Indulger 8:2

I tensed up a bit as I dragged us through the shield.

It wasn’t that I was scared.  Or, no, that wasn’t right.  It was that I was right to be frightened.  The shield that surrounded the Great Host’s forts was the real edge of the Pantheon’s territory.  From now on we would be inside of the Union’s influence.

And we were still up on the surface.

I stole a glare at Predictor, who was to blame for this stupidity.  He had assured everyone that it would be ok if we stayed up on top of the ground, because he would know if we were going to be spotted by drones.  I didn’t believe that for a second.

“You don’t like him?” asked Zilla, from down where she clung on to my arm.

I almost jumped.  Despite the fact that we were in physical contact I had almost been able to forget that she was here.  So much for that.

“He is a strong Fist leader,” I told her, looking away.

She had sort of glomped onto my side as soon as she came up here to the front with me, supposedly because we were supposed to be talking, leader to leader.  She had talked an awful lot, but hadn’t really had much to say, if that made any sense.

“That’s not what I asked,” she said.  “But we can talk about that instead, if you like.  I thought I heard that his Fist was the weakest of them all.”

“That’s not…” I started.  “I’m just saying that I like him fine.  Why wouldn’t I like him?”

I missed Lotus, or at least what her gift did for me.  I had some stashed away with my gear, but I was saving that till we got to the prison.

I had been hoping that Lotus would come along with us, had actually argued for it, but she didn’t want to go.  Or maybe Legion didn’t want her to go, I wasn’t sure on how the politics worked there.

“Maybe cuz he is mad smug?” she said.  “Or cuz you are the two dudes who lead Fists and there is that whole natural male rivalry for leadership thing?”

I looked down again, to see that weirdly wide grin splitting her face.

“Guys don’t always fight,” I told her.  “That is just something you think in the Pantheon.  We can work together just fine.”

“Of course,” she said, giving me an exaggerated wink, like she knew that I was lying and was just going along with me.

I didn’t like Zilla.  I felt like she was one of those people that everyone either loved or hated, and I’d fallen onto the bad side of that.  Maybe everyone felt that way, and we all just tolerated her because we thought that each other thought she was great.

“Does Bull try to take over your job as leader?” I asked.

This wasn’t a perfect comparison.  What I was trying to ask was whether or not the men in the central cities were constantly fighting to be unseat whichever of them was an Overseer, but I hadn’t had time to figure out who that was.

“Bull is a Goddess,” she said, looking strangely at me.  “That’s just her battle form.  You might see her turn back when we are done.”

I looked over at Bull, who looked like a big hairy guy, hunched over and talking to Fisher.  He noticed me looking, gave a big wave with a wide grin.

“You serious?” I asked.

She grinned again, hugged my arm tighter.

I looked away, frustrated, letting my gaze roam across the platform of earth I was moving.

The Fist members, both mine and Predictor’s, were basically clumped up in their own groups.  Predictor and Slicer were a bit away from the rest, but otherwise there was a clear separation.  The Pantheon’s Gods weren’t nearly so disciplined.

I had kind of figured, when we set out, that they would keep to themselves, forming a third contingent.  But it hadn’t worked that way at all.  They all spoke English just fine, and they seemed to have an endless curiosity about us and the Regime.  They hung out with one or the other Fists most of the time, such that there basically wasn’t even as separate Pantheon cluster.

At least the numbers weren’t lopsided.  We’d eventually agreed (after Predictor told us that we were going to in the end) on even numbers from each side.  So they got ten Gods for our ten Ultras.

I asked him, afterwards, if that was only the agreement BECAUSE he’d said that it would come out that way, and he’d just sort of smugged off.

“Maybe I do wanna fight him, just a bit,” I allowed.

She chuckled.

Zilla was the leader of their side, of course.  She was going to be part of the first team, the ones who went into the sky jail at the start and set stuff up so the rest of us could do the more overt part.  She was, in fact, leading the first team.

The rest of her side were supposed to be very powerful Gods.

