[Continuity note: Both the _Limp-Asparagus Lad Annual_ #1, and then issue #45, take place between the end of issue #50 and the start of this one - Footnote Girl] Behold, the rec.lounge of the mighty Legion of Net.Heroes! Little do these stalwart heroes realise that before the day is through, they will face the unthinkable threat of... the Ether Bunny! "Obscure Trivia Lad feels that Obscure Trivia Lad should point out that the Ether Bunny has already made an appearance in the 'Fission Chicken' indie comic," said the Legionnaire whose mind had been down- loaded into a liquid metal android body, looking up from the most recent issue of Justice Society that he had been reading. The unthinkable threat of... the Flu-Bug! "Nope," said Anal-Retentive Archive Kid. "He showed up in an episode of 'Life With Loopy' on the 'Ka-Blam!' cartoon show." The unthinkable threat of... the Duke of Poughkeepsie! "L. Sprague de Camp's 'Divide And Rule'," put in Chinese Guy, who was playing Cripple Mr. Onion with Lenny the squirrel. "And besides," said Lenny, "You're repeating yourself. The Legion fought someone calling himself the Duke of Poughkeepsie off-panel during all the end-of-the-world skirmishes in the first _Limp-Asparagus Lad Annual_." The unthinkable threat of... the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Olde Net.ropolis Towne! "Sorry guv'," said Bicycle-Repair Lad (who had the power of British Humour), "but the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town was in a skit written by Spike Milligan for the 'Two Ronnies' TV show." Tough noogies! You're gonna have to face one of them, and you've already rejected the first three! "Well, isn't he in a cranky mood," observed Sister-State-The-Obvious. Blue Light Productions present: Limp-Asparagus Lad #51 A Legion of Net.Heroes title "Throwing Random Ideas Together? Oh, That's Called 'World Building'." Written by and copyright 2003 Saxon Brenton Art by Richard Sc*rry --------------------------------------------------------------------- Cover shows a figure in a top hat and cape (but who is too tall to be Snidely Whiplash) lurking menacingly in a thick fog. At the bottom is a blurb announcing: 'Contains Continuity!' --------------------------------------------------------------------- Zachary Durandal was sitting in the cafeteria of Dave Thomas Deluxe University skimming through a textbook when the excited noise of some other students caught his attention. "Oh, come on," one of them said. "Just admit it, you're making it up." "No, really. Just give it a minute," said another as he fiddled with a laptop computer. There were five people clustered around the latter speaker and waiting for something. Zachary recognised some of them and wandered over. "What's up guys?" "Dhillon wants to show us the effects of a virus that's infected all of the online versions of the 'Grand Theft Auto' game," Caroline replied. Zachary wasn't familiar with it, and said so. (Although he didn't elaborate why: that he'd been out of the loop of popular culture for several years, first because of his mission work for the Latter Day Saints, and then from enslavement by the mutant-angst-eating Dinnerplate. [_Limp-Asparagus Lad_ #42 - Footnote Girl] ) "It's a 3-D shoot'em up game," she elaborated. "You get to go around a city, stealing cars and shooting at anybody who gets in your way." "There are a couple of different versions," added Dhillon as he continued to give half his attention to game play. Zachary glanced at the screen and saw the point-of-view character driving around a city street, dodging bullets, and occasionally shooting back. "In one of them you can play a Mafia hit man and do much the same type of thing," Dhillon continued. "Ah, here we are." He held up the computer so that everyone could see. On screen the roadway cracked in front of the character's car, making it look as though an earthquake was shattering the game setting. Then words formed on screen: sentence fragments that started out small and then raced forward to fill the screen, only to be replaced by the next piece of text that zoomed in. They read: You have Murdered and Stolen Indiscriminately for your Petty Gratification. Now is the Time for your Punishment! Then two giant red hands with claws burst up through the asphalt and grabbed the character's car and ripped it open. The screen turned a lurid red as flames burst across the street from cracks in the ground. The on-screen character still had his high powered rifle, but - as Dhillon was happy to demonstrate by making the character struggle and fight back - it was no longer effective as a weapon. A gigantic demon (who looked like an obese red human with horns on his head) rose up out of the ruined street, and laughed. Your Eternal Damnation awaits, in HELL! Then the demon bit the character in half. "Eeewww!" went some of the others. Zachary examined the scene with clinical interest. "Well that's pretty graphic," he said. "You can make out the intestines and other organs, even though the body's still wriggling about. Look, there's the pancreas." "As someone who *isn't* studying medicine, I didn't want to know that," said Nate. Zachary flashed him a grin. "Yeah, that's pretty out there," admitted someone else who apparently wasn't particularly squeamish either. "Betcha Nintendo is having fits about that. Or is it only affecting the knock-offs and unlicensed clones?" "Nope, it's affecting everything," said Dhillon as he closed down the game. "Downloads, onlines, multiplayers, the lot. I think the reports about it getting into X-Boxes and stand alone systems are people being