Limp-Asparagus Lad Annual #1 A Legion of Net.Heroes title "Millennial Voices" Written by and copyright 1999 Saxon Brenton Art by Fred H*mback --------------------------------------------------------------------- Cover shows Occultism Kid lying on the ground in the middle of a half-completed magic circle. He is grappling with an assailant who is in the extreme foreground and silhouetted to remain unidentified. In the background a huge wall of white is approaching across a city, tearing up and disintegrating everything in its path. A number of other Legionnaires - including Limp-Asparagus Lad - are running ahead of the whiteness and towards the battling pair. --------------------------------------------------------------------- "And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far Millennial voices prophesying war!" - Coleridge (excerpted and deliberately misquoted) Continuity note: This story is one of several LNH year 2000 stories that nominally take place simultaneously and are seemingly mutually contradictory. The latter is a misconception fostered by an inadequate appreciation of historical rebooting and temporal cut'n'paste techniques. Trust me. With regards to the continuity of other issues of _Limp-Asparagus Lad_, these events take place 'where convenient'. The first indication that something was wrong occurred almost two hours before anything actually happened. It was as though the events - like elves - were casting their ominous shadows before them. It was just after 5 in the morning in Net.ropolis on the east coast of the Usenetted States. Limp-Asparagus Lad was walking to the Legion of Net.Heroes headquarters to begin preparations for the breakfast shift. He was passing the Net.ropolis Bandshell when a flicker out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. He paused and looked again, and by squinting he saw the faintest hint of a ghostly glow surrounding the Bandshell. Limp-Asparagus Lad withdrew the scan.thingee from his belt and took a reading. The results were baffling and inconclusive. He watched the Bandshell for a few seconds more, half expecting Drama to pick that moment to play its hand. After all, his Writer always did a story at this time of year as a courtesy to the characters, so that they could tell how much time was passing in Real Life. (Time withinin the Looniverse itself was bizarrely distorted - much as it was in the Marvel and DC universes. From L-ALad's point of view, it had been less than nine months since the events of issue #1 of his own net.comic, which had been published five years ago.) Christmas had come and gone, however, and nothing much had happened. Neither himself nor any of his cast had been inveigled into any stories involving the likes of the Anti-Claus or the Son of Santa, and about the only noteworthy event had been that one of the less anti- social factions of the Cult of the Cult Book had had a stupendous success promoting Drink Your Own Urine Day. As Limp-Asparagus Lad continued to watch, nothing suddenly and dramatically continued to happen. He decided to take a few more readings and pass them on to Dr Stomper when he arrived at the LNHQ. Meanwhile, the Cabbage Wielding Angel of Death was conferring with his associates - the Lettuce Wielding Angel of Pestilence, the Carrot Wielding Angel of Famine, and the Artichoke Wielding Angel of War. Kiri.bit.i Islands, South Paci.fanfic Ocean: Sarah O'Daer waited for the word that her producers were ready for her satellite newsfeed back to LNN. The balmy tropical evening was approaching midnight, at which point it would become a balmy tropical morning. Sarah scratched her scalp, still unused to the heat prickle of these equatorial islands after having left Net.York only two days ago. Once this nation of several small islands had been mostly just across the eastern side of the Inter.net.ional Date Line, meaning that it would have been one of the last places to enter the new year. However, a few years back the government had made the pragmatic administrative decision to move the IDL, thus removing the minor problem of having the country perpetually stuck in two different days. Fortunately for them the placement of the Date Line was purely an arbitrary choice (having been already kinked in places for just this reason) and legally left to individual nations work out for themselves. Then, as the hype over millennial celebrations had built, the Kiri.bit.i had taken note of the potential tourism boost and - not being dummies - had decided to cash in on this year 2000 thing. After all, they argued, as the most easterly lying nation that was still on the western side of the Line, they would be the first place to see in the new year. They even renamed their most eastern island - an uninhabited rock - Millen.net.um Island. It was a successful ploy that had won the Kiri.bit.i some revenue, since it had novelty value for tourists. And as the presence of Sarah and her news crew demonstrated, for international telecasters too. It would also prove to be a big mistake. Sarah's timeslot was approaching, arranged to be the culmination of a round-robin of similar vignettes from other Paci.fanfic nations. Just off-camera, Mike was counting down the last ten seconds until she went to air live in front of the world. She composed herself, and focused her eyes on the cue cards in front of her. "Hello Deepak," she said, greeting her anchorman half-way around the planet. "I'm here in the Kiri.bit.i Islands, nominally the first place to see in the new year. Behind me there's a beach party in full swing that's been going on since just before sundown with tourists from around the world, and their festivities are only going to get wilder in the last few seconds before midnight..." Behind her, the sounds of people counting down could be heard. Suddenly, there was a glow behind them all, out beyond the beach to the east. Sarah half-turned to see a vast wall of something white. "My God, Deepak something huge has just appeared..." There was a brief sensation of onrushing movement, and then the satellite feed from Kiri.bit.i went dead. And that was when the