Ultra Syndrome

Confidential

 

Brief:  Survivors of the Ultrahuman Process manifest a mental condition which causes them to behave in ways that will allow them to use their gifts.  This condition varies in strength with the strength of their gifts.

 

It has long been an enigma that granting Ultrahuman powers to a segment of the populace had the tragic results that it did.  There were many other arrangements that the Ultrahumans could have come to, including many which seemed more beneficial not just to the unProcessed populace but to themselves as well.  One can imagine a two tier citizenry participating in some manner of weighted election.  One can imagine a world very like the old, a patchwork of nation states with Ultrahumans contributing to their respective espionage and defense agencies.  There were many possibilities?  Why did they go straight to lawlessness?

Previously, the traditional answer to this question was a cynical bemoaning of the human condition.  The story of the Ring of Gygax, in brief.  People were always beasts, and the guns kept them in line.

After that was shown to be unsatisfactory the explanation shifted to the self selecting nature of the Processed.  The individuals in question had accepted a one in thirty shot at life in order to acquire these powers.  Surely they would wish to put them to use?

Still, questions lingered.  Under the auspices of the Ultrahuman Research Center we have examined a staggering volume of Ultras, both domestic and foreign.  The study ran for a period of 5 years, and we have great confidence in our finding.

The conclusive result of our investigations is that Ultrahumans will invariable be tempted to rationalize their way to a lifestyle which allows them regular use of their ability.  This tendency holds true almost regardless of how manifestly impractical the ability is in the situation they start in.

An Ultrahuman who is strong will find her way to an occupation where she must lift, crush, fight or break things.  An Ultrahuman who is fast will take up hobbies demanding quick reflexes.  An Ultrahuman who is tough will become abrasive and confrontational.  An Ultrahuman who can set things on fire…the point is clear.

Women who had miniscule gifts were generally able to control these urges.  Their new impulses might show up in their hobbies, in the occasional excursion, but by and large they remained in control of themselves.  Ultrahumans who were strong, however, would by flimsy rationalization find themselves employing their new abilities on a day to day basis.

This information is recorded only in this message.  We are well aware of the sensitive nature of this report, and will communicate it to no one else.  We pray that it will aid our nation in its struggles against the Ultra dominated kingdoms.

Prevailer 1:2

Time to call on my new Fist, get them over here for the talk.  I warped in place 3 times, big explosion, then small, then biggest.  I ended up standing in a bit of a crater, despite sending most of the force upwards.

I’d made up this signal a long time ago.  3 blasts, loud-soft-louder.  It meant that the fight was over, and everyone on my team should come to me.  My Fists didn’t like it much, the Union had counterfeited it with bombs from time to time, but it was convenient for me.

Indulger was already here, pulling himself back together after Thor’s last attacks had splattered him.  I ignored him for the moment.

Haunter and Preventer were out of their hole, hiding behind a building.  When they heard the summons they started towards me, then stopped.  Haunter made some of her ghosts and sent them off at a run back towards the tunnel that they’d just crawled out of.

They were arguing about it even as the ghosts ran off.  Preventer wanted to come to me immediately, Haunter thought that they should get Fisher and Condemner first.  The two really didn’t get along very well, with Preventer all but threatening her teammate.  Eventually Preventer accepted Haunter’s decision and they stayed in hiding.

Condemner was going to be late, anyway.  He’d remade his human form a good ways away, and he didn’t show any sign of recognizing the signal.  Haunter’s guys would have to fetch him.  Whatever.

I took a moment for myself.

Redo was still on fire in a few places and it had grown uncomfortably warm.  Even still, there was a certain peace about the scene.  I was in a place with very little smoke, there wasn’t any real noise to upset me.  My sense only had to keep track of my Fist and some random daggers that had avoided all of the fighting.

I took the occasional jaunt out into the middle of nowhere for this.  Just got far enough away from everyone that my sense didn’t have to track them all the time.  Alone, isolated, I was something close to safe.  The space after a battle was kind of similar.

I cracked my knuckles, focusing my sense on my own form, feeling how each finger shifted.  I burped, thumping my chest a bit, feeling how the tubes in my throat made that sound.  It never ceased to be fascinating.

This whole complicated thing that I was, this whole meat outfit.  I made a new one every time I warped anywhere.  I couldn’t have drawn the smallest bit of it without referring to my sense.  Couldn’t tell you offhand how toes bend or smell works.  My gift just did it for me, forming me back together just like I had been when I got the power.  It was weird.

Indulger was back together enough to stumble to his feet.  He was gasping and panting as he looked at me.   He didn’t need to, his lungs were fine, but this was probably his first time getting so messed up.  I gave him a fond smile, watched him flinch.

Whatever had happened to him before I showed up had shredded his clothes, and I wasn’t complaining.  Thor wasn’t the only present that Redo had for me.

He dropped down into the Posture all of a sudden, looking kind of guilty and panicked.  I gestured for him to get back up, but he wasn’t looking in a direction where he could see my hands.

“Get up,” I told him.

He got back to his feet, a little shaky.

Before I could say anything else to him the three ladies in the team came limping out of the wreckage.

Haunter, strangely, looked the worst of the lot.  She hadn’t been hurt, that I could tell.  In fact, she couldn’t be hurt until all her ghosts were gone, if I was remembering her ability right.  Still, she looked a lot like a guy who I’d given the choice of killing his wife or killing himself.  Same sunken stare.

