LNH: Beige Countdown #9 (4/9)
robrogers72 at gmail.com
Fri May 3 13:49:41 PDT 2013
Acts of Creation, Acts of Destruction
"Really, Merissa, you've got the wrong idea," Deja Dude
said, looking past the pink-haired girl to the bridge of the
Starship _Jefferson_ and beyond, to the vast black emptiness
of a universe that -- Merissa had assured him -- contained
nothing of any interest save the two of them.
"Oh, Deja," said the salubrious schoolgirl, the curves
of her body barely contained by her blue-and-white uniform.
"You're thinking of me in the wrong way."
"Believe me, Merissa, that is what I am trying very, very
hard _not_ to do."
She giggled, covering her mouth with one hand.
"You're thinking of me as a girl, Deja. As a woman.
And while you would certainly be desirable to any woman
-- especially in the form in which you have chosen to
represent yourself in this world -- I am a virus, with the
needs and," she added, edging closer, "the desires of a
Deja Dude backed away. "And what exactly does a
beautiful young virus want these days?" he asked.
"Silly Deja," she said, reaching forward and stroking
his jawline. "We viruses have the same... urges... as you
animate creatures -- to replicate our unique genetic code
across the widest possible spectrum. We're just a little
bit more efficient about it than you are."
"Okay," Deja Dude said, his eyes scanning the bridge.
He was fairly confident he could fly the spaceship, even
without his super-powers, but what would be the point?
Assuming he could find his way back to his own dimension
-- and that was a fairly large assumption -- there was
nothing aboard the _Jefferson_ that would enable the ship
to make that kind of trans-dimensional leap...
"It's not that I'm not flattered," said Deja Dude,
his eyes lingering for a moment on the pink fishnet
stockings of his captor, "but... why me?"
"Let's stop pretending," Merissa said, unbuttoning
the first button below her already-plunging neckline.
"You're more than just a super-hero, Deja Dude. You're
also the most prolific author the Legion of Net.Heroes
has ever had. You've created more stories for
rec.arts.comics.creative than anyone alive... and you've
been equally generous in your contributions to other
areas of the 'net..."
"How... how do you know about the newsgroups?"
Deja Dude asked, as Merissa shoved him -- gently but
firmly -- into the captain's chair.
"I told you. I'm a virus," Merissa said,
loosening another button. "I see the whole Internet for
what it really is... one long, beautiful stream of code,
the DNA for an entire ecosystem. I see the potential
for that DNA to be rewritten, with the right story --
and the help of the 'net's most powerful and generous
"You want to turn the entire Internet -- into copies
of you?" Deja Dude asked.
"I'm a voluptuous anime schoolgirl, Deja,"
Merissa said, placing one spiked heel against the armrest
of the captain's chair. "About seventy-five percent of
the Internet is already devoted to images of girls like
"I don't think there are any girls quite like you,
Merissa," Deja Dude said.
Merissa smiled. "Thank you for noticing," she said.
"But let me appeal to you as an author, as well as a man.
In your short lifetime, you've already seen the Internet
evolve... if you can call it that... from a narrative
medium to one which prizes short bursts of visual
information above all else."
She stretched, arching her back in a way Deja Dude
suspected would not have been possible for a flesh-and-
blood human being. "Within a few short years, Deja Dude,
the medium to which you have devoted so much of your life
will be the exclusive domain of re-tweeted GIFs and LOL
cats. Is that what you really want? Or are you ready to
take back the Internet in the name of the written word?"
"It's an interesting idea," Deja Dude said. "But..
and I never thought the day would come when I would be
actually saying this... in that case, what's the point of
this little striptease?"
Merissa smirked. "Consider me your muse, Deja Dude,"
she purred. "We will blend our codes together in the
time-honored tradition of your species. You will become
a god, and I will be your sacred word. Our acts of
creation will give a new birth to the online universe."
"See, this is the problem with these virus-human
relationships," Deja Dude said, pulling a handle on
the side of the captain's chair. The back of the chair
plummeted toward the floor, and Deja Dude used the
opportunity to somersault backwards out of the seat.
