W W A RRRR # # 33333 W W W A A RRRR # # 33 33 W W A A A R R ######## 33 33 # # 33 W W III TTT H H O U U TTT # # 33 W W I T HHH O O U U T ######## 33 W W W I T H H O O U U T # # 33 W W III T H H O U T # # 33 33 W W O RRR L DDDD SSSS 33 W W O O R R L D D S 33 W W W O O RRR L D D SSSS 33 33 W W W W O O R R L D D S 33 33 W W O R R LLLL DDDD SSSS 33333 [The cover is in space, showing two planets, one the LooniEarth, the other the Inhilator homeworld. Despite the fact that they are planets, the Inhilator world has a mouth and is taking a large bite out of the LooniEarth.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Cry 'havoc' and let slip the dogs of war" by Jamas Enright and Saxon Brenton The Net.Elementalist sits back in the chair just inside the cafe in the middle of Las Veg.OS, watching those outside run around like chickens after a wolf lands in the henhouse. He picks up the cup of coffee he had had to make himself (you just couldn't get the help nowadays), and takes a slow pull of the drink. Then quickly spits it back out. Not only did he not like coffee, he also didn't know how to make it, so who knew what the drink really was. Anyways... He stands up, and pauses in the doorway, turning to the readers. "Hello there, and welcome to this exciting third issue of _War Without Worlds_. I hope you're ready for a thrilling adventure," he says, winking, "as this one is gonna be a killer." He steps out into the panic and screaming of the main street, and looks down at one end of it. "It all started when I saw Pluto destroyed, which was the first stop of the Inhilators in this solar system. The Inhilators control their own planet, and visit stellar systems and, well, snort up the planets through straws they grow out of noses they grow on the surface of their planet. It's a whole drug thing." Walking along the street, he doesn't really pay much attention to the people, who are just as oblivious to him. "The Inhilators then went on to snort up Neptune, then the LNH caught up with them, and tried to destroy the Inhilator planet. Rather than let that happen, as if they would, the Inhilators simply moved the planet." The Net.Elementalist points up, and the panel pans up to reveal a large purple, green, yellow, brown, red, etc... planet in the sky above. "Don't worry. The Inhilators have their own plot device engine powering their world, so minor things like 'gravity' or 'the forces of good' shan't bother them." He continues on his way, looking ahead to something in particular. "That wasn't the first time the LNH had encountered the Inhilators, as the Inhilators were kind enough to provide some early entertainment for them, in the form of probes, one per continent, designed to wreck as much havoc as possible in order to distract the LNH while the Inhilators went around snorting up planets. They're not that stupid, you know? In fact, there's a probe now." Following the Net.Elementalist's pointing again, the panel now shows a large purple humanoid construct, the aforementioned probe, bringing a two-handed slam down onto the head of a tall thin mecha figure, causing it to buckle and nearly fall to the ground. "Crap," Kid Pocky's voice came over the speakers. "This thing is really going to kill me." Giving into his despair, and thereby giving the Angstvangelion he was piloting an extra power boost, he shot out the mecha's legs to sweep the probe's legs out from underneath it, causing it to slam into the ground as well. "You can see how that's going to get rather repetitive," the Net.Elementalist points out, stepping into the scene. "There were seven probes originally, and LNH teams like this one," he says, pointing to Fearless Leader, Fuzzy, Limp-Asparagus Lad, CAPTAIN CAPITALIZE, Squeaky Clean, Occultism Kid and Obnoxious Ame.rec.a Boy, "were dispatched to fight them. Two teams actually managed to destroy them, but that had the unfortunate consequence of wiping them out in a psionic backlash." He grins as he says this. "A neat wee twist the Inhilators built into the probes. The rest are fighting them, but I must say I like this solution a lot." The Net.Elementalist turns around, and is now standing in outback Alt.stralia. Before him is a large green mass that writhed in weird and strange ways. And went "KI-WI! KI-WI! KI-WI!". "I have to admit," he says, "when thousands of kiwis sit on you, you stay sat on. But they got the idea from the Oozlefinches over in Asia, who did the same thing to the probe there." The Net.Elementalist slowly starts to rise in the air, then pauses. "Oh, and I would show you what was happening in South Ame.rec.a, but trust me, Guitar Man doesn't sound any better flamenco style. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's some work I need to do. It's time to start this issue. To summarise: some of the probes are dealt with, some not. The LNH space fleet is on its way back, and the Alt.Riders are in the In.dir.an Ocean trying to free Asteroid L for some strange and unknown purpose... I just don't get those guys." With a flash of white light, the being otherwise known as the Net.Elementalist appeared before the Alt.stralian team, booming in a loud voice, "Know then that I was abandoned, that I was left to the strange vagrancies of fate and destiny. For the Inhilators have taken me as one of their own, and I am become...MoreCuteAs!" "Oh you have got to be kidding me," Frothing-At-The-Mouth Lad gaped. "What? We've got to deal with this guy now?" "Please don't tell me they've turned the Net.Elementalist into an evil villain," Bladed Lad said, staring. "Again," Mouse added. "It seems to be a perennial favourite with their writer." "Hold, for the forces of evil shall ever be resisted!" Writer's Block Woman announced. "Know that I am a hero and a lady, and I shall defeat you!" "KI-WI! KI-WI! KI-WI!" "I am come to deliver a message to you all," MoreCuteAs intoned. "Know now that the Inhilators would subdue you all, that you are as bugs before them, and to challenge them is to challenge the very power of creation itself." "Big talker, isn't he?" Fuzzy muttered. "If he's got the Inhilator power behind him, he can talk as big as he likes," Squeaky Clean said. "As long as he's just talking, I don't care," said Fearless Leader, watching the struggle between the Angstvangelion and the probe instead. "We've