hysterical though; that sounds like rumour getting out of control to me... Anyway, you get about four minutes of normal action, then Fire and Brimstone retribution, followed by the application crashing." "And what about the rest of your software?" asked Nate. "Aren't you taking a risk with your machine by running a demo for us?" "My machine?" went Dhillon, amused. "This ain't my machine. It's one of the wirelesses from Dr. Shessley's labs. She's had a couple of us testing what's been going on all day and handed out some old WAPs for the experiment." The others laughed. And then they were all thrown to the floor by an explosion outside in the quadrangle. Things got kind of confused for a while after that. Zachary was one of the few people who weren't thrown to the floor; a benefit of the mutant invulnerability that he usually ignored as being superfluous to a normal lifestyle. That was why he was one of the first bystanders to catch sight of the Sisterhood of Sin having a Fight Scene with some of the Legion of Net.Heroes. He bobbed down and began to quickly check on his stunned colleagues. Were they all right? More importantly, where they able to evacuate the area? It was true that Dave Thomas had a fair number of paranormals among the student body, but the obvious corollary was that it had an even larger number who weren't. "Guys? Hey guys, come on. We've got to get out of here." The others took stock of the situation, some of them shaking their heads as they tried to clear the ringing from their ears. A few of them had cuts or bruising, but there wasn't much worse than that. The building had windows of reinforced plastic, so while a number of them had blown in, few had actually shattered or sprayed shards across the room. Meanwhile cafeteria staff were calling out for people to make their way to the exits. The wails of the evacuation sirens were as piercing as ever. Zachary kept a wary eye on the conflict happening across the quadrangle as he helped the other students up, catching glimpses of the action taking place outside: Fourth Wall Lass was dodging the power blasts of the Sisters by simply opening up holes in the fourth wall in front of her and letting the beams of energy fall in. She flicked her hands open, creating portals that looked for all the world like unrolled sheet of wallpaper until you realised that the perspective of things hitting them was all wrong. Meanwhile one of the newer Legionnaires - Very Big Boy, if Zachary remembered the news articles correctly - had grown to some ten meters in height and grabbed a pair of the assailants in both hands. Chinese Guy leapt and cartwheeled out of the way of a kirbykrackling swipe by Mother Superior's shepherd's crook. But even as Chinese Guy was landing he was also whisking out his own staff - causing it to grow up from the size of a toothpick - and used it to block another thrust by the leader of the Sisterhood as she tried to 'excommunicate' him with evisceration. The students began to make their way to safety. As they went Zachary couldn't help but notice that Dhillon was trembling. It became so bad that once they were out of the building and well away from immediate harm, Dhillon had to pause and lean against a tree while trying to regain his composure. Zachary waved the others on, then asked, "You all right?" "Yeah... I'm... I'll be fine." He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "Sorry. I thought I'd be able to handle something like this better. Shit. Sorry, it's just that most of my family were killed when Sig.ago was destroyed recently [_The Team_ #25 - Footnote Girl]. I thought I'd be able to handle another bit of weird-o fight scenes, being in the superhero capital of the world and everything. Guess I was wrong." "You want any help?" Dhillon shook his head and pushed himself away from the tree. "Naw. It's not like I'm hurt or anything. I'm just rattled. I'll be fine once we get to safety and catch up to the others. I'll just need a few minutes. Maybe I'll go and throw up or something. Come on, let's get moving." Zachary brooded on this as they continued on. So many different reactions to superhuman conflicts. For his part he simply wanted to stay away from them and get on with his life. Fear of danger was more or less irrelevant, but he had this secret dread of being forced to take up the the identity of 'Mormon Man' and having to continually fight ridiculous villains with religious themes. And look! Right on cue: The Sisterhood of Sin. Also known as the Naughty Nuns - although they were actually more like bad parodies of nuns than anything else. Real nuns didn't go around wearing high heels like that. And real nuns didn't wear tight leather habits that showed off their well-endowed thighs and breasts the size of melons. And while it is true that nuns in the teaching profession were known to rap children over the knuckles with rulers, real nuns didn't go around with weapons that were a combination of energy blasters and Klingon pain sticks. Christ Almighty, they even had a 'secret headquarters' known as the Nunnery! Talk about tacky. No, he'd leave that sort of thing to professionals. He had had more than his fill of that sort of thing with Dinnerplate. Better to leave it and get on with doing something constructive with his life. So distracted was Zachary that he was taken by surprise when a figure in a nun's habit approached Dhillon and himself. He startled, then flushed in embarrassment and started to apologise as he realised it was only Sister Anna Mirabilis, one of the university's chaplains. Sister Anna waved him quiet, albeit with a rueful quirk