________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #25 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [The cover is a repeat of the last scene from #24, with Marsha, Agent, Missy and Rick looking at Barry, only this time everyone but Barry is asking "What are you doing here?"] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "The Best of Both Worlds." Somewhere in Net.York... There are...*things* in Net.York. Unpleasant things. Things that lurked. Things that hunted. The citizens of Net.York knew better to venture out after dark. The things were out there. Waiting. _-~-_ Somewhere in Phila.DEL.phia... "Thank you," said Agent, politely, as he accepted a cup of tea. He looked around, for once uncertain in events. Only a few minutes ago, they had pulled up in front of Barry Knewbee's house. Barry Knewbee who was missing. Barry Knewbee, who's wife they were going to explain to that they were still looking for him. Barry Knewbee, who had opened the door and invited them in for a cup of tea. [As seen at the end of _The Alt.Riders #24_ - Footnote Girl] None of them, Agent, Rick, Marsha or Missy, was expecting that. Accepting the invite was easy enough, they were sitting here now, but who was giving them the invitation... "Where were you?" Marsha finally asked, as she took the cup of tea that Alice, Barry's wife, offered her. "Thank you." "What you mean?" Barry replied, looking puzzled. "I've been right here. With my family." "You were missing," Marsha insisted. "The fight with Faq Lord. You disappeared suddenly. And now you're here?" [That happened in _The Alt.Riders #21_ - Footnote Girl] Barry shrugged. "I don't know what to say. I...didn't know you were missing me." "You haven't seen us in years," Rick put in. "And now we're here, you don't really seem surprised to see us." Barry smiled. "Hey, I'm happy with Alice. I thought I'd just take some time off and be with her. Besides, you could have called sooner," he pointed out. "You were missing!" Marsha said again. "You aren't supposed to be here!" Alice joined her husband, perching on the arm of the chair he was sitting in. "I don't see what all the fuss is about," she said. "The LNH knew he was here." "He...what?" Agent asked, feeling very confused, and not happy about it. Barry sat back. "Oh, me and the guys get together often for some role-playing. We rotate games. I GM some D&D. Wendle GMs some Vampire. Joe seems to be addicted to the defunct Torg system..." He shuddered theatrically. "He GMed a war between Narnia and Xanth. You just don't want to know." None of them were quite sure how to take that. "What a GM?" Missy asked. "So, what have you guys been up to, anyway?" Barry asked. "Oh, been in Limbo," Rick replied. "Had our minds played with. Fought with a villain who broke our noses. The usual." A silence filled the room. The four Alt.Riders threw glances at each other, but none of them could think of a single question that could express how flumoxed they were. "Daddy?" The four whirled around, almost jumped up in alarm, as the new voice came from behind them. "Hey, guys, calm down," Barry said, leaning forwards. "Come here honey." A young girl carefully stepped forwards from the doorway, almost a miniature version of the woman at Barry's side, although her blond hair only reached her shoulder, not flowed down her back. She reached Barry's side, who scooped her up in the hug. "Guys, you remember my daughter, don't you?" he asked, beaming at his little girl. "Abby?" Rick asked, unable to believe his eyes. Barry caught the question. "It has been a few years now. Honey, these are Daddy's friends." Abby stared at them, wide-eyed, as Barry introduced the others. "She's blue!" Abby announced, upon seeing Missy properly. "That's right," Barry confirmed. "She's a Chub, from... What is your planet called, anyway?" he asked Missy. Missy was looking at Abby as intently as the girl was watching her. Lifting one hand, Missy waved it up and down, and was pleased when Abby copied her. "You need to come with us," Agent said, abruptly. Barry didn't look up from Abby. "Why?" "I don't think you are Barry Knewbee," Agent replied. Everyone stared at him. "Are you kidding?" "He seems like Barry to me." "I'm not going with you." The replies came quickly, but Agent just raised his hand. "I want to see the Net.Elementalist." The others turned back to Barry. That was, they had to admit, a valid point. "What?" Barry asked. "The