LNH/HCC: System Corrupters #27
robrogers72 at gmail.com
Sun Sep 18 17:44:45 PDT 2011
[Cover shows a man in a red cape staring at the bull's
head mask in his hands. All around him unwind the walls
and twisting passages of a labyrinth].
System Corruptors #27
By Rob Rogers
Let's cut to the chase.
You want to know why we exist. Why we bother.
Why we continue to fight, and to make our plans, when so few
of them seem to work. Why we continue to go up against the
Legion of Net.Heroes, when they always win, and why we do it
in Net.ropolis, when it's their backyard?
You ask because you've seen the perp walks on TV --
some smug county prosecutor hauling Wardriver or The
Invisible Hand before the cameras, their faces purple
with bruises and scarred by whatever scheme has just
blown up in their faces.
And you've said -- even if it was just to yourself --
that if you could do what they did, you wouldn't bother
with wrenching the city dam in half, or turning every trader
in the Net.ropolis stock exchange into a gorilla. You'd
steal something quietly, or you'd join the Legion and fight
crimes instead of committing them. Or you'd just sit on
your ass and tell no one about your powers, only using them
every now and then to lift up a woman's skirt, or send a
particularly irritating bike messenger over his handle bars.
But suppose for a moment that you were one of those
people -- as it says on the LNH recruitment posters -- whom
"fate has blessed with abilities beyond those of your
friends and neighbors."
Nothing too powerful; nothing like flight or
invulnerability that would let you set up as a super-hero on
your own, but something that might work well if you were
part of a group. Maybe you have the power to make everyone
and everything around you a little more resilient, so that
it's harder for them to get hurt. Or maybe you can put your
hand on a package and say exactly where it's been without
having to bother with the tracking slip.
Or maybe you have a knack for always knowing the best
way to get in and out of a building, or a city, or a
situation. The line you choose at the supermarket or the
bank is always the one that moves fastest. You've never
been stuck in traffic. And your little sister cried
herself to sleep for weeks because her hamster never did
find its way out of the wooden maze you built.
Maybe the guys on your football team started calling
you "the Minotaur" because of this, even though the
Minotaur of legend never found his way out of the labyrinth
-- that was Theseus -- and your high school girlfriend said
you looked more like River Phoenix than some guy with the
head of a bull. But the name stuck, and it followed you
all the way from your hometown to Net.ropolis on the day
you went for your audition.
Because that's what you really wanted. You'd grown up
reading the LNH comic books, watching the anime -- your
favorite was "Dvandom Force Go!" -- even eating the cereal.
You'd made it to the second-to-last level of the SuperNES
game playing as the Ultimate Ninja. You wanted to be one
of the Legion, one of the heroes. And you bought into the
idea of what that meant, that someone like you whose power
had always made his family and his friends and even his
girlfriend just a little uncomfortable wasn't a freak, but
a hero in the making, someone who had a responsibility to
use his ability to help others.
So you walked the six blocks from the bus station to
Legion headquarters and kept warm in the all-night bagel
shop across the street, waiting for the lobby to open --
and when it did, you stood in line with the rest of them
and filled out all the right forms and said all the right
things, and so you were just as shocked as everyone else
when you were told there was no need at the moment for your
You didn't have a Plan B, or a place to stay, or a
ticket home, or even the money to come up with a ticket.
While everyone else you knew had been spending the last
year applying to colleges and angling for scholarships,
you'd been meeting with costume designers and rehearsing
what you'd say to Catalyst Lass when you finally met her.
You're staring at the cinder-block wall of the YMCA
on Scavenger Avenue, wondering why your 'ability' picked
today of all days to give out on you -- because you sure as
hell can't see a way out of this situation -- when you
see a flier for the Action League, and you reach out and
grab one of those little perforated strips of paper at the
bottom like it's a lifeline. And it is.
The Action League isn't the LNH. You're always
running down bank robbers and bagmen instead of guys in
costume. But you don't care, because you discover that
you're better in a fight than you thought, and you like
what you're doing, and surely someone from the Legion
has to notice? And you get along with the other members
of the League, even if one of them has blades where his
thumbs ought to be and another doesn't seem to have
anything special about him except that he's big, God-awful
big, and that he's really good at hurting people.
You like the work and you like the company and you
don't have a degree in law enforcement, after all, so it
takes you a couple of weeks to put together that all of
the guys you're bringing down are members of the same
gang. And it's a few more weeks before you realize that
that gang has its rivals in the city, and that you and
your friends work for one of them, that the "Action
League" is really an outfit put together by someone
called the Waffle Queen to recruit potential enforcers.
Which is what you are.
So you try to get out of it. You didn't come to
Net.ropolis, you didn't leave your little sister at
home and break up with your girlfriend and put yourself
in harm's way because you wanted to run errands for the
mob. And even though your boss, a guy who you suspect
could probably have you rubbed out if he wanted, has very
kindly taken the time to point out that you have been
responsible for taking more bad characters off the street
in the last month than the LNH has -- and that several
neighborhoods are safer than they were because of you and
your friends -- you're ready to walk away.
