Fourth Fist Countermeasures

Wow, we are really doing this?  I’m not loving our odds here.

I know, I know, you are the commander.  I’m just saying…

Alright, so let’s go down the list, start to finish.


Leader: Indulger

So, like we talked about, this is the guy I had the run in with.  I can personally attest that he has the ability to control the ground.  He was using it to fix a road when we happened upon him, and he also slid himself around at speed during the fight, and basically used it to slap our specialist when she took a hostage.

Beyond that, though, he is also protected by it.  We had to have shot him a hundred times, at least, and he is only Ultra Tough one.  He was taking impacts from the shots, reeling and sustaining damage.  It just fixed itself while we watched.

According to the intel his powers are only available to him while he maintains contact with the ground.  In a building or while held in the air he has a dramatically limited subset of them.

Beyond that, and I hesitate to list this as a weakness, Indulger tries to keep people alive.  He used nonlethal force in our battle, and allowed us to depart after he triumphed.  He was swayed when a Regime civilian, an unpowered human, was taken hostage.

The obvious solution to neutralizing Indulger is to get them inside  He didn’t seem all that bright.  Failing that, lift him into the air.  Marcy or Eve ought to be strong enough to hoist him up or punt him.

#2: Haunter

We have little information about this woman, mostly just her KEM sheet.  It seems as though she can generate person shaped projections.  These act independently, and make her something of a one woman army.

Her projections have been observed wielding firearms (both those projected alongside them, and those that they seize from the environment.)  Haunter has also shown a difficult to pin down degree of Ultra strength.

The weakness that I see in her gift (aside from just shooting anything that comes out of her), is that her projections don’t seem to be incorporeal after they leave her.  They clearly pass through her clothing, but thereafter they seem to be entirely touchable.  If she was shut up in some manner of coffin, or box, she ought to be helpless.

An additional weakness that Haunter has is that aside from passing her injuries onto her projections, she is just an old woman.  If we use a non kinetic attack (poison or similar), we may be able to affect her actual body, and put her down without any drama.

#3: Fisher

We don’t know enough about Fisher to make a real estimation as to her abilities.

Most similar Ultras, that is, those who project a battle form, are comparatively vulnerable in their ordinary forms.  Knowing as little about Fisher as we do, it may be possible to simply take her at gunpoint.

While it wouldn’t normally be plausible for the Regime to make an Ultra that can be shot a member of one of their Fists, there is some precedent (Remover, etc).  The intention might be that she hangs back from battle and uses her projection in order to contribute.

Speculation aside, some version of “fight them both” should probably work for Fisher’s forms.  If her creation had power on the level of Subtracter or Pursuer she would be the leader.

#4: Condemner

Condemner has, and this can’t be emphasized enough, Ultra Speed.

I know you are betting on a surprise attack, man, but remember how hard it is get the drop on someone with Ultra Speed.  He WILL react the instant he perceives anything amiss.  We aren’t just going to be able to club him across the back of the neck or whatever.

Ultras with powers like these experience time differently.  We should plan on him reacting immediately and optimally when we make our move.

As far as his flame powers, we have an unusually detailed summary, courtesy of a Regime source.

Condemner is most vulnerable immediately on turning into flame.  He needs to find either fuel or living beings.  The first will sustain him, the second will turbo charge him.  If he goes into flame form in an inflammable space, and no one goes near him, he ought to either gutter out or swap back to his human form.

There is also an unconfirmed report that he is unable to shift forms at all while wet.  If this is the case, then that would be an easy way to subdue him.

#5: Preventer

And now we get to the reason that this is all useless.  Preventer is invincible.  Nobody but her boss can kill her, as far as we know.

We can probably restrain her, however.  Her offensive ability is comparatively limited.  Any Ultrahuman combatant with Ultra Toughness one or more ought to be able to just tackle her and hold her down.

It is just a rumor, but I heard that the Dragon can kill anything.  Maybe ask the Secretary if she can spare her services for a while?  Or abandon this whole idea?

Fidel 1:3

Fourth Fist rose out of the very earth before us.

They didn’t come up individually.  They weren’t smeared with mud or lacerated by the rocks they’d passed through.  Rather, it was as though a bubble of air had traveled through the ground, a sort of mobile cave in which they’d passed the time.  Its edges made a kind of ripple in the ground for a moment, and then all was smooth once more.

The leader, Indulger, was unmistakable.  He was a bull of a man, huge and rippling with muscles.  Blotchy skin, crisscrossed by veins, his hair and eye color obscured by the mask with which he asserted his station.  He was standing with his arms crossed, and the height difference made him look down on me, despite my position on the first step of the porch.  The very image of the Regime’s contempt and cruelty.

The other man of the group was a much smaller presence.  Condemner stood awkwardly to one side, one hand resting on a hip.  He was slight, narrow faced and smiling.  He had curly hair and his Sigil looked like it had started life as a golf hat.  He had a gun at his belt, but not in a way that suggested that he had any particular intention of quick drawing it.

Fisher was probably the most striking of the group.  A buxom blonde, she was unquestionably the hottest woman that I’d ever seen, and she was wearing the sort of thing a porn actress portraying a soldier would wear before the movie got to the good part.  Her sigil sat delicately atop her head, a lady’s formal hat, worn deliberately askew.

She was the most obviously vigilant out of the bunch, openly looking around as they rose from the ground.  The rest of them were staring straight at me, but Fisher, at least, was being somewhat cautious.

Her Beast was helping with that.  It was a ghastly sight, ten feet tall and shiny black, like a monstrous cross between a beetle and a great ape.  More eyes than a creature should need surveyed the area, and maws opened and closed as though it was trying to chew on the evening breeze.

Preventer, by contrast, was utterly unremarkable.  She was a tiny woman, with pallid waxy skin and short black hair.  Her outfit was similarly plain, corduroys and jeans, both several sizes larger than she needed.  It looked like she was about to be swallowed up by the clothes, just pop her collar and sleeves and vanish into her shirt like a turtle into its shell.

The last member of the crew, Haunter, was the oldest woman I’d ever seen.  Her face was deeply lined, almost furrowed.  She had on an old cowboy hat, tied with a cord under her chin.  Her hair was a frizzly grey, and her hands clutched one another as though to stem a tremor.

Only the eyes betrayed the Ultra within.  Only the eyes made it clear that this was no aged matron, in need of shelter from a harsh world.  One glance at those bright points revealed that Haunter was a piece with the world’s harshness.  She was old, but age had not touched the core of her.  Only her weaknesses had aged away.

I saluted them, straining to avoid revealing any hint of my hatred.  There was a certain trick to saluting, a way to use it to indicate profound disrespect, and it took everything I had not to use it now.  I would not chance warning them off for petty personal satisfaction.

My escort saluted as well.  Dana’s blade limbs creaked and rattled as they snapped through right angles to arrive at her closest approximation.  Aimee, Leslie and the other obvious Ultrahumans followed suit, and then, in proper sequence, my human forces.

The salute passed around the clearing, progressing from one soldier to the next with a pleasing exactness.  All told I’d brought forty five combatants to the parlay.  Officially, only 5 were Ultras.  Dana and her squad were all obvious, and were presented as the Ultrahumans that they were.  Slotted among my more conventional troops, however, were another 6 Ultras, dressed identically to my human forces.  We had them outnumbered more than twice over in terms of augmented personnel.

They looked around then, and I tried to guess what they were thinking.  The clearing, its air brisk with northern cold, wet with the promise of snow.  The trees and crumpled buildings of the nameless small town that we’d selected as a meeting place, none grand enough to merit a second glance.  And then there was the Deliverer.

Boxy and bulky, it dwarfed the small sheds nearby.  It towered nearly three stories up, and was roughly cubical.  I had instructed that it be set down in bunker mode, and I was hoping that the Fist would think it was a building.  It pretty much looked like one, with the lifts packed away and the aerons on the other side.

“Commander” said Indulger.

Even his voice sounded like a monster’s.  Deep and sinister.  If someone spoke to me in that tone, ordinarily, I’d think they were doing an impression of a video game bad guy.  With this guy’s frame and bulk, I got the feeling that it was genuine.

“Indulger” I responded.

There wasn’t exactly a protocol for this kind of thing.  Each Fist had their own ways.  I only needed to keep this going for a little while, and mirroring their demeanor seemed like the most likely way to avoid mishap.

Haunter snapped a salute, every bit as military as my men’s had been.

