Nexus 3, Chapter 6

I barely had time to grab a bite to eat before Di contacted me. She’d already set up a meeting with the highest ranking person we absorbed from the Argus, the third in line from their engineering division. She was smart, smart enough to rebuff the advances of our best and brightest, because bright though they were, they were all varying degrees of damaged goods. Her being an engineer made this a strange summit; Di and I were fighters, and she was a builder; we broke things, she built them.

“I’m not sure I can do whatever it is you brought me here to discuss,” she admitted. Her name popped up on my eyescreen as Angie.

“You’re here because if the Argus is still playing by the rules of the old chain of command you’re their boss,” I said. “And at a minimum, your people are definitely acting cliquish enough I suspect they’ll accept you bargaining on their behalf moreso than me handing out edicts.”

“So how many sacrificial lambs do you need?” she asked. “And I suppose it would be prudent of me to ask: do you plan on stocking them in the freezer section or slaughtering them outright?” Di gave me a look. “You’ve got a reputation. Rumors are you’ve frozen your share of rivals in cryo, and those who really pissed you off you made walk a plank out of the airlocks. To be honest, the meathead bullshit my inferior in every sense of the word officers have been up to, it’s the same shit that convinced me to leave the Argus.” I flipped through her file, enough to see she rose through the military, but as an engineer. Culture isn’t completely divorced from the rest of the military division, but it meant she had less in common with the bulletsponges than I did. “If it takes making a few example pops, I wouldn’t complain. But-”

“Shooting idiots out of airlocks isn’t much of a teachable moment?”

“Yeah. And I have just enough camaraderie with them that I’d feel less than loyal if I let you kill one just because they annoy me.”

“Well, then it’s your lucky day, because our Meh-Teh friend here has offered a better deal.”

“That’s how you say it? It’s pronounced like ‘murdered?’ That’s both very cool and a little scary.”

“Tibet deserves most of the credit.”

“Don’t you mean the People’s Republic of That’s Mine, Too.”

“I always heard ‘China’ translated roughly to ‘I had dibs.’” Angie smiled, and Di cleared her throat; except it came out as more of a growl, halfway to a roar. “Sorry,” I told her, “bit of a grabby country on our homeworld.”

“Ah,” Di said. “One of our Spires was similar. We called it the equivalent of Mine-astan.”

“Wait, was that a quirk of the commbox, or is the word for possession also the word for a hole in the ground you pull valuable minerals out of in your language, too?”

“Actually, yes. Which makes sense, given that all of our wealth comes from mining. Why it was a homonym in your language makes less sense.”

“She’s got you there,” Angie said.

“I don’t like how quickly women have been forming alliances against me lately,” I said.

“I think it’s you. Something about you, it just seems like the right thing to do.” She turned to Di. “Whatever happened to Mineastan?”

They bullied the rest of us. Demanded a greater say in decisions, a greater share of plunder. And with each victory, they become stronger, more belligerent, more dangerous. Until the day their engines malfunctioned. Any one of our ships could have broken formation and aided them. They all declined. We told them we would see them at the next world scheduled for mining, but halfway there, we altered course, and decided never to go to that planet. It’s entirely possible they’re waiting for us there. Or that they’ve done as we have, moving from world to world and gathering resources.”

“Or that they floated dead-stick until they ran out of whatever resource they couldn’t recycle, and are now a tomb drifting through the void of space.”

Di laughed, and it was a frightening thing. “There’s a lesson, in that. I hope our fleet learns it.”

“Sorry you asked?” I queried.

“Not at all. In fact, I’m disappointed you didn’t bring any Caulerpans aboard. The Argus avoided the species we contacted as much as possible. And I can’t help but feel like we were missing out. I’ve had a dinner or two with one of the Meh-Teh engineers, and their tech is so different from ours, really no different from the Meh-Teh themselves. It’s entirely separate evolution, different starting point, different environment, different engineering challenges. When I was a kid I was fascinated with painting, but I was a colony kid, you know? But then my dad got an Earth posting, but before we settled in, he took me to the Louvre. I was one step removed from fingerpainting and suddenly, the possibilities of art just bloomed. Turns out I had more passion than talent with a brush, but the same skills came in handy drafting. Learning about all of the different solutions the Meh-Teh came up with, it’s like learning there are entirely different ways to do everything.”

“I appreciate the enthusiasm,” I said, “but you might want to dial it back, at least the next few weeks. I want your people to see you as their rep; this all goes less smoothly if they think you’re in the pocket of Big Furball.”

“Right. I should, objectively, evaluate your offer.”

“We’re going to slave your problem officers to Meh-Teh officers.”

“Hmm,” Angie said, “I suppose I should have been worried about slavery.”

“Poor word-choice; in the one drive to another sense,” I said. “They’ll work together, eat together, learn to live together.”

“Odd Couple style?”

“Coexist, not cohabitate.”

“Some of them are really going to want to cohabitate,” Angie said.

“I am pimping out your officers, aren’t I?” I said, trying to rub the tension from the bridge of my nose.

“If the pimp hat fits,” Angie said, before frowning, “though I guess, it’s mostly the style that it not fit, right?”

“Sex-slavers in your culture have special hats?” Di asked.

“That is a whole can of worms,” I said, realizing even as I finished the words Angie was sharing an image with the both of us of a stereotypical 1970s pimp.

“And I thought my culture’s ceremonial dress was absurd,” Di said.

“But we aren’t pimping anyone,” I said, trying to retake control of the situation.

“Because pimping ain’t easy?” Angie asked.

“Because we aren’t doing it to get anyone laid, even if apparently this ship is one Manhattan away from a frat party at the drop of a pimp hat. The purpose is to, through exposure to a new, alien people, get them to see that the Meh-Teh have plenty to offer.”

Yeah they do,” Angie said. “All kidding and wolf-whistles to the side, I think it’s a good idea. But I think you’re right. I have to sell it as a hard idea. A punishment. Because they need to see me as talking you down to this as opposed to something worse. Or maybe… this is the stick, but I can bring them a carrot, too.”

“I’m listening.”

“There’s a pain point within the Argus refugees we’re adrift. We haven’t been absorbed into the departments yet, so we aren’t under the auspices of the DivHeads. And we don’t have our own representation on the council.”

“That’s a fair concern. And I’m not a dictator, at least not technically, so I can’t click my ruby red goose-steppers and make it happen. But I can give you access to the personnel information the Argus staff, and I will present you and Di as leaders of interim refugee populations.”

“Me?” Di asked.

“The Meh-Teh aren’t represented either. I don’t know how much that’s motivating your men to act out, but it’s not something we should underestimate. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.”

“And… what if I’m not the right person for the job?” Angie asked.  

“I wouldn’t ask either of you if I thought that were the case. You don’t have to do it long, even; if you want out, help pick a successor, then go, with my blessing. But for now, this ship needs you. Your cohorts need you.”

“Why do I get the sense you’re telling, not asking?” Angie asked.

“But at least I’m telling it so nicely for a moment you had the illusion of choice. I’ll let you know when the council’s approved.”

“If?” Angie asked. “Right. Telling, not asking.”

I touched my finger to my nose, and Di squinted, utterly lost.

Pitchgiving 2021, part 9: Elseworlds

I view these as largely low-budget films done with largely practical, period effects suitable to the type of movie they’re aping (excepting, of course, where modern tech can make something safer and/or cheaper). Doing them this way, you could probably continue the Elseworlds franchise indefinitely, like James Bond, and I have literally a dozen synopses already. I may pitch only the sequels that make sense for a trilogy, but I might also do all 12. Kind of depends on how I’m feeling.

The franchise would nominally star the Martian Manhunter, though he would mostly only appear in the beginning and end, maybe here or there once in a while, and even then largely CGed, so even he could largely be recast movie to movie. Because the series involves altered timelines it would also permit the leads to be recast between pictures, too, which would both help keep budgets down and also guarantee that just because someone makes sense as cyberpunk Batman, that doesn’t mean we have to sit through his groan-inducing medieval Batman and also opens opportunities for race, gender and other diversity-bending.

For those of you unaware, the last remaining Martian, John Jones, can shape-shift, read minds, is as strong as Superman, can control his density, become invisible. He could single-handedly take down the rest of the Justice League… provided no one accidentally caused a spark. Yeah, his weakness is to fire… which is a pretty ridiculous weakness to still have modern day (probably trumped only by Green Lantern’s weakness to yellow; side note, I want to give that weakness to JSA GL, and then have the Trickster have a flash mob pelt him with bananas- because it’s funny).

This movie starts during a fight with the immortal Vandal Savage. Probably to keep the budget down, we could just imply the rest of the Justice League are there, have Batman’s cape billow in from off-screen, show some heat vision blasting in, Wonder Woman’s lasso whipping a guy across the room. That kind of thing. John grabs Savage just as he’s trying to use a device to send him to a different time to escape them (I’d probably set it up through some narration as Batman deducing that Savage had been engineering evil throughout the millennia- that that was the reason Batman was after the image of Wonder Woman, too, looking for proof of Savage’s influence- including collaborating with Hitler (he helped Nazism get off the ground). John grabs him, but they’re separated by the machine, and flung into the past. Or a past, really, since the machine had really only be calibrated to work with Savage’s DNA, and was thrown for a loop by the addition of John.

We comedically dump John through a portal into pastoral England. The trauma of the machine reassembling John from atoms knocks him out every time. This time, it happens to be in the presence of the Green Hood (Green Arrow by way of Robin Hood). John comes to in Sherwood Forest. John has spent years honing his abilities, and to prevent detection amongst humans, has trained his body to revert to a human form when he is unconscious. This John just happens to be rather large, a veritable giant of a man. Hood says that there are men who would burn him for a witch for that, which likely means he’s arrived at an opportune moment.

We cut to court, where Lord Lexington (a bald Luthor in a suit of plate mail painted in the colors of his battle suit, so purple and green), as the Sheriff of Nottingham, presides. Savage is there, in the background, working as Nottingham’s advisor. One of the other nobles expresses confusion, why this one is different. They’ve been holding ‘King’ Arthur for a fortnight, but this Themysciran ambassador arrived in town only yesterday. They don’t understand why Lex is in such a hurry to burn her at the stake. Lex says that Arthur’s claims are worth investigating. If he is indeed a king, even one in exile, his execution could bring them into conflict with the kingdom of Atlantis, and there are only rumors a peasant woman saw him trying to commune with fish. He might just be one more in-bred noble.

Whereas no one’s heard of Themyscira, the ‘ambassador’ flew in view of several members of the city guard, and who on earth has ever heard of a woman ambassador. He pounds the table, and demands that she and the other witch must both be burnt at the stake before they are able to ensorcel them all (the Sheriff has declared all metahumans witches and enemies of the realm). At that moment, the younger, handsome noble to one side of Luthor collapses forward, knocking over his wine onto Luthor’s lap, apparently having fallen asleep at the meeting. He stirs, muttering about not likely missing anything important. 

“Not at all, Wayne, by all means, sleep the day away,” an irritated Lex grumbles. It’s subtle, but Wayne pockets a key.

We cut to later that day, as John and Hood sneak into the castle. The square is filled with people, there to watch as an executioner in gray plate armor reminiscent of Firefly lights a torch, preparing to set the pyres two women are tied to alight.

“Fire is… bad,” John says.

“Yes, my simple friend,” Hood says, and claps him on the back. “That is why we must rescue these fair damsels from it, and preserve England from the stain of having murdered an ambassador in the process. I just have to figure out how…”

We cut back to the women. One is Lady Diana, the ambassador in question. Her garb is strange, with a Greek, togic influence, and some variation on the red, blue and gold color scheme. The other is the witch Zatanna, smartly dressed as a courtesan reminiscent of the purple and white costume with the cape she wore in the comics; she has a rag tied across her mouth preventing her from speaking. Diana snaps her bonds, and then tears the gag from Zatanna. Immediately the witch begins to chant, bidding the flame to jump from the torch onto Firefly.

