“We bring this, the third annual meeting of the Order of Transhemispheric Doppleganger Twins, to order.” Garth said, slamming the gavel down before returning it to ash.
The four of them were sitting in a hastily constructed cabin in the middle of the swamps of Kurm, just Nabeya, Garth, Dr. D, and Veneer. Terrible name. Caitlyn and Alicia were writhing around on the ground as they made drug-induced contact with their driving epiphanies.
“First order of business, addressing the elephant in the room,” Garth said, eyeing the Dan Ui clan member, then he glanced across the table at Veneer and Dr. Daniels, who had returned to his original form as per the meeting’s decorum.
“The fact that this meeting has been in recess for eight hundred and forty-five years, and what we can do better to stay in communication moving forward.”
“I’d like to volunteer to leave a copy of myself on the Fertility,” Dr. Daniels said, raising his hand.
Garth summoned a new gavel and twiddled it between his thumbs.
“That seems like a hell of a security risk. No offence.”
“Nah, I get it.”
“Perhaps linked PCs?”
“Pen pals.” Dr. D said, pointing at him.
“That’ll be good enough.” Garth nodded, glancing over at Nabeya, who looked half-ready to leap on either of them, glancing between the three of them with suspicion.
“Now, to the important business.” Garth said, pointing at Veneer.
“Veneer, is there anything you’d like to tell us?” Garth asked.
Veneer shook his head for a moment, before he caught himself, and seemed to struggle his words through some kind of barrier.
“I…would l-like exemption f-from the Clone…Truce. I’m my own man.”
Dr. D’s jaw fell open for a moment before he broke into a huge grin and slapped Veneer on his back.
“That’s my Boi!”
“The first of my creations to give me a little pushback, eh? I thought it might be the superhero, or the genius detective, but they’re too caught up doing good to realize they’re not real.”
“Right, this presents a bit of a problem for us,” Garth said. “If we were to exempt Veneer from the Clone Truce, we’d have to be sure he was no longer under your influence. A completely separate abomination.”
“Because if he were still under my control, I could play both sides, yeah I get it.”
Dr. Daniels snapped his fingers.
The handsome supervillain melted in front of their eyes as his flesh rolled off of him. All the while, Veneer was screeching in inhuman agony as his limbs stopped working, slumping forward in his chair.
Flesh puddled on the table in front of them and crawled over to Dr. Daniels, rejoining with his arm and disappearing into his body.
All that was left of Veneer was a dried-out, eyeless husk.
“And that did…what?” Garth asked.
“Like a responsible parent, I’m giving him the opportunity to stand on his own two feet.” he motioned to the husk. “I couldn’t take that back when I severed the bond. It’s his now. Unequivocally.”
The husk gasped, twitching. He tried to push himself up and failed, his bone giving out, causing him to slump back down onto the table, groaning in pain.
“Happy birthday. Want water and some enriched avocado?” Garth asked, summoning a glass of water and a protein pear.
“Please.” Veneer gasped, his hollow eye sockets closed.
“I’ll have no part in whatever unholy abomination is at play here,” she said, eyeing the three of them. “I’d just as soon kill the three of you right now.”
“Really, the only people at risk of dying here are you, Veneer, and the crew of the Rigor currently trapped in The Fertility’s airlock.” Garth pointed at Dr. Daniels and himself. “We’re decentralized.”
“About time,” Dr. D said, raising his hand. “Up top.”
“It’s more of a lich immortality system than a The Thing immortality system, though.” Garth admitted.
“Not bad. Upside is you don’t get other people’s dying thought surfacing every now and again like burps.” Dr. Daniels said.
“That is a hell of an upside. Wait, don’t go!” Garth shouted as Nabeya turned to leave. “We’ve got your issue to address.”
“My issue?” She asked.
Garth turned to face Dr. D, who was looking particularly rosy after draining a hundred pounds of flesh from his child.
Garth threw a thumb over his shoulder, pointing at the reluctant Elder.“She wants my assistance hunting you and Veneer. How much assistance am I allowed to provide your enemies without violating the Articles of Clonehood?”
“hmm…” Dr. D thought about it while Veneer gummed a ripe avocado. He’d lost most of his teeth in the divorce.
“How about we just exempt Kurm?”
“Yeah, I went interplanetary seven months ago, man, remember? I could lose every mouthpiece on this planet and it wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket. I say hit me with everything you got.”
Garth tapped his finger on his elbow, studying his evil twin. “So you can develop countermeasures for if things ever do turn sideways between us.
