Regime Ultras

Zeus, the Ultras who compose Prevailer’s Regime and run America are not very numerous.  Here is the categories that they fall into.

Prevailer:

The leader of the Regime is Peggy Martin, dictator and mass murderer.  It cannot be emphasized enough that she is the entire reason for the Regime’s existence.  She built it in the first place, and after the events of the Third Defiance she rebuilt it essentially alone.  The Regime exists to amplify and project her will, and she is its all-powerful trump card.

The Inner Circle:

These individuals are Prevailer’s personal henchman and generally occupy the ruins of Washington DC’s governing areas, the so-called Lair, alongside her.

Adder: Prevailer’s left hand man, in charge of running the Regime when she doesn’t care to.

Subtracter:  Prevailer’s right hand woman, leads the fists when fighting needs to be done and Prevailer doesn’t feel like it.

Snitcher: Prevailer’s entertainment, can observe through those he’s marked and share that observation with others, allows Prevailer to spy on her minions.

Linker: The power behind the Fist’s immunity to attrition, those ‘linked’ by her return to life each day if any of them have survived.

Torturer:  Trapped in a pit, projects a field which causes unendurable pain.  Prevailer dangles people into her pit if she needs to break them.

Copyer: Leader of the Company, as well as creator and controller of its rank and file.  Copyer makes soulless versions of people.

Answerer: Prevailer’s mascot or oracle of sorts.  Possesses divinatory powers, she’s possibly the only Ultra Prevailer is fond of.

Fists:

‘Linked’ by the Inner Circle, these fighting units are comprised of some of the world’s most dangerous Ultras, and unless all 5 are killed they will return to full power the next day.
First Fist: (Averter, Alerter, Attacker, Pursuer, Remover)

The most feared of the fists, they are commonly deployed to massacre civilians wholesale, or to obliterate geographic regions.

Second Fist: (Deceiver, Refiner, Bomber, Destroyer, Choker)

This fist is predominantly deployed to lead the defense of Regime territories against Union attacks to the North and West.

Third Fist: (Leveller, Killer, Evolver, Blaster, Mover)

This fist is mostly used to attack military units and Ultra detachments of the Pantheon.

Fourth Fist: (deceased)

Thanks to your efforts and those of your brethren, this Fist has been destroyed.  No replacement has been created as of yet.

Fifth Fist: (Predictor, Slicer, Gardener, Pitcher, Tamer)

This fist is predominantly deployed to quell internal unrest and/or dissent.  They are also a backup to the second and third fists.  A notably subordinate group.

Sixth Fist: (Fader, Blinder, Twister, Charger, Consumer)

This fist is predominantly deployed against the Pantheon.  Notably averse to the Regime’s methods and aims, this is the most rebellious fist.

Non Military Ultras:

Troubleshooters:

A small number of the Regime’s Ultras wander it constantly, sniffing out rebellion or subversion and taking care of these problems.  These Ultras report to Adder.

Defenders:

The Regime’s numerical support, when the fists need backup and Prevailer is busy with a new game or whatever.  Subtracter controls about a hundred Ultras formed into a number of squads.

Bosses:

Every city has an Ultra who is nominally in charge, responsible for keeping the city in line, and protecting it from enemy attacks.

Company Personnel:

A number of Ultras work directly for Copyer’s Company, and obey its instructions.  They are subordinate to other Regime personnel.

Haunter 1:4

It was a couple of hours before anyone showed up to speak with me.

I idled away the time, relaxing in the facility’s lobby and letting the Lantans see my sigil.  I figured that every one of them that left was another potential messenger, serving to spread the word to anyone who didn’t already know that a Regime Ultra was in town.  Even if the Knights failed me, which didn’t seem incredibly likely, the town’s gossip would eventually ensure that the Ultras all knew that I was here.  It certainly beat combing the town for them.

Eventually, a pair of very dark skinned, very muscular humans stalked in and headed towards me.  They had a distinct ‘enforcer’ vibe, guns and old world armor vests with muscular arms showing and heavy tattoo work.  Both were bald, one had a chain threaded through a hole in his nose and connecting to his ear.  They were scowling.  I hoped I wouldn’t have to kill them.

“We heard you were Haunter?” His tone made it a question.

I was sympathetic to the dance he was stuck in.  He couldn’t display humility, couldn’t fawn or cower before me.  He had a rep to maintain.  But he couldn’t use his usual aggressive and combative posture with me either, as I would be forced to display dominance by Snitcher and his invisible leash.  He was trying to hit the sweet spot between the two extremes.  No reason to make it hard on him.

“Sure am” I stood and extended my hand for a shake.

He looked momentarily nonplussed, but reached out to take hold of it for a brief grip and pump.  We shook, and I hung on after.

“You supposed to find me?” I asked, prompting a confused nod.  I hadn’t needed to know that, really, it was implied by their presence, but I took advantage of the agreement and our grip to hook his soul.  Whoever he was, he was brave enough to confront an out of town Ultra who might be here for a Decimation.  No reason to let that bravery go to waste.  When he died, today or in a few years, he’d join my reserve.

“You with him?” I asked, letting go and reaching out to shake with his comrade.  Another grip, another nod, and another soul preserved.  I let his hand go as soon as the hook was in.

“Biter sent us.” The first one said.  “She met with your Knights, wants to know what you want.”

I shook my head, slowly.

“That’s not how this works.  I know she’s new at this, but when I send someone to fetch a backwater shit-city’s newborn Ultra I expect them to show up, not send daggers to speak with me.  Does your would-be Boss have a death wish?”

I’m pretty sure this was roughly the posture that they were expecting me to strike.  I could bank disrespect with these guys, accumulate Snitcher’s approval in case I had to bargain later on.

“Mike said it wrong.”  The second guy spoke up.  He had a deep, cough-y sort of voice.  “Biter and Stepper are right outside, like you asked, just didn’t want to walk in on you without sending envoys ahead.”

Where had he heard ‘envoys’?  Who used that word?

“Huh” I said, standing up and pushing my sigil back.  “Guess I’ll head outside and talk to them then.”

I walked around the desk.  As I did so they began to back towards the door.

“Take a seat” I told them.  “Enjoy the A/C.”

This was mostly just racking up more Bully Points with Snitcher, if he was even watching, but in general I didn’t need them in any potential fight that might happen out there anyway.

I walked towards the door, getting into what I thought of as a ‘combat posture’ on the way.  I pulled shadows from my reserve and wore them.  Comatose folks mostly, and some Tourists.  Ultimately I put on ten of them, striking a good balance between how many I’d lose if I got hit and how strong I might need to be.  I also manifested a squad of Vets.

This was a complicated process.  A lot of Vets had weapons for accessories, but comparatively few of them had ended their lives with similar attachments to extra amm.  I ended up manifesting about twice as many as I’d need, and letting them trade weapons and ammo.  Ultimately a small unit of America’s finest walked again, escorting me out the door with a trained soldier’s careful vigilance.  Another squad, mostly disarmed, remained in the lobby.  I couldn’t retract them without losing their accessories, so they just remained behind, watching Mike and his buddy.

We stepped out the door and into the square, a bunch of ghostly forms surrounding a grandma with a wide brimmed hat.  Waiting across the plaza was a ramshackle bunch of lightly armed bravos surrounding a pair of Ultras.  I couldn’t help it, I let one of my shadows who knew how to whistle the cowboy theme control my lips, and we crossed the square with the distinctive gunfight whistle rising around us.  Several of my shadows picked it up and amplified, but a tumbleweed entirely failed to roll between us.

