Introduction, by Tom Russell Relevance is one of the worst things that ever happened to the tights-and-capes genre. Because Superman and his ilk have often seemed so, well, alien to day-to-day life as we experience it, the stories and the genre has often been dismissed as kid's stuff. Superheroes are taken a little more seriously today, but usually that's when Relevant Issues are tackled. The problem is that these are stories and characters, not essays and talking points. And so Relevance has never been a good fit. I'm not talking about true relevance: when you talk about what really matters, about love and hate, good and evil, nobility and sacrifice, altruism and righteousness, morality and justice, living well and dying well-- the things that are truly relevant to all potential readers-- well, superheroes have got that covered. In fact, most good fiction--genre or otherwise-- is relevant in this way, in the way that truly matters. But social relevance... Social relevance is more or less against the nature of most genre fiction and popular entertainment. Social relevance leads to "a very special episode". Sitcoms without jokes. Social relevance leads to tributes, to wrestlers who talk instead of pretending to wrestle. And when it comes to superheroes... Whenever superhero comics have been taken seriously by the mainstream, it's been in the vein of, well, it's not *really* a superhero story. The wonderful ridiculousness of the superhero, the vernacular of capes-and-tights melodrama is shunted in favour of being taken seriously. In favour of Relevance. So instead of a superhero story, we have a story where people just have very colourful ideas about acceptable attire. -- Martin Phipps wrote a story a while ago called LNH ASIA: THE WEEK AFTER NEXT, in which a group of heroes grappled with the aftermath of a tsunami. It was basically about the heroes coming to terms with their own impotence. It was the kind of story I've seen before a dozen times. But then, Martin did something wonderful, something very Martin and very LNH: he broke the fourth wall. The damage is reduced in a moment of magic wish fulfilment. My ears ache and groan whenever I hear someone say that superhero stories are just escapist entertainment, but, actually, yes, they are. And that's as it should be. (And that's not saying that escapist entertainment can't be illuminating, or that it's less noble an aspiration than "serious" literature. It's illuminating in the only ways that are truly relevant.) Social relevance encroaches upon the genre: and, bless Martin's soul, he recognizes that encroachment and comments upon it. -- The story you're about to read serves, I think, as a nifty companion piece to Martin's story. It not only recognizes and comments on the encroachment of social relevance on the superhero genre, but that encroachment is the theme of the work. And, in taking on the still-sensitive issue of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Saxon Brenton certainly has testicular fortitude. Not only does he have the courage to address this issue, but he has the courage to write an honest-to-god superhero story about it. He takes these events and he takes the tropes of this much maligned genre, and he extrapolates from the two. The result is often shocking, often biting, often hilarious. It works as a story and it works as a metastory and it works as satire and it works as commentary on very special episodes, tribute issues, and schmaltzy PC social relevance. Enjoy! Acraphobe content label: Contains adult themes. Limp-Asparagus Lad #55 A Legion of Net.Heroes title "What Do You Mean, 'Editorial Policy Won't Let Superheroes Do That'?" Written by and copyright 2005 Saxon Brenton Art by Fred H*mback --------------------------------------------------------------------- Cover shows a sunset over the city of Net.York. It is clear from the positioning of silhouettes of the buildings that one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center is missing. --------------------------------------------------------------------- We are what we're supposed to be Illusions of your fantasy All dots and lines that speak and say What we do is what you wish to do We are the colour symphony We do the things you want to see Frame by frame, to the extreme - Aqua, 'Cartoon Heroes' [11 September 2001] There was something wrong with the world. Nothing overt, mind you, but it was easily inferred from the way everyone was getting so agitated over the terrorist attacks and attempted attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and White House. Which was really strange if you stopped to think about it. To put it simply: this was a superhero class universe. A particularly silly and cliche ridden one, true, but this did not change the fact that on any particular day there could be anything up a half a dozen city shattering catastrophes being averted by net.ahuman champions as they attempted to keep the world on an even keel. Not to mention all the personal adventures, all the usual attempts to take over the world, or even the occasional bids to destroy the universe. Or merge it with another universe. Whatever. The point is that there were *always* emergencies to contend with. And in any case, it wasn't as though all the attacks had gone through to fruition. After the first plane had been rammed into the North Tower at 8:46 various net.heroes - both within and without the Legion - had been able to respond with the implausible speed that was characteristic of their fraternity. None of the other three airliners had come even close to being crashed thanks to a combination of intervention by net.heroes and, just prior to that, quick work by some very brave passengers who had been told what was going on over their mobile phones and had decided to take action themselves. So why was the public ignoring the horde of undead conquistadors with the flying galleon that had invaded a museum in Boul.dir, Colorado looking for booty? Or the fact that the Constellation Gang had created a sinkhole under a major bank in order to rob it at their leisure? Or the battle between the text.ernal mutants ApocaLISP and XOdious that would have destroyed even more of the San Francis.com waterfront had it not been for the intervention of the RACC.tre (the grim and ghostly guardian of comic book style justice) which had forced them both to retreat? Or the television footage of Table (the bloodthirsty renegade cyborg from the past) and his villain team the Youngstuds battling the Alt.Riders in Phila.deletefile.ia? No. There was something about this that wasn't immediately obvious. Then, slowly, the net.heroes began to piece the truth together. "Ewww! Grue slobber!" rumbled Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo, the Easter Island Carved Head That Walks Like A Man, and flicked Slobbering Grue! away. "Aaahhh!!!" cried the green and rather toad-like New Mexi.com hero as he went flying, and then landed 'wheee spah-lat' on top of Brand Name Boy and Nit-Pick Lad. Nit-Pick Lad saw little tweeting birds - literally, just like in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'. Brand Name Boy got a conga line made of Coca Cola and Pepsi bottles. "Aw, dammit," went Trux. "What does it take to stop this guy?" It was a good question. Trux himself had already tried his soulspork on the gigantic carved figure, but despite not being human it seemed that Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo wasn't magical in nature either, and so the soulspork had neither affected the villain or even slowed his rampage. Spite Grrrl's Liefeld-like Pretty Damn Big Gun(tm) was at least acting as a distraction, as had the efforts of Slobbering Grue! for that matter. But Waki-Taki- Tooni-Oo seemed to embody the principle that the bigger they are the harder they hit. And all he needed was to get lucky and hit just once, whereas his opponents needed to score a number of times before they achieved '...the harder they fall'. "Puny net.heroes," grated the enormous stone creature, who basically consisted of a combined head-torso stomping around on absurdly disproport- ionately small toothpick legs. "None can defy the might of... Waki-Taki- Tooni-Oo!" And then to prove it he picked up the road he was standing on as though it were a piece of towel and thwipped it. Trux and Netiquette Lad made a dive to get off in time, but Spite Grrrl was caught by the trick and was thrown into the air, as were several cars that had been left abandoned when the stone head had begun moving this way. "Frig it!" screamed Spite Grrrl as she picked herself up and looked around for where her gun had landed. "Bastard of a lawn ornament! You're lucky I'm nigh-invulnerable or I'd be getting pissed off about now!" Normally Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo stomped along at a trudging gait on those pudgy little legs, but it was amazing how fast it could react. With one swift movement it drop-kicked Spite Grrrl. She landed... well, from the distant 'paf' sound effect and cloud of dust, it looked like she landed somewhere about a mile away. "Ow," winced Nettiquette Lad. "I guess now we really will see if she's nigh-invulnerable." "It's getting closer to town," said Slobbering Grue!, who lurched over. "No shit, Sherlock," snapped Trux. The living toy raccoon was feeling irritable, and he suspected it was for more than the obvious reasons of stressing over a combat that was going against them. Ever since his Los Bastardos team had joined forces with Slobbering Grue! to stop Waki-Taki- Tooni-Oo, the heroes had been so short of time that they'd had to pass over the second step of the classic 'heroes meet, heroes fight, heroes team up and kick bad guy butt', and Trux suspected that they'd continue to be at each others' throats until they got it out of their systems, somehow. Or maybe it was just the normally fractious nature of the Los Bastardos squad. Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo trudged on, closing in on the iniquitous town Espanola. The heroes had no idea whether the creature was actually heading *to* the Town Of A Thousand Strip Clubs or *through* it, but they didn't doubt that he'd do a lot of damage once he got there. "You know, maybe it's just me," said the bruised Nit-Pick Lad, "but shouldn't we have taken more damage when Slobbering Grue landed on us?" Brand Name Boy boggled. "You *like* being hurt!?" "No, I'm just saying..." "Shut up," yelled Trux. "Nit-Pick Lad, good point. I think we can use that." "Huh?" "Wacky-Tacky," mused Trux, "isn't just implausible and silly himself. He has implausible and silly affects on everything he affects. I think he's a giant cartoon character." "He doesn't *look* like a cartoon character," nit-picked Nit-Pick Lad. "He just acts like one." "You got a better working hypothesis?" challenged Trux. "He's a minion of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space?" offered Slobbering! There was a moment of bemused and embarrassed silence. "I... don't think so," said Nettiquette Lad. "So where does this idea get us?" asked Brand Name Boy. "We need," said Trux, "to dissolve him with Dip." A little while later: "This is stupid," said Nit-Pick Lad as Nettiquette Lad piloted the heavily laden flight.thingee over the area where Slobbering Grue! was luring the ambulatory stone head. "This is the Looniverse. Stupid works," countered Trux. "As long as he acts and *reacts* like a cartoon, we should be fine." "And if he doesn't?" "I'll think of something else," shrugged Trux. "Arrgh!" said Nit-Pick Lad in frustration. On the ground, Slobbering Grue! was going, "Oh oh oh! That stone head is chasing after me as I run away in a COWARDLY manner. Oh oh! Oh crap, this is embarrassing!" "Die, slimy little green hero," rumbled Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo as it tried to stomp on him. "Hey, watch it with the comments about the skin, gravel features!" Then the end came, and quickly. The flight.thingee dropped it's load of Dip - a mixture of acetone, turpentine and benzine. Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo screamed briefly, and then melted away, leaving only gravel. Slobbering Grue! yelled, "Hey! I said, lay off on the comments on the skin! It doesn't need to be dried off with frickin' acetone!" The flight.thingee landed, and the net.heroes examined their work. "Well, that looks like the end of that... Ow!" went Brand Name Boy as the locals began to throw rocks at the superhumans. "Why weren't you in Net.York protecting the city!?" yelled one man. "Terrorists got through because of you!" screamed a woman. "What the smeg are they talking about?" demanded Spite Grrrl. "Hey! Please. We can't be *everywhere*!" called Nettiquette Lad, trying to futilely calm the mob down with reason. "Let's get out of here," said Trux, and they all retreated to the flight.thingee. Brand Name Boy watched the crowd through the window as they flew off. "Why are they acting like that?" he asked. "It's the, like, burden of fighting for a world that fears and hates us," said Slobbering Grue! melodramatically. "Can it with the hammy attempt at angst, or we'll drop you into the mob," said Spite Grrrl. "Nah. Just drop me down by that bar," said Slobbering! This they did. As the Los Bastardos flew away back to their base in Mexi.com, Slobbering! wandered into the bar, ordered a draft of cheap beer and turned his attention to the TV screen. He hoped that it was tuned to the female topless mud wrestling, but instead it showed ongoing news broadcasts from Net.York. "Huh?" he said to himself. "What is it with everybody and Net.York?" The intercom on Fearless Leader's desk bleeped. The voice of one of Ultimate Ninja's secretaries said, "Irony Man and Limp-Asparagus Lad to see you sir. They said they had something important to tell Ultimate Ninja, but he's not here at the moment..." The deputy leader of the Legion of Net.Heroes shared a glance with the two visitors currently in his office before answering. "Sure, send them in, Sally." Just as the contact closed, another voice, that of John, the other secretary, could be heard complaining, "Shouldn't they be out catching terrorists or something?" "Come in gentlemen," said Fearless Leader as Irony Man and Limp-Asparagus Lad came to the door. The latter two saw that Catalyst Lass and Deductive Logic Man were already present. Catalyst Lass waved. "Everyone," said Irony Man by way of greeting. "Sally said that Ultimate Ninja was out, and forwarded us to you," he said to Fearless Leader. "That's right," agreed Fearless Leader. Then he added, "If it's about the plane hijackings this morning, then the Ninja's way ahead of you." Catalyst Lass said, "He always seems to know exactly when it's time to do five days straight of paperwork, and when it's time to get out of his office and investigate a crime." Then she added, drolly, "It's probably one of his inscrutable ninja skills." "In any case, I was just talking with Cat and DLM about the same thing," said Fearless Leader, dragging the conversation back on track. "So what's up?" "I believe that there is something disproportionately dramatic about the attack against the World Trade Center," said Limp-Asparagus Lad forthrightly. "Irony Man holds similar concerns with regards to irony. There is something more to it than there seems." Catalyst Lass exchanged a thoughtful look with Fearless Leader. "Which would fit the pattern of why the media is so focused on it to the exclusion of everything else," she said. Deductive Logic Man spoke up. "It occurs to me that something as relatively commonplace as this having such a dramatic significance may be the prelude to some sort of mega-storyline or crossover. At the risk of redundancy, I would recommend extra vigilance." He shifted in his seat. "Limp-Asparagus Lad, has there been any decline in the amount of drama that you're detecting?" Limp-Asparagus Lad checked again. "No significant drop that I can sense," he said. Deductive Logic Man shifted his eyes to Irony Man, who shook his head. "Constant readings since it first appeared on sensors this morning. No change in amount or type that I can determine," the Armoured Net.Avenger replied. There was a soft chime, and a sphere of light appeared and resolved itself into a holographic head-and-shoulders view of Multi-Tasking Man. "Irony Man..." he began. "Oh, hi everybody. Sorry to interrupt. Irony Man, I've got something interesting that I think you need to know about." "Go ahead." "Stock Market prices have been dropping," MTM said, which brought a second's worth of silent surprise. "Why?" asked Irony Man. "The attack on the World Trade Center, apparently." "Sorry, yes, but that's not what I'm asking," countered Irony Man. "What I mean is, why has the attack on the World Trade Center caused stocks to fall? Is there any indication of the mechanism? Such as, was the New York Stock Exchange damaged in some way?" Multi-Tasking Man shook his head, monitored communications from various net.hero away teams, debugged some software, and took a sip of his Mr Paprika. "That's the thing. There's none that I can see." "Strange," mused Irony Man. "How so?" asked Catalyst Lass. "Stock markets aren't usually affected by net.ahuman mayhem in that way," explained Deductive Logic Man. "Otherwise they'd never stop falling." "In fact," said Irony Man, "because so much of the economy of big cities is based on building and reconstruction work, it's often just the opposite. It's perverse but true that something like this should be forcing stock prices *up*." "That's the pattern that I've always observed," agreed Multi-Tasking Man. "Which is why I brought it to your attention. I've got W.I.L.B.U.R. [the Legion's Wildly Improbable Lisp Based Urbane Robot - Footnote Girl] running some analyses of the data with some complexity algorithms, looking for patterns that might be too subtle for humans to detect. I'll keep you posted if he finds anything." "Thanks, MTM," said Fearless Leader, just before the hologram disappeared. "Okay then ladies and gentlemen, your opinions? Cat?" "Something's up, obviously," she said, crossing her arms. "I don't see how stuff like the stock market fits into it, but... Well, people as a whole usually tend to react with shock and anger to a particular situation for only so long before the Writers get tired of it and switch back to the default setting of people just going on with their lives. If it's spread across the country then it's a level of tension that some Writer is using for their story." "I would agree with that," said Fearless Leader. "Ferris?" Deductive Logic Man steepled his fingers in thought. "To reiterate: I'd hypothesise some sort of net.villain scheme. The constant drama levels suggest discrete phases of an ongoing master plan. What I find disturbing is the high level of inherent irony associated with what's happened; that would suggest either that it's the consequence of some past Legion adventure, or perhaps that we are in danger of missing some clue as to what is happening. Whatever the case, we should start at the al-Qaeda operatives and work back up the chain until we unearth the master villain and his, her or its scheme. As for the population's reaction, it could be some sort of wide scale emotion manipulation." Fearless Leader looked grim. "Okay then. Go and talk with wReamhack about reviewing our files for any net.villains who fit that profile. Any other suggestions?" Limp-Asparagus Lad said, "Have you considered the possibility that since the perpetrators weren't costumed net.villains, that the public might be reacting to this as something they can comprehend? Perhaps even something they can affect the outcome of?" "Mmm," said Deductive Logic Man, drumming his fingers on his bowler hat in front of him. "You're referring to the theory that most people selectively filter out phenomena that are too weird for them to under- stand, and that by extension normal people ignore most of the activities of costumed net.ahumans?" Limp-Asparagus Lad nodded, but now Irony Man spoke up. "They do? How? I mean..." This was because Irony Man had split most of his adult life between net.heroing and being a multi-millionaire industrialist. While he had a firm grasp of things like the arcane mechanics of the stock market, there were parts of popular culture that were opaque to him. Deductive Logic Man sighed. "Long running shared writer universes like Marvel or DC tend to use the real world as a basis for their stories, and then add elements of science fiction and fantasy so that those places look basically like the world that the audience is familiar with. There's controversy over whether this is because it helps to bring in new readers if it's a setting that they recognise, or because a shared writer universe can't keep a totally fiction continuity straight in the long run. Whatever the case, universes like that - particularly long running universes like that - then have the problem that if they followed through with the logical consequences of all those paranormal elements then their world would rapidly change into something that the readers *wouldn't* recognise. Part of that equation means that normal people selectively ignore most of the paranormal events that go on around them, and what parts they could cope with are often relegated the tabloid newspapers." "Ah. This is why people react as though every alien invasion is the first time, is it?" "Exactly," said Deductive Logic Man. "While I would dearly love for it to be something so mundane," said Fearless Leader dryly, "we need to make preparations for a worst case scenario. IM, can you identify a reason for what you're picking up? Are there any wavelength frequencies, trace signatures, or other technobabble that could be used to identify a possible reason?" Irony Man considered. "In the short term, no. I can easily activate some of the remote irony sensors that I've had installed in various Stork Industries satellites to see if a source can be triangulated, but that will give us a *where*, but not necessarily a *why*. There are also a few experiments that I've been conducting on Iron-E isotopes, but those are still in early days and unlikely to be useful for any hard results any time soon." "Try the triangulation then," Fearless Leader said. "If there's a location separate from the crash site itself, then that may give us a clue. Now, Limpy, would you have similar problems trying to identify the why's of the drama rather than the where's?" "Yes. I'm still honing my drama sensing abilities. I believe triangulation is the best that I use it for at the moment." Fearless Leader looked puzzled. "Still? It's been several years since you started using those particular powers. Are you having trouble mastering them?" "There isn't actually a problem," replied the Man of Dull. "My series uses compressed comic book time based on the events that have occurred rather than the Real World time that has passed, and so far it has been only two story arcs. Three if the Annual is included. I've consulted with Dr Stomper, and we both believe that my training in these abilities is proceeding at a reasonable pace." "Ah, of course," Fearless Leader said. "Okay then everybody, that about wraps it up for now. Let's get to work." The morning practice for the quidditch team at Dave Thomas Deluxe University had been called off after the news had come out. Douglas Mawtar had wandered away, feeling a rising tide of apprehension from the people around him. Now he was sitting on a bench in an out of the way garden courtyard within the Teacher's Ed building. Doug's own concerns were a little more esoteric, but still he needed someplace private to think and pray. The red-headed young man stared without seeing at the broomstick that he had leant underneath the leafy shrubs, his mind was elsewhere entirely. He was concerned about this turn of events in a rather uniquely abstracted way, and he could see the future closing in: cold and hard and implacable. Doug was not a native of the Looniverse. He was from the Omegaverse, one of the closer next-door universes within the RACC multiverse, and because of the weirdness of the Looniverse he was in the habit of paying attention to how the people around him acted. This place that he had found himself in might be unbelievably silly compared to home, but it's almost comic book nature made it predictable once you knew what cliches to pay attention to, and the public here were already beginning to react with hysteria. He could guess what would follow. There would be flare ups in violence. There would be persecutions. There would be an almost absurdly over-the-top backlash - with politicians pushing through draconian legislation that rejoiced in names like 'patriot', 'enduring freedom' and 'liberty' - and then the giant killer robots would be set loose. There'd probably be concentration