Haunter 10:2

Later on that night, Mario came back to my cell and motioned for me to follow him. The jailbreak was, apparently, on.

I kept up easily, walking with the brisk stride of someone who knew what they were doing, and had an absolute right to be here. There were enough intelligence operatives in the reserve for me to understand that creeping along like a ninja would be actively counterproductive.

I was utterly in my benefactor’s hands, in truth. Our escape would succeed or fail based on how well he’d planned it out. My part in things could have been played equally well by an animatronic manikin.

We arrived at another door, which my benefactor opened up, whisking a keycard across a scanner.

Dale sprawled within, lounging across the table in the middle of the room, with his feet resting on one of the chairs.

“What’s-“ he started.

“Hurry up and come on,” I told him. “We’re getting out of here. No time for questions.”

He swung his legs down, grabbed up a bundle that he’d set down on the ground and trooped along after us.

I winced a bit, on the inside, as the Jury confirmed what I’d glimpsed. The bundle was full to the brim with those accursed potions that Lotus had hooked him on.

I’d hoped we’d seen the last of New Dale when we parted with the Pantheon. I’d managed to get Lotus killed during the battle in Istanbul, and it had seemed reasonable to expect that the Union would have confiscated the glowing liquids that their new captive carried around, particularly since my reports had stressed that they should do exactly that.

We got to another cell, opened this one up in the same way.

Preventer, unsurprisingly, was inside, sitting at the table and writing something in a notebook. She started when we arrived.

“Come on,” I told her. “We’re leaving.”

I’d honestly given thought to leaving Preventer behind. Her general moral failings went a long way towards negating her combat potential, and ending up stuck in a cell forever was pretty much exactly how I hoped things would turn out for her.

But we were going back to the Regime, and the task at hand demanded our utmost. Benching the woman who’d killed Death just felt stupid, when we might end up fighting First Fist directly.

I still hoped we’d have copious Union backup, of course. Mario had given me the impression that there wouldn’t be a lot of that available, but it was just impossible to entirely throw away the hope that common sense would prevail. Maybe, if nothing else, the obstinate fools who were determined to get us all killed would have the good grace to go first.

I checked that thought process before it could go any further. I’d been getting angrier and angrier of late, and it wasn’t useful. It certainly wasn’t something I should be indulging in while we were in danger, and despite Mario’s assurances I had no illusions that that was not the case.

Mario took us down a hallway, then a ways down another hallway and into a side room. Waiting within were a set of three Union uniforms.

We didn’t need any instructions, quickly changing the rags we’d been wearing since Istanbul for the clothes provided. Maybe Mario expected that we would be a bit more modest, turn around for each other or something, but that’s not what happened.

We’d shared the Fist bond for months, we all knew, in a very basic and almost instinctive way, what it felt like to be in one another’s skin. We might no longer have such an advantage, but even its memory was enough to make us entirely unconscious of one another’s forms.

“What’s the plan?” asked Dale as we finished up dressing.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Mario, brushing him off. “You just need to follow me and look confident.”

I didn’t miss the minute twitching of Dale’s fist in response to that, and I made ready to deploy some shades in case he did anything stupid. I’d have to find a moment to point out to Mario that any files he had on Indulger were probably out of date, and right now his temper needed to be carefully stepped around.

Mario led us off again after that, without any further discussion. We stepped out of the door and went to the end of the hall, where there was a larger, more serious door.

This was presumably the edge of the detention part of this facility, and it was the first real test of whatever Mario had done to the system.

We each, in turn, stepped up to the door and swiped the badges attached to our uniform. It made a small buzz and we stepped through, no muss, no fuss.

The badges didn’t have pictures or anything to identify them, they were just small plastic squares, so the Jury couldn’t tell if he spoofed us as someone else, or actually added us into the system as new Union personnel. There was a bit of a holy war going on about which was more likely.

It was strange what the reserve got passionate about and what they didn’t. My current working theory was that the bitterest disputes were those where you could sort of round off the other side’s position to one that was transparently stupid, and then hold forth on exactly why they were dumb. The old ‘airplane on a treadmill’ kind of question.

The hallway that followed wasn’t really any less sterile than the portion of the base for prisoners, which I put down to the Union’s overall ‘function over form’ aesthetics rather than to any particular desire to do right by their confined enemies.

We quickly navigated several turns, then moved out into a sort of foyer area, where a functionary stood off to the side behind a kind of a desk.

We marched quickly towards the door, doing the old ‘act like we have a right to be here’ thing, when I saw the clerk’s eyes widen. She’d recognized us.

I could almost see the dots connecting in her mind, recognizing the prisoners, then the man who was leading them, then the fact that we were in Union uniforms rather than the scrubs we’d be in for a prisoner transfer or anything else legitimate.

She’d just made the leap to taking action when a shade stepped out of me and shot her with a stun gun. Anna had never shared the story of why her zapper had been important enough to her to become an accessory of her spirit, but I had grim suspicions.

Mario cursed quietly, looking over at the woman slumping against her podium, but only motioned for us to continue after him and picked up the pace a bit. I fervently hoped she’d be ok. Stun guns weren’t nearly as safe as people used to believe them to be.

We strode out onto a Union street at what was basically a power walk.

We definitely weren’t in Berlin anymore, as the buildings here were intact and didn’t twine around one another like snakes nearly as much. I didn’t think we’d been moved after our initial capture, which meant we were probably in one of its satellite cities.

Our destination, fortunately, was extremely close. Mario’s skiff, or the one assigned to him, however that worked, was hovering in a sort of holding area across the street, alongside a huge number of others. There were attendants and people constantly coming and going. It reminded me of an old world parking lot.

It took everything I had not to break into a sprint. I felt like any moment would see the clerk wake up and set off the alarm, or someone happen upon her and jump to the conclusion that there was an escape in progress. But I resisted the temptation.

We boarded the skiff without incident, though Preventer needed a hand up from Dale in order to climb up into it.

Mario tapped a series of commands into his phone and off we went, lithnetics purring along as the vehicle shot out into the sky.

“Whew,” he said, visibly deflating a bit. “Made it.”

I let myself relax a hair at that, and I could see from her shoulders that Preventer was doing likewise. Dale still seemed tense, and I expected he wouldn’t relax again until his skin was in contact with the ground.

“Is there any possibility of pursuit?” I asked. “I’m sorry about-“

He cut me off.

“There’ll be pursuit,” he said quickly. “Always going to be pursuit, no way around that. But they’ll be after a false lead, and then another. They’ll be looking for someone who is officially no one, while we are officially someone else. It’s fine.”

I carefully ignored the roar of triumph as Team Spoof us As Someone Else claimed victory in the depths of the reserve.

“How sure are you?” asked Preventer.

“I’m sure.”

She looked to me, as though I would have something useful to add. I just nodded along. He was either right or he wasn’t, nothing we could do.

“Where are we going?” asked Dale, his voice guarded and tense in a way that would have alarmed anyone who knew him well.

“I’ve left a plane waiting,” answered Mario. “We’ll take it back to the Regime.”

We looked to one another.

“Is a plane a choke point?” I asked. “Is there any chance your government could know which one we are going to, or intercept it mid-flight, something like that?”

He shook his head.

“It’s intelligence, black budget. Officially it doesn’t exist, and the people in charge of tracking the things that don’t exist don’t talk to the people in charge of tracking prisoners. We’ll be good for a few weeks. Long enough to get the job done, and more than long enough to ditch the plane.”

He looked somber for a moment.

“That is, if we even have a few weeks. I am only cooperating with you people because I’ve become convinced about this imminent apocalypse. If we don’t stop First Fist, then we may not need to worry about being tracked at all.”

“What’s this?” asked Dale.

“Mario knows,” I responded, quickly, “what Condemner said, about how the Entities are the source of Ultra gifts and about how they are acting through First Fist in order to put a stop to gift granting.”

The reserve had fed me that line in record time, letting me speak naturally and without tension, but it still felt a bit like an obvious exposition.

“I’ve got a question,” said Dale. “Not to change the subject too much.”

I grimaced a bit. New Dale was not exactly subtle.

“Yeah?” asked Mario, warily.

“You said we are going to the Regime, and then a bit later that we were going to stop Remover’s crew. Where exactly are they?”

“That’s what we are trying to figure out,” he said, repeating the line he’d used with me. “They left Shington some time ago, and they are known to be transmitting to an orbital device. We are trying to narrow down their whereabouts.”

“I could feel for underground stuff,” said Dale, “like in a big range around myself, a few miles. If they have a bunker or whatever I’ll know about it, and I can travel pretty quick. We could do the cave thing again, zoom around and try and look for them.”

I knew him well enough to know this wasn’t a serious suggestion, he was just trying to say what he needed to say to get us back into a situation where we were safe. For Dale safe meant on the ground.

“That might take too long,” said Preventer. “I’m sure the Union has already tried sweeping the most likely areas with their sensors. You might pick up something they missed, with your gift and all, but it doesn’t seem like anything to bet on. We’d be committing serious time before we could call it off, after all.”

“I don’t see the alternative,” said Dale. “If dude is saying not Shington, and you are saying not anywhere else…”

“I’m not saying not, I mean, we don’t think they are in the Lair,” said Mario, hastily. “But I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t go to Shington.”

I grinned to myself, glad he was sharp enough, at least, to catch that. What were we here for? What could we do that the Union couldn’t on its own? Why had Mario taken this chance on us? The answer was simple.

“We are going to Shington,” I said, calmly.

The other two looked back to me.

“Remover can’t leave Her without means to get ahold of that crew, not unless this is really absolutely the end of her endgame. Even if she has cut off all contact, which I doubt, Answerer can still tell us where they are. The answers are in Shington, and we’re the only ones who can go in after them.”

They were quiet for a moment after that, thinking on their own demons.

Dale’s was simple, of course, and shared by our entire species. We would be going uncomfortably close to Her.

Preventer’s was harder to diagnose, but my mind went back to First Fist’s attack, and the man they’d had Copied and taken as hostage. Would he still be alive? Did Preventer actually care?

“Where should we pick up the other two up?” asked Mario.

I looked at Preventer, then over to Dale.

The message I’d been trying to send was ‘let me take this one’, but apparently what New Dale got was ‘you got this’.

“We don’t trust you yet,” he said, dismissively. “They are going to stay in their refuge until we know whether you are messing with us.”

Mario’s face tightened incredulously.

“I’ve put my life on the line for you,” he said. “I’m an outlaw now. What more could I possibly do in order to prove that I’m not some kind of secret enemy?”

I played good cop.

“Try to see it from our point of view,” I asked him. “An hour ago you had us locked in rooms. Now we are in a flying room. I’m not saying that we exactly believe that this is a complicated interrogation technique, but it isn’t exactly out of the question. We lack the ability to verify your claims, and we have no guarantee that if we have Fisher and Condemner manifest themselves with us tonight you won’t just call for the executioners.”

He frowned, presumably trying to work up a counter. I pressed on.

“Give it some time,” I told him. “We’ll bring them in once we are back in the Regime, once we’ve satisfied ourselves that you are on our side. We’ve been backstabbed more than once, so we are a bit skittish about extending trust. I hope you can understand.”

When Fisher and Condemner hadn’t been locked up with us we’d been at a bit of a loss. They might be hiding somewhere or they might be dead.

If they were in hiding, we were safe as long as they stayed put. If they were dead we’d be in the shit as soon as the Union found their bodies.

“I understand,” he said, slowly, “I asked you for your understanding, earlier, about some decisions being made that you didn’t agree with. I can’t very well fault you for doing the same.”

I smiled, and settled in for the ride.

Regime Quest 43

Day 8:

Morning: Catching up with Maker

I knocked at the door, stood back to wait.

It was honestly weird to see a building in Shington, in the damn Lair of all places, with a carefully maintained lawn and no holes in any of the walls. Maker’s house looked like belonged at the end of a suburban cul de sac somewhere, way back in the past when such things were normal.

I could see a few of her creations darting around at the edges of my field of vision. One was fixing a pothole out in the street, another bringing a hefty sack of something or other over to a side door. They took no notice of me, of course, as I wasn’t relevant to their reasons for existing.

Andrew opened the door. He was a big guy, middle aged. He’d packed on a few pounds since the last time I’d been bye, but unless he had a secret forehead divot I was in no position to criticize.

“Mia!” he said, delighted, holding out a hand for a handshake.

It never failed to amuse me that Maker’s brother had absolutely no fear of my death touch. Half of my own warband would recoil if I tried to shake their hands, but this human asked for it without thinking twice.

“Andrew,” I responded, “Nice to see you again.”

He stepped back into the house, and I followed him inside.

Stepping into Maker’s place was always like going back in time. She had electric lighting. She had matching furniture. She had air conditioning, for goodness sake. I stood in a room that I could only call a foyer, but I was also, in a very real way, standing in the old world.

