Subject: alt.Shrugged: A parody (Chapter One)
From: People Covered In Fish <>
Date: 1996/11/11
Message-Id: <>
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan


I thought it would be appropriate to end this latest chapter in the
perennial afrj debate with a little humor... and, well, as you all can
see, the little humor turned into a lot of humor.  I'm parodying a
1060-page book, after all, and there's just so much fertile ground for
comparison.  <grin > I hope the result will be more or less
comprehensible, even for those readers who haven't devoted a month of
their life to plowing through the brick of a book known as _Atlas
Shrugged_.  (Hey, I had a lot of desk time at my job this summer).
Anyway, may you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

ObPost-PesciDisclaimer:  Ayn Rand is not known for subtlety in her
portrayal of either villains or heroes, and tends to simplify all of their
views considerably.  Since this is a parody of her style (as well as a
caricature of our newsgroup), I have taken considerable liberties with the
actual beliefs and styles of numerous posters.  I hope no one takes their
portrayal in the following parody personally; all the portrayals are
biased caricatures of a stereotype, and as such bear only the most distant
resemblance to the real human denizens of rasfwr-j.  End disclaimer.

I also apologize to Andrea Lynn Leistra for choosing her as my heroine.
<grin> Nothing personal, I assure you, Andrea.  I probably owe an even
greater apology to John Novak, but I think I'll postpone it until after I
see how he reacts to his role in Randland.


