LNH: The Alt.Riders #30
thad at eyrie.org
Wed Nov 17 20:35:22 PST 2004
Blue Light Productions presents:
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[The cover is of a bed in a hospital. The scene is sterile white,
with clean sheets and machines going beep. In the bed is a
gravestone reading "R.I.P. Barry Knewbee".]
"The Worst of Both Worlds"
The man on the bed lay still, barely breathing. The crisp white sheets
outlined his body, pristine against his ravaged appearance. Tubes ran from
his arm, and a mask covered his face, leading to machines that kept his
The woman sat in a nearby chair, hardly moving herself. Haunted eyes
stared from her face at the man on the bed, red rimmed from crying, but
now the tears had run dry.
They were husband and wife. The best parts of their lives had been
spent together. And now he was dying.
A commotion at the door took a few moments to register with the
woman, but she finally looked over to see three figures enter the room.
She blinked, and had to concentrate to focus her eyes before she could
recognize who they were.
"Hello Marsha, Rick, Missy," Alice greeted them. She didn't rise to
meet them, but by the look of her, they were surprised that she was able
to talk at all.
"Hello Alice," Marsha returned, her voice quiet in this sterile
atmosphere. "We came as soon as we could."
Alice nodded, then turned back to her husband. "Barry's dying," she
said, a note of fatality in her voice. "There's nothing any of you can do
Rick moved to her side. "We...uh...Missy would like to take some
readings. If you don't mind, that is," he said hurriedly. "There might be
something she can find that the doctors didn't."
Alice shook her head to indicate she didn't mind, and Missy went to
the other side of Barry at Rick's nod. She concentrated on taking readings
with her scanner, not wanting to catch Alice's eye until she had something
more to offer than the possibility of knowing more about how Barry was
going to die.
"The others are busy right now," Marsha said. "But I'm sure they'll
be along soon."
"I didn't expect Agent would come," Alice replied, not looking away
from Barry. "But..."
Marsha winced. The Net.Elementalist didn't want to have anything to
do with Barry, despite the fact that they were the same person. No-one was
quite sure what had happened to split Barry from the Net.Elementalist, but
now it would appear that that split would kill at least one of them. [The
split was discovered in _The Alt.Riders #25_ - Footnote Girl]
"How's...how's Abby?" Marsha asked, trying to find some kind of
"She's with neighbours. She..." Alice closed her eyes, and tears
started to come again. "She was the one who found him."
"Alice," Marsha whispered, reaching over to hug Alice to her. Rick
caught her eye, and made a head motion towards the door. Marsha frowned
and shook her head, but Rick replied with a more insistent motion.
"Alice," Marsha said quietly. "Let's go get something to drink. Have
"I'm not hungry," Alice replied faintly, but she didn't resist as
Marsha helped her up from the chair, and led her from the room.
Rick watched them go, then turned to Missy. "Anything?"
"His wave packet is destabilizing," Missy said.
"What does that mean?"
"He dying." The reply, simply stated, was like a nail in Barry's
"Yes, but what's causing it? Is there anything we can do to stop it?
And what is a wave packet?"
Missy checked some more readings before replying. "You know about net
right? We live in it?" Rick nodded. "I didn't know for a while. Then read
what I could find. Interesting metaphysical conceptualization," she said,
surprising Rick that she could even pronounce the words. "World living in
"And?" Rick prompted.
"The net not one thing. It billions of nodes, where information is
passed from one server, one computer to another," Missy continued. "These
information called wave packets. They what make us what we are. Like DNA
"Are destabilizing. He losing what make him him. Lose too many..."
Missy shrugged. "At least, I think so. Not entirely a well researched
"And is there anything we can do?"
"Depends on cause. If internal corruption, like virus, maybe
transfusion from Net.Elementalist help. If packet not being generated
"So there is something then?" Rick said, studying the prone body on
"Maybe." Missy wanted to help, but wouldn't offer guarantees.
Rick patted Barry's hand, nearly drawing away as he felt its cold
clamminess. "Don't worry, Barry. We'll get help. Even if we have to shoot
"You want me to help you hunt down the Net.Elementalist again?" Joe
Forsythe's expression of surprise was easy to read, even over the video
"Has Alice talked to you recently?" Rick asked, as he sat in their
car.thingee outside the hospital.
