Another Delay

Hey y’all.  I’m still under water in this infuriating situation, but it is supposed to come to an end next weekend.  We’ll be back to normal starting this Sunday, by hook or by crook, I vow.

Troubling report

Intelligence has recently come in on Prevailer’s response to KEM’s termination of her subordinate Snitcher.  It is decidedly ominous.

She visited Answerer and posed questions regarding:

1: How to acquire and operate nuclear weapons

2: How to acquire and operate biological weapons

3: Whether there were any decent men left

4: Who KEM thought they were, anyway

5: Who to kill to bring down KEM

6: Where the people just named were located

7: What it all meant, anyway (Answerer unable to respond, very rare)

During this questioning session she apparently consumed a large quantity of an alcoholic beverage fashioned for her by the Company Men.  Our recording equipment noted that the questions and responses were broken up by bursts of weeping and destruction of property.

Strangely, no cries or shrieks were reported from Answerer suggesting that Prevailer is not mistreating this slave in the manner that she habitually abused the departed asset in.

Between our members the Monitoring Team has several decades of familiarity with the output of this stream.  We have seen many versions of Prevailer.  I tell you this to lend weight to the next statement.

This is new.  She has never been hurt like this before.

We fear what comes next.

Update delayed till tomorrow

Wednesdays are not turning out to be the free day that they used to be.  If this keeps up I may have to change my update schedule to a different day, long term.

For this week the update will be up tomorrow evening rather than this evening.  Sorry about that.

Union Command Structure

In stark contrast to the primitive command charts of the Pantheon and Regime, the Union operates in a more regimented style.  They eschew the strongman setup entirely.  Rather, responsibility is delegated in accordance with the training necessary to uphold it.  This leads, in theory, to the most capable individual calling each shot, without regard for the degree of Ultra power that they might have.

In practice, the actual leadership in any given operating theater tends to devolve down to a trio.  There will typically be a civilian leader, a military commander, and an Ultrahuman specialist.

The civilian is a government official, nominally in charge of the area of operation as a whole.  Titles vary, but the general pattern is Minister of something or other.  These ministers have veto power over any operation which would negatively impact the Union as a whole, and are accountable to the politicians who appoint them.

Their responsibility doesn’t end at go / no-go choices.  They are also permitted to fine tune the impact of a given operation, by extending the permissions necessary to allow the commanders to deploy the Union’s advanced technology.  The ministers permit or deny the use of tech that the other nation’s have not yet seen or prepared for, parceling out the Union’s material advantage an engagement at a time.

The military leader, the commander, of a given operation is the officer in charge of overall command.  They plan the missions and command their execution.  They have a much more fine tuned control than the ministers, and through the Union’s superlative communication gear they maintain a surveillance and command capability that no adversary can match.

These commander function as the directors of a mission, making moment by moment decisions for the troops on the ground.  They have absolute authority once the operation has commenced, and bear ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of engagements within their theaters.

The Ultrahuman personnel are, in theory, also under the military’s chain of command.  Their ranking officer bears no particular title to denote her increased authority, but in an unofficial capacity generally forms the third leg of the command trinity.

They function as advisers to the ministers and commanders, giving them an Ultrahuman’s perspective on matters, and ensuring that the Union avoids any errors that might result from their lack of Ultra leadership.

This modern and reasonable command structure has allowed our Union to avoid the truly egregious mistakes that the strongman setup has inflicted upon our adversaries, and is an important reason for the ongoing and successful prosecution of the wars which our government is forced to wage in order to keep us safe.

Indulger 4:2

The Pantheon showed up early, but I’d already finished building the ring.

I had worked nonstop since they’d headed out earlier in the afternoon.  It was a way to get away from Haunter and Preventer’s bickering, and also a way to pass the time.  Ever since I was a boy I was really bad at waiting, and having two Ultra Fights scheduled for the evening had me totally on pins and needles.

We didn’t have any ropes, so I’d made the ring out of mud.  The barriers around it oozed up to about five feet in height, which was high enough to bounce off.  When we were actually fighting I’d use my gift to open holes in it to let people see what was going on, especially if we took the action to the mat.

The mat, of course, was just more mud.  It was wetter, though, I’d found an underground spring or something, so I could get some moisture up here and keep people from having to get slammed on what amounted to a desert floor.

