[LNH/ACRA] Limp-Asparagus Lad #55 [Double-sized Sept 11 issue]

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at hotmail.com
Fri Dec 30 11:00:54 PST 2005

[LNH/ACRA] Limp-Asparagus Lad #55   [Double-sized Sept 11 issue]

Introduction, by Tom Russell

     Relevance is one of the worst things that ever happened to the
tights-and-capes genre.
     Because Superman and his ilk have often seemed so, well, alien
to day-to-day life as we experience it, the stories and the genre has
often been dismissed as kid's stuff.  Superheroes are taken a little
more seriously today, but usually that's when Relevant Issues are
tackled.  The problem is that these are stories and characters, not
essays and talking points.
     And so Relevance has never been a good fit.
     I'm not talking about true relevance: when you talk about what
really matters, about love and hate, good and evil, nobility and
sacrifice, altruism and righteousness, morality and justice, living well
and dying well-- the things that are truly relevant to all potential
readers-- well, superheroes have got that covered.  In fact, most good
fiction--genre or otherwise-- is relevant in this way, in the way that
truly matters.
     But social relevance...
     Social relevance is more or less against the nature of most genre
fiction and popular entertainment.  Social relevance leads to "a very
special episode". Sitcoms without jokes.  Social relevance leads to
tributes, to wrestlers who talk instead of pretending to wrestle.  And
when it comes to superheroes...
     Whenever superhero comics have been taken seriously by the
mainstream, it's been in the vein of, well, it's not *really* a superhero
story.  The wonderful ridiculousness of the superhero, the vernacular of
capes-and-tights melodrama is shunted in favour of being taken seriously.
In favour of Relevance.  So instead of a superhero story, we have a story
where people just have very colourful ideas about acceptable attire.


     Martin Phipps wrote a story a while ago called LNH ASIA: THE WEEK
AFTER NEXT, in which a group of heroes grappled with the aftermath of a
tsunami.  It was basically about the heroes coming to terms with their
own impotence.  It was the kind of story I've seen before a dozen times.
But then, Martin did something wonderful, something very Martin and very
LNH: he broke the fourth wall.  The damage is reduced in a moment of
magic wish fulfilment.
     My ears ache and groan whenever I hear someone say that superhero
stories are just escapist entertainment, but, actually, yes, they
are.  And that's as it should be.  (And that's not saying that escapist
entertainment can't be illuminating, or that it's less noble an
aspiration than "serious" literature.  It's illuminating in the only
ways that are truly relevant.)  Social relevance encroaches upon the
genre: and, bless Martin's soul, he recognizes that encroachment and
comments upon it.


     The story you're about to read serves, I think, as a nifty
companion piece to Martin's story.  It not only recognizes and comments
on the encroachment of social relevance on the superhero genre, but
that encroachment is the theme of the work.  And, in taking on the
still-sensitive issue of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,
Saxon Brenton certainly has testicular fortitude.  Not only does he have
the courage to address this issue, but he has the courage to write an
honest-to-god superhero story about it.  He takes these events and he
takes the tropes of this much maligned genre, and he extrapolates from
the two.  The result is often shocking, often biting, often hilarious.
It works as a story and it works as a metastory and it works as satire
and it works as commentary on very special episodes, tribute issues, and
schmaltzy PC social relevance.

Acraphobe content label: Contains adult themes.

Blue Light Productions present:

Limp-Asparagus Lad #55
A Legion of Net.Heroes title

"What Do You Mean, 'Editorial Policy Won't Let Superheroes Do That'?"

Written by and copyright 2005 Saxon Brenton
Art by Fred H*mback

Cover shows a sunset over the city of Net.York. It is clear from
the positioning of silhouettes of the buildings that one of the
twin towers of the World Trade Center is missing.

                                 We are what we're supposed to be
                                 Illusions of your fantasy
                                 All dots and lines that speak and say
                                 What we do is what you wish to do

                                 We are the colour symphony
                                 We do the things you want to see
                                 Frame by frame, to the extreme

                                           - Aqua, 'Cartoon Heroes'

[11 September 2001]

     There was something wrong with the world.
     Nothing overt, mind you, but it was easily inferred from the way
everyone was getting so agitated over the terrorist attacks and
attempted attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and White House.
Which was really strange if you stopped to think about it.
     To put it simply: this was a superhero class universe. A
particularly silly and cliche ridden one, true, but this did not change
the fact that on any particular day there could be anything up a half a
dozen city shattering catastrophes being averted by net.ahuman champions
as they attempted to keep the world on an even keel. Not to mention all
the personal adventures, all the usual attempts to take over the world,
or even the occasional bids to destroy the universe. Or merge it with
another universe. Whatever.
     The point is that there were *always* emergencies to contend with.
     And in any case, it wasn't as though all the attacks had gone
through to fruition. After the first plane had been rammed into the
North Tower at 8:46 various net.heroes - both within and without the
Legion - had been able to respond with the implausible speed that was
characteristic of their fraternity. None of the other three airliners had
come even close to being crashed thanks to a combination of intervention
by net.heroes and, just prior to that, quick work by some very brave
passengers who had been told what was going on over their mobile phones
and had decided to take action themselves.
     So why was the public ignoring the horde of undead conquistadors
with the flying galleon that had invaded a museum in Boul.dir, Colorado
looking for booty? Or the fact that the Constellation Gang had created a
sinkhole under a major bank in order to rob it at their leisure? Or the
battle between the text.ernal mutants ApocaLISP and XOdious that would
have destroyed even more of the San Francis.com waterfront had it not
been for the intervention of the RACC.tre (the grim and ghostly guardian
of comic book style justice) which had forced them both to retreat? Or
the television footage of Table (the bloodthirsty renegade cyborg from
the past) and his villain team the Youngstuds battling the Alt.Riders in
     No. There was something about this that wasn't immediately obvious.
     Then, slowly, the net.heroes began to piece the truth together.

     "Ewww! Grue slobber!" rumbled Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo, the Easter Island
Carved Head That Walks Like A Man, and flicked Slobbering Grue! away.
     "Aaahhh!!!" cried the green and rather toad-like New Mexi.com hero as
he went flying, and then landed 'wheee spah-lat' on top of Brand Name Boy
and Nit-Pick Lad. Nit-Pick Lad saw little tweeting birds - literally, just
like in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'. Brand Name Boy got a conga line made
of Coca Cola and Pepsi bottles.
     "Aw, dammit," went Trux. "What does it take to stop this guy?"
     It was a good question. Trux himself had already tried his soulspork
on the gigantic carved figure, but despite not being human it seemed that
Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo wasn't magical in nature either, and so the soulspork
had neither affected the villain or even slowed his rampage. Spite Grrrl's
Liefeld-like Pretty Damn Big Gun(tm) was at least acting as a distraction,
as had the efforts of Slobbering Grue! for that matter. But Waki-Taki-
Tooni-Oo seemed to embody the principle that the bigger they are the
harder they hit. And all he needed was to get lucky and hit just once,
whereas his opponents needed to score a number of times before they
achieved '...the harder they fall'.
     "Puny net.heroes," grated the enormous stone creature, who basically
consisted of a combined head-torso stomping around on absurdly disproport-
ionately small toothpick legs. "None can defy the might of... Waki-Taki-
Tooni-Oo!" And then to prove it he picked up the road he was standing on
as though it were a piece of towel and thwipped it. Trux and Netiquette
Lad made a dive to get off in time, but Spite Grrrl was caught by the
trick and was thrown into the air, as were several cars that had been
left abandoned when the stone head had begun moving this way.
     "Frig it!" screamed Spite Grrrl as she picked herself up and looked
around for where her gun had landed. "Bastard of a lawn ornament! You're
lucky I'm nigh-invulnerable or I'd be getting pissed off about now!"
     Normally Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo stomped along at a trudging gait on those
pudgy little legs, but it was amazing how fast it could react. With one
swift movement it drop-kicked Spite Grrrl. She landed... well, from the
distant 'paf' sound effect and cloud of dust, it looked like she landed
somewhere about a mile away.
     "Ow," winced Nettiquette Lad. "I guess now we really will see if
she's nigh-invulnerable."
     "It's getting closer to town," said Slobbering Grue!, who lurched
     "No shit, Sherlock," snapped Trux. The living toy raccoon was feeling
irritable, and he suspected it was for more than the obvious reasons of
stressing over a combat that was going against them. Ever since his Los
Bastardos team had joined forces with Slobbering Grue! to stop Waki-Taki-
Tooni-Oo, the heroes had been so short of time that they'd had to pass
over the second step of the classic 'heroes meet, heroes fight, heroes
team up and kick bad guy butt', and Trux suspected that they'd continue
to be at each others' throats until they got it out of their systems,
somehow. Or maybe it was just the normally fractious nature of the Los
Bastardos squad.
     Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo trudged on, closing in on the iniquitous town
Espanola. The heroes had no idea whether the creature was actually heading
*to* the Town Of A Thousand Strip Clubs or *through* it, but they didn't
doubt that he'd do a lot of damage once he got there.
     "You know, maybe it's just me," said the bruised Nit-Pick Lad, "but
shouldn't we have taken more damage when Slobbering Grue landed on us?"
     Brand Name Boy boggled. "You *like* being hurt!?"
     "No, I'm just saying..."
     "Shut up," yelled Trux. "Nit-Pick Lad, good point. I think we can
use that."
     "Wacky-Tacky," mused Trux, "isn't just implausible and silly himself.
He has implausible and silly affects on everything he affects. I think
he's a giant cartoon character."
     "He doesn't *look* like a cartoon character," nit-picked Nit-Pick
Lad. "He just acts like one."
     "You got a better working hypothesis?" challenged Trux.
     "He's a minion of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space?" offered
     There was a moment of bemused and embarrassed silence. "I... don't
think so," said Nettiquette Lad.
     "So where does this idea get us?" asked Brand Name Boy.
     "We need," said Trux, "to dissolve him with Dip."
     A little while later:
     "This is stupid," said Nit-Pick Lad as Nettiquette Lad piloted the
heavily laden flight.thingee over the area where Slobbering Grue! was
luring the ambulatory stone head.
     "This is the Looniverse. Stupid works," countered Trux. "As long as
he acts and *reacts* like a cartoon, we should be fine."
     "And if he doesn't?"
     "I'll think of something else," shrugged Trux.
     "Arrgh!" said Nit-Pick Lad in frustration.
     On the ground, Slobbering Grue! was going, "Oh oh oh! That stone head
is chasing after me as I run away in a COWARDLY manner. Oh oh! Oh crap,
this is embarrassing!"
     "Die, slimy little green hero," rumbled Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo as it
tried to stomp on him.
     "Hey, watch it with the comments about the skin, gravel features!"
     Then the end came, and quickly. The flight.thingee dropped it's load
of Dip - a mixture of acetone, turpentine and benzine. Waki-Taki-Tooni-Oo
screamed briefly, and then melted away, leaving only gravel. Slobbering
Grue! yelled, "Hey! I said, lay off on the comments on the skin! It
doesn't need to be dried off with frickin' acetone!"
     The flight.thingee landed, and the net.heroes examined their work.
"Well, that looks like the end of that... Ow!" went Brand Name Boy as the
locals began to throw rocks at the superhumans.
     "Why weren't you in Net.York protecting the city!?" yelled one man.
     "Terrorists got through because of you!" screamed a woman.
     "What the smeg are they talking about?" demanded Spite Grrrl.
     "Hey! Please. We can't be *everywhere*!" called Nettiquette Lad,
trying to futilely calm the mob down with reason.
     "Let's get out of here," said Trux, and they all retreated to the
     Brand Name Boy watched the crowd through the window as they flew
off. "Why are they acting like that?" he asked.
     "It's the, like, burden of fighting for a world that fears and hates
us," said Slobbering Grue! melodramatically.
     "Can it with the hammy attempt at angst, or we'll drop you into the
mob," said Spite Grrrl.
     "Nah. Just drop me down by that bar," said Slobbering! This they did.
     As the Los Bastardos flew away back to their base in Mexi.com,
Slobbering! wandered into the bar, ordered a draft of cheap beer and
turned his attention to the TV screen. He hoped that it was tuned to
the female topless mud wrestling, but instead it showed ongoing news
broadcasts from Net.York. "Huh?" he said to himself. "What is it with
everybody and Net.York?"