alt. Shrugged

"Who is John Novak?" In the half-light of dawn, it was hard to distinguish the lurker's face. The lurker said it simply, without expression. But from the early morning sun rising far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, mocking and still. Dylan Alexander turned, wrinkling his brow in curiosity. "Why do you ask?" The lurker leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky. "Why does it bother you?" Dylan shrugged. "It doesn't. I was just wondering why you wasted a breath that might otherwise have been put to the more productive purpose of blowing yourself." The lurker began to answer, then stopped short. A look of confusion came into his eyes. "You don't find the question somehow haunting, or pregnant with hidden significance?" "No." "It doesn't disturb you in the least?" "Not beyond a certain annoyance at having my time wasted." "It doesn't evoke a sense that modern society has replaced heroism with apathy-- that there are no great men left on Usenet, and no one even cares?" There was a note of desperation in the lurker's voice. Dylan paused for a moment, then shook his head. "Sorry. No such sentiment." The lurker shifted back against the wall, looking infinitely disgruntled. "Stupid-ass Texans. No ear for subtext, none at all." He looked down to fish out a cigarette, and thus completely missed the dangerous glint that had appeared in the other's eye. "Hey, badger boy, you at least got a light?" For the first time, Dylan grinned. "Oh yes." A few moments later, he stepped out of the alley, brushing his sleeves clean. "Call _me_ badger boy? Fucking bonehead." A few wisps of smoke trailed after him, and he inhaled with satisfaction. "Napalm in the morning, baby. Clears out the sinuses like a dream." A second passed while he savored the familiar aroma; then he shrugged, smiled, and strode off down the road. A new day was dawning on rasfwr-j. **** Andrea was staring silently out the window of the train when the newsgroup first appeared on the horizon. As always, the first sight of rasfwr-j momentarily took her breath away: the sheer shining glory of uncorrupted human discourse thrusting out beyond the virtual skyline made her want to cry out in triumph. Countless posts flashed across its surface every minute and were gone. The great walkways were crammed with passers-by, pausing to lurk in awe at the gloriously artificial construct. As she watched, a great burst of flame erupted along one side, leaving two trolling 'bots and one clumsy AOLler plunging senseless through the cybersphere. Andrea found herself wanting to cheer. It was the least natural and the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She could never understand how people could be amazed by the complexity of their own minds and yet despise the newsgroup. Poor, mindless nature had produced the human brain-- but the human brain had produced Usenet, and in that lay its glory. As they drew closer, her initial excitement began to fade slightly. There were blemishes on the face of the newsgroup that were less apparent at a distance. Trolls had carved out deep, rutted gorges in which to escape retaliation; "your meen to newbies" was etched in acidic bile on multiple walls; long, charred smears marked the impact of countless boneheads, burning up on entry. And with a faint shudder, Andrea noticed the ever-increasing number of fine black wires stretching out from the newsgroup into the distance. Pulsing with darkness and corruption, they indicated a crosspost to Behind her, disturbing her thoughts, she heard a nasal, plaintive voice. "i dont see whats so special about it, the whole things a bit contrived, a bit unnatural, everyone here thinks theyre so special so smart so cool, trying to start an elite on the net but the nets 4 everyone isnt it" "HELLS yes! Those STOOPID BOLLOCKS dunno what a REAL groop OUGHTA be like!!!!" The second voice was thick, deep, and belligerent, and gave the impression that the speaker knew what he believed even if he knew absolutely nothing else. "i ask u... they try 2 make us spell and write the way they like but who made them god thats what i want know, who gave them the right 2 say whether or not im writing my posts the right way when they flame everybody they dont like" "THEY got some BLOODY NERVE, thats what *I* SAY to the STOOPID ASS-biters! WEve OUR rights too, dont WE!! Weve as MUCH RIGHT to post HErE or ANWHERE as they DO (or DONT, heh heh heh)!!!!" "theres no sense of equality here, thats the problem, its those oldbies those regulars those knownothing arrogant fools who think theyre better than everyone else, but theyre no better, no better, we are equal to them, every1 has the same rights on usenet" Andrea turned around. "I'm a regular poster to rasfwr-j." Her voice was even and self-confident, with a hint of challenge. The two men sitting behind her gave a start and were silent. "Who are you two?" The smaller, narrow-faced man answered grudgingly. "im asmodean12, hes NargLord, and im from america online... u know, america, as in democracy" He paused significantly, raising one eyebrow. "democracy... we believe in democracy, in the rights of all the pepole, in the equality of everybody, dont u and your friends" "Democracy doesn't mean the absence of standards." Andrea looked away coldly. "There's still a right way to do things-- and a wrong way." asmodean12 quickly raised his hands, shrinking back into the chair. "of course there is, i wouldnt say no 2 that, your quite right but still theres room 4 difference of opinion isnt there" "DAMNRIgHT!!" expostulated his larger companion. "Who CARES about The little man shrugged. "who is john novak?" "What?" Andrea's head snapped around. "What do you mean by that?" asmodean12 blinked and rubbed his hands together nervously. "i... i... its just a phrase, just a way of speaking, i dont know... it means who cares, whats the difference, does it matter really... everybody says it these days" Andrea slowly sat back, feeling a strong repulsion in the pit of her stomach for no reason she could name. "I would appreciate your not saying it around me, thank you very much." "of course of course, meaningless phrase, ill never say it ever again" The narrow-faced man cast apologetic glances at her and his big friend, who was looking somewhat bemused. "so... youre going to the newsgroup, ms, i see, is there some special reason" "I'm going to a party." She kept her voice cool and steady. "THE party?!" NargLord leaned toward her, smelling of sweat. "The ONE thrown by MISTER bloody MILLIONaire FLAVIO d'ARIllo?" The fine, sculpted line of Andrea's lips tightened slightly. "Yes." "flavio d arrillo, the playboy, the rich young lawyer who spends money like water?" asmodean12 sounded genuinely interested. "i heard hes invited everyone on the newsgroup to this party, even the ones who still think arangar is lanfear" "He has." Andrea refused to let her feelings at the betrayal creep into her voice. "We were friends, once. But we haven't... posted to the same threads in some time now." There was something in her cold, emotionless tone that silenced her two traveling companions for the next few minutes. Finally, the train came to a halt and asmodean12 stood. "well this is our connection... i hope you enjoy the party, i hear all the cool pepole will be there, at flavios personal invitation..." Her expression of pure contempt brought him to a stammering halt. With a final mutter of "fascist elite oldbie," he and his friend hurried off and left her alone. **** The first person Andrea saw when she got off the train was the man on the soapbox. He was gaunt, with cold, empty eyes, and hung about his neck was a sign bearing the words EQUALITY FOR ALL NEWSGROUPS. A long black wire trailed off from him into the distance. Narrowing her eyes, Andrea moved close enough to distinguish what he was shouting from the noise of the crowd. "... For years, this so-called, self-proclaimed Cabal has attempted to undermine the People's Group of! They have failed again and again, ladies and gentlemen, because their elitism is no match, I say NO match, for the will of the People! We have refused, and we will refuse, to bow to their arrogantly imposed standards. We have refused, and we will refuse, to be tainted by their superior, unfriendly, inhuman attitude. We spit on their FAQ, ignore their cross-posts and laugh off their flames. We don't need them, or their atmosphere of self-righteous cynicism!" Andrea pushed through the audience of gawking newbies in search of another regular. Surely someone would show up to counter this nonsense. "Despite all their attempts to sabotage our People's Group, the rasfwr-j Cabal has dwindled, while we grow stronger! Yet in their arrogance, they continue to insist that there should be only _one_ newsgroup, only _one_ forum for the discussion of the Creator's Works! And perhaps-- just perhaps-- they are right." The gaunt speaker paused dramatically. "But they make the mistake of assuming that that one newsgroup will be theirs! For the first time, our group has the power to assert itself against the forces of elitism-- to demand that rasfwr-j follow the will of the people and merge itself into afrj! The tables have turned, and the advantage is ours, now!" Andrea barely managed to stifle an incredulous laugh. She was already opening her mouth to deride the very concept of such a merger, when suddenly she spotted a familiar face on the far side of the crowd. The woman standing there had the face and demeanor of a bird of prey, and was wearing an X-men t-shirt. Feeling a sudden surge of relief, Andrea strode toward her. "Hawk! How have you been? Why on earth aren't you saying anything to shut this idiot up?" "Hello, Andrea." Her voice was strangely subdued-- not at all like the Hawk Andrea remembered. "You've been away for a while, I see." "Well, yes." Glancing around, she wasn't quite sure of what else to say. "Where's Bill? I haven't seen him around for even longer." "Bill's gone." She said it matter-of-factly, as if she hardly cared. Andrea blinked. "Gone? You mean, he's left the group?" The prospect was almost unthinkable. Hawk fell silent, and a sardonic voice from behind them answered. "Yes, that more or less sums up the situation." Turning, Andrea came face to face with a young man wearing a ten-gallon hat and a "Hello, my name's BONEHEAD" label pinned to his shirt. "Dylan." Her voice was flat. "What do you mean, Bill's gone?" "He was one of the first." Dylan shrugged. "Hawk probably knows more than I do; all I can tell you is that one day he up and dismantled his humor page, stopped posting, and hasn't been heard from since. Within a couple days, Ken Caveness and Mike Hoye were gone as well, and Becky Slitt the following week. We rasfwr-j regulars are becoming an endangered species, sweetheart." Hawk spoke bitterly. "And don't we all wish that some of the remaining ones would leave..." Several seconds of silence ensued while Andrea waited patiently for the exchange of "Bite me"s to begin. Then she suddenly realized that Dylan was nodding grimly-- that, contrary to all reasonable expectation, Hawk had been referring to someone else. Andrea looked over at her, feeling a strange sensation of expectant dread. "You're here for Flavio's party, aren't you?" The other woman's voice was almost gentle. "I don't think you'll find many old friends there. He's changed, Andrea... changed a great deal." Dylan snorted. "The day I hear him ask me 'who is John Novak?' is the day I flame him off the froup, Cabal member or no Cabal member." He glanced back up at the afrj speaker, who was still in mid-tirade. "But if you'll excuse me, I think for the moment I have a more pressing target." He strode off through the crowd, ignoring the indignant yelps as he deliberately trod on people's toes. Andrea turned back to Hawk, incomprehension furrowing her strong, finely sculpted features. "I don't understand. What made Bill decide to leave? He was well-respected here, and everyone enjoyed his humor page. Especially after it acquired that hilarious Hair Loss parody..." She paused, not quite sure what had made her say that, then shrugged helplessly. "I mean, if he was upset about this whole Flavio thing..." "Oh, it's much more than that. Just look around you." Sounding more despondent than ever, Hawk waved one hand in the hair. "These People's Newsgroup speakers keep popping up faster than we can flame them down. No one even tries to format their posts correctly, except a handful of aging regulars. Most newbies now refuse to read the FAQ as a matter of principle. Everyone just trudges about apathetically asking who John Novak is, as if anyone knew. I tell you, Andrea... sometimes I feel like leaving myself." "What?" Andrea suddenly felt like her last foothold was beginning to crumble. "But... you couldn't possibly leave! Don't the rest of us...? No, that's unworthy of us both. But doesn't the future of rasfwr-j mean anything to you? Hawk, you loved this group like it was your child!" "Excuse me?" There was suddenly a dangerous glint in the other woman's eye. "Well... like it was your sister, then," Andrea stammered. "How can you abandon it all now?" Hawk shrugged. "Lurk around for a few days, and I think you'll see. No one wants us here any more, so what's the point?" Eyes sad, she turned to walk away. Then she glanced back, just as the gaunt speaker burst into flames. "Enjoy the party, Andrea. Give my regards to Mr. d'Arrillo." **** The party was well underway when Andrea arrived. She walked calmly into the brightly lit ballroom, holding herself haughtily aloof to conceal the sick hollowness in her stomach. All around, like leeches starving for life and vitality, the guests mingled: Haywar67 stood in one corner swapping epithets with fafnir, and moridin666 was already halfway under the table. Boneheads, newbies, and trolls, every one-- who despised and feared their host for his greatness, even while feeding on his sophistication. Andrea could understand them all too well; what she could not and would never comprehend was why their host allowed them to feed. Flavio d'Arrillo was conversing pleasantly with three guests in one corner of the room. His face was as she remembered it-- an assembly of hard, angular planes, like the cover of a high school geometry textbook-- and had lost none of its old self-possession. As she approached, Andrea was relieved to note that he had also retained his famous polished courtesy, even since his unaccountable transformation into a cheap and hedonistic playboy. Then she overheard his last words to one of his three companions. "...But I do hear what you're saying about Robert Jordan stealing countless story elements from Dune. It's rather an original point, I think, and one that bears further consideration when I have the time." Heart sinking, Andrea stood to one side and listened. Another of the three newbies was speaking. "As long as we're talking about the Aiel, I thought their military tactics were really cool! A whole army of great fighters moving through the desert en masse and outrunning horses to take over walled cities must be one of the best ideas the Creator's had yet! I can't wait for them to start working with the Ashaman!" Andrea thought she was the only one who detected Flavio's barely perceptible flinch. His smooth voice certainly betrayed nothing as he said, "Actually, I hadn't thought about the military aspect of the series all that much. I just supposed that since Jordan attended the Citadel, he knew what he was doing in writing the battle scenes... Oh, you didn't know he was a Citadel graduate?..." At this point, Andrea finally cleared her throat and stepped forward. Flavio's eyes brightened, and he gracefully kissed her extended hand. "You must excuse me, I'm afraid... this is Miss Leistra. She and I are old friends." Without waiting for an answer, he strode over to the nearest bay window; there he stopped, and smiled winningly at her. "Hello, Andrea. How have you been?" "I'd heard you'd changed, Flavio," she said steadily, refusing to surrender to his cheery self-assertiveness. "I couldn't believe you'd changed this much." He raised one finely sculpted eyebrow. "Changed, Miss Leistra? I can't imagine what you're talking about." Before she could say anything, he glanced over her shoulder and sighed. "I'm afraid we're about to be interrupted." A rather harried-looking young man with _The Wealth of Nations_ tucked under one arm pushed brusquely past her to accost their host. "Forty-two years, Mister d'Arrillo! That's not what I said, but surely you must see that there are no more reserves except the ones we have yet to find and the Middle East cannot long retain its relevance under these circumstances." Flavio paused for a long moment, staring coldly at the intruder, and opened his mouth as if to speak. Then he smiled, almost beatifically, and shrugged. "Whatever you say, Prasenjit. You're right, I'm sure." The young man paused, taken aback. "But surely some difference of opinion is justified given the admittedly unlikely scenario I outline... I mean... have you no respect for these opinions?" "Have you any respect for them?" The question was light but hard. "If you did, I'm sure you'd offer some sort of facts to bolster them and not waste our time with sophomoric prattle. But frankly, I've more or less lost interest in facts. As you say, it's all a question of opinion-- so by all means, let us ignore the Arabs." "Flavio!" The shock was too much to bear. Andrea brushed past the dumbfounded neo-Malthusian and grabbed the smiling lawyer's shoulder. "You don't mean that. Tell me you don't mean what you just said-- about fact and opinion. Tell me they haven't got you." Flavio drew her away from the crowd, an ironic smile on his perfectly proportioned face. When none of the other guests could hear them, he spoke gently. "What's the point, Miss Leistra? They claim that their right to an opinion is more important than their responsibility to live in the real world. Who am I to disillusion them? It's a futile and thankless job, and I see no reason to attempt it further." Andrea stepped back, feeling something die within her. "I suppose you're right, Mr. d'Arrillo," she said dully. "What's the point? Who is John Novak?" A strange glint came into her host's eye. "That's a vile phrase." "I know-- I hated it too, from the first moment I heard it." Suddenly, she felt ashamed. "It's just... it's on everyone's tongue these days. I guess it's contagious." "But you see, I know the answer." Flavio smiled, a bit sadly. "I know exactly who John Novak is." For no accountable reason, Andrea felt her heart leap. "You do?" "Yes." Flavio's eyes were distant as he spoke. "John Novak was a Teaching Assistant who was forced to grade the final exams of two hundred worthless and lazy undergraduates. Not a single exam deserved better than a C+, but the students protested loudly, demanding that he grade them by curve, and threatened him with the loss of his job if he didn't comply. So he took all the exams, publicly marked them all with an F, then burned them in the quad and shoved the ashes down his students' throats. And then he vanished forever, one step ahead of the official academic reprimand, and no one has seen him since." "Oh." Andrea was a bit taken aback. "Well. That wasn't quite what I'd expected, I suppose." The young d'Arrillo's gaze abruptly snapped back into reality. "It's just a rather contrived metaphor, my dear Ms. Leistra. I'll explain it to you some other time... but for now, good night." He really did have finely shaped cheekbones. Her eyes were sad as she bowed back. "Good night, then, Flavio."