The Nightsiders were typical new world gang members.  Most had a street fighting weapon of one kind or another, knives and bottles and the like.  A few, more than the usual percentage actually, had guns.  I wasn’t too worried about them.  Nowadays ammo was in such short supply that basically no one in the Regime trained with their weapons. On the other hand, if we got into a fight basically all of these guys would die, and that was sort of the opposite of why I was here.  It had taken me a long time to realize that you couldn’t save the Regime’s populace from the gangs, because the two were one and the same.

The woman who stepped up to talk to us had to be Biter.  She was dressed in jeans and a jean jacket, with some sort of white tee beneath it.  A quick ‘greater than’ sign, or crocodile mouth, had been stenciled on the front of her jacket in green paint, and she had an engineer’s cap for her sigil.  Her sleeves were rolled up, and her arms had the same grey-black hue as the squares asphalt.

Stepper remained back, in the group.  She was wearing a formal outfit, basically a dude’s tuxedo slightly refitted.  She had curly hair, very dark skin and a cowboy hat for a sigil.  The most distinctive thing about her was the carpet of blueish light that followed her about, winding around where she’d wandered the square before we showed up, and ultimately dwindling away out along one of the side streets.  I couldn’t help but notice that the light extended behind and all around where we were walking.  If things went wrong that was going to pose a problem.

Biter walked right up to me, hands near her hips.  She smiled broadly and I could see that some of her teeth were missing, but that this didn’t daunt her.  Honestly, she looked much more like a Boss than Reverter did.

“Haunter, my ma met you once.  You got her in there?” she asked.

I didn’t let it show, but this was a shock.  I tried to stall while the Jury frantically tried to figure out whether I had Biter’s mother in my collection.

“I don’t recall telling you I’d answer your questions.” I blustered.  It was weak and I knew it.

She slapped a fist into her hand, turned it over and steepled her fingers.

“If she isn’t, if you took her and let her go… then you are about to follow her.”

Shit, threats.  This was headed one way.  Damage control time.

“Rest of you” I raised my voice and looked around her.  “Don’t step in, you walk away.”

At times like this my appearance was a serious handicap.  Grandma is warning you to back down.  Hopefully the shadows surrounding me lent me some credibility.  In particular, hopefully Stepper took heed.

Biter stepped towards me menacingly.  She stomped down and the ground vanished around her foot, making her lurch slightly as the pavement disappeared.  Holes in the bottom of the shoe, or she could use her power through it.

“Bitch, don’t talk past me.  Don’t need my crew, don’t need em, don’t need nothing from you but my ma back.”

The Jury told me that, best as they could guess, Biter’s mother was one of the Tourists who’d died over the years.  No way to know for sure, but no one in the reserve was admitting that they knew her.

I flicked my sigil off my head, so that it hung on my back by the cord around my throat and stepped right up to Biter.  I relaxed conscious control of my body and let my more combative shadows handle my movements.

“Dead meat, Bitch” I told her.

Biter swung at my head, and I ducked and circled to her right.  As no gun shots sounded I wanted to cheer internally.  It looked like this would be just the two of us.

She turned to keep me ahead and took a fighting stance, or at least sort of one.  Arms up in front of her like a boxer turtling up, probably couldn’t see well around them.  She staggered again as one of her feet ate up some concrete, no doubt giving her legs even more durability than her power offered her unaided.

I slipped her guard with another side step and jabbed her in the side, sending her stumbling back.  With ten folk’s strength I could knock around an Ultra with first degree toughness, but it wouldn’t really hurt her.  I’d need to wear more if I wanted to do serious damage, but doing so would mean losing more if I took a hit, and ten was already a lot to risk.

She faced again, and rushed me, arms spread wide for the tackle.  I grabbed the outside of one of her arms and started to drag it across to the other side, halting the rush, when a shock ran through me and the shades I was wearing were torn from my reserve.  I jumped back and right, only narrowly avoiding her rush, and that only because she stumbled to a halt for a second, looking confused.

What the fuck had happened?  I’d taken a hit somehow.  A second later I got it.  She’d ‘bit’ me through the skin to skin contact when I grabbed her arm, and my power had shielded me and cost me ten shadows.

“What-” she started asking, then kicked her foot into the ground like a soccer ball, and sent a lump of concrete flying my way.

I dashed frantically to one side, then ran over to a bench.

She pursued more slowly, watching me carefully and looking around at my manifested shades, as though expecting them to fire at her.

I picked the entire bench up and threw it at her, charging in its wake.  A lot of stuff gets thrown around in ultra fights, and its mostly just fight foreplay, but I had a very specific reason for wanting debris near her, and I was very satisfied when she slapped it contemptuously to the ground.

She threw a heavy over hand punch which I evaded without much effort and I kicked up a piece of fence into my hand.  Another telegraph punch forced me to step back for a sec, but then I close and stuck her with the fencing.  I hit her in the side where I’d punched her, and this time she ‘bit’ her jacket through, but still staggered with the impact of the hit.

I stepped back fast, considering.  She could only ‘bite’ the form that made contact, and the force still got through.  Anywhere she had clothes on I could hit her, or I could use a weapon and hit naked skin.  This wasn’t impossible.

She rushed again, and I stepped in, swinging my club down at her head.  She took it on the forehead, eating up the end of the improvised weapon and reaching out with both arms.  I tried to ward them off, but even with vastly greater hand to hand combat skill than she had I couldn’t do it entirely.  She got a hand on my shoulder and tossed me to the ground hard enough to cost me another ten shades.

Ten more!  Twenty passengers on my ark to the future that would never reach their destination.  And she was doing this because she was pissed off that I’d lost one!  I rolled to my feet, spitting curses.

She was still where she’d struck me, reeling slightly.  Both times she’d bit me she’d stopped for a moment, as though confused.  What was going on with that?

Then I remembered.  When she bit someone she got some of their thoughts, or memories.  She was getting ten times as much as she’d expected, and it was throwing her for a bit of a loop.

“Stop” I yelled, and reached around to my back to take my hat in hand.  “This is fucking crazy.”

I started walking to her, wearing more and more shades with every step.  Twenty, thirty, fifty…

“Stop?” she echoed, walking to meet me.  She cracked her knuckles in an exaggerated fashion.  “Just cause you losing you think you get to stop?”

Every step was torture.  I had a hundred souls worn.  A few gunshots now and I’d lose a sizeable portion of the reserve.  It was hard to wear so many, like holding your breathe or sucking in your gut.  I concentrated on one foot ahead of the other, silently willing Stepper not to shoot me a couple times to make a dramatic entrance into the fight.

I got there.  We stood face to face, both with our hands together between us.  Hers cupping one another, mine on my hat.  She started to say something and I threw a hell of a sucker punch.

It was just a jab, thrown from the shoulder with no body power behind it, and all of my shadows who knew how to punch cringed, but I had my hat on the front of my fist, and with ultra power the actual physical stance the punch is thrown from matters a whole lot less.

I punched in the face as hard as I’ve ever punched anyone, and her bite only tore the top off of my hat, and left my fist slamming into her face.  She hadn’t bothered to block, because if I was punching with the power I’d previously showed it would have been an inconsequential blow.  Instead, it warped her skull and tossed her head over heels across the plaza, slamming into a Nightsider and knocking him down too.

I was already releasing the shades back into the reserve, even as I strode towards her.  By the time I got there I was back at ten, which is my combat usual.  I looked down at Biter.