     The intercom on Fearless Leader's desk bleeped. The voice of one of
Ultimate Ninja's secretaries said, "Irony Man and Limp-Asparagus Lad to
see you sir. They said they had something important to tell Ultimate
Ninja, but he's not here at the moment..."
     The deputy leader of the Legion of Net.Heroes shared a glance with
the two visitors currently in his office before answering. "Sure, send
them in, Sally." Just as the contact closed, another voice, that of John,
the other secretary, could be heard complaining, "Shouldn't they be out
catching terrorists or something?"
     "Come in gentlemen," said Fearless Leader as Irony Man and
Limp-Asparagus Lad came to the door. The latter two saw that Catalyst
Lass and Deductive Logic Man were already present. Catalyst Lass waved.
     "Everyone," said Irony Man by way of greeting. "Sally said that
Ultimate Ninja was out, and forwarded us to you," he said to Fearless
     "That's right," agreed Fearless Leader. Then he added, "If it's about
the plane hijackings this morning, then the Ninja's way ahead of you."
     Catalyst Lass said, "He always seems to know exactly when it's time
to do five days straight of paperwork, and when it's time to get out of
his office and investigate a crime." Then she added, drolly, "It's
probably one of his inscrutable ninja skills."
     "In any case, I was just talking with Cat and DLM about the same
thing," said Fearless Leader, dragging the conversation back on track.
"So what's up?"
     "I believe that there is something disproportionately dramatic about
the attack against the World Trade Center," said Limp-Asparagus Lad
forthrightly. "Irony Man holds similar concerns with regards to irony.
There is something more to it than there seems."
     Catalyst Lass exchanged a thoughtful look with Fearless Leader.
"Which would fit the pattern of why the media is so focused on it to the
exclusion of everything else," she said.
     Deductive Logic Man spoke up. "It occurs to me that something as
relatively commonplace as this having such a dramatic significance may be
the prelude to some sort of mega-storyline or crossover. At the risk of
redundancy, I would recommend extra vigilance." He shifted in his seat.
"Limp-Asparagus Lad, has there been any decline in the amount of drama
that you're detecting?"
     Limp-Asparagus Lad checked again. "No significant drop that I can
sense," he said.
     Deductive Logic Man shifted his eyes to Irony Man, who shook his
head. "Constant readings since it first appeared on sensors this morning.
No change in amount or type that I can determine," the Armoured
Net.Avenger replied.
     There was a soft chime, and a sphere of light appeared and resolved
itself into a holographic head-and-shoulders view of Multi-Tasking Man.
"Irony Man..." he began. "Oh, hi everybody. Sorry to interrupt. Irony
Man, I've got something interesting that I think you need to know about."
     "Go ahead."
     "Stock Market prices have been dropping," MTM said, which brought
a second's worth of silent surprise. "Why?" asked Irony Man.
     "The attack on the World Trade Center, apparently."
     "Sorry, yes, but that's not what I'm asking," countered Irony Man.
"What I mean is, why has the attack on the World Trade Center caused
stocks to fall? Is there any indication of the mechanism? Such as, was
the New York Stock Exchange damaged in some way?"
     Multi-Tasking Man shook his head, monitored communications from
various net.hero away teams, debugged some software, and took a sip of
his Mr Paprika. "That's the thing. There's none that I can see."
     "Strange," mused Irony Man.
     "How so?" asked Catalyst Lass.
     "Stock markets aren't usually affected by net.ahuman mayhem in that
way," explained Deductive Logic Man. "Otherwise they'd never stop falling."
     "In fact," said Irony Man, "because so much of the economy of big
cities is based on building and reconstruction work, it's often just the
opposite. It's perverse but true that something like this should be
forcing stock prices *up*."
     "That's the pattern that I've always observed," agreed Multi-Tasking
Man. "Which is why I brought it to your attention. I've got W.I.L.B.U.R.
[the Legion's Wildly Improbable Lisp Based Urbane Robot - Footnote Girl]
running some analyses of the data with some complexity algorithms, looking
for patterns that might be too subtle for humans to detect. I'll keep you
posted if he finds anything."
     "Thanks, MTM," said Fearless Leader, just before the hologram
disappeared. "Okay then ladies and gentlemen, your opinions? Cat?"
     "Something's up, obviously," she said, crossing her arms. "I don't
see how stuff like the stock market fits into it, but... Well, people as
a whole usually tend to react with shock and anger to a particular
situation for only so long before the Writers get tired of it and switch
back to the default setting of people just going on with their lives. If
it's spread across the country then it's a level of tension that some
Writer is using for their story."
     "I would agree with that," said Fearless Leader. "Ferris?"
     Deductive Logic Man steepled his fingers in thought. "To reiterate:
I'd hypothesise some sort of net.villain scheme. The constant drama levels
suggest discrete phases of an ongoing master plan. What I find disturbing
is the high level of inherent irony associated with what's happened; that
would suggest either that it's the consequence of some past Legion
adventure, or perhaps that we are in danger of missing some clue as to
what is happening. Whatever the case, we should start at the al-Qaeda
operatives and work back up the chain until we unearth the master villain
and his, her or its scheme. As for the population's reaction, it could
be some sort of wide scale emotion manipulation."
     Fearless Leader looked grim. "Okay then. Go and talk with wReamhack
about reviewing our files for any net.villains who fit that profile. Any
other suggestions?"
     Limp-Asparagus Lad said, "Have you considered the possibility that
since the perpetrators weren't costumed net.villains, that the public
might be reacting to this as something they can comprehend? Perhaps even
something they can affect the outcome of?"
     "Mmm," said Deductive Logic Man, drumming his fingers on his bowler
hat in front of him. "You're referring to the theory that most people
selectively filter out phenomena that are too weird for them to under-
stand, and that by extension normal people ignore most of the activities
of costumed net.ahumans?"
     Limp-Asparagus Lad nodded, but now Irony Man spoke up. "They do?
How? I mean..." This was because Irony Man had split most of his adult
life between net.heroing and being a multi-millionaire industrialist.
While he had a firm grasp of things like the arcane mechanics of the
stock market, there were parts of popular culture that were opaque to him.
     Deductive Logic Man sighed. "Long running shared writer universes
like Marvel or DC tend to use the real world as a basis for their stories,
and then add elements of science fiction and fantasy so that those places
look basically like the world that the audience is familiar with. There's
controversy over whether this is because it helps to bring in new readers
if it's a setting that they recognise, or because a shared writer universe
can't keep a totally fiction continuity straight in the long run. Whatever
the case, universes like that - particularly long running universes like
that - then have the problem that if they followed through with the
logical consequences of all those paranormal elements then their world
would rapidly change into something that the readers *wouldn't* recognise.
Part of that equation means that normal people selectively ignore most of
the paranormal events that go on around them, and what parts they could
cope with are often relegated the tabloid newspapers."
     "Ah. This is why people react as though every alien invasion is
the first time, is it?"
     "Exactly," said Deductive Logic Man.
     "While I would dearly love for it to be something so mundane," said
Fearless Leader dryly, "we need to make preparations for a worst case
scenario. IM, can you identify a reason for what you're picking up? Are
there any wavelength frequencies, trace signatures, or other technobabble
that could be used to identify a possible reason?"
     Irony Man considered. "In the short term, no. I can easily activate
some of the remote irony sensors that I've had installed in various Stork
Industries satellites to see if a source can be triangulated, but that
will give us a *where*, but not necessarily a *why*. There are also a few
experiments that I've been conducting on Iron-E isotopes, but those are
still in early days and unlikely to be useful for any hard results any
time soon."
     "Try the triangulation then," Fearless Leader said. "If there's a
location separate from the crash site itself, then that may give us a
clue. Now, Limpy, would you have similar problems trying to identify the
why's of the drama rather than the where's?"
     "Yes. I'm still honing my drama sensing abilities. I believe
triangulation is the best that I use it for at the moment."
     Fearless Leader looked puzzled. "Still? It's been several years
since you started using those particular powers. Are you having trouble
mastering them?"
     "There isn't actually a problem," replied the Man of Dull. "My
series uses compressed comic book time based on the events that have
occurred rather than the Real World time that has passed, and so far
it has been only two story arcs. Three if the Annual is included. I've
consulted with Dr Stomper, and we both believe that my training in these
abilities is proceeding at a reasonable pace."
     "Ah, of course," Fearless Leader said. "Okay then everybody, that
about wraps it up for now. Let's get to work."