Subject: alt.Shrugged: A parody (Chapter Two)
From: People Covered In Fish <>
Date: 1996/11/11
Message-Id: <>
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan

        It was morning, and the usual rush of overseas posts was
brightening the eastern sky.  Standing by the window, Andrea did her best
to appreciate the view, but found herself unable to ignore either the
black wires crowding the skyline or her memories of last night.  She was
beginning to worry that Hawk was right; there was no room for pride on the
group any more.  How Flavio had been brought to the point of surrender,
she couldn't imagine... but if he had given in, what hope was there for
anyone else?
        Checking her inbox, Andrea found a vastly reassuring message:

> Welcome back, dearie!  Care for tea and muffins?
>                               Auntie Erica

        Within the half-hour she was knocking on Erica's door.  Emma Pease
opened it, holding a virtual tea cosy and beaming as pleasantly as ever.
"Andrea!  Do step in... we're all having tea in the back."
        "How did you know I was here again?"  Andrea found a hook on the
door and boldly hung her coat from it.
        "Hawk told us."  Emma suddenly sounded strangely sad.  "She came
to talk to us last night... she said she'd rather have you hear the news
from us first."
        Andrea's head slowly lifted; the finely sculpted lines of her face
abruptly seemed starker than usual, her smooth skin paler.  Her voice was
cool and controlled.  "She's gone, isn't she?"
        Emma nodded, her eyes sympathetic and extended a comforting hand.
"Why don't you come in and sit down, dear?"
        Coldly ignoring the proffered aid, Andrea walked through the door,
head held high.  The other woman stepped back, retracting her hand with
gentle understanding.  Together they strode through the house, to the
small room where Aunt Erica Sadun and an erudite-looking Norwegian-
American were sipping tea.
        "Hello, Erica.  Hello, Rick."  Andrea forced her voice to sound
        Both met her eyes and immediately knew better than to offer any
sympathy.  Auntie Erica was the first to speak, maintaining a tone of
polite abstraction.  "Hello, Andrea dear.  Welcome back to rasfwr-j.  Not
that we've missed you-- that would imply we needed you in some way, or
lacked something in your absence-- but it's always a pleasure to have
somewhat intelligent people around.  Care for milk with your tea?"
        "No thank you.  No sugar either."  She waited for someone to offer
a chair, and sat with a feeling of triumph when no one did.
        "Welcome to our little cha-no-yu, Andrea."  Rick Moen poured the
tea and pushed it halfway across the table to her.  She reached the rest
of the way and snatched it out of his grip, spilling half of it as she did
so and scalding her hand.  He smiled slightly and inclined his head,
indicating that this time she had the victory.  Andrea sat back in her
chair, ignoring her burned fingers, and sipped the tea.  She felt
considerably more composed.
        "Why did she leave?" she asked at length.
        "We don't know, dear," Emma replied.  "Not entirely.  She's been
unhappy for a long, long time, and I think it was only a matter of time
after Bill vanished."
        "Last night, though, she seemed almost... content again."  Erica
sounded mildly perplexed.  "She said she was leaving not in defeat, but
because she honestly believed it was the most constructive solution.
There was no keeping her, and we knew better than to try.  I asked where
she was going, and she said she thought we'd find out soon enough.  She
never told us, though."
        "Didn't she mention some man-- some stranger she'd talked to who'd
settled her thoughts on the matter?"  Emma looked over at Erica, one
eyebrow raised.  "I asked if it was Bill, but she laughed and said no."
        "Some man?"  Andrea jumped on the solitary clue.  "What sort of
        Emma raised her hands helplessly.  "She never said, Andrea dear.
For all I know, it was a newbie-- the last troll that broke the bridge."
        "That sounds most likely to me, I'm afraid," Rick regretfully
affirmed.  "Two days ago, I saw someone going off on the de rigueur
anti-Nynaeve rant... you know, what do those Jordan bitches think they're
doing, talking back to their men?  Hawk was there-- but instead of turning
into la belle dame sans merci we all know and love, she just sighed and
let the little sexist go on ranting.  I think she realized for the first
time just how pointless the whole thing was.  And now she's given it all
up.  C'est la vie."
        "The newsgroup's gone a long ways downhill since the time I first
arrived."  Auntie Erica's eyes were distant and sad.  "People used to take
pride in posting; they refused to countenance laziness and leeching here,
any more than in real life.  You wouldn't hear any of this nonsense about
the 'right way' to post being a creation of the elite.  The FAQ was seen
as a helpful tool and body of wisdom rather than the root of all evil.
Cabal members-- there are, of course, no Cabal members-- were offered at
least a little deference.  But all that's gone now."
        "The group's lost its old je ne sais quoi," Rick agreed.
        "It's lost its great men," Erica corrected him.  "There were three
young fellows I knew and taught once, my three favorite nephews... I had
high hopes for them, high hopes indeed.  They knew what standards were--
even though their ideas on how to enforce them differed somewhat.  But
they couldn't survive in a People's Group for long... the growing power of
the leeches changed them or drove them away."
        Andrea glanced over at her in curiosity.  "Who were they?"
        "One you know very well: Flavio d'Arrillo.  He was one of the
brightest young lights on the group, whatever he may have become since.
As for the second one, though he left before you first joined us, you may
still have heard his name: Loynar Danneskjold."
        "The Loy?" Andrea exclaimed.  "The notorious Net pirate?"
        "He wasn't always a pirate," Rick Moen interjected drily.  "Once,
he was considered an artist... though of a rather peculiar and perverse
kind.  He was brilliant in his jokes and flames, and we all admired his
twisted wit.  But the boneheads who came to dominate the group had no use
for him; his humor was over their heads, and his intellect put them to
shame.  Plus, however far he might stretch to make a joke, he always
stayed well within the standards they rejected.  So they threw him out,
and he responded by stealing their bandwidth-- posting a continuous stream
of flames, random comments, and off-topic TAN:s.  And now he's been
declared an outlaw, and every troll on rasfwr-j is hunting his scalp.  But
he left his mark on the group-- ars longa, vita brevis, you know."
        Andrea mulled this over silently.  "And the third?"
        Erica sighed.  "A rather bright young fellow you'll never have
heard of.  He left long ago, before the group reached its current nadir--
because he foresaw it and couldn't bear to watch it happen around him."
She paused sadly; no one else said anything.  "My fellow Net-Aunt Judy
Ghirardelli and I did our best to prepare the three of them for the
corruption of Usenet.  I suppose it may be too early to decide that we've
failed-- though some, it seems, have given up already."
        "Oh, yes.  Poor Judy..."  Emma sighed and dabbed a tear away from
her eye.
        Andrea's incomprehension must have been evident on her face.
Erica waited for a moment, then slowly shook her head.  "You didn't look
through all your mail this morning, did you, dear?"
        "No; I saw your message and hurried right over.  Why?"  Cold dread
began to creep up on her heart.
        "There's one last survey from Aunt Joody-- requiem aeternam dona
eis-- in everyone's box, with only one question on it."  Rick's voice
        "Oh no.  'Who is John Novak?'"  Andrea felt a dull pain at their
silent confirmation.  "Damn it, Auntie Erica, who is he-- and why does
everyone keep asking about him, if no one really cares?"
        Rick Moen sighed.  "Ah, that is the real question, isn't it?  But
as they say, che vuol dire questo?"
        "I know what it means, young Rick-- because I happen to know who
John Novak is."  Erica spoke in a firm, steady tone.
        "You do?" Andrea and Rick exclaimed simultaneously.
        "Absolutely."  Folding her hands in her lap, Aunt Erica settled
back in her chair.  "John Novak was an engineer who designed a feasible
means of producing cold fusion.  However, he was informed that the
materials he required to make his vision a reality were by nature tainted
with baser elements, and that his standards for purity were completely
unrealistic.  So he withdrew from the scientific community, built a
laboratory and apparatus with his own hands, and completed his project.
Then he nuked Peoria."
        "Oh.  Another metaphor."  Andrea sat back, clearly feeling let
        "Et tu, Erica?" Rick Moen muttered, looking no less disgruntled.
        The older woman raised her hands.  "You can't understand now, my
dears, and I can't express it any other way.  It's still too early in the
parody.  Eventually, of course, you'll find out what it's all been leading
up to, but it's not my place to tell you the story in literal terms.
You'll just have to wait."
        "No."  Andrea's eyes flashed as she stood.  "I won't wait until
we're the last two people of any sense left on the newsgroup.  We need to
discover why everyone's leaving, and stop them before the whole thing
collapses.  Time is short, Auntie Erica-- and I can't sit here sipping tea
any longer."
        Erica's smile was placid.  "You do what you have to do, Andrea
        Andrea set down her teacup and walked to the door.  There she
paused, looking back briefly.  "Thank you very much for welcoming me back.
It's good to know that there are still some places on the newsgroup where
people have some degree of pride in themselves.  Just... don't any of you
vanish without talking to me first, all right?"
        "Hasta la vista, Andrea," Rick Moen said regretfully.  "If you
need any help-- excuse me, if you want the company of an equally
self-reliant human being-- you know my address.  Buen suerte!"
        Andrea refused to grant him the trophy of a smile, but nodded
haughtily in his direction to convey her gratitude.  Then, with a bow to
the other two women, she turned and left the room.