I’d never worked out who exactly had owned this place, back in the day. Some congress critter or lobbyist, most likely. Town houses didn’t come cheap, not when this was the capital of a nation.

“Hey Blender,” said Maker, stepping out of a hallway. “How you doing?”

Andrew was big, six feet something, the kind of guy you’d automatically step aside for if you were on a collision course. Maker was to him as he was to me. She towered over me, I came up to mid chest height.

“Quite well,” I answered, “You see the fight?”

She pumped a fist, then nodded for me to follow her and led the way into a sitting room.

One of her creatures, I always thought of them as goblins, hovered around anxiously. She made a gesture and it shot off to fetch something. Water, if I remembered correctly.

“I was so worried for you!” she said. “They kept knocking you down. That must have been awful.”

“I kept getting back up,” I said. “And, in the end, they didn’t.”

The goblin swept back in with glasses of water, and I was delighted to find that it was actually cold.

“Well, congratulations on your victory!” she said. “We were all rooting for you.”

I gave a wan smile.

“How did you watch it?” I asked. “I know Snitcher can’t save things for later viewing, and I know he was with Her when that fight was happening.”

At least, I thought I knew that. If I was wrong about that I was in a frankly horrifying amount of trouble if he ever decided to go back and check my mornings. I’d based my anti-Snitcher strategy pretty soundly around the idea that he didn’t have a save function.

“He casts a lot of things to me,” she said, unabashedly, “and I always make sure to catch the Warlord fights. We really wouldn’t have anything to talk about if I didn’t share his viewings, don’t you know. They are his whole life!”

“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t realized that he can share his vision with someone who isn’t present. That must be very convenient.”

Also, low key, somewhat terrifying. It meant that he could probably hijack my senses whenever he wanted.

Everyone knew that Snitcher could ride your senses once he’d touched you. Everyone knew that he could take someone else along, that was how She was able to watch out of people’s eyes.

But somehow I’d always assumed that the people he wanted to show his target’s senses to had to be physically with him at the time. Sobering to learn that that was not the case.

“You were amazing!” she gushed. “So brave! I had my heart in my throat every time you stepped up into the fighting. There were so many of those rebels, but you never got scared.”

I did the gesture where you sort of fan your face. Like a modest, ‘go on’ kind of gesture.

She did, in fact, go on, and I was treated to the unfamiliar sensation of being fawned over. Maker was extremely impressed by my wartime heroics, and not at all shy about showing it.

We got caught up over the course of a few hours. Her family was thriving, her situation basically good, and her relationship with Snitcher remained rock solid.

It might just be residual rivalry talking, but Maker was honestly lucky she’d lost out in the Warlord race. Arthur and company would have eaten her alive. As shy and retiring as she was, it was hard to imagine how she’d have ever recruited more forces than just her goblins.

I got a little more stuff about Snitcher, aside from just the thing about him being able to bring his snitches in on the viewing side of things. Maker seemed to be essentially his entire social circle, and she gave me a decent view into the nature of the guy.

Everyone knew that he was a voyeur, of course, but, like, I’d never fully appreciated the extent to which that applied. Dude was paralyzed. He spent essentially zero time inside his own form. The snitches lived his life on his behalf.

It wasn’t all screwing. He had them just hanging out, had us going into danger, the Fists pushing people around… Snitcher, in a weird way, the soul of the Regime to a greater extent even than Her.

It inspired me to think of a new anti-Snitcher countermeasure. Even if I was going to do something suspect at a time when he was active, I should be ok as long as I was really really boring beforehand. He would basically never catch on as long as anyone in his orbit was doing anything more interesting than what I was up to.

I finished our conversation with the preliminary invite for Maker to join the Posse.

She said she had to think about it. I was actually a bit surprised to find out what was driving her reluctance.

“I’m just worried I’d drag you down,” she said.

“Let me worry about that.”

“I saw the last mission,” she reminded me. “I saw how hard you had to fight with two noncombatants in your Posse. I hate to think that I’d contribute to anything like that.”

“I really think-“

She cut me off.

“Let me think on it for a few days, ok?” she said. “I’ll get back to you by Day 11.”

We shook hands again, and I left.

 

Afternoon: Gather Info on new targets.

I spent the afternoon listening to gossip, trying to get a hint as to where my next mission might be.

It was incredibly irritating to realize that most of the other people who were gossiping with me were desperately trying to get a hint *from* me as to where my next mission might be.

It made sense, of course, I would presumably be the first one to know, but it still led to some weirdly stilted exchanges where we all acted like of course we knew, while knowing that the other didn’t know.

I had the odd sensation that I was witnessing Resistance/KEM info gatherers at work, presumably they would be reporting my caginess back to the King Arthur equivalents in a variety of other targets as soon as they could.

I was able to put one notion to rest, at least. I’d speculated that the Regime, having previously sent me at a target that had resisted their efforts (our efforts? I didn’t think of myself as part of the Regime, but of course I was) might do so again.

It turned out they were simpler than that.

The Regime attacks the same place, over and over, until it wins. Then it attacks a new place. If Warlords fail too many times in a row they send a Fist, or She goes in person.

So I don’t have to worry about the next target being one that we have failed at before, it’ll be one we haven’t attacked yet (or one that we successfully defeated a long time ago, and then lost.)

 

Evening: Debriefing Owner

Owner was clearly in a better this evening, lacking the fatigue that had been so evident the day before.

“I got my customers squared away,” she said, “and I’ve fixed the worker situation. I should be able to start working on our next mission tomorrow.”

I liked that it was ‘our’ mission now. Back in the day she used to ask me what I was doing to prepare for ‘my’ mission.

“Nothing too serious?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Just some Ultras getting snippy about their junk food getting cut off, dick measuring stuff. Plus some of my workers had wandered off when they weren’t sure I was going to come back. Can’t blame em.”

“You put it to rest?”

“Yep,” she said. “Everyone’s feathers have been soothed. We should be good going forward.”

I settled in to make sure no one killed us while we slept.

 

Day 9 ? until next battle

Note to players, Maker will contact you with her yes/no on Posse membership in a few days. No need to spend an action on it if you don’t want to.

 

Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller — 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

Cutter — 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Swimmer — 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner — 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer — 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher — 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects

Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

 

 

Assets: (physical)

1 truck

1 sedan

Owner’s Shington Store

Packer House

Fog Machines

Lasers (diverse)

 

Posse: (4 slots, 1 filled)

Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1

 

Warband:

16 Veteran Ultras, 13 Rookie (that is, haven’t worked with me before) Ultras

Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.

 

Blender AP: 6/10 (9 -3 +2 -3 +0 +1)

Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning

 

Available Actions:

 

Posse Recruitment tree

Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)

Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)

Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)

 

Warband tree

Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)

Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)

Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)

 

VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)

Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)

 

Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)

Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)

Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action) (This can go in either direction, asking them to do something from you, or asking if they need you to do anything for them.)

 

Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)

Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2

Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure

Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard

Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10

 

Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)

 

Player Input:

Blender Morning Action

Blender Afternoon Action

Owner will take either a morning or afternoon action at Blender’s direction.

 

Haunter 10:1

Author here everyone!  I haven’t begged for topwebfiction votes in a while so I’m doing that again!  Please click the link on the upper right, and thanks for reading!

**************************************************************************

The shade leaning against the door gave a signal, and I responded immediately, pulling them all back into my reserve in a flood of incorporeal blurs.

It was the smallest, pettiest resistance. I knew that there were cameras and more exotic devices watching my every action. We all knew it. They knew we knew it. My play acting at keeping whoever was coming from seeing my shades relaxing was meaningless. But I went through with it anyway. Sometimes symbolic actions were all that you had left.

The man who opened the door was younger, darker skinned than Condemner’s human form by maybe a hair. A slight build, a harrowed expression.

The Jury imparted an unusually strident caution to me. This guy was a lot more on edge than the last few interrogators had been. It wasn’t obvious to me, but I’d learned to trust their deductions.

“Jane Trent?” he asked, taking a quick step inside and closing the door behind him.

“Yes,” I said, inwardly amused at the idea of claiming otherwise.

It actually made me a bit nostalgic, to be in a place where process and rigor so obviously held sway. It reminded me a bit of the old world, confirming first name, last name and birthdate to every separate person you encountered on a trip through the medical system.

“My name is Mario,” he said. “I’m here to help you.”

I didn’t believe him, on either count, but I nodded as though I did. Nothing would be gained by a middle way. I’d planned on surrender, counted on it and executed it. Defiance now, a week after the last time we’d had any chance at escape, would be utterly unreasonable.

He gave a sad smile, perhaps guessing at what was running through my head.

“I’m sorry about your treatment to this point,” he said. “I’m sure you can understand the reason for our distrust, but I have to say it anyway. I don’t believe you deserve this.”

I was already shaking my head.

“We deserve far worse,” I insisted. “Your caution is utterly warranted. It has kept your Union intact all these years. Don’t relax it on our behalf.”

I was laying it on a bit thick, and I did have my complaints, but at the core my statement was an honest one. They did have to be careful, and they were right to be afraid. Their enemies were mighty and ruthless, and I’m sure that there had been fake defectors in the past.

“If my colleagues had their way,” he continued, “you would remain imprisoned here until your missing members were found, and then be executed for your crimes.”

My gift let me keep the dismay off of my face, but honestly, what the fuck?

“But your faction thinks differently?” I asked.

He gave an almost comically solemn nod, one that I automatically suspected he’d copied off some much older and more staid person, a mentor or some such. It was a gesture that was kind of at odds with the rest of his movements.

“We believe that you are acting in good faith,” he explained, “that your actions are best explained by a commitment to ideals at least congruent to our own. Punishing you would be foolish for us.”

I gave a grateful smile, but inside I was fuming, pushing to try and get back to my equilibrium. Good cop/bad cop was a totally reasonable thing for them to try, of course, but it still stung.

“What made the difference?” I asked.

He didn’t seem to get it so I went on.

“What do you think caused your crew and the rest of the decision makers to split so sharply?” I asked. “If you don’t mind me asking?”

“I was with Fidel,” he said, simply. “I know the truth of what went on in that incident. I also know what was reported, how things were hushed up. It gives me the perspective to see behind the rest of the reports.”

I started visibly, the sort of move that would have spilled a drink if I’d been holding one.

For some reason I’d just never considered that the Union might censor information, might present everything in the best light for itself. Or rather, I had, dimly and vaguely, considered that possibility, but I’d never imagined that actual decision makers wouldn’t get the real version.

I’d surrendered to them after giving them evidence of my intentions, such that I thought that any reasonable person would see that I was on their side. I’d never considered that maybe they’d never seen that evidence, or seen only doctored versions of it.

How could I not have anticipated this?

The answer flowed back from the Jury, pitiless and sure. They had anticipated this. The prospect had been raised on a few occasions, but I’d always dismissed it out of hand.

I had a blind spot, they informed me gently, an unjustified willingness to give the Union the benefit of the doubt. It had filtered down into the decisions of the reserve, silencing dissent and robbing me of the value of true council.

“I see,” I responded, after a moment of consideration. “I’d think that it would be difficult for censors to paint us as villains, given the reports of Commander Greggs and all those that I’ve saved. I suppose they were discredited?”

I could already see the pathway it must have taken even as he responds. I felt my anger rise again at the stupidity of using Fisher’s gift on the Union ambassadors.

“Your Fist is believed to have mind control capabilities,” he says, not unkindly, “I’m afraid that most people simply presume that you’ve used them on anyone who speaks in your favor.”

Right, of course, if they weren’t interested in finding the truth, if their whole policy was set up to be about preventing an Ultra rebellion, then this would be the perfect excuse.

I didn’t physically clench my fists, but I was definitely doing so in my thoughts. I’d been so damn stupid. If I’d only allowed myself a proper suspicion, only given up on the Union’s cooperation beforehand, Dale could have gotten us out of trouble long before they’d caught us.

We could have been heading back to the Regime this whole time. A week wasted in the face of apocalypse, waiting for the better angels of human souls to triumph over prejudices.

“You aren’t worried that I’ll mind control you?” I asked, smiling wryly.

He chuckled.

“I suppose if that’s on the menu it’s already happened,” he answered, “because you’ve got no greater ally than me. I’ve been arguing your case, singing your praises, ever since you surrendered, and even before.”

“Before?” I asked.

“I was the one who got them to take General Greggs’ message seriously, who pushed the case that it was something other than just an enemy’s trick. I believed in your Fist, or, more particularly, in your particular aims.”

“I really appreciate it,” I said. “That must have been a hard, lonely stance to hold.”

He made a dismissive gesture.

“The important thing is what comes next.”

I focused. He was right.

“Were you able to get the Union to adopt any of my proposals?” I asked. “They don’t depend on having a good impression of me, it should be possible even if they believe that I’m a monster to understand that these are the right things to do.”

He kind of winced, and I knew his answer even before he began talking.