     The morning practice for the quidditch team at Dave Thomas Deluxe
University had been called off after the news had come out. Douglas
Mawtar had wandered away, feeling a rising tide of apprehension from the
people around him. Now he was sitting on a bench in an out of the way
garden courtyard within the Teacher's Ed building. Doug's own concerns
were a little more esoteric, but still he needed someplace private to
think and pray.
     The red-headed young man stared without seeing at the broomstick
that he had leant underneath the leafy shrubs, his mind was elsewhere
entirely. He was concerned about this turn of events in a rather uniquely
abstracted way, and he could see the future closing in: cold and hard
and implacable.
     Doug was not a native of the Looniverse. He was from the Omegaverse,
one of the closer next-door universes within the RACC multiverse, and
because of the weirdness of the Looniverse he was in the habit of paying
attention to how the people around him acted. This place that he had
found himself in might be unbelievably silly compared to home, but it's
almost comic book nature made it predictable once you knew what cliches
to pay attention to, and the public here were already beginning to react
with hysteria. He could guess what would follow. There would be flare
ups in violence. There would be persecutions. There would be an almost
absurdly over-the-top backlash - with politicians pushing through
draconian legislation that rejoiced in names like 'patriot', 'enduring
freedom' and 'liberty' - and then the giant killer robots would be set
loose. There'd probably be concentration camps in there somewhere as well.
     In a way Doug had already been there and done that, and it's
resurgence here worried him.
     He had grown up listening to the stories of Danny Anderson's Colony,
and how Danny had brought the Omega-hunting Dynamax organisation crashing
about the heads of its creators. Grown up on those stories, absorbed them
as a hero myth, and had had a very nasty shock when he'd grown up enough
to discover that just because they had told of the vanquishing of one
group of rabid Omega haters, that the same enemies hadn't actually
vanished off the face of the earth.
     Doug remembered the gut clenching fear of being held at gunpoint by
whatever secret government black ops group had been disappearing Omegas
that week. He had known, without needing to be told, that if he tried
anything they would kill him. But he had also known that they were going
to kill him anyway. That was why, after he had exploded the nearby
timberwork into a zillion hypervelocity fragments that had ripped through
those same government agents and their supposedly impregnable armour and
reduced them to something that looked very much like hamburger mince, he
had never felt any real sense of regret. Oh yes, sure he had blindly run
away after that, and after he hadn't been able to run anymore he had
fallen to his knees and thrown up - but that was more because of fear
and the sight of blood. Even after all this time, he still had trouble
with blood.
     And now some new excuse to hate had turned up. It might be against
Muslims, in which case, yes, he was also a target. But it might flow
against some other religion. It could - and probably would - turn against
the superhumans. Doug wasn't sure how it would spread, but he could feel
in his bones that it would. He had observed how fast the outbreaks of
anti-mutant and anti-net.hero hysteria could flare up in the past. Public
opinion was so erratic and prone to melodrama around here.
     A thought came into Doug's head. It arrived clear and sharp, and by
the feel of it it was obviously the product of common sense and clear
headed pragmatism. It never occurred to him that it might actually be
the result of shell shock of some sort. And Doug thought, .oO( It's
starting all over again. There'll be mobs, and there'll be midnight
visits from men in black. I'll have to kill them too, if I want to
survive. )  He found the notion both depressing and wearying. .oO( So
much for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, ) he observed sourly.
     "Hey, Doug. How you going?"
     Doug jumped, startled into the defensive. The improbably titled
Irreverend Taylor Mulgrove, a university chaplain for the Church of Tym,
took a step backwards at the look of wild-eyed intensity on the student's
face. "Whoa! Sorry to startle you. I didn't realise you were still hyped
from your morning coffee," he said lightly.
     "Um, sorry. I was kind of lost in thought."
     The Irreverend shrugged. "Understandable. There's a lot of that, at
the moment."
     Doug was still feeling cynical, and snorted. "I wish there was. I
get the impression that very few people are *thinking*. Most of them seem
to be reacting."
     "Mmmm," said Mulgrove dubiously. "Dunno about that. Even when we
aren't in times of crisis, it's always the squeaky wheels that get the
most attention. Especially on the news services that, you know, need
excitement in their coverage to keep their ratings up."
     "Ah, yes," nodded Doug while keeping a straight face. "All of them."
Then he schooled his face to hide his misgivings. Irreverend Mulgrove
took note of the change in demeanour. As a moderately high profile
sportsman Douglas had always presented a clean cut image, and was
something of a teen idol. The notion that at least part of it was a
facade hiding personal anxieties was troubling. Rather than address the
issue directly however, Mulgrove asked, "So what's your take on it then,
     "My take? My take is that this is a comic book universe where
everybody overreacts to this slightest incident, and then not only goes
back to business as usual but all too often forgets that there was ever
a problem in the first place," he answered seriously. Mulgrove nodded,
but Doug saw this as a conversation extending gambit to keep someone
talking, and couldn't keep the irritation from his voice: "Why am I even
telling you this? It isn't like you'd understand, or anything!"
     The Irreverend raised an eyebrow. "Well that's an awful big
assumption there, bunky. What makes you think *I'm* native to this
universe either?"
     Doug stared at him in astonishment. Irreverend Mulgrove shrugged.
"You're not the only extradimensional stuck here, you know. Not by a long
shot. I did some nosing about, once. You would be ah-MAZED at how many
people from other universes there are around here." He gazed around the
courtyard as though he was half expecting most of them to be lurking
behind one of the azalea bushes. "Sometimes I think this world is one
big weirdness magnet," he confided. Then he sat down on the seat beside
Doug and for a second that rather inane grin that he kept plastered on
his face most of the time slipped away. "And you're not the only person
to know loss. Are you familiar with the ASH universe? No? Okay then. I
came from an Earth not too far away from here that recently lost several
billion people - about two thirds of the planetary population. A few
years back I was studying reality violations in college, and kind of got
shunted over. By the time I figured out what was going on and had the
wherewithall to get back, well..."
     He looked down at his hands, then back up to meet Doug's eyes.
"At the time I left our pagan gods had returned and were recruiting
worshippers. The Godmarket, it was called. But in the middle of 1998
things got out of hand and the gods simply started taking what the wanted
from humanity rather being given it as worship. More than 4 billion
people simply vanished, eaten up and swallowed whole by gods who were,
to put it bluntly, not godly; and millions more died in the social
collapse that followed. They would have sucked the whole world dry if
they could have, except for the actions of our superheroes. Tymythy
Twystyd rallied the heroes and did... something. Nobody's really sure
what. But he created a Barrier around that universe and blocked the gods
out." He looked wistful. "And everybody else out, as well."
     "That's hideous," said Doug, horror struck. Then, "Hold up, is this
is the same Tymythy Twystyd...?"
     "As the Church of Tym? Yes. Of course. That's why I set up a branch
of the Church in this universe in his honour. Not to worship him... He
wasn't a god, shouldn't be worshipped, and would probably laugh in your
face if you tried to worship him in any case. But he's a saviour figure,
and proof positive that even in the most hopeless of situations the human
spirit can find a way to triumph over adversity."
     Doug threw him a reproachful look. Even as parables went it wasn't
particularly subtle. "Okay, okay, I get the hint. It's not the crap you
have to put up with, it's the way you handle it that's the important
thing." Then another thought displaced the moral of the story and he
said, "But if you're locked out, then how do you know what happened?"
     "Oh, that," the Irreverend said dismissively, reacquiring the
light attitude that he habitually wore in public. "Do you know what
digitaprosomancy is?"
     "Divining the future by reading stories posted on the internet. I've
got a reasonable idea of what will be happening out through the next
generation or so." He shrugged again. "Things get better."
     The Irreverend Mulgrove stood up and then gave Doug's shoulder
a brotherly squeeze. "Things can always get better Doug. It's just a
matter a people giving it some effort, and always remembering that
you're not alone."

     Anal-Retentive Archive Kid shook his head in dismay and finished
indexing the report in his hands before moving on to the next one. For
a while each seemed to have been worse than the others preceding it. It
was as though the whole world had become obsessed with the morning's
terrorist attacks. Almost from the instant the WTC had been rammed public
interest had been focused on it to the exclusion of almost everything
else. A while later the captured terrorists from the second, third and
fourth planes had been identified by authorities as belonging to the
Islamist al-Qaeda group - and that was when the religiously motivated
attacks had started. Christian on Muslim revenge attacks, Muslim on
Christian counter assaults, Muslim on Jew, Christian on Pagan ('because
they ain't us, and are therefore the enemy'), as well as what looked
like some very nasty internecine Muslim on Muslim fighting.
     Now, by mid afternoon, most of it had been brought under control.
However it had been touch and go for a while, and in the meantime there
had been considerable damage done by the likes of those origami battle
mecha while the net.heroes and the police had been tied up. Hopefully
they could head off any flare ups overnight.
     "What in the worlds are you doing now?" a familiar voice asked.
     Anal-Retentive Archive Kid looked up from the laptop and saw Chinese
Guy, Lenny and Easily-Discovered Man Lite standing beside the cafeteria
table where he'd been working. He hadn't heard them approach. They looked
tired, but nevertheless Chinese Guy has an amused look on his face.
Meanwhile the squirrel-shaped Lenny had scampered down from Chinese Guy's
shoulder and was peaking at the laptop screen.
     "Hey guys," ARAK said. "Just catching a quick bite to eat while I'm
collating files."
     Chinese Guy looked pointedly at the uneaten cheesecake sitting on the
table, then glanced at Lite. "That doesn't look like a quick bite to me."
     "Aw man, he's *let the cheesecake go cold!*" said Lite in mock
horror. "Cheesecake-Eater Lad will whap you upside the head faster than
Russell Crowe after he's had a pint of lager in him."
     Anal-Retentive Archive Kid glowered at them even as he felt his face
run hot. Chinese Guy leaned over and hit 'save' on the laptop and then
whisked it away. "Hey!" went ARAK as he tried to grab at the laptop, but
Chinese Guy was (as ever) faster than ARAK's mere normal reflexes could
hope to match.
     "It's just after three o'clock," said Chinese Guy. "How long have
you been sitting here, too wrapped up in your work to actually feed
     ARAK was about to protest when his stomach growled, and his face
went even more red.
     "Eat your cheesecake," said Lite as they sat down with their own food.
     "Fine," countered ARAK with ill-temper directed as much towards his
own carelessness at letting things come to this pass as he was towards
the patronising. "So how did things go?" Then he paused. Ruefully he
said, "You know, I'm not even sure what mission you've been on. Was it
the inter-dimensional vortex in the Bermu.dir Triangle?"
     "The terrorist planejackings in Washington.gov," said Lenny,
nibbling on a macadamia nut. "Then crowd control afterwards."
     "Those!" said ARAK, suddenly more interested. "The news has been
running hard on that all day. Thor's Bloody Red Beard, it's like every
third image on the TV is the shot of Kid Kirby's boomtube diverting the
plane away from the second WTC tower at the last instant!"
     Lite looked at him. "I though you'd been working all day?"
     "What do you think I've been working on!?" demanded ARAK, pointing
at the laptop that CGuy still had beside him. "It's like everyone's gone
ballistic over those planejacks. There's all these reports coming in, and
they've all been marked high priority, it's a scramble just to keep up.
Anyway, it went all right, didn't you?"
     "Oh yeah," said Chinese Guy. "Bunch of fanatics had smuggled knives
on board through airport security."
     "Some of them had those living plastic mini submachine guns," Lite
reminded him. "Looked to me like the type that the Injoker's gang was
using a while ago. Ultimate Kabuki Actor'll want to know what part of
the black market they got them from."
     "Mmm," nodded Chinese Guy. Then he said to ARAK, "Not that it did
much good against Lite, of course. He wields a mean spatula, you know."
     "Actually though, there's something you'll find interesting," said
Lite, leaning forward. "The last two of them we didn't even have to fight
at all. They collapsed. From dysentery."
     Anal-Retentive Archive Kid blinked. "What? Are we talking about
Theomortic Dysentery here?"  Lite grinned and nodded.
     "Sudden onset..." ARAK mused to himself.
     "You bet. Just like that." Lite snapped his fingers. "One second,
upright. Next, flat on the floor and leaking from both ends. The medics
on the ground who took them to hospital under guard confirmed it. Honest
to goodness Theomortic Dysentery, but I've never heard of it happening
so fast before."
     "Neither have I," went ARAK. "Whoa. Plot Device. That's..." he
paused again, trying to get a grasp of the implications.
     The Looniverse had a thing called Theomortic Dysentery. Careful
investigation suggested that it was a recent, if inadvertent, creation
of Retcon Lad, much to his ambivalence. He had a bugaboo about accidental
creations, even non-malign ones.
     It's name was often mistakenly taken to mean that it was dysentery
that killed people who believed in god. The truth was even stranger: it
was dysentery that only afflicted people who would kill in the name of
their god. But it was slow to take affect, so it had never really been a
factor in the fast-paced fight scenes of net.ahumans. Or at least, it
had been up until now. [_Flame Wars 4 Epilogue: Funeral For Some
Friends_ #2 - Footnote Girl]
     "That's just so amazingly cool," Anal-Retentive Archive Kid
marvelled. "I don't care if Retcon Lad created it by accident because he
was feeling uptight about Reverend Skyker. That's something he should be
proud of."

