LNH20: LNH20 Comics Presents #22: "The Return of Captain Killfile"
pwerdna at gmail.com
Mon Apr 22 15:25:07 PDT 2019
and she fell
and with a rude THUMP! she fell back into the world.
She scrambled to her feet. Disorientation. A sudden confusing sense of place.
Cold, but not the cold of space, a natural, wintery chill. Dark - night.
Greenery, trees, bits of snow - nearby, a fence. Quiet here, but the quick
rushing-river nose of traffic nearby, the clouds glowing softly. A city. Not a
Last memory. Fighting. People she loved. ...fighting the people she loved.
Because... because she had been Hildy, but now she was Captain Killfile, and
they were trying to stop her from saving the world...
And then the wind kicked up and a copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer hit her in
She flailed around, electric crackling coming out of her gauntlets, and
eventually managed to rip the paper off her face and examine it. What the--
Cleveland!? What was she doing in the second-most boring city in the nation[*]!?
[* In fact, the 2010 census shows Cleveland as the fourth-most boring city in
the United States, with the current frontrunner being West Lafayette, Indiana! -
She stared at the lines of ink, fragments of thought, memory, emotion bouncing
into each other, forming new patterns before splitting and recombining. New city
transit plan... tax breaks for people... protest against new law... rogue
net.heroes... mmm. Something about that last one felt... off...
And only then, in her haze, did she paid attention to the date. February 20th...
Out of the fog, the memories rose up. The confrontation with her old team, now
her enemies - the Saviors of the Net. Activating the great machine that would
begin the process of healing. Sig.Lad, her mentor, her hero, the one who held
her back and told her no until she had to leave, raising that damn sword, the
Sword of .Sig, Excalibur, and pulling them away into a space where time blurred
and softened... waking up and feeling the energies draining away, and draining
away with them...
It had been twenty years.
How had it ended? Had her machine worked? Had she taken away the corrupting
power of the net.humans - and had humanity managed to heal themselves?
She looked at the crumpled newspaper. Rogue net.heroes... But the printed words
swam before her eyes. No. She had to see for herself.
Captain Killfile... no, she told herself. Let's put that name aside. Right now,
I am just myself; I am just Brunhilda.
Brunhilda seemed to still be wearing the gaudy gold-and-blue costume, from...
before. When she'd taken over the airwaves, when she'd announced her plan to the
world, standing in front of the camera and waiting. It'd been a bit spiteful;
Sig.Lad had sent it to her a few months before as part of some weird attempt at
reconnecting. That guy never knew how to do things in a normal way, just a
net.hero way. That was part of...
Mmmm. Her mind was wandering, the fog still curling around it. She turned the
hood and cape inside out, exposing the dark blue lining, and pulled the hood
down over her face. Much less gaudy, pretty warm, and it'd let her see what 2019
was like without detection. Hopefully.
She slipped into the streets, keeping to the shadows, not hiding herself from
passers-by but giving them more than a moment to pay attention to her presence.
Subtle, like a ghost. Or like someone who lived in the world of ghosts, fighting
them, death to a meaningless half-life...
Like Ghost Exterminator, the mysterious masked enigma of the 1950s. He (people
thought it was a he, but nobody knew for sure) wandered thru the streets of San
Francisco, stopping to help those in need. He didn't have any net.human powers,
just skills, insight, and determination. Nobody knew why the name, either, but
the big theory was that he was trying to rid himself of the ghosts who haunted
him by helping others.
There had been more Ghost Exterminators in the decades since. It was an identity
taken up by those who didn't want to operate under an identity of their own,
living ghosts who fought the invisible specters that made society shudder and
brought them into the light. Like she had. She'd seen what was wrong with the
world that everybody else was too distracted or self-satisfied to realize, and
Suddenly, action - damn, she'd left herself open in her distraction. Some kind
of bright light next to her, and a loud voice-- "Greetings, Cleve.LAN.d!"
She rolled to the side and reached for her sword-- and it wasn't there. Falling
back on net.hero instincts already, tch.
It was a giant TV, on the side of some kind of sports stadium. On it was a
woman, a decade older than her, in a gaudy blue-and-gold mask and hood, with a
megalomaniacal expression on her face. "I certainly hope you've missed me! But
let me reintroduce myself!" She threw her arms out, flinging her gold-sequined
cape to the sides. "I am... CAPTAIN KILLFILE!"
Brunhilda blinked. "...the heck you say," she murmured.
The fake!? took a step back, gesturing grandoisely at an enormous, complicated
machine, all neon lights and chrome. "I have rebuilt my patented Kill-O-Ray, and
am ready to unleash its awesome force!"
"That's *not* what it was called," snarled Brunhilda, her back going up. Some
kind of awful parody, what *was* this?
"The fine government of this fair city has an hour to deliver ten million
dollars in unmarked bills to the observation deck of the Terminal Tower - or
I'll activate my device, and allow the dreaded Killfile to sweep over the land
once more!" She pushed her face back into the camera, grinning with devilish
glee. "Yes, you don't want *that*, do you? You may complain about your
net.heroes, but ohhhhh, how you hated them going away! Ha ha!"
It felt like Brunhilda had been kicked in the stomach. What. No. Okay. No. Calm
down. Fuck. Ugh. No. She pushed the storm of screaming thoughts out of her head
and tried to concentrate on the screen.
"That's right!" shouted the masked face. "This is... THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN
"ugh shut uuuuup," she muttered, listening. Terminal Tower. Observation deck.
"And in case you doubt me..." The faux Captain stepped to the side, revealing a
table with a shiny apple on a plate painted like a bullseye. Brunhilda noticed
the glass lenses sliding along the machine's surface, passing past each other,
clicking into place. They hummed, and the lights in the room seemed to darken,
especially around the apple, which seemed to-- not disappear, nothing as sudden
as that, but become less noticeable, more like the background, layer by layer,
until it was completely gone.
Damn. That was absolutely real Killfile Energy. Sometime in the last twenty
years, someone else had gotten up to her level - insult to injury.
