________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #6 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [The cover is showing a picture of a man, a woman, and a baby, held between them. They are smiling, and look very loving. The woman and child are unknown to us, but the man is Barry Knewbee.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Mank of the Mandrake, Prelude "Pater Familias" Black. *CHINK* Light streamed in from the now-opened trapdoor. Hesitantly, it was pushed up for figure to raise itself through. The figure lowered the trapdoor, but bathed in light long enough to be recognised as a man, albeit a man who let bodily care cease. His beard was scruffy, and his clothes unkempt. A wild look hid behind his eyes as the man scanned the room. Nothing. No light even to see the nothing by. With a quiet SNAP, a faint torch beam shone on the walls. The torch was one of the few things they could find of any use, but it wouldn't last much longer. Not that they had expected it to when they found it. The beam reflected off a painted surface, and the man touched glass with calloused hands. Very effective at keeping out light, painted glass. A sound distracted him, and the man swung around, the feeble torch useless against the black. "K..keep away," the voice trembled, and his hand shook slightly. "I got away. You got A..Ashley, bu..but you wont get me." The man pressed himself against the covered window. He thought he was in the roof, but after he fled what was below, he wasn't sure anymore. The light didn't reveal anything, but the man continued to strain his ears. Perhaps he had just imagined it. "WORAHH!" Something caught the beam, something inhuman. The man felt a force hit his stomach, and he crashed backwards, through the glass panel, out into the night beyond. He screamed all the way down. No-one noticed his body. If someone had, the death would have been discounted as death by misadventure. No-one expected a bum to be of any importance. _-~-_ The run down room was becoming home to the Alt.Riders as they emerged from a black sheet that covered the doorway. Agent first, in a thick jacket and sensible, tough clothing that could be worn hiking if need be. The newest member of the Alt.Riders held onto him, a Chub by race, and Missy by name. Although scientist by nature, she wore a red suit that completely covered her round blue body, with a white bib, and a red hat (standard Chub outfit). They moved out of the way as the last three team members emerged, Morph (his outer skin resembling a jumpsuit) and Dva (in a denim oversuit) holding onto a drunk Net.Elementalist (wearing his usual black bodysuit). They dumped the Net.Elementalist in a chair, and turned to see the black curtain shimmer and disappear. "Well, we got back all right, then," said Morph. "You had any doubts?" Agent asked, eyebrow raised. "Anyway, the two of you had better get him," a nod of his head indicated the Net.Elementalist, "back to the LNHQ, while I take care of our new recruit." "Never a moment's peace, is there?" said Dva, helping to pick the Net.Elementalist back up again. "I'll give you a lift over there," said Morph. He meant it, almost literally. Once they hit the sidewalk, Morph changed into a Lambourgini, and Dva placed the Net.Elementalist on the only seat inside, and took her place beside him. Morph drove himself. While in the car during the short trip, the Net.Elementalist started singing: "Show me the way to go home./I'm tired an' I wanna go bed./I've been drinkin' for an hour or two,/to celebrate Rimmer's death!" He looked at Dva, his head shaking under not much control. "Never did find out the propee-prop-prop-proper words to that song." His head lolled backwards, and his mouth hung open. "How much did he drink?" asked Morph, doing a Kitt impression with an electronic-looking readout. "Just one," replied Dva. "You should have seen him at the end-of-series party." [Held at the end of _Fan.Boy #22_ - Footnote Girl.] They arrived at the LNHQ, and Dva hauled the Net.Elementalist out. "You'd better help me with him," Dva said, before Morph could escape. "Me? Go in there?" asked Morph. "I'm sure you'll think of something." Morph thought for a few moments, still in car-mode, then changed. He stood before Dva. "How's this?" he asked. Dva slapped him. "How dare you?" she hissed. "I thought it was rather appropriate," Morph said, his body now looking like Silence's. "Everyone knows you two are together." "And a few know that that is literally true. What would happen