________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #9 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [Cover is of the top of the Wishful Star building. The star object on the top is exploding, energy tendrils flying every where, and the top of the building is nearly destroyed, clearly revealing the top of the Mandrake creature.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "The Mank of the Mandrake, Part 3" "Wishful Star Falling" "Agent had less than a moment to act, so he jumped over the balcony." There are many ways of resolving this situation. Agent could grab something to slow himself down as he fell. He could have a pocket parachute. The fall could only be a few feet. As it was, the fall was 30 feet, and Agent felt a sickening blossom of pain as his ankle crunched. Lifting the broken leg in agony, he gave it a shake, and felt more pain momentarily as the bones clicked into place and healed. He would pay for that later, but now was more important than then. Agent managed to be halfway towards the door when he heard the thump of something else hitting the ground, and he didn't need to look around to know that the Mandrake creature right behind him. "Arrooo!" Without wasting any more time, Agent ran for his life. _-~-_ Back at the Homeless Ones' HQ, Missy pored excitedly over the contents of the folders. Dva and the Net.Elementalist watched with polite interest, while Morph slept. He had woken during the journey, and muttered something like "shorten on metal self", but collapsed as soon as they had put him down. "How addictive is it? Dangerously so?" asked the Net.Elementalist, refering to the madake drug that was the staple for the Wishful Star's drinks. "Addiction always dangerous," said Missy. "Yes, this addictive, but not important." "Not important? I'd say that that was very important." Missy shook her head. "No. There element in here.. like kind of tracer. Reacts with body chemicals, if certain one present." "And does what?" "Not sure. Not know human anatomy enough. In Chub body would result in all female Chub turning green." The Net.Elementalist sighed. "And if you knew enough about human anatomy?" Missy shrugged. "If anyone know enough about human anatomy, then anyone tell you what this do." "This is getting us nowhere fast," Dva interjected. "Why don't we take Missy down to the local library, and have her read up on the subject?" "Do you know how long that would take?" asked the Net.Elementalist in return. "Not to mention the furore a blue alien would cause." "Who blue alien?" "You blue alien," Net.Elementalist replied to Missy. Missy blinked. "I normal. You alien." Before the conversation could degenerate more, Agent limped into camp, aided by a Homeless One guard. "What war zone did you crawl from?" asked Dva. "Mariam.." Agent gasped. "Mandrake creature.. balcony." He sat down heavily, wincing, and waved his arms to give an impression of what he went through. After a few moments he managed to get his breath back. "Fortunately, they called it off before it went outside. Obviously they didn't want to startle the public." "Mariam? What's this about Mariam?" Bill, the old man who was 'section leader' for this branch of the Homeless Ones, asked. Agent rolled his eyes. "I just said, she was turned into a Mandrake creature." His audience gasped. So did Agent, but because of the pain generated as he moved to a slightly more comfortable position. "Mariam? Gone?" "Yes." Agent looked at Morph irritably. "Wake him up. We've got to go back." "BACK?" they all chorused. "That place has to be shut down, and shut down now," said Agent firmly. "With our team at half-effectiveness? That's just stupid," said the Net.Elementalist. "If I'm there, I can cover for you," returned Agent. "Why, you arrogant little..." Dva's right cross took Agent completely by surprised, and it crashed his head against the wall. The Net.Elementalist gaped in surprise. "You just knocked Agent out," he said, looking at the unconscious Alt.Rider. Dva was flexing her hand. "And he's got a hard jaw." "He's not gonna like that at all," grinned the Net.Elementalist. "I hope not." _-~-_ Knock knock knock. Pause. Knock knock knock. A stomping sound could be heard inside as someone drew near the door. Knock kno- "We're closed!" a voice shouted. Knock knock- The door opened, an impatient movement. "I said, we're- oh, hello, officer," the words suddenly dropped in tone as the man saw the police officer who had been knocking. "Good morning, sir. We've been receiving complaints about 'strange goings on' in here. Would you mind if I took a look around?" "We are very busy, officer," said the man politely. "If you could come back...?" "Oh, I wont be a bother. I just wanted a quick look to make sure there was nothing untoward happening." The man stood silently for a moment, not vacating the doorway. Then he asked "May I see your badge, officer?" The officer blinked for a moment, then retrieved his badge and showed it to the man. The man took it, the officer resisting for a moment, then disappeared back inside, shutting the door in the officer's face. The officer stood for a minute in front