LNH: Beige Midnight #3: Imperium Hex Part III: 'The Final Piece' (1/3)

Arthur Spitzer arspitzer at earthlink.net
Mon Sep 22 19:14:21 PDT 2008

[Cover:  A smiling Hex Luthor stands over a large golden globe of the 
world that is cracked all over and has a missing piece.  In his hand he 
holds the missing piece.  Various tiny superheroes try frantically to 
escape from the inside of the globe, which appears to have flames 
shooting out of it.  At the bottom in large text is written 'Imperium 
Hex Part III'.]

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

The place -- Net.ropolis.

The time --

                    B     E     I     G     E

           M     I     D     N     I     G     H     T

The number --      T     H     R     E     E

The Writers -- Arthur Spitzer, Saxon Brenton, and Martin

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

   Joe Ordinary looked through the church window.  The windows were 
supposed to be made of stained glass but the colours had faded so Joe 
could see the sky outside.  Except the sky wasn't blue or grey:  it was 
beige.  Joe couldn't tell if it was a clear day or if it was clouded 
over: the clouds and sky were now all the same colour.

   "I don't know if I can go through with this, John," he said to his 

   "You're getting cold feet?" his brother asked.

   "It seems silly of me to pretend to be starting a new life when 
everything could be about to end."

   John shrugged his shoulders.  "Maybe the LNH will save us.  Or God. 
We are in a church after all.  Maybe God will save us."

   "Right," Joe said.  "God saves people who happen to be standing in 
churches when the world ends."

   "Don't be like that, Joe.  This is supposed to be the happiest day of 
your life."

   Joe took a moment to check his tux.  It was black and white when he 
bought it.  Now it was black and beige.  If the world survives this 
crisis, how will he explain the wedding photos to their children?

   Joe then looked out into the crowd.  He saw his Mom and Dad sitting 
up front in the pews.  They were putting on a brave face: they didn't 
want to spoil everything by panicking.  Joe decided to do likewise.

   Jane's family wasn't there.  They were from out of town.  Way out of 
town.  They were probably huddled up together in a church of their own 
praying for salvation, not just simply because the world was coming to 
an end but because that's what they did.  They probably considered 
themselves very lucky: the world was coming to an end and they were way 
ahead in terms of time spent praying.

   "It doesn't look real," Joe said.

   "What do you mean?" John asked.

   "It looks like... it's like I'm looking at a black and white comic. 
An old black and white comic that's been left out in the sun and the 
whites have turned beige.  It doesn't look real."


   "So maybe that Vincent Stomper guy was right.  You know, the LNH 
Doctor.  The one on TV."

   "Right about what?"

   "That nothing's real.  That everything was created by Writers."

   "Stop it," John said.  "This is not the time nor place to convert to 
the Church of the Fourth Wall."

   "I'm just saying..."

   "That's all mumbo jumbo.  Like scientology or fa long gong.  You need 
to keep faith in the old religions."

   "So why aren't we all worshipping Zeus then?  Or Amon Ra?"

   "I'm just saying now isn't the time to lose your faith, Joe," John 

   "I don't know, John," Joe countered.  "If this is the end of the 
world then it isn't exactly what Revelations described, is it?"

  Just then the organ started playing music.  Joe recognised it as "Here 
Comes the Bride".  Joe looked down the aisle and saw his wife to be. 
Unlike Joe's relatives, Jane actually looked darker: her face looked 
like a black ink spot with two beige eyes and bright beige teeth.  Her 
wedding dress was beige too.  If there was a God then perhaps he was 
mocking her lack of virginity.

   Nothing looked real to Joe.  But he had to continue nevertheless. The 
last thing he wanted was for everyone to panic.  Best they carried on 
like everything was normal.

   "You look beautiful," Joe said to Jane as she approached the altar.

   "Thank you," Jane said, "and you look handsome."

   The minister cleared his throat.  "Dearly beloved," he began, "we are 
gathered here today to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony.