"You don't change over time. But we do," Deja
Dude said, pulling himself to his feet. "I'll admit
there was a time I would have considered your offer.
Or, at the very least, considered using your offer as
an excuse to get up to all kinds of nasty things up
here on the bridge while thinking of a means of escape.
"But I'm not that man any more," he said. "I
may or may not like the direction the Internet has
taken, but I accept that it's evolved -- just as I
have. I have a wife, and a son, and a teaching career.
And they're all the universe I need."
Merissa stood up. A long, pink whip appeared in
her hand, a whip which -- despite the relatively low
ceiling of the bridge -- she managed to crack.
"You want to play rough?" she said. "I can do
Deja Dude shook his head.
"You've got the wrong guy," he said. "You want to
create a new world, a whole new universe? Go round up
Dvandom, that's his bag. You want to do the whole
anime schoolgirl thing, you're probably better off with
Jaelle or Lalo. And Tom Russell has a whole series
built around kinky love stories.
"Me?" Deja Dude said, stepping forward. "I'm just
a guy who likes to write about people, and relationships.
And sometimes movie parodies. But mostly people and
relationships. And from that perspective, I've gotta
tell you, Merissa... you're just not that interesting."
Merissa's whip cracked again, close enough to make
Deja Dude yelp. Her eyes, previously a playful purple,
had hardened into hot-pink spheres of blazing fury.
"Not... that... INTERESTING?" she seethed. "Me?
The youngest officer ever to graduate from Starfleet Academy?
Who became Captain Picard's protege -- and the Tenth Doctor's
As Merissa spoke, the two science-fiction icons in
question popped into existence on the bridge -- one looking
concerned, the other amused by the situation.
"Me? The great-great-great granddaughter of Harry Potter
and Ginny Weasley -- as well as Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade?"
Merissa screeched, as Potter and Skywalker appeared beside the
other two characters. "Who is, herself, the time-traveling
ancestor of Jean Grey, and the greatest lover Edward Cullen
Deja Dude opened his mouth to speak, then closed it
quickly, as he found himself on the business ends of,
respectively, a phaser, a sonic screwdriver, a magic wand,
a lightsaber, the crackly representation of the Phoenix Force
and a sparkling, androgynous teenage vampire.
"Right," he said, cracking his knuckles. "Let's get
this over with."
"I'm Captain Continuity?" Marie asked.
"Yes," Betterman said, still leaning against the
mantelpiece as the fire sparked and crackled behind him.
With the exception of his cape and tights -- and the fact
that the rustic little living room sat inside an orbiting
asteroid -- he might have been the cover model for a
J. Crew catalogue. "I know it's a lot to take in..."
"No," Marie said. "No, no, no. Finding out that the
alien super-hero you've fantasized about for years is, in
reality, your slightly dorky co-worker? That's a lot to
take in. Finding out that everything that has ever been
and ever existed is actually the dream of some all-powerful
being from another dimension? THAT's a lot to take in.
"But being told that YOU are that all-powerful being,
that you are, moreover, a boy -- and that at any moment you
could destroy all of existence by suddenly waking up and
remembering who you are -- that, my flying friend, just
goes around the bend altogether into the realm of
Betterman raised one perfectly-sculpted eyebrow.
"I'm not sure that's a word," he said.
"Never correct me, Wiggins," Marie said.
"I'd like to try to help," Betterman said.
"Of COURSE you'd like to try to help, Betterman!"
Marie said, her self-control nearly gone, rising up off
the couch and jabbing a finger at the "B" on the hero's
"That's like your mantra. 'Hi, I'm Betterman,
and I'd like to try to help,' " she said. "You ought to
have that printed up on business cards and hand them out
to the people you've just saved from falling into the
Grand Canyon or being eaten by a giant space octopus or
... whatever it is that they're now going to have to
deal with for the rest of their lives."
"Would it be better if I didn't save them?"
