Retcon Midnight
Chapter Two: "The Trouble With Time"

by Russ Allbery and David Anastasion
© 1994

Net.ropolis is an old city. How old is still a matter of debate among historians, but they all agree that Net.ropolis was a thriving city long before the foundation of the country. Over the years it has seen many changes and survived many disasters. The torrential rains of 1873 flooded a third of the city and destroyed thousands of buildings, but Net.ropolis recovered. The freak weather conditions and improbable accident that caused the firestorm of 1924 almost destroyed it, but again the people of Net.ropolis dug in, cleared away the rubble, and slowly rebuilt it. The valiant determination and loyalty of its citizens have served Net.ropolis well, especially in recent years when the wildcard of superpowers was added to the mix. No matter what happened, the city was determined to survive.

That was before Dr. Armaggeddon.

Downtown is in ruins. What little was left standing after the blast of the Destructron was destroyed in the aftermath by looters and arsonists. The poor and the hungry scurry through the rubble like rats, trying desperately to survive. Soldiers stalk the streets, looking for any who may oppose the absolute rule of the city's dictator.

Towards the outskirts of town, conditions are somewhat better. There are houses with lawns in the better neighborhoods, and some well-run apartment complexes. Stores and businesses are still open, and people still work and come home to their families. Even in the face of utter destruction, some parts of society will still continue, however haltingly and uncertainly. In some ways, though, the devastation is even more obvious here. It isn't seen in the streets or in the buildings, but rather in the eyes of the people, who plod daily through the darkened streets to begin the day's work under the watchful eyes of the ever-present soldiers. Those eyes — eyes without joy, without laughter, without hope — are perhaps more chilling than the ruins of the inner city. Somehow one feels that physical destruction is easier to repair.

The city is dominated by Dr. Armaggeddon's citadel, which is a bitter irony indeed to those who remember better days, back when that building was the headquarters of the Legion of Net.Heroes. The building that was once the symbol of hope and courage for all of Net.ropolis, the building that proved that Net.ropolis could take anything that was thrown at it and come back fighting, was now the symbol of evil. The once-proud LNH has been reduced to an outlawed band of heroes who barely manage to stay one step ahead of the secret police, while Dr. Armaggeddon's citadel broods over the city like a malevolent spider watching the hopeless struggles of insects trapped in its web.

Unbeknownst to the people of Net.ropolis, this sudden reversal in their fates, this destruction of their dreams, hinges on one man. Only the actions of that one man can restore the universe to its correct path and can bring back the powerful and vibrant Net.ropolis of old.

Unfortunately, that man does not exist.

In an otherwise unremarkable warehouse on the outskirts of Net.ropolis is the headquarters of what is left of the LNH. This is the third backup site they've been forced to use in the past week. Just this afternoon, disaster struck as they fled their old hideout just minutes ahead of the police. All-Knowing-Last-Chance-Whiner-Destiny Woman rushed out of the building where she was safely hidden and pushed through the crowd after the fleeing LNHers, saying the fate of the world was at stake. They could only watch helplessly as she was arrested and taken to the citadel. None of them had any hope she would ever been seen alive again.

They managed to stay ahead of the soldiers and even lose them entirely in a maze of back streets, but then they saw a lone hero trapped and arrested. Kid Chivalry and Cannon Fodder refused to stand by and let that happen, and they pulled off the rescue without a hitch. The hero, though, became another problem; he seemingly had no knowledge of Dr. Armageddon's rule but bore an amazing resemblance to the long dead Plymax and claimed to know all of them personally. They took him to their backup base and have tried to make sense of his story for the past half an hour.

Rebel Yell stands in the center of the room, looking down at the cot where the person who calls himself Pliable Lad is sitting. Something about him seems right, or at least better than the rest of this city, but the LNH is barely surviving and he can't take a chance on his intuition.

Curly, standing to his right, is far more skeptical. "That still doesn't explain why Pliable Lad is here."

"He must be from an alternate timeline. A single retcon couldn't change the world this much, could it?" Organic Lass asks.

"On the contrary, it can. And it has."

