Federation-Apocalypse Session 114b – Champion of Madness

   OK, so Lord Zero versus Battling Business World Manhattan isn’t QUITE that over-the-top – it’s only New York City that’s under attack, and it’s mostly only Manhattan that’s being leveled – but that is a pretty fair approximation of Zero’s current attacks, and that was too good a bit of video to pass up on linking to given that coincidence.

   Mere moments after they emerged from the gate, they had to dodge wildly as a huge, bouncing… barrel?.. smashed a building. It looked like a gigantic cartoon ape throwing barrels was currently holding the Brooklyn Bridge against all comers, other attempts to enter the city were being blocked by some sort of minefield; as soon as someone hit a mine, they all blew, and then the entire field changed and reset (although why it showed numbers until then was a mystery). A swarm of colorful fighter jets were strafing anything that comes near in the air. An alien disintegrator ray sent one of his companions back to Kadia – but that wasn’t too serious.

   A good thing they were headed for Middle Village, Queens, on Long Island instead of Manhattan Isle. Despite the truly impressive destruction, it wasn’t nearly so bad there. All they were getting was endless waves of little tanks – although a couple of hits from any hand weapon seemed to be sufficient to take one out.

   The commute forecast said “keep a club or knife in the car” and “be ready for ramming action.”

   Currently the commuting workers were launching yet another attempt to break past the (currently) blue and green tanks and get into the city.

   Jacob threw some illusions of red and yellow tanks supporting the commuters. They should be good for an hour or so – although the irony of the fact that 90 percent of the commuters would probably get in the road rage lane didn’t escape him.

   Although… were they actually cooperating a bit? They were! How could that be?

   He was intrigued enough to probe a bit…

   It seemed that the super-storms and video game assaults had become quite annoying; no one was getting paid!

   Oh Good GOD! This is Battling Business America! Corporate and political corruption was all well and good until people didn’t get paid. Was Zero actually bringing unity to BBW North America? He was cutting down on EVERYONE’s profits!

   Even as birds, and with Thrall-powers to evade and defend with, it wasn’t easy to reach Jenkin’s condo. Thank goodness the insane video-game attacks were focused on Manhattan – and any video gamer knew that you didn’t mess with birds. They were small, and at long range, and hard to hit, and had erratic movement patterns, and all that kind of thing.

   The condo was quiet at the moment; after all, Todd hadn’t been by to try to get in in DAYS.

   Zero had informed Jenkins of her ex-husbands escape – and she’d promptly splurged in a really nice dinner at a fancy restaurant to celebrate. He’d been a constant bother to her – and if Zero had wanted sympathy for his unhappiness, he should have left her some of that emotion. It’s not like she ever would have missed Todd; she’d married him under orders in the first place.

   Being effectively on holiday from work was a trifle vexing though; what if Corrigan got into the books somehow? Besides, she’d wanted to investigate! She was beginning to suspect that a great deal of activity was going on off the books! She was almost ready to run an audit on Human Resources!

   Jenkins was currently home, having super-spicy Thai, working on some special project (which seemed to be absorbing a lot of her concentration) – and considering canceling her transactions directed at Todd. They weren’t working right now anyway…

   Jacob and his flock landed on the power lines – and on one of the unoccupied condos next door (even in Battling Business World, nobody wanted to live next door to the crazy corporate raider-accountant with landmines in her yard) – and did a scan for the pathbooks. Given that they didn’t know Jenkin’s full resources, a bit of dispersal was only wise.

   Power was a bit erratic at the moment – but it looked like Jenkins was going some computer work on a laptop. It was a bit odd though: the screen kept spitting sparks. Could you do accounting on a laptop? Wouldn’t that be asking for sapience or some sort of disaster?

   Jacob fluttered by the window – the Pathbooks HAD to be there somewhere, even if they weren’t in sight – and his Smartclothes started reporting malfunctions – and showing little green streams of numbers beneath it’s displays.