        The next two days were an unhappy blur of bad news.  Andrea spent
almost all of her waking hours searching rasfwr-j, trying to find old
acquaintances amidst the sea of lurkers and newbies.  The few she located
were all too often dispirited, and bore nothing but bad news.  She met
Mike Kozlowski on a random thread; he told her that Tshen (unsurprisingly)
had finally left to join Loynar Danneskjold in bandwidth piracy.  She
found Kate Nepveu chatting idly with Karl-Johan-- who was in a foul mood,
and spent most of his time complaining that the newsgroup had somehow
overtaken Scandinavia in its troll population.  He was able to confirm,
however, that Magnus Itland had vanished a week ago.  Then there was Kurt
Montandon, who was flaming off a swarm of boneheads in the "Taimandred"
sector.  When they could talk, he grimly informed her that he and Rich
Boye were on the verge of leaving themselves, and no entreaty could move
them.  For the first time in her life, Andrea was brought to the verge of
complete despair.
        On the morning of the third day, there was a knock on her door.
Opening it, she found herself confronted by the strong, angular features
of Rick Moen.  In response to her quizzical and slightly indignant glare,
he shrugged and smiled.
        "I realize you never called for my help-- but I found your little
speech to Erica inspiring, and so I figured it was time to get down to
solving the basic problem.  Tochis afn tish.  Besides, I have some news
you may find interesting."
        "Let's hear it."  Andrea grudgingly stepped away from the door and
allowed him to enter.
        "Well, first, the bad news: St. Erroneous has finally taken a vow
of silence, and Julie Kangas is swimming with the fishes."  Before the
double blow could really affect her, he hurried on.  "But here's the
important part-- in both cases, they were first seen talking with a large,
dark stranger.  Both spent a good hour talking to l'etranger mysterieux,
and then immediately put their accounts in order and vanished.  Doesn't
this strike you as similar to a certain other mutual friend of ours?"
        Andrea forgot her annoyance in sudden excitement.  "You think it's
the same mystery man who spoke to Hawk?"
        "Seems likely, doesn't it?  The modus operandi is the same, at any
rate... which would lead me to think, contra my previous guess, that this
fellow is more than just a boneheaded newbie."
        Frowning thoughtfully, Andrea said, "But then who could it be?
Who else could convince all these oldbies to leave?  And why?"
        Rick Moen spread his hands regretfully.  "Sodomy non sapiens,
        "Well, we'll just have to find out.  Keep your eyes open, Rick."
        The next day passed slowly and frustratingly.  Andrea ran into
Richard Bollinger, who growled amiably that he'd seen plenty of strangers,
but none of that particular description.  He had also heard rumors that
the boneheads, leeches, and trolls were meeting to elect a People's Cabal,
with the excuse that the old Cabal [TINOC] had lost too many members to
maintain a quorum.  Otherwise, her search for news was fruitless.  She met
Rick Moen again that evening; he looked slightly less gloomy, but not by
        "I talked to a lurker who claims to have overheard one side of a
conversation between a rasfwr-j oldbie and a dark-bearded stranger.
Unfortunately, the oldbie  was Aaron Bergman."  Rick shrugged ruefully.
"We didn't get many sentences of over one syllable, I'm afraid.  Que sera,
        "Aaron's gone, then?"
        He sighed.  "Yes.  By the time I found him, his departure was a
fait accompli."
        Andrea's eyes were hard and cold as flint.  "This stranger is the
Enemy, Rick, I'm convinced of it.  He's a Destroyer, dedicated to the
collapse of what little good remains on the group.  We've got to stop
        "Fine, but as they say in Uruguay, que podemos hacer?"
        Andrea's finely drawn lips pressed tightly together as she
thought.  Then she looked up.  "We need to anticipate him, Rick.  We need
to figure out who he's going for next.  How many real Cabal members (there
are no real Cabal members) are left?"  There was a moment's silence while
they both ran down a mental list.  Then Andrea's eyes brightened.  "Of
course!" she exclaimed, and was out the door before he had a chance to
rise from his chair.
        She sprinted down the virtual streets, not bothering to check if
Rick Moen was following.  It didn't matter if he was there or not; all
that mattered was that she reach her destination in time.  She finally
arrived, worn out and gasping for air, at the front door of a tall, dark
building.  In the moment she took to catch her breath, Andrea thought she
glimpsed a large, shadowy figure striding down the alley behind the
neighboring tenements.  It was impossible to see him clearly in the
twilight of evening, however, and with a sinking heart she dashed into the
hall, hoping against hope that she wasn't too late.
        She burst into the main bedroom, where a man in a shape-shifting
warder cloak glanced up at her, then went back to tossing clothes and
valuables into a suitcase.  "Hello, Andrea."
        "Stop packing, darkelf," she commanded.
        Michael Steeves looked up again, an even smile on his angular,
finely sculpted face.  "I can't do that, Andrea."
        "So he got to you as well?"  Her voice was thick with rage and
hurt.  "You've decided to throw in your lot with the Destroyer?"
        "Quite honestly, yes."  He closed the suitcase and turned to face
her.  "You don't understand.  Right now, I don't think you can.  Some day
you will, when he explains it to you.  But for now, please trust me when I
say he's right."
        "How can he be right?"  Andrea stood in the doorway, folding her
arms.  "How can it be right to abandon everything on this group that
you've worked to develop, darkelf-- to abandon even your Warder Bond?"
        He shot her a stern glance.  "I'm hardly abandoning that, Andrea."
Picking up his luggage, he stepped toward her.  "But I am leaving
rasfwr-j.  Please step out of the way."
        She stared up at him coldly for a moment, then did as he asked.
He walked past her; she neither moved nor spoke until she heard the door
close.  Then her shoulders slumped, and she stumbled into a chair.  There
she sat for several minutes-- until she heard the door open again, and she
sat up with a sudden surge of hope.
        It was Flavio d'Arrillo.
        "Hello, Andrea," he said in a gentle voice.
        "Hello, Flavio," she replied dully, sinking back into her chair.
        "I saw Mike on the way out.  I'm sorry you had to go through
that... if you'd run a bit more slowly, he would simply have been gone
when you arrived."
        Andrea shook her head, feeling empty.  "You know it was better
this way.  But I just don't understand.  How can everyone who cares about
this newsgroup just leave?  How can you waste yourself the way you do?  It
just doesn't make sense."
        Flavio sighed.  "Well, I could try to explain it by appeal to
logical properties, such as non-contradiction... but of course, one
moment's experience of the _real_ world should be evidence that people
aren't logical.  All I can say is that you don't see the whole picture."
        "What's left to see, Flavio?" Andrea demanded.  "What could
possibly make me agree with what you're doing?"
        "Well, one thing you don't know is that I'm leaving myself.  This
        "What?"  Her eyes snapped up to meet his.  "But-- why?  Damn it,
Flavio, if anyone had a motive to stay, it was you, with your popularity
and your parties!"
        Flavio's angular, mathematically proportioned face was calm.  "But
you see, I'm not throwing any more parties.  I've spent all my money,
squandered my assets, burned down my mansion, and am now leaving two steps
ahead of the lynch mob.  And that's not all-- I've also ensured that the
level of intellectual dialogue on the newsgroup has declined to depths
best described as 'neanderthal'.  The newly elected People's Cabal of
rasfwr-j wants me arrested for arson, wasting public property, and
fostering mass popular ignorance.  Needless to say, I don't intend to stay
long enough to answer the charges."
        Andrea couldn't speak for several seconds, and when she finally
did, it was in a barely audible voice.  "Flavio.  You... you were doing
all this deliberately?  You're in league with the Enemy?"  He nodded; she
shook her head, as if to fiercely negate the very idea.  "Flavio... you
used to be one the proudest posters on rasfwr-j.  Now you've destroyed
everything you ever contributed to this group, and done it with your own
hands!  How-- how _could_ you?"  She tried to understand, but failed
        "I don't think you'll comprehend until he comes for you..."  He
paused, grinning ruefully.  "Oh, Loy would have fun with that one.  Let's
just say I didn't want to leave any of my contributions to be tossed
around and sucked dry by the leeches of the People's Group.  This
Destroyer of yours showed me that."
        "Who is the Destroyer, Flavio?"
        He was silent for a long time, then smiled a strange, sad smile
and shrugged.  "Who is John Novak?"
        She almost hit him.  Instead, she stood, bowed stiffly in his
direction, and stalked out of darkelf's lair.  By the time she reached her
home, it was full night, and the streets of the newsgroup were beginning
to fill with trolls and lurkers-- more than she had ever seen before.  She
ignored them, climbed the stairs to her room, and shut the door behind
her.  No one else was there.  She mutely made herself a cup of coffee,
then sat down, refusing to think, to care.
        She was wakened by the dim morning light, filtering down through
countless black wires-- that, and the unsteady footsteps coming up her
stairway.  Grabbing a flamethrower, Andrea stood and stealthily moved over
to the entrance.
        "Sturm und drang!"
        It was Rick Moen cursing, and there was a helpless rage in his
tone that frightened her.  Andrea opened the door for him; he stumbled in,
almost falling into the armchair she had just vacated.  His face was
haggard as he looked up at her, his voice hoarse as he spoke.
        "Pam Korda just joined the ranks of the vanished."
        Andrea's head snapped up in horror.  "No!"  She couldn't bring
herself to ask the obvious question.  She didn't need to.
        "Yep.  We've lost the FAQ."
        Andrea slowly lowered her weapon to the floor, then pulled up a
chair and sat down next to him.  She refused to show any weakness in front
of Rick Moen, even under circumstances as terrible as these.  Reaching out
her hand, she found her cold coffee cup of the night before and drained it
at a gulp.
        "Andrea?"  He didn't try to put a hand on her shoulder; he knew
better than that.  "Just remember:  Nolite te bastardes carborundorum."
        She looked up in exasperation, fighting back tears.  "Rick, _will_
you speak English for once?"
        He smiled in genuine amusement.  "Don't let the bastards grind you
        Andrea tried to smile back, but she was too weary.  They both
were.  Several silent minutes passed before she finally stood-- with
noticeable effort-- and walked slowly to the door.
        Rick focused a rueful, half-asleep eye in her direction.  "Maf
garnos mero man de ki for not wanting to join you, Andrea, but where are
you going?"
        She looked back at him, trying not to let desperation seep into
her voice.  "Anywhere.  Does it matter now?  I can't let it end like this,
without at least trying to do _something_."  Without waiting for an
answer, she stepped out the door.