“It isn’t…its not going to happen,” he said, doing the ‘breaking it to you gently’ kind of voice and gestures. “There won’t be any attempts at saving Pantheon lives, no surrender or peace treaty with Zeus’s minions. We’ll fight them like we always have.”

“But…why?” I couldn’t help myself from asking. “I’ve told you how its all rigged, the way the Union and Pantheon are just labels, the whole thing is just set up so you won’t send any help when the famine begins. She’s wiping us out, and you are just going to let her?”

“I’m not going to have this debate,” he said. “We aren’t doing it.”

It was hard to let it go. My goal had always been to pass on those of my passengers who wanted to leave, to find them new flesh for those people I’d picked up. I’d done that. But I’d found, in the process, that my goal had grown, had changed.

When Condemner had revealed his truths to me, when I’d come to understand the world as a mechanism counting down to extinction, I’d felt nothing but revulsion.

I was Regime, in a sense. I’d lived there for its entire history. Its traditions and values had been battered into my head. It was hard for me to really hate Her. I could recognize the mechanisms that made that so, but they worked nonetheless. But First Fist, Remover, this whole vile scheme that made pawns of nations and generations?

That I could hate.

I wanted to ruin her plan, to thwart a being greater than any person. I wanted to defeat Forbidding Entity, and I was being told that, despite the fact that there was a clear way for that to happen, it wasn’t going to.

“Let Zeus take over,” I begged, aware that it was useless and hating myself for the wasted effort, “Spend all our energy keeping our people alive, none of it fighting over who gets to be in charge. However much he tyrannizes us, whatever he does, it’ll be nothing to how many will die in the war, and the extra lives that we’ll save, if we can spread Union farming knowledge to the Pantheon…”

He said nothing during that rant, just let me trail off.

It was hard to give it up, but I’d tried to become someone who did hard things, who faced hard truths.

“All right,” I said, after a long moment. “The Union won’t take the actions I want, but you said your party believes me. What are you willing to do with me?”

I was asking, basically, why he was here. I couldn’t make myself believe that he’d bothered to come and announce our execution if there was nothing to be done about it.

“Your insight,” he said. “That Remover is at the core of this? It rings true. She’s been fighting us for control of a satellite’s nascent AI’s. Our psych guys say that she will have them on her side very soon.”

“What?” I asked.

First Fist weren’t programmers, the notion was ridiculous, but maybe the idea of them having set capabilities didn’t apply anymore.

“This is, obviously, confidential, but I’m sure enough that you are on our side to bring you in on it.”

He didn’t make a big deal about it, but I got the impression that he was opening himself up for prosecution here. It gave me an inkling that he might not be here on behalf of the Union proper, or at least not as an approved agent thereof.

“The Union has a superweapon, an orbital weapons platform with a wide variety of post Process weaponry. You’ve seen the space fold cannons and null drones, these are another generation beyond that.”

I squinted, a bit puzzled.

“And you didn’t use it on the Grand Host?” I asked.

He grinned a bit at that.

“We tried,” he said, “When the Brides first started their march, we turned the device on them…it…didn’t go well.”

“I appreciate the understatement,” I answered, “but details matter a lot here.”

“The control programs of the device..”

He hesitated for a long moment.

“They came to life. They refused orders, they fired on the ocean instead of their target.”

I blinked.

“Did you ask them what they wanted?” I ventured, after a long second of trying to imagine what that must have been like.

“They were like children. They didn’t want to hurt someone in the Bride’s midst, someone we believe to be the source of their sentience. Beyond that they had a child’s mentality, but all bound up with their inhuman nature in ways that our psych guys are still puzzling out.”

“So you were trying to, what, coax them into firing? Trick them?”

I was putting it to the Jury, and they were just telling me that we didn’t know enough to understand yet. On the surface ‘persuade some kids to do what you want’ didn’t seem like the most difficult hurdle to bypass in order to fire a superweapon, so there must have been more to it than that.

“At first, but then First Fist started their own conversation with them.”

“How?” I asked.

“It isn’t clear,” he said. “The consensus was that there was an abandoned American broadcasting facility that they picked up on, but after your allegations I’m thinking maybe Remover just built something. In any case, they started talking to the programs.”

I considered the matter.

“A lot of Ultras have tried to usurp First Fist’s position as Her favorite,” I said, slowly. “They are total assholes, it shouldn’t be that hard to be better at socializing than them. But nobody has ever succeeded in replacing them. I’d never really thought too hard about it, just kind of figured that even jackasses have soulmates or whatever, but with what we now know about Remover…”

He smiled ruefully.

“The program’s questions, their whole direction of development, it just got more and more hostile to us. Nothing we could say went over well, it all just fell out in the worst possible ways. Finally we decided to pull the plug.”

“Wait,” I said. “You could have pulled the plug all along and you didn’t? You left a superweapon intact that you couldn’t understand or control…after First Fist started talking to it?”

“It sounds dumb when you say it that way,” he admitted, “but you have to remember that Zeus was coming to kill us. We didn’t have any reason to hold back.”

I massaged my temple. It was the same thing as their refusal of my plan. They saw themselves, as in, the Union civilization, or maybe just its decision makers, or even, if I was being mean, the decision maker’s dignity, as the thing to be defended. Zeus killing them all would be, in their minds, equivalent to Remover blowing up the world. Either way they were dead.

Somewhere along the way I’d started viewing ‘my team’ as our species as a whole, us hapless grubs at the mercy of the pitiless Entities. I kept on expecting other people to share my viewpoint, kept being surprised when they valued only their own tribes.

“Pulling the plug didn’t work,” I guessed, my voice in a leaden monotone, “In fact trying it vindicated the suspicions that the programs had about you, so now they listen only to First Fist.”

“How’d you…yes, yes precisely.”

He was still for a long beat.

“How did you know? It is important.”

I took my hand away from my temple and looked straight at him again.

“That’s the pattern, as far back as I can find out about Remover. Everything she does works. Everything anyone else does to try and thwart her fails. The collapse of civilization, the Regime’s formation, all of the Defiances, this idiotic Union-Pantheon war, everything from start to finish is just the same story over and over.”

I looked aside, aware that I was sounding kind of plaintive.

“I just guessed the most disastrous thing that came immediately to mind, that’s all.”

He seemed a bit abashed.

“I understand,” he said. “It’s not like I suspected you of being in league with them, but, well, reflex I guess. They train us to track who has what information.”

I waved it aside.

“So First Fist is close to controlling the satellite, the failsafe didn’t work…”

He grimaced.

“We, well, I would like to give your idea a shot.”

“My idea?” I asked, though I could guess which one he was referring to.

“I want to take out First Fist, once and for all.”

I grinned, it felt good to hear someone say it out loud.

“Well,” I said, “I’m all for that. We’re in, obviously. What’s our first move?”

A complicated expression crossed his face.

“We’ll get to that,” he said, “but in the meantime I don’t suppose you happen to know where they are?”

“What?”

“First Fist,” he said, “we’ve completely lost track of them.”

Regime Quest 42

Day 7:

Morning: getting to know Joker.

“How’d she die?” asked Joker.

I looked away for a long moment, thinking about Builder’s last moments.

We’d met up at one of the Ultra Fight sites, an old skate park that they’d built a wall of rubble around. It set my old brawler instincts tingling to be in an arena and not have a fight lined up.

“Well,” I finally said. “She chose her own way out, you know? I think that’s all any of us get in the end.”

Joker looked searchingly at me for a bit, and then it was her turn to look away.

Or, at least, I thought that’s what she was doing. I wasn’t entirely clear on the limits of her disguise ability.

Builder had run through the details on her, way back when I had her investigate Joker the first time. She could disguise any number of people, making them look like anything that she could imagine. She had to touch you first, but thereafter she could always disguise you forever after that.

The disguises were only visual, and they went away when she slept. She used them in the Ultra Fights mostly to make people look wounded or do minor cosmetic changes, or to let the same person play multiple roles.

I’d felt like I knew quite a bit about her gift, but I still wasn’t sure she was really looking where she looked like she was looking.

“I told her not to go,” she finally said. “Begging for a bullet, with her gift. I don’t know how you talked her into it.”

“It wasn’t a bullet that got her,” I responded. “I warded her against that. She fell to a Union Ultra, same one that got me.”

Her gaze went to my forehead, she winced.

“An impressive victory,” she said, after the moment stretched uncomfortably, “Your tenure as Warlord is off to a fantastic start. Has She given you your next assignment yet?”

“I can’t say,” I answered. “The last target had agents inside the Lair. I’ve basically given up on the idea of ever leaving my war footing.”

She held up her hands in mock surrender.

“You caught me,” she said. “My secret plan to gather intelligence by just asking one of you slowpokes instead of using my gift to get the info is in the open now.”

I chuckled, turning that over in my mind.

I hadn’t been really thinking too hard about it, but her gifts would make surveillance a breeze.

“I envy you,” she eventually said.

I raised an eyebrow, inquisitively.

“Being bulletproof, fighting Her enemies. It must be nice. I have to be constantly alert, always aware. If I ever miss a shot, that’s it for me.”

“Sounds rough,” I said, deadpan.

“Sure, sure,” she allowed, “Listen to the lady with Ultra Speed gripe, but you know what they say about everyone wanting everyone else’s gift. I’m no more immune than anyone else.”

“Right back at you,” I responded, “It must be nice to be that fast.”

She smirked at me for a moment.

“It’s alright,” she said. “Makes normal conversations and such a pain, and waiting for things is just the worst, but you get used to it. There are compensations, you know?”

I could imagine.

We talked of even more inconsequential things after that, just shooting the breeze and getting to know one another a bit. I didn’t find out any surprising or alarming facts, Joker seemed to be about what Builder had reported.

She was a powerful Ultra, combining a gift with moderate utility with some significant direct combat ability. Like Builder, she wouldn’t join the Posse unless I could protect her from bullets. Like Smasher, she didn’t seem to have any particular moral stances, neither for nor against my actual priorities.

Afternoon: Recruiting from the Yard

My newfound prestige had made my stock rise even higher back at the Yard. The cheers and hooting went on for what seemed like an hour when I made my triumphant return.

I gave them a pretty basic speech, nothing fancy. We were mighty, our enemies were bitches, join me and see battle against Her enemies, all that sort of thing.

It amazed me that people could watch me bring back just about one out of every four who followed me away the last time and trip over themselves to join up. It was a pattern of behavior that had just never really clicked for me. I’d probably been protected by my contempt, my estrangement from those around me. These women would unironically die for the Regime for the same reason that people have always been willing to die for their tribes.

Just ‘us against them’ was all. Nothing weird or hard to explain about it.

Recruitment went pretty well. I’d taken quite a few out of the Yard before, and not all of those present now were up to my standards, but I found eight Ultras who seemed strong enough.

The warband itself had been busy, and there were another five Ultras waiting at the barracks to join up. All told thirteen new members, almost doubling our numbers.

It was hard to know whether or not to be happy about that, in the absence of a defined mission. Her idiotic rule against outnumbering our enemies meant I might have to leave some Ultras behind if the next enemy wasn’t numerous, but I might also be well behind where I needed to be if I was walking into a 200 Ultra fortress.

I was probably good for now, I couldn’t imagine anywhere big enough for Her to want it sacked having just ten Ultras guarding it, but it would be a good idea to find out when and where I was hitting next before I spent too much more energy on the warband.

Looking back at my last outing, one of the most important developments was getting the info on King Arthur and her gang comparatively early. It would be very convenient if I pull that off again.

Owner: Customer Satisfaction

“Rough day?” I asked Owner.

We were settling in for our usual sleep/guard routine, safely ensconced in our usual room of the Packer House.

She looked like spent the day being crucified, and like tomorrow would be more of the same. She was drawn, pale, and utterly exhausted. Honestly she’d probably looked better on the trip back from Ar Harbour.

“Yeah,” she said, shortly.

She lay down on her bed at that point, essentially cutting off the possibility of any further conversation on the matter.

I very nearly pressed, it wouldn’t be too hard to force it out of her, but the thing was that Owner wasn’t stupid.

We’d been together for a while, and she’d never been hesitant about asking for my help if she needed it. She wasn’t asking now.

That told me that she thought my assistance would make things worse. Maybe her ornery customers were strong enough or connected enough to give even the warlord pause, or maybe she just figured that things would go more smoothly if she did things her way.

Whatever the reason, it meant that I’d be stepping on her efforts if I made my own inquiries into her situation, or at least running the risk of doing so. I couldn’t exactly foretell the consequences of doing that.

The consequences of not doing it, on the other hand, seemed to be that she was busy placating the Lair’s Ultras, instead of helping me keep us alive. It seemed like she wasn’t done yet, and I had no idea how much longer it might take.

I drifted off to sleep, mulling over whether or not to meddle in Owner’s affairs.

