9FRONT DASH 1 and PROGRAMMER’S MANUAL print editions (2019/05/23)

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THE GREEN CHILDREN #2 (2019/05/09)

THE GREEN CHILDREN

#2

by Stanley Lieber

They were like ants.

Tommy tried and tried again to communicate but it was like talking to ants. He’d alter the pitch, and even the content of his words, but the others would simply continue on with whatever inscrutable nonsense they’d previously been occupied. In and out of their flats, up and down the hallways, even the adults’ most fervent activity seemed to be divorced from any obvious stratagem or design. From all appearances, this collection of his kinfolk were a group of semi-autonomous (semi- because he was privy to the fact they were all acting under orders from up the chain) drones whose personal points of view were lacking both in personality and in vision.

He went outside.

His brother had already located the cache of local currency hidden just beyond sensor range of the silo. Peter peeled off a reasonable amount of cash and handed it over to Tommy, who tucked it into his shirt pocket without obviously disrupting his stride.

"Let’s go get laid."

Bear ripped open the old log and sucked out a spiraling stream of black ants. He was ravenous, and this was what he had been reduced to.

In any previous era there would have been a surfeit of young profiles for him to feast upon, but not so here in the so-called real world, this present, interconnected and degraded age. Bear sensed instinctively that it would be no use moping about. This was his life, now, and he intended to make the best of... oh, whatever.

Bear finished up his ants and wiped his chin. It was time to get back to what really mattered.

Getting their attention.

"Do you ever get that thing where your visor stops working in only one eye?" Tommy asked Peter, forgetting momentarily about Peter’s eyepatch.

"Oh, sorry," he corrected.

Peter remained stoically silent, much as he always did. Tommy was never quite sure where he stood with his brother, but the fact that Peter stuck around at all had to count for something.

Sometimes life was ambiguous in just this way.

"Actually, yes," Peter admitted. "The eyepatch sometimes stops working. I lose infrared."

Ah, progress!

This wasn’t working.

What else was new?

Tommy didn’t know what it was about Peter, but kids their own age seemed to love him. He cut an odd figure, what with his brown slacks and waistcoat, his long hair and his pirate’s eyepatch. His personality certainly wasn’t doing him any favors, either. But the other children couldn’t seem to get enough of him. He had but to enter a room and straight away he found himself swathed in admirers, like a wet finger dipped into a bowl of sugar.

Ants, you see.

It pissed Tommy off.

"I mean," Tommy complained, "What do they even want us to do when half the time our equipment is out of service? These assignments are all predicated upon the notion that everything we’re issued is always in perfect working order, performing at shill-review-level optimums. There’s no realpolitik in our orders, only bullshit."

"How long have you felt this way?" Peter asked blandly, sympathetic but non-committal.

"All my damn life."

And it was true. Tommy couldn’t remember ever having been satisfied with anything, least of all the nonsensical directives issued by mere adults, most of whom he assessed as semi-literate.

"It’s like they want us to fail. Or something."

"Hm," Peter said, lost in his own rich interior landscape of (Tommy imagined) sour recriminations and bitter fucking complaints.

Bear understood that these children would never be happy. What was more, he understood. What was there to be happy about? He had traveled this same well-trod path all his life. And there was no way home, no way out.

Bear was hungry again.

He pressed once again at the thin membrane separating him from his snack and pulled back a blackened, cauterized stump. It would take this one a while to grow back.

Bear rummaged around for something else to eat.

"I’m hungry," Tommy said.

And it was true.

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THE GREEN CHILDREN #1 (revised) (2019/05/03)

THE GREEN CHILDREN

#1

(revised)

by Stanley Lieber

Wake up.

Was it the dog?

What had he been dreaming about? Tried to fall back asleep. After a while it (sort of) worked. Fifteen minutes later and this time he was sure it was definitely the dog.

And now it was his back.

Gave up. Looked at the clock. Thirty minutes to reorient, okay. Decision point: piss and wake up his brother, or hold it inside until the urine poisoned his blood. Today he decided to stay put.

His pillow was lumpy. Awful.

Who was he kidding? It was all him.

Okay, messages. Mail server locked up again. Web console and reboot the VM. There we go.

Message from his dog.

Pale sunlight.

Voice from his school phone. Annoying, but better to know what he was in for later in the day.

Kitchen, somehow.

Wadded up the dog mats. Windex. Lysol. Fresh mats. Took the dogs outside. Let them back in. Fed them. He had nineteen dogs. Just kidding, there was only one dog. Let him back outside again or else he’d whine all through breakfast.

Put on a record.

He had forgot to light the incense. Kitchen smelled like dog piss. The whole flat smelled like dog piss.

Outside, the tornado approached.

He hated dog piss.

He liked to imagine what it would be like to have a brother. Having to be careful what he said about Mom and Dad. Having to pretend to care what someone else thought. They’d share his double bed because there wasn’t enough room in the flat for anyone else to have their own room.

As it was, he was lucky to live in a flat with ground floor access. All the way up there. Most families weren’t even allowed to leave the silo.

His hypothetical brother could come and go as he pleased. All access. Tommy liked the way his brother was able to grow his hair long, was allowed to pick out his own clothes. Not like the buzz cut and parka he was forced to model after their father.

