This issue of   egion of __     [___][ \et.__eroes Volume 2 #42 \ ] [ __ ]     has *once again* been highjacked to present another of the MISANTHROPIC TALES OF THE NET.TRENCHCOAT BRIGADE 'The Dreams Of A Hundred Apes' featuring Mister Elmo written by and copyright 2011 Saxon Brenton for the 19th High Concept Challenge [Acraphobe content warning: This story is has a Net.Trenchcoat Brigade label and is therefore implied Acraphobe.] Officer McGracken had his gun drawn and at the ready as he edged up to the door. He was not happy. Anger was part of that, but most of it was straight out, adrenalin driven fight-or-flight terror. He had lost both Dinsman and Wolchowski somewhere in this musty old abandoned warehouse. A stress driven part of his mind could have suggested that 'been herded from them' was probably a better description. And perhaps that wasn't just paranoia talking. This place was... disorientating. His radio wasn't working, and the few simple experiments that McGracken had performed to check his perceptions suggested that his eyes were playing tricks on him. He was beginning to suspect that this place may have been pumped full of hallucinogenic gas, or moving walls, or something. Whatever it was, it had the stink of some type of supervillain lair set up for mind games. He listened carefully at the door and heard nothing. He eased it open slowly, looked inside, and with weary resignation took note of the fact that the room within was far bigger than could be reasonably expected to fit inside the warehouse that the cops had entered half an hour earlier. "Come in," said a voice. It was deep, and calm, and scary as all hell. In response McGracken responded, "Freeze! Police! Get out in the open with your hands in..." and then his voice trailed off as he realised that he was yelling at a dragon. It was huge. It was green and scaly. It was casually lounging on the floor on the side of the room to the left of the door in the way that dragons habitually curl up for a nap atop a pile of treasure. It was wearing purple underpants. "Hello Officer. I am FIN FANFIC FOOM! and I welcome you to my lair. Please, come in. I have been expecting you." McGracken stared at the dragon, only vaguely aware that he had lowered his gun and stepped further in to the room. Its eyes were large and luminous and it was all that McGracken could do to keep from being lost in the depths of its gaze. He swallowed nervously. He had to keep his wits about him. "You're probably wondering where all the treasure is," said FIN FANFIC FOOM! conversationally. "For some reason people are always obsessing about hoarded treasure." McGracken hadn't, actually, but he mutely nodded just the same. "Over here is my current project," continued the dragon. "And as these things go I'd like to think of it as quite valuable." McGracken found himself being gently by firmly guided by a large scaly hand-like limb in the direction of some sort of built thingummy. The cop looked at it, but couldn't make out what it was. It was big, and made primarily of metal, with a number of protruding bars and rods that made it look something like a kinetic sculpture. But there were angles that just didn't make sense, plus parts that made it look like a giant slab of cheese or a pile of skulls or a moving nest of snakes. There was also what looked like a chair. McGracken focused on the chair. The chair was sensible, and didn't hurt his eyes to look at. "It's a story telling engine," said FIN FANFIC FOOM! "Here, why don't you try it out? I'm really quite proud of it." McGracken was seated in the chair, which was a high backed affair something like a throne, although he was also peripherally aware that there were other, stranger parts attached behind and above him. And this is what the storytelling engine had to say: Once Upon A Time there was a happy and prosperous kingdom. But the kingdom was under threat from incursions by dragons, who would swoop in for no apparent reason and lay waste to large parts of the countryside. But *actually* there was a reason, because Once Upon A Time there had been a happy and prosperous kingdom of dragons. Which had come under threat from incursions of nasty, brutush and short humans, who would swarm in for no apparent reason, taking up occupation of large parts of the countryside. And during that ancient Once Upon A Time a wizard versed in the dark arts of cryptohistoromancy came to the greatest of the human warlords and said, 'Lord, the land responds to the stories we tell it. If we spread the idea that this land is ours and has always been ours, then we will bind it under the Weight of our Words.' And so it was agreed and so it came to pass, and the kingdom had always been a human kingdom, and the dragons were cast out to the edges of the lands.' But then one day a Brave Little Tailor set out to overthrow the tyranny of the humans, and win the talon of the beuatiful princess of a restored dragon kingdom... The dragon carefully reached out and