Dr. D shrugged with a smile.
No one says I have to actually go all out against him. And anything he can’t comprehend or replicate is something he won’t be able to create a counter for. Until I’ve got a better idea though, I’ll stick to escorting this elder lady until the Fertility’s bun has left the oven. No need to give Dr. D. ideas.
“Alright, sounds good. Let’s draft up an Exemption.” Garth summoned a piece of paper and a pen, leveling it at Dr. D. “On a personal note, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t eat my apprentices, despite them being part of the exemption.”
“I understand grudges. Ransom then?”
“Sounds good,” Garth said, scribbling on the paper as he began to draft the exception to the Truce.
“Really? You are so involved with this walking catastrophy that you’ve got to create a document do what must be done?”
“Elder Nabeya.” Dr. D. said, addressing her directly for the first time, bearing a sharklike smile. “I’m on enough different planets right now that I am beyond the Dan Ui’s capacity to contend with. In four more years, I will have a stranglehold over every government in the outer thousand spheres.”
“When I am powerful enough, I will no longer be an” – he made air quotes – “’Extinction level event.’ I will become an accepted fact of The Inner Spheres, just like your parasitic Clans. Better, even. They won’t dare try to remove me for fear of how much money it will cost them.”
“That’s what it boils down to.” Garth said, nodding as he wrote. “Pose enough of a threat to their wallet and they’ll compromise.” He glanced back up at Dr. Daniels. “similar plan here.”
“I’m actually getting really good at piecing together selfless, charismatic rulers out of personality-sludge.” Dr. D said. “They’re gonna love me.”
“By the way, many of the people aboard Fertility, I’m going to need them uncompromised when I move on to other planets, and others are simply civilians. Would you mind marking their faces with a grease pen or something rather than assimilating them, should you find a way to infiltrate The Fertility?”
“Sure man.” Dr. D said with a grin. “Sounds kinda fun, although asking me not to assimilate them is like asking me to play with both hands tied behind my back.”
“How about you mark them secretly anywhere on their bodies and I give them a heads up that they have to obey your commands if you do that?”
“One hand tied behind my back. I can work with that.”
“Is this a game to you two!?” Nabeya demanded.
“Kind of.” The two of them answered simultaneously.
Raw mana began whirling around her, creating a storm of tiny lightning bolts as the mana grew more and more compressed around the Dan Ui Elder.
Oh yeah, I forgot. Not on the Fertility any more, and she’s probably at least fifth tier. Maybe higher.
In short, she could squash him like a bug.
“Listen, Nabeya. I just negotiated sweetheart terms for the war with your calamity here. We can try to kick him off this planet as hard as we want, and he’ll basically slap-fight back. Well, except for you. You’re not part of the agreement, so he’ll probably try to kill you pretty hard.”
“That I will.”
“But you should be able to handle it. You’re an elder, after all.”
Nabeya’s eyes narrowed, and the storm of power gathering around her snapped into a Lantern the size of a baseball, covering their entire meeting hut and extending out into the swamp beyond.
Garth felt his backup batteries kick in, slowly releasing mana back into his meat-suit from the wafers of Mythic core and Aether crystal implanted before the body was born.
“How many Dan Ui planets are you on?” she asked, her voice cold and level as she sat back down at the table.
“Tell you what. I’ve been kind of lacking stimulation recently with how easy interdimensional domination is, so how about this: you sign this agreement, participate in this gentlemanly war rather than running away and tattling on me, and I’ll give the Dan Ui notice of which of their planets I’m on, four years before anyone else.”
Dr. D slid the draft out from in front of Garth and towards Nabeya. She scanned it in a matter of seconds before sliding it back to Dr. D.
“Add the clause for your whereabouts, and I’ll play your little game.”
“Ooh, this is so exciting!” Dr. D. said, rubbing his hands together before accepting the pen from Garth. “My very first official war as a hive-mind!”
“Generals gathered in their masses!” Garth sang.
“Just like witches at black masses!” Dr. D followed.
The two glanced over at Veneer, who laid still, not joining their totally appropriate pop-culture reference, his water gone and super avocado only half eaten.
“Boo.” Dr. D. said.
“Is he dead?”
“Nah,” Dr. D. reached out and poked Veneer with the pen. The supervillain crumbled to dust, nothing but a hollow shell. He glanced under the table, where a little hole in the ground marked where Veneer had burrowed away. “He bitched out. Makes sense.”
