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Fall and Rise Part 1: "As The World Wakes Up From History"
by Lalo Martins and Andrew Perron

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[ Two covers for the very first issue! Collect them all! ]
[ Cover A shows a crowd of nameless silhouettes in angry poses in front of the LNHQ, with a pre-LNH Felix Landers raising his hand to touch the door. A stylized sun hangs in a blazing red sky. ]
[ Cover B shows ten-year-old version of Minority Miss, January Frost, Professor Penumbra, and You're-Not-Hitting-Me-Hard-Enough Lad sitting in a classroom. An adult Kid Enthusiastic is pointing at the chalkboard, where it says "HISTORY LESSON".]

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Five and a half years ago...

The air was still and the clouds were a gray ceiling. A great blanket of silence hovered in the air, pressing down, making the world quiet. There was a tension there, binding everything in a conspiracy that anyone could see was part of the natural order, something that would be there after the mountains crumbled and the seas boiled to dust, on and on forever.

And then it was gone.

The ceiling broke, sudden gusts of wind shaping the clouds from flat planes into puffy shapes that curved up and down, some evaporating into wispiness, others turning in on themselves, dark and foreboding. The blanket had been pulled back, and the world had begun to waken.

And the first flakes of the blizzard began to fall.

====

Years later (five and a half, to be exact...)

The Legion of Net.Heroes was the most efficient and disciplined fighting group in the world or off of it. It functioned like a well-oiled machine, with every member following orders to the letter when they were given, and improvising correctly when not; every member knew the strengths and weaknesses of every other member and supported each other flawlessly. Fearless Leader saw their perfect performance against the invading alien tomatoes and smiled.

Suddenly, in real life, one of the aforementioned alien tomatoes burst into his room from the air vents and attacked him in his sleep. Fearless Leader's impeccable reflexes woke him up in time to repel the attack and survive — and mess up his bedsheets with alien catsup.

"Oh, bother," he said. He looked around his room, a spartan, efficient place which had previously been spotless. Noticing it was very nearly 0600 anyway, he decided to get up and face the reality, in which the LNH was nowhere near as disciplined or efficient as it was in his dream, and had defeated the Lycopersicons by a mixture of luck, madness, and timely ingenuity. "Ah, well. You work with what you have."

At 0700, it was time for a shift change in the reception desk. Fearless Leader had already showered, had a very healthy breakfast, washed his bedsheets, and read the reports from the night, and was now at the reception desk proper, supervising the shift change.

And at 0700 exactly, while the two receptionists were standing by their chair, the main doors into the LNHQ opened, and a very attractive man in his early 20s strode in, looked around briefly, and walked straight to the reception desk. He was dressed formally but sharply, in a dark-blue suit that was a great match for his blue eyes, a white shirt, and a blue tie with diagonal white stripes. He wore his black hair short, but fashionably spiky.

"Hello," he said, looking straight at Fearless Leader. "My name is Louis Allen." He offered his hand, which Fearless Leader shook. "Is this where people apply to join the LNH?"

"It is indeed. Would you like to apply? What are your powers?"

"Oh, God no. I don't have any powers... that I know of. No, I'm no net.hero."

"Then...?"

"Well, you see... The LNH has existed for five years, but until recently it was seen mostly as a sort of club for net.persons. Pretty much the only coverage you ever got was net.human interest pieces and a few articles in lifestyle publications."

"As the leader of the LNH, I'm well aware of that, and I don't see any problem there."

"The thing is, you have just very visibly, very publicly saved the world from a race of warrior tomatoes from outer space. There's an LNH-mania going on now; people want to know more about you. Who are you? Where do you come from? Why do you do what you do?"

"Good for them. We have nothing to hide. No, wait; we have a lot to hide, for security reasons. But..." he struggled. "We have a lot that we have nothing to hide about, and..."

"Yeah, yeah, I get the point. So, here I am. I'm a reporter. You may have read one of my articles recently for the Daily Packet. I more or less grew up among net.persons, so my editor thinks I'm the man for the job. What I want to do is spend some time among you, get to know the Legion better. So the deal is essentially: in exchange for an exclusive, I'll tell the story from your point of view, and do my best to make it fair. What do you say?"