Joe grew quiet. "Not yet," he said. "I only found out when I got back
here. How's she doing?" [Joe was one of the LNHers caught up in events in
Got.ham in _The Alt.Riders #28-29_ - Footnote Girl]
"Not good. But Missy thinks the Net.Elementalist might be able to
help us cure him. If we can find him."
"And he's disappeared?"
"Agent can't find him," Rick replied. "He might be trying to do
something to avoid thinking about Barry, but the Net.Elementalist isn't
the most subtle of people. We should have heard something about his
whereabouts by now."
Joe nodded. "I'll see what I can uncover this end. The LNHHQ has some
pretty extensive monitoring devices, not to mention the satellite recon we
can hook into."
"I'll leave that to you then," said Rick, breaking the connection. He
sat back in the car, and wondered if he dared to tell Alice there might be
a hope after all.
The Net.Elementalist didn't have his head buried in the sand, avoiding the
situation, but he was underground. He had heard stories of something
infesting mines in Af.rec.a, and thought he would take a look.
The rock creature he had found (well, one of many) pounded him hard
in the face, knocking him back along the tunnel. The Net.Elementalist let
loose a burst of flame, but the fire didn't harm the rock creature much.
He switched over to net to lag the creature and give himself some
breathing space, and heard the beeping.
From a pocket inside his outfit, the Net.Elementalist drew out a
communication.thingee, and he glared as it rang in his hand. He had
decided not to bring one along, to ensure he wasn't disturbed, but there
was someone who could make sure he had grabbed one anyway.
He activated it, keeping one eye on the creature, and growled.
"Retcon Lad, I told you never to get in my way again."
"It's about Barry," Retcon Lad replied. "We think there's a cure, but
we need your help."
"I've told you before, I don't care. And I have a few problems of my
"We're aware of the situation and can send someone else to deal with
it," Retcon Lad said. "But we need you to help with Barry."
"Don't care, goodbye." The Net.Elementalist squeezed his hand,
crushing the device, but not before he was surrounded by a golden shimmer.
ooo!" The golden shimmer disappeared, leaving the Net.Elementalist
standing in the hospital he had been trying to avoid. Marsha, Rick and
Missy were standing nearby, but not moving, and the Net.Elementalist
realized this was because he still had his lag powers up and running.
He was tempted to keep that going, but sighed and gave in to the
inevitable. Dropping his abilities, his outfit returned to black, and the
others started forwards.
The Net.Elementalist threw the remains of the communication.thingee
at their feet, and the teleporter lock-on beacon slid from the pile. "Do
that to me again, and it won't be lag I'm using."
"Sure, sure," Rick said. "Now are you going to help us or not?"
"Are you going to give me a choice?" the Net.Elementalist asked, then
turned to glare at Missy, who was now scanning him.
"Well?" Rick prompted.
"His wave packet stable," Missy reported. "But..."
"Minor variance just detectable," Missy said. "He got same thing as
Their faces fell, and the Net.Elementalist glowered at them. "Someone
care to explain what the hell is going on?"
"Your..." Rick considered how best to explain this. "Your body is
starting to break down. It's the same thing that Barry has."
"Great. So now I'm going to die too. Well then, I guess you won't
have to worry about me killing myself then."
"This isn't something to joke about," Marsha snapped. "If you can't
treat this seriously, then think of how Alice is taking this!"
That quietened the Net.Elementalist down. "And what do you think I
can do about it?"
Rick drew a breath, then released it. "We did hope you could help
stabilize Barry, but now..." He looked at Missy.
"Still do that," Missy said. "But not permanently. And also
deteriorate himself faster."
"Hey, I'm not giving my life for his," the Net.Elementalist stated.
"I can still be out there doing something before the end. I am not to
spend my last days in this hospital on some last ditch effort that isn't
even going to work."
Marsha reached out and slapped the Net.Elementalist, the act hurting
more than the marshmallow soft touch. "Stop that! You cannot say that you
have anymore right to live than he does, especially not with your attitude
to death. Now, either help out voluntarily, or we shoot you again and do
this without your consent."