Net.Elementalist. That's who you are. Show me," Agent ordered. Barry barely gave consideration to the idea. "No. I keep that part of my life outside this house." Alice nodded. "Let's go outside then," Agent replied evenly. "Come on. A quick burst of flame. Won't take but a moment." "No," Barry repeated, starting to look annoyed. "Look, I don't know what's gotten into you, but I'm not some trick performing poodle at your beck and call. I have my own life to consider, and if that's all you want, you can leave now." Agent stood. "I think we will leave. But we're not done here." Rick, Marsha and Missy also stood, now more uncertain than before. They waved goodbye to Abby, who waved back, as they followed Agent out of the house. "What the hell was that all about?" Rick demanded, as they got back to the car. "I don't think he's the Barry Knewbee we know," Agent replied. "What the hell was that all about?" Marsha asked. "And I mean the whole freaking deal. That was Barry Knewbee, I'm certain of it. But..." "'But' indeed," Agent repeated. "Until we know more, we're not trusting him. You saw his eyes." They had. And that was the strange part. Marsha shrugged. "Maybe he knows how to get rid of the visor," she offered. It was a standard part of the Net.Elementalist's outfit, a visor that wrapped around his head. It wouldn't be the first time that Barry had removed part of his costume, but this was the first time any of them saw him without his visor. "I could run test," Missy volunteered. "I doubt he'd be any more receptive to that idea," Rick replied. "We're going to start with something more fundamental," Agent said. "Like what?" Marsha asked. Agent looked at Marsha. "Oh, don't worry. It very much involves you." _-~-_ Somewhere in Net.York... There are...*things* in Net.York. Unpleasant things. Things that lurked. Things that hunted. The citizens of Net.York knew better to venture out after dark. The things were out there. And the other thing. The thing that hunted the things. The thing that killed the things. The thing that, if you were lucky, only killed things. The thing that, if you were lucky, and you were a thing, only killed you. The thing that killed the things was out there. Waiting. _-~-_ Somewhere in Net.ropolis... "Yeah, of course I knew Barry was around. Didn't you?" Joe Forsythe, aka. Retcon Lad, asked. Marsha frowned at him, as she sat across from him in the LNHHQ cafeteria. "You do know he was missing, don't you?" she inquired. "Missing? Um..." Joe paused to think about it. "Really?" "He was helping us fight Faq Lord. Then, poof, he was gone. I know we reported it." Joe shrugged. "Guess I didn't see that memo," he said. "But, hey, he's back, huh?" "We're not sure," Marsha replied carefully. She looked around to make sure they weren't overheard, then noticed the cafeteria was nearly empty. Odd, usually it had a constant stream of heroes in and out. Now it, like the rest of the building, seemed strangely empty. "Have you...seen Barry use his powers?" she asked. "Yeah, sure, lots of time." "I mean, recently." Joe opened his mouth to reply positively, but paused. "Uh...no. Can't say that I have. But then, who needs the Net.Elementalist when you're only fighting imaginary demons with a +2 sword." "You did notice his eyes, right?" "As in being able to see them?" Joe said. "Yeah. So he can remove his visor now, what of it?" "Doesn't it add up to being more than a little strange?" "No more than you're being right now," Joe replied carefully. Marsha sighed. "I guess. It's just that something about this doesn't feel right." "Ah, Dva, you are here." Marsha looked up to see Doctor Stomper enter the cafeteria. "We've been receiving some strange reports about something happening in Net.York, and was wondering if the Alt.Riders could..." "Of course," Marsha replied, standing up. To Joe, she said "I'll see you around?" "Yeah," Joe replied. "I'll let you know if I see Barry doing anything odd." Marsha smiled wryly, easily detecting the soft jibe. "Thanks, you do that." _-~-_ Somewhere in Net.York... "Is this really a good idea?" Morph asked, as he and Dva walked down a dark alleyway. "We're tracking you fine," Agent replied over the earpieces they both wore. "Anything happens, we'll be able to back you up." "Swell, from all the way back in your nice safe van," Morph muttered. Net.York by day attracted a lot of tourists, but Net.York by night might as well have been on the