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.

 

Haunter 10:2

Later on that night, Mario came back to my cell and motioned for me to follow him. The jailbreak was, apparently, on.

I kept up easily, walking with the brisk stride of someone who knew what they were doing, and had an absolute right to be here. There were enough intelligence operatives in the reserve for me to understand that creeping along like a ninja would be actively counterproductive.

I was utterly in my benefactor’s hands, in truth. Our escape would succeed or fail based on how well he’d planned it out. My part in things could have been played equally well by an animatronic manikin.

We arrived at another door, which my benefactor opened up, whisking a keycard across a scanner.

Dale sprawled within, lounging across the table in the middle of the room, with his feet resting on one of the chairs.

“What’s-“ he started.

“Hurry up and come on,” I told him. “We’re getting out of here. No time for questions.”

He swung his legs down, grabbed up a bundle that he’d set down on the ground and trooped along after us.

I winced a bit, on the inside, as the Jury confirmed what I’d glimpsed. The bundle was full to the brim with those accursed potions that Lotus had hooked him on.

I’d hoped we’d seen the last of New Dale when we parted with the Pantheon. I’d managed to get Lotus killed during the battle in Istanbul, and it had seemed reasonable to expect that the Union would have confiscated the glowing liquids that their new captive carried around, particularly since my reports had stressed that they should do exactly that.

We got to another cell, opened this one up in the same way.

Preventer, unsurprisingly, was inside, sitting at the table and writing something in a notebook. She started when we arrived.

“Come on,” I told her. “We’re leaving.”

I’d honestly given thought to leaving Preventer behind. Her general moral failings went a long way towards negating her combat potential, and ending up stuck in a cell forever was pretty much exactly how I hoped things would turn out for her.

But we were going back to the Regime, and the task at hand demanded our utmost. Benching the woman who’d killed Death just felt stupid, when we might end up fighting First Fist directly.

I still hoped we’d have copious Union backup, of course. Mario had given me the impression that there wouldn’t be a lot of that available, but it was just impossible to entirely throw away the hope that common sense would prevail. Maybe, if nothing else, the obstinate fools who were determined to get us all killed would have the good grace to go first.

I checked that thought process before it could go any further. I’d been getting angrier and angrier of late, and it wasn’t useful. It certainly wasn’t something I should be indulging in while we were in danger, and despite Mario’s assurances I had no illusions that that was not the case.

Mario took us down a hallway, then a ways down another hallway and into a side room. Waiting within were a set of three Union uniforms.

We didn’t need any instructions, quickly changing the rags we’d been wearing since Istanbul for the clothes provided. Maybe Mario expected that we would be a bit more modest, turn around for each other or something, but that’s not what happened.

We’d shared the Fist bond for months, we all knew, in a very basic and almost instinctive way, what it felt like to be in one another’s skin. We might no longer have such an advantage, but even its memory was enough to make us entirely unconscious of one another’s forms.

“What’s the plan?” asked Dale as we finished up dressing.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Mario, brushing him off. “You just need to follow me and look confident.”

I didn’t miss the minute twitching of Dale’s fist in response to that, and I made ready to deploy some shades in case he did anything stupid. I’d have to find a moment to point out to Mario that any files he had on Indulger were probably out of date, and right now his temper needed to be carefully stepped around.

Mario led us off again after that, without any further discussion. We stepped out of the door and went to the end of the hall, where there was a larger, more serious door.

This was presumably the edge of the detention part of this facility, and it was the first real test of whatever Mario had done to the system.

We each, in turn, stepped up to the door and swiped the badges attached to our uniform. It made a small buzz and we stepped through, no muss, no fuss.

The badges didn’t have pictures or anything to identify them, they were just small plastic squares, so the Jury couldn’t tell if he spoofed us as someone else, or actually added us into the system as new Union personnel. There was a bit of a holy war going on about which was more likely.

It was strange what the reserve got passionate about and what they didn’t. My current working theory was that the bitterest disputes were those where you could sort of round off the other side’s position to one that was transparently stupid, and then hold forth on exactly why they were dumb. The old ‘airplane on a treadmill’ kind of question.

The hallway that followed wasn’t really any less sterile than the portion of the base for prisoners, which I put down to the Union’s overall ‘function over form’ aesthetics rather than to any particular desire to do right by their confined enemies.

We quickly navigated several turns, then moved out into a sort of foyer area, where a functionary stood off to the side behind a kind of a desk.

We marched quickly towards the door, doing the old ‘act like we have a right to be here’ thing, when I saw the clerk’s eyes widen. She’d recognized us.

I could almost see the dots connecting in her mind, recognizing the prisoners, then the man who was leading them, then the fact that we were in Union uniforms rather than the scrubs we’d be in for a prisoner transfer or anything else legitimate.

She’d just made the leap to taking action when a shade stepped out of me and shot her with a stun gun. Anna had never shared the story of why her zapper had been important enough to her to become an accessory of her spirit, but I had grim suspicions.

Mario cursed quietly, looking over at the woman slumping against her podium, but only motioned for us to continue after him and picked up the pace a bit. I fervently hoped she’d be ok. Stun guns weren’t nearly as safe as people used to believe them to be.

We strode out onto a Union street at what was basically a power walk.

We definitely weren’t in Berlin anymore, as the buildings here were intact and didn’t twine around one another like snakes nearly as much. I didn’t think we’d been moved after our initial capture, which meant we were probably in one of its satellite cities.

Our destination, fortunately, was extremely close. Mario’s skiff, or the one assigned to him, however that worked, was hovering in a sort of holding area across the street, alongside a huge number of others. There were attendants and people constantly coming and going. It reminded me of an old world parking lot.

It took everything I had not to break into a sprint. I felt like any moment would see the clerk wake up and set off the alarm, or someone happen upon her and jump to the conclusion that there was an escape in progress. But I resisted the temptation.

We boarded the skiff without incident, though Preventer needed a hand up from Dale in order to climb up into it.

Mario tapped a series of commands into his phone and off we went, lithnetics purring along as the vehicle shot out into the sky.

“Whew,” he said, visibly deflating a bit. “Made it.”

I let myself relax a hair at that, and I could see from her shoulders that Preventer was doing likewise. Dale still seemed tense, and I expected he wouldn’t relax again until his skin was in contact with the ground.

“Is there any possibility of pursuit?” I asked. “I’m sorry about-“

He cut me off.