And then there's a fight, and Kevin -- the one you
thought of as the big guy who's good at hurting people,
who also happens to have a pretty wife and a great sense
of humor and who would lend you the shirt off his back
if he thought it would help -- gets shot by Master
Blaster. You visit Kevin in the hospital, his face gray
and his skin smelling like antiseptic and his pretty
wife alternately screaming at you for not being there and
crying into your shoulder.
It's at that moment that you see the LNH for what it
really is: a group of people who fight when they have to in
order to protect each other and to maintain control over a
particular territory. There's a word for groups like that.
That word is "gang."
And when someone from another gang -- not the police,
not the Army, just another street gang, no better than yours
-- when somebody from their gang puts somebody from yours, a
guy you've come to think of as family, into the hospital,
then there are certain steps a man needs to take.
You make arrangements with the part of your
organization that controls Mutant Town, and they agree to
give you and the other members of the League free reign
over three alleys off Mistlock Way -- three curving,
twisting switchbacks, the kind of place where a super-hero
who isn't intimately familiar with the neighborhood could
When the first patrol appears, day-glo costumes and
fresh young faces on what is probably their first
assignment outside of Legion headquarters, you and your
friends are waiting for them at the center of your
maze, and you discover a savagery within you that you
never dreamed was there...
Kevin tells you to lay low for a while after that.
But the organization has taken notice, now, and they
want to know if you have any other ideas. It turns out
you do. It turns out that the old Financial Trust
Building, where Kevin had worked as a security guard
before the League recruited him, is one of the largest
secure repositories for bearer bonds in the Tri-State area.
They've changed things since he worked there, Kevin
tells you. In his day, everyone worked at an open desk.
Now it's all cubicles, floor after floor, grey felt walls
stretching from colorless carpet to the ceiling.
Make a few changes -- shift a wall here, create a blind
alley there -- and the whole thing becomes a perfect maze,
the kind that allows your team to slip in and out, bonds in
hand, while the police and the LNH are wandering around,
hopelessly lost, just a few feet away.
You net nearly $7 million on that job, and now your
boss is clapping you on the shoulder -- only he isn't
your boss any more, not really, and Kevin's wife just
about faints when she sees the check you give her, and
your sister gets a scholarship to attend the private
university of her dreams, though she never knows the
Now even your former boss is telling you to take it
easy for a while, but you don't want to. You want the LNH
to come looking for you. You want it so badly that you
agree to wear the red cape and the bull's head mask you said
was ridiculous when you were first invited to join the
You've had a plan to trap the LNH simmering in your
mind for months, but you've kept it on the shelf because
there's no money angle: revenge brings you respect, and
it's satisfying as hell, but it doesn't pay the bills.
Then you learn through an especially talkative woman
at your gym that three researchers working on something
called a biometric cloak -- a nanotechnological gimcrack
that effectively makes its user invisible to detection by
electronic surveillance methods -- will be attending a
conference in Net.ropolis.
What you're considering now qualifies as kidnapping,
industrial espionage, possibly even treason; the government
considers the device to be a potential threat to national
security, as evidenced by the details they've posted around
the convention center and its hotels. This is real crime,
real super-villainy; you can't justify this as anything that
will make society better, or provide for the needs of your
family or Kevin or Kevin's wife (and the need to provide for
Kevin's wife has become more acute in recent weeks, as your
relationship with her has become more interesting).
You know that you are about to cross a line that cannot
ever be un-crossed. And yet you also know that you will
never be able to convince Master Blaster and the other big
guns of the LNH to come after you simply by robbing banks.
The convention center is in the middle of downtown --
there's no chance of bottling anyone up in a remote alley
this time -- so you propose a plan to reconfigure the city's
sewer system, something that will prevent any flying heroes
from avoiding your maze.
But re-routing the sewer requires more in terms of
manpower and resources than you have at your disposal, which
is how you wind up on the 57th floor of one of the tallest
skyscrapers in Net.ropolis, in the executive office of the
You never see her face -- only her long, enameled
fingers, zebra-striped by the shadows from her blinds --
and after you've made your pitch, she keeps you standing
in front of her desk for a long time.
And while you're staring at your reflection in the
black volcanic glass of her desktop you think about what
she wants you to be thinking about, which is that even if
everything goes exactly according to your plan, you are
going to end up owing her organization more than you can
expect to make on this job, or the next three jobs.
You don't want to think about what will happen if
things don't go according to plan. If you were going to
walk away, to reconsider, the time to do it is...
And then she leans forward, and with something that
looks like a little round waffle on the end of a fork
she stamps your request: APPROVED.
Two days later two of her people in mustard-colored
blazers show up in front of your apartment, and though they
are very deferential and say, over and over, that they are
only on site to implement your plan, both you and they
understand perfectly who is in charge, and it is not you.