Betterman asked, after waiting an extra moment to
make sure Marie had finished.
"I don't know," Marie said, sinking back into the
couch, her hands in her hair. "Why did you tell me?
Why did you have to tell me?"
Betterman took a seat at the other end of the
couch. "You'd have found out eventually," he said.
"And it probably would have come as a shock -- even
more than it is now -- and in your surprise and
confusion, you might have done something... rash."
Marie opened her mouth in protest -- then noticed
the run in her stocking, the one she'd acquired that
morning after sneaking into the headquarters of a band
of terrorists, without anything resembling a backup
strategy. Perhaps the man had a point.
"In that case," she said, "couldn't you just make
me forget? Don't you have some kind of hyper-hypnosis
powers or something?"
Betterman smiled -- a sad little half-smile.
"Hypnosis only works when someone actually wants to
be hypnotized," he said. "I was able to hypnotize Professor
Xenophobe into forgetting my secret identity -- several
times -- because he doesn't really want to believe I'm
an average person."
"And I don't really want to believe I'm Captain
Continuity," Marie said.
"You may think so, Marie," Betterman said, reaching
beneath the sofa and retrieving something that looked
like a highly-polished dinner plate. "But I know you.
Once you begin to suspect the truth about something,
you can't let it go."
"What's that?" Marie asked, eyeing the plate
The sad little smile flashed again. "Something
my father -- my biological father -- left for me,"
Betterman said. "The only thing he left for me,
in fact. The only thing that remains of my home
planet... except for me."
"What... does it do?" Marie asked, as Betterman's
fingers stroked the edges of the circle, like a musician
playing the glass armonica.
A soft purple glow sparked in the middle of the
device and spread quickly to its edges.
"It's a projector," Betterman said, his face cast
Marie peered at the device. "You're... going to show
me vacation slides from your home planet?"
"No," Betterman said.
"Wait," Marie said, backing up as far as the couch
would allow her to go. "I remember, now. Your father
discovered a place -- a world between worlds -- and built a
machine to send people there. He called it... the prison
"That's a mistranslation," Betterman said, as the
glowing circle began to thrum. "My people didn't believe in
the idea of punishment, Marie. When someone did something
they found unacceptable, they... gave them an opportunity
to reflect on their decision."
The humming of the device had increased in volume,
like the purring of a cat who wanted to make a point of
letting everyone in the room know just how contented it was.
"This is where you send monsters... vampires...
things that you don't know how to deal with," Marie said,
shielding her eyes from the intense purple light. "That's
not being a hero, Wiggins! It's being lazy!"
Betterman's voice, when he spoke, seemed very far
"I would do anything to protect this world, Marie.
Anything. Even give up the woman I love," he said, his
voice barely audible over the thrumming. "I don't know
if that makes me a hero or..."
Then the light took her, and Marie heard nothing
"Thank you thank you THANK YOU for letting this
numble designate clean the boots of such a worthy and
powerful member of the Ellenache," the little rust-colored
"Uh, sure," Substitute Lad said, as the creature
skittered away from his now well-polished footwear.
"I'd offer you a tip, but I have no idea what passes for
"No financial transaction could adequately capture
the thrill of caressing the feet of a mighty being of
legend such as yourself," the robot warbled. "This
numble designate sincerely regrets that the Substitute Lad
will no longer be functioning with the next solar cycle."
"Wait... what?" asked Substitute Lad, who had just
begun a concerted effort to catch up to the other
Legionnaires and now found himself stopping just as
abruptly. "What will I be doing tomorrow?"
The robot -- which looked like an orange-red figure
eight, and maneuvered itself across the ground with a
pair of rotating brushes, also stopped.
"Enjoying your upgrade into a new form," the robot
said. "After the Obnoxious Ame.rec.a Boy deletes the
Substitute Lad for the manner in which has been observing
the Skunk Girl."
"But... I haven't been looking at Skunk Girl,"
Substitute Lad protested.