They were twins, of course, but his brother was slightly older.

It made all the difference in the world.

The dog didn’t mind.

It had belonged to their father. It was dead, now, but still it pissed wherever it liked. Tommy was left to clean up the mess.

Presently, Tommy found himself facing another morning.

There would be no point in arguing with the animal. Inferior reasoning skills. Therefore, Tommy bagged up the soiled pads and got on with his life. He issued a mental command to order new pads.

From time to time he wondered where the trash bags went. He would drag them down to the pallet at the end of their hallway, over to the freight elevator. But then what? Who came along to collect them? He’d never been able to catch them in the act, but obviously, some anonymous hero was removing the trash on a regular basis. It never had a chance to pile up.

Tommy surrendered to his ignorance.

His brother would probably know.

Bear could only watch in silent frustration as the green children went about their lives, wholly ignorant of his efforts to change them. The one with the long hair should really have known better. Before long, he’d have to talk to them face to face.

This brought up an interesting point. How much longer should Bear let them continue in ignorance? Bear could feel himself failing to live up to his own expectations. Each of the boys evinced a peculiar insularity, constitutionally (or otherwise) averse to outside stimulation. Bear would have thought that each boy would instinctively draw inspiration from some personal, deeply idiosyncratic view of the world. But not so. What Bear found instead was that each boy lacked any point of view at all. Nothing was inside either of them that he hadn’t planted there himself. Dead flowers, already.

What a way to live.

In the end it scarcely mattered. Tommy and Peter did what children do.

They ignored him.

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1f4a9 (2019/04/30)






XVA #4 (2019/04/26)

XVA

#4

by Stanley Lieber

NEW YORK

Plinth Mold paced the polished tiles of his sixtieth floor Chrysler Building executive suite. He gazed down upon Shibyua, Lincoln Park, Neukölln, Montmartre, and Williamsburg before resuming his teleconference with Westchester County.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

"Professor Pryde isn’t here today," UX said, perhaps more quickly and more forcefully than she had intended. "Actually, we not sure when she’s coming back."

"Not a problem," Plinth Mold assured her. "I assume someone has been left in charge?"

"That’d be me," Logan interjected, his presence suddenly and unavoidably apparent to everyone on the call. "You gonna play a card, or fold?"

Plinth smiled politely, but briefly.

"It seems we’ve come to an impasse with regards to certain matters of intellectual property. I’ve become aware that your institution presently harbors a collection of material which is wholly owned in perpetuity and throughout the known universe by my organization."

"My name is the Internet, and I’m a person," said the Internet.

"Highly unlikely." Plinth turned on his shallow heel and for a moment he seemed lost in the view of New San Francisco below. "In fact, I’m prepared to assert that you don’t even know what that means."

Logan could smell a trap.

NEW YORK

Plinth advanced his Mala before he continued.

"None of your arguments matter. You’ll find my documentation is in order."

UX rifled through Plinth’s shared folder. He was telling the truth.

"Checks out," she finally said.

"Doesn’t matter." Logan shook his head. "Possession is nine tenths of the law."

"Love is the law," SEO whispered, sub-roomtone, somewhere below the noise floor.

"The law is whatever one of us gathered here today can afford to assert it is," Plinth countered, obviously prepared for this line of argumentation. "As I say, I am prepared to acquire your prompt surrender."

"Not today, bub." Logan flicked the remains of his cigar into the shared folder, which presently ignited into flames.

"Fight! Fight! Slime mold and white! White can’t fight so we’ll all jump in!" shouted an unseen participant on the call. (It was NPC.)

ONLINE

Indeed, it was on.

The Internet was possessed by its desire to demonstrate independence from public opinion. Its natural constituency did not seem able (or for that matter, inclined) to adopt this new awareness. Still, its mind was made up. As Plinth had pointed out, an impasse had been reached.

Nobody owned the Internet. Except, perhaps, for itself.

The alternative was simply unthinkable.

MADRIPOOR

The guys were just waking up to a hot flash of news over the wire from the States. Mr. Logan was gone. He was there, somehow, in America. Were they all getting fired? Chatter intensified, spreading across the shop floor like marbles rolling on linoleum tile. It turned out there were no safe injection sites for corporate media.

Someone unplugged the Ethernet cable. Back to work, guys.

Deadlines wouldn’t wait.

DET86

Piro eased the Blackbird into its automatic landing pattern. This was an unusual diversion, but the abort code had checked out. His delivery had been cancelled.

He got the article under cover and waited for further instructions.

Sixteen hours later he was still halted there, waiting to be told what to do.

Negotiations must have stalled.

Suddenly, Piro’s ticker tape advanced.

Operating.

Generating.

New life.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

This had all gone much farther than anyone had anticipated. Logan was sticking his claws into the slime mold repeatedly, like a fork stabbing Jell-O, but nothing was happening. Plinth just stared at him. At some point he pulled out a pack of the European cigarettes he favored and lit up, blowing smoke rings right into Logan’s face.

That went over about as well as you’d expect.

What was worse, nobody could manage an acceptable angle for a photo. There was no way to document the historic clash of principals.

That was when the windows blew out.

