Part III of The Emerald Plan
A fic set in the Worldburner shared-world series, by Brother Grimace
Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001
"Supervisor, we're picking up a massive inter-dimensional disturbance!"
Having just returned to his workstation after a critical mission, the Hyperspace Supervisor known as Richard swung around to face the worried – no, frightened - face on his desktop monitor. "Tracking multiple entry vectors into near-lunar orbit, just beyond the outer defense grid!"
Richard's eyes narrowed. This is it – she's finally gotten up the nerve up to try and hit us. It's your funeral, lady.
"Sir – we're picking up IFF beacons – Corps of Ringbearers vehicles," a second, calmer female voice cut in. "Over one hundred vehicles have appeared in real-space in the last ninety seconds. We're tracking RSV's, fifty-eight Mobile Advance Bases, and two Sky Vaults. "
His fingers flying over his keyboard, Richard brought up a satellite feed – and sat back as he watched the image of a trio of Mobile Advance Bases reverting to real-space.
"We're picking up damage to all of the major vessels," the female voice said. "One of the Sky Vaults – Sierra Victor Five, the Saleesa - has suffered severe damage to her upper hemisphere – northwestern sectors. The 'slipstream vessels' appear fully operational – hold. Another Sky Vault has entered real-space. She's broadcasting – Sir, that's a new code; we are listing her IFF as Sierra Victor Seven."
Somehow, Richard suppressed the surprise that sprang up within him. "A seventh Sky Vault?"
Oh, Archangel, he thought, as he watched several of the saucer-shaped 'slipstream vessels' pass over one of the moon-sized Sky Vaults. If you happen to survive, you and I are going to have a nice little discussion about the concept of disclosure.
Richard looked up at the stunning thirty-something woman, who spoke to him from one of the many stairwells around the command deck. "Do I know you?"
"Not yet – but you will," she said. "I understand that you may recognize me – at least, my temporal counterpart for this reality – Rita Barksdale," the woman continued. "I'm Rita Conroy – acting Commander of this station."
"A pleasure to meet you," Richard replied. "Now – would you kindly explain why you've jumped a fleet into an area of space clearly designated as Agency jurisdiction without prior warning? With all of us on war footing, we were almost ready to fire upon you."
"Before you and the rest of the Agency start getting upset about our crashing on your couch for a few days," she said, starting down the stairs, "Be advised that we have a much greater problem to deal with. We jumped here because we know that in Agency space, we have a chance to regroup and effect repairs without being fired on."
Richard was prepared to have a great deal to say – until he glanced around the massive command deck of the heretofore-unseen seventh Sky Vault – and could almost feel the somber atmosphere. "Permission to come aboard, Commander."
The woman – like most of those on the command deck, dressed in what appeared to be a sturdier version of a flight suit, colored in the blue hue preferred by the Corps - came to a halt in front of Richard. "Permission granted, Supervisor," Rita replied. "Welcome aboard the Sky Vault Avalon."
"Nova Valdris is gone," Rita said, as the door of her office closed behind her, Richard, and the buxom young blonde that followed at Rita's heels - a blonde who wore the blue fatigues that had become de rigueur for 'Ringbearers of the Line'. "Earth-designate 'D-247' – and the rest of that universe - has been destroyed."
Richard looked at her, unsure what to say as Rita waved him to a chair in front of the large desk that dominated the room. "Judith sent her pet bitch NegaJane in," Rita said, sitting down behind a desk as the blonde stood just behind Rita – as if she were her bodyguard.
Interesting, Richard thought, instantly identifying the young woman in her late teens. She got herself a Brittany Taylor, and trained her for personal security. Not a bad choice.
Brittany disappeared from Richard's view as Rita began to speak once more. "Instead of doing 'death from above' the way they usually do it - dropping those annihilation spheres that apparently, both of them can create to wipe out a universe - she decided to send a very personal message to the Legion."
The name rang a bell for the Agency supervisor. "Those kids on D-247 – the metahuman youth group?"
Richard remembered a brief from three years earlier, when the Legion had formed on five known Earths. They're not considered a relevant factor on D-415, and Jake Mackenzie wiped out the Legion of D-1155 – along with his entire family, including the Mack and Daria Mackenzie of that reality - before becoming a Ringwraith.
