Limp-Asparagus Lad #17 Tea With The Fan Dragon; Or: Fight Scene With A Whole Lotta Weirdos Written by Saxon Brenton --------------------------------------------------------------------- Cover shows an aerial shot from slightly above Retcon Lad and Fan.Boy. Retcon Lad is looking upwards towards the viewer with a look of surprised fear. A huge shadow of whatever he is seeing covers them both. Fan.Boy is looking off into the distant horizon, oblivious to what is above him. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Retcon Lad piloted a Legion of Net.Heroes net.thingee across internewsgroup space. In _Fan.Boy_ #9 he and Fan.Boy had 'borrowed' it to go off in search of answers to a nagging question they had uncovered. Of course, since they had 'borrowed' it without proper authorisation 'steal' may have been a more appropriate descriptive verb, but they were planning on returning it when they'd finished and 'steal' was such an ugly word anyway. The answer they had been searching for seemed to have been found. Well, in part anyway. They had a working theory on the suspicious number of counterparts of Fan.Boy across the dimensions; it seemed likely that when Barry Knewbee had been replicated into the Net earlier in the year to create Fan.Boy in the Looniverse in alt.comics.lnh, other Barry Knewbees had been created on other newsgroups as well. It was almost as bad as the Bose Effect that had created so many counterparts of Mark Friedman all over the place. [_Dvandom Force_ #42 - Footnote Girl] All they had to do now was figure out _why_ and _how_. And were there any nasty lingering implications that they should know about in advance? However, in the process of unearthing this answer, even if it was only a partial one, other questions had been raised. Like, why had some of the inhabitants of the various newsgroups that they had visited so far vanished in bursts of flame? On the other hand, the question currently nagging RLad was: if Fan.Boy had a form of alt.telepathy link with his counterparts, then was this a violation of what had previously been thought about the way alt.telepathy worked? He glanced across to the near-inert body of Fan.Boy, sitting in the co-pilot chair beside him with duct tape over his mouth. At the same time that the two net.heroes had discovered that Fan.Boy could swap his mind into the bodies of his counterparts, it had also become apparent that his own body, working on 'automatic' while F.Boy's mind was away, would simply adopt a heroic pose and repeat "I AM FAN.BOY!". This was inconvenient, since Fan.Boy's power to stun people by pronouncing punctuation at them was undiminished, regardless of whether he was technically mindless at the time or not. This was why the duct tape had been necessary. RLad had suggested a test to see if Fan.Boy could swap his mind with a counterpart in a newsgroup other than the one he was currently, physically in. It had been reasonable to assume so; after all, Fan.Boy's ability to read other newsgroups was guessed to relate to the fact that he had counterparts there. If he could make mental contact to read posts, then he might be able to make mental contact to swap minds. And Fan.Boy hadn't come back yet. Well, Retcon Lad knew where he had gone. Or intended to go. Alt.games.torg. He'd catch up with him there. He hoped. In the meantime he was reviewing Dr. Stomper's ideas on alt.telepathy. Basically, that alt.telepathy was an extension of the link that identical twins shared. An idea that probably would have been laughed at in Real Life, but fortunately the Looniverse wasn't Real Life. Superhero universes, especially ones like he Looniverse, took as given all sorts of ideas and phenomena that would have been dismissed as - at best - hallucinations and tabloid fantasies, or at worst as malicious frauds. Things like aliens, psychic powers, magic, and world-girding conspiracies behind the assassination of J.F.K. Stuff like that. It was one of the benefits of being in a universe that was based on golden and silver age comic books, and with a generous dose of other pop-culture added for good measure. You were always being given some interesting new problem to deal with. In the Looniverse, the Amazing Randi was a professional parapsychologist who had a much harder job than his Real Life counterpart in trying to separate the real examples of weirdness from the frauds. In any case, Dr. Stomper believed that alt.telepathy was supposed to function only between alt.versions within a particular universe, with identical twins being prime examples. And possibly clones too, although that did not seem to be universally the case Retcon Lad thought as he remembered details from a file he had read on Question and Answer, the twins grown from cells of the late Trivia Master. [_spaceQuest Raven_ #1 - Footnote Girl] That was also borne out by the experiences of Swordmaster, but then the leader of the Load Island Renegades had apparently been too busy fighting his doppelgangers to take time out to find out