steadholders’ known?”

“What the crap is a Steadholder?” Emma blurted out. “Fuckface here won’t tell me shit.”

“Language!” Ahab snapped.

“Bite me, old man!” she snapped back.

“Children!” I barked, then looked at Ahab, “I know she’s a hassle, Venom… but it was a reasonable question… if asked in the rudest possible fashion.” I turned to Emma. “We are apparently stuck together. I don’t even know if I can get rid of you, which means you’re going to have to learn not to piss me off. Anyway, a Steadholder is one of the feudal lords of the Planet Grayson. There are 82 of them that make up the Keys as it is known informally or the Council of Steadholders as it is known formally. The hold corporate equality… that is, in a group, the Council of Steadholders are the equal of the Council of Steaders and of the Protector.” I held up a hand to forstal more questions. “I’ll tell you when I’m finished. Now shush. You asked for this.”

She shut her mouth, a pout marring that rather pretty face.

“Steaders are residents of a Steading, the domain of a Steadholder. There are 85 Steadings, three of them having been merged into the Protector’s Steading, the Protector’s personal dominion. The Protector is Grayson’s Monarch… effectively an emperor, as within their steadings the Steadholders are all but sovereign and each is considered a head of state. Grayson does have a constitution, though its powers have eroded by the start of the series. Regardless, the Mayhew Restoration, based on the Meiji Restoration of Japan, will shift that. The Mayhew clan, as you will know when you become Grayson, holds the Protectorship as well as being a Steadholder. The heir to the Protectorship being Steadholder Mayhew.” I turned back to Ahab, “And no, to answer your question, only 32 of the 82 are known if I’m remembering correctly. I only skimmed that section of the Companion, it was mostly a list.”

“Ah… hmm… any recommendation?”

“Well… several of them seem to have been named after famous athletes. Elway and Magruder and Canseco and Coleman… while others were seemingly named after historical figures… Denby and Garth… and one might have been named for a fictional police officer… but several are probably just named for fans of David Weber in what’s called a ‘Name Drop’ where an author names some minor character after a fan. Usually a fan who has been active in a forum the author frequents… my only recommendations are don’t be Steadholder Weber, Ringo, Flint, Baen, or Buckley… you’ll probably end up dying in some humorous and or ironic way.”

“How about Steadholder Kipling?” Joy suggested.

“Doesn’t have the right… je ne sais quoi,” I commented. “Maybe Steadholder Witkin, but the family name is Kipling?”

“Whaa?” Emma asked plantively as Ahab considered.

“Usually, a feudal domain is named for the original land holder,” I said. “But often that family line dies out and a cousin takes over. Say Steadholder Witkin had two children. The older, Thomas, is the heir. The younger, Clarissa, is not. She marries Roger Kipling. They have a son, Seymour Kipling. Years later, Thomas is now Steadholder Witkin, but his only son died in a boating accident. He makes Seymour his heir and when he passes away, Seymour Kipling is now Steadholder Witkin. The domain doesn’t change names just because the family running it changes names.  Often, it will be phrased ‘Lord Seymour Kipling, Steadholder Witkin’. In Manticore, it would be something like ‘Lord Franklin Meers, Earl Blue Creek or Earl of Blue Creek… or just Blue Creek, or Lord Meers, or Earl Meers.’ Understand?”

“That’s stupid. Nobility is stupid. That’s why the US doesn’t have it.”

“No. The US doesn’t have a hereditary aristocracy because the founders were somewhat delusional in believing that they could somehow avoid it. And because they did, they created a plutocracy where the concept of long term dynastic planning and noblesse oblige… the duty of nobles to give back to society, are entirely absent.” I turned to Joy, “But enough of that. What about you?”

“Since I’m likely to be your only asset in Silesian, I went all in on the Solarian whose parents are diplomats in Silesia. So Solarian Civilian for me there, Professional Expertise in politics, Bewildering Bureaucracy to deal with the snakes and liars, and Credentials to make certain I can prove I know how to get stuff done. Maybe I’ll be recruited into Frontier Fleet’s Marines? Who knows.”

“Who indeed. Okay folks. I think that’s a wrap. We’ve got three weeks before Insertion, so get some down time, meet up with everyone you want to meet up with… We’ll get through the next period, but it’s probably going to be a little lonely on the Team Jumper front, what with us scattered all over the galaxy.” My words were being broadcast across the Warehouse.

Chamber tapped me on the shoulder. “One thing you might want to deal with.”

I looked to her, “What’s that?”

“Well, since this is a massively spacefaring setting, Paradise will be placed somewhere in the setting, and all your Magi will be subject to your Baseline Import Rule. In fact, all your companions will as well. That’s just so they’re covered by the infoban.”

“What’s your poi… oh… gotcha. I need to have a word with some orks, don’t I?”

“That might be best, yes.”

=====ROIT DEN!=====

I looked round the terrible decor of the Greenskin side of Dustopia, the Dustrats’ Den of vehicular chaos. “Okay… you have to chain your name.”

“Woi?” Muffin da Destroya asked.

“Because… well. You’re going to be humans for the next… Muffin… you do know that name isn’t very scary… what made you pick it?”

“It were ei’ver dat or Cupcake da Ruina.”

I frowned. “Also not fearsome.”

“Buscuit da Wrecka?”

“Mmm… no.” I shook my head.

Muffin considered for a very long time, then said, “O’s about Steve? Steve’s da scariest name oi knows!”

“Fine. you can be Steve.” I agreed.

“Steve da Slaughta… er… Slaughtera?” the genderless ork stumbled over the proper mangling of Slaughterer.

Feeling a headache coming on, I suggest, “Slayer?”

‘He’ threw his arms in the air and bounced around like Rocky Balboa. “Yah! Slaya Steve! Ows dat?”

“Wonderful,” I said, penning in that his name was now ‘Steve Slaya’, technician fifth class.

“Yus! Oi’s da best at names, oi is!”

“Yes yes. Very good. Now go get Doc.”

Three minutes after ‘Steve’ left, there was a knock on the doorframe (the door was missing entirely, likely having been scavenged to make a side panel for a vehicle… or a roll slide so a mechanic could roll under a vehicle to fix it. I looked up to see the biggest of the orks.

“Boss?” He asked, had literally in hand and being squished into a sausage.

“Yes Bob?” I asked, curious as to what had brought the big but mostly harmless (except in actual combat) ork in to see me.

“FISTMASHA BOB!” he insisted.

“Yes yes. Fistmasha. How can I help you.”

“Oi eard as you was lettin Muffin change ‘is name an…”

Letting was it? “And?” I asked.

“An oi was wondrin’ could oi change moi name too?

“To what?”

“FISTMASHA TOM!”

“I don’t see why not… but let’s go with Thom Fistmasha, ai?”

“Oh.. ya, dat’s groovy, dat is.”

He left, happy, but 20 minutes passed with no Doc, so I ended up having to go look for him. “Doc?” I asked, finding him at the bar.

“Ain’t changin’ moi name.”

“Doc.”

“What da grot’s wrong wit me name?”

“Exactly zero humans in the history of humans has been named Doc Teeftaka.”

“Oi should smash hyer face in, ye bloody oik!”

“I’m literally powerful enough to take on a dozen Weirdboys and a pair of Meganobz at the same time. You have as much chance of smashing my face in as you do of flying around the room by flapping your arms.”

“Dat’s it, we’s throwin’ down, roit now!” One very short throw down later. “Roit… umm… Wot’s a good Ummy name den?”

“How about John Tolkien?”

“Dat sounds like a toff’s name.”

“Jimmy Token?”

“Dat’s betta… How’s about Jimmy da Toof?”

“Err… sure. You can be Doctor Jim Datoof,” I agreed, wondering what kind of doctorate he was qualified for.

“Ooright. But on’y cause yoose beat me. Next toim, I’ll beatcha and youse can be Jimmy.”

“Sure.”

——Later, in a hallway, trying to find Toof-snatcha’s room.—–

“Heya Krumpa.”

“Youse don’ like moi name? Dat makes me sad.”

“Naw… I mean, it’s a bit weird, but Krumpa McGirk actually works for some humans.”

“Aw… really? Dat’s great! Wanna fire me Cannon? Firin’ me cannon makes me ‘appy!”

“Maybe later,” I agreed, then smiled as I found the room at last. “Toof-Snatcha, you in here?”

“Oi?” The room was a vast junkyard, random machinery stacked atop more of the same, shelves full of it… and the music was thunderous and awful.

“I asked ARE YOU IN HERE?”

“Whu?”

“TOOF-SNATCHA! I’M TRYING TO TALK TO YOU!”

“Youse say sompin boss?”

“Never mind. Your name is now TS if anyone asks.”

“Asks whut?”

“Riiiight.”

—-Later—–

“Buzzsaw…”

“Fek off.”

“You have to change your name.”

“Fek off an die.”

“Humans are not named after power tools.”

“Fek off, die, an… an… did you know I a’ays wanted to be called Sally? Sally’s a purdie name, in’it?”

“Yes. Very purdie.”

“Goody. I gets to be Sally da Buzzkilla.”

“No.”

“No?”

“Sally Buzza or Sally Buzzilka maybe. That’s a decent name for a girl.”

“Oi don’t wanna be a gurl.”

“Well then, you can be Sally Buzilka the boy then.”

“Buzzsaw Sally?”

“If you want that to be your nickname, sure.”

“OOOO.” Orks… so easy to please.

=======INSERTION!========

C-76a/169-11/11 was four years old today. She knew she was because she remembered everything. Every moment of her life since she’d first become aware in the tank. She was four years old, though she looked six, even if she was unaware of that fact. She had no name, only a number, but somehow she was faintly aware that that wasn’t right. It wasn’t right for people to have numbers instead of names, but when she’d asked why she didn’t have a name, the looks of disgust and fear on the creche monitor’s face had told her she’d asked the wrong thing. She did that sometimes, but never more than once.

C-76a/169-11/11 was her number. It told her why she had been created by her current owners, who called themselves Manpower Incorporated, and much more besides. She was a genetic slave, a C-Line genetic slave at that. C-Lines were pleasure slaves. She didn’t quite know what that meant, but she felt that it wasn’t a good thing. 76 was her variant number… she didn’t know what the other variations were, but it worried her that that meant there had been 75 previous variants. (a) meant she was female. Female meant she had a slit between her legs, rather than the floppy thing the males had. That seemed to be the only difference, but she was smart enough to sense there was more to it. 169 was her batch number… that meant that there had been 168 previous batches of the female variant 75 of the C-Line… and she was the 11th of 11 to be decanted. Most of the others in the creche were of 3 or of 5… and there were often several of them… she was the only member of batch 169… which implied, even to her young mind one of two things. Either she was a somehow defective member of a very popular variation… or she was a very lucky member of a line that was both popular and prone to culling.

Either way, she knew she was being watched. Closely. And so she tried to act meek and servile, because that was what the Monitors wanted. She did not want to be culled. She didn’t know what, exactly it was, but those who were culled never came back and were never talked about. One of the males had asked a Monitor about it once and been smacked viciously. C-76a/169-11/11 had noticed the look of pure venom on his face, and mentally committed his number to a special place in her mind. K-86b/273-1/5. A personal servant line. She’d remember him.

She awoke before the lights came on in the Creche. She always did, needing far less sleep than the others, it seemed. Laying there in the dark, she counted the breaths of the others, dreading the coming of the lights. She’d seen the faces of those who came back from their 4th year day screening. They had not looked well. Many of them had looked very very not well, but everyone in the creche knew that you had to get over it, get through it… or you were culled. Two years would pass and the screenings would get worse and worse until you either adjusted and graduated, or they culled you. Either way, you’d leave the creche and never be seen again.

The lights flickered on and Monitor X-17 entered the Creche. X-17 was the worst of the Monitors. Most of the others were M series, Monitor Series… but X-17 was a Special Monitor, a Phenotype Technician, and she was quick to punish, quick to hurt… and she always oversaw the 4 year day screenings. C-76a/169-11/11 didn’t know how to tell how old Monitors were, but X-17… she didn’t know the woman’s full number, the Monitors only had three or four digits on the breasts of their uniforms and never showed anyone their tongues as far as she knew… looked old. She had streaks of grey in her hair and crinkles around her eyes and her mouth was always pursed in a sneer. Every word she spoke was poison.

“C-76a/169-11/11,” she snapped as she entered the Creche, standing right in front of the door. The door was a special kind of door, one that was really two doors, one where only one of the doors could open at a time, and the inner door couldn’t open from inside. There were other doors in the Creche, into the examination room, and the storage closet, and the office where the Monitors filled out reports. There were doors to the education room and the exercise room and the food room and the waste evacuation room. Those doors could all open from either side, and while they might be locked, usually they weren’t. The Creche was all the world to C-76a/169-11/11, except on the rare occasions she was taken from it for a screening.

She rose, brushed down the front of her singlet, then pulled it off and changed into a fresh one. She always smoothed it down before taking it off… she didn’t know why, but it was important to her. She folded it neatly, slid it into the hopper, taking just a few seconds too long, knowing it would anger X-17. But she wanted her angry. Angry was good. Angry was when people, Monitors and… she didn’t know what to call non-monitors… they were just people like her. The Monitors never used a word for them collectively… maybe they didn’t want… us… us was a good word. The Monitors didn’t want Us to think of Us as a group… a collective. C-76a/169-11/11 considered. Had she heard the word ‘Us’ before? She didn’t know… but it felt right. Us… and Them. The Monitors were Them… but so were the Doctors. The Doctors had names. The Doctors looked at the Monitors the way the Monitors looked at Us.

C-76a/169-11/11 wanted X-17 angry because when Monitors were angry, they made mistakes, just like Us. So she took her time pulling on the new singlet, sliding on the fresh pair of panties. She didn’t why know they were called Panties… they didn’t look like small pants. The Monitors wore Pants, the Us wore panties, though the panties the male Us wore were a little more roomy in the crotch than the panties the female Us wore. Then she pretended she couldn’t find one of her slippers. You had to wear slippers outside of the sleeping chamber. It was a rule… and so she’d kicked one of her slippers under the bed in the middle of the dark time when she’d gotten up to eliminate waste water. She was good at planning these things.

“C-76a/169-11/11, come here immediately!” snapped X-17, voice straining with the building anger. Good. Good.

C-76a/169-11/11 palmed the small sliver of metal she’d taken from the Doctor without him noticing a year ago. She’d kept it hidden in her mouth for an entire year, tucked inside her cheek except when she was being examined or brushing her teeth or eating. Then she hid it other places. The Doctor had had it on his neck cloth, and she’d taken it when he’d had his finger inside her leg slit, the slick squeaky rubbery feel of the latex glove against her skin making her want to kick him… so she had. She’d been punished viciously for that, but it had distracted him from her theft of his metal thing. She’d unfolded it, forcing it open farther than it wanted to go, and rubbed it against the white lines separating the blue tiles in the waste elimination room until the edge of the thinner part could cut rubber. The shiny yellow metal had left a stain on the white lines, and she’d had to be very careful about where the watching eye was, but there was an area where it didn’t quite reach if you nudged it out of the way with a thrown bouncy ball. Removing the stain had been tricky until she thought of licking it off, which tasted of chemicals, but had to be done.

Thankfully, the two times she’d been caught in the waste elimination room during the dark time, she’d pretended to have fallen asleep in there to justify why she’d been in there so long. After that, she’d taken care to only do two or three quick firm rubs and then lick the tile clean. After all, she had a year. Or rather, she had had a year. Now it was time. She knew the layout of the walk between here and the screening room. There were 31 vents on the walls. Three of them were near enough to tall things that she could get on top of and use to reach the vent… if she had help. Help was the hard part. She looked around. K-86b/273-1/5 was already dressed for the day and limbering up. He liked to do some tumbles before morning food time. Tumbling was his favorite thing in the world. He was almost 6 years old… she was hoping he was as worried about that day as she was about this.

C-76a/169-11/11 approached X-17 and the special door, and said, as happily as she could, in a voice she knew would annoy the Monitor even more than she already was, “I’m Heeere Monitor Eks Sixteeeeeen.”

The Monitor growled, grabbing the front of C-76a/169-11/11’s singlet and lifting her off the ground, pulling the child face to face with her. “How dare you keep me waiting you littl-” She choked, clutching her neck where the very very sharp edge of a gold tie pin had sliced through both left jugular veins, the left common carotid artery, the larynx and esophagus, and nicked the right common carotid artery. She gurgled as she began slumping, eyes wide, fingers unclenching from the little girl who was covered in her blood, in the blood that was spreading everywhere. The little girl… the little bitch… little whore who had killed her. She tried to scream as the little girl coldly cut out her left eye.

“What are you doing?” one of the others asked, confused and a little scared. They were going to get into trouble no doubt.

C-76a/169-11/11 ignored the asker and hissed, ‘K-86… I have a plan.” Within moments, she’d showed the others how to use the eye to shuffle as many of their number as wanted to go out into the hall as they could. She herself took the left eye, leaving the others with the right. Both should work. The space between the special doors was big enough for fifteen of the Us to squeeze into, and if the one with the eye stayed to operate the doors, they would be able to empty the Creche in under 75 seconds. She did not stick around to see how many of the other Us followed, pulling K-86b along with her, heading towards the place where the machine that dispensed the hot pungent and delicious smelling drink that the Monitors drank was.

One hundred and fifty-one seconds later, an alarm went up, but by that point, the two slaves were inside the ducts of what neither of them knew was the Kappa Center on Mesa, situated under the city of Darwin. It would take them another five weeks to figure out how to get to the surface and escape, and along the way they ended up killing sixteen adults. After that, it was a matter of finding a way to survive, and they did, sneaking through the underbelly of Mesan Seccy districts, stealing to eat and growing ever more cunning and resourceful. Manpower might have been as evil as corporations got, but they made top quality products.

Eleven weeks after escaping the Center, they located a Jessyk Combine depot and learned of a slave-ship heading towards someplace called ‘Silesia’. Neither of them knew where that was, but it had to be better than staying on Mesa, so they snuck aboard, bringing with them the few weapons and supplies they’d managed to gather. It was everything in the universe that they owned, except for the names they’d given each other. Jimmy and Sandy. They’d heard the names on the street as they’d lurked in hiding, waiting for what the people outside the Center called ‘Night’. They used names for each other, and so now Jimmy and Sandy not K-86b/273-1/5 and C-76a/169-11/11 boarded a transport off the world of their creation… and from the transport they snuck off into the service tubes and air ducts of the Jessyk Combine freighter ‘Rimward Serpent’… And then they waited.

Neither of them knew how to operate a ship, so they knew they’d have to wait until the ship got to where it was going. But they also had to do so without getting caught… and that was proving harder than they’d thought it would be. There was so much less room on the ship, big though it was, than in the city or even the Center. But they were clever and found ways to keep hidden. What was a bigger problem was that they’d had no way to know how long the trip would be, and their supplies were only enough for four days, even eating as little as possible… and that meant getting more. But how? They couldn’t take the food from the other slaves. That would be wrong… but the slavers? If they took food from one of them, surely it would be noticed?

As it turned out? No. They watched, amazed, on the ninth day of the voyage (and the fifth without more than the scraps of food they could get from the mess hall’s waste cycler that they’d partly disabled (it took an extra 20 minutes to start processing anything dumped into it, but the crew didn’t exactly waste food) as one of the ship’s maintenance men snuck some food out of the mess after hours and fed it to a small domestic feline he had hidden inside an out of the way storage locker. He spoke to it as if it were a person, even though the cat could not speak back, of course, and told it how they were going to jump ship when they reached someplace called Psyche (Jimmy thought that was funny but impossible considering how big the ship was, but Sandy was pretty certain the scruffy and somewhat smelly man meant he was going to run away from the ship, just like they’d run away from the Center. Jimmy wasn’t certain).

“Why would one of them want to run away?” he asked, dubious of the entire proposition.

“I don’t know… maybe they won’t let him keep his feline… he seems fond of it and like he’s keeping it a secret… maybe we can use that?”

“How?”

“If we convince him that we’ll help him get his feline off the ship if he helps us get food?”

“We could threaten that we’ll tell if he tells?”

“Yes… we know a secret and he’ll know a secret… but we both shouldn’t expose ourselves… I’ll do it, and if he looks like he’s going to bet-” Sandy began, but Jimmy shook his head.

“No. I’ll do it. I’m faster than you, and can keep away better. You’re stronger, and better with a knife… you protect me… if I need it. But remember, if this goes wrong, it’s your fault.”

Sandy bit her lip, knowing this was a risk, but nodded. They needed food… and information. If this man was going to run away from the ship, he’d have to know when they’d get there. She watched from her vent as Jimmy slipped into the room behind the man, holding a stunstick they’d gotten from one of the Center’s security people.

“Davis,” Jimmy said… that was the man’s name… it was on his uniform. Jimmy was half whispering and the man yelped, slamming the door on the locker and causing the feline to yelp in surprise. Sandy hoped the feline was uninjured.

Davis whirled around, putting his back to the locker, gasping, a panicked look in his dark eyes, then anger filled his features as he realized he was looking at a slave, a child (they’d learned that’s what small people like them were called) slave at that. “H… How… you… You shouldn’t be… I… I…” he stammered, looking around for his talkbox that would let him call the others. But Jimmy had moved it away from the cart that Davis had left it on. His brownish skin turned ruddy and he looked at the stunstick in Jimmy’s hand. “L… Look. I… I won’t tell anyone you got out if… if you go back to the hold now.”

“I didn’t escape from the hold,” Jimmy said. “I snuck on board back on Mesa. I heard you. You’re planning on running away from this ship when it gets to another place. With your animal. If you help me, I can help you get your animal off the ship without anyone finding out.”

Davis snorted. “You? You’re a kid! You… you can’t… I should report… but if I do…” he gulped. “They’ll hurt you. I… I mean. They’ll… if you really did sneak on board, they’ll kill you… toss you out into space. You… you should go… I… I can’t be caught talking to a… They’ll think I was helping you and they’ll space me too.”

“Then you have nothing to lose. I need food. And to know how much longer until we reach the place where you want to get off.”

“I caaan’t,” Davis whined.

“Then tell us… Me how to get into the food supplies. W… I’ll get enough to feed your feline too.”

“Fe… you mean… it’s called… she’s a cat. A pe…pet. Not like a s…s…sex thing… just… just you know… companionship? B…but it’s against the rules. I hate the rules… h… hate this stupid-” he kicked the cart, making it wobble. “I… it’s all insane… I… I didn’t sign up for this. I was just… I did some things wrong… In Visigoth… and… and the Gendarms… the cops… they… I had to run. I… I signed up for the first ship out… J… Jessyk… di… didn’t know about the slaves… b… but I needed the money… and… and for… for a while… I could l… look t… the other… other w… way… b… but so… some of the crew… th… they’re m… monsters… th… things they do…”

Jimmy just stared at the adult. “What are you babbling about?”

“I… I don’t… fi…fine… you… you h…help me… I… I’ll help you… bu… but if you ge…get caught… you… you gotta p…promise n…not to r…rat me… me out… an…and I promise n…not to rat you out. D… deal?” The man held out his hand and Sandy recognized the gesture as half of a handshake. They’d seen this back on Mesa. It was a way to make deals and promises which were like deals but nothing physical traded hands.

Jimmy eyed the much bigger man, then transferred the stunstick to his left hand and shook. Sandy didn’t know if Davis could read Jimmy’s body language, but she could. Jimmy was waiting for the slightest hint of betrayal to strike… but Davis shook Jimmy’s hand once, then dropped it like it was too hot to touch.

“W… what’s your n… name? D… do you have a name? S… some of the slaves use names when they think no… no one’s listening.”

“Jimmy.”

“H… Hi. I… I’m R… Rudy. Rudy Davis. I… It’s short for Ruddigore, b… but only my m… mom called me that.”

“Why do you talk weird?”

“I… it’s c… called a… s… st… st… st… stutter. P… people m… make f…fun of m…m…m…me all the t…time for it.”

And that was how they managed to survive. The trip was a long one, and Rudy never reported them. In fact, it quickly became apparent that Rudy was very much odd man out on the ship. He spoke only to his cabin-mate, who everyone on the ship loathed, and even Rudy, who was scared of his own shadow, disliked. Rudy let them pet his cat, and told them about his life before joining the crew of the ship, a life that apparently amounted to eating a lot of spicy food (they tried some of it and it nearly made their mouths die), drinking intoxicating beverages (they tried some of that too and it made their heads throb), and stealing or breaking things while intoxicated and then running away from the authorities… who seemed much more lenient than the ones on Mesa. Apparently, one night he’d gotten very very drunk and woken up in bed with a woman who was ‘married’ (neither of them knew that that meant and Rudy couldn’t explain it in a way that made any sense) to someone important and she’d claimed he’d ‘raped’ her (he said he hadn’t and they’d both been drunk and she’d invited him back to her place)… more concepts they really didn’t understand, though this time Rudy couldn’t even bring himself to speak any kind of explanation, just staring at them and turning progressively redder as they stared back.

Things were going well until Rudy’s idiot cabin-mate followed him one day and discovered the cat. Rudy was hauled off, but the cat was left in the locker until the ‘Captain’ could inspect it and the ship’s doctor could dissect it to make certain it wasn’t sick. Jimmy and Sandy knew that they were taking a terrible risk, but Buttons (that was the cat’s name) was their second friend (Rudy had explained the concept of friends, he was their first) and while they couldn’t help Rudy, they could help Buttons. So they liberated the cat before anyone could come back for her, stashing her in one of their boltholes… make certain she could breath okay… that was very important for cats as well as children… and then made it look like the locker had been improperly latched when they’d hauled away Rudy.

They wanted badly to spy on the Captain’s meeting with Rudy, but they didn’t know where it was, and they didn’t want to risk being anywhere near the cabin where they’d always met up with Rudy in case he turned out to be a promise-breaking not-friend. So they hid, going back to scavenging what food they could and hoping Rudy was okay and hadn’t given them away. According to his time table, the ship would reach its first port of call in someplace called either Echo, Psyche, Saginaw, or Silesia… they weren’t really certain which even though Rudy had tried to explain it was all four… in just nine days. If they could hold out that long, they could try and escape the ship. In the meantime, they searched the vessel as best they could for Rudy.

Eight days later, they hadn’t found him, though they had found the cabin he’d been originally assigned to (the smell of Rudy’s special food was unmistakable, plus they recognized the cabin-mate). They’d considered killing him, or being really mean to him, hurting him until he told them where to find Rudy… but they didn’t know if they could restrain him and keep him quiet and hurt him that badly all at the same time… and if they killed him, the rest of the crew might get suspicious. Instead, they decided to try and follow him on the off chance he led them to Rudy.

They were doing just that… when the ship lurched. Rudy had told them to expect this. It was called ‘Coming out of Hyper’ whatever that meant and it wasn’t going to be fun. Mean Cabin-mate man, who’s name was apparently Smeghead even though his uniform said ‘Harold’ and everyone called him ‘Emeer’ in a tone of voice that said they didn’t like him at all, stumbled into a wall and Jimmy nearly laughed, but Sandy covered his mouth for him. He nodded to her and they continued crawling through the ductwork.

Another lurch, and another… Rudy had said they were travelling in something called the Gamma Band and there would be four lurches. Gamma to Delta, Delta to Beta, Beta to Alpha, and Alpha to ‘Real Space’ (how anything that existed could be not-Real Rudy couldn’t explain)… but shortly after the fourth, there was a fifth. And then the alarms sounded.

A voice came over the Smeghead’s talkbox, what Rudy called a ‘communicator’ or ‘communit’, and said, “This is the Captain, we’re about to be boarded by the fucking Manties and the damned bay doors aren’t responding. Anyone near the bloody bays, get down there and see if the manual override is working or we’re all-” there was a burst of static and the ship lurched again.

“They’re going to space the others,” Sandy whispered.

Jimmy considered, then nodded. “Yes… we should try and stop them?”

“I…” Sandy swallowed hard. It was terrifying, the idea of revealing themselves, and to do anything, they’d have to run down to the bays through the corridors. They weren’t far, but crawling would take too long.

In fact, they were close enough that Smeghead was already pounding that way as fast as the lurching allowed. Within seconds, the two children were out of the vent and following him, Jimmy with a kitchen knife in one hand and his stunstick in the other, Sandy with a box opener and a small pistol that only had four shots left that they’d liberated from of one the security guards at the Jessyk depot back on Mesa when they ambushed him in the bathroom (they’d learned that term as well, even though there was no bath in there… adults were clearly crazy).

