LNH: Beige Countdown #9 (5/9)

EDMLite robrogers72 at gmail.com
Fri May 10 14:00:32 PDT 2013


                      Chapter Five:
                   Desperate Measures


     Captain Rat Creature chewed slowly, letting every
morsel of the hardened bark slowly dissolve in his mouth.

     He felt exhausted.  The food the Drop Bear had given
him -- twigs, branches and now bark stripped from one of the
stolen spaceship's many trees -- was barely enough to keep him
alive, let alone recharge his super-powers.  Yet it was all
they had been able to steal, and Branb'ss knew he had received
more than his companion.  He remembered the old joke about the
man complaining in a restaurant -- "The food here is awful,
just awful.  And the portions are terrible!" -- and allowed
himself a small chuckle that came out as a wheeze.

     His whiskers stiffened as he sensed movement outside
his supply closet hideaway.  He relaxed as the door opened
and the Drop Bear hopped inside -- and then tensed again
as he saw the expression on the little koala's scarred face.

     "How bad is it?" Captain Rat Creature asked.

     "They've taken Ashkyyax," the Drop Bear said.

     Captain Rat Creature searched his memory, doing his
hunger-addled best to recall whether the Ashkyyax in question
was a planet, a rare artifact or a powerful antidepressant.

     "I haven't heard of it," he said.

     "You wouldn't have," the Drop Bear said.  "It is...
was... a military prison.  One of ours."

     With great effort, Captain Rat Creature handed the
koala one of the remaining strips of bark.  The Drop Bear
tore at it greedily.

     "It's like this," he said, the bark in his mouth
adding another layer of sediment to a voice that was
already steeped in gravel.  "The civilian prisons of the
Christicantthinkofagoodname Empire are where you send people
you're hoping to rehabilitate.  The military prisons are
where you send people you want to punish.

     "And Ashkyyax," he added, "is where you send everyone
you want to throw away."

     "No chance for parole?" Captain Rat Creature asked.

     "No possibility," the Drop Bear said.  "Once you went
to Ashkyyax, you ceased to exist.  Every record of you ever
having been a person was purged from the Imperial WorldNet.
Hardly anybody in the Empire even knew where Ashkyyax was.
The rumors I heard said it was at the center of an asteroid
field, with half the asteroids equipped with turbolaser
batteries programmed to fire at anything that moved."

     He swallowed the last chunk of bark.

     "The Legion of Net.Villains took it in half an hour,"
he said.

     "That can't be good," Captain Rat Creature said.

     "It's worse than you think," the Drop Bear said.

     Captain Rat Creature restrained himself from rolling
his eyes.  While he recognized that the Drop Bear's fierce
pragmatism had allowed him both to survive the massacre
of his shipmates and the subsequent manhunt by a relentless
army of super-powered psychopaths, it also, in Captain
Rat Creature's opinion, had made him a bit of a Debbie
Downer.  Everything was always worse than everyone thought.

     "If Mynabird is working his way through the universal
prison system, Ashkyyax is the next-to-last stop," the
koala growled.  "There's nothing left but the Ultimate
Black Hole."

     "The LNH will stop him," Captain Rat Creature said,
with more confidence than he felt.

     The Drop Bear grinned, or perhaps grimaced.  It was
hard to tell with a koala.  "Far as I can figure," he
said, "you're all of the LNH there is.  And you can barely

     "Thank goodness we're in space, then," Captain Rat
Creature said.  "It's just like Los Angeles: stars
everywhere you look, and nobody walking anywhere."

     "I hope you can crawl, at least," the Drop Bear
said.  "We need to find out what Mynabird plans to
do with the scum he dredged out of Ashkyyax."

     "Get them ready for the assault on the Black
Hole?" Captain Rat Creature suggested, stretching his
long, furry body.  "That's what the LNV has been doing
with the crew from every other prison they've attacked."

     "Ashkyyax isn't like any other prison," the Drop
Bear said.  "Half the prisoners there slaughtered the
other half as soon as they were out of their cells.
Mynabird would have to be insane to think any of those
sociopaths could function as part of an army."

     Captain Rat Creature thought about his friend's words
as the two of them crawled silently out of their hiding
space and began maneuvering through the hidden tunnels and
access corridors of the ship.

