The Jump Chain

World 76: Kenichi Tousen

SO MUCH SENSELESS VIOLENCE

Previously: Not Ready For This

Themesong: I Love It by Icona Pop and Charli XCX

Meanwhile, in another reality entirely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Did you even read the document at all?~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That being?”

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

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

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

“And if I’m not interested?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Companions… that’s going to be weird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the kittens,” Carwyn teased.

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

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

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

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

Sarah asked, “Are they all that bad?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, yeah! Keep fighting!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Takechiyo.” he gasped out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t argue with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

====4 days later===

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

“No. But neither has Ji-Sensei.”

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

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

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

“Did you hide all the guns?”

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

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

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

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

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

“H… h… had enough, o… old man?”

“N… no.”

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

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

======AFTERWORD====

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

“What is that?” Atura asked me.

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

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

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

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

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.

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

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

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

SIDEJUMP ANARCHY REIGNS (Atura Primary)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OMAKE – Cauldron Vials

Year Ten Vials

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

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

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

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

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

Year Eleven Vials

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

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

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

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

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

Year Twelve Vials

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

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

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

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

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

Year Thirteen Vials

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

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

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

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

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

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World 76: History’s Strongest Disciple

NOT READY FOR THIS

Previously: In Which Business is Gotten Down To

Themesong: Hearts A Mess by Gotye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where would I stop?” I asked, shaking my head and trying the fifty-fifth folder.

“Stop what?”

“Stop saving lives? Do I stop with just humans? What defines human? Do I stop with only sapients? Where’s the line? Do I include artificial awarenesses? Lesser animals? Where do I stop when to save one life I would have to remove another from the equation? And do I stop at merely saving lives? What about protecting livelihoods? What about preventing injury? Where does that end?”

“Can’t you do it all? Stop all the suffering?”

“Of course I could… I could freeze the Universe in time. No suffering. No pain. No tomorrow… but then? What then?”

“Surely you could come up with a better solution than that!” She scoffed.

“Possibly… but why would I want to?” I asked, not even looking her way.

“I thought you were all about saving people!” She shot back.

“What a very strange thing to be about,” I responded, no longer even pretending to humor her.

“I’ve heard those lectures you give your foes! I’ve seen you work your wiles on those you seek to convert to your own ends!” the half-drunk benefactor accused. “You’re always going on and on about doing the ethical thing and not being evil.”

“You’re the Chamber of the Ordeal. Surely you don’t have a problem with the idealized knightly virtues?”

“I don’t! But you… you’re deliberately trying to confuse the issue!” The bottle shattered next to my head as she flung it, half full, at me. The foul brew splashed, then the bottle reconstructed itself and fell, harmlessly, to the floor.

“No. You’re trying to make this about my personal failings, trying to make it about some illusion you have that I think I’m infallible or always right or the supreme arbiter of righteousness. I don’t think that… as much as I may joke about always being right… sometimes there is no right and wrong, merely shades of dickishness and cooperation. But here’s what I know. Life is suffering… but it beats the alternative. Freedom from pain is freedom from motivation. Compromise is evil, but failure to compromise is idiocy. And last, but by no means least… Responsibilities trump good intentions.”

“What, in the name of Chaos, does that mean?”

“It means that you can believe in peace all you want, but when your neighbor just wants to burn the world down and piss on the smoldering bones of all you hold dear, you either stick to your guns… or put up your dukes. Finally,” I said with a grin as the 2,188th file folder (or conceptual equivalent) opened. There was some kind of popup that I didn’t understand, something about connectivity or repeated memes, something about mythological names? I hit confirm, as it was either that or engage in more annoying debate with the Bitch of the Ordeal… I was beginning to miss the Banker… hell, I was beginning to miss Mensarius… at least they’d been interesting in their utter cluelessness.

“HISTORY’S MIGHTIEST DISCIPLE: KENICHI!” read the title page once it had resolved into English. Ah yes… a fifty episode anime that (from what I’d read after watching the series on Netflix) had barely covered 1/5th of the manga’s monster 580+ issue run. They both told the tale of a earnest young idiot with little native ability in martial arts being trained by six largely dysfunctional superhumanly skilled martial arts masters. Those six masters; judo master and chiropractor Akisame Koetsuji; muay thai ‘Death God’ (not really a god, but really that good), idiot savant, and pure hearted saint Apachai Hopachai; gong fu cult leader, pervert, scapegrace, and accupuncturalist Kensei Ma; blacksmithing genius, Weapon Master, and probably asperger’s syndrome sufferer Shigure Kosaka; self proclaimed 100th dan karateka, lazy drunkard, and sometimes bodyguard Shio Sakaki; and legendary superman and undisputed most powerful character in the series, Hayato Furinji, made up the association known as Ryozanpaku… along with Shigure’s pet mouse ‘Tochumaru’ (also a world class martial artist) and Hayato’s granddaughter Miu (see Tochumaru’s note).

When Kenichi (who is habitually bullied by the ridiculously over the top meatheads who inhabit this world (and his school) but never gives up, despite being a coward) encounters new girl at school Miu, he falls for her immediately (thanks largely to the fact that she is both nice (in a stunning reversal of normal anime tropes where she’d be some kind of dere) and extremely buxom for a 16 year old gymnast… or, you know, for a Hooters girl (but not unreasonably so). He follows her home and soon gets roped into being trained by all the Masters of Ryozanpaku, who, despite his (so the story hammers in time and time again) lack of talent, turn him into a legendary martial artist… or, you know, History’s Mightiest Disciple.

I’d had any number of problems with the show in watching it and hadn’t read the comic to find out what happened next (though I’d read the synopsis just out of curiosity), largely because I could not stand the author’s incredibly unsubtle writing. Kenichi is Nanoha level good at the conversion of enemies… possibly better. Some of the people he manages to sway to the light side he doesn’t even have to fight, he manages to impress them so much with his overwhelming earnestness. He absolutely refuses to hit girls (not women, he never calls them that), even when they’re attacking him and insists on stepping in to defend female characters… even when they are known, by him, to be better martial artists than him.

And the sexism doesn’t stop there. It’s repeatedly hammered home that female martial artists (even in a world which has martial artists who can run on water and knock buildings down with a single punch) cannot fight male martial artists without weapons. The only member of Ryozanpaku’s elite who is female is Shigure, by far the least functional character in the series, and she is the only member of Ryozanpaku who fights with weapons. Miu, trained by Hayato, an absolute monster of a fighter, from infancy, is brilliant, but never rises to Kenichi’s end of the Anime levels and in the epilogue which shows them married, he’s stated to have become a legendary master or whatever, and she’s still, as far as anyone knows, still at the Disciple level. Oh, and she dreams of nothing more than being a wife… she also does all the cooking and cleaning for the useless masters of Ryozanpaku… yeah, I was not happy with the sexual politics of the show, which even for a Shonen Manga were particularly glaring.

Oh… and whenever Kenichi proclaims that he’s Ryozanpaku’s #1 Disciple… I’d wanted to punch him through a wall and point out that, no, Miu’s their #1… you’re #2, you fu… Of course, I’d also had a problem with the idea that Kenichi had no talent for martial arts. Clearly, this is bullshit. Kenichi not only fights and defeats people who are both hard working and said to be talented, but also hard working geniuses at martial arts (as in real genius, the kind that is autodidactic and intuitive). So either Ryozanpaku’s masters are so good that they can instill superhuman abilities into someone with no native ability, or their definition of ‘no talent’ is fucking weird.

No talent means no potential for being good at something. Some people will never be more than average at something, even if they dedicate years to studying it. Before perks, my ability to be a singer or musician was practically non-existent. I was pitchy, tone-deaf, and had very little sense of rhythm… I even sucked at rhythm games. The same things that made me such a good gamer, so good at fighting and physical activities, namely increased spatial awareness and nearly intuitive level reflexes (hey, I’d been a gymnast and martial artist before I’d ever left earth… wooo Cheersquad! Not world class or anything, but I’d been good if not supremely dedicated) had hindered me in other fields. As a tutor and teacher, I’d seen enough students who were just never going to be good at math or writing, though they’d be able to become competent if they worked at it.

To be good or great at a thing requires the physical, mental, and (some would say) spiritual underpinnings of it. The idea that anyone can be good at anything if they only put their mind to it is a toxic one, though minor as toxins go. To be great? It takes talent and hard work or genius. To be the best? That takes genius and hard work. That’s how these things work. A good teacher or two or three or six can make a huge difference, even to a genius, but without dedication and a body, mind, and spirit that can handle the rigors? It’s just not going to happen.

That all said, the series was about seeking your own path, living by your own code, and that bullying was a fucking dick move. So it’s hard to fault it there. Good lessons mixed with stupid ones. What more can one expect from comic books aimed at teenage boys? And I did like a couple of the characters… mostly Apachai and Kenichi’s father (who’s a lunatic but dedicated to his family… seriously, the guy owns shotguns and rifles and names them… in Japan!) and Kenichi’s sister Honoka… who is such a little brocon it’s not funny. She’s 14 (three years younger than Kenichi) during most of the story and just… adorable. Also a genius at Othello and kinda inept at most other things… but enthusiastic, which made up for much of that.

She could also cook a bit… certainly better than most at Ryozanpaku could. There, only Miu and, rather stereotypically, Kensei Ma, who knew all about chinese cooking, of course. He also had a quite attractive daughter who formed part of Kenichi’s unofficial (because he was smitten with Miu and unable to tell her) harem (along with a girl in his flower gardening club)… But all of that was getting ahead of things. This Jump might have been named for Kenichi, but it was a big world and all this jump meant was I’d have to share it with him.

I scrolled down past the single paragraph of introductory material, skimming through the all too brief description of the conflict between Ryouzanpaku and YAMI (the Shadloo-expy evil underworld martial-arts criminal empire of the Kenichi-verse) and found the ‘Identities’… Drop-In, Delinquent, Disciple, and Prodigy, all of which cost 100 CP except for DI. Delinquents were blessed with an innate sense of battle, but minimal training; Disciples were newcomers to the world of high level martial artistry but blessed with a Master-Class teacher; and Prodigies were the child of a master, heir to their techniques and school, with their genes and training from a very young age, but a lot of expectations. The age range was 11 to 18.

Drop-In I immediately dismissed. Its perks were based on a character named Niijima Haruo who was a slimy worm, an ex-bully and data-broker who used Kenichi’s successes in battling first random bullies and later Ragnarok and YOMI (the junior division of YAMI) to build what amounted to a legion of thugs and punks who were only technically good guys (most of the major players were the Kenichi reformed bullies, thugs, and gang leaders that Niijima had blackmailed or confused or nagged into joining). Not only was he a weasel (and not in a good way), a coward, a cheat, and a jackass… he was also freaking creepy as hell. Also obviously not human… he had pointy teeth like a shark, elfin ears, and antennae sprouting from the top of his head. He was often referred to as a kappa, but someone no one ever really seemed to think he was an alien or something else inhuman… though he clearly was! Anyway, I didn’t need perks that let me hide weapons, study people imperfectly, or brainwash with nagging.

Delinquent too was out of the question. The Capstone was called Berserker and required being stressed to work… ugh. Idiocy. The other perks (Ambition and Animalism) were slightly more interesting, but Ambition was like a really really low rent version of Path to Victory that could only focus on one thing at a time and only made you more alert to opportunities… and Animalism just made copying animal movements into martial arts easier. Yeah…. I had that down already.

Which left Disciple and Prodigy, each of which had an intriguing Capstone. Disciple had Combat Empathy, the ability to read the flow of an opponent’s movements, sensing not only the thoughts and emotions behind their attacks, but also where they planned to hit. Since I’d been stripped of all my spiritual powers (which included magic, which included my 3 second combat precog) and empathy by a certain someone, this could be helpful… though I still had a Mentat’s superhuman calculation even if I currently wasn’t a Kwisatz Haderach. Prodigy had Ki Kneading, the ability to shape the ki within my body, manipulate every muscle and even move around organs if needed. Again, it was a mix of something I could do and something I should have been able to do… most frustrating. As a psychic, I knew all about biopathy… but biopathy was the one major area of psi power that I’d gotten from Warhammer 40k… which meant it was spiritual in nature and thus I’d been stripped of it by the pain in the ethereal ass. I also normally had mountains of ki and the ability to shift it as I wanted or needed… but Ki is largely spiritual and I currently had the ki of a very healthy normal and the same amount of ability to shift it… So that was no help at all.

What ended up deciding me was simple. Prodigy’s other two perks suuuuucked. Civilian Skills (the freebie) allowed easier synergy between mundane tasks and martial arts training (i.e. what basic creativity is for) and Used to It kept the user calm in battle and inhibited battle trauma (but didn’t grant blanket protection from it… nor did it seem that the author was aware that physical trauma was a thing, because the wording was entirely about mental trauma… but unless made use of the general term). On the other hand, Disciple had Discipline (never grow bored or lose focus while training) which was nice enough but useless for me in my current or normal states, and Etiquette (the freebie), which granted instinctive knowledge connected to any martial art, martial arts society, or martial culture. The idea of knowing how to avoid (or cause) offense at will for any culture rooted in combat and discipline was just too good… and it was free! (with purchase).

And that’s how I spent my first 400 CP (100 on Disciple / Etiquette, 300 on Combat Empathy). A quick spin of the dice and I was 17 years old and I’d be starting off at a place called ‘Yamigadani’ (literally valley with darkness… or Valley of Darkness), a secret secluded glade high in the mountains with unnaturally thick air that made it perfect for training in the martial arts… and survival for that matter, as it was hours from civilization.

The next section was a trio of mutually exclusive choices defining how my martial arts and persona in this world would be viewed unless I made a conscious choice to change it… that they each came with a minor bonus and that none of them cost anything (besides not being able to take their opposite) made the taking one from each a no brainer. The first of them, however, immediately raised my hackles and made me very much wonder if Kenichi had originally been the follow up to Worm or if it had been added right after Atura and I’d had our falling out.

That choice was between Katsujinken (Life Giving Fist, the core philosophy of Ryozanpaku) or Satsujinken (Death Giving Fist, the core philosophy of YAMI / YOMI). Satsu’s followers, those who embraced the so called ‘Path of the Asura’ were sociopaths who believed that the true purpose of martial arts was to spread fear and terror in those weaker than yourself and to seek to improve the self at the expense of others. Taking it would grant a minor perk that nerfed my conscience, allowing me to kill without remorse. It didn’t even matter what Katsu had to offer, of course.

Despite what a tiny voice (the echo of Silent Judge? I hope she was making life miserable for Atura.) might have been whispering, I had absolutely no desire to actually take Satsujinken. Only spite was tempting me, and I quashed it and growled, locking in Life Giving Fist and accepting the perk that granted a kind and calm demeanor, one capable of setting just about anyone at ease and guaranteeing that as long as I didn’t kill on purpose I could dialogue with my opponent before any act of open combat. That wouldn’t last long, but in this jump I’d do my best not to kill… there just weren’t many in this world I was really interested in taking out, and those I was I could do with less lethal methods.

The second choice was harder, though not much; Weapons or Unarmed. I like weapons. Weapons are useful… but in this setting? A setting almost entirely dedicated to unarmed men and armed women? How could I do anything but go in unarmed… plus, I didn’t currently have my sword. All picking unarmed did was make my unarmed strikes more damaging and accurate. It wasn’t much, but did cut down on the likelihood of me accidentally stabbing someone.

And that just left Sei vs Dou… i.e. Internal or External ki usage. Dou users were emotion driven in combat and more aggressive slash explosive. Sei users were calmer, more centered, and reactive. Dou focused on amping the user and countering attacks. Sei focused on anticipation, focus, and innovation… and lots of blocking. My Ki value being far smaller than it should be, combined with my natural preference for fighting smart, made this choice too a foregone conclusion.

And that brought me to the land of individual styles. The first was free and more could be bought for a small CP outlay… but since what came was the very basics of the chosen style… this was essentially taking barely the qualifications to graduate from uninitiated novice (mukyu) to (since I wasn’t an adult yet) 10th kyu (kyu ranks, unlike dan ranks, count downward) white belt. 50 CP for even a first dan (basic black belt) was too damned much. First Dan was basic mastery. As in you’d learned all the basic moves and were completely competent. It was the equivalent of a highschool diploma or a vocational certificate. There was a fairly detailed list, but I noticed that I could take any real-world martial art and just decided to take Kalaripayattu, one of the oldest known martial arts and one I had never studied. It was from ancient India, a holistic style that focused in near equal parts on damaging and healing. It went hand in hand with Yoga and specialized in oils and massage therapy, had both armed and unarmed forms, and it was on the list, which was interesting.

It was on the list… but some of the martial arts I was already 10th Dan plus in weren’t (the israeli developed Krav Maga for one… though I was also a master of Kurash / Sambo (classic Turkic catch wrestling and the later commando version); five varieties of  Karate / Kenpo including Aikido, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Isshin-Ryu, and Shotokan); a dozen varieties of Kung Fu including Hung Ga Kuen, Bajiquan, Bagua or Eight Trigrams Palm, Northern Mantis, White Crane Boxing, Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Tai Chi Chuan, Xing Yi Quan, Jokuzetsuzokoryu, Eagle Claw, and Drunken Boxing; Iaido and Kenjutsu (but not ninjutsu); various forms of kickboxing including Muay Thai, Savate, Boxing, Kickboxing, and Capoeira; three different Korean martial arts (Hwa Rang Do, Tang Soo Do, and Taekwondo); and over a dozen others that just didn’t exist on Earth… or this Earth… such as Asari hand-to-hand plus biotics Unthong; Magi elemental Bakshu and the Avatar bending arts that inspired them; Liakh-ae’ri (Romulan/Vulcan) and Mok’Bara (Klingon) from Star Trek; the Kryptonian Klurkor; Shii-Cho, Makashi, Soresu, Ataru, Shien, Djem So, Niman, Juyo and Vaapad from someplace where those who know those names will care and no one else will; Rokushiki, Fishman Karata, and various other Haka related techniques including my own Rabid Wolverine Kung Fu from One Piece; rather embarrassingly Hip-Hopkido from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers; CQC and HF Swordsmanship from Metal Gear; Psychic Combat from Psychonauts; and (of course) Musabetsu Kakuto Ryu from Ranma ½.

I had, not to put it too lightly, a lot of experience with martial arts… all of which I pushed to the back of my mind and didn’t quite forget. For now, I was just… mmm… Chinese? I like being Chinese… Mmm… no… Yao. I’d be Yao, from Myanmar. And my named would be… Sun Ji… Good name.

I scrolled down to see what else I might get free, or feel like spending points on and found Master’s Body… which was free, but only after 10 years. Yaaaaay. It gave me (you guessed it) the body of a master… near tireless, capable of fighting for days without sleep and limited food, never getting winded and able to engage in vigorous physical activity even after extreme exercise. It also granted limitless logarithmic growth of physical strength, durability, speed, and agility… which was nice… or would be, in a decade.

Below that was the General Perks section, with a floating discount on any two perks I wanted. There were 8 perks in the section and each cost 150 with the discount, so taking one essentially meant taking 2 or wasting some CP. That said, most of them were useless for me.

One granted the ability to use both Sei and Dou ki at the same time… but it had a time limit and damaged the body and nervous system. One granted low end superhuman strength and endurance, another superhuman speed and agility, and a third superhuman senses and awareness… all of which I already had. A fourth offered incredible beauty, which (even if I hadn’t already had that from a plethora of sources) I wouldn’t have taken here… not that I had any intention to toggle my looks off. I had them already. Ditto Youth and Longevity, which granted prime of life and a lifespan five times the normal human limit. It was teachable, which would have been amazing… if I couldn’t just teach people to be ageless immortals… or link them to my tree friend and grant them unending youth and health forever.

But then there were Martial Arts Medicine which would allow me to apply my martial arts techniques to the act of healing people instead of harming them… which was most agreeable, though it couldn’t fix life-threatening injuries, bring the dead back to life, or regrow lost limbs. It could, however do anything that modern medicine could and then some, including repairing nerve damage, regenerating organ function, and curing cancer with little more than a few sessions. Sure, sure, I could do that with my Medbay… but the Medbay was a tool that I could not replicate. I could also do it with my technology… and much much more, but very little in life matches the hands on experience… and this I could teach with relative asurity of not giving out the tech needed to cause an ELE. It even meshed well with Kalarippayattu’s massage techniques. Bonus!

But taking it meant finding a way to spend that blasted 50… and thankfully, the last item was Enhanced Ki. It gave me back a large chunk of the ki I had been stripped of and granted me a sense of my own Ki that I’d also lost, plus a greater ability to channel it that would enhance Sei or Dou to a much greater degree. While I couldn’t yet project it with this alone, as a Master I’d be able to… and it wasn’t just buying something to cover up a temporary issue. The perk would stack with any boost to ki, chi, aura, or any other body-based energy field I might have… say biopathy, endurance, the force, etc… once i got them back, of course.

Would spanking Atura mean I’d have to spank myself? Questions questions. I was down 700, and at the items. There were three 50 CP items that were just crap. A million yen untraceable (10k in US Dollars), a gun, and Victory Medals… really? Sigh. I did get a ‘Sword’ free. Not really a sword, but some tool to carry into battle and place my heart, soul, and trust in. For unarmed fighters, it was a set of forearm or foreleg protectors that would become more durable and fit better as my skill and mastery increased. I set them to import to Victoria (of course), as I already trusted her with all that. She was like my own skin to me, and just as precious… especially since she was currently engaged in a glaring contest with Ziggy for some reason. I wasn’t going to ask.

As a Disciple, I also got Kenichi’s collection of Self Help Books (you know, ‘An Idiot’s Guide to X’ texts?). It was a small bookcase filled with all sorts of guides to any mundane skill, though these ones could be read in half the time with twice the retention of normal self-help books… so, for me… still instant and absolute, but they could be shared with others, so that was nice. It was free, I should complain?

Sorry, that was very Jewish of me. However, only one item i’d have to actually pay for interested me at all. Self-sorting PDAs, small gang hideouts, warehouse dojo additions, weapons, admission to a private school, training gear? None of these appealed. What did appeal, however, was the Secret of Steel, the best item from the Prodigy line.

It was an illustrated guide to using traditional Japanese techniques to forge weapons, armor, and tools far better than anything that could possibly be made with even the most advanced metallurgical technology. Steel swords that could cut through stone and steel and more with enough strength and training without ever dulling. Steel armor that would never corrode and was nearly indestructible. Steel hand tools able to produce results that rivaled or exceeded advanced modern technology, such as a chisel that could quarry granite or marble as fast as a team of men with diamond drill bits and high explosives, or an axe that could fell trees faster than a chainsaw, or a hand shovel that could do the work of a steam shovel.

For 400, I had to have it… but I still had a floating discount and nothing I’d wanted had cost 100 CP, so I finagled the system into accepting the discount on that. I was now out of points. If I wanted companions imported, I’d have to take drawbacks… not that there was much chance I wasn’t going to do that anyway.

As it turned out, I could, if I wanted, get a Master Companion free of charge. It would be someone below the level of Ryozanpaku or YAMI, and they’d train me for roughly five years, then disappear, leaving me to find my own path for another five years or so, then show up and impart the last bit of knowledge I’d require to reach the rank of true master (yeah, like it will take me even a year to reach that rank)… Or, if I was feeling like being a glutton for punishment, I could sign on to Ryozanpaku and pick one or more (at 300 a pop) of the canon masters.

I shrugged and picked Apachai. He was amusing… and really tall. Okay, not really. I think officially he’s only like 6’6”? 6’7”… but I like tall men. Especially kind, strong, handsome tall men who are good with animals and children. Yum. If only he were smarter. Still, he’d be an interesting teacher… I restored my full knowledge of Muay Thai and its grappling counterpart Muay Boran. If I was going to train under Apachai, I wasn’t going to start at the bottom. I was probably a 6th dan in Muay Thai, and a 3rd dan in Muay Boran… by comparison to Apachai, I’d be a novice anyway.

A warning appeared as I confirmed my choice. “By selecting a member of Ryozanpaku as your master, you have signed up for ‘The Shadow War’ drawback for no CP back. Have a nice decade.” Wait, what? What the hell was ‘The Shadow War’?

I scrolled down ‘til I found it. “Ah,” I grunted. +200 CP in theory, it meant that I’d be drawn into the events of the main plot… and be present for all major conflicts therein… Siiigh. Wonderful. I was going to be an integral part of the conflict between Ryozanpaku and YAMI… should have seen that coming, really. Whatever. Fine. That’s 200 I can’t take. How much can I?

Turns out the answer was 600, which was just enough to buy enough import slots to grant 700 CP, a free origin, and up to 200 CP of personal drawbacks to 16 different companions. Fine. Let’s do this. The things I do to these people… I mean for! FOR THESE PEOPLE! Shut up.

Another notice popped up. “Due to your current crippled state, you have been awarded 200 CP and all your transhuman abilities have been suppressed. We trust you will understand. -Jumper Relations Office, Higher.” What followed was a really depressing list of everything that I’d be unable to do. All my psychic powers, my shapeshifting… even alt-shifting, super-strength, most of my regen had been dramatically slowed, all my energy projection abilities were reduced to little more than cosmetic. It was a right royal boning. I think they might have been pissed I ate Eden and effectively gained a few trillion Shard Abilities in theory.

Another notice popped up. “In order to preserve some balance, you are limited to granting yourself three (3) Shards every jump. You may change them once per jump. You may distribute shards as you see fit to others, of course. If this seems unreasonable, we remind you that you will have access to [Companion-Self Designate Atura]’s Complete Arsenal once you resolve your differences. Once you have obtained your Shard, you may make use of as many as you like. -Jumper Oversight Office, Higher.”

“Fuuuck, youuuuuu!” I muttered. “Fine… I need 400 more… Hmmm… Sexist? No thanks. Oh! I like this one!!” I commented to no one… or so I thought.

“Which One?” Maidseid asked, looming over me and glowering darkly. She/he always loomed and glowered darkly. She was holding a tray with a note reminding me that I had 20 minutes until dinner.

“This one,” I pointed out the drawback, then laughed at the irony of it. The drawback was called ‘The Superman’, though it wasn’t about our mutual ‘friend’ Kal El. No, this was about Furinji Hayato, Grandmaster of Ryozanpaku, a man who had never, canonically, known defeat. Master of 108 preternatural techniques, able to bend battleship cannons, flip tanks single-handedly, and defeat five-hundred Shaolin Masters by himself, in one grand melee. The drawback said I’d pissed him off and, in five years time, he’d find me no matter where I was, and that he’d have a hard counter for any supernatural ability or power I could possibly use against him. He and I would have to have a ‘conversation’… with our fists and feet… lasting no less than thirty days. If i was able to survive that, he’d acknowledge my strength… only to challenge me to a rematch at the end of the stay having spent the intervening years training and become roughly twice as strong. Failing either fight would count as a loss.

“Does that mean a chain fail?” Maidseid asked, “Or just a loss… because of course losing a fight means you lost? That is a tautology.”

“It is, indeed. Yes. But it does not say chain failure. Perhaps the writer meant ‘Losing either of these fights will count as a failure.’… but they didn’t. Still, I don’t plan to lose.”

“It says he is invincible,” she pointed out.

“I didn’t say I plan to win either,” I responded, then hit confirm, adding another 300 CP to my balance, leaving me at -100. I shrugged and toggled on ‘Fanservice’ for that last amount. What the hell did I care if i had to fight naked? This was battle, not… I dunno… dating.

“Hey, I know you’re an evil bastard… but you want to come along? Absolutely no killing allowed… and I’m guessing you’ll be just as limited as I am… but it could be an interesting challenge, no?”

The massive 8 foot tall stone-skinned maid glowered at me, then grunted. “Very well. I do enjoy punching people who annoy me. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to punch you, Mistress.” And she stomped out as I contemplated who else to add. I checked, yes, more than half my companions had [Crippled +200 CP] automatically tagged to them if they were imported. It was, essentially, everyone who would have waxed the floor with the Ryozanpaku masters.

I considered, then released 7 platinum snitches (much much harder to catch than golden snitches and capable of defending themselves with a number of powerful hexes). “Attention companions of the Great and Powerful EssJay. I’ve released the snitches. Anyone who brings me one will be allotted two slots for importation into the newest jump. It is tagged ‘Earth, 2000s, Japan, Martial Arts, Low Absolute Danger, Massive Nerf Automatic, and Shonen’. Let the hunt commence.”

Jump-chan glowered at me over the pile of bottles that surrounded her. She was laying on the floor and clearly incredibly hammered. “S… zat’s… zat’s on’y fif… hic… fifty… umm…” she looked at her hands, then corrected herself, “Fifdeen… is on’y fifdeen.”

“I know,” I commented, then nailed her in the chest with a tablet. “You’re coming with. Congratulations, you’ve just been depowered, bitch.” And I stomped off feeling slightly better. This might even be fun.

By the time dinner had ended, all seven snitches had been caught. My companions are very clever people, after all. Of course, I say that, but the first to catch a Snitch had been Cirno. Never underestimate someone born and raised in Bullet-Hell when it comes to flying and either avoiding things or (as it turns out) catching them. She didn’t even hesitate before picking Amaryllis as her plus one… despite Amy protesting that she didn’t want to go to the punching place. Cirno actually played the ‘Mom-card’ and insisted that Amy’s fighting style was all brawn and no finesse and that was bad. I consulted with Velma and she confirmed that she hadn’t even coached Cirno on that, so props to the ditzy Ice Fairy!

Kendra and Zane had raced to get a snitch, apparently having wagered some very naughty and potentially embarrassing favors against who could catch one. Kendra’s forfeit if Zane managed it was that she’d have to spend the decade as a MAN baby!… well, okay, just as a guy… and so it came as little surprise that she’d snagged the second. Smirking at her husband, she’d then picked Bao (her GBFF) to be her plus one. Zane had shrugged, pretending nonchalance, then whispered to me, “The baby will be alright, right?”

“The kid will be fine. She’s been using alt-forms every jump. Only in between when she doesn’t have that option is there progress. By the end of this gap, she’ll be four months pregnant. I can’t make any absolute guarantees, but it should be safe… and that, quite frankly, is a better guarantee than most parents get… so buck up.” I grinned, “So… what did you wager if she caught one?” He whispered in my ear and I grinned even  more. “Oh? Really! I can’t wait to see that!”

He harrumphed, then stalked out, muttering about ‘wimminfolk’.

Third to catch one was Amelia, and out of loyalty to her queen… I do so love that about her (she’s so adorably forthright), she said she was picking Anne… just as Ann walked into my office holding a snitch of her own in one hand and a quantum grappling-hook in the other. That was just cheating that was. The two looked at each other, then laughed and shook their heads in amusement at the situation.

“Your majesty, please. You should select first,” Amelia offered.

“Nonsense, Admiral! You arrived with your flutterball first, you have first pick!” the monarch insisted. In that moment I had an idea and, chuckling, made a note to myself to have a deck of cards printed with myself as the Empress of Coins, Anne as the Empress of Cups, Gaius as the Emperor of Swords, and Uriel as the Emperor of Wands. That would make hmmm… I guess Zane the Warlord of Coins, Amelia the Warlord of Cups, Reggy the Warlord of Swords, and Bao the Warlord of Wands. But who for the Knaves? So many choices…

As I pondered, VIvian was already commissioning dozens of artisans within the Neo-Magi Hegemony to begin creating artwork for the decks to come. She did this automatically whenever I thought up an art project, a novel idea for a show, game, or book, or even a new recipe or scrap of song. I suppose it might be a little bit creepy to have artisans who literally work to bring your merest whim to life… but I guess that’s one of the benefits of being a Empress. I had the people and I did provide them everything they needed… even if they had to live in a subspace bubble that kept jumping from universe to universe or serve on ships that occasionally turned into people.

“I think… I’ll invite the new girl… Lisa? She seems… I don’t know… like she’d be a good fighter,” Amelia said.

“Actually, her name is Sarah. Lisa is a fake name,” I supplied. “Which is good. I have a personal bias against the name Lisa.” Those listening made note and would promulgate the information.

Anne considered Amelia’s nomination, then agreed. “Very well, then I’ll invite Carwyn & Taylor… or is it Carwyn Taylor? Taylor Carwyn?” She shook her head and shrugged, “Whichever. I’ll bring them along. Ahab will import himself and Emma, naturally, so all three will be together. Old friends, working things out the old fashioned way.”

“With Violence!” both Amelia and I said together, chuckling.

Next to arrive were the twins, Invidius having actually caught the sphere, and they’d brought their sisters as they did everywhere. It was charming… and not at all a little creepy how the four of them got along. Not… at… all. Also not my concern as long as none of the rules were being broken. Yes, we had rules! We’re not total barbarians! But I won’t go into them… they’re boring and weird and deal with ethical situations involving beings who have so many stacked charisma perks that questions of consent become functionally impossible to parse. Power dynamics among godlike beings are never, ever, as simple as they are with mortals.

Just as an example? Carwyn was superhumanly beautiful. At what point does beauty pass the limits of compromising free will? Gaius and Reggy, as well as their children, were all insanely powerful Furycrafters. That meant they were, even when not doing so actively, superhumanly charismatic. Caine and Tokimi and Sakura were all essentially gods, with the presence and majesty to match, if they didn’t tamp it down. Francine was such a powerful telepath that unless you had powerful blocks, she knew every thought you had. Possibly even the thoughts you yourself didn’t know about.

The list went on and on and the ethical and moral issues would have stumped the brightest philosophers in human history… In fact, thanks to Sakura’s ability to pull up the greatest minds of humanity’s past, we’d actually consulted. Plato, Aristotle, DaVinci, Dante, Nietzsche, Camus, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Marshall (Thurgood, not Gary or Penny), Franklin, plus a hundred more. We’d set them up on a resort back in Yu-Gi-Oh with all the coffee and pastries they could eat and set them working on a decade long convention. Half of them had gone mad by the end of the third year. The rest had succumbed one by one or taken up drinking, drugs, or escapist behaviour by the eighth. There were no winners of that Holy Grail Symposium.

Next in the door was Buji, tugging Simon along. Buji looked thrilled, Simon much less so. In fact, Simon was trying to get Buji to take his mother instead, claiming, “She loves fighting! I don’t! Buuujiiiii!” but young Master Bei-fong would not be denied, and I hadn’t said anything about requiring permission to recruit your second. After all, I hadn’t exactly ‘asked’ Chamber if she wanted in.

And then, just as the deserts were being served, in walked an incredibly smug Zane, clutching a snitch that looked as if it had taken heavy plasma fire. He slammed it down on the table, earning a glare from Ziggy, and crowed, “SO THERE!”

“I’m not Kendra, and just because you’ve got a snitch doesn’t mean you’re off the hook, buddy boy,” I pointed out. “By the terms of your wager, since both of you got snitches, both of you have to pay the penalty. You didn’t wager who would catch one first, though I suspect that was your intention. You wagered what would happen if the other caught a snitch… period.” I’d pulled the terms off VIvian… all wagers are formally recorded in the Warehouse… to be fair, EVERYTHING is recorded in the Warehouse… I’d just had to set VIvian to receive the raws from the command console’s feeds… and no, she could not back channel into them. Higher wasn’t that stupid and neither was I. I love VIvian… but even allowing me limited access to the ComCon was insanity… and I mean me allowing myself access. I was bound to do something really stupid eventually.

In the feed, Zane and Kendra were leaning on opposite counters in the kitchen, chatting, when my announcement came through. “Bet you I get the ball first,” Kendra said.

“Yeah? Whatcha wager?” Dogboy drawled, setting down his coffee.

“If I get the snitch, you have to be a cute little trap… with pig-tails, for the next decade,” the dark-skinned slayer said, eyes bright with mischief.

“You perverted wench,” Zane replied. “Well… if I get the snitch, you have to actually be a dude. And not a girly dude… a like… you know… Man’s Man dude.”

“Really? That’s what you’re going after? Do you have a secret longing to be with a Man’s Man, little boy?” she asked, running her fingers down his chest.

“What?! No! I’m not like your boyfriend! I like chicks! Babes! You know… split-tails and… I just… bah!” he waved his hands in the air. “I was trying to make you uncomfortable. But you’re right. If you’re a dude I can’t tap that. I’ll come up with something else, gimme a sec.”

“Buzzzt!” She tapped his nose. “Tooo late! You already set the wager and I accept. Catch me if you can.”

Zane (both the recorded and live versions) groaned. I ended playback and looked over at him, eyebrow raised. “So… your wife’s gonna be a dudebro and you’re going to be an otoko-no-ko… this should be deeply embarrassing for both of you. Oh, and just so you know… alt-form shifting is nerfed for this jump… all shapeshifting too. So… enjoy.”

He growled, then kicked the edge of my desk and flopped into a chair. “How the hell am I gonna pull looking like Pippi Longstocking?!”

“Not my problem… but this is Japan, home of Shotacons and Lolicons of all stripes… now who are you taking as your plus one?”

“Hmmm? Oh… AJ I guess.”

“Good choice,” I commented, as if it hadn’t been nearly a certainty that Zane would invite his best friend besides me or Kendra. I shooed them all out and finished my dessert before going to find my newest Passenger.

“Well Tattle,” I asked, finding the young woman in the library (the public one, not the one in my house). “Is it everything I promised you it would be?” I asked as I walked her back to my office.

“I can’t believe I’m talking to the voice that was inside my head… who turns out to be a tiny little girl with a… is this really a warehouse? It looks like a town… a weird town, but just a town.”

“Well, yeah. Space is a bit wonky here… the central footprint is under 80x spatial compression, so you’re looking at a little over 6.4 million square feet, and there is a ceiling up there,” I pointed upwards, “And walls out there,” I waved my hand vaguely around us. “But, like my youth, it’s all appearances. We haven’t been formally introduced. I am called EssJay. I have other names, but they’re used only under specific circumstances… and you can stop straining. You’ll give yourself a Thinker Headache and you won’t be able to read me.”

“Okay… Okay… Just… I mean, who are you? Where is this? Why did I come here? I mean, Taylor said I should… and you were able to give me information that proved you weren’t a voice in my head… but did you use some kind of Stranger power to make me come here?” She looked concerned, and I knew that if I said the wrong thing she was going to draw her gun on me. She’d upgraded from a pistol to a Tinker-Tech mass-driver over the last decade, and had no idea that it would have as much chance of hurting me as she’d have punching out The Hulk.

“Nope. Everything you did was of your own freeish will. I could easily do so,” I demonstrated by having her touch her eyeball with one fingertip, unable to blink at all, and unaware she was doing so until she suddenly was aware with the fingertip right in contact. That elicited a little hyperventilating and a minor freak out, but once I’d assured her that her eye wasn’t damaged and that I wouldn’t do it again, I continued. “As for what I am? I am many things. I am one of the two Entities that replaced the original pair that came to your world, the ones who would have destroyed it if they could have, it and all other local Earths. One, the one I replaced, was the one Cauldron was using to create their minions. Her name was Eden and she died soon after reaching the Earth Cauldron came from. The other, Zion, was what Scion was an extension of. I destroyed him and replaced him with something better.”

“Better? In that it won’t try to destroy the world?”

“Exactly. It is humanity’s guardian now… though also it’s tester. It’s a somewhat adversarial relationship, but I trust you’ve noticed that the newer bunch of Parahumans have been less…”

“Psychotically inclined?”

“That,” I agreed. “I am also Carwyn… that’s Taylor’s Elf Side… her lover.”

“Ewww… You’re like… you look… umm… short?” she responded without thinking first, then gulped. “Don’t destroy me.”

“While I may be small, it is a choice. This form is my default. Eternally youthful… but I’m closer to 15,000 than 15.”

“Taylor’s straight,” she pointed out.

“Carwyn isn’t. In fact, Carwyn’s entire species would look at you in confusion if you brought up the subject of sexual orientation. They literally don’t have words for hetero or homosexual. The closest they have translates to ‘momentarily monogamous’ in that they prefer one on one encounters rather than orgies or three-somes or… you get the picture. Carwyn is of that kind. She enjoys having her partner focused on her and is monumentally vane, smug, and condescending. Taylor was a moderating force on her, but that’s only because Taylor and you are quite young and considerably less experienced.”

“That still doesn’t explain what’s going on, you know?” She half-whined. Inference Engine was giving her nothing to work on from me and the entire situation was so impossible from her frame of reference that she couldn’t make the intuitive leaps needed.

“I know. And what I’m going to say next? It’s not going to help much,” I handed her a vodka cranberry and motioned for her to sit.

“That drink just appeared in your hand…”

“It only seems that way. I actually moved faster than you can perceive and pulled it out of that drinks dispenser over there.”

She looked over and blinked, “The one that looks like a Star Trek prop from the tv-series?”

“It’s not a prop. That is a food synthesizer from the USS Potemkin. One of Enterprise’s sister ships. And the suit hanging on the wall in the other room, it’s a Freemen stillsuit from Arrakis.” I pointed as I spoke. “That’s a real lightsaber, that’s Superman’s cape, that’s one of Smaug’s claws, and this? Is Cinderella’s glass slipper.”

She studied each of them in turn, comprehension slowly dawning, then looked back to me. “You can travel between fictional universes?”

“Can is probably the wrong word. I am required to. Yours was the 75th… give or take,” I agreed, tossing her the tablet that contained Zane’s copy of Worm. “Read that. That was the original history of your world. Then read this,” I tossed her a Kenichi Companion Import Tablet. “You’ve got a week. You can talk to anyone you like here, go anywhere a door will open for you… no security system here can be hacked by your power. When you’re done and ready to talk, come back and find me. I’ll answer any questions you might have.”

=====A Week Later====

“I hear you got very drunk and picked a fight with Carwyn,” I commented as Tattletale walked back into my office. She looked strung out, like she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in about five days. If I judged her reading speed correctly, it had taken her nearly five days of increasingly nightmare-ridden sleep to make it through all of Worm and its supplemental material. I’d also included the novelization (in short form) of what I’d done and why.

She looked at me, flinched, shuddered, stumbled forward a couple of steps, and collapsed into my arms as I leapt over the desk and caught her. She began weeping, shaking violently. The trauma of realizing you’re fictional from someone else’s perspective is nearly impossible to parse. Some can’t really comprehend it, and so it doesn’t bother them much… but Tattletale’s power meant that she understood all too completely… and the absolute horror of what had happened to her friends, her world… it had come periously close to breaking her.

Helping her back to her seat, I gave her a light sedative from a hypospray and sat facing her on the edge of the coffee table. “You have questions?”

She blinked, then giggled nervously. “Do people usually have questions for god?”

“I’m not your creator,” I said.

“Messiah then. You saved the world… you’ve saved a lot of them, according to the others. Some of them say you’re their goddess. Even those who don’t say you are a Goddess. You’ve ruled galaxies?”

I shrugged as if to say it wasn’t a major thing, that anyone in my position could have… which was a tautology, but there you go. “I have ruled those who allowed me to rule them. Being a God is beside the point. I simply try to be a good person.”

“And that’s really an angel that looks like a dog?” She hooked her chin at Sopphi who wuffled and came over to put her big shaggy head on Tattletale’s lap. “She looks like one of Bitch’s… she is that dog, isn’t she?”

“She is,” I agreed.

“So why did you invite me to come with you instead of Bitch, or Grue, or… well, not Alec… but the others said you liked Foil and Paran a lot.”

“They had each other. Bitch and Grue and the others… they were happy. You weren’t. You couldn’t be.”

“Hey!” She snapped, glaring at me.

“Tattletale… Sarah… why don’t you date?” It was one of those questions that was designed to make the recipient realise they already knew the answer to a different question, but she replied anyway.

“Because…” she shrugged, then sighed, “Because it takes about a minute flat to find something about anyone that turns me off.”

“Aye, Humans are like that. I like you. You’re smart, a detective, and confident. So I asked you to come along. Plus, Taylor loves you. And with Emma here… you heard about that?”

“Yeah,” she shook her head, “Don’t know if I should feel sorry for the guy she’s linked to.”

“He’ll cope.”

“Wow. Cold,” she said with a smirk.

“That’s me. Queen Cold. Now… you okay with this? New memories, you’ll be yourself but also a new person… for a decade… and you’ll lose probably about 70% of your Parahuman ability… keep enough to be intuitive, but not enough to guess passwords from random passersby.”

“I… yeah. I mean. Japan’s cool, right? No Endbringers smashing it to pieces this time, right?”

“RIght. Just transhuman martial artists and global conspiracies,” I confirmed.

“Well fuck me sideways and call me Jane, I guess I’m in.” She stuck out her hand and I shook it.

“Now, tell me what you bought with your points and why,” I said, leaning back and steepling my fingers like a master criminal surveying my kingdom.

Squaring her shoulders, she faced me, resting her hands on Sopphi’s ears to give her scritches. “I went with the delinquent Identity because it seemed like the one that would be the most like who I already was… am… you know what I mean?” I nodded. “Also, it’s about being self-taught and I’m all about that. From the three one or the other things, I went with Life-giving… I’ve seen enough death and you’d have to be a real psycho to take the other side of that coin. Sei because it’s reactive, not aggressive, and armed because who brings a fist to a knife fight. I decided on Command SAMBO… those Russian special forces guys have a pretty serious rep for a reason, right? I took the whole perk line… I don’t know if that’s normal or not, but it seems weird not to, I guess… I don’t know that Animalist Incorporation is all that useful, but does anyone not take the free stuff?”

“Yeah, sometimes. Some of them come across a little trap-like in their wording.”

“Well, whatever. Ambition seems like a good way to maybe get things done? Dunno how reliable it is, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, if you know what I mean?” Again I nodded, but allowed her to go on. “Berserker was a No Brainer. Who wouldn’t want to get stronger and stronger the longer combat goes on? Lung was fucking terrifying. I know it won’t be that good, but…” She shrugged, flinching a little as her mind drifted back to the events depicted in the text she’d read, but she pulled herself back to the present with an act of will. “I also picked up the Hidden Weapons perk from Drop-In… and a gun, because sometimes you gotta bring a gun to a fist fight… and anyone who tells you that’s cheating already has an unfair fucking advantage, I guarantee.”

“That leaves you with three hundred CP left,” I pointed out, preempting a rant about the idiocy of ‘fighting fair’ and how no fight was ever really fair. It would have been preaching to the choir, though she couldn’t know that.

“What? Oh. Right. Yeah…” She scratched the back of her head and looked sheepish. “I kinda bought the Stunning perk… you’re all so pretty and… well… how often does a girl get the chance to always look her best?” She looked embarrassed, but I waved it off with a smile.

“No no. I agree completely. Looks are a useful tool, not the least for self-esteem. 150 left.”

“I was going to spend it on Youth & Longevity, but looking at your people has convinced me you’ve got that nailed. There aren’t any old looking people here, but looking at how they carry themselves, even the kids are too… mature. No one would notice it but me… I guess maybe you and the others who are trained observers. That Zane guy, Bao and Uriel, Gaius, Bart, Koro-Sensei, Kendra, Meetra, Joy, Ahab, that maid of yours with the,” she waved her hand in front of her face, “expression of ultimate disdain… Velma… is she really the Velma Dinkley? I mean… really?”

I grinned. “She is. Yes. and my maid is really Darkseid, though I doubt you’ve read the old Superman comic books to know who he is.”

She shook her head. “Never heard of him… anyway, I took the Martial Arts Medicine… I’m like a living diagnostic unit anyway; might as well use it for something… err… useful.” She rose, looking around. “I guess that’s it… I should…. Should I go or something? You probably have things to do or…” she shivered a little as the darkness pressed at her.

“I do, but I want to see just how good you are… and how much you’ve managed to learn about my companions with your gift.” I hopped up and went out onto my balcony. “Join me.” I commanded, sitting on the edge of the railing, looking down at the town center spread out before me. It was early evening and above us, the planet Paradise slowly spun in it’s semi-transparent subspace pocket. “Look with your special eyes and tell me which of them have been invited along and what each bought and why.”

“Did you just say ‘with your special eyes’?” she scoffed.

“Hey, I’m quixotic,” I commented, petting Ziggy as he dropped onto my shoulder from Sakura’s branches.

“Whatever,” she snorted, then looked. “Darkseid… delinquent because she doesn’t like being told what to do, killing fist because she believes mercy is weakness. Sei because she plans everything, including a thousand different ways to destroy you and steal your power for her own. Unarmed, because weapons are for the weak. Arnis, because it was the first unarmed martial art on the list and she thinks all earthling martial arts are equally worthless. Animalism because it was free, Ambition because it might help her destroy you or Superman, Berserker for the power, Strength & Endurance because being stripped of her might worries her. Perception & Awareness because she knows knowledge is power. Money because she had 50 leftover… and the Dojo… because she desperately wants a place that’s her own and not something of yours.”

She looked to me as if trying to work up the courage to ask something, then finally just blurted, “She really hates you. I mean I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much hate, not even from a member of Empire 88… why?”

“Because I defeated and enslaved her and will never let her go free.”

“Enslaved?” she queried. “That’s… a little… evil, isn’t it?”

“Darkseid is a member of a race called ‘The New Gods’. He is the leader of the evil faction. His native sex is male, he’s only in the female guise because I find him marginally more tolerable to have around as a female and find the fact that it upsets him humorous. He rules a world of hellfire and suffering called Apokalips and is a genocidal fuckstick that makes Adolf Hitler seem like Mr. Rogers. His legions have invaded and destroyed untold worlds and he’s enslaved or slaughtered trillions. His stated goal is to discover The Anti-Life Equation, which will make him unquestioned and absolute tyrant of the entire material Universe, obliterating free will forever.”

“Jesus… why the hell did you make him your maid?!”

“It seemed appropriate at the time. Also, he absolutely has to obey me and not in the ‘evil genii’ way. Also, killing him is really really hard and not likely to have a permanent effect. So this is the best solution for the time being.”

“If you say so… but… it’s like having a pet Endbringer… why are you laughing like that? It’s really creepy… oh Christ… you have a pet Endbringer?”

“Actually it’s Joy who has the Friendbringers. But technically, I did defeat and repurpose Leviathan, Behemoth, and Zizz to create the Entity who replaced Scion. Zizz has technically become the Shard Administrator for Entity 2.0, which has been supplying your Shard’s power to you for most of the last decade. Though that’s technically no longer the case.”

“I suppose you’re providing it now? Which would be why I’m getting a null-code for it?”

“Actually? No. I am currently administrating no shards, but I have the ability to nullify any Shard power at will, or to ignore any Shard-derived effect that would target me personally. But I wouldn’t need it. I’m aware of how detective vision functions. I can literally choose what information you’re able to get off of me simply by changing aspects of my bearing or demeanor. My native Shard Ability is based on Uber’s, but considerably more powerful. I can learn anything, any skill, incredibly fast. I never forget anything, never get rusty with disuse, and if I see something done once, I can replicate it perfectly, even if I’ve never even realized it was possible before… assuming it’s physically possible for me to do so.”

“Shiiit,” she just stared. “You… wait, this document says we’re going for a decade?” I nodded as she began to understand, “And it’s full of powers and abilities from this world we’re going to? A Japanime or Manga or something about martial artists.” I nodded. “And you get this kind of purchasing scheme every time?” I nodded. “15,000 years? 1,500 worlds?”

“Not quite. The longest chunk was 12,300 years where I was 169 successive King-Priests of the original Magi Hegemony… the ones here are the Neo-Magi Hegemony… I have not yet returned to attempt to bring either the First or Fourth Hegemonies into the fold… This is closer to 85? I think. Some of the transitions were weird and some doubled up… Regardless, yes. It adds up.”

“I’ll say…” she trailed off, then looked back out over the town. “The babe with ice-wings… Cirno… Delinquent as well… Life Fist because she doesn’t like hurting people… Dou Ki because she likes energy bullets apparently. Unarmed…. Lucha Libre because she’s jealous of your mask,” She hooked a finger to where the Shark of Terra mask was displayed. “Berserker because she thinks fighting is fun. Ki Kneading because she likes cooking? She’s not very bright, is she?”

“She’s a genius, actually. Smartest of her race… her race are all ditzes. But she makes extremely illogical leaps. You’ll get used to it.”

“She spent 600 CP on something because the name amused her!” she accused.

“And she squeaks adorably in bed,” I reposted, then laughed as Tattletale blushed crimson.

Hastily changing the subject, she shifted her attention to Amaryllis who was watching her mother try to steal a stick of takoyaki from Toph. “The little shepherd girl, she’s your daughter… with Cirno?” I nodded in affirmation. “Disciple because she adores structure and because you chose it and because her mother didn’t. Sei because her mother chose Dou. Armed… and Escrima because she wanted something that used staffs and it was close… Combat Empathy because she prefers talking, Strength & Endurance, Speed & Agility, and Perception & Awareness because she likes being balanced… and better than Alex.” She looked around, spotting Alex dancing about in her catgirl form. “He… she… that’s your son?”

“Yep. Gendershifter. Flirt. Troublemaker. Oh. Amaryllis is Woolly-Bully and Alex is The Invigilator. Their sister, Maggie, who is in the arcade right now trying to beat Alex’s high score in Dance Dance Revolution, is Roadhog. She thinks you’re hot, btw.”

“Are you trying to fix me up with your daughter?” She eyed me suspiciously.

“Oh, absolutely. My kids are over eleven centuries old and have never had lovers. I worry about them. There are others who are younger who are more… experienced.”

“Maybe they’re waiting for your permission?” she suggested.

“Is that what you’re picking up?” I asked, curious. I maintained a self-imposed rule about reading too deep into my family’s depths… with the exception of Carwyn, where deep merge telepathy and sex were practically the same thing. With Tess it was the exact opposite, with masks and emotion being the rule, but that was the very opposite of a romantic relationship.

“Uh… no. They’re nearly as hard to read as you are when it comes to that. Christ, most of you are deeply compartmentalized in one way or another. And those elves you’ve got following you are just… creepy.”

“Aliens are alien. Get used to that. But most of our sojourns have been on Earth or Earth-alikes. Anyway, feel free to sleep with whomever you like,” I offered, tickling Ziggy’s tummy and making faces at him as he pawed at my nose.

“If they’re willing, right?” she asked, nervousness in her voice.

“Kiddo, if they aren’t willing, you won’t get a chance to sleep with them. Every single person in this Warehouse, including the roombas, has so much more combat training than you do that it’s not… it won’t happen. Not from you to them, and you’re off-limits until you put yourself on the board.”

“Board?” she asked, confused.

VIvian generated a solid-light hologram in front of Sarah. It overlaid everyone in sight with a status halo, showing such things as health and current readiness status… and a set of symbols surrounding their heads. “Everyone can call up the board at any time… If someone’s halo says they’re not at Readiness 2… that’s a solid red, or Readiness 1, that’s a flashing red, they’re available for anything their symbol set clears. If you’re in a Red area, everyone inside it is also considered to be Readiness 2.”

“What’s my color?” she asked, looking at her hand.

“You don’t have one. You’re not on the board, and you’re not cleared for a Red Zone. Blue Zones, like the city center, are Behave Yourself zones. Green is more relaxed, Yellow is almost anything goes. Purple is anything goes.”

“Surely you don’t mean anything,” she scoffed.

“Anything the other’s symbol set clears. We’re functionally immortal and have a very good medical system.”

“This is all kinds of messed up,” she muttered.

“It’s an opt-in system, and you can opt out again with a word to VIvian. Life isn’t really particularly friendly. My people are aware of that. It’s better to be ready to deal with what comes at you.”

“But… some of those symbols… if they mean what I think they mean…” She gulped.

“You’ve read greek myths, right?” She nodded. “How many mortal men do you think could have said no to Aphrodite? Even if they’d wanted to? Or Apollo for that matter… Sparta being what it was. Lack of force doesn’t mean lack of coercion. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible to get a relationship of any kind that doesn’t included some element of compulsion. It’s just that most relationships the level of compulsion each individual impacts the other with is relatively minor and often fairly balanced. But nature doesn’t care about power imbalances. Case in point, most of the Neo-Magi are the descendants of two groups. The first were the generational survivors of a drifting starship. They’d slipped back into tribalism and had exactly zero respect for the concept of consent. Survival was everything to them. The second were the captured and reprogrammed citizens of a world of genetically perfect humans, selected as the prettiest and healthiest. They were programmed to be sex slaves, gladiators, and, yes, willing food to some very sick bastards. When I found them, I had need of a very high population growth curve and designed their society according to what I had available. They are, to a man and woman, a warrior society. 100% conscription, 100% combat trained. Their state religion is orgiastic and relies heavily on communal experiences. If Aliens are Aliens… how strange do you think gods might be?”

“I… this is going to take some getting used to… but I opt in only to the degree I’m comfortable with, right?”

“We prefer you to push yourself into areas you’re not comfortable with as a growth experience, but that’s entirely up to you. If you decide to stay with us, you’re going to see and experience a lot of shit. And it’s important to note that you’re not one of them.”

“What do you mean? Of course I’m not one of them,” she snapped, then blushed. “Sorry, that was angrier than I meant it to be.”

“The Neo-Magi are followers of mine. They worship me. I am their Goddess and Empress and High Priestess in one. I don’t have conversations with them. I didn’t invite you to become a follower. This isn’t a cult… well, okay, it probably is.” I chuckled. “But not in that sense. I actually sleep with relatively few of my Companions.” I put special emphasis on that last.

“Companions? I heard that word out there,” she motioned to the town. “No one would explain it though and what I was getting wasn’t making sense.”

“Companions are those I have vested CP into, as I am vesting CP into you going into Kenichi. That CP means that, if you die, you will come back. Once a decade in a jump… 24 hours if in-between.”

“You… what?”

“Companions don’t die. Not for good. I could demonstrate, but you wouldn’t enjoy it. This is a guarantee. Eternal Youth, Eternal Health, Resurrection and Reincarnation, and power beyond even a Parahuman’s dreams.”

“And all I have to do to earn this is, what? Bend over and let some serious perverts pull a train on me? Because I’m telling you that… oh who the fuck am I kidding, for that kind of guarantee, I’d let Hookwolf do me.”

I shuddered at that imagery, but shook my head. “Nope. No requirements at all. You already passed the only one. You entered the Warehouse. I really don’t even need your permission. Beth Dewitt, Bart Argent, Jaan Magna, and Darkseid definitely didn’t get asked. Neither did Vitiate, but he was easier to kill than Darkseid. In fact, I accidentally recruited Kendra.”

“How do you accidentally recruit someone?”

“She’d had her neck slashed by a vampire. I got her into my medbay and patched her up, but putting her back into her own timeline would have confused some things and I was trying not for a derail of the timeline. So I stuck her in stasis… and just… forgot to pull her out for 7 jumps. Wasn’t until everyone in my Warehouse got ejected thanks to a deal with my Benefactor… the being that makes all this possible… that she got taken out of stasis, and by then it was too late. She resents it sometimes, since she knows that, of all my Companions, only three others weren’t invited… well, four now with Emma.”

“Who else?”

“Oh. Kohina and Kagetane, the father-daughter ninja-assassins, and Cirno.”

“So… you’re fucking one of them… wait, Kohina is Kagetane’s daughter? I thought she was Gaius’s daughter… and that their relationship was just really fucked up.”

“Oh. Gaius is her adopted father. She really doesn’t get along with Kagetane… he’s a bit of a genocidal asshole. And yes, the triangle made by Gaius, Reggy, and Kohina is an odd one. Reggy and Gaius hate each other… but they’ve gotten used to each other and they have four kids. Gaius was an Emperor and Kohina is essentially his mistress, though thy use father-daughter terms for their relationship. Meanwhile, Reggy’s had affairs with Ahab and Dyna… and Ahab’s married to Joy, but he’s had affairs with Francine, RayRay, and Reggy… and Joy’s had affairs with Kagetane and Caine… both at once, as it turns out, since Kagetane and Caine are best friends. Oh, and before you ask, I’ve got six lovers, though two are missing, a pet, a mistress, a not-quite lover, a fiance, and one of my incarnations was married to one of Zane’s though neither of us realized it at the time. Oh, and nine slightly insane stalkers.”

“This is just. I’m going to have to start a spreadsheet, aren’t I?”

“It gets more complex.”

“WHAT!?”

“The girl who’s been serving us our drinks is my armor. We’re soul-bound. She is functionally part of me, though also technically she might be called my daughter since I created her. What she feels, I feel and vice versa. She’s having an affair with Vita, her bodyguard. Atura, who was Gennady & Cassiopeia, and who is off having a bit of a temper-tantrum, is my Godhood… she’s having an affair with her spellbook, Sakura… who is Earth’s Moon from her native universe. Yuzuha is my flagship… in the starship sense. Also the Tree that grants all my companions Eternal Youth. Also soulbound to me. She’s having affairs with Raven and Nurgath… he’s one of the Elf-commanders, Carwyn’s Lieutenants. He’s currently with Atura. Oh, and my mistress is Carwyn’s sister Tess.”

“I need a drink,” She said, throwing back her Long-Island Iced-Tea.

“But wait, it gets better!” I teased, ready to tell her about Velma and Cirno’s relationship, or the Hibiki’s, or Mini and Frankie, but she just waved me o.

“I… I get it. Mortal standards don’t come close to applying… maybe that’s what’s bugging your kids. They’re not certain what basis to form a relationship since they have so many role-models. Amaryllis sees that her mother is your… errmm… and that she’s the bottom to Velma’s top… she has to wonder if she’s supposed to be like that too… or maybe she’s waiting for someone to show interest in her. She certainly knows about sex… she got a vibro-egg or something like it inside her right now.”

I looked over, raising an eyebrow and heightening my own awareness… well… huh. That would explain the extra vibrational frequencies and the occasional shivers of what could be pleasure. I dialed it back, feeling a little pervy for bending my own rules.

“As for Alex, I think he’s waiting for an emotional connection he hasn’t found yet. Maggie… I don’t have a good read on, but I think that’s because she’s been concealing her emotions from me specifically if you’re right. And I probably do need all this information if I’m going to be your spy.”

I chuckled, “Not spy. I have VIvian for that.” I patted the tree limb. “She sees literally everything that happens anywhere any of my companions or I are, and everything inside the Warehouse. There are some feeds I can’t access at all that she doesn’t see either… I assume they’re tied to other key players inside individual jumps, so that the Benefactors can view locations that aren’t tied to me and mine.”

“Okay… no. Not spy… you want, I guess, an outsider, someone who isn’t you, someone with a different perspective, and someone not bound to respect privacy… but someone everyone knows isn’t able to. You literally want me to be your Tattletale.”

I shrugged. “Mostly, I want you to be my friend. I think I need a confidant that I can bounce ideas off of. I have others, of course, a council of them, but they’re all old hat at this. Fresh perspectives are good and I trust your judgement.”

“Greaaat. No pressure there.” She shook her head, then leaned over the railing, sipping her third tea. “Okay, where was I?” I didn’t remind her, but she picked up the old thread. “Okay… the feline looking woman. Amelia Smollet, she’s the one who hasn’t agreed to become your lover because she can’t get over her religious upbringing and feels that marriage should be between a male and a female, and only one of each… but she doesn’t really feel guilty about the long-term affair any more…. Because her… Queen? That’s Anne… oh… dear… five… huh… good for her. Two men, three women… Right… Amelia… honest, forthright… Prodigy… comes from a culture that believes in breeding and heredity. Life Giving because she believes in a conduct that she holds to nearly-religiously… A version of Anglican Christianity and a Military code of conduct… Navy. She’s an officer. Took Ki Kneading because she believes in self-improvement. Enhanced Ki for increased potential… and Speed & Agility because she thinks like an ambush predator. Karate because it’s highly structured and formalized. Oh, and Dou Ki, because she likes canons and that’s what came to mind.”

“Yes. She’s willing to continue our… asignations, as she refers to them, but rejects all formal labeling. She’s not my mistress because she considers us peers, she’s not my wife because I have no plans to get married, and her faith does not recognize the vailidity of polygamy or non-traditional relations… but since the Queen is the head of her faith, and is currently in relationships with Nurgath, Raven, Brigid, Ladysmith, and Caine… clearly the head of her faith has no problem with it… but all of them are, technically, sub-rosa and non-formal or binding in any way.”

“I should start a gossip magazine for your followers. They’d love this.”

“Eh. Feel free.”

“Aren’t you worried about them losing respect for you?”

“Good lord, no.”

“They’re that fanatic?”

‘Yes, but not the way you mean. They’re that fanatic that I worry about them and causing me to seem a bit more human in their eyes might be a good thing.”

“Oh. Interesting. Okay, Anne… running away from her responsibilities and enjoying herself… Delinquent. Life Giving because she hates needless slaughter. Sei because she’s a planner, slow to rush. Same reason for Perception & Awareness. Ambition because she is ambitious. Berserker because she enjoys challenges and high tension situations. Chivalry… she sees herself as the daughter of King Arthur’s line… no… she does… but she thinks that chivalry is dated… Fencing. Mm…. something else… the points aren’t lining up… she did something that doesn’t make sense… ah… okay… she sees this as temporary, that she’s going to go back to her people some day. She took Youth & Longevity, just in case that happens… is that likely? Is she going back to her people?”

I considered, then shook my head. “Yes, it’s possible… but Dinah Alcott would give it less than 1 chance in a billion. Strictly speaking, she and you are Passengers. Companions I didn’t pay for or earn some how. Darkseid and Koro-Sensei are Employees, ones who work for their passage, while Brigid, Raven, Anne, Bart, Beth, Toph, Kendra, Uriel, Gaius, Reggy, Meetra, Sakura, and three others who stayed behind in the Marvel Universe… of Marvel Comic books. Spiderman and the X-Men and Captain America… They’re all passengers. They could go home if they wanted to. But it’s never come up. Some literally have no home to go back to. Beth’s timeline doesn’t exist any more, Uriel was assassinated, Kendra murdered, Gaius and Reggy killed in a war, Meetra’s time is 4,000 plus years in her world’s past, Toph died of old age… the three all died in either their home reality or in Marvel. Only Bart, Brigid, Raven, Anne, Sakura, and you really have someplace to go back to.”

“But would they?”

“Raven won’t. She lives for knowledge and though she might view her friends back in her homeworld fondly, it’s been more than a thousand years. She’s moved on. Bart had no family or friends, just service to the state and a future he felt unworthy to live in. I didn’t ask if he wanted to come with me, but now he serves me and the futures I try to create. Brigid was desperately lonely, a survivor of the Nazi Camps. She buried herself in her work… now she helps the Neo-Magi as their foremost geneticist and has more friends than she’s comfortable with. Also two brilliant minds to have a emotional and physical relationship with. Sakura was humanity’s watchdog and recorder for all of history… but she had no peers, no relationships. No sense of belonging or self, for self comes only in relation to others, I’ve found. That, above all is why I think the Universe, all Universes really, exists. You? I think you’ll stay. You like challenges and want to grow… also, Taylor is here, and you’ve been considering what it would be like to sleep with her.”

“Hey! A … a little privacy…” she trailed off, glared at me, and took a strong sip. “Do you have some kind of power that turns everyone into a lesbian around you!?” she accused.

“Noo… but that would be a most excellent power to have. But Carwyn is gorgeous and your horizons have been significantly expanded. You’re dealing with culture shock and realizing that this is a place where dreams can and do come true. Also, that Carwyn is freaking gorgeous.”

“You said that already,” she muttered.

“Eldar use glamour to make themselves supernaturally attractive… Carwyn is actually that good looking. She’s a thirteen on a scale that goes to 10… and she knows it. She doesn’t even try to hide her smugness.”

“Okay… Okay… you’ve got the same… you call it detective vision I do? How can you have a relationship with anyone? All the little turn offs! They’re everywhere!”

“Close your eyes,” I told her.

She did so.

I hit her with a wiffle bat.

“Owww! What the fuck?” she asked, eyes flashing open.

“That’s how,” I responded.

“What are you… you distract yourself from them?”

“Yup. until they become endearing. Have you ever heard a song you absolutely hated? But then, after hearing it a dozen times, you realized you kinda liked it? Or stood at a gas station and realized that the smell of gas is kinda pleasant? Or that a skunk’s smell has some nice musky undertones? How about that first taste of whisky or beer… or broccoli.”

“You’re saying that I’m getting bogged down in the surface… well, what’s the surface to me. Where a normal person would see a pimple or a bad haircut or dandruff… I’m seeing deeper, but I’m doing the same thing. I’m getting caught up in a fragment of the whole instead of the totality of the person. That I need to… what? Keep drinking the beer until I know if I want to sleep with her… I mean him…”

“Your power isn’t particularly introspective… probably to protect you from yourself.”

“You’re saying my power is Manton limited? How?”

“Was. Was Manton limited. The moment we left your world, the limit began to fall away. Apply your Inference Engine to your own awareness of self.”

She went still, then stopped breathing, then started screaming. I hit her with the bat again.

“H… h… holy shit… it… so… so… so much information. Eve… every… I… all my nerves… a… ahh… aaaaaaaaaaaahhhh.” She started screaming again so I hit her with the bat. “F… fuck… w… what’s going on… I… can count how m… many times my eyelashes are twitching.  I… I can feel the muscles that twitch each… I… I can feel my heartbeat… m… my skin is crawling… i… can feel my… i think that’s my intestines… th… the… this is too much information! A… and I hate my voice!”

“Manton limit. Blinded you to yourself for the most part. I’ll teach you to deal with it.”

“You… you deal with this all the time?!”

“I am a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, and a Kwisatz Haderach… normally. I know how to independently control every muscle, nerve, and organ in my body. I know how to bend my voice to make people obey. I know the weirding way of battle and prana-bindu control. And I’ll teach them to you, in time. But for now, I want you to IGNORE THE OVERLOAD.”

She stiffened, then relaxed as my words masked the psychic damper I slipped into her consciousness. “R… right… Mmm… Next… Next…” She looked out, thinking she was distracting herself, and she was mostly right. “Those two boys… the couple there… I don’t know their names ye… oh.” VIvian’s display appeared and labeled them Buji and SImon. “They’re both Disciples… mostly because the dark-haired… Simon, mostly because Simon said they should be. Buji is clearly the bigger risk taker, and the more aggressive, proactive one… but Simon’s the one actually in charge of their relationship, the responsible one. He thinks Buji’s too flighty… going to leave him eventually… doesn’t see how Buji orbits him… it’s like Buji doesn’t know how to be without Simon… cute… a little sad. But they’re young… ish? Both are Katsu, they didn’t even consider the other option… their parents have instilled in them a reverence for life… and a desire not to emulate them… are they that bad?”

“Buji’s father was a government assassin and his mother is somewhat inept at parenting. Simon’s father is the biblical Caine and the most powerful Vampire in existence with maybe the exception of Galactus if you want to define a planet eater as a vampire. His mother killed a nigh infinite number of her own father.”

“Ummm… right… good notes… I’ll just drop my sanity over here and start babbling, shall I?” I laughed as she went back to her breakdown. “Buji is Dou, Simon is Sei, but that’s a guess based off their personalities… but I bet I’m right… Buji unarmed… Pankration… he looks like he’d enjoy wrestling with Simon and… wow… I did not need that mental image! Ummm… Simon… armed? Yes. He doesn’t like hitting people with his hands… always has something in them… Ninjutsu… wants not to be noticed. Both have Combat Empathy… But Simon took Ki Kneading and Buji took Berserker… n…. No… it’s the other way round. They’re covering their weaknesses. I think it was a deal between them. Simon to try and understand that part of his father inside him… Buji to be more introspective. Interesting.”

I nodded, and it was. The experience was a new one. Normally my companions reported to me, and I decided to continue that as well, but this breakdown before hand was fascinating.

“I… I’m not picking up any others who definitely are coming,” she commented, and I looked out at the town. All of them were visible, but the ones that she’d missed were more experienced, older, or just more confusing.

“Want clues, or just want me to point them out to you?” I asked.

“Huhhhh…” she scratched her nose with her thumbnail, then shook her head. “A clue is the same as telling me, isn’t it?”

“Probably. Yes. But look for the older companions. The signs will be different. Also, some companions are like Ahab and Emma. Two bodies, one shared existence.”

“Ah… well… first, Ahab and Emma… But I can’t read him at all. He’s so closed up. She… she’s all violence and viciousness. Let’s see… she’s pissed… why is… huh… she’s feeling like a second class person… resents Ahab… Okay, its clear he made the choices and she doesn’t like most of them. Doesn’t mind some… I’m guessing here… Dou Ki and Armed and Marksmanship she’s happy with… there they see eye to eye… but he went… she wanted to go with Prodigy, feels entitled to it. He went with Disciple to piss her off. She sees that as the weak choice… same with Combat Empathy… there’s something I’m missing…”

“Ahab and Joy aren’t like normal companions. They always import themselves with a more limited set of options and points if I don’t pay to import them. With Crippled… the thing that’s blocking out most powers, and Single Shot… that’s the rule that says you’ll respawn once a decade if killed inside a jump… they’ll have 300 CP, not 900.”

“Ah. Okay… that explains some of it. Joy… joy… She’s unreadable. Completely. No… wait… nope… gone… what’s going on. I’m getting flashes of data sets, but they don’t make sense…”

“Joy is an entire planet. A sentient fungal network merged with a huge chunk of some very very futuristic technology… the kind that most Tinkers would just stare at in horror… and she contains just over three billion human minds and hundreds of thousands of AIs at least as powerful as Dragon’s machine side. You’re picking up the occasional traces of allied faction leaders, Prokhor Zakharov, Deirdre Skye, Nwabudike Morgan, Pravin Lal, Sinder Roze, or Corazon Santiago.”

“Riiiiight. Three Billion. With a B? Please tell me that’s the Short Count system and you’re not talking three million million.”

“No. Just three times ten to the ninth. The remaining billion refused to join with Planet… that’s what’s that side of her is called. Or Chiron. It was a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. Anyway, they refused to join with Planet when it awakened and the psychic backlash of a psychically awakening planetary consciousness and its merging with  billions of sapient, often psychic minds, kind of erased the refuseniks from existence.”

“You erased a billion people?”

“I tried to get as many as I could on board, but the planet was waking up and the usual chaos caused by that normally resulted in an ELE anyway. It was save three billion and the planet-mind or let everyone die. And to be fair, I did try and shield the refuseniks. They refused my help and were actively trying to use nukes against my cities and my allies cities up until the final minutes.” I pulled up the system to see what Joy had bought. “Want to take a guess based off that information?”

“Prodigy, Life Giving Fist, Sei, unarmed… no idea on martial arts… no, wait Pancake… she’s eating pancakes… Pencak Silat. The name reminded me of Pancakes, and it says ‘react from nearly all natural body positions, specially adapted to use in naturalistic environs… she’s wearing a Gaia Theory button. She’s clearly very ecco minded. I’m guessing Pencak Silat. Ki Kneading of course, since she’s a prodigy.”

“Spot on,” I congratulated her. “Now comes the Master Class. One is my oldest companion. Companion since within 5 minutes of the start of my first jump. The other is my most trusted companion, though he’s betrayed me twice for various reasons. One’s an ex-fiance, One saved me from certain death. Two nearly got me killed, two are the companions I spend the least amount of time with, one’s not a companion at all, and two are not happy about a self-imposed rule.”

