LNH: Classic LNH Adventures #155: Beige Countdown Part Eight

Arthur Spitzer arspitzer2 at gmail.com
Sun Jun 14 14:05:25 PDT 2020

You can sift through the racc list archive
or you can try google groups racc for the eighth part of Beige Countdown.

And Rob Rogers incredibly long Beige Countdown #9 continues with the fourth
and fifth parts of it.  Can Deja Dude avoid an ACRA tag with his Merissa
encounter?  Will the LNH have to resort to cannibalism if they lose Steak-And-
Potatoes Man?  And can Captain Continuity escape the BENDIS trap without
destroying himself in the process?

Find out all that and more in...

             | |      Classic			
             | |                      =
             | |      ____    ____    _    ____    ___
             | |__   | [] |  | [] |  | |  | [] |  | _ \  

             |____|   \__]    \__ |  |_|   \__/   |_|\_\
                                |_|  OF NET.HEROES

                                    ADVENTURES #155

                      Beige Countdown Part Eight

From: EDMLite <robro... at gmail.com>
Subject: LNH: Beige Countdown #9 (4/9)
Date: Fri, 3 May 2013 20:49:41 +0000 (UTC)


                      Chapter Four:
            Acts of Creation, Acts of Destruction


     "Really, Merissa, you've got the wrong idea," Deja Dude
said, looking past the pink-haired girl to the bridge of the
Starship _Jefferson_ and beyond, to the vast black emptiness
of a universe that -- Merissa had assured him -- contained
nothing of any interest save the two of them.

     "Oh, Deja," said the salubrious schoolgirl, the curves
of her body barely contained by her blue-and-white uniform.
"You're thinking of me in the wrong way."

     "Believe me, Merissa, that is what I am trying very, very
hard _not_ to do."

     She giggled, covering her mouth with one hand.

     "You're thinking of me as a girl, Deja.  As a woman.
And while you would certainly be desirable to any woman
-- especially in the form in which you have chosen to
represent yourself in this world -- I am a virus, with the
needs and," she added, edging closer, "the desires of a

     Deja Dude backed away.  "And what exactly does a
beautiful young virus want these days?" he asked.

     "Silly Deja," she said, reaching forward and stroking
his jawline.  "We viruses have the same... urges... as you
animate creatures -- to replicate our unique genetic code
across the widest possible spectrum.  We're just a little
bit more efficient about it than you are."

     "Okay," Deja Dude said, his eyes scanning the bridge.
He was fairly confident he could fly the spaceship, even
without his super-powers, but what would be the point?
Assuming he could find his way back to his own dimension
-- and that was a fairly large assumption -- there was
nothing aboard the _Jefferson_ that would enable the ship
to make that kind of trans-dimensional leap...

     "It's not that I'm not flattered," said Deja Dude,
his eyes lingering for a moment on the pink fishnet
stockings of his captor, "but... why me?"

     "Let's stop pretending," Merissa said, unbuttoning
the first button below her already-plunging neckline.
"You're more than just a super-hero, Deja Dude.  You're
also the most prolific author the Legion of Net.Heroes
has ever had.  You've created more stories for
rec.arts.comics.creative than anyone alive... and you've
been equally generous in your contributions to other
areas of the 'net..."

     "How... how do you know about the newsgroups?"
Deja Dude asked, as Merissa shoved him -- gently but
firmly -- into the captain's chair.

     "I told you.  I'm a virus," Merissa said,
loosening another button.  "I see the whole Internet for
what it really is... one long, beautiful stream of code,
the DNA for an entire ecosystem.  I see the potential
for that DNA to be rewritten, with the right story --
and the help of the 'net's most powerful and generous

     "You want to turn the entire Internet -- into copies
of you?" Deja Dude asked.

     "I'm a voluptuous anime schoolgirl, Deja,"
Merissa said, placing one spiked heel against the armrest
of the captain's chair.  "About seventy-five percent of
the Internet is already devoted to images of girls like

     "I don't think there are any girls quite like you,
Merissa," Deja Dude said.

     Merissa smiled.  "Thank you for noticing," she said.
"But let me appeal to you as an author, as well as a man.
In your short lifetime, you've already seen the Internet
evolve... if you can call it that... from a narrative
medium to one which prizes short bursts of visual
information above all else."