"Beside," said Missy. "His death might trigger yours."
The Net.Elementalist looked at the three arrayed against him and
threw up his hands in surrender. "Fine, let's get on with this then. But
just think of the lives I could have saved while you've got me strapped on
As the Net.Elementalist stalked away, the others shared a look. "We
might be saving more lives by keeping him here," Marsha muttered as they
walked after him.
"Thank you for doing this."
The Net.Elementalist stared at the ceiling, avoiding looking at
either the figure in the other bed, or at Alice's face. Right now her eyes
haunted him in ways he couldn't name.
"You do know this isn't a real answer," he said. "We're still going
The Net.Elementalist could hear a sob as Alice turned away. Marsha
lent over him. "You are one sick bastard," she hissed.
"I'm not the one giving her false hope," the Net.Elementalist
replied. "Can we start now?"
Marsha looked over to Missy, who nodded. She and Doctor Stomper, who
had turned up with Joe, had constructed a device that was more wires and
circuit boards than actual machine. It was now connected up to the
Net.Elementalist and to Barry, and was humming, despite no visible source
"I must say, this is fascinating," Doctor Stomper said, in a low
voice. "An actual transfusion of net particles. If I hadn't seen it for
myself, I would never believe it possible."
"Not working yet," Missy replied. Together they reached for the main
switch. It was just possible this might cause a feedback loop that could
well destroy the entire hospital, not to mention collapse the entire net.
The device hummed louder as the switch was thrown. Immediately Barry
and the Net.Elementalist arched up in their beds, their backs taught. They
collapsed, and strange blue energy played over them for a moment, before
subsiding. There was a faint smell of ozone in the air, but nothing else
occurred for the moment.
"Is it working?" Rick finally dared to ask.
Missy was scanning both of them. "The rate of wave packet decay
decreasing," she said, after scanning Barry's body. "Wave packet decay has
increased," she said, after scanning the Net.Elementalist's.
"How...how long?" Alice asked, her voice as pale as her face.
Missy and Doctor Stomper ran through some calculations swiftly. They
didn't speak for a moment, then finally Doctor Stomper said gently. "Two
days. Then Barry... we're not sure what will happen to the
Alice gasped, and collapsed in a chair again. While Joe, Rick and
Marsha comforted her, Doctor Stomper drew Missy outside.
"I can't say I would ever wish something like this to have happened,"
he said to her. "But this is something I've never seen before. The net
essence becoming the source of the problem. Admittedly, Barry...the
Net.Elementalist...has some unique net based powers, but that this could
happen...it opens up so many possibilities. How did this occur?"
Missy shrugged. "Not sure. The Net.Elementalist said that he trapped
in a killfile while fighting Faq Lord, but escaped. We never heard from
Barry what happened." [The fight happened in _The Alt.Riders #21_ -
"And now they are two separate people." Doctor Stomper peered back
into the room. "I wonder if one of them is real, and other one is a copy."
"Actually, I have a different idea about that," a voice said, making
them both turn to see Agent standing behind them. "I think neither of them
Doctor Stomper and Missy stared at Agent. "How is that possible?"
Doctor Stomper eventually asked.
"Think about it. How come this doesn't happen to everyone else?"
Doctor Stomper considered the idea. "Well, presumably, the wave
packets are like anything else in the body, and is generated as part of
the normal bodily functions, like blood and cellular decay. In this case,
that generating function of the body has become interrupted, due to them
being separated, and is now failing. Quite likely, the presence of the
Net.Elementalist, not so long in our universe, may be exacerbating the
effect now that he is here."
"Exactly what I thought," Agent said wryly. "But that is only the
effect, not the cause. How could they become separated in the first
"The killfile?" Missy ventured.
"Oh, yes," Doctor Stomper said. "If, because of his net based powers,
the Net.Elementalist could enter a killfile, but Barry, with no net power,
couldn't, their separate selves would be split off. Barry would return
here, whilst the Net.Elementalist was trapped."
"They are the same person," Agent replied. "There isn't two people to
"Well, what is your idea then?" Doctor Stomper challenged.
"Barry traveled as wave packet information when he entered the
killfile. As you know, wave packets can be mis-routed, or bounced back."
