________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #8 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [Cover is of the Wishful Star building, mid section. Behind the glass windows is the outline of a Mandrake creature. Near the top of the picture, the building is breaking up, the creatures hands breaking through.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "The Mank of the Mandrake, Part 2" "Wishful Star Standing" Before: Emanuel Drake sat at the bar, staring at his drink. It was his usual, and as usual he wasn't drinking it. It was a ritual both he and the barman had been in for years, and it wasn't like Emanuel was taking up valuable room. But this time was different. Emanuel usually sat contemplatively. A positive outlook on the world and his place in it. He considered the drink the very icon of what he believed. This time he had a letter in his pocket. From his publishers. They were going to publish his book. So Emanuel sat at the bar, staring at his drink, moodily. The world didn't understand. It never would. He realised that now. Damn publishers. "Mr. Drake? May we talk with you?" Emanuel looked up at the disturbance, blinking a few times, dragging his thoughts back, before he finally saw the two people in front of him. Both wore dark suits and small sunglasses, even in here. They could have been twins, although one had blond hair, the other brown. The blond one stuck out his hand. "My name is Joseph Steele. This is my associate, Derek Hunt." Emanuel stared at them a little longer. Steele finally lowered his hand. "We'd like to talk to you about your new book, 'Order amongst Chaos'." Emanuel blinked again. What the hell was this about? Some publicity stunt his publisher had set up without telling him? Well, stuff them. "It's not my book. Not anymore." Emanuel turned back, and recommenced staring at his drink. "We know what they did to it," said a different voice, obviously that of Derek Hunt. "What we would like to talk to you about is seeing your original work go to print." "What do you know about it?" "We are... interested in similar ideas, and are looking to encourage others in the field. In fact, we think we could help you to involve others in your concepts in ways you can't conceive." Emanuel held on to his drink as he turned around again to face them. "What are you talking about?" Hunt spoke again. "You are a writer, are you not?" Emanuel nodded slowly. "And you wrote about order of mind in the chaos of society?" Another nod. "But you don't agree with what the publishers are doing." "How could you know that? I only got the letter about it today. They're publishing it as a damn comedy! 'How To Live Your Way Through Life Today,'" Emanuel's voice rose during the last sentences, and a hush fell over the bar room. Steele glanced around. "Perhaps we could retire to some place more private." Emanuel slid off the bar stool, and gestured to a table in the dark edges of the room. Drink in hand, he led the way to it. Conversations slowly started up again. Once seated, Steele asked "What is that drink you're holding?" Emanuel held it up, as much to show it off as to admire it again. "It's called an Aqua Thunder. It represents my ideas." "I see. The chaos of the drinks coming together to form an orderly structure that one wouldn't have thought possible." Emanuel looked at Steele indignantly. "Well, yes," he said, somewhat petulantly. "Blue Curacao, Banana Liqueur and Midori Liqueur. Not what anyone would call ordered ingredients, but the end result is almost..." A hint of awe entered his voice. "Miraculous." "That is exactly the sort of thing we are aiming for," said Hunt. "We want to set up a structure of order against this chaos that surrounds us. And we want you to be a part of that structure." "And my book will help you?" "Well," said Steele, cagily. "We are more interested in the man behind the ideas." Seeing Emanuel's blank look, Steele clarified. "You." "Me? What can I do?" "We can aid you, build you up, make people listen to you, make them appreciate your ideas." "How?" asked Emanuel, suspicion evident. "We can.. provide mechanical assistance. Devices that make your voice encouraging to others." "Sounds a damn lot like hypnosis to me. What stunt you trying to pull?" "No stunt," assured Hunt. "We want you to have your say, and for others to listen." Emanuel stared at them for a while, contemplating. Eventually he said "Where are these devices of yours?" Hunt and Steele shared a look. "We'll gladly take you to see them," Steele said. "If you would like to come with us?" Steele stood, but Emanuel stayed seated for a moment, looking as if he was changing his mind. Then, in one movement, he stood, leaving his drink, and walked out of the room before Hunt had stood. "We have him," Hunt said. "We haven't told him yet," replied Steele. "We'll see." _-~-_ Now: "I'm really beginning to hate it down here," said the Net.Elementalist. "I just feel that has to be said." "Fine. Now shut up," said Agent, leading the way