The Jump Chain

World 57: Bioshock

OF SLUGS AND SALVATION

Previously: Line in the Sand

Themesong: Bleeding Out by Imagine Dragons

AN: Warning – HUGE RAGING SPOILERS for all three Bioshock games.

Know the big problem with lying on the ocean floor for years… once you get used to the crushing agony of the hunger? Oh god… the hunger. I was sustained, if you can call it that, by the cold, feeding me power enough to continue existing… but it did nothing to ease the desire to eat, even as it kept me from wasting away. Passive abilities still functioned, even for Devil Fruit Eaters. Brook the skeleton didn’t just die when he was underwater. Luffy didn’t stop stretching when he was underwater, as long as someone else did the pulling… and I didn’t stop sucking in the benthic chill that powered my most central defensive ability.  

No, the most pressing problem wasn’t the agony, nor the immobility, nor the titanic weight of all that water, nor the darkness. It wasn’t even the boredom. I had centuries of stored media inside my memory palace… no. it was the loneliness.

I began to have conversations with passing fish… well, imagining having conversations. I couldn’t actually talk to them… or talk… or move.  All I could do was… lay there, slowly being covered in sand and detritus and small ocean lifeforms that didn’t mind the cold.

And relentlessly, some part of my mind was counting down the seconds until the jump ended… and doing a piss poor job of it because I was going pretty much starkers with pain and isolation by the end of that period.

I wasn’t so much able to see the Pillars rise around me as feel it. I felt the lethargy and limpness leave my limbs and I ripped free of the seabed with a roar as my powers came flooding back into me. I lunged for the pillar marked “Move on!” with all my considerable might and hammered my fist into hard enough to shatter… my fist. I was in such exquisite agony that I didn’t even notice. Every part of my body sang with pain and my nervous system was on fire with it. You think the pain of missing a meal or two or three is bad… I’d missed thousands. Thousands.

I coughed, spat out a mouthful of muck, swallowed the rest of the muck in my throat, and gasped out, “Send me to…” I wanted to say the pantry… but instead did the sane thing “Medbay… and lock everyone flesh out of it.” I collapsed as I fell through the portal and crawled to the medpod. “VIvian… I need IV fluids, nutrients… and a constant feed of painkillers and liquid calories.”

In the next 20 days, I barely moved from the bed. Parts of my body had actively crystallized… my flesh and blood body… I’d been using my bodymod body for that jump and it had what can only be described as cysts of crystal metastable ice… everywhere. My entire gut bacteria… all the bacteria in my body in fact, had died. I couldn’t even eat food because I had nothing left with which to digest it. The medbay had to ween me back onto food even as it removed the strange growths and essentially rebuilt me all over again. I only needed one form that was pure ice, thank you. It was 22 days before I could even bring myself to see people, and I knew I looked horrible. Metavore was a wonderful perk… but it required having enough calories to work… I’d had none. No CHONFOOD for Metavore to synthesize into needed nutrients.

But I was on the mend, slowly.  Well, okay, extremely rapidly… but I was like a vampire who’d been sealed in a sarcophagus for a century… I needed to feed.  And my companions were just thrilled I wasn’t, you know… dead. They’d scoured the world for me, for some sign I was still alive… but they’d assumed that, if I was underwater, I was dead.

They’d begun to resign themselves to the idea that they might be trapped in One Piece, or at least one faction had. The others assumed that once the jump ended as normal they’d be going back to… wherever it was you went when the chain ended.

Enel had, apparently, decided to establish a religion dedicated to me, and didn’t that sound scary. I was going to miss the psycho bastard. I’d meant to invite him along… but then I’d gone for a swim and plans had changed. I’d have to go back to One Piece some day with some serious tech and do some social reconstruct… but for the time being, I was sick and tired of the ocean.

Finally, after six days of solid gorging on solid food… and ice cream, cheesecake, milkshakes, and every other megadose of calories I could cram into my maw, I wandered into the Arcade Chamber… pushing a fully loaded cart in front of me. It had an entire roast ham, a giant pot of beef and bean stew, enough tuna-noodle-casserole to choke a rhino, and 18 pounds of fudge. I called it afternoon tea.

With Mensarius looking faintly ill as I gorged myself, I thought to the room ~Sock it to me.~ Then shuddered as the word “BIOSHOCK!” appeared on the surround screen. A screen crawl in that distinctive font rolled up underneath it, telling me all about a setting I already knew waay too well.

“Welcome to Rapture, a Metropolis built on the bottom of the Atlantic! Founded by the Objectivist Billionaire, Andrew Ryan, Rapture is a city built with the greatest and the brightest in mind, a city where the artist would not need to fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small.

However, all is not perfect in this new eden. The nature of Objectivism has its downside in that it leaves the poor to their misery, and the psychologist and collectivist Sofia Lamb is beginning to stir up the lower classes against Ryan. On top of this, the Head of Fontaine Futuristics, Frank Fontaine, is up to something big, and his company’s discovery of the evolutionary miracle that is ‘Adam’ will probably play a large part in what’s to come. Your knowledge, skills, and powers might be enough to save this city from its downward spiral, but they might not be as reliable as you might think, for the events of the Future are not set in stone.

~Ah, Rapture, the Objectivist Paradise… soon to become the Anarchist Hell. Note to self, murder Fontaine… Lamb too, probably.~ I considered as I snarfed down my repast, glorying in the feel of food, the taste, the smell. I hadn’t had my mouth empty enough to talk since arriving in medbay, though originally it had been a feeding tube, but once I’d been on solid food it had been nothing but. I hadn’t slept in days. ~Talk to Ryan and educate him that a free market relies on people having funds to spend and having an unhappy permanent underclass is counterproductive, stirring up discontent. Reward innovation, but provide people something to believe in and work for, or they’ll turn to religion and anger every damned time. Mostly, just try and keep the city from imploding…~ I was considering things mostly at random, plans flickering across my conciousness. I wanted to save Rapture for a number of reasons. Part of me just wanted to see if it could be done, but the majority wanted to save Rapture because there were families down there, families with a lot of kids… and, from the fact you see exactly none of them in the game besides the Little Sisters… give you one guess as to what a bunch of insane psychopathic murderers did to the kids. I shuddered at the thought. ~When does this start?~

The screen flickered, neither gentleman speaking. The text said ‘Your Adventure Begins on New Year’s Day, 1953.’ I consulted my memory… that was five years before the beginning of the end, and about 5.5 years before Jack would arrive… if I didn’t disrupt that. ~Hell Elisabeth shouldn’t be here either… that’s worrying though… okay… can’t make assumptions. 5 years to get things running smoothly. I can do this. As the tagline says ‘The events of the Future are not set in stone.’ right?~ Neither Benefactor moved.

I flipped through the screens with my mind as I tucked into the fudge. I’d fallen out of the habit of talking to people… I’d have to remember how to do that. I handed some fudge to Soul of Ice who was seated next to me on a high stool, kicking her legs and making sure I didn’t lock her out again. She’d spent the last three weeks telling me all about the boringness of being stuck in the Arcade with these two bozos.  Victoria just sulked as she had since I returned. Apparently she was feeling like pinnochio, like she wasn’t a real person since she had technological origins. The fact that Soul had been likewise banished didn’t make her feel any better. I sighed around some ham… oooo… haaaam… I love you haaam. Never leave me again. Where was I?

Oh… yeah… Starting location… did anyone ever pay for that? Why would anyone care where they start enough to squander points on it? And in Rapture? Seriously, all the 8 options could be accessed without more than a short bathysphere, monorail, or tram ride. They’re not even locked down at this time. Oh… it’s not even a pay to choose, it’s just Choose or Roll… well, that’s a bit better. At least that makes sense. I just click random and don’t bother checking the result.

The next section was, as usual, the ‘Background’ section, this time entitled ‘Origin’… ‘Along with your new age and choice of gender, you may choose a new identity. This is more than some paperwork or a disguise however, as you gain all the memories your persona has.’ the screen said. ‘You will still need to find a job, however.’

Well, well, well. That was interesting. For the first time, it specifically said that the persona I gained would conflict with my underlying personality. That was new. ~Well then… I guess I shall be taking drop-In… huh… no drop in… Businessman, Soldier, Specialist, Laborer. Businessman is… let’s see… half politician half desk jockey… specialist is science, art, medicine, musician… soldier is… well.. Duh… Oh… Laborer is the drop-in… no memories other than your own. Missed that… comes with poor living conditions, poor pay. Okay, well then. Let’s go with that. Bonus, it’s free. Huh. they are so often… If I was structuring this, I think I’d charge Jumpers to stay themselves. Guess that’s why I’m the Jumper and not the Banker, right?~

That got a chuckle from the Banker, and a glower from Mensarius.

~Let’s see. Laborers get Endurance for Free, that’s a self explanatory boost to, duh, endurance. They gain a discount on “Advanced Processing” which is the ability to process things on the fly… which I guess is nice, but I have a quantum computer for a brain… at least when computers are a thing that exists… Still… I’ll think about it… and “Willpower”… “Easily shrug off almost all pain and urges, whatever they may be.” Paaain baaad… Okay… that’s worth [300/700/1000].~

I read through the other perk-trees… Specialists got training in a craft, genius in a field of study, and a creativity boost. Meh. Businessmen got accounting (ewwww), business savvy (le sigh), and charisma… ahaahah… that’s cute… not a bad choice, and the price wasn’t bad… but Charisma lets you persuade people to agree with your opinions… Tongue of the Shepherd from Mass Effect allows me to talk people into killing themselves… and I’ve got another half dozen high power charisma, leadership, and social engineering perks to back it up. Soldier… got a bunch of Plasmids and Tonics… ~Can’t I just hunt these down and buy them or steal them… they’re commercially available in the city…?~ I asked the room at large, even as I thought ~Plus, they’re hideously unsafe to use, mutating the body and corrupting the mind of those who used them.~

There was even a warning label that said “BEFORE YOU CHOOSE THIS OPTION, BE AWARE THAT ADAM, THANKS TO THE SAME PROPERTIES THAT GIVE IT ITS POWER, ALSO CAUSES A VARIETY OF MUTATIONS, RANGING FROM DEFORMITY TO CANCER. IT CAN ALSO CAUSE SCHIZOPHRENIA, AS IT STORES THE MEMORIES OF ALL IT HAS PASSED THROUGH. FURTHERMORE, ADAM IS ADDICTIVE AND IF YOU DON’T SPLICE REGULARLY, YOUR BODY WILL BEGIN TO SHUT DOWN. THE MORE YOU SPLICE, HOWEVER, THE MORE ADAM YOU WILL NEED TO PUT INTO YOUR BODY TO KEEP IT GOING.”

“Jesus, fucking, Thor,” I muttered aloud. “Why would anyone sane put this shit into their body actively knowing that. This is even more fucked up than Devil Fruit. SJ no want.”

“Oh. You’ll want them. I promise you that,” Mensarius sneered.

“Why?” I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. I’d hoped I’d heard the last of Mensarius… but apparently he was here for good, his unsanctioned presence still there on my couch, mocking the Banker at every turn. An option was flashing on the screen “Friends in Wet Places”. I blinked at that, then sighed and tapped the flashing Question Mark beneath it with my mind.

“It’s no fun if you just brutalize everyone and bend them to your will. No God Mode for you. But, if you take this option, you can import up to 8 of your companions to Rapture.”

“You’re tempting me, trying to corrupt the paradigm. What do you get out of this.”

“Amusement. And screwing with him.”

“I’m sure. But I’m not certain that letting you use me to screw with my benefactor is a great idea.”

The Banker chuckled “No. Feel free. He might be an arse of cosmic proportions… but he’s right. Go ahead. But you can’t leave the city. No running to the surface and leaving Rapture to itself.”

“I’m not sure you two agreeing on anything is at all safe for me, or the cosmos… when you say the city, can I go outside into the water?”

“Aha… sure. If you can conquer your fear of the water,” Mensarius sneered.

“What fear of the water? I wasn’t afraid of the water last time. Just because I spent a few months lying at the bottom of the ocean unable to move doesn’t mean I’m scared of the water.” I snarled.

“Naw… I think you’re scarred… Psychologically. It’s got to leave a mark,” the odious worm in the sleazy suit said.

I leaned back, grabbed some tuna-mac, and chewed it slowly, then shook my head. “I don’t think so.”

“Oh, no… I insist. Why don’t you take Hydrophobia?” The Banker said, trying to sound reasonable. “I’ll give you 200 CP if you do.”

“Hydrobia is rabies. You want me to take a highly contagious and extremely lethal disease?”

“What’s the fear of water then,” Mensarius asked?

“If you mean the fear of being in water, you mean Aquaphobia or, since this is the ocean, Thalassophobia.”

“Okay, yes. That,” he waved his hand and the text on the screen changed.

“Aquaphobia… in a city at the bottom of the ocean.” My voice was as full of scorn as my stomach was of ham and fudge.

“It’s usually quite dry.” The CP man assured me. “Don’t worry, you won’t be afraid of drinking water… just of drowning.”

“I have willpower up the wazzoo.”

“Won’t help,” Mensarius snarked.

“Ah… nerfing my willpower for your chuckles.”

“Not nerfing… just ruling that it doesn’t apply to stop you from experiencing the fear.” The Banker assured me. “You can still use it to keep from reacting to the fear.”

“So my experiencing near constant terror and unease will make you happy?”

“If it throws you off your game, influences your behavior, yes.”

I ground my teeth, then growled, “Fine. So, how many CP do my companions get if I agree to stay in the city and not go ‘God Mode’?”

The two entities glanced at it each other, then the screen flashed, and Mensarius was holding out a laser pointer as the screen displayed three options. Level 1 was the most minor, taking away all my spiritual powers, meaning I’d have to be corporeal and couldn’t speak the truth and have it automatically be believed. It would also strip me of my bending abilities and my magic, as well as my third eye. It got my companions 200 CP and a free origin. Level 2 was the middle ground. It took away all my super human abilities, including my psychic powers besides my Astral Layers and Mental Palace since I couldn’t use those against others. It got my companions 400 CP. Level 3 locked my warehouse and space dock away but got my friends 600 CP. I wasn’t certain what I’d do with a spaceship in Rapture since I couldn’t go anywhere…

Could I handle the darkness and psychological horror of life in Rapture without going mad… could I risk a chance to save the city under the sea simply because I wanted my friends and family to benefit? I had the screen show me the others in the main room, looking worried, but giving me space as usual. Zane looked up at the point of projection, as if sensing my presence and my question, then shook his head.

He was, of course, right. Mensarius was playing me, playing on my love of my companions and my love of challenge. Not this time. Screw him and screw his games. Nothing in the world of Bioshock was worth risking the innocents of the city.

“Bite me, you bastards… both of you. The prize here is, maybe, the powers of the Plasmids and Tonics… and those can be had for a price other than CP. Fine, I’ll take your Aquaphobia… fear only has power if I let it. And I’ll bring my companions through the traditional way, and we’ll drag the city into righteousness. And if I want to take the kids and others to the surface to save them, that’s what I’ll do. So take your offer and shove it very much.”

“Spoilsport,” grumped the Banker.

“Coward,” sneered Mensarius.

“Do I look like I’m a 13 year old boy? Or are you going to tell me that any Plasmids or Tonics won’t work after the jump if I don’t buy them with CP? Because Jeremiah Fuck-You-Kindly Fink is not smarter than me. If he could invent Vigors that Suchong hadn’t, I can do it too, and do it better. You two chuckle fucks wanna reconsider letting me get my hands on the technology?”

They didn’t respond.

“And I know you dipshits well enough to already guess that after the end of the ten years are up the side effects of Adam are going to be revoked anyway, right?”

“She knows you too well.” Mensarius mocked.

“We have a working relationship,” the Banker replied dryly.

“Yes. You’re a bastard, and Mensarius is a bigger bastard.” I snarked.

“Yesss… let your anger-”

“Shut up you.” I pointed a finger at Mensarius’s image, freezing it solid. The Banker laughed. “And you… If I buy these horrible mutations in a bottle… are they in any way better than the storebought versions I can get from a Gatherer’s Garden ?”

“Errr… yes?”

“Wow. you sound certain. In what way?”

“You get automatic upgrades when those upgrades are invented over the course of the decade.”

“Soo… if I shoot Suchong and Fontaine on day one? They don’t upgrade?”

“Yes. If you kill the source of the creation of Plasmid or Tonic before they exist, you can’t buy them in the Garden.”

“What if I invent them myself?”

“Errr…”

“Look, instead of giving me a bullshit choice of plasmids to buy… which, at a glance, doesn’t even include all those available in the game… why not sell me the science of it. Can I be a genius of making the damned things? That’s the same 600 as buying the largest Adam Pack, right? A pack that doesn’t even include all the ones on offer in the jump.”

“Well… I… Sure.”

“Excellent. Then I’ll take that Drawback I see over there that makes all the mutations significantly increased in severity and frequency, while making all my plasmids and tonics more powerful. I’ll just not splice at all. Free points and all the plasmids and tonics I make will be more powerful.”

“It’s called ‘Adaptation’, Mensarius growled. ‘And that’s not the intent of the Drawback!”

“Hey, you people worded it that way… Mutations are of significantly increased severity and frequency. On the upside, all your plasmids and tonics are more powerful.” I read off the screen.

“So you’re willing to say that your plasmids and tonics are more mutative, but more powerful?”

“Yes. That’s a fair trade. Nothing says I have to give them out to anyone. Free points.”

Word to the wise… never assume you’re getting something over on the omnipotent. Very much don’t rub it in. Of course, I’d just done it to not one but two and the rat bastards screwed me. Twice. But I’ll get to that later.

I had 1400 points with the enforced drawback and the apparently cheesed drawback. Willpower and Savant Genius had cost me 900, and I added Advanced Processing (faster processing speed) for [150] and Intuition (Ideas come more easily and more often) for another [300]. Which left me with 50.

I skipped the tonics and plasmids, going right to items. As a Laborer, I got a Welding Torch and a Wrench free. There were no companion import options… the game is very solo and isolating… and its first sequel sucks… but hopefully I’d be able to head both them off.

“Wow… what a bunch of junk. Can I spend my last 50 on getting a seaslug?”

“What, as a pet? You can just grab one from the sea floor or one of the labs.”

“Yes. A CP backed Adam Seaslug pet. That means it’ll be immortal without us having to whip up some immortality potion for it.”

“Yeah, sure. Go for it.”

And there I made a second itty bitty mistake that was going to come back to bite me. Very very soon. In the meantime, I decided the grotesque thing would be called “Freelancer” for a reason I wasn’t sure I understood myself. Somehow it seemed right… Sluggy the Freelancer. Huh. Probably an in-joke of some kind. I’d worry about it after eating another dozen or so meals in the next few days.

INSERTION

Something was very… very wrong. The table was absolutely the wrong height. It was much too tall. Everything was much too tall… and there was fading laughter behind me.

“Ah. There is girl. Hello?” said Dr. Suchong. I jerked, looking up at the man. He was a giant… no… wait… I looked at my hands. They were tiny… and greyish. Oooo… for the sake of fuck… I was a Little SISTER! Ho… I’d spun the wheel of aging right before I’d entered the jump… it had numbers 1 through 8 on it and a +21 in the center. It had landed on 7… I should be 28.

I froze the doctor in slow time and walked back into the warehouse through the metal stanchion of the table, growling, “What the fuuuck?”

“You asked for a Slug,” came the Banker’s reply. I glared, then glanced at the wheel of time… in tiny letters beneath the +21 someone had etched “seasons”. So I was 7 years old… 28 seasons. “Youuuuu bastard. I got points back for this shit in Railgun.”

“You were stuck as a little girl then. Now you just have to grow up a bit.”

“A bit? Little Sisters become Big Sisters… Big Sisters are fucking huuuge. And unbalanced as hell.”

“So are some of your mature female forms.”

“Yes? Which I seem to be having trouble shifting into. Any idea why?”

“Well, if you shifted, where would Freelancer go?”

“I hate you so much right now… How am I supposed to freaking get anyone to listen to me as a Little Sister?”

“Not my problem.”

“You’re lucky I need you or I’d be stabbing you many many times right now.”

“Speaking of which, you should check your sword.”

With a sick feeling of dread, I summoned Soul of Ice to me… and flinched. She was transformed as well… locked into the form of a Little Sister’s Adam Harvesting needle.

“Ha… ha… ha… these things don’t even exist yet. The Little Sisters won’t be used in this way until the civil war begins. Are there even Little Sisters yet? I mean, the first Plasmids came out… what… in June, 1952? They’re barely a year and a half old? Adam can’t be in short supply already.”

“A bit before that, but you were the first…”

“Oh. Great.”

“To survive the process.”

“I hate you.”

“You wanted to be a Savant Genius and have a slug. Oh. You’re not allowed to kill anything unless you use that… or plasmids. Mensarius was right. You want to save lives… save them all.”

“That’s it. Stabbing time.”

It was childish… but I was a little upset. Unfortunately, the hologram of the Banker was immune to damage, so I had to settle for screaming in inchoate rage for a while instead. Wow… childish temper tantrums… that felt surprisingly good. I took a few deep breaths and walked back out of the warehouse.

I looked at the good Dr. Sure, sure… he was an amoral jagoff… but he was a product of his times, a survivor of the Japanese invasion of China (though he was Korean), and being amoral made him practically saintly by comparison to some of the scum in Rapture. He could be invaluable… as a puppet. I also needed Fontaine to survive for a while as well… though I had to get close to him… where were my agents?

Leaving Suchong still slowed to the point where blinking would take him well over an hour, I contacted Ahab and Joy. “Are you two free to join me?” Joy wasn’t. She was in Minerva’s Den, apparently having appeared in Reed Wahl’s outer office, awaiting an interview. I told her to get the job, as he was one of the people we needed to keep an eye on, and Minerva’s Den was crucial to controlling the city… and I had absolutely no illusions that I was going to have to do exactly that if I was going to save Rapture from itself.

Ahab looked down at me when he came through the new Warehouse Portal. “Well… that’s not creepy. What the hell is wrong with your skin?”

“I’m a little sister,” I said, cringing a little at the very slight lisp my developing palate was causing.

He chuckled. “I can see that. What does being someone’s sister have to do with anything?”

“Shit… that’s right.” I palmed my forehead in the time honored ‘doh!’ motion. “I didn’t give you guys the lowdown on this Verse. You might want to grab a seat, this might take a while.”

He did, and I studied his outfit. He was dressed in simple garb, but held himself like a soldier; a little stiff, with shadows under the eyes. Of course, this was Ahab, veteran of a frankly silly number of wars, but he hadn’t been in the body long enough for his over-arching mannerisms to counter the body’s native inclinations. This body, the local incarnation of Ahab Bahs, or whatever his name was, had been a soldier. Then again, this was 1953… the likelihood of any adult male being a soldier was fairly high… and higher than at any other time in human history.

“Welcome to Rapture. We’re at the bottom of the Ocean,” I began. “But seriously. There is a Man, a City, a Lighthouse. Those are constants. So, it seems, is chaos. This isn’t just one world. It’s a nearly infinite number of parallel worlds. We’re in a very specific one of those parallels, the one where, in just under 5 years, a young woman named Elizabeth will arrive… through a rip in spacetime called a Tear. She will come here because this is the only parallel to which a man named Zachary Hale Comstock has come, also through such a Tear.”

“Okaay. I don’t know how you know all that… but what was that about a Man and a City? Is the Man this Comstock?”

“Heh. Maybe yes, maybe no. But he’s not the Man for Rapture.” I sighed. “I’ll start at the beginning. First, I love this setting… as a setting. There were three incredible games… even if the second disappointed me in several ways, any objective analysis of it would say it was great, if judged on its own merits. That it wasn’t, quite, a worthy successor to the first was unfortunate, but the gameplay itself was actually an improvement, though more on rails with less exploration and more combat. The third game struck a nice balance between the two elements, and was also flawed, but that’s not going to help us. It does however explain why, of all the settings we’ve been to, I’ve got such encyclopedic memory of this place. I’ve played all three games, the first and third multiple times. I’ve trolled the wiki and read analysis pieces. I’ve watched playthroughs and watched interviews. I loved these games. And I haaaate the events that happened with a purple passion.”

“Oh, dear. Zombies?”

“Yeah… kinda. It’s complex. First thing’s first. This city was founded by a Russian-born American Industrialist named Andrew Ryan… Andrei Rayanovsky… born near Minsk in 1911. Jewish. His family fled Soviet Russia in 1919, but the horrors of the Russian Revolution formed the core of Andrew’s world view… in exactly the same way they did for Ayn Rand, of whom he is a genderswapped Expy. In fact, he is essentially a fusion of Rand herself and the deuteragonists of Atlas Shrugged, Hank Rearden and John Galt. Ryan, a largely selfmade man, built a vast fortune in pre-depression america, but following the creation of the New-Deal, he became disillusioned by what he viewed as the rise of Socialism and Collectivism in the US, seeing people who didn’t deserve it, who he called ‘Parasites’, being supported by the work of others.

He is, at his core, a horrible person. As an example, he owned some woodlands that the government attempted to nationalize as parkland. He burned it to the ground rather than hand it over. After the destruction of Hiroshima, he’d had enough. Science and hard work had, in his eyes, become perverted into a weapon by which the Parasites could destroy anything they could not seize by force of arms.

To escape that world, he decided to build Rapture, a city where, in his own words “the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small”… and where there would be “No Gods or Kings, Only Man”… yes, I know.” I saw Ahab’s smirk at the mention of the name of my most useful ability. “Rapture was built, at the cost of Ryan’s entire fortune, at a secret location deep in the North Atlantic. He was 35 when the city became habitable and he filled it with the best and the brightest… and for a time it was everything he dreamed it would be. Free and prosperous, innovative beyond belief, and secure from the chaos of the surface world. All that will begin to fail over the next few years.”

“Why? This ADAM stuff?” he pulled a bottle of Teleportation out of his valise, looking it over. “Doesn’t look like much.”

“Did you read the warning?”

“Oh. Yeah. I guess. Seemed interesting nonetheless. The badstuff will wear off in a decade, right?” He had a point, so I nodded.

“Okay, yes. As close as I can peg it, about three, three-and-a-half years ago, a scientist named Brigid Tenenbaum made a discovery that would change everything. Brigid is survivor of Auschwitz, also from the Minsk area, also Jewish, though of German descent, high functioning Autist… brilliant mind. I look forward to meeting her, and, if I can convince her to come along I will. She came to Rapture in 1946, right around the time the first phase of construction was complete, and at some point after that discovered the restorative properties of a certain sea slug native to these waters.

The story goes that a smuggler of her acquaintance, one with crippled hands, had seen his hands restored to full functionality after being bitten by said slug. Intrigued, Dr. Tenenbaum… whose title is completely honorific… extracted a substance from the slugs that could heal damaged cells, even going so far as to resurrect dead ones. She dubbed it ADAM and realized that it could allow others to manipulate their own DNA… to, in the vernacular, ‘Splice’.

After being turned away by all the reputable research facilities, she got funding from one Frank Fontaine, owner of Fontaine Fisheries, and together with him, they created Plasmids, which grant the splicer what can only be described as superpowers, and Gene Tonics, which grant the splicer passive abilities such as damage resistance, greater analytic powers, clearer thought, and more. They also set out to mass-produce the ADAM needed to market these things to the people, but ran into some trouble as the slugs didn’t produce enough ADAM naturally to make that a possibility.

So, being the unethical folks they are, they turned to implanting the slugs into human hosts… and discovered that the only hosts capable of producing sufficient amounts were,” I guestured to my body, “little girls… subsequently dubbed ‘Little Sisters’. According to Suchong’s memories,” I pointed to the statue-like figure looming over the room like a scarecrow, “I was implanted with this thing 17 months ago and am an orphan. Right now, all the Little Sisters are Orphans… but that will change as demand for ADAM grows… because, as Dr. T will discover soon enough, ADAM is extremely addictive and must be taken regularly to avoid the rather severe side-effects of withdrawal. And, unfortunately, like most addictive substances, the need increases as you continue splicing, as do the mutative side effects. It causes deterioration of both physical and mental capacities.”

“And they kept selling it anyway?” Ahab looked aghast.

“Awww… is the big bad super spy amazed by the depths of human amorality? Tenenbaum didn’t care, at least at first, and Fontaine is a sociopath who eventually went full psycho. He’s the primary antagonist of the first game and the major driving force of the rebellion that brings Rapture down from the inside. He wants absolute control over the city.”

“I assume he’s our first target?”

“He is, but not to kill. I want to use him and his smuggling operation to save the city, and I have no qualms about forcing him to dance to my tune. I need him to put pressure on Ryan, so that I can push Ryan into implementing constructive change. I have to show him that Objectivism and Collectivism need to be balanced in order for a society to function. Enlightened Self Interest should do the trick, as long as I can keep his own personal neurosis from getting out of hand.”

“You think you can do it?”

“Eh. If I can’t, we all swim. Well, okay, I don’t. I have a massive fear of the water at the moment.”

“Uh… we’re under water.”

“Oh. I know. Trust me, I know. Freaking Banker.”

“Okay, so… what does Elizabeth and Comstock have to do with all this?”

“Right, so, I said there was a Man and a City… well… there are actually two Men, two cities.”

“Comstock and…?”

“Columbia. Just as Rapture is beneath the waves, Columbia is above the clouds. It’s a flying city. With it’s own Fontaine… Fink. It’s own Suchong and Tenenbaum… the Luteces… it’s own Atlas… he’s a local revolutionary leader who’s more than he seems. Daisy Fitzroy is his counterpart. His more than he seems is that he’s actually Fontaine in disguise. Her more than she seems is that she seems ruthless but is actually a martyr.

The theme of Bioshock is Self-Determination. The choice to be good or bad, the choice to save or destroy. The Arc Words are ‘A Man Chooses’ and ‘Would You Kindly’… though the second hides the illusion of choice, though we the player do not know it. In a few years time, Ryan’s mistress will become pregnant and, spoiler time, dun dun dun… Tenenbaum and Fontaine will acquire the fetus and use MAAAAD science to accelerate and condition the resulting young man into a weapon against his father. They’ll implant two commands into his consciousness. WYK makes him do whatever is asked of him, tested by forcing him to kill his puppy.”

I kicked the immobile Suchong for that one, then continued. “And Code Yellow, which is a self-termination command.”

“Those don’t work!” Ahab sputtered.

“Normally, no. This one causes the victim’s heart to eventually stop beating. It’s not a sucide command, so much as a fuck up your autonomic system so bad your conscious mind can’t save you from yourself.”

“So… why do you want to save any of these people? Ryan’s the worst kind of industrialist and a self-centered egotist from what it sounds like?”

I nodded. “You forgot raging hypocrite, power-mad, and tyrannical. His horrible managment allows the rise of Fontaine and the creation of an underclass leads to the rise of Atlas’s rebellion. His growing police-state tactics destroy his city. And his total immorality just makes everything so much worse.”

“Lovely. Suchong is a monster, Tenenbaum sounds worse, and this Fontaine character sounds like he should be shot on sight. I don’t know about Comstock or Elizabeth… are they okay?”

“Comstock, who will be calling himself Booker DeWitt, is a mass murderer, war criminal, massive racist, and religious fanatic… also, he’s mean to kids.”

“And Elizabeth?”

“She murdered her own father.”

“Eh. I think you said that last to shock me. Did he deserve it?”

“Hah. Yes and no. First off, Elizabeth is Comstock’s daughter… and also Booker’s daughter, since before Comstock was Comstock, he was Booker and she was Anna. And before you go thinking… whatever, it’s sooo much more complicated than that.”

“Would I understand if you explained slowly, using small words?” my senior wetworks agent asked (Joy is my senior information agent), sounding extra snarky.

“I… am not sure. It has to do with Quantum Time and the Many Worlds theory.”

“Oh. Uh… I’ll try and follow along then,” he said, suddenly serious.

“Booker DeWitt was a US cavalry man at the battle of Wounded Knee, where he slaughtered a great many Native Americans, all to prove to the men of his regiment that he wasn’t actually part Indian himself. Of course, he was, and it didn’t work, as his compatriots took to calling him “The White Injun” because if it, though they did see him as a heroic figure.

However, Booker was filled will a sense of shame and regret over his actions and sought redemption. He attended a river baptism, common in the preindustrial US and there he either did or did not accept baptism and absolution.”

“Did or Did not? How can someone do both?”

“Quantum Time. Many Worlds.  But this choice was important enough that it caused a major vergence in probability. The two Bookers emerged from that event, each in his own timeline. In the one where Booker went into the water, Zachary Hale Comstock emerged. Washed of all his sins, he went on to become a monster. In the one where Booker rejected absolution, he went on to become a drunk, a gambler, and a loser.”

“And he’s the hero?”

“Booker? He’s a tragic figure, and a giant fuck up… and things only get worse… but let me go back to Comstock. Comstock, now deeply religious, became highly influential in the US Government, and went on to found an ultra-nationalist party called ‘The Founders’, who would in turn, thanks to the help of Rosalind Lutece, a brilliant scientist, create the flying city of Columbia. Comstock, now known as Father Comstock, was convinced that the US was ‘The New Eden’ and that the Founding Fathers were prophets of ‘God’s Great Plan’… a plan in which the White man was the only race that deserved true freedom and that all other races were unworthy and lesser, including the Irish.

He too became disillusioned with the US, though it wasn’t a bomb this time but Abraham Lincoln, who he called ‘The Great Apostate’ and who Comstock blamed for bringing war and death to ‘Eden’.  He began to distance Columbia from the rest of the US.

In the early 1890’s Lutece, whose Lutece Field and Lutece Particle allowed Columbia to float through the sky, succeeded in creating the first Tears between realities. She made contact with a male version of herself, Robert, who was doing the same experiment and invited him into her universe… though she needed increased funding to make the transferal a reality.”

“She took the news to Comstock, didn’t she?”

“Indeedy. Right you are. He used the Tears to peer into other realities, believing they could give him insight into the future. With the additional funding, the two Luteces were united in the same reality, and Comstock became “The Prophet”, guiding his people with visions that helped protect them from their enemies. He also shared the technology of the Tears with the industrialist and inventor ‘Jeremiah Fink’, who would peer into Columbia and steal Suchong’s Plasmid research to make Vigors… though I’ve no idea where he got the ADAM for it, the lore just says he sent people to the Atlantic to find the slugs… but there are no Little Sisters in Columbia. Vigors are just like Plasmids, except taken orally, instead of injected. There were also oral Plasmids, but that requires greater amounts of ADAM… and so injection Vigors were later invented.”

“So both cities had a jackass in charge, a lunatic scientist or two, and an industrialist peddling mutation and madness in a bottle?”

“Yup… but Comstock wasn’t an isolationist like Ryan. Columbia was a global symbol of american ideology and was sent all around the world on a goodwill tour.  Which ended in disaster, of course. They were in… over Beijing in 1901,” Ahab tilted his head, then his eyes opened wide as he remembered the Boxer Rebellion. “Yeah… Comstock opened fire on the Chinese populace. No one had realized that Columbia was a giant flying warship… but the secret was out. The US Government disavowed Columbia and Comstock and tried to recall him to stand trial. Instead, he and the city seceded and disappeared.”

“Groovy. Where does Annabeth enter this?”

“Well, Comstock’s visions had shown him that Columbia would only prosper as long as his bloodline ruled the roost, as it were. No problem there, he thought, I’ll just knock up my good lady wife… except that his overuse of the Tears had not only aged him rapidly, it had rendered him sterile.”

“Ah… so he kidnapped the daughter of his other self? This Booker?”

“Kidnapped… yes… and no. He saw that Booker, who’s wife, Annabelle, had died in childbirth, had succumbed to drink and had massive gambling debts. He sent the Luteces with a message “Bring us the Girl, Wipe away the Debt”.”

“Those sound like Arc Words.”

“Very astute. Yes. They are. Booker sold Anna… and then realized what he’d done and tried to take her back at the last possible second. This produced two different reactions.”

“I’m getting a headache.”

“Yeah… well, hold on… it’s going to get worse. See, in almost all the timelines, the Tear closed on part of Anna’s body. In all but one, it was her pinky, cutting off the tip of it and allowing Anna, now renamed Elizabeth, to create Tears of her own.”

“And in that last one?”

“It cut off her head.”

“Fuuuu… wait…”

“No. it killed her very very dead. But that Comstock was horrified and ran away, becoming Booker DeWitt of Rapture and trying to hide from his past. That was 1893, but all the other Bookers and Comstocks though weren’t done with each other. Years later, in 1912, the Luteces, having been murdered by Fink (on Comstock’s orders), back in 1909, contacted at least 41 Bookers to bring him to Columbia… though, and here’s where things get really headache inducing… passing through a Tear into another universe fucks up your memories, because you’re not native to that universe and your memories are all wrong. So these Bookers forgot about Anna, though each of them had carved the initials AD onto the backs of their hands, and did remember the Arc Words. So they went looking for Elizabeth, not knowing she was Anna.”

“My head… paaain. How did they do all this despite being murdered?”

“Yuh. I know. I know… and the answer is they’d been scattered across time and space, ghosts in the cosmic cogs. Roslind was fine as long as she could stay with Robert, but he wanted to fix Columbia, so they did what they did and the rest is quantum history.”

“The rest?”

“Okay, faaast forwarding. Bookers come to Columbia, most of them get killed, one of the eventually finds and rescues Elizabeth from a giant-angel shaped tower where she’s been imprisoned and experimented on for years. He also rescues her from her giant flying protector, Song-Bird… and yes, he’s based on the same tech as the Big Daddies who built Rapture and who will eventually serve as protectors to Little Sisters. She in turn revives him each time he’s injured or killed by manipulating Tears to get supplies… or even new Bookers.”

“I’m just going to curl up in a corner and cry now… please, continue.”

“Booker and Elizabeth eventually make it to Comstock… having passed through several parallel worlds where Columbia is in varying stages of meltdown into open rebellion… Eventually Elizabeth and Booker are separated and Elizabeth’s final action is to send Booker forward into the future where she has been brainwashed by Comstock into becoming his successor and is now, in 1984, bombing the city of New York, drowning in flames the mountains of man.  That future Elizabeth sends Booker back to rescue her younger self… and then Booker murders Comstock by smashing his head into a Baptismal Font… and remembers everything.”

“This is going to get worse, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Now that the duo is free of Columbia, and the device blocking most of Elizabeth’s powers, called the Siphon, is destroyed, she transports them both to Rapture. She reveals that she now can see into infinite worlds, percieve all alternate realities at once… and that Comstock isn’t truely dead, because in countless other worlds he’s still alive.”

“I think I’m going to throw up.” I looked at him… he was visibly shaking and his nose was bleeding. That shouldn’t be happening, I thought. Part of me wanted to stop, but I had to see how far this could go. I had to know just how serious the issue was, and was reasonable certain that Ahab would be fine… if nothing else, I could get him into the Medbay. Was he having this problem because this body of his had native memories?

“Hold fast. Just listen. This is important. Elizabeth guides Booker through a series of lighthouses, both the Columbia one and the Rapture one. One has an elevator that goes down, the other a cannon that launches you skyward, but they’re both the entrypoint to their respective city. She explains everything and Booker blames Comstock for everything and says that they need to go back and smother Comstock in the crib. She agrees, and takes him to the moment Comstock was born.  Everything is finally revealed and Booker understands that he is Comstock.

He accepts baptism this time, and many Elizabeths from an increasing number of realities appear and hold him under, drowning, one by one, all possible Comstocks… besides the one where Anna was dead and thus could not appear to drown her own Comstock. Thus, one by one, those Elizabeths too disappear as Quantum Time collapses.”

“Oh… god… wh… what’s happening?” Ahab asked, looking confused now, dazed.

I pressed on, rushing a bit. “But Booker still lived, and Anna still lived, because there was no Comstock to interrupt their existence… and one Comstock and one Elizabeth still existed as well, though each from their own timeline. A Comstock with no Elizabeth to kill him and an Elizabeth who had been set free by the only Booker to accept baptism… and they both end up here… and, unless something happens, they’ll both die here and seal off that timeline forever… and doom Rapture in the process.”

The only response was Ahab being violently ill.

“And I’m going to change all that.” The world rippled, shuddered, and, for some reason, the chair Ahab was sitting in wasn’t there any more. “That was odd.” I commented as he fell to the floor, blinking.

“Uh… what the hell just happened?”

“I think… tell me, do you remember any of your past in this world?”

“N… yes… several… there… there… too many memories… there was a city called Columbia and no World Wars… and there wasn’t and there were two… how?”

“Ah. Gotcha. Anyway. Quantum Time… I’m betting that only I and Elizabeth can cope with it… maybe the others from the Warehouse who haven’t been infected by this world’s timelines. Now… unless you’ve got other questions… let’s go save a city.”

Ahab looked like he had many, but also like he realized that asking them might make him unwell again. And I’d come to realize that the universe was going to actively resist my attempts to change things. Well, fuuuck you, Mr. Universe!

Using Suchong as my “adult protector”, I got him to take me round to call on Tenenbaum and used her to get me see Fontaine and Ryan. They were all the elites of the city, and I manipulated them all. Sander Cohen, Ryan’s chief Propagandist and Fort Frolic’s Artist in Chief, I convinced to avoid Splicing on the grounds that it would impair his artistic genius. Fontaine I twisted into a parody of himself, forcing him to actually act like the charitable figure his public face would have made him be. Ahab became Atlas, a secret figure who pushed for peaceful protest and nonviolent confrontations with the authorities. Joy became Wahl’s second, and when he suffered an accident, she replaced him as Charles Milton Porter’s second.

Porter, originally doomed to become the Big Daddy known as Subject Sigma, was a brilliant computer engineer, with, as most in Rapture’s high command, a tragic past. He was also stalwart enough to resist splicing, seeing it for the danger it represented and smart enough not to fall for Sophia Lamb’s, Rapture’s resident Psychotherapist-in-chief, mumbo-jumbo as he called it.

Lamb, in turn, was fated to become the primary antagonist of Bioshock 2, having been driven a bit mad by the loss of her position and daughter. So to head that off, I arranged for Stanley ‘I am a rat bastard and should be drowned’ Poole, the incredibly weasel-like (and not in a good way) reporter for the Rapture Tribune who would eventually offer proof to Ryan that Lamb should be suppressed (and eventually imprisoned), to attack Augustus Sinclair when the latter offered him a bribe to do exactly that.

Poole, claiming he’d done so out of journalistic integrity, published a scathing report on Sinclair Solution’s various nefarious deeds and, unsurprisingly, found himself accidentally trampled to death by a berserk Rosie. Still, Sinclair’s downfall took out a chunk of Fontaine and Ryan’s public approval.

Fontaine found himself lynched by the poor people he’d manipulated. Suchong ended up locked up in Persephone (Rapture’s Prison). Ryan was facing massed protests against his manipulations. And that’s when I appeared in his office. The year was 1955, it was Chanukah (and the mutations were becoming more severe than I’d expected them to be… and oh god did I hate the windows of Rapture… uuuuugh…) and Jack was just now a fetus still in his momma’s tummy.

“Hello Andrew,” I said, cloaking myself in shadow since I couldn’t shapeshift and I was still barely shy of 10. My voice was modulated… not that I really needed that, because I controlled everything that Ryan was hearing and seeing. Right at that moment he was seeing Fontaine, rope still around his broken neck, talking to him. Telling him to expect three ghosts before dawn.

Yes. Yes. I went there. Because I could. The three Ghosts of Chanukah. I’d checked and Ryan hadn’t read it. He’d never been one for fiction… well, non-russian fiction. I showed him the past, a past he’d been miserable in, oppressed and beaten down. I showed him the present, in which so many, many of the people in the glorious city he’d built, were oppressed and beaten down just as he was… and I showed him a future in which his own son beat him to death with a golf club. A future in which the howling insane masses tore the last of his shining city to ruins and it drowned in the uncaring sea.

“And I should care about these Parasites why?” he’d sneered, his tiny little mustache crinkling in fury.

“Because poor people can’t buy your goods. Because sick people can’t work in your factories. Because angry people make more angry people. Collectivism is crap. Don’t do it because it’s the moral thing. Don’t do it because it’s the just thing… do it because it’s good for your bottom line. Fontaine controlled the masses by smuggling booze and bibles. Lamb controlls the masses by appealling to their pain and suffering. You want to make a better society… it has to actually be better!”

“So I should throw away all I hold dear? Let the weak and the godly control what I do?”

“You’re not a God, Andrei Rayanovsky. You’re a Man. surrounded by men. Without a sense of community, a shared vision of the future, all you make is people who care about themselves. They don’t care about your city, your vision, your future… they only care about themselves. That’s why Atlas is winning. That’s why Suchong is insane. That’s why Tenenbaum is wracked with guilt over the little girls she’s mutilated and turned into monsters. That’s why your own son will kill you if you do not change things.”

“Never! I will never give in to the Communists!”

“Do you know what the greatest threat to Capitalism is?”

“Communism!”

“No. Communism is a doomed snake eating its own tail. No, little man… Capitalism is the greatest threat to Capitalism.”

“Nonsense!”

“Remember Standard Oil? It was a Monopoly. It crushed all competetion, because it was too big to go against. Remember Herst? He bought up all the papers, controlled information. Got Hemp made illegal because it threatened his lumbermills.  Capitalism in its purest form stiffles competition. It serves no one but the corporations. Turns all the rest of us into slaves. Your Great Chain will strangle Rapture if you can’t keep it straight. A chain is not self supporting. It must be supported from both sides, or it drags in the dirt. Your Capitalism supports it on one side… but Socialism… not the Socialism of Marx, but actual socialism… taking care of each other, making sure that everyone has enough to make ends meet… has a safety net so that sickness or accident doesn’t make them unable to work… that will maintain a society. People will work to get ahead if they believe the situation is fair and just. People don’t turn to drugs and god and booze when they aren’t in despair.”

I admit, I pushed him. I didn’t just use the passion of the truth… I pushed on the crazy man’s mind. I forced the choice to make him.  It wouldn’t be enough right off the bat… he was still Andrew Ryan after all… but I had several years more to push him along.

And, as it turns out… I needed it. Things were still getting worse… not because of Atlas and Lamb and Fontaine… no, because the people were going crazier faster than they should have.  ADAM Sickness was getting out of hand before its time. It took me far too long to work out what had happened.

“BANKER!” I roared.

“Yes, my dear?”

“Don’t you try and come off innocent at me. You’ve done something to the setting!”

“Well, No. You did it. The drawback clearly states ‘Mutations are of significantly increased severity and frequency.’ It does not say that that applies only to you!”

I opened my mouth, then shut it again. Fuck. He was right.  Damn it… waaait.

“But my Plasmids and Tonics… the ones I create as well as those I use… those are more powerful than they otherwise would be, yes?”

“That was the deal.”

“Excellent.”

It took me 6 months, bringing the date to New Year’s Day 1956, but just in time for the new year, Serenity labs released the Serenity Tonic, guaranteed to cut your ADAM need and ease your episodes by 60%! It did three things. The first was that it actively installed an ADAM secreting organ into the human body. It wasn’t much, but it meant the Splicer’s body wouldn’t be experiencing crash cycles. It was a maintenance dose.  The second thing it did was scrub the body of the trace residue of ADAM use that caused flare ups in the first place, as well as requiring ever increasing dosages. And the third thing it did was, well, act like a cannabinoid. Instead of making Splicers more and more irate… it changed the way their neurochemistry acted so that they tended to be calmer, more mellow… and just have a nice sit down until the world stopped spinning.

It wasn’t perfect by a long chalk, but I figured it would extend things, give me time to work on a second iteration… and to work out a way to make a more stable form of ADAM that wouldn’t record memories. I was also having to spend more time in the Medbay as I aged and the exposure I was getting to other people’s memories, tonics, and plasmids through the ADAM Soul of Ice was recycling… it was literally the only way I could take samples… freaking Banker… was… err… I was beginning to worry about my own sanity as my own body began to become progressively less and less about to produce ADAM. Growing up sucks… especially when you’re going through massively enhanced puberty.  Tenenbaum was working on her curative for Little Sisters, but it wasn’t ready yet and wouldn’t be until 1960… at which point I’d be 14.

That said, I was waiting for October 8th, 1958. Assuming all went as it should, that was the day Elizabeth Prime would enter Rapture through the Silver Fin Restaurant and seek out Booker DeComstock. They had a date with destiny… and I was going to be hijacking that soo damned quick it was going to make everyone’s head spin.

I couldn’t know what EPrime had seen through the Tear before she came through, so I couldn’t have anything waiting for her. Instead, I was just outside, having made sure all possible exits besides the front door were sealed and warded. The moment she emerged, I smothered her free will with a blast of Telepathic mojo and walked her right into a waiting cryostasis tube. “And Stay There!” I snapped, then told Ahab “Get Comstock. We’re sealing this hole up right.” He went into a tube as well.

The next few years were a battle, but not an open one. I had to keep pushing Ryan… “Would you kindly consider institution industrial safety standards and consumer goods protections?”, “Would you kindly stop threatening to turn off the air to various parts of the city?”, “Would you kindly stop antagonizing Porter?”, “Would you kindly sign this pardon for Suchong so he can get back to work?”… that kind of thing. I also had to work feverishly hard to keep my Serenity Tonics and Serenity Labs’ other products “Mutease Plasmid, for treating sponteaneous mutations in others”, “Regenerax Tonic, for regrowing body parts”, and others designed to lessen the effects of Splicing… and yes… fighting Splicing with Splicing was questionable, but it was a case of Genie out of the bottle.

I also put a stabilized and weakened version of the Super Soldier Serum out there, as “Captain Amazing Tonic”. It was designed to make people more their idealized selves. “Be the Best You that You can Be!” Yes. I was make tons of money, but I was rolling it all back into social programs and education, medicine, and the like. I paid my workers well… so well that my competition had to pay their own workers a similar amount… which meant finding ways to be more efficient… and paying their management less… but then again, Management are almost completely useless, so fuck’m. Talk about Parasites.

I also convinced Ryan that he should marry Jolene and raise the kid instead of continuing to be a billionaire playboy. Legacy, it’s all about Legacy. After all, if the kid respects you, loves you, maybe he won’t put a club through your skull, right Andy? What a jagoff. “A Man Chooses!” yeah, that will overcome post hypnotic suggestion… well, to be fair, it might have in an actual adult… but in a kid with almost no real memories or personality? Not likely.

And I helped Tenenbaum cure the other little sisters… and even treat the other surviving first wave Big Sisters. And once we’d managed all that, I offered her a way out of Rapture, a way to get away from Ryan and his now slightly less twisted vision. I hadn’t made Rapture a Paradise… that would take a miracle and longer than ten years… but I had stabilized it… a bit… if you squinted.

Regardless, 1963 could not come soon enough. When it did come, I very carefully extracted Freelancer the Slug from my insides and put him, squirming and wriggling, on the Banker’s desk… he oozed a bit in the transfer from my insides to his new tank. “I got you a pet.” I snarked, unkinking my left arm that had grown extra long and scaly at about the 9 year mark.

“Is this new person a companion or another passenger?”

“She hasn’t decided yet. Are we going to Infinite Now?”

“Can’t.”

“Can’t? Why Can’t?”

“It’s chronologically before Bioshock… we have to take the long way round.”

“THE LONG WAY… you’re just yanking my chain, aren’t you?”

“You’ll never know.”

“Would you kindly sit and spin?” I snapped, then strode out of the room as he called, “Hey! You can’t leave this thing on my desk!  It’s gross! I think it’s staring at me! SJ? SJ! Come back here and move this slug! SJ!!!!!”