Her eyes were white in her head, rolled back.  Blood was flowing from a crack at her scalp and another along her cheekbone.  She was out like a light, and if she didn’t have a healing power I didn’t know about I didn’t think she was going to make it.

Such a goddamn thing.  She was angry, but if we’d talked she could have come around.  I couldn’t take a threat without fighting though, or Snitcher might tell Her and She would kill me, and so much for my thousands of charges.  I couldn’t even try and take her into the reserve, because I couldn’t take Ultras.  Since walking into Lanta I’d killed Tom and Biter, and lost 20 souls.  For what?

I turned to the Nightsiders, and retracted the Vet squads, both the one beside me and the one back in the Company facility.  Translucent white streaks flashed into my torso in rapid fire, and I felt them taking their places once again within the reserve.  Irene would be cataloging, finding out what twenty souls I’d lost with suboptimal fighting. Fuck.

“Doesn’t look like Biter’s going to be Boss” I told them.  “Doesn’t look like she’s going to wake up.  Anyone else want to die?”

This was the definition of a rhetorical question, and there was a lot of murmuring and looking to each other from a lot of ‘hard’ men.  I didn’t blame them, an angry Ultra is basically a force of nature.  Stepper could still probably take me, but I doubted she knew that.

“You taking over?” Stepper spoke up.  Her voice was high and thin, no perceptible Lantan accent.

“Me, stay in this shit burg?” I barked a laugh.  “Nah, I’m going to bring Reverter to Shington, if the Regime accepts her she’ll be your new Boss.”

Stepper didn’t look thrilled at that, but she nodded.  The daggers didn’t seem to care one way or the other.  Most couldn’t help sneaking glances at Biter, like they were worried she’d get up at any moment, or they couldn’t believe that she was gone.  Had they looked at Kicker like that?

I made the ‘beat it’ gesture, and they turned and started to file off.  A few of them hesitated a moment, and then, when I didn’t object, picked up Biter’s body and started to carry her off.  I turned and headed back into the facility.

The guys I’d contracted with emerged just as I was going in.  I cut off their questions with another curt motion of a hand, and they took the hint and filed past me.  I stepped back inside, walked back to the seat I’d commandeered earlier and sat down.

Maybe fifteen minutes later Corey and Caitlyn showed up.  They walked in and headed right to me, and then they made their apologies.  Biter had apparently told them to wait for her to get back after dealing with me, and they’d done as instructed.  I couldn’t even make myself get angry at them.  Ultras were a force of nature.

Night was falling when Seth and Tom showed up, with Reverter in tow.

Power Scaling Terminology

Company Memo:

Subject: A brief explanation of the terminology used by our organization, compiled by order of Peggy Martin (honorary Vice President of Operations), under threat of extermination.

 

Super Strength:

Super strength (Super Power, Super Vigor, etc.) refer to the ability of certain Ultras to generate far more force than their form should be able to, according to old world physics.  A super strong Ultra can lift more, hit harder, and bend/break sturdier things than she ought to be able to.

Unlike ordinary strength, the strength of an Ultra diminishes rapidly as it passes from one form to the next.  Consequently, an Ultra with super strength swinging a club or car will not do nearly as much damage as they will hitting you with their fists, although it will obviously still be a large amount.  Missiles thrown by the Ultra behave similarly, striking with the force one might expect of an object of their size at their velocity, rather than conveying the Ultra power of the individual which launched them.  Distance is the greatest safety against super strength Ultras.

Level 1:

Super strength of the first degree yields an Ultra who is narrowly stronger than an unaugmented human could be.  They can lift, leap, and hit like a winning competitor in the old Olympic games, (or slightly better) despite the fact that their forms do not ordinarily display any sign of this.  First degree superstrength makes an Ultra capable of feats akin to several strong humans, but they remain basically confined to the realm of strength that humans inhabit.

Level 2:

Super strong Ultras of the second tier leave humanity entirely behind.  They can toss several ton weights, jump up onto the high floors of buildings, and perform other feats similar to those of old world fictional characters.  Possessors of this power have been observed putting out force equivalent to construction equipment and can, through sustained efforts, topple the largest man made structures or constructs.

Level 3:

Very little is beyond Ultras with level 3 super strength.  Greg Hasp, the canonical example of level 3 super strength, has pushed over skyscrapers, and picked up a battleship.  There is no firm boundary to the outer limits of the power that can be exerted by an Ultra who is super strong to the third degree.  In general, if they can touch it, they can twist, pull, crush throw or smash it.

Level 4:

As Ms. Martin will no doubt be aware, Super Strength is the only power to which we have added a level 4 classification, and she is the only one it has been applied to.  During a period of great stress, she transported herself to Earth’s satellite and cracked it down the middle with a strike from her heel.  The Company believes that your abilities allow you to generate literally as much force as you wish through direct contact.

Super Speed:

Super speed, as exhibited by Ultras, refers to the ability to activate and/or propel the Ultras own form more swiftly than they ought to be capable of.  This does not increase their power as you might expect, and refers only to their reaction times and top speeds.  An Ultra with super speed will hit no harder than a human, however swiftly they might propel themselves.

Level 1:

An Ultra with first level super speed is as fast as a fighting artist from old movies.  When the protagonist of the picture defeats a bunch of opponents in a fight, they are typically acting at something resembling first degree super speed.  This ability predominantly refers to reaction speed and precision.  An Ultra with super speed to the first degree has the subjective experience of time slowing, to allow them to act or react precisely and exactly as the situation demands.

Level 2:

An Ultra with the second degree of ultra speed is palpably faster than the world around them.  They appear to be sped up, like they are a part of a separate world where time is pasting faster, when they exert themselves to their utmost.  An ultra with speed like this lives their life in a world that they can slow to a crawl at any moment.  Ultras with this ability are rare and mighty.

Level 3:

No Ultra possessing super speed to this level has ever been reliably observed by Company Personnel who reported the incident, but it is widely believed that it was an Ultra with this power set who devastated the Regime in the Third Defiance.  Extrapolating from the existing pattern, an Ultra with super speed 3 would take part in a stationary world, the sole actor in a vast tableau of victims.  No one could contest their domination of this world, for by the time they attempted to dispute it, the Ultra’s will would have already been done.  No one, except yourself, Ms. Martin.

Super Toughness:

Ultras who have super toughness can generally ignore the damage that the world would do to their form.  They will withstand blows and recover from impairments with outrageous ability.  In general humans will struggle to impede them or affect them at all.  An Ultra with strength equivalent to their toughness can generally affect them as though they were both unaugmented humans.  Those not so gifted, however, will struggle to impact the Super Tough Ultra at all.

Level 1:

The most common power any Ultra will gain is Super Toughness of the first degree, or Super Durability, or whatever you want to call it.  They are outrageously substantial, by the human measure.  Bullets impact on them like punches on an unProcessed person. They can recuperate from a beating in a moment and a few deep breaths.  They can endure impacts which ought to shatter a person, and continue to function essentially unimpaired.  Only the most extreme efforts of ordinary humans, bombs and the like, can have any hope of killing them.

Level 2:

Ultras with level 2 super toughness are entirely immune to conventional attacks.  Bullets bounce off them, wrecking balls shatter on impact, and so forth.  Level 2 super toughness guarantees that an Ultra will only meet her end at the hands of another Ultra.  Even confinement of such Ultras is difficult.  Their form has an integrity that the world respects, and their autonomy is implied thereby.

