LNH/Contest: Legion of Net.Heroes Volume 2 #34

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at hotmail.com
Tue Feb 23 15:56:54 PST 2010

[LNH][Contest] Legion of Net.Heroes Volume 2 #34
Lots of chocolate, a nominal amount of hardwired aliens, but an only 
metaphorical use of swimming.
___  ___________________________
| |-|                           \  
| |-| []                        /                #34
| | | [] egion of               \       'The Divinity Thieves'
| | | []__ [] []   []  []       / (Part of High Concept Challenge #6) 
| | | [___][ \[]et.[]__[]eroes  \  
| | |      []\ ]   [ __ ]       /    written by and copyright 2010
| |-|      [] []   []  []       \           Saxon Brenton
| |-|___________________________/
| | 
| | 
| | 
| | Cover shows Occultism Kid staring with a thoughtful expression 
| | at an empty chocolate bar wrapper that he is holding.
| | 
| | 
| | 
[A Silver Age-style roster of characters in the form of a series of mug 
shots in little circles runs down the side of the title page:]
Roll call for this issue:
  o  Occultism Kid!
  o  wReamhack!
  o  Renegade Programmer!
These are just some of the super-powered do-gooders who belong to an 
organisation that thinks that running around with your underwear on 
the outside is acceptable as a fashion statement.  They are: the 
Legion of Net.Heroes!
     Two hours ago Occultism Kid knocked on the open door to the computer 
lab, then walked in without waiting for a reply.  "Hey guys.  Don't 
mind me, I'm just checking something."
     wReamhack looked up briefly from his computer screen and said, "Sure 
thing, Ocky."  Renegade Programmer mumbled something around whatever high 
sugar snack he had in his mouth and kept on typing.  Their sanguine 
acceptance of the other net.hero going about his work continued for a 
few seconds, until it became apparent that in this instance 'checking 
something' meant rummaging among the discarded candy bar wrappers 
scattered around and under Renegade Programmer's desk.
     Then Occultism Kid made a satisfied "Ah!" noise and stood up with 
a small selection of wrappers that he had just found.  He took the 
wrappers to an empty workspace and began to carefully peel them out flat 
so that he could examine their insides.  "Hmm," he went.  Then he looked 
up and asked, "wReamhack, just a quick question.  Do you know how long 
it's been since Domestic Lad cleaned this lab?"
     "Yesterday that I know of," said wReamhack, bemused.  "Uh, what are 
you looking for?"
     This made no sense, prompting Renegade Programmer to ask, "What's 
      Occultism Kid gave him an unreadable look, then said, "Up until 
sometime only a few hours ago, it was *the* most popular confectionary 
on the planet.  Now, nobody even remembers that it existed.  But," he 
held up one of the wrappers, "at least I know that it did exist.  It 
hasn't been retconned to have never been, or anything like that."
     Renegade Programmer blinked in surprise.  It would take him a few 
more seconds to consciously register what that meant, but his first 
reaction was a sense of unease.  "You're kidding."
     "Not in the slightest.  Look, just after breakfast this morning 
Multi-Tasking Man made a general announcement that all that the 
chocolate in the world had just gone missing and that the Legion was 
going to Yellow Alert.  Now it's a few hours later, the chocolate is 
still gone, but nobody can even remember that it even existed in the 
first place."
     "Huh," went Renegade Programmer.  A few taps on his keyboard later 
he said, "Yeah.  I've found the recording of the alert announcement."
     Intrigued, wReamhack tried something else.  He frowned.  "Nothing 
on Wikipedia."
     "Not quite true," said Renegade Programmer as he looked for 
himself.  "Check the logs.  There was an entry for chocolate, but it 
was deleted 45 minutes ago on the grounds that it was an obvious 
elaborate joke."
     Occultism Kid rolled his eyes in exasperation.  "They're quick. 
I'll give them that."