   "Now today is a special day, as you all know, so I'll try to make 
this a bit quicker than usual.  How special this day will be remains to 
be seen.  But if this is to be the end of the world then rest assured 
that if this world fades away then we will all be carried off by the 
Lord to the next.  And we are here today to make sure that in that world 
to come that Joe Ordinary and Jane Smith will be husband and wife.

   "I take it you both want to go through with this?" he asked the couple.

   "I do," said Joe.

   "That wasn't it," the minister said.  "I was just making sure you 
were ready."

   "It's okay," Jane said.  "Let's do this."

   "Very well," the minister said.  "Do you, Joe Ordinary, take Jane 
Smith to be your lawfully wedded wife, do have and to hold, to love and 
to cherish, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health and till 
death do you part?"

   "I do."

   "Okay," the minister said.  "Do you, Jane Smith, take Joe Ordinary to 
be your lawfully wedded husband, do have and to hold, to love and to 
cherish, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health and till 
death do you part?"

   "I do."

   The minister looked to John, Joe's brother and best man.  "Do you 
have the rings?"

   "They're right here," John said.  He gave one to Joe and one to Jane.

   Joe took the ring and placed it on Jane's finger.

   "Repeat after me," the minister said.  "With this ring, I thee wed."

   "With this ring, I thee wed."

   "Now you," the minister said to Jane.

   Jane placed the ring John gave her and placed it on Joe's finger.

   "With this ring, I thee wed," she said.

   "Alright then.  Does anyone here know of any reason why these two 
should not be married?  If so then speak now or forever hold your peace."

   Nobody in the church spoke up.

   "Alright then," the minister said.  "By the power vested in me by the 
Lord God and by the city of Net.ropolis, I now pronounce you husband and 
wife.  You may kiss the bride."

   Joe kissed Jane.  Joe's family clapped and cheered.  Then, suddenly, 
there was a rumble.  Everybody looked out the window.  A bright beige 
light was shining through.

   "This is it," Jane said.  "It's the end of the world."

   No, Joe thought.  Not now.  He was hoping the world would exist long 
enough for them to have a honeymoon.

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

                     IMPERIUM HEX PART III

                       'The Final Piece'

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

Several Days before --

The Gothic Gorilla turned both shower knobs.  Hot and Cold water started 
to pour out.  The Gorilla tested the water with his hand.  And then he 
turned his head around.  Did he hear something?  A noise?  He went over 
to his bathroom door and looked out.  Nothing.  He shut the bathroom 
door and locked it.  He then took off his famous black trenchcoat 
covered with silver pins and charms and hung it on the door.  He pulled 
the shower curtain open and stepped into the shower.  He grabbed a piece 
of black soap and started whistling the Alice Cooper tune, 'No More Mr. 
Nice Guy' to himself.

As the Gorilla started to wash his face with the soap, the Gothic 
Gorilla's shower curtain began to move.  It began to change shape.  And 
it lunged at the Gorilla.  A Pulsating blob poured itself onto the 
Gorilla and began to pour its arm right into the Gorilla's mouth and 
nostrils.  The skin on the blob like creature began to harden and change 
into spikes and razor blades.

The Gorilla struggled against the blob like creature, but couldn't chant 
a spell as the creature's arm choked him.  The battle lasted about 12 
minutes, but in the end the Gorilla stopped moving.  He just lay there 
in a pool of bloodied water not moving.  Not moving at all.

The blob changed shape into a more human form.  The form of an old 
friend of the Gorilla's -- The Very-Disturbed-Scary-Creature Man.  He 
smiled at his work.

"Not so smug now -- are you?  Not so powerful.  No.  Just dead.  Dead. 
Just another dead ape.  This is how it begins."

He stepped out of the shower and onto a bath mat.

"This is the beginning."

Mr. Nasty laughed.

"The beginning of everything."

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

On the other side of the world --

Anal-Retentive Archive Kid sat on a rock beside Lenny and watched the 
sunset.  Or rather, he watched some of the others watch the sunset. 
Lenny himself gazed at the scene of the starkly beautiful and deadly 
mountain landscape with the type of Zen calm that most people would find 
bizarre from an intelligent squirrel.  However, Lenny was a spirit 
entity that was literally tens of thousands of years old, and who had 
been created with an instinctive understanding that humans often failed 
to grasp: that each part of the Earth was important and should be 
appreciated on its merits.