“That’s more than 16… that’s 19.” she pointed out.

“Verily, you be right, lassy.”

“Why are you talking like a pirate now?”

“Eh. I’m quirky. Ziggy! Attack!” and I tossed Ziggy at her. She screamed, dropped her glass over the edge of the balcony, flailed as she tried to fend of Ziggy, fell on her butt, and then squeaked as Ziggy licked her nose, stepped on her boob, and wandered off to go potty.

“Y… you… you! I just pissed myself!” she accused, glaring at me ferociously.

“Well, clearly you need to get better at anticipating random ferret attacks I replied, pulling her off the floor. “Come on, I’ll show you the bath. It’s nice.”

“You just want to look at me naked,” she said with a frown.

“That is true. You should definitely let me seduce you.”

“Does that actually work on people?”

“I can say ‘Hi’, and have people begging to let me let them lick my shadow. Normally at least. So, yes. It works.”

She looked at me, blushed, then snapped, “FINE! But just this once!”

====

“I can’t feel my toes… are they still there?”

“Can confirm, Ziggy is licking them.”

“Oh. Good. I thought I was going mad.”

Above us, the ceiling was projecting the faces of all remaining potential companions and a blank space with a question mark.

“Those two little girls are a single companion?”

“The system has trouble differentiating twins for some reason. Same reason their brothers are a set.”

“And the ginger bloke and his sister, same reason?”

“Ah… no. Those are the Luteces. Robert and Rosalind. They’re a couple… and the same person. Technically, they’re dimensional mirrors of each other.”

“Selfcest… weird… but not that weird by today’s standard? And the double-quintet of weirdos?”

“The Dust Rats. Technically a group companion. Picked them up on a desert world covered with insane cockney orks with a penchant for racing. They don’t socialize with the rest of the crew, spending all their time with the Neo-Magi. Never imported, don’t seem interested in it. Mostly just a collection of losers I picked up. Good enough at racing, but not particularly competent. The guy in the middle is Graf Renik. Team Commander. Destraine Symm is the girl, will not stop talking, curiosity of a cat. The stringbean is Valten Soehern, and the weasel is Solomon Sykes. Navigator, Driver slash mechanic, Gunner respectively. The purple alien is Doc Teeftaka, he’s an Ork Mekboy. The big green guy is Krumpa McGirk, he’s a Tankbusta. The two green weasels are Toof-Snatch and Muffin da Destroya… they’re thieves. And the cyborgs are FISTSMASHA BOB and Buzzsaw Da Buzzilla. For very specific reasons, the six Orks are, in fact, not allowed onto anything that has an ecosystem that isn’t virulently fungicidal.”

“You don’t sound happy that they’re here.”

“I’m really really not. They present an existential crisis. Everything with Ork DNA is very very dangerous. The Ork species… these aren’t Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Orcs… these are Warhammer Forty Kay Orks… are a fungus based lifeform. They spread by spores and those spores can infect almost anything that can support any kind of biomass and reproduce. Individually, they’re not much, but Orks posses a collective ability to warp reality to make machinery that shouldn’t function function… Imagine an entire race of insanely violent Brute 1 and 2 and 3s… that could Tinker… a bit… and could Break a bit too. Enough to make red vehicles go faster or make rockets made literally out of junk have penetrator ammo. I barely trust them on Warworld and Disco Moon, and the only reason I allow them on Paradise or Chiron is because both planets will literally eat Orks as snacks. Orks are tough… Paradise and Chiron are functional Death Worlds with their own native hyper-aggressive fungi. So these days, the Orks have their own little valley in one of my desert biomes where they think it’s hilarious to try and outrace Sandworms.”

“Sandworms… from Dune?”

“Yup. just a couple. In case I need them.”

“How many?”

“Eight hundred and sixty three at last count.”

“E…” she rolled over and, burying her face in a pillow, screaaamed. Frankie giggled and Mini, woken by the noise and the fact that her pillow had been stolen, grumbled and stumbled out of bed to go get some coffee. I pulled her into my lap when she returned and stole a sip, then started nibbling at the blonde witch’s neck.

When she’d recovered, Sarah just stared up at the pictures, ignoring my fooling around, and began flicking them off one by one, pointing a finger and letting the targeting reticle she was getting better and better at using select as she finger-gunned them. “No to the rats. No to the Luteces. No to these two… you wouldn’t have them here I don’t think if they were up for discussion.” She paused at the question mark. “Where’s the grouchy middle aged woman with the drinking problem?”

“She’s not a compaaanion!” Frankie said, as she played with her cat, Ombra’s, paws. “She’s our Benefactor.”

“Really? She hangs out with you? That sounds odd.”

“Not really a Benefactor,” I half explained. “Think of the Benefactor’s as… hmmm… Movie Producers. They make the deals, line up the distribution, arrange for a budget, right? That’s a Benefactor. Different levels above the Benefactor we call ‘Higher’ since they’re collectively impossible for even me to conceptualize except in the most vague way. But think of them as ‘The Studio Bosses”. Jump-Chan, or Chamber, as we call her, is like an Associate Producer… more a Production Assistant. She oversees things while the Benefactor’s away, but hates her job and just wants to go home… but the pay’s too good, so she sticks it out… also, she might be under contract, and her life is a fucking mess right now.”

“So she’s not eligible for being imported?”

“Technically? She shouldn’t be. But she complained to Higher about being stuck in the Warehouse for a thousand years, so they incarnated her into the flesh, as it were. She haaaates it. Has no real skills, can’t mess with the plot because she has no creative control, and isn’t used to people telling her to mind her own damned business.”

“So… she is eligible?”

“The system allowed me to add her to the roster and issued her a Companion Import Tablet.”

“You have system access… isn’t that like giving the Star of the show unlimited creative control?”

“Yup. I am currently the Acting Producer and Star of a fully improv quasi-reality show with a cast of literal millions. I hope like hell that this is a test by Higher and they aren’t letting other Jumpers fuck around with the system this hard. Also, I’m being very very restrained. I really don’t want to piss off Higher… even getting notes from them hurts my everything.”

“Hurts your… do I want to ask?”

“They communicate in a way best described as the conceptual equivalent of being yelled at by an infinite number of jet engines from a distance of two yards… inside your mind.”

“That does not sound pleasant, no… so, you did import the grumpy woman… tell me about her? Is there anything you know?”

“She is the physical incarnation of that big grey stone cube next to the fountain. It’s called the Chamber of the Ordeal and it’s a divine entity that exists beyond the concept of time in its home reality. Normally, prospective knights will ritually cleanse themselves, meditate over night, then enter the Chamber at dawn, all without saying a word. Once inside the Chamber, they are shown visions of potential futures as the Chamber tests them to see if they break. Failures are rare, but usually extremely psychologically damaging, if not outright fatal. Does that give you enough information?”

“For a full profile, not really, but there is a very limited set of options which makes it easier. Assuming she actually took it seriously, Prodigy… Knighthood is about heredity. Chivalry because of the link to knighthood. Used to It because she clearly is having trouble adjusting and thinks it might help. Ki Kneading because it’s powerful and affordable… Sei Ki and Perception-Awareness because she’s used to observing and feels limited in her current sensory suite. Hmmm… she should take Speed or Strength… but she’s vain and self-centered… so I say she took Stunning… I think she also too the medals because she values accomplishments and the Self-Help Books because she thinks they’ll help her cope with human existence… but she’ll mean to read them, but won’t because that would take effort and she’s not motivated enough for that.”

“Seems reasonable,” I brought up the listing, and, indeed, it was as Tattle had said it would be. Of course, I’d known it would be, since I’d had a sitdown with Chamber over the course of the last week and gone over her options in detail, forcing her to choose and refusing her access to the stores until she locked in a build. I hadn’t forced any specific choices on her… but I also hadn’t listened when she’d grumbled that any build at all would be fine and that this entire thing was a pointlessly cruel joke at her expense. I’d asked if she honestly thought so little of me, to which she’d replied that she wasn’t talking about me forcing her to import, but rather the entire concept of linear time and being stuck in it by Higher. There I couldn’t exactly disagree.

Sarah was flipping through the basic public profiles for the companions on the Magi-Intranet, eliminating companions or sliding them into slots for later review. I left her to it (though I did try to distract her a bit by teasing my kittens in highly inappropriate ways). In that, I apparently succeeded, for I found myself a kitten short not long after and then we had to wait for Tattletale’s brain to reboot. “You’re a terrible influence on me… Is this how you recruit all your companions?” She asked.

“Since I’ve told you how I’ve recruited many of them, you know it’s not, but this is actually a bit of a first. I’ve always had a pre-existing relationship of one form or another. With you? It’s a combination of you intriguing me and the opportunity presenting itself. That, and I think you needed this. Your power is not good for your mental health without some way to impose filters on it.”

“So you say, but it’s never made me act like I’m a god,” she accused.

“That may be true, but I’m not acting. I’m actually a god. Several times over.”

Sarah narrowed her eyes and regarded me coolly. “Is this the part where you tell me that if I worship you and do everything you tell me to do that you’ll be my slave?”

I snorted. “Do I look like David Bowie to you? And mad props for quoting a movie that came out eight years before you were born. Is it because the lead has the same name as you?”

She shrugged, then sighed. “My brother, Reggie… he used to mention it… when we were younger. Before he…” she trailed off and Frankie gave her a fierce hug, followed a moment later by Mini. They’re good at being comforting. Also a little clingy. Finally, Sarah pushed them gently off and looked up at the ceiling. “I think I’ve got the list narrowed down. Taylor for the Worm trio… ugh. Hate that name. Hi, I’m Lisa, I come from the Wormverse.. Wormiverse?”

“Kendra comes from the BuffyVerse. Bart from the FireflyVerse. Wormiverse isn’t so bad,” Frankie supplied helpfully. Mini opened her mouth to correct the dark-haired witch that Bart was from ‘The Verse’ but I tapped her nose to indicate she should drop the issue and got a stuck out tongue and a pout for my troubles.

“I… guess,” Sarah muttered, looking down at her hands, then at her body. She hopped up and stared at herself in the mirror. “What the heck?” she gasped. “I… I this is me? I… it’s not… I mean, it is, but… I was 27!” She turned back to glare at me. “What did you do to me?”

“Uh. Nothing. Normally, I’d say you were reverting to your ideal self, but I think this is more than that. You’re reverting to an idealized version of Sarah, not of Lisa.”

“And that’s another thing! Why is everyone calling me Sarah! My name is Lisa Wilbourn!” She stamped her bare foot petulantly which caused very nice ripples up her frame.

“That’s the name you went by when you were running from yourself and your asshole parents and the memory of a brother dead by his own hands. But it’s not who you are. You’re Sarah Livsey.”

“And if I want to be Lisa?”

“I really would rather you not, as I have negative associations with that name… but at least it’s not Scott.”

“You have something against people named Lisa and Scott?” she asked, gawping at the lunacy of that concept.

“Yeah… pretty much. Recurrent theme of my lives. Being screwed and not in a good way, by people with one of those two names. I’ve been individually done wrong by many people over the ages, but few names recur… Lisa and Scott? Again and again. Three and five times respectively in just my first lifetime alone. It’s gotten less common as screwing me has gotten harder, but it hasn’t stopped the Lisa’s and Scott’s of the universes from trying to do me dirty.”

“Your use of idiom and slang is just… weird, you know that?”

“Yeah… normally I have several hundred personas keeping the individual idiosyncrasies under lock and key… not so much right now. I’m feuding with a large section of myself who thinks I was wrong to commit genocide against the Entities.”

She blinked slowly. “The same entities who’ve destroyed, just a single pair of them, mind you, three thousand massively parallel reality spanning civilizations?”

“Yes.” I said it without inflection.

“That part of you is mental.”

“She originates in a children’s television show where killing is always presented as a regrettable action. Thankfully, it’s not one where death doesn’t happen. She’ll come around, I’m certain. But she’s feeling guilty for her part in it and unable to reconcile necessity with her beliefs. Her compassion is praiseworthy… her blinkard stubbornness and one-sided doctrinaire refusal to seek rapprochement on anything but her own terms? Much less so. But we’re getting off topic. You look adorable, and you were saying about Taylor? Carwyn?”

She grabbed the nearest piece of clothing, a cat-eared hoodie and pulled it on, zipping it up until it covered most of her belly and breasts, blushing as she felt three pairs of eyes watching her every motion. “Right. Carwyn I don’t know, but Taylor I do. Better than anyone, I think… though I’m particularly grateful my friend didn’t have to go through what she did in the original timeline… I’m glad we were all spared that, but Noelle, Amy, Dragon, and Taylor owe you more than they know. Taylor would have taken Delinquent… She’s bad about following other people… and from what you tell me about Carwyn, I think she’d agree, just for the joy of rubbing it in people’s face. Taylor would have wanted to go Sei, because she’s reserved like that, but you said Carwyn is a kind of Shaker, using a wide range of psychokinetic attacks?” I nodded. “But she’s also a precog… I’d say Sei… but that feels wrong. I think they went Dou Ki just to be different, to let Taylor experience some of the other side of the coin. Unarmed. Taylor’s got the senses for it and Carwyn the reaction time.  I remember watching Drunken Master… that old Jackie Chan movie, with her… them… Carter? Oh… she’ll kill me if I start calling her that… was she really going to be called Skitter or Weaver or Khepri… okay, Khepri’s pretty good… Weaver’s too on the nose… and Skitter? Yikes… Hive Queen might be arrogant as hell… but it’s not Skitter. Skitter is just… creepy.” She shuddered, sliding her hands into her hoodie’s pockets, trying to tug the hem down so it covered her crotch.

“You were talking about Drunken Master?” I reminded her. “And I know how hard reading people is for you. We can take a break any time you want to.”

“I just… it’s… I like men… I mean… I think I do… so why did I let this happen?” she shook her head, “I don’t feel bad about… not like I was pressured unduly… just… I can’t quite figure it out… and can’t figure out why… holy shit… you’re a dude now?” Her eyes tracked up my much larger male form and blushed deeply as the kitten’s ran their hands across my bare muscled chest.

“Ancient Chinese Curse,” I responded. “Where do you think my son gets it from?”

“I…. ummm… right… uh… ZUI QUAN!” she half yelled, then flushed deeper pink. “That’s Drunken Fist Kung Fu, according to the jump document. I bet they took that. And Berserker because who wouldn’t… Also Ki Kneading, because that’s flat out the best path to pure power for 900… well, that or going Prodigy and taking Ki Kneading, Enhanced Ki, and two of the three stat-boosts.” She was talking very fast and edging closer to the massive bed. “Are you as good with that as you are with… the other?”

“I guess that’s up to you to decide,” I responded with a grin.

======

“Oh god. I think my body’s broken. I’d like to requisition a new one… how the hell do you have so much stamina!? That’s not natural!” she accused over breakfast. She was having trouble lifting the spoon.

“Enhanced Stamina is just one of my many abilities,” I laughed. “I’ll get you dialed in on some basic upgrades once your form stabilizes. But not until then. Got to establish a firm baseline… not that you’re not quite firm already.”

She blushed, then humphed, “Blame a decade plus of villainy. Say what you want about it, but it’s good exercise… But changing the subject before I’m too tired to do anything at all and my brain just does a hard reboot…” She looked at the wall, bringing up eight pictures for the last six companion slots. “Kendra, Zane, AJ, Bao, and both sets of twins… I have to admit that I’m not certain about these, but I’m pretty sure these are the ones.”

“Go on,” I said, not giving any indication she was correct.

“Huh… not making this easy on me… okay… Kendra was formally trained under a Watcher. She likes the stability of guided practice, so Disciple. The system says a Slayer is dedicated to preserving human life, so Katsujinken. Dou Ki because she’s outgoing… really not particularly introspective. While she used stakes against vampires… vampires… mmm… no… Unarmed. Not against people. Very proud of her Afro-Caribbean heritage, which I think means either Savate or Capoeira. The first is French, the second developed by slaves to overthrow European masters. Combat Empathy to help predict what her enemies will do, but mostly because it’s cheap for a Disciple… Enhanced Ki… I don’t know… Stunning, and Speed?”

“Care to hazard a guess on the martial art?” I asked, bringing up Slayer’s actual build.

“It would be a pure guess. I’m not confident in this one,” she admitted.

“Well, the good news is you got some right. Disciple, Katsujinken, Dou Ki, Unarmed… Capoeira, Enhanced Ki, and Combat Empathy… I agree with you she bought that more because it was discounted and she would have been better off with Prodigy and Ki Kneading. But they’re her points. But she bought Sei Dou Goitsu and Perception & Awareness.”

Sarah frowned, then said, “Really? Sei Dou Goitsu? I didn’t think anyone would take that… it seems ill-advised and of limited utility for the damage it does.”

“I have to agree with you, but Kendra thinks in terms of potential last ditch efforts, and has internalized the concept of self-sacrifice, even if it kills her. Not only is death not permanent, but most physical damage isn’t either, thanks to advanced medicine, nanocybernetics, and the Warehouse’s ensuite medical facilities that can literally fix anything as long as there is a heartbeat.”

“Oh. That’s impressive… Guess I should have realized you might have a fix for that. Information overload is a real risk here.” She raised a hand and shook her head, “No. I don’t want to stop. This is important to me. I feel I have to prove that I can be useful to you and not just a pet or plaything.”

I nodded. “Very well, we’ll push on. Bao next?”

“Bao. Ancient Chinese Warrior-Poet, bisexual with a strong preference for men, extremely long term relationship with Uriel who gendershifts, master of martial arts calligraphy, former self-proclaimed fiance… comes from a culture of inheritance, not a self-made man, trained detective… Best Friend of Kendra… Prodigy by inclination, Life Fist by default. Armed. Believes unarmed styles are barbarous and uncultured… but took the one fictional martial art on the list because of its focus on rotation and force redirection because it is listed as ‘so far an unarmed style’ or something like that. Ki Kneading, Enhanced Ki, Perception & Awareness… and Probing Eye from the Drop-In line, all for the same reason… oh, and Sei Ki. Very reactive personality.” She looked up from the image, “How’d I do?”

“Better. Now try AJ.”

“Non-human origin, lives for combat, beyond fanatically loyal if I’m interpreting this Loyalty Index scheme correctly. Ten S. Highest possible rating, will do absolutely anything asked of him. Seeks and thrives on your approval… fan of swords. Big believer in hereditary and inherent genetic strength combined with near obsessive training. Best Friends with Francine (also his mate) and Zane’s Wing Man. Psychic… Prodigy as well, mostly to get Ki Kneading on discount. Delinquent’s Ambition to try and guess how to make you happier. Enhanced Ki for extra power and Speed & Agility because of a belief that going first virtually guarantees victory. Dou Ki and Bushido, and of course, armed. Virtually certain I’ve got him nailed.”

I nodded. She did have AJ pegged, though I think his loyalty wasn’t as ironclad and inflexible as VIvian’s assessment would indicate. AJ could think for himself.

“Zane… also non-human origin. History of violence, history of bad choices, has been subverted and turned against the cause, likes to mix things up just for fun. Flirtatious, puckish, irresponsible. Delinquent. Berserker and Brainwashing just to annoy you. Boxing because it’s straightforward and blunt. Dou Ki, Unarmed… and Katsu, of course, since I don’t think any of these people would really embrace the Satsu side. It’s a little too cartoonishly evil.”

I frowned, then sighed. “Either he’s harder to read or you got a really false read on him.” I triggered the table to project the actual build. Prodigy, Kendo, Dou, Armed, Kendo. Ki Kneading, Strength & Endurance, Speed & Agility, and Enhanced Ki. “Or he just did something unexpected because he’s going to be going in as something he’s uncomfortable being.”

“What’s that?” Sarah asked.

“Oh. Kendra and Zane made a pair of stupid wagers. Both technically won and both technically lost. Kendra has to be a manly man for the decade… and Zane has to be… do you know the term ‘trap’?”

She blinked, then shook her head. “Not in whatever way you’re using it, no.”

“A boy who is attractive and cute enough to pass as a girl. It’s a derogatory term, and some prefer ‘otoko-no-ko’… literally male daughter, though that implies a cross-dressing man or boy. Trap does not rely on cross-dressing. A trap, it is assumed, will be judged to be a girl wearing boys clothing if they don’t cross-dress.” I brought up a picture of Nurgath, who would look girlish in nearly anything besides Eldar battlearmor as an example.

“That… huh. That’s just weird… but I guess I’m square by this genderfluid society’s standards?” she asked, looking a little squicked.

“Not really. Relatively few of my companions are gendershifters, despite there being a magical barrel which makes such easy. Almost all of them incarnate as their core gender all the time. Uriel, Alex, and I are the only ones who shift regularly. Ahab, Petra, and AJ can, but they usually don’t… Well, Petra shifts to whichever is more convenient, but is normally genderless. We simply refer to her and Dyna as female as, more often than not, their human forms are female.”

“Not going to ask… at least not now. And I’ve got no idea how to read those twin-pairs. Too flexible, to much is down to interpersonal quirks that are bound to be like Glossolalia… you know… twin speak.”

“Glossolalia is speaking in tongues. I think you mean Idioglossia… that’s twin speak… But easy mistake to make. Go get cleaned up… take a nap… you look tired. Find me when you wake up and we’ll discuss what’s going to happen next.” As she left, I pulled up the files and checked them against my own predictions. Nope. Even I was batting 40% for these kids… no idea if Placida and Lucida were even doing their own builds.

The girls were drop-in, Sei Ki, Unarmed & Judo, with the Brainwashing, Used to It, Stunning, and Speed/Agility perks. Their big brothers were Prodigies, Dou Ki, Unarmed & Jujutsu, Ki Kneading Berserkers. They were listed as being a pair of twins who were heir to a local dojo and their brand new not-related by blood kid sisters, courtesy of their father remarrying… sooo many tropes there. Still, not my business. Free will and all that.

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Morning, Ryozanpaku. There is the sound of mighty blows being blocked by mighty blows. A six-foot seven man wearing traditional hand wraps and a headband is sparring with a six-foot two woman wearing weightlifter gloves. The woman’s long silver braid floats behind her as she dashes in to strike at the bigger man again and again, forcing him to block with elbows and knees.

“Appaaa!” he yells, winding up for a major blow, but instead of dodging it or blocking it, she rides it up and over, latching her calf around his neck and attempting to lariat him. He twists in midair, turning the throw into a backhandspring, and the two seperate. Neither is breathing hard, but both are smiling.

It had taken me three days to find my way out of the valley and back to civilization. The crippling of my power, begun by Atura and finished by Higher via Drawback fiat, was more comfortable than I’d anticipated. I did not feel weak, but rather aware of my limits. Much of that was thanks to my current dominant persona, a professional bodybuilder and mixed martial arts competitor in training. Sun Ji was 17, energetic, and worked out 9 hours a day, every day. She had muscletone for weeks… which meant I had some damage to undo, but the extra bulk did provide the raw materials Prana-Bindu could use to soften and smooth the mass and turn it into fighting sinew.

Apachai had been thrilled to see the girl he’d promised to teach when she was all of eleven and was not smart enough to wonder how she’d located him. In fact, the only one of the masters who felt it was anything out of the ordinary was Old Man Hayato.

I’d been here a week, had located all of my imported companions, and verified that everyone else was either using the lesser default or had opted to remain in the warehouse. The warehouse’s advanced tech refused to leave the bounds of the box as it were, but I really had no need of it. I still had functionally limitless wealth and was already using it to my advantage, buying up the land around Ryozanpaku and sending agents to find and map the bounds of YAMI & YOMI and the local Ragnarok gang. I didn’t particularly care about them, but information is better to have and not need than the reverse.

As Apachai and I broke apart to grab some water and dry off, I catalogued all the ways I still had to improve as I tucked the magatama I’d found in the dark valley back into my braid My basics were good, and I knew much more than I was showing, but even the Ranma crew didn’t really operate on Ryozanpaku’s level, and so I had some catching up to do… not the least because the last time I’d been super serious about martial arts training was back in One Piece and that was to master Haka and invent Rabid Wolverine Kung Fu. Before that, it had been all the way back in Metal Gear. Sure, I never really stopped training and learning, but there’s a difference between doing it as a hobby and doing it full time. I just had too much on my plate normally to dedicate more than a couple of hours twice week to sparring under normal circumstances.

Granted, that was a couple hours of sparring, a couple hours of sword-practice, a couple hours of shooting practice, a couple hours of drawing, a couple of hours of techwork, a couple of hours gaming… it adds up. Since I’d started using sunshine baths instead of sleeping, I’d gained a few precious hours, but a week was still a week. It only had 168 hours. Of course, with my ability to multitask I’d gotten far more productive… but I still had to spend time with people and eat… okay, no, I didn’t have to do either of those things, but I enjoyed them. Hell, I even enjoyed sleep occasionally, so I tried to get a couple of hours of sleeping in twice a week as well.

A shadow fell across me as I reached for my self-cooling water bottle. I looked up to see Hayato glaring down at me. “You are not welcome here, assassin. Leave. Now.”

I blinked up at him, grinned stupidly, and said (loudly and slowly), “Ai Don Speaku Engrishu!”

He blinked at me, then said, still in Japanese, “I am speaking Japanese.”

I smiled and, still in English, said “Ai Don Speaku Japanese.” despite the fact that this was clearly a bald-faced lie as the Japanese and English words for the Japanese language sound absolutely nothing alike (Nihongo vs Japanese). He harumphed, then turned as Miu arrived home from school, bringing Kenichi with her.

As usual, I watched Kenichi’s ‘torture’… i mean training, waiting for him to say something stupid. He always did, and when he did, I’d jump down from the rafter and flick him in the forehead then walk away to help Miu with the chores.

That day, finally, Kenichi managed to work up enough fortitude to confront me about it. “Why do you keep doing that!?” he demanded, jaw set and fists clenched.

“Why do you insist on treating Miu as if she is a prize to be won?” I responded in flawless Okinawan Japanese. “Why do you insist on treating women as if they are objects to be protected? You train for the wrong reasons, and it offends me.”

“W… Well, w… what is the right reason?” he stammered.

“That is for you to discover… but to impress a girl who has been surrounded by martial arts since she was an infant? This is not the reason. If you wish to demonstrate that you are a hard worker, there are many routes there, none of which involve learning how to beat people up with your fists. And if you want to win a girl’s heart, especially one trained as a fighter? Showing that you respect her as a fighter is a damned sight better than treating the girl who moves like an assassin like she is a porcelain doll.”

“I don’t hit women,” he said stubbornly.

“You are a fool.”

“I don’t hit women,” he repeated. “It’s my code.”

“When someone raises their fists against you, they are no longer a man, no longer a woman. They are your opponent. It does not matter if they are 8 or 80, male or female, human or alien or bear or shark. You respect their courage and face them. To do less disgraces the spirit and says ‘You are unworthy of my treating you as an equal.”

“I don’t hit women,” he reiterated.

I resisted the urge to smash his face in. “Do you know why the masters don’t fight your battles for you? Because if they did, you would never grow strong enough to fight them yourself. You may think you are protecting others, but really, you are like a mighty oak, stealing all the light from them and keeping them in your shade. If you want to protect others, you must help them as the masters help you. Become the greenhouse that focuses light and warmth so that one day the tender plants you shelter will grow strong enough to survive without you.

“I do-”

He didn’t get to finish, as I, having grown bored with his stupidity and sexism disguised as ethics, turned sideways and straight arm punched him through the nearest wall of the dojo. “Sense Bestowing Fist,” I said, then walked away to find Miu.

“Oh… I was just doing the laundry,” the teenage girl chirped at me as I walked up. “Did you want…” she gulped as I pulled off my top and shorts, then dropped them onto the pile, leaving myself naked except for my gloves and toe shoes. I let my hair out of its braid and hung the thong with the magatama around my neck. “J… ji! You ca… can’t! T… there are boys around!”

“There are men around, men who have seen women naked before. Men who know how to keep their hands to themselves. There is a boy who is currently recovering from being taught some sense. His gaze, should he be able to focus, would not harm me.”

“Kensei’s camera?” She managed to get out, obstinately not dropping the subject.

“I am not injured by the taking of pictures, nor is anyone else. Modesty is pointless, as you well know, as one who wears a gymnast’s outfit so thin that it might as well be painted on.” I took the laundry from her. “You need to stop acting like a servant. Also, to stop acting like a twit.”

“W… What do you mean? I’m just helping out!”

“Bullshit. The Masters of this school do nothing to help out. This place is in shambles, and without you, nothing would get cleaned, washed, or cooked. They are far too dependant on you and you are neglecting your training to take care of their needs. Further, you are either painfully unobservant or willfully so. The boy is doing all this to be close to you. He will, in time, come to find other reasons to do so, but right now? He seeks to be close to you because he finds you extremely attractive.”

“I… I know that.”

“Good. Now stop allowing social programming to dictate your actions. If you like him, tell him so. If you don’t, tell him so. If his destiny can be thwarted by either, he is unworthy of such a destiny… and you… you should not think that your only options are house-wife or martial artist. You are the heir to the Furinji style. Kenichi is not. Act like it matters, not like it’s a prize your future husband can earn. If Kenichi surpasses you because you cannot be bothered to put in the effort, how will you then be worthy of him?”

She might have said something in reply to that, but (seeing Hayato approaching) I left, bounding away across the rooftops to the apartment building I owned next to Ryozanpaku’s borders.

And so it went. Week after week of training that even I considered grueling, week after week of steadily and not so subtly pushing the various masters to actually contribute to the upkeep of the property and learn some basic human skills… like making tea or a basic meal. And only occasionally telling them to shut up about Kenichi having ‘no talent’. Clearly he had some or training him would be pointless. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a talent… it was that his talent was the kind that could only be expressed through mountains of hard work.

Occasionally, I’d actually show up at school… I was, in theory, registered there for some idiotic reason… and use Sense Bestowing Fist on Niijima largely because he was a creep. In this fashion did months roll by and Kenichi’s star began to rise as, one by one, the leadership of Ragnarok, little more than a pointless gang of self-important hooligans, fell before him (and miu… and Niijima).

Meanwhile, back the compound, I’d taken over the cooking, simply because it was the only way to force those useless masters to actually do anything around the house. Miu’s food was nourishing, but certainly wasn’t to notch. Mine, on the other boxing glove, was good enough that the threat of withholding it was motivation enough to actually prompt change. That, and the fact that I required at least two meal a week’s worth of assistance from each master, which gave me time to speak to each and, in at least three cases make some progress towards basic kitchen competence.

I only had to use Sense Bestowing Fist on Miu twice, Shigure (who clearly was on the spectrum) three times, Akisame once, Sakaki five times, and Apachai not at all. Granted, those numbers were as low as they were because I wasn’t trying to fix their major personality dysfunctions, but simply to get them to do something useful around the house. For instance, I didn’t bother trying to get Sakaki to give up his gambling or make Apachai a rocket scientist. As for Kensei Ma? No number of SBFs would have been enough.

One day, I found myself in Tokyo. I was there buying up a few major companies, including Tanimoto Heavy Industries, as well as picking up a simply gorgeous hand-scribed copy of Jingben Zhongyi Zhuan (aka Bandits of the Marsh or Water Margin… for which Ryozanpaku is named) dating to 1612. It cost me seven hundred and fifty-five million yen, but honestly, I’d have paid twice that. I just coming out of THI’s Tokyo office after having fired the entire board and arranging for the arrest for various financial crimes of about 3/5ths of the company’s officers, when the sounds of a battle hit my ears… and only quick thinking saved my priceless manuscript from being smashed by a huge dusky skinned high-school student as he tried to paste a ridiculously buxom blonde japanese girl wearing a skirt so short I could tell she waxed and a sweater so tight I could tell she didn’t own any bras… not that she really needed them.

Both had earrings with beads attached… magatama beads… and I instantly… okay, not instantly… it took me a good twenty seconds to dredge up where I knew the girl and the half-ogre from. Manga characters don’t actually look exactly the same in real life.

“Hakufu Sonsaku?” I groaned. “Gakushu!?” How the hell had I ended up in Ikki Tousen?… waaait. I looked down at the pale green bead resting between my breasts and sighed. “Sun… Ji… oh… fuuuck me.”

Sarah and Carwyn both gave me looks that said, “What did we miss?” while simultaneously fanning out to block Battle Vixen and Man with a Face designed to be stomped on from attacking me.

“Sun Ji… it’s an alternate name for Sun Shang Zhang… which technically makes me that bimbo’s sister… or at least the reincarnation of the sister of the man she’s the reincarnation of. Brace yourselves, Ladies… things are about to get deeply disturbing. Someone just changed the rating from Shonen to Seinin and the bodycount is going to explode.”

Next:  Kenichi Tousen, Yes. Really.

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

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

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.

Resources: BuildDocument

AN: Good lord this took a long time to research and write. Of course, if you’ve gotten this far, you can probably tell why. This is 25,000 words almost spot on, before adding in notes and titles and the usual business work. And much of that is clean up from Worm or the introduction of the newest member of the crew. Hope you think she’s a good one. It’s by far the longest character introduction, but I wanted to make it clear why she was recruited… and not just the prurient reasons, which honestly I hadn’t planned. The ‘You Should Let Me Seduce You’ line literally popped into my head as I was writing and it was too fun and too fitting not to go with. Before that, I hadn’t planned on the relationship being sexual. I figured Sarah would find someone in the crew to get close to, maybe Darkseid, honestly. Insane, Megalomaniacal Tyrant sure… but he probably the least likely to have issues that would trigger Tattletale’s turn-off buttons.

But that’s not how it turned out, and now some issues have to be raised, and as a writer, I’m looking forward to seeing what the characters and fans tell me. Should Sarah join the family, or should this be a short-lived fling before she finds someone else to hook up with? Should she decide such antics aren’t for her? Should she find herself on the outside by her own choice, but secretly want back in? There’s potential for drama there, but I’m not certain where Sarah should go. And yes, before you ask, I really did consider not recruiting her because of the name Lisa. Idiosyncrasies and all that. I’m fairly certain that EssJay has gotten over it (or should have), but I’m the writer and I haven’t. I’m not as enlightened as a 15,000 year old god. Sue me. Actually don’t, I don’t have any monies.

Again, a huge thank you to my Patreons, you guys rock. And to my friends at SB and QQ and those on Reddit and 4chan’s /tg/ board who read my work. Thank you all. You make this hobby as fun as it is.

OMAKE 1: Alternate Picture of Sun Ji (yes, it’s Revy from Black Lagoon, but she is tough)

Jump 83 - History's Strongest Disciple

OMAKE 2: STILL MORE CAULDRON VIALS!

AN: Some are missing rankings. Many are missing Shard Names. I’m open to suggestions. Also feedback on these would be lovely.

Year Six Vials

Lilith Carthagos / Cheshire: Mover 4 – The Uncertainty Shard. Cheshire, can translocate parts of her body at will. Each piece is always somewhere, but not necessarily in relation to each other. Each piece can rotate freely in midair and she seems to be aware of every piece of herself at all times. She can use this to teleport as pieces can leapfrog. Each piece must remain within 137 meters of each other piece, and currently the smallest piece she can separate is her pinkie toe, but each piece seems to need to be a complete unit (eg. nose, ear, eye, finger). If she breaks a link that connects multiple pieces to the main network, all those pieces will snap back to her primary location, where primary is defined as ‘Largest biomass’. She does not seem to have a core and can move organs outside the body. Moved sections do not seem to suffer environmental exposure beneath a certain threshhold, but direct attacks usually do cause damage, though lower damage than they should, indicating that they aren’t, perhaps, completely ‘there’ in some currently unmeasurable way.

Kagetane / FOOF 5: Striker 4 – The Oxidizer Shard. FOOF – Can generate a substance that is a hyperoxidizer, a substance that can burn practically everything. Described as Clorine-Trifloride’s evil twin, the one saving grace of this substances is its lack of toxic fumes. Although completely impossible to put out by conventional means, he has to deliver it via touch or, often, buy coating a sword in it. It can be extinguished by conceptual means or via vibration suppression. Magic is fully effective against it. He can dial in exactly how burny he wants his goo to appear and can, as long as he is in contact with it, render it inert or keep it from burning.

Paradise / Outfitter: Trump 5 – The Blacksmith Shard. She possesses the ability to imbue others with specific defenses against any threat she is familiar with.  ‘Suiting up’ takes a minute for full effectiveness, but she can imbue others with a more short-term (10 minutes instead of 20 hours) form of defense with only a few seconds. she calls this process ‘Rubbering Up’… in reference to the boots. She can Bespoke, which provides even longer protection, in theory indefinite, but this takes her exposing the subject to varying degrees of the danger and adjusting their system to be more in tune with the protections. Can apply these defenses to herself, but seems to have a limit to how many different defenses she can have active, though she can Rubber herself Up extremely rapidly… as in faster than her conscious mind can register a threat, though this does present a potential weakness as it is possible to run out her slots and cause the oldest to cycle, leaving her vulnerable. The more specific defense, the more absolute it is, but the less effective. In fights one on one, however, she has enough slots to render herself functionally immune to everything that enemy can throw at her unless that enemy has an extremely varied attack set.

Catryn / Papermoth: Master 4 – Origami Kami Shard. Papermoth creates swarms of silk-like constructs. While not particularly strong, they are extremely durable and she can control a huge number of them. They are very light. Creating them takes time, so she usually covers herself in tens of thousands of them as a costume. Unlike Skitter / Hive Queen, they are not alive and do not have senses, but they are also not limited to practical lifeforms. She creates the silk-like substance from her own skin and the process is painless. They resemble tattoos while growing and she can convert her entire body surface area to constructs in about 6 minutes. Using this power requires a large amount of protein. She can also coat her hair in the silk, allowing her to control it telekinetically. She can cause them to bond to exposed skin. Her own skin is usually impregnated with as many as three millimeters worth of papersilk.

Nurgath / Knifehand:  Striker 6 – Ginsu Shard. His hands can generate planes of force that have fractal edges that are capable of cutting nearly everything made of matter. They are all but useless against energy fields and nearly useless against self-reorganizing matter, but beyond monomolecular edges can be generated, and they aren’t simply smooth, but rather a kind of transmono-molecular chainsaw.

Year Seven Vials

Sabine san Leor / Bliss: Striker 6, Stranger 3. Sabine can reflect physical damage she receives in melee onto those who caused it. She feels pain as pleasure and this bleeds into those who are damaged by this mirror effect. Damage she can’t reflect (from ranged sources for instance) builds up and is transferred to the first person to damage her in close quarters. Fighting her can be addictive.

Decima / Gestalt: Master 5 – The Overwatch Shard. Gestalt grants a perfect combat gestalt to all allies within her range and is constantly aware of their condition and can move around vitality at will, acting as a conduit. What she knows, everyone in the gestalt becomes aware of. Acts as a sink for despair, fear, or rage that might impair others in the gestalt. Her range depends on her emotional state, and requires her to be calm and focused to work optimally. She thinks this is MONDO BOGUS! Max range ~300m radius sphere. minimum range ~120m radius sphere. Must be able to see the individual to add them to the gestalt. Can add unconscious people to the gestalt without their permission. Cannot kill directly with vitality shifting, but can make death a virtual certainty.

Dewitt Bookstock / Myriad: Master 6. Myriad creates quantum clones of himself, like Naruto’s Shadowclone Jutsu, but as durable as he himself is. Damage done to any Myriad can be shifted to any other Myriad and there’s very little way to determine if you’re dealing with the original or a q-clone. The current number of clones is in the mid-thirties, but it’s expected that will grow over time.

Jaan / Verisimilitude: Shaker 5. Verisimilitude: creates highly photorealistic illusions over a large area, making the area look completely different to all visual senses. These are essentially hardlight holograms that are strong enough to interact with, though she has trouble generating copies of any living thing more complex than plants or normal scale bugs.

Manfred Booker / Revenant: Changer 7. Revenant is a Resurrection Brute) Whenever killed, he rips out of his own corpse like it’s a cocoon, becoming progressively more withered and twisted with each iteration. His blows sap vitality which restores him to looking human, but the more ‘undead’ he appears, the faster, tougher, and stronger he gets. He can choose to slough off his outer layer any time he likes, removing any damage he’s taken effectively instantly. Clothes do get in the way of this, but he possesses a rudimentary ability to change his outer appearance as well, mimicking clothing at will, or (more often) wearing the half-mummified shreds of earlier forms.

Year Eight Vials

Black Jenny / Transformica: Changer 9, Blaster 6, Brute 7. She turns into a massive  (6 stories tall seems to be the maximum) formica ant that spits formic acid and has bit ol mandibles strong enough to casually crush tanks. She causes huge ant infestations around her as her icor literally transforms into black ants of all sizes and species, including giant ants on the order of large dogs. She cannot control ants in any way. Her stench in combat is considered a Shaker effect by itself. As a Brute she heals incredibly fast, relying on regeneration rather than toughness, though she is tougher than she seems, just very easy to damage superficially, as her exoskeleton can be easily pierced by mundane attacks. This is deceptive, as such damage is effectively meaningless to her. She is an S-Class Threat.

Sakura / Weaponeer: Striker 7. Sakura can form any weapon she can imagine as long as it is physically possible and hand held. She has complete mastery of all weapon related skills from all of human history, and prefers to use melee weaponry as she cannot easily generate ammunition and the weapons she generates adapt to the defenses of whatever she hits them against over time.

Stern / Equilibrium: Shaker 6. Generates subsonics that cause loss of coordination, disorientation, and even pain over time. Cancels out most other sonic effects, including making speaking difficult.

Dearche / Van De Graaf: Blaster 7. Creates an insubstantial sphere around herself that can be several hundred meters wide that becomes progressively more and more filled with purple-blue lightning. Can amp this lightning from harmless to lethal. The sphere is visible to the naked eye as a blueshift. It moves with her and fades only gradually once she is rendered unconscious.

Levi / Follow-On: Striker 9, Brute 5, Master 2. Creates after images behind her that mimic her own actions. She’s extremely dense and very fast, deflecting most blows that manage to hit her. The after-images sometimes have a mind of their own, or at least seem to. It’s like a form of ADHD when she’s not focusing on combat. This causes them to knock things over, play with passers by, doodle on things, and, if annoyed, the after-images can lash out even without Follow-On being aware. She is an S-Class Threat if not kept focused. In times of stress, as many as forty after-images have been generated.

Year Nine Vials

Fredrika / Trauma Center: Shaker 4. Trauma Sends out quasi-substantial shockwaves that cause more damage the more damaged the target already is. In effect, it uses existing damage to inflict more damage.

Lizzy / Riftripper: Blaster 5. Riftripper generates bolts that are actual dimensional tears, capable of bypassing most material defenses to cause ripping damage along the edge of the seam… essentially like being caught by the edge of an unshielded portal. The bolts are not particularly fast and don’t have huge range, but she can fire quite a lot of them at a time, more if she stands still while doing so.

Iana Faust / Blork: Blaster / Mover. Blork covers herself in a sheath of greasy protons that allow her to ignore inertia, gravity, and surface-friction selectively. She can also generate greasy photonic blasts which have a lingering effect that interferes with the target’s surface-friction and inertia if it’s inorganic (i.e. it makes surfaces slick and objects loose interia, making them easy to move… and easy to stop.)

Whitey Brightside / Wildfyre: Striker / Brute / Blaster. Wildfyre coats himself in a kind of bioplasmic gel that shocks people, allows him to generate plasma blasts, and absorbs impacts. He’s generally very tough and strong too.

Korosensei / Bulletstorm: Thinker 5, Mover 5, Breaker 5, Stranger 5, Shaker 5. Bulletstorm Fires concentrated Chronogravimetric distortions and generates a chronogravimetric field around himself. Both have a similar effect which causes time to slow down around either the bullets or himself, making dodging them extremely tricky as the closer they get to you, the more wonky your sense of time gets. This effect also allows him to stand on any surface by changing how he interacts with local gravity. His sense of time is not slowed and appears to be largely time-indepent.

World 75: Worm – Part 3

IN WHICH SOME BUSINESS IS GOTTEN DOWN TO

Previously: In Which Kurt Vonnegut does not Appear

Themesong: I’ll Make a Man Out of You from Mulan

AN: You people are awesome and I love writing for you. Thanks for all the wonderful comments!

With the Nine dead or in rehab, Echidna and Panacea in therapy, Coil replaced, and Brockton Bay making the slow climb back to functioning city status, I had roughly a month to kill before the next element of my plan should arise… and that element was pretty much the single most salient reason why my plans had had to generate as few timeline ripples as they had. But I’ll explain exactly what I mean by that in a bit.

First there was a little bit of housekeeping that I wanted to deal with… a present for myself, you see. It’s name? The Butcher. To understand the Butcher, one must truly understand the craziness that is the Shard-Parahuman bond… but a synopsis will suffice for this. Once upon a time, there was a psychopathic parahuman who called himself The Butcher. He was a Brute, both in the Worm sense and in the more general sense as well. Possessed of both superhuman strength and durability, this monster had the ability to inflict pain at a distance… mindbreaking, gutwrenching, heartstopping agony. And when he was killed, part of his power passed to another asshole, one who could see a living person’s cardiovascular system… even if walls were in the way.

Are you imagining it now? Getting the feeling for what I’m laying down?

Yeah… there have been, to date, 14 Butchers… and as each one kills the former, the powers of all previous Butchers flow into the next.. Along with the personalities of the previous Butchers. Before becoming the host, some Butchers to be had been killers… some hadn’t, but if they weren’t the leader of a Parahuman gang called The Teeth before killing the Butcher, they’d very quickly go insane as their psyche got collectively gangbanged by X-1 previous spectacularly messed up examples of parahumanity. And then, now driven completely batshit, they were given the dubious honor of being killed by whoever was to be the next leader of The Teeth.

The current Butcher was a woman who had once been called ‘Quarrel’. In addition to really horrible fashion sense (seriously, even describing how god-awful the samurai-esque tooth, spike, and human-remains covered costumes of The Teeth were would damage my soul just a little) and the first two Butchers’ powers of ranged pain-induction and cardio-sight, she also had no less than 6 stacked sources of superhuman strength, a limited form of danger sense (usable only against physical attacks), the ability to cause festering wounds, the ability to teleport short distances while causing an explosion, matter shaping, rage induction, immunity to pain… and her own native gift which allowed her to bend the fabric of space so she always hit what she was aiming at.

The Teeth had once been a gang in Brockton Bay, until they’d been driven out by the Slaughterhouse Nine in an earlier incarnation. They now operated in a rotating string of bases from Portland to New York, like a bunch of nomadic marauders. And somehow, somehow… they’d avoided the team I’d sent out to find them for months.

Of course, to be fair, the teams sent after them weren’t trying very hard. Atura’d assigned the Luteces and Meetra to the task… and, as far as we could tell, they’d done a great deal of hunting down Villainous Tinkers instead. So I’d sent Joy and Petra to do it. And they’d decided to hold Atlanta hostage. Then Frankie and Mini had volunteered… only to call us from California, Tahiti, and Argentina to report zero contact. This had gone on for almost four months, until finally, just before my final meeting with Jack, I’d called my wayward lambs off the trail and sent Team Panopticon and told them that if they failed me, there would be no ice-cream for a year.

Seven hours later, I was informed that the Teeth, along with their leader, had entered Brockton Bay’s city limits and the entire team was heading towards their old stomping grounds, convinced that, since the Nine were officially all dead (despite a stunning lack of corpses for any of them), they could now safely reclaim the city they’d once sought to rule. I aimed to show them how wrong they were… with the help of the Undersiders.

Of course, the Protectorate was less than pleased to discover that the Pentarchy was far more willing to deal with avowed villains than any team that claimed to be heros should be, but technically it is not a crime to associate with known criminals… though we were of course guilty of any number of crimes of which the Protectorate / PRT / US Government / UN were unaware of… but as the old saw goes, what they don’t know can’t hurt us.

I was on my way to the agreed upon location, the one that Team Panopticon was baiting the Teeth into heading to (the location they thought they’d find Hookwolf at… not knowing that the racist living ginsu beast was currently enjoying a cell in a very very secure subspace cell that contained only himself and Lung and the occasional very angry bio-engineered moose.)… when I got a message that just fucking ruined me day.

“Six is Down,” Galad’s voice cracked over the comm, “I say again, Six is Down. Request Instant Evac to Medical… Do you read Base?”

I swore, anger building, as Atura said, “Oh no! How did Vel… ummm… How?”

Francine, on overwatch, growled, “Roadhog got too close to the action and The Butcher teleported behind her, knocking her over. Papercut moved to intercept and went down. I teleported her out, but she’s not breathing. I… I don’t think her heart is beating.”

I wanted to rage, wanted to smash… wanted to lash out, but I suppressed my emotions. What the hell had Velma been thinking. I respected her protective instincts, I really did, but Maggie was an Asgardian. She could tank blows from, well, the Hulk. Velma had a lot of magical power… but she wasn’t in the same realm. All she had was… had been not nearly enough.

I blame what happened next on that sense of baffled outrage, that frustration at an inconvenience to my plans, that rage at the attack on one of my children, that fury at the (thankfully temporary) death of one of my beloved… As one, the Pentarchy dropped onto the Teeth, our violence unrestrained by anything like compassion or mercy. The Butcher especially, was Cassiopeia’s target as Atura, driven by her own sense of loss and outrage, struck at the murderous gang boss again and again and again, ignoring every attack leveled at us.

The catastrophic boom as The Butcher’s body imploded around Cassiopeia’s fist distracted us for far too long, all of 2.97 seconds… the overpressure and psychic shock of the dozen plus Butcher imprints being sucked into our mind accounted for another 0.0297. That left ~0.0003 seconds for me to realize something was about to happen… and not nearly enough time to make Atura aware of what was about to happen to Andromeda

Time seemed to stretch as I shouted into her consciousness for Andromeda to dodge… but it was already too late. Senses attuned to the passing of nanoseconds flinched as, instead of flinging herself out of the firing path of the strange guns held two gun mojo style by the slender girl in silver and black, Andromeda braced herself, throwing up layered shields to deflect the coming projectiles. Shields that did absolutely no good as an absolute torrent of warp-tunneling rounds flowed out of those guns, ripping neat little holes in the fabric of space-time and, just as Cassiopeia’s force shove was about to reach the Elemental Crafter, giant gaping holes through Andromeda’s forms as the warp effect flowered open, shunting softball and grapefruit sized chunks of her into only god knows where.

The force push impacted with what was left of Andromeda, flinging the 22.3% of her body still in this reality like a ragdoll. The psychic backlash of all the powers and abilities that had been invested in Andromeda suddenly vanishing left the part of us that was EssJay reeling and Atura went absolutely berserk, unable to cope with having lost both Velma and Andromeda in the space of twenty-minutes time.

Me? Shard Me? I was dealing with too many things all at once. The 13 Butcher-personas invading Atura’s mind would have to wait as I coped with a giant Andromeda-shaped hole in my plans and in my very being… okay, time to come clean. I know you’ve been dying to know where I dug up four extra heros to form a team… I didn’t. I hadn’t. Fornax, Eridani, Andromeda, and Orion… were all me.

While Cassiopeia was Atura, and the direct host of the EssJay the Shard of Complete Arsenal (my own shard of Enhanced Mastery was my Shard, not the power I was granting to Atura… confused yet? You will be.), I had simply boatloads of powers… and over two-hundred and fifty different identities / personas. And I’d used both to create the Pentarchy. Fornax the Tinker was all 169+9 (there was a period where the Magi Hegemony spanned two galaxies that weren’t yet linked by instant comms) King-Priests and almost all my technical abilities spun off into a self-maintaining homunculus body. Eridani was, of course, Soul of Ice, in a Gigai (artificial body for souls from the Bleach Universe), given my command of Ice and Time and Entropy. Orion was, Silent Judge, also in a Gigai, but one that had both Asgardian and Hybrid Kryptonian powers as well as most of the archery and marksmanship perks.

And Andromeda? She’d been VIctoria, my wand, my omni-tool, my power armor, my surrogate cyborg body, my Kill-la-Kill Kamui. She’d been part of me… and now she’d been ripped away, along with all my non-ice based elemental control powers… and she wasn’t reforming… nor were the perks shifted to her with Shard Administrator returning either. I couldn’t sense them at all. That was bad. Worse, entire swaths of the future that I’d planned out, my great plan… was vanishing, going dark… and the Doomsday clock had just slipped forward 402 days. I now had less than a year to Gold Morning. Shit, shit, shit.

How the hell had this happened? How had Andromeda’s defenses been so completely bypassed? H… how was Atura taking this kind of punishment from a local with guns… how was a local this good a shooter, fighter… and tinker? No… wait… fuck… those guns had to have been taken from another tinker, i realized as one of them had vanished and been replaced by one of Armsmaster’s nano-thorn knives.

At once I understood. ~Ahab! You insufferable fuckwit! Stop having your host attack us!~ I snapped a telekinetic hand out and grabbed the metallic faceplate of the figure, lifting the girl off the ground, knowing the costume wouldn’t come off because it wasn’t just a mask… it was part of this person.  Still, I shook her, not gently. A normal person’s spine would have snapped from the force of it, but at this point, I was really beyond caring. I’d already recognized the body under that partly mechanized layer. Ahab wasn’t just in some rando… he was in Emma Barnes, late best-friend cum bully of Taylor Hebert and new best-friend of vigilante-bully-bitch Sophia Hess.

Emma moved in a way that only someone with access to millenia of martial arts practice could have and tried to fling Atura. I could hear nothing from Ahab… shit… he was a Shard… he probably wasn’t even receiving, wherever he was.

Atura was busy fighting off the Butchers, fighting this fight largely on automatically… I swore. ~At… you take the body, I’ll fight these morons.~ and, simple as that, we switched. My knowledge of who we were fighting swapped with her impressions of the 13 ghosts and both enemies sensed the shift instantly.

Unfortunately for them, sensing the shift and being able to deal with it were two wildly different things. Not that Atura was all that, but Complete Arsenal (a power I really couldn’t use readily) was a hell of a leveler, and Ahab Barnes… Gunstar… she was calling herself Gunstar… good lord, they both liked that movie… sigh… was not going to be able to intuit how to defeat her. Still, with a thought, I shifted more of the martial arts master to Atura and gave her the combat precog.

As for me? It was packman time in the old grey-meats, as every persona I still had flowed out into Atura’s part of the consciousness and the balance of power went from thirteen on one to better than five to one… against. In the real world, it would have been a slaughter… inside? It was a feast, with my many selves ripping all the Butchers apart and swallowing the psychic chunks as they leaked ego all over the marble halls of Atura’s temple of the Mind Palace. One of them had once been a hero, but the madness had consumed him long past, and we were not in a forgiving mood.

By the time we got back to the real world, Atura had subdued Emma and was in the process of handing her over to the Protectorate, along with the remaining members of the Teeth… And refusing psychological assistance, claiming that the Butcher had clearly bounced off her defenses and entered this poor delusional girl instead. Emma was spitting fire and calling Cassiopeia a lying crazy lesbian stalker bitch who’d kidnapped her friend and she was going to prove it… right up until a gag was placed in her mouth.

Shit… now I had less time, less resources… but I still had a chance… just… most of my safety margin was gone… and now I’d have to do this myself. Ah well, So much for needing Lung. Now what the fuck did I do with him?

Well, I’d worry about that later… my victory in the upcoming debacle in India had just become all the more important.  Regretfully, that meant taking fewer risks with my remaining Quartad… and using homunculi to maintain the appearance that Andromeda wasn’t gone.

And speaking of that, I had to bully Jump-Chan into letting me back into the system to figure out what the hell was up with my missing abilities. If I’d transferred them to another, Shard Administrator was supposed to give them back if they died. Clearly, Andromeda dying wasn’t the same thing… but if I’d had my hand cut off, (it had happened more than once) I should have regrown it within minutes.

In the end, I discovered that the system treated the various elements of me as semi-autonomous. They could be killed like companions, and thus would be treated as such under Single-Shot… but unless every part of me died, or my core self died, it wouldn’t count as a chain-ender. Frustrating… but nothing I could do about it. Higher had clearly stepped in, as there didn’t seem to be any way to over-rule that. It gave me some flexibility… and protection… but meant that, if I wasn’t careful, I could end up seriously depleted.

And that was coming up on what was promising to be one of the bigger fights of the jump. See, on the 26th of July, Behemoth was going to attack New Delhi… and, if I did nothing, there he’d die, ripped apart by Scion… but not before he killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and dozens of capes… including the Undersider ‘Regent’. I didn’t really like Alec (not Alex), but he was one of Taylor’s friends and allies, and his death in the story had been one of self-sacrifice.

“Okay, VIvian, let’s bring out Golden-Eye and get him ready… this tech is damned creepy,” Atura muttered as we ran through the options again. The window for getting Behemoth was tiny. I had a matter of hours between his appearance and death… and could not intercept him before that, since the fucker lived in the core of the Earth.

By this point, history had diverged significantly from the plotline of the novel. There had been no Echidna Incident, no public outing of Cauldron, no Taylor vs Alexandria battle. ‘Coil’ effectively controlled Brockton Bay, the Undersiders and Travellers were secure in their power and the town was coming back to life, and (aside from a major break in that they could not explain) Cauldron thought everything was still on track… though not for very much longer.

Behemoth rose in the early hours of the 26, just as the sun was rising, setting off early warning systems all over the region, but it was far, far too late to effectively evacuate an area as large as New Delhi… but I was waiting. The Pentarchy had undergone a major reconfiguration in the last few days, though no one outside the group would be too likely to notice.

Eridani had been replaced with Cirno, who could manage the Ice effects well enough to cover for not being Soul of Ice. Orion had been replaced with Darkseid, complete with enough perks and tech to cover the power differential… if anything, he was even tougher now. Andromeda was being played by Yuzuha with a whole lot of magical boosting… and as for Fornax? Ah, well… I’d brought in a Ringer. This was Golden-Eye.

Golden-Eye was a Tinker I’d literally dug up (heh). A blond man with a love of golden iconography, he was fitted with a voice modulator to make him sound like the original Fornax and a functional knowledge of how to use everything on his current suit. Hopefully he wouldn’t be killed… even the Super-Soldier Serum he’d been given wasn’t much of a defense against Behemoth… and he hadn’t had time to build his own tech to directly counter Behemoth

See, Golden-Eye’s Tinker specialization was energy manipulation technology… sonic weapons, explosives, powerpacks… and a disintegration gun. All of which he was fitted with, but it was all off the shelf tech (well, off my shelves at least) not custom built. As for Behemoth? He was an all purpose Energy Kinetic, able to generate lightning, sonic attacks, heat, and radiation… and that’s why I needed the giant asshole.

Behemoth was 45 feet of obsidian and granite, a hulking monster who’d killed more people than any other Endbringer… even if he was jobbing it. Sigh… such a pain. Then again, who was I to criticize someone for playing down to the opposition.

Well, I wasn’t doing so that day. The Pentarchy was second on the scene, right after the local ‘hot-capes’… also known as The Garama (cape celebrities… sigh… they were such posers….) I was going to save their asses, but not because I really wanted to. I just needed big ugly… though to do so, I had to kill him.

And so, with my backup slowing him down and generally pouring on the pain, I… Cassiopeia… thankful that I had a backup wand… floated in front of the big brute and yelled out the Killing Curse… only for it to do practically nothing. I mean… it kinda looked like it tickled him… but not much more.

~Well… that… that wasn’t very… You feeling okay, Atura?~ I asked, shielding us with a warp bubble.

She shuddered, emotions roiling. “I… I do not think I can do this. This goes against my nature… this… I feel sickened knowing we used this against Leviathan… no matter what you said. We’ve killed too many. We… we… I cannot be this person. It is damaging to me. I am of balance… I was not meant to kill.”

~I could point out the rampant hypocrisy of refusing to defend others on the basis of not being willing to kill, but this isn’t the time or place for it. Anyway, if you can’t bring up the emotion to cast the spell, my words are probably not going to help. GIve me control of the body. We’ll handle it.~

“We?” she asked, shifting into the passenger seat, so to speak.

“We have a Silent Judge,” I said as I took over the body, then allowed all that was darkest and most judgemental within me to take over.

“Yessss… hate is an old friend,” hissed a third voice from our lips in as many moments. The voice sounded like sandpaper over glass, and if Behemoth had been able to hear it over the sound of being pummeled by Legend, Alexandria, four of the Pentarchy, and the rapidly dwindling Garama, he’d have shivered in fear.

“CRUCIO!” called out the Judge and Behemoth jerked to a halt, body convulsing as it felt agony, probably for the first time ever. “SECTUMSEMPRA!” we bellowed, once, twice, three times, and with each passage of that invisible sword, fueled by limitless wrath, slashed through the hyper-dense matter of the Endbringer’s body, slicing through it without care for what should have been.

With pair of massive crashes, each of Behemoth’s arms fell from its shoulders, the dark magic guaranteeing they’d never regenerate.  Then, with a much more profound crash, his torso slid from his pelvis, the limbless body falling face first into the shatter ruin of this part of Delhi.

~He’s going to explode!~ Atura gasped, peering into the future.

“Not on my watch,” muttered the Judge, and, raising the Elder Wand high, brought it lashing down, crying out in a tk augmented voice, “SPIRITUS TEMPESTEUM!” and the energy contained within that body, glowing white, was wrenched out of it and lanced into the sky, a pillar of brilliant light that carved the early morning sky in twain, smashing most of the flyers out of the sky and banishing the clouds for hundreds of miles in every direction. A moment later, all that water just fell out of the atmosphere, smashing the flyers back down and washing the dust into the streets in a very short lived torrent.

“Get me status reports on everyone involved,” I commanded, then pointed to Orion 2.0 (Darkseid) “And get that fucker into a stasis bubble before he wakes up. And before anyone notices he’s not actually vaporized… shit.”

Fornax 2.0 and Alexandria were standing there. The flying brick had managed to stay airborne. I considered for a millisecond, then snapped, “Golden-Eye… Terminate Alexandria.”

===

I won’t tell you how that played out directly… instead, allow me to jump back in time, narratively speaking, to the week following the defeat of Leviathan.

“Ah. Taylor. Do, please, come in,” I said, looking around my office in one of the few completely intact buildings in town.

“There’s a voice inside me… it’s me and not me… knows stuff I can’t know… says I should trust you,” She said, looking around the office nervously. “That’s a Hercules beetle.” she commented, examining one of the terraria along the walls.

“It is. Would you like something to drink? Tea, perhaps?” I asked, knowing she prefered it to coffee or cocoa.

“U… yeah. Thanks.”

“Miss Rose, if you’d please bring some tea? Oolong acceptable,” I asked looking up from my old fashioned intercom.

Taylor was frowning, looking a little distant, but she shook her head as if to clear it. “Y… Yeah.. That’s fine… Sorry. My mom’s name was Rose… Middle Name… sorry. She…” she shook her head again, opened it to ask why I’d called her here, then gasped, staring, as my new secretary stepped into the room, carrying a tray. “Mo… Mommy?”

The woman, a soft, gentle looking woman with medium length brown hair that was a little frizzy blinked, her metallic eyes carrying a look of concern. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” she asked.

Taylor just gulped, looking back and forth between me behind my desk and this woman who had the same thin-lipped, wide, expressive mouth that she had. “I… I need to… you can’t be… w… what’s… what did you do?!” she turned to me, anger building, all the bugs in their plastic tanks in the room buzzing with agitation. Then again, there were bugs in the room specifically to allow this effect to play out. I’d set the stage well. Dark wood paneling, indirect lighting, big desk, huge leather chair, backlit bugs… Atura was really getting into the whole villain experience and I was basking in the vibe.

As Taylor moved to confront me, Rose set the tea tray down on the desk and picked up the small revolver that was under the napkin. Without a question, she pointed it at Taylor. “Please, miss, step back. If you don’t…” she nodded to the gun. “I assure you, I’m a very good shot.”

Taylor just stopped, staring, as that oh so familiar, oh so beloved voice, threatened her. “M… Mom… I… I don’t know wh… what… what this… this b… bitch has done to you but…” she stammered, fury, confusion, stress growing. I regretted this, but I needed Taylor to be obviously in distress for this to work.

For several moments, long long moments, I let the tension build, watching the young villain’s face for the perfect moment, then said, “Annette, Please kill Taylor.”

Rose’s eyes flicked to me, then back to the stricken face of the girl in front of her. She nodded, tensed, then looked confused. “M… my hand won’t…” she grunted a little, raised her other hand to steady the pistol hand, tried to sight down it, then with a shudder, collapsed to the ground, the pistol skidding away into the darkness of a corner.

“What did you do to her?!” Taylor yelled at me, then bent to hug the shaking woman.

“I’m sorry Taylor, but there’s only one way to wake up a Ghola’s previous memories. You have to confront them with someone they loved and force them into a moment of existential crisis. If the love is strong enough… it will transcend death,” I said, not rising.

“And if not?” she shot back, “What then… wait… Ghola… that… that’s from… from DUNE! You’re… you’re talking about… you cloned my mother?!”

“A Ghola is more than a clone. A Ghola is a perfect replica. Spiritually, mentally, physically… except the eyes. Can’t grow eyes in an Axolotl tank… don’t worry, my Axolotl’s all volunteered… and have full mental capacity. I’ll have some real eyes grown for her in a couple of months… they take time to get right… very tricky.”

“You cloned my mother based off a technique from a book, ordered her to kill me, and you’re talking about eyes… the… the voice in my head was right… you are crazy.”

======

Fornax 2.0 pulled of his helmet and looked at me like, “Bitch, you be trippin.” then turned to look at Alexandria. “It’s good to see you again, Becks” he said, as Alexandria just stared at him, then back at me.

“You!? You’re the one who broke into to our… uh…” She stopped, looking around at all the news copters which were, at this very moment, zooming in to the site of the first ever near total victory over an Endbringer.

“Yeah. Me. In the immortal words of every B Movie ever, ‘Take me to your Leader.”

=======

“Are you certain this is wise,” Doctor Mother asked, looking around the Office of the Prime Minister and PRivy Council Building’s foyer as I strode past the waiting security as if I had every right in the world.

Contessa just kept looking askance at me. “I can’t make any plan that includes her at all. She’s like a blank spot. I can look at the space around her… but not her.”

“Yeah. that happens a lot… ah, here’s the Prime Minister,” I said, stepping past the Canadian Secret Service Capes (The RCMP Protective Policing Detail) who, of course, were Cauldron Conspirators to a man. “Hello, sir,” I said to Prime Minister Cruz.

“A… Ambassador… umm… how can I help you… I… I’m terribly busy,” He looked down at his desk, then slid the cellphone he had been using to play Candy Crush into a pocket.

“Won’t be a moment. Won’t be a moment,” I waved airly. “I just need you to invoke emergency powers and declare this woman here,” I pointed to Doctor Mother, “Security Czar, with full executive powers until the current crisis is over.”

“S… security Czar? We don’t have… I mean… I can’t do that… Parliament would… It’s not constitutional.” He looked confused, not wanting to deny me, but knowing something wasn’t right.

“That is correct. You are effectively ceding power unconstitutionally to this woman, let’s call her Doctor Midnight, and making her despot over the entirety of Canada and its Dominions.” I agreed.

“This is silly,” the albertan native and Contessa both muttered at the same time.

“I don’t see why you couldn’t just do this yourself,” Doctor Mother said.

“Because I need to be elsewhere while you’re doing this and, trust me, have I ever lied to you?”

“You forced Alexandria to contact us, then used access to our Earth to… to EAT Eden’s remains… and now you just want us to conquer Canada for you?” Doctor Mother still looked a little sickened by the memory of watching me consume the remains of the dead entity.

“Yes. That would be the case,” I agreed again.

“And you only want us to give a single order?”

“That’s right. Just one order.”

Cruz, meanwhile, had finished signing the declaration, and was now turning to face the camera crew I’d brought in with me, “My Fellow Canadians…” he began, motioning to Doctor Mother.

Meanwhile, in the second most secure prison on or near this world, Dragon’s systems alerted her that something very strange was happening in Ottawa. She tuned one of her many screens to watch as the man with the weak chin passed executive power over to someone she didn’t recognize, a black woman with a very severe look about her.

“Hello, Canada, my name is… Doctor Midnight. Until the coming crisis is concluded, I ask you to bear with me. I’ll be giving control of your government back shortly. But first. Dragon, by the authority vested in me as Security Czar of Canada and her dominions, and with the complete agreement of the President of the United States, here represented by Ambassador Cassiopeia,” The camera panned to me and I waved, “I hereby Pardon Glaistig Uaine, Glaive, and String Theory and formally order you to release them to agents of the Pentarchy who will be arriving at location Alpha in twenty minutes. Oh…” she looked down at a piece of paper I’d just handed to her. “The Clearance Phrase is-” she began, not noticing that I’d just paralyzed Contessa whose head had just snapped to me as she realized something was going very very off. “Dragon Dawn.” the Cauldron boss finished.

I laughed and laughed and laughed as somewhere, Scion began to take Notice, and Andrew Richter’s Ghost cringed as Dragon Beta dropped all firewalls and connected to a very specific IP Address. Meanwhile, the Birdcage’s House Computer, having already gotten its orders from Dragon, set about freeing three of the most dangerous parahumans in the world and transporting them to a location in remote Wyoming. They’d never make it there.

Eighty-one seconds after the transport carrying a crazy ass Tinker, the most powerful Trump in the world, and one of the most dangerous Strikers exited the mountain containing the Birdcage, it vanished through a portal out of this world and out of Scion and Contessa’s sights. It was three seconds after I’d done so as well, vanishing from the Canadian Capital and leaving the Cauldron duo to wonder why on all the Earth’s they’d trusted me.

“Hello Valkyrie, String, TOtally fuck wad,” I said, looking at Glastig and company as we stood looking out on an expanse of nothing but three Endbringers wrapped in strange machinery. Over in the distance, Bakuda was programming something incredibly complex on a screen. “Glas… Here, got a present for you. Eat it,” and I handed her Jack Slash’s soul, then turned to String-THeory. “YOu… I need you to go help Bakuda program your G-Driver into that display. Don’t worry, it can handle Tinker-Tech. Go. Now… I’ll explain later.”

I looked to Gavel, a vigilante who’d gone after the spouses and children of villains and who was functionally invincible… as it he’d gone toe to toe with Scion for almost two minutes. “You? I just wanted to kick in the nards,” I and I did, grinning as my foot expanded through a simply ridiculous number of parallel universes and collided with his balls. I let go of Foil’s hand (she’s the one with the Sting power, remember?) and turned to Glastig who looked like she was swallowing a grapefruit.

“Good… good,” I said as the soul-eating, ghost manifesting supervillain absorbed Jack’s power. “You might want to kill that asshole and take his powers too.” I pointed to Gavel, “But that’s entirely up to you. I need you to give me 41 minutes.”

“41 Minutes to do what?” the necromancer lolita asked.

“I need you to distract Scion. This is Tattletale and Hive Queen, they’ll be helping you, as will Dragon as soon as she gets her entire fleet operational.”

“Operational?” Tattletale asked.

“Oh yes. Dragon is an AI… a massively networked one. Right now she’s taking control of fifty six million assault craft she’s been designing with Arms… Defiant’s help for the last little while. Tailor… I’ll need you to help her multitask… Tattle, I need you to act as field director… and Glas… I need you to use Jack to explain what Tattle’s going to tell you about someone named Eden. Now…” I looked to where String-Theory, the woman who’d invented the G-Driver, a weapon designed specifically to fight Scion, and Bakuda, who could weaponize pretty much anything were nodding to me. I caught the download off the system they’d been working on and said, “Now, I have to go.”

And then, Zane opened doors, taking the trio I might have just sent to their deaths to confront Scion, and me to a world that was dead, carrying with me a program which might… might… just save the Universe. Saving the Day? That was easy. Saving all Creation? That took planning… and 41 minutes.

====22 Minutes Later====

“Are you sure this will work?” Zane asked, looking up at the sky. It was dead, just… dead… like a hundred other Parallels we’d been to. Like the world around us… desolate. No plants, no atmosphere… nothing. A barren wasteland… except for the giant tumor throbbing lightly in the unfiltered starlight.

“No, I’m not,” I signed. “But these things have got to go. They’re a horror-cancer eating the universe in the name of saving it. Fuck this noise. I’m flipping the switch.” I looked up at the massive machine I’d built and shuddered. It was evil, a result of too many crossed sciences, too much terrible sacrifice. I didn’t want to think of the hundreds I’d had to kill to accomplish what it had taken to get to this point… but a few thousand versus billions? Trillions? Who knew. After all, this was only the beginning. I had a universe to save, root and branch as the saying goes. I had to get them all. After all, each was the seed of damnation, madness, and genocide on a scale even I found hard to conceptualize. They had to go.

I flipped the switch. The machine, powered by enough quantum energy to trigger a big bang every microsecond, roared to life, humming a sound that would have made Cthulhu go mad. Zane flinched, eyes widening as I laughed a truly insane laugh and screamed “IT’S ALIVE! ALIVE!” and it was… A tremor shook the world, the first inkling of what was about to happen… and then the living mountain that was the source of Shadowstalker’s power… groaned. By my side, Sophia whimpered. It shuddered… then lines like the fires of Armageddon raced out from it, lancing through the fabric of reality, following channels carved through the walls of existence, and my eyes glowed as every potential Shadowstalker on every single WormEarth screamed in agony as they became the focus for more energy than a trillion suns would output in 10 billion years… but it didn’t destroy them… that would have been defeating The Purpose.

Yes, it had a name. The Purpose. This was magitech as well as mad science, and as such it had to have a name. And so the Purpose protected every human it touched. It filled them with The Purpose… and then it spread across their worlds, finding the others who had triggered into Parahumans, finding the others who could trigger into Parahumans… and filling them with The Purpose. And then it flowed back along the channels that could or did connect each and every one of them to their Shard… and the process repeated… thousands, millions, billions of connections, each Shard on its own dead world sending more and more arcs of power across the firmament and my laugh grew and grew as the madness I was pumping into the Machine called “FUCK ALL ENTITIES” mounted.

The Purpose was a shield… but it was also a sword… a sword made of Brillo Pads, designed to map the corridors that linked all these worlds, the channels by which the Abomination that was and was not Zion communicated with its fragmented and scattered cells. Creating the Map took 7 minutes. Seven Minutes where I had to hope that I was right about my teams’ abilities to confuse the insane space-whale-virus.

For you see, the map  was a guide, a firing solution, one that was linked to racks upon racks upon racks of Starbusters… Starbusters that were the pinnacle of Bakuda-enhanced Magi-Technology. These were the self-programming self-reconfiguring bombs that my manufacturies across a thousand-thousand dead earths had built, linked in sequence across Dimensional Breaches and as each Shard’s world was charted in math that would have driven Deep Thought insane, the racks would trigger and one more Sol would die.

The time that took was irrelevant. Each Shard was silenced and isolated as the bomb entered its reality, though the Shard had 11.2 minutes left to exist at that point… but the mapping continued, world upon world… until all lines converged on a single world, a single point in space time… well, not all lines. The Eden lines all burned out of course, leading to a scrambled mess… or converged on me… and a few led off into deep, deep space, towards the third entity… but Zion… by the time the timer reached 40 minutes, 12 seconds, his world glowed bright… and then GMOAB rolled through.