     "Okay, here's an entry for chocolate from the _Encyclopaedia 
Britannica_ online," said wReamhack, having moved on.
     "That's fine," replied Occultism Kid.  "Just checking, really." 
Renegade Programmer, however, was reading with the start of a scowl on 
his face.  Not so much from concentration, but as his dismay turned to 
growing anger.  There was a whole category of snack foods... a really 
big category... that had been stolen.  That bothered him very much.
     Oblivious to this, Occultism Kid continued, "Look, contact the 
various confectionary manufacturers, and see what's going on with them. 
At the very least they'll be wondering why they suddenly have so many 
staff with nothing to do."
     "And you're going to go hunting for the cause?" said wReamhack.
     "Well, yes.  Of course."
     "Good," said Renegade Programmer with an uncharacteristically grim 
tone of voice.
     One hour ago Occultism Kid had a nasty shock.
     He had quickly determined that there was no chocolate to be found 
anywhere in the Looniverse.  However there had been clear indications 
of chocolate in other universes, so he had made a quick trip across to 
Looniearth-B to acquire some in his TANDI, his magically powered 
space-time travel machine.  Both sweetened and unsweetened chocolate, 
cocoa powder, as well as cacao leaves and flowers and beans.  And of 
course before returning home he had protected most of his purchases in 
little containers bolstered with plotdevicium.  A prudent measure, 
since the unprotected slabs of chocolate had vanished the instant he 
had returned to the Looniearth-A universe.  So he now had some samples 
of chocolate and he could use these with the Law of Similarity for a 
more powerful search.
     With this basic material gathered, he turned his attention to 
collecting other substances with useful mystic symbolism.  He knew 
that chocolate was a bit like coffee in that it was produced from a 
ground bean, in this case the cacao bean of the tropical plant 
Theobroma cacao.  He wandered over to his bookshelves, and with random 
inspiration gleaned from wReamhack's earlier use of the online version 
of the reference work he took down the appropriate volume of his copy 
of the 11th edition of the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_.
     There wasn't any mention of chocolate there.
     The Legionnaire stared at the book's index, then over to where he 
had left the used candy wrappers he had picked up in the computer lab.  
They were gone.  A hasty five minutes later, after checking a botanical 
dictionary, a thesaurus of symbolism, _The Junior Word.chuck's 
Guidebook_, a telephone directory and an internet search, it was 
apparent that things had gotten worse.  Not only was there no longer 
any chocolate, nor any memory of chocolate, but in the past quarter 
hour the evidence of there having ever having been chocolate, as well 
as anything to make chocolate out of, plus the existence of chocolate 
substitutes like carob, had all gone as well.
     Merciful Net.ernity!  He had assumed that because the initial 
disappearance hadn't involved retconning, that he wouldn't have to 
worry about retconning coming into play at all.  Not a wholly 
unreasonable assumption, but like all ass-umptions it had held the 
risk of spinning around and biting him on the backside.  He'd been 
blindsided and probably lost whatever initiative he'd enjoyed.
     Occultism Kid considered his options.  He had been planning on 
going for a swim - metaphorically speaking - in the human collective 
unconscious to examine the absence created by the loss of knowledge of 
chocolate.  After that... well, wherever the clues took him, he 
supposed.  That approach didn't seem particularly feasible now.  The 
collective unconscious was very much a palimpsest, and wouldn't retain 
the details he was looking for if the events had been made to unhappen.
     But perhaps there was another option.
     Right now the Aztec fertility goddess Xochiquetzal is watching 
Occultism Kid as he screams.
     The mortal sorcerer had come to her attention when he'd begun 
mystically immersing himself in the symbolism of chocolate in 
preparation to dive into the Astral plane.  From his actions she'd 
deduced that he'd been intending to search for the iconic abstraction 
of chocolate - what the Anglos sometimes referred to as the Platonic 
idea of the thing.  If that had indeed been so then he would have had 
an arduous trip, since the realm of pure forms was far removed from 
Anahuac, the mortal world.