"One hour, ladies, gents and honored guests! The clock starts--" Her hand
hovered over a huge digital readout, pushed a big red button on it, and it
started counting down. "Now!" The image disappeared, the screen turning an
all-over blue with a big 'VIDEO' on it.
Brunhilda breathed in. Captain Killfile breathed out. All right. All right. Calm
This was why she came out in Cleveland, twenty years later. To be shown this,
to... stop this? To... understand? Ugh. But she didn't understand. Not yet. Why
didn't... *hated*? Maybe it was a lie. Maybe it had made life better and this
clown was like one of those politicians who talked about how much better things
were with the new trade agreement even as it ground people into dust.
Or maybe she'd ground people into dust, thoughtlessly, caring only about
herself-- no, calm down Hildy, you're okay, said the voice in her head that
sounded just like Sig.Lad and *ugh* didn't that sting now. But she listened, and
it said: See what's going on, take the time to understand, and see if you can help.
Her Killfile Gauntlets were on the fritz, and she didn't have much time to
tinker, but she knew just how to set up a killfile that would absorb energy
weapons and shield her from detection, not to mention keep any
externally-imposed killfiles from being placed on her. As for non-energy
weapons, well, she'd just have to fall back on her fight training.
Now. Where was the Terminal Tower? Well, when you weren't sure where to find
someone to fight, follow the police cars.
It turned out to be only a few minutes' walk. There was a big plaza around it
with a bunch of expensive-looking restaurants and stores, now evacuated as the
police set up a cordon. She kept back half a block, staying in the shadows to
maximize the stealth effect of her killfile. How would she get in? Sure, she
wasn't especially visible, but someone with that level of killfile technology
would have ways of seeing thru it...
"GAH!" She leapt in the air, spinning around and landing in a defense position,
ready to strike at... a ten-year-old? What? Not only that, but a ten-year-old
standing in an alleyway, wearing something that looked like miniaturized night
vision goggles, but with googly eyes glued on them. He was looking right at her...
Then she recognized him. This kid wasn't just a kid, he was Kid Enthusiastic, an
immortal who was actually older than her. (Not a *lot* older, but still.) He'd
occasionally worked with the Saviors, but had never wanted to join - he had his
own stuff going on. But it looked like he had a team now; there were a bunch of
figures in colorful spandex behind him in the alley. Looked like teenagers,
actually. Kinda familiar, but they must've been born after she disappeared...
"Who are you?" said the Kid. Damn, she was still zoning out. Okay, focus. "I
thought I knew all the net.heroes operating in this area!"
"I'm, uh..." Captain Killfile was out, and she sure as heck wasn't going back to
Kid Killfile. She flicked a switch on her gauntlet, appearing in the teenagers'
vision like a spectre manifesting. "Ghost Exterminator."
"Ohhhhh!" Kid E clapped his hands with his famed energy. "One of *them*, gotcha
gotcha. Well, I'm Kid Enthusiastic, and these are.." He gestured to the teens,
who stepped out of the alley and posed! "The Ultimate Saviors!"
"Saviors?" Waaaaait a minute... she squinted. "As in... the Saviors of the Net?"
There were five of them, all wearing masks, but their facial structures were
clear as daylight, and... oh boy. *Oh* boy.
"Yeah, that's right! Apparently W.H.A.T.E.V.E.R. wanted to clone them and have
their own set of mind-controlled net.heroes! So we all busted out, together!" He
spun around and pointed at them. "Ultimate Saviors, roll call!"
"Super Scary Dazzle Bird!" A young man in his late teens stepped out at Kid
Enthusiastic's call. His costume was part black and part holographic sparklies,
with long wings drooping off of the arms, and held a long fighting staff in a
defensive pose. His eyes twitched back and forth, making sure that despite Kid
E's loudness, no one was looking towards them. Brunhilda knew from the color
choices alone that this must be the clone of Chromium Age
"Robot Girl!" A girl whose skin glimmered chrome, with cat ears and a feline
muzzle, wearing a green belly-shirt and shorts with a bright red belt, gloves
and boots. She swept her long silver hair out of her face as it fluttered in the
cold February wind and gave Brunhilda a level gaze, sizing her up. The outfit
was terrible for this weather, but it didn't matter - this was the clone of
MechaKat, who could nanobiologically turn flesh to titanium alloy. And if they
had her, they probably also had...
"Action Lad!" A boy in a red wraparound jacket with silver trim and silver pants
and wearing a transparent red visor, with a friendly but focused expression, and
his hand on a sword hilt at his belt. Yep, that was him but younger - Sig.Lad,
her old mentor, her new-old foe. She kept her face steady as the feelings
whirled. Could this night get any more tuned to probe her insecurities?
"Kid Kindle!" This one was even younger - thirteen, maybe fourteen, with red
hair that flickered with little tongues of fire as she watched, wearing a white
robe with flames flickering along the bottom and a long scarf around his mouth.
His eyes were excited, taking in the new visitor, and it was hard to keep her
face steady, because boy did she ever know those eyes and that fire, boy did she
know that boy - Flamebroiled Lad, avatar of the cosmic entity of intense
emotion, the Flamebroiled Force. Her nemesis, her archrival, that stupid jerk
who kept hogging the other Nintendo controller. Her brrrrr... o. Her bro.
And with a sudden shuddering shock that made the February evening feel balmy by
comparison, she realized who the last clone would be--
"Kid Killswitch!" And there she came, in shining white armor with a bright red
"power off" symbol on the chest, that familiar face, those familiar eyes,
intelligent and curious and driven and broken, no, not that, said the voice in
her head, but eyes that had known both pain and joy, like and unlike her own -
the clone of Captain Killfile.
Brunhilda tried to release the churning whirlwind of emotions into some form
that could be understood by men, but all that came out of her mouth was a
murmured "...I'm too young to be my own mom..."
"...a?" Kid Enthusiastic tilted his head to the side, looking up at her curiously.
She shook her head, took a deep breath, and put away every feeling she didn't
have time for right now. An incredibly useful skill from the life-or-death
battle days. "That is, uh... Saviors, huh? So how are they ultimate?"
