219 - Pirates vs. Ninja

The rustle of foliage could be the night wind, but it’s not.

The Blood ninja team has been trained for missions just like this. Some are veterans of past operations. Others are newbies, on their first assignment. But now they move as a single entity, fanning through the grounds of the Quill compound.

Laser tripwires - located and marked. UV cameras - circumvented, thanks to the team’s biological traits and thermoptic shrouds. Sonic sensors - neutralized by a careful application of wire cutters at a well-concealed junction box.

They’re 150 yards from the Extension when Jason’s newest addition to the security suite picks them up. It’s a mesh of sensors that pick up ambient electromagnetic emanations, including those produced by all living beings and most mechanicals. In response to the first signs of intruders, powerful emitters start throwing out terahertz-frequency radiation, and polished picarin lenses pick up the reflections. The Quill compound’s computer now has an ultra-high-rez image of who’s attacking.

The ninja know as well thanks to the sudden burst of radiation on their hand-held monitors. “We’re made,” whispers the team leader over comms. She has a moment to make a decision. “B and C squads, handle countermeasures. A squad, attack. D squad, prep for exfil.”

The Atlantean ninja cohort splits into its three designated groups. Quill security robots begin to deploy, and the ninja respond with sophisticated EMP weapons, silent but thorough against unshielded electronics. The robots, in turn, are shielded, and the ninja resort to other measures.

The main strike team rushes forward, intent on their mission. Find and capture Leo Snow.

Aria jolts awake, as the Quill security system blares its warning into the Extension. Leo, beside her, is still asleep.

She grabs hold of a breakable capsule of smelling salts from the bedside table and snaps it under Leo’s nose. He jerks awake, hears the alarm, and looks at her wide-eyed.

“Suit up,” she instructs. “I’ll check it out.”

While Leo goes to the closet to get fitted, Aria heads to the front door. It’s the only way in or out of the Extension. If someone tries to get in, they’ll have to come through here. If they try to toss grenades through the windows, or blow the entire place up, well - they’ll learn how tough carbon allotropes really are.

Aria, made of the same stuff from head to toe, and equipped with the best defenses her genius creator could imagine, sees a horde of armed human-squid hybrids rushing her position. She raises her fists, and her mouth twists into a feral grin.

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The compound’s flood lamps snap to life, illuminating the grounds around the Extension. Explosive darts take them out.

Other darts, thin as toothpicks and coated with powerful drugs, fly from the darkness and strike Aria. The darts themselves bounce off her invulnerable skin. Just as well - the drugs would have done nothing to her anyway.

The flashbang grenade is more successful. Unable to see and hear clearly, Aria throws out grapples from her body in all directions. They anchor her in place, blocking the door. Just as well, for she feels the prongs of a bident seize around her waist.

She kicks, and grabs at the handle, fighting unknown attackers as her vision comes fitfully back to her. She knows by feel that at least two of the intruders have gotten around her.

“Leo! Incoming!”

“I’m on it!” she hears him call.

Now armored in the Link Suit, X-15, Leo dives headlong into the fight. The Blood don’t bother with poison darts - they’ve learned their lesson. They wield the bidents and tridents that Leo recognizes from Atlantis.

Leo’s fighting instinct, paired with the strength of his suit, lets him slide under the first attacks, grab the weapons, and yank them out of their wielders’ hands. When they come for him with shock batons, he launches into a spinning kick that knocks them away. One of the ninja grab his leg in turn, and executes a Judo throw that sends him to the ground.

Aria, her sight restored, sees him and cartwheels away from the door. While upside down, she grabs his hand. The completion of the cartwheel bring both Leo and Aria to their feet.

The pair don’t combine. Leo, Otto, and Aria haven’t been able to achieve a Heart Gauge rating over 80% in a while. It’s a bittersweet realization - that they really are growing into individual people, but have lost a form of closeness in exchange.

That doesn’t mean they can’t coordinate. Aria, the stronger and faster one, waits for Leo. Leo, in turn, lets the attackers make their moves. The quantum insights afforded by his mutated brain let him anticipate and receive the attack, and he directs the attacker in Aria’s direction. She, in turn, can kick, punch, or throw the unlucky ninja as needed. One squid-person after another is knocked backward, hitting walls, smashing into desks, toppling whiteboards, or bouncing off storage shelves and collapsing to the floor.