if he could read their minds. [Any issue of _Swordmaster_ where Swordy fights himself. There have been a few: #s 0, 16, 19 and 20 - Footnote Girl] In any case, Fan.Boy's ability to contact _extradimensional_ analogues of himself seemed to go against this basic premise. Was this because Dr. Stomper's original theory had been wrong due to lack of evidence? Or was it because all the various Barry Knewbees were supposed to have been ultimately derived from one source, thereby making them an exception? Or was it simply because in a shared-author fanfic universe continuity could never be ensured 100% and this Writer was simply being anal in worrying about it at all? Retcon Lad noted that he was approaching alt.games.torg, and put these questions out of his mind as he prepared to land. There would be time enough to talk with Dr. Stomper about them later. Now, where would Fan.Boy be? Probably the general discussion area. From what Librarian Lady had said about the makeup of alt.fan.pratchett, there would be various counterparts to the published settings, plus one area acting as a hub from where all the others would be the subject of conversation. [_Limp-Asparagus Lad_ #7 - Footnote Girl] He threw a look over his shoulder. Fan.Boy's body was still obviously on autopilot. He turned back to the controls. Then a voice beside him went, "Arrgh!" almost startling RLad into crashing the vehicle he was piloting. He risked a quick glance, and saw a rather peeved-looking F.Boy peeling the tape from his mouth. "Was that _really_ necessary?" the other asked pointedly. Suppressing a smirk, RLad countered with, "Well, I had to do _something_ to keep from being stunned. What took you so long, anyway?" "Oh, I was talking with people I met. Guess I lost track of time." He craned up to look out of the front windows. "Over there," he said, pointing. RLad followed this direction, and set down not far from a group. "So that's what you look like here, huh?" mused RLad "Looks pretty normal, actually." Fan.Boy threw him a suspicious look. "Why did you want to know?" Retcon Lad looked a bit guilty. "Well, this is a multigenre RPG setting. I kinda wanted to see who you were here. You know, fantasy, sci fi, cyberpunk, pulp adventurer, or whatever." "You know, I hadn't known you were into playing RPGs." "Still do a bit. But in all honesty, I kinda stumbled onto the fact that this group has really deep discussions. Sometimes they get sidetracked on the framework used to support the multigenre stuff, and go off into these wonderful metaphysical ramblings..." Fan.Boy rolled his eyes. "_More_ metaphysics?" Retcon Lad flushed bright red. F.Boy grinned and said, "Come on." They exited the net.thingee and waved to the others. This was, of course, standard courtesies of showing friendly intentions to a group that _might_ contain cyberpunks or post-apocalypse warriors, and thus at best be moral vacuums, or at worst totally corrupt, paranoid, and/or psychotic. As it turned out, however, they were just a bunch of normal people. Well, except for the big hairy green creature with the bat's wings called Garbage Guts. Fan.Boy's counterpart turned out to be named Barry Knewbee, just like all his other counterparts so far. And just like all the other Barrys, he was a fan. Fan.Boy had to bluff his way through the first five minutes of conversation by pretending to know what his counterpart was talking about, but this was relatively easy, since Barry talked a mile a minute and all Fan.Boy had to do was nod and make 'mm-hmm' noises. A horrible thought then occurred to Fan.Boy. Was this how other people perceived him? A babbling fan who couldn't be understood, just placated and kept happy by agreeing with everything he said and ignoring him the rest of the time? That embarrassing question of self- discovery must have shown up clearly on his face to someone who knew what to look for, since Retcon Lad gave him an embarrassed nod. Fan.Boy thought about this and shrugged. Hey, that's who he was. Some ten minutes later, after introductions had been finished, Fan.Boy noted to Retcon Lad. "You know, for an RPG group there doesn't seem to be much in the way of action around here." "Most of it's in the genre-specific areas," Garbage Guts rumbled. "So, like, nothing much ever happens around here, eh?" This was an off-handed comment, but nevertheless was still one that Fan.Boy would shortly come to regret. The view for the reader changes; the scene with Fan.Boy, Retcon Lad, Barry and Garbage Guts and the others vanishes, to be replaced by one dominated by a rather rotund middle-aged man in a suit and with a spade beard sitting in a chair. "Good day ladies and gentlemen. I am M.alt.o, Keeper of the Cosmic Balance and a parody of a DC character so obscure that I really don't know why I bother mentioning it." "Of late, it may have come to your notice that recent issues of the net.comic you are now reading have become excessively cerebral; all airy-fairy ideas with little substance. While the Writer begs