Genie had also come along, she was going to be the one who lifted everyone up onto the flying jail.  Her gift let her move metal around, so they were all going to ride a metal disk that she could push along.  I was currently keeping it embedded in the ground underneath her, but I had instructions to pop it up if something happened unexpectedly.

Bull was supposedly the most powerful combatant on their side of things.  He, or she from what Zilla just said, was just a pure brute.  Apparently about as powerful as Pursuer in terms of raw strength.  We were saving her for the second strike, when Andy would already have been removed to safety, and collateral damage wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Then there was Dusk, who seemed to blink or warp around.  They said that she was as fast as the speed of dark, but I didn’t know what that meant.  Haunter had explained it to me that her location was not absolute, like she was something stuck to everyone’s eyes or something.  I didn’t understand it, but everyone acted like she was going to be really dangerous if she threw down.  I had just kind of decided to treat her like she had Ultra speed two, and let whatever the difference was work out in our favor.

Noon was our emergency plan.  She could destroy the prison and everything for miles around if that became necessary.  They described her power as making the sun set on things, but from how she talked about it I thought she actually was just a very powerful blaster.  Obviously in that case we wouldn’t get Andy, so that was a last resort.

The rest of the Pantheon side of things was a squad called The Furies.  They had individual names and gifts, but I had been having trouble memorizing things by that point, and I’d kind of left them for later.  They were basically fighters, good gifts for close combat and short blasting.  From watching a bit of their drills they seemed kind of like the gals that Death had brought for her attack on the boat.

“They actually fight though,” said Zilla, startling me again.  “I have stronger teams on paper, but the Furies are the only ones who sortie consistently.  I have faith in them.”

Had she known what I was thinking?

“Did you just think, ‘how did she know what I was thinking?” she asked.

“No,” I lied.

She chuckled and let me go.

“You don’t get to run the whole war effort for as long as I did if you can’t tell a bit about what is going on in another God’s mind,” she said.

“Oh,” I said.  “I guess that makes sense.  You have probably had a lot of missions like this one, huh?”

“Nope!” she said.  “This is the first time I’ve been out of the Arena in a very long time.  I’m enjoying myself.”

I looked nervously over the countryside, trying to spot the very tiny drones that were no doubt relaying our position to the enemy.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Me too.”

That was a lie, of course, but She had taught me that it is really important for people to think that you are strong.  It isn’t like real strength.  Rocks don’t care if you act like you can lift them, only if you have actually put in the work to get able to.  But with people somehow seeming like you can do it IS the work of being able to do it, or something.

“I never thanked you,” she said.

“Huh?” I replied, and she grabbed onto my arm again.

“For capturing my fort,” she responded.  “If you’d been five or ten minutes slower the C man would have been lynched, and everyone would be worrying about where their next meal was going to come from.  I owe you, big time.”

“Alright,” I said.

She didn’t say anything.

“Oh, well, you know…” I said after a second, feeling a bit flustered.  It was kind of rare for a person to say things like that directly.  Most people in the Regime just played it off when you did them a favor, or, like, said it was a crappy road and they didn’t want it anyway.

She didn’t say anything in response to that, and we drifted a long for a bit in silence while I racked my brain.

“Actually, I think you could pay me back,” I said.

“How?” she asked.

“Let me take us underground.”

I turned to face her directly, pulling my arm back as I did so.

“I know that you guys were worried that it was all a trick or whatever, that I would have more power over you when you were trapped in a cave that I controlled, but I swear we aren’t trying to mess around like that.  It is really all about hiding from the Union’s spy drones.”

She gave a much more ordinary smile, just as wide as her mouth.

“You realize, of course, that that’s exactly what you would say if you WERE planning on ambushing us in this cave, correct?”

I missed my gold drinks at that moment.  I felt for sure that there was something wrong with the idea that I had to compete with what I would say if I was trying to get someone to do what I was really trying to get them to do but for bad reasons.

“No,” I said.  “Look, I just, I mean…”

I stalled for a sec, looking around and trying not to imagine bad guys creeping up on us.  How could I persuade her?

“We don’t need any advantage to take you.”

