31.3 Practice

Analyst Bradly set a small device down on the meeting room’s table, dimmed the lights and touched a button on his wrist com.  A familiar picture appeared on the room’s wall.

It was the North American continent.  The east and west coasts were shaded blue while a portion to the north, stretching down the middle, and a portion to the south, rising to meet it, were both shaded in red.  Once, those regions were called the Dominion of Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States.

Jason had seen projectors before, of course, but the picture this one made was utterly perfect, better than the television he and Hector shared.  He assumed this was simply another example of Citadel tech.  Even their more mundane devices always seemed to be cutting edge or a little beyond.  Jason jerked his attention back to the Analyst as he began speaking.

“I assume you’re all familiar with the Battlegrounds, at least in general terms, so please forgive me if you’ve heard some of this before.  The background’s necessary for what comes later.”

The older man looked around the room, gaze resting on Jason for a moment before moving on to Operative Robert and Hector.  His friend was paying attention, at least two of the three hims that were present were staring at the projection.  The third was idly scratching at the edge of the bandage just above his wrist.  The other two had identical wounds, oddly enough the skin sample he had given resulted in all of his bodies losing the same portion, but were seemingly ignoring them.

“The term Battlegrounds was coined by press, back in the twenties, when the Canadian government collapsed.  Understand, this could have happened to us.  The governments of the world just weren’t ready for the Empowerment phenomenon.  There are always… people who disagree with their nation’s rulers, sometimes even violently.  They didn’t use to amount to much, but when even a handful of them develop powers…”

He shook his head.

“No one had a consistent policy in place, a real way to deal with it.  Empowerment began in oh eight and spread across the world overnight.  The chaos of the First War should have been a warning but… well, most countries didn’t adjust fast enough.  That includes us.  The competing groups of Empowered that all but destroyed Canada’s infrastructure weren’t unique, and neither was the damage they did.

The fighting spread, along with Canadian refugees, and it was only because of the American veterans of the war and their actions that we were able to restrict the damage done.  This is when William Power first came to prominence.  He put down no less than a dozen… I can only call them coup attempts.  People and groups that we’d call Lords today, attempting to take over a city by force.

We lost chunks of the Great Lakes states, but, quite frankly, it could’ve been a lot worse.  The northern border stabilized just as Mexico collapsed.  We don’t know the details, it happened too fast.  In the span of a week, the Central Americas disintegrated and the New Aztec Empire rose up.  They sealed their borders by a method we don’t understand to this day.”

The picture changed, going from one overhead photo to another.  They showed a series of large structures, similar to the famous Egyptian pyramids but… flatter, perhaps?  There were steps on either side of most of them and the pictures showed long lines of people along them and milling around the base of the structures.

“These were all taken during the last month, courtesy of a recent invention by…” he seemed to wince as spoke the next part, “… by the Great Bell.  Think small aerial devices, similar to the early space probes but designed to permanently stay just below the area of interference in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.  We have teams working to reverse engineer the technologies involved but the Bell’s one of the strongest Richards types on record and… well, there’s stuff in those things that we probably won’t figure out for a decade or more.  For now, he’s our only source.

The point is, whatever the cause, that region of the world seems to have regressed, turned back to something like it was before the European colonists arrived.  Northern Mexico wasn’t included but they had the same reaction as Canada did to the King in Winter.  Initial panic, followed by an outburst of Empowered violence.  Cut off from central government, the northern cities couldn’t cope and we got a second Battlegrounds.

We didn’t cope as well this time.  I won’t speculate on why, but we lost a good chunk of the southern US.  Texas, New Mexico and parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma.  Eventually, the spread slowed and we even managed to get back a few cities.  The problem was, it didn’t last.  There was a period of back and forth, cities lost and gained.  There’s never been an official body count but…”  He gave a disgusted sigh.

“Conventional forces just couldn’t fight high end Empowered.  The government didn’t trust the general Empowered population of the US, not until the Dreamer and the civil rights crusades of the sixties.  Once the Citadel was formed, attempts were made to take back our lost territory.  It went largely the same way.

Citadel forces could take back a city but they couldn’t hold it.  By then, the Battlegrounds culture had taken route.  Only naked strength was respected.  We’d put down a Lord but before we could start on the work of building infrastructure, reintegrating the city, a new one or even a group would pop up.  Citadel operatives usually had the advantage, but civilian casualties were… unacceptably high.  After the Bug Bomb, the attempt was abandoned.