The duo arrived at the slave bay just in time to see Smeghead wrenching open a panel that said “MANUAL CARGO OVERRIDE: Use Only In Emergency” on it. He was reaching for the lever inside when Sandy’s first shot spanged off the wall above his head. She corrected milimetrically, exhaled, and shot again before he could even finish turning to look at her.

The hypersonic needle entered his open mouth and the back of his head exploded. She could see the bulkhead through his head for a moment, and then he collapsed, spasming violently.

——–

“Major,” came the voice over the armored figure’s suit comm, “we’re at the bay… you should come down here.”

Captain Mary Smythe, Royal Manticoran Marines, looked around the bridge of the slaver’s freighter. The command crew had all gone down fighting, knowing that they’d be hung or spaced for running slaves, and it had been a futile gesture since none of them had had heavy weapons and she and her squad were all in power armor. She sighed at the mess, then sent back, “Be right there.”

What she saw when she arrived would haunt her for the rest of her life. Two children, neither of them older than seven, were surrounded by the bodies of almost a dozen adults, members of the crew by the look of them. The children were covered in blood, some of it their own, and one of them looked badly wounded. The other was standing over their fallen comrade, holding off a squad of Manticoran Marines with what looked like a police issue taser and a boxcutter. The child looked feral.

“Sargent, let me handle this,” the Captain said.

“Yes Major,” the NCO replied, granting his superior the rank upgrade since there was only ever one Captain on a Queen’s ship and even if they weren’t aboard HMS Fearless at the moment, and even though as a Light Cruiser, Fearless’s Captain was merely a Commander, that Captain (one Raoul Courvosier) was still ‘The Captain’ and Captain Smythe was ‘The Major’.

Mary pulled off her helmet and dropped as lightly to one knee as her armor allowed, looking the child in the eyes. “My name is Mary… I’m from Manticore and I’m here to help. Can my friends help your friend? We promise not to hurt you, or your friend.”

The child shivered, that blood coating him or her must be chilly, thought the marine. He or she seemed to be studying her face, as if looking for a sign to trust her. “M… My name is Sandy,” she said at last. “And this is Jimmy… He got hit in the head but I killed the man who hit him… Are you really from Manticore… our friend Rudy said Manties… he said that was short for Manticore people… he said you didn’t like slavers and slavers were scared of you… also Beowulf people and Haven people and… Mandermani people?” She wobbled a bit. “We were looking for Rudy but the ship started booming and then we had to save the others… they were going to space them…”

The girl slumped, dropping the taser and almost shocking herself, but Mary managed to catch the taser in her armored hand and crush it before it could hurt the child. She realized the girl, this close she could see how ragged the child’s clothing was… it was like she’d been wearing the same garment for half a year… that the child had dozens of bruises on her body and likely several broken ribs. The boy was bleeding from a scalp wound, but he was breathing.

“We’ll get you to our ship and have a…” she paused, some slaves, especially the younger ones didn’t not respond well to the word ‘doctor’, “someone take a look at you and make sure you’re okay. Okay?”

The girl shook her head, “N… no… gotta… gotta find Rudy… and… and get Buttons. C… can’t leave without Rudy and Buttons.”

Mary opened her mouth to tell the child they’d look for them… but knew it would be a lie… and somehow knew the child would know it too. Those eyes had been old eyes, despite their youth. “If you’re up for it… what do Rudy and Buttons look like?”

Rudy, as it turned out, was in the ship’s brig, having been rather badly beaten… Buttons… was a cat… a cat that had had kittens very recently. Rudy and Jimmy would spend the next two weeks in Fearless’s medical bay. Sandy, once she was cleaned up… wouldn’t.

Instead, she followed Mary everywhere… even when told that she wasn’t allowed to. The only other option was to lock her in her cabin and the one time that they’d tried that, the child had nearly broken her own hands pounding on the hatch. Once released, she’d been perfectly calm, but had refused to so much as enter a cabin unless Mary entered it first. The only time the girl would leave Mary’s side was when she was examining the tiny kittens clumped around Buttons in the medbay… they’d had no other place to put them.

On the third day, Sandy turned to look up at Mary and asked, “Where did they come from?” When Mary had tried to explain about pregnancy and childbirth, the little girl had freaked out and started screaming that Mary was a liar and babies came out of tubes filled with bad smelling liquid. She’d then run off and it had taken the entire crew that could be spared almost 18 hours to find one small child hiding in one small starship.

After that, Mary had steadfastly refused to allow the girl out of her sight until it was time to load the now freed and checked over slaves onto a transport bound for the Star Kingdom and from there to Beowulf, which was more than willing to take in escaped or liberated slaves and had the experts to make certain they got whatever help they needed. Rudy, having been granted his (Probationary) freedom for assisting the pair, was going with them, having turned Crown Witness against the rest of his crew. He took with him Buttons and her litter in a small tool chest that had been converted into a pet carrier. Mary saw off the kids, telling them that they’d be placed with foster parents once they arrived in Beowulf.

Jimmy looked less than thrilled at the idea. Sandy looked resigned. Mary assumed she’d never see them again. She was right on seven counts and she was wrong on two. Of Jimmy, Rudy, Buttons, and four of the kittens, she was right on the money. Of Sandy and the kitten named ‘Raoul’… well….

===Three Months Later===

“What do you mean she vanished from the staging facility?!” Captain Smythe practically screamed at her comms screen. She’d been back from deployment for 26 hours and, after catching up with her husband Hope Smythe (really Hope-and-Charity Smythe… his parents were weird, but it was adorkable) and their son, the nine T-Year old Loyalty-Unto-Death… Loyal to his friends, she’d decided to check up on the status of the little girl and her friends… only to discover that somehow a 5 year old (who looked 7) had managed to escape from not only a secure facility aboard a secure military installation… but had apparently also managed to either hide out in said station for over a month… or had managed to escape HMSS Weyland entirely.

“We can’t explain it, Captain,” the Marine Lieutenant on the other end of the channel said. “She and one of the cats… normal house cats you understand, not the Treecat variety… they just vanished. Here one day, gone the next.”

“Mooom!” called Loyal from the other end of the house. It was a big house, made possible because land on Gryphon was relatively cheap and Hope’s stipend from the rabbinical seminary where he worked was quite reasonable.

“Hold on, Lieutenant Langtry, I’m being summoned,” she said, turning from the screen. “Dear, I’m on the comm.” she had to resist calling herself Ema (Hebrew for Mother) as she usually would have, then kicked herself for not muting the screen. “Is it a dire emergency?”

“I dunno,” the boy yelled back. “But there’s a strange kid lurking around outside and she’s got a cat on her head.”

With a sinking feeling in her chest, she turned back to the screen. “I don’t know how it’s possible, Anthony… but I think it’s probable I’ve found our run-away. I’ll get back to you on that. And either way, I think a security review might be in order. But if it’s any consolation, this girl apparently staged a breakout from a secure genetics lab on Mesa, snuck aboard a Jessyk Combine freighter, then helped kill a dozen slavers to keep them from dumping the cargo.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a little marine in the making there, Mary. If you don’t want her, I’m sure the corps will be more than happy to have her,” he said with a smirk, then signed off.

Twenty minutes later, Sandy and Loyal were staring across the kitchen table at each other as the kitten tried to figure out what to make of the duck-shaped salt and pepper shakers.

Mary sighed, “If I asked how you got here, would you even bother giving me an answer?” The girl considered that, then shook her head. “What am I supposed to do with you?” She shrugged. “If I take you back, are you going to run-away again?” that got her a nod. “If we let you stay here with us… assuming I can arrange it, will you agree to stay? And not run off?”

“Do you have food? For Raoul.”

“No, but we can buy some. When was the last time you ate?”

“Two days, eleven hours, fifty three minutes,” the girl answered without having to think about it.

Loyal blinked, then looked up at his mother. “She’s mental… can we keep her?”

“That is something your father and I are going to have to discuss… and then we’ll have to take it up with my CO and probably a lawyer.”

“Ewww… Lawyers are creepy,” Loyal said.

“They have their uses,” Mary replied, going to the fridge and pulling out some leftovers from the welcome back dinner. Setting the slab of cake and a bowl of near-tuna noodle casserole in front of the child she asked, “What do you think of the name Solace-and-Justice?”

“Sounds too long,” was the response. “But Solace is nice… what does it mean?”

“It means comfort, especially in a time of great sadness,” Loyal said, eager to show off his vocabulary to this strange little girl who’d followed his mother home from beyond the stars.

The girl looked up at Mary and asked, “What is sadness?”

“Have you ever felt a pain in your chest and tears come to your eyes and you can’t stop it?”

The girl considered, then nodded. “Yes. When you left.”

The coolness with which the girl responded, the simple matter of fact way she said it, nearly broke Mary Smythe, Captain, RMMC.

Next: Honor Harrington – Part 2

OMAKE: Relationship Chart (Updated, because you are awesome people… the old chart is still there for anyone who wants to go back a few 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.

Resources: BuildHonor Harrington Document, HonorVerse Document, Frozen Document

OMAKE: Frozen Build (Atura Primary)

Singing [Free for All]: Everyone has it in them here, even if they don’t seem the type. You can sing with the best of them, both in terms of keeping your singing high quality even as you jump around or dance and in terms of coming up with songs on the spot. Why, you could run through a completely on the spot duet with someone and make it a total hit. Give it a bit of time, or some emotional weight, and you could start a whole trend with your singing.

Element Queen – Metal [500/800/1300]: There is an incredible magical power within you. The power to command the element of metal on a grand scale is just waiting to burst out and be used by you. You can create and control metal on an incredible scale. As an example, an ice controller could freeze an entire nation over in seemingly endless winter, create a flexible and intricate dress from ice or create an entire ice palace in just moments.

Nonhuman [Free] Sjora: You’re definitely not human. The fur proves that at least. You’re an animal or even some kind of magical beast, though not one with any real powers or unnatural biology. You can freely choose what kind of animal you are and retain your intelligence, though it must be a normal animal. You can be a bird, reindeer or even an elephant, strange as it may be to see one in these northern parts. Thankfully, the people around here get on fairly well with animals, so there won’t be much fear of hunters.

Jump 84b - Frozen (Atura)
ATURA

Talking Up a Storm [Free Nonhuman]: Probably wouldn’t be a very fun ten years if you were stuck without a working mouth, now would it? You don’t even need one now, since you’re able to make yourself understood in any form. Sometimes this may involve speaking even without the proper organs to do so, sometimes this may mean somehow getting across your exact point with just body gestures and facial expressions. Point is, you’re always able to communicate with those around you, so long as you can still speak the language that they do and they’ll always be able to understand you in return.

Memories of a Better Time [100/700/1300]: There’s so much cuteness in you, one could honestly mistake you for a personification of a girl’s childhood memories of fun and innocence. No, really. You have an eternal wellspring of joy, happiness and innocence within you that allows you to continue those good feelings and experiences of wonder no matter what your life is like or how long you’ve been living. Other people can sense this wellspring too, making you both a lot easier to get along with and a lot harder to do nasty things to. A real bad guy could ignore this pretty easily but anyone not committed may find themselves hesitating for a few moments when they look into your eyes.

Troll Magic [100/600/1300] (FD 100): The secret magics of the trolls are now yours to command. You won’t be freezing over kingdoms with this but it should still prove to be useful enough. You can heal others to a degree, such as healing serious bodily wounds or significantly weakening powerful curses on people, and alter memories precisely such as changing what one object appeared to be in someone’s memory of a specific event, though this does take time to do these memory changes, especially for larger scale ones.

Jumpies [Free Nonhuman]: Now who are these cute little guys? They look awfully like you. Teensy tiny yous, only about ankle height. They’re real mischievous and often get into trouble on their journey to find something fun to do. They’ll do their best to not cause any damage for you to clean up, unless they think you’d find it fun. They especially like it when you’re having fun so they’ll do their clumsy best to help that goal come about…when they’re not distracted by something fun themselves. There’s about a dozen jumpies in total and they’ll come back a few minutes after being killed, if anyone could be so heartless.

Winter Supplies [100/500/1300]: Its Ice. Lots and lots of ice. And snow too. One might even say an unlimited amount of ice and show to be dispensed from your warehouse. What use might you have for an unlimited amount of ice and snow in a winter wonderland? The ice cutting business would probably pay a bunch of this high quality ice you have. Or you could use it to keep yourself cool even once summer comes around.

Power Clothes [100/400/1300]: Shouldn’t a dress made of ice be a bit unwieldy to move in? It looks like this was so finely crafted as to remove that problem entirely and add a little more on top. This outfit is a magical one in that it is able to form itself out of any element you can control or the four basic elements of fire, water, wind or earth. The clothes can take on any form of cloth that you wish and will look fantastic whatever you choose. The clothes, despite their material, will not be able to harm you or any other person.

Import 8 [400/0/1300]: The trusty companions stick by their good friend and with this, you’re just making it a little easier for them to help you out. Every time you purchase this option, you may import one existing companion or create a new companion. They gain a free origin, all associated freebies and discounts, as well as 700CP to spend on perks as they choose.

  • Ziggy: Nonhuman (White Mink Fylgja), Singing [Free for All], Talking Up A Storm [Free Nonhuman], Jumpies [Free Nonhuman], Memories of a Better Time [100/600/700], True Love’s Kiss [600/0/700] (Ziggy loves everybody!)
  • Jump 84b - Frozen (Ziggy)
    ZIGGY IS DWAGON! GNAR!
  • Sophie: Nonhuman (Polar Bear), Singing [Free for All], Talking Up A Storm [Free Nonhuman], Jumpies [Free Nonhuman], Memories of a Better Time [100/600/700], Troll Magic [200/400/700], Nice Guy Syndrome [400/0/700] (Sophie is Best Doggo)
  • Petra: Nonhuman (Arctic Mountain Gorilla), Singing [Free for All], Talking Up A Storm [Free Nonhuman], Jumpies [Free Nonhuman], Memories of a Better Time [100/600/700] (Batter Time), Elemental Queen – Magma [500/100/700] (includes Basalt,  Obsidian, and Pumice, covers weakness of fire and ground), The Real Me [100/0/700]
  • Akira: Townsman, Singing [Free for All], The Real Me [Free Townsman], Winter Clothes [Free Townsman], Wild Man [100/600/700], Nice Guy Syndrome [200/400/700], Bit of a Realist, Mostly a Hero [300/100/700], Do You Want to Build a Snowman? [100/0/700]
  • AJ: Royal, Singing [Free for All], Do You Want to Build a Snowman? [Free Royal], Power Clothes [Free Royal], Loved by the People [200/500/700], True Love’s Kiss [300/200/700], Wild Man [200/0/700]
  • Cirno: Royal, Singing [Free for All], Do You Want to Build a Snowman? [Free Royal], Power Clothes [Free Royal], Loved by the People [200/500/700], Elemental Queen – Plants [500/0/700]
  • Tokimi-Chan: Royal, Singing [Free for All], Do You Want to Build a Snowman? [Free Royal], Power Clothes [Free Royal], Loved by the People [200/500/700], Elemental Queen – Gemstones [500/0/700]
  • Francine: Foreigner, Singing [Free for All], Prince Charming, Really [Free Foreigner], Coming of Age Present [Free Foreigner], Head Heir [100/600/700], New Age Conqueror [200/400/700], Claim it For Yourself [300/100/700], The Real Me [100/0/700]

Advertisements

World 76: Kenichi Tousen

SO MUCH SENSELESS VIOLENCE

Previously: Not Ready For This

Themesong: I Love It by Icona Pop and Charli XCX

Meanwhile, in another reality entirely.

The yellow bus screeched to a halt and the scarred woman at the front, wearing a badge that said ‘Officer Frizzle, Department of Corrections’, yelled at the group of lunatics chained to their seats. “Okay, you reprobate scum, this here is Bari Shur, or the ruins of it. You’re here for ten years. Better get used to it, you diseased little monkeys… now get the fuck out of my bus.”

Atura blinked, feeling disjointed, disconnected… itchy in this new body. It was… this wasn’t… wasn’t this place supposed to be something nice? She’d picked something about a magical bus, right? Something, anything to get away from the self-righteous other, that smug sense of… but this wasn’t… why did everyone look so unsavory? She looked down at herself and gasped. Her body was… mostly metal… a strange muscled metal that flowed and shifted… this wasn’t right… it couldn’t me.

~WHERE THE HELL ARE WE?~ a voice thundered in her head.

%I do not know. I believe we have been shanghaied by the self-righteous spirit,% a second voice said, this one full of calm menace.

~I DON’T FUCKING BELIEVE THIS! ATURA-~

%Please, modulate your volume Judge,% the calm voice said, %Rage will not solve this.%

~Fine!~ snapped what must be the Silent Judge. How strange to hear that voice inside her own head, Atura thought… how strange to have a head at all. As Gennady it hadn’t seemed odd… she had Gennady’s memories of being flesh… but those had faded with the end of the Worm Jump. Now she was Atura… and had no alien memories at all. Only half remembered Gennady thoughts… she couldn’t remember if bodies were supposed to itch like this… and were brains supposed to hurt? ~Atura! Focus! Why have you taken us from EssJay!?~

%I like it. It it’s quiet… I can feel the violence in this world… it’s simmering like a stew of anger and madness.%

“No! I selected a peaceful world. A Magic Bus world! THis can’t be!”

~Did you even read the document at all?~

“No! I selected a random peaceful world with a random build… I think. I was…”

~You were angry, and figured the best way to deal with the rest of us was to divide us into two groups and have one group sulk somewhere excruciatingly dull for a decade was the best plan,~ The Judge asked.

%She forgotted that Side Jumps gotta be paid for with Drawbackies!” Soul sing-songed, having discovered that Atura’s new body was full of nanotech blood and that she, Soul, could transform that blood into weapons that sprouted from the body’s arms in all manner of deadly shapes.

“Wait, what?” Atura gasped. “S… so I randomly got drawbacks that… how do I check my build? How do I know what’s going on… what in the name of the Avatar are those!?”

Decima stepped forward, her electrified right arm spinning up. “Those, sister, would be bloodlust crazed Mutants, here to rip out your juicy bits and eat-cha whole!”

~She doesn’t sound displeased by this idea. In fact, she looks like she’s having fun!~ thought Atura with a gasp. She looked around, realizing she was surrounded by companions… Those were the Bookers, and the Dire Weasels, and both Choirs… how had she managed to get four of the group companions? Had luck been with her? Or had what EssJay called Higher decided to intervene to help her out of the predicament she’d put herself into? Or was it just about… what had EssJay called it? Rattings? Was it all about Rattings… no… Ratings… It was all about Ratings, right? Violence sells? What a horrible thought… Oh… right… flesh eating mutants… Why wasn’t she terrified? Oh… no… she was. She could feel it. So much fear. He heart was beating like a jackhammer and she wanted to run away and hide… But she wasn’t. Instead, her body had fallen into a combat stance and blades dripping nano-acid were extended from both arms… Was she looking forward to this?

=======Back with our Jumper====

I was still watching Hakufu (large breasts, small IQ, hyperviolent) get her clothing shredded fighting the hulking Gakushu (male, larger breasts, marginally higher IQ, hyperviolent, tan like a gyaru),  when a figure I couldn’t actually describe appeared next to me. Well… I say appeared, but it was more like a perception filter had been dropped, allowing me to perceive something that had always been there. I almost dropped into a fighting stance, but my senses weren’t picking up any intent to harm from this… let’s call it a dude.

He was looking at a map of the Tokyo area, and commented “Well, well, well. Interesting premise, no? Temporal anomalies, people reborn out of time, history attempting to re-enact itself, even though none of these souls belong in this era. Say what you want… they really know how to hold onto a grudge, no?”

I considered his words, as well as his appearance. He was dressed like a stereotypical science-nerd. Right down to the pens in the pocket protector, but his build was healthy, strong, and he carried himself well. “Who are you, and why are there Toushi here?” I used the Ikki Tousen term for Magatama Bearers, generally translated as Fighters.

“My name is Dirge of Threnos, or at least that’s as close as you could comprehend,” the man said, becoming more and more concrete in my awareness as if absorbing memetic data from the environment to fit in. “I am a researcher of sorts. I can’t say I particularly care for the re-enactment or the actors much, but irreversible fate? That’s intriguing. Is it really inevitable?”

“Well, no. Not with me… or someone like me… fucking around with things. But you already knew that. Does Higher know you’re interfering with this?”

“Oh, certainly certainly. I have a grant. It was determined that the Toushi would not significantly impact the larger history of this world… So much transhuman martial arts already? Who would notice a few more Mousou Users… especially confined to such a small place… and with all the wrong people. No way to get it right…”

“You have a grant?” I asked, perplexed by this strange being’s meaning and presence. Then I considered. “You’re about to make me an offer, aren’t you?” I asked after a pregnant pause during which Hakufu literally orgasmsed from the joy of fighting… Ikki Tousen is freaking weird… and depressing… even when compared to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Teenagers trapped in a cycle of violent and doomed to die to fulfill ancient roles? That’s all kinds of tragic… though to be fair, the body count of the Vixen Battles was muuuch lower than the actual Three Kingdoms period. Oh… Sorry. Ikki Tousen was renamed Battle Vixens in the US… because most of the cast? Really hot and busty teenage girls wearing skimpy outfits that kept getting ripped to hell during the all too common fights.

“Most perspicacious of you to notice. Yes. You see, if you have time… you could help me steer the course of this historical revision… either to bring about the destined ending, or not. Entirely up to you, of course. I’ll merely record the difference between Deviation Points and the normative flow of events.” He seemed altogether too pleased by at the thought.

“And what, pray, do I get out of this, besides the opportunity to kick faces and ogle busty babes?”

“Oh! Of course… remuneration will be offered in the only form that means anything to your kind.” He waved it away as if was of no concern.

“That being?”

“CP of course!” He handed me a menu for a restaurant called Vixens and I noted that there was eighteen-hundred in some weird Yen notes tucked into it.

“1800? Why do I sense that you’re screwing with me?”

“Well, some control parameters were insisted upon by my patron,” He said, sounding sheepish. “What’s the phrase? Terms and Conditions Apply?”

“And if I’m not interested?”

“Ah, well, you’ve already accepted the pay out… how you spend it is entirely up to you… but the CP can only be spent on options from that menu.” And like that, he was gone.

“Fuuuck,” I muttered. Sarah and Carwyn, having noticed none of that, and having been more distracted by the fight, came back over.

Sarah looked at the Menu, then asked, “Lunchtime?”

“Yeah. Sure… and you two idiots can help me make sense of this,” I said, turning and heading into the nearest restaurant that looked good. It wasn’t Vixens. It was, as it turned out, a maid-cafe called Stile, small but clean, and the waitress seemed nervous. She insulted us as she seated us and, that being anything but normal in Japan, I was amused. “Bring us whatever, and keep replacing the food and drink with something else as soon as we empty a plate or cup.” i instructed, waving the girl off and spreading out the menu for the others to look at. I’d already tried to scan it, but like other documents of its kind, that didn’t seem to work for some reason.

“It’s got really short blurbs…” Carwyn commented.

“1800 CYen?” Sarah said, “That means they’ve assigned drawbacks already?”

“Yeah,” Carwyn commented, “There isn’t a drawback section at all. Just Backgrounds, Perks, something called Roles, Companions, and Items.”

“Companions… that’s going to be weird

Sarah, handling the money, went, “Hmm?” I looked over and she was examining a small piece of paper. “It’s a bill… some of the points are already spent…”

“How many?” I asked, already sensing that the total would be exactly 800.

“800… Two Hundred for Warrior Background with ‘Student Role’, One Hundred for Suzuki GSX1300R Custom, floating discount applied, and Five Hundred for Magatama Package, with Soul InfRe twice, AdComp, and DragDorm on the lines under that.”

“So…” CarTay said, shifting into Taylor mode and petting the spider that had crawled up onto the table to sample the slice of cheesecake. With her powers nerfed, she couldn’t control bugs, but they were still friendly with her. It wasn’t creepy or anything. She was looking through the menu, finding what Sarah had listed. “There are four backgrounds; Civilian, Warrior, Strategist, and Dragon Spirit Inheritor. That last is 500 CP and has exclusive perks. The pricing is pretty typical One, Two, Four, Six Hundred, one each, before discounts, at least for the first 3. DSI has no discounts and has two at zero and three each at one hundred and two hundred.” she paused, took a sip of melon-matcha ice-tea, paused again, smiled, and took a longer sip. “This is good… Roles. Roles are optional sub-backgrounds. Each Role seems to have four free perks if you’re of the linked background, three if you’re not. They’re four hundred before discount… or you can buy individual perks… except the restricted ones, for two slash one hundred. It looks like you’re locked into the Student Role of the Warrior Background… probably because it matches what you already are.”

I nodded. “That makes sense. And I guess the Magatama I’ve got is covered by the 500. Any idea what I get for being screwed by unknown drawbacks?”

“Uhmmm…” Taylor considered, reading the blurbs. “Not much? I dunno. The Magatama itself is ‘living proof of a warrior, vessel for lingering spirits, binds wearer to similar fate’… Soul InfRe must be Soul Infusion Reinforcement, purchased twice, since it’s fifty CYen each time. In restaurantese, that translates to ‘magatama becomes font of substantial spiritual energy, strengthened spirit within, makes wearer more resistant to mental sway’… this reads like it was cut out of something much longer, don’t you think so Li… Sarah?”

Sarah mmm’d, then nodded, “Yeah. probably is. Probably had to cut something like 30 pages down to two. Can’t be helped. What are AdComp and DragDorm? Advanced Computation and Dragon Dormancy?”

“Close. Adaptive Compatibility and The Dragon Lies Dormant. The first says ‘retain control of body and mind while accessing magatama. Requires practice.’ while the second says ‘a dragon spirit inside your magatama, requires fierce willpower to subdue it and gain its strength, no refunds’… Well, that sounds entirely unsafe. Any idea what they’re talking about?”

“Yeah. A bit. The Dragon Spirits are the most powerful of the Toushi spirits. Hakafu… who is Sun Ce reborn, and she’s the Water Dragon Spirit… and will soon become the leader of Nanyo Academy. Sousou and Ryubi… who are named after and the reincarnations of CaoCao and Liu Bei… who is, incidentally, my spirit’s husband… are the other two big ones, but I’m pretty certain there are others. Ryomou… Lu Meng’s reincarnation… has one, giving Nanyo two. Sousou leads the Toushi at Kyosho Academy and is, as far as I know, the only one of the Dragon Spirit Inheritors who is male. Ryubi heads Seito Academy and is in the english translation of the manga that I read way back when, homophobic… not hating them so much as being petrified she might be one and accusing her best friends of being lesbians who want her… that wasn’t in the anime and it confused me enough to check. It’s also not in the original japanese version, so it will be interesting to see which one we’re dealing with. Also, the Manga version of Hakafu is a ditz… the anime one is an incompetent moron. I don’t know which either. There’s a girl named Bachou Mouki… Ma Chao’s reincarnation. I don’t think she has a dragon spirit, but she does have a berserk hyperviolent state… she goes to… I think… Ryoshu Academy, but is pretty easy going normally. If we’re in the videogame version of the timeline, there are probably more.”

“How much of this have you seen? Do you know how it ends?” Sarah asked, chewing on her hair.

“Uh… No. I know there are at least four seasons of the Anime and who knows how many volumes of the manga. I watched most of the first anime season and like the first six volumes of the manga, but I’ve no idea how things are going to resolve. But it’s going to be violent. These people are strong enough to rip people’s arms off and shatter walls. Tough enough to survive being smashed through them as well. All without the actual extreme martial discipline of the Ryozanpaku masters.” I sighed.

“Are you going to be able to restrain a Dragon Spirit with all your powers either missing or restrained? Especially one strengthened twice?”

“That’s a very good question. On the other side, Sun Ji survived the period and died of old age. She was exceptionally cunning, despite not historically being a warrior. But I am, so I’ll handle it,” I growled with a frown.

“She’d rather be a strategist,” commented Sarah. Carwyn just nodded, digging into her strawberry shortcake. Sarah opened her mouth to say something else, but  Carwyn filled the space with a desert fork and cake, causing Sarah to mmmm with enjoyment and lose her train of thought.