“Right. 24 hours to take effect?” Garth asked, tapping the paper.
“I could start right now,” Dr. D. said with a shrug before handing it back to Nabeya.
“I’m fine with that,” Garth said.
“Better than pretending to a truce.” Nabeya said.
She looked over the agreement for a few moments, then added her name to the page.
“Now, a copy for each of you.” Garth said, placing a hand on the document and duplicating it twice, handing one to Nabeya and the other to Dr. Daniels/
Nabeya’s copy vanished from her hands in an elegant whorl of golden mana, transported somewhere elsewhere, while Dr. Daniels ate his.
“Ready?” Garth asked, glancing around the table.
“Three.” Dr. D said with a shark-toothed smile.
“Two.” Nabeya said, eyes narrowing.
“One.” Garth finished.
Nabeya stood so quickly that little splinters formed around her feet from the pressure, she whipped a hand up and her Lantern turned into a disturbingly familiar beam of light that overwhelmed Dr. D. in a fraction of a second, vaporizing the abomination’s body in an oppressive wave of heat and light.
Garth lunged out of his chair, heading for the elder.
The log cabin’s walls exploded inward as hundreds of mouthed tentacles burst into the room, aiming for the elder.
She shredded the approaching tentacles with bands of white fire, some of which caught Garth’s legs, leaving him flying through the air on inertia alone.
Several of the disembodied tentacles suffered a similar fate, their inertia carrying them into the elder, where they buried barbed teeth into the corio’s arms and legs.
Garth slammed into Elder Nabeya’s side and triggered the Transporter, giving Bel a target.
Garth saw the light outside the cabin grow dim as a massive mouth blocked out the sun, closing around the cabin itself.
The next second, he and Nabeya dropped to the ground inside the Fertility, with disembodied tentacles trying to burrow their way into her flesh.
The Elder let out a harsh grunt and a wave of mana ejected the barbed talons from her flesh, tearing open her wounds at the same time.
A second later she blnked once with a healing light, closing the wounds so quickly Garth almost second guessed it they’d ever been.
That’s not good enough.
“Get to the Control Room!” he shouted, hauling the Elder to her feet.
“Why?” she demanded.
The Control room should allow her to survive the microscopic remains of Dr. D. that were burrowing their way painlessly through her body as they spoke, aiming to convert her.
“Poison!” Garth shouted.
“I’m immune to poison!” she shouted back.
“Not this kind, Move ya goob!”
Garth looked over his shoulder and spotted one of the disembodied tentacles slowly squirming away, morphing legs as he watched.
Garth seared the little detachment where it stood on shaky new legs, but the other…There was nothing but a bloody streak where it had writhed away.
Damnit, he got on the ship already.
Garth broke into a sprint, aiming for the control room.
He screeched into the control room just behind the elder. Safely in the area where nothing could be harmed, she would be safe, but so would the parasites in her bloodstream. A standoff.
“Now, will you tell me what kind of poison he used? What kind of creature are we dealing with? You seem to know much more than you’ve told me.”
“We bought you time,” Garth said, “Time I’ll use to explain, but right now, I need to get the ship in order.”
He glanced over at Bell, who was peeking out at them from beneath the covers of a new bed situated in the corner of the room.
Veyers was there too.
“Yes?” she squeaked.
“Whatever. It’s an emergency, get ready to work.” Garth pulled the Emergency lever, causing a klaxon to sound throughout the entire ship, then he picked up the speaker, his voice cutting through the emergency sounds.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Today we’re going to have some War games to keep us on our toes. We’ve been boarded by a polymorphic creature with a penchant for assimilating its victims into a collective. This is a drill. If someone or something marks you with a grease pen, you are on the enemy team until the drill is over. Once again, this is a drill, but I want you to take it seriously. Keep security tight.”
Garth glanced over at Bell, releasing the button on the speaker.
“Bell, this is not a drill. Expand the Indestructible Law across the entire ship to prevent him from actually assimilating anyone, then I want you to create these six anti-parasitic Laws, ship-wide, before you take the Indestructible Law down again so people can eat.”
Garth scrawled down six laws that would prevent shapeshifting, burrowing into flesh, absorbing people, and generally being The thing.
“Get it done. You now have full priority use of Halo. Only after you have these in place, I’d like you to put up a Law preventing people from marking each other with grease pens or other means.”
“Sir.” Bel said, jumping out of bed and slapping her hands on her core.
The ship began to hum around them as the Laws governing reality aboard the ship moved.
“Game on, you bastard.”