     Meanwhile Fuzzy was busy in a fight scene at a grocery store.
     She caught the arms of the goon who was trying to rush her from
behind and threw him over her shoulder, using his own momentum to launch
him forward and into one of his compatriots. They impacted together
heavily and then fell to the floor.
     Fuzzy grinned mirthlessly to herself. In a hand-to-hand fight she
really had very little to worry about, since her powers of ambiguity kept
her opponents from getting a proper bead on her whereabouts. A gunfight,
however, was a slightly different matter. So when the third and final man
decided to try a marginally more intelligent attack against her and started
firing a gun she ducked down out of the line of fire. Near invisibility
or not, there was still a small but very real risk that a random burst
of gun fire might hit her by chance. And she'd have to make this quick;
if frustrated enough he might remember that he effectively had a hostage.
     Not that the fight had started as a hostage situation. With
seemingly everyone so excitable at the moment, Fuzzy had been On Patrol
against the ethnically motivated violence. There had been a few such
incidents so far, with hotheads on all sides coming out of the woodwork.
And she couldn't believe the number of dingalings who didn't know what a
Sikh was. But while she'd been expecting violence against Muslims, she'd
been mildly intrigued by this apparent shake down attempt of an Arabic
business by Muslim youths.  .oO( Local low lifes using the turmoil as a
cover? Or something more? ) she had wondered.
     Although the final thug had lost track of her he kept firing his
machine gun, shattering displays and causing merchandise to crash to the
floor. Fuzzy skirted around to the side in a simple flanking manoeuvre,
keeping low to take advantage of cover in case he started spraying his
shots even more wildly. He was shouting something that Fuzzy was having
trouble making out over the chatter of the gunfire, but which sounded
like "Allah Akbar". Still, whatever it was was enough to keep him
distracted until the moment when she was able to give him a brutal chop
in the neck with the side of her hand. Stunned, he dropped his machine
gun. Then she grabbed his head with both hands and rammed it hard into a
nearby wall.
     She glanced around. All of the fight seemed to have gone out of her
playmates. Well, good. That meant that she could turn her attention to
more important things. The store owner had been bashed and she helped him
from the floor and tended to his wounds. Fortunately he had no broken bones.
     "What did they want, Mr Asir?" she asked. "What were they wanting to
     He winced in pain. "Not quite a robbery. More of a protection racket
that they've been building up. They said they were putting together
support for their group... Money and community support so that they could
continue to work against the great Satan Ame.rec.a. Anyone who didn't want
to co-operate they called a false Muslim." He waved his hand to indicate
the stunned or unconscious miscreants. "I got the impression that they
were feeling bold after what happened this morning. Tch. Young people
these days..."
     That bit of information worried Fuzzy. That almost sounded like a
rehash of parts of the 'All-Star Squadron'. No, that couldn't be right.
Still, it sounded like she should tie them up and do some interrogating
before handing them over to the police, then report this back to the

     It wasn't just the living that were being questioned.
     Occultism Kid was in his room making preparations. He had spent
most of last night battling a Halloween-themed entity calling itself the
Pumpkin-Headed Man - depleting much of his mystic resources in the
process. After arriving home around 5:30 he had slept until almost noon
and hadn't even been aware of the events of the morning until Ultimate
Ninja had briefed him on the situation and handed him an assignment of
necromancy - in its literal meaning of collecting information from the
dead. Occultism Kid had locked the door and told the Door Warden to admit
no one, and was now setting about drawing up a pentagram for the
summoning of a demon.
     He let out an irritated breath. If only Demon Boy of the Legion of
Occult Heroes were still around. It would have been nice to have been
able to make use of Andrew's power to summon up and compel demons by
just calling out their names.
     Still, one did not become a world class magician by being lazy.
     So Occultism Kid drew two pentagrams and then cleaned his hands of
the noisome substances. Then he double-checked the pronunciation of the
infernal name he was intending to use. It belonged to a knight of the
lower pits, and because religious fanatics so often ended up literally
shovelling shit in the dung furnaces of Net.Hell Occultism Kid had
also prepared some magically powered nose plugs. The fiend with which
Occultism Kid would have to deal, and the souls that he hoped to have
dragged forth for interrogation, would have a psychic stench about them
which mere physical olfactory protection would not be enough.
     All was in readiness. Occultism Kid performed the required ritual
with precision and care. There was a burst of red light and a whiff of
sulphur, and suddenly one of the pentagrams was no longer empty.
     The figure standing there was roughly humanoid, but far too tall and
thin to be human. Its skin was a jagged collection of dark slabs, and as
it moved cracks appeared in its skin through which hellish red light and
the smell of more brimstone leaked. It was as if someone had seen the
cooling skin of a river of lava, and then used special effects to overlay
the image onto a roughly human-shaped being.
     "Who callss?" asked the demon in a voice that was a whispered
crackle of flame and outrush of superheated air.
     "I do. Hello Ousorg."
     "Sso, Occultissm Kid," Ousorg said. "What do you want, and what are
you prepared to pay for it?"
     "I'm after specific souls with specific information: al-Qaeda
terrorists responsible for this morning's plane crash incident in
Net.York. As for what I'm prepared to pay, you know full well who owes
     A look of disgust crossed Ousorg's face. It had been hoping that the
mortal would have been careless enough to lose track of that favour.
"Very well. I acknowledge the debt. Name the ssoulss that you wish to
talk to. Do you want them one at a time, or all at oncce?"
     "One at a time will be fine," said Occultism Kid as he brought forth
the identifying information. "Here," he said, holding up a sheet of paper
with biographical details - both mundane and arcane - for the demon to
read. The basic details Ultimate Ninja had given him earlier, and since
then he had used some divinations to flesh it out just enough for
necromantic purposes. Ousorg examined the details, nodded, and called
forth the first damned soul.
     His face was one racked by indescribable horror. This didn't
particularly surprise Occultism Kid. No doubt the man had been expecting
a quite different reward. One of the warnings repeated time and time again
was that no matter how many times that the god of Abraham said unto his
faithful 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' or the equivalent, there were Crusaders
and Jihadists who were always getting a nasty surprise when they found
that their elaborate justifications weren't going to be accepted as an
     No matter. They had made their beds of red hot nails, and now they
would have to sleep on them. "Tell me of your part in the plane attack
on the World Trade Center," ordered Occultism Kid.
     A look of befuddlement passed across the dead man's face. "That
was... so long ago..." he croaked. "Why do you want to know about
something that happened decades ago?"
     And this also did not surprise Occultism Kid. "It happened six
hours ago," he stated bluntly.
     "Six... *hours*?" The ghost of the terrorist stared at him bug-
eyed, then threw back his head and howled like, well, one of the damned.
Ousorg cackled with malicious delight, which Occultism Kid forced himself
to ignore in order to proceed with the intelligence gathering. He had
several shades to interrogate, and indulging the demon's schadenfreude
would not get the job done any quicker.
     Fortunately there were ways of gaining the information he needed
regardless of whether the source was willing or not - or even capable of
cooperation . With an act of will Occultism Kid conjured into being an
eye composed of pale etheric light. It hovered approximately two hand
spans before his forehead, and then opened to spill forth a more intense
radiance upon the soul. The wretch cringed away, but could not hide.
     Across the room Ousorg stopped his spiteful laughter. Although the
demon was in a separate pentagram and not bathed directly in the beam, he
too cringed away from the light.  .oO( Good, ) noted Occultism Kid to
himself.  .oO( If nothing else, then that's one constructive thing I've
managed so far. )  Then the mage announced in freeform verse:
          By Aga.modem the All-Processing's
          All-seeing Eye
          To these questions I put
          You will not lie.
     To a sufficiently skilled adept who was using an Eye of Aga.modem
spell there were few secrets that could be hidden. Nevertheless this
would be a long task, and so Occultism Kid set to work.

     There were a few scenes that were being repeated over and over on
the non-stop television coverage. The initial plane crash was one of them.
Another was the terrible slow approach of the second plane towards its
target before it was suddenly snatched away at the last moment by one of
Kid Kirby's boomtubes. A third was the one where Very Big Boy had grown
up to about 400 meters high and simply *grabbed* the stricken tower and
held it together by main force. Very Big Boy had later confessed that he
had burnt two plot devices for that feat. The first device had been to
expand himself up beyond his natural 50 meter height limit. The second
had been to make sure that the building hadn't crumbled in his grasp.
     "But you shouldn't have needed to do that," protested Dr Stomper
when he heard this. "It should have held together in exactly the same
way that cars, buildings and the like hold together when superstrong
individuals pick them up and repeatedly use them as clubs against each
     Very Big Boy shook his head, heavy of heart. "Maybe. But I really
didn't want to risk it. It was damaged. And besides, that may have been
all that was keeping it together for as long as it did."
     This started a brief debate on the merits of various net.heroing
techniques. On the TV screen flying figures surrounded the tower, either
evacuating office workers or putting out the fire. A zoom shot showed the
jolly boats of the Crimson Permanent Assurance - which Bicycle Repair Lad
had called in to help - rowing down the side of the building in blithe
disregard for the direction of gravity, their keels and oars briefly
leaving rippling wakes on the glass walls of the skyscraper.