All told, it looked pretty good.  I’d built rudimentary chairs in a concentric circle around it, just two rows.  We’d only brought about a hundred people, and I didn’t expect the Pantheon to have that many humans who might want to come.  There was a big fancy seat for Krishna or Preventer, whichever of them won the pissing contest when she showed up. I put it up on a little platform to give the main people a good view of the bouts.

They brought 4 trucks this time.  I let my gift take a look at the ground for miles around as soon as I heard the people start fussing.  No other vehicles.  That was a good sign.

I turned to watch them roll up.  One of the trucks had clouds of smoke coming out of the back.  Engine troubles, I guessed.

Them being early was suspicious, but the fact that they hadn’t brought more trucks made me think that they were on the level.  I leaned against the ropes and braced myself to find out.

Around me, the rest of the Fist was doing likewise.  Haunter had her shadows out, the ones with the guns.  Fisher’s Hook was lurking behind a big rock she’d had me make, waiting to pounce.  Nirav and Preventer were sheltering behind the audience, within one of her barriers.  And I was in the ring, just standing and waiting.

Judith hopped out of the lead truck, almost before it came to a complete stop.  She looked left and right, then followed people’s gazes to where I leaned on the ropes in the ring.  She gave a frantic wave when she caught my eye, then came jogging over.

“Ho-Lee-Shit!” she yelled up.

I stepped over the ropes and dropped down beside her.

“You did all this in one afternoon?”

It wasn’t often that I got people saying how awesome I was for anything but fighting.  I flushed and knuckled my forehead.

“It’s no big deal.  My gift is really good for constructing things.”

Around me, the rest were relaxing.  Not entirely.  After the nonsense with the Union we probably wouldn’t ever relax totally again in a situation like this.  But a bit.

I looked up and saw why they were easing up.  People were coming out of the Union trucks.  A couple dozen people spilled out, must have been crammed in the backs, and among them were ten people who had that special strut that people who think that they are Gods develop.

In the middle of this crew was Krishna.

There was a moment of tension, where Haunter and Preventer faced off with the Pantheon team, but it didn’t last.  They all headed over to the raised up platform I’d built, while the audience that the Pantheon had brought started to kind of awkwardly blend with the one that we’d raised in Redo.

“Come on,” said Judith, motioning towards the trucks.

I followed her over, walking around to the back where the luchadores were waiting.  Choker, or at least the woman wearing his gear, gave me a respectful nod.

“Ok, this shouldn’t be a long match.  Go a few minutes, get everyone into the spirit of the thing.  Lots of power moves, you know?  Work with what the Regimer here’s brought to the table.  When was the last time you saw someone that big?  In the end, he goes over.”

Judith gave us some quick directions.  I didn’t pay too much attention.  This was going to be amazing, and it was so soon now.

Choker asked a few questions in some Asian language, then took a knee.  She reached down and grabbed some dirt, rubbing it across her palms in a kind of ritual way.

Then she stood up, slapped herself across the face, and headed out around the trucks towards the ring.

I heard it then, the first stirrings of the crowd.  I sometimes felt like a man out of time, a lover of an art that had long since stopped mattering, but when I heard the crowd I felt like I was close to all of the old greats of the ring.  I felt like Greater Gator himself.  I loved it.

It wasn’t the loudest cheer, honestly.  The reaction was a bit muted.  People were still picking their seats, the Pantheon crew and ours eyeing one another with suspicion.  I’d turn them around soon enough.

I reached out with my gift, lifted stairs before Choker as she neared the ring.  She stepped obligingly up them, ascending to the squared circle with a kind of grace that the real Choker never could have mustered.

I was hoping that she’d do some kind of presentation or gesture from the ring, something to hype up the fans, but she just kind of stood there.  She might have the garb of a pro wrestler, but she lacked the heart.  Too much of a real fighter.  It was inexcusable to just let fans cool down.

I stomped out, coming around the other side of the truck from her.  Everybody would know that we really came from the same place, of course, but every little bit helped.

As I walked placed each foot carefully, smashing my feet down with every ounce of force that I possessed.  I used my gift to raise puffs of dust about my steps, and even shook the ground, just ever so slightly, in time with my pace.  The overall effect was to make me seem like a great sea monster from an  old movie, a huge beast about to crush a city.