        In the end, Andrea desperately grabbed the first regular she met
in the street-- a young man wearing a Yale sweatshirt and a fish on his
head.  "Tell me-- do _you_ know who John Novak is?"  Before he could
speak, she pressed a finger against his throat.  "And if you even _start_
to reel off an endless metaphor, I'm going to kill you."
        The young man smiled apologetically.  "But don't you see, in the
question of whether the Novak exists, there are some things you can only
express by metaphor.  The whole problem of whether or not you should read
the stories literally is very complicated, and... urk."
        "Listen, Fish-boy, this isn't theology."  Andrea didn't release
her grip on his larynx.  "If you can't tell me anything helpful, point me
to someone who can."
        "OilCan," the young man croaked, gesturing desperately down the
road.  "Should know maybe.  Say more but... can't breathe."
        She dropped him and ran off in the direction he had been pointing.
Within minutes, she came upon a 6'6" colossus and a buxom redhead walking
down the street together.  They were involved in some sort of argument
involving much laughter and the frequent exchange of points and insults.
>From what Andrea could tell, it involved Dylan and a duck.
        "Chad!  Lara!" she called breathlessly, once she was within
earshot.  They paused and looked back at her, then stopped and let her
catch up.
        "Hello there, Andrea," the Cabal scorekeeper greeted her.  "No,
no, take a second to catch your breath.  Believe me, Lara and I weren't
talking about anything that can't wait."
        Lara raised an eyebrow at him.  "If you're willing to come to a
truce in this adolescent war..."
        "Indigo Girls, 'Ghost'.  Barely worth the point."
        "Bite me."
        Andrea broke in.  "Chad... who is John Novak?"
        Chad Orzel grimaced.  "Oh hell, not you, too."
        "No, no...  I mean literally.  I want an answer, and not a
metaphor."  She kept her voice steady, refusing to plead.  "All this is
linked to him somehow; but until I know who and what he is, I can't even
begin to stem this idiotic exodus of the elite."
        Chad spoke thoughtfully.  "Sometimes idiocy is our only option."
        Lara didn't miss a beat.  "_Outbreak_, Dustin Hoffman."
        "One point.  Max."
        "Need I invite you to bite me?"
        Andrea interrupted again.  "OilCan... do you know who he is?"
        He nodded absently in her direction.  "Well, of course I do.  You
don't get this high in the omniscient Cabal (there is no omniscient
Cabal), not to mention spending half your life around a member of the L^2
Entity, without knowing the answer to _that_ one."  He abruptly rounded on
Lara.  "Hey, honey, want to know who killed Kennedy?"
        She snorted disdainfully.  "Last line of the movie, and he got
Best Actor for it, Chad, just last year?  I can't believe that even _you_
would offer points for that."
        "You're pretty sarcastic for a jiggling figment of our
        "You're pretty talkative for a pet duck."
        "Bite.  Me."
        "Excuse me... John Novak?"  Andrea was beginning to feel
        "Oh, right."  Chad Orzel turned back to her, wrinkling his brow
thoughtfully.  "John Novak was the Humblest Man on the Net-- and the
proudest man any of us ever knew.  He lived, breathed, and dreamed this
newsgroup-- and posted so often that everyone else judged their post
frequency on a Novak Index.  He was the cornerstone of the Cabal (there is
no Cabal).  No bonehead could out-flame him, no regular could out-argue
him, and no pitiable newbie could convince him to lower his standards.  He
refused to tolerate ignorance in any form, from anyone, and that was
        Andrea paused to take it all in.  "So... why isn't he here now?"
        Chad shrugged.  "He left a long time ago, when he was told that
'popular demand' required a lowering of standards on the group.  He said
in the end, it would surely lead to the dissolution of rasfwr-j and its
surrender to the leeches."
        "And you think that this is it?  The _end_ of the newsgroup?"
Andrea was appalled.  "You honestly believe we're in the last days of
        "Could be, could be."  Suddenly he whirled on Lara again, a
challenge in his voice.  "The happy day to come when flesh melts at so
many degrees and the night of the moon has so many hundred hours..."
        Lara raised her eyebrow succinctly.  "I'd have to guess...  'Happy
        "The absurdist play or the TV show?"
        "Don't be silly, Chad.  Points, please?"
        "Mmm.  For you, my dear, one point."
        "Would you show our contestant the size of the 'Bite Me' he just
won, Phil?"
        "Will you two stop for just a minute?" Andrea demanded.  "Rasfwr-j
is falling to pieces around our ears, with the oldbies deserting left and
right, and we have to do something besides chatter!  Maybe if we found
this John Novak, wherever he is, and brought him back, he could turn the
place around... but if we don't get moving now, it'll be too late..."
        The earth trembled, and the sky went completely dark.  From a
long, long way away, they all heard a colossal CRASH as if some great
edifice had just collapsed upon itself.
        "Damn," Chad commented absently.  "I strongly suspect it's already
too late, Andrea."  Without further explanation he broke into a run and
vanished down the street.  Lara shot her an apologetic glance, then ran
after him.  There was another great rumbling crash in the distance.
Andrea turned around, desperately searching for a familiar reference point
in the suddenly lightless newsgroup.
        A little, narrow-faced man was striding down the street away from
her, rubbing his hands together in sublime satisfaction.  Recognition sent
a double surge of dread and rage through Andrea's mind, and she chased
after him.  "Hey-- you!"
        Her companion from the train car looked around and saw her.  A
gleeful, slimy grin appeared on his face, and when he spoke his voice was
gloating.  "o, its the oldbie who thought she was so better than us... how
do u like THIS then, elitist bitch, we have the last laugh i think"
        Andrea's voice was colder and harder than a glacier.  "What the
hell do you mean, you little leech bastard?"
        He was taken aback for a moment, but rallied bravely.  "u mean u
dont know, haha, u havent heard whats happening to your own precius
        "No.  What's all that noise coming from?"
        asmodean12 explained blithely.  "well, if we dont bulldoze half
this place, it wont have the smalltown feel we on afrj value so much...
these huge structures really must come down, and we cant have anything so
complex as that thread over there... has the faq been dealt with yet, btw,
bc it should be the 1st to go"
        Andrea's finely sculpted face was completely bloodless.  "You're
mad.  What do you think you're doing?"
        The little man grinned nastily as another tower toppled behind
them.  "preparing 4 tomorrows merger & the subjugation of all rasfwrj to
the will of the pepole, now and 4ever"
        "Merger?"  She almost started laughing hysterically, though she
knew he was perfectly serious.
        "with afrj, of course"
        Andrea dug her fingernails into her palms until they drew blood.
"The Novak was right," she breathed faintly.  "It really is the end."
        asmodean12 prattled on.  "btw, its been made illegal for any more
oldbies to leave, its not healthy 4 humanity and society to have all the
old elite vanish... not that we need u, but a pepoles group should accept
all kinds, all should be equal"
        Barely restraining her desire to throttle the little rat, Andrea
spoke through clenched teeth.  "Believe me, I'm not going anywhere.  There
may be fewer oldbies here than there used to be, but don't think we'll let
you and your kind take over here without a fight."
        "o really"  asmodean12 raised his eyebrows mockingly.  "didnt u
know?   it was an oldbie who arranged this merger, its the 1 good use of
elite power in the history of rasfwrj"
        For several seconds, Andrea couldn't speak.  Finally, she managed
a hoarse, "Who?"
        The small, narrow-faced man waved one hand dismissively.  "o, i
dont know, i only saw him briefly during the negotiations on alt.config,
he was a big bearded darklooking fellow... arrogant bastard like all
rasfwrjians, but he at least knew better than 2 resist the will of the
pepole, he saw where the future was going, unlike you all, but no more
brains than the rest of you, no..."
        The words were still hanging in the air when death took him.
        Andrea holstered her killfile, feeling strangely detached.  "What
do you know... it was one of the females who did it after all."
        She walked numbly back to her home, trying to ignore the collapse
of the newsgroup all around her.  Her door was open; she found herself
unable to care.  Did it really matter if the leeches and looters took it
all now?  Then, suddenly, she remembered: she had left Rick here.  Feeling
a sudden, awful premonition of doom, she dashed up the stairs and into her
        The note on the table was short, simple, and heart-wrenchingly