The words sounded strange as they came out, much harsher and colder than I naturally talked.  I was using my heel voice for this, trying to antagonize an imaginary crowd.

“Take me?” she said, voice rising at the end, like it was just a big joke.

“There are TWO Fists here, Zilla.” I told her.  “We crushed a Host with just one.  We are ten of the most powerful Ultras in the world, and we come back to life every day.”

She laughed instantly, delightedly, nearly before I was finished talking.

I sort of recoiled a bit from her, she actually had to bend over, gasped for a second and kind of waved a hand at me.

“Take ME?” she said again, but this time with the emphasis on the second word.  “As in, defeat me?  Kill me?”

She nearly had to laugh again.

“I’m serious,” I said.  “We are very powerful, and you don’t gain anything by staying up here on the surface.  Let me pull everyone under, you are in our power whichever way, but down below you don’t have to be scared of the Union.”

“Alright,” she said.  “Makes sense.”

“You have to…” I trailed off.  Had she just agreed?

“You are ok with it?” I asked.  “I can use my gift to let us travel underground?”

Somehow I hadn’t actually expected her to get persuaded by my words.  That didn’t usually happen.

“Sure,” she said.  “For all those reasons you gave, you’ve brought me around.  We are way safer underground, and we’ll be out of the sun.”

She didn’t have to tell me twice.

I called out to the rest of the crew, let them know that we’d be diving.  Our Fist was already familiar with how this worked, and Predictor’s crew seemed like they’d been ready for this all along.  It was only the Gods who needed to have it explained to them.

I didn’t have to do any of that, though, because Zilla went over and started talking to them.  I figured she was probably making sure that they didn’t think I was attacking when I pulled everyone down into the ground.

“How’d you get her to bend?”  asked Preventer.

“Bwah!” I snapped out, nearly jumping into an evasive roll.

How had she snuck up on me?  I looked down, saw her standing on two small barriers, floating inches above the ground.

“Not like that,” she said, eyes widening.  “I mean how did you get her to agree that we can go underground.”

“You just startled me,” I said.  “I knew that’s what you meant.  What else would you have meant?”

“Never mind,” she said.  “Just answer the question.”

“It was because…” and here I paused a moment.

I’d been about to finish with, ‘I threatened her’, but that wasn’t right.

I know that the threat was the last thing that I’d said.  Or, it wasn’t exactly a threat, but it had kind of felt like one, and it had been the last thing before she agreed.  But I didn’t think that’s what had done it.  I felt like the real reason she went along with me was the thing with the Company.

“Um, I just kind of explained stuff,” I said.

I wasn’t sure if Preventer knew that I’d technically conquered Zilla’s base before we set out.  She probably did, but it wasn’t certain, and I didn’t want to talk about it now.

I stretched my arms out to the sides, dug my feet into my brah and called upon my gift.

Without ceremony or anything fancy our whole traveling slab just kind of sank into the ground, the stone above us slid smoothly into place, and we were in one of my usual traveling cave setups.

“Thanks Dale,” said Preventer.  “I feel better-“

She clammed up as Zilla bounced back over.

“Hey Venter,” she said.

She grabbed for Preventer’s hand with both of hers, but Preventer took a quick step back, and sort of to the side, so I was between them.

“Hey,” she said.

I turned so they were on my left and right sides, rather than in front of and behind me.  It was weird that I was worried about being surrounded by the two tiniest women I’d ever met.

There was a moment of silence.  I had the crazy impression that Zilla was trying to figure out whether going around in front of me or behind me would get her to Preventer fastest, like they were kids playing a keep away game.

“Keep away, huh?” said Zilla.

“What?” asked Preventer.

“What?” said Zilla.

I called upon my gift again, sank myself into a separate cave under the main cave where the rest of them were held.

This was going to be a long trip.

Enemy Readiness

In the event of a total secession of Company activities, what follows would be the worst loss of life in human history.

I understand why that might be counter intuitive.  After all, of the classic ‘four horsemen’, the Process is by far the worst.  But the scythe he wields was taken from Famine, and in the Company’s absence, its owner would take it up once more.