I didn’t raise any stairs for myself as I got to the ring, just reached up and grabbed the top of the sand wall, then pulled myself right through it.  Fragments of shattered ring cascaded all over as I surged up onto the mud platform.

I threw back my head and gave a titanic roar.

The crowd yelled back, but it wasn’t the right reaction.  They were cheering, calling out encouragement.  Some of them were even making the Double Gator symbol.

How to turn the crowd?  I needed to be the heel here.  If I was gonna win the first round, and they were supposed to buy that Space Devil was the hero who would save them from me, then I needed to be a bad guy.  But how to do that in a town that I’d basically rebuilt…

Inspiration struck.  I jumped up on a ring post, or rather, on the section of mud wall that I was using as a ring post…and struck the Posture.

Instantly, the cheering stopped.  People, when faced with the sign of submission to the Regime, fell silent.  No one liked to be reminded of Her, of the master that scared them so.  It was a stroke of genius.

I kept on mugging.  I swept my hand across the crowd, a broad gesture, then brought it to my throat.  The implication was clear.  I wanted THEM to take the Posture.  The booing began.

Perfect.

I turned back to Choker, just in time to take a shot to the face.

It wasn’t a perfect wrestling punch, too much reality in it.  It was a straight shot, thrown with all the force of her body behind it.

I let my head loll back as though I’d been kicked by a horse, but it didn’t really hurt.  She hadn’t used her Ultra Strength on that one, and I was three times her weight.

She took the initiative with a flurry of offense, a pit fighter’s combination hits, all of them targeted at my head and neck.  It was a brutal pummeling.

I blocked, ineffectually, letting her blows slip by.  She backed me into the corner with her onslaught, then reared back to do a big move.

The timing wasn’t right for that.  I sprang back into action, leveling her with a savage elbow strike.

It was like slamming my elbow into a stone pillar.  She had Ultra Toughness, probably level two.

At least she had the grace to topple from the strike, falling onto her back with the awkward movements of someone trying to act unconscious, but not disciplined enough to actually let themselves go limp.

I grabbed for her ankle, lifted her into the air.

I had her measure now.  She was a Pantheon warrior, with some quick explanations about how pro wrestling worked, probably an afternoon’s instruction.  She could kill, but not perform.  They had almost certainly put her into the bout because I didn’t have the strength to hurt her.  No matter what went down she’d leave this ring just fine.  Another measure against treachery.

Hanging upside down by one ankle, she sort of kicked at me.  I swept her leg out to one side, and axe kicked her right in the crotch.

A chorus of boos rose up around us at the unfair shot.  It had looked positively savage.  The size difference let me get away with some things that the real Gator wouldn’t have been able to pull off.

I jumped up on the ropes and posed a bit, repeating my command that the audience take the Posture, heeling it up.  Behind me, she played possum for a while.

Choker had, at least, been told about how damage works in wrestling, how it just makes you stay down for a while.  She writhed around, selling the kick for all it was worth.

After a little while of this I moved back to my prey.  I lifted my hands high, as though I was about to smash them down on her.  It was pretty much the basic ‘hit me in the gut’ pose, and she didn’t disappoint.

Choker came up off the ground in a flash, slamming my gut with a knee.  I doubled over, and she pulled me into a quick DDT.

I sold for a sec, and was surprised to feel her flipping me over to my back side.  She hooked the leg and went for the pin.

We hadn’t talked about how we were going to do pins, which was a pretty big oversight, but fortunately Judith had us covered.  She slip up into the ring and slammed the mat in time with the crowd’s changing.

One…Two…I pressed Choker off me and tossed her across the ring.

I got up, waving off Judith’s attempt to check me for injuries.  I stormed across the ring towards Choker, my every motion portraying rage and wounded pride.

This time I caught her punch, pulled her off balance and gave her a backhand slap.  I broke a few bones in my hand, but most of the crowd couldn’t tell that the blood spray was from my mangled digits and not her face, and I pulled her into a headlock before anyone could see the actual situation.

She grabbed for my waist, and I let her take it, laughing a great belly laugh at this puny person trying to lift my bulk.