We cut back to John and Hood, with John asking. “Part of your plan?”

Hood rises, drawing his bow, and firing into Firefly, who ignores the fire engulfing his armor and lifts an executioner’s ax above his head. “Ours is apparently a supporting role in this play.” Hood fires, managing to strike Firefly in the joints of his armor, causing him to fall. John flings a stone torn from the castle wall into another guard that was sneaking towards Zatanna as she removed her bonds. Zatanna and Diana fly over the castle wall. John leaps over it, not wanting to draw more attention to himself than necessary. “Little help?” Hood calls to the escaping women, and an exasperated Zatanna mutters something that lifts him after them by his shorts (it is a flying wedgie) and he exclaims, “Ah, my pantaloons!”

We cut to the dungeons, panning past two cells that had held Diana and Zatanna but are not open, stopping on one occupied by a crowned nobleman with an orange and green color scheme to his attire. In the immediate foreground, a black-gloved hand inserts a key- the same stolen from the Sheriff earlier. Arthur sits up, and turns towards his rescuer. It’s Lord Wayne. “You may find this peculiar, but a school of fish passed a message by code to me this morning, by a method I learned in my travels through Arabia. The message stated that there would be a distraction at this hour, affording you an opportunity to bloodlessly escape.” Wayne unfurls a green cloak with an Arabic influence to it, perhaps even letters around the hood in Cyrillic reciting a period/culture-appropriate variation of the Green Lantern oath. “If anyone questions, you are my Moorish servant, mute to the English tongue, and ill-tempered from a bout of disease his physicians are nearly certain isn’t leprosy.”

Arthur smiles, telling him that, “Lord Wayne, the rumors did not do you justice.”

Wayne is impatient. “Come. My carriage awaits.” We cut to the exterior, as they rush into the carriage. It is, for all intents and purposes, the Batmobile as a carriage, black, gothic, and bat-winged. It is driven by Wayne’s squire, Gareth.

Hood and John arrive back at his place in Sherwood. There’s an awkward moment, as, seeing there’s only the one bed, the assumption Hood has brought them back to be, er, bedded, is obvious. Until a woman in a black cloak with blond hair arrives, laying down her lute (she is, roughly, a bard). “I ride to the next town, and you can’t help yourself but bring home other women.”

“They were going to be burned at the stake by Nottingham,” Hood complains.

Diana intervenes. “I assure you, madame, that we have no designs on your gentleman’s attentions.” This Wonder Woman is openly sapphic- and only has eyes for Zatanna. Even though they only just met.

Canary reacts with frustration, that Nottingham is increasing his aggression, that they need to do something, and quickly. It is then that a Moor, dressed in the same robe that Arthur was given in the previous scene, enters into the already crowded hut. “I’m here to extend an invitation from a gentleman who is very much of the same sentiment.” They react with fear; they believed themselves secreted away in the forest, but he found them. While his presence is intriguing, they fear he’s leading them into a trap. He is the Green Lamp, even if he does not introduce himself as such.

“From what I saw this afternoon, I don’t imagine there’s a martial force, including the Sheriff’s, that could stand against those in this room. However, to take on Nottingham in a fair conflict would see him threaten the peasantry- he holds the entire citizenry hostage to his ambitions. If, like my ‘master’, you would not only see Nottingham removed, but removed with as little damage to those least prepared to weather his wrath, I would bid you follow me. I assure you my master’s secrets are equal, at least, to your own, and when all is revealed you will be equally at one another’s mercy.” They’re conflicted. It’s John who reads the Moor; when he does, the lamp he clutches to his chest glows with green flame, and he tells John he knows he’s trying to read him, and he’ll permit it, and the flame extinguishes. John tells them he recognizes his master (he doesn’t tell them that he’s Batman, or this world’s Batman), but he says that he trusts him with his life. That he will go, and if the others would stay they can stay. But he knows the man by reputation, and they will need his mettle before the end. This cascades, with Hood not being comfortable letting his simple friend take the risk alone, Canary resolving to keep her own simple ‘friend’ safe, Zatanna casting some bones to verify that she should trust them, and Diana following her.

As they leave the hut, there’s a gust of wind, and a man in red robes and chain mail with a rapier stands in front of them. “Sorry I’m late,” Flash says with a grin.

“I heard no horses,” Hood says.

“I walked,” he beams.

“How?” Canary asks. “It’s a day’s ride. And you said you had business to attend to before you could follow me.”

“I did. I’m quite swift.”

“Very well. This is Sir Jareth, a swordsman said to be the equal of a thousand men.”

“A mercenary?” Hood asks, indignant. He liked having the most swash in his buckle and is hurt Canary brought home someone else.

“No, sir,” Jareth says. “I heft my sword when justice demands it of me.”

“Sir Jareth,” Green Lamp says, putting out his hand, “You’ve spared me a ride. It’s a pleasure, your reputation as a man of honor precedes you, despite your speed.” Jareth shakes his hand. This is actually a pretty big moment, as a nobleman taking a Moor’s hand as an equal is a pretty big deal- but we don’t make a big deal out of it, because that’s not the kind of guy Jareth is.

“Well met, sir.”

“Ah, yes, if you’ll permit me,” the Green Lamp holds his lamp out, and forms a glowing coach with horses out of the ground. The door pops open.

“What witchcraft is this?” Hood asks, walking around the coach and kicking one of its wheels to see that it’s solid.

“You quarrel with witchcraft?” Zatanna asks, with an edge of menace to it.

“Quarrel? No. Trust entirely with my person, not entirely.”

“You’re more than welcome to ride with us, Sir Jareth. No need to run alongside us,” the Green Lamp offers.

“I suppose I could do for the company.” They all get inside, with GL sitting outside to drive, to keep up appearance. The glow dissipates, to draw less attention as they begin.

“I do have one last stop to make. It’s along the way. I’m afraid he insisted I permit him to provide one last service before I collected him.” The pull up to a small parish.

“Ah, a church, if anyone has sins to confess, or needs to use the Lady’s facilities,” Hood says.

A friar exits the parish. His robes are overlarge and ill-fitting, very plain, very bare; he lives as a pauper, because he puts every penny he scrapes together to help the poor. We likely get flashes of what he wears beneath it, chainmail colored like his classic suit, with the red and yellow symbol on his chest. It arrived with him from the far-flung land of his parents birth, and is the only clothing in existence strong enough to withstand the same damage as him. He addresses the Green Lamp as “Alihan,” and shakes his hand warmly, and objects when he stands on ceremony to refer to him as Friar Kent, and insists that he call him Clark. Hood asks after it, and the friar tells him that the name means “Hand of God,” and that they get along very well, because he lives up to it.

They ride off, as the world becomes dark. They see the castle, roughly in the shape of the top half of the bat symbol as it cuts across the moon. Hood recognizes it. “This is Wayne Manor. My family visited once, when I was a child. Young Bruce was churlish and stuffy, even for a nobleman’s son- even for a physician’s son.”

“And he would know from stuffy,” Canary adds. Lamp drives their coach beyond the manor, into a series of caves. Depending on budget, it can be quite a harrowing ride over caverns and jumps, or it can simply be through a waterfall. 

Lamp opens the coach door for them, and tells them, “Welcome to Lord Wayne’s world.” Referencing a Mike Meyer’s movie isn’t the only reason I’m writing this pitch. It’s just a perk. The cave is wonderous, filled with falling water and lit by torches. It takes the breath away. Wayne, in his Dark Knight plate armor, descends a spiral staircase carved into the rock. He bids them join him at a rounded table with a bat symbol (and also the Wayne family’s crest) carved into it.

Wayne relates that he has a spy on the inside of Lexington’s circle, a courtesan named Lady Kyle, who has been watching Luthor. She informs him that Lexington moves against Arthur and Diana are part of a larger thirst for power, that Nottingham plans to seize nearby lands for his own, under the pretext that he will protect them. If he can grab up enough new land before King Richard’s return, from the crusades, the gentry will be forced to decide if they would accept a smaller slice of a lesser pie, or to serve under Lexington.

Lady Diana interrupts, to explain what her ambassadorial mission was- to pass a message, and express condolences: that Lexington’s man within Richard’s circle, the Yellow Knight, had succeeded in killing Richard, and laying blame for it at the feet of the Amazons. She came with proof of his ill-deeds, but it was seized along with her- and not through martial means. She believes Lexington is involved with sorcery. Flash relates that the business he concluded before arriving likely relates- that he scuttled a group of sellswords hired by Eobard Thawn, at what he now believes was Lexington’s bidding, to attack the township, in order to press them to request the protection of Nottingham.

Wayne tells them Lexington is setting about creating reasons to expand their territory, first within and then beyond England, that his game is already afoot, and they have only one chance to depose him. They talk about who should replace Lexington. Some think it should be Wayne, and while he believes himself a capable commander in the field, he is not a ruler. Arthur, however, is. King Arthur is of course reluctant, because he’s already lost one kingdom. Eventually it’s Wayne who interrupts them to say, “We storm a castle held by superior forces, with sorcery and corruption at their command. Those of us who survive can bicker over who must take the reigns after.” They agree to table the question of who will sit the throne until such time as it is won, and agree to depose Lexington.

Most of them pile back into Lamp’s coach, which expands to accommodate them- including Lamp himself, as Wayne’s squire takes the reigns. Wayne himself climbs atop a black steed (named Ace) with black armor of its own, resembling his, including its own billowing cape. “I believe the party is on, Lord Wayne,” Wayne’s squire says.

“The party is on, Squire Gareth.” Shut up. Don’t judge me.

They ride to the square where Diana and Zatanna were nearly burned earlier in the day. On the scaffolding, Lady Kyle is bound at the wrists, hanging from the ropes. The Squire leaps from his seat, and starts towards her. Wayne stops him. “Wait,” he says, then “Hood, if you’d be so kind as to free her.” Clear of the coach, he looses an arrow, that slices through her bonds, and she lands gracefully. At the same moment, Sir Slade, in his trademark orange and black armor, fires an arrow at Wayne, who deflects it with his cloak (I’m going to say its slats of armor, and so can be used somewhat like a shield).

Other members of Lexington’s council emerge, now revealing their gimmicks that identify them as analogs to supervillains: Deathstroke, Zoom, Sinestro, Circe, Cheetah and Harley Quinn. Also there is Black Manta, who was not part of the council, but is in this incarnation, an Atlantean assassin, garbed mostly in black, tasked by Arthur’s brother to kill him and end the threat to his rule. Cheetah, while dressed in cheetah-skin robes (I might consider making her of African descent, and patterning the cheetah skins to traditional garb from the region, both to explain how it’s there and increase the diversity a bit) is actually a werewolf (werecat, if we really must). Lexington’s jester is, for all intents and purposes, a bawdy-joke-telling Harley Quinn. If it doesn’t overstuff things, she’s got her own agenda, to avenge the death of Lexington’s previous jester, her Joker, who Lex just couldn’t find the humor in- which is why she face turns towards the end. The heroes and villains face off.

Superman Lexington
Flash Eobard Thawn
Green Lantern The Yellow Knight
Wonder Woman Lady Circe
Batman Sir Slade
Aquaman Black Manta
Martian Manhunter Savage
Green Arrow Deadshot
Black Canary Harley Quinn
Lady Kyle Lady Minerva

About the midway point, we reveal that Thawn is from the future, and brought back advanced tech with him, which Lex took to like a fish to water (“Arthur knows precisely what I mean about that”) giving the villains an even further advantage. But the heroes persevere, overcoming even these long odds, only for Lex to hit them with a blast of arcane energy, maybe stating that magic and science are separated only by one’s own rational understanding, that the idea of a separate “witchcraft” is therefore the province of small minds. Now, if you want to keep it to the relatively cheaper model I described, Lex just gets slightly powered up by magic before being defeated with an assist from Harley. But if you want some bombast, Lexington demonstrates the ability to resurrect Solomon Grundy to fight them. John catches Savage trying to sneak away, and they’re both sucked into another portal.