camps in there somewhere as well. In a way Doug had already been there and done that, and it's resurgence here worried him. He had grown up listening to the stories of Danny Anderson's Colony, and how Danny had brought the Omega-hunting Dynamax organisation crashing about the heads of its creators. Grown up on those stories, absorbed them as a hero myth, and had had a very nasty shock when he'd grown up enough to discover that just because they had told of the vanquishing of one group of rabid Omega haters, that the same enemies hadn't actually vanished off the face of the earth. Doug remembered the gut clenching fear of being held at gunpoint by whatever secret government black ops group had been disappearing Omegas that week. He had known, without needing to be told, that if he tried anything they would kill him. But he had also known that they were going to kill him anyway. That was why, after he had exploded the nearby timberwork into a zillion hypervelocity fragments that had ripped through those same government agents and their supposedly impregnable armour and reduced them to something that looked very much like hamburger mince, he had never felt any real sense of regret. Oh yes, sure he had blindly run away after that, and after he hadn't been able to run anymore he had fallen to his knees and thrown up - but that was more because of fear and the sight of blood. Even after all this time, he still had trouble with blood. And now some new excuse to hate had turned up. It might be against Muslims, in which case, yes, he was also a target. But it might flow against some other religion. It could - and probably would - turn against the superhumans. Doug wasn't sure how it would spread, but he could feel in his bones that it would. He had observed how fast the outbreaks of anti-mutant and anti-net.hero hysteria could flare up in the past. Public opinion was so erratic and prone to melodrama around here. A thought came into Doug's head. It arrived clear and sharp, and by the feel of it it was obviously the product of common sense and clear headed pragmatism. It never occurred to him that it might actually be the result of shell shock of some sort. And Doug thought, .oO( It's starting all over again. There'll be mobs, and there'll be midnight visits from men in black. I'll have to kill them too, if I want to survive. ) He found the notion both depressing and wearying. .oO( So much for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, ) he observed sourly. "Hey, Doug. How you going?" Doug jumped, startled into the defensive. The improbably titled Irreverend Taylor Mulgrove, a university chaplain for the Church of Tym, took a step backwards at the look of wild-eyed intensity on the student's face. "Whoa! Sorry to startle you. I didn't realise you were still hyped from your morning coffee," he said lightly. "Um, sorry. I was kind of lost in thought." The Irreverend shrugged. "Understandable. There's a lot of that, at the moment." Doug was still feeling cynical, and snorted. "I wish there was. I get the impression that very few people are *thinking*. Most of them seem to be reacting." "Mmmm," said Mulgrove dubiously. "Dunno about that. Even when we aren't in times of crisis, it's always the squeaky wheels that get the most attention. Especially on the news services that, you know, need excitement in their coverage to keep their ratings up." "Ah, yes," nodded Doug while keeping a straight face. "All of them." Then he schooled his face to hide his misgivings. Irreverend Mulgrove took note of the change in demeanour. As a moderately high profile sportsman Douglas had always presented a clean cut image, and was something of a teen idol. The notion that at least part of it was a facade hiding personal anxieties was troubling. Rather than address the issue directly however, Mulgrove asked, "So what's your take on it then, bunky?" "My take? My take is that this is a comic book universe where everybody overreacts to this slightest incident, and then not only goes back to business as usual but all too often forgets that there was ever a problem in the first place," he answered seriously. Mulgrove nodded, but Doug saw this as a conversation extending gambit to keep someone talking, and couldn't keep the irritation from his voice: "Why am I even telling you this? It isn't like you'd understand, or anything!" The Irreverend raised an eyebrow. "Well that's an awful big assumption there, bunky. What makes you think *I'm* native to this universe either?" Doug stared at him in astonishment. Irreverend Mulgrove shrugged. "You're not the only extradimensional stuck here, you know. Not by a long shot. I did some nosing about, once. You would be ah-MAZED at how many people from other universes there are around here." He gazed around the courtyard as though he was half expecting most of them to be lurking behind one of the azalea bushes. "Sometimes I think this world is one big weirdness magnet," he confided. Then he sat down on the seat beside Doug and for a second that rather inane grin that he kept plastered on his face most of the time slipped away. "And you're not the only person to know loss. Are you familiar with the ASH universe? No? Okay then. I came from an Earth not too far away from here that recently lost several billion people - about two thirds of the planetary population. A few years back I was studying reality violations in college, and kind of got shunted over. By the time I figured out what was going on and had the wherewithall to get back, well..." He looked down at his hands, then back up to meet Doug's eyes. "At the time I left our pagan gods had returned and were recruiting worshippers. The Godmarket, it was called. But in the middle of 1998 things got out of hand and the gods simply started taking what the wanted from humanity rather being given it as worship. More than 4 billion people simply vanished, eaten up and swallowed whole by gods who were, to put it bluntly, not godly; and millions more died in the social collapse that followed. They would have sucked the whole world dry if they could have, except for the actions of our superheroes. Tymythy Twystyd rallied the heroes and did... something. Nobody's really sure what. But he created a Barrier around that universe and blocked the gods out." He looked wistful. "And everybody else out, as well." "That's hideous," said Doug, horror struck. Then, "Hold up, is this is the same Tymythy Twystyd...?" "As the Church of Tym? Yes. Of course. That's why I set up a branch of the Church in this universe in his honour. Not to worship him... He wasn't a god, shouldn't be worshipped, and would probably laugh in your face if you tried to worship him in any case. But he's a saviour figure, and proof positive that even in the most hopeless of situations the human spirit can find a way to triumph over adversity." Doug threw him a reproachful look. Even as parables went it wasn't particularly subtle. "Okay, okay, I get the hint. It's not the crap you have to put up with, it's the way you handle it that's the important thing." Then another thought displaced the moral of the story and he said, "But if you're locked out, then how do you know what happened?" "Oh, that," the Irreverend said dismissively, reacquiring the light attitude that he habitually wore in public. "Do you know what digitaprosomancy is?" "No." "Divining the future by reading stories posted on the internet. I've got a reasonable idea of what will be happening out through the next generation or so." He shrugged again. "Things get better." The Irreverend Mulgrove stood up and then gave Doug's shoulder a brotherly squeeze. "Things can always get better Doug. It's just a matter a people giving it some effort, and always remembering that you're not alone." Anal-Retentive Archive Kid shook his head in dismay and finished indexing the report in his hands before moving on to the next one. For a while each seemed to have been worse than the others preceding it. It was as though the whole world had become obsessed with the morning's terrorist attacks. Almost from the instant the WTC had been rammed public interest had been focused on it to the exclusion of almost everything else. A while later the captured terrorists from the second, third and fourth planes had been identified by authorities as belonging to the Islamist al-Qaeda group - and that was when the religiously motivated attacks had started. Christian on Muslim revenge attacks, Muslim on Christian counter assaults, Muslim on Jew, Christian on Pagan ('because they ain't us, and are therefore the enemy'), as well as what looked like some very nasty internecine Muslim on Muslim fighting. Now, by mid afternoon, most of it had been brought under control. However it had been touch and go for a while, and in the meantime there had been considerable damage done by the likes of those origami battle mecha while the net.heroes and the police had been tied up. Hopefully they could head off any flare ups overnight. "What in the worlds are you doing now?" a familiar voice asked. Anal-Retentive Archive Kid looked up from the laptop and saw Chinese Guy, Lenny and Easily-Discovered Man Lite standing beside the cafeteria table where he'd been working. He hadn't heard them approach. They looked tired, but nevertheless Chinese Guy has an amused look on his face. Meanwhile the squirrel-shaped Lenny had scampered down from Chinese Guy's shoulder and was peaking at the laptop screen. "Hey guys," ARAK said. "Just catching a quick bite to eat while I'm collating files." Chinese Guy looked pointedly at the uneaten cheesecake sitting on the table, then glanced at Lite. "That doesn't look like a quick bite to me." "Aw man, he's *let the cheesecake go cold!*" said Lite in mock horror. "Cheesecake-Eater Lad will whap you upside the head faster than Russell Crowe after he's had a pint of lager in him." Anal-Retentive Archive Kid glowered at them even as he felt his face run hot. Chinese Guy leaned over and hit 'save' on the laptop and then whisked it away. "Hey!" went ARAK as he tried to grab at the laptop, but Chinese Guy was (as ever) faster than ARAK's mere normal reflexes could hope to match. "It's just after three o'clock," said Chinese Guy. "How long have you been sitting here, too wrapped up in your work to actually feed yourself?" ARAK was about to protest when his stomach growled, and his face went even more red. "Eat your cheesecake," said Lite as they sat down with their own food. "Fine," countered ARAK with ill-temper directed as much towards his own carelessness at letting things come to this pass as he was towards the patronising. "So how did things go?" Then he paused. Ruefully he said, "You know, I'm not even sure what mission you've been on. Was it the inter-dimensional vortex in the Bermu.dir Triangle?" "The terrorist planejackings in Washington.gov," said Lenny, nibbling on a macadamia nut. "Then crowd control afterwards." "Those!" said ARAK, suddenly more interested. "The news has been running hard on that all day. Thor's Bloody Red Beard, it's like every third image on the TV is the shot of Kid Kirby's boomtube diverting the plane away from the second WTC tower at the last instant!" Lite looked at him. "I though you'd been working all day?" "What do you think I've been working on!?" demanded ARAK, pointing at the laptop that CGuy still had beside him. "It's like everyone's gone ballistic over those planejacks. There's all these reports coming in, and they've all been marked high priority, it's a scramble just to keep up. Anyway, it went all right, didn't you?" "Oh yeah," said Chinese Guy. "Bunch of fanatics had smuggled knives on board through airport security." "Some of them had those living plastic mini submachine guns," Lite reminded him. "Looked to me like the type that the Injoker's gang was using a while ago. Ultimate Kabuki Actor'll want to know what part of the black market they got them from." "Mmm," nodded Chinese Guy. Then he said to ARAK, "Not that it did much good against Lite, of course. He wields a mean spatula, you know." "Actually though, there's something you'll find interesting," said Lite, leaning forward. "The last two of them we didn't even have to fight at all. They collapsed. From dysentery." Anal-Retentive Archive Kid blinked. "What? Are we talking about Theomortic Dysentery here?" Lite grinned and nodded. "Sudden onset..." ARAK mused to himself. "You bet. Just like that." Lite