By contrast Twitter was admiring the sunset with the enthusiasm that was 
typical of her.  She stared at it, taking the time to look and see 
something new and wonderful that most people would dismiss as 
commonplace, and even as she was standing still there was a pent up 
energy about her that suggested that at any moment she would race off to 
investigate something else mundanely remarkable.  Anal-Retentive Archive 
Kid wished he had her energy.

It had been a long week, what with having to put a stop to the raids by 
the herd of weregoats, the giant stone statue that had been reactivated 
by an archaeological expedition and then gone on a rampage, the crashed 
spaceship that had been repairing itself with body parts cannibalised 
from Coalition soldiers and Islamist insurgents alike, the plague of 
frog (there was only one frog involved, but it had rapid-fire teleport, 
so persistence of vision made it look like there were thousands of the 
blasted thing), and the occasional suicide bombing attack.  In between 
all that the net.heroes had also been forging ahead with the search for 
their mcguffin.  ARAK could only assume that the fact that they hadn't 
found it yet was an indication that they hadn't gone through enough plot 
complications to have 'earned' it.  Hopefully that would soon change.

Suddenly Twitter was standing next to him.  "This is neat, It reminds me 
of some of the pictures of the Bad.LAN.s National Park."

"You've ever been there?"

She shook her head.  "I never got to travel much when I was a kid," she 

A short distance away Fourth Wall Lass was looking thoughtfully at the 
nearby terrain.  "There," she said to the other members of the Bicycle 
Liberation Front, and pointed at a section of rock face that looked 
absolutely no different to any other.  "There's a chamber complex sealed 
off through there, about 200 feet inwards and downwards."

The others came over to see.  Throughout this hunt they had been 
following hints and oblique references that Anal-Retentive Archive Kid 
had been able to ferret out, often from his copy of the Junior 
Word.chuck's Guidebook.  Then, once they were in the approximate 
geographical location Fourth Wall Lass had then been able to focus in on 
the hiding place.

Retcon Lad asked, "Do you want to investigate this now, or tomorrow 
morning when we're fresh?"

Fourth Wall Lass let out her breath in a harried sound.  "To be honest 
I'd prefer to get this over and done with, just in case it's another 
dead end and we need to move on.  I know I keep going on about this, but 
I don't think there's much time left."

The others gave her a look of sympathy than nevertheless included a bit 
of exasperation.  "Well there's irony for you," said the 
Net.Elementalist.  "Most LNHers have been sitting around going stir 
crazy from boredom waiting for the Bryttle Brothers to wake up, but 
you've been running yourself ragged."

"Don't I know it," she said, running a hand through her hair and 
sounding irritable.

"Maybe you should ease back a bit," suggested Twitter.  "I know I'm only 
a newbie, but I have learnt enough that there are lots of other people 
preparing for Beige Midnight, You don't have to handle everything."

Fourth Wall Lass glared at her.  "Then you'll die."


"Yes.  *You!*  Not us.  We're established characters.  There's no more 
chance of us being killed off in an imprint wide crossover than there is 
of the Writer's really giving Dekay and Diskolor the opportunity to 
destroy the Looniverse.  But you're one of the tens of thousands of new 
Legion members that the Writers brought in as cannon fodder.  The 
Writers don't think of us as real people, and they'll sacrifice you with 
the same ruthlessness that Hex Luthor would.  And so far none of my 
plans to help stop it have borne any fruit," she ranted.  "Don't you get 
it?  I've done my best to stall Beige Midnight, I've pointed people in 
the directions they need for their own preparations.  Fsck!  I've even 
conspired with supervillains to get them to do their part.  But it's not 
doing any good!  You should run Twitter.  Just run, and run, and run, 
and find the deepest, darkest hole you can and hide in it until this is 
all over, and then maybe you'll live to tell the tale.  But don't look 
to me, because I CAN'T SAVE YOU!"