“The Suzuki is a motorcycle. Says ‘maximum speed very high, does not need gas much.’ I get to borrow it… Sarah too, if she’s nice.” She leered at her friend, who stuck out her tongue at the bug girl.

“I’m only gay for her,” she hooked a thumb at me.

“And the kittens,” Carwyn teased.

“No comment,” Sarah sniffed, then changed the subject. “So what’s up with being a Student?”

“Warriors are magatama holders with a destiny to fulfill and a fate they’ll need willpower to resist. They get a perk called ‘Resilience & Resolve’ free of charge. That’s a slight boost to willpower and physical durability, lessens the impact of domination effects… sounds ever soooo useful,” Carwyn snarked, then ducked a straw wrapper aimed at her head by Sarah. “I think being a Student means that the school you and Miu and Kenichi go to has just become part of the Three Kingdoms or something… it says you now go to an affiliated school and there’s no telling when a fight will break out. That means you’ll be recognized as a hoodlum… Recognized Hoodlum is the first student perk, the restricted one… it says your rep will increase quickly after every fight… this is a perk? People will respect or fear your name? Baaah.”

“Yeah, mock that perk,” Sarah said with a chuckle, “Show it who’s boss.”

“I’ll show you who’s boss, you pain in the ass… But still… I mean, you can’t exactly buy it since it’s restricted… but who would pay for that?” Sarah and I both shrugged. “Right, well, the others are Intensive Study, the ability to digest large amounts of information in brief periods of time and retain absorbed knowledge longer; Academic Enrollment, which allows you to always pass for a student regardless of appearance or knowledge or personality; and Traditional Arts Successor, which allows you to mix other techniques with a single real world martial art, and teach it to others…. I’m not impressed. This entire package isn’t worth 100, let alone two hundred.”

Sarah asked, “Are they all that bad?”

Shrugging, CarTay read through the others, then shook her head. “Naw. Some of them have some okay stuff. Especially the Old Man Strategist… the ability to accurately predict outcomes, the ability to force the fundamentals of a technique onto another, and the ability to gauge a students future intentions? Those are all decent. The Doctor Strategist has ki manipulation, spiritual acupuncture, and martial acupuncture. The Assassin Warrior has accidental death faking, urban warfare, and… well, you get the point. The Student is really the weakest… though Businessman Civilian doesn’t suit you and Gang Member Civilian is pretty close to useless as well… seriously? Why would even a companion want a perk that allows them to be overlooked as long as they remain in a spot of low responsibility? Just…. Uuugh.”

“You’re too used to being a big… bug… ant… big spider?” Sarah said, then shrugged, “Anyway. You’re too used to being in the center of the web. Sometimes going undercover is… yeah, no… it’s useless. Can’t defense. But you should take that outcomes thing. That sounds useful.”

I nodded. I’d been thinking exactly that. “It’s 200 for that? What’s it called?”

“Yeah. 200. Experience Given Form. The more information you collect about a conflict, the more likely you can predict the final outcome correctly.”

“Sold,” I said, and a ding sounded from the bill. I peeked at it. ExpGivForm 200. It now said. “Weird. Magic bills. The kind of thing someone would think of… but it seems like such wasted effort.” I looked at the other two, then had an idea. “Tell you what. I’ve got 800 left. You two spend it and tell me what I’m getting. I see no reason I should be in charge of any of this, since I am clearly what Stephen King would call Ka Mai.”

Taylor leaned over and whispered into Sarah’s ear, “That means Destiny’s Fool or Fool of Fate. She likes using it because she thinks it makes her sound smart.”

Sarah whispered back, “She can hear you, and she is smart, and… you’re really going to trust us with this?”

“From my knowledge of the setting, and knowledge of you two? I think you’ll do okay. Anyway, I’m going to eat this parfait.” I waved the two of them away and settled into a fruit and ice cream confection that really wasn’t good for me on a physical level, but certainly hit the spot emotionally.

Ten minutes and five more deserts later, there was consensus between the duo. Sarah began the report. “Warriors get a discount on a perk called One Against a Thousand, which says your abilities improve the more outnumbered you are, though it will plateau once the number gets effectively meaningless to add to. Defeat foes in rapid succession and you’ll get stronger too.”

“Oh? Cool,” I said, checking the running tally on the bill to see that they’d spent another 200 on that.”

Taylor took over, “Another hundred gets you Center of Gravity, which I think you’ll like… it means you can adjust your center of gravity at will, allowing you to maintain your balance even in otherwise impossible positions… though it takes time. Also makes you extremely resistant to attempts to physically disorient you… it’s a lot… the text was very small.”

I laughed at that, but nodded. “100’s a good price for that. Anything else?”

“No more perks,” Taylor said. “We spent 300 to get 8 import slots, each getting 500… it’s penciled in ‘No dragons’… I bet the original said 400 and Single Shot boosted it.”

“I still don’t understand that,” Sarah said. “Before you bought that we… what… just popped up in bed like it was groundhog day?”

“Pretty much. But it was a day later. But right on waking up in your own bed in the warehouse, 24 hours later. And I didn’t buy Single Shot. It was a compromise option to get you guys some more points and to guarantee I’d get you back at the end of any jump. Ryoga and Yoiko have been missing since they died in the Universe I got saddled with Carwyn here.” I poked the bug-girl’s nose.

“Not my fault,” she said. “I’ve no idea how this all works. I’m just here for the pie.” and she ate another bite of apple pie.

Sarah shook her head. “We didn’t know how important it was to you, so you don’t have to take it, but they were offering…” she trailed off. I raised an eyebrow and she shrugged and continued. “It’s called Tamahagane Ki Forging Techniques… its a book on how to make the material that Magatama are made out of… for jewels… or weapons like something called a Crescent Blade.”

“Oh. Huh. Cool… I guess that could be useful. Did it specifically say it could be used to make Magatama?”

“Not as such… but I’m certain you could figure it out.”

“Well, thank you for the vote of confidence,” I said with a smile, then tossed the pile of CYen notes onto the bill and they all vanished, leaving behind eight 500 CYen coins. I scooped them up and slid four of them to each of the girls, standing and stretching. “Hand those out as you like… I’ll pay the bill here. Stay as long as you like. I’m going to jog around the bay and see how many fights I can get into.” I tossed back the rest of my sixth espresso and strode over to the counter. At my side was a duffle full of 10,000 yen notes.

“How much?” I asked the bishi behind the counter.

He looked up at me and, to his credit, managed not to gulp. “31,500,” he said after a moment, pushing the cheque forward, bowing slightly.

“Excellent. Here’s 50,000. Keep the change. Look, do a lot of people wearing one of these,” I showed him the magatama, “come in here?” He considered, then shook his head. “Well, if any show up, give this number a call. There’s 50,000 in it for the call, and a promise nothing bad will happen inside your shop because of it.” I slid a black glossy card across the counter. It said ‘Spyglass Industries’ and had a number, but no name or address. He tried to protest, but I waved it off. I had my reasons… see, a quick check of the GPS locations of the three big schools showed that this intersection was in the relative center… and the shopping plaza’s name was Chibi-Tokyo Amusement Center. Now, of course, Chibi means cute, in Japanese… but in China? Chi Bi means Red Cliffs, and it was the location of one of the decisive battles of the Three Kingdoms. Coincidence? Maybe… but we’d see. It was even on the banks of the Sumida River and not that far from the Arakawa, two of Tokyo’s biggest waterways.

Stepping out onto the street, I found a suzuki GSX13000R custom motorcycle sitting on the sidewalk, drawing glares from the passersby. It was gorgeous, and had a red rabbit logo on the chassis and a matching helmet with… two… long feathers sticking out the top. I rolled to the side just as a heavy foot descended in a vicious axe-kick. “Hello Ryofu-ko,” I said, looking at the green-haired reincarnation of Lu Bu whose bike the crazy entity had sold me… almost certainly along with the animosity of one of the strongest (and battle happy) Toushi around… also one dying of a terminal disease.

“You stole my bike!” she yelled, pivoting on the axing foot hard enough to crack the concrete, hooking her other foot toward my neck. I frowned, blocking it with my forearms, but even with my strength and toughness… that hurt. It also slid me backwards to smash into a kiosk, spilling flyers for a local ombudsman election and a nightclub called ‘Lynxes’.

“Then take me to court, you deranged trollop!” I replied, throwing a handful of the papers at her and stepping forward to deliver a doublehand strike to her midriff… her garments exploded from her, leaving her youthful torso bare and giving anyone who was stupid enough to be standing around watching the fight between sociopaths an eyeful.

“Not a chance! No time for lawsuits! I’m going to Executor you myself!” she said, using english for the killing word… and oblivious to the malapropism she’d delivered in the process. A flurry of blows

“You mean execute, you daft bint!” I said, blocking her blows as fast as she could launch them, but the force of those blows was still enough to slowly back me across the plaza. A kid on a motorscooter veered around us, skidded sideways, lost control, and smashed into a parked car. “Now look what you did!”

“Yeah, yeah! Keep fighting!”

I rolled my eyes, feigned left, then dashed right. “Sorry, but let’s change venues… keep up if you can… and I jumped on the bike. I hadn’t stolen it before… but apparently now I was… and before she could reach me, I was tearing off down the street… and holy shiiiiit. That was one fast bike! I broke 100 kph in 3 seconds… on the streets of Tokyo! Within moments, I’d left my erstwhile challenger behind.

“Crazy o… What the heck?” I slowed. Ahead, for no apparent reason, someone had erected an obviously fake Toll booth across the road. It was being manned by what were clearly high school students and I caught the glint of Magatama earrings. Befuddled, I slowed, lifting the visor of the helmet. “What’s going…” I was about to say ‘on?’ but at that point it became clear that this was an utterly inept ambush. A small battalion of idiots with baseball bats and two-by-fours surged out of the surrounding businesses and allyways, converging on me.

Thirty-one seconds later they were all running away in their panties and briefs as I’d shattered their weapons and shredded their clothing in short order. “And don’t…” I was about to say ‘come back’, when someone hit me in the back of the head with an umbrella. Someone with all the killing intent of a terrified hamster. “Did you lose a bet?” I asked, looming over the 5’4” highschool first year.

“N… no… I… I’m u… uphold th… the h… honor of-” he started stammering.

I picked him up by his collar, his shoes flying off as he flailed in midair, and pulling him nose to nose with me, my expression sober and not at all pleased. “Stop spouting nonsense. You’re lucky I don’t kill the helpless, but there are Toushi who wouldn’t hestiate.”

“I… I’m g… going to… to… be the Capo of all T… Tokyo!” he predicated, sounding extremely squeaky.

I snorted, “And I’m going to jump to the moon. What’s your name, brat?”

“Takechiyo.” he gasped out.

I blinked, leaned to the side to avoid an oblong lump of garbage that had been thrown at the back of my head, allowing it to spang off of the boy’s face. He was wearing a Magatama. I groaned. “Takechiyo… you mean Hidetada, don’t you? Or have you not come of age yet?” I couldn’t fucking believe this. Sengoku Jidai being reenacted at the same time as the Warring States… in the same city? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, look up Tokugawa Ieyasu’s successor. Birthname, Takechiyo. I snorted, tossing him aside and climbed back on my bike. “I’m no Toyotomi, boy. I don’t lose. Now run back to your mother and hide under her skirts.”

There were a couple more such clumsy ambuses and traps before I could get back to Ryozanpaku, and by that point I could feel my patience and vitality both waning. I just wanted to relax. Instead, I had to go inside and teach Miu and Shigure how to make a decent Bisque that didn’t taste like chalk. Ah well, a Teacher’s job is never really finished. The perils of being a Jumper I suppose.

As for who were my fellow Toushi? Well, Carwyn-Taylor and Sarah had, of course, cadged two of the coins for themselves… but I’d expected that. They’d divided them in half, and gone looking for takers. Carwyn had picked Velma, Taylor had picked Petra (the bug, of course), and together they’d picked Brigid as their third… not that they’re seperate so much as different masks the very complex being underneath puts on at different times. As for why Taylor picked Brigid? When I asked she said “Us weirdgirls have to stick together.” So I guess that’s that. Sarah on the other hand hadn’t had to confer with herself, and had picked Mini and Frankie, then, out of respect for a fellow cape, picked Raven to take up the 8th coin.

Six of the eight had taken the Strategist background… because of course they did. Only Brigid (Civilian) and Petra (Warrior) had been iconoclastic. Sarah had bought both Strategist Roles, giving her a very interesting skill set indeed, but Carwyn had bought ‘Marionette Messiah’ which would allow her to manipulate fate’s threads to turn ‘qilling’ warriors into her puppets. Both Sarah and I couldn’t help but think of what Khepri (Taylor’s third cape identity in the original Worm Timeline) had done when she’d literally taken control of a swarm of Parahumans to fight Scion at the end of the world. Yeah… Taylor could be scary when she needed to be… even without the age old fate manipulating elf-like alien psychic within her ever rearing her pointy-eared head.

Velma, Mini, and Frankie all took the Doctor Strategist role, while Raven took the Old Man Strategist role. Brigid and Petra didn’t bother with roles, instead opting for perks that allowed her to screw with fate and manifest a spiritual armor out of her magatama respectively. I frankly had expected no less and congratulated each of them for a decent build, though I did question Mini on why she had taken ‘Find Your Center’ a perk that allowed moving Ki centers around in the body… and one that required another perk that strengthened the body part the center was being moved to… and one she hadn’t taken.

“Oh. I figure I can learn how to strengthen my body to take it without the perk. It seemed like a waste. It doesn’t say you have to buy the first to take the second… so” she shrugged. “Anyway, My body’s pretty buff from all the other stuff I’ve gained over the years. I should be fine.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

There were many, many, many more battles over the next few years, both from the Ragnarok / YAMI / YOMI side of things and the Toushi side and the more I fought, the more I found I really really enjoyed fighting. It was… exhilarating… and I do mean in a smutty way. I was definitely a Toushi. As for fate? Well, I got Ryofu into my medbay and patched her up. Not that that stopped her from trying to kill me, but as much as she flirted with me, I flirted right back. Oh, and I steered Kenichi into Tokyo to fight the worst of the Toushi and to befriend them.

I also did that specifically so I could fight Boris of YAMI. He had the Ice Badge. No way was I letting Kenichi claim that. Otherwise, I tried to remain aloof from the politics of street gangs. They were beneath me and largely pointless.

What wasn’t pointless was picking up the pieces of people’s shattered lives. And that’s why I found myself in a children’s hospital with a load of very very unscientific science machines late one night. Hermit (one of the former members of Ragnarok’s 8 Fists leadership caucus) was grumbling as he pulled the cart with most of the gear.

“I don’t see why I have to help you with… where are we going?”

“Hush. Let’s see, room two-twenty-six… two-twenty-eight… two-thirty… here we go… in… in…” I pushed him into the room just as the night nurse looked up from her paperwork. “I had someone arrange for the occupant of this room to be moved to another ward on the pretense that tiles had to be pulled up and replaced.”

He looked around the room, hugging himself. “I… this place looks familiar.”

“It should. It’s the room your sister died in,” I said as bluntly as I had to. Beating around the bush would be pointless considering what I was going to do next.

“What?” he hissed. “Why did you… I’m going to kill you.” He snarled, dropping into a fighting stance.

“Later. And no fighting in a hospital… especially not one full of sick kids… now start unpacking those.” I pointed at the cases on the cart.

“You had better had a good reason for this,” he muttered, pulling out the strange pylons from their foam packaging, and setting them up at the corners of the bed area, the bed having been removed along with the patient in it.

“I do, in fact. Now step outside of the grid, and let me handle the last case.” I popped it open and hooked up the pylons to the generator. It could have powered Japan for a decade… it was going to burn out in 770 seconds from the demands I was going to put on it. I flipped the switch and the area inside the grid blurred, hazed… and then there was a bed, a little girl, and a little boy. The girl was dead and the boy was weaping… or would have been, but the tableau was frozen in that moment. “Right…” I said, dialing back the temporal radar. The scene shifted back five minutes… the girl wasn’t doing well.

Hermit just gaped. “Th… that’s me… and… and K… Kaede…” He was frozen with disbelief, his body unconsciously adopting the helpless posture of his earlier self.

“It is… okay… hmm… “ I sent a signal and Darkseid came in, carrying the limp form of a cloned and older Kaede. This one was 17, 11 years older than when she’d died, but healthy, possessing none of the illness that had taken her life. The body was fully functional… but the mind was empty. I had the tyrant set her down on the folding cot I’d set up and snugged the neural mesh cap into place about both girl’s heads. There was a pulse as the generator shivered, pulling the girl’s consciousness out of the echoes of the past and implanting them in a new body.

As the generator finally clicked off and the ghosts of the past faded back into where they’d been pulled from, the girl on the cot shifted, groaned, and muttered “N… Natsu?”

He looked at me, panicked, and whispered, “W… what… what have you done?!”

“Nothing important. Your sister’s been in a coma for 11 years… you should help her… bring her up to date. Help her adjust. It won’t be easy… I recommend a good therapist.”  and then Darkseid and I packed up the equipment and left.

It wasn’t until we were driving away from the hospital that I allowed myself to relax. “Well, I’m glad that worked.”

“Glad what worked, Onee-chan?” asked a voice from the back seat.

I looked to Darkseid who was driving, “Did you pack a small child for later? Maybe as a snack?” I asked. The small girl in the back seat giggled. I turned to look at her. “Okay, who are you?”

The girl, who looked to be maybe four years old, giggled. “I’m Genotoku Ren!” she announced. “I wanted to see Ryuubi-Onee-chan’s girlfriend!”

I groaned. Fate. Screwing people over since time began. The fact that this was Liu Bei’s reincarnation’s sister and not her daughter was not going to make one iota of difference to the most psychotic of the Dragons.

=====3 Years later====

“Kidnapping, consorting with thugs, lusting for battle… and women!” Hayato was growling at me, his eyes shining. “I have had it up to here with your ways. You pay lip service to the doctrine of the Life Giving Fist, but I sense the Killer Fist and the Asura Path within you!”

“Yeah? Well, I sense an old man who needs a serious application of the Sense Bestowing Fist,” I snarked. “And keep it down, it’s supposed to be a happy occasion!”

“And that’s another thing! I don’t care for how you manipulated Apachai and that child into… into this… this-”

“It’s called a marriage, you mysanthrope! And Honoka isn’t a child any more. She’s 19 and able to make her own choices… What, are you afraid she’ll steal Apachai’s vital seed? Is this ancient China where semen and ki are thought to be the same thing?”

He frowned, then harrumphed. “You are trying to change the subject! I shall show you the error of your ways!” and then he attacked.

====4 days later===

“Has your grandfather landed a blow yet?” Kenichi asked Miu, arm around her shoulder.

“No. But neither has Ji-Sensei.”

“She’s not trying to hit him. She’s only blocking. How long do you think they’ll keep going for?”

“According to Darkseid-Sama, at least twenty-four more days… there’s a pool.”She indicated where Kensei and Chamber had set up a betting pool abutting the kitchen wall. “Did you get your father out of that bar?” 

“Yes, he’s stopped crying and is home now. He kept wailing about his little girl marrying a giant.”

“Did you hide all the guns?”

“Why? I’m not certain a gun can hurt Apachai… and anyway, Otosan doesn’t know where the honeymoon is… it was nice of Ji-Sensei to pay for that. How rich do you think she is?”

“Remember when the typhoon hit Indonesia?” Miu asked. Her fiance nodded. “Well, she pulled out a pen and a checkbook and wrote a check for disaster relief… it was for a hundred billion yen. I don’t think really has a limit.”

“Think she will pay for our honeymoon?” He asked.

“Only if you ever decide you’re actually ready for it to be official,” the girl who was like an assassin replied, trying to limit the archness of her tone. Kenichi still had a few cowardly bones in his body. No sense scaring him off just now.

====5 years and 24 Days later====

“H… h… had enough, o… old man?”

“N… no.”

“Ji-OBASAAAAAN!” came the yell of a very enthusiastic four year old. “The show’s about to staaaaaart!”

“Sorry Hayato… I guess the fight’s been called on account of toddler,” I said, flipping my braid and leaping off the roof of Ryozanpaku. “Coming Akira!”

======AFTERWORD====

Atura and I looked at each other. She looked like hell. I looked swole as hell. I opened my mouth to say something approximating an apolgy for sending her to Madworld. She opened her mouth to say something that might have been an apology for being a brat. Both of us jerked and stared as a four year old burst into the Warehouse atrium and yelled “WOW!” then ran off chasing Ziggy.

“What is that?” Atura asked me.

“I have no idea how she’s here… but that would be an Apachai.”

Next:  Honor Harrington Plus… Plus what? You’ll have to tune in and find out… but please, guess away in the comments.

OMAKE: Relationship Chart (Updated, because you are awesome people… the old chart is still there for anyone who wants to go back a few 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.

Resources: Build, Kenichi Document, Ikki Tousen Document, Anarchy Reigns Document

AN: This jump cycle was all over the place, and this is a short one for a number of reasons. First, The Ikki Tousen Jump is one of Dirge’s (Shout out in the name) and that means there was a ton of work put into it… but that, as usual, the descriptions were very heavy and hard to parse as to what they actually did. Dirge does great work, but it’s not the easiest to use or figure out builds for. Second, all three jumps in this cycle are almost pure combat porn with relatively weak or incomprehensible storylines. Third, Someone had the audacity to tell me that there was a Halo-UNSC jump now, which meant I had to go back and totally revamp my build and some of the jump log for Halo Collection: Judgement Day. Why? Because the redone jump is much better and actually worth buying stuff in, and because I could do a build that both made sense and didn’t change what had happened. It’s a bit better… I left out the companion build for it though because I couldn’t work that in. Sorry. I also left out the companion builds for Ikki Tousen and Anarchy Reigns, but you can find all three in their various Build Pages.

I’m going to talk about the side jump now, but below that will be the last of the Worm Vials for the time being. Oh, and all of them can be found in the WOrm Jump’s Build section, or in their own commentable document!

SIDEJUMP ANARCHY REIGNS (Atura Primary)

So, about Anarchy Reigns… This is as close to a truly random build for Atura as I could manage and still feel comfortable with. I assigned numbers to each origin, perk, item, and power. I made the following assumptions; 1) max drawbacks, generating randomly until 600+ is reached and then stopping, 2) the system will give priority to discounted perks (giving them double weight) and group 50CP perks & items into a single line item with internal randomization. Items have low priority as do 100 CP perks, so they get a single line on the main table and a sub-roll, This reduces the table to 20 lines 3) as this is a side jump, no companion import is needed, but drawbacks totalling 1600 CP must be taken to pay for the Side  Jump. 4) because it’s an insane setting, 24 hour respawn is active for everyone, even Atura. 10 Years duration, no escape, no time off for good behaviour. 5) Companions were also randomized thanks to Atura’s blinkardness (60% Chance), but each only needs 1 drawback, assuming that totals enough for the vig. 6) everyone gets a free body upgrade depending on their origin, but could buy a different one or refuse, so one line of the includes alternate cyborg enhancement, and rolling the one you’d get free results in not taking one at all. 7) the Killer Weapon section is complex and allows multiple purchases. I assumed no one would. Roll 1d8, maybe a freebie.

  • Location 1d8, Roll 6: Bari Shur Ruins
  • Age 1d8, Roll 7: 31 Years Old
  • Background 1d4, Roll 1: Bounty Hunter [Free]
  • No Roll Needed: Ruthless [Free for Bounty Hunter]
  • No Roll Needed: MDK’s [Free for All]
  • Drawback #1, Roll 1: It’s All About Me [+100/1100]
  • Drawback #2, Roll 7: Play For Keeps [+400/1500]
  • Drawback #3, Roll 4: They Came From Underground [+200/1600 CAP]
  • Killer Weapon 1d8, Roll 1: Imported Weapon [200/1400/1600]
  • 1d20 #1, Roll 06: Background 400 = Unlimited Resources [200/1200/1600]
  • 1d20 #2, Roll 20: Alternate Cybernetics, Subroll 4, Nanomachines [200/1000/1600]
  • 1d20 #3, Roll 14: Background 600 = Find You [300/700/1600]
  • 1d20 #4, Roll 15: Duplicate, Ignored
  • 1d20 #5, Roll 19: Item, Subroll 1, Bacon, Bacon, Bacon, Bacon [100/600/1600]
  • 1d20 #6, Roll 03: Play My Ass Off [200/400/1600]
  • 1d20 #7, Roll 10: Duplicate, Ignored
  • 1d20 #8, Roll 13: I Know You Want Me [400/0/1600]

Kagetane: Testin’ Me [+300/1300], Bureau of Public Safety [100/1200/1300], My Town, My City [200/1000/1300], Asylum [100/900/1300], Hand of Science [200/700/1300], Find You [600/100/1300], Fast Lane [100/0/1300], Merciless [Free BPS], Cybrid Arts [Free BPS], Positron Blades [Free]

Caine: Sound the Alarm [+300/1300], Gang Leader [100/1200/1300], I Know U Want Me [400/800/1300], My Town, My City [100/700/1300], Over in a Flash [600/100/1300], Hideout [100/0/1300], Soon Enough [Free Gang Leader], Full Metal Gangster [Free Gang Leader], Limb Weapon [Free]

The Bookers: They Came From The Underground [+200/1500], Gang Leader [100/1100/1200], Soon Enough [Free Gang Leader], Full Metal Gangster [Free Gang Leader], Play My Ass Off [200/900/1100], Mortified [200/700/1100], We Play [300/400/1100], Jazz House [50/350/1100], Venom [50/300/1100], Laughin’ At U [200/100/1100], When Mind [100/0/1100],  Transforming Weapon [Free]

The Dire Weasels: Days of Old [+100/1100], Bounty Hunter [Free], Cyborg Enhancement [Free Bounty Hunter], Ruthless [Free Bounty Hunter], Mortified [200/900/1100], Jaw [100/800/1100], Unlimited Resources [200/600/1100], Fast Lane [200/400/1100], I Know U Want Me [400], Limb Weapon [Free]

The Righteous Choir: It’s All About Me [+100/1100], Bureau of Public Safety [100/1000/1100], Merciless [Free BPS], Cybrid Arts [Free], Merciless [Free BPS], Cthulhu Blueprints [200/800/1100], Over in a Flash [300/500/1100], Hand of Science [200/300/1100], Fast Lane [100/200/1100], Play My Ass Off [200/0/1100], Transforming Weapon [Free]

The Lost Choir: It’s All About Me [+100/1100], Bounty Hunter [Free], Cybrid Arts [200/900/1100], Ruthless [Free Bounty Hunter], When Mind [100/800/1100], Powered Armor [100/700/1100], Jaw [100/600/1100], My Town, My City [200/400/1100], Hand of Science [400/0/1100], Telsa Blitz [Free]

Dyna: It’s All About Me [+100/1100], Assassin [100/1000/1100], Nanomachines [Free], Gotta Get The Cash [Free Assassin], My Pride [300/700/1100], We Play [600/100/1100], Mortified [100/0/1100], Drones [Free]

OMAKE – Cauldron Vials

Year Ten Vials

Beth Comstock / Wakeup Call: Breaker 7. Imagine pouring the very idea of coffee into a sleeping person… now, imagine that person is actually dead… and the coffee works. That’s Wakeup Call. Beth’s power allows her to bring back the recently killed in a hyper-focused, hyper-aggressive state. Essentially she can turn other people into Resurrection Brutes. Not only does it work on the recently dead, but it also seems to work pretty well on the unconscious or dazed, though not as well. The effects of the boost, which turn the subjects into a temporary vanilla brute (Brute 4-5, Regeneration, Durability, and Strength), last up to 13 hours, but fade pretty rapidly if life or death stimulus is lacking. She requires a mostly intact body to make this work, but massive wounds, including head wounds don’t seem to stop the effect… although those who have suffered head wounds prior to being woken up are usually extremely confused and even more violent than others.

Caitlyn / Executive: Thinker 3/3. The Network Shard. She can see out of all nearby cameras (as long as they are on) and sense the contents of every nearby visual display unit (TV or Monitor).

Caerdwyn / Basset Hound: Thinker 5. She has incredible tracking skills. Could literally track a gull over the ocean. Hypertime perception and highly acute senses. Minor pericog effect in addition to sensory effects.