back through the sewer. The rest of the Alt.Riders followed (with the exception of Missy, who had stayed behind at the Homeless Ones' camp to look over their current findings). Several Homeless Ones, Mariam included, were with them. "Tell me about what you know of this club's owner," Agent said. "A man by the name of Emanuel Drake," Mariam said. "Very powerful. No-one saw him before the club was finished, and few have seen him since." She shivered. "I met him last night. Not an experience I particularly want to repeat." "Do you know anything about his background? Anything that might give us a clue as to what he wants here?" "We're not the government. There's only so much we can find out in our situation," Mariam pointed out. Dva was trying to work something out. "Did you help me?" she finally asked. "In Sin.ci.net.ty?" Mariam raised an eyebrow. "You've been to Sin.ci.net.ty? One of our earliest victories was there." Mariam shook her head. "I wasn't there, though, but that helped give us all confidence." They were nearing the up passage they needed, when the cry reached them again. "Aroooo!" The Net.Elementalist shivered. "I am not going against that thing again." "What are you talking about?" asked Agent. "You beat it last time." "And nearly got fried in the feedback. That thing's got a whack load of energy in it, and it's very painful to get whacked by it," said the Net.Elementalist. "Besides," he pointed out. "How do you expect us to get up there with out my help?" The Net.Elementalist pointed upwards, now that they were in position. "Good point," conceded Agent. "Morph, go and slow that thing up." Morph double-taked. "You what? If the Net.Elementalist's got problems with it, why do you want me to go?" "Because you can become something impervious to energy, or something that the energy would pass right through. Either way, you're our best defense at the moment. Go!" Morph shook his head, but disappeared into the sewers in the direction of the creature's bellow. "Right," said Agent. "While he buys us time, get us up there." "Arooo!" The cry sounded much closer. "Now!" "Net!" The Net.Elementalist grabbed Dva and Mariam, and left upwards. Next trip was two of the Homeless Ones. "Arooo!" The sound appeared echoed, doubled. The Net.Elementalist arrived to pick up Agent and the last Homeless One when a dark shape running towards them announced the presence of a creature. The Net.Elementalist had only time to grab the two remaining people when a beast smashed into the light. Morph quickly returned to normal form, and ignored the sighs of relief. "Well, that didn't work. Go. Up, up, up!" The Net.Elementalist didn't need further encouragement, and took off. Morph kept pace with him, stretching his legs. At the top, the Net.Elementalist asked him "Why didn't you become something that could fly?" "Shut up," muttered Morph, leaning into the pipe to bring the rest of himself up. "ARROO!" A look of surprise came over Morph's face. "What the-?" He disappeared downwards as something grabbed and pulled at him. Agent and the Net.Elementalist looked down, but were unable to see more than moving shadows. "ARROOO!" A bright flash of energy made them wince and turn away. "Morph!" cried out Dva, peering over. "I thought you didn't like him," said Agent. "Well..." started Dva. "That doesn't mean I want him to die. Not before I get the chance to kill him when I want to." Nothing else happened from down below, and apart from the dripping water there was only silence. "What happened?" whispered the Net.Elementalist. "Leave him," said Agent, turning towards the door into the club. "How can you?" asked Dva, a note of anger in her voice. "He'll be all right," said Agent, somewhat dismissively. "Just needs time to recover." The Net.Elementalist and Dva shared a look, but said nothing. They allowed the Homeless Ones to proceed them before following. _-~-_ Before: The place was, simply, a mansion. At least from inside. Emanuel had no idea about what it looked like from outside, because the limousine they had driven in had specially darkened windows. They walked through a high walkway, chandeliers taking the place of normal lights, and into an extravagant lounge room. Emanuel gingerly sat down on a large couch, as if he might ruin it just by sitting on it, and looked around, impressed. "Would you like a drink?" asked Steele. "No, thank you," replied Emanuel politely. "Never touch the stuff." Steele and Hunt looked at each other blankly for a moment. "But, in the bar.." "I just buy it because it looks so wonderful," Emanuel admitted. "Ah," said Steele, but a bemused expression remained for a few more moments. Emanuel glanced around expectantly. "So, where are these devices?" Hunt and Steele came and sat on either side of him. "These... devices are very small. So small you can't actually see them." "Then... how are you going to show them to me?" "First of all, we'd like to show you something else." Steele stood up, and in front of Emanuel. Emanuel glanced from him, to