moon with all the people they didn't see around them. Morph shivered involuntary as the light from the actual moon above them filtered down through the buildings and fire escapes to through creepy shadows onto the wall. "You getting any readings at all back there?" Morph asked over the link. "Lots of heat signatures, but they'll be the pipes around you," said Agent. "Nothing of significance on the mystical scanners, but they aren't entirely reliable." Morph had that last point confirmed when something dropped onto the path before him. It had teeth, claws, wings, and lots of muscles. This last was proven as the beast reached out, grabbing Morph by the head, and squeezed. However, the beast received its own surprise when Morph oozed out of its grip. "Not so fast," Morph said through gritted teeth, driving a metal arm deep into the beast's body, and through, dragging internal organs along with it. The beast slumped around Morph's arm, and collapsed when Morph extracted himself. Dva waved away the fumes from the body as much as possible, but a stench still pervaded the air. "What did you do that for?" Agent yelled over the earpiece. "Hey, I was being attacked here," Morph returned. "I'm not going to stand around and let something like that use me as a basketball." "Well, now," Agent returned. "There's no chance of using that thing to find out what's going on, is there!" "You were planning on asking it questions?" Morph asked. "I thought we might try to follow it around, see where it led us," Agent replied. "You couldn't have explained that before?" "I wasn't expecting you to play shish-kebab with the first creature you met!" "Morph." This last was from Dva, and Morph spun around to see what the matter was. And saw the matter in the form of a hulking great beast that could barely fit in the alleyway with them. "Dva, Morph," interrupted Agent over the earpiece. "There's an incredible spike of mystical energy right near you, get out of there!" "I think we found it," Morph replied, as he and Dva started backing away. "Can I attack this thing?" As it happened, the demon attacked first. A paw swung out, connecting solidly with Dva, knocking the superhero into a wall. Fortunately, Dva's body was suited to absorbing the damage, and come out of it annoyed. "Hey, ugly, enough of the hands-on approach!" "I got it," Morph said, slamming another metal arm forwards. It crashed into the demon's body, but otherwise had no effect at all. "Hey, you can't do that!" "The mystical energy is protecting it," Agent said hurriedly. "Get out of there, now." Needing no further encouragement, Dva and Morph turned and ran for the end of the alleyway, with a thuddering of footsteps close behind. They fell into the open street, which was entirely deserted for as far as they could see. The citizens of Net.York obviously had better ideas about being out at night than they did. Morph turned to see the demon close behind, slowed slightly by the clutter in the alley. "Yeah, guys, we could use some back up right about now." "We've got another spike of mystical energy incoming," Agent reported. "This is probably what we came to find." "I'm so happy for you," said Morph, watching the demon free itself. "Get out here and help us, NOW!" Morph vainly raised his arms to protect his face, which meant he missed the burst of fire that exploded around the demon. The heat, however, washed over him, singeing him. The demon roared, but, as Morph opened his eyes, otherwise didn't acknowledge the fire storm about him. Taking one step forward, the demon left the conflagration, and shook the remaining fire from its skin. Snarling, the demon leapt upwards, swatting at something that Morph was momentarily too dazzled to make out. There was another roar, then a thud as something landed nearby. Dva pointed to an object, and Morph's eyes opened wide as he saw that it was one of the demon's arms. "What the hell is going on out there?" Agent's voice broke through Morph's daze. "That's a very good question," Morph replied. "Hang on." "No, I will not hang on, I insist..." Whatever came next, Morph didn't hear as he ripped the earpiece out and threw it away. "You talk to him," he told Dva, then leapt into the air himself, growing wings for support. In the air, Morph rapidly caught up to the demon, but something was odd about it. It looked to be moving very slowly. Beyond it was a white figure Morph couldn't make out. Suddenly, the