Drifter
Chapter Two: Introductions

by Russ Allbery and David Anastasion
© 1994

Somewhere in the vast empty space between newsgroups there stands a fortress. Massive and intimidating, its origin is lost in time. Four weapon towers surround an enormous central spire, which rises hundreds of feet before ending in a needle-like antenna. Robotic soldiers can sometimes be glimpsed through regularly-spaced windows in the lower part of the spire, but the windows stop abruptly halfway up. The entire fortress is made from some black substance with the strength of metal and the texture of stone.

In an enormous room near the top of the spire, a dark figure sits in front of a bank of computer monitors. His hands play over a keyboard as words scroll by on several different screens at once. Other monitors are displaying video images of battles between garishly-costumed superbeings. One by one, the screens flash and go black as the man closes various computer processes. Finally, when only the central monitor is still active, he leans back in the chair and thoughtfully stares at the screen.

"Computer: Log entry."

The computer display changes to a strange, curved symbol, and a mechanical voice comes from the computer bank. "Recording."

"So, Master Workload has failed just as I predicted. It was only a matter of time before he would come in conflict with Lord MUDD and his plans would be thwarted. As an abstract entity, he has very little leeway to interfere in the workings of the Net; the cosmic balance must be maintained.

"I, however, am not an abstract entity, and this alt.comics.lnh reality contains more power than I dreamed possible. I have been monitoring the Net for months looking for the ideal location to begin my conquest, and I believe I have finally found it. Time to implement phase one.

"Computer: End entry."


Between two high plateaus, a two-lane highway stretches out across the desert. The sun is high in the sky, and soft breeze blows sand across the cracked desert floor. Tumbleweeds glide across the road, only to get stuck in the occasional cactus.

A stranger dressed in black seems to be flying down the highway, his feet only inches off the road. His legs move in a continuous pattern, side to side, and the trenchcoat he wears swirls in the wind. A slight refection off the rollerblades strapped on his feet is the only hint they even exist. Headphone cords lead down to a portable CD player. Above him, a bald eagle soars through the sky, easily keeping pace.

==I still don't understand why you left aclnh so soon,== Windrider sends. ==You did like it, right?==

After a long pause Drifter answers. --Of course I did. But I can't just walk up to their base, say "Hi, I'm Drifter," sign a card, and join the LNH. It must take more than that!--

He skids to a halt and hits a button on the CD player. POWER OFF flashes across its digital screen, and Drifter takes off his headphones.

==It actually doesn't take that much more.==

--Do you know what the "more" is then?-- Drifter starts rollerblading again.

==Oh, probably just fighting Ultimate Ninja in the Peril Room. Maybe a few other things.==

--Like?--

==I don't know...other stuff,== Windrider replies with a hint of irritation.

--What kind of stuff?--

==For crying out loud Drifter, I don't know everything! Half the time I think they just make it up as they go along!==

--Sorry, but I still don't think they would even want me in their club. I mean, I just don't stay in one place for that long; what could I possibly do for them?--

==Well at least you could let them know you're not a villain and that you're willing to help.==

--True. I don't know, it's so iffy.--

==You could probably find out a lot more if you would just talk to them. I don't think they bite.==

--Well, I guess it couldn't hurt...--

Drifter makes a strange quarter-turn gesture with his hand and the wind grows stronger. In front of him a bright green portal opens, and he skates right through. As it closes, Windrider banks to the right and disappears behind a plateau.


At the outskirts of Net.ropolis stands a huge, multi-story building. A small formal sign on the front grass proudly displays the Legion of Net.Heros logo. The occasional flight thingie arrives or departs through enormous hanger doors, giving glimpses of hanger storage and maintenance equipment. Sunlight glints off of freshly cleaned windows. Around the back of the building, Squeaky Clean hands a squeegee up to Captain CleanUp, who is sharing the secret techniques of window washing. Inside, in the lobby, the Incredible-Man-With-No-Life is standing next to a fountain describing last night's events to Ordinary Lady, Sister State-The-Obvious, Contraption Man, and Catalyst Lass.

"Then he turns to me and says, 'You'll want to take care of that girl inside and make sure her boyfriend gets to a hospital. Looks like they were in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time of night.' He starts to walk off down the street and I say, 'Wait! Who are you? What's going on?' No answer. I see him walk a couple more feet then *poof*, he's gone."