     Not that this had made any difference in practice.  No sooner had 
the trenchcoat wearing net.hero arrived on the Astral than he been swept 
up in a psychic riptide and dragged before the Yama Nictrama.  It looked 
to Xochiquetzal as though Occultism Kid had been half expecting 
something like this, since he had put up some resistance but not enough 
to exhaust himself, and despite being unceremoniously deposited at her 
feet he had looked about with interest.  A clever sorcerer.  But was he 
clever enough?
     And then the aliens had raped his mind in their bloody-minded quest 
for the knowledge they sought, and Occultism Kid had screamed.  Screamed 
for longer and louder than would have been possible had he merely been 
in his flesh and blood body. 
     Occultism Kid regains consciousness.  His throat feels raw and 
sore and his brain feels bruised - not something that he's used to 
feeling when he's outside his body, but otherwise a predictable 
psychosomatic effect.  He looks around again, and to the best that he 
can remember the situation hasn't changed.
     He is in what looks like a vast space but which somehow feels 
claustrophobic.  Other than that he cannot make out much, as its 
appearance seems to be mutable and keeps shifting.  The only other thing 
that he can say for certain is that he is lying/floating/drifting prone 
before a woman of native American appearance who is herself bound to a 
wooden frame.  She looks young, is dressed in pre-Columbian Aztec finery, 
and even now is still quite beautiful even though her imprisonment has 
left her looking drained and haggard.  Her psychic signature quite 
clearly indicates that she is a god - which is something that concerns 
Occultism Kid because even when you weren't dealing with an outright 
psychotic who hurts people for fun like Tezcatlipoca, it's rarely safe 
to be in the vicinity of an Aztec god.
     He sketches out a ritual greeting to the best that he is able, then 
says in the Nahuatl language, "My Lady, I am Occultism Kid of the Legion 
of Net.Heroes.  What is going on here?"
     "The situation is grave, Occultism Kid," she replies.  "I am 
Xochiquetzal, the Lady of Flower Petals.  We are being held prisoner by 
extraterrestrials calling themselves the Yama Nictrama.  They are after 
the secret of divinity."
     He moves forward to see if he can free her.  As he does so he says, 
"Er...  So far all that I know is that all the chocolate has been stolen."
     She nods.  "Yes.  They think that chocolate holds they key to their 
quest."  He looks bemused, so she explains, "They are very literal 
minded.  Do you know the meaning of the botanical name of the cacao tree?"
     "Yes.  Theobroma cacao.  'Chocolate, food of the gods'...  Oh."
     "They do not understand metaphor."
     That raises a whole new set of questions, but it did at least 
explain some things.  Xochiquetzal is a fertility goddess with a wide 
range of spheres of control - which the Aztecs called ixiptla, and which 
can be worn and swapped like garments as the occasion requires.  
Agriculture, flowers and the chocolate produced by the cacao are only 
some of her portfolios of responsibility.  Little wonder that if the 
Yama Nictrama are snatching up everything relating to chocolate that 
they would nab a god of chocolate as well!
     By now it is clear that Occultism Kid cannot free Xochiquetzal from 
the frame, nor damage it despite its mundane wooden appearance.  The 
LNHer looks around.  He cannot see the aliens, yet he can feel their 
presence.  They are all about.  Invisible?  Maybe even Lurking?  Or 
perhaps so strange that even in this lower Astral realm-of-the-mind he 
cannot perceive them?
     Apparently Xochiquetzal guesses what he is thinking, and says, 
"They are small.  Very small.  Once they were a race of flesh and blood, 
but when they ventured into space they engineered new bodies for them-
selves and engraved their consciousnesses onto specks of metallic dust."
