NTB/LNH/Contest: Legion of Net.Heroes Volume 2 #33

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at hotmail.com
Thu Dec 31 14:58:14 PST 2009

[NTB/LNH/Contest] Legion of Net.Heroes Volume 2 #33
This issue of:
          [] egion of 
          []__ [] []   []  [] 
          [___][ \[]et.[]__[]eroes  Volume 2 #33
               []\ ]   [ __ ] 
               [] []   []  [] 
has *once again* been hijacked to present another of the 
               MISANTHROPIC TALES 
                     OF THE 
'Gathering Dust'
  starring Doubt, the Eighth Endless
  guest appearance by the Load Ranger
written by and copyright 2009 Saxon Brenton
for the fifth High Concept Challenge
     There was a man in a trenchcoat wandering among the exhibits at the 
Toulhousie Historical Mining Museum.  Kathy only managed to notice him the 
second time, and then only because she was putting some effort into looking 
for any stragglers.  "Excuse me sir, a tour is about to begin," she called.
     He looked up from the diagram he was staring at and smiled vaguely.  
"Oh, good.  I don't think I'd want to miss that."  He ambled in the 
indicated direction and Kathy had the opportunity to get a good look at him.  
He didn't have a particularly remarkable appearance.  Pale skin, almost 
chalky.  It was hard to tell the colour of his coat, probably because of the 
dust.  And after that Kathy thought no more of him; certainly not later on, 
among all the excitement of a giant robot bursting out of an old mine shaft 
to go on a rampage.
     Even before he crested the ridge the Load Ranger could hear that he 
was too late.  Actually seeing the devastation with his own eyes didn't 
improve things one whit.
     There was a giant metal creature down there - some fifteen feet tall 
by the Ranger's reckoning, approximately man shaped and as ugly as sin.  
It had grabbed one of the carriages of an eastwards bound locomotive and 
heaved it from its tracks, in the process derailing the rest of the train 
as the wrenching movement had transferred forward to the engine as well as 
back to the caboose.  Cries of panic and screams of pain could be heard, 
even at this distance and even over the sound of the giant rending apart 
the carriage with its hands as it chanted, "Destroy Railroads!"
     A bare half second's worth of startled surprise was all that the 
vigilante allowed himself before spurring Silver down the slope towards 
the scene.  As they thundered apace the Ranger grimly wondered at where 
this insanity would end.
     This wasn't the first time that he had a run-in one of these things.  
Of course, on the occasion of his previous encounter he had been lucky 
enough to have help from the cannon fire of the cavalry at Fort Muddybottom. 
(That had been a surprise, actually, since by all accounts the troops at 
Fort Muddybottom couldn't hit the side of a barn.)  But this time he was 
out here on his own, with only his wits.  Even if he had been prepared to 
shoot to kill, he doubted if his famed silver bullets would be of much use 
against an iron giant such as this!
     As the Ranger rode up the last few yards he could see that this, also, 
was a built thing.  He hadn't been entirely sure of that until now, since 
unlike the automaton at Fort Muddybottom this one was covered entirely by 
a skin of metal plates.  Moreover the other one had been more beastlike, 
moving on all fours and with a hunched back from which the smoke of its 
boiler had billowed.  This one was more human shaped, standing upright, and 
didn't seem to have a smoke stack.  Did any of these differences mean 
anything in practical terms?  Was there something here that he could use?
     The Load Ranger fired off two shots at the face of the machine, 
experimenting to see if he could attract its attention and get it to chase 
him.  If not he had brought some rope reinforced with strands of steel 
cabling to try and entangle its legs, but the Ranger had no idea what the 
machines strength was compared to the breaking strain of the rope and so 
he'd prefer to use that as a last resort.
     Luck was with him.  The mechanical monster left off from picking up 
and destroying a second carriage, instead focusing on the masked gunman and 
his horse.  The Load Ranger wheeled away, keeping just ahead of the giant 
and occasionally firing another shot at it just to keep its attention.  By 
this method he was able to lure the destructive thing away from the 
overturned train and towards the nearby mine workings.
     It took a while to lure the machine into the trap he had in mind.  
There were times when only quick reactions on the part of Silver had kept 
the two of them from being trampled, but fortunately the horse had, well, 
good horse sense.  (Ha, let Pe.cosine Bill boast about how smart his 
Wi.DOS Maker was.  The Load Ranger would bet his money on Silver any day 
of the week.)
     Closer now.  The last few yards.  The last few feet.  Was this even 
going to work, wondered the Ranger.  The machine was obviously smart enough 
to recognise a train as a target, and to chase something that was provoking 
it.  Was it smart enough to avoid treading on timbers not strong enough to 
bear its weight?