demon sped up to normal speeds, but by that time the figure in white had darted away, and became blue. Something flew from the figure's hand to attach to a nearby building, but a far larger mass of blue suddenly expanded around the demon. Morph saw the blue mass expanding towards him, and moved quickly to get out of the way. However, something grabbed him and pulled him out of the path of the mass, before it suddenly shrank into nothingness, taking the demon with it. Morph swung down on an arc, finally crashing into the side of a building. Looking upwards in the abrupt silence he saw some kind of thread connected to him and the figure in blue. With a shock, Morph realized that the figure in blue was the missing Net.Elementalist. _-~-_ "So you decided to join us, after all," Agent said, as they gathered around the van. The Net.Elementalist's eyes darted around the streets of Net.York around them, always watching for the next attack. "What?" "Well, you didn't sound like you were going to leave them," Agent expanded. "Although it is nice to see you back, it would have been nicer to know you were around." The Net.Elementalist scowled at Agent. "I have no idea what you're talking about. I've been here for the past few weeks, fighting the demons." Now it was the turn for the rest of them to scowl. "What?" said Marsha. "We were at your house this morning, and spoke to you there!" "It wasn't me," was all the Net.Elementalist replied. "There are more demons out there. And something else, driving them to attack. If we can find that, we might be able to stop this city was living in fear." "Hey, I'm all for that," said Rick. "But I'm thinking we should pause for a moment. Marsha's right. We were at your house. We spoke to you. You don't remember that?" The Net.Elementalist sighed. "I haven't see any of you since that fight with Faq Lord," he explained, trying to be patient. "After triggering my thread powers, I got shifted into a killfile that I barely escaped from. I roamed the net, working out how to use my powers properly, and eventually got back to this universe. I arrived in Net.York, found out they had a demon problem, and have been here, fighting it. And now," he concluded, "if you are quite finished wasting time, I, at least, want to get back to it." The Net.Elementalist's outfit turned blue, signifying the power of Thread, and he shot a strand of thread out to fix to a building. "Anyone else coming?" He waited a moment, then pulled himself up and away, leaving the rest of the team behind. "Does anyone want to explain what just happened then?" Rick asked. "I could do tests," Missy volunteered. "If he's the Net.Elementalist, and he's not the guy in Barry's house, then who is the guy in Barry's house?" Marsha asked. "*If* he's the Net.Elementalist," Agent said darkly. "Aren't they one and the same person?" Rick continued. "We need to get them together to sort this out," Agent said. "And run tests?" Missy asked. "I don't think either of them will be too willing to go with that idea," Marsha pointed out. Agent reached into the van and pulled out of gun. Then, retrieving a packet of tranquilizer darts, started loading it. "One of them," he said, slotting another dart into place, "isn't going to have a choice." _-~-_ Somewhere in Phila.DEL.phia... "I really wish you hadn't asked me to help," repeated Joe, yet again, as he exited the car. Agent rolled his eyes, while Marsha replied. "We really couldn't have done it without you," she said. "If you hadn't retconned that dart into hitting him, we'd never have the chance to help him. And you do see now that something is wrong." Joe sighed. "Yeah, I do. One person, two separate bodies, that can't be good." He looked to see Rick opening up the car boot. "But did you really have to put him in the trunk?" "It was the only place we had room," Agent replied, helping Rick with the Net.Elementalist's prone body. As Marsha approached the front door of Barry's house again, Missy was finishing some tests in the back seat of the car. "DNA sequencing confirm it Net.Elementalist," she reported. "Mystic profile also match." "So we know that this one is real," Agent said. With Rick's help, they got the Net.Elementalist up to the front door. "Now we test the other one." Marsha rang the door bell, but kept throwing glances at the unconscious body. This wasn't going to look good to whoever opened the door. The door opened, and Marsha heard a gasp. Not