LNH: Legion of Net.Heroes Volume 3 #4: "Nil Custodes Carborundum"

Drew Nilium pwerdna at gmail.com
Wed Oct 13 20:29:14 PDT 2021

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           L E G I O N  O F  N E T . H E R O E S  V O L U M E  T H R E E
Issue #4: Nil Custodes Carborundum


“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Your Grace.”

“I know that one,” said Vimes. “Who watches the watchmen? Me, Mr. Pessimal.”

“Ah, but who watches you, Your Grace?” said the inspector with a brief little

“I do that, too. All the time,” said Vimes. “Believe me.”

   – Terry Pratchett, Thud!


September 12, 2021.

Out there in the Usenetverse, a lot of terrible and difficult things are
happening, things that are hard to ignore, hard to let sink into the back of
your head as you go about your day. Yet we do, and we live; and this story isn't
about those, not directly.

But those terrible and difficult things have left their imprint on the
Loonivearth, and the city of Net.ropolis, where the Legion of Net.Heroes
resides, for this planet and this city are where the barriers between newsgroup-
worlds are most open. For instance, a clan of orcs, seeking refuge from the
great and terrible battles decimating rec.games.frp.dnd, found themselves in
the city. But they did not find a place for themselves, and ended up, like so
many others who fall between the cracks, huddling in the night for warmth,
beneath one of the overpasses supporting the maglev train lines that take
Net.ropolitans to their everyday jobs and back to their homes.

But the Legion sees those who have fallen between the cracks as members of the
people they have sworn to protect. So tonight, Captain Continuity is there,
talking to the orcs, finding out what they need and helping figure out where
they can fit.

But suddenly, the dark overpass is flooded with light, and a booming,
artificially amplified voice says, "ATTENTION. YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO CLEAR

Captain Continuity had been kneeling next to a pregnant orc, talking about local
midwives experienced with xenospecies. One finger quietly clicks on a signal
device to alert the Legion to trouble, and the next four minutes are spent
letting the orcs know he can help with this, and helping them move their things
out of the way, just in case.

Four and a half minutes later, Captain Continuity steps forward into the
brightest part of the light, hands raised in the air, squinting. Somewhere
behind the searing brightness, there's a huge, chunky figure - a robot, about,
mmm, twelve feet tall. And the only ones who would give a warning like that,
theoretically thoughtful yet practically inadequate, are... "Hello, officer.
What seems to be the trouble? My friends and I were just--"

SKRVAM! The impact explodes thru Captain Continuity, power ebbing away-- some
kind of-- Retcon Ray--


a shadow--

many shadows... a voice...

"Don't worry, Cap. You're safe."

gratefully, captain continuity sunk into...

"Unconscious, but okay." Golden Man straightened up, peering at the robot.
"What *is* that thing?"

"The VSX-42 Net.Weapons and Net.Tactics Robo," said Renegade Programmer,
glaring up at the lights. "A collaborative project between the Legion and the
Net.ropolis Police Department, designed to stop LNHers who've been mind-
controlled, driven berserk, or otherwise gone rogue."

"But *not* ones who are just helping people, loitering or not." Felix Landers,
the Fearless Leader of the Legion of Net.Heroes, sized up the situation. Captain
Continuity was a big hitter, so when he called for backup, they brought a
fistful of net.heroes, and it looked like the robot was waiting for them to make
the first move. "Do we have any gadgets that could disable it?"

"Nope!" said Kid Enthusiastic. "I mean, I could probably make something if we
went back to LNHQ but that seems like a really bad idea right now!"

"Well. Yes." Felix's tactical genius went to work. "Cliche Dude, get an
audiovisual feed of this to Multi-Tasking Man." Depending on how things went
down, MTM could send backup, and worst came to worst, they'd at least have a
record of it.

"I'm ready for your closeup!"

"Can-Handle-Any-Type-of-Change-Except-for-the-Ultimate-Ninja-Wearing-a-Cape Lad,
get the orcs out of here." A valued teammate in a crisis, but you didn't want
someone around whose one enormous weakness was in their name when you were
dealing with a machine created to exploit their weaknesses.

"Already on it."

"Golden Man, Marvel Zombie Girl, You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad, get
ready to charge." Hopefully it wouldn't come to that, but where net.hero
conflicts were concerned, a lot of things came down to a no-holds-barred brawl.

"I'll show this punk how we used to deal with ratbags in the old neighborhood!"

"Just say the word."

"Ready as ever, FL!"

"Kid Enthusiastic, Renegade Programmer, see if we can find a way in, see what
makes this thing tick, and be ready to take it apart."

"Scanning on all frequencies!"

"Always wanted to hack something I helped make unhackable."

Okay. Time to make the first move. "Hell Catalyst?"