"Indeed," said Doctor Stomper. "But only a small percentage.
Otherwise, we'd probably find major parts of ourselves suddenly going
missing. Although that would explain some medical cases I've heard of..."
"I think Barry hit a major server problem when he entered that
killfile. More than the usual wave packets were bounced back."
"And the bounced wave packets caused doubles?" Missy asked.
"Yes, like bad transporters sometimes cause clones," Doctor Stomper
picked up the idea excitedly. "The original passes through, but a signal,
a copy, is reflected back!"
"In this case, two signals," Agent said. "One being mostly Barry, and
the other mostly Net.Elementalist."
"So, that means..."
Doctor Stomper and Missy grew quiet as the implications set in.
"Barry never escaped," Agent said. "He's still out there, trapped in
"Let me get this straight," Rick said, as the Alt.Riders, with Doctor
Stomper and Joe, gathered in an out of the way hospital room. "Barry, our
Barry, is currently in a killfile somewhere out in the net. And you want
us to find him. Wherever he is."
"If we don't, and those copies die, we'll be without any Barry or
Net.Elementalist," Agent pointed out.
"Okay, I'm with you on the rescuing Barry part," Rick said. "I'm just
not sure how you expect us to locate him in the entire net. Even assuming
the killfile is still around and hasn't been destroyed or formatted or
whatever by now."
Agent turned to Missy and Doctor Stomper. "Is there anyway you can
trace him through those copies?"
"You mean maybe trace back through the routing path of their wave
packets, and see if some common server can be located that would indicate
where the bounce happened, and thus the probably location of Barry?"
Doctor Stomper asked.
"Er, yes, that sounds about right," Agent said.
"I have no idea," Doctor Stomper admitted. "It's never been tried. I
don't even know how to go about trying to build something that could track
Agent turned to Joe. "Can you do anything? Perhaps make it so that he
arrived at particular server?"
Joe shook his head. "That was too long ago. If you can find him, I
might be able to help so that he could survive it, but other than that..."
"There is something you could try," said Doctor Stomper slowly. "But
it is highly dangerous."
"I haven't heard any other options so far," Agent said.
"Well, you know where the Net.Elementalist was when he activated the
killfile in the first place?"
Rick nodded. "Egypt."
"If you went there," Doctor Stomper said, speaking even more slowly.
"In a net.thingee. And set off another killfile... you might be able to
ride the thread disturbance, and hopefully end up in the same place as
"Doesn't that depend on their location in the net as well as
geographically?" Joe asked.
Doctor Stomper nodded. "Indeed, but I can't think of anything else to
"Okay then," said Agent. "Volunteers." He looked at Rick and Marsha,
who raised their hands, bowing to the inevitable.
Joe also raised his hand. "I'd like to give it a go. I might be able
to help out with the luck as well," he said.
"Go now?" asked Missy.
"We have a bit to get organized first," started Agent.
"What about Barry and the Net.Elementalist?" she asked.
"It's Barry we're trying to retrieve," Agent said.
"And what of the copies?" Marsha picked up. "We aren't just going to
let them die, are we?"
"They are just copies," Agent said, making Rick and Marsha turn away
"That doesn't mean they don't have a right to live," Joe put in.
"It will take time to get this sorted out," said Agent. "There's
nothing we can do for them."
"If get back in time," Missy said. "Original can stabilized copies."
"And," said Doctor Stomper. "We have no idea what condition Barry,
original Barry, will be in. The copies might help him as well."
"I'll make some calls," Joe said firmly. "Get this underway right
"Okay, but we only have forty-eight hours then," Agent reminded them.
"Make this quick."
Twenty-four hours later, Rick, Marsha and Joe were standing underneath the
hot desert sun in Egypt. A net.thingee was beside them, some little shade
provided by it, but Joe was sweating because of more than that.
"One small mistake," he said, "and we'll be sucked into this killfile
before we know about it." Carefully, he prodded the control panel on the
killfile device, which looked too uncomfortably like a bomb.
"I can't believe the LNH has a stockpile of those," Marsha said.