The Bicycle Liberation Front stared at her.  Retcon Lad put one arm 
around her shoulder, and Fourth Wall Lass didn't resist.  Despite her 
agitation it seemed she was too worn out emotionally.

Finally Twitter demanded, "And what type of a net.hero would I be if I 
ran away when the world needed saving?"  She looked embarrassed, then 
said, "Look, this scares the crap out of me, and maybe I'm doing this 
for all the wrong reasons, but you have to understand that I've spent 
most of my life locked away in 'special schools' because I had telepathy 
that was out of control, Then when my parents heard about the Freedom 
Chips they were using to give people superpowers they jumped at the 
chance to give me one because if nothing else the Legion had a training 
program under the NRAct to deal with super abilities and that was 
cheaper than institutional care,  Now I find that the Freedom Chips are 
about creating an expendable mind controlled army and that pisses me 
off,  And then there's the fact that maybe my powers will be taken away 
after all this is over, and part of me thinks it would better if I just 
died fighting Dekay and Diskolor rather than go back to being like that, 
I just don't know what to think anymore."  She rubbed her face with her 
hands, looking every bit as harried as Fourth Wall Lass did.  In a more 
even voice she said, "What I'd like to do is just try to help, because 
that means I can hang out with my friends who treat me like someone with 
just another slightly screwball power rather than as a net.ahuman basket 
case who's going to accidentally suck out all their memories or something."

"That may be the worst irony of the lot," said Retcon Lad gently.  He 
briefly nuzzled Fourth Wall Lass's hair with his nose and explained, 
"It's all the glory hounds and people who'll want to leave when they 
find out the risks involved - the ones who are least worthy of making it 
through Beige Midnight - who've got the best chance of surviving.  And 
all the people who are brave and honest and true are the ones taking the 
risks and have the smallest chances of survival."

Fourth Wall Lass pulled away.  "Yes," she said.  She looked calm now. 
Terrifying calm, actually.  She placed her hands together and bowed her 
head a little and said, "And that is why we need to keep working at this 
tonight.  We have a lot of work to do and we're running out of time. 
Netty, would you dig us a tunnel, please.  It's not too far, and the 
rock will be solid enough to keep the entrance from collapsing."

"On it," the Net.Elementalist said.  His costume turned brown as he 
gestured with one hand and began manipulating the element of keystroke 
to carefully shape a tunnel in the rock in the direction that Fourth 
Wall Lass had indicated.  He even went to the trouble of sculpting a 
series of regular steps to account for the downward slope.

        #\ \ \ \ \ \ \\\\\\#
        #     \   \   \ \\\#
        #            \  \ \#
        #            \  \ \#
        #               \ \#
        #               ___#
        #          ____/___#
        #      ___/________#
        #   __/____________#
        # _/_______________#

While he was doing this ARAK and Lenny unpacked some breathing masks for 
the group in case the air was stale, and once the tunnelling was done 
they all took their gear, turned on their lights (Lenny and the 
Net.Elementalist using their abilities to create varying types of glows) 
and went inside.

"So, uh, what exactly is this plot device mcguffiny thing needed for?" 
asked Twitter.  "I mean, how does taking out Hex Luthor as President 
help defeat the Bryttle Brothers?"

Fourth Wall Lass explained.  "When the Looniverse was recently invaded 
by the Legion's counterparts from the Evilverse, the Legion was able to 
drive them off.  Hex realised that the Legion of Net.Heroes was a 
powerful force for dealing with invaders and uprisings and villainous 
attacks that he could use to secure his power base against assault. 
[noted in _58.5_ #29 - Footnote Girl]  The problem is that thanks to the 
warnings that Bicycle Repair Lad gave us most of the LNH knows he's up 
to no good.  If he's still President by the time Beige Midnight arrives 
then the Legion will be distracted by trying to resist his manipulations 
and they won't be able to put their full effort into fighting the 
Bryttle Brothers.  Therefore we need to expose what he's up to and 
decisively discredit any attempts to use his authority.  Ah, here we are."