snapped his fingers. "One second, upright. Next, flat on the floor and leaking from both ends. The medics on the ground who took them to hospital under guard confirmed it. Honest to goodness Theomortic Dysentery, but I've never heard of it happening so fast before." "Neither have I," went ARAK. "Whoa. Plot Device. That's..." he paused again, trying to get a grasp of the implications. The Looniverse had a thing called Theomortic Dysentery. Careful investigation suggested that it was a recent, if inadvertent, creation of Retcon Lad, much to his ambivalence. He had a bugaboo about accidental creations, even non-malign ones. It's name was often mistakenly taken to mean that it was dysentery that killed people who believed in god. The truth was even stranger: it was dysentery that only afflicted people who would kill in the name of their god. But it was slow to take affect, so it had never really been a factor in the fast-paced fight scenes of net.ahumans. Or at least, it had been up until now. [_Flame Wars 4 Epilogue: Funeral For Some Friends_ #2 - Footnote Girl] "That's just so amazingly cool," Anal-Retentive Archive Kid marvelled. "I don't care if Retcon Lad created it by accident because he was feeling uptight about Reverend Skyker. That's something he should be proud of." Meanwhile Fuzzy was busy in a fight scene at a grocery store. She caught the arms of the goon who was trying to rush her from behind and threw him over her shoulder, using his own momentum to launch him forward and into one of his compatriots. They impacted together heavily and then fell to the floor. Fuzzy grinned mirthlessly to herself. In a hand-to-hand fight she really had very little to worry about, since her powers of ambiguity kept her opponents from getting a proper bead on her whereabouts. A gunfight, however, was a slightly different matter. So when the third and final man decided to try a marginally more intelligent attack against her and started firing a gun she ducked down out of the line of fire. Near invisibility or not, there was still a small but very real risk that a random burst of gun fire might hit her by chance. And she'd have to make this quick; if frustrated enough he might remember that he effectively had a hostage. Not that the fight had started as a hostage situation. With seemingly everyone so excitable at the moment, Fuzzy had been On Patrol against the ethnically motivated violence. There had been a few such incidents so far, with hotheads on all sides coming out of the woodwork. And she couldn't believe the number of dingalings who didn't know what a Sikh was. But while she'd been expecting violence against Muslims, she'd been mildly intrigued by this apparent shake down attempt of an Arabic business by Muslim youths. .oO( Local low lifes using the turmoil as a cover? Or something more? ) she had wondered. Although the final thug had lost track of her he kept firing his machine gun, shattering displays and causing merchandise to crash to the floor. Fuzzy skirted around to the side in a simple flanking manoeuvre, keeping low to take advantage of cover in case he started spraying his shots even more wildly. He was shouting something that Fuzzy was having trouble making out over the chatter of the gunfire, but which sounded like "Allah Akbar". Still, whatever it was was enough to keep him distracted until the moment when she was able to give him a brutal chop in the neck with the side of her hand. Stunned, he dropped his machine gun. Then she grabbed his head with both hands and rammed it hard into a nearby wall. She glanced around. All of the fight seemed to have gone out of her playmates. Well, good. That meant that she could turn her attention to more important things. The store owner had been bashed and she helped him from the floor and tended to his wounds. Fortunately he had no broken bones. "What did they want, Mr Asir?" she asked. "What were they wanting to steal?" He winced in pain. "Not quite a robbery. More of a protection racket that they've been building up. They said they were putting together support for their group... Money and community support so that they could continue to work against the great Satan Ame.rec.a. Anyone who didn't want to co-operate they called a false Muslim." He waved his hand to indicate the stunned or unconscious miscreants. "I got the impression that they were feeling bold after what happened this morning. Tch. Young people these days..." That bit of information worried Fuzzy. That almost sounded like a rehash of parts of the 'All-Star Squadron'. No, that couldn't be right. Still, it sounded like she should tie them up and do some interrogating before handing them over to the police, then report this back to the Legion. It wasn't just the living that were being questioned. Occultism Kid was in his room making preparations. He had spent most of last night battling a Halloween-themed entity calling itself the Pumpkin-Headed Man - depleting much of his mystic resources in the process. After arriving home around 5:30 he had slept until almost noon and hadn't even been aware of the events of the morning until Ultimate Ninja had briefed him on the situation and handed him an assignment of necromancy - in its literal meaning of collecting information from the dead. Occultism Kid had locked the door and told the Door Warden to admit no one, and was now setting about drawing up a pentagram for the summoning of a demon. He let out an irritated breath. If only Demon Boy of the Legion of Occult Heroes were still around. It would have been nice to have been able to make use of Andrew's power to summon up and compel demons by just calling out their names. Still, one did not become a world class magician by being lazy. So Occultism Kid drew two pentagrams and then cleaned his hands of the noisome substances. Then he double-checked the pronunciation of the infernal name he was intending to use. It belonged to a knight of the lower pits, and because religious fanatics so often ended up literally shovelling shit in the dung furnaces of Net.Hell Occultism Kid had also prepared some magically powered nose plugs. The fiend with which Occultism Kid would have to deal, and the souls that he hoped to have dragged forth for interrogation, would have a psychic stench about them which mere physical olfactory protection would not be enough. All was in readiness. Occultism Kid performed the required ritual with precision and care. There was a burst of red light and a whiff of sulphur, and suddenly one of the pentagrams was no longer empty. The figure standing there was roughly humanoid, but far too tall and thin to be human. Its skin was a jagged collection of dark slabs, and as it moved cracks appeared in its skin through which hellish red light and the smell of more brimstone leaked. It was as if someone had seen the cooling skin of a river of lava, and then used special effects to overlay the image onto a roughly human-shaped being. "Who callss?" asked the demon in a voice that was a whispered crackle of flame and outrush of superheated air. "I do. Hello Ousorg." "Sso, Occultissm Kid," Ousorg said. "What do you want, and what are you prepared to pay for it?" "I'm after specific souls with specific information: al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for this morning's plane crash incident in Net.York. As for what I'm prepared to pay, you know full well who owes whom." A look of disgust crossed Ousorg's face. It had been hoping that the mortal would have been careless enough to lose track of that favour. "Very well. I acknowledge the debt. Name the ssoulss that you wish to talk to. Do you want them one at a time, or all at oncce?" "One at a time will be fine," said Occultism Kid as he brought forth the identifying information. "Here," he said, holding up a sheet of paper with biographical details - both mundane and arcane - for the demon to read. The basic details Ultimate Ninja had given him earlier, and since then he had used some divinations to flesh it out just enough for necromantic purposes. Ousorg examined the details, nodded, and called forth the first damned soul. His face was one racked by indescribable horror. This didn't particularly surprise Occultism Kid. No doubt the man had been expecting a quite different reward. One of the warnings repeated time and time again was that no matter how many times that the god of Abraham said unto his faithful 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' or the equivalent, there were Crusaders and Jihadists who were always getting a nasty surprise when they found that their elaborate justifications weren't going to be accepted as an excuse. No matter. They had made their beds of red hot nails, and now they would have to sleep on them. "Tell me of your part in the plane attack on the World Trade Center," ordered Occultism Kid. A look of befuddlement passed across the dead man's face. "That was... so long ago..." he croaked. "Why do you want to know about something that happened decades ago?" And this also did not surprise Occultism Kid. "It happened six hours ago," he stated bluntly. "Six... *hours*?" The ghost of the terrorist stared at him bug- eyed, then threw back his head and howled like, well, one of the damned. Ousorg cackled with malicious delight, which Occultism Kid forced himself to ignore in order to proceed with the intelligence gathering. He had several shades to interrogate, and indulging the demon's schadenfreude would not get the job done any quicker. Fortunately there were ways of gaining the information he needed regardless of whether the source was willing or not - or even capable of cooperation . With an act of will Occultism Kid conjured into being an eye composed of pale etheric light. It hovered approximately two hand spans before his forehead, and then opened to spill forth a more intense radiance upon the soul. The wretch cringed away, but could not hide. Across the room Ousorg stopped his spiteful laughter. Although the demon was in a separate pentagram and not bathed directly in the beam, he too cringed away from the light. .oO( Good, ) noted Occultism Kid to himself. .oO( If nothing else, then that's one constructive thing I've managed so far. ) Then the mage announced in freeform verse: By Aga.modem the All-Processing's All-seeing Eye To these questions I put You will not lie. To a sufficiently skilled adept who was using an Eye of Aga.modem spell there were few secrets that could be hidden. Nevertheless this would be a long task, and so Occultism Kid set to work. There were a few scenes that were being repeated over and over on the non-stop television coverage. The initial plane crash was one of them. Another was the terrible slow approach of the second plane towards its target before it was suddenly snatched away at the last moment by one of Kid Kirby's boomtubes. A third was the one where Very Big Boy had grown up to about 400 meters high and simply *grabbed* the stricken tower and held it together by main force. Very Big Boy had later confessed that he had burnt two plot devices for that feat. The first device had been to expand himself up beyond his natural 50 meter height limit. The second had been to make sure that the building hadn't crumbled in his grasp. "But you shouldn't have needed to do that," protested Dr Stomper when he heard this. "It should have held together in exactly the same way that cars, buildings and the like hold together when superstrong individuals pick them up and repeatedly use them as clubs against each other." Very Big Boy shook his head, heavy of heart. "Maybe. But I really didn't want to risk it. It was damaged. And besides, that may have been all that was keeping it together for as long as it did." This started a brief debate on the merits of various net.heroing techniques. On the TV screen flying figures surrounded the tower, either evacuating office workers or putting out the fire. A zoom shot showed the jolly boats of the Crimson Permanent Assurance - which Bicycle Repair Lad had called in to help - rowing down the side of the building in blithe disregard for the direction of gravity, their keels and oars briefly leaving rippling wakes on the glass walls of the skyscraper. The Mayor of Net.York city was standing about two blocks away from the cordon that surrounded the collapsed remains of the North Tower. As always when he found himself in this situation he couldn't help but feel that the skyline