     Part of him wanted to believe that the LNH was
still out there, that they had survived the first battle
with the Legion of Net.Villains and were even now racing
to intercept them at the Ultimate Black Hole.  But
learning not to rely on hope had been the first lesson
the Drop Bear had drilled into Branb'ss after his rescue.

     "Hope will get you killed," the koala had said.
"It's like the government: nice thing to have in theory,
but you can't count on it to save your ass when the chips
are down.  Same with your super-powers."

     "My... powers?" Captain Rat Creature had said.

     "You think you're the first super-guy I've come across?"
the Drop Bear had asked.  "People with powers tend to let
those powers define them.  They forget who they really are."

     "And who do you think I am?" Captain Rat Creature asked.

     "You," the Drop Bear had said, "are a big @#$%^ing rat."

     "I am not!" Captain Rat Creature began, but the Drop Bear
just shook his head.

     "Rats are sneaky.  Rats are crafty.  And they're damn
vicious when they have to be," the Drop Bear said.  "Those
Meow Meow cats closed in on you, and you tried to fight them
as a super-hero.  A super-hero never had a chance against
them.  But a cornered rat would have torn out their throats..."

     "Finish that flashback on your own time," the Drop Bear
hissed, and Captain Rat Creature hastily composed himself.

     In the last few days, the koala had not only taught him
how to move more silently, blend into the shadows more
thoroughly, and disappear more completely than Captain Rat
Creature would have believed possible for any living being
who was not a former member of a boy band to accomplish.
He had also taught him to cloak his thoughts -- quieting his
mind, the Drop Bear had called it.  It was the only way either
of them could safely elude any telepaths or latent psychics
among the ranks of their enemies, the koala insisted.

     They had reached the end of a long, narrow access tunnel
-- part of a hydroponic drip system that fed the spaceship's
dying trees -- and found themselves overlooking a platform
above the main hangar.  The room had been swept clean of all
the broken robots and damaged fighters Captain Continuity had
destroyed during his assault on his ship.  At the center of
the platform stood Mynabird, Vector Prime and a twitchy-looking
group of characters Captain Rat Creature did not recognize.

     "It's worse than we thought," the Drop Bear whispered.

     This time, Captain Rat Creature could not keep himself
from rolling his eyes.

     "Listen," the Drop Bear hissed, nodding at the armored
tyrant below.

     "...You may use whatever methods you feel are necessary
to take care of them, of course," Mynabird was saying, his
hands folded behind him as he paced before the assembled
crew.  "But I want to see the bodies.  No disintegrations."

     "As you w-w-wish," said a man in a tall peaked hunter's
cap and gray battle armor.

     "That's Boba Fudd," the Drop Bear whispered.  "Don't let
the stutter fool you; he's one of the deadliest killers in
three realities.  Those are devilbunny scalps on his belt."

     "He's... Mynabird... he's sending them to look for us,"
Captain Rat Creature said.

     "Now you get it," the Drop Bear said.  "That tall thing?
The one that looks like a bear?  That's the Tardigrade, one
of the universe's only truly invulnerable beings.  Burn him,
shoot him, bombard him with radiation, throw him out of an
airlock into the vacuum of space... it's all a day at the
beach, as far as he's concerned."

     The creature in question belched, looked contentedly
around him for a moment, then scratched himself.

     "Doesn't look too bright," Captain Rat Creature said.

     "Thank God for that," the Drop Bear said, then
shuddered as he saw the entity standing next to the
Tardigrade.  "But that fellow beside him more than makes up
for it."

     "The guy with the red hair and makeup?  The one on a
unicycle?" Captain Rat Creature asked.

     "That's Headzo, the Decapitating Clown," the Drop Bear
said.  "I'm not surprised that Ashkyyax couldn't hold him.
I'd be amazed if Hell could."

     The two flinched as the flame-haired clown looked
upward for a moment before returning his unblinking gaze
to the man in the armored suit who strode before him.

     "Whichever of you succeeds can name his reward,"
Mynabird said, the orange light of his visor reflected in
the polished walls of the hangar and the cockpits of its
remaining fighters.  "There is no provision for failure.
Am I understood?"