Fearless Leader panicked inside. So this is that PR thing you hear about? That was the one thing his extensive training hadn't covered. Well, all right, one of the things. He kept his outward expression flawlessly calm and confident, and quickly looked around in the hopes of seeing someone who could deal with this for him, preferably January Frost. Instead, he noticed...

"Flashback!" he called out.

The call was heard by a woman who was walking by, dressed in a 1940s-style lady suit, sporting a 1930s-haircut in her black hair. As she turned her face towards him, Fearless Leader noticed she and Louis Allen had the same hair and eye colors; fate?

Flashback smiled and walked towards the reception desk.

"Good morning, Fearless Leader. What can I do for you?"

"Flashback, this is Louis Allen, apparently an ascending star reporter for the Daily Packet."

.o(I never said that), Louis thought. .o(Oh, well. If anyone ever accuses me of being a fraud, I guess I can still claim that I never actually said it...)

"Mr. Allen will be living as an LNHer for a while, with the goal of giving us some fair coverage. Apparently, the public is anxious to know more about us."

"Well!" said Flashback. "That sounds real swell!"

"Swell indeed. So. I was thinking, since we can't deploy you on actual missions right now, what with that pesky court injunction a gainst your powers... well, I would appreciate if you could be Mr. Allen's liaison, show him around, and, of course, you'd be the best person to let him know exactly how the LNH started."

"Oh?" Louis asked, suddenly interested.

"Right," Flashback said. "Because that's my power. I can show people other people's memories. For example..." she looked at Fearless Leader and squeezed her eyes, and suddenly the LNH wasn't there anymore.

"Five years ago," she said, as the reception room was replaced with a wide expanse of concrete, the wing of an airliner sweeping to a stop just above Louis's head, "a plane landed at Eleanor Galbraith Memorial Airport..."

====

Felix Landers got off the plane and took a deep breath through his nose. Netropolis smelled just as he'd left it. The salt air coming off the lake; the breeze coming off the mountains with the slight sulfur smell of the Northeast's only semi-active volcano; the haze of smog, muted but not eliminated by updated emissions standards. It was entirely too familiar.

Pla.net.ary Investigations wanted to send him in on this, because he had had the most experience with this sort of thing. He argued that this was precisely why he shouldn't go; he was too close to the issue, not objective enough. January Frost had responded that that was all right, because he was still having problems being anything other than objective.

She had a point, and it infuriated him. But at least he could be infuriated at this point.

He hailed a taxi and asked the driver if he knew where it was. The cabbie assured him that he did, for he'd been traveling to and from the building currently across the street from it – the Ring Monument.

Felix consciously covered his face with his palm. The Ring Monument had been built after the Saviors of the Net all died – other than him, of course. The giant stone circle was supposed to symbolize... something. He'd never liked it. Still, it made sense that strange things would be drawn there.

He paid, giving a precise 15% tip, and stepped out into a crowd of protesters. They stood around the Monument, holding signs and chanting slogans on the proposed Young Net.human Guidance Act.

The Act was a ballot measure in Ohio, the state Netropolis happened to be in at the moment, that would require those under the age of 18 who wanted to use their powers "in the public sphere" (a maddeningly vague phrase) to undergo training at "assigned facilities". There had been a lot of bills like these popping up in the last six months; mostly, they were hastily slapped-together things that were quickly voted down or left to languish in committee, scoring points among the worried electorate for those who proposed them, but changing little. The YNGA, though, had quite a bit of support behind it, including the private organization that would theoretically be running the "facilities"... the private organization with the suspiciously short paper trail and the suspiciously large coffers.

Felix shook his head. That wasn't his problem right now; they had another agent on that case. He turned and examined the four-story building that hadn't been there the day before. This was what he had come to investigate.

He strode across the street purposefully. There were few barriers in the way; it didn't really matter, because nothing anyone had done had been able to open the great double doors, nor get any kind of reading from within.