simply looked odd without both WTC towers there. Yes. It happened a lot. He frowned. For some reason those towers seemed to attract the super- powered nutbars, although now it looked like they were attracting the non-super nutbars as well. If it wasn't Alt.lactus, the Devourer of Newsgroups landing on top of them and making preparations to eat the planet, it was subterranean races hijacking them down into the earth, or winged serpents nesting on them, or just plain superhuman fight scenes doing random property damage to them. Not for the first time he wondered if it was their height, but dismissed the idea on the grounds that the Sears Tower hadn't had to put up with the same ongoing barrage of weird shit. "Sir," said an aide. "The head of PenguinKleen Inc. is here to see you." The Mayor nodded and waited while a ragged old man wearing a pith helmet was escorted over. He was accompanied by a penguin in a paramilitary jumpsuit with a PDA. "Owwowwowwowww," went the former of the two as he sketched out a brief salute. "Good to see you again, Rudy." "You too, Denis," said the Mayor, shaking hands. "I wish it could be under better circumstances. I was really sorry to hear about your crew on the roof. I'm afraid you were right on the money with that sock analogy the last time we talked about the Trade Center." Denis Bludwulf nodded unhappily. He remembered: 'There's only so many times you can mend a sock before there's no sock left, just patches,' he had warned. "Unfortunately, we've only been able to repair them to look the same, but even with supertech there's only so many times that you can patch up a structure before you reach the point of diminishing returns. There are micro-weaknesses that remain, and they accumulate!" He paused. "Rudy, did you know that when the North Tower crumbled we already had two of our LURGIS [Lift Units: Reverse Gravity Impellors - Footnote Girl] installed and running on the roof?" "Dear God," said the Mayor, turning to him in surprise. "No, I hadn't." That put a whole new perspective on the collapse of the North Tower. He remembered the scene quite clearly from a quick TV news summary that had been prepared for him as part of the final preparation for a news conference. The building had just... crumbled... in Very Big Boy's hands with several hundred people still inside it. The Mayor had known that PenguinKleen agents had been on the roof at the time and had assumed that it had been tragically lousy luck that the tower had given way only minutes before they could ease the weight. "We only just worked that out ourselves. It'll be in the full report our tech boys will be forwarding to your office in about an hour's time," said Bludwulf. "But, nosh my crumpets, it's almost as though the building had simply *worn out*..." He shook his head. He didn't know how to explain this in layman's terms without sounding superstitious, but it was as though all the damage that the North Tower had taken over the years had come home to roost at once. The chappies at the Legion of Net.Heroes would understand, of course, but their grasp of physics was appropriately screwball... The Mayor was thinking. Shit. That was... That was bad. He sighed. "Listen Denis, at the moment we're still picking up the pieces. The wounds are still raw and we don't even know the final death toll yet. But further down the track I can see that they'll want to rebuild the tower again. God knows they always have in the past. Have a revised version of your proposal - you know the one, about replacing the tower after every fifth disaster or so rather than repairing it. Yeah, that one. Just have that on standby, will you." Bludwulf nodded, and his penguin aid made a note in his PDA. "And in the meantime, just keep your crews on the cleanup," finished the Mayor. "Pass the word on to them that we really appreciate the work they're doing, okay?" Bludwulf nodded. "I'll make sure of it, Mr Mayor." "Fearless Leader!" Fearless Leader turned to find a rather excited looking Fourth Wall Lass and Curious Lass. "We've got the answer," exclaimed Curious Lass. "It's coming from Real Life. " "What is?" "The uproar over the World Trade Center attacks," said Fourth Wall Lass. "We've been checking. I can't believe that we were so obtuse as to not check that angle before. Anyway, it's an event that happened in Real Life and is being mirrored here. All the public anxiety, it's isn't *our* anxiety..." "Well, it is, but we're getting it second hand," put in Curious Lass. Fearless Leader had taken two seconds to assimilate this knowledge, and was now adjusting his outlook of the situation by 90 degrees. Well, so much for Deductive Logic Man's theories. And then there was what was happening in other fictional universes. "Blast," he said. Curious Lass turned back to him, and away from the debate she'd been having with FaWL about whether a population of people who only existed in potentia as background characters could have independent, individualised emotions and responses. "Pardon?" "Just thinking," said Fearless Leader. "If we're getting a parallel event from Real Life here in the Looniverse, then they'll be experiencing it in the Marvel and DC universes as well. But their publishers probably won't let our fellow heroes in those worlds make any significant difference, in case it upsets their audience." "They probably won't know what hit them, the poor guys," agreed Fourth Wall Lass, finishing the line of thought. "It'll probably be insanely frustrating for particularly powerful superheroes, like Superman, Green Lantern, Iron Man or Thor." "Well, to be fair, their Writers probably won't let them notice the discrepancy. It wouldn't be the first time they've pulled that trick. But, yes, we should keep our best wishes in mind for them," Fearless Leader said. "In the meantime, the Legion will need to adjust our tactics. Good work ladies. This information will be important." Commentaries from public figures were now beginning to be interspersed with the news reports. Not all of them were helpful or constructive. Anal-Retentive Archive Kid looked up in irritation from his work when someone cycled through to a television channel that featured Jerry Falwellman trying to implicate his political opponents as bearing moral responsibility for the morning's terrorists attacks. "...have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked, and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who try to secularise America - I point the thing in their face and say 'you helped this happen'." And then, live on national television, the evangelical preacher contacted Theomortic Dysentery, threw up and collapsed. There was second's worth of stunned silence in the LNH-HQ cafeteria. Then: "Yes yes yes!" ARAK cried, punching the air in triumph and forcing EDMLite to duck out of the way. "Retcon Lad, you are brilliant! You are DA MAN!" Across the room Self-Righteous Preacher threw him a black look of condemnation. "Silence, heathen!" he roared. "How dare you take pleasure in seeing someone struck down and in pain from such a loathsome disease! How dare you mock someone for trying to give a much needed warning!" "Oh bullshit," said ARAK dismissively. "His 'warning' isn't about what's right, only about getting his own way. The Muslim nutcases will take today's attacks as a sign of Allah's approval for their cause, while their Christian counterparts are already jumping up and down screaming about divine punishment for not following their hardline Christian agenda," he said, waving his hand in the direction of the TV screen where Falwellman's broadcast had been replaced with an ad for Happy Puppy Dog Treats. ["Nine out of ten veterinarians agree that people who don't feed their pets Happy Puppy Dog Treats will be squashed by elephants."] "And if things were reversed," ARAK continued, "and say a bloody great asteroid strike turned Mecca into a smouldering crater, then it'd be spiteful little creatures like Falwellman claiming vindication for their position while the Islamists would be saying it was a warning to turn away from decadent Western values. These petty little creatures aren't interested in the human suffering involved. For them, this sort of thing is all just political opportunity to increase their support base." "That is SLANDER!" yelled SRP, who was now face to face with ARAK. "Just because *you* hate everything that the moral core of the country believe in you have to twist their motivations to reflect your petty bigotries." "Their actions speak louder than their words!" countered ARAK with equal heat. At which point the flat of a ginsu katanna appeared between them. A very sharp ginsu katanna with an implicit potential for rotating ever so slightly and bringing its blade up between them. Nobody had seen Ultimate Ninja enter the room, but that was more or less the point. Quite calmly the Legion leader said, "I am currently somewhat busy trying to keep the panic from making the country's leaders do anything precipitous. But not so busy that I won't take a half minute to keep discipline among my troops. You two will stand down and behave yourselves, or I will... deal... with you." Nobody wanted to be... dealt with... by Ultimate Ninja, and so the two men stepped apart, and after a final angry glance turned their backs and pointedly ignored each other. Ultimate Ninja looked around the cafeteria at the staring faces. "There will be a general meeting in two hour's time." Later, Ultimate Ninja called for quiet in the auditorium. "I've called this meeting and video hook up to outline a number of findings about the plane hijackings in Net.York," he summarised by way of preamble. "Thanks to several investigations, it's been confirmed that what we experienced was a mirror of events that took place in Real Life." There was a sudden buzz of low conversation at this. Behind his mask the ninja frowned at the controversy. It wasn't as though they weren't all aware of this through the nigh-omnipresent LNH rumour mill. He continued, "This has had a knock-on effect here in the Looniverse, as public outrage there has also been mirrored here. So far the effects of that have been able to be contained and kept from synergising too badly with our world's high drama levels." There was murmuring among the crowd. "I know it might not seem like that from all the rioting that went on, but on the plus side the U.S. government has been talked into merely cracking down on the funding of overseas terrorist groups as a short term response rather than immediately nuking Bin Laden's last known base in Afgha.net.stan." "Oh? And will that keep Noraid from sending funding to the IRA?" asked Cynical Lass in her best Warren Ellis-style acerbic chain-smoking Brit impression. "How nice. That's a bit of hypocrisy that's needed tidying up for quite a while now." Ultimate Ninja glared at her, which she aggressively ignored. Frankly she was feeling extremely belligerent, since the unearthing of Bin Ladin's history of involvement with the American-backed anti-Soviet forces was practically screaming `Blowback' to her and was giving her a nasty migraine. Someone raised a hand and Ultimate Ninja fielded the question. "Does this mean that Bin Laden exists in Real Life too? Or is he just a cypher being used by the Writers to fill in a blank in their own knowledge?" "He's real," confirmed UN. "So are we going to be able to do anything practical against him? Or are we just going to end up fighting his superpowered ubermensch minions?" Mentally Ultimate Ninja rolled his eyes. The phrasing was a near non-sequitor, but they had clearly heard about Fuzzy's encounter and made the connection with the obvious historical precedent. "A valid question," said Ultimate Ninja, "and one we still don't have a clear answer for. It's well documented that when a Real Life criminal can't be caught for an extended period writers of superhero fiction credit him with a variety of reasons for being beyond the grasp of their supposedly omnicompetent characters. Adolf Hitler is the obvious archetype in this case." Once again the room filled with muted conversation, but the ninja pushed on through it with an ancient and deadly throat clearing technique. "It may be that the Real Life version of Bin Laden will be caught quickly, in which case his Looniversal counterpart will probably be as well. It may even be that if he remains at large that the Writers may choose to ignore him