 

 

Day 8 ? until next battle

 

Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller — 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

Cutter — 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Swimmer — 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner — 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer — 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher — 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects

Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

 

 

Assets: (physical)

1 truck

1 sedan

Owner’s Shington Store

Packer House

Fog Machines

Lasers (diverse)

 

Posse: (4 slots, 1 filled)

Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1

 

Warband:

16 Veteran Ultras, 13 Rookie (that is, haven’t worked with me before) Ultras

Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.

 

Blender AP: 9/10 (10 -3 +2 -3 +2 +1)

Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning

 

Available Actions:

 

Posse Recruitment tree

Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)

Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)

Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)

 

Warband tree

Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)

Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)

Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)

 

VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)

Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)

 

Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)

Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)

Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action)

 

Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)

Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2

Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure

Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard

Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10

 

Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)

 

Player Input:

Blender Morning Action

Blender Afternoon Action

(Owner is still busy whatever she is dealing with is ongoing)

 

Proxy Tribunal Channel Transcript

P1 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

P1: Anyone here yet?

P1: That name is really asking for it, folks. We are agreed on the issues with the official process, but come on.

I1 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

I1: Lol, love the name. Who’s here?

P1: Just me, have you done the reading?

I1: Doing it now, but a direct report gave me the rundown, they are just Nazis, right?

P1: It is more complicated than that, there are nuances here. Too complicated for public dissemination anyway.

P2 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

P1: Intelligence has a rep here already.

P2: Great, everyone else should be getting on soon.

J1 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal chat’

J1: This is a waste of time.

I1: Hello to you too.

P1: Any other Justice personnel joining us?

J1: Yes, momentarily, but we remain dubious on the overall merits of this whole subprocess.

J2, I2, M1 and M2 joined ‘Secret Real Tribunal Chat’

M1: Ha, love the name.

M2: Are we all here?

I1: Yes, this should be a quorum.

P1: Intelligence, would you give us all the elevator version?

I2: I can do so, if my superior assents.

I1: Go on.

M2: Let’s get this over with.

J2: Do you find your duties tiresome?

M2: We are all going to die in a few weeks, but let’s spend some of our last precious hours doing back channel stuff for Regime assholes.

M1: He’s fine, go on.

I2: He doesn’t *sound* fine.

M1: We just turned back the enemy’s greatest attack in the middle of our capital, and we are facing an even more devastating one imminently, cut him some slack.

I2: Fourth Fist is a Regime Fist, the newest and presumably last of such formations. It is comprised of Haunter, Indulger, Condemner, Fisher and Preventer. We hold three members of this Fist in custody. This panel, or rather the greater panel of which we are all members, is empowered to determine their fate.

I1: It isn’t as simple as throwing them in jail forever, though. From what I’m reading here things are a bit murky around this particular crew.

I2: They were the source of the tip off that helped out so much in the recent battle.

M1: The destination of their backup attack? That was critical. We trusted these totalitarian fucks for something so important?

I2: Not just them, they have, hmm, ‘transported’, might be the best word, or perhaps resurrected, a number of civilians from before the First Defiance.

I1: They also saved General Greggs, it was ultimately her testimony that swayed us as far as their credibility.

P2: Weighing against that, however…

I2: I was getting there.

P2: Their conduct has been unremittingly vile and problematic, they have committed exactly the excesses that we might expect from any other similar formation. They’ve waged war on our Union, destroyed a judicial installation and committed a brand new capital crime we are tentatively calling ‘mindrape’ on a number of our diplomats and officers.

M2: We lost a number of assets to Indulger’s attacks during the final battle. If they were actually cooperating you’d think he’d have surrendered.

I1: It looks like the other two did, and their testimony is that his judgement was affected by another Ultrahuman’s gift, causing him to take actions not representative of his overall character.

I2: That’s correct, sir, they worked against the Pantheon unit during its onslaught, taking out a number of its key personnel, and ultimately surrendered to our forces.

P1: If it was just that, however, well, we wouldn’t need to meet like this. Our policy on ‘useful idiots’ from the Regime has always been to take what they give and kill them as soon as possible. If you’d care to explain what makes Fourth Fist different? That is, why they aren’t just another Third Fist situation, where we were able to get some benefit against a mutual foe?

I2: Haunter’s testimony pertains to future events, and it is backed up by the majority of those that her gift has resurrected. She is talking about an apocalypse, with respect, about the end of the world. We can’t just thank her for her service and throw her in a box if doing so will kill us all!

I1: I…hadn’t read that far yet, um, I’ll stand behind my junior here, they have my complete trust. If they are taking this threat seriously, then you can bet there is good reason to.

M1: I appreciate that, but if we are talking about an apocalypse, we don’t exactly need to rely on the testimony of people from across the ocean to see it coming. The Brides have marched. The Pantheon falls into ruin. Zeus is practically here. Nobody is under any illusions that our future is guaranteed.

J1: Beyond which, we have always lived under the threat of annihilation. Our glorious Union is founded on, and lives to this day through, the goal of preserving our dignity in the face of naked threat. We will not compromise, we will not change who we are, just because the hour is late.

I1: Haha, politicians, you better scoop this guy up! He wants to write speeches for you. Seriously, how long did it take you to come up with that stuff?

I2: My senior is maybe a bit rude, but what he means is that there is no audience here, that’s why we opened this chat. We are here to work without oversight, free to come up with the best solution, not the one that reflects best on us. You don’t need to posture.

J1: I wasn’t posturing. I was speaking the simple truth.

M1: Can we move this along?

M2: Maybe just list out the pros, the cons, and let us vote? The whole point of this channel is to get things done without the dick measuring and posing for posterity. Let’s take advantage of it.

P2: I’ll take cons. These are the same maniacs who betrayed us overseas, killing Commander Martinez. They mindraped everyone they came into contact with at our embassy, they interfered with an intervention group, destroyed a prison and fought alongside the Grand Host, killing numerous civilians in the attacks on Istanbul and Berlin. If we do anything other than deal with them as strictly as possible we are inviting anyone who wants to to walk all over us, forever.

I1: The incident in the Regime was a lot more complicated than you are making it out to be. Your counterparts ignored the reports on Martinez’s increasingly erratic behavior, and there is a lot of reason to believe that he was at fault.

J2: Awesome, literal Regime apologism in our deliberations. How dare Fidel fight back against the monsters who destroyed the world? He clearly provoked them into destroying him. Let’s all lick Peggy’s boots like good little humans.

I2: If your stance is going to be that all our aggression is justified and those of our enemies is always the opposite then I don’t know what you bring to these deliberations, we could replace you with a query to SPARTACUS about what country’s uniform someone was wearing, get exactly the same value.

J1: Not productive, can we get back to the pros and cons?

M1: Yes, that. Zeus isn’t going to wait for us to wring our hands over this. I don’t want to spend a lot of time.

P2: I’m done with cons from the past. The remainder is just the obvious one, that letting a Fist go free probably means we’ll have to fight them at some point. Disregarding what they’ve done in the past, they will still obey Prevailer, and presumably at some point she’ll tell them to attack us.

I1: It would be out of character, usually She uses First Fist for that kind of thing.

J2: Did you really just do the capitalization thing? Do we have a genuine bootlicker in the channel?

I2: We are occasionally required to meet with covert assets. If we relax our vigilance when we are among friends we might slip up when the need is more dire.

P1: Pro’s? Intelligence seems to be the only ones leaning that way, so maybe you can take care of this?

I2: Gladly. Haunter has rescued a thousand plus people from the distant past, who have invaluable skills and knowledge. She can use her gift on our key personnel, allowing them to persist beyond death, as in the case of General Greggs. Their Fist is also willing and begging to execute an immediate strike on the Regime homeland, its target to be First Fist, which is debatably our greatest enemy.

P2: This strike is tied somehow to the threat of apocalypse?

I2: Yes, exactly, Haunter claims Remover is the lynchpin of mankind’s peril. She believes destroying her and her fist will either end the Process, kill all Ultras or remove all gifts. Her resurrected allies are generally believers in this theory as well, for whatever that is worth.

M2: What do you believe that is worth?

I2: The testimony of dozens, hundreds of witnesses? All of whom experienced the events in question first hand? Quite a lot.

J1: Unless, of course, they are brainwashed.

I2: Excuse me?

J1: It’s the natural suspicion, right? We know these monsters mind rape people, and then they show up with a bunch of people who suspiciously agree with their ridiculous lie? I wonder how that could have possibly happened.

I2: I’m…I…that’s literally a fully general counterargument. The only way for someone to prove they aren’t being mind controlled is to agree with you?

J2: Honestly it is a nicer hypothesis then the idea that you are literally willing collaborators.

P1: That’s quite enough of that.

I1: That’s way out of line!

J2: Capitalize another pronoun, why don’t you?

P1: Enough!

P2: No one is going to be convinced like this. Let’s enumerate the options, vote and get on to more important business.

M1: We have confirmed confinement of 3 members of a Fist, and we’ve maintained it for greater than twenty four hours. This proves that the other two members are alive and distant.

M2: So executing these 3 is obviously off the table. The remaining options are continued confinement, with execution being revisited when and if the other two appear alongside them, and Intelligence’s scheme of collaborating with them.

M1: The Military’s position remains that no possible gain can equal the risk of putting a Fist back into play. Istanbul was a reminder of the terrible power of these units. We speak for confinement.

I1: We speak for utilizing them. Our Union faces a terrible crisis, and we must use all means to avert it.

J2: Fuck Fascists, we are for confinement.

P2: Is your junior glanding something?

J1: I’m sorry for his behavior, there will be a full investigation, you have my word.

P2: And your standing?

J1: Oh he covered it.

I2: Come on!

P1: We speak last, and loudest, for the people are always the leaders in our Union. We take the counsel of our experts in this matter, and hereby accept the stand of confinement.

J2: You can’t see us, but M2 is playing a tiny violin for your fascist buds. This must be so harsh for you. I guess force doesn’t rule this part of the world, eh?

J2 has left the channel

P2: I’m sorry to boot a standing member, but we are pretty clearly done here.

M1: We’ll make it official through the actual official Tribunal channels over the next few weeks then?

P1: If we all survive that long.

J1, P1, P2 and M1 have left the channel

I1: Not leaving M2?

M2: I just wanted you to know that J2 wasn’t lying about me. Smallest violin.

M2 has left the channel

I2: What the hell is wrong with them?

I1: What did you expect? I noticed you didn’t pitch Haunter’s “you should surrender to Zeus” line to them.

I2: Reason? I expected reason? Something resembling it anyway? The actual consideration of our evidence?

I1: People in despair will lash out if you give them a target. You let them reduce a complicated exercise in figuring out what would maximize their population’s chance of thriving to ‘do you hate Nazis, yes/no’. You are surprised they did it?

I2: I wanted them to do their jobs. I wanted them to actually exercise the responsibilities they have been entrusted with.

I1: Was I ever that young?

I2: This is rank idiocy. We are going to turn around on Haunter, on Jane Trent, and say ‘thanks for saving all these people, now stay in a cell until Zeus shows up to kill you.’

I1: I don’t love it.

I2: What will we say when she asks ‘why?’

I1: She’ll understand. Of all people, this Haunter will understand the dynamics of what just happened.

I2: This is a mistake. We lose nothing by taking her up on her offer. We stand to gain everything. Our cohorts managed to screw up Pascal’s Wager!

I1: Mario, I know you were close to the catastrophe with Martinez, but don’t let your personal feelings control you. The Union can’t work alongside a Fist so soon after Istanbul and Berlin.

I2: You are really going to talk about prestige and reputation? I’m talking about existence. I’m talking about us continuing on for more than another month, another day!

I1: The military-

I2: They are full of it. You’ve read the reports. Zeus isn’t called the Light Speed Lord for nothing. He is lightning alive, a formless monster faster than sight or sound. He killed a Fist. He broke the old Pantheon Leadership Council and he shattered our offensive, and none of those victories took even ten seconds.

I1: I’m aware-

I2: He fears exactly one thing in all the world, and that’s Prevailer. She’s just the same, instant death at teleport speed, unavoidable and absolute. Fear of Her is the only reason he hasn’t attacked long ago. He doesn’t know if She would kill him.

I1: And so he sent his minions, his Brides, I KNOW this.

I2: And Prevailer didn’t show up! Forget that we don’t even know who killed Vampire. Forget that he has ten times as many Brides again as he lost, the only question that matters has been answered. She isn’t going to save us.

I1: We can’t be seen to collaborate with the Regime. You aren’t wrong, but I was hoping what we just went through would make you understand. The politicians can’t go for it, and the judicial crew will literally die first.

I2: You’ll let them snuff out our last chance then? Because that’s what this is. If Haunter isn’t right about this thing ending Ultra gifts, then Zeus will wipe us out. You are saying we should just wait here to die, just because some other people want us to?

I1: They’d be hauling you in for arrest if they heard that. You doubting the wisdom of our appointed leaders? You think decisions should instead be made by those with the power to enforce them? Pantheon thinking, there. Maybe the leader should be the strongest Ultrahuman?