     The Mayor of Net.York city was standing about two blocks away from
the cordon that surrounded the collapsed remains of the North Tower. As
always when he found himself in this situation he couldn't help but feel
that the skyline simply looked odd without both WTC towers there.
     Yes. It happened a lot.
     He frowned. For some reason those towers seemed to attract the super-
powered nutbars, although now it looked like they were attracting the
non-super nutbars as well. If it wasn't Alt.lactus, the Devourer of
Newsgroups landing on top of them and making preparations to eat the planet,
it was subterranean races hijacking them down into the earth, or winged
serpents nesting on them, or just plain superhuman fight scenes doing
random property damage to them. Not for the first time he wondered if it
was their height, but dismissed the idea on the grounds that the Sears
Tower hadn't had to put up with the same ongoing barrage of weird shit.
     "Sir," said an aide. "The head of PenguinKleen Inc. is here to see
you." The Mayor nodded and waited while a ragged old man wearing a pith
helmet was escorted over. He was accompanied by a penguin in a paramilitary
jumpsuit with a PDA.
     "Owwowwowwowww," went the former of the two as he sketched out a
brief salute. "Good to see you again, Rudy."
     "You too, Denis," said the Mayor, shaking hands. "I wish it could
be under better circumstances. I was really sorry to hear about your
crew on the roof. I'm afraid you were right on the money with that sock
analogy the last time we talked about the Trade Center."
     Denis Bludwulf nodded unhappily. He remembered: 'There's only
so many times you can mend a sock before there's no sock left, just
patches,' he had warned. "Unfortunately, we've only been able to repair
them to look the same, but even with supertech there's only so many
times that you can patch up a structure before you reach the point of
diminishing returns. There are micro-weaknesses that remain, and they
accumulate!" He paused. "Rudy, did you know that when the North Tower
crumbled we already had two of our LURGIS [Lift Units: Reverse Gravity
Impellors - Footnote Girl] installed and running on the roof?"
     "Dear God," said the Mayor, turning to him in surprise. "No, I
hadn't." That put a whole new perspective on the collapse of the North
Tower. He remembered the scene quite clearly from a quick TV news summary
that had been prepared for him as part of the final preparation for a
news conference. The building had just... crumbled... in Very Big Boy's
hands with several hundred people still inside it. The Mayor had known
that PenguinKleen agents had been on the roof at the time and had assumed
that it had been tragically lousy luck that the tower had given way only
minutes before they could ease the weight.
     "We only just worked that out ourselves. It'll be in the full report
our tech boys will be forwarding to your office in about an hour's time,"
said Bludwulf. "But, nosh my crumpets, it's almost as though the building
had simply *worn out*..." He shook his head. He didn't know how to
explain this in layman's terms without sounding superstitious, but it
was as though all the damage that the North Tower had taken over the
years had come home to roost at once. The chappies at the Legion of
Net.Heroes would understand, of course, but their grasp of physics was
appropriately screwball...
     The Mayor was thinking. Shit. That was... That was bad.
     He sighed. "Listen Denis, at the moment we're still picking up the
pieces. The wounds are still raw and we don't even know the final death
toll yet. But further down the track I can see that they'll want to
rebuild the tower again. God knows they always have in the past. Have a
revised version of your proposal - you know the one, about replacing the
tower after every fifth disaster or so rather than repairing it. Yeah,
that one. Just have that on standby, will you." Bludwulf nodded, and his
penguin aid made a note in his PDA. "And in the meantime, just keep your
crews on the cleanup," finished the Mayor. "Pass the word on to them that
we really appreciate the work they're doing, okay?"
      Bludwulf nodded. "I'll make sure of it, Mr Mayor."

     "Fearless Leader!" Fearless Leader turned to find a rather excited
looking Fourth Wall Lass and Curious Lass. "We've got the answer,"
exclaimed Curious Lass. "It's coming from Real Life. "
     "What is?"
     "The uproar over the World Trade Center attacks," said Fourth Wall
Lass. "We've been checking. I can't believe that we were so obtuse as to
not check that angle before. Anyway, it's an event that happened in Real
Life and is being mirrored here. All the public anxiety, it's isn't *our*
     "Well, it is, but we're getting it second hand," put in Curious Lass.
     Fearless Leader had taken two seconds to assimilate this knowledge,
and was now adjusting his outlook of the situation by 90 degrees. Well,
so much for Deductive Logic Man's theories. And then there was what was
happening in other fictional universes. "Blast," he said.
     Curious Lass turned back to him, and away from the debate she'd been
having with FaWL about whether a population of people who only existed in
potentia as background characters could have independent, individualised
emotions and responses. "Pardon?"
     "Just thinking," said Fearless Leader. "If we're getting a parallel
event from Real Life here in the Looniverse, then they'll be experiencing
it in the Marvel and DC universes as well. But their publishers probably
won't let our fellow heroes in those worlds make any significant
difference, in case it upsets their audience."
     "They probably won't know what hit them, the poor guys," agreed
Fourth Wall Lass, finishing the line of thought. "It'll probably be
insanely frustrating for particularly powerful superheroes, like
Superman, Green Lantern, Iron Man or Thor."
     "Well, to be fair, their Writers probably won't let them notice the
discrepancy. It wouldn't be the first time they've pulled that trick.
But, yes, we should keep our best wishes in mind for them," Fearless
Leader said. "In the meantime, the Legion will need to adjust our
tactics. Good work ladies. This information will be important."

     Commentaries from public figures were now beginning to be
interspersed with the news reports. Not all of them were helpful or
constructive. Anal-Retentive Archive Kid looked up in irritation from
his work when someone cycled through to a television channel that
featured Jerry Falwellman trying to implicate his political opponents
as bearing moral responsibility for the morning's terrorists attacks.
     "...have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be
mocked, and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make
God mad. I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the
feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make
that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way
- all of them who try to secularise America - I point the thing in their
face and say 'you helped this happen'."
     And then, live on national television, the evangelical preacher
contacted Theomortic Dysentery, threw up and collapsed.
     There was second's worth of stunned silence in the LNH-HQ cafeteria.
Then: "Yes yes yes!" ARAK cried, punching the air in triumph and forcing
EDMLite to duck out of the way. "Retcon Lad, you are brilliant! You are
DA MAN!" Across the room Self-Righteous Preacher threw him a black look
of condemnation.
     "Silence, heathen!" he roared. "How dare you take pleasure in seeing
someone struck down and in pain from such a loathsome disease! How dare
you mock someone for trying to give a much needed warning!"
     "Oh bullshit," said ARAK dismissively. "His 'warning' isn't about
what's right, only about getting his own way. The Muslim nutcases will
take today's attacks as a sign of Allah's approval for their cause, while
their Christian counterparts are already jumping up and down screaming
about divine punishment for not following their hardline Christian
agenda," he said, waving his hand in the direction of the TV screen
where Falwellman's broadcast had been replaced with an ad for Happy Puppy
Dog Treats. ["Nine out of ten veterinarians agree that people who don't
feed their pets Happy Puppy Dog Treats will be squashed by elephants."]
"And if things were reversed," ARAK continued, "and say a bloody great
asteroid strike turned Mecca into a smouldering crater, then it'd be
spiteful little creatures like Falwellman claiming vindication for their
position while the Islamists would be saying it was a warning to turn
away from decadent Western values. These petty little creatures aren't
interested in the human suffering involved. For them, this sort of thing
is all just political opportunity to increase their support base."
     "That is SLANDER!" yelled SRP, who was now face to face with ARAK.
"Just because *you* hate everything that the moral core of the country
believe in you have to twist their motivations to reflect your petty
     "Their actions speak louder than their words!" countered ARAK with
equal heat.
     At which point the flat of a ginsu katanna appeared between them.
A very sharp ginsu katanna with an implicit potential for rotating ever
so slightly and bringing its blade up between them.
     Nobody had seen Ultimate Ninja enter the room, but that was more
or less the point. Quite calmly the Legion leader said, "I am currently
somewhat busy trying to keep the panic from making the country's leaders
do anything precipitous. But not so busy that I won't take a half minute
to keep discipline among my troops. You two will stand down and behave
yourselves, or I will... deal... with you."
     Nobody wanted to be... dealt with... by Ultimate Ninja, and so the
two men stepped apart, and after a final angry glance turned their backs
and pointedly ignored each other.
     Ultimate Ninja looked around the cafeteria at the staring faces.
"There will be a general meeting in two hour's time."