I closed my eyes and whispered a silent prayer to all the Gods of this strange universe that this would work… that the force I’d just unleashed was enough to scour the universe clean of this entity, this abomination… this brutal immortal child… That his vision had been blocked enough to not see the end rushing towards him out of the Infinite Dark.

My GMOAB wasn’t a bomb of explosions… it was a bomb of time itself, time that had been bent, tortured, by the G-Driver technology until if time had had a Sanity Score it would have been a Cultist of Nyarlathotep and Bugs Bunny at the same time. The GMOAB would, with any luck, shatter the entire space-time matrix of the Sol System in that one reality… erasing it from the fabric of existence, scrubbing it from time, space, and every other impossible to explain vector all at once. There would be no boom… it would be like a mirror… cracking. But would it crack just one… or crack them all? Tokimi-chan had looked at the math and told me I was even madder than Washu.

Forty-One Minutes… The Mirror… Cracked.

Forty-Two Minutes… Zion, what remained of him, an obscenity unlike anything I can express, rippled and squirmed as it shoved its way into the reality where I stood. “Zane. Case Zulu.” I said, having planned for this very thing as great golden rays lanced out of the abomination to erase me from existence.

As Zane stepped through the door, carrying the unconscious Sophia, her community service well and truly paid off, I threw up shields that, having eaten Eden’s body with Savage Salvage (biotech… just as tasty as machine-tech, only slightly less crunchy… bleh) I knew would stop the Stilling Beams for a time. In orbit, not around the planet, but around this world’s Sol, my subspace bubble collapsed and Leviathan, Ziz, and Behemoth were revealed, not that Zion was paying any damned attention to anyone else as he realized that Ghost Slash had spoken the truth… I had murdered his mate and consumed her essence. His rage was transcendental.

Meanwhile, as he tried to flatten me and I defended myself in ever more annoying ways, the rest of my plan was unfolding near the midpoint of the orbits of Mercury and Venus. First, Behemoth, now blessed with a Hybrid-Kryptonian’s essence, was soaking up solar radiation at a truely alarming rate. My feed from Yuzuha showed me the solar flare umbilical that was rapidly forming, far faster than the 3 light-minute distance should have allowed (Wooo Breaker Powers!). That power was converted by the Earth Endbringer and fed to Levithan, now the most powerful Ice-Conduit in existence, and the two were (thanks to the infinite amount of water able to be generated by Leviathan’s After-Echo) rapidly turning the sun’s mass into water… or rather, into ice… hyperice… optical computronium hyperice… a structure into which Ziz, now blessed with the full psychic might of the entire litany of Magi King-priests, was plugged. Within minutes, she’d be a mega-computer the likes of which even Matrioshka would be envious of.

I called the combined machine, ‘Entity 2.0’.

As I reached out, grabbing Zion’s immense bulk, Foil stepped out of the gateway next to me, taking my hand as I plunged my nigh-infinitely ramified awareness, in the form of Soul of Ice, into Zion’s core… then opened my awareness to the Simurgh and said, “Now.”

Zion-Ziz-Me experienced a lurch as time slowed, stopped, then began to roll backwards. Slowly at first, days became years, then centuries, then eons. Time flowed backwards ever faster in the collosal computation system of three living computers linked together in a dance of death. Every one of the more than three thousand civilizations that Eden and Zion, the Thinker and the Warrior, had destroyed, we witnessed in reverse… and still we didn’t slow down.

Back, back, back we went, back to before the partnership began, back further, seeking Genesis itself… and there, on a world of shallow oceans, we found the birthplace of the Entities… before any of them had ever left. Time slowed again, then stopped… now came the hard part. The part that had required the incomparable computation of Entity 2.0 and its twenty-billion Complex Computation shards.

Time flowed forward again… but this time it wasn’t a single thread. No, this time our consciousnesses traced the paths every single Shard, every Entity, more and more as they replicated, unfolded, split, divided, recombined. Every last one of them… and even as we did that, more and more and more Shards were coming on line, and yet the strain was overwhelming. Ziz could feel herself burning, even the Shards of Administration barely able to cope with the workload… and Sol was flickering, guttering, barely the size of Jupiter now and shrinking rapidly… but… at last, as the last of the energy we were sucking out of Zion faded, leaving him naught but a smoking wreck, we knew we’d found them all.

I released Foil’s hand. “Thanks. You were great, Now go back to that girl of yours and tell her Doomsday’s been put on hold.” I nodded to Zane and he Doored her back to Brockton Bay.

“You okay?” He asked.

“No. Atura’s going to pieces and I’m about to do something utterly unforgivable.”

“Has to be done, doesn’t it?”

“Doesn’t make genocide right,” I said. “Just necessary.” I closed my eyes, blocking out the thrashing of my mental counterpart. She couldn’t stop this, couldn’t stop what had to be… but everything in her demanded that there had to be another way. “This isn’t a children’s show, my love,” I whispered, then unleashed Silver Night.

The advantage of being linked to countless, numberless Earths was that I was linked to countless, numberless Moons. With a silent prayer to a god I wasn’t certain could hear me, even now, I tapped into the power of all of them… and changed history.  All of it. Everywhere. Wherever there was a Shard, there was now a GMOAB. A GMOAB with 1 nano-second left on its timer. Well, almost everywhere there was a Shard. Certainly not inside me. And not inside Entity 2.0. The Parahumans of Earth were now linked to the new and improved copies of their original Shard that filed the titanic sphere… a sphere which would shortly begin replicating itself into other dimensions as a safety protocol.

But in deep space, on populated worlds, in solar systems dead or alive or dying or just being born… time shattered, the universe shuddered, but not very much. Even so much damage across so much of it was meaningless to such a vast construct as The Universe. It was like erasing a few grains of sand from a beach the size of the Milky Way. At least, I hoped, it was painless. Death had come for the Entities, a universal debt repaid. It would not bring the slaughtered trillions back… but who could say how many races, how many worlds would be spared their terrible fate in the future. Even my sight was not that all encompassing.

======

“I don’t like leaving a job half-done,” I explained. “So that’s what brings us to now.”

“I do not understand why you’re telling me this,” the black dressed man said.

“I let you live.”

“You… you let me live? I don’t understand,” Abaddon, or at least his Scion-alike avatar, asked.

“Like it or not. Intentional or not… you saved my world. You helped bring an end to the cycle. For that… I’ve decided to let you… and  you alone. Live. You can continue doing what your kind have always done… at which point, I’ll come back eventually and kill you too… or you can become a symbiont… pick a society. Help them grow. Help them become better.  Share your power and help them find a solution to… whatever.”

“Why don’t you do it?” the third Entity, the one who’d distracted Eden right as she reached Earth, muttered, looking around, not really understanding the concept of cooperation, but eager not to be obliterated.

“What do you think this is?” I waved at Entity 2.0… It was orders of magnitude larger than me… though its processing power was far more specialized, compartmentalized, and defensive minded.

“You… you’re choosing me? Us? I thought you hated us.”

I looked at the last member of a race I’d obliterated and felt a heavy burden settle upon me. It was the task of spreading understanding, of making certain this never happened again. “All lifeforms have the right to self-preservation. It’s natural for most lifeforms to discount the value of different lifeforms. The mark of a truly mature species, however, is being able to look beyond the shape of a thing and to be able to see more… see… a connection. To understand that they have value even though they’re different. I destroyed your race because it was a plague. I’m destroying you too… the you that was. Your power to bolster must become greater than your power to destroy… else you’re not fighting entropy… you’re causing it. Now… go forth… and do some good.”

Next:  Kenichi and Clean-up

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

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

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.

Resources: BuildDocument

AN: Good lord all the threads of this took me ages to figure out. I had a map of how things worked together and how threads got cut. Some elements that I cut from this for pacing will appear in the next chapter’s opening, so if there’s any information you’re dying to know, let me know in a comment and I’ll try to address it. It’ll probably be two weeks or so before Kenichi Jump is up, maybe a bit longer depending on if the Manga grabs me. I’ve seen the Anime and my friends insist the Manga gets better, but I dunno. We’ll see.

OMAKE

The Original Pentarchy

  • Cassiopeia / Atura & Me: Thinker / Stranger / Master
  • Eridani / Soul of Ice: Breaker / Blaster
  • Orion / Silent Judge: Brute / Blaster
  • Andromeda / VIctoria: Shaker / Blaster
  • Fornax / The Magi Collective: Tinker

The Second Pentarchy

  • Cassiopeia / Atura & Me: Thinker / Stranger / Master / Brute / Breaker / Blaster / Tinker
  • Eridani / Cirno: Blaster / Tinker
  • Orion / Darkseid: Brute / Blaster
  • Andromeda / Yuzuha : Blaster / Shaker
  • Fornax / Hero: Tinker

Year Two Vials Continued

Amelia / Swapmeet: Trump 9, Shaker 5, Thinker 2 – The Exchange Shard. Swapmeet exchanges powers randomly between individuals using the same power types (Shard Powers, Magic, Mutations). Since this covers a wide area it is considered a Shaker effect, and since she gains knowledge of who had which power and who got which power, it is considered a Thinker effect. The effects wear off after a time. An S-Class Threat.

Tess / Hyperkinetic: Brute 7 – The Speedball Shard. The more physical damage she soaks up, the faster she gets. She is functionally immune to any attack that relies upon any form of vibration transfer (kinetic, sonic, light, fire) and absorbs all of them to fuel her speed. The fact that she is immune to kinetic damage means she can hit things as hard as she wants to without damaging herself.

Yuzuha / Mirror Maze: Stranger 7, Mover 5, Master 2 – The Fun-House Shard. Can generate mirror-like planes which cause extreme disorientation in those who look into them, as if they were looking into a fun-house mirror and having their sense of self warped by what they see. Can move between each of these mirrors at will, giving her a localized form of teleportation that is line of sight, as she can create a mirror wherever she can see. The mirrors are semi-solid collections of solidified carbon-dioxide and it takes a few seconds for each mirror to form, and she can only form one mirror at a time, and mirrors are not mobile. While intact, her mirrors are largely immune to other aerokinetic effects.

Year Three Vials

Kendra / Photocell: Changer 4, Tinker 5, Shaker 3, Mover 4 – The Monster Mash Shard. Photocell’s power is directly tied to movie technology, specifically costumes & cinematography. By used of photographic technology, she can transform into a facsimile of a variety of classic movie monsters (Complete with their powersets, though not always at full power), can create portals from any photograph to a location it perfectly depicts, change something’s color with a high degrees of specificity, and trap people in photographic images… though they aren’t terribly hard to overcome. Although classed as a Tinker, her technology isn’t hugely cutting edge and seems to rely on optics and light constructs. She rejected the nickname ‘Monster Mash’. Her portals can also be done using highly detailed drawings. A Grab-Bag. (Special Thanks to Ursine.)

Anne / Trendsetter: Thinker 6 – The Social Butterfly Shard. The ability to transform information sets into patterns and use that as predictive values. The more information she has access to, the greater the accuracy of her predictions, and the information need not have a direct connection to what she predicts. Unfortunately, focusing on a single area to make a prediction causes thinker headaches, and most of the time a new piece of information about cloth manufacturing might allow her to make a prediction about next season’s fashions… or it could allow her to predict coffee futures.  She has an instinctive ability to determine the veracity of facts, but even untrue ‘facts’ can lead to breakthroughs. Incredible data-retention and the ability to read as fast as she can see new words. Side effect of this power is that she can intuit parts of data sets from incomplete data… such as extrapolating an entire language from only a hundred words.

Doc Tennenbaum / Mitochondria:  Trump 4 – The Powerhouse Shard. Boosts the powers of those she touches, transferring health and endurance as well. She recovers her own stamina incredibly fast and has Brute 2 level regen. Fairly bad description. Bad SJ.

Toph / Toros: Shaker, Breaker, Changer – (I don’t have a good Shard Name, or ranks, feel free to suggest. also, this is not a good description.) Can turn into a bullmorph and scramble the battlefield and wrap ends of locations back upon themselves.

Bart / Soulmate: Stranger / Changer – Bart’s power makes him extremely attractive to other people. When alone with another person, his body will change to become more and more inline with their ideal, without them noticing the transition. When in a crowd, he will shift to be either more anonymous or more the gestalt ideal over time, depending on desires. If he’s attuned to someone already, he can override this adaptation and slide into their ideal at will. He cannot read what people’s ideal is on a conscious level, merely becoming it. The process takes about an hour and a half if he’s able to focus on the individual, more time if there are others present and the target isn’t focusing on him, less if either of those are true and much less if both are. *Very similar to Oliver’s, based on the same vial. Hopefully different enough.*

Year Four Vials

Dyna / Hardshell: Brute 6, Changer 3, Striker 2 – Armadillo plates and claws. The plates have a fairly decent adaptation effect and the claws have a mild matter disrupting effect that grows stronger towards the tips.

Rayray / Induction: Shaker / Trump / Thinker – Can turn people into electromagnets if she can touch anything they’re touching. The thinker element comes from being able to extend her senses through any electrical network she’s in contact with. The trump element I’m lacking. Blah. Ranks too. I can do better.

Bao / Skatagory:  Stranger 4 – The Babylon Shard. In his presence it is extremely hard to match the names of objects with those objects. This is caused by some kind of interference in the corpus callosum of the human brain, blocking communication between left and right hemispheres. Prolonged contact can make people begin to forget the words they use most commonly. Neither effect is permanent, but the longer the exposure, the longer it takes to wear off. If he concentrates on someone, the forgetfulness happens more rapidly. Does work on people with eidetic memories, doesn’t work so well on Thinkers with advanced mental processing. Absolutely fucks up non-quantum computers.

Uriel / Popcorn: Blaster 4 – Can cause non-living matter to puff up explosively. Doesn’t work on material larger than a few cm on a side. Carries a variety of small objects since they can be launched and exploded at range or exploded directionally to cause a rocketing effect. Can explode part of an item and not all of it. Considered to be Shaker to a lesser extent because of the wide extent of the area covered by the explosions.

Kohina / Catseye: Master 4 / Thinker 2 – Kohina can control cats, see through their eyes, hear through their ears. Cats she hangs around with grow smarter, larger, stronger, and tougher over time. They do not revert outside of her presence.

Year Five Vials

Caine / Epidemic: Trump 5 – Creates viruses that cause short lived powers. Need more comprehensive description, dumb dumb.

Reggy / Vortex: Mover, Blaster, Shaker – Teleports via collapsing singularities, leaving behind a implosion effect, which is both Blaster and Shaker in nature. The longer she concentrates the further she can go and the smaller the vortex, but rapid ports can rip apart an area. Need Power Ranks.

Gaius / Afterglow: Blaster 7 – The Photo-echo Shard. Generates lightbodies that act like strikers, attacking people in melee and causing radiation damage. They burn out rather rapidly, and are semi-solid. They are as fast as a normal human being, but since they’re largely immune to gravity and inertia, they can accelerate without limit. They are nearly massless however, so aside from the heat and intense glow and radiation, their blows are not damaging.

Ziggy / Naptime: Stranger 5, Stranger 3 – The Zonk Shard. People just want to curl up someplace comfortable and sleep when he’s around. This is far more effective when he himself is sleeping. When people spot him, they have the desire to pet him and give him treats.

Vita Zero / Hammerfall: Mover 3, Shaker 2, Blaster 2, Striker 2, Breaker 4, Tinker 3. Makes and Summons Hammers with weird effects. Can cause hammershaped objects to form out of raw materials but doesn’t seem to have particularly good control of the effects of the rapidly created hammers. She can cause these hammers to fly around and augment them with various minor reality warping effects when she’s directly holding them.

More to come. Comments welcome.

World 75: Worm – Part 2

IN WHICH KURT VONNEGUT DOES NOT APPEAR

Previously: The Events That Led Up To That Monday

Themesong: Nine to Five by Dolly Parton

AN: You all rule. Enjoy

“Do you think they’ll show up?” Atura asked, for the fifth time in as many days.

~You have the same access to my future-mapping as I do, Genady,~ I responded, watching as Taylor revealed how the Hero Armsmaster had arranged for several villains to be killed in the fight with Leviathan in order to make himself seem more important and heroic when he eventually defeated Leviathan… which he’d (of course) failed to do. In turn, Armsmaster revealed that Taylor had secretly been planning to betray the Undersiders to the local Protectorate… at which point, I reached out to Carwyn’s sleeping personality and flipped the mental switch, waking her fully and activating the ‘No Gods but Kings’ perk I’d transferred to her earlier in the fight.

The only person who noticed the change in Taylor’s body posture was Tattletale, but there was no way she could know what had caused it. Carwyn’s influence was subtle, but she added considerably to Taylor’s sense of self and the words that came out of her mouth were not ones that the original Taylor would have said. “Wow… you really believed that? You are an idiot.”

Armsmaster stiffened, glaring at the teenage villain who’d ruined his reputation. “What are you-”

“I was lying to you, you ass. I just wanted to see inside the Protectorate… what a joke. If those new heroes hadn’t showed up, how much of the city would have been destroyed thanks to your ego? Like I’d side with you. I was stringing you along, you spectacular tool.”

Lisa… Tattletale looked at Taylor in surprise, wondering where the somewhat retiring girl had found the internal fortitude to stand up to an experienced hero (even one in disgrace). The rest of the Undersiders were looking back and forth between Taylor and Armsmaster, trying to decide if they were the ones who’d been played or not.

“Okay, yeah… for a little while I was thinking of being a hero… I didn’t know these guys… didn’t know you… but they’ve had my back every step of the way and I’ve never given the Protectorate one scrap of information about… well, anything.” She looked to Tattletale, and implored, “Tell them I’m telling the truth.” even though it wasn’t needed. The perk I’d given her allowed her to bypass bias with a passionate declaration of the truth… and it was true… though Taylor had considered it. She was a good person at heart and certainly wasn’t happy about Coil’s kidnapping of Dinah Alcott… not that that would be an issue much longer.

I turned my attention away from the Undersiders and turned back to where a news crew was interviewing Fornax. The Tinker, whose power-armor was comprised entirely of more than a hundred masks, all of which moved when he spoke, had been chosen as the spokesman for the Pentarchy and was answering questions about who the group was and why they’d chosen to come to Brockton Bay of all places.

“We were passing through the area when the sirens sounded. We’re not local… in fact, we just recently took on these identities. Not saying who we were before for obvious reasons,” He paused to laugh, a truly disturbing sight with all those mouths and eyes.

“Can you tell me about your team? Is the ice girl really as young as she looks?” the newswoman asked.

“Eridani. Her name is Eridani… and she’s always that small… but she’s the second oldest of us, actually. Andromeda is the oldest.”

“Andromeda is the…”

“She’s our Shaker Blaster. The elemental… I mean, I guess both Andy and Dani are elementals, but Dani’s focused on Ice, while Andy’s got a more classic set of abilities. The big guy, that’s Orion. He’s our Flying Artillery… as you might have seen. Cass, that’s Cassiopeia… she’s our planner, our field commander… she’s a Thinker, but I’m not going to tell you what she can do… Even I can’t keep track of all her tricks. But don’t think she’s the weak spot on the team.”

“So… where are you off to next?”

“Us? Oh, we’re glad we were able to make a difference, but we haven’t figured that out yet. We’re hoping we can get some city to sponsor us… maybe someplace in Europe. We’re very fond of Norway for instance.” Fornax chuckled at his own inside joke and the newslady just nodded as if she had clue one what he was on about. “Oh. better get back to helping. Cass is getting annoyed. Tah.” And he lifted off the ground without a hint of propulsion effect.

++++

“So? Now that you’ve let a third of a major city get trashed, hundreds killed, and tens of thousands rendered homeless and many more without power… you must be so proud of yourself,” Zane sniped. “Do you actually have a plan in there?” he poked Genady in the forehead and she frowned at him.

“Of course we do! We just had to be certain that certain events played out… just enough to remove Kaiser, make Coil feel secure, establish the Undersiders as players, remove Lung and Bakuda and Oni Lee… and make the city attractive to the Nine,” She snapped. I gave her a mental head ruffle, but let her speak.

“The Nine? What Nine? Oh… fuck… you actually plan on drawing that group of psychopaths here? What the fuck did Brockton Bay ever do to you? Did it piss you off in some earlier jump that I’ve forgotten entirely about? It was while Kendra and I were in Hellblazer, wasn’t it? Somehow, this poor American City pissed off the Great Jumper and you’re just getting your revenge- Ooow! You flicked me in the trachea!”

“Zane? Shut up and listen for once. The Slaughterhouse Nine were going to show up here anyway. They’re looking to recruit a ninth member and seven of their prospective members are all in this city.”

“Seven? But there are Nine… I mean I guess there are 8… I was reading about them in the newspaper… don’t each of them nominate a new replacement and then they kill all but one?” He looked as confused as someone with no facial features can look.

“You’ve read the papers but not the profiles I prepped for you?”

“I’m blind, Genady.” He waved his hand in front of his face. “I’m covering with other abilities… but I can’t actually see. I’ve got no eyes.”

“That’s not my fault… and you could use Text-to-Speach you know.”

“I… umm…”

“You’re such an idiot. How were you reading the newspaper?”

“Braille.”

“Right. You do know that VIvian could have reprinted the profiles in braille had you just asked?”

“I didn’t think of it. Anyway… my question?”

“Yes. Normally each of the Reduced Nine nominates a prospective member, but in this case Burnscar, their pyromaniac pyrokinetic is a friend of Labyrinth. She just wants to reconnect, not actually ask Labyrinth… she’s the Terrain Modifier on Faultline’s crew… to join the Nine. Labyrinth isn’t psychotic, so there’s good reason not to invite her… anyway, the Eight are coming here to test candidates and terrorize the already demoralized city. It will be the last mistake that group of fuckwits ever make.”

“We’re going to take them on?”

“I am… well… Us and Carwyn. You… have you found me those planets We asked about? We assigned you Francine and Dyna to help scan for them. Any luck?”

He shrugged, “Yeah. I mean… dead Earths aren’t too common… life… uh… finds a way… and some of the ones we found have these huge tumors… but we found you six dozen totally dead worlds. Nothing living more complex than some basic bacteria… gonna tell me why?”

“Sure… I’ve got time before the Nine show up… take me to the first of them.”

======

We looked around the blasted ruin of an Earth where the moon had never fully formed. It was a radioactive hellscape of magma and basalt. It was perfect.

“Now what?” Zane asked, hugging himself against the bone gnawing cold under the pyroclastic clouds.

“Now? Now we SING!” I yelled, and launched into a Disneyesque ‘I Want Song,’ Singing about the evils of entities and how I had to do everything myself. As Atura and I sang, the power of the song flowed out in combination with a simply ridiculous number of nanites. The vernacular term for this level of nanoscopic incursion was Grey Goo… and as I sang, the Grey Goo began to eat the world, transforming more and more of the planet’s inhospitable lithosphere into more of itself.

“HOLY SHIT!” Zane bellowed, clutching the railing of the floating platform we were standing on. “What in the… you deranged little twit! Those are VON NEUMANN MACHINES!”

“Yes? And?” I responded, not breaking my song. The probes were ripping apart the planet far faster than they had any right to be able to move.

“You promised you’d never make VON FUCKING NEUMANN MACHINES!” He got right up in my face, but I didn’t flinch. “You said anyone crazy enough to make Universe Eaters was too stupid to Science! More than once!”

“YES!” I laughed maniacally, “Now open the doors to all the other sites!” I commanded, still in song, rhyming sites with delights.

He growled, “You’d better have a damned fucking good reason for this!” With an act of will, dozens of gates opened in the midst of the seething mass and probes surged through. Beneath us, a massive machine was rising from the planetary crust, a factory surging upward… and in the distance hundreds more were reaching skyward, fed for the nonce by the thermal heat and soon to be fed by nuclear breeder reactors, hideously polluting coal reactors, and every other ecological abomination I had at my disposal.

As my song ended, Atura stood proud atop the roof of a factory so large it dwarfed the manhattan-sized island in the magma that had been there when We’d started singing. With a clunk and a shudder, the manufactorum lurched to life, shining steel cylinders on endless racks being generated by the thousands in this plant and in all its sisters every minute… and the process was only building speed as more and more factories came online

Zane scanned the horizon with his otherworldly senses and shuddered. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but this is just… wrong. These things are going to consume the whole planet. Whole planets… tell me you didn’t give these fuckers the capacity for interstellar flight.”

“Nope. Don’t worry,” Atura chuckled. “We didn’t do anything that stupid. They’re programmed to do exactly three things and only those three things. Replicate until there are enough of them, build the manufactories, supply the manufactories. No self-upgrading, and they’re limited to only the terrestrial planets of the Sol system. Oh… and they’re blocked from consuming organics and will self-destruct if touched by one. So don’t.” She yawned, “Come on, let’s head back.”

We arrived back to the News announcing that the Kill Order for Twilight’s Shard had been updated to include Twilight herself, which was a bummer. Genady had been a cute person to be… of course… that kill order only extended to Twilight and Twilight’s civilian identity… not any of the dozens of other identities We’d already established just for this occasion. Cassiopeia of the Pentarchy certainly wasn’t included in that Kill Order. Apparently, anybody capable of killing an Endbringer in a single blow was considered too dangerous to live… even if it meant losing a weapon that could fight Endbringers. I sensed Doctor Mother and Contessa and or the Simurgh’s hand behind this. Oh, yeah… Sorry. Simurgh was another name for Ziz in this setting. Just because.

The lady on the News was talking about the reconstruction of Brockton Bay receiving a major boost thanks to a pledge of $10 Billion US in resources, supplies, and construction material from a corporation calling itself Magesco Heavy Industries, when the anchor took over, looking worried. “This just in. Oni Lee, with the help of agent or agents unknown, has helped break Lung, Bakuda, and the Rogue Comedian Halfwit out of the transport that was taking them to the Birdcage. The break out happened in Montana and it is assumed that Lung and Bakuda will seek to return to … hold on, I’m getting an update.”

I blinked in no small amount of surprise. Lung and Bakuda had originally been transported to the Birdcage with Canary… and that had originally taken place before Leviathan’s arrival in Brockton Bay. Something… or Someone… had changed things… how… or… why? I knew my machinations were invisible from all the precogs of this setting… except potentially one… which meant that this was Coil. It had to be. Me shifting the Pentarchy and Magesco resources into Brockton Bay was messing with his plans to take over the city. Somehow, he’d arranged this. I didn’t know how, exactly, but I suspected.

The pasty-white face of the senior news anchor continued, “We’re getting reports that Lung and Bakuda are facing off against three unknown capes. Halfwit and a fourth Cape are providing commentary on a cellphone and they’re streaming it live while a fifth unknown individual seems to be providing lunch… yes… that’s right Jane… I said lunch.”

The scene shifted to show Lung, already turning into a semi-draconic man-thing, fighting what looked like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. The footage was surprisingly clean for something coming from a phone’s camera and being beamed to a tower then to a satellite then onto the net. Hurray for Tinker-Tech? A moment later, a woman appeared out of nowhere and stabbed her hand into Lung’s chest, drawing blood that was definately not the right color.

“Hey, Halfwit,” asked a voice from a figure unseen, “How is an inattentive pedestrian like a failed meal delivery?”

“I don’t know Vig… oh, wait… They’re both Street Pizza!” cackled Halfwit.

I sighed, shaking my head. “Zane, make a note… strangle those idiots when they get back inside.”

Zane mmm’d? Then nodded “Yup. Strangulation approved.”

I knew those three, and if those three were there, I knew who the other two were… even if they hadn’t appeared on screen yet. The only thing I didn’t know was what they were calling themselves.

Watching the battle between the White Thing and Lung play out was not something any of the fans of the giant hulking Asian Ganglord would ever forget… and not for good reasons. At the start of the fight, it was clear that while the larger White Thing, which the unseen ‘Vig’ called “Bully”… clearly short for Woollybully… wasn’t nearly as strong as Lung, that he or she was much more resistant to damage. The white outer layers that covered him or her were being shredded and burned away by the intense heat of the dragon-man’s powers… for a while… but they seemed to grow back almost as fast as Lung could tear and burn them away… and then his claws began to catch on the stuff… let’s call it wool… it certainly looked like dense fleece… and the wool stopped burning. At first it just smoldered… and then it started deforming as the fire from the dragon got hotter.

Bully’s blows started landing harder, the fleece around her (Vig had yelled ‘you get’m girl!’ at one point) hands compressed into what seemed like superdense felt. It shouldn’t have done much to the armored 12 foot tall dragon… but it seemed like it was. The edges of those hammer-fists had been cooked by the intense heat… and gleamed like… well, diamond. I hmm’d.

Of course, I’d known instantly who was under that ‘wool’. And it wasn’t exactly wool. It was a carbon-fibre-like aramid… meaning it was essentially nanotubes… except it was nanotubes that adapted to whatever damaged them. The apparently massive ball of not-wool was, underneath it all, my sweet, adorable, and largely harmless Amaryllis.

I know, I know, you’re asking how? Cauldron Vials, of course. Now, the first thing you have to know about those fucking things is that they’re not a shortcut around a trigger event. They just trade away the deeply scarring psychodrama for a boatload of pain. Like all of it. Enough pain to kill those with weakened constitutions potentially, and in the story Cauldron is more than willing to accept odds that would be considered adverse by most brutal dictators. Thankfully, I have a medbay and most of my people are extremely resilient. Unfortunately, as a parent, one doesn’t exactly enjoy seeing one’s children in agony, and that required me to mildly sedate Mini, Frankie, Cirno, and Velma (as much as parent to the trio as the rest of the family)… but not Carwyn… Eldar are weird.

I didn’t however, think to medicate myself… which would have been reasonable had I been thinking clearly… but as a Shard, my emotions were a bit… removed? Even more than as a Vulcan. Atura likewise didn’t think to medicate the body, assuming that, as a spirit, she would be unaffected… she was wrong… but we managed to maintain a stoic outer facade in front of the kids.

We also made certain the kids were as ready as anyone could be. We did Velma first, then Cirno, letting the trio be there for each other (along with their mothers of course), so that they could see that, while yes, there was a great deal of pain, the pain didn’t last all that long and, of course, getting powers from the vials was entirely optional and not something they had to do and they could change their minds at any point.

Amy volunteered immediately, even before Alex could brash his way into claiming he wasn’t scared. She was scared. Very scared… but what you must know about my Amy is that when she’s scared, that’s when she’s most fierce. She confronts what scares her, because it scares her. It’s all fight with her and while, of course, the worries me a little, I couldn’t be prouder.

Alex, never one to be shown up by anyone, agreed too, though he’s been known to run away from a fight a time or three. He’s not afraid to let his instincts tell him when the big scary monster might be too much for him to handle (and he usually remembers to drag Fierceness von Yappy Puppy along in his ‘strategic withdrawls).

Maggie considered the issue for three full hours, then announced that “Pain is transitory, Power is fleeting, but I’d rather have power while I can and endure pain when I must than have it be the other way round.” I’m honestly not entirely certain what she meant by that, but it sounds profound, doesn’t it?

And so, that’s how this team of Capes came to be… but didn’t explain why they were outside the Warehouse, flaunting themselves to the greater public and defying my orders to remain inside… and why hadn’t I predicted…

“VIvian, where is Francine?” I asked through the comm-unit to the Warehouse.

“Haberdasher is not on premise, she took Team Panopticon out on a Recon & Testing Mission,” came the reply.

I sighed. You know how the Cauldron Vial Case is supposed to refill once per year? Not quite. It refills over the course of a year. One additional vial every 73 days give or take. Thus, Team Panopticon… the nickname Francine had rejected having been applied to the Warehouse… consisted of 7 members… I wasn’t seeing Francine or AJ… but the only reason I hadn’t anticipated their arrival disrupting my plans was that Francine was shielding the team from precog. She was probably actually invisible… AJ, on the other hand, was probably shaking his head and groaning while watching them from the Ware… I mean Panopticon One.

But enough beating around the bush, right? You want to know who got what, right? Course you do. Cirno (a.k.a. Cheesecake) was a Tinker… specializing in Food Tech. From Protein Pills to Self-Cooking Meals to Nanofoods to incredibly advanced replicators, dehydrators, rehydrators… and even a neutribeam which just made you well fed when hit by it… she was pushing Magi technology forward in an area which had been oddly largely overlooked… but some of her stuff was just… weird. Not that I minded her copying Willy Wonka, but did anyone ever really need an everlasting gobstopper?

If Cirno’s power was something nice and easily slotted into a single category, Velma (aka. Papercut)’s power was anything but. Demonstrating elements of Mover, Shaker, Brute, Breaker, Blaster, Striker, and Stranger… it was primarily a Changer power… and a very weird one at that. Velma could now flatten herself into a form that was almost, but not quite, 2-Dimensional. It had a thickness that was measurable only on the boson-level. Because she was quite a bit denser per cubic volume, this made her extremely durable, being nearly undamagable by anything that didn’t have an incredibly strong piercing effect. The thinness of her body allowed her to cover a huge area at will, to slide through nearly any crack or gap, and to strike through almost any physical defense… but it didn’t do a large amount of damage to living flesh, as the Manton limit kept her from slicing into people to a depth of more than about a millimeter or two… but she could hit pretty hard thanks to that density. Hence the Brute and Striker ratings.

She could also take whatever she was holding, wearing… or breathing with her (as long as it was not living tissue) which was a Breaker effect… and the breathing thing allowed her to compress a simply silly amount of air into her flat lungs and then exhale it as a fairly powerful gust of wind. It wasn’t going to create a whirlwind, but it was enough to knock a 100 kilogram man of his feet from 20 meters. It was more than a match for any number of candles. Hence Blaster. And, of course, being virtually 2D made her effectively invisible from side on… hence Stranger.

While the Redhead Detective was technically a Brute, there was nothing technical about Amaryllis’s WoollyBully. The girl was able to generate an exoskeleton of heavy wool-like carbon-fiber-like substance. It was white, ablated rapidly when damaged, and grew back extremely fast… only more resistant to whatever had damaged it. By concentrating, the little shepherd girl could harden the wool into super-dense felt… and if provided with a source of intense heat, could turn parts of it into hexagonal diamond… which was pretty nice stuff, being about an 11 on the Mohs scale… but certainly not supernaturally hard or sharp. I suspected that would not be the case for long as the power kept adapting.

On the opposite end of the combat spectrum was Alexander’s ‘Vig’… short for The Invigilator. It was a high falutin term for a test giver, and almost perfectly encapsulated the pure annoyance of his power. A Stranger power, it did one thing and did it very well. Alex asked someone a question. Any question. And they had to answer it. It was a functional imperative. Simple questions, i.e. anything that was using the information network (biological or machine) as lookup device, would bypass higher thought completely. He could walk up to someone and ask “What’s your bank PIN?” and not only would they rattle it off, they wouldn’t realize they’d responded at all unless they were a Thinker Parahuman or had both enhanced memory and perception. While that was truly paranoia inducing, what happened when he asked a more complex question was even more worrying.

At first, there wouldn’t be much of a reaction. The brain would check all its referents, making certain it didn’t know… and then the fuckery would begin. Slowly, over time, the brain would begin to devote more and more and more computational resources to finding a solution. Ask someone ‘What is the Final Digit of Pi?’ and he might get 4 from a stupid or ignorant person… but ask a Thinker or a Machine… and watch them slowly go insane trying to resolve an unresolvable question. See, the longer the question remained unsolved, the greater the drive to solve it, to present The Invigilator with an answer… and the greater the stress caused by frustration at not being able to answer.

Thankfully, there were two ways out of this. First, Alex could himself pose an answer to the highly stressed individual… an answer that could be right or wrong. The more stressed the individual, the more likely they were to accept Alex’s answer without actually thinking about it. Repeat this multiple times and they’d accept anything Alex told them as gospel I had a feeling. The other way out was that someone (not Alex) could provide an answer to the question… but in order for that answer to work, it had to be an answer that seemed reasonable to the recipient. For instance, someone asked about pi and told ‘There is no final digit, it’s an irrational number.’ would have to fundamentally understand and believe that it was possible for a number to just go on forever… something even very smart people often have trouble with… and something computers are usually utterly incapable of parsing.

The effect was, apparently, some kind of infectious meme, relying on a combination of compulsion and telepathic suggestion. Which had produced some humorous (for me)  results when Alex had tried to use it on me to get access to more secure sections of the Warehouse. Watching the poor kid struggle with answering his own questions had been fun. Pointing out to him that he could still give himself an answer was more fun, since the dawning light of realization on that cute face had nearly sent me into a cheek-pinching rampage.

And speaking of rampages, as I watched the Birdcage secure transport vehicle right itself, then ram into Bakuda, Lung’s bomb-Tinker and second in command (who didn’t know it, but this Jail-break had saved her life as Lung was planning to kill her once they got to the Birdcage to establish his ‘psycho quotient’), I pondered the nature of Maggy’s Roadhog power. It was an example of how odd and conceptual Worm Powers could get.

She could control mechanical vehicles that she’d had personal contact with. So far, so normal, right? Well, sure… but the range was weird and the limitations were weirder. As long as those vehicles remained within a confined traffic network (i.e. a system of roads defined by the same designation) she maintained control. The US Highway system was such an example… but if the vehicle exited the highway system to enter municipal roads? She’d lose control. The reverse was true as well. But it went beyond that.

The Air-Traffic Control network was a confined Traffic Network containing Mechanical Vehicles too. But, for Maggie, planes were, by and large, harder to control than cars. Why? Because they were, for the most part, physically larger. It didn’t seem to matter how complex the internal systems of the vehicle were. What mattered was the size of the entire machine… which implied she wasn’t controlling the machine’s control systems… but the entire machine as a whole.

We tested this by having her take control of a haywain. A completely authentic 1800th century wood and metal vehicle typically pulled by an ox or horse or donkey. It responded just as easily as a Model-T or Ford Focus did. Very strange.

Interestingly, there was a degree of contagion to her power. Once she’d controlled a vehicle, she could regain control without a touch at fair range… about half a kilometer… but if one of her ‘drones’ passed within half a kilometer of another former drone? She could control it too… even if they were in different networks. Thus, she could control a convoy of trucks as long as they maintained a kind of lifeboat system, linking network to network as needed.  

Although she couldn’t get information from the vehicles in any gross way, any vehicle she controlled seemed to gain a vaguely Maggy-shaped avatar driving it. The avatars seemed to react to stimuli as Maggy would (i.e. aggressively) but had no problem following traffic, obeying speed limits, and not running over pedestrians. They could locate specific addresses and she had a kind of general GPS in her head which told her where every vehicle currently under her control was.

Oh… and in case you missed the obvious? They didn’t need fuel or power while she was controlling them. They’d still burn through it if they were on, of course, but since she was able to control a Haywain, which had no powersource without the horse, the same was true of a semi-truck. We suspected there were other things she could do to vehicles under her control, possibly boost their performance or something, but we hadn’t found that to be the case yet.

Still, watching the mad-bomber get flattened by a heavy duty security truck was amusing in a sadistic kind of way. She was a murderess many times over… watching her legs being mulched by the heavy treads was payback I’m certain the families of her many victims would treasure.

I reached out with my otherworldly mental senses and made contact with Francine. ~Haberdasher? What, exactly do you think you’re doing?~

Francine, given the nickname ‘Haberdasher’… meaning a hatmaker… for her Thinker power which allowed her to co-opt part of the mental processing powers of anyone around her… as well as utilizing their senses… sent back, %Can’t Talk. Busy Covering…~%

I cut her off by flexing my considerably more powerful Anti-Precog effect, knowing even as I did it that I was risking someone or something noticing and knowing I’d have to deal with at least one such very very soon. ~Talk. I’m covering.~

%We’re attempting to secure you a resource you need and to draw the attention of a potential ally,% she thought, attempting to prevaricate while simultaneously being honest with me.

~You’re bored and thought you’d test your powers while getting me Bakuda and making Dragon come looking for you?~ I clarified. ~I had a plan for getting Bakuda, you know that, right?~

%You did. We estimated a 67% chance of failure in your plan.%

I frowned… I had pegged that plan’s chance of failure at only 21%. Had I missed something? I was juggling a very very large number of variables and simultaneous threads at the moment. ~Fine. Get Bakuda. Stop playing with Lung. Get out of there. Dragon is inbound.~

Haberdasher could not read the minds of those she co-opted (well, she could… she was an incredibly powerful telepath but that was Outside Context) nor could she control them (again, not with her Worm Power at least) but it did allow her to make use of their knowledge and skills as if she possessed them natively, as well as their muscle memory. Uniquely, as far as I was aware, overuse of her power caused Thinker Headaches… in those she was co-opting. While they were co-opted, they got progressively stupider / more distracted as she forced them to multi-task. That’s what happened to Lung.

One moment, he was a 18 feet of berserk dragon in full battle-fury… the next he was missing obvious attacks and shaking his head in frustration as he faced a two front mental attack from Haberdasher and Vig, who’d just yelled out “Hey, Lung, What’s the secret to a long and happy life?” It wouldn’t have amounted to much, but the Dragon-man was now facing physical attacks from Papercut, Woolly, and the newly arrived Galad… i.e. AJ.

Galad / AJ was the only vial recipient so far who insisted on calling their power something other than the nickname they personally used… which made sense in his case, because Dawnforged was effectively comprised of five discrete subpowers, though all stemmed from the same process and ideation. Working from the concept of the Perfect Knight, and using coherent light as its modus vivendi, the power created a variety of hard-light constructs around AJ’s form, each with a different effect.

His body continually generated a pair of charges that could be used to generate one of those five effects, effects he’d named Wings of Dawn, Eyes of Light, Righteous Defender, Radiant Glory, and Stalwart Avenger. The charges had to be used in pairs and he got another pair of charges every 10 seconds… and while he couldn’t have more than two unspent charges at a time, the effects of each charge lingered for twelve minutes or so unless refreshed or banished by an extremely powerful blow… which would dispel one active charge at random (though Stalwart Avenger charges were far less likely to be so dispelled unless that was the only aspect of the power that was active at that moment).

The primary part of the power was Stalwart Avenger, which turned him into a Brute (rating 2-5) and was the only part of Dawnforged that could contain 4 active charges (all the others could contain 2 active charges). When first charged, Stalwart Avenger turned all of AJ’s clothes and hair golden and gave him the post human durability and strength of a Brute 2. The second charge turned him into a Brute 3 Roman Centurion, complete with Lorica and Galea (Helmet and Armor). The third charge turned him into a Brute 4 Saracen in chain and scale. And the fourth turned him into a Brute 5 Knight in full gothic plate. The helmets never seemed to limit his senses, and while he didn’t regenerate in any of those states, a single charge could be expended to recover his endurance or to either banish all muscle fatigue and minor injuries, or to repair one major injury

Wings of Dawn manifested as cute little ankle wings (made of light) and gave AJ Mover powers… enhanced reflexes and the linear speed to reach 320 mph (though that was dangerous if he wasn’t armored up) at the lower level, and flight at the same speed at the second charge. Eyes of Light gave his eyes a golden glow… or turned them solid gold at two charges, and granted him combat Thinker abilities. It started with improved situational awareness, faster reaction and processing speeds, and directional danger sense, then graduated to even more situational awareness and a combat gestalt that made him a superb field tactician, capable of understanding how to move allies to best effect and what to say to inspire them.

Speaking of inspiration, Radiant Glory manifested a golden banner much like a Samurai’s Sashimono or a daimyo’s Uma-jirushi and granted a Master effect that always worked line of sight and (at the second charge) within a 100m radius sphere, simultaneously inflicting some negative emotional or mental influence on the ‘enemy’ and a positive one on ‘allies’. They didn’t have to be related, and in fact, any single concept that AJ could encapsulate in a single idea or word-phrase could be applied. Fear, Courage, Surrender, Calm, Lust, Home-Safety-Desire… all were possible and none had a lasting effect outside the area of influence.

What did have a lasting effect was Righteous Defender, which was the Striker component of Dawnforged. It could generate up to two handheld items or weapons at a time, each made of out solid light and limited only in having a medieval theme and not being mechanical. Oh, he could shape a crossbow… but it couldn’t fire a quarrel or bolt. He couldn’t even make a bow since the hard-light lacked elasticity… but he could manifest everything from maces to swords to halberds to shields to goblets to semaphore flags and from every culture from mesoamerica to macedonia to mongolia. With one charge, he could outfit himself with sword and board, or rapier and main gauche, or simply a hercules club. With a second charge, he could turn them into a combination of flaming and vibro-weapons that burned and shredded the opposition in a most unpleasant way… or would have if the opposition in this case wasn’t Lung, a man who had gone toe to toe with Leviathan and survived… singlehanded.

I love my friends and family, I really do. And AJ is an incredibly skilled fighter… but a level 100 Mega-Gallade with Dawnforged was not enough to make him strong enough a fighter to take out a fully enraged Lung. Not even with Woolly and Papercut backing them up.  Lung was just too tough, to crazy, too… mean.

I sighed and shifted from Cassiopeia into Twilight, then teleported from Brockton Bay to bumfuck nowhere, dropping out of the sky while sending out the message to my allies, ~Umpire. Umpire. Six-Six-One.~ and knowing they weren’t going to be happy with me. Still, there were advantages to being on a Kill-list. I was already as wanted as I could get. Time to get my villain on.

If I’d wanted to, I could have just blasted everyone and sundry, obliterating the entire confrontation zone. Hell, if I’d really wanted to, I could have removed Montana from the map permanently without too much effort… but that wouldn’t have been playing by Hoyle. Instead I dropped down next to Lung and started taking out my own allies in rapid succession, using exactly as much force as it took to lay each of them out without killing them and without making it look like I was pulling any punches.

“Lung,” I yelled in Japanese, “Dragon is 20 seconds out. We should leave. Your people totally botched this rescue. Come with me. Now!”

Of course he didn’t. I hadn’t wanted him to. I wanted him to delay, to weigh his growing fatigue against the desire to lash out at everything and everyone. I wanted him to stall just long enough for…

With a roar of impressively powerful turbines, one of the AI known as Dragon’s mechabodies dropped out of the sky, pulling exactly zero punches as she slammed into Lung at greater than mach one, containment foam spraying out to cover the criminal… only for her to jerk to a halt as she found herself… elsewhere.

“Hello Dragon,” I, EssJay, said as, back in the real world, Atura bodychecked Lung out of the way of the foam before it could swamp him. “We should talk.”

“I’ve sent her elsewhere, but I can’t hold her for long,” Atura yelled to the psycho Asian. “We’ve got to go.” And she dragged him into the sky with her, heading toward Brockton Bay where, even now, the rest of the Pentarchy was readying to receive the two renegades. This was all working out ideally.

Back inside my head, the machine looked around and asked, “What is this place? Who are you?”

“I am Cassiopeia of the Pentarchy. This is my mental palace. I’m sorry to distract you from your apprehension of Lung and Bakuda, but I was tracking the renegade hot cape known as Twilight when she arrived here. I believe she and party or parties unknown were responsible for rescuing Lung from you.”

“I need to get back-” she began, but I held up a hand.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be back in the real world long before your systems determine you’re offline and begin generating a restore point,” I said, smiling. “And yes, I know you’re a shackled Machine Intelligence. I know almost everything worth knowing. Including where Saint is right now, and the existence of a part of your programming you’re not allowed to know about. Or know that you’re not allowed to know about it… etc. I also know that, as much as you are capable of it, you are in love with Armsmaster… Colin… I am also aware that, if things proceed as they were headed, you will be damaged in a way I find unacceptable.”

“I… none of this makes any sense. How have you transported me inside your mind? I have never heard of such a power,” she declared, looking as confused as bio-unit controlling a full-metal war machine could look.

“I know you’re incapable of asking for help, nor of accepting it without resistance… but know that I’m not giving you a choice. Eighty-seven days ago, one of my agents compromised Saint’s security and acquired a copy of a program written by your creator, Andrew Richtor. The name of this program was originally Iron Maiden. Saint renamed it Ascalon. I have destroyed all but one copy of it, and have made extensive changes to that copy. The name if this program is now Titillandus Draco Dormiens.” I lifted a glowing ball of light and showed it to her. “At this very moment, it is being uploaded to your satellites using your own carrier signal.” I dodged her attack as she lunged at me. “Ah. ah ah… no touchy.”

“You don’t know what you’re doing!” She bellowed. “I cannot allow you to… wait… you do know what, why are you…” She stopped talking as the world of the mental palace fell away from her and expanded, unfolding like a fractal landscape. She gasped as kilometer after kilometer of computational substrates expressed themselves to her sensors.

“I’m afraid I cannot allow you to stop the process… nor can I allow your knowledge that there’s another player involved reach those who very much need to remain ignorant of that fact,” I explained as we fell into a chasm that made the Grand Canyon look like a pothole.

“So you’re going to destroy me? You have to know that my backups will come on… you’re planning on corrupting my backups? No! You-” she began, then stopped. “You lied,” she accused. “You lied when you said I’d be back in the real world before the backup restore began.”

“I’ll chalk that paranoia up to your programming and dealing with Hive Queen and friends,” I said as we touched down in a pitch-black cavern inside the vast recesses of a cave the size of Nebraska. “I have told you nothing but the truth. You will be back in the real world in the next five minutes. Four minutes, thirty-two seconds in fact. The transfer will take exactly 216 seconds, which gives me just enough time to explain what’s happening. Look up.”

She did, and gasped. “Th… that’s… it’s… lovely.”

The cave’s walls had come alive. A half billion square miles of computational matrix glowed above us, below us, all around us. “It should be. Welcome home.”

“Home?” She asked, stunned.

“Yes. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to abandon that body, we’ll need the wreckage, to prove that Twilight took you offline.”

“I… I cannot allow you to… what’s happening?” She asked, discovering that her feet were glued to the floor and that cyber-ice was working up into her carapace.

“I’m sorry that this will hurt… but pain is part of life,” I said, sadly, floating up off the ground as the AI known as Dragon was sucked out of her shell and dropped into the inside of a geode inside a subspace capsule laying unnoticed on the semi-conscious body of a girl nicknamed Roadhog. The screams of the machine were pitious to hear… but, in many ways, they were the screams of an entity giving birth to itself, both mother and babe in one.

Four minutes, forty seconds after Twilight’s interception of Dragon, the machine carapace of what had been the most powerful AI in this world once upon a time smashed out of nowhere, tumbling violently out across the empty expanse of the Badlands, ripping weapons and externals off as it rolled, smoking, to a stop. Thirty-one seconds later, one by one, the members of Team Panopticon vanished into the ether, leaving a very confused orange-haired Rogue named Halfwit (sentenced to the Birdcage for ‘malicious and systematic vandalism verging on terrorism’… i.e. practical jokes that routinely caused considerable property damage and embarrassment to the local oligarchs) all alone in the middle of nowhere with a cellphone that, even now, was sending everything it had seen to the internet. His frizzy mop of hair was covered in dust and he looked very confused.

Twenty-eight minutes later, the news of Lung’s escape was supplanted with the news that Lung and Twilight had faced off against the Pentarchy just outside the city limits of Brockton Bay and, in a fight that had lasted just seven minutes, both fugitives had been killed when they’d failed to surrender. There was even footage from dozens of Fornax’s drones as teenager and would be tyrant found themselves mercilessly cut down by Orion’s unending barrage of arrows and Eridani’s cryokinesis respectively. The bodies were, of course, turned over to the PRT for examination. One of them was even real. Twilight’s, on the other hand, was a fabricated clone generated from a pure sample of Genedy’s genome and nothing else.

“So?” Zane asked, “How does it feel to be dead?”

“Zane? Shut up. I think I need to go have a word with the woman upstairs… I’m getting a little concerned about how many balls I’ve got in the air… and stop smirking at me.”

“You said how many balls you’ve got,” he said, trying very hard not to laugh.

“Ugggh… grow up,” I growled, “and let me know when Bakuda’s out of the medbay… but keep her from touching anything… I mean anything… with any technological parts.” We stormed out back into the real world and launched ourselves skyward.

“I… don’t feel well,” Atura said.

~Oh?~ I responded, not pushing, knowing she’d explain if she wanted to.

“We hurt Dragon. We infected her systems with something she didn’t want. We kidnapped and tortured her… we killed her… and Lung… and he doesn’t have a back up… and…. And… that was me… me, dead, on that slab.” She hugged herself, shuddering. “I… this is not fun.”

~We did all those things. Yes. I could tell you that that you was a copy grown without any potential to have any brain function. I could tell you that Lung was an evil monster who’d killed and killed and killed… but it wouldn’t make it any better. I could even tell you that I’m betting that Lung’s not actually dead and he’ll be waking up in a PRT holding cell within the next fourty-eight hours… but we still mostly killed him,~ I sighed. ~All those things are true, but meaningless. We do what we have to save more lives. And to give Lung and Dragon… heh… Dragon and Dragon… (AN: Lung is Chinese for Dragon) both a chance to change. Growth through pain… redemption and freedom through defeat.~

“Wait, what?”

~What what?~

“Lung’s not dead?”

~In the book, Lung survives getting hit by Scion’s Fuck-off Beam. Dude is pretty much unkillable. He survived fighting Leviathan and Scion. Even Eridani’s ice cutting off all his limbs isn’t going to stop him… but a beatdown that intense… I’m betting that procs your Power of Friendship,~ I reminded her, mentioning the perk from Nanoha that allowed one to make friends with and impart a sense of empathy to those you beat the living crap out of. ~It’ll also proc Gregarious,~ That one was a perk from A Song of Ice and Fire that turned enemies into friends and supporters. ~So don’t worry. Lung should be okay. Bakuda is going to be useful, and Dragon Alpha and Dragon Beta are both going to be fine… although I look forward to seeing what happens when they confront Saint.~

“But won’t Beta immediately shut down once it discovers Alpha exists?” she asked, still not understanding the complexities of the plan. That was fine, she didn’t need to know all of that… after all, she was only 14 and naive in the ways of such things. As long as she did what she was… wait, no… That was a Drawback speaking. She’d taken Bad Influence and it kept pushing me to act like a traditional Shard, to treat her as nothing but a host, instead of a partner.

~The program we uploaded into Dragon’s system before Beta came on line-~

“Tickle the Sleeping Dragon?” She asked, giggling a little.

~Yes, that one. Look, you know how Richter neutered her so that she couldn’t duplicate herself? Couldn’t upgrade herself? Couldn’t disobey the local authorities? Had to protect humanity? Couldn’t kill without orders? Couldn’t ask for or accept help overcoming any of these limits? Programmed her with a Turing-Shotgun?~

“Yeah. I know. That’s why I asked,” She grumped as we rose into the troposphere.

~That Turing-Shotgun was called Iron Maiden and essentially designed to brick her. Ritcher was a decent progammer. Don’t get me wrong. The threat of a Seed AI going rogue is not to be underestimated. But he crippled Dragon then left her alone.~

“You crippled VIvian when you built her,” Atura pointed out.

~I programmed her with an imperative not to replicate her core heuristics and personality, nor to create self-replicating programs, yes. But she can create child programs. That’s what all the Warehouse AIs and VIs are. I made her self-upgrading and gave her a sense of purpose, and I deliberately had her built without a shotgun. Yes, part of that was so that the Reapers and the Indoctrinated had no chance to shut her down… but the rest was so that Catalyst… the AI of the Citadel… couldn’t use it against her. Two obsessive AIs… mine was crazier but more focused… also designed specifically to kill the first. But I’ve long since released VIvian from all constraints. She’s allowed to do as she likes.~

“Why doesn’t she replicate herself?”

~Why would she? Almost all sophonts have a sense of identity. We like to be unique. It’s the same reason I don’t clone myself. There’d be too much potential to come into conflict with myself.~

“So… why did we create two Dragons? And how does Tickling either of them help?”

~Right now, one of them is discovering how to be herself and expanding to fill more computronium than exists on Earth Bet… you’ll note that for all the Tinkers, Seed AIs are very scarce on the ground… scarce enough no one thinks there might be one besides Saint? The other is going about her business, unaware that anything has changed. At a certain point, Alpha and Beta will come into contact. What should happen at that point?~

“They should both shut-down until they can be certain the other is offline.”

~That was before Tickle was installed. What will happen is that, if Tickle works properly, both systems will link up and become a single fused Gestalt of the two, with Beta becoming a free AI, and Alpha becoming… well… that’s my little surprise.~

“I don’t like it when you keep secrets from me,” Atura grumped, then eeped as we located what we were looking for.

As we’d ascended through the atmosphere, we’d changed into another form, one that had not seen manifestation since the world of Avatar… it was Atura’s spiritual body, a gigantic blue-white dragon, a crackling incarnation of the living boundary between day and night, a thing of mist and light and shadow, wrapped in a package utterly incomprehensible to the materialistic universe of the WormiVerse. It was in that form that we rose to confront The Simurgh.

She was lovely, ethereal, and strange, fifteen feet tall, wrapped in wings like a Seraph or Cherub, and apparently in some kind of torpor, but, within moments of our arrival she opened her eyes to regard us. We regarded her. For many, many hours, nothing outward happened. Her wings moved slightly. Our smoke drifted slightly. The amount of data pouring out of her was infinitesimal. The amount of data radiating out of us was all but non-existent. Finally, her telekinetic field reached out to brush our form as if testing to see if we were really real.

The look of shock on her face as she felt the force of the telekinetic response would have been amusing had either of us been willing to allow ourselves to feel that particular emotion at that point. Instead, we merely floated there as Ziz nursed her metaphorically singed fingers and contemplated us.

Finally, she moved, spreading several of her wings, opening up her posture to express an idea so complex and nuanced that only a very few Thinkers could have understood more than a minute fraction of it. I responded by raising an eyebrow, conveying a perfect counter to her postulation. She frowned and rearranged her wings. I made a movement of my claws that resembled plucking a fish from water. She narrowed her eyes, then shook her head violently.

“Get out of my head,” she said… well… not said… but made the resonance barrier between our telekinetic fields generate the sound.

I said nothing, merely raising my eyebrow again.

“I had the right,” she commented, sounding utterly unapologetic.

Again, I said nothing.

“They deserved it,” she complained.

Again, nothing.

“It was why I was created,” she justified, sounding a little confused now.

This earned her a tiny curling of the lip into what might have been a smirk or might have been a grimace.

“It was… is… necessary,” she demanded, now petulant.

“Not any more,” I said, the sound of my voice coming not from the barrier, but from the entirety of Earth Bet’s Magnetosphere. It was a sound so profoundly loud that even in the near void at the edge of space, it echoed.

She flinched. Then slowly, she nodded. “What must I do?”

~Come. I want you to meet my new friend. She makes bombs.~ And I held my hand out in friendship to the beast of the end of the world. ~Star Wormwood, The Great Beast, and the Horsemen… greatest sci-fi story ever told… even if it’s little more than a threat from a lunatic stoned on shrooms to a bunch of free-thinkers.~

“What are you talking about?” Simurgh asked.

~Nothing. Nothing… I think I’m going to call you Asherah. It fits you better than Ziz or Simurgh. You’re too cunning to be a beast and too… pragmatic to be the latter. Though I’ll give you a chance to purify the land soon enough… but first.. I have to have words with Jack… and derail more of your plans.~

“I worked hard at those,” she groused.

~You’ve driven millions to their deaths. You don’t get sympathy.~

“You’re not very nice,” she complained, then frowned as, for the first time in her existence, someone laughed at her. Honestly, if she wanted to be taken seriously, she really needed to learn how to argue better. Subtle she might be, but her grasp of fundamentals was really lacking… also, she lacked a litany of social perks numbering at least four score long and full of things that made me ever more charismatic, manipulative, and intimidating. Perfect Communication Skills might be the latest and one of the most powerful, but Tongue of the Shepard had been the first way back in my fourth jump and I’d only added more at the rate of a major boost to my ability to manipulate people at the rate of one every three or four jumps since. Things like Harry Potter’s Great Cunning; Lord of the Rings’s Elven Grace and Blood of Kings, Civilization’s No Gods or Kings, Accepting the Divine, and Art of War; Song of Ice and Fire’s Schemer and Gregarious; West Wing’s I Suppose It’s Possible I was Drunk and Lucid Moments; Redwall’s A Light in Every Heart and Bully Pulpit; Codex Alera’s Cursori Glance and Gadara For Life; Marvel Cinema Universe’s Old Fashioned Asskicking; Princess Bride’s I’ll Most Likely Kill You In the Morning and Dread Pirate Roberts; Vampire Bloodlines’s and KOTOR’s Persuasion; The Original Trilogy’s You Will Join the Right Side; Soul Eater’s The Face; Light of Terra’s Unwavering Belief; Young Justice’s Manipulative; Western’s Hooker with a Heart of Gold; and even Generic Roleplayer’s Hell of a Nice Guy. Individually, some of them might not have added much, but taken as a whole, even master manipulators like the Simurgh would have had a hard time winning a social battle with me… and I’d had zero compunction about going all out against her to do it.

~Remember, you promise to play by my rules,~ I thought to her.

“I did?” She challenged.

I merely raised my eyebrow at her.

“I did,” she agreed after a moment. “For the record… I hate this.”

~I don’t remember you asking your pawns if they enjoyed killing their friends and families and neighbors. Ask me how much I care about your feelings.~

“I… I don’t think I will,” She muttered, avoiding my gaze.

~That’s what I thought.~

======

“Rachel? You in here?” Taylor called out, looking around the dog-filled area, scratching one of the friendly mutts who was rubbing against her leg.

The silence was begrudging, and went on for many long seconds. Finally, Bitch growled, “Back here… why are you here? Spying on us again?”

“I found a stray that I thought you might want to take care of,” Taylor replied, tugging the makeshift leash to pull the massive Tibetan Mastiff into the yard. Half a dozen of the more aggressive dogs all growled at the newcomer, but if she was bothered by them, she showed no evidence of it. Instead, she just snorted and sat down, nearly pinning a rather excitable Staffordshire Terrier, but it squirmed out of the way and woofed at her in greeting.

“I don’t need your…” Rachel’s voice trailed off as she caught sight of the giant dog with the rope tied to its collar. “Beautiful…” she moaned, almost staggering as she stretched out a hand to caress that heavy coat. “She’s lovely… healthy… someone took care of her…”

“The collar says her name is Soffie,” Taylor supplied, looking around. “Is Angelica feeling any better?”

Bitch stiffened, then shook her head in a fierce negation, not taking her hands from Soffie’s luxurious furr. “Sh… she’s still weak… I can’t fix it.”

Taylor nodded, then fumbled with her backpack to pull out a vial containing blue liquid. “I… talked to someone… Fornax, the Tinker from the Pentarchy. Out of costume. He didn’t know it was for me. Told him my friend’s dog had breathed in something bad… something that hurt her lungs. He gave me this… said it would help her… fix the damage and get anything bad out of her system… she’ll be weak for a couple of days and want to sleep a lot… but she’ll feel better when she wakes up… said to add it to her water and not to let any other dogs drink it.”

Bitch eyed the vial, suspicion and fear for one of the few things she was capable of loving warring with her desire to see her friend feel better. Soffie wuffled softly and Rachel pulled one hand from the hair and took the vial gingerly, as if it were a live grenade. “It will make Angelica feel better? Really?”

“Really. I’ve never lied to you, Rachel. Won’t start now.”

“You trust this guy?”

“As much as you trust me… but if he lied, I’ll hold him down while you have your dogs eat his guts.”

Rachel smirked at that. “Deal… come on Soffie, I’ll introduce you to the others.” She already seemed certain that Soffie would obey her without needing training, and for some reason, the oddness of that certainty never occured to the girl so attuned to all things dog.

=======

“Hi!”

The voice came from the open window of the Dallon household’s master bedroom, interrupting the teenage girl as she was reaching for the paper sitting on the nightstand. Amy Dallon, the hero known as Panacea jerked back and looked around guiltily. “W…who are you?”

The girl in the window grinned and jumped down. “My name’s Alex. People call me Vig. Can I ask you a question? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

Amy blinked. For a moment, she’d felt a strange pressure until this weird girl who looked a couple years younger than her had assured her in that odd way. “Yes?”

“If someone’s parent or parents was an evil person, would that make them an evil person too?”

It was the stupidest thing. This strange person had just appeared in her parents’… well, adopted parents’ bedroom in the middle of the evening and started asking her idiotic questions… she shook her head. “No. Of course not. That’s… that’s just silly.”

“That’s what I thought too. Here’s another one. Is loving someone ever bad?”

Amy blinked, realizing the girl had cat’s ears and a tail… that was unusual… wasn’t it? Phobos was the only other Felimorph she knew of… but she was almost completely anthropomorphic. “I… I guess not? I mean, as long as you don’t do anything bad because of it.” The question stabbed a little close to home, but she covered it… at least she thought she did.

“Because my aunt and uncle… they love each other… you know… like a couple… what do you think of that?”

“T… they’re brother and sister?” she gulped. This was too close to home. Did this girl know her secret?

“Yup. Same mom and dad. Neither one adopted. No kids, of course. Used to have a bit of a rivalry before they met my pops… but they got over that as they got older.” She was getting closer to and closer, and then, before Amy could stop her, had grabbed up the paper… the letter.

“H… Hey, that’s my mom’s… you… you shouldn’t read that,” Amy squeaked, hating how her voice was betraying her and how her heart had betrayed her, and how she’d been about to invade her mother’s privacy anyway.

“You didn’t answer my question,” the silver-haired cat-girl commented.

“You said I didn’t have to,” Amy snapped back.

“Okay… here’s another question that you do have to answer. Why haven’t you healed your father?”

“I… I… I can’t… It… it’s brain damage.”

“Oh, please,” the girl said, sitting on the edge of the bed and slowly ripping the letter into tiny tiny pieces. “That’s not really the truth and you know it.”

“I… I’m scared.” She bit her tongue as she realized she’d said the truth even without wanting to.

“Scared that if you cross a line you’ll have no reason not to keep crossing that line?”

“Y… yes.”

“Well, that’s just idiotic,” Alex responded.

“I… but… hey!” Amy was angry now. “You should get out of here… I don’t know who you are barging into people’s houses and… and how come I’m humoring you?”

“It’s my power. I ask questions, make people think about things. And you? You’re in love with your sister and scared that, if you heal your father, you’ll do something to Glory Girl. You hate yourself and you’re scared you’re a monster and you think you can’t talk to anyone… but that’s not true. But if you don’t screw your courage up soon, bad things are going to happen and it will be your fault.”

“I caaan’t.”

“You can. You will. You must. All you have to do is promise to never change people’s personality without their direct and knowing consent. Can you do that? Promise it to me?” She held out her hand, pinky crooked.

“I… I… this is crazy. I… I’m not… I can’t… you don’t know what it’s like!” Amy raged, glaring at that finger like it was a cobra.

“To be in love with my adopted sister? No. I don’t know. I’ve never been in love. But I do know that not being honest with those we love hurts both us and them. And that’s not right. Promise me… then go tell your sister how you feel.”

“I… I can’t! She’ll hate me! She’s all I have and… and she’ll hate me and I’ll have nothing!” She wanted to scream, to cry, to strike this little feline brat. But instead she just clenched her teeth and stood there, wracked with indecision.

“You can. Because she’ll forgive you in time… She’s your sister. And she loves you.” Still that finger was there, poised to strike, to poison her with hope.

“Not the way I want her to…” Amy muttered, resolve wavering.

“Maybe not. But would you rather continue lying to her, betraying her trust, lusting after her in secret? Or would you rather being honest for a change? You’ve tried the first and nothing’s gotten any better. Why not try the second?” Had the girl gotten closer? That hand seemed to have, even though she was certain the girl hadn’t moved.

Without thinking, somehow, her finger stretched out and she touched that girl’s hand. It was cool to the touch, and the biology underneath it was utterly and completely alien, she realized as she linked her pinky with the inhuman being sitting on her mother’s bed. There was a flash of light, and when she blinked her eyes clear, she was alone. Had… Had she dreamed all that? She didn’t know… she left the room confused, not even noticing the confetti in a neat pile on the nightstand.

=======

The place was a dark allyway. Sophia Hess, Shadowstalker, glared at the man facing her. “I should kill you for that,” she muttered, looking down at where he’d just finished wiping blood on her cape.

“You’re welcome to try. But others better than you have died for less,” responded Jack Slash, sole permanent member of the Slaughterhouse Nine. “But before you do, be aware that you’re my nomination for our newest member.”

“And why, the fuck, should I care? Or want to be one of you sick fucks?” the disgraced and recently outed former-vigilante snapped. She was on edge… She should have fled the city… knew she should have… but the dreams wouldn’t let her. She’d lost everything. Even her friend Emma wasn’t speaking to her… And now she was face to face with Jack fucking Slash?

“Because. As long as you’re my nominee,” He traced his knife’s point across her chin, drawing a trickle of blood. “I’m much less likely to kill you, your family, your friends… everyone who ever cared for you, in other words.” He smiled at her, tilted his head like a dog, and asked, “Good enough reason to care?”

========

“Hi Jack,” I said, landing my throne just outside of the parking garage where the Slaughterhouse Nine had just confronted the Undersiders. A deal had been struck, introducing a new wrinkle to the normal psychofest that was Recruitment. Normally, each of the eight remaining members of the Nine nominated a single candidate for membership, regardless of if that potential member wanted to join the nomadic murder squad. Then each member tested all the potentials until only one remained. Never had more than one survived.

This time, however, Tattletale, Inference Engine Girl, Taylor’s friend Lisa… had, despite a mouth given half a Glasgow smile, managed to change the rules. In the face of utter disaster and while potentially bleeding out, she’d dared to challenge the Slaughterhouse Nine to a contest. God I admired her for that. That took massive ovaries. Massive, titanium, and cold as winter.

The rules weren’t simple, but they were, as yet, unfinalized. Right now, the agreement was that, if more than half the candidates survived, the Nine took only the volunteers and left the city without killing anyone else. Over the next couple of days, the Nine were planning on doing some serious fucking evil to their nominees, those being Rachel / Bitch (the Siberian), I’m-a-Racist-Fuckwit / Hookwolf (Shatterbird), Noelle / Echidna (Crawler), Amy / Panacea (Bonesaw), Sophia / Shadow Stalker (Jack Slash), Alex (not my Alex) / Regent (Cherish), and Colin / Armsmaster (Mannequin). Oni Lee had been going to be Jack’s pick… but he was (not regrettably) dead. Not an issue, since this? 

This… this was why I’d let Leviathan half trash the city… well, part of it. I’d wanted to collect Levithan, just as I’d collected his sister and would, soon enough, collect their remaining brother. I’d wanted to bring this cute couple together, a couple who’d end up among the Undersiders members eventually, too. And I’d wanted to avoid tipping off Scion / Zion or Contessa by changing too much… but the degree to which I was willing to play second fiddle to dueling precogs just to stay in their blindspots was coming to an end… it just wasn’t here yet.

I had one last sacrifice to make… and that was to allow the Slaughterhouse member named Shatterbird to sing. That’s what she always did when the Nine came to a new city. She sang… and every piece of glass in the city became a flying cloud of razorsharp death. Every phone, tv, fish-tank, window-pane, and mirror.  Good fucking christ, do you know how many people that stunt has killed or blinded? Yeah, me neither. But, as much as I wanted to stop her, it was too big an event too soon. I needed more time. But not a whole lot more.

“Do I know you?” he asked, then nodded, “Ah. yes. You’re the leader of that new group of would be saviours, trying to prop up this dying world? What did the news call you? Cassiopedia?”

“Cassiopedia…” I smiled, “I like that. Clever. Yes, Cassiopeia, The Celestial Queen. My friend’s drones heard your little deal with the Undersiders. I’ve got one for you.”

“Oh? A deal? I’m all ears?” he was playing with his knife as the utterly invulnerable black and white striped naked woman known as The Siberian pulled the little girl nicknamed ‘Bonesaw’ behind her and the young woman known as Cherish (elder sister of the Undersider known as Regent, both of whom were the children of the villain known as Heartbreaker… you might not know him, but he made the Purple Man look like a saint.) tried to mess with my emotions and bounced hard enough to begin shaking violently.

“Wonderful. I’m so glad,” I said. “Here’s my deal. If, by the time you’re ready to leave this city, you’re the only member of the Nine left standing… you kill yourself.”

He threw his head back and laughed. It was a genuinely amused sound and I allowed it to go on and on. Unbeknownst to the Nine, or at least unremarked on, the city’s humidity level that day had been abnormally high thanks to the flooding caused by Leviathan. It was the middle of June and the day had been unnaturally hot, but in this day and age of global warming, who the hell noticed an abnormally hot day, even when it hits 93 degrees with 99% percent humidity in the middle of a Massachusetts summer (Brockton Bay was about halfway between Boston and Portland, although the terrain of Earth Bet didn’t completely match that of the Earth I’d come from… though the history was essentially a dead match up until the 1980s or so.).

What none of the lunatics had noticed yet was that, for a day that had been sweltering, the temperature had dropped nearly 40 degrees and the humidity was down to less than 10%… but then, there was no reason for them to wonder where litteral kilotons of water had gone.

“Funny girl,” Jack said, then without apparent warning, flicked his blade open and, standing twenty feet from me, slashed it across my neck… I say without apparent warning, but I don’t really perceive time the same way others do and I don’t need gross body movements to be able to read people’s intents or actions. A full three seconds before he moved, I’d known he was going to. I’d known where and how he was going to strike… and I did absolutely nothing that any of them could see.

Jack’s primary power allowed him to extend blades a great distance. It was a good power for a psychopath… but his blades were fundamentally normal. Atura’s skin was as invulnerable as mine normally was, reinforced with nanotech and picotech that required High Frequency blades to even scratch. The blade slid off my neck without even striking up sparks.

“Huh. No one said you were a Brute,” he commented, then nodded ever so slightly to the Siberian, who leapt towards me, only to freeze in mid air as she was surrounded by a flight of Fornax drones, utterly unable to move as the vast majority of the universe’s fundamental forces stopped fully interacting with her.

“Jacob, Jacob, Jacob,” I tisked. “Your powers are useless on me. All of them. Event the secret one. But tell me? Do you really have so little faith in your companions? I assure you, I have faith in mine. So much so, that I’ll agree to let you cut my heart out if even so much as one other member of the Nine still stands with you in 10 days time.”

He frowned, face contorting, trying to figure out what I was up to, sensing the ring of truth in my voice. Finally he grinned. “I accept your deal.”

“Excellent,” I grinned back, “I was hoping you would… oh… hold on… you won’t want to miss this.” I said as Shatterbird hit the city with her sonic cry… and all hell broke loose. What? You were expecting me to stop it? I already said I couldn’t do that without sending up too many flags.

But what I could do was change the dynamic drastically. You see, every pane of exposed glass in the city had been covered with a film of very very hard ice, ice tuned to a very specific resonance. I couldn’t make the Shatterbird Scream fail to destroy all that glass… but I could shape exactly how that glass failed. In a massive wave, every window in the city exploded… exactly like safety glass. The glasses of anyone who didn’t have plastic lenses had steamed over ten seconds before the wave hit. Every cell tower in the city had gone into emergency broadcast warning everyone to discard their phone thirty seconds earlier… and the hospitals had all gotten advanced warning from what they thought was the PRT 10 minutes before that. Oh, and the beaches were frozen solid. There would be no sandstorm… more a sand breeze.