     The answer was no.  With a lumbering step the giant contraption 
stepped on the boards that covered an abandoned mine shaft, which 
obligingly gave way.  The machine fell in with a resounding clamour, and 
even though the Ranger dismounted and waited for more than half an hour to 
see whether it had survived, he heard neither hide nor hair of it.
     Bobby Dittmunds was bored with the museum.  The teenager had tried 
playing games on his cell, but the baking air seemed to have sucked away 
all his enthusiasm.  Nor was the current tour all that interesting.
     " ...the short lived period of the late 19th century when the robber 
barons sponsored teams of engineers to build the so-called steel leviathans 
- giant robots that went around attacking each others' railroads... "
     "Bobby, where are you going?" his mother hissed.
     "Going to the john, Ma."
     "We'll meet you at the canteen in half an hour."
     Bobby slouched to the public lavatories, went in, came out, then on a 
whim kept heading for the edge of the museum and when he was out of sight 
jumped the fence.  He had no set destination other than to be by himself 
in a place where he shouldn't be, so when he came to one of the many 
boarded over tunnels that honeycombed the area his reaction was, "Huh.  
Yeah, okay.  Why not?"  He set his back-to-front baseball cap at a more 
determined angle, and heedless of potential problems like cave-ins, foul 
air or lurking rattlesnakes he busted his way in.  He moved in a distance, 
allowing his eyes time to adjust to the darkness after the outside glare, 
and then by the light from the screen of his mobile phone began to explore.
     There wasn't much to see, even in the rather dim light.  He was about 
to turn back and find something else to mooch around with when he spotted 
something glowing a faint yellow.
     He moved forward and picked up what looked like a large chunk of quartz 
crystal, about the size of his forearm and regular in shape.  Bobby looked 
around.  There didn't seem to be any others.
     However, he was at a junction where a vertical shaft came down from 
above, and where a large piece of machinery had fallen down and become 
partially wedged.  There was a compartment door that was hanging open on 
the machinery.  Maybe it had been forced open and the quartz had spilt 
out?  Bobby checked inside and found no other glowing minerals, but did 
discover an upright indentation of exactly the right size and shape for 
the piece of rock.  Disappointed and bored again, Bobby muttered, "Eh, 
whatever," and put in crystal in.
     It immediately started to glow brighter and the machinery began to 
judder.  Bobby fell back on his rear end, dropping his mobile.  The 
machinery started to lift itself upwards, unfolding the legs that it had 
been crouched down on after its initial collapse down the mine.  The still 
open cover to the recess that held the crystal was torn off its hinges as 
the thing rose up into the narrow shaft, causing the sheared off metal plate 
to drop directly in front of the teenager.  Any closer and it would have 
brained him.  Bobby hastily scrabbled to grab his mobile phone, then 
hightailed it out of there.  For its part the newly reactivated steel 
leviathan was exiting the mine in the other direction.
     Up above there was muted rumbling as the leviathan roused itself.  
Only a few people were in the car park and standing close enough to hear 
this forewarning, and most of them did not notice.  As a result most of 
them were caught off guard when a great steel-plated fist punched its way 
through the timbers of the sealed off mine shaft.
     People screamed.  Parents snatched up their children and ran.  Other 
bored kids went "Cool!" and started shooting videos on their phones.
     Doubt did not move, prompting a good samaritan to assume that he was 
paralysed with fright.  He grabbed the pale man's arm and said, "Come on, 
mister!  It'll be safer over here."
     The Trenchcoater stood his ground and just *looked* at his would-be 
saviour, who for his part had been about to yell something at the stubborn 
fool, but now just went, " urk ".
     "I don't think you want to do that."
     " uh "
     "You should probably run that way," said Doubt, indicating where 
everyone else had fled.
     " urgle "
     Doubt turned his attention back to the now fully emerged giant 
automaton.  The metal monster stood silhouetted against the desert sky and 
yelled, "Where Is The Railroad!?"
     "It's gone," said Doubt.
     The steel leviathan whirled on the NTBer, as is seeing him for the 
first time.  "Where Is The Railroad!?"
     "Nobody uses the railroad anymore," repeated Doubt.  "It's gone."
     "It's dead."  He pointed over the ridge line.  "Over there."
     The giant construct looked, then turned back to the squishy one.  Who 
was no longer there.
     "The railroad is dead," called out Doubt from the crest of the hill.  
(Quantum indeterminacy.  He'd always found it useful for getting about.)
He pointed again.  "Down there."
     The leviathan strode up the hill towards where the NTBer now stood.  
"Where?" it demanded.