Haunter’s age might have been part of it.  She was so old.  I mean, obviously I was older, but I had a new body every few minutes.  Haunter’s body was like a hundred or so.  I was suddenly struck by curiosity.

I focused in on her internals like I sometimes did my own, looking for tears, weaknesses, cancers and other problems.  None.  None in an old hag.  That was weird.  Her gift must shield her somehow.

Maybe when she gets sick enough a shade dies and she’s fixed?  That would make sense.

Anyway, she didn’t have anything actually wrong with her.  The long face, the glazed stare, they were all the result of something upstairs.  She was of those people who spend a lot of time beating themselves up in their mind.

Preventer, unsurprisingly, looked fine.  Well, she looked angry and dusty, but fine.

Her clothes weren’t even stained.  Somehow they’d decided to go into a tough fight and kept the invincible woman in the back.

I’m not really a great planner.  My gift basically means that I don’t need to.  Even I knew that that was a screw up though.  Preventer hadn’t been in the fight, which meant that whatever their plan was, it had been a bust.

She was also really angry.  Her gift didn’t seem to classify the mild parts of anger as harm, so she could grind her teeth, sweat a bit and narrow her eyes.  She wasn’t exactly muttering, but my gift let me know that she was mouthing the word ‘bitch’ an awful lot.  Normally I’d figure that someone doing that was talking about me, but she was mostly glaring at Haunter.

Apparently their fight just now wasn’t a one time thing.  That was perfect.

Fisher looked almost as bad as Haunter did.  Not on the surface.  Fisher was a shapeshifter of some kind, so her surface form was never going to look anything other than how she wanted to present it.  But I could sense the trembling, the wildly beating heart.

To any random observer who was watching us, say someone sitting over Snitcher’s shoulder, Fisher would look like a calm and beautiful woman dutifully following her troop over to me.  To me she seemed like a woman on the edge of an explosion.  It was very similar to how Thor’s vitals had been when I was killing his cronies.  She was on edge.

They dropped, one after another, into the Posture.  It reminded me of old police lineups, everyone with their hands up to be cuffed.  I’d taught those fuckers, at last.

I let them stay there for a bit, just kneeling and worrying while Haunter’s ghosts brought Condemner closer.  He was asking them what was going on, and they gave him the gist.  Told him to get his ass over here before I killed them.

It was interesting that Haunter thought I might be going to kill them for being slow to get their unit together.  That would be really wasteful, and I’d been in these things a bunch.  I knew how hard it was to get everyone on the same page when you didn’t have any communication powers.

“Indulger,” I said.

He looked over at me.  The ladies didn’t look up, stayed in perfect Posture.

“Can you find Condemner?  Like with your rock powers?”

I knew he could, of course.  But asking was a way to remind him that he could without looking like I already knew it.  He gave a nod.  It looked kind of frightened, which was understandable, but a bit disappointing.

Shortly after, Condemner’s pace picked up as the ground under him began doing a moving sidewalk impression.  He was practically slung into the crater, and flopped down alongside the others.

I gave them all a once over.  Five Ultras, generally high power levels.  I’d sent them out to a city full of the enemy, and when I caught up, the city was on fire and most of the enemy were dead or fled.  On the surface, a useful team.

But there were a lot of little warning signs.  Preventer hated Haunter, which wasn’t bad in and of itself.  Lots of people in my Fists hated other members of the Fists.  But Preventer didn’t hate Pursuer, the giant dog man who had threatened to rape her.  She didn’t hate Subtracter, who’d asked me, in her hearing, for permission to kill her.  Preventer wasn’t the kind of person who hated people who acted against her.

No, she was the kind of person like my mom had been.  She hated people who weren’t useful to her.  So if she hated Haunter, it kind of meant that there was more serious friction there than the usual dick measuring.

Also, like, why was Indulger the leader?  He was eye candy, sure, and his power was probably the strongest of the group’s, but he was a dumbass.  It seemed like there had to be a story on why they put him in charge.

“So, how’d the fight go?” I asked.

None of the four in the Posture moved an inch.  Indulger looked back at them for support, then spoke up.

“Well, you killed them all.  Thanks, Boss!”

He had a kind of puppy dog earnestness to him, which made it hard to suspect him of trying to dodge my questions on purpose.

“I mean, before I showed up.  What went down?”

The words spilled from him then.  He tripped over himself in his eagerness to tell me what they’d done.

I could feel Haunter and Preventer tensing up as he spoke.  No doubt they’d intended to present their plans in some kind of better light.  Indulger obviously hadn’t been briefed on that.  He told me what they’d done in plain and simple terms.

He told me how they’d snuck in, instead of just attacking.  He told me how they’d skulked around, investigated to find where Thor and Krishna’s weaknesses were.  He told me some irrelevant stuff about how the local laborer population had lived, and I kind of hurried him through that part.  Finally he got to the main point, how Fisher had somehow turned Krishna and Thor’s troops against each other, resulting in the big fight that I caught the tail end of.

I laughed out loud.

Maybe if someone else had been telling it I’d have gotten mad.  I mean, as a usual rule I liked my Fists to be the strongest, to win by crushing the enemy.  If other people try to use strength versus weakness, my rule was strength against strength.  But this was precious, and he was very cute.

Just imagining those Pantheon fuckers, who thought that they were so sneaky, being duped by Indulger was hysterical.  By Indulger’s unit.  By a guy who probably couldn’t count past ten without taking his shoes off.