>  Sic transit gloria, dear.
>            Rick Moen
>  PS:  We have met the Enemy, and we are his.

        "No!" she screamed.  Running to the window, she saw two
silhouettes striding down the alleyway toward a strange crosspost wire of
solid light-- the last one visible that didn't now lead to afrj.  In mere
seconds, they would be gone for good.
        Not pausing for a single second, Andrea vaulted out the window and
shinned down the drainpipe.  Her impact with the ground temporarily
knocked the breath out of her, and she felt something give in her ankle.
Regardless, she sprinted down the alley toward the narrowing channel of
light.  The Destroyer was there, with Rick Moen... she would kill him,
stop him somehow before he could get away with her friend, and avenge the
unforgivable crime of selling them all out to afrj.
        She reached the gateway a second after the two silhouettes
vanished, and a mere instant before it closed.  There was a rush of golden
light all around her... and suddenly she was standing in an isolated
mountain valley.  She had a momentary glimpse of a small cluster of
familiar-looking people, and even more familiar-looking buildings on the
valley floor far below.  Then her ankle finally gave out, and all she saw
was the rocky ground rushing up at her.
        When she regained consciousness a few moments later, she was
staring up at an unfamiliar man.  His round, bearded face bore no mark of
pain or fear or guilt.  It was proud, and took pride in being proud; his
expression was a strangely comforting blend of serene determination and
certainty.  There was something about it that told her who he was, who the
Destroyer was, even before he spoke.
        "Hello," said the man.  "I'm John Novak."