Hunt, and back again, fear sparking in his eyes. Then Steele.. changed.. Emanuel blinked, and before him stood Hunt. And beside him sat Hunt. A moment later, Steele was back again. He sat down. "Would you like to know how we did that?" Emanuel tried to sit back further on the couch. "I think that I would prefer to just leave," he said quietly. "I thought you wanted your message spoken out across the world. A new order for society, a new way of life." "I.. I.." Emanuel stammered. "We can give you the power to be heard. The power to be accepted. The power to build that new way of life for yourself," Hunt said. "Or, you can leave," said Steele. Emanuel looked ready to jump up and run out immediately, but Steele continued. "And never be heard. Have people laugh at your book. Laugh at you. Is that what you really want?" Emanuel paused, his mind caught. Run away, or speak his message. Just how far was he willing to go for it? Did he believe in it anymore himself? Yes. "What exactly are you going to do to me?" he said. Steele grinned, and Emanuel almost changed his mind at the sight of it. "We will implant devices into your body. Devices that will give you power, abilities." Emanuel's eyes widened. "I'll be a superhero?" his voice was nearly strangled in shock. "No," assured Hunt. "We don't want anything to do with them." "They're chaotic," said Emanuel, beginning to rant. "They express everything that I named chaos." "Exactly," said Steele. "We want you to help us to form a new world, an ordered world. Without superheroes." "When do we start?" _-~-_ Now: "I thought you said you'd been through here before," said Mariam. "We didn't exactly map the place out in any detail," said Agent. "And after running into you, we weren't exactly paying close attention to where we were, more where we could run to." "Stairs leading down," called out Dva. "Down?" repeated Agent. "We're pretty far down already. Why do they need more down?" "Shall we take a look?" asked Mariam. "By all means," Agent said, extending a hand to indicate Mariam should precede him. At the bottom of the stairs was a large room, obviously a laboratory, much larger than the one they found previously. Small vats lined one wall, while chemical equipment was against another. Computers monitored the process, but the center piece drew the most attention. It was a large globe, with spikes extruding everywhere. The spikes touched the ground and the ceiling, supporting the globe. Along the edge was a small computer and monitor. "What is it?" asked Mariam. "A large conduit of some sort," replied Agent, looking it over carefully. "Capable of harnessing and directing large flows of energy." He leaned closer, but was careful not touch anything. "But what kinds of power? And why?" he asked, mostly to himself. One of the Homeless Ones was investigating the computer station. "These readings," he said. "I've never seen anything like them." He reaching out to press some buttons, and the movement caught Agent's eye. "Don't touch that," he yelled. It was too late, as the man's finger touched one of the controls. Massive energy surges flowed through the globe, the spikes, the computer station, and the man. Unchecked, the surges blazed around the room, blasting anything in their paths. The investigators found themselves in their paths. "What do we do?" cried out Dva. "Retreat," Agent ordered. "Very quickly." _-~-_ In Utah, another 'earthquake' happened. Unable to find a reasonable explanation, a geophysicist contacted his fellows. _-~-_ Agent turned to Dva. "I want you to silence this." It took a few moments, but soon Dva raised his eyebrow at Agent. "I know, I know," said Agent, keeping an eye on the tendrils. "But you're good at dampening things. Just quieten this while we get the hells out of here." Dva nodded and concentrated. The tendrils slowled, and grew less fierce, but they were still there. "Come on, get out of here." Motioning quickly, Agent grabbed and thrust the two of the Homeless Ones ahead, and Agent's glare got the Net.Elementalist moving. Once they were up the stairs, Agent looked back for Dva. His face was almost peaceful, serene in the sea of violence. "Come on!" Agent yelled. "Let this place tear itself apart, but let's go." Dva backed away slowly, being careful to keep the energy near him subdued, but eventually reached the top of the stairs. As the group moved away, he let his power drop, and there was a roar as the energy grew back to its normal intensity. A chunk of wall was blasted away beside them, by the power of the blasts below, and they started running again, heedless of direction. Something caught Mariam's eye as they ran, and she yelled "In here!" as she burst a door open. Inside was filing cabinets, and a desk. Once they were all inside, Mariam shut the door and they had a better chance to look around. Obviously an office of some sort, but the files weren't the usual paper administration. Some were chemical formulae, some weird physics equations, but there were also order