And you don't care.
Because twenty-four hours later your crew -- people
Kevin recommended -- emerge from the earth like fiddler
crabs and pull the scientists, their research and the only
working prototype of their device into the earth.
The sky fills with helicopters and caped heroes, and
the ground vibrates with sirens and you sweat beneath your
ridiculous bull's mask, your hands clenched around the
$60,000 vibro-ax that the Waffle Queen's people insisted you
carry and wait for the inevitable to happen.
They don't play by the rules. The Ultimate Ninja
slices through your carefully-constructed walls. Irony
Man disables your electronic traps (though the mechanical
ones work just fine, and you have the satisfaction of
seeing the armored hero squirm beneath a spring-loaded crush
trap like a wriggling rat). And Catalyst Lass -- what,
besides the obvious, did you ever see in her, anyway? --
does something to Kevin's men so that they turn against him,
leaving the southern portion of your maze without defenders.
And you don't mind. Because they're here. The A
squad. The cream of the Legion of Net.Heroes has arrived on
your doorstep. And even if you can no longer quite remember
how Kevin looked in the hospital -- even if, though you
would never admit it, even to yourself, it might be
convenient if Kevin were to go away for a while -- having
the LNH here is the opportunity you've been waiting for your
entire life, and you have no intention of wasting it.
One of the hostages begins prattling on again about
something -- you'd have thought the bull's head and the
vibrating ax would have dissuaded most people from trying
to negotiate with you, but he is an engineer -- and you
growl at him, not wanting to distract yourself from looking
for the Ultimate Ninja, who has disappeared from your
surveillance network. That's not a problem; you don't
need to be able to see your foe to defeat him, after all,
but it would help to know where he is...
... and then you see what you've been waiting for.
So arrogant that he doesn't even bother to seek cover
as he bulldozes his way into your inner sanctum, his twin
ray guns or energy pistols or whatever they are knocking
two of your new hires, Jeremy and Evans, through the nearest
walls (you told them to apply for the supplemental health
insurance, and did they listen? No. But you can be sure
one or both of them will have hired a personal injury lawyer
Master Blaster stands there, smirking, saying something
that you assume he believes to be clever, despite the fact
that his ears, like yours, must surely be ringing from the
echo of his gunfire in the tiny chamber...
...and what you feel at that moment isn't fear of the
...or anger at what he did to your former friend...
...or resentment at the LNH for ruining your life...
...or recognition that if the Legion doesn't destroy you
in the next 30 seconds, the Waffle Queen's people surely
What you feel is bloodlust, pure and simple, and perhaps
curiosity to see what the ax in your hands will do when it
bites into the armor of the man standing in front of you.
And just when it finally occurs to you to wonder why
Master Blaster is standing there -- just standing there! --
you feel the rush of air behind you, and in that instant
you know that the next thing you will feel is the sensation
of the Ultimate Ninja's foot shattering your jaw.
The last thing you remember before the room fades to
purple is that you and your sister used exactly the same
strategy to take down the final boss in the LNH video game,
so many summers ago.
Your sister visits you in prison. No one else does,
not Kevin or his wife, which tells you all you needed to
know about the future of that relationship. She doesn't
say anything during the visit, though you ask her about
school and her experiments and that boy you heard she was
What you expect, while she stands there with one hand
on the glass partition between the two of you, what you
hope, is that she will shake her head and roll her eyes and
say "A bull's head? Really? Really?"
You've forgotten that she's in college, now.
"The Minotaur was a creature of royal blood, with the
power of a god in his veins," your sister says. "No one
alive knew the passageways of the Labyrinth better than he.
"So why did he never leave?" she asks.
And that is the last you see of her.
You want to tell her not to worry about prison -- it's
simply another maze after all, and you've always been good
at finding the best way out of any situation. After three
weeks, when the damage to your jaw has finally begun to
heal, you hear through the prison grapevine that something
has happened to the Waffle Queen, and you feel as though you
can breathe again: you are free in a way you had not dreamed
would ever be possible again.
You can leave the city, not for home, but perhaps
for someplace better. Sao Paolo. Or Prague. Or Crete.
You've heard wonderful things about Crete.
And then, two nights before you are about to execute
your plan of escape, you hear someone in the yard talking
about how glad they are to be in a state prison, rather
than in the holding facility beneath Legion of Net.Heroes
"It's like a maze down there," they say...
...and though you try to ignore the comment, the
thought that the LNH could be trapped in a maze of their
own making, that you could turn their very building
against them, that your last proposal very nearly worked,
except for a few minor structural defects...
...all of that is a record that plays day and night
in your brain, until without thinking of it at all,
you have begun to plan...
Catalyst Lass created by Elisabeth Reba.
Irony Man created by Doug Moran.
Master Blaster created by Robert Ramirez.
Ultimate Ninja created by wReam.
All other characters created by and (c) the author.
"It is by its promise of a sense of power that evil
often attracts the weak."
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