of the door, trying to look nonchalant, but ending up looking uncomfortable. The door opened again, somewhat to the officer's relief, and the man was back, handing him his badge. "Sorry about that, Officer Jenkins. We have very tight security, and regulations have to be followed." "Of course, I understand. May I come in now?" The man stood to one side. "Of course. I'll take you up to Mr. Drake's office." The lift ride was very smooth, but the officer was unable to restrain from looking about in idle curiosity. The man stood in one position, stoic. The lift doors opened onto very plush carpeting, and the pair strode along the corridor. At one window Jenkins glanced outside, and saw most of Phila.DEL.phia spread out before him, indicating that he was high in the building. The man opened a door, and gestured for the officer to enter. Jenkins did, and heard the door close behind him, the man staying outside. Jenkins was in a large office, the same plush carpet on the floor, meeting wood-paneled walls. At the other end, in front of a large window was a desk, totally bare, but a well crafted work of art. Behind the desk, with his hands steepled on it, sat Drake himself, staring at the newcomer. Jenkins realised he was staring himself, and quickly strode forwards, taking his hat off. He stopped in front of the desk and held his hand out, but Drake continued to stare at him. After a moment, Jenkins retracted his hand, then sat in one of the large chairs in front of the desk. "Indeed, have a seat, officer," said Drake. Jenkins refused to look embarrassed. He wasn't completely naive about this kind of situation. "Mr. Drake, we have been receiving complaints about your club. Complaints of drug abuse, mind control and.. er.. large monsters shambling about." Drake raised his eyebrows. "Do you usually look into such matters?" "Er, they are unusual, but due to the number of them we felt obliged to check. Just to make sure." "Indeed," said Drake again, lowering his hands to rest his arms on the desk. "Well, this is a large building, but I can assure you that we do not have any... shambling monsters." "Ah, yes," said Jenkins, squirming in his seat. "As you say, it is a large building. And therefore there may be some.. monsters in places you don't keep an eye on." "I trust my staff implicitly," replied Drake, a hint of recrimination in his voice. "I don't mean to impugn your staff, Mr. Drake, but I have been asked to look around. May I?" Drake looked down at his desk and sighed. "Go," he said with a wave of his hand, as if bestowing a great honour. "Go and look. My men will help you." Jenkins stood up, and paused, wondering if he should offer to shake hands again. Looking at Drake's wearied posture told him that was a stupid move. Instead, he put his hat back on, and walked to the door. Although Drake gave no signal he could see, the door opened for Jenkins, and the same man stood there, waiting for him. After closing the door behind Jenkins, the man asked "Where would you like to look first?" "The club dance floor. And surrounding rooms." The man led the way back to the lift, and when they got off, it was a short walk, and then Jenkins was in the large room that housed so many people at night. He looked up, at the spiked balls, and the high ceiling. "What drinks do you serve here?" the officer asked. "We have our own drink, freely available. Would you like to try it?" The officer looked at the man, a suspicious expression on his face. "Later. How many people do you get in here at any one time?" The man shrugged. "A couple hundred." The officer glanced around again. Certainly possible in this large room. "And has there ever been a problem over-crowding?" The man shook his head. "We only let so many in at once." Jenkins opened a nearby door, and saw that it let to toilets. "We have a lot of restrooms scattered around this room." the man commented. Jenkins grunted. "I want to see the basement," he said. This time the man did look surprised. "I'm afraid you can't go there. It's restricted." "Mr. Drake said I could go wherever i like. I'd like to go to the basement." "I can't let you in there." "I'll get Mr. Drake to explain to you, but I must have a look in there." "And why is that, officer?" a voice from on high asked. Jenkins looked up and saw Drake standing on a catwalk overhead. "You were doing so innocently until now. I cannot let you see the basements." Jenkins rested his hand on his holstered pistol. "And why is that, Mr. Drake?" "They're being refurbished. Unfortunately, the people who built this place for me have no sense of true taste. The whole place had to be done over." "And yet, the basement is where most of the reports claim the monsters to be." "A lot of equipment down there. It gets dark, people don't see properly, their imaginations run riot. I'm sure you can see how that sort of thing can lead to phantasmagoria." Jenkins still wasn't budging. "Why do you have basements, Mr. Drake? Why have so many floors above the club. Surely you don't need all those offices to run one club." "We are engaged in all manner of research, looking for ways to increase public entertainment. Perhaps