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Hello @Irredeemable! As per our convo on Discord, here is the modified version of the Easifan Promise. The changes aren't actually that big, mainly the inclusion of the Icari and the Church of the Oasis as additional factions/members and a little bit extra to their early history. I've also combined the demographics and population sections into one.

A collaboration with @Jeddaven

Six Months after the Formal Surrender…

Easifa System – Clockwise Spiral edge of the Yahsud Alnaar’s territory

Lovecraft Fangjaw was having a field day, top to bottom. For two days he and his team had camped in the wilds surrounding one of the arctic databases of the Yahsud Alnaar, a barren wasteland of machinery and ice, and had managed to not only destroy and recover one of its drones without alerting the network, but…

Direct access, he thought with a smile, take that, academic asscracks.

A treasure that hadn’t been seen in at least twenty years – to access raw source code for the Yahsud, extract it, and now safely quarantine it in a black box. They’d had to leave immediately, of course – the extraction team had almost ruined their quantum-decay distraction protocols with lousy timing, and half of them got shot to pieces by the remaining drones, but…

This could be it. The thrill of death was etched into his mind, but more so yet the thrill of victory.

But the memory of Asimov was clearly not done with him, because no sooner had they left the range of the Yahsud Alnaar – unfortunately on the wrong side of it from the fleet, so they’d be stuck spending the next three weeks getting back to them – that they’d detected something almost as exciting.

A new star had appeared in the vacuum of space, and it was in a very, very interesting location. Practically miraculous, if he were a religious man.

“Captain?” asked the still shaking intern at the controls to his left, “Should, uh… should we head for the fleet?”

He smiled.

“Oh no, kid. We’ve got something else to see first. How does two for two on world-shattering discoveries sound to you?”

“Te-terrifying, sir.”

“Great! Set a course.”

Easifan System Gateway

Light. Colour. All at once, a violent swirl of energy tore its way into the Easifan system, with a suddenness that perhaps even the original builders of the gateways couldn’t have imagined. Too look upon it was to be bombarded with a violent kaleidoscope of sensory input, light potent enough to blind, images of worlds unknown and swarms of artificial constructions visible through the murky soup of the portal.

Then, just as suddenly, peace.

The portal snapped shut just as suddenly as it had opened, warbling and wobbling like a blob of non-newtonian fluid struck particularly hard before vanishing entirely.

A new set of eyes looked upon Easifa; a bristling suite of artisanal sensors and cameras packed into a space the size of a small asteroid, its smoothly curved hull glinting in the distant light of the stars.

It was one small part of a greater whole, constructed with a particular purpose in mind, which it proudly announced to the system through every communication channel it could manage, both faster-than-light and based on every radio frequency it could spit out, in every arrangement of human language it could manage.

“Hello, there!” It chirped, friendly, androgynous, and welcoming; perhaps even informal. “Today, my name is Copernicus. I come bringing greetings and aid from the people of the Anarchist Federation of Europe, should you wish to receive them.”

Gaia’s Patience – Outer Planetary Temple-Garden of the Children of Gaia

“Out of the way, out of the way!”

Matriarch Fir Carolina was having a day both bad and blessed. First the hydroponics at garden twelve had been faltering and she’d needed to shout at a young sister-neophyte for playing near delicate systems (never a good look, and not something she enjoyed either)... but then someone had been kind enough to give her flowers for her birthday, and honestly that had really lifted her mood.

Then she’d had to taste-test the soup being made for the High Matriarch’s communal meal and the peppers had been absolutely rank, like someone had insulted her mother while defecating in front of her.

But now, as seemed to be forming a pattern for the day, the namesake of Gaia’s Patience was finally coming true. A blessing to paint over every fault – every diary and record for today would clearly scream “Today the Gate was opened! Lost Gaia awaits!”

As she made her way through corridor after corridor, either politely nodding, greeting and waiting as older matriarchs passed her by, or hurriedly waving on or crying out for younger women and men to move out of the way as she made her way to the second floor governing chambers.

As with all of the corridors and rooms she’d had to make her way through, it was dense with foliage from countless species – while ‘hydroponics’ was a term usually used to refer to the specific gardens used to supply food, the creeds of the children had demanded that Gaia’s Patience should be dedicated to the species of their lost, ancient homeworld.

Mothers only knew how many years of asteroid mining, chemical refinement, and careful biomatter recycling had been needed to create enough artificial soil with the right balance to actually sustain so much plant life.

But here, in the governing chambers, it was a different kind of life – people, mainly.

While the creeds forbade most from entering these chambers, matriarchs were freely allowed access – there just normally wasn’t any reason for them all to be there at once. So it was that the beautifully cleared and structured clearing, decorated and arranged in the style of an ancient Roman garden, was absolutely choked with women. A range of ages – from their early thirties in some cases, while many of the High Matriarchs were easily in their 80s at this point – but all of whom having been altered, their bones thin and elongated from centuries of life in low gravity and their scaled skin in shades of pale green from the mixture of reptile and plant-DNA their ancestors had been infused with to greatly minimize the amount of food they had to eat.

The High Matriarchs sat at the center of the throng on ornate, gold-plated chairs interwoven with old plant-matter, before at last shushing the crowd with a single raised hand.

There was bated breath, a message relayed on the comms – evidently translated from an old Earth tongue into the Children’s eclectic creole of German, Swedish, and Portuguese.

”Hello! Today, my name is Copernicus. I come bringing greetings and aid from the people of the Anarchist Federation of Europe, should you wish to receive them.”

The crowd was stunned.

Europe?! was silent, but the thought was universal. They knew people named Europe, that was an Old Earth location! What could it mean? Had humans actually survived after all? Perhaps their other half, those of the Children who had refused to leave Earth?

The High Matriarch in the lead, a stone-faced woman of 70 whose graying hair had been artificially maintained into a tight gray bob that framed her face and emphasized the eagle-like gaze she would hold on those who disappointed her, waved a hand at the murmuring crowd.

“Matriarchs! Sisters! Do not allow this blessed day to be undignified! Please, hold your tongues – we are about to open communications with these strangers! Instead, may your prayers help them to be friendly to us and with open hearts!”

Ahem, she thought as nervous murmuring gave way to silence, that’s better.

“Open the communications!” she cried, and slowly the soft noise of static filled the room.

“Friend Copernicus, my name is High Matriarch Thorn Versailles, speaking on behalf of the Children of Gaia. Long have we waited for the reopening of the Gate and the return to our ancestral home – tell us, are you truly from Europe?”

“Originally.” Copernicus replied, thousands of calculations running across the surface of its electronic brain as it picked apart and analyzed the voice it heard in reply. Storage banks quickly recalled a handful of snippets of information; most primarily, the records it possessed of the Children of Gaia, a pitiable if not nobly-oriented pre-apocalypse cult. This, then, presented a few immediate options, and a loosely-structured approach for the future of its conversation.

“Regrettably, I was forced to resettle away from Earth, along with the rest of my comrades.” They continued. “We’re in the process of preparing to re-establish contact with Earth, however -- it’s necessary to ensure we don’t disrupt the present biosphere, of course; I’m sure you understand.”

In the governing chamber, there was silence. Disappointment, certainly, and no end of questions.

But so publicly is not the place for them, Thorn thought, nor within our home.

She looked to the other two High Matriarchs, and whispered between themselves. After a minute or two, she spoke up again.

“Thank you for sharing this information with us, friend Copernicus. If we might, we would like to meet in person and discuss more, but…” she grimaced, “we cannot allow outsiders to enter the temple-garden except in the most dire situations, in case of disease. Many generations have worked very hard to nurture what we can of a living biosphere within this planetoid. Can we send a ship with representatives to meet you in a clean, neutral environment?”

“Of course!” They replied, inwardly pleased at the care the Gaians were showing for the biosphere they’d constructed. “Although, I will say, I am not a biological being. I am an artificial intelligence, and I can assure you, the vessel I am speaking to you through has been thoroughly sanitized by a bath of ionized radiation. Nonetheless...” It said, pausing,

“We maintain similar quarantine procedures in our dwelling places, and would be more than happy to accommodate your own. It would only be fair, after all.”

The AIs words lingered, and there was a long, long pause. To Copernicus, it might have felt like a lifetime of silence considering how quick the earlier response had been.

Carolina had had to step out of the chambers, catching her breath – the moment the voice had stopped speaking and the comms had been cut, the room had erupted into argument. She’d left through one of the little side doors – an emergency exit – and was now resting against a wall, her face held in her hands.

Artificial intelligence?! her mind screamed, Have other colonies been lost as well?!

The last thing she’d heard before it was lost in the arguing was High Matriarch Thorn’s desperate, failed demands for them all to calm down… but how could they?

Mother, she thought, I need a strawberry.

She found a whole bush of them about ten or so minutes later, of course, on the fifth floor – now primarily containing a mixture of plant and fungal species from across the old European continent. As she sat with her legs crossed in the dirt and tried to enjoy the taste of it despite the bitter irony given the communications that had just gone on, with the weight of it in her mouth, Carolina had to admit this was following the pattern. Of course the Gate would finally reopen only for an AI to appear from it – there couldn’t have been a nastier joke if she’d tried to come up with one.

The sound of strawberry branches being pushed aside distracted her from her melancholy. A young man, probably no more than twenty-three and with gentle gray eyes, held out a nervous hand. She couldn’t help but sneer a little at her nightmarish contemplations being interrupted by a younger man of all people.

“Matriarch-Sister Fir Carolina? Y-you, um, sorry. I have been asked to summon you, please. The High Matriarch said you would be eating strawberries.”

Carolina sat there, mouth half open and strawberry half-chewed, and couldn’t help but slowly grimace. The initial annoyance gave way to worries that she struggled to keep tightly sealed beneath her face; Am I famous for strawberries? crossed her mind, followed by The Matriarchs want me. Right now? That’s bad, probably.

Nevertheless, dignity was always called for – what being a matriarch called for. Tilting her nose ever so slightly upwards, she took the young man’s hand to stand up, quickly wiped the tiniest remains of strawberry juice on her long, dull-grey tunic, and nodded for him to lead the way.

As the network of corridors, gardens and resting chambers gave way to the more sterilized, mechanical environments at the base of the great temple-station that served as the core of its infrastructure, Carolina was already starting to sweat. Not just because of the build up of temperature from so much machinery and the engines, of course, but also because this served as the entryways to the vast array of launch bays for Gaia’s Patience. People milled about from place to place – for the most part men, their domain within the Children of Gaia largely relegated to the use and maintenance of machinery that didn’t directly sustain or modify living things; transportation, weapons, electronics and communications.

Carolina shuddered a little, despite the warmth; it was so… sharp. A massive, triangular room of bronze-like metals and dark gray stone, with craggy domes of metal and rock rising periodically from the ground like giant, ugly boulders; some taller and thinner, others wider. Of course, in truth they were long-range shuttles, whether for attack or simple transportation – vacuum sealed against the underside of Gaia’s Patience, their crew only being able to enter or exit when the seal was complete.

Water… she thought, and air.

The two most precious resources in the whole system.

“Matriarch-Sister, there they are,” spoke up the young man, gesturing to a small group gathered by one of the taller, thinner shuttle ends. It was a single High Matriarch – a short woman of about sixty who looked so fragile she couldn’t actually be standing in the heavy, many-layered robe she wore – providing instructions to a crew of young men. As soon as she saw Carolina approaching, the tiny spectacles on her face practically bounced around with excitement.

“Ah, good, excellent,” said the faintly owl-like woman, “you’re here, Carolina, correct?”

“Um… yes, High Matriarch. Fir Carolina.”

“Good, good…!” hooted the elderly pomeranian, “I have a task for you, you know. High Matriarch Thorn Versailles has asked me to give you a little assignment.”


“Yes, see, some of us were certain we should just blow up the heathen machine, but, well… some of us think if it wants to talk to us it might be different. For the safety of Gaia’s Patience, however, we have decided the communication should all be handled by a trustworthy matriarch…”


“...from a shuttle, yes. And we thought, aha, we know the person! So chop chop!” she clapped her hands together a little bit like a seal, “These lovely boys will get you there safe, dear. Confident of that, yes yes.”

As Carolina looked around the small crew of men, nervously smiling and nodding in response to the High Matriarch’s complements… she realized that they couldn’t have been much more than boys of maybe eighteen or nineteen, probably brother-acolytes on paper but still brother-neophytes in practice.

She thought about protesting the decision, of course. She could try and argue it, but… something in her chest refused to let her.

Adrenaline, probably, she thought with a grimace just barely escaping her face.

“Yes, High Matriarch. Of course.”

“Good, good! Get to it then!”

Copernicus watched as a seed-like shuttle – maybe just a hundred or so meters long, a relatively tiny object – emerged from the underside of the planetoid-station and engaged a set of simple ion thrusters to drift closer towards the Gate.

The video of a woman in her late thirties, with slightly rounded features and stray wisps of scalpy blonde hair, was projected through to Copernicus as she started to speak.

“He-hello, ahem,” she said, trying not to seem too nervous on the video but relentlessly sweating all the same, “this is Matriarch Fir Carolina of the Children of Gaia. For reasons we would rather not disclose at this time, the High Matriarchs have asked me to speak on their behalf, away from the Temple-Garden. Do, uh…”

Mothers, hold it together.

“D-do you have, um, human crew aboard your…”

Her brow furrowed, suddenly realizing she wasn’t sure of the proper term. What was it that the Asmovund gear-people called it again?

“...shell? Chassis? Your… body?”

“One of my bodies, but -- no, I do not.” It replied, unsure whether to point out how scared the poor woman seemed or not. Considering her fearful curiosity, it reasoned, it was perhaps best to stick to answering questions for the time being.

“Admittedly, I do wish I did, but... It is safer for them to wait behind the Gateway for the time being. Not to imply that you are a threat, of course; it is merely that I have several bodies, and not all of them do!”

Carolina bit her lower lip, clearly trying to find a way to admit she was struggling to understand what the machine was talking about without seeming like an idiot.