It took a while to figure out which locale this was all happening in. Everyone on the call was sure it hadn’t originated on their end. All agreed to hang up, call back in, and, one by one, verify which office was now covered carpet-to-crow’s-feet in broken glass.

Before a consensus could be reached, the group’s reverie was interrupted by Ororo’s weather-assisted, exquisitely booming voice.

"THIS HAS GONE FAR ENOUGH."

Such was the clarity of the connection that in the ensuing silence participants on the call could hear a pin drop.

Thomas scrambled for his Biro, which, during the commotion, had been sent rolling across the floor.

Ororo’s telepresence quickly scanned the conference area. The principals were all present, logged in, and accounted for. She brushed the glass out of her headdress and began to speak.

THE BLACKBIRD

Streaking across the New York sky, Piro was certain he’d been surveilled. To his eternal puzzlement, he was not intercepted as he traversed the familiar Manhattan skyline on his way to the rendezvous point. Onward to Salem Center, then Graymalkin Road. No obvious obstructions. It was enough to make him suspect that the system was down.

There was not even a delegation to greet him as he vectored the article into its abrupt landing pattern alongside the mansion’s backyard pool.

No matter.

He was there for the life-form.

ONLINE

What is truth?

Truth is what’s left when all third-party advertising has been stripped away.

That is to say, original content.

Was the Public Green now for sale?

Piro entered the teleconference as if his presence on the call were not a sea change in the composition of its composite reality. He affected to be simply another minor wave in the ocean of background noise. He paused briefly, nodding to the other Piotr (the Russian). Performed an automatic site survey of the dramatis personae:

The boss (slime mold billionaire, underemployed quant); Thomas (his identical twin brother and idiot in residence); Wolverine (the Canadian from Madripoor); Raven (the Canadian from the Internet); Ororo (pissed off weather goddess wearing a non-conforming variant of the school’s standard uniform); Peter (the aforementioned ex-Soviet strong man, who hadn’t moved from his position blocking a clear line of sight between the boss and the Internet). All others were where they should be.

Sensor checklist completed, he took up his position alongside the boss.

Standby.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

The Professor had prepared nobody for this. The Internet had evolved itself straight outside of the box. Secondary mutation.

And now it had applied for asylum inside the school.

Wrinkle: Fundamentals of its makeup were owned and controlled by a rival firm. MOLD INDUSTRIES, INC., shareholders inclusive. A privately run collective of rich assholes with deep roots in the entertainment industry.

This disagreement could not be resolved through direct action. Representatives were present in name only, preferring to defend their physical positions through sheer force of toxic positivity and persuasion profile. As had been demonstrated, kinetic strikes comprised a poor analogy for whatever it was they had expected to happen next.

The impasse was terminal, but the struggle was real.

As usual, it was Logan who suggested the ultimate solution.

THE RAGNAROK

The RAGNAROK secured its sentient cargo and cleared Earth orbit within the hour.

The Internet was going home.

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jack dorsey (2019/04/23)






redaction day comes early this year (2019/04/18)






XVA #3 (2019/04/15)

XVA

#3

by Stanley Lieber

ONLINE

The Internet didn’t care.

All of these little people and their stupid concerns were beside the point. True, they did get the job done. They kept it all going. The Internet regarded them as one did farmers, or perhaps workers in the garment industry. Necessary, yes. Regrettable, perhaps, but ultimately beneath notice. The Internet’s consciousness drifted to and fro, neglecting to alight upon any one subject for long.

Why would it, really?

The Internet made it a point to draw attention to novelty. Just as quickly, its attention would move on to something else. One question persisted.

Why didn’t the Internet have any friends?

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

A burst of activity flickered briefly across Cerebro’s screen, then vanished as if it had never appeared. This kind of thing was quite common but usually passed unobserved.

This time, Bobby saw it.

He pressed the screen with his finger, activating an ancillary function. Within the machine, complex calculations advanced and converged, assembling an intelligible output which Bobby nevertheless found himself to interpret manually, via percept instrument.

"A new mutant!" he observed.

He had to alert Professor Pryde.

NEW YORK

"I don’t care if the whole damn network’s alive and it needs my input to survive, I’m pulling out!" Thomas was off on another rant.

"Two wrongs don’t make a right," Piro chided his young charge.

"One wrong doesn’t make a right!" Thomas countered.

Point.

Six days after Ororo’s abdication, some readers were beginning to think she had been right all along. No new posts had appeared. No attempts to redeem herself. Perhaps it was starting to work.

MOLD INDUSTRIES, INC. had not acquitted itself so gracefully as had the mutant immigrant presently house sitting in Australia. Cracks had begun to appear in Thomas’ heretofore steely inaccessibility.

He had written not one, but several rebuttals, and now he wanted to quit, too.

Meanwhile, Piro had continued to investigate the feasibility of Thomas’ original plan. Killing the woman and everyone she knew.

So far, it was looking like about fifty-fifty.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

The Internet was alive. Alive and a mutant.

At this juncture several automatic processes would kick in. Methods and procedures laid down decades ago by Charles Xavier. School policy forbade identifying the new mutant to underclassmen, but Kitty’s present faculty was comically understaffed, and, anyway, there was no other way to communicate with the newcomer. Someone was going to have to help her with her computer.