That wrong footed me for a moment.  I’d been about to launch into my opening statements, but instead I just stood there for an instant, and their leader spoke into the momentary stillness.

“Oh, sorry about that.  Jane tried to tell us that we were supposed to salute, but she didn’t think any of us got it quite right.  So she’s doing it for all of us.”

His voice was still deep, but it was kind of hard to be intimidated by it now.  It seemed childish, almost dimwitted.

“Quite all right,” I responded, mirroring politeness for politeness.  If that was how they wanted to play It I could go along with that just as well I could do the icy formality thing.

“Great,” he said.

I couldn’t think of an answer to that, and just kind of stood there, deciding.

Once again, they interjected before I could decide what to do.

“I’m sorry for Indulger’s uncommunicative nature, Commander,” said Preventer.  “What he’s trying to convey is that we are beyond thrilled to be here, on this historic day, when peace shall be established between America and the Union.”

I managed to avoid pulling a face at a description of the latest treaty, which had eleven predecessors, all broken by their side, as historic. I couldn’t however, keep from raising an eyebrow to hear the Regime referred to by its former name.

“Just so!” I responded, before anyone else could start talking.  “This day will be long remembered.  This futile fighting must end.”

I wasn’t entirely lying, I assured myself.  For these five, at least, the fighting would be over very soon.

Preventer smiled and nodded, but didn’t say anything further.  It was Indulger who took up the reins of the conversation.

“Yeah.  We don’t need to fight the Union for a while.  You guys must have better stuff to do also.  Let’s sign the paper.”

Before I could correct him, Haunter seized Indulger and pulled him back, whispering in his ear.  It was a strange visual, the aged and shrunken woman dragging the roided out bodybuildier back onto his heels.  There was something parental about it.

“Our leader didn’t mean, of course, that we had to jump directly to the official signing of the treaty without giving you a chance to tell us what you want, Commander,” purred Fisher, leaning a little closer than I was comfortable with.

“I’ve been instructed to inform you that I’ve been told to inform you that…”

I took a hold of myself, wrenching my eyes away from her.  Haunter and Indulger were finishing up their whispered conversation.

“..been told that, as ever, the Union stands ready to commit to a ceasefire without any compensatory demands.  Our nation is eager to bring an end to this senseless and wasteful struggle, and welcomes the opportunity to reestablish prosperous relations with our southern neighbor.”

Indulger seemed about to say something, but Haunter preempted him.

“Surely, Commander, you wish for us to continue these discussions inside?”

“Of course,” I said, and turned to head within, gesturing for them to follow.

My mind churned madly.  How to get the Fist to agree to come inside, where Indulger’s powers would be nullified, had been a matter of hours of debate.  Mario and I had gamed out multiple scenarios, consulted with Isaac’s psych profiles, and come to the brink of a fist fight.

And now they suggested it.

I was missing something.  There was no strategic edge to this demand.  No REASON for it at all, that I could see.  What could they possibly gain that was worth the loss of Indulger’s power?

They’d slipped up.  That was the only explanation.  These rookies had gotten lost in some tactical labyrinth of their own making, or allowed some petty grievance to drive them to score points against one another in defiance of all tactical sense.  The exact details didn’t matter.  The point was that the prey was coming, of their own will, into the jaws of the trap.

I led them into the “negotiation room”, held squarely in the center of the Deliverer, surrounded by the inertia-proofed walls that allowed for the vessel’s unique rapid transit.  It was decked out as you’d expect for a meeting room, with a wide table in the center and chairs around the edges for flunkies and hangers on.  We filed in quietly.

I sat at the center on my side, with Dana to my left and members of her squad filling out the rest of “our” chairs.  The Fourth Fist sat across from me, with Indulger facing me directly and Haunter and Preventer to his immediate left and right, respectively.

“I’m sorry that we weren’t able to get this place set up perfectly.  To tell you the truth, your offer of negotiations was something of a surprise.”

I was mostly just talking to take up time now.  Our supporting forces had been caught off guard by the fact that we’d proceeded directly inside, rather than taking a half hour or so as planned.  They’d be filing in even now, and I wanted to let them get to the access hatches before anything consequential was said.

“No, this is great,” said Indulger, looking around with wide eyes.  He seemed every bit the country bumpkin.  “Everything is so clean!”

It wasn’t, actually.  We’d taken pains to muddy the ship up a bit, splashing gunk here and there, and weathering what furnishings we could.  I guessed that living in squalor had left the Regime’s Ultras with an eye for the genuine article that we hadn’t been able to entirely fool.

“Anyway,” I said.  “I’d like to say that it is an absolute honor to represent the first foreign power to congratulate you on your ascension to Prevailer’s favor.  There are a lot of Ultrahumans in the Regime.  You five must be something special to have garnered the nod.”

Surprisingly, their faces fell a bit at this, some awkward shifting.

“Thanks,” said Indulger.

“So…” Dana said, her voice squealing a bit as the hinges on her jaw pushed through their proscribed arcs.  “Shall we get on with it?”

That was the signal.  I’d stalled long enough.  Dana had a comband implanted inside her ferrous form, and she’d been pinged that the ship was taking off.

This was the crux of my kidnapping scheme.  This was the reason that I’d brought them inside a Deliverer.  These craft have only been in use for a few years.  I had bet it all on the notion that the Regime had never seen one before, or hadn’t briefed its killers on them if it had.

“Yes, let’s.” said Preventer.

They didn’t leap to the attack.  They didn’t reveal some hidden trap.  They didn’t seem to have any idea that the cube we were in the center of had risen from its resting place and was carrying us north at a rapid pace.

I’d done it.  So long as the ambush itself went properly, I’d broken the Fist system.  Snitcher had seen their location on the way in.  He couldn’t know where they were now.  Which meant that She couldn’t know.  Which meant that these five were on their own.

“Commander Martinez mentioned before that the Union places no preconditions on an immediate peace,” said Dana.  “Is it too much to hope that Prevailer is of similar mind?”

We didn’t really need any more time than this.  We were already miles away from the location that Prevailer would be warping to if she tried to come to their aid.  But I’d take all the time that I could get.  Besides which, their negotiating instructions, the things that the Regime demanded for its latest Danegeld, would be of interest to Marian and our mutual leaders.

“Alas,” said Condemner.  He had a surprisingly youthful voice.  “She requires a gesture to indicate that your leadership understands the world’s changed condition, and awards her the respect that she deserves.”

It was going to be a pleasure putting these guys down.

“Naturally.” I responded.  “What form is this ‘gesture’ to take?”

“She wants to help you in your war,” said Indulger.

I was struck dumb once again.  I just sat there, not saying a thing.  Then…


Haunter spoke up.

“Prevailer believes that the Union lacks a proper understanding of the true nature of power.  She believes that the easiest way to teach a dog is with the whip, but to teach men you must use a lesson plan.  She intends to show you, all of you, that her power is beyond imagination.”

Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined this.  Prevailer, ‘showing her power’, by defeating the Pantheon!  Prevailer, saving the Union!  Had her madness progressed so far?

It wasn’t out of the question.  Her military actions had never had any logic behind them before, and it was obvious that she had no interest in destroying either of the nations that she warred with.  It could be that her ego was so fragile, her insecurity so vast, that she needed to hear her name chanted, needed our explicit adulation.  It wasn’t beyond imagination that she’d come to the Union’s aid just to hear us choke on our thanks.

But it must be a trap.  Things didn’t work out this way.  Evil didn’t suddenly offer to fight other evil.  Peggy Martin didn’t suddenly become a defender of civilization.

But could I take the chance?  If this was a genuine offer it could be a game changer, a saving grace for the Middle Eastern Front, at a time when by all accounts we were in dire need of such a thing.

Surely it was a trick, a trap of some kind.  I couldn’t immediately think of something that she would gain from this, but there must be something.

Dana coughed slightly, the sign that the squads outside of the room were in place.  At my signal they’d burst in and take our foes in to custody.

Mario tapped his finger on the desk, catching my eye for a moment.  He’d been spared by Indulger once, he and all of the men who were with him, even after they’d assaulted him.

In the gas station, in the part of me that would never leave that place, Remover’s words echoed again.

“You’ll just bitch out.  You’ll make up a reason, you won’t go through with it.  You know that you are weak, that you don’t matter.  I’m letting you go, because you are poison to anyone dumb enough to depend on you.”

Fourth Fist was quiet before me, watching me take in their leader’s offer.  Little knowing I was weighing their fate, and perhaps the fate of the Union itself.