"Got it!" She took a few nice big steps forward and lifted a megaphone to her
lips. "Hey th--"

A sudden cacophony of sound drowned Hell Catalyst out, and she dropped the
megaphone as all the net.heroes clapped their hands over their ears.

"I don't think so, net.hero," said a smarmy, self-satisfied voice, the volume
turned down to 'loud but not booming'. "This cockpit's protected against your
kind of psychic assault."

"Damn," snarled Marvel Zombie Girl, "the Buzzard!"

The Buzzard was the bad boy of the Net.ropolis Police Department. He'd been
accused a number of times of mistreating prisoners, falsifying evidence, and
other kinds of misconduct. He'd always been cleared, but every net.hero avoided
working with him when they could.

Diplomacy probably wouldn't work on his sort, but it was always worth a try.
Felix summoned up his sternest, most booming voice, the one he used when
Obnoxious Ame.rec.a Boy tried to pick a fight with a kiwi. "Pardon me, but
you've attacked a member of the Legion on authorized business - with *no*
provocation whatsoever."

"Long-term habitation under bridges is illegal in this city, didn't'cha know?
And I just saw a *chronic* accessory to this crime." The Buzzard's voice
redefined the term 'conceited'. And 'obnoxious'. "So I figured it was time to
teach him a lesson."

Felix wondered if this asshole was really that petty, or if he was using this
nonsense as an excuse to take out some other vendetta. At this point, it didn't
really matter. "Well, you've made your point, so we'll be taking our man home."

"No way. I'm bringing this guy in-- and if any of you net.heroes want to stop
an officer of the peace making a lawful arrest, I'll bring you downtown too!"

This was bad. Their heavy hitters could dogpile the robot and probably take it
out, but no telling how much damage it'd inflict, with the ways it could take
advantage of their weaknesses. And possibly worse... if they were fighting on
the street with the police against the thing they'd created as a gesture of
trust... what would the public think? That they'd changed their mind and decided
to go full net.villain?

"Pard'n me."

"Oh, sorry--" Fearless Leader snapped out of his worrisome fugue and stared.

A figure pushed thru the crowd of net.heroes, each one stepping back in
confusion. He was holding a book tucked under one arm, and in the other hand, a
big brown bottle with no label, just "XXX" written on it in marker. And, most
puzzlingly, it was William Trouser, Chief of Police for the Net.ropolis PD.

"Chief!" came the voice over the intercom, shocked, just a little bit guilty.

"Greetings, gents, ladies, y'all." Trouser took a big swig of his drink, then
shuffled it under one arm, pulling the book out from the other and holding it
up in the air - a copy of Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett, and signed, it looked
like. "D'you-- hgk--" He pressed his fingertips to his chest and coughed. "Scuse
me-- have a minnit to talk about Discworld?"

"..." And for a miraculous moment, the LNH and the Buzzard were united in WTF.

"Er, boss," said the Buzzard, one hand of the robot kinda waggling in the air.
"We're kind of in the middle of--"

"Yeah yeah it can wait." Trouser put the book back under his arm, pulled the
bottle out, took a swig. "The thing is, right, Sam is where I got it. That's--"
He held a finger up in the air. "Sam Vimes. Duke of Ankh... of Anmor... Duke
Sam, head of the Watch. The best police guy ever. Brave! Smart! Nice! ...not
always nice but nice enough!"

An electronic sigh issued from the robot's speakers.

"Well," murmured Renegade Programmer to Fearless Leader, "he's buying us some
time, if we can use it." His fingers danced across the portable keyboard,
sending subtle signals towards the robot, looking at the responses, seeing if
there were any weak spots he'd missed the first time. But carefully, carefully -
if the Buzzard caught on, he might shoot first and explain to the chief later.

"Good ol' Sammy was in charge of these real real corrupt coppers right? But then
this newbie name'a Carrot shows up and he's so dang nice, he really likes the
law, 's got a big book, *real* funny. An' he's so dang nice he insp-- inspy--
*inspires* Sam to be a better cop, 'n arrest, like, a dragon? It's *nuts*."
Trouser wobbled vaguely in the direction of Hell Catalyst, who got into position
to catch him, in case he fell over.

The giant robot shifted uncomfortably in place, looking over at where Cliche
Dude was filming everything. Maybe they could get a PR victory out of this, at

"And like, that's, I read that one and all the other ones, *man* they just get
better and better, Pratchett was *great*. Night Watch, *damn*. An' that's what
made me decide to be, not just a cop, but the *top* cop. In the cop shop.
Heheheh." He attempted to take another swig, missed, juggled the bottle and the
book for a moment, managed to save the book but dropped the bottle into the mud.
"Aw *peas*."

"Maaaaaybe you should go get another one?" suggested the Buzzard, hopefully.