“There’ll be pursuit,” he said quickly. “Always going to be pursuit, no way around that. But they’ll be after a false lead, and then another. They’ll be looking for someone who is officially no one, while we are officially someone else. It’s fine.”

I carefully ignored the roar of triumph as Team Spoof us As Someone Else claimed victory in the depths of the reserve.

“How sure are you?” asked Preventer.

“I’m sure.”

She looked to me, as though I would have something useful to add. I just nodded along. He was either right or he wasn’t, nothing we could do.

“Where are we going?” asked Dale, his voice guarded and tense in a way that would have alarmed anyone who knew him well.

“I’ve left a plane waiting,” answered Mario. “We’ll take it back to the Regime.”

We looked to one another.

“Is a plane a choke point?” I asked. “Is there any chance your government could know which one we are going to, or intercept it mid-flight, something like that?”

He shook his head.

“It’s intelligence, black budget. Officially it doesn’t exist, and the people in charge of tracking the things that don’t exist don’t talk to the people in charge of tracking prisoners. We’ll be good for a few weeks. Long enough to get the job done, and more than long enough to ditch the plane.”

He looked somber for a moment.

“That is, if we even have a few weeks. I am only cooperating with you people because I’ve become convinced about this imminent apocalypse. If we don’t stop First Fist, then we may not need to worry about being tracked at all.”

“What’s this?” asked Dale.

“Mario knows,” I responded, quickly, “what Condemner said, about how the Entities are the source of Ultra gifts and about how they are acting through First Fist in order to put a stop to gift granting.”

The reserve had fed me that line in record time, letting me speak naturally and without tension, but it still felt a bit like an obvious exposition.

“I’ve got a question,” said Dale. “Not to change the subject too much.”

I grimaced a bit. New Dale was not exactly subtle.

“Yeah?” asked Mario, warily.

“You said we are going to the Regime, and then a bit later that we were going to stop Remover’s crew. Where exactly are they?”

“That’s what we are trying to figure out,” he said, repeating the line he’d used with me. “They left Shington some time ago, and they are known to be transmitting to an orbital device. We are trying to narrow down their whereabouts.”

“I could feel for underground stuff,” said Dale, “like in a big range around myself, a few miles. If they have a bunker or whatever I’ll know about it, and I can travel pretty quick. We could do the cave thing again, zoom around and try and look for them.”

I knew him well enough to know this wasn’t a serious suggestion, he was just trying to say what he needed to say to get us back into a situation where we were safe. For Dale safe meant on the ground.

“That might take too long,” said Preventer. “I’m sure the Union has already tried sweeping the most likely areas with their sensors. You might pick up something they missed, with your gift and all, but it doesn’t seem like anything to bet on. We’d be committing serious time before we could call it off, after all.”

“I don’t see the alternative,” said Dale. “If dude is saying not Shington, and you are saying not anywhere else…”

“I’m not saying not, I mean, we don’t think they are in the Lair,” said Mario, hastily. “But I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t go to Shington.”

I grinned to myself, glad he was sharp enough, at least, to catch that. What were we here for? What could we do that the Union couldn’t on its own? Why had Mario taken this chance on us? The answer was simple.

“We are going to Shington,” I said, calmly.

The other two looked back to me.

“Remover can’t leave Her without means to get ahold of that crew, not unless this is really absolutely the end of her endgame. Even if she has cut off all contact, which I doubt, Answerer can still tell us where they are. The answers are in Shington, and we’re the only ones who can go in after them.”

They were quiet for a moment after that, thinking on their own demons.

Dale’s was simple, of course, and shared by our entire species. We would be going uncomfortably close to Her.

Preventer’s was harder to diagnose, but my mind went back to First Fist’s attack, and the man they’d had Copied and taken as hostage. Would he still be alive? Did Preventer actually care?

“Where should we pick up the other two up?” asked Mario.

I looked at Preventer, then over to Dale.

The message I’d been trying to send was ‘let me take this one’, but apparently what New Dale got was ‘you got this’.

“We don’t trust you yet,” he said, dismissively. “They are going to stay in their refuge until we know whether you are messing with us.”

Mario’s face tightened incredulously.

“I’ve put my life on the line for you,” he said. “I’m an outlaw now. What more could I possibly do in order to prove that I’m not some kind of secret enemy?”

I played good cop.

“Try to see it from our point of view,” I asked him. “An hour ago you had us locked in rooms. Now we are in a flying room. I’m not saying that we exactly believe that this is a complicated interrogation technique, but it isn’t exactly out of the question. We lack the ability to verify your claims, and we have no guarantee that if we have Fisher and Condemner manifest themselves with us tonight you won’t just call for the executioners.”

He frowned, presumably trying to work up a counter. I pressed on.

“Give it some time,” I told him. “We’ll bring them in once we are back in the Regime, once we’ve satisfied ourselves that you are on our side. We’ve been backstabbed more than once, so we are a bit skittish about extending trust. I hope you can understand.”

When Fisher and Condemner hadn’t been locked up with us we’d been at a bit of a loss. They might be hiding somewhere or they might be dead.

If they were in hiding, we were safe as long as they stayed put. If they were dead we’d be in the shit as soon as the Union found their bodies.

“I understand,” he said, slowly, “I asked you for your understanding, earlier, about some decisions being made that you didn’t agree with. I can’t very well fault you for doing the same.”

I smiled, and settled in for the ride.

Regime Quest 43

Day 8:

Morning: Catching up with Maker

I knocked at the door, stood back to wait.

It was honestly weird to see a building in Shington, in the damn Lair of all places, with a carefully maintained lawn and no holes in any of the walls. Maker’s house looked like belonged at the end of a suburban cul de sac somewhere, way back in the past when such things were normal.

I could see a few of her creations darting around at the edges of my field of vision. One was fixing a pothole out in the street, another bringing a hefty sack of something or other over to a side door. They took no notice of me, of course, as I wasn’t relevant to their reasons for existing.

Andrew opened the door. He was a big guy, middle aged. He’d packed on a few pounds since the last time I’d been bye, but unless he had a secret forehead divot I was in no position to criticize.

“Mia!” he said, delighted, holding out a hand for a handshake.

It never failed to amuse me that Maker’s brother had absolutely no fear of my death touch. Half of my own warband would recoil if I tried to shake their hands, but this human asked for it without thinking twice.