“Ease up ladies, out of the Posture,” I said then.

The rest of the Fist stood up, Haunter dragging Fisher and Condemner up when they wouldn’t have gotten up on their own.

“That was a pretty good move.  Turn them against each other.  You used Fisher’s mind powers for that, right?”

Indulger clearly didn’t know, but Preventer gave a nod that confirmed it.

“Don’t make a habit of this kind of thing,” I told them.  “I don’t like people getting the idea that if things worked out differently they might have won.”

Nods all down the line, but a tension along Haunter’s neck told me that she didn’t really agree.

“I’m the only one who gets to win.”

The trembling stilled.  Had it been her ghosts? More likely she was just old and stubborn, remembered how things had been done way back when.

“Anyway, I’m still kind of impressed.  You destroyed these guys without fighting.  That’s probably hard.  Good job.  You pass the obvious part of the test.”

A few of them smiled at the first part of what I’d said, before it sunk in.

“I was talking with Remover about you guys before I showed up.  She didn’t think you had what it takes to be a Fist.  She thought that you were weak, not like you have weak powers, but like you have weak minds.  I told her that I’d check.”

“We aren’t dumb!” said Indulger.

None of the rest backed him up.  Even out of the Posture they seemed to be trying to do as little as possible in front of me.  Bad side effect of the scare stories that I sometimes put out.  I wasn’t actually going to kill them in the middle of this conversation, probably.  It was a trade off.  Make them afraid and they didn’t volunteer anything.  Make them comfy and they forgot who was in charge.

“Way back in the day I used to call teams like you my Hands.”

This wasn’t actually true, but who was going to argue with me?  I was making a point.

“But I realized, eventually, that the only thing that I ever sent them to do was wreck stuff, kill folks.  So I started to use the term Fists.  I think it has worked out pretty well.”

Some of them seemed to be getting where I was going with this.  But Indulger and Fisher were still blank.  I continued.

“I had that kind of worry about you.  I thought that you might have confused yourselves about what I wanted from you.  That you might think you were my hands.”

I held up my hands as I said that last, clasping them in front of me to make the point.

“So I told Karen, Remover, that if I came by and found that you’d taken on the enemy Ultras, and left the humans alone, I’d admit that she had a point.  If Haunter had talked up cop rules or something like that, if you thought that your job was just to do what I told you, then I didn’t need you.”

Outright confusion from Indulger now.  I decided to be a little more blunt.

“I wasn’t sure that you’d figured out that on the end of every job I give you, in the little words that lawyers used to use, it says something like ‘and kill everybody’.”

Preventer was getting less nervous as I went on, realizing the obvious point I was making.  Haunter was getting more agitated.  She was probably not in love with this concept.  Well, whatever.  As long as she obeyed.

“And what do I find?  The city in flames.  Everybody dead.  You passed Remover’s test without even knowing about it!”

This was pretty much horseshit, actually.  I hadn’t talked to Remover in a few days.  I certainly didn’t take her orders as to who I let in the Fists.  There wasn’t really a secret test.  I just wanted to drive home the point that I had a certain job that I wanted them to do, and also a good way to make a person into something is to tell them that they already are.

“So you passed my test and Remover’s.   Congrats!”

No reaction.  Indulger was looking kind of sad, maybe he hadn’t realized that Condemner had burned everyone.  Haunter was staring straight ahead, Fisher was missing her other half, etc.

I tried again.

“Fourth Fist.  You did it.  I’m going to take you to Linker, and you are going to become immortal!”

That got a reaction.

Incident report

I’ll make this brief.  Spring says that her power is detecting Prevailer active in Laredo now.  Everything’s gone tits up.

My observations on her patterns suggest that we are likely to be safe.  When she attacks an area she rarely lets anyone escape, but it is comparatively rare for her to track down combatants who were already on the way out before she arrived.  Nonetheless, it is possible that this will be my last report.

Earlier I indicated that Thor had slipped his leash and struck out against me.  I’d like to amend that.

It is the most obvious explanation, to be sure.  But there are a lot of little things that augur against it.

  1. I had agents in Thor’s unit, and NONE of them reported anything like this in the works.  It is possible that they were neutralized, or double agents from the start, but it doesn’t seem likely.
  2. Thor’s first move was to attack his own organization, some kind of battle taking place at his most loyal lieutenant’s base.  There isn’t any kind of tactical advantage to be gained from doing that, and, indeed, the Ultras who died there are likely the reason that his initial sneak attack lost momentum and I was able to mobilize a fighting retreat.
  3. There were a variety of confusing reports in the days leading up to this evening’s incident.  An Ultrafight fan in my unit reported seeing Indulger in town.  Confused reports of a Valkrye’s presence reached me immediately before things kicked off.
  4. My gift didn’t give me any sense that Thor was a danger until things were already underway.  Further, it didn’t give me any sense that the unpowered populace of the city were under threat until the battle had already begun.  Taken togeher, I interpret this to mean Union action.

These factors gave me doubt, but I still considered it most likely, all things considered, that Thor was the ultimate figure behind the conflict.  However, Prevailer’s appearance tears it.  There is very little likelihood that Prevailer would turn up on the same day that Thor attempted to improve his position by attacking me.

There was another party behind the events of the previous evening.  Given Prevailer’s involvement, it is likely that it was the Regime.  On a hunch, we are seeing the first action of a new Fist.

More when(if) I reach my backup.