anyway. That said, we also have to be prepared for the possibility that he may be elevated to the level of archvillain with his own equivalent of Hitler's ubermensch and agent provocateurs. The Legion also has searches underway to confirm the whereabouts of mystic artefacts like the Spoon of Destiny. In the meantime all Legionnaires are to be on the alert for homefront sabotage by fifth columnists, as well as attacks by any villain teams calling themselves Al-Qaeda Amerika." Listening to the video link in his workshop while he caught up with an already delayed engine overhaul, Bicycle-Repair Lad frowned thoughtfully. His archenemy, Hexadecimal Luthor, was currently President of the Usenetted States of America thanks to judicious use of retconning. While the threat of deep cover enemies had to be taken seriously, he wouldn't put it past Luthor to deliberately engineer a perception in the public of danger from mainstream Muslims for Luthor's political purposes. Bicycle-Repair Lad made a mental note to bring that up with the Legion leadership. Back at the auditorium someone else asked a question. "What about the possibility that even if Bin Laden dies horribly in a mishap when one of his own schemes blows up in his face, that he might keep coming back in cloned bodies or as a disembodied brain in a jar?" This time Ultimate Ninja did roll his eyes. "He only relies on dialysis," he said wearily. "Let's not get too carried away." In the audience Self-Righteous Preacher had been frowning in thought. Now he said, "Ultimate Ninja," to put his question to the floor, and in doing so drawing weary looks from surrounding net.heroes. Time for another lengthy speech, it seemed. "Yes, Preacher?" "If this unfortunate catastrophe isn't the brainchild of one of the Writers, and isn't being tied to a particular plot, then the question becomes what are we going to do about it?" "I've just outlined our broad strategy and tactics." "No, that isn't what I'm talking about," The Preacher said. "I mean about the ramming and subsequent tower collapse themselves." "Then I don't understand what you mean. Please be more specific." "The Writers habitually contrive disaster situations with no consistency about how to resolve them. Recall that in the case of the destruction of Metropolis in the 'Fall of Metropolis' story they were quite willing to handwave reconstruction of the city with a super mage casting a spell, yet no one thought about using similar methods on Gotham during the 'No Man's Land' arc." Mainstream Man nodded. "That's a not unreasonable comparison. And then there was the destruction of Coast City in 'Reign of Supermen' which was only ever intended as a spring board for sending Hal Jordan insane." "Worse, the Writers didn't consider the option of using super powers to bring something as simple as supplies into Gotham," said Frothing-At- The-Mouth Lad. "Or more tellingly what the political ramifications of cutting the city off from the rest of the country would be." "And your point is, Preacher?" said Ultimate Ninja, ignoring these interjections. "The point is that even the professional Writers don't apply consistency, credibility, or morality to their storylines," replied Self- Righteous Preacher. "As far as they're concerned, only their plots matter. And if in this case there is no storyline attached to the event, if there are no artificial constraints on what we can or cannot do to fulfil their pretentiously artistic visions, then I say that we should act to do the most amount of good with our not inconsiderable resources." "If you plan to use time travel to prevent the building from being targeted in the first place, forget it," said Sarcastic Lad. "That trick never works." The Preacher huffed. "There are numerous ways that we could carry out such a task. Most of them, however, are morally suspect. I am specifically suggesting that we petition the RACC.tre to undo the damage." The buzz of many people talking at once started up again, louder than before. Ultimate Ninja had to yell for quiet, then said, "You know that the general consensus - even comic book cliche - is that when superheroes try to make changes to the world rather than just defend it from paranormal threats that their efforts end in failure, don't you?" "I do," said the preacher gravely. "That is why I think the Wrath of God would be the one to ask." "That may not be enough to keep today's event from being deliberately hammered back into the same shape as their Real Life template." "Simply because a more powerful opponent may try to stop us isn't a reason for at least trying, even if it is the Writers," countered SRP. "We wouldn't be so cowardly as to let the interference of a net.villain or demon lord put us off from doing the right thing! There's no reason why we should let a group of demiurges with delusions of competence do so either!" Ultimate Ninja looked at him for a long, hard second, and then nodded. "All right. Go and talk with the RACC.tre. And Preacher? Good luck." Kid Pocky was brooding. "That's a pretty serious expression you've got there," noted Squidman, team leader of Dvandom Force. "Penny for them?" Kid Pocky shifted in the seat where he'd been thinking. He paused for a long second, which Squidman found unusual. The young man was barely a teenager physically, but there were complications to Kid Pocky's Origin that justifiably made him mature beyond his years in some areas. Then KP said, "You remember how the home Looniearth of the Legion of Occult Heroes died." It was not a question. There could conceivably be a few independently operating net.heroes who had not heard that story nor seen the movie file made as a testament by the residents of that universe, but no one who regularly travelled in superhero circles could not know. During the insanity of the Retcon Hour crossover a new subgroup of the Legionnaires had appeared, seemingly created from nothing. This had not been particularly noteworthy, since this was the Looniverse, and such things happened all the time. After some confusion, it had been discovered that these three net.heroes and their personal histories had been transplanted from their home universe into this one. This, also, had not been particularly noteworthy, since this was the Looniverse, and such things also happened all the time. Macroman, one of Squidman and Kid Pocky's teammates, had been subjected to something similar. Demon Boy, Leviathan Lass and the Green Treencoat had later returned to their homeworld. They had found it dead. Their Looniverse, like this one, was a work of fiction - and in the world 'above' theirs in which the stories had been written a group of religious extremists had gained political power, curtailed most civil liberties, and in a fit of self- righteousness had killed the LOH's Looniverse as a demonstration of the futility of fiction. [_Legion of Occult Heroes_ #5 - Footnote Girl] "I've sometimes wondered why their world was singled out," mused Kid Pocky. "Maybe it was the work of some lone fanatic associated with the Cause who decided to kill of the LOHverse as a way to get brownie points. Or perhaps the Looniverse was one of a large number of fictional worlds that those people had attacked en masse because they didn't adhere to their narrow worldview. Possibly their Superguy Altiverse was targeted as well, or some of the many other worlds of heroic or simply secular fiction..." Squidman raised a sceptical eyebrow beneath his cowl. "I find it hard to believe you're being so introspective for no reason. Was there something that brought you onto this line of thought?" Kid Pocky ahemed with a touch of embarrassment. "The highjacking attacks in Net.York got me thinking about it. There are similarities, after all - especially the bit about events in Real Life having an effect on us that we can do nothing about." Another pause. "You also remember what my reaction to the death of the Occult Heroes' world was?" "Yes," said Squidman in a careful neutral voice. "You hadn't reincarnated yet, and were still the world class net.villain Acton Lord. You decided to cut our Looniverse off from the Writers in Real Life so that nothing like that could happen here as well - as well as setting up the conditions that would let you take over the world." [_Dvandom Force_ #42 - Footnote Girl] Kid Pocky nodded. "And Dvandom Force and Netlurker stopped me. Rightly, I think, in retrospect." "You *think*?" Kid Pocky looked Squidman squarely in the eye. "Yes. There are times like this when I have doubts. Oh, not overwhelming doubts. The ethics of the situation were clear: you stopped a net.villain bent on world conquest. No problem there. And as for the dangers of what I was doing..." He ran a hand threw his short cropped black hair. "The Corruption Force exists to make things work improperly. It's... not very good at preserving. And with the benefit of no longer being insane because I've cut contact with it, I'm not sure what I was doing was fully safe, even with the help that I suborned from Green Trenchcoat." A look of regret passed across the boy's face before he continued. "But faced with things like this, I get doubts, David. Very deep and very dark doubts. All other factors being equal and all other dangers being removed, wouldn't it be better to separate the Looniverse off from lunatics like them?" "You might be overreaching yourself if you tried. Net.heroes can't prevent every single natural disaster, after all." Kid Pocky shook his head. "I think you might be comparing apples and oranges. There's a difference between weather which is an inherent part of our world, and interlopers from another dimension hijacking natural processes to suit their own whims. But let's put that aside and assume that the comparison is valid. Sure, we can't head off every disaster, but shouldn't we at least mitigate as many as we can if it's within our abilities to do so? Should rangers not clear undergrowth and leave the forest fires to burn unchecked? Should we not leave off with maintenance of the flood levies and let the next hurricane that blows in from the Gulf wash everything away in the storm surge?" "I think you're being cynical" Squidman replied. "No. I am trying to be realistic... Trying to juggle the finite but still quite awesome resources of the net.ahumans to the best effect, and keeping in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If I were a cynic I would not have chosen to become a net.hero this time around. I would never have thought it possible to make up for the things that I had done when I was... wrong, nor that I could..." and here he trailed off, embarrassed again. .oO( Nor that you could win Kat's love, ) Squidman thought, finishing his sentence for him. But he didn't say it out loud, and almost immediately Kid Pocky picked up the conversation again and veered away from that rather personal open secret: "If you want a cynical thought," Kid Pocky said, "then try the idea that Writers thrive on conflict and catastrophe, and that no matter what we do to try and alleviate the damage, the Writers will block it just so that they can still have drama for their stories." XOdious was also brooding. He was disturbed and more than a little envious of the attention that genetic vermin like those flatscan human terrorists had been able to garner for themselves with their attacks. Yet he, a text.ernal whose subtle behind-the-scenes machinations had unfolded across centuries, had yet to be able to usher in his much planned for golden age of superhumanity. Suddenly gripped by pectoral-envy (because costumed superhumans have a curious emphasis on secondary rather than primary sexual characteristics) XOdious cried out: "To me, my Acolytes!" And they came. A cadre of superhuman warriors fanatically dedicated to the holy writ of mutant supremacy. "Welcome my holy warriors", said XOdious gravely. He stood up from his chair. "Today a group of humans tried to assert the supremacy of their religion. They are fools - just as all *human* religions are foolish - but it seems clear that they will need to be put in their place. And I have a plan." At the touch of a button a holographic display of the Looniearth blossomed into existence. It zoomed in on the Beanstalk, the 360,000+ kilometre tall elevator with its ground tether in equatorial Brazil, and specifically to the High Castle platform at its top. Various other schematics popped up as well, showing just the right