panicking began. There is a place that is not a place. Beyond what we think of as reality, outside of space and time, is the realm of one of the cosmic entities of the Internet. This is Alt.blivion. It is the demesne of Killfile, who is both the lord and embodiment of non-existence. Deleted information arrives in this unRealm all the time. Bits and pieces, some large and some small, that are no longer wanted or needed. It accumulates, and then lingers at the edge of perception in eternal stasis. This is not a place after all, so there is neither existence for things to be present in nor duration for them to occur in. Nevertheless, on this day Killfile himself was somewhat surprised when a slice of a world materialised in the unPlace that he controlled. He examined it, and recognised it. It was part of the Looniearth - the comic-book parody world that had begun its life in rec.arts.comics, and then had been moved to alt.comics.lnh, and finally to rec.arts.comics.creative. He recalled that, as worlds went, it was very... tenacious. He noticed that the slice was growing. Legion of Net.Heroes Headquarters: It was W.I.L.B.U.R. (the Legion's Wildly Improbable LISP Based Urbane Robot) who was monitoring international communications when the world began to unravel, and it was he who activated the red alert. The first person to respond was Ultimate Ninja, who arrived barely 3.276 seconds later - a speed that did not surprise W.I.L.B.U.R. in the slightest. "What is it this time?" the Legion's leader demanded. "Sir, satellite scans indicate that a field of file deletion has materialised in the mid-Paci.fanfic Ocean approximately along the 180th degree of longitude and is expanding in a westerly direction. Very little of the other satellite data I'm accessing makes much sense." Ultimate Ninja nodded grimly. He had surreptitiously monitored some of the things that wReamhack and Renegade Programmer had gotten up to from time to time with satellites that the Legion should not - strictly speaking - have been hacking into, so he knew that the amount of information that W.I.L.B.U.R. was collating was likely immense. Still, quality of information would be preferable to quantity. "We also have this," the robot added, activating a news replay. "4.869 seconds of footage of the phenomenon recorded at ground level from a live LNN broadcast from Kiri.bit.i." The time index in the bottom right corner of the screen indicated that he had slowed it to one quarter speed. Ultimate Ninja watched as a wall of nothing swept forward, causing anything it encountered to vanish in a blue flash. It was far too reminiscent of Crisis On Infinite Earths for the Ninja's liking. "Notify our science, occult, and research experts immediately on what's going on," the Ninja told the robot. "I want ideas on how to stop this thing, pronto. Also begin recalling all our active and reserve members who are contactable. Start preparing rosters for teams to handle evacuations and rioting." He paused, then added, "This looks like a job for the Legion of Net.Heroes." Net.Zealand: Along with eastern Si.bit.ria and the Alt.arctic, Net.Zealand was one of the first substantive landmasses to meet the new year. But it had more visitors than those other places. Its advantages were twofold: Net.Zealand was warmer than the Alt.arctic summer, and certainly warmer than the Si.bit.rian winter; and it was an English-speaking first world country with a well developed tourism industry. Now, be honest, if you were a holiday maker looking for somewhere to party on the grounds that - by at least some arguments - it would be one of the first places to see in the new year, where would you go? Careful timeindex comparisons would later show that The End did not encompass an entire time zone at once, but rather would pause at the start of a time zone and then swept forward at several thousand kilometres an hour. Kiri.bit.i had had just enough time to see the wall of file deletion form before it had hit. By comparison, the partiers in Net.Zealand were almost at the edge of time zone 2, so they had time enough to glance up in wonder at the eastern sky beginning to lighten with an ersatz dawn as the wall of whiteness bore down on them. In Boot City, Jonathon Connery (ex-husband of Writers Block Woman, father of Mouse, and head of Conspiracy Corporation) had been working late. There were, as always, things to do. However, he was not a philistine and had deliberately stayed at his office rather than bring the work home so that he could a take few minutes out to watch the fireworks display down on the harbour, with perhaps a small glass of champagne. Jonathon also had a television on with the sound turned down, but had found nothing interesting - only interminable broadcasts of hopelessly saccharine new year's eve celebrations. He had just been about to turn it off when the broadcast from Kir.bit.i had caught his attention. Jonathon turned away from the television when the anchorman returned to the screen, slightly flustered and apologising for the break in transmission. Out of his office windows to the east he could see that something was lighting up the horizon. Almost as a reflex he cursed net.heroes and net.villains and their collective antics. It had been years since he and Alice had separated, but he still remembered from personal experience how ludicrously out-of- control those activities could become. And despite the intervening years that should have healed over old hurts, he still felt the occasional pang of regret and anger at how those antics had split his family apart. Jonathon quickly scanned through some preliminary information being fed to him from Conspiracy Corp spy satellites. He had no idea yet what it was or what was causing it (though he was perfectly happily to ascribe it to the net.ahumans as a working hypothesis) but the fact remained that it was bearing down on his position and his property very fast. He made an executive decision, and activated the Conspiracy Corporation teleporter units. Quite suddenly the Conspiracy Corp building was gone. Seconds later, the wave of file deletion arrived, and