-Krishna

Prevailer 1:1

Time to unwrap my present.

I called on my gift, let it carry me across the world.

Back in the day this used to make me nervous.  When I used my gift to teleport I was trusting it completely.  My body was gone.  If something messed up I’d die in an instant.  I was flinging my soul across a big empty space, trusting that my body would be waiting for me.

Those doubts were long gone.  I’d lost count of how many times I had transported myself.  If something bad was going to happen to me because of constantly making my body over then it would just have to happen.

I popped into the sky over Redo, and instantly started falling.

I always went for a random, almost anonymous patch of sky whenever I warped myself to somewhere Snitcher was watching.  Too easy to warp into something if I did it on the ground.  But up in the air I could see everything that was close by, make sure that nothing would get in my way.

Now that I was here, of course, I didn’t need to see.

My secret gift, the one that I’ve never told the world about, let me know everything that was going on around me for miles.  It wasn’t sight.  It didn’t get blocked by distance or things.  It wasn’t smell or sound, which gave delayed information.  It was total knowledge.  I knew instantly, constantly, what was where and what that meant.

The city was on fire, and the fire was one of my new Fist.  His fires were just a little different from the real kind.  There was a bit of a something to them, a sort of *crook* where his soul was caught on them.  I couldn’t tell you the science name for it but my gift let me know what it was and where it was.

Dale, the cute one, was being held up by Thor.  Dale was most of the reason I’d made this Fist.  People didn’t lift like that anymore, and I’d kind of missed the type.  Big dumb guys with big muscles were mostly extinct.

Dale’s body was dead, but the hooks for his soul were still in use.  I’d done the reading on him, and he would come back if his body hit the ground.

Haunter and Preventer were climbing up out of a pit, using Preventer’s gifts to cut wedges away.  I had no idea how they’d gotten buried so deep.  Fisher was down there too, sobbing over her wound.  She was healing, but it wouldn’t finish up in time for this fight.

Thor had about 30 Ultras with him, so Fourth Fist had clearly been busy.

I had actually regretted giving them this job a bit after they left.  They were just going to die and I’d have to go through the whole thing again.  Twenty Ultras each was way more than they could take care of, especially since if they lost one we couldn’t do the Link.

I’d asked Snitcher to ring me when the fighting broke out, but I’d been busy talking with Subtracter for the first part of it.  When he finally got up the nerve to interrupt us I warped straight over.

I traveled again, no fear this time.  My sense told me where to put myself so that nothing was already there.  I detonated my old form, shaking the sky with a big loud boom to let everyone know that I was on the scene.

I put myself right in front of Thor, about ten feet away.

When people see me come for them, they do a lot of things.  Many of them have some kind of a plan for it, some sort of “this is what I’ll do if Prevailer appears in front of me” that they’ve talked themselves through a bunch.  But I generally group them into fight, run and talk.

Thor was a talker.

“False God!” he boomed out, waving Dale at me.

I just stood there a second.  None of his followers shot at me, which was a bit weird.  A few of them had what felt kind of like zapping powers, but none of them made any motion to attack.  They mostly just kind of twitched.  One of them started pissing herself.

“You have made a dreadful mistake!”

Behind the tough talk I could feel his heart beat speeding up.  He started to use his gift on a ring that he wore, making it denser and denser even as he worked it loose.  It would have been impossible to see because he was holding on Indulger in a way that blocked that hand from my view.

“You are Thor, right?” I asked.

I didn’t have to raise my voice all that much.  Behind me Condemner was pulling in all of the fire and building a human body again, and the Pantheon goons behind Thor had gone frozen.  Freezing up was a fourth common reaction to me warping in, actually.  Lots of people froze up.

He dropped Indulger, took up a fighting stance.  That involved pulling out a baseball in one hand, while the other concealed the ring he’d slipped off.  By this time the ring was at about the limit of what he could hold in his hand without making it obvious.  He’d throw it soon.

“That’s right, abomination!  Thor is the man who will finally kill you.”

11 of his Ultras started to back off, heading away.  From how they were acting they were a blend of people who just didn’t want to die, and those who he’d told to get away if I ever came after them.  I couldn’t tell what people were thinking, but I had a lot of practice guessing it from how their hearts and brains worked.

I transported myself again, warping in front of the lead runner.  I let my old body pop without much of a bang.  Thor wouldn’t get off that easy.

The woman I had landed in front of had Ultra strength and Ultra toughness.  She threw a haymaker the instant that I appeared before her, on reflex.  I could tell that it wouldn’t kill me much so I just punched back and let her connect.

Her punch knocked my head back, made it ring.  She’d been strong enough to harm me, maybe kill me in time.  She hit first, and it took most of the speed out of my swing, but I still connected, punching through her chest.

The women behind her split again, a few springing at me and the rest ping ponging off in a different direction.  I warped to block.

This time I let the body that I traveled out of blow up, taking out the ones that had been converging on where I killed the lead runner.  I tuned the strength of the blast to go mostly up, taking out the Ultras without hurting those beyond it.

That was all that the rest of them could take.  Everyone started to scatter, running every which way.

It wasn’t exactly that they were out of their minds with fear.  I mean, I didn’t think it was.  But I’d seen this before.  There was a huge difference between ‘deciding’ not to run, and ‘not being able to run’, and crossing over that line seemed to freak people out.

Something about demonstrating that nobody was getting away made everyone want to try.  I’d seen it before.  It was a pain.