The group looked about the chamber carefully.  Anal-Retentive Archive 
Kid was almost immediately disappointed.  It was a large complex full of 
all sorts of incredible decorations and architecture that would no doubt 
be of vast archaeological importance, but which was nevertheless not the 
type of style he was expecting.  So when Retcon Lad looked at him and 
asked, "Well?" ARAK replied, "I don't think there'll be a magic wishing 
lamp here, but we'd better check anyway."

"Hey, check this out," said Twitter.  She was kneeling beside a wall 
examining the markings on the wall.  They were more of a decorative 
pattern than any sort of hieroglyph, but by touching them she had 
discovered that they had started to glow a pale blue.  That glow now 
spread to the other markings about the place, and soon the chambers had 
been lit up, showing that if anything they were bigger than they had at 
first seemed.

"Ooo.  Sparkly," said Retcon Lad, facetiously ripping off someone else's 
catch-phrase.  Then in a normal voice he added, "Let's be careful about 
this.  Is there any indication of what we're after?"

"Over here," said Fourth Wall Lass.  She had made her way to the metal 
door into another room.  She opened it, and inside the net.heroes could 
see a trio of large metal cylinders, about the size of scuba tanks, 
which were covered by a complex network of metal pipes and nozzles.

The Bicycle Liberation Front looked at the metal things.  "Those don't 
look like genie lamps to me," said Twitter.

"They feel magical," said Lenny.  "But they don't seem to have any 
spirits bound to them or imprisoned within them."

"So what are they?" asked the Net.Elementalist.

"Some type of thingummy," speculated Retcon Lad.

"They're artifacts," said Fourth Wall Lass with a slightly distracted 
tone of voice as she tried to decipher some minimal and truly arcane 
narrative descriptions.  She frowned.  "They were created by...  Who's 

"Url.za?" said Anal-retentive Archive, surprised.  "Url.za and Mish.ram 
were two brothers from, oh, millennia ago.  They were 
sorcerer-artificers who where at war with each other, and built all 
sorts of doomsday weapons."

"Doomsday weapons?" repeated Twitter.

"Those two were really big on doomsday weapons," said ARAK as he looked 
at the items with a mixture of interest and disquiet.  "Um.  Crap.  I'd 
been kind of hoping that since there haven't been any new issues of 
_Digital JUMP_ in almost half a decade that the Dominaria parody that 
Andrew Perron had been threatening to do was dead in the water, and we 
wouldn't have to worry about any of Url.za and Mish.ram's little toys 
cropping up."  He began leafing through the Junior Word.chuck's 
Guidebook, then comparing the symbols on the cylinders with what he 
found in the book.  "Hurm."

"Good news or bad news?" asked Lenny.

"That depends.  I don't think these are storage containers, so we don't 
have to worry about them having gone rusty over the last few thousand 
years and be at risk of rupturing and spilling out anything nasty.  On 
the other hand, I think they're alchemical generators that synthesise 
and spray out large quantities of chlorine trifluoride."

Fourth Wall Lass, the Net.Elementalist and Retcon Lad all whistled. 
Playing a wide range of RPGs meant that gamers sometimes picked up the 
most arcane pieces of trivia about kewl new ways to deal out damage to 
things.  So when Twitter asked, "What?" the Net.Elementalist answered, 
"It's a highly toxic and reactive chemical.  At one stage it was used in 
liquid rocket fuels.  Spill it on the ground and you can literally set 
concrete on fire.  Nasty stuff."

"Burn everything in sight, and produce clouds of hydrofluoric acid as a 
by-product," agreed ARAK.  He closed the book.  "Forget it guys.  Unless 
FaWL thinks there's anything else here that's worth our attention, then 
I say we get out of here, have Netty seal up the entrance behind us 
until we can call in the military and have them take possession of these 
things as a specialised case of unexploded ordinance."

They left the room and closed the door behind them.  The 
Net.Elementalist summoned a small but intensely hot flame to one 
fingertip and used it to inscribe the warning 'chemical hazard' on the 
metal door.  Possibly that was what set off the attack by the sentry robot.

