Preventer 11:2

Our visitors didn’t arrive all at once, but they trickled in over the course of the afternoon, humans and weak Ultras, delicately trying to assure themselves of our intentions and endear themselves to a Fist newly returned to town.

I could tell that Dale and Haunter were chafing to be off somewhere, but in the absence of any actual destination they were content to leave things to me. Mario was kept mostly in the background, passing quickly by doorways or hallways, letting our visitors believe that Condemner was here without giving them the chance to interact with him.

I did the lion’s share of the work, slipping easily back into my old role, wheeling and dealing like the big shot Ultra that I’d always been. I promised nothing, demanded everything, and generally ordered people around like I always had, throwing Fourth Fist’s weight around and disrupting the local scene with aplomb.

I’d missed it, I realized with some surprise. This was where I’d come up, and the careful social dancing of Regime Ultras was to some extent my native tongue. The bluntness of things in the Pantheon had been something I resigned myself to, something I was willing to endure if it meant getting out from under Her thumb, but I was a creature of Shington at heart.

I culled the truth together from a tidbit here, a snippet there. I didn’t ask anyone anything directly, but over the course of the afternoon I was able to glean a pretty complete picture of what was understood, by the Ultra on the street, to be happening in Shington.

After night fell we gathered in a central basement room to talk the matter through, using my barriers and Dale’s ability to move earth to take what precautions we could against eavesdropping.

“Mario’s reports seem to have been accurate,” I started, nodding towards where he was sitting at a table. “Prevailer is completely secluded from public life. She hasn’t been seen in months.”

Haunter, of course, showed no reaction to that. It must be nice to be able to delegate your facial expressions to some random lackey. Dale certainly looked shocked though.

I couldn’t blame him. I’d been quietly skeptical when we’d first heard about Her absence. It was impossible to think of the Lair without thinking of Her, to an almost ridiculous degree. Shington without Prevailer was just a random ruined city, after all.

“Sorry for doubting you,” said Dale.

Mario gave a grateful nod, and I silently made a mental note that Dale probably wasn’t using his aggression potions tonight. That wasn’t exactly surprising, since with Lotus gone he’d be naturally forced to ration them.

“Who is running things?” asked Haunter.

“Second Fist,” I said, “With some help from the Inner Circle members who are still around. But mostly Second Fist. They’ve turned heavily to the Knights for organization and manpower.”

“They were the ones who got all those skulls?” asked Haunter. “I’d assumed as much, given that an Ultra like Subtracter would have gotten bored long before finishing a task like that.”

“Yep,” I said, “I expect the average skin color in all of the nearby cities is trending paler. Second Fist is all in on this Watcher thing.”

“Do we think she’s real?” asked Dale. “Watcher that is, I know that at the beginning it was just one of First Fist’s sick games, but they’ve had like half a year since then. Do you think they could have gotten the Company to maybe make an Ultra who can see out of these things?”

“Our visitors were definitely convinced that they could,” I said. “The people around here are constantly performing for the skulls, and they seem to think the ones the Knights wear as helmets are similarly used.”

“That is weak evidence in favor of them being real,” said Haunter, “The easiest explanation for the people being afraid of surveillance is if they have witnessed the Knights and other enforcers reacting to things the skulls have seen.”

“It’s probably not really the skulls,” said Dale.

I looked at him, askance.

“You know how She is,” he said, “You know how the Company is. I don’t think they could get an Ultra with exactly the gift that they want so easy, or She would have had lots of Adders long ago. They might have an Ultra with a gift that lets you watch far away, but I don’t believe it is actually connected to the skulls.”

I nodded, slowly.

“Say Watcher’s gift is really that they can hear you when you talk under an open sky, or see you if you are standing on one foot, or whatever. Now the Regime has an Ultra with a sensing gift, and they’ve already prepared the grounds with all these skulls. I think you are right.”

“In that situation,” Mario finished, “There would be no incentive for them to ease up on the skulls. Rather, they would be very helpful as camouflage. People think that avoiding the skull’s gaze will keep them safe, but really the rule that Watcher’s gift works on is something else.”

“So we should assume Second Fist has some kind of surveillance capability,” said Haunter, “They are using that and the Knights to project their power, keep the town from erupting in Her absence. Makes sense.”

“Did anyone say where Answerer was?” asked Mario.

“We didn’t get that lucky,” I answered. “Subtracter is with Second Fist most of the time, but nobody seems to know where Answerer is. Most people assume that she is closeted with Prevailer, and maybe Watcher.”

“Makes sense,” said Dale. “Even if She wants to stay out of sight, She will still get bored. Having Watcher and Answerer around would give Her something to do.”

“The final possibility,” I said, “Is that she’s gone to ground somewhere unknown to us. Perhaps with First Fist, helping to nail down contingencies to whatever they are up to, or perhaps just holed up in a safe house. My understanding is that she can only answer one question a day, but that would still be more than enough, over years, to work out an escape plan.”

“If that’s the case,” said Haunter, “We’ll have to move forward in another way. We committed to doing the things that only we can do, and that doesn’t include combing the countryside for a precog who doesn’t want to be found. Let’s refocus. Our goal is to find First Fist. What, or who, in the city can help us with that, considering only those whose locations are clear to us?”

“There’s obviously Her,” said Dale. “Remover and that crew know Prevailer’s power better than anyone. If they aren’t at the absolute end of their final moves they’ll drop whatever they are doing and come running if She calls. You don’t live with Her that long and not understand the importance of sucking up.”

“We know where Prevailer is,” said Mario, “Even if She hasn’t stirred lately Subtracter still makes regular reports to Her. We could go there, I suppose.”

He didn’t sound terribly enthusiastic, which made sense if he was a top Union spy guy. A big part of his job had probably been to read reports about people who went in after Her getting fucked up.

“There’s also Second Fist,” I said, “and I’ve made no secrets about the fact that I think they are our way forward. First Fist will have objects that Refiner has blessed, he can tell us where they are.”

“I don’t think Refiner knows anything,” said Haunter.

We all looked at her.

“Joe Ludd, the Grand Potentate of the Knights of Purity, that guy? He’s, what, a hundred and twenty by now?”

“The Link can cheat death,” I told her, remembering another conversation about the same subject with Remover of all people, way back when we’d been starting out as a Fist. “He doesn’t have to age if he’s living the same day over and over again.“

Mario didn’t react to this revelation, which was a little disappointing. It made sense that the Union would have figured it out too, if nothing else watching First Fist not aging should have given it away, but I’d nursed a little hope that nobody else would have figured it out.

“If he figured that out,” said Haunter, “And he didn’t. He was never a brain trust, and it wasn’t like anyone around him had any incentive to tell him. Trust me, the guy’s trapped on death’s door, hopelessly senile and a few hours away from his end. He gets resurrected every day only to die again.”

“I’ve spoken to him,” I objected. “He seemed lucid.”

“You spoke to Deceiver,” said Haunter. “She can counterfeit senses, like Blinder or Alerter but for everything. Her only limitation is the number of her targets, she’s the reason Second Fist don’t do large scale battles, but are always successful at the small stuff.”

“Your ghosts saw through it?” I asked. “Deceiver can’t fool them?”

Haunter gave a simple nod.

“Refiner sits drooling. The reason all of his blessings work off skin color isn’t ideology, they just can’t make him understand anything else. Deceiver hides it from everyone, but she’s the leader of that Fist.”

Now I saw Mario’s surprise, mirrored no doubt on my own face. Refiner a puppet, a fake! It was a strange and terrifying thought.

Not for its content, exactly. It was all the same to me whoever led Second Fist, but for the sheer scale of the deception. I thought back to a dozen conversations, two dozen, during my rise to power. Refiner had been a rival, a power broker, and, apparently, entirely fictitious.

It did something, changed something within me, for such an obvious and unexamined fact of my life to shift under my feet. An inner chasm loomed, no doubt a revelation or some other thing I didn’t have time for. Whatever. So some people were apparently wholly fake. It couldn’t bother me if I refused to care.

“Deceiver, then,” I said, “Can she just pull the information out of him somehow?”

Haunter shrugged.

“No way to know, of course, but my suspicion is that she can’t. If he was coherent enough to ask such things to she could talk him round to giving out tailored blessings again. You wouldn’t have to wear that makeup when you use your gun.”

I’d always figured Haunter had understood the purpose of that.

“So, we want to find First Fist, or a diviner like Answerer, someone with a gift such that finding them is identical to finding First Fist,” said Mario, smoothly intervening to avert rising tensions between Jane and I. “So Answerer or, potentially, Watcher, if they exist. And what we know about are Second Fist, Subtracter and Her, in terms of main powers in the city.”

“Our options are going to Second Fist,” said Jane, ticking them off on her hands as she spoke, “Going to Her, trying to catch up with Subtracter as she’s out and about, or something we haven’t mentioned yet.”

“We could try the Company,” I supplied, “And we could lean on old contacts, the people I know who were shot callers, the old troubleshooters you knew…”

“I don’t think the Resistance could know,” said Dale, “Because they’d have probably told Mario’s friends.”

“Condemner’s friends,” insisted Jane, “And I agree, if the Resistance knew, the Union would know.”

“We could also…do nothing,” I said.

Everyone looked at me, 3, or innumerable, depending on how one counted Jane’s spirits, sets of eyes fixed on my face in confusion.

“We’ve already made our return public. Everyone who is anyone knows that we are here, right? That may well include First Fist, depending on how total their isolation is.”

“So what?” said Dale, “I don’t think they are about to walk up and ring the bell.”

“They might,” I responded, deadpan. “I don’t think it is outside of the realm of possibility at all.”

“Explain,” said Jane, though I figured she’d already guessed where I was going with this.

“You all sold me on the idea that the Thui who was…killed, in our last confrontation with First Fist,” I kept my voice carefully even, held my hands without trembling before me, “was just a duplicate, or a fake of some kind. If so, then they’ve been keeping him hostage for months.”

Mario looked like he wanted to say something, but he had the sense to keep his mouth closed.

“I buy what you’re selling,” and here I indicated Jane, “about Remover being the devil. But the rest of them are the same small time bullies that they’ve always been, right? If they have a hostage…”

I trailed off, letting them fill the rest in.

“They are going to want to use it,” said Dale. “They’ll be bored and sick of the whole thing by now, they aren’t going to want to wait a second longer than they have to.”

“I’m not sure Alerter and Pursuer are THAT reckless,” hedged Mario.

“Alerter fought me in the Sniper Court,” I told him.

“But you’re invin…”

“Exactly.”

“So it sounds like we have 3 courses of action here,” said Jane, “Contact Her, contact Second Fist, or contact no one and wait for First Fist to contact us.”

