Derelict Press presents

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                        DERELICT Press Presents

                       The twenty-third issue of

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                         " The Eleventh Hour "

                        A psuedo-Acraphobe title

._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._.'COVER`._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._.

        A large clock forms the background, a few seconds from midnight.
Paytan crouches in the foreground, ram's horns curving from the sides of
her head, fists curled tightly. Her eyes glow an empty neon green, giving
an eerie tone to the tear tracks running down her face.

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        The light from the television flickered across their faces like
drugged lighting, color/no color, light/no light. The show was a comedy,
endearing characters in bad situations, making the best of it. There was
a canned laugh track.

        No one in the LNH rec.lounge was laughing.

        "It's a brand," whispered Paytan, running her hands over the
horns again and again as she sat on the edge of the couch. "The magic is
too strong for Dirmarw to override."

        Brittany and Savannah sat to either side of her, Savannah's hands
clenched so tightly together that the knuckles were white and she hadn't
been able to feel her fingers for the last hour. Brittany took turns
watching her friend and the tops of her knees, fingers drumming the
cushion beside her as she spoke.

        "But they sent you back, right? So - "

        "So what!? The big shots know about me now. I'm a toy again. They 
just got tired and put me away for a while." Paytan's leg spasmed and she 
curled over her knees, shivering. At her side Dirmarw thrummed with a
dull, lifeless light. 

        Unnoticed in another chair, Super Apathy sat unblinking, 
transfixed by the television. Brittany looked up mournfully. "Why didn't
you tell us?"

        "I was going to," she whispered brokenly. Tears pooled at the
edges of her eyes, refracting the light until they seemed to be made of 
liquid neon. "But I didn't know how to say goodbye."

        Brittany wrapped her arms around Paytan, pulling her into a hug 
and holding her there until Paytan stopped shivering. She drew back,
serious. "You'd _better_ not know how to say goodbye. What we're going to
do right now is go into the kitchen and get you something to drink,
possibly alcoholic, and figure out what to do about this."

        "But that's just it!" protested Paytan as she was half-dragged
into the LNH cafeteria, and from there into the vast cooking facility
that had survived so much through the ages. "There's _nothing_ we can
do."

        Which left the rec.lounge full of empty chairs, Super Apathy Lad,
and the comedy show. The television beamed out flickers full of color and
life into an empty, lifeless room.

        Paytan was not much improved a few minutes later, as she started
violently and sent her glass across the room to shatter against the
opposite wall. "I might as well just shoot myself right now! Right now!
Oh God, I don't think I can take this anymore." She sank to the linoleum
floor, her back resting against a metal cabinet, all the life and tension
and anger going out of her all at once, head buried in her arms. Brittany
frowned.

        "Well, they made the mistake of letting you get back to us. And
now you've got access to weapons, access to reinforcements, access to
one," she hefted her fishbowl, "cosmic power, and they've let you out of
their sight."

        Paytan reached up to touch one of her horns again, and Brittany
slapped the hand away with a glare. "Cut it out, you're as bad as Lady
Macbeth with a new bottle of hand soap. They're just horns Paytan."

        "They don't feel like 'just' horns. I feel like they already got
me, and this is just some ghost me, sitting here waiting for the curtain
to come down."

        A hand came down on Paytan's shoulder, and she looked into eyes
the color of dark steel. Savannah's voice was quiet and intense. "So
don't wait anymore. Do something." She stared down Paytan until the older
girl had to look away. Brittany nodded in agreement.

        "Exactly. C'mon, let's go."

        "Where?"

        "To get reinforcements."

        "Brittany! Where's Paytan? Someone just told me - " Allen slammed
through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Brit grinned.

        "See, here's one now," she said, just as Allen ground to a halt,
staring wide-eyed at Paytan.

        "Oh my God," he whispered.

                      -==-             -==-

        Kismet wheeled back around, wind tossing her hair as she came
back at the man hovering over the LNHQ. Had been hovering, anyway, as her
last punch had sent him tumbling helter skelter through the air. He
righted himself just in time for her to lean into her swoop and send the
edge of a razor sharp wing slicing right into his chest.

        He was hurting the heroes, and maybe her friends, too. And as far
as she could tell, he was the cause of that big crater in the center of
the city. Which meant he was worse than she had thought.  He wasn't even
hurting bugs, he was hurting _people_.  She flapped and came around for
another attack, when suddenly the air around her was full of plasma,
setting her skin afire.

        She slammed her wings around herself like a shell and fell, the
plasma sliding away from her as the surface of her wings became a smooth,
almost frictionless surface. By the time she regained control the villain
was far above, smiling down at her hatefully. A glow enveloped his hands,
crackling with lighting.