got enough to worry about right here." "I'm not sure he's really all there," Occultism Kid murmured. "Oh, he's well gone," Fuzzy returned. "Know now that the Inhilators would wipe you from the face of the world," MoreCuteAs continued. "But that you might give them pause if you were to worship them as the very gods they are to you." "What the hell is this crap?" Ultimate Ninja growled. "He's on all channels," wReamhack replied, coaxing information from the computers while MoreCuteAs took up the screens. "We're getting reports of sightings of him from all the LNH teams still out there. It's like some weird kind of transmission." [There. And you thought I'd just stuck all the LNHers in one place!] "I haven't heard of them trying a tactic like this, though," said Vel. "Agreed," said Eight of Nine. "In none of the dealings we have heard of surrounding the Inhilators have they ever demanded worship. They have only destroyed planets." "Perhaps they're running low on people and need to restock?" wReamhack suggested. "Forced mating? I doubt it," said Vel. "Besides, it's not as though loonihumanity would be a compatible species. Despite what you may have heard on some channels, aliens and humans can't breed, pretty much by definition. The amount of genetic engineering or other handwaving that they would need for a large scale breeding program would be way beyond the point of diminishing returns." "Know now that you have only two of your hours in which to show due reverence to the Inhilators," MoreCuteAs announced. "If you do not, woe be unto you. MoreCuteAs has spoken." "Hey, we're Ame.rec.ans!" Obnoxious Ame.rec.a Boy shouted. "We only worship in state approved religions!" "CAN WE HIT HIM NOW?" CAPTAIN CAPITALIZE asked. "I'm not sure it would matter," Occultism Kid replied. "I think he's like the probes." "A psychic construct?" Fearless Leader asked. "It would make sense," Limp-Asparagus Lad said. "It would enable them to send the image of the Net.Elementalist anywhere they wished, while keeping hold of the original template." "So he's still on their planet?" "It would appear so." "Hey, guys," MoreCuteAs suddenly barked. "Two hours. Get on it." "Geez, what a grouch." _-~-_ The LNH space.thingees had been heading back to LooniEarth when they had received MoreCuteAs's message. In one of them Retcon Lad growled, "Aw, crap-on-a-stick! Don't tell me he's been dominated by an outside power that's turned him into a Herald of Evil, again!" Very Big Boy threw him a deadpan look. "This sort of thing happens a lot, huh?" Retcon Lad crossed his arms and continued to scowl. "This is only the second time for the Herald of Evil bit. But the whole mind control shtick in general has turned up more often than I really want to deal with. Geez, with all this mind control and slavery going on, it's beginning to look like an X-Men story by Chris Claremont." "Okay then, just skip that for a moment. Let's see if we can use any of this to our advantage," Very Big Boy said practically. "You say that this has happened before, but that means that he's gotten over it before. Does that suggest anything that we can repeat to get it over with all the sooner?" Retcon Lad sat back and looked thoughtful, then shook his head. "Not really," he said at last. "Oh! Hey, yes! No, wait... Hmm..." "What?" "Well, in a way you're right. But if it's a matter of roughly repeating what happened last time then we would need access to the real Net.Elementalist and... somehow... break him free of their control." "Ah, right. Not any of the projections that are turning up on Earth." "Uh-huh. But it looks like he's back on the Inhilator world somewhere, where we can't get at him without getting our minds zapped into the drooling giggling place. Or maybe he never left, and they had him shielded from scans when the other Alt.Riders were rescued. Same end result, I suppose." Very Big Boy considered the situation. "So all of our options for being able to do anything fall back to either somehow getting enough firepower to overwhelm the Inhilators from outside, or somehow protecting our minds and then infiltrating them and taking them out from within," he summarised. "A pity those mind blocks that the Alt.Riders have can't be erected quickly and easily." "Mmm. Yeah. All those mental manipulation techniques developed in programs like MK-ULTRA tend to be pretty slow. Even the conspiracy theory literature agrees on... wait a moment. Conspiracy theories!" "What about them?" "Tin foil hats!" "Retcon Lad, you're not making sense. What about tin foil hats?" "The conspiracy theorists reckon that hats made of aluminum foil protect you from mind control," said Retcon Lad, getting up and rummaging in the equipment locker. "Just let me retcon it so that someone remembered to pack some away." Very Big Boy was staring at him. "*How* is it supposed to protect you from mind control? I mean, okay, if you wrapped your head in it you could make a primitive Faraday cage and protect yourself from electromagnetic radiation. But psionics aren't transmitted by electromagnetic means. It's instantaneous across distance, remember?" Now it was Retcon Lad's turn to stare at him. Very Big Boy sighed. "This is another one of those things that the Writers use as a handwave excuse, isn't it?" "Well... probably," Retcon Lad admitted. "You know, this sort of thing isn't even magic. It's... it's just folklore." "Nah. It's a plot device. Like, uhm," he rummaged for a science fiction metaphor. "Like faster-than-light spaceships. There's nothing in real science that says that a FTL engine could be made so easily and cheaply that nearly any well-off person could own one, but most science fiction settings have taken it for granted for decades. It's just a way of moving the story along. All we had to do was find the right plot device and take advantage of it. Hang the sense of it all. Look, here, you start making hats and I'll radio the idea back to Legion headquarters," he said, handing over the roll of aluminium foil. _-~-_ "There's good news and bad news," Agent said, sitting at the controls of the flight.thingee that was currently lifting the immense body of Asteroid L into the air. The main screen was showing outside the asteroid, but another screen was filled with MoreCuteAs, although the Alt.Riders (of which Agent