I bounced from place to place, catching Ultras as they shot down alleys, through walls, or in one case took to the air.  I sensed everything for miles, so they weren’t going to get away.  I warped in front of each of them, just a little too near to avoid, and threw a simple punch.

I knew how fast each one could move, how quick they could react to me appearing.  I could tell that from my sense.  I made sure that none of the runners got a good fight.  Just popped in and hit them somewhere, splattered them off walls and stuff.  It took a few minutes but I cleaned them all up.

Thor hadn’t moved.  He was rooted, right where I left him.  I warped back in front of him.

I was actually pretty surprised that he hadn’t flown off.  He must have known it wouldn’t do him any good, of course, but it still must have been hard to stand here and listen to his followers get pasted.  Another *boom* every few seconds, another rumble, and another one of his hangers on was gone forever.  And he’d stood still.

He had to.  Moving around would have made it obvious how much weight he was carrying in his off hand.  He had stood there, endured every second of listening to me killing all his girls, just so that he could try his best to take me out.  It was a cool moment.  I appreciated that kind of thing.

“You done?”

He asked it like his heart wasn’t even trying to break out of his chest.  There were tears trying to get into his eyes, but he hadn’t noticed yet.  His arm was trembling a bit from holding up the building weighted ring, but he’d tied it into a sort of shudder motion, which was mostly about drawing attention to his other hand, where he had the baseball ready to throw.

He hadn’t even used his power on the baseball.  The balls on this guy were amazing.

“Yeah, I guess.  Mostly.  Still gotta do you, right?”

I kept my delivery short and sweet.  Little sentences, matter of fact.  I wasn’t in a fighting stance, just kind of standing there.  The whole point was to look like I was looking like I wasn’t paying attention, so that he would think that I was paying attention, so that he’d think that he was tricking me.  It was complicated, but tricking people who thought that they are tricking me was one of my favorite things.

My Fist still hadn’t rolled up on this area.  They were hunkered down a little ways away, having an argument about whether or not they should come and help me.  I could tell from their hearts and stuff that they weren’t going to, and I was ok with that.  Thor was a treat that I’d been saving.

“Gotta.  Strange thing for someone who thinks that they rule the world to say.”

That was a pretty good point.

“All right, wanna then.  I’m kind of allergic to bitches calling themselves gods’ names.  God isn’t real, and people who think that he is a thing kind of piss me off.”

“Oh, we are very real!  Soon, to your eternal regret, you will discover just how real the Pantheon is.”

‘To your eternal regret’, who talks like that?  This guy must have rehearsed this speech in front of a mirror or something.  I was eating it up.

“Come off it, man.  You know you aren’t going to beat me.  Why does everyone lie to themselves before they fight me?”

I was actually curious, but I doubted that he knew either.  It probably helped people be brave if they thought that they might win.

“The only one lying will be you!” he yelled, and then threw the baseball.  Puns and murder.  I loved it.

He whipped it at me, cross body like a pitcher.  I obligingly teleported out of the way, reappearing to his right, ‘just’ in the middle of his field of view.

It was super tempting to just stand there and catch the ball, maybe toss it back to him, but I had a rule that I never acted in a way that might reveal my sensing power.  I didn’t know of any way around it, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t one.  If the people who came to kill me knew just what they were up against they’d either be more likely to succeed or stop trying, and either one would annoy me.

He turned and cursed as he air punched at me.  It was supposed to look like a gesture of frustration.  Sort of spazzy, but still the kind of thing that an Ultra who was used to getting his own way might do after he got thwarted.  But in the middle of the punch he opened his hand and let the ring go.

I felt the first stirrings of disappointment as I realized that he had missed.  Such an anticlimax.  I didn’t react as the ring flew by me, acted like I hadn’t even seen it.

If I thought that he’d been excited before it was nothing to this.  As the ring had flown at me he’d been intensely focused, totally concentrated, every nerve dragging at every available bit of his body.  As he’d realized that it wouldn’t hit me his face had started to bend into a ferocious grimace.

I wasn’t far into my first step, he was just realizing that the throw he’d bet his life on had been wide, when the ring touched stone behind me and a whole building came down.  Shrapnel whistled out as the old apartment collapsed about the walls that had been dragged and smashed in by the Ultra dense ring.  I teleported just before it reached me.

This time I just warped to right behind Thor.

He was fast, flying forward for a microsecond and turning at the waist.  He moved faster than I could, that’s for sure.  Probably Ultra speed one.  Whatever it was let him get out of my grasp for a second.

He regained his footing, reached down and grabbed for rocks, anything.  He wanted something else to make dense and throw.  That was a pretty boring way to fight, and I was about to end things, when I felt the first change ripple through the stone.

It came from where Dale was laying.  He was conscious again, and reaching out with his power.  I checked my attack, took a step back.

“Bitch!” screamed Thor, as he charged up some stones he’d scooped up.  Ultra dudes always called me that, without fail.  Ladies used a lot of different insults, but the fellows usually went straight to ‘Bitch”, right before the end.  I wondered why that was.

“Hey, why do you think that-“ I started to ask, but cut off as Dale struck.

The stones beneath Thor’s feat rose up and locked them into the ground, fastening them there with a firm grasp.  His gaze shot over to where Dale was just rising from the earth where he’d been dropped.

I felt Thor finally start to panic.  He hurled both stones, straight for Dale.

Even as they struck home, hammering Dale down into the ground that was sustaining him, I closed on Thor, grabbing him by his upper body.

