Drifter
Chapter Five: Diversions

by Russ Allbery and David Anastasion
© 1994

"Sometimes we can choose the path we follow.
Sometimes our choices are made for us.
And sometimes we have no choice at all."

Neil Gaiman, Sandman: Season of Mists

The farm looks like a war zone. Half the buildings are collapsed, several are on fire, and bodies of turkeys are scattered about the yard. Occasional bursts of gunfire can be heard over the sound of thousands of panicked birds, and soldiers are everywhere, screaming at the tops of their lungs. The owner and staff are long gone; they ran for their lives as soon as turkeys started turning into rampaging Armenians with automatic weapons.

An explosion near the outer fence sends a fireball high into the air. Half the soldiers stop and turn toward the sound, just in time to see a charred corpse fly fifty feet across the yard. As it hits the ground, it changes into the burned carcass of a turkey.

"You will be stopped! None shall invade this reality while I live...so swears Kid Kirby!"

A man in an armored suit, standing at least seven feet tall, strides through the new hole in the outer fence. He is silhouetted in another explosion in the storage shed as the fire reaches a barrel of diesel fuel. One of the soldiers on his right opens fire, but the bullets richochet harmlessly off of his armor. Kid Kirby raises a gauntleted hand and incinerates the man with a blast of energy.

Two other figures come through the fence on either side of the Kirbian. The one on the left is dressed in the ibabakama of a ninja, her katana held in a guard position. The person on the right is in the far more garish costume of a traditional superhero. His body bends impossibly to dodge a burst of gunfire.

"What are these things?" Pliable Lad shouts, dodging another shot.

Kid Kirby blasts another soldier into cinders, his amplified voice easily carrying over the sound of the battle. "Transformed turkeys. There is some other force at work here... There!"

A small silver robot scuttles out of a building behind the oncoming soldiers, barely dodging one of Kid Kirby's energy blasts. It turns and screams amplified insults at the heroes, most of which are barely comprehensible, and then ducks behind the wreckage of another building.

"That is the cause of this, and it is not from this reality!" Kid Kirby strides forward, ignoring the surrounding gunfire and blasting debris out of his way.

"Come on! We need to cover him!" Ordinary Lady fights forward, sending up showers of sparks as she blocks bullets with her katana, and then knocks a nearby soldier unconcious with the flat of the blade. Pliable Lad tries to keep up with them on the other side, catching the occasional volley of gunfire in his chest and then snapping his body like a rubber band to send the bullets flying back at the soldiers.

Kid Kirby blasts apart the last building, revealing the robot in the process of transforming another turkey. It screams another insult and tries to head out the other side of the building, but Kirby pins it with a force beam.

"Now we will find out what you are and who sent you." He advances on the pinned robot, but has to stop and concentrate on keeping the robot trapped as it begins to jerk sideways. It almost disappears before he can pull it back.

Kid Kirby amplifies his voice to be heard above the gunfire. "It's trying to crosspost out of this reality! Cover me; I need to build a hierarchical destabilizer to stop it, and the device will be vulnerable to gunfire." He detaches the beam, quickly builds a stationary mount for it, and constantly monitoring it, begins pulling equipment from the Kirby Zone.

Pliable Lad and Ordinary Lady move in on either side of him, blocking bullets and dealing with nearby soldiers. Discovering that they revert to turkeys when knocked unconscious, Pliable Lad begins smothering the ones that get too close. The battle gets more intense, however, when soldiers from all over the farm start gathering at their location.

Ordinary Lady rolls under another hail of gunfire and then somersaults to her feet, spinning to slice a soldier's gun in half. "They are either developing some grasp of tactics, or that robot is directing them better."

Pliable Lad drops an unconscious turkey that was trying to kill him a second before and looks around. Rather than just milling around like they were earlier, the soldiers are now taking cover behind objects and moving forward in spurts. Even their aim seemed to be getting better. Pliable Lad lunges sideways and barely manages to block a bullet that was aimed at the hierarchical destabilizer. "You'd better hurry, Kirby...we aren't going to be able to hold them off much longer."