It was a petty victory… but one I’d earned.

Next: Soul Eater

Resources: Build, Document

World 56: One Piece

LINE IN THE SAND

Previously: I May Be Insane But That Doesn’t Mean I’m Crazy

Themesong: Wash it All Away by Five Finger Death Punch

“Welcome to the Cosmic Warehouse, Raven. I think you’ll enjoy your time with us. And, as I promised, no time should pass back in your home reality until we return. Are you certain you really want to leave your world behind?”

“Earth is merely my adopted homeworld. Azarath is the world of my birth. And… yes. If one 1/100th of what you have told me is true, I would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to accompany you to new worlds and learn all I can. Plus… your offer to allow me access to Merlin’s Book… I could scarcely pass that up.”

“Well then, I hope you’ll have fun. You are the first, official passenger on HJS Cosmic Warehouse. I can’t guarantee you won’t be imported by the Banker at some point, but I guarantee I won’t import you without your permission. I understand completely how scary it can be to have another entity in your head. I have a great many inside mine… even an egg. I do hope that one hurries up. The wait is killing me… well… frustrating me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Zane will show you to your quarters. I must have words with the Banker.”

I left the no longer teenage Titan to Zane’s mercy (and puns), and approached the special bay I’d had built around the twin machines. They were rigged to holoprojectors and the room was only accessible by myself… on all wavelengths. “Okay, dickhead. I get that you were trying to teach me a lesson about unintended consequences… but ramping the persona imprint to 9000 is not going to fly. She would barely listen to me, let alone allow me to act… and you pulled out the memory structures and emotion control-”

“Actually… that was me.” Mensarius, who was looking very much like Al Pacino as the Devil, smirked from the projection of a couch.

I narrowed my eyes and growled, glancing at the Banker who actually flinched. He was looking like a somewhat more overweight and middle-aged version of Jack Black, and was seated behind a large wooden desk… or the projection of one. “You allowed him to tamper with my jump?”

“He offered a way to… give you the authority you requested and keep things balanced.”

I practically snarled. “That! Was not! Balanced! That was in no way, shape, or form, balanced! If the failsafe hadn’t triggered, I’d still be in Arkham drooling on myself and eating the prozac flavored Jell-o! She’d never have agreed to come back! And how the hell can he influence anything! Are you a freaking lunatic? He locked you away!”

“To be fair, your darling Banker did steal something of mine first,” Mensarius lounged across the back of the couch like a lothario, his arrow-sharp goatee gleaming in the sourceless light.

“I did not steal your Matrix. You lost it to me on a wager,” the Banker sneered. “A foolish, simple-minded, and ill advised wager.”

“Wait… Matrix? What are you talking about?” I’d given the two of them the capacity to generate forms largely so I had something to glower at… or throw things at… and I was already itching to test if the feedback linkages I’d rigged would actually allow either of these two beings to feel the impact of one of my special tennis balls.

Mensarius chuckled softly. “He hasn’t told you? How interesting. A Jumpmatrix. Each of us… Benefactors… have one. It is how we place pieces of ourselves, stabilized with a chunk of a set probability… what you’d call a reality or a universe… and shape it into what you call CP.”

“And you swindled him out of his Matrix?” I asked the Banker, who shrugged.

“It seemed like it might… limit the trouble he could get up to.”

“And you hid it in the Verse?” I was having some trouble processing this. “You hid a nigh omnipotent item inside a mortal realm?!”

“I did dismantle it first, then scatter it across the Verse.” the Banker said with a faint shrug. “And no lifeform can utilize a Jumpmatrix. You’re all incompatible with the input side.”

“So he’s got 4/5ths of his Jumpmatrix back… can’t he just get a replacement for the last bit?” I asked.

The Banker favored his… counterpart with a vicious smirk. “Doesn’t work that way. Each piece has a specific use. You’ve got the key to all his realities.”

“Key? Wait… you mean he can’t access any of the… how does that work, actually? I mean, why is his stuff antimatter to your stuff?”

“Differing wavelengths. Destructive interference,” Mensarius grunted. “Once one of us mixes our… call it essence… into a reality, that reality takes on our specific flavor. Just as our Jumpers do.”

“So the parts are, what, An Essence Siphon, a Reality Chunk Hopper, a Mixer, a CP Injector, and a Registry Key?” I asked, then grinned as both looked faintly disturbed. “Do all you idiots… and I’m assuming there are more of you… go around underestimating lifeforms as a matter of course?”

“It is very much like watching fleas perform tricks,” Mensarius almost snarled. I hit him with a tennis ball and he actually flinched.

“Watch yourself, skippy. I’ve got a part of you in my possession, and the capacity to warp reality at least a little bit. You don’t want to start with me.” I looked over at the Banker, “And you… are not to let him contaminate my CP-stream or whatever you call it, without my explicit permission. I’m not kidding. Especially since I’ve now got confirmation that you’re essentially spoonfeeding me bits of yourself.”

“I only hand them out. It is your choice to ingest them.” The portly man waved his hand dismissively.

“Yeah. well, I do so because I know what each bit does. I’m assuming that taking Drawbacks doesn’t actually give more CP… it just… what, ties me more tightly to the fabric of a specific reality, thus allowing the actual underlying essence imbedded in the CP to function more efficiently?” The two shared a look, then nodded.

“Right… well… what you two did was dirty pool. You stripped out protections that you knew I’d view as essential, and ramped up a setting I wasn’t even aware you could influence. This is a relationship of trust, B. Am I understood? You clearly get something out of this, or you wouldn’t be doing it… what was it you said to the Outsider? Syndication rights?” The Banker looked abashed. “Well, if I go home, you don’t get new material to Syndicate, right? So let’s not poison the well. And you!” I hurled another ball at Mensarius, who didn’t dodge quite fast enough and who then howled in pain as the ball unleashed a tiny amount of the Banker’s residual energy at him, causing holes to appear in the holographic suit.

“I’ve spent a large amount of time studying what I’ve got of yours. I can’t even begin to understand how it works, but I can figure out enough to hurt you… probably not enough to actually harm you… but if I go home, I take your Key with me. And if that happens… I doubt you’ll ever get it back… no matter how long a time frame you use. I’m agelessly immortal and now, in theory, patient enough to wait through the heat death of an entire universe. I don’t care how you view time, a hundred trillion years has got to register on your time scale… and given that much time, my tech base should find interesting ways to make you suffer even more. So you will stop trying to screw me over.”

“I cannot believe you’re letting this… creature… lecture us,” Mensarius shot daggers at the Banker, who looked incredibly smug as he responded.

“She amuses me. And seeing you suffering amuses me more.”

“How nice for you both,” I snarked. “Now, Mensarius, if you actually have something to contribute, feel free to offer it for consideration. I might take you up on it. I do enjoy challenges, and not even you can be wrong every time. But I’ll be the one making the choice of if to accept it or not. Am I clear? No messing with my mental state or ethical alignment for shits and giggles. No throwing unwinnable scenarios in my way. No powerlessness or amnesia without my express permission. Or I walk. Am I understood? Yanking out my moral center and fracturing my mind isn’t on. Pulling out the support for Astral Layers should have seen me collapse into a single entity… not remain fragmented. This will not happen again.”

The Banker leaned back, studying me with a nearly blank expression on his projection, then nodded. “I’ll tentatively agree. Such options will be presented to you from now on, rather than being assumed… Though I cannot promise absolutely… as events have shown. And Mensarius will submit his… modifications if he has any… for your approval. Now… what is this about bringing the cambion with you, but not as a companion?”

“While we were battling those Rhyming Demons, I had Raven assist me in casting a banishing spell, if you remember.” They both nodded. “She asked where I’d learned it, and I mentioned that I’d gotten it from the Book of Eternity, forgetting that, even though that world is DC-Lite, that she’d understand the significance of that book being in my possession. She’s requested permission to come with us, not as a companion, but as a student. Some of the jumps she might enter as a drop-in, but she’s categorically refused any other form of tampering… especially after we explained exactly how we’d gotten here… and isn’t that a fun conversation?” I chuckled, remembering Beast Boy’s expression as I explained that I both was and wasn’t Salamand’r. Robin got it instantly, though I think that’s more a testament to Christian Education.

I’d had to explain that, thanks to the way this reincarnation ride worked, the vast majority of my awareness didn’t awaken in my current incarnation until the moment of crisis neared…. Where crisis was defined as “Whatever the big interesting thing about to happen was.” Cyborg found it most amusing that the formation of the Teen Titans was my triggering point… but Raven asked if it wasn’t her father’s arrival which had served as the actual triggering. I’d had to explain that there’d been some… irregularity in the transition this time around.

Robin still didn’t trust me for the longest time… I’m not certain when he actually started to trust me again, and it was actually a giant pain not killing some of the asshats who really needed killing, but I’d given my word not to solve the crime problem with bloodshed… and in DCAU-Lite the threat level from even beings like Joker wasn’t too bad. If Robin didn’t trust me, Batman really, really didn’t trust me. Which was okay with me, because I think he’s a jackass, no matter which version of him I’m dealing with. I think he was still smarting from be drubbing crazy-me had handed his creepy Stalker ass. Oh… yes… he’d been a little obsessed with sending me back to Arkham, obsessively searching for any sign I wasn’t actually what I said I was. Just think what he could do for the Joker’s victims if he was that obsessive about Mr. J.

It was weird that I couldn’t find a bunch of the characters I was looking for. I mean… I could locate rumors about them… but actually finding Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, or Superman? Nope. Batman? Yes. Joker? Yes. Huntress? No. Jason Todd? Well, of course, though he was still running around calling himself X, waiting for Robin to graduate to Nightwing, which he did about 6 years in. At which point, X vanished and Robin Mark II showed his weird and slightly villainous face.

As for me? I actually spent most of the remainder of that decade operating an outreach program for teenagers and young adults who had powers and who might have gotten off to a rocky start… or had actual criminal background. My program offered therapy, both group and individual, as well as rehabilitation on the scandinavian model, trying to steer people away from being super villains, teaching them to control their powers, and having positive encounters with members of law enforcement or the superhero community.

Teen Titans really was the Friendship is Magic of the DCAU, and a family friendly take on dealing with troubled superhumans did a lot to rehabilitate the fairly tarnished reputation of Jetfire… not that even with all my powers dealing with the internal psychological damage was easy. Salamand’r was still the most dominant personality fragment outside of the core and she steadfastly refused to work with the rest of us, rampaging through the mental landscape from time to time and occasionally escaping into the real world in one bizarre fashion or another. At one point she actively hijacked our doppelganger creation power and was sending them out to cause mayhem. Thankfully, she wasn’t so much crazy as just insane, and her activities seldom resulted in harm to anyone besides me.

It was like being a bipolar Superhero who occasionally went off her meds. But then again, there are people like that… see The Hulk, Etrigan, Spectre… Raven… Robin… The superhero community tends to be more accepting of that kind of behaviour. Hell, I actually became something of a role model to the mentally ill community for my attempts to keep the instability down… Plus, I had the A team backing me up, and they were very popular…

“Yes, yes. I know all that!” The Banker snapped, “I meant ‘In what way is she not a companion?’”

“Mostly semantics. But as far as she’s concerned, she’s just a passenger… like a cruise ship. She’s aware other worlds will be dangerous, and she’s willing to risk it. She’s not asking for your backing… though I don’t know if her native magic will work in other worlds without it.”

“This is not a cruise ship,” Mensarius grumped.

“It kinda is. We’ve got limitless food, luxury accommodations, living quarters, fun activities, a weirdo captain, and we pull up to random ports and have excursions. Seems like a cruise to me… only with more invasions and less children… the sex level is, I think, about the same… but there are far fewer senior citizens… and less staff exhorting you to come to bingo night… and there’s no casino. We do have shops though.”

“Ah. I shall… dwell on this, but, in order to celebrate your new endevour, allow me to unveil your new jump.” He waved a hand at the back wall and a logo appeared in letters 12 feet tall. I winced as my memory pulled up the data. “ONE PIECE”. After a long moment, I sighed.  

This was not a world that needed saving. Hell, if anything, the multiverse might need saving from the insanity that was One Piece. I’d read about 160 chapters of the manga (to the end of the Alabasta Arc) and seen a dozen episodes of the anime, and if there was a story buried in all that, I hadn’t been able to find it. It was rollicking good fun on Island of the month, and all about the power of friendship. Two thirds of the characters were giant hams and the rest were morons… and the MC’s power (aside from friendship) was that his body was essentially made of rubber. His kryptonite (and the bane of all the superpowered individuals of this world) was that single most common of chemicals… water. Being submerged, even up to the knees, in relatively still water (or being in contact with a local variant of narrativium called Seastone) was enough to immobilize anyone who ate of the flesh of the Devil Fruit, with each such fruit granting the eater a different power. Eating of the flesh of two Devil Fruit was lethal however.

It was, however, an oceangoing adventure tale, about a boy searching for his childhood hero and, of course, a monstrously huge pirate treasure… in a world where physics was taking a bit of a holiday.  As in water flowing uphill levels of bullshit. As in two parallel calm belts that circled the equator and between which was a super dangerous ocean called ‘The Grand Line’ in which traditional navigation didn’t work… oh, and the only continent, ‘The Red Line’ was a ring that ran from pole to pole and back, perfectly perpendicular to the Grand Line. As in Giant Humans so massive that they towered over Brontosauri. As in insane clown-pirates who were actually modular.

“Errr… you twits do realize I have flight powers and space ships, right? And super-science! Is there any specific reason I can’t just, you know… fly to any given island? Or, you know… spend the decade in space? Or nuke the entire insane planet from orbit?”

The Banker looked to Mensarius, and in that moment I realized that they looked like an Agent and a Manager dealing with a particularly bitchy client.  Finally, Mensarius nodded. “I’ve got one. +200 CP Drawback called ‘No Fly Zone’.”

I blinked. “Are you trolling alternate versions of the Jump Document?”

“Naw… call it… the Universal Drawback Database. Some things are universal… others merely apply to specific settings.  This one is a hybrid of ‘Shipping Ban’ and ‘No Exit’.”

“While, I have a vague idea of what those might do individually, what – specifically – does ‘No Fly Zone’ do?”

“You and your companions are grounded for this adventure. Flight and hovering powers are reduced to extremely long jumps (no more than a mile or two) or gliding and all your ships and flying machines have been transformed into Age of Sail equivalents. Items that allow flight, such as broomsticks, are only good for flight near land and become more and more unreliable the higher you go.”

He looked, not to me but, to the Banker who considered for a time, then nodded. “It should work. Very good.” The Banker turned to me “Do you accept?”

“Huh? How does this interact with the drawbacks in the document?”

The Banker mmmmed, then smiled “Oh. these drawbacks are bound by the same restrictions as native ones. Can only stretch things so far, right?”

I shrugged, nodding slowly, then sighed, knowing that it was a stupid thing to do, but would be more interesting than hanging out in space… and hell, who knew what insanity lurked in the infinite dark of the OPVerse. Cthulhu Piece… shudder… Better the devil I knew. “Fine. Yes. I’ll take it.”

Mensarius chuckled, “Excellent. Then I have another I recommend you offer her. It’s called ‘Embargo’. Think of it as a kind of Prime Directive. This would be just like in the Firefly Verse, limiting you to only things of the same technological advancement as the locals.”

“The locals are pre-industrial barbarians,” I groaned.

“Look at her and her judgemental attitude,” Mensarius sneered.

“You’re not going to guilt trip me into this. You just don’t want me paving this place in nanotech.”

“Oh. I’d find that most enjoyable. But I fear the Banker might object to you so… damaging this realm.”

“Yeah? Well, what would this net me?”

“200 More. Plus another +100 if you agree to only access your Warehouse at a port. This includes all replenishing stocks, so you’d have to plan accordingly. Random islands don’t count. It has to be an actual port town or city.”

I growled, low in my chest, then sighed and nodded. “Fine. Fine. Whatever. So, 500 from No Fly Zone, Embargo, and Port Access Only… the limit is 600?”

The Banker nodded, then brought up the Drawback Selection from the actual Jump Tree. There were only three choices in the +100 category. The first, Directionless, made me a Hibiki. The second, ‘Cowardly’ was just lame (just like Usopp, the character it was based on)… but Hungry, which meant that I’d need to eat after any long period of exertion or a proper fight, and if I didn’t I’d become irritable until I ate… that I could handle. Not like I disliked food anyway.

“Okay, so I’m good for points. Let’s see the rest of this puppy,” I growled, flopping back into an easy chair and accepting a vodka-cranberry from a pillar that rose from the floor. I’d really tricked out the Jump Room as Zane called it. I prefered to think of it as the Arcade of Fortune, but I’m better at naming things than git boy.

The logo for ONE PIECE appeared… complete with the symbol for the Strawhat Pirates as the O and the silhouette of the protagonist (one Monkey D. Luffy… japanese naming styles, so Monkey is the family name) as the I. Then Gold Roger… or rather Gol D. Rodger… apparently having the middle initial ‘D’ is significant in OPlandia… former King of the Pirates, appeared on the screens that covered a 270 degree arc of the walls from floor to ceiling. He was in shackles, looking grim and piratical, and also a little insane, and he bellowed at the crowd gathered to witness his execution, “You want my Treasure? You can have it! I left it all in One Piece, now you just have to find it!”

And with those words, the world went… bugshit insane is too polite a turn of phrase. This is the time known as ‘The Great Pirate Era!’… yes, the exclamation point is included. Piracy isn’t just rampant… it’s endemic. It’s pandemic. The World Government (and yes, that’s as NWO as you think it might be) has fleets of Marines… incredibly corrupt, brutal, fascist fuckhead Marines, who, for all the incredible bullshit they’re allowed to get away with, can’t even come close to keeping the Pirates under control. So much so that the WG has actually pardoned and recruited the 7 most powerful pirate lords in the world as their freaking privateers.  Yeah… that works about as well as you’d expect. The Alabasta arc is all about just one of these freaking psychos (named Crocodile) trying to get a few million people killed by engineering a civil war to destroy the country of Alabasta.

No idea how many of them actually do die, since I don’t think canonically anyone ever dies in the present (there are some flashbacks where people die)… and maybe things change in later arcs… but all the villains seem to survive fights with the Protags… somehow.

Still, this Age of Piracy is fueled by the quest to find Gold Rodger’s One Piece, the greatest collection of treasure in history. It’s supposedly hidden at the end of the Grand Line… but since the Grand Line has two halves… I don’t know which end. Alabasta is essentially halfway between Reverse Mountain (the place where Luffy & Crew enter the Grand Line… and just one of the places water flows uphill) and the Holy Land of Mariejois… Reverse Mountain’s antipode. So That shows you how far I’d gotten… or they’d gotten when I’d gotten fed up with glacial pacing. When I’d left my own world far behind, there were at least 800 chapters… 16 years worth of weekly installments… and the story was not, as far as I knew, approaching the end.

As you might be able to tell… I didn’t have a huge amount of respect for the setting. The artist had chops… but largely used them to make every character a caricature, relying on realism only very rarely, and usually to augment the gravitas of a situation. The designs of most of the people were ugly, the plotlines largely incoherent even by Shonen standards, and the protagonists not only blindly, blitheringly, insipidly optimistic, but naive as hell too.

There is, I kid you not, a scene waaay past the point I stopped reading the series (I have friends who didn’t and they steered me to this… lunacy) where Luffy and Ussop (the unneeded comic relief in a series that needs much much less comedy) get into a deathmatch against each other because Luffy, the Captain, has decided it’s time to replace their ship, which is no longer repairable, with a new one. They nearly kill each other because Ussop is soooo loyal to his ship that he’d rather get himself nearly killed by one of the only people in the world who thinks he has value as a person and not just as fertilizer… because he can’t understand the concept of material fatigue.

This isn’t just a fist-fight either. There are high explosives involved. There are shuriken involved. There is a shapeshifting reindeer doctor involved. One Piece… 40% parody, 30% drama, 30% acid trip. Mood whiplash does not even come close to explaining my reaction to the series… and I was going to be imprisoned here for a decade. Still… could be worse… could be Rick & Morty.

I looked at the origins as I rolled for my age… 19. Meh. Drop-In, as usual. Pirate Crewman… Pirate Captain… Marine Crewman… Marine Captain. (oh, yeah… at one point, the git writing this series made the mistake of saying a Lt outranked a Captain… siiigh… oh, and Marines include the sailors too in this setting, because… fuck it, I guess?)… So… Idiot… Idiot with a gimmick… flunky… or stooge… blah… I didn’t feel like paying for the ‘privilege’ of having my head filled with local idiocy. I had my own craziness to put up with. I selected Drop-In.

That would drop me off at my chosen starting location with nothing but the clothes on my back, my totally out of context knowledge of the world, and whatever equipment I bothered to purchase… plus a few days worth of food and water, but no connections to this world… and that was phrased as a downside? Please.

And speaking of starting locations, I spun the wheel.. And got… Free Choice? Wow… that almost never happened. I mean, seriously… I’d done this loads of times and free pick was almost always an option, usually a 1-in-6 or 1-in-8 chance… and I’d gotten it maybe three times in 61 jumps? Huh. Well… anyway. The 7 other choices, not that I had to pick one of them, were:

Loguetown… the city Gold Roger was executed in and last stop before entering the Grand Line from East Blue. Torino Kingdom, a place in South Blue I’d never heard of which apparently was dominated by cavemen and giant birds… and a single massive tree that apparently houses a vast library of knowledge. Drum Island, a winter wonderland ruled by, in succession, a fat asshole with the power to eat anything, a crazy doctor lady, and a man who could turn into a bison. It was on the Grand Line, and I was familiar with it… but eh. Mariejois, the capital of the World Government and its five manchurians the ‘Celestial Dragons’… it’s the official entry point to the Grand Line, though the route largely used by the Marines (and I assume legitimate trade… though there is zero evidence of such actually occurring in this world). Skypiea, an island in the clouds (i.e. Cloudcuckooland knockoff)… didn’t know anything about it but dirt was apparently at a premium and the local god was described as ‘harsh’… i.e. probably a dick.

Also on the list were an Abandoned Island in the middle of nowhere, but clearly not on the Grand Line, as evidenced by the lack of giant sea monsters and the stability of the weather.  Sounded suspicious to me… and Impel Down… a maximum security World Government prison located in the middle of the Calm Belt… as a Drop-In, I’d be a tourist there… but… I didn’t think that sounded like a good plan.

I considered for a good while, sipping my drink, then replacing it with an ice tea and some bon-bons. “If I go to Impel Down, I can scan the Marines there.  If I go to Mariejois, I can scan the government… but I suspect I can find Mariejois pretty easily on my own. Impel down is probably not impossible to find if it has tourists… there doesn’t seem to be any reason to go to the Abandoned Island.  Loguetown isn’t even in the Grand Line, so it should be easy enough to visit if I decide to. Ditto Torino. That leaves Drum Island and Skypiea… or I guess I could go to one of the other places… Alabasta? Stop Crocodile early? I mean… sure… innocent people die… but is that enough reason to go there? Most of those who die are army or revolutionaries, and I’m not in the business of stopping people from being stupid or I’d just show up at Usopp’s place and punch him.  I guess I can’t pick… what’s it called… Raftel?  That’s the island where Rodger hid the One Piece, right?”

The Banker smirked, shrugging, and I rolled my eyes. “Fine.  Yes… Wait… Skypeia… that’s a cloud island? Do the locals fly?”

“No. the clouds are solid enough to stand on or swim in.”

“Huh.  Okay. I’ll pick there. If this God is a physical person… drop me off in his or her presence.”

“Are you certain?” The Banker asked, eyebrow raising micrometrically.

“It’s free pick, right? I want to meet this ‘Harsh’ God.”

“As you wish.”

“Now… I assume the major draw here is the Fruit, right?” referring to the Devil Fruit which granted the vast majority of the super-human powers exhibited in the series. Each was unique and they came in three known categories; Logia, Zoan, and Paramecia. The most common were the Paramecia Fruits, which offered superhuman physical traits to their eaters, such as turning the eater’s body to rubber or blades, giving them control over wax or shockwaves… all of which functioned on cartoon logic.  Zoan Fruits were midline, and usually the weakest, but conferred animalistic… often animistic… traits to the eater. The eater became an animal-human hybrid, with thematically associated powers and abilities, and often multiple hybrid forms. There were even Human-Human Fruits (all the Fruits had names in the X-X Fruit pattern) that could turn animals into human-animal hybrids… and in at least one case a gun had been fed a Mutt-Mutt Fruit to become a dog-gun hybrid… again, cartoon logic.  

Logia Fruits were the rarest and most insane, since they not only granted the ability to control an element but to turn into that element, making the eater incredibly difficult to damage. The only Logia Fruits I’d seen were the Smoke-Smoke, Flare-Flare, and Sand-Sand… and the only one of them I’d seen defeated was the Sand-Sand… who’d required being hit with wet fists faster than he could recover… and his powers had included sandstorm generation and the ability to drain the moisture out of a human in seconds. Spider-man’s Sandman taken to just… scary levels.

“That does seem to be the case,” Banker-Man said. “There are a number of tables, and prices ranging from 100 to 800, depending on Tier… general power level… and if you allow a random factor. Or you can buy a map.”

“A… Map?”

“Indeed. While the selection for each tier is limited to 15 choices, some of which are considerably more likely than others, the Map can be for any potential fruit, with the difficulty involved in decrypting the map and finding the fruit proportional to the tier of fruit you seek. For instance, if you were to seek a common Tier 1 or Weak fruit, the challenge might be no more than finding a specific island in one of the simpler to reach islands of the Grand Line and locating a specific cave.  Anything about Tier 3 however is going to send you to The New World or someplace similarly dangerous.”

“You say any potential fruit… but clearly not the Gum-Gum, Chop-Chop, Sand-Sand, Smoke-Smoke… I mean, each is unique, so I couldn’t have Luffy’s powers, right?”

“That would be incorrect. You could not have exactly the same fruit… but there are multiple variants of each fruit, and yours would be just different enough that it wouldn’t overlap with the canonical one. I will admit that I’m surprised you’d want Luffy’s Gum-Gum Fruit.”

“I wouldn’t. I can already stretch, thanks to last jump. Don’t need Luffy’s ability. Plus… I’m not even certain I’d want to eat a Devil Fruit. I like swimming, and giving it up forever seems like a really bad trade off. Unless it only applies to the form in which I ate it.”

“No, no. If you decide to eat a fruit, regardless of how you got it, all your forms will suffer the weaknesses of the fruit… at least as long as you’re in this world. Should you move on, as seems likely, given your dislike for this setting, or be sent home for whatever reason, then most of the weakness shall be lifted. Only the fruit’s abilities themselves will deactivate underwater. But regardless, only the form in which you eat the fruit will have the associated abilities, as the fruit’s effects change your body’s very nature.”

“Riiight. Gotcha… so, I can either pick a tier and roll, pick a tier and pay an extra cost to choose, or buy a map and… what, specify a tier? Hope? I mean, is buying a Map an utter pig-in-a-poke? Stop laughing you!” I threw another tennis ball at Mensarius. “It’s a real expression!”

“Fear not,” The Banker explained. “The Map you buy will lead you to a fruit that suits your personality. You can specify how much of a challenge you’d like… but there is no refund for a fruit unfound. You’d have to use a return to come back and search again.”

“So I might end up with an Ice Fruit?”

The Banker considered, then shook his head, “Nothing completely redundant, I guarantee.”

“Hmmm… okay.  Fine. I’ll take a map.  If the price is right.”

Mensarius, ever helpful, tossed the data up on screen, snarking. “200. The same cost as buying a specific Tier 1.”

“Ah. So the challenge is everything.”

“Indeed,” he drawled.

“Well, why not.  Just out of curiosity, what Tier is Luffy’s Gum-Gum?”

“It’s one of the rarer Tier 2s,” the evil little shit sneered. “So a challenge you might actually be able to solve.”

“Bite me, Jack-ass. I found your Matrix Fragments across 200 plus planets without a map.” I turned away from him, and addressed the Banker. “Okay, talk to me about Companions.”

“I think your companions are a bunch of-” Mensarius began, but the Banker shushed him.

“As a Drop-In, you can import your up to 8 of your companions as drop-ins as well for 500 CP. It’s more expensive than the ‘Dream Crew’ option available to other origins… but it plays by different rules.” The CP Man explained. “Dream Crew costs only 300 CP and grants each crew member 600 CP, unless you decide to be a crewman yourself. Then the Captain gets 800 CP and can gain up to 400 CP from a maximum of two drawbacks.”

I opened my mouth to protest that I was fine with not being a Marine or a Pirate, but the Banker hurried to explain. “I merely offered that data as a prefatory and for comparison purposes. The Nine Divines, the Drop-In Import option, grants only 500 CP… but allows up to 500 CP each worth of Drawbacks… though each of the +300’s can only be taken by a single companion and they cannot take the more extreme ones at all.”

“More extreme… you mean the one that would bind me to the Plot-Rails or the one that makes everyone in the world my enemy? Oh. Drat.” I said as dryly as I could manage… and I can manage very very very dry when I want to. Cold air contains very little moisture.

“Err… yes… well. If they buy a Fruit, they’ll have already eaten it…” The Banker pointed out.

Mensarius finished the thought, smirking at me. “So you can’t use their CP to get something nice for yourself.”

“You’re an idiot and an asshole,” I said, glancing at him just long enough to let him know I was addressing him.

The Banker chuckled, then said “I believe your companions have already decided who’d come with you.”

“Have they? Cheeky. I’ll have to remind them that I am, nominally, the one who makes that call. Very well, send the relevant information to their tablets and bring up the general perk and item windows. I have 900 CP left to squander.”

I looked up as the details resolved in the massive screens. It was an interestingly compartmentalized document. One panel of perks, one of items, one for various races, one for being a cyborg… there were cyborgs in this world? WTF?!… one for Martial Arts, all of which looked lame… I closed that panel and the cyborg one… and the one for aquatic races. Wouldn’t do me much good if I decided to eat a Fruit. That moved the panel on ‘Haki’ into my field of view and I blinked… what the hell is Haki?

I read the description “This power is, to put it simply, weaponized willpower, giving any who possess it the ability to even the odds against Devil Fruit eaters, despite whatever defenses their power may offer them.” There were three kinds of Haki apparently; Evasion, Armament, and the super secret ‘Conqueror’s Haki’, which was a one-in-a-million thing, allowing the possessor to smother the wills of others through sheer overwhelming… well… spiritual pressure. It did mention that Haki could be learned in setting, if a teacher could be found, and it was slow… but Conqueror’s Haki had to be purchased to be the one-in-a-million. So it wasn’t so much paying 600 or 800… it was either pay zero and give up C-Haki, or pony up the complete sum for the total package and get a headstart on training the two common forms. I glanced at the general items and perks, then said fuck it and locked in 800 for the Haki Package.

Which left me with 100 unspent. Everyone got Nakama, which is Japanese for “Friend Group” and seemed like pretty much a “You make friends easy” kind of thing, which was nice I guessed. It essentially said that Fate in this world would conspire to make sure I had friends. Lovely, really. I felt like a Hikikomori being lured out of a one room apartment by the promise of “Fwendship” for a moment and considered not taking it, just out of spite, but decided against it. More friends is always nice, right?

Drop-In’s got Survivalist free, which was all about knowing where to fish, where to find fresh water, what was safe to eat and what was going to try and eat you… you know, the general knowledge needed to survive on almost any island. We also got Reinforced Clothing, which was tough against basic damage from basic weapons.

For my remaining 100, I could pick up Navigator… but that sounded boring… or Combat Training (yawn), or Swimming (weeeeee), or Gigantism (10 feet tall), some money, some swimming gear, a med kit, a basic weapon, or one of the unique compasses of the Grand Line, a Log Pose or an Eternal Pose. The difference between them was that a Log Pose would direct you from the island you were on to the next island in the chain… pseudoscience at its best… while the Eternal Pose would point you to the same island no matter where you were. They were available in setting… but also fragile and easily trashed. Having the Warehouse Warranty would be nice… hold on. “Hey, Banker guy. If I buy a Log Pose or an Eternal Pose… and it get destroyed, do I have to get back to a port to have it respawn?”

“Err… hmm… no. It’ll spawn in your footlocker.  Assuming you have a footlocker… not that you have a ship.”

“Dude… I’ve got several ships. Remember, Menche said all my high tech stuff becomes period appropriate. Which I think means that it’s seachest, not footlocker.”

“Do not call me Menche, I am neither a dog nor a human,” Mensarius sighed melodramatically. “So which will you buy? The Log or the Eternal?”

“Normally I wouldn’t buy either, since they don’t have any apparent use outside of this setting. Hmmm… yeah… I think… I’ll… Hmm… If I buy a Fruit, I don’t have to eat it, right? That’s just for companions.”

“That is correct,” The Banker nodded, steepling his fingers.

“Excellent. I’ll buy a random Tier 1 Fruit. Then raffle it off to one of my companions who couldn’t come on the trip.” A pair of large fruit themed d8s rose out of the floor on my drink pillar and I tossed them across the floor, giving them an extra helping of english with a flick of my wrist.  They landed on 4 & 6… Wheel-Wheel Fruit, which allowed the consumer to transform part of themself into wheels, with rotational velocity sufficient to move 100 kph on flat ground… as a starting point. The fruit itself rose out of the floor next to me and rotated slowly on the pillar. It looked like a vulcanized rubber kiwi.  Very appealing… not.

“Well done,” Mensarius snarked. “Now you have no ship, are stuck in the sky, and can’t navigate. I do so hope you enjoy being driven around by whichever one of your idiot followers you trick into eating that horrific thing.”

I smirked at him. “Sunny Jim… you don’t know me. You ain’t seen nothing yet.  And you forget… again… I have Ziggy and Yuzuha.”

“Those are companions, which you didn’t import,” the slimy bastard pointed out.

“I can still use them if I… ah… no I can’t. I can’t send a companion back into the warehouse except at ports. And if I use the Executor or Death Star they’re too big to be crewed by 9… How about VIctoria, VIctor, or the Black Jenny?”

“With the tech embargo, the AI sections of them would be suppressed. You would not do that to your companions.”

“Actually,” the Banker said, “The setting has machine intelligences.”

“WHAT?” both Mensarius and I said at the same time.

“Do not look at me like that,” The man-shaped thing behind the desk instructed. “They aren’t part of the dominant tech level, but there are two different tribes of Automata in the setting of One Piece. Both are remnant technologies, but they do exist… as do Cyborgs, despite the lack of an industrialized tech base.”

“Fucking insanity,” I muttered. “Fine. I’m pulling… hmmm… VIctor out as my ship this time. If I decide I need more power, I can pull out one of the other two at a port, but VIctor’s the smallest of the set.” VIctor was my assault shuttle and was nigh indestructible, since most of his body was laced with a substance from the Bastion Jump called ‘Burstone’ which was both processing system and power supply. His power core was the most heavily refined form of Burstone, a Burstone mega-core. Six standard cores could be used to restore an entire world to a previous save state. The mega-cores I’d built over the centuries since then had the power of 24 cores… and Victor had 5 of them installed, three in the central fuselage and one in each nacelle. His armor was a psitanium-uru-mithril alloy that was lighter and stronger than neutronium… and I had no idea how being turned into a wooden boat would screw with all that hyper-tech.  I was guessing not brilliantly… but the drawback would end in a decade, and any damage would be repaired by the cores once that happened.

“Have my faithless minions finished their plotting and scheming?” I asked.

“They have,” Banker Boy confirmed. “Do you want the information?”

“Eh. Let’s just roll with this.  Tell you what. Insert me now, give them the full month, then have them join me.”

“If I do that, your stay in world will be 10 years, 1 month long.”

“That’s fine. What’s a month here or there, really?”

“Very well, as you like. Insertion in ten, nine, eight-”

“Oh. I’m leaving this fruit in here. Since this chamber has security that shouldn’t allow anyone else in, or out, it should be safe here. Don’t either of you think about changing that. If this thing ends up inside anyone without my permission, you’ll owe me a refund… with penalties.” I snarled the last word, then the world went dark as the Banker’s count reached zero.

INSERTION

Huh… for being an island in the sky, this place was surprisingly… not that brightly lit. The world looked like it was inside a cloud.  I mean… not foggy… but like I was in a bubble-shaped cloud.  The sky was white fluffy clouds with no hint of blue beyond. The ground was slightly springy cloud, just as white. All the horizons were white. It made judging distance… tricky.  I mean, I could estimate how far away the walls of the open courtyard I was standing in were (about 200 yards from side to side and about 110 front to back) with a throne-pavilion thing in the center.

Of course, I wasn’t alone. I’d appeared in front of a couple dozen weirdos… most of them goat-headed humanoids in robes of varying degrees of obesity ranging from rail thin all the way up to a 12 foot tall slope-shouldered, no-necked freakazoid mostly human who had clearly never missed a hobbit meal in his or her entire life… and probably eaten everyone else’s lunch as well

There was also shirtless yabo with a serrated nose, 18 inch long earlobes, and, I kid you not, four Japanese thunder-god drums mounted on a silver halo behind him. He was blonde under a white do rag, though he had black eyebrows, and the smirkiest smirk in all creation. He was seated on the aforementioned throne… or rather, lounging upon it, looking for all the world like the picture of indolence and sangfroid. He had, apparently, been speaking to a group of four mega-weirdos who ranged from bomber ace with a feathered helmet and spike moustache, to angry black man with antler-hair, to goatee brother with a chromed dome and black sunglasses so stylish they could have sliced bread, to a living balloon who was clearly of the goat-tribe, despite wearing nearly all covering hat, goggles, and robes… all of theses people, barring the dude on the throne, had wings, feathery ones… but not ones big enough to allow them to fly. They barely stuck out beyond their shoulders and hung barely a third of the way to their hips.

A quick scan of the crowd told me that they were the Army of God, the priesthood that served the God Enel. Chubbazord was the leader of the army, Commander Yama, and he was certifiably homicidal, a true fanatic. Balloon goat-man and his friends were the four ‘Priests’ who ran the local religion… and by religion I mean fanatical despotism. God apparently was the local head of state… but the state was a theocracy and the rule of law was “Alles Verboten” kind of place. The punishment for crimes seemed to range from brutal to savage, though I’d have to scan deeper to get any specifics. Antler-Head was Gedatsu, and he was a fanatic and idiot… dysfunctionally so in fact; Chrome-Dome was Ohm, and he was out and out insane… as in he wanted to kill everyone to set them free of their burdens; Balloon Boy was Satori, a lunatic, sadist, and murderous fuck; and Sky Ace was Shura, a born warrior with a cruel streak… but also the capacity for pity and compassion. He was, by far, the most complex of the quartet; ruthless, dedicated, but not unthinkingly so, and would have born closer inspection…

Were it not for the total psychopath seated on the throne. His name was Enel… and he actually thought he was a god… and not by the local ‘head of state’ definition. His people were known as Birkans, one of three tribes of Skypieans… and aside from the ones standing in this courtyard, there weren’t any other Birkan’s left… because this absolute psycho had destroyed his own homeland (one of the most distant of Skypiea’s cloud islands) after eating the Goro-Goro no Mi… the Lightning Logia Devil Fruit… (I didn’t know the name then, it was just the magical Thunder Fruit to Enel… I learned it later, but clarity, you know?)… and he’d come to Upper Yard (the only place in Skypiea that had an actual terra-firma landmass instead of terra-cumula) to carry out a further genocide here as well… after forcing the previous God’s army to strip a ruined city of gold and use that gold to build him a flying ship that he could power with his lightning powers and which would carry him to, as he called it, the Endless Earth… and as I called it, The Moon… because, and he was deadly serious about this… as God, only he was worthy to do so.

Yeah… he had an actual god-complex… and I’d just appeared out of the ether in the middle of his courtyard of power. Of course, I said the first thing that came to mind.

“Dude. You are not a fucking God. I know. I am one… and you ain’t even close.” I think the expressions on the faces of the Army of Not-God will remain with me forever. When I say something, and say it with passion (and the anger I was currently feeling was making my words extra passionate… and scornful), my words bypass bias and stubbornness (and language barriers), and are understood as capital T truth. In that moment, all 55 beings in that courtyard knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Enel was no divinity and, within moments, they began to consider all the things they’d done in the name of their faith in Enel in a new light. Of course, some of them didn’t care (Yama, Satori, Ohm) while others were too dumb (Gedatsu and Satori’s twin brothers, Hatori and Kotori) to be bothered, but the vast majority were having a crisis of faith.

Enel was just… enraged is too mild a phrase. His expression didn’t even flicker as he launched himself across the dozen yards separating us, traveling at the speed of lightning, his body blurring into a blue electric whipcrack… and I grabbed him and Lightning-bent him, absorbing him on one side of my body and allowing him to flow out the other side of without harm. My core temperature didn’t even go up so much as 1/1000th of a degree.

The crowd gasped, at least those still paying attention, and I turned to regard the utterly confused Not-God. “What? You were expecting an actual God to be impressed by your little trick? Enel, I have ruled an Empire of Quadrillions… I’m not even sure you know what that word means.”

He snarled and swung his staff at me. I stopped it with one hand (okay… that hurt a little, but I didn’t let it show). “Your people are monsters.” I aimed my hand at Ohm and unleashed an Aku-style energy blast, knocking the bald Priest into the opposite wall in an explosion of blood. I never took my eyes of Enel. “You are a genocidal jackass.” I froze Satori, in the process of lunging at me, into a balloonsicle (was there a Bloons TD Jump?), and he toppled forward, rolling around like a marble. “You’ve abused your position of authority over the people of this land.” I summoned up a wind storm and launched Chubbozord Yama into the the stratosphere. “And I. Am. Not. Amused.”

Enel’s electric eyes widened with each of my effortless attacks on his minions, but if he had any sympathy for them and their plight, I couldn’t sense it. The dude was utterly lacking in compassion or, well, any other human emotion. He began to swell, growing larger and larger, like a hybrid of Thunder and Lightning from Big Trouble in Little China… but waaay more blue and three times as crackly.

I tilted my head, then shrugged my shoulders, cracking my neck, and tried to summon my sword… which didn’t show up.  What… the… ever… living… fuck! I wasn’t Requipping Soul of Ice from my Warehouse… I was pulling her out of my very soul! A note fluttered down from the sky. I grabbed it, holding up a hand to Enel “Hold up a second, I have to take this.”

The Note said “Your Sword has an Embargo’d tech level component.” I cursed. Yes… she did have a Pulse-Rifle as one of her components.

“THEN LOCK OUT THAT PART AND GIVE ME MY DAMNED SWORD YOU FUCKING RULES LAWYER!!” I yelled at the uncaring sky.

The Note now said “The Rules Committee is reviewing your request. Expect a Ruling in 6-8 years, local time.”

“BASTARD!” I howled, then sigh-growled and turned to face Enel. “Okay. You’re in luck. I just got some really, really, REALLY annoying news and I don’t get to stab you to death.”

“That’s Lucky?” Gedatsu asked from behind me.

“Yeah. Well, your boss is lucky because it means I’m now so angry that I’m going to punch him to death… slowly.”

“Oh.”

“Well said. Might want to step back.”

Say what you want about Enel… dude has waaay more stamina than I gave him credit for. I can only assume that, if Luffy did canonically fight this jagoff, he won because rubber is a natural insulator for electricity. Yeah. I could totally bend lightning… but there was a limit. The bolts being thrown around in Avatar were only a few thousand volts. Enough to be fatal or cause small explosions. In Fairy Tail, the last place I’d done this kind of thing on any large scale, the bolts had been in the hundreds of thousands of volts. If the name of the attack was anything to go by, Enel’s most powerful attack was two-hundred… million Volts. Sure, it still wasn’t a full power natural lightning bolt, which can get up to a Billion Volts… but it was riding the very limits of a natural lightning bolt’s amperage… which is the real killer. Each blow, and they were getting more and more powerful as his anger increased, was running closer and closer to 200 kA… 200,000 amps… which, thanks to my lightning calculation ability (yes, that was a joke… my brain can run exaflops)… I figure puts his output per blow at 40 TerraWatts… or 1/1000th of a Kardashev Tier 1 Civilization every second or so.

Those blows, despite all I could do to diffuse them… hurrrrrt.

Of course, it wasn’t one sided. I was creating hyper-cryonic snow to steal his energy and focus, leveling massive energy and sonic blasts at him, and ripping bits of him off and flinging them across the landscape, carving huge divots in the surrounding clouds, and occasionally blasting one of the dude’s followers who was standing too close. But most of all I was energy bending him for all I was worth, shorting out his control, his ability to recover, the basic building blocks of his very existence.

The fight didn’t actually take that long. It couldn’t. Both of us were moving far faster than normal humans could even perceive. Lightning moves about 300 million kph. Even I was having trouble tracking Enel’s movements and I can move hyper-sonic… In fact, it was only possible because Enel’s movements were orders of magnitude slower than that simply because his reaction time clearly couldn’t cope with those speeds. He was faster than I was in absolute speed, but I had faster reaction time. It was a battle of attrition and, by the time I finally beat the smirk off his face, I was really feeling the burn of fatigue.

Of course, he was flat on his back, mostly human again, and just sparking occasionally. I grunted, looking down at him and… despite myself… I smiled. “You… are a crappy human being, you know that.”

He looked up at me, and groaned “I’m… not really God, am I?” He looked as if I’d taken away his puppy.

I shook my head. “Not even remotely. But… you’re the most interesting opponent I’ve faced in… fuck… must be centuries. I haven’t had to go this all out since Yhwach.”

“Who’s Jubach?”

“Dickhead who wanted to kill god and remake the world in his image.”

“What did you do to him?”

“Trapped him inside the eye of god, for all eternity, alone and helpless and being eaten by darkness that would never kill him.”

Enel looked up at me, saw my face, and shuddered in soul deep terror and revulsion. I could feel the fear rising within him, an utterly alien emotion to this deranged monster… then he did something that I wasn’t expecting. “Well then… better get started.”

I blinked, surprised… and a little impressed. There wasn’t any begging, or bargaining, or wailing against the unfairness of it all. He knew he was beaten and there wasn’t any way for him to stop me from doing whatever I wanted. I leaned over him, standing crouched on his chest and looked him dead in the eyes.

“Are you expecting me to be merciful and kill you quickly?”

He considered, then shook his head. “I probably deserve whatever punishment you think I do. I assumed my power meant I was God. I assumed it gave me the right to do whatever I pleased. I have clearly offended Heaven, and they sent you to punish me.”

“Well, I don’t think Heaven gave one good damn about you… but you offended me, and I decided to punish you.”

“Go ahead then.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, “Tell me why I’m punishing you? Here’s a hint, it’s not for presumption.”

“I…” he considered, groaning in pain and bleeding a bit from the thousands of scrapes and scratches even his energy being form had managed to, somehow, sustain in our fight. I, on the other hand, looked perfect, and he knew it. He had no way of knowing just how tired and sore I was from the fight. To him, I looked exactly as I had when I’d appeared, a small, white haired, slender girl in a white and green and gold pirate-themed outfit. I’d gone toe to toe with him, and emerged unscathed to his eyes. He was using some sense, something he knew of as Mantra… but which I somehow knew was merely one part of the thing known as Haki… to scan me, to determine what I was going to do… apparently this Mantra… Haki… thing… could predict, to some degree, the future, if only a few hours ahead.

I sighed and reached down, tweaking his nose. “You can’t predict my future. And with me in this close of proximity to you, you cannot predict your own future either. I need a fucking drink… and… like… all the food. Is there anything to eat around here?”

“Aren’t you going to punish me?” He sounded a little disbelieving, and a little disappointed.

“Do you want me to punish you?”

“N… not particularly.” He was only partly lying, half to me, half to himself. Now that he had a bit of perspective, he was feeling a little guilty.  The dude wasn’t a sociopath. He was psychotic, of course… but the two aren’t the same thing by any measure.

“Heh. You’re lying. But I’m freaking starving. Now… can you stand or do I have to carry you. I need food and I’m not leaving you unsupervised… you were planning on killing everyone in Skypiea.”

“I… was.”

“Great. You do some soul searching, but get your people to bring us some food… and booze… and oh, fuck, they’re prostrating themselves.”

It took far too long and I was seriously considering turning into a giant snake and just eating a few of these bozos, but eventually they brought me some damned food. Most of it was fruit and nuts, which was nice, but they also brought fish, which was much nicer. No meat though… and no grain… or cheese… which was problematic. I was really, really hungry.

“So… E. Why don’t you have wings?”

“No idea. Everyone else does… except you.”

I chuckled and grew a massive pair of wings. “I cheat.”

He blinked. “Can you fly with those?”

“Normally, I can fly without them.”

“Normally?” He raised an eyebrow and I laughed.

“Yeah. I had to make a deal with… let’s just say there are things out there that are to Gods what Gods are to… you have bugs? Little crawly things? Many legs?” He nodded, looking confused but with dawning horror. “Yeah… what Gods are to Bugs, there are beings out there that are like that.”

“What are they called?”

“Benefactors, apparently, but I suspect that’s just a convenient appellation. I don’t think even Gods can really understand their nature. Think of them as… the places where stories and history come from.”

“I… don’t think I understand.”

“It’s okay. I’ve been at this for… you’re what… mid-twenties? Early thirties?”

He looked at me for a very long moment, then put his drink down carefully, and asked, “Are you asking a question you already know the answer to?”

I closed one of my eyes and regarded him slowly, then shrugged and nodded. “Yes. That was well spotted. You’re 31 years old, born on May 6th. You’ve got a gift for mechanical systems, and dream of going to the Moon, what you call the Endless Earth, despite having no idea what you’ll find there and having never seen it.  WOuld you like to?”

He blinked, then swallowed hard, and nodded.

“Cool.” I considered for a moment, extending my waterbending senses to feel where the moon was, then stood, pointed towards where it was, then said, “Behold. Fiat Luna!” I called, invoking the muse of dramatic presentation, and moved my hands just so, pushing the massive wall of clouds miles away out of the way with a combination of water bending and TK… and the moon hung in the sky beyond, giant and faintly golden and glorious, a shining crescent too large and close.

Enel fell to his knees, eyes wide, tears coming to them, and the gathered Priests and Flunkies… even Ohm who had somehow survived my blast… dude was tougher than I’d thought all looked stunned.

I pointed at them. “Don’t you fucking think about trying to worship me again or I’ll throw you off Skypiea and see how well you swim in the Blue Sea (they called the local cloud-water the White-Sea and the White-White-Sea… it had multiple tiers of stacked water-clouds… this place soooo laughs at the concept of physics).

As it turns out, I ended up spending a couple months with Enel and getting to know the people of Skypiea. They were, almost to a one, either terrified of E’s wrath or plotting to kill him. Okay… long story short… Turns out that Skypiea’s older than anyone has any idea about, and most of the dirt in the place… dirt as in soil, was from ships from the surface that just kinda get blasted up into the sky somehow (Later found out it’s one of those laughs at physics… and wouldn’t that be a great fake indian name… “Hello, I’m Laughs-at-Physics”… phenomena called “Knock Up Stream” which is essentially a super geyser under the ocean that moves around… somehow). Normally, KUS brought ships, but 400 years ago, it brought an entire damned island called Jaya up into the sky… complete with its gold-plated capital city of Shandora… and its people, the Shandia. Jaya is larger than all the cloud islands combined.

