HCC/LNHY/LNH/LNH20/ACRA: Looniverse Y #10 (HCC27)

Saxon Brenton saxonbrenton at hotmail.com
Sun Feb 26 03:47:39 PST 2012

[HCC/LNHY/LNH/LNH20/ACRA] Looniverse Y #10  (HCC27)
                          _____        _____
                          \    \      /    /
                           \    \    /    /
                            \    \  /    /
                             \    \/    /
                              \        /
                               \      /
   L      O      O      N      I      V      E      R      S      E
                               |     |
                               |     |
                             N U M B E R
                                T E N
          'They Keep Saying That.  I Don't Think It Works The 
                       Way They Think It Does'
A story of poly-continuity, for the 27th High Concept Challenge
written by and copyright 2012 Saxon Brenton
Acraphobe content warning: Contains blasphemy
[Cover shows some random guy pointing at the reader and announcing in 
a stern voice:  "This issue of _Looniverse Y_ *DOES NOT* contain an 
appearance by Kid Enthusiastic Y!"]
     "It's been cut," said Karen Manx, in the same flat tone of hostility
and disbelief that you'd use to announce that someone had been smoking 
while standing beside the petrol bowser at a gas station.
     Carl Hernandez could see what she was talking about, but he wasn't 
immediately sure as to why it was so important.  The reporter was 
standing slightly behind the architect, and looking over her shoulder he 
could see the cable running down the wall of the recessed cavity.  The 
cable was thick - maybe two inches across - and had been severed down 
low, just above the point where it passed through the floor.  With an 
angle grinder, from the looks of the charred marks on the wall that 
extended either side of the cut.
     Karen stepped back and took out her mobile phone, in the process 
giving Carl a better view of the damaged 'lightning rod'.  It wasn't a 
real lightning rod, of course.  Not in the sense of something that 
conducted actual *lightning*.  For one thing those were situated on the 
outside of the state's Capitol building so as to keep the electrical 
discharge from starting fires.  The other cables, which acted as 
'lightning rods' of sorts for more exotic energies, were arranged 
throughout the body of the building as needed.
     Carl kneeled down to get a closer look.  Behind him he could hear 
Ms Manx on her phone, "Bergston?  Hi.  Manx here.  Look, I'm over at the 
Capitol, and I've just found one of the BM-cables has been cut.  Can you 
double check to see if there's any repair work scheduled for today?  
Yeah, I'm up on the third floor.  The location code is..." she checked 
a label inside the recess, "South-3E.
     Carl paid half his attention to this exchange, but was more 
interested in the cable.  It may not be meant to conduct electricity, 
but nevertheless when he gingerly reached out to touch it he deliberately
tapped it with the back of his finger, just in case there was a discharge
that would cause muscle spasms.  He didn't want his hands locking onto 
it in a death grip or anything...
     "...Nothing?  Right then.  It may be impromptu repairs, but it 
looks like sabotage to me.  I'm going to do a check on the others.  Can 
you ring security and building maintenance and get them up here?  Okay, 
thanks."  As Manx rang off she glanced at Hernandez.  "I don't think 
you want to touch those."
     "It's still warm," he reported, feeling the edge of the cut care-
fully to avoid any sharp edges.  "So it wasn't cut all that long ago.  
You said these non-lightning lightning rods were made of more exotic 
materials than copper.  What would this one be?"
     "Not exotic enough to still be warm more than five minutes," she 
said grimly.  "It's just metal.  Mainly steel cabling braided with 
strands of an alloy of copper, silver, manganese and gold."
     Hernandez whistled.  "Pretty expensive stuff," he said, standing up.
     Manx looked at him with sardonic amusement.  "Yes, but you already 
knew that.  You *did* ask how the city planners could justify such 
expense lightning rods in the civic buildings."
     "I did indeed," he agreed, taking the rebuke with good grace.  
"So, what next?"
     "Come on," she said, leading the reporter along the corridor.  "I 
want to do a quick check of the cables and have a verbal report ready 
for when the repairmen get here."
     "I think I'm missing something here," said Hernandez.  "Obviously 
security is an issue, but what's the hurry on checking for more cuts?"
     "Different types of lightning rods protect from different things, 
and some of them are more common than others," Manx explained.  "Honest-
to-goodness lightning lightning rods are only really important during 
thunder storms.  There are others, like the crysmoid fibre-optic lines, 
that only come into play when they need to siphon off the death rays of 
supervillains, mad scientists and invading aliens...  Ah, this one's 
been cut too," she said, pulling open the door to another recessed space.
     Inside Hernandez could see what looked like a fibre optic strand a
approximately the thickness of a finger.  Where the edges to the cut were,
the cable looked like it had shattered, leaving a pile of crystal grains 
about the same size as salt.