of a smile. "Yes, I know. It's all right. You get used to that sort of reaction when *those* sort of people are running about and making trouble." Then: "Nate and the others were getting worried about you. Are you okay?" "That was me," admitted Dhillon. "I had... uhm... flashbacks. I'll be fine in a moment." "Certainly dear. I think we should be far enough away here for you to risk a breather. Take your time." Then he glanced around, checking the other stragglers who were coming down from the quadrangle toward the evacuation area. "Listen, I'd better keep looking out for anyone who's been injured. You two keep going at your own pace," the nun said before moving off to help others. Later, at the Legion headquarters: Wendle Johnston was better known as Anal-Retentive Archive Kid. The student librarian wasn't actually a net.hero in the sense of having superpowers or even running around in a costume - although when he was at work at the LNH's library he habitually wore a sweatshirt with the LNH logo on it. Nifelhel, Easily-Discovered Man Lite got away with wearing casual clothes all the time, so he didn't see any reason why he couldn't do so as well. He was finishing an afternoon's work before heading off with some of his friends for an evening of role playing gaming at the university where they were going to play a session of Barry's current campaign. Barry Knewbee, of course, was another net.hero: the Net.Elementalist of the Alt.Riders, based in Sin.ci.net.ty a quarter of the way across the country. But one thing about being a net.hero is that you often get opportunities for a fast commute. Crossing the country - or even the planet - in the blink of an eye was almost passe. [Technically Barry is missing according to the latest _Alt.Riders_, but since that was two/three years ago, the author of _Alt.Riders_ hasn't got a leg to stand on for complaining. - Jamas Enright] Wendle tidied up the last of the work, then picked up his backpack and said his goodbyes to Librarian Lady on the way out. As Wendle wandered down the corridors he browsed through a newly arrived pamphlet that he had requested for an English literature assignment. That was why he almost bumped into Limp-Asparagus Lad and Very Big Boy, who were just returned from Dave Thomas themselves. "Whoa! Sorry there guys," he apologised. "No harm done, Anal-Retentive Archive Kid," said Limp-Asparagus Lad calmly. "Still no excuse for not watching where you're going," countered Wendle. "By the way, what did the problem at Dave Thomas turn out to be?" "The Sisterhood of Sin was trying to make off with part of the Ley Gorte exhibition in the Psuedoscience Hall," answered Very Big Boy with a touch of sourness in his voice. "The platinum plates inscribes with alien runes that were found on the moon." "Oh, the Sisterhood," said Wendle. "Tch. The bondage mistresses not- so-cunningly disguised in habits." He could imagine how Very Big Boy would have felt about that. He was from another universe where the subjective present was still in the early 1960s, and while Wendle knew that VBBoy viewed much of the early 21st century Looniverse as a sci-fi utopia, Wendle also knew that he was somewhat taken aback by how retrograde this world still was in some areas. Like how it was still socially acceptable to dump on Catholics. Still, he was hardly the only one; Sister Anna had made pointed comments on more than one occasion about how some conservatives found it convenient not to recognise the differences between the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and net.villains like the Sisterhood of Sin. Perhaps Very Big Boy read his face, because he shrugged. "The more things change, the more things stay the same. Frankly I was more surprised by getting Mass in English. Thanks for your help on that by the way." "Hey, no problem. It's the sort of thing I'm here for. Anyway, I'd better get a move on if I want to meet with Bruce and Terri and the rest for RPGing." He nodded to them and continued on his way. In fact, "Bruce and Terri and the rest" were making their way through the LNHHQ to make preparations for their RPG night as well. However as they were walking past the computer labs they heard a half-groaned and half-snarled "Not again!" Chinese Guy stuck his heard through the open doorway, saw an irritated Multi-Tasking Man, and asked him what was wrong. "Another 419 scam," replied Multi-Tasking Man as he reached for a drink of Mr Paprika, closed down the Return To Castle Wolfenstein game he had running, prepared to delete the offending email, and opened up the computer's preference software for another attempt at some serious killfiling. "You know, a Nigeri.LAN Letter. One of the ones where they claim that they have a truckload of money to get out of a politically unstable third world country, which can only be smuggled out through someone else's bank account, and want you to be silly enough to send them your account's details so they can steal every cent you have." "Wait! Don't delete it yet!" called Retcon Lad, halting Multi-Tasking Man from purging the email from the purported son of the former chief of armed forces (now in exile) of a small-Af.rec.an-nation-that-you're-only- peripherally-aware-of. He practically bounced into the room with sudden good cheer. "I've had a new idea about how to deal with these, and I've been waiting for one to turn up to try it out." "Okay then," said Multi-Tasking Man, looking intrigued, getting up from his chair, and making room for him. Then when Retcon Lad opened it and began to type MM said, "You do realise that there are some software programs that will let the sphammers know you've opened the email, even if you don't reply to it." "Uh-huh," confirmed Retcon Lad. "One of their ways of telling which addresses that they've sent stuff to are live. Yeah, I know. In this case it isn't going to matter. I need to send a reply." Everybody leaned in and looked at what Retcon Lad's began to type. " 'Dear Sir or Madam,' " read Fourth Wall Lass out loud over her boyfriend's shoulder as he typed." 