"Because they're the best and I love them!" Kid Enthusiastic spun around and
posed, holding his arms wide as he showed off his team.
"Right yeah." Mecha-- er, Robot Girl stepped forward. "And apparently the lady
what messed up the original Saviors is back and serious, so it's our job to stop
her since they can't. Got a problem with that?"
Brunhilda couldn't help but smile. Well, well, the kids are all right. "Nope.
Was just thinking the same thing."
"I don't know if I'd say it's our *job*," said Action Lad, stepping forward
non-confrontationally into Robot Girl's confrontation space, "that seems to be
Kid E nodded! "We've been laying low while we try'n contact the LNH. It's hard -
W.H.A.T.E.V.E.R. has facial recognition technology they use on all the security
cam footage they can grab, and they can grab nearly all of it. So we've been
keeping under wraps."
"But we still have to get out there and save people!" Kid Kindle's hair burst
briefly into full flame, and he grinned in enthusiasm. Great, another one taking
after his mentor. "We can't just stay in a safehouse and send emails!"
"So we wear facial-recognition-defeating face paint when we're undercover, and
go on missions without it, since it's going to be obvious either way that the
team of five teenage net.heroes that appeared out of nowhere are the same five
teenage net.humans that disappeared from not-so-protective custody." Super Scary
Dazzle Bird (what a name!) looked off towards the Terminal Tower. "Speaking of
which, if you're coming with us, we'd better get going. The clock is still ticking."
The LNH must be the Something Net.Heroes, and Whatever... Net.villans?
Government agency? Something else? Bad guys, or so Kid Enthusiastic thought, and
she had to admit, cloning her old team in order to have some kind of controlled
force didn't seem like an especially ethical thing. Had they taken over during
the Killfile, when there weren't any net.heroes to stop them?
Brunhilda released her anxious feelings again, though this time it was harder.
"Right. Time to team up and beat the bad guy." Just like the old days, only now,
the bad guy was her...
No, the bad guy was a cheap copy who had no idea what she'd actually been trying
to do. And she could at least take responsibility for her imitators, and deal
with whatever else she'd unleashed later.
Heh. W.H.A.T.E.V.E.R. else.
Kid Killswitch hadn't said anything. She was still looking at Brunhilda. But she
nodded and followed along with everyone else.
Brunhilda took a battery from Super Scary Dazzle Bird and wired it into her
gauntlets, extending the killfile to cover all of them. They snuck past the
cops, Robot Girl and Action Lad keeping their eyes on the perimeter in case
someone caught a glimpse.
There were a couple of muscly dudes in gold-and-blue suits standing next to the
entrance. Kid Kindle reached out, a lance of emotional fire shooting out and
hitting one of them in the back; nostalgia and guilt flared in Brunhilda's chest
at the display of power.
The goon straightened up from his slumped position and pushed the other one
roughly. "Hey, wake up! I don't wanna lose my paycheck because of you!"
Another blast of energizing anger, and the other goon pushed back. "Shut up!
You're the one who said this was gonna be an easy job, and now there's ten
thousand cops out there and we're probably gonna be left holding the bag!"
"You shut up! God, I should never have dated you!" The one goon slapped the
other goon, and the other goon slapped back, and they grabbed each other and
started rolling on the ground, passionately making out, and Brunhilda and the
Ultimate Saviors snuck inside.
Down a small, lightless corridor, and down to the elevator. Robot Girl leaned
in, removing the panel and sticking her fingers in among the wires. She
stretched out her hand and a screen appeared showing datastreams zipping back
and forth; Kid Killswitch and Super Scary Dazzle Bird leaned in to analyze it.
Action Lad and Kid Kindle spread out, keeping watch.
Kid E bounced in place, watching his charges figure out the puzzle. Brunhilda
leaned back on the wall next to him, watching them as well, especially the one
who was-and-wasn't her. "They have a heck of a lot of personality, for people
who came out of a vat not long ago."
Kid E nodded enthusiastically! "They're not just regular clones, they're
biotropic duplicates! W.H.A.T.E.V.E.R. stole the device that Sig.Lad used to
copy people's power signatures and used it to template them as they were
growing? They even lured a Salamander[*] in to possess Kid Kindle! But we stole
the device back and now Action Lad's using it!"
[* Also known as Ifrits, Salamanders are the fiery elemental offspring of the
Flamebroiled Force which possessed and empowered Flamebroiled Lad! - Ed.(UE)]
"Ahhh." Brunhilda ran the tip of her tongue over her lip. "So... their
personalities are clones too?"
"Sort of." Kid E wiggled his hand. "They're definitely their own people, tho - I
knew the originals, and these guys aren't making the same choices they would've."
"Mmmm..." Brunhilda breathed in deep, let it out. "That's good, that's real good..."
"All right." Super Scary Dazzle Bird stood up and turned to them, all business.
(God, that *name*. Not that it was any sillier than Chromium Age
Very-Scary-Disturbed-Creature Man.) "We've hacked the elevator so that it'll
take us to the top without triggering alarm system notifications. But to do
that, it has to go slow - it'll take us fifteen minutes to get up there."
"We only have, like, *twenty* minutes left before the deadline!" Kid Kindle
brought his fists against his chest, eyes wide in passion and fear. "What if she
actually brings back the Killfile!?"
"She *won't*." Brunhilda straightened up, squaring her shoulders. "As you can
probably tell, I have, uh, some experience with killfile tech." She gestured at
the ceiling. "That machine she's got is advanced, but there's no way it could
project a subject-based killfile broad enough to cover Ohio, let alone the
world." You'd need a much bigger power source, and the one she'd used... wasn't
available. As far as she knew.
"Could still do some damage, though," remarked Kid Killswitch, looking up at her.
Aw, baby's first words... Brunhilda regretted the sarcastic thought immediately.
"Oh yeah, and how. Killfiles can mess with all sorts of important shit. She
could take Cleveland down hard, and her next blackmail scheme would seem all the
"So we'd better hurry." MechaKat closed her hand, the screen disappeared, and
the door of the elevator opened. They all shuffled in, and silently, it began to
rise. In the background, a jazzy instrumental version of "Mad World" started
"Right," said Action Lad. "Ultimate Saviors... waiting mode!!"