I saw what she was saying immediately.

“It’s a false dilemma,” I said. “We can do them all in combination with each other. They’ll contact us just as easily if we are talking with Second Fist or not.”

“Maybe not ALL,” hedged Dale, “If we go to Her I expect we’ll be occupied for the foreseeable, if we survive.”

Nods of agreement all around at that.

“So,” I said, “tomorrow we send out feelers to Refiner’s, excuse me, Deceiver’s Fist and see if we they’ll just tell us where First Fist is? Remember, they might not think it is a big deal. We’ll stay here in the meantime, in case First Fist is trying to get in touch with us.”

Haunter frowned, thumbing her chin as she pondered.

“Would it be better to head over there tonight?” she asked. “Just from the principle that we want to give Her the minimum amount of time to do anything horrific.”

I shook my head.

“It would make us look like supplicants, if we go immediately, like we just got in town and the first thing we are doing is running over. Their guard would go up, I think. Much better to make it natural, casual. We are still hoping to get First Fist’s location out of them without them realizing how much we care, right? Then we want them as relaxed as possible.”

“Or fixated on something else,” said Mario, “Manufacture an issue of prestige or territory or something, get them all riled up not to let you have that, and get what you care about as an aside.”

“And also it gives First Fist tonight, if they are gonna call on us. I think Preventer mostly cares about that.”

Dale, as always, said the quiet parts loud.

“Well,” said Jane, “I suppose I’d rather not walk past all those goddamn skulls in the dark, right?”

Was that a look of pity on her face? I had to be imagining that. Haunter had about a Union level of pity in her for the likes of me.

“On that we can agree,” I said.

Regime Quest 48

Day 13:

Morning: Resistance/KEM/Union communication:

This was going to be a little more complicated than my usual morning dead drop to the Resistance.

Broadly speaking, of course, it would be the same as usual, but I’d added a little twist onto it that made it a lot more stressful.

What I wanted to do was communicate to the Resistance, and then have them broadcast that information on to KEM and the Union, both of which they presumably had at least tentative contact with.

That was all well and good, and could have been accomplished in my normal idiom by saying as much in the message, but that wasn’t quite enough. If I’d done it that way, put the equivalent of “Dear Contacts, please forward this information on to your own contacts”, at the top of my message, then it wouldn’t actually get sent along until it reached the first person who actually read it and made decisions.

In an organization as dispersed and interdivided as the Resistance, that could take an indefinite period of time, and my lifespan was presently looking to be about two weeks, total. I needed something a little more immediate.

What I’d come up with, I hoped, would walk the line between being increasing my risk of Snitcher detecting me and not being noticed by the first messenger.

My usual drop involved writing something in the middle of a long, boring list, the sort of thing that Snitcher would never read through, even if I happened to glance at it. Then I’d throw the writing away, do another draft, to all appearances refining a speech or plan or whatever. The Resistance, of course, would scavenge through the trash after I left and cart away everything I’d written.

The trash picker and the others at the start of the chain wouldn’t naturally read the things that I’d written, they would simply pass it on, but they were the ones that I wanted to contact this time around.

All of which was a long way to explain how I’d come to be spending my morning in a grimy Company Facility in my section of the Lair, peeling the labels off of soda bottles from Owner’s store and doing various experiments on them.

I wasn’t actually trying to get Molotov cocktails or anything, but that was the appearance that I was going for. It was the kind of thing that was in character enough for Snitcher to accept, boring enough that he wouldn’t watch for long, and generated a lot of trash.

I’d dismissed the Company Men’s protests earlier on, and so nobody thwarted me as I wasted bottle after bottle, writing little notes on the sides of each one. The notes were things like ‘Caustic’, ‘Explosive’ and the like, theoretically telling what I’d been trying to get the ‘bombs’ to do.

In three of the bottles I’d stuffed the papers that contained my message, cryptic musings about Phis and the calamity soon to befall it. On those bottles I replaced the bombs labels with destination labels, indicating my desire that the contents make their way to my loose confederation of allies.

It felt like it should take much longer than it did, or that something momentous should mark the moment when those particular bottles went into the trash alongside all the rest, but of course the real world is never so dramatic as our instincts would have it.

I filled out and tested a few more dummy grenades, threw them away, and left.

The target information was on its way, definitely to the Resistance (absent the perpetual concern of ‘their local guy gets randomly killed because living in Shington is incredibly dangerous) and hopefully to KEM and the Union as well.

 

Afternoon: Invite Burner:

Burner was a tall woman, gaunt and red haired, with a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose.

“Oh, hey!” she said, looking up from some papers that she’d been writing on. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”

Her workshop was mostly a room, with only a few tarps thrown over some holes to make obvious the fact that it was located in a ruin. She’d cluttered it with a dizzying assortment of trunks, broken pieces of furniture, and especially flat rocks. The point of the whole place seemed to be that she liked to stack things and write wherever she was.

“I told the guy outside I wanted to surprise you,” I allowed.

I hadn’t, actually. The ‘guy outside’, a child really, had wandered off to throw rocks at a bird, so I’d simply walked up, lifted a flap and stepped inside. But getting people in trouble with their Ultras wasn’t part of my mission statement, so a white lie seemed called for.

“Oh, sure,” she said, clearly still mentally disengaging from whatever she’d been writing about.

I waited for a long few seconds, before glancing down at her work. It was a diagram, at first glance some kind of blueprints or similar, depicting a stadium or amphitheater.

“You like it?” she asked. “I’m thinking we’ll put fire along the edges here and here,” she pointed excitedly, “And then when the preliminary bouts get done I’ll-“

“It’s great,” I cut her off. “I think it’ll be great. Really wow them.”

“Yeah,” she said, contentedly. “I think we can top last year, if Builder gets back in time for-”

“She’s dead,” I told her.

She looked blankly at me for a long moment.

“You’re the warlord!”, she blurted, after her freeze ended. “I’m sorry, you had your forehead hole covered.”

“It’s fine,” I said, trying not to let her throw me. “Builder died in our last battle.”

She cursed softly, without heat, a pair of muttered swears.

“You can avenge-“ I began, then stopped.

She crumpled up the diagram she’d been working on, tossed it off to one side.

“No good now,” she said, “I’ll have to scale it all back, geez. I’ve gotten so lazy with her gift to fall back on, I’m not sure I even know the current state of our venue! I’ll have to do a survey of the outsiders to try and find another-“

“Or you can avenge her.” I said, forcefully interrupting the flow of her enthusiasm.

“Avenge her?” she asked, already pulling another sheet of paper into position on her drawing surface.

“In my posse, “ I said. “I’m offering you a position.”

“No,” she said. “I don’t want to die.”

“The risk is really-“

“Builder joined the Posse,” she told me, “I told her it was dumb, but she was head over heals chasing after another of her girls. I’m not.”

“It isn’t terribly healthy,” I told her, feeling the conversation slipping out of my grip. “To say no to the Warlord.”

“I’d rather fight you than the people you’ll fight,” she told me.

I started to say something else, then thought better of it as she raised a hand, not quite pointing at me.

“Do you want to fight?” she asked.

I didn’t, so I left.

 

Evening: Debrief Owner/Replayer

We held the debriefing at a little get together spot a ways down the road from the Packer House. I wasn’t about to invite Replayer inside.

It would have been an easy slip up to make. I’d had Smasher over a few times, after all, and nothing ill had come of it. But Smasher had been simply brutal and amoral, a creature after Her own heart. Replayer was more like First Fist, an unrestrained sadist gleefully trampling all that came across their path.

“So this bitch is all squealing and shit and I’m like-“

Case in point, I made a ‘skip to the end’ gesture.

“Oh,” said Replayer, “She didn’t know shit.”

“Did anyone?” I asked, keeping my expressions carefully even. There were persistent rumors that sufficient Ultra Speed let you read people’s micro expressions and know something of what they were thinking. I didn’t believe it, but there was no call to take chances.

“Sure,” she said. “They kind of sucked, but let me replay a sec so I get it right.”

One of her eyes sort of glitched for a moment, it looked like the spun backwards like a videotape, but it all happened too fast to really track.

Owner caught my eye, her face equally expressionless. I’d known her long enough to know that she shared my skepticism about whether this was actually part of Replayer’s gift, or just a performance to keep its particulars obscured.

“Vower is just a bitch,” she said dismissively, “Her gift can make people do what they say they are going to do or some shit like that, so the gangs keep her around so they can do deals. Her sister said she had Ultra toughness at first, but changed her tune later on.”

“So maybe some toughness,” I confirmed, “But the core of the gift is that she can control people? That sounds useful.”

“No no, shit,” said Replayer, “I’m explaining it long. She can’t make people say stuff, but if they say stuff she can make them mean it, you get me?”

I nodded.

“She’d protect us from treachery, at least,” I said, “I’ll keep her in mind. What about Caller?”

“Pussy,” she returned, “Her gift lets her talk into the mind of people that she’s seen before, and they can talk back. She can also let them talk to each other and stuff.”

“Good getting the details,” I said, “Her ability to forge a network between others could be very valuable.”

“Nah she’s a pussy,” she reiterated, “She found out I was asking about her and came to talk to me, so I kicked her around a bit. No combat gift and her arms are probably broken.”

“She might still be useful,” said Owner, “Even if not on the front lines, with her gift we could all stay in contact with one another. Even if we don’t get her in the Posse, can we just get her to link us all up?”

“Nobody’s useful if they can’t fight,” answered Replayer, looking to Owner for the first time.

“Did you find anything on the other two?” I asked. “Also, I expect Caller is similarly with he gangs, maybe helping them set up meetings or something?”

Replayer shook her head.

“I didn’t get the sense she was with anybody, I think she’s just, like, eating off the humans, you know? She links them all up and they do stuff for her in exchange?”

Perfect. An Ultra who was useful to the populace and my minion had randomly beaten her up. My luck was fan fucking tastic lately.

“Hater?” I asked.

“Knight Ultra,” she answered, immediately, “One of Refiner’s goons, she gets strength and toughness against anyone based on how many people hate them, and how much.”

“Could you get details?” I asked.

“I don’t usually scrap with the Knights,” she said, a little apologetically, “Refiner blessed my tee shirt a while back, no call to risk that if we are going to into battle, you know?”

“I thought your gift protected you?” I asked, fishing for any details.

She just chuckled.

“Nailer?” asked Owner. “She throws Ultra blasts, right?”

“Nah,” said Replayer, “She combines things together, and then they work like they were always that way. I heard that she was the one who put Pursuer together, before he got the Process.”

