Limp-Asparagus Lad #3 Subplots Advance By Saxon Brenton Editing by The Mystic Mongoose ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Cover: Shows an ant's eye-view of the LNHQ lobby. The perspective is from behind the top of the head of a non-costumed man, whose face cannot be seen at this angle, who is lying on the floor facing Organic Lass (who is kneeling bedside him with some medical equipment) Ultimate Ninja and Limp-Asparagus Lad (both standing) and Fred (behind the reception desk). ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Joe and Terri (Fourth Wall Lass to the rest of us) were having lunch in a relatively quiet cafe in Net.ropolis. Definitely a lot more quiet than at the LNHQ cafeteria, at any rate. Terri had taken most of the day off, and it was still hours before Joe's evening shift. They planned a light lunch, rounded off with the daily screening of the Dinsdale Tape. There was a commotion at the front of the cafe. Joe craned his head, and saw that there was a hold-up taking place. A guy with a shot gun was waving it at the cashier. His attention was brought back by a gasp from Terri. He turned as she announced, sotto voice, "This looks like a job for... Fourth Wall Lass..." but he grabbed her hand to keep her still before she could slip across the threshold of the fourth wall. "Don't do that," he hissed. She glared at him. "What!?" "Watch," he said. Then he mumbled something. To Terri it sounded like "banana peel in _just_ the right place." Outside there was a loud report as the gun went off. The robber had slipped on a banana peel that definitely hadn't been there before, or perhaps had only been hidden by the contrasts of light and shade on the garish tile mosaics, discharging his gun into the ceiling as he fell on his back. Two waiters were on top of him almost immediately. "There," said Joe. "All fixed, with a minimum of fuss." "Well done, Retcon Lad," Terri said with wry sarcasm. "You know, you're just like your cousin." A frown creased Joe's brow as he reflexively brought up a mental image of his cousin, best known to the world as Limp-Asparagus Lad, for those who knew of him at all. A non-descript young man with grey eyes, and hair that was either blond or light brown (or something; I'll just rip off Piers Anthony and say it's hair coloured, okay?), who tended to talk in a monotone, had no sense of humour, and who went around dressed in a green spandex costume allegedly fighting crime. "I am not!" he countered emphatically. She chuckled. "I mean you both try and avoid melodrama." "Yeah, well. Maybe. Just so long as that mutual habit doesn't include gaudy costumes and the name 'Retcon Lad'," he said, pointedly. "But you did so well," she grinned, teasing. He put his head in his hands in embarrassment that was only partly false and insisted, "I don't wanna talk about it. It was embarrassing, especially the way the spandex kept riding up my rear end." She laughed, and after a second of blushing he joined her. "You really should learn to subvocalise when you run off your explanations, you know. You sound like some nutcake when you mumble like that." He shrugged. "It's not like I ever need to practice." "I suppose so." He paused. "Do you think that's enough character exposition?" Terri massaged her temples. "You know, I find it really strange that other people use the fourth wall even more aggressively than I do." "I'll take that to be a 'no'," he said before addressing her comment more specifically. "The rest of us really can't do that much damage with it, you know It's mostly comic relief. A few off the cuff comments, a bit of foreshadowing, underscoring a few plot elements..." "Yeah, yeah. But if I start playing games..." "Major league damage to the plot, near instantly." he grinned. "With great power comes great responsibility," he intoned facetiously in a pompous voice. "I guess so. And to answer your question, _now_ I think we've done enough character exposition." "Good, my steak's beginning to go cold," he said, hoeing into his meal ravenously. Back at the LNHQ, Limp-Asparagus Lad was being briefed by Doctor Stomper on the results of his most recent medical. "Physically you're in good shape. There is, however, one abnormality." "And that is?" "Weirdness." "Pardon?" Doctor Stomper turned and threw a switch. A screen lit up, with what seemed to be a graph of some type. "This is a profile of your body's weirdness factor over the past few years. Most superheroes have an enhanced weirdness factor greater than that of normal people, which is why they keep having adventures, encountering crimes, villainous plots, and general Threats To The Continued Existence Of All Everything. Some heroes have higher weirdness factors than others; Swordmaster's, for example, is