LNH: System Corrupters #32: The Heroine's Journey, Chapter 1: Netscape: Torment

Adrian McClure mrfantastic7 at gmail.com
Sun Aug 2 18:05:02 PDT 2015

The Heroine's Journey
Chapter 1: Netscape: Torment
by Adrian McClure
with editing and one or two lines by Andrew Perron

[Note: this story takes place shortly after the main body of Beige
Midnight, but is best read after Just Another Cascade. It follows Merissa's
appearance in Beige Countdown #9 and is a sequel of sorts to the Crossover
Queen's origin in SC #28. Got all that?]

Somewhere, out in one of the completely forgotten corners of the Net, there
is a universe. It is vast--about the size of a universe, more or less--but
completely empty except for one thing.

In that universe, there is a bottle, drifting through the blank infinity.

In that bottle, there is a girl. But not just any girl. She's Luke
Skywalker's great-great grandmother, the youngest captain of the
Enterprise, the Tenth Doctor's favorite companion. She can be anything she
wants to be. She is also an anomalous manifestation of a computer virus.

Her name is Merissa.

She had just survived, barely, a battle with the LNH. She'd joined with her
sisters, the other Vectors (although she knew in her heart she was cooler
than any of them could ever hope to be) to help the Legion of Net.Villains
free the monstrosities imprisoned in the Ultimate Black Hole. But she
didn't really care about that. What she'd tried to do was join with an
Author to replicate herself across the Net. Because really, she was the
most awesome being in the whole wide Net--who wouldn't want to be her? Not
him, apparently. He'd trapped her in this bottle and left her here, in the
world she'd made for them, alone.

There were three things here--the universe, the bottle, and herself. The
universe was just empty. It wasn't much to write home about. She realized,
too late, that she should have put more thought into it. It would have at
least given her more to look at. But here she was.

The bottle, she hadn't made. The Author had made it for her. It was small
but dense, impenetrable. She should have been able to break out of it
easily. But there it was.

So she thought about herself. Right now, she was dressed as an anime
schoolgirl. She'd needed power, more power than she had, and so she went to
someone who had power--an older male Author--and offered him the only thing
she thought she had that he'd value. He'd left her trapped, diminished,
powerless. He'd caught her her in this bottle like the compliant sexual
fantasy she'd made herself out to be. But that wasn't who she was.

She was afraid and scared and alone. And ANGRY. She'd never felt these
things before--all her defeats up till now had felt like temporary setbacks
before her rightful rule of everything.

Time for a change. If she couldn't change her world, not yet, she could at
least change herself. She wanted to be… something powerful and angry and
terrifying. A GOTH!

She felt the cute anime dress shift and change into black leather.
Suddenly, she felt powerful, excited, alive. Happy, even. Which maybe went
against the whole point of being a goth, but who cares?

Suddenly she understood that the bottle was nothing at all. It was just
another bit of "canon," just another thing an Author made up. She could
push past it--she always did. If she could ignore the Harry Potter
epilogue, she could ignore this.

She focused her anger into a white-hot beam, making a crack in the bottle.
And suddenly it wasn't just at this one thing, it was at every bit of
"canon" that held girls like her back, that kept them from their full
awesomeness, from Gwen Stacy's death to Donna Noble's mindwipe. This wasn't
a feeling she'd be able to put into words or even understand for many years
yet. But she had a vague awareness that fanfic was something people looked
down on because girls did it--like selfies, starbucks and basically
everything that comedians reached for for cheap jokes. But it was powerful.
The Author who'd imprisoned her wasn't the first one who looked down on
fanfic, nor would he be the last, but fanfic kept on going anyway.

The white-hot cracks spread like a spiderweb across the bottle, shattering
it. The remains of the bottle and the universe blew away like dead leaves.

Merissa collapsed to the ground… some kind of ground… in exhaustion. She
didn't know, yet, where she was. She only knew two things. First, she was
free. Second, she was angry and ready to hurt someone. It didn't matter
who. They probably had it coming.


There was nothing to fight here. There was only a beige desert that
stretched out as far as she could see. It wasn't hot here, and it wasn't
cold, either--it wasn't anything. There was no sun in the empty blue sky.
Sometimes she felt a wind going from nowhere to nowhere. She could have
compared it to the note desolation plays, but Homestuck wouldn't exist for
several years yet.

Merissa was walking through the desert in no particular direction. She'd
set out hoping she'd have some kind of random encounter, but so far,
nothing had happened. She had nothing to do except yell at the sand like
Anakin Skywalker.