She fake strained for a moment, and I felt the sting of fear as her Ultra Strength eased into it, but Judith was there to whisper directions in that other language.

At Judith’s instruction, probably, Choker let me sag back to the ground, acting like she had failed to lift me up.

I gave a contemptuous bark and bent over for the Gatorplex, square in the center of the ring.  I put my foot on her chest as Judith counted the One Two Three.

A chorus of boos heralded my win.  My heeling had worked.  The invocation of Her wrath, the way I’d picked on someone so much smaller than me, it had all added up to heat, setting me up perfectly to be the villain of the evening.

I dragged Choker back behind the trucks, even as the next two featherweights ran out and began their act.

An honest chuckle escaped me, as real as the in ring laughter had been fake.  I hadn’t been the heel in quite a while.  I’d forgotten how much fun it could be.

Space Devil gave me a fist bump.  She’d be vanquishing me later on tonight, and it was nice to know that she’d approved of the job that I’d been doing so far.

I peered out between the trucks, getting a decent view of how things were going.

I couldn’t really see into the ring, but that wasn’t important.  My gift could tell me, from what parts of the ropes I had to repair, and what parts of the ring people were stepping on, what was going on there.  What I was interested in was what the crowd was up to.

On the main viewing area, Haunter and Preventer were arguing animatedly with Krishna.  They didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the performance at all.  The other main people were mostly just sitting and watching.  Nobody seemed to be trying to prepare an attack on anyone or anything.

Fisher and Condemner had slunk off, they were in Redo somewhere.  But everyone was else was basically just doing what they were supposed to.

I felt the warm glow inside that means that things are working out.  This wasn’t going to turn into a great big fight, or some bullshit scheme.  This was just a night of pleasure, a chance to take advantage of Snitcher not watching us anymore and see another side of people that we might have had to fight if stuff had gone a little differently.

I knew that this kind of thing couldn’t really change stuff.  We were still at war, and Krishna and her gang were the enemy.  But just for one night we’d gotten a chance to play at war, instead of wage it, and I was determined to enjoy that.

I looked back over to Space Devil, gave her a wide grin.  I had already decided that our match was going long.  This was going to be the most important thing about the night, so who cared how long we went?

I didn’t realize that I was wrong about what was the most important thing about the night until Prevailer showed up.

Andy’s Comparisons

Having examined Fourth Fist at close range, it is instructive to compare it to my records of the other Fists.  Doing so may expose changes in Peggy’s methodology, as well as allow me to predict this unit’s outcomes with greater accuracy.

1: Power

The first axis to examine them on is the obvious.  How strong are they, relative to the others?

Bearing in mind that I haven’t yet been able to examine Fisher, the answer still seems relatively undramatic.  They are third in power, behind Third Fist and First Fist.  This outcome would indicate that She is not attempting to maximize Her force’s might.

2: Loyalty

The Regime forces all share an obvious disdain for the cause that they purport to uphold, but it can nonetheless be instructive to consider how newly mustered units measure up.

The Fourth Fist are seditious to the point of open rebellion.  I’m uncertain whether that makes them more or less reliable when compared to the negotiated surrender of Sixth Fist, but it certainly indicates that the criteria used to select Fists has very little to do with a concern about treachery.

3: Unity

Fists tend to have either one dominant personality who controls the others, or a pair of feuding leader figures.

Fourth Fist has the latter setup, with Preventer and Haunter as the most obviously influential members of the unit.  This schism places them fifth in terms of unity, ahead of only Third Fist.  There is no Predictor, no Remover here to dominate the group and imprint their will upon it.

Conclusion:

Taken as a whole, Fourth Fist could be considered simply a replacement.  The most noteworthy aspect of their selection is the utter disregard for any kind of loyalty to the Regime.

I am tempted to draw the conclusion that Her Fists are formed mostly at random, drawn from a pool of Ultras with powers potent enough to qualify.  I don’t think that’s the case, however.  Chronologically, the last two Fists to be formed are Sixth and then Fourth.  If we consider Sixth as a test case, as Her experimenting with disloyal Ultras, then Her indifference to Fourth Fist’s sympathies is explained.  Sixth Fist hasn’t rebelled yet, despite their sworn antipathy.  It seems likely that She believes that Fourth Fist will follow the same path, talking tough and staying in line.