Subject: alt.Shrugged: A parody (Chapter Three)
From: People Covered In Fish <>
Date: 1996/11/11
Message-Id: <>
Newsgroups: rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan

        "I don't know why I didn't get it before," Andrea said ruefully.
"Flavio and Chad practically waved it in my face."
        John Novak shrugged.  "Plot purposes.  When you're utterly
incapable of subtlety-- in foreshadowing as everywhere else-- you need to
give your characters some pretty impressive blind spots."
        "Never mind."
        Andrea relaxed back against the tree and stretched her ankle.  She
thought she'd be able to put weight on it again before long.  "But... Mr
Novak, I still don't understand what you were doing, or how you convinced
everyone else to leave the group.  Let alone..."  Her voice trailed off
bitterly, and she glanced up at him with a hint of the old distrust.  "Let
alone why you handed over rasfwr-j to _them_."
        "It's quite simple, really," said John Novak, smiling with
complete self-confidence.  "As you know, for years _they_ have accused us
of elitism... of imposing impossibly difficult and unnecessary standards
on newbies, of flaming anyone who doesn't fit into our little clique, of
dismissing all questions with reference to the all-hallowed FAQ.  They
have boneheadedly refused to adjust their grammar, their line lengths, or
their spelling for the sake of anybody else's comprehension.  They have
demanded the right to equal treatment... by which they mean that our great
rec.arts newsgroup must be reduced to equality with their bogus,
our standards reduced to equality with their standards, our knowledge to
equality with their ignorance, and our reasonable demand for evidence to
equality with their irrational glorification of opinion.  For years, they
have been trying to seize power, to devour rasfwr-j and drag it down to
their level.
        "So I have given them what they so desperately desired.  I have
removed the elite from their group and left the result to them.  As the
final implication of their demands, I have even arranged that unholiest of
all alliances: the merger with afrj.  They are free to make of it what
they will... and may they enjoy it!"  His eyes were fierce.  "I fear they
will not enjoy it long."
        "No!" Andrea exclaimed, horror in her face.  "You... you've
destroyed rasfwr-j?  How could you?  You spent more time on it than any
other _two_ people!  You were the standard by which everyone else
calculated their posting index!  Your whole life was poured into that
group!  Couldn't you have tried to redeem it instead of abandoning it to
        The Humblest Man on the Net smiled gently.  "How's that ankle,
        Andrea was taken aback.  "Well... almost fine, thank you."  For a
moment, she almost suspected him of trying to evade the question.
        "Well, I'm afraid we allow no one who needs crutches of any sort
past this point... but when you can completely support yourself, I'll take
you through the valley and show you exactly how I propose to redeem the
        She stretched again gingerly.  "That would have been sort of tough
on me if I'd broken my ankle, wouldn't it?"
        The Novak shrugged.  "We assume that anyone who has to rely on
others for support is a leech and a looter.  It's worked so far."
        Andrea managed a sardonic smile.  "I think I'll be just fine.
Let's go."
        "Very well."  He walked beside her, matching her slow pace, until
they reached the high outcrop of rock where the gateway had initially
formed.  Andrea gasped audibly; then she stood there for several minutes
in silence.  Finally, she looked over at John Novak with unspeakable
wonder in her eyes.  "It's... it's rasfwr-j."
        He smiled in proud satisfaction.  "Well, not precisely.  It's
rasfwr-j as it should be, in accordance to my standards, and built from my
chosen materials... here in this lonely virtual valley, which no bonehead
will ever discover."
        Down below, reconstructed in full shining splendor, were all the
buildings that were currently being bulldozed back on the rec.arts.sf
hierarchy.  But there were no scars or scorch marks in this newsgroup, and
the handful of people who walked its streets were all vaguely
recognizable.  John Novak captured the whole vista with a sweep of his
        "Welcome to alt.antis, home of the Cabal in Exile."
        After a long silence, Andrea looked at him questioningly.  "Aren't
you supposed to add '[TINCIE]' or something?"
        The Novak shook his head.  "In this place, no one is allowed to
hide their innate superiority.  No one needs to."  He smiled slightly.
"After all, I _am_ the Humblest Man in alt.antis... which leaves very
little room for either modesty or humility in anyone else."
        "Of course," Andrea breathed, nodding slowly.  "Is Flavio here--
or the Loy?  I assume you're the third of Auntie Erica's favorite
        "Yes, they're both here... and Flavio, in particular, will be
overjoyed to see you.  He chose the most demanding course of us three:
remaining in rasfwr-j and ensuring that everything of any worth in it was
eroded or destroyed.  It took a heavy toll on him, especially since it
meant becoming that which every true rasfwr-jian must despise."  John
Novak shrugged.  "But now it's over, and we're all here.  Would you like
to see the group itself?"
        "Of course!"  Andrea couldn't keep the eagerness out of her voice.
        The Novak continued talking as they walked down the long slope.
"In alt.antis, anyone who can support their point of view with solid
evidence is welcome to post on anything they like-- whether on the
impending oil crisis, the existence of God, or even the Taimandred
        "That seems more than reasonable.  Who's that?"  She pointed at an
older Cabal member a few paces away who was lying back in a reclining
chair with his ears plugged.
        "That's Joe Shaw.  He was one of the first to leave rasfwr-j out
of insistence on standards.  We see him as something of a godfather to our
        "Oh.  Why is he living way out here-- and why the ear plugs?"
        "Spoiler protection," said the Novak shortly.  "Care to keep
        As they descended further, he began to point out individual sites
and their purposes.  "From here you can see the centers for Discussion of
Future Plots, Prophetic Interpretation, Prose Critique, Character
Analysis, and Looney Theories.  Of course, that last one is considerably
more limited here than on the old group."
        "Naturally," said Andrea doubtfully.
        "And see that area over there?"  The Humblest Man on the Net
pointed to a region that was surely the most colorful, cheerful, and
hyperactive in alt.antis.  "That's reserved for tangential subjects-- ones
that have nothing at all to do with the Creator or his works.  Quite a bit
of our more amusing interaction goes on there.  Of course, we only allow
TAN: topics if they meet the strict criteria of being interesting,
intelligent, current, edifying, and lively."
        "Such as?"  Andrea queried.
        The Novak smiled.  "Babylon 5," he said.
        They walked on.  A half-mile or so down the road, Andrea stopped
abruptly.  "What's all that garbage doing in the middle of your private
utopia?"  There was, to all appearances, a junkyard two hundred feet to
their left.
        "Oh, that's strictly temporary.  Loy's been sending it all to the
old rasfwr-j group for months now, just to add to the bandwidth clutter.
Now that the whole place has gone permanently to the dogs, he'll dump all
the rest on them and have done with it.  Tshen's taken over most of the
venture with considerable zest, I understand.  Look, there's the Loy
now...  Ahoy there, you old pirate!"
        Loynar Danneskjold looked up and waved cheerily at them.  He was
working on some project that seemed to involve whipped cream, a nylon
fishnet, three rather bedraggled chia pets, and five hundred pounds of
indiarubber.  A familiar-looking redhead stood next to him, offering
assistance and constructive advice.
        Andrea blinked, then looked up at John Novak.  "Does Lara know the
Loy-- and what on earth are they doing?"
        The Novak cleared his throat.  "Well, Lara and Loynar are sort of
like twisted siblings... well, no, there's admittedly more of the
'consort' element than that... kindred spirits, I suppose you might say,
though there's more to it.  Um.  Let's just say they have a certain, well,
unique unity that can't really be grasped without grave danger to one's
sanity.  And quite honestly, I don't want to know _what_ they're making."
        Andrea threw back her head and laughed in amazed delight.  When
she spoke again, her voice was almost incredulous.  "But how can all this
possibly exist?  Where do you get the power to run everything?"
        "Oh, that."  He gave a dismissive wave of his hand.  "It all runs
off the perpetual motion machine I invented over there in the corner.
Don't bother with such silly technical questions."
        An hour later, they stood at the outer perimeter of alt.antis
proper.  The Novak turned to her, arms folded across his chest, and smiled
arrogantly.  "Well, have you been adequately impressed by our paradise on
        Andrea looked up at him sadly.  "John, I appreciate all this--
it's quite honestly amazing-- and I truly wish I could stay.  But I have
to at least try to salvage our old newsgroup.  I refuse to let it go this
easily, however pleasant an alternative you've created."
        There was a long pause, and then John Novak rolled his eyes in
exasperation.  "Ms Leistra, have you any idea how long this fucking parody
_is_?  It's reached ludicrous proportions already... and you want to add a
whole new chapter to it?  It won't be postable.  No one will want to read
it.  Have you any idea how short the average man's attention span has
        She spread her hands helplessly.  "What can I say?  There has to
be some adequate closure for my character-- and anyway, _Atlas Shrugged_
goes on for about one hundred fifty pages after this bit.  Are we supposed
to ignore that entire plot and wrap it all up with a happy alt.antis
ending, as if this were some kind of cheap Disney animated version?"
        "All right, all right," the Novak snarled.  "Can we at _least_
skip the scenes where you meet all your old friends again in alt.antis?
We fucking know Flavio and Rick and Hawk are here, along with basically
everyone else.  Everybody on the damn group has got their name mentioned,
so no one's going to complain if we omit the shlock reunion bits."
        "Okay, fine."  Though reluctant, she understood.  "And hey, as
long as we're at it, why don't we cut out the love scenes as well."
        There was another long pause.  "Oh.  _Now_ I see," the Humblest
Man on the Net said sourly.
        "No, no, really... it's a question of parody length."
        "Fine, dammit."