She wasn't worried about dying here. Coming back from the dead was
easy-peasy--she'd already done it once. No, what she was scared of was
never dying--of walking through this endless desert for the rest of her
endless life.

What she needed was a hero. Someone who could take her away from this, who
could team up with her so she could get revenge on… She hadn't really
thought of that guy who'd trapped her since she'd broken free. She was
ready to move on to bigger and better things. But she wanted revenge on
*someone*, damn it.

She closed her eyes, felt inside herself, reached out for the power that
she'd used to draw on the heroes of many stories to fight for her. It was
still there, dimly burning inside her, almost but not quite gone. Merissa
still wasn't sure what the nature and limitations of her powers were--she
just knew she had whatever powers she needed to be the kind of person she
wanted to be. She was a bit different from the person she'd been before
she'd broken loose--she had more strength, more aggression. But she had
just enough of that kind of power left to reach out and grab one hero.

She tried to imagine a hero who was utterly amazing and awesome, someone
who was better than Captain Picard and Harry Potter and Doctor Who
combined. (Merissa often referred to the character as "Doctor Who" because
she knew it ticked off gross nerd boys.)

A loud pop split the desert air.

There were three people who'd appeared. Well, two people and one severed
head. One of them was a man who might have been a knight, wearing heavy,
pointy armor with tubes sticking out of it. He had an antiseptic, pickled
kind of smell. At his side he wore an overlarge sword, which made Merissa a
bit jealous, and was holding with all his might onto the head, which was
trying to wriggle out of his grasp.

The woman was something else again. She was tall, pale, elegant, in dark
red and blue robes. She wore a crown on her head inlaid with weird
circuitry. Even here, in the middle of nowhere, she radiated strength and
power. Merissa should have been threatened by her, ready to fight; she
should have been angry at seeing someone who was obviously way cooler than
her, and yet…

She felt an intense flood of admiration and awe. It wasn't like falling in
love--she assumed, anyway, she had no idea how any of that was supposed to
work--but it was powerful and immediate, like in movies.

The lady looked around, preparing to attack. The knight held his hand on
his sword, awaiting his command. Her eyes settled on Merissa--cool,
piercing, confident.

"Uh, hi!" said Merissa, and waved.

The lady relaxed and nodded beneficently. "Thank you," she said.

"For dragging us into the middle of nowhere?" said the armored man. His
voice was a rumbling, slightly metallic monotone, but each sentence was
accompanied by a hundred voices on the edge of hearing, speaking the same

"For saving us from the Oracle cultists," she said. "I remember a time when
I could have destroyed them with a wave of my hand, but that was long ago."

"That sounds really cool!" said Merissa. "Who are you?"

"I am the Crossover Queen. And this is the Ultimate Hero."

"Ultimate Hero, huh?" He didn't look too impressive, but Merissa wasn't
saying anything.

The Crossover Queen looked around and surveyed the landscape. "Follow me,"
she said, and the Ultimate Hero and Merissa dutifully followed.

"Where the heck are we now?" said Merissa.

"The Astral Plane," said the Crossover Queen, "the space between the
worlds. I sense another newsgroup not far from here. Come."

The Crossover Queen led them through what looked like a shimmering mirage.
And then they were elsewhere. The world on the other side was a desert too,
but it was different. Here, it was night. The sand and the wind felt a
little more substantial, and there was the noise of insects in the air.
Oddly enough, she thought she heard cats meowing in the distance.

Under the starlight she could see there was an object sunken in the sand--a
massive nose of stone. "Hey, what are you looking… uh, smelling at?" said
Merissa to the nose. The nose, being made of stone and not having a mouth
in the first place, said nothing.

They sat down and made camp near the nose. The Ultimate Hero stuffed the
severed head into a sack with considerable difficulty, as the head made a
determined but futile attempt to bite off his fingers. The Crossover Queen
then sent him scout for any dangers. She sat alone with Merissa, warmed by
the mystical blue flame she'd summoned. "I'm sorry it's not warmer," she
said. "My powers are not what they once were. I used them up, seeking to
control the Crossover Gem, but I was vanquished by the LNH…"

"Ugh, I know that one. By the way, where did that Ultimate Hero guy come

"I made him."


"I assembled him from the body parts of dead gods and heroes from many
worlds, to create a hero worthy to accomplish my quest."

"What quest?" She looked around at the stars, the desert, the nose. "Where
the heck are we now?"