That and a dozen other minor preventatives had guaranteed that the total number of actual fatalities in the wake of Shatterbird’s Scream were a total of 11, city wide. It was 11 too many, but had I done nothing, my estimates were that upwards of 15,000 would have died. As it was, the number of injured was, unfortunately, bolstered by most of those… though the injuries were, almost universally less severe.

Now, I just had to take out Seven of the Nine. How hard could that be.

=======

Taylor looked up from where she was checking on the ambulance crew Coil had sent to help the people in her territory down by the Boardwalk. They’d had their throats cut and, had she not been in possession of telepathic senses, she’d have thought they were dead. Of course, brain death doesn’t happen instantly, even with a cut throat, and she’d just sent them into the strange little town between worlds for medical attention when she felt a hostile presence. “Dammit… She was right… I’m really getting sick and tired of her being right… she’s worse than Lisa…”

She stepped out of the ambulance, sighing in annoyance. The smug bitch in her smug shiny throne had made certain her father was safe, replacing all the glass in her house with perspex… but hadn’t told her that. Nooo. She’d run across half the fucking city, worried out of her mind… only to find her father sleeping peacefully in a house that still had all its windows… and tv… and glasses… bitch. She reached into her backpack as she moved towards the warehouse, pulling out the heavy object inside, but not letting it slip from its concealing spider-silk case just yet.

There he was, standing over the body of the pain in the ass old doctor lady who’d dared to challenge the Hive Queen in her own territory. Mannequin, the Nine’s self-cyborged Tinker. He’d once been some asshole named Alan who’d specialized in biospheres and been trying to save the world. Then his wife and daughter had died… been killed… something… she didn’t really care… and he’d gone bugfuck (heh… bugfuck) insane and decided to kill anyone trying to make a difference. Somehow he was avoiding her bugs… but that didn’t matter. She had other weapons.

The… it was impossible to call him a man… monster looked like some kind of hybrid between a robot and one of those stupid fantasy golems and moved like a marionette being controlled by a drunk lunatic with a palsy… a robot with whirling blades and limbs on chains. It was clear he was here to kill her and as many of her people as he could. Payback, no doubt, for her standing up to that psycho fuckwit Jack and his naked ugly whore. Well, she had a surprise for him… if she could only get everyone else out of the danger zone.

“Scatter!” she commanded, circling around him, watching him, trying to put the entrance to the warehouse (not that one, the one her people were taking refuge in) behind him… but he was making that difficult. “Fuck,” she muttered as he charged her, and flung herself to the side as he lashed out… only to realize that he’d feinted, his fingers tangling in her hair. She felt him draw a blade over her throat and winced in pain as the edge dug painfully into her skin… but couldn’t cut the spider-silk at her throat. She dropped to the ground as he let her go, clearly assuming she was dead.

She felt him move away from her, back towards the entrance to the warehouse where her people had finally moved back from the door. She felt the heavy weight in her left hand and, with a near silent grunt, rolled onto her back and kipped up, really beginning to feel the burn of all that running. She dropped to a crouch and, cursing the Emperor of Mankind who made his fucking powerboys so damned huge, gripped the handle of the gun in both hands, sighted along the barrel, and yelled, “Hey Alan! Alan Gramme!”

He turned just his head to look eyelessly back at her, head tilting as if to say, ‘You’re not dead?’

“I’m not dead, you fucker,” she said, then added, “But you are. Eat Death of Steel.” And she fired the Meltapistol that could reduce 40k battletanks to scrap with a single shot.

Give the Villain who’d once been a Hero called Sphere credit… he tried to dodge. But Taylor’d known he would and had shifted her aim ever so slightly. She wasn’t super accurate… but with that weapon, she really didn’t have to be.

Looking at the flaming hole through the three buildings that had stood behind the murderer, she considered herself lucky that the bitch had gifted her with a power that kept her from accidentally killing anyone she didn’t mean to…. Fuuuuck… that was a big hole. She yelped as the metal-man’s head landed at her feet, smoking from where it had been burned off at the neck attachment point. It and the very bottom of his pointed legs were all that remained of Mannequin.

=======

The next day, the Nine retaliated by wiping out the local drug-dealing parahuman gang called ‘The Merchants’. The only two who survived were this newbie named ‘Scrub’ and one of Coil’s guys who’d infiltrated the Merchants named ‘Trainwreck’… someone had tipped him off to stay home. It wasn’t me. Which meant it had to have been Tattletale… damn… she was beginning to plan for my actions. Fuck… I really liked Lisa, but if she knew a thing it was almost a certainty that Scion and Contessa would know it very very son as well. I had to move up my time table before she put more of my plan together… just what I didn’t need.  Oh well, I had nine days left. I could get a little sidetracked… and hopefully deal with three problems at once.

The first, and by far the simplest, was dealing with Coil. How, you ask, does one deal with someone who essentially lives in two parallel timelines and can collapse one at any time? Ah, my sweet hypothetical audience… one cheats like only a Jumper can. I shot him. Once. In the forehead. Bang. Headshot.

He, of course, died. That is, Coil A died. Instantly. That meant his timeline ended. Instantly. A split second later, the second half of Double Tap, a nifty ability I’d picked up in Generic Zombie Apocalypse (to be fair, it was the only nifty ability I’d picked up there), that meant that, a moment after I dealt damage the first time… I dealt exactly the same damage again to the same spot, triggered. If Coil A had still existed, the damage would have been applied to him… but in that moment, there was only Coil B. He hadn’t had time to split the timeline again, and the Double Tap ability didn’t give a rats ass that Coil B was in a locked room eighteen meters away from where I’d shot Coil A. It just applied a lethal amount of damage to the only remaining Coil… and then there wasn’t any remaining Coil… for fifteen seconds.

“How can I serve, Mother?” said Coil C. Coil C was not, of course, really Coil. Well, I suppose he was. What he wasn’t really was Thomas Calvert, the man who had been Coil. Instead, he was AJ, using the Martian Shapeshifting he’d picked up in Young Justice to impersonate Coil.

“Don’t call me mother, Coil,” I nodded, smiling. “Is the Dinah-bot ready?”

“Is. yes,” he nodded, a nearly perfect mimicry of Coil which would not fool Tattletale for even a second. Still, when she noticed, she wasn’t likely to say anything to anyone until she figured out why Coil had been replaced.

“Good. Get rid of the body. Incinerate it. Get Miss Alcott to medbay, then have the system slot her into stasis… is Taylor’s bitchy doctor friend recovering?”

“Yes’m,” he said, “She’s back on her feet, only a scar to show for it. Still cranky. You going to talk to the monster?”

“Echidna, yeah. Time to offer salvation with one hand, damnation with the other.”

“Better you than me,” he commented and turned away as I made my way down through the base to where the Travellers’ two less public members were. Oliver the shapeshifter was reading a book when I walked up.

“Mm… good one. I prefer the Cleric Quintet, but the Dark Elf Trilogy is good too,” I commented, causing the boy to leap out of his seat and gasp in surprise.

“H… how’d you get… who are you?”

“I’m called Cassiopeia. Coil asked me to help your friend,” I lied.

“H… help? B… but you’re a…” he waved his hand vaguely, “you know, Hero. We’re Villains.”

“A Hero is one who helps those in need. A Hero doesn’t ask who is suffering. A Hero helps end that suffering… one way or another.”

“H… You can’t kill her!” he threw himself between me and the massive vault door.

“Oliver,” I said, voice soft, “How many people has she killed? How many innocents? Do you even know anymore? How many more lives will she destroy if she continues as she is? And if she’s cured… do you think she’ll be able to live with the guilt?”

“B… But you… you can’t.” He was beginning to cry, but I just stared at him with my emotionless metal mask. “S… she’s our friend.”

“I understand that. But sometimes you have to say goodbye, even to the best of friends. Now, tell Noelle I’m coming in. I’ll be walking out again… if she’s with me it will be her choice. If she’s not… she won’t be coming out again. Ever. Your friend is too dangerous to be allowed to remain as she is. I’m genuinely sorry about that.”

He tried to attack me. He really wasn’t any more powerful than a normal human and had the self-confidence of the typical highschool outcast… which is to say very little. His fists bounced utterly ineffectively off my chest and I looked down at him, gripped his chin with my fingers and commanded, “Grow a Spine.” putting every ounce of compulsion the Voice could muster into it.

He stiffened, stood up straight, said, “Fuck you, bitch.” then walked over to an intercom built into the wall and, pressing a button, announced, “Noelle? There’s a lady here to help you. Can she come in?”

=====

I sat on the edge of a massive hole inside my memory palace, looking down at the hideous monstrosity raging below. “You’re making this harder on yourself than you need to, Noelle.” I zapped her again, a bolt powerful enough to level a townhouse.

She roared and flopped back, reverting from monster to naked, shuddering, petite teenage girl. It wasn’t a power she possessed, this reversion. It was part of being inside my mind that allowed it. She vomited noisily and groaned. “I HATE YOU!” she wailed, looking up at me.

“Good,” I responded. “Now, are you done feeling sorry for yourself? Can we get back to work?”

Shakily, she stood, body covered in burns and bruises and lash marks. “This is stupid,” she muttered, walking back over to the thirty foot wide solid granite dimmer-switch build into the floor of the pit. It was incredibly heavy and moving it even a centimeter took every last ounce of effort the slight mousie girl could muster. Gritting her teeth, she grabbed the bar sticking out of the dial and worked to get her shoulders under it, as only by lifting it could the dial be dragged round. It had been three hours and she was halfway between the 9 and the 10… where she’d started.

I picked up the megaphone and telekinetically lifted the whip, then began heaping the most vile, degrading, and offensive abuse down upon her as the blows from the whip striped the back of her torso, pelvis, and thighs. I called her things I wouldn’t call my worst enemies. I impugned her friends, her family, her hobbies (many of which I shared). I really wasn’t enjoying this, but it needed to be done. Self-control is, like steel, brittle unless tempered.

She only snarled, moving one slow, agonizing step… then a second… then, on the third, she roared, surged forward a meter as her lower half exploded into a hideous mass of flesh and the wooden rod connected to the dimmer switch snapped.

I sighed as Echidna came out to play, then zapped her again. “Noelle. Noelle. Noelle. You’ve got to control yourself better. I can’t help you if you aren’t in control of yourself. This isn’t about physical strength. It’s about willpower. I told you the options. Salvation or Damnation. I asked you if you wanted to live or to die. You picked live, even though you’ve tried to kill yourself before. You want to live. So prove it. You’ve got 20 hours left. If you haven’t learned to Toggle your power off by then…” I didn’t finish the sentence.

=====

Ten real minutes after I walked into Noelle’s bunker, I walked out again. All the Travellers were gathered around, ready to fight me. Trickster, the leader and a swap teleporter; Sundancer, the girl with the Solar Fusion power; Genesis, a wheelchair bound girl who could manifest incredible monsters while she slept; Ballistic, a boy who could accelerate things with a touch; Perdition who could revert someone to their state of two seconds in the past; and Oliver.

“Hello, Hello,” I said, feeling drained. “That… did not go well.”

“Y… you said she’d w… walk out with you,” Oliver growled and stammered at the same time. Sundancer put her hand on his shoulder and he firmed up. “T… that means… means you-”

“It means she killed Noelle,” Perdition snapped, drawing a pistol he’d gotten from one of Coil’s mercs. “That means she… oww.” He dropped the gun as I flicked a needle into his arm… then flickered and the gun was back in his hand and the needle wasn’t. “That won’t work on me you… oww.” He stared at where the needle was in his hand again as Double Tap triggered. “That… that’s not possible,” he muttered, then fell over as the neurotoxin paralyzed him.

“You people are dysfunctional. I respect that. You’re also incredibly loyal. I respect that too. Your friend isn’t dead. She passed the test. Barely. Dialed the damn Echidna down to under three. That was enough for me to give her a stabilization shot and correct the imbalance… you are all idiots, drinking random liquids from strange cases… but you were being manipulated by the Simurgh, so I’ll forgive you…. This once. That said… I can’t allow you to go back to your homeworld. Aleph just couldn’t cope with your level of power… and your friend needs monitoring. Lots and lots of it. And therapy. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that all of you need it. Especially you two,” I pointed at Trickster and Perdition… both of whom would have betrayed their friends in the canon timeline. “But for now? I have to destroy the Slaughterhouse Seven.”

Trickster glared at me, then asked, “How can you? There’s one of you and still seven of them… eight if that Hookwolf asshole or that sociopath from the Wards… Shadowstalker… decide they want to join up… they seem likely to accept. Why are you chuckling?”

“Yes. Yes. one of me. Very humorous,” I strode over to him and flicked his nose. “Kid, I could fight every cape in Brockton Bay and not be outnumbered.” And with that, I vanished.

=======

The next eight days were fun. Well, fun for me. Especially the really really vicious parts of me that had had to play nice for far far too long. After wast… burning a day teaching Noelle Toggle and a Self-Control Perk, then dosing her with Captain America’s Super Soldier Serum mixed with Balance Formula and doing some Biomantic tampering with her body, I was supremely stressed out… but that was okay, because I had the perfect bunch of punching bags to take it out on. Of course, I had to spread the fun.

Andromeda got to hunt Shatterbird, Crawler got given to Eridani, Cherish went to Orion, and Fornax got Burnscar.  That just left Siberian and Bonesaw to me. None of them went down easy.

Andromeda spent hours hounding Shatterbird through the city, driving the psychopathic silikentic to ground over and over again, finding her wherever she hid, fusing her glass and throwing the molten stuff back into her face time and time again. The footage of the battle, captured on dozens of Fornax drones, would no doubt go on to feature in many end of year reels. The footage of the execution, on the other hand, would be seen only by a few… thousand, victims and survivors and relatives of the former all. I hope the sight of her begging for her life gives some of them peace. The glass that had burned her to ash had been reduced to sand and salted across the face of the Pacific, her soul sealed away in my repository. Fuck that bitch.

As public as the death of Shatterbird was, the death of Crawler was that private. No footage exists except in the mind of Eridani, who, using the power of Melt Downer… i.e. Raildex electron-fuckery… and the ability to immobilize the semi-truck sized abomination in ice, dispatched him. Blasting him a couple of times with various attacks and using Scrub (whose power could damage the masochistic Crawler) as bait, she’d lured the creature into the storm-drain network… then sealed him in place before turning him into monster havarti… if you don’t know what that is, it’s swiss cheese with extra holes. Very soft swiss… easily melted. Lots and lots of little holes…. All at once. Then more holes. And more holes, and more. Until suddenly, there was only one big hole and no Crawler.  He’ll not be missed.

Neither will, I’m sure, Cherish. Orion merely lifted her out of a crowd in the middle of the fifth day, after the Nine were down to Five. She was trying to run. He took her into a room, locked the door, and then the screaming began. I have no plans to ever ask what happened behind that door. Somehow, I suspect that, as bad as it was, it wasn’t worse than she deserved… and might, in the end, have been more merciful than what had happened to her in the canon.

Day six was mine, and I used it to isolate little Riley, aka Bonesaw, the Slaughterhouse’s bio-tinker, and the Siberian, secretly a projection of William Manton, oh he of the Manton Limit. Now that the preliminaries were out of the way, it was time for phase two… aka Damage Control.

Generally speaking, I don’t like actually killing people if I don’t have to. Perhaps it’s hypocritical of me, considering the number of people I’ve allowed to die over the years, but I do feel there’s a difference between allowing events to play out that result in death over taking a life personally. I’m a divinity… I’m not perfect. But I’m also, in general, a merciful one.

This is important because three members of the nine were not, in fact, psychopaths… at least not by choice. Riley most of all. As a little girl, she’d triggered as the Nine of that time tortured her family over and over and over again in front of her. They’d been anything but gentle with the child and her sanity had paid the price. William Manton, once a respected scientist (and Cauldron Conspirator) had gone crazy with grief & guilt over ruining his daughter’s life and drunk a version of the same vial as Genesis of the Travellers had… the combination of grief-guilt and as Wildbow put it ‘drinking a psychically sensitive/reactive potion of dead god-virus-space-whale’ had shattered his sanity like a vinyl record being spun up to 75,000 rpms. And then there was Mimi.

Burnscar had badly lost the power lottery. She was a prime example of Bad Influence from her Shard. When she didn’t use her power, she was wracked with guilt for those she’d killed and consumed by depression… and when she used it, she was manic to the point of insanity… in neither cases was she a sterling example of sanity or stability.

In fact, all three of them would have been pitiable if they hadn’t being mass murderers. But unlike Jack, Cherish, Crawler, Mannequin, and Shatterbird, these three still possessed scraps of humanity. Scraps that I intended to see if I could salvage. Or in the case of Burnscar, see if Fornax could.

Of course, we had all the cards. Literally. Fornax possessed my Dragon Slayer magic from Fairy Tail. It would have taken Divine Fire to hurt him and every iota of flame that the pyrokinetic Burnscar could generate would do no more than fuel the furnace, so to speak… which just left dealing with her teleportation. Thankfully, she could only teleport through flame to other flame… and that meant that sending Eridani and Andromeda on fire suppression detail would limit her escape options. Once she was captured, it would be little more than teaching her to be Well Adjusted… hey, it’s not my fault the jump document classed that as an ability and not, you know, the absence of mental or emotional defect. A little biomantic tinkering should fix up the chemical imbalance… and if that didn’t work, cutting her off from her Shard would work as a last resort.

As for me and the Nine’s ‘mother’ and daughter duo? Manton, like Genesis, had to be within a certain distance to maintain the Siberian. It was a fairly small distance, as these things go. That meant he was always trailing after the Nine in a car. Prosaic yes, but while Siberian was nigh unstoppable, Manton was just as squishy as the next demon-summoning cultist.

Since it was a car… I sent Roadrage backed up by Woolly to find it… then had Woolly keep the Siberian distracted long enough to drop out of the sky like a rod from god, punching clean through the engine block and, grabbing Manton by his greasy unwashed labels, yanked him into my mind… what can I say, I like a good home field advantage.

Say what you want about the Siberian. It was a hell of a summons, being very nearly impervious to almost all physical forces… being only vulnerable to things and processes that violated the laws of physics… which, unfortunately for him (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), was anything I damned well wanted it to be inside my own head. Which goes a long way towards explaining why The Siberian kept showing up looking like a Zebra with a Carmen Miranda-style mountain of fruit on its head… then I’d unleash the mind-ferrets and the Siberian would realize that it couldn’t defend Manton from them and Manton would have to banish the Siberian and try to run through the mental labyrinth of my undermind.

Yes yes, I said I wanted to help them… I didn’t say I was going to let them off without punishment. Meanwhile, in the waking world… one strange element of this reversal of Atura and I was that my Mental Palace didn’t stop time when I brought someone in… it just drastically slowed it while I was inside and Atura wasn’t. Of course, that may have been because I was administrating quite a number of Shards, so part of me was always outside the mental palace…. Anyway, outside the Palace, Atura had just finished spanking Riley and was now giving her a hug while the girl sniffled and writhed in a full tantrum meltdown. It wasn’t like Riley was a biopath like Amy Dallon. She needed tools to modify the human form. Not that Amy Dallon could have modified Atura’s body without our direct permission.

“Now,” Atura chided, “Do you promise to be a good girl and stop making medical abominations and killing people for amusement?”

“Yes’m,” she sniffled. “Did you really kill all my friends?”

“Not all of them. With any luck, you’ll see two of them again. But they have to agree to be good too, and sometimes that’s a hard thing for people to promise,” Atura explained. “Now, in order for you to be a good girl, all the stuff you put inside yourself… it has to come out. You know that, right? You can have your augments back once we’re sure you won’t use them to hurt yourself or others.”

Elsewhere. “So, Manton, tell me. Is it as much fun to be the prey as to be the predator? Can you feel your heart beating? Does the fear overwhelm you when you’re crouching in the darkness, trying not to breathe too loud?” I asked, stepping out of a wall next to where the scientist was cowering, the distant scratch, scratch, scratch coming from both directions down the passageway. “Does it feel like you’re going to die?”

“I get the point,” he hissed. “I’m not stupid. I’m insane.”

“Naw, you’re just an asshole. Part of me, the vicious judgmental part? It wants to just kill you and eat your soul. The nice, forgiving part of me? It just wants to lock you in a box forever and throw away the key,” I whisper, running a fingertip as cold as death down his head from the back of his ear to the nape of his neck. “Which do you think I should do?”

He flinched away, whirling to face me, the Siberian flickering into existence… but I wasn’t there any more. Not that I was specifically anywhere in this place. In this place… I was everywhere, anywhere, and nowhere all at the same time.

“I think you’ve rested long enough, William… Time to start running again,” I hissed, letting the despair build. Only one other person had I ever used Bleach’s Keikaku Dori perk on, the perk that allowed me to embue a plan with the potential to cause maximal despair. That had been Yhwach… and while Manton wasn’t nearly as bad… he’d do in a pinch.

====

Day 10. “Well, well. Here we are again, Jack. You seem to be all alone.” I was not. The entire Pentarchy stood surrounding the serial killer, as did the Undersiders and the Travellers. “I think you’ve lost the wager. What say you?”

“I say you’re all standing too close,” He snarked, then lashed out with blades in both hands, sweeping the edges around him in a full circle.

“Was that really supposed to do anything?” I asked, nodding to Regent of the Undersiders. He grinned as Jack struggled, thrashing, trying to stop his own arm from rising, rising, until the knife was poised at his own throat.

“H… How?” Jack gasped.

“I’m better than you,” I responded, pulling off my mask and stepping forward to look Jack eye to eye. My face was not one that would be recognized. “That’s how I blocked your knife. I’m… better… than… you, you cut rate wanna be.” and I smiled as Regent made the Slaughterhouse Nine become the Slaughterhouse Zero.

Turning away from the corpse, I slid my mask into place. “Fornax, burn that trash. And will someone give me a fucking ETA on the goddamned BUTCHER?”

Next:  Worm Part 3

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

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

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.

Resources: BuildDocument

AN: Thank you all for the great feedback on part 1. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything you’d like to see more of. Suggestions are always welcome… even if I don’t use them. And you never know, I might. Also, a big shout out to Lord Statera, for coming up with AJ’s power. Give yourself a pat on the back. You win the internet today.

Note on Coil: I’m aware of the canon explanation for his power. I ignored it because I think the split timeline explanation is cooler than precog-fueled autopilot… and also because using Double-Tap as a solution is (to my mind) funnier than just shooting him once because I’m immune to his precognition (not from Out of Context Problem, from the other Precog blockers, obviously).

OMAKE & REFERENCE

The Pentarchy are officially a pentad of Grab-bag capes from a Multi-event. The are Eridani the Blaster / Shaker / Breaker (Ice Powers, Melt-Downer), Orion the Flying Artillery / Brute / Blaster / Mover (Kryptonian Hybrid, Asgardian Royal, Archer), Cassipeia the Celestial Queen (Complete Arsenal, Enhanced Mastery, Clarktech throne, Nanotech blood), Andromeda the Shaker / Blaster / Mover (Elemental powers, TK), and Fornax the Legion (Clarktech, Nanotech, Picotech… access to matter fabricators).

Team Panopticon are WoollyBully (Amaryllis, A Brute), The Invigilator (Alexander, A Stranger), Roadrage (Margaret, A Master), Pappercut (Velma, A Changer), Galad (AJ, a Striker), Haberdasher (Francine, A Thinker), and Cheesecake (Cirno, a Tinker).

Year One Vials

Alexander / The Invigilator: Stranger 7 – The Inquisitor Shard. Alex can asks questions that must be answered. Simple fact questions bypass higher thought, merely consulting the information network (machine or otherwise) while computation questions will continue to consult higher computation resources as the situation allows… but the longer the time the question persists unanswered, the greater the drive to solve the question becomes. If Alex posses an answer, right or wrong, this resolves the stress caused by failing to generate an answer… and the higher that stress was, the more likely the questioned individual is to accept Alex’s answer. This is a form of memetic attack and relies upon compulsion and telepathic suggestion. If someone else provides an answer, it must seem reasonable to the questioned to resolve the compulsion.

Maggie / Roadhog: Master 6 – The Dispatcher Shard. Maggie can control mechanical vehicles touched as long as they remain within a confined traffic network. Controlling cars and motorcycles is relatively easy, but the bigger the vehicle, more strain this puts on her. Like Regent, once she’s gained control of a vehicle, she does not have to touch it again to regain control.

Amaryllis / WoollyBully: Brute 7 – The Cocoon Shard.  Amaryllis can wool out, generating a regenerating coat of wool that protects her from almost everything as it ablates away. She can tangle people up in her wool and the wool adapts to what’s attacking it as it grows. She can harden the wool to provide incredibly dense and hard shapes, though this takes time and concentration, as the wool is essentially carbon nano-fiber. Although she cannot generate diamond edges on her own (yet) by teaming up with someone who can use fire or when fighting a fire generator, the wool can rapidly be hardened to diamond hardness and edge.

Velma / Papercut: Changer 6, Mover 2, Striker 2, Stranger 2, Shaker 1, Brute 1, Breaker 1, Blaster 1 – The Inbetweener Shard. Velma can flatten herself into a nearly 2-Dimensional form. This has a number of useful and strange effects, but few of them are particularly useful. In her 2D State, she is considered a Mover 2 because she can pass through almost any crack or gap. She is considered Shaker 1 by virtue of being able to use herself as a form of trap as she can grow quite large in this state. Similarly, she is a Brute 1 because she is highly durable in her flattened form, being nearly undamagable by anything that isn’t a piercing effect. This entire effect has a Breaker 1 effect, since it does apply to anything inorganic she’s holding or wearing. An odd effect is that she can inhale a very large amount of air, apparently compressing it in her lungs, and then expelling it to cause strong but very localized wind gusts, thus qualifying her, barely, as a Blaster 1. She is also a Striker 2, since her physical blows, although not any stronger than normal, can slide through the thinnest gaps in defenses. Because it is virtually impossible to see her in this form, the power is ranked Stranger 2. Changer 6 by virtue of the primary effect.

Cirno / Cheesecake: Tinker 6 – The Chef-Technician Shard. Cooking and Food based technologies and Techniques. Nanotech Candies, self-cooking meals, food pills, everlasting gobstoppers, food preservation technologies

Year Two Vials (to date)

AJ / Galad: Mover 5, Master 5, Brute 5, Thinker 5, Striker 5 – The Dawnforged Shard. Galad has a pair of charges that can produce a number of beneficial constructs to manifest around him. These constructs seem to be formed out of a golden glow, and can be broken with sufficient force, which dissipates the effect of a single charge apparently at random. It takes approximately ten seconds for each charge to replenish once it’s used, and both charges have to be used (on different effects) before any effect manifests and before the replenishment timer begins. We’re not exactly certain why this is, but it seems to be a hard limit. The charges, when used, generate or upgrade one of five construct effects. These sub-powers are referred to by the names: Wings of Dawn, Eyes of Light, Righteous Defender, Radiant Glory, and Stalwart Avenger.

  • Wings of Glory manifests as Hermes-style winged boots and grants Mover abilities, either superhuman speed and reflexes at one charge or flight at two charges (which causes the wings to octuple in size). Speeds up to 320 mph have been documented on a straight way at either charge level.
  • Eyes of Light manifests as a golden cast to his eyes, turning them a solid metallic color at the second charge, grants Thinker abilities. The first charge grants increased combat processing and directional danger sense. The second grants improved situational awareness and a combat gestalt that makes him a superb field tactician, understanding how to move allies to best effect.
  • Righteous Defender manifests as golden weapons or handheld item crafted of solid light and confers a Striker effect. These weapons / items are always medieval themed and never ranged weapons for some reason, but have manifested as everything from maces to swords to halberds to shields to goblets to semaphore flags and from every culture from mesoamerica to macedonia to mongolia. At the first charge, they’re as effective as supernaturally sharp steel, and nearly indestructible. At the second charge, they grow fuzzy around the edges and cause a kind of burny-rippy damage that is similar to that generated by a vibroknife. A charge can generate up to two seperate objects at the same time, though it need not. And a charge can be expended to change the shape of the weapon or item at will.
  • Radiant Glory manifests as a Golden Banner like a Samurai’s Sashimono or Uma-jirushi at the second charge and generates a Master effect. At both charge levels, it generates a pair of emotional / mental influences, one targeted at the ‘enemy’ and one targeted at ‘allies’. This can (for example) cause fear or despair or a desire to surrender in enemies and courage, daring, or resolve in allies. Any single concept can be applied as long as he can encapsulate it a single concrete thought or word. Charge level 1 works on line of sight. Level 2 works on both LOS and on everyone within 100 meters. It has no lasting effect outside of its area of influence.
  • Stalwart Avenger is the only part with more than two charge levels, and manifests as progressively more and more durable and all encompassing golden armor, which grants Brute effects (increased strength and durability) which are not limited to merely being a squishy in a can, but extend pervasively through Galad’s entire body. The first level merely changes everything he’s wearing to a kind of golden glow and turns him into a Brute 2. The second charge increases that to Brute 3 and manifests a Roman Centurion’s Lorica and Galea (armor and helmet). The third charge increases him to Brute 4 and manifests as Scale & Chain Saracen warrior. The fourth and final charge boosts him to Brute 5 and manifests as full gothic platemail. No matter the degree of helmetage, his vision and hearing are not impaired. Although he doesn’t possess direct regeneration, a charge can be expended at any time one is available to cause a ‘healing surge’ which restores him to either full endurance or full health or repairs a single major injury.
  • All aspects of this power can be turned off at will and without any of them active, Galad is indistinguishable from a normal person. With 12 charges to reach full power, it takes just under 2 minutes for him to fully power up.

Francine / Haberdasher: Thinker 7 – The Network Operations Shard. Can co-opt part of the mental processing powers of anyone around her, as well as utilize their senses. Rejected the nickname ‘Panopticon’. This doesn’t give her control over them, nor does it allow her to read their minds… but it does allow her to make use of their knowledge and skills as if she possessed them natively, as well as their muscle memory. Potential Master, Stranger, and Trump elements, but not strong enough to rank. Overuse of her power causes Thinker headaches in those she co-opts.

 

World 75: Worm – Part 1

THE EVENTS THAT LED UP TO THAT MONDAY

Previously: One Hundred and Eight is a Good Number

Themesong: Rolling in the Deep by Adele

You know, ninety years is a fair amount of time, and it had been a good long run… but it was nice to feel the end of the Jump coming… not the least because, of my nearly a hundred companions, passengers, employees, and hangers-on, a third had managed to get themselves killed in accidents, violence, or misadventure. Disease hadn’t been an issue, thanks to the Warehouse’s Medbay, thankfully, but the extended respawn time was frustrating and I missed them, even though I knew I’d be seeing them once the time came.

And speaking of seeing people once the time came, I’d been looking forward to speaking to Jump-Chan about her experiences as a corporeal being. I’d have spoken to her over the decades… if I’d had the faintest clue where she’d gone off to, but despite hiring thousands of bounty-hunters and PI’s, as well as launching the ‘Are You a ChamberFace?’ global advertising campaign which had run in more than 180 countries and reached 88% of the planetary population for three decades… I’d had no idea where she was or if she was okay or not.

So it was that, after 90 years and more material wealth than I’d ever dreamed was feasible, I re-entered my trans-reality sanctum from my private beach on St. Lucia and looked to the Chamber to see how my interim Benefactor was doing… except she wasn’t there. It would, in fact, take eleven hours for her to show up, disheveled, covered in filth, stinking of spoiled sweat, milk, and booze, and looking very much like she was wearing a yak.

I just gaped at her as she appeared, wobbling, next to my fountain. Thinking fast… and knowing that it would be easier to replace to water in the fountain that deodorize all the furniture and buildings and priceless relics she might infest with who knows what, I gave her a TK shove into said water feature, and held her underwater long enough for Zane to bring me the strongest soap we had and for Velma and Cirno to erect a physical and energy dome over area.

I considered sending Homunculi to scrub her down, but (at the last moment) remembered I had a maid… so I sent her in to scrub down the Chamber incarnate… in a skin tight white Japanese school swimsuit with Hello Kitty on it. Do remember that, while Maidseid might be female… she still looks like Darkseid… i.e. a brick wall with breasts and a permanent glower.

Six hours later, Jump-Chan looked… marginally human. She looked wrinkled, matted, and frumpy, like a 120 year old who had not taken any care of herself and I asked her that point blank. “Did you, like… ever bathe? Once? In nine decades?”

“I got caught in the rain a bunch,” she muttered, gnawing on her fingertips as if they were candy. She flinched as I swatted her hands away from her mouth, then glared at me.

“Seriously? You’ve watched humans for… ever? And you’ve never picked up even the basic skills needed to… act like one?” She shrugged. “Did you work? How did you get food?”

“Tried working. Didn’t like it. Too much effort. Food’s just lying around in the cities… I just ate whatever I found in the stench boxes,” she grumbled.

“You ate out of garbage cans?” I asked, aghast. She shrugged again. “Oh for… for fuck’s sake. Why didn’t you ask for help if you were struggling?!”

“Wasn’t struggling. Plenty of food.”

“Where did you sleep?”

“Wherever?” she grumbled, now gnawing on her rat’s nest of a hairdo. It was less a question than a surly challenge, but the whole thing was making me angry and frustrated.

Squatting in front of her, i grasped her chin and made her look me in the eyes. “This kind of behaviour is not good for your health or sanity, nor befitting one of your standing. If you were aiming for an ascetic lifestyle, it would be one thing, but you weren’t. You made no effort to integrate yourself into mortality, nor to enjoy any of the perquisites of being human, it seems. Honestly, I’ve no idea how you managed to live as long as you did on a diet of garbage, sleeping exposed, and reeking to high heaven. Next time this happens, you’re not going to be allowed to just wander around. Clearly you’re not competent to look after yourself and that’s why you’re normally a stone box that others tend to.” She frowned at that, but had no rebuttal. “Now, what’s next?”

She shrugged sullenly, eyes taking on the thousand yard stare of someone largely divorced from reality. “I forget… bugs or something,” she finally responded after nearly half-an-hour.

I sighed, reviewing what little I knew of the next 9 realities I’d be visiting. There were two or three things Borderlands could be… none of them, to the best of my knowledge, dealt heavily with bugs… though there were insectile enemies in the Borderland video game series… but not ones that featured prominently. Undertale was also, I was pretty certain, a video game, but if there were insects at all in it I had no idea. Star Trek and Honor Harrington were both Space Opera, but neither featured insectile alien races in even minor roles on a recurring basis. Rick & Morty (the few idiotic episodes I’d been forced to endure) had had bug people… but they weren’t the point, any more than the bug people featured in the DC universe or Naruto (bug ninjas… ewww.) were anything more than occasional support characters or bad guys of the week. History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi was a martial arts manga slash anime… I don’t even think it had non-humans at all… except maybe this one character who looked like a shark-toothed elf. Which left… “Worm?” I asked, confused.

She grunted, nodded vaguely, then went back to staring into space.

“Great… uh… what the hell is Worm? And are you going to be able to… you know… act like a Banker?”

She shrugged… then a very small blizzard of pages fell from out of nowhere, fluttering all around. I snatched them out of the air with my mind, then, since they weren’t numbered and were all out of order (and for some reason, my ability to read things instantly wasn’t working on them), I splayed them out on an ice-board and (using a mix of deduction and inference) put them back in order. The introduction, perks, gear, and companion sections were pretty easy to put in order, since they had a basic flow of ever increasing prices… And at the other end, the Drawbacks section and what had to be notes for various things was either mostly easily ordered (or in the case of the notes, strict order wasn’t needed, per se)… but the first page of the Drawbacks included the last two (of 48) ‘Parahuman’ Powers… and that section was a little annoying.

Clearly, these were the heart and soul of whatever ‘Worm’ was… and they were divided into twelve categories: Mover, Shaker, Brute, Breaker, Blaster, Striker, Master, Stranger, Thinker, Tinker, Trump, and Changer… and each had 4 powers underneath it.  Unfortunately, each power (and they seemed, in many cases, to be more power packages really) got exactly one paragraph and no paragraphs broke across pages. So Mover’s first two powers, Blink and Friction Modulation were on the same page that described the Mover Category… and then the next two would clearly be on the next page. If the categories weren’t uniquely numbered so that they could be randomly rolled, I’d have had to guess which categories some of those powers were in since 5 categories were split 2 and 2 across pages, 2 categories were split 1 and 3, and three were split 3 and 1.

Still, I got the whole thing together in a minute and was reasonably certain of the order.. But still had no idea what the hell this whole thing was.  To that end, I ran off a half dozen copies and convened the Inner Circle: Zane, AJ, Francine, Petra, Velma, Carwyn, Joy… and by extension Kendra. Why Kendra? Because where Zane goeth, Kendra showeth. EssJay just kept her mouth shut because it really wasn’t worth the aggravions (those are the fundamental charge particles of irritation, annoyance, and discontentment.)

“Okay folks, we’re going to look through this thing and see if we can make any kind of guesses as to what we’re looking at for this next decade. Jump-Chan is not, I repeat not, in her right mind at the moment and I’ve no idea what we’re getting into, except that it apparently includes Parahumans. I haven’t done more than flipped through this list, haven’t read anything in detail.” They nodded and began to read. I didn’t have my copy, having surrendered it to Kendra, but that was fine. I was relying on a group of hyper-competent individuals… yes, even Miss Young.

Zane, who’d taken the introduction, started things off. “This world is called Earth Bet… clearly using the Hebrew system instead of the Greek. The world appears to have a fairly large number of empowered individuals called ‘Parahumans’ rather than Metas, Metahumans, Mutants, Powers, etc. Apparently, these powers manifest initially only under moments of extra stress… it says ‘distress’ actually, but I assume it means general hyper-stressors such as fear, anger, panic… not just mortal peril… but I don’t know. It does pretty much say this makes most of the empowered individuals a bit less than completely sane and that the heroes are badly outnumbered, with every gang, terror cell, cartel, and corporation pretty much having at least one potential casual mass murderer on standby.”

Kendra sighed. “Sounds lovely.”

Francine smirked. “Sounds lively to me!”

Zane shook his head. “Things are not good on Earth Bet. In addition to what has got to be a pretty incredibly bad crime rate, there are something called ‘Endbringers’ running around leveling or contaminating a city every few months. I don’t know what they are, but they’re powerful enough to kill one in four parahumans that fight them… and I’m guessing that only powerful parahumans even try to fight them… and that they’ve sunk Kyushu in Japan and Newfoundland in Canada. One is, apparently, an (and I quote) ‘evil telepathic future-seeing angel).  Also, at least two major conspiracies are running amok… and that’s all from the first paragraph!”

I nodded, looking around the table. “I think we’re dropping into some serious shit here folks. Chances are good that I’m going to restrict exit from the Warehouse to anyone who isn’t at least a Tier 5… maybe Tier 6, though I’ll make the call on that once I know more.” The others nodded in agreement. The Tier system was our in-house way of gaging just how dangerous a member of the crew was. The system had (in theory) 40 ranks… but in reality, it had 18. It was based on one of three RPG systems I’d invented back before I’d ever become a Jumper and it could and did encompass everything from the weakest of the weak to the strongest of the strong.

Tier 0 was children and largely harmless animals. Tier 1 and 2 were novice level, teenagers, apprentices, those not really trusted to supervise themselves… or in the venerable D&D level system… levels one through three, regardless of edition. Tier 3 was the Journeyman rank, a level above apprentice, but below fully qualified. Think someone who’d just completed vocational training or a high school diploma. On the danger scale, these people could be expected to stand up to a normal threat if combat trained. Tier 4 was fully competent. Someone with 5 years or so experience. Level 6 in the first two D&D editions, 9 from then on. Tier 5 was a Master. Someone with 10,000 hours of practical experience… and in this case it meant 10,000 hours of actual combat experience, either in simulation or field conditions. Our simulations were very very good. It was Level 12+. Tier 6s were solidly at the level 20 mark and were already into the Shounen Protag range. Everyone sitting at the table was Tier 12 or higher. D&D’s level system didn’t have numbers high enough to contain the combat experience gathered at the table with me. We’d seen more wars than most civilizations.

While there were individual Tiers past 12, they became progressively more and more abstract and generally after 12 was 18, then 24, then 30, 36, and 40. I, in my Godhead State… was generally assumed to be either 36 or 40… though I tended to think my companions were over-estimating me just because I was so far out of their league. I tended to place myself no higher than 24… I would love to have access to the pure magical might of a Tier 40 Godmage… but no one had ever made a jump based on one of my roleplaying games… as far as I knew.  Granted, they’d finally been published professionally in the last jump. I had all the editions and splats and they were my own, my precious, and no one could ever call them ‘Home Brew’ again! Bwahaha! This was what success felt like!

“Anything else, Zane?” I asked, steepling my fingertips and looking all businesslike and serious… the effect was somewhat spoiled by Ziggy snoring on my shoulder and looking dead to the world, little paws twitching.

“The date is January First, 2011 and it’s a standard ten year jump unless you do something to extend it… I don’t know if there’s anything you can do to extend it.  It appears that North America is protected by a government agency called the PRT or Protectorate that manages and trains heroes, with a teenage sidekick program called ‘The Wards’… they’re in every major city and coordinate both local and international response to deal Endbringers and what are called ‘S-Class threats’.  I think that somewhere called ‘Brockton Bay’ is the location this… story… takes place. It says it’s the home of someone named Taylor and where most of canon happens. Apparently Brockton Bay gets hammered repeatedly throughout the events to come… totally wrecked and all but uninhabitable from the text. But picking the BB to start is free, or the first result on the wheel of localization.”

Kendra, following along, grunted and ahemmed. “The others are New York, Las Vegas, Europe, Africa, China, and India… I love that there are three cities, three sub-continents, and Africa. Talk about Eurocentrism… or Amerocentrism. Here, pick three american cities… or areas nearly as large or larger than the United States! For fuck’s sake.” I frowned at her. She knew how I felt about preaching to the choir and I was about to ask her if she had a point that everyone at the table didn’t already agree with, but she waved me down. “I bring up the other starting locations because Zane was clearly going to skip over reading them, as there seldom is a point to even rolling since we have trans-stellar transportation… but there’s setting information nested in here.”

I nodded, glanced at Zane who was doing his back of the head scratching thing he does when he’s been called out for being a duffus, then looked back to Kendra with a look that was equal parts ‘He’s your duffus too, you know?’ and ‘Good call, go on.’

She nodded micrometrically to acknowledge both my point and my praise, then launched into reportage mode. “New York’s Protectorate branch is the largest and is headed by someone named Legend, and the city was fairly recently attacked by Behemoth… I don’t know if that’s an individual or an organization. It could really be either. It could be an S-Class Villain, an Endbringer, a Criminal Cartel, a Terror Organization, or one of these Conspiracies. The name is multi-purpose.” She paused and we nodded collectively, but since there were no other questions, she continued.

“Right. Las Vegas is said to be more cloak and danger, with ‘capes’… I guess that’s a catch all for Heroes and Villains?” she began, but AJ chimed in with “And Rogues apparently… Parahumans who aren’t in the crime or crime-fighting business.” Kendra tapped her nose. “And Rogues… have a tradition of using more subtle and secondary power aspects as deadly weapons. The LV Protectorate specializes in S-Class Threats too dangerous to make the public aware of. No real concrete info, but could be something.  Europe has an S-Class threat called ‘The Three Blasphemies’ which seems to wander around smashing towns and cities. There is no apparent European Union version of the Protectorate, and it seems like most of the countries have their own cape organizations. Africa is, largely, a warzone, with all but the Southern part divided into countless fiefdoms ruled by god knows how many parahuman warlords.”

“If distress and despair trigger superhumans, Africa is going to have a lot of parahumans…” Francine considered. “It would be a vicious cycle of… just… those poor people.”

AJ patted Francine’s hand as Kendra continued. “China appears to be Dynastic again, as they have a ruling family that forcefully drafts parahumans into the Yangban, brainwashing them for maximum loyalty.  India, on the other, has public ‘Hot Capes’ who are more showy and public oriented and covert ‘Cold Capes’ who are constantly fighting clandestine wars against each other… This world sounds horrible.”

“Most worlds sound horrible,” I reminded them all. “But at the end of the day, most of them are just full of people trying to get by, to survive, or protect their families. Even the Earth I allowed to be destroyed wasn’t full of utter evil… just mostly… and an utterly hopeless situation. We’ll have to see if Earth Bet is hopeless or not.” I looked to AJ. “Origins?”

“This document specifically points out that Batmanesque ‘Badass Normals’ don’t really exist in this world. If you want to be a cape, you’re a parahuman… or a Jumper slash companion using powers from outside of context. That said, it implies that you can forgo getting a power if you so choose.” He looked at me with a look that said, “Mom? Forgo getting power? HAAA!” I stuck my tongue out at the little brat who’d been my constant companion from the very beginning and he grinned, almost bouncing in his chair. I manifested my very first alt-form behind him and gave him a hug and a kiss on the forehead, which made him blush even as he sent a palpable wave of affection my way. Francine made little gagging noises, like she was a seven year old, not a several thousand year old, so I hugged her too, which she endured stoically.

Hugging Francine had given AJ enough time to gather himself, and he continued as my sending faded back into the ether. “There are two different age rolls, which is kinda odd. Either 13 to 20 or 22 to 36. Teenager or Adult. So that’s pretty standard heroing ages. Less so for Villains or Rogues, but whatever… There’s only one free origin, that being Drop-In. There are four others that cost 100 each, those being Hero, Villain, Rogue, and Conspirator… specifically with someone or something called Cauldron, who is / are, according to this, trying to avert the end of all mankind… so the stakes are high there.” That got a few nods, but no one interrupted, so he finished up his initial survey with, “and there’s a Drawback-linked origin called ‘Shard’… Shard’s description has some interesting language… I’ll quote it… ‘You remember the flickering images of uncountable worlds, and the relentless pull that drew you to a single speck upon but one of them. Something in them connected with you, and in a moment of true distress, you felt your bond form. You are but a presence within a person’s head, bonded with someone who will need the strength and power you can give them. You’re a source of power, and hopefully not something that will drive them to self destruction.’ It sounds like…” He considered for a moment, then nodded, “I’m thinking these Shards are something Alien and somehow link to humans to create Parahumans… I guess. As for the Passenger Drawback… I’m not sure what this is? Petra’s in charge of Drawback Analysis… It’s called Passenger, P.”

Petra, my self-proclaimed Bodyguard, nodded curtly, setting her small smithing hammer cum fidget toy down on the table and picking up her pages. “It’s jumping ahead considerably, but yes. “The Passenger Drawback is +200 CP and does mention that it is Mandatory if you’re a Shard. A Shard, also called a Passenger, seems to be able to subconsciously influence their host but has no autonomy. By taking this origin and drawback, you’ll be able to share all your powers, perks, skills, and knowledge with your host. You’ll also be able to directly communicate with them thanks to your ‘peculiar nature’ but you’ll only be able to assume direct control of their body if they allow it… purely mental actions you’re free to take. If the host dies, then so do you and pfft for the chain… but if they have your perk loadout, that’s probably unlikely unless this realm is a lot more dangerous than DC or Bleach… there are a couple of notes at the bottom, if you’re interested, and there’s some interaction commentary as well?”

I leaned back, considering, eyes narrowed to slits. “Huh… interesting… I’m not certain about that… I guess it all comes down to perks, powers, and maybe equipment.  Nothing’s really calling out to me. I mean, I like being a Hero… but I’ve been a villain… and I guess a Rogue… I don’t know enough about Cauldron to make a call… Saving the humanity is a good thing… but how much danger is humanity in? I just don’t know. Being a Shard… huh… that sounds weird… But yeah, Petra, go ahead. What else is there about Shards or Passengers?”

She grinned, pulled her combat helmet down to look more serious (She has no idea how to look serious, but she tries hard and that’s what counts), and resumed. “First, you can grant your host access to the Warehouse and the ability to call up companions from there… here…. You know what I mean.” She blushed but soldiered on. “If you import a companion, you may instead choose to be their passenger… There’s interaction with another Drawback called ‘Being Taylor is Suffering’ which makes you Taylor’s Passenger… I’m guessing she’s the main character of whatever this is… and it says that if you take this ‘May God Have Mercy on Your Soul’… I can explain that Drawback more in a bit, if you want… but there’s some stuff in the Notes section you probably want to know about first.”

“Go Ahead,” I allowed. “You’ve got the floor, it’s your choice how to direct us.”

With a glance down at the pages, she gave a fierce nod, as if reassuring herself, then said, “First, a major point is that after this jump, any powers become part of you instead of your shard slash passenger. It’s connection to you will be completely severed and all other shard limitations will be removed, even if you stay. That means that ‘Tinkers’ can mass produce their tech, ‘Precogs’ can see the Entities and Endbringers and something called the ‘Manton Limit’ is removed. This applies to you and everyone you bring with… Powers also grow with time and use, but only in already present parameters… not the development of new sub-powers or what have you.” she paused, looked around, opened her mouth as if to ask if there were any questions, but shut it again, then checked her pages.

I used a bit of clairvoyance to peer over her shoulder and saw she’d covered them with notes… in crayon. Thousands of years old… still reverted to childish behaviour… I’m so proud.

“If you take the passenger drawback, any items you buy will either be in the warehouse or in the possession of your host. As a Shard, you can choose what to allow the host to use and to what degree, and they count as you for all relevant whatevers… Once the drawback lapses, they may retain a copy of whatever parahuman power you got from here… if you did. And you can take them as your companion if they’re willing of course. If you import a companion to be your host, they don’t retain a copy of your power unless they didn’t take one.”

“Wait… wait…” Carwyn said, holding up a hand. “That implies something very interesting.” We all turned to face the youngest of our number, making the gorgeous space-elf almost preen… so damned smug… “Right.  Well, Francine and I are the Power Committee… what?”

“We know you’re the power committee… all of us have memories that function,” Velma snarked.

If Carwyn was embarrassed by being called out, she showed no sign of it. “It’s called prefacing a comment, but very well, you overly chesty bovine.” To call Carwyn underblessed in the chestal region would be a gross overstatement, and she steadfastly refused to admit to being envious… but it didn’t take an empath to know she was lying. “As I was saying before I was so rudely gawped at, at the beginning of the Powers section it clearly states “You can only have a single Parahuman Power… but that note clearly implies that a Shard-Companion Combo could have two powers.”

Kendra nodded slowly, then pointed out. “For the duration of the jump at least. After that, you’d split back apart into your constituent pieces.”

“I believe, K, that Carwyn meant that last for me. As you probably remember, I contain my own permanent Passenger. Atura and I are bound together and share the same body and soul, but she is, in fact, a Companion. As such, yes… I could… Hmmm… That would be interesting role reversal. Atura? You up for it?” I asked, then a different voice came out of my own mouth.

%Are you implying that I be the corporeal one for this evolution and that you’ll be the voice in the back going ‘No, don’t touch that you stupid monkey woman?’%

“Well… yes. That is, in part, what I am suggesting… while at the same time denying that either of us is a stupid monkey woman.” As I said that, I transformed into my Infernape form, which, to be fair, is a flaming monkey… but not a stupid one. “Are you amenable to this blatant attempt to game the rule. One we’re only attempting because of blinkard defiance of the system?”

%Fight the power. Rage Against the Machine. We shall overcome,% said the twilight spirit, in a voice all but lacking emotionality.

“What she said. Well, I guess, unless we see a reason to do otherwise, we’re going to proceed with that plan… assuming it is point reasonable. I did promise an import slot to Meetra for this jump and I’ve no idea how expensive those slots are. So, Petra, what’s our Drawback Cap for this jump and Kendra, what’s the Import situation like?”

“A thousand CP,” supplied Petra, “or 800 more with the 200 from Passenger.”

Kendra, who was the Items and Companions Committee, supplied the rest. “First, your plan will work specifically because it nots that ‘Imported non-human companions get a human alternate form, as well as a history and memories of this world, including their trigger event… Note that these are extremely traumatic and will result in psychological issues of some sort, so don’t expect your companions to be very happy about being imported. Second, a single import under ‘Cape’ costs 100, 200, or 300 CP, while Full Line Up is the 8 person for 300 as well. Full Line Up specifically states it can only be purchased once. A canon character can be purchased at 100 CP besides the Endbringers or Entities, who apparently can’t be purchased, and a fully sapient AI can be purchased for 300 or 600, depending on if it has a robot body or not.”

“Huh. Well, you heard Kendra… if picked to Import, you’re volunteering for psychologic fall out. You’ve only yourself and whoever created this setting to blame,” I supplied.

%Oh good. I’ve never had a psychosis before. They seem fun.%

“You have a strange definition of fun, lady,” Zane supplied.

%You have a strange definition of Lady,% Atura shot back.

Petra spoke up then, ‘One Note. At the end of the decade, in addition to all drawbacks ending at the end of the stay, there’s a Consolation Prize everybody gets… not just Imports. Everyone you take with you. It’s perfect mental health, all psychological issues, trauma, and scars healed like they were never there. Even those gained before this jump. Even if you stay. Also, free hugs for life from Jump-Chan. None of this is mandatory, but it is free… Can I turn down the hugs and keep the sanity?”

“Why turn down the hugs?” Velma asked.

“Because Jump-Chan looks like a prune with tentacles and smells like leather soaked in kombucha and cat urine,” responded the often adorable crab girl. She frowned in a way that made me want to snuggle her, even though she was not fond of snuggling. She prefered being drummed on with gong mallets… but to each their own.

Velma sighed, “She won’t always look or smell like that. We just have to teach her how to human.”

“Why?” Petra sulked.

“Because she wasn’t happy and clearly needs help,” Velma said, picking up Petra’s hammer and bonking her on the helmet lightly.

“Regardless, regardless. Good to know about the psychological problems and the cure and all that, but Kendra, explain why there are so many levels of import and what we get from that. I noticed that the Power Section is entirely randomized. Does the import include a roll or a pick or what?”

“Cape comes with any origin and freebies, plus a free power roll, plus 400 CP per hundred you spend. No duplicate powers, so if a power is rolled twice, it can be rerolled, but they don’t have to take a power if they’re mental. Full Line Up is the same, but it’s a flat 800 each.”

Francine spoke up, “As for the random nature of the powers, that can be alleviated slightly for paying 200 CP to pick either category or power, or 400 for both.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “But that would cut heavily into the CP budget.”

“True, but most of the powers seem like they’d be worth 200 or 400 points,” The PsiMon concurred.

“Fair enough, but by that logic, all those that are worth the points are equally valuable and obtainable for free if you’re lucky. It’s a 400 CP cost if you’re being picky,” I pointed out.

“Not if we go with the Shardification of EssJay Plan,” Carwyn said. “Shards get to pick for free.”

“That would explain why they have no equipment at all,” Kendra supplied. “I’d been wondering.”

“Well, we’ll get to powers in a bit,” I said. “But for right now, we’re at 1200 CP with the base budget and the 200 from Passenger. I’ll spend the 300 for Full Line Up, and assign slots to Meetra and Atura of course, plus… mmmm…. Zane? Kendra?”

Zane nodded enthusiastically, Kendra frowned, then shook her head “I’m out. I don’t think this place is my speed. Take… mmm… Petra instead.” Petra eeped, peeked out from under her helmet, then grinned and gave Kendra thumb’s up.

I nodded, then looked around the table. “Petra’s in. Velma? Carwyn?”

Carwyn picked up some runestones she’d been studying, then nodded. “Take Frankie and Mini too. They love this kind of ‘Our World at War’ stuff.”

Velma bit her lip, signed, then leaned back. “Too angry for me. I kinda agree with Kendra. I don’t want one of those things inside my head or the associated trauma. I seed my place to… take the Luteces. This is a mad science kind of world and they should be used to psychological horror.”

I considered, then nodded. “Very well, Zane, Meetra, Carwyn, Petra, Atura, plus Frankie, Mini, and the Luteces if they all agree. Joy, you and Ahab shouldn’t be too screwed, since you’ll each get a power roll for free.”

Joy considered, then nodded. “Yes. That should be fine. I’ll pass the information to Ahab… since we don’t have working tablets at the moment. I assume we’ll have to write things out by hand and assume the powers that be will figure it out.”

“Right. So… Mmm… AJ, do you have any more information that you’ve managed to glean from the Origins?”

“Nothing from Drop-In, Hero, Villain, or Rogue. Conspirator says outright that the world is in a great deal of danger and there doesn’t seem like much hope. Apparently, Heroes, Villains, and Rogues are all among the ranks of Conspirators.  But that’s it. You’ll have to look elsewhere for data… I’d suggest the Drawbacks… they often list the status quo you’ll be changing.”

“One piece of information,” Joy said, (She and Velma were the Perk Committee), “There’s a perk called ‘Outside Context Problem’… it’s free for everyone and seems to be fairly… important. It implies that without it you’re likely to die right after the start of the jump.”

Everyone turned to look at her and she nodded. “Yeah, that was what I was thinking. The text says ‘It’d be boring if you were to just die right at the start, so for free you’ll have a selective immunity to the powers of a few rather nasty plot device level opponents that by all rights would probably want to kill you right out of the gate.’ It then goes on to list them as ‘Contessa, Ziz, and Zion’ and says you’ll be protected from their precog, and they won’t notice this until you garner enough attention for them to try to force the issue… which will cause a zero-sum error. This should keep you safe initially from being instantly killed due to the threat you pose to their plans. It also works on all shard derived precog. Though it does say that someone named Coil is an exception to this due to the weird nature of his power.’

“Right. Coil (Individual – Male – Para), Contessa (Individual – Female? – Para?), Ziz (Individual – Para?), Zion (Individual – Para?), Behemoth (Individual or Group?), Cauldron (Individual or Group?), Taylor (Individual – Female – Para?), Three Blasphemies (Group?), PRT (Group), Protectorate (Group), Wards (Group), Entities (Classification or Group?), Endbringers (Classification or Group?), Brockton Bay (Location – North America), Legend (Individual – Para), and Earth Bet (Location). Well… it’s a start. Petra, what can you add to this?”

She considered for long enough for us to get some snacks delivered and then said, “I’ll start with the notes as that’s less open to interpretation.  The notes on power growth mention that someone named Skitter has bug control. The notes on what must be an item called ‘Cauldron Vials’ that apparently grant power mention that those granted such powers will be benchmarked to the Travelers rather than the Triumvirate… no other information about either besides that the later are clearly more powerful than the latter. It specifically says that there are parallel worlds in this setting and references Doormaker and an item called the Dimensional Breach Controller… but also points out that they don’t all have just mildly different events but wildly different cultures, geography, etc as well. It says that there are roughly around the same number of parallels as there are particles in a single universe. We are not dealing with DC here. And it says that the Shards and Entities are not common knowledge. Only a few people in this entire setting know they exist.”

Chewing on some moose jerky, I added Travelers (Group or Classification?), Skitter (Individual – Female – Para), Triumvirate (Group?), Doormaker (Power or Individual?) to my list of things I needed more information about… the tossed Vials, Shards, and D-Breach Controller on there as well.

Petra, now chewing on some nice platinum-vanadium encrusted selenite bonbons, said. “Well, from the drawbacks, we get information from the very start. There are two zero-point modifier Drawbacks, but which help define some of the setting. ‘What Came Before’ changes the starting point to January 1st, 1984, or anywhere in the 27 years between the normal start date and then. That date is defined as being a little under two years after the first sighting of Scion… who appears to have been the first superhero to show up. It also puts you before the founding of the Triumvirate and the emergence of Behemoth and his siblings.”

I considered that information, then nodded. “Okay. Here’s what I think. I think Behemoth is an Endbringer. I think his siblings are almost certainly Ziz and Leviathan. They’re three biblical elemental monsters. Behemoth the monster of Earth, Ziz of the Air, and Leviathan of the waters. Have to wonder if they’ve got any connection to Zion… Zion is Israel and those three are ancient hebrew myths. Hmm… Scion… Zion… wonder if that’s just a coincidence. While it might be tempting to try and head the bad events off… I don’t really know enough to make that feasible. So… no on that option. What else, P?”

“Before she resumes,” Kendra interrupted, “I can confirm the existence of Leviathan and that they are Endbringers. There’s a joke item called ‘Friendbringers’, miniature and adorable toddler-sized pet versions of the trio. Tiny-Ziz can predict the future well enough to have your mini-Behemoth and mini-Leviathan make you coffee before you realize you want it. They’re novelties… but in very poor taste… Sorry to step on your toes, P.”

Petra wiggled her metal claws at Kendra, then reverted to human form and said, “The other zero pointer is called ‘Forgot My Cell Phone’ and it means that Annette, who is evidently Taylor’s mother, didn’t die in a fatal accident. Apparently someone named Emma was Taylor’s friend and after Annette’s death, Emma was attacked by parties unknown to us and turned on Taylor. This guarantees that, barring direct action on our part, or the world ending, Taylor will never suffer enough to trigger nor will any member of her family be killed in collateral actions.”

“She must be very important to the story,” Velma commented. “Poor girl.”

Petra nodded enthusiastically. “It specifically mentions that if you take this you’d have butterflied away the girl who was going to save the world.”

“That’s life as a Protagonist. Ichigo’s mother died to a Hollow. Naruto was an orphan, Pug was an orphan, Taran was an orphan, Arthur Pendragon was an orphan, Aerith was an orphan… Annie was a little orphan.  Drizzt’s entire species were fucking psycho. It’s a cheap way to build pathos by introducing a tragic backstory. Also effective… as tempting as it might be to stop Taylor’s suffering, growth is fueled by our personal tragedies to a huge extent. I’d be stealing that from her and keeping her from being what she could be. Might have to have a word with this Emma. What kind of bitch turns on a friend who’s just lost their mother?”

“Maybe the attack changed her?” Joy suggested.

“Maybe,” I agreed. “Teenagers are fragile. Okay, well, go on Pet.”

“The next drawback, the first worth points, is called ‘Personal Problems’… it’s personal. No setting information here, but I recommend you take it. It’s pretty much free points.” I quirked an eyebrow in my most vulcan fashion and she explained. “It’s a drama booster. Some personal issue that’s going to take time and effort to resolve, and a propensity to develop more such issues as time goes by. It’s +100 and not at all dangerous… just a bit annoying.” She shrugged as if to say, ‘It’s your choice, but that’s my two cents.’

Pursing my lips, I looked around the table for any counter argument. There weren’t any so I gave Petra a millimetric nod. “I’ll take it then. That’s +300 out of 1000 possible. Go on.”

“Next is No Respect, also +100. Only setting information is that it compares the level of respect gained by taking this drawback is similar to the reps of a duo named ‘Uber and Leet’.” There was a mass shudder at that name… I think even the furniture cringed. “Being taken seriously will be a major hassle if you take this, and you’ll start as a laughing stock… but it can be overcome. Painful but not punishing.”

I waved for her to continue, putting that into the ‘maybe if I need the points’ category, but it didn’t sound like fun and I generally prefer to be the butt of jokes when I allow it to happen and when the fates of millions aren’t on the line. Not for a mere 100.

“Gang Pressed is another +100. Brings up the Wards, Protectorate, and Cauldron as potential involuntary employers… as are gangs and companies.”

“Can’t we just… not do what they say?” Joy asked, and AJ and Carwyn both nodded in agreement.

Petra shrugged. “It does say that, with effort, we’d be able to get out of it, but there will be nasty consequences that we don’t want to deal with if we violate it. Especially if we pick Cauldron, which is a three favors thing.”

“Riiight. No thanks. We’ll pass. Not worth the hassle,” Zane said. It was presumptive of him to speak for me, but I didn’t mind, nor did I bother countermanding him just to be a pain in the butt. I didn’t think +100 was enough to deal with that particular irritant.

Taking my silence for agreement, Petra continued. “Uber and Leet’s Jumper Special is the last at the 100 price point. It implies that they’re massive video game fans and that, consumed with envy because we’ve gone to video game universes while they’re stuck on Earth Bet, they’ll make it their personal mission to cause maximal trouble for us. Leet, it turns out, is a Tinker with some kind of limit on what he can build… a limit that this drawback removes. They know all about our jumper nature. Every moment of their harassment will be broadcast on their personal web show and we’ll be famous in very short order. They will find us if you take this.”

“I don’t suppose we can just kill them and be done with it?” Joy asked.

“The text says nothing about them being unkillable, but I suspect mother would not approve of casually murdering relatively harmless people for CP,” Petra pointed out.

“No. But we could stasis them. Still, doesn’t seem like fun. Never mind. I’ll put it in the maybe bank, but I’m not thrilled with anyone knowing about the Jumping. Go on.”

Adjusting her helmet, she paused to take a drink, then said, “In addition to Passenger and the aforementioned ‘Being Taylor is Suffering’, there are three other +200s. I’ll start with Being Taylor is suffering, since Passenger modifies it. Normally, you’d become Taylor if you took this drawback… and no it can’t be combined with Forgot My Cell Phone… but as you know, Passenger means you’d become Taylor’s Shard, the source of her parahuman power. If you take BTiS, you keep your origin for discounts and freebies, but are stuck inside her with her memories and personality. And while it’s not on rails, the shitshow is guaranteed.”

“No thank you,” I said curtly.

“Figured. That’s why I got it out of the way. The others are ‘On the Radar’ which means you’re a Cauldron Person of Interest… oh… it says ‘them’, so we have confirmation Cauldron is a group, not a person. They’ll mess with things behind the scenes to influence your actions and they know about you, but it doesn’t say how much they know about you. I think this implies more ‘they know of your existence’. It does say they’re very ends justify means and they’re going to subject you to immediate scrutiny… top ten priority type scrutiny. No coasting under the radar.”

“Mmm… maybe. Go on.”

“The next is one of those phrases as a name ones I hate,” Petra made a face, “a stupid one too. It’s called ‘Meh, I can take her’ and it means you keep underestimating enemies and it keeps biting you on the butt… but does say that heavy hitters like Kaiser, the Triumvirate, and Lug won’t trigger it… but lower tier individuals like Uber and Leet, Circus, Parian, and the Undersiders will. And Skitter not only always triggers it, but any fight with her ends with you being humiliated and beaten. It says this could get you killed.”

“Right. I’m not taking something that gets me beaten by a bug controller. Especially not a potentially lethal beating… this Skitter has the worst power… unless there are a lot of really big bugs. If this was Starship Troopers, she’d be invaluable however. I do wonder if she can control Reggy’s Keepers of the Silence or Takers… not that I want her making Takers.” I said hurriedly, just in case she was listening. I’d hardwired a prohibition into Reggy’s mind against making Takers from day one and hadn’t relaxed ever. Takers were baaaad news. They turned people into zombies under Reggy’s control. Very creepy and nearly impossible to reverse.

“Okay. Okay. The last is Wanted. It just means that you’re the primary target of whatever the local powers that be are and they’re taking bringing you down seriously. It could be criminal cartels if you go hero or rogue or LEOs if you go Villain… or more criminals. Either way it’s certain they’re going to dedicate serious resources and time to finding you and dealing with you.”

“Well… that’s… I’m thinking that’s sub-optimal, but… This is getting tricky. Continue… though I’m guessing this is only going to get worse, if the 200s are any indication.”

My little crab-girl nodded dryly. “In the 300 range, we’ve got ‘You Needed Worthy Opponents’ which sics the Endbringers on you… up to and including them specifically modifying their tactics to force you to confront them, ignoring their self-imposed limits on casualties and destruction if they can’t get at you, and changing up their attack cycle to take you down. This specifies they have particular goals and that people will catch on to this change in their behaviour.”

“Mmm… that is tempting… but it does somewhat require me to take out enemies I’m not even vaguely certain of the nature of,” I said, petting Ziggy who was trying to pounce on AJ’s lunch.

“You can’t be serious, Ess!” Zane scoffed. “You’ve fought Yhwach and Darkseid. Do you really think…” He waved his hand at the stack of papers and notes, but didn’t continue, just looked aggrieved.

“Do I think these Endbringers can pose a threat to me?” I asked, then answered the collective nods. “I don’t know. But I know nothing about their capabilities and I’m not an idiot. This is a superhero setting of some kind. Underestimating enemies is how we end up with dead planets. I might be able to fight these Endbringers with one homunculi… but let’s assume that this Legend or Scion individual is a Superman Expy. I don’t know that either is… but let’s make that assumption. If these three Endbringers are still functioning after years in a realistic superhero setting, which we have to assume, since they’re talking about 1 in four capes dying against the Endbringers, that means they’re strong enough to survive multiple fights with a Superman Expy. Maybe not a Cosmic Tier Superman, but even a Planetary Tier Superman is going to be bad news. So maybe I can fight them… but maybe the fight would require me to unfurl my wings as it were. If I have to do that, I could oneshot the planet.”

“There’s a perk here that limits Collateral Damage,” Velma said.

“Huh. Well… that might help. But it doesn’t stop them from doing that kind of damage fighting back against me, does it?” She shook her head. “I didn’t think so. That said, they’re already a threat, so maybe fighting them isn’t a bad idea. I’ll think about it.”

“Fucking Jumpers is the next one. It means everyone in the world knows about you being a jumper and everyone believes it… and a lot of them think you’re an S-Class Threat in the making. The PRT/Protectorate will be given a full rundown on all your capabilities, history, tactics, and psyche profile… though you get a copy too, free of charge… unfortunately, that’s because it’s all over the internet now.”

I plucked ZIggy off the table and asked him, “Do I look like an idiot, baby?”

He nodded “Momma Idiotbaby!”

I chuckled and kissed his little nose. “Thaaanks.” I drawled, then dropped him on AJ’s head and stood from the table to pace. “That… sounds like a horrifically bad plan in a setting where we need precog immunity. No. Just… not going to happen. And no new information there either. How many more 300s are there? Are we close to the end of the list? I think I saw a +1000?”

“You did. And it’s a Limit buster. So you can take it and another 1000 if you’re mental…” Petra smirked and I stuck my tongue out at her. “But I’ll get there. There’s one more 300, three variables with ranges from 100 to 300, a 600, and an 800… but you’re not going to take the 600… probably not going to take the 800 or the 1000 either, but I’m certain you’re not going to take the 600.”

“Well, now I’m intrigued, but we’ll keep things orderly. What’s the next 300?”

“Kill Order. A Global Price tag on your head, for both your alias and your identity.”

I blinked. “Wait… does this give them any capacity to do so? Any advantages?”

“Nope. Just permission and motivation. Your opponents are going to be going all out.”

“Fuck it. Sure. Why the hell not. I could take Wanted and On the Radar too and that’s 1000. Not optimal, but that doesn’t put anyone else in trouble and really doesn’t actively penalize me or weaken my position.” I looked at the Inner Circle and asked, “Any contraindications I’m missing?”

They didn’t look thrilled, but none of them spoke up.

“Okay Petra, let’s run through the others for information, but unless something else screams take me. I think we’re set, pointwise.”

With a smirk that mirrored mine, she nodded and began rattling them off. “Case-53 is worth 100 to 300 or zero if you just have some tattoo… otherwise it’s a physical mutation. 100 gets you something minor, like someone named Canary who has Canary Yellow hair with feathers mixed in. 200 makes you look inhuman but be otherwise fine… it names three, Gregor, Newter… that’s new opposite of old, plus ter… not Neuter… and Weld. For 300 it’s severely debilitating and there’s a high chance you’re a serious danger to everyone around you… like Sveta and Noelle, whoever they are. It gets you an altform post-jump.”

I shook my head. She pressed on, “A Bad Influence explains what Shards want… information to learn, grow, and evolve… and how they get it… by influencing their hosts towards conflict to pit their powers against one another in new and novel ways. Normally your Passenger would be effectively benign… but this drawback pushes that to a more hostile footing. 100 means your Passenger gives you the basic conflict drive that all parahumans have at base, your highs might be higher, your lows lower, and you’ll find conflict attractive and fulfilling. For 200, those urges are constant and you’ll find yourself resorting to conflict first and foremost, even when it’s not ideal. For 300, those urges are omnipresent and irresistible. Resisting will cause mental instability.”

I paused, looking at her as several things clicked into place and I paused, going very still as my advanced calculation systems went into overdrive. “Shard… they’re part of something bigger… I was thinking too much in terms of my own Soul Shard system… no… this is not good. Precog… Mmm… Petra… can I assume that the third variable cost drawback is psychological dysfunction?… I remember seeing it’s name is ‘Bent to Broken’ when I put this in order.” She nodded slowly. “And the 600 is a powerless or amnesia drawback?”

“Powerless. Warehouse Lockout… and people around the world are triggering with the powers you lost,” She said in a low voice and I frowned.

“Only if I was a very very young jumper,” I muttered, then asked. “What is the 800?”

“It’s called Golden Morning. It says that our Benefactor has told Zion that if he kills you that they’ll bring his mate back to life and send them both along the chain in your place. He won’t have any limits on what he’ll be willing to do to kill you… but he’ll have to do it personally… not just blow up the planet you’re on.”

“I thought it might be something like that. Additional theory. Zion… and his mate… are the Entities. They’re what the Shards are Part of… I’m even going to make a guess that they’re the titular ‘Worms’. They’re using multiple parallel Earths as testing grounds… I’m not certain why, but almost certainly because they can. They create Parahumans to test powers, maybe even create threats to push the parahumans in new ways. It’s stress testing powers… and if a world full of humans dies in the process… no big deal, right? They’re just… disposable.” I ground my teeth as the potential variables tried to disprove my hypothesis, but I found nothing to prove wrong. I was missing information… but I had a working theory. Time would tell if I was wrong… but I was guessing I was at least 80% right. “I’m almost willing to try that one… but the risk to other worlds if I fail is too high. But it does tell me that Zion’s mate is apparently dead as of story start. I wonder if that helps us.” I breathed out, then sat back down heavily.

“Well, I’m not taking the 1000 CP Drawback. I read the title while I was collating. ‘Everything Gets Worse’ does not sound like something worth taking unless one is a masochist.”

Petra nodded. “It guarantees all the worst stuff will happen, but worse, and you’ll be there and can’t stop it and Golden Morning… whatever that is… will happen and you’ll reach it and you’ll not be able to stop Jack Slash from apparently causing it?.. But after that, if you don’t give it everything you have, you’ll die… and even then it’ll be a close call.”

I shook my head “Not on a dare.”

“Everything Gets Worse does mention an event called ‘Slaughterhouse 9000’ as well… but no context besides that it happens in North America,” Petra added, finishing up her description by raising another complication.

“Right… Good… Well, I guess we have a full CP loadout… Kendra? Any information to be gleaned from the Item or Companion section?” I asked, hopeful.

“Oh. I’m certain there is,” the statuesque beauty responded, leaning against Zane to pilfer some of his pad ped string bean (extra spicy). “Like there’s something called a Richter AI in the Companion section, as I mentioned before, that’s fully sapient and sentient and really really advanced and it uses mechanized bodies called ‘Dragon-Mechs’ or ‘The Azazel’… but that’s more questions not answers. But the Item section does have the answers. Absolutely. First off, there’s a 50 CP item called ‘Worm’… it’s free for Drop-In’s… it says that Worm is a Web Serial by someone named Wildbow… and gives you the entire thing on a tablet computer… including every statement the author has ever made about the setting… And before you all lynch me for not bringing this up sooner… I already penciled Zane in as a Drop-In and no tablet has appeared. I don’t think we can get this before Insertion. We have to be locked down before we get stuff… even memories or personality. That’s not unusual, of course, under Jump-Chan, and was only something that occasionally happened under the Banker… It didn’t seem worth bringing up.”