Boot City was gone too. Legion of Net.Heroes Headquarters, just over two hours later: Renegade Programmer had been the first person to arrive at the computer room after Ultimate Ninja; the portly programmer had been downstairs getting breakfast and had needed only the time to bring it back with him. Multi-Tasking Man and wReamhack had arrived soon after. Meanwhile, other net.heroes had rallied, and teams had been sent out to do something constructive about the cities that were burning as panic swept across the world. "At least we don't have any mass suicides, or stuff like that," noted Renegade Programmer. He was bent over his console, finishing off a particularly esoteric 'debugging' program to correct the lack of Y2K compliance for the Looniearth, if only someone like Dr Stomper of Kid Kirby could come up with a way to install it. Truth be known, RP was a bit disturbed by the notion that there had been billions spent on checking out mundane computer networks, but nobody had bother to check the *planet*. People knew that the Looniverse was part of the internet; it wasn't a big secret or anything. He was beginning to wondered if sensible precautions actually had been taken, and that maybe they'd been undone by someone like that Mew2K character that Dvandom Force had reported fighting and defeating. [in _Dvandom Force_ #100 - Footnote Girl] "Don't be so quick to make conclusions like that," cautioned Multi- Tasking Man, who was assessing the rioting in the Holy Land, running a virus scan of the LNHQ mainframes, repeating the emergency recall to active duty for all Legionnaires on leave, and checking public reaction on both LNN and the internet chat rooms. "Just because the team from Disc.rael has arrived back from stopping the Lettuce Wielding Angel of Pestilence, doesn't mean that the more..." he rummaged for a polite phrase, "...intensely religious people in that area can't make enough trouble on their own." "So how's the second team that was sent in for clean-up going...?" wReamhack began to ask, before he cried, "AHHH! [expletive deleted!]". "What!?" demanded MTM. "North Ko.rec.a just launched some missiles," wReamhack replied shortly, his hands moving across the keyboard as he tried to collate information. "Nuclear capable. Trajectory is targeting South Ko.rec.a and Net.pon" "Oh crap." "Intercept with the teleporters," ordered Ultimate Ninja crisply. "Aye sir!" barked wReamhack, who in truth had already been preparing the tele.thingee for just that and was now wearing the insane grin of a half-crazed adrenaline junkie. "Guys! Do a scan! If *we* can see those warheads, then so can the military spy satellites!" "On it." Tense seconds passed as wReamhack did implausible things with his computer controls. Then, "Missiles captured," he announced. He breathed out in relief, then added in a quieter, more dismissive voice, "It was only fourteen missiles, after all." "Yeah, but we've got more coming," said Renegade Programmer. "In.dir.a, Pakista.net, Disc.rael, Li.bit.ya, Chi.net, Rus.sci.a, I.rec, the Usenetted Kingdom, the Usenetted States..." He noted in passing that a *very* large number of the missiles from Chi.net were heading for Tai.WAN. "I can't even tell who's responding to who anymore. I think it's just a mass rush towards MAD!" "They are spooked and panicking," summarised W.I.L.B.U.R., who was monitoring the military communications and preparedness of most of the world powers. "Can we grab them all?" UN demanded. "I can't react that fast, though MTM can," wReamhack demurred. "But even with the reactions from his superpower, the teleporters can't handle that many operations at once." Under his mask, the Ninja smiled serenely. He was really scary when he did that. "Then I believe that it is time for us to cheat," he answered. "Activate the engines." Limp-Asparagus Lad was in the cafeteria with Cheesecake-Eater Lad and Shake-N-Bake Lass, serving food to the weary troops of net.heroes when a deep thrum began, causing vibrations throughout the entire LNHQ. A number of people looked up, and murmurs of "What in the...?" filled the room. "Limpy, you're glowing," noted Sister-State-The-Obvious. She was right, and Limp-Asparagus Lad held up one hand to examine the glow. It was not a pleasant effect - no pretty nimbus of faerie fire with sparkles here. Rather, it was a harsh, bluey-green light reminiscent of hard baryonic radiation, and it hurt the eyes to look at. Many of the Legionnaires were now staring at him, though they had to squint against the glare to do so. "It is intensifying drama energy reacting against my own drama dampening field," the Man of Dull observed clinically. This, combined with the grating subsonic thrum, could only mean one thing. He looked at the others and said, "Someone had activated the drama engines in the sub-basements." In the computing rooms Multi-Tasking Man was grabbing warheads from a distance at speeds faster than the others could follow, let alone match. But there were thousands of missiles, and the teleportation units began to protest. There was the smell of smoke as the tele.thingees began to burn out from the strain of so many objects, with so much mass, being transported around across such great distances all at once. Systems failure was imminent. However, Ultimate Ninja had known that, which was why he'd ordered the engines turned on in an attempt to keep the whole shebang running on drama. Outside, the LNHQ had lit up like an arc light. Searing white glare leaked out from the windows and doors, throwing sharp highlights and shadows onto the surrounding buildings. Sparks of some unidentifiable, pseudo-plausible energy crawled up and down the facade before grounding themselves in the specially prepared lightning rods at the rear. And in the sub-basements the drama engines groaned. They pulled in drama from the surrounding area, trebling the intensity within the LNHQ. Then using that concentration to synthesise even more, the engines pushed those levels up to something just in excess of five times the normal background level - drama enough to pull off a plot device of enormous extent. Which