if we ran into one of them?" "Let's find out, shall we?" Morph smiled, sending chills through Dva at how odd it looked. They half-guided, half-dragged the Net.Elementalist into the lobby. The receptionist saw them, but didn't point out the conundrum they represented. Instead, he pointed at the Net.Elementalist. "He's had quite a few calls. I sent him emails about them," the receptionist said. Morph looked at the Net.Elementalist in surprise. "People want to talk to him? Amazing." Dva rolled her eyes, but didn't say anything. "Where does he live, anyway?" Morph asked, as they headed for the lifts. "Fourth floor," Dva said, pushing the button. Once there, they dumped the Net.Elementalist on his bed, and left. The Net.Elementalist lay there, conscious, but unable to move. A small wet patch formed under his drooling mouth. Remembering something about email messages, he reached out a hand, and swung for his desk. It flapped in the empty air, so the Net.Elementalist tried harder. He bounced nicely off the floor after he fell off the bed. Groaning, he pulled himself into a chair, and looked blearily at the new addition. Since he was now unable to read the 'net via his powers, he was forced to use more conventional means, hence the Xterm box in his room. Squinting at the screen, he typed in his username and password (needing three tries), and brought up Pine. He shook his head slightly at the small print, and leaned towards the screen, squinted, and started reading. A minute later, he sat upright, totally sober. His mouth opened and closed a few times, but nothing audible emerged. He blinked, and a name finally presented itself. "Faq Boy!" Jumping up, the Net.Elementalist exited his room, and ran down the corridor to his dimensional twin's room. Faq Boy looked up from reading a comic on his bed at the intrusion. "Woah. Weird new look. At least people wont confuse us anymore," Faq Boy said. "Is this your idea of a joke?" the Net.Elementalist asked, his face set menacingly. "Er, what?" "This!" The Net.Elementalist grabbed Faq Boy and pulled him bodily from the room. Faq Boy barely got his feet underneath him by the time the Net.Elementalist was back in his room. "Read that!" the Net.Elementalist commanded, and Faq Boy sat hesitantly down, shooting puzzled glances at the Net.Elementalist, then began to read. "Your wife?" Faq Boy said, surprised. "You've been getting messages from your wife?" He looked up, confused. "But, you don't have a wife." "I know that," the Net.Elementalist snapped. "That's why I want to know if this is your idea of a practical joke." "Well, yes. It is my kind of idea for a practical joke," Faq Boy said, adding hurriedly as the Net.Elementalist reached out again for him. "But, I didn't do this." "Then who did?" Faq Boy shrugged. "Your wife?" "I don't have a wife!" "Someone out there thinks you did." "Must be a fan or something," the Net.Elementalist said. Faq Boy didn't reply. He didn't need to. "All right," the Net.Elementalist snapped. "Can you think of a better reason?" The phone extension in the Net.Elementalist's room rang, disturbing them. The Net.Elementalist looked at it in some form of shock, so Faq Boy answered. "The Net.Elementalist's room," he said, nearly tripping over the words. "What's up?" A pause. "For you," Faq Boy said, holding out the phone. "Your wife." The Net.Elementalist took the phone slowly, and placed it in position. "Hello?" he said, carefully. Faq Boy heard someone talking, but couldn't make anything out. It was the receptionist he had spoken to, so he had no idea what this 'wife' even sounded like. "No, I'm fine," replied the Net.Elementalist, into the phone. "It was just a... business trip. You know how it is," he said weakly. More speech. "Three months? What'd you mean 'three months'? We've been away for.. a week, or so. Not three months!" More speech, subdued this time. "I'm sorry," the Net.Elementalist said. "No, please. I didn't think it was that long. The journey there and back must have taken more time than we thought." More speech. "Okay. Yeah, I'll be home soon." A pause. "Yeah, love you too," the Net.Elementalist said quietly. He handed the phone back to Faq Boy, who replaced the receiver. "I don't know who that was," said the Net.Elementalist eventually. "But she believed she was my wife." "And you didn't point out the truth because...?" asked Faq Boy. "I... I don't know. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, I suppose. She might be a mental patient or something, and I haven't been told that she has a family fixation about me." "Family fixation?" "She said that Abby's looking forward to seeing her Daddy again, so when was I coming home?" The Net.Elementalist looked at Faq Boy, and Faq Boy finally saw how pale it was. "Any idea where I live?" _-~-_ "Phila.DEL.phia? What's in Phila.DEL.phia?" "My family, apparently." Communication lulled as this information sunk in, and the Net.Elementalist looked at his communication bracelet gloomily. He suddenly regretted calling them, but it was too late now. "Since when did you have a family?" Agent asked. "I only found out ten minutes ago. My wife has been calling since we left on that trip. By the way, have you discovered yet that we've been away three months?" "Your wife?" "Three months?" Dva and Morph vied for the next line. "The crossing did take some time," Agent put in. "If it is three months, then it's more than I thought." "Since when did you have a wife?" asked Dva. "Don't worry, it's probably just some crackpot trying to con you out of something. I'll look into it," Agent said. "I'll get back to you." "Planning on getting drunk again?" asked Morph. "Ha ha," said the Net.Elementalist stonily. "Very funny, I don't think." "It probably is just some crackpot," said Dva. "You were in the news recently. Perhaps this person thought she could capatilise on that." "Maybe, but she didn't sound like she was trying on something," the Net.Elementalist said. "She sounded like it was perfectly normal to be talking to me." "How'd you find out she was in Phila.DEL.phia?" asked Morph. "I rang Directory and got a list of all the Knewbees in the county. There's only one." "You." "Yeah." "Hey, we'll go with you, if you like," offered Dva. "Moral support and all that." "I suspect that Agent will be going anyway, so you can come as well." "We should met up, then." "Usual place?" "And we only left there about an hour ago," Dva pointed out wryly. _-~-_ "Something very strange is going on here," Agent said, addressing the Alt.Riders sitting around the table, quarter of an hour later. "As far as I can tell, Barry Knewbee has been married to an Alice Copeland for nearly two years." "What?" exclaimed the Net.Elementalist. "That's impossible!" "You're telling me? I checked the Marriage Bureau, and you got married in Phila.DEL.phia, and live there, even to present day. I got the address." "This cannot be real." The Net.Elementalist put his head in his hands. "This has got to be some plot by a villain, or something." "It sounds like more than that," said Morph. "It's a bit far to go for just revenge. Who'd want revenge against you, anyway? And could pull this off?" "You may have a point," the Net.Elementalist conceded. "The only ones I can think of that could pull this off are Queen Enterprises, but they were more concerned with Deductive Logic Man than me." [Way back in _Fan.Boy #8_ - Footnote Girl.] "Why don't we go meet Alice?" Dva asked. "Or is that too innovative?" "I was getting to that," Agent said, somewhat petulantly. "I arranged some transport, so we'll be there in a few hours." _-~-_ Two hours later, more or less, the Alt.Riders pulled up in front of an inconspicuous house, one of many on the street block. The Net.Elementalist though that the van they used were more suited to Scooby Doo and co. Or rather, Mojodog and co., he thought wryly. Stifling a yawn (it had been a long day, and didn't look over yet), the Net.Elementalist looked at the fresh, yet unoriginal design of the house, and did not feel like he was coming home. They sat in the car for a minute, and the Net.Elementalist finally realised they were waiting for him to get out. "We'll stay here," Agent explicated. "I suspect you'll want to face this by yourself." The Net.Elementalist didn't feel any such thing, but didn't say so. He got out of the car, and slowly walked up to the front door. Hesitantly, he pushed the buzzer. The door flew open. "Oh, did you forget your key again?" asked the same happy voice that had spoken to him on the phone, then suddenly his arms were full of woman. His mouth was covered by hers, as she kissed him deeply. The Net.Elementalist stood there, uncomfortable. He didn't know this woman, and she was kissing him already. All he could see was long blond hair, but his attention was more caught up with the sensation of the kiss. The woman, Alice, he remembered, drew back, sensing his lack of return affection. "Is there something wrong?" she asked, stepping back a little to look up at his with worried eyes. The Net.Elementalist got