     She stretched, arching her back in a way Deja Dude
suspected would not have been possible for a flesh-and-
blood human being.  "Within a few short years, Deja Dude,
the medium to which you have devoted so much of your life
will be the exclusive domain of re-tweeted GIFs and LOL
cats.  Is that what you really want?  Or are you ready to
take back the Internet in the name of the written word?"

     "It's an interesting idea," Deja Dude said.  "But..
and I never thought the day would come when I would be
actually saying this... in that case, what's the point of
this little striptease?"

     Merissa smirked.  "Consider me your muse, Deja Dude,"
she purred.  "We will blend our codes together in the
time-honored tradition of your species.  You will become
a god, and I will be your sacred word.  Our acts of
creation will give a new birth to the online universe."

     "See, this is the problem with these virus-human
relationships," Deja Dude said, pulling a handle on
the side of the captain's chair.  The back of the chair
plummeted toward the floor, and Deja Dude used the
opportunity to somersault backwards out of the seat.

     "You don't change over time.  But we do," Deja
Dude said, pulling himself to his feet.  "I'll admit
there was a time I would have considered your offer.
Or, at the very least, considered using your offer as
an excuse to get up to all kinds of nasty things up
here on the bridge while thinking of a means of escape.

     "But I'm not that man any more," he said.  "I
may or may not like the direction the Internet has
taken, but I accept that it's evolved -- just as I
have.  I have a wife, and a son, and a teaching career.
And they're all the universe I need."

     Merissa stood up.  A long, pink whip appeared in
her hand, a whip which -- despite the relatively low
ceiling of the bridge -- she managed to crack.

     "You want to play rough?" she said.  "I can do

     Deja Dude shook his head.

     "You've got the wrong guy," he said.  "You want to
create a new world, a whole new universe?  Go round up
Dvandom, that's his bag.  You want to do the whole
anime schoolgirl thing, you're probably better off with
Jaelle or Lalo.  And Tom Russell has a whole series
built around kinky love stories.

     "Me?" Deja Dude said, stepping forward.  "I'm just
a guy who likes to write about people, and relationships.
And sometimes movie parodies.  But mostly people and
relationships.  And from that perspective, I've gotta
tell you, Merissa... you're just not that interesting."

     Merissa's whip cracked again, close enough to make
Deja Dude yelp.  Her eyes, previously a playful purple,
had hardened into hot-pink spheres of blazing fury.

     "Not... that... INTERESTING?" she seethed.  "Me?
The youngest officer ever to graduate from Starfleet Academy?
Who became Captain Picard's protege -- and the Tenth Doctor's
favorite companion?"

     As Merissa spoke, the two science-fiction icons in
question popped into existence on the bridge -- one looking
concerned, the other amused by the situation.

     "Me?  The great-great-great granddaughter of Harry Potter
and Ginny Weasley -- as well as Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade?"
Merissa screeched, as Potter and Skywalker appeared beside the
other two characters.  "Who is, herself, the time-traveling
ancestor of Jean Grey, and the greatest lover Edward Cullen
ever had?"

     Deja Dude opened his mouth to speak, then closed it
quickly, as he found himself on the business ends of,
respectively, a phaser, a sonic screwdriver, a magic wand,
a lightsaber, the crackly representation of the Phoenix Force
and a sparkling, androgynous teenage vampire.

     "Right," he said, cracking his knuckles.  "Let's get
this over with."




     "I'm Captain Continuity?" Marie asked.

     "Yes," Betterman said, still leaning against the
mantelpiece as the fire sparked and crackled behind him.
With the exception of his cape and tights -- and the fact
that the rustic little living room sat inside an orbiting
asteroid -- he might have been the cover model for a
J. Crew catalogue.  "I know it's a lot to take in..."

     "No," Marie said.  "No, no, no.  Finding out that the
alien super-hero you've fantasized about for years is, in
reality, your slightly dorky co-worker?  That's a lot to
take in.  Finding out that everything that has ever been
and ever existed is actually the dream of some all-powerful
being from another dimension?  THAT's a lot to take in.

     "But being told that YOU are that all-powerful being,
that you are, moreover, a boy -- and that at any moment you
could destroy all of existence by suddenly waking up and
remembering who you are -- that, my flying friend, just
goes around the bend altogether into the realm of

     Betterman raised one perfectly-sculpted eyebrow.

     "I'm not sure that's a word," he said.

     "Never correct me, Wiggins," Marie said.

     "I'd like to try to help," Betterman said.