   Oh, sod, there WOULD be little zeroes in there, wouldn’t there? They must have a divination block on the whole place!

   He switched to squirrel and went invisible. He might be able to get in and look that way…

(Smartclothes) “Smartclothes failure immanent. Shutting down higher functions. Warning; adaptive viral program detected. Non-casual – probably magical – enhancement detected. Possible neurological hazard; infecting program appears to be able to adapt to multiple hardware forms, it is possible that it can adapt to human neurology. Shutting down…”

   Blasted Numbers! The other Thralls were reporting the same thing – although few seconds behind him… One is reporting that his smartclothes seem to be giggling and are not shutting down.

   Oh, bloody hell.

   Jacob had the other thralls restrain and remove the rogue sapient smartclothes… It was hard to do as a flock of birds; they were trying, but they’d rather not risk using powers too close to Jenkins. She might detect them.

   Jenkins had started laughing maniacally too – and arcs of electricity were jumping from her laptop to the phone and cable system.

   Bloody hell! Dad (Todd was treating his Thralls like adopted kids after all – and they, of course, went along with what he wanted) warned me of her perceptiveness!

(Jacob) “Everybody scatter to the next block over!”

   There was a horrible scream from down the block – and then several more. Someone threw a computer system out a tenth-floor window. Somebody down the black started screaming “They’re in my BRAIN!!!!!!” and dove out the window towards the pavement.

(More voices) “The digits! The Horrible Digits! Get them out!”

   It was all up and down the block? Several blocks! All kinds of random Battling Business World types! Leaning heavily towards teenagers and office-workers!

   OK, maybe it WASN’T directed at them… What was she up to?

   At least they had Rose out of her renegade smartclothes, and the bundle was being levitated.

   In the condo, Jenkins was starting to program in a lengthy series of transactions – and one youngster who’d come stumbling out of an apartment building clutching his head had suddenly gotten a lot uglier and was howling in agony. Was Jenkins torturing people on a mass scale? But why would that make the boy uglier? For that matter, why would it make LOTS of people uglier? And howling about something being in their head.

   Jacob didn’t know that much about accounting or those “Number” things, but he did know that there had to be a balance somewhere… What was it here?

   He really didn’t want to risk divining about it – but it did seem necessary.

   It was the price of doing Accounting?

   What could she be doing? Was she forcing people to do her accounting for her?

   He divined frantically…

   She’d… used her own accounting to borrow computer skills and to combine a real virus with a computer virus. The virus adapted to new hardware and could be caught by humans – on whom it installed a remote-operated subconscious accounting package. That way she could run a block transfer computation using the power of tens of thousands of new accountants. If this constituted a union, she might even be able to rewrite the local natural laws!

   They had to stop her! At this rate, she’d transform Long Island into Very Short Island within the hour! Jacob and two of the other Thralls went in, with the others staying outside as backup. At this point subtlety really didn’t matter (although it would still be best to avoid being discovered); they were dealing with a madwoman with vast powers!

   What kind of a transfer was it? It looked like… some inhuman mental quality? Being transferred into the normal human population? That would be total chaos! As if “normal” Battling Business World wasn’t bad enough already!

   If Jenkins hadn’t been busy, she would likely have been fully aware that those were not ordinary birds outside. Her enhanced perceptions and supernatural bodyguards would almost certainly have alerted her. As it was, they (hopefully) had at least a few moments before she noticed them.

   She was ignoring the chaos on the streets as well. As a follower of the Numbers, she had little care for humanity. The shock and anger of the uglified people would be left unchecked – and angry Battlers were inclined to beat up whatever was nearby.

   And she could do all this at her kitchen table, while nibbling on those tasty noodles. The side effects of her efforts were not under her control – but they did serve her purposes.

   Still, the chaos in the sky over Manhattan seemed to be abating a bit – but it might only be because there wasn’t much left of the city.

   What was she really after? The company books? But changing their location would be pretty simple compared to this. Them? But it started before they got there. What would she need the power of thousands of accountants for?