Sierra Valrayan / Echo: Mover 4 / Blaster 5 / Thinker 3. Able to generate sonic blasts for both attack and movement. Has highly refined hearing and advanced equilibrium. Movement controls are fine enough for her to vector thrust with them and she can generate pulses with any part of her body. Is extremely loud when she fights and her blasts seem to echo better than they should.

Odwet / Venture: Mover 6. Venture can tunnel through solid matter without damaging it structurally, leaves holes that do not weaken. Can move through the air without friction because the air moves out of the way, creating bubbles of air and a semi-solid shockwave around him at all times while he’s moving. Doesn’t need to breath.

Year Eleven Vials

Buji Bei-Fong / Migraine: Stranger 5. When those who can perceive Buji try to think about him, it causes them more and more pain like a thinker headache the longer they think about him. This effect persists even after he’s no longer within perception range, but fades over time. He does not like this power and thinks, rightly so, that it is bullshit. It can be dialed back and those familiar with him rapidly build up a resistance to the effect unless he’s angry, which makes the effect stronger.

Simon DeWitt / Hesitation: Striker 7 / Stranger 2. Causes people to pause briefly before attacking, blocking, or reacting to him. Although technically more of a Stranger power, the incredibly short range of the power and the very short duration (less than a second per firing) make it very much a close combat ability. People who can perceive Simon with any known sense seem to be affected… and the duration of the hesitation does not seem to vary based on the reaction speed of the other. If he is close to someone, he can focus to throw them off their game against someone other than himself, but this only works at a range of three meters or less. It should be noted that every attack, block, or any other form of reaction or action directed at Simon gets dinged with a tiny pause.

Luna Kyros / Detonator: Blaster 9, Shaker 5, Mover 2. Luna can create spheres of force that collapse inward until they explode violently. The larger the sphere the slower it collapses but the larger the timed detonation is. Any non-living matter caught in the sphere is compressed (the larger the sphere the greater the compression), and when the sphere eventually explodes, it is expelled outward as shrapnel. By using micro-explosions she can move herself around the battlefield extremely rapidly. She can generate multiple explosives at a time and is largely immune to kinetic damage. The spheres all detonate at the same size and collapse at the same rate.

Windjammer / Windup: Breaker / Brute / Master. Can Wind people who are stationary up as if they were spring powered. This transforms normals into brutes and boost brutes. Can apply this power to himself. Need not be in physical contact with the individual but must be able to see the individual and be closer than about 200m. Takes about an ever increasing amount of time the higher the brute effect is. 1 takes about 2 seconds, Brute 2 takes about six (6) seconds, Brute 3 takes about twelve (12) seconds, Brute 4 twenty, Brute 5 thirty… the effect lasts less and less time as well. Brute 1 lasts about 30 Minutes, brute 2 lasts 15 Minutes, Brute 3 lasts 10 minutes, Brute 4 8 minutes, Brute 5 6, Brute 6 5… and so on.,

Verona Amicii  / Secret: Stranger 4 / Thinker 4. Can determine how many people know a piece of information as long as she knows it. Can remove that knowledge from those she can touch. She also can tell if someone knows something she herself knows by looking at them. Is not a telepathic scan, but can be blocked by those immune to telepathy.

Year Twelve Vials

Alicia Domina / Haywire: Master / Tinker / Thinker. Causes machines to go berserk, giving them pseudo personalities if they’re computer driven. Haywire’s machines, if left alone, will continue to seek to upgrade themselves. Haywire is a Tinker at upgrading machines to get higher performance. powering off a machine she’s infected usually removes the infection, but it must be completely powered down to be effect.

Invidius Vord / Sanctum: Brute 4. As long as he remains immobile, he and the area around him for a few meters in every direction is inviolable. While immobile he heals incredibly rapidly and extends a lesser healing effect to those within the area. While moving he’s as strong and tough as a stone building (Brute 4) but becomes Brute 9, Mover -1 when immobile.

Gaius Scipio / Jellyfish: Striker 4. Generates nematocysts like a jellyfish and can use them to deliver incredibly painful touch attacks that can be fatal to baseline humans. He can impregnate surfaces with these poison cells, though they degrade fairly rapidly.

Gaius Placida / Ball Pit: Shaker 6. Ball Pit can cause physical objects in the area to bud, generating spheres of varying composition and sizes. These spheres  fill the area, more and more as the fight continues. Ballpit can cause these balls to divide and merge at will, and can cause them to float or fall as needed. The extra matter appears to come from a parallel universe, and fades back to that universe once she leaves the area.

Lucida Vord / Avatar: Stranger / Trump / Changer. Lucida seems to have many of the powers of a Messiah. She can heal wounds, raise the recent dead, transmute liquids and organics, walk on water, and manifest a variety of ranged weapons at will. She also has an extreme charisma aura which causes people to pay attention to her unless actively in danger from a different source.

Year Thirteen Vials

Fleetwood Hale / Rabbit Hole: Mover 7. Can create a warren of extra-dimensional tunnels linking one or more places he’s been too physically. The distance inside this space is quite extensive, certainly large enough to hold several dozen people and their equipment. There is a limit to how many active locations can be linked, but once a location has been linked to the warren it is easier for him to reestablish an open link. He can open a hole into his warren wherever he is, but this takes a few moments concentration and initially just generates a side pocket. Once inside the warren, he can snap the link closed or extend pockets to join the main warren. This is not instant transportation, but seems to compress distances by a factor of at least 200:1… thus a distance of 1 kilometer outside would be 5 meters inside. The tunnel appears to be made initially of substances around the opening and is roughly 12 foot in diameter. It cannot cross dimensional boundaries.

Soffie / Charger: Mover 6 / Striker 4. The more she moves, the faster she goes, becoming harder and harder to stop, creating a kinetic wedge in front of her. Each time she shifts vector the space right in front of her gets hit with a burst of kinetic energy, but it has very little range. The greater the vector change, the larger the burst and the greater the velocity loss, but she can effectively reverse her vector with only a 75% loss of velocity. At 90 degrees it is a mere 50%. The wedge also protects her from air-resistance and impacts from the front proportional to her current speed. Can reach 20mph in half a second, or about four times the acceleration of Usain Bolt and tops out at over 300mph.

Alessa Valrayan / Primary: Changer 5. Whenever stressed, Primary evolves into a more advanced human form. This isn’t limited to adapting to damage takin, as it is preemptive. This seems to be like a combination of PTV and Evolution, with her body reacting to approaching or potential threats and finding the best path to adapt to it.

Ladysmith Book / Indian Giver: Stranger / Trump / Changer. She can steal people’s powers and identities, with a touch, but can only hold two powers and one identity at a time. This doesn’t come with their memories or knowledge of how to use their powers, and when she takes another power one of the two she holds has to be released, snapping back to the original holder. When she takes someone’s identity, she becomes a perfect physical copy of them and they become a perfect physical copy of whatever she looked like at the time she took their identity. the physical change wears off on those who’s identity was stolen slowly, slowly morphing back to themselves over the next three days.

VIvian / Autodidact: Thinker 5. Instinctively understands the how of skills, knowing the best way to teach anyone anything or the most efficient way to learn it herself. Can look at a piano and know how to go about learning to play it, build it, or repair it… and if she already knows those things, how to teach someone else to do so extremely rapidly. Her instructions for a kind of autohypnotic suggestion matrix in the learner so that the skills naturally reinforce themselves when used.)

World 76: History’s Strongest Disciple

NOT READY FOR THIS

Previously: In Which Business is Gotten Down To

Themesong: Hearts A Mess by Gotye

I’d like to claim that, following the obliteration of Scion, everything was dunky-hory in old Wormlandia… but I would be lying so hard my nose would reach the orbit of Pluto… and not the perihelion… the aphelion. First off, my replacement for the Shards needed to power all these parahumans was not, shall we say, without glitches.

Entity 2.0 was, at its core, a trio of Endbringers. Yes, I’d done a great deal to influence them and steer them onto what I felt was a reasonable path, but they were still very much in the ‘Conflict Good!” mindset. Since they accounted for 58.7% of all the Shards, I was having to daily explain to Simurgh why she should not use her backdoor access into the minds of all those parahumans to shape things the way she wanted them to go.

This was made both easier and more annoying because both Leviathan and Behemoth were doing the exact same thing. Finally, I had to interface with the trio and physically lock out their ability to use the Shards to contact the linked Parahumans. Each had their own dedicated channels and the two could not crosslink without system administrator authority… which only I had.

Of course, the other 41.3% of the Shards were all inside me now… and even I was not keen on having my awareness spread across so many links. Thus, the King-Priests were tasked to administrate the individual links… and we too had discrete channels keeping us from crossing into the minds of (mostly) Cauldron Capes. And Oh, my God… I haaaaate Path to Victory… it gives me suuuch a massive headache to use. I don’t know how Contessa copes.

That said, Atura and I aren’t speaking much… she’s royally pissed off at me for, apparently, resolving all problems by smashing and killing people (the Entities by her are just people… never mind the fact that each of them are guilty of multiple mega-genocides… apparently I should have come up with a better solution)… but part of that is that I’ve got to remain in Planetary Form to power all these Parahumans.

As for them? Well, The Cauldron Capes whose powers had been waning because Eden was dying? Not having that problem any more… good lord but I’m feeling the drain. All the Parahumans are calming down a bit… still requires serious trauma to trigger, no getting around that unless Entity or I feel like playing Deus Ex Machina… and since neither of us have cooperative field agents… yet… I think Entity may be trying to figure out how to get Cultists… but the Upgraded Shards are programmed to stabilize their hosts, not make them worse.

Dr. Mother, Contessa, and Doormaker came to see me… Shard Me, not Atura… about 80 days into the new regime, after the worst of the post scion power spasms had died down. They were in a Dragoncraft piloted by Alpha, Dragon’s biological half (so her brain was actually a subspace capsule in a Ghola body I’d had Bonesaw and Panacea whip up… it was fine work and Colin / Armsmaster / Defiant could barely keep his eyes (and hands) off her)… and asked me, point blank, why, if I could do what I’d done to the Entities, I hadn’t just wiped all the Villains out… or at least stripped them of their powers.

In fact, Dr. Mother essentially threatened me with Contessa if I didn’t, unilaterally, shut down every single Villain’s Shard access immediately. It was kinda funny. I laughed at her and explained exactly why that would be shockingly stupid… apart from the whole ‘one man’s hero is another man’s villain’ thing, if I took away the Villains, the Heroes would end up fighting a series of Global Parahuman Wars. Villains might be bad for their home societies, but they were astonishingly good for keeping countries too busy to attack each other.

Even Contessa looked shocked by the idea and her dubious glance at my Avatar showed she was well aware of the fact that, should she try to look into the future to find a way to defeat me, every path would end with me smirking at her. Chess is no longer a game once you’re dealing with a system that can solve n-dimensional hyper-go game states in real time. I made a note to give someone I didn’t like PTV from now on… but not someone competent… so that left out Darkseid.

And speaking of people I didn’t like… I really didn’t like Ahab’s new host. Emma was just… a biiiiiitch. Still couldn’t contact Ahab. Either he was avoiding me or wasn’t actually conscious in there… but Emma was the only parahuman whose powers didn’t come from Me, Entity 2.0, or Jumpchan… and she seemed to know it.

She was impossible to contain for long, constantly trying to kill Atura or Taylor or both, and generally making a nuisance of herself at every opportunity. It took me nearly two years to figure out that Joy and The Lutece Twins were actively funneling Tinker Tech to her and aiding and abetting her mischief… but in my defense, I was highly distracted.

Finally, finally, finnnnallly… ten years were up. If you think I’m exaggerating how glad I was about that, believe me I’m not. As a non-physical agent, I’d been removed from the normal flow of time and that had been bad. After the fall of Scion, however, I’d been in pure computer mode for roughly nine and a half years…. Human time. As an FTL computer? That might as well have been 95 Million Years. And no… I’m not exaggerating. I spent a great deal of that time playing every single game ever created by every human culture any of my Shards could locate.

Meanwhile, Atura was making the world… Earth Bet, a bit more of a mess by taking direct control of the United States Government and, while steadfastly refusing to use any of my social perks, social skills, governance and organizational know how, or (in my opinion) common sense, trying to run the US like if you treated everyone nice, everyone would just get along. I think she was going a little bit crazy… in fact, I’m certain of it. Especially when she abolished the DOD and DHS and dialed back the Justice Department to… ummm… glorified social workers I believe the newspapers were calling it.

If it hadn’t been for State Governors stepping up and largely taken up the slack… eh what do I know? I’m just the big mean warmonger who makes bad decisions that punish genocidal fuckwits.

So, yeah. I was fairly pleased when the decade finally ended and we could move on… hopefully to something a little less apocalyptical… That pleasure lasted all of 20 seconds… human time.

No sooner was I back in control of the body, with Atura safely no longer in the driver’s seat, when I had to break up a fist fight between Carwyn and Ahab… who were flickering back and forth between Elf / Cyborg and Teenage girls… despite the fact that both Taylor and Emma were in their mid-twenties, the second the jump ended, they’d reverted back to the moment of peak hatred of each other. It was clear that somehow Taylor and Emma had… fused with Carwyn and Ahab and there was currently a fight for dominance fuelled by the desire to pound the other’s face in.

It took a few minutes to calm them down and pull them apart… and then it took a couple of hours to figure out exactly what was going on with them. This wasn’t like when Joy had become Planet. That had been a permanent shift to her personality matrix, a flowering of consciousness and expanded awareness. It was Joy, except it was Joy as Planet.

Carwyn and Taylor had been each other for a decade… For the nearly 10,000 year old Elf, that was a drop in the bucket. For the quarter-centenarian parahuman? It was 2/5ths of her total life and 2/3rds of the life she was really aware of. The two were also bound by being recipients of the same Shard. There was no separating them… they were, for all intents and purposes, the same entity… as far as the Chain was concerned. They also had only one body between them, which was more problematical… but since they largely shared a consciousness, it was like me and Atura to a large degree… though clearly, they could switch back and forth depending on which side of the personality was dominant.

That was them. Ahab and Emma were not like that. Ahab and Emma did not, it seems, particularly like each other. Ahab considered Emma to be a stupid, vain, and vicious child, with less humanity than a carp (his words, not mine), and Emma considered Ahab to be a bossy killjoy who wasn’t her fucking dad. They too shared a linked existence… but only because whichever was in control forced the other to be a passenger… and since both had complete access to the powers of the other… it was a surprisingly balanced fight. The body switched instantly when one took control and I could tell that Emma was freaking the fuck out about being stuck in the passenger seat… and Ahab was busy trying to actively throttle her as a form of self defense.

To be honest, I didn’t know whose side to be on. I really didn’t like the bitch, but it was hard to say she’d earned the indefinite limbo that would be her lot if she was stuck in Ahab’s head. But the alternative? Well, that was hardly something I was thrilled with… so I told Sarah… good old Tattletale (the name Lisa was a false one), to keep Carwyn & Taylor from bothering the warring duo, and got the still sulking, but theoretically now more sane Jumpchan to let me at the control console again.

I should say, just for the record, it wasn’t so much that she was allowing me into the control console… she was just letting me into the room where she thought the only control console access was. I didn’t think she really needed to know I’d given myself a literal backdoor into the system. If Higher hadn’t felt the need to stop me from having it, I figured they were sanguine with it… and I was not going to be held hostage by a dangerously unstable Benefactor again… if I could at all stop it. But she didn’t need to know that.

Once in the system, I located the physical forms of Emma Barnes and Ahab Bahs and physically separated the two. As a Shard, Ahab had a second form in the Wormiverse, albeit one that looked like a pulsating mountain of only vaguely mobile biomass… I took the liberty of forcing him into a smaller alt-form by establishing a upward bound on the maximum size of all companions in the warehouse… a bound that was actually 22% smaller than Darkseid’s prefered height. No one else in my group came close in their base form. I know, I know. Petty of me… but when you’re cute and nigh-omnipotent, you can get away with a lot.

~There you go again,~ Atura snapped, peevishly. ~You are not omnipotent.~

“I was thinking to myself, and I said nigh!” I growled back.

~Swollen head, that’s what you’ve got… you going to do anything for Taylor and Carwyn?~

“I can’t. They don’t have separate wavelengths. They are two halves of the same entity, not two entities sharing one body. If they want to spin off a second form, they’re going to need to find a way to… I’m not giving them that power, I use that power to create minions… or give you an independant form… Hey, give that back!”

Atura had snatched my Trickster power and the Shard Administrator Perk from me… which meant I couldn’t revoke it, nor bring new Shards online for myself. She’d also grabbed pretty much every single spiritual perk I had in the process as well, though I’d gotten all the mental perks and the physicals were about 60-40 in my favor. Unfortunately, her taking all the spiritual perks meant that she’d also absconded with Soul of Ice, Silent Judge, and the entire Union of Magi-King Priests. She’d taken Astral Layers, which caused all previous selves to enter dormancy… but not taken the Mind Palace… which meant it must be incredibly cramped inside her… and it meant that it was incredibly silent inside my head. I… was… pissed.

~I’ll return them when you prove you can be trusted with such things,~ she said, then leapt into a newly formed body and siddled away. I growled, then checked the console… it claimed that no, me stealing my own powers did not constitute a breach of fiat. I was not protected from a part of me being an immature brat. On the other hand, being logged into the Benefactor Control Console did let me know the instant that Atura pulled up the list of potential Side Jumps… ooooh… was that how she wanted to play it? Get all judgmental on me for doing what had to be done, will she?

I scanned the list, pulling out the five I considered the most likely choices for Miss ‘Conflict is Baaad, mmmkay.’ She’d taken my spiritual perks… not the mental ones. I was still orders of magnitude a faster thinker than she could even process data. I didn’t know what the hell Oreimo was… though it sounded vaguely familiar… or Slime Rancher, though that sounded amusing… and possibly kinky… but Animal Crossing, Farmville, Magic School Bus, Winnie the Pooh, and Sesame Street were all listed as ‘Safe for all Ages’… I then swapped out their destination codes with the destination codes listed for the five most hyperviolent and unlikely to be resolved by talking settings I could find… Yes, it was petty as hell of me… but she clearly needed a lesson in the ‘Not All Problems can be solved by talking to it’ school of philosophy. And that’s how Aliens vs Predator, Jason vs Freddy, Mad World / Anarchy Reigns, Highschool of the Dead, and Team Fortress 2 all got slotted into the list. And then I waited.

Twenty seconds later, Magic School Bus was picked and, true to form, Atura didn’t even bother to read the damn document… she just hit the Random Build function which absolutely no one had actually ever used before. I shook my head, then groaned as she doubled down on the stupidity by randomly snagging 7 more companions for what was going to be a shit show… I immediately overrode the randomization and selected the least likely to be traumatized group I could… Kagetane, Caine, The Bookers, the Dire Weasels, and both Choirs… I do feel a little bad admitting that I tried to send Ahab too, but I couldn’t… dammit… so I sent Dyna, who was a living warmachine and never got sick of battle… it was either her or Bart, and he’s actually pretty chill.

She hadn’t even looked to see who she’d dragged along with her before hitting Insertion, probably to stop me from trying to stop her. The Social perks had split in half… not along individual perk groupings, but the actual perks themselves had been divided, with the presence and charisma and empathy going to her half… and the ability to read and manipulate people going to mine. Just fucking wonderful this was.

“You should not be messing with the system like that,” Jump-Chan said, sitting at the table outside of herself and drinking a light beer… she would be a light beer drinker. She, like all the rest had gotten a sanity cleanser from leaving Worm… just FYI, having a functional psyche does not make most people less dickish unless that dickishness arouse from mental baggage. Jump-Chan was now fully adjusted to the human condition… and was not a pleasant being to hang out with.

She was opinionated in the extreme, incredibly conservative, almost nihilistically fatalistic, and had the self-preservation sense of a mesmerized rabbit… i.e. none. If she wasn’t incredibly powerful (she’d demonstrated the power to copy absolutely any perk that had been granted under her tenure… plus all the powers of a Tortallan God), she’d have been roadkill just walking down the street. She literally could not be arsed to avoid traffic… and she smoked and drank and did just unspeakable amounts of meth… then abused my Medbay when even her regen couldn’t cope with the damage she was doing to her body.

“Yeah? Well… you should act like a responsible Entity and not Scuzzilla the UberWastoid,” I snarked, “So forgive me if I don’t, you know, take your advice.”

“Just saying… if she dies in that jump, you chain-fail… you know that, right?”

I blinked at her, then shook my head, “Not a fucking chance. She and I might be one being, but she’s still officially a companion… which is the only fucking way what she did was at all legal. Sure, she essentially has all the keys to the fucking kingdom because of our bond and how she and I share abilities… but that’s a side jump. It says in the fine print I can’t be penalized for those, since I don’t have agency in those.”

“Fine… Whatever… but she’s right. Your go to plan is to kill whoever you think is the problem,” She pointed out, waving the bottle at me exactly like those adults I’d hated when I was a child did, the screaming hypocritical bitches whose lives were a fucking disaster telling me or my mother or sister or brother or… well… none of them were ever dumb enough to tell my dad off… he might have been a teddy bear, but he was a 6’2” 420 lbs teddy bear with a massive beard and eyes that knew when you were full of bullshit.

“Uh huh… said the patron of a warrior order dedicated to slaughtering all who opposed them,” I drawled, kicking the wall as it failed, for the third time, to bring up the build notes for the next jump. I knew it had to be one of 8 settings; Borderlands, DC (one of two jumps apparently), History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi, Honor Harrington, Naruto, Rick & Morty (Uuugh), Star Trek, and Undertale… but even with access to the Console, I couldn’t fucking get a list of the jumps that were to come. I was reduced to accessing the file system one at a time and getting told I didn’t have access. There were tens of thousands of the things, all different colors and patterns, and in nothing even vaguely resembling any conceivable alphabetical order.

“Oh? So you’re saying you only kill those who, in your mind, deserve it? That you get to choose who lives and who dies?” She asked. “Who appointed you judge, jury, and extinctioner.”

I flinched at that last one, a corruption of the old adage, and a dig aimed squarely at my absolute loathing for ‘Genocidal Fuckwits’ as I called them, but I turned to face her squarely. “A Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds. Only a fool sees conflict between espoused beliefs and real world necessities and assumes hypocrisy. As Pascal said ‘Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth.’ or, as the Vagina Monologues put it ‘The trick is to live in the contradictions while maintaining principles, beliefs, and purpose.’ I believe a great many things, Chamber… I contain multitudes, do I not? But while I believe in the sanctity of life, I believe more in the sanctity of the living, and while I believe in the sanctity of the living, I believe more in the sanctity of the future.” I looked at her and could tell she didn’t understand.

“If I take a life, it is because I believe that in doing so, I will make the lives of many others better in the short, medium, and long term by doing so. If I allow a life to end, it is because I believe that I cannot both save that life and make the world better in the long run. As for who appointed me? Why, the same beings that appointed you, of course. They have given me the power to play God and the necessity of justifying why I do not dedicate my every waking moment to the saving of ‘innocent’ lives.”

She frowned, realized she’d finished her beer, and waved Darkseid over to hand her a fresh one… like a freaking monster, she was drinking them warm and from the bottle. “Why don’t you?” she asked, as if the answer wasn’t painfully obvious.

I just stared at her, trying to remember how to not sound like an insensitive bitch… I couldn’t quite manage it. “You seriously cannot be this fucking dumb, right?”

“No. I’m serious,” she said, sipping the yeast-flavored water as if it were tea and not swill. “Why don’t you do just that?”

“Where would I stop?” I asked, shaking my head and trying the fifty-fifth folder.

“Stop what?”

“Stop saving lives? Do I stop with just humans? What defines human? Do I stop with only sapients? Where’s the line? Do I include artificial awarenesses? Lesser animals? Where do I stop when to save one life I would have to remove another from the equation? And do I stop at merely saving lives? What about protecting livelihoods? What about preventing injury? Where does that end?”

“Can’t you do it all? Stop all the suffering?”

“Of course I could… I could freeze the Universe in time. No suffering. No pain. No tomorrow… but then? What then?”

“Surely you could come up with a better solution than that!” She scoffed.

“Possibly… but why would I want to?” I asked, not even looking her way.

“I thought you were all about saving people!” She shot back.

“What a very strange thing to be about,” I responded, no longer even pretending to humor her.

“I’ve heard those lectures you give your foes! I’ve seen you work your wiles on those you seek to convert to your own ends!” the half-drunk benefactor accused. “You’re always going on and on about doing the ethical thing and not being evil.”

“You’re the Chamber of the Ordeal. Surely you don’t have a problem with the idealized knightly virtues?”

“I don’t! But you… you’re deliberately trying to confuse the issue!” The bottle shattered next to my head as she flung it, half full, at me. The foul brew splashed, then the bottle reconstructed itself and fell, harmlessly, to the floor.

“No. You’re trying to make this about my personal failings, trying to make it about some illusion you have that I think I’m infallible or always right or the supreme arbiter of righteousness. I don’t think that… as much as I may joke about always being right… sometimes there is no right and wrong, merely shades of dickishness and cooperation. But here’s what I know. Life is suffering… but it beats the alternative. Freedom from pain is freedom from motivation. Compromise is evil, but failure to compromise is idiocy. And last, but by no means least… Responsibilities trump good intentions.”

“What, in the name of Chaos, does that mean?”

“It means that you can believe in peace all you want, but when your neighbor just wants to burn the world down and piss on the smoldering bones of all you hold dear, you either stick to your guns… or put up your dukes. Finally,” I said with a grin as the 2,188th file folder (or conceptual equivalent) opened. There was some kind of popup that I didn’t understand, something about connectivity or repeated memes, something about mythological names? I hit confirm, as it was either that or engage in more annoying debate with the Bitch of the Ordeal… I was beginning to miss the Banker… hell, I was beginning to miss Mensarius… at least they’d been interesting in their utter cluelessness.

“HISTORY’S MIGHTIEST DISCIPLE: KENICHI!” read the title page once it had resolved into English. Ah yes… a fifty episode anime that (from what I’d read after watching the series on Netflix) had barely covered 1/5th of the manga’s monster 580+ issue run. They both told the tale of a earnest young idiot with little native ability in martial arts being trained by six largely dysfunctional superhumanly skilled martial arts masters. Those six masters; judo master and chiropractor Akisame Koetsuji; muay thai ‘Death God’ (not really a god, but really that good), idiot savant, and pure hearted saint Apachai Hopachai; gong fu cult leader, pervert, scapegrace, and accupuncturalist Kensei Ma; blacksmithing genius, Weapon Master, and probably asperger’s syndrome sufferer Shigure Kosaka; self proclaimed 100th dan karateka, lazy drunkard, and sometimes bodyguard Shio Sakaki; and legendary superman and undisputed most powerful character in the series, Hayato Furinji, made up the association known as Ryozanpaku… along with Shigure’s pet mouse ‘Tochumaru’ (also a world class martial artist) and Hayato’s granddaughter Miu (see Tochumaru’s note).

When Kenichi (who is habitually bullied by the ridiculously over the top meatheads who inhabit this world (and his school) but never gives up, despite being a coward) encounters new girl at school Miu, he falls for her immediately (thanks largely to the fact that she is both nice (in a stunning reversal of normal anime tropes where she’d be some kind of dere) and extremely buxom for a 16 year old gymnast… or, you know, for a Hooters girl (but not unreasonably so). He follows her home and soon gets roped into being trained by all the Masters of Ryozanpaku, who, despite his (so the story hammers in time and time again) lack of talent, turn him into a legendary martial artist… or, you know, History’s Mightiest Disciple.

I’d had any number of problems with the show in watching it and hadn’t read the comic to find out what happened next (though I’d read the synopsis just out of curiosity), largely because I could not stand the author’s incredibly unsubtle writing. Kenichi is Nanoha level good at the conversion of enemies… possibly better. Some of the people he manages to sway to the light side he doesn’t even have to fight, he manages to impress them so much with his overwhelming earnestness. He absolutely refuses to hit girls (not women, he never calls them that), even when they’re attacking him and insists on stepping in to defend female characters… even when they are known, by him, to be better martial artists than him.