     Later, Ultimate Ninja called for quiet in the auditorium. "I've
called this meeting and video hook up to outline a number of findings
about the plane hijackings in Net.York," he summarised by way of preamble.
"Thanks to several investigations, it's been confirmed that what we
experienced was a mirror of events that took place in Real Life."
     There was a sudden buzz of low conversation at this. Behind his mask
the ninja frowned at the controversy. It wasn't as though they weren't
all aware of this through the nigh-omnipresent LNH rumour mill. He
continued, "This has had a knock-on effect here in the Looniverse, as
public outrage there has also been mirrored here. So far the effects of
that have been able to be contained and kept from synergising too badly
with our world's high drama levels." There was murmuring among the crowd.
"I know it might not seem like that from all the rioting that went on,
but on the plus side the U.S. government has been talked into merely
cracking down on the funding of overseas terrorist groups as a short
term response rather than immediately nuking Bin Laden's last known base
in Afgha.net.stan."
     "Oh? And will that keep Noraid from sending funding to the IRA?"
asked Cynical Lass in her best Warren Ellis-style acerbic chain-smoking
Brit impression. "How nice. That's a bit of hypocrisy that's needed
tidying up for quite a while now." Ultimate Ninja glared at her, which
she aggressively ignored. Frankly she was feeling extremely belligerent,
since the unearthing of Bin Ladin's history of involvement with the
American-backed anti-Soviet forces was practically screaming `Blowback'
to her and was giving her a nasty migraine.
     Someone raised a hand and Ultimate Ninja fielded the question. "Does
this mean that Bin Laden exists in Real Life too? Or is he just a cypher
being used by the Writers to fill in a blank in their own knowledge?"
     "He's real," confirmed UN.
     "So are we going to be able to do anything practical against him? Or
are we just going to end up fighting his superpowered ubermensch minions?"
     Mentally Ultimate Ninja rolled his eyes. The phrasing was a near
non-sequitor, but they had clearly heard about Fuzzy's encounter and made
the connection with the obvious historical precedent. "A valid question,"
said Ultimate Ninja, "and one we still don't have a clear answer for.
It's well documented that when a Real Life criminal can't be caught for
an extended period writers of superhero fiction credit him with a variety
of reasons for being beyond the grasp of their supposedly omnicompetent
characters. Adolf Hitler is the obvious archetype in this case."
     Once again the room filled with muted conversation, but the ninja
pushed on through it with an ancient and deadly throat clearing technique.
"It may be that the Real Life version of Bin Laden will be caught quickly,
in which case his Looniversal counterpart will probably be as well. It
may even be that if he remains at large that the Writers may choose to
ignore him anyway. That said, we also have to be prepared for the
possibility that he may be elevated to the level of archvillain with
his own equivalent of Hitler's ubermensch and agent provocateurs. The
Legion also has searches underway to confirm the whereabouts of mystic
artefacts like the Spoon of Destiny. In the meantime all Legionnaires are
to be on the alert for homefront sabotage by fifth columnists, as well as
attacks by any villain teams calling themselves Al-Qaeda Amerika."
     Listening to the video link in his workshop while he caught up
with an already delayed engine overhaul, Bicycle-Repair Lad frowned
thoughtfully. His archenemy, Hexadecimal Luthor, was currently President
of the Usenetted States of America thanks to judicious use of retconning.
While the threat of deep cover enemies had to be taken seriously, he
wouldn't put it past Luthor to deliberately engineer a perception in the
public of danger from mainstream Muslims for Luthor's political purposes.
Bicycle-Repair Lad made a mental note to bring that up with the Legion
     Back at the auditorium someone else asked a question. "What about
the possibility that even if Bin Laden dies horribly in a mishap when
one of his own schemes blows up in his face, that he might keep coming
back in cloned bodies or as a disembodied brain in a jar?"
     This time Ultimate Ninja did roll his eyes. "He only relies on
dialysis," he said wearily. "Let's not get too carried away."
     In the audience Self-Righteous Preacher had been frowning in
thought. Now he said, "Ultimate Ninja," to put his question to the floor,
and in doing so drawing weary looks from surrounding net.heroes. Time for
another lengthy speech, it seemed.
     "Yes, Preacher?"
     "If this unfortunate catastrophe isn't the brainchild of one of the
Writers, and isn't being tied to a particular plot, then the question
becomes what are we going to do about it?"
     "I've just outlined our broad strategy and tactics."
     "No, that isn't what I'm talking about," The Preacher said. "I mean
about the ramming and subsequent tower collapse themselves."
     "Then I don't understand what you mean. Please be more specific."
     "The Writers habitually contrive disaster situations with no
consistency about how to resolve them. Recall that in the case of the
destruction of Metropolis in the 'Fall of Metropolis' story they were
quite willing to handwave reconstruction of the city with a super mage
casting a spell, yet no one thought about using similar methods on Gotham
during the 'No Man's Land' arc."
     Mainstream Man nodded. "That's a not unreasonable comparison. And
then there was the destruction of Coast City in 'Reign of Supermen' which
was only ever intended as a spring board for sending Hal Jordan insane."
     "Worse, the Writers didn't consider the option of using super powers
to bring something as simple as supplies into Gotham," said Frothing-At-
The-Mouth Lad. "Or more tellingly what the political ramifications of
cutting the city off from the rest of the country would be."
     "And your point is, Preacher?" said Ultimate Ninja, ignoring these
     "The point is that even the professional Writers don't apply
consistency, credibility, or morality to their storylines," replied Self-
Righteous Preacher. "As far as they're concerned, only their plots
matter. And if in this case there is no storyline attached to the event,
if there are no artificial constraints on what we can or cannot do to
fulfil their pretentiously artistic visions, then I say that we should
act to do the most amount of good with our not inconsiderable resources."
     "If you plan to use time travel to prevent the building from being
targeted in the first place, forget it," said Sarcastic Lad. "That trick
never works."
     The Preacher huffed. "There are numerous ways that we could carry
out such a task. Most of them, however, are morally suspect. I am
specifically suggesting that we petition the RACC.tre to undo the damage."
     The buzz of many people talking at once started up again, louder
than before. Ultimate Ninja had to yell for quiet, then said, "You know
that the general consensus - even comic book cliche - is that when
superheroes try to make changes to the world rather than just defend it
from paranormal threats that their efforts end in failure, don't you?"
     "I do," said the preacher gravely. "That is why I think the Wrath of
God would be the one to ask."
     "That may not be enough to keep today's event from being deliberately
hammered back into the same shape as their Real Life template."
     "Simply because a more powerful opponent may try to stop us isn't a
reason for at least trying, even if it is the Writers," countered SRP.
"We wouldn't be so cowardly as to let the interference of a net.villain
or demon lord put us off from doing the right thing! There's no reason
why we should let a group of demiurges with delusions of competence do
so either!"
     Ultimate Ninja looked at him for a long, hard second, and then
nodded. "All right. Go and talk with the RACC.tre. And Preacher? Good

     Kid Pocky was brooding.
     "That's a pretty serious expression you've got there," noted
Squidman, team leader of Dvandom Force. "Penny for them?"
     Kid Pocky shifted in the seat where he'd been thinking. He paused
for a long second, which Squidman found unusual. The young man was barely
a teenager physically, but there were complications to Kid Pocky's Origin
that justifiably made him mature beyond his years in some areas. Then KP
said, "You remember how the home Looniearth of the Legion of Occult
Heroes died."
     It was not a question. There could conceivably be a few independently
operating net.heroes who had not heard that story nor seen the movie file
made as a testament by the residents of that universe, but no one who
regularly travelled in superhero circles could not know. During the
insanity of the Retcon Hour crossover a new subgroup of the Legionnaires
had appeared, seemingly created from nothing. This had not been
particularly noteworthy, since this was the Looniverse, and such things
happened all the time. After some confusion, it had been discovered that
these three net.heroes and their personal histories had been transplanted
from their home universe into this one. This, also, had not been
particularly noteworthy, since this was the Looniverse, and such things
also happened all the time. Macroman, one of Squidman and Kid Pocky's
teammates, had been subjected to something similar.
     Demon Boy, Leviathan Lass and the Green Treencoat had later returned
to their homeworld. They had found it dead. Their Looniverse, like this
one, was a work of fiction - and in the world 'above' theirs in which
the stories had been written a group of religious extremists had gained
political power, curtailed most civil liberties, and in a fit of self-
righteousness had killed the LOH's Looniverse as a demonstration of the
futility of fiction. [_Legion of Occult Heroes_ #5 - Footnote Girl]
     "I've sometimes wondered why their world was singled out," mused
Kid Pocky. "Maybe it was the work of some lone fanatic associated with
the Cause who decided to kill of the LOHverse as a way to get brownie
points. Or perhaps the Looniverse was one of a large number of fictional
worlds that those people had attacked en masse because they didn't adhere
to their narrow worldview. Possibly their Superguy Altiverse was targeted
as well, or some of the many other worlds of heroic or simply secular
     Squidman raised a sceptical eyebrow beneath his cowl. "I find it
hard to believe you're being so introspective for no reason. Was there
something that brought you onto this line of thought?"
     Kid Pocky ahemed with a touch of embarrassment. "The highjacking
attacks in Net.York got me thinking about it. There are similarities,
after all - especially the bit about events in Real Life having an effect
on us that we can do nothing about." Another pause. "You also remember
what my reaction to the death of the Occult Heroes' world was?"
     "Yes," said Squidman in a careful neutral voice. "You hadn't
reincarnated yet, and were still the world class net.villain Acton Lord.
You decided to cut our Looniverse off from the Writers in Real Life so
that nothing like that could happen here as well - as well as setting up
the conditions that would let you take over the world." [_Dvandom
Force_ #42 - Footnote Girl]
     Kid Pocky nodded. "And Dvandom Force and Netlurker stopped me.
Rightly, I think, in retrospect."
     "You *think*?"
     Kid Pocky looked Squidman squarely in the eye. "Yes. There are
times like this when I have doubts. Oh, not overwhelming doubts. The
ethics of the situation were clear: you stopped a net.villain bent on
world conquest. No problem there. And as for the dangers of what I
was doing..." He ran a hand threw his short cropped black hair. "The
Corruption Force exists to make things work improperly. It's... not very
good at preserving. And with the benefit of no longer being insane
because I've cut contact with it, I'm not sure what I was doing was fully
safe, even with the help that I suborned from Green Trenchcoat." A look
of regret passed across the boy's face before he continued.
     "But faced with things like this, I get doubts, David. Very deep
and very dark doubts. All other factors being equal and all other dangers
being removed, wouldn't it be better to separate the Looniverse off from
lunatics like them?"
     "You might be overreaching yourself if you tried. Net.heroes can't
prevent every single natural disaster, after all."
     Kid Pocky shook his head. "I think you might be comparing apples and
oranges. There's a difference between weather which is an inherent part
of our world, and interlopers from another dimension hijacking natural
processes to suit their own whims. But let's put that aside and assume
that the comparison is valid. Sure, we can't head off every disaster,
but shouldn't we at least mitigate as many as we can if it's within our
abilities to do so? Should rangers not clear undergrowth and leave the
forest fires to burn unchecked? Should we not leave off with maintenance
of the flood levies and let the next hurricane that blows in from the
Gulf wash everything away in the storm surge?"
     "I think you're being cynical" Squidman replied.
     "No. I am trying to be realistic... Trying to juggle the finite but
still quite awesome resources of the net.ahumans to the best effect, and
keeping in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If
I were a cynic I would not have chosen to become a net.hero this time
around. I would never have thought it possible to make up for the things
that I had done when I was... wrong, nor that I could..." and here he
trailed off, embarrassed again.
     .oO( Nor that you could win Kat's love, ) Squidman thought,
finishing his sentence for him. But he didn't say it out loud, and almost
immediately Kid Pocky picked up the conversation again and veered away
from that rather personal open secret:
     "If you want a cynical thought," Kid Pocky said, "then try the idea
that Writers thrive on conflict and catastrophe, and that no matter what
we do to try and alleviate the damage, the Writers will block it just so
that they can still have drama for their stories."

     XOdious was also brooding.
     He was disturbed and more than a little envious of the attention
that genetic vermin like those flatscan human terrorists had been able
to garner for themselves with their attacks. Yet he, a text.ernal whose
subtle behind-the-scenes machinations had unfolded across centuries,
had yet to be able to usher in his much planned for golden age of
     Suddenly gripped by pectoral-envy (because costumed superhumans
have a curious emphasis on secondary rather than primary sexual
characteristics) XOdious cried out: "To me, my Acolytes!" And they
came. A cadre of superhuman warriors fanatically dedicated to the holy
writ of mutant supremacy.
     "Welcome my holy warriors", said XOdious gravely. He stood up from
his chair. "Today a group of humans tried to assert the supremacy of
their religion. They are fools - just as all *human* religions are
foolish - but it seems clear that they will need to be put in their
place. And I have a plan."
     At the touch of a button a holographic display of the Looniearth
blossomed into existence. It zoomed in on the Beanstalk, the 360,000+
kilometre tall elevator with its ground tether in equatorial Brazil, and
specifically to the High Castle platform at its top.
     Various other schematics popped up as well, showing just the right
places to plant explosives on the space platform to impart momentum and
spin to bring it down in a manner that would sent flaming wreckage
crashing down across southern Europe and the Middle-East - and with the
largest of it, the several million tonne platform, turning Mecca into a
rather large impact crater.
     "Hail! Hail! Hail!" chanted the Acolytes.

     Occultism Kid turned to Self-Righteous Preacher as the two of them
reached the door. "If you're sure you aren't going to need any help with
     The Preacher threw him a stern look, and for a second Occultism Kid
almost expected a rebuff about not needing the assistance of black magic.
Instead he said simply if somewhat stiffly, "The offer is appreciated.
But I believe that facing the Wrath of God is something I have to handle
myself." Then he stepped in and closed the door to the chapel behind him.
     "Self-Righteous Preacher," said a sepulchral voice that seemed to
echo around the room. "For what reason do you seek an audience with the
Guardian of Comic Book Style Justice and the Sword of Talion?"
     The Preacher didn't bother to hide his fear. The RACC.tre was one
of the most powerful beings in the universe and in any case could see
what truths and lies lay in a man's heart. It would be both foolish
and pointless to try and conceal it. But that did not stop him. "I...
I want to ask for a boon."