Brunhilda watched as all five of them sat down and immediately pulled Magic: The
Gathering decks out of somewhere in their costumes, shuffling up with practiced
speed. "Turn one, mountain, lighting bolt Action Lad." "Why me!?" "Because we
don't have time for one of your weird blue shapeshifter decks!" "Awww..."
Kid Enthusiastic leaned back against the wall next to her. "So~"
"Feels like you've got some more questions in you! And we've got time."
The side of Brunhilda's mouth turned down at his easy poke at her boundaries...
but it wasn't like she didn't have a thousand and one questions, bubbling and
burning in her belly, about this new world she'd found herself one of the
creators of. And the most burning of them all... "Well... you were around back
then, right? What was the Killfile *like*?"
"Oh man. It *mega* sucked," Kid Enthusiastic chirped. "I mean, life was kind of
normal, but the kind of normal where you're working a crappy job and it's gray
and depressing outside, you know?"
"...oh." It felt like cold water had been thrown in her face. The boxes that
she'd put her feelings in earlier burst open, flooding her system with
"Like," continued Kid E, not noticing her face's fall, "there were *so* many bad
guys and even though they couldn't build Kill-O-Rays or send robot goons at you,
they could still just keep making things worse all the time." He hummed, looking
off into the distance in appreciation. "Even though things really suck right
now, people are really fighting, too. Back then, it seemed like hardly any of us
could fight - or could even see there was anything worth fighting!"
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. That was... that was...
Brunhilda Ampulle had been just another kid kicking around the foster care
system, just kind of existing, and then she looked up and someone had reached
out a hand and she'd taken it. And she'd become a net.hero because that hand had
belonged to a net hero.
But that was only why she'd *started* doing it. She'd *kept* doing it because
she could just reach out and help people, right in front of her. And she'd done
that for a while and she wasn't just existing, she was living, and she was...
getting better, most days.
And eventually she'd gotten better enough to where she could lift her head up,
and look out at the world... and see that, actually, there were a lot more awful
things going on out there, outside her city and her team, than she had realized.
Things she couldn't just reach out and affect. Things none of the net.heroes
seemed to be able to affect, even the stupidly powerful ones who Kept Watch Over
The World. But those net.heroes kept going, kept getting into big splashy fights
over things that seemed so small, and those faraway troubles just kept getting
better, just kept getting closer. And then...
Look, people died all the time, she knew that, you fought guys with guns and
that happened. But this hadn't been in a fight, and it hadn't been someone who
signed up for it, and... it was so unnecessary, so meaningless, and Alice wasn't
even... She was nice and kind and good and people like that weren't even
Well. So she left. She left, and one of her little theoretical ideas turned into
a big not-so-theoretical idea, and... and she became one of those troubles, and...
"It wasn't all bad, tho."
"--oh!?" Brunhilda jerked out of her reverie, hardly even caring that the
Ultimate Saviors had all looked up at her half-squeaked exclamation. She settled
back, and they returned to their game.
"Yeah, like..." Kid Enthusiastic rubbed his chin, teasing out a complex emotion.
"I feel like... After the Killfile, people appreciated us more. No, like, not
just us, the whole... the whole *idea*." He put his hands out, squeezing
something invisible. "Even when the government was trying to control us and
there were a lot of people pushing against us, there were so many people who, it
seemed like... had woken up after decades, maybe their whole lives, and realized
that actually fighting evil is good?"
"I..." She closed her mouth, a little puff of breath escaping out her nose. That
answer was... *frustrating*. Not exactly the positive impact she'd wanted from
her efforts - "people suffered so much that they realized they had to give a shit".
...on the other hand... maybe that was the best outcome she could've hoped for...
She rested her head against the wall of the elevator and listened to the soft
rumbling as it moved. Even before Alice... did it, Brunhilda had realized that
there was something wrong with the world. A huge, low-level grossness, an
*apathy*, spreading over it. She remembered seeing cartoons about Saving the
Planet, and thinking they were lame, and then realizing that no, this was a real
problem that kept getting worse as people kept laughing at it. She heard how
stupid that woman who spilled coffee on herself was, and came to understand that
the "joke" was that someone would want to get money and apology from a
trillion-dollar corporation that just kept growing and growing and taking and
*taking*, and how foolish and lazy that was. She saw that bombs were being
lobbed every day straight into schools full of little kids who weren't white and
weren't Christian and the generals shrugged and said "oops, accident" and it
just kept going on in the background and everyone was grumbling about it but no
one was shouting, no one really and truly *cared* and...
And it *had* to be someone's fault. It hadn't always been like this, someone had
*caused* this, but who was powerful enough to change the entire world like that?
And she looked around herself and realized: It was us. The net.heroes, the
net.villains. They were powerful and everyone looked up to them, the celebrities
and heroes of the world.
And the more she looked for it, the more she saw it. Their, our, weird
self-obsession, our attachment to their own battles, and especially, the way
that, whenever we tried to confront wars and environmental damage and real
suffering, it never produced a solution that stuck. Even the Saviors, even
Sig.Lad, only ever put band-aids on the problems.
And then... Look, sometimes you stretched out your hand to someone and they were
in too bad of a place to take it. She *knew* that, she'd *always* known that,
but when... When you got someone out of a burning building, especially when you
sat and talked with them, and they turned out to be really cool, and nice, and
maybe were going to join your game group, and said "I'll be okay", they
weren't... Alice wasn't just supposed to... if you *saved* their *life* they
didn't have the right to...
With *effort* she pulled herself out of that loop and glanced at Kid
Enthusiastic. He gave her a cheery smile, then turned away, seeming to sense
that she was done talking for now. She wouldn't have chalked him up for that
kind of social awareness, but it was already clear he had a lot going on under
The music kept playing, a weird, jazzy loop, and as she watched the teen she had
once been play, she slipped back into her memories...