If so, I believe that She has made a crucial mistake, one that may well prove fatal.

Indulger 4:1

I got to break the news to Krishna, since I’m officially the leader.

“Good news!”  I told her.  “We are totally down with having an Ultra Fight!  We think that it is a great idea.”

“Wonderful!” she answered.  “I take it that you will be coordinating the event, as the host?”

I nodded.

I wasn’t quite sure what coordinating the event would mean, but I’d been in plenty of Ultra Fights, and I’d watched a lot of Pro Wrestling.  I knew the score.

“Then I’ll put you in touch with Judith.”

Krishna turned away, then looked back at me.

“She’s a big fan, so if she seems a bit overwhelmed or shy, just chalk it up to that, ok?”

I hadn’t really ever noticed that my fans were particularly shy.  The ones that I learned about tended to be super pushy, actually.  But I nodded anyway.

She started walking towards the truck she’d showed up in, but stopped again when I jogged right up behind her.

“Listen, Krishna,” I said, making my voice more quiet.

I looked back over my shoulder to where Preventer and Jane were arguing about something or other.

“The rest of my Fist aren’t super trusting.  Could I get you to attend the show yourself?”

I was kind of proud of this idea.  It had just come to me when Haunter was doing her whole disapproving thing while we were talking this over.  According to what Preventer said, she was still smarting over the whole thing with the Union, where they tricked us.  She needed to see that people were on the up and up, mostly.

I’d remembered that Krishna was supposed to have no combat powers, mostly because I was already trying to think of who on their side would be the best match in an Ultra Fight.  Since Krishna was pretty much helpless it would mean that she wouldn’t be here if anything bad was gonna go down.  So asking her to stay was basically insurance against the idea that the Pantheon would start anything.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” she gushed.

I was kind of wrong footed by that, and I didn’t say anything while she climbed back up in her truck.  It had been kind of a sarcastic way to say it, but she HAD agreed with me.  Did that mean that she’d be there?

Jane and Preventer were still going at it, so I just kind of leaned up against the truck and let my power do its thing.   Still 8 trucks.  Nothing heavy inside of them.  No one creeping up on us.

We were far enough out that my feel for the town was fuzzy, but I could at least tell that their wasn’t anything major going on there either, as far as the ground was concerned.  No one blowing up bombs or kicking over hills.

I’d never really thought about it before, but that actually wasn’t terribly comforting.  You could do a lot to a town, and I totally wouldn’t know anything was going on if I was this far away.  You could shoot everybody or stab them or whatever.  As long as you didn’t smash down too hard I’d be totally unaware.  Scary.

A lady got out of a different truck, walked up to me.

“I’m Judith” she said.

I wasn’t sure whether Judith was a God that I hadn’t heard of, or whether she was too low ranking to actually get a God’s name.  I didn’t know how Pantheon names worked.  But I decided not to ask about it, because Haunter had said, way back when, that revealing that you didn’t know something let the bad guys take advantage of it.

“I’m Indulger.” I told her.

I used my deepest, scariest voice, just to let her know what she was going to be working with in terms of heeling potential.

She gave a big grin and held up her hands in the Double Gator symbol, and I knew that this was gonna work out.

The mask that I was wearing was a copy of Greater Gator’s mask.  He had been the last good big man in Pro Wrestling, before Her time.  My recordings were of his matches, and I’d sculpted my body, as much as I could, to match his size.  His fans made that symbol when he did his entrances, two hands held up like mouths, facing one another.

I grabbed her hands in my excitement, nearly hopping up and down.

“Oh my goodness.  You’ve seen-“ I began.

“You’ve got the mask!  You know the gestu-“ she said, at the same time.

Judith, now that I got a good look at her, was surprisingly young.  She was about five and a half feet tall, Asian, with her hair done in a butch cut that looked to be modeled after Her look.  She had a jean jacket and general bumming around clothes on.  No mask, that I could see.

“You go first,” I said.

“This is such an honor.  Wow.  It’s like I’m really meeting the Best Reptile!  Where did you learn about him?”

I gave a big grin.

“I was brought up on this stuff.  I’ve watched all of the old matches dozens of times.  I know em by heart.”