particularly high. Your weirdness factor has increased slightly just recently, but has now stabilised and now seems to be just outside of normal superhero range." He turned to the Man of Dull and said, "Technically speaking you can now be classified as a weirdness magnet." Limp-Asparagus Lad thought about this. "That would tend to explain a lot. If I'm a weirdness magnet, then I don't have to be an interesting person myself to have interesting stories." "Correct," noted Doctor Stomper. "If necessary your writer can arrange for things to simply happen around you. A relatively efficient means of circumventing them restrictions of your personality, though it will means you'll end up playing 'straight man' a lot." "I usually do in any case." He paused in thought for a moment. "That does presuppose though that my current writer can produce interesting stories at all." Hey! "That's something that you'll have to work out with him yourself," replied Doctor Stomper. A wounded figure shambled his way towards the LNHQ. He looked badly hurt, but no-one made any moves to help him. This wasn't _just_ because of the general callousness of the human race, but because the way he kept glancing back over his shoulder and up gave the distinct impression that he was fleeing from something that belonged in the general category of phenomena that included supervillains, superheroes, attacks on Tokyo by Godzilla, _lots_ of property damage, and a short lifespan for innocent bystanders who got in the way. The man finally made it into the lobby of the LNHQ. As he collapsed, Fred immediately pushed several of the emergency buttons under the desk, including the ones to summon immediate medical assistance and a response squad of Legionaries. The response squad made it there first. They glanced at the prone body, then took up positions by the door in case something big and nasty, or even small and nasty, tried to follow him in. Organic Lass was next, and as efficiently as ever began to assess his condition. Ultimate Ninja came and stood beside her, wanting to talk with him should the Mistress of Molecules deem him capable. The man was in obvious pain, but managed to gasp out "W.I.R.E.D.... " "Keep still," Organic Lass told him, running a medical scan.thingee over him. Then, by the amazing powers of coincidence, Domestic Lad and Limp- Asparagus Lad wandered past, discussing tomorrow's lunch menu. L-A Lad paused as he recognised the bleeding man. He walked over, quietly. Ultimate Ninja looked at him, clearly indicating that if he had no business here he should be gone. L-A Lad returned the gaze calmly and nodded slightly, indicating a need to stay. UN nodded in return, and turned back to the patient. The man's eyes widened as he caught sight of L-A Lad. "You," he almost spat. "Keep still," reiterated Organic Lass. The man ignored her, and was becoming quite agitated. "You stupid little git." Ultimate Ninja put his hand to his hilt of his Ginsu sword and said to his fellow net.hero, "You know him?" "Yes. He's Bob Melwizcht, formerly the Exclamation!Master!" replied L-A Lad. "And if I'd've stayed that way I wouldn't be in this sh*t! You twerp! Look at me! Only normals die when they get roughed up this bad! As E!Master! I could've escaped!" Organic Lass injected him with a sedative, but anger had brought his powers to full, and the dosage wasn't anywhere near sufficient to overcome the dramatic necessity of him continuing to rant at L-A Lad. "Only non-supers get used as a pawns! Only non-supers have no control over their lives!" L-A Lad looked at Ultimate Ninja. The ninja nodded, and L-A Lad began to apply his drama dampening field. "Bob, that's not true," he said in what was probably meant to be a soothing manner, but simply came out as bland as everything else he ever said. "Most superheroes have even less control of their lives than the normals do." "I know about that!" the former villain managed to yell before the combination of the drama dampening field and the sedative began to take their toll. "But I also know that to balance that dramatic tension they get the option to returning from death," he hissed. "Normals don't get that." "What happened?" L-A Lad asked, trying to draw him away from the unpleasantness that rankled him. "Ha! W.I.R.E.D. still wants you, punk. They wanted me too. They seem to think our powers'd make a great matching set. Well, thanks to your stupid attempt to 'save me from a life of crime', they won't be using mine. Fat chance of hoping for the same to happen to you," he said bitterly. He coughed blood. Only at that point did Ori's scan.thingee begin to show something was wrong, as Bob hissed, "You're an a*hole," cursing L-A Lad with his dying breath. She slapped her communicator.thingee and yelled "wReamhack, two