The timeline definitely didn’t work out on that, but I didn’t bother to correct her. The casual ignorance of history was a hallmark of the new world that I’d long since come to grips with.

“Like if she puts a car and a gun together…?”

“Sure,” she said, “Or like a person and a dog, she does that a lot. If you wondered where all those fucking dog people came from.”

I did not, in fact wonder that, and hadn’t seen any such things. It was a sobering reminder of just how big, and how weird, Shington was. The Lair was my focus, of course, but its penumbra utterly dwarfed it.

“Freelance?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “She’s got a lair out there somewhere, people find her who want stuff combined together.”

It was interesting to think about these 4, and what it said about the Union’s priorities that they were on the list.

“The training go alright, Owner?” I asked, taking my attention away from Replayer for a moment.

“Yep,” she said, in a way that I had no trouble reading as ‘nope’. Benefits of a long relationship.

Owner having trouble training the Warband wasn’t exactly surprising, and it was probably just more of the usual, the dogged Regime resistance to being taught by anyone who wasn’t stronger than them. She couldn’t exactly talk about it with Replayer here, but there was nothing else it could be.

I thought we’d trained that out of them, but maybe the new blood had made old tendencies rise up again. I grimaced internally. There was a limit to how much training I could justify to myself, when I was probably going to be expanding the warband hugely in order to match Phis’s forces.

“Fantastic,” I enthused. “Our next target won’t know what hit it.”

We laughed together then, a villainous laugh straight out of an old world cartoon.

 

Day 14

16 days until next battle

 

Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller — 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

Cutter — 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Swimmer — 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner — 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer — 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher — 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects

Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

 

Union List

Vower – 0/0/?, a woman who can enforce oathkeeping

Caller – 0/0/0, a woman who can grant and use telepathic communication

Nailer – ?/?/?, a woman who can merge objects and people into composites

Hater – X/0/X, a woman whose effectiveness depends on how much her enemy is hated, and by how many people

Assets: (physical)

1 truck

1 sedan

Owner’s Shington Store

Packer House

Fog Machines

Lasers (diverse)

 

Posse: (4 slots, 2 filled)

Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1

Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

 

Warband:

16 Veteran Ultras, 13 Rookie (that is, haven’t worked with me before) Ultras

Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.

Driver, Defender and Infecter possess interesting capabilities.

 

Blender AP: 4/10 (7-3 +2 -3 +1)

Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning

 

Available Actions:

 

Union Kill List tree, if you feel any indication to play along with their proposal (note that KEM/Resistance missions tie in well with these matters)

Get basic info on 4 Ultras (indicate names, this is a gossip based approach unless you specify otherwise)

Get detailed info on 1 Ultra (indicate name, this is a ‘track them down and speak with them’ based approach unless you specify otherwise)

Kill an Ultra from the list (indicate target name and your basic method, may cause rebellion or discontent in any Posse or Warband assets you use, may not, use your best judgement and be clever)

Send Union a Message (indicate text of message, this is actually a Resistance action, but I’ve placed it here for ease of use)

 

Posse Recruitment tree

Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)

Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)

Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)

 

Warband tree

Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)

Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)

Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)

 

VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)

Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)

 

Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)

Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)

Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action) (This can go in either direction, asking them to do something from you, or asking if they need you to do anything for them.)

 

Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)

Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2

Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure

Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard

Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10

 

Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)

 

Player Input:

Blender Morning Action

Blender Afternoon Action

Owner will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.

Replayer will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.

Regime Quest 47

Day 12:

Early Morning: Read Union’s Note

The note was easy to find, easy to read, hard to digest.

It read:

To my counterpart,

I undertake this correspondence as penance, and as a goad against future error. Perhaps chatting with a savage named after a kitchen appliance will help me to avoid the complacency which led to your recent successes.

I wasn’t able to understand the first part of your missive, perhaps the channel confused matters. I can fill in the gist, I suppose.

Our official policy is that we do not respond to hostage takers, but I can’t resist the temptation to let you know that the woman you abducted was named Soarer, Merlin was the one who got away. I expect that humans all look the same to you, but these two are Ultrahumans, I feel like you could have kept them straight.

But no. I was only able to bring myself to close the feeds of your last victim this morning, I can resist for a while yet the temptation to underestimate you. No doubt your latest devilry will become clear in time, to our great dismay.

I expect you no longer have a pressing need for trucks and such supplies, but perhaps you will in the future. You are correct in assuming that we are willing to make such arrangements. Our material goods are on the table, and more besides.

Here is what we will give you. I do Not-See any reason why this arrangement would ever be betrayed.

Cost 1:

Insurance (for your own person, and those of your followers) against our attacks for a month, or until you provoke us. If you buy this we will allow you to molest the Pantheon and your fellow savages with impunity. (I expect you to buy this, but hope that you don’t.)

A large quantity of material goods. Guns, trucks, bombs, that manner of thing. Whatever your grubby little heart desires. Tell us what you want, we’ll tell you where we leave it. We have good practice in making our deliveries look like the sort of thing you’d find in the ruins you squat in.

An intelligence report on a Pantheon or Regime stronghold. You can expect a description of any fortifications, briefs on the ruling Ultrahumans, accounts of their forces and speculation as to their current and near future activities.

Cost 2:

A strike on a Pantheon or Regime target of your choosing, carried out with expendable assets (drones, auxiliaries and such). Prior experience would suggest that you should expect significant attrition of a unit caught in the open by such a strike, much less so on one that is occupying fortifications.

Cost 3:

We will make a good faith effort at killing a Pantheon or Regime individual of your choice, so long as said assassination does not take place in the Lair and is not directed at anyone who your leader knows personally. In the past these were mostly successful.

I hope you find these services enticing. I assure that they are very real. You are far from the first to occupy your role, and teaming up with us against the Pantheon is a strategy that many of your kind have successfully employed. We are enthusiastic collaborators, deeply committed to a coalition environment.

As far as your payment goes, we take it in Regime deaths, off of the following list.

  • Analyzer, Begger, Blender. Caller (*). Composer. Dealer, Finisher, Grower, Hater, Hugger, Jinxer, Limiter, Lowerer, Lurker (the second one), Mincer, Murderer, Nailer, Omitter, Owner, Presser, Resister, Sender, Saver, Tester, Vower (*), Yowler

If you can arrange for the deaths of ten Ultrahumans not on the list, that counts for one. (We don’t count the ones in your warband, those will die without your cooperation). If you arrange for the deaths of five hundred unpowered Regime citizens, that is also one. (50 fascists ~ one Ultra, 10 Ultras usually means one we have a problem with).

A star by the name means it counts double, just one such kill would earn you a drone strike!

In order to make these purchases, send us the names of those you’ve killed, as well as what you want done for it. You can be as long winded or complicated as you would like, but I’m pretty sure our mutual friends/victims pass these orally between at least 3 different people before they make it from one of us to another, so simplicity is your friend here.

-Player 2

Morning: Invite Replayer:

Replayer was lounging in a makeshift hammock when I walked up, with a trio of humans on either side holding up the ends.

“Blender, shit!” she said, scrambling up to her feet in a flash. “I heard about the wicked battle! You really fucked em up!”

I grinned, broadly and evenly, thinking about scrambling around in the mud and fire, and the desperate mutual hunt with the Round Table. I let no hint of how disturbing it was that she could shift her position completely before I could react touch my face.

“Totally,” I said. “It was fucking glorious, you should have been there!”

“You picked Smasher, remember?” she said. “I hear she got totally punked out.”

I nodded solemnly.

“Died bravely,” I corrected, “But that’s battle for you. Glory isn’t easily plucked, you know? People watch your stuff at the Ultra Fights because the real thing is too terrible to watch.”

She gave an expression then that I wasn’t fast enough to see, just a sort of flicker across her face. It was a sobering reminder to be very careful here.

“We got a new strong girl,” she said, after a moment, “Another Mangler if you can believe it. I swear the Company gives that name to everyone.”

I gave a brief snort, sort of a suppressed chuckle noise.

“I probably brought her in,” I told Replayer. “We did some Processing before I went out on my last expedition.”

“Circle of life,” she said, “You fixed what you broke. Fights go on.”

We shared a companionable silence for a moment, looking out onto the Lair’s winding streets, just beginning to bustle as the lazier inhabitants got up and about.

“You were right,” I said, after that moment had had its time.

“Course I was,” she responded, instantly.

I let that sit in the air for a second, idly cracking my knuckles.

“When was I right?” she asked, the merest hint of a smile appearing on the edge of her mouth.

“When you said that you were the strongest, that Smasher wasn’t good enough.”

Her turn to be quiet for a sec.

“We nearly died,” I continued, “Worse, we nearly failed Her. When Smasher went down things got bad. I’m not inclined to let that happen again.”

“Going to correct the mistake?” she asked, “Take the right Ultra this time?”

I gave a solemn nod.

“You’re up,” I told her. “Full Posse membership. I need a wrecking ball, and you are the best around.”

“Wicked,” she said, and, of course, was.

 

Afternoon: Train Warband, focus on personalized capabilities

I spent the afternoon going through the warband’s capabilities with a metaphorical fine toothed comb. Phis was going to be a brutal fight, and there was no sense leaving any money on the side of the road, so to speak.

If I was already in command of anyone with a use I didn’t know about, now was the time to rectify that.

I didn’t have a lot of hopes for this, to be honest. I’d recruited all of my followers from the Yard, meaning that they were paramount Ultra combatants. That meant that they had, in large majority, Ultra Toughness One and Ultra Strength One or its equivalent.

It made them elite, and was probably the single largest contributing factor in my victory at Ar Harbour, but it also ate up the lion’s share of their gifts. It wasn’t reasonable to expect anyone with strength, toughness, and another capability besides to become a Warband member. Someone with such a flexible and mighty gift would probably be in the Posse, if not actively angling for my job.

If I wanted people with diverse capabilities to join up, I probably needed to recruit from the Lair proper, maybe scout them out personally, as I’d done with Soarer, and then figure out a way to keep people from shooting them.

An ordinary Warband would also need to somehow be kept from bullying the new less combative members, but I’d put a lot of time into training my crew, and hopefully the vets, at least, would have gotten the message that infighting wasn’t something I took kindly to.

Still, despite my reservations, I was able to find a trio of interesting prospects. They gave me a decent amount to think about over the course of the afternoon.

Infecter was the first one everyone looked to when I asked about ‘weird’ gifts. Her gift made a black oil seep from her hands, a slow flowing syrup-like fluid that stained anything she dripped it on.

The oil wasn’t harmful in the conventional sense, it didn’t dissolve or eat away at the forms it clung to, until Infecter decided it was time.

She could explode it whenever she wanted, violently detonating the substance at her whim, and doing so with enough force to damage enemies with Ultra Toughness of the first rank.