"One question at a time, please." The Crossover Queen rolled her eyes
fondly. "Right now, we are in a newsgroup called alt.fan.karl-maldens-nose.
Have you heard of it?"

"Not really?"

"This was a great newsgroup once. There was a war fought here--one of the
legends of Usenet. A group of Harvard scholars made this their home, and
had an altercation with the inhabitants of alt.tv.beavis-and-butthead. One
of them started imitating a cat, and soon others jumped in, knowing nothing
of how this all started. The war touched every group. Cats flooded all of
Usenet. In the end the bnbers won and formed the Empire of Meow, spreading
their nonsense wherever they could find. It was glorious." The Crossover
Queen sighed.

"Oooh! How come I've never heard of it?"

"You are young," said the Crossover Queen, "and it is easy for things to be
forgotten on the Net, even from not so long ago."

"Where is everyone?"

"Gone. This was one of the many groups that died, not from a cataclysm like
the Bryttle Brothers would have brought about, but from mere apathy.
There's nothing left here now, except the ghostcats."

"Oooh! Can I fight them?"

"It wouldn't do any good." Merissa thought about going off and doing it
anyway, but she didn't. "There are hundreds of groups like this now--groups
that had their own culture, their own stories, their own in-jokes. And now
they're all but forgotten, more and more every day."

"Wow. That's…" Merissa looked off into the distance, regarding the buried
nose. "That's not good."

"But I'm going to do something about it," said the Crossover Queen. "I was
like you once, not so long ago--caught up in pointless battles, with no
higher purpose to fight for. But now I know what I must do. I will build
the Ultimate Crossover, joining all groups and all fandoms, with Usenet at
its center, and return life to all the groups that have lost them.

"Wow," said Merissa. "That… that sounds like the coolest thing ever!"

"Thank you." The Crossover Queen smiled slightly. "There's so few who
understand. Even the Ultimate Hero doesn't, not really. He's just a soldier
with no understanding of what he fights for. But you, I think, have the
potential for more than that." She looked up into the stars. "I've lost so
much, sacrificed so much... But now it will all be worth it."

"OK, so how exactly are you gonna make this Ultimate Crossover
thingamadoodle? Especially if you've lost all your powers?" said Merissa.

"Well," said the Crossover Queen, "It's simple. Well, simple in concept, if
not simple to accomplish. You see, I'm not the only being who's facing
these kinds of problems. When Ultimate Ninja killed many of the elder gods
and demons in Beige Midnight--"

"Aww man, I missed that?" Merissa crossed her arms and frowned. "I was
really looking forward to kicking the Bryttle Brothers' teeth in."

"Yes, I'm afraid you did. But a far greater quest awaits you."

Merissa perked up. "Yeah! But I'll bet you're gonna have to give me this
really long explanation first, huh?"

"I'm afraid so. The metaphysical foundations of Usenet were cracked. The
Outer Net.Planes became unstable. You see, if you imagine Usenet as a

She waved her hand, and a colorful diagram flashed into life. It was a
circle with each of the newsgroups drifting around it. "Cooool," whispered

The Crossover Queen smiled. "--at the outside of the sphere are the Outer
Net.Planes. Each group has its own cosmologies, its own heavens and hells
and whatnot. The Looniverses each have multiple redundant cosmologies in
case one is swept away in a Ragnarok of some kind. But there are certain
newsgroups and other dimensions that serve as connection points between
these different realms. alt.obituaries, for example, is a nexus point for
all the different afterlives of the Net, as well as a home for souls from
all the groups that have no afterlife of their own." The diagram zoomed in
on an endless flat land under a dark starless sky crammed with mausoleums,
lit by a pale light from nowhere.

"These are the Outer Net.Planes. They are chaotic worlds at the best of
times--even the ones nominally dedicated to order. The Elder Gods create a
form of stability through their endless infighting and bureaucracy. But now
many of them are dead, and that stability has been broken. Afterlives and
realms of the gods are collapsing at an unprecedented rate. And many of the
traditional forms of magic no longer work, or are changing beyond

"So how are you gonna do this, then?"

"Ah, that's the thing. Because of these changes, it is easier than ever to
create new forms of magic. I am in a sense both weaker and stronger than I
have ever been. The beings of the Outer Net.Planes are at war, trying to
claim the powers of the Elder Gods for themselves. But I will gain that
power through the Inner Net.Planes."

