Limp-Asparagus Lad #39 A Legion of Net.Heroes title YALCS - Yet Another LNH Christmas Story: --------------------------------------------------------------------- Cover shows Limp-Asparagus Lad, out of costume, standing in the snow at night and looking up with calm interest. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Joshua Asimov, perhaps better know to You Readers Out There as Limp- Asparagus Lad of the Legion of Net.Heroes, was in the kitchen peeling potatoes for tomorrow's Christmas dinner. He didn't have to peel all that many, because it wasn't a meal for a particularly large number of people. Joshua wasn't at the LNHQ, and so he wasn't helping Cheesecake-Eater Lad and Steak-And-Potatoes Man in feeding the innumerable hordes of net.heroes that were members of the LNH. Instead, he was at home. On his parents' farm. Ten miles outside of A Little Town You've Probably Never Heard Of, in northern IO.wa. Emily Dale came into the kitchen just as he finishing with the spuds. "Goodness," she said, looking around and noting all the other preparations he had been patiently working away at. "Thank you, son. I'd been rather dreading having to finish off all that." Joshua looked at his mother, and the way she was warmly dressed, and monotoned, "Mom, if you still have not gotten over your flu, perhaps you should not go out tonight." Emily smiled and gave her boy a hug. "Thank you dear, but I'll be fine. It'll be nice to get out of the house for a few hours." Joshua nodded, then wiped his hands, and then accompanied her out into the living room. As an aside, if you're wondering about the difference in surnames, it's because she was not Joshua's real mother. Emily and Henry Dale were his foster parents; family friends who had raised him after the apparent death of his natural parents in a plane crash when Joshua had been five (although that in turn was a misconception, since Barbara and Jozef Asimov had actually been abducted by aliens; cliched but true). Joshua stoked the fire. Emily sat down, and said, "Well, it's been a busy day since you arrived this afternoon, and I've barely had any time to talk to you the way you insinuated yourself in the kitchen so." "I would hope that we still have enough to talk about tomorrow over dinner." "Oh, pshaw," scoffed his mother goodnaturedly before pressing on. "How have you been? How are your studies going?" She leaned forward and looked at him intently, with the way mothers do when they're prying into their childrens' lives. "How is Mary-Anne?" "She is doing fine. I visit her at least four times a week. Sometimes one of the others accompanies me: Joe, or Terri. Sometimes other members of the Legion - out of costume, of course." He paused and reflected, "Although not Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story, for some reason. It is a bit strange that has never taken up an offer to visit, considering his general attitude towards helping people meet their full heroic potential." He put the thought aside. "Work with the Legion has been mostly routine recently: random crossovers and fight scenes, for the most part. University work at Dave Thomas has been much the same." "Random crossovers and fight scenes?" "No, Mom. Routine," he corrected her, before returning to his original train of though. "I have been attending the university chess club. Joe belongs to both the university's role playing club and the 'anti' faction of the Campus Crusade for Net.thulhu, and seems to be enjoying himself." There was a creaking on the stairs, heralding the arrival of Henry Dale. "So what's Joe doing for the holiday?" asked Joshua's father. He was dressed warmly as well, preparing for the drive into town. "He was planning to visit Aunt Edith and Uncle Jonathan for Christmas, then join his girlfriend Terri for Hanukkah." Henry nodded, and then announced to the world in general, "Well, we're ready to go." Emily nodded and stood up. "Would you like to come to midnight church service with us, dear?" she asked. "No, thank you." His mother nodded. She hadn't expected him to accept. He never had in the past. But she always asked, because it was polite. His parents drove off into town. After they were gone, Joshua worked for a while longer in the kitchen, making a few more preparations for tomorrow's dinner. Then, that done, he locked up the house and went out the back to look at the fields. The night was clear and lit with the waning light of a gibbous moon, forcing the darkness to grudgingly give way to a stark relief of pale blue and silver highlights, accentuating the form and mass of the landscape. Above, stars glittered with crystal clarity in the cold still air. He stood for a while on the back verandah, just watching the snow- covered landscape. Something vaguely akin to a sense of homecoming stirred inside him. It was an unfamiliar feeling. He wondered if it was indicative that his powers of dull were continuing to weaken. Then he stepped off the verandah and trudged across the back garden, then out into the seemingly limitless fields and beyond. This was not quite the plains of Kan.sys, where the horizon stretched off into forever. But sometimes it seemed to come close. It was almost two miles to the edge of his father's fields, beyond which there was a wood. He was familiar with the route of old, since there was a good fishing hole there which he had frequented as a boy. Halfway to the wood he wondered what he was doing. Something was going to happen, he realised. It was almost impossible to tell something like that back in Net.ropolis, with so many people around going about their business