        Andrea's first sight of the old rasfwr-j was as painful as her
first glimpse of alt.antis had been exhilarating.  The once-inspiring
heights of human discourse had been deliberately smashed and hauled down.
Flamewars spiralled out of control, laying waste to vast tracts of
newsgroup and leaving countless casualties sprawled to either side.
Misformatted posts collided clumsily with each other, while contextless
responses flew off in random directions, without any intelligible
grounding.  Looters and leeches did their best to survive off what little
skill and sense was left on the group-- but Flavio's impressively thorough
program of barbarization had taken its toll.  Battles wracked the streets
over such issues as the identity of Osan'gar and whether Thom was Elayne's
father.  Nearly all of the old order was gone-- vanished with the reviled
        Andrea walked cautiously across the newsgroup boundary, dodging
the occasional random flame and trying to keep out of sight.  She had no
idea of how or where to start defending the cause of rationality and
netiquette in this wasteland, but she had sworn to at least try.  For want
of any better ideas, she decided to look for any regulars who might (by
some chance) have not reached alt.antis yet.
        As it happened, she found Dylan.
        He was seated on the burned-out shell of a bulldozer, stained
ash-gray from head to foot.  There was a strong smell of gasoline all
about him, and several indistinguishably charred forms lying at his feet.
She took a few steps closer to him, feeling surprisingly tentative, and
ready to duck any flames he might hurl.
        He glanced up at her; his eyes were slightly glazed.  "The
hell?...  Oh, Andrea, it's you.  I thought the Novak had already claimed
you for his little zoo off in the cyberRockies."
        "He did.  I came back."  As she stepped closer, a startled badger
scuttled off Dylan's lap and vanished into the darkness.  "What about you?
Didn't he come for you?"
        Dylan grinned.  "We spoke.  Alas, our views on how to handle the
situation differed slightly.  Besides, I'd only be a fire hazard in
utopia.  Here, I'm doing some _real_ good."
        "I... can see that."  She glanced around a bit anxiously.  "Is
anyone else left?  Any of the oldbies, I mean?"
        "Nadie.  I'm the last holdout."  His eyes went out of focus again.
"And frankly, I think I'll be going out in a blaze of glory myself pretty
soon.  There's only so long a man can live on flames alone."
        "That's really the only solution you can see?"  Andrea found it
hard to believe that her return to the group was completely in vain.
        Dylan chuckled drily.  "Now that the Novak's stolen every decent
poster except my pleasant self?  I think so.  You can't redeem a newsgroup
from such a small base, sweetheart.  Maybe in a decade or so he'll bring
back the Cabal to rebuild on my ashes.  Until then, though, this place is
going to hell in a hundred mile-per-hour handbasket."
        Andrea checked her watch gloomily.  "We'll see.  He said he'd be
sending a message at about this time, to tell everyone who's been asking
'Who is John Novak?' just who he is and why he's done what he's done.
We'll see how that affects them."
        Dylan laughed cynically.  "Oh, believe me, honey, I can't wait."
        Even as he spoke, the western sky grew bright with one colossal,
incoming post.  Its golden cord led back to alt.antis, and in the squalor
of debased rasfwr-j, every eye could see it.  It had a simple subject
header: WHO IS JOHN NOVAK?  As they watched, it opened up, and an image of
the Novak's great bearded face loomed over the rubble.  Distant screams of
fear and hatred rose from all around them.  Dylan grinned fiercely and
rubbed his hands together.
        The image spoke.  "This is John Novak speaking.  I have a message,
addressed to every current inhabitant of rec.arts.sf.written.robert-
jordan... or should I say,  And listen up,
boneheads, because I'm definitely NOT going to say this twice."
        Fifty pages later, the entire ruined group was completely silent.
Andrea blinked twice and shook her head, trying to recover from the
        "I didn't know it was _possible_ to use the word 'fuck' that many
ways," Dylan said softly.
        "Well, I suppose we can only wait to see how they react..." Andrea
offered doubtfully.
        Five seconds later, a deafening howl of mass rage went up from all
corners of the group.
        "I'd say that answers that," Dylan grimaced.  A band of trolls
charged past them about twenty yards away, smashing whatever happened to
be in their way.  They were followed by a far more organized group that
caught sight of the two regulars and began to stalk warily down the alley.
        "Damn.  Here comes fafnir again, and I think he means business
this time."  Standing, Dylan stretched lazily.  "Well, hey, might as well
go out while doing all of Usenet a favor."
        The great afrj bonehead approached and threw down the gauntlet
with a window-shaking roar.  "Hey, badger boy-- Asmodean was killed in a
        "Wine cellar.  Beautiful."  A fierce, fixed grin appeared on
Dylan's soot-stained face.  "If you'll excuse me, milady, I believe I have
business down the street."  He started off, then paused.  "Incidentally,
you can tell Flavio when next you see him that I swear I'll flame him dead
for resurrecting _that_ one."
        She watched him go, then shrugged, sighed... and ran for her life.
        Ten minutes later she was standing at the border again, where
Rick, Flavio, Hawk, and John Novak were waiting for her.  The newsgroup
below was an empty black sheet, with occasional flickers visible in the
streets as flamewars began to spark.  They could see the last convulsions
beginning-- lights darting through the streets, trolls charging like
animals trapped in a maze.  And suddenly a great pillar of fire went up
from where Dylan had been standing... a self-immolating pyre that wiped
out the equivalent of five city blocks.
        Andrea moistened her lips.  "All right.  Enough closure.  Let's
all go back to alt.antis now."
        "About fucking time," growled the Novak.  "I _told_ you so."
        "Be nice, John," Hawk warned, taking Andrea's arm.
        "Welcome to the Cabal, Andrea-- because yes, there most definitely
IS a Cabal," smiled Flavio.
        "Novus ordo saeculorum," mused Rick.
        "Let's go home," sighed Andrea.  "It's over."
        A second before they left, she cast one last, reluctant glance
back.  Far in the distance, on the edge of the now-dark newsgroup, a small
flame was waving in the wind-- the defiantly stubborn flame of Dylan's
Torch.  She found herself smiling in spite of herself; then she stepped
through the gateway and was gone.

                                THE END