you would like to sample something we've come up with." "Thank you, but no, Mr. Drake. Another time, I think." "But I insist." Drake's hand flicked towards something, and suddenly Jenkins found two burly men by his sides. They grabbed his arms, and he couldn't break free. Another man came out of the shadows, holding up a syringe. "An interesting.. cocktail," said the man in a deep voice. "Madake, in a highly concentrated form, but laced with various alcohol additives to affect the body so much more." Although Jenkins struggled, the man still managed to inject the needle into his arm. After only a few moments, Jenkins was having trouble standing, the world woozily turning about him. Despite this, he had no trouble seeing Drake standing before him. How ever the room spun, Drake stood still, directly in front of him, the focus of his vision. Drake's voice was a pleasant counterpoint to Jenkins' reeling senses. "You're a good cop. You came here, found resistance, but kept doing your job, spiting us all. But, no matter how hard you looked, you couldn't find anything wrong. We kept hiding information from you, but you found us out, that we didn't really have anything to hide. "In fact, you might come back, maybe even tonight. Looks like a pleasant, even harmless place. But you've got to get back to work. And you'll glad to get away from here at the moment." Jenkins slowly straightened, his senses returning to normal. "I think I've found everything I need to," he said in a stern voice. "All you needed to do was co-operate with the police, but I think I've seen all I need to anyway. Good day to you sir." Drake held up his hand, something in it. "One moment, officer." He handed Jenkins a piece of paper. "For your trouble." As Jenkins was leaving, he looked at the paper in his hand. It was a pass to the club, admitting one. Huh, nice of Drake, even if he was unco-operative. He just might come back tonight. Just might come back after all. _-~-_ Agent's consciousness snapped back when someone slapped him across the cheek. His hand reflexively caught the hand as it started to slap him again. There was a pause, where Agent refused to open his eyes. "If I am holding onto an Alt.Rider, I shall be very disappointed." Agent finally opened his eyes to see Dva staring at him defiantly. She didn't even blink. "Do that again, and I'll throw you out of the team." "Do that again, and I'll already be gone." Agent held her a moment longer, then released her. "What's the time?" "Evening. You want some food?" Dva held out a bag of fish and chips, but Agent looked nauseated. "Thank you, but no. I ate last week." Dva shrugged and had another chip. Agent looked round, and saw Morph grinning at him, holding his own bag of food. Around them were many Homeless Ones, just siting and watching. "Did you buy dinner for them ,too?" "They wouldn't let me," said Dva. "We Homeless Ones don't like to depend on others," said Bill. "Most of them don't give a damn about us, so we don't look to them." "Where are Missy and the Net.Elementalist?" "Right here," said the Net.Elementalist, from behind them. The crowd parted and the Master of Net.Elements and the blue skinned Chub stepped through. "We've been at the library," he explained. "Trying to educate Missy in the ways of human biology." "Very different," Missy said. "But understandable." "Have you worked out what the chemical does yet?" asked Dva, before Agent could. "It is like checklist," said Missy carefully. "It check body for certain elements, and if all there, becomes active." "For what purpose?" asked Morph. "If have right equipment, it stick out like sore thumb." "Any significance about the certain elements?" Agent asked. Missy shrugged. "Not sure. Not enough time to check everything." Agent glared at the group. "Anyone disagree that we have to attack the club now?" "It's obvious that they're selecting people on some criteria," said Morph. "And getting them addicted," said Dva. "Not to mention the fact that the owner can turn people into monsters," said the Net.Elementalist. "The club must stopped," said Missy. Agent refused to comment on the fact that that was his whole point. "Fine, we go now. The club will be opened, but that's something we have to deal with." "Not through the sewers again," moaned the Net.Elementalist. "No," replied Agent. "This time we go through the front door." _-~-_ "You're not coming in." The bouncer stood steadfastly in front of Agent, glowering. Agent looked affronted. "You contact Mr. Drake, tell him I'm here, and you'll see that he let's us in!" "He already knows you're here, and I was told not to let you in. Now back off." Each word of the last sentence was complemented by the bouncer poking Agent in the chest, with such force that Agent was now three steps back. Morph, displaying an incredible sense of mind, grabbed Agent before the latter could move forwards and do something painful to the bouncer. "Leave him alone," Morph said. "He's just doing his job." Agent flashed Morph an angry look. "We have our job to do as well." Agent expelled his breath and looked up. He frowned at the star object on the top. "Same