During the Ar Harbour battle, and as a general practice, she’d soaked a few throwing stones in her fluids before the battle, and she would fling them at the enemy as they closed, making them erupt as soon as they hit, like grenades. Once the enemy got up close she tried to land palm strikes on people, leaving her handprints wherever she could for later detonation.

I tried to get more details on her detonation criteria, and it seemed to be flexible and powerful. She could either pick out a cube in her mind, and blow up any of her fluid inside that cube, or pick a time in her memories, and activate the substance that she’d been creating at that particular point in time.

Fortifier was the second, an Ultra whose work I’d actually seen before. She was the blaster who had taken out Guinevere in the end, putting a stop to my fruitless pursuit back in that heated scrum.

She was a living turret, it seemed. She could sculpt and ‘throw’ her energy around. Its impact depended on how long she’d been stationary before she threw it. It started out as a subdual weapon, like the old rubber bullets that riot cops used to use. Once she’d been in the same place for thirty seconds it got to be lethal, and if she stood around for three or more minutes, seemingly a two hundred count, it topped out at Ultra Strength Two.

That was what had shattered Guin, one of her full strength blasts. She’d planted herself at the back of our formation and done brutal business with the enemy’s ranks as the fight had raged on.

The last was ‘Driver, a soft spoken Ultra with a terrifying gift. If she could put her hands on you she could take over your form, leaving her own piloted by her “robot mind”, as she called it.

Once she did this her own form acted as she’d instructed beforehand, while her will controlled her victim. This was resisted by the victim’s Ultra Toughness in much the same way as my own Blending was, that is, it didn’t work at all on someone who was Ultra Tough Two, it took a minute or so of contact on someone with basic Ultra Toughness, and it was instant on an unprotected target.

If the victim was killed while she was ‘driving’ them she snapped back to her own form. If her own form received a forceful blow during this time it was negated, and she snapped back.

I took careful notes on each of these three, adding their gifts to the list I kept of my force’s overall capabilities. I felt like I was finally getting clear of the shadow that had fallen over me since my run in with Subtracter, like I was becoming myself again.

It was a good feeling.

Evening: Debrief Owner

“How was Burner?” I asked.

Owner gave a sullen shrug, frowning off into space.

I sighed. No help for it.

“Something got you down?” I asked.

She fed a bit of lettuce to Napoleon, looking back over to me after a long beat.

“Burner’s fine,” she said. “She does the pyro work for the Ultra fights, you know how the audience gets surrounded by fire, but it doesn’t burn them? That’s her. She also does the fire diagrams when they can’t get sets built.”

“So she can make the flame go where she wants, and burn what she wants?” I asked, looking to clarify, and also to take Owner’s mind off whatever was bugging her.

“She has to see it to set it on fire,” said Owner, “And if she looks away or stop concentrating then it just becomes regular fire, burns everything its on. Her gift isn’t as strong as Guinevere’s.”

That was certainly true, but even a weaker version wasn’t to be scoffed at. Burner’s flames couldn’t hurt Ultra Tough foes, but they could devour fortifications, blind her enemies and be deployed in the middle of friendlies without doing any harm.

It was something of a truism, when one talked about Ultra gifts, that anything that couldn’t affect Ultra Toughness was useless, but I’d been giving the matter some thought recently, and that wasn’t exactly true.

If the enemy was fielding a force comparable to mine, then sure, it wouldn’t work on them. But not everyone had access to the Yard. Arthur’s Knights weren’t going to be on the next battlefield. The Pantheon was well known for a quantity over quality kind of approach. Burner might do a lot of work against them.

“What was she like?” I asked.

Owner’s frown deepened.

“Passionate,” she said, after a moment’s contemplation. “She went on and on about the Ultra Fights, about what she was trying to do with them. It was hard to pin her down and get the specifics you wanted, because she was just so keen to talk about her work.”

“Hah?” I asked, incredulously.

“I know, right?” she said. “Ultra Fight is just a stupid game to mess around with the audience, you know? They aren’t even real fights, but she is so fucking into it. I had to hold myself back from laughing at her.”

It was strange to hear about someone in the Regime who had a real entertainer’s passion, of course, but after I thought about it for a second I could accept it. From my vantage point, from Owner’s, there might not be anything to the shows, but Burner would have her own lived experience.

You were only your time, in the end, right? Just like the rest of the Ultras only dimly knew about the Warlord and their duties, just like the people in the Yard imagined the Lair as a promised land, everything only mattered to the degree that you let it, or made it.

For Owner, who spent so much time on her shops, but knew so little of their underpinnings, it must have been a shock to come up against someone who was genuinely passionate about their work.

She was probably asking herself some hard questions now. I doubted anything would come of it, but I’d keep an eye on her.

As far as hard questions went, ‘how do I make it through Phis’ was the one that I was stuck on.

 

Day 13

17 days until next battle

 

Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller — 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

Cutter — 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Swimmer — 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner — 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer — 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher — 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects

Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

 

 

Assets: (physical)

1 truck

1 sedan

Owner’s Shington Store

Packer House

Fog Machines

Lasers (diverse)

 

Posse: (4 slots, 1 filled)

Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1

Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

 

Warband:

16 Veteran Ultras, 13 Rookie (that is, haven’t worked with me before) Ultras

Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.

Driver, Defender and Infecter possess interesting capabilities.

 

Blender AP: 7/10 (8-3 +2 -3 +2 +1)

Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning

 

Available Actions:

 

Union Kill List tree, if you feel any indication to play along with their proposal (note that KEM/Resistance missions tie in well with these matters)

Get basic info on 4 Ultras (indicate names, this is a gossip based approach unless you specify otherwise)

Get detailed info on 1 Ultra (indicate name, this is a ‘track them down and speak with them’ based approach unless you specify otherwise)

Kill an Ultra from the list (indicate target name and your basic method, may cause rebellion or discontent in any Posse or Warband assets you use, may not, use your best judgement and be clever)

Send Union a Message (indicate text of message, this is actually a Resistance action, but I’ve placed it here for ease of use)

 

Posse Recruitment tree

Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)

Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)

Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)

 

Warband tree

Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)

Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)

Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)

 

VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)

Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)

 

Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)

Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)

Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action) (This can go in either direction, asking them to do something from you, or asking if they need you to do anything for them.)

 

Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)

Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2

Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure

Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard

Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10

 

Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)

 

Player Input:

Blender Morning Action

Blender Afternoon Action

Owner will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.

Replayer will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.

If you want Blender to get the Union message and read it that is a free action, would not cost either of your daily actions. If you don’t get it today it will likely be destroyed however, for infosec reasons the Resistance doesn’t like to leave messages around too long.

 

Preventer 11:1

It was strange to be back in the Lair once more. I’d risked everything to leave this place, done my damnedest to put these streets forever behind me, and here I was. It all felt unreal, somehow.

The last time I’d been here, we’d been a full Fist, with our Link intact. Haunter had been a lot less bossy, Dale hadn’t yet warped his mind with these idiot elixirs, and I’d been filled with the anticipation of my defection to the Pantheon.

My return felt more like a dream or a vision than it did a part of my actual life. The streets were subtly different from my memories, locations having grown more prominent and well maintained or less so over months of our absence.

The skulls that we’d cringed at had become ubiquitous, nearly every building now mounted one on every side. When last we were here the ‘Watcher’ who was supposedly looking out them had been a bluff, a way to make the Resistance think that Snitcher had been replaced. I wasn’t sure whether or not the grisly sentries were a genuine threat now, and I felt a prickle crawl across my skin as I met their blank gazes.

I wasn’t unaware of how others might view me. The Union, Haunter, they didn’t have a terribly high opinion of me. The Gardens that I’d used to join the Shington elite would forever damn me in their eyes. I’d wondered, from time to time, whether it might not be my gift that estranged me so from my peers, whether the guilt or empathy they went on about weren’t considered weaknesses that I needed to be shielded from.

But I would never have done something like this. I felt like you couldn’t be human and do something like this, although if I said that out loud I was sure Haunter would start yammering on about how ancient history proved me wrong.

First Fist’s grisly program must have killed thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Every skull was human, nearly all of them entirely unblemished, and they were everywhere. The sheer waste necessary for such an endeavor was mind boggling.

Or maybe it wasn’t really waste. If Haunter’s idea, that Remover was some kind of devil, was true, then maybe this was a declaration of victory. An, “I’ve grown so skilled at making your kind kill one another that now I have you doing it for decorations!” kind of thing.

Thinking of First Fist was a mistake. I pasted a ghastly sneer on my face as I followed along behind Dale, clenching my hands behind my back to keep them from flapping.

Thui was in First Fist’s hands. He wouldn’t be waiting for me at home.

I was surprised how much the thought hurt. I’d known, when we left, that we were parting. It had been the plan from the get go, when I first realized that Her service was incompatible with a long life. I had never imagined that I might take a human with me into the Pantheon’s leadership.

But there had, of course, never been a need to tell HIM that, and so our arrangement had persisted. He’d been a bed warmer, a loyal right hand, and most importantly a source of confidence when I was being indecisive. I could never show fear in front of him, and with him kept close by that had allowed me to become, to all appearances, fearless, a far cry from the cowering creature that I’d been before the Process.

Dale seized a passerby in a granite grip, the ground rising up and clenching around the poor woman. He barked questions at her, then guided us onwards. It looked like we were headed back to my old house, which meant it was not in Torturer’s new radius.

It was odd to see Dale like that. I knew the people that he was doing his best impression of, had grown up around their sort. It was anger deployed to hide fear, aggression substituting for confidence. If we started walking in a spiral, and we somehow didn’t meet any other Ultras, we would come across a dozen tiny human gangs in an hour, and every one of their leaders would be acting just like that.

I’d grown up in such a gang, a runt even then. I’d learned, early on, that fetching and scavenging were the safest chores to take on, and that the bigger ones would take anything I found that was worth it. I’d learned to hide the shaking of my hands, to lean into punches so that the bruises would show to better advantage, and a hundred other priceless lessons. I could probably throw a stone and get it to bounce off two or three of my former selves, from any place in all of Shington.

Mario stood out.

It wasn’t anything concrete that he was doing, he had apparently been at least a little trained on how we conducted ourselves in the Lair, it was, hmm, hard to say. All I knew was that back in the day I’d have marked him instantly as someone who would stop after giving the first kick, no matter what he caught you doing.

“Stop looking around, you freak.” I muttered to him.

Maybe that was part of it. Maybe he was too obviously interested in everything around him, when a genuine denizen of the Lair knew that everything outside of your own situation was none of your business.

Haunter dropped back alongside me.