        Kismet gritted her teeth, and braced herself just as the world
went bright on her. At first she thought she had been hit, until she
looked up and saw the man far above, hanging limp in the air with no
glow, no heavenly powers echoing around his body.

        Then he fell.

        And even the bodies of bad men, it seemed, were no match for cold
pavement.

                      -==-             -==-

        Reflexes took over and Allen targeted Paytan's horned head with
the gun he pulled out in moments. "What did you do with Paytan?" he
snarled.

        Lights exploded in his head, and he staggered a little. Shaking
his head to regain his senses, Allen looked around to see Brittany
holding a plush fish and shaking a finger at him.

        "Don't point guns at people. It's not nice."

        "I am Paytan," Paytan snapped at Allen.

        "I think I can tell a demon when I see one," Allen retorted,
bringing his gun up again, but making sure he was away from Brittany this
time. "The horns are a bit of a give-away."

        Paytan fingered them again, ignoring the 'stop it' hissed at her
from Brittany. "These weren't my idea."

        "She really is Paytan," Brittany said. "Your one, true -" She
stopped at the glare she got from Paytan and Allen. "Look, just ask
Binky."

        Allen spared the goldfish a glance, then asked the other girl.
"What do you say, Savannah?"

        Savannah, aware of Brittany's outraged expression at Binky being
dismissed so abruptly, answered quickly. "She really is Paytan."

        "Question then...'Paytan'," Allen said, exaggerating the quotes
around her name. "A question only the real Paytan can answer...what
underwear are you wearing?"

        Paytan blinked a moment, then snatched the plush fish from
Brittany and threw it at Allen. "Pervert!"

        Allen knocked the fish aside, but then lowered his gun. "Correct
answer," he said, grinning. But then his face grew serious. "So, what is
the deal with the horns?"

        "Evidently it's been the minor demons summoning Paytan all this
time. They're weak, and their powers are easily dispersed once they've
sent Paytan back. But now one of the big ones knows about her," said
Savannah. Allen hid the gun again, and knelt by Paytan's side.

        "Then why are you still here?" he asked, putting a hand on her
leg.

        "It's like warning someone before you bomb their building,"
choked out Paytan. "Heightens the terror. Makes for better feeding."

        Allen frowned. "Looks like it's working." He raised his hands in
defense as Paytan made to throw another one of Brittany's fish at him.
"Well, look at yourself."

        "What am I supposed to do!?"

        "Fight back," Allen stood, a determined look on his face. "If
they think I'd just let you go like this - "

        "Exactly what I said. To arms!" Brit snagged her plush fish from
Paytan, grabbed her friend by the ponytail and commenced dragging her
from the room. Allen slapped at her hand, which earned him a glare but
got Paytan free. They all headed toward the weapons room, with
Brit and Savannah a few steps ahead.

        Allen walked beside Paytan, one hand curling protectively over
her shoulders. "Look, if this comes down to a big fight, I want you to - "

        She stepped to the side, knocking his hand away. "We can deal
with this on our own!" She crossed her arms over her chest, clenching and
unclenching her hands. Allen just watched her for a moment as they
walked.

        "You're still claiming that? Even now, you say you don't need me?"

        Paytan glanced up at him, then away again, like a nervous bird,
the anger evaporated and replaced by a brittle sort of fear.  "Allen, I
don't know anymore, about - about anything. I don't think I'm going to be
here tomorrow. That doesn't leave much room for a long-term relationship.
Maybe it would be better if we just - "

        She fell against the wall with his hands clenched tightly on her
shoulders, his face inches from hers. "I will not loose you. Understand?"

        "Allen - "

        "Understand!"

        Paytan looked away, gaze sliding off his eyes and toward the
floor. "Fine."

        "To think, I came to ask you camping. And now this." He slid his
arm around her shoulder as they walked, and to his surprise got no
resistance as she leaned in heavily, head buried in his shoulder. One of
her horns dug into his skin, and he tried not to wince. "So they're
permanent?"

        "For as long as permanent lasts, anyway," whispered Paytan.

                      -==-             -==-

        Bryan crept quietly back into the embrace of his team, the Junior
Brotherhood of Net.Villains. Or tried to, anyway.

        "Hello Bryan." Mr.Fossavellus leaned casually against one of the
cement struts that supported the roof of the warehouse. Dust stepped out
of the shadows behind them, arms crossed. "We missed you."

        To Bryan's embarrassment he immediately flushed a bright red.
"Good thing I'm back, then. How's Censor Girl?" He glanced over to the
cyborg sitting in the corner. Her cybernetic eye was shuttering rapidly,
the red color flaring in and out. "She doesn't look so good."