I opened my mouth and spoke.


Transcript : 2

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, I am uncertain what the nature of your query is.

#PBoss:  Adder said that there was something wrong with the Ultra numbers for the last couple years.

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, I am uncertain what the nature of your query is.

#PBoss:  What does he mean?

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, would you prefer that this unit speculate as to #Adder’s suspicions?

#PBoss: Yes, that.

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, #Adder recently queried our ongoing efforts to tally the total number of instances of the Process which have been instantiated.  He was persistent and incredulous about the figures that we reported to him.

#PBoss:  Yes, he told me.  What was wrong?

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, Nothing was wrong.

#PBoss:  What did he think was wrong?

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, #Adder believed that the number of Processes which had been reported did not match the situation that he believes exists in the world.  This unit must point out that our methodologies do not permit the possibility of error in matters such as these.

#PBoss:  Tell me why he thought you were wrong.

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, he stated that if the Pantheon based tally  was high as it appeared to be, and the Union based tally as low as it appeared to be, then the ongoing hostilities between the two should have resulted in a different outcome than that which he had observed.

#PBoss: So he thinks that your counting was wrong?  That is literally all that I keep you around for.

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, #Adder did not make that assertion.  Rather, he suggested that his overall understanding of the situation must be wrong.  This unit’s predecessor engaged in speculation with him as to what situations might prevail which would allow our tally, and the observed outcomes, to square with one another.

#PBoss:  Square with?

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, this unit was attempting to deformalize it’s verbiage in order to conform to your expressed desire for less cumbersome communication.

#PBoss: That’s creepy.  What did you come up with?

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, “Square with” was being used to mean something akin to “bring into”-

#PBoss: No, I mean what did the last guy and Adder talk about?

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, #Adder and #5220 constructed a logical proof.  IF the Union numbers are as we believe them, AND the Pantheon numbers are as we believe them, then it should have been impossible for the Union to hold the Pantheon’s territorial gains down as well as they have.  This is explicable if one or more of the stated or unstated parameters of this exercise are false.  From that point on we began to examine each parameter, and determined-

#PBoss: Skip to the end

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, army

#PBoss: Skip back closer to the beginning, like a sentence or so.

#5221: Honorary Vice President of Operations Martin, The Pantheon has been skimming off of the top of its Ultra harvest, likely the most powerful individuals of each generation, in order to create a secret, and unstoppable, army.

Fidel 1:2

Beth put the dossier down with a surprisingly light *thump* noise.

I picked it up, flipped through the measly pages that were present.

“Where are the rest of them?” I asked.

Beth had her bosses habit of pursing her lips and shaking her head a little before giving an answer that wasn’t going to be liked.  Isaac never quite pulled it off, always looked a bit constipated.  But it somehow worked for Beth.

“These are all we’ve got, Commander.”

I leaned back in my chair.  All we had.  Could that possibly be true?

At least I had my chair to lean back in.  Returning from Dartmouth may have objectively worsened my surroundings, but the fact that they were my own digs made them infinitely more comfortable.

My office was a former workshop, low ceilings, inclined walls and lit by dangling bulbs.  I had an old school desk pulled up in front of my rocking chair, and my comband slung off on one of the chair’s arms.  There was an old overstuffed couch where Mario and Dana were sitting.  The whole thing was shabby and vaguely disreputable.

I loved every inch of it.

“In our defense, Commander, this Fist is brand new.  We have zero first hand reports of it in action.”

Beth also had a knack for making excuses without whining.  Somehow she just seemed to be stating obvious facts, that just happened to exculpate Isaac’s spies from my ire.  If I could bottle that talent, bureaucrats the world over would converge to buy it in bulk.

“But surely She didn’t just pick some scrubs off the street!” Dana said.

Dana was my adjunct, as well as my bodyguard.  Her position was roughly analogous to Mario’s, but where he commanded human troops, she was in charge of my favorite Ultra squad.

Dana’s gift had made her big, loud and strong.  She wasn’t built the same way that we were, flesh folded around bone.  Since receiving the gift she’d become a creature of angles, of jagged polygon looking shapes interlocking to form a rough idol of a woman.  Cracks and snaps followed her every movement, and she relished it.

Beth looked back at her with a slight grimace.  It wasn’t anti Ultra bigotry, it was just that the two were so very different.  Beth was poised, elegant.  A delicate middle eastern woman with impeccable taste.  Dana was … not.

“They aren’t ‘scrubs’, whatever you might mean by that, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their prior activities were visible to the public’s eyes.  They may well have proven themselves to the Regime more covertly.  We don’t exactly maintain detailed records on every Ultrahuman in Prevailer’s Regime.  This is particularly true for those who take no part in front line fighting, such as these five.”

“No part in the fighting?” asked Mario.

Mario was a team leader.  One of a number under me.  Officially there was no reason for him to be in this room.  But in reality he was my number two.  I’d have promoted him long ago, but he’d made it clear that he had no intentions of leaving his squad.

“That seems odd.” Dana piled on.

“I admit, it is a bit strange, but when has Prevailer ever felt bound by our notions of what is optimal?  She might have picked them for their height, how good they were at sucking up, or because she thought their names were funny.  We don’t know.  But She did not pick them for their military service.”

I waved the discussion off, flipping through the files.

“Haunter…Indulger…Preventer…Fisher and Condemner?  This is who we are dealing with?”

Beth nodded.

I pursed my lips, pondered.  It was a decidedly mixed feeling not to be going up against any of the existing Fists.  It meant that the plans that we’d prepared so painstakingly for dealing with each of them wouldn’t be of any use, but it was also relieving in some tiny way.  I could rehearse my revenge on Remover and her cronies as many times as I wanted, in the privacy and safety of my own mind, but the truth was that she scared the hell out of me.  We’d have better odds facing off with a brand new Fist than we would against the archfiends who had Toppled the old world.

“Who is the leader?” asked Dana.  I passed her Indulger’s fact sheet, ignoring the crinkling and snapping sounds that her arm made as she angled it to take the paper.

“This meathead,” I commented.

“Wait, what?” asked Mario, and he leaned over to take a look at the sheet that Dana was looking at.

“Jesus he’s a big one,” said Dana.  “He might be bigger than me.”

“Holy shit!” said Mario.  “This is the guy.”

“What?” I asked.

“You mean that this is the road builder that you encountered in the Regime?” asked Beth, almost simultaneously.

Mario looked at us wordlessly for a moment, and I indicated that he should answer her question first.  It was the better question.

“Yeah, this is that guy.  Shit, what a world.”

I remembered that report.  They’d engaged a Regime Ultrahuman who was engaged in construction activities.  He had gotten the better of it, but they’d been able to flee.

“Anything useful about his powers?” I asked.

“Sure, yeah, he’s an earth mover…but, Fidel, do we really want to kill this guy?”

Did we want to kill a Regime Fist?  How could he even ask that?

Something of my thoughts must have shown in my face, because Mario blanched.

“Not ours to ask why, guy,” said Dana.  “What do you know about his powers?”

Mario took a second to think, clearly wracking his brains.  Beth was using her comband to access something, presumably the official report on the incident.

“Well, like this fact sheet says, he’s got extreme earth moving powers.  He was building that road all by himself.  He also fought by using the ground against us, launched Rachel like a catapult, slid himself all over.”

I nodded. That was useful.

“But more importantly, he knew what Rachel was hiding before she showed them to him.  I’d bet money that he can sense impacts on the ground, or feel through it or something similar.  The way he was moving…he wasn’t using his eyes to keep track of everything.  He just kind of knew where we were.”

That was rather more than useful, it might have saved the op.

“Alright, great stuff Mario.” I said.

“He didn’t manage to kill any of you?” asked Beth, clearly having finished her perusal.  She speed read, like many of Isaac’s spooks.

“That’s just it, that’s what I was going to say before.  He wasn’t trying to kill us.  Just the opposite.  He was trying very hard to make sure we stayed alive.”

My skepticism must have shown on my face, as Mario threw up his hands in mock surrender.

“I know, I know.  Regime, therefore bad guys.  I got it.”

We sat in silence for a few moments then, passing around the fact sheets.

I spoke up after reading a bit about Haunter.

“Beth, can you confirm this for me?  Are they really saying that this bitch can control dozens of her creations at the same time?”

She simply nodded.

Dana tried to whistle, it made a sound more like a tire squeal than I’d be comfortable admitting.