placed an adhesive patch decorated with a silvery coloured rune onto McGracken's forehead. The man's eyes glowed briefly with a flash of white light, which then pulsed out across his face and over the rest of his body, following the pattern of veins just beneath the skin and leaving a residue of silvery metal across McGracken's face and skull. With the glyph of accursed immortality thus activated FIN FANFIC FOOM! then used one razor sharp claw to decapitate the cop. The unsupported body fell to the floor, where it produced a few final spurts of blood from the neck artery before the heart muscles gave in to death. Meanwhile the dragon carefully held onto the still-living-and-deep-in- dream head and puttered around the baroque construct of the story telling engine. It was trying to decide which of the remaining places would be the best place to insert McGracken's cranium. The choice didn't take long, and then as the dragon installed the silvered skull it smiled and uttered aloud the cryptic comment, "And the Legion of Net.Heroes always wins". --==###==-- Mister Elmo wandered the streets of a city that wasn't Net.ropolis, occasionally muttering to himself. People tended to avoid him, which was fine by the Trenchcoater. He had realised long ago that he didn't have much in common that he could talk about with most people. To paraphrase the notions that Lovecraft had used in his horror stories, most people only retained a grip on the thing that was usually confused for 'reality' and 'sanity' by remaining blissfully ignorant of the Big Picture. He stopped at a vendor's cart in a crowded lunchtime plaza and bought himself a cup of coffee. As he raised his drink to his lips he stretched out his mind, feeling the more-or-less coherent fabric of History distil out of Time at a rate of one second per second. For the moment all seemed quiet, and Mister Elmo sipped his coffee in peace. The world was warm, and green, and lush. Mister Elmo basked in the sunlight of an open grassy field as giant reptiles soared overhead. Then the shock of surprise brought him back to the here-and-now, and Trenchcoater crushed the still half full styrofoam cup. Hot coffee spilt over his hand and added even more stains to his tan coloured trenchcoat. A bystander not only saw this but was concerned enough to ask, "Hey! Are you okay, mister?" "What?" asked Mister Elmo as he focused his attention back on the mundane, and glanced down at his scalded hand. "Ah, thanks. I, uh, hadn't noticed. Excuse me," he said, and rushed off in the direction of the subway with his mind ringing from the threat of a world where dragons ruled. As he ran across the road cars braked and swerved and honked their horns. Mister Elmo paused for long enough to round on them and yell, "Do you mind!? I'm walking here!" before continuing his dash down the stairs into the subway. From there his trip to Net.ropolis proceeded quickly. At the entrance to the subway station Mister Elmo passed through the turnstiles without having to insert either tokens or a ticket. As he reached the platform a train was drawing to a halt, and the trenchcoater stepped aboard without needing to pause. The train was just the right one to take him to the airport by the quickest possible route, and there he got off and walked upstairs to the airport proper and then through the gates without once needing to bother with a boarding pass or security check. The airplane he wanted was taking on passengers just as he was arriving, and once again he walked aboard without having had to slow down - let alone stop - at any point since he had disembarked from the train. A stewardess directed him to his seat. As he sat down and waited for the takeoff he mused on his destination. Bloody Net.ropolis. Superhero capital of the world, of course, and full of more weird goings on than most people would believe. Which made it convenient if you wanted all your weird sh!t in one place for easy access, but annoying as hell when you finally realised that none of it made sense. Even though the place was some sort of weirdness magnet (yes, various members of the Net.Trenchcoat Brigade had checked at one time or another, just to satisfy their own paranoid curiosities) you would think that any supervillain with enough brain cells to rub together would have moved their operations to another city, or even some little town out in the middle of nowhere. Ignore the exhibitionists who wanted to build a rep for themselves by trying to fight and defeat a big name superhero. Mister Elmo was specifically thinking of the villains who had a plan - taking over the world, or summoning up an elder god, or whatever - that would proceed just fine without any sort of climactic fight scene. Damned costumed superhumans. The flight was uneventful, and once he reached Net.ropolis Mister Elmo caught a taxi to the abandoned warehouse district, where he paid the driver - in real money! - with a hefty tip and the advice that he'd better get out of here quick. The