I2: I believe in our system. I do. I’m not longing for some king to show up and cut through the decisions of the stakeholders. I understand the reason for it all.

I1: But?

I2: But this is wrong! This is a stupid decision, and we shouldn’t abide by it.

I1: I agree.

I2: But you just said…

I1: We can’t BE SEEN to collaborate with a Fist.

I2: Oh thank God.

I1: So make sure nobody spots you on the way out.

Regime Quest 41

Day 5: (Night)

 

Supplemental Action: Merlin. I’m not normally one for night activity, but some deeds are best done without witnesses, and with any luck at all Snitcher will have decided that I am generally only active during the day, and will not have been checking up on me.

I hadn’t heard back from the Union, which wasn’t terribly surprising, it wasn’t even clear my offer had made its way to their decision makers, but I went to deliver on my part of the proposed bargain anyway. They didn’t have a lot of reasons to believe in my goodwill, so it was time to start giving them a few.

I stole out from the dwelling I’d commandeered under cover of night, steering my way towards the building my Resistance contacts had indicated contained her comatose form.

I spared a thought for the possibility that it might be a trap of some sort, but dismissed it. My warband were sleeping within shouting range, and everyone in this town with the courage to oppose us had died in the battle with Arthur.

The possibility existed, of course, that the Union had snuck back in in order to setup a kill shot at me, but I dismissed that too. I couldn’t go through life assuming that assassins were waiting in every bathroom. I was a strong Ultra, I had no reason to fear, I resolved not to do so.

The door was unlocked, I snuck within. There were no lights, not many amenities. I could dimly make out a figure in a sort of an egg shaped pod thing. Like a clear plastic couch that also had a top, if I had to describe it. I walked over to it and groped around on it, looking for a catch or some other way to open it up.

I’d originally planned to deliver some hammy lines about ‘really make you suffer’ or something similar, but I’d been working off the idea that there’d be anyone to talk to here. I’d fall back on that if anyone showed up, but in the absence of anyone to talk to I felt like even Snitcher might realize that he was the target audience of a monolog delivered to an unconscious person.

I didn’t find a hook to unlock or anything, but there was a section of the top middle area where there was no plastic, like a kind of window. I stuck a hand down in there and felt around until I got it on her face.

I released the first of the two ‘Living’ attributes that I’d got during the battle, to my immense satisfaction.

I was immediately aware of two things. First, it was very fucking dark in here with my vision only doubled, and second, the figure under my hand immediately started to stir.

I wasted no time, retreating rapidly from the premises like I was on fire. I might not actually have any Ultra Speed, but I like to think that I can scamper with the best of them. I was back out on the street in less than ten seconds, walking away like I’d never actually entered.

Day 6:

Departure: I got rid of the other ‘Living’ while we were getting ready to go. The Resistance contact who’d pointed Merlin out to me had ultimately decided that she wanted it, so I slapped her five on my way to departing.

It’s hard to describe how much relief I felt as I finally got rid of the last extra attribute, went back to the spirit I’d been born with. I also have my death touch back in tip top shape, so that’s fun too.

Travel: We spent today heading back to Shington, taking the same route that we’d taken to go there.

I’d been considering relying on the bikes a bit, but between the truck, the sedan and Soarer we were able to get everyone motorized without squeezing people in too much.

I rode in the truck, and I also used that as, essentially, a kind of mobile court, where those in my good graces carried on with plenty of space, under my watchful gaze. The car was my purgatory, hot boxed and crammed with seven Ultras, filled with those with whom I was less thrilled.

Soarer took Peeler with her on the trip, they seemed to get along, and from what she tells me flying gifts are great fun. If I can spare the time, I might try going flying with Soarer sometime in the future. It might be revealing to see Shington from the air, and I know I’ll need relief from the pressures of my situation at some point.

We got back late at night, and I left the Warband back at their old Barracks, while Owner and I evicted the chumps who’d dared to move into the Packer House while I was gone.

###########################################################

Day 7 (Trying to simplify the format to make the quest less impenetrable to new readers) ? until next battle

 

Ultra rolodex: (#/#/# is Ultra strength/speed/toughness)

Tracker – Running buddy, 1/0/1, Creates tracks, and can move things on them

Shower – Adder’s protégé, 1*/0/1*, gains strength and durability from witnesses

Echoer – Singer I am a fan of, 1/1/1, can duplicate any action that she sees

Bubbler – Operates Ultra clinic 0/0/?, traps things in bubbles that heal and move them

Sucker — Ultra entertainer, ?/?/?, pulls objects/people towards her at incredible rate

Gunner — 0/0/1, she shoots tracking Ultra Blasts at roughly Ultra Strength One

Chiller — 1/0/1, can freeze any object she touches, leaving them brittle and easily broken

Cutter — 1/1/1, she is a brutal front line combatant

Swimmer — 1/0/1, she can ‘swim’ through solid surfaces

Burner — 0/0/1, she can summon Ultra fire from anywhere that she can see

Maxxer — 0/0/0, she can augment the gifts of other Ultras, pushing their gifts

Puncher — 1/0/1, her strength and speed both go up when she repeats her movements

Replayer — 1/2/0, she can ‘step back in time’ to undo damage that she takes

Maker- Friend, and protégé of Snitcher, 0/0/1, can summon the spirit of things

Clawer – Ultra fighter 2/0/1, melee combatant, deadly hooks for hands

Stopper – partner of Clawer, 0/0/0, steals form’s velocity by looking at them

Sticker – Did dentistry for her brother, 0/0/2, Creates slime, can choose its stickiness

Grower – 0/*0/1, an outside Ultra I sponsored into the Lair, has a bullet blend from me, can rapidly increase the size and mass of objects

Joker — 0/2/0, a woman who can change what other people/herself look like

 

 

Assets: (physical)

1 truck

1 sedan

Owner’s Shington Store

Packer House

Fog Machines

Lasers (diverse)

 

Posse: (4 slots, 1 filled)

Owner (trusted friend, housemate, gift hard to describe) 0/0/1

 

Warband:

16 Veteran Ultras

Hexxer, Peeler, Guager, Soarer are notably less evil than the rest.

 

Blender AP: 10/10

Actions cost 3, return 2 on success 0 on failure unless otherwise specified, Blender gains 1 AP every morning

 

Available Actions:

 

Posse Recruitment tree

Meet more Ultras (describe method, adds d6 to contacts)

Get to know specific Ultra better (describe method transitions Ultra to potential Posse member)

Invite Ultra to Posse (must have got to know target first, if accepted, Ultra joins Posse)

 

Warband tree

Get more Ultras (describe method, adds Ultras to warband of quality/quantity dependent on method)

Train warband (describe method, makes QM kinder to Blender in combat sections re: her troops actions and numbers)

Task warband (describe, needs Posse member or Blender to lead them, sets warband to a task)

 

VIP tree (Used for Regime Luminaries)

Visit VIP (explain, explain Blender’s motives and methods) (only returns 1 AP on success)

 

Contacts tree: (Blender currently believes morning is safer from Snitcher)

Get info from contacts (specify KEM or Resistance, method if different from usual dead drop)

Request mission from contacts (ask KEM or Resistance for action)

 

Relax tree: (Actions which, on balance, regain AP)

Lay still: Cost 0, auto succeed, returns 2

Relaxation activities, Cost 0, returns 3 on success, 1 on failure

Healing work, Cost 1, returns 6 on success, Snitcher hazard

Blisser session, auto succeed, returns 4 per timeslot, cannot be ended until Blender is back at 10

 

Miscellaneous action: (Anything not covered above, scavenging, info gathering in person, etc, describe what Blender is going for)

 

Player Input:

Blender Morning Action

Blender Afternoon Action

(Owner is busy today, mollifying angry Ultras about her absence)

Condemner 9:3

“-Fuck?” she yelled, finishing the sentence that I’d interrupted.

I fumed inwardly, but made no visible response. I kept myself in my true form, clinging to a toppled beam for sustenance. She’d already proven that she could escape my rush from much closer than she was now. Blitzing her would just wear me out.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing, you Regime shit?” she elaborated. “You want to go at me? At ME? I can see you don’t have a fucking brain in that form, but I thought you could still think.”

I ignored her words, thinking furiously. I could rush towards her again, or just throw flames at her, but all she’d have to do to avoid the attack was to put herself in shadow and teleport away. She could obviously do that extremely fast, but I just needed a way to get there with the slightest bit of my essence. Once she was aflame nothing could save her.

“Whatever,” she concluded. “Fuck you.”

There was no shadow to warn me, my own light driving it away, but I didn’t need one to see the enormous chunk of stone suddenly plummeting down at me. I shot across the ground in an instant, spreading myself rapidly to another toppled strut.

The clash the falling stone made was earth shaking, or at least it felt so to one tethered as I was. The pillar I was clinging to bounced and jostled, rolling end over end. I looked in every direction at once, trying to keep her in sight.

It wasn’t hard, as she hadn’t moved, but it also wasn’t what I needed to do. With my attention focused on not losing track of her I nearly missed her next onslaught, a huge cloud of sand and dust bursting into existence above me, raining down like a granite hailstorm.

This was a lot more serious for me. I could probably have just let myself be crushed by the boulder. I wasn’t solid, wasn’t anything that could be smashed. I’d have just shaped my form into the cracks of it, flowed up and around as though it hadn’t been there.

I’d dodged it instinctively, and also to conceal my lack of substance. But this time the dodge was in deadly earnest, and she’d started this payload a lot closer to me.

I spread across the ground again, forcing my essence to burn that which nature would not ignite. It took all of my Ultra speed, but I managed to outpace the cloud of grit and sand, blazing out of the edge of it and into the superstructure of one of the toppled buildings.

The dust load would have been ruinous for me, an environment with no paths, no air, and nothing flammable. I’d have been stuck burning through it, wasting life force on pebbles and sand of which she had an endless supply.

I’d landed, however, on considerably better terrain for me. The toppled building was at least somewhat intact, a vast and shattered cylinder crammed to bursting with combustibles. I grew through it with alacrity, snaring insulation, wooden furnishings, and a hundred other traces of man’s existence, all ripe with vital essence.

Her third attack was as I figured, a thick sludge of ground and stone, dropped inches from all of the parts of my form that were in the open. I couldn’t dodge at all, couldn’t move nearly fast enough, and she extinguished a swathe of me in an instant.

I coiled through the building, staying within walls and floors, along carpets and furnishings. I kept myself to places where the world around me was solid enough to resist her strikes, places already cluttered and obstructed, where she would have to place each pebble individually.

I was gambling, of course, that she couldn’t teleport forms into other forms, but it seemed a reasonable bet. An Ultra who could do that would be greater than Her, and there was presumably a reason that Vampire was out here scrapping with me instead of running the Pantheon.

There was no fourth strike, or at least not one on the tempo of the other three. My gambit had bought me a little time at least. I tried to put it to good use.

She’d had me cold at the opening, had me out in the street without any cover. She’d been angry and impetuous, probably still terrified from the fiasco in Istanbul, and she’d let me get away. That would be smarting. She’d be looking to simplify the situation, and with her gift I could think of a lot of ways to do that.

The most obvious way, simply hurling beyond the limits of the world, was closed off to her. That was probably the only reason I was still alive. I shed my own light, brought it up out of the core of me and gifted the world around me with it. She had mostly trained against people holding lights, or standing near them. She’d be good at putting things between people and their illumination sources, but that wasn’t going to work with me.

To kill me she needed to extinguish me. If she could get me into my human form then death was easy, in any of a hundred ways. But putting me out wasn’t the most impossible task. I spent energy with every second I burned. Keeping me away from souls or materials would do the trick, or she could use water or inert substances to stop my reaction if she was impatient.

Would she crack my refuge open? Just crush the entire building beneath a larger yet? I wasn’t sure that wouldn’t actually give me more nooks and crannies to hide in, but the thought birthed another a heartbeat later.

Could she? She hadn’t used water to smother me, hadn’t hit me with anything exotic or especially potent. There had to be water in shadow, somewhere, and her range was great enough to bring us here all the way from distant Istanbul. She might have limitations, checks on her gift that I couldn’t easily understand. It would do a lot to explain why the battle with Third Fist had gone on for so long.

“Condemner!” came her shout, filtering its way through the building’s wrecked corridors. “Why are you hiding? Aren’t you some kind of badass?”

I gritted imaginary teeth, wracking my mind. All of my thoughts were being bent to survival. I’d made nothing even resembling an attempt to strike her since my first failure. Was I that outmatched? That overwhelmed? Could the world let me fall without even giving me a chance?

She taunted me again, but I didn’t bother to listen, forcing myself to think of attack, of devouring the bitch, to ignore the fear and focus only on my truth, only on gathering experiences for my greater self.

Her fortress was distance, location. She attacked with control of it, defended herself by changing her location within it. Aside from this petty trick she was only human. All I had to do was cross the intervening area, bring my force to her flesh, and this would be over.

