Drifter
Chapter Three: Testing

by Russ Allbery and David Anastasion
© 1994

The day passes slowly under a clear sky. In Central Park, all that can be heard is still waters and the quiet rustle of leaves. A family of ducks waddle along the bank of the pond, searching for crumbs of bread left by passing children. Across the street, the Second InterNet.sional bank is strangely deserted. The occassional passerby slows as they notice the dimmed lights and locked front door. Gradually a crowd begins to grow as curiosity increases.

Around the corner in a shadowed alley rodents scurry between garbage cans, feeding on discarded scraps of food. The calm is disturbed as the wind begins to stir. A styrofoam cup blows across the alley and startles a mouse, who scuttles back to his hole squeaking in frustration. With a sudden gust a green portal opens, frightening even the rats. Ordinary Lady steps out, followed by Contraption Man, Catalyst Lass, the Incredible-Man-With-No-Life, and Sister State-The-Obvious. Finally Drifter steps through, closing the portal behind him, and catches Windrider on his arm.

Drifter looks around the corner. "Looks like we're going to have crowd control problems too. Does anyone know the interior layout of this bank?"

"I've memorized the interior layouts of every bank in Net.roplis." The IMWNL pulls out a piece of paper and starts sketching a floorplan.

==He really doesn't have a life, does he...==

Drifter tries not to laugh as he looks over IMWNL's shoulder. "Wait... is that the vault?"

"Yeah, it's in the center of the ground floor."

"Hmm...they are probably expecting superheroes or police to come from the front of the bank. I can teleport all of us into the center of the vault and catch them by surprise." Drifter looks at the other LNHers.

"But we also need to do something about the crowd." Catalyst Lass turns to Sister State-The-Obvious. "Our powers are better for that."

"Okay, you two handle the crowd and the rest of us will go with Drifter." Contraption Man digs through the pockets of his costume. "I've been working on a deflection shield of a sort...it's still experimental, but it should stop bullets for a few seconds at least. That plus the surprise factor should give us the time we need." He pulls out a complicated device and makes a few adjustments.

"All set?" Drifter asks.

Contraption Man nods. "Let's go."

As Catalyst Lass and Sister State-The-Obvious head around the corner, Drifter opens another shimmering portal. Windrider teleports away and the portal closes behind the LNHers, leaving the alley deserted once again.

Deserted, that is, except for a spherical robot that levitates out of the garbage can it was hiding in. Rotating slowly to scan its surroundings, it glides toward the bank.


Mean Master checks his watch yet again. "It doesn't look like they're coming."

"What kind of heroes are they if they won't even stop a bank robbery when they are supposed to?!" Lord Vicious yanks an obviously frightened teller to his feet by his shirt collar. "You did trigger the alarm, didn't you?"

The teller dumbly nods and ducks behind the counter again as soon as Lord Vicious lets go.

"Well, if they aren't coming we should go ahead and rob the bank before the police get here." The Evil Enemy scans the room, making sure that all of the hostages are down on the floor and out of sight from the front windows. He spots the bank manager crawling towards the back rooms and releases an energy blast, incinerating a wastepaper basket.

"You! Get over here! Time for you to open the vault."

The manager reluctantly stands, walks over to the bank vault, and enters in the combination, very concious of Evil Enemy's eyes on the back of his head. With a barely audible click, the lock releases, and the manager steps back. The Evil Enemy strides forward and pulls the door open...to reveal three prepared LNHers and a man in a black trenchcoat.

"Shit!!" The Evil Enemy dives to one side as a katana whistles through the air where his head was. The other Net.Villain.Wannabes scramble for their unusual-looking guns except for the Fiend.

"GRRRRR!!" The Fiend charges towards the heroes and takes a swing at Ordinary Lady, which she easily ducks under. Bringing her katana back around, she gives him a vicious slash across the chest.

"RRRAAARRRR!"

Lord Vicious manages to get his gun and opens fire on the LNHers, but the beams are deflected and harmlessly impact the walls. The Evil Enemy regains his feet and also opens fire, and Contraption Man's deflection shield begins to weaken. Meanwhile, the Wicked One is grappling with the Incredible-Man-With-No-Life.

Taking advantage of the momentary stand-off, Lord Vicious uses his powers to examine the one person he doesn't recognize.