“Good try, man.” I told him, gripping him firmly.

He looked away from Dale then, focusing his full attention on me.  Strangely enough, right on the edge of death, his body seemed to be trying to return him to chill.  His heart slowed, moving towards its resting rhythm.  His breathing slowed as well.

“Prevailer, one day we will get you,” he said.  Those seemed like pretty cool last words.

I tore him into two halves.  I didn’t stretch it out, just pulled him apart.  No need for torture.  He’d fought his hardest.  Thor had done his part.

Now to see whether my new Fist had done theirs.

 

Moving about in the Regime

One of the most notable aspects of the old USA’s present, reduced, state is that often times people are limited in how far they are able to travel.  In the old world any person of moderate means (at least by the standards of the richest countries) could purchase transit to just about anywhere on the planet, and confidently expect to be taken there within a few days at most.  This is no longer the case.

Throughout the world, the infrastructure which formed the backbone of the old world’s transit system has become collateral damage, or been deliberately targeted.  Railways have been smashed, roads torn up and planes are targeted whenever an Ultra feels like it.  If a citizen of the new world wishes to go somewhere they are generally on their own.

Fortunate people, or Ultras, generally rely upon some manner of all terrain vehicle, lovingly repaired or simply fortunate enough to escape destruction.  Trucks, jeeps and the like are the greatest relics that the fallen civilization has to offer modern scavengers, for they offer that rarest of commodities, freedom.

A human who has offended an Ultra is ordinarily doomed.  They cannot hide forever, and running into the wilderness is simply a slower death.  But with a mode of transportation they can travel to another city with a set of tyrants who know nothing of their past deeds.  Few indeed are the Ultras who are both willing and capable of following those that they dislike over any kind of distance.  Our tyrants are, for the most part, a lazy breed.

A human lacking a means of transportation may set out on foot, but this carries its own perils.  Rural folks, cowering away from the old world’s centers of power, are intensely hostile to strangers.  It is not, by and large, that they lack sympathy for their fellow man.  Rather the reason for their lack of hospitality is that if a sanctuary or refuge becomes larger or more livable than the cities that people are fleeing the Ultras will simply move there and subjugate the new populace.  There is a sort of unofficial size beyond which refuges dare not grow, lest an Ultra or two decide that they are in need of a master.

Overseas travel is almost entirely in the hands of the Ultras.  Those few humans who have working boats tend to live on them, drifting along and enjoying an existence blessedly free of the Ultras.  Ultras control what few planes remain, their need for fuel made them easy to capture.

Ultras have access to various exotic means of transport, and those who can use these.  Most notoriously She is a teleporter, blinking from place to place with complete disregard for the laws of physics.  Other Ultras can fly or propel themselves in similarly exotic ways.  Those who can do this generally do, as it eliminates one more danger.  Many Ultras have died in car bombings and the like, and the modern crop tend to be sensibly paranoid.

Sadly, the most common method of transportation is to abandon the entire idea.  Citizens of the Regime generally don’t go anywhere, living and dying like barnacles clinging to the side of the Company Facilities.  A sad state for a once proud people.

Condemner 2:2

I burned an old world ruin, some anonymous shack, working my way down the kind of walls that they just don’t make anymore.  Hollow, paper and concrete, insulation and wiring.  I burned it all, tasted of its past, gathered its power.

I was one fire amidst a sea of them.  Ultras ran riot through the streets, blasting and striking at one another with reckless fervor.  Nirav’s memories could have told me their allegiances, but I didn’t bother to check.  It would suffice for my purposes that they were thoroughly distracted.

I bided a moment, moved to uncharacteristic caution.  There were so many Ultras here.  If they caught onto my existence before I was large enough I might be defeated.  The image of Predictor and his slaves flashed through my mind, grinning and mocking, kicking and taunting.  The image of Preventer, holding Nirav’s arms and addressing me without a spec of fear.  Never again.

A break came, as I knew it must.  The Ultra battle shifted, the less disciplined combatants fleeing back and their organized opponents following.  Nirav had left more details about why this distinction might exist, but it was irrelevant.  What mattered was that no one was watching my building, nor the ones further away from their battle.

I shrank down upon my fuel for a moment, gathering power, then spread across the street in a sudden surge, joining with the blessed flames that infested the next building.  A delicious thrill went through me as my form doubled, then doubled again as I spread still further.

An animal, a cat, was caught in one of these houses.  A small thing, claws and teeth useless and decorative against my red hands, half dead from the smoke and dust.  I felt an odd urge and spared it, pulling the fire away and leaving it to breathe.

I doubled yet again, four houses becoming, eight, ten, twenty.  I spread rapidly, continuously, striding in great red billows from flame to flame, adding every ounce of kindling to my stockpile, bringing every bright fire into my glorious being.

Where were the people?  Where were the souls?  To Condemn the unliving was a fruitless exercise, giving me strength and nothing more.  This was a city.  Nirav remembered it bustling just last night.  Had they all fled the battle?

I refused to believe it.  No battle let EVERYONE slip away.  Not one as sudden as this.  War was not so kind.  I swooped down upon house after house, ruined buildings lighting one after another as my power grew and multiplied, searching for my glorious meals.

Then I reached a building that didn’t go up.  A building that was wetted down and defended by streams of water.  A Company Facility, with faces peering from every window.