And the sexism doesn’t stop there. It’s repeatedly hammered home that female martial artists (even in a world which has martial artists who can run on water and knock buildings down with a single punch) cannot fight male martial artists without weapons. The only member of Ryozanpaku’s elite who is female is Shigure, by far the least functional character in the series, and she is the only member of Ryozanpaku who fights with weapons. Miu, trained by Hayato, an absolute monster of a fighter, from infancy, is brilliant, but never rises to Kenichi’s end of the Anime levels and in the epilogue which shows them married, he’s stated to have become a legendary master or whatever, and she’s still, as far as anyone knows, still at the Disciple level. Oh, and she dreams of nothing more than being a wife… she also does all the cooking and cleaning for the useless masters of Ryozanpaku… yeah, I was not happy with the sexual politics of the show, which even for a Shonen Manga were particularly glaring.

Oh… and whenever Kenichi proclaims that he’s Ryozanpaku’s #1 Disciple… I’d wanted to punch him through a wall and point out that, no, Miu’s their #1… you’re #2, you fu… Of course, I’d also had a problem with the idea that Kenichi had no talent for martial arts. Clearly, this is bullshit. Kenichi not only fights and defeats people who are both hard working and said to be talented, but also hard working geniuses at martial arts (as in real genius, the kind that is autodidactic and intuitive). So either Ryozanpaku’s masters are so good that they can instill superhuman abilities into someone with no native ability, or their definition of ‘no talent’ is fucking weird.

No talent means no potential for being good at something. Some people will never be more than average at something, even if they dedicate years to studying it. Before perks, my ability to be a singer or musician was practically non-existent. I was pitchy, tone-deaf, and had very little sense of rhythm… I even sucked at rhythm games. The same things that made me such a good gamer, so good at fighting and physical activities, namely increased spatial awareness and nearly intuitive level reflexes (hey, I’d been a gymnast and martial artist before I’d ever left earth… wooo Cheersquad! Not world class or anything, but I’d been good if not supremely dedicated) had hindered me in other fields. As a tutor and teacher, I’d seen enough students who were just never going to be good at math or writing, though they’d be able to become competent if they worked at it.

To be good or great at a thing requires the physical, mental, and (some would say) spiritual underpinnings of it. The idea that anyone can be good at anything if they only put their mind to it is a toxic one, though minor as toxins go. To be great? It takes talent and hard work or genius. To be the best? That takes genius and hard work. That’s how these things work. A good teacher or two or three or six can make a huge difference, even to a genius, but without dedication and a body, mind, and spirit that can handle the rigors? It’s just not going to happen.

That all said, the series was about seeking your own path, living by your own code, and that bullying was a fucking dick move. So it’s hard to fault it there. Good lessons mixed with stupid ones. What more can one expect from comic books aimed at teenage boys? And I did like a couple of the characters… mostly Apachai and Kenichi’s father (who’s a lunatic but dedicated to his family… seriously, the guy owns shotguns and rifles and names them… in Japan!) and Kenichi’s sister Honoka… who is such a little brocon it’s not funny. She’s 14 (three years younger than Kenichi) during most of the story and just… adorable. Also a genius at Othello and kinda inept at most other things… but enthusiastic, which made up for much of that.

She could also cook a bit… certainly better than most at Ryozanpaku could. There, only Miu and, rather stereotypically, Kensei Ma, who knew all about chinese cooking, of course. He also had a quite attractive daughter who formed part of Kenichi’s unofficial (because he was smitten with Miu and unable to tell her) harem (along with a girl in his flower gardening club)… But all of that was getting ahead of things. This Jump might have been named for Kenichi, but it was a big world and all this jump meant was I’d have to share it with him.

I scrolled down past the single paragraph of introductory material, skimming through the all too brief description of the conflict between Ryouzanpaku and YAMI (the Shadloo-expy evil underworld martial-arts criminal empire of the Kenichi-verse) and found the ‘Identities’… Drop-In, Delinquent, Disciple, and Prodigy, all of which cost 100 CP except for DI. Delinquents were blessed with an innate sense of battle, but minimal training; Disciples were newcomers to the world of high level martial artistry but blessed with a Master-Class teacher; and Prodigies were the child of a master, heir to their techniques and school, with their genes and training from a very young age, but a lot of expectations. The age range was 11 to 18.

Drop-In I immediately dismissed. Its perks were based on a character named Niijima Haruo who was a slimy worm, an ex-bully and data-broker who used Kenichi’s successes in battling first random bullies and later Ragnarok and YOMI (the junior division of YAMI) to build what amounted to a legion of thugs and punks who were only technically good guys (most of the major players were the Kenichi reformed bullies, thugs, and gang leaders that Niijima had blackmailed or confused or nagged into joining). Not only was he a weasel (and not in a good way), a coward, a cheat, and a jackass… he was also freaking creepy as hell. Also obviously not human… he had pointy teeth like a shark, elfin ears, and antennae sprouting from the top of his head. He was often referred to as a kappa, but someone no one ever really seemed to think he was an alien or something else inhuman… though he clearly was! Anyway, I didn’t need perks that let me hide weapons, study people imperfectly, or brainwash with nagging.

Delinquent too was out of the question. The Capstone was called Berserker and required being stressed to work… ugh. Idiocy. The other perks (Ambition and Animalism) were slightly more interesting, but Ambition was like a really really low rent version of Path to Victory that could only focus on one thing at a time and only made you more alert to opportunities… and Animalism just made copying animal movements into martial arts easier. Yeah…. I had that down already.

Which left Disciple and Prodigy, each of which had an intriguing Capstone. Disciple had Combat Empathy, the ability to read the flow of an opponent’s movements, sensing not only the thoughts and emotions behind their attacks, but also where they planned to hit. Since I’d been stripped of all my spiritual powers (which included magic, which included my 3 second combat precog) and empathy by a certain someone, this could be helpful… though I still had a Mentat’s superhuman calculation even if I currently wasn’t a Kwisatz Haderach. Prodigy had Ki Kneading, the ability to shape the ki within my body, manipulate every muscle and even move around organs if needed. Again, it was a mix of something I could do and something I should have been able to do… most frustrating. As a psychic, I knew all about biopathy… but biopathy was the one major area of psi power that I’d gotten from Warhammer 40k… which meant it was spiritual in nature and thus I’d been stripped of it by the pain in the ethereal ass. I also normally had mountains of ki and the ability to shift it as I wanted or needed… but Ki is largely spiritual and I currently had the ki of a very healthy normal and the same amount of ability to shift it… So that was no help at all.

What ended up deciding me was simple. Prodigy’s other two perks suuuuucked. Civilian Skills (the freebie) allowed easier synergy between mundane tasks and martial arts training (i.e. what basic creativity is for) and Used to It kept the user calm in battle and inhibited battle trauma (but didn’t grant blanket protection from it… nor did it seem that the author was aware that physical trauma was a thing, because the wording was entirely about mental trauma… but unless made use of the general term). On the other hand, Disciple had Discipline (never grow bored or lose focus while training) which was nice enough but useless for me in my current or normal states, and Etiquette (the freebie), which granted instinctive knowledge connected to any martial art, martial arts society, or martial culture. The idea of knowing how to avoid (or cause) offense at will for any culture rooted in combat and discipline was just too good… and it was free! (with purchase).

And that’s how I spent my first 400 CP (100 on Disciple / Etiquette, 300 on Combat Empathy). A quick spin of the dice and I was 17 years old and I’d be starting off at a place called ‘Yamigadani’ (literally valley with darkness… or Valley of Darkness), a secret secluded glade high in the mountains with unnaturally thick air that made it perfect for training in the martial arts… and survival for that matter, as it was hours from civilization.

The next section was a trio of mutually exclusive choices defining how my martial arts and persona in this world would be viewed unless I made a conscious choice to change it… that they each came with a minor bonus and that none of them cost anything (besides not being able to take their opposite) made the taking one from each a no brainer. The first of them, however, immediately raised my hackles and made me very much wonder if Kenichi had originally been the follow up to Worm or if it had been added right after Atura and I’d had our falling out.

That choice was between Katsujinken (Life Giving Fist, the core philosophy of Ryozanpaku) or Satsujinken (Death Giving Fist, the core philosophy of YAMI / YOMI). Satsu’s followers, those who embraced the so called ‘Path of the Asura’ were sociopaths who believed that the true purpose of martial arts was to spread fear and terror in those weaker than yourself and to seek to improve the self at the expense of others. Taking it would grant a minor perk that nerfed my conscience, allowing me to kill without remorse. It didn’t even matter what Katsu had to offer, of course.

Despite what a tiny voice (the echo of Silent Judge? I hope she was making life miserable for Atura.) might have been whispering, I had absolutely no desire to actually take Satsujinken. Only spite was tempting me, and I quashed it and growled, locking in Life Giving Fist and accepting the perk that granted a kind and calm demeanor, one capable of setting just about anyone at ease and guaranteeing that as long as I didn’t kill on purpose I could dialogue with my opponent before any act of open combat. That wouldn’t last long, but in this jump I’d do my best not to kill… there just weren’t many in this world I was really interested in taking out, and those I was I could do with less lethal methods.

The second choice was harder, though not much; Weapons or Unarmed. I like weapons. Weapons are useful… but in this setting? A setting almost entirely dedicated to unarmed men and armed women? How could I do anything but go in unarmed… plus, I didn’t currently have my sword. All picking unarmed did was make my unarmed strikes more damaging and accurate. It wasn’t much, but did cut down on the likelihood of me accidentally stabbing someone.

And that just left Sei vs Dou… i.e. Internal or External ki usage. Dou users were emotion driven in combat and more aggressive slash explosive. Sei users were calmer, more centered, and reactive. Dou focused on amping the user and countering attacks. Sei focused on anticipation, focus, and innovation… and lots of blocking. My Ki value being far smaller than it should be, combined with my natural preference for fighting smart, made this choice too a foregone conclusion.

And that brought me to the land of individual styles. The first was free and more could be bought for a small CP outlay… but since what came was the very basics of the chosen style… this was essentially taking barely the qualifications to graduate from uninitiated novice (mukyu) to (since I wasn’t an adult yet) 10th kyu (kyu ranks, unlike dan ranks, count downward) white belt. 50 CP for even a first dan (basic black belt) was too damned much. First Dan was basic mastery. As in you’d learned all the basic moves and were completely competent. It was the equivalent of a highschool diploma or a vocational certificate. There was a fairly detailed list, but I noticed that I could take any real-world martial art and just decided to take Kalaripayattu, one of the oldest known martial arts and one I had never studied. It was from ancient India, a holistic style that focused in near equal parts on damaging and healing. It went hand in hand with Yoga and specialized in oils and massage therapy, had both armed and unarmed forms, and it was on the list, which was interesting.

It was on the list… but some of the martial arts I was already 10th Dan plus in weren’t (the israeli developed Krav Maga for one… though I was also a master of Kurash / Sambo (classic Turkic catch wrestling and the later commando version); five varieties of  Karate / Kenpo including Aikido, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Isshin-Ryu, and Shotokan); a dozen varieties of Kung Fu including Hung Ga Kuen, Bajiquan, Bagua or Eight Trigrams Palm, Northern Mantis, White Crane Boxing, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Tai Chi Chuan, Xing Yi Quan, Jokuzetsuzokoryu, Eagle Claw, and Drunken Boxing; Iaido and Kenjutsu (but not ninjutsu); various forms of kickboxing including Muay Thai, Savate, Boxing, Kickboxing, and Capoeira; three different Korean martial arts (Hwa Rang Do, Tang Soo Do, and Taekwondo); and over a dozen others that just didn’t exist on Earth… or this Earth… such as Asari hand-to-hand plus biotics Unthong; Magi elemental Bakshu and the Avatar bending arts that inspired them; Liakh-ae’ri (Romulan/Vulcan) and Mok’Bara (Klingon) from Star Trek; the Kryptonian Klurkor; Shii-Cho, Makashi, Soresu, Ataru, Shien, Djem So, Niman, Juyo and Vaapad from someplace where those who know those names will care and no one else will; Rokushiki, Fishman Karata, and various other Haka related techniques including my own Rabid Wolverine Kung Fu from One Piece; rather embarrassingly Hip-Hopkido from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers; CQC and HF Swordsmanship from Metal Gear; Psychic Combat from Psychonauts; and (of course) Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu from Ranma ½.

I had, not to put it too lightly, a lot of experience with martial arts… all of which I pushed to the back of my mind and didn’t quite forget. For now, I was just… mmm… Chinese? I like being Chinese… Mmm… no… Yao. I’d be Yao, from Myanmar. And my named would be… Sun Ji… Good name.

I scrolled down to see what else I might get free, or feel like spending points on and found Master’s Body… which was free, but only after 10 years. Yaaaaay. It gave me (you guessed it) the body of a master… near tireless, capable of fighting for days without sleep and limited food, never getting winded and able to engage in vigorous physical activity even after extreme exercise. It also granted limitless logarithmic growth of physical strength, durability, speed, and agility… which was nice… or would be, in a decade.

Below that was the General Perks section, with a floating discount on any two perks I wanted. There were 8 perks in the section and each cost 150 with the discount, so taking one essentially meant taking 2 or wasting some CP. That said, most of them were useless for me.

One granted the ability to use both Sei and Dou ki at the same time… but it had a time limit and damaged the body and nervous system. One granted low end superhuman strength and endurance, another superhuman speed and agility, and a third superhuman senses and awareness… all of which I already had. A fourth offered incredible beauty, which (even if I hadn’t already had that from a plethora of sources) I wouldn’t have taken here… not that I had any intention to toggle my looks off. I had them already. Ditto Youth and Longevity, which granted prime of life and a lifespan five times the normal human limit. It was teachable, which would have been amazing… if I couldn’t just teach people to be ageless immortals… or link them to my tree friend and grant them unending youth and health forever.

But then there were Martial Arts Medicine which would allow me to apply my martial arts techniques to the act of healing people instead of harming them… which was most agreeable, though it couldn’t fix life-threatening injuries, bring the dead back to life, or regrow lost limbs. It could, however do anything that modern medicine could and then some, including repairing nerve damage, regenerating organ function, and curing cancer with little more than a few sessions. Sure, sure, I could do that with my Medbay… but the Medbay was a tool that I could not replicate. I could also do it with my technology… and much much more, but very little in life matches the hands on experience… and this I could teach with relative asurity of not giving out the tech needed to cause an ELE. It even meshed well with Kalarippayattu’s massage techniques. Bonus!

But taking it meant finding a way to spend that blasted 50… and thankfully, the last item was Enhanced Ki. It gave me back a large chunk of the ki I had been stripped of and granted me a sense of my own Ki that I’d also lost, plus a greater ability to channel it that would enhance Sei or Dou to a much greater degree. While I couldn’t yet project it with this alone, as a Master I’d be able to… and it wasn’t just buying something to cover up a temporary issue. The perk would stack with any boost to ki, chi, aura, or any other body-based energy field I might have… say biopathy, endurance, the force, etc… once i got them back, of course.

Would spanking Atura mean I’d have to spank myself? Questions questions. I was down 700, and at the items. There were three 50 CP items that were just crap. A million yen untraceable (10k in US Dollars), a gun, and Victory Medals… really? Sigh. I did get a ‘Sword’ free. Not really a sword, but some tool to carry into battle and place my heart, soul, and trust in. For unarmed fighters, it was a set of forearm or foreleg protectors that would become more durable and fit better as my skill and mastery increased. I set them to import to Victoria (of course), as I already trusted her with all that. She was like my own skin to me, and just as precious… especially since she was currently engaged in a glaring contest with Ziggy for some reason. I wasn’t going to ask.

As a Disciple, I also got Kenichi’s collection of Self Help Books (you know, ‘An Idiot’s Guide to X’ texts?). It was a small bookcase filled with all sorts of guides to any mundane skill, though these ones could be read in half the time with twice the retention of normal self-help books… so, for me… still instant and absolute, but they could be shared with others, so that was nice. It was free, I should complain?

Sorry, that was very Jewish of me. However, only one item i’d have to actually pay for interested me at all. Self-sorting PDAs, small gang hideouts, warehouse dojo additions, weapons, admission to a private school, training gear? None of these appealed. What did appeal, however, was the Secret of Steel, the best item from the Prodigy line.

It was an illustrated guide to using traditional Japanese techniques to forge weapons, armor, and tools far better than anything that could possibly be made with even the most advanced metallurgical technology. Steel swords that could cut through stone and steel and more with enough strength and training without ever dulling. Steel armor that would never corrode and was nearly indestructible. Steel hand tools able to produce results that rivaled or exceeded advanced modern technology, such as a chisel that could quarry granite or marble as fast as a team of men with diamond drill bits and high explosives, or an axe that could fell trees faster than a chainsaw, or a hand shovel that could do the work of a steam shovel.

For 400, I had to have it… but I still had a floating discount and nothing I’d wanted had cost 100 CP, so I finagled the system into accepting the discount on that. I was now out of points. If I wanted companions imported, I’d have to take drawbacks… not that there was much chance I wasn’t going to do that anyway.

As it turned out, I could, if I wanted, get a Master Companion free of charge. It would be someone below the level of Ryozanpaku or YAMI, and they’d train me for roughly five years, then disappear, leaving me to find my own path for another five years or so, then show up and impart the last bit of knowledge I’d require to reach the rank of true master (yeah, like it will take me even a year to reach that rank)… Or, if I was feeling like being a glutton for punishment, I could sign on to Ryozanpaku and pick one or more (at 300 a pop) of the canon masters.

I shrugged and picked Apachai. He was amusing… and really tall. Okay, not really. I think officially he’s only like 6’6”? 6’7”… but I like tall men. Especially kind, strong, handsome tall men who are good with animals and children. Yum. If only he were smarter. Still, he’d be an interesting teacher… I restored my full knowledge of Muay Thai and its grappling counterpart Muay Boran. If I was going to train under Apachai, I wasn’t going to start at the bottom. I was probably a 6th dan in Muay Thai, and a 3rd dan in Muay Boran… by comparison to Apachai, I’d be a novice anyway.

A warning appeared as I confirmed my choice. “By selecting a member of Ryozanpaku as your master, you have signed up for ‘The Shadow War’ drawback for no CP back. Have a nice decade.” Wait, what? What the hell was ‘The Shadow War’?

I scrolled down ‘til I found it. “Ah,” I grunted. +200 CP in theory, it meant that I’d be drawn into the events of the main plot… and be present for all major conflicts therein… Siiigh. Wonderful. I was going to be an integral part of the conflict between Ryozanpaku and YAMI… should have seen that coming, really. Whatever. Fine. That’s 200 I can’t take. How much can I?

Turns out the answer was 600, which was just enough to buy enough import slots to grant 700 CP, a free origin, and up to 200 CP of personal drawbacks to 16 different companions. Fine. Let’s do this. The things I do to these people… I mean for! FOR THESE PEOPLE! Shut up.

Another notice popped up. “Due to your current crippled state, you have been awarded 200 CP and all your transhuman abilities have been suppressed. We trust you will understand. -Jumper Relations Office, Higher.” What followed was a really depressing list of everything that I’d be unable to do. All my psychic powers, my shapeshifting… even alt-shifting, super-strength, most of my regen had been dramatically slowed, all my energy projection abilities were reduced to little more than cosmetic. It was a right royal boning. I think they might have been pissed I ate Eden and effectively gained a few trillion Shard Abilities in theory.

Another notice popped up. “In order to preserve some balance, you are limited to granting yourself three (3) Shards every jump. You may change them once per jump. You may distribute shards as you see fit to others, of course. If this seems unreasonable, we remind you that you will have access to [Companion-Self Designate Atura]’s Complete Arsenal once you resolve your differences. Once you have obtained your Shard, you may make use of as many as you like. -Jumper Oversight Office, Higher.”

“Fuuuck, youuuuuu!” I muttered. “Fine… I need 400 more… Hmmm… Sexist? No thanks. Oh! I like this one!!” I commented to no one… or so I thought.

“Which One?” Maidseid asked, looming over me and glowering darkly. She/he always loomed and glowered darkly. She was holding a tray with a note reminding me that I had 20 minutes until dinner.

“This one,” I pointed out the drawback, then laughed at the irony of it. The drawback was called ‘The Superman’, though it wasn’t about our mutual ‘friend’ Kal El. No, this was about Furinji Hayato, Grandmaster of Ryozanpaku, a man who had never, canonically, known defeat. Master of 108 preternatural techniques, able to bend battleship cannons, flip tanks single-handedly, and defeat five-hundred Shaolin Masters by himself, in one grand melee. The drawback said I’d pissed him off and, in five years time, he’d find me no matter where I was, and that he’d have a hard counter for any supernatural ability or power I could possibly use against him. He and I would have to have a ‘conversation’… with our fists and feet… lasting no less than thirty days. If i was able to survive that, he’d acknowledge my strength… only to challenge me to a rematch at the end of the stay having spent the intervening years training and become roughly twice as strong. Failing either fight would count as a loss.

“Does that mean a chain fail?” Maidseid asked, “Or just a loss… because of course losing a fight means you lost? That is a tautology.”

“It is, indeed. Yes. But it does not say chain failure. Perhaps the writer meant ‘Losing either of these fights will count as a failure.’… but they didn’t. Still, I don’t plan to lose.”

“It says he is invincible,” she pointed out.

“I didn’t say I plan to win either,” I responded, then hit confirm, adding another 300 CP to my balance, leaving me at -100. I shrugged and toggled on ‘Fanservice’ for that last amount. What the hell did I care if i had to fight naked? This was battle, not… I dunno… dating.

“Hey, I know you’re an evil bastard… but you want to come along? Absolutely no killing allowed… and I’m guessing you’ll be just as limited as I am… but it could be an interesting challenge, no?”

The massive 8 foot tall stone-skinned maid glowered at me, then grunted. “Very well. I do enjoy punching people who annoy me. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to punch you, Mistress.” And she stomped out as I contemplated who else to add. I checked, yes, more than half my companions had [Crippled +200 CP] automatically tagged to them if they were imported. It was, essentially, everyone who would have waxed the floor with the Ryozanpaku masters.

I considered, then released 7 platinum snitches (much much harder to catch than golden snitches and capable of defending themselves with a number of powerful hexes). “Attention companions of the Great and Powerful EssJay. I’ve released the snitches. Anyone who brings me one will be allotted two slots for importation into the newest jump. It is tagged ‘Earth, 2000s, Japan, Martial Arts, Low Absolute Danger, Massive Nerf Automatic, and Shonen’. Let the hunt commence.”

Jump-chan glowered at me over the pile of bottles that surrounded her. She was laying on the floor and clearly incredibly hammered. “S… zat’s… zat’s on’y fif… hic… fifty… umm…” she looked at her hands, then corrected herself, “Fifdeen… is on’y fifdeen.”

“I know,” I commented, then nailed her in the chest with a tablet. “You’re coming with. Congratulations, you’ve just been depowered, bitch.” And I stomped off feeling slightly better. This might even be fun.

By the time dinner had ended, all seven snitches had been caught. My companions are very clever people, after all. Of course, I say that, but the first to catch a Snitch had been Cirno. Never underestimate someone born and raised in Bullet-Hell when it comes to flying and either avoiding things or (as it turns out) catching them. She didn’t even hesitate before picking Amaryllis as her plus one… despite Amy protesting that she didn’t want to go to the punching place. Cirno actually played the ‘Mom-card’ and insisted that Amy’s fighting style was all brawn and no finesse and that was bad. I consulted with Velma and she confirmed that she hadn’t even coached Cirno on that, so props to the ditzy Ice Fairy!

Kendra and Zane had raced to get a snitch, apparently having wagered some very naughty and potentially embarrassing favors against who could catch one. Kendra’s forfeit if Zane managed it was that she’d have to spend the decade as a MAN baby!… well, okay, just as a guy… and so it came as little surprise that she’d snagged the second. Smirking at her husband, she’d then picked Bao (her GBFF) to be her plus one. Zane had shrugged, pretending nonchalance, then whispered to me, “The baby will be alright, right?”

“The kid will be fine. She’s been using alt-forms every jump. Only in between when she doesn’t have that option is there progress. By the end of this gap, she’ll be four months pregnant. I can’t make any absolute guarantees, but it should be safe… and that, quite frankly, is a better guarantee than most parents get… so buck up.” I grinned, “So… what did you wager if she caught one?” He whispered in my ear and I grinned even  more. “Oh? Really! I can’t wait to see that!”

He harrumphed, then stalked out, muttering about ‘wimminfolk’.

Third to catch one was Amelia, and out of loyalty to her queen… I do so love that about her (she’s so adorably forthright), she said she was picking Anne… just as Ann walked into my office holding a snitch of her own in one hand and a quantum grappling-hook in the other. That was just cheating that was. The two looked at each other, then laughed and shook their heads in amusement at the situation.

“Your majesty, please. You should select first,” Amelia offered.

“Nonsense, Admiral! You arrived with your flutterball first, you have first pick!” the monarch insisted. In that moment I had an idea and, chuckling, made a note to myself to have a deck of cards printed with myself as the Empress of Coins, Anne as the Empress of Cups, Gaius as the Emperor of Swords, and Uriel as the Emperor of Wands. That would make hmmm… I guess Zane the Warlord of Coins, Amelia the Warlord of Cups, Reggy the Warlord of Swords, and Bao the Warlord of Wands. But who for the Knaves? So many choices…

As I pondered, VIvian was already commissioning dozens of artisans within the Neo-Magi Hegemony to begin creating artwork for the decks to come. She did this automatically whenever I thought up an art project, a novel idea for a show, game, or book, or even a new recipe or scrap of song. I suppose it might be a little bit creepy to have artisans who literally work to bring your merest whim to life… but I guess that’s one of the benefits of being a Empress. I had the people and I did provide them everything they needed… even if they had to live in a subspace bubble that kept jumping from universe to universe or serve on ships that occasionally turned into people.

“I think… I’ll invite the new girl… Lisa? She seems… I don’t know… like she’d be a good fighter,” Amelia said.

“Actually, her name is Sarah. Lisa is a fake name,” I supplied. “Which is good. I have a personal bias against the name Lisa.” Those listening made note and would promulgate the information.

Anne considered Amelia’s nomination, then agreed. “Very well, then I’ll invite Carwyn & Taylor… or is it Carwyn Taylor? Taylor Carwyn?” She shook her head and shrugged, “Whichever. I’ll bring them along. Ahab will import himself and Emma, naturally, so all three will be together. Old friends, working things out the old fashioned way.”

“With Violence!” both Amelia and I said together, chuckling.

Next to arrive were the twins, Invidius having actually caught the sphere, and they’d brought their sisters as they did everywhere. It was charming… and not at all a little creepy how the four of them got along. Not… at… all. Also not my concern as long as none of the rules were being broken. Yes, we had rules! We’re not total barbarians! But I won’t go into them… they’re boring and weird and deal with ethical situations involving beings who have so many stacked charisma perks that questions of consent become functionally impossible to parse. Power dynamics among godlike beings are never, ever, as simple as they are with mortals.

Just as an example? Carwyn was superhumanly beautiful. At what point does beauty pass the limits of compromising free will? Gaius and Reggy, as well as their children, were all insanely powerful Furycrafters. That meant they were, even when not doing so actively, superhumanly charismatic. Caine and Tokimi and Sakura were all essentially gods, with the presence and majesty to match, if they didn’t tamp it down. Francine was such a powerful telepath that unless you had powerful blocks, she knew every thought you had. Possibly even the thoughts you yourself didn’t know about.

The list went on and on and the ethical and moral issues would have stumped the brightest philosophers in human history… In fact, thanks to Sakura’s ability to pull up the greatest minds of humanity’s past, we’d actually consulted. Plato, Aristotle, DaVinci, Dante, Nietzsche, Camus, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Marshall (Thurgood, not Gary or Penny), Franklin, plus a hundred more. We’d set them up on a resort back in Yu-Gi-Oh with all the coffee and pastries they could eat and set them working on a decade long convention. Half of them had gone mad by the end of the third year. The rest had succumbed one by one or taken up drinking, drugs, or escapist behaviour by the eighth. There were no winners of that Holy Grail Symposium.

Next in the door was Buji, tugging Simon along. Buji looked thrilled, Simon much less so. In fact, Simon was trying to get Buji to take his mother instead, claiming, “She loves fighting! I don’t! Buuujiiiii!” but young Master Bei-fong would not be denied, and I hadn’t said anything about requiring permission to recruit your second. After all, I hadn’t exactly ‘asked’ Chamber if she wanted in.