“Second Fist’s old domain is in Torturer’s new zone. Can you guess where they might have moved to?”

I grimaced.

Second Fist held some of the leaders of the Regime’s various institutions. They commanded the Knights, and interfered a lot more with the Warlord situation than any of the other Fists did. Them being displaced would matter a lot more than us or Third Fist being moved.

“Look for Knights, I guess,” I answered, “Refiner and his crew won’t be hiding. We shouldn’t stumble across them without knowing it. Maybe the skulls around their hangout zone will all have antlers?”

If we got back to my house and my Knights hadn’t wandered off we could ask them. I’d always found it useful to keep a number of them around, and they had served as emissaries to Second Fist more than once. If Haunter’s ‘find Answerer’ plan didn’t work out, then I’d probably put them to use in that capacity again.

We clambered over some rubble and through a cleft between two buildings, emerging into the Lair’s innermost sanctum, or at least where it had formerly been. These were the old government buildings, the ramshackle remnants of Haunter’s world, where its conquerors squatted and sniped at one another.

My place was still standing, with no one obviously occupying it. I could make out a skull above the front door, but that was about all I could tell from here.

“Stop,” I murmured to the others, drawing them off to the side of the byway.

“What’s up?” asked Mario, but I was more focused on Dale, who was frowning quizzically at me.

“We need to give them time to get out of there,” I muttered. “Unless you feel like slaughtering whatever squatters might have moved in.”

Haunter, whose bullshit mind gift had no doubt given her a similar idea, gave a quiet nod of agreement, and so we loitered for a moment, leaning dangerously against a random wall and scowling at any passersby who got too close.

It was just like old times.

When guys like Mario thought about gang life, particularly in the Lair, they probably pictured furious fights, every day scrambling around in mortal peril. What it actually involved was a lot of this, just standing around looking tough.

You weren’t always in a conflict, you knew what Ultra was running your particular territory and you sucked up to her. You knew which solos you could boss around, and you harassed them when you could. You knew where the other gangs’ territories started, and you stayed carefully on your side. That left a lot of time.

The report I’d written for Her, way back when, about why our morale was so low, had been based on personal experience. The Regime was all bread, no circuses. There was an overwhelming shortage of anything interesting to do.

Thui had helped with that, at least.

I succumbed to a moment of nostalgia, then. I clearly had the past on my mind, and maybe it was better to just rip the bandage off entirely.

I had graduated, when I grew up enough to be desirable, from scavenger and street runner to an Ultra’s minion. I’d been too short to be a Snitch, but I’d spent a comfortable decade as one of Slaughterer’s ornaments. Thui had picked me up when she got tired of me.

He was a human gang leader back then, someone who Slaughterer had given a few tasks to. He had a calmness to him, a formal way of speaking that was somehow intimidating to those around him. He seemed like someone who didn’t care whether or not you thought he was strong, which was exactly how the strong people had seemed.

Watching Thui had been the first time that I realized that confidence was just a way that you acted. The reason that I’d never been able to fool anyone was that they could all tell that I was trying to fool them, and caring about whether they were fooled was a lot like caring what they thought of me.

Thui wasn’t any more confident than anyone else, I ultimately realized. He simply acted as though he was, and I could do that too. It was the first time I understood that my flapping hands were traitors, that looking down and muttering was actually hurting me. I took the first step to becoming Preventer back when I was still human, when I first decided to change myself into a leader.

I’d been forced to betray him, of course. In order to become a leader I had to stop being a minion. I’d tried to make it look like he was undermining Slaughterer, like he was trying to curry favor with another Ultra.

I’d been found out, of course. Looking back on it now I could see the amateurish conceit of my first scheme, the way that I’d just assumed that everyone would believe what I told them, and most importantly wouldn’t talk to each other.

Any other leader would have killed me. Made a big thing out of it, used me as a lesson to inspire the others.

Thui, instead, had seemed somehow proud, in a way that he never had when I’d been loyal. I think it was the joy of the teacher, the way Adder had sometimes got, where he saw something, or thought he saw something, of himself in me.

He’d sent me to the Process, instead. Told me that if I wanted to be in charge, there was only one way to make that happen.

When I survived I’d returned, and his gang had formed the core of my retinue. I’d spared him right back and he had stayed on as my chief servant, then, unofficially, as something like my coach.

I had been unsure of myself, at first. Rebeccah with Preventer’s gifts, just a mask. I’d needed someone to emulate, someone who saw me and approved. Thui had been that someone, right up until First Fist had killed him in front of me.

Killed a copy, I reminded myself sternly. I was going to get the real one back from them.

I gave a crooked grin as I saw a few people begin to discreetly bail out of my house. No doubt they’d been planning on going out the rear, and realized only too late that that door didn’t actually open.

If I’d ever had to flee I would have just stepped out a window, of course, but one of the big perks of being invincible was that that would never happen. I’d sealed the rear door thoroughly a long time ago.

“Let’s go,” said Haunter, after they’d disappeared around a corner.

Haunter, no doubt, thought that I was acting from sentiment here. That the idea of Thui in First Fist’s hands had forced me to act against my interest, abandoning my plan of sanctuary in the Pantheon in order to accompany her on this foolhardy assault on Remover.

She wasn’t entirely wrong, but the truth was a little more complicated. I was as clear headed as I had always been, I thought. The Pantheon was simply no longer viable, not now that there food had been choked off, and the Union wasn’t about to accept me. I’d left the Regime because Her instability had threatened my life, and I was returning now because She was less unstable than the world at large.

I hadn’t lost sight of my goal. I was still true to myself, still acting in the way that would let me see the most tomorrows. New information had inspired a new course of action, was all.

We arrived at last at my door, and everyone stood aside for me, the unspoken and ancient ways of hospitality asserting themselves at last. I hesitated a moment.

Some part of me thought that Remover would be just inside, sitting in my chair and drinking a cola out of Thui’s skull. Another part thought it would be Second Fist, forced into our path by the whatever pattern of fate had seen us work alongside Sixth, skirmish with Fifth, and then face Third in battle.

I opened the door, the foyer stood vacant and looted.

I swept inside, unsurprised. If any fragment of me had expected my things to keep during an absence of months it had been dispelled when we’d seen the squatters fleeing. Shington wasn’t so tidy of a place, where the reputation of the mighty could keep the gangs out in their absence. Even a Fist’s dwellings would, in time, be put to use.

And that looked to be what had happened. Rude bedding had been lined up on my immaculate floors, glyphs of gang ownership had been scratched into the furniture I’d had scavenged and carefully matched.

My immediate instinct was to perform outrage, the gut fear arising that to be seen to be injured in this way and not react immediately would look weak, and my ambitions would depend upon immediate retribution.

But that was old thinking. I controlled myself.

I had much more immediate worries now. I was no longer that person, and as much as I might enjoy the reminiscing, the dangers that confronted me wouldn’t show any mercy for such distraction.

“Fuckers,” snarled Dale, jerking his chin in the direction that the squatters had fled in.

“Should I…?” he asked, looking to me for approval.

I shook my head. I was pretty sure Dale couldn’t actually use his gift right now, with a basement between him and the ground, but in any case we had no time for punishment.

Every second we were here was another chance for something to go wrong. For Prevailer to send for Dale, or for the Union to decide Mario was defecting and take a shot at silencing us.

“People will be coming by shortly,” I told him, “They’ll want to know how long we are back for, and they’ll be looking to ingratiate themselves to a new Fist in town. Our appearance upsets their power balance, and they’ll all see the opportunity to one up their rivals by getting on our side first.”

“They’ll want to be helpful,” said Mario.

I nodded.

“The help I need right now is the locations of our targets,” I said, “And keeping track of the Inner Circle and the Fists is a survival skill around these parts.”

Regime Quest 46

Day 10:

Morning: Healing people take 2

This was more like it.

I spent my morning knee deep in the refuse of the Regime, the people who had not so much slipped through the cracks as been forced face first through a wire mesh. Broken people, dying people…my people.

The promise of Ultra gifts was so clear on the rare occasions that I could sneak away and spend time like this. This was how it should always have been.

People came to me with problems that had haunted them for months or years. I took them away in hours. They came to me with diseases that would bring their life expectancy down to months. I sent them away with it raised back up to ‘the next time an Ultra gets pissy’.

And I had no training. No knowledge of the diseases or natural imbalances I was correcting. Just magic from the Process, blasting effortlessly through the obstacles to human thriving and increasing the world’s overall welfare.

It was addictive, invigorating, and utterly validating.

I didn’t have to tell each beneficiary that this had to be kept covert. The Resistance had seen to that. I’d been at this for months, and the matter had been honed to something of a science.

I lurked in a darkened booth in a random meetup joint. My ‘patients’ waited nearby, lookouts watching the doors. If a human who was being helped came out, then that meant to send the next one in. If I came out, then we were done for the day.

I tried not to look to much at those I healed, tried to keep my grip firm and impersonal. If Snitcher spent a second or so in my senses I wanted him to see nothing interesting, just a quiet moment in a darkened room.

But still, in those stolen moments, I could see my gift taking effect. I could see people sitting up straighter, chronic pain erased in mere minutes. I could see their gratitude and their joy.

It felt strange, after Ar Harbour, and that utter shitstorm, but this was me. This was what I wanted to be. A bringer of health and joy.

This being the Regime, of course, that meant I was on some level an outlaw and a traitor, not of our laws, for we had none, but of Her values. But so be it.

It wasn’t that I chose the risk, as much as that I couldn’t make myself choose the alternative. To have this gift and do nothing, just watch people waste away? My heart would have to be entirely dead for that.

And it wasn’t, just yet.

 

Afternoon: Training Warband in Obedience

“In an Ultra Fight,” I declared, “Anyone that hesitates is dead! Anyone that commits against an enemy that they cannot damage is dead! Anyone who is baited away and surrounded…dead!”

The veterans nodded sagely, from where they were seated around the edges of the Barracks common room. The newbies just sat there, eyes wide.

They weren’t seeing Blender, not really. They damn sure weren’t seen Mia. They were seeing the Warlord, the conqueror of Ar Harbour. Their commander.

They were eating it up, and why shouldn’t they? These were the scions of the New World. They’d taken Her orders all their lives. Someone had told them what to do, where to go. Someone had ordered them into the Process, and now here I was, the woman who would order them into battle.

Order them, in fact, to their deaths.

They would face it as the young always had, with bravado and aggression. With laughter and courage. Go back a hundred years, maybe swap stuff so that the majority were men instead of women, and these were GIs. Go back two hundred and they were doughboys. Back beyond that they’d be knights, legionaries, and so forth. Humanity had only one shape for violence, and it was a group of young faces, desperately trying to be hard and trying to hide how hard they were trying.