Level 3:

Invincible is the word for Ultras with level three super toughness.  They can withstand any attack save for another Ultra gifted with super strength of level 3.  Only 2 Ultras with super toughness three have ever been recorded to have perished, both at your hands.  Beyond their personal durability, Ultras with super toughness three benefit from a kind of circumstantial protection.  The world goes out of its way to restore them to their desired state if something does manage to inconvenience them.

Haunter 1:3

We drew nearer to the Company’s facility.  The streets were clearer here, and we saw the occasional passerby.  Every place had folks who didn’t take notice of distant noises, you’d see the same trickle of people in Ston or Lotte, under roughly the same circumstances.

Within, the Colonel’s interrogation of Tom continued.  A picture emerged, of a city subdivided into smaller fiefdoms, some overseen by an Ultra, others run by Human gangs.  Kicker had been hands-off to the extreme.  According to Tom, you could barely tell that she’d been in charge.  She’d kept to herself, let the humans do as they like.  If I’d had to be a Boss I like to think I’d do it similarly.

I let the Colonel handle it, keeping the rest muted and keeping my attention firmly focused on the real world.  If I was a hostile Ultra I’d be tempted to ambush the Troubleshooter before she made it to the Company.  Once I was there, I could ask the local Director to let me look at the records of the Process, and get a rough estimate of their powers.  No reason to let me do that.

The Knights wouldn’t see it coming, masks and hoods cut down on their vision to a shocking extent.  My own power was mostly public knowledge, if they knew that I was the one in town, and they had a countermeasure, they could….

I quashed my paranoia.  We had walked into town, brief conversation, one gunshot.  No reason to assume these two had any idea that we were on the way, if they were even hostile.  Rumors would be flying, people would think this was going to be a Decimation.  They’d think I was here to take over.  A hundred stories and the truth just one.  My mind was running away with me.  Reverter wanted me to take care of them for her, she had no incentive to tell them what I was up to.

“Haunter” said Corey, stepping close, voice pitched low such that the others wouldn’t hear.  “Ser Prix’s account of the altercation was not entirely…”

I cut him off with a raised hand, continued walking.  I fumed.  As though I didn’t know that Seth had started whatever had gone down.  I just had to figure out a way to deal with him, one that didn’t get Snitcher’s attention, one that kept me in Refiner’s good graces…

“Sir Prix” I said, as a revelation struck.  “I’ve got a job for you.  My newest shade has an assignment.  I want you to make certain he makes it back without getting popped.  Don’t fuck up.”

“Tom” I sent.  “How would you like a chance to say goodbye?  There must be someone…”

“I got bros, a sister, you wanna go talk to my people?”

“Nah, I’ll let you go instead.  I’m going to manifest you, let you walk around as a shade.  You got to be careful out there, one sharp blow and you are gone, but if you still want to go…”

“Yeah, no question. I just…I…. Can I talk, can I touch people?”

“Sure, but if someone hits you, it’s all over.  Be gentle, you are like a bubble person.”

I raised a hand, forestalling Seth’s questions.  The Knights clustered around me.  I push my gift, moments later I manifested Tom, a translucent, wavering version of the man who’d died on the street.

“Go” I said.  “Seth, make sure he makes it back.”

He hesitated a moment, and Tom took off at a jog.  Seth groaned and headed after him at a faltering jog.  He’d been marching all day, and the robes were cumbersome.  Hopefully, Tom took him somewhere that he wouldn’t come back from.  If God was good, that was the last I’d see of Ser Seth Prix.

Corey and Caitlyn looked at one another as he set off, but neither asked to go with him, or where I’d sent him.  Just as well, as I wasn’t sure what answer I’d give.  I beckoned and set off, and they followed once again.

It wasn’t much further before we arrived at the Company’s plaza.  People milled about before it, some running, some walking, a few standing and talking.  This was the toppled city’s hub, Lanta’s beating heart.  If they’d even heard the gunshot all the way over here, they hadn’t paid it any mind.   People swirled around the Company like ants around a mound.  Some heading in for protein, or to beg for tech.  Others departing, their requests fielded by the Copied personnel.

The Jury called my attention to her before I noticed.  A woman with a football helmet for a Sigil was walking towards me.  Big fat lady, no grill on the helmet.  Her name was on the tip of my tongue.  She shot fire, Burner, Toaster, Fryer?  Shit.

“Sizzler” Joe sent.  “You’ve heard of her when Kicker told you about her dumb Sigil.  Kicker said she’s impatient and angry.”

Sizzler is a crap name.  I’ve always felt bad about Haunter, but at least I didn’t sound like a ride in an old amusement park.

“Troubleshooter” she opened with. “What are you doing in town?”

“Looking around, Adder told me that something interesting might be going on.  I hadn’t been down this way in a while, figured I’d take a look.”

“So, you aren’t hear for a Decimation then?” she asked.  “That’s kinda surprising.  Been months since anyone’s tried to take Her down.  Bet She’s getting restless.”

“You are probably right, Sizzler.  But I hadn’t heard anything when I left.  She’ll probably send a Fist to go fuck up the Patheon if she gets bored, kill some daggers, drag their bosses into a fight.  Not really my business anyway.  I’m more interested in what’s going on in Lanta.  Talked to your Boss, didn’t clear things up much.”

She chuckled knowingly, nodded.

“Which Boss?  Reverter and Biter both want the big sigil.”

“Reverter, and she tried to point me towards Biter’s crew, didn’t give me a word of warning about 2 ultras being part of it.”

“I was on duty when she came out of the Process.” Sizzler said.  “Scrawny little thing.  She was the old leader’s main squeeze. When he didn’t make it, and 2 of the grunts did, she wasn’t going to fit in.”

“Why is she handing out tech?  A Company Man told me there’s been some electronic music playing, Adder’s brief said some folks were using old world lights.  I could see making her own life better, but giving tech to daggers?”

“Building up support.” Sizzler nodded, as though to emphasize what she was saying.  “Lots of people felt good about Kicker.  By giving out some toys and talking up how Biter offed her, Reverter wants to get some human goodwill.  I don’t know what she thinks that’ll do for her, but that’s the only reason I can come up with.”

It sort of said everything you needed to know about Sizzler that hearing that someone was handing out quality of life improvements made her think that she was buying goodwill.  She might be right, but Reverter also might just be trying to help out.  She was awfully young.

I started walking past Sizzler towards the facility.  She fell into step beside me.  Despite me looking old enough to be her mother I had to slow my pace for her.  Sizzler sort of waddled when she walked, not a thin woman.

“Big day when they came around.” She said.  “Whole Towers crew, a hundred or more.  Walked in and asked for the Process.  Took most of the day, and I had to burn the losers out on the edge of town so we wouldn’t have to deal with the stink.”

“Is that a normal thing?” I asked.  “Losing gang in a squabble rolls up full force to get Processed?  Seems like it can’t be.”

“It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve seen it once or twice.  It is much more common when the problem is the city’s Boss.  No one would back you when Kicker said you were done.”

We had reached the doors.  They whisked open with old world efficiency and we stepped through into what amounted to another world.

While the plaza was hot and dusty, baking beneath the southern sun, the lobby of the Company Facility was immaculately cleaned and air conditioned to the point of chilliness.  The walls and floor were tiled in a white ceramic of some kind, and a soft blue glow emanated from small gaps between them.  No matter where I went in the domain, the Company buildings were always the same.

