Hi everyone this is Walter, just letting you know that the next update won’t come out until January 8th, lots of holiday stuff this year.
Thanks for sticking with me!
I’d gamed out how it would go if we fought Second Fist a couple of times. Probably everyone had, and Haunter’s calculations would make mine look like nothing, but the fact remained, I’d done it.
Refiner, according to Preventer, was a nonfactor. Even a liability, since they presumably would work on protecting him. So leave him out.
Bomber wasn’t a huge factor, in my mind. She could shoot pretty hard, but if I was down in the ground they wouldn’t penetrate to get to me. The main thing about her, from my point of view, was that she could just fly away, so there would be no way to get the whole Fist.
I wasn’t sure if she had Ultra Toughness or not, which was a weird thing to not know, but Second Fist was unique that way. They all had Refiner’s best stuff, so they all kind of seemed to have Ultra Tough Three, unless you managed to peel that off. That, combined with the fact that they mostly sat in Shington bossing the Knights around meant that I didn’t know if she was Ultra Tough.
But anyway, she wouldn’t be a huge deal, buzzing around and blasting the ground until one of Haunter’s guys shot her in an eye or something.
Choker was different, he’d put the fight on a clock. Once he started emitting the gas, he would start growing in power and the casualties would mount. After a certain point there would be no stopping him, kind of like Killer from Third Fist in a big fight. We’d take him out quick.
Destroyer was, well, she was too much for us. She was the one I threw up my hand at. Ultra Speed at level two would mean I couldn’t sink her or spear her, and that we’d get wrecked really fast.
It said a lot that I’d done that whole analysis without thinking about Deceiver or Refiner’s gear, which were the factors that actually mattered. That was because when I thought about how a confrontation with them would actually go it looked a lot like this.
We were all in the grip of Deceiver’s power, surrounded by enemies we couldn’t perceive. They had Refiner’s weapons, so our toughness couldn’t rescue us. They also had Answerer, and probably Subtracter up in the air.
We were done. I’d say our only hope was that they’d think Fisher and Condemner might be somewhere waiting to resurrect us through the Link, but they had Answerer, so they’d know that wasn’t a thing anymore. We were totally done.
“Which of them did?” asked Haunter, projecting a calm resolve that there was no way she could actually feeling.
Answerer waved the question off, or at least it looked like she did. I had to keep reminding myself that Deceiver was picking what we were seeing and hearing.
“You’ve been away for quite a while,” said Answerer. “How did your embassy to the Pantheon go? Was Olympus everything you thought it would be?”
That last was directed squarely at Preventer, whose hands spasmed at her sides.
“Why don’t you ask your gift?” I said. “It’s weird for the famous Answerer to be the one asking the questions, don’t you think?”
I didn’t know why I said that. Somehow now that the worst had happened all my fear was gone away. It wasn’t like we could get double trapped or something.
“Why DON’T I?” she fired back, instantly. “Why ever could it be that my gift is off where you assholes are concerned? Why might that possibly be?”
There was real anger there, backed by frustration. Nothing like the calm superiority that I’d expect from someone who got to see the future once a day.
It could be faked, of course, either by Deceiver or just plain old acting, but something told me that her fury was actually real, that she was actually just totally pissed at us.
“That wasn’t rhetorical, by the way,” she continued. “It’s a big part of the reason that you are here, now. I want an answer, and it had better be believable.”
“You can’t just foresee it?” asked Haunter, seemingly genuinely curious, “I’d imagined your gift would let you ask ‘what if I say this and that’, kind of questions. Why do you need to do this in person?”
She made scare quotes around the ‘in person’, and it took me a second to get it. But, yeah, of course, just because my tremor sensing gift let me know someone was standing where ‘Answerer’ was, and her voice was coming out, it didn’t mean that was really her. Deceiver was on the scene, after all.
“There wasn’t any way,” said Answerer, sounding aggrieved, “No matter what scene I set, you never gave it up in any kind of conversation. Do you imagine I put guns to people’s heads on a whim? This is important!”
“If you know anything about us,” said Preventer, “And you definitely do, then you should know that threats won’t work with us.”
She had a lot of nerve to say that, since of us three (I didn’t really know Mario well enough to know how he’d react) she was the one who got scared the most if someone managed to make a credible threat to her.
“This isn’t only a threat!” snapped Answerer, “This is important! I’m the only one who steers the Regime, by which I mean Her. I’ve saved the world over and over, and I can’t keep doing that if there are blurs in my gift!”
“If you don’t want to threaten,” I said, “Then don’t start with that. We don’t believe you’ll really-“
I broke it off as Mario’s head shot off his shoulders, his body slumping forward.
I froze for an instant, seeing the blood coat the invisible scythe, and then a bull roar forced its way up my throat as I slammed a hand down to the ground, my mind screaming that I was far too late.