"Then there is clearly something wrong with you,"
said You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad, walking up
behind Substitute Lad and clapping him on his armored
Drabble Girl, who was walking beside him, rolled her
eyes, but said nothing.
"This robot," Substitute Lad said, as the little
creature rotated away, "seems to think that Obnoxious
Ame.rec.a Boy wants to kill me for checking out Skunk Girl."
"Yeah, but... what are his powers, other than making
long, pointless speeches about what a great country he thinks
he has?" You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad said. "I'm
pretty sure you can take him."
"I don't want to take him!" Substitute Lad said.
"And I'm not after Skunk Girl."
"Are you sure?" You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad
said. "I mean, I used to think that Girlwatcher was an
idiot. All he does -- all day long -- is stare at Skunk
Girl and Cynical Lass. And, uh, you too, I'm sure,"
he added nodding to Drabble Girl, who rolled her eyes again.
"Now I think he's some sort of genius," You're-Not-
Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad added.
"Don't let the robots get to you, man," said Parking
Karma Kid, who had been walking behind the group. "They're
just trying to provoke us into fighting each other so they
can fulfill their kooky robot death wishes."
"So why don't we just smash a few of 'em?" You're-Not
Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad asked. "I mean, we're going to
have to eventually, right?"
"Whoa whoa WHOA there, dude," said Parking Karma Kid,
echoing the looks of shock and horror on the faces of
Drabble Girl and Substitute Lad. "These little things
may look like toasters or electric razors, or whatever,
but they're as alive as you, me or Frosty the Snowman.
At least that's what Linguist Lass says."
"And what do you mean we're going to have to smash
them eventually?" Substitute Lad asked.
"In case you haven't noticed," said You're-Not-Hitting
Me-Hard-Enough Lad, waving his arms to indicate the craggy
gray landscape surrounding them, "we're marooned on an alien
planet without anything like a spaceship or an escape plan."
"Dude, relax," Parking Karma Kid said. "We've got
Innovative-Offense-Boy. "That dude is like a walking escape
"Or a GPS who swears all the time," Substitute Lad
"Sure," You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad said.
"But what if something happens to him? We've already lost
Kid Kirby and Captain Continuity; it's not inconceivable.
Or what if something happens to Steak-and-Potatoes Man
-- the guy who's been making our food out of thin air?
Then this scenario goes from _Gilligan's Island_ to
the Donner Party in very short order."
All four heroes stopped in their tracks.
"I totally had not thought of the _Gilligan's Island_
comparison before this," Parking Karma Kid said.
"That would make Skunk Girl 'Ginger'," Substitute Lad
said. "But I'm not so sure that Cynical Lass is the
'Mary Ann' type."
"Maybe she's Mrs. Howell," Parking Karma Kid agreed.
"I always kind of dug Mrs. Howell."
"And we're ignoring the fact that we are, supposedly,
racing to stop the Legion of Net.Villains from breaking
open the Ultimate Black Hole and setting the worst
monsters of all time loose on the universe," You're-Not
Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad continued.
"We're putting the lives of everybody in existence
up against... a few annoying robots who want to die anyway,"
he added, as two matchbox-sized blue mechanoids zipped past,
"and who might be doing some good if we used them to build
"I suppose," Substitute Lad said, after a moment or
two had passed, "Gaffer probably could build a spaceship
out of a few of these robots. After all, he's..."
"...totally the Professor," Parking Karma Kid and
Substitute Lad said in unison.
"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Drabble Girl said.
You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad -- who had been
about to argue that, in fact, Obscure Trivia Lad was a
better analogue for the Professor -- stared open-mouthed
at the chestnut-haired net.heroine, who had not uttered a
single word in the many weeks since their spaceship had
blasted off from Net.ropolis.
"We're supposed to be heroes. HEROES," she said,
nearly shouting as she poked You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard
Enough Lad in the center of his overly-broad chest.
"We get to do things nobody else is allowed to do
because we agree to hold ourselves to a higher standard
than the rest of humanity," Drabble Girl said. "But if
we murder these creatures in order to go off and fight
the monsters, don't we become monsters ourselves?"