     "Down there.  It's overgrown, but you can still see some of the old 
     The leviathan moved down to where, if you looked carefully, you could 
indeed still see an old rail bed.  The rails themselves were long gone, 
having been recycled for scrap during the world war and leaving only 
rotting wooden sleepers to share the ballast with weeds.  Doubt followed, 
ambling after at a distance.  The leviathan looked at the rails for 
several minutes, then said, "Why?"
     Doubt shrugged and elaborated on his line.  "Times change.  You've been 
inactive for more than a hundred and thirty years.  No one uses railroads 
any more.  They use horseless carriages instead."
     "Show Me Horseless Carriages."
     Doubt waved for the machine to follow him, and then lead the way up to 
the summit of yet another hill (no teleporting this time) to where they 
would have a view of the distant interstate highway between Cal.bit.fornia 
and Neva.dir.  And if the steel leviathan had possessed inhumanly acute 
eyesight, it may have seen, on the horizon, the passage of a regularly 
scheduled and fully functioning train on transcontinental railway.  But 
Doubt was hardly going to bring that inconvenient fact to the construct's 
     "Those things," said Doubt, indicating the interstate.  "Small 
carriages with their own engines built in so they don't need horses.  
Actually, those too," he added, and pointed to some of the vehicles driving 
along the access road to the mining museum so that the machine would have 
a closer view.  "And of course, these days there are also airplanes."
     The leviathan looked into the sky where the Trenchcoater indicated, 
and spied the contrail of a jet.  "Horseless carriages with wings, so that 
they can fly," explained Doubt in a disinterested voice.
     The leviathan watched the sky for a long time.
     "Must Have Railroads," it said at last.
     "There are no more railroads."
     "Must have Railroads!" yelled the leviathan.  "Must DESTROY Railroads!"
     Doubt gave the giant machine an intense look, projecting a curdling 
sense of existential uncertainty.  "There are no more railroads," he repeated 
in a firm and deliberate voice.
     The steel leviathan trembled.  It bunched its hand into a fist, then 
with a roar of anger punched a hole in its chest, tearing out the mechanical 
equivalent of its own heart.  It toppled to the ground with enormous crash, 
the sound echoing through the canyons.
     Doubt didn't move during any of this.  Instead he watched with interest, 
and after it was over he scratched his nose.  To nobody in particular he 
said, "That went quite well, I guess."
Character Credits:
     Doubt, the Eight Endless, created by Ken Arromdee.  Used without 
permission.  To the best that I can determine he hasn't appeared in a 
story since he debuted in the _Wrath Of The Administrator_ back in 1993.  
(Although, yes, I am perfectly aware that given Doubt's abilities, I only 
*think* he hasn't made any appearances since WotA.)
Author's notes:
     Written for the fifth High Concept Challenge: the anachronoid, a 
constructed person that has been out of circulation since at least World 
War 2 and is has to come to terms with the modern age.
     Originally I planned to use one of the Helots (the automatons created 
by the Greek god Hephaestus) as the anachronoid, who would be found by an 
archaeologist.  After a bit of thought it then occurred to me to use 
Cute Anna as the archeologist, since she was an obvious fit for the role.  
Then I changed my mind about the anachronoid, and took up an idea I've had 
kicking around for a while: that the robber barons of the 19th century 
would - along with their standard misdemeanors - try to ruin their rivals  
by using giant robots to attack each others' infrastructure.  
     Then, while I was collating the list of stories published in 2009 under 
the imprints relating to the Looniverse, I realised that there had been no 
Net.Trenchcoat Brigade stories.  Now, Arthur had a Beige Countdown tie-in 
issue of _On The Deadbeat_ lying around that he has since posted, but 
nevertheless it got me thinking.  The Trenchcoaters would actually be better 
protagonists for the type of story I was planning.  Instead of a net.hero 
having a fight scene, a Net.Trenchcoater would manipulate the anachronoid's 
psychology with underhanded trickery and lies.
     On other matters, my thoughts on the Old Western characters run along 
these lines.  The modern Looniverse has a lot of superhumans, a number of 
which are throwaway parodies of extant comic book characters.  Therefore 
its plausible that it had a similar crowd of Western characters.  The Load 
Ranger is of course a counterpart to the Lone Ranger, and Pe.cosine Bill 
parallels Pecos Bill.  The mention of the army fort was originally going 
to be explicitly an _F Troop_ reference, until a bit of fact checking 
revealed that Fort Courage was in Kansas.
Saxon Brenton   University of Technology, city library, Sydney Australia
     saxon.brenton at uts.edu.au     saxonbrenton at hotmail.com
"These 'no-nonsense' solutions of yours just don't hold water in a complex 
world of jet-powered apes and time-travel." - Superman, JLA Classified #3
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