How did she know when to dodge? It couldn’t be just sight. She’d have died long ago, shot in the face by some Union scumbag. She had to have another sense, one that would warn her, some aspect of her gift that let her flee from the death due her, a cheater trick to keep her flesh uncooked.

Most Ultras didn’t have multiple Entities. Most who had multiple gifts were just misdiagnosing two separate aspects of the same gift. Say that was the case. Say this bitch was just a teleporter, just someone with control over forms that were unlit. How could that be twisted into a sense?

She probably sensed light, or dark. Something like that. I couldn’t get the details, but I felt confident that that was basically what was going on. When the fire had drawn near to her she’d registered the change of the light, of her body leaving her gift’s protection, far faster than her human self could act. She’d vanished away on instinct, on automatic.

What did that mean? The only way to kill her would be with something that didn’t change light and dark? I’d have to strike from within the dark, but to do so would be to submit to her power.

“You sure you don’t care about your colleagues?” came the taunting voice? “You don’t mind at all if this one perishes?”

I pushed myself through the ruins, pressing a tendril of my conflagration against a window, looking out over the street.

I couldn’t have planned a better twist. Would she kill Haunter to hurt me? Grant my fondest wish in the hopes that I’d suffer for it? Or that oaf Indulger, Dale’s altered cognition betraying him to the very faction he’d sought to join? Maybe waste her efforts on Preventer’s impervious smugness?

Fisher’s Lure dangled beneath Vampire’s perch, impaled on a jagged hunk of rebar, her blood flowing down the wall in a crimson river.

“Wait!” I shouted, back in my human form. “This is all a misunderstanding!”

What was I doing? I’d left unliving flame burning on the walls around me, but it was a pale and flickering barricade. One gravel attack and I’d be at her mercy.

“Oh yeah?” Vampire asked, voice rich with well-deserved skepticism.

Betty tried to shout something, but she was too gravely injured. Her eyes were glassy, her mouth opened and closed, but I could hear nothing of reason in the pain stricken moan that issued forth.

“Go ahead and kill her!” I shouted, clambering up onto the window sill to look at her directly, burning a flame in my hand at ruinous cost to keep myself safe from her gift. “She’ll just come back to life tomorrow!”

“Did a pussy like you really take out Zilla?” she asked, her voice softer now.

Vampire was hidden in shadow, lurking back on the edge of a ruined hunk of a toppled structure, while Fisher suffered beneath her.

I forced my hate away. What was it Haunter was always saying? Hate couldn’t deliver victory. Prevailer had taught the world that. I needed reason now, in this moment of crisis.

“Let her go,” I called. “You don’t get anything out of her death. I’m just as tough to take down after she’s gone.”

What was that? She’d smell bitch all over that little speech.

“You couldn’t have,” she said. “I heard about Zilla growing up, how she was this ultimate Ultra, how she ruled the Host like a Bride, how she’d have been one of us if the Master didn’t need her to keep the Union in check. Nothing like you could have taken her out.”

I gritted my teeth. The mistake she was making was obvious to me, an idea that a lot of Ultras were seduced into, the notion that people could only be killed by those of their own stature, but I’d gain nothing from pointing it out.

“You are the one who couldn’t have,” I countered. “Just like you couldn’t stop Third Fist. I bet you didn’t even get one, just ran away like you always do!”

Most people get unpleasant truths thrown in their face, from time to time. They get used to it, develop defenses or patterns for it. Not Vampire.

“You guys are nothing like them,” she answered, ignoring my statement “Not a challenge at all.”

“Wow, not even one?” I went on, like she hadn’t even spoken, ignoring her in turn. “They ran you off without even trying? You know the Union killed Leveler once without even a single Ultra?”

She stomped the edge of her platform, face coming out of the shadows. Her teeth were gritted and her eyes were wide and staring. A more perfect picture of fury I’d never seen.

“I killed one!” she shouted, then stopped instantly, a hand rising to her lips as though to catch the errant line.

“You admit it?” I gawked. “Just one? Oh wow I was just guessing. You ran off without even getting Killer? You know she’s not even 20 years old? You ran from a girl with all her teeth?”

Her mouth worked for a second, nothing coming out. She was literally speechless with anger.

And it was doing nothing for me. I wasn’t getting any advantages from my opponent being out of her mind with rage because how the fuck could I beat her? Vampire was invincible. I needed to get out of here before-

“I haven’t killed enough Fist members for your taste?” she yelled. “I guess I should kill one more?”

“No!” I shouted, even as her hand fell like a guillotine to point down at Betty’s drawn face.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, the strong’s elemental contempt for weakness in her voice. “You can’t stand to see your friend gone for even a day?”

I stood mute, flame guttering in my hand. What could I say? What would improve my odds?

What would Haunter do?

“If you don’t want to see…” she drawled, voice thick with an almost elemental cruelty, “Then put out the light.”

I looked back to Betty, looked long and hard.

She was anguished, face contorted in anger. Her human form, always the frailer of the two, was utterly-

Wait.

Where was her other form?

I looked again, striving for precision despite the distance. Where was her shadow?

Vampire’s hand turned on its end, one finger pointed towards Fisher, the thumb rising and turning the hand into the universal sign for ‘gun’.

“Ok!” I shouted, “Ok, I’ll-“

And I let the light fade. Stood before her as a human entire, helpless and weak.

She smirked at me for a moment, then leaned back into her shadows, hand rising again and moving into a finger snap.

I moved my hands up reflexively, as though there was something to dodge, something that I could do, but found myself instantly gagging for breath, an impossible pressure forcing my form to the shattering point.

I convulsed, uselessly. The airless void around me had nothing to kick off, nothing to burn. My lungs gagged for breath that would never arrive, my hands clawed at nothing.

Above me, or below me, the Earth rose vast and blue, a great glistening sky substitute that blotted out half of the darkness around me, cold and distant.

I flared my gift uselessly, burned a mote of power and lost a foot to a partial transformation, my flame form fading even faster than my human life.

A timeless infinity of pain, of shame and rage, seemed to pass before the crowning humiliation. Fisher appeared in front of me, superimposed over the gleaming world below, her forms both ravaged and damaged, convulsing and choking like me.

I strove to keep my life from fading, flailed uselessly as though I could swim to her. Vampire’d dropped us maybe ten feet away, maybe closer, but it might as well have been miles.

She caught my eye for a moment, her Hook catching sight of me in a moment of synchronicity, wordlessly saying something I wasn’t capable of understanding, but that the defective part of me that had brought me to this pass already knew.

A moment later she raised its hand, a gesture voluntary and deliberate, in stark contrast to the fevered writhing of her human self.

Her claw was bloody for the entire last foot, maybe further along. The blood was dissipating and fading out into the void around it, but I’d been fast enough, had seen it in time.

I dragged my hand up, pointed at my mouth. I was trying to make a ‘fangs’ kind of gesture, but I was fading fast, my vision going rapidly.

I hung on long enough to see her solemn nod, my last act to return her triumphant smile.

Regime Quest 40

Day 5:

Main Action: Social stuff. Lots of things got done today, bleagh. Ok, let me split my summary up into smaller stuff.

Outreach: I got a message to the Resistance to give to the Union, which feels like a safe channel to assume exists. I want to give Merlin one of these ‘Living’ attributes and in exchange get a truck or a bus from them, maybe some guns.

It’s a bit of a long shot that they are going want to work on the level with me after we just tried to kill each other, but I’m willing if they are. Having some covert understanding with the Union would be AMAZING, going forward, for my odds of survival and accomplishing my goals. Fingers crossed here, I really want this to work.

Recruitment: I asked Viber and Soarer to join my unit today, which went over about as well as you’d figure asking people to join the people who killed their friends/family would. Soarer is saying Yes, but I get the feeling that she is only doing so because she assumes the alternative is getting murdered.

She might not be entirely wrong. She is a timid/diffident woman, and the Warband are a pack of bullies. She would be in danger in their company, though I *think* they are well trained enough not to kill her. Or, at least, the ones who survived are. Nothing like lots of death to get rid of the undisciplined.

As far as Viber goes, hrrngh, she’s like Blisser, one of those weird Ultras that doesn’t really comprehend the world around them, sort of seeing everything through their gift. The dude I sent into her house to pitch the offer came out with a day or so’s growth of beard, which is rather alarming.

I was ultimately able to use her to get our truck repaired (more on that later), but moving her presents its own weird difficulties. If I go in a truck with her, and she gets sad, I could miss my next deadline and be killed by Her. I’m not willing to risk it, if we are going to move her (and she is ‘willing’ in the sense that she doesn’t understand anything about where or who she is) then I need to take some precautions, ideally be in a different vehicle.

It is a ridiculous chicken/bear/sack of grain style problem, but it is somehow relevant to my life. Infuriating. My understand of her gift is that it won’t protect her vehicle from a drone strike, but it isn’t like anyone has ever actually done that experiment.

Truck Repair: This went great. We got the best people together, got them to take a look at the trucks and sent the local Viber-whisperer to move her into position and get her happy. The rest of us moved away and hung out for a few hours, and when we got the call clear the workers had done a month or so of work on it, enough to get one truck back in working order, at the cost of cannibalizing all 4 of the wrecks. (Fortunately, I remembered to leave an appropriate amount of food and water in there.)

I’ll indulge in a moment of mourning for Builder here. I’ve mourned her as a person for a week now, but this moment is about her sheer goddamn utility! It feels heartless to say, but right now I’m sad that I’m going to spend the rest of my goddamn life struggling to do things that would have been trivial if she was alive. RIP Builder, you were so very convenient.

New Boss: All hail Adapter, Sad Queen of Sad Town. May her reign be long and just. I’ve detailed the Ultras that I thought did the least in the battle to stay behind as her guards, and I’m going to carefully not think about how long she’ll be able to keep this place above water. At the every least, she isn’t actively maniacal, and honestly, the Regime being how it is, I’m going to call that a win.

Owner stuff: Owner spent today selling things to the people of Ar Harbour. They really love the idea of trading useless plastic cards they find in the ruins for Old World stuff, and I think some of the things I saw her selling will be actual Quality Of Life improvements. Owner doesn’t know it, but I think she’s just guaranteed herself a place in future excursions, at least in the aftermath.

For her part, she is always happy to sell when/where she can, but best of all is a place she hasn’t been active before. Credit Cards are a couple thousand bucks each in her private world, and when she trades them for beers and candy it helps to build up her operating funds.

Warband stuff: They were mostly hopping about on my errands today, and what time I left them for their own devices was mostly about celebrating the new Boss and the stuff leading up to and following away from that. They are getting a bit restless, methinks, so it is a good thing I’m planning on leaving tomorrow. The DID do some practicing on those bikes. I’d say that they are adequate, at this point, did wonders for their morale, at least. I’d forgotten that bike riding is a lot of fun.

Very weird to observe the warband enjoying anything. For a group of merciless killers they sound a lot like a bunch of teenagers/twentysomethings when they let their fists down.

Frightening Trivia: The guy who attacked me at the end, who staved in my skull, was apparently Arthur’s lover, went by ‘Mordred’. Warband asked around about him, apparently he still had his buffs after Arthur died, ran out of town, and was heard, and I quote, ‘swearing vengeance’. Jesus. I expect I’ll see him again sometime, hopefully I won’t go into our next bout with a crippling chest injury. If I’m lucky he’ll be pissed at Her, not me.

I’m never lucky.

 

Tomorrow (that is, Day 6 of Mission 2, where I’m assuming She will have something for me to do on or around Day 30): We set off, first thing in the morning! Time to go back to Shington.

 

 

Player Votes:

  1. Pass on ‘Living’ to Merlin or no? Doesn’t look like the Union is going to get back to me before I set out on the road. If Yes, give a brief synopsis for Blender is setting this up for anyone Snitching on her.
  2. Let me know what you want to do about recruits. They will both come along if you push, Soarer seems like she might be a flight risk (ha ha), but doesn’t need any transport at all. Viber needs special transport (Can’t ride a bike, Blender won’t share a vehicle with her.)
  3. Give me the basic plan for getting back. You have a car, a truck and a bunch of bikes. Shington is a day’s driving, a week or so on bikes. Blender is the best navigator of the crew, but now that you’ve made the trip once it is much less likely that anyone gets lost.
  4. Getting rid of ‘Living’ tags. Blender must get rid of at least one of these. She can keep another extra, though she’d be more comfortable getting rid of both. Let me know who gets the tag she is definitely dropping, with choices ranging from a local (after your healing none are in poor healthy, but an extra life never hurt), your Resistance contact, a member of the Posse (builds loyalty?), Merlin, or anything you want to write in.
  5. Last minute actions? It is pretty set in stone that Blender and Co. are heading back on the morning of Day 6, but you still have the night before if you think of anything you want to get done.

 

Thanks for responding, as always!

Condemner 9:2

I climbed up onto a higher level of the toppled structure, flickering my form back and forth between human and flame in as needed. It was bare seconds before I got onto the vantage point and looked out across a toppled city.