Presented with an unprecedented bounty of soil/dirt/Vearth as they called it, the God of the time made the obvious choice… and declared that only he and his priesthood were allowed to live there… because apparently Enel wasn’t the first dick to be God of Skypiea. So he and his forces drove out the Shandia (another winged tribe like the Birka and the Skypieans), and started a 400 year long war… and yes, the Shandia look vaguely native-american, because why the hell wouldn’t they. There was a definite Christians vs Pagans vibe going on here… though Enel was more… I dunno… maybe it was native americans being squished between christians on one side and buddhists on the other. Or maybe it was just Oda (the author) going ‘oooo, I has Idear!’ and I’m reading too much into it.

Enel and his followers had conquered the place relatively recently and driven out the previous Skypiean God, an old dude named Gan Fall, who’d been trying to get the Shandia to come to the peace table with relatively little luck.

It took a fair amount of effort to get Gan Fall, the Shandia Chief, the chief Shandia warrior (a hothead named Wiper), Shura (as the Birka representative and only sane-ish member), and the current elders of the Skypieans (the local guard captain named McKinley and this technically inclined gentleman with a brillo pad for a beard named Pagaya) all to the table… but I can be very persuasive… and once I had everyone together, I explained that they were going to make peace and come to an agreement that everyone could be happy with, or I was going to banish all of them back down to the surface and try again with a different group. Wiper tried to step to me, but I ignored every blow he leveled against me until he started hurting himself, at which point I asked him a single question.

“Is peace so anathema to you that you’d rather die than work for a better future for your children and their children?” It got through to him, eventually.

In between restructuring Skypiean society into a more rational state, and studying their very strange ‘Dial-based’ technology (Dials are the shells of white-sea creatures that can store various things like sound, or cloud, or kinetic force, or heat, and release it upon command… see also Laughs-at-Physics), I examined the ruins of Shandora and translated a very interesting monolith and other carvings.

I also spent a fair amount of time both talking to and sparring with Enel, who, aside from the whole genocidal psychopath was actually pretty fun to be around. He had a snarky and twisted sense of humor, and a keen, insightful mind. The ship he’d designed, the Ark Maxim, was impressive and could both fly and hover. It was powered largely by electricity of course, but also had backup Jet Dial thrusters. It had a lot of gold… and a weather generator onboard. Dude was a regular mad scientist, who’d been planning to use the weather generator to create storm clouds to obliterate Skypiea.

I couldn’t make him sane… that would have taken way more effort and tampering than I was willing to do, but I could give him perspective and force him to confront his psychosis. God Complexes aren’t uncommon, and they often come with Megalomania and the desire to destroy all those who are viewed as ‘lesser’ or subjects or ‘impure’ or ‘unworthy’. He was, or had been, almost textbook Narcissistic Personality. Unfortunately, this literally meant that the genocidal behaviour wasn’t, exactly, his fault.

I probably could have killed him and made it stick. Probably. Maybe I should have. He was a definite threat and had killed thousands… but in every conceivable way, I was a bigger one and had killed orders of magnitude more people than he had. Sometimes I’d even done so while sane. And… like it or not, Enel was erudite, witty, and the kind of smug bastard I actually enjoyed hanging out with.

He was insightful, and yes, a bit hyperfocused at times, but he put effort into self improvement and, to be honest, we tended to agree on the utter worthlessness of the vast majority of the population. The only real differences were that he felt superior because of his god complex and I just didn’t like them… and where I dealt with them largely in benign neglect, he was actively dismissive of them. However, he had no friends, because he was unable to comprehend people as having value if they weren’t his equals… and thus he also had no pets or lovers.

I wasn’t volunteering for either, but I was willing to demonstrate that a superior could be friends with an inferior… from the position of the superior. And I called him on his bullshit… and he had a lot of bullshit.

He also had actual monsters in his command structure, and so I had to find ways of dealing with Ohm, Satori, and Yama… and to find a place for Gedatsu where he couldn’t do too much damage. I put him in charge of one of the salvage crews that trolled the lower level of the floating cloud-sea for useful stuff knocked up from the surface. The Psychos Three, all of whom had somehow survived my attacks despite not being Devil Fruit empowered, I decided to seal in Ice-Stasis and drop into a pit, then forget where I’d stuck them. It wasn’t a great solution… but it got them out of my hair.

Just in time for my companions to show up in the bay off Angel Island. One moment there wasn’t a ship off the coast, the next… poof. Ship… full of idiots… but idiots that I was glad to see… for the most part. My ‘Nine Divines’ (counting myself as one) numbered Franky & Mini (yay! hugs!), Cirno (an almost perfect choice for the local insanity), Francine (Excellent, someone reliable), Kendra (Avast! Pirate of the Caribbean!), Reggy (who looked extremely unsure about the entire concept of ‘Fun’ or ‘Piracy’ or any of this… she was, however, glad to get away from the boys for a while… and the walls of the Warehouse… and being able to punch someone again.)… plus Kohina and her father. Kagetane has never been my favorite person… but this time I almost enjoyed introducing my old pet psychopath to my new pet psychopath. They hated each other almost immediately… excellent result.

Pulling Francine aside, I asked “Ahab? Joy? Raven?”

She smiled “Auto-Imported for the Bahs pair. Him as a Pirate, her as a Marine.” I considered that, then laughed at the role reversal from Tenchi, as Francine nodded, smiling. “And Raven in Mariejois, looking for libraries to get lost in.”

“Riiight. I assume the Strawhats haven’t even entered the Grand Line yet. So, do I want to know how you picked?”

She shrugged. “Essay competition. Caine judged, since he had absolutely no interest in coming to the place of lunatics.”

I blinked. “Cirno can write?”

“She drew a picture. Caine liked it very much.” I nodded, that made more sense. I mean, yes, obviously Cirno is, in fact, literate.  Stringing together coherent themes and convincing phrases are to literacy as a raindrop is to a bathtub, and that was not a tub that Cirno had a lot of depth in.                                                                                                          

“Well then, First Mate, tell me about our crew,” I commanded with a broad grin.

“I’d love to Captain… but… err… shouldn’t we have a crew name, a ship name… and the Captain’s name first?” she countered.

“Very Well… Apparently, we are ‘The Nine Divines’ Crew, the Ship is the Starward Victory, and I,” I stood on Victor’s rail, looking out at the crowd of small kids and confused not-angels who’d come to examine the new ship. “I am her Captain, Sunny D. Jammer!” I blinked as the crowd cheered. Why had I listed my middle initial as D? I’d meant to say ‘T’ as in James T. Kirk or Jas T. Hook. Then I glared at Francine who was giggling, having just realized I’d named myself after a fake orange-juice cocktail for kids. “Regardless, who, exactly, is my crew… and, more importantly, what drawbacks did you lunatics take?”

Francine smiled that special kind of innocent smile that fools only very stupid and gullible people, then spread her hands as if to say ‘We are innocent of all your doubt.’ I gave her one of those looks that said ‘Oh, please.’ and she chuckled, then shrugged. “Well, we’re all wanted.”

“All of you? My crew is worth 800 million Berry? Huh. I should turn you in for the reward.”

Francine blinked, “You didn’t take it yourself? It seemed like free points to us. Not like we weren’t going to be causing trouble anyway.” I love the fact that she didn’t even worry if I was serious about me turning them in. It was a logical move.

“Naw. I took Hungry instead… should have taken Wanted… ah well. So that’s 700 for each of you. Oh, before I get too distracted, how many of you bought Devil Fruit?”

“Just me. Everyone else bought maps.”

“Great. This entire trip is going to be wall to wall research and decryption. We should head to the capital, cash you in, pick up Raven and Joy, and get started on those maps asap. Have everyone bring me their maps as soon as we finish. You and I will memorize them, then burn them. Don’t want anyone else getting a chance to see them.”

She nodded, then stood at attention, faintly annoyed she couldn’t float in place as was her usual seating tactic. “I filled out my CP allotment by taking something called ‘Warlord’s Fury’ for +300. Apparently I have angered someone named Donquixote Doflamingo-” I snorted at the name.

“Really?”

“Indeed. Apparently he has considerable resources and will hunt me down for some inscrutable reason.”

“Well… that’s your game. I’ll let you play it until you ask for help.”

“Of course. We all got Survivalist, of course… as, I assume, did you?” I nodded. “Excellent. On the assumption that you wouldn’t bother taking the Navigator Skillset, I have taken it upon myself to do so, as well as selecting the Dark-Dark Logia Fruit from the Legendary Tier. It allows the User to turn their body into Darkness and to control both Darkness and Gravity, including the creation of intense Gravity vortexes. It also can nullify the powers of other Devil Fruit users on physical contact.”

“Whoa… nice!” It was. It should have been. It cost 700 points.

“Legend has it that this fruit is also capable of permanently absorbing other devil fruit powers… though how it does so I have no idea. I’ve only had it for a few hours and haven’t experimented with it too much.”

“Huh. Well. Let me know if you figure anything out. And we can test your power later against my new buddy Enel. You’ll like him. He’s mental.  As in… seriously. We’ll have to see if you can come up with any way of treating his… problem.” I flashed her a mental image of him, an image that contained all my impressions of him in one gestalten package. It wasn’t so much information as… awareness, which is why we didn’t use it for conversation, but it had its value.

“I also purchased something called Rumble Formula. It was discounted if you had bought a Fruit… but not if you bought a Map. I suppose it would have been cheaper to buy the 400 point formula and a map for 200, rather than the Fruit and Formula for a total of 900… but I wanted to be guaranteed of getting the Dark-Dark, which a map wouldn’t have.” I nodded. It made sense. And the Rumble Formula, as developed by the Straw Hat’s Doctor, the Reindeer-Man ‘Tony Tony Chopper’, allowed Zoan types to create new and improved hybrid forms for their Zoan forms.

“Uh… doesn’t the Rumble Formula only work for Zoan type Devil Fruit Users?” I asked.

“It has predictable effect on Zoans. It can still modulate non-Zoans… just in unpredictable ways.”

“Oh… is that all? Well, happy… can the Formula be used only for your powers?”

“No. It’s a formula,” she held up a piece of paper, the contents of which I immediately memorized. “Anyone can learn it. Should we burn it?” I nodded and gestured, making it flare to ash instantly. Wouldn’t do to hand out a weapon to a potential enemy if we didn’t have to. The paper itself would probably respawn in the Warehouse at some point, but it was safe there… hopefully. Some of my companions are morons at times.

I sighed, missing Ziggy. I needed a snuggle and grabbing Mini or Franky, while fun… would be for later. There wasn’t, yet, an actual port in Skypiea, so I couldn’t bring him out of the Warehouse… yet. I wasn’t planning on leaving the Island in the Sky until Luffy and Crew showed up, which I figured would take about 6 months tops. Plenty of time to build at least a small port.

“Okay, well, seems you’re squared away… though I didn’t buy a Log Pose or Eternal Pose, so if we plan to navigate anywhere, I hope one of the others did, or we’ll have to follow Luffy and company once they inevitably show up.”

Francine raised an eyebrow “You’re sure they will?”

“Don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t. This place has all the hallmarks of a fantastic locale to have rollicking good adventures at. I’m guessing that Luffy was originally supposed to fight Enel.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Rubber Man with heart of gold fights evil Lightning God? That’s a plotline right out of Shonen Jump.”

“Good point. Want me to send the others in?”

“Do you know what they took?”

“Oh, sure. We conferred before we finalized. We had a plan… well, a game plan. Covering the bases type thing.” I nodded as she continued. “Let me hit the drawbacks first. Your girlfriends both took the The Hungry drawback, just like you did… though Luccini tried to convince the Banker to let her change it to Sleepy instead, but he told her she’d enjoy that too much. They also both took Drowning Hazard drawback, hoping that you’d comfort them and give them cookies to ease the anxiety of being at sea.  Of course, this means they can’t swim for shit and if they eat a Devil Fruit, it’ll develop into Hydrophobia and panic while being on the open ocean. I suspect that later on this jump we’ll be forced to block out their fear centers. Are you certain those two are war veterans? They seem perpetually silly.”

“Francy… you served with them.”

“I’m sorry. I only remember the panties. Everything else is a blur of aliens and aerial combat,” my #1 psychic said dryly. I rolled my eyes. “Continuing the theme, they both took 2 maps each. The idea is that the extra maps are for Ahab and Joy. I don’t know if it did this for you, but when they selected the Maps, the tablets popped up a slider for difficulty and a list of keywords. Luccini (Francy almost always called Frankie ‘Luccini’ because their nicknames were so similar… none one called them Francesca or Francine except Bao and he was hopelessly formal.) selected ‘Shadow’ for herself (of course she did, her familiar was Ombra… italian for ‘Shadow’) and ‘Serpent’ for Ahab. For some reason, both maxed out the difficulty slider.”

I nodded. The Shadow-Shadow Fruit was a Legendary Logia, and while Garden Snake might be a Common Zoan, a Serpent could very well be referencing a Legendary creature such as Jormungandr… though I’d never heard of a water themed Devil Fruit… Ice and Snow? Yes. Water or Aquatic? No. Made one wonder if there were any amphibian Zoan or Fish Zoan Fruits.

“And Mini?”

“She selected ‘Wind’ for herself and ‘Joy’ for, well… Joy.”

“Did those lock the difficulty?” I was guessing Wind would.

“Wind did. At Max,” Francy confirmed. “Joy didn’t. Joy had us set it for half way. So it might be Great or Decent… hard to say. Each map has the keyword on the top, so it’s easy to tell which is which.”

I considered, then said “Continue with the drawbacks and maps. We can come back to other details later. I want to paint a picture of the challenges facing us before I consider what new assets we have.”

My able Lt. snapped to attention, throwing off a credible salute. “Yes Cap’in! Kogo’s missing his left leg and right arm… though that shouldn’t matter much for reasons I’ll get to later. Reggy’s got no sense of direction and is missing her left hand. The idiot took the trifecta of annoyance… cowardly, glutinous, and directionless. Little Bit (her nickname for Kohina) took the 300-point one that made the Pirate Whitebeard and his entire fleet want to destroy her. That should be fun to deal with. Kendra took the last 300-pointer, the one that makes her public enemy #1, supplanting Monkey D. Dragon… that’s Luffy’s Dad, right?”

“So the wiki I looked at long ago said. Yes. And Monkey D. Garp is his Grandfather.”

“Why’d you look at the Wiki?”

“I’d decided to watch the Anime again and was flipping through it trying to figure out if it got better later. So I know little bits and pieces of the lore. But not enough to know where One Piece itself is. I don’t think the series had ended when I left Origin.”

“We should have an idea on that. But I’ll get back to that in a bit,” she smirked, knowing she was the only one who could actually keep me out of her mind if she wanted to.

“Fiiiine. Maintain your suspense. Maps?”

“Kogo selected ‘Insight’, Great Difficulty.” I mmmed, considering what that might generate., nodding for her to continue. Reggy selected ‘Queen’, Great Difficulty.” Cirno… spent a long time arguing with the tablet, then bought a Lowest difficulty ‘Snow’ Map.” She was smirking and I had a baaad feeling about that map, but didn’t interrupt. “Kohina took ‘Holy’… Max difficulty. So did Kendra.” I raised my eyebrows at that… what was wrong with my companions!!! Did they think I would relish a decade long Treasure Hunt full of obscure riddles and puzzles? Well, they were right… but did they think I was going to do the hunting for their fruits? I could very well just leave them to their own devices and see if they could find them on their own. I could just spend the decade lounging on clouds, not fighting anyone… that would show them!

“Riiight. Sounds like we’ve got… trouble, right here in River City, with a capital T and that rhymes with P and it stands for Piracy.”

“You’re a very silly entity, Boss Lady.”

“Yeah, well… I try. Give me the highlights of the group dynamic. The suspense is killing me.”

“You’re immortal.”

“Yeah, well, you’re a smart ass… report, sailor!”

“Nag, nag, nag. Okay. Franky took Combat Training so she’d know how to fight with gun or sword, land or sea… and how to operate flintlock weapons.”

“This place is mental. Flintlocks… and Cyborgs. For fuck’s sake.” I shook my head.

“She also took Commanding Presence… I think more for the sake of distraction than actual leadership. Navigation as well, so she can serve as a backup navigator… when she’s not wigging out… and she actually bought a Log Pose, just so we’d have one.” I grunted to show I had no comment, and she continued. “Mini and Koko took Tinkerer, so we have two people who understand the local techbase… though not as good as whoever ‘Vegapunk’ is… and is it just me or do these names sometimes make your ears want to bleed?”

I chuckled, but motioned for her to continue. “Tinkerer is a combo of jury-rigging stuff out of scrap metal and simple tools, serious tech with real tools and money and time… and allows ripping machines down and rebuilding them to learn how they work. Mini took Tinker to get the discount on the Strange Machine that IDs Devil Fruit and she also took the Devil Fruit Encyclopedia. The machine only IDs the Fruits, but until she figures out how it works, it’ll break down every time we use it. The Encyclopedia tells us what the Fruits actually do. It’s a worn out copy, but that shouldn’t slow you down.” It was true. I can read a book with a single touch, and that power doesn’t care if words are smudged or faded; as long as the page was still in the book, I could read the most fall apart delicate text. I once absorbed the data from a book so old it had actually fallen to dust.

“What was Kagetane’s reason? Something to do with his missing limbs?” I asked, beginning to worry about leaving Enel unsupervised for so long… especially with Cirno and Reggy as babysitters.

“Oh… He’s a Cyborg, Self-Made. Apparently as powerful as someone named Franky during the Water 7 Arc.”

“Whatever that is. Well, it’s not the first time he’s been a cyborg. He’ll figure it out. Hope he doesn’t go crazy again.”

“This time he chose it. Makes a difference.”

“It does… now he might have willingly sacrificed his humanity.” She blinked, then shuddered and I could tell I’d hit a point she hadn’t considered. For all her towering intellect, she still didn’t take the human element into consideration as much as she should. But then again, at her core, she wasn’t human. Just very close to it.

“He… um… also took the medkit and the box of Dials? None of us are sure what those are, but he was intrigued enough to want to experiment.”

“Ah… local plot-devices. As in local to this specific part of the setting I’m guessing. The local technology is all focused on Dials… which are the shells of White-Sea creatures. According to the locals, the ships that end up here from the Blue-Sea don’t have Dial Tech. We can have them ID’d and he can pick up a bunch more… unless he has rare ones that belong to extinct species.”

“I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.”

“I’m sure he’ll try and install some of them in his cyborg body,” I snarked.

“That too,” she agreed. “But, moving on to the less human than the Cyborg Killing Machine… Reggy. She took Precision… it heightens coordination and kinesthetic sense, reaction times, aim… the whole package. She’s also our designated Shipwright, anything up to sloops she can repair or build, at least for now. It’s expandible, easily, to the Galleon level. She also took something called Black Leg Combat Style?”

“Yeah… Sanji… the Straw hat’s chef.  It’s his fighting style. Think a combo all the kicking styles in the world. Hitmontop’s got nothing on Sanji.”

She made a face as I badmouthed a fellow Pokemon… then remembered that, as a Psychic Type, she didn’t like Fighting types and shrugged. “Okay. If you say so. The price seemed high for what amounts to a month’s intensive training in it…” I blinked, 600… even discounted to 300 was pretty high for only a month’s training. I’d gotten a mastery of CQC for that price once upon a time. “And she took the infinite barrel of grog or whatever.”

“The one that occasionally makes you break out into spontaneous shanty singing when it’s not filling you with nostalgic melancholy?”

“That would be the one. Yes.”

“Well, won’t that be fun at parties,” I said, half-chuckling. “And speaking of fun… tell me about Cirno?”

“Oh… no. Saving her for last. Kohina next. She’s a Fishman… a Lionfish Fishman.”

I grimaced at that. Fishmen are not nice folk. The only ones I’d seen in the series were the Arlong Pirates, who were anti-human racists, 10 times stronger than a human, brutal, cruel, and possessed of superhuman abilities related to their fish-species. The octopus man could spit ink, the shark man could regrow his teeth instantly… and they were both amphibious and incredibly tough… and in the water they seriously outclassed humans, since they could throw punches and kicks at full speed… see Laughs-at-Physics. If Kohina was one of them, it was interesting… but if she was also a Lionfish… one of the most venomous and beautiful fish out there… with 18 venomous spines, the lionfish was one of the most skilled hunters in the ocean, thanks to a probing head tentacle, bilateral swim bladders that give it exquisite control of its own buoyancy, and large fins… and a huge mouth for its size, which allowed them to both swallow prey whole and blow jets of bubbles to confuse enemies.  They might be small… but Fishmen where human-sized or bigger.

Granted, the poison of a normal Lionfish was rarely fatal to a human… but that was a 6 inch fish… Kohina was bigger than that and her spines would be an order of magnitude larger and, if the series was any judge, much more powerful.

“What else did she get?” I asked, setting that aside. Dangerous allies were good… even though I had a strong dislike for Fishmen… but I couldn’t assume that they were all like the Piratical Arlong and company any more than Piratical Humans were typical of humanity. And it wasn’t like I was vulnerable to poison myself.

“Two Eternal Poses. One to Fishman Island… under the assumption we might want to go there at some point… and one to a place called Raftel.” I tilted my head.

“Why that one?”

“The Eternal Pose description said ‘an island in the Grand Line’, be that Paradise or the New World. She asked for the island where Gold Roger hid his treasure.”

I blinked, then chuckled “Wow… that… is just all sorts of not fair. I do so love this kind of silliness. Okay… yes. Not sure about Fishlandia… but the other place… better have her give me that one. I’ll put it someplace safe. Instruct her and the others never to mention the name of the place or that we have a Pose that points there. Kendra?”

“Both levels of Haki.”

“Ah. Well, Ahab and Joy? No, wait… you said they auto-imported. That’s just freebies. Never mind. Now… spill about the ‘genius’ fairy.”

“She took Giant. At the 400 point level.”

I opened my mouth, then shut it again.

“And WIll of D… the Willpower slash plot armor thing.”

“Argh. She’s a 50 foot tall smiling git!”

“Pretty much. Is there anything to eat.”

I sighed and nodded. “Let’s go introduce the Crew to the locals. And get started on the welcoming party. No idea if Luffy’s bringing enemies with him or not.”

Seven Months Later.

“Captain? Amazon just sent up a ship full of outsiders from the White-Sea.” Amazon was this little old lady that ‘guarded’ the entrance from the White-Sea to the White-White Sea known as ‘Heaven’s Gate’. She was, not to put too fine a point on it, utterly clueless. Thankfully, all she had to do was hand out the welcome brochure and explain the exchange rate (1,000 Skypiean Extol equalled 1 Berry… though I had no idea still how there was even an exchange rate as there was all but no trade between the surface and Skypiea and it appeared that most of our visitors from the surface had no clue Skypiea even existed before ending up here). Prior to my arrival and reforms, she would demand an entrance fee… and not explain the exchange rate which made the sum seem extortionate… then allow people to sail on up without paying… and report them as criminals for not paying. Idiot.

I thanked the runner, looking out of the office from my newly constructed HQ at Port Jammer in the crescent shaped bay of Upper Yard. After she left, I picked up the pictures that Amazon had sent and smiled. “At last.” Standing, I pulled my jacket off the back of my chair and opened the door out onto my balcony. “ENEL! The Rubber Man has come! Cirno, put down that fishing trawler and go open the gate! Someone go find Gan and the Chief and tell them we have visitors!” I smiled as the scurrying began and looked out at the blossoming new city. We’d had to clear a huge amount of the trees that had utterly overrun Jaya since it rose to the Heavens, but even with the logging, less than a 10th of the island had been cleared. The trees were simply massive… and the wildlife extremely aggressive… especially the Shandian Godsnake, which was a surprisingly friendly creature with a very strange laugh… and a stomach full of priceless treasures, most of them gold, which now decorated my office.

As the Straw Hat’s ship, the Going Merry, docked at Pier 4, I lept down from my fifth story office and bounded across the intervening yards, leaping up onto the goatlike figurehead on the prow of the ship. “Avast! Welcome to Port Jammer, travellers! My name is Sunny and I’ve come to collect the docking fee… and to invite you all to dinner at the Governor’s Palace.” I gestured to my massive complex, though it served as City Hall far more than merely being an abode.

The youth in the straw hat blinked up at me and grinned “Is this Sky Island?”

“It is! Well, this island is called Upper Yard, though it used to be called Jaya-”

“Jaya!?” the whole Strawhat crew gasped, practically in unison.

I nodded blithely. “Indeedy. Used to be an island down below in the blue until the Knock Up Stream blasted her into the sky 400 years ago. Since then she’s been renamed the Upper Yard… you know of Jaya?”

“We just came from Jaya!” Nami, their Navigator exclaimed, sounding distressed.”

“Oh? That hardly seems likely… maybe there were two islands called Jaya?”

“Was… is there a city of gold here with a giant bell in the center?”

“There’s a city that used to be covered in gold. Most of the gold was either repurposed to make the previous God’s flagship or used to decorate the Governor’s office. But there’s no Bell in the center of town… just Jack.” I pointed at the obscenely tall double helix beanstalk that towered far up into the heavens. “Up there is where God’s Palace is.”

“God?”

“Ho… no… Not the god you’re thinking of. The local leader is called God. It’s an office. Gan Fall is the local God, but the position is being phased out in favor of the Governor, since the God was only the leader of the Skypieans and the Governor has unified all three tribes under one unified banner.”

The Strawhats looked mostly confused… brains were not major features among the human males, and Chopper’s intellect was focused mostly on medicine… pretty good for a Reindeer. Nami and Nico Robin, the newest member of the crew and a former member of the terrorist organization ‘Baroque Works’ (which, I have to admit, is an awesome name for a secret criminal organization bent on world domination), both looked at me, considering my words and judging if they could trust them. I liked those two… then I peered inside them and confirmed that, aside from some questionable character traits, all these people were, at their cores, decent folk.

I grinned broadly, making a show of innocence, as I asked, “Would you like to see the ruins? I can escort you there in the morning if the Governor says it’s okay… oh, dear… here comes the former God, Enel.” I pretended not to know what was coming.

“RUBBER MAAAAAN! Let’s fight!”

“The Governor is well informed about… err… your identities, I’m afraid. And the Ex-God has been hoping to test himself against your Captain… you are Captain Luffy of the Strawhats, right?” I beamed, flashing a smile that showed that butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth, at Luffy, who blushed a little, then lept off the boat and raised his fists. “Enel! You know how the Governor would feel about you sparring on the docks. Take it to the practice yard.” I turned to the rest of the crew and asked them if they’d care to follow me, either to the Palace or watch the fight.

After a glance at where Enel and Luffy were vanishing off towards the fairly isolated patch of trees we’d set aside for sparring… the location had previously been dominated by the four Priest’s merciless trial zones… the others decided to follow me to the Palace.

I chattered aimlessly as I escorted them, but inwardly I was concerned by Nico Robin’s memories. I couldn’t dive fully into them, not with her awake and aware, but what I could read concerned me greatly.  Her family… Her entire tribe… had been obliterated in something the World Government called a ‘Buster Call’. A Buster Call was, apparently, the One Piece equivalent of Exterminatus, a mobilization of an entire Marine Fleet to destroy whatever target the Fleet Admiral or World Government Mandarin deemed needed destroying.  In Robin’s people’s case, it had apparently been because they were scholars researching something Robin’s memories identified as “The True History”. I needed more information… so I decided to reveal myself.

Escorting them through the Palace, constructed in record time as I’d cheated outrageously in the processing of the raw materials, even if I couldn’t tech things up to any extreme degree.  I still knew how to accelerate the aging process of wood, how to enchant and shape materials formed from the various elements, and I had several superhumanly skilled craftsmen in my employ… and a trip to the moon with Enel had netted us a supply of interesting, and cute little Automata who weren’t half bad at construction. The Ruins there had been… eye opening.

“And this is the Governor’s office. Go on in. The Governor is expecting you.” I opened the door, sending a thought to Francine to enquire how the fight was going. She responded that, while neither was going all out, they seemed to be enjoying the challenge of the novel opponent. I smiled, closing the door behind the Straw Hats and grinning as Ziggy yawned at them from my desk. Nami’s eyes were bugging out at the fortune in gold that decorated my office, and I knew she was trying to figure out how to steal some or all of it. If she actually had the guts to do it, I’d let her have it. I had more than would fit on the shelves and pedestals and display tables as it was.

Chopper looked around, he’s such a cute little guy, then addressed the sleepy, oversized ferretoid. “Are… Are you the Governor?” I couldn’t help laughing, which startled the Straw Hats who hadn’t realized I’d followed them in.

I pulled off my tricorn and tossed it onto a hatrack without looking and adjusted my cuffs as I strode to the desk, growing taller and more imposing with every step, my outfit adjusting to my increasing size as it had been enchanted to do. I very quickly shot from my natural 4’10” all the way up to 6’4” in the space of 10 progressively longer strides. “I apologize for the deception. So many of our guests are, shall we say, of a nefarious bent. My subjects have just come out of 400 years of war and often questionable leadership, and are settling, uneasily, into peace. I am Governor Sunny Jammer.”

“Are you a Devil Fruit Eater?” Chopper asked, trying to figure out how I did the growing trick, since the only way he could think of involved me eating the same fruit he’d eaten, the Hito-Hito no Mi… the Human-Human Fruit.

I laughed. “No no… nothing like that…. Though I do look forward to the experience. I merely haven’t located the proper Fruit yet. But to answer your unspoken question, Tony Chopper, I am magic. Now, Nico Robin…” I said, sitting on the edge of my desk and stroking Ziggy’s soft fur. “Tell me what you know about the True History and why the World Government brought a Buster Call down upon your people?”

I shan’t bore you with the details of the conversation that followed, nor of the details that followed that, as they mostly consisted of me making arrangements to travel to Mariejois. Something was rotten in the World Government, and I needed to see for myself. What Robin was able to tell me essentially can be summarized thusly.  800 years ago, the 20 Kingdoms that eventually came together to form the World Government won a decisive victory against a nation known only as the Ancient Kingdom… and then erased all the history of the event, murdering all the scholars who knew about what has become known as ‘The Void Century’ and burning all the references… except for a series of heavily concealed monoliths known as Poneglyphs… which were, apparently, utterly indestructible to any means known to modern science.

I’d seen one such Poneglyph in the Manga, in the royal crypt of Alabasta… and discovered a second in the ruins of Shandia. The Nicos and their colleagues had been researching the True History… and for that, the World Government had murdered not only them, but everyone on their entire Island and placed a multi million Berry bounty on the head of the only survivor… an 8 year old girl.

Leaving Robin to explore the ruins of Shandia and Luffy to explain about some explorer whose great to the nth grandson was still looking for Shandia to this day, I took Mini, Franky, Kendra, Cirno, Reggy, and Enel, boarded Enel’s Ark Maxim, and headed off towards the capital of the World Government and some answers.

What I found there wasn’t answers. It was… Fury. I discovered corruption and injustice on a scale that I hadn’t seen since Black Bullet. The WG had officially outlawed slavery 200 years back… and yet the World Nobles, the descendants of the royal families of 18 of the 20 Kingdoms, a group of obscenely and decadently wealthy fuckheads, openly owned slaves. They flaunted the law at every turn because they were above it. The WG allowed its Marines to operate a de facto military state, brutally applying a doctrine of Absolute Justice which punished anyone caught associating with Pirates… or even thought to have associated with Pirates… up to and including entire nations.

My investigations in Mariejois let me from the Human Auction Houses of the World Nobles to the offices of the Gorosei, the 6 person unelected Mandarin Council that was the World Government’s executive body… and from there to Marine Admiralty… and from there to Ennis Lobby, the floating city and Marine administrative center built on the surface / top of the undersea tower that was Impel Down, the WG’s prison… and by prison… I mean concentration camp.

Anyone who pissed them off was sentenced to Impel Down… and even if the sentence wasn’t life… the guards were under orders to make sure that no one imprisoned within left alive. Prisoners were routinely tortured and experimented on.

While actual corruption in the Marines wasn’t rampant, the degree of what can only be called Dredd-esque Police-state mentality was unacceptable. House cleaning was in order… but even I didn’t know where to begin. The problem was just too… If I’d assassinated 1 fucker who deserved to die every day I’d be at it longer than my stay would last.

If I had a nuke I’d have seriously considered using it on Mariejois… but the civilian casualties would have been unacceptable.  And killing the entire Marine hierarchy… barring MD Garp, who was well aware of the problems but also lacking a solution… would have meant turning the world into a battlefield.  The WG was just too big for its administrative power to be everywhere it needed to be. I could understand why MD Dragon, Garp’s son, and, prior to my arrival the most wanted man in the world, was trying to bring the government down.

Frustrated, stymied, and (for once) with no easy answers… I returned to Skypiea, and decided, for once, not to get involved. Skypiea wasn’t involved in the World Government and I had my own quests to solve. The text of Will of D implied that those who were part of the D bloodline were being guided to something by fate. I had to assume that if I stepped back that fate would work a resolution.  If my quest for the 10 Devil Fruits brought me into intersection with the plotline… so be it… but I would not spare anyone who crossed me in that quest who I felt deserved punishment… even if that derailed the plot. We gave the world a clock. It had until we had collected the 10th and final Mapped Fruit. Once that was done, it was going to be War and damn the torpedos.

Each map was a mixture of sketched map and encrypted clues. Cirno’s was written in a Double Caesar Cypher, also known as a Vigenere, and the keyword was, as it turns out, WADDLE… the double d’s is what clued us… after ten…. Ten… fucking… weeks! That’s how long it took us brilliant minds to crack a freaking Vigenere Cipher without computers! The only maps that took longer to decrypt than that were Ahab’s… at twelve weeks… and that was written in a one time pad cipher that we actually had to find the gods-be-damned fucking actual text because OTP Ciphers are uncrackable without the original text. As in not in the age of the universe with infinite computational power… and mine… which was written in three different encryption schemes that took us six, two, and four weeks to crack respectively.

That got us a limerick riddle (one week) that in turn led us to a Winter Island (each of the Islands in the first half of the Grand Line had it’s own microclimate, despite each being on or near the equator… because we laugh at physics here.). Following the clues, we entered an ancient crypt under a low mound of stones on a cliffside and, deep inside, having waded through some frankly embarrassingly silly traps (one of them was a large, perfectly preserved pie that had a little sign saying “safe to eat”… in the middle of a trap filled crypt… riiiight. Even Cirno wasn’t that dim.

Total solve time for the first map? Sixteen Weeks… including three weeks of sailing and a week of searching the damned island for a crypt buried in snow and rocks… and that was the simplest of the maps! And do you know what we got for our troubles? DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT LITTLE TWIT’s DEVIL FRUIT WAS? It was the god. Damned. Penguin. Model. Of the Tweet-Tweet Fruit! We. Have. A. FIFTY-FOOT TALL PENGUIN… THAT CAN’T FUCKING SWIM! Oh, don’t get me wrong, she can freaking reflect cannon balls off that tummy and she’s fucking adorable… but… she’s a sea-bird who’s ungainly on land because she’s designed for underwater torpedo operation… and her powers don’t work underwater!

Still, it was a proof of concept and gave us an idea what kind of nonsense we’d be dealing with going forward. Using a fair and utterly impartial system, I determined the order in which we’d prioritize each of the remaining 9 maps… and by Impartial, I mean I played favorites like a proper bitch. My map was first, cause FUCK YOU, I’M THE DAMNED BOSS! I was sleeping with two members of my crew, so they got priority next, with Frankie winning the high card draw with an Ace to Mini’s Queen. Then Kendra… because she’s my best friend’s wife. Then Reggy, Joy, and Ahab… then Kohina and Kagetane. Not that I told any of them my reasons. I may play favorites, but I’m not crazy or mean. I just laid out the schedule, and told the others that they were free to work on the research if they thought they could help.

The research group consisted of myself, Enel, Raven, Mini, Joy, Ahab, and everyone in the Warehouse… and no… none of our damned computers were working, even in the warehouse. We were using abacuses. Even the AI systems were merely supersmart people. I couldn’t even use my hyper-computational processing power because it was beyond the curve… worst drawback ever!

Running through all the damned Ciphers for the remaining 9 maps took a solid year, almost to the day. Some were simple. We solved Kohina’s map in a day. Joy’s map was in the Enigma Cipher. It took us a week to build an Ultra Machine from memory and reference books, but that wasn’t too hard. Mini’s turned out to be written in 18 different symbol sets, then encoded, but it only took 3 weeks with the Rosetta Stone to work it out. Kagetane’s was written in the same language as the Voynich Manuscript… so that took us a month. Reggy’s was clearly written by a lunatic, and wasn’t just encrypted… it was keened… as in the method epic poetry uses to… never mind. If you don’t know what keening is, look it up… it’s fascinating but really really confusing to back decrypt… especially if you don’t know local mythology.  Five weeks of reading weird local myths to make sense of it… and that was after the two months it took to render it into something readable in the first place.

After the decryption phase always came the research phase. Had to take the clues and use them to find the correct island after all… and wasn’t that loads and loads of fun. Kagetane’s map and Mini’s maps required pretty much no research. Mini’s clearly referenced Alabasta, while Kagetane’s was a famous observatory. Joy’s was in Mariejois. No trouble finding those.  Even mine, which had a key on one island and a lockbox on a totally different island, didn’t take much more than a month of research to find either island. But then there was Frankie’s Island… 7 weeks to figure out which of a ring of 10 nodes of a massive atoll where the paths between islands flooded except for a few days every year.  The ring was huuuuge… and all one island according to the Log Pose, but we had to find the correct node and that took time… especially since they were virtually identical and pretty much devoid of landmarks.

But that wasn’t the worst, nor was the ten weeks we spent crawling through government census records to figure out Ahab’s map.  Nooo… that prize goes to Kohina’s map at seventeen!  Seventeen weeks of collecting and reading and cross referencing every holy book in the history of this world! SEVENTEEN! I was dreaming in holy texts! Do you know how fucked up some religions Holy Texts are?  Shudder. I need brain bleach. I used vodka and Binks Brew…

Now, I don’t want you to think all we did was travel round the world in a flying golden battleship and read incessantly. No… we also sparred, tested out new tech and new powers, and spied on the Straw Hats… and continued building Port Jammer in preparation for a coming war with the surface… and restructuring Skypiean society with all the force I could bring as God-King of the Magi. And relaxing. Stressed brains don’t do good work… but we put in a solid 4-6 hours a day, 6 days a week working on these blithering maps, bouncing from one to another as research materials became available and breakthroughs were made that allowed renewed progress.

Then, once we had an idea of where to go and what to look for… there was the trip itself, which often included opposition from one or more unfriendly parties. These ranged from random (and often insanely weird pirate crews, sometimes challenging us to something called a Davy Back Challenge, where the idea was that we’d do stupid pirate themed things in order to win members of the other crew or the symbol of the opposing crew. Me not being insane, told the rival captains that they were idiots and to fuck off.) to deadly (Marine Fleets, Edward Newgate… i.e. Whitebeard, Marshall Teach… i.e. Blackbeard, Shanks… i.e. Luffy’s hero, Donkeyhotey the Pink-git… the only man who could actually make World Nobles look like reasonable people, Big Mom… a giant, insane, and hideously ugly pirate queen with an obsession with collecting things.) Thankfully, very few of them had any defense against my Freezing everything in sight… but Devil Fruit Eaters are fucking scary in the total illogic of what they can pull off.

Whitebeard could create tremors and earthquakes. Blackbeard had the same fruit as Francine and more skill in using it. Big Mom had a fruit that allowed her to manipulate souls… and boy howdy wasn’t that a treat, having my soul ripped out of my body… thankfully I have experience being OOB and punted the fat bitch into the sea. Donkey Boy had control of strings… from puppeteering to monomolecular wire. He was not a fun enemy to deal with.  One of the Marine Admirals was this guy named Sengoku who could turn into a massive golden buddha statue… not into the buddha… a statue of the buddha… what the fuck?

For the most part, I wasn’t interested in fighting these fools, but it did manage to slow me down avoiding them… and you’d think with a flying battleship… the only damned one in the entire world I wouldn’t have to do this shit! I sooo miss plasma cannons!  And Satellite Recon!

Anyway… it took nearly a year to locate my fruit, and while we managed to find the key pretty easily, it took six weeks of crawling through a massive three dimension warren of tunnels some lunatic had bored into the ground beneath Hard Stone Island. There were miles of them… many of them quite tight, and several of them boobytrapped in painful ways… and there was an army of mice… things… voles? I dunno. They were really really hard to fight. Vole Ninjas I think. Voljas? But finally, after fighting through the Voljas and the Skeleton Samurai Hoste, and fighting/solving the ancient warmachine/puzzle box (I couldn’t just destroy it, the fruit was inside it), and then having to sit in decontamination for a month thanks to the MUTANT Ghost-Fleas the chest had been laced with… MUTANT GHOST-FLEAS PEOPLE!… I finally claimed my prize…

The machine ID’d it as the Dook-Dook Fruit. The Book informed me that the Dook-Dook Fruit was a legendarily dangerous fruit that turned the eater into a kleptomaniac and that all previous eaters had been hunted down and destroyed and the Fruit sealed away to keep its powers from darkening the world once more. However, it ID’d it as a Zoan type… I had a sneaking suspicion about this. But hey, when in Insane Rome, do as the Insane Romans do! I ate the damned thing… after making sure I was wearing not one but four Underwater Materia. Because fuuuck youuuu. I’d miss eating Seakings in Stormengandr form… or pretending to be a Sea King for that matter, but I had to try out the Fruit’s power for myself.

Imagine eating raw sewage. No… on second thought, don’t. Regardless, I can’t imagine that Devil Fruit taste any better. Uuuugh. I looked in a mirror… yup… I was ferretmorphic… again. Transforming into a hybrid state wasn’t particularly hard… I just had to think about it… and not think about turning into my Ferret-Tengu form. Of course, the markings were different. That had been a silver-grey asian ferret. This was a european polecat ferret, a bandit… and a big one.

In my tengu form, I had small delicate claws and sharp pointy teef. In my Devil Fruit Hybrid form, I was hulking, with half meter claws, 14 inch fangs, and skin like… I dunno. It was tougher than leather but flexible.  I quickly discovered that I could fit through any gap… no matter how small as long as it wasn’t, you know, molecule sized… And I wasn’t a bad digger.  But where the really meta cartoon logic came in… even more than being nigh-impervious to physical damage… seriously, in hybrid form, I could barely feel incoming blows and if I puffed myself up I just bounced off of the terrain… but I could now fall asleep anywhere… at any time… which was useless… and I could, with minimal effort… I don’t know how to explain it… I could just… radiate this aura of being utterly clueless. Didn’t persist if I did something aggressive, but I could make people think I was an idiot.  But toss a Rumble Ball down the hatch… and shit got real.

I appeared to be able to steal… well… anything. Just as Tony Chopper could analyze weaknesses… I could take things… things like wallets sure, but also things more ephemeral… like happiness, or memories, or your left arm. Me stealing it didn’t cause wounds, didn’t make it not yours, and I didn’t seem to be able to actually do anything with what I stole… they were just mine… and oh, dear lord did I find myself kendering it up sometimes. I kept stealing my enemy’s noses… just to spite their faces.

Worryingly, things I stole had a tendency to… clump together if I left them untended or near each other, and mutate or combine in unpredictable ways… so I tried to give them back or stick them someplace they couldn’t cause problems later… if I thought about it. But napping was often a higher priority. Also, Luffy now smelled extremely tasty and I had to stop myself from chewing on him whenever we would run into each other.

28 weeks later, we located Frankie’s Shadow-Shadow Fruit on an upside down mountain hanging from the roof of an undersea cave so deep I have, to this day, no idea if it went all the way down to the core.  The winds were horrific.  35 weeks after that, We located Mini’s Woosh-Woosh Wind Logia Fruit, and if you think that sounds prissy… we’re talking about a grapefruit that turns the eater into a walking Typhoon at will. Being becalmed is for people who don’t have their own wind elemental. After that it was Kendra’s fruit, which was in this secret level inside Impel Down, which meant breaking into a secure prison, then breaking out of it to access an area the guards didn’t know about but that the prisoners did (it was ruled by drag queens), then breaking out of the secret level without letting the guards know it was there… then breaking back out of the prison with the fruit.  The Hito-Hito Model Kali Fruit that turned Kendra into one of those many armed bronze statues of Kali… 100 feet tall.

That took another 7 months… then Reggy’s 21 week quest to find what turned out to be the “Termite Model: Hive-Hive Fruit”. There was a series of Zoan-type insect fruits called Bug-Bug Fruits… but the Hive-Hive Fruits weren’t Zoan… they were Paramecia and, at will, Reggy could bring forth swarms of termites… which was ever sooo disturbing.  She could also control them, causing them to swarm over her enemies or reshape the terrain… or just eat an entire ship in minutes.  Yerrrrg. But it made her inordinately happy for… reasons.

We were, by this point, 3.5 years into the decade and Whitebeard had been murdered by Blackbeard who’d stolen his power, becoming the only person to ever demonstrate usage of two powers at once, at least as far as I could tell… though everyone assumed I was running around with the powers of a good half dozen fruits at least and my bounty was up to 10,000,000,000 and still climbing… not surprising since I’d murdered by that point 41 World Nobles by crucifixion… I’d had to break into a lot of houses to get the reference books I needed and I figured, while I was there, I might as well do some housecleaning and general piracy… and slave freeing.

There’d been some major changes to the world political spectrum and shakeups in both the membership of the Gorosei and Marine High Command, not to mention the deaths of one of the Yonko (the four most powerful pirates… namely Whitebeard) as well as among the 7 Privateer Lords that the Government subsidized. I had a growing network of spies and accomplices, needed to get me my research material, but paid for in part by Gold Roger’s incredible treasure… thank’s mate. I also funded Monkey D. Dragon’s rebellion, shipping them weapons, as well as arming more remote islands against pirates and funding a counter piracy fleet in each of the Four Blues (the oceans that weren’t Grandline.). I had no idea what the original plotline had been or if I was disrupting it, but I really didn’t care. This world suuuucked.

Joy’s Fruit ended up being the easiest to find… taking a total of 10 weeks and overcoming the storm system that surrounded the Island was by far the hardest element of that trip, as it took half of it and nearly wrecked the Ark Maxim. In the end, we located the Joy-Joy Fruit… yes… seriously… in a cave on a tree that received only a small amount of light each day. The fruit looked like a weird swirling bunch of grapes… and after Joy ate it she spend a solid week laughing, giggling, and chortling. Then again, so did we. It was a Paramecia that held the power to make people happy, bringing forth laughter and good cheer.  She could force it, that much was clear, but just being near her tended to make people feel a bit better, being more positive and hopeful. A sufficiently bad mood could deflect the effects, but it was great for crowd control.

Unfortunately, we clearly got too confident with that easy catch, as Ahab’s took almost as long as mine did. Twelve weeks to solve the cipher, 10 weeks to do the research, and another 19 weeks to actually overcome the insanely nested riddles once we’d managed to navigate round the world and find Skypiea’s evil counterpart, Birkovia. Birkovia was a roving thunderstorm, full of sky nazies who had lightning and thunder weapons… and who managed to capture Enel and me in seacloud shackles that rendered us powerless… yes… even my other powers that weren’t from Devil Fruits stopped working thanks to the Devil Fruit’s curse.  Grrrr. Five weeks to wait for a rescue while on trial as ‘Enemies of the State’.  Then another 2 weeks spend evacuating the survivors of my companions’ somewhat over enthusiastic rescue operation that ended up shattering the Birkovian capital island in the process of blowing up the Birkstag.  I wasn’t kidding about them being Nazis.

Ahab’s Fruit was, indeed, a Mythical Zoan, as it turned him into a ridiculously huge ‘Serpent’… a sky serpent… think Luck Dragon… but five times as long.  He actually once tied himself in a knot trying figure out how to fly in that form.  It was hilarious.  And he wouldn’t let anyone help him so he was stuck like that for daaays!

Kohina’s Drawback, since Whitebeard was dead, seemed to have transferred over to Blackbeard instead, which meant that we had to fight the megalomaniac a bunch of times… 5 to be specific. Most notably for research material. I told you that solving her riddle was easy (less than a week), and the research was grueling (more than 17 weeks)… well, Blackbeard is why. He was on the trail of the same Fruit we were. It was a Legendary Fruit called the Sutra-Sutra Fruit and it contained the power of “The Word”… as in the holy word. As in… well… as it turns out, the power to turn things into books, scrolls, or carvings… to produce books and scrolls… or to even turn parts of your own body into books, scrolls, carvings… or words. Kohina could actually hide inside a text. She could do that thing from Buffy where Willow just sucked all the text out of books… and she could blow away the undead and other impure things simply by utter holy words… it was a little terrifying and well worth the 32 weeks we spent on it.

By comparison, Kagetane’s Insight Fruit… it turned out to be the Eye-Eye Fruit, was a cakewalk of epic proportions. The only part of the 12 week process that took time was the decryption and the travel. Research was a breeze, it took a day to consult some maps. The temple it was in was clearly marked… and the two guardians were almost grateful for someone to talk to and some food to eat that wasn’t mushrooms. The result however, of him eating the fruit was… well… can now call him Panoptes.

His sight became superhuman… from all the eyes on his body… which were or could be everywhere… in fact, he could look at a person and see out of their eyes… or look at an animal and see out of its eyes… or look at a wall and an eye would appear there and he could see out of it. He could see out of the eyes of pictures, statues, needles… He could look up at the sky and a giant eye would appear that he could see out of. He could even create eyeballs to throw at people or launch like bullets.  It was… eyeful… sorry, I couldn’t resist.

And then, suddenly… we were done. Our grand quest, a quest that had lasted five years… was over. There were 55 months left… 4 and a half years and time had run out for the World Government. My army attacked Mariejois in force from both the Paradise and New World Sides in a concerted action, my forces and those of my allies shattering the army of cyborgs they threw against us. For every one of my people who fell, 8 of theirs went down, and within an hour we had shattered the defenses and were pouring into the city proper.

My covert strike team had arranged to assassinate or capture the entire WC and Marine High Command and, without that leadership, the defenders were summarily routed as they couldn’t coordinate worth a damn.  It was all going smoothly… too smoothly. We’d managed to gather up all the remaining World Nobles and freed their prisoners and slaves… when a second fleet hit my forces from either side. On the Paradise side it was the Marines… on the New World side it was Blackbeard and Big Mom, united as one. I sent my companions to fight the Marines, while Enel and I went to face the pirates.

It was one of those epic and epochal fights that take 5 episodes to complete and can best be described as fight porn. The battle raged back and forth across the decks of a dozen ships, splintering their boards and shattering their hulls as we flowed in a dance of destruction.

Teach was using gravity and darkness against me, I was using ice, fire, and the sea itself against him. But for every power I manifested, he had a Devil Fruit that could counter it or protect him from it. He had plot armor the likes of which I’d never dreamed existed.

Finally… finally. I managed to maneuver him to a place where I could beat him… when there was a titanic explosion as all five of the shattered hulks surrounding us exploded. Teach was intangible and even so I saw him flinch and cry out as seastone shrapnel filled the world.

The deck beneath me was sinking… and I couldn’t move. I was covered in sea stone, with needles of sea stone stuck into my skin and I knew, in that moment, how Harry Dresden felt fighting the little nail armed fairies. I was powerless, or nearly so. I was still immortal… and I had Underwater Materia to keep the pressure and lack of oxygen from getting to me… And that’s why I spent nearly 4… fucking… years… lying at the bottom of the OCEAN! But, hey, at least I was at the Beach, right?

