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David van Domelen
Please note: This is an edited copy of this story, reduced to only the Patrol aspects of the story. To read the complete issue of CONSTELLATION #10, please visit the racc archives at the Eyrie, in the /pub/racc/lnh subdirectory. For more information on the Legion of Net.Heroes, visit their Home Page.
++Okay, we're defintely lost.++
Constellation hovered about 200 miles above the planet, obviously Earth.
"You're right. I mean, the LNH Looniverse may approximate Earth at times, but never this closely. And things feel too...serious. This can't be the Looniverse. Hmm. Maybe it's being shaped by a Net.Trenchcoat Brigade story?"
++I don't think so. Not enough magic flying around.++
"I guess so. Well, wanna look around, see if we can find out what kind of universe this is before leaving?"
After dealing with the Bosnian supernatural, Constellation was in no real hurry to do anything using his powers for a while...he was just too tired. So he came along with Tym to New York and watched him perform at a small East Side club, jamming with a progressive/funk group called the Anticipatients. Not really his style of music, but Tym provided some interesting special effects and acoustic warps that made it an okay way to kill a few hours. After that, he went back to Columbus with Tym and crashed in one of the spare quarters at the Raiders base.
In the morning he awoke refreshed, realizing that was the first time he had slept since the Curseworld experience. It was comforting, at least, to know he still could sleep...becoming too far removed from humanity was not something he wanted to do. Then he heard the claxons go off.
Quickly he went into full combat mode and zoomed out through the roof to see what was causing the alarm, but there was no one around for nearly a kilometer...it was still dark in the predawn hours, and the other workers hadn't arrived yet.
Moments later, a few men rushed out of the nearby MuniCoE building [Municipal Corps of Engineers - they take care of damage from superhero battles] just as the alarms shut off.
After a quick flight around the edge of the base to make sure no one was trying to get in, he returned to the hangar that had been converted to the Raiders living quarters.
On entering the common area he saw the Raiders all looking like they'd fallen in a tub of razorblades...nicks and cuts all over. Plus they looked like they'd been waken from deep sleep.
"What happened to you guys?" he asked.
Tym looked over to Constellation and rubbed his eyes a bit before asking his own question. "Did you have a nightmare, eh?"
"No...I woke up a few minutes ago. Are you saying that the alarms were triggered by bad dreams?"
A young man who Constellation didn't quite recognize, but must be the new member Tendril piped up, "VERY bad dreams."
Tym shrugged. "Not really dreams per se. I mean, I figure at least one of us must have been in deep sleep, not REM sleep. More like psychic assault from Lord Ebon. He's definitely back, guys. The alarms were set up to detect outside mental attacks after that time we fought the possessed St. Louis Cavaliers."
Constellation looked confused. "I thought Wanderer destroyed Lord Ebon?"
"No, he destroyed the Curseworld one. Ours apparently really is still around. When we teamed up to go to Curseworld, some elementals attacked us while we were setting up the portal, which meant Ebon was probably back, but now we know for sure," Tym replied as a medic began bandaging his many cuts.
++Ebon is an utter pain.++
"You got that right," said Mask, the psychic shapeshifter of the team.
"Huh? What right?" replied a confused Tendril.
"Heh," Tym chuckled. "Congratulations, Coma Kid, yer the only one here who can't hear Dot, Constellation's partner."
Tendril mumbled something like "Don't call me Coma Kid" under his breath but was otherwise silent as he wounds were treated. Every few seconds he looked at his arms and legs as if to assure himself that they were still there.
"Well, I really don't want to tangle with Ebon right now if I can avoid it, so I think I'll be getting on back to the Net.Worlds. See you guys," Constellation said as he prepared to go sidewaysout to the Astral Realm. "Pleasant Dreams...." He warped out just in time to avoid the roll of bandages thrown by Tym.
* * * *
Unfortunately, the damage the Bosnian had done to local spacetime also subtly altered 'nearby' Astral space, making it impossible for Constellation to be sure where the gateway to the LNH Looniverse was. Sure, the change wasn't enough to throw off, say, Particle Man, but it stymied Constellation.
Now he was in a universe that had seemed to be a Net.World, but didn't really look like one.
"I suppose the first thing to do is to see if there are any local mystics or supernaturals that might help us get back to the Looniverse. Any idea what we can look for aside from gravitational anomalies?"