The Hive now occupies most of the former Bread basket, basically all of the territory between the southern and northern Battlegrounds.  They aren’t… aren’t exactly hostile.  The collective mind… it doesn’t think like a human but it doesn’t hate us.  The difficulty is that most people don’t feel the same way.  I’m sure you’ve all seen at least one movie where the Bugs invade and normal humans heroically wipe them out in retaliation.

Well, the Bugs’ve seen those movies too.  Relations are… strained.  They’re willing to allow limited over flight but not the construction of cell towers.  This leaves the West and East coast portions of the country damn near isolated.  Again, not a state that lends itself well to large scale military actions of the sort we’d need to really reclaim the Battlegrounds.

That’s been the situation for the last thirty years.  A slow creep as they occasionally take a city on the Border while fear of collateral damage keeps us from doing anything that might actually resolve it.  With a few exceptions, the last hundred years have seen similar events around the world.  Civilization is dying, will die, unless we stop it.”

Analyst Bradly paused, turned off the projector and returned the lighting to normal.  He spent a few moments with his eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply.  Jason was confused by the action but soon noticed something stranger.  He could hear his own heartbeat, his own breathing.  This was followed by the sounds of Hector shifting in his seats, breathing…

He was aware of every sound in the room, no matter how slight.  One by one, they died off.  The room was utterly silent.  He opened his mouth to speak, to question the Analyst, but nothing came out.  There was an eerie… hollowness to the air.

“That brings us to today, to Project Janus.”  Analyst Bradly spoke, and it was literally the only sound in the room.


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15 comments on “31.3 Practice

  1. Now I’m wondering just how many regions have effectively been torn out of the world. I’d assumed it was just Tyrant and the Winter King, since they kept getting specifically referenced and we didn’t hear any other mentions of similar effects before.

    I’m not really following the inferred chain of logic by which they think sending people not trained to minimize casualties is going to result in fewer civilian casualties than sending people who are trained. Also they should start making sacrifices to Quetzalcoatl for more Nulls.

    Also, Hector and all your Analyst co-workers, this is your cue to suspect something.

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    • Quite a few. Tyrant and King in Winter get referenced the most because they were the first and the largest in scale. Add to that, a lot aren’t quite as identifiable so having a definite name or face attached makes them more relatable, though I doubt less frightening.

      Hopefully that part makes more sense now.

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      • We don’t know much except that they’re an empire and don’t brook disloyalty. Of course, being Japan the fact that they’re called an empire means little about their system of government.

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  2. If you could go ahead and not write in a manner that leaves me yelling at my monitor when I get to the end of the section and have to wait for the next update that’d be great. Seriously though, can’t get enough of this universe you’re building, keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

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  3. So this overview brings a number of questions to mind.

    I’m starting to wonder about Empowerment rates. We know that Strongs are the most common identified type, since there’s no mass testing for Nulls, but I’m still finding it odd that retaking the Battlegrounds was untenable. To have the problem as described, high-end Empowered would need to crop up a lot; otherwise Intervention Prime could rampage around clearing out the existing supply and conventional military could lock down cities one by one. And if it is really that high, the Citadel has a larger recruiting base and it seems like it should be logistically possible to dump several hundred into one city while they set up infastructure.

    Then the logistical question: What do they eat? I mean, the Citadel does have that accelerated growth field, which lets them feed lots and lots of people so long as they’ve got the guy who runs it, but aside from that most of the US’s prime farmland is in Bug hands and I can’t imagine the Battlegrounds are particularly good at maintaining food distribution networks.

    Lastly, I kind of wonder about the statement that conventional military can’t fight high-end Empowered. Hector is pretty respectable and his offense is conventional small-arms. And many of the rest of the top combatants don’t really demonstrate that either. They’ve got lots of physical force and/or firebreath going for them, which isn’t really categorically different from conventional weaponry. Granted, once you’re talking someone a tank can’t kill you don’t want to use conventional military against them inside a city, but several of the trainees probably would fare poorly against an anti-tank rocket.

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    • To your last point- Grave and Jason would be incredibly difficult to take down with conventional weaponry. Hector uses conventional weapons, but he has a functionally infinite supply of it, and can employ suicidal tactics at no cost to himself. Jenny would end up causing a minor mutiny at the least if someone sent an army after her.

      For a certain tier of Empowered, the rules change when you fight them, and the best way to handle that is to shift them again in your favor.

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      • The thing is, most of the Empowered don’t really change the rules like that, and most also don’t change the factors that make victory difficult. Jason’s actually relatively easy to take out with conventional weaponry; he handles being set on fire poorly. His death aura makes that difficult to employ but would also kill most Empowered outright. Robert’s zombie plague works on nearly everyone, but relies on having Empowered zombies if he wants to fight an environmentally sealed tank. The Citadel has exactly four people even partially resistant to Jenny. The third-best combatant in the class was Kerry, and she just hits things or sets them on fire. Hector’s duplication makes him hard to get rid of, but anyone he can beat can be beaten by a sufficient quantity of soldiers.