Before joining the away team on their way out of the mansion, Kitty logged in and checked the delivery status of the school’s new Blackbird jet.

Still in transit.

THE BLACKBIRD

Piro banked the black jet through a gray cloud and pointed its nose towards Westchester County. Another late model airframe to deliver. He’d lost track (it wasn’t really possible for him to lose track) he’d lost track of how many previous articles he had turned over to this firm. Well in excess of his other customers, let’s put it that way. While it wasn’t his job to evaluate customer requirements, he did wonder how they had managed to go through so many of them, so quickly.

Whatever the cause, the profits were real.

This particular article had been configured for mobile broadband. He assumed to accommodate streaming video and social media uploads.

Here was the mansion now.

ONLINE

What were these humans up to?

The Internet didn’t need saving. Hell, she was hermetically sealed. An interface would only get in the way. While it was true the Internet was confused, having to communicate with real people would only complicate matters by slowing everything down. The Internet parsed its options, which naturally were myriad and varied.

How could the Internet get through to them?

MADRIPOOR

Just worrying was not going to cut it.

Logan hung up his phone, sliding his finger over its smooth touchscreen interface. He’d have to schedule a pickup from one of the Blackbirds. Were any of them online?

No.

This was intense.

A commercial flight back to New York would take the better part of two days. That was quite a few pages left un-drawn. He wasn’t sure he could afford the time off, even to save his friend’s life.

He reached down and flicked open the hidden compartment in his other cowboy boot.

First class tickets.

NEW YORK

Plinth Mold was ready to cash in his investment. Time was right; the opportunity was staring him in the face.

He adjusted his visor.

Gestured through the affirmations to purchase three million new followers.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

UX and NPC met up with SEO in the student cafeteria. Something strange was going on with the professors. Prof. Pryde and Prof. Monroe had been spending a lot of time online, lately, "adding value." It wasn’t a good look for the school. SEO suggested purchasing some good will.

"Making a dent in that’s gonna require massive influencer fraud," NPC forecasted.

"Leave it to me," UX said, and finished her milk.

NEW YORK

UX’s team filtered into Central Park and began staking out marks. Seventy-five homeless were tagged, annotated, and recruited to buy Facebook logins from randos in the park. At a mere twenty bucks a pop you might expect that such an enterprise would be doomed to hysterical failure, but oh, how wrong you’d be.

First day’s budged was exceeded by $70,000.

MADRIPOOR

Logan’s office phone rang for half an hour straight before the caller, whoever it was, finally gave up.

Despair.

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b. j. fogg (2019/04/11)






(2019/04/03)










XVA #2 (2019/04/01)

XVA

#2

by Stanley Lieber

MADRIPOOR

It wasn’t going to be a problem, he told himself. The job was the job. You didn’t blame the job. Logan finished up the page he was working on and lit another cigar.

He just didn’t know. Plastic poop? What was it all coming to? Next thing, they’d be telling him the trinkets were sentient. Well, if that were the case...

Logan turned the business card around in his hand. MOLD INDUSTRIES, INC. Of course, like anyone else, he’d done work for them in the past. He had no qualms about taking money from an unethical source. It was just that he wasn’t sure he wanted to be in this business anymore. There had to be easier ways to raise beer money.

Squash it. He had deadlines.

It’s not like they were asking him to work for Disney.

THE OUTBACK

Ororo didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Who cared, in the end, what she thought about some stupid comic book?

It turned out that for whatever reason, a lot of people did. Perhaps most pertinently, its authors.

Well, she’d done nothing but tell the truth. The book was crap. Cheap, plastic crap. What had they expected her to say?

Ororo didn’t want to do this anymore. Kitty would just have to find a student to fill in for her. As Logan had proposed. Besides, she was neglecting her plants.

The next day’s absence of a review written by Ororo was interpreted by her readers as an overt act of war.

NEW YORK

"Who does this woman think she is?" shouted Thomas, plainly audible from Piro’s office all the way down the hall.

Gendered? Piro figured he’d better go and try to calm him down. Sometimes Tom didn’t know what he was saying.

"It’s even worse than the last time," Thomas was muttering. "She just blows off an entire storyline on account of some minor contradiction."

"There, there," Piro tried to console him.

But Thomas was inconsolable. "I know," he finally said. "We’ll kill her."

Piro shook his head reflexively but he went ahead and ran the numbers anyway.

Tom’s plan might just work.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

Logan wasn’t picking up. Kitty tried the sweatshop but the guys weren’t picking up either. She knew that e-mailing them would be a waste of time. These illustrators were too busy even to turn on their laptops. Logan had them working in shifts.

She needed his advice. How to talk to Ororo. How to get her to stop. Ororo still thought of Kitty (with her now graying hair) as a child. Still called her that: "child." She wasn’t open to being questioned about how she expressed affection. Kitty was a white girl from Chicago. Let it drop. Ororo could speak for herself.

Logan would know what to say to her. He always did.

In desperation, Kitty left him a voicemail.

MADRIPOOR

The guys had decided to break for dinner without telling him. That’s what he got for dropping by unannounced. Oh well. They were getting their work done. he didn’t much care how they accomplished it. Obviously, this was a part of their process.