      All-Knowing Last-Chance Whiner-Destiny Woman appeared in a puff
of smoke in the LNH-HQ's planning room. She gestured dramatically with
one hand while clutching her cape with the other. "Legion Emergency!"
she announced loudly. "XOdious is trying to bring down the High Castle
     Ultimate Ninja looked up from the plans that he had been going over
with other senior Legionnaires, then glanced at Innovative-Offense Boy.
"Form a squad to deal with him. Try to keep him from doing anything that
would raise international tensions again."
     "#@&*+%ing well on it, boss, " said IOBoy.

     The RACC.tre's presence coalesced into a cloaked figure who stood
by the pulpit. Its face was hooded, but within the darkness were two
glowing points shaped like skulls that marked the location of the eyes.
"And what desire could be so great that you would want to face me?"
     "I seek nothing for myself."
     The RACC.tre looked at him, and through him. "Yes..." was the
cryptic reply.
     The Preacher waited several seconds for a further comment or
question. When none was forthcoming he presented his request. "RACC.tre,
I wish to see undone the damage done this morning in the plane attack on
the World Trade Center."
     "You seek to have those events wiped away?"
     "Of course not. I'm not foolish enough to fall into the trap of
creating a time paradox loop. I want the *effects* of the calamity
undone, not the attack itself."
     "And why should these deaths be undone? People die all the time, of
natural means and not. For every thing there is a season."
     "And yet this doesn't stop doctors from trying to cure life
threatening diseases or developing new forms of palliative care. It doesn't
stop governments from taking precautions against natural disasters, or
net.hero teams from trying to stop the atrocities of costumed villains.
     "RACC.tre, this whole enterprise may seem quixotic, but I do realise
that superheroes can't save everyone. Until a Grant Morrison-esque uplift
of all of humanity takes place, there just aren't enough of us to do more
than perform spot measures. Yes, there is a reason behind the philosophy
that the superhumans should lead by example rather than try to mollycoddle
humanity, and I accept that. But if the Legion were to pick a problem and
deal with it at other-than-random, then I believe it should be this one.
Perhaps tomorrow some better suited cause will come along, but in the
here and now a deliberately created disaster meant to create fear and
hatred is exactly the type of event that we should be inspiring people
to resist. If we take a stand on an event like this, which derives from
Real Life and shows all the hallmarks of having a permanent effect on
the collective psyche of the population, then it will do more good for
people's sense of justice than any number of fight scenes against
costumed criminals."
     "What if some other disaster strikes, and the dead cannot be
brought back again? What would you tell them then?"
     "Tell them the truth, of course," replied the Preacher simply. "They
may not believe us. Heavens alone knows that the likes of McLaughlin Man
never do, and he wields considerable sway over public opinion. But, in
truth, what of it? We are not here to be *popular*. We are here to do
what is *right*. And if that task means that we are mocked and spurned
by those who cannot or will not understand, then that is a burden we
shall have to bear."
     "And if this request were granted, would you be willing to accept
the consequences?" asked the RACC.tre. "Be forewarned, the price of
getting what you desire... is getting what you desire, with all the
ramifications that accompany it."

     High above the Looniearth was the High Castle platform. It didn't so
much sit atop the Beanstalk as remain parked in geostationary orbit and
dangle the elevator below. The complex was huge, but there was a reason
for that. When first built it had been intended as a port for the various
sublight mining ships which were bringing back raw materials from all
over the solar sys.tem. Soon afterwards it had also taken up duties as a
customs office, since although there wasn't much useful FTL technology in
human hands, the Looniearth had made some interstellar contact through
its net.ahumans, and the aliens had come to visit. But the most growth
had come from space tourism - because the costs of getting into orbit on
an elevator were far smaller than riding in a capsule strapped to the
back of a giant disposable firework. High Castle was big.
     Which meant that if XOdious could detonate the engines of spacecraft
and/or decompress enough of the platform's superstructure on the upper
side to kick it out of orbit, then what survived re-entry would still be
big enough to make a helluva splat when it hit the ground.
     Six Legionnaires appeared in a sparkle of transporter effect.
"&@#*ing defensive positions," ordered Innovative-Offense Boy, and then
he swore again.
     "Typical," said Easily-Discovered Man Lite when he saw what was
going on. "Party crashers."
     And then they all scattered as ApocaLISP's punch sent XOdious
careening through the spot where they had been standing - except for Kid
Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story, who stood his ground and caused
XOdious to rebound from the impact.
     Around them was chaos. They had arrived at a large docking bay, and
XOdious' Acolytes were in frenzied combat with ApocaLISP's Horsemen. Some
few remaining humans and aliens were taking refuge. And in the center of
it all, ApocoLISP was standing, hands on hips, laughing uproariously at
XOdious' predicament.
     "There are a lot more than four Horsemen," Ordinary Lady observed.
     "There have been rumours that *@!##~ Pocky Lips has been recruiting
to add the Seven $!%#@ Sins to his group," said Innovative Offense Boy.
"Okay people," he called. "#&@**ing well spread out and get these twerps
under control. Remember, the #@!&^ heavy hitters first."
     Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story took off at speed to
intercept and take out War, who intel had identified as the most
physically powerful of the Horseman. Ordinary Lady found herself facing
off against the clawed Acolyte known as the Shishkabobber ("I'm the best
at what I do!") but was easily able to use her graceful swordswoman's
skills to fend off the Shishkabober's frenzied attacks and quickly
overcome her, and then moved on. Liefeld's Porpoise meanwhile had gotten
himself into a fire fight with several Acolytes who were being controlled
by the Horseman of Wrath, and was happily blazing away with heavy
ordinance. For the time being the Legion ignored the less destructive
fights like that between the Incomprehensible and Sloth, or even Pride's
slugging match with PsychoGigglingLaughing Boy.
     XOdious rose to his feet, shrugging off the stunning when he
had impacted into the near invulnerable KidAIARHS. He blasted off twin
force blasts from each hand at ApocaLISP, which the latter dodged by
metamorphosing his body and springing away. ApocaLISP continued to laugh
mockingly. "And now a third group arrives, XOdiousth. Will they bow down
and worship you, perhapsth?"
     "We aren't %@!+*ing well going to worship anyone, tall grey and
gruesome," countered Innovative-Offense Boy. "What is it with you two
*?@(# idiots anyway? Are you into running fight scenes or something?"
     ApocaLISP picked up a small shuttlecraft (only about the size of a
minibus) and hefted it in Innovative-Offense Boy's direction. "I am
endeavouring to teach my text.ernal compatriot an important life lesson,
but unfortunately, he is obsthreperous."
     "I need no lessons from you!" snarled XOdious and threw a similar
shuttle at ApocaLISP. The self-proclaimed lord of programming languages
made a gesture, and a forcewall made of slightly glowing machine code
deflected the shuttle, causing it to land with considerable damage off
to one side.
     "You, neophyte text.ernal, are so young that you fail to realise
that there'sth even a lesson to be learnt at all!" ApocaLISP said
sharply. "Perhapsth Innovative-Offense Boy will prove a better pupil."
     "Hey, the only $@!* thing I wanna learn from you is what to &%!+@
     Meanwhile, across the room Easily-Discovered Man Lite demanded,
"Okay, so who are you supposed to be?" of a very female figure in a gauzy
dress. "The Queen of She.bit?"
     "I am Lust! Fear my power!" declaimed the Horseman.
     "I can do without the Claremont style introduc... tions..." trailed
off Lite, who suddenly felt very warm. Too late he realised that since he
was an adolescent male, it was probable that he might be susceptible to
people with powers to make others... uhm... cavort in an unseemly manner.
     Limp-Asparagus Lad calmly walked up and said, "Surrender now."
     "Fool! " said Lust. She pointed at Lite and ordered L-ALad:
"Sodomise him now!"
     Instead Limp-Asparagus Lad knocked Lust unconscious with a punch to
the face. "I don't think that was what this issue's Acraphobe content
label was warning about."
     "I know that's a neat trick," said Lite, "But between you and TJ
over in Looniverse-Y, don't you ever worry about how your Writer seems
to sexually maim his characters? I'm not sure I even feel safe making
a guest appearance around here."
     "A moment please Lite," said Limp-Asparagus Lad, only half paying
attention. He suddenly realised that something was happening. He could
feel the drama building up somewhere nearby. He reached out with his mind
and tried to make sense of what was happening. Then he activated his
comm.thingee and said, "Kid Not Appearing, leave War and Pride to us.
I think that this fight may be a distraction for someone, possibly
Technocrat, to sabotage the computer systems. They are in the control
room over on the far left side."
     "I'm on it. These ones are all yours," said KidNAIARHS, who elbowed
War aside and flew off.
     "Do you want War or Pride?" Limp-Asparagus Lad asked.
     "War or Pride? War or Pride?" mused Lite, tapping his spatula with
indecision. "How about Pride? He seems more personal, somehow."

     "What would be the ramifications?" asked Self-Righteous Preacher.
     "The first is not a ramification. The building would remain
destroyed. It is only a object, after all, and is nowhere near as
important as the lives of the people who died there," said the RACC.tre.
     "Yes," agreed the Preacher simply. That was obvious.
     "The second is that if some of the deceased are brought back from
beyond, then all would be brought back."
     The Preacher saw the implications of that immediately. "Including
their murderers."
     That was not the best possible outcome, but the Preacher could see
the upside to it. The Legion had already backtracked to identify most of
the perpetrators. Super sleuthing powers, psionics, and Kirbytech mind
scanning devices were useful, in that regard. And conspiracy to commit
murder remained conspiracy to commit murder, even if the murders
themselves had been nullified. It was even possible that since there
would be no time paradox involved, the murders themselves would still
stand as indictable offenses; SRP was fuzzy on what the current position
of paranormal case law was on that point. He nodded. "Very well. In this
imperfect world, we must do the best we can with what we are given."