“You stick together!” I insisted, shades of every drill sergeant who’d ever lived giving these same instructions, “You work as a team! You learn the gifts of everyone else, you work the enemy together. You see someone you can’t hurt, but who can’t hurt you? You haul them over to someone on our side who can take them down. You see someone on their side put one of ours down? You let everyone know how hard you’ve seen them hit.”

I leaned towards them, scowling, catching the eyes of the smartest among them, the most aggressive.

“Ultra combat is all about the matchups. Our strengths pushed against their weaknesses. Our toughest holding down their strongest. When you are in it, inside the scrum, your instincts are going to be raging at you, screaming at you to go mindless, to strike until you are dead.”

I stood back up top.

“And if you give in to those instincts, that’s exactly what you will be. Reason delivers victory, ladies. The team that works together gets the prize. We WILL be that team.”

I gave it a long beat, letting the tension build.

“Or you will be dead, and I’ll do it all myself.”

Quiet chuckling at that, and I motioned the squad leaders in, moving myself back out towards the periphery.

Today had been about obedience. They’d heard the Ultra combat speeches before, numerous times. But it meant something else hearing them from me. I’d held the floor down for hours, going through every profound sounding sound bite I could think of, and I was pretty sure at this point that I was the very avatar of martial competence in these kid’s minds.

Even more important, they’d also seen the veterans and their squad leaders hopping to obey. They’d heard the awed whispers, seen the divot in my forehead. They knew who they followed.

And I was Her hand on earth.

 

Evening: Debrief Owner

“How was Bubbler?” I asked.

“Good!” said Owner, right away and without hesitation.

I was more encouraged by the way that she said it, than I actually was by the content. Owner was a bit of a people pleaser. Anyone vaguely alright was always going to get her approval, but the fact that she didn’t have to spend any time mentally justifying it meant something.

“Her clinic look alright?” I continued.

Owner nodded, a bit smugly.

“For something made out of stuff from today, sure. Doesn’t hold a candle to my place, of course, but she makes do.”

From my understanding of it, Bubbler’s gift wasn’t as powerful as my own healing, but it could actually affect Ultras. Consequently, her clinic catered to the Regime’s Ultras, healing us up so that we could fight again.

It had made her very popular, easy to get info on. I knew most everything about her gift from my first effort, way back at the beginning of my tenure.

Bubbler could put anything or anyone she touched into a ‘bubble’ made out of the usual Ultra nonsense. They were weightless while inside there, easily floated about.

Being inside a bubble gradually repaired forms, whether they were human, Ultra or inanimate. It didn’t raise the dead, and I’d heard rumors that it had some kind of inability to affect anyone who was sufficiently Ultra Tough, which would make sense.

“She calls it a clinic, but it is a lot more than that,” Owner went on. “People bring her things to bubble, old world tech and stuff, and she sends them on their way with it. One of the more popular Ultras to the unpowered people, anyway.”

“How does it rate compared to your place, or Blisser’s?” I asked.

“Nobody’s more popular than Blisser,” she said, “But I bet she gets more takers than I do. You have to dig up old world currency to get stuff from me, but Bubbler takes her payment in favors and gossip. Lower cost of entry, don’t ya know?”

“Did she seem interested?” I asked. “In joining us, that is?”

Owner shook her head, slowly.

“This was just an info gathering trip,” she hedged, “So I didn’t press her, but she didn’t even seem to know I was working for you up until I mentioned it. She kind of gives the impression that she’s ok with how she spends her time, you know? Doesn’t really seem hungry for glory.”

I grimaced.

“That makes sense,” I allowed, but still, an Ultra who was competent enough to run her own business, with a gift like that, and who shared my sentiments on humans…could I really leave her in the wild?

I went to bed still mulling on it, and as I was drifting off I heard the rattle of pebbles at my window.

A dead drop, then. From the Resistance. It could only be the Union’s answer.

 

Day 12

18 days until next battle

 

Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller — 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

Cutter — 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Swimmer — 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner — 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer — 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher — 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects

Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

 

 

Assets: (physical)

1 truck

1 sedan

Owner’s Shington Store

Packer House

Fog Machines

Lasers (diverse)

 

Posse: (4 slots, 1 filled)

Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1

 

Warband:

16 Veteran Ultras, 13 Rookie (that is, haven’t worked with me before) Ultras

Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.

 

Blender AP: 8/10 (3-1 +6 -3 +2 +1)

Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning

 

Available Actions:

 

Posse Recruitment tree

Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)

Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)

Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)

 

Warband tree

Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)

Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)

Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)

 

VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)

Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)

 

Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)

Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)

Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action) (This can go in either direction, asking them to do something from you, or asking if they need you to do anything for them.)

 

Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)

Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2

Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure

Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard

Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10

 

Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)

 

Player Input:

Blender Morning Action

Blender Afternoon Action

Owner will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.

If you want Blender to get the Union message and read it that is a free action, would not cost either of your daily actions. If you don’t get it today it will likely be destroyed however, for infosec reasons the Resistance doesn’t like to leave messages around too long.

 

Regime Quest 45

Day 10:

Morning: Healing people

There was an old joke, or maybe saying.

“What if they called a war and no one came?”

It was ridiculous, of course, but thinking about ‘why’ it was ridiculous helped you to understand some things about the world you lived in. I liked sayings like that. You had to kind of, like, digest them.

So it was less amusing that I was living the dumbest future timeline version. “What if you offered free magic healing, and no one came?”

I had never had this happen before. Literally never. Each and every single time I’d gotten the word out to my contacts I had been virtually BURIED under an avalanche of people in desperate need. I’d once had two healing days consecutively, and the rush hadn’t slowed down in the slightest.

But today there was nothing.

I slumped down, leaning against a pillar in the ruined church I used for this sort of thing, trying very hard not to fixate on the fact that I had, in all likelihood, about three weeks left alive, and I was JUST SITTING HERE.

I gave it another hour, and then went to try and figure out what had happened. It wasn’t terribly hard.

I described it, earlier, as ‘getting the word out to my contacts’, but what I technically did was leave a message in a certain place, where a Resistance member knew to look.

First Fist had been, by terribly coincidence, near that place, doing a human dogfighting thing. I didn’t get close enough to get the details, but if my contact had been there then there was an excellent chance I’d need a new contact.

Best case scenario, they’d cleared out in time, and I’d just wasted my morning waiting on healing that no one knew was available. Worst case didn’t bear thinking about.

This damn city. This damn world.

 

Afternoon: Abort to self care

I had planned to train the warband in the afternoon.

I got as far as the door, but couldn’t make myself actually open it.

I’d stumbled back home from the outskirts of First Fist’s hideous game in something like a fugue state, my consciousness locked in a sort of desperate attempt to think of something else.

My warband, the things we did, they weren’t that something else. We were more of the same, in the privacy of my own soul I could admit it. We were afraid to die, afraid of Her, and so we killed. Those we battled were just the same as us, separated only by accidents of fate and fortune.

What good would it do, for me to train them? I could make them better killers, but I was completely powerless to make them better people. If we stuck it out, if we prevailed in our next battle…there would only be another one behind that, and another after that, forever.

I slumped down in one of the more intact chairs in the Packer House, mind awhirl with dark thoughts.

Had I become what I fought against? I had always imagined myself, within the Regime, as sand in the gears. Was that just a delusion? Was I always a component?

The higher I’d risen, the stranger it had seemed that I never seemed to encounter genuine partisans of the Regime. Everyone, all the way up, was just currying favor and doing their best to stay alive.

The Knights were just sucking up to Refiner for his protection, their racism as rote and pro forma as the warband’s protestations of loyalty to the revolving door warlocks. The Troubleshooters hid behind Adder’s broad shadow, their service bent around keeping out of Her notice.

Even Snitcher, if Maker could be believed, was living for his diversions. Even a bastion of the Regime, one of Her inner circle, couldn’t draw any energy from this horrific mess. It was just Blenders, all the way up to Her. We were all engaged in oppressing one another so that She wouldn’t kill us.

But there was a difference, ultimately, between the rest of them and I.

I had actually acted, I reminded myself. I’d seen this atrocity and made up my mind to set myself against it. I’d fought for the Warlord job, killing Ultras who would otherwise have gone on to propagate this tragedy into the wider world. Once in the job I’d rounded up yet more of them, found a target and slammed them against it. Casualties in excess of 50% in the battle with Ar Harbour.

A twinge went through me at the thought of Builder, at the thought of the innocents of Ar Harbour who’d been caught up in things, but the fact was that scores of Regime Ultras were gone. If the harm that I did was indisputable, then so was the good. I was genuinely, actually, verifiably fighting back against Her in the only way that I could.

I rose refreshed, as the evening came upon me. I wasn’t a hundred percent my self again, but I’d seen my way through the worst of it. The Warband would keep. The future would keep. I could only do my best.

Evening: Debrief Owner

“How was Shower?” I asked her.

Owner had returned shortly after I’d returned to a more active state.

I was glad that she hadn’t been a bit earlier. I’d struggled with aphasia for a long time, and Owner knew that, but I still didn’t like for her to see me when one of my bleak moods was upon me.

“He was his usual self,” she answered. “Still jealous that you got the job, of course, but he wanted to congratulate you on dealing with Arthur. He’d been doing some info gathering of his own, figuring you were gonna lose, and he wasn’t looking forward to dealing with them.”

I didn’t bother to ask why he hadn’t shared any of this info. The Regime was all about survival of the fittest. He wasn’t in the Posse, so we were rivals. Forget collaboration, I was lucky he hadn’t actively tried to work against me.

“Did you sound him out about the future?” I asked her. “He could be exceptionally valuable in Phis. There are very likely to be some absolutely massive battles going down there, and that’s where he would thrive.”

Owner frowned a bit.

“I asked him some leading questions,” she said, “But I wasn’t sure whether or not we were letting people know about the target. I know last time it was a huge hassle that Arthur knew we were coming…should I be open about where the Warband is going to be headed? I could see arguments either way, you know?”

So could I, to be honest, I’d have to think about it.

“What was his take on working together, in general?” I asked. “With all the usual proxy speaking and dance steps taken out. What do you think he actually meant for us to hear?”

She frowned a little deeper.

“I got the sense that he’d come on board,” she said, “But only as your right hand man, undisputed second in command and taking charge if you get killed. He wouldn’t be content to be just one of the Posse.”

It was my turn to frown.

Warlords didn’t often choose a second in command. It was kind of painting a target on your back, given that they would then have an excellent motive to kill you, and full access to the Warband who would be your only protection.