"Sounds like he's a good guy," says Sister State-The-Obvious.

"But who said he's telling the truth?" Ordinary Lady asks. "For all we know he could have killed that biker."

"Oh, well remember that girl who was in the bar? When we got her to the hospital, she explained what happened. It was identical to the way he described it."

"If he wasn't in any kind of trouble, then why did he leave?" Ordinary Lady still looks a little doubtful.

"Maybe he just wanted to leave," Catalyst Lass begins. "Just because he left after he beat up some bikers and saved a girl doesn't mean anything. I think he just didn't want to mess with all the legal stuff the police might throw at him. It really doesn't sound like he was trying to hide anything. He simply stopped a crime and left; there's no crime in that." This gets a nod from everyone.

"I agree with Catalyst Lass," says Contraption Man. "I don't think we should judge this young man so soon. But I do think we should keep an eye open for anything suspicious."


Outside LNHQ, with Windrider perched on his shoulder, Drifter is pondering how to get inside. He slides his finger down the seams of the intricately paneled doors, then takes a step back and waves his hand in front of a small keypad. He presses a few buttons; nothing happens.

==You know, the door is probably unlocked. They're the city's main superhero team; I don't think they lock their doors in the middle of the day.==

--Yeah, but I want to know what I'm getting into...at least I can get an idea of what kind of security system they have. No finger-print identification needed, or key-code...hmm...-- Drifter notices a small microphone near the corner of the keypad. --Voice identification...clever. Guess I just speak to get their attention. Well, should I give it a try?--

==May as well learn what you want to learn before somebody comes out to see what you're doing. Whoever is monitoring their external sensors is probably wondering why you are rubbing your hand across the door without even trying to open it.==

--How should I identify myself?--

Windrider shuffles impatiently on Drifter's shoulder. ==How about, 'Hi, I'm Drifter! Can I come in?'==

--Wait, I have a better idea.-- Drifter moves his head closer to the microphone and gets ready to create a portal in case of trouble.

"Computer: unrecognize person." Drifter waits nervously for a reply.

"Person unrecognized. You may enter." A slight thud comes from behind the scarred, battle worn doors. Drifter pulls at the handles to see they are unlocked, and they open with a screech.

==Well, whoever programmed the security system certainly has a sense of humor.==

--I think I'm going to like these people.--

Drifter walks through the doors and is awed by the impressive interior. The roof of the lobby is two stories tall, and there is a small fountain in the center of the room. A small huddle of LNHers are sitting by the fountain, and Drifter begins to walk toward them.


"Hey!" Sister State-The-Obvious points across the room at Drifter. "Isn't the guy you were just talking about, IMWNL?" The group moves over to Drifter, who turns to greet the Incredible-Man-With-No-Life.

"We met last night, but we were never introduced...I'm Drifter."

"I'm the Incredible-Man-With-No-Life, and this is Ordinary Lady, Sister State-The-Obvious, Contraption Man, and Catalyst Lass." Drifter nods to each one in turn.

--Good thing you warned me about the names or I'd have a hard time not laughing. "Incredible-Man-With-No-Life"?!-- Drifter sends a mental grin. "Did the young man recover?"

"Oh, he recovered fine. They pressed charges for attempted murder and sexual harassment. But why did you leave so abruptly?" the IMWNL asks.

"I simply wanted to leave. I felt I did what I could, and trusted IMWNL and his foul-mouthed friend to handle the rest."

Just then, Old-Comics Man walks into the room, stops near the door, and glares at the fountain.

"Dagnabit, one writer puts a fountain in the lobby, and I've got to put up with the blasted thing until kingdom come!" [See LNH #19 by Martin (grep is a wonderful utility) — rra]

Old-Comics Man whirls and strides off down the hall. "I've got to have a talk with Deja Dude. Why in my day..."

The other LNHers pointedly ignore him.

Catalyst Lass has been examining Windrider, who is still perched on Drifter's shoulder. "Is that your eagle?"

"No, Windrider is definitely his own eagle." Drifter grins and moves Windrider to his wrist so that he can take to the air. Windrider glides across the room to perch on a coat rack. "I travel between realities and have only recently arrived here, so I know very little about the LNH. What do you do?"