your indulgence on these matters, he is nevertheless aware that accusations of writing theses in LNH net.comic form are not without foundation. To this end, he has arranged for the pace of this rather slow issue to be speeded up with a gratuitous fight scene. "Before it begins, however, a small note is in order. Since this _is_ taking place in a multigenre RPG newsgroup, it is reasonable to expect an attack by an eclectic group, however unlikely such a grouping would normally be because of inter-factional politics and rivalries. "What is less predictable is who the belligerents will be. While it is true that the obvious choice is a coalition of enemies from the standard repertoire of Torg villains, it is also true that there are other groups equally deserving of an appearance. These groups are the little-used creations of the overactive imaginations of the people on alt.games.torg, because a.g.torgites simply _love_ creating interesting new genres as RPG settings. With this in mind, I return you to the fight scene now beginning." "Where the Hell did they all come from?" Retcon Lad exclaimed as out of nowhere (literally) suddenly appeared scores of mismatched miscreants of malevolent purpose. "Maybe they were hiding behind the bushes?" suggested Fan.Boy. "We need help!" claimed Barry decisively. "Wait a moment while I call the others with the Law of Summoning." "Say what?" "Each reality has its own rules to define its genre," explained Garbage Guts as it flexed its talons. "Most of this area operates under the rules of the Black Marble Wombat. That means he can call up the rest of the guys with the Law of Summoning." Barry drew in a breath and shouted, "Hey, everybody! Fight scene! Kansas Jim! dave! Smooge! Shaun! Steve! Joe! Rick! Megan! Bruce! David! Dan! Terry! Aaron! Gen-ichi!, Mathias! James! Sakai! Ron! Sam! Michaael! Terence! Jeremy! Brian! Justin! Clay! Kevin! Daia! Saxon! Timothy! Fred! Chris! Cryiael! Colin! Del! Sten! Grant! Loren! John! Carsten! Renaud! Papillo! Garrett!... Come a running!" And suddenly, the place was filled with alt.games.torgites! Instant crowd scene, man. Instant fight scene too, for that matter. Spells were cast, miracles were invoked, psionics were activated, martial arts poses were struck, and technology of all sorts (plain, weird, or occult - take your pick) was unleased. Bizarre special effects bathed the scene in all sorts of strange colours. Fan.Boy found himself busy fighting one of the furry, anthropomorphic animals from Stalamin when he heard a fanfare blaze out. From the corner of his eye he caught sight of a force rallying around a number of banners. "The Danorian contingent," Barry called out to explain over the din of battle. "And who's that you're up against?" F.Boy asked, noting that Barry's opponent looked like something out of Picasso's cubist period. "A toon?" "Nah, although there's certainly enough of them about. This guy's almost certainly from the surreal reality of F'tipapetang. There's a number of them about too, but their shapes are all so different that the only real way to identify them is the fact that they all look like video images that haven't been properly dubbed onto the background." "This is just too much," Fan.Boy muttered. "Yeah, well, you just wait until the people from the sex reality of Eros show up," Garbage Guts said from nearby where it was disembowelling a werewolf from Weird. "What!? We can't show that!" practically screamed Retcon Lad from where he was grappling with figment of a deranged imagination from the Dreamtime. "Huh?" "Look, this is all appearing in a net.comic on alt.comics.lnh. And one of the Big Rules on that newsgroup is: No Explicit Sex. Self- Righteous Preacher'll have our guts for garters!" "Oh? Okay then, I guess we'd better try and finish off this fight _before_ the Erosians turn up," Garbage Guts said without any particular concern. "Yes! Let's!" RLad replied with a near-panicked emphaticality as he knocked the figment unconscious with a well placed retcon and then turned his attention to a cowboy from Frontier who was wearing a Black Hat. Suddenly, a blast of energy from above vaporised a large part of the ground not far from where the grinning, laser-wielding socialists from the Bolshevik Space Opera were engaged in a three-way firefight with some undead gunslingers from TexArcane and horribly disfigured mutants from the post-holocaust Wasteland. Fan.Boy risked a glance up to see... a giant, 1950s style radioactive prehistoric monster! "It must be from Monster Island!" he heard someone cry. "But that write-up was never posted!" someone else protested. "So? Neither was the Bolshevik Space Opera." "Oh, yeah. That's right." In the melee Fan.Boy was once again jostled up against Barry. "Is this c00l or what?" cried his counterpart, who was busy blasting away at deevs - the evil genies from the World of the Djinn - with a bazooka. "What. Definitely what," F.Boy told his analogue. "Don't we run the risk of being stepped on and turned into street