to sickbay. Now," and they vanished. For a moment all was quiet in the lobby. The Ultimate Ninja waved the others to keep their positions, and motioned for L-A Lad to follow him to the sickbay. It turned out that Bob had died before even reaching the sickbay. This had irritated Ultimate Ninja, though not quite so much as losing a patient irritated Organic Lass. The LNH leader had been thorough, and had reviewed the debriefing video that L-A Lad had made on the subject of Exclamation!Master!, as well as those made on W.I.R.E.D. by Coma Kid, Continuity Champ Jr, and L-A Lad, plus any other relevant information available. But since these characters have all made so few appearances to date, that wasn't particularly much. He did note from the roster that W.I.R.E.D. (We Intend Rule & Eternal Domination) was a vast Hydra-like operation, and that gave him pause when considering tactics for how to assault them. Vast conspiracies were particularly tough nuts, not so much to crack, but to make sure that one had properly dealt with every last part of the organisation so that it did not reform from some overlooked division. In the end he had called up Fourth Wall Lass as soon as she had come back on shift after her date, and assigned her and L-A Lad to trace Bob's assailants back to their point of origin. They were to reconnoitre W.I.R.E.D.'s operation, but not engage them in conflict, and then return with strategic details so that the ninja could assemble an appropriate strike force. Which brings us to now: "You ready?" asked FW Lass. "Yes," Limp-Asparagus Lad replied, carrying the heavy duty scan.thingee he had been issued with. Fourth Wall Lass took his hand, and led him across the threshold of the fourth wall. On the other side was a vast area that was, in and of itself, featureless. Yet it included two types of phenomena, both of which seemed to be, well, _alien_ to the place. They were there, but they were things that were clearly _in_ the area rather than part of the area itself. This first was the multitude of panels that floated, detached from anything that could hold them up. On the other side of each panel was a scene from a story that was taking place within r.a.c.c., or had taken place or would take place in case of the likes of flashbacks and out of sequence stories. From here, Limp-Asparagus Lad knew, Fourth Wall Lass would be able to follow Bob back along the panels that constituted his personal plot thread (even though it had not appeared on panel in the story proper) to the point where he had been harmed. Depending on the circumstances of where and when that had been, the two of them would review the past events, then trace each of the participants back along their personal plot threads, repeating the process until they were confident of having a reasonably thorough overview of the whys and wherefores of W.I.R.E.D.'s premises, agenda, and members. It would probably be a long and tedious process, not the L-A Lad was ever concerned by tedium. The second feature that dominated this side of the fourth wall was, of course, the presence of the readers. They were not as clear to see as the panels, since from the point of view of the two of them the readers were all observing from roughly the same place, and thus appeared to the casual glance to be an overlapping montage of hundreds, perhaps thousands or even millions of faces. But their existence was unmistakable, and very... immanent. The feeling of being under intense scrutiny was not an intimate sensation, as was normally the case when a character talked across the fourth wall to his or her writer, one-on-one. It was more like being on stage, and feeling the eyes of the audience on you. If you were subject to stage fright then it was an unpleasant situation, and it was made worse by the fact that, unlike actors in a play, characters in LNH stories usually did not know the script in advance and had no opportunity to rehearse. "This way," said Fourth Wall Lass, starting off in a direction that seemed to be slightly to the left and obliquely up to the orientation of the panel they had just come through from the LNHQ. L-A Lad followed her, keeping close since he did not want to get lost and knowing from past experience that there was no way he could navigate the panels himself. They went back to Bob's arrival at the LNHQ lobby, then followed him back through the streets of Net.ropolis. They found he had taken his wounds from various sources, including being shot during his escape, and being roughed up both during his imprisonment and at the time of his capture. The imprisonment was relatively short, and did not seem to take place at W.I.R.E.D.'s main base, which probably explained why Bob had been able to escape so relatively easily. Fourth Wall Lass