“Dozens?  I’ve never heard of a gift that lets an Ultra multiply their attention like that.  I didn’t even think that that was possible.”

“Why, is there something about evil Grandma that is somehow special?” asked Mario.  “She seemed like one of the weakest to me.  Generates imaginary soldiers that pop when you hit them.”

I nodded for Dana to explain.  I tried to keep abreast of general Ultra power knowledge, all officers did, but Ultrahuman personnel tended to be fanatic about it.  If I had their ‘gift’ I probably would too.  I shuddered at the thought.

“It’s not about weakest or strongest, Mario.  It’s about finesse.  No one can control their gift beyond how they can think about it.  Mover’s TK may grip everyone at the same time, but she can only do as much as she can think to do with it.  Same for Polly and Ri.  It’s been a rule for as long as I’ve been following the topic.  An Ultra’s gift only does what they tell it to do.  But if you look at these reports, this Haunter is having nine or ten conversations at once through her puppets.  That’s impossible.

It spoke to the weirdness of the situation that no one corrected the woman who looked like she was cast out of jagged iron as she called something impossible.

We fell to reading once again.  It lasted uninterrupted for a time, before Beth broke it with a muttered curse.

I motioned for the folder that she was reading, and I traded with her, handing over the basically empty one on ‘Fisher’, and getting the ‘Preventer’ dossier instead.

I flipped past the character stuff, conscious of all eyes on me.  The gist was basically a Regime bigwig, bit of a scientist wannabe.  She’d killed a lot of people, I didn’t need the exact details.  I needed to know what Beth had seen.

And there it was.  Ultra Toughness Three.  Mission failed before it started.

“Shit,” I said.

Mario motioned for it, and I handed back the folder, a sick feeling welling up inside of me.

Once again, Ultra Power was warping my world.  Once again, the bad guys would triumph not through superior skill or training, not through hard work or stategy, but because some system, some cruel God, had assigned them invincibility.  Because, at the end of the day, Preventer could not be harmed.  So their Link could not be broken, so fighting them was pointless.

We could kill the remaining four, at whatever horrible cost it would be, and they’d just come back again.  It would be useless.  No wonder the new Fourth Fist had no front line combat experience.  Who needed it, when you were invincible?

I refused to accept it.

“This will make this a bit tougher.” I said.

It would make it impossible, but I didn’t say that.  I’d left the gas station determined to prove Remover wrong.  Human effort was not futile in the face of Ultrahuman might.  We mattered.  Our efforts mattered.  I believed that with all of my heart and soul.  I would believe it now.

“Tougher?” asked Beth.

How much had Isaac shared with her?  Probably not everything.  In fact, definitely not.  He probably lied to his diary.  Ordinarily it was a huge annoyance, but at this instant it was clutch.

“I’ll have to use Dandelion.” I said, decisively.

‘Dandelion’ was actually the codename for the operation to evacuate the North American continent, to be used in times of absolute crisis.  I’d picked it out of my memory as the first ominous secret operation I could think of that Beth wouldn’t have clearance to know about.

Beth nodded, sagely.  I carefully refrained from giving a victory fist pump.

Dana definitely knew I was full of shit.  Mario probably did.  They’d been with me long enough to read through me.  Neither of them would say so in front of Beth, though.  There was an unwritten code.  Soldiers before spies, basically.

“We’ll need to rig up transport, once we have them restrained.” I continued, basically off the cuff.

“Not a problem,” responded Mario.  “We can use a Zipper.”

Bless his heart.

“We are NOT bringing Regime prisoners onto a Zipper!” insisted Beth.  “They are top secret craft, and a vital strategic advantage.  It would be completely unacceptable even to employ Zippers in situations that would allow the enemy to intuit that they exist, much less bring them onboard!”

“Quite right.” I said.  “We’ll use a Deliverer.”

“Are we sure that…” began Dana, and the conversation drifted off into the details of how to transport them once we’d captured them.

Beth loved to bust bubbles, and giving her the opportunity to cite regs at him had been a stroke of genius on Mario’s part.  She’d fixate on this transportation debate now, and probably not return to the earlier part of the conversation where she’d faked knowing what a code word meant.

This was only a prerequisite hurdle cleared, of course.  With Beth on board, or at least not protesting to Isaac, I could go forward with the attack.  Or the abduction, as it was apparently becoming.  But I still had to actually figure out a way to subdue or destroy a woman that reality treasured more than the earth itself.

To my knowledge, no Ultra with Ultra Toughness Three had ever been killed by anyone except Prevailer.   They were ontologically invincible, totally and completely proof against harm.

I thought about Preventer’s file again.  She was a modern day Mengele, killing people in dubious experiments.  Useless. She had little to no military experience.  Useless.  She was a member of Adder’s coterie.  That might be something.  Adder’s followers tended to be more cautious, more caring.

Caring…now there was an idea.  This Fist was new.  Perhaps the ins and outs of immortality hadn’t sunken in yet?  Might she allow us to restrain her, in exchange for her comrade’s welfare?

The gas station loomed again in my thoughts, but this time I embraced the memories.  Remover had taught me that concern for others was a weakness that could be exploited.  Could I turn that lesson against her peer?  Why not?

The world might not let us hurt an Ultra with Preventer’s gifts, but there was nothing in her power that suggested that she couldn’t surrender.  Given the choice between watching her last remaining comrades suffer, and coming quietly, might she not accept?

I didn’t need to be sure, I just needed to have a chance.  The world didn’t deliver certainties.  Not to humans like me, and I’d long ago decided that the Process was a sucker’s bet.  But this pampered bureaucrat.  This scientist wannabe.  A bet on her being tight with the first friends she’d ever had?  That was a bet I’d take any day.

The plan began to unspool in my mind.  Maybe the inability to kill her was actually for the best.  What would destroying Fourth Fist again actually gain us, anyway?  We’d probably just called Her down on our heads.  But if we could CAPTURE it…

No one had ever captured a Fist.  Snitcher could see through their eyes, and backup, in the form of Subtracter or Prevailer, could be there in a flash.  But this was a Fist that was coming out for diplomacy.  A Fist that She would expect to be in boring meetings for days.  In other words, a Fist that she would not bother to watch closely.

If we jumped them quickly, subdued them without exciting Snitcher, and got them into the dark, then we’d be in business.  We had nighteyes, but the Regime didn’t.  Snitcher wouldn’t see a damn thing, and we could disappear into the world at large.  Fourth Fist wrapped up and delivered.

How many mysteries of the Link would a captive Fist reveal?  What vulnerabilities might we discover?  Perhaps this would be a turning point in the whole war.

Remover had told me that I didn’t matter, that nothing a dagger like me did would ever change anything.  I’d lived since that day with the intention of making her choke on those pompous words.  But, when I was honest with myself, I knew that revenge was petty, venal even.

By capturing Fourth Fist, revealing their secrets and dismantling the Fist system I would be saving the world.  Now that was a motive I could be proud of.

And making Remover mortal, and then dead… that was just icing on the cake.


Hey readers,

Just a reminder that in November I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo, so there will be interludes from various side characters rather than full updates.  If there’s anyone you want me to make sure to include, just let me know in a comment.

Also, if you like the story, please consider voting on TopWebFiction using the button in the upper right.




Diplomatic Communique



Bet you’ve already heard, I’ve made a new Fist.  I wanted to talk about why I did that.

I know that when you killed my old Fourth Fist you probably thought that that mattered.  I wanted you to think that.  You fell for it.  But the time has come to tell you that you were wrong.

I can make Fists any time I want.  And the new one is better than the old one.  You made my team stronger by killing them.  And that’s always going to be true.  Anyone that gets killed by you clowns I didn’t want anyway.  I’ll get new people who are stronger.

I’m not stuck with six Fists.  I can have as many as I want.  I keep it at six because that’s how many people I’ve found that I think are useful that way.  If I find more I might increase the number, and you can’t do shit about it.

Anyway, the new gals are led by Indulger, a guy who controls rocks.  Then there is Fisher, who is a chick that has a shadow monster.  Next up we’ve got Preventer, who is very smart and also tough, and then Condemner, who is a fire monster.  Finally, we’ve got Haunter, who can make ghosts.  It is a kick ass team.

Also, I’m hearing that you are going to try and have a big battle without me.  Guess how that’s going to go.  Maybe I’ll see you soon.