'This email is to inform you that your proposed money distribution scheme is viewed with extreme suspicion. I do not believe your intentions are either honest or benevolent. You are to be punished. You are henceforth *cursed*. This is the last email that you will ever send or receive. You will never be able to operate any sort of internet account, ever again. Have a nice day.' " Chinese Guy chuckled. "Are you serious?" "I don't kid about this sort of thing," said Retcon Lad, his tongue poking out of one side of his mouth in gleefully anticipatory concentration. "Okay then, 'How are you going to pull this off?' might be a better question," amended out Chinese Guy. "You need to explain why something is happening or not happening, don't you? I know you only need a pseudo- plausible reason to get your powers to work, but I'd like to know what it is in this case." "I'm just using the Looniverse's tendency for random humorous events," replied Retcon Lad. "They make a lovely catch-all explanation, those random humorous events do. Just try not to rely on them too much for resolving a storyline's main plot point, 'cause the laws of Drama might get all snarky and try to override what you're doing. Okay then. Now, it's a bit fast and loose, but I think I can piggyback it onto the Writers' general dislike for spham. I'll retcon in a link between that dislike and the random humorous events, then point it in the right direction and let it loose." Fourth Wall Lass raised an eyebrow at the others. "I think he's planning to channel the Order of St. Doomas." "I am *not* channelling the Order of St. Doomas," said Retcon Lad. "I'm going a bit deeper than *that*." Chinese Guy smirked at the others. "No, he's going to curse the bastard to eternal line drop-out by permanently calling down the attention of Shub-Internet onto him." "Oh, be quiet you," said Retcon Lad as he grabbed the computer screen with both hands. He scowled at the screen in concentration. "Let's see if this works." As he gripped the sides of the screen his arms tensed as if he was straining against something. A burst of drama coloured red and blue light swirled from were he grasped the monitor, and little sparks crackled and spat onto the keyboard, the table, and the floor. Then the computer screen exploded. When everybody else had picked themselves up off the floor, they saw Retcon Lad still standing in front of the computer looking bemused and vexed. His face and mask was darkened from smoke and his hair blown back in a bizarre manner. He almost looked like a cartoon character who had gone all black and crumbly after having had a stick of Acme dynamite blow up in his face. "Hmm. Nasty bit of feedback, there," he mused. "I think I'll have to refine the process a bit for next time." "Next time!?" demanded Multi-Tasking Man, looking around at the mess and particularly at the ruined shell of the monitor. "Next time!? What makes you think I'm going to let there be a next time!?" "Because it worked?" Retcon Lad suggested happily. "I did feel it take, you know. Sorry about the mess, but... wasn't it *worth* it?" "Nnnnggg," went Multi-Tasking Man. He looked at the remains of the computer, scratched his head, idly toyed with a piece of wreckage on the floor with his foot, and thought about the look on the scammer's face when he read the message and then his account shut off forever. "Yes, it was," he conceded. "I suppose we could buy some really old computers for cheap and set them up for the just that purpose." Then a thought occurred to him. "You know, I've been looking into what's supposed to have been a virus that's been infecting the 'Grand Theft Auto' games today. It's strange, because I've been able to confirm cases where it got into stand- alone systems. I pegged that as maybe being magic, and sent off a report to Occultism Kid for comment. But what you just did with reality manipulation might be another way that it could have been done." Retcon Lad scratched the back of his head thoughtfully. "There's more than one way to skin a cat," he agreed. "Send me a copy of the report and I'll have a look at it tomorrow. There might be something I can help with." Meanwhile Lenny had scampered up onto the keyboard and peered into the remains of still smoking monitor. "I guess the universe didn't like fast and loose, huh?" "Well, not in this case," conceded Retcon Lad. He began to brush himself off, and said to himself, "Maybe next time I should try justifying it as karmic justice..." "Okay people," said Chinese Guy, clapping his hands for attention. "Let's get this mess cleaned up. We've got a role playing game happening tonight and if we all work together we can get this out of the way without running late." While all of this was happening, Limp-Asparagus Lad was taking Very Big Boy to meet Bicycle Repair Lad and be given a run down on the Baylis Engine in one of the power generation rooms. As they approached the flight.thingee repair bay, Limp-Asparagus Lad asked, "What sort of help did you get from Anal-Retentive Archive Kid?" "Oh, it's wasn't anything particularly important," shrugged Very Big Boy. "I was a bit surprised by the changes that had