Her mind wracked itself with questions, trying to remember what they knew about AI. There had been records of course, once upon a time – even the knowledge of how to make them, supposedly. But the steel ghosts had, as with all things, eradicated much of their history and knowledge from before the gate was originally opened.

She glanced around the room at her small crew, but most of them seemed as puzzled as she was.

Mothers, I… she narrowed her eyes, I’ve been entrusted with handling this.

“We… we are a threat!” she said, looking into the camera and baring her teeth – an ancient, primal symbol of danger – “and you had best listen to us, machine. We must speak to your creators!”

She raised a single bony finger, doing her best to look intimidating and utterly failing.

“I will warn you – Gaia’s Patience has many weapons and we have fought off outsiders on,” she paused, “many occasions.”

She held her expression, her teeth still bared at the camera, but couldn’t help but wince briefly when one of the pilots tapped a readout for her to see: whatever this machine-mind was, it wasn’t armed.

“If you want to speak to my government, that can be arranged... But it cannot happen in person, unless you are willing to make the journey to our home. It would take... A substantial amount of time to transport so many thousands of people such a distance.” Copernicus replied, mimicking a sigh. There was trauma here -- they’d encountered artificial intelligences before, and it did not go well. “We will do what we can to accommodate you.”

Carolina’s expression immediately broke. No longer bared teeth and an attempt at threat, her eyes went wide with confusion. From what was visible of the other crewmates, they likewise seemed to be in disbelief.

“Th… thousands? How… how many people are in your, uh,” she shook her head, “Anarchist, uh, Fed-... in Europe? That they need so many people to represent them?”

“Oh, approximately... One-point-one-one-zero billion. We strongly believe in representing our people as best as we possibly can, however, hence the necessity of a large General Assembly.” They chirped, mood lifted by a question that was, in all truth, much more pleasant than mild racism and threats. “We are Anarchists, after all.”

Carolina almost fell over, given how quickly she stepped backwards.

“Bil-... a billion people?”

She tried to blink away the shock. Gaia’s Patience had… maybe two million people, and that was usually when too many of the Children in other parts of the system decided to make a pilgrimage all at once.

She tried to correct her mind, focus on being logical – of course they probably had a bigger population, if they had succeeded in finding a planet with life. Easifa’Mal could sustain a big population, after all, if it wasn’t for the steel ghosts guarding it.

But still… such a massive population. It seemed impossible. Fantastical. The Earth had suffered because of so many people, after all.

Maybe that’s why they’ve come here? Looking for a new home? she thought, her eyes betraying the paranoia she was feeling.

They were using AI, after all – perhaps whoever had sent Copernicus were the same people who had destroyed the old Earth? Or at least, their descendants. Though that word, ‘anarchist’, it… showed up in folklore, sometimes.

“Please do not take offense to my question, Copernicus, but, anarchists… is that a kind of alien? Named after the stories?”

"No, no!" Copernicus chuckled. "So much information, lost over time... I wonder how much you could teach us that we've forgotten." It mused.

"It's... A political system, or perhaps theory. In simple terms, one which advocates the abolition of unjust hierarchy and the organization of society on a wholly voluntary, mutually cooperative basis, without force or compulsion. Does... Does that make sense?" They asked.

Carolina looked around at the rest of the crew, their expressions puzzled.

“That, um…” she was clearly trying to wrap her tongue around the words, “is very, uh, interesting. It sounds a bit different from our creed, but we are not forced. The Children of Gaia have prospered and survived by working together.”

A thought crossed her mind.

“In fact, we often work closely with the other tribes and peoples of Easifa. In time, we could perhaps introduce them to you, but, well…” she bit her lower lip, “I think that we would need to arrange for representatives to travel to your home, if you cannot send people. AI are… very, um, worrying. Not just to us, but most of the people of this star system.”

Should I tell it that on Easifa’Thani most would shoot without talking at all first? she thought.

"Oh, we can send people, just... Not our entire government, you see. Perhaps a neutral ground would be ideal?"

Carolina looked visibly relieved.

“Oh! Thank you, if that could be arranged, we would love to meet them! That would be fantas-”

The feed was suddenly cut, and the tiny seed-like shuttle suddenly powered down. A device no bigger than a man’s arm, emerging from the vast darkness at a fraction of the speed of light, had lodged into its side with enough force to suddenly throw the shuttle of its lazy flight close to Copernicus.

Copernicus detected the direction it came from – initially almost impossible to see in the void, looking to outsiders like a rogue asteroid but now giving off tell-tale emissions of ions and radio signals from several kilometers away.

Aboard the Migo’s Teeth and with lungs straining against the metal shell of his frame, Lovecraft couldn’t help but laugh.

The admiralty awaited him, and if the extracted blackbox wouldn’t guarantee it, this certainly would.

Immediately, Copernicus's sensors blared in alarm -- the AI the Gaians were so terrified of, perhaps? Regardless, while the shuttle may potentially end up repowering by itself, it had no way of knowing what sort of damage the foreign object inflicted, and without weaponry, there was even less it could do to retaliate. Thus, it had only one notable option.

"Alert. This is Copernicus. Negotiations have been interrupted. Diplomatic shuttle has been struck by a foreign object of unknown origin and appears to have lost engine control. Attempting to intercept." It beamed a transmission back through the gateway, thrusters firing. Being a wholly artificial being, the probe was able to move at speeds that would be outright lethal in any ship carrying organic life, rocketing across the gulf of space toward the wayward shuttle without so much as a second thought. Maneuvering thrusters spat, twirling it around, around, until it was positioned facing perpendicular to the small craft's direction of travel, arresting its own blistering speed with a sharp guttering of photonic rockets, just enough to receive the lion's share of collision damage -- and latch onto the craft with the array of grasping arms attached to its nose.

It had been a long while since Lovecraft had needed to salivate, but the readouts they were getting from the gaian shuttle…

“Tasty,” he said, “End of history stuff right here, kid.”

He wasn’t fluent in gaian creole, admittedly, but he’d learnt enough to follow the conversation in the recording. The code-eater drone was a neat little invention, one of the tools that left the other tribes wary of Asmovund raiders; reverse-engineered from the internal systems of Yahsud Alnaar drones, it could drill into a hull and quickly access computers that were normally cut off from external transmissions, cracking their encryption and transmitting their data to the raider.

In a world where almost all computers were geared not to handle external transmissions, it had proven to be a game-changer. For Lovecraft, it’d be a much appreciated one.

With its job done, it had then emitted a powerful EMP, damaging the shuttle’s internal systems and cutting the power.

They’ll be fine, he thought, they’re not far from home.

The silent ‘but it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t, really’ ever so briefly sprung into his mind behind the surface, but he shook it away. No time for sympathy.

More curious to him yet was the way the massive outsider probe – Copernicus, according to the transmissions – moved with such shocking speed.

[i]True AI, and it’s friendly? And it’s going to help these intolerant greenies?[i]

He hadn’t thought naivety would be a trait of machines, but as sensors started to pick up at least three gaian craft – rounded arrow shapes, like the love children of asteroids and pinecones, their detachable flak-scales derived from alien shielding systems – he snapped his fingers and transmitted an order over short-wave, safely contained within the ship’s walls from outside detection.

In a separate compartment of the ship, the ship’s gunnery officer excitedly licked its eyeballs. A heavily augmented gremlin, its body having long-been stripped down to the barest minimum of organic tissue to make way for cybernetics and mechanical systems. Fully integrated into the ship’s weapon systems, and always eager to shoot something. It wasn’t a true Asmovund, of course – wasn’t human enough – but Lovecraft liked how hard it had committed to trying to be one of them. It was rare to meet someone who spoke exclusively in transmissions.

But as the order came through – ‘prep weapons, situation could go hot’ – its brain eagerly unsheathed the pair of tiny gray railguns from the ship’s roof, glinting in the distant reflection of their home star’s light.

Lovecraft screwed up the still organic top half of his jaw, a metallic ‘click’ ringing out from his tongue rolling against steel teeth. He’d fought the gaians enough to recognize their power signatures, and he knew them well enough to tell when they’d interpreted something incorrectly.

But… would they shoot? The question burned in Lovecraft’s brain, an uncertainty he hated.

This AI, ‘Copernicus’, was clutching onto the blacked out shuttle, but it wasn’t moving to pull it back through the Gate. On the one hand, it wasn’t unheard of for the Yahsud Alnaar’s drones to engage ships at close quarters, but it was exceedingly rare – and surely the gaians would realize if the AI had weapons to disable and destroy the shuttle, it would’ve just done so rather than fly further away from safety to break it up in close quarters?

Maybe a warning was the best option, to give everyone the best chance to stay alive.

“Hope my gaian’s still good,” he grumbled.

With the flick of a switch, he gave his best smile – folks always said you could hear a smile.


A transmission in crude gaian, easily detectable to all parties as the mysterious vessel had begun to arc away, rapidly increasing its distance from the escalating situation, “I suggest to my dear greenies, don’t pick fights with strangers to our fair system, and strangers… would do well to leave, for now. Come back with...”

The sound of a tongue clicking against metal came through the transmission.

“...fleshier folk. More human, and you’ll find Easifa a much friendlier place.”

“Have you considered shutting the fuck up, asswipe?” Copernicus barked angrily in reply, drawing power away from its engines as it searched the shuttle for any indication of somewhere it could interface with the ship... Or, in the worst case, wirelessly supply power with microwaves. It’d be a little painful for the occupants, but... “If you want a lecture on tolerance, fine, whatever, I can manage, but I’m a little fucking busy trying to restore power, so I’d prefer not to use my excess processing power on lecturing a gormless imbecile.”

There was a pause.

The leaving ship, now easily detectable, had begun to slow slightly – still far enough to leave, if it had to; while the gaian attack craft likewise began to slow, and weaved out of their formation – more perimeter than pursuit.

With bated breath, the gaians watched and waited to see what would happen with the shuttle.

Today truly had been 4 for 3 on bad times and blessings for Carolina. At the back of her mind, she had to assume it would all work out – but at the front of her mind, she had to try as best she could to keep focused on what they could do.

She was shaking, though, and not purely with fear.

We were making progress! I hope those olcomps are happy!

After the initial shock, it was clear in her mind who was responsible. The impact hadn’t come from the direction of Copernicus – and out here, there was only one group who would do something like this.

Nevertheless, the danger they could control – anything they could control – was getting the power back on. While Carolina had helped with unscrewing several panels, the ship’s brother-technician was furiously trying to replace a number of ruined fuses, and the pilot tried to jumpstart the control panel.

In the darkness, illuminated only by emergency lights and quickly fading emergency glow-sticks, there was stillness, and a cold that was slowly but surely creeping up on them. She could feel her hands getting harder and harder to use – the reptile DNA her ancestors had been infused with had helped them transition to a more cold-blooded system for processing food… useful in the constant warmth of an active spaceship abundant with life, but less useful when the power went out and the void began to creep in.

Mothers help us.

Outside, Copernicus was making rapid progress -- it’d managed to locate a small access panel on the outside of the shuttle, difficult to access in the frenzy of such a tense situation, but with its incredible processing power, it was relatively simple to decode and pry open in the span of merely a few moments.

Next, of course, came figuring out what the hell each of the ports did, but the garbled human languages they were labeled with made that, too, relatively simple -- auxiliary power. Much like its label, the port was just off enough to make interfacing difficult, but not impossible... So it unceremoniously mated one of its power cables with the shuttle, and, with the flick of a switch, shunted sensor power into the craft's systems, all while beaming out a radio transmission in hopes the crew would hear it.

"Carolina?" It asked. "Some smarmy asshole fired a projectile at your ship, and then this happened. Still alive in there? I'm trying to feed you enough power for a jumpstart."

A few seconds later, then some more.


A click, and the whirring of machines.

Lights blinking to life.

“Copernicus, we hear you! This is Carolina, loud and clear!”

A few moments more and another signal went out – directed at the attack ships, though it was close enough that Copernicus could hear it as well.

“Hold fire, hold fire! This is Matriarch Fir Carolina, I repeat, please hold fire! We are unharmed – we were struck by an Asmovund weapon to steal our data, but we are okay! Copernicus helped us get back online!”

Silence, static…

…then another click.

“We read you, Fir Carolina. You heard her; power down weapons! And don’t harm the machine!”

The times to come were still tense and uneasy, of course – the road to peace can be long and treacherous. The messages to the shipmeets of Easifa’Thani took several weeks to be fully broken down and discussed, but upon that world of words and firestorms there was one clear and unbroken truth:

“The gate has reopened, and we are not alone. At a place of Meeting we shall see this new galaxy of possibilities.”

Three weeks later
The Discovery – Asmovund Array-Ship

The sound of metal fingers against a metal hip. Of a fleshly tongue clinging to a jaw of steel. Of ambitions spat upon.

“We cannot promote you,” Admiral Verne had told him, “glory hounds won't see us making the most of this new opportunity.”

The blackbox had been rewarded, of course – with not having him shot for risking a war with unknown parties, and with a chance to make amends.

“You’re wanted on the bridge, sir,” chirped his intern – still no less a squib of a lad but now just a bit too cocky for Lovecraft’s liking – with a nervous smile, “they’re about to enter the Gate.”

“Aye-aye, kid.”

With a grunt he pushed himself out of the chair in his quarters and made his way to the bridge. It had a different feel to it, in person. From holographic projectors and video screens it had felt almost dream-like… but stood here, on the command deck? At the shoulder of the pissant that protocol demanded he respect?

More like a nightmare.

“Receiving clearance, Admiral,” spoke up one of the bridge crew, “we will be joining the Yaeph’la, Arjuani, Gaian, Veiled, and Cloudkin delegations on the other side.”

“Excellent news,” said Admiral Verne, all prim and proper in her neatly folded and high-necked gray and blue uniform that almost hid the cybernetic voice-box that had replaced her throat when she was a child, “take us through.”

She glanced over her shoulder at Lovecraft’s arrival, a cat-like smile slowly spreading.

“I’ve assured the gaian delegation of your apology in person when we arrive. I’m sure this Copernicus would appreciate one as well, should it be present.”

Lovecraft sighed, but stood to attention and nodded all the same.

