Disclaimer: Mr Pratchett may have gotten away with saying XXXX "just happens" to be vaguely australian, but I can't pretend the setting of this story just happens to be vaguely discworldly, or vaguely superheroic. It's set on a version of the Disc, and features "Elseworld" versions of DC characters. No assault on either of my favourite trademarks is intended.
As we open, we are surrounded by Outer Space. It has a lot more blue and purple mists than it used to, due to comic book artists and special effects guys who reckon anyone can put white dots on black. And coming through these mists is...
... is an eagle, twice the size of any turtle you may have been expecting at this point. Its name is Great A'roa, and on its back is the mighty world of Discrypt, orbited by a red sun three miles in diameter, and two moons of similar size. We pass these as we dramatically zoom onto the disc's surface and head towards Cryptic City, a dizzying masterpiece of crystal towers, constructed using techniques Ankh-Morpork's greatest artificers and magic-users could not dream of. We close up on one of those towers, where a skycarriage is just landing, and enter...
"The fools!" snapped Jay'lel, greatest artificer and astrologer on Discrypt as he stormed into the main room. "They still refuse to accept my results!"
His wife, Laalaa, the second greatest astrologer and most powerful sourceress on Discrypt, sighed. A few months ago, Jay'lel had learnt that the magical field of Discrypt was unstable. Before long life would be impossible, the seas would dry, and the whole world might cease to exist. Already the octiron deposits beneath the crust was losing certain aspects of its magical nature, decaying into a substance Jay'lel called cryptiron.
Jay'lel had sent the Ruling Council of Natural Philosophy countless hyperclacks messages explaining the situation and all had been ignored. Eventually he had decided to see them in person. They had told him there was nothing to worry about. That it was just a side-effect of the direction of spin changing, and would all be over soon. The spin of Discrypt wasn't due to change for another 1000 years!
"There's no hope." he said sadly. He moved to the other side of the room where his infant son lay sleeping. "But the test ship we've built could be used to save Kay'lel." He straightened. "If only we had more cryptodragons ..."
Laalaa nodded. "I've fed Carbo. He should be ready soon. Now I just need to cast the warpspell to connect our space with that of the world you've chosen. You have chosen a world, haven't you?"
"Yes. One with a very strong magic field, to make the warpspell easier." He hesitated. "That may have an effect on Kay'lel. A beneficial one, I hope. You should find it easily enough, it's on the back of a giant turtle..."
CMOTDC Comics Presents:
The Discworld's Finest!
Book One: Last Son of Discrypt
"Great Bloodaxe's beard!"
The shout echoed through the Daily Disc offices in Shimmer Street, Lekh-Metrope. Journos and printers, working hard on the big story, looked up briefly, shrugged, and carried on with their work. They were used to the boss's temper. Except one.
"What is it, dezka-knik?" gasped a red-haired iconographer, rushing through to the editor/publisher's office.
Penwar Whitebeard scowled over his cigar at the enthusiastic young human. "How many times, Ollsonsonson? Don't call me dezka-knik!"
"Sorry, Mr Whitebeard. But what were you yelling about?"
"This!" the dwarf slapped a letter down on his desk. "We've been invited to attend the Lekhsor Company this afternoon, where Lord Lekhsor has an announcement!"
Ollsonsonson looked puzzled. "What's wrong with that?" he asked.
Penwar growled and, unconsciously, reached for the very small axe that served as paper knife and cigar cutter. Jimkin, just as unconsciously, took a step backwards. "We're journalists, Ollsonsonson. We go places people don't want us to be, and find out things they don't want us to know! We don't pick up prepackaged statements by appointment!"
"So we're not sending someone, then?"
"Of course we are, Ollsonsonson! You and Longstreet! I want to find out what Lekhsor isn't saying!"
After Ollsonsonson had left the office, there was a hesitant knock at the door. "Yes?" Whitebeard snapped. A dark-haired, bespectacled man peered into the office. "Um, hello. I understand you're looking for reporters? My name's Kalalek Cairn, and I'm, um, looking for work."