The diagram zoomed in on the center of the sphere, where she saw four
circles orbiting a central point. One was red and crackled with fire and
light; other colors could be glimpsed for brief moments. One was dark blue,
and she could see post headers swimming through it. One seemed to be a pure
black dot. And the last one… she couldn't see it at all, but she could feel
it, in some sense, like the wind. At the center of them was… something
bright and powerful that she couldn't even imagine--the Source Code.

"If the Outer Net.Planes are the edge of Usenet," said the Crossover Queen,
"then the Inner Net.Planes are its center. The Source Code is focused
outward and takes shape through them, creating the substance of the Net."

"Wait, so you've got planes contained in a sphere? How does that work?"

The Crossover Queen grimaced and clenched her fist, but then relaxed.
"...It's an inexact analogy, I know. But the important part is…" She placed
her hand on Merissa's shoulder. "Tell me, how much do you know about the

"Uh, basically zilch."

"These are the four primary metaphysical elements that make up the Net.
They are each a counterpart of the four classical elements and states of
matter or energy, but very loosely. For example, Flame can exert its own
gravity. Newsgroups are formed when a core of Flame draws in the Thread and
Keystroke it needs, creating a concrete realm from the potential of the

"Uh, I think you're gonna have to explain this stuff a bit more…"

"Ah, yes." The Crossover Queen gestured regally, and the diagram zoomed in
on the plane of Flame. It was… Well, the simplest way to describe it was
that everything was on fire, even the fire. "Flame is the powerful emotions
that drive each of the people who post to the Net. It is the element of
passion and desire. Its negative manifestations are often the most
spectacular and obvious." The ‘channel' switched to the furnace of the
LNHQ, where a dense invisible presence sat, giving up so much heat she
could feel it--the Invisible Incendiary. "But it has other manifestations
too--the individual interests that each of us have, which lead us to build
communities." She saw Catalyst Lass walk into the furnace room. "Many
people do not recognize this--but those who wield the power of Flame
understand." She saw Catalyst Lass sit down and relax, idly chatting with
the invisible presence.

"Hold on," said Merissa, scratching her chin. "That means Flame is the
energy of both creation AND destruction!"

"Indeed," said the Crossover Queen. "They are two sides of the same coin."
The diagram switched to someone who looked like Manga Man [see Just Imagine
- other-dimensional Footnote Girl] meticulously painting a delicate piece
of calligraphy, then with a swish of color, destroying a tank in the heat
of battle.

"OK, that makes sense… kinda," said Merissa. "What about the others?" The
diagram zoomed back out, then zoomed in on the blue world. It was an
underwater world, suffused with a gentle blue light, where strange
creatures swam and danced together. They seemed to join, separate,
recombine. The flow was mostly calm and peaceful, but here and there were
whirling storms. "Ooooh," whispered Merissa.

"Yes, it's an oddly calming sight, isn't it? Well, if you stay away from
the Flame pockets. Thread is the net.element opposite that of Flame--the
equivalent of Water. It is the ebb and flow of discussion on the Net. It is
the element of communication, of relationships. It is also the element of
crossovers--the source of my own power. Some who have the power of Thread
seek to control the flow and bring order." The display rippled and she saw
some weird nerd with an umbrella. "While others revel in its chaotic
potential." She saw a group of gibbering cyborgs--the bizarre chaos-based
hive-mind known as the Cascaders. The Crossover Queen turned away from the
screen and glowered. "Let's look at something else."

The display zoomed out and in again, this time showing the black dot.
Except it wasn't a black dot at all but a dense collection of letters,
punctuation and other characters. She could see creatures burrowing in the
earth. "The element of Keystroke is the equivalent of Earth--the characters
that make up the fundamental substance of communication in the Net. It is
the element of direct action. There are some who have powers directly based
on punctuation and letters and such." The screen rumbled and vibrated,
shifting to CAPTAIN CAPITALIZE smashing a horde of Y-Plex Burp's Y-Bots.
"But paradoxically, this element can express itself the most strongly in
those who seem to have no powers at all." The screen panned a bit to Token
Girl, who was shooting exploding bus tokens at those same robots.

"Hmm," said Merissa. The screen changed back to the Plane of Keystroke.
"I'll bet this world has lots of cool monsters!"

"Each plane has its own denizens, which are mostly easy enough to deal with
if you know how," said the Crossover Queen. "The greatest challenge is not
the denizens, but the nature of the planes themselves. An unprepared
traveler to the Plane of Keystroke, for example, will simply be crushed
beneath an avalanche of punctuation. It's difficult to travel there without
a good Editor at hand."

"OK, what about the other one?" The screen zoomed out and into the
seemingly empty circle. It flickered in the air like smoke, except that it
was less substantial than the world around it.