Leo and Aria hear barked orders from outside, and three more grenades are thrown into the Extension from the darkness beyond. Leo and Aria avert their eyes in case of another flash-bang. Instead, the grenades create an inky black cloud that fills the room. An EMP burst goes off, killing every unshielded electronic device - but not Aria or Leo’s suit.

Still, they can’t see through this stuff, and Leo knows the Blood can. Both fighters stand ready, but when the smoke clears, the Extension is empty of ninja.

“They retreated?” Aria asks suspiciously. She heads out the front door, wary at every moment. Leo follows, stopping only when Aria holds up a hand for caution. But the pair find nothing except a handful of ninja tools. The attackers from Atlantis have vanished into the night, as silently as they came.

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Mina Onnanoko is unused to failure. In her 38 years, she’s led attacks on government bases, industrial complexes, and secret bases. Not all of these missions were successful. But all were at least challenges she could understand and prepare for. In the words of a junior ninja, the team “got bodied”. She doesn’t understand the term but gets its meaning.

Now it’s time to answer the summons to Atlantis itself.

Mina has never disobeyed an order. But for this humiliation to reach the central government is almost too much to bear. She fumes during her descent, sulks during her capsule ride to the capital, dully prepares her resignation speech as she swims to the intelligence building, scowls as she organizes her debriefing materials.

Once on government grounds, of course, her face is an impassive mask. She swims through the corridors of power, emerges through a cycler into the air-filled conference room, and stands at attention before Senior Commander Saito and a handful of military advisors.

Saito’s first words baffle and anger her.

“You were supposed to fail.”

Mina wants to react, wants to ask questions, but her training and discipline keep her silent.

Saito smiles coldly. “Not because you’re inefficient or ineffectual, Strike Captain Onnanoko. On the contrary. What you thought was a strike mission was in fact something else.”

Saito gestures for her to sit, then does the same himself. “Normally this would not be something that someone of your level would be told about. I believe you deserve to hear the truth. You have earned that much. I expect you also have questions. Ask.”

This is out of character for the Atlantean intelligence apparatus that Mina has grown accustomed to. Ever since the aborted invasion a generation ago, the military has taken a back seat to the intelligence world’s style of covert ops and discreet interventions. But now high-ranking figures of both branches are in the same room, sharing with her. What gives?

“Sir, if I may ask… did we succeed at the other mission? The real one?”

Saito shrugs. “Time will tell. That boy who came here recently, the Reformist spy named Leo Snow, is quite an inventor. We’ve been testing the suit we confiscated from him. Primitive elements composed into quite an advanced design. But we don’t know everything it - or he - can do. Part of the mission was to gather intelligence on his technological capabilities. Unlike Nautilus and his boy, who are a known quantity, he and his allies are as yet an unknown.”

Mina nods. “You’ve received my report on his companion?”

“Yes. Undoubtedly the same machine lifeform as was described in the newscasts. A living suit of armor, you could say. We don’t know why he hasn’t entered mass production yet. His partnership with Byron Quill’s child means he has the resources.”

Saito steeples his fingers and leans forward, looking at Mina. “I am confident that your mission succeeded at its most important goal. To force this impulsive young man to act. He knows who attacked him. Now he will react, like a fighter, not withdraw and consider, like a thinker. Impulsive enemies become predictable enemies.”

Mina pauses. “Nothing we had could scratch them, sir,” she points out.

“Nothing yet. We have some promising developments, and we’re reaching out through our shell organizations to partners such as Rook Industries.”

Mina absorbs this in silence, then finally speaks up. “Senior Commander Saito. I request that when you go forward with your plans, that you consider assigning my team to assist with this target. I think everyone would like another shot at him.”

Saito’s grin is that of a shark. “I’d hoped you would ask that, Strike Captain. This prey’s shell is strong, so our trap must be clever.”

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Once the compound’s security staff arrived to interview the pair, they exchanged details. Squid ninja from Atlantis? Got it, we’ll reset the damaged security systems. Where the hell is Jason? He took the Dragonfly to Cairo; we don’t know why. Do you two need anything? No, we’re fine, they just messed everything up.

“They’re going to keep coming after us, aren’t they,” Leo mutters.

“Probably,” says Aria.