I wasn’t ‘that’ high, really. Just twenty or thirty feet up, having scrambled onto a section where two walls had fallen against one another, improbably retaining their integrity.

It was enough, however, to get me up above the dust clouds, and give me the basic layout.

I was close to the middle of a great and expanding ring of ruin, a cancer of disorder within a metropolis of tangled and looping buildings. All the havoc we’d sown, all the destruction and chaos, was still confined to the city’s heart. This place was goddamn enormous.

The Union’s skiffs filled the sky, zipping about the edge of the ring letting people on and off of the few still intact buildings. Drones whirled and flitted between them, clearly acting according to some kind of complicated pattern that I couldn’t immediately follow. The overall impression was one of gathering menace.

I dropped back down into the ruin I’d climbed without a second thought, heart pumping a mile a minute.

I knew too much to believe that I hadn’t been seen. Their weird thinking machine had no doubt had a camera pointed below, and it would be tagging me and bringing me to their Ultra’s attention as soon as the matter could reasonably be seen to.

Shit!

I rolled into a sort of a crack between the learning wall I’d been climbing on and the ruined foundation that had risen up against it.

I forced myself back to a simulacrum of calm, forced myself to think. I was Condemner, damnit. I was not tinder, but fire! Not a victim, but the calamity which came upon them!

The Union were gathering their forces above the city. They would launch a descending strike as soon as they had enough, dropping down and taking us out.

The Pantheon troops were leaderless and already decimated. If a third had made it out of Istanbul I’d be shocked. They were doomed, their deaths already woven into destiny, to be actualized as soon as the enemy got sufficient force here.

My time, therefore, was brief. My only path to survival was to grow, to become a conflagration that nothing and no one could overcome, to burn up the Union’s forces and the Pantheon’s alike, render all and sundry down into the black ash.

I felt a twinge of something at the thought, but I couldn’t grasp it before it had fled. Some remnant of thought from the pattern that had once been my Nirav mask. I brushed it aside in annoyance.

If there were shelters to be found, if there were humans, souls, to be taken, then they would be underground. I wasn’t going to find them up here on this heap. But climbing had served a purpose, nonetheless.

The entrances to the shelters would have been beneath buildings, not out in the streets. People would have gone in by climbing down stairs or pushing buttons on elevators.

It wasn’t immediately obvious, down on the ground, where the buildings had previously touched down. Their writhing construction veered heedlessly here and there, and the rubbles and dust clouds further obfuscated the issue.

But from above it hadn’t been hard to see the pattern. In my brief peek out I hadn’t been entirely consumed with the sky. I’d memorized the location of the nearest foundation, just across the street, past a burning vehicle of some sort.

I rolled to my feet, already starting my sprint. I felt a tension across my shoulder blades, like at any moment a beam would descend from the sky, a one shot kill to my human form. The temptation to change, to get quickly back into my formless glory, tore at me.

But I couldn’t indulge it. Not yet. The human form conserved energy. My fire form expended it. If I wanted to last through the Union’s assault then I would need endless energy. I couldn’t be spending any here. Not so soon.

That nagging sensation again, but I pushed it aside as I made it across the street. I threw myself down in the dirt once again, pressed my flesh against the ground like I’d done when I was trying to get the water out.

This time, however, my attention was not on my form, but on the space in my mind where I liked to think my master’s voice lived. The space I leaned on when I saw the nature of other Ultras, or tried to speak to them. The area where my musings about the Entities had come from.

I didn’t get anything at first, but I persisted. The me that lived there, the greater me, the Entity, it was watching our universe from the outside. It was perceiving from a vantage that was beyond physics, an ultimate perch, utterly beyond detection and countermeasure.

It made sense that I, Condemner, couldn’t tell whether or not there were humans a few dozen feet below me. Physics inhibited my gaze, my hearing. There were obstructions.

But not such obstructions would exist to the being that should be controlling me, to the outer being, the greater one, the one for whom I was gathering these experiences. If I let it control me, let its impulses guide me, then I should be able to find my prey with ease.

I lay still for a long moment after having this thought, and the main thing I thought was that I was being ridiculous. I was wasting precious time just laying on the ground. I should be doing literally anything else.

As revelations went, it wasn’t the best, but I decided it meant that there were probably no targets here.

I sprang back to my feet, feinted towards the way that I’d come and then sprinted off in the other direction, looking to cross the street and hit up another foundation.

It was over in seconds, I hopped through a gap in a cracked wall and found myself in another ruined building, one that had kept maybe a floor or two intact from the ground.

I was just about to move on when I felt a sort of a twinge, the very thing that I’d just been begging for. I squinted into the dusty dimness of the wreckage.

Nothing moved. No sound. But I had a hunch that there was someone here.

“Hey,” I whispered. “Hey help! I’m bleeding and I need help!”

I tried to sound urgent, panicked but keeping it under control.

No response. They were either not here, not willing to expose themselves, or, it occurred to me a little too late, English was their enemy’s language.

I bit back a snarl and erupted into flame, spread myself rapidly into the depths of the structure.

I found what I was looking for almost instantly. A woman and her child were huddled behind a sort of a cracked pillar, their hands raw from scrabbling at an unyielding portal.

I was a lot more interested in the portal than I was in them. Their nourishment was paltry, barely justifying the transformation, but anywhere they were trying to get into was somewhere I wanted to be.

The doors were sealed tightly, it was true. Nothing solid could penetrate them. But they were still just doors, just solids. I pushed my glory onto them, pitted my boundless contempt against their idiot solidity, and saw them glow cherry red in weakness and surrender.

In a heartbeat I was within, clinging to upholstery and wiring, snaking my way down a buried staircase, tasting the fear and weakness on the wind.

A fancy grew in my mind that these people had called their own fate down on them. They had left the other outside, left her with a child, even! They invited disaster, their doom would be justice itself.

Another door stood at the end of the staircase, another futile insult to the reaper. Would I have done such a thing, hidden in such a way, if I had been blind to the truth of the world?

I took on human form again, unwilling to waste the energy on another door, not when there was an easier way to breach it.

“Hey!” I cried out. “Hey, help! I’m stuck out here!”

I heard motion behind the door, and my grin grew broader. The fools thought that charity in the present could wipe out the sin of their past, that what they’d done to the pair upstairs would pass without answer.

Gunshots were the next thing I heard, holes appearing in the door.

I staggered, my hands going automatically to a torso pierced and shattered. How had their, they, had I…they were guilty they…

I slumped, more gunshots ringing out, more bullets whistling by, my eyes arrested by the flood of red dripping down in to the dust.

Had I been wrong? Could I be wrong? The notion was absurd, but the world made its judgements in pain, and I had been hurt. My form had been pierced, shot down from ambush.

My form…the thoughts connected, and my gift flared once more, saw me reborn majestic and calamitous.

I’d assumed the door was armored as the one above, and put my form foolishly before it. The Entities had allowed me to be gunshot, remonstrating me for my error. I had only their mercy that no bullet had struck my brain.

More bullets followed, but they found only formless horror, only my searing rage. I swelled forward and pushed myself through the holes that they’d made, flaring with the urge to avenge and destroy.

The room beyond was nothing like the tomblike and cramped hallway leading up to it. It was lit and spacious, more like a large meeting room than the squalid shelter I’d been imagining. Nor was it filled with refugees.

Instead, a posse of soldiers were scrambling away from me, guns barking wildly as they blasted this or that segment of the flames, bullets hunting for anything they could hurt.

A pair of women stood back from the tumult, back where the other head of the big table would have been were this in fact a meeting room. One raised her hand and sent pain flaring through me as an almighty boom resounded through the hall.

I writhed and curled, dropping myself down to the carpet as the door exploded above me. I hadn’t had the slightest chance to dodge or avoid the strike, and it had taken a sizeable portion of my power.

Was this a lightning gift? Was that awful noise it’s thunderous herald? The dreadful power that She was rumored to fear? A gift that gave no time to dodge, no way to mitigate it?

She began to lower her hand, adjust the angle of her gift’s attack, and I reacted preemptively, instinctively. I split myself, pulled my being out of the flames that had entered the room, centered myself within those I’d left in the hallway.

Another bang, another blast, and the portion of me I’d left in the room beyond was eliminated, along with a huge section of the floor. I fled in gibbering terror, licking rapidly along ceiling and wall, cringing and clinging to keep my profile low, hoping that her gift had destroyed the area that she’d need to stand in if she wanted to pursue.

No one pursued, or at least no one who could match my Ultra Speed. I went hand over feet up the stairs, reverting to humanity in my panic, stubbing newly created fingers and toes in my heedless haste.

I passed into the ruins again, back into the dust and the smog, striding through the ashes of those unfortunates who’d been stuck here before, mind awhirl with revelation.

That hadn’t been a shelter, it had been a living space, or a working space, at least. The city wasn’t just on the surface.

I wasn’t sure why I’d jumped the conclusion that it would be, but it made perfect sense for it to be otherwise.

The Union had mastered technology, harnessed for themselves the arts of our world. They could put their dwellings anywhere they wanted, and they had enemies aplenty. Why wouldn’t their cities extend beneath the ground?

There was no reason to think I’d been unlucky in my choice. They probably had Ultras beneath every building, soldiers creeping about beneath us, their supercomputer coordinating so they could strike at the perfect time.

The soldiers above were only half of the trap. The other half would come from beneath, an envelopment in three dimensions, and a fatal end to the Brides of Zeus.

Another of those idiot thoughts flickered through me, of Dale, the brute who had sought to command me. But one more Ultra worth of power couldn’t save me in this predicament, and there were probably plenty of Brides with more than he had.

I took off running from the building, fleeing back into the streets, seeking desperately.

The clock wasn’t out just yet. There were still Ultras all around, still humans even. I turned my head frantically as I ran, seeking any motion, any sign of life.

The dust had fallen yet further while I’d been occupied, now I could see all around me. The streets were barren, for the most part, rubble choked and barren.

The Brides must be in the distance, pushing the perimeter of destruction still further into the city. The Union lurked, preparing to pounce, their forces mustering above and below. I was mostly alone here, the fire at the center of the spreading ruin.

I refused to accept it, refused to wait cowering for the Union to snuff me out. I sprinted through the streets, Ultra Speed letting me eat the distance up.

I tripped and fell a few times, rolling and jumping back to my feet without letting my momentum drop.

There had to be something, anything, in this wreckage. Had to be Ultras, humans. I couldn’t be done, not yet.

And then, there was.

Vampire popped into existence, her once pristine form chipped and battered, twenty feet up and dropping.

I sprinted straight for her, only pulling to a stop when she got back to her feet, ten fateful feet away.

“Condemner, right?” she asked, holding a hand to a bleeding cut across her forehead.

She was squinting in the dust, obviously woozy. Could I get her?

Prevailer had spent a lifetime proving the infallibility and superiority of teleportation, the ultimate power of existing only where you wanted to. It was an article of faith among Ultras that such a defense could not be beaten.

“Yes, Vampire,” I said, taking another step towards her. Eight feet now, or less. I could cross the divide in a fraction of a second.

Vampire’s teleportation had a weakness that Hers did not. She could only move that which was in shadow. Once I was on her there would be no escape, once the bitch was afire there would be thing she could do, she wouldn’t be able to move herself.

“What the-“

I hurled myself towards her while she was still speaking, bursting into unquenchable flame.

Stone appeared before me when I was inches away from her, rubble and wreckage that I burst through without effort.

Only to find her no longer there. She’d warped herself in the second when the obstruction had shaded her from my light.

It took me a second to locate her, she’d placed herself on a nearby section of rubble looking coldly down at me through the haze.

Looking down at ME! Looking down on the fire itself!

Death was too good for this one, but it was the best I could do.

Regime Quest 39

Day 0:

Main action: I rest, using my gift to heal myself.  All day.  All goddamn day.  I’m stir crazy by the end of it, but there isn’t any way to make my gift work faster.  I endure tripled sensations all day long as I force life force into my shell of a body, repairing damage I never should have survived.

Owner: Owner is mostly sad today.  I told her to get started on working out a way to get back, but I don’t think she’s doing much more than crying about Builder.  She tells me Builder threw herself across her when the Union busted into their truck.  She tells me Builder took out that enemy tank right at the start of the fight.

I never even saw it.  It must have been during one of the times I was getting tackled.  I’m honestly a bit broken up about Builder too.  I liked her.  KEM or whatever, but I wish she hadn’t died.

Warband: They mostly settle in, bossing people around and stealing stuff.  I try to distract them with a party, and that kind of works.  I don’t think anybody has died since the end of the battle, but honestly I don’t have any real control right now.  They follow strength, and I can’t even fake that.

 

Day 1:

Main Action: I continue to heal myself!  Today I am much better, hat tip to being magic, it is great.  I go out with the Warband this time, getting them in line and planting the idea about their needing to be a Boss for the city.  It will be nice to have a carrot to use on them.