Lines of civilians meandered across the floor, but no one seemed anxious to bar our path as Sizzler and I, with the Knights in tow, strode over to meet with a Company Man.  Sizzler stopped a discreet distance away and let me talk with him alone, but the Jury was pretty sure she could overhear from there.

“Greetings Haunter, have you come for a refreshing protein paste?

“No,” I said.  “I’m here to inquire into the abilities displayed by the last 3 Ultras you Processed.  Tell me what they can do.”

“Certainly, Troubleshooter. One moment.”  He stood still for a long moment, long enough to be awkward, and then he spoke in a rapid monolog, broken only by the occasional pause to draw breathe.

“Reverter possesses an ability to cause any form she comes in contact with to return to an earlier state.  Doing so removes damage which does not consist of the removal of any discrete sub forms.  Further, she demonstrated improved resilience to the first degree.  Biter gained the ability to cause large chunks of forms she comes into contact with to disappear, and her form to take on their affinities.  This ability works on living forms as well, leaving a jagged wound resembling a large bite mark.  She gains increased durability and power by consuming matter in this manner, and can hear echoes of the thoughts of people ‘bitten’ by this process.  Additionally, she has demonstrated improved strength and resilience to the first degree.  Stepper can leave behind a trail of light on the ground, and pass without transition to any point along the trail.  She can also cause any other individual standing on the trail to vanish and appear at another point along it.  In addition, she possesses super speed to the first degree.”

The Company Man returned to his default posture, hands at his side and face cover by a broad smile.  I considered what I’d heard.

“Not sure we can take Stepper.  She probably can’t take us, but super speed and a mobility power?  We won’t hit her.”  Sarah spoke up, interrupting the rotation.  She, Joe, the Colonel and Irene had blanket permissions to do so.  “Biter’s probably not such a problem for your particular skill set, though super tough one means you’ll need to use the Knights, or Jim.  Reverter’s a soft target, if you want to take the easy out.  She’s probably counting on constantly repairing that stuff she covers up with to defend her, shouldn’t be an issue.”

That was roughly what I’d been thinking.  I’d gotten lucky this time, nobody had been Processed into anything I couldn’t deal with.  Stepper might be a problem, but I’d killed someone with first level superspeed before.  Besides, she wasn’t even claiming to be Boss.  If she was smart enough to back someone else’s play I could probably talk with her.

I walked over to Sizzler.  I needed a local’s opinion.

“For Boss, Reverter or Biter?” I asked.  “Got a preference?”

“I dunno.” She shrugged expansively.  “ Reverter’s been giving shit out, might keep the daggers in line better.  Biter’s probably stronger.  Really, it ought to be Presser, but he’s staying out of it.  I don’t really care… Reverter I guess?”

I nodded, slowly.  I needed to see Biter, feel her out.  I turned to the Knights.

“Ser Hobbes, Dame Red, go find Biter and let her know that a Regime Troubleshooter wants to talk to her.  Ask her to come see me in front of the Company Facility this evening.”

They hesitated, then turned away.  As they started off Caitlyn looked back over her shoulder at me.  I relented a bit.

“Tell her my name, I’ve got a bit of a rep for being straight up.  Might inspire her to let y’all come back.”

She nodded once, and they walked out of the lobby into the heat and the dust.  Good riddance.  The Knights were convenient at times.  I hoped that Corey and Caitlyn would be safe, but whether they were or not it would be useful information.

“Any idea why Presser’s standing down?” I asked Sizzler.  “He’d be a cinch to walk over these three.”

“Just doesn’t want the job.  I was drinking with him a while back, he went on a rant about how being a Boss wasn’t worth it, have to spend all your time kicking the daggers’ asses, might get killed by Her if you suck at it.  And what do you get?  First pick of sigil and you get to tell folks what to do?  Ain’t worth it, not by a long shot.”

Those were pretty much my thoughts on the matter, so it was hard to blame Presser for that attitude, but it made my job a bit harder.

Thinking it through,  Reverter, fundamentally, had a useful power for a Boss.  She could fix parts of the town each day, give people back little conveniences of the Old World.  Having her in power would probably be better for the city than Biter, who was an Ultra with nothing but fighting powers.  If I could just pick, I’d go with Reverter, even after the stunt she pulled.  The problem was the interview.

To become Boss, an Ultra had to visit Shington and talk with Adder or another Inner Circle member, get hooked up to Snitcher.  I could easily imagine Adder realizing that Reverter could be a lot more valuable to the Regime using her gift on things they cared about than she could as a Boss.  She could fix Old World weapons, nukes or computers or something.  I might have to play along with them to keep my repository intact, but I didn’t have any interest in helping them out to that extent.

By contrast, if I chose Biter as boss, there wouldn’t be much of an issue, except that she’d probably kill Reverter.  My ideal endgame had Reverter hanging around in Atlanta, helping out with day to day stuff.  Was that achievable, or did I need to kill her so she didn’t end up drawn to Shington?

I’ll say one thing for the old world.  Air conditioning was a great achievement.  The loss of universal A.C. is as symptomatic as anything else of our decline as a nation, as a race.  After a day spent trudging through the Lantan heat the chance to rest my feet and think was a great luxury. I moved away from Sizzler, planted myself behind one of the counters in a well upholstered chair, rested my feet on a pile of paper, and sank back into the cushions, heaving a sigh of blissful relief.

Outside, the Knights would be scurrying to the tasks I set them on.  Seth would be, hopefully, breathing his last, killed by the dark skinned humans he so loathed.  Biter would be getting word of my presence, as well as any information her contacts could tell her about me.  Reverter would be hearing reports, that I’d come to the facility and talked to Sizzler.  Everyone scurrying about in the heat, while I sat my old bones in this chair and luxuriated in the cool of the Facility.  It was a pleasant thought.

“Jane, what’s the plan?” she asked, dragging me back from pleasant daydreams.  “You going to take down Biter and Stepper, or get rid of Reverter, or do you want to try and play peacemaker?”

Sarah liked there to be a plan.

“I don’t know yet.  Next thing I want to do is talk to Biter, if she responds to my invitation.  I’m hoping I can sell her on coming to Shington, talk up the Troubleshooters as the right place for someone of her newfound talents.  If she goes for that, I’ll tell Reverter to find her own ride, and that’ll be that.  I’ll take Biter into the Troubleshooters, Dawn will make her own way up to be sworn in as Boss of Lanta, and things will work out.”

“Ok, so why might that not work out?  Talk me through everyone’s motivations and what you think they’ll want.

I scratched my forehead, gave it a moment’s careful thought.

“Ok, I’m Biter.  My gang ran afoul of Kicker, things got so bad that we went to the Facility and asked to be Processed.  So, more or less, we asked to die.  I asked to die.  I was at the end.  Then, bang, I become an Ultra.  Beat the odds, walk away from death.  I’m relieved, euphoric.”

It was hard to put myself in her shoes.  It had been a long time since I’d felt anything other than a sort of weary resignation about my gifts.  But I remembered the chamber, the apparatus.  The feel of the joining, of transcending, wasn’t something I could completely forget, no matter how many decades passed.

“A friend also survives, and also one of my old gang leader’s bitches.  We fight together, we take down the Boss.  So I’ve had my revenge, now I want to be in charge.  I’ve got a new gang, I’ve got respect, fear…I’m euphoric, doubling down every day because I’m on a roll, God damn it.”

Was that right?  It sort of fit.  Biter could have just walked away from her Towers affiliation after becoming an Ultra, but she’d taken on Kicker anyway.  So, would she bite at anything?  At anything that resembled winning?