Kid Kirby adds another piece to the growing machine and activates it again, but the robot gives a strange jerk and almost escapes again. The Kirbian has to quickly augment the power of the beam with his own energies. "I've never seen crossposting quite like this before...he's attempting to move at a level that I'm not familiar with."

Ordinary Lady barely ducks in time as a bullet whistles over her head. "I hope you can figure it out soon...this is getting too close for comfort."

Just then, an inhuman scream of rage comes out of the sky. One of the soldiers turns to look up and catches the talons of a bald eagle full in the face. He staggers backwards, clutching at the eagle, until it knocks him senseless with its wings.

A green portal flashes open, and a man in a black trenchcoat steps through carrying an extremely realistic and deadly looking shotgun. One of the soldiers tries to take a shot at the newcomer, but he turns and blows the man through the side of a building.

"Drifter!" Ordinary Lady shouts, as she takes the head off of a distracted soldier.

Drifter opens up with the shotgun, riddling whole groups of Armenians with buckshot and sending them flying into walls and buildings. Windrider flies into the face of others, distracting them and leaving them wide open for Ordinary Lady or Pliable Lad's attacks. Faced with an enemy behind them and in front of them, the organization of the soldiers falls apart.

As the heroes close in on the last group, they suddenly all revert to being turkeys. Kid Kirby's triumphant shout comes out of the almost-destroyed building. "Got it!"

Inside, the robot is finally completely still, caught in the beam of the destabilizer. Kid Kirby sets the machine on automatic and then strides towards the trapped 'bot. "Now, we find out what you are made of." He reaches down towards the top control panel, but as he does, the destabilizer starts flashing red lights and setting off warning sirens.

"Look out! I'm detecting a large energy build up!"

The other heroes dive out of the building as the robot explodes.


A dark figure turns away from a monitor screen.

"Drifter again...he seems to keep turning up. Nothing unanticipated so far, however; if anything, they proved weaker than I expected."

He taps several buttons on the control panel on the arm of his chair, and turns to see a garish figure enter the darkened room. The man is in a full supervillain costume, complete with clashing colors and a full facial mask. The man in the chair studies him with some distaste and then taps a few more buttons. The supervillain disappears, and the man turns back to the bank of monitors.


Drifter shakes off a daze and gets to his feet. Off to the right, Pliable Lad and Ordinary Lady are both getting up slowly. There is nothing left of the building where the robot was except for a burning pile of debris. After the gunfire and screamed insults, the quiet is almost overwhelming.

"Kid Kirby!" Pliable Lad yells. "Are you alright?"

Nothing moves for a second, and then the center of the pile begins to shift. Several beams are thrown aside by a gauntleted hand, and Kid Kirby pushes through the burning wood as if it were cardboard.

"No mere explosion can stop he who is the Kirbian." Kid Kirby brushes some of the soot off of his armor.

"What was that thing?" Ordinary Lady asks.

Drifter steps forward, Windrider on his shoulder. "Serdar Argic. He's a rather powerful posting robot, but he usually sticks to the soc.* newsgroups. I've never seen him in this area before."

"Aha," Kid Kirby says. "I have heard of this Serdar Argic. He is a force to be reckoned with in some parts of the cosmos. I have never encountered him in person before, however."

"Does this mean that he's permanently destroyed?" Pliable Lad asks.

"No, Serdar Argic is too powerful to be destroyed that easily. He has probably reappeared in other areas of the cosmos already. He seemed to have additional power from some other source, though, and he has lost that." Kid Kirby turns back to Drifter. "Do you have any idea why he attacked us?"

"No...we tracked him here after he showed up in rec.arts.books.tolkien, but I don't know what caused him to leave soc.* in the first place."

"We must be wary of further attacks then. Anyone who can control Serdar Argic is a formidable foe."

"It's a good thing you two showed up," Pliable Lad says. "As inept as they were, they were overwhelming us with sheer numbers. I don't remember you having a shotgun before, though...?"