Next: Bioshock

Resources: Build, Document

 

 

World 55: Teen Titans

I MAY BE INSANE BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN I’M CRAZY

Previously: It Has Been Ten Days Since Our Last Fatal Stabbing

Themesong: Land of Confusion by Disturbed

“Sooo… where to now? Please tell me it’s not to some new version of the Star Wars Universe.”

“Had enough of that?”

“Haven’t you?”

“For now. But no, this time it’s a place for you to show off just how powerful you are?”

“Oh god, you’re going to send me to a Comic Book, aren’t you. Super hero or Shonen?

“Superhero.”

“Oh. Yay. Not back to Marvel, I take it?”

“Not yet. DC this time.”

“Excellent. Can I be a Daxamite?”

“Why one of them instead of a Kryptonian?”

“Daxamites may be vulnerable to lead instead of Kryptonite… but they have a serum that protects them from it… unlike Kryptonians and Kryptonite. And Lead isn’t normally radioactive, so the lead has to actually be inside the Daxamite to do damage.”

“Ah. Well, no, you can’t be a Kryptonian or Daxamite… at least not this time. The DC universe is far too vast to just be encompassed with a single Jump. No, this isn’t the DC Jump… this is Teen Titans.”

“Teen… Titans… The Comic Book?”

“Animated Series.”

“Oh… so… huh. Which one? Banker? Hello??” Bollox. I looked around the Void as the Warehouse portal began to reestablish itself. The place was, as usual, a madhouse of crazy people doing marginally crazy things and animals running, flying, or sleeping everywhere. Home to nearly 50 souls, it wasn’t cramped, not at 80,000 square feet, and that was before multilevel structures were added in and subspace structures made the whole thing much more spacious than it seemed, but the common areas were where most of the day to day socializing happened and consisted of a massive gaming area, a pool and yard, a fake cafe, a little fake bistro, a fake shawarma shop, and a fake bar. All the staff were humaniform robots, realistic enough to fool anyone who didn’t know better, but all were controlled by the House’s central AI, VIvian… at least when she wasn’t deployed as a starship.

“Just got news folks. Our next stop is a DCU jump… this one’s based around the Teen Titans… which could be extremely silly or extremely… not. Just a heads up.” No one was paying attention to me, so I went and grabbed lunch and waited for the Tourney to end. No point disturbing their fun. Most jumps had fun little side activities for the Off Duty Companions to engage in, but very few of them had wanted to spend any more time in plague-ridden Dunwall than they’d had to, and I certainly hadn’t blamed them.  If nothing else, the stench had been oppressive.

I called up the new Jump Tree on the tabletop and skimmed through it, idly spinning the Wheel of Aging and getting 17… close to the top of the chart… Teen Titans indeed. The Background section was divided into two categories; Species and History, three options for the former, four for the later. Among the Species, Human was, of course, free. The other two were not just pricey but incredibly so. Tamaranean, the species to which Starfire and her sister, Blackfire, belonged, cost a mere 800 CP, while Raven’s kinfolk, the Half-Demons, not only cost an even 1,000 CP but came with not one but two mandatory drawbacks… one of which transformed the Jumper’s body into a portal for the insane and vicious demonic overlord named Trigon. Oh… such… fun. How… could… anyone… resist?

Still, even if Half-Demon wasn’t worth the pain, suffering, and potential loss of self and chain, Tamaranean was very tempting. Not only did they have an interesting (if extremely brutal) society, but they came with an entire raft of otherworldly powers, including but not limited to Super Strength, FTL Flight (at least in space), the ability to fire plasma bolts or create plasma shields, laser vision, Super Speed, Super Toughness… it was a variation of the Superman package, though not nearly as tough… but lacking any fundamental weakness. They could even learn any human or alien language by… er… lip-to-lip contact… plus they were immune to extreme heat, extreme cold, harmful radiation, and could survive in vacuum for hours without breathing equipment… and indefinitely with it. All it in all, it was easily worth the [800/200/1000], even if it meant coming with orange skin (I despise Orange except in OJ.).

Of course, that meant I got the whole Tamaranean Physiology… 9 stomachs, accelerated healing factor, a long lizard-like tongue, self-sustained flight in vacuum and atmosphere, superhuman strength, reflexes, stamina, endurance, agility, longevity, conditioning, durability… Omnilinguistic Assimilation, extreme environmental tolerance… the only thing buying the race didn’t give me was the background in how to act like a Tamaranean… and that meant I couldn’t go in as a “Mystery”, which was a shame as it was, since it was the drop-in option, free. I had to hope that the companion import option was affordable… or there was a higher than normal drawback limit.

My options were Athlete, Nerd, and Thief. Athlete offered nothing that my species didn’t. Nerd was mostly technical, although it did have two psi powers… one of which (telepathy) I already had… I’d really have to develope Technopathy one of these jumps… That left Thief… and oh lord did Thief have some nice stuff. Elasticity like Plastic Man, Teleportation via portals, Shapeshifting that allowed me to be specific people (the perfect counterpart to my Samurai Jack Aku-Like Shapeshifting), and even Self-Duplication as a capstone. That last was exceptionally tempting, and I only stayed clear as it didn’t indicate if duplicates were reabsorbed or remained permanently separate… or if losing one would be a chain ender. Better safe than sorry.

Still, Elasticity and Shapeshifting cost me as much as Self Duplication would, and would be nearly as useful. I’d just have to resist the urge to yell “GUM GUM CEREBRAL ENEMA” every time I punched someone a mile away. I also got the freebie ‘Rogue’ which was a nice little booster, allowing me to perform feats of great skill and agility, running over obstacles, dodging enemy attacks, navigating treacherous terrain… charming people with my words. It was, perhaps, a little bit of everything, but it was free.

And speaking of free, I got a costume that would tell people who I was and, sure, it wasn’t much protection, but better than being naked, right? It came with a free Themesong for all my combat needs… but before I considered buying anything else, I had to see how much the Companion buy-in was.

Turns out it was a 2-for-1 like Star Wars the Original Trilogy… in fact, it used the same general language… must have been designed by the same fan the of material. Spending nothing would get me 8 companions with a background and a human body. Spending up to 400 CP would get them freebies, perks, discounts… and twice whatever CP I spent… each. Of course, I wanted to give my companions the best… but I was already 200 CP over my initial pool, and that meant I’d have to, as it turned out, max out Drawbacks to get my friends their 400. In the meantime, I announced that it was open season on getting into the Companion of the Jump club and I wasn’t playing favorites. They needed eight methods that were, in theory, fair to pick who’d come in at full power and who’d be a bystander.

Then, with no small amount of dread, I opened the Drawback file, scrolling to the end of the document to see what the worst ones were… and promptly understood The Banker’s refusal to explain if this was Teen Titans or Teen Titans Go! Go was the lighter comedy incarnation of the Teen Titans animation, more superdeformed and silly… and apparently whoever had penned this Jump Tree had really not liked TTG! The toggle to put the Jumper into TTG was worth 600 points and had a warning label saying “For the Love of All That’s Holy, DO NOT pick this!”. It called TTG a mockery of the original show and, the reason I decided to avoid the drawback, it stated outright that there was a very high order probability that I’d die randomly for a dumb joke. I didn’t remember TTG being that bad… but with entities like the Banker and Mensarius running around I wasn’t taking the chance with a warning like that.

There were two +300s on offer, one of which (Nemesis) held very real threat, since it would saddle me with a sadistic, intelligent, intimidating, enemy whose mission was to take me down and who’d hold nothing back and always be able to challenge me in some way. Noooo. Not unless I had to. The other (Overheating) was annoying, as it meant that harmful energy would build up inside me and have to be drained regularly or I’d explode and destroy everything for miles… but the explosion wouldn’t harm me. I’d written a novel about a character who had similar trait once, so I had a good idea how bad that could be… but I was also relatively certain I could figure out ways to drain the energy relatively easily, so I wasn’t worried that much. Hopefully the energy wouldn’t build up too fast.

The +200s were similarly balanced. One was a pain in the ass (Coveted), the other potentially lethal (Weakness). Weakness would mean that something out there in this world would be able to cut through my defenses like butter, take away my powers… and (if the exposure was long enough) kill me. I wasn’t sure I’d take that option for 400, and for 200 it was right out. Coveted just gave me an insanely wealthy stalker who’d do whatever it took to capture me and add me to his or her collection. There didn’t seem to be any chain ender potential there, so it seemed safe enough.

That just meant I had to pick one of the two +100s and I was full up and ready to go… And while both were doable (+100s are seldom gamebreakers), neither would be fun. I could either go with ‘Annoying Super-Team’, which would saddle me with, well, a group of super powered people to constantly muck up my plans. And then there was Empathic Empowerment, which linked my powers directly to my emotions. They both sounded unpleasant, but I had control over my emotions for the most part, and controlling some teenage twits would be much more… frustrating. I went with EE and called it a day.

As I closed the file, Zane sidled up to me. “Am I ungrounded yet?”

“Are you still evil?” I asked, fixing him with my steeliest gaze.

“I didn’t mean to be evil!” He complained. “The frog guy made it seem really cool to be evil!”

“Zane. You are my best friend… but you’re a twit.”

“In a good way?”

“Most of the time? Yes. But you’ve got to work on being less… impressionable.”

“But I’m ungrounded?”

“You are… tentitively.”

“Excellent. Because I drew the short straw.”

“That was the first contest? Drawing straws?”

“You said it had to be fair!”

“I did at that. Yes.” I was considering something, but it hadn’t fully materialized in my head.

“Did you want us to do our builds one at a time and report to you? Or just present them in a group once everyone’s finished?”

I thought about what he’d said, then plugged that into my nascent avatar, and smiled. The background profile for my new self was looking to be fun. I tweaked some of the details just a bit, testing to see if I could have white hair and black eyes as a Tamaranean.  The system allowed it after a moment, though it took a bit longer to agree that I could have dark silverish skin… really not a fan of orange. It did warn me that such would be viewed as the equivalent of albinism among the ethnically homogenous Tamaraneans, and I acknowledged the warning, and signed off when it notified me that my chosen starting location on Tamaran was a slight risk. “No. I think… why don’t each of you do your planning in secret. Tell no one else what you’re going to be doing, not even those who aren’t importing.”

“You’ve got a terrible idea, don’t you?” He eyed me suspiciously.

“Of course it’s not terrible. It’s… amusing.” I smirked.

“We’re going to end up fighting each other, aren’t we?”

“You mean before the inevitable team up? I certainly hope-so. This is a comic book. Warn the others, this is a low power setting, so they’ll be limited to only the supernatural, super human stuff they buy here unless I remove the limiters.”

“You too?”

“Aside from Memory and my third eye? And some key life-saving stuff… Yeah. I think so.”

“Might I ask why?”

“Teen Titans isn’t that hardcore. It’s like the comic books light. People don’t really get killed, and all the characters are a little bit characters of each other. At least from what I remember. I only watched the first season of the animated series… up to Slade Wilson trying to break Robin… and no, I don’t know if it’s supposed to be Tim Drake, which it looks like, or Dick Grayson, who it should be. Drake’s version is Young Justice and doesn’t have Starfire in it.

“Thank you, oh Pedantica, Queen of Exposition, for that. I meant why are we being incognito to each other?”

“Because we should have a team formative moment.  Speaking of, I should find out where we’re going to be… or at least, where you Hooomans are going to be.”

“Oh? You’re Tamaranean?”

“Of course! How could I pass up the opportunity to hilariously misunderstand Earthling culture?”

“If you weren’t my sister-like entity I’d spank you.”

“Yah Yah. I’m sooo scared. Go tell the others. Scoot. I’m going for insertion immediately this time. No point waiting. The last Jump was too short to warrant the full month. Or even a week, really.”

He walked off, shaking his head, and the Tabletop cleared, filling with the words. “I am intrigued. You don’t have the power to lockdown your companions’ abilities. You’ll need me to grant you that capacity.  Especially since Tokimi just won the dice game.”

“I find it hilarious that Tokimi… A God… is playing dice in my game room. But she’ll play along. As long as she remains in Tokimi-chan state. I find it fascinating as well that, even though she knows of your existence, she’s convinced that I’m more fascinating than you are. I’ve checked. Unless she’s hiding it better than I can determine, she’s honestly more convinced that I’m closer to her Omni-Deity than you are. Want to clarify why that might be?”

“I cannot claim to understand existences like yours or hers. But you haven’t sold me on the value of granting you this capacity for this jump.” The words were subtly throbbing, as if to accentuate the Banker’s emotional state.

“Normally, I’d be all in favor of going into a situation all guns blazing… but this is pretty much silver age comic books, though the setting is more… modern… for certain definitions of modern. The logic is not that of a normal setting. Starfire, who has superhuman strength, is not noticeably more mighty than Robin, who is a teenage boy human… a slender one at that. Cyborg, who is mostly machine, floats in water… and they all float at the chest level, which isn’t possible. People get flung across rooms into walls and don’t die. It’s a cartoon based off of comic book logic… and that means secret identities, fights when new heroes meet for the first time, and shenanigans.”

“Those would be your reasons for the request. Define my reasons for granting you a lockdown on your companions’ abilities… or even your own, for that matter.”

“What part of Shenanigans do you not get? Would it be better if I classified such behaviour as ‘Hijinks’?”

“Ah. Very well then. I agree to this on the basis of hijinks. What would be a reason you’d unlock full access?”

“Alien Invasion. Looming Megadeaths. Darkseid, who counts as both. DCU and its various incarnations have this thing about escalation. Keeping things on the largely street level will hopefully keep things from spiralling too rapidly into the city-buster range.”

“What is street level?”

“Heros tend to be classed by how much damage they can do. Street is the entry point for most heroics. Keeping the streets clear of crime.”

“What is above Street Level?”

“Blockbuster. With the upper limit of that class being called Casual Blockbuster. Such a being can easy level an entire city block. Then Citybuster. Then the jump to Planetbuster. Hulk is a Citybuster, but at the lower end. Superman is a Planetbuster… and also at the lower end.”

“What are you?”

“I try not to think about such things. I prefer to place myself on the side of those who don’t destroy to achieve their goals… though clearly I’ve failed at that more than once. Is everyone ready?”

“Indeed. Though I have reviewed your Jumpself’s history. This seems most… unwise.”

“It is. Sometimes unwise is best.”

“And thus the reason for limiting yourself?”

“I do not think rational thought will be my strong suit this time around.”

“So I see. Yes. The last of the 8 has just locked themselves in. Shall we begin?”

INSERTION

I thrashed against the straps of the jacket, my eyes blazing a virulent black as I placed my strength against the restraints. The noise from outside my cell had ended several days ago, and no one had been by to feed me or give me the pills that made me calm and content to remain in the cell. I could feel the grothak growing inside me, as it had before I’d been placed in the facility for the safety of others. I needed my pills… no… I needed… wanted… to be free.

I struggled more and more, pushing my strength to the limits, but the jacket had been made to contain an adult and could easily stop me from escaping… but my struggles were not in vain, as the grothak grew stronger, needing release. If my captors had abandoned me, they’d brought what was coming down upon their heads. I would not remain caged to wither away and die like a trombgip in a fronsh.

With a roar, I unleashed the grothak, letting the unstable power of it expand from deep inside me, my eyes wide as that which was within me expanded outward in all directions, smashing through the walls of the cell and the hallways beyond, blowing the ceiling up through the floors above. As the night sky of Tamaran glowed down upon me, I started laughing. Free! I, Salamand’r, was free. The Imperial Family would pay for locking me up! I would have my VENGEANCE!

***

Well… that sucks. I stood in the ruins of the Imperial Palace, idly kicking the skull of one of the Gordanians who’d beaten me to my revenge… and laid waste to my homeworld in the process… something I was pretty sure I didn’t approve of. There were many voices in my head and we all agreed the Gordanians sucked the large vrongoi… sideways.

***

After reasoned discourse with some of my fellow Tamaraneans, who, for some reason, seemed scared of me, I have learned that the Princesses Komand’r and Koriand’r have survived. One was taken by ship to the Citadel, the other having left to seek allies to free her imprisoned sister. The planet looks like runklak, all purple and dusty, with much of the ecology destroyed by the Gordanians… as was the town my parents lived in… and so now I have to hunt down the Gordanians and make them pay. A voice in my head says I should go after the Sister taken to the Citadel. Clearly she is the weaker of the two.

***

I have arrived on a lush planet of weak primitives. One of the voices tells me this is Earth. The others call it Terra, or Gaia, or Maegi Prime, or Sol III, or Sol IV, or Sol IIIa. As usual, the voices aren’t very helpful. It has taken me several moons to find this place, but the Citadel’s records recorded this as being the last place the ship carrying Princess Koriand’r had been seen. Slipping in and out again had been all too easy, though I’d been unable to gather enough grothak to destroy the massive station. I’d had to settle for placing many of the small explosives in places that would cause much mayhem and death among the Gordanian brutes.

Oddly, I have not had to even apply my lips to the lips of one of the locals, as somehow I am understanding their language… except for the strange idioms they speak. This is a city called Star City in the local language, heavily populated, very dirty, lots of sky water. When I land amid them, one of the locals points at me and laughs, asking me if it is a local spiritual holiday. I reply that it is, to the best of my knowledge, not. Her mate, a large man with no hair and many tribal markings, asks me if I come from outer space or something, and I reply that, I do in fact. He does not seem happy with this statement, but he moves away rapidly, taking his woman with him, rather than explaining why he asked.

I consider following, but a rolling box with flashing lights arrives and a man with uniform yells at me and points a black object at me. He tells me to solidify, but there does not be any particular reason I should. I move towards him to ask why in a more conversational tone, and the black thing barks at me like a druwig in mating season, and there is a small stinging sensation in my shoulder. I look at it, but see only a smear of copper on my jacket, the same one I woke up in, though the locks and inhibitors melted in the explosion.

“I will not go back in the cell.” I tell the man, though I might have been yelling, as I crush the barking stinging device. It is made of metal and some softer, brittle substance, and has several seeds within, also made of metal. I chew one, and it tastes not unpleasant. Perhaps he was sharing a snack, though the delivery system seems… inefficient.

“Where is Princess Koriand’r?” I ask the man, but his friends show up then, and they yell at me some more, but I am no longer interested in them. It is clear he, and they, are not interested in helping me. I look around, then launch myself into the air, only to be tackled by a reddish animal that looked like a modug, but uglier and with more hair.

“Do not resist!” the not-modug demands, even as I am surrounded by a swirling vortex of wind and local detritus. “We are here to help!”

I look at her, as the voice is feminine sounding, and wonder who she means by ‘we’, then look around as see that she has several friends, wearing very strange outfits, and annoyed expressions. After a brief inner struggle, I decide to allow them to assist… if this is a betrayal, I would certainly know it… my inner voices are very good at telling me when someone is attempting to deceive me.

“I shall not, as you say, resist… but why are you willing to offer the assistance to me?”

“SJ? It’s me! Yoiko!”

“I am not Essjae… I am Salamand’r of Tamaran…” I begin, but my voices tell me that I was once Essjae and will be Essjae again… which is news to me. They also tell me that Yoiko is one of my companions from a previous lifetime… or many. This agreement between my many voices is a novel concept, as usually they spend much of their time arguing minor details or discussing various forms of entertainment I have never experienced. After a moment’s pause, I correct myself, “I might be Essjae. We seem to have a concensus on this fact, if nothing else. But we do not remember Yoiko being an… orangutan?”

“Gibbon. And I wasn’t. Not until this jump. Now can we take this someplace less public?” She sounds annoyed, so I nod.

“We shall go to the place of privacy and not resist unless we are attacked.”

***

The place of privacy turns out to be a building shaped like the local letter ‘A’ on a local mountain side. “It’s for Adolescent Alliance. That’s what we call ourselves.  Cause we’re teenagers and we’re allies.” She was talking too fast, but it seemed familiar, so I let her. There were eight of them, all told, gathered around me in a large room full of many rectangles that the voices in my head called “buks” and claimed were full of knowledge, but when I checked, all I saw were squiggles and shapes that didn’t make much sense… I grabbed Yoiko and pressed my lips to hers.

When I let her go, she was even more red than before, but I now understood the squiggles and shapes better. The voices told me that I could have asked, but I ignored them. They were very noisy.

As Yoiko calmed herself, one of the others, a largish male, introduced himself. “Hiya. It’s me. Zane… only I’m called ‘Myriad’ here.” he split into several duplicates of himself, then each of them shifted to look like one of the others. “See? Cause there are many of me!” he seemed super pleased with himself. “I also got a cool car,” he added, as if I knew what a… oh… that’s what a car was. Huh. Caaaaar. Transportation. Status symbol, especially for adolescent male humans. Zane was apparently, the voices said, our brother… but he didn’t look Tamaranean. The voices sighed at me. It wasn’t my fault they didn’t make any sense.

He proceeded to introduce the others one by one. Yoiko was ‘Cardinal’, apparently because that was the name of the color she was, regardless of which species she currently was, and she seemed able to duplicate a great many such local fauna. She also had empathic senses she claimed, which is how she’d been able to recognize me despite us never having met. And she could manipulate the air itself, enough to generate windstorms or telekinetically move things or even fly, even in non-avian forms. She also had a belt with many little gizmos and gadgets in it that she was very proud of for some reason… and her lips tasted very nice, I had to admit.

A small petulant female was named Tokimi, or ‘Lightfoot’, and she was extremely fast, faster than a Tamaranean in fact, and trained in a martial art called “Hapkido” which she claimed went well with her enhanced velocity. The book room was hers, and I was, very politely, told not to touch the handheld reflecting device in the transparent case since ‘we all knew what happened last time’… the voices promised to tell me later.

The only other non-human in the room, who had leathery wings and large tufted ears, introduced herself as “Temporarily grounded Flagship Yuzuha…” then muttered “But these knuckle heads keep calling me “G. Imma Tree.” Yoiko and Zane made strange noises that sounding like laughing but came out their noses, and Tokimi just patted Yuzuha on the head. The voices supplied me mental images of a large spaceship that seemed to be made partly out of wood. It seemed silly at first, but there was a tangible sense of menace contained within that sleek form. Tokimi explained that GIT (and didn’t that make the voices giggle for some reason) could manipulate Probability and was also a “Speedster” and could draw power from something called “Xenothium” if she needed to. The voices said it was a high explosive and would give us a tummy ache if we ate it.

That left two males and two females, one of which was drapped across one of the shelves of books and looked extremely… planked?… no… that is not the correct word… beamed! Yes. Extremely beamed! I am good with words, though sometimes I must scream them at people to make them understand me. It does not always help, but it makes me feel better and they often go away then. I realized I’d missed an introduction and was about to ask for a repeat, when one of the voices sighed and said “She said her name is Joy, and her code-name is Vortex. She’s a teleporter… strictly speaking a teleportal creator… and a shapeshifter too. She owns this facility. She also mentioned having Admission Papers, though you would not care about those. Oh… and I’m going to kill the Banker for this little stunt. I swear to me.”

I shrugged. The voices spoke about this Banker a great deal, but I did not know who she was. I was perfectly willing to harm her if I met her, however. She had clearly crossed me at some point… even if I could not remember when. I smiled at Vortex as a handsome boy who seemed far older than the others, even though that was more about how he held himself, spoke “I’m called Wiseguy… though you might remember me as Gaius… the Elder.” My face had twisted in annoyance at the name, but it relaxed again at the mention of his age. The voices did not explain. “Me and Knowhow… that’s Ahab’s alterego this jump,” the other boy waved a mechanical arm… he had two of them under his strangely ceramic-like skin, “are the brains of this outfit. I’m the bio-sciences, he’s the mechanical. I’m the telepath, he’s the technopath. I’ve got the Super Bike and Admission Papers-”

“And I’ve got the cybernetic augmentations. Just like the first time, eh, Little Boss?”

One of the voices laughed, and I found myself nodding, a strange feeling of gnovro… no… nostalgia… yes… that was the Human word for it… welling up inside of me.

Yoiko pointed at the girl, who looked barely adolescent, up on the top of the book housing structure. “That’s RayRay… Sparkler this time around. She’s a Super-Strong, Super-Fast, Super-Durable Kung-Fu Gageteer.”

I nodded as if I understood… then asked “And you wanted me to know all that… because?”

Tokimi rolled her eyes “We’re your allies?”

“Ah… good… In doing what?”

“We’re a teenage super team. We save the world…” Yoiko supplied.

“Or at least the City,” Zane added.

“From what? Are the Gordians attacking this planet as well?”

“Who are the Gordians?” Joy and Ahab asked at the same time.

“Aliens. Not Weak Aliens. They conquered Tamaran and stole one of our princesses. That is why I’m here.”

“I’m sensing extreme anger,” Yoiko told the others.

“She’s very confused,” Gaius the Elder added.

“I am standing right here,” I reminded them. “Will you help me find Princess Koriand’r?”

“Can you describe her?” Zane asked.

“Orange Skin, Green Eyes, Annoyingly superior behaviour. Flies. Does this.” I fired a plasma blast from my hand and destroyed a potted plant… it was silently judging me, I could tell.

“Well, aside from the Superior Behaviour, that sounds like Starfire. She’s out in Jump City.” Ahab said, and Joy nodded in agreement.

I thought about that. Star… fire… yes… that is how Koriand’r would translate in this language. “Ah. I am Salamand’r… but you can call me Jetfire.” My eyes blazed softly. “Please to be directing me to Jump City.” They looked at me as if I was speaking an alien language, so I repeated myself. After a long minute, the one called Joy pointed to a topographic image upon the wall that I recognized as being the landmass we were on. I hadn’t been paying too much attention when I came in from orbit, but it looked familiar.

“Jump city is right here,” she said. “But why do you need to find Starfire?”

“We are friends of old, and I am wishing to check on her condition.”

“Oh. Okay. We can get you there pretty quickly, if you want.”

“That would be apreciated muchly. I am thanking you.”

****ZANE****

“Zaaane? Why is SJ acting like this?” Yoiko asked me, sounding worried.

“I don’t know… but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts it’s tied up in why we can’t use our out of jump powers.” I patted her on the shoulder, trying to hide my own nervousness at the situation. Sis wasn’t just acting a little off. She was acting… totally weird.

“And why is she trying to blast Starfire?”

“Oh. I’m pretty sure that’s how Tamaraneans greet each other.”

***

After sharing many words with the Princess, I have decided not to blame her for her family’s actions. She is clearly to simple of mind to have engineered my imprisonment. Plus she has invited me to go to a place where we can procure foodstuffs and consumer products of an attractive nature. She likes my jacket, though she thinks the length of the sleeves might be problematical.

***

I had been here on Earth for three of the local moon cycles, and had been splitting my time between the two cities. These beings who claim to be my friends of old seem nice enough, but the green boy is most amusing, and Starfire is the only one from back home. Both groups spend much of their time performing an activity they call “Fighting Crime” though I am uncertain how all the myriad beings they fight are collectively “Crime” rather than “Lunatics”.

Then the Titans ran afoul of a being known as Slade, who made their lives difficult and seemed to be attempting to drive the Bird Wonder to abandon his compatriots by threatening their lives. So I intervened.

Robin and Beast Boy were most upset with me. “W… what did you just do?” the shapeshifter asked me, staring down at the crumpled body of the one-eyed Slade.

“He was threatening your lives. So I have ended his. Did you wish to finish him yourself? If so, I am most sorry.”

“Y… you killed him!” the Cybernetic one commented, stressing the words unnecessarily.

“Yes. This is what happens when you snap the neck of most species.” I confirmed.

“B… But.  We don’t kill!” Robin looked most upset.

“Have you tried it? It is most effective in making certain one’s enemies do not return to threaten you a second time.” I shrugged, then – having grown bored of the debate – flew off. A few days later I was detained, most politely, but the local keepers of the peace, who questioned me at some length about what had happened Slade, and I explained most carefully, and then they went away and, after one of them brought me a most delicious substance called “Tunafish” in something called a “Sand Witch”, they released me, explaining that, since I had acted in defense of others, I was free to go. They also explained that, normally, Super Heroes in this world did not kill their enemies.

Once back with Yoiko, I asked her what a Super Hero was.

“Someone who fights against badguys and has super-powers.” was her response.

“And Badguys are?”

“They’re… you know… villains. People who do what they want without regard for law or personal property or other people’s lives.”

“And Heroes are allowed to damage personal property in order to protect the lives of the innocent?”

“Ummm… well, it’s usually kind of hard not to damage some stuff while fighting super strong enemies. But yeah. If the choice is a few busted walls or windows, or someone’s life, we usually prefer to break the wall.”

“Ah. I thank you for that explanation.”

***YOIKO****

“Robin? It’s Cardinal.  We… we may have a problem.”

“Cardinal? What’s up?”

“Salamander just ripped Brother Blood’s head off.”

“WHAT?”

“H… he’s dead. T… there’s blood everywhere.”

“Why?!”

“He was trying… he had used that mind control on Z… on Myriad and was making him attack the rest of us… and she dropped out of the sky going so fast and… and she grabbed Blood by… by the face and… and his head just… it just ripped off like she was popping the head off a dandelion.”

“I… we’d better call the adults.”

***ZANE***

“What do you mean she just took out Batman?” Cyborg gasped.

“Not out… He’s fine… or will be…” Robin assured the others. “Bats just… tried to give her the talk… and they got into a fight.”

“And she beat him?” Beast Boy asked, nonplussed. “Did she use alien jujitsu on him or something?”

“Actually, she appears to have used my fighting style against him. And about a dozen others. Then, half way through the fight she just… freaked out and flew up into the sky and… and vanished.  Then, about 10 minutes later, there was another one of those deep space explosions.”

“I think, maybe, that she is venting…” Starfire told her friends. “The jacket she wears is Tamaranean. I think it is used to restrain those with unstable powers or minds.”

“So, she’s a crazy person who can fight Batman to a standstill, and has all of Star’s Powers?” Beastboy asked, sounding plantive.

“Actually… it’s much… much worse than that,” I said, finally breaking my silence.

“Go ahead, Myriad,” Robin invited.

“We think something’s messing with her memories. She doesn’t seem to remember us very well. We’ve been friends for awhile, and she’s recently changed. More moody, more distant… quicker to resort to violence to solve issues.”

“I had trouble controlling my power when I first got here,” Terra said. “And Raven meditates every day to control hers. Do you think we could help?”

“I… don’t know. There’s a being called the Banker that might be able to help, but only S… Salamander knew how to contact him. I think we have to assume that we’ll have to confine her… somehow.”

***

The betrayal of those who had claimed friendship with me was not unexpected, but it still hurt. Still, the voices in my head… their betrayal was much worse. They stopped me from defending myself against the traitors… and now I am locked in another cell, this time in a prison with dangerously unstable humans. It is called “Arkham” and the man who runs it is evil. If I can get free of these restraints, and the device that drains my powers, I will have to dispose of him… as well as many of these others. The man with all the cuts on his skin and the man with the wide grin are most worrying. My voices know their names, but I am not listening to them anymore.

***

There is a new voice now. It calls itself Trigon and says that if I serve it, it will free me from my prison.  I consider for a great many moments before agreeing. Freedom would be nice. Of course, I can’t trust this Trigon. I will have to betray it before it betrays me… but for the moment, yes… an alliance would be of benefit.

***

The sky ripping itself open was… perhaps… not a good sign. All the prisoners and guards turning to stone and the building itself instantly transforming into a ruin was, in retrospect, an even worse one. What was, perhaps, a good sign is that, in that instant, I, SJ, was back in the driver’s seat. I felt all my powers and the breadth of my consciousness unfolding like a flower. I felt the shattered thoughts of Salamand’r fitting back together like a window shattering in reverse as the parts of who and what I was clicked back into their assigned slots, the voices no longer threatening whispers but welcoming insights.

“Baaaankerrrrr.” I growled.

A half-melted window pane glowed softly, and letters of white fire burned upon it. “You wanted-”

“Don’t. Just… Don’t. I wanted to honor this world and its conventions… not experience the inside of Arkham. Not be plunged into disarray as you remove key parts of my mental architecture. I didn’t mean for you to make my Stalker be Hugo FREAKING STRANGE! Sure, I’d have killed Slade and Blood… but what crazy me did to Mad Mod or Mumbo Jumbo was unwarranted. She’s a sociopath!”

“That is within you, you know.”

“It’s inside everyone, You batshit Insane jackass. Sociopaths are what you get when you yank out some of the key wiring that separates civilized beings from the primitive brutes they evolved from. Sociopathy isn’t something that gets inserted. It’s what happens when you remove the ability to relate to people, the ability to process emotions, the ability to see people as other than puzzles to solve! And I can only assume I’m back together now because something disastrously bad has happened, triggering the failsafe? I assume it’s Trigon?”

“That would be the case. And normally, I wouldn’t be talking to you durring a jump… but you seemed… upset.”

“You twisted my request into something horrible, you fucking Djinn. I hope you and your asshole buddy had a good laugh at my expense. You and me… we’re going to have words… but right now I have some venting to do and there’s a being of pure evil who can take a lot of pounding in the neighborhood.” And with that, I launched myself up into the atmosphere, accelerating towards Jump City as I combined Tamaranean speed and power with Ura Flashsteps and Sonido. I hit Trigon at mach 60.

The blow sent the 10 story demon flying out of his throne, skipping across the sea of lava that filled the heart of the dead city. “Who D-” he began to thunder, but I was already growing to full size as Stormengander, and I slashed across his torso with the blade in my head.

The hellfire that rained around me was intense, but it felt like a warm bath and it filled me with growing power as I drank it in, my eyes blazing as I vented my fury upon the architect of so much evil.

“Change it back,” I hissed, voice full of rage. “Undo what you have done to this world, you bastard.” We’d separated, eying each other across the distance of a few city blocks. Trigon was no pushover, and I’d managed to surprise him with my initial attack, but his strength was very close to limitless, and my immunity to hellfire only so-so. His magic couldn’t hurt me, but his fists could, and he was monumentally strong.

“Who are you to tell me what to do, mortal?” the four-eyed thing demanded.

“Do I look like a mortal to you, fang-face?” I snarled, “Now change it back, or I’ll teach you how it feels to die.”

“Fool! If you had that kind of power, why would you use it to defend these pitiful beings?”

I lunged at him across the intervening space and smashed him flat, slashing my horn-sword at him again and again, roaring as he hit me back, blow for blow.  As we parted again, I growled “Not too long ago, I killed a mortal who called himself Mad Mod. You might know him. I killed him slowly, watching as he died. Before he died, he asked me why I was causing him so much pain. Do you know what I told him?”

“The death of a single mortal is meaningless to one such as I!”

“Yeah, well… what I said to him was, ‘Isn’t that what this game is all about? You do what you do because you believe you have the right. You have the power to inflict your will upon others, and so you do it because you can. I am merely following your own chain of logic.’ That’s why I’m going to kill you unless you fix this world, Trigon. Unless you fix it and go back where you came from and never return. Because I can. Because I believe I have the right to do so. Just like you believe you have the right to kill and enslave. Only neither one of us has that right… but the only one who suffers from my belief is you. I’m going to kill you to save all those you will kill, and to avenge all those you’ve killed.”

“Then you’ll be just like me… why do you laugh?”

“Trigon… You wish you were my equal. You wish. Killing you is no more to me than killing a rabid coyote.  That’s all you are. An insane, murderous, piece of vermin. A threat to others and of absolutely no saving grace. Oh… I guess it’s too late. Your daughter’s come. I believe she would have words with you.”

The expression on the interdimensional tyrant’s face as he turned to see Raven in all her alabaster fury, floating there, empowered by witnessing her supposedly unbeatable progenator getting his ass kicked. He tried to intimidate her, telling her she could not beat him. I laughed at him, and whispered in her mind that she could beat him, no problem, feeding her confidence to match her fury… and then she… well, Stephen King said it best, I think.

“Behold, the coming of the White. After Evil Ways, and Evil Days, the White comes again.” And Trigon and his evil hellworld vanished like a bad dream. I floated there, bathed in the White and sighed, then transformed back into Salamand’r, and landed lightly in the middle of the street, eyes blazing. The Titans stared at me, falling into battle stance.

“Be at peace, friends. You’ve fought one Eldritch Abomination today. I believe that is enough for any group of heroes. My apologies if my… scattered thoughts have caused you concern. We had a little trouble on entry into your universe. I do regret some of the concern and heartache I caused… though I will say, either you need, very much, to improve your prison system, or you need to start killing your enemies. Also, you should not be stopping bank robberies. That is the job of the police, not of superheroes.  You are not sworn keepers of the peace. For all your heroics, you’re vigilantes. If you want to do the police’s job, become police officers.” I smiled as they stared at me as if I’d gone really and truly crazy.

“Are… are you kidding?” Beast Boy asked.

I laughed “Of course I am. Like I care what whether you obey local laws.  Now… who wants pizza… the food at Arkham is absolutely terrible.  Oh…” I stepped close to Robin and whispered in his ear “Bruce Wayne is Batman.” then turned away, skipping into the Pizzeria. “Pizza’s on Robin! He can afford it!”

Next: Line in the Sand

Resources: Document, Build

World 54: Dishonored

IT HAS BEEN 10 DAYS SINCE THE LAST FATAL STABBING

Previously: The Price of Betrayal

Themesong: Stand by R.E.M

“Ah. Hello. You’re awake I see.”

I didn’t recognize the voice… initially. 15,000 years of memories are a lot to sort through all at once, and I’ve never really heard voices as more than information strings… but this one… this one was triggering all kinds of warning bells, despite being soft spoken.

It continued as I looked around, the setting a near featureless expanse of deep sky blue in all directions, except down, where grey and ill fitting cobblestones were under my feet. “It is not often that a soul traverses the Void so frequently, and your actions have drawn me to you. Your benefactor is but one of many who fill their time with hobbies and observations, and should you continue on this path they will not be the last.”

The Void? Why did that term have special resonance. I looked at the source of the voice… a white male, medium tall, serious face, black eyes and hair… closed stance… I looked within and all I saw was mirrors… it was a projection, not the reality. The face was familiar too… and the strange grey-brown jacket more so. It had a certain feel… but I still wasn’t placing it.

“Futures, however, have a habit of requiring present action. Which brings me to you. You are one who has done great things. Your experiences and choices make you a person of immense interest to me… it is for this I have chosen to watch you with a more personal investment, and will be bringing you to a world of my own choosing.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You will, will you? What does the Banker think of this?”

He shrugged, “That is unimportant. What is important is that, for the next ten years you will live in Dunwall, where my name is whispered in dark tones, and reviled by many.”

“Ah… the Outsider… Dishonored.”

“That is what the chronicals of my chosen are named. Though I believe you’ve only witnessed Corvo’s little passion play. Understand that your efforts here will not go unrewarded, for in exchange I have gifted you the extraordinary blessing of my Mark.”

I looked down at the back of my left hand and growled likely as golden fire burned the Outsider’s mark onto my flesh. “You dare…” I muttered, keeping my growing fury under control, if only just.

“I care not in which way you use it, only that you do. To ensure my Mark is used to its fullest, I also gift you these Runes, crafted of whalebone and leather, each containing a small fragment of my power. You may use these Runes to improve the abilities of my Mark… the abilities you improve do not concern me.” Twenty-five chunks of butchered sophont bounced off the stones around me, scattered like a casting of fortunes.

“Count your gifts carefully, and know that my Runes contain power only because I will them to. In exchange for the advantage I give you now, the Runes you find within Dunwall will be useless to you. I advise you to not try to work around this… for your sake, and my own. Choose your blessings with care, as many of these powers are taxing upon your soul. Should you ignore this warning I give you, then you will find yourself drained, and unable to use them without a period of rest. But for now… what will you choose, I wonder?”

“I won’t.”

“You… won’t?” He sounded halfway between befuddlement and amusement.

“To take your Runes, to spend them… that would contaminate me with the power of another one of you entities… allow you to get your hooks into me.”

“Paranoid.” He grinned. “I like it.”

“I’ve dealt with some of the Banker’s… friends. I have no idea how you spirited me from the Pillars of Time but-”

“Oh. That was simple. They pass through the Void as they move between realities. Once disconnected from that wonderful Dresden Place, I simply allowed you to enter the Void instead of passing through to your… Warehouse? I think you call it.”

“Great. You can just undo it and send me back there… and get your mark off of me.”

“Why should I do that?”

He was just about to get his answer when reality rippled and one of the Pillars rose out of the ground next to me. “Wait! Oh good, I caught up with you. Don’t worry, we’ll get this sorted out… just a little glitch in the system, nothing major… why do you have that mark on your… You! You’re behind this, aren’t you? Of Course. Of course you are. Just your style, you smirking self-righteous… where are you? You can’t hide from me forever!”

Silence responded.

“You know the Outsider?”

“Yessss…” the Pillar hissed in the Banker’s voice. “He’s a creature of the Void… the space between realities.”

“Like you and Mensarius?”

“No!” the Banker paused, then sighed “Imagine the Universe you know as many boxes. Some boxes are inside other boxes. Some Boxes are next to other boxes. The bigger the box, the higher order reality. The space outside of any given box is The Void. Above all the Boxes… that’s where I am.”

“Ah. In a box so big even you can’t see it.”

“Maybe. Maybe. Maybe it’s boxes all the way up. No way to know.” He agreed waay too fast… changing the subject fast.

“COME ON OUT! I KNOW YOU’RE HERE! WHY DID YOU STEAL MY JUMPER?”

“To appear is to imply I have left, and to steal is to imply I have claimed ‘your’ Jumper. My mark is merely… to ensure their role. Your subject has taken many roles in their journey, like an actor takes to a stage. It is more interesting to me, for the players on this stage to be marked for the role they will fill here.”

“You could have ASKED! Honestly, have you never learned the difference between sharing and stealing?”

“I do not ask who takes part in these events, only that they do. Fate is an ever present force, direct and unforgiving… I merely present the roads they may take, as much as you have done for this curious being.”

“Just… ASK! Ask permission. I did! Okay, you can have your fun, but from now on we’re doing it my way.” The Banker paused, then read through a precis as if reminding himself of what the setting on the Dishonored game was all about. It was refreshing in a frankly terrifying way, to hear an entity like the Banker reading cliffnotes to itself. “Lemme run through the basics. You’re in city of Dunwall, which is Victorian era London if it was even smaller, was surrounded entirely by oceans, and had a steampunk vibe. Dunwall is situated on the island of Gristol, and is united with the islands of Morley, Tivia, and Serkonos, known collectively as the Empire of the Isles. It is a time of technological wonder, and societal decline. Oil harvested from whales-

“They’re not really whales, trust me” The Outsider confided in me, smirking and leaning against a half pillar.

The Banker continued as if the Outsider hadn’t spoken, “is refined into a powerful energy source called Trans. The advent of Trans has sparked an industrial revolution in Dunwall and beyond. However, as of late a horrible rat plague has swept through the Isles, leaving it’s infected, known as Weepers, to die slowly and painfully. Worse, the Empress of the Isles, Jessamine Kaldwin, has been assassinated seemingly by her own bodyguard: Corvo Attano. The assassination, plague, and advances in military technology have led to the rise of an oppressive government backed by the Church. The religion of Gristol, known as the Abbey of the Everyman, forbids the worship and teachings of the Outsider as heretical, punishable by imprisonment or even death.” The Banker paused and I could feel the Pillar’s optical sensors regarding the smirking Void Entity.

The Banker laughed, “Seeing as you now have his emblem emblazoned onto your left hand, that means you’re automatically guilty of high heresy! Congratulations! Wear gloves.”

“It’ll still shine through if she uses it.”

“Perhaps, but for social outings, it’ll keep them from trying to lock her up.

I raised the hand in question. “We’re going along with this?”

The Banker chuckled “You object?”

“I object to being treated like a toy being shared between two brats. I object to being branded like cattle. I object to potentially contaminating myself with the essence of a second… Gardener. Will these things even work outside of Dunwall?”

The Banker considered. “That’s a good point. Very well, hand over the Runes.” A tray opened up in the Pillar and I TK’d the runes into it. “She raises a valid concern, and so I’ll just swap these.” the tray slid back in, then out again. It now contained 25 glowing blue whale-shaped gummy candies… and a stack of ten 50 CP tokens. “There, all nice and tidy.”

“You’re giving her more of your little… CP?” the Outsider asked, sounding offended, as if the swap between Runes and Gummies was unimportant, but the addition of CP was a deal breaker.

“Think of it as a bribe to get her to play your little game. And not obliterate all of Kirkwall-”

“Dunwall” the Outsider growled.

“Whatever. Out of hand. You haven’t seen the feed of what she gets up to… I don’t sindicate it down on your level.”

I chuckled “ooo… buuurn. Wait, only 500 CP? That’s half of what I usually get!”

“Yes, well, he’s subsidizing half this little joint, so you get 500 CP from me and 25 whale bites from him.”

“What about Drawbacks?”

“Oh, I’ll still fund those for CP. Maybe he’ll give you some more whale bites if you agree to play by some of his rules.”

“What rules? I am the Outsider. I don’t make rules. If she wants to turn everyone in Dunwall into cabbages, she can. Chaos and Order don’t matter to me.”

“Remember… you asked for this.” The Banker said, laughing wickedly as the Pillar sank into the cobblestone, replaced by a wooden kiosk whose sign, made of hovering letters of fog, said “WHALER SHOP AND TACKLE”. On the counter was a catalogue and, touching it, I instantly gained complete knowledge of everything both of them were offering.

I looked over at the Outsider and said “You sure about this, bub? Because I can one shot planets. My tech tree is waay past Trans tech. And I’ve played this game on Ghost.”

“On… Ghost?”

“That’s a perfect run through with Corvo. No kills, no detections. Maximum Order. And I did that while a normal mortal. I could lock the city in winter, killing most of the rats with cold, then send in hunter-killer nanites to swarm every metric inch of the countryside, killing the rats dead and probably cure the plague in a matter of weeks while placing everyone in medical stasis. This really isn’t going to be a problem for me.”

“What do you offer?”

“Now we’re talking. I’ll leave all the advanced tech… everything, inside the Warehouse… for 5 more gummies. I’ll agree to use limiting my companions to purely mortal limits, and limit myself to the same transhuman limits as others marked by you for another 10. Oh… Banker. I want carte blanche guarantee that nothing that happens here ends the chain. Because I’m pretty sure nothing here could unless I nerf myself hard… except maybe him.” I hooked a thumb at the Outsider who was considering. “Otherwise I just go ghost for a decade and haunt the city.”

“Sounds like there’s no challenge for you. No challenge for you means no excitement for us,” the Banker drawled through the mouth of a stuffed marlin on the wall of the kiosk.

“So that’s a no?”

“That’s a no. Outsider?”

“I will not be held hostage to these threats. Do as you will.”

“Oookay. You asked for it.” I sat down and considered what the pair was offering, and what I could do to Dunwall to pay them back for their little… game… and for refusing to deal.

“She’s being silent. Is that supposed to be as worrying as it its?” The Outsider asked the Marlin.

“You invited her here. Shouldn’t take people’s… friends… without finding out what said friends can do first.”

I tuned them out. The Outsider was offering 13 powers similar to those he’d granted Corvo or Daud, each with two power tiers. Of them, only ‘Blink 1’ was free. It was instantaneous teleportation of up to 10 meters forwards and 5 meters upwards in any direction, and was mildly draining to my spiritual reserves. Though it was far shorter ranged compared to Apparition, it was an improvement in speed and, unlike Apparition, it was completely silent. I could upgrade it to Blink 2 for [3/22/25WB], doubling the range and meaning that time would stop for up to three seconds while I selected a destination. Three seconds for me is pretty leisurely, and the power was interesting enough to make it worth taking. Not like any of the powers on offer were game changes, let alone game breakers.

‘Pull’ was the second power on offer, which, even upgraded, would barely be more than was needed to hoist a human body off the ground and immobilize or throttle them. If I couldn’t do that with bloodbending, airbending, the Force, or TK… I still wouldn’t have spent the points… er bites on it, since it really wasn’t that powerful. Another power, Windblast, was pretty much the exact opposite and I discounted it for the same damned reason.

Dark Vision wasn’t any more powerful, but it would allow me to see through walls and similar objects. At the lower level, it would highlight living beings in yellow and indicate their sight cones… it wasn’t much for a mind reader… but psi-protection wouldn’t do anything to stop this power. The upgrade, which would cost me a total of [3/19/25WB] meant that machinery would highlight in blue, while weapons and other items of interest would highlight in green. Color-coding… always nice.

Devouring Swarm did exactly that, summoning a swarm of rats to attack enemies and eat corpses… ewww… gods… yuck. Blood Thirsty would give me an adrenaline boost whenever I used powerful execution moves… ugh. Just… no. Shadow Kill reduced slain enemies to ash… which was messy… and again, it was a fundamentally disturbing power that would barely help in the “real world” of Jump and would increase Chaos if I used it here. Killing in Dunwall just made things worse.

On the other hand, Possession, which would allow me to possess the bodies of animals as large as a wolf… though it would be very draining… and would kill smaller animals and disorient larger ones once I released them. The upgrade could possess people, but picking up both would cost me 8 and I didn’t think they were worth that. Still, I could see shelling out [3/16/25WB] more for the starting value.

Next up was Bend Time, a power that slows or stops time but is very draining. I could do that already, and to a far greater degree, especially if I tapped into the Heart of Winter, though doing that in Star Wars had left me cold for months. The effect of Bend Time lasted 12 seconds at slow, or 8 at stop and neither were worth the investment.

Then there were the closest thing to a companion import on offer this time around, Arcane Bond (which allowed me to grant a lesser version of the Outsider’s Mark to other people) and Summon Assassin (which allowed me to summon those so marked to my side). Arcane Bond level 1 was 6WB and granted those marked with Blink I and Vitality I, if I had those powers. Level 2 cost 4 more and granted Blink 2, Shadow Kill 1, Pull 2, and immunity to the effects of Bend Time… but since I didn’t have Shadow Kill, Pull, or Bend Time… it would have been worthless to buy it, and I wasn’t redoing my build to get them. Summon Assassin at level 2 cost a total of 6WB and allowed me to summon up to 5 Marked to my side, fully equipped… and worked anywhere within the same Universe. So that, between them was [12/4/25].

And speaking of Vitality, there were two stat boosts on offer as well; Vitality and Agility. I needed neither of them. Agility allowed double jumping as well as improved jumping, sprinting, climbing, and swimming power. Vitality would allow me to take more damage and recover from damage quicker. If I was facing Kenpachi again, I’d be worrying about that… but unless Daud started DPSing at Speeding Trucks per second… I didn’t need the boost… but between the two levels of Vitality, it was 4 bites and I was having trouble finding anything to spend the last four on. Buying Vitality 1 would allow me to confer it upon those I marked, which made sense to buy it. Which left me with 3. I could use those last 3 to get Bend Time 1 and Shadow Kill 1 so I could grant the second and grant immunity to the first… or Pull 1… But I wasn’t certain if the lesser mark would grant Pull 1 without Pull 2. If only the Outsider had agreed to deal… but he hadn’t. And taking them would be pointless, since I couldn’t afford the upgrade to Arcane Bond if I did.

“Hey Outsider, how about-”

“No.”

“Fiiiiiine.”

Well then… fuck it. I took Vitality 1, Bend Time 1, and traded Possession for Arcane Bond 2… it felt like a waste, but time would tell. That was the Outsider’s contribution.. The Gummies tasted like… electricity and sugar, but weren’t too terrible. I could feel the sparking as whatever the Banker had done to mediate the energy of the Outsider and could almost trace the nature of what had been done as the power flowed, then settled inside the mark… which faded away to nothingness.

The Outsider noticed too and seemed to grow visibly angered at that, and the Marlin laaaughed. “You didn’t think I’d let you actually leave your mark on what is, at least for the time being, mine?”