        Mr.Fossavellus spared a glance for her, then turned back to
Bryan. "Ah yes, but she's been here the entire time. Where _all_
of us had agreed to watch her. Where did you go Bryan? You missed your
shift."

        Bryan continued to flush. "I, ah... "

        "I bet he was with a _girl_." Hooded Ho'od Win Jr. fell out of
the shadows, giggling. "Were you Bryan? Were you with a _girl_?" In the
corner, Censor Girl began to glow.

        "Janey." Mr. Fossavellus's voice rang out in the darkness, and
the sniggering stopped. "Bryan for all your... enthusiasm, one wonders if
you even care so much anymore about our little - issue." Bryan ducked his
head. The Reality. They had killed Floatation Girl, and he had just let
the subject drop.

        Janey sidled over to Dust. "I bet he was. With a girl."

        There was something between a squark and a pop from Censor Girl,
loud enough to stop the conversation. She was standing in the corner, the
glow fluttering around her, casting twisting shadows across the floor.
Her arms twitched and jerked, one of her hands beating against the wall
with a rhythmic clang clang clang.

        "What's going on?" Bryan looked for something he could charge up
to explode in case he needed it. Mr.Fossavellus did nothing to answer
him, merely watched the cybernetic woman thrash mindlessly back and
forth.

       Then the glow snapped away and left her standing with no aura of
heavenly light, nothing. The silver carapace peeled away like wrapping
paper and drifted to the floor in swiftly shrinking shreds.

        Which left Censor Girl, back to her old self, the way they had
first seen her. She dropped to her knees on the cold pavement, clutching
herself wide-eyed.

        And began to cry.

                      -==-             -==-

        Brittany stared in wide-eyed wonder at the thick book Savannah
held out to her. Strange symbols crossed the cover in squiggly lines, and
the pages were folded and worn.

        "The hoverbike manual!" Brit flung her arms wide, and Savannah
got her hands out of the way as Brit grabbed the manual and clutched it
to her chest, spinning round and round. She finished with a small jig,
holding the manual cheerfully.

        "You're welcome." Savannah stood to the side, out of harm's way,
and smiled. At the other end of the hallway Paytan and Allen were
talking, and this was a good way to distract Brittany while they waited
for them to catch up.

        "This is great! I thought this was gone forever! How'd you get it
back?" She was already paging through it, mouthing out the sentences as
if that would make them easier to understand.

        "A boy gave it to me. I think he's a superhero or a villain or
something." Savannah closed her eyes for a moment, as if she could smell
the roses again merely by thinking about them.

        "Do we know him?"

        "I'm not sure. I think he's seen me before, but that could just
be because some news program ran footage of us for an LNH spotlight.
They've got T-shirts for most of the main players in the LNH, so they may
have some kind of memorabilia for us," said Savannah, and cringed
inwardly. If someone, somewhere, had created a coffee mug with her face
on it she might have to resort to physical violence. Or at least a very
unhappy letter.

        "Um, Savannah, how heavy _do_ you think the media coverage of us 
is?" asked Brit hesitantly, just before Allen and Paytan caught up with
them, hand in hand.

        "So, what's the plan?" Allen looked them both over coolly. Brit
whipped out a piece of crumpled notebook paper from one of her pockets.

        "Guns worked pretty well against demons last time, so I'm
thinking lots of those would be good. If anyone has any weird talents
they've left unmentioned, now would be a good time to say something."

        Brit paused, waiting. No one spoke. "Okay, plastic explosives
then, definitely. Does anyone know where Kid Kirby is? Or Master
Blaster?"

                      -==-             -==-

        "Fold." Paytan dropped the hand to the ground and leaned back
against Brit's hoverbike, dragging a hand across her forehead. Her horns
hit the black plastic with twin thunks. Allen frowned at her.

        "You've folded every hand," he said, giving time for Brit to
reach out and snag Paytan's hand before the neo-sorceress could stop her.

        "A full house!" shrieked Brittany, giving Binky a liberal
jostling. "A full house, and you folded!? I have one pair! I always have
one pair, and for some reason they're always fives." Brit frowned,
staring at her own hand. Paytan snatched her cards back, and tossed them
at Allen so he could shuffle them into the deck.

        "I just don't feel much like playing right now, okay?" she
reached up to run her fingers along the rim of her left horn.

        The four of them sat in a circle beside Brittany's hoverbike, a
load of guns tied to the sides of the ebony conveyance. They were waiting
for the air to flux around them and suck her away again. If things
worked right they'd go with her, like Jynx had. Into hell.

        They couldn't find Kismet. The golden-winged girl hadn't been
around for a while, not since the nuclear plant had a meltdown. Hopefully
she was safe. As far as things went, four people coming along was already
too much or not enough. There wasn't any way one more or less could tip
the balance.