In his private office, Lord Lekhsor looked out of the window at the crowds in Tenet Square and smiled. Two hundred years ago, his ancestor, Lekh the Conqueror, had entered the village of Tropa and declared it the capital of his empire. He had hired the great architect "Plain Speaking" Floyd Bright to make it into a great city, modelled on Ankh-Morpork, but better.
Times had changed, Lekh's rule had fallen, but the city remained. Lekhsor himself grew up in the slums of Shadowside, but still held the dream of his ancestor. He had dragged himself up to become a market trader and now, thanks to the Lekhsor Trading Company, Lekh-Metrope was indeed the centre of a great empire; one based, as he once remarked to the Patrician of Ankh- Morpork, on gold, not steel. No-one was entirely sure who had ennobled him, or if anyone actually had the power to do so, but, as long as the money kept coming in, the Mayor and City Council went along with it.
"Okay." he said to his assistant, "Let's give these people a show."
In Tenet Square, Louissa Longstreet wondered what she was doing. Get to the story behind the story, Penwar had said, but how could she do that from here? "As soon as Lekhsor makes his announcement," she hissed to Jimkin, "we try to collar one of his assistants." Jimkin nodded.
The crowd around them hushed as Lekhsor stepped out onto the balcony. "Citizens" he announced. "I am glad to see so many of you here today. I am aware there has been some speculation as to the nature of my announcement, but the secrecy is over. Friends, may I present Lekhsor Trading Co.'s new headquarters!"
The crowd looked puzzled. Lekhsor's HQ looked pretty much the way it always had. And if he'd built a new one somewhere else, why were they all here? Lekhsor smiled, and gestured imperiously to the Hump, a large hill within the city walls, just visible from the Square.
"The Hump is where my ancestor built the long ruined Castle Lekh." he explained. The crowd nodded, in the embarrassed fashion of those who grew up hearing stories of the heroic storming of said castle and the glorious Victory of the People, but are aware the speaker might view that particular piece of history differently. "And it is on that site that, masked by magic to preserve the surprise, my company has been working. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lekhsor House!"
With that, an octarine-tinted heat haze seemed to pass over the Hump and, when it had passed, there was a huge building there. It looked like a cube, about four hundred feet on each side, with two towers jutting out of it, nearly doubling its height. On each of the towers was the Lekhsor coat of arms; a purple "L" on a green field, crested by a coot.
"While day to day administration will continue to be served by my offices here, Lekhsor House is a purpose-built facility designed to provide everything a fast-track merchant house will need in the Century of the Anchovy: state rooms, conference halls, purpose-built alchemy labs, state-of-the-art clacks tower and pigeon loft..."
"Is he really going to run this place?" murmured Jimkin, "'Cos he sounds like he's trying to sell it."
Louisa smiled. Then hesitated. There was something happening. An armoured figure was climbing on the podium. Two trolls, Lekhsor's personal guard in their green and purple livery, ran towards him, siege-bows raised, but were casually pushed out of the way. Lekhsor, seemingly oblivious, was still droning on, "...although there is a high overhead on such a project, I expect Lekhsor House to soon pay for itself with..." He faltered, and looked round, to see the red eyeholes in the skull-like helm of the figure boring into him.
"Nice words, Lucius." his assailant sneered, "but I notice you don't say what building that thing really cost. Not in money, but in lives. But don't worry, you'll be repaying it!"
"Okay, Cairn. You can start tomorrow." said Penwar Whitebeard, outside the Daily Disc offices. Kalalek had struck him as a nice enough man, even if there was something... odd about him. He was taller than most humans, but stooped so this wasn't obvious, save to the keen eye of a seasoned newspaperdwarf. And the way he squinted through those thick eyeglasses, you'd almost think they impaired his vision. Still, he was polite, enthusiastic and had spelt his name the same way on every page of the application form.