A gigantic figure that looked like it was merely a decorative telamon 
column fashioned from time tarnished metal suddenly lurched to life and 
tried to pound the heroes.  Twitter was instantly running around its 
legs and feet, hitting it and trying to find a weak spot.  Retcon Lad 
yelled, "Destroy that thing before it sets of Url.za's bombs!"

The Net.Elementalist was about to summon up an even bigger jet of flame 
to blast the giant, but Fourth Wall Lass got the decisive strike in 
first by opening a gap in the fourth wall over its head and sliding it 
down around its neck before closing it.  The head of the sentry was 
sliced off and disappeared into the extra-dimensional space on the other 
side of the fourth wall.

It wobbled for a second, and Fourth Wall Lass wondered if she would have 
to slice all its limbs off before it would be completely incapacitated. 
  Then it fell to its knees before collapsing onto the floor.  "Huh.  I 
guess it was built anthropomorphic enough to actually have its brain 
stored in its head," she said.  Then she opened the fourth wall again 
and let the head fall unceremoniously onto the heap with a jarring thud.

"Are there any more guardians?" asked Lenny as they stared around at the 
other decorative figures that lined the walls.

Fourth Wall Lass's eyes narrowed as she scanned the narrative captions 
for indications of more danger.  "No.  But an Al-Qaeda Amerika squad is 
about to attack us in three seconds from now."

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

Back in Net.ropolis --

A secret meeting place --

<<This is a sad day.  For the world has lost a great hero.  A great 
gorilla.  A great friend."  The Ultimate Savior paused after saying that 
wiping a tear from his eye.  "His death will not be *unavenged*.  His 
killer will be brought to justice.  Yes.  We know who he is.  He's a 
former Coastal City crime boss and enemy of the LNH.  A criminal 
mastermind.  His name is Mr. Nasty.  And not only has he killed the 
Gothic Gorilla, he also killed another dear friend of mine.  My friend 
the Very-Disturbed-Scary-Creature Man.  And now he's posing as my 
friend.  But not for long.  It's over Mr. Nasty.  I'm going to hunt you 
down and bring you to...>>  A plastic rat interrupted the TV's broadcast 
when it flew right into the TV set smashing right through it.

"Lying.  Murderer.  Going to feel pain.  A whole multiverse of bone 
breaking fraggin'."  The Very-Disturbed-Scary-Creature Man crackled his 
knuckles.  "Going to find him and make him..."

"Easy there VDSCM," said Fearless Leader trying to calm the Creepy 
Crusader down.  "This is what he wants you to do.  You need to stick to 
the plan and..."

"The hell with the plan.  Been waiting too long to do what needs to be 
done!  Get out of my way!"

Fearless Leader shook his head.  "Think!  Just stop and think!  He'll 
tear you apart!  He's way more powerful than you!  I know you want 
revenge -- but you can't take him on yourself!  The Gorilla and Savior 
would have wanted you to stick to the plan.  You can save the world and 
then get revenge.  Or you can be another dead body.  They'd have wanted 
you to wait."

"You don't know that.  You don't know anything."

"Just a few more days.  A few more days."

"Fine.  Give you three.  And after three?" 
Very-Disturbed-Scary-Creature Man picked up a small shot glass and 
crushed it in his hand until it was just a bunch of broken glass and 
blood.  "He's mine."  He smiled a very disturbed angry smile.

"Fair Enough."

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

The White House --

President Hexadecimal Luthor watched his big TV screen and shook his 
head.  What was that idiot doing, he thought as he watched Ultimate 
Savior's speech.  Why was he announcing to the whole entire world that 
Mr. Nasty was back in action?  Hex clicked the TV off.

He was starting to lose control over them.  Irony Man had threatened his 
life.  wReamicus Maximus had been using Catalyst Lass to try and steal 
from him.  And he was sure the others were plotting against him too.  If 
only he could have them all killed.  Hex sighed to himself.  But he 
still needed them for now.  After Beige Midnight was done he could wipe 
them all out.  But not now.

He had so much to do.  Needed to prepare himself for his state dinner 
with the world leaders.  Try to find some way to "convince" them to sign 
his Freedom Chip Free Trade Agreement.  Hah.