     It was amazing, mused Innovative-Offense Boy as he battled the
Acolyte known as Thrillkiller, how much long-winded exposition net.ahumans
could give during a fight scene. ApocaLISP and XOdious were currently
zapping each other with power blasts at ten paces, while ApocaLISP
continued with amused condescension.
     "People are scum," ApocaLISP said, his force blasts slowly pushing
across the central point of balance between them. "For all your fine talk
of piety, your first impulse is to rethort to violence, just like the
Muslims that you're having an envy attack over, and the Christians, and
every other group, sthecular or otherwise, that has ever crawled like
maggotsth on the face of the planet. Only the survival of the strongest
is a constant; blind lust for power in it'sth most naked form! Go ahead
XOdious, bring down the space elevator onto the surface of the planet
like a bloody sword. Use fear and hate to forge an empire for yoursthelf,
and know that ultimately your subjects will rise up in sthpite of you,
because warfare is the only Truth that humans know. Exactly the same
thing would happen if, by some quirk of Fate, the schemes of al-Qaeda
actually came to fruition. The only differenth between you and them is
that you were brave enough to show your face in battle!"
     By now XOdious had been retreating backwards. He had a momentary
reprieve when Thrillkiller was able to grab ahold of Innovative-Offense
Boy, cry, "No, Lord XOdious! Show the blaspheming nihilist that he is
wrong!" and bodily throw the Legionnaire at ApocaLISP. "Ooofff!" went
IOBoy as he hit and seemed to have no effect on ApocaLISP whatsoever.
ApocaLISP frowned and blasted Thrillkiller, who was thrown clear across
the docking bay, impacted against a wall, and lay still.
     ApocaLISP looked down where the Legionnaire was trying to get up
and back away. "And you, Innovative-Offense Boy. In a very real way you
and yoursth are even worse than the rest of them. Your attempts at peace
keeping are as absthurd as they are futile."
     "Oh yeah?" snarked IOBoy. "I think you've gone *%@#!@ senile over
the past few thousand years, Pocky Lips. I don't see any #>*@& slow
descent into $@^%ing barbarism like you do."
     ApocaLISP actually smiled. "You only see sthuperficialities. It
takes a trained eye to grasthp the Truth." He gestured across the
cavernous enclosure at security monitors that, somehow, had remained
intact. "This is all being broadcast live, did you realise? And what will
the normalsth see when they watch all the fighting? Not your peacekeeping
force. You'll have to try to spin doctor that in latter. They will see
three different groups of net.ahumansth in battle; and they will be right."
     There was an explosion of glass from the control room as Kid Not
Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story defenestrated Technocrat and Death
through the ground level window. Through the gaping hole he could be seen
using super speed to try and deprogram the destruct mechanism that
Technocrat had set in place.
     XOdious frowned, then checked a remote of some type that he had on
him and smiled. No, it seemed that the meddling of the Horseman Death had
kept KidNAIARHS from stopping Technocrat. All was in readiness. XOdious
stood straighter and grinned at ApocaLISP and Innovative-Offense Boy,
holding the remote out dramatically. "You're too late, ApocaLISP. I have
no idea what you thought you could gain from trying to stop me from
bringing down High Castle, but with the touch of a button it all ends now."
     ApocaLISP folded his arms across his chest and grinned. Innovative-
Offense Boy looked around desperately for something to close the several
meter gap between himself and the leader of the Acolytes and get that
remote safely away from him. Around the docking bay those combatants who
were still conscious - and it was mainly Legionnaires and their subdued
opponents by now - watched the unfolding tableau. And XOdious was hit
with a flying tackle from one of the humans who had been hiding as best
they could from all the fighting.
     "No!" the young man screamed and knocked the remote from XOdious'
hands. It skidded across the floor to Innovative-Offense Boy's feet, the
red light indicating preparedness to remotely set off the explosions that
would deorbit the space platform still blinking. IOBoy picked it up and
calmly turned it off even as the young man yelled, "No more killing!" and
for his trouble was thrown aside by XOdious with a bone crushing swipe of
his hand. XOdious took a step towards Innovative-Offense Boy to regain
the remote detonator, but then stopped as he realised that the rest of
the LNHers were stepping into formation around their squad leader to
prevent him.
     ApocaLISP was roaring with laughter again. "You see, XOdious? No
matter how much violence you try to subdue them with, all of them - human
and net.ahuman alike - will turn on you and respond in kind. Your dreamsth
of a mutant theocracy are baseless. The only thing they understand is
conflict, and after the weak have been eliminated then the strong will
come to understand that only power mattersth. Your ideology - ALL of your
ideologies," he added, sweeping his hand to include the Acolytes, Legion,
and the random human and alien stragglers, "are a sham!" And on that
derisive note he teleported himself and his Horsemen away.
     As the Legion took the Acolytes into custody EDMLite went over to
check on their surprise rescuer. It looked like he had a broken arm, and
as Lite shucked off his flannel shirt to prepare a splint, he said, "Hey,
you know, that was just smegging amazing what you did back there. The
look that bad guys get on their faces when their plans are foiled is
priceless. What's your name?"
     "A... Abbas," he replied. His dark eyes were red from weeping. "Has
it stopped? Has all the killing stopped?"
     "It's stopped for now. You alright?"
     "I was in Net.York. There was an air crash." He looked around the
docking bay, as trying to decipher where he was. "Am I dead again? Is
this Hell?"
     Easily-Discovered Man Lite stared at him for a second. "Well done
Preacher, you bigoted old bully," Lite said with grudging admiration
under his breath. Then, as he started wrapping the splint he said to
Abbas, "It'll be heaven or hell, depending on what you make of it."

     The door into the Oval Office of the White House opened and
President Hexadecimal Luthor stepped inside. A young lady who was
accompanying him put down the files that she was carrying and turned to
leave. She paused and said, "That was a great speech sir. Very inspiring.
It's such a great shame that it had to be the result of such a tragedy."
     "Yes," murmured President Luthor as she departed. "A great tragedy."
He stared out the windows into the clear autumnal afternoon.  .oO( And
also an opportunity, ) he added to himself.

Next Issue: January 2006 is Ape Month!  There are crazy people running
around turning people into Australopithecines.  Be here for 'Decimation!'

Character Credits:
     All-Knowing Last-Chance Whiner-Destiny Woman, Deductive Logic Man,
Self-Righteous Preacher and Ultimate Ninja created by wReam (Ray Bingham).
The first three are not reserved, and Ultimate Ninja is a free-for-use
Writer Character and shouldn't be permanently harmed).
     ApocaLISP created by Tom Russell. Used with permission (but probably
at least not reserved). Neither Tom nor myself can figure out if the
ApocaLISP who died in the 'Age of Apocalisp' arc in _Manga Girl_ was
the mainstream Looniverse ApocaLISP or that of the alt.timeline, so I'm
arbitrarily assuming the latter because suits my story purposes.
     Anal-Retentive Archive Kid, Fourth Wall Lass and Very Big Boy
created by Saxon Brenton.
     The Acolytes, and the Horsemen for that matter, are parodies of
groups of the same name and are Public Domain. Created by Saxon Brenton.
     Bicycle Repair Lad and Hexadecimal Luthor created by Christopher
Hare, not reserved.
     Catalyst Lass created by Elisabeth Riba, not reserved.
     Chinese Guy and Lenny created by Dvandom and Saxon Brenton.
     Constellation Gang and Kid Pocky, as well as Major Denis Bludwulf
and PenguinKleen Inc (From _Dvandom Force_ #80) created by Dvandom (Dave
Van Domelen). Used with permission.
     Curious Lass created by Caroline Vaughn. Cameoed without permission.
     Cynical Lass and Easily-Discovered Man Lite created by Rob Rogers.
Used with permission.
     Dr Stomper created by T.M. Neeck. Public Domain.
     Fearless Leader created by Dvandom. Public Domain.
     Frothing-At-The-Mouth Lad created by Elmo (Greg Morrow). Public Domain.
     Fuzzy created by Connie Hirsch and not reserved.
     Innovative-Offense Boy created by uplink. Public Domain.
     Irony Man created by Doug Moran. Public Domain.
     Iron-E gleefully plagerised from the RACChallenge series.
     John and Sally (Ultimate Ninja's secretaries) created by Descrii
(Ian Porell). Public Domain.
     Kid Kirby created by Jameel al Khafiz. Cameod without permission.
     Kid Not Appearing In Any Retcon Hour Story and the RACC.tre created
by Badger (Matt Rossi) and not reserved.
     Liefeld's Porpoise created by Aaron Veenstra and not reserved.
     Limp-Asparagus Lad owned by Saxon Brenton. Created by Mystic Mongoose
(Robert Armstrong) and wReam (Ray Bingham (chaos and entropy incarnate)).
     The Los Bastardos subteam, including Brand Name Boy, Spite Grrrl and
Trux, created by Mike Friedman. Used without permission, and dunno where
it fits in their continuity. Nettiquette Lad and Nit-Pick Lad are Public
     Mainstream Man created by Mark A. Nicol. Public Domain.
     Occultism Kid created by Josh Geurink and not reserved.
     Ordinary Lady created by Martin Phipps and not reserved.
     Sarcastic Lad created by Gary St. Lawrence and not reserved.
     Slobbering Grue! created by Arthur Spitzer. Used with permission.
     Squidman (nee Squid Boy) created Dave Goldfarb. Reserved by Dvandom,
used with permission.
     Table created by Jef Kolodziej. Youngstuds created by Martin Phipps.
     XOdious created by Saxon Brenton and made Public Domain.

All characters copyright 2005 to their creators or owners as applicable.

Back issues of the Legion of Net.Heroes may be found at Russ Alberry's
Eyrie Archives at:     ftp://ftp.eyrie.org/pub/racc/lnh

The LNH stories of Blue Light Productions may also be found at:

Add Notes:
     Long time readers of this series will probably have figured this out
by now, but for newcomers I'd probably better spell out the philosophical
direction behind this net.comic. I remember a comment about the original
_Ambush Bug_ miniseries published by DC that went something like this:
Giffen and Fleming weren't so much expanding the boundaries of the
superhero genre as crumpling it up in their big meaty hands, and then
unfolding it and examining the wrinkles.
     That's basically what _Limp-Asparagus Lad_ is about. And I think
that's probably why the plot of this issue has wandered off on it's own
path several times.
     After I finished LALad54 and began serious tinkering this issue's
plot, it became apparent that the September 11 attacks were no longer the
main point of the story. They were still *an* important point, and they
still act as the main engine of story, but the theme had shifted from a
story about how superheroes handling a specific disaster to an examination
of fictional versus fictionalised violence. Later still came the dialogue
suggesting that the heroes should actually do something about the attacks
after the fact. This was originally a wild idea to be brought up by
someone at random and then dismissed as unworkable, but only a short while
therafter I realised that (a) it was a notion that would need to be taken
seriously if I were to hold true to my decision to explore how such an
attack would pan out if full comic book superhero genre conventions and
cliches were in effect, and (b) it was dialogue for Self-Righteous
Preacher. The latter fact astounded me. I had never imagined that I'd
write a story where SRP would play a constructive role in proceedings,
since in most cases any instances of spiritually derived sense of
obligation would more likely come from Retcon Lad.
     And so here we are. Pretty much everything in the story is consistent
with the genre cliches, although the Jerry Falwellman speech had to be
moved forward a few days.

Saxon Brenton     University of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia
saxon.brenton at uts.edu.au
The Librarian "liked people who loved and respected books. And the best
way to do that, in the Librarian's opinion, was to leave them on the
shelves where Nature intended them to be." Terry Pratchett, _Men At Arms_

New year, new job - there's more than 100,00 jobs at SEEK 

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