“I’m Reverter. Joe interjected.  “ I’m used to being close to power, if not wielding it.  My friends are dead, the other 2 who survived don’t like me much.  I try and point the Regime troubleshooter at them, but I don’t really have a way to ensure that works.  I’m…grasping?  I’m flailing.  My life has sort of collapsed, and I’m trying to forge a new one, grabbing everything I can find and hoping it sticks.  Fastest way out is through, safety beneath the lighthouse, yadda yadda.”

Alright, so if Biter wanted to win, and Reverter wanted to get some stability, could that work out?  If I pitched it as a big deal to get to join the troubleshooters, Biter might snap at It, leave aside entirely the question of who becomes Boss.  Leave with Biter, once we’re gone, Reverter fixes things up?  It felt like it might work.

I’d decided on an approach.  When Biter showed I’d try and recruit her.  Perfect outcome?  We’d leave town before Reverter heard anything more of it.  With that decided I set it aside.  I had a plan, when Biter showed up, if she showed up, I’d put it in motion.  Nothing left to do but sit and relax in the cool atmosphere of the Facility.

History Report

Title: History of the Regime

Clearance: Whoever you want to show this to.  It is mostly common knowledge.

Compiler: Get off my ass.  You don’t need to know my name.

History:

Prevailer founded the Regime on April 1st, 2113, allying with the ‘ultra villains’ that it was her duty to combat and seizing power by killing a majority of the American Federal Government’s elected officials.

The so called First Defiance occurred over the following months, as the human military strove in vain to oppose the tyrant.  This conflict revolutionized military understanding, as the world’s greatest human armed forces were unilaterally massacred by the physics-defying powers of the Ultras.

During this conflict, the nascent Regime committed a wide variety of war crimes, which saw the population plummet.  When all was said and done, Prevailer ascended not to reign over the most prosperous nation of the old world, but to batter and tyrannize its withered shell.

The Company revealed its perfidy at this time, announcing its whole hearted support of Prevailer and abandoning its overseas ventures.  This functioned as life support, keeping the Regime from the starvation and annihilation that most outsiders predicted.

Only a decade later, the Second Defiance broke out.  American Ultras had been Processed in record numbers beneath the Regime, and they turned against it en-masse.  The remnants of the military supported them, as did a large number of European ultras.

The Second Defiance has been the subject of much military analysis, and it is not this report’s role to retread that battered ground.  Suffice to say that Prevailer, Linker and Copyer’s powers proved decisive despite the numerical edge that the insurgents possessed.

In the wake of the Second Defiance the Regime expanded its ranks somewhat, conscripting Ultras it would once have disdained to use in its Fists and assigning them subordinate ranks instead.  The TroubleShooters, Defenders and similar organizations were formed at this time.  The Regime’s ultras rose in number from a few dozen to a few hundred.

It was two decades before the Third Defiance, about which there remains much confusion to this day.  The consensus is that Duncan Henz, a Union sympathizer, underwent the Process and survived, gaining Superspeed to a previously unheard of degree.  What is certain is that ‘Slasher’, as the entity in question has come to be known, took down a majority of the Regime in an hour, before falling to Prevailer in the battle of DC.

The Regime was in ruins, only about half of the Inner Circle and just one Fist remained to aid Prevailer.  She consolidated her power to the eastern seaboard, decimating her western territory in a series of brutal attacks.

It took another decade before the Regime was back on anything resembling its earlier footing, and it never quite made it.  This was the last time Prevailer kept a peace treaty with the newborn Union.  When Prevailer broke the treaty in 2157, it was to launch a brutal and unprovoked attack on Canada, seizing a stretch of its eastern coast which remains in Regime hands to this day.

The Fourth Defiance was mostly a Pantheon operation, with foreign Ultras attacking en masse and using scorched earth techniques.  It met with a notable lack of success, ascribable to a segment the populace actually rallying behind the Regime in the face of genocide, as well as the Pantheon’s general military inadequacy.

From that time to the present conflict with the Regime has simmered, with the Pantheon and Union launching occasional strikes.  The thinking appears to be that Prevailer must be kept entertained by battle, and if you don’t go to the Regime to fight it will come to you.  Within the Regime itself life has improved by the smallest margin, with Prevailer consenting to allow several subordinate human organizations to exist and bring back in some small measure the benefits of civilization.

It is the opinion of this source that things will rest like this for the remainder of my lifespan.  The people of the Regime are broken, and the majority of them have never known anything other than the chains they labor under. Neither the Union nor the Pantheon can take time away from their ongoing battle to attack the Regime, nor is it at all clear that they would prevail if they did.  There is unlikely to be a Fifth Defiance.

Haunter 1:2

The woman, the girl, who was framed in the door was several things.  She was slight, Asian, and her hair was apparently shaved like a pre-Awakening military recruit.  She was wearing a nylon over her head like a bank robber.  She was pointing a gun at Seth, and she was utterly, heart stoppingly, young.  If she was 18 then so was I.

Seth, for his part, looked over at her and didn’t move.  He wasn’t in any danger from her gun, not in robes with Refiner’s blessing, but if she was an Ultra he had a few problems to work through.  When Seth was confused or uncertain of himself he reacted either with stunned immobility or by blustering and attempting to seize control of the situation.  I was grateful that he was going with the former.

“Back off, Ser Prix” I told him.  I emphasized his title to remind him of the realities of the situation.  “It looks like we’ve found the person we were looking for.”

I was pleased to see Seth take his foot off of the chair and walk back to the table the Knights were at.  I was much more pleased to see the other people in the facility finding their way out.  I motioned, and the Knights followed after them.  I couldn’t do anything about Snitcher, but I didn’t need any other witnesses to whatever was about to go down.

The girl, Reverter, sat down across from me, holstering her gun as she did so.  I drank in more details, leaned back in my chair.  She was wearing a battered brown military coat, and despite the heat a long sleeved T shirt under it, and strangest of all she had on stained surgical gloves.

No exposed skin” whispered the Jury.   I hadn’t needed to call for the rotation to cease, we had a long standing protocol for important conversations.  The most observant and socially adept among my shadows looked out from behind my eyes and took in everything, feeding me details as needed.

“Reverter, I presume.” I said, by way of an opening line.  I’d have gone with Dr. Reverter, but she wouldn’t get the reference.  No one watched old movies anymore.

“Not officially, yet.  Call me Dawn.  Or Boss.” She spoke with such assurance that I knew she’d rehearsed this a few times in her mind.  She drummed her fingers on the counter, and the Jury let me know that she was a piano player. Where had she found one of those still working?

‘What happened to Kicker?” I asked, playing along.  “I liked her.”

“Same thing that happens to everyone, I guess.” She said, trying very hard to act like she didn’t care.  “Don’t we all ‘revert’ to dust in the end?”

Just like that, I stopped finding her my-little-menace act adorable and started getting annoyed.  I hadn’t been joking, Kicker was a kind woman who had kept things stable around here.  A good Boss, if such a thing existed.

“Is she…” I spoke flatly, without affect.  “Dead?”  I looked into her eyes during the pause, giving her nothing.

“She had-“ I cut her off before she could go on.

“Yes or No, or I kill you.”

Even without the Jury I would have seen her eyes widen.  She probably hadn’t been around other Ultras very often, certainly not Regime.  Kicker really had kept things stable here, and Dawn had grown up without facing the world’s true nature.  Her world had been a safe place, for her at least.  Perhaps she’d seen human violence.  Few had not.  The world of Ultras, however, was something you had to get used to.