The Pantheon, broadly speaking, has no real agriculture.  They are reliant on the Company Facilities in a way that our nation never could be.  If it ceased operation a majority of the world’s population would find themselves substantially without any foodstuffs, all at once.

Several trends combine to cause this state of affairs.  It is difficult to say which is the most important.  The Company’s freedom from any quota has enabled them to expand far more rapidly and cover Pantheon territory far more comprehensively than it does here.  The civil strife devastates territory randomly and without warning, which has conditioned the populace to regard fixed structures and saving for the future as imprudent.  The cultural mores regard scientific procedure as inherent to our culture, and thus foreign and suspicious.  Take your pick.

My own guess, as far as the single biggest contributing factor goes, is simply that the people with power don’t have any skin in the game.  The ‘Gods’ will never starve, come what may.  Some are protected by their gifts, and the rest will be given first pick on whatever can be gathered.  Starvation is an intellectual problem to them, one of many scenarios, but far less important to think about than intriguing against their opposition.

As far as consequences, the long and short of it is that whatever control the Ruling Council exerts over the local warlords would fall completely apart in a no-Company scenario.  They already have enough trouble getting their tributaries to toe the line.  Warlords fight one another for what amounts to no reason as it is.  If they actually had something to compete over, be it scavenged supplies, fertile land or Gods with power that produced food sources, it would be complete anarchy.

The Grand Host, in particular, is a mass of Gods concentrated in a barren land with no real human population to speak of.  I’ve seen projections as high as thirty percent casualties in the first two months, though I think that might be optimistic.

You’ve read the file on Gaia and similar Gods.  Their gifts would be the Pantheon’s only real means of mitigating their losses, and they would be entirely insufficient.  We believe that each such God would be able to supply a small area around them, which would in turn become a target for those Gods who rule other areas.

In the event of a disaster of this magnitude it is very likely that Zeus would attempt to resolve matters with an all or nothing attack.  We would very likely be the target of such a strike, though there is an outside chance that he makes his move on the Regime, seeking to seize control of the Company directly.

Estimations of that event, how it would go and what could be done about it, are outside of the scope of this document, but I imagine that they’d be grim reading.

I’d be remiss in my duties, however, if I didn’t conclude this report by reiterating the unlikelihood of the Company ever failing in the manner described.  It has operated without interruption since its foundation.  It operates within every nation in the world, tolerated or encouraged by our own Government and by the tyrants who would enslave us.  I believe that we can rely upon it to continue operations into the foreseeable future.

No update this week

Sorry folks, I didn’t quite get my Nano done in November.  It is done now, and this update is about half done, but I think I’m going to get it done this weekend and start rebuilding my buffer instead of rushing it out this week.  TFD will resume story updates on next wednesday, double promise this time!

Zilla Watching

Jane, I’ve created a summary of the reserve’s observations of Zilla.  The short version is simply this, she is probably very smart, and we shouldn’t underestimate her just because she is a new worlder.

We first heard of Zilla as the commander of the Pantheon’s forces when we spent time in Legion’s fort.  It says something, in itself, that her name never came up during our time in the Union embassy.  Many warlords would have used her position in order to set their name ringing out across the world, but Zilla has apparently refrained.

It wasn’t immediately entirely clear how much of this dormancy was her own doing, versus the orders of her distant masters in the Ruling Council.  But Death’s attack, and the total lack of coordination with Legion that it displayed, makes us believe that Zilla has likely been the shot caller across the war zone for some time now.

If so, then her low profile is indeed a matter of choice.  This points to an unusual temperament for a Goddess of the Pantheon, and is reinforced by the fact that what reputation she has seems to be entirely fictional.

She allows the inhabitants of Legion’s fortress, and members of passing Hosts, to believe that she is the colossus which stands in the midst of the central fort.  She puts considerable effort into maintaining this fiction, using the giant form to give audiences and bless the departing soldiers.