It’s Arthur who lands the final blow on his assassin, who makes one final attempt as Lexington is defeated. Arthur, pleased with himself asks, “So, King Wayne, what will your first decree be,” realizing as he turns that the rest of them are already kneeling before him, Wayne included.

Wayne smiles beneath his helmet. “I believe you’ve misspoken, sire, for as you can plainly see, your subjects humbly await your command.”

“Oh, bother,” Arthur says, and we roll credits. We only do the main cast, before we do a mid-credits scene:

The League of Justice sits around the round table in the Batcave. Lord Wayne addresses them. “I’ve asked you to come here to answer a question, one I cannot answer for all of you. We united, to provide justice within Nottingham, to right that single wrong. But were we a League of Justice once, or are we a League of Justice for all?” They all stand together, as the music stirs.

One does not. It’s Arthur, and as he rises, he explains why, that while he has reluctantly accepted a crown in England, he refuses one here.

That suits Wayne just fine, who continues. ”One among us has had his kingdom stolen, usurped by a brother who believes right can be usurped by a will to power. I ask you not to stand for a divine right to rule, but on the cause Atlantis is a kingdom on the brink, because this usurper has proved unfit to wield the power he has stolen. I have it on authority that this self-proclaimed Master of the Ocean would rather sink Atlantis than relinquish his grasp.” On the one hand, maybe it’s cruel to set up a sequel we won’t actually make… on the other, you could totally make those sequels.

Mid-credits Scene

It’s quiet, as we pan through Lexington’s dungeon, past the cells that housed Diana, Arthur and Zatanna. Only this time we pan down, through the floor, into an underground workshop; it is one-half Dr. Frankenstein, one-half necromancer’s laboratory. But we stop on an iron-gated doorway with metal barbs carved into the bars.

We hear quiet, anxious laughter, and the single tinkle of the last remaining bell on a jester’s collar. Then a voice, first timid, asking, “Lex?” Peppered laughter, now louder, more assertive. “Oh Lexy-pooh? Sheriff of Rottingham?” An unhinged, gleeful, aggressive, angry fit of uncontrollable laughter bursts forward, until a man with white skin, wearing a green and purple jester’s costume, lunges into the door, the barbs cutting into his hands, but not making him grip the door any less firmly. “While the sheriff’s away, the jester will play,” he says, and whistles a version of the animated Joker theme song as he traces a rune onto the lock, which opens it with a sizzle. The door swings open as he walks out, continuing to whistle. This Joker is both the result of Lex’s occult and chemical experimentation, and also his apprentice (not that Lex intended to teach those kinds of secrets to such a madman- but he could see enough from his cell to become truly deadly).

End Credits Scene It’s a dark and stormy night on the seas during the golden age of piracy, a family (boy, mother and father) acrobatically jump amongst the rigging, so acrobatic and graceful you forget for a moment it isn’t a performance. The rigging Richard is on breaks, and he grabs another piece, which breaks. Mary swings to save him and for an instant they share a smile, before that rope, too, breaks. Their son, young Dick, swings on another rope to save them, but he’s too late- and while his rope, too, breaks, it breaks at the end of his arc, and he’s able to land on some rigging opposite, and climbs down to where his parents fell. The men gather around as the boy weeps beside his dead parents. We hear murmurs from them not to wake the Captain. We see a wooden door swing open, and hear a shudder go through the crowd as offscreen the Captain says, “He’s up.” All we see of him is a black boot coming to rest just behind a boy, next to a rat that is subtly green and whose eyes glow red. The Captain’s black glove lights on the boy’s shoulder where he weeps. We pan up but also out, climbing the mast as we show more of the ship. In a flash of lightning we see a black pirate’s flag, but the skull is incorporated into a bat symbol.

Nexus 3, Chapter 5

It didn’t take long before the next flare up between the crew of the Argus and the Meh-Teh. This time I was on my feet, and got there just behind Elle with a contingent of SecDiv reinforcements.

“Like old times, huh?” Elle asked, smiling at me. She tossed me a baton.

“Little too much,” I said, hanging it off my belt. There were at least thirty participants, and while SecDiv were armed and armored, they were still outmanned. Pacifying this group was going to require a lot of blood, and I was grasping for a better solution. “Haley, I’m commandeering the cochlear implants of all of our brawlers who aren’t SecDiv. I want them turned up past the safety specs; I don’t want permanent damage, I just want attention.”

“Don’t you always?” Elle asked with a smile.

“Stop!” I barked. Most of the fighters collapsed to the floor, clutching their ears. A few stayed on their feet, but the fight had going out of them.  

“Adjusting volume down, Captain; broadcast continues,” Haley offered helpfully.

“Those of you on the ground, stay there. Those on your feet, sit. These monkeyshines end, now.”

“I am not a monkey!” one of the Meh-Teh near me growled.

“Then stop flinging shit on my ship,” I said.

One of the Meh-Teh officers was still standing, and a lifetime in the security services sent my hand to my baton unconsciously as I moved towards her. Then I recognized her hips and the way she held her weight just a little cock-eyed, and hoped to Hell this wasn’t going to be a diplomatic incident. It was the former Captain of the Stalagmite, since deposed, and newly a member of my crew. “I tried to stop them,” Diu’rnae said. “Wasn’t any use; I was storm-tossed on a sea of testosterone.” I thought a moment; there was almost no chance the male hormone in her species was the same as in ours, just another comm-box translation.

“Haley must not have considered you a combatant, then, so you didn’t get the auditory spanking.”

“Is that what that rumble was. Almost sad I missed it.” I put up a finger, because I had Elle on the line, and knew I was needed for the security response moreso than to verbally spar with Di.

“Is that a thing you can do to all of us?” Elle asked over comms. She was on the other side of the room, monitoring the SecOffs keeping everybody calm.

“Wouldn’t know. I only just thought to try it.”

“So that was an ass-pull?”

“I always had a whomper for plan B,” I said, patting the baton she gave me.

“Might want to make sure we aren’t leaving that same window open in the event we ever get chased down by the company’s goons. Might even want to lock it down for any member of the crew in good standing; I can see the next you not having the same restraint.”

“I’m starting to become troubled by the amount of people preoccupied with the next me.”

“Nobody lives forever.”

“Nobody dies this young.”

“Unless they’re shot,” I winced, “stabbed,” I squinted, “or infected with any of an array of alien diseases or invasive bodily secretions.”

“Point taken.”

“I’ll keep the usage quiet, for the moment, so you have a chance to prep an explanation for the Council. Last thing I want is to have to deal with it when one of those old farts give themselves an aneurism trying to shit literal bricks.”

“Literal as in they’re made out of clay? I think I need to be concerned if the DivHeads are taking in so much clay they can shit literal bricks.”

“Literal in that they’re brick-shaped; I imagine they’re otherwise formed from concentrated hatred for you and poo.”

“Why would they hate the bear? I mean, how?”

“Not the- dookie.”

“Isn’t that more adobe, then?”

“If you want to be anal-retentive about it.”

“How is it that you’re coordinating an entire security response while also doing this with me?” I asked.

“I’d noticed how much of my time was taken up babysitting you. So I hotkeyed a bunch of common security commands on my HUD, and can issue them with subtle gestures and eye selections.”

“So that’s why you look like you’re conducting this thing like it’s an orchestra. Still, impressive.”

There was a pause, and she came back, and said, “I’m waiting for the cutting deflection.”

“Keep waiting,” I said, noticing that Di was trying to get my attention.

“I think I might have a way through this impasse,” Di said.

“I’m all ears. My plan had been to take the two officers nominally in charge of each side, march them to a cryo bay and tell them they’re taking a snow bath for enough time they become somebody else’s problem. So long as they didn’t mutiny, I’d let them off with a warning- squeeze them hard enough both sides see me as the common enemy, but also feel like they only got through it together. But if I even mentioned that idea your people would go apeshit.” She peered at me with her one good eye. “Rather than try to untangle whatever the commbox tried to make of that colloquialism, your people would lose all reason and we’d have a full-blown civil war. And, you know, not the fun kind.”

“You humans would not enjoy seeing our full fury unleashed. But I wouldn’t let that happen any more than you would.”

“Still Captain after all these years, eh?”

“They look to me, and I lead. It’s what we know, whatever’s transpired in the handful of years since I met you.”

“So you’ve heard what qualifies as my non-starter of a plan. What have you got?”

“I would suggest pairing Argus instigators with Meh-Teh officers.” It took a moment for the simplicity of her plan to dig into my cranium. The instigators were mostly, if not quite exclusively, men. Her officers were all women; like her, they were all man-eating tigers just aching for an excuse to throw-down, and I meant that in every sense of the word.

“I’m not pimping you out.”

“Nothing so sordid,” she soothed. “No doubt some of my officers will get laid- your resistance to my charms to the contrary- our females are usually quite skilled at getting what we want.”

“If I weren’t spoken for, a few times over, you’d be the first lady I’d split a milkshake with. Don’t, uh, tell Elle.”

“She’d stab you, I know; and as you’ve explained it to me, getting a friend or prospective lover stabbed isn’t considered a ‘practical’ joke amongst your oddly frail species.”

“No, it’s quite impractical; silly nature just didn’t design us to shrug off stabbings. But it’s not you. And my odd situation, and the distance created by our differences shouldn’t mean you take a hit in the self-esteem.”

“My esteem, I assure you, is still quite potent,” she said, practically purring the last word.

“You really don’t have to make everything sexual.”

“And if I want to?”

“Just… tone it down in front of HR. And probably Elle and Sam.”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” she said, and winked at me. “But to the plan. The brawls have, with few exceptions, been between our males and the Argus crew. Our officers understand the fragility of our union aboard this ship; they also have a history dealing with male aggression and forming it into something positive, something productive.”

“And something reproductive?”

“An en tendre? For me? Captain, you shouldn’t have.” She leaned into me, and looked right at Elle, who was staring daggers through the both of us.

“Remember what we said about getting me stabbed?” She stroked my cheek, with my head positioned between her paws and Elle; to her, it looked like a gesture of affection, but I felt the claws on Di’s secondary, powerful outer hands scrape against my stubble, playful, yet aggressive. She’d been kind enough to let SciDiv test her strength; if she really put her weight into it she could cleave a man’s skull from his neck in one swipe. I really didn’t want to think about what one of the males could do, if they really got it into their heads to hurt someone; credit where it’s due, they’d definitely been holding back with the crew of the Argus– which said something about how their big apes stacked up against ours.

I must not have been paying enough attention to her, because Di let one of her claws catch, not enough to pierce the skin, but enough I felt it snag, and I was surprised at the articulation she had with her claws. “I’m going to have my fun with you one way or the other,” she said, close enough I expected her to nip me.

“If you get me murdered I’m definitely putting it in my will that the ship is to permanently set your wake alarm to a bugle at max volume, and always too early.”

“If you want me to stop you really have to stop flirting.” 

“I was, wasn’t I?” I asked, realizing that she was right.