pizza or something with that giant scaly whassit about?" "Wha? Oh. Oh no, not really. See? He's already being taken care off." Fan.Boy followed the direction of Barry's pointed arm, and saw a giant anime-style mecha warrior enter the field of combat. For a moment it stood frozen, but radiating speed lines in massive quantities. Then with a mighty heave it leapt at the atomic horror and began to wrestle with it. "Where did _that_ come from?" called Fan.Boy. "Oh, uh... Good question. Nobody's ever actually gotten around to posting an anime reality write-up yet, though there have been a few preliminary discussions of ideas. Off the top of my head I'd guess it's from the adaptation Wally the Intrepid was planning earlier this year. Or possibly from the one Kimble Foster was working on back in '93." Then Barry paused. "Hey! How come I'm breaking the fourth wall so much?" "Ah, sorry. That'd be us. We come from the Looniverse, see, which is a superhero parody universe. We're always breaking the fourth wall back home." "Oh, right. Guess that'd explain it," Barry said. "Stoopid fourth wall," grumbled Garbage Guts. "Almost as bad as the nasty deadthings." Then it had to break off to deal with some Hiveworlders, who as they approached chastised it for using treasonous independent thinking, and kept maintaining that it should join Society because 'Mother Is A Part Of Us All'. The battle continued. Mind you, things were briefly hampered when the tactics of the people from Brighsteph, the musical reality, got out of hand. Suddenly, everybody found themselves singing in a giant, improbably well choreographed musical Event. But although the noise was atrocious (by dint of the fact that most of those present couldn't carry a tune to save their lives) this was not a particular impediment to the continuation of the fight. Rather, the true hindrance came from when the pseudo-Godzilla and the giant mecha threw their arms around each other and began a rockettes routine, causing the ground to quake and throwing people from their footing. Those who could fly and had not already done so took to the air. This number included all of the genies and many of the creatures from the Demon Dimensions, some of the costumed superbeings from Technopolis and Synerstralia, some of the psionically adept from Balterex and the Primus System, a random smattering of toons, and a few avian or otherwise just plain weird denizens of F'tipapetang and the Dreamtime. About the place others clashed: Two groups of Fey set to in vicious battle, both claiming to be from the real version of Faerie; two groups of desert warriors, one from Endless Sands and the other from Rabis, hacked and slashed each other to bloody pieces in their efforts to prove that they alone came from the real Arabian Nights reality; and toons from both Ideals and Oith lobbed spitballs at each other, all the while screaming that they were from the real cartoon world. Stick figures from Scritch fought legionnaires of the Roman Empire (who were not to be confused with the lost world Romans of Nova Roma, who in any case were on the far side of the fight trying to take out a group of sinister government operatives from the cynicism and conspiracy world of the Otherside). A monster hunter from Erosh, the world of hope against horror, fought valiantly to save souls from a nasty critter from Antediluvia, the pre-Flood reality of monsters and sin. On the other hand, the whiny, ineffectual inhabitants of both the soap opera world of Suds and the pseudo-French existential nightmare reality of No Exit were unable to make any sort of difference to things, but were included for completeness' sake. And a fruit-loop in a black stovepipe hat from the melodrama reality of Blightwood Vales kept pulling a seemingly unending supply of little black spherical bombs with fuses that went 'sssss' from somewhere within his black cape and throwing them at people, and then running away laughing maniacally. But soon even token fight scenes with lots and varied participants must end. "Geez, that was over quickly," said Fan.Boy. "Yeah," agreed Retcon Lad. "Even though we had all those participants, it still wasn't too much more than the average length of the standard dramatic encounter in Torg of 12-14 combat rounds." "Perhaps the Writer didn't think it was dramatic," F.Boy suggested facetiously. Retcon Lad grinned. "I think Joshua is getting to him. Still, whatever the Writer may think, it was an exciting generic fight scene, wasn't it?" he observed. "Yeah. And didja notice the way that the tactics of the various groups weren't described in detail?" pointed out Fan.Boy. "I think the Writer was trying to keep the supposedly token fight scene from taking up too much of the issue." "Not only that, but except for in the most general of terms he didn't actually say who, exactly, was fighting who. And certainly not why. That would've helped keep the prose to a minimum too." "Well, I sure appreciate it. With my lack of fighting skills you can bet I