was nominally the leader) knew of him as the Net.Elementalist and, more importantly, as one of the team. "There's good news?" Dva, sitting beside him, asked with an undisguised note of surprise in her voice. "Certainly. It won't take nearly as long as we thought to get the asteroid to the Inhilator planet." "Well...okay...good news isn't what it used to be. Dare I ask for the bad news? Or it is just too obvious to mention?" "The bad news is that if the planet becomes unstable as a result of our actions, the debris could cause widespread devastation around LooniEarth." "Oh, and the fact that Barry has been possessed by the Inhilators isn't bad news? ...Actually, that whole planet devastation thing is bad news, isn't it?" Agent nodded. "But unless Morph gets back, that won't be a problem." "You think that poison of yours will do the trick?" "I know the space fleet failed, and I don't have a better option at the moment. Do you?" "Um...no." They flew in silence for a while. The trip would take a some hours yet. There would be many silences, but it was time for them to be more expected ones. "Dva, I need you to do something..." "I'm surprised you actually asked," Dva replied, barely suppressing the sarcasm. "Change." "...what?" "Peter can resist the Inhilator presence. You can't. I need someone stable at my side." "Oh. I see." When Agent finally looked, he saw Dva nod at him, and he nodded back. Time to get to work. _-~-_ "Time's up," MoreCuteAs suddenly boomed. "You have failed to worship us. We will now take our punishment on you." "Why haven't you fired yet?" Ultimate Ninja glared at wReamhack. "Doing it now. Geez." wReamhack pushed a final button, and across the Loonited States of Ame.rec.a several nuclear missiles fired, their trajectories all locked on one target. "For this act, we must..." MoreCuteAs' voice faded away, then suddenly he was back. "Missiles? You would shoot missiles at us? ...you do know that we destroy whole planets, right? Even taken out a few suns? Nuclear energy is just a breakfast food for us, like your Tang and your Poptarts. We laugh at your pitiful weapons arsenal. In fact, see us laughing!" For those with screens, they now showed the surface of the Inhilator planet, in which mouths suddenly opened, the bottom lip quivering as if they were indeed laughing (although nothing could be heard, they are just outside the main atmosphere of LooniEarth and no sound is going to be transmitted). At that moment, the missiles arrived, and conveniently shot right into the open mouths, which closed around them with a visible lip smack. "Right, that does it, no more Mister Nice MoreCuteAs," MoreCuteAs returned to the screens. "For that, I shall come down and smack each and every one of you upside the head." "SERIOUSLY?" MoreCuteAs appeared to consider this for a moment, then broke out into a wide grin. "Nah, actually, I'm just jerking your chain here, guys. The whole 'you must worship us' thing is really not our style." "Is this for real?" Mouse asked. "I've got a really bad feeling out this," Fuzzy said. "Really, we just want your planet," MoreCuteAs continued. "We don't really give a stuff about you, but since you'll just annoy us and try to stop us and all...well, nighty night!" MoreCuteAs snapped his fingers and suddenly- *fsssSSSSSCCCCHHHHHH.....* static echoed in the heads over every living being on LooniEarth, overwhelming mind, overwhelming body. *...SHSHSHSHSHSSHSHSHSHSHS....* one by one, everyone dropped, every animal collapsed, every fish twitched, every reptile...well, you get the idea... *...FSHSHSHFSHFSHFSHSHSHHHHHH...* And then there was no-one left conscious to stop the Inhilators from wiping out the planet... ...except (we couldn't really leave it like that!) for a handful of individuals who, either through natural resistance or fortitudinous foresight, were mentally protected to not hear the static at all. Oh, and we're not talking psychics here. Actually, in most fictional universes where psionics exists the human race is usually considered at least a latent psionic species, so in practical terms humans are generally low level psychically enabled to some degree unless the authors specifically indicate otherwise. Unfortunately that cross genre element is to the Inhilators' advantage. The attack was like static on everyone's mental radios, and the better you are at picking things up, well, the worse it is for you. When we say a handful, we mean maybe... a dozen people, tops. That's it. Twelve people. To save the LooniEarth. No worries, eh? _-~-_ Master Blaster refused to look at Pizza Girl, because he already knew she would be smirking. Not even MB's MacDaddy vibes could counteract wearing a tin foil hat. "Anyone contact the LNH?" he asked over the radio, watching through the main screen as the trinary system of LooniEarth, the Moon and now the Inhilator planet loomed ever closer. "No-one's responding," Librarian Lady reported back. "And over half of the fleet seems to have gone quite as well. I've managed to slave some of them to my systems, but we'll all need to pick up some of the load." Master Blaster glanced at Pizza Girl, who nodded and started coordinating her system with what Librarian Lady had set up. "If no-one's answering, there's not much point in landing," Master Blaster announced. "It's time for a direct assault on this planet." "While I'm all for a direct attack," Retcon Lad said carefully over the radio, "I think we might need a more organised plan than to simply attack. Last time we tried to ensnare them in a web, and they saw through us immediately. Perhaps we should attempt some kind of infiltration." "What did you have in mind?" MB asked. "Everyone attacks, except for one group that goes down to the planet and tries to break in and do some damage from the inside." "Ah yes, the classic diversionary tactic. I take it you're suggesting that you're the ones to go inside?" "Well, I was thinking that we could decide who would-" "Excellent. I'm on main guns, of course, the rest of you with me, Retcon Lad and Very Big Boy are going in!" _-~-_ "How much longer?" Dva asked. "About an hour," Agent replied, monitoring the strain on the flight.thingee motors. "But it might not matter if Morph can't get back in time." "Why?" A coalescence of blue announced the arrival of Morph and