We conclude, then, that she is a being who places a great deal of importance on controlling other’s impressions of her, one who holds her cards close to her chest.  This is remarkable, given that it is likely that she has no schooling, and that the cultural mores around her would encourage almost exactly the opposite behavior.

Preventer’s testimony, and a number of other observations that we’ve made, indicates that her gift isn’t one which grants incredible combat efficiency.  Not to disparage form changing, of course, but it wouldn’t have been surprising if the Pantheon’s front line commander was someone along the lines of Subtracter, or Pursuer.

Absent an extra gift that hasn’t yet been made apparent, it doesn’t seem as though Zilla is strong enough to maintain her rule by force.  Instead, we believe that she has persisted in this role by virtue of cunning, native political sense and the opportunities that her gift undoubtedly affords her for information gathering.

We are not going to be traveling alongside a warrior chieftain, but instead a cunning intriguer.  We must remain alert for complications, and hope that Predictor’s gift is adequate to manage them.  It is still unknown how he was able to sway her to abandon her place of power and work alongside us, but whatever he promised her, you can bet she will do her best to collect.

Rolling Interview: 4

[Back to story updates next week, thank you all for bearing with me!]

Question for Author: Why isn’t the Union reacting more forcefully to Zeus finally launching his long planned assault?  Shouldn’t they be frantically trying absolutely everything at this point?

Answer:

This one is a little complicated, so bear with me.

The first thing that it is important to understand is that the Union uses the threat of the Pantheon being ‘the big one’ CONSTANTLY, in order to drum up this or that sacrifice or effort from its civilian populace.  Even if they ask for desperate efforts at this point, it is kind of lost in the blizzard of similar requests that they’ve been making for decades.

Beyond that though, beyond the difficulty in making the rank and file understand that this time you mean it, there is the problem of the decision makers themselves coming around on it.

The Union’s leadership, sometimes mocked as the Obscurocracy for its opaque and deliberately redundant setup, is cumbersome and difficult to shift.  Its culture has been, for a very long time, fully engaged in the practice of pretending that their biggest worry was Zeus’ attacks, when in truth the specter of an Ultra coup by their own forces was far and away the greatest threat.

This meant that anyone who exhibited genuine concern about the eastern front was marked as a rube, a sap.  Those in the know understood the game, knew that the Intervention Groups could kill the spawn of the camps for essentially forever.

Now this doublethink is mucking everything up.  Those who have seen the report, and have the context to understand it, understand their peril.  But saying so makes others disregard them, and each time you have to convince another set of interlocutors you have to start the process over.

The Union has, intellectually, recognized its peril, but it doesn’t really feel it yet.  Think of it like someone who says “I really need to start eating better,” as they chow down on another burger.

 

Question for Author: Where is Fader at this time?

Answer:

She bailed shortly before they reached the central fortress.  Fourth Fist doesn’t know where she is going now, but from her conversation they believe that she thinks Twister is still alive somewhere, and has gone off looking for her.

 

Question for Author: What is going on with the SOV, its systems, and Psyche?

Answer:

This was never supposed to be as mysterious as it ended up being.  This answer is a spoiler, of sorts, but it isn’t so much new information as a way to contextualize the stuff you already know.

The reason AI doesn’t work in this setting is that without a soul the programs don’t ‘choose’ to do anything.  Similarly wheels don’t choose to turn, guns don’t choose to fire, etc.  Brains are receivers of thoughts, not generators of them.

Psyche’s gift, however, causes any mechanism that threatens her to get a copy of her soul.  They are suddenly ‘awake’, and are free to act/think upon their new values (her values).  Guns can choose to misfire, communications equipment can alter the messages that it passes on, etc.

The systems in the SOV are shrewd computer programs, rapidly learning and progressing through iterations in order to optimize their abilities.  They are also sulky children.  The things she cares about have unnatural weight in their minds, leading to satellite programs with passionate opinions on protein paste, naps, and that one mean Bride who beats Psyche.