And then, just as the deserts were being served, in walked an incredibly smug Zane, clutching a snitch that looked as if it had taken heavy plasma fire. He slammed it down on the table, earning a glare from Ziggy, and crowed, “SO THERE!”

“I’m not Kendra, and just because you’ve got a snitch doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, buddy boy,” I pointed out. “By the terms of your wager, since both of you got snitches, both of you have to pay the penalty. You didn’t wager who would catch one first, though I suspect that was your intention. You wagered what would happen if the other caught a snitch… period.” I’d pulled the terms off VIvian… all wagers are formally recorded in the Warehouse… to be fair, EVERYTHING is recorded in the Warehouse… I’d just had to set VIvian to receive the raws from the command console’s feeds… and no, she could not back channel into them. Higher wasn’t that stupid and neither was I. I love VIvian… but even allowing me limited access to the ComCon was insanity… and I mean me allowing myself access. I was bound to do something really stupid eventually.

In the feed, Zane and Kendra were leaning on opposite counters in the kitchen, chatting, when my announcement came through. “Bet you I get the ball first,” Kendra said.

“Yeah? Whatcha wager?” Dogboy drawled, setting down his coffee.

“If I get the snitch, you have to be a cute little trap… with pig-tails, for the next decade,” the dark-skinned slayer said, eyes bright with mischief.

“You perverted wench,” Zane replied. “Well… if I get the snitch, you have to actually be a dude. And not a girly dude… a like… you know… Man’s Man dude.”

“Really? That’s what you’re going after? Do you have a secret longing to be with a Man’s Man, little boy?” she asked, running her fingers down his chest.

“What?! No! I’m not like your boyfriend! I like chicks! Babes! You know… split-tails and… I just… bah!” he waved his hands in the air. “I was trying to make you uncomfortable. But you’re right. If you’re a dude I can’t tap that. I’ll come up with something else, gimme a sec.”

“Buzzzt!” She tapped his nose. “Tooo late! You already set the wager and I accept. Catch me if you can.”

Zane (both the recorded and live versions) groaned. I ended playback and looked over at him, eyebrow raised. “So… your wife’s gonna be a dudebro and you’re going to be an otoko-no-ko… this should be deeply embarrassing for both of you. Oh, and just so you know… alt-form shifting is nerfed for this jump… all shapeshifting too. So… enjoy.”

He growled, then kicked the edge of my desk and flopped into a chair. “How the hell am I gonna pull looking like Pippi Longstocking?!”

“Not my problem… but this is Japan, home of Shotacons and Lolicons of all stripes… now who are you taking as your plus one?”

“Hmmm? Oh… AJ I guess.”

“Good choice,” I commented, as if it hadn’t been nearly a certainty that Zane would invite his best friend besides me or Kendra. I shooed them all out and finished my dessert before going to find my newest Passenger.

“Well Tattle,” I asked, finding the young woman in the library (the public one, not the one in my house). “Is it everything I promised you it would be?” I asked as I walked her back to my office.

“I can’t believe I’m talking to the voice that was inside my head… who turns out to be a tiny little girl with a… is this really a warehouse? It looks like a town… a weird town, but just a town.”

“Well, yeah. Space is a bit wonky here… the central footprint is under 80x spatial compression, so you’re looking at a little over 6.4 million square feet, and there is a ceiling up there,” I pointed upwards, “And walls out there,” I waved my hand vaguely around us. “But, like my youth, it’s all appearances. We haven’t been formally introduced. I am called EssJay. I have other names, but they’re used only under specific circumstances… and you can stop straining. You’ll give yourself a Thinker Headache and you won’t be able to read me.”

“Okay… Okay… Just… I mean, who are you? Where is this? Why did I come here? I mean, Taylor said I should… and you were able to give me information that proved you weren’t a voice in my head… but did you use some kind of Stranger power to make me come here?” She looked concerned, and I knew that if I said the wrong thing she was going to draw her gun on me. She’d upgraded from a pistol to a Tinker-Tech mass-driver over the last decade, and had no idea that it would have as much chance of hurting me as she’d have punching out The Hulk.

“Nope. Everything you did was of your own freeish will. I could easily do so,” I demonstrated by having her touch her eyeball with one fingertip, unable to blink at all, and unaware she was doing so until she suddenly was aware with the fingertip right in contact. That elicited a little hyperventilating and a minor freak out, but once I’d assured her that her eye wasn’t damaged and that I wouldn’t do it again, I continued. “As for what I am? I am many things. I am one of the two Entities that replaced the original pair that came to your world, the ones who would have destroyed it if they could have, it and all other local Earths. One, the one I replaced, was the one Cauldron was using to create their minions. Her name was Eden and she died soon after reaching the Earth Cauldron came from. The other, Zion, was what Scion was an extension of. I destroyed him and replaced him with something better.”

“Better? In that it won’t try to destroy the world?”

“Exactly. It is humanity’s guardian now… though also it’s tester. It’s a somewhat adversarial relationship, but I trust you’ve noticed that the newer bunch of Parahumans have been less…”

“Psychotically inclined?”

“That,” I agreed. “I am also Carwyn… that’s Taylor’s Elf Side… her lover.”

“Ewww… You’re like… you look… umm… short?” she responded without thinking first, then gulped. “Don’t destroy me.”

“While I may be small, it is a choice. This form is my default. Eternally youthful… but I’m closer to 15,000 than 15.”

“Taylor’s straight,” she pointed out.

“Carwyn isn’t. In fact, Carwyn’s entire species would look at you in confusion if you brought up the subject of sexual orientation. They literally don’t have words for hetero or homosexual. The closest they have translates to ‘momentarily monogamous’ in that they prefer one on one encounters rather than orgies or three-somes or… you get the picture. Carwyn is of that kind. She enjoys having her partner focused on her and is monumentally vane, smug, and condescending. Taylor was a moderating force on her, but that’s only because Taylor and you are quite young and considerably less experienced.”

“That still doesn’t explain what’s going on, you know?” She half-whined. Inference Engine was giving her nothing to work on from me and the entire situation was so impossible from her frame of reference that she couldn’t make the intuitive leaps needed.

“I know. And what I’m going to say next? It’s not going to help much,” I handed her a vodka cranberry and motioned for her to sit.

“That drink just appeared in your hand…”

“It only seems that way. I actually moved faster than you can perceive and pulled it out of that drinks dispenser over there.”

She looked over and blinked, “The one that looks like a Star Trek prop from the tv-series?”

“It’s not a prop. That is a food synthesizer from the USS Potemkin. One of Enterprise’s sister ships. And the suit hanging on the wall in the other room, it’s a Freemen stillsuit from Arrakis.” I pointed as I spoke. “That’s a real lightsaber, that’s Superman’s cape, that’s one of Smaug’s claws, and this? Is Cinderella’s glass slipper.”

She studied each of them in turn, comprehension slowly dawning, then looked back to me. “You can travel between fictional universes?”

“Can is probably the wrong word. I am required to. Yours was the 75th… give or take,” I agreed, tossing her the tablet that contained Zane’s copy of Worm. “Read that. That was the original history of your world. Then read this,” I tossed her a Kenichi Companion Import Tablet. “You’ve got a week. You can talk to anyone you like here, go anywhere a door will open for you… no security system here can be hacked by your power. When you’re done and ready to talk, come back and find me. I’ll answer any questions you might have.”

=====A Week Later====

“I hear you got very drunk and picked a fight with Carwyn,” I commented as Tattletale walked back into my office. She looked strung out, like she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in about five days. If I judged her reading speed correctly, it had taken her nearly five days of increasingly nightmare-ridden sleep to make it through all of Worm and its supplemental material. I’d also included the novelization (in short form) of what I’d done and why.

She looked at me, flinched, shuddered, stumbled forward a couple of steps, and collapsed into my arms as I leapt over the desk and caught her. She began weeping, shaking violently. The trauma of realizing you’re fictional from someone else’s perspective is nearly impossible to parse. Some can’t really comprehend it, and so it doesn’t bother them much… but Tattletale’s power meant that she understood all too completely… and the absolute horror of what had happened to her friends, her world… it had come periously close to breaking her.

Helping her back to her seat, I gave her a light sedative from a hypospray and sat facing her on the edge of the coffee table. “You have questions?”

She blinked, then giggled nervously. “Do people usually have questions for god?”

“I’m not your creator,” I said.

“Messiah then. You saved the world… you’ve saved a lot of them, according to the others. Some of them say you’re their goddess. Even those who don’t say you are a Goddess. You’ve ruled galaxies?”

I shrugged as if to say it wasn’t a major thing, that anyone in my position could have… which was a tautology, but there you go. “I have ruled those who allowed me to rule them. Being a God is beside the point. I simply try to be a good person.”

“And that’s really an angel that looks like a dog?” She hooked her chin at Sopphi who wuffled and came over to put her big shaggy head on Tattletale’s lap. “She looks like one of Bitch’s… she is that dog, isn’t she?”

“She is,” I agreed.

“So why did you invite me to come with you instead of Bitch, or Grue, or… well, not Alec… but the others said you liked Foil and Paran a lot.”

“They had each other. Bitch and Grue and the others… they were happy. You weren’t. You couldn’t be.”

“Hey!” She snapped, glaring at me.

“Tattletale… Sarah… why don’t you date?” It was one of those questions that was designed to make the recipient realise they already knew the answer to a different question, but she replied anyway.

“Because…” she shrugged, then sighed, “Because it takes about a minute flat to find something about anyone that turns me off.”

“Aye, Humans are like that. I like you. You’re smart, a detective, and confident. So I asked you to come along. Plus, Taylor loves you. And with Emma here… you heard about that?”

“Yeah,” she shook her head, “Don’t know if I should feel sorry for the guy she’s linked to.”

“He’ll cope.”

“Wow. Cold,” she said with a smirk.

“That’s me. Queen Cold. Now… you okay with this? New memories, you’ll be yourself but also a new person… for a decade… and you’ll lose probably about 70% of your Parahuman ability… keep enough to be intuitive, but not enough to guess passwords from random passersby.”

“I… yeah. I mean. Japan’s cool, right? No Endbringers smashing it to pieces this time, right?”

“RIght. Just transhuman martial artists and global conspiracies,” I confirmed.

“Well fuck me sideways and call me Jane, I guess I’m in.” She stuck out her hand and I shook it.

“Now, tell me what you bought with your points and why,” I said, leaning back and steepling my fingers like a master criminal surveying my kingdom.

Squaring her shoulders, she faced me, resting her hands on Sopphi’s ears to give her scritches. “I went with the delinquent Identity because it seemed like the one that would be the most like who I already was… am… you know what I mean?” I nodded. “Also, it’s about being self-taught and I’m all about that. From the three one or the other things, I went with Life-giving… I’ve seen enough death and you’d have to be a real psycho to take the other side of that coin. Sei because it’s reactive, not aggressive, and armed because who brings a fist to a knife fight. I decided on Command SAMBO… those Russian special forces guys have a pretty serious rep for a reason, right? I took the whole perk line… I don’t know if that’s normal or not, but it seems weird not to, I guess… I don’t know that Animalist Incorporation is all that useful, but does anyone not take the free stuff?”

“Yeah, sometimes. Some of them come across a little trap-like in their wording.”

“Well, whatever. Ambition seems like a good way to maybe get things done? Dunno how reliable it is, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, if you know what I mean?” Again I nodded, but allowed her to go on. “Berserker was a No Brainer. Who wouldn’t want to get stronger and stronger the longer combat goes on? Lung was fucking terrifying. I know it won’t be that good, but…” She shrugged, flinching a little as her mind drifted back to the events depicted in the text she’d read, but she pulled herself back to the present with an act of will. “I also picked up the Hidden Weapons perk from Drop-In… and a gun, because sometimes you gotta bring a gun to a fist fight… and anyone who tells you that’s cheating already has an unfair fucking advantage, I guarantee.”

“That leaves you with three hundred CP left,” I pointed out, preempting a rant about the idiocy of ‘fighting fair’ and how no fight was ever really fair. It would have been preaching to the choir, though she couldn’t know that.

“What? Oh. Right. Yeah…” She scratched the back of her head and looked sheepish. “I kinda bought the Stunning perk… you’re all so pretty and… well… how often does a girl get the chance to always look her best?” She looked embarrassed, but I waved it off with a smile.

“No no. I agree completely. Looks are a useful tool, not the least for self-esteem. 150 left.”

“I was going to spend it on Youth & Longevity, but looking at your people has convinced me you’ve got that nailed. There aren’t any old looking people here, but looking at how they carry themselves, even the kids are too… mature. No one would notice it but me… I guess maybe you and the others who are trained observers. That Zane guy, Bao and Uriel, Gaius, Bart, Koro-Sensei, Kendra, Meetra, Joy, Ahab, that maid of yours with the,” she waved her hand in front of her face, “expression of ultimate disdain… Velma… is she really the Velma Dinkley? I mean… really?”

I grinned. “She is. Yes. and my maid is really Darkseid, though I doubt you’ve read the old Superman comic books to know who he is.”

She shook her head. “Never heard of him… anyway, I took the Martial Arts Medicine… I’m like a living diagnostic unit anyway; might as well use it for something… err… useful.” She rose, looking around. “I guess that’s it… I should…. Should I go or something? You probably have things to do or…” she shivered a little as the darkness pressed at her.

“I do, but I want to see just how good you are… and how much you’ve managed to learn about my companions with your gift.” I hopped up and went out onto my balcony. “Join me.” I commanded, sitting on the edge of the railing, looking down at the town center spread out before me. It was early evening and above us, the planet Paradise slowly spun in it’s semi-transparent subspace pocket. “Look with your special eyes and tell me which of them have been invited along and what each bought and why.”

“Did you just say ‘with your special eyes’?” she scoffed.

“Hey, I’m quixotic,” I commented, petting Ziggy as he dropped onto my shoulder from Sakura’s branches.

“Whatever,” she snorted, then looked. “Darkseid… delinquent because she doesn’t like being told what to do, killing fist because she believes mercy is weakness. Sei because she plans everything, including a thousand different ways to destroy you and steal your power for her own. Unarmed, because weapons are for the weak. Arnis, because it was the first unarmed martial art on the list and she thinks all earthling martial arts are equally worthless. Animalism because it was free, Ambition because it might help her destroy you or Superman, Berserker for the power, Strength & Endurance because being stripped of her might worries her. Perception & Awareness because she knows knowledge is power. Money because she had 50 leftover… and the Dojo… because she desperately wants a place that’s her own and not something of yours.”

She looked to me as if trying to work up the courage to ask something, then finally just blurted, “She really hates you. I mean I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much hate, not even from a member of Empire 88… why?”

“Because I defeated and enslaved her and will never let her go free.”

“Enslaved?” she queried. “That’s… a little… evil, isn’t it?”

“Darkseid is a member of a race called ‘The New Gods’. He is the leader of the evil faction. His native sex is male, he’s only in the female guise because I find him marginally more tolerable to have around as a female and find the fact that it upsets him humorous. He rules a world of hellfire and suffering called Apokalips and is a genocidal fuckstick that makes Adolf Hitler seem like Mr. Rogers. His legions have invaded and destroyed untold worlds and he’s enslaved or slaughtered trillions. His stated goal is to discover The Anti-Life Equation, which will make him unquestioned and absolute tyrant of the entire material Universe, obliterating free will forever.”

“Jesus… why the hell did you make him your maid?!”

“It seemed appropriate at the time. Also, he absolutely has to obey me and not in the ‘evil genii’ way. Also, killing him is really really hard and not likely to have a permanent effect. So this is the best solution for the time being.”

“If you say so… but… it’s like having a pet Endbringer… why are you laughing like that? It’s really creepy… oh Christ… you have a pet Endbringer?”

“Actually it’s Joy who has the Friendbringers. But technically, I did defeat and repurpose Leviathan, Behemoth, and Zizz to create the Entity who replaced Scion. Zizz has technically become the Shard Administrator for Entity 2.0, which has been supplying your Shard’s power to you for most of the last decade. Though that’s technically no longer the case.”

“I suppose you’re providing it now? Which would be why I’m getting a null-code for it?”

“Actually? No. I am currently administrating no shards, but I have the ability to nullify any Shard power at will, or to ignore any Shard-derived effect that would target me personally. But I wouldn’t need it. I’m aware of how detective vision functions. I can literally choose what information you’re able to get off of me simply by changing aspects of my bearing or demeanor. My native Shard Ability is based on Uber’s, but considerably more powerful. I can learn anything, any skill, incredibly fast. I never forget anything, never get rusty with disuse, and if I see something done once, I can replicate it perfectly, even if I’ve never even realized it was possible before… assuming it’s physically possible for me to do so.”

“Shiiit,” she just stared. “You… wait, this document says we’re going for a decade?” I nodded as she began to understand, “And it’s full of powers and abilities from this world we’re going to? A Japanime or Manga or something about martial artists.” I nodded. “And you get this kind of purchasing scheme every time?” I nodded. “15,000 years? 1,500 worlds?”

“Not quite. The longest chunk was 12,300 years where I was 169 successive King-Priests of the original Magi Hegemony… the ones here are the Neo-Magi Hegemony… I have not yet returned to attempt to bring either the First or Fourth Hegemonies into the fold… This is closer to 85? I think. Some of the transitions were weird and some doubled up… Regardless, yes. It adds up.”

“I’ll say…” she trailed off, then looked back out over the town. “The babe with ice-wings… Cirno… Delinquent as well… Life Fist because she doesn’t like hurting people… Dou Ki because she likes energy bullets apparently. Unarmed…. Lucha Libre because she’s jealous of your mask,” She hooked a finger to where the Shark of Terra mask was displayed. “Berserker because she thinks fighting is fun. Ki Kneading because she likes cooking? She’s not very bright, is she?”

“She’s a genius, actually. Smartest of her race… her race are all ditzes. But she makes extremely illogical leaps. You’ll get used to it.”

“She spent 600 CP on something because the name amused her!” she accused.

“And she squeaks adorably in bed,” I reposted, then laughed as Tattletale blushed crimson.

Hastily changing the subject, she shifted her attention to Amaryllis who was watching her mother try to steal a stick of takoyaki from Toph. “The little shepherd girl, she’s your daughter… with Cirno?” I nodded in affirmation. “Disciple because she adores structure and because you chose it and because her mother didn’t. Sei because her mother chose Dou. Armed… and Escrima because she wanted something that used staffs and it was close… Combat Empathy because she prefers talking, Strength & Endurance, Speed & Agility, and Perception & Awareness because she likes being balanced… and better than Alex.” She looked around, spotting Alex dancing about in her catgirl form. “He… she… that’s your son?”

“Yep. Gendershifter. Flirt. Troublemaker. Oh. Amaryllis is Woolly-Bully and Alex is The Invigilator. Their sister, Maggie, who is in the arcade right now trying to beat Alex’s high score in Dance Dance Revolution, is Roadhog. She thinks you’re hot, btw.”

“Are you trying to fix me up with your daughter?” She eyed me suspiciously.

“Oh, absolutely. My kids are over eleven centuries old and have never had lovers. I worry about them. There are others who are younger who are more… experienced.”

“Maybe they’re waiting for your permission?” she suggested.

“Is that what you’re picking up?” I asked, curious. I maintained a self-imposed rule about reading too deep into my family’s depths… with the exception of Carwyn, where deep merge telepathy and sex were practically the same thing. With Tess it was the exact opposite, with masks and emotion being the rule, but that was the very opposite of a romantic relationship.

“Uh… no. They’re nearly as hard to read as you are when it comes to that. Christ, most of you are deeply compartmentalized in one way or another. And those elves you’ve got following you are just… creepy.”

“Aliens are alien. Get used to that. But most of our sojourns have been on Earth or Earth-alikes. Anyway, feel free to sleep with whomever you like,” I offered, tickling Ziggy’s tummy and making faces at him as he pawed at my nose.

“If they’re willing, right?” she asked, nervousness in her voice.

“Kiddo, if they aren’t willing, you won’t get a chance to sleep with them. Every single person in this Warehouse, including the roombas, has so much more combat training than you do that it’s not… it won’t happen. Not from you to them, and you’re off-limits until you put yourself on the board.”

“Board?” she asked, confused.

VIvian generated a solid-light hologram in front of Sarah. It overlaid everyone in sight with a status halo, showing such things as health and current readiness status… and a set of symbols surrounding their heads. “Everyone can call up the board at any time… If someone’s halo says they’re not at Readiness 2… that’s a solid red, or Readiness 1, that’s a flashing red, they’re available for anything their symbol set clears. If you’re in a Red area, everyone inside it is also considered to be Readiness 2.”

“What’s my color?” she asked, looking at her hand.

“You don’t have one. You’re not on the board, and you’re not cleared for a Red Zone. Blue Zones, like the city center, are Behave Yourself zones. Green is more relaxed, Yellow is almost anything goes. Purple is anything goes.”

“Surely you don’t mean anything,” she scoffed.

“Anything the other’s symbol set clears. We’re functionally immortal and have a very good medical system.”

“This is all kinds of messed up,” she muttered.

“It’s an opt-in system, and you can opt out again with a word to VIvian. Life isn’t really particularly friendly. My people are aware of that. It’s better to be ready to deal with what comes at you.”

“But… some of those symbols… if they mean what I think they mean…” She gulped.

“You’ve read greek myths, right?” She nodded. “How many mortal men do you think could have said no to Aphrodite? Even if they’d wanted to? Or Apollo for that matter… Sparta being what it was. Lack of force doesn’t mean lack of coercion. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to get a relationship of any kind that doesn’t included some element of compulsion. It’s just that most relationships the level of compulsion each individual impacts the other with is relatively minor and often fairly balanced. But nature doesn’t care about power imbalances. Case in point, most of the Neo-Magi are the descendants of two groups. The first were the generational survivors of a drifting starship. They’d slipped back into tribalism and had exactly zero respect for the concept of consent. Survival was everything to them. The second were the captured and reprogrammed citizens of a world of genetically perfect humans, selected as the prettiest and healthiest. They were programmed to be sex slaves, gladiators, and, yes, willing food to some very sick bastards. When I found them, I had need of a very high population growth curve and designed their society according to what I had available. They are, to a man and woman, a warrior society. 100% conscription, 100% combat trained. Their state religion is orgiastic and relies heavily on communal experiences. If Aliens are Aliens… how strange do you think gods might be?”

“I… this is going to take some getting used to… but I opt in only to the degree I’m comfortable with, right?”

“We prefer you to push yourself into areas you’re not comfortable with as a growth experience, but that’s entirely up to you. If you decide to stay with us, you’re going to see and experience a lot of shit. And it’s important to note that you’re not one of them.”

“What do you mean? Of course I’m not one of them,” she snapped, then blushed. “Sorry, that was angrier than I meant it to be.”

“The Neo-Magi are followers of mine. They worship me. I am their Goddess and Empress and High Priestess in one. I don’t have conversations with them. I didn’t invite you to become a follower. This isn’t a cult… well, okay, it probably is.” I chuckled. “But not in that sense. I actually sleep with relatively few of my Companions.” I put special emphasis on that last.

“Companions? I heard that word out there,” she motioned to the town. “No one would explain it though and what I was getting wasn’t making sense.”

“Companions are those I have vested CP into, as I am vesting CP into you going into Kenichi. That CP means that, if you die, you will come back. Once a decade in a jump… 24 hours if in-between.”

“You… what?”

“Companions don’t die. Not for good. I could demonstrate, but you wouldn’t enjoy it. This is a guarantee. Eternal Youth, Eternal Health, Resurrection and Reincarnation, and power beyond even a Parahuman’s dreams.”

“And all I have to do to earn this is, what? Bend over and let some serious perverts pull a train on me? Because I’m telling you that… oh who the fuck am I kidding, for that kind of guarantee, I’d let Hookwolf do me.”

I shuddered at that imagery, but shook my head. “Nope. No requirements at all. You already passed the only one. You entered the Warehouse. I really don’t even need your permission. Beth Dewitt, Bart Argent, Jaan Magna, and Darkseid definitely didn’t get asked. Neither did Vitiate, but he was easier to kill than Darkseid. In fact, I accidentally recruited Kendra.”

“How do you accidentally recruit someone?”

“She’d had her neck slashed by a vampire. I got her into my medbay and patched her up, but putting her back into her own timeline would have confused some things and I was trying not for a derail of the timeline. So I stuck her in stasis… and just… forgot to pull her out for 7 jumps. Wasn’t until everyone in my Warehouse got ejected thanks to a deal with my Benefactor… the being that makes all this possible… that she got taken out of stasis, and by then it was too late. She resents it sometimes, since she knows that, of all my Companions, only three others weren’t invited… well, four now with Emma.”

“Who else?”

“Oh. Kohina and Kagetane, the father-daughter ninja-assassins, and Cirno.”

“So… you’re fucking one of them… wait, Kohina is Kagetane’s daughter? I thought she was Gaius’s daughter… and that their relationship was just really fucked up.”

“Oh. Gaius is her adopted father. She really doesn’t get along with Kagetane… he’s a bit of a genocidal asshole. And yes, the triangle made by Gaius, Reggy, and Kohina is an odd one. Reggy and Gaius hate each other… but they’ve gotten used to each other and they have four kids. Gaius was an Emperor and Kohina is essentially his mistress, though thy use father-daughter terms for their relationship. Meanwhile, Reggy’s had affairs with Ahab and Dyna… and Ahab’s married to Joy, but he’s had affairs with Francine, RayRay, and Reggy… and Joy’s had affairs with Kagetane and Caine… both at once, as it turns out, since Kagetane and Caine are best friends. Oh, and before you ask, I’ve got six lovers, though two are missing, a pet, a mistress, a not-quite lover, a fiance, and one of my incarnations was married to one of Zane’s though neither of us realized it at the time. Oh, and nine slightly insane stalkers.”

“This is just. I’m going to have to start a spreadsheet, aren’t I?”

“It gets more complex.”

“WHAT!?”

“The girl who’s been serving us our drinks is my armor. We’re soul-bound. She is functionally part of me, though also technically she might be called my daughter since I created her. What she feels, I feel and vice versa. She’s having an affair with Vita, her bodyguard. Atura, who was Gennady & Cassiopeia, and who is off having a bit of a temper-tantrum, is my Godhood… she’s having an affair with her spellbook, Sakura… who is Earth’s Moon from her native universe. Yuzuha is my flagship… in the starship sense. Also the Tree that grants all my companions Eternal Youth. Also soulbound to me. She’s having affairs with Raven and Nurgath… he’s one of the Elf-commanders, Carwyn’s Lieutenants. He’s currently with Atura. Oh, and my mistress is Carwyn’s sister Tess.”

“I need a drink,” She said, throwing back her Long-Island Iced-Tea.

“But wait, it gets better!” I teased, ready to tell her about Velma and Cirno’s relationship, or the Hibiki’s, or Mini and Frankie, but she just waved me o.

“I… I get it. Mortal standards don’t come close to applying… maybe that’s what’s bugging your kids. They’re not certain what basis to form a relationship since they have so many role-models. Amaryllis sees that her mother is your… errmm… and that she’s the bottom to Velma’s top… she has to wonder if she’s supposed to be like that too… or maybe she’s waiting for someone to show interest in her. She certainly knows about sex… she got a vibro-egg or something like it inside her right now.”

I looked over, raising an eyebrow and heightening my own awareness… well… huh. That would explain the extra vibrational frequencies and the occasional shivers of what could be pleasure. I dialed it back, feeling a little pervy for bending my own rules.

“As for Alex, I think he’s waiting for an emotional connection he hasn’t found yet. Maggie… I don’t have a good read on, but I think that’s because she’s been concealing her emotions from me specifically if you’re right. And I probably do need all this information if I’m going to be your spy.”

I chuckled, “Not spy. I have VIvian for that.” I patted the tree limb. “She sees literally everything that happens anywhere any of my companions or I are, and everything inside the Warehouse. There are some feeds I can’t access at all that she doesn’t see either… I assume they’re tied to other key players inside individual jumps, so that the Benefactors can view locations that aren’t tied to me and mine.”

“Okay… no. Not spy… you want, I guess, an outsider, someone who isn’t you, someone with a different perspective, and someone not bound to respect privacy… but someone everyone knows isn’t able to. You literally want me to be your Tattletale.”

I shrugged. “Mostly, I want you to be my friend. I think I need a confidant that I can bounce ideas off of. I have others, of course, a council of them, but they’re all old hat at this. Fresh perspectives are good and I trust your judgement.”