his first proper look at his wife. She stood slightly smaller than him, with long blond hair that reached down to her waist. Her face was framed by her hair, making it appear smaller than it was. Her blue eyes stared at him, crowned by thin eyebrows, and a small nose poked out underneath. Her lips were wide, although currently tight. His gaze traveled downwards. Alice wore a light white cardigan which hid her figure, although the jeans tightened alluringly. The overall effect... "Beautiful," Barry whispered. "You're beautiful." Alice smiled, her face lighting up. "Oh, you must have missed me." She hugged him, with no resistance coming from Barry. She got a chance to see over his shoulder. "Oh, I see. You brought the team around." Barry looked back. Yes, that's right. The Alt.Riders still waited in the car. "You were embarrassed." She grinned at him, and placed a hand on his cheek. "That's sweet. Well, invite them in." She turned, and disappeared into the house, her hair swirling around her. Barry stared after for a few moments, not really seeing anything, then jolted in remembrance. He turned and headed for the car. "You seem to be in all right there," Morph said, when Barry arrived back at the car. "She's beautiful," Barry said quietly, still amazed. "Well, she's all right," Morph conceded. "I don't go for blonds myself." "Shut up, then," Barry said. "Feel anything strange when she touched you?" Agent asked. Barry paused, not quite sure how to answer. "Anything evil, or suspicious, I mean," Agent expanded. Barry shook his head. "No, nothing like that." "So, can we meet her, or what?" Dva asked. "Oh, yes, come on in," Barry said. The Alt.Riders exited, Agent helping Missy get out. Missy concentrated hard to keep up with the rapid flow of the talking, but still felt she was missing the important parts. Barry led the way to the house, and inside. The inside of the house contained the ordinary odds and ends that people accumulate, although there was less than most people had, if only because they hadn't been living there very long. A short hallway led to a larger living room, a small table supporting a thin blue vase stuck against one wall, and some paintings hung on the walls. The living room was tastefully decorated, with a settee, several arm chairs, in burgandy, on a cream carpet, offsetting the light pink wallpaper. Having seen the Net.Elementalist's room, Dva knew that Alice had had the major influence. Alice entered from another doorway. "Please, sit down, wont you?" she said. Dva sat, as the others did. Barry remained standing, looking somewhat uncomfortable to Dva. Alice stared discretely at Missy, then turned and whispered something in Barry's ear. Barry jerked, and moved between them. "Alice, this is a new team member, Missy. She's from another planet," Barry said, drawing a look of surprise from Alice. Turning to Missy, Barry said "Missy, this is Alice. My wife." he added after a pause. Missy smiled. "Hello." "Hello, Missy," said Alice. "Um, welcome to our planet." Dva thought that that was a little cheesy, but didn't say anything. Missy just nodded, still smiling. Alice turned to Dva. "Couldn't Silence make it?" There was an embarrassed pause. "I think we need to have a talk," Barry said. "In the... kitchen?" Alice looked at him, a little confused, but accepted the idea. Taking his arm, she led the way, leaving the four of them to look about with trepidation. "Do you think he's going to tell her?" asked Morph quietly. "How can he not?" said Agent. "Look at her," Dva hissed. "Does it look like she's pretending? She knew us, as well." "Not perfectly," said Agent. "Didn't know about you," he pointed out. "How many people have we told?" Dva said. "There's only a few people in the LNH that know about me, and we're the only ones that know my name's now Dva." "She nice lady," said Missy. Dva nodded, and wondered how Barry was doing. "Her and Silence? Joined?" repeated Alice. Barry nodded. "Not many people know. I haven't.. spoken to you since it happened." Alice pouted. "You could have called." Barry looked away, not quite sure what to say next. Alice put her hand on his cheek again. "Are you all right? You seem so distant. Did something terrible happen on that planet?" Barry placed a hand on top of hers. "No, it's not that. It's... I don't know how to explain." "Please try." Barry opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Then he remembered something. "Where's Abby?" Alice smiled motherly. "I put her down not long ago. She'll be so happy to