was what Multi-Tasking Man needed, desperately. The LNH teleporter just wasn't built for this sort of operation, and only drama was keeping it running. Of course, there were drawbacks to it too. Fuses should have kept the computer terminals from sparking and smoking. Drama, however, allowed such petty realistic limitations to be ignored. In fact, it was actively *demanding* that the computer terminals spark and smoke as a type of Newtonian balancing reaction. Ultimate Ninja and wReamhack had grabbed carbon dioxide extinguishers to keep things under control while the others did their stuff. "Done!" cried MTM triumphantly as he slammed his fist down on the final control. Then he coughed and waved his hand to try and clear the smoke. "Cutting back drama engines to half," announced Renegade Programmer. Tension in the room eased, in part because of the absence of the tooth-grating harmonics from the drama engines. "Good work," acknowledged Ultimate Ninja. "Keep monitoring military frequencies though. The risk of them panicking again is too great..." "That won't be necessary UN," said Multi-Tasking Man. "While we were using the drama boost, I took the liberty of grabbing not just the missiles in the air, but the ones still on the ground as well. They don't *have* any missiles anymore. We do. I threw all the live ones out beyond the dark side of the moon to detonate behind Loona, but all the others are downstairs in the storage tesseract in sub-basement 39." Ultimate Ninja nodded. "Good thinking. Okay then gentlemen. World War 3 is over. I want to keep it that way; the Legion just has too much to do at the moment without having to sort out fights between panicking... *children*." The last word was an irritated snarl. "Prepare a communique to the Usenetted Nations and all member and non-member states. In light of the current emergency, I am declaring martial law on this planet. Tell them to keeping running their affairs as they have done and try to maintain an even keel, but if I see a repeat of what just happened, the guilty parties will be... dealt with." And somewhere the Artichoke Wielding Angel of War was cursing at the Legion's intervention. Later still: Legionnaires dribbled back into the LNHQ, singly and in groups. Their tardiness was not from reluctance to being recalled from their vacations, but from the weariness and bruising of already being called up and sent out on actual duty. While the latest returnees went into the cafeteria to grab something to eat in preparation for their next assignment, No Sense Of Direction Man was watching an updating map of the progress of the deletion of the world. He was slightly bemused by it. Not by the layout, of course. Even if he didn't understand the idea of a spherical planet, the notion of a world where time in one place was different to time in other places and that if you went far enough in one direction you'd end up back where you started was very much in keeping with his native dimension of Escheria. Instead he asked, "If those lines are supposed to represent regions of the same time, then why do the countries in the bottom half of the map seem to be disappearing slightly faster than those in the top half?" "It's probably because of daylight saving," commented Chinese Guy, who was munching down on some rissole-flavoured cheesecake. "During summer a lot of countries fiddle with their local time so that they get up slightly earlier, which gives them more time for recreation in the afternoons after work. Since it's summer on the southern half of the map at the moment," he jabbed at he screen with his fork, "it makes sense that they'll arrive at midnight about an hour before their counterparts in the northern hemisphere at the same longitude." He paused as an idea occurred to him. "Hey, Dr Stomper," he said, half turning, "If the deletion wave is following local time so closely, wouldn't that imply that if a country simply said it wasn't going to enter the year 2000 - say by sticking an infinite number of extra days into December '99 - that it wouldn't vanish?" "Theoretically, yes," the LNH's explainer supreme replied as he took a sip out his coffee. He looked haggard, having only ducked out of his lab for a quick caffeine boost. "In practice, no. Some have tried it, but it doesn't seem to work for long. I think the Western Alt.stralians were the first to come up with the idea. I believe that it's because if the place doesn't delete at local midnight because the clocks have been officially 'turned off', then the deletion will default to midnight for the generic international time zone measured against the Greenwich Meridian. That means the countries in the southern hemisphere can put off things for awhile - like you said, they're often running on daylight saving so they're already ahead by an hour or so anyway - but it catches up eventually. Good thinking though." Chinese Guy looked rueful. "But not good enough, it seems." Dr Stomper could only give him a sympathetic look before he had to down the last of his coffee and head back to work. "Hard day?" asked No Sense Of Direction Man. "No harder than anybody else," Chinese Guy shrugged. "I was visiting my family back in Syd.net, but got a recall to fight off some nutcase with a giant robot who thought that the end of the world would be the perfect time to proclaim himself the Duke of Poughkeepsie. By the time that was done with, it turned out that Syd.net wasn't there any more." He sighed. "It's a good thing that superhero class universes - especially the absurd ones - keep bouncing back good as new after each cosmic disaster, otherwise I'd be getting worried. How about you?" "The team I was assigned to were the ones who went to Disc.rael to fight the Lettuce Wielding Angel of Pestilence." "Oh yeah. I heard that those four Angels were on the loose again." No Sense Of Direction Man nodded. "He seemed to be obsessed with the idea of hurting people for no-other reason than he found it funny. There were lots of people there. Visitors and pilgrims, I think." "Yes. At this time of year, in this year in particular, that would be expected." "In any