She answered by way of a smile, before she continued. “The plan is solid. My officers can commiserate with the Argus crewmembers, including over the brutishness of our males. Once they have friends among my species, then they will be willing to hear about the benefits of yolking our menfolk; how useful it can be, turning their raw, animal strength on one’s enemies. And they are… moldable, with effort. Stubborn, simpler than our women, certainly, but with effort, patience, and care, some of the best soldiers I’ve known were men. Some of the most loyal and caring, too. It is not the men themselves that are toxic, but a culture that abandoned them to their worst proclivities… and to some extent a physiology that makes them less inclined towards cooperation and civility.”

“Yeah,” Elle said over comms, “we have a similar issue with our men.”

“You bugged me?” I asked.

“I do, it’s one of my charms; I also did plant a listening device on you. Di tends to… push my buttons. And I’m still fit enough to do my job, but if I’m going to take a swing at a woman who could likely disembaby me with one slash, I’m going to do my due diligence before taking a swing.”

“So no stabbing?” Di asked, sounding almost wounded.

“Not for me, thanks,” Elle said. “But if you want, I can hold him down and you can take a stab at him.”

“Is she flirting, too?” Di asked.

“You know, I have trouble knowing for sure.”

Elle smiled, and said, “Mostly it’s, I realized the women in his orbit; it’s like being caught in the gravity of a black hole, it really is hard to break free of him.”

“Is she referring to an anal sphincter?” Di asked, and I couldn’t be certain whether her confusion was genuine.

“He is an inescapable asshole; I think we’ve found the perfect metaphor for him. But in case there’s been any confusion, we aren’t rivals, we’re neighbors.”

“Some of that is the space ship,” Di said.

“Some of it is. The point is I’m done being intimidated by you, except maybe being opposite you in a fair fight.”

Di put her softer, human-sized inner hand gently on Elle’s shoulder, then lowered the larger, clawed exterior paw, enveloping it. “As a friend, I feel I can tell you one of the secrets to my longevity has been not fighting fairly. The other side rarely does.”

“I think this is what the Axis felt watching Yalta play out…” I said.

“Captain,” Haley buzzed in my ear, “I have some concern at your voicing sympathy with Nazis.”

“Not at all,” I said, turning my attention from the rivals turned bosom chums. “Merely recognizing the parallels; that I may have watched the seeds of my own destruction sewn. Nazis, whatever century they’re dicking around in, can get fucked.”

“Isn’t sexual intercourse pleasurable, Captain? Aren’t you wishing them well with that statement?”

“No, damnit, Haley. Bigots and fascists, whether or not they call themselves Nazis, are bad people, who hurt those who are better than them, by dint of not being Nazis, in name or otherwise. I want them to stop doing that, by whatever means practical. Rehabilitation is always better than the stick, but often less realistic. But my first instinct is to protect, to stop bad people from doing bad things. The particulars of how is as much a philosophical as a logistical problem.”

“My… sensitivity does have a practical aspect. The Nexus has started receiving propaganda broadcast from the Nascent. Mostly, it is currently in the form of diary entries from relatives posted aboard the ship. But my protocols require me to screen communications for subversiveness, and I have noticed patterns. Several used the same, precise wordings. Some took the framework and adapted it. But the communications seem to have been sent to those most receptive to fascist messaging, as flagged in testing before our launch. The volume and the percentage of the crew receiving these messages has already begun increasing.”

“Shit,” I said. 

Nexus 3, Chapter 4

Note: I had the genius idea to listen through the audiobook of the first Nexus installment. I didn’t have it early enough to finish before Saturday. It’s good, I endorse it; the narrator does a fun job of getting across the different characters. I’m not sure if his rendition of Drew feels like more of a dick than I intended… or if I just didn’t realize how much of a dick I wrote him as. But it’s a good time. But I wasn’t writing this to tell you to buy my book. I just wanted to note that while I’m refreshing myself on the continuity, I’m a bit behind, so there may be elements that aren’t up to date, because I likely won’t be able to even start the second book until Monday, and my usual continuity person won’t be combing over this until the editing stage- assuming they’re talking to me by then. 

Chapter 4

“Why does everyone assume we never talk?” I asked. “Even a cursory look out our locations data over the course of any day would show that we spend time together. Or asking anyone who works any of the cafes. Or checking the cameras.”

“I think they just assume we spend whatever time we do jerking each other off,” my clone said, polishing off a beer.

“Huh. Why didn’t I ever think of that?”

“I’m going to say… brain worms. I mean there’s the option of several concussions, the invasive semen of a species of crab-monster who stabbed you with his penis-”

“It was for all intents and purposes a spear, you really don’t have to put it that way.”
“Actually, you should. I get that you get teased over it. By assholes. And… that for reasons that I don’t have the training or time to go into, you definitely fomented the environment in which those assholes thrived. But that’s why you should. Because sexual assault is rarely sexual in nature. And stigmatizing sexual assault survivors… is shitty, even for you.”

“Does you hating me count as self-loathing, or self-abuse?”

“And we’re right back to masturbation. Do you own stock in a lube company?”

“I just realized, all of those things happened only to me. You’re saying you’ve thought about us romancing each other?”

“I mean, not in a bringing flowers sense. At that point it’s really just very elaborate masturbation; if it helps, you can think of a clone as a lab-grown sex-toy.”

“Now who can’t stop talking about masturbation?”

“I’m glad you’re deflecting at least, because as the closest thing to an actual friend you have left on this ship, you really have to knock off the self-pitying schtick. I get it. I do. I love Elle at least as much as you do- just not the one you knocked up- the way we were. And since Sam holds a candle to her, enough that you’re struggling with choosing between them, I can only imagine how special she must be. But we need your head in the game, here. Yeah, your personal life is finally a mirror for your damaged psyche on the inside. And that sucks, truly; I’m only partly as traumatized as you, and . But what you’re clearly too far up your own ass to get is: I don’t hate you. I am all but certainly the most sympathetic ear you have on this ship. Maybe anywhere. I know you’re hurt. Lost, even. But a group of goddamned mad capitalists recruited our nephew to hunt us down and murder us, and everyone you care about. I’d like you to be happy. I’d like you to, finally, get your shit together. But what I need from you, what all of us need, is for you to keep those butchers from murdering us.”  

“I’m really beginning to dislike you. You’re younger, prettier, less injured or disabled, and more well-adjusted.”

“I could be flip, and tell you I had your example to learn what not to do by. But the truth is you absolutely should have put your toxic shit away long enough to get with Maggie. It’s not that she made me a better man. It’s that she helped me understand the tools I needed to do it myself. Not as a head-shrinker, but as a partner. I mean, for my sake, and probably hers, I’m glad you didn’t. But I remember how complicated things were with Elle- and that was way before you brought an alien telepath or a baby into the mix. And Maggie’s… easy. She gets me. And I understand her, in a way… you didn’t. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the legwork you did with her. And that you didn’t so thoroughly disgust her that she’d have nothing to do with me.

“Tough-love speech, huh?”

“You are being an absolute sack today?”

“Nut, sad, or wet and full of kittens?”

“All of the above.”

“Oh. I was certainly feeling that way. Didn’t realize how much it showed. That’s… distressing.”

“It’s okay to hurt,” he said, and put his hand on my shoulder.

“Sure,” I said. “But it’s distressing that I didn’t realize how much I’ve been broadcasting it.”

“That is a little worrying. 90% of your mythos and 70% of your job is being above it.”

“I don’t think I like your math.”

“Mainly because you can’t really argue with it.”

“Mostly that, yeah. But I am happy. For the pair of you. I know I… I screwed things up with Maggie. But she deserves a less fucked up me to be happy with.”

“And you’re also gratified to know that an exact copy of your genitals has touched her, aren’t you?”

“I am a good enough man not to comment… just not enough to say, ‘No.’”

“Just, for an instant, you should stop. And tell me, since I’m likely the only person you can be honest with right now. Are you okay?”

“Of course not. How could I be? The only way to be okay with this shit would be to share it, with Sam, with Elle. That’s what’s been so goddamned hard about it all. I’ve lost all of my support mechanisms just when I need them the most.”

“Hey,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder, “you’ve still got me.”

“Yeah. Okay. I’ve got Single White Male, who styles his hair just like me and is dating my ex and can’t stop thinking about mutually masturbating me to death.”

“You and I are probably the only people on this ship who would get that reference. Not… not exactly a classic.”

I sighed heavily. “I feel more alone knowing you’re the one who understands me the most right now.”

He fixed me with a patient, but pained smile. “It won’t always be like this. Whatever happens, with Sam or Elle, this will pass. And you’ll find a way to be happy, either with one of them, or neither.”

“You know, unless our nephew manages to murder us before then.”

“Oh. Yeah. That is a depressing thought. Well, off to enjoy the naked company of the woman you failed to properly woo.”


“Yes. Exactly. With that.”

Nexus 3, Chapter 3

I made it around the corner, full of a desire to stomp or be stomped. But the kind of kicking that came down the hall in my direction wasn’t the right kind of masochism at all.

“You look like hell,” Elle said flatly.

“She means the rigors of our circumstance are showing,” Sam soothed.

“He knows what I mean- and it’s more complex than that.”

Sam’s chromatophores shifted blue, the rough equivalent to my cheeks going red when my mother first asked about my sex life. “I… didn’t mean to…”

“Inject yourself into our relationship?” Elle asked, and if you didn’t know her like I did, you might have thought she was about to bite clean through Sam’s neck, but the corner of her mouth turned up, in a sad little smile, because a part of her knew that Sam and I had been… involved when we reconnected. “Lot of that going around,” she added. There was a lightness in her voice that said she was acknowledging that was exactly what she’d inadvertently done when we thought Sam died on some planet whose name I couldn’t even remember now; there was no moral high ground here for any of us. But she couldn’t let herself linger on our situation; none of us could. “But we aren’t here for the parade of awkwardness that is our interrelations. We’re here to tell you we’re taking the first pod.”

“You say that like I should understand what you’re getting at,” I said.

“The prototype two-man pod. We’re taking its maiden voyage. Both to preempt you from selfishly taking it, and to keep you from using it as an excuse to keep from making your decision. Which you will do, by the time we get back. Or you lose us both.”

I wanted to fight, but the fight had gone out of me. My clone and I had idly discussed the idea, but we never really wanted to take it; we were going through the motions, fulfilling a role we felt we had to play, and at the same time knowing it didn’t matter, wouldn’t help anything, wouldn’t fix any of the things that were broken, or even delay the doom that was chasing us. “Isn’t that giving me a grace period?”

“We considered that,” Elle said. “But Sam’s pretty sure you’re no closer to deciding than the day we learned she was still among us. PsychDiv’s certain you never will; she apparently made a bet with Clew over it… the stakes of which I begged not to know about.”


“Your clone,” Sam said, “the Drew clone.”

“And you didn’t go with ‘Drone?’”

“What did I say?” Elle deadpanned, pretending to glare at Sam… who was more confused than anything by it, until she inadvertently picked up enough telepathically to understand the underlying joke.

“I’m pretty sure I know what she bet,” I said.

“Please don’t tell me,” Elle said.

“Which means my clone must be confident; I wouldn’t take chances with that kind of bet.”

“I really super don’t want to know…”

“He’s right,” Sam said, “and so are you.”

“So I’m curious what my younger half thinks I’m going to do?”

“Oh no,” Elle said. “I’ve already sworn him to secrecy. I’m not letting you get demoralized or overconfident because of something your test-tube copy said.”

“Those were my two options? No chance that he and I could commiserate, and that I could draw strength from him?”

“Not much,” she said. “But you can still talk to him. Get whatever kind of support you can.”

“She’s right,” Sam said. “It doesn’t really matter what he thinks you’ll do. What matters is knowing wouldn’t help, and she’s probably right that it would likely hurt.”

“I feel like you’re ganging up on me,” I said, and I just didn’t have it in me to keep playing along. I sighed. “Wish I could say I didn’t deserve it…”

“Don’t get morose like a dick,” Elle said.