I’d have to think on it. If every other asshole (Maker, Joker…the damn Union) was making me wait, then there was no reason I couldn’t return the favor.

Day 11

19 days until next battle

 

Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller — 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

Cutter — 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Swimmer — 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner — 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer — 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher — 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects

Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

 

 

Assets: (physical)

1 truck

1 sedan

Owner’s Shington Store

Packer House

Fog Machines

Lasers (diverse)

 

Posse: (4 slots, 1 filled)

Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1

 

Warband:

16 Veteran Ultras, 13 Rookie (that is, haven’t worked with me before) Ultras

Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.

 

Blender AP: 3/10 (1-1 +0 -0 +2 +1)

Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning

 

Available Actions:

 

Posse Recruitment tree

Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)

Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)

Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)

 

Warband tree

Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)

Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)

Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)

 

VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)

Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)

 

Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)

Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)

Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action) (This can go in either direction, asking them to do something from you, or asking if they need you to do anything for them.)

 

Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)

Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2

Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure

Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard

Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10

 

Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)

 

Player Input:

Blender Morning Action

Blender Afternoon Action

Owner will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.

Going forward, should Blender/Owner tell Posse candidates what your next target is? Hard to say exactly what impact that might have.

(Inviting Shower to Posse will be interpreted to entail offering him Second In Command, so make sure to clarify if you want to Invite him without doing that.)

 

Haunter 10:3

“What the fuck happened?” I asked, hunkering down at the edge of the knoll.

An unfamiliar observer wouldn’t necessarily have noticed anything wrong with Shington on first impression. The city had always been a comparatively tiny set of intact buildings within a great halo of ruined structures, and it still was. The power had always been intermittent, and even the fires weren’t terribly novel.

But I was no unfamiliar observer. This was all wrong, even if I couldn’t immediately tell what had taken place.

“You are familiar with Torturer?” asked Mario.

I scowled at him. I didn’t have a huge amount of patience for people who asked questions that they knew the answer to, particularly in situations where serious consequences loomed.

The Jury, meanwhile, had been debating on the vista that I’d just looked out over. Their take was that the city’s center of gravity, so to speak, had shifted. The most prestigious Ultras had moved along the river, seizing the homes and dwellings of their less powerful competitors, and then repairing or rebuilding them.

The previous edges of Shington, by contrast, had fallen into disrepair, as the hangers on and have nots of the Regime’s capital had followed after their masters. The difference that I’d noted was a result of this, of the city ‘stretching’, so to speak, into the ruins about it, displacing its hangers on and expanding its overall volume.

“We came up with a scheme, a while back, to use her against Her. This was after Prevailer had stopped warping around, you see, and everyone knows that Torturer’s gift is unstoppable in a radius arou-”

“You didn’t,” interrupted Preventer. “Tell me that you didn’t.”

We were squatting on the edge of the greater Shington area, looking out over the city. The plane trip had been uneventful, with no sign of any attempt by the Union to track their vanished prisoners. Dale had gotten airsick, and ultimately spent the flight squatting down on the aircraft floor, hands clenched tightly around a chair leg.

We’d taken a skiff from the landing zone, which had actually been a bit of a tense moment, but Mario’s credentials had apparently been sufficient to get us through, and apparently no one had compared our profiles to those of notorious Regime figures.

Mario assured me that that wasn’t quite right, the comparison HAD been made, but SPARTACUS wouldn’t have routed it to anyone local because of some directives that he’d entered earlier. Somewhere an empty feed was blowing up with updates, but since the person who was supposed to be watching it was here with us, we were ok.

“We did,” he said. “We got the go ahead to try and weaponize her, I believe it was called Operation Karma Bitch. The plan was to herd her into the heart of the city, take out Her at best, a whole bunch of fascists at worst.”

I gritted my teeth.

“You understand that the vast majority of the city’s population are unpowered, right?” I asked him. “And that in the case of any kind of indiscriminate attack the Ultras will move away, and leave the humans around them to suffer?”

“You got to understand by now Jane,” said Indulger, “The Union aren’t like you want them to be. They hate us and they want to kill us, because they think they are better or something.”

I looked back to Mario, who winced and made a ‘sorta’ gesture with one hand.

“So what went wrong?” asked Preventer. “The world is still here, so I know you didn’t actually manage to get Torturer’s field onto Her.”

“She balked,” explained Mario. “Stopped as soon as she realized that she was heading into a populated area. She retreated to the city’s edge, and has stayed there since, foraging for food and such.”

I shook my head, looking out into Shington’s outskirts, trying not to think about the atrocity that had been perpetrated upon them.

“And She let this stand?” asked Dale, dubiously. “Like, Prevailer is ok with Torturer squatting on the edge of town instead of down in the pit? That, uh, doesn’t sound right.”

Mario looked over at him, eyebrow raised, but didn’t say anything.

“I’m not…I, hmm, I mean, we’ve been across the ocean, so you know better than we do what’s going on, but, like, if somebody told me that story I would say that She was weirdly passive, you know? Like, Peggy doesn’t really ever let anyone get one over on Her.”

“Remember,” said Mario, “You guys and Sixth Fist were deployed on the Pantheon mission. Fifth and First are off doing whatever they were up to, and Third deployed just after you did. The only assets She still has in-city are Remover and Second Fist, as well as the more minor Ultras.”

“I doubt She knows who they are,” said Preventer. “I remember a time where She called the Warlord the wrong name for her whole tenure. She’d forgotten that the last one had died, just went right on using the same name.”

“What’d the warlord do?” I asked.

“Changed her name.” she answered, deadpan.

We shared a chuckle over that.

Tensions had gone down a bit, in our little makeshift unit, since the jailbreak’s immediate aftermath. Dale was rationing his crazy juice, so he was noticeably more like his old self. Mario had sort of receded, in that way that humans in the company of a bunch of mighty Ultras often did, and Preventer was making an effort to be amiable.

“Alright,” I said, “So we head into the city, skirting the Pain Zone, and then what?”

“Well,” said Preventer, “We are trying to find First Fist, right? I can check on the Gardens, see if they’ve harassed any of them lately. I don’t think they could resist doing something heinous to my people if they were in town.”

I saw Mario stifle a grimace at that. It was easy to forget just how much of a shit Preventer was when she was being all reasonable, but there really just wasn’t anything resembling a soul in there.

“They probably could,” I responded, “if this is really Remover’s endgame. She owns that crew, body and soul. She isn’t going to make any obvious mistakes if it puts her long term plans in jeopardy.”

“Okay, but, like, is she gonna make any mistakes?” asked Dale. “You went off a few times about how she isn’t just some green haired super cop, she is the devil or whatever. So, doesn’t that just kind of screw us?”

That was an uncomfortable point.

“I think we decided,” said Mario, “to proceed as though our mission was possible. We are going into Shington because that’s the only way that the Union isn’t already trying to find First Fist. So, since otherwise we are doomed or saved no matter by someone else’s efforts, there must be something in Shington to find.”

I tapped my fingers together, trying to figure out how to unpick that argument. It was at times like these that I missed the Colonel. I gave it to the Jury.

“We can’t…hmm, what I’m trying to say is that that doesn’t exactly track.” I said, after a moment.

Dale scratched his head, looking at me.

“Yeah, we are stipulating that this is possible, “ I said. “And that means walling off the possibility that it isn’t. Fine. But, then, we still need to choose among the various options facing us, and we can’t extend the ‘don’t care about the odds’ principle further than we need to if we want to be successful.”

There was no need to rehearse the ‘passion doesn’t bring success, only reason does’ speech with my Fist. They’d all heard it before, and Mario had apparently arrived independently at something similar.

“So let’s put ‘talking to the people at the Gardens and using them as bait’ as one option,” I continued, “And consider others.”

“I didn’t say to use them as bait!” objected Preventer, but I breezily talked past her.

“Answerer knows,” I said. “By definition. If we can get a hold of Answerer we can get ahold of anyone.”

“Unless something about Remover is unforeseeable,” objected Mario. “If she’s pulled this all off under Her nose, and She had Answerer the whole time, doesn’t she kind of have to have a precog countermeasure?”

I frowned, but Dale jumped in before I could answer.

“It might be, like, simpler than that? Like, Prevailer only cares about Herself and Her friends, so, you know, Remover can stomp on the rest of us just as much as she wants. The questions aren’t getting asked about us.”

“It’s the same trick Remover pulled on the Union,” I said, “Getting them to think about the Pantheon as enemies so they wouldn’t act to save them when her attack came. She did the same thing to the strongest Ultras, getting Prevailer and Answerer and the rest to hole up and jerk each other off while she laid waste to the rest of us.”

It wasn’t a perfect comparison, but I’d be damned if I passed up a chance to tell Mario that his civilization was being dumb and it was leading us to extinction.

Wow, that was petty. Ok, maybe I would pass up such chances in the future. It wasn’t like he made the call, and by freeing us he’d already done all that he could do about it.

“It is still likely,” I stressed, “that Answerer can tell us where they are. If she can’t then that’s new information, but I’m pretty sure she’s answered First Fist related questions before. They’ve been working together for decades now. If Answerer had a blind spot for First Fist then I think She would have known, and done something.”

“There’s also Second Fist,” said Preventer.

I looked at her curiously.

“Refiner and Remover were always close,” she said. “First Fist likes to use Knight support, and Refiner can tell where his gift is in use. Wherever they are holed up, I really doubt they’ve ditched their blessed clothes.”

I grimaced, thinking of the Knights of Purity that I used to take on my troubleshooting expeditions, before joining Fourth Fist. I’d had no idea that Deceiver had been able to track my whereabouts all along.

“Would Second Fist tell us?” I asked. “It isn’t like we were ever exactly close.”

“It’s just another prospect,” said Preventer. “I’m not saying Answerer isn’t our best bet, but she’s notoriously hard to get ahold of. If we strike out there, then Second Fist makes a good second plan.”

“What do we do about Fisher and Condemner?” asked Dale, carefully noncommittal as to why they might not be here.

“No chance they will show up in time?” asked Mario.

Dale shook his head.

“Fists show up all the time without one member,” said Preventer. “It looks a little weak, but it isn’t the end of the world. It’s going to be hard to explain why we only sending half our number though.”

I looked back to Mario, considering.

“What if we weren’t down by two members?” I asked.

“I don’t like where this is going,” he said.

“Look, we can’t very well explain that we are walking around with a Union spy,” I said, “And we can’t leave you lurking outside the city in the brush.”

“I thought I could act like a Regime human,” he said. “Act like a minion or whatever.”

Preventer scoffed.