   Ahh. Stopping the chaos!

   Accounting couldn’t reach Kadia to reclaim Todd…

   Wait; the real problem was that Lord Zero was on the rampage. Could she be trying to snap Zero out of it?

   A quick probe confirmed that; Jenkins was transferring Zero’s madness into other people. With a couple of hundred thousand new accountants under her control, she had the power to do many things.

   For a moment, Jacob felt a little dizzy. He could see the similarities betwen his situation and hers. It was all about keeping Master happy – or, in her case, providing psychotherapy. At least Kevin was sane! It had to be painful to serve such a nasty master.

   At least it meant that she was much distracted – and her little zeros were likely confused. On the downside, if she did spot them, her power was probably as vast as Zero’s right now.

   It might be best if he WAS spotted. Todd had been worried about her, and he hadn’t been able to see HOW until now. Still, it was time to get in and get those books. At least several of the windows were shattered…

   The penthouse living room was full of clocks, sundials, thermometers, and candles set on modern round tables and chairs. Jenkins seemed to be obsessed with round things. At least eight doors, although some of them were likely closets and such. The living room seemed to be the central focus, it had a balcony looking out and the rest of the rooms make an “L” shape around it on the interior side.

   Jacob slipped into the kitchen, while Ralira took the bedroom and Josin took the dining room… Elindi – and Rose, since she didn’t have any smartclothes any more – took backup. Dispersed, at least they couldn’t all be grabbed at once!

   Sadly, the dining room was mostly open to the living room – and Jenkins was quite alert enough to realize that SOMETHING was moving in there!.

(Jenkins) “WHO DARES INTRUDE!”

   The numbers raced across the computer screen – and the two little digits who normally acted as bodyguards for her were… hiding.

   Jenkins snarled. It this was some stupid burglar or some such, he was getting an instant all-expense-paid trip to the core of the sun the moment she saw him! At the moment, such a transfer would be no problem at all!

   Eep! Jacob ducked for cover. That voice was horrible. An underlayer of many voices there, echoing in a chorus of the damned. The screaming of everyone she’d infected?

   He couldn’t disappoint “dad” though! Todd needed his books!

   He scanned for them… Surely at this range, and inside any external shields, he could find them!

   Jenkins really had no interest in the books. The only reason she’d kept them was because they were important to Todd, and she’d wanted to rip them up in front of him if he ever made it that far into the place again. At the moment, two are being used as props for potted plants that needed to be a bit higher and one was in the kitchen being a hot mat.

   Meanwhile, Jenkins had spotted Josin – and realized that she’d been invaded by small animals, not humans.

(Jenkins) “Wait! You’re some of Abigail’s squirrels, aren’t you? She vanished too! Not to my apartment though! GET BACK TO HUMAN AND TALK TO ME.”

   Josin was forced back into human form in an instant – and was currently being backed into a wall with a Naginata, not to mention being half-blinded by Jenkin’s Zero Anima.

(Josin) “Oh, well. No need hiding it. Yes, ma’am.”

(Jenkins) “What are you doing here? What happened to Abigail? And WHAT DID YOU BUNCH DO TO LORD ZERO!!!!!???”

   Jacob took the chance to grab the pathbook in the kitchen while Jenkins was focused on Josin. He could simply transmute a fake copy to leave in it’s place; it wasn’t at all likely that Jenkins was reading the things.

(Josin) “Ms. Saunders-Tabard is in Kadia, currently teaching cooking. We came here on the orders of your ex-husband to retrieve some items (He probably shouldn’t have said that, but Jenkins was rattling him). And we had to take Lord Zero out! We had orders to retrieve your ex-husband, and he got in our way!”

(Jenkins) “Naginata Perfect Storm! Ten Thousand Thrusts In Ten Thousand Stolen Instants!”