been made to Mass... I suppose the same sort of thing will be happening back home when we get to 1963 as well... Anyway, nobody else even understood what I was so confused about. I suppose that after forty years most people don't even stop to think about how long it's been since it was changed into the vernacular. But ARAK recognised what the problem was right away," he snapped his fingers, "just like that, and rustled up an article on the changes made by Vatican II for me to look over." "Hullo guvs," said Bicycle Repair Lad as they entered the repair bay. He put down the whachamacallit he had been tinkering with and wiped the grease off before shaking hands with VBBoy. "The power rooms are this way," he said after introductions were made, leading them down another corridor. Very Big Boy, who was by profession an army engineer, was intrigued. "Okay, so what's a baylis?" he asked. "Baylis isn't a what, guv, it's a who," said Bicycle Repair Lad. "He's the guy who created the clockwork radio." "Hold up, hold up," said Very Big Boy. "I thought this was about electricity generation." "It is," agreed Bicycle Repair Lad. "But it starts off at clockwork radios. It's like this: There was this inventor over on the other side of the Pond by the name of Baylis. One of those blokes who belongs to the proud tradition of English eccentrics. And one day he heard a news report about the epidemics in Af.rec.ca and how hard it was to spread information about even simple disease prevention out in the boondocks. Apparently even radio broadcasts weren't doing much good, because that far out in the scrub people might have radios, but they couldn't get a regular supply of batteries to run them, sort of thing. So anyway, he has a think about this and then has a bit of a tinker about and in the end he comes up with the prototype for a clockwork power generator built into a radio. Basically you just wind it up and it runs the radio for about an hour. So our man Baylis, he asks about until he finds someone prepared to build his clockwork radios, and now they're being built and exported all over the place, particularly for remote areas where you haven't got a steady power supply, either from the mains or batteries." "And the Legion has one of these Baylis Generators," said Very Big Boy, still not quite believing what he was hearing. On the other hand, this place was called the Looniverse for a reason. "Yes," affirmed Limp-Asparagus Lad. "Bicycle Repair Lad talked Ultimate Ninja into buying rights for net.hero use and then scaled it upwards to account for the fact that we have people with superhuman strength available who can wind up something that will produce a few megawatts over the course of a day." "The Legion's got just about any type of power generating gizmo you can think of," added Bicycle Repair Lad. "Well, except for things like hydroelectric dams, of course." "Not enough room?" "Not enough room be damned," disagreed Bicycle Repair Lad cheerfully. "The LNHHQ's got tesseracted storage space to burn. And sub-sub-sub basements for that matter. It's just that things like hydro dams or use of tidal flow or coal fired generators need access to natural resources that aren't nearby and would be more effort than its worth to ship into a building in the middle of a city. Anyway, here she is," he said, indicating a large clockwork mechanism. It was dominated by a three metre tall mainspring. Very Big Boy stared at it in amazement. "The spring's made of Strongstuffium," said Limp-Asparagus Lad. "If we were in the Marvel Universe we would use Adamantium, but Strongstuffium is the local equivalent and has much the same properties. It's one of the few substances that has the tensile strength to stand up to the wear and tear of continually being wound to several scores of tonnes of pressure, but at a thickness of a millimetre the metal has enough flexibility to wind and unwind like any other spring." Very Big Boy was impressed. "So, people just come down here and wind up it up?" "That's right, guv," said Bicycle Repair Lad. "It has to be rewound about every 24 hours, but like Limpy said, there's a roster for the superstrong blokes, so you'll probably only have to come in here once every two or three weeks." He patted the mainspring fondly. "Just keep an eye of the list for when it's your turn to come down here and spend half an hour or so winding her up. Come on, I'll show you were the key is and you can have a try at it..." Wendle knocked on the door of Chinese Guy's room. No one answered. He was about to knock again when Chinese Guy came bounding down the hall with Lenny running to keep up. "Sorry we're late," said CGuy. "There was a bit of a mess to clean up in the computer room." He unlocked his door. "I think the others will be a bit late as well, for pretty much the same reason." "These things happen," said Wendle. Chinese Guy nodded and went straight to the filing cabinet that he kept in his room. "Hong Kong Phooey Kostume Kwick-Change!" he cried, and jumped into the uppermost drawer of the cabinet. Immediately - as in, so fast that the upper drawer had barely finished closing - the bottom drawer burst open and Chinese Guy jumped out showered, shaved, and dressed in civvies. And there stood... Bruce Bottersnike-Gumble, mild mannered international student from Alt.stralia studying forensics at Dave Thomas Deluxe University! Wendle was incredulous. " 'Bottersnike-Gumble'!?" he repeated. Bruce looked at him. "Yeah, of course. Oh, come off it, I'm sure I've told you my surname before," he said, and because he was no longer in costume his lips were actually