Leo turns his attention to the whiteboard. The equations for time, space, and other dimensions are all here. They were here before the Atlantean attack. Back then, their origin had been an intense mystery. Now, maybe it’s less important to worry about the how, and more important to apply what’s fallen into his lap.

“We need powerful allies,” argues Leo. “We can set her free. I’ve still got the anchor. We can put it on a dead-man switch, in case anything goes wrong–”

“I don’t know,” protests Aria. “Doctor Infinity is still Doctor Infinity. I think I can talk to her, but…” She trails off, knowing her own intense emotions and only guessing at those still locked in the time-frozen statue.

The ghost hasn’t been a ghost for long, in terms of personal experience. But she’s spent an awful lot of her time exploring space, time, and other dimensions. She’s learned much about other areas of interest beyond her own.

She knows that ghostly influence is possible, a partial possession that merely nudges another human mind along a course of action. Right now, Pneuma isn’t interested in taking Leo over. She’s not even sure if she could, honestly. Besides, Aria is right here, and would detect the intrusion instantly.

She’s not a spirit medium. She’s just in love with him, and she knows him better than he knows himself.

This way is better anyway. Leo will mistake it for his own idea. He’ll justify that decision, later, using all of his formidable intellect. He’ll dig in, entrench himself. But she can’t just constantly beat on his psyche either, or that same intellect will engage in introspection. Then the whole jig is up.

Doctor Infinity might be dangerous, but she’s still a Pneuma.

“Doctor Infinity might be dangerous, but she’s still a Pneuma,” says Leo. “When it comes down to it, I don’t think she wants people to be hurt. Especially if she learns about Ji-a Lee.”

“You may have something there,” concedes Aria. “But let’s keep giving it some thought, before we make a decision.”

Leo smiles. “Of course. I trust you, partner.”

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The ninja watch through long-range optics when Leo and Aria go out for breakfast. They listen in via laser shotgun microphones as the pair discuss whether to tell Rossum. They hear the name “Ji-a Lee”. They report back to their superiors.

Off-the-shelf civilian drones, an uncommon but not implausible sight in Halcyon City, watch Leo as he texts Trace. Telescopes train on him as he climbs onto a beat-up old motorcycle and powers his way across the city. They lose him in the Cardy Viaduct, but other assets are on the way to continue the pursuit.

Leo isn’t sure why Trace sent him such obscure directions. But he’s parked the bike and has made his way into the subway system as ordered.

Trace is there, hanging out at the 29th and Hama station’s turnstile.

“Heard you got attacked by ninja.”

Leo raises an eyebrow. “Heard that, did ya?”

Trace shrugs. “Me an’ Nautilus are talking more now, I guess. Because of this whole thing. So I hear stuff.”

Leo gives his lacrosse captain a wary eyeing. “I guess that’s why you had me come all the way down here to meet you. Because I went public, they can find me, and you’re concerned about them finding you.”

Trace thumbs up. “That’s your new life now, by the way.”

Leo frowns. “That’s not gonna work, man. I got shit to do.”

“I figured you’d feel like that. So that’s why I got a pitch for you.”


“Turn pirate.”

Leo laughs at that. “What?”

Trace is smiling, but Leo can tell he’s serious. “I mean it. Move out of that place you got from Quill. Get mobile. Disconnect. Not like you’re gonna ever be a company man, working 9 to 5. Why settle down when you’re not the type?”

Leo hears the earnestness. He sighs, and holds up his hands. “I see where you’re going. But lemme tell you something. I’ve been mobile all my god damn life. And it sucked. Don’t I have the right to try and put down some roots somewhere?”

“Right’s got nothing to do with it. Day you took off that helmet on TV, you invited this shit into your life.” Trace is irritated, and Leo can hear it in his voice. “You thought you had the privilege of being open about who you were. But everyone who tries to do the right thing gets a target painted on them by someone. You ain’t any different, Snow.”

Leo doesn’t want to argue this, partly because he knows he can’t. This doesn’t make him any happier about it. “Sorry, I can’t live in a cramped submarine like you guys do, apparently.”

Trace shrugs. “Build a bigger submarine. Or boat. Or ship. Or whatever. You did that bird thing, yeah?”


Leo stops to think about this. Could it be done? Well of course it could. But… should it?

“I gotta talk to Aria.”