“Greaaat. No pressure there.” She shook her head, then leaned over the railing, sipping her third tea. “Okay, where was I?” I didn’t remind her, but she picked up the old thread. “Okay… the feline looking woman. Amelia Smollet, she’s the one who hasn’t agreed to become your lover because she can’t get over her religious upbringing and feels that marriage should be between a male and a female, and only one of each… but she doesn’t really feel guilty about the long-term affair any more…. Because her… Queen? That’s Anne… oh… dear… five… huh… good for her. Two men, three women… Right… Amelia… honest, forthright… Prodigy… comes from a culture that believes in breeding and heredity. Life Giving because she believes in a conduct that she holds to nearly-religiously… A version of Anglican Christianity and a Military code of conduct… Navy. She’s an officer. Took Ki Kneading because she believes in self-improvement. Enhanced Ki for increased potential… and Speed & Agility because she thinks like an ambush predator. Karate because it’s highly structured and formalized. Oh, and Dou Ki, because she likes canons and that’s what came to mind.”

“Yes. She’s willing to continue our… asignations, as she refers to them, but rejects all formal labeling. She’s not my mistress because she considers us peers, she’s not my wife because I have no plans to get married, and her faith does not recognize the vailidity of polygamy or non-traditional relations… but since the Queen is the head of her faith, and is currently in relationships with Nurgath, Raven, Brigid, Ladysmith, and Caine… clearly the head of her faith has no problem with it… but all of them are, technically, sub-rosa and non-formal or binding in any way.”

“I should start a gossip magazine for your followers. They’d love this.”

“Eh. Feel free.”

“Aren’t you worried about them losing respect for you?”

“Good lord, no.”

“They’re that fanatic?”

‘Yes, but not the way you mean. They’re that fanatic that I worry about them and causing me to seem a bit more human in their eyes might be a good thing.”

“Oh. Interesting. Okay, Anne… running away from her responsibilities and enjoying herself… Delinquent. Life Giving because she hates needless slaughter. Sei because she’s a planner, slow to rush. Same reason for Perception & Awareness. Ambition because she is ambitious. Berserker because she enjoys challenges and high tension situations. Chivalry… she sees herself as the daughter of King Arthur’s line… no… she does… but she thinks that chivalry is dated… Fencing. Mm…. something else… the points aren’t lining up… she did something that doesn’t make sense… ah… okay… she sees this as temporary, that she’s going to go back to her people some day. She took Youth & Longevity, just in case that happens… is that likely? Is she going back to her people?”

I considered, then shook my head. “Yes, it’s possible… but Dinah Alcott would give it less than 1 chance in a billion. Strictly speaking, she and you are Passengers. Companions I didn’t pay for or earn some how. Darkseid and Koro-Sensei are Employees, ones who work for their passage, while Brigid, Raven, Anne, Bart, Beth, Toph, Kendra, Uriel, Gaius, Reggy, Meetra, Sakura, and three others who stayed behind in the Marvel Universe… of Marvel Comic books. Spiderman and the X-Men and Captain America… They’re all passengers. They could go home if they wanted to. But it’s never come up. Some literally have no home to go back to. Beth’s timeline doesn’t exist any more, Uriel was assassinated, Kendra murdered, Gaius and Reggy killed in a war, Meetra’s time is 4,000 plus years in her world’s past, Toph died of old age… the three all died in either their home reality or in Marvel. Only Bart, Brigid, Raven, Anne, Sakura, and you really have someplace to go back to.”

“But would they?”

“Raven won’t. She lives for knowledge and though she might view her friends back in her homeworld fondly, it’s been more than a thousand years. She’s moved on. Bart had no family or friends, just service to the state and a future he felt unworthy to live in. I didn’t ask if he wanted to come with me, but now he serves me and the futures I try to create. Brigid was desperately lonely, a survivor of the Nazi Camps. She buried herself in her work… now she helps the Neo-Magi as their foremost geneticist and has more friends than she’s comfortable with. Also two brilliant minds to have a emotional and physical relationship with. Sakura was humanity’s watchdog and recorder for all of history… but she had no peers, no relationships. No sense of belonging or self, for self comes only in relation to others, I’ve found. That, above all is why I think the Universe, all Universes really, exists. You? I think you’ll stay. You like challenges and want to grow… also, Taylor is here, and you’ve been considering what it would be like to sleep with her.”

“Hey! A … a little privacy…” she trailed off, glared at me, and took a strong sip. “Do you have some kind of power that turns everyone into a lesbian around you!?” she accused.

“Noo… but that would be a most excellent power to have. But Carwyn is gorgeous and your horizons have been significantly expanded. You’re dealing with culture shock and realizing that this is a place where dreams can and do come true. Also, that Carwyn is freaking gorgeous.”

“You said that already,” she muttered.

“Eldar use glamour to make themselves supernaturally attractive… Carwyn is actually that good looking. She’s a thirteen on a scale that goes to 10… and she knows it. She doesn’t even try to hide her smugness.”

“Okay… Okay… you’ve got the same… you call it detective vision I do? How can you have a relationship with anyone? All the little turn offs! They’re everywhere!”

“Close your eyes,” I told her.

She did so.

I hit her with a wiffle bat.

“Owww! What the fuck?” she asked, eyes flashing open.

“That’s how,” I responded.

“What are you… you distract yourself from them?”

“Yup. until they become endearing. Have you ever heard a song you absolutely hated? But then, after hearing it a dozen times, you realized you kinda liked it? Or stood at a gas station and realized that the smell of gas is kinda pleasant? Or that a skunk’s smell has some nice musky undertones? How about that first taste of whisky or beer… or broccoli.”

“You’re saying that I’m getting bogged down in the surface… well, what’s the surface to me. Where a normal person would see a pimple or a bad haircut or dandruff… I’m seeing deeper, but I’m doing the same thing. I’m getting caught up in a fragment of the whole instead of the totality of the person. That I need to… what? Keep drinking the beer until I know if I want to sleep with her… I mean him…”

“Your power isn’t particularly introspective… probably to protect you from yourself.”

“You’re saying my power is Manton limited? How?”

“Was. Was Manton limited. The moment we left your world, the limit began to fall away. Apply your Inference Engine to your own awareness of self.”

She went still, then stopped breathing, then started screaming. I hit her with the bat again.

“H… h… holy shit… it… so… so… so much information. Eve… every… I… all my nerves… a… ahh… aaaaaaaaaaaahhhh.” She started screaming again so I hit her with the bat. “F… fuck… w… what’s going on… I… can count how m… many times my eyelashes are twitching.  I… I can feel the muscles that twitch each… I… I can feel my heartbeat… m… my skin is crawling… i… can feel my… i think that’s my intestines… th… the… this is too much information! A… and I hate my voice!”

“Manton limit. Blinded you to yourself for the most part. I’ll teach you to deal with it.”

“You… you deal with this all the time?!”

“I am a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, and a Kwisatz Haderach… normally. I know how to independently control every muscle, nerve, and organ in my body. I know how to bend my voice to make people obey. I know the weirding way of battle and prana-bindu control. And I’ll teach them to you, in time. But for now, I want you to IGNORE THE OVERLOAD.”

She stiffened, then relaxed as my words masked the psychic damper I slipped into her consciousness. “R… right… Mmm… Next… Next…” She looked out, thinking she was distracting herself, and she was mostly right. “Those two boys… the couple there… I don’t know their names ye… oh.” VIvian’s display appeared and labeled them Buji and SImon. “They’re both Disciples… mostly because the dark-haired… Simon, mostly because Simon said they should be. Buji is clearly the bigger risk taker, and the more aggressive, proactive one… but Simon’s the one actually in charge of their relationship, the responsible one. He thinks Buji’s too flighty… going to leave him eventually… doesn’t see how Buji orbits him… it’s like Buji doesn’t know how to be without Simon… cute… a little sad. But they’re young… ish? Both are Katsu, they didn’t even consider the other option… their parents have instilled in them a reverence for life… and a desire not to emulate them… are they that bad?”

“Buji’s father was a government assassin and his mother is somewhat inept at parenting. Simon’s father is the biblical Caine and the most powerful Vampire in existence with maybe the exception of Galactus if you want to define a planet eater as a vampire. His mother killed a nigh infinite number of her own father.”

“Ummm… right… good notes… I’ll just drop my sanity over here and start babbling, shall I?” I laughed as she went back to her breakdown. “Buji is Dou, Simon is Sei, but that’s a guess based off their personalities… but I bet I’m right… Buji unarmed… Pankration… he looks like he’d enjoy wrestling with Simon and… wow… I did not need that mental image! Ummm… Simon… armed? Yes. He doesn’t like hitting people with his hands… always has something in them… Ninjutsu… wants not to be noticed. Both have Combat Empathy… But Simon took Ki Kneading and Buji took Berserker… n…. No… it’s the other way round. They’re covering their weaknesses. I think it was a deal between them. Simon to try and understand that part of his father inside him… Buji to be more introspective. Interesting.”

I nodded, and it was. The experience was a new one. Normally my companions reported to me, and I decided to continue that as well, but this breakdown before hand was fascinating.

“I… I’m not picking up any others who definitely are coming,” she commented, and I looked out at the town. All of them were visible, but the ones that she’d missed were more experienced, older, or just more confusing.

“Want clues, or just want me to point them out to you?” I asked.

“Huhhhh…” she scratched her nose with her thumbnail, then shook her head. “A clue is the same as telling me, isn’t it?”

“Probably. Yes. But look for the older companions. The signs will be different. Also, some companions are like Ahab and Emma. Two bodies, one shared existence.”

“Ah… well… first, Ahab and Emma… But I can’t read him at all. He’s so closed up. She… she’s all violence and viciousness. Let’s see… she’s pissed… why is… huh… she’s feeling like a second class person… resents Ahab… Okay, its clear he made the choices and she doesn’t like most of them. Doesn’t mind some… I’m guessing here… Dou Ki and Armed and Marksmanship she’s happy with… there they see eye to eye… but he went… she wanted to go with Prodigy, feels entitled to it. He went with Disciple to piss her off. She sees that as the weak choice… same with Combat Empathy… there’s something I’m missing…”

“Ahab and Joy aren’t like normal companions. They always import themselves with a more limited set of options and points if I don’t pay to import them. With Crippled… the thing that’s blocking out most powers, and Single Shot… that’s the rule that says you’ll respawn once a decade if killed inside a jump… they’ll have 300 CP, not 900.”

“Ah. Okay… that explains some of it. Joy… joy… She’s unreadable. Completely. No… wait… nope… gone… what’s going on. I’m getting flashes of data sets, but they don’t make sense…”

“Joy is an entire planet. A sentient fungal network merged with a huge chunk of some very very futuristic technology… the kind that most Tinkers would just stare at in horror… and she contains just over three billion human minds and hundreds of thousands of AIs at least as powerful as Dragon’s machine side. You’re picking up the occasional traces of allied faction leaders, Prokhor Zakharov, Deirdre Skye, Nwabudike Morgan, Pravin Lal, Sinder Roze, or Corazon Santiago.”

“Riiiiight. Three Billion. With a B? Please tell me that’s the Short Count system and you’re not talking three million million.”

“No. Just three times ten to the ninth. The remaining billion refused to join with Planet… that’s what’s that side of her is called. Or Chiron. It was a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. Anyway, they refused to join with Planet when it awakened and the psychic backlash of a psychically awakening planetary consciousness and its merging with  billions of sapient, often psychic minds, kind of erased the refuseniks from existence.”

“You erased a billion people?”

“I tried to get as many as I could on board, but the planet was waking up and the usual chaos caused by that normally resulted in an ELE anyway. It was save three billion and the planet-mind or let everyone die. And to be fair, I did try and shield the refuseniks. They refused my help and were actively trying to use nukes against my cities and my allies cities up until the final minutes.” I pulled up the system to see what Joy had bought. “Want to take a guess based off that information?”

“Prodigy, Life Giving Fist, Sei, unarmed… no idea on martial arts… no, wait Pancake… she’s eating pancakes… Pencak Silat. The name reminded me of Pancakes, and it says ‘react from nearly all natural body positions, specially adapted to use in naturalistic environs… she’s wearing a Gaia Theory button. She’s clearly very ecco minded. I’m guessing Pencak Silat. Ki Kneading of course, since she’s a prodigy.”

“Spot on,” I congratulated her. “Now comes the Master Class. One is my oldest companion. Companion since within 5 minutes of the start of my first jump. The other is my most trusted companion, though he’s betrayed me twice for various reasons. One’s an ex-fiance, One saved me from certain death. Two nearly got me killed, two are the companions I spend the least amount of time with, one’s not a companion at all, and two are not happy about a self-imposed rule.”

“That’s more than 16… that’s 19.” she pointed out.

“Verily, you be right, lassy.”

“Why are you talking like a pirate now?”

“Eh. I’m quirky. Ziggy! Attack!” and I tossed Ziggy at her. She screamed, dropped her glass over the edge of the balcony, flailed as she tried to fend of Ziggy, fell on her butt, and then squeaked as Ziggy licked her nose, stepped on her boob, and wandered off to go potty.

“Y… you… you! I just pissed myself!” she accused, glaring at me ferociously.

“Well, clearly you need to get better at anticipating random ferret attacks I replied, pulling her off the floor. “Come on, I’ll show you the bath. It’s nice.”

“You just want to look at me naked,” she said with a frown.

“That is true. You should definitely let me seduce you.”

“Does that actually work on people?”

“I can say ‘Hi’, and have people begging to let me let them lick my shadow. Normally at least. So, yes. It works.”

She looked at me, blushed, then snapped, “FINE! But just this once!”

====

“I can’t feel my toes… are they still there?”

“Can confirm, Ziggy is licking them.”

“Oh. Good. I thought I was going mad.”

Above us, the ceiling was projecting the faces of all remaining potential companions and a blank space with a question mark.

“Those two little girls are a single companion?”

“The system has trouble differentiating twins for some reason. Same reason their brothers are a set.”

“And the ginger bloke and his sister, same reason?”

“Ah… no. Those are the Luteces. Robert and Rosalind. They’re a couple… and the same person. Technically, they’re dimensional mirrors of each other.”

“Selfcest… weird… but not that weird by today’s standard? And the double-quintet of weirdos?”

“The Dust Rats. Technically a group companion. Picked them up on a desert world covered with insane cockney orks with a penchant for racing. They don’t socialize with the rest of the crew, spending all their time with the Neo-Magi. Never imported, don’t seem interested in it. Mostly just a collection of losers I picked up. Good enough at racing, but not particularly competent. The guy in the middle is Graf Renik. Team Commander. Destraine Symm is the girl, will not stop talking, curiosity of a cat. The stringbean is Valten Soehern, and the weasel is Solomon Sykes. Navigator, Driver slash mechanic, Gunner respectively. The purple alien is Doc Teeftaka, he’s an Ork Mekboy. The big green guy is Krumpa McGirk, he’s a Tankbusta. The two green weasels are Toof-Snatch and Muffin da Destroya… they’re thieves. And the cyborgs are FISTSMASHA BOB and Buzzsaw Da Buzzilla. For very specific reasons, the six Orks are, in fact, not allowed onto anything that has an ecosystem that isn’t virulently fungicidal.”

“You don’t sound happy that they’re here.”

“I’m really really not. They present an existential crisis. Everything with Ork DNA is very very dangerous. The Ork species… these aren’t Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Orcs… these are Warhammer Forty Kay Orks… are a fungus based lifeform. They spread by spores and those spores can infect almost anything that can support any kind of biomass and reproduce. Individually, they’re not much, but Orks posses a collective ability to warp reality to make machinery that shouldn’t function function… Imagine an entire race of insanely violent Brute 1 and 2 and 3s… that could Tinker… a bit… and could Break a bit too. Enough to make red vehicles go faster or make rockets made literally out of junk have penetrator ammo. I barely trust them on Warworld and Disco Moon, and the only reason I allow them on Paradise or Chiron is because both planets will literally eat Orks as snacks. Orks are tough… Paradise and Chiron are functional Death Worlds with their own native hyper-aggressive fungi. So these days, the Orks have their own little valley in one of my desert biomes where they think it’s hilarious to try and outrace Sandworms.”

“Sandworms… from Dune?”

“Yup. just a couple. In case I need them.”

“How many?”

“Eight hundred and sixty three at last count.”

“E…” she rolled over and, burying her face in a pillow, screaaamed. Frankie giggled and Mini, woken by the noise and the fact that her pillow had been stolen, grumbled and stumbled out of bed to go get some coffee. I pulled her into my lap when she returned and stole a sip, then started nibbling at the blonde witch’s neck.

When she’d recovered, Sarah just stared up at the pictures, ignoring my fooling around, and began flicking them off one by one, pointing a finger and letting the targeting reticle she was getting better and better at using select as she finger-gunned them. “No to the rats. No to the Luteces. No to these two… you wouldn’t have them here I don’t think if they were up for discussion.” She paused at the question mark. “Where’s the grouchy middle aged woman with the drinking problem?”

“She’s not a compaaanion!” Frankie said, as she played with her cat, Ombra’s, paws. “She’s our Benefactor.”

“Really? She hangs out with you? That sounds odd.”

“Not really a Benefactor,” I half explained. “Think of the Benefactor’s as… hmmm… Movie Producers. They make the deals, line up the distribution, arrange for a budget, right? That’s a Benefactor. Different levels above the Benefactor we call ‘Higher’ since they’re collectively impossible for even me to conceptualize except in the most vague way. But think of them as ‘The Studio Bosses”. Jump-Chan, or Chamber, as we call her, is like an Associate Producer… more a Production Assistant. She oversees things while the Benefactor’s away, but hates her job and just wants to go home… but the pay’s too good, so she sticks it out… also, she might be under contract, and her life is a fucking mess right now.”

“So she’s not eligible for being imported?”

“Technically? She shouldn’t be. But she complained to Higher about being stuck in the Warehouse for a thousand years, so they incarnated her into the flesh, as it were. She haaaates it. Has no real skills, can’t mess with the plot because she has no creative control, and isn’t used to people telling her to mind her own damned business.”

“So… she is eligible?”

“The system allowed me to add her to the roster and issued her a Companion Import Tablet.”

“You have system access… isn’t that like giving the Star of the show unlimited creative control?”

“Yup. I am currently the Acting Producer and Star of a fully improv quasi-reality show with a cast of literal millions. I hope like hell that this is a test by Higher and they aren’t letting other Jumpers fuck around with the system this hard. Also, I’m being very very restrained. I really don’t want to piss off Higher… even getting notes from them hurts my everything.”

“Hurts your… do I want to ask?”

“They communicate in a way best described as the conceptual equivalent of being yelled at by an infinite number of jet engines from a distance of two yards… inside your mind.”

“That does not sound pleasant, no… so, you did import the grumpy woman… tell me about her? Is there anything you know?”

“She is the physical incarnation of that big grey stone cube next to the fountain. It’s called the Chamber of the Ordeal and it’s a divine entity that exists beyond the concept of time in its home reality. Normally, prospective knights will ritually cleanse themselves, meditate over night, then enter the Chamber at dawn, all without saying a word. Once inside the Chamber, they are shown visions of potential futures as the Chamber tests them to see if they break. Failures are rare, but usually extremely psychologically damaging, if not outright fatal. Does that give you enough information?”

“For a full profile, not really, but there is a very limited set of options which makes it easier. Assuming she actually took it seriously, Prodigy… Knighthood is about heredity. Chivalry because of the link to knighthood. Used to It because she clearly is having trouble adjusting and thinks it might help. Ki Kneading because it’s powerful and affordable… Sei Ki and Perception-Awareness because she’s used to observing and feels limited in her current sensory suite. Hmmm… she should take Speed or Strength… but she’s vain and self-centered… so I say she took Stunning… I think she also too the medals because she values accomplishments and the Self-Help Books because she thinks they’ll help her cope with human existence… but she’ll mean to read them, but won’t because that would take effort and she’s not motivated enough for that.”

“Seems reasonable,” I brought up the listing, and, indeed, it was as Tattle had said it would be. Of course, I’d known it would be, since I’d had a sitdown with Chamber over the course of the last week and gone over her options in detail, forcing her to choose and refusing her access to the stores until she locked in a build. I hadn’t forced any specific choices on her… but I also hadn’t listened when she’d grumbled that any build at all would be fine and that this entire thing was a pointlessly cruel joke at her expense. I’d asked if she honestly thought so little of me, to which she’d replied that she wasn’t talking about me forcing her to import, but rather the entire concept of linear time and being stuck in it by Higher. There I couldn’t exactly disagree.

Sarah was flipping through the basic public profiles for the companions on the Magi-Intranet, eliminating companions or sliding them into slots for later review. I left her to it (though I did try to distract her a bit by teasing my kittens in highly inappropriate ways). In that, I apparently succeeded, for I found myself a kitten short not long after and then we had to wait for Tattletale’s brain to reboot. “You’re a terrible influence on me… Is this how you recruit all your companions?” She asked.

“Since I’ve told you how I’ve recruited many of them, you know it’s not, but this is actually a bit of a first. I’ve always had a pre-existing relationship of one form or another. With you? It’s a combination of you intriguing me and the opportunity presenting itself. That, and I think you needed this. Your power is not good for your mental health without some way to impose filters on it.”

“So you say, but it’s never made me act like I’m a god,” she accused.

“That may be true, but I’m not acting. I’m actually a god. Several times over.”

Sarah narrowed her eyes and regarded me coolly. “Is this the part where you tell me that if I worship you and do everything you tell me to do that you’ll be my slave?”

I snorted. “Do I look like David Bowie to you? And mad props for quoting a movie that came out eight years before you were born. Is it because the lead has the same name as you?”

She shrugged, then sighed. “My brother, Reggie… he used to mention it… when we were younger. Before he…” she trailed off and Frankie gave her a fierce hug, followed a moment later by Mini. They’re good at being comforting. Also a little clingy. Finally, Sarah pushed them gently off and looked up at the ceiling. “I think I’ve got the list narrowed down. Taylor for the Worm trio… ugh. Hate that name. Hi, I’m Lisa, I come from the Wormverse.. Wormiverse?”

“Kendra comes from the BuffyVerse. Bart from the FireflyVerse. Wormiverse isn’t so bad,” Frankie supplied helpfully. Mini opened her mouth to correct the dark-haired witch that Bart was from ‘The Verse’ but I tapped her nose to indicate she should drop the issue and got a stuck out tongue and a pout for my troubles.

“I… guess,” Sarah muttered, looking down at her hands, then at her body. She hopped up and stared at herself in the mirror. “What the heck?” she gasped. “I… I this is me? I… it’s not… I mean, it is, but… I was 27!” She turned back to glare at me. “What did you do to me?”

“Uh. Nothing. Normally, I’d say you were reverting to your ideal self, but I think this is more than that. You’re reverting to an idealized version of Sarah, not of Lisa.”

“And that’s another thing! Why is everyone calling me Sarah! My name is Lisa Wilbourn!” She stamped her bare foot petulantly which caused very nice ripples up her frame.

“That’s the name you went by when you were running from yourself and your asshole parents and the memory of a brother dead by his own hands. But it’s not who you are. You’re Sarah Livsey.”

“And if I want to be Lisa?”

“I really would rather you not, as I have negative associations with that name… but at least it’s not Scott.”

“You have something against people named Lisa and Scott?” she asked, gawping at the lunacy of that concept.

“Yeah… pretty much. Recurrent theme of my lives. Being screwed and not in a good way, by people with one of those two names. I’ve been individually done wrong by many people over the ages, but few names recur… Lisa and Scott? Again and again. Three and five times respectively in just my first lifetime alone. It’s gotten less common as screwing me has gotten harder, but it hasn’t stopped the Lisa’s and Scott’s of the universes from trying to do me dirty.”

“Your use of idiom and slang is just… weird, you know that?”

“Yeah… normally I have several hundred personas keeping the individual idiosyncrasies under lock and key… not so much right now. I’m feuding with a large section of myself who thinks I was wrong to commit genocide against the Entities.”

She blinked slowly. “The same entities who’ve destroyed, just a single pair of them, mind you, three thousand massively parallel reality spanning civilizations?”

“Yes.” I said it without inflection.

“That part of you is mental.”

“She originates in a children’s television show where killing is always presented as a regrettable action. Thankfully, it’s not one where death doesn’t happen. She’ll come around, I’m certain. But she’s feeling guilty for her part in it and unable to reconcile necessity with her beliefs. Her compassion is praiseworthy… her blinkard stubbornness and one-sided doctrinaire refusal to seek rapprochement on anything but her own terms? Much less so. But we’re getting off topic. You look adorable, and you were saying about Taylor? Carwyn?”

She grabbed the nearest piece of clothing, a cat-eared hoodie and pulled it on, zipping it up until it covered most of her belly and breasts, blushing as she felt three pairs of eyes watching her every motion. “Right. Carwyn I don’t know, but Taylor I do. Better than anyone, I think… though I’m particularly grateful my friend didn’t have to go through what she did in the original timeline… I’m glad we were all spared that, but Noelle, Amy, Dragon, and Taylor owe you more than they know. Taylor would have taken Delinquent… She’s bad about following other people… and from what you tell me about Carwyn, I think she’d agree, just for the joy of rubbing it in people’s face. Taylor would have wanted to go Sei, because she’s reserved like that, but you said Carwyn is a kind of Shaker, using a wide range of psychokinetic attacks?” I nodded. “But she’s also a precog… I’d say Sei… but that feels wrong. I think they went Dou Ki just to be different, to let Taylor experience some of the other side of the coin. Unarmed. Taylor’s got the senses for it and Carwyn the reaction time.  I remember watching Drunken Master… that old Jackie Chan movie, with her… them… Carter? Oh… she’ll kill me if I start calling her that… was she really going to be called Skitter or Weaver or Khepri… okay, Khepri’s pretty good… Weaver’s too on the nose… and Skitter? Yikes… Hive Queen might be arrogant as hell… but it’s not Skitter. Skitter is just… creepy.” She shuddered, sliding her hands into her hoodie’s pockets, trying to tug the hem down so it covered her crotch.

“You were talking about Drunken Master?” I reminded her. “And I know how hard reading people is for you. We can take a break any time you want to.”

“I just… it’s… I like men… I mean… I think I do… so why did I let this happen?” she shook her head, “I don’t feel bad about… not like I was pressured unduly… just… I can’t quite figure it out… and can’t figure out why… holy shit… you’re a dude now?” Her eyes tracked up my much larger male form and blushed deeply as the kitten’s ran their hands across my bare muscled chest.

“Ancient Chinese Curse,” I responded. “Where do you think my son gets it from?”

“I…. ummm… right… uh… ZUI QUAN!” she half yelled, then flushed deeper pink. “That’s Drunken Fist Kung Fu, according to the jump document. I bet they took that. And Berserker because who wouldn’t… Also Ki Kneading, because that’s flat out the best path to pure power for 900… well, that or going Prodigy and taking Ki Kneading, Enhanced Ki, and two of the three stat-boosts.” She was talking very fast and edging closer to the massive bed. “Are you as good with that as you are with… the other?”

“I guess that’s up to you to decide,” I responded with a grin.

======

“Oh god. I think my body’s broken. I’d like to requisition a new one… how the hell do you have so much stamina!? That’s not natural!” she accused over breakfast. She was having trouble lifting the spoon.

“Enhanced Stamina is just one of my many abilities,” I laughed. “I’ll get you dialed in on some basic upgrades once your form stabilizes. But not until then. Got to establish a firm baseline… not that you’re not quite firm already.”

She blushed, then humphed, “Blame a decade plus of villainy. Say what you want about it, but it’s good exercise… But changing the subject before I’m too tired to do anything at all and my brain just does a hard reboot…” She looked at the wall, bringing up eight pictures for the last six companion slots. “Kendra, Zane, AJ, Bao, and both sets of twins… I have to admit that I’m not certain about these, but I’m pretty sure these are the ones.”

“Go on,” I said, not giving any indication she was correct.

“Huh… not making this easy on me… okay… Kendra was formally trained under a Watcher. She likes the stability of guided practice, so Disciple. The system says a Slayer is dedicated to preserving human life, so Katsujinken. Dou Ki because she’s outgoing… really not particularly introspective. While she used stakes against vampires… vampires… mmm… no… Unarmed. Not against people. Very proud of her Afro-Caribbean heritage, which I think means either Savate or Capoeira. The first is French, the second developed by slaves to overthrow European masters. Combat Empathy to help predict what her enemies will do, but mostly because it’s cheap for a Disciple… Enhanced Ki… I don’t know… Stunning, and Speed?”