     Fudd nodded, while Headzo honked a large red bicycle
horn.  The Tardigrade continued to scratch himself.

     "Excellent," Mynabird said, dismissing the mercenaries
with a wave of his gauntlet.  "I expect to be resting my
heels on a hamster-hair rug by nightfall."

     The three creatures walked, stomped and wheeled their
way out of the hangar, passing a tall man in a finely-
tailored charcoal suit as they left.

     "Introducing more variables at this stage of the game?"
the man asked, pausing to take a sip from the glass of wine
in his hand.  "That hardly seems a prudent thing to do."

     "Neither does drinking before eleven o'clock in the
morning," Mynabird said.  "And while we're on the subject
of prudence, Presence, what exactly were you thinking when
you decided to stuff Captain Continuity into a deathtrap?
I thought we had an understanding."

     He nodded to Vector Prime, who waved her long, shapely
fingers with a flourish.  A heavily-annotated list in
glowing 24-point Bookman letters appeared in the empty air.

     "Number Four," Mynabird read.  "When I have captured
the hero, I will neither place him in a trap -- no matter how
thoroughly I have convinced myself of the impossibility of
escape -- nor provide him with a detailed account of my
master plan.  I will, instead, kill him, and I will not
leave him unattended until I am quite sure he is dead."

     Mynabird edged closer to Arthur E.L. Presence, staring
down at him while the latter drained his glass of wine.
He held the glass outstretched for a moment, dropping it as
Vector Prime appeared with a small silver tray.

     "Was some part of that agreement not clear to you?"
Mynabird asked, folding his arms.

     "The Bronze-Age Emotional Necessitator and Decompression
Implementation System is not a deathtrap," Presence said.

     "Oh really?" Mynabird said, turning to the list that
hung in the air beside the two men.  "Let's ask Admiral

     The list disappeared, replaced by an animated GIF of
the squid-headed _Star Wars_ character.

     "It's a trap!" Admiral Ackbar croaked.

     "Deathtraps never work," Arthur E.L. Presence said.
"They depend first of all on the supposition that the
victim doesn't know he is falling into a deathtrap --
which, with the exception of your good Admiral, almost
never happens."

     "I'm glad we agree on something," Mynabird said.

     "Secondly," Presence continued, "people who use
deathtraps fool themselves into believing that the hero could
not possibly set himself free -- which we also know is a
foolish assumption."

     "So why did you build one for Captain Continuity?"
Mynabird asked.

     "The B.E.N.D.I.S. is the opposite of a deathtrap,"
Presence said.  "Not only does Captain Continuity know
where he is, but he knows exactly what he must do in
order to escape.  In fact, I am counting on him to do
so.  Both our plans -- yours and mine -- depend on it."

     "Excuse me," Vector Prime said.  "Did you just say
that Mynabird's master plan somehow depends on an
enraged super-hero bursting out of your trap and
smashing his way through our spaceship?"

     Amusement registered on the master assassin's face.

     "As I said," he began, "the B.E.N.D.I.S. is not a..."

     "It's a trap!  It's a trap!" Admiral Ackbar repeated.

     "And what emerges from the B.E.N.D.I.S. will no longer
be Captain Continuity," Presence continued.  "In order to
leave the world that I have constructed for him, he will
have to destroy that which is closest to his heart.  If he
can bring himself to do that, he can escape... but he will
be a broken man..."

     Mynabird and Vector Prime shared a glance.

     "We should just kill him," the two said simultaneously.

     "...a humble man... a penitent man...," Presence

     "We should... What did you say?" Mynabird said.

     A long, slow smile spread itself across the gray
expanse of Arthur E.L. Presence's face.

     "He will be a penitent man," Presence said.  "A most
remorseful man.  A man looking for some way to atone for
his sins."

     Vector Prime looked in confusion from the assassin
to the armored overlord.

     "Am I missing something?" she asked.

     For a moment, the only sound in the long, empty hangar
was the quiet pulsing of Mynabird's orange visor.

     "You're sure about this?" he said at last.

     "So it has been written," Presence said.  "So it shall
be done.  The Black Hole will be yours... provided you've
come up with a plan to keep its guardians occupied."