“Yes.” She said, not audibly shaken.  The Jury let me know that she would go left if I moved suddenly.  I’d have bet on back out the door, so there was something I was missing.

“Did you do it?  Did you order it done?” I asked the questions rapidly, not giving her time to answer.  I didn’t move a muscle beyond my mouth, and continued to gaze into her eyes without expression.  She’d backed down once, the pattern should hold until I deviated.

“No and No.” she said.  Then, daring, “But if I had it wouldn’t have been any business of yours, right, Troubleshooter?”

The Jury didn’t have any insight into whether she was lying.  You can’t actually tell whether someone is telling the truth by looking really hard at their face, unless they are very bad at lying.

I shook my head dismissively.  “Not really.  New Boss is fine, long as you are actually an Ultra.”

She looked incredulously at me.  She’d gotten over my threat remarkably fast.  Perhaps she was coping by pretending it hadn’t happened, or perhaps she simply had an unusual degree of composure.

“It happens, you’d be surprised.  But I don’t think that’s the case with you.”  I wasn’t lying there, a surprising number of people thought it would be a great idea to put on a sigil they found scavenging in a sporting goods store and invent a gift terrifying enough that they didn’t think anyone would test them.  It didn’t generally go well, although, I suppose that if it did I wouldn’t have heard about it.

We did the ‘getting something out of a pocket in a tense situation’ dance for a bit, as she carefully removing a melted candy bar from her coat.  She tore open a corner and pressed it against the inside of her hand.  The Jury spotted a tear in the glove there, presumably there would be one on the other glove to match, and likely a few around the knuckles, if her power had offensive application and actually required skin contact.

The candy bar unmelted, that’s the best way I can put it.  It solidified and reshaped itself, like watching a film in reverse.  It seemed to grow a little as well, perhaps it had lost some mass in the melting process.  Dawn looked at me expectantly.

“Lame” I said, twisting my lips to accent it.  “You are going to be a Boss with that as your gift?”

Inwardly I wasn’t nearly so dismissive.  The Jury had instantly started coming up with nonsense you could do with her that gift and a lot of it was horrifying.  Gifts with skin contact limitations tended to work on people, and if Dawn could revert an Ultra to their pre-process state she was legitimately dangerous.

She shrugged.  “Tougher than I look.”  Drawled it out, another movie moment she’d built in her mind ahead of time.  She was going somewhere with this conversation.  She wanted something.

“Look, Haunter”, she said.  Fully recovered from the threat, I guessed.  Youth.  “You want to shoot trouble, right? That’s your thing? I can tell you where the guys that got Kicker are. Kill em if you like.”

I nodded, slowly.  I wasn’t about to jump anyone on her unsupported say so, but ultimately it’s hard to turn down information.  Even if she lied knowing what she wanted me to believe would tell me something.

She gave brief directions, I tuned her out.  The Jury would remember for me.  While they were using my senses I took a brief internal consultation.

“Sarah, impressions?”

“Probably same as you.  She wants to use us to dispose of some local rival, be Boss of this shit town.” She sounded disappointed.

Joe chimed in. “Typical.  She has a power that probably lets her REVERSE AGING, and she wants to be a warlord.  Dumb bitch.”

The Jury did the mental equivalent of a throat clear and I snapped back to full awareness.  Mental speech is just a bit faster than the real thing, letting me get a quick back and forth in while she pointed me at the targets.

“So” I said. “This gang that took down Kicker, they rebels, KEMers, or just local troublemakers?”  Kicker had been super tough to at least the first degree.  Killing her must have been a fairly serious production.

“Nothing well defined.  Tough guys that defended their territory.  Gang fits as well as anything.  I wasn’t there, but I hear that she was hassling them, and they had a bomb she didn’t know about.”  Reverter stood as she said this, clearly just about done talking with me.

“Uh huh.” I said.  I hadn’t stood up.  “Well, I’ll pay them a visit, sort em out.  Afterwards, if you want a ride back to Shington you can have a seat on my bus.”

A moment of silence.  I made the ‘run along’ gesture, keeping it out of my own line of sight so Snitcher wouldn’t get pissed if he saw her taking directions.  I wasn’t wildly positive on her, but that was no call to mess with her chances with the Regime.

She gave me what kids imagine is the hard stare, looking into my eyes and squinting through the stocking.  Then she turned and walked out, side walking so I was never fully out of her peripheral.  She left by the same entrance she came in, hopefully my Knights had not crept around to that side of the building.

“Not a lightning user.  No need to keep her away from the Regime.” The Colonel’s voice rasped through my mind.  “What’s your next move?”

I shrugged.  The shades feel what I do, so some gestures work with them.  “I’ll go to the Company facility, try and talk to some of the Ultras doing guard duty.”

A clamor arose from outside, voices raised, shouting indistinctly.  I jumped to my feat, dashed quickly to the door that Seth and his cronies had exited through.  I manifested a pair of Vets as I did, and gestured.  One of them wrenched the door open.

On the street outside, the Knights were surrounded by a small mob, maybe ten to fifteen.  Lantans in dingy coats shouted imprecations and shook their fists, working up their courage to try something.  The Knights swung their scythes in warning arcs, silent for the most part.  In the midst of them a body lay on the ground in a spreading red puddle.

I stalked through the door, Vets following. As eyes started to turn to me I raised up my hands as though I was going to shoot something at them, and folks in the direct line cringed and ducked aside.  No one threw anything or shot me as I stalked up to Seth.

“What the fuck is going on here?” I asked him, not exactly shouting to be heard, but speaking loudly. I didn’t stop at Seth as I waited his response, continuing on to his victim.

“This bitch” and he used a head motion to indicate the man lying on the ground. “He-“ whatever else Seth was going to say was drowned in a roar of anger from the folks around us, someone was grabbing Corey’s scythe by the handle, and more were converging on them.

A series of loud bangs announced that the Vets had had enough of this shit, and people began running. Their shots were warning shots, aimed high.  I can’t take credit for that.  Some of these guys are old American military, and they used to spend like a million dollars training each guy.  They knew how to disperse a crowd.

The guy who had grabbed Corey’s scythe held on a second longer, then fled with the rest.  I grabbed ahold of Seth’s shoulder in the confusion, keeping him from lunging into the mob and swinging the blessed scythe.  Barn door after the cow was gone, of course, but maybe this didn’t need to escalate anymore.

“He spoke to-“ this time it was me who cut Seth off, shaking him violently and turning away to loom over the guy who he’d cut.

I didn’t need the Jury to tell me that he was done for.  The scythe had gutted him, cutting through a broad belly nearly to the backbone.  He was breathing rapidly, teeth clamped in a rictus of pain, hands trying to hold his life in.

I knelt down over him, put my hand to his forehead.  He wasn’t much darker skinned than I, but it must have been enough to set Seth off. His eyes focused on mine for a moment, holding my gaze even as he twitched convulsively.

“That guy did this?” I asked, indicating Seth with a jerk of my head.  I felt his agreement through my gift even before he nodded.  It was enough.

In order to contract with someone I need to make bodily contact and we need to be in agreement.  I felt a brief sensation of warmth without heat as my gift took ahold of him.  It faded in moments.

I stood again.  I never knew what to say to the dying, and I’d have all the time in the world to talk to this guy soon enough.  I turned away from him, and also away from the knights.  Faced nothing for no reason like a dolt.