moving in sync with what he was saying. "No, actually, you haven't," countered Wendle. "Maybe the Writer's playing silly-buggers again. Like, I'm not sure how long it's been since the end of the _Birth Of A Villain_ cascade where you had your first appearance, but even though it's been long enough for us to become drinking buddies, I'm pretty sure you've never mentioned your full name." Bruce considered this. "You're sure?" "Yes, of course I'm sure." "Then I guess you're right: the Writer must be playing silly- buggers." Bruce said amiably. "So. What gives? Come on, tell me the sordid story." Bruce shrugged. "What story? My family's been in Alt.stralia for a long time. So when Granpa went and joined the Royal Alt.stralian Airforce in World War 2, he didn't give a second thought to changing his name from Yuen to something that was all hyphenated and de rigueur." He shrugged again. "It's not a big deal, 'cause it meant I got to be called Snike in school, which was pretty cool." "Did it help him?" "What, changing his name? Dunno. It might have. The White Alt.stralia policy didn't actually get dumped until the 1960s, so you never know." Then he raised an eyebrow as he realised that Wendle had another book with him. "What are you reading this time?" he asked. "Something I got on inter-dimensional inter-library loan," the other replied, holding it up for display. "It's a copy of 'The Wage Slave' by Jack Chick." "Bleuhrrr," went Bruce, poking out his tongue. "Ick! Why would you want to read something by him?" A nasty suspicion formed. "You're not trying to 'Keep an eye on The Enemy' are you?" "No. Well, not in this case, anyway. I finally decided on an angle for my major for this semester. See, this comes from an alternate history where Jack Chick is a hardline communist rather than a hardline fundamentalist Protestant. Here, have a look for yourself." As Lenny scrabbled up the back of Bruce's pullover and crouched on his shoulder for a better view, Bruce opened the dubious booklet. With morbid fascination they read the pamphlet, which superficially looked much the same as any Chick Tract. It was a small comic book with a missionary purpose and written in a hysterical style (in all senses of the phrase). It told a simple story based on principles of intolerance and hatred, which preached that only one world view - Jack Chick's world view - was Right and all others were Wrong, and that anyone who had a lifestyle or even an opinion contrary than Chick's orthodoxy was either a fool or a knowing agent of Evil. But there were also obvious differences. 'The Wage Slave' presented the tale of how a virtuous working lad was almost seduced by bloated plutocrats into becoming a pawn of the corrupt and exploitative capitalist system, only to be Saved at the last moment by an explanation of communist ideology given to him by the local commissar. It featured lots of dialogue like, "@#%&! Foiled by the powers of the Proletariat!" and "Yes! I'm willing to accept the glorious precepts of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism as my revolutionary salvation!" Bruce looked at Wendle and said, "You read a lot of weird shite, you know that?" "Yeah," said Wendle with a grin. "It's been mentioned on a few occasions." "So why did you need to read it then?" asked Lenny, who was still sitting on Bruce's shoulder perusing the comic book. "I'm going to compare and contrast it with the style of tracts that Chick puts out in various worlds. I've got samples from a world where he's a Catholic, another where's he's Zionist, and still another where he's an anti-semite. Gun control advocate, gun ownership advocate, ultra- interventionist United Nations supporter, pagan fundamentalist, deep Green eco-warrior ideologue... The radical sci-fi fan who advocates 'Babylon 5' over everything else is pretty weird, if somewhat self-marginalising, by the way... In each case the fixation changes, but as far as I've seen his style doesn't. He never writes if he can possibly rant. Anyway, I figure with a bit of meta-textual analysis I can write an essay identifying the cross-time quintessence of his style." "Just remember to wear your mimetic hazmat suit," Bruce warned him. "Come on, we'd better get going. If we dawdle too much longer the others will be looking for us." The three of them went downstairs and met the rest of their group by the fountain in the entrance to the building: Joe (Retcon Lad) and Terri (Fourth Wall Lass) had already been joined by Harris (who was one of the hordes of fuzzy green kiwi birds that had migrated to the States when Kid Kiwi's powers had first manifested). It was just after sundown when the six of them started walking to the university. An evening fog had begun to form, but there was nothing unusual about that. Net.ropolis was a harbour city, and in any case fogs were a necessary prop element for certain types of stories. As they left Wendle asked Terri, "How's Invisible-Intangible- Inaudible Lass these days? I mean, with that crush on Cheesecake-Eater Lad that you were telling us about and everything..." "You mean after he went and got married to aLLiterative Lass?" Terri replied. [_Cute Anna, Crypt Looter_ #2 - Footnote Girl] "Yeah." "It sounds rough," commented Bruce. "Kiwi," agreed Harris. "It is," she said. "I think she's trying to put a brave face on it though. In some ways it's easier for me to tell than it is for Curious Lass, and in some ways it's harder. *I* can only read her dialogue, whereas Curi can actually hear her. On the other hand people can control their voices and put on false fronts, but every now and then I get to