"Thanks, Mr Whitebeard." he said, "See you then." Just as he turned to go, Penwar stopped him.
"Oh, one more thing. If you don't mind me asking, why do you have a dwarfish name? Old Copperhead dialect, unless I miss my guess. Kala... a'lek... He who fell into the mine?"
"Uh, yeah, that's metaphorical. Just means I was found and adopted, not that I literally fell..." He trailed off. Best to stick to the truth, rather than explaining the lie. "I was found and raised by dwarfs, anyway. Outside the Shma'vll mines. I don't know who my real family are. Jolly and Merry Cairn are the only parents I have."
"Fair enough. Always happy to help a fellow dwarf, even if he's a human. See you tomorrow."
"See you, Mr Whitebeard" replied Kalalek, heading down Shimmer Street. Whitebeard watched him go. Raised by dwarfs eh? Well, at least that explained the stoop. Didn't explain why he was so defensive about it, or his krisma. Could he be..? Nah. Maybe that watchman in Ankh there were all those rumours about, but Metropians knew exactly what had happened to their hereditary rulers.
Thinking about this made his glance in the direction of Tenet Square. He wondered if Longstreet and Ollsonsonson had found a story.
Louissa sighed. Why did this sort of thing always happen to her? The... creature... had grabbed her from the crowd, shouting "Aha! A hostage!" This wasn't the way she preferred to get her stories.
She thought of him as a "creature" because, now she was close up, she could see that beneath the armour were cogwheels, and the jaw of his skull-shaped "helm" moved when he talked, which he did in a scraping, clanking voice. It was a clockwork man.
"What is your problem?" she snapped, while another part of her brain considered the headline "METAL MAN MENACES MERCHANT". "CLOCKWORK CROOK (something) CAPITALIST" would be better, if she could find a C-word that meant "threatens".
"My problem? My problem is that Lucius Lekhsor destroyed me! It's because of him I became Mechanicus!"
Mechanicus. So that was the creature's name, or at least what it called itself. So she could get "MECHANICUS MENACES MERCHANT". Mechanicus was still ranting.
"I want to expose him for the criminal he is!"
"Really?" This was great! Finally, a lead on the shady dealings beneath Lekhsor's public facade. She struggled in the chokehold again, not so much trying to get free as to reach her pencil and notebook. "Maybe I can help you. I'm a reporter. If you know the truth about..."
"Oh, I know the truth all right." Mechanicus interrupted. "The question is, can you handle the truth?"
Before she could answer, the chokehold was released and a voice said, "I think the lady would rather be able to breathe, don't you?"
She turned, to see Mechanicus being held by a man who floated in mid-air.
Louissa stared at her rescuer. It wasn't that he was flying. It wasn't even that he'd casually crushed the steel arm of the clockwork man and was now holding him in one hand, while taking a continual beating from the enraged creature's other arm, apparently not noticing blows that had just felled two trolls. It was that he was wearing burnished, full plate armour, a bright blue tabard and a flowing red cape. He looked like he'd jumped forward two hundred years from the Klatchian Crusades, except that the "crest" embroidered on the tabard was a simple yellow octagon, outlined in red.
"Who are you?" she demanded. She may have lost one story, but this could be a bigger one. "And what's with the outfit?"
"I'm... here to help." said the figure. "The outfit is to... um... be distinctive. A sort of... er... symbol of truth and justice." And a way of distracting people from looking too closely at my face, he thought.
"And the Sto Plains way?" asked Louissa. The man grinned.
"Not to be cynical, but that's possibly a contradiction in terms. Anyway, Mr... Mechanicus and I are going to visit Psephopolis Yard. I might see you later, Miss...?"
"Longstreet. Louissa Longstreet. Listen, could I get a proper interview? At least your age for my story?" But he was gone.
As Louissa looked up in the sky, Jimkin came running over, followed by a wizard. "Louissa, did you see that guy?" he asked.