     .oO( Metallic dust, huh? ) thinks Occultism Kid.  .oO( That might 
make them vulnerable to magnetic manipulation.  A pity we aren't in 
the material world to take advantage of that. )
     He gazes about, making the effort to *perceive* rather than 
merely *see*.  His mind interprets their presence as moving motes of 
light.  They are indeed all around, their attention only peripherally 
on the two Earthlings.  Most of their interest is elsewhere, probably 
taken up by the futile method they're using for their quest.  Thinking 
out louds he says, "They aren't going to stop taking the world apart 
until they get what they want."  A rather disturbing memory intrudes: 
just prior to diving into the Astral, when he had been collecting 
various symbols of chocolate, he had written down the chemical formulae 
for alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine, mainly to bulk out 
the components for the spell.  Those handwritten notes, and indeed the 
bits of text of the book he had copied them from, had then been erased 
with a quiet sussuration, mirroring the just-as-sudden removal of the 
chemicals themselves.  He has a horrible premonition of not just 
chocolate, or things associated with chocolate, but things associated 
with things associated with chocolate, lapsing out of existence as the 
Yama Nictrama methodically and wrong-headedly take the world to pieces 
in pursuit of their objective.
     The Legionnaire turns to Xochiquetzal and asks, "How did you get 
them to tell you about themselves?"
     "I did not.  While they were reading my mind I was reading theirs."
     "Because connections can work two ways.  Yes, of course."  He sighs.  
"This is going to hurt," he again says to himself.  There's not much 
point in asking Xochiquetzal for sympathy on this; from an Aztec deity's 
point of view humans are meant to endure the pain of making sacrifices 
to ensure the continued existence of the world.  He makes a quick 
preparation and then begins his gambit.
     "Hey Nictrama!" he yells.  A significant number of them turn their 
attention to him.  "You're going about this the wrong way..."
     And as he tries to articulate his argument, he feels the return of 
the pain - like repeated waves of ice cream headache washing through his 
skull.  As he was counting on, the Yama Nictrama don't share when they 
can take.  Or maybe they just have networked consciousnesses and don't 
see the point in anything other than direct filesharing of memories.
     Occultism Kid regains consciousness again.  His throat - or the 
Astral equivalent of his throat - doesn't feel as sore, and he wonders 
if he screamed this time.  Oh well.
     Nothing seems to have changed.  Xochiquetzal is still bound.  The 
Yama Nictrama are still present and going about their demented business.  
It seems that the aliens either weren't impressed by his attempts to 
explain what metaphor is, or just didn't understand it.  He lies still 
and uses a spell of information analysis to quickly page through the 
knowledge that he successfully absorbed from his captors, and comes to 
the conclusion that it was probably the latter.  Their current state of 
being mires then in a materialist worldview, which if nothing else 
explains their reductive attempt to find god.
     God?  No, not quite.  They already have a god in their clutches, 
after all, and with the sort of power they possess could easily scoop 
up every pantheon on Looniearth if they wanted to.  Xochiquetzal had it 
right when she said they were searching for divinity; a subtle 
     He looks at Xochiquetzal.  "My Lady, I'm going to need your help 
with this.  The Nictrama need to move up from the material world and 
even the lower Astral onto one of the spiritual planes."
     "Even one of the simplest spiritual levels," she agrees.  "Just so 
that they can see the way."
     "Yes.  Well, there's no way that either of us will be able to 
explain to them and get them to go where they need to.  They have too 
much of a blind spot.  We need to force them onto a higher plane."
     Xochiquetzal looks coolly sceptical.  "The Yama Nictrama host are 
more powerful than either of us," she points out.
     He grins.  "Back on the material plane I have some plot devices 
stockpiled and ready to be used, right next to my body."
     "Ah," she says, and returns his smile.  "Then take my mantles of 
divinity and use them to carry out your plan."
     "Uh, I'm a mortal, Lady Xochiquetzal.  I can only really wear one 
god guise at a time."