read a bit of narrative caption that clarifies something that's just been said, and that just cuts through tone of voice or body language or whatever." "And Doctor Stomper hasn't been able to think up anything to help her in a more general way?" "Nope. The bastard thing is that every solution that we try to think up is stymied by her Writer," Terri sighed. "Sometimes you can really emphasise with Swordmaster's intention to find his Writer and stuff his head down a toilet." Commiserative silence fell for a while, then Joe said, "Uhm, so. Remind me of what happened in last week's session." "Let's see," said Bruce. "We had snuck into the Gormenghast Fortress of the Dark Lord, Evil Harry Dread, and taken possession of the One Ring that Harry was planning on using to call upon Lord Voldemort, the demigod of necromancy and general nasty stuff." "I like that phrase," smiled Terri. " 'Taken possession'. Our characters stole it, Bruce." "He stole it first." "And we stole it second." "*Anyway*," continued Bruce. "After Joe's bard character distracted the guards by playing 'the Ballad of Derek the Necromancer and his Undead Chicken' the rest of us grabbed the Ring, and we've escaped from the Fortress and have Harry's minions, the Terrible Trio, hard on our heels." Wendle snapped his fingers. "Ohhhh yes. The Terrible Trio. Minmei, Minnie-May, and Mini-me. Now there are some nasty bits of work if ever there were some. Good thing we thought to bring those magical earmuffs." "That'll be fine against Minmei's singing," said Lenny, "but they can be knocked off if Minnie-May and Mini-me catch up with us." "Kiwi," said Harris. "Well, yes. *When* they catch up with us," Lenny agreed. "*If* we can get to the game on time," said Wendle. "We're running a bit late, you know." Bruce paused. The others stopped and looked askance at him. "Come *on* man! We're late!" Bruce frowned and pointed to the empty market square up ahead of them. "And we're going to be even later if we go this way," he said. "That isn't the way to the uni." They blinked and realised he was right. "Okay, so where are we?" Wendle asked. Joe stared carefully at the fog-bound and lamp-lit street. "Looks like Shimbleshanks to me. See," he said, pointing to a barely visible street sign. "Pony Parts. We're at the market." Bruce looked thoughtful. "Things look different after dark, and with this fog starting to settle in, we probably missed a turn somewhere." The others moaned at the thought of such a simple mistake, and how much time this would cost them. "No, no, hold on," protested Wendle. "Shimbleshanks is off to one side of the way we were going. Unless we were completely turned around..." "Look, it happened," Terri said, cutting him off. "But if we're at the market, then all we have to do is head down that way," she continued, pointing along Pony Parts. This was a suggestion to which the others (being good little super- heroes: brave and fearless and occasionally gleefully immune to the seductive blandishments of common sense) quickly agreed. You see, the area of Net.ropolis known as Shimbleshanks was usually a no-go zone after dark for anybody who didn't live there. This had nothing to do with the crime rate. If you wanted an area to avoid because of the risk of being murdered for coffee money, then the nearby Hovel Homes was the place you were looking to stay away from. Rather, Shimbleshanks was best avoided because it was mysterious and creepy and full - as Rose Walker would say - of Weird Shit. It plays the part of 'Shadow Hill' to Hovel Homes' rendition of 'Suicide Slum'. They continued on. A little while later Joe was heard to say: "You know, I don't think this is the way to the university either." "Oh, lovely. We're late enough as it is. *Now* we have to get completely lost." "Well I don't see how," said Terri. "I mean, down Pony Parts for three cross-streets, then left at the fountain and duck around through the plaza." "Kiwi," suggested Harris. "Yeah, I suppose so," said Joe, getting out a mobile phone. "Terri, if you'll make a hole in the fourth wall we can take a shortcut. I'll ring Barry and tell him that we'll be running a few minutes late." He punched a few numbers and then frowned. "That's strange. The phone's not connecting. I'm only getting static." "I've tell you something stranger," said Terri. "I can't create a breach in the Threshold." This irritated them rather than worried them. "Well, it *is* Shimble- shanks," pointed out Wendle. "I mean, according to _The History Of Places That Are A Bastard To Get To_ there should be magical wards and stuff around here that might be blocking you. Can you force your way through?" Terri concentrated, then shook her head. "It's very solid." Then she scanned the surrounded air. The others recognised this, and after a few seconds Joe asked, "What do the captions say?" Terri frowned. "I can't read them. All the narrative captions in this area are gibberish." "That's a pain," stated Joe. "Well, let's ask someone for directions then," suggested Bruce. "Ask who?" Bruce held a hand for quiet, and focused his attention on the sound of some footsteps he had been hearing for the past few seconds. "Over this way," he said. The footsteps became louder. A figure in a top hat and cape stepped out of the fog. Sweeping wide the cape in a theatrical gesture, he poked out his tongue and blew a massive raspberry at them. "Ppppphhhhhhbbbbbb!!!!!!" And that was when the screaming began. Not too far away (in a narrative sense, at least) one of the professors at Dave Thomas Deluxe University was working late. Upon the door to his office was the sign: 