and tied up in the events of their own lives; but out here, alone, he could sense the faintest stirrings in the Looniearth's Drama. By the prickling in my thumbs... He shook his head and tried to focus on the feeling. Failing that, he simply stopped trying to force it, and continued on his way towards the woods and then into their lurking shadows. As he walked along the path, Joshua looked around. Somewhere inside himself he recognised this place. Or something about the place. Outwardly it looked exactly like the path he knew of old, leading to the river. But it was not the same path. It didn't feel the same. After a few moments of searching his memory, he recalled the source from where he had felt this feeling last. It had been in a mythic area; he had been a net.hero long enough to have had a few adventures in such regions. Puzzled, he wondered what would be happening out here tonight, and began casting about for details that might give some clue. It was approaching Christmas, and in fact this was a Christmas story. Maybe some feel-good story? Possibly, but the atmosphere really didn't feel right. It wasn't saccharine; there was no sense of warm fuzzies. There was an undercurrent of... dread? Impending doom? Of course, it was possible that a pagan Yule story was in the offing. Quite a bit of folklore had been brought over from Eu.rec by the area's white settlers, and the winter solstice a few days ago was supposed to be one of the times of year when the walls between worlds grew thin. Then again, it was also possible that his Writer had taken it into his head to work with some of the native Amerindian beliefs. He looked around, perhaps irrationally expecting to see some mounds. The Indians in IO.wa had been mound builders, but there didn't seem to be any of those. What there was instead was that bloody great wall of ice over a mile high, glowing softly blue in the moonlight. Joshua had stepped out of the edge of the forest, and was now looking across a plain some five miles across; on the far side a glacial wall reared up, arrogant and cold. Snow covered that plain, and the stunted trees as well. From this perspective it seemed to Joshua as though those low, gnarled growths grew lower as they approached the far side, bending down on their knees in homage to the ice-wall that dominated the horizon with a cruel majesty. This, then, was why there was no sense of warmth or cheer about this place. That monster of a thing must have an enormous chilling effect on the area, he realised, and being in a mythic place that chill affected more than just the physical. There hadn't been glaciers in this part of north Ame.rec.a since the last ice age, some ten thousand years go. Which might explain the stars... Looking up, Joshua confirmed again that the stars were... askew. But only askew. He hadn't been able to be totally sure when he had been in the woods, but they had seemed wrong. He recognised them, but they were slightly different to the ones he had learned as a boy scout. .oO(Would only a few thousand years make that much difference?) he wondered. (Shifts in stars are supposed to take much longer. Maybe this place is longer ago than that.) He dismissed the thought as irrelevant; strictly speaking this was no longer the Looniearth, and there was no law governing the patterns of the stars. What, then, did the glacier hint at? If this was supposed to represent the last ice age, then the native Ame.rec.ans would not have developed their beliefs yet. Nor would the monotheist religions of the mid-east, for that matter. Was that it? A time before religion? A time of winter without Christmas? Was he supposed to beware the White Witch Jardis who would arrive in her sledge and try to seduce him with Turkish Delight? Joshua drew himself up short, and with an exhale of breath deliberately emptied himself of these thoughts. There were too many options, and if he followed them all in an attempt to piece together what was happening, he would probably trap himself in a circle of second guessing. So instead he emptied himself of all thought and just stood there and watched. As expected, something soon began to happen. He felt it before he sensed it in any other way: a disturbance of Drama off to his left. He turned his attention towards it, and almost immediately became aware of the faint sound of someone panting. Stumbling through the snowscape came a figure. It seemed to be human shaped, and also to be in some considerable difficulty. Even as Joshua began moving towards it, it collapsed. As he approached, he noted an apparently human male, dressed in rags, lying on his side. This other was trembling - presumably from a combination of cold and exhaustion. "Help is here," Joshua said to announce himself in a reassuring manner, and knelt down beside the form. "Are you hurt? Do you think you can stand?" Eyes filled with what seemed like an infinity of hurt tried to focus on him, and a despondent but still quite angry voice told him, " go away... i'm not...interested...in your mockery... " Joshua paused. "You may be thinking of someone else," he responded carefully. The face looked relatively young, but also gave the impression of being terribly weathered and old. It continued to stare at him, and for a second Joshua feared that this other had perished from the cold. Then, the voice said, " you're a human... aren't you... " The question came from so far out of left field that Joshua actually blinked in surprise. "Yes." There didn't seem to be much point in denying it. A type of wild and desperate hope came into his eyes then. " i need... your