Drifter laughs, opens a small portal, and tosses the shotgun through. "After my first encounter with Serdar's soldiers, I thought I might need some extra firepower. I stopped by alt.games.doom on the way here."

Kid Kirby looks up from a sensor readout and gives Drifter a measuring glance. He then turns to Windrider. "It has been some time since I have seen you in this reality. I had not thought you would return."

Kirby feels an immediate mental contact, much like a strong handshake. ==I am honored that the Kirbian would remember me.==

"Wanderers rarely seem to come here. You are still the only one I have met." He looks back at Drifter. "This man, then, is your herald?"

Drifter smiles and Windrider sends a mental laugh. ==Ah, Kirby...only you would make that mistake. It is refreshing after all the people who ask if I am his eagle. No, we are good friends and long-time partners.==

"You mean you have met Windrider before?" Pliable Lad interrupts, barely following the apparently one-sided conversation.

"Yes, long ago, before I joined the LNH. Windrider was passing through this reality and spent a couple of days exploring. I was still new to my power and unfamiliar with the galaxy, so I went along. That was the first time I ever encountered the Multi-Tasker."

==Actually, for me, it was just after you joined the LNH. I never did find a good way of explaining that. Anyway, this is the partner I mentioned at the time. Drifter, this is Kid Kirby, the Kirbian of this reality.==

Drifter shakes Kirby's hand. "It's an honor to meet you."

Kid Kirby nods. "Windrider, you had said you would return sometime, but after two years I thought you had forgotten. It is good to see you again...wait!" Kirby's eyes dart to a sensor display inside his helmet and he turns towards the ruins of a storage shed. "I'm picking up more extradimensional energy readings..."

In front of the debris, the air seems to shimmer and then coalesce into a human form. The man stands slightly taller than normal, although nowhere near as tall as Kid Kirby. His costume is a garish mishmash of colors: a green mask fading to blue at the shoulders and chest, and then abruptly turning yellow at the waist. His legs are red, and there is a large red "C" on his chest.

Ordinary Lady steps forward, drawing her katana, but Kid Kirby holds her back. "It's a hologram."

"Greetings, heroes. I see you liked my little surprise."

"Whoever you are, I, Kid Kirby, will stop you!"

"Oh, I doubt that. You had problems just handling my little diversion."

"Diversion?"

The villain chuckles. "Yes, while you were trying to handle Serdar Argic, you didn't notice the fabric of your universe giving way." As if in illustration, a patch of grass suddenly turns into a patch of black with distant stars twinkling in it. "Even now, thousands of bits of other realities are being crossposted into rec.arts.comics.creative. Soon, all barriers between newsgroups will crumble and in the ensuing chaos I, the Crossposter, will seize control of the Net!! MUAH-HAHAHAHAHA!"

With this, the figure shimmers and disperses. Kid Kirby immediately turns his attention to his sensors. "We're being bombarded by some kind of extradimensional energy, but I can't trace the source."

Another distortion moves through the farm, and two men appear among the rubble arguing furiously over something called Blood Moon.

Kid Kirby looks up, a worried expression on his face. "Whatever it is, it is corrupting the very structure of reality. It must be stopped before it does more damage!"


Black. No noise. No sound. So peaceful...comfortable....

But there was something...something important....

No, just drift...listen to the quiet...nothing you have to do....

But there is something I have to do!

No...quiet....

I can't ignore it!


Noone awakes with a start. From the look of the ceiling and the background conversation, he realizes he is lying on the floor in news.software.readers. He tries to get up, but gets so dizzy he almost passes out.

What happened? I was part of a killfile demonstration like normal, and then something.... Newsreader!

Noone sinks back to the ground.

No...I don't want to deal with this...it must have been a dream. I must just be sick and having nightmares.

It wasn't even convincing to himself. The whole experience was too...real to be a dream. Besides, he felt different. He wasn't sure exactly how, but there was something there that wasn't before, something in the back of his head that he didn't really understand but that felt extremely powerful.

I don't want this! Why can't I just go back to the blackness...so peaceful.... The nagging voice in the back of his mind wouldn't let him. He kept getting the feeling that there was something, something incredibly important, that he had to do.