"Bob! Try to take control of the guy in black!" he yells across the room. "He glows like a torch! Must be a powerful mutant!"

"Okay, I'll try." Lord Vicious concentrates and succeeds in forcing entry into Drifter's mind, but he is fighting strong opposition. "This...this won't be easy...his will is very strong..." Drifter stops fighting and grabs his head, straining with mental effort.

Suddenly, Lord Vicious is forceably expelled from Drifter's mind with such violence that he reels backward. "Wha—" He looks up and meets the penetrating glare of Windrider. A powerful mental voice thunders through the back of his skull.

==You left your link to Drifter open. Bad tactical mistake.==

Lord Vicious desperately tries to concentrate and close the mental link just as Windrider sends a bolt of psychic energy down it that shatters the world into a thousand floating sparks. Lord Vicious slumps to the floor unconcious.

Drifter shakes his head to clear out the cobwebs and glances over at Windrider. --I didn't know you could do that?!--

Windrider is still glaring at the prone body. ==Try to take over my companion will he? He's lucky I didn't take his head off!==

Ordinary Lady is handling the Fiend fairly easily, backing him up farther and farther into the main lobby of the bank. She glances to the side after giving him yet another cut and sees the unconcious body of the IMWNL.

"Look out for Wicked One!"

"Too late," responds the Wicked One, dispelling his illusion of invisibility. The LNHers whirl to see him standing inside the vault, behind Contraption Man's deflection shield. He raises a small, sinister-looking gun and fires at Contraption Man.

Drifter dives for the Wicked One and slams him into the wall, knocking him unconcious, but it's too late. The beam strikes Contraption Man in the back, and both he and his deflection shield disappear.

"Let's get them!" The Evil Enemy stops firing energy blasts and opens fire with his gun as well. Ordinary Lady goes into a dazzling maneuver with her katana, blocking four beams at once, but there is just too much firepower. Eventually a stray shot goes through her defense and she vanishes.

Drifter attacks the Evil Enemy and manages to get his gun away, but before he can use it the Fiend knocks him into a wall. While he is stunned, Mean Master hits him with two or three shots. Mean Master also hits the Incredible-Man-With-No-Life and spins in time to tag Windrider, who was trying to attack despite the low ceiling.

The Evil Enemy and Mean Master catch their breath and look around. Lord Vicious and the Wicked One lie unconcious on the floor. The Fiend is staggering and bleeding from multiple cuts. Most of the hostages took advantage of the battle and snuck out the front door or into the back rooms.

A spherical robot glides around the corner of a hallway and stops in front of the Evil Enemy. He turns to it and orders, "Open comm channel."

"The comm channel is already open."

At the voice of their employer, both the Evil Enemy and Mean Master look a little nervous. "We won," the Evil Enemy says somewhat hesitantly.

"Barely. But your performance was satisfactory. As per our agreement, I will now transport you back to your base."

Mean Master and the Evil Enemy gather their fallen comrades and help the Fiend into the middle of the room. They shimmer momentarily with a blue light and then vanish.


The crowd problems were worse than expected, and Catalyst Lass and Sister State-The-Obvious have been busy from the first moment. First there were the people with more curiosity than brains who kept trying to get close enough to see the action, and then stray shots from the battle started shattering windows and almost hitting people in the crowd. This was all complicated by the hostages trying to escape out of the front door. Thousands of superhero battles over the years have reduced the fear of the average citizens, and it is hard to convince them that they are actually in danger.

Finally, Catalyst Lass and Sister State-The-Obvious manage to get the crowd dispersed. The noise and stray shots from inside have stopped, as has the trickle of escaping hostages, and the battle is apparently over. They haven't had time to get more than a few scraps of information out of the people fleeing the bank, and most of that was incoherent. Both of the heroes are anxious to find out the result of the battle.

As they enter the bank, they are greeted by the sight of a war zone. Furniture is upended, broken, or destroyed. Pictures have been knocked off the wall, and most of the potted plants are on their sides, dirt spilling out across the plush carpeting. The walls are potmarked with damage from stray energy blasts, and some of the holes are still smoking. The vault doors are wide open, but none of the safe deposit boxes inside appear to have been touched.

There is no sign of the heroes or villains anywhere.