case, there were huge tent cities outside of town for the people who couldn't afford to pay for the limited hotel accomodation that was left. That was where the Angel was, causing outbreaks of disease among the crowded tourists. We fought him, and beat him, but he escaped at the last moment." "Good work, even if he did get away." NSODMan gave modest agreement, then mused, "Supposedly there'll be a lot more crowding next year during Easter, too. Is it normal for so many people to be doing that sort of thing?" As an extra-dimensional, he was always intrigued by the nuances of the cultures of the Looniearth. "Going off and crowding into one place, I mean." "Oh yeah. People often like to do something special - or at least non-routine - during holidays. It doesn't even have to be for religious reasons either. For instance, I visited my family purely because it was supposedly the 'slow' time of year. We don't really celebrate this time of year as a festive season." "Oh, right," said NSODMan, recalling who Chinese Guy was an analogue of. "So, do you worship 1960s and 70s television too?" The other looked at him in utter bafflement. "No, of course not." "Oh?" "I worship ABBA." "Oh." In downtown Net.ropolis there was a storm brewing. It seemed to be centred on the Bandshell, although the foul weather and the incipient emergency of a Looniversal Rag.net.roc kept most people too busy to notice. Strong winds whipped up the fresh snow of the previous days and hurled it in a biting assault on anyone foolish enough or desperate enough to be out doors. More remarkable were the jagged bolts of vivid red and blue lightning that struck at the earth and buildings around the Bandshell. In the centre of the storm the luminescent glow that Limp- Asparagus Lad had noticed earlier had intensified, and transient ephemeral shapes could be seen dancing about the periphery. It was approaching 6 o'clock in Net.ropolis when Occultism Kid entered the computer room. "Ultimate Ninja, I may have an answer." The Ninja nodded for him to continue. "I've done a hasty bit of research, and I *think* that if I can gain access to one of the planetary omphali I can use that 'patch' for the lack on compliance and then reboot to erase the damage." "But you're not sure." The Legion's senior mage shook his head and shrugged to indicate helplessness. "Not enough time. I could've tried to use Leomund's Tiny Temporally Compressed Research Center - that would've created an extra- dimensional hidey-hole where time is speeded up relative to the rest of the world. It's usually a worthwhile trick for gaining some breathing space, but..." "But then you'd risk fast-tracking yourself across into the new year and vanishing yourself?" guessed UN shrewdly. "'Fraid so," replied OK, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his trenchcoat and looking uncomfortable about the idea. "Then we'll simply have to make do with your best estimate," Ultimate Ninja said with almost infuriating calm. "What are these omphali that you mentioned?" "Ah, yes, the omphali. Plural of omphalos, meaning 'navel'. The 'bellybuttons of the world'. They're mystic sites that embody the nature of a geographic area. There are lots of them for various countries, but very few for the entire planet. The Net.ropolis Bandshell is one of them, but for our purposes I think the old Greenwich Observatory in London.net would be more appropriate." The Ninja cocked an eye at the map showing the progress of the wall of file deletion. "You've got just over an hour before that time zone goes. Will that be enough time if you leave immediately? Or can you carry on without having to start from scratch if you have to retreat to the Bandshell?" "The latter, I think. But under the circumstances I want as much leeway as possible." "Understood. Be ready to leave in five minutes, as soon as the Planetary Chance Machine has chosen an escort for you." Slightly less that four minutes later, Chinese Guy, Bicycle Repair Lad and Limp-Asparagus Lad entered the room. Ultimate Ninja, Fearless Leader, and Occultism Kid were waiting. "Gentlemen," began Fearless Leader. "We've got an emergency mission on short notice." Then he smiled wryly. "Another one. We will be accompanying Occultism Kid on a trip to London.net to try and nip the current catastrophe at the bud. Our purpose is to act as guards. Not all of the Vegetarians of the Apocalypse have been accounted for, and none of those encountered so far have been captured. It's possible that they may try to stop us. Occultism Kid?" The mage stepped forward. "We're heading for the old Royal Observatory in Greenwich. These days it's only a tourist attraction, and the rock concert that was scheduled to be taking place there has been called off on account of the rioting, so there shouldn't be anyone else there except guards. We can fall back to the Bandshell here in Net.ropolis if we have to, but the Observatory is the preferred site for the ritual I need to carry out." Ultimate Ninja concluded the necessarily brief briefing. "Needless to say, this mission is slightly more important than the crowd control that the Legion has been focusing on up until now. I have every confidence in you all." He gestured to the tele.thingee pads, indicating for them to prepared for transport. "Good luck." Once the team of Legionnaires arrived in London.net, the first thing they became aware of was the colour of the sky. Fires highlighted the night skyline, while the smoke and low lying clouds reflected back an unhealthy orange glow. In the distant there were wails of sirens from emergency vehicles and the sound of screaming. The second thing they noticed was the eldritch glow coming from the courtyard of the Observatory. The Greenwich Meridian was marked on the ground with a brass strip cleanly dividing the Looniearth into its eastern and western hemispheres, and around that division were half-seen shapes, luminescent and gibbering. There was a buzzing noise, like frying grasshoppers. "Those phenomena look like what I saw at the Bandshell, only perhaps more vivid," observed Limp-Asparagus Lad. Occultism Kid nodded as he