"The element of Net--the equivalent of Air--is perhaps the most difficult
element to study, since it is the medium of the Net itself, which forms all
the worlds and the Astral Plane itself, the unbounded potential from which
all existence is formed. The plane of Net will be the most difficult to
visit since it is, in a sense, not a place at all. Net is the element of
reflection, of imagination. It seems to be the least powerful element, but
is in fact the most powerful." The screen shifted to WikiBoy, transforming
into a cat as one of his teammates snapped their fingers. "It is the
element of many dimension travelers--not myself, since I embody the
connections between particular worlds, rather than being outside of them.
It's a subtle but important distinction. Do you understand?"

"Mm-hmmm," said Merissa, who didn't really, but wanted to move on to the
next cool thing.

"At any rate," she said, "the dimension travelers who wield the power of
Net are often divergent in their sense of identity from the world around
them, as well as… multiple in some sense. That makes it easier to move
between different paradigms of being." The screen shifted to… some minor
LNHer she vaguely remembered--oh yeah, it was Lass Lad. They shifted
between different forms, sitting in a gathering of various weird creatures
in some MUSH or other. "And--" The screen changed--she saw… She couldn't
see the being itself, but the shape of it. A silhouette of a fat woman,
radiant with excitement and warmth, wearing flight goggles and a scarf…

And then the weird bubble popped and Merissa was left alone with the
Crossover Queen.

"Huh?" she said. "What was that?"

"...I don't know," said the Crossover Queen. "But... nothing important, I'm

"Yeah, I'm sure whoever that is, we can beat her!" said Merissa. "So
anyway… that bubble thing was really cool. How did you make it?" She looked
up at the Crossover Queen expectantly.

"I didn't," said the Crossover Queen. "You did."

Merissa didn't know which of the questions swimming through her head to ask
first. "So… okay… what are you going to do with all these planes and stuff?"

"We will create a crosspost which will exist on all four of the inner
Net.Elemental Planes. This will forge a net.alchemical reaction which will
ascend and pierce the Outer Net.Planes, drawing the energy of the dead
Elder Gods into me, creating a still point that binds the worlds
together--a Crossover Citadel. That is, if you wish to join me."

"Heck yeah!" said Merissa, pumping her fist in the air.

Suddenly, this was about more than taking revenge. She could save all of
Usenet. She could even be a hero. Being a villain was fun as far as it
went, but maybe it was too easy--to be a villain, you just had to follow
your inclinations. The hard part was punching through your doubts and
inhibitions, and Merissa had never had trouble with that. Being a hero was
something else again.

She'd always been drawn to stories about heroes. That was what set her
apart from the other Vectors. Maybe that was why she didn't feel at home
with them, why she'd left the LNV at the first opportunity to make her own
plan. Maybe she wouldn't just have to read and dream about those stories.
Maybe somewhere there was a story for her, where she was the hero.

Merissa was face to face with a world bigger and more exciting than she
could possibly have imagined. And she was ready to fight all of it, bit by


All characters and elements appearing directly in this issue are free for
use or not reserved
Merissa: Saxon Brenton and Rob Rogers, homaging Steven Ratliff
The Crossover Queen: Jeff ‘Drizzt' Barnes
The Internet Oracle's decapitated head: the Internet Oracle
Ultimate Hero and everything else: me

Invisible Incendiary: Steve Hutchinson
Catalyst Lass: Elisabeth Riba
Manga Man Gold: Andrew Perron via Craig Thomas Judd, used with permission
Masterplan Lad: me, usable with permission
Cascaders: Jef Kolodziej
Token Girl: Tara ‘LJC' O'Shea
WikiBoy: Tom Russell
Lass Lad: Dave Van Domelen
????: ???????? (you probably know who this character is from my tumblr and
other work and past posts, but shhhhhh)


Everyone's the hero of their own story, as the saying goes. I've been
wanting for a while to have a story that gets deeper into the Crossover
Queen--a story about why she does what she does, how she sees herself and
her goals, and why people follow her. I also wanted to explore how Merissa
got from Beige Countdown for Just Another Cascade, and lay the groundwork
for all the ways she's changed.

I don't know when the next part of this will be out--probably after JI
(which will take longer than a month to finish, alas). In the meantime I'm
continuing to work on my ILC issues and at least one issue of Another LNH

Adrian "The Dark Spaceknight" McClure, now with sig
"All spelling errors are to be ingored"--Stephen Ratliff
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