Drifter opens his eyes to stare at a white ceiling. Slowly he gets to his feet, shaking off a bit of dizziness. Glancing around, he sees a large room full of people working on complex mathematical problems or testing things on various workstations. A couple people are frantically scribbling equations on a blackboard and arguing over their implications.

Momentarily closing his eyes, Drifter orients himself in the Net and figures out where he is. "Great, sci.math. Of all the interesting places I could have ended up, why did I have to go here..."

Windrider appears out of nowhere above the workstations and glides down to land on the top of a divider.

==Looks like we got hit by a teleportation beam.== Windrider overlays his mental voice with a burst of annoyance. ==I hate being teleported by someone else.==

--Yeah, tell me about it. Where did you end up?--

==Somewhere in comp.lang.*. A couple of people were going on about some obscure features of a programming language, and I didn't stay around long enough to find out what language it was.==

--Well, we seem to have been defeated by bank robbers. They took me by surprise with those things.--

==Yes, it's unusal to see a reality that has characters capable of traveling through the Net.== Windrider takes to the air again. ==I don't think any of those LNHers can move between newsgroups on their own though, so we should probably go pick them up.==

--Okay...the transport beams weren't very sophisticated. I know which newsgroups they ended up in.--

==Let's get started then.==


The Incredible-Man-With-No-Life opens his eyes to find himself staring up at a purple and green dinosaur. It offers its hand to help the hero up. The IMWNL, a bit unnerved about being confronted with a dinosaur, gets to his feet by himself.

"Say friend, why won't you let me help you? If someone offers you a hand, accept it, and reward the person with love and kindness!" The dinosaur shouts, as if IMWNL were deaf. The IMWNL glares at it and rubs his extremly sore head. Magically, a ice bag appears in the dinosaur's hand, and it offers it to the hero.

"Where are my manners?! Let my introduce myself, I am Barney, and I want to love and care for you!" It starts to place the bag on the IMWNL's head, and he immediately swats away the dinosaur's hand and continues to rub his head.

"If you want to be of any help, you might just shut up!"

"I see, it's a hangover isn't it!" Barney says, still shouting. "You know, little boys and girls shouldn't drink! Are you feeling bad about yourself? I think you need a big hug!" Barney grabs the IMWNL in a tight bear-hug, and proceeds to squeeze all the air out of his lungs.

"I love you disturbed stranger; don't you love me?" Barney's sqeezing increases, and the IMWNL's face grows blue.

"...stop it,...please!" he gasps.

"No! I want you to feel how much I love you!" Barney's smile turns to a devilish grin. "I won't stop till you say you love me!"

"...I <wheeze> love <choke> you." The IMWNL begins to see the benefits of carring a gun.

"Do you really, really, really, love me?"

".........yyyyyeeeeessss." The world begins to spin into blackness.

"Okay." Barney releases the IMWNL, and he falls to the floor gasping for air. Trying not to draw attention, he starts backing off towards the wall.

"Oh, do you need another hug? Here!" Barney grins again and runs toward the IMWNL with his arms wide open. The air is shattered by a shotgun blast and Barney is blown into the back wall.

"There he is!" "Don't let him get away!" "Kill Barney!" "Die!" A mob of crazed college students come racing around the corner, half of them carrying shotguns. They start pounding on Barney with baseball bats and firing the guns at point-blank range.

The IMWNL scrambles backward as fast as he can until he bumps into something behind him. Whirling, he sees Drifter leaning against the wall, grinning.

"Well, what do you think of alt.tv.barney?"

"Just get me out of here! Please?!"


Contraption Man can't believe it. This is the thirty-second room he's tried, and still nothing but people in suits discussing investments in boring voices. Endless halls connect hundreds of identical conference rooms, all with paneled walls and little gold lettering. Once he found an elevator and took it down to the first floor, but there wasn't any sign of an exit or lobby.

The room he's in is full of people discussing the prospects of gold futures. Contraption Man goes back out into the hall and collapses against the wall. He tries again to design some kind of gadget, but this reality is so mind-numbingly boring that he can't come up with any ideas at all.

After what feels like an infinity of time, a gust of wind blows leaves off potted plants as a green portal opens in the center of the hallway. Drifter steps through.

"Ugh, I hate investment newsgroups. Ready to go?"

"YES!"


The sky is dark and cold. Wind whips across the hill, blowing the rain-soaked grass flat against the ground. The flash of a green portal is lost in the fury of the storm.