'Professor Kurt Guttmann. Lecturer in Defence Against the Dark Arts'. Within the office was the usual clutter of academic materials that were oh-so useful for intimidating new students, but also present on his shelves was a collection of esoterica and occult paraphernalia that was noteworthy for the fact that these were the things that were safe to leave in public view. Professor Guttmann put the final touches for tomorrow's presentation, then stood up and stretched. He was a solidly built man in his sixties, his brown hair and short beard peppered with grey. He let out a deep breath of contentment, but as he glanced idly out the window he realised that the vague sense of discomfort he had been feeling for the past few minutes was more than just muscle cramp. Guttmann drew a bindrune in the air and let his mind wander as he sought out the source of the disturbance. In a city like Net.ropolis there were so many possible causes for eldritch disturbance, so he might need to make a more rigorous examination. But for now all he needed was a lead... It was Shimbleshanks, he saw with sudden clarity. The worldwall there was never particularly sturdy at the best of times, and earlier this evening it had given way. Again. Guttmann felt a particular sinking feeling as he collected his staff. A feeling that was not entirely composed of worry for whoever had had the misfortune to wander into the twilight world accessed through the fog-haunted streets of Shimbleshanks. .oO( Blast! Another Lovecraft pastiche. ) Next issue: A Lovecraft Pastiche --------------------------------------------------------------------- Character Credits: Anal-Retentive Archive Kid (Wendle), Fourth Wall Lass (Terri), Professor Guttmann, Retcon Lad (Joe), Very Big Boy, the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Olde Net.ropolis Towne, the Sisterhood of Sin, and sundry students and staff at Dave Thomas Deluxe University all created by Saxon Brenton. Bicycle Repair Lad created by Christopher Hare, used without permission. Chinese Guy (Bruce) and Lenny are Public Domain. Harris the kiwi bird created by Saxon Brenton, owned by Descrii (Ian Porrell). Multi-Tasking Man created by Jeff Coleburn, used without permission. Obscure Trivia Lad created by Brian Perler, cameoed without permission. Sister-State-The-Obvious is Public Domain. Created by wReam. Limp-Asparagus Lad owned by Saxon Brenton. Created by Mystic Mongoose (Robert Armstrong) and wReam (Ray Bingham(chaos and entropy incarnate)). All characters copyright 2003 to their owners or creators, as applicable. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Add Notes: This is what happens when you let a whole bunch of 'neat' ideas accumulate over time to the point where you decide to just dump them all in, otherwise you're never going to get rid of the blasted things. Some of the stuff in this issue are ideas I've come up with, while others I've read elsewhere (like the 'what if Jack Chick was a communist?' schtick) or experienced in a RPG game (yes, we actually tried to build a superhero base at least partly powered by a giant Baylis engine in a Champions campaign once). Rather than go through them all and end up with another long afterwards section (that'd no doubt make my editor Jamas do his 'nana :-) I'll just note my thanks to Martin Phipps and Dave Van Domelon for feedback on the properties that an Adamantium/Strongstuffium spring would have. More important than the provenance of my random sillinesses is the backhistory of Chinese Guy and Lenny, which I suppose I'd better explain for people who don't read LNH net.comics generally and so aren't familiar with LNH continuity. Normally if I'm making a reference to some past piece of continuity I have Footnote Girl add a footnote about it (it's my one running joke that actually has a useful purpose) but in this case things are a little too big and clunky to pull that off. Several years ago during the _Birth Of A Villain_ add-on cascade story, Dvandom had one of his non-LNH characters - Crazy Guy from the eponymous Superguy series (and currently appearing in the _Exarchs_ series) - turn up for a brief cameo before being chased off. Unfortunately the rest of us - thick as two short planks - didn't take the hint and had lot of fun continuing to use Crazy Guy and his taoist-monkey-disguised-in- the-shape-of-a-squirrel sidekick Louie, all the while skirting around who they really were and pretending not to recognise them. Dave apparently found this amusing and let us run with the joke [cf the endnotes of _Crazy Guy_ #31 - Footnote Girl]. As one of main offenders, I felt obliged to fix this, and in _Birth Of A Villain_ #17 retconned in Chinese Guy and Lenny to be Crazy Guy and Louie's other-dimensional counterparts from the Loonivese. I even went so far as to add a piece of parallel back history for Lenny in _Birth Of A Villain_ #37: that he was also a legendary being in the form of a squirrel, in this case a Dreamtime spirit called a yabon from the native lore of the Gippsland region of Victoria, Australia. I've made use of Chinese Guy in the first _Limp-Asparagus Lad Annual_ (posted Dec 1999, but which happened in the recent past according to the internal continuity of this series; yeah, I'd been wondering where it was going to fit as well...) and both Chinese Guy and Lenny in the _Flame Wars 4_ miniseries (which I haven't reached in continuity yet, but which I'm definitely catching up on; no, really, would I lie to you?). Mind you, I did keep forgetting that Chinese Guy also has (or has something like) the Monkey King's sea-fixing staff.Back to the Index.