“Care to hazard a guess on the martial art?” I asked, bringing up Slayer’s actual build.

“It would be a pure guess. I’m not confident in this one,” she admitted.

“Well, the good news is you got some right. Disciple, Katsujinken, Dou Ki, Unarmed… Capoeira, Enhanced Ki, and Combat Empathy… I agree with you she bought that more because it was discounted and she would have been better off with Prodigy and Ki Kneading. But they’re her points. But she bought Sei Dou Goitsu and Perception & Awareness.”

Sarah frowned, then said, “Really? Sei Dou Goitsu? I didn’t think anyone would take that… it seems ill-advised and of limited utility for the damage it does.”

“I have to agree with you, but Kendra thinks in terms of potential last ditch efforts, and has internalized the concept of self-sacrifice, even if it kills her. Not only is death not permanent, but most physical damage isn’t either, thanks to advanced medicine, nanocybernetics, and the Warehouse’s ensuite medical facilities that can literally fix anything as long as there is a heartbeat.”

“Oh. That’s impressive… Guess I should have realized you might have a fix for that. Information overload is a real risk here.” She raised a hand and shook her head, “No. I don’t want to stop. This is important to me. I feel I have to prove that I can be useful to you and not just a pet or plaything.”

I nodded. “Very well, we’ll push on. Bao next?”

“Bao. Ancient Chinese Warrior-Poet, bisexual with a strong preference for men, extremely long term relationship with Uriel who gendershifts, master of martial arts calligraphy, former self-proclaimed fiance… comes from a culture of inheritance, not a self-made man, trained detective… Best Friend of Kendra… Prodigy by inclination, Life Fist by default. Armed. Believes unarmed styles are barbarous and uncultured… but took the one fictional martial art on the list because of its focus on rotation and force redirection because it is listed as ‘so far an unarmed style’ or something like that. Ki Kneading, Enhanced Ki, Perception & Awareness… and Probing Eye from the Drop-In line, all for the same reason… oh, and Sei Ki. Very reactive personality.” She looked up from the image, “How’d I do?”

“Better. Now try AJ.”

“Non-human origin, lives for combat, beyond fanatically loyal if I’m interpreting this Loyalty Index scheme correctly. Ten S. Highest possible rating, will do absolutely anything asked of him. Seeks and thrives on your approval… fan of swords. Big believer in hereditary and inherent genetic strength combined with near obsessive training. Best Friends with Francine (also his mate) and Zane’s Wing Man. Psychic… Prodigy as well, mostly to get Ki Kneading on discount. Delinquent’s Ambition to try and guess how to make you happier. Enhanced Ki for extra power and Speed & Agility because of a belief that going first virtually guarantees victory. Dou Ki and Bushido, and of course, armed. Virtually certain I’ve got him nailed.”

I nodded. She did have AJ pegged, though I think his loyalty wasn’t as ironclad and inflexible as VIvian’s assessment would indicate. AJ could think for himself.

“Zane… also non-human origin. History of violence, history of bad choices, has been subverted and turned against the cause, likes to mix things up just for fun. Flirtatious, puckish, irresponsible. Delinquent. Berserker and Brainwashing just to annoy you. Boxing because it’s straightforward and blunt. Dou Ki, Unarmed… and Katsu, of course, since I don’t think any of these people would really embrace the Satsu side. It’s a little too cartoonishly evil.”

I frowned, then sighed. “Either he’s harder to read or you got a really false read on him.” I triggered the table to project the actual build. Prodigy, Kendo, Dou, Armed, Kendo. Ki Kneading, Strength & Endurance, Speed & Agility, and Enhanced Ki. “Or he just did something unexpected because he’s going to be going in as something he’s uncomfortable being.”

“What’s that?” Sarah asked.

“Oh. Kendra and Zane made a pair of stupid wagers. Both technically won and both technically lost. Kendra has to be a manly man for the decade… and Zane has to be… do you know the term ‘trap’?”

She blinked, then shook her head. “Not in whatever way you’re using it, no.”

“A boy who is attractive and cute enough to pass as a girl. It’s a derogatory term, and some prefer ‘otoko-no-ko’… literally male daughter, though that implies a cross-dressing man or boy. Trap does not rely on cross-dressing. A trap, it is assumed, will be judged to be a girl wearing boys clothing if they don’t cross-dress.” I brought up a picture of Nurgath, who would look girlish in nearly anything besides Eldar battlearmor as an example.

“That… huh. That’s just weird… but I guess I’m square by this genderfluid society’s standards?” she asked, looking a little squicked.

“Not really. Relatively few of my companions are gendershifters, despite there being a magical barrel which makes such easy. Almost all of them incarnate as their core gender all the time. Uriel, Alex, and I are the only ones who shift regularly. Ahab, Petra, and AJ can, but they usually don’t… Well, Petra shifts to whichever is more convenient, but is normally genderless. We simply refer to her and Dyna as female as, more often than not, their human forms are female.”

“Not going to ask… at least not now. And I’ve got no idea how to read those twin-pairs. Too flexible, to much is down to interpersonal quirks that are bound to be like Glossolalia… you know… twin speak.”

“Glossolalia is speaking in tongues. I think you mean Idioglossia… that’s twin speak… But easy mistake to make. Go get cleaned up… take a nap… you look tired. Find me when you wake up and we’ll discuss what’s going to happen next.” As she left, I pulled up the files and checked them against my own predictions. Nope. Even I was batting 40% for these kids… no idea if Placida and Lucida were even doing their own builds.

The girls were drop-in, Sei Ki, Unarmed & Judo, with the Brainwashing, Used to It, Stunning, and Speed/Agility perks. Their big brothers were Prodigies, Dou Ki, Unarmed & Jujutsu, Ki Kneading Berserkers. They were listed as being a pair of twins who were heir to a local dojo and their brand new not-related by blood kid sisters, courtesy of their father remarrying… sooo many tropes there. Still, not my business. Free will and all that.

======INSERTION=====

Morning, Ryozanpaku. There is the sound of mighty blows being blocked by mighty blows. A six-foot seven man wearing traditional hand wraps and a headband is sparring with a six-foot two woman wearing weightlifter gloves. The woman’s long silver braid floats behind her as she dashes in to strike at the bigger man again and again, forcing him to block with elbows and knees.

“Appaaa!” he yells, winding up for a major blow, but instead of dodging it or blocking it, she rides it up and over, latching her calf around his neck and attempting to lariat him. He twists in midair, turning the throw into a backhandspring, and the two seperate. Neither is breathing hard, but both are smiling.

It had taken me three days to find my way out of the valley and back to civilization. The crippling of my power, begun by Atura and finished by Higher via Drawback fiat, was more comfortable than I’d anticipated. I did not feel weak, but rather aware of my limits. Much of that was thanks to my current dominant persona, a professional bodybuilder and mixed martial arts competitor in training. Sun Ji was 17, energetic, and worked out 9 hours a day, every day. She had muscletone for weeks… which meant I had some damage to undo, but the extra bulk did provide the raw materials Prana-Bindu could use to soften and smooth the mass and turn it into fighting sinew.

Apachai had been thrilled to see the girl he’d promised to teach when she was all of eleven and was not smart enough to wonder how she’d located him. In fact, the only one of the masters who felt it was anything out of the ordinary was Old Man Hayato.

I’d been here a week, had located all of my imported companions, and verified that everyone else was either using the lesser default or had opted to remain in the warehouse. The warehouse’s advanced tech refused to leave the bounds of the box as it were, but I really had no need of it. I still had functionally limitless wealth and was already using it to my advantage, buying up the land around Ryozanpaku and sending agents to find and map the bounds of YAMI & YOMI and the local Ragnarok gang. I didn’t particularly care about them, but information is better to have and not need than the reverse.

As Apachai and I broke apart to grab some water and dry off, I catalogued all the ways I still had to improve as I tucked the magatama I’d found in the dark valley back into my braid My basics were good, and I knew much more than I was showing, but even the Ranma crew didn’t really operate on Ryozanpaku’s level, and so I had some catching up to do… not the least because the last time I’d been super serious about martial arts training was back in One Piece and that was to master Haka and invent Rabid Wolverine Kung Fu. Before that, it had been all the way back in Metal Gear. Sure, I never really stopped training and learning, but there’s a difference between doing it as a hobby and doing it full time. I just had too much on my plate normally to dedicate more than a couple of hours twice week to sparring under normal circumstances.

Granted, that was a couple hours of sparring, a couple hours of sword-practice, a couple hours of shooting practice, a couple hours of drawing, a couple of hours of techwork, a couple of hours gaming… it adds up. Since I’d started using sunshine baths instead of sleeping, I’d gained a few precious hours, but a week was still a week. It only had 168 hours. Of course, with my ability to multitask I’d gotten far more productive… but I still had to spend time with people and eat… okay, no, I didn’t have to do either of those things, but I enjoyed them. Hell, I even enjoyed sleep occasionally, so I tried to get a couple of hours of sleeping in twice a week as well.

A shadow fell across me as I reached for my self-cooling water bottle. I looked up to see Hayato glaring down at me. “You are not welcome here, assassin. Leave. Now.”

I blinked up at him, grinned stupidly, and said (loudly and slowly), “Ai Don Speaku Engrishu!”

He blinked at me, then said, still in Japanese, “I am speaking Japanese.”

I smiled and, still in English, said “Ai Don Speaku Japanese.” despite the fact that this was clearly a bald-faced lie as the Japanese and English words for the Japanese language sound absolutely nothing alike (Nihongo vs Japanese). He harumphed, then turned as Miu arrived home from school, bringing Kenichi with her.

As usual, I watched Kenichi’s ‘torture’… i mean training, waiting for him to say something stupid. He always did, and when he did, I’d jump down from the rafter and flick him in the forehead then walk away to help Miu with the chores.

That day, finally, Kenichi managed to work up enough fortitude to confront me about it. “Why do you keep doing that!?” he demanded, jaw set and fists clenched.

“Why do you insist on treating Miu as if she is a prize to be won?” I responded in flawless Okinawan Japanese. “Why do you insist on treating women as if they are objects to be protected? You train for the wrong reasons, and it offends me.”

“W… Well, w… what is the right reason?” he stammered.

“That is for you to discover… but to impress a girl who has been surrounded by martial arts since she was an infant? This is not the reason. If you wish to demonstrate that you are a hard worker, there are many routes there, none of which involve learning how to beat people up with your fists. And if you want to win a girl’s heart, especially one trained as a fighter? Showing that you respect her as a fighter is a damned sight better than treating the girl who moves like an assassin like she is a porcelain doll.”

“I don’t hit women,” he said stubbornly.

“You are a fool.”

“I don’t hit women,” he repeated. “It’s my code.”

“When someone raises their fists against you, they are no longer a man, no longer a woman. They are your opponent. It does not matter if they are 8 or 80, male or female, human or alien or bear or shark. You respect their courage and face them. To do less disgraces the spirit and says ‘You are unworthy of my treating you as an equal.”

“I don’t hit women,” he reiterated.

I resisted the urge to smash his face in. “Do you know why the masters don’t fight your battles for you? Because if they did, you would never grow strong enough to fight them yourself. You may think you are protecting others, but really, you are like a mighty oak, stealing all the light from them and keeping them in your shade. If you want to protect others, you must help them as the masters help you. Become the greenhouse that focuses light and warmth so that one day the tender plants you shelter will grow strong enough to survive without you.

“I do-”

He didn’t get to finish, as I, having grown bored with his stupidity and sexism disguised as ethics, turned sideways and straight arm punched him through the nearest wall of the dojo. “Sense Bestowing Fist,” I said, then walked away to find Miu.

“Oh… I was just doing the laundry,” the teenage girl chirped at me as I walked up. “Did you want…” she gulped as I pulled off my top and shorts, then dropped them onto the pile, leaving myself naked except for my gloves and toe shoes. I let my hair out of its braid and hung the thong with the magatama around my neck. “J… ji! You ca… can’t! T… there are boys around!”

“There are men around, men who have seen women naked before. Men who know how to keep their hands to themselves. There is a boy who is currently recovering from being taught some sense. His gaze, should he be able to focus, would not harm me.”

“Kensei’s camera?” She managed to get out, obstinately not dropping the subject.

“I am not injured by the taking of pictures, nor is anyone else. Modesty is pointless, as you well know, as one who wears a gymnast’s outfit so thin that it might as well be painted on.” I took the laundry from her. “You need to stop acting like a servant. Also, to stop acting like a twit.”

“W… What do you mean? I’m just helping out!”

“Bullshit. The Masters of this school do nothing to help out. This place is in shambles, and without you, nothing would get cleaned, washed, or cooked. They are far too dependant on you and you are neglecting your training to take care of their needs. Further, you are either painfully unobservant or willfully so. The boy is doing all this to be close to you. He will, in time, come to find other reasons to do so, but right now? He seeks to be close to you because he finds you extremely attractive.”

“I… I know that.”

“Good. Now stop allowing social programming to dictate your actions. If you like him, tell him so. If you don’t, tell him so. If his destiny can be thwarted by either, he is unworthy of such a destiny… and you… you should not think that your only options are house-wife or martial artist. You are the heir to the Furinji style. Kenichi is not. Act like it matters, not like it’s a prize your future husband can earn. If Kenichi surpasses you because you cannot be bothered to put in the effort, how will you then be worthy of him?”

She might have said something in reply to that, but (seeing Hayato approaching) I left, bounding away across the rooftops to the apartment building I owned next to Ryozanpaku’s borders.

And so it went. Week after week of training that even I considered grueling, week after week of steadily and not so subtly pushing the various masters to actually contribute to the upkeep of the property and learn some basic human skills… like making tea or a basic meal. And only occasionally telling them to shut up about Kenichi having ‘no talent’. Clearly he had some or training him would be pointless. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a talent… it was that his talent was the kind that could only be expressed through mountains of hard work.

Occasionally, I’d actually show up at school… I was, in theory, registered there for some idiotic reason… and use Sense Bestowing Fist on Niijima largely because he was a creep. In this fashion did months roll by and Kenichi’s star began to rise as, one by one, the leadership of Ragnarok, little more than a pointless gang of self-important hooligans, fell before him (and miu… and Niijima).

Meanwhile, back the compound, I’d taken over the cooking, simply because it was the only way to force those useless masters to actually do anything around the house. Miu’s food was nourishing, but certainly wasn’t to notch. Mine, on the other boxing glove, was good enough that the threat of withholding it was motivation enough to actually prompt change. That, and the fact that I required at least two meal a week’s worth of assistance from each master, which gave me time to speak to each and, in at least three cases make some progress towards basic kitchen competence.

I only had to use Sense Bestowing Fist on Miu twice, Shigure (who clearly was on the spectrum) three times, Akisame once, Sakaki five times, and Apachai not at all. Granted, those numbers were as low as they were because I wasn’t trying to fix their major personality dysfunctions, but simply to get them to do something useful around the house. For instance, I didn’t bother trying to get Sakaki to give up his gambling or make Apachai a rocket scientist. As for Kensei Ma? No number of SBFs would have been enough.

One day, I found myself in Tokyo. I was there buying up a few major companies, including Tanimoto Heavy Industries, as well as picking up a simply gorgeous hand-scribed copy of Jingben Zhongyi Zhuan (aka Bandits of the Marsh or Water Margin… for which Ryozanpaku is named) dating to 1612. It cost me seven hundred and fifty-five million yen, but honestly, I’d have paid twice that. I just coming out of THI’s Tokyo office after having fired the entire board and arranging for the arrest for various financial crimes of about 3/5ths of the company’s officers, when the sounds of a battle hit my ears… and only quick thinking saved my priceless manuscript from being smashed by a huge dusky skinned high-school student as he tried to paste a ridiculously buxom blonde japanese girl wearing a skirt so short I could tell she waxed and a sweater so tight I could tell she didn’t own any bras… not that she really needed them.

Both had earrings with beads attached… magatama beads… and I instantly… okay, not instantly… it took me a good twenty seconds to dredge up where I knew the girl and the half-ogre from. Manga characters don’t actually look exactly the same in real life.

“Hakufu Sonsaku?” I groaned. “Gakushu!?” How the hell had I ended up in Ikki Tousen?… waaait. I looked down at the pale green bead resting between my breasts and sighed. “Sun… Ji… oh… fuuuck me.”

Sarah and Carwyn both gave me looks that said, “What did we miss?” while simultaneously fanning out to block Battle Vixen and Man with a Face designed to be stomped on from attacking me.

“Sun Ji… it’s an alternate name for Sun Shang Zhang… which technically makes me that bimbo’s sister… or at least the reincarnation of the sister of the man she’s the reincarnation of. Brace yourselves, Ladies… things are about to get deeply disturbing. Someone just changed the rating from Shonen to Seinin and the bodycount is going to explode.”

Next:  Kenichi Tousen, Yes. Really.

OMAKE: Relationship Chart (Updated, because you are awesome people… the old chart is still there for anyone who wants to go back a few 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.

Resources: BuildDocument

AN: Good lord this took a long time to research and write. Of course, if you’ve gotten this far, you can probably tell why. This is 25,000 words almost spot on, before adding in notes and titles and the usual business work. And much of that is clean up from Worm or the introduction of the newest member of the crew. Hope you think she’s a good one. It’s by far the longest character introduction, but I wanted to make it clear why she was recruited… and not just the prurient reasons, which honestly I hadn’t planned. The ‘You Should Let Me Seduce You’ line literally popped into my head as I was writing and it was too fun and too fitting not to go with. Before that, I hadn’t planned on the relationship being sexual. I figured Sarah would find someone in the crew to get close to, maybe Darkseid, honestly. Insane, Megalomaniacal Tyrant sure… but he probably the least likely to have issues that would trigger Tattletale’s turn-off buttons.

But that’s not how it turned out, and now some issues have to be raised, and as a writer, I’m looking forward to seeing what the characters and fans tell me. Should Sarah join the family, or should this be a short-lived fling before she finds someone else to hook up with? Should she decide such antics aren’t for her? Should she find herself on the outside by her own choice, but secretly want back in? There’s potential for drama there, but I’m not certain where Sarah should go. And yes, before you ask, I really did consider not recruiting her because of the name Lisa. Idiosyncrasies and all that. I’m fairly certain that EssJay has gotten over it (or should have), but I’m the writer and I haven’t. I’m not as enlightened as a 15,000 year old god. Sue me. Actually don’t, I don’t have any monies.

Again, a huge thank you to my Patreons, you guys rock. And to my friends at SB and QQ and those on Reddit and 4chan’s /tg/ board who read my work. Thank you all. You make this hobby as fun as it is.

OMAKE 1: Alternate Picture of Sun Ji (yes, it’s Revy from Black Lagoon, but she is tough)

Jump 83 - History's Strongest Disciple

OMAKE 2: STILL MORE CAULDRON VIALS!

AN: Some are missing rankings. Many are missing Shard Names. I’m open to suggestions. Also feedback on these would be lovely.

Year Six Vials

Lilith Carthagos / Cheshire: Mover 4 – The Uncertainty Shard. Cheshire, can translocate parts of her body at will. Each piece is always somewhere, but not necessarily in relation to each other. Each piece can rotate freely in midair and she seems to be aware of every piece of herself at all times. She can use this to teleport as pieces can leapfrog. Each piece must remain within 137 meters of each other piece, and currently the smallest piece she can separate is her pinkie toe, but each piece seems to need to be a complete unit (eg. nose, ear, eye, finger). If she breaks a link that connects multiple pieces to the main network, all those pieces will snap back to her primary location, where primary is defined as ‘Largest biomass’. She does not seem to have a core and can move organs outside the body. Moved sections do not seem to suffer environmental exposure beneath a certain threshhold, but direct attacks usually do cause damage, though lower damage than they should, indicating that they aren’t, perhaps, completely ‘there’ in some currently unmeasurable way.

Kagetane / FOOF 5: Striker 4 – The Oxidizer Shard. FOOF – Can generate a substance that is a hyperoxidizer, a substance that can burn practically everything. Described as Clorine-Trifloride’s evil twin, the one saving grace of this substances is its lack of toxic fumes. Although completely impossible to put out by conventional means, he has to deliver it via touch or, often, buy coating a sword in it. It can be extinguished by conceptual means or via vibration suppression. Magic is fully effective against it. He can dial in exactly how burny he wants his goo to appear and can, as long as he is in contact with it, render it inert or keep it from burning.

Paradise / Outfitter: Trump 5 – The Blacksmith Shard. She possesses the ability to imbue others with specific defenses against any threat she is familiar with.  ‘Suiting up’ takes a minute for full effectiveness, but she can imbue others with a more short-term (10 minutes instead of 20 hours) form of defense with only a few seconds. she calls this process ‘Rubbering Up’… in reference to the boots. She can Bespoke, which provides even longer protection, in theory indefinite, but this takes her exposing the subject to varying degrees of the danger and adjusting their system to be more in tune with the protections. Can apply these defenses to herself, but seems to have a limit to how many different defenses she can have active, though she can Rubber herself Up extremely rapidly… as in faster than her conscious mind can register a threat, though this does present a potential weakness as it is possible to run out her slots and cause the oldest to cycle, leaving her vulnerable. The more specific defense, the more absolute it is, but the less effective. In fights one on one, however, she has enough slots to render herself functionally immune to everything that enemy can throw at her unless that enemy has an extremely varied attack set.

Catryn / Papermoth: Master 4 – Origami Kami Shard. Papermoth creates swarms of silk-like constructs. While not particularly strong, they are extremely durable and she can control a huge number of them. They are very light. Creating them takes time, so she usually covers herself in tens of thousands of them as a costume. Unlike Skitter / Hive Queen, they are not alive and do not have senses, but they are also not limited to practical lifeforms. She creates the silk-like substance from her own skin and the process is painless. They resemble tattoos while growing and she can convert her entire body surface area to constructs in about 6 minutes. Using this power requires a large amount of protein. She can also coat her hair in the silk, allowing her to control it telekinetically. She can cause them to bond to exposed skin. Her own skin is usually impregnated with as many as three millimeters worth of papersilk.

Nurgath / Knifehand:  Striker 6 – Ginsu Shard. His hands can generate planes of force that have fractal edges that are capable of cutting nearly everything made of matter. They are all but useless against energy fields and nearly useless against self-reorganizing matter, but beyond monomolecular edges can be generated, and they aren’t simply smooth, but rather a kind of transmono-molecular chainsaw.

Year Seven Vials

Sabine san Leor / Bliss: Striker 6, Stranger 3. Sabine can reflect physical damage she receives in melee onto those who caused it. She feels pain as pleasure and this bleeds into those who are damaged by this mirror effect. Damage she can’t reflect (from ranged sources for instance) builds up and is transferred to the first person to damage her in close quarters. Fighting her can be addictive.

Decima / Gestalt: Master 5 – The Overwatch Shard. Gestalt grants a perfect combat gestalt to all allies within her range and is constantly aware of their condition and can move around vitality at will, acting as a conduit. What she knows, everyone in the gestalt becomes aware of. Acts as a sink for despair, fear, or rage that might impair others in the gestalt. Her range depends on her emotional state, and requires her to be calm and focused to work optimally. She thinks this is MONDO BOGUS! Max range ~300m radius sphere. minimum range ~120m radius sphere. Must be able to see the individual to add them to the gestalt. Can add unconscious people to the gestalt without their permission. Cannot kill directly with vitality shifting, but can make death a virtual certainty.

Dewitt Bookstock / Myriad: Master 6. Myriad creates quantum clones of himself, like Naruto’s Shadowclone Jutsu, but as durable as he himself is. Damage done to any Myriad can be shifted to any other Myriad and there’s very little way to determine if you’re dealing with the original or a q-clone. The current number of clones is in the mid-thirties, but it’s expected that will grow over time.

Jaan / Verisimilitude: Shaker 5. Verisimilitude: creates highly photorealistic illusions over a large area, making the area look completely different to all visual senses. These are essentially hardlight holograms that are strong enough to interact with, though she has trouble generating copies of any living thing more complex than plants or normal scale bugs.

Manfred Booker / Revenant: Changer 7. Revenant is a Resurrection Brute) Whenever killed, he rips out of his own corpse like it’s a cocoon, becoming progressively more withered and twisted with each iteration. His blows sap vitality which restores him to looking human, but the more ‘undead’ he appears, the faster, tougher, and stronger he gets. He can choose to slough off his outer layer any time he likes, removing any damage he’s taken effectively instantly. Clothes do get in the way of this, but he possesses a rudimentary ability to change his outer appearance as well, mimicking clothing at will, or (more often) wearing the half-mummified shreds of earlier forms.

Year Eight Vials

Black Jenny / Transformica: Changer 9, Blaster 6, Brute 7. She turns into a massive  (6 stories tall seems to be the maximum) formica ant that spits formic acid and has bit ol mandibles strong enough to casually crush tanks. She causes huge ant infestations around her as her icor literally transforms into black ants of all sizes and species, including giant ants on the order of large dogs. She cannot control ants in any way. Her stench in combat is considered a Shaker effect by itself. As a Brute she heals incredibly fast, relying on regeneration rather than toughness, though she is tougher than she seems, just very easy to damage superficially, as her exoskeleton can be easily pierced by mundane attacks. This is deceptive, as such damage is effectively meaningless to her. She is an S-Class Threat.

Sakura / Weaponeer: Striker 7. Sakura can form any weapon she can imagine as long as it is physically possible and hand held. She has complete mastery of all weapon related skills from all of human history, and prefers to use melee weaponry as she cannot easily generate ammunition and the weapons she generates adapt to the defenses of whatever she hits them against over time.

Stern / Equilibrium: Shaker 6. Generates subsonics that cause loss of coordination, disorientation, and even pain over time. Cancels out most other sonic effects, including making speaking difficult.

Dearche / Van De Graaf: Blaster 7. Creates an insubstantial sphere around herself that can be several hundred meters wide that becomes progressively more and more filled with purple-blue lightning. Can amp this lightning from harmless to lethal. The sphere is visible to the naked eye as a blueshift. It moves with her and fades only gradually once she is rendered unconscious.

Levi / Follow-On: Striker 9, Brute 5, Master 2. Creates after images behind her that mimic her own actions. She’s extremely dense and very fast, deflecting most blows that manage to hit her. The after-images sometimes have a mind of their own, or at least seem to. It’s like a form of ADHD when she’s not focusing on combat. This causes them to knock things over, play with passers by, doodle on things, and, if annoyed, the after-images can lash out even without Follow-On being aware. She is an S-Class Threat if not kept focused. In times of stress, as many as forty after-images have been generated.

Year Nine Vials

Fredrika / Trauma Center: Shaker 4. Trauma Sends out quasi-substantial shockwaves that cause more damage the more damaged the target already is. In effect, it uses existing damage to inflict more damage.

Lizzy / Riftripper: Blaster 5. Riftripper generates bolts that are actual dimensional tears, capable of bypassing most material defenses to cause ripping damage along the edge of the seam… essentially like being caught by the edge of an unshielded portal. The bolts are not particularly fast and don’t have huge range, but she can fire quite a lot of them at a time, more if she stands still while doing so.

Iana Faust / Blork: Blaster / Mover. Blork covers herself in a sheath of greasy protons that allow her to ignore inertia, gravity, and surface-friction selectively. She can also generate greasy photonic blasts which have a lingering effect that interferes with the target’s surface-friction and inertia if it’s inorganic (i.e. it makes surfaces slick and objects loose interia, making them easy to move… and easy to stop.)

Whitey Brightside / Wildfyre: Striker / Brute / Blaster. Wildfyre coats himself in a kind of bioplasmic gel that shocks people, allows him to generate plasma blasts, and absorbs impacts. He’s generally very tough and strong too.

Korosensei / Bulletstorm: Thinker 5, Mover 5, Breaker 5, Stranger 5, Shaker 5. Bulletstorm Fires concentrated Chronogravimetric distortions and generates a chronogravimetric field around himself. Both have a similar effect which causes time to slow down around either the bullets or himself, making dodging them extremely tricky as the closer they get to you, the more wonky your sense of time gets. This effect also allows him to stand on any surface by changing how he interacts with local gravity. His sense of time is not slowed and appears to be largely time-indepent.