Look at the moon, and be afraid,




Hey Readers,

Just wanted to give you an advance heads up that I’m going to be doing NaNoWriMo this year.  Obviously, writing on TFD would hurt my chances of finishing, but on the other hand you can’t just take a month off when writing a web serial and keep your readership. So…

In November I’ll be doing interludes for each update.  These will just be short, slice of life sections for characters, they won’t really move the story along.  If you comment on this update you can request an interlude for specific characters and I’ll try my best to work them in.

Also, huge thanks to whoever has been voting for us in TopWebFiction (using the link on the upper right, wink wink).  TFD was up to 4 votes at one point I think, so big props to whoever is giving me that kind of praise.

Sorry and Thanks,


Fidel 1:1

“It’ll be just a moment, Commander Martinez.”

Marian’s receptionist was irritatingly cheerful.  I put on my best scowl and sank into a chair.  Hurry up and wait.  Typical.

Being recalled to Dartmouth was never pleasant, under any circumstances, but something about the insistency of the order had made me think it was crucial.  I’d envisioned arriving just in time to take command of a raging battle.  Instead I was sitting in a waiting room.

At least it was a pleasant waiting room.  The furnishings were hand carved.  The chair I was sitting in was comfortably upholstered, not threadbare or ragged.  The trim on the walls was some kind of brass or bronze, picked out exquisitely by the steady illumination of a chandelier fashioned to look like the solar system.

I was the only one here, other than the receptionist.  I put my hands before me, arranged in a simple 0 shape, thumbs to thumbs, fingers to fingers.  I’d told Mario that it was an old meditative posture.  The lie had gone over easy.

The message had been top priority and they’d used my personal code.  It had come from this office.  The Foreign Secretary was the only one who could have sent it.  It had instructed me to return with all haste, commandeering vehicles if necessary.

I’d raced up the coast, motor boated across the Bay, and for what?

To marvel at her lavish digs.  Some things never changed, and the friction where civilian oversight met military hierarchy was one of them.

I was continuing down this train of thought, my hands flexing slightly in a throttling motion, when Isaac bustled in.

I fought down my instinctive animosity as the spook approached me, shook my hand.

“Fidel, they dragged you back here?” he asked.

I just nodded, squeezed his hand a little too hard.

“I’m a bit surprised you came.  I know how much you hate leaving the front line.”

Was that a dig?  He had to know how passive we’d been forced to be for the past couple of years.  So few new Ultra, no permissions to take offensive action and always the constant trickle of veteran reassigned to the European front.  The front line was scarcely more active than this room.

“Don’t tell me that you relish leaving your traitors to fend for themselves either.  We both know the value of having a boss on hand when something goes down.”

He nodded, conceding my point.  I doubted that he had any real worries about his agent’s loyalties.  Our intelligence assets tended to be motivated by the same thing that I was.  Homicidal resentment of the Regime’s evil asses.  He could leave them cooling their heels for a decade and they’d be eager to assist him when he got back.  Anything to hurt the ones who had hurt them, hurt us.

“Sometimes, though, the real battle is waged in rooms like this.  In pleasant agreements that set the stage for all of the struggling.”

He sounded almost philosophical about it.  Just idly remarking on the strange ways of fate.  Nuts to that.  I had to come when the Secretary called, but I wasn’t about to fool myself that this was actually a battle.  I’d been in enough fights to know that they were rarely catered.

“You know what this is about?” I asked.

The question was mostly rhetorical.  Isaac was an old buddy, and in all of the years that I’d known him I’d never seen him surprised by our leader’s actions.  At times I suspected that he spent more time watching the Union than he did the Regime.  The real question was whether or not he’d feel that it was beneficial to him to enlighten me.

He chuckled slightly, looking a bit pained, and glanced over at the receptionist.  Turning to block her view, he rubbed his thumb against his fingers.

I rolled my eyes, reaching into my pockets.

“Chandra thinks I smoke these, you know.”  I pulled out the cigar.  Carefully rolled and loaded with special ingredients, they were an Expeditionary Force specialty.  Isaac enjoyed them, but his wife didn’t let him keep them around.

Isaac plucked it neatly from my hands.

“So they are made with love?”

I scoffed.

“She’s hoping I get cancer, so some other dagger gets my slot, one she can boss around.”

He chuckled, sliding it carefully into his phone pocket.

“Language, Fidel.”

I cocked an eyebrow.  Something about the way he’d said that made me think it was a hint.

He said nothing.  I made the “go on” gesture, moving my hand in an impatient circle.

“You’ll need to watch your language with the Regime Ambassadors.”

I controlled myself.  I did not shout.  I did not kick the ground, didn’t lapse into my oft repeated fantasy.  I received the news that we might be talking to those monsters without a single change in my expression.

“The Secretary will see you now!” called out the receptionist.  Isaac walked away without saying anything more.

I followed, fuming.

I had had nightmares like this.  When my nightmares got bored with revisiting my experience with First Fist they occasionally promised a rerun.  In my dreams we lost the fight, the tyrant’s forces crushed us.  Or we won, but just before I got my hands on Remover I woke up.  Or we won, but the Pantheon took over Europe because I’d selfishly fought against sending them the assets that they needed.  Or… they tricked my bosses with a fake Peace.

I fought for calm, strove to center myself.  Now would be a dreadful time to lose my composure.  If I was to have any chance of saving this situation I’d need to be entirely in command of my demeanor.

With every step I took I willed myself to serenity.  My heart to a steady cadence.  My breathe to an unhurried rhythm.  My face to a placid mask.

I entered Marian’s office without saying a word, without making one protest, without exploding in anger.  Without flashing back to the gas station.

Marian looked weary, dark circles around her eyes.  She was older than I was, and it seemed like she’d aged ten years in the months since I’d seen her last.  My best guess for her fatigue was that she’d just gotten back from Britain.  She was wearing a rumpled pantsuit and had a comband on her forehead, so we were probably telepresenced with some of her more trusted advisors.

She reached out, shook my hand.  She didn’t say anything, but I was suddenly conscious of my disheveled fatigues, my portly figure.  I didn’t ordinarily care what I looked like, but Marian had that effect on everyone.  Presentation suddenly felt more important when you were face to face with her.

The Dragon was also here, standing in a corner, eyes never still.  I had worked for the Union for my entire life, and Isaac was as trusted a man as we had, but Marian’s pet Ultra still looked at us like we might become threats at any moment.  Some men envied Marian her bodyguard, but not me.  Just the thought of living eternally under that stare made me shudder.


I greeted her.

Marian nodded, motioned for Isaac and I to sit down.  We did.

“Commander, I’ll move straight to business.  Director, can you summarize the report that you sent me?”

Isaac nodded.  I wasn’t surprised when he started talking without looking anything up.  Isaac would have memorized anything that he could have possibly needed before a meeting of this import.

“Within the next week Prevailer’s Regime will approach us with an offer of truce.  They will ask us to give up Bangor and Sherbrooke, in exchange for a two year cessation of hostilities.”

He fell silent, letting Marian take over.

“I don’t need to tell you, Commander, how happy this would make our superiors.  They need every Ultra to meet the big push that everyone swears the Pantheon has coming.  If we can deliver this peace, the Union will be forever in our debt.”

I nodded.  I knew what I needed to do, but it was hard to figure out where to start.

“I know.”

I let it hang there, just for a moment.  Let them think I was on board if they liked.  I was putting something together, fitting the pieces in my mind.  Every moment to think was another in which I might fit all of the pieces.

“Daria, what do the Ultras think about this?”

The Dragon cocked her head to the side as though considering the question.  She was technically under my command, of course, but there was no way to disguise the fact that it was a request.  She was a rank 3 Ultra, and I was unpowered.  Whatever our respective ranks, she was not a being that I could demand anything of.

“We will follow orders, Commander.  Whatever you want us to do, I’ll see that it gets done.”

Her voice was hollow, smoky.  A thing of dark corners and stolen hoards.  In all the time that I’d known her, I’d never known it to rise above a murmur.

“And this will give you time to refortify.  The typical drawbacks of pulling back don’t apply to a negotiated withdrawal.  We can pull the frontiersmen out alongside your forces, reestablish a line further up the coast.”

Marian’s statement wasn’t exactly ‘wrong’ per se.  But it was ignoring the most important considerations.

I hadn’t been able to plan out my statement, not perfectly, but I had to start raising objections now, or the consensus would harden against me.

“Isaac, the reasons that this is good for us…does Prevailer know them?”