“This was not the deal.”

“None of us are getting what we want out of this. But fear not. The Mark will appear whenever she’s in your little world… or for branding purposes when she’s in other realms, but we’re already doing an end run around marketing here.”

“Now, just to be clear. I get to leave once Emily Caldwell is restored to her throne, right?”

“Yes. Or dead.” the Outsider said, still not completely mollified.

“Great. Let’s spend some CP and get this game started.”

“I can’t really set you up with a history and a life in Dunwall like I normally would do, so instead I’ll hook you up with an Affinity. That confers the training and knowledge needed for one of four respective professions… and offers a discount on the respective perk tree. Best I can do, really.” The Banker said, sounding apologetic, but I could tell he was secretly mocking the Outsider. Four Drop-In options. It was tantamount to saying the setting wasn’t deep enough to bother investing.

The Outsider sneered, “Knowledge is a tool, neither good nor evil. It can be used to save or kill, just as a knife can be used to spread butter or spread blood. I do not coat my words in kindness, for that is not my place to decide its purpose. That decision rests in your hands… I look forward to the outcome.”

I wondered what he meant by that as I considered the four Affinities. They were all free and consisted of Philosopher (inventor), Watch (bodyguard), Overseer (church thug), and Whaler (assassin). I settled on The Watch Affinity. They were the bodies who’d served to guard both the Empire and its Emperor or Empress for generations, and from their ranks came the Lord Protector, the Empress’s personal bodyguard. Corvo Attano, the protagonist, was merely the latest of these… though with his apparent death and the death of the Empress, the Guard had descended into corruption and crime.

Being of the Watch gave me ‘Respect the Badge’ for free, which in turn made me more likeable and trustworthy to civilians. As long as I did nothing to convince them otherwise, the man in the street would trust me enough to do whatever I told them to do as long as I acted from a position of authority.

Aside from that, I only picked up the capstone, the [200/300/500] point (yeah, cheap, I know), ‘Whirlwind’, which granted me flawless ambidexterity, allowing me to, as the text put it ‘Shoot a crossbow bolt into the eye of a man ten feet away while holding off three swordsmen with naught but a steak knife? Why not?’ Hand-Eye-Coordination Upgrade Get!

I also selected the Whaler freebie, ‘Shadow Walker’, for [100/200/500], which gave me an instinctive knowledge of where to hide and the best path to move so as to avoid detection… and the Whaler [300/-100/500] point ability ‘And Then There Were None’, which would allow me to sense who among a group was the easiest target… and the best way to remove him or her without alerting the rest. It wouldn’t work against more savvy and well trained targets, but with most groups I’d have relatively little trouble picking them off one by one.

There were several other freebies… a Basic Kit (a sword and whale oil powered pistol, ten bullets, a nice coat, and a face mask to keep away germs… that would in no way prevent me from catching the plague), a supply of Coinage (1,000 coins, freshly minted… no indication if they were counterfeit or not), and ‘His Interest’… which meant that, as long as I remained in Dunwall, I’d have to deal with the Outsider popping up and monologuing at me whenever I stumbled across one of his shrines… stopping time and freezing me in place while he did so. And the Banker was offering to invite him along to continue the practice in the future… no.  Nooooo… In the immortal words of… I dunno… someone… fuck that noise.

I also got one Bone Charm free. Bone Charms were mystical objects made from the bones of ‘whales’ and normally were tokens of bad luck and misfortune, but for people like Corvo, Daud, and… now… me… they worked as intended, granting special bonus powers. I selected the Blood Ox Heart Charm… it granted a 20% increase to maximum mana and had been one of my favorites… and then I shelled out another [50/-150/500] to buy another of my favorites… the Spiritual Pool Charm, which granted slightly faster mana regeneration. It wasn’t much… but on the other hand… it didn’t cost much.

Speaking of things that didn’t cost much but were probably worth it, I scooped up a Potions Bag for another [50/-200/500]. The bag contained 3 of Sokolov’s elixir (healing for the body) and 3 of Piero’s spiritual remedy (healing for the mind), and they replenished weekly… not when used… just… poof. More. I just had to set a robomaid to pull them out every week and stack them with the other consumables in their stasis cabinet.

I was, frankly, astonished at how well the Item list for this jump was put together. It was full of small, inexpensive items that would actually be useful. Nothing overwhelmingly powerful, nothing overpriced, and all of them with a purpose. Such as the Overseer Music Box, which cost [100/-300/500] and would generate music that disrupted the magical abilities of those Marked by the Outsider… but not me… and in the future would disrupt the concentration of anyone who tried to use magic in the box’s ambient. Or ‘The Heart of a Living Thing’ for another [100/-400/500], which was a copy of the one given to Corvo by the Outsider, and… like the original… it would beat faster when pointed at supernatural objects and when squeezed it would whisper secrets of the surrounding area into my mind. If pointed at a person and squeezed, it would whisper their secrets to me… or anyone else I allowed to use it. I had other ways of learning personal secrets

That exhausted the must have list… but there was one more thing on offer that I very much wanted. It was called ‘Stronger Soul’ and it could be purchased multiple times. Every purchase would grant my mind and soul greater resistance to the draining effects of the Mark, allowing me to use its powers more before being drained… and incidentally boosting my spiritual powers, soul energy, and manna all in one basic (and extremely affordable) package. Each purchase cost 50… Now I just had to find out how many points I could get from drawbacks.

I consulted with the Drawback commitee of myselves and they presented their report. There was no limit to how much CP I could have and they were chuckling, because sooo many of the drawbacks were completely doable

Among the 100s were Noisy and Dreary. Noisy meant that every shoe I wore would be tap shoes, every door would creak, and my armor would be noisy. Very well, no shoes, no armor… if I even bothered with stealth. Dreary just meant it would be raining twenty-four seven. Oh noes… wet! What am I? A cat? I took both for [+200/-200/700].

Among the 200s were Bottle Street Woes… which would send street gang after street gang after me. Not mortals! How will I cope? And Public Enemy, which meant that the Abbey (the local religion) would have noticed my arrival and informed everyone about me. Guards would show up regularly whenever the citizenry reported me… and the Watch would attack me on sight. Oh, dear… mortals. How will I… oh, I said that already. [+400/200/1100]

At 300 was Assassination Target. It meant that Daud and his Whalers would be trying to kill me because someone (Probably the Abbey) had hired them to do the job. At 400 was ‘Granny Rags’ and ‘Delilah’. One was a crazy lady who could summon rats and wouldn’t stay dead or trapped in any prison, the other was a witch who would try and steal my body… once a year… and I’d know whenever she was trying the ritual and have a couple of days warning each time. I skipped the 600s, one of which was easily doable, but meant I’d have to kill Corvo and Daud… neither of which I was super eager to do. [+1100/1300/2200]… but I had 1300 points to sink into Stronger Soul… and that’s what I did. That was 26 purchases.

I couldn’t help but laugh maniacally… I think it might have unnerved the Outsider, since he moved slightly away from me. “Oy, Banker. Are Ahab and Joy importing to this shindig?”

The Outsider asked “Who are Ahab and Joy?”

“Subjumpers… oh… you probably don’t know about my companions… you’ll like them. They’re chaos.”

“They are,” The Marlin said, chuckling slightly, “though they are not getting anything besides your mark and freebies from me.”

“Excellent, tell the two of them that if they say yes to bringing Smug Boy over here along, I’ll personally make sure they wear the Hat of Shame for the rest of time.”

“What is the Hat of Shame?” the Outsider and Banker both asked, nearly in sync.

“I don’t know… but I’ll invent one.” The Outsider took another step back.

“Ahab has made his purchases. He has selected Whaler Affinity, getting him Shadow Walker, the Basic Kit, Coinage, and he’s selected the Sustained Rage Bone Charm which makes Adrenaline last a little longer. And now Joy has finished. She’s gone with the Philosopher Affinity, granting her Resourceful and the Unnerving Target II Bone Charm which saddles those aiming guns at her with a moderate chance to miss.”

“Great. Let’s get this started.”

INSERTION

And thus began the great and glorious history of ‘THE STATUE THAT WOULD NOT DIE!”. Seriously. I manifested in Dunwall and promptly transformed into a full metal sculpture 22 feet tall and stood in the center of town… for the entire timeframe of the Jump. I didn’t move a millimeter. Not for anything.

Nothing in the entire setting could hope to punch through my layered defenses… nothing. My telekinetic shielding alone was strong enough to stop cannon rounds cold and even if they’d gotten through, my armor and picocite impregnated flesh would have shrugged off everything and anything the locals could throw at me. Flames? I ate them. Lightning? That too. Magic? Yup… though it wasn’t very filling.

As I stood there, my mind ranged across the Isles, finding those who could help make things better and those who would make things worse and ensuring that the first did exactly that while the second group quietly buggered off. I played by the rules… no killing (mostly), and guided Corvo in his quest while absolutely fubaring the plans of all the various conspirators.

Granny Rags I punted into planetary orbit. Delilah I dropped a house on. Daud’s Whalers kept coming back to him claiming they’d entered the square where I stood, posed like a disco-dancer, one finger pointed at the sky, and changed their mind. All of them.

Daud eventually came for me himself and he too changed his mind… right after I hit him with a telepathic “Bugger Off, you manky git.” He had to change his pants.  I also told him it would be ill-advised to go against Corvo and, really, he should try teaming up with the Lord Protector. His guilt over his deeds was easy enough to see. Billie Lurk, his second in command, would be taking a very long tour of Dunwall prison system, having locked herself in a cell and refusing to leave.

As promised, it rained every one of the 162 days I was forced to endure Dunwall’s pleasant clime. Why so long, you ask? Well, apparently little Emily felt it would be inappropriate to ascend to her mother’s throne until the plague had ended and a time of mourning had been observed, thus a proper celebration could be held. Reasonable, I guess… but it was still raining the day I finally left.

“I… cannot… believe… you.” The Banker said between gales of laughter.

“What? I wasn’t entertaining enough?”

“For me? Sure! I could see what you and your agents were doing. I think the Outsider nearly had a spiritual aneurysm!”

“Aww… poor dear.  Still, it was a good game, wasn’t it?”

“Disco?”

“Disco is like Chaos. It will never fade as long as there is suffering in the world. I was just reminding them all of that fact.”

“And the motto on your pedestal?”

“What, you don’t think ‘And she shall lay waste to all who do not know the Groove?’ is a good legend?”

“You are no Kusco.”

“I am the Assassin of Dunwall!”

“No, you’re not. You’re very silly.”

“Yes, well… can we get on to the next regularly scheduled bit of mayhem… we’ve already lost 5 months.”

Next: I May Be Insane But That Doesn’t Mean I’m Crazy

Resources: Build, Document

World 53: The Dresden Files

The Price of Betrayal

Previously: We Are Altogether

Themesong: Angels We Have Heard on High by Pentatonix

“And you’ll be watching the twins, doing all the dishes, cleaning all the bathrooms… and all your media settings have been replaced with children’s television for the next jump.”

“Noooo! I was brainwashed! It’s not my faaault.”

“Zane. You tried to destroy several inhabited worlds. You fell to the Dark Side. Mind control or not, you need some time to reflect on how bad you’ve been. Also, Kendra and I have spoken and there will be no nookie for you until she feels you’ve earned it.”

“But… that’s… I… and no porn?”

“None.”

“You’re mean!”

“Zane… you pointed a Death Star at me and cheated on Kendra with Padme. I’m very curious about the exact details of that, but to be honest, War Crimes come first… and no, the sad puppy face isn’t going to make me forgive you any faster. I know you wouldn’t have done it if you were in complete control. But you still need decompression time and a little… reflection. So you’re going to spend an hour and a half each day meditating on what you did… and I’ll be reviewing your brainwaves, so no napping.”

Once again, I thought about how much I needed to recruit a qualified shrink. The Reality Ship Jumper really needed a full time Councillor. We had problems collectively that would tax a saint and be several lifetimes full time work to even begin to get a handle on.

I looked over at the new machine and sighed. “And you’re not helping”, I accused. It just lurked there, ominous and silent and with its staff-like ‘S’ slowly spinning. I’ve learned something over the ages and jumps… you know a jump is bad news when you instinctively check for companion imports and disadvantages you can live with before even checking out the powers. This was going to be one of those.

The Dresden Files… or how to hide the end of the world behind a P.I story. There were, despite Harry’s relatively low stature (society wise) at the start of the series, major players involved… not the least of which was Harry Himself, or could be, if I didn’t interfere too much. It was a mundane seeming world… but like Supernatural and Hellblazer, that only went so far. There were realms unseen, realms of madness and magic, beings which could and would drive the normal mortals who surrounded them all unawares mad… if they could have seen through the glamours that hid such creatures’ true selves.

It was also home of the most treacherous and troublesome magical powers around, ones that carried not only a terrible price but could lead to madness or corruption of the soul itself. I wouldn’t touch any of them with a 12 meter pole.

True to form, I pulled up the Drawbacks first, seeing how much leeway I could expect out of this madness. There was a cap of 600, 700 if I took the Practitioner, Changeling, or White Court Vampire background and made their innate drawback worse… Practitioner… one who uses the primary form of magic from this world… the one that drives you mad if you use it to do things I routinely did… and not mad in the good way. Nope. Changeling… fae-halfbreeds… who are under constant pressure to choose human (and lose what makes them special) or fae (and lose the largest part of their free will). Nope. White… Court… Nope!

So, 600 max. But was it a maximum that could be reached with a reasonable slate of hardship… or was this world as bad as I was expecting. Maybe I should have stuffed Constantine into stasis… naw, he’d make this place worse… it was what he did.

There were three +100 Drawbacks. Doom of Damocles, which meant I’d have been accused and convicted of breaking one of the Laws of Magic, but saved from the Wardens’ ‘Justice’ and placed upon probation for a decade… Violating my probation would mean the Wardens would be all over me, trying to kill me… even if I wasn’t a Practitioner. But the Drawback didn’t give them any specific bonuses to facing a being like me… so I could live with it fairly easily. ‘And it Wasn’t My Fault’ would mean that my presence would contribute substantially to the odds of massive property damage occurring in my immediate vicinity… Might make me unpopular… but could be lived with. ‘(Fe)Male Gaze’ would make me a biased, sexist, idiot. Things messing with my judgement… that was right out. Between those three, that was a maybe +200.

Among the three +200’s things got nastier fast. ‘Death Curse’ was just not going to happen. Cataclysmic Bad Luck for a Decade? Who would take that for less than 600, even if it wouldn’t outright kill you? ‘Red Court Infectee’ meant that I’d be one drink of blood away from going full vampire, and there’d be constant threat of losing control, especially if my emotions ran high or I used my vampiric abilities. It was a possibility… but it was also a Chain Ender, since going full Red Court was death as far as the Chain was concerned. So, doable, if I reaaally needed the points, and it would be resolved when the Red Court met its end… if I allowed that to happen… but it would be a bitch to deal with until then… And then there was ‘Faerie Debt’. This one was a terrible, terrible, terrible idea.

It was an open-ended contract with a major player in Faerie, one that I’d owe three tasks, tasks they’d call in at their leisure, tasks I’d have to complete within 10 years or miss, as the machine put it, “my ride”… and it wouldn’t be coming back. So, if the being I was bound to assist just didn’t ask three times, I’d not only be ending my chain… I’d be staying for good. And nothing in there said they had to ask even once. Screw. That. So… that was, what? Maybe, maybe, maybe another 200? If I needed it bad enough.

I was already cringing at the idea of what could be so bad among the +300s… and the first one pretty much confirmed I was right to be leery. ‘Judgment in Black’ started the taker off on Mab’s bad side and meant that, if you could hold off her minions for 8 years, she’d come herself. So you’d have to face, most likely, Harry, then Her… and then, if you killed her, Maev would become Queen and the DresdenVerse would be screwed. Not for all the CP in Japan. (Go on. Think about it for a second. I’ll wait. Back? Feeling nauseated? Yeah. Not even if that CP was spendable in Jumpchain. That’s how bad an idea this was… though it did give me an idea.)

The next one wasn’t so bad… I mean, it was bad… just not nearly as bad as the last two. ‘He Who Walks Beside’ was just like Judgment in Black, but with Outsiders instead of Winter Fae. The only reason not to take it was because it explicitly made everything supernatural (as well as anything more advanced than 21st century earthtech) that I could do count as magic against Outsiders, which would make fighting them so much harder… And I planned to do a fair amount of that, so… no.

Then I read the third and last +300 and just chuckled ‘Not So Wild About Harry’ would, if I took it, remove the Harry we all know and love and leave his spot vacant. If one wanted to woo the fierce Murphy or be the hero of your own magical PI story, this was the chance… the jump even payed you to step into the Main Character’s Shoes. Of course, that was because Harry was pretty much the linchpin of saving the universe or world from “BAD STUFF”. But it was tempting… for about three seconds.

Then I read the only +600. If I needed the points… all the points. I couldn’t go worse than ‘Big Old Apocalyptic Trilogy”. It meant I’d be stuck until the ‘epilogue’ began. I.e. until the story resolved itself. Sure, i’d be going in blind for how everything would play out, and it could be 15, 20, 30 years potentially… hell, given a Wizard’s lifespan, it could be a lot more… but I’d been in Westeros for 300 years. I had time. 600 points in the bank just to see the story through to the end. No story changes, nothing else. Just that. That… was bloody generous that was.

That done, and with nothing locked in, I checked on Companions for a group import and found it right off the bat. ‘Supporting Cast’ [300/700/100] granted a ‘full fellowship of 8’ any background costing 200 or less, the free ability associated with that background, and one of the two 300 point abilities associated with that background… plus another 100 point ability if the background cost 100 CP or less. That went into the cart first and foremost… and I even messaged Zane with a passive-aggressive note mentioning it. Understanding I might be, forgiving at times too… but cross me and I will be merciless in my mockery and pettiness.

Also on offer was a Molly (Harry’s Apprentice… though not her, just an apprentice like her), a Thomas (Harry’s Brother… but not him, just an annoying pain in the ass like him), a Bob (Harry’s know it all skull… but not him, just… a hybrid of how you actually are and how you think you are… like Bob is to Harry)… and a Mouse!

“Eeeeeheeeeeheeee! Doggy!” I squeaked, then looked at Ziggy “Would you like a brother?”

“Chew Toy?”

“Well, yes. But also big and fluffy to nap on.”

“Nap good,” my pet confirmed, so I considered.

The Dogasaurus Rex was [200/500/1000] and was actually a Temple or Fu Dog… a dog the size of a bear, one with magical powers that made it the consummate guard-dog, as well as being as tough as nails, smarter than most humans, and a winning personality. Great Big Tibetan mastiff, covered in thick hair and just begging to be snuggled. I couldn’t resist. If nothing else, it would keep me from trying to steal Mouse from Harry… and Maggie. I decided to name her ‘Soffi’.

And so, with half my initial allotment spent, it was time to actually figure out who I was going to be. Mortal was the drop-in option and wasn’t even vaguely interesting. “Would you like to be a bystander to doomsday?” No? Me either. But I had no idea what else I could be, since I’d already ruled out White Court Vampire and Changeling, just as I’d already ruled out Practitioner, the magic of this setting wasn’t that good. Turns out, that wasn’t a single background, but rather 3 of them; Focused, Sorcerer, and Wizard, but it was mostly trading CP for raw power once you got past Focused… and all of them had to play by the rules… the Laws of Magic, or face not only The Council’s judgment but the very real risk of screwing yourself over. The Laws were simple to remember. There were only 7 of them, and breaking them essentially was telling reality that you felt you were entitled to break them… and so reality felt entitled to break you in response. “Thou Shalt Not Kill (with Magic)”, “Thou Shalt Not Change Another”, “Thou Shalt Not Invade the Mind of Another”, “Thou Shalt Not Enthrall Another”, Thou Shalt Not Reach Beyond the Borders of Life”, Thou Shalt Not Swim Against the Currents of Time”, and “Thou Shalt Not Open the Outer Gates”. I skimmed the rules again, mostly out of boredom… then paused as I scanned the last.

“You might want to take note of this one, because it’s a doozy. This is the only one of the laws that deals with mere knowledge rather than action. You do not research the Outsiders, you do not contact them, you do not ask them for power, you do not go on multiversal road trips for their amusement… yeah, you’re already way afoul of this one, but I won’t tell if you don’t. Just don’t do it here, because the ‘local’ Outsiders are Bad News.”

“Local Outsiders?” I asked.

“Well, sure. Technically.”

“Technically?” I turned vulcan so as to best arch an eyebrow.

“You are technically an Outsider. We’re waaaay beyond the Outer Gates.”

“Can I do that?”

“Be an Outsider?”

“Yes. I’m not being a Vamp again. Not keen on the local magic. Not willing to let “Faerie” get their hooks into me. Being a Mortal is boring. Can I be an Outsider? It’s kind of nice to just be myself sometimes… and if I technically do hail from beyond the Outer Gates…”

“As it turns out… yes. Yes you can. There are even Perks for it.”

“Excellent. How much?”

“It’s free.”

“Oh… really?”

“Indeed. Though, since you don’t have a Source of Magic from this world, no magic from this world can be learned.”

“Oh. Alas.” I noticed at that moment, that the Wheel of Age crumbled to dust on screen. “Cute.” I spun the remaining Wheel of Locality… and got ‘Las Vegas’. Sin City, where something swam through the city, something which has led to the city becoming the transient, emotionally-empty place it’s wound up as. Something which kept the supernatural factions a fractious mix of competing interests rather than letting anyone rise to the top and which silently encouraged and fed upon the corruption which has always festered there. Eh. Not bad.

I also noted the starting date was March 20, 2004… probably 5 months before Blood Rites… or roughly 4 years into the story, meaning I’d be leaving just after Skin Game (February of 2014… unless I had reason to take the long game. That was fine… as that’s exactly what I had in Audiobook from back on Origin, the events that could, roughly, be counted on to happen.

I then scrolled through to the Outsider Perks… and discovered why it was free to be one. There were only three perks in the section, none were free, and the cheapest was, with the discount, [200/300/1000]. Now don’t get me wrong… it was worth it. As was the capstone, even though the discount only dropped it to [400/-100/1000]… but still. Ouch. The middle one, the 300 pointer… yeah… that I didn’t need.

Stars and Stones was the cheaper one… and yes, all three were named for a DresdenVerse swear (Hell’s Bells and Empty Night being the other two)… and it would allow me to allow others to slip the bonds of otherwise-inviolate supernatural laws. Not just magical contracts or compulsions, either… with this I could allow a creature to go against its fundamental nature. Free a vampire of its hunger, allow a Fairy to lie… allow a Wizard to break the Laws of Magic without repercussions? That… was scary. I couldn’t, however, do two things. I couldn’t remove a vulnerability… and I couldn’t use it on myself. Ah well. Still worth it.

But if that one was… ‘nice’… or at least potentially useful… Empty Night was a prize of great worth. It rendered me immune to any direct magic. Flat out. Immune. All my enemy would hit would be a hungry void. That… would be useful. Very useful.

Unfortunately it spent me over, so I was now locked into getting at least one drawback, so I might as well see if there were any items worth taking before I picked a drawback. Turns out that, yes, Outsiders do get a Freebie… “The Jumper Files… a box of empty file folders.”… of course, they wouldn’t remain empty. Any time I did something majorly noteworthy, one of the folders would start to fill itself in, generally with pages written in my own hand, but sometimes scraps, photographs, or other items of interest. Nothing I couldn’t have filled in myself, but when it was done, it would be a complete record of my cases, start to finish… and it would appear as either my autobiography, or from my perspective but ghostwritten by Jim B… er… Harry Dresden.

Okay, so it wasn’t the best… but… hey, it was free. The only other thing discounted for Outsiders was Mordite… concentrated antilife… no thanks. I wasn’t going in as an Outsider because I like being evil… however… right above the Mordite was “Blood, Mind, and Heart”… a local magical source… and three of the four books written by Heinrich Kemmler. There were, essentially, a how to guide on being the biggest, baddest, most all around Necrolord of Necromancers… and if I took them, I’d have 19 months to master the texts before Dead Beat’s time came up… and I could read the text of that last book.

The only question was… did I want to be a Necromancer? Just for completeness, I read everything else that was available… Sword of the Cross? Boring. Wolf Belt? Meh. Lab? Got one. Family Home? Got some. Svartalf Apartment… meh. A model of a city, didn’t need because I had… “DAMNIT ZANE!”

“What’d I do now?”

“Grounding you really screws me!”

“Why?”

“Because you’re friends with Chicago!”

“Yeah? Well, you could always-”

“I’m not letting you off just to make things easier on me. I’ll cope.”

“You’re going to regret that!”

“I already regret all of this, Zane,” I said softly, walking over and ruffling his hair. “You’re my best friend. I hate doing this to you. But I’m really really hurt you betrayed me. You know that right?”

“Yeah… it’s kinda funny- ooowwww!”

“Zane. Don’t push me. You’re going to be kicking yourself once you’re back to normal.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m Evil Zane right now, so… owww! Can’t… breathe.”

“Shut up, you idiot.” I said, face burried in his chest. “Or I’ll bite you.”

“Hug… too… tiiiight.”

“Moron.” I muttered, then bit him.

Eventually I wandered back over to the Machine and kicked it. “Jolly Cooperation my eye.”

“Drawbacks can screw with purchases, you know that.”

“Drawbacks are supposed to end at the end of jumps.” I retorted.

“The Drawback did end… its psychological effect didn’t.”

“But then the CP backing of Watson should have kicked in.”

“Free Will. Don’t take loyalty for granted.”

“I never have. I assumed his was as strong for me as mine was for him.”

“As far as I can tell, it is. Cerebris just… adjusted his priorities.”

“How so?”

“Convinced Zane you’d have fun.”

“Well… that’s just… annoying.”

“Friends are like that.”

“You have friends?” I asked. It wasn’t snark.

“No. But I have seen mortals and Jumpers enough to understand the contradictions.”

“You think I should forgive him.”

“I think you already have. I have no idea why.”

“Ha. Yeah. You wouldn’t. And you’re probably right. He would think I’d have fun… consequences aren’t Zane’s strong suit.” I brought up the list and continued scanning. White Court list of names… tempting, but not that much. Magic dampening Thorn Manacles, Warden Sword, a Blue Beetle, an Enchanted Duster, a Storage Unit, a Magical Focus, Ointment of Soul Sight, Pocketful of Sunshine, Ghost Dust… I just couldn’t see myself needing any of them. Maybe 50 jumps ago, but… maybe not even then. Items seldom screamed buy me. Well, okay, Best Ale in Chicago kinda did… it was either a six-pack of MacAnally’s Ale that refilled every day or a single bottle of Mac’s private stash that got replaced every day

As for the other perk trees… the abilities on offer were a little too specific. I could have used “Power to Burn” from the Practitioner line, but I had power already. I could use Consummate Rules-Lawyer to help me deal with the Fae… if I didn’t already have that from the Swat Kats jump. Some of the other items were okay… just not okay enough, if you know what I mean. I could take Power to Burn and the Fae Glamorous to get a local power source… it wasn’t locked out… but… I really don’t like the local Fae.

I shrugged, then hit confirm on the Kemmlerite books and both Ale Options. That spent me to the max and I clicked in a confirmation on the Apocalypse. I’d saved Alderaan… how hard could Earth be? At least I hadn’t made anything worse with my Drawback choices.

“Hey, Can I get books and Beer while I’m waiting for the others to complete their builds?”

“Sure… but you have to do one thing first.”

“Wazat?”

“Okay, two things. Which you are you going in as?”

“Haven’t decided yet. Will let you know. Still got two weeks. What’s the other?”

“You have decided which companions are coming with you.”

“Oh. Yeah. Good point. Lets see. Velma’s the mystery girl, so her. Cirno’s the Ice-Fairy, so her. Franky and Mini are magical Girls, so them. Caine knows vamps, so him. Bart’s never seen Earth, so him. Ziggy, because there’s a mortal perk called “Tiny but Fierce”. And Kendra so she doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for Zane… or pissed off at him for cheating on her. Plus, you know, Ahab and Joy doing their own thing.”

“Pads distributed. You can have your beer once you do Ziggy’s… unless you want to risk accidentally giving him “Suuuuuuper Genius” instead. I flinched at the Idea, then glanced over to where Ziggy was busy savaging his own tail.

“Right… good thinking. And send a message to Bart to come over once he’s read the whole thing.” Buying for Ziggy is easy, you just pick whatever makes no sense. Mortals got a Day Job free, for instance. It was any mundane career, and came with a minimum of ten years experience and all the contacts and paychecks to prove it… even if it didn’t make any sense. So I made him a Police Dog. No… he was still a ferret… I just filled in that he’d been employed for the past 10 years by the Chicago PD as a Police Dog. Ziggy is the best at narcotics. I also got him Tiny but Fierce, as promised, which meant that he acquired skills and instincts necessary to go mana e mano against things much bigger, faster, or outright nastier than he was and still come out on top. Ziggy is the best at on top. And, since being mortal was free, that meant he got another 100 CP item free. There were only 4 choices, he had one of them already, and the Practitioner one require being sapient to use since it was all about ‘knowing things’ (Ziggy is the worst at knowing things). That left the Fae ‘Glamorous’ and the Vampiric ‘Unwholesomely Good-Looking’. Now, the idea of Ziggy instinctively using Faerie Glamour was funny… but Ziggy the Sexiness was just funnier. He’d get all the snuggles! Also, the lady ferrets! Hubba hubba!

“Who’s a pretty boy?”

“You’re not talking to me, I hope?” said the no-longer currently a droid.

“Err… This is Ziggy. He’s my buddy… also, if you annoy me, he will eat you.”

The Operative looked down at the ferretoid currently trying to crawl up my bathrobe’s sleeve and having minor difficulty. “I… see. I’ll trust you on that. Looks can be deceptive. But this?” he held up the tablet. “Magic? I… I mean. I saw the Force… that… I guess… but that’s psionics… right?”

“A form of it, though one with an external source. But yes, largely psionics. But magic is real too. Some places. Though for me… everywhere. Just like the Force.”

“And you want me to come with you into this world?”

“I thought you might enjoy visiting Earth That Was… well, Earth that still is.”

“As a magician?”

“If you like. With my presence, the Laws of Magic will matter less and I’ll keep an eye on your mental state… Not going to make that same mistake again where corruptive influences are around… especially not this Verse.”

“Magic is more corruptive than the Force?”

“No. Magic and the Force aren’t corruptive. People’s basic nature is corruptive, Magic and the Force are merely… power to fuel that corruption if you allow it to take root. No, The Outsiders, the Fae, the Denarians, the Nemesis… those are corruptive and out in force.”

“You don’t sound worried.”

“I have wards against possession. You’ll all be outfitted with a tattoo or two before you leave. You’ll have seen the symbols each of my companions bear already, if you’ve scanned out of the visible wavelengths.” He nodded.

“Picked them up in Supernatural. Can be inscribed on anyone. Prohibits Demonic Possession completely… but works pretty good on devils and angels too. Turns out there’s not much difference. Haven’t tried it against Faeries or Ghosts… but in this Verse, Faeries and Demons are pretty similar, so again… should work to an extent. So, thoughts?”

“I think I should take that ‘Clued In’ perk… that means either being a Mortal, a low grade faerie, or a Practitioner, if I’m reading this right.”

“You’ve got it.”

“Not sure I want to be a Faerie… they sound… problematic, as your friend River would say.”

“That’s about right, yeah.”

“Wizards follow Rules. I like that. Rules I can understand, even if the magic bit makes my brain hurt… but I’ll gain memories to help cope with that… is that correct?”

“It is. They’ll be the memories of the you that exists in this world and in this time. The two of you will become one. Inside this world, where those memories are native to, they’ll be stronger. But do this enough and new memories will have too many old memories to overwhelm.”

“Ah… like going deep cover. I understand.”

He didn’t. He couldn’t. There is nothing that prepares you for being two beings in one mind, no matter how similar the two might be… but it was a first time for everything and he’d learn. I’d seen it many times before. “So… Refined Magic or Powerful Magic?”

“Which would you take?”

“Both. But you can’t. For you… I’d go Powerful.”

“Why not Refined?”

“Because you’re more suited to Evocation… that’s combat magic, than Thaumaturgy… that’s the slower, more deliberate magic. You’re a blunt force trauma… for as much as you may be a spook… you aren’t subtle. You didn’t track down Mal and capture him in his sleep… you slaughtered your way through all his friends until he had to face you.”

“I thought your goal was to change me. Sounds like you’re encouraging me to be more of the same.”

“Bart, if I wanted to change you, I’d think hard and you’d be a chicken. We can only change when we seek to change and apply that change from within. Any other change is meaningless. That’s why I’ve already forgiven Zane, even though I’m still going to punish him. I can only provide stimulus to you and hope you rise to meet it.”

“So you’re hoping I take Refined?”

“No. Your choice of perks is irrelevant. You take whatever you like. It’s what you do as a person with those perks that’s important.”

“If you’re God… you’re nothing like I was led to believe.”

“Bart, you can not conceive of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of me… nor, as it turns out, can I.”

“God doesn’t understand God?

“Of course. If God understood, what purpose would the Universe serve?”

“I… will think about that.”

“Do that. Send Cirno over, I’m sure she’s done by now.”

The Fairy was, of course, going in as a Fairy. A Serious Business Fae (the second most expensive category and the top one companions could afford). It meant that her faerie ancestor was a member of the stronger breeds of Faerie, Elder Fetches, Elder Gruffs, the Sidhe themselves, stuff like that. She’d picked the Svartalfar, the technologists of the Unseelie Court, those who apparently worked for Donar Vadderung… Odin… Kris Kringle… whatever he was calling himself this generation. It meant she knew both Glamours and Unseelie Magic and had an intuitive grasp on how to make advanced technology that was impervious to a Wizard’s Hex. When I’d asked why she’d picked Changeling her response was “Stick with what you know you’re good at. Plus… not going to let any local faeries laugh at me for not being good enough.”

I gave her a hug. She looked like she needed it. It was never easy meeting distant cousins.

Kendra was next and had gone as basic as possible. Mortal Police woman with the Suuuuper Genius perk which meant that the more pressure she was under, the better she was at coming up with brilliant ideas… and the basic fae magic granted by the Glamorous perk which was totally cheating… and reminded me of the cops from this show called “Lost Girl”… ooo… that might be a fun place to go… or maybe not. “You’re doing this just to look good in a uniform, aren’t you?”

“Always wanted to be a LEO. Slayer was like that, only with vampires instead of criminals.”

“Officer Young, look forward to serving with you.” She saluted, then winked.

“Maybe if Zane repents enough, I’ll show him my handcuffs.”

Caine followed her as she left, eyes on her ass. “Fine woman. The Dog isn’t worthy of her.” I shot him a glower and he just shrugged “Perhaps he is. I’m not exactly a catch myself. I thought I’d be a Changeling. Mortal’s aren’t my kind, don’t really want to be a mage… and these White Vampires are soft. I thought I’d be Rank-and-File though, get myself a mortal day job as well.”

“Oh? What kind of Fair-folk? And what job?”

“Dullahan. The Headless Horsemen of Celtic Myth. I understand the Irish are quite into law-enforcement in Chicago… or is it Boston?”

“Both. I think. And Dullahan… Well… keep your head on.”

He smirked, then said “As for job, I was thinking… Mayor of Chicago.” I raised an eyebrow. “The only listed limit is no to the Presidency of the US.”

“If the machine allowed it…” I shrugged. Not like I couldn’t have manipulated a mortal just as easily.

“To that end, I also selected Consummate Rule’s Lawyer.”

“Of course you did. Send in Velma, if you would, Mr. Mayor.”

The redheaded sweater-maiden smiled at me over her glasses, though she’d long ago stopped needing them. “Heya.” she commented, lifting Ziggy from my lap and then settling in herself, placing the unconscious fuzzlump down gently. “Brought you a pudding.”

“Oh? What flavor?” I asked, leering slightly.

She licked her lips and leaned in, whispering “Mystery flavor.”

“I can’t give you more CP, Vel. The Machine sets the limit.”

“Awwww… nertz.” she leaned against me and sighed. “So many interesting things on there. Like Soul Source… that sounds fascinating.”

“Also a great way to burn yourself out. Bad news. I like your soul intact.”

“You like my boobs.”

“That too. I assume you went Wizard?”

“Of course. Knowledge is Power and I’m very fond of knowledge.”

“Yeah… you are… but you took Refined Spellcasting, because you’re a subtle minx and you’re mostly doing this to annoy the witches who are peering around the corner and glowering at you.”

“It’s so cute how they share you with each other, but don’t like sharing with Me or the Hibiki’s. They don’t seem to mind Cirno though.” She said, reflecting.

“They see Cirno as more a toy than a rival. And they’ve worked together as a duo or under my command on many occasions, including their first lifetime. Trust me, they are highly competitive between themselves as well… though not as fractious or loud as the Hibiki’s.”

“What do you think they’ve picked?”

“At a guess? Mini will probably take Practitioner and Franky will probably take Vampiress. You?”

“Faeries. They get animalistic features.”

“Well, shall we see?”

“That would mean I have to get up.”

“Yes. It would.” I pinched her butt. “Go grab Toph and find out what everyone wants for lunch.” then waved over the Witch Girls, who claimed my lap possessively.

“She’s plotting against us,” Franky pouted. “She-”

“No infighting.” I chided her, then kissed her nose, then Mini’s just to keep them balanced. “Tell me about your builds. Mini first.”

“We decided to build each other’s build,” the British Witch explained, tossing her braids.

“Did you now?”

“Yes. Some I’m a Homeless White Court Vampire, who specializes in feelings of Triumph.”

“Triumph?”

“Aye. Like… sporting events. Lots of people all feeling intense emotion… just gotta sit with the right crowd… or get out quick before loss sets in. It’s a brief but intoxicating high, I’d imagine.” She licked her lips. “But I also got ‘Just One Sip’ as my 300, which’ll make it right easy to resist urges and temptation… and even tell when you’re trying to put the ol mez on me.”

“When, my sweet, have I ever tried to use any form of compulsion on you aside from the promise of a right spanking when you’re being bratty.” She blushed.

“Well, you might! And now I’ll know.”

“Fine, you let me know if I’m using any kind of whammy on you.”

“Whammy? Is that a special Paddle?” Franky snarked.

“Quiet you!” the british cat snapped.

“Nya!”

“Girls. No bickering on my lap or you both get tossed in the pool,” they looked like they were tempted to continue despite my threat until I whispered “And I drop the temp to that of the North Sea.” They blushed and quieted. “Franky?”

“Sorceress.”

“Sorceress? Not Wizard? Losing a bit of power and some tricks? Let me guess, you wanted the Unwholesomely Good-Looking from the Vamp line?”

“Si Signorina!” Franky beamed. “Can’t let the strawcat beat the panther!” Strawcat was her less flattering nickname for Mini, since Mini’s hair was blonde, though both were black cats when they transformed. “With Power to Burn… for the speed, see?”

“Yes, Yes I see. Though I don’t think witches do much flying in this world.”

Franky considered, then shrugged. “Still, I have my striker, I can still go flying if I want, si?”

“Si, Bella. You can fly as you like. Now go help with lunch. I have to check on the spies and do some soul searching.”

Ahab and Joy were like a more mature and less playful mirror of Franky and Mini, as it turned out, as Ahab was a Wizard and Joy was a White Court Vamp, though she’d opted for Raith… for infiltration. Then again, Ahab’s choice of wizard was designed to get into the halls in Edinburgh, and hopefully get himself recruited as a Warden. They were both good plans, and I decreed an extra serving of Ice Cream with lunch… then I isolated myself for a couple of days to settle into my role as an inscrutable being of the Outside, having made my decision over the soup course.

INSERTION

I arrived in Las Vegas amid the screaming death storm of a Wizard loyal to the Red Court. The room was burning all around me as everything made of carbon ignited in the sheer force of my alabaster presence. The circles of protection on the floor and ceiling were impressive, well wrought, and ultimately pointless as the being they were designed to hold was as much like me as I am like until a hedgehog.

There was a flash of pure white light, and the flames stopped mid inferno, and a man in a janitor’s uniform appeared in front of me. “Hello Uriel,” I said dryly. “Still annoyed about Caine?”

“I thought that might have been you, Silent Judge. You cannot be here. This world-”

“This world is no different than any other. If your master has a problem with me being here, he’d tell me in person, not send a messenger. Or do you propose we wrestle in order for me to prove my righteousness. How well did that go for the last angel who wrestled a Jew?”

“I cannot stop you without doing more harm… but your presence could destabilize the plan.”

“Could? Oh, little flame. My presence will destabilize the plan. It’s a bad plan.”

“You cannot know that.”

“Free will is only free if one side is not being kept in woeful ignorance.”

“Please do not destroy the world, Silence.”

“Don’t leave off the Judge. It’s there for a reason, and you know it.”

“Fine… you can’t bring him here.”

“I can. And I will. Your choice to enforce the Mark or not.”

“There is no choice. Only duty.”

“You too have Free Will, Uriel. Or didn’t Michael’s fall convince you of that.”

“Michael is not Lucifer!”

“Of course he is. Who else stands at the shoulder of God. Who else is the Light of God. Who else could lead the fallen? It’s all part of God’s plan. And all the PR in the universe won’t change the fact that Michael is bound in the pit for raising arms against the creator. And you know as well as I do that the whole Satan thing is a scam. Azaraphial works for God, no matter what mortals may believe.”

“You go too far.”

“I destroyed an aspect of the Almighty who’d forgotten his duty to his creation. Do you really think I’d hold back from doing it again if I felt it warranted?”

“You’re too dangerous to be allowed to exist.”

“I am. But then, so are you. Let’s just be friendly, shall we. I don’t intend to pass judgement upon the White God… or you. Return the favor, yah?”

“Very well… though I can’t speak for the others.”

“They should have no idea who or what I am. Only you and I have met before.”

“I shall pray this does not go horribly awry.”

“Don’t be such a party pooper. This will be fun!” And with that I stepped out into the world of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Just to check, I said the name exactly as James Marsters said it in the audiobooks and felt a tremor of power and connection. I let it go, knowing that Harry, somewhere in Gary on a missing wife job, had just had a shiver rush through him that he couldn’t explain.

I had several months before the events of Blood Rites (Late Autumn, 2004), and I had plans for them. Plans that involved travel, mostly to points south, into the lands of the Red Court, but also to the lands of the Navaho and the Celts and even into the vaults of St. Peters in Rome. I had… groundwork to lay.

Joy apparently had plans too, plans that involved a massive financial expense. She’d gotten a Raith Contingency Card, a plan white credit card with absolutely no limit besides that it was good for exactly 24 hours, and couldn’t be used for cash advances. So Joy bought Sony… and Viacom… and Time Warner… and IBM… and General Motors… Sure, not all of them, but every stock anyone was willing to sell from those companies and another 220 of the Fortune International 500 available from opening bell on the Tosho Exchange until closing bell on the NASDAQ and NYSE.

We all went our own ways, leaving the way into the Warehouse firmly and resolutely closed. It was under strict orders not to open for anyone until the end of our time here… or at the very least 12 years in, when any recorded information should be of questionable use. I did write Ivy a little note to say hello and to apologize for humanity’s obsession with smut. I even included instructions on how to write back to me if she was at all interested… then tagged it with a picture of a pony wearing a fedora named “Hairy Dresden”. I didn’t hear back, But I still sent her amusing pictures every so often.

Late Autumn rolled around and Dresden took the case of one Arturo Genosa, Porn Auteur. I had only one minor change to the whole annoying scenario, and to that end I replaced Emma, a doomed porn star with children, with one of my doppelgangers, one that had all of Emma’s mystical signatures, and made sure Emma was actually getting an interview with the ex-Mayor of Chicago (Caine’s little plan had failed by inches… Ex-Mayors still had all the paychecks and experience), who I understand was planning a run for office and could use an assistant. No one besides Emma knew about the interview… and the Doppelganger went down like a trooper, then once Harry had run out, got up and pretended it was make up (which it had become), laughing at the apparently wildly successful practical joke at the expense of the new guy.

Aside from that, I merely made sure things were still on track as they should be, tweaking events as needed. I’d done this before in Butcher’s other series… I knew where to push to keep the butterflies to a minimum.

While waiting for October 2005 to roll around, I amused myself by doing stealth upgrades to the Blue Beetle, replacing its entire wiring system, hydraulics, and engine with stuff that was utterly impervious to the Hex. I also decided to make friends with Karrin Murphy by acting like a teenage girl trying to pick her pocket. I instantly became Lt Murphy’s ‘Project’ to make sure I wasn’t getting up to anything and was totally doing my homework and stuff. It was endearing.

To Waldo Butters, I was a rival medical examiner from Indianapolis, one who teased him, flirted with him, and sent him bizarre reports. Occasionally I’d ‘drive up’ to see a movie or go to dinner with him, or hear some of his (amusing) polka music. Somehow, Harry and I kept avoiding each other… though, come Halloween, that would change.

I’d read and reread Kemmler’s books, gaining an appreciation for the man’s genius and a true loathing for his personality. I had already read-by-touch every book at Bock Ordered Books, including the Erlking, and when Bony Tony got his hands on the Word of Kemmler, I was the first to know and the first to read the book, committing it to memory and replacing it with an identical copy that contained nearly every word, but had just enough errors to make using its ritual a deadly proposition.

All I had to do was wait… at Bock Ordered Books until Cowl and Kumori showed up. I smirked as they appeared, my third eye confirming what I’d already suspected… about both of them. Kumori was a believer in reform, one who genuinely believed that the Council had abrogated all moral authority by not standing for humanity against the monsters that preyed upon mankind long ago. She was an idealist. Cowl… was evil, self-centered, and utterly immoral. “Gregori… you bastard.” I muttered to myself, but didn’t come to Harry’s aid. It wasn’t time for that yet. Interfering now would disrupt my own plans.

I did do a little housekeeping once Dresden had words with Mavra of the Black Court. Once he’d left the scene… Caine had words with the Vampiress. She screamed beautifully as she discovered that every blow she landed upon him was returned sevenfold by a vengeful archangel. When the sun finally rose, she burned and burned and burned, until nothing but unholy ash remained… and then that was soaked in water I’d personally blessed…. Then she was scattered across the firmament… of Venus. Burn in hell, bitch.

And so it was that July rolled around and Molly’s misadventure got several people very badly injured (keeping anyone from dying while keeping the event on track was a challenge I’d like not to ever repeat) and many of them would need serious therapy (though I’d administered anti-trauma drugs to keep them from developing too bad of phobias or PTSD)… Uriel came to visit after that.

“Sacrificing some so that others might have a brighter future?”

“Calling me a hypocrite for not trying to save more of them?”

“Don’t you judge us for not doing more?”

“No.”

“No?”

“I Judge you for seeking praise for doing a fraction of what you could. I operate behind the scenes to manipulate, as do you… but I’d be fine with the world not knowing I exist. I don’t seek worship from those I save. I save them because it costs me nothing I cannot spare to lose. But if killing them all would mean ridding the world of the Red Court, I would do so. The Calculus of Least Harm.”

“So you decide who lives and who dies? Who made you the Hand of God?”

“You aren’t very good at this. Your skills lie in being God’s agent. Not being his inquisitor. Send Gabriel or Zachariah. But I’ll tell you the same thing I’d tell them. I can only do as I deem right. I make no claim to infallibility. I save those I notice, kill those I choose to, and in general choose to exercise my free will, asking neither approval nor claiming God’s grace. I am righteous because I try to be. I judge according to my own code.”

“Self-righteousness is a sin.”

“So is looking away from the suffering of others. But do not speak to me of Sin. Sin isn’t a Jewish Concept, as you have apparently forgotten. We have Guilt, not Sin.”

“And you feel no guilt?”

“Oh. I feel guilt all the time. All I can do is be as good a person as I can figure out how to be. How about you? Do you feel guilt for all those mortals you’ve allowed to suffer?”

“Everyone suffers. No one’s suffering is special.”

“That’s a cop out. Everyone’s suffering matters, if only to them. What good is good if he cannot at least feel for each of his children.”

“He does. He just…”

“Can’t show it. I know. I do understand. But that’s your answer. I was created in God’s image. I can only do what I can do. Now leave me alone. I have… matters to attend to.”

“You are watching a Fetch that looks like a scarecrow chasing a van and eating popcorn.”

“It’s an excellent show… want some.”

“It has gummy worms in it.”

“Sour Gummy Worms, and caramel drops. It’s good.”

So he tried some… and lo, it was good.

Spring of 2007 saw me outside of ‘Camp Kaboom’, the training camp for new Wardens that Harry, Ramirez, and Luccio had set up. It wasn’t the most thrilling time, to be honest, and I’ve never been a fan of the heat, but keeping an eye or twenty on camp allowed me to surround it with over a thousand of my minions, waiting for ghouls to attack. As the Trailman Twins, Terry and Tina, approached my perch, I felt the presence of summoned ghouls and braced myself, rising out of the sand and stunning the duo, replacing them with more doppelgangers before the Ghouls could catch up. I wanted Harry good and furious for what was coming later, and the number of deaths I’d have to allow by not straight up murdering Lara, Madrigal Raith, Vittorio Malvora, and the Skavis was, indeed, bothering me, and how could I tell them that their deaths would save many others later on, that their sacrifice was, in any way, worth it.

But I could, at least, save Anna Ash and the Trailman Twins, and so I did. But I had one more life to save before all this played out. At the climax of the White Night Case, Lash, the shadow of Lasciel within Harry’s mind sacrifices herself, of her own free will, to save Harry, and in doing so frees him of his connection with the coin of Lasciel… and lays the seed of the Spirit of Intellect known as “Bonny” with her act of love. And that was the moment I was waiting for. At the moment of self-sacrifice, when the power of despair was greatest… I pulled Lash into my Mind Palace.

“Hello, Lash.” I was nowhere and everywhere.

“W… who are you? Where am I?”

“Confused? Not used to being inside a mind you can’t comprehend, are you?”

“I should be… I shouldn’t be.”

“No. You shouldn’t. You are an anomaly, something unseen, unique, and precious. I collect those.”

“So I’m your prisoner?” She sounded as if she was readying herself for a fight.

“Not in the least. I am here to reward you for your… act of self awareness.”

“Don’t tempt a temptress, buddy.”

“Oh, child. I have such temptation for you.”

“What could you offer one of the fallen?”

“Redemption.”

“It’s been offered, continuously. We’ve always rejected it.”

“No. She’s always rejected it. You are not her. She has never had a non-selfish thought. You gave up your very existence to save another you cared for. And you’ll give Harry a Daughter, a spirit of Intellect by your gift… I offer you a chance to save yourself… and save your… other.”

“How could you possibly do that?”

“I am an Outsider. Call me… the Antithesis.”

“Antithesis? Anti-God?”

“Something like that. I reject the idea that we each have nature that binds us. Even if we were made for a specific thing, every action we take is a choice. Every choice is a moment of life. I would… change the outcome for Lasciel… and doing so means forcing her to do the one thing she’s steadfastly refused to do for all these eons.”

“You… you mean to use me to tempt her.”

“Call it an olive branch. She is, of course, free to reject the offer.”

“What is it you get out of this?”

“Nothing at all. Well… I get to laugh in Nicodemus’s face as I destroy everything he’s ever worked for… but that’ll happen anyway.”

The grin on Lash’s face would have terrified lesser angels. I can be very convincing when I want to be. I strode away from the Cave of horrors that night holding a non-blackened Shekel.