He peered at the plaque above the door, a great slab of marble laid in brass that had only four letters on it: "LNHQ". Perhaps it was some kind of motto, or code? He couldn't remember any phrase in the dozens of languages he knew that corresponded to it.

He ran his hand down the ornate paneling, and tried the knob. No, it didn't recognize him. He sighed.

Shortly before the Killfile fell, Felix and three others had discovered a structure in the bowels of the earth. There were strange rooms, like basements, filled with things... They had sealed it up, and meant to come back and explore it with a bigger team. But then, events began to move at breakneck speed, and it had fallen down the priority list... until reports came in of a building having grown out of the earth, one with strange properties.

He shaded his eyes from the blinding sun and looked up. He would be willing to stake his reputation on this being the same building... but that didn't give him any more idea of its origin, or its purpose.

He dropped his hand, and looked across the street. The protesters shouted their defiance at the passing traffic. Come to think... there was a woman in the front row wearing a gaudy outfit and floating in the air. She held a sign... something about the tyranny of the majority. Of course net.humans would be involved in the protest. But which ones were net.heroes, and which were net.villains?

Sweat beaded on his brow. It was going to be a very hot summer.

====

The protest abruptly dissolved into the LNHQ reception, and Louis stumbled back.

"Whoa," he said. "That was... intense."

Flashback was looking around, slightly confused. Fearless Leader looked at her apologetically.

"I guess I interrupted it," he said. "Sorry about that. But I really have to go."

"Ah," she said. "Soitenly. You have things you have to do. No sweat! Just split."

Louis took a deep breath, as Fearless Leader left.

"Well," he said. "That was interesting. But how do we continue without him? I understand he's busy, but if he was the only one who saw what we were looking at—"

"Oh, baloney. He was about to meet someone else. We can begin by looking for her. And, of course, other people were doing other things at the same time. We'll get to them later." She beamed; it was good to have something to do. "Come, let's find Apoena."

"Who?"

It wasn't, in fact, too hard to find Apoena; it being before 7:30, she was in the first place they looked – the cafeteria, enjoying her regular central-Brazilian breakfast (a large cup of thick drip coffee, black; some fruit, in this case half a papaya; and some baked goodies, today cheese rolls).

"Hey, Carol", she waved as she noticed Flashback. "Have you tried Su's pao de queijo? It tastes just like my grandm— oh, hello! Who's the hotsy-totsy sheik, then?"

"Sue?" Louis asked.

"Su," Flashback clarified. "The Sous Chef Supreme. Some people find the title a tad too long. Personally, I find it disrespectful to shorten it. He worked really hard to earn the title. And he's such a wheel-horse around here—"

She stopped talking as Minority Miss stuck a cheese bun in her mouth.

"Hi", she said, shaking Louis' hand without waiting for him to offer it. "I'm Minority Miss. You can call me Apoena."

"That's an... interesting name. You're Brazilian, right?"

"Yes. And part-first-american, part black, pagan, bisexual, born in a hippie community, and a number of other things, so the guys thought it would be funny to call me Minority Miss. Even Doc Nostalgia prefers that to Minority Lass, because, in his words, alliteration has a long tradition too, and—"

"Louis Allen," Flashback managed to insert. "This is Louis Allen. He's a reporter. With the Daily Packet."

"Oh. Nifty. Nice to meet you, Louis." .o(Is she actually jealous? Oops!)

"So anyway," Flashback said, "we were looking at the beginnings of the LNH, five years ago... would you mind sharing your memories with us?"

"Sure, no problem," said Apoena, with a shrug and a smile. "Probe on."

And the cafeteria melted into...

====

A sparsely appointed meeting room, with unpainted concrete walls, a white table, and chairs in vibrant green. Apoena, now a teenager, is sitting by herself near the windows. She's wearing a costume, but not the sleek green and yellow outfit her fans are used to; it was more like some kind of homemade leather body armor, with a crocheted cowl made to resemble a knight's coif while still concealing her identity, and a mock-heraldic blazon on the chest, with a large golden M.