“Watched ’em?  You’ve got recordings?” she asked.

I nodded.

“I’ll let you guys borrow ’em, if you like.  Adder made ’em for me.  The real ones are still back at the Lair.”

She didn’t actually squeal, but I could tell from her face that she was working hard to keep it down.

“I’ll hold you to that, big guy.”

She paused, looking around.

I could feel a few Pantheon guys moving between trucks, and Preventer and Haunter were still fighting about something stupid.  We had time to talk.

“So, what does your name actually mean?” she asked.

Behind the mask, my eyes widened.  All of a sudden I couldn’t fucking remember.

“Just, you know, it’s a verb.  The Indulger is the one who indulges.  Like any other Regime name.” I hedged.

She pursed her lips, opened her mouth, then closed it.

I could tell that she was going to ask what ‘Indulge’ actually meant, and all of a sudden I had no fucking clue.

“Ok, but what…”

It came to me.

“Like when you ‘indulge’ someone you are spoiling them.  Like, if you are indulging a baby you are feeding it lots of flavor paste, ok?  So, like, I’m that way with the earth.  The world ‘indulges’ me, its about how my gift supports and heals me an stuff.”

“Wow, that’s cool.”

No sarcasm as she said that, which kind of surprised me.  She really did seem to mean it.  Still, I had to get us back to business.

“Ok, so, what are we working with here?”

Judith pointed over at one of the other trucks, made an ‘opening’ motion in the air with her hand and the door popped open.  I couldn’t tell if that was her gift, or if someone on the inside had been watching.  A trio of women climbed out, each of them with a mask.

“We’ve got Flagrant Vagrant,” and she indicated the first of the three.  “and then we’ve got the Choker and Space Devil.”

It was music to my ears to hear the old names, and looking more closely at the three walking towards us, I saw that they weren’t just named after the old time greats.

Flagrant was wearing the red, white and blue hood of the original cruiserweight champ, her only substantial modification to his wrestling attire was a halter top to hold her boobs in.  She even had the Flagrant Footwear, or a copy of the original big boots anyway.  My gift could feel that the spikes on the bottom were cut in faithful imitation of F V’s original kickers.

Choker, by contrast, had been a heavyweight, and the woman who wore his outfit wasn’t half as big as the original.  But I could feel, by the way her steps thundered against the ground, that she had Ultra Strength or something like it.  She would be able to do all of his power moves, even the Last Breath.

Space Devil was a heavyweight too, but this lady was no fainting flower herself.  She couldn’t possibly be as big as the Devil, but she sure looked it.  She was only a few inches shorter than me, and even though she wasn’t a body builder she had the kind of muscles that only hard work gives you.  If she lifted, it was for strength, not for show like I did.  A worthy successor to his mask, to go by the looks alone.

“I’m thinking you tangle with Choker at the top of the card, get everybody into the spirit of things.” Judith suggested.

It was a good idea.  I was big, she was strong, we could toss one another all over the place and get everybody pumped up.  Plus, we’d be crossing the Pantheon/Regime line, and that would get all the tension out in the open.

“I love it!” I told her, then walked past, over to where Choker was standing, inscrutable behind her gas mask.

“You up to face the Best Jaws?” I asked, her, using my ‘cutting a promo’ voice.  I didn’t have quite the same growl that the Gator had.  I was pretty sure that no one did.  It had to have been a special effect.

She said something in a language that I didn’t understand.  From the tone it seemed like it was Chinese or something like that.  I looked back to Judith.

“She says ‘yes’.”

She had definitely said more than that, but I let it go.  I didn’t have any way to make her tell me the truth if I asked her what had really been said.  Jane had pointed out that demanding stuff you can’t actually make people give you is dumb.

“After that we’ll have couple of exhibition matches.  We’ve got some flyweights who do flippy things, Flagrant is at the end of a feud…we’ll keep the crowd hot for ya.”

I wanted to get into the details of this, but at the same time I didn’t.  I was, first and foremost, a fan, and the chance to see some good Ultra Fights that I didn’t know the outcome of was always pretty great.

Choker said something again, more tonal noises that I couldn’t suss out.  I looked to Judith to translate.

“She wants to know, in your match.  Go to the death?”