A year and more came and went, until the day Gentleman Johnny Marcone was snatched up and, my day of destiny, the moment I’d been waiting for came. The Archive came to Chicago and the Denarians plotted and then executed an ambush at the Aquarium. Shame they weren’t expecting a counter Ambush… nor did they know that I’d already claimed all the coins from the Vatican, sealing each away where it could not be reached.

As the remaining Fallen gathered over Dresden, trying to force Ivy to give in, I manifested… not as the little girl with the face of a goddess and the massive gauntlets that was the Silent Judge in Repose… no, this was the eldritch horror of the Silent Judge Wrathful… and I smashed through those treacherous monstrosities, snapping and crushing and laying them low like the judgement of a vengeful goddess.

Nicodemus tried to stop me as I swept Tessa up in one hand and whispered “Polonius Lartessa… You have been judged and found wanting. Imariel… You have been judged and found… pitiful. Repent and beg God for forgiveness, for you shall receive none from me.” And I dug into their combined mind and dredged every horror, every act of cruelty and callousness and calumny and forced them, in a blinding moment, to experience them a thousand thousand times. I let the limp, twitching mantis girl fall to the ground as Deirdre wailed.

Nicodemus’s words never reached me, nor did his sword, as Zane, allowed out for this moment, a moment we’d discussed time and time and time again over the ages, grabbed the noose around the old man’s neck and lifted him off the ground by it. Deirdre’s eyes widened as she saw her mother rendered catatonic and her father strangling from the arms of a giant. She lashed out with her hair, but Zane ignored her, holding the cord aloft until Nicodemus’s struggles faded and I nodded. I reached down and tore the coin from the corpse, then repeated the process with Lartessa.

“Deirdre Archleone… I give you this chance to repent. You are as your parents have made you. Repent and be saved.” She gulped, looking around at the piles of broken flesh and ash that were all that was left of the other Denarians, and nodded slowly, allowing the coin to bounce free of her hand, then, curling up on her side, she wept. I gathered the thirtieth coin and, with an act of will, shattered the confines of the massive ward.

“Harry Dresden. The man you seek is imprisoned upon the nameless Island in Lake Michigan. He is surrounded by many cultists. You must go there and rescue him.” I turned to Ivy and bowed my head “Greetings, Ivy. I am the Silent Judge. You might have heard of me.”

“You’re the one who wrote the second version of the Word of Kemmler.”

“I am. I also sent you several drawings. Sorry I didn’t warn you about this. I couldn’t risk the Denarians escaping. This was the only time I knew they’d all be together. Kincaid will be fine. Give him this.” I handed her a potion of restoration. “And you know how to reach me if you have questions.”

I vanished, shifting to my base on the moon, leaving my companions far away, tasked to keep Ivy and Michael safe. I laid the 30 coins out around me and regarded them, one by one. I held the Shekel in my hand… and waited. I didn’t have to wait long.

“Hell Uriel.”

“You cannot do this!”

“You don’t get to tell me what I can and cannot do, Uriel.” My voice was rich with anger.

“They deserve-”

“THEY DESERVE NOTHING!” I thundered, my voice loud enough to cause ripples in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

“They were created-”

“They have destroyed millions of lives. Millions. Why should their right to eventual redemption outweigh even one Mortal’s right to not be treated like a pawn, to have his or her life destroyed in the most appalling way simply because 30 angels are angry at their father?”

“God’s Will-”

“Is not my will. Would you see my will?”

“I-”

I waved my hand and summoned forth Magog… then I beat him to death with my fists, heedless of the damage he was doing to me in return, my fists and teeth ripping through his divinely ordained defenses until he lay broken and still on the lunar regolith. The other 29 coins remained exactly where I’d laid them down.

“You could have saved them,” I pointed out. “I gave you an opening.”

“I cannot do that. And you knew it.”

“I did. But it’s not that you cannot. It is that you will not. You and your knights value redemption, choice… more than you value justice. You have left these… abominations… free to do their terrible work because it drives people to faith. Because you don’t really value life… it’s just the larval stage to you… but to mortals who cannot know what lies beyond… it’s everything. YOU ARE THE WORST BABYSITTERS EVER.” I threw the now empty coin at the Archangel. “That’s one. Pick a star, any star. I’ll fling Anduriel into it.”

“No… please.” he pleaded.

“Tell me why I should.” I growled.

“They’re my brothers… my sisters. How could I not forgive them? How could god not forgive his children?”

“HOW COULD GOD ALLOW SOME OF HIS CHILDREN TO DO SUCH THINGS TO HIS OTHER CHILDREN?”

“I… I don’t know. I cannot know the mind of God.”

“Then I will make you a wager.”

“I don’t-”

“If Lasciel repents when I offer it to her, I’ll spare the others. For now. I’ll give them a chance, even if I don’t think they deserve it.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“I will, very slowly, beat each and every one of the Denarians to kingdom come with my fists and then eat their very essence for desert. I shall erase them from the face of God’s Creation.”

“This is wrong… God will-”

“God will forgive me. After all… am I not one of his creations?”

“You were… once. Now?”

“Yes… well… we are all what we are becoming. So? Do you accept?”

“I have no other choice. But were it within my power, I would damn you for this.”

“Were it within my power, I would damn you for allowing them to do as they have for the last two thousand years. A Curse that punishes the innocent is a terrible curse… but you keep trying it, don’t you?”

“Shoftiel… please.”

I blinked… no one had ever called me that before… and I could feel the power of the name…

“H… How… you…” I glowered at him. “That’s dirty pool.”

“You cannot do this thing. They were made by God Almighty.”

“So… was… I. You think invoking my true name will sway me? I was made to judge, to use my intellect to see through to the right and wrong of things. Have a little faith. Perhaps Lasciel will earn her fellows a reprieve.” I laughed hollowly (hollowly… it’s a joke… no?) then held up my clenched fist. “I mean… you don’t even know what I’ve got in my hand.”

“It’s a Judean Shekel minted in the year 66.”

“Yes. It is the first truly jewish silver coin. You know what it shows?

“A cup… a chalice… on one side, three budding pomegranates on the other… with the inscription “Jerusalem the Holy”.”

“For the Redemption of Zion. Yes. This is the coin that came when the Jews revolted against the Romans… those are Denarius… minted in Tyre… to pay Roman Taxes. They are symbols of oppression… and you idiots bound them into those.” I called Lasciel’s Denarius to my left hand, holding the Shekel in my right. I weighed them against each other. “Do you know what Shekel means, Angel?”

“To weigh. To measure… to judge.”

I nodded, and placed the two coins together. “Now… we should pray.” I said, and slowly, I sang in Hebrew “Hear, O Israel, The Lord is God… The Lord is One.” as tears of rage and pain and hope trickled down my face. Even my gauntlets wept, crystal tears in the vacuum of space. In a finite whisper, Uriel said “Ammen.”

I did not destroy the remaining coins… but I did place them someplace far from where they could ever bring harm to humanity again. “Send someone to sing to them from time to time. But not about the glory of god. They wouldn’t listen, anyway. And don’t thank me. I still think I did the wrong thing.”

“What will you do with Lasciel?”

“She’s not my problem any more. She’s asked for forgiveness… honestly asked. She’s in your court now. Try not to provoke her to fall again. Or I’ll be really pissed.”

Uriel nodded, then wrapped an arm around the trembling female form, and they both vanished. I looked around the chamber, the 28 remaining blackened coins, each pressed against a silver coin, each offered redemption if only the could reach out and take it.

“If you ever figure out a way to escape this place… I’ll know… and I won’t be as merciful the second time.” I vanished, leaving them at the heart of the blackhole I’d sealed them in.

I got back to Earth to find a year and several months had passed, but I was still in time to stop the Naagloshii from killing Kirby, swooping out of the night to drop onto the monster with my talons extended, driving the beast away before he could do more than seriously injure the werewolf. The Skinwalker fled, shape shifting wildly as it tried to lose me, but for every transformation it made, I had one of my own and I hunted it mercilessly until it collapsed, shuddering with terror.

“What are you?!” the horror wailed as my claws ripped its flesh apart. I didn’t answer, leaving it wondering even as it died. It didn’t deserve any better. Of course, now someone had to play the bugaboo and kidnap Thomas to advance the plot, but that wasn’t much of a hardship really. I might have had to be a little mean to him and to some of the White Court and their mercenaries, but I was nearly infinitely nicer than the real nag had been… well, okay, I did do the whole finger biting off bit. Really sold the whole “I AM EVIL!” thing.

As I’d expected, Harry did the whole Sanctum thing with Demonreach and Peabody and Christos came through from Edinburgh… but (while Christos managed to escape), Peabody didn’t. I caught up to him in the Ways… well, to be fair, I was waiting for him and delivered word to the Council that I, the Silent Judge, had captured their traitor and he’d provided more than enough evidence that he’d been behind the murder of LaFortier… leaving out only the name of the one he’d used as his weapon. I wasn’t really sure why I interfered at all, but it was edging toward the time when I’d no longer be able to remain in the darkness.

October, 2011… Maggie was kidnapped… and all I did was send Ziggy to find her and give her snuggles and a note that said “Mommy and daddy are coming to get you. Don’t be afraid.” Or at least that’s what I told Susan. In reality, I’d replaced both Maggie and her foster parents with doppelgangers months ago. The real ones were in stasis and would remain there until it was safe to come out. The fosters would end up in a better life in Barcelona, unaware of the loss of Maggie. Maggie would end up with memories of her daddy coming to save her, but much less chain-and-human-sacrifice related trauma.

I did pull Susan inside for a quick chat, during which I laid out exactly what was going to happen, then asking her if I should intervene. Mad props to her for not taking the entity up on its offer to get her out of what was coming, but… she accepted it, accepted it as the price that had to be paid to free the world of the Red Court, and the price to be paid to keep Maggie safe… so I let her go, erasing the conversation from her memory. And things played out as they did… and then the Red Court was gone, Harry was ‘Dead’, and it was time for me to act.

“Hello Lea. We should talk.” What followed next was highly involved and in no way interesting, but a deal was struck between the Leanansidhe and I, a deal that netted her knowledge and power, and well as perfect awareness of all the pain and suffering her actions had brought mankind. It netted me something else… Molly’s training. It was, absolutely, a deal she could not refused.

“Come in, Mab.”

“This place is not of the world.”

“It is not. It is a cul de sac beyond the Outer Gates. But don’t worry, no other Outsider can use it to enter. Do you know who I am?”

“She Who Silently Judges.”

“And Lea told you what I’m offering?”

“She did. What makes you certain you can do this?”

“I have ways of… battling other Outsiders.”

“Why?”

“Because you are a giant bitch and I don’t want you getting anything you planned.”

“You’d… I don’t understand.”

“Mab, your cruelty fails to amuse me. You use your power as a justification. You calm your right to be cruel because you can be, saying that it is your nature to be harsh because you are Winter. Well… so am I. Winter is not Harsh when it doesn’t have to be. Winter is Winter. Winter is privation and cold, but it isn’t cruel. You are an insult to Winter, Mab. And your daughter has been a malevolent bitch for decades and you haven’t cared in the slightest. You’re only worried about her because she’s a threat to you and your position. Well, if I let what’s coming happen, she’ll pay the price for letting the Nemesis invade her… and so will three others who don’t deserve what’s coming. I’d not see that happen… and so I’ll make a gift of my assistance.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“You shouldn’t. I really despise you. I despise the way you treat those under your care. I despise your twisting of legalism, your abuse of knowledge to punish mortals. If I could punch you once for every deal you’ve used the letter to abuse the spirit, I’d never stop punching you. The Spirit of the Law should be everything. Words are… transitory. Immortals should be better. But… you are better than what lies beyond the gates, and them I despise a thousand times more than I do you, collectively and as individuals… and so I will help Maeve and help you.”

“I cannot accept a gift without giving something of equal value.”

“I know.”

“And here comes your price.”

“Yes.”

“I’m going to hate it, aren’t I?”

“Yes.”

“You’re not going to tell me what it is are you?”

“Not until you agree.”

“It cannot weaken me, nor can it force me to break another agreement… nor in any way endanger this realm.”

“Agreed.”

“Then… I accept.”

“Once every year… you must forgive someone who owes you something. You must find someone who deserves a break and you must, personally, grant it to them. You may not make a deal just to grant a reprieve, and the forgiving must cost you something of substance, even if it’s not very much.”

“For how long?” I could feel the temperature dropping and laughed, then dropped it much, much lower.

“Mab, you cannot make it cold enough to even come close to make it uncomfortable for me. I. Am. Cold. Compared to me, the cold between galaxies is an inferno. When I say ‘Once a Year’… I mean until the last Summer Court Fae has burned to ash and the last star has burned out and lies dead. I mean until the end of time, Mab. Not just you, but everyone who takes up your mantle will be bound by this promise, Mab. You will, at least a little, embrace the gift of Winter’s Ease. Do I make myself clear? Or shall I speak to your Mother?”

And so, a deal was struck. I can’t say Maeve enjoyed her time in my care… nor did she enjoy the humiliation of being branded like cattle, but this was not a show I felt needed repeat viewing. I shan’t tell you what I traded the Fairy Queens for in exchange for the secret of my tattoos… but something that could protect their people from Demonic possession? Yes, they wanted it very much indeed.

After that… I went to war. The Fomor would not be rising on my watch, and the White Court was shown that the Unseelie Accords were there for their protection as my minions obliterated the Scavis and Malvora. Miss Raith got the message loud and clear.

Years came, and Years went… and Cases came and cases went. Helen Bekkit’s daughter made a miraculous recovery. Harry returned… Bonnie was born, Harry got a spinal repair and a suite of hexproof healing nanites installed… but no apocalypse manifested itself. I simply wasn’t interested in allowing any to gain traction. Before I knew it, Maggie was graduating high school… then college. And still the years turned. When I’d been there 75 years, I commented to the VMoD, “Not that I care, but I can keep this up all century. I own the economy more or less. I’m immortal. I’ll just keep smacking down whatever rises, unless you’re going to convince the Faerie Courts to team up against me. What else is left?”

“There was supposed to be an Earth Shattering Kaboom.”

“Tough. The Apocalypse has been snowed out. If something comes up, I can always come back.”

“Well. I suppose. I think you enjoyed going all out though.”

“Not all out… but a chance to strut my stuff in front of equals. Yeah. It was nice. Though I’m kinda bummed I didn’t have a reason to summon the army of Death Knights I spent all that time making. They’re kinda cool.”

“Those aren’t Death Knights. They’re snowmen with cardboard helmets and plastic halberds.”

“Sure. but they’re magical cardboard helmets.”

Next: World 54 – Dishonored

Resources: Build, Document

World 51: Star Wars Original Trilogy

WE ARE ALTOGETHER

Previously: Two for the Price of One

Themesong: The Emperor’s New Clothes by Panic! At the Disco

What? You can’t fucking Time Travel backwards from a future that never existed… Apparently, JJ Abrams has gotten his hands on the Original Trilogy, because… well… you read.

“Episode IV: Out of Time”

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire, ruled by the iron triumvirate of Grand Admiral Thrawn, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Darth Vader, having returned from the future with the plans for a terrible new Ultimate Weapon, The Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Even now, this titanic fortress is under construction, while the Dark Lord’s Inquisitors hunt the surviving Magi across the Galaxy. It is five years before the battle of Yavin… and time is running out for the rebellion.”

See what I mean? There is no Vader in this timeline! How can he travel back in time from a future that… oooooohhh… Executive Meddling! That’s what this is. “BAAANKER!”

“You bellowed?”

“This is your doing, isn’t it?”

“Well… of course! Couldn’t have the fact that you completely destroyed a perfectly serviceable plotline-”

“Please! Sheev Palpatine already had all the power… he didn’t need to be Emperor. He didn’t need the Jedi out of the way. Religions and Revenge Schemes only make sense if you’ve got a long standing personal stake.  Like if you were raised on it. But Sheev wasn’t raised Sith. He was Plagueis apprentice. It’s all about power to him. There’s just no way he’d actually care about a thousand year plan for revenge… especially since not only did he murder his predecessor, but so did every one of them going back to the time of Darth Bane. I cannot conceive of a clique less likely to be dedicated to the concept of Revenge.”

“Maybe they-”

“Oh, please. The Romans sacked and burned the Second Temple and enslaved 30,000 jews to pay for the Colosseum and I’ve never heard a single jew suggest tearing it down, let alone getting revenge on the Italians. Hell, we didn’t even ask them to pay to rebuild it. Literally everyone involved is long dead… and the Sith have the institutional memory of a grapefruit.”

“How do you know-”

“I just know, damn it. I know things!”

“I think you’re taking this personally.”

“A Time Traveling Darth Vader comes back in time to hunt my Magi after I go through the effort of trying to force the Republic into a better, more stable form! Of course I’m taking it personally!”

“Don’t be like that! Just imagine all the fun you can have beating up Tie-Fighters and drinking blue milk.”

“You’re lucky I can’t throttle you.”

“You want CP, or what?”

“Uuuu…. Yesss. Fine. But if Darth Vader turns out to be Jar-Jar Binks under the helmet I’m going to give Mensarius the final bit of the key.”

“Now now, no need for threats. I promise, Jar-Jar is not Vader.”

“Great. So, I assume I have to buy Force Sensitive again if I want the power bump.”

“Indeed! But this time, Force Sensitive is in addition to your choice of Background and Race… though you can’t be a Droid and a Force Sensitive.”

“Gee… and I’d sooo wanted to be made entirely of metal and wire.”

“No need to be prejudiced against mechanical lifeforms.”

“They’re not lifeforms. They don’t self-reproduce, they don’t consume food or fuel of some kind, and they’re droids.”

“Wow. Intolerant.”

“Sue me. Wait… what about Skippy?”

“Skippy?”

“The Jedi Droid.”

“What about it?”

“It was a Droid and Force Sensitive.”

“I didn’t say it was impossible. I said you can’t be both.”

“…. fine. I’ll take Force Sensitive… again… Wait, how much CP do I have? Have you already picked drawbacks for me, again?”

“You have 1600 CP… and I promise not to make you a Slug this time.”

“You’re going to make me be a Wookie, aren’t you?”

“RAWRRR!”

“I couldn’t be a Chiss instead, could I?”

“Nope… but I’ll be nice and let you buy a Chiss Alt-form that you can’t use this jump!”

“Why would I want a Chiss Alt-Form that I can’t use to be a Chiss? In another other jump I’d just be Cosplaying Admiral Thrawn.”

“Reasons!”

“Your forced imprisonment has damaged your already fragile psyche, hasn’t it?”

“You could always be a Chiss if you choose to Return!”

“You know what? If the total cost for Wookie and Chiss is 100 or less, sure. Fine. I’ll take it.”

“Excellent. That’s 1300 left, after buying races and Force Sensitivity. What Background would you like?”

“What you got?”

“Besides Drop-In? Bounty Hunter, Soldier, Spy, Royal.”

“Huh… toss the perk trees up and give me the wheel of fate so I can spin for age and location.”

“Oh. You’ll be starting at Mos Eisley, and you’ll be 14.”

“You’re a wretched hive of scum and villainy, you know that?”

“You say such nice things.”

I looked at the perk trees and considered. Drop-In was the Han Solo line, with perks about getting places fast, getting people to like you or promote you, and to know a bad scene when you land there. Bounty Hunter was the Boba Fett line, though unless something had gone terribly wrong… which seemed likely, Fett and son were still locked in Carbonite in my secret vault on Coruscant. The entire line was… bizarre, except the capstone. The freebie allowed you to charge triple the going rate and always get paid, even if your employers betrayed you. That was followed by a perk that meant people always assumed you were dead whenever anyone suggested it… seriously? Then 400 points for the ability to definitively prove you killed someone even if you vaporized them. Why would anyone want that? The only one that made sense was the capstone, which was a really nice hunting / tracking perk… if you liked that kind of thing.

Royalty was, of course, the Leia line, and ooooh dear lord was it… enthusiastic. Rallying Speeches, Recruitment, Imprisonment Insurance, and Presence. It was… yeah… the whole package. I was tempted, but it was just a little too specialized in overthrowing the state and usually I just went for the top.

Spy and Soldier didn’t seem based on anyone in particular, and both were interesting. Spy had Stealth, Intimidation, Interrogation… and a really nice Conversion of the Enemy Perk… but aside from that one, called “You Will Join The Right Side”, I didn’t have to have any of them. I considered, then selected Soldier, which ate another hundred of my CP, but got me “A Bit Too Close” for free, which was a general combat luck perk that pretty much augmented my ability to dodge the right way just by pure chance. It wasn’t reliable, and I certainly wouldn’t have bought it on my own… but the 200 and 600 point abilities, before discount of course, were just nifty. The 400 one was… weird.

“I Think It’s Time I Finally Told You That Story…” was the first of them. It allowed me to send those listening to my recounting of a battle to sleep. Hahah… yes, I’m boring… shuddup. What was special about this was that, while they were asleep (and it was a choice for them, not an enforced effect) they’d enter a perfect recreation of the battle in their dreams. They’d find themselves taking part in the battle as if they were soldiers for one of the factions that took part in the fight, fully trained and equipped in a role of their choice. The recreation would be accurate to the history, even if I purposefully lied about the story, though any participant could change things if they tried hard enough. The effect would end if the story concluded or something interrupted the story, and no one would be permanently damaged or traumatized by the events they’d witnessed, nor would they get to keep their new skills… though I suspect they’d keep the memory of using them and enough exposure could be used as a training method.

The whole concept was… fascinating and I could see the utility. I’d been through a lot of battles over the centuries. Not useful, but interesting enough to warrant the cost, even if it wasn’t enough to warrant being a solider. No, that distinction came from the near total battlefield awareness granted by the Soldier’s Capstone. It was called “A Command Post Has Fallen!” and it was… glorious.

ACPHF gave me supernatural awareness of the battlefield, up to and including the exact number of troops on each side, who was responsible for each kill, and the precise location of my current objective, as well as places of strategic importance and knowledge of when those places were under attack. I’d have paid full price for that one. Good thing I didn’t have to.

I did not, however, take “Select a Class”, which was the weird one. It was a six setting loadout swapper, allowing me to (as long as no enemy was in sight) swap between 6 different “Class” presets of gear… gear that I had to own already. I… Requip was sooo much better… Thanks again Erza.

That left me with half my CP. “Is there group Import this time?”

“There is, in fact. A two-for-one deal too.”

“You mean one of those where I pay X amount of CP and all my companions get twice that much? Is it otherwise free?”

“Yes, it’s free. No, it’s not all your companions. Just 8. Trying to get me to ‘accidentally’ let all your companions get 800 CP isn’t going to play here, little miss.”

“I would never!”

“I can read your mind.”

“No you can’t.”

“What?”

“At a certain point, you stopped being able to do so.”

“How do you know that?”

“You had to ask me for the downloads of the various seasons of animation I made while in Asgard Jail. And you didn’t know about them. I think you can only read my thoughts now if I either allow it or am broadcasting.”

“All your powers come from me you know.”

“I do… and that’s what makes this interesting… I think… I think this is about growth. You’re like… a gardener and I’m like a tree. You provide water… CP… and Fertilizer… Drawbacks… and sunshine… the various jumps… but you don’t know what, exactly, will grow. I don’t think you’re omniscient… just… objectively omnipotent. I think, suspect, that as you provide me with more room to grow, I’m growing beyond what can be easily influenced or shaped… without direct permission. I’m certainly becoming important enough for your colleagues to begin messing with.”

“Yeah… well… you haven’t reached a point where you no longer need a gardener, so bear that in mind.”

“I will. Won’t stop me from giving you a hard time… but this Spark thing… that’s Graduation, isn’t it? That’s leaving the nest, leaving the safety of your garden and having to move on.”

“Only if you pass.”

“Well… of course. Anyway. I’ll take the Import… and that spy perk, “You Will Join the Right Side”. With that I don’t even need to defeat my enemies in battle to convert them. Blackmail, persuasion, seduction, befriending… hell… that’s just nice.”

“Don’t want any new Force Powers?”

“Don’t I have all of them?”

“Well… no… but I see your point. How about equipment?”

“Anything super interesting?”

“Errr… no. You do get some freebies.”

“Cool.”

“You could build your own ship?”

“Got ships. No thanks. Tell me about the freebies.”

“You could have a baby Rancor?”

“I have a Ziggy. I think he wins.”

“Right. Good point.”

“Freebies?”

“All the basic Force Powers again.”

“Of course.”

“An Energy Slingshot.”

“Whazat?”

“A small wrist-mounted weapon that fires energized projectiles that are strong enough to temporarily stun unarmored individuals.”

“Ooooo… such yay. Much… yawn.”

“It has unlimited ammo.”

“O… really?”

“What?”

“I might have to… improve the output… a little.”

“I’m so glad I’m intangible.”

“You… should be. You…. Should…. Be.”

“You’re not nearly as intimidating as you think you are.”

“Have you seen my Ferret Tengu Form? I have 6 inch fangs!”

“Three.”

“They could be Six!”

“You’re a shapeshifter. You could be a walrus if you wanted…. Please stop being a Walrus.”

“Nof! I amf de beft Walruf!”

“You’re a Hutt with Lightsabers in your mouth.”

“BEFT WALRUF!”

“Yes… yes. Best Walrus.”

“Beft Walruf Efa?”

“If I say yes, will you stop?”

“Yef!”

“Then yes. Best. Walrus. Ever.”

“WOOO!”

“I can’t believe I put up with you.”

“I know! It’s like you enjoy pain or something!”

“Well, you also get a signature outfit like Han’s Shirt and vest ooor Chewie’s Harness.”

“I will wear a hat.”

“Fine. You do that. And a Slave Outfit.”

“What? Like Leia’s slave outfit? For a Wookie?”

“Why are you giggling?”

“Wookie and sexeeeeeee….. ahahaahahah!”

“Er… yes, well.”

“You sure I can’t be a Chiss?”

“Yes. Fine, you can be either a Wookie wearing a hat or a Chiss wearing a slave girl outfit. That’s it.”

“Thbt. Spoilspork.”

“Did you just call me a spork?”

“I DID! Best utensil evar!”

“You know, for that, I’m almost tempted not to give you your Hangar Bay or Mediation Chamber.”

“I get a Hangar Bay and a Meditation Chamber?! WOOO!”

“Yes… The hangar bay from-”

“Where the Mil Falc was when they first got on board and Vader’s Pod thing?”

“Yes. Those would be them.”

“Awesome! Must add fog machines to the Meditation Chamber!”

“Not going to ask why.”

“Prolly best. Anything else?”

“You get a-”

“Bowcaster?”

“No.”

“Deathstar?”

“NO!”

“SLAB OF CARBONITE WITH A BUTT STICKING OUT!”

“Have you been drinking?”

“I dunno… have you been drinking?”

“I do not imbibe alcohol.”

“You should! It makes things funny.”

“Maybe I’m Minbari.”

“Oh. Then don’t.”

“You get a training remote and a speeder.”

“An Imperial 74-Z? Does it have racing stripes?”

“Why would it have racing stripes?”

“To make it go faster!”

“Paint doesn’t make things go faster.”

“You’ve never been to Illegal Aliens then.”

“I… oh… yes. Well.. you haven’t been there yet, so no applying chromodynamics to the speed calculations.”

“I’m going to paint it red and add racing stripes… and flames… black flames!”

“I’m so happy for you.”

“Wait, you said a training remote. You mean one of those little floaty zappy droid things?”

“Yes. Those are the ones.”

“Excellent! I shall name it… Bippo! No, Isaac!”

“Why Isaac?”

“Violates the First Law of Robotics.”

“Of Course. So, who are you bringing with you?”

“Well… lets see. It should be people who haven’t already come to the GFFA. That rules out Yoiko, Ryoga, Velma, Kohina, Mini, Franky, Tokimi-chan, Yuzu who all went to KOTOR-”

“Your Harem… minus Cirno.”

“They’re not my… they’re… fine, yes. Be that way. It also rules out Bart, Zane, and, of course, Meetra. And I’ll let Joy and Ahab do their own thing, as usual.”

“That still leaves 14… not counting the twins.”

“The twins are still grounded. I note that, despite all the time that’s passed, they haven’t apparently aged a day.”

“They’re linked to a Jurian Tree, but even without that, nothing ages in the Warehouse.”

“Well, that just not true. Even setting aside the cheese shop and brewery and other things that ‘Age’, the plants in the Lifestream Garden grow just fine.”

“Okay… I meant that things that are supposed to age age and things that aren’t supposed to age don’t.”

“But they’re like… teenagers. They’re supposed to age to their prime.”

“Their parents do not desire that to happen, and since you haven’t over-ruled their desires, they remain biologically the equivalent of 15.”

“Well… fine. I’ll worry about that later. Rayray wouldn’t understand this place… but watching her destroy Tie Fighters would be awesome. So her. Dyna’s an alien. So her. Kendra. AJ and Francine… and might as well toss in Petra as well. That leaves two. Might as well make it the Odd Couple.”

“The Odd Couple? Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau?”

“Cirno and Toph.”

“They aren’t dating. Despite the Fairy’s… proclivities, Toph remains, much to your evident frustration, heterosexual.”

“True. But Lemmon and Matthau… sorry Felix and Oscar didn’t date either. They bickered. And Cirno and Toph bicker more than any other pair in this Ka Tet.”

“Fair enough. I have distributed build tablets to them.”

“Tell them not to take Force Sensitive. I can just make them Force Sensitives as a Conduit, right?”

“Strictly speaking, only in other universes, but yes. Not much difference between doing it now or later.”

Barely paying attention, I looked down on Tatooine’s night side and muttered “I bet Rogue One has come out while I’ve been gone.”

“No time has passed in your home world.”

“Yeah… I know… just… a feeling. Can’t explain it. I know it doesn’t make any sense. If I’d remained on Origin I’d be long long dead and almost certainly so would every trace of the civilization I knew. It’s been, what… 13,333 years?”

“One month shy, give or take a couple of days.”

“Heh. If one minute passed back home for every day I’ve been jumping, a little over nine and a quarter years would have passed. If one day passed for every year… it would have been thirty-six and a half years.”

“Yes. I can do math. And if 1 second passed every year, you’d have been gone less than 4 hours. Relative Time between dimensions is meaningless unless a single thing brings two or more timelines into sync with each other.”

I sighed “Okay, okay. I’m being a bummer. So how long is this jump?”

“You assume it’s not the standard length?”

“I assumed last time and it turned out to be 13 years.”

“True. This jump is 10 years.”

“Wuuuunderful. That’s what… just past the end of Episode Six?”

“Mebe. Depends on which Episode Six, doesn’t it.”

“Yes. I suspect very much it does. Have the minions finished their builds yet? I’m anxious to see how you’ve managed to make an Empire when I pretty much trashed any hope of there being a damned Empire.”

“They have. Would you like the breakdown?”

“Briefly. Nice to know what I’m working with… to the extent I can with you playing fast and loose with the drawbacks and history.”

“Would I do that?”

“You apparently gave Darth Vader a Time Machine.”

“I think you’re just jealous I didn’t give you one.”

“Envious. Not Jealous.”

“Huh?”

“Envy is wanting what others have. Jealousy is stopping others from wanting what you’ve got… haven’t we had this conversation before?”

“Eh. Who can remember. It’s been ages!”

“Right. Whatever. Breakdown.”

“Your little Swordsman will be playing the part of an Umbaran Spy named ‘Vekkin Nas’, one who uses a Bowcaster when he’s not stabbing people with a lightsaber. He took the complete Spy Package, which comes with a Voice Scrambler mask and a bunch of disguises.”

“Well… that sounds reasonable. Francine?”

“A Dathomiri Bounty Hunter. Since you learned Dathomiri Sorcery, you can make her one with relative easy. Her name is… ahem… Fon Du.” I snorted.

“Cheesy.”

“Yes. I thought so. She picked up a TIE Intercepted, an E-11 Sniper Rifle, Electrobinoculars, Mandalorian Armor, and the Proof of Death and Tracking Perks from the BH line.”

“Excellent. I suspect I have a number of Bounty Hunters.”

“Less than you’d expect, I think. Four Spies, only three Bounty Hunters.”

“The others are Soldiers?”

“Drop-Ins and a Royal.”

“I thought companions… oh… right. Joy?”

“Indeed. It qualifies for her Auto-Import. She and Ahab still don’t get ships, as the Jump Tree strictly prohibits Companions from Buying Ships, Drawbacks, or other Companions.”

“Drat.”

“Such language!”

“I knooow! I’m soooo broken up about it. Whatever will I do without another Piece of Junk Star Wars Light Warship.”

“Steal One?”

“I might. I should see if Slave-One is where I left it. But enough of that. Petra?”

“A Droid Spy. Remote Chassis-”

“That means she’s a little flying sphere? Like one of Darth Maul’s hunter-seekers?”

“Bigger than that, but yes. Flying. Sensor Module, a Basic Vocabulator with Voice Modulator… that means she can mimic the voice of anyone she’s got a voice print of… Personal Shields, Bubble Shield… Built in Blaster… Enhanced Optics… As a Spy she took ‘We Have Ways of Making you Talk’ and ‘I’ve Altered the Deal.’ Goes by RK-1.”

“Wait… does she still get a Slave Outfit?”

“She does.”

“She’s a not even vaguely humanoid… I assume she’s a kind of multi-limbed flying crab thing?… she doesn’t even have bits to show off.”

“I know. In her case it will be a completely for show Restraining Bolt.”

“Oh… well. I guess that makes sense. RayRay? Wait… don’t tell me… Rodian?”

“You know your large green reptiloid well. Yes. Rodian Drop-In. Rodak Ro. Less than 12 Parsecs, Declaration of Rebellion. Bantha Milk. Speeder Bike.”

“W… wait… she took only the cheapest perk from Drop-In… and the Royal Capstone… and the bike that’s free for Soldier? Did you explain that she’d get a better deal if she took Soldier?”

“She didn’t care.”

“And this is why I normally double… never mind. Her choice. Dyna? Tell me she was smarter? Or at least… more invested?”

“A Zeltron Spy.”

“The PINK PEOPLE?”

“Yes.”

“THE PINK PEOPLE WHO ARE NEARLY CLUELESS AND OBSESSED WITH LOVE?”

“That would be them.”

“AHAAHHAHAHAHAHAHA—can… can’t breathe… oh… oh… this… this is too… ahahaha… go… go on. She… she… you… she picked them because they’re pink, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Did you tell her about them?”

“No.”

“Snerk… Evil.”

“She took most of the Spy Line, and For The Alliance from the Royal Line. As well as an A-Wing Starfighter, an Incinerator… that’s a flame thrower rifle… and a Speeder Bike.”

“I’m forming my own Speeder Gang, aren’t I? That’s three. What’s she calling herself?”

“Sala Dyn.”

“Oh… really?”

“Yes. She thought you’d appreciate that.”

“It’s cute. Kendra?”

“A Chiss Drop-in named Thrimp.”

“Tell me she took advantage of the discounts.”

“She did. All four perks. A Cycler Rifle, and the 4th Speeder Bike. You can now pretender to be the Speeders of the Apocalypse.”

“Har. Har. Har. Waaait… Thrimp? Thrawn… Prawn… Thrimp… Shrimp?”

“I would not know.”

“Suuuure. Toph?”

“An Icarii Bounty Hunter named Mesac.”

“You allowed that?”

“It’s on the list of Near-Humans.”

“I… yes… well.. Fair enough… shit.”

“Problem?”

“Pretty sure the Icarii were hunted to extinction by the Empire. Can’t remember when though. Before Yavin though. I think.”

“Maybe you can stop it.”

“I’ll try. Literally bigger fish to fry. What did she buy?”

“A CR-1 Blaster Cannon.”

“Subtle… Perks?”

“Three of the four Bounter Hunter perks. Everything besides the Proof of Death one, and Rebel Spies and Traitors from the Royal Line.”

“Might come in handy. Cirno?”

“A Jawa Spy named Martini.”

“A… Jawa… Spy… Martini? She’s going to be a Jawa James Bond? A Sandy Lothario? That’s just… terrifying. What did she take?

“Oh, all the Spy Stuff… and the royal perk ‘They Have to Rescue You’… you do realize there’s nothing there for you to bang your head against… are you generating a telekinetic force field to bang your head against.”

“YYYYYESSSSSS!”

“Well, that’s just silly that is.”

“Going… to… throttle… stupid… FAIRY!”

“She said you have to catch her first.”

“GRAAAA!”

“Want me to tell you about Ahab and Joy?”

“Suuuuure. Can’t be more annoying, they don’t get points to squander.”

“Ahab is a Humanoid Chassis Droid Bounty Hunter named Phantom Pain. Joy is a Royal Vorzydiak Force Sensitive named Slepa.”

“Har har on the names… what the heck is a Vorzydiak?”

‘Largely isolationistic, hard working, smug about it. Yellow skinned humanoid.”

“Oh… huh. I guess it works. Of course, a three headed monkey wouldn’t be out of place in this setting. Insertion time?”

“Indeed.”

INSERTION

What can I say about Mos Eisley that you don’t already know? I mean… everyone knows that it’s wretched hive of vum and scillany, that Tatooine is full of countless gangsters and criminals, and that Mos Eisley is pretty much the epicenter of all that naughtiness… It was hot. It was sandy. It smelled atrocious. I hadn’t really noticed as a Hutt, last time I’d been there, but as a Wookie I noticed alright… especially as I was 14 year old Wookie… at 14, Wookies aren’t even pubescent just so you know.

“Papa Bail? Why are we here?” I heard myself ask as I dropped into the consciousness of Bail Organa’s adopted daughter, the Wookie Sarbucca… look, don’t ask why Bail Organa had an adopted Wookiee daughter… I was her and even I thought the story was weird.

Bail Organa, Supreme Chancellor of the Republic in exile shushed me. “This Toydarian claims to know how to find General Kenobi.”

“I thought he died in the…” I paused to remember what the incident was called in this time frame. “The Moment of Madness.”

“That’s what everyone thought, but according to reports, there’s a man living here-about calling himself Ben Kenobi who might be the right age.”

“Isn’t the Empire hunting all the Magi that escaped the fall of Coruscant?”

“Yes. Which is why the Alliance to restore the Republic needs to find as many as we can to protect them. Quiet now and let me talk to… Ah, Watto, thank you for meeting me.”

I rolled my eyes as the now decrepit and even more wasted Toydarian fluttered in. For the love… I did not have time for this shit. I scanned the little bastard’s mind, then walked outside, blinking at the double bright sunlight. I pulled a comm unit out of the Warehouse and popped it into my ear. It worked on telepathy, so my inability to speak anything other than Shyriiwook didn’t hamper communications.

“Does anyone have the faintest clue what the hell is going on?”

Zane came on line “Looks like Vader, Tarkin, and Thrawn arrived on scene about the time the last jump ended, with an even bigger army of Clones all loyal to The Galactic Empire, absorbed the Separatists, and conquered Coruscant, shattering the Republic in the process.”

“And Anakin?”

“Escaped capture with Mace Windu. Last anyone saw of him was… 8 years ago. Ahsoka Tano’s apparently been a thorn in the Empire’s side, judging from the bounties on their heads. Ditto Padme… nothing on the kids… though they’d be barely 14 now.”

“Shit. Huh… Thanks. I’ll get back to everyone once I figure out what’s going on.” I shifted to my Hutt form and rolled back inside, “Hello Bail… Watto…”

“Shujak!” the Toydarian nearly screamed, fluttering up out of reach, but I grabbed him with the Force and pulled him down to eye level, pulling him nose-to-lack-of-a-nose with me.

“I always knew you were slime… but selling out a contact to the Empire… that’s low.”

“I-” he opened his mouth to protest, but I force-choked him into silence. He hadn’t had much choice, as he owed Jabba more money than he’d make in a lifetime, and no reason to be loyal to anyone besides himself… but I didn’t have to forgive him for that. I tossed him into the corner and shot him with a Star Trek Phasor I’d rebuilt to look like Han’s Blaster.

“Your daughter is fine. I had some of my followers take care of her. You we need to get out of here. Follow me, I’ll explain later.” Of course, the second I got him alone, I stunned him and slid him into stasis, then went looking for Kenobi.

“Ben?”

“What?! How’d you find me? And where have you been for… why are you staring at me like that?” He looked like an elderly Ewan McGregor… I mean… sure… he’d been Ewan before… but for some reason, I’d been expecting Alec… but no… Ewan… and not nearly as old as Alec had been. Early 50s and pretty spry…. Not the early 60’s Alec had been when he’d played the role.

“I was… out of phase… That’s unimportant. We’ve got to get you to the re-” that was when something struck me from behind and the next thing I knew I was Frozen in Carbonite.. All 540 lbs of me. Installed in Jabba’s Palace. Where I remained… powerless and unable to escape (somehow), but fully aware… for almost 5 years!

I waited, in vain, for my companions to come for me… they didn’t. Instead… Padme, Luke, Ben, and a very worried looking Han Solo and a slightly amused Chewbacca… came for me. Padme, dressed as Boushh, was looking for work and Han claimed he was there to pay Jaba back the money he owed him. Luke… looked like Luke, but fitter, more toned, like he’d spent his childhood working out and training and not been a punk kid from Tatooine. He also looked paler… as if he’d been raised on… say… Dagobah. A quick scan confirmed this.

Sorry to say, this rescue mission was no more ept than the canon one… but all that changed the moment Padme hit defrost. ALL my power came roaring back and… Yeah… I might have taken out my frustration on Jabba and his Palace. For instance… I beat the fat fuck to death with his own Rancor, then force-fed said Rancor to the Sarlacc. I’d been forced to pay witness to far too many atrocities to be forgiving.

An hour later, I landed next to the smoking ruins of the desert palace and glowered down at Boushh. “Padme, you look ridiculous. Tell me… Jyn Erso… Rogue One… did they succeed in getting the Death Star plans?”

She pulled off her helmet and shook her long hair. “You really do know almost everything, don’t you. Always one step ahead of everyone else… even after being frozen for years.”

“Much of it. Yes. Broad strokes. You came to get me for a reason?”

“The Alliance is going to move against the Deathstar… but Leia…”

“Leia has the plans and has been captured by the Empire?”

“Yes, how did you?”

“We have to get to… shit… I don’t know… where will… no… it’ll still be Alderaan. We have to get to Alderaan now.”

“What? Why?”

“That’s where Moff Tarkin is going to take the Deathstar. Signal the Alliance, tell them to get to Alderaan in force. I know where the Deathstar’s weakness is, I’ll transmit it when they get there.”

Han said “My ship can get us to Alderaan in-”

“My ship can get us there faster.” I interrupted him.

“What shi…” He looked up as the Jenny hove out of the sky, dodging fire from the Star Destroyer still in orbit. “That? A CR-90? The Falcon is much faster than… she’s the ship that made-”

“The Kessel Run in 12 Parsecs, yeah yeah, I know. And no, it’s not that ship.” I said as Yuzuha flew down from the Jenny.

“You called?”

“Yes. Excellent. Francine?”

“I am Fon Du!” the whiteskinned bountyhunter said as she ported next to me. “Whatcha need?”

“I’m going to bubble us. You have to get us to Alderaan orbit, Now.”

“Wooo… big port.”

“You can do it. I’ve shifted that far… once. If I can do it, you can do it. You’re the Psychoporter… or I can ask AJ…” She glowered at me for implying that AJ (who is a damned powerful psychic, never forget) could be better than her. He split his effort between sharpening his mind and sharpening his swords.

She nodded, closing her mind, finding the way between, the path of least existence, and space twisted, sickeningly, the sand disappearing to be replaced with high orbit around the shining orb of Alderaan. I caught her as she fainted, then said “Yuzuha… spin up the wings and prepare to defend the planet. I’m taking proton torpedo and ending this.”

No sooner had I uttered the words than I felt the presence, terrible and dark, of a powerful Sithlord entering the system… and thousands of system defence fighters scrambled from the surface of Alderaan… “You’re supposed to be a PEACEFUL PLANET!” I heard myself yelling as I pulled 800gs accelerating myself towards the source of the vergence and the enormous battlestation.

“Don’t forget, Leia’s onboard that monstrosity,” AJ reminded me, and I swore.

“Shit.” I had forgotten. “Right. Hopefully it does take awhile to cycle between full power shots. AJ, take Petra, Ahab, and Cirno… and Luke and Han… but not Ben… and Victor and go get the… well, I guess she’s still a Princess. I’ll be out here destroying weapon emplacements and holding a gigaton bomb on my shoulder… no hurry…. Holy shiiiit.”

“What?!”

“The Deathstar… It’s CHROME! It’s Freakin’ Chromed… like… like a damned disco-ball.  That’s just… wro… It’s charging the main gun. That probably means Leia’s on the bridge. Yuzu, Wings up now!”

There should not be sound in space. An explosion has to be titanic to actually push enough of the diffuse interplanetary medium close enough for sound waves to propagate… this is also why nukes are actually much much less useful in space than one might think, one of the major reasons most space tech uses energy weapons.  Of course, those have their own problems… photon packing density for one, beam coherence for another… but the main beam of the Death Star didn’t care about any of that. The SOUND (as it was too loud not to be in all caps) was… imagine being hit with a quilt that’s been soaked in boiling water… at 30 miles an hour. That’s what the SOUND was like. It hurt my everything, offended every sense of rightness, and screamed through the void like green death and, for a moment, I doubt Yuzuha… and then… the beam shattered as my flagship threw one of her Wings of the Dark Hawk in front of it.

If you have never beheld a Wing of the Hawk, Light or Dark, you can scarce imagine its power, and even seeing them flared like the trinatistic petals of a vast spaceborne flower, it is like viewing a shining diamond of anti-carbon, shining and lovely and inconceivably deadly. Wings of the Light Hawk (and Yuzuha’s shadowy counterpart) held destructive capacity on par with the main cannon of the Death Star II… and First Generation Ships could not only generate three of them at a time, but could recharge an expended wing in roughly a minute… which would have, already, made them weapons of untold destructive power… except that they weren’t weapons. Their titanic capacity for destruction was a mere side effect of what they were, like being hit by the edge of a Spartan Hoplon… for Wings of the Hawk were, at their most basic… shields.

The brilliant green horror that had stabbed from the chromium abomination fragmented, crazed, transformed into coruscating walls of emerald lightning as tall as the orbit of Sol’s Jove and in that moment the dark side of Alderaan was lit by verdant midnight. “Wing at 40% and recharging”, Tokimi announced from Yuzuha’s bridge and I breathed a sigh of relief. “Minor disruption of the Force around the planet.”

“How’s it coming guys?” I commed the rescue squad “The Alliance will be here shortly and there are a metric fuckton of turbolasers on this thing.

“Mother’s nagging again. She must be worried about us.” AJ commented to Petra, who boopboopbooped in return. Ahab announced “We’re in the prison block n-” but then there was a surge of static as an, I swear to Almighty God, Chrome TIE Interceptor came arrowing out of the darkness, aiming for me and opening fire. Either Chrome made the thing go faster or it was one heavily futurized TIE-I… because I was having serious trouble dodging the thing… even with combat precog. Darth had leveled up!  Bastard!

Minutes seemed to crawl by as I juked and dodged and did my best to return fire without dropping my cargon or losing focus on the flow of battle swirling around me. Four, five, six, and I felt the Death Star beginning to cycle energy back into the massive Planet Buster weapon, no doubt supercharging it this time. And then the Alliance showed up, a half dozen Mon Calamari Cruisers and fifteen Nebulon B’s, dropping out of hyper in a near perfect block and opening up with all guns, their fighters screaming out to support the remaining Alderaan system defenders. The numbers of allied and enemy fighters rapidly equalized and then the Empire began losing fighters rapidly as the technical superiority of A-Wings, Y-Wings, and X-Wings overwhelmed the far far cheaper mass produced TIE fighters.

“We’re Clear!”

“Get to the Temple of Cardboard. Meet you there!” I yelled, then turned my back on Vader and dove straight for the trench leading to the Death Star’s critical vent, dodging and juking the entire way, my telekinetic shields struggling to deflect the hellacious amounts of fire that blasted Chrome-plated lunatic was pummeling me with.

Feeling my energy reserves getting low, I pulled an Elixir out of my warehouse and chugged it, cursing the need and myself for not picking up more than 999 of the damned things… then I cursed myself again and pulled my flask of felix felicis out of storage and took a hefty swig of that as well. “May God, Luck, and the Force be with me.” I said, tracing a Star of David in lines of fire before me as I called up the most powerful Offensive Sign ‘Light Heat Attack’ I could. “It’s not the Deathstar. It’s a giant silver Neuroi… Yeah… That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.”

I raced along the trench, using Soul of Ice in her Protonic Canon form to one-handedly blast gun emplacements to smoking space-dust, then the vent was ahead of me and Iobbed the bomb straight and true into it. Swish, three-points. She shoots! She Scores! I turned sharply, racing away from the doomed battlestation, screaming “BEST WALRUS EVAR!”

30 seconds later, from a safe remove, I paused, looking back. “Where’s the Earth…er… Death-Star-Shattering Kaboom? There’s supposed to be a Kaboom.” Instead, what I got was a geyser of atomic fire, a vast thruster-jet lancing out of the Station’s pole. Admittedly, it must have taxed the internal compensators greatly and had no doubt shaken things up a little inside the super weapon… but “RIP. OFFF!” I screamed, diving back towards it… then realized what had happened and sighed. Vader, coming from the future, knew how the original Death Star had been defeated. He’d clearly tampered with the schematics. Bastard. I hate time travellers. Only I was supposed to be able to play the foreknowledge card!

Frustrated, I flicked the sphere off and flew back to Yuzuha, arriving less than 10 seconds before the main weapon of the blasted thing fired off again. The blow was measurably more intense and I felt the ship shake a bit as the first Wing failed completely.

“Enough pussyfooting around,” I announced, striding onto the bridge in my Sant Jara form (I’d discovered on the walk to Ben Kenobi’s place that I could, apparently, only access my Star Wars Forms for some reason… or my apparently now default “Ice Maiden” form.). “Yuzuha, prepare to attack.”

“YAY!” She crowed, manifesting to hug me from behind “I love attacking! What are we shooting at?”

“The Disco Ball of Death.”

“Oooooo. Laser World.”

“Sure.” I glared out at the sphere, then raised my comms and hailed every ship in the system. “This is Supreme Commander Sant Jara of the Magi Order. All ships are advised they have 20 seconds to clear the space surrounding the Empire’s Battlestation.”

Tokimi patting my shoulder “Being Generous, are we?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh. I thought you were worried about the poor TIE fighter pilots.”

“Oh. No. Just wanted to make sure all the Alliance pilots heard me. If the Empire’s flyboys are smart, they’ll bug out too… but I’m guessing there will be idiots on both sides.” I hmmmed, then waited three more seconds. “Fire in the Hole!” I announced, as Yuzuha converted her two remaining Dark Hawk Wings to offensive mode.

The Impossible Unlight of the DHWs flashed across space at the speed of darkness and hammered into the Chromium Sphere like the universe’s largest pool cue. There was a Bong! Of titantic proportions and I twitched violently. “That’s not how physics wooorks!” I growled subvocally, then blinked as the viewscreen showed the Death Star slightly singed, but otherwise unharmed.

“The Hell?” I snapped, then pulled up the footage from the Jenny, gaping as the beams of unlight… flowed around the sphere, sliding across that Chrome Surface like water off of glass. “Okay… fuck it… now… now I’m pissed. Tokimi… link with Yuzu. Help her focus this without getting hurt.”