daring to look back, Marsha saw Alice staring at the figure of the Net.Elementalist. "Hello, Alice," Marsha said calmly. "Is Barry in?" "He...uh..." Alice made vague hand motions towards the living room. Marsha smiled tightly, and gently moved Alice to one side, allowing Agent, Rick and their cargo to enter. Missy and Joe followed, Joe stopping to apologize to Alice for this intrusion. In the living room, Barry had half-risen from his chair to see who was at the door, but sat down again abruptly as Agent and Risk deposited their load in a nearby chair. "Who is that?" Barry asked, his voice barely above a whisper. "Good question," Agent replied. "Quickly followed by, who are you?" By now they had all gathered. Barry didn't respond as Missy quickly took a scraping of his skin for her machine. "Barry," Joe asked, going to kneel by his friend. "Do you have any idea what is going on?" Barry shook his head mutely. Alice also took her place by her husband's side, completing a division in the room. On one side was Alice, Barry and Joe, on the other was Agent, Rick, Marsha, Missy and the Net.Elementalist. Agent reached down to slap the Net.Elementalist about the face. "Hey," Barry complained, but was silenced by a glare from Agent. The Net.Elementalist slowly rose to wakening. "I want answers," Agent demanded, "and I want them now." A beep drew everyone's attention to Missy. She quickly scrolled through the results of her latest test. "He same," she said. "DNA, quantum resonance, although he only have residual mystical trace." "Damn," whispered Agent. The quantum resonance match meant that they were from the same dimension, ruling out the possibility that one of them was Allen [Barry's dimensional counterpart from another universe who came to our one in _Fan.Boy #6_ - Footnote Girl] or some other dimensional twin. He then noticed Missy was still studying the screen. "What is it?" "Some minor variance in wave packet formation," she replied. "Which means?" Missy shrugged. "No idea. Need more tests." "What the...?" They looked to see the Net.Elementalist now awake, and staring at Barry. "What's he doing here?" "We're here to sort this out," Agent said. "One of you isn't the real one, so we're going to find out who is." The Net.Elementalist glared at Agent. "You shot me! Took me away from Net.York. I need to get back there." The Net.Elementalist started to rise, but Agent pushed him back down. "How, exactly, do you expect to tell which is real?" Joe asked. Agent opened his mouth, but nothing came out. "You don't know, do you?" "Well. I was..." "Make them touch." The group looked at Rick, who had spoken last. He shrugged. "Generally, getting two people who are supposed to be the same to touch causes one to blank out." Missy considered this. "Could be cancellation of like particles. Big explosion," she added. "Maybe we don't want to do that then," Joe offered. However, Agent responded by heaving the Net.Elementalist out of his chair, and straight at Barry opposite. Everyone flinched as they crashed into each other, but slowly opened their eyes as they found themselves to be unannihilated in an explosion of energy. What they saw was the Net.Elementalist lying in Barry's lap, where he had fallen, and both of them glaring at Agent. The Net.Elementalist pushed himself up. "If you're quite finished fooling around, perhaps you'll let me go back to finishing what I started." Alice, meanwhile, was studying the Net.Elementalist's face. Tentatively, she reached out a hand. "Barry," she whispered, as she placed her hand on his cheek. Not untenderly, the Net.Elementalist reached up and removed it. "I have to go. Net.York needs me. I have no idea what damaged you've done by dragging me here." "Pity you no have sensors there," Missy put in. The Net.Elementalist stared at Missy for a moment, then whirled to Joe, his all over black costume becoming brown as he did so. Bringing his hand up, he clenched his fist, then opened it, revealing a bubble that sparkled from within. ------- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ------- ---- ---- | X | ---- ---- | X | ---- ---- | XX | ---- ---- ------- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ------- "Retcon Lad," he said. "Can you make it so that I left these sensors around the city of Net.York?" Joe considered it for a moment. "Yeah, I guess. But the longer ago you try to retcon-" "Do it," the Net.Elementalist ordered coldly. Joe