On D-1111, they're too busy helping their world rebuild after the Daylight Crisis. On D-742, that gender-swapped version's got their own internal problems because of the member they call Phantasm - and even on D-247, they're not supposed to be a major factor on the world for at least another year. Why hit them now?
"Yes." Rita said, a pang of loss and anger going through her as she thought of the dead. Even though they weren't my family, it still hurts.
Her eyes flicked over to a mounted portrait on the wall – and the image of a Daria in her early teens, smiling as she hugged her brother and younger sisters. Helen, Jake, Darren, Quinn and little Veronica all died on that camping trip soon after they moved to Maryland, and poor Daria... at least Texas barbequed that bastard Todd - and those two idiots that helped him – for kidnapping, gang-raping and leaving her to die slowly, on what was supposed to be her first day of high school.
It's the reason why I don't qualify for a Defender Ring and they wouldn't give me powers – but I enjoyed watching all three of those bastards strapped into that chair as they roasted. I'm so glad that on my world, they never got rid of burning at the stake.
"From what our source reported, Judith dropped in on D-247 at least four times before hand, during her satanic scavenger hunt," Rita continued. "Even though that damned prophecy says that she was to always get what she was searching for, she apparently got frustrated somehow in her search there."
Richard accepted the glass of nectar that Brittany offered him; he enjoyed the cool taste of tart, freshly made lemonade as the liquid touched him lips, and transformed into the drink he wanted. "She didn't get to kill the Daria of that Earth," he said, after drinking deep.
"She didn't get to kill her, was humiliated in the process and took it personally," Rita told him. "Not taking out the Daria of a reality seems to be something she looks forward to. To get back at the Legion... she came up with something special. You know how she's working with allies?"
The memory of watching Archangel's Agency-liaison report on Apocalypse's return was vivid in Richard's mind as he spoke. "We know."
Rita placed her hand on a touch-pad on the desk, and a hologram of the Earth appeared above them. "Well, she's got another one – someone with serious inter-dimensional transport ability. Whoever these new allies or hers are – and we think that it's your old friends from the AGI - they had a transport gate on-planet."
Richard remained silent, his expression darkening as Rita continued. "What made things bad," she said, "was that they were able to somehow use that gate to link into every single transport system on the planet– artificially-made or naturally occurring – and send tens of thousands of those flame-doppelgangers of Judith through simultaneously."
Richard nodded. "I've just returned from a mission that confirmed that the AGI are on the move and can also take control of communication and data networks. I've barely started on preparing a report."
"Thank you for that update."
"Even worse, we've learned that their suggestion capacity is far greater than previously known. They can compel almost any action from someone who has traveled through a Gate." Richard glanced over to Brittany. "Therefore, anyone who has ever traveled through a gate is suspect."
Rita and Brittany shared a look that Richard couldn't decipher. "Noted." Rita told him.
"But I'll warn you that if the AGI are working with Judith, it is to their ends and not hers," Richard said, returning his attention to Rita. "They've already conquered D-571..."
"Good riddance to that," Rita said.
Richard said, "And at least a couple dozen more realities. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that Daria Von Doom escaped and is currently working with us against the AGI."
"What!" Rita growled. "We demand that you turn her over immediately."
Firm, Richard said, "She is currently our ally and the way things are going, we need every ally we can get. Right now, the data she recovered from the AGI burrowing through Castle Doom's firewalls are the best intel we have on their capabilities in that area."
The blonde-haired Commander of the Avalon shook her head. "Fine. Now, let's get back to the situation on D-247. Overrun' doesn't even begin to cover what happened."
Richard had placed his hand-computer on the desk. "Do you have the location of that Gate?"
The holographics shifted; the image zoomed in and locked on a fast-food franchise of average appearance, and a targeting reticule appeared over a dumpster with the words 'Good Time' inked in large red text across the front. "The gateway is – was – behind that trash receptacle," Rita told him. "Am I wrong, or is that another one of those Architect's Gateways?"
"You're not wrong." Richard's voice embodied 'grim'. "It's 'our friends' from the AGI, without a doubt. They love placing Gates in that particular position – and now, we know why."