help... " "Yes. Can you stand?" " no! no... not like that... do you have a god?" Again, Joshua blinked. "No." This seemed to please him. " pray for me... " Bemusment was pushed aside by outright confusion in Joshua's mind; perhaps he had misunderstood. Clearly one of them had. Then dawning comprehension strode onto the scene, grabbed both bemusement and confusion by the throat and cracked their heads together. "I'm sorry, I do not - and will not - pray to any god. I will not worship you." The god's face darkened. "TRAITOR!" he managed to scream, though it took the last of his strength, and brought on a fit of coughing that produced flecks of blood onto the clean white snow. Alarmed, Joshua tried to get him into a comfortable position. Despair had returned to the other's face, and Joshua noted that he was trying to blink back tears. "Come on," the Legionnaire said. "Can you stand?" He tried to help the other up, but his charge was a dead weight. His eyes seemed to be unfocused, and Joshua couldn't even be sure that he was even aware of Joshua's presence anymore. Moreover, he was beginning to mumble. " so it's come...to this... i worked for so long...to make things grow... protect the crops from blight... to help them store up their grains for the winter... worked for...so very long... and now...when the death of winter comes...there is no one left who will help me..." Privately Joshua had to admit that, put that way, the whole situation did smack of ingratitude. Humans had made gods, after all. In comic book universes gods existed because mortals believed they existed. They were tools - created for the benefit of the humans when the species had still been living in caves and had needed every bit of help that it could get in that early, harsh world when being eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger could really put a crimp in your day. It was a habit that humans had taken up early and never really grown out of; there were new gods being created even today. Which meant that when an old god was no longer needed, it was cast aside as obsolete. It was a phenomenon common with other tools as well: no wonder the self-aware computers were always so paranoid and kept trying to destroy humanity and take over the world. Do unto others before the little buggers did unto you... And yet... would you go out and deliberately not immunise yourself against smallpox, simply because otherwise the virus might die? Or allow tapeworms to continue to live in your gut? Or refrain from having a cancer removed? And make no mistake, no matter how innocuous and useful gods may have started out as, they had almost inevitably gotten above themselves to become parasites - demanding obeisance and human sacrifices and worse. The ancient Greeks had a word for it: hubris. The overweening arrogance of gods who believed that they were more important than human beings. The figure that Joshua was supporting slumped again, and Joshua was hard pressed to try to keep him standing. " i don't want to die... " "You are not going to die," Joshua reassured him, trying to coax him on. "It will be all right." " no... it won't... it won't be all right...ever again... " he dirged in a voice that sounded weary, oh so very weary. Joshua raised a mental eyebrow that he was paying more attention than he had been letting on. Then Joshua was pushed away and the other fell to the snow. " go away " was the muffled demand that came like an exhalation from the grave. "No. Come along, we have to get you to someplace warm." " it's too late... " was his reply, composed of equal parts apathy and dread. " the Cow is coming... " "The Cow?" The name was familiar from somewhere, but Joshua couldn't quite place it. " death... death is coming..." "I thought you said you did not want to die." " no god...wants to die... it's too terrifying... you humans...at least...can delude yourselves...with happily ever afters... we don't... get that... we know...too much...to be able...to make our own paradises... " Weakened by such a huge amount of exposition, he lay on the ground, breathing in and out slowly and watching the distant treeline with regretful eyes. Meanwhile, Joshua's mind had finally connected on the name. The Cow, the Death of Gods. He recalled Joe saying something about it, from that time when he had gone to Net.Hell with Cheesecake-Eater Lad and Cannon Fodder [_Death of Cheesecake-Eater Lad_ - Footnote Girl] It gave Joshua some idea of what the other was babbling about. It was like the way the Great God Om had clung so desperately to the faith of Brutha; or Torak One-Eye had tried to use the Orb of Aldur to claim pre-eminence over his father and brothers and prevent his displacement by Eriond; or why Yahweh had been so angry at the Founding Fathers of Ame.rec.a for not making Christianity the state religion despite - or perhaps because of - the efforts of the Great Awakening. Gods were terrified by the prospect of dying. Actually... The passage of the GodNetWave which had so upset the politics and power structures of Net.Hell could very well be responsible for this as well. It made a sort of perverted sense that the Wave's passage could have fatally disrupted the life-forces of any waning deities - although Joshua suspected that he would have to talk to Occultism Kid to confirm the hypothesis. In fact, the real mystery was how any unworshipped god could possibly have lasted so long. Knowing that gods needed worship, and that without it they would eventually 'run down', it seemed amazing that so many of the older gods should have persisted into the present. After all, the