She was looking out the window, at a bright blue sky, a hot and dry spring day in a savanna-like place; Brasilia, as it turns out, the capital of Brazil.

Then one of the doors opened, and a man and a woman entered. Both were in their early 60s; the woman was short, brown-haired, and white for Brazilian standards, and wore elegant but relatively casual clothes, while the man was tall, strong, black, with dark curly hair beginning to whiten around the temples, and wore a military-like uniform. Apoena got up immediately.

"Madam Governor," she said, without, however, bowing or offering her hand. "Mister Secretary."

"So," said the Governor. "The famous Magna. We finally meet." She smiled and took a seat. "Magna. That's an odd net.hero name."

"It's after Charlemagne," Apoena said.

"We worked that out," said the Secretary of Public Safety, who was still standing and not smiling. "We just find it an interesting choice. Most people have no idea who he is."

Magna shrugged. "In Brasilia, maybe. In Pirenopolis everybody does."

"Which is exactly why I found it an interesting choice. If anyone was trying to crack your true identity, the name and the costume would lead to a... good possibility that's where you come from."

The Governor figured that was a good enough segue to change the subject.

"It seems there's a number of things you haven't thought through very well," she said.

"Well," Magna answered with some hesitation, "I guess. I'm learning, though, and I think I'm getting better. Is that what you wanted to talk about?"

"In fact," said the Secretary, "we want to ask you to please, for the love of God, stop."

"I'm actually not Christian."

"That's completely beside the point," said the Governor. "We appreciate your hand with rescues, but not so much the crimefighting, and in either case, we're concerned you don't have the training."

"Not to mention," added the Secretary, "we're afraid that your presence will escalate matters, and cause net.villains or other weird stuff to start showing up. This is the federal capitol, and we can't really afford that."

She shifted uneasily. "I just want to help. Maybe you could give me the training?"

The two older people looked at each other in mild embarrassment.

"Look", said Maria de Lourdes, the Governor. She was an experienced politician, and a former social worker; she understood both the risk a net.hero was bringing, and the symbol it could be for the people. "The people like you. They want to be proud of you. But here, you'll have very little opportunity to make them proud. Maybe... I think some big net.hero team is going to be formed soon, in the tradition of The Network and the Saviors. Have you been following the news? Net.humans are popping up all over. I think it's inevitable."

The Secretary rolled up his eyes and muttered "Deus me livre," a Brazilian colloquialism that's best translated as "God keep me from that."

"Don't you think what would make everyone the most proud, is if when that happened, there was a Brazilian member? Someone they could all relate to and be proud of... from a safe distance?"

Apoena pondered that for a while, pursing her lips. That didn't sound bad at all. And would probably be a lot more exciting. She always felt she'd be happier somewhere bigger, more lively. But she'd certainly miss the raw, almost-alien landscapes of the Central Plateau.

"I guess... in that case, Netropolis would be the place to be."

Maria de Lourdes smiled. "I'll call in every favor I can. Hopefully, someone can expedite your visa."

"And I'm sure", added the Secretary, "we can arrange a small salary or pension for you, to support you over there until this hypothetical group forms." .o(And if that turns out to be never, that's a small price to pay.)

Apoena shook the Governor's hands. "I'll make you proud!"

====

"Wait a minute", said Louis. "Your power has subtitles?"

"Soitenly! Crummy power if it didn't, don'cha think?"

Apoena laughed, a little embarrassed. "Sorry, that probably wasn't the memory you were looking for. I didn't give you a chance to be more specific."

"No, no," he said. "It's good stuff."

"But no," Flashback added. "We were looking at Fearless Leader's memories. The day he came to Netropolis to take a gander at the LNHQ. Then he had to take a powder, but in the memory we were seeing, he had just walked past you at a protest—"

"Ah yes, I remember that moment very clearly!"

"Then let's remember it together..."

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Notes: Flashback and Louis Allen are created by Lalo and are General Use. Feel free to have them explain your character's backstory!

Andrew "NO .SIG MAN" "Juan" Perron, untold tales!

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