gave the Net.Elementalist a strange look, then closed his eyes. A few moments later, he opened them. "It's done," he said quietly. Red sparks lit up inside the bubble, flowering inside until about three quarters of the sphere was red. "As I feared," the Net.Elementalist said. "Without me there, the demons have run over the city. I have to go now." Putting action to word, he strode towards the front door, his outfit becoming white, representing the net element, which allowed him to fly by lagging the air around him. "Wait, we'll come too," Agent said. The Net.Elementalist made it to the door without replying, then said over his shoulder. "Fine, I'll meet you there." Outside, the Net.Elementalist rose into the air, quickly disappearing from view. "Do you mind if I tag along?" Joe asked. "I think..." Agent said slowly. "We'll need all the help we can get." As the Alt.Riders left the room, Joe turned to Alice and Barry. "Don't worry. I'm sure everything will be fine. See you Tuesday for the next session?" Barry smiled at Joe in thanks, and nodded, but there was a haunted look to his expression, and he reached out to grasp Alice's hand tightly as Joe left. _-~-_ Somewhere in Net.York... The Net.Elementalist landed in a clot of demons, his outfit changing from white to red. Flame burst from him, incinerating the street around him. And the demons. Clearly, these ones weren't as powerful as the one he meet before. Checking his sensor regularly, the Net.Elementalist moved throughout Net.York, clearing away the beasts, the invaders, the things. A few hours later, the sun rose, ending the work he needed to do. At least, the work regarding the demons. There was still the power behind their appearance, although he had no ideas about tracking that down. A van pulled up to his location, and he turned to see the other Alt.Riders and Retcon Lad disembark. "Good," said the Net.Elementalist without greetings. "Now you are here, you can help me track down the thing behind this." Looking at Missy he asked, "Where you able to get any readings from my sensors to triangulate a likely position?" Missy opened her mouth to answer, but Agent cut across her. "Before we go into that, I want to get one thing straight right now. You work for me. I'm in charge here, and I don't want you doing anything I haven't ordered." The Net.Elementalist met Agent's stare, the effect rather disconcerting considering that the Net.Elementalist's eyes were behind a black visor, a band that circled around his head. Leaning forwards slightly, he said just loud enough for Agent to hear. "What makes you think I work for you? I don't need you anymore." Agent replied, just as quietly. "And yet, who was just asking for help? You can't do this business without help, and that help means my leadership." "We'll see," the Net.Elementalist replied, before straightening up, and saying louder. "Fine, you're in charge. What's your plan, o great leader?" The others knew something had happened then, but weren't sure what. However, Agent didn't give them any time to speculate. "Missy, your report." "Underground," she said. "There caverns under this city. Large one is largest source of mystic energy. That probably source." "What's the fastest way there?" the Net.Elementalist asked. Agent flicked a look at him, but didn't say anything. "There look to be entrance that way," Missy pointed. "Let's go," Agent ordered. "Wait," said Retcon Lad. "You're just going to barge in, just like that?" "That's what we do," replied Agent. "That's why we're the Alt.Riders. We go in where other people wouldn't." The rest of the team didn't look exactly thrilled by that summary of their role, but followed Agent nevertheless. _-~-_ Somewhere under Net.York... The tunnels were hot. Whilst Retcon Lad had been able to have them remember to bring spelunking gear, there wasn't anything he could do about the waves of heat rising from below them. Torches from their helmets pierced the darkness, but they could barely make out enough to avoid falling over. There was no way to tell what lay below them. The tunnel widened, giving them a chance to fan out, and try to take a last minute breath. The Net.Elementalist stalked the cavern impatiently, and Retcon Lad moved to intercept him. "Barry," Retcon Lad started uncertainly, then continued. "What happened to you?" The Net.Elementalist barely looked at Retcon Lad, unable to settle down. "Nothing happened to me. I just