Limp-Asparagus Lad Special #1: Anal-Retentive Archive Kid A one part special for the Legion of Net.Heroes imprint spinning off From the events of the _Flame Wars 4_ miniseries. "Homecoming" Written by and copyright 2003 Saxon Brenton Art by Fred H*mback --------------------------------------------------------------------- Cover shows Anal-Retentive Archive Kid sitting on a hillside, watching a sunset. --------------------------------------------------------------------- The fields just outside of the town of Powercable, Net.braska seemed perfectly normal up until the moment when a hole in the fourth wall opened up. Anal-Retentive Archive Kid stepped out, followed by Fourth Wall Lass. ARAK was hauling a backpack. Fourth Wall Lass looked around. "Is this the place, Wendle?"" Her companion scanned the area, then nodded. "Uh-huh. Milson's Corner is just over there," he said, pointing. "Home is about two miles from here." "You know, I could drop you off right at your dad's front door if you wanted." He shifted the weight of the backpack, then adjusted his glasses. "No, it's fine. I kind of want to have a look at the old stomping grounds. I appreciate the lift, by the way." She shrugged. "It's no problem for a friend. Better than sitting on a bus travelling halfway across the country, in any case. Just call when you want to be picked up again. About a week you said, right?" "Something like that. I'll give you a call in a week anyway, just to keep you up to date." Then he gave her a mischievous look. "And make sure Barry doesn't kill off my RPG character on Tuesday night." She chuckled. "Sure sure." There was a pause. "Listen Wendle, I'm sorry about what happened." "I know, Terri. Thanks. But I'm lucky enough to at least still be alive. That's not something that a lot of the others can say." He face clouded, remembering. She gave him a sober smile. "Take care then. We'll see you later." She gave him a friendly kiss on the cheek and stepped back through the hole that she had created. Wendle waved, then after the hole closed he turned and walked down the hill towards the town. Well, that had gone better than he'd expected. He'd been worrying that his friends might have gotten all sappy or something - which was the type of thing that Wendle really didn't feel up to facing at the moment. Possibly Terri had seen his need to be left alone after reading a narrative caption, but in all fairness she probably could have worked it out for herself without prompting. Michael Johnston was a handsome man whose dark hair was starting to grey at the temples. He seemed to be in his early fifties, although actually he was a few years older than that. His engaging personality and powerful good looks meant that often people didn't notice the fact that he only had one arm until after the second glance or so. He was preparing dinner when there was a knock on the front door. He wondered briefly who it could be when a voice he recognised called out, "Anyone home?" "Wendle?" said Michael, opening the door. "Well hey, this is a surprise. Come on in. Would you like a beer?" "Yeah, thanks." "You should have called," he told his son a bit reprovingly as he opened the refrigerator. "I could have come and picked you up at either the bus terminal or the train station. "A friend dropped me off only a few miles outside of town." "You drove?" "No. Superpowers." Michael blinked. "I keep forgetting that part of working with net.ahumans," he said ruefully. "A snap of the fingers and you're on the other side of the planet." Wendle smiled. "I guess it's a bit like that." "So what brings you here?" asked Michael, returning to stirring the gravy. "I thought I should come and see you. I've got a bit of a problem, and we should probably have a face-to-face talk." Michael stopped preparing the gravy and methodically turned off the stove so dinner wouldn't burn. Then he turned to give his son his full attention. "Is it a big problem?" "In the long term it's probably terminal. I'm HIV positive." Michael sagged slightly and ran his hand over his chin. "I'm sorry to hear that son." Wendle watched him, and was saddened over how right he'd been about how hard it would hit his father. Wendle's mother had died of cancer when he was fifteen, and he'd had a pretty firm idea that the prospect of loosing another one of his family to a killer disease within a half decade would be depressing to his father. However it only took barely a second for Michael to regain his composure. He walked over and sat down beside Wendle and said, "So what happened?" "It's kind of superhero stuff," said Wendle. "Kind of?" Wendle drew a breath. Funny how, when the time came, all of his careful attempts to try and set out a tidy order of narration and explain what had happened simply turned out to be useless. "There was an alien who came and attacked the Legion about a week back. Called himself OMAR: the One Man Abusive Reaction. He used his powers to spread hatred across the city... across the whole planet, really... and drew strength from it. The Legion beat him off, stripped him of a lot of his power, and blew him to Killfile Come with a specially designed bomb. "Anyway, I barely took part in the superhero side of things..." he continued, glossing over for the moment what he actually *had* been doing, "but there was an attack by some nutburger who had been all stoked up by the hate that OMAR was pumping out. I was coming back from classes with Bruce - he's that guy from Alt.stralia that I've told you about - when we stopped by the university sports ground. A religious fundamentalist of some sort came up and tried to attack one of the quidditch players with an infected needle. There was a struggle, and he jabbed me with the needle instead." [As seen in _Flame Wars 4_ #1 - Footnote Girl] "Anyway," continued Wendle. "The cops took the guy away, and the Legion had its fight with OMAR. It was... it was pretty bad. A lot of LNHers died. Bruce..." Wendle's voice wavered. He paused and for a second and seemed to have trouble continuing. "Bruce