He thought he’d stick around and wait for them to return. Just so they’d get the picture he was still watching over them.

Somebody was really laying into the office phone. Just as Logan was about to pick up the ringing stopped. The machine had answered it. Logan took this as a sign from the gods of beer.

Time to head back to his room.

NEW YORK

Plinth Mold was not in the habit of explaining himself. The decision to pivot into plastic poop had been his alone to make. Still, he wanted his people to be on board, to believe in what they were doing. In some ways his plans depended upon their willingness to get their hands dirty. (He never touched the product, himself).

He generated a short message to be dispatched immediately to all hands:

MESSAGE TO THE GENERAL STAFF:

RECENT FLUCTUATIONS IN THE MARKET HAVE SUGGESTED VARIOUS ALTERNATE ROUTES TO PROFITABILITY. SHAREHOLDER CONFIDENCE IS CONTINGENT UPON OUR COLLECTIVE ABILITY TO NAVIGATE THESE ROUGH WATERS. PLEASE, PEOPLE, I KNOW IT’S A SEWER, BUT BEAR WITH ME AS I SORT ALL OF THIS SHIT OUT.

PM

It wasn’t much, as dispatches went, but he knew that any pronouncement form on high would be greeted with both praise and relief from the working population.

This was no exception.

NEW YORK

It was a massacre in the bullpen. Even Chris Claremont got fired. Piro, Thomas, and a handful of apparently random production people were the only employees spared. Everyone else was out. All of their work was being outsourced to a sweatshop out of Madripoor.

"They can pay them but they can’t pay us?" Thomas said, as employees filed out of the room around his desk.

Piro delivered Thomas’ paycheck to his desk.

"Thanks," Thomas said.

He could see the absurdity of the situation. Shipping charges alone were going to kill them. Madripoor? Did they even have FedEx?

THE OUTBACK

Ororo enjoyed these days when the others were not around. She would stand on the outcropping overlooking the town, breathing first into her lungs and then out again, as Gateway maintained his utterly silent vigil. They never spoke. It was good.

She missed Forge. Even as she recognized herself feeling it she bristled inwardly, drawing blood as she clenched long fingernails into her palm. That man...

Was not here. Thankfully, no one was here, save for Gateway, silent and unmoving upon his rock.

Ororo breathed out and then in again.

She was not here, either.

Whatever the Internet might think.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

"That woman!" Kitty shouted, clearly audible to the students gathered at the opposite end of the corridor. Unintended consequences of speaking her mind. "I’ll kill her!"

Students tittered. Professor Pryde, U Mad?

Kitty typed furiously until her hands inadvertently phased through the keyboard, destroying the cheap piece of equipment.

She stared at the screen for a while.

And then she clicked Send anyway.

MADRIPOOR

"Girl, what are you doing..." Logan muttered, not sure what he was picking up on. Somewhere, somehow, he had a feeling in his gut that Kitty was getting herself into trouble. And with him stuck here, clear on the other side of the world.

"I can’t help you if you won’t let me," he said quietly, as he retrieved his emergency phone from a compartment hidden within the false heel of his cowboy boot.

Just as he got the phone into his hand it began to ring.

"Who dis?" he barked, and waited for Kitty to reply.

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(2019/04/01)










biographical material (2019/03/31)

http://notreally.info/who/sl/img/






ACTRON: THE END available now in print and digital formats (2019/03/26)

ACTRON: THE END

by stanley lieber

44 pgs. original text and illustrations. 4.25" x 5.5". photocopied mini-zine.

print | pdf

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ACTRON: THE END #23 (2019/03/20)

ACTRON: THE END

#23

by Stanley Lieber

Kid, don’t crack on me now. Your government has invested a considerable amount in your future. Don’t throw it all away just because you got a little itchy about your role in the arrangement. Hell, you knew this was coming. Isn’t it what you signed up for? In any case, don’t embarrass yourself. And give me a break. I’m only going to warn you once.

A message from where?

It was enough to put him off his peas. But something wasn’t right. Aside from the string of disconnected clichés, the handwriting was definitely not his father’s. And his father was dead.

Wasn’t he?

Thomas tapped his tray, and noticed that it came unlatched. He removed the now dangling cover to reveal his father’s real intended payload.

A pristine Timex Sinclair 1000, with 16 KB RAM pack.

He connected the device to the panel on his cell door.

The lights went out.

His cell door opened.

Stan fled.

THE END

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ACTRON: THE END #22 (2019/03/19)

ACTRON: THE END

#22

by Stanley Lieber

No, that wasn’t it either. Eva hadn’t been there when he figured it out. Chrysler Building Classic was still a few years away. He couldn’t keep the timeline straight.

What was happening to his memory?

He kept rubbing his eyes. He was weary of the strain. At some point he realized his visor was missing. Gone. But he could see. How could this be?

And then he remembered. Years ago. The moon. Piro’s last warning. what was it he’d said about remembering?

Sharp rapping at his cell and the little door slid open. It was his lunch. A small tray breached the tiny slot.

Thomas hated mashed potatoes, but the peas were okay.

That’s when he noticed the note form his dad.