     "Of COURSE you'd like to try to help, Betterman!"
Marie said, her self-control nearly gone, rising up off
the couch and jabbing a finger at the "B" on the hero's

     "That's like your mantra.  'Hi, I'm Betterman,
and I'd like to try to help,' " she said.  "You ought to
have that printed up on business cards and hand them out
to the people you've just saved from falling into the
Grand Canyon or being eaten by a giant space octopus or
... whatever it is that they're now going to have to
deal with for the rest of their lives."

     "Would it be better if I didn't save them?"
Betterman asked, after waiting an extra moment to
make sure Marie had finished.

     "I don't know," Marie said, sinking back into the
couch, her hands in her hair.  "Why did you tell me?
Why did you have to tell me?"

     Betterman took a seat at the other end of the
couch.  "You'd have found out eventually," he said.
"And it probably would have come as a shock -- even
more than it is now -- and in your surprise and
confusion, you might have done something... rash."

     Marie opened her mouth in protest -- then noticed
the run in her stocking, the one she'd acquired that
morning after sneaking into the headquarters of a band
of terrorists, without anything resembling a backup
strategy.  Perhaps the man had a point.

     "In that case," she said, "couldn't you just make
me forget?  Don't you have some kind of hyper-hypnosis
powers or something?"

     Betterman smiled -- a sad little half-smile.

     "Hypnosis only works when someone actually wants to
be hypnotized," he said.  "I was able to hypnotize Professor
Xenophobe into forgetting my secret identity -- several
times -- because he doesn't really want to believe I'm
an average person."

     "And I don't really want to believe I'm Captain
Continuity," Marie said.

     "You may think so, Marie," Betterman said, reaching
beneath the sofa and retrieving something that looked
like a highly-polished dinner plate.  "But I know you.
Once you begin to suspect the truth about something,
you can't let it go."

     "What's that?" Marie asked, eyeing the plate

     The sad little smile flashed again.  "Something
my father -- my biological father -- left for me,"
Betterman said.  "The only thing he left for me,
in fact.  The only thing that remains of my home
planet... except for me."

     "What... does it do?" Marie asked, as Betterman's
fingers stroked the edges of the circle, like a musician
playing the glass armonica.

     A soft purple glow sparked in the middle of the
device and spread quickly to its edges.

     "It's a projector," Betterman said, his face cast
in shadow.

     Marie peered at the device.  "You're... going to show
me vacation slides from your home planet?"

     "No," Betterman said.

     "Wait," Marie said, backing up as far as the couch
would allow her to go.  "I remember, now.  Your father
discovered a place -- a world between worlds -- and built a
machine to send people there.  He called it... the prison

     "That's a mistranslation," Betterman said, as the
glowing circle began to thrum.  "My people didn't believe in
the idea of punishment, Marie.  When someone did something
they found unacceptable, they... gave them an opportunity
to reflect on their decision."

     The humming of the device had increased in volume,
like the purring of a cat who wanted to make a point of
letting everyone in the room know just how contented it was.

     "This is where you send monsters... vampires...
things that you don't know how to deal with," Marie said,
shielding her eyes from the intense purple light.  "That's
not being a hero, Wiggins!  It's being lazy!"

     Betterman's voice, when he spoke, seemed very far

     "I would do anything to protect this world, Marie.
Anything.  Even give up the woman I love," he said, his
voice barely audible over the thrumming.  "I don't know
if that makes me a hero or..."

     Then the light took her, and Marie heard nothing
at all.




     "Thank you thank you THANK YOU for letting this
numble designate clean the boots of such a worthy and
powerful member of the Ellenache," the little rust-colored
robot beebled.

     "Uh, sure," Substitute Lad said, as the creature
skittered away from his now well-polished footwear.
"I'd offer you a tip, but I have no idea what passes for
money here..."

     "No financial transaction could adequately capture
the thrill of caressing the feet of a mighty being of
legend such as yourself," the robot warbled.  "This
numble designate sincerely regrets that the Substitute Lad
will no longer be functioning with the next solar cycle."

     "Wait... what?" asked Substitute Lad, who had just
begun a concerted effort to catch up to the other
Legionnaires and now found himself stopping just as
abruptly.  "What will I be doing tomorrow?"

     The robot -- which looked like an orange-red figure
eight, and maneuvered itself across the ground with a
pair of rotating brushes, also stopped.