And Mario was back, whole, unwounded, and seemingly untroubled.
“What the fuck?” I shouted, looking around at my team. I could sense their footsteps moving about, but no one looked like they were moving, just standing frozen.
“You don’t believe we’ll really?” asked Refiner, in his great bull voice. “Really what? Finish your sentence, you pussy bitch!”
He stomped towards me, towering over me, eyes flashing behind his skull mask, steam or smoke belching forth.
“This isn’t real!” I said, mostly to myself. “Refiner is too sick to walk or think, and you didn’t kill Mario!”
“They totally killed me,” said Mario.
“I’m more real than any of these other pigs,” snarled Refiner. “A continent fears me, my ideals go forth and conquer every goddamn day, and you think I’m not real just because I don’t have a fucking body?”
I looked to Mario, then back.
“I can just ask him if he knows something you don’t know!” I blurted. “Your gift isn’t unbeatable, Deceiver!”
“It’s Refiner!” he snarled, “So what if some dumb bitch does my thinking! And why don’t you fucking go ahead and try that, if you think it’ll let you tell what’s real.”
I opened my mouth, then froze.
If I asked for a memory that only he knew, then there was nothing to say Deceiver would let him hear the question, or that it hadn’t already fed him the question from a fake me and gotten the answer.
“I could have predicted it with my gift and the answer would be known that way!” said Answerer’s voice, right by my ear.
“Bitch!” said Her voice, by the other ear.
I jumped. I couldn’t help it, just an automatic response. The instant I was in the air someone tapped me on the forehead.
When I came back down on the floor the others were looking at me strangely, their movements once again synced up to where my gift said their feet were.
“It’s ok Dale,” said Haunter. “It was all just Deceiver, whatever they said, they were just trying to prove a point.”
I nodded numbly, frantically, well aware that I had no reason to believe that that was the real her. Deceiver had just proven that there was no way for me to know what was real or true, and that head poke at the end, when my gift said no one was standing near me, made me think she could feign touch just as well as any other sense.
She looked back over to where Second Fist stood, back to Answerer.
“The reason you can’t get a confession out of us in your answers is that we don’t know how we are blocking your gifts. How could we? It’s not like we could test anything we tried.”
“You could have used others with similar gifts to test,” said Answerer, “Or done my own trick and just predicted what would work if you know someone with a gift similar to mine. However you are doing it, you need to stop.”
Haunter smiled wanly.
“That’ll be hard for us to do deliberately, since we don’t know what we’re doing. It’s most likely a side effect of one of our gifts.”
“I’m not stupid!” snarled Answerer, “I’ve dealt with problematic gifts before, I know what that looks like, and this isn’t that.”
“What is it?” I asked. “Like, when is there trouble?”
“Why?” came Refiner’s counterfeit voice, “You looking to exploit some kind of weakness?”
“No!” said Haunter, her frustration evident, “He’s hoping we can put our knowledge of what we were doing together with her explanation for when things block her gift and give you an answer.”
“The battle!” said Answerer, “How did you possibly survive that battle? There were at least a dozen coin flips for your death, even with the blurriness keeping away any actual end lines. How did you make it through Istanbul and Berlin? Why didn’t Vampire kill you?”
We’d never even seen Vampire after she warped us out of Istanbul.
“Didn’t Third Fist kill her?” I asked, before I could stop myself. “They must’ve, right? The Union didn’t have an answer for her.”
Answerer’s fist closed in frustrated agitation.
“It’s First Fist,” said Haunter.
Answerer looked over at her.
“This is probably useless,” she continued, “because everything is against Remover, but whatever answer we come up with won’t be the real one. The real one is Remover, just like it always is.”
“Could you maybe be a little more specific?” asked Refiner.
“Joe’s real voice was a bit higher,” said Jane, “And he never said ‘maybe’ in his entire life.”
“Answer the question,” snarled Answerer.
“Dale uses a variety of Ultra drugs, and maybe you can’t correctly foresee him when he uses them” said Jane, “I sometimes take advice from my shades and I sometimes act on my own decisions, maybe you can’t see the shades ideas coming. Preventer’s Ultra toughness fluctuates, maybe she is too tough to accurately foresee some of the time. Take your pick.”
There was a long beat as the other side seemed to digest that.
“But whatever you pick,” said Haunter, picking up the thread of her speech again before they could answer, “You’ll be wrong. That will be the surface reason, but there is a reason behind that, a reason that things are this way, that you won’t be able to see. The reason you find will be the rule, but there’s a reason that the rules are that way.”
“And that hidden true reason is First Fist?” asked Answerer, incredulously.
Haunter turned, strangely enough, to Mario.