“Right,” Sam nodded. “This isn’t something you did. It’s something that happened to us- all of us.” “That’s still happening,” Elle added.

“It was tolerable,” Sam started, “when you pined for Elle. I understood that love. I shared it, with you. But it isn’t ours, anymore. It’s just yours. And so is her child.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, because it was all I could say. And every apology just made it all hurt worse, because they didn’t blame me for what happened. I know it hurt, that I hadn’t be able to figure out how to stop loving one of them. But every time I told them I was sorry- and I was- I think it just hit each of us that much harder that this wound wasn’t closing- couldn’t close- not without hurting one of us even more.

Elle shifted on her feet, pain distorting her face for a moment, and in profile I saw her baby bump, and I saw a glimmer of a hope of stopping them from taking the same kind of stupid risk I’d taken too often. “Come here,” I said, and led them to some seating a hundred meters down the hall.

Elle’s face softened, as she realized why I’d led them to a few chairs near one of the big windows. I helped her lower herself awkwardly into one of the chairs.

I bit my lip. “I’m trying to be delicate, here, because I’m sure you’ve thought through it more thoroughly than I have, but what about the baby? Is it safe to take her?”

“This isn’t Sontem’s ship anymore. I’m not just a uterus on legs, and the ship can’t spare me until the brat’s in classes.”

“But we can spare you for a jaunt off-ship?”

“I deserve some R & R. Away from this place. Away from our shit. Away from,” she couldn’t look at me, and her voice got quiet as she added, “you.”

“I’m sorry. For everything.”

“Stop apologizing,” she said, rising from her seat enough to shove me back. “Stop staring at me with those puppy fucking eyes.”

“I have puppy-fucking eyes?” I asked. “That sounds horrifying. And kind of uncalled for. Even if it is true, that’s not the kind of thing you tell a person.” I rubbed my eyes for effect. “Wait, just so we’re clear, is this eye-fucking in the traditional sense, as in someone leering at puppies in a way that makes everyone in the pet store uncomfortable? Or are we talking the look in a man’s eyes when he’s mid-coitus with a puppy, which is definitely so much worse? I- God help me, I now need to know really badly.”  

Elle sighed, and the littlest hint of smile crossed her lips. She hit me in the shoulder, like we were on the same little league team. “Thanks.” It was hard, everything that was happening. None of us wanted to be in the situation we were in… and none of us could navigate a way out. The way I loved Elle, always had, probably always would, the joy I felt over being the father of her child, all of it was so different from how I loved Sam. She knew me in a way that Elle never would, never could, likely couldn’t stomach, even if somehow it were possible.

I wished I could cut myself in half, and try to make both of them as happy as I could; the thought of not making one of them happy was so much harder than the ship hunting us down, and somewhat ironically, my clone was dating someone else, someone who I’d screwed up with in a way I couldn’t recover from- but that he could.

I realized then, that they were sharing a look, and just how fucked that meant I was. Sam fixed me, and it was the look of a woman who knew my worst moments, who had felt my deepest hurts, and was cracking my heart delicately, like an egg. She sighed. “I can-” Elle offered, but Sam put up her hand.

“Let me. This is an ultimatum. We discussed it, that Elle may be hard-nosed, but is soft-hearted; it means you don’t always take her words to at face value. But I am not inclined towards hyperbole, and often struggle to be assertive. So hear me when I say, either you can choose between us before the first pod launch, or we will take it ourselves, buying you the time it takes for us to return.”

“Whatever you choose,” Elle said, taking Sam’s hand, “we want you to be a part of my pregnancy. However else this plays out, you’ll always be the father of my child.”

“I appreciate that,” I said, feeling like a man who had just been moved from the uncertainty of being on Death Row for years, to finally having his date on the calendar.

The thought of a calendar reminded me of all of the logistical tech built into our HUDs, including the memo about the scrum between the Meh-Teh and the Argus crewmembers. “Crap,” I said. “While I’ve got you, I should probably…”

“If it’s about the brawl, I’m working the problem.”

“Which is?”

“That the culture aboard the Nexus is vastly different than the one aboard the Argus. Or that the Meh-Teh are used to, for that matter.”


She rolled her eyes, uncertain if I was trying to have her help me think out loud or if it was another memo I’d spaced. “The Argus may have technically been organized around the same basic corporate boilerplate mission statement as the Nexus. But the crew was almost entirely military security veterans, people whose experience of contact with aliens was of the ‘shoot first, let god sort it out’ variety. The Meh-Teh were not a cooperative species, even within their species. Add a xenophobic, martially-minded cohort who blame said alien bears for their defeat and you have conflict.”

“And what has PsychDiv said?”

“The Argus cohort do score higher than the Nexus crew on the Xenophobia Scale… but PsychDiv think that’s conquerable.” I tilted my head to induce her to continue. “Basically, some portion of xenophobia, like most biases, can be defeated by long-term, positive interactions with the object of the phobia. Fear gay people, get a gay friend and you’ll be less homophobic. Fear trans people, then have an uncle transition, and you get less transphobic. Fear sex workers, and find out your favorite grandmother stripped to put your mother through school, and your world-view adjusts. The Argus crew aren’t born bigots- they were taught it, and through a MilSec career had it encouraged as a survival mechanism. So if we can get them to stop being toxically masculine long enough to have a beer with the Meh-Teh, well, the situation likely sorts itself out.”

“Huh,” I said. I could practically hear the rusted gears in my head starting to turn. “I’m frightened,” Elle said. “He’s forming an idea.”

Pitchgiving 2021, part 8: The New Gods

I think we start with Granny Goodness. I’ve already said it really should be Kathy Bates playing her, because that would be perfect. But imagine her sitting down with some children, telling them a bedtime story in one of her orphanages, and it starting like any normal bedtime story, but slowly layering in horrors the like of which would give the Brothers Grimm nightmares. She tells the story of two warring peoples, the gods of New Genesis and Apokalips, and how their war scarred the cosmos, destroying planets, entire solar systems, until a fragile peace was declared, commenced with the exchange of two heirs to either ruling family- Scott Free, and Darkseid’s son, Orion. Once this fairy tale becomes too scary, we cut away from the dungeonous orphanage, to a balcony atop one of the spires of New Genesis.

We see some of the cruelty of New Genesis, as children mock Orion for being the son of the Devi; his temper flares, even if he keeps it under wraps until after the children leave. That’s when he’s found by the Highfather. Orion asks if his dad really is the Devil. “Darkseid isn’t the Devil, but yes, you are his heir.” Orion, clearly hurting, asks if his father loved him, how could he give him away. “Our children are our hope and prayer for a better tomorrow. But a prayer muttered alone will not build a better world; the best thing a parent can do for their children is also the hardest: letting them soar on the open wind.”

The story follows three children. Orion, raised in relative luxury on New Genesis. Scott, languishing in Granny’s orphanage. And Barda… okay, so Barda is also raised at Granny’s orphanage, but for the sake of contrast, I’m going to have her be, essentially, one of the popular kids, Granny’s favorite, groomed for a special place. Scott is her lowliest charge, essentially singled out by Darkseid and Granny to be ground into nothing- but not through violence, through his own insignificance- they put him into what is, essentially, parademon basic training, which, like all life on Apokalips but the most privileged, is to have all life, all hope, all will, pressed out of you. Barda and Scott aren’t really aware of each other. They tangentially run into each other; Barda is responsible for thwarting one of his escape attempts by chucking a weapon at his back as he flees. But increasingly the orphanage becomes bifurcated, with Scott’s section becoming more dungeonous, filled with traps and torture equipment, but also increasingly more dreary and cold. And increasingly, Scott becomes the face of the rebellious movement against Granny. He escapes, causes havoc, maybe does a little organizing, before getting put away again. Orion finds acceptance, at least temporarily, by helping save some children on New Genesis. All while Barda becomes more and more engrained in the upper echelons. But I think, at least at the beginning, we’re going to have three narrations, but also, that they’re going to kind of be the same, at least in their goals.

We start with Scott, because he’s the face of this thing, both its most fun and interesting character, but also its most tragic (at least in the beginning). “From the time I was a child, all I wanted to do was escape this hell.” I think we show a classroom, and for a moment it could be any science fiction story starting in an advanced school, albeit cold and alien-looking. Young Scott Free, as his adult self narrates, is answering a very simple, one-question test. Granny reads it aloud, to prevent there from being any question what the question is: As a citizen of Apokalips, I live only for… which Scott has answered, in an exotic kind of crayon, in a child’s unsteady hand, he’s written the word “escape.”

Granny’s shadow eclipses his paper, and Scott, a little intimidated, looks up at her. “Oh, Scott,” she begins, and for a moment we’re lulled into the possibility that she’s going to be kind, and gently correct him, that despite her space-fascist outfit and cape, there’s a glint of softness in her eyes, but we show her reeling back with her weapon as she says, “you really never learn.” I imagine violence against a child will be too much to depict in too great a detail, but we can have him off-screen, receiving the attack, as energy flashes light Granny’s face. Still on her face, but she’s now angry. She blasts with her weapon, as a slightly older Scott dodges overhead on his signature discs, the blast weakening the one window in the classroom enough that, as we cut outside to see the crack form, Scott flies out the window. “Thankfully, I always had a talent for escape.” In the next moment, Scott, a little beaten up, is thrust back into his seat in front of Granny. “Unfortunately for me, on Apokalips there really isn’t anywhere to escape to.”

We cut back to the previous scene. Adult Barda narrates: “From the time I was a child, all I wanted was to escape this life.” Granny finishes her attack on Scott and spins on her heels, lurking over Barda, who is sitting with her hands neatly folded. On her page, in surprisingly clean and crisp letters, she’s written the correct answer: Darkseid. Granny practically glows (at least insofar as she’s capable).

“Very good, Barda. Young Mr. Free could learn much from you- if he weren’t such a dunce. I think it’s time we sent you to the advanced course.” Barda is shown to be special. She was Granny’s favorite, shown as a child to have an exceptional talent for combat, even besting a parademon before puberty, and clearly enjoying the warrior’s life. She’s shown the closest thing Granny shows to affection (it is fleeting and superficial, but in an entire world that is basically a high-tech concentration camp, it’s a tiny flash of humanity). Granny pins a cape to a still quite young Barda, a signal of her rank. Below is a procession of dregs, in dirty, blackened rags, marching but with no fanfare at all, from their barracks to the factories. “It’s better to rule in hell, than to live among its offal.” We see Scott escape below, flying on his discs, this time narrowly avoiding large blocks that shift to try to contain his escape. Barda raises her weapon (similar to Granny’s; in fact, she’s starting to look like a young Granny) and fires, knocking Scott from the sky. He crashes on the shifting block, and is snatched by parademons. “Unfortunately, sometimes rulers have to be cruel to be kind.”

Now we show New Genesis again. A young Orion is held down by kids his own age, who smear handfuls of paint along his face to make him more closely resemble Darkseid, as they taunt him that he should be back on Apokalips with his own kind. Orion punches one of them, bloodying his knuckles, and the children flee. We cut to him, looking in the mirror at the greasy paint smeared into his hair and across his face, interrupted by streaky tears running down his face. An older Orion narrates as we also intercut his bloodied hands as he looks at his reflection in the mirror, seeing overlaid his father’s face, “From the time I was a child, all I wanted was to escape this devil,” (part of that, is wanting to escape his own rage, which he recognizes is the first step to his truly becoming Darkseid’s heir).

Izaya helps the boy wash his face, and comforts him. “Your rage is understandable, Orion,” the Highfather says. “Only children can be so cruel- and those who never outgrow a child’s outlook. They hate what they fear, and fear what they don’t understand. But what I know, my son, is that you are not the devil they see, nor are you the monster you fear. You are merely a boy, bravely hopeful that he can be better than his forebears. And you can.”