walked over towards it. "Not surprising. This place is one of the two main planetary omphali, and the Bandshell is the other one. They're... resistant to change, I suppose would be a good description. Linchpins. As the reality of the Looniverse begins to unravel, the differences between what is and what should be precipitate around the edges of these places as reality storms of greater or lesser power. Be careful," he warned. "The Greenwich omphalos' primary focus is on time, while the Bandshell's is space, which means the deletion effect is causing more havoc back in Net.ropolis than here. But they're tied together in ways that we still haven't figured out, and the time- related nature of the Y2K problem means that there'll be some weirdness here as well." Then, in seeming defiance of his own warning, OK stepped through the glowing bubble of transparent images. Fearless Leader moved off to confirm the arrangements made in advance with the security guards. Occultism Kid knelt down and examined the ground that marked the Meridian. The others looked around, warily. "Okay, this looks like it's do-able," announced Occultism Kid. His voice was slightly muffled and distorted from inside the glow. Bicycle Repair Lad gave him a startled look. "You mean you weren't sure?" Occultism Kid shrugged as he took out some multi-coloured chalk from his pocket. "With the way that the world's falling to pieces at the moment, the power of this place could have been deranged beyond usefulness." He began drawing arcane markings around the plaque. "That doesn't seem to be the case, which is lucky. Before we left I'd noticed that more than half of Eu.rec's ley-lines are already down, and some of the others are packing overloads." As if on cue, there was a hideous rumbling, and the sky to the west lit up in accompaniment to a distant roar. Possibly numbed by shock, but more likely simply phlegmatic, Limp- Asparagus Lad asked, "What was that?" "Probably Stonehenge bleeding off energy buildups," replied OK without looking up. "It's only a hundred and fifty kilometres or so away, after all. Like I said, most of the ley-lines aren't working properly, and that's mainly because lots of the network to the east isn't even there anymore, including a lot of the regular discharge points - stone circles, the pyramids, those types of places. That means less earth energy in the webwork, but what energy there is will be discharging irregularly." He paused for a moment, and his face looked gravely thoughtful. "If Bit.tain and the Western Eu.rec go, then that'll mean most of the power that's left will begin to flare off through Alt.lantis and the Bermu.dir Triangle next." "Boiling seas?" guessed Chinese Guy. "Or worse. It could start thaumaturgic nucleosynthesis and create boiling seas of blood." Fearless Leader returned just as Occultism Kid finished marking out the chalk patterns and began taking out bottles of less savoury substances from his pockets. "Okay men," the LNH deputy leader said, "The guards know we're here, and will call us if they see anything unusual while they're doing their rounds. Everybody spread out, and keep your eyes open. I want a good period of warning if any of the Vegetarians arrive." Chinese Guy turned in preparation for a cinematic leap up to the roof for a better view. He did a doubletake, then said, "Too late." The Cabbage Wielding Angel of Death stepped forward from the shadows. There was an audible click as Fearless Leader pulled the safety on his BIGGUN and aimed square at the Cabbage Wielder's head. "Hands up." "I don't think so," disagreed the Cabbage Wielder. Fearless Leader let off two shots that would have dropped a rhino, but the blasts simply accreted in a tight spiral into the cabbage that the Angel held in his hand, soaking up the power of FL's gun like a sponge. "But if you're so hot for a fight scene," added the CWAoD almost flippantly, "then here, you can fight them." He lobbed a couple of cabbages in the direction of the four guarding Legionnaires. When the cabbages fell short the LNHers relaxed just a little, but only for a half second. Suddenly there were four other figures standing there, apparently summoned by the Angel's hefted greenery. The Cabbage Wielder smirked, "Let's see how you fare against... the End Of The World Cabaret!" The Cabaret leapt forward with stylised poise. Even before they had landed, Chinese Guy was there to meet them: "Pose of a striking mongoose." The Cabaret dodged, and then began to sing They Might Be Giant's 'The End Of The Tour': "There's a girl with a crown and a scepter..." The Legionnaires suddenly discovered that they were inexplicably helpless before this assault. They paused, unable to attack despite their best efforts, and found themselves compelled to join in: "who's on WLSD "and she says that the scene isn't what it's been "and she's thinking of going home. "That it's old and it's totally over now "and it's old and it's over it's over now "and it's over it's over it's over now. "I can see myself "at the end of the tour "when the road disappears "if there's any more people around when the tour runs aground "and if you're still around "then we'll meet at the end of the tour. "The engagements are booked through the end of the world so we'll meet at the end of the tour." "Now then," said the Cabbage Wielder to Occultism Kid in a conversational tone. "I believe you were about to step away from that circle that you've drawn." "Not a chance," the remaining Legionnaire countered. "I don't think you appreciate the seriousness of your situation," smiled OK's opponent as he pulled out another cabbage and hurled it at him. "I am Death." Occultism Kid flicked his hand and the vegetable turned to sawdust in mid-flight. "I've met her," was the flat reply. "She isn't into trenchcoats." "You cannot stand against me," continued the Cabbage Wielder with an unwavering serene smile and another of his seemingly unending supply of cabbages in hand. "It simply isn't something that a mortal is capable of doing." "You know," observed Occultism Kid, "I'm really getting tired of every sorcerer who gains even a