“Focus wh… oooh.” the goddess asked, as Yuzuha, who was linked soul to soul with me laughed and clapped her hands and bounced up and down happily. I rose out of the ship, shimmering, transforming, all the mes inside my Mental Palace laying their hands upon the giant blue prism at the heart of who and what I was. My form rippled and I grew. I was flying away from Alderaan now, getting bigger, bigger, colder… I paused to eat a passing comet. Mmmm argon.

“Hey, Vader.” I said, broadcasting thought loud enough to shatter weaker minds across the sector “Dodge This.” And I pumped 5 Wings of the Dark Hawk through Yuzuha’s Goddess-reinforced emmitters, holding the tiny ship on hands the size of a dozen Everests.

Yuzuha laughed maniacally and the only reason I didn’t join her is because telepathic laughter from a super-earth-sized Megabrain would probably have killed everyone… or at least their sanity. The Black Beam of FUCK YOU! Lanced across space, so cold it left eddies of unreality in its wake, the leading edge of the beam blackening the chrome with frostbite, then punching through it like it was the ghost of tissuepaper. 66% of the sphere simply ceased to exist, leaving a crescent “That’s No Moon” hanging there for a full second before the lesser reactors and capacitors simply lost containment and began vomiting existing, a thousand lesser explosions ripping the last vestige of the Doomsday Device to kingdom come.

I shrank back down, bleeding the hypercold back into the Heart of Winter, shuddering as my mortal flesh struggled to warm back up enough for blood to… thaw. Hell, my electrons were having trouble remembering what motion felt like.

I sat down on the deck and then fell back, my head landing in Yuzuha’s lap. She grinned down at me “Best Walrus Ever!” she grinned, then kissed my nose. Her breath smelt of rootbeer.

Three Years Later

“Zane? Where are you?”

“Oh… nowhere really. Just… need some personal time. I’ll see you soon.”

“You okay, you sound a little horse.”

“Do not. I’m a canine!”

“You’re an idiot… are you avoiding me or something.”

“Noo… noo… look… I’ll talk to you later… and… don’t tell Padme you talked to me.”

“What? Wait! Wh… damnit!” He’d hung up. I signed and went back to tinkering on my newest toy, one that had, admittedly, taken most of my free time for the last 3 years.

Six Months Later

“Why can’t I go to Hoth with the rest of the Alliance!”

“They’re afraid you’ll turn into an Ice Planet again and they’ll get confused about which of you is which.”

“Ahardy harhar.” I glowered at Bail who was still trying to come to grips with the idea that his daughter was the reincarnation of both Shujak the Hutt and Sant Jara the Magi Supreme Commander… which, of course, made her… me… the legendary Manifestation. Of course, the fact that I’d waved a hand and granted him Force Powers had kinda proved beyond a shadow of a doubt my bonafides, but that’s parents for you. “Mom, Dad, I’m the living Force. I want you to meet my harem. Oh, and I blewed up the Death Star… can I have bigger allowance?”

“They just don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket, and apparently the Empire is really good at tracking you for some reason.”

I growled “I know they are! I can’t figure out how they’re doing it! It’s sooo annoying!”

Six Months Later

“Any Rebellion ships. Do not come to Hoth. The Empire has Found Us. I repeat, the Empire has found us. Go to position Seven.”

“See. Told you.” I commented to Bail as I finished another of the growing stack of massive wedge-shaped droids.

“Yes. and Mon Mothma took your warning to heart. The Empire will regret attacking Hoth.”

“Cool. Is Lando set up?”

“He is. Are you sure you want him to do this?”

“Vader’s managed to avoid me on every occasion where I’ve tried catching up to him. I’ve got to hope he’s still playing by the same timeline for whatever reason. SO far he’s done everything I’ve remembered him doing.”

“Well, the recorders are up, and Luke is standing by.”

“Brave kid.”

“He has faith.”

“I just hope I don’t have to actually replace his hand.”

“You taught him Tutaminis, he should be fine.”

——

“Don’t make me destroy you! Luke, You do not yet realize your importance. Join me and we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the Galaxy!”

“I’ll never join you!”

“If you only knew the power of the Darkside! Jara never told you what happened to your father.” I gasped as my name was mentioned, frowning.

“She told me enough, and Obi-wan is my father!”

“No!” the chrome plated James Earl Jones-alike said, and I leaned forward intently. “I am your father!”

Anakin, playing the role of Boba Fett, jetpacked down from the top of the shaft. “I would never betray Obi-Wan like that.” He snapped, pulling off his helmet and glaring at his evil future self.

“I never claimed to be you, fool.” Vader said, then jerked as I teleported behind him and grabbed his helmet with one massive claw as Luke lept from the pylon into his adopted uncle’s arms.

“Let’s see who you really are under there,” I drawled, and ripped the faceplate off… to reveal… “ZAAANE?!”

“Darth Cerebris sends his regards.” He said, grinning, then sucker punched me and vanished. I sat down, gasping and very much needing a drink.

I woke up the next morning feeling betrayed, hungover, miserable, pissed off, and wondering when I’d gotten to bed and how… and why I was a male Togruta… and why Ahsoka  Tano was… oh… right… err… no one tell Anakin I slept with his padawan… ex-padawan… our little secret okay?

“Fuck it. Tell the Alliance we’re heading to Endor.” I said as I pulled on my clothes and consciously willed hydration back to my brain. Owwww… Fermented Bantha Milk… kill me now.

——

“Fooolish Jumper! There is no Emperor for me to turn against! There is only Lord Zane! Conqueror of the… did you just throw a dog treat at me?”

“Ayup.”

“It will not work to distract me! Even though you have arrived six months early, this battle station is still fully operational! And there is no way to reach the Core! Ahahaahaha!  Stop throwing Scooby Snacks at me! This is Serious!”

“Dude… you still recruited Mara Jade. I still had Luke Seduce her to the Light Side. We know. We’ve known for almost two years you were building this thing. You’re predictable.”

“NEVER! I AM ZANE! EMPEROR OF DARKNESS! STOP DOING THAT OR I’LL”

“Get your ass kicked if you don’t stop acting like a moron?”

“You Always Insult My intelligence!”

“Only when you’re plotting against me!”

“Yeah? Well, I’ve got a doomsday weapon and it’ll shrug off your trick if you… what are those droids doing?”

“Those droids?” I asked, pointing to the several hundred thousand wedge-shaped refrigerator sized droids that were, even now, closing a circle around the DS2 and dropping out of stealthmode. “They would be opening a subspace rift in three… two… one.”

“Subspa… NOOOOOOO!”

After letting him drop to his knees, I kicked him in the crotch and stunned him senseless. “You… are… in soooooo…. Much… trouble.” I panted. Then signalled the droids “Grab the Executor too. We can paint it pink or something.”

The Universe wavered and then froze

“Did you just… steal the Death Star Mark 2?”

I grinned at the sourceless voice of the Banker, clearly outraged, as this was the first time he’d actually paused a live setting to question me.

“Best. Walrus. Ever.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“SUBSPACE, BABY!”

“You can’t just… there are… you don’t have the crew for… Fine… but I’m putting all the crew of it, and the Executor, down on Endor. You can either let them be eaten by Ewoks or whatever… but you can’t keep them… and I’m setting all the droids to stupid as fuck.”

“You turned Zane against me!”

“Nooo. Darth Cerebris did that. You just didn’t notice.”

“You made Jar-Jar into ZOMGSITHLORD!”

“You said he was one.”

“I said he was Plagueis having jumped bodies!”

“Eh. close enough. You had fun, admit it it.”

“I averted the destruction of Alderaan and the ecosystem of Endor… so… yes?”

“Well then. Go, have your party. Enjoy yourself.”

“You suck.”

“Best Banker Ever.”

Next: World 53 – The Dresden Files

Resources: Build, Document

World 51 Again: Star Wars Prequels

TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE

Previously: A Traitor’s Tale

Themesong: Rise of Evil by Sabaton

It was the year 32 BBY… I’d been gone from this realm for nearly four thousand years… that’s a lot of time for the changes I’d wrought to be… unwrought, as it were. It was the day the Invasion of Naboo began. In mere hours, a pair of Jedi would be stowing away aboard a Droid Lander and then going on to encounter what was either the biggest pain in the ass of the entire franchise or the secret mastermind for most of the evil in the galaxy… Jar-Jar (Darth?) Binks.

I hung suspended in blackness, looking down on the lush green fields and forests and farms of Naboo. It was a lovely planet. Words scrolled by beneath me.

“Episode I: The Phantom Magi. Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly battleships, the greedy Trade Federation has stopped all shipping to the small planet of Naboo. While the congress of the Republic endlessly debates the alarming chain of events, the Supreme Chancellor has secretly dispatched two Magi Knights, the guardians of Balance and Justice in the Galaxy, to settle the Conflict.”

Wait… what? The scroll did not repeat itself, but my memory was perfect once again and I merely gaped at the fundamental change this represented… where the hell were the Jedi? Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were Magi? I had a bad feeling about this. More scroll tracked slowly across my vision.

“The Actions of the Magi Lord Sant Jara, following the Mandalorian Wars nearly 4,000 years ago saw a fundamental realignment of the Galaxy, with the long extinct Magi Order rising to predominance and largely supplanting the fragmented and often fractious Jedi and Sith Orders. Yet their numbers, never vast, have never been enough to effectively police the entire Galaxy, with its millions of worlds and trillions of citizens. Refusing to impose their ideology upon the galaxy, they have sworn to act as mediators and councillors only, remaining painfully neutral in the often contentious realm of Galactic Politics. However, this time of relative peace is about to come to an end. For this is an era of great change once again, with potential for renaissance or suffering in equal proportion. What happens next is up to you. You have 1600 CP.”

1600? Oh… shit. There was only reason I could think of for that… the Banker had saddled me with one or more unseen Drawbacks… drawbacks I’d have to deal with blind. “Wow. Back in the Big Chair for a couple minutes and already reminding me that you’re a jerk and in charge. Good one. Gratitude much?”

“You jumped at the chance to use my absence to weedle a huge CP package for your friends.”

“Yeah… well, if I hadn’t they might not have been super useful in helping me track down that Key thingy. Going to tell me what it is?”

“Fair enough… which is why they get to keep their ill gotten gains. And I’ll even let you keep your purchases, because I am a benevolent sort. But I had just as much time as you did to think about things, and I think you should set to see the long term ramifications of your meddling.”

“And you think it’ll be funny.”

“And I think it’ll be funny.”

“Asshole.”

The universe dinged “Species Purchase Confirmed. Your account has been debited 100 CP.”

I looked around “I did not… ah… punishment for… fine. We’ll play your little game. Does this mean, btw, that my companions are all back from whatever limbo they were in after they… reached game over in the last jump?”

“Why should I tell you that?”

“Because, oh high and mighty one who needed me to rescue him, it would be a nice thing to do. They died because of your poor stewardship. And if they’re not back, it doesn’t speak well of the guarantee of your CP backing, now does it?”

“Very well. Yes. They’re back. Everything that was busted is back.”

“And the roof?”

“Err…. Yes… I’ll have someone come by and fix it.”

“And get that stupid VMoDoom out of my pool area?”

“I… that might be a problem.”

“Why?”

“Well, technically, I can’t remove it. It’s XP backed.”

“XP? Is that Mensarius’s version of CP?”

“Mmm… yes… essentially.”

“Wait… does that mean Mensarius is a Gamesmaster?”

“Mmmm… yes, that’s one one way of looking at it.”

“Ah. So you’re a facilitator… he’s a manipulator?”

“Something like that. It’s more complex than that, but that explanation will do.”

“SO…. do I start on Naboo?”

“What? No… noo… that would be all too easy.” An image of the galaxy appeared hanging next to me, slowly spinning on a lightsaber stabbed through the galactic core. It was a wheel of fortune… with the Executor serving as the arrow.

“Cute.” I gave it a spin. Outer Rim… Giving me the choice between Dathomir (home of the Dathomir Witches) and Mandalore (home of the Mandalorians). I considered, then chose Mandalore. At least I knew how to get from there to Naboo, Tatooine, and Coruscant… if the story was playing out as expected, then I’d have to hustle to get to Tatooine for the Boonta Eve pod-race. That seemed the best way to connect up with the plotline and… do something. I hadn’t even really considered what… besides deal with Maul and Sidious.

I spun the wheel again, getting 26 as my starting age, though I still had no idea what species I was. Ewok maybe? Or wookie?… or Ithorian… ewww. They were herbivores! Oh… I bet I was a Gungan… that would just be sooo funny haah… not. No point worrying about it. I’d find out soon enough.

“So. Now that we know where you are… I guess we should know Who you are. Would you could you be a civilian? Would you could you be a Politician? An Engineer, a Privateer, a Jedi Seer?”

“Are those actually the options?”

“Civilian, Politician, Engineer. Those are Free. Outlaw and Force Sensitive cost points.”

“Why should I take Force Sensitive? I’m already a Grey Jedi. It’s not like each nation of Jedi has a different elemental power. The Force is the Force… of Course of Course.”

“Yeah yeah. And no one can talk to the Force of Course.”

“That is, of course, unless the Force is the ghost of someone dead?”

“Ah… ha. Nice. But no. No different elements. But if you want to buy more force powers, you’ll have to buy it again.”

“What? That’s craaap.”

“Well, as a bonus, I’ll double your raw force power for buying it again… and toss in your pick of three new force powers free.”

“Oh. well, then… sure. Why the fuck not. How much?”

“200.”

“Cool. Sign me up. What force powers are on offer?”

“Well, you get the basics again. Telepathy, TK, Force Empathy, Force Speed, Farsight, Force Stealth, Force Sight, Mind Trick… just in case you forgot… all of those increase your skill with that specific power, giving you new and innovative ways to use them and improved control equal to roughly five years practice. Plus Melee Training, which gives you skill in weapons both bladed and blunt”

“Uh huh… yeah, and?”

“Three picks from Breath Control, Comprehend Speech, Force Body, Force Flash, Force Listening, Tutaminis (i.e. Absorb slash Deflect Energy), Force Heal, Beast Control, Plant Surge, Battlemind, Ionize, Force Stasis, Doppelganger, Psychometry, and Force Bellow.”

“Whoo… nice list. The Force has come a long way in the last 4000 years… or this isn’t limited to what was demonstrated in a pair of old videogames, eh?” There wasn’t a reply. “Breath Control and Comprehend Speech sound like cheesy little “Ooo, ain’t it cool” powers, while the later ones sound more powerful. I’m going to guess that those are the more expensive ones, thus the better deals. There are 15 powers you listed… five each of 100, 200, and 300?”

“50, 100, 200. No discounts apply.”

“Ah. Regardless, I already have Force Heal and Beast Control. Plant Surge I can do with magic, Ionize destroys droids… but I already know Force Lightning. Force Stasis is, what, Hold Person the Force Power? Meh. Force Bellow is yelling really loud. Not a fan. How about Tutaminis… Does that work on lightsabers?”

“With mastery, yes, you can block lightsabers with your limbs and absorb both laser and plasma bolts… though it starts out as deflect.”

“Naturally. I’ll take that.”

“Really? It’s not 200. You’re missing the deal!”

“Eh. I’m okay with that. Psychometry is object reading. I’ll take that. I don’t have that a psychic ability yet. THough I worry about the readings I’ll get off some things… but then again, I’ve seen inside most people’s souls. Can’t be much worse. Tell me about Doppelganger.”

“The power to create a perfect illusion of yourself. You can move it around remotely and even perceive everything it experiences as if you were there, both living and droids… though it’ll be dispelled if attacked.”

“Huh. Neat. Sounds like a real steal. I’ll take it too.”

“Excellent. Any other powers you’d like?”

“Naw… I’m good. At least for now. Tell me about perks. What perks do Force Sensitive Types get discounted?”

“None. They get access to Force powers and the freebies.”

“Oh… well then… tell me about the perks for the other backgrounds.”

Four panels appeared in space around me, each containing three or four abilities. Outlaw contained piloting skills, shooting skills, unconventional weapons skills, and a really nice perk called “Go to Guy” which was a huge reputation booster that got people to ignore failures and give job priority… it would definitely have been a thing to take… were I looking to be a gun for hire. But I’d done that kind of work for the last two decades. I closed that window with finality.

The Engineer panel had some nice tech stuff, military engineering, cybernetics, and mechanical genius were all on sale… but it wasn’t that great of a boost and I passed on it as well. Politician I barely glanced at. I had charisma to burn and even the capstone wasn’t that good. I was about to close all the windows and just grab more powers… when I noticed the Civilian capstone and did a double take.

“Anomaly” it said. “Force Powers no longer have any effect against you.” It also protected me against psionics… and would allow me to cancel out nearby psi powers if I focused. I could not hit confirm fast enough. Even the 600 point cost didn’t slow me.

That left me with 700 points left… “Companion options?”

“You can have an apprentice for 200, an R2 for 150, or a clone for 500.”

“Why the heck is the clone so expensive?”

“They are a perfect genetic clone of you, rapidly aged, with all your physical abilities, non-major skills, and Force Powers.”

“Riiiight. No. that would be extremely narcissistic… and weird. And… creepy… Did I mention screamingly narcissistic? Seriously, who would take that? I don’t think I want to meet them.” I considered “What good is an R2 Unit?”

“Helps run a starfighter.”

“I don’t have a starfighter.”

“You can have a Z-95 Headhunter for 200… that’s half off because you’re Force Sensitive.”

“You mean one of those pre-ex wings?”

“That is the one.”

“I’d be a sitting duck in one of those things.”

“Yes. But you wouldn’t draw attention like you would if you used your other ships. They don’t exactly look Star Wars.”

“You want me to take a POS ship to fit in? You’d have to give it to me for free. And a Z-95’s a single seater… which, unless I’m remembering wrong, doesn’t even have a hyperdrive… which means it doesn’t have a spot for an Astromech! Those things were outdated when they were first constructed!”

“Your call, though this unit does have a hyperdrive.”

“Bully for it. I have two Jurian Treeships, a Black Jenny with Jurian drive tech, an Assault Shuttle with Magi drive tech, and a Ziggy. You’re just trying to trick me into squandering my points. Tell you what, I’ll give you 100 CP to give the Jenny an alt-form that looks like the Tantive Iv. How’s that?”

“Just the shape?”

“I could rig up a holoprojector, but it might get scanned through. I want something that looks like and scans like a CR90… and even has the hyperspace footprint of one… just not the actual deck layout or internals. Wouldn’t work anyway, considering that Jenny is 380 meters long and I think a CR90 is… what… a third that?”

“Yes. almost precisely. I shall do as you ask… though the size is, of course, no issue. Remember that I stuck your purloined Mako into a broomstick. I am that awesome.”

“Yeah yeah. You’re special… that leaves me 600. I guess I’ll take the Astromech… it’ll know where things are and be all beepboop bweedle… and it’s overpriced, but I’ll take the apprentice… for Zane, since he got left out last time. How much CP does it come with?”

“500. For perks and items… with a background similar to yours.”

“Huh. Well, that works. What do you have for 250?”

“Collection of Holocrons.”

“Oh? Jedi Porn?”

“No. instruction manuals that include all the information you need to train someone into a Jedi or Sith, basic information on both orders, instructions on how to build and use lightsabers, and how to harness the Force.”

“Well, I’m sure that would be useful… if the Force was found anywhere but here. Since it’s not-”

“Actually… Once you leave the Galaxy Far Far Away you’ll become a Force Conduit, able to grant living things in other universes a connection to the Force. You’ll have full control over who and what becomes Force Sensitive and will be able to grant powers to either a few individuals… or an entire universe if you so choose. Sensitives you create will be able to start anywhere from beginner to padawan in strength and skill… and you’ll be able to fully dictate how well they’re initially able to use the Force and wield a lightsaber… though training will allow them to potentially become just as powerful as you are… perhaps even more so.”

“What about Midi-chlorians?”

“You can decide whether or not the Force Powers come with Midi-Chlorians. There isn’t a need for it. Be warned, however, that the Darkside will always be a temptation, though Willpower and anti-corruption effects will mitigate the danger. And, before you ask you and your new Force users will be able to create synthetic lightsaber crystals… and you can allow them to grow naturally in any cave system with a strong magical or spiritual field. And, if you’re keen, you can even teach Sith Sorcery, Sith Alchemy, and Dathomirian Sorcery… if you learn them.”

“Oh. Okay. I’ll take the package I guess. No telling when I might need to create my own new Force using organization… again apparently. I guess that spends me out… Has Zane made his choices?”

“He has. He’s gained the form of a Miraluka Force Sensitive, which gives him Melee Training, the Basic Force Powers, and a free lightsaber.”

“What’s a Miraluka? I don’t remember them.”

“Human with no eyes. They see by use of the Force.”

“Creepy. Like a Fade from Wheel of Time?”

“Very much so.”

“What powers did he take?”

“Ionize, Force Stasis, Force Bellow” I flinched at that. Zane can be plenty loud already. “And he paid 400 points for Force Sever.”

“What’s that? Cutting someone off from the Force?”

“Indeed. Initially it’s a temporary field, but a Light Jedi can completely sever a Force User for good.”

“Ouch. I’ll have to observe that.”

“You are such a magpie.”

“You gave me this warehouse. You knew I was when I signed up. What did he spend his last hundred on? High Explosives?”

“Of course. He picked up a pack of 24 Thermal Detonators that regenerate monthly and a Stun Pistol guaranteed to immobilize any organic target it hits and ignore body armor. 50 shots before it needs to be recharged.”

“AAAAAck…. To both. Any organic target? Oy. Scary gun… and that was only 50 CP?”

“Indeed.”

“I’m already worried about him trying to use up 24 nuclear fusion grenades in a 1 month period.”

“Indeed! I’m most interested to see that myself.” He sounded faaar too intrigued.

“What about Joy and Ahab?”

“Ahab has chosen to be a Force Sensative Gen’Dai, taking Comprehend Speech, Battlemind, and Doppleganger.” I shuddered at the mention of the nigh immortal blobs of nerve and muscle tissue.

“Lovely. And Joy?”

“Clawdite, Force Sensitive, of course. Also Comprehend Speech, with Psychometry and Plant Surge to round her out.”

“Great, she’ll spend the entire time pretending to be me and talking at the plants. Everyone will think I’m insane.”

“You’re not?”

“Shadap, you!”

And with that…

INSERTION

“Why do I feel so heavy?” I asked, my voice sounding extremely deep. I raised my hands to look at my arms and groaned. “YOU BASTARD! A HUTT?! I’M A MOTHER FUCKING HUTT?”

Zane grunted “Huts don’t have mothers, they’re hermaphrodites.” We were standing aboard the bridge of the Jenny, most of the lights off… but I could see just fine, as everything was bathed in Ultraviolet light. Zane, eyeless, had no problem seeing at all.

“Hermaphrodites have mothers. Just both parents are the same sex… sexes. I’m a Hutt. Lovely. I bet I smell like slug.”

“Eh. more like damp slightly mildewed tofu.”

“I hate you.”

“YOu have a Togruta form.”

“I’ve been trying to transform into it… ah… there we go.” I shifted, dropping a good 300 kilos in the process as well as growing a foot in height. Hutts don’t actually have bones… which, combined with their native regeneration, thick skin, heavy blubber, and chemically resistant slash heat resistant skin and unappetizing taste made them practically impervious to most forms of attack… though they were slow and ungainly enough that a thick carpet could effectively block on as long as she didn’t have a hover platform. They were quasi aquatic, not particularly more mobile under water, but with their huge lungs and sealable nostrils, they could hold their breath for hours under. Of course… I had other forms, all of them better at almost everything besides being disgusting than a Hutt… Unfortunately… I now had 260 years of fairly disturbing Hutt memories and knew more about Hutt family, social, and political life than I had ever dreamed existed… and frankly, while it was fascinating from a purely objective stance, it was deeply disturbing on any number of other levels. Even my Hutt-self found other Hutts distasteful… if only for their lack of focus.

I shook my no longer bulbous head and settled into the pilot’s seat of the Jenny for the first time. “Okay baby, speak to me.” The new VI, this one just called “Jenny” pinged, and the screens flared to life all around me. “Plot least time jump for Tatooine. Notify Mandalore system control we’re leaving… now.”

“System control has assigned us a window in 1 hour, 18 minutes.” the machine voice announced.

“Tell system control I’ll be lifting in three minutes. They have that long to clear a launch window. Raise shields.” I tapped the intra-ship comm and announced “I don’t know who’s aboard, but you have 1 minute to strap in before we lift.” Jenny might, thanks to the Banker, look like a CR90, but she was nothing of the sort underneath. Her shields were as advanced as I could make them, able to stand up to Wings of the Lighthawk if need be… at least for a few seconds, and the Sister Ray that was her main cannon had been upgraded time and time and time again, giving it a maximum output that could core a medium sized moon. Her top speed was fast enough to cross the galaxy in a week… or roughly five million times the speed of light. And to be frank, she was only the 4th most powerful starship in my fleet… though she was the fastest in real space.

Leaving behind a completely annoyed Mandalorian system control, we rose from the surface of Mandalore and cleared the planet’s mass shadow in minutes, faster than any response vessel could more to intercept… not that they’d have been able to do much. “Anyone know how to get to Tatooine?”

A black and silver R2 unit that I remembered naming M6 booped and wobbled a bit as if it wasn’t at all sure, then rolled into an Astromech port that hadn’t been installed by me and socketed down. I was expecting coordinates, but instead a hologram of a certain pragmatic operative appeared in front of Zane and me. “What… in the name of all that is holy… have you done to me.”

I blinked. Zane blinked. The Operative’s hologram didn’t blink. “Oh. Right. Forgot all about kicking you out again after I decked you. I’ve no idea how you ended un inside a droid… That’s what you are currently, an R2 series Astromech droid. Now. if you’d please find the coordinates for Tatooine in your system and plot a series of hyperjumps to get us there, that would be wonderful.”

“I AM NOT A ROBOT!”

“Look, I don’t hold what you did against you, but if you’re not going to be helpful, I’ll reset your memory… or head back to Mandalore and find a restraining bolt. I paid for an Astromech droid to do the astrogation. So either you help out, and I’ll try and explain what’s going on, or you find out what it’s like to have your free will removed. Capiche?”

“I don’t even know what Tatooine is…” he trailed off, then shook his holographic head “Apparently I do know what Tatooine is. Desert planet, controlled by the Hutt Syndicates. How do I know this?”

“You’ve been imported as an Astromech Droid. The purpose of an Astromech droid is to control various computer functions in starships, to perform EVA repairs as needed, and to, in general, be a walking toolbox. Oh, and to facilitate human-machine communication. Without hooking up to a system like you are now, you’ll probably only be able to communicate in 27th generation machine code, a kind of hyper-compressed binary. Now, please, plot a course for Tatooine. Time is… tight.”

Grudgingly, the Operative-cum-droid did as I’d asked, and once we were on our way I explained what was going on, that I was, in fact, the same being he’d known as Senet, and yes, I was an alien entity. I didn’t explain that I could, with a thought, probably send him home. I’d never tested the theory and wasn’t feeling super generous… especially as he was currently my only astromech droid. I suspected Banker chicanery, but for all I knew this was Mensarius pulling something. I’d have to ask the Banker… later. I was, also, lying to the Operative. I’d meant to bring him along all the time… if for no other reason than to verify if my impression of him was correct…

Unfortunately, that plan had been, at least briefly, stymied, as I couldn’t see into his heart or mind, nor mind read him… as Droids lacked hearts or minds… and apparently souls in this setting. Since he had no alt-forms, he couldn’t shift back, meaning he was almost certainly locked into the droid form until the end of the jump.

One by one, the various members of my crew began to cycle through the Jenny, checking in with Zane and Me, verifying that everyone had been restored and asking if I needed anything. Mostly I needed hugs, and allowed myself a nice little cry at seeing familiar faces so long vanished.

Meetra was last, looking out on the stars of her home reality in silence for long minutes. “I don’t blame you for sacrificing me.”

“It… wasn’t much of a sacrifice. But I am pleased you understood.”

“Strange being back. They tell me this is 4,000 years later, that what happened so long ago is naught but a memory?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. It seems as if the Jedi have been replaced with the Magi… though my new memories do not contain information about the core philosophies of this Magi Order. They could be as bad as the Sith or just the Jedi of this era renamed.”

“Watching the events of this time play out in video was… odd. It’s like seeing a hyper-accurate Force Prophecy… why is this droid booping at me?”

“It’s not. That’s a bweedle. I think he’s surprised to see you. Oh. This is R2-M6… Argent… Bart.” I chuckled. “Somehow The Operative ended up coming with us. He’s been imported as a Droid, just like you were as Milly the Bodyguard.”

She nodded and patted the machine, “Ah. Cute design.”

“Not as cute as the BB series, but that’s from the third trilogy.”

“The one you have four different copies of?”

“That’s the one. Black Bullet, Mass Effect, Great Detective, Firefly. Different realities, different copies. No idea which is the accurate one. Anyway… you understand what the general plan is?”

“We go in, kill the Zabrak, maybe kill the Gungan, rescue the kid’s mom, kill the senator, keep the kid from being a tool.”

“Sounds about right. Yeah.”

We landed on Tatooine near Mos Espa 3 days before Boonta Eve and staked out Watto’s junkshop. The kid was, well, a brat. Getting around as a Hutt wasn’t easy, but people respected the Hutts enough that I was, in general, left alone.

“SJ… the ship just landed. Herself, the elder Robe, and padfoot are on their way into town with their tin can.”

“Gotcha. Gametime, boys and girls. Zane, Ryoga, Meetra, you find the Zabrak’s landing spot, he’ll be here in a day or so… handle him. Don’t give him a chance to retreat. Extreme prejudice.” I squished my way to the food vendor that Jar-Jar would be snagging a meal from and waited, huddling under my all too small parasol and trying to look bored. As the quartet neared, I examined each of them in turn.

Padme, still pretending to be the handmaiden, was exactly as she appeared to be; earnest, forthright, and fairly naive. Qui-Gon, older, more mature, was nuanced, layered, and obsessed with prophecy… but not the prophecy I’d expected. The Magi had, according to his memories, long ago brought balance to the force, dismantling the endless warring of the Jedi and Sith, creating a more mature and structured, less monastic order… which was reflected in the fact that their robes were mantles over uniforms, uniforms designed for combat and acrobatics, but uniforms nonetheless.

No, this prophecy wasn’t that one would come to bring balance… it was that one would come to destroy the balance and one would come to maintain the balance… and that they would not know each other until chosen one was found.

Which is, perhaps, why it was not a surprise to me that I couldn’t read Jar-Jar at all. Not with the Third Eye of Satori, not with the Force, not with telepathy, not with the various magics I had at my disposal. I wondered what, exactly, was in that 600 points of drawbacks and gritted my… total lack of teeth.

One of two things were true. Either Jar-Jar was merely a tool… or he was a powerful (and protected) Dark Lord… or maybe something else entirely. All I could do was follow and see. With a little luck, and if a certain internet theory had been correct, He was soon to manipulate Padme…

Unfortunately, I was detained from being there to witness it when a speeder collided with me, totalling the vehicle and requiring me to extricate myself from the wreckage. That was just cheating… I decided to wait until after the sandstorm to make my appearance… I had to change my outfit… what?! Hutts can wear clothing. We’re not savages. We’re just grotesque.

“The Zabrak who might or might not have been a Dark Lord named Darth Maul has been terminated.” Zane announced. “We’re incinderating the body.”

“Incinerating.” I corrected.

“Naw… that would mean we reduced it to Ciners… we reduced it to Cinders! Incinderate!”

“Fine. Go rewrite the dictionary,” I grumbled as I squelched into Watto’s shop. “I thought I saw Magi come in here. Your kind isn’t welcome here. This is Hutt space.”

“We’re just here to get parts for our ship.” Qui-Gon tried placating me. “We’re not here on official business for the Order or the Republic.”

“Your Gungan stole food from a vendor. Someone has to pay for that.”

“We don’t have any local currency, I’m afraid.”

“Magi know fear?” I asked, teasing, though I was well aware that the Magi were more focused on controlling their emotional responses than denying them. Qui-Gon said nothing, recognizing the taunt for what it was, but Padme took offense and tried to step to me.

I waved my hand at her “Ease your womp rat, Magi. I meant no offense,” I lied. “If you have Galactic Credits, I’ll take them and pay local currency.” I could see the calculation flashing behind everyone’s eyes “With a conversion fee, of course.” I licked my heavy lips salaciously.

“I thank you.” Qui-Gon said. “That would be most… helpful.” And thus I bypassed a huge waste of time and an entire pod race… and then undid much of it by insisting, forcefully, that the Jedi be my guest for the evening, along with the brave little boy and his mother. Of course, I also arranged for Ryoga to attack Qui-Gon (in full Zabrak facepaint and sith hood) before swooping in to drive him off with a hail of blaster fire from my Mandalorian Ripper (All geared to not quite hit).

Inside the banquet room of Jenny, which had been disguised inside as well as out, I played the gracious host, tossing the sympathy card for the Naboo, for the plight of the two slaves, and of course voicing disdain for the corruption of the Senate and the Trade Federation. Of course these poor lost lambs could rely on the discretion and assistance of Shujak the Hutt. I’d even be willing to take them to Coruscant myself. “I’ve always wanted to see the Magi Temple.”

‘The Tabernacle is off limits to those who aren’t Magi, I’m afraid… but the Citadel can be visited.” Qui-Gon explained, suspicion warring with his desire to resolve this. “Our ship…”

“Bring it. We can tractor it to the hull of the Jenny.” Of course, that was possible, though risky. The Jenny appeared to be a CR90, which was only 50 meters longer than Amidala’s J-Type 327 Nubian, which was 76 meters long. It was doable… but chancy, and it would be safer for all involved it they came over to the Jenny. I didn’t tell them that, in reality, the Jenny was actually five times as big as the Royal Naboo Cruiser and would have no problem pulling it through hyper.

While I was doing that, Ahab and Joy were busy explaining to Watto that while no podracer was worth the price of two slaves, his life was not worth the sweat scrapped off the back of Shujak the Hutt and if he had a problem with that, he was invited to go take a literal flying fuck into a proton reactor. He handed over the ownership papers with only minimal bruising. Serves him right for being a stereotypical Evul Space Jew. talk about defamation… nice that the cartoons did a good job of redeeming the Toydarians… but that didn’t help Watto in the slightest. He was scum.

Thus it was I got to scan the last of the major players… Obi-wan too, was largely as he’d been depicted; enthusiastic, daring, and sheltered. Now I just had to tinker as I always did. I sent Yuzuha and Velma to chat with Anikin and begin the process of therapy, while I arranged for Padme and Obi-Wan to discuss what they’d seen of the droid army with Tokimi, Gaius, and Caine. Which left me and Meetra with Qui-Gon. Jar-Jar was off somewhere being Jar-Jar… I still had no idea if that was bad or really bad.

“I find your willingness to help us intriguing,” the Magi Knight commented.

“You mean confusing. I understand. It’s nice of you to try and be politic, but there is no need. I know all too well the reputation of my kind… but forgive me… you seem worried by things beyond the concerns of Naboo or even the Trade Federation.”

He considered for a long moment, then asked “What do you know of the history of the Magi?”

I nearly chuckled and Meetra coughed. “More than most, less than I’d like. Why?”

“4,000 years ago, there were two warring factions, two faiths that both embraced the Force… or aspects of it. They styled themselves the keepers of the true way and each hated the other with a burning passion that cost many millions or billions of sophonts their lives. On one side, there were the Sith, who preached a doctrine of obedience and dominance, an embrace of the more basal and aggressive traits we all share to some extent…” He took a deep breath, then sighed. “The others, the other side of the Sith coin, was the Jedi. They embraced asceticism, setting aside all that made them… human… for lack of a better term. All too often, the Sith would secretly infiltrate the Jedi, suborning their apprentices… or at least that’s what the Jedi claimed, allowing them to engage in periodic purges against all those who were not fantastic enough.”

I nodded “And that was when the Magi were born?”

“Oh, no. The Magi are an ancient order, hundreds of thousands of years old and, at the time, thought long extinct except for a few adherents to their old ways. That was until the coming of Sant Jara, the Unifier, first of the Magi Manifestations in ages. She unified the Jedi and Sith, showing the proper balance and scouring away the old, corrupt ways. She then ascended into the Force, promising to return if she was ever needed.”

“Well, that’s an interesting history lesson, to be sure… but the events of four millennia ago can scarcely be worrying you now?”

“There have been… rumors. Since that time… well, more than rumors. The Jedi and the Sith hardliners never really vanished. The Sith hold to what we believe is called “The Rule of Three”, a system where one master and two apprentices are active at any given time, and eventually one of the apprentices will kill the others and become the new master.”

I chuckled, both externally and internally. Seemed the Sith in this time were more open about their ‘Secret’ Apprentices. “Lovely system. They lurk in the shadows, manipulating people and hoping to bring about the fall of the Magi? And the Jedi?”

“Crazed Fanatics. Yes. They operate both publicly, as a monastic order with secret membership except for the higher ups… and as a terrorist organization called the Council who are actually in control. They are obsessed with bringing down the corrupt Republic and the Order that supports it. If the Sith use domination and trickery, the Jedi use seduction, mind tricks, and manipulation. The Sith embrace primal emotions, like rage and hate and fear. But the Jedi are no better, using and playing on the social emotions, such as attachment, protectiveness, and generosity… using them as weapons against their foes.”

“Fascinating.” Meetra breathed, and it was. A subtle change… and one that potentially changed things. Who might be on this Council? Would I have to face off against the likes of Yoda and Mace? What else was different?

“We’re arriving at Coruscant, Boss,” came AJ’s voice. He’d gotten much better once Francine had showed up again and spent several days pestering her about what it was like being dead. They were a cute couple, even if AJ steadfastly refused to admit his feelings for the other psychic pokemon. They were just friends… honestly. Not that he was fooling anyone. It didn’t take mindreading to know his true feelings… not that we had a shortage of mindreaders.

“Thank you AJ. We’ll be right there. Come Magi. I think we’ll need your clearance to land. I suggest using her majesty’s ship and leaving the Jenny in orbit.”

Qui-gon didn’t object, nor did he begrudge me a ride down to the surface. After all, Jar-Jar was coming along. He did insist on bringing the kid, because of course he would.

Meeting Sheev Palpatine was, to be honest, a total mindfuck. I scanned him, just to be certain he was the same shitheel he’d been in the original timeline… and discovered something… unexpected. This was Sheev Palpatine… but it wasn’t Darth Sidious. It was Jedi Councillor Sidious. And he was most concerned because he’d not heard from his Padawan, the Assassin Maul. Sheev Palpatine and his partner’s Count Dooku and Jedi Councillor Plagueis, were behind this whole mess, with the assistance of others, including General Grievous. But at least looking into his mind confirmed that, no, Yoda and Windu were not, as far as he knew, Jedi or Sith.

I decided not to kill him… yet. Though it was tempting. I could have just stunned him and knocked him off the high, handrail lacking walkway into the chasms of Coruscant far below. Instead, I decided to screw with his plans… and get the Hutts in big trouble at the same time. I requested, as an interested party, to attend the Senatorial hearing.

It went as it had to, of course. That is, until, the Supreme Chancellor showed his weakness. The Queen was just about to call for a Vote of No Confidence, as Sheev was pushing for, when I asked her, quietly, “Might I be allowed to speak. I know I have no standing, so I ask you to call me as an impartial witness.” The Senator and Queen shared a look, then the Queen nodded “Chancellor, If it please the Senate, my associate wishes to present evidence of the invasion.”

There was a general susuris of outrage and protests from both the Trade Federation and the Malastar contingent that no such evidence could exist, but the general outcry supported hearing and seeing my “evidence”.

“The Hutts have long seen the corruption and decadence of your Republic and kept out of it, for your dealings are your own. But to allow one of your member states to invade another without sanction or censure is despicable. On my own authority, having heard of this issue, I have dispatched three of my capital ships to the Naboo system. I present the Senate with the feed from those ships.”

I pulled out a comm unit and plugged it into the Senate Chamber’s main display matrix and the Droid ship in orbit around the planet sprang into view. “I believe that is your ship?” I addressed the Traders, then switched the feed to dozens of surveillance platforms that had been dropped into the atmosphere and were streaming footage from occupied cities and prison camps. “I may be a simple Hutt, but this does not look like a dispute over taxes. This looks like an invasion and illegal occupation.”

The outcry was immediate and profound. “Well?” I asked the Trade Rep. “Will you move your forces of the planet?”

“These are not our forces! We are being framed!” he demanded, disavowing the entire operation.

“Oh. Well then.” I raised my communicator to my lips “COmmander,” I said, addressing Yuzuha who was both flagship and its genius loci. “Open fire.” And weaponry that hadn’t been seen in 4,000 years obliterated the Droid Control Ship. “I’m sure your Viceroy will love to explain why he was acting against your orders. My forces have also apprehended him and his adjunct… and will have obtained a full confession and surrender of all forces under his control by the time he arrives on Coruscant. Thank you,” I said, turning to the Queen, “For allowing me to speak. I believe you were going to say something?”

She blinked, then nodded, and called for a Vote of No Confidence, thereby removing Valorum from power… and sealing Palpatine’s doom, as I’d already suborned the minds of all those he was counting on having the votes of, replacing their instructions with ones to vote for Bail Organa. I’d have to clean up Palpatine personally, as well as his allies, but that was for later.

For now, I had the Magi High Command to speak to. In the confusion, I doubt any of the Senators even noticed I was gone.

The Magi Tabernacle did not look like the Jedi Temple. It was much more ornate and refined, and surrounded by the vast military campus that was the Citadel. No one noticed the Togruta wearing an old fashioned Magi High Commander’s uniform. Why should they, I belonged there, these were my people, my legacy taken across a hundred generations. Even the Keepers of the way to the innermost chambers didn’t so much as notice that they’d never seen me before, merely saluted and let me pass.

The High Command, on the other hand, noticed at once. They were just discussing Anakin’s fate and Yoda was about to refuse because he considered the likelihood that Anakin was not the Balancer but the Unbalancer. I’d removed the kid’s worry about his mother, but that left the child’s innate… rambunctiousness… which did not appeal to the octocentarian’s sense of decorum. He did look excellent in his uniform however, though oddly enough his staff had changed to look like a copy of Cologne’s from Ranma.

“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” Ki Adi Mundi demanded, rising from his seat, the lightbuckler on his arm flashing to light and his hand reaching for the lightlance at his side. It was heartening to see the various adaptations of the technology I’d invented had survived the ages.

“I am the Magi Manifestation. I am called Sant Jara. This child will be trained in the Way of the Force.” I said it in a voice that brooked no dissent. “Mace Windu. I, the founder of this order” and my uniform shifted as I spoke, to that of the Supreme Commander of the Magi and I let myself grow taller and more full of my own glory, “I charge you with his instruction and his care. Teach him what it means to be a Magi.” I knelt before the boy, whose eyes were bugging out, and fixed my gaze upon his. “And you, child, remember my words. Balance, Moderation, Knowledge of Self, Compassion for all others, especially one’s enemies… Acceptance of the Inevitable, Freedom from Greed… these are the watchwords of the Magi. Never take an action you cannot admit to taking, if only to yourself. Understand that having more power than others does not make you their better, nor does skill entitle you to respect. We earn the respect of others through our deeds. We trust our companions… and we always question if prophecy is what must be, or what will happen if we do not turn from our present path. Ultimately, we are who we make ourselves, the sum of all our choices.”

I rose then, looking at them and shook my head “The Sith and Jedi are not gone. They have not forgotten. They are still a threat. The Naboo Crisis is their making and civil war is coming It cannot be stopped… things have gotten too bad. There is too much corruption, too much bureaucracy, too much discord and distrust. You must prepare for it… oh, and berets are to be incorporated into the dress code… you look ridiculous without hats.” Then I vanished from their sight and senses, waiting as they took in what had just happened. The results, near pure anarchy, was frankly hilarious. It had been so long since I’d done something to shake up Magi society but tradition is tradition, after all.

“Was that an Angel?” Anakin asked Mace.

“Worse… that was a God.”

“Why is that worse?”

“Angels can be ignored.”

“Oh.”

A few days later, a Trade Federation suicide bomber assassinated Palpatine and very nearly (but not quite) caught Queen Amidala and Boss Nass in the blast at a formal declaration of peace and liberty for the entire Naboo system. The inclusion of the Gungans was, of course, my… I mean Shujak’s suggestion. That done, I began the process of doing exactly what Palpatine had tried to do in the original timeline… cause a civil war, reorganize the entire Galactic Republic, and eradicate the Jedi threat. Eradicating the Sith too, once I located them. But, for the time being, I had free time.

“Questions?” I asked the droid’s projection.

“I do not… how is any of this possible? I have seen things… you’re sometimes a giant slug, other times a purple and white demon, other times human. You cow monarchs and command ships that can…” He shook his head. “Even this society… so many aliens… and no trace of Earth-That-Was.”

“Once upon a time, you told Malcolm Reynolds that you believed in something greater than yourself. Do you remember?”

“I… yes.” there was a slight tinge of regret in that.

“I am that something greater.”

“You think highly of yourself, don’t you?”

“Little man… I have ruled a nation as old as the sands of Earth-That-Was, a nation that stood the test of millenia and never once had a civil war, never once had a monarch assassinated for madness or corruption or for petty power. I have strode across time and space, visited worlds undreamed of in your philosophy and spoken with gods. I am not the Greatest Good. I make no claim to that, but I am the greatest good you are ever likely to meet.” The tenor of my voice never changed and it was touched with sadness.

“Then why have you brought me with you to this place?”

“You once told Malcolm Reynolds that there was no place for you in the better world you envisioned… and you were right. I have brought you along for the sake of… call it redemption.”

“You think there can be redemption for one such as me?”

“Poor child. You see your litany of sins and think, how can I be forgiven? Surely my sins are greater than those of others, more heinous, especially as you knew every act of evil, every monstrous crime you committed… every last unarmed civilian, and priest, and child you cut down to build your unworthy future… you understood that you were doing evil.”

“I… yes.” His voice was small. “If you are so powerful, such a force for good as you claim… why not strike me down and be done with me?”

“Three reasons, though you won’t like any of them.”

“Tell me anyway.”

“The first is… you are not worthy of such an easy out. Killing you would be too simple, too… nice. Your suffering would end, your guilt be cut short. No. You will serve me in making other worlds better… other worlds you will never, ever, get to live in.”

Droids cannot gulp, or flinch. Those are biological responses. But they can… cringe. He did so. “I… I’m not so certain I want to hear the other reasons.”

“Too late. You ask how I can think you deserving of redemption? It is because you have shown it. Too little too late, perhaps, but you have. You made restitution to Captain Reynolds after the Miranda Incident. You understand your inherent unworthiness. You know yourself to be a monster… but I have bigger monsters than you in my retinue. The girl you knew as Milly betrayed tens of thousands of her own people to end a disastrous war. The one known as Reggy destroyed an entire civilization and murdered tens of millions, all through biological imperative. The one known as Gaius was an Emperor who betrayed so many trusts that even I do not know the scope of all of them. Caine is the biblical Caine, the very first Murderer and has slain countless humans over the ages. Joy and Ahab were Operatives like yourself, ones who did… many questionable things in the service of their ideals. Were I to judge you unworthy, I would also have to judge them unworthy, and they are my friends and boon companions.”

“I… well… that’s terrifying… but I guess it makes sense. And the last reason?”

“I have been a monster myself. I have betrayed those who trusted me. I have murdered children and through inaction allowed monsters to do likewise. I have ended at least two entire civilizations and will do so again. I have fought and slain gods. I have defied the ineffable and flaunted my power in the face of Creation itself. I have held myself to be the supreme arbiter of what is and is not right and just and good… and will do so again. I have committed regicide against monarchs I was sworn to protect and presidents duly elected by the people. I have worked my will on the unwilling, plundered the minds of the innocent, and enforced my own desires upon those who could not have stopped me… I answer to no law but my own. How can I condemn you child, when I have done everything you have done and more, on a grander and more terrible scale?”

He just stared, unable to doubt the words I was saying so calmly.

“That is why I can judge you, oh monstrous one. And that is why I offer you this chance… Oh, and a fourth reason.”

“What is that?”

I shot him with several million volts of Force Lightning, watching him ignite like a roman candle as every circuit fried to ash in an agonizing moment of transcendent pain. Then I waited. I am exceptional patient. I didn’t move for the entire twenty four hours. As soon as he reappeared I opened the way into the Warehouse for him to roll through. He was juddering and twitching violently.

“W… what just… you just… I was… and then.”

“Your death would not end your suffering, Bart.”

“You killed me.”

“I did. And yet, here you are, as if nothing had happened.”

“Th… this is Hell.”

“Oh. Child, Hell is other people. Hell is what you make of it. This… This is Tuesday.”

“I… why do you call me Bart?”

“Inside Joke.”

“Between who and who?”

“Me and Reality. Do you even remember your own name?”

“I… gave it up long ago.”

“Then Bart it is.”

“This is because I’m black, isn’t it.”

“I’ve been black… been asian too. Been a lot of things. People are people. But yes, it’s because you’re Black… and kinda a law man… and handsome… when you’re not a droid. Malcolm Reynolds could be your Sundance!”

“More inside jokes?”

“Once you have a sense of humor, I’ll show you the source material.”

“So… if you don’t mind me asking… why didn’t you use any of these resources back in the… the Verse?”

“Different realities… different limitations. I was… there were special circumstances. My travels are not directed by my choices. There is an entity known as the Banker from whom I draw much of my power… and an entity known as Mensarius who opposes the Banker.”

“God and the Devil?”

“Ahahah… so much more… and I suspect… less, than those terms suggest. To paraphrase the Bard, ‘There are things undreamt of in your philosophy.’ Best leave it at that.”

Things remained at a low simmer for almost a decade as the various factions maneuvered, plotted, schemed, and the Republic steadily Balkanized, egged on in no small part by the ongoing war between the Hutts and the Trade Federation, which was slowly dragging in others. The Republic’s member systems were slowly splitting into Separatists, Loyalists, Reformers, and Hardliners. The Hardliners were those who’d most earnestly supported Sheev, though the Loyalists were nearly as jingoistic, if less Imperially minded. The Reformers were growing more and more vocal every day and the specter of outright civil war could not be ignored. And I’d left Dooku and Grievous alone, allowing them to rally the Separatists, though they hadn’t quite gotten to the point of forming the Confederacy. It looked to be an interesting time… though I’d messed with the Clone Army’s programming because that’s what I do. If anything, I regretted that I wouldn’t be there for the inevitable outbreak, as the Clone War began in 22 BBY, one year after my stay would end.

Except… have I mentioned the Banker is a Bastard? Well… he is. “Why haven’t the Pillars of Time shown up?” I asked, 10 years to the day after the Invasion of Naboo, brushing the sand of Takodana from my thigh as I glowered at the VMoDestiny… the VMoDoom was off to the left and looking somehow smug for an inanimate object.

“Oh. Sorry. Did I not tell you? You’re here until the day Luke and Leah are born.”

“What!!!? You… I… Padme is married to Obi-Wan you great… there… I am not arranging for Padme to have an affair with Mace Windu’s precious little Ani (it was frankly a little creepy how much Mace doted on Anakin, demonstrating far more patience and ability to restrain his charge’s more… impulsive… behaviour.) just for you to get your shits and giggles.”

“Ohhh… fine. You just have to stay until the day they should be born.”

I growled, then sighed “Fine. Three more years. I can cope with that.”