would've gotten a lot more bruises than I did if he'd given a more detailed description of the fight. Heck, I might've even gotten killed." "Again," said RLad. "Again," agreed F.Boy. "Can't say I blame you," RLad admitted. "I would've been in pretty much the same boat. Including about being killed ( boy and it smarts too. dunno how Cannon Fodder puts up with it. )." "You're breaking the fourth wall again," Barry told them testily. "Oops. Sorry." Then Fan.Boy remembered the reason they had come here. "Well, at least nobody's gone roasty toasty and exploded," he said, looking around. And this was true. The only person who looked even vaguely involved with fire at the moment was a woman dressed in red with a motif of stylised gold flames around her legs and with a flamethrower on her back. She looked somewhat familiar, although that may have been purely because she was in costume. But of course, as soon as F.Boy said that, several of the people around them burst into flames and vanished. "Murphy's Law!" RLad screamed at him. "Wasn't that an issue of _Writers Block Woman_?" puzzled Fan.Boy. "Hey! Hold up!" cried Barry. "Something's wrong here. Those people weren't ords!" "Huh?" boggled Fan.Boy, ignoring everything else in a desperate attempt to cope with what the other was talking about. "It's short for ordinary people," Retcon Lad told him. "As opposed to heroes. He's right though. Hurm. Well, actually Barry, we've seen this sort of thing in other newsgroups, so it mightn't be a double transformation. I hadn't thought of it that way, actually." Both of the others were staring at him. Barry was merely surprised by an idea that hadn't occurred to him before. He said, "Well, it'd be nice to think that the cosmological setup we use here applied to everywhere else. But let's face it, not all multiverses, or groups of multiverses for this newsgroup, are put together the same way." By comparison Fan.Boy had no idea what they were talking about. And said so. "Would you mind explaining that? Briefly and simply," he added as he remembered that he was talking to Retcon Lad. "And remember," Barry smirked. "You have to keep rulespeak to a minimum too." Retcon Lad groaned. "I'd forgotten about that." When Fan.Boy's look of confusion intensified he added, "There was a recent huff about using rulespeak in fiction. It was generally thought that prattling too much about game mechanics in the novels was a crutch that should be avoided 'cause it clogs up the prose." "I don't mind," confided Barry. "I thought all the novels and short stories were great. Even _Berlin Forever_ and 'Tales of the Night Walker', which everyone else seemed to loathe." "Uh-huh," Fan.Boy said, trying to keep his face from betraying him. "Can we just get on with the explanation?" "Okay, okay. _Very_ briefly, this is a multigenre RPG, okay?" "Okay." "A person or place can belong to a certain genre, but can change between them. Most people can only do that once, 'cause the process uses up a form of life energy universal to all the dimensions in this newsgroup. If you use up that energy and change a second time, then the body's physical energy is used instead, and the person spontaneously combusts." "Well, that sounds exactly like what's happening here." "Only on the surface. See, some people, the heroes..." "Player characters?" "Yeah, that's another way of looking at it. Anyway, they soak up that energy like sponges, and can swap genres any number of times, with only comparatively minor inconveniences." "Ah. So. These people who went 'bamf', they shouldn't have gone 'bamf' if what was happening was they were only swapping genres?" "That's right," said Garbage Guts, who had knuckled up to them after cleaning its pelt. "All the users on this group - whether they log in through the newsgroup or subscribe to the mailing list run by the Black Marble Wombat - automatically get P-rated status unless they decide otherwise," added Barry. "And few have chosen to be otherwise. Mind you that does make for a disproportionately high number of heroes..." "Barry, trust us," smiled Fan.Boy. "Where we come from we figured out a long time ago that you can never have too many heroes. That's why we're called the _Legion_ of Net.Heroes." About a quarter of an hour later things had been tidied up (at least as much as such a situation is capable of being tidied up) and the pair of LNHers were wandering back towards the net.thingee (which had also miraculously avoided being stepped on and turned into street pizza). "You know," Fan.Boy commented, "Considering we're on an RPG group, I was a bit surprised that my counterpart didn't seem to have any BigGuns or +25 holy avengers or anything." "What, and be hopelessly munchkin?" "Yeah." "Hmm. Interesting idea. There might be an explanation for that though. Like, if the Barry Knewbee on each group is a rabid fan of whatever's discussed on that group, then his point of view would have to include _everything_ about that subject, right?" "I suppose so." "Okay then, look at