I shook my head.

“The whole point of this is just to have fun!  We want everybody happy.  Let’s do like the guys whose duds we are wearing did, and fight till pinfall or submission.  Ok?”

I looked back to Choker.

“Just…Pretend…” I said, slowly and loudly.

“She understands English, just fine,” said Flagrant.  “Everybody does.”

I flushed, behind the mask.

“I know, I know.  I mean, I was just emphasizing that I meant it.  You know?  Can’t be too careful.”

Flagrant, bizarrely enough, had a bit of a cowboy accent.  It took me a bit to get it.  That was the original Vagrant’s accent, a sort of drawl that a lot of the tough guys in the olden days had used.

“For the finale,” said Judith.  “You take on the Space Devil in a one on one match.  Shoot for ten minutes or more, let people get into it.”

“That ok with you?” I asked the Devil.

“Sure,” she said.  “I can go for hours.”

I’d actually seen a few Ultra Fights that ran into that problem.  They had matched two people with Ultra Toughness and no Ultra Strength or some similar situation, and you ended up with a fight that couldn’t ever end.  Another reason I liked victory rituals like pins and submissions over serious fights.  When the cost of a loss was just looking weak I could throw a match that was getting too boring.  I obviously couldn’t do that if we were being serious.

Devil’s voice wasn’t very interesting.  Deep, to go with her generally muscular look.  My general read from her tone was that she was kind of intimidated by me.  That would make sense, she probably rarely met people who were bigger than her.

“Ok, so, I’ll make the ring.  We’ll do this when the sun is going down, that work for you all?” I asked.

“Sounds great, Indulger,” said Judith.

“We’ll go and get some spectators, you do likewise, we meet back here right as the night starts.  Bring lights.”

The wrestlers turned and trooped back to their truck, talking quietly as they moved off.  Judith stayed with me.

“One last thing, big guy, is there a limit on how many we can bring?  I swear, we aren’t trying anything, but I don’t want to accidentally piss you guys off by making it look like we are trying to outnumber you or whatever.”

I scratched my head, like I was lost in thought.  Actually we’d worked this out before I even came over here.

“Can you bring just ten Ultras?  As many people as you want, but we only want 2 to 1 in terms of people with powers.”

“That’s fine,” she agreed.  “We are also being careful, so only risking ten sounds like a fine decision.  I’m not saying that you might try to pull something, mind, but you are a new Fist, and we don’t want to be the ones you use to prove to the world how sneaky you are or something.”

I didn’t point out that they kind of already had been, with the whole Redo situation.

Judith started back towards her truck at that, but I reached out and caught her shoulder.

She looked back over it at me, a little worry showing in her face.

“Make sure Krishna doesn’t forget what I told her.  If she isn’t here with your ten when you get here, things could get really ugly, really fast.”

“Uh…” she hemmed and hawed.  “I can’t really tell Krishna what to do.  She’s my boss, not the other way around.  But if she told you that she’d be here, then she’ll be here.  Krishna never lies to people who are going to stay alive.  She says that is just sloppy.”

“Ah.” I said.  There wasn’t really a lot to say to that.

Judith hopped up into the vehicle, and all the trucks turned on.  I backed off as they pulled out and drove away.

I started trooping back to my Fist, not super surprised that Preventer and Jane’s argument was still going on even though it had started before I went over to talk to Krishna.

“There is absolutely a distinction between the proposition that engaging with the Pantheon is productive and whatever the fuck this is.” Jane was storming mad, nearly spitting.  “I know you are smart enough to understand that distinction, so playing dumb isn’t actually getting you anything.”

“I’m not playing dumb,” returned Preventer.  “I’m pointing out the circular nature of your reasoning in hopes that it will bring you to a moment of realization, where you get that your entire approach to this situation is driven by guilt and fear, rather than reasoning.”

“Even though thousands of people have looked over my thinking, and found it sound, you have the fucking temerity to…”

I tuned them out, making eye contact with Betty and rolling my eyes.

I hated it when they fought.  It made me feel really bad, on the inside.  Preventer and Haunter were so smart, why couldn’t they get along?

I consoled myself with the thought that I only had to endure this for a few more hours, and then I could have a nice relaxing fight with people who wanted me dead.