Hex's cell phone started to play Ringo Starr's 'You're Sixteen'.  Hex 
answered it.

"What?  You have?  You're serious!  Ebay?  Very well.  Trace the address 
of the seller and send it to me."

Hex clicked off his phone and smiled.  This might not be such a bad day 
after all.  In fact this might be the best day ever.

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

A Freedom Chip Plant for Stork International --

The door crashed open.  A couple of men in old time gangster suits burst 
into the Plant Manager's office.

The Plant Manager stood up from his chair and picked up the phone. 
"What the -- I'm calling the..."

"Relax.  Mr. Stork sent us.  We've got some new system software for the 
Freedom Chips."  The gangster looking fellow dug out a flash drive from 
his pocket and held it up.  "Need to halt production of the old ones and 
put this in all of the new ones.  Comprende?"

"I'm sorry," said the Plant Manager shaking his head, "But I'll need to 
confirm this with Mr. Stork."  The Plant Manger began to punch some 
buttons on his phone, but before he could finish one of the gangster 
looking fellows ripped the phone cord out of the phone.

"No need for that.  Got a line to Mr. Stork right on my iTie."  The 
gangster type fellow pointed to his tie and touched it slightly.  A 
picture manifested itself right on the tie.  It was Toony Stork wearing 
sunglasses and sipping a Pina Colada.

<<What?  What do you want?  I'm busy here!>>

"Sorry, boss.  This guy here."  The gangster type fellow gestured 
towards the Plant Manager.  "He don't want to put the new system 
software into the Freedom Chips."

<<What?  Is this true?  I need that new system software in *now*!  If 
you can't get the job done, there are plenty of people who can do your 
job *better*!>>

"Wait!  I wasn't -- I just wasn't sure if these people you sent -- I 
mean -- this all just a misunderstanding.  A Misunderstanding!  I'm 
right on this!  I was just going to -- we'll get the new system software 
on the chips today, Mr. Stork.  Promise!"

<<Good.  Anything else -- or can I get back to my *important* 
business?>> Toony Stork said as a pair of feminine hands began rubbing 
his shoulders.

"Nah, boss.  That's it.  Later."  The gangster type fellow clicked his 
iTie and the picture disappeared.

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

Spoono's Greasy Spoon Cafe --

Tara Shreds (The Ripping Dancer) sat at a table sipping a cup of coffee. 
  On the other side of her was the hero and LNH'r Cannon Fodder 
disguised as a Heavy Metal fan.

"Doing okay?" said Cannon Fodder in a concerned voice.

"As fine as can be," said Tara as she dug through her purse and pulled 
out a notebook.  She handed the notebook to Cannon Fodder.

Cannon Fodder gave an appreciative nod and took the notebook.  "There 
anyway I could convince you to come back to safety?"

Tara shook her head.  "Sorry."

"Thought I'd give it a shot.  Okay.  Here's something you should 
probably know.  The Big Battle's going to happen 4-16.  That will be the 
day that Hex and his pals sign some F-Chip Agreement with World Leaders. 
  It's going to be out in public view.  At the D.C. National Mall area."

"Won't there be a lot of innocent bystanders?"

"Yeah.  Well, I think Kirby and Occult will do something to whisk them 
to safety.  I guess."  Cannon Fodder shrugged his hands.

"Manga Man's going to be there?"

"Yeah.  Think so."

"I see.  Well, thanks for filling me in."

"Sure.  No prob."

"How's -- umm Felix?"

"Felix?  Oh -- you mean, FL?  Well, you know.  He's always super serious 
and grim and stuff.  Like he's always carrying the weight of the world 
on his shoulders and stuff."

Tara gave a small laugh at that.

"Guess he's fine.  Seems like he always is.  I guess."

Tara with a sad expression on her face said, "That's good.  I mean -- 
could you -- could you tell him...?"

"Tell him what?"

Tara shook her head.  "No.  Nothing.  Sorry.  Just give my love to -- to 
the Resistance.  Okay?"

Cannon Fodder nodded.  "Sure.  Will do."

                      **** <<--BM-->> ****

End of Part I

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