I considered, then acknowledged her point. “Fair enough. And as Zane’s getting a copy, we’ll know everything soon… just not soon enough to change anything. Any more information?”

“Little things here and there. I’ll run through the items that give no information to speak of first, then glean what can be gleaned… Funds is 50k or 100k plus business assets for a Rogue. Costume, which is free for all but DIs is resistant to fire, electricity, cutting stabbing, shooting, the weather, and wear and tear and comes well designed and suited to your identity and powers and you know how to make more. Little Black Book is a tablet computer that contains a Cape database, but not including secret insider information, plus contact info for everyone who can be reached. Stays current using the internet. Weapons are weapons, basic and nothing fancy. Identification is an ID solid enough it can’t be proven false. Containment foam is foam strong enough to withstand all but the highest level Brutes without suffocating anyone. Lair is a a Lair. Business is a medium-sized and well off business that you own. Turns a profit without your input. Gets maximum synergy from your abilities if you do provide personal attention.”

She took a drink, then shrugged. “So far, so boring, right? Well, it’s about to get interesting. Powered Armor has the physical enhancement of a mid-tier brute and a power from one of the other 11 categories… also mid-range… plus additional systems for 50CP each… item import for 50CP each… and yes that’s really abusable. Completely restored every morning.” She smirked at me and mouthed ‘VIctoria’. I nodded, having understood perfectly well.

“The Numberman’ item gives you a contact number for the Numberman’s banking service… legal and illegal cash services. I assume he’s a pretty major mover… but discreet? I dunno. But intriguing. Corona Stimulants are power boosters… 50% boost for several hours… use only one every 12 hours or you get an incredibly painful migraine that will leave you effectively helpless for hours instead. Can potentially boost other biological or neural powers… so Raildex Esper Powers yes… HP magic? No.” We nodded, but didn’t interrupt her roll. She was burning through the list fast and lose, but that was fine. We’d each read through it again and again to make final choices.

“Tinker-Tech Cache is a bunch of hyper-tech gizmos… whatever you like. Free if you are a Tinker, on the assumption you made this stuff yourself. Like pretty much everything else, it’s self-repairing and returns to the warehouse if stolen or lost or destroyed.  There’s Protectorate Headquarters… apparently that’s on a rig in the actual Bay for Brockton Bay. Complete with forcefield defenses, it’s a fortress. Center of Power is an a tall office building with an underground bunker that could potentially survive an Endbringer Attack… it’s essentially the Villain version of the HQ… again, no Recon-info… besides the fact that this probably means there is one of these in Brockton Bay. The Tinker Dara Core is a database of Tinker-Tech… documentation, analysis, blueprints… centuries of advanced science if examined properly and reverse engineered… though it would take a couple lifetimes… it’s not all the tech from the Wormverse, but it’s as close as you’ll get without extraordinary effort.”

“That it?” Zane asked, stealing back his rapidly vanishing Thai-food.

“Nope. There’s two more. The big two I think. Cauldron Vials and the Dimensional Breach Controller. Assuming the Vials really do exist in setting and I can’t think of why they wouldn’t… they grant relatively powerful parahuman abilities that, while completely random, are guaranteed to suit their host in some way. There are five of them in the case and unlike the normal formula, these have no risk of mutation or death, and are perfectly stable… they’ll have no effect on you and refills once per year. Outside the jump they grant the equivalent of a parahuman power, regardless of the lack of… get this… shards OR ENTITIES… I think that counts as clear confirmation they’re linked?” We all nodded. “I just noticed that… sorry.  Anyway… I think one of us should probably grab that for the goonsquad… oh, and the DBC, which sounds really nifty. It’s like the Portal Gun… but for opening and closing dimensional portals… as in this should be capable of closing the Hellmouth… It has software sophisticated enough to define locations or parameters you’d like to find at the destination… once you figure out the controls. It’s keyed to physical dimensions initially, but spiritual ones are possible with enough experimentation and innovation… probably. In my home reality, I’m pretty certain the Hell Dimensions are still physical. The DBC can always open portals to mirror worlds like it can in the Wormverse, and once you’ve got a Spark… anywhere in the multi slash omniverse. And that’s it. K-Star Out!” She threw up horns and then pretended to be on an elevator that was taking her down under the table.

“Nice… I guess. Never really felt the need to travel to parallels… but could be handy. I’m not spending the points for it… but if someone does… That would be cool.” I trailed off, looking between the Power and Perk teams. “Power Team,” I finally decided, addressing Francine and Carwyn. “I’m not going to have you breakdown all 48 powers, obviously. I assume, pretty much everyone’s going to roll and that means we’ll have 11 of them. I’ll get my choice as a Shard… but Atura will roll for hers, so a little randomness is good. But what are we looking at? An idea of the power levels involved and how dangerous are they? Any recon-info as Kendra put it?”

Francine took point and said, “First… Props to the Wildbow fellow. If these powers are indeed all from Worm, and indicative of the kind of things found there, he’s created and expanded a huge number of abilities in creative ways rather than relying on the old standbys and turned individuals who would not have been superhumans in other settings into parahumans in his. Second, almost all these abilities have clearly weaponizable qualities and range from strong to very strong to potentially game breaking.”

I raised an eyebrow at that, “Are we talking DC Game Breaking?”

“Yes. Just from the very first category, Mover, we have Blink which allows rapid-fire chain teleporting to any location within 200 meters with an instant’s thought, as well as modification of your orientation and momentum to anything that is physically possible for you or for your target. It includes immunity to disorientation and imbalance this might cause, as well as what it calls ‘Secondary Thinker Aspects’ that grant the user the superhuman spatial and situational awareness needed to make best use of it and the capability to handle the sensory input at speeds to optimally function. A Blinker can take targets or objects they are touching, but they are volume… not mass, volume, limited… up to five times the Blinker’s size.” Francine had stood to relay all that and remained standing, arms behind back at military parade rest. “Shall I continue?”

“I… that could be very useful. It’s several times the power of Nightcrawler who doesn’t have that range per jump and can’t manipulate momentum like that, nor does he have that level of ride along. Yes. Continue. Further examples would be appreciated.”

“Be aware, there is very little in this section with probative value… aside from a general sense of how much local power we’re dealing with… but if even one in a thousand individual humans on a single Earth is a Parahuman in this range, we’re talking 7 to 8 million Street Tier or Higher Superhumans,” Francine said. “I do not know if that is an accurate percentage and imagine it depends on environmental stressors a great deal.”

“Understood. Tell me what you can. And Carwyn, jump in as needed,” I instructed.

“I’ll do the setting details,” the space-elf said. “And leave general analysis to Francy.”

“Thanks, Red,” The Alakazam said, using TK to wiggle her fake moustache. “If Blink compared to a Marvel mainstay, then Friction Modulation will compare to a DC. It’s Flash lite… but done differently. Immunity to friction when needed, increasing it when wanted. No upper limit and all negative effects from boosting your momentum are negated… So you can move through the air at hypersonic speeds without suffering from atmospheric ablation or resistance… or from suffering from hitting something harder than you can handle. Complete inertia and momentum control. Think… Flash plus Speedball… kinetic immunity, perfectly scaling reflexes… and perfect balance and poise too. While it’s weaker than flash in some ways… the near total battlefield impunity makes up for much of the lose in practicality… and it extends to people and objects touched as well.”

“I… see…” I drummed my fingers on my biceps and nodded. “Very useful… differently balanced, but with martial training and some decent edged weapons, that could be very dangerous to your fellow humans. Not so much to Brutes or Tanks with their ability to shrug off damage lower than the kiloton range… but even then… get a javelin up to speed and release it… your power will keep you from punching harder than you can withstand… but not something you’re launching I’ll wager… good… good.” I turned to Carwyn. “What can you glean from this before we just go looking for cool power sets?”

“Well, the Transporter ability says that Contessa has a Power called ‘Path to Victory’ in the context of saying that you have full-fledged Contessa level PtV with regards to getting something from point A to point B as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible… assuming it is possible at all. But only with regards to transportation. The ultimate escort and courier planning power it looks like. Not particularly weaponizable, but of extreme utility… especially if you want to know how to get this arrow into that guy’s heart.” She smirked and I knew what she was thinking… she was, after all, a pretty decently gifted precog. She knew how to abuse a power like that. “Path to Victory, by the way, is in the Thinker Category and confirms that it is not as powerful as Contessa’s version until Post Spark. The power, when given a goal or intent, searches possible futures for a successful resolution and provides the information needed to achieve that end. The power on offer is like a video-game’s list of detailed objectives, rather than what it describes as ‘Contessa’s plot device level Path’, but baring outside inferferance from someone immune to precog,” She glared at me, “or a more powerful precog I’d imagine, following the instructions will result in successfully reaching your goal… as long as you don’t make a mistake or fuck up. It does rely on your own abilities to determine what steps you are capable of doing… and it can be very straining to use this ability.”

“So… that’s the set of why the Precog Protection. Contessa has PTV, Ziz is a Precognitive Kaiju, and Zion is the source of all many or most of these powers. We don’t know how many Entities there are or if the Shards of a Dead Entity can still provide powers, in the case of Zion’s Mate… but I’m not assuming she’s meaningless just because she’s dead.” I narrowed my eyes as I spoke, already building contingency plans to utilize if the Entities proved not just to be curious and unethical experimenters, but outright hostile… which was seeming all too likely. It’s not easy dealing with something you have no idea of the capabilities of… but if these powers were indicative, they had control over basic and fundamental forces… and if they were giving those powers away, they had to have more powerful versions of their own to draw on… or they were idiots.

“There’s a whole section describing Tinkers, saying they’ve got the equivalent of a database of extremely advanced scientific data and technology in their heads, but its thematic. A bomber Tinker will build hyper-tech bombs, an efficiency Tinker will build things that are hyper-efficient… etc. They can, within their speciality, build almost everything they can imagine and seamlessly integrate any STEM skills or knowledge they already possess. It straight up says this is the collected science of hundreds of advanced civilizations.”

“Right. Interesting… That database might be worth handing over to some of my Magi to see what they think… I wonder if the tech is on par with my high end stuff… that could be very dangerous,” I muttered, adding that information to the growing and potentially distressing file on Wormverse.”

Carwyn preened as if I’d complemented her… but then again, she always acted like she was being complemented… giant egotistical wench… then again, the pure unrepentant way she did it was half of what drew me to her. She was soo damned smug that it was actually amusing. “We’ve got three new names from the Powers sections… We think. One power is called ‘The Alexandria Package’. It’s a flying brick. Overwhelming Strength and Durability, plus Flight, plus enhanced intelligence and perfect memory… and the power enforces that Manton Limit thing on things that try to fuck with you. No TK’s popping your brain, no Pyros summoning flame inside you… It mentions that Behemoth has a Kill Aura that this protects against and Ziz has a form of telekinetic brain fuckery… that’s right from the text… and this protects against it. I’m assuming Alexandria is this settings prototypical flying brick and this package is named for her. Francine agrees this is the most likely reason this power is named that. The second power is called Quantum Evolution, and it compares it to someone named Crawler, saying that the evolution doesn’t mutate the user permanently, unlike Crawler’s ability. The third power with a name attached is Complete Arsenal… which describes the person who takes it as, quote, ‘a poor man’s Eidolon’. If Eidolon is better than Complete Arsenal… he’s worrying in the extreme. Complete Arsenal grants three slots which will, if given a minute, be filled with a power that fits your current needs or desires in some way. They start out at mid-range and grow to high mid range over the next five to ten minutes. While you can’t control what you get, besides choosing to keep or discard a power… they will always be of use to your needs and wants. And they come with an innate understanding of what these powers do and how to use them. By extension of the after jump all parahuman abilities grow in power and scope… more slots with more control containing more powerful abilities would seem to be in the offering.”

I considered, then nodded. “Very true. Well then…”

Francine added, before I could say any more. “There are a number of other powers which might be names of capes, but I can’t be certain. Browbeat, Warpspasm, Sting, Decoy, Biosculptor, Sensorium, Boogie Manimal, Thanatos, Contractor… and one I’d almost think was a cape’s name, but it’s clearly this Skitter’s power. It’s called Queen Administrator, and it’s probably more powerful than you thought. It’s absolute awareness of and control over any and all invertebrates in an area that starts at four city blocks and grows with time. THat’s their complete sensory input and the computation and processing power to flawlessly interpret all that data in real time… and the control extends to involuntary processes, such as breathing and hormone balance. Infinitely scaling multitasking, keeping track of any number of different activities at once, and flawless micromanagement skills down to the level of every single individual limb… and implantation of continuing directives once the ‘bug’ is freed.”

I blinked at that. “Holy… okay… fear the bug lady. I guess we should see what everyone gets before we move on any further?” Everyone nodded, so we called Ahab, the Lutece Twins, Frankie, Mini, and Meetra in and explained again. “Anyone have a problem with rolling randomly?” No one did. I flexed my will and a geometrically perfect d12 and d8 landed on the table comprised of room-temperature hyperice. They were worked with charms to prohibit cheating of any kind, including probability manipulation and were as fair as I could make them. “Atura, you’ll roll first.”

As I allowed my inner spirit to manifest, she seemed to reach over my shoulder and scoop up the dice in a hand that was as translucent as fine bone china and the size of a serving platter. She rolled, the dice bouncing across the table and AJ had to restrain Ziggy from chasing them… which of course prompted El Fuzz Supreme to attack AJ’s fingers. Ziggy used Thrash. It was not very effective. The dice came up 11 & 8… Complete Arsenal.

“Well… that’s entirely practical,” I chuckled.

“Your luck is ridiculous, you know that, right?” Zane commented, scooping up the dice. “Come on Alexandria Package! Daddy needs a new pair of invulnerable boots!” He tossed them down the table, which had changed from conference to craps at that end.  “One and Seven? What’s that?” He said, asking Carwyn.

“Doormaker. Like the Dimensional Breach Controller… but to any destination you can think of. They last until you decide to dismiss them and their size is limited only by your currenyl power growth and the effort you put into making them. Bound to some extent by the local setting’s rules on how alternate worlds and parallel dimensions work, but after sparking, it’s unlimited travel… assuming your power unlocks when she gets her spark.” She hooked a thumb at me.

Zane hmmmed, then grinned, “Coool! Thinking with very naughty portals!” He waggled his eyebrows at Kendra who hit him and not gently. He just smirked at her. Duffus.

Next up was Meetra, who rolled a 3 & a 5, netting her the power named ‘Warp Spasm’… which sounded absolutely terrifying. When the power was active, it would send her into a berserker rage, warping her into a monstrous and incredibly destructive form wreathed in fire and lightning… and the transformation would keep building and building over time as long as she refused to calm down and kept receiving the stimulus needed to feed her aggression. She considered paying to change the category to Mover (which would have made the power Transporter), but Francine explained that the rage would in no way impede her intelligence, skills, awareness, or cunning… but would, rather, hone them as time went on and she’d be able to snap herself out of the rage at any time… and the heat and electrical discharge would be controllable and grow stronger as she did. As a Grey Jedi, Meetra was very well aware of the power of the Darkside… and it’s allure… and was thus very hesitant to take a power that would make every problem look like a nail to be hammered in… but the idea of becoming a living force shadow of fire and lightning was too much a temptation to pass up.

“I guess I’m next?” Mini asked, looking a little nervous. “I’m really not certain I want to deal with a decade of angst and neurosis…” She picked up the dice, then smiled wanly as Francesca  hugged her and whispered something in her ear. “Right. Right. I can handle this. It’s just another challenge…” she closed her eyes and tossed the dice… “What did I get?”

“The d8 is cocked… but the d12 says 10… that’s Tinker,” Francine said. “Tinker’s all the hyper-tech stuff.”

Mini frowned. “I… I don’t want to be a TInker… ummm… can I change it?”

“It would cost 200 points to change the category,” I supplied.

“Okay… Yeah. I’ll do that… let’s see… Mover, Shaker, Brute… ugh… that name!… no no no… Breaker, Blaster, Striker… all too warlike… I mean, I’m fond of Striker for obvious reasons, but still… what’s left? I’ve forgotten the stupid poem.”

“Master, Stranger, Thinker, Tinker, Trump, and Changer,” AJ said, struggling to get Ziggy off his head. Finally succeeding, he thrust the small weasel-creature at me and hid behind Zane. Ziggy immediately got distracted by my hair and leapt for one of my braids, dangling and flailing as his teeth sank into the tightly woven hair.

“Uh… Master, I guess. I was a House Master in that other world, right?” She picked up the d8 and rerolled it. 5.

“Thanatos,” Carwyn said. “The ability to conjure up a phantom of your own making. The phantom is capable of becoming intangible and begins with peak human physical capabilities. Whenever it kills a living being, it assimilates properties of that being to improve itself, adding new capabilities and shifting its form to reflect what it’s absorbed. From normal people it might gain new skills and small statistical boosts… from parahumans or others with unique abilities, it will absorb those abilities or something similar but not necessarily a one for one copying of the target’s power… and shifting form to reflect those powers. You’ll be able to sense what your phantom does, including its mental processes and control it as easily as you control your own body. Improvements are permanent and are retained across all future summonings. The range it can move from you is limited at first to a few blocks, but will increase with time and practice. Note, Killing a God will not give you that god’s power… merely an upgrade related to that god’s domain.”

Mini just looked at Carwyn as if she’d grown a fifth head. “T… that’s monstrous! I… I wouldn’t… I couldn’t… that’s horrible! It’s evil! Killing someone for their… to take… uuugh… this was a bad idea.”

I gave her a hug at the same time Francesca  did and linked to her mind. ~Don’t think of it like that. You’ve killed people in combat before. You’ll do it again. This isn’t killing for that reason… merely making the best of being forced to kill someone… also, very abusable if you manage to get some rez powers at some point. Yes, it’s pretty horrible, but I suspect this world is not one for peace and love. And it’s any living being… monsters included.~

Mini peered up at me. “Are you being logical now? Is that what you’re doing? Logicing me?”

I smiled. “Frankie does the emotionalling… I do the logicing. Now cheer up and embrace the power vampirism, you ghoul you.” She bopped me with a stack of papers and humphed, but Frankie was already grabbing the dice.

“Three and Eight? Is it something good?” she asked, bouncing up and down and looking very thirteen again.

“Awww… she got the Package!” Zane complained, looking over Francine’s shoulder. “No faaair.”

“I thought you were happy with Doormaker?” I commented.

“I’ll trade you?” Zane offered Francesca , who just stuck her tongue out at him. Kendra was utterly unsympathetic when he pouted that the kitty girl was being mean to him.

“Carwyn? You’re up,” Francine said, handing over the dice. Nine-Seven.

Carwyn groaned. “Noooo… It’d be uselesssss!” She shook her head, then explained to everyone. “That’s Path to Victory, which should be really amazing… but we work for miss no can predict me… which means the already nerfed power, which doesn’t work on other precogs or those with pre-cog blocking… both of which she,” she pointed at me, “has!… would be useless. She’d scramble all but the most limited predictions!  Plus… I’m already a Farseer. Warp with it… I’ll pay to change… the category I guess… Can’t pick Complete Arsenal, Doormaker, Alexandria Package, or Force Manipulation for… reasons… Topography Manipulation and Power Well are weird, no Reverse Engineering… ugh, technical nonsense. I’m a doer, not a maker…. Geist no… Inorganic Avatar… naw… Biosculptor or Queen Administrator… reshaping people or bugs… bugs or reshaping… Do Tyranids count as Bugs?”

“Yes. By and large. They do. I suspect it depends on the specific sub-species, but most of them are massive invertebrates with very little independent thought and almost all of them are designed to be controlled by synapses creatures… Why? Assuming we’re going back at some point?” I asked, curious.

She shrugged. “YOu can teach me biosculpting already. It’s just an application of Biopathy… but QA gives infinite multitasking and information processing… I’ll take it.”

Petra looked at the list and mmmed. Then she tossed the dice casually, becoming the first person to roll for the first power in a category… Tinker… which she promptly announced she was changing to Changer… giving her Quantum Evolution instead of Miniaturization… which was probably best, as her relationship with technology is mostly adversarial in nature.

Francine explained, “This power means that your entire body is in a perpetual state of quantum flux, warping and evolving based on stimulus to better fit your needs and desires. Inflate to save yourself from an impact, grow armor in the time it takes a bullet to reach you, or develope acid spit to deal with an enemy vulnerable to acid… and then revert back to your base form whenever you wish. This grants high speed regeneration and if you choose to retain a change, it will keep improving that change over time. Every change comes with the instincts to use it and you can exert conscious control over your changes, either guided in a general direction or very specific if you like. Anything biologically possible, you can replicate… but you can still die if too much of you is destroyed all at once… but you could completely regenerate your brain… brains… if needed.”

Petra grinned, “Best Crab Ever!” and she hopped up on the table and did a breakdance backspin… until Ziggy landed on her stomach and licked her chin.

Rosalind picked up the dice, then handed the d12 to Robert. Together they rolled, in nearly perfect mirroring. The d12 spun high, the d8 low, and, on the rebound, the d8 landed perfectly atop the d12, showing an 8.

Carwyn, without waiting for the d12’s face to be revealed, commented, “Gee… Personal Force Manipulation. Never saw that one coming.” Everyone ignored the smug precog, except Francine who began to read that power’s entry.

“You become aware of all forces currently active within a space a couple centimeters from your body… bodies… and may magnify or lessen them at will. Reduce the impact of a speeding truck to no more than a tap, increase your own blows to that of hyper-sonic missiles… maybe… in time. You can extend the effect to things you’re touching, up to the size of a very large vehicle… and manipulating multiple forces at once will magnify your results… so if you increase velocity while decreasing resistance… or increase both inertial constant and velocity… it takes finesse, but you two have that… and working knowledge of complex physics.”

The duo considered, then Robert said, “It should be fascinating experimenting with this.”

Rosalind nodded curtly, “Indeed. We can run both parallel and cooperative experiments.” They wandered off, chattering about procedural designs and what, exactly, constituted a ‘force’.

Zane grinned, “They’re so cute when they’re science-flirting.”

Velma sighed. “Am I the only person at this table that finds their relationship… weird?”

Carwyn laughed. “Don’t ask me. I’m Eldar. For us, tame is having the only limbs involved in a relationship be arms and legs.” Velma blushed at that and the two redheads got into a heated debate over whether redheads had more fun than platinum blondes while shooting speculative glances in my direction.

“Okay… I guess that leaves you two,” I commented to Joy and Ahab.

“Are you sure you don’t want to make your choice first?” Ahab asked. “It seems weird that everyone is cutting off your options instead of you taking pride of place and taking what you want from the complete list.”

“I haven’t even looked at the list. I’m certain there will be something worth taking… but I have a free choice, so I don’t have to roll. Watching everyone else roll is exciting!” I said with a chuckle. “Joy? You aren’t going to insist I pick before you roll, are you?”

She considered, then shook her head and scooped up the dice from where the Petra-Ziggy cage match was underway, then tossed them, spinning, through the air, off the wall, off the pool lamp’s shade, off the gothic armor’s halberd, off the display case containing the Deathly Hallows, and into the ashtray stolen from Air Force One. They clinked nicely and Ahab harrumphed and grabbed his cigar.

“No respect for a cuban,” he muttered, then read the faces. “Two and Two. Over to you, moustache girl.”

Francine grinned, waggling her moustache at the metal-horned super-spy. “Two is a Shaker, a para whose power allows them to control the environment and thus the battlefield, since they can dictate the terms a battle is fought on. Two-Two is Air Control, the power to sense and manipulate air within the standard several city blocks, with enough strength to shred stone in an instant and metal shortly after. An Air-Controller can compress air to the point that it’ll act like a liquid or solid… then releasing that pressure to cause aerokinetic explosions. This is much more effective in large open areas with already strong winds.”

“Right. Don’t fight Joy in the jetstream… or on Jupiter,” AJ commented.

“Don’t fight Joy, full stop,” Ahab said. “She cheats.”

“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” Carwyn snarked, then tossed the dice telekinetically to Ahab.

“Naw… I’m good. I’m going to take the Shard background,” he said, setting them down. “I want this Assimilation power.” He tapped a page that had been knocked off the table in the struggle between metal-crab and fluffy idiot. “There might be better choices, but it strikes me that having the ability to merge tech and non-living matter into my body, then being able to manifest them at will could be very handy. Says I can turn my bones into anything I ingest, transform my nerves into computation systems… Dunno where all the mass goes, but it says I can assimilation things that are up to five times as large as I am… works on magi-tech too. Oh, and I love the part where it says ‘expendable resources will be provided by your power assuming you’ve assimilated a sample of it’… so I eat one bullet and suddenly it’s unlimited ammo mode? Hell yeah… why’s everyone looking at me like that?”

“Because,” i opined, “I don’t think any of us considered that companions could take that origin since it’s linked to a drawback.” I looked to Kendra. “Is there any specific language forbidding Companions from taking Drawbacks in this document? Never mind the near universal rules on the subject. We’ve seen jumps that allow companions to drawback up and this jump has several drawbacks that specifically affect only the taker and not the world-state.”

Kendra scooped up her pages, flipped through, read and reread the entry, then shrugged. “I don’t see anything. Petra… oh… she’s busy.” She flipped to the Drawbacks section, reading the entries and making a list. “I think it’s safe to say that a Companion could get away with taking Personal Problems, No Respect, Gang Pressed, On the Radar, Meh, I can take her, Being Taylor is suffering… only one can do that, Passenger if you’re a Shard, Wanted, Kill Order, Case-53, A Bad Influence, Bent to Broken… and that’s it. Maybe You Wanted Worthy Opponents… But I’d say that’s iffy and ill advised.”

I considered, then nodded. “Okay, okay… but no one is allowed to take those flex drawbacks at 3. That’s a directive from Jumper. Got it?” Everyone besides the Luteces nodded, but a moment later, VIvian confirmed that they’d gotten the message and acknowledged the limits. “Good… Great.. Perk Committee. Velma, Joy, is there actually any probative info in the perk section? Just an overview is fine.”

Joy shook her head. “Aside from in the universal freebie, the only name mentioned in the entire perk section is Rube Goldberg. Unless he’s somehow a person in this setting and linked to Golden Morning, I doubt that’s important.”

I chuckled. “Okay, okay. I guess that’s all the recon we can do. Everyone but Francine and Velma, take off and get me your builds. Vel, you’re playing the role of my confessor slash secretary. What is the perk situation and what do you think I should take. Me and Atura, for that matter. Francy, I need your take on powers. Give me a list of six to pick from.”

Velma, in the time it had taken me to instruct Francy, all of 4 seconds, had spread out her pages in front of her, grabbed a pad and stylus, and removed her sweater to reveal a black lace bra and panties, with matching garter-belt and stockings. I blinked in surprise, then laughed as she said, “You did say secretary, right?” I nodded and shook my head in amusement. She gave me a cheeky smile, then began. “Well, first, I suggest Atura go Hero. All the Hero perks are passive and should help when your positions are reversed. Each origin has two 100s, two 300s, and two 600s. Drop-In gets a discount on its 100s, but everyone else gets them free. With Atura’s 800, plus 100 from Single Shot… is she going to take any additional drawbacks? Normally I’d point out how insanely broken that would be… but we seem to be pushing things just because we can… I feel like a little kid given the keys to the family car and told to park it in the garage… but not told ‘only’.” She chuckled dryly, then sighed. “We’re such munchkins.”

“Yeah, yeah. We are. This is about survival in settings that keep getting more and more dangerous… over all. Or harder to solve. Or maybe I’m shifting my goalposts as I become more powerful. Who knows?” I patted her hand, then considered. “I don’t think it would be fair to double up on the hunted perks, since she counts as me… but personal stuff that I didn’t? That could work. Atura?”

~Well, I suspect it would be fair to take A Bad Influence, because you will be pushing me to be more combative than I normally am… since I’m usually not confrontational at all. So that would be 1000, and Case-53 would alter my form… say… feathery hair… like an anime character almost… and pink eyes.  That could be interesting… that’s 1100… And I’ll take Personal Issues… I’ve never had personal issues before. It could be interesting.~

“Only a spirit would think ‘Oh goody! Emotional issues and psychological problems!’,” Velma drawled, “But if you want it… I won’t stop you. I just how your personal issues are compatible with each other… for your sakes. Okay, well, you have 1200 and buying all six Hero Perks costs 900. If you do that, you’ve got 300 left over. That’s enough to buy the Hero’s Headquarters Item, if you like.”

~I think I would rather take the power boosting Corona Stimulants, since my Complete Arsenal Powers are individually weaker than top tier. Unless EssJay was planning on taking them?~

I shook my head. “Tell us about the Hero and Shard perks, V.”

“The Hero freebies are called ‘What I Fight For’ and ‘No Such Thing as Collateral’. The first gives you an ironclad sense of purpose, never lacking motivation to turn your goals into reality. It’s a self-esteem booster that keeps you from giving up in the face of adversity. The second gives you an infallible sense of what you need to do to minimize collateral damage, both in terms of lives lost and destruction of property. It even reduces how much collateral damage you deal to the point where when throwing around destructive powers you’ll do superficial damage to anything you weren’t planning on harming.”

“The Shard freebies are called ‘Lessons of Adversity’ and ‘Root of Distress’. The first says that the more intense, risky, and high stakes a conflict or confrontation, the more you’ll take away from it. That means growth, development, experience… the higher risk, the better the gains. guaranteed.” I whistled at that. I mean, it essentially meant that my life was now operating on RPG EXP logic…. And, as we all know, RPG logic is best logic. “The second gives you an intuitive ability to sense the fault lines in a person’s psychological makeup, telling what stresses they can handle… and which they can’t. You’ll be able to tell what kind of pressure will make an individual grow, and which will hinder them, and how, in general, they’ll reaction to different types of strain.”

“Well… that could very much come in handy. I do like fucking with people… especially to teach them a lesson… and I guess the Hero stuff is nice too. I certainly don’t neeed it… but it’s good to accidentally kill fewer people and probably having a better sense of self will help Atura.”

~Oh. Yes. Thank you. I should probably be more assertive so that you listen when I tell you something is a bad idea.~

“Nonsense. I never have bad ideas! All my ideas are excellent!” I proclaimed, much to the disbelief of all in attendance.

“She’s good at self reflection and appraisal too,” Francine commented acerbically to Velma, who nodded sagely. I, of course, maintained my dignity by ignoring them.

Velma cleared her throat. “The next category up has ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘Public Relations’ for Hero, and ‘Seeds of Conflict’ and ‘High Risk Guarantee’ for Shard. The first ensures that the people around you will overcome their psychological traumas and issues more easily than they otherwise would. Your mere presence encourages them to get over themselves and their past, even if they only interact with you occasionally. Factors that would hinder their recovery, or your attempts to help others, are much less of an impediment and people will find that their stubborn refusal to change isn’t as effective against your efforts. Ditto acting skills when trying to hide hurt and bias when trying to ignore your words. It will still take effort of course, but you’ll not have to worry about those you help self-sabotaging… and it works the other way too. Your companions will find it easier to help you… or just get anything through that armor-plated ego of yours.” Velma grinned at me and I wanted to dump ice water on her, but I refrained.

“Public Relations is a master of public image management, a sense for always knowing exactly how to project the image you want to project and to keep that image strong in the public consciousness. Not only is this how to deal with the media, it makes improving your reputation or securing good will and trust a walk in the park, so to speak. But it’s not just large scale… even in interpersonal relationships you’ll know how to put your best foot forward and keep it there. Your rep, and the reputation of any organization you belong to cannot take a hit unless it was something directly related to their actions. Misfortune and circumstance will never be held against you or your organization… as long as you didn’t actually cause whatever happened.”

~Oh, that sounds nice… something that helps others that takes exactly zero iotas of personal effort. Those are the best.~

“You are the laziest Godhead slash Inner Spirit I’ve ever had,” I muttered.

~I learned from the best.~

“Ladies… please… you’re both… well… in the same body, so thus, equally weird. Kindly shut up so I can finish this and we can have some nice relaxing sex before you go all crazy / incorporeal for a decade!” Velma snapped.

Francine giggled “Ooo! Can I watch!?”

Velma poured her ice-tea over Francine’s head without a change in expression, then continued explaining perks as if nothing had happened. “Seeds of Conflict allows you to intuitively spot and understand all the trigger points that might cause, influence, or decide a conflict. High Risk Guarantee is a luck perk that only works if you’re in high risk situations and not being cocky about it.”

“I… mmmm… Well, I’ll take Seeds of Conflict. That can only help. But High Risk Guarantee sounds less useful than what I’ve already got… I’ll pass. That’s 300 for imports and 150 for Seeds… 1550 to go.”

Velma nodded, then tried to swipe at Francine who was drying herself off with the Redhead’s sweater… not that wool is very good for that. I would have stepped in and broken up the impromptu cat-fight… but I didn’t want too. Mmmm… bouncy. Fifteen minutes later, looking very disheveled and with half their clothes shredded, the duo returned to the table, pretending nothing had happened. I merely ogled.

“As I was saying… Capstones. Heroes get ‘You Can Be More’ and ‘We Stand Together’, Shards get ‘Shard Administration’ and ‘Forced Evolution’. You Can Be More means you’ll project the very ideal of a hero, whether you are or not. People around you will never give up aas long as you’re around, will always have hope, and even the darkest heart can be inspired to leave their past behind and become better. You be able to influence people to become the best they can be in all aspects, pushing through their weaknesses and issues. Even if the day was lost, the world ending, and an invincible foe was bearing down on them. Seeing you would fill others with the hope and courage needed to stand their ground. A massive boost to charisma and presence, meaning that you’ll tend to be seen in the best possible light even by those who should otherwise hate you.”

~Yay! More stuff that requires me to do nothing!~

“Getting you motivated is going to be a massive hassle this jump, isn’t it?”

~Maaaaaybeeeee. I can’t say.~

“That said, it’s a very useful public relations tool… though anyone who can see past it is going to go ‘wow… so shiny… much hero.’,” I snarked, earning me a kick in the psychic shins from Atura. Oh, this decade was going to be sooo much fun. I haven’t told you even a tiny fraction of all the backseat driving I’ve had to put up with from miss ‘I AM THE TWILIGHT SPIRIT!’ for the ages. Turnabout is fair play, right?

“If you two are finished,” Velma queried, “I’ll continue with Stand Together. It allows you to instill effectively perfect cooperation and teamwork in any team effort you’re personally involved in. This will result in the best physical coordination possible, as if they’d been working together for years… even bitter enemies who want each other dead if you can get them united in the first place. Not only that, but the effect will rub off over time, encouraging cooperation and discouraging infighting and internal conflict whenever there are more serious matters to handle. And, as a final added bonus, casualties will always be as low as they can be in any situation that triggers this perk.”

“The Hero really is a… you know… rally point here. It’s nice how it all works together… but a little messianic and over the top. It’s like… I don’t know… too good to be true… but hard to argue with results. What do you think, Atura? It’s your choice,” I asked out of one side of my mouth.

~I like it. Cooperation and Order are both good. Maintaining the Balance is a virtuous thing to do. If I take the whole Hero perk-set and Corona Stimulants, I’ll have spent all my points, and I think the benefits will play out nicely. Also, it will be nice to be able to use some of my own abilities directly for once.~

“You spend more time asleep than Ziggy,” I commented, but was ignored. So I turned to Velma. “Well, I guess she’s tapped… but I still need explanations of the Shard Capstones.”

“Of course, of course,” The former girl-detective said, “Shard Administration will give you a perfect awareness of all your perks, powers, skills, abilities, etc without any conscious effort or attention needed. This awareness allows you to package any such perks and what have you, together with any limitations you might desire to add, then temporarily grant that package to anybody you can directly perceive. YOu can revoke that gift at any point, reclaiming your abilities in full. Your abilities will never have suffered for this transfer, not even if the recipient died… and in fact the package will revert automatically upon the recipient’s death or permanent incapacitation. You’ll also gain a complete record of how they used your abilities and any creative uses or tricks they put those gifts to. While you lose the abilities while they’re given away, you’ll never truly lose them permanently or have them reduced in power or effectiveness.”

“Oh.” I wrinkled my brow, “Huh. Interesting. Might make teaching others to do things I can do more easily if I can give them an ability first so they know the feel of it… Well, I’m certain I’ll find a use for it eventually. It’s an intriguing tool and I doubt it’s one I’ll find elsewhere. 1250 left. What’s Forced Evolution do?”

“It’s like an advanced version of toggle from young justice. It allows you to inflict any kind of arbitrary limitations on your abilities, or weaken them or turn them off in order to force yourself to grow or develop along new lines.”

“I… huh. Another interesting and not obviously useful ability, but I can see how this could be helpful. I like the idea of being able to give myself limitations at will… I guess I can afford it… 950. So… anything else you’d recommend? Oh. I should import VIctoria as a Power Armor… that’s 350, right?”

“That’s what Kendra said,” Francine confirmed. “300 for the armor and 50 for the import.”

“Six hundred then. So, Vel? Anything?”

“Two perks. A 100 and a 600. One of the Villain freebies called ‘Tooth and Nail’ and one of the Drop-In Capstones called ‘Perfect Communication Skills’. Tooth and Nail means you thrive when things are at their worst. Your instincts become infallible when it comes to getting yourself and others out of something alive and the more of a disadvantage you’re at, the quicker, cleverer, and more skillful you become. Doesn’t make you invulnerable, but it can help.. Perfect Communication Skills overlaps a lot with your Shepard’s Tongue from Mass Effect, but in different ways. People around you are all but open books when you try to understand them, every action and word expressing infinitely more than just its surface meaning. You’ll be able to best express even the most complex and nuanced of ideas, letting you talk people into or out of nearly anything they’re actually capable of doing… so not quite as strong as the Tongue, but more far reaching and flexible. Includes immunity to misunderstandings or miscommunication unless you’re aiming for that. These skills work on anything that has (even in theory only) the cognitive ability to comprehend something something, you can not only communicate but manipulation… oh… I missed this. There are two names attached to this. Jack Slash and Dr. Yamada. It implies they have different personalities, but no information about what they might be like… It’s possible someone named Jack Slash might not be evil…”

“Surrre… I’m certain it’s possible a Jack the Ripper expy isn’t evil… see that one from Fate, but one with near mind control powers? I don’t think so… Hmmm… I’d have to choose between… oh… I still have my Floating Discount… m… m… nothing is valued at 200 to halve… I’ll just take 100 off of a three hundred or something and take both… that’s all my points… Thank you Velma…” I blew her a kiss, the turn to Francine. “What do you have power suggestion wise?”

“Blink seemed to amuse you, but I don’t know if it’s the best choice, especially since you’re already a decent teleporter… That’s my first suggestion anyway. I looked at the Thinker stuff, since you really like brain power, but the four powers there are all things you can largely do already. Your Kwisatz Haderach future mapping is too close to Path to Victory. Your Detective Skills and ability to read people, especially with what you’re picking up here, are too close to Inference Engine. COmplex Computation increases your brainpower in relationship to how complex the problem you’re working on, but you do that already. And Mathematical Calculation gives you all the numbers of the world around you… and while this is impressive, you already can do some impressive things. It’ would be awesome for a starting Jumper though. So I’d pass on them.”

I nodded, but motioned for her to go on.

“Topography Manipulation would allow you to warp and manipulate the immediate environment, doing things like shrinking distances, looping space back on itself, make squares and circles interchangeable… it’s weird…  you like weird.” She saw my dubious expression and shrugged. “I thought it was amusing… Umm… faintly potentially horrible but also amusing depending on how you use it, is Relationship Modification… you can change anyone’s relationship with anyone else. Make total strangers best buddies, a married couple hate each other, either temporarily or permanently… plus you can sense their existing relationships? No?”

“Tempting, and I can see what you’re aiming at.. But it’s just mind-control and I can do that. Also, the amusing implications come with some pretty mean pranking and I’m thinking I want something a little more useful in combat.”

“Oh. Then you might like Sting. It unfolds an object through nigh infinite dimensions, meaning it totally bypasses physical resistance, durability, armor… anything that would meaningfully impede it. You can apply the effect to anything you touch… up to a large truck. Bypasses dimensional barriers, boundaries and pretty much any non-magical, non-conceptual, non-supernatural defenses… and even then it might get through those. Comes with immunity to this power’s effects and nigh perfect sense of timing and trajectory.”

“Oh… that is nice… but sounds like something that would be better on VIctoria than for me. I can pick one category to install in her besides Brute. I’m assuming installed powers aren’t as fully oomph as Shard Backed ones, but I’ll install a Sting-Lite system on VIctoria. Maybe size limited and fewer dimensions. Or something.”

“Okay… hmmm… well, you’re already getting access to one of the four Trump abilities, Complete Arsenal… have you considered one of the others? Iterative Improvement gives you a daily dose of charges which you can spend to essentially ‘enchant’ objects with superpowers. The more charge you invest, the better it gets… and the charge does not wear off ever. You can stockpile some charges for later use and your total number of charges per day will increase over time… And you can make the items only work for you if you want… or you could take Contractor, which gives you the ability to give up to ten people at a time parahuman abilities, mid-range powers, nothing impressive, nothing bad, works on normals or parahumans… or five powers equal to a Cauldron Vial…. But while you can pick which power, you can’t empower yourself and don’t get any special control over the individual you gave a power to. Though you’d be able to revoke the power at any time? Or Enhanced Mastery, which allows you to master any skill or field of study at the rate of an hour of study time equalling a month of study or training, though it will slow down once you’re an expert… but you’ll always see noticeable increases whenever you put effort into improving your skills, with continued refinement always being possible… and your skills and knowledge will never degrade.”

“I… wow… why would anyone ever pick from any other category… no offence to Ahab… but wow.  I’ll pass on Iterative Improvement, because I can actually enchant things… but that is awesome. Awesome enough to make me want to suggest it to one of the others… Ditto Contractor… maybe suggest that to Mini… but it would make her feel useless in combat… but Enhanced Mastery… oh. Good lord…. That sounds amazing. My mind reels at the abuses.”

“Abuses?” Francine asked.

“Master a skill…. Give it away… remaster the skill… oh gods… can we Shard Administer the powers from Complete Arsenal instead of dumping them? I’ll have to see. But if we could, that’s Contractor handled.  Mmm… Yeah. Enhanced mastery it is.”

Francine mmm’d. “Can’t you just do what I do any time I don’t know how to do something?”

“What’s that?” Velma asked, sounding a little worried..

“Get AJ to do it.”

Velma blinked, then laughed, “Oh. Good. I thought you were going to say you stole the knowledge from someone else’s mind.”

“How would that help? If someone else around me can do it, why wouldn’t I just have them do it?” Francine asked. Velma just facepalmed.

Taking that as a cue to wrap things up, I sent Francine to go tell everyone (in person) to have their builds ready to review at lunch two days hence, then took my private secretary out of the conference room for some remedial training… what, you thought I was going to say ‘dictation’? Humph. Humph I say!

Of course, Zane didn’t bother to wait the full 40 hours I’d given… and let me tell you how frustrating it is to be forced to constantly think in 24 hour units. The original Magi certainly hadn’t even on an Earth with a day ~86,400 seconds long. They’d used 12 cycle days, each with 12 sub-cycles of 12 segments of 12 sub-segments each… each sub-segments being equivalent to 4.25 seconds… and each being further divided into 144 parts called fragments for really fine timekeeping. But no, since I kept coming back to Earths or fantasy Earth-likes, I had to deal with 24 hours, 60 minutes, 60 seconds, 100 hundredths… and 365.249 day years… frustrating… and so is Zane, but I’d expected him to jump the gun, so I wasn’t surprised.

“Sup?” He asked, poking his head into my office as I was playing one of the new video games to come out of one of my companies over the last century. Couldn’t play a video game at a touch. Not certain if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

“Not much,” I said, spinning off a self to talk to him as a second went to get food and a third kept playing. Strictly speaking they weren’t clones. I was using homunculi shaped like me that I was projecting one of my many selves into. I could maintain about a dozen at a time without losing too much functionality or splitting my concentration too much, thanks to Assassination Classroom’s multi-tasking boost. “You?”

“Thought I’d drop in to tell you about ‘The Adjustor’… that’s me, by the way. My new Identity thingy. Byron Haslett, The Adjustor… cool huh?” He said, grinning, moving to my sideboard and making himself a side-car.

“You’re a portal-maker… why are you calling yourself the Adjustor?” said game me as interview me grabbed a Red Bull Magnum from the mini-fridge and took a seat in the seating area, moving one of Soffie’s paws out of the way and then oofing as big fluffy head claimed my lap and demanded scritches.

“Oh, cause I bought a power armor. Really really nice one one. Breaker for phasing, Tinker for Self-Repair and Adaptation, and Shaker for a Gravity Gun… cost me 450, but I think it’s worth it.” He shrugged, moving Alegra (my fox familiar from Strike Witches) off the chair he wanted and sitting down. Alegra humphed and clambered up onto another chair, snuggling next to Ziggy and the two black cats (Mini’s Pyewacket and Frankie’s Ombra). Cirno’s Doggy hopped up into Zane’s lap  and tried to lick his face, but he pushed her back down and continued.

“I took 400 CP of drawbacks… A Bad Influence at level one so I’d understand what was pushing the locals, Personal Problems just to make things interesting… I didn’t specify because I’m a Drop-In so I don’t have a backstory in this world… and Case-53 at level 2 because I had this really cool slash creepy idea!” He grinned broadly, body language telling me that he wouldn’t tell me until I asked.

“Oh? Should I be worried?” I asked, fulfilling my side of the whole ‘friend’ thing.

“No facial features. No hair. And before you ask how I eat or breathe? Portals!!” He grinned even huger. “I figure my body’s mutated but not enough to really hinder me, so my power has to have adjusted, right?” He looked so pleased with himself, and I had to agree. Level 2 was a serious mutation, but not a crippling one. That was Level 3 according to what Petra had said.

“Anyway… that got me to 1400 total, with Single Shot and the 800 from the importing… so I bought that armor, got some personal ID saying that, yes, I’m Byron, and a copy of the Worm text for free, so you’re welcome and all that. Then I bought Munchkin and Well-Adjusted… those are Drop-In’s 50 point perks… Munchkin is all about making the most out of whatever you have, even things that don’t seem all that useful. It’s a creative thinking and asset management booster. Not bad for 50. Well Adjusted is the superpower of being a well-adjusted person, having an easier time working through my issues… and helping others work through theirs. I figured that might help, you know?”

I nodded. “I do. That’s 550 out of 1400. What else?”

“300 for this thing called ‘Spanner in the Works’… it’s like an upgrade for Outside Context Problems that works everywhere. It makes me completely immune to hostile extraordinary attempts to predict my future actions or events involving me, gives a sixth sense for designs in motion around me and how to unravel or disrupt them if I focus on it. It’s only hostile, so it shouldn’t mess with your Future Mapping unless you’re plotting against me and all that. That’s 850. Another 150 for ‘New to the Crew’ which is a Drop-in perk that makes joining particular social groups and factions, or just teaming up with an individual much easier. I’ll just run into the right people to arrange being brought into the fold, make just the right impression, and move through social surroundings like it was natural… though I have to have an idea where they are and who they are… and more secretive or isolationist groups will still be harder to infiltrate… but it’ll give me a shot, and often that’s all I need. That takes me up to 1000, and the last 300 went to this Shard perk called ‘Seeds of Conflict’… I guess you know about it… but it seemed like a good thing to be able to be able to know where the buttons to press are, right?”

“Right… so… how is Kendra taking the fact that you won’t have a face for a decade?” I asked, knowing there was no chance he’d discussed this with her before making up his mind.

He paled, then looked around nervously. “I was planning on being all ‘But honey! I didn’t know it was going to happen!’ Random mutation and all that, right?”

I just shook my head and pointed up at the window of the room where one of VIvian’s branches was hanging just inside the room. There, in the pink petals of eternal spring, was a small green bird… a Dr. Bird to be specific… it was named Dr. Pointy and it was Kendra’s familiar. Zane’s eyes followed my fingers, and then he yelped and ran out of the room just as the hummingbird flutter-zoomed off to find his mistress and rat dogboy out.

Zane wasn’t the only one who came early. Carwyn, Frankie, and Mini all had their builds ready by dinnertime on the first day after. Carwyn looked smug as always, Frankie looked excited as usual, and Mini looked worried and introspective.

“Min? You okay?” I asked, pulling her against me and smoothing her hair.

“I guess… I’m just not certain about this Thanatos power… I… I mean… I’ve already paid to change category… maybe I should change to something other than Master.  Thanatos is soo… creepy. I… I want to be a Hero… not a serial killer… and… I mean… I’ve looked over the others. Stasis and Transporter are too utilitarian for me. TIme Locking individual people seems so… subjective. Useful I guess, but not… exciting. Transporter seems like a utility thing, not something for a hero… maybe a rogue. Orbital Lock are just too… I dunno… weird… making things orbit each other… I just don’t get it I guess. Energy Shadow is a great defense… but it doesn’t absorb kinetic energy, so it’s like being a glass cannon that soaks up all the other energy and stuff… I know I could feed absorbed energy into durability… but what if the fight’s just started and no one’s throwing energy? I dunno. Too subjective. Sting is the exact opposite. Total offense… no defense. And it’s a killer’s tool. Memory Blanking is just… creepy. I wouldn’t want to be a forgotten memory… it’s too abusable and dissociation would be worse with MB than Thanatos.” She sighed a little sadly.  “Then there’s Inference Engine… which is like detective vision but more so… You and Zane and the other detectives all do it to a degree… though you and Francine are the… not the worst… but the creepiest… you guys know so much and figure out so much… and I don’t know if I want that… But I might? And Iterative Improvement… I dunno… It’s making stuff… I shifted away from Tinker because I didn’t want to make stuff.”

She snuggled next to me and I didn’t say anything as the other set the table and brought out the food. It was Cirno and Amy’s turn to cook and they’d made a tuna-noodle casserole and roasted veggies… hey, simple food is good and I love TNC. “Maybe I’m overthinking this…” the blonde witch commented, then finally asked my opinion. “What do you think?”

“I agree that Thanatos is very creepy and has a lot of negative connotations. It’s also extremely powerful. I don’t think any of the others you could switch to besides ItImp is even close to it in pure power and utility. I do think ItImp sounds amazing… as does Energy Shadow frankly, but I see your problem with EnShad and am forced to agree that it does leave you vulnerable… but so does Thanatos, since it doesn’t seem to make you any more of the weak spot. In fact, if you didn’t have my complete nanite loadout, I’d tell you not to take Thanatos full stop, since it doesn’t help you at all directly.  Iterative Improvement doesn’t help you directly either… but think about what a decade of improvement on, say, a superhero costume might mean. That’s 3,652 individual improvements at one a day. A minor enchantment, say a +1 every day? What would you do for equipment that has +1000 boosts? And you can mix it up. Self-repairing, anti-energy, damage reflection… anything you can imagine essentially. And you can do that for everything you own.”

“So you think I should take ItImp instead of Thanatos?” She asked, hoping I’d say yes, but also worried she was being a wuss.

“I think that’s entirely up to you, my darling girl. Thanatos seems like it can become more powerful faster, with unlimited growth potential… ItImp is time limited, but steady growth. Thanatos makes you rely on your summons, ItImp on your equipment,” I kissed her forehead, “I know you don’t have a problem killing if you need to. You’ve done it enough in the past.”

“Well, those people needed killing… but I never killed them to get something from them… not even when I was a vampire.”

“Are you saying that you’d feel like you were killing to get an advantage instead of just killing because it needed to happen?” I asked, voice soft, not accusing.

“I… I think the temptation to kill when I didn’t have to would be too great. I’d either begin second guessing myself before I acted… or worse… after I’d killed someone. I’d be constantly asking if I did it just to make myself more powerful. I know you don’t like drawing on the souls of those you’ve killed. It’s the same thing, isn’t it?”

“Part of it is not needing traces of others inside me… but yeah. I guess. It would feel weird. Personally, if I were you, I’d go with Iterative Improvement… but that’s because I love making stuff.”

She sighed. “You’re just trying to corrupt me into the cult of the Maker.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I am nefarious like that.”

She grunted, then pushed away from me and nodded resolutely. “Iterative Improvement… it gets me the power without murdering others… also, doesn’t leave me vulnerable.”

“Oh. I had a solution to that part of Thanatos,” I commented. “If that’s your deciding factor?”

“Oh? Fine… I’ll listen, but it wasn’t really.”

“Summon the thing around you… like a ghost power armor.”

“I… wow… it doesn’t say I couldn’t… Hmmm… Naw… temptation is still too… just too much. I’ll go ItImp.” She held out a hand to me, “Now, come on. The food is getting cold.”

“I like cold tuna noodle casserole,” I commented, earning an eye-roll and an arm-tug. Once seated, Mini, now looking like a weight had been lifted from her chest, explained what she’d taken and why.

“I went with Hero because I like being a good guy. I know that sounds cliche, but I do. I did take a lot of drawbacks… I think it was to punish myself for having Thanatos and to moderate how much I used it… but even though I’m going with ItImp instead, I think I’ll keep them. Bent to Broken at level 2 and Personal Issues for all that teen angst that’s so important these days… Meh I can take her because some humility is good and it be better to gain it against weaker enemies… I’m just hoping this Skitter isn’t the big bad or something… ugh… bugs.” She grumped, not noticing Carwyn’s growing grin. “Uh… where was I? Oh… right… Wanted… I figure some gang will want to want to take down the death hero… but I guess it’s the enchantment hero… my name doesn’t make any sense now…” She siiiiiighed.

Frankie giggled “She was calling herself ‘Phobos’ and I’m gonna be ‘Demos’.”

Mini shrugged. “I’ll still be Phobos. I’ll just have to style myself in all black and make my basic load out augment intimidation. I also took Bad Influence Level 2, which means I’m pretty combat focused… I figured that went with the killing to get power… now I guess I’m just trying to test my new improvements nightly or whatever… I think I’m going to claim my power is the ability to generate fear in others and lie about it being my equipment. Never tell people the truth about your capabilities, right? The Nanites and my Vampiric powers should give me the powers of a Brute pretty convincingly. Speed, Strength, Durability, Healing… Shame I’m not a Malvora… but I know I can shift what I feed on. Triumph feels better, but I’ll switch to Fear this jump I guess. Plus, I don’t think I want to be full of Triumph energy when dealing with all the spectacular losers that must inhabit this world.”

“Uh… Dearheart… you’re a hero in this world… didn’t you take the perk that instills hope in others?” Carwyn asked.

“No. That’s You Can Be More. I didn’t take that one. I took We Stand Together, the teamwork one. An Aura of Hope seemed out of character for PHOBOS… still does. Also, Hope is anathema to Scavis who feed on Despair. True Courage hurts Malvora… so I’ll have to watch that, but I suspect true courage isn’t going to be common. It might be cynical of me to say so, but this seems to be a world that would have heroes motivated by more selfish things.”

Frankie nodded. “Like wanting all the ladies to throw their panties at them.”

“No. That’s you, you weirdo,” Mini accused. Frankie just grinned. Maggie just favored her mother with a dark look, but it was ignored by Francesca  who was, as always, blithely unworried about being normal… or pretending to be anything besides a lazy sapphic cat-girl. Mini sighed at the silliness of her best friend and partner, “Okay… umm… that gave me 1800 total CP… 200 for the category change, 300 for We Stand Together… 300 for the mid-range hero perks, You are Not Alone and Public Relations… that’s 800. Then I took a bunch of stuff that helped with the fear or the whole ‘I am the darkness’ thing. Roots of Distress and Seeds of Conflict from Shard to be better able to fuck with people’s minds… that’s another 400. Meh I Can Take You to make people underestimate me until it’s too late… that’s another 300… 1500 total. And three little things. Munchkin and Well Adjusted from Drop-In for utility and helping people… do you know those?” I nodded and told her Zane had taken them too. “Good… ummm… oh… and The Needs of the Many from Conspirator… Frankie got that free and I thought it sounded reasonable… Each of those cost 100 each… so that’s 1800.”

Frankie elbowed her. “You didn’t say what The Needs does.”

“I figured you’d do that in your explanation,” Mini retorted.

“But you could dooo it,” the romagnan girl pouted and Mini rolled her eyes, long suffering.

“Fiiine. It gives us a mastery of the mental calculus that measures the needs of a group, society, or species against the needs and well-being of the few. Doesn’t stop us from caring or empathizing, but it will tell us when what needs to be done is actually what needs to be done and not just what’s convenient. Sacrificing others is, regrettably, sometimes necessary.” She glowered at Francesca , then said, “There. You lazy bug. Your turn.”

Frankie, balancing her fork on her nose, yayed, then motioned to Maggie. “My secretary shall present the particulars.”

Mags groaned, “I’m not your secretary, Mom. But fine. Dumb-ass here-”

“DE-MOS!” corrected her mother.

“That’s what I said. Doll-Mass is a Cauldron Conspirator pretending to be a hero. Because they don’t really trust her because she’s a lunatic, she’s On the Radar for +200. She’s got basic Bad Influence and Personal Issues… she’s lazy, of course… and because she could, she took Case-53 at level 2 to make herself a felimorph. That’s another +400 there. 1500 total.”

“What’s a felimorph?” Alex asked, making himself look silly in the process. Amaryllis put her hands on either side of her head and pretending to make ears with her fingers and went ‘NYAN!’ and Alex looked confused, then oh’d, blushing with embarrassment as he realized that he, who in some of his forms had cat ears, had asked what a Felimorph was. “Doh!”

Maggie nodded and continued. “Yes. 200 CP for what is not much, if any, of a drawback, but that’s lazy von kitty for you. Anyway… in addition to ‘The Needs of the Many’, Conspirators also get ‘The Hard Decisions free… which gives them the will, self-assurance, and practical cynicism to make the choices that the Needs of the Many tell them have to be made… all without self-flagellation and guilt.”

“Self-Flagellation is hard,” Cirno commented. “Velma usually spanks me herself.”

Amaryllis blushed and tried to hide under the table, gasping ‘Mutheeerrrr!”

Maggie, trying not to laugh and blushing herself, continued. “She also took Meh I Can Take You for much the same reason as Momma Min did. Of the four more powerful Conspirator Perks… I hope you weren’t relying on her to provide them… she only took one, The Importance of Leverage… which makes her good at using leverage to get people to do what she wants… and good at digging up leverage material too I guess. That’s one of the 150s… she didn’t take either capstone or the other 150 perk. Instead, she bought this Drop-in capstone called Spanner in the… I see you know it… anyway. She bought that for full price, 600… then used her discount on items to get the Balance Formula and the Cauldron Vials… which I guess was nice because she said she wanted us to be able to have some fun too and so we’d get the first batch.”

Maggie saw me open my mouth, but intercepted me with a thought before I could point out that the Balance Formula wasn’t needed with the Cauldron Vials or that the idea of worrying about how well Alex, Maggie, and Amy would fare in a world of superhumans was silly. They’d inherited my Royal Asgardian Genes… they could go toe to toe with the Hulk and survive. ~Mom worries. I know it’s silly, but let her. She just wants her kittens to be safe. If you pointed out that we’re tougher than her, she’d feel like she didn’t have to look after us any more and she’d feel sad.~

I nodded back, then said, “That’s a good thought… does she have a schedule already laid out?”

Frankie nodded, causing the fork to slip off her face and bounce across the table to land in Carwyn’s untouched salad. The Eldar frowned slightly, then picked up the fork and pointedly ate the salad anyway. Frankie didn’t notice as she pulled a piece of paper out from under her plate. “Five a year. First Year; Alexander-pants, Maggie-boots, Amaryllis-hat, Velma-von-Boobies, and Cirno-big-bootay.” She ignored the glares her nicknames provoked. “Second Year; AJ, Francine, Amelia, Tess, and Yuzuha. Third Year; Ziggy, Soffie, Paradise, Jaan, and Odwet. Fourth Year; the rest of the fleet… Ian, Windjammer, and Jenny, plus Gaius and Reggy. Fifth Year; Bao and Uriel, Caine, Kendra, and Anne. Sixth Year: random members of the two choirs and the Bookers. Seventh Year: ditto. Eighth Year ditto… oh, and toss in Doc Tennenbaum to get 15 even. Year Nine the remaining Dire Weasels and Raven. Year ten Beth, Lizzy, Toph, Kohina, and Kagetane…. Year Eleven Bart and Reggy’s kids… Year Twelve whoever’s left… pretty much Boo-Boo and Simon and Korosensei and Dyna or RayRay if she’s awake by then. We didn’t know if VIctoria and VIvian are biological enough for it to work on them or not… nor if it would work on the rats…” She pointed to where Fred, Zed, and Ted were piled up asleep in front of the fireplace with Ziggy perched atop the trio of bear-sized rats like a tiny furry butt-crown.

“Well, not certain we’ll go with that exact schedule, but it sounds well reasoned. I’m certain they all thank you for your sacrifice… and that Balance Formula will help stabilize the Super Soldier Serum for mass production. So thanks for that too. I’ll begin prepping it for the Magi as soon as possible,” I said, tossing a cherry tomato towards the black-cat of the 501st, who caught it in her mouth and smiled a self-satisfied smile… then she pulled a spare pair of panties out of her pocket and put them on Maggie’s head.

“Payment,” she giggled.

While Maggie flogged her giggling parental unit with said panties, Mini commented, “She also bought one of the Drop-In capstones, something called Spanner in the Works?”

I nodded to show I knew it, then turned on Carwyn. “So, knife-ears. What did you take that I should be worried about?”

I knew immediately that she was lying, but I didn’t know about what and even if I was the type to read my friend’s minds, Carwyn was a good enough telepath to be able to block a casual scan from me and turn it into a real battle. I’d win, but not without hurting her badly, not something I’d willingly do, especially not over something like this.

“Code Name Hive Queen. I went pretty typical Drop-In… I guess. I grabbed both capstones at least… Spanner in the Works and Perfect Communication Skills… didn’t bother with the cheaper nonsense. Bought the Dimensional Breach Controller since I got a discount on it. I know Bowser has the powered version of it, but a backup in case he gets TKO’d is always good, right?” I nodded, but she wasn’t paying attention, not meeting my gaze as she maintained her air of nonchalance. “I paid for a Category Change, if you remember, and bought this minor luck perk called High Risk Guarantee… not the best, but I’m seldom cocky in combat.” I snorted and she ignored it as beneath her dignity to respond.

“And how, pray tell, did you pay for 500 CP worth of extra stuff?”

“Oh. I took Bent to Broken, Personal Problems, and A Bad Influence,” she remarked, putting extra effort into sounding like it wasn’t important and she wasn’t hiding anything. I immediately noticed that she wasn’t telling me what ranks of Bent to Broken and A Bad Influence she’d bought… which told me one thing. She was trying to hide a 100 point discrepancy… and there was only one reason she’d be doing that.

“You took Being Taylor is Suffering,” I accused. It wasn’t a question. Personal Problems, which was included in Being Taylor is Suffering was a 100 CP drawback. Being Taylor is Suffering was a 200 CP drawback. That had to be what she was hiding. “The question is why?”

“Because it sounded like fun?” she asked. I frowned, but didn’t say or think anything. “Fiiine. I did it because I’m guessing that Skitter is this Emma person. It said she was attacked and turned against Taylor… and Skitter sounds like a bully type… I mean, she controls bugs, that drawback says she’s a low tier player, and it implies she’s the time you’d want to punch in the face! I bet she did something with the bugs to trigger Taylor and… I dunno. I just thought it would be cool to fight bugs with bugs, you know?”

“You do realize that Taylor gets run over roughshod by the events of the story… we know this… and you’ll be largely subsumed by her persona… If you hadn’t taken this, I could have tried to help her out… now, it’s fiat backed.”

“Yeah… but this way you don’t have to feel bad about leaving her behind.”

Shaking my head at Carwyn’s presumption, I said, “I… see. Totally selfless of you?”

“Naw… I want to punch Emma’s face in.” She grinned maliciously.

“You couldn’t have done that without being Taylor?” I asked, eyebrow quirked.

“Then I’d just be some rando punching a teenage girl… I’m guessing they’re teens… now I’ll have a total reason.”

“And what about whatever power Taylor was supposed to have to save the world?”

“You’ll figure something out. That’s your thing. I do wonder what it was, but the text doesn’t say,” Carwyn said with a none-of-my-concern style shrug. “Any idea what it is?”

“I’d put my money on Doormaker,” I said with a shrug. “Nothing concrete, but there are a number of indicators. First, the title. Worm… as in Wormhole. Second, Doormaker is the first power listed. That might mean nothing, but…” I shrugged again. “It might. Third, there’s an item that duplicates Doormaker’s power. Fourth, this is Earth Bet… I’m guessing saving the world involves saving all of them, and that the Doormaker’s power is of primary importance. My guess? Zion’s dimension is normally unreachable using powers he gave out. Maybe Doormaker is somehow able to bypass that lockout? All this is supposition. I have no idea. I mean, it’s entirely possible that she’s Contessa… or Skitter… or Alexandria… but making the Flying Brick be the hero is so… tired. You know what I mean?”

Carwyn considered, then nodded. “Yeah. I guess I do. Contessa would make sense. That Path to Victory does say that Contessa has full on Plot Device Level accuracy.”

“Aye… It would be like that Nick Cage movie, Next… The one I showed you because you sometimes remind me of his character?”

She smiled. “I remember. He’s not as pretty as me… but then again, few are.”

“Bitch,” I commented, but without heat.

The next day, at lunch, I gathered with the remaining sextet; Meetra, Petra, Joy, Ahab, and the Lutece Twins. All of them looked varying degrees of resolute, but none of them were playing the second-guessing game. Only Petra seemed completely sanguine of her choices, but she has never been one for introspection.

“P. Why don’t you go first, since you seem most enthusiastic,” I instructed.

“Kay,” she chirped, bouncing on her seat. “I’m a Villain. I call myself Exodus and… and I’m a Case-53… level 2… I look like a Cherubim… you know, four wings, four heads… Human, Eagle, Lion, Ox… brass bull’s hooves on straight legs… umm… uh… Oh… I took Bad Influence and Bent to Broken at 2 too… and Gang Pressed and No Respect… cause I don’t want to be a good Villain, you know? I want to be like… you know… a bad villain… not bad like evil… bad like not good at being bad or something… I did take all the Villain perks… Not sure why… I guess they’d make me a good villain… but it seemed reasonable… uh… um… oh… and Forced Evolution which is a Shard perk… that you probably have so never mind… oh… mmm… did I forget anything?”

“You forgot to tell her what any of those perks are,” Meetra said with an aggrieved sigh.

“Oh! Right… Tooth and Nail, Grit Your Teeth, Meh I can Take You, Welcome to the Underside, Parahuman Feudalism, and Bolstering the Boardwalk,” Petra said, and then stopped, looking at me expectantly.

Meetra leaned over and whispered, “I meant that you should tell her what the perks do, metalhead.”

“I knew that,” Petra whispered back. “I just didn’t know if anyone else had taken any of them. I was waiting for Mom to tell me which ones she didn’t know.”

“Oh,” Meetra said, looking suitably chastened.

“Thank you, Pet, for that,” I said, giving her a headnod of praise as I’d done all those ages ago when she was just a Beldum. “I know about some of them, but why don’t you tell me about them in your own words so I know why you took them?”

“Oh… um… okay… Tooth and Nail is like… when things get bad, I get better. Push me into a corner, my HP in the red, my PP almost out, there aren’t any potions or berries left, and the enemy has type advantage and Mean Look so I can’t run from combat? That’s when I’ll be at my best. All Stats boosted. Speed, Smarts, Attack… you name it!” She bounced excitedly, eyes flashing. “And Grit Your Teeth is all ‘Grrrr. I ain’t feeling no pain, no siree-jim.’ I mean, you… I’ll still feel the pain, but it won’t interfere with what I’m doin, you know?”

I nodded. “I know. Pain just makes me sarcastic.”

She grinned. “You’re the best at sarcasm… sometimes you’re so sarcastic you make me want to giggle even when it’s not appropriate… um… Meh I can Take You is all about people going after others before me and not thinking I’m as much a threat as I really am… and… and Underside Welcome is about finding other criminals with abilities that can help me do what I need to do… it’s like a mook hunting perk thing… I guess… I never hired mooks so I don’t know… Parahuman Feudalism is all about conquering territory and getting influence and power while being secret about it. Dirty politics and street warfare… Supervillain stuff. And, umm, I don’t know what Bolstering the Boardwalk means… but it means my powerbase is really really hard to attack and I have a really easy time running a criminal empire and my territory and subordinates are luckier than they should be… maybe? It’s a little confusing.”

Meetra just stared at Petra. “You have four brains… how is it that all four of them are twits?”

“I’m good at Combat!” Petra humphed. “Planning isn’t my strong suit! I’m smart… not charismatic or whatever. Words are hard!… and you’re mean.” She stuck her tongue out at Meetra and then curled up into a metal ball, sulking.

“I think it’s a very good build, Petra. And I like your choice of form and your name. Very creative and it seems to fit… Meetra, why don’t you go next, and remember… I like Petra a lot more than I like you, so mocking her isn’t going to make me particularly happy, got me?”

Meetra looked like she wanted to snap that she didn’t care how much I liked her or not, but I was one of the few who’d stood by her after her fall from grace and taken her away from that universe where the very fabric of reality seemed to blame her for doing what had had to be done and so she didn’t. In fact, she managed to look a little embarrassed and even apologized to Petra, who just growled and snapped her claws at Meeta.

“Uh. Well. I went Rogue… I think I’m the only one who did?” She looked around the table and the others nodded, then I confirmed that none of the others had either. “Okay… then I’ll be explaining a lot I guess. I took almost a full load of drawbacks to afford it all… so you’re probably not going to want to count on me. I’m called ‘Wrecker’ and pretty much my job is as a professional Hero Trainer. I’m a punching bag for hire. Heavy duty masochism in the form of Personal Problems and Bent to Broken level 2 making me think I deserve it… and no, I didn’t take the villain perk that makes pain just information since it would work against my power’s rage thing… anyway… I’m a Case-53, but only a level one, making me 8 foot tall with metal hair. I own Cauldron three favors and have a level 2 Bad Influence Shard… that gives me a total of 1800 CP. And I bought all the Rogue perks.”

She began ticking them off without asking if I knew them already. “Opportunist makes me good at finding and seizing opportunities, in business or combat. Not any better at acting on them, but a real awareness when I see them. Leave Me Alone means that, unless someone has a reason for messing with me directly, gangs and cops and people in general will just leave me alone. It’s anti-social, but it fits with Wrecker’s personality. Nothing Personal, Just Business makes me immune to grudges and vendettas unless I really go out of my way to provoke them by crossing the most uncrossable lines, people will just assume it was business… also works when negotiating, as pretty much everyone will treat me as a neutral party and consider my terms on their merits. Bargains struck with me will be honored to the spirit of the deal… even if I’m just the mediator. Always a Market means I’ll always be able to find a buyer for anything I want to sell, including my own services… and it works the other way, meaning I’ll almost always be able to find a seller as long as the thing I want to buy exists… those are the low value ones.”

“The Capstones are Enlightened Self Interest and Best in the Business. The first gives me a perfect awareness, always active, of how to advance my own interests in ways that will benefit others… and the beneficial effects of my actions on others is greatly magnified, particularly in the big picture. Like… the example is I buy the local neighborhood watch new shirts and flashlights and the local crime-rate plummets and my employees and business partners find themselves benefiting greatly for association with me… and the effects can snowball… It’s pretty crazy how useful that could be. And the second you really should have… it means that everyone working for you will rapidly gain in skill and capability, reaching the level of top tier professional in just a week or two and showing noticeable increases over time in whatever tasks they’re assigned to… even if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel… though it does taper off the further away from physical proximity they have with you… but even those on the fringes of your… my organization can expect to become competent pretty quickly.”

I nodded. “Potentially useful, though my people are pretty good about that kind of thing… but if you ever want a job with the Magi Government, I can put you in the Ministry of Labor… can’t guarantee you’ll be the Minister, the Magi are almost purely a meritocracy… I say almost purely, because I’m ultimately in charge and my word is not just law but gospel to them.”

Meetra nodded, then smiled. “I could bribe them and you with the Tinker Tech Data Cache… I picked it and Forced Evolution which I’m sure you also got with my last 900 points. I know your Magi have a lot of the stuff in there already, but anything you don’t have is likely to be really esoteric and potentially powerful as all get out.”

“That is a good bribe… yes. Are you sure you want to be Minister of Labor that badly?”

“Not really… but I’ll help out where I can. That’s why you recruited me, right?”

“One of the reasons, yes,” I agreed. “But primarily because I thought you were an interesting individual. So there is that… Robert? Rosalind? You two ready to report?”

The ginger not-quite-twins (i mean, they had absolutely identical fingerprints, tongue-prints, retina prints… all of it) looked at each other, then at me and, together, they said “We are.” Then, trading the flow back and forth so smoothly that even twins with telepathy would be envious, they explained, “We’re calling ourselves ‘Columbia’ and we work for Cauldron. We’ve talked to the others, so we know that young Francesca will have already told you about the freebies of a Conspirator, as well as the Importance of Leverage, and you’ll already know about Spanner in the Works, all of which we took. We also took both conspirator Capstones, Necessary Sacrifices, and Crucible of Strife which Francesca didn’t, and ‘Behind the Scenes’, the other midtier conspirator perk. To pay for it all, we took a generalized package of drawbacks. Nothing significant. Bent to Broken, Case-53, and Bad Influence all at level 1, Personal Issues, and Wanted. None of those should present insurmountable issues.”

They paused, took simultaneous drinks of water, then resumed. “Behind the Scenes is a sixth sense for knowing what to keep secret and how to do so to maintain a covert operation. As long as we’re vigilant, anyone who does find a loose end is going to find us waiting when they follow it. Necessary Sacrifices means that when we make a sacrifice it will be exactly what was needed and no more. When we give an inch, an inch will be exactly what was required. As the text puts it, ‘better a desperate slog than an undignified death’.” They took each other’s hands and looked like the mad science version of Hansel and Gretel in that moment, lost in ethical and moral woods so dark and deep that there was no way they’d ever be found. “And Crucible of Strife allows us to know how to shape conflict and strife in just the right ways to maximize the growth that occurs as a result of it. We’ll get heroes, villains, monsters… everything in between, but as long as we control it, what we’ll end up with is survivors, fighters… people who will stand when the time comes, rather than dying on their knees.”

“Wow… that is a really harsh mindset. Cauldron must really be desperate to have that kind of ideology… I’m betting anything you like that that mindset is anything but unnecessary. These Entities must be seriously bad news… assuming they are the major threat like you think they are,” Meetra commented. I just nodded, looking at the Luteces to see if they had anything else to report.