Lillie, forestalling Agent's reply. Between them was a large sealed vat. "Is that it?" Agent asked. "The entire LNH is out!" Morph blurted out. "We heard something from Retcon Lad about foil, but the message wasn't clear, and then Barry just went nuts...you saw that whole MoreCuteAs thing?" "Is that it?" Agent repeated, more forcefully. "What? Yes, it is," Morph replied crossly. "Didn't you hear me? It's just us, now!" "Fine, fine." Agent bent down, checking the seals. "But we've got other problems." "Than just the LNH down for the count?" "We need to coat the asteroid with this," Agent said, tapping the vat. "And I don't see us doing it from here." "What? You're kidding. How were you going to originally do it?" "Originally we would have met the Inhilator planet probably around Jupiter, but now we're on a tight countdown." Agent knelt down in front of Lillie, and looked the little blue girl straight in the eyes. "Can you teleport this onto the surface?" Lillie just looked back at him. "Perhaps French?" "She can understand me, but-" Lillie grabbed Agent with one hand, and the vat with the other, and then- Agent was in the atmosphere, watching the asteroid loom towards him, barrelling down on him as- The vat appeared in front of the asteroid, and exploded, the clear substance inside flying outwards, forming a cloud that the asteroid flew through, the substance sticking to the asteroid as they touched- The asteroid flew on, Agent watching as the barren rock came ever closer, now almost in touching distance- Agent blinked his eyes, and looked around the interior of the flight.thingee, seeing Dva, Morph and Lillie. But no vat. "Did...?" He stared at Lillie again. "I think we need to have a long talk sometime soon," he said gravely, before standing and returning to his seat. "So we're ready then?" Morph asked, not quite sure what happened then either. "I guess so. Inhilator contact in fifty minutes." "Just a question," Morph said. "Lillie will be transporting us away, will she?" "Well, maybe," Agent replied. "But, on the other hand, once we are on board, I thought maybe we could find Barry and possibly rescue him. If you think you're up for it." Morph grinned. "That's more like it." "What? You thought I'd leave a team member behind?" Agent said. "I'm hurt." Morph and Dva shared a look, but decided against saying anything. _-~-_ "It's not doing anything," Pizza Girl reported. "The planet is reading as some kind of energy dispersing mist. Retcon Lad can't find anyway to get in." "Pour it on," replied Master Blaster, triggering the space.thingee's weapon systems. "Get the others to concentrate their firing with me. We might be able to punch a hole through." "On it." _-~-_ The Inhilators watched as the asteroid neared their planet. This was the first time the planet was offering up part of itself to be consumed. They knew there was something odd about it, but couldn't read anything about the people on board it. Unlike the foolish attack on the other side of the planet, this might be worth investigating. The Alt.Riders in the flight.thingee watched as the Inhilator planet took up more and more of the screen. There was something hypnotic about the play of the colours on the surface, but they were all too aware of the deadly menace inside. A blackness formed before them, and they realised that the planet had just opened up a mouth with which to swallow them up in a single gulp... The planet's mouth gulped down the asteroid morsel, then there was a pause. The mouth moved, replicating chewing motions that continued for several long chews, and then... With a *ptooie* that wasn't audible in space, the planet spat the asteroid out again, sending it on a reverse trajectory back into the In.dir.an Ocean, although this time there was nothing to lag its progress. _-~-_ The Alt.Riders scrambled into a tunnel inside the Inhilator planet, breathing heavily from the exertion. The inside of the mouth consisted of some kind of force tractor beams that would break the planet chunks up with ruthless efficiency. Although, in this case... "Um, wasn't the poison supposed to be destroying the planet about now?" Morph pointed out. "Looks like they detected it," Agent said. "Looks like. Do we have a plan B?" "That was plan...er...F, I think." "Great. Onwards to G?" "Find Barry. Free him. Take the planet out from the inside." "Hi guys." The last line wasn't Morph or Agent, the only two actually conversing at the time. The four of them turned around to see Barry standing before them. "Nope, not Barry. I am MoreCuteAs." "More cute as what?" Dva inquired. MoreCuteAs pointed a suddenly angry finger at him. "Look, I'm trying to get through this without anyone making that joke, so don't start, okay!" Dva put his hands up placatingly. Clearly this was an unstable personality that could explode at any moment... _-~-_ "Brace yourself!" Retcon Lad shouted to Very Big Boy as the space.thingee shook underneath them. "We've got a rock tunnel right in front of us and we're coming in hot!" "But you can land, right?" "Stray shot from Master Blaster...I think it was a stray shot...took out some of our systems! Crash landing in five, four, three..." They both drew breath and then: "AAAAARRRRRHHHHHHHH!!!!" _-~-_ "Hey. Uh...how are you doing?" Morph asked lamely. "Well, you know how it is," MoreCuteAs replied. "You get left behind by your teammates, and then get mentally reprogrammed to act as a temporary go-between...but wait, you don't know how it is, because that was me and not you." "We've been mentally reprogrammed before," said Morph, looking at Agent and Dva who nodded. "By the government! Peanuts compared to the Inhilators, trust me." MoreCuteAs leaned in. "Although just between us, they don't really call themselves the Inhilators, that's more of a nickname they've been given. They call themselves 546865 496E68696C61746F7273." "Okay. Fine. So what happens now?" "We thought you might like to come to the main control room. The 52756C657273 would like to have a word with you." "If I remember last time, it wasn't so much talking as pain," Agent said. Dva held up his arm, still in a cast, to add to the point. MoreCuteAs shrugged. "Come along anyway. You can see them destroy the LooniEarth." "Have they started yet?" Agent asked. "They decided to wait for you. Aren't they