As Drifter walks up the hill, wrapping his trenchcoat around him to hold off the driving rain, a flash of lightning splits the sky in two. The thunder rolls across the countryside, shaking the ground under his feet. At the top of the hill stands a lone figure, looking out at the storm. Drifter stops beside her, watching the clouds move across the sky as the storm rages unchecked.

After a few moments, Ordinary Lady turns to Drifter. "I suppose we should go back to aclnh."

"Yes, we probably should."

It is a few minutes longer before they turn and head down the hill. As Drifter opens a portal, Ordinary Lady turns back to see another bolt of lightning shatter the sky.

"What newsgroup is this?"

"sci.geo.meteorology. Sounds boring, doesn't it?"

As the portal closes, lightning lights the sky from horizon to horizon.


The portal opens again in front of the Second InterNet.sional Bank. Catalyst Lass, Sister State-The-Obvious, Contraption Man, and the Incredible-Man-With-No-Life are searching through the ruins of the bank for any clues to where the Net.Villain Wannabes went. The police have mostly given up and only a couple of patrol cars are parked in the street.

Drifter walks into the bank, looking around at the wreckage. "Any luck?"

Catalyst Lass straightens up and sighs. "Nope...they seem to have disappeared without a trace. Sister State-The-Obvious thought she saw a flash of light, so maybe they teleported out."

Drifter concentrates on the room. "This is strange...Windrider, what do you make of this?"

==They teleported...but not to a different newsgroup.==

--Right...and the trail is very elusive.... I've never felt anything like this before; it isn't crossposting, and it isn't normal teleportation.--

A policeman comes out of the back room and reports to the sergeant. "I found evidence against the Net.Villain Wannabes, but we already knew that. Nothing else."

"Looks like this is a dead end. I'll put out an APB on the Wannabes, but we have no idea where their secret base is."

Catalyst Lass looks at the other LNHers. "We've lost them. The only thing we can do is be ready for them next time." She turns to look at Drifter. "We're heading back to LNHQ...are you coming with us?"

"No, I want to do some more looking around first."

"Okay, I suppose we'll see you around."

As the LNHers head out the door and the police cars drive away, Drifter settles down and concentrates on the room, trying to untangle the teleportation trail.


Several minutes go by without luck. Drifter sighs and opens his eyes. The teleport signature is extremely annoying, obvious and tantilizing yet incredibly elusive.

==Drifter, take a look out the right front window. Try to move as little as possible.==

--What is it?--

==There's a robot of some kind in Central Park. It's positioned so it can look through the front window; you should be able to see it.==

--I see it. It's spherical and almost completely hidden by a tree. Do you think it's related to the bank robbery?--

==The energy signature it's giving off is the same as the one on the teleportation trail.==

Without warning, Drifter creates a portal directly in front of himself and rolls through it. He rolls onto his feet behind the tree where the robot was, but it is already fifty yards away. Sprinting towards it, Drifter creates a portal in front of the robot, but it makes a sudden turn without slowing down.

The chase goes on for a good twenty blocks. Drifter keeps up with the robot by using portals, but it manages to avoid every portal Drifter opens in front of it. Attempts to cut it off are unsuccessful, and Drifter is forced to be more careful when the robot opens fire with a small gun that deploys from the side of the sphere. Windrider flies high overhead and directs Drifter toward the robot when it is out of sight.

==It's heading straight for a shuttle train track. The road you're on leads to a bridge going over the track.==

--Good...maybe we'll be able to cut it off this time.--

Drifter rounds the corner and heads out on the bridge. Below, the spherical droid speeds through an empty lot heading for the tracks.

==There's a shuttle train coming from the other direction.==

Drifter whirls to see the shuttle roar under the bridge just as the robot starts to cross the tracks. The train rams into the spherical robot, making it a permanent ornament.

--Well, there goes that lead.--

==Maybe not.== Windrider increases his speed, and glances down at the smashed remains of the robot. ==It's still functioning. Quick, jump onto the train!==

Drifter grins. --I always wanted to do one of those train top cowboy scenes.-- He looks down on the row of shuttle cars, trying to find a good place to jump on. Five shuttle cars behind is a trailer car with nothing on it. Drifter picks this as his destination and jumps.