He showed Rita his hand-computer. "In almost every reality, the room at Lawndale High School-"
"Where the Daria and Jane Lane of that reality usually have their first meeting, if it's meant to be, almost always happens in that area," Rita finished for him, remembering the bright, lively blue eyes of the girl who had somehow become friends with Quinn, was developing an interest with Darren that seemed to be mutual – and who died with them on that camping trip.
"That area is such an important point in time and space that it's become a naturally-occurring trans-temporal nexus." Richard concluded. "The AGI just let us know what they're capable of."
"Not anymore," Brittany spoke, her first words since they entered the room. "Before she jumped out of the 'D-247' universe, our Whisperer confirmed that a number of cadets from the U.S. Government's metahuman training academy – cadets with Theta and Omega-level mental powers, so they were able to block the AGI's mind-control effects - sacrificed themselves to blow the Gateway, and stop further elementals from coming through."
Richard looked over at the blonde, and swiftly revised his perceptions of her as she continued. "At the same time that happened, every Gateway that the Corps is aware of in the Local Group – every single one, on every planet in every galaxy within - was either totally destroyed or rendered useless."
Richard looked up. "Not possible. We would have known."
"All we know is that after the Local Group Gateway Network went down, someone apparently took out NegaJane." Rita's voice became hollow as she continued. "We're not certain about that, though. If it actually happened, who did it, or even how-"
"Oh, and we would really love to know how they did that," Brittany spoke; Richard saw her right hand for the first time, and observed the silver ring that she wore... one that had a pin-thin line of red encircling the ring at its midsection.
Richard's gaze flitted from the commander of the Sky Vault, to the very first Warhammer–class Ringbearer that he'd ever met. "You're not sure if she's dead?"
"– and Judith was not amused about whatever happened," Brittany said, again ignoring the look Rita gave her. "We think that someone did take NegaJane's head, because that's when the Dark Mistress of Skank herself decided to make an appearance... and finish the job personally."
Brittany paused, and took a moment to regain her composure. "She dropped three of those spheres right down onto Legion Tower itself," she finished. "We were barely able to get the Twin Worlds through crossover before we lost the universe."
The Agency supervisor blinked hard at Brittany's words. "Excuse me?"
"She must have someone else who can generate those things," Brittany said. "While Judith and NegaJane were hitting Earth, someone else dropped one of those things on Ringbearer Command - right down on top of Beacon Terra One."
Rita filled a shot glass with nectar, and slammed it back before speaking, "The majority of the Fleet made it out with the other Sky Vaults as soon as the evac message went out from the Saleesa," she said. "No one made it off Nova Valdris. The annihilation sphere that hit them was configured for a primary blast radius similar to a Nega Bomb – basically, an area roughly one-tenth of the Milky Way Galaxy – and the effects were damned near instantaneous."
"That's what nearly got the Saleesa," Brittany nodded in agreement. "If they hadn't sent the signal as they jumped – thank you, God, for emergency temporal shifts - we'd all be dead. The bulk of the Fleet jumped to the D-1111 universe with New Sierra and Marrianis – and we came here."
Brittany looked at Richard – and momentarily admired the fact that he wasn't showing any sign of shock or horror at all. Todds and Valkyrie weren't wrong about this guy. He does come across as calm, but hardcore.
"New Sierra is the world where we have our primary training bases," Rita spoke up. "Marrianis is her twin world – almost ninety-five percent water. We placed one of the major sustainer arrays for Beacon Terra One there."
A hologram appeared in the air as Brittany held up her right hand. "With Nova Valdris gone, we transferred the flag to New Sierra and used the Sky Vaults to move them into their new positions in orbit around Eta Cassiopeia," she spoke, taking on an air of command as the hologram displayed the star, the newly-placed twin worlds, and the many space vehicles within the system over their heads. "The Tesla and the Masada are remaining on station to fortify our defenses there. We brought the Saleesa here so we could begin repairs; the Chosin will watch her back, help provide manpower for repairs, and be made available for all requisitioned information and materials."
"Yes, we will help you," Richard said, rising to his feet, "but you don't have the authority to just come here and start dictating what you're going to do. You need our permission to-"
"We already have it – through the Accords," Brittany spoke, with a cold finality "Finally, that damned agreement works in our favor. Avalon will stay as long as necessary to assist in reinforcing your homeworld defense perimeter. After we're done here, we'll be heading out, along with the Giza."