had his face bitten off. After... after it was all over I arranged with Organic Lass to have a blood test, and the positive results came back just yesterday. Just before the memorial service." Michael nodded and waited for Wendle to continue. Then, "Are you going to be all right?" "I don't know," said Wendle hollowly. "There's some other stuff. Some of it's pretty silly, really. The whole attack was pretty bloody brainless. The minion of the Religious Reich was ranting on about godless sorcerers, but I know for a fact that Doug couldn't do magic to save his life. He's an Omega with the power to levitate wood with psychokinesis." "What's an Omega?" Michael asked. "Oh, it's a type of net.ahuman," said Wendle, relieved without being fully conscious of it to be sidetracked. "There's a parallel Earth in another universe where most of the native superhumans get their powers from a thing called the Omega Gene. Naturally, it tends to get labelled as the Omegaverse when it has to be distinguished from anywhere else. Anyway, Doug moved to the Looniverse and took up a quidditch scholarship at Dave Thomas Deluxe a few years ago." Wendle sighed. "I think what happened shook him up a bit, since he always seemed to think that this world was a lot nicer... a lot safer than the Omegaverse." Michael smiled sadly at the irony. "I can imagine. These things tend to come as a nasty shock. Unfortunately, there's nowhere that's totally safe. I've told you that enough times before. You can take sensible precautions, but always remember to savour each moment of your life as if it'll be your last." "I know. I remember." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "So anyway, that's this gist of it. I thought I should tell you, and took a week off to come and visit. I'll probably want to ring Susan and tell her tomorrow, but I just wanted to tell you first... You know." "I understand. I'm sorry to hear about this son. I'm really really sorry. You're welcome to stay as long as you like." Wendle swallowed. "Thanks Dad. I appreciate that." "Are you feeling up to some dinner?" Wendle managed to grin. "Sure." During the meal, Michael asked, "So did you find out anything about possible medication?" "Yeah," the younger man said, finding it easier to talk about something that he could bring under his control. "I had a talk with Organic Lass about that. There's a range of possible drug cocktails that she can prescribe to me." "Uh-huh. And at the risk of seeming over-eager, isn't there some way that those weird science wizards can come up with a cure?" asked Michael. .oO( This'll be the hard part, ) thought Wendle. There were some things he knew his father wouldn't understand for *cosmological* reasons. "There seem to be problems with the HIV virus - viruses, actually - that can't be licked even with super science," he said, trying to sound casual. Michael looked thoughtful. "Like the fact that HIV is a disease that exists in Real Life and can't be dismissed as easily as anything that the Writers develop for plot purposes?" Wendle dropped his fork and stared at his father in astonishment. "How did you know that!?" he demanded. "Most normal people have no idea about that, and after a while they loose their memory of it even if it's explained to them!" Michael looked both sad and a bit guilty. "I'm sorry son, but I haven't been a normal person for more than thirty years. As they say, I only play one on TV." As Wendle continued to stare at him open mouthed Michael sighed and said, "I suppose I should tell you. You had the guts enough to come here and tell me your problems, and here I am still keeping secrets... Wendle, you're twenty years old. I'm pushing sixty. Did you ever wonder why it was that your mother and myself waited so long to raise a family?" "Uh... Well... No. These days there are lots of the baby boomer generation and older who are waiting until their thirties or even their forties to have kids. Invitro fertilisation treatment means that there's more of them, too." "Even though I've always taught you that while you need to make plans for the future you also have to enjoy your life now?" "I always assumed it was a lifestyle choice," protested Wendle, genuinely confused. "I was scared son," Michael corrected him. "There were things that happened to me while I was fighting in Vietnam that scared both your mother and myself about having children. We thought about adopting, but in the end we took the plunge. And I'm glad we did. I'm very proud of yourself and your sister, and I love you both very much. But for a while you two almost didn't get born." Wendle tried to think what he could possibly be talking about. Agent Orange? Well, maybe; but there was another - even nastier - possibility that suddenly occurred to him. "Is this something to do with the plans of SCHMUCK?" he asked. [the Sinister Criminal Hierarchal Masterminds Using Conspiratorial Konquest - Footnote Girl] Wendle knew it was a dark issue in the history of Ame.rec.an politics, and a sore point for his father as a Vietnam Vet. SCHMUCK had managed to rig the 1968 election to get their sleeper agent Richard Milhous Nixon elected as president. Nixon then proceeded to manipulate a whole raft of laws and social policies to subtly benefit them. It was his handling of the Vietnam War that was most notorious, and for which he had finally been forced out of office. In order for SCHMUCK to have a supply of potential recruits, Nixon had let the war drag on in a way that would be as degrading as possible for the combat troops. The intention had been that when the veterans returned home to find themselves reviled by the public and the government deliberately washing its hands of the matter, they would be disillusioned and have no place to turn to. This would make them easy to recruit as mercenary troops and general goons for criminal and terrorist organisations. It had almost worked. The Washington.gov Post had stumbled across these facts almost by accident during its investigation of Water.newsgate. Then once the