Orion, simply crushed under the weight of all of this, holds up his hand, still bloodied. “I struck one of them.”

Highfather is patient. “You did. But remember the time before? You struck several. And before that, you struck all of them, several repeatedly. And today, you did so with great reluctance. I know that our Eden is held as idyllic, our ways peaceful. They are neither. We are the counter to Apokalips. While the day may seem overly kind beside the dark, it is only through persevering over the night that we maintain life in the universe, growth. Without the day’s light, nothing could sustain life.” Orion asks about mushrooms, and Highfather smiles. “Mushrooms are merely a different kind of life, persevering even through the dark; they are a testament to the strength and will of life…”

We follow inside Granny’s orphanage as the Highfather’s words seep in, “but they are not enough to sustain it.” Scott anticipates returning to his classroom again, but a thin man in robes stops him. “Darkseid grows impatient with your lack of progress; Granny’s compassion has spoiled you, child, but I will not spare the rod.” The robed figure clings to his staff eagerly. Scott becomes more and more concerned as he is led into increasingly more dungeonous territory. A parademon brings a prisoner to the robed figure. The prisoner addresses him as “DeSaad,” and begs him for mercy, that he wasn’t trying to escape. DeSaad says he was hoping for a chance to test the enhancements to his rod. It bathes the man in fire, and he collapses to the ground, mewling. DeSaad is very proud of his handywork. “It takes an artists eye to get the balance right. Too much heat, and you’ll cook the meat and kill the body; too much force and you peel away the flesh, and they die. No, the key is just enough of both to make the pain exquisitely unbearable. He’ll beg to die, when he regains his strength, but in time he will heal, and we can start the progress over again.”

“You’re a monster,” Scott says.

“Unlucky for you, the real monster’s taken a personal interest in you, now. Normally, I like watching the systemic demolition of hope from a young man’s eyes. But the sheer hate he holds for you- if you want to jump, I’ll let you. I promise you, it’s the last kindness you’ll ever know.” Scott follows his gaze down into a chasm, its black depths punctuated by pools of molten rock at the bottom. During their gazing, the other prisoner manages to roll himself over the edge. He crumples as he lands, before the boiling rock envelopes him. But it doesn’t swallow. It just roils around him as he wriggles in agony. 

DeSaad is just tickled pink by this; it might be too much to have him howl in delight. “Takes a genius, to devise a trap like this one, and so few Apokaliptians are up to appreciating it. The fall is calculated, to the millimeter, to smash the bones, but not to kill. And the boiling rock, it’s not so hot to kill- just to sear- and to cauterize any wounds he sustained.” Water is poured down into the chasm. “We keep them moist, so they don’t dry out. They’d starve, before succumbing, but we pluck them out before it happens. Sometimes we set their bones, only to throw them back in. Sometimes we let all their burns heal. I’m a technologist by trade, but my passion is the science of suffering. You and I, Scott, you’re going to be my masterpiece of pain. And if you’re lucky, I’ll make some stumble and end you, because if I don’t, Darkseid’s wroth will render my research quaint. To him, I am not even an apprentice; he is the true master of agony.”

We cut to Darkseid, sitting in a throne over a gladiatorial pit. Goddfrey introduces the combatants: Lashina and Barda will fight two captured New Genesis weaponsmiths. Goddfrey tells them they have a chance to prove their worth by using their designed weapons to defeat Darkseid’s Furies… unless they’ve been sandbagging. At first the weapons don’t work (that’s the reason they’re in this pickle to begin with), but they manage to stay alive long enough to fix them, and turn them on the Furies. But Lashina and Barda have only been toying with them. Even with their fancy New God tech, the two Furies easily disarm them. Darkseid holds up his hand and both promise to live for Darkseid. He puts his thumb down, and Lashina executes them both as Barda watches, bidding they die for Darkseid.

On New Genesis, Orion is dressed in sentinel garb (his usual costume), essentially a peacekeeping force. However, one of his fellow soldiers mocks him as “the Little Dictator.” Orion tries to hold his temper, until the guy shoves him out of line, which turns his drill instructor’s attentions to him. Orion attacks. We cut to later, as Highfather arrives as Orion is being dressed down by the officer, who questions both his loyalty and bravery, attacking a fellow sentinel. Highfather chastises the instructor, saying his son is every bit as loyal as any of New Genesis’ citizens, and twice as brave, perhaps too brave, to where he’d fight his own for his honor. Highfather stares down the one who started it, saying Orion has a temper, but he’s no provocateur. Orion intercedes, and says to leave it- that he doesn’t want his father- either of them- to lord his position over someone, and storms off. After a moment, Highfather smiles, and follows.

Back on Apokalips, in a tight corridor, a child holds its parents’ hand, clinging desparately. A parademon strikes the parent, and the hand goes limp, even as the child clings more tightly, and  Scott Free, flying on his discs, bursts in, light streaming, now in his full Mr. Miracle garb. He stops the parademon assault, and whisks parent and child away. I’m assuming this is still a young Scott, so built like Spider-Man moreso than an adult. He sets the parent and child down safely, but they’re angry at exposing them to potentially more danger; they’re being kind of a jerk, but I want it to be reasonable, too, that we understand that they are simply reacting to Apokalips, where fighting back is far more dangerous than being crushed slowly to death- especially in the lessons it teaches an already frightened child (side note: their crime was trying to keep and raise their child- all children are supposed to be surrendered to Granny’s orphanages, so they really are a revolutionary in the making). Scott offers them an entertainment, a temporary escape from the violence and danger of Apokaliptian life, pulling back a curtain, inviting them, as a sign proclaims, to see Mr. Miracle’s escape. Oberon works as the hype man, as Scott performs death-defying feats. It’s a small, underground audience (Apokalips really doesn’t have space for theater- that’s also why his garb is so unusual; the world is mostly black and gray, the sole exception being officers in Darkseid’s army, for whom color is a sign of rank). After the show, Scott convinces parent and child to stick around. Then he convinces Oberon to help him smuggle them out, to the resistance. Oberon’s reluctant; the kid said the last time was the last time, that if they keep taking risks they get caught, and if they get caught the resistance gets exposed. Scott reluctantly agrees, that of course Oberon’s right, they can’t be careless, he just needs Oberon to do one thing and he’ll go along: he has to tell the kid they can’t help.

And Oberon tries, gets down on the kid’s level, and can see they’re just scared. Oberon melts, “Aw, kid, I’m no good at giving bad news.” He stands up, huffily. “Fine, fine, we’ll take em. You know the kid’s got that same dangerous glint in their eyes.” Scott asks if it’s charm. “Worse. Hope. We give too many of these people hope, and we’re just setting them up for this world to crush em even worse.”

Scott has a genuine offection for Oberon, and tells him he appreciates how he “keeps him grounded.” Oberon, seeing the kid from a distance, says Scott keeps him doing the right thing, despite himself.

We cut to New Genesis, basically modern day. He flies through the air in what is essentially an airborne segue. Orion’s wearing a helmet, and through that he’s radioed. “Orion, we have an airborne radar contact, trajectory would suggest an Apokaliptian origin. Flight pattern suggests a parademon, though whether its a scout or one of them escaped the pens we don’t know.” Orion says he’ll check it out. It’s a parademon, all right, and gives him a run for his money (I’m going to say we should upgrade parademons from the ones Steppenwolf brought to Earth in Justice League; since he was on the outs, his army consisted of the crummiest of the parademons- they should be more formidable than his were then, at least in general.

Orion talks to himself a bit, so we understand he’s following the typical protocol, that they usually just fire warning shots to chase the parademons back home. But this one is persistent, refusing; it wants something. Orion’s given the order to shoot it down to prevent it from completing whatever its mission is. He does, but it barrels down onto one of the trams (think a monorail, but the track is a pair of flimsy golden pipes- really elegant looking but the parademon smashes through it. And that juncture point is for a school- and Orion can see that there is basically a bus full of school children barreling towards the end of the line without an end point. Orion lands roughly to beat the kids to the end of the line and hold up the broken rail so the bus comes to a relatively smooth stop.

One of the teachers runs to the bus, but is surprised to see Orion. She’s somewhat shamed by her behavior as a kid, but also recognizes she’s beautiful and has a wellspring of confidence from that. “I used to pick on you,” she says, “when we were kids.” Orion, barely able to meet her gaze, tells her he remembers. She tells him she was wrong- they all were. She’s felt awful about it- but never enough to contact him- “I had no right to force an apology on you to salve my guilt. But I see it on your face, even now, how I hurt you. I had no right to do that, either. I’m sorry.” He asks if she teaches. She does, but also, her daughter was on that bus, she tells him, as her little girl gets clear and runs to her. She says she doesn’t know, after losing her child’s father last year, how she could have withstood losing her, too. “There are no words to express my sorrow for the pain I caused you, and an equal degree for the sorrow you spared me today.” She tells him he’s a better citizen of New Genesis than most of them could ever hope to be. She smiles at him and leaves.

“So why do I feel so angry?” Orion asks, as he limps his flying frame away. Izaya is talking to him through his helmet. He tells him that the wounds she caused him run deep, that she exposed a nerve, and while over the long term her words might touch him, even sooth him, in that moment, all they can do is deepen his hurts. Orion asks if those wounds ever heal, if he’ll ever feel like he’s earned his place on New Genesis. Highfather assures him he has, a hundred fold; he is, in the humble opinion of his father, one of their finest citizens. But he is also his father’s son, a creature of deep longing.

“But where Darkseid needs to control, all thought, all will, all life, you, Orion, need to belong, to feel loved and needed and cared for. The people of New Genesis have not always lived up to our ideals and provided for that need.”

Orion tells him he thinks he’s right- that, like his father, he needs too much. Izaya tells him that wasn’t the lesson he wanted him to take from what he said, and Orion tells him that doesn’t make it any less true. He says that his has not always been the easiest life, but he remembers his earliest days on Apokalips, that his worst day on New Genesis paled to his best moment on Apokalips, and even there he had been the favored son of its despot. He worries over Scott, the son the Highfather traded for him.  

The resistance leader, Himon, thanks Scott for turning in another refugee. Their campaign is going well, all things considered, and it’s only with the help of those like him that they’re able to continue to work to free even some of Apokalips from the tyrant’s grasp.

“Why him?” Barda asks, looking at a hologram of Mr. Miracle. We’re now in Granny Goodness’ war room, where she tasks her furies on their most secretive missions.

“Why him?” Granny asks. “Because Scott Free is the lowliest of the low. He has always been a worm, but the worst kind- the kind who refuses to be trod under foot.” She explains that Goddfrey’s spies have found dozens of resistance agents who could be used to destroy their movement. But it needs to be Scott. When we break his rebel friends, when the last dying ember of hope is stamped out, Scott Free needs to know that it was his failure that led to so much loss, and pain. “Why him? Because he has always refused to live for Darkseid, and I want his breaking to be the triumph they recall for millenia after me.”

“But why me?” Barda asks, suddenly anxious.

As Granny narrates, the hologram shifts, showing Barda at various points in her rise. “Because you, Barda, are my finest success. A brutal warrior, a brilliant student, the ruthless leader of my Furies. If anyone can remove the black stain of Scott Free’s smile from my record, it’s you, dear. Break him for me, Big Barda, and your reward will stir envy in your peers the like of which you’ve never seen.”