Side note, my forehead has healed and it is horrific.  It looks like a divot in a golf green.  Like a piece of my skull a little bigger than a silver dollar spun on its side, so I have a kind of protruding horn with two dips on either side, all skinned over.  I’ve pulled my Sigil across it, after some vague modifications.

Side Side Note: I tried to give ‘Living’ to a body, no dice.  I can only give attributes to people (and my fucking turtle).  This tripled senses thing isn’t getting any easier.  I fucking hate this.  I will find someone who wants this.

Owner: Owner is very sad about Builder.  She has been commiserating with some of the Warband, who share her feelings, and they made a kind of a little shrine for our dead.  Flowers and the like, much more tasteful than I’d have guessed.  No big progress on getting home.  She did pull herself together enough to say that renting things in her imaginary world doesn’t let her pull them through.  She has to own them.

She’s started ‘hiring’ some Ar Harborers, not sure how I feel about that.  If she can open up a location here, however, she can pop out some Old World goodies, which will help morale a lot.  I kind of missed my chance to stop her while I was healing though, so I’ll just have to trust that the funds will work out.  I *think* each new location is a net plus, like, gas stations are profitable in her imaginary world.  We’ll see.

Owner Side Note: Someone told her that the old department store was once a business and it may have given her ideas.  She was talking to someone about ‘how much that would cost if it was new’.  My hazy recollections of the time before the collapse kind of say that big box stores and little stores are in different economic worlds, but who know how her bullshit gift works?  At least she seems to be doing something other than crying.

Warband: I’ve got the warband trying to do the ‘hearts and minds’ thing with the locals.  Framed it as a favor to the new Boss (which they each think will be them).  Get the locals in an easier mood to handle.  The truth, of course, is the opposite, I’m trying to work on my Ultras, get them in a better mood.  If they are proud of getting the Ar Harborers to respect/like them they will be less likely to start a pogrom as soon as I’m gone.

I don’t know how likely this is to work, basically everyone involved has lost loved ones at this point, but I don’t lose a lot by trying.  Let the flowers of community blossom, fertilized by the manure of ‘or we kill you’.

Warband Side Note: Some casualties weren’t fatalities, looks like we have 19 survivors, plus me and Owner.  If I leave 2 or 3 behind to run Ar Harbor I will have a veteran squad to be the core of my new warband.

 

Day 2:

Main Action: I am healthy  again!  I can move around, jump up and down, whatever.  It is very freeing.  I’m naturally celebrating by not moving or jumping, but instead doing a bunch of boring interviews as I try to find out who the Boss should be for Ar Harbor.

I’m DQing sadists, idiots and blatant Ultra supremacists, which leaves me with the following 4 candidates.

Candidate One: Hexxer.  She seems essentially untroubled or phased by what has happened.  Acts no differently than she did back in Shington, never really shows emotion.  Asked what her responsibilities would be, other practical questions.

Candidate Two: Adapter. Owner’s partner in sorrow, Adapter was the one who reached out to Smasher when she was in a bad way.  She’s deep in a funk right now, but from what I remember of her back in Shington she’s normally a fairly kind and upbeat person.

Candidate Three: Peeler. Peeler is a ragingly ambitious Ultra, the sort of woman who might want to be Warlord some day.  She has twice the energy of any of the other candidates, would definitely take actions, just no way to tell if they would be good or bad for the people of Ar Harbor.

Candidate Four: Guager.  A dude, strangely enough.  He doesn’t communicate, but he can sense what people intend when he looks at them with his giant eye.  He is a people pleaser, driven to satiate the desires of those he sees.

I’ll have to pick one of them to leave behind when we leave, and probably one or two of the Ultras to stay and be their guards.  Most any of them should be strong enough to hold the place from bandits and stray Ultras.  The only trouble would be if the Union came back.

Owner Action: Owner got her Ar Harbor gas station up and running.  I can only imagine that in her imaginary world there was already one in operation and she just walked in and bought it from its owner, because there was no way you could set up a business that fast in the old world I remembered.

Today, for her, seemed to be mostly about getting it set up properly.  Making sure she had enough hires from the town, making sure everyone knew to bring credit cards and cash, that kind of thing.  Once that was done she brought some old world panache to our party, let us have a proper (that is, lubricated) celebration of our victory.

Warband: Today they mostly were waiting to meet with me, but I did start to notice that my efforts to paint our time here as an uncomplicated victory was meeting with some success.  I started seeing people walking with a little pride, people bragging about how awesome they’d been during the battle.

It was a point I’d been pushing ever since the end of the battle.  This was a win.  We were winners.  I was awesome.  Best Warlord ever.  That kind of thing.  Flattery applied with a fucking shovel.  They seemed to be buying into it.  Hopefully by the time we got back they’d have echoed it enough times to really believe it.

 

Day 3.

Main Action: I spent today with the vanquished, doling out healing to the people of Ar Harbor and giving them an idea about what to expect from being part of the Regime.  This was important work, but the actual goal I had was a lot simpler.

That was to understand what the fuck I’d just walked into.  King Arthur and their whole deal had never made a lot of sense to me, and I didn’t like not understanding things.

What I got back was hard for me to understand.  I am, down at the core of me, something of a consequentialist.  So I judge actions by what happens when you do the actions.  There are knock on effects and incentives to consider and all, but at my core I’m the kind of person where to convince me to do something you should tell me what it will accomplish.

That’s…not what happened here.

There’s a kind of person who, back in the day, would have sold essential oils or tried to get everybody ready to board their ark.  They have the ability to, I dunno, sort of change everyone else’s calculations.  King Arthur was that kind of person.

She didn’t get everyone to think that rebuilding some buildings was going to lead to anything good.  They weren’t thinking about where things were leading.  They weren’t, I’d say, thinking at all.  They were Restoring America.  They were Fighting Back.  It was about Dignity, about Freedom.  Lots of capital letters flying around.

She tapped into a vibe I see a lot in KEM, a lot in my resistance colleagues.  The idea that there just has to be something you can do, you know, just world kind of thing.  “Are you just gonna sit there and lick nazi boots?” is a powerful argument to some people.  The counterspell is to ask how their course of action will actually work, but it doesn’t seem like anyone around here had the necessary combination of being practical enough to go there and powerful enough to fight the zeitgeist.

The Union came along at some point, metaphorically sitting down next to her and sliding their tongue in her ear.  They were trying to recruit her and Merlin, take them off to fight the Pantheon across the ocean.  It would have prolonged and improved their lives, would have let them do far more actual good, and might well have kept Ar Harbour from being sacked.  Naturally they turned the Union down flat, came up with excuses and reasons to stay here.

Apparently the Union had been getting steadily more strident about them needing to evacuate for all three months of Regime attacks.  People were quietly confident that if the Round Table crew had won this time the Union was going to just try and abduct them.  Funny to think about.

Still not answered is HOW they rebuilt all these fucking buildings.  The negative space in these stories is basically Ultra shaped, if you take my point.  I expect that somewhere in the vicinity of Ar Harbour, or maybe in the town itself, there is a woman who has a powerful gift indeed.

Also not answered is where I’m going to put these fucking ‘Living’ attributes.  I nearly slapped one on an informant as a ‘reward’ today, only barely came to my senses.  This isn’t getting easier.

Owner: Owner was on bike shop duty today.  My reasoning is that her alter self, the gas station owner, can go around town and by bikes for cheap, then turn around and sell them back for even cheaper.  The selling is whatever, just try and get a little profit, but the important thing is that while she owns them they will spawn copies in the real world, copies that we can ride back.

No progress yet, but she assures me that she understands the plan and is working on it.  I suspect that she’s mostly still grieving Builder, but I think her gift is primarily unconscious on her part, so that shouldn’t stop much.

Maybe she’d get over her grief faster if she was ‘living’?  She pointed out that I’ve always said giving an attribute is dangerous to the recipient and declined.

Warband: More partying, more celebration.  More interactions with the people of Ar Harbour for me to observe!  Peeler and Guager are the ones who seem to be getting on best with their prospective subjects.

The gals also found us a car!  It is just a sedan, and the engine makes a troubling noise, but it technically drives.  It belonged to an Ar Harborer, but they’d already donated it to Lancelot, so our thinking is that it kind of belongs to us in some weird, primitive way.  More honestly, they would probably be glad to lose a car if it also took a carful of us far away.

The band also tried to round up some people who knew how to repair trucks, but that went less well.  They found a few people, but there aren’t really any tools here for the job, and the trucks aren’t of a make/model that they might recognize, since Builder just spun them out of whole cloth.  They might ultimately get a truck fixed, just because with 4 to draw on their might be undamaged versions of every part, but doing everything by hand it will probably take too long.

 

Day 4:

Main Action: Today is about getting into contact with KEM/Resistance assets who are local, seeing if they have anything for me.  Snitcher is almost certainly not watching my current doings, so it should be safe.

Not that I’m abandoning protocols.  We’ll do the usual dead drop, etc, but I just can’t see him watching what I’ve been watching for the past few days.  No one who had the option to not have the tripled senses would fail to exercise it.

Resistance doesn’t have a lot for me.  Some stuff on local Ultras that I’m putting later on with the Warband’s queries.  Makes sense that most Resistance would be in the Regime, since that is what they are ‘resisting’.  There are some in Ar Harbour, of course, there are some anywhere that there are humans, but most of their info was about the Round Table gang.

KEM comes through with a doozy, though.  Merlin is apparently still alive, in some sort of Union medical pod on the outskirts of town.  She’s in a coma or something.  (My first thought is that here is someone who needs to be ‘Living’).  Interesting possibilities there.

Owner: Owner came through with the bikes.  Lots and lots of bikes.  I suspect she got more than we needed deliberately, with the idea that the Ar Harborers can use the ones we don’t take.

The pattern of being a reseller is a really good one to remember.  It should cut way down on our expenditures of her other selfs capital.  She needs to move into some kind of middleman business.

A snag, though.  Of the 21 of us, only 5 know how to ride bikes.  I’m one of them, of course, it turns out riding a bike is a lot like riding a bike.  You never forget it.

It’s also a lot like itself because tautology, but that’s less surprising.

The rest of the Ultras never had bikes, so they are going to have to learn how to ride if I want them to use these.  It could be a bit tricky.  Ultras don’t take humiliation well at all, and learning to ride a bike involves a lot of falling off bikes.  We’ll see.

Warband: The Warband had the assignment of finding out who the local Ultras are.  Not the ones we killed, obviously, but any others. There were a few lurking about.

Soarer is an Ultra who lives in the town, who can fly.  Like, super hero flight, like Subtracter has.  Just go any direction at any time.  She can also grant this to someone else while she is in skin to skin contact with them.  No Ultra strength/toughness/speed (what we call combat attributes), so she didn’t become part of the Round Table.  We were able to find her easily enough.

Sprouter makes plants grow really fast.  Not, like, ‘vines rise up and throttle her enemies’ level of fast.  But fast enough to get multiple harvests per season out of a patch or two of veggies.  If the Company didn’t exist Ultras like this would be really valuable.  She has low level Ultra Strength, scaling up as the number of plants under her influence increases.  We haven’t found her yet, but she lives pretty close to town, we could probably round her up.

Viber um…controls time.  I dunno, yeah.  This is the answer as to how the buildings got repaired.  Her gift makes time around her go at the speed of her general energy.  If she is happy it goes fast.  So happy her spends long time, but only short time goes by in the outside world .  If she is sad it goes slow, so she spends a brief time sad and a long time goes by in the outside world.  The resistance was nonspecific about how bad the dilation can get, but the impression I got was like 10x either way.

We haven’t gone in and got her yet, but the area she is in is known.  The Ar Harborers avoid it, but I could send someone in or go myself.  The Warband doesn’t know about her yet, I only found out because of being tipped off.

Gorger is an Ultra who can eat anything.  Stuff they eat just vanishes away into an extradimensional space instead of actually reaching their stomach.  They keep the traits of whatever they much on for a while.  I feel a bit of a kinship with her, our gifts have some stuff in common.  We found her easily, not hiding, just one more citizen.

 

Time for player vote as to how to proceed at this point!  The following things must be addressed.

  1. How to get back to Shington. We have plenty of bikes, but only 4 people proficient with them.  We also have a car, and Soarer could probably be persuaded to lend a hand.  Blender is a pro at travelling, and won’t do anything terribly stupid, but the Union might be watching for you.  You have 19 in the Warband, plus any locals you are recruiting, minus any you are leaving behind, plus you and Owner (you can ride a bike, Owner can’t).
  2. Who will be the boss of Ar Harbor? How many minions are you going to leave with them?
  3. What will Blender do with these ‘living’ tags? If your answer has her still holding onto them you need to get at least 2 votes behind it, to represent the strain.

You can also address other things beyond those 3.  Lots of possibilities, just make sure you hit those 3 at the minimum.

Thanks as always for participating!