So she'd taken a leave of absence from the Saviors.
...so she'd had an enormous screaming crying argument with the Saviors and left.
And after she'd parked herself in a cheap hotel and cried everything out, she
had made some plans.
She'd used the Saviors' wages she'd saved up and the modest royalties from her
patents to buy a workshop in Clearwater Hill, one of Net.ropolis's poorest
neighborhoods. And she set about working in the solution. The Killfile Device.
She'd been thinking of it as something she could present to the smart,
reasonable heroes, talk it over and use it as a tool to scrape the worst bits
out of net.humanity before it was too late. A decision she wouldn't have to make
But... a few months in, people had noticed she wasn't with the Saviors anymore.
Action Bimonthly, a mid-level magazine about net.hero goings-on, contacted her
for an interview. And she was so excited, she could tell people - no, not all
the details, but what she'd noticed, her goals, and get the message out, and
there would be like-minded people who would come to her and they could work
And the interview came out and... nobody seemed to notice? Nobody came out of
the woodwork to join in her cause? She didn't *hear* anything?
No, it had been worse than that, because she had certainly heard things when she
read the letters to the editor in Action. How people like her were making a
fuss, distracting from the real issues, making the people who were actually
trying to fix things look bad.
So she didn't take any more interviews after that. She just worked. She had
already started and she couldn't stop now and she didn't think about what would
happen when she was done.
But there was one thing she couldn't figure out, one thing she'd been hoping to
get help with from somebody - a power source.
And a little voice was whispering in her head. Quietly at first, and she pushed
it away and kept working, but louder and louder as she went deeper and deeper
into single-minded focus. The net.heroes caused this problem. The net.heroes had
Killfile Energy filtered, separated. She could separate the power from those who
had it, use their own wasted might that had tried and failed so many times to
save the world, to finally save it once and for all.
She built a power-channeling device. Just to test the idea. And if she found
someone who wanted to help and had the power she could use it for that, right?
And the day came when every part of the device was done and there weren't any
more tweaks left to make, and there weren't any more tests to be run, and she
had to stop and face the prospect of actually using it.
By this time, the obsessive thoughts were a constant background pounding. She
had to show them. She had to stop them. Before it was too late. It was almost
too late. Something awful was going to rush up at any second, some net.hero with
too much power was going to make a mistake, and smash the world flat, and it
would be her fault. But it was okay. She had the machine, and she could use it
and fix things, save the world...
And she knew how she could get the power.
She knew how to bring net.heroes running. Net.heroes with the power to feel her
machine. And part of her knew just which heroes it would end up being. Part of
her begged her not to. She broke down into crying fits, finally telling herself
that she would just talk to them first, that they'd *have* to hear her out when
she had this power at her back.
She cleaned herself up. She put on that costume. She activated her stealth
killfiles. She walked straight into the big national news studio with no one
seeing, put every living soul who could stop her in a half-hour killfile bubble,
put the cameras on her and sent out her message.
This time she wasn't able to hold it back like she did in the interview. She
told the world what was wrong with it and why; how the net.heroes had gone too
far, and not knowing or understanding, had betrayed the rest of humanity. She
announced her plan to clear them away and let the world heal. And she told them
where to find her. Then she turned her killfiles back on and walked away.
And of course when she got to the workshop the Saviors were there already and of
course they would have seen her coming in and of course there was no time to
talk, right, it wasn't that she was striking the first blow because she knew in
her heart that if she said what she meant she would be rejected again, of course
not of course not
Even though Sig.Lad was already trying to reach out as she pushed them back with
a killfile shell, even though Lurking Girl broke her solitude to ask why, even
though she could see the bitter sadness in MechaKat's eyes
And the only one strong enough to break thru her shells burst in, as she knew he
would, knocking her back against the machine, Felix, her stupid little brother
fighting her again, she'd never told him she thought of him like that, he was
yelling at her about how she was betraying them all, and she yelled at him about
how he didn't understand because he only cared about fake shit like anime and
being a hero
And she pulled the lever
And the killfile activated, splitting him in two, Felix Landers and the
Flamebroiled Force, never to be reunited, discarding the one and sending the
other into the machine, straight thru her
All the rage, all the fear, all the resentment, all the secret impossible buried
hope, channeled straight thru her body and mind and into her machine and she
felt it unfold, the dampening blanket enfolding the world
And in the distance, a glint of metal, Sig.Lad raised his sword, and somehow she
could see his eyes, great and sad and knowing it was over, and summoning his own
death, because the wielder of Excalibur could only have one end, opening the
gate to the fairy world to sleep forever, and time slowing down and slipping away
and she'd been right some net.hero with too much power made a mistake and
smashed the world flat and it was her that's what she was that's what she'd done
it was her fault she wasn't a hero she'd never been a hero that's why Captain
Killfile was the worst net.villain ever
"Hey... are you okay?"
Brunhilda jerked back to reality. Without realizing it, she'd slumped to the
ground, legs folded up against her. Kid Enthusiastic and the Ultimate Saviors
were gathered around her, looking down with concern and/or worry. Her head and
face were tingling, and she reached up with a shaking hand to touch her face...
yes, it was covered in tears.
"I..." She swallowed thickly, trying to find words, but all that came to mind
was... the Killfile wasn't set with an ending date. It could have lasted for
centuries. Somehow, the Saviors had stopped that but... it could have been so
much worse and it was all her fault...
Wait, something was wrong, other than everything...
"The music stopped," she said.
Everyone's head turned. With a click, the doors began to open...
Kid Killswitch grabbed Brunhilda's wrist, grabbed the loose wire and touched it
to the battery. The stealth killfile spread out to cover them.
The doors slid open. The guards stationed on either side of the elevator peered
inside. Everyone held their breath...
The guards looked at each other, shrugged, and settled back in place. The door
slowly closed. Everyone breathed out.
Robot Girl leaned in and slapped her hand on the button panel. "Keeping the door
closed, keeping us in place."