see you, though." Barry was tempted, but he had enough problems. "Let her sleep. I'll just... look in." Alice kissed his other cheek. "Okay, I'll get drinks for us all. What does Missy drink?" "I don't know. Could try tea, or just juice, or something." "What was there to drink on the planet?" Barry's memory flashed a picture of him slouched between Morph's and Dva's arms. "Um, just the usual," he said, exiting quickly. The kitchen also led out into another hallway. Two further doors led off, and experimentation discovered that the first one led into a kind of study. Leaving that for now, Barry exited through the other door, and found himself back in the main hallway. Flicking a glance down to the living room, he opened a door set opposite, and entered yet another hallway, the same length as the one the study was attached to, but longer than the one leading to the living room. There were three other doors to choose from, but one lay open, and Barry spotted a crib inside a cheerfully coloured room. Moving quickly, he found the room next to the baby's was the bathroom, and the one opposite was their bedroom. He looked at the strange room in which they apparently spent two years of their lives, but saw nothing familiar. ----- And now, for your enlightenment and edification, BLiP presents the map of Barry and Alice's home: -----//------------------+++++++++++++++++++++------------++++++---------- | | | | + Kitchen | | Main | + / Living Room | Bedroom + + / | + | | | | | | | | |--///--------|------------------ ------------------------///----------| + Hallway / / Hallway + |--------------///--------------|M H|----------///---------------///-----| | |a a| | | | |i l| Baby's | | + Study |n l| Room | Bathroom | + | w| | + | | a| | | | | y| | | ------------++++++---------------///--------++++-------------------------- Key: | - Wall + Window / Door ----- Barry returned to the baby's room. Creeping quietly, he tiptoed in, and peered into the crib. A five month old baby slept peacefully, and Barry's heart ached. This was his child! Maybe. Barry still didn't have any clues as to what happened to give him this beautiful wife, this beautiful house, or this beautiful baby, but he was glad it had happened. There was no way he would be able to tell Alice that he didn't know her. Obviously, somehow, he did. They had met, married, and had a baby together. If it was an evil plot to draw him into something, it worked. He reached down and carefully stroked Abby's head. She squirmed in her sleep, and Barry hurriedly withdrew. He would get Agent to find out everything he could about these two. And then he would cherish them as the family they were. Returned to the kitchen, Barry found Alice just finishing pouring the drinks. She yelped quietly as he grabbed and hugged her fiercely. Kissing the top of her head, he said "I love you." She twisted around and returned the kiss. "I love you too, but our guests must be getting thirsty. Come on." Leaving two drinks for him to take, Alice took two and carried them through. Alice gave a glass of water to Agent, and a glass of orange juice to Missy. Realising he didn't know who was to have what, Barry hazarded a guess, and gave Morph tea and Dva coffee. When he turned his back, they switched drinks. Agent and Missy were on the couch, and Dva and Morph had an armchair each, so Alice sat in the remaining armchair, and Barry perched on the arm. "So, tell me about what happened on the planet," Alice said, sitting forward slightly, expectantly. "It's too long to go into," Morph started. "Nonsense. How am I supposed to write the book if you wont tell me what happened?" The Alt.Riders looked suspiciously at one another. "Book?" said Agent. "Yes, the book," repeated Alice. "You know the one." "It's been a bad three months," Agent said. "Remind me a little." Alice frowned, and Barry resisted the urge to hug her. "The book you said I could write about you. 