Louissa gave him a long look. "The superstrong flying guy that just saved me? No, must have missed it."
"Uhm, yeah. Sorry. But this is Professor Hamil Emmerson, he works at MAGE Labs and he says his thaumometer was blank throughout that. Whatever this guy's doing, it's not magic!"
"I thought you wanted to grass up Lekhsor." sighed Sergeant Bowler Turble of the L-M City Watch Unusual Crimes Squad. This had been a long day. And when the caped weirdo had dumped the metal weirdo there had been that clacks from Tenet Square about, he knew it was going to get a lot longer.
"Yeah, well, I changed my mind." retorted Mechanicus. "Now I've had time to think, I can see it wasn't really Lekhsor's fault. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Look, 'Mechanicus', you've admitted your real name is Cobalt. One "Creepy" Cobalt was expelled from the Thieves Guild six months ago. I assume that was you?"
"Then maybe you can explain what you were doing for the last six months. Working for Lekhsor? And what did His Lordship want with a disgraced thief?"
"Are you suggesting he wanted me to use my criminal talents illegally?" Inasmuch as there was any emotion recognisable in his voice it sounded outraged. "Lord Lekhsor just happens to believe in giving folks a second chance."
Turble sighed, pushed up his round helmet, and picked up another sheet of paper from in front of him. "According to this a man named Cobalt, no mention of a nickname, was employed by the Lekhsor Company for four months as an open inverted commas 'acquisitions expert' close inverted commas, before disappearing, possibly in a carriage that crashed into a bridge. Care to fill in the gaps? About the events that 'weren't Lekhsor's fault'?"
"Well, what do you know about the MultiMob?"
Turble started. About five years ago, a mysterious figure had contacted the local Breccia Family, Dwarfish Triads, Brindisian Mob and even the small cell of the Yukazu, as well as numerous unaffiliated gangs, and said "Together we can be stronger." In addition to stopping them fighting amongst themselves, and giving them an amazing level of organisation he had supplied them with insanely powerful high tech weaponry, with names like the "bowblaster" and the "heatgonne".
The Watch couldn't stop them. The Thieves Guild couldn't stop them. In desperation, Watch Commander Sir Poul Hendon had set up the Unusual Crimes Squad, to cover everything normal coppering, even normal detectoring, couldn't. So far they'd broken up half a dozen MultiMob cells, but there always seemed to be more. And if there was information available that might explain who their weaponsmiths were, then nothing was more important than getting it.
With this in mind, Turble settled down in his chair, and tipped his helmet over his eyes. "I'm listening." he said disinterestedly.
That night Lord Lekhsor was sitting in his new office in Lekhsor House, going over some paperwork, when he heard a tap on the window. The figure from this morning was outside. Since he was on the top floor, between the towers, this was a bit surprising. He rose, and opened the window.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
"Mechanicus made a full statement to the Watch..." began the figure.
"I was informed." Lekhsor replied. "Apparently the poor man blamed my company for the accident that injured him, and was, ah, rebuilt by the MultiMob to attack me. I understand the cell involved has been broken up by the UCS."
"That's his story. But we both know that if he's wanted to attack you, he wouldn't have wasted time posturing and taking hostages. He'd have just done it. I think this whole thing was staged. I think you created 'Mechanicus' yourself. I think you wanted to send a message to the MultiMob."
"Really. You've had a lot of thoughts, my flying friend. Can you prove any of them?"
"Not yet, Lekhsor. But I will."
"Lord Lekhsor, Mr Good Hersheban, and you won't."
"We'll see, shall we?" and the mysterious figure flew away.
Lekhsor waited for a moment, then reached for his speaking tube. "Miss Testmarker, I don't wish to be disturbed for the next hour, understood?" Without waiting for a response, he pulled a lever concealed in the desk, resulting in a section of the wall opening.
Lekhsor followed a long staircase until he arrived at a room with a combination lock on the door. Entering the combination, he opened the door into what any Uberwaldian would recognise as a bio-alchemy lab. It was apparently empty. "Igor!" he called.