places to plant explosives on the space platform to impart momentum and spin to bring it down in a manner that would sent flaming wreckage crashing down across southern Europe and the Middle-East - and with the largest of it, the several million tonne platform, turning Mecca into a rather large impact crater. "Hail! Hail! Hail!" chanted the Acolytes. Occultism Kid turned to Self-Righteous Preacher as the two of them reached the door. "If you're sure you aren't going to need any help with this..." The Preacher threw him a stern look, and for a second Occultism Kid almost expected a rebuff about not needing the assistance of black magic. Instead he said simply if somewhat stiffly, "The offer is appreciated. But I believe that facing the Wrath of God is something I have to handle myself." Then he stepped in and closed the door to the chapel behind him. "Self-Righteous Preacher," said a sepulchral voice that seemed to echo around the room. "For what reason do you seek an audience with the Guardian of Comic Book Style Justice and the Sword of Talion?" The Preacher didn't bother to hide his fear. The RACC.tre was one of the most powerful beings in the universe and in any case could see what truths and lies lay in a man's heart. It would be both foolish and pointless to try and conceal it. But that did not stop him. "I... I want to ask for a boon." All-Knowing Last-Chance Whiner-Destiny Woman appeared in a puff of smoke in the LNH-HQ's planning room. She gestured dramatically with one hand while clutching her cape with the other. "Legion Emergency!" she announced loudly. "XOdious is trying to bring down the High Castle platform!" Ultimate Ninja looked up from the plans that he had been going over with other senior Legionnaires, then glanced at Innovative-Offense Boy. "Form a squad to deal with him. Try to keep him from doing anything that would raise international tensions again." "#@&*+%ing well on it, boss, " said IOBoy. The RACC.tre's presence coalesced into a cloaked figure who stood by the pulpit. Its face was hooded, but within the darkness were two glowing points shaped like skulls that marked the location of the eyes. "And what desire could be so great that you would want to face me?" "I seek nothing for myself." The RACC.tre looked at him, and through him. "Yes..." was the cryptic reply. The Preacher waited several seconds for a further comment or question. When none was forthcoming he presented his request. "RACC.tre, I wish to see undone the damage done this morning in the plane attack on the World Trade Center." "You seek to have those events wiped away?" "Of course not. I'm not foolish enough to fall into the trap of creating a time paradox loop. I want the *effects* of the calamity undone, not the attack itself." "And why should these deaths be undone? People die all the time, of natural means and not. For every thing there is a season." "And yet this doesn't stop doctors from trying to cure life threatening diseases or developing new forms of palliative care. It doesn't stop governments from taking precautions against natural disasters, or net.hero teams from trying to stop the atrocities of costumed villains. "RACC.tre, this whole enterprise may seem quixotic, but I do realise that superheroes can't save everyone. Until a Grant Morrison-esque uplift of all of humanity takes place, there just aren't enough of us to do more than perform spot measures. Yes, there is a reason behind the philosophy that the superhumans should lead by example rather than try to mollycoddle humanity, and I accept that. But if the Legion were to pick a problem and deal with it at other-than-random, then I believe it should be this one. Perhaps tomorrow some better suited cause will come along, but in the here and now a deliberately created disaster meant to create fear and hatred is exactly the type of event that we should be inspiring people to resist. If we take a stand on an event like this, which derives from Real Life and shows all the hallmarks of having a permanent effect on the collective psyche of the population, then it will do more good for people's sense of justice than any number of fight scenes against costumed criminals." "What if some other disaster strikes, and the dead cannot be brought back again? What would you tell them then?" "Tell them the truth, of course," replied the Preacher simply. "They may not believe us. Heavens alone knows that the likes of McLaughlin Man never do, and he wields considerable sway over public opinion. But, in truth, what of it? We are not here to be *popular*. We are here to do what is *right*. And if that task means that we are mocked and spurned by those who cannot or will not understand, then that is a burden we shall have to bear." "And if this request were granted, would you be willing to accept the consequences?" asked the RACC.tre. "Be forewarned, the price of getting what you desire... is getting what you desire, with all the ramifications that accompany it." High above the Looniearth was the High Castle platform. It didn't so much sit atop the Beanstalk as remain parked in geostationary orbit and dangle the elevator below. The complex was huge, but there was a reason for that. When first built it had been intended as a port for the various sublight mining ships which were bringing back raw materials from all over the solar sys.tem. Soon afterwards it had also taken up duties as a customs office, since although there wasn't much useful FTL technology in human hands, the Looniearth had made some interstellar contact through its net.ahumans, and the aliens had come to visit. But the most growth had come from space tourism - because the costs of getting into orbit on an elevator were far smaller than riding in a capsule strapped to the back of a giant disposable firework. High Castle was big. Which meant that if XOdious could detonate the engines of spacecraft and/or decompress enough of the platform's superstructure on the upper side to kick it out of orbit, then what survived re-entry would still be big enough to make a helluva splat when it hit the ground. Six Legionnaires appeared in a sparkle of transporter effect. "&@#*ing defensive positions," ordered Innovative-Offense Boy, and then he swore again. "Typical," said Easily-Discovered Man Lite when he saw what was going on. "Party crashers." And then they all scattered as ApocaLISP's punch sent XOdious careening through the spot where they had been standing - except for Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story, who stood his ground and caused XOdious to rebound from the impact. Around them was chaos. They had arrived at a large docking bay, and XOdious' Acolytes were in frenzied combat with ApocaLISP's Horsemen. Some few remaining humans and aliens were taking refuge. And in the center of it all, ApocoLISP was standing, hands on hips, laughing uproariously at XOdious' predicament. "There are a lot more than four Horsemen," Ordinary Lady observed. "There have been rumours that *@!##~ Pocky Lips has been recruiting to add the Seven $!%#@ Sins to his group," said Innovative Offense Boy. "Okay people," he called. "#&@**ing well spread out and get these twerps under control. Remember, the #@!&^ heavy hitters first." Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story took off at speed to intercept and take out War, who intel had identified as the most physically powerful of the Horseman. Ordinary Lady found herself facing off against the clawed Acolyte known as the Shishkabobber ("I'm the best at what I do!") but was easily able to use her graceful swordswoman's skills to fend off the Shishkabober's frenzied attacks and quickly overcome her, and then moved on. Liefeld's Porpoise meanwhile had gotten himself into a fire fight with several Acolytes who were being controlled by the Horseman of Wrath, and was happily blazing away with heavy ordinance. For the time being the Legion ignored the less destructive fights like that between the Incomprehensible and Sloth, or even Pride's slugging match with PsychoGigglingLaughing Boy. XOdious rose to his feet, shrugging off the stunning when he had impacted into the near invulnerable KidAIARHS. He blasted off twin force blasts from each hand at ApocaLISP, which the latter dodged by metamorphosing his body and springing away. ApocaLISP continued to laugh mockingly. "And now a third group arrives, XOdiousth. Will they bow down and worship you, perhapsth?" "We aren't %@!+*ing well going to worship anyone, tall grey and gruesome," countered Innovative-Offense Boy. "What is it with you two *?@(# idiots anyway? Are you into running fight scenes or something?" ApocaLISP picked up a small shuttlecraft (only about the size of a minibus) and hefted it in Innovative-Offense Boy's direction. "I am endeavouring to teach my text.ernal compatriot an important life lesson, but unfortunately, he is obsthreperous." "I need no lessons from you!" snarled XOdious and threw a similar shuttle at ApocaLISP. The self-proclaimed lord of programming languages made a gesture, and a forcewall made of slightly glowing machine code deflected the shuttle, causing it to land with considerable damage off to one side. "You, neophyte text.ernal, are so young that you fail to realise that there'sth even a lesson to be learnt at all!" ApocaLISP said sharply. "Perhapsth Innovative-Offense Boy will prove a better pupil." "Hey, the only $@!* thing I wanna learn from you is what to &%!+@ avoid." Meanwhile, across the room Easily-Discovered Man Lite demanded, "Okay, so who are you supposed to be?" of a very female figure in a gauzy dress. "The Queen of She.bit?" "I am Lust! Fear my power!" declaimed the Horseman. "I can do without the Claremont style introduc... tions..." trailed off Lite, who suddenly felt very warm. Too late he realised that since he was an adolescent male, it was probable that he might be susceptible to people with powers to make others... uhm... cavort in an unseemly manner. Limp-Asparagus Lad calmly walked up and said, "Surrender now." "Fool! " said Lust. She pointed at Lite and ordered L-ALad: "Sodomise him now!" Instead Limp-Asparagus Lad knocked Lust unconscious with a punch to the face. "I don't think that was what this issue's Acraphobe content label was warning about." "I know that's a neat trick," said Lite, "But between you and TJ over in Looniverse-Y, don't you ever worry about how your Writer seems to sexually maim his characters? I'm not sure I even feel safe making a guest appearance around here." "A moment please Lite," said Limp-Asparagus Lad, only half paying attention. He suddenly realised that something was happening. He could feel the drama building up somewhere nearby. He reached out with his mind and tried to make sense of what was happening. Then he activated his comm.thingee and said, "Kid Not Appearing, leave War and Pride to us. I think that this fight may be a distraction for someone, possibly Technocrat, to sabotage the computer systems. They are in the control room over on the far left side." "I'm on it. These ones are all yours," said KidNAIARHS, who elbowed War aside and flew off. "Do you want War or Pride?" Limp-Asparagus Lad asked. "War or Pride? War or Pride?" mused Lite, tapping his spatula with indecision. "How about Pride? He seems more personal, somehow." "What would be the ramifications?" asked Self-Righteous Preacher. "The first is not a ramification. The building would remain destroyed. It is only a object, after all, and is nowhere near as important as the lives of the people who died there," said the RACC.tre. "Yes," agreed the Preacher simply. That was obvious. "The second is that if some of the deceased are brought back from beyond, then all would be brought back." The Preacher saw the implications of that immediately. "Including their murderers." "Yes." That was not the best possible outcome, but the Preacher could see the upside to it. The Legion had already backtracked to identify most of the perpetrators. Super sleuthing powers, psionics, and Kirbytech mind scanning devices were useful, in that regard. And conspiracy to commit murder remained conspiracy to commit murder, even if the murders themselves had been nullified. It was even possible that since there would be no time paradox involved, the murders themselves would still stand as indictable offenses; SRP was fuzzy on what the current position of paranormal case law was on that point. He nodded. "Very well. In this imperfect