When can I go back to getting shot at? he wondered.
A collaboration with @Irredeemable

Six Months after the fall of the People's Union...

A storm of activity in orbit around the great gas giant - where once darkness had served as a constant reminder of their loneliness in the universe, now there was a fury of colours.

For the thousands of crew and staff aboard that great monument to failure, Spirit’s Loss, the reawakening of the gateway was something never seen before. An upending of reality, an unpredictable disaster only whispered of in propaganda channels or restricted archival footage.

For what remained of the ancient, awakening mind of Roselle Ivanović, sealed within the station’s distributed intelligences and having been ‘sleeping’ for the past four days, there was a different sort of horror.

The horror of recognition.

Her consciousness projected, she desperately reached out into the shell of one of her Luminous subjects – a diplat mind, similarly digitised but carefully sealed into a single form. It seemed shocked at the sudden intrusion – obviously still a dull creature, even after all the glory it had been granted.

“You. Explain.” she echoed within it. Through its four arching, multi-spectrum lenses she could see it overlooking a number of reports being received from throughout the station and the various freighters and patrol ships throughout the region.

“My lord, it’s an honour, we-”


“We-we don’t know yet, there was no warning. My lord, what should we-”

“Quiet. There.

The luminous could do nothing as its lenses acted under her control, focusing on a specific report that had just flared up.

An object coming through? So soon?

With a lightning focus she hadn’t felt in centuries, she dropped the shell of the luminous as easily as the strings of a puppet, and moved through the network. A clear instruction echoed through a hundred minds, relayed to every relevant station and crew:

“Bring it to me.”

Roselle would have sneered, had she still a face to do so.

Through the eyes of another luminous – ‘0841’ was its designation, its personal name instead being some bizarre, nonsensical diplat-human combination that she struggled to remember – she worked steadily. Coordinating the efforts of half a dozen skittering, many-limbed current measurements as they meticulously scanned and cut away at the object that now rested in a hastily quarantined hanger-bay.

How many hours did they have before whoever sent the probe through reacted? Signals had been sent for the patrol fleet to converge on the station and maintain engagement distances, but it would take several hours for the entire formation to be ready.

It hadn’t been much to look at when they’d brought it aboard – not really. It clearly hadn’t been designed with looks in mind: a simple, cigar shaped chunk of metal with the absolute minimum required number of thrusters bolted onto it to allow for a comfortable range of movement. Not much fuel on board either – enough to putter out of a moon’s gravitational pull or align itself with an interesting signal.

But now it looked like the deranged mess of a serial killer. Every internal component was carefully removed and analysed before being placed into some kind of storage. With each step Roselle and the current measurements took meticulous, exhaustive data that was recorded and returned to the network, backups of backups of backups. Every sub-component of every sub-component, chemical composition, precise relative location, weight, arrangement of pieces.

The science of it was good. It distracted her from the nagging fears that had desperately clawed at her mind since the gate reopened.

Now? Why now? Who? From Earth? But they’re dead, impossible. Survived, perhaps - bunkers? Outer planet colony remnants? Other colonists?

The last option was the most frightening, of course. The Mensura Group had recruited from some of the greatest minds available on Earth in its time, but three centuries was a long, long time. If other colonies had survived – in likely greater numbers, given starting populations and methodologies for colonisation – then they would have had access to three-hundred years worth of intellectual and scientific development.

If they had reopened the gate…

She would have shuddered, had she still possessed a body to do so.

But fear did no good. There was work to be doing.

“Capacitors to 80%. Make sure tubes and PD’s are loaded.” Capitán Y Sorono frowned a little. Probes scouted out newly opened Gateways as a matter of course- it would be remarkably silly to let others get the drop on new nations and systems when Azulvista had more than enough resources to cover them all. What was less regular was for one of those probes to put out some seriously unusual signals and then go dark. One-in-a-million collision? Scrappers, pirates, something more sinister? Or just another nation that had jumped the gun and swept up their tech?

Regardless, the Gran Republic was mildly annoyed at the whole affair, and so had sent a small flight of caravels to go and investigate. Five ships, headed by a single carrack- Leonardo, sallied forth from the picket and had formed up in front of the Gateway. Last minute checks had been quickly carried out, and with a single nod of his head, Sonora’s craft sped through the vortex and out, out, out, into the multicoloured hues of ancient technology, and to the beyond.

What awaited the Leonardo and its cohort as they emerged from the gate was not the quiet dark of space. Instead, a huge array of ships and machinery – a vast shipyard, networks of hangar bays and refuelling stations stretching for thousands of kilometers in every direction. As they watched, narrow, rounded structures began to uncoil from various surfaces around the tops and undersides of the stations – and judging by the clear power signatures, they were armed.

There was a brief pause aboard the command node of the Leonardo as they took it all in. “Hold fire!” The order rattled through the wing immediately. “Power down the capacitors. Do not pull the trigger, is that understood?” The patrician barked out orders quickly, easily. It was what they were born for, after all, and the orders in question were nothing more than common sense. A flight like this wasn’t even really meant for a serious engagement – the PUNT war had seen a dozen flights like this packed into one wing of a four or five wing fleet. They were outgunned.

Sensors and visual feeds revealed at least two dozen larger vessels – their exact purpose unclear, though it was obvious they possessed some ability to project… kinetic projectiles? Energy? Along with hundreds of smaller craft – though considering their movements, it seemed they were perhaps civilian or economic in nature. Transports or mining vessels, perhaps?

In truth though, even the larger, armed vessels struck the Azulvistans as… unimpressive. Simplistic, rounded shapes stretching maybe a few hundred metres long, the position of their thrusters indicated machines designed for long-distance pursuit or journeys – not the manoeuvrability of ship-to-ship combat at shorter ranges.

For what felt like a lifetime the crew would wait with baited breath, the unknown vessels and the station’s weaponry watching them with the focus of a wounded animal.

Roselle watched the feeds with an intensity that even her colleagues had found disturbing.

“Here. By four degrees. Adjust the time stamp. Here.” she said to the network of luminous she was currently integrated into, directing every meticulous camera zoom or remote analysis as if she was conducting an orchestra.

For the briefest moment Roselle was reminded of cigars when she looked at the ships that had emerged from the gate, and a craving she hadn’t felt in centuries suddenly emerged into her mind. As quickly as it came it passed, and Roselle wanted to break something when he decided to interrupt her.

“You know, we could have had proper battleships.”

Not the time, Mars.”

“No no, of course. I’m just saying.”

Insufferable as ever.

“Do you have anything useful to add?”

“... We have the element of surprise.”


“We have-”

“Say it again and I’ll personally call for your deletion, understand?”

The digital image of Mars that flashed in her mind – all punchable teeth and a scar across his left eye he’d gotten during the violence when the gate first closed – seemed to twist into a frown. She hated the way he had always insisted on staying on Spirit’s Loss, for the exact reason of something like this happening.

“COMMS!” echoed her voice through the network, “Where is the language reconstruction I ordered?! And Minerva better have sorted out her avatar already!”

“You’re naive if you think they’re human,” was all Mars said as he blinked away into another part of the distribution, “or will recognize us.”

“Capitán… Your orders?” One of his subordinates was looking at Leonardo, clearly anticipating some kind of statement from the captain. On his part, the young patrician simply chewed his lip a little, thinking.

“Send a commspacket back through the Gateway. Everything we can grab as quickly as we can grab it. Open our receivers for anything we might get from them.” He nodded, partially to confirm his orders, partially to make himself feel a little better. For a moment he had the instinct to touch the cross that hung from his neck, but he had to put on a resolute face for the sake of his subordinates. Stay calm. Do his duty. It was simple in theory, much harder when an indistinct-yet-large amount of firepower was pointed directly at your tremendously fragile carrack, with no room to manoeuvre out of the way.

Suddenly, a transmission came through. It was a little distorted at first, but after a few seconds it began to clear up. The same message, starting to loop in over a dozen languages of old Earth, in the voice of a young woman in her twenties with a clear New England accent:

“State your intentions. You have invaded the territory of the Sevenfold Summation with deadly force. We want peace. Do you seek peace?”

The image that came with the message was at least a little bit eerie, given the circumstances: a young woman in her early twenties, with lightly tanned skin and wavy brown hair that rested against her shoulders. She stood alone in a lightly decorated white-walled room – to anyone who had possessed a particular interest for the architectural design of the time, appearing as a late 2210s minimalist apartment. She was dressed in comfortable attire, as if ready to have a relaxing day at home during the winter, but as she spoke it was clear something about her lips were off – her mouth moved out of time with her words, ever so slightly.

It took a few repeats for the message to come through in something the Azulvistans could begin to understand. Old Spanish. Old Portuguese. It’d do. Leonardo paused, considering his options, which as he counted them up, proved to be remarkably few. The safest, easiest and most reasonable one was obvious though: talk.

First though, he needed to present himself a little bit better than his clipped military softsuit. Comfortable, flexible and useful for slipping into a hardsuit- certainly. Formal or fashionable? Not remotely. “Dress uniform. Now. Captain’s sash as well.” He barked the orders out towards one of the bridge staff, then paused, adding one more on. “And don’t forget my sabre!”

A few minutes later (minutes which thankfully had not been interrupted by weapons fire,) and he was dressed, buttoned, hair slicked back and sash neatly set across his shoulder. His sabre slid into its sheath with a definitive click and, with a quick adjustment of his cuffs, he nodded. “Narrow band broadcast. Straight at whatever sent us those messages.”

“Salve. I am Capitán Leonardo Adalberto Demetrio Teodoro Y Sonora, a member of the Gran Republic of Azulvisa’s Republican Navy. We have arrived in response to one of our exploration probes failing to report in. We are armed only for our own defence, and are more than happy to discuss matters as civilised people.”

The response came from a man who couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, with the faint shadow of stubble around his cheeks, a small moustache and the vaguest glimmer of concern behind his eyes, despite the front he was almost successful in presenting. He wore the typical dress uniform of a naval capitán- a black blazer with silver accents, three medals pinned over his heart, a blue sash slung across his shoulders and a broad peaked cap sitting snugly atop a carefully curated crop of light brown hair.

There was a moment, as the looping message suddenly paused. The woman’s face was frozen into an expression of curiosity – head tilted ever so slightly, like someone had just shown her a pet animal that she didn’t recognize.

Then the woman at last replied, more clearly in a form of Spanish seemingly adjusted slightly to account for the captain’s own words and accent:

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Capitán, and what looks to be a fine crew. My apologies for the aggression, we will power down our weapons.”

Sure enough, the heat and ion signatures radiating from the station platforms began to dissipate and shut down. The fleet of ships began painfully, awkwardly adjusting their course and flaring up light signals in old morse code in something to the effect of ‘sorry to bother you, welcome to our shipyard’.

“Would you and your crew wish to enter our station for further discussion and refreshments? Or is it preferable to communicate remotely?”

“It is only understandable under the circumstances,” Leonardo replied, “Our own weapons are now fully depowered,” as he spoke he waved his hand frantically off-screen, the crew picking up on the implied order and relaying it across the flight. “And we are more than happy to meet face-to-face.”

The woman paused, then smiled slightly at his reply.

“I assume you all still breathe oxygen?”

There was a brief pause before the last question came through. A small note of confusion briefly fluttered across Leonardo’s face. “Affirmative. We are baseline humans – as close as one will find to those that left Earth.”

The woman smiled again, and something about her eyes changed – taking on a brown hue similar to that of the human crew who were visible on camera.

“Excellent. Please direct your vessel to habitation bay 4-” she snapped her fingers, and one of the wider, more disc-like structures of the station suddenly lit up, flashing in rhythmic patterns, “and we will get some refreshments ready. Please do not be alarmed at the welcome you receive, the crew will be very excited to meet you.”

And with that, the signal cut out.

Leonardo waited until he was sure he was no longer broadcasting, then let out a slow breath that he hadn’t known he was holding in. He turned slowly to the rest of his bridge staff, took a moment to compose himself, and failed horribly.

“That was fucking weird, right?”

A few nods from the bridge staff. Most of them weren’t that much more experienced than Leonardo himself, especially when it came to diplomacy and foreign relations. “Send another commspackage back through. The entire conversation we just had, all of it. Highest damn priority we can. Oh, and get the marines out of their bunks and in their dress uniforms, now.” He took the opportunity to cross himself at last, then dug beneath his waistcoat to extract his cross and place it against his lips. “Prepare to dock.”

Grul-Phell Tinek, the Blessed, was having a very blessed few days. He had always thought himself a painfully ordinary diplat – of low-born stock by the echoes of the compact system, and never worthy by assessment of any higher measurement and the gifts of the Summation – and yet here he was, on Spirit’s Loss! Crown jewel of the Summation’s extraplanetary projects, the dreamed destination of untold millions of other quantity caste.

A fluke, honestly. A chance encounter weeks ago with one of the kindest members of the time measurement – the one who called himself ‘Gatsby’, tricky as it was to pronounce – and he’d done such a good job when he was asked to ‘juggle’ that Gatsby had invited him to serve as a private entourage! Imagine!

Gosh, his mum was thrilled to bits.

The flight had been sickening, of course – the medication and therapies had helped, but the diplat body wasn’t naturally built for zero-gravity. For a while he’d regretted it, weakly hoping that maybe lord Gatsby would send him back.

Then of course, the sky had unfolded in a cascade of light, like the jaws of a bounteous grippleworm – followed not long after by the appearance of alien ships! Battle stations at every moment! It was all hands on deck, and as Grul-Phell had cowered in a corridor at one point he had almost been trampled to death by a pair of mass-measurement rushing to arm something… when suddenly one of the luminous – those most blessed beneath the masters of the Summation themselves – reached down with a coiled, ever-shifting hand and lifted him up.

“Grul-Phell, friend. Can’t have you getting squashed, can I? You better come with me. We are expecting special guests.”

And now, with bated breath he stood near the front of a huge crowd – of every caste they had gathered, relentlessly curious. He overheard strange whispers – humans? What were those? They knew the masters? From the master's home?

At the front of the crowd and emitting sharp, curling beams of golden light that clearly delineated lines on the ground that no one could cross stood three members of the luminous – those chosen to represent three of the masters residing within Spirit’s Loss.