“Union man,” she said, “What would you say the odds are that a precog or a cabal of precogs controls your Union? Just roughly.”
“Why are you-“ said Refiner, before Preventer cut him off.
“Mario is a Union intelligence officer,” she said, “You already know this, so just skip the part where you pretend that you didn’t and get mad at us for hiding it. It would just be a waste of time.”
“Our entire government is set up so that an Ultra can’t take control,” said Mario, slowly. “We have multiple redundancies, a decentralized organization built from the ground up in order to stay under the control of humans, come what may.”
“Sure,” said Jane, “But answer the question.”
“Ninety percent?” he guessed, “Maybe ninety five?”
Jane gave a quiet chuckle.
“I don’t see what this has to do with anything,” said Answerer.
“We’ve done everything that they possibly can to stop it,” said Mario, “But the fact is that the Regime and the Pantheon are controlled by precogs, and we haven’t been conquered by them, in all this time. There’s no way to explain that without assuming we have our own equalizer.”
“Controlled?” asked Refiner.
Jane rolled her eyes.
“Prevailer’s gift is that She is very strong. Answerer knows everything. Which of those two do you think is really in control?”
“What does any of this have to do with First Fist?” demanded Answerer, who looked just a little bit uncomfortable with how this conversation was going.
I could relate. Thinking that you were the boss of Her was one of the easiest ways to get killed. I’d had a number of close calls before I’d learned the tricks of how to talk to Her without ever seeming like I was trying to take charge.
“They killed the world,” said Jane, eyes downcast, “And they did it without ceremony or incident. Everything goes exactly like they need it to and no one ever wised up or tried to stop them. I’m embarrassed it took me so long to work out what’s actually going on.”
“And what would that be?” asked Refiner.
“Remover can counterfeit precognitive gifts, probably any gift at all that gets information from the place gifts come from. Her other half is a boss over there, according to Condemner, so all the gifts just cooperate.”
“My gift hasn’t been counterfeited,” said Answerer, sounding alarmed and a bit insulted at the suggestion.
“How many times has someone told you that they have free will, in the exact same tone?” asked Preventer, “You wouldn’t be able to see the truth any more than they did. They can do whatever they want, but they can only want what you arrange for them to want. She gave you the answers she needed to in order to get you to move as she wanted. That didn’t include anything obviously false.”
“Place that the gifts come from?” asked Refiner.
Jane raised a hand, as though to wave away that question.
“Look, just, the point is that the real answer to what’s going on with your gift and it’s relation to us is that Remover is messing with it. Believe us or don’t.”
There was a long, silent beat as Answerer weighed her alternatives.
I didn’t especially like to think them through either. If Remover had worked on Answerer’s gift to get us here, then we were doing her bidding even now. Even though we thought we’d come to stop her, she must want us to…
I pushed aside that train of thought with some effort. You couldn’t just sit there and think your way through a future seeing gift, and it was a waste of effort to try.
“Well,” said Refiner, “There’s always the second option.”
Answerer looked back, gave a short nod, and vanished.
I felt the footprints from where she was walking out of the room, and I slightly increased my belief that that might have been the real her.
“The second option?” I asked.
“We’d have preferred it if you could have told us how to fix Answerer’s foresight,” Refiner said, “Because there is a situation right now that demands everything to go absolutely perfectly, and we usually use her for that.”
“Sorry we couldn’t help,” said Preventer, not sounding all that sorry.
“I appreciate that,” said Refiner, “But you actually can.”
“Uh oh,” I said.
“You see,” he went on, or really Deceiver went on, but it was getting easier and easier to just think of Refiner as the one who spoke for their team, “When Subtracter told the Company to cease supplying the Pantheon with food, they got a bit upset.”
“Well, yeah,” said Preventer.
“And some of them struck out on their own, or started foraging, or did whatever,” he continued, “But some of them, a whole lot of them, came here.”
My eyebrows rose.
“They looking to get splatted by Her?” I asked.
“Subtracter went to ask them the same question,” he said, “And she hasn’t returned. Answerer’s getting the same kind of fuzz around their Host that she used to get with you lot.”
I didn’t like where this was going.
“So just tell Her what’s up,” I said.
“Are you volunteering?” he asked.
That shut me up.
“No one has spoken to Her in months,” he said, “The people that look like they are going in and out are courtesy of Deceiver. One thing that is not blurry at all to Answerer’s gift is that going in there causes the world to end.”
“So the Pantheon killed Subtracter?” said Haunter, somewhat dubiously, “Or maybe captured her? That’s an awful lot of firepower for a random Goddess. Do you know who is leading this suicide charge?”
Refiner couldn’t smile, not with his face being a skull mask and all, but this was just an illusion, so he smiled anyway.
“Krishna,” he said. “And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Fist with some experience with an Ultra of that name.”