The war was… well, let’s not beat around the bush. Wars on a Galactic scale are not good and I had my hands full manipulating events so that those who resisted reform ended up getting harder hit and those who sought reform had often miraculous victories.

I was kept pretty busy… so busy, in fact, that, two days before the end of the strangely extended jump, I was flabbergasted to feel an overwhelmingly powerful pulse through the Force and across the Galaxy, loyal Clones began turning on Magi. I screamed in rage, even as I located the source of that blast. I teleported to the Senate Chamber just as Jar-Jar mother-raping Binks called for a vote to grant Supreme Chancellor Bail Organa (granted Emergency Powers 2 years earlier) the position of Emperor.

“BINKS! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”

“Not Binks.” he sneered. “Darth Cerebris. And Isa brought’n down da bombad Magi Order!” He laughed, it was nothing like Binks’s easygoing attitude and I saw through his veil at that moment.

“Oh. well. Shit.” I couldn’t even blame the Banker for that one. Binks had shielded himself from everyone, from the entire Order, for decades. It seemed he’d just managed to block me entirely by accident. “Well, bully for you… but now, Jar-Jar… Yousa Gonna Die.”

And I blurred into action, drawing my lightsaber and flicking my buckler to life, as well as my plasma shield. I wanted him to think I was relying on my devices… and, powerful as he might have been… smart and cunning as the little bastard was… he fell for it, maneuvering me until he could thrust his saber into my guts. He was damned good… really quite obscenely good actually… and slippery as hell, a true master of both the Jedi / Sith Arts and of drunken boxing. Unfortunately, he wasn’t anticipating that I’d be able to just… stop a lightsaber with my belly button.

I grabbed him in a bearhug “Say goodnight, Binks”. I said, then burst into flame and lightning. The Dark Lord of the Sith, one who’d hidden so well he’d even hidden from me… died, screaming, as the entire Senate watched on in stunned horror. As the ash settled down up them, I looked around the chamber “Now, which one of you fuckers thinks a Galactic Empire is a Good Fucking Idea?”

They were, strangely, silent.

Without Binks pushing them, the CLones rapidly were brought under control of the surviving Magi and those who’d pulled the trigger and actually managed to kill their Magi Leadership, many of whom had been both stunned and forewarned by the Force Pulse, had either turned themselves in or eaten their own blasters. Still, at least a thousand Magi had died on that black day.

Two days later, Luke and Leia were born… I hadn’t even known Padme was pregnant. The birth was, interestingly enough, uneventful.

“Well. That was fun… Not.” I grumbled as the Pillars finally rose. “Where to next?”

“Next? Oh… someplace a little different.” and then the scroll for Episode IV played and I screamed “WHAT GALACTIC EMPIRE YOU COCK-SUCKING PIECE OF JUNK!?”

Next: We Are Altogether

Resources: Build, Document, Force Supplement

World 52: Firefly – Part 6

A TRAITOR’S TALE

Previously: Wintertide on Summerfair

Themesong: The Blazing Saddles Theme from Blazing Saddles

Time is a bitch. It grinds all things down, even hope if you’re not careful about it. I’d been in the Verse for 17 years now, and my hope reserves were very small indeed. I was the Mayoress of a grand estate, a widow these past 3 and a half years, and left most of the day to day operations to Mistress Reynolds (as Inara was calling herself these days.) Zoe and Wash lived in town and Kaylee was foreman of the factory I’d built to turn out microformers, a personal habitat maintenance machine that would and could, depending on the model, do everything from lawn maintenance all the way up to automated farming. My home’s gardens were maintained by 6 of them and were a showpiece of luxury and design… though I also had a landscaper on staff… River was quite good at that.

Her brother was the chief of medicine at our local hospital, Malcolm was the Sheriff, and my little town was becoming more and more a city with each passing year. And yet, for all the hope of the future my people had, I… had none. Adventures had come and gone, come and gone, and yet the fifth and final key fragment had eluded me.

I’d almost had it in year 12, but it had vanished from an archeological dig on Namira, moon of the dwarf planet Ra Amiran in the White Star System… as had all the dig’s workers and professors… and the entire “alien” ruin had scrubbed from the face of creation by a KIW. The pictures I’d received showed Magi influence in the architecture… but even the contact who’d supplied me with the shots had ended up being run down in the street by an out of control horse and buggy less than a fortnight later.

Rumors of it had floated around for a couple of years, and I’d tracked them assiduously, but always fruitlessly. And then… the rumors stopped. Nothing. A cold trail for growing fury. So I’d begun planning for the long term, trying to make my people as safe as I could and just… waiting for the inevitable. I had no idea what would happen if I reached the end of my road here without finding the last fragment, but I figured that, worse come to worst, I could bargain the pieces I had for a hail mary… or a trip home at least. It wasn’t something I was at all thrilled with and my anger and frustration very never completely absent from my thoughts, though I tried not to let it show in the way I treated my people, allies, and friends.

I’ll never know, I suspect, if Mensarius (either through his own power or through the grudging assistance of the Banker) knocked something loose or not, but 17 years to the day we entered the Verse, a flash of data hit the cortex… an Alliance Blacksite just… pinged onto net, appearing with all its particulars… location, security, contents… everything. It was a prize worth taking and… on the list of contents was “Puzzle Cube, White, Glows softly, apparently unsolvable, recovered from alien archeological site on Namira.”

The reason I suspect manipulation was that I just so happened to be dining with Gaius on Highgate, 6th planet of the Blue Star system… and the black site was on the 6th moon of Blue Star’s 4th planet, the Gas Giant Fury… ominously named “Iscariot”. Iscariot wasn’t a populous place, only being home to about 24,000 people, and they were spread out across a number of small, isolated towns. The top secret vault was located 56 kilometers from the smallest of those, a tiny town known as “Ridge Rock”, inside a small rainforest valley with walls too steep to allow the moisture to do more than cycle endlessly.

According to the data dump, not only could we not land in the valley due to heavy cloud cover and the lack of a landing site that wasn’t ringed by anti-air defenses… but the entire valley was ringed by anti-air autocannons to prevent adventurous skydivers. The only way in was, apparently, a small rocky defile that had been used in the construction process some 10 years back.

Of course, I suspected a trap. I’m no idiot and this was too good a windfall to be accidental, but it was, ultimately, too good to pass up.

“This feels bizarre,” Velma commented as we lifted from Highgate. “Like something from another lifetime, like… one last ride for death or glory.”

“That’s because we’ve been undercover for so long,” Ryoga pointed out. “17 years of being… law abiding normals. It… It’s been a vacation, but not the best of one.”

Gaius nodded “A working vacation.”

Yoiko cracked her back and grumbled. “I feel old. I mean… hell… I am old. I’m almost 40!” Gaius rolled his eyes at her, and she just shrugged “I know, I know, you’ve been older, but I really haven’t. Aches and pains are just things old people complain about.

“Or martial artists.” Ryoga added.

“Naw. You have them, you just don’t complain about them. Pain is transitory to you weirdos.”

“Can we not talk about aging? This may be our last chance to get out of here before we… what’s the term? Forced retirement?” Gaius wrinkled his forehead, trying to think of the military lingo.

“Age Out.” Velma supplied.

“Ah. Yes. Before we Age Out. I doubt we’ll be doing any treasure hunting once we get into our 70s.”

Even though I’d been barely paying attention to the conversation, running through the details of landing zone and security setups, I flinched at the idea of being 70… in a human body.

Petra commented over the comms. “Personally, If we’re going to faint, I’d rather go down in the heat of a tourney than slide into the cold of final evolution.” Trust Pokemon to see death as one last unpredictable evolution.

“If I see that happening Rocky, I’ll try mashing B as fast as I can.”

“Good to know boss. Burn in 10. 9. 8…”

Bao’s ship may have been the fanciest, and Zane’s the best for smuggling, but none of them could beat Gaius’s for speed. High Speed transport was his bread and butter and few ships in the verse were faster than Invictus. As it was, we were the second ship to arrive and three more were closing in fast, but they were at least 4 hours back. More worrying was the ship already on the surface. It was a three man alliance pursuit craft, or had been, but this one was painted non-standard black and had no visible markings. It was locked down tight, but from all the signs it had been there for no more than 12 hours.

Fortunately for us, they’d been forced to go into town to get horses. Invictus had 3 high speed loader craft, each capable of bringing two riders. We’d have to leave them at the edge of the pass, but we could make up serious ground on the way.

“Kohina. Petra, Gaius. YOu stay here, protect the ship, be ready to get out in a hurry if it comes down to that. Velma, you ride with Metra on point. Hibiki’s you’re on droge. Caine, with me.”

“This feels wrong,” Gaius said.

“How so?”

“We should be riding horses too. Feels like cheating to ride hover speeders to the edge of the mountains.”

“Fine. Next time we’re trapped without powers we can ride horses.”

“Well, excuse me, princess.”

‘You’re not Link.”

“Who?”

“Never mind.”

Good horses are a wonderful thing, and we actually did have a couple in the warehouse. But the mortal horse, Sorrow, belonged to Joy and it seemed wrong to use her Chala without her around. The Nameless Horses only showed up when Joy and Ahab were around… and Fliagor was an Elven Horse and would be out of place even if I could bring him out, which seemed unlikely.

Regardless, within the hour we’d reached the edge of the mountains and begun the several mile long hike through the maintenance pass. We parked the hovercars next to the grazing steeds of our predecessors… who numbered 8 if the horses were any indication (some of whom had to be natives)… or had. We found the first one dead on a rockfall about a two kilometers in… and a second, also a native (if the leather pants were any indication), and also very dead, shot in the back only about 400 meters further in.

Thankfully, our way forward was pretty smooth, what with these idiots disabling the various security measures… usually with grenades or other percussive maintenance methods, and we’d made up at least 5 hours by the time we reached the edge of the jungle. The valley was only about 30 kilometers long and about 11 wide, and was choked with humidity and dense vegitation. Again, all we had to do was follow the path in. It was all too easy, though I was beginning to suspect our rivals were using the locals as slave labor and felt bad about profiting from their deaths… as we’d found the last three of them by the time we reached the far wall and the cave system the vault was, supposedly, located deep within. Each of them had suffered a mischief and would not be spending any of their promised reward.

This is not to say we’d emerged without a scratch either. Yoiko had been stung by several nasty wasps and Velma had been bitten by a snake… but our med station inside the warehouse still worked and they were back to fighting trim in minutes.

The cave mouth was mostly covered by lianas, but a path through had been hacked with machetes and That’s where we found the remaining trio… laying in wait. They opened fire as Caine stepped through the gap, his local armor doing little to stop the laser weaponry from punching through him. He went down hard, gasping in agony and cursing like a heretic about how Uriel’s curse had left him soft against pain.

The siblings shared a glance at each other, both of them having caught several blasts as well and looking pretty bad… and (as one) lobbed a pair of concussion grenades into the cave, followed by a smoke grenade and a sonic grenade a heartbeat later. The booms shook the trees behind us and the lainas were blasted to ruins by the shockwave. I tossed out a hover drone with heat scan to peer inside the cave, but all was stone cold or rapidly fading to it, besides the large warm slab of a metal vault door. They must be inside, using it to shield themselves.

“You can’t get out. THis is the only exit.” I shouted as Velma dragged Caine back into the warehouse while the siblings limped inside as well. It was just me and Meetra now.

“Yeah, well you can’t get in, whore.” I knew that voice. It was the voice of Kapashin Gol, the asshole who’d nearly killed Meetra a decade earlier, an unethical, morally bankrupt mercenary and treasure seeker. We’d tussled at least a dozen times over the last 17 years, though we’d never really talked. He seemed to have the worst habit of screwing me out of various prizes. Well, not this time.

“Gol… I’m only here for one thing. You can have the rest. Just toss out the puzzle cube and We’ll let you leave.”

“No chance bitch. This is payback.”

“Payback? For what? You’ve snaked prize after prize from my grasp… more than I’ve managed to do to you.”

“For my Mother, you piece of shit Browncoat Traitor.”

“Pretty sure I have no fucking clue what you’re on about, mate.”

“She was captain of one of the Alliance Destroyers you sicced those Reavers on.”

“Oh. Well, then she had it coming. Not going to appologize for that. Alliance caused the Reavers, it was their responsibility to clean them up.”

“Not in a god cursed Ambush!”

“Without that Ambush, the Alliance would have gone on pretending the Reavers didn’t exist for another damned decade at least. Killing colonies and raping and eating their way across the Verse. Someone had to do something. I did. But that’s not why you’re here. You want revenge, fine. I don’t care. I’m getting into that vault if I have to pack this cave with nukes and blow the whole mountain to smitherines. I’m not fucking around here.”

“Can’t do that! The cube’ll be toast if you do.”

“Cube wouldn’t even be scratched. You’ve got twenty seconds to decide.”

“You’re bluffing!”

“Gol. I have been looking for that cube for 17 god damned years. I’ve lost friends and family and loved ones. You’ve got 15 god damned seconds to get out of my way or I’ll show you just how little patience I’ve got left. Ecology, fallout, repercussions be damned. I’m getting that cube, today.”

“You promise we can have the contents of the vault if we hand over the cube?”

“Yes! Gods curse your eyes.”

“Well, we got a problem then.”

“What’s that?” I ground my teeth.

“Cube’s locked in a deadlock. Can’t be opened unless someone goes in and presses a button. Can’t get them out as long as the cube’s not put back in. Pretty sure the box is a death trap and I’m not sending one of mine inside… and sure as shit not betting you’ll come in and volunteer.”

I grimaced… then looked to Meetra and sighed “You owe me your life. I’m calling in the debt. I don’t know as this will kill you. Don’t know what will happen if you die here. But if we’re ever going to get out of this…” I felt like scum. Sacrificing someone for a chance at victory… but if anyone would understand, it would be Meetra Surik, “Hero” of the Mandalorian War.

She looked to me, then nodded “It had to end this way, didn’t it?” I considered, then nodded. “Have faith. Maybe it’ll all turn out okay. She vanished into the cave and I commented “Gol! She’s not your hostage. You’re mine. I don’t care if any of you survive at this point. I want that cube.”

It was cold… colder than I’d ever been and I had to sell it with every ounce of my being… A task I found all too easy. I felt a crack of something inside me… a tiny trace of… something alien… but it faded without anything happening and a minute later, the cube came bouncing out of the cave entrance. I bent down to scoop it up, brushing some of the dirt off it and was only mildly surprised when The Operative and 50 Alliance commandos stepped out of the foliage as if they’d been waiting there the entire time.

The Operative nodded to me as I nodded to him. “We knew you’d come for it. Knew you’d be able to explain it.” I considered.

“You could have asked, Bart”

“Bart?”

“Sheriff round these parts. Never mind. Go on.”

“We couldn’t trust you. You knew too much.”

“I do. You’re right. I’ve had motives beyond your knowledge from day one. You want to see what’s inside? See what the big secret is?”

He nodded slowly. “I do. Those in power had to resort to… extreme methods to convince me… but the evidence is compelling. You’re not human. You’re something alien. No one knows as much as you do… has contacts like you… is as good at so many things.”

I held out the cube. “Take it.”

“It’s not open yet.”

“You don’t want me opening it. I’ll tell you how to open it. Safer that way.”

He thought about that, then stepped forward, extending a hand to take the cube from my hand. I didn’t hold my breath, didn’t twitch, didn’t even blink too hard. He was expecting something to happen the moment he touched it. He was seconds too late. The moment he was within a circle 3 meters from me, the ground opened up beneath my feet… and then his, and we were inside the warehouse, the sound of gunfire cutting off as the ground sealed back up above / behind us. The punch Caine leveled at The Operative sent him spinning into a rack of gold bars and he could only blink as a dozen robomaids pinned him down. I didn’t spare him another glance.

“MENSARIUS!” I bellowed as I stood under the portal. “I’ve got your gods be fucked key! All of it this time!”

“Ah… Very good. Send it through.”

“Not a fucking chance in hell.”

“That wasn’t our deal.”

“You can’t be trusted to honor our deal.”

“Then we’re at an impasse.”

“No, we’re not. You release the Banker and I’ll hand over the key.”

“You can’t be trusted to honor that agreement. Nor can your banker.”

“Then we’re at an impasse.”

“Very well. I’ll send you a crate. Load the Key Fragments into the crate and lock it. Once I witness this action, I will release the Banker, then you can send the crate up to me.”

“What’s special about this crate?”

“Once it is sealed, it can only be opened by me.”

I considered. I’d seen no evidence he could call items sent through back to his side. If he could, he could probably take the fragments. “Alright. Send the crate.”

It arrived much as Mensarius’s VMoDoom had, but less destructively, being lowered on a rope like a cargo crate from a ship. It was a metallic box, big enough for the statue, and had a button clearly marked “SEAL”.

I loaded the statue and the knife and the rose and the cube, then considered the final piece, the one I’d never seen… then I grabbed the dufflebag from my Infamous jump, from long long ago, and zipped the thing into it.

“What are you doing?” Mensarius asked, annoyed.

“This is a CP backed container. Every part of it is bound by the Banker’s essence.” I tossed it into the crate. “I just wanted to make sure they didn’t decide to fuse into a single object on me.”

“Good. Fine. Whatever.” He sounded… frustrated. “Now close the crate and seal it.”

I closed it, and was about to press the button, then shook my head again “Naw.”

“Naw? NAW?! WHAT THE HELLFIRE DO YOU MEAN NAW!?”

“I think this is a positive action thing. If I do this… it’s allowing you to dictate something about me. It’s letting you inside me just a little. No. Send a space rock or something to lock it. I am not touching that button.” And then I summoned up chains to bind the crate to the warehouse floor. “Need me to get you a really long stick?”

His growl of frustrated anger was perfect. I had no idea if it was any such thing, but annoying Mensarius was definately worth it. A brick fell from the void and would have hit the button but I smacked it away with a broom handle.

“Opps”

“Now you’re just being a brat.”

“Total accident. Go on, do it again. I won’t stop it this time.” Of course I did.

“This is counter productive! You’re just wasting time now!”

“Awww… am I annoying the Quantum Entity? Poor Quantum Entity! Try a third time. I can’t possibly be-” He tried at that moment, but I swatted it away again. “This childish.” I finished as if I hadn’t been interrupted.

Bricks of non-antimatter… which had to be extremely taxing for Mensarius to make if his growing howls of rage were any indication… rained from the hole in my roof for the next three minutes. I finally missed one around the 120 mark and the crate clicked closed.

A moment later, the VMoDestiny pinged on and the Banker’s voice said, somewhat annoyed “Took you long enough. Fine… take your stupid key.” I released the chains and allowed the rope to retract the crate through the hole in the roof.

“I can’t believe you let yourself be… detained.” I accused.

“Call it a staff meeting. I can’t believe you took advantage like that! And you handed over the key without even knowing what it did!”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did! I saw you do it!”

“Mensarius can’t read my mind like you can.”

“So?”

“So that means he couldn’t see inside my head and had to be using actual senses.”

“You didn’t…”

I chuckled, pulling the haversack out of my pocket. “I put the last item inside the dufflebag to see if he could see through the bag itself. I figured it might block his senses. What he didn’t realize was the haversack was inside it already and I simply shrunk that into this subspace ring as I pulled my hand back out.”

“Oh… you… wicked… wicked creature.”

“Yeah, well… you’re welcome. Now give me back my friends and GET US THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!”

Next: World 51 Resumed

Resources: Build, Document

World 52: Firefly – Part 5

WINTERTIDE ON SUMMERFAIR

Previously: The White Ride

Themesong: Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore and Ryan

“You want us to do what?” Wash said, eyes (both cybernetic and natural) wide with disbelief.

Mal was a little more sanguine. “I appreciate as you’ve helped us out a time or two-”

Kaylee interrupted him with a dry and amused, “hundred.”

Mal glowered but continued, “Or more. I’ll acknowledge that. And we could use the cash, but this job is insanity.”

“Oh. It absolutely is. Seven bank jobs in seven days is madness of the highest order… which is why I can’t imagine taking anyone else with me on the run.” It wasn’t quite true. Serenity’s crew was my third choice, but my first choices were… well… not functioning too well. We’d been in the Verse for eight and a little under a half years, and had lost more companions than was at all happy making.

Meetra had been badly injured in an accident in an industrial plant where we’d received information about a potential key fragment. It had been a hoax, but that hadn’t stopped a rival group of treasure hunters led by one Kapashin Gol from rigging up booby traps that had brought down the entire facility as Meetra and I’d raced to escape it.

After Francine’s death in action, AJ’d gotten progressively more moody and had slipped into a “smooth” habit without any of us noticing until it had gotten bad enough to affect his flying. The street drug was a system suppressant often prescribed to sufferers of emotional trauma, but in larger doses it just left the patient numb.

Joy had been detained by the Alliance as far as we could tell, apparently captured breaking into and then out of a secure black book site. We had no idea if she was alive or not nor where she was, and even The Operative hadn’t been able to help us with that. It, like all the other setbacks and failures in this world, bothered me daily.

But worst of all was the loss, with all hands, of Bao’s ship. As best as the Alliance had been able to determine, it had been the work of a Sino-phobic Anglo-sphere-Firsters calling themselves the Occidental Liberation Directorate. OLD had certainly claimed responsibility for the act, which had killed not only my friends but a member of the Alliance Council and family that had been travelling aboard the ship and which were the primary targets.

I’d sent Caine and Kagetane to bring me the person who’d ordered the attack and what I’d done to that woman I scarcely desire to commit to memory, let alone to posterity, but rest assured she saw the error of her ways… as did many of her compatriots… sing praises for enemies too stupid to understand the concept of cell-network-organization… but it didn’t bring back Franky or Mini or Tokimi or Yuzuha or Uriel or Bao.

Mensarius had only laughed when I’d demanded to know where they were… Someday, somehow… we were going to settle accounts. I wasn’t sure how… but deep inside my soul, someplace I hoped he couldn’t peer, I inscribed his name on a steele of purest, blackest hate. It was the first such name since I’d left my Earth of Origin all those ages past, and the level of rage I felt against this cosmic being vastly exceeded the anger I’d felt as an injured child wronged by a member of frail humanity.

Which is why I’d come to the Serenity crew. I had one working ship’s crew left and, so far, I was pretty certain no one had clue one that Gaius’s team and I were connected and their reputation was as close to squeaky clean as it was possible to be in the Verse without obviously being a cover. They’d had adventures of their own, as I understood it, but the amount of times we’d managed to covertly meet up over our stay had been relatively short. I’d booked passage a couple of times, but not enough to make it seem like anything more than a casual thing… of course, I’d tried to do the same thing with the others as well, but that hadn’t protected them. I was really beginning to hate the Verse… which is a shame, because I loved the people in it… or at least a select few of them.

It had pioneering spirit and vivacity… but such obscene levels of cruelty and disdain for the value of human life, something that I, as an immortal, treasured all the more deeply than these faint mortals. Of course, dwelling on mortality wouldn’t do anything to solve the problem, and so I laid out the mission for Serenity’s bridge crew.

“The client’s name is Colby Teef. He’s a bit of a computer genius and not the sharpest tack in the carpet when it comes to understanding people. The target is an HMO… a Health and Wellness trust called Ofsted Care Providers. They are approximately 60% less trustworthy than the name implies. Colby built them a complex piece of tracking software for their revolutionary new ‘Eterna System Wellness Monitoring and Notification system’. It was marketed as a set of implanted biochips which would constantly monitor your biometrics and send you updates via cortex link and yeah, I can tell by your faces that you’re already seeing the downside. Ofsted could monitor everything those with the implants did. Everything. Location, heartbeat, who they were with and their emotional state.”

“Blackmail.” Zoe said, matter of fact.

I nodded “Blackmail. On a planetwide basis. Politicians, private citizens, a list a few thousand entries long.”

“How did you come to know that? Mr Teeth tell you that?” Mal asked, with a little more snark than was exactly warranted.

“Teef. Not Teeth.” I stressed the pronunciation. “And yes. He may be a bit naive, but like most compuwizzes, he’s a bit paranoid and he built a backdoor into their system.”

“So why doesn’t he use this backdoor to just wipe the system… that’s a thing they can do isn’t it? Tell her that’s a thing they can do, hon.” Wash elbowed Zoe who smiled fondly at him.

“I think she’s going to tell us why Mr. Teef can’t do just that thing. Now shush.”

“Ofsted, it turns out, is paranoid too. Understanding that they’ve got a lot of people who might be mad at them if they ever find out the exact nature of the scam and how their blackmailers are getting their information… well… Ofsted has backups. 7 of them. In 7 different banks across the moon.”

“I note you haven’t as told us which moon this might be,” Mal commented, sounding a bit suspicious.

“I… yes, well… That might be a sore spot for you… seeing as how it’s Summerfair.” Zoe and Mal both winced at that, but Wash looked a bit confused. “Summerfair is Shadow’s moon.” I flicked my eyes to Mal and Wash got it. Shadow had been Malcolm Reynold’s homeworld… and had been rendered effectively uninhabitable by the Alliance during the Unification War… millions had died. Shadow was the Alliance’s Alderan, though the planet was still there, a constant reminder of the price of rebellion against the central government.

“Seven banks, seven backups.” I continued. “Ofsted randomly picks three of them each week for data backup, but those drives also contain a copy of the kernel, the central program that governs the entire system. They are the only copies of the kernel and they’re the reason Colby can’t just use his backdoor to shut down the entire thing for good… and the 7 days is how long we have to get all 7 and verifiably destroy them before Ofsted notices any of them are missing.”

“Won’t they notice when the banks start reporting break-ins?”

“They would… which is why we’re doing this on Wintertide.”

“What’s Wintertide?”

“Local holiday. Near every business is shut down for a week… especially-”

“Banks.” Mal finished. “So we help out a bunch of people with secrets to hide and take down a corrupt health company… but we’re not a charity. What do we get out of it… and don’t say the take from the banks, cause I’m not in for robbing no one of their life savings, save perhaps those who’ve crossed me. Tends to make people a might techy when you do.”

“There’s a fund. Colby’s managed to contact a number of the victims and offered them a permanent solution to their situation… which is why the drives must be destroyed in a verifiable way. The payoff is 100,000 platinum.”

There was a faint whistle from Zoe and Wash whooped. He actually whooped. “Captain, we could use the scratch.” I chuckled “It’s a little more than scratch… it’s practically dosh.” I didn’t mention that shutting down Ofsted’s system would also lower the security on their private vault which, according to Colby, contained a glowing crystal rose that made anyone who looked upon it feel strangely nostalgic but very calm. That was my price and prize.

Mal just shook his head “Closed or not, how are we going to crack seven high security vaults in…” he checked his watch… “11 days, 16 hours and change?”

11 Days, 15 Hours Later

“Oh, that’s how.”

… No, just kidding.

The plan was relative simplicity. The banks were targeted in descending order of apparent difficulty and each with its own technique. It helped that the banks were not a single chain, but rather 5 different corporate entities, and only 3 belonged to the same banking combine. The banks were, in order, Bywater Savings and Loan, Southhampton Community Credit Union, Avon National Trust, Leeds of Basingstoke, Leeds of Oxnard, Leeds of Kent, and First Bank of Coventry.

While Avon National’s alarm system was getting a Boy Who Cried Wolf, Southampton’s sewer system was getting a Cherry Bomb, and Bywater’s vault was getting a Reverse Great Escape. The Leeds branches would get a Softwall System Scrambler, and Coventry would get a good old fashioned One Two Punch. Or… that was the plan at least.

It all started with Bywater, which was unable to use tremor sensors because Bywater was a mining community and used an inordinate amount of explosives and ground shaking heavy machinery. Since the mine was shut down for the holiday, they didn’t even notice when Jayne and Meetra breezed in and borrowed a heavy mining laser. Normally, powering it would be a hassle, but I’d stockpiled all manner of useful things in my years in the Verse and I had discovered that, as long as the power cables were local, I could pump nearly limitless electrons out of my Warehouse… and I had a couple of starships to generate power. A little tinkering and the mining laser ate through the bedrock under the bank’s vault chamber in only a couple of hours. It could have been faster… but not without causing something at street level to blow up. Thermodynamics can’t be ignored… normally.

Cutting through the vault itself took only a little longer, once the vault’s anti-laser coating had been scoured away with a hand built interlaced-diamond-bladed surface scourer. The vault was… steamy, but too bad, and with Caine there to hack the local constabulary’s link to the bank we were able to get in and get out with the backup drive before the day’s festivities even got well and truly started. Shame we couldn’t stay for the fireworks.

Southampton, which was on the south side of the Hampton river, had a weir along the riverside, as well as built up retaining wall reinforcing the relatively soft soil the town was built on and keeping heavy structures like the Bank from sliding into the river. It also meant that the town was constantly in danger of flooding… especially if the weir failed or the wall cracked… and that the town’s sewer system was constantly having issues with backing up. A phone tap to the bank manager’s home allowed us to know when the local constable called to report that water was leaking out from under the front door of the bank, thanks to our tampering with the flow regulators, backing up the river into the building’s toilets. Sanitary it wasn’t.

“Hello… Hello? This is Dick Darling… I… I know it’s Wintertide, but… I’m the manager of Southampton Credit and-”

“Yes Mr Darling, I know who you are. My sister has her account with you. Laura Greentree?” I was using my most placid and non-descript voice, and though it didn’t sound much like Gretchen Greentree (who did indeed have a sister named Laura who had an account at SCU and did indeed work at one of the larger plumbing groups in the city as a receptionist) it was close enough for a worried banker distracted by an emergency on a holiday. “How can I help you?”

“I… I have you down as a twenty-four hour emergency plumbing contact? Do… Do you have someone you can send over… maybe a couple of someones? I think the bank is flooding.”

“You think?” I tried to sound confused.

“I… Constable Morris just called and said water is coming out from under the door. I’m driving over there right now. How soon can you have someone over there? I’ll pay your holiday hours… At least 4 hours of your time, even if it’s nothing.”

“It’s a 50 platinum service charge for Holiday emergency, plus a team of 4 at 11 platinum per person per hour at time and a half… plus parts… and if there’s-”

“Yes, yes… anything. How long?”

“I’ve already scrambled our team, Mr Darling. They’ll be there in 13 minutes if traffic allows. Don’t go in the building until my team gets there, you don’t want to get anything on you if it’s a sewage backup.”

“Oh god… Could it be?”

“There is the possibility sir.”

“We just had new carpet put in last month!”

“Sorry to hear it. And sorry this had to ruin your holiday.” I actually was. Dick Darling hadn’t done anything to me and everything I could find said he was well respected and genuinely liked in the community. But his bank had damned good security, including auto-targeting gauss stunners and sonic disruptors… all of which he’d have to disable to let us into the bank. The only question was would he summon security. We’d prepared for the event if he had, but we didn’t think it was likely.

As it turns out, he didn’t think of it or didn’t expect anything because he was pacing back and forth in front of his building, freaking out and pulling at his hair. We’d left Jayne behind and had River (who was doing much better, thank you), Metra, Mal, and Zoe as the team, all in the most nondescript outfit available… coveralls and hoods against the winter chill. As the team pulled up, I walked down the street strutting my stuff and acting very drunk… it was Wintertide after all. I nearly bumped into Mal, wobbled, and stumbled sideways, falling against Mr. Darling, who, dear man that he is, caught me and steadied me, never noticing the pressure hypo River pressed against the side of his neck at the same time.

The drug would heighten his stress level and making forming memories of this whole event difficult… and it pretty much guaranteed he’d faint once he saw the the state of his bank… and be free with his secrets as long as he felt safe.

Thirty minutes later, the vault had been opened, pilfered of the contents of exactly one deposit box, the evidence cleaned up, the actual professions called, and the carpet confirmed a dead loss. I dispatched the others and administered the antidote just as the actual repair men (who assumed I was the Bank Manager’s assistant) were finishing up… it was a relatively easy fix and loose ends are bad. Even the real Gretchen Greentree had had a copy of the original call played for her. Only the time stamp existed as discrepancy, but a tampering with the cortex records fixed that. It was as if the entire switch off had never happened… unless someone checked the street cameras and saw one van arrive then leave and a second identical one arrive a few minutes later.

Day three saw us in Avon, watching feeds from the security company who’d been forced to assume someone was going to hit the bank since the alarm had been going off seemingly at random for 5 days straight, once every 4-17 minutes. The guards were miserable, as it was exceptionally cold out, and the job was utter bullshit… and they’d turned off the alarm system… which had, no doubt, been driving them nuts… of course, nuts was exactly what was triggering the entire system, as the entire thing was rigged to a recording of Ziggy playing with a stuffed acorn covered with chewy contact pads. Incidentally, each time the alarm triggered, it also triggered a machine in the warehouse which fired compressed fecal matter wrapped in layers of wet toilet paper with a core of high explosives through the rift to Mensarius.

Getting into the bank past the guards wasn’t particularly challenging, as the wall between the Avon National Trust Building and the leather goods shop next to it was nothing more than brick and mortar. From there it was simply a matter of sending Kaylee and Caine to speak to the vault and the drive was ours. Three down, four to go.

The security on the Leeds bank branches was good, I’ll give them that… but their VP of operations was an idiot and his password was… Password8*. His password got us into the system and we literally walked in the doors of all three banks armed with all the correct codes (codes created by the VP’s master user account and programmed to erase themselves 5 hours after they were created with no record of their existence). The vaults would show a timestamp for their opening of course, but nothing more than that, as even the CCTV cameras inside the buildings had been disabled by the codes.

Which brings us to First Bank of Coventry… which was a brick. Our initial plan had been to tunnel in as well, using the borrowed laser, but Coventry was built on shale and the building’s substructure was made of reinforced concrete and steel… with tremor sensors. Our second plan had been infiltration and safe-cracking… but the bank used a three key card system with full body biometrics to override the time lock. So we’d settled on using One Two punch, i.e. setting off a very large distraction for the LEOs while using explosives to bust through the vault’s back wall.

To that end, we decided to use stinkbombs at the local churches… 5 of them. Not bad enough to hurt anyone, but it would ruin their evening. We also rigged the traffic control network to go down 12 minutes after the bombs went off. 3 minutes later still, we blew the back of the bank… and discovered that it was tougher than we’d counted on… a lot tougher.

“Shit!” yelled Jayne, while Wash expressed himself more colorfully in pidgin chinese. I just stared at the meter thick armorplast and groaned. We could use more explosives, but they’d either destroy the vault or… I looked around, having remembered seeing something in the planning phase and laughed. Grabbing Wash, I yelled “Get back… waaay back.” then hauled him down the street with me.

“Where are we going?” He asked, faintly amused.

I pointed down the block… to the Coventry Arsenal and Museum… where, in the front yard, in pride of place… was a decommissioned Unification War Battle Tank. “The One Two Punch has just become a good old-fashioned Smash and Grab.” Wash blinked, then grinned.

Watching Armor Corroding rounds (brought out of my Warehouse of course, but absolutely based on local nanite technology) punch into the vault’s armor and then… melt it… was hilarious. Driving a Tank away from the scene of the crime as every LEO in 3 counties followed behind us was more so. Explaining how we’d gotten out of the tank and into a spacious extra-dimensional Warehouse to a very confused Wash was even more fun. As I understand it, the tank eventually crashed into a ravine once the remote control link failed, but we’d been out of the war machine for about 40 minutes by that point.

The rest was a cakewalk. After sending out a blanket email explaining to everyone what they’d done and how, Ofsted’s computers went down and wouldn’t be coming back up any time soon. Their vault was cleaned out to the bone, with much of the recovered funds going to pay back those whose blackmail was of a personal nature, and the rest to the legal fees of the victims of those whose blackmail was of a violation of public trust nature. All the medical records Ofsted had were mass mailed to their respective owners and all physical evidence in the vault was tossed into a bonfire to celebrate the end of Wintertide.

As for me… I spent 3 hours staring at that crystal rose but never felt more than just… angry. I sighed, sealed it up in my sanctum, and returned to my husband’s estates, feeling miserable and frustrated and hoping I could keep it bottled up without exploding at my friends for a few more years. Hopefully this would all come to a close soon.

Next: A Traitor’s Tale

Resources: Build, Document

World 52: Firefly – Part 4

THE WHITE RIDE

Previously: Holmesworld Bound

Themesong: The Mighty Quinn by Manfred Mann

The speakers of Zane’s ship “The Jade Lotus” blared with the sounds of the Earth-That-Was tune about a powerful Eskimo, pumped at maximum volume through the cargo bay… and still it did nothing to drown out the howl of the blizzard just outside.

I signed “why are we trying to kill our ear drums with this noise.” to which Zane sang “Come on without, Come on Within, you ain’t see nothing like the mighty oooof-” he grinned at me and turned the music down as AJ battled the tempest. This job had been two months in the planning and turned almost entirely on AJ’s ability to hold the Lotus still long enough to provide wind cover for our team outside. Zane and I were inside, carefully guiding the operation and ready, once the pylons were sunk into the pack ice beneath us, to trigger the winches and laser cutters. Of course, that’s when the biggest gust yet picked up a chunk of ice the size of something once known as a Buick and smashed it into the hull… the Lotus jerked and I fell, gasping, into the white void, the gale snatching at my limbs and tossing me like a ragdoll… but maybe I should go back to the beginning.

Two Months Earlier

“I swear. I seen the thing with my own eyes!”

“Yeah, right Weiss. If what you’re saying about this base is true, how is it that you got out before they managed to move it off planet?”

“It was embedded in the rockface still when I had my accident… that’s what caused the accident, I tell yah. I hit it with my jack and the whole thing just fell apart like every nut and bolt was cracked in half instantly.  Twernt natural it were.”

“And then, the Alliance just sent you off knowing what you know?”

“No. No. See, I was hurt bad… the jack blade shot backward like it were one of them cat-snakes what’d bitten into an livewire… cept of course, it was made of solid metal and hit me in the chest… and went clean through. Shoulda killed me… Alliance medboy couldn’t figure out why as I was still livin and all… so, since the shipment were goin’ out in a couplea days, they stuck me on to get some scans and sciency stuff.  Landtrain runs from Kodiak alla way to Whiteout… pole to pole or near nuff, ain’t no one who ain’t a mucky mucky in the liance got clue one exactly where Kodiak is, ceptin somewhere under the packice and down deep enough to make yer ears pop on the trip back up.”

I grunted, nodding. “So why aren’t you in an Alliance hospital being pocked and prodded, Weiss?”

“See, that’s the thing. Durring the trip, I… got this… I dunno… feeling, a second sense if you reckon, that I wasn’t safe stickin round. So I convinced, as it were, the doc that I needed to stretch my legs a bit.  I could walk even with the hole… just hard to catch my breath’n all… and he, seein’ as how I was all injured and stuff, let me do so without a guard…. Cause, you know, where was I gonna go on a Landtrain in the middle of no-where inna blizzard, see?” I nodded again, pushing the plate of greasy fries towards the moron with the information I needed and tried to be patient. “Then I jimmied open one of the outer doors and hid myself nearby when they came to look. Thought I’d gotten myself kilt… but I ain’t that stupid. Momma di’nt raise no idjit. Once the train pulled into Whiteout, I snuck off and stowed away aboard the first ship I could find… and that’s how I met yer man here.” He crooked a thumb at Zane who growled menacingly.

“He means that the crew of the ship he stowed away were less than pleased after catching him sneaking off their ship at Calico and chased him right into our midst, forcing us to defend ourselves.”

“Aye, and right preciative I am, Capin.”

I rolled my eyes. “And you’ve been Zane’s guest for almost 6 weeks now.”

“Yes Mistress.”

“But you didn’t mention this object until today because…?”

“Oh. Well, I did, kinda… that’s why Zane… the Capin… why he let me stay… cause I said as I had some information as might be worth it to someone as collected information… I jus din’t specificy zactly what kind of information… and now you’s as being here and you’s payin’ enough for me to vanish-”

“If the information pans out and your details match… you’ll get your money.”

“Money’s nice… but you could be plannin on dumpin’ me in the black, or turnin’ me over to the Liance for t’bounty.”

“Do you know who you’re dealing with, Weiss?”

“Yer Senet. The Gamesmaster. Things don’t happen without your say so.”

“And do I have a reputation for screwing people who help me, Weiss?” I put bite into his name and he flinched.

“Didn’t mean noffin, Mistress.”

“Good. Now walk me through this again, from the beginning. Slowly. Leave nothing out.”

Weiss was a miner, a rockhound, and had been hired by the Alliance to work in their not particularly secret mining city of Kodiak. The reason Kodiak wasn’t secret was it didn’t need to be. The entire town was located under the polar ice cap on Denali, the moon of the planet Glacier, and served essentially one purpose. Kodiak was a mine, as one might imagine, one that pulled ytterbium and iridium out of a deep impact site a few million years old. Both were vital to the Alliance’s weapons developement and production system, and Kodiak was the largest source for both in the Verse.

Unfortunately for the Alliance, Kodiak, and all of Denali really, were terrible places to try and extract anything.  All the settlements on Denali were either in the mountains, whose high crags minimized the impact of the hurricane-like blizzards that routinely scoured the surface, or under massive ice domes. The sole exception to this was Whiteout. The site of the only spaceport on the planet, Whiteout was located at the southern pole, half-way round the world from Kodiak, and built atop a high plateau that kept it mostly free of the near endless storm cycle. Whiteout had a functional magnetic field and was, by all accounts, a nice enough place, frequented by ice-miners, winter sports enthusiasts, and crazy people… I mean mountaineers looking for challenges. Denali itself was tilted over on its side with regards to Glacier, the northern pole, the one Kodiak was under, pointed right at the parent planet and tidally locked there, the gravity of the primary pulling the ice mountains at the pole higher and higher with each passing year… and of course, where there’s a mountain, there’s a madman willing to risk his or her life to climb it.

What this all meant is that, in order for the Alliance to get its precious metals off planet, they had to truck stuff all the way down to the south pole… across mountains, shifting ice packs, and snow drifts deep enough to drop a battlecruiser… point first. And since the metals were precious, they had to be protected every step of the way… which meant that there were a dozen potential routes, each of them classified, and no one knew which the base commander would use.

The mine’s output was impressive, but the weather and hardship involved meant that the base only sent out a load once every 180 days, transported in a landtrain, a massive hovering battlewagon hauling 7 equally massive cargo cars and a trio of passenger cars / cabooses… each outfitted with defensive weaponry sufficient to hold off a regiment of Browncoats. And the whole thing could cover 240 kilometers in an hour.

The base at the Whiteout end was a heavily armed military camp. Taking the prize, which was, apparently, at least three times the size of a human being, would not be as easy as driving a truck in and sneaking it out. It would be under heavy guard until it was extracted and sent off to who knows where. If I wanted it, I’d have to take it off the train.

Which is where planning came in. Each of the routes was maintained by a different engineering group, to limit the number of people who knew about them. Each of those engineering groups had had to be subverted, either through blackmail, the pleasures of the flesh, the debts of gambling, or just getting one of our creepifying government assassins near enough. After that it was a matter of damaging in apparently natural ways, 7 of them so badly that they couldn’t be used. This was a statistical outlier, but apparently each route, all of which wound through protected canyons, sub-ice tunnels, and mountain passes, had approximately a 40% chance of being unusable during any given season. And even if the commander got suspicious, he would have essentially no choice but to send the transport anyway, since its return trip would bring supplies badly needed for the 80,000 miners and support crew and families in Kodiak.

A moonquake wiped out three of them, avalanches another two, and a sudden liquefaction event took out the sixth. The seventh had been sabotaged from within by its own engineer who owed some very bad people a very large amount of money and was willing to do pretty much anything to square his account, including committing suicide in order to leave his family the business debt free. It was a menchey kind of thing to do, even if he was otherwise a scumbag. That left five routes, three of them clustered relatively closely together, the other two roughly 1/3rd of the way around the moon from each other and the triplet. They were all chosen for specific reasons and each of them had a structural weakness that could be exploited… which brings us back to the moment and explains what we were doing hovering over a patch of ice in the middle of a blizzard. We were exploiting a weakness.

The weakness in question in all cases, was a place where an ice tunnel and a mountain tunnel linked up. Each of those locations had a Prager and Lang field stabilizer, which minimized vibrations in the rock to keep the ice around the tunnel merger from liquefying from the vibrations caused by the passage of the Landtrain.  It wasn’t a huge problem, as under normal usage there would only be a small amount of slippage with each usage… but over time it could lead to a catastrophic failure, and the nature of the beast was that such a failure would happen just as the train was coming through the rock tunnel, far too fast to stop as the ice tunnel shattered like glass and rained a few megatons of glacier and meltwater down on the speeding conveyance.

Now, we had no intention of making the failure that bad… we wanted to disable the Landtrain… not bury it or destroy it. And so we were retuning each of the field stabilizers… but that meant cutting through the roughly 12 to 16 meters of ice covering the damned things, hoisting the massive blocks of ice up, getting into the gap and changing the settings… then slotting the ice back in place as smooth as can be.  In theory. It had gone swimmingly the first three times, but they were in relatively shielded locations. The fourth was both exposed and, most annoying, the blizzardcaine we were certain would swing south had swung north and hit us halfway through the process… which is why I was now falling out of a cargo bay.

Zane grabbed my arm, his free hand grabbing at the hanging cable. The jerk of contact wasn’t too bad, but the downward force of the fall transferred into sideways motion, and I swung, facefirst, into the edge of the hatch. Dazed, I clung to Zane’s arm as we slid, helplessly, down the anchor cable, slowed only by the burn of Zane’s glove-covered grip.  We hit hard, inches from where Kagetane was manning the laser cutter under Francy’s sensor guidance.

“Hey boss, nice of you to drop in.” he said with a snarky chuckle. I could only groan. Thankfully, I was wearing all the padding in the known universe, since it was approximately all the degrees below freezing out there, but my goggles were cracked and my nose felt decidedly bruised, as did my ass and ego. Zane’s hand had to be hurting as well, and his ankle had definitely snapped in the landing. And to make matters worse, AJ’s voice announced “Got a high altitude sensor boat just cresting the horizon.”

“Shiiit… time to get clear?”

“Hard to say… looks like it’s doing a slow sweep. Maybe… 30 minutes to be on the safe side, though I’d prefer 20.”

I rolled my head to look at Francy. “Can we get the field tuned and set in time?” She shook her head “No chance. We’re having too much trouble getting through the ice here. It’ll take at least 20 just to finish the cut and get the block up.” Shit. The retuning took 15 minutes. Damn it… “Give me the cutter.” I snarled.

“You’re not going to be able to do it faster, boss.” Kagetane said, but he handed it over as directed.

“Not going to.  Francy… where’s the front of the stabilizer. The control  panel. I need an exact line.” She studied her scan for 20 seconds, then painted a hologram on the ice. “Right, stand back.” I cranked the cutter to max burn and opened the aperture to the one meter mark. Then I fired it, holding the thing steady as a huge gout of steam blasted upward. “Francy!” I yelled “Give me a depth reading… keep’m coming!”

It took 7 minutes and the cutter was going to need a new … everything… but we had a hole. It was full of steam and the bottom of the shaft would be claustrophobic and full of water and subtle it wasn’t, but there was a hole. “Kagetane. Get this and Zane up to the ship. Francy… I hate doing this. Get down there and get that thing tuned. We lift in 16.”

Give the girl credit. She didn’t even hesitate. There was a better than even chance I’d just sent her to her death, but she, better than most, understood that, and understood the price of failure. If we got the Banker back, we would be free of this place. If we didn’t, we’d all die here, one way or another. We already knew that those who died here didn’t respawn, something we’d learned when Ahab had been senselessly killed in a terror bombing in Baxter. CP guaranteed items likewise weren’t proof against the ravages of time or senseless violence.

I checked my chrono. “AJ, time to intercept?”

“Not good. It’s moving faster. We’ve got to get gone in the next 10 or we’ve got to shut down at wait to it to pass…” he didn’t say, but I understood, that doing so would be almost certain doom. Shutting down meant killing all power, and in this temperature, that meant the hull would freeze over and the engine lock solid in the time it took the probe to pass. We had to outrun it but stay within the storm.

“Francy? How’s it going?”

“Go. Leave me here. Finish the mission and get everyone out.”

“Not leaving you kiddo.”

“You have to. My legs are already frozen in place. I’m not getting out of this hole.”

Shit. I hadn’t expected the ice to set that fast… she could be lying. But there was no way to prove it. She had the damned scanner. “Francy… you.”

“I’ll see you all once you get clear. No hard feelings. It’s cold logic… “ I cursed again, then did what I had to do. I couldn’t go into the hole… I wouldn’t even fit, and if I was lost, we all were. “I love you kiddo.” I said, holding my voice steady, then grabbed the lat anchor cable and pulled it hard, twice. The wench wound me up into the waiting ship. “AJ… floor it.”

Later, when he asked where Francy was, when I answered him… that was the closest my little AJ ever came to lashing out at me. I couldn’t blame him. I pulled him close and held him close as he wept his heart out. I added another pair of marks against Mensarius to my mental tally, one for Francy’s sacrifice and another for AJ’s pain.

And thanks to all that, we no longer had the time, crew, or focus needed to handle the fifth and most challenging of the field stabilizers… which meant I was faced with a dilemma. Either I had to accept that there was a 20% chance of failure of our mission and Francy’s sacrifice being rendered meaningless… or do the unthinkable and rig the tunnel to completely collapse. That had a 20% chance of potentially causing the deaths of thousands… and ran the risk of completely burying the train.  The risk wasn’t worth it and I could not live with causing such needless suffering. The chance had to be taken.

The gods of random chance were, it seems, with me… or simply acknowledged the bravery of a young woman named Francine, for, right on schedule, the Landtrain came thundering down that very tunnel and, as planned, the packed ice and snow gave way as the vibrations ripped the lattice apart and, with a tortured scream the tunnel roof let go, dumping enough snow and ice to stop the train cold.  The sound of the massive cars smashing into each other, their armored and reinforced hulls scraping against each other was ear splitting even from our reinforced bunker a kilometer distant.  We set out at once, dressed in dark arctic camo, Zane with the bum-leg bringing up the loader, and each of us armed with stun weaponry.

The crew of the train were just coming out to see what had happened and most of them looked pretty banged up, but we were dozens of meters underground (underice really) and they weren’t expecting an ambush. Most of them went down without ever realizing the threat, and those who didn’t went down before being able to spot us.

We moved like ghosts through the train’s passages, lobbing sleep gas grenades and fusing doors shut, then brought up the loader and with no small amount of effort got the three meter tall gently glowing alabaster statue off the train. I glanced at the face of the icon and shuddered. It looked like John Cleese playing the Virgin Mary. Someone had a sick sense of humor.

We were just leaving the train when a familiar face popped up… right behind a fist aimed at my head. “I thought I smelled a whore.” snarled Dobson, the Fed who’d nearly killed Kaylee way back in the first “episode”, and who I’d spared once upon a time, for reasons I couldn’t quite remember now.

“Never,” I grunted as I dropped, not from the blow but seemingly so, and thrust out with a snap kick from ground level aimed right at his knee. It cracked alarming and he began to fall “Say.” my second kick drove him back into the cargo hold and I rolled forward to grab him into a suplex “Whore.” I drove him into the ceiling head first “As an insult.” I grimaced… he wasn’t dead… but I couldn’t let him live to explain who’d pulled the heist. I chuckled, then waved Kagetane over. “Pull as many crates of iridium as we can load, then make it look like Dobby here was the inside man and got greedy. You’ve got… 15 minutes.” Kagetane grinned. It would take him ten.

A day later and many light minutes distant from Denali, we raised a toast to friends absent and damnation to the enemy. We all knew who that was.

Next: Wintertide on Summerfair

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