     Karen Manx did a quick examination of the cut, plus a glance around 
the recess for any other clues before moving on.  "As I was about to say, 
this type of cable was especially developed from a lattice of artificial 
diamond to siphon away death rays.  There are temporary storage batteries 
in the basement which are used hold the energy until they can be safely 
discharged afterwards."  She stood up and began to move off down the 
corridor again.  "Of course, those batteries can be overloaded, but in 
that case they'll have bought people enough time to evacuate the 
building.  Okay, here's the second of the BM cables," she added as they 
approached another door.
     "Sorry, what?  BM?"
     "Ah, sorry.  Jargon.  Black magic," Manx explained as she opened 
the door to a third cavity, and swore again.
     "Black magic?  Is that really that much of a threat?"
     "You'd better believe it," she said emphatically.  "Way more common 
than hunderstorms or alien invasions."
     Carl was having trouble wrapping his head around that idea.  He 
pulled to a halt in the middle of the corridor.  "Hold on.  So... we're 
talking about groups of sorcerers getting together and regularly 
throwing magical spells at the state Capitol?" he asked.  He didn't 
voice the mental image he had of them wearing hooded robes and standing 
around a pentagram inscribed on the floor in blood.  
     Ms Manx looked at him, and said carefully, "No, although there 
might be a small number of those adding to the...  Hmm.  Look, the 
lightning rod analogy isn't perfect because we're not really talking 
about electrical current, but you could probably call it the amperage... 
The total amount of energy being launched against the legislature.  
There might be a small amount of energy coming from dedicated and 
knowing groups of black magicians and satanists.  There's probably also 
a tiny amount coming random people in the street who've been 
inconvenienced by some piece of legislation and cursed the politicians 
under their breath - but frankly that's so small it would usually get 
swallowed up and lost in the normal background magical flux."
     She realised she was procrastinating, hiding behind babbled minutia.
She tried again; again with care.  "There are a whole bunch of people 
who can't tell the difference between defending themselves and attacking 
others.  That's a problem that usually gets associated with guns, but 
it applies to prayers as well."
     "Prayers," she nodded.  "In particular there's a number of psalms 
which get used to bring down what's called imprecation upon their 
perceived enemies.  Now, magical research suggests that most people 
pray for positive benefit to something, but there are some who can't 
grasp the idea that a magical attack counts as black magic.  And then 
there's a minority within that minority who are hardcore dominionists, 
who think that democracy shouldn't just be harnessed to further their 
own sectarian agenda, but actively hate democracy as a concept and make 
it a point of pride to launch prayer attacks at it.  At its places, its 
participants, and ideas.  And that's where most of the power being 
guarded against comes from.  Even a fraction of a fraction can generate 
a lot of power when its numbers are in the few tens of thousands."
     "So we're talking about black magic assaults by christians on 
democracy," he asked in clarification.
     "In this country, mainly christians," she agreed.  "Ame.rec.a is a 
mainly christian population, after all.  But there are also muslim and 
jewish sects that think along the same lines, and they contribute too." 
She looked at him.  "Sorry, this is getting weirder than you expected, 
isn't it?"
     "Well, yeah."
     "Understandable.  But look, if I'm right, then we're currently at 
the pointy end of one of those black magic assaults, and we're in great 
danger.  When we get through this I'll happily show you all the magical 
research that the Martyrs of Hawksmoor have accumulated, and the way 
that this affects the policies of civic architects.  But first  I've got 
a few more cables to check before security gets here.  You don't have to 
be come."
     "What, and leave just as things get interesting?  What sort of 
journalist would do that?"
     Manx grinned.  "Thought you'd say that.  Come on."
     They continued down the corridor towards an intersection.  
Hernandez pulled her up.  "Wait," he whispered.  "Listen."
     "What is it?"
     "That vacuum cleaner up ahead."
     "Yeah, it's noisy."
     "Very noisy.  It's covering the sound of a power tool."
     Manx listened.  "Hey yeah..  Well spotted."  She took out a mirror 
from her purse.  "Let's have a quick look around the corner," she said, 
and angled the mirror to get a view of the next corridor.
     "Two 'cleaners' about twenty feet along in front of the next 
recess," she reported.  "One of them pushing the vacuum, the other 
standing about.  The recess is open, so there's probably a third person 
in there doing the cutting.  Here," she said, handing the mirror to 
Hernandez.  "Keep an eye on them while I call security."
     Carl did so.  Just as Karen was ringing off from updating the head 
of security the level of noise dropped slightly, and Carl saw the third 
man step out of the recess.  Then the vacuum cleaner was cut.  In the 
sudden quiet the resulted Karen's voice echoed around the corner, and 
Carl saw two of the interlopers pull guns.
     "Run!" said Carl.  Karen looked briefly surprised, then kicked off
her shoes and sprinted for the stairs.  Behind them gunshots fired.  