The LNH whirls, dropping into attack postures instinctively. Months of desperate battle against Dr. Armaggeddon's forces has heightened their reflexes and set them on a hair-trigger. Only the intruder's strange appearance and Pliable Lad's reaction causes them to hesitate.

Pliable Lad jumps half out of the cot he was sitting on. "Drifter? Windrider? Tell me you remember me!"

The man in the doorway doesn't look anything like any of Armaggeddon's servants; he is dressed entirely in black, with a black trenchcoat that rustles past his ankles. A bald eagle is perched on his shoulder.

==We do.== The voice echoes through the backs of their heads. ==And we know that something is very wrong. That's why we're here.== Although the voice seems to come from everywhere and nowhere, the LNHers can sense that the eagle is speaking.

Curly still looks ready to rip something in half. "Who are you and how did you find us?" Gestalt Lad moves next to him, preparing to merge.

"No!" Pliable Lad shouts. "Don't attack! They're my friends!"

Rebel Yell turns around and looks at him. "We still don't have a good reason to trust you. Your story doesn't make any sense, you claim to know us even though we've never seen you before, and now you've apparently led other people to our headquarters."

Pliable Lad opens his mouth to reply, and then shuts it. He sinks back in the chair, realizing how the situation must look to the LNHers. Gestalt Lad and Curly both look to Rebel Yell for permission to attack the intruders.

Just then, a figure dressed all in black seems to step out of nowhere. In his right hand he holds an ebon staff, its cap glowing gold.

"Once I would have stood with you against Armaggeddon, fought by your side, perhaps even set continuity back to its correct path, but for now I must remain a Stranger."

The Dvandom Stranger looks straight at Rebel Yell. "Your moment is at hand. In the next few hours all that has gone wrong can be put right. You must follow the guidance of the Wanderer and the Dreamwalker, for they can show you the path that time must take.

"Beware, however...if you fail to gain the support of the former Knight of Continuity, then your quest must surely fail."

With that, the Stranger motions with his Editorial Staff and vanishes.

Streaking through the void of interstellar space, he tries to make sense of his memories. There seems to be two sets of them; one that agrees with where he is and who he is, but also another in which everything is very different. He remembers a battle against someone called the Anti-Drizzt that almost destroyed the universe, another being called the Drizzt, a team of which he was a member, a women he hadn't seen in millenia....

There is only one explanation. Continuity itself has shifted. Some event in the past has been altered, changing all of history. Because of his awareness of the flow of the timestream, he can still remember the older path; it is unlikely that anyone else would.

One thing is certain: the source of the change is the planet known as Earth, the planet where he had reawakened. It is still at least a couple of hours away.

He redoubles his speed.

Rebel Yell sinks into a chair, the strain of the past months evident on his face. Taking a moment to really look at him for the first time, Pliable Lad is shocked at how much Yell has changed. He had always been a bit distant since Luri left the Legion, but now he is almost completely closed off, as if there is some hidden pain that he is trying to hold inside. Glancing towards the newcomers, Pli notes with some surprise that Windrider is also studying Rebel Yell intently.

Yell looks up at Drifter and Windrider. "Well, assuming you two are the people the Dvandom Stranger was referring to, it looks like you have some important friends. If the Stranger thinks we have a chance of ending this nightmare, then I can hardly pass it up. I would appreciate knowing how you got here and who exactly you are, though."

"I still don't trust them," Curly growls.

From beside the cot where Pliable Lad is sitting, Organic Lass looks at Curly, her eyes full of quiet desperation. "We have to do something soon. We lose another one of our friends almost every week, while the Knightforce just keeps growing stronger. And now with Destiny captured we won't have any warning when they strike next." Pliable Lad starts, suddenly remembering his vision of All-Knowing-Last-Chance-Whiner-Destiny Woman's capture. "The medical supplies are exhausted, we're on our last backup hideout, and we haven't been able to mount any kind of offensive for a month. We've just been staying alive, and we're not going to be able to do that for much longer."