There was a whirring of wind. The airlock that the crowd stood across from gave a heavy, weezing THUNK as one harsh, cold white & red door sealed behind the arriving aliens.

“You know, Grul-Phell,” whispered Gatsby into his ear, “I trust you. When they step through and we welcome them, you will follow our entourage. They will be delighted at your juggling, I’m certain of it.”

Unfortunately, something about the way it was said made him more nervous. As he thought about it, however, he was distracted by the sight of new lights forming – the three luminous had emitted new shapes now, a set of three holograms far more detailed than the abstract, faintly bird-like forms they used when speaking to society as a whole or giving big presentations.

In golden light they formed these strange, thin giants – like the length caste, in a way. But taller, thinner, without fur, and with a single pair of smaller, many-circled eyes. There were more hushed whispers among the crowd, but Grul-Phell could only watch the form that Gatsby was projecting.

A strange idea came to him – one that he didn’t like very much, and very quickly tried not to dwell on. An idea that smelled of lies, but to which his gut whispered ‘truth’.

Is that what the masters really look like?

Leonardo had gone over many options in his head as the Leonardo slowly approached the foreign station, marines hastily assembling in their small barracks to prepare a formal escort. Of all those options though, not a single one of them came anywhere close to the reality of… this.

They’d met aliens before, of course. Not him personally, but the Republic as a whole. He had considered perhaps a few xenos faces to be among the welcoming committee. Not the entire entryway to be stuffed full of them with their… Saints above, what the hell were they even supposed to be? Things? Beasts? Creatures? He once again failed to keep his emotions off his face, although to his credit, most of the marines had also failed to do so as well.

His escort was nothing like the de Caravajal’s prim and proper diplomatic guards, or the Lobasla 1st’s refined ferocity. They were Sorona men and women, proud and true, but they’d spent most of the war (and indeed, all the time before the war,) being little more than glorified security guards aboard the carrack. Disciplined, drilled and determined, yes. Prepared for… This?


Not remotely.

Still, they were here for diplomacy, so they had to put on at least some kind of a show. “Marines! Attention! Present… Arms!” He drew his sabre in one swift motion, holding it aloft.

Carbines quickly snapped into place, then were planted firmly into the airlock’s floor. Leonardo brought his sabre to his face, then with a quick twirl, eased it back into its sheath. The only vaguely human figures among the crowd were holographic projections, and it was towards the leading number of these projections that he offered a horizontal-palmed salute.

“Capitán Leonardo Adalberto Demetrio Teodoro Y Sonora of the Gran Republic of Azulvista, and the Sonora 3rd Marines at you-” He mentally corrected himself, ”greet you!”

Only one of the three holograms returned the salute – a dark red in contrast to the other two’s golden light, shaped like a tall and well-built veteran soldier.

The central machine-creature of the trio was projecting an image of the woman who had been on the video transmissions, albeit now wearing a projection of clothing mostly identical to Leonardo’s uniform – just adjusted for her fitting, and with a different symbol than the flag of the Gran Republic: of six pillars arrayed, their shadow cast outward and away from a hollow circle.

A similar symbol was painted on the walls of the station in red and white, like a surreal eye watching all who passed.

The woman stepped forward along with the machine behind her, and as she held out a hand the bizarrely crab-like machine followed her movements – some strange mesh of machinery rearranging itself into a smooth approximation of a human hand and matching the position of the hologram’s own.

Cold to the touch, of course, but artificially warmed.

Leonardo, for his part, quickly lowered his hand from the salute and thrust it forward. His logic was simple- if he didn’t give himself time to think about how utterly insane everything was, it wouldn’t be obvious to these strange foreign diplomats.

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance in person, Capitán. My name is Minerva, of the time measurement. These are two of my…” she flickered briefly, as if holding her tongue, “colleagues.”

“A pleasure, a real pleasure!” said the hologram to her right, of a well-built man in his early thirties with carefully styled blonde hair, “I… wow! You wouldn’t believe how exciting this is! The name’s Gatsby, sorry, I just… a real honour. You have to tell us what’s been happening on Earth in our absence.”

‘Minerva’ flickered briefly, followed by Gatsby and the third figure both flickering.

The third figure – the one who had returned Leonardo’s salute – was grizzled, his left eye covered by an eyepatch, and his face marked by the wrinkles of a man in his late sixties.

“Mars,” he said with a nod and a pained smile, “a pleasure, captain. And might I say, a pleasure to meet such fine soldiers as well.”

No time to pause. Pausing was the enemy. Thinking about what he was doing more than was needed for diplomatic niceties was the enemy. Anything other than getting through this situation intact, and without sullying the reputation of the Gran Republic, was officially not secondary, not tertiary not even quaternary, but… What was further along than quaternary? Shit, no time to dig through his Latin lessons. Gatsby had said something he needed to clear up.

“Once again, greetings to all of you.” He inclined his head slightly. “I’m afraid to say that we ourselves do not hail from the Sol system, but I’ve been reliably informed it’s bustling and busy again, after humanity’s long absence. As for my men, they have conducted themselves most honourably over the past year.”

The three figures flickered briefly, before Minerva smiled again – almost piteously?

“Well… that’s good to hear, I suppose. We will have to send representatives of our own through the Gate, of course. Please come with me – we have done our best to prepare refreshments as close to old Earth as we can manage, but I warn you that diplat tastebuds are not excellent judges. Plus, three hundred years, it, well…”

“...makes it tricky to remember the details.” Gatsby chimed.

Tricky to remember the… How old were the holograms he was talking to? Were they even human? By any metric? Once again, Leonardo had to clamp down on his wayward thoughts. “Is that the term for these xenos?” He had slipped into using the more offensive Azulvistan term, even if it was purely descriptive at its core. “Diplat?”

As one the trio of holograms turned to surround the machine-creatures projecting them and began to walk down the hangar bay in the direction of several wide doors, leading Leonardo and his crew deeper into the station. Notably, most of the creatures in their abundance of shapes stopped dead at the doorway, jostling for position as they excitedly waved at the marines. The exception being a small mole-like creature who stuck close to Gatsby.

Minerva spoke up as they went.

“Yes. They’re extremely helpful creatures, and as you can see by their abundant forms –- very versatile.”

“I think you'll really love this guy,” said Gatsby, gesturing to the stocky four-eyed mole thing that dutifully followed him, “I’ve taught him to juggle. It’s so funny.”

As he followed the holograms through the hallways of the station, Leonardo couldn’t shake the distinct feeling that he was being condescended to. It was not a feeling he appreciated very much – he’d had quite enough at officer’s clubs and wing meetings during the Galactic War, often by people who had no greater qualifications than a more prestigious family name.

Worse than just that though, he couldn’t also help but feel that the holograms he was walking behind didn’t consider the alien beings were really beings at all. True – they were xenos, and to Azulvistans, xenos were a dangerous, potent threat to be respected and hated, but they were still lifeforms. They protected their colony ships and spawning pools at great personal costs, still were capable of feats of extraordinary ingenuity and heroism, and still worthy foes, but these holograms…

Why did he get the distinct feeling they viewed these xenos not as beings, but as amusements, or… worse… tools?

“Captain,” spoke up Mars as they walked as if to interrupt his thoughts, “I do have to ask. Did your colony open the gate? We were prepared for potential outsiders, of course, but it’s been 300 years at this point. The arrival of your ships was a welcome surprise.”

“I am not best qualified to speak on the Gateways- I am, after all, a military officer, but from my understanding of things the Gateways began opening unprompted around six quarters ago. Not just ours, mind, but many other systems as well. Some of them have fluctuated- opening if only to close again soon after, others have taken longer to come online. Full understanding of them is still a ways off.”

Mars frowned, almost in disbelief.

“They just… reopened? No one intentionally activated them? That’s… mmm.”

“Frustrating? I believe our mathetes have had much the same reaction.” Leonardo nodded.

Mars simply nodded and fell back to the side, flickering briefly as he walked.

The room they were brought to was… well, to describe it as a lounge would have been generous. In some regards it resembled a cafeteria of sorts – a wide array of lightly cushioned chairs were spread out, evidently designed for use by these many different forms of ‘diplat’, while along the walls were a variety of machines decorated in strange, scratchy symbols and pictures of… some kind of food. None of it looked very appetising.

Near the centre was a particularly large table, around which they’d arranged eleven identical chairs that looked like they just about could fit a shorter, stockier human – exactly enough for Leonardo and his marines.

Gatsby gestured to the table with a flourish and excitedly pranced towards it, the elongated, crab-like amalgamation that projected his hologram audibly ‘thumping’ as it tried to keep up with his movements.

“I’m sorry, I appreciate it’s not as diplomatic as you may be used to given how many colonies it sounds like have returned, but… please, take your seats. You’re welcome to relax, gentlemen!”

“Any welcome is much appreciated. We understand that you can hardly expect to have a red carpet prepared on the off-chance that three centuries of isolation suddenly ends.” Although Leonardo pulled out the central of the eleven chairs and settled himself firmly into it, the marines did not, instead taking their positions in a loose formation around their captain. For his part, Leonardo would briefly reach into the inside pocket of his dress jacket. For a moment, the golden cross still around his neck glinted in the artificial light of the station, only to be rapidly replaced by a sleek silver cigarette case. “May I?”

Saints he needed a smoke.

Minerva and Mars both flickered briefly, but Gatsby simply smiled.

“Oh, please do! Honestly, I keep trying to get the diplat to try it but tobacco has been just… so difficult to synthesise properly.”

Well, if nothing else, they were clearly a scientifically-minded bunch, Leonardo mused as he brought a slender white stick to his lips, then extracted a bulky yet elegantly designed lighter, sparking a bright blue flame and inhaling deeply. For a moment, he was quiet save for the faint crackle of paper, before slowly exhaling, a long plume of smoke curling its way into the air. One of the marines closest to him twitched a little.

Minerva flickered briefly, resuming movement as she gave a slightly pained smile.

“Forgive us, Capitán. We’re all still very new to this. We would love to know a bit more about your home and what has happened in the past… six quarters, you said? The last year and a half?”

“Rotations,” Leonardo informed her. “Our home planet of Azulvista does not have the same 365, 24-hour day as Earth does, so to avoid confusion between calenders we use ‘rotation’ for a full circumnavigation of our sun, and ‘cycle’ for day. Fortunately, the mismatch between them is not too great.”

Minerva gave the professional smile of a secretary handling matters that she was being paid very much to pretend to care about.

“Fascinating. We have something similar – sometimes we use a clock and calendar based on the diplat homeworld’s rotations, but with time our numerous projects and holdings across the system required us to standardise. After some debate it was decided to simply use Earth’s calendar as the baseline, for simplicity’s sake.”

Leonardo couldn’t help but let out a wry chuckle. “Our various calenders are a constant cause of debate and frustration- it is terribly difficult to organise things when one must keep Earth, Azulvista and her moons all in mind at the same time, and standardisation seems a distant dream.”

Minerva and Gatsby both laughed politely. This was easy and comfortable, a little diplomatic small talk… then Mars perked up a little at the change of subject.

“I’m also curious at your mention of… you said your men had conducted themselves honourably in the last year. Has there been a lot of conflict in that time? I imagine many colonies have been…” he gave a deep-chested laugh, “...heh, less than easy to deal with. Human nature.”

Once again, Leonardo had the concerning feeling that the holograms he was having a conversation with were a little too distant from their roots. “Most of those we have met have been inquisitive and lively, but not warlike. Unfortunately however, one nation in particular found the new state of affairs… Ideologically unacceptable. Conflict ensued, but I’m sure a better diplomat than I, with far longer to inform you of the galaxy’s goings-on, can provide a better brief. There is a large space station in Sol – the Meeting Place, for the various states to conduct this sort of business.”

Mars nodded, before Gatsby’s hologram leaned over just enough to catch attention.

“Ahem, sorry, the refreshments are here.”

From an unfolding circular door against the left wall the refreshments were brought through, carried by a set of four heavy-set diplat, almost deformed by their musculature. To Leonardo and the marines they looked… for lack of a better description, as if the little mole-creature at Gatsby’s side had been fed a regiment of extreme steroids and had done nothing but sleep, eat, and exercise for years. Beneath the smooth, padded dark-red uniforms they wore there were clear signs of cybernetics and implants, to the point where at least one of them made the sound of metal rods clanging together as it walked.

Minerva flickered briefly at the sight of them.

But perhaps more extraordinary than their appearance was the fact that as they brought trays with various foods and drinks – some recognizable, others bizarre – they weren’t… holding the trays. Rather, as each of them walked they simply held up their hands, claws outstretched, as the trays levitated amidst coils of dark blue light.

With heavyset wheezes the creatures leaned forwards, the trays slowly lowering as the glow faded and the trays came to a rest on the table with a soft clattering. As one the servers stepped to the side, standing to attention by a far wall.

“We hope you’ll enjoy it, Capitán. We weren’t sure what should be prepared, but perhaps a range of foods from the ‘Latin America’ of old Earth. Your marines are also very welcome to take some.”

Leonardo had to admit, he was impressed. The display- the cybernetically enhanced servers, the immaculate uniforms despite the alien physiology, the floating serving trays, was certainly the sort of thing he expected from an entirely alien nation. He snuffed the butt of his cigarette out, brushing any ash off his hand before moving to take the food.

The problem came when he reached out to one of the trays, carefully set with daintily looking tacos, and plucked one up. Already he was slightly irked- between Minerva’s hologram imitating his naval uniform and the Latin American food, he was already feeling as if Azulvista was being poked fun at, but it got worse as he realised what he held.

It was hard to stop himself from freezing. This was not a taco. This was a folded tostado, and it looked suspiciously like wheat, not corn. Slowly, trying to make sure his trepidation didn’t show, he bit into the front of it, one of the marines actually wincing at the audible crunch.

Mi abuela would flip a table if she was served this. Barely marinated, with far too much sour cream, guacamole and salsa and severely undersalted, and where the fuck was the coriander?

He had tried, really tried to keep the culinary horror off his face, but he was pretty sure he had failed, trying to finish the food he had already picked up quickly.