nice?" "Wasn't the first word I was thinking of." "Now, now, play nice. If you're lucky, they might let you live until they've finished." Agent took a step forwards, and stepped through MoreCuteAs. "Hmm. Interesting. Are you in the main control room too?" "Please don't do that. And yes, I am." Agent smiled. "Then yes, by all means. Let's finish this." _-~-_ The space.thingee smoked gently, vapour rising from the section that wasn't buried in rock. There was the sound of metal under tension, and then the space.thingee ripped out, revealing Very Big Boy in giant mode. He looked around, then shrank down to normal size. A moment later, he and Retcon Lad exited the wreckage. "How are we going to-?" Very Big Boy started to ask. "I've got a comm.thingee," Retcon Lad said quickly, holding it up. "Ah, so the others will know when we're ready." "That's the idea." "And then they'll...?" "Plenty of time for a plan." "Riiight. So, where to?" Retcon Lad held up a scan.thingee. "We're going to have a look at that engine of theirs. There's a monkey wrench I'd like to introduce to it." And so they set out...with only a few glances back at the ruined space.thingee. _-~-_ As they walked through the tunnels, the Alt.Riders saw more than a few of the Inhilators, but none that spared them more than a brief glance. They did see a cart containing rocks which would later be dished out as food to the rest of the population, but there was no sign of how that rock was produced. "Treating you well, are they?" Agent asked MoreCuteAs as the latter led the way. "Better than leaving me behind, you mean?" Agent sighed. "You do know that they are just manipulating your mind and making you think that it was a malicious action and not just an unfortunate accident they have capitalized on in order to turn you away from us and to give themselves a spokesperson for talking to others?" "But you would say that," MoreCuteAs replied. "So I'm not all that inclined to believe you." "Tell me about the Inhilators then. What is their culture like?" "The glorious rulers rule, providing everyone with bliss and happiness throughout their entire lives." "Oh yes, and how's that then?" "Once the planets have been destroyed, the rulers process the minerals and elements into a nourishing substance that gives the populace the necessary sustenance as well as providing them with an overwhelming sense of joy and contentment." "As in drugs?" "Nothing so crude as what you have on LooniEarth," MoreCuteAs quickly pointed out. "These don't debilitate the people, but instead puts them on a permanent high." "I've heard of opiate for the masses," Morph cut in, "but isn't that going a bit too far?" "What do the rulers get out of it?" Agent asked. "They get to keep ruling. It's a very beneficial arrangement." "So why aren't the rulers blissed out then? Rock to good for them?" "Oh, no, they don't feed that way. They are connected into the neural pathway of every Inhilator on the planet, sustained by their combined mental energy." "Which, fortunately, I assume, the drug helps with by freeing those mental capacities from the populace for only the rulers to use." "It...might do that...yes," MoreCuteAs grudgingly admitted. "So if, say, someone poisoned the food supply, that would disrupt the mental connections and reduce the rulers to vegetables while giving the populace back their minds and enable them to rise up and take control of the planet..." "No, of course not..." MoreCuteAs' voice trailed off. "Er, why? Did you do something like that?" "Who? Me? No, not at all..." Agent turned an exaggeratedly winked at the others. "What did you do?" MoreCuteAs asked. "Me? Nothing." "WHAT DID YOU DO?" MoreCuteAs demanded. "Problem?" "YOU WILL BE BEFORE US NOW!" All four Alt.Riders suddenly felt a telekinetic grip surround them, and then their bodies were accelerated to high speed as the rulers reeled them in, walls flashing faster and faster, until suddenly- The grip disappeared, and the Alt.Riders tumbled into the main throne and control room. They gasped and wheezed, and looked up to see a figure in red hovering above them. "YOU WILL TELL US WHAT YOU DID, OR YOU WILL BURN!" MoreCuteAs announced, no longer a mere projection, surrounded in flame. Behind him rose the rulers of the Inhilator planet, full mental might ready at their command. _-~-_ "My god," Very Big Boy breathed, his mouth open in awe. "It's beautiful," Retcon Lad whispered. They stood at a hole in a tunnel wall. Light washed over them, glowing bright, all the more brilliant by contrast to the darkness around them. Before them was the heart of the Inhilator planet. The surface curved away from them slowly, like they were looking at a wall, but they both knew intellectually that it was a giant ball that took up the interior space of the planet. Emotionally, though, it moved them beyond the ability for words to express. The heart of the planet. The Plot Device Engine. The Deus Ex Machine. And whoever possessed it would win. "How...how do we...?" Very Big Boy could barely even grasp the idea of controlling this. "I need...need to..." Retcon Lad held up a hand, but it seemed so pitifully tiny against the majesty beyond. "I have to touch it." "I don't think that's a good idea," Very Big Boy said, suddenly aware that Retcon Lad wasn't quite as mentally alert as he should be. "Are you all right?" "I need to...touch..." Retcon Lad whispered again. And then jumped. Very Big Boy shot up to giant size again and made a grab for Retcon Lad as the latter fell away towards the Plot Device Engine. He shattered part of the wall in the process, sending pieces falling in toward the centre of the world as well, but missed his target. He watched as Retcon Lad fell onto the sparkling, glowing surface of the Plot Device Engine and then stood up. Very Big Boy squinted his eyes and tried to adjust his perception to make sense of what he was seeing. Using Retcon Lad as a reference point, it seemed that the Deus Ex Machine wasn't that far away after all. Or perhaps perspective was distorted this close to a reality manipulation device of that magnitude of power. Whatever. He followed Retcon Lad's lead and leapt forward. In mid leap he increased his size again in order to gain what measure in improved toughness he could, adjusting his density and weight with