"Ori's right, Curly." Kid Chivalry stands near the door, his twin rapiers occasionally visible past the folds of his trenchcoat. "I refuse to give up hope, but things are looking very grim. If we have a chance to really strike back at Dr. Armaggeddon, we have to risk it. Besides, the Stranger has helped us when he could; he hasn't led us wrong yet. You can at least listen to what they have to say." Pli feels a surge of pride in his old friend; Kid Chivalry, although battle-scarred and weary, is unbowed and still has much of the old courage and strength in his eyes.

Curly looks unconvinced but stays silent.

Windrider moves onto the back of a chair, and Drifter sits down. "We're friends of the LNH, or at least we were. Windrider and I explore realities, and we've been able to help you out occasionally. We were passing through and decided to stop by rac.creative."


==The inhabitants of the alt.comics.lnh reality decided to call a vote on moving into rec.arts.comics.* some time back. The vote passed and the reality was moved to rec.arts.comics.creative by the RACelestials.== The LNHers look vaguely uncomfortable with Windrider's direct, mind-to-mind speech.

"We hadn't seen rac.creative yet, which was one of the reasons we decided to stop. But when we got there, there was nothing but a blank void."

Rebel Yell looks thoughtful. "There was some talk of some realignment involving the RACelestials a while ago; I never really understood the consequences would have been. But that was before Armaggeddon."

"Anyway, we went on to alt.comics.lnh and found Net.ropolis in ruins. Windrider managed to locate you. Our guess is that some kind of retcon has changed the past, and therefore the present. In your past, what happened to Net.ropolis?"

Rebel Yell's face is cold and distant. "Dr. Armaggeddon."

From the other side of the room, Cannon Fodder starts slowly describing that day.

"We never knew where he came from. The monitors didn't catch him until after he had trapped several thousand people in downtown Net.ropolis. He demanded that the LNH surrender or he would kill them, and we didn't have much choice. UN tried to lead a strike team in to free the hostages, but a team of supervillains calling themselves the Knightforce Elite caught them by surprise and slaughtered the whole strike team. I only escaped by rushing at Armaggeddon and letting him disintegrate me.

"When I rematerialized at LNHQ, I found Curly, who was the only LNHer left behind. We started trying to make plans to rescue the LNH. That's when Plymax and Dr. Q showed up.

"Apparently Knightforce was a hero group in the reality Dr. Armaggeddon is from, and the Knightforce on his side are clones. With the help of Dr. Q, who had replaced his clone, Plymax snuck aboard the Knightforce ship and came with them to the Looniverse. Dr. Q had invented a gun that was supposed to destroy clones, and the four of us planned a raid to rescue the LNH and the hostages.

"Things went wrong from the start. Plymax was pretending to be me to distract the Knightforce, but Tower knocked him unconscious. Curly crashed into the KF, giving me enough time to free Organic Lass and Kid Chivarly, but Stormguard and three others cornered us before we could get to anyone else. Nightblade killed Dr. Q before he could ever use his gun. And then Dr. Armaggeddon got the Destructron working."

Cannon Fodder turns away, unable to continue. Kid Chivalry picks up the story.

"He had it aimed at the trapped LNHers, and all of KF was between us and him. The only thing we could do was run. The blast destroyed a good portion of downtown, and most of the LNH was incinerated on the spot. Curly got hit in the back of the head with flying debris, which was when he got his intelligence back. We barely managed to avoid the people Armaggeddon had searching for us.

"The next day, he forced every television station in the city to cover his takeover of the LNHQ. The survivors of the Destructron blast, along with Plymax, were publicly executed as traitors."

"That's where I came in," Rebel Yell says. "I was away on a leave of absence, but when I saw the television coverage, I came back to try to rebuild the LNH. There weren't very many of us left, and our numbers are getting fewer every day. Every time we manage to kill one of the Knightforce, Armaggeddon just clones another one. He even created a clone of Dr. Q from his remains."

Pliable Lad has been listening intently to the whole story. "That isn't right, though...the Knightforce pretended to be heroes, and Echo Lad and I uncovered the plot. I was the one who pretended to be Cannon Fodder."

"Could you be from an alternate timeline?" Organic Lass asks. "One where you joined the LNH and that was enough to change the outcome of the battle?"

Drifter shakes his head. "No, this is the main timeline for this reality."