We cut to a transport. Barda seems anxious. Some of that is she’s dressed in the same rags as the rest of the underclass. Some of it is, it’s really her first experience among them. She’s been told, from childhood, that they are deserving of their status, they are dregs for a reason, capable only of corruption if not for the careful guidance of Darkseid, who yolks their unruly, wanton cruelty to provide some measure of prosperity. At first she feels naked without her armor or her weapon- after all, her entire life she’s been told how desperate the dregs are, clawing at their betters for any purchase to pull themselves up- or pull their betters down. But these people aren’t her enemy; they aren’t even capable of presenting a threat, they’re so beaten down and broken. One of the workers stumbles, and a parademon spins on him with a cat o’ nine tails like weapon. Barda catches his elbow. That gets her more attention from other guards, and eventually she’s beating the hell out of a handful of parademons on her own, caught up in the moment. The laborer she saved helps her escape, bidding her slide into a low-lying window.

Barda is surprised at herself. She wants to be upset- she could well have ruined her subterfuge, but the thrill of battle has her blood up. The laborer is terrified, of and for her, but reason they owe her help, since they’ll be looking for her. They can get her to the resistance. “To fight?” Barda asks, still exhilirated by the fight. They tell her it’s to flee- that they’re the only way she can get out of the city alive. The laborer leads them through some underground tunnels, which eventually open up into a gray market. The laborer explains to Barda where she needs to go, when a parademon notices them. She tells the laborer to run, that she’ll lead it off. She runs a squadron of them a merry chase, before being bottled in an alley. She’s about to fight, when Mr. Miracle descends from the sky on his flying discs. He’s almost as formidable as she is (though now she’s playing damsel a bit- helping when his back is turned so as not to arouse suspicion). Barda flips the rescue, preventing Scott from being shot in the back by a parademon. He whisks her away, and takes her to the rebellion’s secret base.

She meets our important players for this portion of the movie, who want to funnel Barda out of town. But she wants to stay and fight. Scott intercedes, telling them she saved his life, and seems more than capable of handling herself. Himon doesn’t like it, but one of their number got swept up by a patrol, so they’re short a hand; he warns her it’ll be sink or swim, “But if you do need a hand, I have been known to function as a floatation device,” Scott says. The leader plays the heavy, each time trying to convince her that they will cut her loose if she threatens any of their safety, or their mission, each time undercut by Scott. Scott is defiant, chivalrous and charming; despite herself, Barda begins to warm to him.

The mission is breaking into one of Darkseid’s research pens. Darkseid’s search for the Anti-Life equation is one half a spiritual quest, one half super unethical research. The fruits of his labors so far are the parademons, essentially mindless, feral husks that were once living people just like those on New Genesis.

The plan had not been for Barda to rough up a dozen parademons, so Granny, concerned, sends the other furies to arrest the rebel leaders. They snatch Barda in the night, give Barda her uniform, and tell her arrests happen at dawn. Barda can’t sleep. Eventually she bursts in on Scott, who tries to play it cool, at first not getting that this isn’t a booty call. She warns Scott, tells him to save himself- that they can’t save the resistance, but he doesn’t deserve whatever Darkseid has planned for him.

Scott tells her that he trusts her with his life, his happiness, his hope, that “none of it is worth saving from Darkseid if we think it’s so fragile we can never share it,” and he kisses her, and for a moment she’s lost in the kiss, in for once feeling something good and vital and life-affirming, but the crushing reality of Apokalips comes rushing back to her and she pulls away from him. She tells him, angrily, she already tried to save him, by warning him off; he answers with a smile, and tells her, “I know. Now I’m trying to save you.”

Barda comes with the other Furies, conflicted as all get out. But when Lashina sets upon Scott, she isn’t conflicted, and she doesn’t hesitate. She blasts Lashina, and she, Scott, and Oberon, flee. Only this time, they’ve got a Motherbox, so they can make it off world, arriving on New Genesis.

They tell Highfather what happened, Scott relating the degradation he suffered in the name of peace. Highfather weeps, “Would that I could have taken your place, son, I would have; would that I could take your sorrows as mine to erase them from your soul.”

Orion, hearing all this, is pissed. He’s worked so hard to be accepted, so hard to be loved, so hard to feel he deserves to be Highfather’s son, only for Darkseid’s castoff to waltz in and be granted the title merely for being born. “Son?” He roars. “You call this wretched beast son.”

“I do, son; I have learned great affection for beasts, no matter their wretchedness,” he says, and tenderly strokes Orion’s cheek. But Highfather’s (and Avia’s) love is no match for Orion’s pain, and he continues advancing, his steps heavy with anger. But just as tragedy seems fit to strike, Scott scoops Orion up, joy in his voice as he exclaims that he has a brother. Scott hugs him fiercely; he knew, in his heart, on Apokalips that he had parents, but for the first time, in this space, with all of those he loves, does he feel like he truly has a family. And, despite himself, so, too, does Orion, caught up (as much as the curmudgeonly New God can be) in Scott’s joy, admiting with some strain, and indeed surprise that he has a brother.

The fragile peace is ended, however, by Scott’s successful escape, giving Darkseid the pretext he required to reignite the war.

Only Darkseid has been busy. During the war that split Genesis, their original planet, in half, New Genesis was technologically superior. Think Russia during World War II, Darkseid’s gains in territory came at the cost of immense expenditures of life; it was possible that Darkseid would lose his first war because their technology was so inferior, but not guaranteed. Highfather so feared Darkseid might triumph that he agreed to unleash the unmitigated power of the Source, cracking the planet in two (why yes, clever reader, this is a metaphor for atomic warfare). Apokalips, including the industrial heart of Darkseid’s territory, which soon spread over his entire planet, and New Genesis, Highfather’s idyllic homeworld, including the floating metropolis, New Eden.

Their gravity remains intertwined, as the two spheres rotate around one another. It was thought that Highfather could end the threat of Apokalips by once again harnessing the power of the Source, but at the cost of a terrible genocide; it was to prevent such a senseless loss of life that Highfather accepted the trading of their heirs. Darkseid agreed, because it bought him time to rebuild, to regrow his armies, and to use the technologists stolen from Highfather (and thought lost in the cracking of the planet) to close the technology gap almost entirely.

Apokalips’ first assault is on the Source itself, capturing the weapon Highfather used to split the planet, and had used to enforce the peace with Apokalips. They cause a huge amount of damage, making it clear that Darkseid’s forces are now far more deadly than in their last war. Highfather holds a war council, splitting his forces to cover certain strategic areas, the most important being New Eden. Scott offers to return to Apokalips, but both Highfather and Orion refuse to let him- he was merely the pretext, a story that let Apokalips pretend to have won their earlier conflict, but also a seed for the next. Even if he did go back, Darkseid could see to it that no one believed that he did. Highfather places Orion, his most trusted lieutenant, in charge of a contingent with Mr. Miracle and Barda to retake the weapon’ without it, Apokalips will be unstoppable.

They’re able to insert Orion inside, but find too late it was a honey-pot, that the surrounding hills are choked with parademons. Miracle and Barda lead the forces fighting to buy Orion time, the idea being that if they can fire the weapon on Apokalips, the mere demonstration that it’s back in New Genesis’ control should be enough to force a ceasefire. And while they fight a battle they know they will lose to buy Orion time, Orion finds that the weapon has already been disassembled. He tries for a moment to fix it, before realizing it isn’t just that they disabled it- they were altering the weapon, so it could be fired into the heart of New Genesis itself. Orion calls up the security satellites, to watch as Scott and Barda are being overwhelmed. He calls his Highfather, who is bloodied, but still fighting, even if it’s clear he won’t be fighting for much longer.

“Father,” Orion says, “I’m sorry for what I must do.” Then we watch as Orion broadcasts a message across New Genesis and Apokalips, both. “I, Orion, son of Darkseid, hold the beating heart of New Genesis’ greatest weapon in my hands. For Darkseid, for Apokalips, I close my fist.” Orion turns his floating conveyence on the weapon, and fires.

Outside, the spire housing the weapon combusts impressively. Scott screams for Orion, even as Barda points to his shape flying from the tower, that he’s alive. They both pause, as they hear Orion broadcast across all channels. “I have struck a blow to our hated enemies. Apokalips, it has been too long since I stood in the halls of my father. I’m coming home, triumphant.”

The parademons stop fighting, and watch as he flies towards Apokalips. After a moment of eerie silence, they follow suit, abandoning their conquest and flying after Orion. I imagine I should seed it so that Orion was part of an Apokaliptian stab in the back myth, that he was stolen by the treacherous Highfather in a raid, a raid in which he callously left his own son behind. Darkseid saw to the wayward child as he did all Apokaliptians, caring for them by tempering them in the fires of his industrial furnace. The return of Orion is thus complicated. On the surface, Apokalips rejoices at the victorious return of its lost prince, as well as the crippling of New Genesis’ great weapon.

New Genesis is somber. With Orion gone, their forces are weaker than ever. And while Highfather publically puts a brave face on it- that Orion surrendered to end the assualt- he recognizes that it’s a blow to morale, regardless. He feels the sting of the loss of a child, but also, some small part of him nags that his son rejected years of teachings to return to his ‘real’ father.

Scott isnt ready to give up on his brother just yet. He talks with Barda, telling her he has to to go. He doesn’t know if he can escape Apokalips a second time, but he has to try. He asks her to watch over his father, and Oberon, if anything happens to him. She tells him she can’t, to which he brokenly says, “Oh,” taking it to mean that now that she’s free of Apokalips, she wants to be free of him, as well, and we linger on that moment, Scott’s heart breaking even as he prepares to face his likely demise. She tells him the reason she can’t watch them is she’ll be with him, in their home in New Eden, or in DeSaad’s dungeon on Apokalips- wherever he is is where she’ll be.

I think that’s where we go to credits. Yeah, we’re not even pretending there won’t be a sequel. Darkseid IS DC’s big bad. It’s worth at least a couple of movies, maybe three, to set him up- and I think you can make some damn fine movies out of these.

Mid-credits scene: Darkseid is pissed. Orion is chained to a pillar, clearly having been beaten, bloodied, bruised, but also angry, and for the first time he feels like he’s got a worthy recipient for his anger.

Darkseid slaps him, the blow enough to bloody even the mighty Orion further. But Darkseid’s anger is cold. “You revoked my pretext for war; I’ll invent another.” DeSaad hands him a rag to wipe away the blood from his fist. “You’ve bought them hours. Perhaps days.”

“”Is that all you have to say to me, ‘father?’ I’m your heir,” Orion cries out. “You’re an heir to an immortal, a surplus in a world that can only ever know hunger; you are useless to me. DeSaad? Break the welp. If any pieces of value remain when you’ve finished, bring them to me. If not, dispose of them in the furnace.”

Nexus 3, Chapter 2

“I’m still not sure why I’m here,” Dave said.

“Continuity of leadership,” I began, “because you’re my likely successor if I manage to cheeseburger myself to an early death, because the ship essentially flies itself so we know you can’t possibly be busy ‘navigating’, because I’m a sadist. Pick.”

“He’s cranky this time of morning,” Dave replied.

“He’s cranky, full stop,” Bill said. “But that’s why you shouldn’t give him the opening.” He exhaled, standing up. “And you’re both here because I was right.”

“And wanted to gloat in person?” Dave asked.

“You know the longer we’re trapped on this ship together, the more you sound like him,” he nodded in my direction.

“Maybe the longer we’re on ship, the more we all become like him,” Dave said in a nearly spooky voice.

“Or maybe something about the burden of leadership…” I offered.

“That was half-assed even by your standards,” Bill said. “But it has less to do with gloating, and more to do with wanting all of us on the same page. And I suspect you either don’t read my memos, or don’t retain them. So periodically we do this in person, so I can at least watch for your eyes glazing over, to know what I’ll need to repeat later.”

“And?” Dave asked.