gravity transparent doesn't-matter to his best advantage. This was just as well, since even at improved size, density and toughness, as well as braced for impact, he landed jarringly. He unrolled himself and drew in breath to get his wind back, then looked over to where Retcon Lad was standing. He wondered how the other Legionnaire had managed to survive the fall since Retcon Lad didn't have a personal flight.thingee issued to him. Then Very Big Boy noticed that Retcon Lad had a slightly goofy smile on his face, and his concern changed to whether or not that tin foil hat was doing its job properly. "Hey, Retcon Lad. You okay?" "It's singing," said Retcon Lad, still staring down at the Engine. "I... can't hear anything," Very Big Boy said carefully. He glanced about, half expecting some sort of attack. "Really?" said Retcon Lad, only half paying attention. "Huh. I wonder if it's because it's resonating through my power?" Very Big Boy blinked. "Would it do that?" Retcon Lad nodded. "It says that it likes people who can make the best use of it for creating stories. The plot device wants to be used, and wants to be used creatively." Very Big Boy was surprised and rather doubtful about this. Apart from being leery with the idea of a plot device having awareness at all, he could see an obvious paradox in the notion of something that was a substitute for creativity wanting to be used creatively itself. Not that it was impossible of course, but it just didn't seem like a clinching argument - and the whole thing seemed suspicious to the point where he had metaphorical alarm bells sounding off in his head. Retcon Lad didn't see the look of doubt on the other's face. What he could see was that a Plot Device Engine like this might grow bored with just running a planet that goes around eating other planets. And he could think of *much* more interesting things to do with all that power. Squeezing Master Workload like a pimple until he burst would be a good place to start. And then there was that small matter of Flipseid's continued malevolent interest in the LooniEarth; if nothing else he knew that Fearless Leader would be a lot happier with that dark net.god of the Fourth World removed from the scene. "So, you think it's looking for a new owner?" "Something like that," said Retcon Lad, with visions of complex galactic level defense strategies dancing in his head. And the best defense was a good offense. "It says it's always on the lookout for new users that can put it to more creative use." "'Creative'?" said Very Big Boy. "That's not the word I would have come up with to describe a cannibal planet run by psychic marauders. 'Destructive' is what springs to my mind." Retcon Lad still wasn't really playing attention. He was currently listening to the Deus Ex Machine voicing its disappointment with the limited vision of the Inhilator rulers. Now, someone with the breadth of vision of Retcon Lad on the other hand... "So many possibilities..." whispered Retcon Lad, staring at something that only he could see. Very Big Boy leaned forward and very pointedly repeated his central concern: "And do these possibilities revolve around destroying things?" "Only bad things," said Retcon Lad dreamily. "And when you've run out of 'bad things', what plans do you have left?" Retcon Lad frowned. "Err." .oO( Good, that seems to have gotten through to him, ) thought Very Big Boy. He pressed home his advantage. "I wonder if the rulers of the Inhilators faced this choice," he suggested in a carefully-contrived-to-sound-offhand manner. "You know, support your people by feeding on other planets to get their resources while you try and work out a better way. To find a truly creative 'creative' solution rather than a destructive 'creative' solution. And then after a while the need doesn't seem to be so urgent anymore, and things settle into a status quo..." He had no idea whether he was on the right track or not with these guesses, but all he really needed was for Retcon Lad to start looking at things objectively. Well, hopefully all he needed was for Retcon Lad to start looking at things objectively. Retcon Lad was now looking at the surface of the Plot Device Engine with a neutral gaze, perhaps leavened with an assessing expression. Very Big Boy was just starting to wonder if reasoning with him was a lost cause and perhaps he should just knock him unconscious, when there was a rumbling from the sparkling surface that they were standing on. Earthquake? wondered Very Big Boy. On a giant plot device? But then he had no idea of how the mechanics of something like this worked. Perhaps this was normal. Now Retcon Lad was grinning mirthlessly. "Ah. So now we get the stick rather than the carrot, huh?" he commented to the universe in general as the nearby surface of the Deus Ex Machine heaved and rippled and grew from itself the humongous figure of another of those purple hued giants, just like the probes that the LNH had been fighting. "Mother of God," breathed Very Big Boy. "It can grow those things for itself?" "Uh-huh," said Retcon Lad in a no longer spacey tone of voice. "Defense mechanism. Don't worry though. It can only grow one of them right now." Very Big Boy looked at Retcon Lad sharply. "It makes a type of sense if you think about it," continued Retcon Lad conversationally, using phrasing that was pretty much a giveaway that he was using his powers to arrange things to his preference rather than the Plot Device Engine's. "The Inhilators and their Deus Ex Machine have spread themselves kind of thin just at the moment, what with sending off all those probes to the LooniEarth AND trying to dominate the Net.Elementalist AND defending against Master Blaster's assault AND... oh, probably other stuff as well..." "Keeping both planets from tearing each other apart from mutual gravitational stress?" offered Very Big Boy. "That will do nicely," agreed Retcon Lad with a smirk. "Anyway, they don't have the reserves to make more than one giant guard just at the moment." He frowned. "Although that still means that you'll have to fight this one while I'm introducing its boss to that monkey wrench. Sorry about that. Oh, and thanks for the wake up call, by the way." Right on cue the guard lunged at Very Big Boy, who intercepted the blow, twisted and threw the leviathan over his shoulder to the ground. "Don't mention it," said Very Big Boy as the guard heaved itself to its feet with disturbing speed and then landed a punch to the jaw on VBBoy, who returned the attack in kind. Retcon Lad watched the fight scene for a second, then turned his attention back and down to the Plot Device Engine. "Well," he said. "You've tried to co-opt me and tried to scare me off. Neither of those tricks worked. Now it's just you and me." He grinned. "Checkmate." _-~-_ Agent didn't flinch as flame scorched the floor near his feet. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" MoreCuteAs demanded. "Your time has come to an end!" Agent yelled, looking past MoreCuteAs to the rulers beyond. "You have brought about your own downfall!" "You will tell us what you have done," MoreCuteAs suddenly hissed, "or we will start with that creature you call a girl." Immediately Morph and Dva stood in front of Lillie. "Leave her alone!" Morph shouted. Flame burst from MoreCuteAs, but it petered out as Dva concentrated. MoreCuteAs frowned, then suddenly Morph and Dva were flying across the room to crash into a far wall. "Now, you will tell me," MoreCuteAs said, flame reaching out again. "Okay, stop!" Agent commanded, stepping into the path of the flame. "I'll tell you," he said, his shoulders slumping. "It was the asteroid. It was poisoned." "We know that. We got rid of it." "But you touched it, yes? Analysed it?" "...we did." "It wasn't a normal poison. It was a virus, part organic, part mechanical, part magical. The LNH is good at finding people with those skills. And they created such a virus such that when you touched it, when you analysed it, it infiltrated your systems. Even now it's spreading out among this planet, it's infected the rock you feed your people." Agent's voice grew hard as he continued. "It will wake them up as it brings this planet down. It's already too late for you. The end is now...inevitable..." "4E4F4F4F4F4F4F21" one of the rulers shouted. It swooped in close to Agent. "5468656E 796F75 7368616C6C 646965 66697273742E" It held up a hand, and Agent could feel the telekinetic force growing to an immense proportion... _-~-_ During the time that he'd been a member of the Legion of Net.Heroes, Retcon Lad had engaged in only one all-out conflict with another reality manipulator: with Retcon RACCoon during the _Saviours of the Net_ cascade. That had gone *very* badly for the Legionnaire. Fortunately he was a fast learner, and the sparring that he had subsequently put in with other retconners had later enabled him to spearhead a joint defense against the trollish One Man Abusive Reaction, who although not a reality manipulator per se, had still been a net.god and an opponent of comparable toughness. Retcon Lad had even gotten good enough that, with his opponent sufficiently hobbled, he was now holding his own against a self aware and self motivated plot device the size of a planet. At least up until the plot device in question started jettisoning those hobbles. .oO( Uh-oh, ) thought Retcon Lad as he became aware of the impending cutting off ties to the Inhilator world and everything on and in it. What would happen to it? Retcon Lad had no idea, but the worst case scenario was that the suddenly unpowered and unprotected world would be torn apart within the LooniEarth's Roche's limit, leaving the debris to crash down in an extended meteor shower of catastrophic proportions. .oO( Mmf. Maybe meteor downpour would be a better description for something like that? Or maybe meteor deluge? ) Whatever it was called, he'd better put a stop to it before the people back on earth experienced it firsthand. _-~-_ "What?" The ruler suddenly looked towards the others. Communication passed between them, mental discussion fast and furious. MoreCuteAs suddenly dropped to the floor, his outfit returning to his normal black. He groaned. "Wha?" Agent quickly knelt beside him. "Barry?" "Ye...yeah. What happened?" "We just saved the day." The rulers finished their discussions, and swung back to the Alt.Riders. "Although we may not have saved ourselves..." _-~-_ "Very Big Boy!" shouted Retcon Lad, no longer sounding quite as calm as he had before. The giant purple guard construct seemed to be weakening, so the giant sized LNHer risked a glance over to where his teammate was. Retcon Lad was glowing. Red and blue sparks fizzed off of him, and similarly coloured energy discharges were crawling over his body and earthing themselves into the surface of the Deus Ex Machine. "The Plot Device Engine is trying to draw on more power to fight me by cutting off expenditure to everything else!" Retcon Lad said. And just at that second the weakening guard collapsed literally into nothingness, discorporating in Very Big Boy's hands into sparkles and dwindling geometric shapes. "It's tried to dump the Inhilator planet too," Retcon Lad added. "I'm not sure what that *means* exactly, but I've been able to delay it a bit by introducing a countdown as a failsafe. Call one of the space.thingees and have them on standby to teleport everybody out of here in one minute ten seconds. If I haven't gotten control of the PDE by then, I've set the planet to teleport away so as not to be a threat to the the LooniEarth, and we don't wanna be on it." "Gotcha," said Very Big Boy, and drew out his communicator.thingee and began to make arrangements. Almost there... Almost there... thought Retcon Lad as he inched ever closer to gaining control of the Deus Ex Machine. The resistance that the Plot Device Engine was putting up had been increasing, but not by as much as he would have expected under the circumstances. He guessed that the countdown delay that he'd introduced into it, stalling the jettisoning of its links to the rest of the Inhilator world, meant that the rulers of the place were still able to try and draw resources away from the PDE in order to do... whatever it was that the genocidal little bastards did. He remembered Agent's description of what the rulers considered fun and games, and hoped their current activities didn't involve inflicting too much hurt on anyone. "Ha! Got you!" cried Retcon Lad in triumph as he gained control with barely twenty seconds left. "Mission accomplished! Now, shut down the planetary jettiso... Wha!?" he went, as the