"Right. Everybody, put your fingers in your ears and go la-la-la," said Kid
"...why!?" said Super Scary Dazzle Bird, throwing his hands in the air. "This
isn't the kind of--"
"Just *do* it, nerd!" Kid Killswitch rolled her eyes.
Kid Kindle turned. "Kid E, what do you--"
"La la la la-- were we not supposed to yet?"
Super Scary Dazzle Bird sighed. "Okay, okay, fine... la la la la..."
"I gotta keep my hand here," said Robot Girl, "but I'll turn off my audio
"Sure yeah whatever." Kid Killswitch waited until everyone was la-la-la-ing, and
turned to Brunhilda. "Okay. Get up, Captain Killfile."
"I..." She took in a shuddering breath, let it out. Too late to deny it and she
didn't have the composure anyway. She didn't even feel as shocked as she should.
Kid Killswitch rolled her eyes again. "We know who we're supposed to be. You
think I don't know that face from splashing cold water on it at three in the
morning, wondering when I would start feeling the urge to Go Bad?"
"...fuck..." The guilt stabbed right back into her brain. "sorry."
"Look--" Kid Killswitch shook her head and made a pushing-it-away motion. "Don't
worry about it. I don't think there's anybody who didn't get their parents'
anxieties. Maybe Kid E. Anyway, that's not what I wanted to say and we don't
have much time." She ran her hand thru her hair, looking off to the side. "I
read that interview. I wanted to know who you were and why you did it and I dug
that up and... it made sense."
Brunhilda blinked, a bit of the haze of grief and guilt lifting, replaced by
intrigued confusion. "...seriously?" She actually found a copy after twenty
years? How-- wait, it made *sense*?
"Yeah. Like, I dunno if I agree with you twenty years on, but like, you were
clearly not crazy, you clearly had a good goal in mind, you were clearly tryin'a
help." She grinned that same always-a-bit-smug grin. "After I read it I didn't
have quite as many nightmares."
"...wow." The huge weight hanging on Brunhilda's nerves and bones started to
rise off a bit. "Y'know, you're the first one who's ever said that?"
"Not surprised. Controversial shit, and you were shooting it into the void. You
didn't have anybody to talk over ideas with, did ya?"
"I mean..." She sighed. "The Saviors, but..."
"Yeah. They didn't get it." She looked over her shoulder, at everyone going 'la
la la'. "It's different with these nerds. They support my stupid ideas, even if
they give me shit for them. And I support theirs, even if they're morons half
"Yeah..." Brunhilda was... jealous and happy at the same time. Today was just a
smorgasbord of new emotions, huh. "You don't have to be like me."
"Hey, look." Kid Killswitch stuck her finger in Brunhilda's face. Jeez, she
*couldn't* have been this rude, right? "My point is? I *want* to be like you."
"...kid." Brunhilda squinted in disbelief. "Thanks for being nice to the crazy
lady, but. I just broke down crying because I fucked up the world so bad."
"EXACTLY, crazy lady!" Kid Killswitch gesticulated passionately. "You fucked up
and you know it and now you're gonna try and fix it, right?"
"..." Flashes of what she'd done - the blanket, formed from her own resentment
and pain wrapping around the world. "I don't think I can..." But under that
pain... that purpose. To be the hand that reached out. "But... fuck it. Whatever
I can do, I'll do." She breathed out, and a little more of that awful weight
floated away. "That's who I am now. Someone who makes up for the Killfile."
"Right." Kid Killswitch nodded firmly. "That's who I want to be. Someone who
makes mistakes and makes up for it and keeps going." She looked Brunhilda in the
eye. "A hero."
Brunhilda sucked in her breath. "Damn. How are you this smart when you just came
out of a tube?"
Kid Killswitch giggled, with that bit of familiar bubbly snottiness. She'd
missed feeling that way. "I got it from you, bozo. I literally have your brain."
"Right." Brunhilda shook herself out, ran her hands thru her hair. "Well... thanks."
Kid Killswitch snerked. "Don't thank me, I'm being selfish. The others get to be
clones of heroes, why shouldn't I?" She reached out a hand. "C'mon. Get up...
Brunhilda grinned and took the hand, pulling herself up. She still didn't feel
like a good person, exactly. But hell. She didn't have to be, to be a hero.
Kid Killswitch tapped Kid E on the shoulder, and they got the others to stop
la-la-la-ing while Brunhilda smoothed herself out. Super Scary Dazzle Bird
fluffed out his cape irritably. "So what was *that* about?"
"Simple. Remember when Kid E told us about secret weaknesses, like Captain
Minority being vulnerable to artificial vanilla flavor?" Kid Killswitch gestured
to Brunhilda. "Well, Ghosty here just got hit with *her* secret weakness, and I
figured out what it was and helped her out."
"'Cause you're so smart," grinned Kid Kindle, and held out his fist.
"'Cause I'm so smart!" grinned Kid Killswitch, and bumped it.
"And you didn't wanna expose the secret to everybody!" Kid Enthusiastic pumped
his fists. "Good job!"
"Yeah, nice, there's problems," said Robot Girl, hand still on the panel. "The
mayor gave in and there's a chopper that's gonna set down on the roof in like
two minutes with the money."
"I mean, better for her to get away with the money than for people to get hurt,"
said Action Lad.
"Yeah," said Brunhilda, cracking her knuckles. "But even better to kick her ass."
"Just tell me when," said Robot Girl.
"Everybody!" called out Kid Enthusiastic gleefully, even though they were all
literally right there. "Cool team pose!"
"Come *on*," groused Kid Killswitch, but she was grinning. She and Kid Kindle
lined up on one side of Kid Enthusiastic, Super Scary Dazzle Bird and Action Lad
on the other, forming a V. Brunhilda got over on the left side of the door,
mirroring Robot Girl on the left. All seven of them got into action stances, and
Robot Girl took her hand off the door.
With a ding, the door opened. One of the goons was kneeling down, whistling,
examining the mechanism. She looked up, still whistling...
And Robot Girl's metal fist plowed into her chin, knocking her back and away.
The other goon straightened up, going for the ray gun at her side. "Ey, it's
some kinda ghost!"