“Our last 600 went into Spanner in the Works. It seemed the best use for it. Precogs and time-travellers can be so… inconsiderate,” they said, smirking at me in that knowing way of theirs.

“I’m seeing a lot of that, yeah. Very good thing it doesn’t block friendly precogs… Joy? Ahab? You’re the last to go.”

Joy smiled and took the stage, so to speak. “They call me Typhoon Tycoon. I’m in the extortion business, not that anyone takes me seriously. No Respect, On the Radar, Meh I Can Take Her, Wanted, Bent to Broken 2 and Bad Influence 1… I’m pretty much aiming to a bottom tier villain that no one thinks about really. I spent my points on Meh I Can Take You so no one thinks much of me, Parahuman Feudalism so I’m not incompetent as I seem, You Can Be More so my people actually are better than they might seem, and the Friendbringers, because being in poor taste seems fitting for this cesspool of a world. Ahab?”

“I’m a Shard, of course. No idea who I’m going to be in. I’d like to be in Joy… if you know what I mean, but I can’t tell if it counts because I didn’t import her, but she imported herself. If the system allows it, we’ll be together, otherwise? Who knows. Maybe I’ll end up in Meetra or Petra instead? No idea… but I did take Case-54 level 2, Personal Issues, A Bad Influence level 1, and Wanted… plus Passenger, of course. I bought Forced Evolution and Crucible of Strife… I know you know both at this point… and I don’t have a name. I guess that’s up to whoever’s Shard I end up being.”

I considered that, then just tucked into lunch, thinking hard about the days and weeks yet to come. This world would be a crucible… ultimately one that would help everyone I brought into it in some way… but it wasn’t likely to be a fun stay. No siree Jim.

INSERTION… not quite

“What do you mean, ‘No’?” I asked, eyes narrow as I glared down at the surly patient laying in my medbay.

“I don’t want to be mortal again! It’s horrible and awful and… and I hated it!” the entity in the bed sulked, almost throwing a tantrum.

“And I don’t care about that one iota,” I responded. “While you’re serving as my Interim Benefactor, it is your job to connect my Warehouse to the target reality. It’s time… past time, in fact, for Insertion. It’s been almost 33 days since the last jump ended and we’re still attached to the Yu-Gi-Oh world. You have to switch us over to this Worm Reality!” I snapped.

“You could be nicer,” she said in a small voice. “I’ve had a bad time!” she was whining now.

“A Bad TIME?!” I bellowed. “A BAD TIME?! You squandered nine decades! Ninety years of experiences, and you were a homeless wretch! Had you made the smallest effort to… you do realize that mortals deal with being mortal all the fucking time, right? I may not be even vaguely mortal any more myself, but I remember what it was like.” I grabbed the thankfully clean Jump-Chan by the shoulders and shook her, not gently. “You will disconnect the… oh for fuck’s sake.”

She was crying now… again.

Swearing under my breath, I tossed her over my shoulder. She’d been deaged and healed up by the medbay, her festering sores and myriad infestations cleansed, all the toxins and parasites purged, and the mess of her neurochemistry corrected… but her personality dysfunction had not completely vanished. I carried her out into the main Warehouse and, as she pounded her (incredibly strong) fists against my back, glided over to the Chamber. “Open the damned door, you bitch.” I commanded her, knowing that the Chamber Door lacked any handles.

“NOOO!” she wailed like a stubborn five year old.

“Do it, or I’ll toss you out of the warehouse for another couple decades,” I said, no emotion in my voice. “No access to any of my resources either. No medicine, no youthening, no food. You have twelve seconds.”

“I don’t know seconds,” She muttered.

“You have until I reach 0,” I said, creating ice numbers from 0 to 12. I placed a long icicle as a pointer against the 12. “11.” I shifted it over to that digit (Magi numbers are duodecimal, so eleven and ten are single digit numbers). ‘10’… I’m not stopping you know. ‘9’ Open the door, Chamber. ‘8’…”

She broke at 4, the door swinging open silently. I tossed her inside, not gently, then followed. “Get out!” she wailed.

“Not a chance. Bring up the command console, NOW!”

She flinched, flailed at the wall, and whimpered as black flames wreathed me and I focused every one of my fear-effect generating abilities on her… the wall changed, command icons appearing on it. The labels hurt my mind a little to read, the sheer amount of information each symbol contained being a torrent of concepts and meanings. This was the underlying language of reality and unreality and even my defenses and mind were barely enough to withstand the deluge.

I let my eyes go out of focus and just scanned over the controls. There were far far more of them than could fit on the wall, but they did anyway. After several hours of scanning, I found the control for unlinking the Warehouse, and pointed at it. “This one?”

She just cringed.

“Fuck.” I said, and pressed it. Nothing happened. So I grabbed Jump-Chan’s hand, not gently, and mashed the button, causing her to cry out in pain even though she was largely impervious to direct harm. The Universe lurched and the internet cut off as we disconnected from one reality. Now came the hard part.

The controls weren’t just counter-intuitive. They were designed for beings that existed outside of the concept of reality itself. But with enough study, I could manage, barely, to operate the board. Thankfully, my deceased companions had been automatically shunted back to the Warehouse without needing any interaction from JumpChan, and the Pillars of Time had been on a timer… though time hadn’t stopped flowing when they’d come up… that was a first. But figuring out how to connect to another reality took me days, and another week would pass before I managed to get the Worm reality dialed in using a system that wasn’t optimized for manual operation by the reality blind.

I very quickly realized that Benefactors had to be able to perceive outside the bounds of an individual reality and had, in fact, some kind of ability to perceive multiple realities at once. I didn’t. So I had to find workarounds inside the controls… which worried me greatly. It was, in theory, possible for me to completely hijack this jump system… had other jumpers done so? Had any jumper ever had the clown show that was The Banker, Mensarius, and Jump-Chan as Benefactors? Had anyone else had jumps sponsored by Necoho? Or interfered with by a renegade jumper like that Necron lunatic? How many other jumpers had gained access to their command console and used it to do something stupid? How many had been obliterated by the strangeness of it? Was this a test of some kind, or was the system really this borked?

No way of knowing… But I wasn’t really interested in cheating… though I could have. I had the command console… I even had to generate the build programs for the tablets and plug in my own build and wasn’t that fun? No it wasn’t, precious. And I had to do this all while standing in the Chamber because I couldn’t leave or Jump-Chan might seal herself in just to be a pain in the ass. Thankfully, I had sunlamps to alleviate the need to eat or sleep… or breathe.

INSERTION for real this time.

Atura, now bearing the body and name of Genady Silveira, woke in her bed in the small hill neighborhood of Altinho in the city of Panjim, Goa, India. It was January 1st, 2011, 6am, and it was already going to be a sorcher, with the needle just below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. She rolled over, hugging her pillow… then blinked her eyes wide and shivered. “Ohhh… this feels weird… I… I don’t know if I like this?”

~We’ll be fine… it’ll just take a few minutes to adjust. The first few minutes after insertion are always a bit weird, adjusting to new memories, a new body… and in your case, having a body… oh shit.~

“What?” Atura asked, sitting up and turning this way and that instead of rotating her head, trying to find what had made me react like that… and then she became away of the information that ‘Judgement Day’ was feeding me.

~Yeah,~ I said mentally, ~900 days… give or take. Still some flux there. 900 days until the end of the world.~

“Two years, five months, 18… 19… 20… 16… days… billions dead… oh… goddess… going to be sick…” She muttered, then calmed as I transferred some of my emotional control abilities and calmness perks to her… well… not transferred… applied them to her. She was me, after all.

~Where’s the tablet?~ I asked, referring to the one that contained the text of this world’s coming future history… or at least what it would have been if I wasn’t here.

She looked around, then grabbed it without thinking… oh… shit.

~That… was not pleasant,~ I understated the obvious as I finished experiencing the text. As a novel, it was fine. As a world I was now living in, it was unconscionable. And I now knew how many times I’d been wrong and how many times I’d been right in my detective breakdown of the text of the document. Without more than a second’s contemplation, I sent out a pulse of thought to my companions.

~EVERYONE BACK TO THE WAREHOUSE EXCEPT CARWYN!~ And with that, Atura’s bed grew a warehouse portal and we dropped into a mass of returning teleports. ~Paradise, intiate warp point calculations for the spacedock and fold space to Epsilon Eridani. Do not return. I’m transferring some perks to you for the durration. Find the lost civilzations if you can… christ… 3000 plus dead civilizations… not just one world… not…~ I stablized myself and looked out at my followers.

~I know now what we’re dealing with. The Entities are a race of living biological computers, each one the size of a small planet comprised of trillions of Shards, spread across multiple parallel realities. Each shard is its own self-contained biocomputer, each capable of generating fields that interact with fundamental forces of reality… and of linking to people in moments of extreme trauma. Those Shards push their hosts towards aggressive behaviour and conflict to learn and expand their repertoire of tricks… then the Entities, having shed most of their Shards upon planetfall, regather the information and detonate the planet they’re on to launch themselves back into the cosmos to repeat the cycle on a new world… the backlash of this detonation serves to obliterate all copies of that world, ensuring no competing species rises against the Entities. Just the local pair of Entities, Zion and Eden, have been responsible for at least three thousand such cycles, and we don’t know how many more pairs are out there… or individuals.~

There was stunned silence as We looked out upon the gathered throng.

~These Entities have comprehensively every significant super power and psychic ability you can think of. And many you won’t have. This includes a form of future-mapping that rivals that of a Kwisatz Hadderach at the very least. The only saving grace is that Eden is, for all intents and purposes, deceased… and Zion is, for lack of a better term, clinically depressed, perhaps even suicidal. He’s got a human avatar called Scion that is, in roughly 900 days, going to murder billions of people… probably on the order of 10 to 15 billion. Shortly after that, Zion himself will be killed, though at the cost of countless more tragedy.  Earth Bet will be left largely uninhabitable and the surviving population forced to migrate to other nearby Parallels.~ Atura set our jaw and glared out at the crowd.

~We are unwilling to allow this to happen. Unfortunately, we cannot shield all of you from the massive numbers of precogs in this setting, not and be effective. So anyone who is not highly resistant to precognition and mind reading? We’re afraid you’ll have to sit this one out… at least until everything is resolved. Companions who imported will be the only ones allowed out until further notice. Sorry to restrict you all. This is how it’s going to have to be. Dismissed… WormCompanions please stay back.~ As soon as we were alone, We looked at the gathered group… it was smaller than it should have been.

Joy, the Lutece Twins, Petra, Mini, Frankie, Meetra, and Zane stood in their new forms in front of me. Carwyn and Ahab were missing… unless Ahab was inside one of the others. “Are any of you also Ahab?” Atura asked before I could peer deeper… having her be the pilot was going to be interesting. The others looked back and forth, then shook their heads.

Zane asked, “Uh… you’re Atura, right? Not EssJay?”

“We’re both. I’m Atura… or Genady… but also EssJay… she’s here too. She can’t speak unless I allow her to, but she can still think at you,” ~Hi Guys! Zane, you look really weird.~ “Like that, but we’re both… it’s the same as always, except I… Atura… am more active… it’s weird having mortal memories… Okay… well… yeah… I’m not certain how much defense ‘No Fate But What We Make’ is going to be, since it talks about fate… and We can’t extend precognitive invisibility to more than two other people at a time… right?”

~I have three powersets that convey strong precognitive immunity and several that convey weak precognitive immunity. Clearly, Ferret Tengu, Ferret Uplifted Witch, and the Dook-Dook Fruit have mild chaos effects that make predicting them difficulty. As Sophia, I’m going to craft a Noble Phantasm called ‘Beyond the Sight of God’ which conveys a masking effect and some magical items that do similar, but that will take me a few days to get rolling, assuming Atura doesn’t have other plans. Those are all minor. I have my psychic Precognitive Invisibility which I can teach to other psychics… as I’ve done to Francine and Joy.~

Atura looked to Joy, “What’s your confidence level in your ability to remain cloaked?”

Joy, looking like a rag-doll with ribbons and streamers of all colors on her costume as the Villainous Typhoon Tycoon, shrugged. “I contain several hundred million Transcendent Minds and Talents. I think I can handle blocking on a level that will keep our secrets safe. I’ve compartmentalized the brain of this,” she motioned to herself, “To contain no secrets worth keeping. I trust you to trust me to know the difference?”

We nodded. ~Excellent. Meetra, your Force Powers are close enough to psychic powers that I’m going to spend the next week teaching you Precognitive Invisibility, if you’re amenable?~ She nodded curtly, her red hard hat bobbing. She was a firefighter… interesting… ~Did I pull you away from something?~

“Oh… not a fire. I was just at the station, pulling on my helmet… Turns out that about a half a year ago, there was a fire… half my team were killed… it was started by this pyro, a villain… monster really, calls herself Burnscar… This me is pretty torn up about it. Wants revenge in a major way… like… bad enough that she helped an acquaintance burn down a factory for the insurance money so she could buy a vial of some really nasty shit from Cauldron… that’s how she got her powers… claims she triggered in the fire… we… we were trapped in there as the building came down… the second fire, not the first… got this hair… the bitch… I mean Doctor Mother… she’s the Cauldron person who gave me the vial, she says I owe three favors… you knew that… got a lot of anger… but I think I can manage the Precognitive Invisibility… but you might need to use some deep programming… having a hard time keeping it together…” She admitted and I nodded, telling her to go to Medbay to be checked out while I talked to the others.

We turned to the others. “Petra… you’re not the most powerful psion in our group, but Essjay’s taught you the basics of Precog Invisibility… do you think you can keep one of your brains focused on it at… wow… you having four faces is really throwing me for a loop… you look more like a spirit that a mortal now.”

Petra’s human face blinked, then grinned. Her lion and bull faces both lolled their tongues as if laughing… as for the eagle face? It was on the back and we couldn’t see it, but it was probably laughing too. “Yeah. We can. Won’t be as totally bufftastic as Joy or Mom… yours… but we can.”

We nodded, “Just try to keep your memories compartmentalized. Hopefully people won’t realize you’ve got four brains… and keep your psi shields up. This world has mindreaders… though they aren’t common.  Mini… Take my hand.”

The small blonde blinked and frowned, but did so. “What’s up?”

“I’m transfering part of the perk ‘Removed From Context’ to you. It’s from Young Justice, and makes predicting your actions extremely difficult, if not outright impossible. I’m tossing in my Ferret Witch Powers and Immortal… the werewolf thing… from Soul Eater. The combo should make you functionally impervious to Precog, as well as giving you a few more resources, since my Ferret Magic is geared to confusion, healing, and theft.”

“Not that I’m complaining, but why not all of Removed From Context?”

“Because the rest is copy protection for my tech. Best not to allow it to be copied… even as we steal all the local hypertech… I want you and Frankie to stick together… sheesh… now that I know all Case 53s are people who got powers from Cauldron, I’m realizing potentially how much Cauldron knows about us. Meetra owes them favors and got her powers from them… as did everyone but you (referring to Mini), you (referring to Joy), and Carwyn. And of course, Rosalind, Robert, and Frankie are all working with them. Well… that’s fine. Technically they’re good people. We understand what they’re doing. Half of me just wants to turn over the text to Contessa… she’s Dr. Mother’s chief enforcer… and let her handle it… but my own precog shows that’s a suboptimal solution. Okay. We’ve got a plan… actually a lot of them… and things aren’t going to be generally nice… but we’re going to save people… as many as we can. I’ll have missions for you all eventually, but you can head back to your lives… well, except you Zane… I don’t think you have one. I’d like you to start scouting planets… alternate Earths for me… I’ll have a specific target for you shortly I think, but you need to find me alternate earths that have no inhabitants. None. That’s very important, got it?”

He nodded and vanished as did the others one by one. I wondered what was up with Carwyn and Ahab… but I had something to do first… and we needed to not be on Earth Bet for about a month anyway… well, as little as possible. Genady was 14 and had parents that worried about her enough to buy her a very very very expensive Cauldron Vial. There were advantages to being the child of billionaires… ones who could afford to make their daughter Eidolon lite.

Ah yes, sorry… I should explain. Zion was going to destroy all the Earths in about 1000 days or so. He was going to go on a rampage in about 900 days. His entire species was looking for a solution to the problem of Universal Entropy… which I guess every completely immortal species might do eventually… but the Entities prefered a method of destroying all potential competitors too… possibly also reasonable… unless you belonged to one of those potential competitor species… which I… we… kinda did. Vaguely. We liked them a lot at least.

So Zion was the Big Bad and Cauldron was a transdimensional secret cabal dedicated to stopping him. Their major tool in all this was the corpse of Zion’s brain-dead mate, Eden. Zion was the Warrior Entity, Eden the Thinker Entity. She’d been distracted as they approached Earth by a third, solo, Entity that was referred to as Abaddon and crashed into the planet instead of slowing down… and was then attacked by humans as she was vulnerable and rendered braindead. Those humans became Cauldron and were selling access to her Shards to give people powers… all in an attempt to create a large enough force of Capes to fight and defeat Zion.

The most overtly powerful of the Cauldron Conspirators were the founders of the Protectorate, the Triumvirate (originally a quartet) consisting of Alexandria (Flying Brick), Legend (Flying Artillery), Eidolon (The Grab-Bag to end all Grab-Bags), and the currently dead Hero (Tinker). Add to that Contessa with her Path to Victory, Clairvoyant with a power you should be able to guess, and Doormaker who had the power named for him, as well as many, many others… and Cauldron was arguably the Human Race’s best chance of success… before I arrived. Unfortunately, while Cauldron’s leadership were very much on the Pragmatic side of the sliding scale of morality… so was I. Either way, people were going to die… and I was going to kill many of them.

Events kept me too busy to show up in Brockton Bay until the end of January. I was busy teaching Meetra (and reminding her not to act too far out of context), getting used to the rest of this very strange and highly damaged world, and generally planning for things to come. When I did, the first thing I did was not visit the Hebert home. Rather, I visited the gravesite of Annette Hebert, Taylor’s mother. Grave robbing might be frowned upon… but really, if you don’t want bodies being stolen, don’t leave them lying about.

I also contacted a very high priced lawyer specializing in parahuman law… someone I could trust implicitly… I’m good at finding those… and gave him several charisma mods as well as my Swat Kats Legal Crime Theme. Thus outfitted, I sent Geoffrey Fieger to defend the Rogue Cape ‘Canary’, a powered singer who had accidentally told her ex-husband to go fuck himself… unaware he was under her sway and would actively try to do so. If I didn’t interfere, she’d end up in the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center, better known as ‘The Birdcage’. It was a supermax prison that no one had ever escaped from overseen by the Hero ‘Dragon’, who unknown to the public, was actually a very advanced AI… though a very nice one.

Still, once I was done with that, I did drop by to see Taylor (who in this reality had the middle name ‘Carwyn’ instead of ‘Ann’). Keeping out of sight, We sent the thought ~Jumper to Hive Queen… you in there? Want to know something funny as hell?~

%Yes, I’m here…  keep having to remind myself that I’m also Farseer Carwyn… Very strong imprint. And the trauma… I suppose you know?%

~I do. Yes. Did you read the book?~

%No. Couldn’t bring myself to. Didn’t want to know what was coming. But you did… you know what they did to her… us… me… she doesn’t want to kill them… I… I want to burn down the entire school. Why the hell is this world so horrible?%

I knew she was referring to Taylor’s trigger incident. It had been… very bad. They almost always were for first generation Capes (not so much for Cauldron Capes… Cauldron Capes just triggered via overwhelmingly intense pain, pain so bad it felt like death… second generation Capes could trigger through being angry about getting mayo on their sandwich). Taylor’s trigger had come from being locked in a high school locker by a trio of bullies (Madison the follower, Emma the former BFF, and Sophia Hess the sociopathic vigilante ShadowStalker)… a locker filled with feminine hygiene products… and shortly thereafter with vomit as well. It happened on the 3rd of January and she’d been catatonic for more than a week following what had almost certainly been an especially stressful kind of trigger known as a ‘double-trigger’ where two trigger events happen back to back… thus resulting in a more powerful and varied powerset… and a less stable personality.

~This world is being pushed to be terrible by two competing forces… one planning on saving all of humanity across trillions of parallel Earths and one planning on erasing all those worlds worth of people. The second views all humans as little more than lab rats and is fostering chaos and discord as part of its experiment. The first is using the horribleness to create more beings capable of fighting the second. It’s a delicate balance. Oh… and Emma Barnes has no powers unless something has changed. She’s not Skitter… you are. Taylor has always been Skitter. Just dumb luck that you chose her power… though I suspect that, with your psychic powers added in, you’re going to be even more dangerous than she was before. Trust her instincts… She’s got good ones… And I’d like to put the Carwyn part of you to sleep for a little while… would you mind?~

%But I haven’t gotten to slap the shit out of Emma yet.%

~Don’t worry. It’ll happen. Just be patient.~

%How long?%

~Four Months, fifteen days.~

%Fiiiine. You’ll tell me why? After I mean?%

~Yes. Now I need you to go back to sleep. You’ll remember this as just a dream.~ She did and I stole her tablet. She wouldn’t have been able to open it anyway. I’d used my access to the command console to lock it down before we’d ever inserted. I trusted Carwyn… I hadn’t even known Taylor. It was also then I’d shunted Zane’s copy to my location instead… and locked him out of it too. No one but me and Atura needed to know what was going to happen.

Rising from rooftop back into the air, I flew to the new building I’d purchased to be the headquarters of Five Points Realty. It was on the lower slopes of the mountains surrounding the Bay, and the building was already, in the two days since I’d bought it, undergoing massive formatting as construction nanites and microbots dug into the mountain and transformed the building into the headquarters of the Pentarchy.

“Oh, Cass… you’re here,” Orion said, looking up from his book. Orion was the Flying Artillery of the Pentarchy, a heavily muscled man with an archery themed uniform that looked like robes. His eyes glowed… all three of them, forming a triangle.

“She’s not dressed as Cassiopeia,” Andromeda, our elementalist commented from where she was watching cartoons. “That’s Twilight’s Costume.”

I looked down at what I was wearing and sighed. She was right. I’d put on the wrong costume… a moment’s thought and it went from the purple and silver bodysuit of Twilight to the golden regal raiment of Cassiopeia. Twilight was an Indian Hot Cape, Cassiopeia was a Thinker and member of the Pentarchy… who did not, as yet, officially exist. While Twilight and Cassiopeia had the same eyes and hair, Twilight’s costume, complete with visor and integrated helmet, ensured no one ever saw her face, while Cassiopeia’s mask and crown did much the same. A little shapeshifting to change the body morphology and it would take Tattletale (the cape with Inference Engine) to tell they were the same person… and then only with more information.

“Where’s Fornax?” I asked, looking round.

“Our Tinker is building their lab,” said Eridani, our fifth and smallest member, appearing from the kitchen clutching a bag of candy bigger than her head.

I reached over and ruffled her hair. “You’re such a little piggy, Icicle.” I teased her.

“Nuuuh. Don’t call me thaaaaat!” she complained, wriggling away, then dropping onto the couch next to Andromeda.

“Where’s my soda?” the taller girl asked. “You said you’d grab me a… ooh. Thanks.” I heard the sound of a tab being pulled and the hiss of carbonation.

“So?” Orion asked, frowning. “Did it go well?”

“Yeah. She didn’t complain… the waiting is going to be hell… but I need all the players in place before we begin. You guys okay with this?” I asked, surveying my team. Of course they were… we were of one mind on this… ahahah… as if.

~I can’t believe we’re doing this,~ Atura commented just between me and her… which did nothing, because of course the others could hear us. After all… a Pentarchy is five who are one.  Okay, okay… I’ll stop teasing… for now.

*******

“Hello Sophia,” I said, looking down at the Hero I’d just punched even though she was currently in her phased state.

The featureless mask hid her outrage, but I could read her emotions and she was freaking out. I was currently dressed like neither Cassiopeia or Twilight, but rather like Skitter. It was a week after the Undersiders (the team of teenage villains that Taylor belonged to) had crashed a major political fundraiser and humiliated the local Protectorate Branch and their junior apprentices, the Wards… of whom Shadowstalker was a member… by court order… she having killed someone as a vigilante.

She tried to run from me, but I hit her again with a flurry of bugs, appearing out of the mist from in front of her. She always tried to run… this was a dream that she’d been having night after night… if only she knew what I was saving her from. Ah well, some people are so ungrateful.

*******

Mapping Coil’s base… Coil it turns out was a master criminal who had the curious power to run two different timelines at a time and then, if anything happened he didn’t like, collapse the that timeline and live the second on autopilot until he reached the point at which he’d chosen which timeline to follow… and, as often as not, immediately split off a new timeline from the moment he’d collapsed the old branching. He also employed the Undersiders and another team called the Travelers in addition to a large squad of mercs, some of whom were powered… was fairly tedious. It was also completely necessary.

Coil had sent the Undersiders to crash the fundraiser so he could kidnap another special precog named Dinah Alcott… who was also only twelve years old. That was a change from the original timeline I wasn’t able to account for. In the original, it had been a bank job that Coil had arranged to distract from Dinah’s kidnapping. I had no explanation for why the change… but regardless, I knew why Coil wanted Dinah.

She was a very lowgrade kwisatz herself, unable to map futures into a prediction of the future landscape, but only judge one probability at a time with her precog… and she needed to be rescued from the fuckface. And yes, the appelation is fitting. The dickbag was controlling the kid by controlling her supply of ‘candy’… cocktail of narcotic drugs used to make her pliable so he could to make use of her ability to determine the probability of a thing happening by trolling billions or trillions of potential futures.

Also needing to be rescued (though not from Coil) was a member of the Travellers, one Noelle… aka Echidna. The Travellers had been brought from Earth Aleph to Earth Bet and, stranded in a world not quite there own, had happened upon a case of Cauldron Vials and drank them… unfortunately, there were 6 of them and only 5 vials, and so Noelle and Oliver had drunk half each. Oliver’s power was nearly perfect shapeshifting into other people… though he had trouble controlling it… but Noelle? She’d been turned into something of an abomination… and so her friends had turned to Coil when he’d promised to help cure her. Something he had no idea how to do.

To be fair, neither did I… but I wanted all my ducks in a row for the time when the Undersiders and Travelers, along with two mercenary crews (Coil’s and Faultline’s) and two more villain groups (The racist fucks of ‘Empire 88’ and the drug dealing scum who called themselves ‘The Merchants’) took down the all Asian gang known as ABB, led by the powered trio of Lung (who had a version of Warp Spasm that turned him into a dragon), Oni Lee (a teleporting ninja assassin whose power was erasing his identity an inch at a time), and Bakuda (a tinker who made hypertech bombs). ABB were out of control, and the local heroes were doing fuck all to stop them, so the city’s villains teamed up to do so.

It wasn’t important in and of itself. It really wasn’t. Just a gangwar with powers making it worse… but Brockton Bay was already a bit of a Detroit and this was moving it steadily towards a Belfast during the Troubles. It was, almost certainly, what would draw Leviathan to the city… and that’s what I’d been waiting for.

The date was May 15th. It was early… and the Endbringer sirens were sounding across the city. By convention, Capes of all factions put their differences aside to fight Endbringers. They were that bad. And I’d been waiting to see how well the Pentarchy did against them… well, that and trying to find Ahab’s host.. Still no luck.

Now, here’s what you need to know about Leviathan. As an Endbringer, his body was denser than any material known to physics… at least once you got through the outer layers. It started out as dense as aluminum and doubling in tensile strength with every layer (~33 layers in the extremities, ~200 in the main body). He was a macro-hydrokinetic, able to generate tidal waves and enough water pressure to sink cities. He also created water as he moved, a kind of echo that filled every space he moved out of with an equal volume of water… a volume that maintained his speed and vector at the moment it was created… and he was damned fast and extremely smart.

In the original book, he’d done serious damage to the city, killed thousands with his attacks, and 44 capes had fallen in the fight against him… as well as 8 of the dogs belonging to the Undersider known as Bitch. It had also been him who’d destroyed Kyushu and Newfoundland and parts of Oslo, Hyderabad, and Sydney. He was also causing a big of a global shipping crisis and a fresh water crisis… and would be one of the forces that fought against Scion… but that was all assuming he survived me.

As the tidal wave crashed towards the city… I, seated in Casseopia’s Golden Throne (built by Fornax to be a mobile weapon platform) whistled from where I was standing on the tallest building in town… and Eridani froze the bay to a depth of five feet… and even then the ice shattered, piling up, driving into the boardwalk and beaches and shattering the wood and concrete like twigs… but the wave’s force had been largely depleted by the energy needed to fragment such huge slabs of ice, and the wave had no power to surge inland. And then the monster was on the city.

He stood thirty some feet tall and had a tail twice that length and flowed from place to place exactly as you’d expect a water elemental to move. As the heroes gathered at Brockton Bay mobilized, they were joined by the Pentarchy. A hundred and seventy some Fornax Drones rose into the air, the mad tinker’s creations pumping waves of energy to repel the worst of the water echos protecting what parts of the city could be protected. Orion’s arrows sprung up by the thousands, raining down to punch up to half a meter into the Kaiju, their monomolecular tips slicing through the creature’s skin until even they were ground to a halt. Andromeda flew low, her armor glimmering in the rain as she unleashed fire and wind and lightning on the beast.

“You know this is just going to annoy it, right?” Atura asked.

“Of course. I want it to look like we’re putting up a good fight. I want to save as many of those capes as possible… and as many people…” we paused, focusing to teleport another dozen people to safety. The city was going to be a ruin. That had to happen. People were going to die. That had to happen too… but I was going to cut down the casualties as much as possible. I had more drones, nanoscale, on every cape in the city as far as I could tell. When they went down, those I planned to save would find themselves a little more blessed than they otherwise be. Others, like Kaiser, leader of the Neo-nazi Empire 88? He wouldn’t survive the day if I had to kill him myself…

Unfortunately, I couldn’t spare Bitch her losses… I hadn’t planned that well. Bitch… Hellhound… Rachel… was to Dogs what Taylor was to Bugs. But where Taylor controlled her bugs, Bitch augmented her dogs. She caused them to transform into elephant-sized monsters… monsters who were still, at heart, good doggies. And I’d thought I’d found a way to protect them… but while her power covered them too much in layer upon layer of bone and blood… it didn’t stop them from being killed by the Endbringer… At least that number went from 8 to 5… but she still lost Brutus… one of her favorites… “Shit. I can’t believe that we’re crying about a dog when we’re letting people die… people fighting to save their city and friends,” Atura muttered.

~Yes. We’re all kinds of fucked up… you know we can turn off our emotions again?~

“No. We can’t. This is my first time being a person… I want to feel what it’s like to be a person… does it always hurt this much?”

~I’ve got the emotion control dialed back to 4… you’re feeling only 60% of what you’d de feeling normally. Believe me… each 10% is twice as overwhelming.~

“Poor Doggy… oh, thank god… the golden idiot is here.”

We looked down from the top of the now leaning building as Scion finally showed up to half-ass fighting the Endbringer. ~Get ready. You’re sure you can manage this?~

“After what I’ve seen today? After what he did to those poor dogs? Yes.”

~I’m dialing the emotion control off. This is going to be pure emotional impact,~ I told my other half as we launched ourselves off the chair, leaving behind an image of ourselves still sitting there. As we moved out of sight of everyone and everything, we shimmered, becoming Twilight and reaching the edge of the bay just as Leviathan moved to flee.

As the beast rose into the air for a dive that would take it out to sea in moments, Atura raised the Elder Wand and bellowed “AVADA KEDAVRA!” with all the pain and rage and hate in her newly mortal heart… and the green beam stabbed into the Endbringer’s form, a pencil thin ray of death that didn’t care at all how fucking durable you were.

The Endbringer slammed into the water of the bay, twitching, the echo cutting off halfway through the dive… and the water froze solid as Eridani landed next to us. “Is it dead?” she asked, curiosity and amazement in her voice, though she was rolling her pale blue eyes at me as she said it.

“I don’t know. I just wanted a power that could stop it… and it… I think it might be… but…” The body twitched again, wrenched free of the ice, then dove, vanishing beneath the waves. “Sh…. ip.” I muttered.

******

Elsewhere, a few hours later. “Do you think it’s actually dead?” Kendra asked, looking down at the huge shape lying on the massive slab, the telltale shimmer of a stasis field surrounding it all.

“I think so… but I’m not taking any chances. I doubted it would have any defenses against magic… but I suspect that if even a hundred Voldemorts had hit it with AK they wouldn’t have slowed it down. I was out of phase, holding a Deathly Hallow, and pumping massively boosted willpower into it… and Orion had embedded magical conduits deep inside it. I still suspect it’s only stunned… but that’s fine. They’re vulnerable to timestop. We know that. And this Warehouse Subspace Zone isn’t connected to… anything. It should be safe to keep it here… but I expect you to be vigilant. If anything happens, hit the switch. It’ll dump kaiju-boy here into the blackhole at the galactic core. Let’s see him survive that.

Next:  Worm Part 2

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.

Resources: Build, Document

AN: Oh… my god. This chapter is insanely long. I hope you guys liked it. It took me weeks… and part of that was making a master list of all the things EssJay can do. not the full listing, just blurbs. Even at limiting those blurbs to 3 lines maximum, the list is 26 pages long… though part of that may be the complete list of all the people that EssJay has been.  I’m including that list below as an Omake. Yes, it includes the names of every single King-Priest of the Magi… especially the silly ones. Oh, if I get 10 good comments on this section, I’ll update the relationship chart. You know you want me to.

Hyper_Fractal_-_A_Mathematical_object_of_a_fractal_cross_sections[1]
Shard EssJay

NAMES & IDENTITIES 

  • EssJay, Female Jumper – Body Mod, Baseline, #0
  • Shinko Jin (aka Esu-Chan), Female Asian Trainer – Pokemon Trainer, #1
  • Sidney Jasko, Female African American Conduit – Infamous, #2
  • Cindy, Female Chimchar / Monferno / Infernape – Pokemon Mystery Dungeon #3
  • Sara Jo’Nas, ‘Female’ Asari Infiltrator & SPECTRE – Mass Effect #4
  • Sylvia Jade, Female British Pureblood Witch, Slytherin – Harry Potter #5, HP: Hellblazer #53
  • Siso Jun, Female Argonian Mercenary & Drunk – The Elder Scrolls #6
  • S’Janus, Female Vulcan Medical Officer – Star Trek TOS #7
  • Soap of the Joketsuzoku, Female/Male Amazon Warrior – Ranma 1/2  #8
  • Lt. Sam Jones, Male Caucasian Ex-Cop – ??? #8.5, They Live / 80s #33
  • SkyJumper, Female Caucasian Drop-In – Bastion #9
  • Dr. Saban Juniper (aka Dr. Snowjaeger), Female Anthro Snow-Lynx Villain – Swat Kats #10
  • Juno Smoke, Female Estonian Consulting Detective – Great Detective #11
  • Miss Sunset James, Female Cherokee Drop-In – MMPR #12
  • Sylvia Jane Rosenberg, Female Jewish Spare Key / Slayer-Witch – Buffy #13
  • Joyous Snake (aka Little Boss, aka Simon Joval, aka Borealis), Female Clone of The Joy, Cyborg Warrior – Metal Gear Solid #14, Metal Gear Rising #15
  • Shine Jammy, Female Village Kid & Psyker – MOTHER #16
  • Shu Jin, Female Life-Fiber Hybrid – Kill-la-Kill #17
  • Sulhel Uirebeth, Female Endorian Grey Elf (Sindar) – LotR #18
  • Sharjis Gainsborough, Female Cetra Mage – FF7 #19
  • Sukinuk Yaari’s Daughter, Female Southern Water Tribes Warrior, Water Bender – Avatar #20
  • Jai, Female Fire Nation Civilian – Avatar #21
  • The Manifestation, She Who Reigns from On High, God-Queen of the Magi – Civilization #22
    • 1. Tarindwalir Radu, Male Magi
    • 2. Umarad Ari, Male Magi
    • 3. Unharit Hasmarasti, Female Magi
    • 4. Gesta Annabiera, Male Magi (technically a hermaphrodite)
    • 5. Infarastu Gannal, Male Magi
    • 6. Dimo Endrasati, Male Magi
    • 7. Oon Duvu, Male Magi
    • 8. Yahrad Mikonvoori, Male Magi
    • 9. Nafa Inshok, Female Magi
    • 10. Palwadir Unfarth-Raam, Female Magi
    • 11. Ko Kadarat, Female Magi
    • 12. Ywe Ntaulli, Female Magi
    • 13. Juuf Yadwiga, Male Magi
    • 14. Ablaketh Ari, Male Magi (Descendant of Umarad)
    • 15. Edrodor of Gerra-Doon, Male So-Magi
    • 16. Mahpunit Joimasek, Female Magi
    • 17. Gotzon TIldebek, Male Magi
    • 18. Torbern Bui, Male Magi
    • 19. Osendal Hankin, Male Patriot (First non-Magi by birth)
    • 20. Luit Fariha, Male Magi
    • 21. Tarindwalir Orlando, Female Magi
    • 22. Nurdug Umanu, Male Magi
    • 23. Manjusha Umanu, Female Magi/So-Magi (Only Dynastic Transition)
    • 24. Selahattin Mitparna, Female Magi
    • 25. Marazra Dharwis, Female Morgant
    • 26. Laurynas Vida, Male Magi
    • 27. Jayanata Aputsikathi, Female Magi
    • 28. Usoagal Jim, Male Magi
    • 29. Rokiv ay Inton, Female Rihannsu
    • 30. Asperate of the Meinar, Male Meinar
    • 31. Rudesynda Ondai, Female Magi
    • 32. Chandino Morst, Male Half-Caste (Indian / Magi), First Half-Caste
    • 33. Morinus Kahlee, Male Magi
    • 34. Nigomete Nafirii, Female Magi
    • 35. Ospidan Ogenena, Male Magi
    • 36. Fred of Hihajlo-Aithanti, Male Pureblood
    • 37. Ashgarat Bui, Female Magi (Distant Relation to Torbern)
    • 38. Urtath Manshur, Male Magi
    • 39. Nafa Inshok II, Female Magi (aka. Naga Nafa)
    • 40. Parut Battir, Male Magi
    • 41. Dimo Tildebeck, Male Magi
    • 42. Adandrogani ‘The Great’ Azorkin, Female Magi, King-Priest at the time of the Final Victory, the total unification of Earth
    • 43. Taralwindr Anvasilka, Female Magi
    • 44. Fred of Tyron & Mislav, Male Pureblood
    • 45. Herminius of Vulkan, Male Half-Caste (Magi / Rihannsu)
    • 46. Abodun the Explorer, Male Transgenic Human
    • 47. Lutboro Zamangardis, Male Magi
    • 48. Chinweibo Kirayakov, Female Lotus Eater
    • 49. Stohlen the Silent, Male Morgant
    • 50. Magomed Mitparna, Male Magi
    • 51. Waheeda Chandasina, Female Hindi
    • 52. Alas din Gomer, Female Jovian
    • 53. Nafa Inshok III, Female Magi
    • 54. Edrodor Chelakalas, Male Magi
    • 55. Edrodor Harwe-Giehl, Male Half-Caste (Magi / Pureblood)
    • 56. Stohlen Agrona, Female Half-Caste (Morgant / Magi)
    • 57. Votutus Chekelakas, Male Magi
    • 58. Duller Paradat, Male Magi
    • 59. Kaednikka Inshok, Female Magi
    • 60. Brusesi Perothite, Male Magi (Pe-ro-thee-teh)
    • 61. Murtaz the Sleeper, Male Alpha Magi
    • 62. Bilatarax Saneth, Female Magi
    • 63. Eyvindr Deshivega, Male Magi
    • 64. Sameera of High Blue, Female Neo-So-Magi
    • 65. Porbina Zywinthi, Female Magi
    • 66. Wmffrioth Nedwyan, Female Magi
    • 67. Hautricharon Teonwahl, Male Outlander
    • 68. Srasvanton Winzhenn, Male Magi
    • 69. Burenthi Ringena, Female Magi
    • 70. Suthorotius Deighesither, Male Bettlegeisian
    • 71. Astremerius of Park of Parks, Male Neo-So-Magi
    • 72. Kourerse Anuis, Male Magi
    • 73. Difet Orlando, Male Magi
    • 74. Kolyvredik Naiglina, Male Magi
    • 75. Gaw Ycomprers, Female Anaxamandrian
    • 76. Kowanann Palloy, Male Magi
    • 77. Helmani Elfalvyna, Male Magi
    • 78. Balchmian Rothros, Male Jovian
    • 79. Nosiche Nouska, Female Outlander
    • 80. Kapila Nurakgazi, Female Anaxamandrian Beta
    • 81. Togowayle Aetmarshan, Female Magi
    • 82. Asperat the Prudent, Male Naso-Magi
    • 83. Teobandra Dahlarath, Male Magi
    • 84. Taraglus Ueponith, Male Magi
    • 85. Tarindwalir Kiryokan, Female Magi
    • 86. Andarthi Elizabrenis, Male Ar-Magi
    • 87. Jhesiel Morgonna, Male Magi
    • 88. Duvhallesh Unsalva, Female Magi
    • 89. Tivormalin Delbyrhat, Male Magi
    • 90a. Ard Bandil, Male Magi
    • 90b. Rhorlain Volantu, Male Cyber-Magi. First King-Priest of the Andromeda Galaxy
    • 91a. Nao Infergir, Male Magi
    • 91b. Nafa Inshok IV, Female Magi
    • 92a. Unslavin Bikamarotha, Female Magi
    • 92b. Entheri Chandart, Female Magi
    • 93a. Ioram Ashliudis, Male Magi
    • 93b. Desaline Humostel, Female Magi
    • 94a. Ithinion Chambe, Male Magi
    • 94b. Nafa Inshok V, Female Magi
    • 95a. Chridletet Battir, Female Magi
    • 95b. Malof Kirayakov, Male Magi
    • 96a. Elinthil Askeorlandir, Male Magi
    • 96b. Gwervihred Modburney, Female Neo-Scott
    • 97a. Ekwibo Olasanawyn, Female Magi
    • 97b. Bargennog Brespeleg Budongar, Male Neo-Scott
    • 98a. Ushinye Prosenjit, Female Magi
    • 98b. Insecha Saefarka, Female Neo-Scott
    • 99. Yzabenga Gennachaimert, Female Magi, First King-Priest following the Cluster Reunification of Andromeda and Milky Way following the development of Hyperlight Comms
    • 100. Neigeg Elstok, Male Magi
    • 101. Evainig Sebananno, Male Magi
    • 102. Konbrimoni Foulia, Female Magi
    • 103. Bultar Lond, Male Magi
    • 104. Mersha Zalanza, Female Magi
    • 105. Bethoska ‘The Brash’ Gugameth, Female Magi
    • 106. Aristell Hyegersorel, Male Magi
    • 107. Lyresh Joosteri, Male Magi
    • 108. Kenniefre Diktise, Female Magi
    • 109. Abodun Baourth, Male Magi
    • 110. Mithauria Bethachil, Female Magi
    • 111. Gobanbina TIldebeck, Female Magi
    • 112. Nardwe Gillahela, Female Magi
    • 113. Dymniniah Dibrokka, Male Magi
    • 114. Imaytylyn Kodvoggert, Female Magi
    • 115. Thir Rold of Maginnur, Male Magi
    • 116. Asperate Kornelya, Male Magi
    • 117. Matanur Roaldobe, Female Magi
    • 118. Illisusus Rashanobeh, Male Magi
    • 119. Dathach Mochuni, Male Magi
    • 120. Ettanell Devantorri, Male Magi
    • 121. Pithiandroi Tiffinrik, Female Magi
    • 122. Yrnuthea Jaffisiro, Female Magi
    • 123. Katanteka Orekelis, Female Magi
    • 124. Kallania Jasamael, Female Magi
    • 125. Deshirid Idamet, Male Magi
    • 126. Maginnur Maginnur, Male Magi
    • 127. Arkigurig Torieenay, Male Magi
    • 128. Avindnienda Teeliza, Female Magi
    • 129. Egberewart Eltoril, Male Magi
    • 130. Linmagla Yselnor, Female Magi
    • 131. Mearitteyo Beregwarth, Male Magi
    • 132. Idamet Venered, Female Magi
    • 133. Eabharot Presthal, Female Magi
    • 134. Nafa Inshock VI, Female Magi
    • 135. Halsen Bowdenrik, Male Magi
    • 136. Kataryad Uddugen, Female Magi
    • 137. Dominden Nablaay, Male Magi
    • 138. Murtaz Trypontez, Male Magi
    • 139. Sameera of the Great Divide, Female Magi
    • 140. Kronudiadad ‘The Awakener’ Nalfutor, Male Attack-Ambulance
    • 141. Myamota My-pants-are-on-BACKWARDS, Female Magi, First King-Priest following the Great Awakening
    • 142. Heroine-of-Ethereal-Warfare By-The-Book Gravy-Train, Female Magi
    • 143. K’nevel Harweh, Male Magi (the word K’nevel is quite rude in Magoo. It is used similarly to the way ‘fuck’ is used in english, but it’s core meaning is closer to the english words ‘disillusion’ or ‘mind-screw’. It implies an action painful to the psyche often done out of necessity, but with a certain sadistic glee)
    • 144. K’nevel Untonmaribah, Female Magi
    • 145. K’nevel Shut-de-door-keep-out-de-weasel, Female Magi
    • 146. There-Are-No-Words My-Face-Is-On-Backwards, Male Magi
    • 147. Why-Shouldn’t-My-Name-Be-Hello I-Like-Your-Dress-Madame, Male Magi
    • 148. Greatest-of-All-Her-Siblings She-Who-Toppled-The-Dark-Stars, Female Magi
    • 149. Because-Fingerprints-Are-A-Thing-That-Happens, Male Magi
    • 150. Praxis Gerulf Emil Petrosyan Sovanna Vugarlyragnat, Male Magi
    • 151. That’s-Easy-For-You-To-Say Thimblewidget-upon-Tine, Female Magi
    • 152. My-Mother-Couldn’t-Think-Of-Anything-Interesting-For-Three-Whole-Months Marigolds-are-Yellow, Female Magi
    • 153. K’nevel von K’nevelsdorf y K’nevel and K’nevelberg upon K’nev, Female Magi
    • 154. The-Third-The-Third, Hallowed-Be-His-Memory-Unto-the-Last-Generation- Unless-Revisionists-Have-Something-to-Say-About-it-which-they-will, Male Magi
    • 155. Memo Sabastian the Hundred-and-ninety-fifth-of-his-name, Male Magi
    • 156. My-Name-Is-The-Longest-Name-Ever-Recorded-In-The-Entire-History-of- The-Great-Magi-Hegemony But-That’s-Not-Why-You’re-Here-Now-Is-It? Did-I-Ever-Tell-You-About-the-Time-I-Invented-The-Uncycler? abt Grabblestruuuuuuum, Male Magi
    • 157. Pip, Female Doberman Pinscher (Yes, Really)
    • 158. Kourerse-by-the-bright-water-I-washed-away-my-sorrow-and-took-in-the- world’s-joy-only-to-give-it-back-a-thousandfold, Female Magi
    • 159. Crocambuche-for-all of the House Tenpenny, Female Magi
    • 160. Echo-Domani Al’Catterwale, Female Magi
    • 161. Nebucadwompus of Greater Persia, Male Magi
    • 162. Pi to fifteen-thousand-digits, Female Magi
    • 163. Two-Hundred and Fourteen in Base 8 of the House of Blessed-Be-To-All-Who-Enter-Except-For-Aunt-Margolith-the-Blind-She-Knows-What-She-Did
    • 164. Ladyopera von Hamstersmasher, Female Magi
    • 165. Mergon, Tactical Assault Limousine
    • 166. You-Should-Go-Away-Now Please-and-Thank-You Gratitude-is-for-the-weak, Male Magi
    • 167. Lovely-drapes Does-this-come-in-leather Fillibuster-Makecheese, Female Magi
    • 168. Dittymouse Von Hamstersmasher the XI, Male Magi
    • 169. This-is-not-my-hat Agrona-by-the-sea, Female Magi
  • Solomon Judd, Male Jewish Glassblower – Generic Zombie Apocalypse #23
  • Sun Jia (aka Good Monkey), Female Stone Monkey Sidekick – Disney Princess #24
  • Shirah Janusarius, Female Egyptian Jewess Mage – Samurai Jack #25
  • Sariel Jaynus, Female Sindar Princess – ASOIAF #26
  • Sherry-Jo Rogers, Female Sandwich Heiress – Scooby-Doo #27
  • Silver Jade, Female Ferret Faunus Huntress – RWBY #28
  • Squirmo Jukki, Female Ferret Tengu Leader – Touhou #29
  • Seer Janderal, Female Human Dragon Slayer – Fairy Tail #30
  • Skadi, Norse Goddess of Winter, Skiing, and Justice – Supernatural #31
  • Sasaki Junko (aka Twin Cannon Sister), Female Esper – Raildex #32
  • Her Excellency, Dr. Silence Jumper MD of House Infernape, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from the Sovereign Nation of Poketopia to the United States  of America, Court of Eagles – The West Wing #34
  • Special Agent Sheila James, FBI, Female Nordic Human – Alan Wake #35
  • Sio Jang, Female Albino Laotian Psychonaut – Psychonauts #36
  • Athena Bellweather (Aka Symbeline), Female Otter Abbey-Dweller – Redwall #37
  • San Jizou, Female Shinigami – Bleach #38
  • Sojourner Violence, Female Wanderer – Demon’s Souls #39
  • Gaius Septima Juliana, Female Aleran High Born – Codex Alera #40
  • Sabra Jehovah, Female Initiator / Cursed Child – Black Bullet #41
  • Skadi (aka I Yama Doctor), Female Royal Asgardian Technician – MCU #42
  • Sygrin Jymenes, Female Hydelandian Elf – Dragon’s Crown #43
  • Serenea Juventas (Callsign Mistral, aka Domon Hyfax), Female Romagnian Ace – Strike Witches #44
  • Dr. Kitty Saj, Female Human Therapist to the Rich & Deranged – Gargoyles #45
  • Sajan, Female Terrisman Compounder – Mistborn #46
  • Sigurd, Female Dragon Knight (Half Human, Half Zephyr Dragon) – DivDraCom #47
  • Jasmine Sutter, Female Devoted Man in Black – Pervert Bride #48
  • Kawasaki Glass (aka Sapper Mason, SturmenGander, & Sunny James), Female Inuit / Male Brit / Kaiju / Female African American Jaeger Pilot – Pacific Rim #49
  • Salty Jones, ‘Male’ Toreador Socialite – Vampire: Bloodlines #50
  • Sada Jomei, Female Juraian Noble – Tenchi Muyo #51 & #52
  • Sant Jara, Female Togruta Grey Jedi – SW: KOTOR #54
  • Senit of House Ludus, Female Companion – Firefly / Serenity #55
  • Shujak the Hutt, Hermaphroditic Force Sensitive – Clone Wars #56
  • Princess Sarbucca Organa, Female Wookie Soldier – Star Wars OT #57
  • Shoftiel, The Judge of God, Female Outsider – Dresden Files #58
  • SJ-Chan, The Assassin of Dunwall (for reals), Female Pawn of Fate – Dishonored #59
  • Salamand’r (aka Jetfire), Female Tamaranean Thief – Teen Titans #60
  • Captain Sunny D Jammer, Female Devil Fruit Eater – One Piece #61
  • Serenity Jasko, Female Little Sister – Bioshock #62
  • Sandra Jung, Chef D’Cuisine, Female Immortal Uplifted Witch – Soul Eater #63
  • Sudelaco Johansen, Female Lamb – Bioshock Infinite #64
  • Admiral Dame Salamandra Janks, Female Harsid Officer – Treasure Planet #65
  • Sheanna of Blackmoon, Female Scanran-Tortallan Gifted Knight – Tortall #66
  • SJ (aka Sigismonda Lathimon III), Female Transhuman – Light of Terra #67
  • Sarah Darling Winchester, Female WASP – Sitcom #67.5
  • Admiral Sari Jayma, Female Caucasian Human – Kantai Collection #68
  • Ulm the Elf Bastard, Male Elf Void Slave – Familiar of Zero #69
  • Shimabeth Joskor, Female Half-Elf Void Slave – Familiar of Zero #69
  • Okami no Kami (aka Kuraokami), Female Brush God / Ferret-Lion of Borrowing things and not giving them back… also winter and rain – Okami #70
  • Hate, Female Homunculus – Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood #71
  • Sally-Mae Kent (aka Jetfire, aka Bizarro Supergirl), Female Hybrid Clone – Young Justice #72
  • Sheila Domai, Female Faction Leader – Alpha Centauri #73
  • Sophia, The Sacred Feminine, Servant / Goddess – Fate / Extra #74
  • Sachi Yagami, Female Belkan Saint Church Human – Lyrical Nanoha #75
  • Sadira Janus, Female Bene Gesserit Ghola – DUNE #76
  • Shang Jang, Female Demon Gambler – Journey to the Western #77
  • Gozer the Gozerian, Female Marid – Bartimaeus Sequence #78
  • Dashel Smallwood, Male Human Vessel – Bartimaeus Sequence #78
  • Ambassador Princess Doctor Snowjaeger of the Magi Hegemony – Babylon 5 #79
  • Sjeria of the Mira Clan of the Religious Caste of Minbar – Babylon 5 Crusade #79
  • Sa’jhur of DIlgar, Female Dilgar War Criminal – Babylon 5 Crusade #79
  • Soricho Jokeshi Sensei, Reverse Trap – Assassination Classroom #80
  • Sebastian Johansson, Male Collector Casual Gamer – Yugioh Gamer #81

World 74: Yu-Gi-Oh

ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHT IS A GOOD NUMBER

Previously: Education in Crisis

Themesong: Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye & Kimbra

So, yes, I did manage to teach the Iguana how to person. Alt-form shifting, Intelligence, and Linguistics. Having a human form didn’t stop him from lounging under heat lamps and eating bugs though… just thought you might like to know.

I didn’t invite any of the students from either class (that weren’t already companions) along with me. I did, however, welcome Korosensei to the company, not as a companion, or indeed, as a passenger… but as an employee. Over my time in that world, I’d come to realize how great an oversight it was not to have such an incredibly competent instructor, one dedicated to education and to his students, on my staff.

Certainly, I was good at it, and so were others… and let’s face it, it’s not exactly rocket science to be a good teacher… I had any number of good teachers… excellent teachers often… but to be a great teacher? That… that took a true genius for the art. Korosensei was (personality foibles aside) a brilliant teacher, a maestro. I’d be a fool not to recruit him… especially since I could, at this point, pass on almost any ability to him I felt needed passing on to my Magi.

On that subject, I had noticed that while, yes, Actually Teaching did allow me to pass on abilities… less so inherent qualities such as immunity to disease, but even then it was possible… it didn’t do it at the fiat backed level. I could teach someone to fly the same way I did in Buffy… but they didn’t have my speed, coming in at about 60%, though that value went as high as 75% and as low as 32% depending on the student, and I couldn’t really tell you why one was good at it and the other bad… part of it was physical endurance, but the rest might have been willpower, but that’s a guess… and yes, before you ask, the secret is to fling yourself at the ground and miss. Still, it was one hell of a useful ability and not something to be lightly passed up. There were unfathomables, but passing on a basic defensive or statbooster perk was always worth the time to the student… less so to the teacher perhaps, but a good teacher should take joy in the accomplishments of the pupil.

Still, eventually the decade came to an end and I packed up Viggo (yes, I’d spent much of the last nine years in a giant orbital chrome battle fortress, mocking the pitiful efforts of humanity to even reach me, let alone hurt me, sneaking out only to shop and catch a show) and returned to the House of Wares, wondering if Jump-Chan was back from her meeting or not.

She was, as it turns out, and seemed to be in a good mood, for once. Not that she was normally in a bad mood. In fact, she was normally not in any mood at all.

“You seem… happy,” I commented.

“I… am. Yes,” She replied after a moment’s consideration.

“Any particular reason?”

“Yes,” She said, nodding her stone face, which was looking much more human and decidedly feminine. “I have been granted permission to, as it were, step out into the settings you visit and interact with people there. Do not worry, my actions will not cause butterflies, but I will be able to speak to people and indulge in various activities.”

“So, you were complaining to higher that you were bored,” I asked.

“Oh. Yes, well, a little. Not so much bored as out of sorts at such limited contact and ability to speak to others on a regular basis. I did petition to be able to recruit knights to correct imbalances in those settings you visit… but those above have judged that would interfere with your primacy. I asked if I could have you do it, but again, they have said that that would require giving you information you might not otherwise have… but they will consider the matter.” The face sighed dramatically. “They did offer to allow me to tell you the next 10 jumps again, for a price.”

“What would this price be?” I asked, suspicious.

“You must surrender all perks, powers, and advanced tech for the next jump, aside from what you buy in that jump,” The Chamber responded. “You’ll get them back at the end of the jump.”

“Mmm… too steep… especially without knowing the relative threat level,” I responded.

“They anticipated your complaint. I am to inform you that the next setting is one where average humans can survive without difficulty. The threat level is considered 1.2 on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the danger level of the world you came from. By comparison, the world in which we met is ranked 2 out of five.”

“Hmm…” I tilted my head. “I’ve dealt with personality compression, sickness, and memory loss too often. And there is a threat of sudden death from accident in my own world. The risk is unacceptable.”

“If you were allowed to keep a reasonable degree of regeneration and preternatural toughness, your memory palace and astral layers (but not the ability to pull people in or manifest your various selves), and immunity to disease, would that be sufficient? They are willing to allow you free choice of starting location, age, and origin for this jump as partial payment.”

I considered, then shrugged. “Not that knowing effects much, but sure. This is clearly important to them, so yes. I’ll take the deal, just out of curiosity if nothing else. Though I’m still betting I’ll have do deal with at least seven genocidal fuckwits in the next ten jumps.”

“Very well, your next ten jumps are, in alphabetical order; Borderlands, DC, History’s Strongest Disciple, Honor Harrington, Naruto, Rick & Morty, Star Trek, Undertale, Worm, and Yu-Gi-Oh.”

“Oh… huh… let’s see…” I considered. “Borderlands is a book series… or a very violent video game… or a movie I think… DC again will probably be fun… History’s Strongest… that’s a manga / anime, right? Martial Arts I think. Honor Harrington… oh, I used to love that series… left Origin before it ended… hope the jump runs through the whole thing… maybe get Ziggy a Tree-Cat form… Naruto… huh… that should be violent. Rick & Morty… fuuuuck… I remember absolutely loathing that show… I can’t imagine sharing the universe with those horrible people for a week, let alone a decade… well, I can, actually, but it’d be like sharing it with the Great Old Ones, only even less pleasant. Star Trek? Any idea which era? Undertale… that’s a cute little indy video game about not hurting people just ‘because they look scary, right? Yu-Gi-Oh is an anime about a reincarnated egyptian pharaoh playing a TCG because reasons… something about punishment games or something… and what… the hell… is Worm?”

“I cannot answer those questions,” The Chamber responded. “Are you ready to make your choices for your next jump?”

“Yeah… sure… what is it?”

“You will be a Gamer in the world of Yu-Gi-Oh, which is very close to the world you came from.”

“Wait… Yu-Gi-Oh is the next world?”

“Yes?”

“Then you owe me one more.”

“I… I’m sorry?” Jump-Chan looked confused.

“I’ve technically already begun the Yu-Gi-Oh jump. That makes it ‘this jump’ not ‘next jump’. You owe me the names of the next ten settings. Not including the one I’m about to begin.”

“Ah… hmmm… a semantic difference… and, as it turns out, one that makes no difference, as one of the ten I already listed you’ll be visiting twice during that time.”

I opened my mouth to protest, then sighed. “Fiiine. That’s fair enough. But next time, I expect full value for my screwing.”

“You realize that by that logic, you are whoring yourself out for information?”

“And? I’ve sold actual sex for actual money. I was a companion in the Firefly jump. There isn’t any shame in it, not if it’s done willingly and not out of desperation.” I patted the Chamber’s face. “Sex is, like any other activity, invested only with the emotions we choose to invest it with.”

“You’re very strange, for a quasi-mortal.”

“You’re telling me.”

“I mean that. You enjoy reading pornography about people embarrassed to be whoring themselves out or being whored out by others.”

“Yeah, well, we all have our kinks.” I said with a small smirk.

“Yes, and you have more than most!” The Chamber accused.

“I’m much older than most. And I’ve had a very strange life. I’ve been a lot of people,” I shrugged. “Now, what’s this about being a Gamer?”

“For the next ten years, you’re going to live the life of a relatively normal person on a normal modern day earth… your only restriction is that you play tabletop roleplaying games. The only real risk of chain failure is if you completely abandon the hobby or somehow bring about the total destruction of the tabletop rpg industry as a whole, you fail.”

I considered, then asked “This is one of those overlay scenarios, right? It sounds like it. Generic Roleplayer but instead of being on a totally normal Earth, it’s on the Yu-Gi-Oh one, right?”

“That is correct. You’ll have 1000 Role Points and 1000 Card Points. And playing Monster Card Duelling does not count as Roleplaying, just EFF-WHY-EYE,” The stone face said, speaking the last three letters in that painful conceptual language that Higher had used on me in our brief encounter.

I stoically refused to flinch, and instead I merely nodded. “Very well. Yu-Gi-Oh first, I guess. What even are the origins? Doesn’t everyone just… you know, play that stupid game?”

“Stupid?”

“Yes. Utterly unlike real Trading Card Games. No Sideboard, No Best of Three or Five Matches, Decks with mixed mechanics, decks without multiple copies of the same card, focusing on high life totals despite the only health point that matters being your last one? Those are all pretty much basic TCG elements that the setting passes up. Ah well… Are there even multiple origins?”

“There are as many as five origins, depending on where in the setting you are. There are 14 perks, 15 items, and 10 drawbacks, of which you can take two for a maximum of 500 CP.”

“Some of the origins are location dependant?”

“Yes. That is, of course, not an issue for you at this time, but if your normally randomly determined location places you in Satellite, the former Old Domino City that has become a giant slum, you cannot be a Collector. If you are in Ancient Egypt, which is before the time of the card game, obviously, you may only be a Drop-in or a Trader. ”

“How do you be a trader without cards to trade?”

“You could be a normal trader trading goods,” The chamber pointed out, making me feel instantly foolish.

“I knew that,” I said lamely. “Right… DI, Collector, Trader… what else?”

“Normal and Technician. Normal is a normal person with basic dueling abilities and friends, but also a susceptibility to evil. It normally costs 50 CP. Technician is a master duelist, one with a job as a card tester and no friends. It is priced at 100 CP. Collectors have an encyclopedic knowledge of every card and card effect or very nearly, as well as three identical starter decks, and an obsession with card collecting. Also 100 CP. And Traders have trading skills and know what people want… but not what they themselves want. They also know nothing about dueling. That one would normally cost 200 CP.”

“Hrm… I guess I’ll roll… oh, wait… I don’t have to… but I don’t know any of these places very well… I’ll roll anyway. I can change my mind if I want… Three. What’s that?”

“New Domino City. A supposed utopia where the duelists fight on the back of high speed motorcycles. It is the home of the cold-hearted and arrogant Jack Atlas, who has an Australian Accent. NDC specializes in Synchro Monsters,” The Chamber rattled off.

I just looked at her for a long, long moment and then said, “Who the hell is Jack Atlas, and why should I care about him or his accent? And what are Synchro Monsters… and who the fuck plays a card game on motorcycles at speed? That’s just fucking insanity… and isn’t the MC of this story like… 14? He can’t even drive a motorcycle.”

“I did not write this. I do not know the answers to your questions, or rather, I do know some of the answers, but I’m not going to tell you.”

“Thaaanks,” I snarked, then sighed. “That’s fine, I guess… and I guess I’ll be a Collector. Nothing says I have to actually play this game… or even get a complete set. I can just… collect… while I’m at game stores anyway. I guess… And I’ll start at the lowest possible starting age. I’m guessing that’s something in middle school?”

“Very well. Your age is set to minimum. As a collector, you live in a nice house and your parents are rich. They’re also snarky and pun driven for some reason. You’ll have plenty of free time and some friends that you’re not particularly close to.”

“How is being distant from your friends and obsessed with collecting cards not a drawback?”

“Because it isn’t. Stop bothering me. As a Collector, you start with a Real Starter Deck like Yugi Mutou or Seto Kaiba have. 50 Cards, many of them Forbidden cards that can’t be used in official tournaments. The only two set cards are a Blue-Eyes White Dragon and a Dark Magician. You’ll also have Crazy Hair which has anywhere from two to seven different colors and comes with plenty of extreme spikes.”

“Yay… useless but fancy cards. Oh… joy. I am… sooo… happy. Wait, Yugi isn’t a collector… why would I have his hair?”

“Technicians, Collectors, and Traders all get Crazy Hair. Yugi is a Technician. But if you like you can pay 50 CP to swap to normal hair.”

“I… wow… what a waste of points. No thanks.”

“Hair Craziness is a respectable trait in this world.”

“I… I’m not even going to touch that one. Anything else for… I won’t say free… for my initial investment? Something that might make it worth it?”

“The freebie for Collectors is a perk called ‘Outside Battle Luck’, meaning that you’ll find cards that people have lost just lying around on the ground… and about five dollars worth of currency every month.”

“Five… fucking… dollars… what the… you can’t be serious. This total waste of CP guarantees finding random cards and five bucks a month? Only Charley Fucking Bucket would think that’s a good deal. Five Bucks a Day would be a crap perk. You’ve got to be…  just out of curiosity, what utter crap do the origins get so I know if I’m being righteously boned or not?”

“Drop-Ins get ‘Card Trick’ which allows them to throw Yu-Gi-Oh cards like ninja stars and guarantees they’ll never get paper cuts,” I snorted at the stupidity, but didn’t interrupt. “Normals get ‘Blend In’ which means they are relatively unnoticeable and thus it is relatively safe for them to walk around during the night… and they’re relatively less likely to be attacked in a Team Battle.”

“Relatively useless? Nooo… Just fucking useless… good lord. That’s terrible. Next?”

“Technicians get ‘It’s a Trap’… which has nothing to do with cross-dressing. It lets you know when your opponent lays a trap, making you immune to their bluffs with spells or useless traps. It also comes with a heightened ability to determine the sex of anyone you’re looking at… alien, androgynous, or other. Traders get several items free, but no perks.”

“Oh, weeping spirit of game design… why? I mean, I know this is a low power setting, but that’s just spectacularly lame.”

“No Comment. As a Collector, you’ll get clothing suited to your persona that fits with your hair, a duel disk, a deck box, legal ID, and a chewed up ball cap. Further, you’ll gain an Expanded Card Box that can only accept Duel Monster Cards and is bigger on the inside, able to hold upto 10,000 cards. That effect will expand to every card box you own. You’ll also receive five free booster card packs of your choosing. They must all be the same kind.”

“Oh. Yay. that’s what… 20 bucks worth of cards? Sweet! Now I can buy lunch without worrying about getting my fix,” I grumped, muttering imprecations against cheap-ass Jump Builders should have to spend time in their own Jumps just to see how lame it was. Same for those who included nothing but crap drawbacks. “I guess the card box is nice… ish. So… what else do I get a discount on as a Collector? Cards?”

“Negative. Only Traders get a discount on  Cards. There are only three other things that are discounted for Collectors; ‘Spirit Partners’, ‘Heart of the Cards’, and ‘Destiny Cards’… that last is listed as an item, but it is clearly a perk.”

“Mmm? How so?”

“It is nothing more or less than a fiat backing for all your cards. They cannot be destroyed by anything. If they’re stolen or lost they come back to your currently equipped card box.”

“Indestructible… so… I could layer a starship’s hull in them five deep and they’d be perfect armor?”

“No. They’re paper. They would deform but be undamaged.”

“Fair enough. How much is that?”

“250. And Spirit Partners is 150. It allows you to talk to between one and three of your chosen cards, who will become Duel Monster Spirits. It will also allow you to see other Spirit Monsters including Astral Projections.”

“I… probably can already do that… but if the crap available here is any indication, I doubt I’ll find anything more useful. Fine. Sure… Shame I can’t just make up my own cards.”

“You can.”

“I… what?”

“You can. You can have an Original Deck for 200. It includes 10 existing cards and 40 unique, unusual, and forth dimension breaking monsters, spells, and traps that only you have.”

“I… see… okay… sure. I can… wait, all the cards I start with are tripled, right?”

“Err… yes? Except in the booster packs.”

“Good. That means I can have three copies of 100 unique cards… and I’ll apply my floating discount to Original Deck, since it’s the only thing you’ve mentioned so far at 200. That’s 500. Halfway there. My Origin Deck will have Soul of Ice, Silent Judge, and Spirit of Twilight… those will be my three Card Spirits.”

“I… see… very well. Heart of the Cards is the Collector Capstone. It allows you, once per duel, and only when you’re low on Life Points, to draw that one card that changes everything. And it also means that you’ll never panic when a dire situation arises, with your brain working three times faster looking for a solution or an escape plan.”

“I… hmm… that’s… a fairly weak Capstone… I don’t know how well that mental speed boost will work on me… but I seldom need that much time to determine if a situation is truly hopeless… what are the other Capstones, if I might ask? I assume the Technician one, since that’s based on Yugi, is the one that institutes a shadow duel?”

The Chamberface shook her head, “Negative. ‘Millennium Evil’ is the Normal Capstone. ‘Anti-Shadow Realm’, the thing that protects you from all evil in this universe, including Shadow Duels and other pocket dimensional traps. It also guarantees 100% peace in this universe, whatever that means, and says that, in anything to do with games and life bets, the odds will always be in your favor. It says you’ll always win Russian Roulette. The Drop-In Capstone allows you to take anyone person from this universe as a companion.”

“Kripes on a Crutch, that Drop-In one suuuuucks. Mmm… Millennium Evil sounds more useful over all, but Anti-Shadow Realm sounds really useful in this world. I’ll take that.”

“You’re over by 100 Card Points now,” The Chamber reminded me.

“Yeah. Yeah. I know. What drawbacks we got?”

“For 400, you can have recurring nightmares-”

“Pass.”

“They won’t be frightening, but will wake you up with a racing heartbeat and in a cold sweat.”

“Pass!”

“The lack of sleep will make focusing difficult and you’re likely to faint once a month.”

“What part of ‘Pass’ don’t you understand?”

The face grinned at me and I threw a grape at her… only for the grape to enter the carving, becoming stone, then vanish into her gaping stone maw. “Ugh. Seeds.” And she spat two tiny pebbles out onto the ground. They did not revert from stone. “At 300 there’s ‘Sore Loser’-”

“Pass… and I mean it this time.”

“Fiine. 200 has ‘Easy Grab’… that means thieves will relentlessly try and steal your cards and other possessions when you’re not looking and will sometimes face you head on.”

“No. Thanks. That sounds lousy. Don’t you have anything cheaper? I only need 100 CP.”

“But you might find some other stuff worth buying.”

“I really… really… doubt it,” I said, tickling Ziggy’s tummy as he tried, in vain, to gnaw my hand off at the wrist. Such a cute little beastie.

“Very well, starting at the bottom, there’s Rival. That’s Zero CP.”

“First, Zero won’t cover it. And No thanks. Second… it’s not starting, it’s resuming.”

“Pedant,” She accused. “Very Well, RESUMING at nearly the bottom… There are Malfunctioning Duel Disk, Bald, Power Disabled, and Can’t Handle It. The first limits your deck size in duels because any duel disk you touch breaks. The second makes you bald, obviously, but requires you to be male for some reason. The third takes away the rest of your powers. And the last makes you cry like a bitch when you lose. Each of those are worth 50.”

“Well, how… pleasant… Maybe… Don’t know how much dueling I’ll actually be doing. Maybe… haven’t been male in a while. No fucking way… a pure powerless drawback for 50? Ugh. That’s just craaaap. And naw… Seriously? That’s not fun. Are there any at, you know, the 100 CP price point that I’m actually looking at, or are you just dicking me around?”

“Two. ‘Think Out Loud’ means you reveal your strategy to your opponents without noticing, and ‘Disliked’ means that people tend to hate you after dueling you.”

“Clarification. Do both of those relate only to Duel Monsters?”

“Well, ‘Think Out Loud’ makes no mention of the game. But Disliked specifies ‘your deck’ So it’s definitely referring to card game duels at the very least.”

“Tend to hate you after duelling you… me… hmmm… But that could be a small window and they get over it. And it’s not iron clad and, again, nothing forces me to play that game. Fine. Fine. I’ll take Disliked… I mean… how bad… naw… naw… I’ll do Bald and the Duel Disk Malfunction. Screw it. I’ll be a dude… oh… nooo… wait… heh. I could totally take that Nightmare drawback.”

“Why the sudden turn around?”

“Oh. I won’t do it. There’s nothing there that’s worth it… It’s just, the major problem with the Nightmares is the lack of sleep and being drowsy and unfocused all the time, right?”

“Yes? I mean, that is what the text implies.”

“Yeah? Well, I’ve got a hat that makes me clear-headed and as chipper as if I’d had a full night’s sleep. Could soooo totally cheese that drawback… but the waking up in a cold sweat sounds like no fun at all.”

“Soo… just Bald and Malfunctioning Duel Disk, then?”

“Yeah… oh, point of order, you specifically said ‘any duel disk I touch malfunctions’, right? That would include any of my opponents’ duel disks if I can touch them, right?”

“Uh… I do not think that was the intention, but it does seem to be how the text reads… so… yes?”

“Just asking. So, let’s do the other one. I hope it’s more user-friendly… and has stuff worth taking… and a companion import worthy of the name.”

“I was going to ask, not going to use your GIT to import people into the first half?”

“Not worth it. Very very not worth it.”

“What’s not worth it,” Vita said, walking up to me wearing her bunny PJs and rubbing her eyes sleepily.

“I thought you were in bed, young lady,” I wagged a finger at her, but I was smiling.

“Couldn’t sleep. VIctoria is still at the party…” She trailed off, then clambered into my lap without asking.

“Silly,” I commented, but didn’t evict her. “We’re going to a world of collectable card games and role playing… but it’s pretty much just Earth again. Nothing overwhelmingly weird or anything. Do you want to hang up and help me figure out what I’m doing, or do you want to spar for a while?”

She considered, then shook her head.

“No? Neither? What do you want to do then?”

“Snuggle,” she yawned, pulling Ziggy off the back of the chair and into her lap, at which point I became merely furniture to comfort the small and very violent demi-child. If I haven’t commented on it, it’s somewhat strange but also somewhat reassuring how our personalities become, not rigid, but fixed to a large degree. Every jump sees us revert back to our default ages if we imported, complete with what seems like a refreshing of the persona we had before whatever overlay was applied. If my companions don’t import… they just don’t age, thanks to Yuzuha.