     "Enjoying your upgrade into a new form," the robot
said.  "After the Obnoxious Ame.rec.a Boy deletes the
Substitute Lad for the manner in which has been observing
the Skunk Girl."

     "But... I haven't been looking at Skunk Girl,"
Substitute Lad protested.

     "Then there is clearly something wrong with you,"
said You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad, walking up
behind Substitute Lad and clapping him on his armored

     Drabble Girl, who was walking beside him, rolled her
eyes, but said nothing.

     "This robot," Substitute Lad said, as the little
creature rotated away, "seems to think that Obnoxious
Ame.rec.a Boy wants to kill me for checking out Skunk Girl."

     "Yeah, but... what are his powers, other than making
long, pointless speeches about what a great country he thinks
he has?" You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad said.  "I'm
pretty sure you can take him."

     "I don't want to take him!" Substitute Lad said.
"And I'm not after Skunk Girl."

     "Are you sure?" You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad
said.  "I mean, I used to think that Girlwatcher was an
idiot.  All he does -- all day long -- is stare at Skunk
Girl and Cynical Lass.  And, uh, you too, I'm sure,"
he added nodding to Drabble Girl, who rolled her eyes again.

     "Now I think he's some sort of genius," You're-Not-
Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad added.

     "Don't let the robots get to you, man," said Parking
Karma Kid, who had been walking behind the group.  "They're
just trying to provoke us into fighting each other so they
can fulfill their kooky robot death wishes."

     "So why don't we just smash a few of 'em?" You're-Not
Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad asked.  "I mean, we're going to
have to eventually, right?"

     "Whoa whoa WHOA there, dude," said Parking Karma Kid,
echoing the looks of shock and horror on the faces of
Drabble Girl and Substitute Lad.  "These little things
may look like toasters or electric razors, or whatever,
but they're as alive as you, me or Frosty the Snowman.
At least that's what Linguist Lass says."

     "And what do you mean we're going to have to smash
them eventually?" Substitute Lad asked.

     "In case you haven't noticed," said You're-Not-Hitting
Me-Hard-Enough Lad, waving his arms to indicate the craggy
gray landscape surrounding them, "we're marooned on an alien
planet without anything like a spaceship or an escape plan."

     "Dude, relax," Parking Karma Kid said.  "We've got
Innovative-Offense-Boy.  "That dude is like a walking escape

     "Or a GPS who swears all the time," Substitute Lad

     "Sure," You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad said.
"But what if something happens to him?  We've already lost
Kid Kirby and Captain Continuity; it's not inconceivable.
Or what if something happens to Steak-and-Potatoes Man
-- the guy who's been making our food out of thin air?
Then this scenario goes from _Gilligan's Island_ to
the Donner Party in very short order."

     All four heroes stopped in their tracks.

     "I totally had not thought of the _Gilligan's Island_
comparison before this," Parking Karma Kid said.

     "That would make Skunk Girl 'Ginger'," Substitute Lad
said.  "But I'm not so sure that Cynical Lass is the
'Mary Ann' type."

     "Maybe she's Mrs. Howell," Parking Karma Kid agreed.
"I always kind of dug Mrs. Howell."

     "And we're ignoring the fact that we are, supposedly,
racing to stop the Legion of Net.Villains from breaking
open the Ultimate Black Hole and setting the worst
monsters of all time loose on the universe," You're-Not
Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad continued.

     "We're putting the lives of everybody in existence
up against... a few annoying robots who want to die anyway,"
he added, as two matchbox-sized blue mechanoids zipped past,
"and who might be doing some good if we used them to build
a spaceship."

      "I suppose," Substitute Lad said, after a moment or
two had passed, "Gaffer probably could build a spaceship
out of a few of these robots.  After all, he's..."

      "...totally the Professor," Parking Karma Kid and
Substitute Lad said in unison.

     "I can't believe I'm hearing this," Drabble Girl said.

     You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad -- who had been
about to argue that, in fact, Obscure Trivia Lad was a
better analogue for the Professor -- stared open-mouthed
at the chestnut-haired net.heroine, who had not uttered a
single word in the many weeks since their spaceship had
blasted off from Net.ropolis.

     "We're supposed to be heroes.  HEROES," she said,
nearly shouting as she poked You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard
Enough Lad in the center of his overly-broad chest.