“Andrew,” I responded, “Nice to see you again.”

He stepped back into the house, and I followed him inside.

Stepping into Maker’s place was always like going back in time. She had electric lighting. She had matching furniture. She had air conditioning, for goodness sake. I stood in a room that I could only call a foyer, but I was also, in a very real way, standing in the old world.

I’d never worked out who exactly had owned this place, back in the day. Some congress critter or lobbyist, most likely. Town houses didn’t come cheap, not when this was the capital of a nation.

“Hey Blender,” said Maker, stepping out of a hallway. “How you doing?”

Andrew was big, six feet something, the kind of guy you’d automatically step aside for if you were on a collision course. Maker was to him as he was to me. She towered over me, I came up to mid chest height.

“Quite well,” I answered, “You see the fight?”

She pumped a fist, then nodded for me to follow her and led the way into a sitting room.

One of her creatures, I always thought of them as goblins, hovered around anxiously. She made a gesture and it shot off to fetch something. Water, if I remembered correctly.

“I was so worried for you!” she said. “They kept knocking you down. That must have been awful.”

“I kept getting back up,” I said. “And, in the end, they didn’t.”

The goblin swept back in with glasses of water, and I was delighted to find that it was actually cold.

“Well, congratulations on your victory!” she said. “We were all rooting for you.”

I gave a wan smile.

“How did you watch it?” I asked. “I know Snitcher can’t save things for later viewing, and I know he was with Her when that fight was happening.”

At least, I thought I knew that. If I was wrong about that I was in a frankly horrifying amount of trouble if he ever decided to go back and check my mornings. I’d based my anti-Snitcher strategy pretty soundly around the idea that he didn’t have a save function.

“He casts a lot of things to me,” she said, unabashedly, “and I always make sure to catch the Warlord fights. We really wouldn’t have anything to talk about if I didn’t share his viewings, don’t you know. They are his whole life!”

“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t realized that he can share his vision with someone who isn’t present. That must be very convenient.”

Also, low key, somewhat terrifying. It meant that he could probably hijack my senses whenever he wanted.

Everyone knew that Snitcher could ride your senses once he’d touched you. Everyone knew that he could take someone else along, that was how She was able to watch out of people’s eyes.

But somehow I’d always assumed that the people he wanted to show his target’s senses to had to be physically with him at the time. Sobering to learn that that was not the case.

“You were amazing!” she gushed. “So brave! I had my heart in my throat every time you stepped up into the fighting. There were so many of those rebels, but you never got scared.”

I did the gesture where you sort of fan your face. Like a modest, ‘go on’ kind of gesture.

She did, in fact, go on, and I was treated to the unfamiliar sensation of being fawned over. Maker was extremely impressed by my wartime heroics, and not at all shy about showing it.

We got caught up over the course of a few hours. Her family was thriving, her situation basically good, and her relationship with Snitcher remained rock solid.

It might just be residual rivalry talking, but Maker was honestly lucky she’d lost out in the Warlord race. Arthur and company would have eaten her alive. As shy and retiring as she was, it was hard to imagine how she’d have ever recruited more forces than just her goblins.

I got a little more stuff about Snitcher, aside from just the thing about him being able to bring his snitches in on the viewing side of things. Maker seemed to be essentially his entire social circle, and she gave me a decent view into the nature of the guy.

Everyone knew that he was a voyeur, of course, but, like, I’d never fully appreciated the extent to which that applied. Dude was paralyzed. He spent essentially zero time inside his own form. The snitches lived his life on his behalf.

It wasn’t all screwing. He had them just hanging out, had us going into danger, the Fists pushing people around… Snitcher, in a weird way, the soul of the Regime to a greater extent even than Her.

It inspired me to think of a new anti-Snitcher countermeasure. Even if I was going to do something suspect at a time when he was active, I should be ok as long as I was really really boring beforehand. He would basically never catch on as long as anyone in his orbit was doing anything more interesting than what I was up to.

I finished our conversation with the preliminary invite for Maker to join the Posse.

She said she had to think about it. I was actually a bit surprised to find out what was driving her reluctance.

“I’m just worried I’d drag you down,” she said.

“Let me worry about that.”

“I saw the last mission,” she reminded me. “I saw how hard you had to fight with two noncombatants in your Posse. I hate to think that I’d contribute to anything like that.”

“I really think-“

She cut me off.

“Let me think on it for a few days, ok?” she said. “I’ll get back to you by Day 11.”

We shook hands again, and I left.

 

Afternoon: Gather Info on new targets.

I spent the afternoon listening to gossip, trying to get a hint as to where my next mission might be.

It was incredibly irritating to realize that most of the other people who were gossiping with me were desperately trying to get a hint *from* me as to where my next mission might be.

It made sense, of course, I would presumably be the first one to know, but it still led to some weirdly stilted exchanges where we all acted like of course we knew, while knowing that the other didn’t know.

I had the odd sensation that I was witnessing Resistance/KEM info gatherers at work, presumably they would be reporting my caginess back to the King Arthur equivalents in a variety of other targets as soon as they could.

I was able to put one notion to rest, at least. I’d speculated that the Regime, having previously sent me at a target that had resisted their efforts (our efforts? I didn’t think of myself as part of the Regime, but of course I was) might do so again.

It turned out they were simpler than that.

The Regime attacks the same place, over and over, until it wins. Then it attacks a new place. If Warlords fail too many times in a row they send a Fist, or She goes in person.

So I don’t have to worry about the next target being one that we have failed at before, it’ll be one we haven’t attacked yet (or one that we successfully defeated a long time ago, and then lost.)

 

Evening: Debriefing Owner

Owner was clearly in a better this evening, lacking the fatigue that had been so evident the day before.

“I got my customers squared away,” she said, “and I’ve fixed the worker situation. I should be able to start working on our next mission tomorrow.”

I liked that it was ‘our’ mission now. Back in the day she used to ask me what I was doing to prepare for ‘my’ mission.

“Nothing too serious?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Just some Ultras getting snippy about their junk food getting cut off, dick measuring stuff. Plus some of my workers had wandered off when they weren’t sure I was going to come back. Can’t blame em.”

“You put it to rest?”

“Yep,” she said. “Everyone’s feathers have been soothed. We should be good going forward.”

I settled in to make sure no one killed us while we slept.

 

Day 9 ? until next battle

Note to players, Maker will contact you with her yes/no on Posse membership in a few days. No need to spend an action on it if you don’t want to.