forms, but for some highly unusual equipment. Agent flicked through a few folders, the only one who seemed to be able to understand it. He selected two, and handed them to the Net.Elementalist. "Get these back to Missy. She'll want to look at them. She'll be able to tell you what they mean." "And what will you be doing?" asked the Net.Elementalist, taking them. "Time to have a talk to a man named Drake." "That's awfully suicidal of you," said Mariam. "He'll have already detected us. Someone's got to cover while you get away. All of you, leave now. Dva, make sure they get back through that mess out there." Dva nodded, and led the way out. Mariam hung back, though. "I'm coming with you," she said. "I don't need your help," Agent said. "I wasn't offering it. But, you don't know who Drake is, I do. I've met him. And, I want to keep an eye on you," she added. Agent looked ready to argue, but gave in. "All right. Into the lion's den, together then." As most of the party headed back to the sewer, the two decoys headed into the spider's parlour. _-~-_ Before: "Is this really necessary?" Emanuel asked, looking down at Steele strapping his arms down. He stood in a small chamber, just barely big enough for him, and now they were strapping him in. "There will be.. momentary discomfort," said Steele. "We don't want any delicate machinery being damaged." "Of course," said Emanuel, but his mind wondered why they were so concerned for the machines and not him. "Er, how much discomfort?" Steele didn't answer, but sealed the door to the chamber. "We'll start in a minute." Steele left Emanuel's field of vision, which didn't boost Emanuel's waning confidence. He tugged the straps experimentally, but they were secured very tightly. Turning his head slightly, his peripheral vision caught sight of long, needle-like protrusions. Emanuel gulped, and tried very hard not to think about the next few minutes. [In a control booth, away from the eyes and ears of Emanuel, Steelwind checked the instruments again and nodded in satisfaction. "All ready." Darkheart smiled. "It's such a shame that we haven't been able to reduce the pain of this process." "Isn't it just," replied Steelwind, activating the systems.] Emanuel's vision began to swim as thousands of tiny pin pricks covered his body. A terrible need to itch covered every inch of skin, and he writhed against the straps in an effort to alleve the agony. Then the nanites ate his body. _-~-_ Now: The Net.Elementalist took Dva and one of the Homeless down first. When he brought down the other Homeless One, Dva showed him something. Pointing wordlessly, Dva indicated the prone body of Morph, unconscious. "Yeah, pretty much how I was too," commented the Net.Elementalist. "He should be all right after a good rest. We'll have to carry him, though." Dva and one of the Homeless carried Morph, and they made their way through the sewers. _-~-_ Before: Steelwind opened the capsule, revealing Emanuel standing in a frozen position. Unusually, there were no signs of physical change. Perhaps, this once, there was no change at all. Emanuel's eyes opened, and Steel knew he had been wrong. There was a very definite change. What had once been the eyes of a rather dull-witted man, they now blazed with fierce intelligence. As Steelwind watched, the fire burned down, not lessening, just hiding. Steelwind stood back, inviting Emanuel to set out of the capsule. "Welcome, Mr. Drake." As Emanuel stepped forward, he turned his head to keep his eyes on Steelwind. "My name was Emanuel Drake," he said, his voice now quiet and confident. "But now I am.. the Mandrake." Steelwind smiled, tightly. "Of course. How do you feel?" Mandrake closed his eyes and stretched. "Wonderful. Glorious. I can face the world, and watch it back down." Certainly a remarkable change, thought Steelwind. But was he as now easily malleable as he was before? "Do you feel your new powers?" Mandrake looked at his hands, turning them over. "I know that I can.. reach out, touch things... change them. But not quite sure how." He put his hand out in front of him, and slowly turned to face Steelwind. Steelwind grasped Mandrake's wrist. "We will experiment. But not here. Follow me." In a separate room, Mandrake was confronted with a dog. "We'd like to see what effect your power has on it," said Steelwind. The dog growled as Mandrake approached, but a chain held it in place. Mandrake showed no fear, but reached out, almost gently, and caressed the dog. He placed the palm of his hand full on the dog's body. Steelwind and Darkheart watched as the dog's form shuddered, and changed. The body restructured itself before their eyes, becoming something more primal, something that struck at the heart of man's fear. Their own reactions were somewhat more mollified by their own enhanced bodies, but they could tell that the creature would prove most awe-inspiring in others. "Excellent," said Steelwind. "We have a job for you." Mandrake continued watching the creature. It pulled at its chains, but