As Leonardo struggled to eat the non-taco without grimacing, the holograms likewise struggled to control their reactions. Minerva flickered several times as if her holographic form was failing her, while Gatsby flickered briefly but otherwise gave an amused smile – though something in his eyes gave away a nervous fear, the thought ‘we’ve offended him’.

Mars remained stone-faced, glancing periodically at the marines.

“Captain,” he said, sneering at the hulking, cybernetically augmented creatures who had brought the food, “I apologise for the poor quality of the food – the diplat sense of taste is geared towards things we would find repulsive, and the salinity of their world’s water supply distorts perspectives. I remember on Earth military food standards were famously rather… hit-or-miss, you might say, but I have no doubt your people’s standards have improved in the past three hundred years.”

“It is certainly a worthy attempt, and I must apologise for my reaction. It is not becoming of your generous hospitality.” He reluctantly picked another one of the tostado-things up as he continued to talk. “We in the navy have the luxury of consistent kitchens and mess halls, and officers such as myself have cooks fit for the station… It’s the infantry that must get along with inconsistencies.” He smirked a little- say what you would about the prestige associated with a tiny carrack command, but it was surprisingly comfortable once you got used to its eccentricity.

Mars nodded but said nothing, before glancing at the marines again. The hologram scratched his chin, as if a thought had suddenly appeared to him. Minerva politely smiled but otherwise seemed to be happy for Mars to speak.

“You know, I think it would greatly benefit our nations to arrange some form of joint-military exercise. The diplat have repeatedly proven themselves quite tenacious when under siege or in urban warfare, and with a few careful adjustments individuals have proven themselves in a range of extreme environments, but, well…” Mars gave a polite laugh, “they lack, mmm… military finesse, you might say. It sounds like your republic is very capable in such matters.”

Leonardo swallowed quickly in his hurry to respond. “While such an offer is generous and would likely have much merit to it, I must confess that I cannot be considered to speak on behalf of the Gran Republic when it comes to such matters. You must understand- I am no diplomat or admiral, carrying great authority within our nation. I’m merely a naval captain of good birth and bearing, sent here to investigate a missing probe.” Actually, that reminded him. “Speaking of which, I presume the probe has been held on this station? If that is the case, its return would be greatly appreciated, as property of the Republican Navy.”

There was a brief pause as Leonardo’s request hung in the air. Minerva and Mars both flickered repeatedly, as if malfunctioning – to the point where even the mole-creature, just quietly standing off to the side and staring at its feet, was now watching them with a… confused expression? Fear? The hulking server-creatures seemed to lean forward slightly, as if wrestling with whether they should run to get some kind of help.

Leonardo too, seemed rather concerned at the flickering of the holograms. They’d done this before, multiple times, for some reason which he had yet to fully fathom, but this was a longer and more intense bout of the apparent malfunction than had happened before.

Gatsby, however, remained stable – just an awkward smile crossed the hologram’s face. He gave a deep breath, then clapped his hands together and held them not far from his chest.

“Captain… you’re our guest, so whereas my colleagues seem content to lose their minds over this matter, I’ll be honest with you.”

He flickered very briefly, then snapped his fingers – from the mechanical body that projected him, a second hologram was then projected: a huge mess of components and dismantled machinery, carefully being catalogued or melted down and tested by about a dozen scuttling robots.

Slowly, Leonardo took another bite of the food, considering the matter as Gatsby continued to explain.

“I’m afraid to say that one of our colleagues was so eager to understand your probe and the potential risks to outsiders that she made the…” he paused, as if looking for a word other than ‘stupid’, “rash decision to have it captured and dismantled immediately.”

He gave an apologetic smile and let his hands open – an age old gesture of ‘how can we fix this’.

“My colleague has informed us that the probe is now in a state where it would be, well, unusable. We would like to make it up to your great republic – I appreciate that destruction of property, navy property in particular, is not a great first impression. We’re happy to return the parts and analysed materials, of course, but… is there something of exchange that might be more valuable instead?”

Minerva and Mars’ both snapped back into place, but simply stood there silently – Minerva in particular looked mortified.

Leonardo took a moment to mull over his words. “Firstly, of course, the analysed parts and materials would need to be returned, particularly the probe’s backup databanks- it’s ‘black box,’ so to speak. As for a repayment…” He paused once again. He wasn’t speaking for himself or his vessel any more, instead he was speaking for the Republic, something he was vastly underqualified to do. “What would you consider to be adequate compensation in a matter such as this, internally?”

Gatsby smiled, flickering briefly, “That’s fair. We’ll start returning the probe's components immediately.”

Indeed, in the space of a few seconds the various scuttling robots on the camera had paused their work, and just as quickly they set about re-attaching or restoring what components they could. Several of the bulkier diplat entered the room, and began to use both physical strength and the strange levitating abilities demonstrated to begin moving the various packs of dismantled parts and melted elements out of the room and off camera, to places unknown.

Then he smiled at Leonardo’s response to his offer by putting the onus on him. Gatsby stroked his chin, as if weighing up possible gifts.

“Well, mmm… I would offer some kind of equivalent machinery, but I appreciate it’s early days to be transporting unknown devices into your home system.”

Mars gave a scowl at Gatsby’s comment, a look of… ‘you’ll never hear the end of this’, but with an undercurrent that was harsher. Deadlier.

The machine at the centre of Gatsby’s hologram turned, its four lenses suddenly narrowing slightly in the direction of the mole-creature. Its gaze had shifted slightly as it stood to one side, glancing at Leonardo and the marines with something resembling paranoia.

A gentle smile spread across Gatsby’s mouth.

“These… ‘mathetes’, you called them? Do they handle all matters of scientific curiosity? Zoology, maybe?”

“It is the broad term for those who have completed an advanced academic degree- what Earth might call a ‘masters,’ of any subject, yes.” He quirked an eyebrow, curious as to where this was going.

Gatsby gestured to the diplat, snapping his fingers. When the creature turned to look at him, the machine projecting him emitted a set of noises, some sort of strange, brief mixture of clicks and… chewing, sounds? Whatever he’d said the creature responded dutifully, shuffling over on two legs when the shape of its arms suggested it would’ve been more comfortable sprinting on all fours.

“This dear fellow, the juggler? He is a member of what we’ve come to call ‘Quantity’ diplat – their genetic baseline, or close enough anyway. ‘True diplat’, unlike the more useful higher measurements that crew most of our ships and stations. I think your mathetes might find him most interesting to analyse, medicate, test…”

His voice hesitated briefly, as if about to use other terms, but held his tongue.

“Well, you get the idea. We have four-and-something billion of them, and they’re quite naturally short-lived.”

“They’re easy to miss.” chimed in Minerva.

“Yes, exactly. And don’t worry, we’ve had many opportunities to test for potential risks, all evidence shows that diplat and human diseases are near-mutually exclusive. Plus this one has been, and will be again, very carefully detoxified before boarding your ship – assuming the idea is agreeable?”

This time, Leonardo was able to hide his distaste. He was very glad he was, because the words that ran through his mind were anything but diplomatic. Slavers. Giving away a sapient being, viewing it as a disposable test dummy… If he’d have been back home, he would have spat on the ground at such an offer. But he wasn’t, and, realistically, bringing back a xenos to question and examine would certainly be appreciated. He swallowed down his distaste, instead focusing on practical matters.

“I can see a few small issues with this- one, you mentioned that their diet is somewhat different to ours? Would feeding him be an issue? Secondly, how are we to communicate? Thirdly, are there any other accommodations we’d need to make?”

Gatsby clapped his hands together.

“Oh, diet won’t be an issue at all. They’re omnivores, but particularly lean towards scavenging detritus – the core food set up for them is a kind of…” he cringed, “well, we’d call it slop, honestly. Our tests involving Earth-based food supplies show they can digest them well enough. And no, there shouldn’t be any other accommodations – if your ships and stations have a waste disposal system, it’ll be easy enough for him to figure out where to relieve himself.”

Minerva stepped in now, smiling flatly.

“And communications will, mmm… we could provide a small translation device?”

Gatsby rolled his eyes at the suggestion.

“Diplat are actually quite intelligent, with the right training. Their brains are hardwired for communication and cooperation – it won’t take long for me to teach him a few key commands in Spanish.”

“I would much prefer communication devices. A few key commands will hardly be useful should the mathetes wish to ask him about family structures or names.”

Gatsby flickered very briefly, almost imperceptibly so, but then just smiled and nodded.

“Excellent point, we’ll have it arranged right away… I must say capitán, this has been, just… thrilling, I don’t think any of us can emphasise it enough.”

Minerva stepped forward, “Yes, it’s been very informative. The other members of the Summation will be curious to know more and arrange more discussions… will you and your marines be staying longer? You’re our guests, of course.”

“I’m certain we can arrange to stay for a little longer, but I must be returning to my vessel somewhat soon, with the probe in tow. I have a report to submit to my superiors.”

It was as promised. Leonardo had stuck around for another few hours, fielded more questions and asked just as many, avoided eating anything else, and then once the news came through that the probe was safely stashed away in the Leonardo he took his leave.

The flight hovered in Summation space- just outside of the Gateway for a few hours more, relaying information back and forth, finally delivering the Time Measurement with a brief data package on what they should expect upon reaching the Meeting Place, and a summary on the rest of the Galaxy’s nations. With that, they turned, burnt engines, and with a surprising lack of ceremony, returned to their home system.


So had beamed the message in the hours following Leonardo’s departure. It was a warning that Gatsby had frowned at, but ultimately the others’ paranoia had won out – when it became clear that a number of other civilizations were also reaching out to make first contact so quickly, Roselle had been quick to point out what a mess first contact had been with this… Gran Republic. Time was needed to work out what limits would be needed, and information had to be gathered in more detail to know how the various colonies would feel about their… ‘eccentricities’, as she’d put it.

I suppose we can agree on that, Gatsby thought, though I think the juggler saved it, honestly.

The juggler… Grul-something, it was already escaping him, but it had dutifully followed his instructions.

“I have a special task for you,” he’d said, “go with these humans. We’ll be providing their ‘ Capitán Sorono’ with a device to translate for you – whatever he or anyone he assigns to guard you tells you to do, you will obey them, understood? When the time of your mission is over, I will come to collect you: but I warn you, it will probably be a very long time.”

He’d given a bit of the old spiel, about this being a special responsibility for the good of the diplat sphere. That they were rediscovering ancient allies, who would help the Summation and its good subjects rise to ever greater glory.

The juggler had frowned, quivering slightly, before looking up with that defeated look that so many of the creatures seemed to constantly carry.

“Will you tell my mother? They’ll miss me,” the juggler had pleaded, and for the briefest moment Gatsby had projected the image of a diplat, smiling gently and emitting sympathetic warbles.

“Yes, of course. We’re friends, Grul…” a brief flicker, “-Phell. I’ll make sure they get the news, and many gifts for having raised such a dutiful son.”

He hadn’t lied, of course – some might have in his place, but Gatsby was a good master. He’d been sure to record a brief message, a thank you with condolences and some petty lies about him having died in an accident involving an airlock. Compensation was an obvious inclusion, tickets to move to an apartment in a nicer burrow-city for his mother and a few of his siblings.

But all that having been dealt with and the various operations and projects of Spirit’s Loss finally returning to a measure of normality, Gatsby retired into his digital palace.

Ever so idly, he drifted through the data package that the azulvistans had provided them with; smiling here or there at the summaries of the dozens of other civilizations that had emerged since the Gates reopened.

For a moment, he almost started to skim read it… then something caught his eye. For an instant of time his mind flashed back to his time at university – a mortal man with mortal needs. His mind began to race, idle curiosity collapsing into a black hole of need.

Names. Two of them.

Human, and ancient, and by all rights very, very dead.


Application is now finished ^_^

[application has been reposted]
Character in progress.

Character you have created: Kayiphan
Alias: N/A
Speech Color: "This will suffice. It is the thought that matters."
Character Alignment: Villain, but convinced it's other peoples fault.
Identity: Unknown - he is soon to awaken on Earth.

Character Personality: Slow and ponderous, Kayiphan cares mainly about information - how systems of matter, energy, biology and society interact. He generally avoids speaking unless spoken to, content to listen and observe in social situations - especially since his arrival on Earth, a place that works so differently from the worlds he was used too. His nervous habits, of nail biting and hair twirling, often become apparent when he is in a moment of great concentration.
That said, Kayiphan is also arrogant, and sometimes dangerously so - his interest in other people primarily stems from what he can learn from them or how else they can be useful, or at least "different". In truth, he is obsessed with the concept of "value" as it applies to things - whether that be physical objects, animals, phenomena, nations, or individuals - whereby "value" is defined as "the degree to which a thing benefits or improves the status or efficiency of other components to the system(s) it is a part of". It is little wonder, then, that he felt so little guilt about his experiments on the Thirty Two Spheres. After all, what are a few lives or personalities - so easily written off by him as forgettable and ordinary - in the face of discovery? Of connecting worlds yet unconnected?

Uniform/costume: Kayiphan has no separate costume or 'secret identity', since he is not native to Earth and originated on a world with separate norms. However, his regular clothes from the Thirty Two Spheres stand out from the norm, consisting of a multi-layered toga in several shades of black, blue and lilac, with highlighted patterns of silver and red. Around his wrist is a golden bracelet that contrasts sharply against his pale blue skin, a token of appreciation from a long lost friend and the reminder of his need to return home. The black sandals he wears are tightly bound to his legs, while the tattoos etched down the bridge of his nose, lips and chest are a hold over of his branding and exile from his home sphere, the Thirteenth.

Origin Info/Details:

Season 1/2 Summary: Trapped in a mirror within mirrors, and then the upper most mirror was hurled into a colourless abyss for an unknowable length of time.
Hero Type: Other
Power Level: In his current state, he is merely at A level. However, given time to build up his resources and sufficient sapient beings to draw upon, he could become a C level or even D level threat.