Isaac looked uncomfortable.  He didn’t like having the extent of his knowledge bruited about.  Certainly not to whoever was sharing Marion’s view through her comband.

“Assuredly. Her Regime may have rotten counterintelligence, but they have sufficient tradecraft to keep aware of our general situation.  She knows that this truce would be a God send.”

“And, in your estimation, is Prevailer’s Regime in need of a truce at this time?”

This question gave away where I was going, but there was no harm in that because I was basically already there.  Marian had a sour look on her face, but she’s not stupid.

“Not to the extent that we are, no,” temporized Isaac.

I wasn’t sure if he was deliberately helping, but I’d take anything I could get.

“To any extent then?” I followed up.

Isaac shook his head, dropping his gaze so that none of us could look him in the eye.

“Prevailer’s Regime has unrestricted access to the Process, and units that are immune to attrition through Linker’s fabled gift.  She could sustain considerably greater activity than she is experiencing on our border, indefinitely.”

I let that sink in.

“So, Prevailer can still go.  She can go for ever.  But we can’t.  The Union can’t afford to keep us in the fight, needs every bit of strength we can send them.  And Prevailer knows this.  She’s got spies, like the Director said.  She throws people to her Torturer.  She knows that we are on the ropes.  She knows that she’s far from them.  And she bails us out?”

I saw it then, in Marian’s eyes.  The turning.  I had more convincing to do, but I’d passed the crux.  She wasn’t experiencing this as a calamity or as insubordination, she was actively thinking, assessing probabilities.  I’d evaded the path that my nightmares took, where she was just obstinately refusing to consider the worst possibilities.

“You think it’s a trap then?” she asked.  “That doesn’t seem exactly like her style.  The tyrant usually prefers to come at her enemies head on.”

I clamped my teeth together for a moment, trauma surging within me.  I heard Isaac saying something, but for the life of my I couldn’t hear him.  I clenched my fists as though they were closing around Karen’s neck, and rode it out.


Marian’s voice brought me back.  I was here, in her office.  The gas station was the past, it was gone.  The past couldn’t be changed, it was prologue.  I had to attend to the duties of today.

I brought up a hand, rubbed my temple.

“Unngh, sorry.  I was just pondering.”

Marian was staring at me, naked concern on her lined face.  Trust a politician to show sympathy when she had to be about ready to drop herself.  Isaac’s expression was much milder.  He knew exactly what was going on, which made his pity twice as hard to bear.  The Dragon’s eyes, as always, had no expression.  Daria wasn’t even looking at me.  She hadn’t broken off her unceasing vigil for intruders.

“Isaac, how many truces has the Regime broken?”

Marian responded before Isaac could answer.

“All of them, everyone knows that.”

“All of them.” I repeated, letting the word hang in the air.  “They have never let even one of them reach the end of its duration?”

“Two of them did, actually,” Isaac corrected.  “The two immediately following the Third Defiance reached their endpoints.”

“So, if we agree to this, we know that they will break it.”

Marian nodded.

“But Commander, as you say, we will be ready for them to breach this truce.  They will gain nothing, no surprise and no confusion, by making and breaking a peace agreement.  The days of anyone being unprepared for a Regime backstab are decades past.”

“So, you are planning to agree to their deal, use whatever time they give us to reinforce our homeland and be ready when they strike?”

There was an art to phrasing an idea you intended to rebut.  You didn’t want to obviously strawman it, or make it sound like something that a fool would come up with.  It was actually better if you could, while presenting, convince yourself that it was an idea that you supported.  It wasn’t hard in this case, seeing as we’d done substantially this the last time that the Fists had sidled up with talk of peace.

Marian didn’t respond, waiting for me to go on.

“What if, instead, we don’t do what they expect?”

Daria smiled.  It was a truly unsettling expression, her gapped teeth seeming like jagged fangs.  I looked away from her, back to Marian and Isaac.  They were the ones who really mattered in this conversation, the ones that I had to convince.

“Where is it written that we must always be dumb?  That we must pretend to fall for these monster’s shit, over and over?  Why do we have to respect their offers, take their words, treat them like a real nation instead of a roving collection of thugs and monsters?”

I pounded home each rhetorical question with a tightening of my hands, dry rinsing them to the sound of my voice.

“Let’s just take whoever they, whichever one of their so-called Fists they want to parade around here lying to our faces.  We take these bastards, and we kill them.  We kill them by surprise, just when they think they are putting one over on us with their bullshit negotiations.  Kill a fifth of her most powerful forces, get our reprieve that way, not by begging for scraps.”

I’d gotten carried away.  I should have let them talk after the initial presentation.  I looked from face to face, dread writing within me at the thought that I might have blown it.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Marian, and the Dragon’s grin almost swallowed her face.

Ocean Crossing

The time of easy, routine passage from one continent to another is largely past.  Nowadays, when an individual wants to pass from between lands more arduous measures must be employed.

The Union:

The Union is bisected by oceans, neatly divided into  its Eurasian components and Eastern Canada.  As a consequence, it has invested considerable resources into guaranteeing that this connection cannot be easily cut.  The Union uses the following methods of transit.

1: Telepresence

The Union is unique among the world’s current factions in that its available technology equals or exceeds that of the old world.  This includes computers and similar devices capable of simulating an individuals presence anywhere that they can be connected to.

The Regime and Pantheon have never quite figured out how the trick is managed, whether there is a satellite somehow hidden for all of these years or a transatlantic cable that they have never managed to discover, but the fact remains that Union networks in the Americas and Europe are able to communicate with one another.

As a consequence, the Union doesn’t suffer from the Pantheon’s dependence on messengers and the like for communication.  If the only factor necessitating transit is a desire for contact, the Union can avoid physical passage of the oceans entirely.

2: Aircraft

The Union’s aircraft are leaps and bounds above what anyone else in the world has at hand.  These vehicles have the range to cross the ocean without stopping for supplies, and the speed to evade most Ultra attackers.

Some of these vehicles have even been used, with little success, in direct attacks on Ultras.  That task is more commonly performed by drones, of course.

In any case, the Union’s air fleet gives their Ultra forces a redeployment capability that no other faction can match.  This has helped to alleviate their military disadvantage.

3: Ships

Hardly ever stirring from port, the Union does still maintain the remnants of the mighty navies of the old world.  It is uncertain exactly what function these now serve, but they could certainly transfer an unsurpassed volume from one side of the ocean to the other.

Far slower than aircraft, but capable of carrying vastly more cargo, the ships of the old world would be floating coffins in a modern day conflict.  They have occasionally been used to move the population of destroyed cities from one half of the Union to the other, evacuating civilians before the enemy can seize them.

4: The Siberian Connection

Eastern Russia is, loosely, in the hands of the Pantheon, but historically they haven’t maintained a strong military presence in the area.  A motivated Ultra or team of same might travel to the other side of the Union the long way, crossing a much smaller body of water.

Obviously, the time that this approach would take would be incredible.  It is difficult to think of an advantage to trying such a thing, save perhaps surprise.  This would be a classic example of an idea so crazy that it just might work.


The Pantheon is far more divided than the Union.  Its territories in South America, Africa and East Asia are all cut off from one another by oceans or conflict zones.  It has responded to this hardship in a different fashion from the Union, however.

Rather than striving to guarantee that travel between fragments of its commonwealth cannot be interrupted the Pantheon has mostly accepted that it will have to exist in a severed state.  The city states of each segment of the Pantheon share very little with one another, save for a common fear of the Ultras of the Ruling Council.

1: Ultra Power:

If a member of the Pantheon wants to travel to continent, they are typically on their own.  Many Valkries possess a movement gift for this reason, or have a tame human who is adept in flying an old aircraft that they’ve refurbished.

Pantheon travelers are thus a ragtag lot, passing from one land to another through whatever means they can command, hoping that they speak a language that their destination understands.

2: Dimensional Folding:

Somewhere in the ranks of the Pantheon’s Ultras is one who has an ability that thus far remains blessedly singular.  This Ultra, known jokingly to Union intelligence as Nyarlapthotep, has the ability to join one location to another, allowing objects and people to pass between them in an instant.

This ability is used extremely rarely.  There are only two documented cases where the Ruling Council has deployed it.  However, many observers feel that should the Pantheon ever launch an all out assault upon the Regime or the Union they will do so via this method, bringing their host from their staging ground to their destination in an instant.


The Regime is the smallest, geographically, of the world’s current factions, and doesn’t have to worry about oceanic travel.  By and large, the Regime’s citizens do not cross oceans.