bit of power letting it go to their heads and claiming that they're a god or a major anthropomorphic personification or something." "Have it your way then." The blast of energy that erupted from the cabbage resting in the Angel's hand was enough to have melted a battleship to slag in seconds. Occultism Kid met it with a calm if somewhat grim determination by thrusting up an ankh, grounding the power in a flow of mini lightning bolts that splattered from the ankh to the earth in a circle about him. OK grinned. "That the best you can do?" The CWAoD lifted his palm towards the sky, and a tempest of power broke across the pair of them, a multi-coloured luminous whirlwind like something out of the wildest fantasies from Industrial Light and Magic. OK made a counter-gesture and weathered the storm easily. "You do realise that you're doomed, don't you?" asked the CWAoD. "Even if you can keep me from killing you, you still won't be able to complete your ritual to stop the file deletion of the world." "I think you underestimate the Legion." "I don't think so. I am darkness, the end of everything," the Cabbage Wielder continued relentlessly. A casual observer would have sworn that he simply liked to hear himself talk, but Occultism Kid was sure that what the CWAoD was actually doing was trying to psyche him out with that aura of calm certainty. After all, not all psychic attacks involved direct mind-to-mind telepathic assault. Then from beneath the Angel's black trenchcoat ebony-dark wings unfolded themselves against the hurricane of power, and then spread out and out and out to seemingly enfold the sky. .oO( It's just an illusion, ) OK told himself. .oO( Those feathers aren't even being ruffled by the wind. ) "I am wReamentropy, the dissolution of form," continued the Angel, seemingly as large as the city. "I am become Mike Nelson, the destroyer of worlds." Still in the midst of being a conscript into the Cabaret's chorus line, Limp-Asparagus Lad was thinking of means of escape. He suspected that if he could dampen their drama, slow down their beat, then it would hopefully seriously foul the Cabaret's timing and make them loose control over their song, and hence over the LNHers. Concentrating was hard though. Their song had a grip on the Legionnaires' minds as well as their bodies, and it was difficult to focus on anything other than the Cabaret's insidious singing. They had chosen their music with cunning, since the Looniverse was composed of equal parts comic book cliches, British humour, and They Might Be Giants lyrics. He tried countering their music with something that had a totally different rhythm structure: .oO( Our country reee-ks of trees. Our yaks are reaa-lly large. And they smell of rottingbeefcarcases. ) This, however, did not work. From where he was L-ALad could see the look of revulsion on Chinese Guy's face. Clearly, this nihilistic use of music was upsetting him. Limp-Asparagus Lad wondered if CG's religiously based distaste could be used to break the hold of their captors. Then there was Fearless Leader. L-ALad recalled that in the past he had occasionally been written as a Captain America clone (albeit not quite as relentlessly and naively patriotic) which implied that FL might have reserves of 'indomitable will'(tm). This might be enough to free himself from the Cabaret, and if so he was presumably already working on it. Finally, Bicycle Repair Lad. His powers of Monty Python were considerable, but L-ALad couldn't... Wait! Of course. British humour. The next time that their dance brought them in direct sight of each other, Limp-Asparagus Lad caught BRL's attention, mouthing 'Galaxy Song' at him. Bicycle Repair Lad took the hint. He concentrated, and began to focus on a different tune. This was were the Cabaret's plans began to come unstuck. Yes, they were using one of the Three Conventions, and in a particularly negative and wReamentropic manner. But Bicycle Repair Lad didn't just *use* one of the other Conventions - his power made him *one with them*. He threw himself out of the chorus line that the Cabaret had trapped the Legionnaires in, spun about and sang in defiance of them: "Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving "and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour, "that's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned, "a sun that is the source of all our power." In most superhero-style universes it is good that wins out in the end over evil, and so a song affirming life should - after appropriately dramatic struggle - win out over one used in a celebration of destruction. Limp-Asparagus Lad now found it surprisingly easy to step away from the Cabaret and add his own tenor to Bicycle Repair Lad's voice: "The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see "are moving at a million miles a day "in an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour, "of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'." Not ones to be left out, Fearless Leader and Chinese Guy now joined in: "Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars. "It's a hundred thousand light years side to side. "It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick, "but out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide. "We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point. "We go 'round every two hundred million years, "and our galaxy is only one of millions of billions in this amazing and expanding Looniverse." Their musical hold on the Legionnaires now at an end, the Cabaret were at a serious disadvantage. Chinese Guy in particular was in the throes of a cranky attack about the way that The Music had been used as nihilistic blasphemy. One highly cinematic flying leap of four meters culminating with kicks to the head later and CG had two of the Cabaret unconscious on the ground. The others were disposed of by Bicycle Repair Lad, who used his powers of Monty Python to summon up a ten foot tall electric penguin (with tentacles) to restrain them. Occultism Kid smiled. The Cabbage Wielder took askance at that. "Do you find your impending doom funny, then?" "It's not