driver knew enough to guess at what was going to happen next, and drove away with a curt but polite, "Good luck, senor." The Trenchcoater eyed the warehouse suspiciously. He could sense a glamour of misdirection and bemusement that had be laid over the place. He didn't expect it to cause him too much trouble - after all, he was professional at navigating inconsistencies of history, both perceived and actual - but that was no excuse for being blase and careless. He rummaged around in his coat pocket and retrieved a ball of twine, and then immitated Theseus as he advanced into the building. As he advanced he could hear someone or someones stumbling about in the corridors further in. Mister Elmo sighed. He had been hoping that all the theoretically innocent bystanders had been warned away. But, on the up side, having other people about to act as distractions would be useful - as long as they didn't actually get in the Trenchcoater's way. He made his way towards what felt like the centre of discontinuity. This, at least, was more difficult. It was small, quiescent, with only the barest hint of being there at all - but also with the sense of vast potential, of just waiting to explode outwards in some type of malignant glory. In any case getting to it involved navigating a short tangle of corridors. This brought him to a door. There was talking on the other side. He eased the door open a crack and found that he was positioned at the back of a large area. There was a dragon (In purple pants! Never a good sign!) up front and facing away from him, weaving a web of beguiling blarney over two police officers. Meanwhile at this end of the room was a throne. An ornate seat. And a particularly macarbly ornate one at that, decorated as it was with human heads. And another part of that ornamentation, the Trenchcoater sensed, was it's thrumming power. Mister Elmo stared intently at the throne, for long enough for a trickle of drool to form at the corner of his mouth. He absently wiped it away with his sleeve as his mind raced. It was... No, it *looked like* a power accumulator of some sort. Sit on the throne and tap into the power? For how long? Was it an apotheosis engine? A throne to raise you up to the power level of a throne? And while dealing with puns, it occurred to Mister Elmo that 'throne' was also slang for 'lavatory'. Perhaps it was a construct to imbue the recipient with the abilities of the Time Crapper, the super- villain who could be you, the evil future self that nobody wanted to grow up to be. Hurm. Well, mucking around with time could explain how an alternate history dominated by reptiles could be brought into existence, he supposed. But... no. The throne was too small. Even taking into account that dragons could typically take on human guise, it just didn't make any sense to have an apotheosis engine built so small. No self-respecting dragon would crown itself with godhood while in human shape. The Trenchcoater slipped through the door and made his way closer in order to get a better look. What was it really? he wondered. While the dragon continued with his beguiling speech out in the middle of the room, Mister Elmo examined the setup, tracing the power conduits that snaked around the structure and the silvery runes that encompassed the living but apparently totally out-of-it heads. Meanwhile FIN FANFIC FOOM! had gotten up to the "It's a story telling engine," part of his patter, prompting Mister Elmo to look up brightly. "Oh, is it?" The dragon and both police looked at him. "Well, I had been wondering," said Mister Elmo, a touch defensively. Actually, that name gave more than enough hint as to how that alt.reality-sans-humans-but-with-added-dragons was being generated. Of more concern was the dragon standing in front of him. It narrowed its eyes. "You aren't a mundane human," it said. Mister Elmo gave the dragon a sharp look. "No." "I had been wondering when you would get here... Occultism Kid." And at that moment MasterBlaster burst through the ceiling, guns a blazing. He dropped to the floor and yelled, "Alright! Keep those hands where I can see them! The Legion of Net.Heroes is... What the f&ck is that!?" he demanded, catching a proper look of the throne. The police looked at the construct. One of them frowned in puzzlement. "It's a giant piece of cheese." "No, it's a Lego statue of Daffy Duck," disagreed the other. "So, now the Legion has arrived in force," growled FIN FANFIC FOOM! at MasterBlaster. "But I don't care how many of you there are. You will not dare try to damage my engine." But Mister Elmo noticed that the dragon made no move to protect the thing that it had built. "Well, if you don't want it destroyed, then that's exactly what I think I'll do," said MasterBlaster. "No! Don't!" exclaimed Mister Elmo. MasterBlaster's guns swung menacingly in Mister Elmo's direction. "Whose side do you think you're on?" he demanded with Hollywood tough guy bravado. "It's..." There was no time to explain, and