     Mynabird made a dismissive gesture.

     "The Ninja Suns?" he asked.  "Hardly worth the effort.
Have the Pencil Rain meet me on this platform at this time
tomorrow morning."

      "You know, they're... not the villains that they used
to be," Vector Prime said, choosing her words with care.
"All of them were retired before you... persuaded them to
join our cause.  And, well, Mammal is a sheep."

      "Fix him," Mynabird said, turning to Presence.  "And
I mean, turn him back into a whatever-he-was.  There's no
need to..."

      Hundreds of feet above the hangar, Captain Rat
Creature turned to his companion.

     "Captain Continuity is alive," he said, eyes flashing.

     "Doesn't sound like he's going to be much help," the
Drop Bear said, his own eyes never leaving the figure of
the tyrant below.

     "You said the same thing about me," Captain Rat
Creature said.

     "And so far, I've been right," the Drop Bear said.

     "That's about to change," Captain Rat Creature said,
his voice flushed with renewed purpose.  "We have an
objective now!  Do you know what that means?"

     "Yes," the Drop Bear said.  "It means that all the
monsters on the boat who are trying to kill us know
exactly what we're going to do."




     "It's...beautiful," Minority Miss said, because it was.
Taken on its artistic merits alone, the mural that unfurled
across the ceiling of the Legion flight.thingee was a
masterpiece, a multi-layered landscape in which each figure
seemed to breathe and each individual blade of grass
rippled in the wind.

     The fact that the mural had been painted with a
combination of human and monster blood -- and that it
depicted the singular figure of Achilles wreaking violent
and horrific revenge upon the assembled might of the Legion
of Net.Heroes -- took something away from the overall
appreciation Minority Miss might have otherwise felt for the
image.  Yet even the Ultimate Ninja, whose spilled entrails
formed a kind of flourish in the lower-right quadrant of the
painting, would have been left breathless by the passion and
obvious talent of its creator.

     "Did you study with Raphael?" Minority Miss asked.

     "Study with _him_?" her immortal host snorted.
"Everything that young impostor learned about color and
form, he learned at my knee -- though he was a quick
enough study, I'll give him that."

     Achilles frowned for a moment, his eyes catching some
all-but-invisible imperfection in his composition.

     "And how have you used your talents in the service
of art?" he asked.

     Minority Miss was taken aback.  "Art?" she asked.
"I... well..."

     "Come now," he chided.  "You can do anything
within the capabilities of any three beings in the
universe.  Draw anything.  Write anything.  Compose
anything.  Discover the cure for anything.  Your idlest
imaginings eclipse the aspirations of 99.999 percent of
everything that has ever drawn breath.  You cannot
seriously mean to tell me you believe that flying around
in a silly outfit and beating up on criminals is the best
use of your time."

     "The flying is quite nice, actually," Minority Miss

     Achilles closed his eyes, shook his head, and made
a soft "tsk-tsk" sound that, though she had only known him
for a few hours, had already begun to grate on Minority

     "This is the problem with your Legion of Net.Heroes,"
Achilles said, sweeping his hand before him to indicate
the various super-powered beings that lay sprawled about
his painting in various stages of torture.

     "It is an engine of mediocrity," he continued.  "Rather
than encouraging extraordinary individuals to make the most
of their abilities, it forces everyone -- regardless of talent
or ambition -- to play essentially the same role.  It is
a yoke by which the weak have compelled the endless
subjugation of the strong."

     "I'm sensing a bit of a theme, here," Minority Miss
said, gazing at the painting.

     "Forgive me," Achilles said.  "I have had many
lifetimes to mull over my injustices, and none but the
chattering classes to serve as my audience."

     The cracks, crevasses and dark places of the ship

     "You talk about perfection, and yet all your centuries
of self-improvement brought you here," Minority Miss said.

     "My greatest honor!" Achilles said.  "What finer
tribute is there to one's virtue than to have those one
despises consider one -- consider me! -- to be such a
threat to their continued existence that they must hurl
me off their planet to be rid of me.

     "Although," he added, "I do wish they had thought to
include a few bottles of retsina.  And some Chopin.  I
outran the last of the fading broadcasts from Earth
several decades ago."