want to get to the bottom of this." "That's good to hear," Retcon Lad said slowly. "But aren't you going a little...gung-ho about this? Is there anything else bothering you?" "How about irritating little twerps that just don't leave me alone!" the Net.Elementalist barked into Retcon Lad's face. "Can we go yet?" he asked, before heading into the next part of the tunnel. The others followed, Dva pausing beside a hurt Retcon Lad. "He doesn't really mean that," Dva told him. "There is something very wrong about this, and he's...not quite right." "I know, but..." Retcon Lad shook his head. "Let's just go." When they caught up to the Net.Elementalist, they found their answer. Just beyond the lip they were perched behind was a large cavern, large enough that the other side was a mere haze. There was no need for torches as a roaring fire filled the bottom of the cavern, casting flickering light over everything. Over the dezidens inside. There was no doubt that this was the place. Demons and beasts crawled or flew over the surfaces. Most of them were sluggish, many asleep, managing to hang on by a claw gouged into the cavern walls. Occasionally, one would land on a large pillar that rose in the centre of the cavern to gaze adoringly at the figure standing there, before taking off again. Retcon Lad looked at the figure in the middle and winced. "I recognize him," he told the others. The Net.Elementalist nodded, but didn't speak up. "That's Karmic Death. Barry and I have met him before." [In _Fan.Boy #22_ - Footnote Girl] "He has the ability to touch people, and...balance their karma. Usually resulting in their death. He sees himself as some kind of judge or angel or something. He's quite insane." Karmic Death stood on the pillar, in rugged clothes that stood up to the heat well, and wore a jumper with a white hood that hid most of his face. His mouth could be seen, and it was twisted into a smile as he gloried in the beings around him. "Here's the plan," the Net.Elementalist said. "You distract the demons, and I'll take him out." There was something in his voice that Dva didn't like. "How do you mean 'take him out'?" "I mean killing him," the Net.Elementalist said bluntly. There were gasps around him. "Hey," said Dva, "I'm not killing anybody." "Why am I not surprised?" the Net.Elementalist muttered. "Look, he's a menace. Killing him is the simplest option." "I think there might be better plans we can try," said Morph. "We can just grab him and-" "Uh, I'm not necessarily agreeing with the Net.Elementalist here," Retcon Lad put in. "But if you touch him, that's it. Any contact, and you'll be just as dead." "Right. No touching," Morph confirmed. "You stay and talk if you want," said the Net.Elementalist. "I'm gone." And a moment later, he was. The white figure flew out into the cavern, immediately drawing the attention of the demons around him. They flew to his position, but their pace slowed as the Net.Elementalist exerted his lagging abilities. "Crap." Dva reached out, dampening the flying abilities of the beasts around them, sending them tumbling out of the air until they fell below the area of influence. Morph jumped as well, changing until he had armoured wings that could bear his weight and let him fly. Anything flying too close was treated to a skewer, but some of the larger ones headed his way, intent on taking him out. Retcon Lad started forwards, although he wasn't quite sure what he could do. However, Agent put a restraining hand on his arm. "Wait." The Net.Elementalist approached the main pillar, considering his options. If he let down his net ability to use, for example, flame, the demons would swarm him as he fell from the sky. Even thread would leave him exposed. For now, he had to stay with net, although that severely limited his offensive options. Touching down, the Net.Elementalist studied Karmic Death, remembering how last time he had barely gotten away alive. And Retcon Lad not even that (although he wasn't quite certain about his memories of that point). "Karmic Death," he finally announced. "I have come to stop you." Although there was no sign Karmic Death could see through the hood, nevertheless there was a focusing of attention on the Net.Elementalist. "Have you come to be judged?" "No. In fact, I've judged you." The smile on Karmic Death's face became wider. "Ah, but that is my gift. I bestow it on people who are worthy. Such as these demons." The