Stepping through reflections: Kayiphan achieved his unique position by the development of a rare skill on the Thirty Two Spheres - "inverting". A mirrored surface is a key way to change our perception of ourselves and our surroundings, and those who learn to see beyond the surface and to 'cut off' or 'embrace' new perspectives can step through their reflections to visit other possible locations linked to a reflective surface. This power doesn't work for him on Earth in the way he is used to - he can't use it to step between worlds or long distances, instead being limited to roughly 100 feet.
Tracing from virtue: A far more prominent and dangerous ability unique to Kayiphan - or at least, that he uniquely was willing to develop - was the idea of extracting virtue. By touching a living creature or an object with sentimental and abstract associations to those who handle it, Kayiphan can temporarily manifest matter from the Thirty Two Spheres that matches the relevant virtue (or "colour"). This matter can take countless forms - from fields of colourful energy with unusual properties, to replicas of objects and technology he is familiar with, to temporary replicas - "echoes" - of people or living creatures that obey Kayiphan's will. Fortunately for the creatures of Earth, the fact that the five virtues are largely abstract qualities means that the harm caused by this extraction is greatly diminished, and the more accurate term while on Earth is tracing. While the process is still unpleasant - a subject whose tenacity is traced, for example, will find themselves suddenly losing their sense of determination for a brief period of time - it is not permanent and causes no physical harm other than a brief sense of nausea and a mild headache.
The five virtues of Kayiphan's home that he can interact with and trace are:
--- Novelty, Black, the First Virtue. A form of 'smart matter', a sort of naturally occurring swarm of microbial entities that can form into a variety of simple tools or patterns, and even mimic the other four virtues or colours to a lesser degree, albeit with greater effort. Tracing black from an object causes it to shrink and 'simplify', losing extraneous or distinctive details such as colouration, patterns, or small components. Tracing it from a living creature strips it of imagination or curiosity for a time, and can cause brief periods of insomnia.
--- Reason, Blue, the Second Virtue. A sort of 'quantum entanglement' on a macro-level canvas. Blue matter and energy is always created in pairs that perfectly mimic and reflect each other - a disc of blue matter that is shaped into a small pyramid, for example, will cause another equal amount of its "mirror half" to shape into an inverted pyramid. Tracing blue from an object causes it to rise in temperature, while a living creature traced of its blue will find itself struggling with long term thinking or concentration while the effect lasts.
--- Fairness, Silver, the Third Virtue. Increases the rate of entropy in its influence and can project fields that 'perfectly distribute' energy and motion within all areas of the field simultaneously. Grows exponentially stronger in response to heightened energy - such a field can be slowly walked through with ease, for example, but would stop a guided missile in its tracks. Tracing silver from an object weakens its structural integrity, while tracing it from a living creature saps it's sense of awareness and patience for a time.
--- Warmth, Gold, the Fourth Virtue. Supports the growth and health of living matter within its influence and lights, allowing living things to survive for extended periods in relative comfort - even without access to all of their physical needs (food, water, air, sleep etc.). In concentrated amounts, it rapidly regenerates systems of matter and energy in a way the observer perceives as 'correct' - usually medical, but in theory this could also be used to accelerate the rate at which a machine, for example, decays or breaks down. Tracing gold from an object sterilizes it of microbial life or nutrients, while tracing it from a living creature dampens a its sense of empathy or compassion for a time, and slows the rate of its natural processes.
--- Tenacity, Red, the Fifth Virtue. Generates and stores energy at over 100% efficiency, but highly volatile - like all of the colours it is organic and mildly empathic in nature, and so requires to be in close proximity to someone or something with a strong will to direct it and prevent it exploding from any sharp increases in heat or pressure. Can thus be detonated with little effort, or used to fuel living creatures or machines to supernormal levels. Tracing red from an object drains it of energy and motion, while tracing it from a living creature causes it to lose any sense of momentum, desire or willpower temporarily.

Attributes (Select one at each category):
Height: 6"4
Weight: 230lb
Strength: Kayiphan is not a very physically strong individual - barely able to lift about 60 pounds at a real push. Were he to fuel himself on traced tenacity first, however, he could push into just past peak human levels - a little bit over 500 pounds.
Mobility: Likewise, Kayiphan is sluggish, needing to stop for breath even after a short sprint. With traced tenacity, he could potentially hit a dead sprint of roughly 25mph, and keep it going until the effect wore off in an hour or so - though he would probably pass out afterwards from the strain.
Intelligence: Above average, experienced with life on many worlds and a keen scholar of numerous scientific and cosmological fields - albeit ones that were very different from earth. It will take him time to adjust his knowledge and skill set to earth.
Fighting Skill: Kayiphan has always disliked physical conflict and has little practice, but he has received some training in close quarters fighting from his former friends and other inverters. His style is very improvised, making use of the terrain and random objects.
Resources: Kayiphan currently lacks any resources except the mirror he was sealed in, and the dark blue robes he wears.

Weaknesses: Aside from the fact that Kayiphan is fundamentally mortal - and thus is vulnerable to injury and exhaustion as much as anyone else - there is also the fact that he is unused to technology on Earth. This extends beyond merely a need for practice, as he is used to technology and artifacts on worlds which are fueled by and work on the principles of the five virtues. Earthly technology works by principles that are alien to him. More broadly, of course, his strangely imposing physical appearance and his anti-social persona, as well as his ignorance on Earth history, art, and culture.

Supporting Characters:

Do you know how to post pictures on RPG boards?:

"Hmph. A simple question - yes, I do know how. In exchange, I'll ask you a stranger question: is a creature worthy without virtue?"



Banner credit to Nitemare Shape. Thanks Boss!

A Spark of Golden Hope: Episode 3


Rivertown District, Detroit, July 7th
EGE building

Sonya arched one delicate brown eyebrow as the newcomer mumbled out his purpose in entering the building. Green eyes flicked over the state of his clothes and the shy attitude. While she wasn’t actually meant to be at the reception area right now, she had taken over for a moment while the usual receptionist, Kyle, had gone to talk to one of the civilian employees. So now she was stuck in a situation she hadn’t actually wanted to deal with in the first place. One fine-boned hand tapped the pen she was holding rapidly on the glass top of the desk.

“I’m sorry, sir, you said you were at the rally? Does that mean you’re here for the community outreach program?” While her tone of voice didn’t have any malice or patronisation in it, it was cool and emotionless, purely professional.

Everett couldn’t help but give an awkward sort of chuckle - he could just tell this was going to be difficult to navigate. Her eyes gave him no room for error.
… Then stop grinning like an idiot.

“Um, yes, I was very curious! … About the program, I mean, it’s, um… a bit of a long story really?”

He glanced back down at the pamphlet, the ink on the paper having started to smudge and deteriorate into the paper from the nervous rubbing of his fingers and repeated folding and unfolding as the day had progressed. The word “re-affirm” suddenly stood out like a parent at a child’s recital, and he tried to refocus.

“Came over to Detroit lookin’ for ways to build a community. Help people, since, uh…”

He bit his lip slightly, avoiding Sonya’s piercing eyes as he glanced around the room once again.

“It’s a long story, but I think I could do a lot of good! Here! Like this,” he nodded, hand waving a little across the room - the point of his rambling had started to elude him, though he struggled to think about how it might look to others.

“Ah, ahem.” The woman cleared her throat slightly. The tapping of the pen had ceased, replaced by a faint scritching as she wrote something swiftly on a small pad next to her. She motioned the young man to move closer so he could read it without her exposing the script to the glass of the door, and thus outside. It simply had one word, in neat copperplate handwriting: “Meta?”

His lips seemed to still be searching for the words as the tapping stopped.

“Oh, ass, um…”

“How did she know?”

Who can know it, Mansa. Maybe it is a sign?

Signs were good, weren’t they? Better than trying to find your way out of a forest at midnight on your own, anyway.

“... Yes,” he nodded, awkward smile returning into a slightly wider grin, a few yellowing teeth showing through, “it’s, uh, not very… ‘flashy.’,” he winked, “But it is… ‘expensive’?”

The wink was more nervous that time.

Sonya’s entire demeanor shifted, ever so subtly. The eyebrow quirked up again at that ‘joke’, but otherwise she paid it no heed. However, her shoulders relaxed ever so slightly, and she stood up with a rush and purpose. And then she vanished, without a sound. Several seconds went by before she reappeared again, exactly the same.

“Very well, Mr Atut. Follow me, please, and we’ll see about getting you in and checked out.” Without waiting for a response, she took off at a steady, determined stride down the front of the office space, passing a double row of desks. A short man with curly blonde hair rushed past her in the opposite direction, heading for the desk she had so swiftly abandoned.

“Apologies for the necessity, but Miss Richter does require we do this away from the less exceptional employees, and also insists on personally knowing the, ah….quirks of everyone working in the organisation, the better to decide what tasks to assign them.” She turned a corner, down a carpeted hallway. A pair of doors on each side led to conference rooms, one of which was open and what looked to be a design meeting was in full swing. Her hand swung out, touched the door just so, and it swung shut as she passed.

“Of course, you can always refuse, but I’m afraid we’re not going to get anywhere without cooperation, correct?” she arrived at a set of steel doors, shining in the fluorescence of the hallway lighting. She pressed down on a discreet panel to one side, and there was a brief pause before the door opened. For a split second, as the door opened, there were actually two of her, both flickering on a barely noticeable level. And then there was one again. The doors opened onto a landing, stairs leading down into the basement, cool air blowing up from the next floor down.

Everett tried to smile through all of this, though it had to be said the shimmer had caught him off guard a little. First the sudden vanishing and reappearing, now this strange shimmer?

Had she moved them both through space somehow…? Whatever it was, it made the hairs on his arms rise, and he took a deep breath, nodding along as she spoke.

“O-of course, ‘course, that makes a lot of sense, yeah. I’ve been trying to keep on the low- my options, open. Options open. So I was a bit nervous about all this, won’t lie, and…” he glanced down at the basement, fingers fidgeting with the old hat in his hands, “walking down into dark basements isn’t usually, um…”

He sighed deeply, then the sigh became a yawn, and the yawn became a nervous, sweaty rubbing of the eyes in the cool rising air.

“Not usually something I do. But, um, Ms Richter, she… she’s clearly a very well, organized, sort of person, and I think we could both benefit.”

He paused, before then slowly but surely stepping down the stairs, the smell of his clothes drafting behind him.

“I have a lot to offer, it’s, um… in high demand.”

She gave him a sideways glance over her shoulder at that comment, eyes narrowed in calculation, but didn’t say anything.

The stairwell came to another set of doors that apparently required her unusual approach. This one, however, had an open panel next to it, clearly a space where a different security measure would be in place later on. These doors opened onto a brightly lit white hallway, wide enough for four people to walk side by side. It ran for quite some ways into the distance, interspersed with intersections and doors. They came to the very first door on the right, one with a large bay window facing into what looked like a normal studio apartment. There were a few details not quite right, however.

As a living room, it looked quite normal, if a bit run down. Ugly plaid couch, coffee table with a stack of magazines, ceiling fan and light, end table with a lamp and hardline phone, television and what seemed to be a full suite of modern gaming consoles. On second glance, two televisions. The one on the wall was a giant flat screen, but on the floor in front of it was an old twelve inch CRT with an attached VCR. Adjoining space contained what might generously be called a combination kitchenette and bathroom. There was a large industrial tub with a massive faucet, at least, and what looked to be an ancient iron fire-burning stove.

Sonya opened the door and there was a faint whoosh of pressurised air escaping, then held it open for Everett to follow her in.

He nodded and smiled, shaking his hat at her very slightly, and stepped forward… then stopped, just for a moment, his eyes flickering as if listening to someone.

Mansa, one has been thinking, and this seems… unusual.

“... I thought you wanted me to come here.”

One merely noted she had the spirit of a queen, but-

“A bit late to warn me now, isn’t it? I swear you really can be useless sometimes-”


“Shut it, okay? Stop distracting me.”

He blinked deeply, squeezing out the image in his mind’s eye to refocus on Sonya, and followed through with a forced smile, taking in the sights and breathing in the smell.

“This is, um…” he smiled again, this time a little warmer than before… and then he saw the game’s console and the set up, and he had the briefest flash of a memory.

Nothing grand, of course, but the layout of the room was achingly close. How long had it been now… 10 months? A year?

The clock had kept ticking, and in the never-ending chase everything had felt stretched - too much needle, nowhere near enough thread.

… He sniffed, shook his head a little, and tried to re-focus.

“S-sorry, it’s just, um…” he swallowed, “It’s been a while since I was in an actual house, you know that? It’s very nice! An impressive rig, too! My little brother, he, uh-”


His rambling stopped with a jolt, the sound of the heavy metal door slamming behind him. He turned to look at Sonya, her gaze still relentlessly detached and observant.

The wake of the echo was a cold and uncomfortable silence.

Sonya waited for several beats, watching the man’s reaction as he processed what had just happened. Finally, she broke the silence.

“You may have some questions. They will be answered either right now, in my little speech, or afterwards, one way or the other.” She let that sentence hang for a moment before continuing, “Whatever powers you may have, Miss Richter will need to see for herself. This room allows her to do so without fear of either her own safety or yours.”

Another ominous pause.

“Do not attempt to escape. The area this room is situated in is very secure, hence the unfortunate measure of locking you in here. While I would normally point out that there is, in fact, a mini fridge full of refreshments, I do not believe you will have long to wait before she can come down. In the meantime, do not do anything...regrettable.” And with her power’s usual disappointing lack of dramatic effect, she vanished, leaving him in the room to stew.

Huh. Well. Mmm.

He clasped and rubbed his hands together, the sudden loneliness throwing him off, just for a moment.

His face screwed up, just a little, as he tried to think what to do next. This Richter lady would be arriving soon, and she was obviously a very capable and, to Everett’s mind, purposeful sort of person. Not really someone he wanted to make enemies with, exactly.

He had to do something impressive, something really… wow.

“Maybe I could-”


He clutched his stomach, the thought of food having finally caught up with the thought of failure, and now they rested in his stomach like some sort of horrible parasite-baby.

… Okay, okay, fridge first - she won’t mind, right? I can buy a dozen fridges - then plan.