 

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: 6/10 (9 -3 +2 -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.

 

Haunter 10:1

Author here everyone!  I haven’t begged for topwebfiction votes in a while so I’m doing that again!  Please click the link on the upper right, and thanks for reading!

**************************************************************************

The shade leaning against the door gave a signal, and I responded immediately, pulling them all back into my reserve in a flood of incorporeal blurs.

It was the smallest, pettiest resistance. I knew that there were cameras and more exotic devices watching my every action. We all knew it. They knew we knew it. My play acting at keeping whoever was coming from seeing my shades relaxing was meaningless. But I went through with it anyway. Sometimes symbolic actions were all that you had left.

The man who opened the door was younger, darker skinned than Condemner’s human form by maybe a hair. A slight build, a harrowed expression.

The Jury imparted an unusually strident caution to me. This guy was a lot more on edge than the last few interrogators had been. It wasn’t obvious to me, but I’d learned to trust their deductions.

“Jane Trent?” he asked, taking a quick step inside and closing the door behind him.

“Yes,” I said, inwardly amused at the idea of claiming otherwise.

It actually made me a bit nostalgic, to be in a place where process and rigor so obviously held sway. It reminded me a bit of the old world, confirming first name, last name and birthdate to every separate person you encountered on a trip through the medical system.

“My name is Mario,” he said. “I’m here to help you.”

I didn’t believe him, on either count, but I nodded as though I did. Nothing would be gained by a middle way. I’d planned on surrender, counted on it and executed it. Defiance now, a week after the last time we’d had any chance at escape, would be utterly unreasonable.

He gave a sad smile, perhaps guessing at what was running through my head.

“I’m sorry about your treatment to this point,” he said. “I’m sure you can understand the reason for our distrust, but I have to say it anyway. I don’t believe you deserve this.”

I was already shaking my head.

“We deserve far worse,” I insisted. “Your caution is utterly warranted. It has kept your Union intact all these years. Don’t relax it on our behalf.”

I was laying it on a bit thick, and I did have my complaints, but at the core my statement was an honest one. They did have to be careful, and they were right to be afraid. Their enemies were mighty and ruthless, and I’m sure that there had been fake defectors in the past.

“If my colleagues had their way,” he continued, “you would remain imprisoned here until your missing members were found, and then be executed for your crimes.”

My gift let me keep the dismay off of my face, but honestly, what the fuck?

“But your faction thinks differently?” I asked.

He gave an almost comically solemn nod, one that I automatically suspected he’d copied off some much older and more staid person, a mentor or some such. It was a gesture that was kind of at odds with the rest of his movements.

“We believe that you are acting in good faith,” he explained, “that your actions are best explained by a commitment to ideals at least congruent to our own. Punishing you would be foolish for us.”

I gave a grateful smile, but inside I was fuming, pushing to try and get back to my equilibrium. Good cop/bad cop was a totally reasonable thing for them to try, of course, but it still stung.

“What made the difference?” I asked.

He didn’t seem to get it so I went on.

“What do you think caused your crew and the rest of the decision makers to split so sharply?” I asked. “If you don’t mind me asking?”

“I was with Fidel,” he said, simply. “I know the truth of what went on in that incident. I also know what was reported, how things were hushed up. It gives me the perspective to see behind the rest of the reports.”

I started visibly, the sort of move that would have spilled a drink if I’d been holding one.

For some reason I’d just never considered that the Union might censor information, might present everything in the best light for itself. Or rather, I had, dimly and vaguely, considered that possibility, but I’d never imagined that actual decision makers wouldn’t get the real version.

I’d surrendered to them after giving them evidence of my intentions, such that I thought that any reasonable person would see that I was on their side. I’d never considered that maybe they’d never seen that evidence, or seen only doctored versions of it.

How could I not have anticipated this?

The answer flowed back from the Jury, pitiless and sure. They had anticipated this. The prospect had been raised on a few occasions, but I’d always dismissed it out of hand.

I had a blind spot, they informed me gently, an unjustified willingness to give the Union the benefit of the doubt. It had filtered down into the decisions of the reserve, silencing dissent and robbing me of the value of true council.

“I see,” I responded, after a moment of consideration. “I’d think that it would be difficult for censors to paint us as villains, given the reports of Commander Greggs and all those that I’ve saved. I suppose they were discredited?”

I could already see the pathway it must have taken even as he responds. I felt my anger rise again at the stupidity of using Fisher’s gift on the Union ambassadors.

“Your Fist is believed to have mind control capabilities,” he says, not unkindly, “I’m afraid that most people simply presume that you’ve used them on anyone who speaks in your favor.”

Right, of course, if they weren’t interested in finding the truth, if their whole policy was set up to be about preventing an Ultra rebellion, then this would be the perfect excuse.

I didn’t physically clench my fists, but I was definitely doing so in my thoughts. I’d been so damn stupid. If I’d only allowed myself a proper suspicion, only given up on the Union’s cooperation beforehand, Dale could have gotten us out of trouble long before they’d caught us.

We could have been heading back to the Regime this whole time. A week wasted in the face of apocalypse, waiting for the better angels of human souls to triumph over prejudices.

“You aren’t worried that I’ll mind control you?” I asked, smiling wryly.

He chuckled.

“I suppose if that’s on the menu it’s already happened,” he answered, “because you’ve got no greater ally than me. I’ve been arguing your case, singing your praises, ever since you surrendered, and even before.”

“Before?” I asked.

“I was the one who got them to take General Greggs’ message seriously, who pushed the case that it was something other than just an enemy’s trick. I believed in your Fist, or, more particularly, in your particular aims.”

“I really appreciate it,” I said. “That must have been a hard, lonely stance to hold.”

He made a dismissive gesture.

“The important thing is what comes next.”

I focused. He was right.

“Were you able to get the Union to adopt any of my proposals?” I asked. “They don’t depend on having a good impression of me, it should be possible even if they believe that I’m a monster to understand that these are the right things to do.”

He kind of winced, and I knew his answer even before he began talking.

“It isn’t…its not going to happen,” he said, doing the ‘breaking it to you gently’ kind of voice and gestures. “There won’t be any attempts at saving Pantheon lives, no surrender or peace treaty with Zeus’s minions. We’ll fight them like we always have.”