        Anything could tip the balance, hissed Dirmarw into her head.
Paytan winced.

        "Do you want to get her killed, too?" she mouthed, hoping no one
would notice. Allen was already dealing the next hand.

        We need all the power we can get, said Dirmarw, and she could
feel him shifting things around in her mind, tense.  You can't even
siphon energy from one dead boy without getting his personality stuck
inside your head, let alone something complicated.

        Paytan bit back a reply, and picked up the hand she had been
dealt, sorting the cards idly. Allen's hand rested on her leg. She looked 
up at him for a moment, and his eyes narrowed. She felt his hand twitch
as he tensed in protective anger.

        Savannah sat across from her, eyes half-closed as she stared at
her cards. Brittany was holding hers in front of Binky, as if the fish
would care. The temperature began to rise, slow and steady as if it
wanted to give her time to really realize what was happening.

        Brit pushed a few sticks and stones into the ante pile at the
center of their little circle, then turned to the next page of the
manual. She had been physically attached to the thing since Savannah gave
it back to her. "Paytan?" she looked up, inquisitive.

        Paytan sighed, almost in defeat, and pushed her entire cache of
pebbles into the pile. "Might as well," she muttered, as Brit hopped onto
the bike and dragged Savannah behind her, the temperature beginning to
skyrocket.

        Allen grabbed her, hands clenching so tightly that she almost
cried out. The air began to go paper-thin, and she saw Brittany grab
onto Allen, wrapping her arms around his middle. Dirmarw hummed angrily
in her mind, and she felt the air tear away to nothing around her.

        The light flared, casting shadows sharply against the splintered
wooden walls, and faded away, leaving an empty shed behind,

                      -==-             -==-

        She couldn't find them anywhere. She had looked for what seemed 
like hours, from the roof to the flight.thingee bay, even the shack 
Brittany kept her strange black automobile in. She had covered every inch 
of ground around the LNHQ, and seen not a trace. There was only one place
left, and Kismet certainly didn't relish going there. But her wings ached
from the strain of flying and the wounds she had received from the
strange flying man, and this was all she could think of to do.

        The twin entry doors to the LNHQ swung open slowly, their faint
creaks reverberating into the LNH Lobby and echoing from wall to wall like
thoughts in the head of a giant. The ceiling arced overhead, plaster
cracked in areas and chunks missing here and there. At the center of the
room, just in front of the doors, the LNH receptionist on duty looked up
and raised an eyebrow. The room was at most one-fourth the size of the
smallest room Kismet had ever been in.

        "May I help you?" asked Kyoko, setting her pencil aside as Kismet
continued to stand in the doorway, peering uncertainly at the walls.

        "Yes," said Kismet, stopping when her voice was almost consumed
by the walls, turning into nothing but a faint whisper before it reached
Kyoko. It wouldn't do to speak like this, yelling back and forth from the
doorway. What if the woman didn't hear her right? Anyway, things like
this were beginning to seem a little silly after all her time here. After
all, if the humans could take it... Kismet took a deep breath.

        And stepped across the threshold.

        The walls of the building closed around her, and she swore the
ceiling dropped several feet. She managed a few more brave steps forward
then shuddered to a halt, wings shaking so hard her feathers rattled.

        "I am looking for Brittany, Paytan, and Savannah." She made sure
she spoke clearly, so she wouldn't have to repeat herself.

        Kyoko peered down at her desk register, then glanced up, smiling
politely. "I don't think they're here right now. They went out a few
hours ago, and no one's come back in."

        "Ah. Thank you." Kismet spun and dove for the door, already in
flight by the time she cleared the steps leading up to the building. The
sun covered her back with heat and she beat her wings as strongly as she
could, wind whipping through her hair as she rose up, up, higher than the
LNHQ, than any building in the city, drinking in the space and emptiness
until her hands stopped shaking.

        Then she turned and leveled out, laying out a crosswork path over
the city, just low enough to make out the people. If her friends weren't
in the superhero headquarters then they must be out in the city, involved
in some kind of trouble. Saving people, or needing to be saved, maybe.

        Kismet kept looking.

________________________________________________________________________
Binky, Dirmarw, Kismet, Mr.Fossavellus, the Junior Brotherhood of
Net.Villains, Out-of-It Lass, Perdition, Weirdness Girl, copyright
Jennifer Whitson, 1995. Censor Girl is Public Domain. Faq Boy is Jamas
Enright's, used with permission.

Next Issue:

        Over to Fan.Boy #20, for the final fate of the entire crossover!

        And back at Misfits, into the heart of the maelstrom. What will
          happen to Paytan? Can she even be saved? Will everyone survive?

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