even if there had been, this was one of the Legion of Net.Heroes. He wouldn't have enough intelligence to understand! "It's a trap! It's rigged to explode if you use blunt force against it. It has to be deactivated by being disassembled!" The dragon roared, lunging towards Mister Elmo. "Be silent! Or FIN FANFIC FOOM! will put you in his pants!" "Ahhh!" screamed Mister Elmo, genuinely horrified at the prospect. He dodged around the throne, with the dragon close on his heels. MasterBlaster started firing at the huge reptile. Mister Elmo caught sight of the two cops just standing there, still befuddled by FIN FANFIC FOOM!'s draconic awe. It occurred to the Trenchcoater that it would be nice to have some of those useful distractions that he had been thinking about earlier, and so as he ran he used his frothing abilities on them. "What the hell are you just standing there for!?" he ranted. "There's a bad guy wanting to change history so that dragons rule the world! Don't just stand there like New York rubberneckers! Shoot!" This seemed to break them out of the dragon's mind control. In any case, they started shooting their revolvers at the dragon. Mister Elmo wasn't sure what all the gunfire was actually doing - it didn't seem to be actually wounding the dragon, or even slowing him down - but it did distract him enough to turn on them. With one tail sweep the dragon smashed one of the police against the wall with a sickening crunch, killing him instantly. Mister Elmo hurriedly put the distraction to good use. He ducked back to throne and pulled out a simple pen knife. Okay, so it was a storytelling engine, huh? So all the power was being cycled through the dreaming, decapitated heads. Was there a critical number? No, wait, a critical number wouldn't be relevant, because FIN FANFIC FOOM! had tried to goad MasterBlaster into destroying it. It must already have enough victims slotted in. It was ready and primed to release the energy patterned by the story to reshape the world as fact rather than fiction. How amazing. Almost by accident Mister Elmo had been spot on when he'd told MasterBlaster that the thing had been booby trapped if you did anything to it other than painstakingly disassemble it. Thank goodness for Magician's intuition, supplying him with the correct answer on a subconscious level! So, yes, that meant that FIN FANFIC FOOM! had already primed it with enough heads. But not for long, thought Mister Elmo grimly as he used the penknife to prize off the silvery material from around each skull, thereby separating them from the mystical infrastructure of its un-life support and allowing them to die one by one. Meanwhile MasterBlaster was having loads of fun using his cybernetic hand to form weaponry of sufficient calibre to knock about his draconic adversary. FIN FANFIC FOOM! picked himself out of a wall and took frustrated stock of the situation. The story telling engine was being picked apart piece by piece, and so it now looked unlikely that it could goad any of the Legionnaires into destroying the engine with one stereotypically heroic explosive hit and thereby releasing the accumulated power of its dreaming minds. The dragon was a carnivore, meaning it had entirely the wrong type of teeth to gnash in frustration. So instead it threatened, "Next time we meet Occultism Kid, I will put you in my pants!" Then it jumped up into the air and through the hole that MasterBlaster had already made in the warehouse roof (and perhaps widening it a bit more in the process) and flew away. Mister Elmo watched it go. He felt a giddy sense of relief. After all, that threat it had made was a particularly terrible one - but thanks to the dragon's mistake of identity, Mister Elmo wouldn't be the one who'd have to deal with it. Quite a good result, even if the Trenchcoater did have to say so himself. ===== Character credits: Mister Elmo created by Greg Morrow. MasterBlaster created by Rob Ramirez, via Martin Phipps. Fin Fanfic Foom created by Saxon Brenton. IIRC only named checked previously, first appearance here. Given over to Public Domain. Author's notes: Written for the 19th High Concept Challenge: 'What Is The Secret Of The Silver Skull Machine?' I'm not entirely happy with this, since I wanted a Net.Trenchcoat Brigade story, but I think instead got a Legion of Net.Heroes story that just happened to have an NTBer in the lead role. To the best of my knowledge the trenchcoating character of Mister Elmo (as opposed to Greg Morrow's net.handle) only ever appeared in the NTB roster reprinted in the _Wrath Of The Administrator_ trade etherback, and reproduced again here: Net.name/persona: Mister Elmo Real name/address: Greg Morrow Powers/mystical abilities/colour of trenchcoat: Strange frothing abilities/mystical sense of continuity violations/tan Origin: Driven insane by years of datelessness, Mister Elmo prowls the back streets of USENET, incessantly whining, with spittle, about trivial inconsistencies.Back to the Index.