design as in the club. And in the basement." The Net.Elementalist was also looking upwards, but a bit lower than Agent. "Do you want to enter through the window?" Agent opened his mouth to affirm, but changed his mind. "We'll go through the front door," he said. "At least, most of us." The Net.Elementalist eyed Agent warily. "*Most* of us?" "You're diversion. Flame up and buzz the building. And get a good look at that thing on the roof. It doesn't look right," Agent added. The Net.Elementalist sighed, then glanced over at the bouncer who was eying them suspiciously. He moved away from the group, and sauntered around the side of the building. Agent looked at the rest of the group. Morph, Missy and Dva all nodded, ready. In his pocket was a walkie-talkie with the Homeless Ones on the other end. Agent didn't want any of them involved, especially as the role of the Alt.Riders was to be one of advanced strike. Once more support was needed, then the Homeless Ones would be called in. A bright burst of light heralded the arrival of a fast streak of flame. The Net.Elementalist roared around the outside of the building, flying higher and higher, a long stream of flame encircling the building like a constricting rope. The bouncer yelped as he watched, then disappeared inside, slamming the door behind him. There was a moan from the long queue of people at the sight, all of them anxious to get inside. As was Agent, but he had his own version of a ticket. "Morph, break that door down." "Great," muttered Morph. "First I get to be electrocuted covering your backs, now I'm a door ram." His body rippled, and he shrunk slightly, and hardened. An incredibly powerful steel rod exploded towards the door and crashed through it. The main part of Morph dwindled before their eyes, and disappeared through the door. A moment later, a grinning Morph opened the door from the inside. "Entre-vous, good sir." Agent stepped forwards, but paused at the sound of a discrete cough. Smoothly, he turned and extended his arm gracefully. "But the ladies must precede me, of course." Dva smiled widely, and pulled a puzzled Chub with her into the club ahead of Agent, who followed smartly. The first person in the queue made to move forward, but Agent stuck his head out. "Trust me, you are a lot safer out here." The door slammed shut again, and although the person rattled it in despair, it wouldn't open. _-~-_ The Net.Elementalist hovered outside an office window, burning like a vengeful angel. From the light he shone into the room beyond, the Net.Elementalist could see Drake standing, hands behind his back, watching serenely. Slowly bringing his arms out and around, fire shooting out and burning, melting, the Net.Elementalist aimed his flames at Drake. Someone came up behind Drake, and handed him something. The lines of fire drew closer to his office, already having destroyed most of the others on this floor. Drake placed the something on his shoulder and aimed, not really having to due to the closeness of the figure outside. He waited... waited... the flames tore into the office walls, and starting burning their way towards him. Drake didn't smile, not once, as he tightened his finger on the trigger of the bazooka. The missile pounded into the Net.Elementalist's chest, pushing his violently backwards, and throwing his fiery attack into confusion. When the Net.Elementalist finally righted himself, the explosion of the missile eaten up in his own inferno, he saw no sign of Drake. Cursing silently to himself, he continued his upward journey to the spiked ball at the top. Inside, behind a protective few walls, Drake calmly gave final orders. "It's time for the Mandrake to disappear." _-~-_ Inside the club, the Alt.Riders were assaulted by the wave of noise and light. Several people came up to them offering drinks, but they all declined, "not wanting to turning green" as Missy put it. Around them, dancers swarmed in dancing, and people shouted in conversations. While on the surface, it may look like a normal club scene, when one listened to the actual words, only then did anything strange become obvious. "I heard of a new way of society. An *ordered* society." "Yeah, it sounds wonderful..." "Don't you think there should be a better way? Living is so.. messy these days." "But there is! I heard about this great restructuring idea..." Agent listened to all of this in concern. "These ideas are taking far to great a hold in these people's minds!" he shouted. "It drug!" Missy shouted back. "Makes people susceptible to ideas!" "Then we'd better cut those ideas off! Morph, stop that!" Morph was dancing with a woman that had come up to him and wrapped her arms around him. Regretfully, he disengaged her, and she turned to the nearest other male, who gladly latched onto her. "You just don't how to have fun, do you?" shouted Morph. "What was that?" asked Agent. "Obviously nothing," said Morph. "This way!" Indicating the way, Agent pushed against the crowd, but it pressed back too heavily. "This way!" he amended, and the Alt.Riders moved alongside the edges of the room. Until a gun stopped them. Held by yet another thug. Looking