++Well, my senses can pick up most violations of natural law, but different senses work in different ways. I don't think I could look for magic from up here, for instance...that sense is more like smell or taste. I 'see' gravity patterns, and 'hear' psychic emanations.++
"Cool. Can you share those other senses with me like you did the gravity sense?"
++I think so. Hey, you're talking out loud instead of thinking at me. How are you doing that in a vacuum?++
"Oh, I just grabbed a pocket of air when I left Earth and I'm using it to talk in. It's more comfortable that trying to separate 'talking' thoughts and 'personal' thoughts. I guess we should look for gravity patterns first, then, and look for other stuff nearer any gravity warps."
++Sure. I see lots of little pinpoint warps, pretty faint, but definitely not due to matter accumulations. Here, I'll show you.++
Once more a star moved over Constellation's left eye, and after letting his 'vision' adjust he could see the faint sprinkling of sparks.
"Those must be pretty strong warps locally to be visible up here. Let's go check one out."
Choosing one almost directly below in what looked like maybe southeastern Wisconsin or maybe northern Illinois, Constellation reentered the atmosphere and homed in on the spot.
Constellation was now only a few hundred feet up, and could see that the source of the gravitational anomaly was in a ravine next to some scraggly looking trees about a mile from the nearest road. Dot said it didn't smell magical at all, but it 'hummed' on the psychic band. It was very 'tightly' made as far as warping gravity. It pretty much seemed to keep to itself, floating a few handspans above the ground, as if it were waiting for a reason to unleash the awesome power implied in its glowing pyramidal form.
"It looks...kinda weird? Any ideas?"
++It seems to be held together by artificial gravity fields. Little to no mass, but lots of energy.++
"I can't see inside it at all, either with sight or spacewarp sense. D'you suppose all the sparks we saw were these things?"
++Could be. Maybe they're some kind of sensor net or colonization attempt by another world? Or some supervillain plot to hold the world for ransom?++
"Maybe. Brace yourself and get ready to bug out, I'm going to touch it."
So that he wouldn't just phase through, Constellation drew a mass of Astral matter around his hand into a protective glove, then reached out and touched it.
His finger sank into it as if it were the surface of a pond.
"Greetings. You have been chosen by circumstance to become a member of the Patrol, an agent of Civilization," came a voice from the object. Constellation withdrew his hand and found it covered by a metal sheath over the astral glove.
"You will need to put the Gauntlet on over bare flesh to access its full power. Once you do, you will be able to create objects from force fields using the Gauntlet. These objects can appear however you imaging them, thanks to a mental interface between the Gauntlet and the user. In addition, the computers built into the structure of the Gauntlet can store any number of patterns for later use. However, there are two limitations you must be aware of."
Constellation didn't interrupt yet, engrossed as he was with the beauty of the Gauntlet. It shimmered in the late afternoon light, reflecting the reds and yellows of the trees, the blue of the sky, and Constellation's own starfield.
"The first is a matter of practicality. The Gauntlet is only a finite object, and can only carry enough power for up to approximately a day and a half of continuous use before it must be returned to this pyramid, the Recharger, for reconstitution. Further use will drain it faster. The second is a matter of morality.
"The highest tenet of Civilization may loosely be translated into your Terran Hippocratic Oath: Do No Harm. As a representative of Civilization, you may not be above its laws as you try to bring others into Civilization. In fact, the keepers of the laws must always be held to a higher standard than those they protect. Thus, should you ever bring harm to a fellow human or any other sapient species, the Gauntlet will cease to function forever."
Constellation looked up at that point. "Whoa! That's a pretty nasty limitation, isn't it? And full of loopholes too."
The Recharger replied "Indeed it is. In fact, we have seeded this world with over a hundred Rechargers and Gauntlets in the hope that at least one person will be able to rise to that standard and provide an example of Civilization for other Terrans to emulate. But what do you mean by 'loopholes'?"
"Well, first off, what constitutes harm? Bodily damage? Mental anguish? Deprivation of livelihood? And what degree will shut off the gauntlet?"
The Recharger was silent for a moment, and Constellation forged ahead.
"Also, does intent matter or not? Otherwise, an accident could strip one of your Patrollers of power even if he or she was truly dedicated to your principles. And what if I were to put a felon in a cage, and he was stupid enough to try and punch his way out, breaking his hand? In such a case I would have used the Gauntlet to harm someone, since by not removing the barrier I caused the felon to break his hand?"