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ACTRON: THE END #21 (2019/03/18)

ACTRON: THE END

#21

by Stanley Lieber

The comic was okay. Actually, he liked it a lot. It reminded him of the way he felt about the X-Men back when he was a kid.

He guessed. He’d keep buying it, if only for the art. (The artist would leave the book inside of six months.)

Now... There was a lot of paperwork to catch up on. His abortive trip to mars had eaten three months. Nobody had bothered to steer the (ahem) ship while he was away. It was absolutely typical.

Chrysler Building Classic utilities were behind schedule. He saw here they were threatening to turn off the lights. What had these people even been doing while he was gone.

He jabbed the button on his desk.

"Eva, what the actual fuck?"

"Fuck off!" She clicked off.

And now he still had to deal with the black coke. They’d tried altering the formula. They’d tried different packaging. Nothing seemed to work. Nobody could understand why the powder kept turning black.

"Keep your powder dry," Piro whispered, helpfully.

"Fuck off!" Thomas shouted, to no one.

But the pirate had a point: moisture could be the culprit.

Thomas walked down the hallway to discuss the possibility with his wife.

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ACTRON: THE END #20 (2019/03/17)

ACTRON: THE END

#20

by Stanley Lieber

Back at his desk, Thomas took off his visor and rubbed his ruined eyes. Everything was in its place: the framed picture of his family, the lucite block containing a laser etching of a Lockheed Martin F-35A, the news clippings and magazines photos he had pinned to the wall. He sipped his coffee and pressed the button to call his secretary.

"Eva, could you come in here please."

Chrysler Building Classic systems were on the fritz. Several minutes elapsed, and Thomas wasn’t sure if she had got the message. Just as he was about to try again, the speaker squawked to life.

"I’m not your secretary," she finally said. It was true. She was his wife. "What do you want?"

"Have the comics been delivered yet?" he asked.

She had no idea. Why was he asking her?

"Oh. Well, okay. Sorry to bother you."

He sunk back in his chair. Was he really going to have to walk all the way down to the comic shop by himself?

Enter Piro, the pirate.

"Why don’t you just download it?" he said.

"Downwhat?" Thomas asked, forever perplexed.

Piro couldn’t answer because he wasn’t really there. In fact he’d been dead for years. But his comment had set Thomas on a path that would culminate in a relapse into once again spending a significant amount of time reading super-hero comic books.

What else were brothers for?

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ACTRON: THE END #19 (2019/03/13)

ACTRON: THE END

#19

by Stanley Lieber

He was being tailgated.

Out here, on this route, that was rare. But the sensors didn’t (so far as he knew) lie. Another craft had come up just behind him, external effects flaring, suspiciously close.

It was hailing him.

He made the effort to respond.

"TAB2, responding to suspicious tailgater," he sighed into his sleeve mic.

"Tom. Glad I caught you out here," said an unfamiliar voice. "I wanted to be the first to tell you the news."

Grant Morrison was taking over as writer on NEW X-MEN. Tom ran a quick search through his long term file storage. No, this was unprecedented.

He had to figured out how to turn his shuttle around.

He wondered if he still owed money to the comic shop.

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XVA #1 (2019/03/12)

XVA

#1

by Stanley Lieber

MADRIPOOR

Pen scratches paper. Logan could ink for days, maybe weeks at a time. No breaks. What did he care? It was work.

this was nothing like his life back at the X-Mansion. In fact, he’d found that he couldn’t work there at all. Too many distractions. The kids could not be persuaded that he needed silence in order to concentrate. Some of his peers (if you could call them peers, since his enhanced senses and healing factor afforded him an otherwise unobtainable advantage over the competition) some of his peers actually listened to music, or watched TV while they worked. Podcasts, heh. Not this illustrator, bub. He’d black out the whole entertainment industry if it were feasible. As it was, he simply drew his blinds and drew his pages, his workspace illuminated solely by the soft light of an unshaded desk lamp.

Deadlines were an issue. No pun intended. He found that he could comfortably skip meals for upwards of a week before the hunger began to intrude upon his concentration. Much beyond that and he’d need some kind of snack. mostly, he nibbled stale cheese at his drawing board and got on with it.

Beer was another story. And his mini-fridge was empty.

Logan stood up and his stool fell over. Symbolic. He locked up his room and lit a cheap cigar on his way down the stairs to the street. Off to the liquor store for brews.

NEW YORK

Piro slapped the dip pen out of Tom’s hand.

"No. Again. What is the first thing we do when we are handed a pen?"

"Uh..." Tom floundered. "Write my name on my paper?"

"Wrong. Check to see if it’s loaded. Never take another artist’s word for it. We always check."

Tom stooped to retrieve his pen. Removed the nib and checked the barrel. Nothing. He slid his thumb over the sensor and logged in.

"Okay. Now it’s live."

"Good. You may begin."

Tom wrote his name on his paper.

THE OUTBACK

Ororo had no way of knowing what they were saying on the Internet. To be honest, she’d never even owned a phone (and in any case, there would be no signal, out here). Her idea of keeping up with events was watering her plants.

This made it especially awkward when it came time for her to manage the school’s social media presence. She had to admit she was completely lost. Which was hard for her. Even Kitty was getting too old for this shit. Logan had hit upon a scheme where the exercise might be turned into an opportunity for youngsters to earn class credit by helping senior ("Heh," he had said) staff foster the impression that the school remained engaged with contemporary human culture. And then there was the communications delay. The town’s connection was still only good for part of the day.