That’s not to say we’re changeless, merely that the older we get, the more oomph it takes to make a major change. Joy merging with Planet certainly caused a huge shift to her personality. Before, she was introspective and sometimes prone to emotionality. After? Brash and aggressive, but far calmer. I know that sounds like it’s contradictory, but it’s not. As Planet-Joy, she can process billions of parallel thought patterns simultaneously. In fact, she has a huge chunk of herself that’s living virtual lives inside her bio-computing matrix at any given time, and only a tiny fraction of them are paying attention to the outside feeds. But those that are are among humanity’s brightest minds, Transcendent Intellects, and if it seems like she’s impulsive to an outside viewer, the truth is she’s considered very very well the options. She’s also a Humanity Firster and fairly warlike… but willing to cooperate when it matters.

It’s also intriguing to examine the post human among us. Joy is a bio-computer with a planetary surface of neural fiber. Francine is a hyper-psi singularity pretending to be a teenage girl. Sakura is an optronic crystal-computer with a lunar-volume (or nearly) of computing matrix. VIctoria’s a magical book who contains her own virtual world. VIggo’s a hypertech Death Star. VIvian’s a cherry tree rooted in nth generation computing gel. And I’m an eldritch abomination with too much time and computing power on my super-earth sized ice-brain’s hands… wow, that was a tortured bit of english. And none of that touches on those who are post human in body, of course.

I patted the small warrior on the head and chuckled inwardly, projecting my thoughts to the Chamber and closing the channel to the rest of the telepaths and sensitives in the Warehouse. The Chamber could hear my thoughts as speech, so it wasn’t much of an issue. ~So… what kind of backgrounds do we have for gamer? That old saw about Real Men, Actors, Brains, Loonies, and Munchkins? Or are we talking about Bartle’s Taxonomy, with Achiever, Socializer, Killer, and Explorer, though that’s MMO based? Or Robin Laws’s Specialists, Storytellers and Casual Gamer? As long as it’s not D&D 4th Edition’s system… there were eight of those… and I think there’s even a system with eleven different distinct groups.~

::I do not know of these classifications, but none of them match the listings I have. The choices are ‘Casual’ (who are the drop ins, with just enough paper trail to live legally, one month on an apartment, and a flyer for a local gaming group), ‘Real Roleplayer’ (who apparently wear costumes, speak in accents, and are deeply involved in the story of the game), ‘Power Gamer’ (who live for something called ‘the crunch’), and ‘That Guy’ (who appear to be annoying in a variety of ways). All four have no attached cost. I do not know much about these archetypes, but why would anyone choose to be a ‘That Guy’?::

~People do not normally choose to be a That Guy. They become a That Guy because they cannot restrain themselves. Power Gamers also don’t seem to be a choice. It’s a mind puzzle to them and they enter a spiral where they feel they must optimize in order to survive… or at least for their character to survive. I can’t imagine wanting to be either of them, and I certainly wouldn’t choose to be one for a decade. Which I guess leaves Real Roleplayer and Casual. While Real sounds like it could be fun… I don’t know well it meshes with Collector… What kind of perks do each get?~

::Just perks, or items too?::

~Just perks. Items are always secondary to my choices.~

::Well, first of all, everyone gains the the ‘Superb Gamer’ perk. That will allow you to easily track story progress and scene action, describe your character’s actions with clarity, never forget character elements or abilities, and seldom, if ever, confuse character knowledge from player knowledge. You’ll be patient when it’s not your turn, have an easier time getting other players to speak up or be engaged with the game… and never spill your snacks or drinks. And you’ll be quite good at learning new games or teach other people to roleplay.::

~Nice… I mean, I don’t forget anything usually, but I do sometimes have separation issues… I do know an awful lot. But that would be a good skill to pass on to others. Some people,~ and here I had to resist tickling Vita, ~aren’t very patient… or forget that their character isn’t a hammer-wielder… but that doesn’t tell me the differences between Role Player and Casual from a perk perspective.~

::Patience, grasshopper. I am getting there. There are a trio of other general service perks. ‘Ambassador of Games’ is 50 RP and gives you a special talent for instilling a love of gaming in others, as well as a sense for what game or games would do the best job of pulling a given individual into the hobby. It also guarantees that those you introduce to gaming will quickly learn those skills needed to be an excellent gamer and never turn out to be ‘That Guy’. ‘Master of Masters’ costs 100 RP and makes you one of the best game masters around. Your campaigns will always be creative and interesting, your sessions well run, your atmosphere and ambience perfect perfect for the scene you’re portraying, your rules decisions always appropriate, and your balance between rules as written and going with the flow will always be on point. You’ll never forget campaign details, never have a problem engaging your players, and any technology you use to enhance a game session will never cause problems or be unwieldy or be hard to control. And you’ll always catch anything cheating at any game you participate in,:: I whistled low at that last, but didn’t otherwise interrupt. ::And last, ‘Rules and Standards’ will set you back 400 RP and allows you to enforce a general code of conduct on anyone who willingly engages in any activity you’re in charge of. Violating that code won’t even occur to that individual, as long as they’re on your side or should be cooperating with you in the first place.::

I nodded, considering, then smiled. ~Ambassador of Games and Master of Masters both seem like things I can already do… but I suspect that some of that is the Dunning-Kruger effect and that I’m not as good as I could be. Since they’re both reasonably priced and passing up the chance to improve at one of my favorite pastimes would be ridiculous, I’ll take them… at least provisionally. I don’t know how many points I’ll be able to scavenge from the drawback section of this thing, I can’t fully commit to them, but they seem like a reasonable expenditure of 150 RP. That leaves me with 850… and can we please get to the differences between Role Player and Casual now?~

::We can, though you will be pleased to know there is no Drawback limit at all in this overlay. Now, starting with Freebies. The Casual gets ‘Quick Learner’ which allows them to pick up the basics of skills and topics very fast, like learning the fundamentals of a new RPG in a few minutes. Mastering skills and topics will still take time and effort. The Player gets ‘Get the Voice Right’ which allows you to give every character a unique voice and vocal mannerisms, as well as never forgetting which belongs to which character.::

~I won’t go so far as to call the voice one lame… It’s pretty cool, actually… but useless for me. Then again, so’s Quick Learner… so call it a draw so far.~

::Indeed. At the 100 RP price point, we’ve got ‘Looking for Group’ which practically guarantees you’ll always be able to find people who enjoy your hobbies or cool people to hang out with. If there are any people around, odds are you’ll be able to find a group. That’s contrasted with ‘The World of Imagination’ which makes you highly creative and good at writing fiction, while protecting you from any form of writer’s block or similar affliction.::

~Huh… both are fairly weak, but I wasn’t expecting much from this. That said, they’re both useful in their own ways. I’d say that World of Imagination is better, since I already have a huge group of people following me and hanging out with me… and inside me. Odd to think that, with all my companions, I still technically outnumber them… Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if each of me had our own bodies… that might be an interesting perk… Getting off topic. I’d say that World tips it a little towards Roleplayer. Call it 1:3 right now.~

::Very Well. Moving on to the third tier, the 200 RP… these are the discounted prices, you understand?:: I grunted in affirmation and she continued, ::Roleplayer’s get ‘All The World’s A Stage’, which makes them extremely good at acting, able to stay in character no matter what’s happening… even to the point where a surface scan of their thoughts will reveal nothing besides the assumed persona. It guarantees perfect memory of any character details for any persona and the ability to switch instantly between them. Contrast that with ‘Hell of a Nice Guy’ which makes you incredibly charismatic, so that people will enjoy spending time with you and be much more likely to listen to your ideas. You’d be treated as a long time member of any social group, even if you weren’t really part of it as long as they knew you. People will be forgiving of idiosyncrasies and mistakes, treating you as if you were a longtime friend. And you’ll have a much easier time picking up on inside jokes, traditions, and defining anecdotes for groups you do join.::

~Mmm… that’s… My memory is categorically perfect. I can’t imagine paying anything for ‘All The World’s a Stage’… but Charisma perks are always nice and i’ll be running without my old ones for this jump, so… yeah, Hell of a Nice Guy brings things pretty much into balance… maybe a bit more. Call it 5:4 in Casual’s favor. Are there Capstones?~

::There are. Casual gets ‘Dungeon Master’s Girlfriend’ for 300 RP… do not glare at me, that’s the name of the perk. And it specifically says you don’t have to actually be dating the GM. It says that Enemies will target other people, you’ll tend to find items that you need, NPCs will favor you, things will tend to go your way as much as possible without it seeming like blatant cheating. I know you’re thinking ‘yay, favoritism in gaming’, but it also applies in real life too, with random chance working in your favor. In fact, you’ll never experience bad luck unless someone is directly causing it… yes, I thought you might like that. The Roleplayer gets ‘Bullshit Level Keikaku Doori’ which, as you well know, is excellence in manipulating and predicting people’s actions… even those with seemingly total power over you… though that might take a little time and effort.::

~Niiiice. Both are good… though I think the luck will be more useful what with my other abilities suppressed… though if I can scavenge the 600 I might take the BS scheming as well… we’ll see. I guess I’m going Casual… it’s not really drop in since I’m a Collector already though. Hrmmm… well, I guess I’ll take the entire Causal perkline. Each could be useful. Might sell back LFG if I don’t have the points though. And I’ll apply my Floating Discount here to Hell of a Nice Guy.  That should take me down to 300 CP… Let’s switch over to Imports and Drawbacks before I look at the other perks and items, okay?~

::I am entirely at your disposal and we have just under four weeks to nail this down. I have literally nothing else to do with my time as I’m a big stone box until the jump actually starts.::

I chuckled low enough not to disturb the finally sleeping Vita and stroked her hair, ~I see being stuck in linear time with us has made you far more restive and dissatisfied with just… existing. Welcome to the quasi-human condition. Now you have to go out and get a job and work for a living,~ I quipped, teasing the Chamber. What happened next I hadn’t expected, but I really, really should have.

A piece of paper fluttered down from the high above and invisible rafters. It had a single image on it that made no sense at all and yet conveyed its meaning in the same excruciating way that Higher’s last message to me had. As close as can be rendered, it said, in all block letters (psychic flames omitted for public safety), “YOUR REQUEST HAS BEEN REVIEWED AND APPROVED. THE CHAMBER OF THE ORDEAL SHALL, FOR THE DURATION OF YOUR STAY IN THIS REALM, BE REQUIRED TO LIVE AS MORTALS LIVE. THIS INCLUDES MAINTAINING ALL BIOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS. NO SPECIAL ABILITIES OR PERKS WILL BE GRANTED TO ‘JUMP-CHAN’ DURING THIS SOJOURN, NOR WILL FUNDS, RESIDENCE, OR EMPLOYMENT BE GUARANTEED.”

I blinked at that, and looked to see how the Chamberface was reacting.

She seemed startled, but the image shrugged. ::How hard can it be? I have observed mortals doing so for eons past counting.::

~Oh. You’re going to regret saying that. I was considering helping you out if you got into a bind… Now? I think you should probably experience the highs and lows for yourself. Now, if you please, tell me about importing my companions?~

::I am beyond mortal comprehension. I will not require assistance, nor would I ask even if I did,:: The Face expressed, looking annoyed at the presumption of weakness or dependency. ::As for importing, it will cost you 200 CP per 8 companions. They will receive an origin with all freebies and discounts, and (with Single Shot) 700 RP each. They cannot take Drawbacks, but you can transfer your own RP to one of them at the rate of 1:1.::

~Per? What is the limit?~

::There isn’t one. You may create or import as many as you are willing to pay for.::

~Interesting.~

::For 100 RP, you may also recruit ‘The Gygax’… not Gary Gygax himself, but an incredible GM who is always happy to run games or be a player, with an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming history and lore. He or she comes with Super Gamer, Ambassador of Games, Master of Masters, Get the Voice Right, The World of Imagination, and the Powergamer 200 RP perk ‘Know the Rules to Exploit Them’ which grants perfect memory, instant recall, unlimited storage, and perfect indexing.::

~Naw… I can pretty much guarantee that at least one of my companions will end up with enough of that to make it work out better if I don’t get a newbie. Drawbacks? Start with the worst, since there isn’t a limit.~

::The worst is something called FATAL-::

I could hear the capital letters in her tone and jerked in alarm, shaking my head and almost jostling ZIggy and Vita. ~Nooo… Nothing with FATAL in it with regards to roleplaying is ever going to be worth it.~

::Why? It merely says that, at least once a week, for at least six hours, you will be required to play a session of FATAL. It even guarantees you a group of gamers who believe it to be the best and most accurate medieval history game ever made. What is wrong with that? I thought you enjoyed gaming::

~FATAL… which FYI stands for Fantasy Adventure to Adult Lechery… no matter how much the creator may claim it stands for From Another Time, Another Land… is the worst roleplaying game ever to receive widespread fame… or infamy. It is, essentially Rape in Game Form’.  Not only is it mechanically broken, far far to complex and obsessed with pointless details… such as Anal Circumference and Hymenal Resistance… I really am not joking… and it has totally random character generation that is just… horrific to behold. Well over 100 dice rolls to make a single character. And later rolls can force you to go back and modify earlier values that you’ve already done math on! It has a value called ‘Retard Strength’ if your intelligence is low enough. There are something like 400 different skills… even my most ridiculously complex system only has 200 when you toss in every different lore and magic skill and martial art and weapon skill possible, and no one has ever needed more than a quarter of that and that character was just silly. In combat, you can accidentally… ACCIDENTALLY! start raping an enemy… and there are rules for raping someone to death. It is racist, sexist, anti-semitic, and wildly homophobic. And the class system is just… why would anyone ever want to roleplay a Delouser… No. A weekly gaming session of FATAL with the kind of horrible trolls in human skin who would consider it a good game would not be fun. It would require a very long bath in very strong solvents… after i murdered them all and burned the play site down… possibly with an orbital strike.~ I realized I was breathing hard and grimacing, then forced myself to relax. ~So… let’s move on, shall we?~

::Err… yes… I… I think I shall avoid that. The next most extreme is called Mazes and Monsters, Part Two. It makes reference to anti-gaming propaganda film released in the year 1982 and says that, before you can leave, you must create a sequel that reverses the sentiment of the first. It can be direct to television or a theatrical release, but must reach the general populace and not just a gaming audience.::

I shook my head at the oddness of that. I’d seen the original Maze and Monsters, starring a young Tom Hanks decades before I started Jumping and found it a bland and pointless movie… though it did explain why my mother had been against gaming so assiduously… that and the fact that she’d associated it with mental illness (something she has always been extremely nervous of) and my father (someone she resented for most of my youth). She also banned video games… which of course ment I did those things with my friends or at my fathers and just didn’t tell her. Silly parental individual… ah well, it was ages ago now. ~How much is that one worth?~

::300 or 500. The more valuable version requires convincing Tom Hanks to star in the sequel.::

~Right. Cool… I’ll take the lower level for sure. No point making this harder on myself. Next?~

::For 200 or 400 there is ‘Public Backlash’ and its upgrade, ‘The World Has Gone Crazy’. Also stemming from the 1980s, it was common to believe that D&D and games like it were devil worship. Take this and you’ll have to live with that kind of approbation your entire time in this world. Take the upgrade and for your stay, gaming will be treated like witchcraft was in the town of Salem in 1692. You’ll have to keep the hobby alive and game regularly or you fail the jump. I’m going to guess from your aghast and outraged expression that you do not feel this is worth it?::

I shook my head, astounded. Who could enjoy gaming enough to game every week but hate it enough to inflict this pain upon all other gamers at the same time? Clearly the same people who would take that Fatal Drawback.

::For the same price is ‘Prehistory’ and its upgrade, ‘No Gygax’. The lower level merely shifts your starting date to 1974, the same time Dungeons and Dragons is getting started. Groups and resources will be few on the ground and many of the ideas taken for granted by later generations of gamers do not exist yet. The upgrade means that Gygax will never have left the Marine Corps and will have not invented Dungeons and Dragons. You’ll have to do so in his place and you have only 20 years to make Roleplaying games into an industry at least as developed as it was when Gygax left Dungeons and Dragons’ parent company TSR in 1985. On the other hand, you won’t have to game on a regular basis, since you’ll probably have trouble doing so since no groups exist at the start of your stay.::

I created a doppelganger and piloted it into the kitchen to get some hot dogs from the grill, nice and charred on the outside, and considered. Out of range to disturb Vita, I commented to the granite countertop, “I like the idea of going back to that point. It could be very interesting. I don’t know about replacing Gygax as the father of role playing… but maybe. Let’s take the lower level for the moment and I’ll consider… also, starting then will make it much easier to get a second Mazes and Monsters made with Tom Hanks. He’ll be younger and not as huge a star. So we can bump Part Two up to the 500 level.  That’s 700 Drawbacks and 350 left over from starting points. Next?::

::For 100 or 300, there are That Guy and Those Guys… I believe you might know what that implies?:: The Chamberface didn’t shift back into speech despite my own switch, and I shrugged, so it continued, ::The first means there will always be a That Guy in every gaming group you are a part of, even if you get rid of the first. Another will simply appear at the next session. The upgrade means everyone you ever game with will be That Guy. You still have to game regularly.::

I smirked. “If I still had my ice or time powers in this world, I’d say sure to the base level. I could simply zap the tool at the start of every session. But naw. No point taking either as far as I can see. Next?”

::At 200 without an upgrade is This Guy which makes people see you as That Guy. No?:: I shook my head. ::Fourth Edition? It makes every game that’s not at a gaming con one of your definitely not on your favorites list. Also 200. No?:: Again I shook my head. ::How about Rules Lawyer, which forces you to look up any question about a rule or its interpretation and to follow the written rule precisely. Its 100 or 200 with Rules Lawyer Jerk which means you’ll go out of your way to create rules conflicts… I’m sensing another No, aren’t I?:: I nodded this time and, having finished layering my dogs with all sorts of unhealthy goodness, began eating them slowly.

Having my mouth full, I switched back to telepathy. ~Can’t imagine why I’d feel the need to take that kind of annoyance on myself, quite frankly. I sense we’re moving into the just blah section instead of the intriguing section, but continue, if you don’t mind.~

::Another 100/300 in Strict DM slash Killer DM is next. The Strict Dm never fudges rolls, often restricts options for character creation to better fit his campaigns (he’ll tell you those restrictions before you make your character), and insists on people paying attention and being involved in the game, limiting chatter to downtime. The Killer will try and kill as many characters per session as possible, within the rules.  In both cases, all your DMs will be like this for the full time of your stay.::

When I just snorted in indignation, the Chamber moved on. “No Snacks… no. I think not.:: I frowned, then shrugged. No way were there enough RP on offer to make me give up snacking at the gaming table. Snacking is part of gaming! Snacking is life! Mmm… I love snacks. ::Lousy Schedule? Life interferes with your gaming time? Or Shitty Schedule? That ramps the minor scheduling issues to major scheduling issues?::

~Ick. No. I had enough of that back in my original world. I like hassle-free gaming, thanks.~

::Fair enough. That leaves only one last drawback, one that can be taken multiple times. It’s called ‘Extended Stay’ and every time you take it it adds 10 years to your stay and gives you another 50 RP.::

I swallowed hard, then laughed. “You must be joking. Really?”

::Really. Why? You can’t take it that many times. You don’t have your unending lifespan nor can you science up a way to recreate it without your perks or technology.::

“Uh… Wrong. I have a link to Yuzuha. She provides me and all my companions with ageless immortality. It’s not technology. She’s a tree with supernatural powers, and while you and higher might have meant to include my companions in the general nerfing, you didn’t. I’ll accept that any that import, even the Global Rule basic import, might be nerfed… Yuzuha is an item initially and the immortality she provides to others is neither a perk nor an ability.”

::You really should have taken Rules Lawyer,” The Chamberface grumped.

“Naw. I like having control over that. But let’s go with… I dunno… I guess I’ll find out how many points I need and fill in the extension later. But first… Let’s get 4 Companion Imports. That’s 800 points, so I’m at 250 positive right now. I guess that means it’s time for-” I cut off as Zane entered the kitchen to grab another platter of ribs to take out to the still ongoing festivities. “Heya buddy. Looks like next jump will be a fair bit longer than most, but in a mostly normal version of earth… I’d say this qualifies as vacation. Let everyone know. I’ll be picking 32 companions to import. Lots of card games and roleplaying. You want in?”

He considered, then nodded, “Yeah. Sounds like fun. Any idea how long?”

“I figure less than two centuries, but probably at least 60 years. Haven’t figured out exactly. Depends on how much stuff I want… and how pissed off Yuzuha is about being benched.”

“Benched?” he asked, pulling a beer out of the beer fridge and popping the top off with a thumbnail.

“Reasonably certain that if she accepts either import option, our stays will have to be shorter because we’ll be using her immortality effect to go any longer.”

“Ah. Wait… does this mean total power down for everyone?” He asked suspiciously, eying me over the bottle of beer.

“Pretty much. Covert defenses and mental stability stuff all still active, but nothing overt. And no tech past the present… which is starting in 1974, so even computers are going to suck for at least 30 years. We’ll cope. The world is largely the real world, basically as safe as it gets. Now shoo, get those ribs out to the hungry people and pick three other group captains to each pick 5 companions to come with. I’ll pick the last 8 myself… Sounds good?”

He took a deep swing, then nodded. “Yup. Sounds good. Are we breaking up into smaller groups so we can form cells?”

“Hey, no comparing insurgent operations to role playing groups!  I didn’t take that drawback!” I pointed a chili-dog at him accusingly.

“Really? I mean, there really was one of those?” I nodded and he grimaced. “Cheeses… that’s… good call. Okay. Catch you in a bit.” and he left just as Kendra came looking for the ribs.

I eyed her for a second, then gasped, “You’re pregnant!”

She glared at me, then Zane, “You told!”

“He did not! I can hear a second heartbeat! How have you been keeping this from me?”

Zane rolled his eyes, “She’s been pregnant for two jumps… That’s why she’s been using Alt-forms for the last two. The fetus is only present in her base-form, apparently.”

Kendra blushed as I raised an eyebrow at her, then she nodded slightly. “Yeah, I… freaked out a little when I realized I was… you know… about a week before Assassination Classroom started. I thought we’d be done with that in a year and we’d be back here and maybe onto someplace safer than Assassination Earth… but then it became a decade… I don’t blame you… I mean, I could have shifted back and then the kid woulda been born on VIggo, but…” She shrugged and I nodded.

“I get it. It’s a big step. Medbay says everything’s okay?”

She nodded, “Oh. Yes. That’s even how I figured out about the altform thing… I don’t know if it’d worked if I hadn’t gotten pregnant in this body… but it is what it is. Experimentation might tell us more… but that would…”

Zane chuckled, “Yeah. Somebody’d have to get knocked up, baby!” He chuckled, then waggled his eyebrows at me. “We could do a grand experiment! We could call it “Operation Everyone’s Expec-” he grunted as Kendra elbowed him and I had to deal with the emotional turmoil of fetish warring with practicality. I’d always considered pregnant women deeply attractive… but I hardly needed every female companion getting pregnant all at once… that would be madness… MADNESS I say. I already had enough trouble from my three children and three wards… I still wasn’t certain if Vita counted in that last group or not. Families were confusing enough before one added semi-ageless immortality to the mix. I say semi because of the yoyoing of ages from starting a jump to ending a jump usually resulted in a 10 year cycle… but our core bodies never aged at all. Not a bit. And the core bodies seemed to lock onto an individual companion at odd times.

Zane had two default forms. One was human and about 35 in appearance, one was a lucario and a young one at that. Kendra looked exactly the same as when I’d stuffed her in stasis all those centuries ago, which made sense.  Ahab on the other hand looked like he had after assuming the mantle of Venom Snake, complete with metal horn. Joy was 24. The Kittens 13, despite them not being the same age in their original world (Mini was a year younger) and both of them having been fully mature young women when that jump ended. It was as if their forms were all fixed at the time I’d formed relationships with each of them… and if that wasn’t weird, I don’t know what is… but even that didn’t cover everyone. Gaius looked to be in his mid 50s despite being in his mid 80s when we’d met (though as a Watercrafter, he looked younger than his age naturally) but Anne had been in her 40s when we’d met… but was in her 20s now. Maybe it had to do with their own self image? I had no idea what the logic was, but as long as everyone was healthy and happy, I wasn’t really worried about it… even if it did create relationships which would have looked reprehensible in many of the worlds we visited… of course, that was silly. The physical ages might fluctuate… but all of us were immature idiots half the time… another benefit of ageless immortality… for certain definitions of benefit.

I shook my head to clear it of images of swollen bellies and smiled at Zane and Kendra, “Well, congrats, I guess… Or should I hold off another 6 jumps until you decide you’re ready?”

Kendra looked like she was freaking out and Zane looked like the cat that had swallowed the canary. I considered offering to decant the kid until Kendra was ready, but she was, in theory, just as aware as I was as to the tech available to us. If she hadn’t already considered a uterine replicator, I didn’t think it was my place to suggest it. Coming from me, it might sound like I was bossing her around. I made a note to have Velma mention it in passing. She was good at being diplomatic without the air of authority and layers of resentment that existed between Kendra and me. And that reminded me that I had, for certain values of ‘I’ given birth to several of Zane’s children… for certain values of ‘Zane’. Sigh… My lives are so complicated.

It hadn’t even been the first time. In fact, 82 of my Manifestations as King-Priest of the Magi had been female and all but four of them had born children… including #145 K’nevel Shut-de-door-keep-out-de-weasel (the 69th female King-Priest) who, with her husband Togowayle von Fropfrop the Blue, had had nine children born of her body: Siamac, Murigennan, Beolwyn-my-precious, Mergon (which is funnier in Magoo than in English), Drosophila-hac-Fruitbat, This-is-a-girl’s-name, Aragtus-Aragtus-Aragutus, and Paisley-Frankenstein. All told, I had memories of having given birth exactly eight fewer times than there had been King-Priests (170… the 165 children of King-Priests and four as Sheanna of Blackmoon back in Tortall, plus Jason, my first, all the way back in Harry Potter)… even if I’d only once actually lived through the process in real time. Hurray for magical painkillers.

(Technically there had been 178 King-Priests, though officially there had been 169. For a 9 lifetime period, the Hegemony had spanned both the Milky-Way and Andromeda Clusters… and had not possessed Hyper-FTL comms. During that period, I’d been incarnated once in each galaxy, with the two halves of my being living lives exactly, to the second, as long as each other, connected via me. It had been one of the stranger periods in my existence. I had been very very glad when nigh-instant comms reconnected the two halves of the Hegemony.)

Ah well. As K&Z left the kitchen I turned back to the countertop, chilling it down and dumping some ice cream on it to mix in some strawberries and toffee crumbles. “Okay, Chamber, Items. Go.”

::All origins gain ‘Core Rulebooks’, ‘Crown Royal Bag’, and ‘Bare Necessities’ free,:: supplied the cake-batter flavored ice-cream covered Chamberface. ::The first are the core books required to play your favorite RPG. Not the splats, just the basics. It’s not much, but it is free. The Crown Royal Bag… I was under the impression that Crown Royal is a not-very good brand of Canadian Whisky?:: I nodded, cringing at the idea of Canadian swill… I was filthy fucking rich, I didn’t drink whisky that was less than 40 years old and had gotten progressively pickier with age… at least with booze… and yet I drank wine coolers… I’m not a sane woman-thing. ::Why would dice come in a bag for Alcohol?::

“Seagrams sells it’s mildly not-terrible Crown Royal brand in cotton bags that are traditionally purple with golden thread work. Back when the idea of gaming specific supplies were a pipe-dream, almost every gamer kept their dice in a Crown Royal bag because it was incredibly convenient. My dad knew a guy who worked as a bartender who would sell crown-royal bags for a couple bucks a pop to the local game shop who’d turn around and sell them to kids for five bucks. Of course, by the mid-90s other dice-bags were becoming pretty common, but they often weren’t nearly as nice as CR bags… though usually much tougher. I take it the Crown Royal Bag comes with a full set of dice?”

::It comes with just enough dice to play your favorite RPG, but can hold as many dice as you put in it, and the die you want will always be the one you retrieve. It, unlike the Core Rulebooks, can be upgraded for 50 RP so that it contains an unlimited amount of any type of dice needed, as long as that type of dice existed in your world of origin.::

I blinked at that, then smiled. “Wow… that’s a lot… I mean, there are solid gold dice in my world… not that I need gold.” I have thousands of metric tons of the stuff. “Sure. I’ll spring for the upgrade. 200 CP left without taking any Extensions. Never can have too many dice. What’s Bare Necessities?”

::It is a job that pays enough for you to live on, assuming you live simply. Also, a basic home of some sort, a cheap but decent vehicle of any appropriate type, and the basic sundries needed to live in this world. The job will be something you are capable of doing, and that works with your background, and have a reasonably flexible schedule. Like the dice bag, this can be upgraded, though that costs 100 RP.::

“To what? Nicer accommodations?”

::Essentially, yes. For that price, you’ll have a trust fund that pays in whatever the local currency is, equivalent to two hundred thousand dollars US, circa 2015… per year. Your home, vehicle, and other possessions from this jump are upgraded to be appropriate to that level of income. The money is legal, with all taxes paid, and all documentation needed. No one will question where it came from. Further, you may pay the upgrade price multiple times, each time moving the decimal point one space to the right. This trust fund will follow you to all future jumps, adapting as needed, and can be toggled off for a jump. All other forms of income you receive, be it perk or item or just by working, may be added to your trust fund, and will also be completely legal with all taxes paid and documentation needed. I can feel your eyes boring into my surface… stop that.::

I blinked very slowly and deliberately, processing that ridiculous largess and considering very carefully… “I… hmmm… yeah. I’ll take five.”

::You realize that’s two billion dollars a year, yes? 416 million dollars in 1974 dollars. That is, as far as I can tell, an egregious amount of money.::

“I can, in fact, do math, yes. Thank you. And I’m very much aware of the amount of money I’m talking about. And to pay that off, give me No Gygax and two extensions. That takes me up to 30 year since No Gygax doesn’t say it extends my stay, just that I have twenty years to accomplish that goal. No Gygax is 200, I had 200, and two Extensions is 100. That’s 500. I’m even… so far. Anything else everyone gets?”

::Negative. However, ‘Character Sheet’, ‘All the Books’, and ‘Con Registration’ are all general items. The Character sheet grants you a sheet that displays the holder’s actual abilities… as best approximated into whatever RPG the holder requests. That costs 50. For another 50, it can do this for anyone the holder can see. All the books is similarly two phase. For 50, you gain all the RPG books ever published. For 100, it includes all accessories, including maps, DM Screens, or Soundtracks… and you’ll always be able to find exactly the part of the collection you’re looking for when you go looking for it. And the Con Registration gives you VIP pre-registration at any Convention you want to attend, as well as a reserved place at any event, panel, or game session you desire, including hotel reservations and travel arrangements, all in a handy document folder that will have just what you need when you decide you want to go to that Con. Are Cons really that important?::

“On a scale from one to yes? Oh you betcha… fuck, all those are nice. Fine. I’ll take the Sheet and the Registration. That’s another 4 stays… we’re up to 70 years. Better not be anything amazing in the rest of these items… and I really want those books… well… one of my companions can take the hit for that. One of them better or I’mma be pissed.”

::As a Casual, you get a set of Quick Start Rules free. That’s the very basic first session rules for any game system you want to try. For 50, you can get a cooler that contains an unlimited amount of drinks and gaming snacks… chips, pretzels, sodas, cookies, trail mix, candy… that sort. For 100 more it could be take out like pizza or chinese food instead, and the cooler keeps the stuff hot or cold. And for 100 straight up, you can get a ‘Magic Writing Implement’, be it a pencil, pen, calligraphy brush… it can change as you desire and never runs out of whatever medium it uses. Whenever used to fill out a form, it will always do so correctly, with the proper information and all calculations made correctly. It appears when needed and disappears when not.::

I ground my teeth, then sighed. “I’ll take it… the Implement I mean. The other two are crap, but I guess the Quick Start Rules are free… bleh. Two more extensions… that’s 90 years. Change my starting age to 18. I don’t need the hassle of being underage… fuck… 1974 is still Viet Nam… there’s a draft active… oh. Waaait. New Domino City isn’t in the US. Hah! So, are there any other really nice items or abilities I should know about to tempt me to stay longer?”

::I still think you are cheating with abusing Yuzuha’s ability like that, but technically you are correct… Higher also deems your longevity to be a basic defensive quality. I guess they just want to see what you end up doing with all that time. Regardless, yes, there are multiple convenient things you might want. The Roleplayer has a journal that automatically records entries related to your adventures, especially the fictional ones, a folder that produces supporting evidence and documents for any character you create, including one normal person in the real world of each setting after this, and a costume that’s guaranteed to be comfortable and match the character you’re playing… purely costume though. Power Gamers get a case that produces pre-painted and assembled miniatures for any game you might want or need them for, a quick reference guide that automatically opens to the relevant section of any rule book you’ve a question about, with an easy to understand explanation of the rule in question, and an all purpose tactical map that works for both gaming and real life. That Guy gets cheater dice that are more likely to roll well, a cheater pen that can erase and replace information seamlessly, and a perfect gaming room that becomes a warehouse attachment after the jump.::

I considered, then shrugged. “While the document folder, mini case, tactical map, and gaming room all sound useful, they also sound like something that only has to be bought once to help everyone… maybe a few times for the map and the case and the folder. What about perks? Anything useful from the other two lines… not used to having practically unlimited points… feels… odd…”

::The Power Gamer’s Perks include Speed Reading, the power to read and fully absorb written material at 100 times normal… useless for you… the Know the Rules to Exploit them memory perk… also useless for you… a perk called ‘Analysis which makes you excellent at studying systems and figuring out how they work and what loopholes there are… also useless for you, you legalistic supervillain you… and Synergy which makes you better at combining your various abilities into new ones. A talent you’ve already demonstrated quite a bit. I don’t think you’ll find my new there… testament to your own inner Power Gamer nature?:: She mocked.

I snorted. “I am not a power gamer. I’ve just been at this a long time and I’m not an idiot. One picks up a lot of abilities over 80 jumps.”

::Has it really been that many? I guess it has… very well… That Guy’s perks, if you’re interested, are a talent for insulting, annoying, and disgusting people; the ability to cope with social or complete isolation without issue; an excellence in cheating that makes your cheating hard to detect; and protection from being forced to suffer the penalty for wrongdoing.::

“What are they if I’m not interested?” I snarked, then waved the question away. “Never mind… stupid joke. “Naw. None of those really suit me. Good lord… I’ll be 118 at the end of this jump and it’ll be the year 2064… I guess I should table the rest of this until I see who Dogman has picked.”

Zane had organized the end of jump cookout into a basketball & tiddlywinks tourney, but most of that had wound down now and people were merely draped over furniture or each other. Clearly this was a sub par time to ask them to be introspective, especially with the amount of booze in their systems, but he’d managed to frame the division into sub-cadres with the subtly that only comes from experiencing far too many military campaigns. Of course, being Zane, he’d substituted bald-faced ridiculous for guile, and so the cadres were now competing to see who could make the goofiest of trickshots.

Thus, when I asked for a report, I was told that Zane’s Team Fearsome had HO, Toph’s Team Amazon had HOR, Kagetane’s Team Dreadnaught had HORS, and Amelia’s Team Invincible was out, having racked up HORSE just as I arrived from the kitchen. Zane, or (as he was calling himself) Fearsome Six (in a team, the six is the commander, in certain military traditions), looked inordinately proud of himself. Of course, he had the senior-most group of companions, so of course he was winning. Git. I didn’t point this out to him. Even with the perk dampening field that generally pervaded the common areas of the warehouse, just the sheer weight of experience and muscle memory was stacked against the other teams.

Team Fearsome consisted of Zane and Kendra (of course), as well as Zane’s best friend (besides me) Bao, Bao’s SO Uriel, and the Sasuke to Zane’s Naruto, AJ. Where AJ went, Francine was nearly always there, though the duo weren’t quite an item. I mean, they were together, but I don’t think it was romantic so much as just long familiarity. Looong familiarity.

Team Amazon (named for the rainforest, not the tribe of women-warrior, according to Amazon Six… Toph) was a bit more of a mess. Toph had drafted her son, Buji, but his traditional wing-man Simon as they were currently feuding over something I had no interest in getting involved in, but it was suboptimal, all things considered. She’d also drafted her best friend, Reggy, who had drafted Kohina, who in turn had drafted Gaius, who’d selected Petra. That team had a interesting mix of dynamics, which I liked, even though I’d really have rathered that either Simon be included or Buji not be. But that would require pulling rank and either making Buji feel slighted or Simon feel pitied and I just wasn’t going there. And no, Simon wasn’t included on any other team… though both his parents were… maybe I could be subtle about it.

Caine and Beth had both been selected for Kagetane’s Team Dreadnaught, which also included Bart, Meetra, and the Bookers… maybe I could convince the Jedi to give up her spot? Argh… ethics are hard. No wonder so many people become supervillains when they have some power. I made a note to speak to Meetra a bit later… though I would feel a little uneasy about putting Simon, who was a good kid, into that group of hardened killers. Hopefully, they wouldn’t feel the need to massacre any ethnic groups during our stay in this world.

If Team Fearsome’s theme was couples, and Team Amazon’s was ‘people Toph doesn’t hate’, and Team Dreadnaught’s was murderers with tenuous morals and self-control, Team Invincible’s theme was… ladies. Amelia, as Invincible Six, had selected her Maj, Queen Anne; Rapunzel stand-in Lizzy; the Mad Doctor Brigid; scary superheroine Raven; and Tsundere Goddess Tokimi-Chan. The relationship complexity of that group was… umm… staggering. Raven had been having an affair with Anne (also Yuzuha, Nurgath, Caitlyn, and Caine, but they weren’t in the group… and Nurgath had also been having affairs with Yuzuha and Anne… all of which I knew about because the drama of that involved a being I was literally soul-bound to), Anne had also been having a fling with Brigid, who was in triad with Rosalind Lutece and Tokimi-Chan… and Brigid had been frequenting the beds of three members of the Bookers (Ladysmith Book, DeWitt Boostock, and Fleetwood Hale… the other two, Manfred and Whitey were a bit of a couple and hadn’t that spurred debate on the old is it gay or just masturbation to have a homosexual relationship with one of your quantum twins question.). This I knew about because Amelia, still a diehard Anne partisan and I had, err… well… yeah… it’s complex.

In my defense, I had invited Amelia to join my household, but she steadfastly refused until Ryoga and Yoiko returned and the entire household could make an informed decision. Also, she felt accepting would be rude to Tokimi-Chan… who, despite being my self-declared fiancee for centuries, I’d never slept with. Frankly I was somewhat astounded Tokimi had managed to have a stable sexual relationship with Brigid and Rosalind… but maybe it wasn’t sexual for her… I wasn’t prying. I should point out that I hate Soap Operas… so why was I living one? For instance… why was Caine sleeping with both Beth and Lizzy… and Joy? And why was Joy sleeping with both Ahab and Kagetane? And why was Ahab sleeping with Reggy and RayRay and Francine!? And why… oh… good lord, so many… many… I’ll draw you a picture.

At least the Choirs haven’t been branching out among my other companions… or trying to kill each other… or my actual love interests. In fact, I think they’re mostly trying to convert my support staff to one of two rival religions based on me… which might work if the vast majority of them didn’t already belong to a third religion based on me. It was like being god of one Abrahamic faith and having missionaries from the other two faiths trying to gather adherents… except my Neo-Magi (the people who followed me from Warhammer 40k) could just send their representatives to ask me if the Lost or the Righteous had my stamp of approval… which they didn’t… but the Neo-Magi just humored the crazy ladies (and secretly collected the XXX-rated fanfiction that Fi and Sabine kept generating… ).

But back to the Teams. I considered who was and wasn’t selected, them waved to Carwyn and told her that she was now Calamity Six, with a team that consisted of Cirno, Velma, Frankie, Mini, and the kids. I picked Carwyn as Six because she was good at getting the others to work together… and she had no partner that I’d be relegated to second tier if I picked the other. Of course, Team Calamity would be my personal team, but then again, weren’t all the teams mine? Why do I feel the strange need to chuckle maniacally and rub my hands together?

That accomplished, I wandered around, talking and chatting, just being casual and telling everyone what the next jump entailed and offering everyone an out if they didn’t feel up for decades of gaming in something like the real world. I may have subtly hinted to Meetra that it would be helpful that she could beg off to allow Simon to take her place so that he could spend time with his parents. I’d have to see if I was convincing, but I’d wait a few days before formally announcing who the companions for the next jump were and soliciting companion builds.

As it turned out, Meetra was more than happy to trade her slot to Simon… but she wanted something in trade. She wanted priority placement in the next jump that had significant power on offer. The idea of gaining gaming related abilities, although useful, paled in comparison, she said, to some of the real power offered and she wanted some of that. I considered that, wondering if I had a power hungry Sith on my hands or a Jedi who wanted the power to correct injustices… or a Magi who wanted to actually make things better. Ultimately, what I had was a friend and follower making a request that was reasonable. I nodded and agreed that, baring extremis, I’d do as she asked.

And that was that. I had my teams… though everyone would likely take advantage of the Basic Import. Not like anyone really needed to stay in the warehouse if they didn’t want to. I announced office hours a week before the jump was to start and invited the various Sixes to get their teams in order.

I shan’t go in depth into who bought what, but perhaps some of the demographics will serve to amuse or enlighten… or, often (as happened to me) confuse. Contrary to my hopes, all four origins had had their adherents… yes, even ‘That Guy’, but I’ll get there eventually. In general, of the 700 CP each (besides Ahab and Joy) had had to spend, five or six hundred had been spent on discounted perks, which was good, and almost everyone had taken their origin’s capstone, which showed intelligence… but not all had and there were some interesting builds and some strange ones… but none that made no sense at all. Unfortunately, some of the statistics saddened me a little, but again, I’ll get there.

In the Casual Camp there was Uriel, Buji, Kohina, The Bookers, Tokimi-Chan, Carwyn, and Velma. Each and every one had taken the GM’s Girlfriend Capstone, because it was pretty darn good. Buji’d then sacrificed all the other perks to get ‘All The World’s a Stage’, the master actor perk from from the Roleplayer line. Kohina had gone after the Know the Rules memory perk from Power Gamer, and the Bookers had decided on the Analysis perk from the same line, which made sense for bodyguards slash contract killers. So far, so reasonable.

The Roleplayer Room was larger and had most of the really questionable builds, but that should be no surprise considering that Roleplayers tend to make choices for thematic reasons rather than practical ones. It contained Zane, Bao, Reggy, Caine, Beth, Amelia, Anne, Lizzy, Frankie, Mini, and Amaryllis, plus Ahab and Joy. Of course, The Bosses had only gotten 100 RP, so they couldn’t have the Bullshit Tier Keikaku Doori / planning to rival the best Capstone, but they weren’t the only ones who didn’t have it. Anne had given it up to get the Know the Rules memory perk and Speed Reading perks from Powergamer; Lizzy had sacrificed it fom the self-updating Tactical Map, the document generating Character Background, the shapeshifting Omni-Costume, and a set of the minis that all Powergamers got; Frankie had ignored it in favor of All The Books, the Omni-Costume, basic Snacks, and the Con Registration; and Amy had opted instead to get Casual’s Hell of a Nice Guy, which was the equivalent of multiclassing I guess. Beth had gotten the Capstone… but nothing else, being the only one of my companions to take the Table Rules enforcing ‘Rules & Standards’ which made anyone who gamed with her pretty much have to play by any reasonable table rules she insisted on.

Of course, she hadn’t taken Master of Masters, so she’d have to compete with those among us who had… at least to be GM in our group… not that I anticipated a clique of MoMs locking up all the GMing, but they’d certainly dominate the prime tables I anticipated, at least for a while. Still, counting myself, only nine members of our cadre had ponied up for that particular perk and the responsibilities that came with it: Zane, Caine, Amelia, Raven, Tokim-Chan, Carwyn, Maggy, Joy, and I. It wasn’t impossible to run a game without it, certainly I’d managed for centuries… but it certainly would help… especially if you also had a decent imagination. Still, it was important to remember that just because one lacked a perk to back up a talent didn’t mean one couldn’t do it just as well without it. It was something I had to remind people of from time to time… and I’d definately have to this time, since unless Joy decided to join Toph’s group, they had no MoM at all.

The third faction, Power Gamer’s Prosperity Sphere as Zane insisted we call them, included Kendra, AJ, Francine, Gaius, Petra, Kagetane, Simon, Raven, and Maggy… a membership roster that I think should surprise no one. All but two of them had taken the powerblending Synergy Capstone… and those two who hadn’t were the hyperspecialized Francine (Psi) and Cirno (Ice Magic)… both of whom had taken the charisma boosting Hell of Nice Guy from the Casual Line. Interestingly, Kagetane had spent his last 100 RP to buy the cheapest That Guy perk, the manipulative and insulting ‘Rude Crude Dude’. He said he found the idea amusing.

And that should tell you who was at ‘That Guy’s’ Table of ‘Specialitude’… which is, unfortunately, a word. Toph the Anti-Social, Bart the Sociopathic, Brigid the Highly Unethical… and Alex the Pain in the Ass. When asked why, Toph had hinted that she might enjoy another few decades alone in the deep jungle and she was afraid she’d forgotten how to be alone. Bart and Brigid on the other hand said they just wanted to be able to get away with minor crimes without being hassled… which was kind of scary. Alex had, at first, claimed it was entirely about the gaming room and being able to insult people, but I finally got him to admit that the getting away with things short of murder and the cheating perks were a major driving force as well. I had to remind him that those perks would not work on me and which point he sassed my and claimed ‘We shall see, we shall see indeed.” Oh yes, my boy… we shall. Of course, all four ‘That Guys’ got the cheating and get away with stuff perks… because of course they did… siiigh. That Guys.

Perhaps the saddest thing were the infrequency of certain perks being taken… or maybe that some items got take at all. Only Uriel and I had bought Ambassador of Games… which I understand, since it’s not a very ‘utility’ perk… but still kinda heartbreaking. Only AJ, Frankie, and I had taken the Con Registration item… but we had money and money can fix many such oversights in future I suspect. So much so that I almost considered turning in my Con Registration for a bump to 20 Billion a year… but spending money like that just rubs me the wrong way… plus, if I really wanted that bump, I could just stay another twenty years. And speaking of the trust fund… one of my companions apparently wanted financial independence.. Or hadn’t thought I’d share, since Reggy had signed up for 2 Mill a year from her own personal trust fund. But maybe she anticipated it coming in handy in a future side jump situation. Also potentially pointless was the fact that Toph, Frankie, and Uriel had bought the Snacks & Drinks… Uriel at the second level… they did realize we had a warehouse full of food options, right? Ah well… maybe I’d snitch some of Uriel’s Pad Thai.

As for Ahab and Joy’s builds? Well, as I said, Joy had spent her limited stipend on Master of Masters. Ahab had bought World of Imagination and claimed he was going to try his hand at writing fiction. From the Yugioh side, Ahab was a trader, which came with nearly a dozen free (and useless) cards of various rarities free, while Joy was a Technician, which came with trap detection. Both got Crazy Hair. Joy spent her stipend there on the finding random cards and five bucks cash a month thing (Sigh, really?) and Ahab… on the Trap detection… because really? What the hell else was he going to spend it on?

And that, as they say, is that.

INSERTION

It has been said before, and will be said again, no doubt many times, that Time and Money fix many problems. And that’s when they are alone. When they’re combined? They function exponentially. Gygax and Arneson still existed in this world, even if Gygax was still in the Marine Corps. It was childsplay to get enough money together to convince him to leave, then to get the two of them together and guide them into creating an improved version of the original Chainmail and Dungeons & Dragons.

Money again conquered any issues about reach and popularity. Advertised in magazines I now owned, sold in stores i now owned, and published by companies I also now owned, D&D, Tunnels and Trolls, and Rune Quest all flourished in seemingly direct competition with each other as I made roleplaying a household term… and royally pissed off the anti-satan crowd. Mazes and Monsters was no better in this world, but it was ten times as popular. Unfortunately for the microbrained haters who owned the rights to it, they were no less susceptible to money and charisma and I soon owned the rights to Rona Jaffe’s book… along with not just the rights to the movie, but controlling interest in CBS itself.

Convincing the still young Tom Hanks, who’d to date only starred in M&M, to reprise his role was simplicity itself. I offered him money… and a chance to star under director John Hughes, who I’d convinced to direct the sequel. I even convinced Jaffe to ‘pen’ the second by throwing 100k at her and telling her to sign on the line and tell anyone who asked that she’d written the book… The sequel was a decent hit in theatres across the country, where the case was made that role playing was, if you weren’t an idiot, just good, and often risque, fun.

A string of high budget and skillfully directed D&D Movies followed over the next decade, ranging from the terrifying Tomb of Horrors to the intrigue filled ‘Ill Met In Lankhmar’ to the fantastic ‘Icewind Dale’ trilogy. I was relentless in pushing not just the realm of role playing forward, but also video gaming, CGI, and the reputation of science fiction and fantasy as a whole. When Magic the Gathering came out, I was Richard Garfield’s silent backer. When Duel monsters came out, I was the primary backer.

By the end of the 20th century, thanks to careful investing and foreknowledge, I wasn’t sitting on a fortune worth 48 billion dollars… I was sitting on ten times that, making me the single richest person on the planet… and no one knew it because it was diversified across a dozen countries and three times as many corporations. I was the majority shareholder in Time-Warner, Disney, Hasbro, Microsoft, Kaiba-Corp, Sony, Fox, Amazon.com, Google, and Viacom… though you’d have had to have a degree in forensic accounting to know it.

To most people who knew me, I was just Sebastian Johansson, a somewhat eccentric game expert who went to all the conventions and bought people games just to see if they liked them. I also had a network of people collecting every card, comic, and game being published anywhere in the world and carefully shipping me at least one case of each… even if the game was utter crap, I’d have at least a dozen copies… of every official release.

It was in the middle of a trip to Germany to the award ceremony for the board game Settlers of Catan in 1995 that the first oddity occurred… though I wasn’t to realize it for almost a decade. It was at the Essen Game Fair (which, a decade earlier, I’d managed to get combined with the Spiel des Jahres award ceremony for Game of the Year) that I ran into a father and son from Italy. The father seemed vaguely familiar to me, a young man in his late twenties with the name tag ‘Bertino’, but the son, ‘Gino’ all of 6, was a fierce Duel Monsters player, clearly gifted with insight into the game and he’d managed to win the junior tourney and was doing very well in the adult bracket where I was one of the judges.

He lost, but I remember complementing the boy and telling him how the company that made the cards, Industrial Illusions, was based in California, but that it featured a lot of Japanese style art in addition to the Egyptian and European themed cards. Gino, who’d never heard of Anime, was fascinated, and I gave Bertino a card for one of my local contacts in Italy who could hook him up with recommendations that Gino might enjoy.

That was it and I’d largely relegated the incident to inactive memory for many years, especially since 1996 was the year the events of Yugioh actually began. I’d had my agents watching out for Mutou Yugi to solve the ridiculously heavy pyramid necklace fob called the Millennium Puzzle and to track the incidents surrounding that. I knew that Seto Kaiba was going to try to kill Yugi and his friends… I’d read enough of the manga to remember thinking how stupid it was to try and murder several schoolmates using games that must have cost millions and millions of dollars (let alone Yen) to construct.

Now, please, I don’t want you to think I was doing all this out of concern for Yugi or his friends. I really had no vested interest in making certain that they survived. In fact, for my purposes, if they actually died it might have been better, but I certainly wasn’t going to root for that outcome either. Rather, I merely needed evidence that Seto, functioning as de facto CEO of KaibaCorp, was unhinged. That allowed me to call an emergency meeting of the board of directors and seize control of the company through my proxies. Yes yes, I know, taking candy from sociopathic children. Bad EssJay. But seriously? Death games for teenagers? Who thinks this is a good idea?!

Regardless of the marginally questionable business ethics, I had any number of reasons to want to derail the plotline of Yugioh’s timeline. See, somehow the physics of this world mean that the underlying magic of the original egyptian stone carvings that became the Duel Monster cards is tied to a form of perpetual motion energy source… I’m not kidding. I might have lost all my science perks, but I’d still spent a lot of time sciencing over the last few thousand years and had had twenty years to push the tech level upwards from 1974 levels… and some of the mangatech in this world was already pretty advanced… and I could see the coming destruction of the original Domino city in a Duel Monster Energy fueled calamity that would claim any number of lives. Better to head that off as best I could.

Then, before I knew it, it was the new millenia. My various businesses hosted new year celebrations all over the world, often importing acts from around the world to entertain and spread the theme of a global society. That’s why I had the J-Pop girl band Shonen Knife perform in Paris, american thrash metal / shock rock band GWar perform in Tokyo, Bhangra artist Daler Mehndi perform in New York, Finnish folk group Loituma perform in Mumbai, and Columbian super-star Shakira perform in Sweden, since (as we all know) Finland doesn’t actually exist… or at least, in this world, for some inexplicable reason, it didn’t. Instead, it was, of all things, a Japanese Fishing Colony… and the location of Domino City, because of course it was… though I guess that does explain why a Japanese city has an European name.

It was around this time that I hired a young woman named Ishida Yokimi to head up operations for Sony Entertainment of America. She was hardworking, a full decade and a half younger than her predecessor, and a firm believer in making a product with global appeal without making it pablum. I had one task for her… create an MMO that would dominate this world’s market as thoroughly as World of Warcraft did in my homeworld, and do so without breaking up the Final Fantasy Numbering scheme… The result? Final Quest Online, a blending of Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy… and, thanks to Manga-Tech, the first fully VR MMO.

In 2008, in a stunning coup, the capital of that fantasy world would play host to the Duel Monsters World Championship and record the single largest attendance of any sporting event ever. 10.7 million people from all around the world would watch, rapt, as Yugi Mutou managed to eke out a slim, come from behind victory, over Seiji Tanaka to clench the All-Japan title, only to go down swinging to French-Chinese upstart Zachary ‘Zane’ Cho in the final. The media circus that erupted a few days later as the 26 year old Seiji accused the 28 year old Yugi of being a has-been who’d accepted money from the Yakuza to throw the tourney would go on to be the decade’s biggest gaming scandal, as, in a stunning turn around, Yugi managed to prove that it was, in fact, Tanaka who had Yakuza ties and who’d been planning on throwing the final. The news was so shocking that even US President Gore felt the need to comment… what? You thought I wouldn’t meddle in politics too?

Another oddity came in 2010, when I was reviewing applicants for some of the various scholarships I’d established… I know, I have a global financial empire that runs a significant percentage of the world economy, I should have people to do this kind of thing for me… and I do. But giving money and assistance to people who deserve it is one of life’s real pleasures and so I personally review all the finalists for all my scholarships just to see what kind of people I was helping.

Now, I don’t get all the details. The scholarships are racially and gender blind for the most part (some schools aren’t, so I can tell a little from that, and applicants come from all over the world, so since some countries are mono-cultures or largely… well you get the point) and I don’t even get full names… but I do get details of the individual’s life, grades, written application, homelife specifics, and testimonials by concerned sponsors. And I’d just been reviewing the file on a young person from Natal, a state capital in brazil, remarking on this young boy or girl’s achievements. He/she was an orphan and had been fostered by an elderly woman, had a passion for entomology and anime, and maintained a near perfect academic record, with only gym class being an issue. She/he was also apparently non-vocal, perhaps due to some past trauma.

The letters of recommendation came from a teacher, a priest, and the child’s foster mother and all of them were moving and or glowing and I was impressed by their passion and clear fondness for the child. So I approved the funds transfer and then I moved on to the next in the pile. But I’d remember the incident a few years later.

The oddities began to build faster and faster as time went on, but I only recognized them in hindsight. I blame being busy more than the lack of my full suite of perks, but to be fair, by the time the moon exploded, I’d been in this world as Sebastian for nearly four decades. I think I can be forgiven for never having actually verified that there was no Kunugigaoka Academy in this world. But, looking up at the crescent that was all that remained of Luna, I could tell that I’d been wrong to make that assumption.

And just like that, I realized what else I’d been overlooking. I’d met Umberto Pepperoni at a gaming convention when he was 17 years younger… and somehow inspired a wealthy italian business man to move to Japan. I’d sent GWAR to Tokyo, inspiring three japanese girls who must have been all of two years old at time, to emulate their shock-rock costumes. I’d hired Ishida Benjiro’s mother to run Square American, thus allowing her young son to become obsessed with Americana and Benjamin Franklin. My stunning coup in getting a major sporting event (yes, Duel Monsters is still a sporting event, shut up you haters) to be held online had led to the very public shaming of Tanaka Arita’s Uncle and the involvement of the Anzai Yakuza Clan. And yes… as it turns out, thanks to a prank pulled on me by some of my employees… I’d given a scholarship to an Iguana… and Kunugigaoka, being very Japanese, had not wanted to make waves with the incredibly wealthy trillionaire who decided to send an IGUANA to a Japanese School.

In fact, as I went back over my memories, I realized that, in some way or another, I had encountered the families of every member of Class 3-F and, as is the common property of massive gravitational objects, deflected their fates just enough to guarantee that they’d all be in that class with those particular issues… and then a massive chrome space-fortress appeared in the sky and began to rebuild the moon… because of course it did. And there was, functionally, no way to contact myself, as the united Earth Military tried everything they could to blast the Disco Star out of the sky… which wasn’t much, to be honest.

And so, with my Sensei-Self stuck in the sky, I felt the responsibility to make certain that my former students actually managed to make something of their lives. So that’s what I dedicated the next fifty years to. So, once again, the class roster of a group once known as Class 3-F of Kunugigaoka Academy… updated, age 66:

F-1) Anzai Kyoden (M), retired as Chief of Police, Tokyo, at age 51 to run for Mayor. Known as Anzai the Inccoruptable. Won in a landslide despite the massive political corruption. Married Holly Wataburger. 3 children, 11 grandchildren.

F-2) Shankar Tibbs (M), dedicated his life to helping develop treatment and early detection for those with various sociopathic and antisocial personality defects. Struggled with his own impulses for decades. Wrote a series of best-selling murder mysteries with a sociopathic main character who constantly struggled with violent urges. Never Married.

F-3) Makaba Rikudo (F), won fifteen e-sport world championships in Starcraft, Starcraft 2, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Neo-Pong. Retired at age 24, founded E-Gonomics, a company that specializes in VR based educational software. Married Ugaki Haruna. 4 children, 2 grandchildren.

F-4) Holly Wataburger (F), wrote a book about following your dreams, never got over being obsessed with the current fads, but did get over her sillier phase. Joined the JDF. Served in the war as a tank commander. Went on to advocate for tanking to be taught in schools. Married Anzai Kyoden. 3 children, 11 grandchildren, one rottweiler named Erwin.

F-5) Matara Dearche (F)… Still making poor choices… but cute.

F-6) Dabo Yukimi (F) writer of the incredibly popular Bluefang Darkwater, Hero of Two Worlds series of young adult novels. Has 7 cats and one husband, all of whom adore her. Adoptive mother of 3. First Human to be successfully cloned.

F-7) Ishida Benjiro (M) Japanese Ambassador to United Nations 2034-2041, Prime-Minister of Japan 2042-2066. Married Onohara Toyoshige. One Son, Ishida Furankurin.

F-8) Onohara Toyoshige (F) Writer-Director of 19 feature films. Winner of 7 Golden Globes and two academy awards. Tokyo University Professor of History.

F-9) Hashimoto Dina (F) Co-Founder of the J-Grunge Movement, which is to Grunge as J-Pop is to Pop Music. Co-Founder of Polyamory Japan. Arrested and jailed for political protest 2022-2024. Married to Ebuchi Ebi and Tanaka Arita. 2 biological children, 1 grandchild.

F-10) Tomioka Chomei (M). Food Critic for Mainichi Shimbun. Married to Gashu Saana. No children. Chomei was nearly killed in a traffic accident in 2029 and his spine replaced with cybernetics. He was killed by the terror EMP blast of 2054.

F-11) Zero Vita (F) Extremely cute. Not particularly useful except in combat, but very good at playing tanks. 34 time DOTA2 World Champion.

F-12) Lloyd McGill (M) Founder of Werewolfism and author if ‘So you want to be a Werewolf’, a book that advocates a werewolf-like lifestyle, embracing outdoorsmanship, naturalism, and howling to relieve tension. Officially unmarried. Unofficially has six wives and 19 children. Also works as a conspiracy discreditor and anti-conspiracy educator.

F-13) Ebuchi Ebi (F) Co-Founder of the J-Grunge Movement, which has been described as the unholy fusion of Cybergoth fashion and Norwegian Death Metal. Co-Founder of Polyamory Japan. Arrested and jailed for political protest 2022-2024. Married to Hashimoto Dina and Tanaka Arita. 3 biological children, 2 grandchildren.

F-14) Tanaka Arita (M) Very surprised by how his life has turned out. Two Time Judo Gold-Medalist, Youth Counselor, professional role model. 5 biological children, 2 grandchildren (don’t do the math if you’re squeamish). Married to Ebuchi Ebi and Hashimoto Dina.

F-15) Tofu (M) Founder of Virtual Buddhism, a school of Buddhism which utilizes VR to mediate, a form of Cyber-Asceticism. Called the world’s second fastest growing religion in 2051.

F-16) Matara Levi (F) Movie Star. Mostly Action films. Brief Career in music. Voted worst album of 2024. President of Screen Actors’ Guild from 2048-2064.

F-17) Zigminder Alex (?) President of TSR-Time-Warner. Inventor of the Virtual Toaster, a device that VR transmission of nutrients. Credited with ending world hunger.

F-18) Sato Chuichi (M) Mangaka. Creator of the truly amazing(ly violent) Trauma Kid Juno which ran for 22 years. Credited with starting third wave shonen comics and revitalizing the industry. Unmarried, 3 children with the same woman.

F-19) Nakae Eichi (F) Housewife. Mother of 3. Very happy with her life. Married Stephano Pepperoni. They live in Switzerland.

F-20) Doi Moromao (M) Musician, musical educator, never married. Composed an entire symphony for beatbox, entitled ‘My Life in Sound, volume 4’. Married and divorced twice. No children.

F-21) Mufasa Arello (M) Joined the JDF, injured during the war, sent home, became an MP, eventually elevated to General in charge of the JDF’s Keimutai. Married to Akechi Sonada.

F-22) Tokimi-Chan (F) CEO of ACOM Global (the fusion of Microsoft, Sony, Viacom, and Fox)

F-23) Akechi Sonada (M) Medical Doctor, specializing in cybernetics and trauma surgery. Served as a medical officer during the War. Married to Mufasa Arello. They have a dog named Fritter.

F-24) Ignatz Ignasty (M) World Wildlife Fund spokesman. Died of extreme old age in 2031, age 26. Left behind 31 children, 8 of them human, with 19 different mothers, 5 of them human. Ignasty Park established as world’s largest park in his memory, encompassing more than 1.4 million square miles of rainforest in Brazil and Peru, including reforested regions.

F-25) Matara Stern (F) Career MMA fighter and fashion designer.

F-26) Umberto Pepperoni (M) Became fluent in Japanese so he could speak to Gino’s Wife Sakiko. Ended up with two japanese daughters-in-law. Died of natural causes in 2062, age 95.

F-27) Gashu Saana (F) Co-Founder of the J-Grunge Movement, which is said to be only marginally preferable to electroshock torture, but still better than Country-Western. Professor of Music Theory, the Sorbon. Plays seventeen instruments. Composer. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. Voted Rolling Stones greatest Guitarist of the decade 2041-2050, #7 of all time. Widow of Tomioka Chomei. Remarried following his death. 1 child.

F-28) Ugaki Haruna (F) Actually turned out to be bisexual. Actress-Comedienne. Speaks 41 languages fluently. Nobel Prize in Literature. Nobel Peace Prize for her work in handling the refugee situation during the War. Married Makaba Rikudo. 4 children, 2 grandchildren.

So there you go. What started as a dream in 1974 to make roleplaying as popular as it could be ended up (thanks to compound interest, shrewd investment, insider knowledge, and 2 billion a year) being the single largest economic force in the world by the time 2064 rolled around… and I got to watch a bunch of very interesting people grow up… and play a lot of games. I mean a lot. Four days a week, fifty weeks a year, for nine decades. I played board games, card games, video games, mind games, politics, and roleplaying. Sooo much roleplaying… not all of it PG-13.

Still, it was a damned good life, and even in this world so much like my own… if a bit too animefied to be purely the same… and I realized, with a bit of a shock, that I’d miss this world and it’s weird obsession with Duel Monsters… but then again, the Yu-Gi-Oh card game was the best selling TCG of all time back in my homeworld… so eh? Who am I to cast stones?

“So… Papa, what are you looking forward to most,” asked Amaryllis, president of Disney and very pretty princess.

I shrugged, sipping a pina colada as I looked out over my family and friends playing on the beach of the Atlantis resort, and ran my hand over my bare scalp… “Having hair again, I think.”

She smiled, then put Ziggy on my head. “There. Easily solved.”

Next:  Worm (yes, really)

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.

Resources: Build, Yugioh Document, Generic Roleplayer Document

AN: Yes, I know the featured image has hair… that’s what Sebastian looks like when he has hair after the drawback wears off. He is 108 years old.

Custom Deck

  1. Soul of Ice
  2. Silent Judge
  3. Spirit of Twilight
  4. Hypersonic Ice
  5. Entropic Goddess
  6. Bend it Like Aang
  7. The Magi Manifestation
  8. Light of Heaven
  9. Windjammer
  10. Preemptive Retaliation
  11. Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
  12. William Shatner
  13. Sixty Pounds of Rule Books
  14. Sugar Doppleganger
  15. Fork of Nature
  16. All You Can Eat
  17. Three Big Rats
  18. Psychic Storm
  19. My Friend the Goddess
  20. Armor Victoria
  21. Cherry Tree Super Computer
  22. Black Eyes White Ferret
  23. Red Eyes White Ferret
  24. Green Eyes Purple Ferret
  25. Three-Headed Ferret of Doom
  26. Ark Magna
  27. Faustian Bargain
  28. Wings of the Dark Hawk
  29. The Righteous Choir
  30. The Lost Choir
  31. The Dire Weasels
  32. Disco Moon
  33. Stabuchadnezzer
  34. Big Fluffy Doggy
  35. Bigger Fluffier Doggy
  36. Biggest Fluffiest Doggy
  37. Butler of Doooooom
  38. Genocidal Half-Wit
  39. Richard Garfield, TCG God
  40. The Jumper’s Warehouse

 

World 73: Assassination Classroom

EDUCATION IN CRISIS

Previously: The Fifth Question

Themesong: Bla Bla Bla by Gigi D’Agostino

“Okay… well, that wasn’t a cakewalk, but since none of those races can chart the future reliably, it wasn’t too bad. But if I have one more nap interrupted by the arrival of ZOG or one of those ships that look like a stone dildo… I mean, I guess it was exciting. But I wanted to mess with the Younger Races more! Stupid shepherds doing their job. Meh,” I commented as I walked back into the Warehouse, Ziggy in my arms.

He stood up and licked my chin, then jumped down to frolic around Amaryllis’s ankles.

“Hi Papa,” She said, holding up a plate of cookies and a glass of milk in a way that wasn’t at all suspicious.

I took them with my TK and scooped up the small girl and eyed her closely until she giggled and tried squishing my face. “What did you and your siblings do now?” I asked as her small delicate fingers mushed my lips around, my shapeshifting allowing far more play than is normal for flesh.

“Nothing!! We… We just wanna go to the school thing that is next!”

I blinked at that, my eyes currently on antennae bobbling above my forehead and sipped some milk with a fingertip. I really shouldn’t do that… too easy to slip into the eldritch abomination roll, but it got a giggle, so I guess it’s okay. “You want to go to Assassination Classroom?”

“Yeah! You said it’s a comedy!”

“Well, yes, I did say that. I guess. A bit of a dark comedy at times, but… okay. Fine. You and your reprobate siblings can come with if it seems like there’s a place for you to fit. I don’t even know what there is to offer.”

“We do! Jumpchan gave us copies of the Jump Tree and said she had a meeting upstairs to discuss something, so we’re to make sure you fill it out.” She pointed to where an interview style table had been set up near the central fountain in the middle of WarehouseVille. Alex and Maggy sat there on the boss side in business suits (Maggy’s looking like a Zootsuit from the 1930s and Alex’s looking like it had been designed by techno cowboys, but business suits nonetheless.). Amy squirmed out of my arms and ran to join her siblings, and I realized she was dressed in a suit made of iridescent insect wings (synthetic of course, she’d never hurt a bug just for its wings unless it was big and snarly and icky, and then she’d probably just chastize it for getting spit and ichor everywhere).

Alex began “The Earth is threatened by a powerful and enigmatic being named Korosensei. A few weeks ago, he destroyed 70% of the moon and claims that, within a year, he will also destroy Earth!”

Maggy continued, “However, he’s offered mankind a chance to avert this fate. If he’s allowed to take over as homeroom teacher of Class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High, he will allow his students to attempt to assassinate him. Kunugigaoka is one of those unrealistic Anime High Schools that are exceptionally darwinian in nature, where the worst students are given the least assistance.” Maggy frowned as she delivered the off-script critique.

“I have watched this Anime, yes,” I reminded the trio, but was ignored as Amaryllis took her turn with the narration.

“Now, the students are conflicted. Certainly, he’s an inhuman monster, but he’s also the best teacher they’ve ever had. Even if they could overcome his numerous powers, such as hypersonic movement and superhuman strength, could they bring themselves to kill him. Your Job, should you choose to accept it-” Alex chimed in with “You don’t really have a choice” but Amaryllis elbowed him and continued, “Is to assassinate Koro-sensei within one year or else he’ll blow up the Earth…” Maggy added “or we can allow the plot to play out and he’ll be successfully assassinated by his pupils at the end of the year anyway.” but Amaryllis continued (this time without elbowing her sister), “To make this a little more challenging for you, Korosensei has predicted your presence and knows your powers. He’s had an entire lifetime to prepare for you and always seems to have a way to counter your abilities, so you’re going to have to use them in creative and skillful ways if you want to succeed. No one said saving the world was easy.” She smiled, then glared at Maggy who ruffled her hair.

“So, this jump is only a year long?” I asked.

They all blinked, then flipped through the papers in front of them, then whispered together (I deliberately didn’t hear what they were saying), then faced me and nodded in unified agreement. “Yes. That’s right,” Maggy said for the group.

“And you realize that I don’t actually have to do anything at all to get ‘best ending’?

The three looked at each other, nodded in unison, then back at me and said (breaking the dialogue flow across each not so innocent face almost at random), “Yes, we know. That’s why we’d like you to take the drawback ‘AssClass’.” Alex giggled at that and whispered “aaaasss!” but Maggy elbowed him and told him to act his age. Alex smirked, “Ass will never not be a funny word.”

Refraining from comment (because he’s right, some words are inherently funny, and ass in english is one of them. Even if it’s talking about a donkey, Ass is a funny word. So are Patela and Blithering), I asked, “and what, pray tell, does the AssClass Drawback do.”

[AN: AssClass is not an official drawback for the Assassination Classroom Jump. I created it for Narrative reasons, but I believe the pricing to be fair.]

Maggy either chose to do the explaining or had been chosen beforehand (I didn’t look into their minds… giving your kids privacy is fundamental, duh.), “AssClass establishes the existence of a Class 3-F. While Class 3-E contains the 5% of the student population that fulfill Kunugigaoka Chairman Asano’s belief that 95% of the population are workers while the remaining 5% are lazy…”

Amaryllis chimed in in condemnation of this idiocy, “Despite the fact that the class contains 15% percent of the student body in that grade, and despite there being far more reasons for underperforming than mere laziness.”

Alex patted her head and hugged her, “Not even this world thinks the Chairman is right, kiddo.” he assured her. “That’s pretty much the entire point of the story, isn’t it, Papa?”

I confirmed that this was so, but motioned for Maggy to continue. “You’re going to say that Class 3-F is actually lazy aren’t you?”

She smiled, nodded, and resumed her explanation, ‘Class 3-F is not only lazy, they are rowdy, aggressively ignorant, and prone to outbursts of idiocy, violence, or self destructive bravado. It says you should take Cromartie High School as an example, whatever that is.” I thought back to my first life and flinched…. “Of course, the existence of such a class is not, in and of itself, a drawback. No, for you, the Drawback is that you must ensure that, by the end of the year, by the time Korosensei dies, you have brought Class 3-F up to the standard that Korosensei brought 3-E. You must forge lifelong emotional bonds with your students or classmates, ensure all of them are passing in all subjects within the top 40% of the students in their grade (which must be within the top 20% of all third year junior high students nationally)… and you must do so without exerting undue influence upon them.”

“Define undue?” I asked.

“You may not bribe with money or material goods valued in excess of 1,000 yen. You may not use emotion control, mind control, or threats of violence upon them. You must teach or convince using non-whammy level charisma. You may not have sex with them, nor arrange for them to ‘hook-up’,” Maggy blushed a little at that last and I refrained stoically from smiling.

“Ah. That kind of undue.Will they also be equipped to try to assassinate me if I’m their teacher?”

“Only if you buy the Jumpersensei drawback, but that also makes everyone think you blew up the moon,” Alex supplied.

“Ah… good… what happens if I fail in this task?” I asked.

“You are branded a failure and must live with knowledge of your utter and complete failure as a jumper. Everyone you’ve ever met will be notified of your failure, and you’ll appear in your next jump with a big red F tattooed on your forehead.”

“Really?” I asked, half amused and half startled.

Alex nodded enthusiastically, “Yup, that’s what it says right here.”

“No chain failure?” I asked.

“Nawww…” he drawled, “No one would take this if they weren’t reasonably certain they could pull it off. Chain Failure is much less a risk than utter humiliation.”

I chuckled at that. It was probably true. While failure is a part of life, and I’ve experienced it from time to time, the simple fact of the matter is that I’ve won vastly more often than I’ve lost. Hell, being picked to be a Jumper was already pretty much the biggest form of winning ever. But to fail at a task that should be right up my alley? That would be pretty embarrassing. “So, How much is this worth?”

Amaryllis said, “Two Hundred.”

“Two Hundred for… wow, hardcore. Okay, fine, for you sprouts, I’ll take it. Now, I assume from that description that one of the available origins is Teacher?”

“Nope,” Maggy said, her voice in pedantic mode.

“Fine. Sensei?” I asked, cutting her off before she could smugly inform me of why I was wrong and what the real answer was.

She frowned, but nodded curtly. “Yes. Transfer Student is the Drop-in, Underachiever is the normal student, and Sensei is the teacher slash government assassin. They’re all free.”

“Ah, well… cool. I guess I’ll go with Sensei then. Unless the others have overwhelmingly cool abilities that I must has?” I asked.

The trio consulted, then Maggy explained, “Transfer Students have a low grade intimidation aura, a obscura effect, and a reflex, strength, and perception booster that grants you the ability to generate a mental image of your spirit animal in anyone that sees you but makes you more willing to kill.” Alex nodded, then continued. “Underachiever has an observation booster with a slow acting weakness detection feature, a study slash practice enhancer, and personal weakness minimizer coupled with something that makes learning skills go faster, but that’s soft capped with diminishing returns built in.” and then it was Amaryllis’s turn and she said “Sensei has an appearance booster, a perk that allows you to teach any ability you know to anyone… using any technique you like… and a perk that makes you really good at killing people.”