The Recharger glowed as it spoke, "Because the limitation is rooted in morality, intent is important. However, the Gauntlet does have a link to the user's mind, and will always know if there was intent. Mistakenly harming someone by ignorant use rarely happens, because the Gauntlet itself will warn the user before excessive harm is caused, such as the case of enclosing someone in a bubble and forgetting the need for air. However, if too many accidents happen, a user is generally either asked to give up the Gauntlet or spend more time becoming proficient, so that accidents don't happen."
"Okay, that's good. It would be rather bad for someone criminal to find out this weakness and send out a squad of masochists to strip the Patrol of their Gauntlets. Though I suppose that a Patroller, once aware of such a plan, would not be allowed to just let the foes hurt themselves on the force fields?"
"That is correct," hummed the pyramid.
"Okay, a second major loophole. What about causing harm without using the Gauntlet, or basically while the Gauntlet is not being worn? I'm sure the Gauntlet itself allows numerous tricky ways to avoid harming an opponent, but what if a Patroller is ambushed in civilian ID by an old enemy? His only means of defense might be to hit back, causing harm. Will the Recharger sense this and forbid him access thereafter? And here's a real kicker: is pain harm? Are long-term results looked at over short term? Otherwise, a surgeon does do harm when he slices open a patient, even though in the long run he's not doing harm, he's doing good. The Hippocratic Oath you mentioned allows for such 'greater good' actions...do you?"
"On your second point, again intent is important. If the final result is to not do harm, then the Gauntlet will not object. As to the second point, it is unreasonable to force the restrictions when the power is not available, at least not to their fullest extent. Patrollers are not always 'on duty' and when off duty are less tightly bound by the Laws of Civilization. However, there is still some proscription against harming others. A Patroller may never, in any case, on or off duty, attempt to take another's life unless it is the only way to prevent the loss of someone else's life, including that of the Patroller. A Patroller may never initiate violence, and may only respond with enough violence to deal with the situation...excessive force is not allowed. If the other party agrees to a conflict, such as the sparring in several fighting styles used as part of a fitness regimen, or training to allow survival in ambushes such as you mention, it is allowed...but only if the person attacked is totally willing to be part of the fight. However, as soon as the Gauntlet is on, no violence is permitted, at any level, for any reason. As a representative of Civilization, the Patroller may never violate its laws while enjoying its powers."
"Okay, here's another poser. What about 'by inaction allowing to come to harm' as Asimov states in his Laws of Robotics? Can Patrollers turn their backs on someone in danger and allow them to come to harm? I say this because it allows a way for Patrollers to cause harm without causing it, if you follow me. Such as making a platform of force, lifting someone up in the air, then leaving them to fall. Yes, I know intention will factor into this, but what if the power runs out? I mean, if the person is way up in the air, put in a dangerous situation by the Patroller, and now drops to his death because the Gauntlet is out of power? Did the Patroller cause harm? Will the Gauntlet cease to function?"
"Yes. It is always apparent to the user when a Gauntlet is about to run out of power. To place someone in danger when the Patroller knows the power levels are dangerously low implies intent to harm, unless the action was undertaken to remove them from an even greater danger, in which case the Patroller will not lose his power, but will still have to live with that death on his conscience. This has happened many times in our annals, and usually either the Patroller resigns from the sense of failure, or becomes driven to become even better at carrying out his responsibilities."
Constellation thought for a moment, trying to figure out the best way to say no to the job. After all, he already had powers and some responsibilities to the Net.Worlds. "I think I must decline your offer. I've had experience fighting crime with the powers I already have, and I know there are foes who cannot be stopped by anything short of death, and even that may not be enough. Please take back this Gauntlet, give it to someone a little more naive, more trusting in your methods. I can't accept your philosophy, I'm sorry."
"So be it. Place your hand against the Recharger and the Gauntlet will be reabsorbed. But how do you have powers? Our research showed this world had almost no one of extraordinary power or ability?"
Constellation placed his hand against the pyramid and the glove flowed back into it. "I'm not from this world," he replied as he disappeared.
The pyramid was silent, as it transmitted the information to its central databanks that an alien from an alternate dimension had found its way into this reality, and to prepare against the possibility of more. A source of superhuman vigilantes not bound by the rigid standards of the Patrol would seriously damage attempts to Civilize this planet.
Moments later, a young woman, stockily built, rode over the grassy side of the ravine on her horse, drawn by the conversation she had heard. Seeing the pyramid, she carefully dismounted and wrapped the bridle around a branch of a nearby bush, then walked down into her destiny....
Copyright © 1994, 1997 by David van Domelen