"Ooph!" The air is knocked out of his lungs as he hits the shuttle car behind the trailer car, and ricoches off to land on the trailer car and his face. Drifter rubs some sore ribs, a quiet chuckle laughing in the back of his mind.

==You might find it less hazardous to your health if you ported down to the tracks and ran alongside the train before jumping on.==

Drifter goes to his hands and knees, balancing himself on the top of the train. --Oh be quiet. How's the droid doing?--

==Fine. It managed to remove itself from the head of the engine car and is resting on top of the train, not hovering. Some of its casing is still on the front of the train. From what I can see, the thing is in pretty bad shape.== Windrider looks closer at the damaged droid and for a moment he is sure he sees it flicker. He blames it on the bad light from the setting sun and the thickly clouded sky.

Drifter's hair and trenchcoat is blown back by the strength of the wind. Until now he hasn't noticed how fast the train was traveling. He carefully stands and starts to move toward the droid, jumping from one shuttle car to the next until he is within two shuttle cars of it.

==What are you waiting for?==

--I...For a minute there the droid looked a little fuzzy.-- Drifter continues to walk toward it.

==Animal fur type fuzzy?== Windrider asks, a little puzzled.

--No, TV reception type fuzzy.-- Drifter bends down to pick up the dented robot.

==Drifter, wait!== Windrider watches the image of a wrecked droid shimmer and disappear to reveal a perfectly functional spherical robot with a weapons panel raised. Bolts of blue lighting fly from the panel striking Drifter down. He trys to move but another stream of blue lighting shoots from the droid. The air fills with the sickly sweet smell of ozone as as accumulating volts of electricity flow through his body, burning like hell.

The robot pause before the next series of lighting and Drifter reaches into his pant pocket, searching for something. Another wall of lighting flies from the panel before he can find the object, striking him with even more pain than the last.

==Drifter!!==

--...wh—AARGH!—at?-- The lighting stops again for a moment as the droid takes into account how much pain its target is in, then continues to fry him. Drifter's eyes are again filled with a bright blue light, his body writhes and twitches in pain with every bolt.

==Don't talk, just listen and try to stay conscious. The droid takes pauses in between every series of lighting. On the next pause, I will distract it.== Windrider hopes his friend could hear him and focuses his mind on the droid.

The robot pauses again and Windrider mentally grabs it and pushes. It is thrown one hundred feet ahead of Drifter, who finds enough strength to grasp a small, cold Zippo lighter and pull it out of his pocket. He stares at his reflection, flashing in silver-plated case with each street light that flies by. Spinning the flint wheel, he hits the activation button and a firey blade extends four feet. Drifter musters as much strength as he can and hurls the sword toward the approaching droid. With a brilliant flash of flying sparks, the blade slices the weapons panel off the robot. Just as the sword begins to dip, a new strength throws it back at the droid, and with a sizzle the spherical robot is cut in two. The blade flies back to Drifter, who extinguishes the blade and closes the lid.

--Thanks.--

==No problem. Are you alright?==

--Sure...I'm fine...-- With this last word, Drifter collapses into unconsciousness, his seared clothing and occasional twitch giving a more truthful reply.


In a huge room at the top of a black spire, a dark figure settles back in his chair. "Excellent.... Computer: Log entry."

"Recording."

"Interesting.... At least some members of the Legion appear to be vulnerable to an interdimensional attack. Despite doing everything wrong, those morons I hired actually almost won. This method of attack deserves some further exploration.

"This...Drifter is a fascinating puzzle. Again, I need more information before I can plan the next step. He could prove to be a most challenging opponent."

He swivels in his chair and looks with some distaste at a garish costume hanging on the far wall.

"The amount of information I can gather through sensor droids and hirelings is limited. It's time I took a personal hand in things.

"End phase one. Begin phase two.

"Computer: End entry."


In a pocket dimension outside of this plane of existance, a figure angrily leaps to his feet, sending his chair crashing into a wall. He scowls at a computer screen, his face contorted with rage.

"First he is mind-controlled and used as a pawn, and then he is utterly destroyed, leaving the Net without an incarnation of the Killfile Force?! They dare to treat one of my Avatars in such a manner?! This is totally unacceptable! They will rue the day they attacked Newsreader!"


Dedicated to Dave Sim, who had the courage to live his dream.

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