"More like a Ghost Exterminator!" Brunhilda's gauntleted knuckles impacted the
goon's stomach. The banter was comforting.
"Oofda!" She went down too, and Super Scary Dazzle Bird and Kid Killswitch
grabbed the dropped ray guns. The seven net.heroes ran down the hall and Action
Lad kicked the door in.
The fake Captain Killfile was gloating at the cameras, as her goons moved her
machine onto a dolly. "Thank you for your service, Cleveland! You've got a
lovely city here - hope it stays that way, haha!"
Kid Killswitch lifted the ray gun she'd grabbed, aimed, fired it at the
impostor... only for the beam to fade into nothing before it hit her!
"Shit!" said Brunhilda. "She's got a personal defense killfile!"
"Ha-*hah*!" the impostor crowed, turning to face them, pumping her fist in glee.
"We have guests! Blacklisters, activate the Killfile Killfile!"
One of the goons hit a switch on the big machine, and Brunhilda felt a soft wave
of dampening energy roll over the room - dropping the Killfile that kept them
"Looks like we're doing this the hard way, guys!" Kid Enthusiastic leapt into
the fray, and the team followed in his wake of morale.
She turned to the camera and gave it a wink. "Now the whole city will see the
*true* might of the legendary-- Captain Killfile!!"
Of course she had to keep saying that, grumbled Brunhilda. And now "killfile"
didn't sound like a word anymore.
Robot Girl lashed out with metal claws, slicing ray guns in two. "You have a
*team name* for your *minions*? That's *way* too retro, lady."
"I dunno, though." Action Lad took the hilt from the scabbard he wore, and
pulled out an enormous pen with a sword-like hilt and a glowing blue tip. He
inscribed a name in the air, writing "Linguini Lass" with liquid light, in
loopy, flowing cursive. "I'd say it's so retro it's cool again." He pulled the
pen away, and the looping script flowed into his body, outlining him in neon
blue. His limbs stretched out, noodle-like, to entangle the goons.
Kid Kindle shot empowering energy into the bodies of his teammates. "Yeah! I'm
glad we got a net.villain with some style!"
Robot Girl knocked two goons' heads together and sighed. "Yeah, that's what I
thought you'd say."
Brunhilda scooted sideways in the fray. "Hey," she murmured to Kid Killswitch,
"I got an idea."
Super Scary Dazzle Bird was attempting more shots at the impostor, reasoning
that if the Killfile Killfile had killfiled their killfile, then her own
killfile must also be killfiled. (And now "killfile" *really* didn't look like a
word anymore.) Unfortunately, said impostor had made it over to the Kill-O-Ray,
which seemed to be protected by a non-killfile-based forcefield, and was
flipping switches and cackling.
Brunhilda stepped directly in front of the cameras. She summoned all the
performative net.hero drama she was capable of, and pointed dramatically at the
impostor with her right hand, bare now, her index finger aligned perfectly with
her target. "Stop right there! I *know* you're not the real Captain Killfile!"
The impostor's body stiffened, and she spun around, her manic grin a bit stiffer
and less real than it had been a moment ago. "Hah!" She straightened, tossing
her arm so that her sparkly cape billowed dramatically. "And why would you make
such a foolish proclamation? Some kind of net.hero trickery?"
"No." The heavy weight of grief and guilt was laying against Brunhilda's chest.
But she knew, now. She'd let guilt fester in her, guilt over not being the one
to fix the world all by herself, and it had lead to a lot of terrible things.
You were supposed to share the weight of the world, because it belonged to
everybody; you weren't supposed to hold it up alone until it crushed you and
everybody else in the process. She didn't need to be the one to solve
everything. She just needed to let out the knowledge, the feelings, she was
holding inside - spread them to the world, as far as she could, and let everyone
know the truth.
"It's because..." Brunhilda pulled down her hood, and looked up at the impostor.
"Because my name is Brunhilda Ampulle. And I..." She looked directly into the
camera. "I was Captain Killfile."
Everything was quiet for a moment.
"...wait, *what*!?" shouted Kid Kindle, before dodging yet another kick by a
"You..." the impostor's eyes narrowed. She ripped the gaudy cape and hood off,
tossing it on the floor. From her belt she pulled a metal tube and hit a button
on it, and out popped a blade of searing gray-white nothingness that hurt the
eyes to look at - coherent Killfile Energy. "It's YOUR FAULT!"
Action Lad undropped his jaw. "G-- C-- Ghost Exterminator, *catch*!" He tossed
his pen-sword thru the air.
Brunhilda caught it as it came down, just in time to block the impostor's blade.
"Yeah, it was. All my fault." She danced back, parried, thrusted. "What's your
"Jessica Blackstone, heiress to the scientific traditions of Patricia
Blackstone!" Jessica dodged the thrust, going in with big, wild slashes - not as
wild as they seemed, though, and Brunhilda had to twist and counter with expert
timing. "I was eleven when the Killfile went up! My mother had been an expert in
the field of killfile weapons research! Courted by governments, showered in
grant money, treated like a queen! And I, her princess! We had money and wealth!
And then it all went away!"
"Gotcha. This is a revenge story." Brunhilda's attention was focused. She didn't
think about the plan going off in the background, just on the woman in front of
her. Keep her talking. Keep her fighting. "So what happened?"
"Hah, as if you didn't *know*!" The two blades, energy and narrative, locked
against each other, and the two fighters were face to face. Jessica shouted in
Brunhilda's face, little flecks of spittle flying - ew. "With the great Killfile
up, killfile technology lost much of its power, for it's difficult to put a
killfile over a killfile! My mother knew that problem could be cracked, but the
powers that were did not care! We lost our prestige, our wealth! I had to go to
"...right. And then?" Brunhilda pushed back and fell into a defensive position,
her back to the machine. She's ranting now, let it happen, no matter how dumb it
"And then the Killfile fell, and I dedicated my life to cracking the problem! I
became the world's preeminent specialist in Killfile Energy! And I swore I would
use the position to take back the wealth and power that *you* had denied me!"