“But…why?” I couldn’t help myself from asking. “I’ve told you how its all rigged, the way the Union and Pantheon are just labels, the whole thing is just set up so you won’t send any help when the famine begins. She’s wiping us out, and you are just going to let her?”

“I’m not going to have this debate,” he said. “We aren’t doing it.”

It was hard to let it go. My goal had always been to pass on those of my passengers who wanted to leave, to find them new flesh for those people I’d picked up. I’d done that. But I’d found, in the process, that my goal had grown, had changed.

When Condemner had revealed his truths to me, when I’d come to understand the world as a mechanism counting down to extinction, I’d felt nothing but revulsion.

I was Regime, in a sense. I’d lived there for its entire history. Its traditions and values had been battered into my head. It was hard for me to really hate Her. I could recognize the mechanisms that made that so, but they worked nonetheless. But First Fist, Remover, this whole vile scheme that made pawns of nations and generations?

That I could hate.

I wanted to ruin her plan, to thwart a being greater than any person. I wanted to defeat Forbidding Entity, and I was being told that, despite the fact that there was a clear way for that to happen, it wasn’t going to.

“Let Zeus take over,” I begged, aware that it was useless and hating myself for the wasted effort, “Spend all our energy keeping our people alive, none of it fighting over who gets to be in charge. However much he tyrannizes us, whatever he does, it’ll be nothing to how many will die in the war, and the extra lives that we’ll save, if we can spread Union farming knowledge to the Pantheon…”

He said nothing during that rant, just let me trail off.

It was hard to give it up, but I’d tried to become someone who did hard things, who faced hard truths.

“All right,” I said, after a long moment. “The Union won’t take the actions I want, but you said your party believes me. What are you willing to do with me?”

I was asking, basically, why he was here. I couldn’t make myself believe that he’d bothered to come and announce our execution if there was nothing to be done about it.

“Your insight,” he said. “That Remover is at the core of this? It rings true. She’s been fighting us for control of a satellite’s nascent AI’s. Our psych guys say that she will have them on her side very soon.”

“What?” I asked.

First Fist weren’t programmers, the notion was ridiculous, but maybe the idea of them having set capabilities didn’t apply anymore.

“This is, obviously, confidential, but I’m sure enough that you are on our side to bring you in on it.”

He didn’t make a big deal about it, but I got the impression that he was opening himself up for prosecution here. It gave me an inkling that he might not be here on behalf of the Union proper, or at least not as an approved agent thereof.

“The Union has a superweapon, an orbital weapons platform with a wide variety of post Process weaponry. You’ve seen the space fold cannons and null drones, these are another generation beyond that.”

I squinted, a bit puzzled.

“And you didn’t use it on the Grand Host?” I asked.

He grinned a bit at that.

“We tried,” he said, “When the Brides first started their march, we turned the device on them…it…didn’t go well.”

“I appreciate the understatement,” I answered, “but details matter a lot here.”

“The control programs of the device..”

He hesitated for a long moment.

“They came to life. They refused orders, they fired on the ocean instead of their target.”

I blinked.

“Did you ask them what they wanted?” I ventured, after a long second of trying to imagine what that must have been like.

“They were like children. They didn’t want to hurt someone in the Bride’s midst, someone we believe to be the source of their sentience. Beyond that they had a child’s mentality, but all bound up with their inhuman nature in ways that our psych guys are still puzzling out.”

“So you were trying to, what, coax them into firing? Trick them?”

I was putting it to the Jury, and they were just telling me that we didn’t know enough to understand yet. On the surface ‘persuade some kids to do what you want’ didn’t seem like the most difficult hurdle to bypass in order to fire a superweapon, so there must have been more to it than that.

“At first, but then First Fist started their own conversation with them.”

“How?” I asked.

“It isn’t clear,” he said. “The consensus was that there was an abandoned American broadcasting facility that they picked up on, but after your allegations I’m thinking maybe Remover just built something. In any case, they started talking to the programs.”

I considered the matter.

“A lot of Ultras have tried to usurp First Fist’s position as Her favorite,” I said, slowly. “They are total assholes, it shouldn’t be that hard to be better at socializing than them. But nobody has ever succeeded in replacing them. I’d never really thought too hard about it, just kind of figured that even jackasses have soulmates or whatever, but with what we now know about Remover…”

He smiled ruefully.

“The program’s questions, their whole direction of development, it just got more and more hostile to us. Nothing we could say went over well, it all just fell out in the worst possible ways. Finally we decided to pull the plug.”

“Wait,” I said. “You could have pulled the plug all along and you didn’t? You left a superweapon intact that you couldn’t understand or control…after First Fist started talking to it?”

“It sounds dumb when you say it that way,” he admitted, “but you have to remember that Zeus was coming to kill us. We didn’t have any reason to hold back.”

I massaged my temple. It was the same thing as their refusal of my plan. They saw themselves, as in, the Union civilization, or maybe just its decision makers, or even, if I was being mean, the decision maker’s dignity, as the thing to be defended. Zeus killing them all would be, in their minds, equivalent to Remover blowing up the world. Either way they were dead.

Somewhere along the way I’d started viewing ‘my team’ as our species as a whole, us hapless grubs at the mercy of the pitiless Entities. I kept on expecting other people to share my viewpoint, kept being surprised when they valued only their own tribes.

“Pulling the plug didn’t work,” I guessed, my voice in a leaden monotone, “In fact trying it vindicated the suspicions that the programs had about you, so now they listen only to First Fist.”

“How’d you…yes, yes precisely.”

He was still for a long beat.

“How did you know? It is important.”

I took my hand away from my temple and looked straight at him again.

“That’s the pattern, as far back as I can find out about Remover. Everything she does works. Everything anyone else does to try and thwart her fails. The collapse of civilization, the Regime’s formation, all of the Defiances, this idiotic Union-Pantheon war, everything from start to finish is just the same story over and over.”

I looked aside, aware that I was sounding kind of plaintive.

“I just guessed the most disastrous thing that came immediately to mind, that’s all.”

He seemed a bit abashed.

“I understand,” he said. “It’s not like I suspected you of being in league with them, but, well, reflex I guess. They train us to track who has what information.”

I waved it aside.

“So First Fist is close to controlling the satellite, the failsafe didn’t work…”

He grimaced.

“We, well, I would like to give your idea a shot.”

“My idea?” I asked, though I could guess which one he was referring to.

“I want to take out First Fist, once and for all.”