they weren't normal steel, and wouldn't be broken that easily. "I know. To inform others of the new order coming to their chaotic lives," Mandrake stated. "That, and something more," said Darkheart. "We want others to undergo the same process you did. But we can't have just anyone. Only the right ones." "And I shall wean them out for you," said Mandrake. "Where?" "We already have a city picked out for you. The building is nearly finished. We shall instruct you as to what exactly you will be doing." "Where?" Mandrake asked again. "Phila.DEL.phia." _-~-_ Now: "How long do you think it'll take him to find us?" Mariam asked. Agent grinned. "I'm just waiting for him to introduce himself. He's been tracking us for quite a while." A speaker clicked on. "An astute guess, Agent," the cultured voice of Drake said. "I don't guess," Agent replied. "I know." He frowned. "How do you know me?" "Come now, don't delude yourself. You are quite well known to everyone by now. The exploits of you and the Alt.Riders are public entertainment after all." Agent's face darkened, but he said nothing. "Do we get to meet you?" asked Mariam. "Certainly, dear child. If you would care to follow me, I'm sure we can have a quite pleasant meeting." The voice came from behind them now, and they turned to see Drake standing calmly, hands clasped behind him, and flanked by armed guards. Agent nodded his head in agreement, and Drake took the lead. No-one spoke during the trip, and they eventually found themselves on one of the high balconies overlooking the club dance floor. "Observe, Agent. A nice place to visit, isn't it?" "But I wouldn't want to stay here?" completed Agent. "Plenty of people would. They like it here. They like what we have on offer." "Like drugs?" asked Mariam. "Like a new way of life. This is not just a dance club. It's a place for people to met, to mingle. Exchange ideas." "As long as they're your ideas?" Agent asked. Drake raised an eyebrow. "My ideas? No, these ideas, these... ideals, come from someplace else. But they are ideals that I embrace wholeheartedly." "All right then. Let's hear the promotion." "Promotion?" "Don't you want us to join your cause?" Agent inquired. "Not particularly, child. I already know your type, and you are definitely not suitable." "Then what do you plan to do with us?" "Not much. You see, I wanted you to think your friends had gotten away. It makes the chase so much more exciting if you think you have a chance." "And we don't?" "You never did. Do you know who I am?" "Emanuel Drake," Agent said, shrugging. "Lunatic?" "Not at all, but that's not all I am." Drake stared down onto the dance floor. "I am also the Mandrake. I am addictive. People come back for more of me. And I have a gift for humanity. But even that is not all. Would you like to see what else I can do? A very special presentation?" Agent glared at Drake. "I already know about your corruptive powers." "But you don't know how, I think. As I said, a demonstration." Drake reached out quickly, his hand coming into contact with Mariam's chest. Before Agent's astonished, but curious eyes, Mariam became a beast of the Mandrake, towering over all of them. "You see, Agent? A very special talent. And now, my child," Drake said addressing the beast. "Feast upon the flesh of this.. mortal." Agent had less than a moment to act, so he jumped over the balcony. _-~-_ Before: Emanuel Drake looked out onto the city, his city. The club's opening day was tonight, and already people were lining up outside. There was no such thing as bad publicity. He turned away from the sight, almost contemptuous. "We shall see, gentlemen, who benefits the most from this," he whispered, more to himself. "You shall have your Centurions, tokens of my good will, but some of us have our own designs." Emanuel opened the door of the office, and strode out, heading for the center of operations. "Century Plan? Some of us are not so short sighted." He stopped in front of a window, and peered out again. "Tell me, Phila.DEL.phia. Have you ever heard of a mank? It is a gift you give in return for something I give you. Well, Phila.DEL.phia, I shall give you order. I shall bring peace to the chaotic lives you now live. And the mank? Oh, the mank shall be your very humanity." A smile, half amusement, half sneer, formed on his lips. "Never doubt me, *anyone*. I shall succeed. On my own terms. You are just fortunate that my terms currently coincide with yours." With that, Emanuel turned away abruptly, and continued on his way. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: This arc is resolved. And the good guys win. After all, if they didn't I just might win an award for "THE WRITER MOST HATED BY HIS CHARACTERS". Thank you, but, I haven't even begun to be nasty yet... Credits: -------- Most are mine. Steelwind and Darkheart belong to Dvandom, used by necessity. Notes: The 'mank' is an idea from a solo-play game book. Specifically: "Escape from the Kingdom of Frome: The Caverns of Mornas."Back to the Index.