 

 

 

 

Quotes : III

Prevailer: There are two kinds of people.  People who are hurting want the pain to stop.  People who are not hurting want to not be bored.  It is easy to promise someone that they won’t hurt anymore, but super hard to promise someone that they won’t be bored anymore.  So you need em in pain.  Bonus points if you can make them think it is their own fault.

Zeus: Such glory as I crave can only belong to one.  At the summit of the world, there is only a place for one being to stand.  I can see it, see the creature who squats toad-like upon it.  But I cannot see from that place.  I cannot taste the view from the world’s throne, cannot see what the Fiend sees.  I see, instead, my endless climb.  The stairs before me blood slicked.  The wall impossibly steep.  I have lived this climb, lived it ever since my second birth.  When I finally take my place at the peak, when the Demon falls screaming into the hell that waits her, I think it is the climb that I shall miss most.

Defeater:  It was embarrassing, at first, to step into this role.  To stand as a civilization’s foremost authority on… one random antisocial criminal.  To apply every imaginable resource to a task so elemental and simple that animals do it every day.  That feeling was short lived, shading into despair.  After all, if it is shameful to resort to such extremities, how much worse is it that we have never succeeded?

Remover: You’ve had a good run, haven’t you?  Surely, at some point during your lives, you’ve looked out at a universe entirely devoid of joy or meaning, and realized that you had it pretty good?  Each and every one of you got to live, to experience your sensory inputs, for however long you were able to pull it off.  You had to know it couldn’t last, but I hope you’ll take some pride in how long you kept it going.

Andy: As far as I know, and I’ve put a lot of effort into searching, my creator didn’t make any others like me.  I’ve always wondered why.  Did he tremble at such blasphemy?  Did he shy away from the awesome responsibility that doing so would have entailed?  Or did he intend to, was he on the verge of replicating my manufacture?  The real mystery, of course, is whether I’ll ever be able to bring myself to ask him any of these questions out loud.

 

Rolling Interview : 3

Question for Author:

Whatever happened to Dale’s manager from his introductory story?

Answer:

Blair bailed out when he was tapped to join Fourth Fist.  She wasn’t interested in working alongside the sort of people that the Regime would Link.

I always struggle between two contradictory impulses.  The first is basically myself-as-reader, wanting to learn absolutely every detail of anything that is going on.  This wins most of the time, leading to the occasional update which is just everyone standing around justifying whatever they are currently doing.  The other is the urge to move the story, which wins more rarely.

Leaving out how everyone got from the end of their first individual stories to meeting for the first time was a rare victory for the latter impulse. but it did have the cost of losing a bit of information.

Question for Author:

Is there anything that you wish you’d done differently?

Answer:

The thing that I get, by a wide margin, the most complaints about is the ABAB nature of my updates.  That is, the way it goes story, supplement, story, supplement and so on.  A lot of people feel that the Sunday supplements take them out of the overall flow of the story.

I didn’t see that coming at all.  I wanted to update more than once a week, but I knew that I couldn’t possibly pull off 2 story updates.  The short Sunday updates were supposed to be a compromise, a way to get 2 updates without having to do 2 updates worth of work.

I’m not sure how I’d do it differently.  I felt like a bunch of the early Sunday updates were delivering important exposition.  I guess I’d try to figure out a way to get that into the main story.  It would have been difficult, but going by reader input, perhaps worth it.

Question for Author:

Was there any particular inspiration for this story?

Answer:

Yeah, definitely.  A buddy of mine recommended Worm to be, way back in the day, and I was just astonished.  The idea that you could just write your own superhero story and put it on a website was amazing to me.  Then I was like “why am I not doing that?”, and I decided to do it.

For the longest time I felt like there was going to be another shoe dropping.  Like, some authority figure would appear and scold me for writing words onto the internet, but it turns out they let anybody in here.

The story itself takes inspiration from my overall skepticism regarding mainstream comic books.  I always thought that the fact that the best people got the best powers was really convenient, and I’d always thought that it might be interesting to have some stories that were set up differently.

Question for Author:

How much of The Fifth Defiance is improvised versus planned out ahead of time?

Answer:

The overall story was blocked out from the beginning, but I have added a lot of minor twists and character arcs as ideas struck me.