it this way. Power gaming isn't the only way of playing an RPG. There's _roll_ playing; with emphasis on character rather than fighting stats." He smirked. "A lot of people mightn't believe this, but it could be that on any one newsgroup your counterpart may be among the most balanced and responsible people there." Fan.Boy gave him a hard look. "Are you making fun of me?" "Would I do that?" asked RLad innocently. Meanwhile (just so you don't forget who the star of the series is), back in alt.comics.lnh: Limp-Asparagus Lad, the Man of Dull - in his secret identity of Joshua Asimov - was walking back to the Legion of Net.Heroes HQ. With him was Emanuel Ladd, aka Subplot Lad. They had been visiting, for want of a better word, Joshua's girlfriend. "Mary Ann was looking well," Manie observed. "Yes." "Especially when she saw you," Manie added with a grin. Joshua nodded. "I'm afraid she loves me very much," he said. Manie looked a bit surprised. "Being 'afraid' is an emotion," he pointed out. Joshua considered this. "Would you settle for 'tactically concerned'?" he ventured, utterly serious. Manie's grin broke back onto his face. "Okay then. But what's there to be concerned about? Don't you like her?" he asked, knowing that it would be silly to ask Josh if he loved her. "Not 'like'," Joshua corrected tonelessly. "Love. Desperately. Passionately." Yet he had a look of mild puzzlement on his face as he said this, as if he couldn't quite come to terms with the concept. Manie pulled to a stop to stare at his companion. "Madre dios! You're going to ruin your rep if you let this get around, you know." "Possibly. But to be honest I don't particularly care." "My goodness," Manie murmured to himself. "There may be hope for him yet." "Pardon?" "Nothing. Just talking to myself. So, uhm, isn't that going against your character concept of being emotionless or something?" "Perhaps, but... What?" He felt the back of his head, where something had just hit him. "Hmf! A tennis ball," Manie noted, kneeling down to pick up the offending item. "Kids should be more careful of where they play." "There are, however, no children around," Joshua pointed out. "Hmm. You're right. I wonder where... Hey! What's happening to you, man!?" Back with Retcon Lad and Fan.Boy: "So, like, where have we landed now?" asked F.Boy. "Uhm, I set us down more or less at random. There's an idea I want to test out. See, so far we've just been wandering along, but everywhere we turn up people vanish in bursts of flame. I want to try and figure out if there's a causal link to that, or whether the Writer is just being lazy and relying on pure coincidence." Then the ground began to rumble. "Yeah, but that doesn't answer my question. Where are we?" "Uh... Alt.fan.dragons." Then a huge reptilian form with wings burst forth from the ground not far from the two of them, and a monstrous voice demanded, "Who dares disturb the privacy of Barrymore, the Fan Dragon!?" Fan.Boy didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The option of wetting himself in mortal terror just didn't get a look in. Also meanwhile in alt.comics.lnh: "There's an incoming call, Boss," said Butt Kickin' Guy. "Good. I've been expecting one. Put it through," answered Exclamation!Master!. A viewscreen sprang to life, and the villain smiled. It was who he'd been hoping to hear from. "Hello, RobGoblin. How did things go?" "Piece of cake. He never know what hit him till it was too late. Dunno who that Asimov guy is, but he's Liefeldised!" "Excellent! Very well, the final ten thousand will be deposited into the Swiss bank account within 24 hours." "A pleasure doing work with you," the other said. E!Master! inclined his head in thanks, and cut the connection. He stood up and grinned at his minions. "Phase one is complete! Bwahahahahahahahaha!" "So. Most of my counterparts around here are primates, eh? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," said Barrymore. After Fan.Boy had introduced himself and explained his mission, the dragon had become quite amiable, and invited them in for afternoon tea. Although he had admitted that he had an ulterior motive for this: "A lot of dragons don't like humans. Except as dinner, of course. So my reputation would be shot if I was seen associating with you out here." So now they were seated at a table with cups of tea and a plate of pastries. Both of these came in two sizes, with a smaller version for the humans, even though the cups were still the size of soupbowls and the pastries about half the size of a loaf of bread. Retcon Lad's arteries had taken one look at the latter and had a panic attack, but then he'd thought, .oO(Oh stuff it. Josh is the one with the cholesterol problem, not me.) and had hewed into one, getting cream all over his nose despite his best efforts. "Uhm, yes," replied Fan.Boy, putting down his cup. "Or at least, the ones I've met so far are. I haven't met that many face to face, really." "Mmmm," nodded Barrymore reflectively. "Comes from being on a version