An Ultra stood out front, directing her energy blasts into the encroaching flames, blasting my witless precursors back.  She was backed up by Company Men, soulless insects wielding fire hoses, drenching every speck of pavement and making a safe place amid danger.

Pathetic.

I manifested, pushing my power and forming a towering figure from the house across the street.  I gave it the suggestion of demonic horns, claws and fangs and every scrap of nightmare fuel that I could imagine.  A nightmare rendered in flame rose before this pitiful woman and her servants, bellowing my contempt in its birthing instant.

“What?” she shouted, blasting impotently into the house I was biding in.  “What’s that?”

The Company men could make no reply, to deviate for an instant would let my flames draw closer.  Their pale faces remained intent upon their task.  But behind them, in the visage of those who gazed from the windows, there was a gratifying fear.

“What’s that?” I echoed, banging tiles against one another, scraping wires and benches together to form a simulacra of her voice.

“What’s that?” I repeated again, letting the frailty and weakness of her question resound throughout the neighborhood.  A quick check through my still spreading mass revealed that the Ultras were still intent upon one another, and far away.  No one was coming to interfere with my meal.

She didn’t say another word, continuing to throw energy blasts at the base of my walls, at the street that separated us.  Someone had told her how fire normally worked, or she knew from her own lived experience.  Perhaps they’d left her to watch the daggers because her power was well suited to fire fighting.  In any case she didn’t waste her blasts on the flames, but struck directly at the fuel.

“THAT…IS A DEMON!  I AM A DEMON!!” I roared.

This time I used heavier rubble, crunching it and snapping it to make a great booming voice.  A deep voice.  MY voice.  It oppressed her, beat down upon her and daunted her.  She flinched back, as did her minions.

“What the fuck?” she screamed, backing away from the fire.  She shot her next blasts up and into my projected form, squandering their energy upon the flames.

“ALL WHO DIE WILL DIE IN PAIN!  ALL WHO LIVE WILL LIVE IN FEAR!!”

I felt the killing passion rise within me, the ruins smoldering around the area feeding me their might.  I shouted my threats with all of my soul, screaming my being into the night, challenging my surroundings without fear.  This was how it felt to rule, to destroy, to condemn.  This was my birthright.

Far away, I noticed the battle pausing.  My ranting had reached them.  It changed nothing.  Once I had the souls of these humans there would be nothing that they could do to thwart me.  Less than nothing.

I wasted no more time in words, swelling and rising all along the street.  I pushed my heat, racing forward blue-white with fury.  The water from their hoses evaporated as I drew nearer.  The blasts that raced from the Ultra’s palm did less than nothing, the pain they caused a spice to the ensuing meal.

The Facility was packed wall to wall with the human citizens, and it went up like a torch.  Fire suppressors activated, but they had no power over the blaze that I had brought.  People struggled and fought, kicked and shoved…and burned.  Burned most of all.

The Ultra had Ultra Toughness.  It didn’t help her.  She burned.  The Company Men had fire fighting suits.  It didn’t help them.  They burned.  The refugees had nothing.  They burned.  The whole was over in seconds.

I became instantly conscious of a vast absence.  I gained power, yes.  The Company Facility was a splendid meal.  The Ultra’s power was a delicious appetizer.  But the feast was missing.

I gazed out through my flames, gazed upon the daggers’ ashes.  They had definitely been people.  They had definitely been alive.  But I gained only the strength that I would have gotten if they were all Company Men, or some kind of animal.  Meat and bone fed my flames, but the rush of power that killing gave me, the flashes of knowledge from my victim’s lives…it was absent.

Impossible.  I peered through the ruins, seeking someone who I wasn’t finished with yet.  There!

A man had hid behind the others, burst out onto the road behind the building and started away.  I reached forth a backdraft and spread to him, evaporated his fat and charred his bones.

Fat and bones fell to the ground.  Flesh blackened and sizzled.  But that was all.  HE was not mine.  HE had not been Condemned.

I burned for a moment in sullen, cheated silence.  Throughout the deserted city I’d spread, but now my spreading stopped.  At the edge nearest the Ultras something clawed at my attention, but I ignored it.  Let them strike the portions of me that they could reach.  This was more important.  Something was fundamentally wrong.

Once again I reached out to my gift, taking the speed that was my heritage and churning my thoughts.  I had the time.  I needed to understand this.  Every second felt like ten as my mind swirled with the enigma.

I had burned their bodies.  I had scorched them to the quick.  I had gained SOME vitality, most obviously from the Ultra.  But not from the overwhelming majority.  Their bodies had given me no spark, no essence.

They’d been moving though.  They had screamed and shouted.  The last guy had run.  They had had souls, right up till I killed them.  But somehow it wasn’t…  Wait.

Bodies, without souls.  Turn that around.  That meant that there had to be the opposite, since I hadn’t eaten them.  Souls without bodies.  I’d just seen…Benjamin…HAUNTER.

That Bitch!

She’d known the night before that this fight was going down.  I pushed through Nirav’s memories.  Sifted them with a care and patience that nothing but rage could bring forth from me.

There it was.  An overheard snippet that he’d pushed down.  A bit of information that he’d concealed behind the smoke screen about Indulger.

Haunter had been out, each and every night since we’d reached Redo.  She’d known that a huge battle would be fought.  She’d wandered the streets, partnering with every dagger she could get her grubby grandma grips on.  Taking my food for her own.  Setting in her hook such that she would grow stronger, instead of me, when I struck down my foes.

I would SCORCH her.  She would take DAYS to be condemned.