Sighing, he got to his feet, much more slowly this time. Glancing around, the newsgroup looked about the same as he remembered. People were talking about trn, tin, and various PC newsreaders and showing each other problems and solutions. Nothing seemed abnormal.

Seeing a man walking by, Noone stops him. "Excuse me, but did you see what just happened? What did Newsreader do? Did he say anything about what I was supposed to do?"

The man takes one look at Noone and turns white. He hurriedly backs away and heads off in the other direction, almost stumbling because he is trying to walk so fast.

Noone felt a rising sense of panic. What was wrong with him? Why was the man so frightened of him? Desperately, he grabbed the man's sleeve and whirled him around.

"Why are you afraid of me? What did he say? Why won't you talk to me?"

The man just shook his head and tried to back away, his arms held up in front of his face. He looked like he was about to have a heart attack.

Noone felt frightened and angry. "What's wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?!? Stop it!" The man just redoubles his efforts to get away, his every look accusing Noone of turning into some kind of horrible monster. At the verge of complete panic, Noone wishes that the man would just go away, just take away those horrible, frightened, accusing eyes....

The man disappeared.


"Can you tell where the energy wave is coming from?" Drifter asks Kid Kirby.

"No, not from here. It's too broad, and it's confusing the sensors. I need to go somewhere where I can scan the entire Net."

==I know just the place,== Windrider broadsends. ==Drifter, can you open a portal to news.lists?== He sends a burst of information about the "feel" of the location.

"No problem." Drifter gestures to open a portal, and the heroes go through.


Pliable Lad looks around at the vast array of computer equipment. "Wow...I've never seen anything like this even in Kid Kirby's workroom!"

Kid Kirby is also looking at the equipment, as well as taking sensor readings. "Impressive. This looks like a major nexus for thousands of realities. The controlling equipment is very complex."

Windrider flies off of Drifter's arm and circles the room several times (which he can do easily, thanks to the very high ceiling). Finding the console he is searching for, he lands somewhat awkwardly on the smooth surface and manages to tap a button with his beak.

A deep hum is heard inside of the console, and then a small opening appears and a steel rod slides out. Windrider hops onto the rod, his talons resting on several perfectly-positioned switches. Activating the switches with his talons, he brings up several displays and starts quickly scanning through them.

Kid Kirby looks on in admiration. "A customized interface that can even handle eagles? Most impressive."

==Yes, they built this place well. Let's see...mailing lists, readership statistics...here we go. Active newsgroups.== Windrider throws several more switches, and the satisfied *click* of a door release echoes through the room. The whole installation starts humming and a large portion of the far wall slides aside, revealing a corridor of portals.

Kid Kirby, Pliable Lad, and Ordinary Lady head into the corridor. Kid Kirby pulls a sensor out of the Kirby Zone and starts scanning groups of portals, while the other two walk slowly down the center, getting glimpses of the different realities.

"Is there a link here to every reality?" Ordinary Lady asks.

==No, only to those in the Net. And even many of those are missing; some of the smaller newsgroups can be infernally difficult to get to.==

"Hopefully Crossposter isn't based in one of those," Drifter says.

"I've got a reading. Energy with the same signature is coming from alt.fan.douglas-adams." Kid Kirby snaps his sensor closed and returns it to the Kirby Zone. "Now the Crossposter will face the full power of he who is Kirby!"


Noone slowly begins to come out of a daze. After the man just disappeared when he thought of it, he started running. He didn't pay any attention to where he was going, as long as he got away from the horror of killing a person. His mind kept coming back to that; just by thinking about it, he'd erased a person from existence. No wonder they were all afraid of him; he must be some kind of monster!

He stops, panting, and looks around. Nothing is familiar. He vaguely remembers going through several crossposts, but everything is a blur. Around him are a bunch of people chatting with each other and exchanging quotes. At least that's what one group is doing; another seems to be having a debate on the nature of the number 42.