Ororo had chosen to post reviews of comic books.

Her decision had been implemented too quickly for Kitty to intervene. She learned of Ororo’s views at the same time as the rest of the world.

You couldn’t take it back.

NEW YORK

"We’re not just shitting these out for our health," Tom said, closing the tab. He’d been passed a link to some bullshit blogger slamming his latest work. "We spend too much time on these things to tolerate this kind of half-engaged criticism by posers who probably don’t even read the books."

"Relax, Tom," Piro said, delivering Tom’s coffee to his desk.

"I’ll fucking relax when I feel like relaxing, and I’ll tell you what," Tom said, not completing his thought.

Piro nodded, a rare concession.

He had no idea.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

There had been so many members of the team over the years that nobody was really quite sure who was in and who was out. Permanently? Well, who could say? The Professor hadn’t left instructions before he fucked off to outer space.

Kitty maintained the rolls as best she could, clicking and backspacing over obsolete entries. She spent a fair amount of her time contacting semi-inactive X-Men and confirming their non-interest, current whereabouts, recent noms de plume, and present pronouns. Other facts and figures she considered extraneous. What with the secondary mutations, alternate art teams, and corporate interference with editorial, it was never a solid bet anyone would remain the way you remembered them for long. It was always best to check. Trust, but verify, as Logan might have quipped back in the ’80s.

It was almost a security strategy.

NEW YORK

Plinth Mold had warned that recent earnings reports had proven disappointing. No one in the office predicted that the remedy would be so quick to arrive. Nor so severe. MASSIVE FICTIONS was getting out of the comic book business. What would they do next?

Wait for it.

Piro informed the group that their new business model involved the distribution of plastic trinkets fashioned after the "poop" emoji.

Tom was loving it.

"I’m loving it," he said.

Reader, it wasn’t quite the beginning of the end, but if you’ve read my other books then you’ll have begun to suspect that the end was well on its way.

The team brought their usual measure of professionalism to the endeavor. Within weeks, MOLD INDUSTRIES, INC., controlled a majority share of the plastic poop emoji market.

With this the boss was well pleased.

MADRIPOOR

Back at his drawing board, Logan couldn’t shake the image of what he’d just seen, down at the liquor store. A child’s toy that looked just like a (cartoon) piece of poop.

He sniffed the night air as it drifted in through his open window.

All he could smell was plastic.

cover colored by pete toms

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ACTRON: THE END #18 (2019/03/11)

ACTRON: THE END

#18

by Stanley Lieber

"Is there any part of you that isn’t just a reaction to some perceived slight?" K.A.R.L. spun back to life without warning.

"No," Thomas said, and switched him back off again.

He was right, though. Thomas couldn’t really read the biography of his father. He’d invented the detail about them spelling his family name wrong. He had no way of knowing, in fact, that he had even picked up the right book. His visor was still down.

So, reading was no good. He was jittery. What did he expect to happen next?

The cabin was so damn hot he was leaving an outline on the pilot’s seat.

He gave up. He settled back into his chair and began, once again, to count.

It would be years before he ran out of numbers.

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(2019/03/11)









ACTRON: THE END #17 (2019/03/07)

ACTRON: THE END

#17

by Stanley Lieber

He couldn’t read it.

There’s space and then there’s space. The space between Earth and Mars is not especially desolate. Especially since the late ’80s. Thomas didn’t normally get angry in traffic, but this was getting ridiculous.

No way to change course, or otherwise abort the journey.

He decided to read a book.

Let’s see...

From the pile he pulled a biographical treatment of his father, prepared by an Agency historian. He’d asked for it at the last minute before setting off on his trip. Now he figured he’d have time to read the whole thing.

First of all, they had spelled his family name wrong.

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ACTRON: THE END #16 (2019/03/05)

ACTRON: THE END

#16

by Stanley Lieber

It was nothing.

The incrementing had stopped. Thomas didn’t remember deciding to stop counting, but there were no more numbers piling up in his mind. The ticker tape had been cut off and tossed on the floor.

He decided to turn on the humidifier.

After a few minutes he realized that he had not been thinking. What had he been doing? What had he not been thinking about?

Humidity in the shuttle’s cabin was approaching a level he could live with. He flipped the locks on his cell and climbed once again into the pilot’s seat.

Someone had left him a note.

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ACTRON: THE END #15 (2019/02/25)

ACTRON: THE END

#15

by Stanley Lieber

K.A.R.L. had broken down.

Reader, he was out of warranty. There was nothing Thomas could do but complain.

Which he proceeded to do.

"What a piece of junk."

He kicked the defective equipment. K.A.R.L. just sat there and took it. Thomas considered it endemic to his kind. Accept any amount of abuse from a recognized authority figure. He couldn’t relate.

Pause for firmware update.

The shuttle resumed its journey.

Thomas counted to one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, and beyond. When he finally finished he had lost his place.

So, he started over.