of the Net that's attached to a world that has humans as the dominant life form, I suppose." Fan.Boy stared at him. "Pardon?" "Parallel universes," Barrymore explained. "Other worlds have other species as the sapient life forms. Some of them are dragon dominated. I imagine that in the Net of a world like that the only mammalian version of you would be on alt.fan.humans." "Oh," said Fan.Boy, thinking about it. "Cool. Dwarf Barrys and troll Barrys and Wookie Barrys and super intelligent shades of the colour blue Barrys." Then he shook his head. "But this is getting us nowhere with trying to find why people are bursting into flames." "Ah yes, your little ongoing mystery," mused Barrymore as he took another pastry the size of a wheelbarrow daintily between two claws. "Have you considered looking at the problem from another perspective?" asked the reptile. "You're being inscrutable and draconic again," accused Fan.Boy. Barrymore smirked a big toothy grin. "Yes. I know." Then he put down the monstrous teacup and gave his counterpart an appraising look. "Seriously though, from what you've been telling me you've been running around, gathering information - or more often than not, tripping over it - but not trying to put it together into a pattern that you can use to _anticipate_ how to meet and deal with your problem." "He's got a good point," interrupted Retcon Lad. "Well, yeah, I suppose so," F.Boy conceded. "Okay. So, what next?" "Well, for a start we take a look at the pattern, and I don't think we've been looking at it right." "What are you getting at?" "I think we're going about this all wrong. Sorry, I mean... we're looking for an explanation in the wrong place, the wrong level," RLad said, pacing about. "The reason all these people are burning can't possibly relate from some factor inherent in one of the newsgroups themselves. They're all just too different in their histories and cosmologies and physics and stuff. Like, it couldn't have been the double transformations they have on alt.games.torg, 'cause the mechanics of double transformation don't apply elsewhere. The same type of thing's true for any reason we could get from anywhere else. Each universe or multiverse or group of multiverses or whatever has its own special conditions, and we'll go nuts trying to find a common denominator within each of them." "So what do you suggest?" "We look for a common denominator separate from each newsgroups' internal mythology." Fan.Boy looked blank. "We ignore the fact that they're all separate universes, and look at them all together. What are they? They're all newsgroups. Don't you see? They're all little universes or whatever of their own, each with their own little mechanics. But they're compartmentalised into different newsgroups just so that they _can_ have their own differences, and so those differences don't clash. Well, don't clash too much; you have to take crossposting into account." "Yeah, but we've only been checking newsgroups. We live in the Net, remember? How do we know it hasn't been happening in Real Life too?" "Simple. _You_ check. Do a skim around a random sample of the groups. See if there's any mention of it happening elsewhere. Try to take any reports you get from groups dedicated to the paranormal with a touch of salt. _We_ might get a lot of that sort of thing in the Looniverse, but that's 'cause _we're_ a superhero-style universe. Real Life isn't." "Gotcha," Fan.Boy said. Then, as Retcon Lad got out the duct tape again, cried, "Oh no! Not again! I can read things just fine from here with my mind in my own head, thank you. It may be a bit slower, but I'm not going to give you the excuse to use that stuff on me again." "Oh. Well, okay." Fan.Boy gave him a hard look. "You're just too enthusiastic for your own good." "Look who's talking," RLad jibbed with a smile. A short while later Fan.Boy had finished his quick reconnaissance around the groups. He shook his head. "No, there doesn't seem to be any mention of it happening in Real Life, just in the Net. Mind you, there are a number of users who're wondering why other users have been cut off. I even managed to ferret out a few cases where some of them got in contact by 'phone, so apparently nothing really serious has happened to hem. They're just cut off from one another. Not from the Net, either. Just one anther. And the really strange thing is... it's only the alt.* groups that are affected." "Right. Well then, it's confined to the Net then. People vanishing in flames..." "Perhaps they're being flamed?" suggested Barrymore. "I... don't think so," replied Fan.Boy. "There wasn't any verbal abuse in any of the cases we were at or that I could find. People just vanished." Retcon Lad was staring at the ceiling in thought. "An attack by flame net.elementals?" Fan.Boy shook his head. "No, that can't be right. That doesn't fit the pattern _you_ pointed out earlier. The net.elementals of flame, net, thread, and keystroke are all rationalisations of the classic elements translated into Net form. And they're only relevant on those groups that care about that sort of thing, like the creative writing group we live on. The people on things like sci.physics or alt.pets.