Sighing, Noone sinks into a bench, holding his head in his hands. If only everything would go back to the way it was. He was happy just being a killfile example...if only Newsreader could have left him alone.... If only he hadn't killed someone....

"Pardon me, but have you read Mostly Harmless?"

Noone glances up, a confused expression on his face, to see a twenty-year-old college student looking at him inquiringly. "Er...."

"Mostly Harmless? Yeah, that's a great book!" Another student wanders over. "You've read it, haven't you?" he asks, looking at Noone.

"Uhh...huh?"

"Wait, don't I know you? Let's see...news.software.readers, wasn't it?"

Oh no! He saw! Everyone knows...I can't get away! "No! No, I didn't do anything! Why can't you leave me alone?! Why doesn't everyone just leave me alone?!"

The entire world goes white.

Noone collapses on the ground, sobbing. "No...no...not again...."


Drifter walks through the portal into alt.fan.douglas-adams, followed by Kid Kirby, Pliable Lad, and Ordinary Lady. Windrider circles in the air overhead. Around them are several knots of conversation, mostly about Douglas Adams' books, but not always.

"Hey, what's wrong with that guy?" Pliable Lad points across the room at a man lying on the ground. A couple of college students next to him bend down to see what is wrong, but after their questions of "Hey, are you alright?" get no answer, they wander off. Pliable Lad starts towards him.

==Wait.==

Pli stops and looks up at Windrider. "What's wrong?"

==There's more going on here than it appears. Let Drifter and I handle this.== Windrider shifts to his private link with Drifter. ==Go towards him, but go slowly. He's panicked and could be dangerous.==

--Okay...I hope you know what you're doing.--


In the midst of his despair, Noone feels a presence of some kind. He looks up and sees an eagle and a man in a black trenchcoat walking across the white surface towards him.

Oh no, not more people...why can't they all go away and just leave me alone? Scared and desperate, Noone throws his power out at the two figures and wishes them gone.

He opens his eyes and they are still there.

==That doesn't work on us.== The strong voice echoes through the back of his mind.

"Who-who are you?"

==Friends, if you let us.==

Noone clings to the hope for a second and then sinks back to the ground. They don't mean it...they can't know what I've done...I've killed hundreds of people....

==No you haven't.==

"I haven't?" A wild hope springs up in his eyes.

==Use your brain instead of wallowing in self-pity. You know how killfiles work.==

"Right, they mark articles that match a certain pattern as read so the reader doesn't have to go through them all." The explanation is automatic after years of teaching killfiles.

==They erase parts of reality. But only for the people using them.==

"You mean I didn't..."

"No, you just made it so you couldn't see any of them." Drifter helps Noone to his feet. "They're all still here."

==You can bring them back anytime you want.==

Noone turns and stares at the eagle for a second. Then he closes his eyes and concentrates. Everything back...I want everything to be back....

He opens his eyes and sees knots of people discussing Douglas Adams.

Almost giddy with relief, Noone sinks into a nearby chair. "I thought I was some kind of monster, killing people with a thought. How can I ever thank you?"

==You have a lot of power and you don't know what you are doing. You can thank me by learning to control it.==

"Can you help me...teach me how to use it?"

==We have another problem that we have to deal with.==

Noone notices the LNHers standing back a few yards. "Can I come with you? Maybe I can help."

==Yes, maybe that would be a good idea.==

--Are you sure about this? He seems a bit uncontrolled.--

==We may be able to help. Besides, he can help us.==


Drifter, Windrider, and Noone walk back to join the LNHers. Kid Kirby is examining a steel pillar that stands about three feet tall. The outside cover is lying on the ground, slightly charred around the edges where it was blasted off, and the revealed circuitry looks extremely complicated.

"This is a relay of some sort. The actual energy is emanating from another newsgroup." He changes a setting and checks the reading again. "I think I have a lock on the source, but I've never heard of the reality: rec.games.mud.bogleg.eotl.bume?"

==I remember that,== Windrider broadsends. ==Someone attempted to create it without the knowledge or permission of the Celestials. If it exists, it will be severely crippled.==

Drifter concentrates for a moment. "The path is fairly clear...I can track the origin of the beam and take us there."