Those who do, typically Fists deployed on terror missions, use their Ultra powers to travel across the sea.  Third Fist is the most notorious in terms of executing such missions.

Indulger 3:1

It took us most of the morning to get used to the Link.

I dunno if that was fast or slow, never having seen anyone else go through it, but it felt like we took to it quickly.  Jane and Betty talked a lot about how it worked weird with their powers, but the rest of us didn’t have a lot of trouble.

I used to have a sense of where my body was.  Now I had a sense of where all of my bodies were.  It was pretty much that simple.  Yeah, other folk’s thoughts controlled some of them, but they were all mine.

I think that Preventer had the hardest time with it, because is so smart that she over thinks things.  For me, though, I’m kind of used to things happening to me without much reason.  I mostly just let happenings carry me along, and that worked fine for the Link.

Around noon there was a knock at the door, so I went to answer it.

I didn’t give much thought to who it might be standing out in the hallway, but on some level I was expecting more of Mang’s guys.  Maybe bringing lunch.  When I opened the door, though, it was Subtracter.

Now, everyone in the Fist has a boss that they are particularly afraid of.  Betty is scared shitless of Torturer.  Jane can’t stand Remover.  For me, though, Subtracter has always been the scariest.

It isn’t just that she’s got Ultra Speed 2.  It isn’t just that she’s strong and tough and mean.  There are a lot of mean people in the Regime.  It goes with the territory.  What makes Subtracter so tough for me to take is that she flies.

She was flying now, even though she didn’t need to be.  Just hovering a few inches off of the hall’s floor for no reason.

“Everything work?” she asked.

“Uh…” I searched for a word, my mind was suddenly just empty.

“Yeah, I think ev-“

The next instant I was flying in the air.

Subtracter barged through me like I didn’t exist, shot into our midst.  The Link went crazy.

Preventer was trying to make a barricade, Haunter was summoning her shadows, and I was cratering into a wall.  Fisher was…


Subtracter had moved faster than anything I’d ever seen before, rushed up on her and slapped her head off right where she was sitting on a bed.

I tried to say something, but I was sucking in air.  Inside a building, my gift was useless.  I couldn’t do anything that a normal guy flung into a wall couldn’t do.  That is, lie here and bleed internally.

Nirav shouted something, a few of Haunter’s ghosts shot, and Subtracter was moving again, this time catching Betty’s monster body and tackling it into Preventer.  All three of them fell out of my sight.

I had to move.  I pushed myself to my feet with arm strength alone, the body I’d worked so hard on suddenly limp and useless with the insides all messed up.  My legs worked, after a fashion, but I was limping and staggering, something seriously broken somewhere.

Nirav skidded by me, sliding out into the hallway through the door.  He was the only one who was anything like fast enough for this.

I felt through the Link, as Betty’s second body died.  She was gone.

I was already heading for the door.  I could pretend like I was going to check on Nirav, but this was just too abrupt, too sudden.  I was going for my gift.  I rushed into the hallway in a wild panic, stumbling over him in my need to get out.

I heard voices calling behind me, but I ignored them.  I just kept on moving, half dragging, half falling.  I had to get outside.

I saw Mangs ahead, pushing the door open.  I pushed past her and fell onto the blessed turf, onto my brother.

Instantly I was healing.  Immediately I was aware.  I could feel the world around me again, my gift enclosing the building where Subtracter had blitzed us.  The Castle seemed a small thing now.

A thing I could crush.

I started to pile up rock, pulling it from deep underground, even as I realized that I could still feel Betty through the Link.

That stopped me for a second, as did realizing that if Subtracter had been chasing me there was no way  I’d have made it down that hallway.  What the hell was going on?

“Indulger, stop!”

It was Mangs.  She was shouting at me from the door.

That wouldn’t have been enough to stop me on its own…but I also realized that Haunter and Preventer had stopped fighting.  They were…angry, frightened, but not in a fight right now.

“What’s going on?” I asked, realizing as I did that I was already at the top of a pretty big pile of rock.

“Go back inside, Subtracter wants you!” yelled Mangs.

She wanted us?  She’d been trying to kill us.  I didn’t get it.

But, like I said, I rarely got stuff.  I pushed the ground back down, sinking back down to the door’s level.  Crushing the Castle wouldn’t have done any good in any case.  Subtacter was too strong for rocks to hurt, and it would have killed Nirav.

I hesitated at the building’s edge.  I could see Nirav down the hall, looking into the room.  His fists were clenched, but he wasn’t doing anything.  Mangs nodded encouragingly, but I didn’t really trust her very much.

Finally, I stepped back into the building.  It was the babyface thing to do.  I tried not to think about how often they got tricked and beat.

The room was a wreck, furniture broken and shattered.  Betty was dead.  Her head had been pulped against a wall, and Subtracter had put her entire leg through her monster form’s toso.

Nirav clapped a hand on my shoulder as I stepped by.  I could feel his support through the Link.  Considering how him and Betty were basically joined at the hips, if he wasn’t going crazy, then she wasn’t really dead.

That calmed me.  The Link would bring her back.  It all started making sense.

That was why Haunter and Preventer were just standing in front of Subtracter, not fighting her.  She hadn’t permanently killed one of us.  It was just temporary.  Just a work.

“Hope you right about that Link working,” said Subtracter.

She barely looked mussed up.  Some bloodstains on her face, looked like a scratch along a cheek.  A few bullet holes in her clothes.  Not even breathing heavy.

“What the fuck was that?” I asked.

I felt everyone’s panic through the Link, even as I said it.  Subtracter moved again.

She flashed through the space between us, sailing across the room and catching my jaw with a resounding hook.

I took a step back, fell over.

It hadn’t actually hurt that bad.  She’d clearly pulled that punch.  Falling over was a reflex for me, just something I did when I got hit.  When I was outside it was a really good move for combat, got more body contact with the ground, sped up my healing.

In the Castle it just gave me a taste of the carpet.

“Show some respect, bitch!”

I made a production out of climbing back to my feet.  I used the time to calm down.  I could feel my team urging calm at me through the Link, willing me to be the leader that they needed.

The thought steadied me.  Raging at Subtracter would be letting my team down.  Again.

“Sorry, Subtracter.  I mean, what is going on?”

I kept my gaze down while I said it, looking at her face instead of over her head.

She looked me over for a moment, and I could swear she was thinking about hitting me again.  It took a lot to avoid bracing myself.

“I got sent to talk to Her newest Fist.  I wanted to make sure that that’s who I was talking to.”

“You didn’t think it was us?”

“If the Link didn’t work, then you ain’t a Fist.”

That made a certain kind of sense, I guessed.

“Well, it did.  So Fisher will come back tonight, right?”

She shrugged.

“Let’s go outside.”

I was more than happy to follow along with that idea.  Normally I was ok with being inside, but right now my body was practically screaming at me to get in contact with the earth again as soon as I could.

I liked the idea a little less when we started walking and she gestured at the rest of us to stay behind.  Alone time with Subtracter wasn’t on my wish list, or probably anyone’s.

We walked away from the Castle, or, at least I walked.  Subtracter continued to float just above the ground.

Distance didn’t really diminish the Link as much as you’d think.  I could still feel the others.  I could tell that three of them were back that way, and the last was… I guess inside?  Like, there was a direction, but it wasn’t a direction in space.

Eventually, after we had walked past a number of trees, we got into a clearing, and Subtracter turned to face me.  Then she dropped into the Posture.

I couldn’t have been more surprised if she’d suddenly taken her shirt off.  I might be the leader of a Fist, but Subtracter was the leader of ALL the Fists.   The only person she had to submit to was…

The ground rumbled against my feet, letting me know that someone had just dropped down behind me.  I was already falling into the Posture when She spoke.

“Hey, Dale.”

I didn’t look up, didn’t open my eyes, but I had to answer.


I cringed as I felt Her hand on the top of my head.  But, unlike Subtracter’s blow, this was a gentle gesture.  She patted me on the head like you’d pat a dog.

“Call me Peggy.”

I just knelt there, hands crossed behind my head, heart racing a mile a minute.  I was more on edge now than I was when Subtracter was attacking us.

“Ok, Peggy.”

It was hard to say.  Hard to go from special capitalized words to using Her name.  But the one thing that I knew about Prevailer was that you do what She says when She has her hands on you.

“So, you are Linked?”