Trace laughs. “Sure, bro, talk to your girlfriend.”

Leo points an aggressive finger in the other boy’s face. “But after that, we are gonna have a conversation. If you’re going to be telling me where and how to live, you need to be sharing some of that fucking deep-sea tech.”

“Sure sure. Just as long as it’s a two-way trade.”



Mindful of Trace’s warning, Leo doesn’t talk shop until he’s back at the extension and the door is closed.

He explains the conversation, and Aria listens. And he’s surprised by her first reaction. “I think I’d look good in one of those pirate hats. And I’d be fine with a cutlass.”

Leo frowns. “You don’t feel bad about being told to just… keep on the run for the rest of your life?”

Aria holds her hands out in a weak half-shrug. “We’re used to that, thanks to Rossum. This wasn’t how things were going to be forever. We just got a little break, is all.”

“I guess. I just don’t like it.”

Leo is still going to grouse about this, and Aria lets him. “I know you don’t like it. So how about we have some fun, and figure out what being pirates looks like?”

“Yeah. So, I was thinking…”

It takes three days. The resulting design is a combination of Leo’s generation eight robotics work, plus Otto’s carbon fossilization research, and the underwater tech of Nautilus and Stingray. Leo calls it “Leviathan”.

The Newmen and the Nautiloids review the design over a video call, searching for problems or gaps in the design.

“You’re gonna build a robot squid?” Nautilus asks dubiously.

“I’m building a self-replicating housing unit,” Leo explains. “It’s like… an underwater houseboat or yacht, big enough for several families. Self-sustaining life support. Holographic emitters for comfort and recreation. Molecular lathes and robofacs to build and repair whatever you need. Plus, the whole unit can replicate itself by planting a seed anywhere there’s enough raw materials to work from.”

“And the tentacles? Those don’t look very effective as weapons.”

“They’re not intended to be weapons. They’re big enough to move people and cargo in and out of the habitat area. When the thing is moving, they’re open to the water, and work as part of the MHD propulsion system. Magnetohydrodynamics has previously been limited by the density of electricity in the medium, but we’ve solved that with graphene hyperconductors.”

Stingray jumps in. “Tell 'em about the kidnapping.”

Leo scowls. “It’s not kidnapping, it’s rescue. The idea is, if Leviathan here drills through the seabed to an Atlantean attic with a tentacle, the air-breathing humans can climb through that tube right into the habitat area, then we close the hole behind us and launch. It’s a way of getting people out of there as quickly and safely as possible.”

Nautilus rubs his beard. “Interesting.”

“Multiple Leviathan units can dock, by contracting their tentacles and hooking them together as passageways. You can build a whole underwater town with enough of them.”

Nautilus hmms. “What did we get outta this exchange, boy?”

“Improvements to the molecular lathes aboard our subs. The graphene power system, which will get rid of the big heavy battery blocks we’re using now. Carbon armor - slightly weaker than the high-pressure Carapace stuff, but cheaper to replace.”

“Good, good. The batteries are the worst.” Nautilus turns his attention back to Leo. “Welcome to the life of a man of the sea, m’boy. It’s not easy or forgiving, but it’ll make a real man out of ya.” He seems to acknowledge Aria on the call for the first time, and nods in her direction. “Or woman, as the case may be.”

Aria smiles politely.

Leo rubs his hands together. “Alright. Production starts now. The Phoenix took us four days, I figure this will be the same. And after that, we see what we can do about Atlantis.”

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The intelligence review is a regular meeting at this point. The goal isn’t to talk large-scale strategy for the war - that’s already been decided - but to incorporate new findings into that larger picture.

Senior military leaders - all True Atlantean, of course - attend, either in person or by proxy through one of their Blood adjutants. Members of the intelligence service own and run the meeting. Senior Blood agents from allied surface nations have already given their reports and are here to represent their homes and answer questions. Almost a dozen languages can be spoken in this room, so well-vetted translators are present. The room is physically segmented into air and water chambers in such a way that everyone can see and hear the speakers.

Saito, after calling the meeting to order, commences with the agenda.

“First, our recent high-profile spy.”

Mina summarizes her report. “An American superhero was brought here by a Reformist member of our ninja corps. He has personal ties, or a personal interest in, one of the senior humans working at the Surface Science Center. He has been observed collaborating with Nautilus and his heir, and they seem to be working on a new invention. We are confident we have him marked, and can move to counter any meaningful action he takes - on your orders, of course.”