'Riding with the Alt.Riders'. As a reporter, I give an unbiased viewpoint to your activities, remember?" Barry flinched. A reporter? His wife was a reporter? "Ah, of course," said Agent, smiling. "Don't know what came over me. How is it coming along?" "Slowly. Despite how much you guys do, very little makes it to the public eye. Just the little events, like when you were in Germa.net," Alice said, arching an eyebrow at Barry. [In _The Alt.Riders #2 and 3_ - Footnote Girl.] "Yes, that," said Barry, in a neutral tone. "And you have yet to tell me exactly what you were doing there, either," Alice pointed out. "Just practicing," said Barry. "We'll discuss it later," Alice whispered. "Might I be able to borrow what you have so far, sometime?" asked Agent. "You just had it a few months ago. I haven't written much else." "But Missy hasn't seen it. It would be helpful for her," Agent said. "I would?" Missy asked. Alice nodded. "Of course. I'll get it for you later. Now, tell me about what happened on the planet - Oh, I just remembered," she interrupted herself. "A new club opened up two months ago. The Wishful Star, it's called." "Yes?" said Agent, after a slight pause. "It's the great new attraction around here. A lot of people have been going to it. But, well, it's not quite politics, but there is an ethos, sort of, associated with the club. It's promoting a new kind of order, perfection for all. "It's not the sort of club that would pull so many, but it has been, and all the people who go are very much into this ethos." Alice saw the still confused gazes, and tried to explain more. "It's just that, some people who go never thought like that before. You remember Mrs. Fern?" Barry nodded his head like he knew what she was talking about. "_She_ went, and now she's just as much into this new fad as everyone else." Alice shivered. "There's something I don't like about that club. I thought you might like to know, from a professional standpoint," she said. "Indeed, I'm intrigued," said Agent. "Where exactly is this club?" Alice gave them directions. The Wishful Star was near the centre of the city, although that was big enough. Agent said he could find the place. "I suggest that we go look into this right away," Agent said. "What, now?" asked Dva. "No time like the present." Dva started to rise, but Agent put up a hand. "No, you, Morph and Missy stay here. Tell Alice what happened on the planet. And get that book. For Missy," he added. "The Net.Elementalist and I can look into this." Turning to Alice, Agent continued. "I'm sorry to pull your husband away just as he got back, but I'm sure you understand." Alice nodded. "Just make sure you do come back." "I fully intend to," said Agent, frowning slightly. "Oh, and you too, of course." Barry smiled inwardly as he worked out what statement had been intended for whom. Barry kissed Alice again, then rose. "Shall we go?" "After you," Agent said graciously. Giving a last meaningful glance at Morph and Dva, he followed the Net.Elementalist outside. In the car, Agent glared at the Net.Elementalist. "You didn't tell her, did you?" he accused. "No," replied the Net.Elementalist. "And I'm not going to." "This smells like a trap. She says she's writing a book about us!" "And why not?" asked the Net.Elementalist, defensively. "Happened plenty of other times, so why not now? And I don't care if it is a trap. I love her." "You hardly know her!" "Then find out about her," the Net.Elementalist said. "Find out her history, and tell me about it. I need to know." Agent returned the Net.Elementalist's stare, then faced forward, face still grim. "You're letting your loins lead you," he muttered. "I can look after myself," the Net.Elementalist said hotly. "But you can't look after us," replied Agent, starting the car, and pulling out abruptly. Back in the house, Morph recounted his tale, and both Dva and Alice listened intently. Dva hadn't heard the full details, and became interested in Morph's story. Dva noticed Alice throwing glances at the blue woman. She was also conversing with her other half. _I'm telling you, Peter,_ Marsha said in their mind. _It's eerie the way she knows so much about us._ _Agent suspects a trap?_ Peter asked. _Doesn't he always?_ Peter laughed in their mind. _Too suspicious for anyone's good,_ he said. _He could be right, though._ _Yes, and that is the problem. How did the Net.Elementalist react?_ _He's smitten by her. I'm pretty sure he didn't tell her._ _I'm not surprised,_ said Peter. _Have you given any thought to the possibility this is real?_ _Yes, but I have no idea what that implies._ _I'm wondering what other surprises lie in wait for us,_ Peter said disturbingly. Marsha felt a chill run down her spine. What indeed? -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Next Issue: Events in The Wishful Star leave Agent and the Net.Elementalist wishing for a star to fall their way. What power lies behind the club that can change the way people think? All isn't revealed in _The Alt.Riders #7_ Credits: -------- All mine. :) Notes: No, the Talking Heads provided no inspiration whatsoever. :)Back to the Index.