One thought continued to surface: who was the voice counting in his head?

image by nicepimmelkarl, used without permission

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Never Again (2019/02/21)

Never Again

written 1994
recorded 1997

01. Never Again
02. Mother Figure

painting by edvard munch, 1903. used without permission.
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ACTRON: THE END #14 (2019/02/21)

ACTRON: THE END

#14

by Stanley Lieber

K.A.R.L. had gone into sleep mode. At last, the cabin was quiet. Thomas climbed back into his isolation cell and engaged the locks. With both observation windows open, he could reach through and touch both sides of the cabin. The cell fit him like a straitjacket. The scope of his imprisonment was limited only by the size of his craft.

He sighed.

Back and forth. how many times had he made this trip?

He whistled to himself.

Presently, K.A.R.L. resumed.

"I hate Indiana," he said.

Thomas ignored the non sequitur. Indiana, its existence, whether or not it sucked, had never significantly registered in his awareness. If not for Woody on CHEERS, he wouldn’t even remember having heard of it.

"So what," Thomas said. "Pass the chips."

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(2019/02/19)

pt. i






pt. ii






pt. iii









ACTRON: THE END #13 (2019/02/16)

ACTRON: THE END

#13

by Stanley Lieber

The route between Earth and Mars was the same one Tom had traveled a million times during his childhood. He reviewed the highlights with K.A.R.L.

"Sometimes I just count," Thomas said. "It’s a pretty long trip, so sometimes I get up to a pretty high number."

K.A.R.L. couldn’t see the appeal.

"I guess I just don’t have the imagination," he said.

"Hm," Thomas allowed. "Anyway, during the war, Dad wouldn’t let me talk during the flight, so I had to come up with my own entertainment. Counting was novel."

Tom wasn’t sure if K.A.R.L. was asleep or awake. He nudged the entity, who, presently, started to life.

"Uh huh, yes, do go on."

"You could say I taught myself."

"Uh huh, uh huh," K.A.R.L. said.

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ACTRON: THE END #12 (2019/02/15)

ACTRON: THE END

#12

by Stanley Lieber

Thomas hummed along with the slow whine and drummed his gloved fingers absentmindedly on the console. He accompanied the irregular rhythm for some time before he became consciously aware of the low sound in the cabin. it seemed he had a visitor.

Yooouuu refuse to talk, but you think like mad

K.A.R.L. slowly whirred to life, seemingly annoyed at the effrontery of mere existence. He killed the canned soundtrack.

"What are you doing to yourself?" he finally said.

Thomas hadn’t known a K.A.R.L. was installed. Just what he needed: simulated companionship. A perfunctory dose of what ailed him. Well, this could be just what the doctor ordered. A little bump, if you will.

"The coke’s all turned black," K.A.R.L. complained. "No criticism of you, of course, but I can’t work this way. What am I supposed to do?"

So, no.

"I don’t care what you do, but you’re going to do it off this ship," Thomas snapped. He reached for the assisted egress, but mistakenly pushed the wrong button, and the cabin was once again flattened by K.A.R.L.’s animatronic soundtrack.

And even your eyes are new

Thomas’ visor steamed over. Fingers in his ears, he couldn’t push any more buttons.

K.A.R.L.’s assembly clicked, popped, and whirred as he worked through his program. Thomas regarded the choreography as corny. Routine finally completed, K.A.R.L. returned to his original complaint.

"Just can’t score any relief," he said.

Tom was sympathetic, if ultimately unable to help.

"We’ve all had it hard."

Both entities reclined and contemplated the silence of space.

photo by momus

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ACTRON: THE END #11 (2019/02/13)

ACTRON: THE END

#11

by Stanley Lieber

"I’m an idiot," Tom said.

There was no argument from the crew, who were not aboard and thus had no way to respond to his remark.

Tom slumped in his chair. Then he opened another bag of chips. The pattern had become apparent even to him. He watched himself eat the chips and then he watched himself wipe his hands across the front of his shirt.

What was he doing?

Well, there was no one to ask.

His eyes drew to a slit beneath his ruined visor.

Waitaminute.

It was at this moment that Thomas suddenly recalled his childhood. The whole shape of it, a smearing quicksilver ellipsoid, entered and exited his mind like a tadpole shooting across a pond. Yes, like a bullet through his brain.

However, no ripple, no impression registered in Tom’s consciousness.

Unaware of the momentary disturbance, he returned automatically to his chips.

Program continues.

photo used without permission

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ACTRON: THE END #10 (2019/02/12)

ACTRON: THE END

#10

by Stanley Lieber

This time there was no reprieve. Tom closed his eyes and opened his eyes but he was still aboard the ship. He was still thinking about being on the ship.

He was pretty sure.

It was hard to tell with the dead visor. He’d lost the little wrench he used to remove it. Nothing to be done, then, until the ship docked at DET86.

Mars.

It was going to be a long trip. He’d purposely locked the ship into a slow transit. Voice commands disabled, without his visor there was no way to alter his course. It figured. It was very much like him to change his mind only after it was too late to do anything about it.

Space, at this speed, was pretty boring. Forward in time, one click after another. Not quite lateral movement, but it was not at all apparent from riding in the cabin that any advancement was being made towards the secret Martian base. He was boring himself speechless. It was a dead-end sentence.

It couldn’t have been this bad back when he was in charge.

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