Looniverse's forces of wReamEntropy should have stripped away any reserves of power far faster than in other comic book universes. By rights, the Looniverse should have a shortage of gods. On the other hand, he supposed that the forces of Drama were probably enough to maintain the existence of entire pantheons if a story could be squeezed out of them. Put quite bluntly, Drama was perhaps the only thing in the Looniverse more powerful than wReamEntropy over the long term. There was disturbance somewhere up above that drew Joshua's attention. No sound was made, but instinctively he felt that there was something there. He looked up. The Cow was coming. It approached across the sky, camouflaged - in part - by the darkness and by the stars. Its gait was painfully slow, but had a glacial inevitability about it. The Cow was coming. It looked like an emaciated bovine, toast-rack thin and ribs clearly visible. Its body was partly obscured in shadow, and these shadows where filled with stars of its own. But unlike the crisp winter-night stars, these were old, red, dying stars that spluttered fitfully in their unhealthy death-throes. The Cow turned an empty eye socket towards the ground with an insatiable hunger. And Joshua thought, .oO(So that is the Cow. It does not seem that impressive. It is rather ludicrous, actually). But even as that thought formed in his mind, he corrected himself that of course it seemed unimpressive to him. This was the Death of Gods, not of mortals. It wasn't geared towards interacting with the likes of Joshua, and so his human mind only saw it as something not particularly important and even more than a bit eccentric. But gods and avatars, demiurges and devils, erinys and angels - they would find this shambling bovine presence the most pants-wettingly terrifying thing imaginable. The Cow was coming. Beside him the old-timer began to sob, softly, too weak to run or scream or plead. Not knowing what else to do, Joshua held him close and made quiet shushing noises. Perhaps a minute passed before the noises subsided, and then the body lay still. Joshua laid the form on the ground and looked around. The Cow seemed to have gone, and indeed never actually approached closer than a few hundred yards. He was mildly surprised by that. He turned around, intending to spy out the area and see where best to get some stones, or something, to make a cairn. In the midst of doing this it suddenly occurred to him that he hadn't found out this dead god's name. He frowned. Was it his imagination, or was the body growing fainter? He stared at the still, sad form for a few seconds, and concluded that it was no trick of the moonlight. The process of discorporation picked up speed, and in a few more seconds Joshua was alone on the plain. All things considered, he wasn't particularly surprised. He cast a final gaze around the area then - up and down the edge of the treeline that seemed to stretch off interminably toward the horizon, across the snow-covered plain with its stunted trees kneeling as they approached the glittering face of that uncompromising wall of blue ice, and finally into the soaring sky that stretched from horizon to horizon with its unfamiliar but not quite alien stars. Then he turned and walked back through the taiga, back into the here- and-now. He met with no problems, and twenty minutes later he arrived back at the farmhouse. His parents weren't back yet, and he checked the clock in the kitchen, half expecting some sort of Dickensian time distortion. There was none. The testimony of the clock matched the two hours that had passed according to his watch. Joshua put the kettle on, then settled down to warm himself by the fire, restoking it in the process. A dreadful ambivalence gripped him, and the house seemed far too empty. The turning of the year was almost here, and then the world would begin to wake up again for Spring. But in the meantime, it struck home hard that this was a time of death, when the life force of the worlds were at lowest ebb. That was a depressing bit of knowledge, but knowing the truth was often hard. And being adult enough to know that you had to bear that knowledge was often harder still. He found his thoughts reflexively turning to Mary-Anne. The red colour of her hair, the way she smiled, how happy he was when he was with her. He recalled the scant few times he had held her, and then held those memories close, holding them until the day he'd be with her again. They were particularly precious, since normally it would be impossible for them to meet like that. But the 1996 LNH Carols By Candlelight and their dinners at the RACCCafe had all been so far out of continuity that they held no meaning. Not even in a fictional world where breaking the fourth wall was the norm. Sitting by the fire, feeling lonely for his lover, and sobered by the knowledge that there were some deaths that no amount of goodwill and effort could mitigate, Joshua waited for his parents to return home. "And crawling on the planet's face, Some insects called the human race. Lost in time, and lost in space. And meaning." - _Rocky Horror Picture Show_ Limp-Asparagus Lad #39 'A Completely Depressing Christmas Story' Written by and copyright 1997 Saxon Brenton Artwork by Fr*d H*mback --------------------------------------------------------------------- Character Credits: Limp-Asparagus Lad owned by Saxon Brenton. Created by Mystic Mongoose (Robert Armstrong) and wReam (Ray Bingham(chaos and entropy incarnate)). All others created by Saxon Brenton. All characters copyright 1997 their owners and/or creators.Back to the Index.