Without a moment’s hesitation he skipped over to the fridge - a straight forward sort of unit, two feet tall, shiny and plastic and chrome. The rubber felt fresh beneath his fingers as it opened, and…

For just a moment, he really could have cried. As a teen he’d lamented the supposedly terrible quality of american snacks, but here they were in abundance.

At first he paused, taking a deep breath, and carefully peeling open the wrapper to a single twinkie.

Just one, he thought, To tide me over. Just one.

But as pillowy cake and soft, fake cream hit his tongue, the deed was done. Like a childishly edgy prank that had inevitably spiralled into lovecraftian horrors, the most basic instinct of all living things had kicked in with a vengeance and he was suddenly much, much hungrier than he had been even just a moment ago.

For the next minute he tore into packet after packet, breathing in the smells and textures, and for just a moment, he forgot why he was even there.

Then the intercom crackled to life, and a german accented voice - with only half an intention to do so - nearly choked him to death, and along with it back to the present.

Moments ago…

Zoë no longer jumped in shock whenever Sonya appeared in front of her. It had taken some getting used to, that was certain, but by now it was just an annoyance. A rather large one at this point, as the girl had appeared between her and a sword that was strung from the ceiling some distance away from her easel. She scowled.

”Yes, Sonya?” Her voice dripped with, while not malice, sarcasm that indicated that it could, indeed, become malicious at the listener’s provocation.

“Sorry, ma’am, but we have a meta in the test lab and I didn’t think you’d be too busy.” Sonya sketched a quick shrug. She was one of the few that could actual remain safe while the temperamental meta was angry with them, much to her employer’s chagrin. Then again, they had a good working relationship, and Sonya, at least for her part, trusted Forge to an almost fanatical degree.

Zoë sighed, laying aside her brush and holding out her hand. She had changed into a well-worn and paint spattered pair of pale jeans and a flannel button up tee, both old enough to probably be retired but now used as crafting clothes. ”Very well, let us see what has wandered into the net, hmm?””

Sonya took the proffered hand, and Zoë found herself outside the “capture room”. Definitely going to need to come up with a better name for it at some point. She crossed her arms while Sonya ran her through everything that had occurred since the young man had come through the front door, all the while watching him gorge himself on cheap food, and then leaned forward and pressed the small switch next to the door. The inside of the room echoed with her voice, using her normal ‘Miss Richter’ slight German accent.

”Good afternoon, Mr. Atut. My name is Erika Richter. I am very curious to know what it is your powers are? Maybe a small demonstration? Nothing too major, but, you see, that is what this room is set up to do. If it’s destructive, please try to tone it down, but don’t be afraid to cut loose a little bit. The walls are very thick reinforced concrete and the window is extremely durable material as well. Everything inside is, of course, easily replaceable.”

Everett’s eyes widened as he tried to simultaneously avoid choking, to pay attention to what was actually being said, and to make quick work of a diet pepsi.

He stumbled over a beanbag chair as he awkwardly jogged back to the intercom by the door, brushing down his jacket of crisp shards and twinkie crumbs as if that would make any difference at all, and then leant into the intercom.

“Ah, um…! Yes, a pleasure to hear from you, Ms Richter, very impressive rally earlier! Really good!”

Everett, you’re breathing into the intercom, stop breathing!

He sucked his chest in a little and stood back, just a bit.

“The demonstration, um… do you have any preference as to what I, um... target with it? I appreciate a lot of this equipment is quite expensive, probably!”

”In fact, Mr. Atut, all of this was very kindly donated and is for this express purpose. But if you need a little direction, let’s sayy...the coffee table. It’s quite old and smells a bit of cat in my opinion. In your own time, Mr. Atut.”

“Oh, uh, fantastic! Great, I’ll do that, then!”

He turned and looked down at the table, a slightly battered old piece - an antique in the least interesting sense, and now that he thought about it, it did smell suspiciously like an old cat.

Not exactly to be missed, so.

Breathe deep, he thought, inhaling through his nose. His eyes closed, and he took a few more breaths.

He slowly raised his right hand outstretched, a single finger slowly pointing at the faded table. As he did, his right eye opened, and just for a moment… it glowed, a dark and brilliant orange. Like a sunset at the lowest point, or a shard of eons-old amber fresh from the soil.

In his mind’s eye the table was aglow. A warm and folding light, and in an instant of time it stretched and contorted, the foundational chains of its existence, the spheres linked by lightning, infinitesimal to the eyes of man.

His right hand curled, and there was the difference.

“Change.” he said, and his fingers snapped, and for the briefest of moments the room was made of gold.


And then, as the light returned to normal, the table was gone.

In its place was something that would, if you squinted, resemble a table - albeit for very small, very rich people with really poor taste in furniture.

A mass of solid, glimmering gold, awkwardly propped up on four deformed and stump-like legs, warped and crumpled under the weight of the central mass.

Everett smiled, the feeling always a pleasant one… though he quickly lost the sense of power when the table completely collapsed under its own weight and formed into a single loose collection of golden lumps on the floor.

He turned to the intercom.

“So, um, bit of a long story, but that table is now, very… gold. ‘Fraid I can’t turn it back, though.”

There was the faintest of sharp inhalations through a nose. ”Very good, Mr. Atut. Any other powers?”

Everett’s awkward grin faded a little, eyes widening with concern.

“No, I’m afraid, ah… just that. I can actually do it more quickly, it just… I’ve been a bit out of practice. Sort of. Don’t normally use it on stuff that large.”

”Oh, I don’t think that should be a worry, Mr. Atut. Just making sure it wasn’t necessary to see you make something explode, as well. While this rooms furnishings are replaceable, some others are very much not. Please do not be alarmed in a few moments.”

Sonya blinked her employer back to the office, counted to fifteen, then blinked in, laid her hand on Everett’s shoulder, and transported him to the office as well.

The room had come a long way since Zoë had taken over the building. Gone were the threadbare carpets, replaced by shining darkwood. The desk was ostentatious in its size, especially given that the woman who now sat at it looked for all the world like a college art student. She reclined back into the creaking leather chair, which matched the walls and blotter on the desk in a deep forest green. Several landscape paintings were hung around the room, though they had an edge to them. The one directly behind her, for example, was of a fairly standard grassy plain, possibly Italian. However, the geometry was off, and the sense of scale was carefully turned on its ear, leaving the viewer with a slight sense of vertigo, despite its otherwise flawless workmanship. To the man’s right was a large window, looking out over the office space he had gone past earlier.

”So, Mr. Atut,” she said, glancing at Sonya behind him, who very suddenly wasn’t there any more. ”The first question may be the most obvious. Was that really gold? And if so, why do you look like your next stop after this interview would be the nearest homeless shelter?”

Everett took a moment to breathe again, the sudden warping having thrown him for the dozenth loop this day, and then shook his mind back to reality and smiled at her.

“Um, right! Straight to the questions! That, yes, actually… that does make sense, so, first question.”

He clasped his hands together, gave a tight-lipped smile, and then shrugged his shoulders heavily.

“You’re welcome to test it. I’ve been doing this for… over a year, now? It’s really, really gold. 100%. Purer than pure. And, well, as to why I’m dressed like this, I…”

Might as well be honest at this point. Penny for a pound.

“I’ve… okay, might be a silly question, you ever hear of a… ‘superhero’ that was sighted around London last year, named Mansa? Possibly was accused of murdering a politician? That, that was me - I mean, uh, to clarify, not the murder, that was a different guy, but they pegged it on me, see, because I wouldn’t join them - the murderers, not the politicians, though I wasn’t a fan of them either - and so I had to go into hiding, and fled here, and then the Hound attacks threw everything in the garbage, and now, uh, mmm.”

He took another, deeper breath.

“It’s… things are sort of in the can right now, honestly.”

‘Miss Richter’ kept her gaze on the man for some time before speaking, almost as if she was still processing this information. Her eyes were, however, glittering with intelligence, not cow-eyed with difficulty. Finally, she steepled her fingers and gently itched the end of her nose with a still interlocked index finger.

”Let me tell you what I am hearing, and then you can correct me if I am mistaken.” Her voice, despite the words, was very warm, like a parent just trying to understand, or a therapist. No judgement in it.

”You were ‘doing good’ in London, helping people - back to that in a moment, by the way - before you got caught up by your enemies in a character assassination. Seeing no other option, you fled the country, and have been keeping a low profile here. Where you are not legally permitted to live, unless I miss my mark. And where you are, in fact, hiding instead of clearing your name. Which means there’s something in your past you do not want to face?”

She breathed in slightly, laying her hands flat. ”Bear in mind, Mr. Atut, that your past is yours, to keep secret as you wish, but also to deal with. We live in a world where the old comic books seem to have come to life, and I am sorry to say the transition is not smooth, as the Hounds so aptly demonstrated. But one thing seems clear about...well, our people, as it were. We tend to be like cats, solitary by nature. And yet here I am trying to herd them, and at the same time trying to change the world for the better. It’s going to get violent, Mr. Atut, of that I have no doubt, and I would be ashamed to lead you on differently.”

”Which, of course, is my point. You’ve come here, gathering from my speech that I intend to go good work, and what I presume is the same core bit of you that made you want to be a hero in the first place has you in my office now. Well and good, but what happens when the chips are down, Mr. Atut? Will you run again? And what of these murderers? Surely they do not want loose ends? My point is, how much do I have to worry once you’re in my employ? How much added stress and danger am I going to have?”

The words were heavy, and they sank into him like wet sand.

That same heaviness began to infiltrate into the back of his mind, and the world felt just a little foggy. But it was not foreign to him - rather, there was something deeply familiar to it, like recognizing a childhood face in the crowd.

Will you run again?

He bit his lip, slumping down in the chair. His eyes were focused on his hands, and there they lingered, trying to piece together far more than he had really paid mind to in recent months.

“I,” he whispered, “I’m not sure.”

His teeth ground together slightly, pouring over the thoughts, trying to piece together how on Earth he was supposed to explain all of this to the stranger in front of him - truthfully, how much he even should have told her.

“It’s,” he sighed, his whole body shaking with the weight of his memories, “it’s complicated, and I’m not completely sure of the situation back home right now. I haven’t spoken to my family in almost a year - to protect them, and those… idiots, called themselves the “Osiris Collective” like they were anything more than self-righteous gangsters; I don’t know what happened to them. They were smart enough to frame me, but petty enough to do it over a disagreement, and they had no resources outside of their group… I honestly think they might all be dead or in prison by now.”

He looked up at her, her gaze still focused, reading his every move. He couldn’t help but sweat a little.

“I thought this power, this… thing in my head, could make the world better on its own. That I could just give people with nothing to their names’ a handful of gold, and fix all the inequality and struggle, but people… society, is more complex than that. When it brought the wrong people to my door, I didn’t know what else to do, so I panicked, and now I’m stuck here.”

He gave a nervous smile.

“On the other side of the coin, this country is somehow in a worse state than home - no offence - and I… I think if I had somewhere to direct this power, someone to help me guide this golden hand, maybe...”

He held out his right hand, slightly limp, and offered as carefree a smile as he could muster, his eyes wide.

“It won’t end like last time.”

Zoë stared at the proffered hand, mind racing. Real, live, actual Midas touch. Infinite gold. Funding will never be a problem again. Carefully, though. The is a gift that should not be abused, both for his sake and to keep attention away.

”I am willing to guide you, yes. But before we, ah, shake on it, you’ll need some ground rules, yes? As much as we are looking to help, you are still, by and large, going to be my employee, not partner. Which means the usual sort of thing, plus a contract, and some additional things I’ll need to determine because of your rather dangerous ability, Mr. Atut.”

As much as she sounded standoffish, though, her posture became much more relaxed and convivial, her tone less rigidly proper. Her feet, in their pink and white Reeboks, appeared and were propped up on her desk while she leaned back and regarded him carefully.

”The speech at the rally you heard was actually not meant for metahumans, really. That was for the people who have to do things the normal way. You and I and Sonya and others are much different. If you’d like to use older terminology, we are quite close to demigods, though I doubt any divine source of power, at least for me. But the power we have gives us infinitely more choice in our lives, as all forms of power do. We are given, through whatever means, the ability to shape the world to our liking well beyond what ‘mere mortals’ could. I intend to use mine responsibly, to clean up messes I otherwise couldn’t, and to help those without voices regain control of their destinies, not to be cattle and sheep fed into the machine that has steadily replaced choice in this world. To that end, there will be many who might end up calling me a villain. If I fail, I am more than certain that they will do all they can to metaphorically burn me at the stake, along with any who might help me.”

She rotated her chair, gesturing out of the window to their side. ”Out there are several dozen people who do not know all of this, because it will not be pretty and I intend to insulate them from the damage should everything go catastrophically wrong. Down below, where you were earlier, are the people who have found out or otherwise been informed choose to go, knowing that it might mean their livelihoods, or in the extreme, their actual lives.

She spun her chair back, feet dropping, to face him. Her demeanor shifted back to the more professional side. ”You, Mr. Atut, have a choice to make. This is your fight, but only if you make it yours. You are one of the metahumans. You could make a difference anywhere you go, really, not just with me or any other of our kind. And you may well fit in other places better than here. You may walk out of that front door to think about it. You may go see others of our kind and get a feel for them. You may do any number of things, but let me tell you right now, before you truly decide, that once I let you into the basement areas as an actual employee, Mr. Atut,” and here she paused between each word, hammering them with emphasis, ” There. Is. No. Going. Back.”

She smiled, genuinely and warmly. ”Of course, should you leave, think about it, or even go work for someone else for a while, then return here, there will be a position waiting for you. I like your eyes, Mr. Atut, they have quite a bit to say behind them, things moving that you need to process. And you came to me rather swiftly, which I appreciate. So you have, as it were, a standing offer. What I can give you right now is my solemn promise that it is not just because of your rather remarkable ability that you have this offer, and I will never force you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with. You will always have a choice, saving that once you’re in, you’re in for good. Or until we collapse, of course.”

Only now, after saying her piece, did she offer her hand.


Throughout all of this he had watched her intently, followed her movements, and the office below. At last she offered the hand of her own, and the metaphorical ink suddenly seemed to take on a shade of red...