I was pulled from thoughts of vengeance by a sudden diminishing.  A portion of me had ceased, a portion that I’d been willfully ignoring.  In an eyeblink I sent my awareness surging across the flamescape, populating once again the flames nearest to the massed Ultras.

Here was the source of the pain, unsurprisingly.  A mammoth impact had flattened a structure with such force that I had been extinguished from the area, pressed back to adjacent buildings.  The ruin itself was a flattened crater, occupied only by a hammer.

Opposite it, the remnant of one of the battling forces had assembled to confront me.  A few dozen Ultras, perhaps.  A tall figure standing before them, holding a wounded giant aloft.

“Fire guy!” he yelled.  His tone was insolent, and he seemed unaffected by the drifting clouds of ash and soot.  The others looked to him as their leader.  Thor.

I ransacked Nirav’s remnants for information on this enemy.  A strong Ultra, with a high Tally.  What was that to me?  The leader of half of the city’s forces?  More like a battered husk, drained by conflict.  The chosen of the Pantheon?  I was the chosen of destiny.  Nothing to fear here.

“You won’t take us by surprise!” he yelled again, hefting the musclebound body like a talisman before us.  “We’ve seen your creations take Redo.  We are taking it back!”

It seemed inconsiderate to just smolder before him.  I formed a shape from the flames, not so huge or imposing as I had made before the Company Facility.  With Ultras as enemies I might need the power.

“Burner!  Scorcher!  Whatever you want to call yourself.  You are a jackal, but now the lions are aware.  Krishna is in full retreat, her troops are pulling away across the sands.  You stand alone against us, and your comrade is already in my grasp.”

Thor certainly liked to talk.  I waved the burning shape’s hand dismissively.

“I HAVE NO COMRADES.  NO PEERS.  NO RETREAT.   YOU WILL BURN IN MY GRASP.”

I gave voice to my feelings as I sized up their ranks.

None of these Ultras had…presence, save for their leader.  None seemed to be of my caliber.  None seemed like I should fear them.  They were battered and bloody, panting and shaken, a collection of hard women chipped around the edges but more than capable of further violence.

“You aren’t listening!  Give up, or I’ll kill your big friend here!”

“I HAVE NO FRIEND!”, but even as I said this I was racking my brain.  Why would he think that I would care about some meat sack?

Indulger.  Nirav’s last desperate message came back to me.  This muscle bound oaf was a fourth of my ticket to immortality at Her hands.

Hadn’t I just decided that I didn’t want that?  And yet the treacherous hope wormed its way into my thoughts.  Rescue him, kill this Thor, and Prevailer would make our Fist eternal.

What was eternity?  I lived every second twice, saw from a thousand burning windows.  Even as Thor pontificated I lived more deeply than his ilk could ever understand.  I was the world’s culmination, the bonfire that it all led to.

“Vengeance…” whispered some fading echo of Nirav.  That was strange.

I’d thought that I’d torn him apart too thoroughly to communicate.  I hadn’t even decided whether I was going to reconstitute him the next time I needed a flesh form.  And what did he mean by…

Another part of me, one that had not stopped raging ever since Haunter denied my feast, suddenly grasped it.  Eternity.  Haunter alive, every day, no matter what I’d done to her the previous day.  That arrogant hag burning in my clutches, keeping me burning long after the sun turned cold.

The Christian Hell, made deliciously real.  I would burn her forever.

I could do it.  So long as I saved this Indulger, killed this Thor.  I was strong in ways that Nirav and his ilk could never understand.  I could suppress my hungers for a time, pass over a snack in favor of a banquet.

“Not so talkative now, are you?!” Thor yelled, shaking Indulger again.  “You can’t bring yourself to risk your poor widdle friend?!”

That did it.  Even if I didn’t have a reason to save Indulger I wouldn’t have given this pompous fool the satisfaction of anything he wanted.  He’d burn before the hour was out.

I started to gather my essence.  I pulled the flames that I’d spread into, dragged them to this point of confrontation.  I dragged each and every fraction of my form to the boundary line.  To the street where this gang of Ultras stared at my avatar, trying to pretend that they weren’t terrified.  To the street where they stood, trying to seem brave in the face of the hellfire that I would rain down upon them.

As I did so, I noticed a sudden disruption, back where I’d burst on the scene.  A familiar head and shoulders breaking from the ground.  Preventer, standing untouched within my racing flames, paying no heed to my form.

I quelled my desire for revenge.  For now, at least, Preventer was beyond my grasp.  Instead I pulled back the flames, formed them into an arrow on a wall nearby, directing Preventer and the rest of these useless cronies to the confrontation.

I didn’t need help, but I had never tried having an audience before.  It might be fun.  It would certainly curb Preventer’s irritating tendency to balk me.

Another thought struck me then, and I had to laugh.  It boomed out from the flaming figure that I’d manifested before Thor, cutting through his bluster and making him clutch his precious hostage.

This would be a front row seat for Haunter and the rest.  They would witness the fate that they would one day share.  They couldn’t say I didn’t warn them.

No update this week

Sorry to skip a week y’all.  Hope you can forgive me (its my first one since the start).  I’ve got a lot on my plate this week, and I can’t give TFD the time it deserves.  I know that skipping at the end of the Thor arc is a bit of a jerk move, and our numbers had been trending up too.  Hope you folks come back on the 10th, when TFD returns.

 

-Thanks for reading,

Walter