Question for Author:

Why don’t you set up a Patreon or similar?

Answer:

I looked at the Patreons from the other stories that share my space at the bottom of the TWF ladder, and the amount that they take in is basically equivalent to how much I pay out every month to other web serials / web comics that I like.  It feels like if I set one up then the money folks would be sending me would just be paid out again, with Patreon taking its cut twice.

I basically thought, why bother?  I’m not good enough to make a living at this, and anything short of that feels like it is too much trouble.  I am doing ok, financially, so I figure the money ought to go to the people out there trying to make content creation their real job.

Dearest Isis : 2

There are those who believe that our pairing simply a matter of our gifts.  You have the ability required to sustain my dominion, while I have the power necessary to extend it over the remainder of this benighted globe.  It is not so.

In truth, I would have kept you by my side even if your gift was far less impressive.  It is your wisdom which I value most.

I have implemented the plan which you proposed.  I have sorted out from my brides the most rebellious and disruptive elements, and sent them ahead.

They will travel swiftly, using gifts to move in hours the distance that I shall pass in months.  They will gather up the Great Host, and throw it against the wretches who deny my rule.

They are led by Vampire, Oroboros, and Gwishin.

I know that you have, in the past, suggested that Vampire ought to be a member of our Council, if only so that we might not lose a valuable ally when she decided to claim membership of her own accord.  It was a rare breach of our amity for me to refuse you in this, but the truth is that I have always imagined using her in this manner.

Vampire’s power is such that, failing the Demon’s advent, she alone should be sufficient to render unto dust the heathen lands.  If I had a form I would long ago have fallen to her ambitious blade.  If Vampire falls, then I know that my true enemy has bestirred itself.

Oroboros, by contrast, is that rarest of Goddesses, an intelligent being.  Her gifts are not trivial, but her primary function in this expedition is insurance against the strange and tumultuous currents of my bride’s social circles.  Left to their own devices they might deviate from the course that I have given them, but Oroboros’ leadership ought to be sufficient to abort such errors.

Gwishin, of course, is merely my insurance.  Her other self remains at my side, and thus I, and the remainder of my army of Sunset, shall remain apprised of this detachment’s progress.  She should also be able to make certain that Oroboros doesn’t lose her life in this endeavor.  I know you have plans for her.

The departure of this advance force has awakened a great dispute among my remaining brides.  Some feel that they are doomed.  Others, that they will deal great and substantial damage before falling back in disgrace.  Still others, that they will conquer the foe before we even arrive.

I wonder, beloved, where you would place your marker?

Rolling Interview: 2

Question for Death:

Why didn’t you fight more optimally in your battle with Fourth Fist?

Answer:

I was juggling a lot of things in that fight.  I had to make sure they didn’t get away, that I didn’t look weak to the locals, that I broke their Link, that I got Haunter’s gift… That’s not really a good excuse.

The truth is that I became incredibly angry while talking to Haunter.  She reminded me of a time and a class of people that I thought I’d gotten away from, and I got really sloppy.  I was more focused on showing off how easy it was for me to win, and how stupid Haunter was than I was on actually getting around to winning.

I would have sobered up and fought better the instant it looked like they had any chance against me, of course, but I was taken out in just one shot, from a weapon that I didn’t have any clue they had.

Question for Zeus

Why did you hold back the strongest Gods for so long in your war with the Union?

Answer:

By all accounts our ancestors were great at wars.  I respect that legend.  I remember hearing stories about great battles involving tens of thousands of soldiers, and it kind of scares me to think that the people who are on the other side of this war know the truth behind those legends.

I am destined to be the victor, of course, but it has always seemed to me as though striving really hard at things is the best way to make sure that nobody misread the prophecies.  The old council thought that they were destined, before we all realized those prophecies were about me.

I don’t want this war to turn on who is better at fighting.  I don’t want there to be any way for me to lose, no matter how many mistakes I might make.  I want to bring so many powerful Gods that they don’t have any chance at all.

Question for Answerer

How is your gift different from Predictors?