Trouser reached around for the bottle, grabbed the megaphone, looked at it
quizzically. "...huh? Oh yeah, after. This's important!" He waved the book in
the air, and the Buzzard sighed again. "So like, thing is, Vimes, he's a great
character, but he isn't *real*. He's a fairy tale of, like, The Good Cop.
Pratchett puts people who *feel* real into these big old..." He spun the end of
the megaphone around in the air, trying to think of a word. "*Archetypes*, yeah.
Vimes is a picture of a real person, but in a role that isn't any more real
than the witches from Macbeth, or Conan the Barbarian, or like, the
anthropomorphic personification of Death."

Ending of the Finishless, who was invisibly waiting to see how all this turned
out, sighed and rolled her eyes.

"And when I got to the top I realized that even tho Vimes spends every book
having to hold things together with string and tacks and his own damn will, his
job is *easy* compared to real life. Like-- this guy!" He waved the book at the
robot. "He *sucks*!"

"*Chief*!" said the Buzzard, scandalized.

"You *do*!" Trouser turned to the net.heroes. "We all know it! But we're all
like 'oh one bad apple' and we make do. But he couldn't've checked out this big
fancy piece of machinery if there weren't a dozen other cops helping him!" He
turned back and waved the book at the robot. "Not that I expect you to cough up
the names. Cops protect cops, right?" He looked down, took a deep sigh, shook
his head. "I used to think that was one of the great things about the system.
Up 'til I realized that cops were protecting cops from being called out on the
shit they did. From *me*."

He looked so much less alive than he had a minute ago, thought Felix; so much
more ground down, slumped over like a pile of rags.

"This isn't the first book to be like, a great cop can make the whole force
great," he said, voice clear but full of woe. "There's a bunch of CSIs and
NCISes and whatever where it's their bread and butter, but it's everywhere.
Look at Batman, Jim Gordon's always dealing with bad cops but he knows where to
stick 'em. Heh." He looked up at the net.heroes, standing up straight now. "You
guys are my Batmans... Batmen... whatever. And you're always giving me trouble,
but I love ya. But... I'm not enough."

Golden Man looked uncertainly at Felix, who glanced at the Buzzard, at Renegade
Programmer, then back to Trouser.

"Net.ropolis is a special city. That's how someone like me, who really cares,
got to the top. But it's not special enough that... that it doesn't have the
rot." For a moment, fire filled his bones, and he thrust the book towards the
robot. "This guy isn't a bad apple. He's the product of a system *made* to make
people like him. A system I've been fighting against my whole life... and

"I'm not Sam Vimes, or Raymond Holt, or Jim Gordon. I can't drag a whole system
up with me. All I can do is this." Suddenly, he spun towards the robot;
suddenly, the megaphone was at his lips, and his voice echoed out, booming under
the overpass: "Epsilon seven delta seven gamma seven. Authorize Trouser.

There was a deep bweoooooo of electronic systems shutting down, and the
floodlights disappeared. The subtle background hiss of the robot's speakers was
gone, and the only noise coming from it was faint - a yelling and banging behind
several layers of protective armor.

Felix blinked. Oh. *That's* what he'd been doing. "Good job," he said, feeling
like just a bit of an idiot for doing so, "but you know the department isn't
going to let this stand."

"I'm the only one authorized to undo that password," said Trouser. He wasn't
holding the megaphone anymore - it was a rectangle of electronic light, a
smartphone with an email ready to send. "They can't fire me. I quit." He hit
the button. "And now *no* one's authorized."

"Dang!" whispered Kid Enthusiastic, eyes wide.

"And..." Trouser made a few more gestures on the phone. "Now all the info about
the robot program's been sent to the press. And I'm assuming you're gonna send
that video too." He tilted his head in Cliche Dude's direction.

"Absolutely," said Felix, still a bit flabbergasted. "I'm... sorry you had to
give up your job to fix this."

Trouser shook his head. "I'll be fine - after this gets out, no way they'll take
me off the pension. But the city's what I'm worried about. All I've done is buy
some time." He looked over the gathered crowed of LNHers. "There's a bigger
problem here, net.heroes. I couldn't fix it. Maybe you can." He handed back the
megaphone, picked up the bottle-- "Heh. Root beer." --and walked off into the

And everyone there was left wondering... *could* they fix it? And... what if
they couldn't?


Author's Notes: I created Police Chief Trouser in Digital JUMP! #12, figuring
that this was a venerable trope that LNH writers should have a chance to play
with. And then...

For reasons that I really hope are obvious, I've been thinking a *lot* lately
about police violence, police corruption, and alternative systems of community
protection. Superheroes are a uniquely useful lens to examine these issues thru,
so expect a lot more!

Drew "don't let 'em grind you down" Nilium

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