Net.Elementalist couldn't quite see the connection. "These demons are, well, demons. Not people," he elucidated. "But they do so enjoy the gift I bring. They terrorize this city, and then, when they are ready, I bestow my gift on them. They die so beautifully." Now the Net.Elementalist could see it. Somehow, these demons thought that the death Karmic Death brought was a good thing. After the evil the demons wrought, balancing their karma would result in an incredible release of goodness. The euphoric release that also brought death, but one they thought was worth it. And one that Karmic Death also liked. "No more. The demons stop now. You stop now." Karmic Death brought his hands forwards, towards the Net.Elementalist, but not touching yet. "You are mistaken. Come, receive my gift. Receive my judgment." The Net.Elementalist eyed the approaching beasts. Despite his lagging, they were getting very near. Suddenly, he made a decision. What the hell. The pillar exploded in a fireball that consumed the entire cavern. _-~-_ Somewhere in Sin.ci.net.ty... The Net.Elementalist was quite surprised when he woke up. Not by where he was, the medical bay of the Alt.Rider headquarters, but because he had woken up at all. The last thing he expected was to actually survive the explosion. He turned his head to see Retcon Lad sitting in a chair nearby, head down, nearly asleep. Looking around, there was no-one else in the room. Carefully, the Net.Elementalist pushed back the sheet over him, and moved into a sitting position. Checking his body, he was amazed to feel almost no pain at all. What had happened back there? Standing up, he made for the door when a voice stopped him. "Oh, Barry, you're awake." The Net.Elementalist turned around to face Retcon Lad. "Do you know anything about this?" the Net.Elementalist asked. "How did I survive?" "I did it," Retcon Lad replied evenly. "On Agent's advice, I was watching you carefully. When you went to Flame, I made sure that you only gave off enough of an explosion to knock everyone out." There was silence as the Net.Elementalist merely looked at Retcon Lad. "Everyone else is fine, by the way," Retcon Lad continued. "Karmic Death is back locked up again. The demons have dispersed. Net.York is safe once more." "Never get in my way again," was all the Net.Elementalist said. Angrily, Retcon Lad jumped to his feet. "You were going to *kill* everyone!" he yelled. "Me, the Alt.Riders, everyone!" "That was my decision," the Net.Elementalist replied. The anger flowed from Retcon Lad, leaving only coldness. "I don't know you," he spat, then left the room before the Net.Elementalist could say anything more. By the time the Net.Elementalist found the other Alt.Riders in the cafeteria, Retcon Lad was long gone. The Net.Elementalist took a long look at the others, wondering if any of them would accuse him. Morph pulled out a chair. "Ba..." He started again. "Netty," he said, using the diminutive pronunciation of 'Net.E'. "The name is Net.Elementalist," the Net.Elementalist said firmly. "Fine. *Net.Elementalist*. Sit down." The Net.Elementalist took the offered chair, but didn't otherwise respond. "We've been talking about it. We don't know what's going on, but we think you should stay with us. Stay on the team." "I feel so wanted." "Listen to me," Morph said, in a hard tone. "You're a danger. To yourself, and to others. We can use your help, but you can use ours too. You have to trust us. We do want to help." The Net.Elementalist took in the looks of the others. "Well, it looks like we're one big happy family again. Can I go out to play now, daddy?" "Stop that," Agent snapped. "Fine, I've got work for you. For all of you, in fact. There's a lot happening out there, and we're the front line. We're a team, so let's act like one." The rest of the 'team' regarded each other warily as life tried to return to normal... -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: The Net.Elementalist has returned, with a lot of power. But can even that match up to the power of Speeed? CREDITS: The Alt.Riders and Karmic Death are mine. Retcon Lad and Footnote Girl belong to Saxon Brenton. NOTES: Actually, although I knew how I wanted to bring back the Net.Elementalist, I wasn't going to do this. Then Saxon started using Barry, so the idea formed that Barry was never missing. And this reintroduction is the result of combining both ideas. Blame who you will...Back to the Index.