Plot Device Engine vanished, leaving both himself and Very Big Boy floating in the suddenly dark and empty interior to the Inhilator world. "Argh! [Expletive Deleted!]" Retcon Lad screamed in frustration. "Fleet, the situation is FUBAR," said Very Big Boy into his communicator.thingee. "Repeat: the situation is FUBAR. Begin evacuation of all personnel." "Roger that, VeeBB," said Master Blaster, and a half second later Retcon Lad and Very Big Boy vanished in a transporter effect. _-~-_ The planet...shivered. A ripple spread across the surface, following by another, then another, then... the whole planet was shaking, distortions rippling over the surface, throughout the tunnels, down through every part of the planet as... A tear opened up, a rip in spacetime, connecting here with then. A tear, but controlled. Just open large enough and for long enough for a shell of a planet to be sucked through. And then it was gone. _-~-_ Agent lay on the floor of the space.thingee, his body shaking with laughter. "I knew it would work." "Care to share the joke?" Morph groaned. "The virus..." "Oh yes. Very good that. How did it work then?" "It...it didn't!" "What?" "It was a bluff. Oh, it would have done something, but they did get rid of it in time. But they didn't know that!" Librarian Lady and Bad-Timing Boy looked on bemused as Morph and Dva also started laughing. "Barry? What do you think of that then? Barry? Bar..." Morph's voice trailed away as they turned to look at the Net.Elementalist. Who lay on the floor of the space.thingee unmoving. _-~-_ The space fleet flyers entered the cafeteria amid cheers and rapturous applause. There was much back slapping and drink sharing as a party got underway that threatened to last until the sun (which had only just gotten up) went down. Retcon Lad held back in the doorway, just staying on the fringe. "Congratulations." Retcon Lad jumped at the voice, and turned to see Ultimate Ninja next to him. Slowly his heart started to beat again. "With the Inhilators gone the probes just...switched off," the ninja said. "And those in comas have woken up. We've done a lot of good work here today." "Did we?" Retcon Lad asked. "The Inhilators..." "Are better gone than here." "But...the entire planet...everyone of them...they didn't deserve that." "There are some things that are better gone from the Looniverse," the ninja said firmly. "They would have destroyed every single atom in existence just for themselves." "And because of that it was right to kill them?" "Yes. Some things are black and white." "I wish I could see it like that," replied Retcon Lad turning and walking away. Ultimate Ninja was about to go after him when he heard a nervous cough and he turned to see California Kid standing there, shifting uncomfortably. "Yes?" "Um, dude, we, like, got a message from Writer's Block Woman..." "And?" "And, uh, have we got like an industrial tub of glue? While they were all unconscious that probe thingy got to that tall rock, you know, Uluru, and, well..." Ultimate Ninja sighed. Even though the battle was fought there was still work to do. Although flights had been grounded and hospitals had been warned, there were still disasters due to people being unconscious, and some of them never woke up from it. Like the Net.Elementalist. Fortunately they did have some good luck. Although Asteroid L had returned, the warp field of the flight.thingee inside it had reduced its effective mass to such that the impact only caused those in nearby coastal areas to get their feet wet. There was enough property damage after the Killfile situation to last for a while, so this was one less problem to deal with. Ultimate Ninja waved for California Kid to lead the way back to the monitoring room. It was going to be a very long day after all. _-~-_ A very long time ago...in fact, the longest time ago you can have and still have a time ago. The universe had barely started. It had only just Big Banged, and we're not talking cosmically here, we're talking mere moments ago. But it had still expanded large enough to encompass a tear in spacetime, a rip that ejected a shell of a planet. But that didn't last long, the energies ripping apart the planet in less than a second...spreading out the new particles to the furthers reaches of the cosmos (which admittedly wasn't that far as that point). Spreading out material that would one day become such a tempting buffet for a race of people that could feed on such energies... And so the cosmic ballet danced on... -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: What next issue? That's it, this miniseries is over! But the Alt.Riders still have some fall out to deal with, over in _The Alt.Riders #44_. CREDITS: The Inhilators created by Jamas and Saxon, and will be brought up in court on charges. The Alt.Riders are Jamas' and used with permission. Retcon Lad, Very Big Boy, Librarian Lady owned by Saxon Brenton, used with permission. Bad-Timing Boy created by Vernon Harmon, public domain. Writer's Block Woman and Mouse are Jaelle's and used with permission. Kid Pocky and his Angstvangelion are Dvandom's and used with permission. Bladed Lad created by Campbell "Sasquatch" March and not reserved. Vel created by Jesse Willey, used with permission. (Continuity note: Vel's presence fits between the _Road To Killfile Wars_ and _Killfile Wars_ miniseries.) Fearless Leader is Public Domain. Captain Capitalize created by wReam and not reserved. Fuzzy created by Connie Hirsch and not reserved. Occultism Kid created by Josh Geurink and not reserved. Squeaky Clean created by Maurice Beyke and not reserved. Ultimate Ninja is the Writer Character of wReam and useable without permission. Eight of Nine, Master Blaster, Pizza Girl created by Martin Phipps, not reserved. Oh, and before anybody asks, no the Plot Device Engine is not available for use. NOTES: That's it! In _Our Worlds At War_ there was Darkseid, and Apocalypse and Lex Luthor was involved...but that was more than was worth including. There was also a higher death toll (with the death of a fairly major character too), but that didn't quite get worked in either. But we still like this arc anyway. It's got some great moment in it. ...oh, and you did all get that the Inhilators were speaking in hexadecimal character codes, yes?Back to the Index.