"Yeth, Marthter?" said Igor from behind him. Not for the first time, Igor was impressed at how the master never jumped at his appearances. Or appearance, for that matter.
"Igor, Operation: Mechanicus was a failure. To be honest, I think Cobalt was mentally unsuited to the role. I'm not sure he remembered he wasn't really trying to kill me."
"Thorry, Marthter. I did thuggetht the prothedure could increathe mental imbalantheth." said Igor diplomatically.
"Indeed. Did you get a good look at our... visitor?"
"Yeth, and I'm thtill trathing him. Thith morphic rethonator you gave me," he guestured to a machine of brass pipes and large dials, surrounding a couple of wooden boxes looped with copper wire, and occasionally sparking octarine, "hath locked onto hith powerth. Of courthe, we'll lothe the connecthion onthe he thtopth flying..."
"Never mind that! Can you use him as the subject for Operation: Homunculus?"
"Well, according to the thtandard theory of bio-artifithing, the part containth the informathion of the whole, tho it thould be eathy to create a man out of, thay, a lock of hair. But according to the rethonationth of the morphic rethonater," he glanced at a dial, "Thith being ithn't a man. Trying to copy him could have... bitharre rethultth."
"Then we'll leave that option just now. Do we still have plenty of the power-stone?"
"Oh, yeth, Marthter," said Igor, hurrying over to a safe. It was lined with lead and rowan wood, sovereign wards against magic, and as it opened it filled the room with a green glow. Lekhsor didn't notice. He was staring at one of the other dials on the resonator.
"Interesting. Very interesting."
It was early the next morning when Kalalek Cairn arrived at the Daily Disc offices, still pondering the sudden weakness that had affected him when he'd tried getting close to Lekhsor House again. As he opened the door, Penwar Whitebeard beamed through his beard and cigar smoke.
"Kalalek! I'd like you to meet our top reporter Louissa Longstreet. Louissa, this is Kalalek Cairn, who's just joining us."
"Uh, yeah." said Kalalek, "We've met."
"We have?" blinked Louissa.
"Uh, no, we haven't, of course. It's just that I've read your stuff, and recognised your picture."
"Right. Anyway, Penwar, have you told Jimkin he's got a front page iconograph?"
Kalalek looked at the stack of papers by the door. The iconograph was of him fighting Mechanicus. The headline: "'SYMBOL' SAVES SEIGNIOR". He groaned inwardly. That'd teach him to say the first thing that came into his head. "So, uh, that's what we're calling this guy, is it? The Symbol?"
Louissa shrugged. "He said he was a symbol of truth and justice."
No! thought Kalalek, I said the armour was a symbol of truth and justice! Or at least I meant to.
"And we've got to call him something," Louissa continued "We can find out what he wants to be called the next time. Assuming we even see him again."
"I think he'll be around." smiled Kalalek. "The Symbol, eh? I think it's growing on me."
 Working together, for a start.
 The Discryptian Cryptodragon strongly resembles the Discworld Lunar Dragon, except that it can choose to flame in either direction. This is no less likely than Discryptians resembling Discworld humans.
 Dwarfish: literally meaning "king" or "mine supervisor", but used rather loosely here, hence Whitebeard's irritation.
 On "Plain Speaking" Floyd's plans, this was marked as "Comforteable, yette Afordabel, Howsinge". This is what idealistic architects always put on the plans.
 Magic, Alchemy and General Experimentation Laboratories.
 A highly honourable, but ruthless, Agatean crime organisation who torture their enemies by playing paper-and-comb at them.
 The Good Hersheban, a parable from the Book of Offler, explaining how, out of the whole city of Al-Khali, it was a despised Hersheban immigrant that helped a merchant who had been set upon by thieves. And, having drawn attention to himself, was discovered to have incorrect papers, fitted up for the mugging, and deported.