She was far too angry at Brunhilda to attack her now, glaring, yelling, wanting
her to hear every word. "I'm greater than you ever were! Stronger! Smarter!"
Kid Killswitch stepped forward, on Brunhilda's left. "Hey, bitch," she called to
what's-her-name. "If you're so smart, do you know what happens when you bring
together two rapidly fluctuating opposite-polarity killfiles?"
"...yeah," said Jessica, looking at Kid Killswitch like she was an idiot for
asking. "You create a standing watchlist wave that destroys... destroys any
She *jumped* towards them but it was too late. Kid Killswitch lifted the
right-hand gauntlet that Brunhilda had given her, the one she'd spent the fight
rewiring to the opposite polarity and setting to fluctuate. Brunhilda lifted her
left-hand gauntlet, still radiating Killfile Energy, and slammed them together.
A sphere of un-energy burst from the point of contact, knocking them apart,
knocking back the impostor, knocking down the Blacklisters and the Ultimate
Saviors. The room shone, dazzling and bright, everything standing out against
everything else. The Kill-O-Ray sparked and smoked, and with a pop! an apple
Everything was quiet for a few moments. Then Kid Killswitch pulled herself up in
front of the cameras. "Hey, folks... hope you enjoyed. City is safe, Captain
Killfile is no more, and..." She thumped her chest. "You can call *me* Captain
Killfile now." She clicked off the camera and sighed. "That feels good."
Kid Enthusiastic hopped up next, running across the room. "OMG good job!" He
pulled out a glob of green goo and used it to stick Jessica's hands together and
stick her to a pillar.
"...hey..." Jessica muttered, woozily.
He tossed another glob of goo between his hands, watching Brunhilda as she
pulled herself up. "Don't suppose I need to stick you in place for the cops too~"
Brunhilda shook her head. "Think you probably guessed that I'm not gonna be
fighting heroes anytime soon."
He giggled, but his eyes were a bit more serious, looking her up and down.
"Yeah... I don't think you are." He put the goo away. "But what *are* you gonna
"Better question, what are *we* gonna be doing," said Super Scary Dazzle Bird,
dusting off his cape. "What happened to keeping a low profile?"
"That's net.heroing," said Action Lad. "This was gonna be big one way or
another. Can I have that back?" He nodded to the pen-sword.
"Oh, sure." Brunhilda handed it back.
"Wait wait wait wait *wait*," said Kid Kindle, popping up. "Are we just gonna
ignore that she just confessed to being Captain Killfile?" He turned to Kid
Kill-- nope, she was Captain Killfile now. "Why do *you* want the name?"
Captain Killfille grinned. "Right of conquest. Claiming my heritage. And maybe I
just wanna shock the norms."
Brunhilda grinned. "Hey, I'm not using it."
Action Lad grinned. "I guess this really was... the return of Captain Killfile."
Robot Girl covered her face. "Why."
Action Lad shrugged exaggeratedly~ "I've decided to lean into dad jokes."
"Seriously, tho," said Kid Enthusiastic, bouncing in place. "What's your plans?
You're pretty clearly messed up, twenty years out of time by the look of it--
you *gotta* tell me how that happened-- and you probably don't have anywhere to go."
Brunhilda rubbed her face. "Yeah, you're right. And I gotta.." She closed her
eyes, and felt the pain suddenly well up again, felt a tear threatening to form
in the corner of her eye. The weight wasn't gone just 'cause she'd done one
thing. But it didn't hurt *quite* as much.
"Actually..." She rubbed her eyes. "I think I was wrong, before. I think I
definitely need to be taken into custody." She looked over the six of them. "But
the 2019 cops sound like they suck. So how about y'all taking me in until you
can remand me to that net.hero team you've been trying to contact?"
"...oh, good idea," said Action Lad, doing his post-battle stretches.
"I suppose that's the safest option," harrumphed Super Scary Dazzle Bird,
crossing his arms.
Robot Girl rolled her eyes. "I guess--"
"WAIT WAIT WAIT." Kid Kindle skidded in front of Brunhilda, waving his hands at
the rest of them. "You're *really* saying that we *literally* take in the
biggest bad guy of all time!? Right after-- ALL THAT!?"
Captain Killfile stepped forward. "Dude." She looked put her hand on his
shoulder and looked him in the eye. "I trust her."
"..." He siiiiiiiighed dramatically, flopping his head back and rolling his
eyes. "Fiiiiiiine. I guess *somebody*'s gotta keep an eye on her."
"Welp, that's settled!" Kid E clapped his hands. "Now... let's scram already,
the cops will be here soon!"
"Right!" The Ultimate Saviors clattered down the hallway, but Kid Enthusiastic
took Brunhilda's arm before she could follow.
"By the way," he said. "Hildy. If it's okay to call you that."
"Heh... you can call me anything you want, now, I guess," she said. "What is it?"
"Just wanted to let you know. Felix?" He smiled big up at her. "He's the leader
of the LNH!"
One more burst of cold surprise for the evening. "...ah heck." She'd have to
face him, eventually. She'd have to apologize... She could feel the tears
welling up again, and quickly rubbed her eyes. He'd survived. He... her brother
was okay. "Always... always knew he'd make somethin' of himself."
"Yeah." He smiled up at her, and took her hand. "Let's go, Ghost Exterminator."
And they walked off into the chill winter night.
"Ampulle" is the German translation of 'ampoule', a small glass vessel in which
liquids are sealed. In other words, a phial.
Linguini Lass is clearly a member of the Oddball Legion who found her way to
Earth-20 in the '90s and fought alongside the Saviors.
The renaming of Ifrits to Salamanders was, first, because I felt weird using
something that's actually part of Islam without really knowing about the
cultural history and context of it, and second, because "Salamander" is actually
a pun on flamebroiling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grilling#Salamander
Captain Killfile, Kid Enthusiastic, and the Ultimate Saviors are General Use. So
is Jessica Blackstone, for that matter, if you want to bring her back. (And now
I want to fiddle with the usability system again...)
Drew "my Earth-20 story for Earths Day" Perron
More information about the racc