* or whatever don't give a flying stuff about that sort of thing, 'cause it's not related to their topics of discussion. So from their point of view such things don't exist. And since the reality of their newsgroup conforms to their viewpoint, these things can't exist there unless people like us come along and import them." "Oh, right," RLad said, somewhat embarrassed at being caught wandering off on a tangent in the wrong direction. "Okay, what else could be happening that's universal to all newsgroups?" He thought for a second. "How about firewalling?" Fan.Boy's eyes widened. "That's it!" he cried, smacking his palm against his forehead. "Well, thank you." "No, no, not that. Well, yes, it is that. But it's also something else as well. That woman, I recognise her now!" "What are you going on about?" "Back on alt.games.torg. There was this woman. Didn't recognise her at the time, but it was Firewall. You know, of the Order of St. Doomas." "Ah! Coincidence?" "There's no such thing as coincidence. There are just plot contrivances that are more obvious than others." "Good point. Okay, so, it looks like Firewall's involved. I guess we'll just have to go and find her and see what's going on." "That does not narrow things particularly much," observed Barrymore, taking another sip of tea. "The Net is large, and she could be in any number of places." "I guess we'll just have to rely on the Writer continuing to throw absurd plotting at us," RLad admitted with some resignation. He'd been hoping for a slightly more tightly plotted story. Fan.Boy stood up and posed. "Time to go patrolling the alt.* groups! Firewall, here we come!" Retcon Lad shook his head in dismay. Next: This particular story now goes to and concludes in _Fan.Boy_ #10. The next issue of this series should be part of The Flame Wars III. (Arrgh! Time travellers! They're crawling all over my face! Get 'em off, get 'em off, get 'em off!) --------------------------------------------------------------------- Character and Concept Credits: Alt.comics.lnh stuff: Fan.Boy and all his counterparts belong to Jamas Enright. Firewall created by Jaelle (Jessica Ihimaera-Smiler) RobGoblin created by... uh... I have no idea. Since he's currently in the Brotherhood of Net.Villains that might mean he belongs to Drizzt, but apparently he was in the Cynical Six before that, implying he was created by firstname.lastname@example.org. Butt Kickin' Guy; Exclamation!Master!; M.alt.o, Keeper of the Cosmic Balance (based on DC's Mallo, Keeper of the Cosmic Balance); Retcon Lad; and Subplot Lad created by Saxon Brenton. Limp-Asparagus Lad owned by Saxon Breton, created by Mystic Mongoose (Robert Armstrong) and wReam (Ray Bingham). Alt.games.torg stuff: The Torg RPG created by West End Games, and is the licensed property of Omni Gaming Products. Garbage Guts created by Saxon Brenton. Antediluvia, the reality of pre-Flood sin and monsters; and Nova Roma, the lost world Romans, created by Terence Wynne. Balterex, the caste reality; Danoria; and Erosh, the reality of hope against horror, created by Dan Macchia. The Black Marble Wombat's Cosm accumulated by Clay Luther, Stephen Smoogen, dave oakes, and Saxon Brenton. Blightwood Vales, the melodrama reality; Brighsteph, the musical reality; F'tipapetang, the surreal reality; Oith, the cartoon reality; Scritch, the stick figure reality; Suds, the soap opera reality; and the World of the Djinn, created by Saxon Brenton. The Bolshevik Space Opera (even if it probably won't ever see the light of day), and Ideals, the cartoon reality, created by dave oakes. The Demon Dimensions; and Eros, the sex reality, created by Kansas Jim (Jim Ogle). Dreamtime created by Bruce Patrick Chapman. Endless Sands, the Arabian Nights reality; and No Exit, the pseudo- French existential nightmare reality, created by Kevin Karty. Faerie created by Jasyn Jones. Faerie; Rabis, the Arabian Nights reality; and TexArcane, the weird western reality, created by David Johnston. Frontier, the western reality, created by Robert Maxwell. Hiveworld created by John Baker. Monster Island (another one known by reputation only), created by Brian Perry. Otherside, a version of Earth warped by conspiracy and cynicism, created by Michael Eaton. Primus System, the science fiction reality; and Synerstralia, the totalitarian dystopia of superbeings, created by David Giradot. The Roman Empire created by Smooge (Stephen Smoogen). Stalamin, the furry reality, created by John Karakash. Technopolis, the superhero reality, created by Wally the Intrepid (I. Feinberg). Wasteland, the post-holocaust reality, created by Jeremy Morris. Weird, the paranormal reality, created by Ron Lundeen. All characters and concepts copyright and tm 1995 their owners and/or creators. And remember: Too many realities are barely enough!Back to the Index.