world, we must do the best we can with what we are given." It was amazing, mused Innovative-Offense Boy as he battled the Acolyte known as Thrillkiller, how much long-winded exposition net.ahumans could give during a fight scene. ApocaLISP and XOdious were currently zapping each other with power blasts at ten paces, while ApocaLISP continued with amused condescension. "People are scum," ApocaLISP said, his force blasts slowly pushing across the central point of balance between them. "For all your fine talk of piety, your first impulse is to rethort to violence, just like the Muslims that you're having an envy attack over, and the Christians, and every other group, sthecular or otherwise, that has ever crawled like maggotsth on the face of the planet. Only the survival of the strongest is a constant; blind lust for power in it'sth most naked form! Go ahead XOdious, bring down the space elevator onto the surface of the planet like a bloody sword. Use fear and hate to forge an empire for yoursthelf, and know that ultimately your subjects will rise up in sthpite of you, because warfare is the only Truth that humans know. Exactly the same thing would happen if, by some quirk of Fate, the schemes of al-Qaeda actually came to fruition. The only differenth between you and them is that you were brave enough to show your face in battle!" By now XOdious had been retreating backwards. He had a momentary reprieve when Thrillkiller was able to grab ahold of Innovative-Offense Boy, cry, "No, Lord XOdious! Show the blaspheming nihilist that he is wrong!" and bodily throw the Legionnaire at ApocaLISP. "Ooofff!" went IOBoy as he hit and seemed to have no effect on ApocaLISP whatsoever. ApocaLISP frowned and blasted Thrillkiller, who was thrown clear across the docking bay, impacted against a wall, and lay still. ApocaLISP looked down where the Legionnaire was trying to get up and back away. "And you, Innovative-Offense Boy. In a very real way you and yoursth are even worse than the rest of them. Your attempts at peace keeping are as absthurd as they are futile." "Oh yeah?" snarked IOBoy. "I think you've gone *%@#!@ senile over the past few thousand years, Pocky Lips. I don't see any #>*@& slow descent into $@^%ing barbarism like you do." ApocaLISP actually smiled. "You only see sthuperficialities. It takes a trained eye to grasthp the Truth." He gestured across the cavernous enclosure at security monitors that, somehow, had remained intact. "This is all being broadcast live, did you realise? And what will the normalsth see when they watch all the fighting? Not your peacekeeping force. You'll have to try to spin doctor that in latter. They will see three different groups of net.ahumansth in battle; and they will be right." There was an explosion of glass from the control room as Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story defenestrated Technocrat and Death through the ground level window. Through the gaping hole he could be seen using super speed to try and deprogram the destruct mechanism that Technocrat had set in place. XOdious frowned, then checked a remote of some type that he had on him and smiled. No, it seemed that the meddling of the Horseman Death had kept KidNAIARHS from stopping Technocrat. All was in readiness. XOdious stood straighter and grinned at ApocaLISP and Innovative-Offense Boy, holding the remote out dramatically. "You're too late, ApocaLISP. I have no idea what you thought you could gain from trying to stop me from bringing down High Castle, but with the touch of a button it all ends now." ApocaLISP folded his arms across his chest and grinned. Innovative- Offense Boy looked around desperately for something to close the several meter gap between himself and the leader of the Acolytes and get that remote safely away from him. Around the docking bay those combatants who were still conscious - and it was mainly Legionnaires and their subdued opponents by now - watched the unfolding tableau. And XOdious was hit with a flying tackle from one of the humans who had been hiding as best they could from all the fighting. "No!" the young man screamed and knocked the remote from XOdious' hands. It skidded across the floor to Innovative-Offense Boy's feet, the red light indicating preparedness to remotely set off the explosions that would deorbit the space platform still blinking. IOBoy picked it up and calmly turned it off even as the young man yelled, "No more killing!" and for his trouble was thrown aside by XOdious with a bone crushing swipe of his hand. XOdious took a step towards Innovative-Offense Boy to regain the remote detonator, but then stopped as he realised that the rest of the LNHers were stepping into formation around their squad leader to prevent him. ApocaLISP was roaring with laughter again. "You see, XOdious? No matter how much violence you try to subdue them with, all of them - human and net.ahuman alike - will turn on you and respond in kind. Your dreamsth of a mutant theocracy are baseless. The only thing they understand is conflict, and after the weak have been eliminated then the strong will come to understand that only power mattersth. Your ideology - ALL of your ideologies," he added, sweeping his hand to include the Acolytes, Legion, and the random human and alien stragglers, "are a sham!" And on that derisive note he teleported himself and his Horsemen away. As the Legion took the Acolytes into custody EDMLite went over to check on their surprise rescuer. It looked like he had a broken arm, and as Lite shucked off his flannel shirt to prepare a splint, he said, "Hey, you know, that was just smegging amazing what you did back there. The look that bad guys get on their faces when their plans are foiled is priceless. What's your name?" "A... Abbas," he replied. His dark eyes were red from weeping. "Has it stopped? Has all the killing stopped?" "It's stopped for now. You alright?" "I was in Net.York. There was an air crash." He looked around the docking bay, as trying to decipher where he was. "Am I dead again? Is this Hell?" Easily-Discovered Man Lite stared at him for a second. "Well done Preacher, you bigoted old bully," Lite said with grudging admiration under his breath. Then, as he started wrapping the splint he said to Abbas, "It'll be heaven or hell, depending on what you make of it." The door into the Oval Office of the White House opened and President Hexadecimal Luthor stepped inside. A young lady who was accompanying him put down the files that she was carrying and turned to leave. She paused and said, "That was a great speech sir. Very inspiring. It's such a great shame that it had to be the result of such a tragedy." "Yes," murmured President Luthor as she departed. "A great tragedy." He stared out the windows into the clear autumnal afternoon. .oO( And also an opportunity, ) he added to himself. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Next Issue: January 2006 is Ape Month! There are crazy people running around turning people into Australopithecines. Be here for 'Decimation!' -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Character Credits: All-Knowing Last-Chance Whiner-Destiny Woman, Deductive Logic Man, Self-Righteous Preacher and Ultimate Ninja created by wReam (Ray Bingham). The first three are not reserved, and Ultimate Ninja is a free-for-use Writer Character and shouldn't be permanently harmed). ApocaLISP created by Tom Russell. Used with permission (but probably at least not reserved). Neither Tom nor myself can figure out if the ApocaLISP who died in the 'Age of Apocalisp' arc in _Manga Girl_ was the mainstream Looniverse ApocaLISP or that of the alt.timeline, so I'm arbitrarily assuming the latter because suits my story purposes. Anal-Retentive Archive Kid, Fourth Wall Lass and Very Big Boy created by Saxon Brenton. The Acolytes, and the Horsemen for that matter, are parodies of groups of the same name and are Public Domain. Created by Saxon Brenton. Bicycle Repair Lad and Hexadecimal Luthor created by Christopher Hare, not reserved. Catalyst Lass created by Elisabeth Riba, not reserved. Chinese Guy and Lenny created by Dvandom and Saxon Brenton. Constellation Gang and Kid Pocky, as well as Major Denis Bludwulf and PenguinKleen Inc (From _Dvandom Force_ #80) created by Dvandom (Dave Van Domelen). Used with permission. Curious Lass created by Caroline Vaughn. Cameoed without permission. Cynical Lass and Easily-Discovered Man Lite created by Rob Rogers. Used with permission. Dr Stomper created by T.M. Neeck. Public Domain. Fearless Leader created by Dvandom. Public Domain. Frothing-At-The-Mouth Lad created by Elmo (Greg Morrow). Public Domain. Fuzzy created by Connie Hirsch and not reserved. Innovative-Offense Boy created by uplink. Public Domain. Irony Man created by Doug Moran. Public Domain. Iron-E gleefully plagerised from the RACChallenge series. John and Sally (Ultimate Ninja's secretaries) created by Descrii (Ian Porell). Public Domain. Kid Kirby created by Jameel al Khafiz. Cameod without permission. Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story and the RACC.tre created by Badger (Matt Rossi) and not reserved. Liefeld's Porpoise created by Aaron Veenstra and not reserved. Limp-Asparagus Lad owned by Saxon Brenton. Created by Mystic Mongoose (Robert Armstrong) and wReam (Ray Bingham (chaos and entropy incarnate)). The Los Bastardos subteam, including Brand Name Boy, Spite Grrrl and Trux, created by Mike Friedman. Used without permission, and dunno where it fits in their continuity. Nettiquette Lad and Nit-Pick Lad are Public Domain. Mainstream Man created by Mark A. Nicol. Public Domain. Occultism Kid created by Josh Geurink and not reserved. Ordinary Lady created by Martin Phipps and not reserved. Sarcastic Lad created by Gary St. Lawrence and not reserved. Slobbering Grue! created by Arthur Spitzer. Used with permission. Squidman (nee Squid Boy) created Dave Goldfarb. Reserved by Dvandom, used with permission. Table created by Jef Kolodziej. Youngstuds created by Martin Phipps. XOdious created by Saxon Brenton and made Public Domain. All characters copyright 2005 to their creators or owners as applicable. Back issues of the Legion of Net.Heroes may be found at Russ Alberry's Eyrie Archives at: ftp://ftp.eyrie.org/pub/racc/lnh The LNH stories of Blue Light Productions may also be found at: http://www.blue-light-productions.com -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Add Notes: Long time readers of this series will probably have figured this out by now, but for newcomers I'd probably better spell out the philosophical direction behind this net.comic. I remember a comment about the original _Ambush Bug_ miniseries published by DC that went something like this: Giffen and Fleming weren't so much expanding the boundaries of the superhero genre as crumpling it up in their big meaty hands, and then unfolding it and examining the wrinkles. That's basically what _Limp-Asparagus Lad_ is about. And I think that's probably why the plot of this issue has wandered off on it's own path several times. After I finished LALad54 and began serious tinkering this issue's plot, it became apparent that the September 11 attacks were no longer the main point of the story. They were still *an* important point, and they still act as the main engine of story, but the theme had shifted from a story about how superheroes handling a specific disaster to an examination of fictional versus fictionalised violence. Later still came the dialogue suggesting that the heroes should actually do something about the attacks after the fact. This was originally a wild idea to be brought up by someone at random and then dismissed as unworkable, but only a short while therafter I realised that (a) it was a notion that would need to be taken seriously if I were to hold true to my decision to explore how such an attack would pan out if full comic book superhero genre conventions and cliches were in effect, and (b) it was dialogue for Self-Righteous Preacher. The latter fact astounded me. I had never imagined that I'd write a story where SRP would play a constructive role in proceedings, since in most cases any instances of spiritually derived sense of obligation would more likely come from Retcon Lad. And so here we are. Pretty much everything in the story is consistent with the genre cliches, although the Jerry Falwellman speech had to be moved forward a few days.Back to the Index.