Saito adds the intelligence agency’s early conclusions. “We believe this spy, named Snow, will be targeting the human population of the empire. The invention may be some kind of personnel carrier for use underwater. We will continue to monitor the situation and upgrade our perimeter defenses as necessary.” He turns his attention to another agent. “I believe this brings us to the Chinese delegation.”

The Blood rises and nods. “We received reports of a drug that could induce a state of ennui or despair, with addictive properties. We received authorization to pursue the matter, as this drug might help pacify the humans and make them resist removal from the Empire. Since then, we have obtained samples. We were analyzing the makeup when the original manufacturer contacted our shell group with an offer to sell it to us in quantity.”

Saito has heard this detail, of course, but sees eyebrows raise and skins discolor around the room. He smoothly slides into the moment of doubt. “We have no evidence that this other agency knows of the empire’s involvement. We believe it’s tied to a previously active supervillain with an expansive intelligence operation of his own, so we can make no promises. I’ve personally assigned agents to confirm the details.”

The Australian agent goes next. “The surface attack will be easier with groups such as the Halcyon Heroes League fragmented or absent. But recently a similar group, the Beauty Boyz, has started recruiting new heroes. I have to imagine other superhero organizations elsewhere are similarly growing their numbers. We gathered intelligence on the Australian supervillain community, but I’d like to ask what we’re doing about this?”

Saito nods. “The plan is to stir up supervillain attacks near to the time of the attack, to keep these hero teams from interfering until it’s too late. Your intelligence reports will assist us in that endeavor.”

Other reports are summarized, and other questions are asked and answered.

Saito feels good about almost every part of this. Young Leo Snow’s mission has finally been exposed - contact Ji-a Lee - and he now has agents monitoring her. The boy himself is now boxed in by ninja observers. The only nagging doubt he harbors is the source of the control drug. While it’s useful, it’s almost too useful. Plus, its mysterious manufacturer identified members of his intelligence apparatus.

Perhaps this deserves some personal attention.

This one was shorter, but it sets up what both Leo & Saito are going to do next. Their showdown isn’t due quite yet. And what’s this mysterious drug…?

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For what it’s worth (and don’t rewrite anything, but), so I talked about this somewhere in past text, but never drew/publicized a map.

The Quill Block was built in the early 60s by Jason’s grandfather. It presents as an urban block, no exterior yard except for myrtle trees planted in the parking strips.

At the time, the Tower was one of the largest buildings in the city; now it’s a medium-sized structure, and charmingly retro in its appearance, and somewhat on the fringes of respectable downtown. It has publicly rentable conference facilities on its ground floor that have been used in the past for scientific conferences and diplomatic negotiations. A variety of private firms lease most of the tower, whose facilities remain high tech but someone eccentric (“We promise 1Gb Internet speeds, but … well not from fiber as such, but from a much superior liquid ‘QNet’ medium that never caught on … but we’ll provide conventional fiber connections to that backbone for free with your lease”). The top floors are occupied by the Quill Foundation and associated business offices.

The QuillTech zone is a series of interlocking structures, above and below-ground, as different needs were defined by Jason’s grandfather, then father.

The Compound is a multi-story structure used by the family. The ground floor is public space and a museum of (safe) artifacts and art recovered from around the world. The upper floors have living space – sometimes with vaulted ceilings that connect multiple floors – as well as personal labs and workshops, medical facilities, the heart of the Quill computer complex, and a “war room” that Byron built many years ago but never really made much use of.

At the heart of the Quill Compound is an inner courtyard, looking down onto a multi-level garden. Much of the planting that currently exists was done by Byron; some is of plant samples brought back from across the globe, but roses predominate, for reasons only Byron knew.



I realize it’s a drama / comic book thing (in which context it’s completely believable), but this strikes me as a bad idea. (As demonstrated in the following sentences.)

One can always trust Leo to overbuild a concept. :slight_smile:

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He’s literally got a villain’s ghost mentally pushing him into it, it’s not something he’d be thinking of otherwise. But that’s also something comics do. :smiley:

His whole design philosophy is “build simple but make things that combine or connect well”, so it’s consistent. He’s creating an armored underwater RV with tentacles.

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