"Are you seriously comparing _us_ to what's locked
up in the Ultimate Black Hole?" Parking Karma Kid asked.
"Do you even know who's in there? There's a dude who
killed and ate his own conjoined twin... and then collected
that dude's insurance. There's a woman who tried to wipe
out an entire species because her religion regarded them as
'unclean.' And then there's the dude who came up with the
idea of having everybody's computers upgrade their software
by turning themselves off right when you're in the middle
of doing something."
All four heroes shuddered.
"I understand what's at stake," Drabble Girl said.
"And I still say we can't do something that is morally,
fundamentally wrong -- even evil -- and try to justify
it by saying there are people out there who are even
worse than us."
"I hear what you're saying, Drabble Girl. I even
admire it," You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad said.
"But I'm going to be honest with you. If we'd landed on
the planet of cute, adorable puppies, and the only way
to escape the planet and stop Mynabird was to kill all
the puppies and make a space zeppelin out of puppy
skins -- I would do that."
"But would you do it if it were a kitten planet?"
Parking Karma Kid said.
You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad opened his
mouth, then closed it.
"I don't know," he said. "Kittens are pretty cute."
"You keep talking about heroes," Substitute Lad
said. "But maybe we've moved past the point where someone
who thinks like a hero can do any good. The world you
want to save has gone to hell in a big beige handbasket,
and we may not be able to pull it out without getting our
"But it's EXACTLY at times..." Drabble Girl began.
"Not ONE... MORE... *@#$%^&ING... WORD!" shouted
Innovative-Offense Boy, jabbing his finger into the face of
a startled Drabble Girl.
"What the *@#$%^ are you people doing?" he asked,
glaring from Drabble Girl to Parking Karma Kid, Substitute
Lad and You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad. "Or did you
get so wrapped up in your discussion about the ethics of
robot killing that you forgot that DRABBLE GIRL DISAPPEARS
AFTER EXACTLY ONE HUNDRED *@#$%^&ING WORDS, AND DOESN'T
SHOW UP AGAIN UNTIL THE NEXT EPISODE?
"And given just how @#$%^&ing long this @#$%-guzzling
series is turning out to @#$^&ing be," he continued,
shooting an especially filthy look at the author, "that
could be days. Or weeks. Or another @#$%^ing infinite
month. Which could mean we lose one of our very best
at the moment when we @#$%^ing need her the most."
A long, heavy silence followed the Profane Paragon of
"You're right, sir. I'm sorry," said You're-Not-Hitting
Me-Hard-Enough Lad, as the others -- with the exception of
Drabble Girl -- mumbled their apologies.
"I know everything seems a little *@#$%^ed right now,"
Innovative-Offense Boy said. "But you've all been with the
team long enough to know that's just par for the *@#$%^ing
course. The important thing now is that we stick together,
we work with each other -- and we remember to @#$%^ing look
out for each other once in a while."
"Do we know how much longer this trip to see the
Collector is going to take?" Substitute Lad asked.
Innovative-Offense-Boy pursed his lips.
"The robots say it should be another couple of days,"
he said. "That's if you believe the *@#$%^ing robots. I've
asked Steak-and-Potatoes Man to fly ahead for a few miles,
see if what they're telling us has any basis in @#$%%^ing..."
"Wait," You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad said.
"You sent our only source of food on a mission by himself?"
"Don't worry about it, man," Parking Karma Kid said.
"This is Steak-and-Potatoes-Man we're talking about.
The dude takes showers in automatic weapons fire. There's
nothing on this planet that could..."
The silver "LNH" logo on Innovative-Offense-Boy's
"Inno? We might have a problem," said the voice of
Linguist Lass, as all five heroes simultaneously facepalmed.
"We've lost all contact with Steak-and-Potatoes Man..."
NEXT WEEK: Captain Rat Creature fights a desperate
battle for survival! Minority Miss takes a course in
art appreciation! All this... and the noiseless terror
that is HEADZO!
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