newspaper had exposed the scandal the Legion of Net.Hippies of the 1960s and 70s era had been hard pressed to stop the attempts of cyborg ninja assassins from the Committee for the Re-election of the President and SCHMUCK's own net.ahuman agents from regaining the initiative. In the end the Net.Hippies were victorious - although it had been a near thing and not without cost. Needs-A-Shave-And-A-Haircut-And- A-Bath Man had sacrificed himself to stop Nixon's last-ditch plan to use mind control rays to incite rioting so that he (Nixon) would have an excuse to declare martial law as a prelude to seizing imperial power. Nixon was removed from office, put on trial, and sent to the electric chair for high treason. Wendle's father had lost his right hand fighting in Vietnam. He had lost the rest of his right arm saving someone when SCHMUCK agents had blown up the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge in Washington.gov during a protest march. Wendle knew enough about his father to know that he couldn't begin to appreciate the depth of Michael's hatred for SCHMUCK and all of its works. All of this raced through Wendle's head during the instant that it took Michael to shake his head. "It was an army super-soldier program. Nothing to do with those SCHMUCK bastards," Michael said grimly. "At least, nothing directly linking them that I've ever been able to find. Mind you, Tricky Dicky could have set up any number of secret military programs with their ultimate benefit in mind." Wendle looked incredulous for a second, then asked, "Is that why you had an instant's worth of a panic stricken look when I told you I'd be working part time at the LNHHQ?" "I did not look panic stricken." "Yes you did, Dad. Don't sweat it. I always assumed it meant you cared enough to be worried about me working in a high-risk area." "I was. I was also worried that you might get bitten by an Origin. But I did not look panic stricken," Michael continued to protest mildly. "Whatever. So, what are we talking about here? Captain America style 'pump him full of drugs and zap him with mysterious rays'? Universal Soldier style recycling of the dead?" "Nothing so pretty looking," admitted Michael. Wendle blanched. "What, Night of the Living Dead style necromantic gases?" "Oh, stop that!" snapped Michael. "Do I look like a cannibal zombie?" "Sorry sorry sorry," went Wendle, rubbing his face with his hands. "It's just that I'm having a hard time getting my head around this." Michael exhaled and let his mouth quirk into a half smile half frown. "Yeah. Well, I suppose on top of everything else this must be coming as a bit of a shock. Actually, it was enhancement with a biomechanical symbiont suit of armour." "Oh. A guyver unit." Michael shrugged. "That's an oversimplification, but I suppose it's as good a comparison as any. Anyway, for ages I was worried that it might have affected my genes, so Gwen and myself put off having kids. When you're transforming into a creature that looks like a special effect from Doctor Who, and you think 'Oh my god, my arm is turning into GREEN BUBBLE WRAP', this sort of thing tends to prey on your mind." He gave his son a sober look. "The fact that as far as I know I'm the only one who didn't go mad and have to be destroyed didn't help, either." Wendle was confused. "If they were so unstable, then how come you weren't killed as well, as a precaution?" Now Michael's voice echoed that puzzlement. "By who? As soon as I realised what had been done to me, I destroyed Project: Fnord and all the paperwork relating to it. *I* was the one who had to track down the other victims and deal with them when they went off the deep end." Wendle didn't know what to say. Finally he managed, "I guess that must have been hard." "Yes. Yes it was. But you know how it is... You try to cope as best you can. I guess I don't have to tell you that, though. Especially not now." "Yeah. I guess not." "And besides... a lot of them were my buddies; I figured that if anyone had the right to give them a merciful death, it should be me. Anyway, I suppose I should have told you all this years ago. Doing it now seems kind of petty in a way, almost like trying to match you horror story for horror story. 'I've had worse experiences that you', and all that." "No, Dad. It's not like that. I don't look at it like that, really. I already know my problems are just personal. Pretty bad, but still personal. There are lots of people back at the Legion who are dead, or badly maimed. I'm not stupid enough to think that my problems were the end of the world, or anything. It's just... oh, I don't know..." Michael nodded. "At the moment it looks like the best advice I can give you is to try and keep a balance between wallowing in depression and being too stoic about it." He stood up and began to collect the used plates. "If I know you, you're probably suffering from the latter." "Maybe," hedged Wendle, who for the most part had chosen not to display his pain to the world for the damn good reason that it would have been one more thing for that bastard Self-Righteous Preacher to gloat about. Michael gave him a sceptical but affectionate look. "Whatever. Come on, let's get this washing up out of the way. There's a university moopsball match on TV later between Berkeley and Calisota State that I want to catch." --------------------------------------------------------------------- Character Credits: Anal-Retentive Archive Kid (Wendle Johnston), Michael Johnston, Fourth Wall Lass and SCHMUCK all created by Saxon Brenton. Needs-A-Shave-And-A-Haircut-And-A-Bath Man and the Legion of Net.Hippies created by Arthur Spitzer for the flashback in _Jong_ #4. Used without permission. All characters are the property of and copyright 2003 to their creators. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Add Notes: The 'Nixon as terrorist deep agent deliberately dragging out the Vietnam War to alleviate his masters' sinister staffing needs' plot is cribbed from Mike Bourke's Champions RPG campaign.Back to the Index.