Richard locked eyes with Brittany. "I said," he spoke, his tone as equally cold, and with the same finality, as Brittany's. "You do not come here and start telling us what you – or the Agency – will do, regardless of the circumstances. The Ringmasters-"
"The Ringmasters are dead," Brittany hissed, cutting him off. "Judith hit them and took out the 'D-476' continuum ten hours ago, along with 'D-15', 'D-18' and 'D-387'."
The image in the hologram shifted to show a scene straight out of an overblown, big-budget apocalyptic horror or science-fiction film....
As Rita glanced away, Richard watched as a massive, blinding column of blue energy lanced up from the Citadel of the Ringmasters and into space – the efforts of the Ringmasters, channeling their powers as they stood atop the summit of the Citadel, trying to prevent the moon from crashing into their world...
...An effort that failed, as the moon transformed into a dark sun of raging red and black energies that instantly detonated, turning the world to infinite white-
Brittany's eyes were dead as she looked back at Richard. "Over the past twelve hours, Judith's forces have begin specifically targeting every reality where the Corps has a major command-and-control facility that strategic operations can be led from," she said. "Every reality where any discipline or form of technology exists that can specifically harm her has either seen those worlds where that threat exists burned into stellar cinders, or the continuum has been destroyed outright."
Rita sat ramrod-straight in her chair as Brittany continued to speak. "She has destroyed our homes, our worlds, and the very realities that we once knew as home," she told Richard. "Because of her and her allies, untold numbers of innocents have been put to the sword. She has killed our leaders, and has sealed a pact beyond our comprehension in order to destroy all that exists. The darkest of nights has fallen over existence, but as of now – it ends."
Eyes of purest flint met Richard's eyes. "As of three hours ago, the Corps of Ringbearers declared itself to be at war with the being known as Judith," Brittany spoke. "As of now, we exist in ar'krai - a state of total war."
Richard hardly realized that he had, moments ago, activated the function on his hand-computer that sent an undetectable live feed from the unit to his superiors.
"From this point on, we exist to destroy Judith, all those who ally themselves with her, and all those means and measures that exist to support her in any manner," Brittany pronounced. "We will provide any measure of assistance, any technology, and any means of waging war, to our allies that they see fit to arm themselves with in this crusade to destroy this threat to all life. All previous restrictions placed upon the Corps are suspended for the duration of this conflict-"
Brittany turned to face Richard, head-on. "As of now – the Corps of Ringbearers asks The Agency to honor the agreements made in the Nova Valdris Accords – specifically, the promise of safe haven to our forces in the event of great need, the mutual-defense treaty-"
She stepped forward. "And the information and technologies-exchange agreement," Brittany said, speaking not to Richard, but to his hand-computer. "As agreed, we will provide, and will seek to acquire and deploy for combat, any and all means and measures available throughout Creation itself to war upon our enemy, and achieve what as of now is our only purpose in life: we will act... so that Judith – will – fall."
A voice came from the unit. "We will contact you shortly," the terse voice spoke, a note of finality resonating in the tone.
Richard picked up the hand-computer. "I believe my supervisors will want to speak with me," he said. "Before I leave – two questions."
Rita, regaining her composure after Brittany's performance, focused upon Richard. "Go ahead."
"Would you happen to know where Archangel is? I spoke with him only yesterday."
"I hope he wasn't on Nova Valdris," Brittany said, cutting off Rita's answer. "He's reasonably useful in a fight - for a Pathfinder."
"I see," Richard replied. "Also – with the Avalon, you have seven Sky Vaults. Where is the Andúril?"
"The Andúril returned to her duty station," Brittany told him. "Because of what happened on Nova Valdris, we believe that Judith has infiltrators in the ranks of those beings who assist the Corps – and that a number of them are aboard the Andúril."
She looked down as her ring hand, and began to lovingly stroke her left index finger along the outside of her Ring. "After my people find the Fifth Column aboard and – deal with them – they will begin a special mission," Brittany continued.
Richard's expression was focused, yet calm as he saw a glinting in the young woman's eyes. That way lies madness, he thought. This... will not go well.
"We believe that a weapon exists upon the Earth known as 'D-1969'," Brittany said, her face now serene. "If it exists, it is a weapon that can end Judith once and for all, regardless of how powerful she has become... and we mean to find it."