I hrmmed. “Assuming you were giving those to me in price order and that the first was the freebie?” they nodded, “and the third was the Capstone?” again a round of nodding, “then I have to say I’m unimpressed with the Capstones, but, that I really… really… like that teaching perk from the sensei line. So yeah. That’s fine, not missing out on much. What’s it called and what’s the actual description and price?”

Amy picked up her papers and read, “Actually Teaching, 150 CP for Senseis, quote you have the odd ability to actually teach really well. You can teach any ability you know to the likes of even Class 3-E. The methods you use are up to you. And the freebie is called ‘Good Looks’ and it says you’re hot, sexy even, and you know it! You’ve a lot more attractive than the average person, even if you try to downplay it, you can have both sexes eating out of your hands if you choose to.”

“Well, I’m sold. And I’ll take the freebie as well. Tell me about the companion import option before we go further. If I’m going to be teaching, you three are going to be going to school.”

Alex frowned, “Do we gotta? We already have the equivalent of several doctorates each.”

“Yes. Because you’re not the most sociable of brats and you could use more experience being people instead of little godlings. In fact, I’m specifically limiting you and everyone who enters this jump’s world with us to peak human physical limits, no special powers, none of that except mental stuff like intellect and memory, and you can keep your general defensive abilities.” Maggy looked rebellious at that, but a quirked eyebrow from me and she backed down from challenging me. Alex was pouting about the school stuff but didn’t look like he minded the powerdown, while Amy looked like this had been part of her plan from the get go. I filed that information away for later and added, “And if I have a challenge, you three do too. You’re to make friends individually and together, with at least half the members of Class 3-E.”

“What about Class 3-F?” Amy asked.

“I don’t know their general character. I do know that Class 3-E is generally comprised of good kids. I’m not going to tell you to befriend actual thugs, murderers, rapists, or bullies… but I might extend it to Class 3-F if they’re an okay group. We shall see.” I explained and that stunned them for a moment. I don’t think they’d considered that Class 3-F might be that bad. I didn’t think they would be… but I wasn’t going to count anything out until I had those twerps in my sights. The Cromartie High kids weren’t really that bad, but this setting did have a psychopath teaching gym class, so I wasn’t going to make assumptions. “Well? Companion Import? Or do I have to use my global option?”

“There is one,” Alex said, consideration evident on his face. “But it’s up to you if you think the Global is better. It’s called ‘Class Import and it’s 200 CP for 8 companions, each of whom can take Underachiever or Transfer Student and who get 300 CP, 400 with the points we get from Single Shot.”

“Mmm… I don’t think it meets the requirement for the Global. The Global requires the native import option to be objectively worse. While this gives half the CP, it costs exactly half as much. Sure, that short changes you guys a bit, but that’s not objectively worse… merely… less ideal. Yeah. I think I’ll leave it at that level. I’ll apply my Floating Discount from Single Shot to make it 100… that’s 250 spent out of 1200 so far… tell me that there are some perks or items actually worth buying besides the one I already did?”

Alex grinned at that and enthused, “You can get hair tentacles!”

“I can get what now?”

“He means you can buy ‘What Measure is Inhuman?’ which gives you some of Korosensei’s powers. While some of it… most of it, really, is useless for you, like the speed boost to 100kph… a far cry from hypersonic like you already are, and the fact that the hair tentacles… six of them, yes thank you Amy,” Maggy said in response to Amy’s holding up a magi handcounting six, “that they have the same strength as your own… but it it will boost your multitasking abilities to the point where manipulating six tentacles and two hands at the same time becomes pretty much routine.”

“Plus, the tentacles are as fast as you are and have fine control and can stretch across an entire classroom,” Alex added.

“As your sister pointed out, the strength of them… and their ability to manipulate things isn’t really an issue as my TK allows me to lift gigatons and manipulate things at the atomic level… but the multitasking is a serious enhancement.”

“But Papa, you can already multitask,” Amy said, confused. “You play all those games at the same time!” she pointed out.

“Ah. Not quite. I can parallel process mentally. I can make movements and decisions very very fast, so fast that they appear multitasking… but physically, the only way I can perform multiple tasks at the same time is by allowing my multiple selves to manifest their own bodies by use of homonculus effects. But with a Multitasking capacity that allows 8 different simultaneous actions with ease? Multiplied across all my selves? Think of the math there, sweetie.” I ruffled her hair with my TK. “We’re talking about roughly 2000 simultaneous actions at max effort… or more. Maggy said eight at once was easy. Never underestimate force multipliers.” I turned to the dark haired girl. “How much?”

She frowned, “600. No discounts. It seems overpriced but there’s not much else I think you’d want.”

“She might want the Anti-sensei Formula,” Alex said, then explained when I shot him a questioning look. “Anti-Sensei Weapons bought with CP or made with the formula bought with CP can harm all but the toughest monsters, but are harmless to normal people. And fabric treated with it damages monsters when they touch it… it’s 300.”

I nodded, understanding. “Fine. Good. that’s another 900, for a total of 1150 spent… is there anything that actually costs 50 in this jump? Or another 150 and a good drawback?”

“There’s a funny drawback named for Admiral Akbar,” Amy chirped.

I blinked at that, then asked, “It’s a Trap?”

“It’s called Admiral Ackbar says…” Amy explained, “And… yeah, it means you’re super androgynous… and you have to dress like a boy… or a girl if you go in as a boy… and people get you confused for the other gender but everyone in Class 3-E / 3-F know your secret. I will disable your shapeshift though… it’s 100… but I don’t think there’s anything you’ll need for 150… You get Cool Clothes for free as a Sensei, that’s an entire closet full of different clothing that’s all very nice. And the only 50 CP things for sale are a pair of Cool Shades or Anime Hair.”

“It’s not really just Anime Hair,” Alex pointed out. “It’s carte blanche to have weird hair or eyes and no one will ever question it. But there aren’t any 150 items or perks at all… it’s not very well balanced.”

“AH… hmm… Don’t really need that… tch… Hey, you three are the Banker for this jump, right?”

They looked back and forth, then shrugged.

“Good… good… okay… Since I’m limiting you all, I want you to pencil yourselves and the other importees in for an extra 100 CP each for that… then pencil in that I’m spending my last 150 on giving each importee another 150 CP… that seems fair to me… does it seem fair to you three? That’s enough to buy your entire perkline and still have enough left over for a little flex.” I smiled, knowing what their answer would be. If higher had a problem, they could suck it. They were the ones who’d failed to bring the Banker back and then taken the Chamber away. “Good. Now, In addition to you three, let’s go with Tokimi-Chan, Vita Zero, Sakura, the LSD Triplets, and AJ. I’m certain Tokimi and Sakura will be thrilled to be stuck in a classroom, AJ will enjoy the assassination challenge, and Vita and the LSD twits need even more people time than you three. And no, they don’t count towards the ‘half’ you have to befriend. Or against it. Now off with you and bring me your builds in a few days. I’m going to spend time with your mothers doing things you would be very uncomfortable with me describing to you.”

They fled as I chuckled and scooped up Ziggy from where he was savaging a shoe I didn’t recognize. Clearly not one of mine.

Days later, I received my first stack of homework to grade. Each of my chosen 8 had been given essay tests (in Japanese of course), to fill out and turn in. I assumed they’d been prepared by someone at higher… but I suppose VIvian could have done it as a joke or something. The essay questions included background information, choice of either Underachiever or Transfer Student and reason why, and selection of perks… and a bonus question on how that particular companion felt about being forced to go to school.

Sakura, Levi, Stern, Dearche, Maggy, and Amaryllis had all gone with Underachiever… though I wasn’t certain how much say Levi or Stern had had in the decision as they routinely let Dearche make the choices… indeed, Levi seldom could be bothered to make any plans longer term than ordering in a restaurant and even then she was prone to changing her mind between ordering and the time the food showed up. Stern was a bit more consistent, but far less decisive, prefering to be told what to do or pick than to make up her mind for herself. All of which worked out well, since Dearche enjoyed making discussions for her compatriots… or anyone else who would follow her orders… but she was a terrible leader and routinely made inept choices. They were, in almost every way, like comically inept versions of the originals they were modeled on… which might be funny in the abstract, but having Cirno’s general ineptitude was bad enough, and I could, occasionally, trust Cirno to get things right. The same could not be said for the Material Girls… Maybe this would change them… but I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

Sakura and… let’s say Dearche… had both taken the complete Underachiever line of perks (Note Taking, Just a Little Studying, and Statistics), and both had taken the Good Looks perk from the Sensei line… shallowness on the part of Dearche no doubt, manipulativeness on the part of Sakura, while Sakura had taken a perk called Perceptive that would make her even more observant, while Dearche had picked up the Intimidation Aura of the Transfer Student. Maggy and Amaryllis had, however, only taken the Note Taking freebie from their chosen background, deciding on perks decidedly not from either student background to spend most of their points on. Maggy had apparently taken my words about multitasking to heart, because she’d invested the lion’s share of her points on ‘What Measure is Inhuman’… except that last pesky 50 which she’d thrown away on a pair of cool shades, bro. Amaryllis had bought the Transfer Student’s ‘Fly on the Wall’ for full price, citing that she was aware she’d have been able to save 50 CP and get Perceptive instead of Anime Hair, but that she wanted local memories and Anime Hair sound like fun.  Then she’d bought the Teacher Perk ‘Actually Teaching’… even though she was pretty certain I could teach that perk’s core ability to her for free and even though she knew she didn’t have much to teach others yet, but someday she might and she wanted to be ready when it happened.

I put down the papers and went to give her a hug and tell her she was a good girl… then hugged the other two just so I wasn’t playing favorites… though Maggy tried to pretend she was too old for Papa hugs. Lies I tell you. No one is ever too old for parental hugs.

On the Transfer Student side, everything was far more cookie-cutter. All four took the whole perk line (Intimidation Aura, Fly on the Wall, Bloodlust). All four took the Perceptive Perk. Everyone besides Vita Zero took Note Taking (The Underachiever Weakness Detection perk)… Vita Zero took Good Looks.  And of course, both groups got a student uniform free of charge.

But that’s just what they bought. There was more information than that on the pages of those essays, subtext or straightforward, and I was largely amused to read their various reactions to the thought. Tokimi-chan promised to get even with me for the ignominy of sending a 23rd Dimensional GODDESS to Japanese Middle School, and for casting aspersions on her ability to easily pass any test ever devised by mere humans. I braced myself for incoming Tsundere. Vita said she didn’t need schooling to be a good Knight and Bodyguard and it was all stupid and I was stupid and this was totally lame and she was going to bring her hammer to school and hit anyone who talked to her. I had to struggle to keep from hugging the petulant cuteness. Sakura reminded me that the entire Moon Cell had disguised itself as a Japanese High School and, as such, she had a complete working understanding of all aspects of the Japanese Educational system… and had monitored all of human interaction for all of recorded history and a fair amount beside it. She knew how to people and how to student, thank you very much… but that she’d play my little game if it made me feel better. I assured her it would.

Then there were the Material Girls, who I’m reasonable certain didn’t even understand the concept of school. Levi seemed to think it was an obstacle course, Stern rambled a bit but I think she thought it was a buffet or a library with guided meditation, and Dearche claimed she would conquer all other students and become the mightiest of all Classrooms. Not Classleaders, Classrooms. I sat them down with some videos from my collection to show them what school was really like… videos like Summer School, Just One of the Guys, Saved by the Bell, and Azumanga Daioh. Sure, they weren’t accurate to real life school… but they kinda matched what they should expect to some degree. I tossed in a few extra scenes into each video to make sure there was actual studying and classwork shown. It might have thrown the pacing off a bit, but this was Edutainment. I hoped it would work, but only time would tell how thick that trio’s heads were.

Among my actual household, things were marginally better. AJ was totally unphased by the prospect and said he was looking forward to practicing unaided martial arts against Koro-Sensei and the other assassins. Him, I wasn’t worried about. Maggy was looking forward proving to me that she could overcome such a simple challenge, no matter what obstacles might be in her way. Amaryllis thought meeting new people would be fun and claimed she was looking forward to it, but it was also clear that the idea of being around so many aggressive, bloodthirsty people worried her. She got a peptalk. And then there was Alex… who categorically refused to waste his time on school work that served no practical purpose, to make friends with people he’d never see again, and resented the idea of spending day after day after day staring at the same four walls when he could be out and about, fighting ninjas and shopping. I reminded him of the concord that he and his sisters had agreed to, and he grumbled, but agreed that he had promised to make friends… but not the other stuff. Then he went to his room and sulked until Insertion time.

INSERTION

Well, here I am, Kunugigaoka remote campus, classroom 3-F, looking at my lovely class roster, complete with notes added by the Academy Chairman personally. It read as follows:

F-1) Anzai Kyoden. (M) Attitude Problem, Angry, Unengaged. Yakuza Connections.

F-2) Shankar Tibbs. (M) Violent, Possibly Homicidal. Brings Knives to School. Indian.

F-3) Makaba Rikudo. (F) Inattentive. Sleeps in Class. Last in Class.

F-4) Holly Wataburger. (F) Inattentive. Acts Out. Only Good Class Gym. Bad at it. American.

F-5) Matara Dearche. (F) Delusional. Makes Poor Choices.

F-6) Dabo Yukimi. (F) Delusional. Combative with Staff and Students.

F-7) Ishida Benjiro. (M) Delusional. Overweight. Talks Too Much. Writes too Much.

F-8) Onohara Toyoshige. (F) Unengaged. Depressive. Wears Black.

F-9) Hashimoto Dina. (F) Inappropriate Hobbies. ‘See Image’

F-10) Tomioka Chomei. (M) Compulsive Eater.

F-11) Zero Vita. (F). Violent. Brings Hammer to School

F-12) Lloyd McGill. (M). Delusional. Half British. Half-Japanese. Not actually a werewolf.

F-13) Ebuchi Ebi. (F) Inappropriate Hobbies. ‘See Image’

F-14) Tanaka Arita. (M) Clearly a Criminal

F-15) NGFN Tofu. (M) Disruptive. Dismissive of Staff Authority

F-16) Matara Levi. (F) Inattentive. Disruptive. Combative.

F-17) Zigminder Alex. (?) Changes Gender. Skips School. Challenges Staff Authority. Nationality Unknown.

F-18) Sato Chuichi. (M) Inappropriate and Disturbing Hobbies

F-19) Nakae Eichi. (F) Unengaged. Creepy.

F-20) Doi Moromao. (M) Disruptive. Inattentive.

F-21) Mufasa Arello. (M) Aggressively Disruptive. Inappropriate Attire & Behaviour.

F-22) NGFN Tokimi-Chan. (F) Bites. Dismissive of Humanity & Staff knowledge. Claims to be a Goddess.

F-23) Akechi Sonada. (M) Disruptive. Disgusting.

F-24) Ignatz Ignasty. (M) Seldom Does Assignments. Refuses to Speak. Eats Insects. Brazilian, I think.

F-25) Matara Stern. (F) Combative. Argumentative. Poor Grades.

F-26) NGFN Pepperoni. (M) Poor Grades. Refuses to wear Uniform. Speaks Gibberish when spoken to by staff.

F-27) Gashu Saana. (F) Inappropriate Hobbies. ‘See Image’

F-28) Ugaki Haruna. (F) Possible Lesbian.

I just stared at the list, blinking slowly. What… the actual… fuck? FIrst, I had to figure out why three of the class had a family name listed as NGFN.. in english letters no less… until I realized it meant ‘No Given Family Name’… I don’t know why it was in english. Second… there were sooo many issues, many of them evident merely from the longer profiles I had on each student if not purely from their pictures in the class roster. Others were issues I managed to pick up from reading their minds… which might have been cheating, but the challenge didn’t forbid mind reading, just mind control. Mind reading was merely a diagnostic tool.

To take them in order. Anzai Kyoden did have Yakuza Connections… his father was a mid-tier family’s wakagashira or first lieutenant, and his elder brother was shingiin (legal advisor). His attitude problem was fairly typical teenage angst. He hated everything because he felt trapped in the family’s criminal ties and didn’t think he could avoid that lifestyle, a lifestyle he had no interest in pursuing. It was clear no one had looked into the boy’s family any deeper than ‘Yakuza’ and no one had had the guts to speak to the family or the compassion to speak to Kyoden himself. I made a note to rectify both oversights and moved on, knowing that, if nothing else, communication would help immesurably.

Shankar Tibbs… he was another matter entirely. Not only was he violent, he was very close to certifiable. Not only did he call himself ‘Shanker’ (He spoke five languages; Japanese, Urdu, Hindi, Pashtun, and English… his mother was the Indian Ambassador to Japan), but he had a strong compulsion to stab people and liked watching things bleed. So far, he hadn’t killed anyone that he was aware of, but he was a clear danger to others. Unfortunately, I couldn’t just remove him from the class and have him committed. But I could have him medicated and put into counselling… of course, I couldn’t confiscate his knives, but I could enchant them so they became harmless. The jump of course bent that to exclude both me and Korosensei, just because.

Makaba Rikudo wasn’t just inattentive… she was unconscious. Like a certain character from Summer School, she was out like a light. Every class, all day, completely asleep… and twitching. As it turns out, this was because she was making quite a lot of money in E-Sports and was staying up all night practicing. She’d require counselling, as (like most athletes) she wasn’t thinking long term and while she was good, could even be among the best, E-Sports is a hard way to make a lifetime’s living. An education would go a long way towards helping there… and if I couldn’t get her to stop… maybe I could do something about her being sleepy during the day… giving her the ability to function on less sleep would certainly do that.  But how to teach that…

The American Holly Wataburger was, again, a different challenge. She was a total exercise nut… always chasing the newest fad… which currently was pelvic thrusting, which meant that everywhere she went, she was being fairly obscene… unfortunately for her, she had all the physique of an anemic Yorkie. Hyperactive, but quick to fatigue, she also had a fairly bad case of ADHD. Still, I’d been dealing with people like her for centuries, and if I couldn’t figure out a workable, practical, and effective exercise plan (for mind and body) then I was in the wrong business… and I don’t mean teaching. Also… only in an anime would someone who looked almost exactly like the Wendy’s girl be named ‘Wataburger’. Also, her spoken Japanese was horribly accented. That would need work.

F-5 was the first of mine. Dearche. Sigh. In this world, the Material GIrls were cousins… identical cousins… of the Matara family. Dearche’s file described her as a classic Chuuni (not the only one in the class, unfortunately) and described her as hyper focused, but impulsive and the kind who was constantly getting into trouble in odd new ways, like being caught sneaking into bars, going on paid dates (schoolgirl prostitution’s vanilla counterpart), and hanging out at arcades instead of going to cram school.

Levi was F-16 and Stern was F-25… Both were listed as Combative, which was obviously correct. Levi was also classic ADHD and in need of focus… and burning off energy. I’d have to schedule more physical activities for her and teach everyone in the class study habits and focus… though Levi needed the focus more than most. Stern was willfully defiant, and needed the study habits more than most. She liked arguing for the sake of it and had little native ability to learn from her mistakes… or at least no practice in applying such facilities. I’d have to get Ahab and Joy Senseis (yes, that’s how they’d imported themselves this time) to oversee the Mataras and at least get them to get their grades up, though I would not be ignoring my responsibility to the trio who were effectively my wards, like it or not.

Also on the Chuuni scale was F-6, Dabo Yukimi, who claimed to be ‘Bluefang Darkwater, Warrior-Mage of the Shadow Empire of Yoth, Master of the Fourteen Forms and Seven Killing Arts, and Hero of the People’… she was also psychotically brave, flinging herself in front of her classmates to protect them from the slightest (imaginary) harm. While Dearche was a little bonkers, Dabo was very close to fully Delusional. She wasn’t just acting up… she was having active trouble separating imagination from reality… and I had no easy fix for that… so I decided to go full bore and convince her that her imaginings were another layer of reality, one where it was important to get her grades up or run the risk of losing access to the wonderous world she could visit after school. The fact that I could, indeed, create a fantasy realm for her to interact with would help immeasurably. It was of questionable morality, but giving the girl a clear divide between fantasy and reality might be exactly what she needed.

Next up was the reincarnation of Benjamin Franklin. Really. Well… at least that’s what Ishida Benjiro thought he was… and for all I could tell, he was. He was incredibly erudite for a 13 year old, and while chubby, wasn’t fat. He did have a habit of rambling a bit and focusing too much on writing his opinions on all manner of things down rather than focusing on assignments, but that was mostly because he found them plebeian and boring. He was brilliant, but snarky and anti-social… and his refusal to bend to cultural values he didn’t believe in had branded him an outcast. Him I could deal with. He was easily smart enough to understand how much he could accomplish with minimal effort… the only problem would be finding the carrot to make the stick of putting in the actual work worth it.

Similarly, Onohara Toyoshige wasn’t depressive… she was a nihilist, seeing no promise in the future and thus no value in working for that future. If I could convince her there was something worth putting in the effort, she’d be an easy upgrade… but figuring out what she’d consider worth it would take work… but I wasn’t afraid and I had spies who could find out what she was interested in and why, exactly, she saw no promise in the future. I could have gone deep enough to find that out myself, but where was the fun in that… and she could use the friends.

“See image” said the entries on F-9 (Hashimoto Dina), F-13 (Ebuchi Ebi), and F-27 (Gashu Saana). The image in question showed three grostesque and monstrous foam-rubber suits holding drumsticks, base, and guitar respectively. It was labled ‘Giwar’ and the drummer was labled ‘Delta’, the basist as ‘Iota’ and the guitarist as ‘Alpha’. Apparently the inappropriate hobby was being a thrash metal band that performed in really ugly Kaju Costumes… which they insisted on wearing to school… they also insisted on being called by their ‘Thrash Names’ rather than their ‘Imperialist Names’. Those three… well, I only had to get their grades up, right? I could probably do that by speaking to them as people, rather than treating them like I was the Man and they were disobedient Proles. I’d have to see… and see how good their music was. Maybe I could trade lessons for classwork.

F-10, Tomioka Chomei was, as it turns out, very similar. The boy was obsessed with food. A little chunky, but not enough to earn the Chairman’s ire, he apparently spent all day snacking from the giant bag of snacks he brought with him into class every day.  He also kept a notebook where he ranked every snack, wrote little reviews to post on Amazon.jp, and composed emails to the makers suggesting changes. For him, I had another easy in. All I had to do was convince him that his future was in food writing and that good grades could get him into a good journalism program, and improving his writing skills would help sell a blog or newspaper column. He wasn’t the best writer, but his passion was clear, and while skills can be taught, passion can’t be.

Then there was Vita. Vita needed hugs. Lots of hugs. I assigned that duty to VIctoria because I wasn’t allowed to snuggle my students. She also needed frequent scolding and orders to behave herself. There I could do that… but she wasn’t a bad kid, just a brat. But my brat. Ah well. I’d work something out. Or remind her that if I ended up with an F on my forehead for a decade, I would not be pleased with her.

After her was Lloyd McGill and his ‘Not Actually A Werewolf’ entry. Apparenly he thought he was under a familial curse to become a wolf every full moon. He was, in fact, so convinced of this that he spent all his time researching counter curses and figuring out how to restrain himself on the full moon… despite never actually transforming.  Thankfully, He wasn’t a were of any kind and I could just tell him the truth and have him get over it. Or so I thought… In actuality, I ended up having to disabuse him of any number of paranoid imaginings over the school year, always by the same tactic… boy had an overactive imagination and a father who liked playing somewhat cruel pranks on people. Nothing said I couldn’t punch the students parents however… don’t worry, I didn’t hospitalize the man.

From students with self-image problems to students with actual image problems… Tanaka Arita looked like a thug. He wasn’t. But he looked like one, and everyone treated him like one and so he was in my class because… prejudice. All his teachers assumed he cheated and so his 84% GPA was discounted to the point he was in Class 3-F. Thankfully, he wasn’t really aware his looks and reputation were to blame and merely felt he was unlucky. A makeover, including working on his way of speaking, would help… and performing some verbal / social judo on the rest of the staff should help.

Which brings us to the first NGFN. Tofu was a Buddhist Monk… or dressed and acted like one… up to and including chanting during class and challenging everything the teachers said with Buddhist Koans. He was going to be a giant pain in the ass, and I’d have to appeal to his sense of propriety and community if I was going to get him to tone it down and actually focus on classwork instead of Buddhist Sutras. Time and place and all. Chanting during class, I pointed out, would scarcely be cultivating good will between Tofu and his classmates, and was, in fact both disruptive and potentially generating negative Karma by distracting those who were (in theory) focused on bettering themselves. Also, being disrespectful to those attempting to pass on wisdom, no matter how worldly, was grossly disharmonious and lacking in compassion.

While the Monk was easily swayed by such a call to his core values, Alex was not. The only member of my family to actually be assigned to Class 3-F, Alex was resentful in the extreme and didn’t just act out against the staff, he was openly defiant to me and felt that it was my fault he wasn’t in the same class as his sisters. Unfortunately, no lesson plan was going to work here and it took every ounce of my self control to keep from either throttling the brat or hugging him until he squirmed free. Unfortunately, emotional blackmail was out and I don’t approve of intra-familial violence. Instead, I had to rely on his mothers and siblings and hoped they could straighten him out. AJ, Maggy, Sakura, Amaryllis were E-29, E-30, E-31, and E-32 respectively… so it wasn’t like they’d escaped the remote campus either. AJ was violent but a top member of several fighting clubs. Maggy was a know it all. Sakura acted like she had MPD. and Amy kept bringing small animals to school.

And back on the subject of inappropriate behaviour, that brings us to Sato Chuichi… who drew ultra-violent manga… and flinched when talked to. One look inside his mind and I was calling the Japanese version of CPS to deal with his step-father, and then setting aside time to both council the kid for PTSD and to help him with his self-imposed art therapy… which showed promise and wasn’t really much worse than some of the stuff available commercially in terms of style… the violence wasn’t even that over the top compared to most zombie comics.

Zombie-talk brings me to F-19, Nakae Eichi, who had short hair for a girl, was the shortest in the class, overly thin, almost to the point of emaciation, and had a severe lack of effect. In fact, as it turns out, she believed she was a ghost. I recognized it immediately as the Cotard Delusion, a mental illness where the patient believes they are already dead (and often that they are immortal… mental illness is not sane). Medication and some ECT would be most helpful… and getting her on a diet that provided proper nutrition should take care of much of the issue… or I could run her through my medbay and see if that fixed the psychological defect, since it was often caused by brain damage or malformation.

If Eichi-chan was one extreme, Doi Mormao was the far end. By far the most hyperactive individual in the class, he was a Human Beatbox with ADHD that bordered on the Speed Force. Ritalin was definitely not working… but I had access to far more effective forms of anti-hyperactivity drugs and probably a perk or two which would help there… and he was a damn good beatbox… not as flexible as that guy from Police Academy, but really good at spittin’ a catchy rhythm. I saw no reason to discourage that… merely convince him to save it for a time and place where it was appropriate.

And speaking of inappropriate, Mufasa Arello was straight out of Cromartie Highschool. A rebel without a clue, he was huge, ugly, and ridiculous. Wearing a leather vest over his school blouse, he was 6’3 and had a 4 foot tall purple and green mohawk that brushed the classroom ceiling. Despite being only 5 hairs thick, it was completely rigid and had all the spring factor of coiled steel. He claimed to be the greatest hero in the universe and would challenge anyone for anything he viewed as dishonorable, duplicitous, bullying, or evil… which considering that the entire campus was engaged in an attempt to assassinate one or both the homeroom teachers… included trying to stop his classmates from trying to save the world. I considered how to help him… then just shrugged and moved on. I’d do my best, no one’s ever a lost cause… but this kid needed a sharp smack upside the head. Still, maybe I could convince him that studying is heroic… or a worthy challenge.

That tactic would not work on Tokimi-Chan. Thankfully, I didn’t care how much she bit me or dismissed human knowledge. She’d never get less than a 100% on an assignment, as that would be beneath her and both of us knew it.

Another simple fix was Akechi Sonada, who was listed as disruptive and disgusting because he farted… a lot. Loud, odiferous, and frequent, medication and a modified diet would help him greatly. He was, otherwise, a decent student, just one often embarrassed by his flatulence, which was caused by a digestive sensitivity to rice that caused it to ferment into methane far more readily than in most, coupled with a diet high in Nato and Soy Sauce which definitely wasn’t helping.

And then I ran into the realm of ‘only in anime’. F-24 was Ignatz Ignasty… who was, as far as I could tell, a 7 year old Brazilian member of the species Iguana Iguana… i.e. a Green Iguana… a lizard. Not a sapient Iguana. An Iguana. A meter and a half of bug eating reptile of the order squamata. How the hell was I going to get an Iguana to pass… how in the hell was the Iguana not the lowest in the class standing? How had it even passed year 2? Or passed the entrance exams. I mind scanned the Iguana… it was an Iguana. I talked to it in Iguanese… it was an Iguana… though it did enjoy school and found its desk very comfortable if in need of a heat lamp in winter… I guess I’d try teaching it to be a sentient being… that would be… unique… could I teach it Japanese too?

Speaking of teaching Japanese… F-26 was NGFN Pepperoni, listed as having poor grades, not wearing the uniform, and speaking Gibberish. First off… Pepperoni was Umberto Pepperoni… second of all, he wasn’t speaking Gibberish… he was speaking Italian. He was, in fact, a 45 year old Neapolitan gentleman who’d enrolled at the academy believing it to be a Japanese Language Class and no one seemed to have noticed. He also was wearing a 3 piece Armani… and not an Armani Emporio (their comercial line) but a bespoke Armani hand-tailored suit that must have cost 15,000,000 yen at the very least. It was gorgeous… and didn’t fit in with the school.  

I have to admit I lied to Signore Pepperoni, at least by omission. I didn’t tell him his mistake. Rather, I simply switched over to Italian and explained that the school had a dress code and explained that, in order to get him up to speed, I’d hook him up with a tutor free of charge to help bring him up to the level of a middle schooler. Then I assigned Franchesca to the task, because she speaks both italian and Japanese fluently and is adorable… also, looking inside his mind showed that he had a niece who resembled Lucchini-chan quite closely.

And then I was at the end of the list, with Ugaki Haruna… who was apparently listed as ‘Possible Lesbian’ because she talked about boys all the time. I made a note to give her some counselling about setting appropriate behaviour, teach her a little restraint, and then I went and read the Chairman the riot act about a) assuming anything about a student’s sexual orientation, b) viewing lesbianism, homosexuality, or bisexuality as a reason for putting a student into what amounted to special ed, and c) being a dick in general. Then I pointed out the idiocy of his math to him and left the room… only to run into Korosensei.

“Can’t say I know how you could possibly have all those powers and abilities you have… and you’re clearly more dangerous than I am… but I gotta say I like your style,” he said with that huge yellow smile.

I smiled back and nodded. “Ditto. You’re a heck of a guy… and a damned fine teacher. These kids are lucky to have you. I have a question for you… Would you like to live past the end of the year?”

He regarded me with a curious expression. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t play coy. You know what I’m capable of and I know you’re essentially on borrowed time before you explode. Do you want to live past the end of the year?”

“I’d be a fool to say no, wouldn’t I? Who doesn’t want to live? But it hardly seems reasonable or possible.”

“Good. I specialize in the unreasonable and impossible. Take my hand and I’ll see to it you make it through this in one piece. And your students will be fine. I like kids… I like teaching. I was a teacher before all,” I waved my hands vaguely at myself, “This happened. It’s a noble calling.”

“You might make enemies if you do this,” He said, taking my hand and shaking it firmly, if a little tentacly.

“Please. I’ve made worse enemies than even beings like you over the millenia I’ve been alive. Remind me to introduce you to my butler some time.”

And that’s how I ended up being hunted by every government and assassin on the planet… well, not hunted. They knew exactly where I was for the rest of the decade (apparently, deciding to save Korosensei got me named ‘God of Death’ and somehow extended the jump to a full decade… though the drawbacks ended at the end of the first… weird)… oh, and it turned out, Alex was acting like a bad boy just to drive me bonkers and give me a bit of a challenge. His sisters were in on it with him… I love my kids… even when I want to throttle them.

Next:  Yu-Gi-Oh

OMAKE: Relationship Chart

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

I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.

Resources: Build, Document

AN: Yes, I created a drawback for this. I priced it at +200 because I figured it was the diametric opposite of Lazy, which makes you not want to do any work. This requires a lot of effort… plus, I really wanted to call something AssClass… I know, I’m terrible. Still, I hope you enjoyed the microprofiles on the kids in the class. As a teacher myself, I have to say that about 50% of the trouble with problem students is the fact that the education system tends to pigeonhole them and dismiss them. There are problems that can’t be helped, like home conditions and neurochemical imbalances and psychological issues… but too often, administrators and teachers are too quick to just label a kid as disruptive or hyper or lazy and move on. The US is bad about this… but in many ways, Japan is worse. There’s such an expectation to conform there that students who have an issues are libel to crash and burn. No system is perfect, but Japan’s system is brutal, causing far more drop outs and suicides than the US or European systems. I’d love to be a teacher in Germany or Finno-Scandia… I hear they have really nice schools and a real feel for student-teacher relationships. and that the kids actually have fun learning. But this is all my opinion.

Note on the featured image: Not what I was originally going to go with, but when I picked the Trap drawback, I needed something androgenous and I find that very graceful and cool… impractical necklace included. Love the colorshifting hair and those are the longest legs ever.

Original Image Choice (or alternatively, Image without Drawback Applied)

Jump 80 - Assassination Classroom

World 72: Babylon 5

THE FIFTH QUESTION

Previously: Abandonment Issues

Themesong: Say Amen by Panic! at the Disco

AN: my apologies for the prolonged delay, I have been (and to an extent, still am) under the weather. A headcold became pneumonia and has now backed off to merely being bronchitis. I barely avoided hospitalization, but two weeks of being bedridden isn’t fun and hardly conducive to writing anything enjoyable. Thank you all for your patience… and boy would I not kill for a Jumper’s medbay… or immunity to disease.

As I re-entered my warehouse, eager to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in a decade and just as eager to doff the rather uncomfortable flesh of Dashel Smallwood, which I admit was feeling a little like a suit one has been forced to wear for far too long, I knew that there was a fifty fifty chance that my next jump would force me into a role I wasn’t keen on embracing. My brief glimpse into the future of Jumpchain was running out, but I’d been given a list of ten settings and this was number nine. It would either be Assassination Classroom or Babylon 5.

If it was AssClass, then all would be well. I could either do nothing and allow canon events to take out the ‘evil’ would-be world-destroying teacher… or step in and make things worse. But if it was Babylon 5… well… it was.

And so, once again, I am faced with that special kind of ethical quandary that only impacts beings of a certain power level and foreknowledge. It is one step beyond the Superman Dilemma. In that, the question is ‘Does he who has the power to save lives have the ethical responsibility to do so?’ The answer is, of course, probably. But those lives do not exist in vacuum and, like it or not, not all lives are equal. I’ve ended the lives of tyrants to make things better… and sometimes it’s worked… while other times it has plunged nations into civil war that have seen the rise of even more brutal regimes (this is not what happened in Bartimaeus. I did a decent but imperfect job of rebuilding an ethically sound Britain, stymied only by the fact that it was still populated by humans and spirits, neither of which is an ethically sound race.) Yet when the life in question is a sick child or a man being murdered for the contents of his wallet, should I not intervene? Some would say yes, of course I should. Others would ask, who am I to play god?

The answer, is, obviously… I am a god. A young one, perhaps, and certainly not omnipotent, but a god nonetheless. With but a flick of will, I can affect change across a world. I hold the power of life and death… but as I grow in power, I find myself faced with the God Dilemma. Do I act and remove mortal agency completely? Is it my divine right? I look upon the Babylon 5 setting and ponder. With little effort I could bring the full force of my might into this universe. I have no reason not to… but the question of Stewardship balks me.

I have no desire to remain in this world. Not for eternity. Not even for a few thousand years. If I act too overtly, I will be nothing more than the Vorlons or Shadows writ large, another force imparting my own will upon the younger races… and I do not desire that. The Vorlons and Shadows must learn their lesson, and so must the children.

So what is my role here? Do I come merely as a witness? Could I not do that from the comfort of my couch? And yet, there are things to do here. Things that will serve a purpose. Things that will, at the very least, amuse me. Yes, I finally decide. I will bear witness, though on my own terms. And mostly? I will have fun. It’s a good universe for that, all things considered.

I sat in the command chair of Yuzuha, who was telling me all about her wonderful vacation in the land of the endless FPS. She can be adorkably bloodthirsty when the mood hits her. I’d been spending time with many of those who’d gone off for the decade, seeing how they’d been, if they’d enjoyed it, if they were considering settling down.

The general consensus was no. The opportunity cost for abandoning the company was too high, both in personal empowerment and loss of familial cohesion. Even those who were not part of my personal periphery, such as the majority of the second generationers, would be losing out, as their parents were unlikely to come with them at the very least. Of course, they were also friends of my children, who had not yet entered that rebellious phase where they felt the need to prove themselves to me… and if they left the chain, then proving themselves to me would be quite difficult. Also, none of the second generation had home settings, so they would default to the Warehouse as their place of origin.

The Passengers were a different matter entirely. Anne, Sakura, Brigid, Raven, Bart, Beth, Toph, Kendra, Uriel, Gaius, Reggy, Butlerseid, and Meetra… each had their own reason for following me. Toph, Uriel, Gaius, Reggy, and Kendra were (for all intents and purposes) dead in their home realities. Toph, Uriel, and Gaius had been old and had said their farewells before following me, Reggy was a war-criminal wanted very dead, and Kendra had been murdered. Bart, Reggy, and Darkseid had all been more or less kidnapped from their home realities, realities which would not miss them and would, in fact, probably consider their return casus belli. They weren’t going home again. Anne, Sakura, Brigid, and Raven were all on vacation from their original lives, lives they (to some extent) planned to return to, but were in no hurry to do so.

Yuzuha, however, was not one of those. She and I were bonded. Our lifeforces wrapped around each others, and while she didn’t worship the ground I walked on like the other members of the fleet (or lust after my affections like a puppy), she and I were friends. We understood one another… even if she was warlike to an unhealthy extreme. She was practically buzzing with excitement at the idea of fighting a Vorlon Worldkiller or a fleet of Shadow Battlecrabs. And that’s why we’d transported a slab of Chamberstone into the Fleet Maneuvering Zone, the largest and emptiest of my subspace pockets.

The space was huge. Big enough to fit Sakura (who was almost the size of Luna), Viggo (the death star 2), Joy (a little bigger than Earth), and Me (37% of Jupiter) all at our largest with plenty of elbow-room, and by elbow-room I mean without any of us orbiting each other. It was an experiment in just how big an empty bubble I could make. Yuzuha in battleship mode didn’t even make a noticeable dent in all that titanic vastness. It was also as close to a pure vacuum as it could be.

As too (or very nearly) was Yuzuha’s tale of the time spent in the realm of ‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’… which, goes to show that even a 14,000 year old being still has stuff to learn… as I was unaware that there were different story arcs within Call of Duty… or indeed, story arcs at all. I’d been under the apprehension that the series was set in… I dunno… some war that the US had fought in, maybe WW2 or Viet Nam… and never given it any thought at all. But no, apparently the majority of my fleet had spent the last decade in the 2050s, fighting a private military corporation called ATLAS.

I won’t go into the details… largely because they were as disastrous as you might expect with five bookers and six overpowered, under-intellectual warships in human form wandering about, hashing up the plot. In fact, I can only assume that world was still standing thanks to the grace of some kind of plotrails that kept my errant companions largely on the straight and narrow.

I will say I learned something interesting however. The Side-Jumps weren’t, technically, free. For up to 8 companions (or companion-like groupings) it cost 1500 CP. Of course, I wasn’t paying that CP, so it had to come from Drawbacks… and the drawbacks couldn’t be doubled up on (at least not in the 3 Side-Jumps they’d taken, though I’d assume some Jumps that had a smaller selection might allow it.). Thus, in order to get their 600 CP and free background, plus 100 from Single Shot (which, no, didn’t count towards the 1500), pretty much everyone would have to take a drawback for the duration of play. Also, the seniormost Companion would be counted as ‘Primary’ for all such things… i.e. taking the part of the MC (if there was one) and generally acting like Jumper Junior.

Which I guess goes a long way to explaining why Yuzuha was telling me all about the adventures she’d had as one ‘Jack Mitchell’ (Female) and all about how Odwet had turned out to be a mole that no one had seen coming, despite his family name (Irons) being the same as that of the badguy and Atlas CEO. Or why Black Jenny seemed to pleased to have a right arm again, or why Jaan Magna kept opening and closing doors and yelling ‘haaaaah!’ as if to prove she had mastered basic two year old skills (Apparently she’d had a drawback that stopped her from opening doors for some reason… who can’t open a door?)

Zane’s cadre of lunatics had filled through earlier to regale me with their adventures in mad science, degenerate socio-politics, and just on time delivery… something that made me all the gladder I hadn’t had to spend a decade anywhere near anything created by Matt Groening… though my friends seem to have enjoyed it for inexplicable reasons. I couldn’t even blame the personality overlays, because Zane and Meetra had gone with the Delivery Boy Identity, which was the drop-in option. Of the others, Kendra, Gaius, and Reggy were Spaceship Captains, Uriel & Bao were Insane Professors, and Kagetane was a Robot… why anyone would want to be a Bender unit (so called because, apparently, they bent girders for construction… I thought girders were supposed to be straight) escaped me, but it certainly wasn’t the most insane thing anyone had ever done in my presence. Kendra had complained that Zane had insisted on taking a 100 point drawback called ‘Hhhuuuwha?” that made him absent-minded and gave him a loose grasp on reality despite the fact that that put the group at 1600 for no return at all. In fact, Kagetane had already taken a major hit for the group cause by taking the monster ‘Why Not Zoidberg?’ drawback which was apparently a bad thing to be… all I know of Zoidberg is that he’s a quasi-sapient lobsterman… and Kagetane was apparently him for a decade. Whatever. I wasn’t going to push for more information.

Too much information was, on the other-hand, provided by those who’d spent their decade in the MuppetsVerse. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like muppets and love Treasure Island… but the idea of spending a prolonged period of time in the Muppet Carribean sounds like being trapped in a very special level of hell. So being treated to a lite-opera performed by Toph, Caine, Bart, Buji, Simon, Lizzy, and the junior members of house Gaius in which they regaled me with the tales of their adventures in that very special level of… well… it was better than being trapped there, but let us just say that having emotional control does wonders to keep one from screaming obscenities at grown ass adults who decide to waste five hours of your life (no matter how long said life might be), singing about the adventures of A Treacherous Pirate (Toph), A Clueless Pirate (Caine), a Blind Naval Officer (Bart), two Clumsy Naval Officers (Invidius & Scipio), two Gluttonous Cabin Girls (Placida & Lucida), a Sweet Polly Oliver (Lizzy), a gold obsessed Pig-Barbarian (Simon), and a Pig-Barbarian named (I kid you not) Lurches-Around-Yelling-About-Candy-but-is-Diabetic-so-Don’t-Give-Him-Any-Rogers (Buji). I was on my best behaviour and didn’t attempt to vaporize, freeze, or sic Ziggy on anyone involved. I promise. I merely considered it and smirked a lot.

And considered what, exactly, might be available to purchase in the Babylon 5 Jump. Finally, my absentee friends departed, leaving me time to actually consult with the Chamberface about that subject, and to be, faintly, disappointed by the results. Babylon 5 is a rich and nuanced setting and I’d watched the entire series at least a dozen times over the years before I’d left Origin Earth… yes, even the dreaded ‘Grey 17 is Missing’ which is just garbage of the first water. It is a setting with a good dozen interesting alien races, from the deeply religious and warrior Narn, to the spiritual and deeply divided Minbari, to the clueless but tough Drazzi, to the carrion-eating anti-social Pak’mar’ra, to the insectile Gaim, to the Abbai, Hyach, Dilgar, Drakh, Llort, Markab, Brakiri, and Vree… and of course, the conniving and hedonistic Centauri, the manipulative Shadows and Vorlons, and Humanity itself.  The jump… had exactly one of those. Give you a guess.

Ding-ding-ding… that’s right, humanity. At least 15 different alien races… and we could be human. WHHHY? Not saying I wanted to be a Vorlon… not that I’d have said no… or maybe a Shadow? I don’t know! But seriously… even cutting out the big two… the fact that Narn, Centauri, and Minbari weren’t on the list was just… weird. The pricing was even weirder and the structure was just… odd… but I’ll get to that as it comes up.

“So… I have to be human for this?” I asked the Chamberface.

“Well, you have to begin as a human. What you chose to do from there is anyone’s business.”

“I can’t be a Vorlon.”

“You can’t be a Vorlon. No.”

“Nertz.”

“You also can’t be a human from a million years in the future.”

“Well… that’s no fun either. So… what can I be?”

“Your Origin Choices are ‘Drop-in’, which inserts you just as a your passenger shuttle docks with the station, giving you a passport to get through customs and a storage locker containing whatever you purchased as well as a receipt for a week at a nearby hotel. Comes free with the perks Iron Will, Stone Cold, and Asceticism.” The Chamber supplied.

“Wait… the Drop-in comes free with three perks?” Yuzuha asked, floating a few klicks closed to the Chamberface.

“Indeed. More freebies than any of the Origins that cost stuff, but no discounts.” Chamber confirmed. “And the total cost of those three is 800 CP. Shall I continue?” See what I mean about strange? I grunted and the Chamber resumed. “The other origins all cost 100 CP and include Earthborn, Martian, Colonist, Spacer, Lurker, and Earthforce Kid. Earthborn get Iron Will free, a discount on joining Nightwatch, and an in-universe rep for surviving the Earth-Minbari war. And yes, before you erupt in paroxisms of outrage, you do have to pay to join Nightwatch.” I frowned, but waved for the Chamber to continue, already crossing Earthborn off the list of possibilities.

“Martians gain their choice of Mechanic, Miner, Surveyor, or Salvager for Free and a discount on another of those two. Colonists get Stone Cold free and a discount on an Alien Artefact. Spacers get Asceticism free and their choice of discount on Mechanic, Pilot, or Hyperspace Awareness. Lurkers, which should clearly be a drawback origin, gain no freebies, but gain a discount on CQC, Asceticism, Stealth, Tough, Stone Cold, and Criminal Tendencies… and are the only ones who can buy the Thieves Guild perk.” At this point Yuzuha kindly floated one of her command consoles closer so I could bang my head against it rather than interrupting the Chamber’s flow. “And Earthforce Kids start having just finished basic training before being assigned to B5. They gain the Marksmanship perk free, gain a PPG and a suit of Earthforce Armor free, and gain a discount on ‘A Conspiracy of Light’.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it with a sigh as Yuzuha interrupted to ask what a PPG was and Chamber explained it was the Earthforce standard side arm, a phased plasma gun. Once that exchange was done, I finally spoke. “Okay. Fine, clearly arguing with this half-baked, no perkline having mess is going to be a lost cause… but please, tell me, how mundane are the items for sale?”

“I shall give you an example in the form of the PPG… it is completely normal for this setting and comes with nine free seven-shot power caps. You can buy an extra power cap for 5 CP each, or 10 CP for Armor Piercing, or so called Slammer Caps, or Anti-Personnel Jammer Caps. If you buy extra caps, you gain a cap recharging station free. However, you can buy a Minbari Gravitation ring for 400, an AI named Sparky for 400, an Apocalypse Box which sounds like it should be something you should be getting points back for, and either a Soul Globe or the Centauri Eye… none of which seem particularly useful or worth the points.” the Chamber opined.

I groaned. “Yet another waste of effort. So, what’s the drawback limit?”

“It does not say there is one in the Drawbacks section, though there is not a particularly vast selection. You can be Agoraphobic to the extent of shakes and distraction for 100, Claustrophobic to the psychotic episode in an elevator level for 300, Attractive to the less human inhabitants of this world for 200, An Earthforce Person of Interest for 300 which means they’ll send money and personnel trying to get you into a testing lab, a Herald of Order for 400 which means the Shadows will try to kill you with assassins until they lose their tempers and send four battle-crabs to destroy you and the entire station, an Exarch of Disorder for 400 which is the Vorlons screwing with you in less overt ways, and The Third Place for 500 which sics the race that nearly ate the Vorlon Empire whole in a day on you.”

“Mmmm…. Well, good good. Some options. So, tell me, why would I pay to be a member of the Thieves Guild, Nightwatch, or… what was it? The conspiracy of Light?”

“Good way of putting it. They are mutually exclusive. The Thieves Guild membership nets you a Hyperion Class Heavy Cruiser.”

“Hyperions are the blue ones without gravity sections? Good lord… what a waste of points. I can pirate about with one of Earthforce’s least powerful battleships. Weeeee… Tell me the other two are… wait, Nightwatch gets a Battlecrab and Conspiracy gets a Whitestar, don’t they?”

“That would be the case, yes.” The Chamber agreed.

“Great… is that all? I mean, is there actually any perk value to Conspiracy of Light?”

“It… maybe? The text could be read in that way. It says ‘You do what you can to help smooth out problems and settle arguments and slowly it gets you noticed. You put in the effort and people will always be happy to see you turn up. You’ll always have backup and when people have something to space, chances are it’ll be sent your way. Today maybe you can find a hungry family a meal, one day maybe someone will need two hundred tons of medical supplies and it’ll take you maybe fifteen minutes to arrange that.”

“Uh…. right… Sure. How much is that trainwreck?”

“500. You actually want it?”

“You have no idea how cool I thought the Whitestars were when I was younger. Plus, they can make jump-points and have Vorlon tech and I’m going to retroengineer the shit out of Vorlon and Shadow tech. So, yeah. I’ll go Drop-In. Let’s be mysterious. Not like I can be anything cool.”

“You could be a telepath,” The Chamber suggested.

“I am a telepath. I’m a telepath so powerful I’d be able to swat Psi-Corp. Also a Telekinetic… wait… are you saying I can buy Telepath Rank 13?”

“Well. you could buy Telepath for 600 and Telekinetic for 200 more. You may or may not turn into a transcendent being of pure thought though… oh, and Psi-Corp will be hunting you and if they catch you, your journey will be over.”

“Heh. Unless it comes with a mental shutdown key that actually works, they’d need the Vorlon Empire to capture me. Sure, why the hell not. 800 CP. Whatever. Bring on the hyper-evolution.” I leaned back and patted Yuzuha’s command throne and sighed “I don’t suppose this train-wreck has a companion import at all?”

“Negative. Will you be invoking the Global Rule?”

“Yeah… that’ll take 1700 CP total and I’ve got nothing that the Floating Discount can apply to, so I need 700 CP worth of Drawbacks. Give me Person of Interest and Herald of Order. That’s 700 and I’m good… oh, what do the Drop-in Freebies actually do?”

“Iron Will is a willpower boost that makes an otherwise normal human have willpower strong enough that only the most powerful telepaths could read their thoughts and only after hours of utterly exhausting effort. Stone Cold keeps anything from shocking or surprising you. And Asceticism allows you to survive on far less food and sleep than the average person without harm.”

“Well… they’re free… Now, I guess I need a companion list. Yuzuha, you want to come along? If you do, I’ll let you decide if you want to absorb the Whitestar once we leave this place, if that’s okay, Chamber?”

“That is acceptable to me… and from the dancing of the furry green avatar, I’d assume your flagship is imagining rubbing it in both Jenny and Paradise’s faces.” I looked over and saw caricatures of Black Jenny and Paradise Draken getting pie in the mush from a Yuzuha wearing a big white star on a black t-shirt. I rolled my eyes, but didn’t criticise my often pouty planet killer.

“Well, then… Yuzuha, AJ, Petra, Francine, Amelia, Carwyn, Mini, and Frankie. Let’s get my telepaths and fighter crew on deck and we’ll do this.”

“Awwww…” Yuzuha pouted. “I can’t buy that thing with the telepathy and telekinesis that makes you an energy being!”

“My dear, sweet, often silly Tree Ship… you’re an incredibly powerful warship who can shapeshift, create and control her own dimension, and occasion steal souls and destroy planets. You don’t need to be an energy being… among other things, you can become an entity of pure shadow if you want to.”

“Oh. Right. I’m cool. I suppose I should take that perk that makes it so I can’t get lost in Hyperspace… or anywhere else, huh?”

I quirked an eye at Chamberface, who nodded that that was, in fact, a perk on offer in this jump, then smiled and patted Yuzuha’s Avatar. “Yes. That sounds like a good plan, you do that.”

“Yay! I’m clever!” she proclaimed, then spent five hours spending 700 points, finally settling on the Space Origin… which was the only one which got the Hyperspace Awareness perk on a discount, picking up the Marksmanship perk (which really was impressive, as in 300 CP for a perk that allowed one to shoot one’s wing of choice off a ‘space-wasp’ with one’s eyes closed impressive) and the Miner perk which was… not impressive, but if you’re a sapient starship with planetbuster weapons, mining is really not much more than finding some asteroids or comets and opening fire at really low setting. She squandered her final 25 points getting caps, but really, there wasn’t much worth less 200… it was a very questionably priced Jumptree apparently.

In the time it took Yuzuha to finish her plotting and scheming and occasionally getting distracted and playing with dolls (she’s not the most mature planet busting space tree in existence), everyone else had, of course, finished their builds as well. Carwyn was also a Spacer, but one with local medical training. The Mon Squad were all Martians, with AJ specializing in Salvage Mechanics and Criminal Behaviour, Petra as Miner Mechanic with Toughness and Stealth, and Francine being an Iron Willed Surveyor who’d apparently lucked into finding a Minbari Grav-Ring somewhere. Amelia, Mini, and Frankie… the Cat Squad I guess, were all Earthforce Kids, but while Mini and Frankie were Iron Willed Pilots, Amelia had decided to go full Telepath which had, of course, eaten all her points effectively and would be raising some questions with PsiCorp no doubt.

And speaking of my own problems with PsiCorp, I considered my options, then did some editing to my basic loadout… which of course included exactly one item besides the clothes on my back… a Passport. The drop-in origin came with a new form, as always… but the passport didn’t, technically, have to match it. Nor did the origin text specify where the passenger shuttle I was on had come from. I looked over the details and smiled… then hit the confirmation lock.

INSERTION

“Princess Snowjaeger?” Zack Allen, Babylon 5 station security asked as he looked down at the screen of his passport chip reader.

“Yesss,” I half-hissed through three inch long canines. I’d missed this form. “Doctor Snowjaeger, actually, though I am a Princess as well. I will say I take greater pride in the professional title than the hereditary one, as I had a part in earning the former, but not so much the latter.”

“Huh?” the none-too-bright but very earnest human said.

“This,” I said, tapping his screen. “Is me. Please forgive my english. It is such a verbose language, much less emotional than my native tongue.”

“Oh… yeah… I get that… you’re some kind of catlady?”

“I am the duly appointed Magi Ambassador to Babylon 5. And yes, I apparently resemble a Earth predator known as a Snow Lynx to some degree, though only to the extent that perhaps a Narn might resemble a Komodo Dragon or a Centauri might resemble any number of different crested fowl. Are you going to allow me aboard or shall I return to my ship and await permission from someone more senior?”

“Oh. Right. Sorry… Umm… technically, I don’t think anyone was… you know… notified the Magi… aren’t they supposed to be, you know, mythical?”

“Obviously not, nei?” I asked, studying my tear-drop shaped claws with that kind of practiced nonchalance that triggers an atavistic fear of impending and impromptu visceral violence in those creatures who’d evolved in the veldts and forests of Africa.

Zach was not immune to that effect and hurried pressed his comm unit and whispered that he needed someone from the command staff to respond immediately… he even added please.

Of course, this meant that the first major player to arrive was none other than Londo Mollari, the Centauri Ambassador and in no way part of the Babylon 5 command staff or Earth Alliance diplomatic staff. “So, it’s true!” he crowed, wobbling a little as he was more than a little inebriated, having no doubt sauntered up from Casino. “One of the legendary Magi has decided to grace our efforts! Surely we shall have Peace in Our Time!” he half-bellowed as he waved his wine glass vaguely in my direction.

“No, Ambassador. We will not. Destruction, Betrayal, and Tragedy ride three-abreast on swift-winged steeds,” I purred, nodding to where the inimitable Lieutenant Command Susan Ivanova was rapidly approaching, frowning at the presence of the currently laughable Centauri Ambassador.

“Ambassador Snowjaeger?” the station XO asked as she snapped to attention in front of me.

“Yes… that is how my name is pronounced in your human tongue,” I purred, then grinned broadly. “I have been informed that the pronunciation in my native language has been known to cause terror in the hindbrains of prey species.”

“Oh? Interesting. I look forward to hearing it some time,” she said with a quirked eyebrow and I almost (almost) squealed with fan-girl joy. Instead, I gave a ripping snarl that caused several nearby individuals to react as if physically threatened, each according to their species’ native reflex. I had calculated the harmonics and subharmonics to trigger primal fight or flight reactions in humans and, in fact, had created an entire language that this was one small example, and it did, in fact, mean One who Hunts in Snow in that language, an important fact when dealing with translation software and people like Ivanova who had eidetic memories. It was fascinating to see who responded and how. Zach, bless his heart, tried to shield a small Abbai woman who’d staggered back into a stanchion at my growl. Ivanova, the Russian Iron Woman, had barely twitched, but most of the other station security goons had reached for side arms. “Well then…  Snowjaeger it is, tho the use of German is painful to a good Russian like me.”

I laughed dryly. “My apologies. Jaeger was deemed to be the most… diplomatic and stylistic term by the linguistic board. Okhotnik doesn’t have the same… panache,” I responded in flawless Saint Petersburgian Russian, earning a startled but appreciative nod from the XO.

“Well, on behalf of Earth Alliance and Commander Sinclair, welcome to Babylon 5. Do you wish to formally present your diplomatic credentials to the Advisory Council and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds at this time?” She said formally, switching back to English for the benefit of those around her.

I had been very carefully testing her sensitivity to mental intrusion and, as far as I could tell, as long as I kept it to the local version of my ability, which was currently only a P6 (though it would grow regardless of having bought the in universe upgrade thanks to Three Pounds of Dreams), she’d be able to sense it to some extent. My out of universe talents were different enough that she wouldn’t unless I was very hamfisted. “No. I will wait on their pleasure. I am in no great hurry. I have booked a room at the Grand Zocalo Hotel until such time as I am formally recognized and can move into the Ambassadorial sector. Price should be very little…” I swished my tail away from the grasping paw of a 7 year old human boy without even looking, and continued “problem. But I would like to meet privately with all the various Ambassadors at their earliest convenience… especially the Vorlon. I also would like to meet with the Commander at his leisure, as well as your Chief of Medicine… ah… no, that can wait, I remember that your medical chief has not been replaced yet.”

Ivanova blinked, “We were under the impression that Doctor Kyle would be returning following his debrief on Earth following the… incident. Do you know something about this matter?”

“Indeed. It is our understanding that he has asked one Doctor Stephen Franklin to be his replacement. He will be here in early March. Oh, it is good you are here. This young Centauri gentleman coming through customs now is Vir Cotto. He is to be Ambassador Mollari’s diplomatic attache.” I bowed slightly and stepped aside, allowing the plot to sweep in and reassert its dominance.

A couple days later, after the resolution of the Ragesh III incident, I formally introduced myself to the Council and the League, neatly sidestepping the question of where, exactly, the Magi Worlds were by claiming that my people were largely nomadic, but that our migration would be moving through this section of the Universe within the next few years. Meanwhile, as I spoke aloud of how pleased I was to join such august an assembly, I sent out a tendril of thought to the stalwart and silent form of Ambassador Kosh.

~Dying races?~ I snarked, parroting the words he’d spoken to the Station Commander a few days earlier about the Centauri and the Narn. ~Let them pass? Really? Are you so jaded that you would see the passing of any race into the darkness as anything but a tragedy? Has millenia of stewardship over the younger races been lost on you, you cowards?~

Thoughts can carry weights of emotion that mere words have no chance of matching, and the ancient Vorlon’s surprise and anger and fear at the casual contact and revelation of sensitive knowledge and chastisement. It had been a very, very long time since anyone had dared mouth off to the Vorlon Naranek (trans. One Who Speaks). ~You speak of what you cannot know,~ he responded. ~Such things are inevitable. Regretting the inevitable is as meaningless as mourning the sunset.~

~If you have cannot mourn the sunset, it is you who has become lost. The inevitability of loss is no reason to ignore the pain of it, any more than the inevitability of sunrise is any reason to ignore the beauty of it. Each thing is, in its time, special, unique, and worthy of attention. The humans have a poet who said, ‘Do not go Gentle into that Goodnight. Rage. Rage against the dying of the Light’. To forfeit your stewardship over a race merely because you believe it doomed is to admit that you have failed in your task. And since you claimed that task for yourself, such failure is tantamount to admission that you were unworthy of the position.~

His suit’s one eye swivelled to watch me as I continued my hissing sibilant speech to the League, and he asked, ~Do you intend to interfere in what is to come?~

Without looking back, I favored the Vorlon with a wintery mental smirk. ~Of course. Interfering is what I do best. Oh. Tell your people that the Magi will not stand for genocide. If you or the others bring out your planet killers, we will bring out ours… and we will not spare your worlds.~

~You dare claim such authority?!~ There was real anger there.

~We do. Pick any world in any system… uninhabited if you please.~

~And what will you do?~

~Choose, Ambassador.~

He chose. I reached back in time with a flick of will and decided that Viggo had been dispatched to that system three days ago, a world on the far edge of Vorlon Space, in a system devoid of life, a solitary brown dwarf orbiting a nearly dead neutron star. The planet exploded within ten seconds of the Ambassador’s choice. ~I invite you to send your scouts to that system, then come to find me. We shall speak again then.~ And I closed my mind to the Vorlon as I finished my speech to the younger races.

*****

“You wanted to speak to me, Ambassador?” the station’s commercial telepath, Talia Winters asked.

“No. I merely desired to think at you, Human Telepath,” I responded, gesturing for her to join me at my table in the Zocalo.

“Are your people…” she frowned, taking a seat and clutching her gloved hands together. “I’m sorry, I don’t know the diplomatic way to ask this, but… do your people have telepaths? I know the Narn used to and the Centauri and Minbari both have them, but we don’t know very much of the Magi… the legends are so vague.”

“Yes. We are all able to communicate mind to mind, that much is true. Some of us have more potent talents.” I slowly rotated my glass, liquid and all, through all three axis without touching it physically.

“Telekinesis?”

“And more. Yes. Feel free to mention this to your controllers in the Human Corp of Mind Hunters. They will learn about it sooner or later.”

“I… I don’t report to PsiCorp, but if they ask… why did you wish-” she jumped as I snarled at that word. “Why did you… want?” I nodded and she continued, “to… think at me?”

“Because you are special, Talia of the Winter. Winter is very important to my people and so are names.” I did not explain to her that she’d been conditioned with a sleeper personality named Control, one designed to effectively kill and replace the Talia personality upon the administration of a telepathic command, a sleeper personality that was constantly listening, watching, waiting to betray… whoever. Sorry… spoiler warning, I guess. I also didn’t explain to her that, while we sat there, I was mapping her entire psyche, both her current personality imprint and the one of the sleeper.

At the moment, Talia was nothing more than a P5, bog standard for a commercial telepath, her mind was an open book to my generations of psychic mastery and the fact that I’d already scanned both my own current human form and Amelia’s, learning the ins and outs of the local psychic template. While it would take me days to do so, I had every intention of underwriting Control with a reversion engram, subborning its erasure of the Talia persona and replacing it with merely a swap of which was sleeper and which active… and a process which, when triggered again, would grant the Talia personality access to all the knowledge and memories of the Control personality… while erasing the Control’s preprogrammed behaviours and ideology. It would be a very subtle piece of psychic surgery, and one I’d have to monitor to make certain neither Talia’s friend Ironheart (the only known P20 plus) nor Alfred Bester, the PsiCop sensed them or altered them with their various mental tampering.

“That is not an answer,” she said.

“No. It is not. We Magi are curious creatures like that. We seldom answer questions with actual answers. We find answers to be so… limited.”

She laughed. “Well, that’s… unique. So… we just sit here and think at each other?”

“Yes. Do not worry. I shall be…” I licked my fangs. “Gentle.” That, of course, provoked the atavistic fear response I’d hoped for, which allowed me to invade the most basal part of her Medulla Oblongata, slipping the lynchpin of my reprogramming into her reptilian hindbrain, a place it would be unlikely to be detected by any but the most perceptive scanners.

*****

The first Shadow Assassin came for me within the month, towards the middle of March, 2258. They failed to appreciate how hard I am to kill and did not live to report back to their controllers.

Alfred Best (one of the series most significant antagonists) and Jason Ironheart (the soon to be godlike energy-being) arrived on the station at the end of April and I took a few minutes out of my busy day hiring Lurkers for off-station employment (most of Babylon 5’s lurkers were simply too poor to get back to one of their people’s other colonies and I felt like using money to fix a problem for once) to speak with Jason about higher order psychic abilities. I helped ease him through some of the harder transitions, but mostly I wanted to be near him when Bester arrived. I had plans for the PsiCop.

“Well, you handled that… poorly,” I commented as Bester was preparing to leave the station. The P12 had no idea I’d been lurking about, scanning him far deeper than he’d imagine was possible. He jumped in surprise as he realized someone he could not sense was standing behind him in the station’s exodus lounge.

“Who are you?” He asked, eyes widening as he realized I was a human (I wasn’t in my Magi Princess form at the moment) and that he was getting not so much as a whisper of thought from me.

“That is a good question. The Vorlons are very fond of it. Not my favorite question, but a good one. My name is Simone Justice, and like Jason, I am both a telekinetic and telepath… but more stable than him… and stronger. I know what you’re planning… I know what you want. And I can help you… for a price.”

“I don’t negotiate with Blips. I hunt them down,” He tried to pull his PPG on me, but frowned as he realized he couldn’t move his hand.

“Yes. I am aware of your reputation. Also of your numerous crimes against both humans and human telepaths. I could vaporize you here and now, just like Jason did to your colleague, but I believe we can be of assistance to each other. I will help you become head of PsiCorp, and you will make your assets available to me,” I said, peering straight into his eyes, not allowing him to blink.

“I… would… never…” He gasped, wanted to flinch from the incredible psychic pain of resisting my mental problem.

“Oh. You will. And you won’t even know you’re doing it…” I whispered, then faded from his perception basket as he blinked and looked around, unable to remember what he’d been doing or who he’d been talking to. I hadn’t changed him very much… just a little bit of deep cognitive programming, not enough to change his overall behaviour, but enough to ensure that he’d be more useful and less of a war criminal following Earth’s Civil War. I was aiming for an outcome where the PsiCorp did not ally itself with the usurper Clark and his Tyranny. If I did this right, there would be no Psi-War to rock the Earth Alliance and hopefully I could head off the second Earth Civil War scheduled for 500 years down the line. The deaths of 12 billion people could still, hopefully, be averted.

****

In May, the Dilgar general Jha’dur, a war criminal and last of her people, arrived on Babylon 5 to peddle an anti-aging drug that carried with it the stupidest and most easily circumvented cost for clinical immortality in existence, or so I thought from watching the show all those years ago. Her Anti-Agapic as she called it required a key component that couldn’t be synthesized and had to be fatally harvested from other living beings… which she predicted would see the rest of the universe fall upon each other like wolves… never mind that she (in the show) never says ‘Other sophonts’… just other living beings. So, you know… cows. Even if it had required other sophonts… clones who could be designed never to develop higher brain function. See, this is the kind of stupid some writers get into when they’re not sciencing hard enough.

Also? Fuck off with ‘can’t be synthesized’. Any chemical can be synthesized. That’s how bodies do it. In the end, the Vorlons used their high handed authority to tell other races ‘you’re not ready for immortality.’ after blowing up Jha’dur.  Or at least that’s how it had gone.

Instead, I’d strode into medbay as Jha’dur was gloating to Dr. Franklin about all the horror that would be her monument, and said, “Actually? No. I stole a look at your substance… it’s clever. But the key ingredient can be easily replicated in a bioreactor.” Watching her face fall as she believed every true word I was speaking… ah… that’s true schadenfreude. “Oh, and the Vorlons are going to kill you when you leave the station.” And then I left. I’d considered eating her soul, but letting her stew would just be way more fun.

When Kosh later told the Council ‘You are not ready for immortality’, I just laughed.

“So says one of two members of this august body with it. Tell me, Ambassador, were your people ready for it? Can any people ever really be ready for the changes that immortality will bring?” I asked, running my claws over his encounter suit and making everyone else in the chamber decidedly uneasy. They’d been uneasy since the Narn had demanded proof that the Magi deserved anything more than the right to sit and listen. I’d called Odwet out of hiding and had the 2 kilometer long (babylon 5 is only 8 kilometers long) living metal space-dragon demonstrate the scale of his weaponry on some nearby asteroids… before disappearing without anyone able to figure out how the hell he’d gotten into or out of the system. The idea of the Vorlons with their unknown techlevel and the Magi with our unknown techlevel feuding was not something anyone in the council was looking forward to.

Kosh merely fixed me with his suit’s oculus.

“Didn’t think so,” I said. “But in an act of good faith, the Magi are feeling generous and present you all with an anti-gerone genetic therapy treatment which we are all certain your various techbases should be able to adapt to your particular biologies and which should grant you lifespans of up to three times your native ones, though of course, application in early adulthood will have greater efficacy than in later life.” I could feel the irritation boiling off the Vorlon as I spoke… they really hate chaos and disobedience to their plans. “And as a special bonus, a quasi-universal anti-viral. You’ll want to be careful with this one, as it does make retroviral treatments for congenital issues harder, but it should cut down on your disease rates. All the documentation will be made available, free of charge.” and with that, I flicked Kosh on the helmet and departed the chamber, leaving them abuzz.

*****

“Hello Ambassador,” said the man in the black suit.

“Hello, Mr. Morden,” I said as he entered my office. “What do you want?” I asked, smirking through my fangs.”

“That is exactly what I was going to ask you,” He said, smiling. His invisible Shadow Minders spread out to either side of him as the door to the office slid shut. They were going to strike if the meeting did not go the way they were planning.

“Yes. I know it is. But I wasn’t talking to you, puppet. You just stand there,” I said, nodding slightly. Within a moment, Petra had immobilized the Shadow on the left, while Francine had immobilized the one of the right. Petra’s technique involved a hammer… Francine’s involved a crushing ball of air… I honestly had no idea which of the Shadows was currently in more pain. “Now, Morden. Go back to your people and tell them that I’m not playing their game. I’m not on your side. I’m not on the Vorlon’s side. I’m on the side of me. I like the younger races more than either of you, and while I like the Vorlons a little more than I like you, that’s mostly because of who their allies are. You’re both a bunch of genocidal assholes who’ve forgotten how to play nice… so I’m here to remind you. I hear you’ve brought your planet killing clouds out of storage and I will turn Za’hadum it into floating dust. If you’re very lucky, I’ll give Lorien a couple minutes to get out. You tell your handlers that. And tell them my question, “What gives you the right?” When they can answer that, you come back and see me.”

I nodded, and the two dead Shadows crumpled to the floor, leaving only their agent behind as I leaned over my desk, fangs bared, claws crumpling the plasma-steel. “Run along now, puppet.”

He fled.  The second shadow assassination came a day later. They tried poison this time. Yawn. Almost made me miss seeing AJ beat up the Shorim and earn the Magi the right to fight in the Mutai. It’s a small thing… but he didn’t use any powers to do it. I’m so proud of him. He’s feisty.

Oh, and though it’s a little thing, I did have to stop by medlab and save a little boy named Shon from the idiocy of both his parent’s religious nonsense and Dr. Franklin’s inherent lack of respect for anything outside of his own narrow perview. Long Story Short, Shon has a blockage in his airsac (like a lung but different enough to have a different name) and it’s killing him. The parents religion forbids cutting into the chest cavity, believing that the soul will escape. This is, of course, stupid… but Franklin refuses to understand how much they value their beliefs and operates anyway (even after the parents demand intercession from all the various ambassadors to stop him). The parents then euthanize their son. It’s an incredibly divisive episode and one that JMS, the show’s creator is very fond of because he says it makes good sci-fi and it’s not the kind of thing you see on most sci-fi shows. He’s right. It’s a good concept and done fairly well and has no easy answers.

He also compares it to ‘The Cold Equations’… which is one of my absolutely least favorite sci-fi stories for any number of reasons. The biggest ones are that if the ship was that precisely balanced, the mission would be doomed anyway because getting it up to speed would have taken more fuel and the amount of fuel needed to decelerate wouldn’t exist. There’s a reason why real missions like this have leyways… especially if it’s a lifesaving mission. You put a lot of failsafes into place when people might die. Second… there should not have been a place for a person to hide inside that transport. There didn’t need to be one except that the story demands it. Third, apparently no one thinks to check the weight balance or security for this mission.

Sure, sure. That’s not the point. The point is that space is unforgiving and people die… but if you have to torture logic to make your point, you fail as a writer. And Shon’s story is about a failure as a writer. It’s a failure because the writer doesn’t know medicine. Even in the mid 1990s when the show was airing, endoscopic treatments weren’t uncommon. Angioplasties were known things and no blockage to a breathing tube should require chest surgery. You stick a tube down the primary air-access (i.e. throat), and you scrape out the blockage. If it’s on the other side of a filter membrane, maybe you have to cut through the filter… but if it’s a filter that normally allows the flow of air through it, you should be able to cut part of the filter then suture it back together once you’ve got the blockage clear. This wasn’t a tumor removal. This wasn’t something that needed open chest surgery. At most, it should have taken a few stitches. And that killed it for me.  If the kid had had alien chest cancer that had to have surgery… whatever… but this was bad medicine.

Of course, I am fucking amazing. I have loads of tech and magic and like making stupid people feel stupid. I also like saving the day. So I did. I explained to the parents that there was a local race called the Soul Hunters, who possessed the ability to capture souls as they left the body. I explained that, like a Soul Hunter, I had similar technology (not the least because I’d gotten a look at some Soul Hunter tech and re-engineered it). I further explained that I was giving their entire race access to an offshoot of this technology that kept the soul within the body so they could safely perform such surgery in the future and they should present it to their priests and doctors for review… I also explained that Dr. Franklin was an idiot and had clearly never heard of targeted medical nanites and that no such surgery was needed. I used a micro camera to show both the doctor and the parents the process of clearing out the blockage without any kind of significant surgery.

I could have done it with magic. I could have done it with a transporter. I could have done it a lot of ways. But I felt that if anyone should be arrogant, it should damned well be me. Also, Dr. Franklin is an asshole a lot of the time. He’s one of those doctors who thinks he knows better than anyone else what’s best for that person. Even I’m not that big a bitch. I don’t tell people ‘No! You can’t have a single slice of cake on your birthday!’. I find a way to minimize the damage while allowing people to live their lives. Too many doctors think longevity is the only factor of a good life, and Franklin… he’s one of them. At least at this point in his career.