==Noone is coming with us. He'll be able to help.== Windrider briefs them on the basics of the plan.

Pliable Lad offers his hand. "Welcome aboard. Noone is kind of a strange name, isn't it?"

Noone shakes his hand, the beginning of a grin turning up the corners of his mouth. "Yeah...just call me Killfile."


The Crossposter paces through his headquarters in rec.games.mud.bogleg.eotl.bume, occasionally glancing at the monitor. "My plan is going perfectly...there is no sign of the LNH, and rec.arts.comics.creative is becoming more corrupt by the second! Every newsgroup will fall one by one under my barrage of crossposts until no one will be able to oppose me! The Net will be mine!! MUAH-HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

"Not a chance."

The Crossposter whirls to see Pliable Lad standing by the side of his desk. "You! How did you get here!"

"The same way I did."

He turns to see Ordinary Lady on the other side of the room.

"And I."

Kid Kirby and Drifter walk in through the front door.

"But-but how did you get past the guards?"

Killfile steps out of nowhere. "That would be me. Windrider showed me that I could make killfiles for other people as well as myself; the guards never saw a thing."

"No! You cannot stop me!" In desperation, Crossposter pulls in threads from all over the Net, turning the room into a whirling patchwork of hundreds of different realities.

Kid Kirby calmly steps through the distortions and raises a gauntlet. "Now, villain, taste the full power of the Kirbian!" The energy beam strikes the Crossposter full in the chest and he explodes, sending fragments of metal in all directions.

"A robot?!" Ordinary Lady dodges the flying debris and moves up to get a closer look.

Pliable Lad stretches out a hand to the control console and powers down the computers. "That was...strange. I would have thought the battle would be more difficult."

Kid Kirby consults his sensors. "The energy beam is gone...but I have the same feeling. The builder of this robot is an enemy of the Looniverse, and he is still a threat. There is no way I can track him now."

Drifter walks over to Killfile, who is leaning against a wall. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah...I just hit one of the distortions...I'll be fine..."

"We have been gone from the Looniverse for too long as it is; I need to check on some experiments." Kid Kirby turns to Windrider, who is perched on the remains of the desk. "Thank you for your help."

==My pleasure. It was good to see you again.==

Drifter opens a portal back to the Looniverse, and after exchanging a few more goodbyes, the LNHers return to their own reality.

Windrider looks back at Killfile. ==Are you sure you are alright?==

"Yes, I'm fine. Thank you for your all your help."

--Should we be off?--

==Yes...I have a few other places I'd like to see. I think Killfile can handle his own powers now.==

Drifter shakes hands with Killfile. "I hope I'll see you again sometime."

"Yes..." Killfile looks rather distracted.

As Drifter's portal closes behind him and Windrider disappears, Killfile starts. The nagging feeling that there is something he needs to do joins with something from the distortion he walked through, and suddenly everything becomes clear.

"I hope I never meet you again, Windrider, because if we do it will probably be as enemies. Now I understand...I know why Newsreader gave me these powers and what I am supposed to do. I must destroy the LNH."

His eyes are dark and cold.


"Computer: Log entry."

The man settles back in his chair.

"It worked perfectly. Just as I thought; throw a supervillain at a group of heroes and they don't ever bother to look for anything else. Kid Kirby is powerful, but predictable."

He taps a few buttons on the control panel beside his chair and brings up another display.

"The sleeper program I installed in the backup systems in Kirby's lab is working flawlessly, and by now it is undetectable. Had he been there during the first few hours, he would have found it easily, but now it is buried too deep to be noticed. It's a shame I couldn't break the security on his main computer fast enough, but this will do.

"Killfile was an unexpected bonus...Newsreader is often sloppy, but at least it is easy to trigger his programming. Now the LNH will have yet another distraction from the real threat.

"All I have to do is sit back and wait until the time is right while my program searches out the deepest secrets of the LNH.

"End phase two. Begin phase three.

"Computer: End entry."


Dedicated to the memory of Jack Kirby. He was the King.

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