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        • Its easy to deal with singular empowered once you know the specific nature of their empowerment and its corresponding weakness but it’d be very difficult to determine that without the help of empowered.

          You say Jason is easy to deal with because you know his life store gets eaten up by fire, but in a world where Jason is one of those early Lords if you were a soldier in the army all you’d see is a strong type with a incredible regenerative factor, and then you wouldn’t see anything because Jason would have taken your life.

          And yes Jason has one of the stronger empowered abilities in the story but the problem with the battlegrounds is that they operate by the laws of the jungle, the Lord is the strongest empowered in the city, and even after you kill him you’ll have all his lieutenants to contend with, send a army into a situation like that and you’ll get casualties so high you won’t be able to keep the place let alone build momentum to take other cities.

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        • Hector IS “a sufficient quantity of soldiers” on his own.

          One Jason = one dead army, all of them and it increases his own power to ridiculous levels while removing the enemies manpower completely. As for his death aura being difficult to deploy “teleport, aura, no more army”

          Conventional military can’t fight empowered probably for the same reason they aren’t great at policing civilian populations, they aren’t trained for it and don’t have the ingrained responses to fall back on when everything turns to a clusterfuck.

          As for the sending people not trained to minimise casualties that is just a policy change I’d suspect, the cost of having these areas active is now outweighing the cost of the civilian lives that will be inevitably lost.

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          • I suppose I should be more clear. Isaac, Kerry, and Duncan are apparently considered valuable Citadel operatives for their combat ability, and they can’t beat anyone that conventional military force cannot beat, though admittedly the military would probably inflict a lot more collateral damage on the high end. It therefore follows that Empowered who cannot be beaten by conventional military force are fairly rare. Hector definitely approaches being one, and beating him in a city would probably require lighting it on fire, but anything he can beat (without opening mystery duffel, which presumably contains Richards tech that cannot be produced on a large scale) can be beaten by forty thousand soldiers. Jason’s death aura can kill an arbitrary number of people in range, but only a handful of Empowered possess a countermeasure. Basically, given the abilities possessed by the Citadel’s primary combatants, it appears fairly likely that a randomly-selected fresh Empowered will not have a plan for an anti-tank rocket to the face, and a bunch of soldiers with support from Analysis will be able to deal with most Empowered. Likely at a price measured in lives, but it can be done.

            So my proposed overall plan is basically Gatekeeper drops Intervention Prime into a city, they sweep through and kill the Lords, conventional military in division strength and maybe sixty Citadel operatives (one year’s graduates) sweep in to lock it down and set up infrastructure, and meanwhile Intervention Prime gates into other cities and kills their Lords to reduce the counter-attacks. Within a moderately short timeframe they should be able to get the communications situation up to border city standards and move most of their forces on to secure another city.

            The Citadel has four major assets relative to the Lords that they really should leverage:

            1. They have Analysis. This is a really big deal, because Empowered have various strengths and weaknesses and correctly identifying them grants a major tactical advantage. They aren’t quite a match for the all-knowing flowchart, but they work on similar principles.
            2. They’re actually unified, while the Lords aren’t.
            3. The Citadel controls the heavily populated coasts, granting them a much larger pool to recruit from, and suffer fewer casualties. Numbers are on their side.
            4. The Citadel has the support of the US, giving them a huge supply of skilled normal people for assorted infrastructure tasks.

            Incidentally, I’m kind of curious about Gatekeeper’s limitations. I assume there’s some reason they don’t solve basically every problem by having Gatekeeper teleport William in to punch it, but it’s not overly clear what said reason is. I’m kind of vaguely suspicious of their explanation for why Gatekeeper couldn’t help out with the Turing incident; it seems… unlikely… that he’s such an extreme agoraphobe that they can’t communicate with him via shouting through a portal and that he wouldn’t respond to electrical malfunction by opening a small one to find out what’s happening. I feel like that’s code for “we lobotomized him and stuck electrodes in his brain”. But whatever is happening, apparently he can open portals with enough speed to be their emergency city-obliteration plan, so I’m curious about why they don’t relentlessly abuse his capacity for rapid redeployment. Also why they don’t have a standing portal between Washington and the western capital.

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          • In réponse to your lower comment, that i apparently can’t reply to, BECAUSE STORY STRUCTUREish

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