     "We get to do things nobody else is allowed to do
because we agree to hold ourselves to a higher standard
than the rest of humanity," Drabble Girl said.  "But if
we murder these creatures in order to go off and fight
the monsters, don't we become monsters ourselves?"

     "Are you seriously comparing _us_ to what's locked
up in the Ultimate Black Hole?" Parking Karma Kid asked.
"Do you even know who's in there?  There's a dude who
killed and ate his own conjoined twin... and then collected
that dude's insurance.  There's a woman who tried to wipe
out an entire species because her religion regarded them as
'unclean.'  And then there's the dude who came up with the
idea of having everybody's computers upgrade their software
by turning themselves off right when you're in the middle
of doing something."

     All four heroes shuddered.

     "I understand what's at stake," Drabble Girl said.
"And I still say we can't do something that is morally,
fundamentally wrong -- even evil -- and try to justify
it by saying there are people out there who are even
worse than us."

     "I hear what you're saying, Drabble Girl.  I even
admire it," You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad said.
"But I'm going to be honest with you.  If we'd landed on
the planet of cute, adorable puppies, and the only way
to escape the planet and stop Mynabird was to kill all
the puppies and make a space zeppelin out of puppy
skins -- I would do that."

     "But would you do it if it were a kitten planet?"
Parking Karma Kid said.

     You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad opened his
mouth, then closed it.

     "I don't know," he said.  "Kittens are pretty cute."

     "You keep talking about heroes," Substitute Lad
said.  "But maybe we've moved past the point where someone
who thinks like a hero can do any good.  The world you
want to save has gone to hell in a big beige handbasket,
and we may not be able to pull it out without getting our
hands dirty."

     "But it's EXACTLY at times..." Drabble Girl began.

     "Not ONE... MORE... *@#$%^&ING... WORD!" shouted
Innovative-Offense Boy, jabbing his finger into the face of
a startled Drabble Girl.

     "What the *@#$%^ are you people doing?" he asked,
glaring from Drabble Girl to Parking Karma Kid, Substitute
Lad and You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad.  "Or did you
get so wrapped up in your discussion about the ethics of
robot killing that you forgot that DRABBLE GIRL DISAPPEARS

     "And given just how @#$%^&ing long this @#$%-guzzling
series is turning out to @#$^&ing be," he continued,
shooting an especially filthy look at the author, "that
could be days.  Or weeks.  Or another @#$%^ing infinite
month.  Which could mean we lose one of our very best
at the moment when we @#$%^ing need her the most."

     A long, heavy silence followed the Profane Paragon of
Preparedness' words.

     "You're right, sir.  I'm sorry," said You're-Not-Hitting
Me-Hard-Enough Lad, as the others -- with the exception of
Drabble Girl -- mumbled their apologies.

     "I know everything seems a little *@#$%^ed right now,"
Innovative-Offense Boy said.  "But you've all been with the
team long enough to know that's just par for the *@#$%^ing
course.  The important thing now is that we stick together,
we work with each other -- and we remember to @#$%^ing look
out for each other once in a while."

     "Do we know how much longer this trip to see the
Collector is going to take?" Substitute Lad asked.

     Innovative-Offense-Boy pursed his lips.

     "The robots say it should be another couple of days,"
he said.  "That's if you believe the *@#$%^ing robots.  I've
asked Steak-and-Potatoes Man to fly ahead for a few miles,
see if what they're telling us has any basis in @#$%%^ing..."

     "Wait," You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad said.
"You sent our only source of food on a mission by himself?"

     "Don't worry about it, man," Parking Karma Kid said.
"This is Steak-and-Potatoes-Man we're talking about.
The dude takes showers in automatic weapons fire.  There's
nothing on this planet that could..."

     The silver "LNH" logo on Innovative-Offense-Boy's
uniform crackled.

     "Inno?  We might have a problem," said the voice of
Linguist Lass, as all five heroes simultaneously facepalmed.
"We've lost all contact with Steak-and-Potatoes Man..."


     NEXT WEEK: Captain Rat Creature fights a desperate
battle for survival!  Minority Miss takes a course in
art appreciation!  All this... and the noiseless terror
that is HEADZO!


From: EDMLite <robro... at gmail.com>
Subject: LNH: Beige Countdown #9 (5/9)
Date: Fri, 10 May 2013 21:00:32 +0000 (UTC)


                      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


Next Week:  The Countdown Part Nine!

Arthur "Same Classic Channel.  But Same Time?  Probably not." Spitzer

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