She walked around to the front of me as She said this, standing in between me and Subtracter.  I opened my eyes, but I didn’t try to raise my head.  That left me staring at Her knees, which were pretty much just normal knees.

“Yeah, we are Linked now.  It got done last night.  Subtracter was just testing it.”


She didn’t look to Subtracter to see if that was true, didn’t really seem to care.  She certainly didn’t seem mad that Subtracter had ‘tested’ it by killing Betty.

“So, what do you want?”


Was I supposed to be responding to all of this petting?  Like, I’d seen how she was looking at me earlier.  But if I was wrong about that…

I stayed silent, said nothing.  Nothing seemed safe enough to do.

Her hand stopped the ‘good dog’ stroking, and lingered on my forehead, then slid to the front of my face and casually pushed back.

Trying to fight it would just break my neck.  I let Her force my head up until it was nearly level, until I was looking at Her face.

She didn’t have any particular expression, just staring at me.  As I watched, She pinched my forehead and turned my face from side to side.

“For your gift.  When a Fist is first formed they get a favor from Her,” Subtracter said from behind Her.

Right, that.

We’d been planning on having a talk about it, after we made sure that the Link was working.  It had been something we were planning on doing tonight, in fact.  Suddenly I was wishing that we’d gotten to it sooner.

“Oh, um…”

Prevailer’s hand moved lower, a small squeeze on my jaw popped my mouth open, she peered inside like she was counting my teeth.  It made talking a bit tough.

“Um, what kahhnd ub favver…”

I trailed off as it became clear that it was hard to talk while someone else moved your jaw around.  She seemed to realize this, taking Her hand away for a moment.

“What kind of favor can we have?” I asked, once my mouth was clear again.

Prevailer smiled.

“Whatever you want.” She said.

“That’s mighty nice of You…” I stalled.  I was still reeling from all of this.  What would be safe to ask for?  What wouldn’t get me killed?

I could tell through the Link that the others felt my emotions, if not the reason for it.  They were urging caution…but what did caution mean in this case?

“We want… to stop fighting with the Union.”

“What?” shouted Subtracter, looking up from the Posture.

I’d blurted out the first thing that came to my mind.  I’d had to say something.

“Why do you want that?” asked Prevailer.

She still didn’t really have an expression on Her face.  Maybe a little scowl, but nothing I could read.  It was like She was wearing a dark mask.  What would be a reason that She would accept?

“They’re…they’re wimps.”

Subtracter looked like she was starting to say something else, but something about Her posture made her subside.  I was emboldened.

“I fought with one of them just before I applied to be in the Fist.  They were nothing like Thor.  Just one wimpy Ultra and a bunch of daggers as shields.  Not worth fighting.”

“That’s bullshit!” Subtracter erupted again.  She stopped talking as Prevailer looked at her.

I stayed quiet as She walked over to where Subtracter knelt, and slapped her, once.

Subtracter gave a scream of agony, and collapsed.  Teeth embedded themselves in a nearby tree.

Prevailer looked back to me.

“Sorry about that, Dale,” She said.  “You were saying that you want to make peace with the Union?”

I nodded, desperately trying to keep my terror out of my gaze.

“Sounds fun.  Answerer told me that they were going to get spanked by the Pantheon in a month or two anyway.  They’ll probably know that trouble is coming.  They got prophets too, but not as good as my pet.  We can let them have a little breathing room, let them deal with the Pantheon’s new army without us messing them up.”

“Thank You, thanks so much.”

She grinned.  Finally, a human expression from Her, and it was a terrifying predator’s smile.

“You guys will be worth it, I bet.”

I smiled back at her, trying to keep my jubilation in check.

We’d done it!  Peace with the Union.  We wouldn’t have to go with First Fist on terror raids, or fight with people who were just trying to protect themselves in a rough world.

“Your first job is to go to Brussels, tell the Union that we are willing to lay off them for a little while…”

“You got it, Peggy!” I said.  The happiness from before was threatening to overwhelm me.  Peace with the Union, AND it looked like She’d be letting us go away from Her for a while.

“…IF, they are willing to pay my price.”




The Leadership Council of the Pantheon


The Leadership Council sets the policy that the individual leaders of Pantheon nations follow.  These policies tend to be broad, with each petty king interpreting them in his own way, but they also tend to be followed.  Ultimately, what the Council decides moves the Pantheon, and thus the world.


The Council is made up of those that the existing members cannot keep off of it.  Informally, if the Council is calling on someone often enough that they might as well be on it, they extend an invitation.  Usually this means an Ultra who commands a large following of useful Ultras, but it can also mean one who is extremely useful, or simply too powerful to be ignored.  It is also traditional that anyone who kills a member of the Council in a duel may take their seat.


At present the Council is made up of the following individuals, each of whom receives votes equivalent to their number.  If they add a new member, that member will probably start at 1, and the rest will bump up a number.

Zeus (12)

The notorious leader of the Pantheon, Zeus is kind of the mold that the others were made from.  He rose to power when he stopped a Union advance within hours of being Processed.  He killed the entire old Leadership Council when he ‘joined’.  He led the team that killed Fourth Fist.

Zeus is responsible for conquering the planet for the Pantheon, directing its armies and commanding its Ultras.

Isis (11)

Isis is an excellent negotiator and consensus builder.  She reorganized the Pantheon in the wake of Zeus’s coup, preventing all around chaos.  She is probably the most trusted and respected member of the Council.

Isis is responsible for internal Pantheon policy, herding the city states in the direction that the Council deems fit.


Brahma is a warlord, through and through.  She was invited into the Pantheon when Zeus realized that implementing her suggestions was invariably better than not doing so.  Perhaps the age’s most practiced strategist in the area of Ultra war.

Brahma organizes and supplies the Pantheon’s armies, allocating resources and forcing recalcitrant chieftains to adopt her strategies.

Jesus (9)

Jesus is a skilled combatant, but lacks any broader strategic importance.  She was brought into the Pantheon when Zeus realized that the last 3 troublemakers he’d killed were all her, due to her gift’s ability to resurrect her.

Jesus serves as the Pantheon’s champion, answering any foe foolish enough to challenge them to single combat.

Buddha (8)

Buddha is a weapon of mass destruction, an Ultra so unfathomably dangerous that she isn’t even safe to kill.  She worked her way onto the council by holding the populace of east asia hostage. No one has figured out a way to remove her yet.

Buddha enjoys input into the affairs of the world’s biggest nation.  She does what she feels like doing.

Itzamna (7)

Itzamna is a canny and shrewd Ultra.  She seized several victories for the Pantheon against the Regime, when it was expecting only defeat.  She has secured more at the negotiating table than they thought they could hope for.  She made herself indispensable and was duly recognized.

Itzamna is the Ultra in charge of negotiations with foreign powers.  She is in charge of the Pantheon’s Company account.

Kami (6)

Little is known of Kami’s exploits, save that the figure behind the name has changed several times.  Kami infallibly votes with Isis.

Kami is thought to be in charge of the Pantheon’s covert operations, although obviously this is not officially confirmed.

Gaia (5)

Gaia possesses an incredibly broad terraforming power.  She refused membership in the old Council, but accepted when Zeus extended the offer.

Gaia personally supplies a large percentage of the Pantheon’s food.  She is a vital national asset, and is given broad leeway as a result.


Death pioneered the Processing camps which the Pantheon has gotten so many Ultras from.  The thousands of Ultras that she provided the Council ensured that when they decided to add a seat, they knew just who to pick.

Death continues to oversee the facilities by which the Pantheon’s Ultra manpower is sustained.  She is also frequently called upon in order to put down any hint of rebellion.

Odin (3)

Odin rose to the Council through general military adventure.  He simply extended his rule through enough cities that the Council felt it was wise to bring him on board, before he got too big to control.

Odin has no specific duties in Council, functioning as a sort of understudy to any other member if two instances of their job pop up at once.

Coyote (2)

Coyote was the Council’s chief specialist in the nature of Ultra powers, the scientists that they turned to when they needed specialized expertise.  Eventually they decided to bring her on in a permanent capacity.

Coyote remains the leader of the Pantheon’s meta-Ultras, those Ultras whose powers deal with Ultra power directly.  She also heads up what scientists the Pantheon still retains.

Cthulu (1)

Cthulu assassinated a member of the Leadership Council, and claimed her seat.  She has fought off several attempts to do the same to her.

Cthulu is an assassin, taking care of Ultras that the Council is wary of.