     Minority Miss let her eyes sweep the cramped, mildewed
confines of the tiny spaceship.

     "So this is what reigning in Hell looks like," she said.

     "You are still within your mortal lifespan," Achilles
said.  "When you have lived for several centuries -- when
you have seen governments, modes of thought, even entire
civilizations swept aside by the tide of history -- then
tell me if you will still allow yourself to be judged by the
mores of whatever fleeting band believes itself to be in

     Minority Miss put her hands on her hips.  She opened her
mouth to speak, but Achilles held up a finger.

     "All I ask," he said, "is that you keep an open mind."

     "Meaning what?" she asked.

     "This plan of yours," he said.  "Having your silent
friend guide us to the Ultimate Black Hole.  Finding your
Legion -- if it yet survives -- and helping it defeat the
horrors within.  It is exactly what a super-hero is
expected to do, exactly the kind of conformist thinking
the LNH hammers into the minds of its adherents."

     "It's also the best chance we have of saving the
universe," Minority Miss said.

     "Is it?" Achilles asked.  "The Ultimate Black Hole
has kept its secrets far longer than even I have been
alive; the chances of Mynabird prising it open are
really quite small.  And if he succeeds, what difference
will the presence of a few more monsters -- even a billion
more -- make once Dekay and Diskolor have awakened?  What
you propose is a fool's errand."

     "So you would just have the three of us go drifting
on through space while everything goes to hell?"

     "You... are... reacting," Achilles said, poking
Minority Miss in the shoulder.  "That is what super-heroes
do; that is ALL they do.  An immortal does not react.
An immortal chooses his moment, and then an immortal acts."

     "Meaning what, in this context?" Minority Miss asked.

     "I have countless millennia of knowledge in every field,"
Achilles said.  "Your friend," he said, nodding to Plummet,
"is a force of nature.  And you have power beyond imagining
-- power whose merest limits you have only now begun to
explore.  The entire Legion of Net.Heroes cannot hope to
defeat the Bryttle Brothers.  But with time, with training,
with careful and clever planning, the three of us could
overcome them, and return to our planet as conquering gods."

     Minority Miss stared for a long time at the painting
above her head.

     "I'm going to the Black Hole," she said.

     Achilles sighed.  "You realize that when we get there,
I will be forced to butcher your Legion, and you with them?"

     Minority Miss pointed at the mural.  "All these years
in space, and you've never stopped thinking about the people
who wronged you," she said.  "If I took your offer... it
might work.  We might even be able to stop Dekay and
Diskolor.  But I would never be able to forget the friends
I abandoned in their hour of need."

     Achilles smiled.  "You'd be surprised," he said.

     "Besides," she said.  "We've just established that I'm
one of the most powerful people in the universe.  I'm pretty
sure that I can keep you from taking out the LNH."

     Achilles rolled his eyes.

     "You have no idea how painfully ironic it is for me,
of all people, to have to explain to you what an Achilles'
heel is," he said.  "I've only had to live with its
consequences for three thousand years."

     He nodded to a little glass display case near the
airlock.  Inside was a long dark tube that Minority Miss
had at first taken for a fire extinguisher.

     "Something my brother left for me.  His one act of
kindness," Achilles said bitterly.  "I have been assured
that the contents of that phial will permanently destroy
even the most invulnerable of constitutions.  I keep it
before me, always, to remind myself that life, and what
one does with it, is always a choice.  I have never
been tempted to use it.

     "But," he said, staring hard at Minority Miss, "I
would not hesitate to use it on another immortal being
who opposed me."

     "Why are you telling me this?" Minority Miss asked.

     Achilles pointed at the yawning expanse of creation
outside the portal of the starship.

     "I came to my brother, and your Legion, to give
battle, expecting that one of us would fall in fair
combat," Achilles said.  "Instead, I was tricked -- and
cast into an eternity of exile.  Call me a monster if
you like, call me a villain, but I at least will meet
my enemy on fair terms."

     He held out his hand to Minority Miss, who took it.

     "Then may the best immortal win," she said.


     NEXT WEEK: At long last -- a showdown with the
Collector!  Plus: helpful advice on how to remove a


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