took notes for each person and place that might be useful to trace, while L-A Lad used the scan.thingee to records significant pieces of action and dialogue. They noted with interest the boasts of one of the W.I.R.E.D. operatives that Bob's powers of drama inducement were considered an obvious complement to L-A Lad's drama dampening field. Fourth Wall Lass looked at L-A Lad quizzically. "When they had me under their control as Dark Limp-Asparagus Lad [see the Coma Kid and Continuity Champ Jr limited series - SB] W.I.R.E.D. was planning to use my drama dampening powers to bring the Looniearth under their control. The increase in power levels that always occurs when a hero darkens into evil was going to be magnified with boosters to cover the whole world. Apparently they planned to do so again, both with myself and Exclamation!Master! It's actually a reasonably sound plan. Our respective powers would tend to cancel out when boosted like that and then used together or against each other, but if alternated they could easily drive the world to distraction with constantly changing mood swings, making it highly susceptible to a W.I.R.E.D. take-over." Having finished at that spot, they also went back and viewed a few days of Bob's life through significant panels. And, sure enough, in a few cases they were able to pin-point W.I.R.E.D. operatives, sequestered in the background, but who FW Lass was able to identify by the presence of captions with wording like: 'Meanwhile, danger lurks nearby!'. FW Lass took note of them as well. Then they started methodically tracing the other people, and quickly identified what seemed to be W.I.R.E.D.'s main base. They snooped around it, taking note of security installations, layout, personnel numbers and distribution. By this time they had been going for well on eight hours, and were considering calling it a night. This was particularly so when, while recording some very recent dialogue from one of W.I.R.E.D.'s leaders, a pompous little man called Renwit, they discovered that this was but one renegade faction of W.I.R.E.D., acting to overthrow not just world governments, but against other W.I.R.E.D. factions as well. Fourth Wall Lass sighed. "Very, very much like Hydra." Then a thought occurred to her. "But why should they be faction riddled? I mean, Marvel's Hydra ended up that way mainly because there were multiple conflicting depictions of them, and they needed the excuse to fit them all into continuity. W.I.R.E.D. haven't appeared enough times to need that." "It's probably just the writer trying to emphasise how big, powerful, and varied the threat from W.I.R.E.D. is, so as to create a sense of foreboding and dramatic tension as to whether we can ever fully deal with them all," theorised L-A Lad. Partly. Actually its mainly because The Mystic Mongoose wants them to be recurring villains, so I can't afford to let you wipe out more than one splinter faction of them. "Oh." Fourth Wall Lass yawned and said. "Fine. Whatever. We should finish off here for now, go give UN our preliminary report, then come back after we've got some sleep." "Yes," concurred L-A Lad. "Let's finish recording this conversation, then go." But it was just as well that they stayed for that final bit of dialogue, for they were shocked (well, FW Lass was shocked, L-A Lad was mildly but unpleasantly surprised) when Renwit ordered that the operation to lure Limp-Asparagus Lad into W.I.R.E.D.'s clutches by kidnapping his cousin as bait was to begin. Earlier that evening, several people had entered the LNHQ sickbay. They had exhibited all the hallmarks of being a mysterious subplot. They had simply appeared from out of nothingness. They had been dressed in some type of black armour that masked their identities. And, their presence had not set off any of the alarms. There had been four of them, and they had waved devices that looked vaguely like scan.thingees, seemingly taking readings. One of them had seemed to get something, and gestured to the others, who had followed him over to the meditube that held the remains of the former Exclamation!Master! They'd opened the meditube, lifted the body out onto a stretcher, then vanished, taking the body with them. To be continued next issue in: Revelations ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Credits: Limp-Asparagus Lad by Saxon Brenton, created by The Mystic Mongoose and wReam Exclamation!Master!, Fourth Wall Lass, and Joe by Saxon Brenton Coma Kid, Continuity Champ Jr, and W.I.R.E.D. by The Mystic Mongoose Domestic Lad by Ken Schmidt Organic Lass by Rebecca Drayer Swordmaster by Tick Ultimate Ninja and wReamhack by wReam Doctor Stomper and Fred by Public Domain All characters (c) and (tm) their respective owners and/or creatorsBack to the Index.