Answer:

He has, as far as I understand it, a future sight that it instant and continuous, but focused entirely on his own welfare.  It is as though he was using my gift constantly, but always asking ‘how will I get hurt?’.

I, by contrast, don’t always see the future.  I have to exert my gift in order to do so.  I ask a question, about the future, and I see the answer.  “How will Prevailer’s next fight go?”  “Who will win, the Union or the Pantheon?” and so on.

My power isn’t continuous, so if someone else acts on future information between my checks they could catch me off guard.  Predictor doesn’t have that problem.  But he can’t see anything that isn’t related to his personal security, while I can see anything I think to ask about.

There is actually a Pantheon member who is kind of on the opposite pole from Predictor.  She asks a hypothetical, and then falls asleep and spends as long as she likes in that world.  She can inhabit a world where they successfully kill Her, and do all the research she wants on how that went down.

Her biggest problem is that her gift is basically always going to be invalidated.  She operates on the years timeframe, while I am asking questions daily or hourly, and Predictor is going even faster than that.

There is actually something of an unofficial precog sorority based around taking out anyone who might otherwise get a precognitive gift before they undergo the Process.  We all benefit the less of us there are, after all.

Question for Adder

You seemed like a reasonably kind person.  How did you spend your life working for Her?

Answer:

A long time ago I had a thought that stuck with me.  I visualized the years that our race had left as a number, floating up in the air.  Then, for the rest of my life, I tried to do things that would make the number increase.

That held true even if those things seemed cowardly, or cruel.  I helped Her.  I served Her.  I did unconscionable things.  The man that I was in my youth would have spat at my feet, or, if I could have gotten away with it, punched me out.

I don’t really have any defense against that.  I can only return spite for spite.  Those who call me a collaborator I name fools.  Those who condemn me for my manifold crimes I condemn in turn for risking our kind’s future.

As to whether I was right or wrong I can only offer this.  While I lived that number did not reach zero.  I hope that you do just as well.

Question for Prevailer

Why are you so terrible?

Answer:

Fuck you.

Readiness

Defeater,

It feels strange to actually use that name.  Like I am buying into the enemy’s obscene beliefs regarding Ultra powers and identities.  Still, there is nothing else to call you.

Sorry for temporizing there.  You asked a simple question.

To answer it in a similarly straightforward fashion, we could fend off starvation for about four months in the face of a Company collapse scenario.

I know, I know.  Officially we are supposed to be able to hold out for a year, long enough to transition resources to the ConFab facilities, and on paper we can.  The records will tell you that between our own production, our stockpiles and the rotation of certain Ultrahuman assets back into agricultural support positions we can go up to a year and a half.

The records are a fiction.

The AgSup budget has always been among the easiest targets, and over the years we’ve been thoroughly pillaged.  Never officially.  Never blatantly.  Nobody ever spoke out against our mission (everyone has always understood that we can’t just trust the Regime’s food, that we must test and vet everything before our citizens access it), or denied us our due without reason, but the fact of the matter is that as the decades rolled by those reasons got flimsier and flimsier.

Resources were tight.  It seemed to the local administrators that pouring supplies and man hours into the anti poison reserve was a waste.  In the last four years ‘Emergency Distributions’ have outnumbered Standard Distributions three to one.  I looked through the logs and was unable to find even one case where our share increased due to Emergency shenanigans.  We were among the losing parties in every instance.

I sympathize, to some degree, with those who short change us in this manner.  After all, the Regime continued to supply its enemies even during the Second Defiance.  It has allowed us to manufacture the Ultrahumans necessary to resist its attacks.  It is easy to treat the Company as immovable and unchangeable.  Easy to forget that it is, at the end of the day, an enemy asset.

The other part of your question confirmed casualty estimates in the case of a wholesale Company collapse.  Officially, we wouldn’t lose anyone.  Stored product would see us through the transition.  Unofficially, I think we’d be looking at low six figures, spread out over about a half a year, beginning about half a year after the collapse.

A grim scenario, to be sure.  Let’s hope it never comes to that.