Then, with barely half a second's delay the claxon to evacuate the 
building started to ring out.  They reached the stairs, raced inside 
and down.
     Then they felt it.  A crushing sense of oppression.  A hot, 
stifling sensation that somewhere between heat prickle, the feeling of 
your ears popping as you ride down in an airplane, and that of a bad 
     Karen speeded up, now leaping down stairs three, four, even five 
steps at a time.  "Faster!" she yelled.  "They must've called in a 
prayer assault.  We've got to get as far below the third floor as 
     They didn't make it.  Just as they passed beyond the second floor 
the psychic pain spiked in a migraine.  They lost consciousness, their 
bodies stumbling and ramming into the walls of the stair well.  Carl 
inadvertently gave himself concussion in the process.
     Later that week the coroner, Dr Scon, admitted both Karen Manx and 
Carl Hernandez into the morgue.  Hernandez still had bandages on his 
head.  "Here we are then," the coroner said, and showed them the corpses.
     "Grisly," observed Hernandez.
     "Yes," agreed Scon.  The limbs of the bodies were twisted, and the 
flesh was blackened.
     "They died in agony," said Manx grimly.  "Just like anyone else 
near the cut cables on level 3.  Fortunately these three didn't get to 
cut all the cables, and didn't realise that the crysmoid lines were 
irrelevant in the case of a black magic assault.  There would have been 
more deaths if they had have gone straight for the cables they needed, 
or if we hadn't interrupted them and forced them to play their hand 
     Hernandez continued to stare at the corpses.  "Were they suicide 
attackers, do you think?"
     "We don't know yet," said Manx.  "But realistically, my guess is 
that they expected to be caught and tried as political martyrs.  I doubt 
they expected to die in their own attack, since they didn't belong to 
the ungodly and they probably thought they'd be exempt.  But like I told 
you earlier, these people really don't have a proper idea about how the 
energies they're unleashing in a prayer assault work.  They probably 
only had a few seconds to be surprised before they'd died.
Next Time:  Will Kid Enthusiastic Y actually manage to recruit some 
honest-to-badness supervillains for the System Corruptors?  Will the 
recruitment process be a bad running joke that drives the New System 
Corruptor Member Detector to drink?  Is an electronic device like the 
New System Corruptor Member Detector even capable of drinking?  Well, 
gosharoony, maybe we'll find out - Next time in Looniverse Y.
Character credits:  
     Everyone here is created by Saxon Brenton.  Given to Free For Use.
Authors notes: 
     Written as a coda for the 27th High Concept Challenge: 'The Element 
of Surprise'.  I was the adjudicator for that HCC, so this story isn't 
eligible for voting on.  Upon.  At.  With.  Whatever.
     During the contest it was asked whether 'surprise' referred to a 
planned or unplanned surprise.  To repeat my answer: At the time that 
I came up with theme for the contest I was actually thinking of the 
artificial element in the Tom Holt novel _Earth, Air, Fire And Custard_. 
Meaning that the phrase should have the widest possible interpretation.
     An explanation on the alphabet soup that's masquerading as the 
imprint description and clogging up the subject header: I was wondering 
which Legion of Net.Heroes imprint to put this in.  Thematically it 
fits well with the way that the LNHY imprint has developed, and 
ultimately that's why it's being published in an existing LNHY title.  
However the notion of the Martyrs of Hawksmoor - a group of occult 
architects working to keep dangerous energy flows from disrupting the 
city - is one I've used before (in _Legion of Net.Heroes_ Volume 2 #4-5 
'Pirates of the Subway System').  But I felt I should throw another bone 
to the new LNH20 imprint as well.  Then it occurred to me that since 
this doesn't use established characters, it could be an event that (with 
possible minor variations) would happen in all three universes.  Kind 
of like the way that historical events in Real Life are assumed to have 
happened in the back histories of almost all fictional universes unless 
the author specifically makes a point of explaining the point of 
divergence.  So the Martyrs of Hawksmoor exist as a Free For Use 
background group with parallel versions across all LNH imprints, and 
frankly given their basic concept I wouldn't be surprised if something 
similar existed in most fictional universes that include the 'urban 
fantasy' genre.
     The core notion of the story - of fanatical dominionists attacking 
democratic institutions with 'imprecating prayer' in order to advance 
their political goals of total religious governance of society - is one 
that I've been aware of for almost two decades now.  In discussion groups 
on the internet it's sometimes phrased in terms of pagans and masonic 
groups raising magical protections around civic buildings to ward off 
prayer attacks by monotheists, rather than the architects-putting-up-
-magical-lightning-rods approach used here.  But, yeah, to the extent 
that there are indeed people on both sides who believe in the efficacy 
of their rituals, and who have been organising those rituals with the 
specific intent of influencing politics, this stuff is 'real'.
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

More information about the racc mailing list