   Josin didn’t really have time to say much, as Jenkins borrowed the personal time to make hundreds of attacks from a few hundred lesser accountants and reduced him to a thin red mist with a few chunky bits mixed in the spray. At least that made it hard for Jenkins to see for a few moments!

   Jacob stowed the one pathbook in an extradimensional space – and passed control of it to Rose before trying to creep closer to the potted plants. At least that one should get back to Kadia!

   Meanwhile, Lord Zero was sensing an imbalance in the accounting… Too many transactions! It was as if a 246,216 people had suddenly cried out as they were introduced to the powers of the numbers and had then had their volume reduced!

   The power he had created – mystic accounting – had suddenly being picked up by a few hundred thousand mortals, had been amplified until it was stronger than he was, and now it was centering itself on his champion.

   How dare she attempt such a thing! Was she trying to usurp his power? Was the fate of Euler – who had attempted to constrain the constant’s power – no warning?

   And it was being used to affect him! Trying to make him “sane” by the standards of mortals! The foolish woman! He was LORD ZERO! Already perfect and sane!

   HAVING PAC MAN EAT THE SUBWAY SYSTEM WAS PERFECTLY RATIONAL!

   He dispatched lesser numbers to scout while he mustered his resources! If Jenkins had taken enough power, it might be enough of a bother to call in a favor from the consort and get One involved.

   (Even if One would probably think “Hmm. Yet another of Zero’s toys is making trouble. But this is the dangerous one. Better to disable it than to let it run amuck.”)

   Meanwhile, there were still two books to grab – and, while Jacob was in position, there was no way he’d get away with it without Jenkin’s spotting him.

   Rose and Ralira started spinning distractions – allowing Jacob [with telekinesis, magic, and a reflex action] to pull his substitution-stunt on the two remaining books as Jenkins eliminated Rose.

   Jacob bailed out the window – accelerating, thanks to telekinesis and  a low-mass bird form, at thirty gravities – as Ralira vanished. He had them! Now all he and Elindi had to do was make their escape!

   Elindi lagged slightly behind to cover his retreat for a brief moment – but then a global hammerblow of accounting was launched at all squirrels, everywhere in Battling Business World. Just for good measure, it targeted all hamsters and fluffy bunnies as well!

   The cartoon animal league would have something to say about THAT – but fortunately, they were being birds at the moment. And they were RUNNING! (Well, OK, Flying).

   Around them, Battling Business World reality was convulsing. Jenkins and the Numbers were putting WAY too much stress on the nature of Battling Business World at the moment!

   Jacob looked frantically for a gate. It didn’t matter to WHERE, they needed to get out of Battling Business World SOONER rather than LATER.

   Hm… The Statue of LIberty always had some – if it was still there right now. Otherwise… the subways and tunnels opened into Catacomb.

   The Statue wasn’t in it’s usual place; it was striding into battle with loud music playing.

   One of those giant robots or just a side effect of the reality distortions? It seemed to have three people piloting it. Not Japanese, but odd uniforms. Coveralls, with weird gear strapped all over them. Evidently some sort of contractors.

   Oh! “Ghostbusters!” That made sense! Would the gates still be in the mobile statue? There had to be at least one if the Ghostbusters were in Battling Business World… Evidently Zero was distorting things enough to leave wild rifts all over the place! Time to hitch a ride!

   There were several gates, but they passed up Planet of the Apes and some weird comedy setting (a 24’th century cartoon – a musical, with vampire versions of old movie stars and koala pirates). As they dove into the Ghostbusters expanded universe – it looked like the 2280’s remake – Manhattan was reaching the surrelistic point where it looked like it was painted in heavy drips. At the moment, Ghostbusters was probably far more sensible than Battling Business World, even if they did have to fight the stay-puff marshmallow man. Given that the soul-population of Battling Business World was down to Amarant Solutions (and all of them except Corrigan people from elsewhere) and six or so ensouled people in Japan – it was swiftly convulsing it’s way towards a really major reset.

   Zero was not pleased, although the rest of the Numbers really couldn’t care less.

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