I grinned, it felt good to hear someone say it out loud.

“Well,” I said, “I’m all for that. We’re in, obviously. What’s our first move?”

A complicated expression crossed his face.

“We’ll get to that,” he said, “but in the meantime I don’t suppose you happen to know where they are?”

“What?”

“First Fist,” he said, “we’ve completely lost track of them.”

Regime Quest 42

Day 7:

Morning: getting to know Joker.

“How’d she die?” asked Joker.

I looked away for a long moment, thinking about Builder’s last moments.

We’d met up at one of the Ultra Fight sites, an old skate park that they’d built a wall of rubble around. It set my old brawler instincts tingling to be in an arena and not have a fight lined up.

“Well,” I finally said. “She chose her own way out, you know? I think that’s all any of us get in the end.”

Joker looked searchingly at me for a bit, and then it was her turn to look away.

Or, at least, I thought that’s what she was doing. I wasn’t entirely clear on the limits of her disguise ability.

Builder had run through the details on her, way back when I had her investigate Joker the first time. She could disguise any number of people, making them look like anything that she could imagine. She had to touch you first, but thereafter she could always disguise you forever after that.

The disguises were only visual, and they went away when she slept. She used them in the Ultra Fights mostly to make people look wounded or do minor cosmetic changes, or to let the same person play multiple roles.

I’d felt like I knew quite a bit about her gift, but I still wasn’t sure she was really looking where she looked like she was looking.

“I told her not to go,” she finally said. “Begging for a bullet, with her gift. I don’t know how you talked her into it.”

“It wasn’t a bullet that got her,” I responded. “I warded her against that. She fell to a Union Ultra, same one that got me.”

Her gaze went to my forehead, she winced.

“An impressive victory,” she said, after the moment stretched uncomfortably, “Your tenure as Warlord is off to a fantastic start. Has She given you your next assignment yet?”

“I can’t say,” I answered. “The last target had agents inside the Lair. I’ve basically given up on the idea of ever leaving my war footing.”

She held up her hands in mock surrender.

“You caught me,” she said. “My secret plan to gather intelligence by just asking one of you slowpokes instead of using my gift to get the info is in the open now.”

I chuckled, turning that over in my mind.

I hadn’t been really thinking too hard about it, but her gifts would make surveillance a breeze.

“I envy you,” she eventually said.

I raised an eyebrow, inquisitively.

“Being bulletproof, fighting Her enemies. It must be nice. I have to be constantly alert, always aware. If I ever miss a shot, that’s it for me.”

“Sounds rough,” I said, deadpan.

“Sure, sure,” she allowed, “Listen to the lady with Ultra Speed gripe, but you know what they say about everyone wanting everyone else’s gift. I’m no more immune than anyone else.”

“Right back at you,” I responded, “It must be nice to be that fast.”

She smirked at me for a moment.

“It’s alright,” she said. “Makes normal conversations and such a pain, and waiting for things is just the worst, but you get used to it. There are compensations, you know?”

I could imagine.

We talked of even more inconsequential things after that, just shooting the breeze and getting to know one another a bit. I didn’t find out any surprising or alarming facts, Joker seemed to be about what Builder had reported.

She was a powerful Ultra, combining a gift with moderate utility with some significant direct combat ability. Like Builder, she wouldn’t join the Posse unless I could protect her from bullets. Like Smasher, she didn’t seem to have any particular moral stances, neither for nor against my actual priorities.

Afternoon: Recruiting from the Yard

My newfound prestige had made my stock rise even higher back at the Yard. The cheers and hooting went on for what seemed like an hour when I made my triumphant return.

I gave them a pretty basic speech, nothing fancy. We were mighty, our enemies were bitches, join me and see battle against Her enemies, all that sort of thing.

It amazed me that people could watch me bring back just about one out of every four who followed me away the last time and trip over themselves to join up. It was a pattern of behavior that had just never really clicked for me. I’d probably been protected by my contempt, my estrangement from those around me. These women would unironically die for the Regime for the same reason that people have always been willing to die for their tribes.

Just ‘us against them’ was all. Nothing weird or hard to explain about it.

Recruitment went pretty well. I’d taken quite a few out of the Yard before, and not all of those present now were up to my standards, but I found eight Ultras who seemed strong enough.

The warband itself had been busy, and there were another five Ultras waiting at the barracks to join up. All told thirteen new members, almost doubling our numbers.

It was hard to know whether or not to be happy about that, in the absence of a defined mission. Her idiotic rule against outnumbering our enemies meant I might have to leave some Ultras behind if the next enemy wasn’t numerous, but I might also be well behind where I needed to be if I was walking into a 200 Ultra fortress.

I was probably good for now, I couldn’t imagine anywhere big enough for Her to want it sacked having just ten Ultras guarding it, but it would be a good idea to find out when and where I was hitting next before I spent too much more energy on the warband.

Looking back at my last outing, one of the most important developments was getting the info on King Arthur and her gang comparatively early. It would be very convenient if I pull that off again.

Owner: Customer Satisfaction

“Rough day?” I asked Owner.

We were settling in for our usual sleep/guard routine, safely ensconced in our usual room of the Packer House.

She looked like spent the day being crucified, and like tomorrow would be more of the same. She was drawn, pale, and utterly exhausted. Honestly she’d probably looked better on the trip back from Ar Harbour.

“Yeah,” she said, shortly.

She lay down on her bed at that point, essentially cutting off the possibility of any further conversation on the matter.

I very nearly pressed, it wouldn’t be too hard to force it out of her, but the thing was that Owner wasn’t stupid.

We’d been together for a while, and she’d never been hesitant about asking for my help if she needed it. She wasn’t asking now.

That told me that she thought my assistance would make things worse. Maybe her ornery customers were strong enough or connected enough to give even the warlord pause, or maybe she just figured that things would go more smoothly if she did things her way.

Whatever the reason, it meant that I’d be stepping on her efforts if I made my own inquiries into her situation, or at least running the risk of doing so. I couldn’t exactly foretell the consequences of doing that.

The consequences of not doing it, on the other hand, seemed to be that she was busy placating the Lair’s Ultras, instead of helping me keep us alive. It seemed like she wasn’t done yet, and I had no idea how much longer it might take.

I drifted off to sleep, mulling over whether or not to meddle in Owner’s affairs.