The Colonel spoke, somberly.  “He’s in agony, Jane.  Do it.”

I clenched a fist, as a shadow he would feel that, and said nothing.  This sucked.

“Jane…”

Still I just stood there.  If I could run and get Reverter…who I couldn’t reveal that I gave a shit about this to while Snitcher was watching.  Not without endangering all of my shadows.  I could write…I could.

The first choked scream rose up as the guy on the ground’s self control slipped.

Knowing the Vets were watching, I crooked a finger like I was shooting a gun.

I walked over to Seth.  “Ser Prix,” I ground out.  “Why the fuck did you slash some random dagger?  You trying to fuck with my investigation?”

A gunshot from behind me, I didn’t turn as I felt the reserve swell by one.  I scowled into Seth’s skull mask, daring him to quote Refiner’s White Book at me.

Seth shrugged expansively.  “Figured you’d need someone to question.  You took him, right?”

Oh, that was a total crock.  They had no idea how I contracted shades.  Or, I didn’t think they did.  These three had been with me for a couple cities.  Maybe he…

Joe spoke up. “Don’t blame yourself for this, boss. Seth’s a shit.  He had no way to know you’d get out before this guy died.  He killed him because he’s tired and angry.”

I hesitated a moment.  I could just manifest a few shades, they’d grab him, throw his hood back and shoot him in the head.  It would be so easy.

The new shade started trying to speak, once, then several more times rapidly.  I recognized the panic spiral, and I held up my hand to Seth in a “hold it” gesture.  He wasn’t going anywhere, and I could get to him any time if I decided to.

I muted all of the shades except the Colonel, and let him speak.  His rasp filled my head.

What’s your name?” he asked.  I removed the mute from the new shade.

Tom” he answered.  “Tom Bell.”  He tried to say more but I muted him again.

Tom” grated the Colonel “you have been partnered with Jane Trent, sometimes called Haunter.  She is an Ultrahuman under my command.  We are an American force, working to carry these souls into the future.  Our hope is that as technology advances the souls she carries will one day once again be clothed in flesh.

I eased up on his mute, and he answered.  “ America, that’s the old world.  Y’all from way back then?

Jane is, and a few of us are, but most of us she’s gathered over time.  Whenever she meets someone who is sick or hurt, she makes a partnership.

You fuckers shot me!” Tom said, as his mind spun back up.  I winced inwardly.  This wouldn’t be a fun conversation.  I turned my attention back to the real world as the Colonel tried to explain why Tom should help us.

“Ser Prix, Dame Red, Ser Hobbes” I said.  “I hope that Seth’s actions won’t result in us having to fight this fucking city, but if they do y’all are on your own.  For now we’re going to the main Company Facility.” I started walking, certain that they would follow.

We set off down the street, and before we’d gone half a block people had emerged and started to gather over Tom’s corpse.  I quickened our pace a bit, not in any way Snitcher would be able to pinpoint as fleeing, but just in a businesslike, purposeful stalk.  The Knights followed, staffs beating out a rapid rhythm on the ground as we walked.

I delegated movement to Irene and switched my attention to the reservoir again.  Good timing, Tom was telling the Colonel what he knew.

Kicker, she was sick of the Towers crew.  They were always making trouble, talking shit.  They were fucking up everything.  She went in and sorted them out, took out the leaders, let the rest know she weren’t going to take any more of their bullshit.

I spoke up.  “Sorted em out?  Like how?” I asked.

Just beat them down, broke the bosses a bit, didn’t kill nobody.  Kicker never killed nobody, at least not most of the time.  After they got fucked up by her, the Nightside crew started talk about how they were gonna fuck em up too. Called em bitches, you know.  They were gonna get killed, everyone knew it.

I let him wait a sec before prompting him.  “And…

Bunch of em went to the Company, yo, told em to do the Process.  Said they were dead anyway, ya know?  Marched like a parade, their Last Ride.  Must’a been a couple dozen or a hundred or two hundred.

Shit, they must have been desperate.  Only about one out of 30 women survived the Process and became an Ultra.  The numbers for men were much worse.

3 of em made it, Reverter, Biter and Stepper they call themselves now.  When Kicker rolled up to the Red Tower I hear that Biter took her out.  She’s the strongest of em.  She took the Nightside crew and brought em into the Towers, started leading em with Stepper as her second.  Reverter split from that crew and has been hiding from em since.  Presser and Taker have been staying out of it, and the Company guards don’t care what goes on outside their building.

Fantastic.  There wasn’t one more would-be Boss in the city, there were two.

KEM : Haunter

KILL EVERY MONSTER

Ultrahuman Designation: Haunter

Birth Name: Jane (unknown last name)

Occupation: Troubleshooter for Prevailer’s Regime, not known to be a member of any Link

Appearance: Female, Caucasian, mid to late 60’s, mostly grey hair.  Slim build, no significant muscle tone or fat.  Generally wears clothes similar to ordinary citizens, no weapons.

Sigil: Wide brimmed, with a tie string under her chin.

Super strength:  Level 1, but has been observed fluctuating to 0.  Patriots eliminating this creature should allow for the possibility that it might rise to 2..

Super durability: None as such, but see powerset description.

Super speed: None.

History: The woman who would become Haunter remains unknown to analysts at this time.  It emerged from a Company facility in Shington after the 3rd Defiance.  It is therefore conjectured that the woman who would become Haunter was rounded up alongside the rest during one of Prevailer’s recruitment drives, and beat the odds to survive the Process.  This is far from definite, and some of the beast’s dialog makes it seem as though it is considerably older.

Since then the creature has served as one of the Regime’s Troubleshooters, focusing mainly on the South and West areas claimed by the regime.

Powerset: Haunter can create ghostly figures in the semblance of those who have died.  These figures appear to possess the memories and capabilities that the humans they mimic did in life.  These figures act to defend the creature or to further its aims, and it appears to be able to outfit them with simulacra of the possessions that its targets had in life.

It is unknown at this time what actions Haunter must take to add a citizen’s soul to its arsenal.  Likely candidates include touch (the creature mimics the human custom of shaking hands rather than demanding groveling homage like others of its ilk) or social interaction.  The previous briefing, which indicated that Haunter could only copy those it had killed has been disproven.

In addition to direct contributions to combat outcomes these facsimiles often attempt to interact socially with citizens, frequently acting as though they are the humans they resemble, and preying upon the loved ones desire for closure.   These projections are more fragile than humans, destroyed if they receive kinetic impact equivalent to a blow or strike.  Haunter has never been observed to recreate a projection which has been destroyed.  Semblances which are struck appear never to be profaned again.

When Haunter’s extermination has been attempted, the lethal projectiles have passed through its body as though it was fog, and one of the replicas have emerged.  It fell out of Haunter’s body and dissipated as though it had been struck rather than the Ultra.

Crimes against Humanity: Haunter confines itself to the duties its master sets it, and consequently has only killed those humans the Regime has demanded it kill.  Analysts do not believe it actively seeks opportunities to commit war crimes.

Kill Priority: Low

Kill Method:  Haunter does not demonstrate the typical Ultra augmented resilience, but its defensive mechanism of passing the attacks to its replicas may prove even more vexing to the unprepared Patriot. Analysts have speculated that it may have any number of captive souls, and therefore require any number of kinetic interventions before being eliminated.  Patriots are advised to construct a situation where the Ultra cannot alter its circumstances, and deliver lethal force continuously until extermination has been achieved.

KILL EVERY MONSTER