“Um…I don’t think you could pull it off,” Dale said, trying his best to be kind, “Like, maybe if you had a week of lessons, or whatever, but right now…”

“There’s a deference there,” I explained, “It is hard to pull off unless you are genuinely concerned that you could be murdered at any moment. Regime citizens are brutalized and traumatized. You are just too, I don’t know, awake.”

“So instead of pretending to be a class of people I’m unfamiliar with, you want me to pretend to be one specific person I’m unfamiliar with?” he asked. “That feels like a much harder acting challenge. I never met this Nirav guy, and the footage I’ve seen of him isn’t terribly distinctive.”

“His form was malleable,” I explained, “He could shift it a bit when he came back from fire form. You are broadly similar, and he was never the most social of us.”

“All you got to do is stand in the back,” said Dale, “And just make shit up if anyone asks you stuff. Talk about, like, the ‘dignity of fire’, and the ‘formlessness of fury’, if you get stuck.”

Preventer stifled a chuckled.

“He never said ‘formlessness of fury’,” she objected.

“He’s going to give you some shit for saying that!” I chimed in, not so subtly reminding the other two that, for now at least, Fisher and Condemner were to be resolutely present tense.

It wasn’t that we didn’t trust Mario at this point. It was the simple fact that the easiest way to tell a lie was to believe it, so each fewer person who knew the Link was broken was one less person who could accidentally spill that info.

“What do we do about Her?” asked Dale, as the chuckling was dying down.

We all fell silent at that, save for Mario.

“What do you mean?” he asked. “We are avoiding Her, aren’t we?”

I nodded somberly.

“That might not be possible,” I said. “She was romantically interested in Dale, back in the day. She may have left instructions in the wake of his return.”

“Can we just avoid Her proxies?” he asked. “I wasn’t on the Shington beat, I don’t know exactly how She sends out Her orders, but could it be as simple as just not talking to them?”

“Sure,” said Dale, “Except our plan is to go and find them and talk to them.”

Mario deflated a little.

“Yeah,” I confirmed, “Her orders generally go out through Remover and the Fists now. Back in the day she had the Snitches and such, but ever since Snitcher got taken out the shit just rolls downhill.”

“That’s not so surprising,” said Dale. “I mean, the reason we want to talk to Answerer and Refiner is that they know stuff. It makes sense that they would also know what we don’t want them to know, you know?”

“No,” I joked, before chuckling again.

“Won’t they know Condemner?” asked Mario, circling back around to this part of the plan in what I felt was an admirable attempt to evade the inevitable, “Should we maybe-“

“Nobody knew Nirav,” said Preventer, “And there’s nothing we can do about Her. If we get called before Prevailer, then all we can do is what we’ve always done, we play it by ear.”

I didn’t exactly love that, but standing out here was scarcely any better, and it didn’t seem like there was anything we could do to prepare for such an encounter.

“We will go off context clues, read the room, all that kind of thing,” I cautioned the rest. “Let Dale and I take the lead on it. He knows Her, and I have a lot of help in my reserve. We are our best chance to get through any encounters.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” said Preventer. “I literally joined a Fist and tried to defect to the Pantheon in order to not talk to Her.”

“Then it’s settled,” I told them.

I looked around the knoll, got nods, grudging or not, from each of them.

“Then let’s do this,” I told them. “Together.”

We all nodded solemnly, and then we got up and started working our way forward, pushing rubble aside and using Dale’s gift to shift the occasional large obstacle.

Without ceremony or excitement we slipped back into Shington.

Regime Quest 44

Day 9:

Morning: Inviting Joker

“What do you mean you don’t know where she is?” I growled.

I was proud of myself. I didn’t fly off the handle, didn’t start swearing and cursing, just lowered my voice a bit and stared daggers at the person I was talking to.

She looked away, wincing, as though I’d raised a hand up to strike her. Everything about her body language screamed that she wanted to put her hands over her face, but she didn’t dare to.

“Joker does this sometimes,” she said. “I’ll let you her know you came by, the next time I see her.”

I reached out and took her by the scruff of the neck, jacked her up against the doorframe of Joker’s house.

“How about,” I asked, my voice level and calm once more, “you let me know, instead. And how about instead of the next time she comes by you let me know right now. Where. The. Fuck. Is. She?”

“I don’t know!” she sobbed. “This is just a thing she does. She’ll be back eventually, but she never knows how long it’ll take!”

“How long WHAT will take?”

I saw it then. The fear in her eyes was suddenly tainted by guilt.

She fell over herself to deny it, a word salad of helplessness and innocence, but it all rang false to me. She knew something.

I believed that she didn’t know where Joker was. She wasn’t the type to inspire loyalty, and I was here while she wasn’t, so I was pretty sure her minion would have already flipped on her if they knew what I wanted.

My old world instincts were screaming at me to back off, don’t be an asshole, let the woman get back to me. But the thing was that this was my life. I could easily literally die if I waited a week or more before finishing my posse.

I had no idea where the target was, or when I had to take it down. I couldn’t afford to be reasonable.

“You know why I’m called Blender?” I asked her, voice pitched menacingly. “Have you ever seen one? It is a machine that turns stuff into a slurry of liquid and waste?”

She whimpered, grimaced, and finally spilled it.

Joker, it turned out, had a hobby. Whenever a human annoyed her she would go undercover and catfish them, then string them along and break their hearts. During this process she was completely incognito from her supporters, who could do nothing but wait for their patron to return.

That was certainly one use you could put a flawless disguising gift to. The Regime always found a new way to disappoint me.

I left her helpers with instructions for her to get in touch with me the instant they heard from her, then headed back across town.

I counted them off in my head. I was currently waiting to hear from the Union about the Merlin thing, from Maker about the Posse, from Joker about the Posse and from Subtracter about my mission. I was utterly sick of waiting.

It put me in mind of a memory from my childhood, back when my grandmother had been dying in the hospital. A pair of orderlies had walked bye, and one of them had made a dumb joke to the other.

I never forgot how angry I was at their laughter. Didn’t they know that my Gram was dying? How could they not drop everything and do whatever they could to help, when it was life or death?

I felt that same helpless rage rising within me now. The battle in Ar Harbour had brought home to me just how dangerous this job was. My lifespan was measured in weeks, maybe in months, and people were asking me to wait for days?

I felt my lips curl back from my teeth in a snarl, and I stopped for a moment in the shade of a piece of rubble, trying to focus myself.

I kept going when I reached the Packer house, heading down the street towards Subtracter’s digs digs.

The time for waiting was over.

 

Afternoon: Questioning Subtracter

 

I stepped into the Oval Office.

The famous furniture had been haphazardly tossed about, piled up along the walls. Subtracter had placed a king sized mattress in the center of the room, and then another atop it. She looked up lazily as I stepped in.

The most famous room in the world, perhaps. The room from which, debatably, the Old World had been governed.

It reeked of weed.

“Hey Blender,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

Subtracter was mostly innumerate, but she was still in charge of the timeline for my attacks.

“I just wanted to know what my next target was.” I told her.

She blinked owlishly at me, seemingly confused.

I was about eighty percent sure Subtracter couldn’t get high. Her Ultra Toughness would screen out mind altering chemicals. But maybe that didn’t apply if you wanted it not to? I wasn’t sure.

“When am I attacking?” I tried.

“30 days!” she said, almost automatically.

“From the previous battle,” I supplied, “so 21 from now.”

“Sure,” she said.

I could have kicked myself. Why the hell had I said that? Had I just cost myself nine days of preparation with one sentence of idiocy?

“And you are gonna fight…”

She let the sentence trail off, looking over to the side where a map lay half unrolled in the ruins of a very famous desk.

I tried to force calm. It hadn’t been an actual opportunity. Prevailer could certainly count, and She would be looking for Her scheduled program. I was right to correct Subtracter.

“Hey,” she asked me, chuckling, “You think you can take down Phis?”

“Course not,” I said, chuckling right back.

She was on her feet without transition, skipping over the intervening steps like God had decided to cut back on rendering.

I’d killed myself.  Holy shit I was about to die.

“…is what I would say if I was a pussy!” I continued, calling on every gram of acting skill I’d ever possessed to make that transition look natural.

It had been the fucking chuckle. Subtracter had laughed in the exact same way at my brother’s sky burial, and every time I heard it I lost my damn cool.

She scowled suspiciously at me, fists opening and closing.

“Phis is the target,” she said. “Those Pantheon shits have been pissing me off. Kill em all.”

“Can do!” I said.

The rest of the meeting was a blur, me doing my level best to avoid annoying the idiotic maniac I worked for, even as I panicked inwardly.

Phis was a serious Pantheon stronghold, basically the center of their Eastern US operations. There were a couple scary names for it. So far as I could recall it had never been attacked by a Warlord, but I was pretty sure Second Fist had taken a swing at it, and been forced back.

I couldn’t, off the top of my head, remember the Ultra in charge. I think it had changed recently.

But I was looking at hundreds of Ultras, multiple leaders as powerful as me or Smasher. Phis was one of their attempts at a Shington equivalents, a gathering place for Ultras from which they went out to attack cities.

Subtracter, in all likelihood, had just fucking killed me. I might as well have died that day back in my village.

 

Evening: Debrief Owner

 

“Then we all got to telling stories about the battle with the Round Table” she gushed. “I think the new guys really respect me now.”

“It sounds like they just really like the fact that you brought beer,” I responded, deadpan.

Owner had spent the morning drilling the Warband, then thrown them a party in the afternoon. She’d gone flying with Soarer, thrown candy and alcohol around like they were going out of style, and basically had a blast.

I was utterly not here for it, my thoughts trapped in a town that had been knocked down years ago, listening to Subtracter kill at random.

“Where’s our next target?” she asked. “Were you able to get Joker on board?”

I told her how things had gone, watched the excitement leave her face.

I hoped it didn’t make me a bad person that that made me feel a bit better.

 

Day 10 20 until next battle

Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller — 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

Cutter — 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Swimmer — 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner — 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer — 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher — 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects

Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

 

 

Assets: (physical)

1 truck

1 sedan

Owner’s Shington Store

Packer House

Fog Machines

Lasers (diverse)

 

Posse: (4 slots, 1 filled)

Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1

 

Warband:

16 Veteran Ultras, 13 Rookie (that is, haven’t worked with me before) Ultras

Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.

 

Blender AP: 1/10 (6 -3 +0 -3 +0 +1)

Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning

 

Available Actions:

 

Posse Recruitment tree

Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)

Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)

Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)

 

Warband tree

Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)

Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)

Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)

 

VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)

Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)

 

Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)

Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)

Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action) (This can go in either direction, asking them to do something from you, or asking if they need you to do anything for them.)

 

Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)

Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2

Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure

Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard

Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10

 

Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)

 

Player Input:

Blender Morning Action

Blender Afternoon Action

Owner will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.