my doom that's impending," OK countered, looking past the CWAoD. Gunfire ricocheted off the ground around the Angel, but couldn't penetrate his defences. At least, not yet. He sidled around so that he could see what was happening while still keeping Occultism Kid in sight. The Legion's mage did nothing to stop him, instead watching his manoeuvrings with seeming amusement. The Angel saw that the Legion was free. That was vexing. Already the four other LNHers were approaching with the firm tread of people who weren't in the mood to take guff from a psychopath in a trenchcoat. And while Occultism Kid's mystic resources had been fully occupied trying to maintain both the ritual he had started and his defences against the Cabbage Wielder's attacks, the Cabbage Wielder's own abilities were fully tied up with pressing his assault on the LNH's mage. The Angel couldn't spare anything to defend against these four. "I think you've lost," Occultism Kid suggested. The Cabbage Wielder glanced over his shoulder towards the east, where the sky was illuminated by something large and white. He smiled. Ah, good; only a few more minutes to go, anyway. "Perhaps I've lost the battle..." he replied. He threw down a final cabbage which exploded in a cloud of greasy black smoke. "But I don't think you have time to win the war," he finished as he teleported himself away. Occultism Kid's call to the LNHQ was only a few minutes later. "Ultimate Ninja? Occultism Kid here. The ritual is complete. The triggering device has been tied into the Legion's computer systems to activate Renegade Programmer's debugging patch. We're ready to beam out and initiate the reboot." "The tele.thingees have finally burnt out," Ultimate Ninja replied. "All of our field teams are stranded until we can enact repairs. Can you transport yourself back with a spell?" "Uh, no," said OK, his voice rising a little in fear. "The ritual, on top of the fight with the Cabbage Wielding Angel, has left me mystically bankrupt at the moment. Listen UN, I wanted to run a few minutes of tests before carrying the plan out, but I think you'll have to run a 'cold start' without..." "Occultism Kid? Occultism Kid!" "London.net's gone," said Renegade Programmer. Ultimate Ninja's jaw seemed to set a little more grimly. "Very well then. Where is this triggering device?" "Here, sir," said W.I.L.B.U.R., pointing at a button on the console that hadn't been present a few seconds ago. Ultimate Ninja looked at it. It was a large-ish thing that was half black and half white, with a smaller half black and half white diamond shape within. "Cute, very cute," the LNH leader said. Still, it made it obvious what had to be done next. He pushed the button and yelled, "REBOOT!" It was just after 5 in the morning in Net.ropolis, and Limp- Asparagus Lad was walking to the LNHQ to prepare for the morning breakfast shift. As he passed the Net.ropolis Bandshell he paused. He looked up at the Bandshell, where a new year's eve concert would be begin this afternoon in a little over twelve hours time. But right now the landmark was quiet and still. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Okay then, lessee... Mew2K has failed. Check. The non-compliant nature of the Looniverse itself has failed. Check. That means that the next attempt to destroy the world on new year's eve takes place in _Alt.Riders Y2K Special_. And _Hell's Titan's_ probably fits in somewhere. Remember: LNH net.comics. More attempts to end the world on the eve of the year 2000 than any other imprint on RACC. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Anal-Retentive Add Notes: "Hi everybody. Anal-Retentive Archive Kid here with a few notes. "The name for the End of The World Cabaret originated from _Neil's Heavy Concept Album_, although the two versions are quite different. " 'The End Of The Tour' comes from the They Might Be Giant's album _John Henry_. 'The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksman Song' comes from the _Ren And Stimpy_ cartoon. 'The Galaxy Song' is from the movie _Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life_. All excerpts used without permission. "The reference to Chinese Guy's religious denomination is based on the apparent fact that after Sweden, Australia has one of the largest per capita fan bases for ABBA in the world. "The activities of the Cabbage Wielding Angel of Death shown here are at odds with the apocalypse depicted in _Hell's Titans_ #-6 to 0. This is because of it either being in an alt.timeline or more temporal reboots. Take your pick. "The World War III scenario, and its resolution with teleporters, was culled from descriptions of Mike Burke's long-running Champion's role-playing game. The additions of the use of drama energy and of the declaration of martial law are new to this story." --------------------------------------------------------------------- Character credits: Cabbage Wielding Angel of Death created by Jesse Willey and Tom Russell, and the other Vegetarians of the Apocalypse created by Jesse Willey. Bicycle Repair Lad created by HC61@lafibm.lafayette.edu. Used without permission. Dr Stomper and Killfile are Public Domain. Fearless Leader is Public Domain, created by Dvandom (Dave Van Domelen). For that matter, I suppose Chinese Guy falls into that category as well. Jonathon Connery created by Jaelle (Jessica Ihimaera-Smiler). Limp-Asparagus Lad owned by Saxon Brenton. Created by Mystic Mongoose (Robert Armstrong) and wReam (Ray Bingham(chaos and entropy incarnate)). Multi-Tasking Man created by Jeff Coleburn. Used without permission. Likewise for W.I.L.B.U.R., though he's not a WC and so I don't think I need to feel quite so guilty about not asking :-) No Sense Of Direction Man created by Steven Howard. Occultism Kid created by Josh Geurink. Used without permission. Renegade Programmer created by wReam and is the Writer Character of Josh Dinerstein. Sister-State-The-Obvious, wReamhack, Ultimate Ninja created by wReam. Shake-N-Bake Lass created by Arsenal (Ted Brock). Anyone else is probably mine. All characters copyright 1999 their owners or creators.Back to the Index.