"Not ours," Joe replied. "We got them off Doctor Killfile, and kept
them stashed. Frankly, I didn't think we'd be able to get our hands on
one, but this is an emergency situation." He stood back. "I think that's
it. We can detonate it from inside the net.thingee."
Climbing into the craft, they activated the engines before looking
out the window at the killfile generator. Joe pointed the remote, and
pressed the button.
"How long do we have?" Rick asked.
"Not sure. It's not entirely stable," Joe replied. "I think the timer
is set for three minutes, but that was before they were packed away.
Something might have happened to it since."
"Like that!" yelled Rick as the device suddenly started trembling. It
distorted before their eyes, somehow being sucked into itself, and
creating a kind of whirlpool.
"It'll take out some of this desert, but also nearby newsgroups," Joe
said. "Move us out of this one!"
The engines of the net.thingee strained as it fought the power of the
killfile outside. "Careful," said Rick, as Marsha and Joe manipulated the
controls. "We want to ride the wave remember."
"Won't be a problem if we can't concentrate," Marsha yelled back.
Outside faded away as the net.thingee entered virtual net.space, the
ether in which the newsgroups existed. Eddies in the net.space tugged them
along, the killfile still making its presence felt.
Despite their controls, the craft began to tumble, gaining more
momentum the closer it got to the killfile. The killfile itself rove
through the net, riding the electric currents through servers, sucking out
messages, consigning email to oblivion.
Inside the craft, Marsha and Joe were tossed against their safety
belts as the craft was knocked to and fro. Occasionally, they saw a large
beach ball bouncing around the back, Morph's solution to the turbulence
"The killfile should be running out of power any moment now," Joe
shouted between bumps. "Hopefully, it'll settle near where Barry ended
The shaking continued for another minute before showing signs of
slowing down. However, the screen had settled on one image.
"We're going in!" Marsha yelled. "Attempting to pull away!"
The engines strained harder, and faltered. Changing from a beach ball
into a large boot, Morph slammed into them. The engines gained more power,
and managed to pull free of the killfile's influence.
"That'll work," Joe admired, as he started running scans. "There are
a number of killfiles in the area," Joe reported. "Attempting to sort by
"Found one," Marsha called out. "Matches the date we fought Faq Lord.
It has to be the one."
"We've got an Undo command, supplemented by plot.devicium, with a
rabbit's foot tied onto it," Joe said. "But we only have the one. Are you
"Punch it," Marsha said.
Joe hit the launch command, and the torpedo carrying the Undo command
flew from the net.thingee and crashed into the specified target. There was
a dazzling display of energies as removing and repairing programs fought,
but the rabbit's foot clinched it. The killfile disappeared, leaving a
body floating in the net.space.
"One body," Marsha reported. "It looks like him!"
"Bringing him aboard." Maneuvering carefully to avoid the other
killfiles in the area, Joe brought the ship around to slide the body into
the airlock. Morph hit the controls to cycle the airlock, and in moments a
body fell onto the deck.
"It's Barry," Rick confirmed, reaching down to touch the body. "Damn.
We're too late. It feels like he's dead."
"Let's get him back to the hospital," Joe countered. "We might just
be in time."
"He's so cold," Alice said, looking down at the newly recovered Barry, now
in a bed alongside the other Barry and the Net.Elementalist. "He is Barry?
The...real Barry? Is 'real' even the right word?"
"He's the original of which the others are net.copies," Agent said.
He looked over at Missy and Doctor Stomper, who were hooking more pieces
onto the device they had created earlier.
"And what will this do?"
"We're not entirely sure. Hopefully, it'll stabilize them all. But
anything is possible," Agent replied.
"I wish we could test this somehow," said Doctor Stomper, trying to
stop a circuit board from falling off the pile. "But I doubt we have
"Not meant for three-way," Missy added.
Finally, they stood back and took in the situation. On one side was
the Net.Elementalist, and beside him the Barry that had been in the
LNHiverse for the past few years. On the other side of the room was the
Barry they had recovered from the killfile.
"Kill or cure," muttered Doctor Stomper under his breath, making sure
Alice couldn't hear him. Louder he said, "Who will throw the switch? Shall
we have a count down?"