"Well, we're Net.ropolis' super-hero team." Catalyst Lass searches for the best way to explain the LNH. "Mostly we fight crime and deal with problems the police can't handle, like supervillains. We have a lot of members though, and most of them just kinda do their own thing."


As Catalyst Lass continues her explanation, interrupted only by short questions from Drifter, Ordinary Lady gets an increasing feeling of "psychic presence"...almost the same feeling she gets around her brother Frank. [Ordinary Lady's brother, Frank Nicieza, is the telepath of the Good Guys (tm). The Good Guys share a Psychic Bond (tm) — rra] Thinking that it comes from Drifter, she concentrates on the few lessons Frank thought her and forms a psychic probe. The probe, however, dissipates before it even reaches Drifter, almost as if it hit an impenetrable wall.

Hmm...strange. I could have sworn I was feeling Drifter. Ordinary Lady tries to focus and pick up some sense of direction, but to no avail. None of the other LNHers have any telepathic abilities except for Catalyst Lass, and hers aren't strong enough...where could this be coming from?

She relaxes, closes her eyes, and tries to mentally reach out. She almost jumps when someone immediately offers her a mental hand. Cautiously, she accepts, and then watches in amazement as the other telepath forms a link faster and stronger than any she'd seen before.

Who are you?

==Windrider.== The other mental voice seemed to carry a world of experience with it.

But who...? You aren't Drifter...but the other LNHers don't have telepathic abilities...? Ordinary Lady opens her eyes and meets the penetrating stare of the eagle.

==Appearances can be deceiving,== the voice says, with an overtone of amusement.

What are you?

==An eagle. I'm not a shape-shifter, if that's what you're thinking. As for who I am, I travel with Drifter. That's all I prefer to say, at least for now.==

Ordinary Lady does jump when someone puts a hand on her arm. She turns to see Sister State-The-Obvious. Catalyst Lass is still explaining the LNH to Drifter, with the occasional clarification from Contraption Man and the IMWNL.

"You got quiet all of a sudden," Sister State-The-Obvious whispers. "Is something wrong?"

"No, I've just been having the strangest—"

A-WOO-GA! A-WOO-GA! A-WOO-GA! A-WOO-GA! A-WOO-GA!

"That's the alarm!" notes Sister State-the-Obvious. Contraption Man walks over to the wall and presses a black panel, which lights up to reveal the face of Multi-Tasking Man. "What's the situation?"

"It's those slow bank robbers again. It looks like you already have a team ready to go...maybe we can catch them this time."

Drifter turns toward Contraption Man. "Maybe I can help."

Contraption Man looks uncertain. "I don't know...we don't know much about you."

"Look guys, I think he is a really nice guy, don't you all agree?" Everyone nods in agreement with Catalyst Lass. "Okay good. Let's get to a flight thingie."

==Drifter can get you there faster,== Windrider sends to Ordinary Lady.

--That's true, I can form a teleportation portal. But do you trust me?-- Ordinary Lady immediately realizes that the third voice is Drifter's.

"Wait a second, everyone. We might have a faster way of getting there." Ordinary Lady turns back to Windrider. How can I be positive you're telling the truth?

No words come in response; instead, the link widens slightly. Ordinary Lady gets a glimpse into Windrider's mind: on the surface absolute assurance that neither he or Drifter mean the LNH any harm, and behind that beliefs, oaths, and memories stretching back... The link narrows back to its original form.

Ordinary Lady keeps her eyes closed for a second longer, and then turns to the other LNHers. "Drifter can teleport us there. And I trust him."

Catalyst Lass and Contraption Man glance at each other and shrug. "Okay, if you're sure..."

"I'm sure Cat."

Drifter makes a slight movement with his wrist, and a circular green portal opens in the room. Led by Ordinary Lady, the LNHers go through one by one, followed by Drifter. As the portal closes, Windrider springs into the air and disappears.


Inside the Second InterNet.sional Bank, the Net.Villain Wannabes wait for the arrival of the Legionnaires. The Mean Master holds a rather large type of gatling gun, its surface sleek, shiny steel. A black laser targeting scope is mounted on the top, giving the whole contraption the look of something out of a sci-fi movie. The other villains hold small handheld versions, without scopes.

Outside the bank, a green portal opens.


Dedicated to Ken, for getting us involved in the best time-waster yet.

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04