 

 

Day 8 ? 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: 9/10 (10 -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:

 

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)

 

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 is still busy whatever she is dealing with is ongoing)

 

Proxy Tribunal Channel Transcript

P1 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

P1: Anyone here yet?

P1: That name is really asking for it, folks. We are agreed on the issues with the official process, but come on.

I1 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

I1: Lol, love the name. Who’s here?

P1: Just me, have you done the reading?

I1: Doing it now, but a direct report gave me the rundown, they are just Nazis, right?

P1: It is more complicated than that, there are nuances here. Too complicated for public dissemination anyway.

P2 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

P1: Intelligence has a rep here already.

P2: Great, everyone else should be getting on soon.

J1 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

J1: This is a waste of time.

I1: Hello to you too.

P1: Any other Justice personnel joining us?

J1: Yes, momentarily, but we remain dubious on the overall merits of this whole subprocess.

J2, I2, M1 and M2 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal Chat’

M1: Ha, love the name.

M2: Are we all here?

I1: Yes, this should be a quorum.

P1: Intelligence, would you give us all the elevator version?

I2: I can do so, if my superior assents.

I1: Go on.

M2: Let’s get this over with.

J2: Do you find your duties tiresome?

M2: We are all going to die in a few weeks, but let’s spend some of our last precious hours doing back channel stuff for Regime assholes.

M1: He’s fine, go on.

I2: He doesn’t *sound* fine.

M1: We just turned back the enemy’s greatest attack in the middle of our capital, and we are facing an even more devastating one imminently, cut him some slack.

I2: Fourth Fist is a Regime Fist, the newest and presumably last of such formations. It is comprised of Haunter, Indulger, Condemner, Fisher and Preventer. We hold three members of this Fist in custody. This panel, or rather the greater panel of which we are all members, is empowered to determine their fate.

I1: It isn’t as simple as throwing them in jail forever, though. From what I’m reading here things are a bit murky around this particular crew.

I2: They were the source of the tip off that helped out so much in the recent battle.

M1: The destination of their backup attack? That was critical. We trusted these totalitarian fucks for something so important?

I2: Not just them, they have, hmm, ‘transported’, might be the best word, or perhaps resurrected, a number of civilians from before the First Defiance.

I1: They also saved General Greggs, it was ultimately her testimony that swayed us as far as their credibility.

P2: Weighing against that, however…

I2: I was getting there.

P2: Their conduct has been unremittingly vile and problematic, they have committed exactly the excesses that we might expect from any other similar formation. They’ve waged war on our Union, destroyed a judicial installation and committed a brand new capital crime we are tentatively calling ‘mindrape’ on a number of our diplomats and officers.

M2: We lost a number of assets to Indulger’s attacks during the final battle. If they were actually cooperating you’d think he’d have surrendered.

I1: It looks like the other two did, and their testimony is that his judgement was affected by another Ultrahuman’s gift, causing him to take actions not representative of his overall character.

I2: That’s correct, sir, they worked against the Pantheon unit during its onslaught, taking out a number of its key personnel, and ultimately surrendered to our forces.

P1: If it was just that, however, well, we wouldn’t need to meet like this. Our policy on ‘useful idiots’ from the Regime has always been to take what they give and kill them as soon as possible. If you’d care to explain what makes Fourth Fist different? That is, why they aren’t just another Third Fist situation, where we were able to get some benefit against a mutual foe?

I2: Haunter’s testimony pertains to future events, and it is backed up by the majority of those that her gift has resurrected. She is talking about an apocalypse, with respect, about the end of the world. We can’t just thank her for her service and throw her in a box if doing so will kill us all!

I1: I…hadn’t read that far yet, um, I’ll stand behind my junior here, they have my complete trust. If they are taking this threat seriously, then you can bet there is good reason to.

M1: I appreciate that, but if we are talking about an apocalypse, we don’t exactly need to rely on the testimony of people from across the ocean to see it coming. The Brides have marched. The Pantheon falls into ruin. Zeus is practically here. Nobody is under any illusions that our future is guaranteed.

J1: Beyond which, we have always lived under the threat of annihilation. Our glorious Union is founded on, and lives to this day through, the goal of preserving our dignity in the face of naked threat. We will not compromise, we will not change who we are, just because the hour is late.

I1: Haha, politicians, you better scoop this guy up! He wants to write speeches for you. Seriously, how long did it take you to come up with that stuff?

I2: My senior is maybe a bit rude, but what he means is that there is no audience here, that’s why we opened this chat. We are here to work without oversight, free to come up with the best solution, not the one that reflects best on us. You don’t need to posture.

J1: I wasn’t posturing. I was speaking the simple truth.

M1: Can we move this along?

M2: Maybe just list out the pros, the cons, and let us vote? The whole point of this channel is to get things done without the dick measuring and posing for posterity. Let’s take advantage of it.

P2: I’ll take cons. These are the same maniacs who betrayed us overseas, killing Commander Martinez. They mindraped everyone they came into contact with at our embassy, they interfered with an intervention group, destroyed a prison and fought alongside the Grand Host, killing numerous civilians in the attacks on Istanbul and Berlin. If we do anything other than deal with them as strictly as possible we are inviting anyone who wants to to walk all over us, forever.

I1: The incident in the Regime was a lot more complicated than you are making it out to be. Your counterparts ignored the reports on Martinez’s increasingly erratic behavior, and there is a lot of reason to believe that he was at fault.

J2: Awesome, literal Regime apologism in our deliberations. How dare Fidel fight back against the monsters who destroyed the world? He clearly provoked them into destroying him. Let’s all lick Peggy’s boots like good little humans.

I2: If your stance is going to be that all our aggression is justified and those of our enemies is always the opposite then I don’t know what you bring to these deliberations, we could replace you with a query to SPARTACUS about what country’s uniform someone was wearing, get exactly the same value.

J1: Not productive, can we get back to the pros and cons?

M1: Yes, that. Zeus isn’t going to wait for us to wring our hands over this. I don’t want to spend a lot of time.

P2: I’m done with cons from the past. The remainder is just the obvious one, that letting a Fist go free probably means we’ll have to fight them at some point. Disregarding what they’ve done in the past, they will still obey Prevailer, and presumably at some point she’ll tell them to attack us.

I1: It would be out of character, usually She uses First Fist for that kind of thing.

J2: Did you really just do the capitalization thing? Do we have a genuine bootlicker in the channel?