"Enough of this melodrama," Agent said, reaching out and flicking the
The device emitted a piercing noise, causing them all to cover their
ears. The room lights darkened and brightened as energy was sucked off the
power grid into the device. Blue energy lines coursed over the bodies on
the beds, making them twitch.
Then the device exploded, sending out flares of sparks in all
directions, a miniature fireworks every moment. The blue lines around the
Net.Elementalist and Barry beside him intensified, until the bodies were
covered by blue light.
Slowly, through the blue, golden particles of energy floated up off
the bodies, and through the air to land on the original Barry. As each
spark landed, his body twitched and shuddered as energy lanced through
him. The amount of particles sped up, until a flood of gold streamed from
the two copies into Barry.
Blue light flashed, blinding the on-lookers. When they could see, the
room lights had returned to normal, allowing them to witness a smoldering
pile of electronics and two empty beds.
Turning slowly, they saw Barry, the original Barry, lying in his bed.
Alice and Missy rushed to his side, one to hold his hand and brush his
hair away from his eyes, the other to run a scan.
Everyone waited with bated breath, until Missy turned to them. "He
normal," she announced. "He fine."
There was a collective sigh of relief, then Missy continued. "He
sleep for a while. Be awake soon."
Focusing on the bed, they saw that Alice was now lying on the bed,
her head resting on Barry's chest. And Barry's arm had encircled her
"He'll be fine," Agent said, turning to leave the room. After a
moment's contemplative pause, the others followed.
"It's weird," said Barry, a few days later, as he sat up in the hospital
bed, moving the food on the tray around without feeling brave enough to
try any of it. "I have these collected memories. I was in the killfile all
that time...and I was with Alice and Abby...and I was the
Net.Elementalist, roving the net. They're all me, and yet they aren't."
"I'm sure that'll settle down soon," Joe assured him, speaking as
someone who also had to sometimes deal with multiple conflicting memories
of events. "And then you can get back to being our Game Master. I hope you
remember where we were up to?"
Barry smiled. "We'll see how that goes. I might just have to kill you
all off and start again."
"And I hope you'll be joining us soon again too," a voice said, and
the pair of them looked up to see Rick and Peter enter. "We could do with
you back in the Alt.Riders," Rick continued.
"Yea, about that..." Barry looked at Joe. "Do you mind giving us a
moment? There's something we need to talk about."
"Sure," Joe replied. "I'll just go see the doctor to make sure you
are being discharged tomorrow." Nodding to the others, he left the room.
"What's up?" Rick asked.
"I do want to join the Alt.Riders again," Barry said. "I can remember
all that, but I also remember being with Alice and Abby. It was good
spending all that time with my family. I don't want to go back to not
seeing them again."
"I see." Rick and Peter shared a look. "Look, we do want you back,
but that's up to you. We won't force you. Perhaps we could work out a part
"Perhaps," Barry ceded.
"I see you got your normal sight back," Peter put in.
"Yeah, I can properly control the suit now, including the visor,"
Barry said, proving his point by making the visor grow around his head,
and covering his eyes (but leaving his glasses there), then removing it
again. "I have a lot more control over my powers, but I don't think I'll
be up to...er...his level of control."
"Considering what his control did to him," Rick said. "That might not
be a bad thing."
"I can't believe you guys actually kept him around. He was insane!"
"And you aren't?" Peter asked.
"Well, yeah, you trying being trapped in a killfile and see how
rational you can be afterwards." There was a moment's uncomfortable pause
before Barry continued. "And why'd it take so long for you to come looking
"Hey, we've had our problems too," Rick replied. "We were stuck in
limbo for a long time, and then got free to find Bennington had been
messing with our minds."
"And then there was the circus," Peter added.
"Sounds like you've had an interesting time of it," Barry said. "Why
don't you tell me all about it..."
NEXT ISSUE: Where will you be in twenty years time? Where will the
Alt.Riders be? Join us next time for a look with "Future Lives".
CREDITS: The Alt.Riders are mine. Joe Forsythe is Saxon Brenton's. Doctor
Stomper is public domain.
"Answers answered and questions questioned."
Blue Light Productions homepage: http://www.eyrie.org/~thad/blip/
"If a great state has decided by law that twice two is five, it would be
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