==There is one way to be sure. An alternate timeline would have differences throughout the past. Rebel Yell, who was the first villain the LNH defeated after you took over leadership?==

"The Man With The Black Hat. We foiled his takeover of the UN."

==And how did the LNH defeat the Bryttle Brothers?==

"4-Color-Kid sacrificed himself to revitalize the Net."

==Organic Lass, you joined the LNH after escaping from a person who wanted to use your powers to create a biological weapon?==

She nods.

==What was his name?==

"Paul Wilson," she says, remembering him and getting slightly angry again.

==Curly, what was your name originally?==

"Rochester." His voice is almost a snarl.

==Rebel Yell, when did Lurking Girl leave the Legion?==

Yell winces, the mention of Luri momentarily cracking his emotional shields. "It was shortly after Sig.Lad defeated Acton Lord with the Sword of Sig."

==All of that is exactly the same as I saw in my earlier explorations of this group. This is definitely not an alternate timeline.==

"But none of you remember me?" Pliable Lad turns to Curly. "When Lost Cause Boy died...wasn't I there?"

"No." Curly still looks suspicious. "Just Kid Anarky, Panta, and I."

"That must be it then," Drifter says. "Somehow history was changed so that Pliable Lad never entered the universe."

Organic Lass nods. "And the changes caused by that were minor...until Dr. Armaggeddon invaded."

Gestalt Lad, who has been quietly listening to the conversation, speaks up. "You two can apparently travel through newsgroups; can you take us back in continuity so that we can fix whatever went wrong?"

Drifter slowly shakes his head. "No, continuity in a reality like this is difficult...I can't move through it."

"We haven't found this 'former Knight of Continuity' yet, though." Rebel Yell looks around at the heroes. "Do any of you know what that is supposed to mean?"

Organic Lass frowns. "I wasn't there when they discovered his origin, but according to what Ultimate Ninja said later Continuity Champ used to be a Knight of Continuity. But that can't be right...Continuity Champ is dead."

==That is highly unlikely.==

Everyone looks up at Windrider.

==I doubt Continuity Champ would remain dead. Have you had any dealings with the Drizzt in this timeline?==

From the blank looks on their faces, it is obvious that the LNHers have never heard the name before.

==Drifter can take you to the Drizztsat, his headquarters. If you want to find Continuity Champ, find the Drizzt.==

Their footsteps are the only sound. They have been searching for several minutes through the apparently deserted station, but nothing has been found. There seem to be far more corridors and chambers than could rationally exist.

Rebel Yell taps a control panel and another door slides open, revealing yet another long passage.

"I could have sworn we'd just gone in a circle, but we haven't seen this corridor before. How big is this place?"

==As large as the Drizzt wants it to be.==

As the LNHers walk on, Pliable Lad falls a bit behind, thinking about the past few hours and trying to make some kind of sense out of it. Suddenly he feels a presence in the back of his mind.

==My apologies for the intrusion, but you and I must talk.==

Sure...actually, I have a few questions I wanted to ask....

==You are wondering why you are here, if you have been retconned out of existence.==

Yes! How did you—

==You must learn that time and continuity are not constants. They depend on the person. You have an unusually strong attachment to your personal sense of time...a strong sense of "self." That is why the retcon could not affect you.==

But...but I thought it did? Didn't wReamicus Maximus prevent me from entering the Looniverse?

==He did not change you. He changed all of history around you. The Looniverse shifted, but you did not change. This is what I needed to tell you, because it will be important when the time comes to set this right. You must remember that as long as you remember who you are, you cannot be affected by manipulation of the time stream.==

But how is that possible? I'm not a cosmic being like Kid Kirby; why would everyone else be affected and not me?

==I see that you already know you are not from this dimension. I do not know much, but I can sense this: not only are you not from the Looniverse, your place of origin is not in the Net at all.==

"What's that!" Gestalt Lad's shout interrupts Pliable Lad's mental conversation.

From somewhere deep in the Drizztsat, there is a satisfied click and a low hum begins. Just ahead of the heroes, a previously locked door slides open. A figure steps through the doorway, silhouetted by a strange glowing light.

"Are you looking for me?"

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