     "Bound as I am, I cannot act on my own.  If you use those plot 
devices, how many ixiptla could you assume then?"
     Occultism Kid makes a quick guestimate.  "Three or four, I suppose."
     "Take my three most powerful ixiptla, and then lead these machine 
people to where they need to go," she says.
     He nods, and concentrates.  Back in his room at the Legion of 
Net.Heroes Headquarters his body reaches out and in a teleoperated 
movement activates the plot devices sitting on the floor in front of him.  
On the Astral plane the imprisoned goddess remains bound but somehow 
passes over what looks like three capes or cloaks, which Occultism Kid 
puts on, one after the other.  Her portfolio of chocolate.  Her portfolio 
of agriculture.  Her portfolio of female fecundity.
     .oO( I'll need to make sure that MasterBlaster never hears about 
this, ) he thinks.
     Then the end comes.  The apotheosised Occultism Kid reaches out 
and scoops up the Yama Nictrama host with ease, scattered though they 
are across at least two planes of reality and tens of thousands of 
kilometres.  Then before they have time to react he drags them upwards 
to a plane of being that will be better for them.  Not necessarily 
where they want to be, but definitely where they karmically need to 
go.  Then for good measure he gives them a metaphorical wap upside the 
head with a compulsion to explore their new environment and not come 
back until they learn to behave themselves.  After that returning the 
chocolate and repairing them damage that they'd done is almost an 
     All that done he turns his attention to Xochiquetzal.  Without the 
Yama Nictrama to restrain her she easily removes herself from the frame.  
Occultism Kid returns the ixiptla.  He could simply will them back to 
her, but instead deliberately takes the time to mime taking them off 
and folding them up neatly before handing them over.  "Thank you for 
your help," he says.  She nods, and they both depart.
     Back in his room and in his own body Occultism Kid gets up from his 
lotus position and stretches.  Suddenly there is a small clapping sound, 
a bit like a gunshot, as something appears on the table before him.  A 
small pile of seed pods and a slab of what looks like chocolate, although 
it looks like it's had food colouring added to it because it's a vivid 
rust red.  Occultism Kid breaks off a small chunk and eats it, carefully 
tasting it.  It's unsweetened chocolate and therefore rather bitter, 
but it also has a smoky aftertaste, kind of musky, that he's never 
associated with chocolate before.  There is also a short note 
accompanying the pile, apparently handwritten:  'Plant these and 
cultivate them carefully.  They will prove popular.'
     And that was how a completely new type of chocolate - red chocolate - 
came into being.
=========Authors notes:
     Written for the 6th High Concept challenge: "When the Earth 
becomes infested with hardwired aliens, one Earthling and his/her 
chocolate respond by swimming."  (Why yes, it is a somewhat more-surreal-
than-normal notion for a story.  The fifth contest was a tie, and rather 
than use two separate concepts - as was done for HCC2 - this time the 
concept was a single sentence spliced together from two independently 
prepared submissions.)
     This story isn't actually eligible as a contest entry, since it's 
one of the two written by the previous winners simply to prove that the 
concept was viable.  Doubly so because the various rewrites to make it 
read as a story rather than an extended info dump have brought it in 
after the HCC6 deadline.  Trebly so because I'm the vote moderator for 
this round and will ignore any hypothetical votes for it simply because 
I can.
     The theft of both a thing and the concept of the thing is lifted 
from the Mighty God King's mini-essay 'The Thieves of Blue' in his 'Why 
I should Write Dr Strange' series.
     The Yama Nictrama are loosely based on the noocyctes from Greg 
Bear's novel _Blood Music_ - which incidentally explains/handwaves their 
cosmic levels of power: billions upon billions of tiny intelligences 
were doing so much Observing of the world that that in a funky 
Schrodingerian-technobabble way they were able to manipulate reality on a 
quantum level.  (Or at least, I think that's the handwave from the climax 
of the novel.  It's been over a decade since I read it.)
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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