He stepped backwards slightly, stroking his chin, eyes darting downwards as he rolled it over in his head, over and over.

A one way journey, Mansa.

“And the people will say it’s straight to hell.”

This queen of flames is willing to balance prosperity on a knife’s edge… perhaps my words before were misplaced?

“Perhaps, but... we’re here now, lost up a creek, right?”

There in that office, the cool air-conditioning on his neck and the offer of purpose a handshake away, alternatives seemed as meaningless as hoping to win the lottery on a single torn ticket.

She was right - his power was a tremendous gift, something utterly unique, and he was wasting it playing at homelessness because of his fear and self-imposed isolation.

Self-imposed? tapped the spider,

“I did this to myself.”

A lie, Mansa, no-

“That, or you did.”

The spider’s incessant tapping fell silent, vanishing from view, and once again it was simply two metas in the renovated, ambitious office. His mind wandered for a moment on the white and pink sneakers, and the junk food in the fridge, in contrast to this place and what had been built so far, what was implied to have been built below.

She was human, this Richter. Human, but smart and more than a little artistic, ambitious.

Everett stepped forwards, his eyes locking into hers and briefly losing the nerves that had defined them so far - nervousness replaced with a sense of pleading.

I hope I’m not wrong.

“My hands could make anyone rich, Ms Richter. But I don’t really care about it for myself, and trying to help people on the ground hasn’t worked. And as for the systems in place, they…”

He sighed, a weak smile passed across his cracking lips.

“The systems are broken, the prosperity always winds up in the hands that need and deserve it least. But you… you strike me as someone with a plan, and a purpose, and willingness to use those systems only as needed. You don’t seem to view your people as expendable, either, and you don’t fear your rivals or outsiders, it’s… refreshing, honestly.”

With a sudden, deep breath he reached out and grasped her hand, a strength to the grip that seemed sudden and heavy.

“I’ll take that offer.”

He nodded, “No more running.”

She breathed out through her nose at the shake, and returned his nod, a slight edge of tension leaving her shoulders. ”Excellent. I’m glad you’ve chosen to work with us. We’ll have Sonya draw up a contract, which will just be the usual non-disclosure stuff, along with your pay and accomodations. Given the uniquely valuable and, ah, tempting power of yours, I might prefer you to stay in the more secure quarters downstairs, but we can discuss that once we’ve got you settled in and meeting people.”

She released his hand to press an unobtrusive button on a panel on her desk. Sonya’s voice came through a tiny microphone/speaker combo less than a second later. “Yes, Miss Richter?”

”We’ll need to get back downstairs, Sonya, and then I’ll need to discuss an employment contract with you later tonight.”

“Of course, Miss. Just a moment.”

Sonya flickered into the office, lightly resting a hand on the recruit’s shoulder, leaning past him, and meeting her index finger with the one Zoë stretched out to her. And then they were back in front of the examination room. Sonya disappeared just as quickly, leaving them in the brightly lit hallway.

”Any questions before we begin the tour?”


He’d visibly tensed up at Sonya’s reappearance, and went rigid as once again he was pushed through spacetime, the bright lights of the hallway snapping into place around him as suddenly and simply as viewing the next photo on a slideshow.

“Yes. Does she do that a lot, without asking…? And if she does, can she just sort of…”

He waved his hand slightly, before landing on a cautious “not?”

Zoë chuckled, gesturing for him to follow her down the hall. [color]”It is a little disconcerting, isn’t it? Alas, until we get the doors finished, it’s the best way down here. And, of course, until we can get you registered into the biometric system, which is unfortunately not up yet. At the moment, she is the most reliable way down here. I will tell her not to be so abrupt with you, however.”[/color]

As they walked, her sneakers squeaked on the floor, and she had a little skipping step every once in a while, and a bounce. Having dropped her business-like demeanor from the interview, she began acting very much more her age, and it became somewhat obvious that she couldn’t be much more than legal drinking age. She flicked her hair idly as they passed one door that stood open, revealing several snack machines, pool tables, couches, and televisions.

”Here is the rec room, where you are of course encouraged to meet people while on break, blow off some steam, et cetera. Next to it, the one that’s closed, is the gymnasium, which has amongst other things fight training, resistance, weight, and a small number of aerobic machines. Unfortunately, I’ve run into some snags clearing a trainer as yet, but it shouldn’t be too long. In the mean time, please feel free to make use of it as you will, but if you hurt yourself by using equipment improperly, we only have the one doctor on staff right now.”

Another gesture down one T-intersection as they passed pointed out several doors. The cool air from the A/C vents ruffled her shirt slightly, clearly more intense in that direction. ”Here we have the dormitories, where you will be staying until you make other arrangements, or we get you set up in a private room on the next floor down. That whole floor has yet to be finished, of course, or I would show you around down there.”

She stopped with another squeak, gesturing further down the corridor. ”Down in that direction we have our power supply and water treatment facility, which I am assured is of top quality, along with our server room and, just here at the intersection, Doctor Emilia Rivera’s office. She’s not in today, or I would introduce you. She is quite good and very passionate.”

She gave Everett a conspiratorial wink and a grin. ”Just don’t bring up anything political with her, she can go on longer than even I can and we have had some disagreements about healthcare positions before. However, she is very professional and will save your life as often as is necessary. We managed to snag her from a university hospital down in Mexico.”

She stood, facing him, elbows out and hands on her hips, looking quite proud. The strength of the white light on the white walls managed to make her look even more pale and blonde, and there was a playful glint in her eyes. ”So, what do you think?”

He smiled, looking back over his shoulder and around at the walls as he thought over what he’d seen. Seeing her sudden loosening of reactions and movements left him feeling a lot more open, though the tapping of the spider suddenly took on a more sinister tone in the middle of such bright, monochrome white…

She’s even younger than me, isn’t she?

“It’s impressive, for sure, to have all of this set up underground, does…”

He bit his lip, eyes darting as he struggled to word it in a way he hoped wouldn’t upset her.

“You mentioned you were expecting to make powerful enemies. I assume this is all strictly off the books...?”

Wait is that a suspicious thing to ask?

He laughed nervously, “For my resume, you understand... ‘Secret underground lair, July 2018 till Present’ is hard to use as a reference at MacDonalds.”

He waited for the awkwardness to pass, hopefully - or at least until it was tolerable - before shrugging and gesturing both forward and backward along the hallway.

“But it’s… it’s impressive, and all with - by the sounds of it - a fairly small operation so far. It makes me confident, you know? A good foundation, I think.”

Zoë’s face slid into a nearly fae smile. She leaned one hand on the wall next to her, opposite the dorms, and listened politely, nodding. Her eyebrow quirked up at it being small. Her fingers tapped out a distinct rhythm on the wall, and a panel slid open, revealing another hall. This one’s walls, however, were made of glass, and it made a significantly longer run than the one they were standing in. Somewhere beyond the glass it shifted into another section of white panelling. She gestured for him to step through the secret door.

”Small is an odd word to use, but yes, by the standards of, say, a government lab or military base, you are quite correct. And yes, we will make very powerful enemies, ones who want to stay in secret and hold the status quo. We are here to fight them, and we will be constantly outclassed in terms of funding and on just about every other factor. Except tenacity, really.”.

Through the glass walls were spaces of concrete floor, around thirty feet by fifty. Only two were anything but bare. The one immediately on their left held what looked to be a chemistry lab, along with lots of other machinery. Two men in lab coats looked up and waved at her as they passed the hall, to which she nodded. Just outside the door stood what looked to be a soldier, in black tactical gear and holding one of those small, very compact and high-tech sub-machine guns. He came briskly to attention as they passed him, then returned. A swift backwards glance revealed him to be playing with what looked to be a Game-Boy.

The second used space held a young man of Asian descent, sitting cross-legged in the very center of the area. Various crystals and mirrors floated around him in mid-air, though they began settling down as she approached the door guard outside his space. She shook hands with the guard.

”Robbins, this is...ahhh, crud. What exactly was your code name anyway, Mr. Atut? Oh, never mind, you won’t be using it around here anyway, that’s only for being out and about. This is Everett. Everett, Bill Robbins, one of our security team.” She had to raise her voice over the din of the exposed air conditioning above them. Either this area was unfinished yet or was purposely more spartan.

Robbins held his hand out for a shake. He was missing the pinky on his right hand, and a nasty scar dimpled his chin and jawline. “Pleasure to meet you, sir. Always nice to see fresh faces around here.”

Everett’s hanging jaw awkwardly snapped shut as he looked down at Bill’s open hand. He tried to refocus, not to let the sudden shift from “large basement” to “spy thriller headquarters” totally overwhelm his ability to think or socialize, though it was tricky.

“Uh, pleasure to meet you too, Mr Robbins. I’ll try to fit in, though my expectations are… sort of a roller coaster right now.”

Bill let out a deep belly laugh. “Yeah, the Little Lady loves her some surprises.” He very specifically seemed to pronounce the capital letters. He turned to Zoë. “I don’t know where Smith is right now, but if you send him down to the office here in a bit we can get him carded.”

”Thanks Bill. Is he busy at the moment?” She inclined her head to the man inside the glass room.

“Ah, should be finishing up any minute now.” The big man slid a card through the slot next to the door and opened it for them. Zoë held a finger to her lips for Everett’s sake and slipped just inside the door.

The man inside had just stood up. He came over to them and gave Zoë a deep bow from the waist, and another, much lighter bow to Everett.

”Everett, this is Yoshida. Yoshida, Everett will be joining the crew. His power is on the same danger level yours is.”

The Japanese man’s eyebrows raised slightly in surprise, then he nodded. He reached for the wall next to the door and grabbed a towel, then proceeded to wipe the sweat from his brow and hair. He was wearing a gi which was also damp, and the whole room smelled of it, despite the chill from the industrial sized air conditioning vent above them.

Zoë rapped her knuckles on the glass of the door, allowing Robbins to step out of the way smartly before she opened it, motioning the two of them back out. Yoshida nodded in thanks and proceeded back towards the living areas they had departed without another word.

Everett gave a bow in return, barely registering the smell - he’d gotten used to his own and others in recent months, and in the midst of everything else it was more intriguing him that Yoshida’s apparent telekinetic power caused him physical tiredness.

“Nice to meet you Yoshida. It would be interesting to share notes some time.” The man’s retreating form raised a hand in acknowledgement of the comment.

And with that, of course, he was out of the room and on his way, leaving the recruit and the revolutionary in the small white room.

Everett turned to Zoe, eyes seeming almost to flicker briefly as he maintained eye contact closely, adjusting his glasses.

“You know, this really is, um… I’m sorry I underestimated you, but I have a good feeling about this. The, uh… “skill sets” you’ve got here are so far very impressive, and the resources…”

He smiled nervously, fingers tapping.

“Now I’m more curious what the plan itself is, I’ll be honest, but… really, any plan is better than no plan, I suppose. A bridge yet to be crossed, mmm.”

Zoë smiled, gesturing back towards the same area Yoshida had gone. ”The goal is simple, while the execution will be quite complex. You will not know everything that is happening, both out of necessity and out of sheer impossibility. For now, however, I suggest you go get something to eat in the rec room, and find a cot. It’s nearing evening and I have other things I need to do. If you go through the pool hall, there is a small kitchen inside of what will eventually be a cafeteria. Feel free to make use of it as you will.”

She stopped outside of the secret entrance, and after he had followed her, she clicked something in her jeans pocket and the doorway closed, sealing itself back to invisibility. She turned back to him.

”A few ground rules. First, you’re not allowed back there unless it’s necessary or until we set up a work area for you. Until then, please avail yourself of the computer lab and library to educate yourself on any subject you fancy, keeping in mind that your power is only one portion of you and I need you to be more useful than just as a piggy bank. Second, you will not utter a word about that area to anyone who you haven’t seen back there already. If you do, I will kill you.”

She said it matter-of-factly, with no anger or posturing. It was a simple statement of fact. ”Understand that I won’t enjoy it, but it will be entirely necessary. We operate as a unit, and in complete secrecy, because if we do not, the entire plan fails immediately and it can not fail. The world can’t afford it.”

And with that she spun on her heels and began squeaking her way back up the hallway towards the entrance stairs. There was less bounce in her step, however.

He quivered, ever so slightly, a soft frown emerging.

She’s not joking, he thought, she’s not, even for a moment.

The tapping in his mind came back, and he visibly winced as its form reached once more into his mind’s eye. It whispered nothing, for it didn’t need to, and his heart began to sink, just a little.

“I understand,” the smile was suddenly scared, “that… makes sense, I suppose. I’ll avoid discussing it at all, to be on the safe side.”

He nodded rapidly as she went to leave, still uncertain, before at last a simple “thank you, good night” was mumbled towards her, and he made his way through to the kitchens.

… It was all so… quiet. Cool. Lonely.

He made his way through the routine of an evening with no routine and an unknown future, one weight lifted to only be replaced with a different, emptier sort of weight.

For the next hour he ate and drank from the kitchen supplies, slowly chewing the food and savoring the flavours even as he chewed over his thoughts of the future, savored the strange mix of anxieties that had brought him to this point.

The clock had been ticking; and the villains had been chasing; and the spider had been tapping; and the fingers had been snapping; and now he was here.

A way to guide his hand, of prosperity and ruin, by this would be queen of flames…

The spider had always called him Mansa - King - and that he would know when he had found his throne, but…

Was it here, in this unfinished, secret dorm? It was so hard to think, the evening darkness suddenly so much heavier than he last remembered, a comfy bed and soft sheets for the first time in months.

Rest, Mansa. The sun sets, the sun rises, and the world changes once again.

Far to the east, at the edge of a city of heroes, a woman with an invincible eye was driving a small black beetle down the long winding road into the heart of the downtown area.

“You think we’ll find him there?” whispered her partner.

“It’s as good a shot as any.”

“Mmm… it’s a popular hiding place for freaks and runaways, so I guess it fits. And what if we find someone helping him hide…?”

She sighed, silver eyes flickering in the mirror, “What do you think, Ghost?”

The Ghost paused, and a soft click ran through the dashboard.

“Whatever we want.”
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