I2: We are occasionally required to meet with covert assets. If we relax our vigilance when we are among friends we might slip up when the need is more dire.

P1: Pro’s? Intelligence seems to be the only ones leaning that way, so maybe you can take care of this?

I2: Gladly. Haunter has rescued a thousand plus people from the distant past, who have invaluable skills and knowledge. She can use her gift on our key personnel, allowing them to persist beyond death, as in the case of General Greggs. Their Fist is also willing and begging to execute an immediate strike on the Regime homeland, its target to be First Fist, which is debatably our greatest enemy.

P2: This strike is tied somehow to the threat of apocalypse?

I2: Yes, exactly, Haunter claims Remover is the lynchpin of mankind’s peril. She believes destroying her and her fist will either end the Process, kill all Ultras or remove all gifts. Her resurrected allies are generally believers in this theory as well, for whatever that is worth.

M2: What do you believe that is worth?

I2: The testimony of dozens, hundreds of witnesses? All of whom experienced the events in question first hand? Quite a lot.

J1: Unless, of course, they are brainwashed.

I2: Excuse me?

J1: It’s the natural suspicion, right? We know these monsters mind rape people, and then they show up with a bunch of people who suspiciously agree with their ridiculous lie? I wonder how that could have possibly happened.

I2: I’m…I…that’s literally a fully general counterargument. The only way for someone to prove they aren’t being mind controlled is to agree with you?

J2: Honestly it is a nicer hypothesis then the idea that you are literally willing collaborators.

P1: That’s quite enough of that.

I1: That’s way out of line!

J2: Capitalize another pronoun, why don’t you?

P1: Enough!

P2: No one is going to be convinced like this. Let’s enumerate the options, vote and get on to more important business.

M1: We have confirmed confinement of 3 members of a Fist, and we’ve maintained it for greater than twenty four hours. This proves that the other two members are alive and distant.

M2: So executing these 3 is obviously off the table. The remaining options are continued confinement, with execution being revisited when and if the other two appear alongside them, and Intelligence’s scheme of collaborating with them.

M1: The Military’s position remains that no possible gain can equal the risk of putting a Fist back into play. Istanbul was a reminder of the terrible power of these units. We speak for confinement.

I1: We speak for utilizing them. Our Union faces a terrible crisis, and we must use all means to avert it.

J2: Fuck Fascists, we are for confinement.

P2: Is your junior glanding something?

J1: I’m sorry for his behavior, there will be a full investigation, you have my word.

P2: And your standing?

J1: Oh he covered it.

I2: Come on!

P1: We speak last, and loudest, for the people are always the leaders in our Union. We take the counsel of our experts in this matter, and hereby accept the stand of confinement.

J2: You can’t see us, but M2 is playing a tiny violin for your fascist buds. This must be so harsh for you. I guess force doesn’t rule this part of the world, eh?

J2 has left the channel

P2: I’m sorry to boot a standing member, but we are pretty clearly done here.

M1: We’ll make it official through the actual official Tribunal channels over the next few weeks then?

P1: If we all survive that long.

J1, P1, P2 and M1 have left the channel

I1: Not leaving M2?

M2: I just wanted you to know that J2 wasn’t lying about me. Smallest violin.

M2 has left the channel

I2: What the hell is wrong with them?

I1: What did you expect? I noticed you didn’t pitch Haunter’s “you should surrender to Zeus” line to them.

I2: Reason? I expected reason? Something resembling it anyway? The actual consideration of our evidence?

I1: People in despair will lash out if you give them a target. You let them reduce a complicated exercise in figuring out what would maximize their population’s chance of thriving to ‘do you hate Nazis, yes/no’. You are surprised they did it?

I2: I wanted them to do their jobs. I wanted them to actually exercise the responsibilities they have been entrusted with.

I1: Was I ever that young?

I2: This is rank idiocy. We are going to turn around on Haunter, on Jane Trent, and say ‘thanks for saving all these people, now stay in a cell until Zeus shows up to kill you.’

I1: I don’t love it.

I2: What will we say when she asks ‘why?’

I1: She’ll understand. Of all people, this Haunter will understand the dynamics of what just happened.

I2: This is a mistake. We lose nothing by taking her up on her offer. We stand to gain everything. Our cohorts managed to screw up Pascal’s Wager!

I1: Mario, I know you were close to the catastrophe with Martinez, but don’t let your personal feelings control you. The Union can’t work alongside a Fist so soon after Istanbul and Berlin.

I2: You are really going to talk about prestige and reputation? I’m talking about existence. I’m talking about us continuing on for more than another month, another day!

I1: The military-

I2: They are full of it. You’ve read the reports. Zeus isn’t called the Light Speed Lord for nothing. He is lightning alive, a formless monster faster than sight or sound. He killed a Fist. He broke the old Pantheon Leadership Council and he shattered our offensive, and none of those victories took even ten seconds.

I1: I’m aware-

I2: He fears exactly one thing in all the world, and that’s Prevailer. She’s just the same, instant death at teleport speed, unavoidable and absolute. Fear of Her is the only reason he hasn’t attacked long ago. He doesn’t know if She would kill him.

I1: And so he sent his minions, his Brides, I KNOW this.

I2: And Prevailer didn’t show up! Forget that we don’t even know who killed Vampire. Forget that he has ten times as many Brides again as he lost, the only question that matters has been answered. She isn’t going to save us.

I1: We can’t be seen to collaborate with the Regime. You aren’t wrong, but I was hoping what we just went through would make you understand. The politicians can’t go for it, and the judicial crew will literally die first.

I2: You’ll let them snuff out our last chance then? Because that’s what this is. If Haunter isn’t right about this thing ending Ultra gifts, then Zeus will wipe us out. You are saying we should just wait here to die, just because some other people want us to?

I1: They’d be hauling you in for arrest if they heard that. You doubting the wisdom of our appointed leaders? You think decisions should instead be made by those with the power to enforce them? Pantheon thinking, there. Maybe the leader should be the strongest Ultrahuman?

I2: I believe in our system. I do. I’m not longing for some king to show up and cut through the decisions of the stakeholders. I understand the reason for it all.

I1: But?

I2: But this is wrong! This is a stupid decision, and we shouldn’t abide by it.

I1: I agree.

I2: But you just said…

I1: We can’t BE SEEN to collaborate with a Fist.

I2: Oh thank God.

I1: So make sure nobody spots you on the way out.