“It’s like babysitting, only marginally more cleaning up other people’s shit.” He rubbed his eyes before continuing. “Retrofitting our sensor pods to accommodate a second pilot took doing- honestly, retrofitting them for manned travel in the first place took care of most of it. But aside from a little logistical streamlining the work is essentially done. What’s proving harder- even more difficult than my initial estimate, is the launch bays. A single pilot could be accommodated inside the original structure of the pods with just a little jiggering- and of course removal of some of the more fidgety sensor arrays. But something has to give; there just isn’t enough space for a second person; we even did some testing, using only the smallest 10% of our crew, but still, unless we put them all on borderline deadly starvation diets and trained them to be contortionists- and ignored that it isn’t healthy for a human body to be stuck in a strange position for weeks or months- it was a worthy attempt, but came to nothing. Which means we’re back to the bigger pod with room for two.”

“Can we get inside?” Dave asked.

“It’s not a roller coaster,” Bill started, “but yes.”

Dave slid into the front seat, and I squeezed into the back. There was maybe a foot between Dave’s head and mine, and the majority of that was taken up by screens and controls.

“Tight fit,” Dave said.

“We’re trying to fit two square pegs into a round hole at the same time.”

“It’s necessary,” I said. “We’ve gotten lucky, in that I don’t think it would have made a difference on any pods we’ve sent. But there are going to be situations where two heads are better than one, or where one person needs medical assistance they can’t get from the locals.”

“I’m not arguing over the philosophy behind the project, merely explaining the practical difficulties.”

“When can we launch?” I asked.

“Depends. Who’s we?”

“You and me. I wanted us to have a romantic weekend away together, so I could finally confess my lust in style.”

“I’m out of your league,” Bill said. “But just assuming you learned your lesson last time- just like I did- inside of a week. Now, I know you could probably do an end-run around me, maybe even have the logistics all laid out. That’s why I’ve already told the council what I’m telling you.”

“Well they have historically been superb at curbing my worst instincts,” I said, putting an edge in my voice without realizing it. I smiled, to soften it a little. “You didn’t have to do that,” I said, “but I understand.”

“And I… don’t care,” Bill said. “You spend a lot of time on this ship acting like you know what’s best for the rest of us; you get that right often enough we’ve left you nominally in charge.” He sighed. “But your paternalistic bullshit is going to get people killed. We need you right now, but I pray every goddamned night that either you’ll finally grow up into the captain we need, or you’ll get the hell out of the way so someone better can.”

Bill offered me a hand out of the prototype and it took every ounce of self-control I had not to use it to fulcrum his face into the instrument panel. It was one thing to cut me down when he felt I was getting too big for my britches; it was entirely different to do it in front of one of the other DivHeads.

I was most of the way out of the room, but Haley made sure to pipe the audio in to my cochlear implants. I think she did it because she knew Dave better than any of the rest of us, and was pretty confident how he was going to react.

“You should know that he’s the better man right now,” Dave said, “because I would have decked you for that.”

NaNo NaNo

The title of this post really only works if you’re ancient, like me, and remind the still more ancient Mork and Mindy (starring the great, and unfortunately late, Robin Williams), and imagine it mispronounced as such.

This NaNo I’m largely forsaking the usual format, because I have a life, a marriage on the mend, and irritated bowels (not irritable, medically, just cranky). As a compromise, I’m still planning to write out a novel, finally finishing out the Nexus Trilogy (Sontem Trilogy if you’re nasty, and let’s be honest, both I and anyone reading this probably is). But the compromise is doing a NaNo with actual boundaries. As friends and family (what few have lasted with me through these long, bad years) would tell you is I largely disappeared during November for the last decade plus. Sure, I’d emerge from a cave with a completed novel and a Hefty sack containing my weight in bodily solids/fluids (my only real companion during that dark winter month). I don’t feel like I’ve got anything left to prove, on that front. And I’ve matured… a little. Or I’m being crushed under the weight of adult responsiblities. Potato-potato (that really doesn’t work in print the same way, does it?). My compromise position is that I’m going to try to write every day. On weekdays, that means one writing hour per day. On weekends it will be 3-4 hours, depending on what I need to do besides. My hope is to be able to post week-daily updates Monday-Thursday, with a pause on Friday for the pitches; I think that schedule should give me enough time to keep ahead of the posting schedule, while still leaving time and space to handle my other responsibilities. This revised schedule likely means that it will take a bit longer for me to finish Nexus 3: Fight the Future, and a bit longer to post it. I don’t know if I’ll try to keep up that writing schedule until the novel’s finished; I think that depends on the state of my responsibilities on December 1st, but the hope, moreso than a goal, at this moment, is to be able to post the final chapter (assuming not too much outline bloat) around Valentine’s day.

Nexus 3: Chapter 1

I wake from the same nightmare, the ship in flames, with a familiar boot on my throat, choking the last moments of life from me. It belongs to my nephew, who I held minutes after his birth back on Earth, who I was with on his first trip to Disneyland. I tell myself, and the crew, that it will be all right, that we can evade our pursuers. But I can’t convince my subconscious. Unlike the Argus, we can’t outrun them, we can’t lose them. The Nascent, nicknamed in the Argus‘ files the ‘Shipkiller’, is advanced enough that it will catch us; it’s only a matter of time.

What makes waking from the dream worse is that I’m alone. I can’t turn onto my side and find comfort. Sam moved out months ago. Elle barely speaks to me. And I know I deserve far worse.

“Good morning, Captain,” Haley, the ship’s artificial intelligence, said, the synthetics in her electronic tone barely audible, thanks to her own fiddling.

“I’m not awake yet, Haley. That’s why my eyes are still closed.”

“Your neuronal activity would beg to differ.”

I sighed heavily and rolled out of bed. “And what’s it saying now?”

“You’re upset. But it isn’t with me. Would you like to talk about it?” I frowned. “Or would you prefer I schedule an appointment with PsychDiv?”

“Neither,” I said. “And I’m sorry I snapped.”

“I understand. It’s difficult, keeping the Nascent threat to yourself. I can only simulate your anxiety and guilt over it; it’s difficult to imagine what it’s like for you.” She paused, and I knew that pause well. She was an AI, capable of forming a billion ideas or doing a trillion calculations in the space of that break. She was pausing for effect, for my benefit, and because it was something she’d seen the humans living in her ship- essentially her body- do to signify a spontaneous idea when with her it most assuredly was not. “Perhaps, then, it’s time to tell them what’s chasing us.”

“I want to, Haley,” I said. “But the Nascent is not the Argus. The schematics on this ship are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We don’t have a realistic hope of evading her, not for more than a token amount of time.”

“Perhaps measured in decades…” she soothed.

“We thought we were so damned clever,” I said, flopping back onto the edge of my bed. “That taking the Nexus away from them, and humanizing its mission was unfathomable. But they already had a contingency in production.”

“In fairness, Captain- Drew– the decrypted files taken from the Argus indicate that the Nascent was in production to be the third ship in the exploration fleet. It was only after discovery of your… defection, that the Nascent was retrofitted as a Shipkiller.”

“I don’t think that makes me feel better,” I said.

“I’m not sure what would,” Haley admitted. “Though my figures would indicate that Sontem has placed itself at considerable risk building the Nascent at this stage. The Argus was built using standard stock sales, as was the Nexus. Due to the fact that these prior investments had yet to bear fruit, and to rumors of troubles with their fleet, another stock split was deemed ill-advised, and so the company took on debt against its assets.”

“That… helps, actually. Though it strengthens my concern. I’m sure by now they’ve assured their shareholders and regulators that the mutiny aboard this ship was limited and already put down. Which gives them more incentive to murder anyone who could ever say otherwise… something I would not put past the company at this point.”

“I’m confident you won’t allow that to happen,” she said.

“Allow… no.” I didn’t have it in me to crush her hope. “But are they really that precariously positioned?”

“The Argus was the most expensive and advanced ship launched at the time. The same is true of the Nexus, and Nascent was only made possible by proprietary technology acquired by the Argus through trade with alien species. By even the most optimistic timelines, the mining rights procured by the Argus are only now beginning to be exploited. It is very unlikely the company can sustain in this fashion for the long-haul. Infobursts from the Argus further indicate that the loss of the Nexus became public knowledge, and caused a precipitous drop in Sontem’s stock. This is likely why the Nascent was not likewise financed by issuance of further stock. But at this juncture, retaking the Nexus is likely the only scenario in which the company can avoid dissolution.”

“Unless they tell everyone we’ve been retaken,” I said.

“Lie?” she asked.

“They’re the only ones in a position to know whether or not we’re working for them again. Ditto the Argus. They can stall, at least for a while, by claiming to be back in control of their fleet.”

“I hadn’t anticipated that.”

“I think that’s good,” I told Haley. “You’re nearly as smart as every person on this ship; computationally you bury us. I can’t imagine how dangerous it would be if you were skilled at guile, too.”

“But what if it’s necessary?” she asked.

“In some ways, this ship is about being the pinnacle of human- and now inter-species- possibility. And you’re a part of that; perhaps the most integral part, since you’re functionally immortal. But some of our worst traits- like guile, like treachery- they’re important now, because they increase our odds of survival. But they’re vestigial instincts, ultimately dangerous to the fabric of our society, and toxic to our relations to other cultures. I don’t want you to learn to be treacherous, because I want those traits to die with my generation, or at least, to get bred out over the proceeding generations.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Drew,” she said.

“I sleep through anything important?” I asked, trying to rub the sleep from my eyes, and because I was eager for a change of topic.

“There was another three-way brawl, between Meh Teh refugees and former Argus crewmembers, and security.”

“Who started it?”

“A review of the footage would indicate that the Argus crew were the aggressors, but that conflict was quickly enflamed by the Meh Teh.”

“Makes sense. The Argus crew might see us as liberators, or even rivals, but at least we’re still human. But an alien species sharing the same resources… that’s a harder sell for them. Especially coming from mostly military backgrounds, they’re not used to peaceful coexistence. I’ll talk with Elle.” My mind flitted back to the stolen time I spent with her, when we thought Sam dead. She was still swollen with the fruits of that experience- my daughter. I missed her, and Sam, too.

“And it looks like PsychDiv put in a request to meet with you as soon as you were awake.”

“Looks like?” I asked.

“I’m beta testing introducing grammatic uncertainty into my repertoire, to more closely simulate the experience of speaking with another human being. In this case, I’ve notified PsychDiv, and she is currently-”

“PsychDiv override,” my door intoned, as it opened.

“I might not have been decent,” I said, as PsychDiv stepped into my room.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“On my clone, maybe. Which isn’t the same.”

“Or had pressed against me way back when.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Why the sense of urgency? Or did you only just now realize you could abuse your power to catch men in compromising situations.”

“I assure you, I’m not here for my own personal sex comedy.” She sketched instructions on her HUD in the air, and a graph shared onto my eyescreen. “Haley’s been spreading decrypted communications from the Argus to the relevant departments on the ship. I noticed their sociologists were tracking some… odd information, gleaned from our ship. I don’t have access to the equations these variables were being fed into… but making a few educated guesses, I was able to get some useful results anyway.”

“So what am I looking at?” I asked.

“This inflection point in the graph,” she traced it with a delicate finger, and a glowing circle appeared in her wake, “represents the likelihood that you will take the ship off-mission. Similar figures on the Argus captain put the number in the low teens- within the realm of possibility but also attributable to noise and error. Your score was in the high 60s.”

“Interesting,” I said. “But what does that mean?”

“It means that if Sontem was doing similar calculations- and the existence of them tracking these kinds of variables would indicate they were- they may have known fairly quickly into our mission that you were going to go rogue.”

My stomach tried to drop through my feet. “How early?” “Within a few months of our launch. Which could cut down on the amount of time it would have taken for them to prepare a response. So whatever that might look like- it could be a hell of a lot closer than we previously thought.”