around, they saw that they were easily surrounded by hostility, so the Alt.Riders quickly went along peacefully. They were led upstairs and onto one of the balcony. Surprisingly, the music was actually quieter. Drake stood there, waiting for them. "You have caused me annoyance after annoyance," he said. "Thank you," replied Agent. Dva shook the hands off her. "That's nothing compared with what we're going to do," she said hotly. "Ah yes. I saw the Net.Elementalist outside. I can safely assume you mean to shut me down?" "Of course," said Agent. "You're finished, Drake." "Whoever writes your dialogue, shoot them," Drake advised. "But, as it happens, you are right. I am finished. Here, anyway. Time to take my assets and run." Agent looked surprised. "Not even a pointless discussion on how you will win? No last minute desperate bids for final domination." "Not necessary. The schedule has simply been moved up. So I leave, but... I do feel the need for some dramatics." The bodyguards gave Dva a push, and she stumbled forwards. Drake grabbed her. "I want you to see the final realisations of this parts of the plans," Drake said, positioning his free hand over Dva's chest. "But I don't want you interfering. Try to, and this lovely woman becomes another of my converts." Dva glared at him, but could hear the seriousness in his voice. Unfortunately, a body made of marshmallow wasn't going to help here. Silencing powers on the other hand... Agent had something else on his mind. "Go ahead," he said. "I'm calling your bluff. Try to convert her." Dva and Morph stared at Agent. "You can't be serious!" they exclaimed. Missy looked puzzled, and appeared to be concentrating on something. Drake frowned. "You would really give up on your team mates? This I must see." Energy crackled from Drake's hand into Dva's chest, and she winced in anticipation. _-~-_ On the roof, the Net.Elementalist landed beside the star object. It towered over him, spikes keeping even the main body of whatever it was above his head. He put his head against a spike and listened. From deep inside came the sound of humming. And it was growing. _-~-_ Dva blinked. She was still the same shape! "What?" hissed Drake, jerking back in surprise. Agent smirked. "Net.a-human genetics. I suspected it was immune to your genetic corruption." "Hell of a way to find out," said Dva. Missy's face cleared. "Immunisation factor? Must mean net.a-human factor is-" Drake nodded at Missy, and pushed Dva away. A guard pushed Missy ahead, and Drake grabbed her instead. "She doesn't look net.a-human. Not even human, for that matter," Drake said, looking her over. "Think she is immune?" Agent gently shook his head, eyes downcast. "Exactly." Maneuvering Missy in front of him, arms wrapped around her, Drake looked over his shoulder at the revelers below. "Let it begin!" The light balls exploded in energy. _-~-_ In Utah, the geophysicist finally gave up on his problem, and contacted Doctor Stomper at the LNHQ. _-~-_ The Net.Elementalist still had his hand on a spike when the ball exploded. Energy tendrils lashed out from each spike, knocking the Net.Elementalist over the side of the building, stunned. Energy lashed out, striking and gouging huge rips in nearby buildings. A large energy burst exploded skywards, a thick beam, bright with power. It also incidentally destroyed an airplane with 100 passengers. _-~-_ In the club, too many things happened at once. Tendrils from the overhead balls struck patrons, encasing them in a powerful beam. On the balcony, Agent grabbed Dva and pulled her out of the way of a beam that fired their way, and instead it struck a bodyguard. Morph, taking advantage of Drake's inattention, brought his hands up, now formed into laser pistols, and cut through Drake's arms, incidentally cauterizing the wounds. "Gargh!" Drake screamed, falling backwards, as his arms fell to the floor. Missy blinked, but was too shocked to say anything. Morph pulled her out of the way. Most of the club was glowing in brightness of energy beams. Those that had already struck stayed, and new ones hit people reaching up joyously for their embrace. On the balcony, all but the Alt.Riders and Drake had been hit. Drake was wheeling in pain, but Agent watched in grimness as the energy also engulfed him. "What's happening?" Morph shouted. "Overload! Energy backlash! If it runs rampant, we will all be killed!" A final surge of power whitened out everyone's vision. _-~-_ "I was wrong," Agent said. "It was some kind of transporter beam. Everyone the beam struck disappeared, transported." They were in the hospital, the day after. The Net.Elementalist had been found in a crater, although all he had was bruises. He remembered something about flaming to slow down, but it obviously hadn't been enough. Alice was sitting beside his bed, holding his hand. "And we have no idea where they went," said Morph. "But I doubt that's the last we hear of them. Still, although we didn't have time to call in the Homeless Ones before hand, they'll be able to use the remaining equipment. At least, the stuff that didn't burn itself up." The Net.Elementalist smiled weakly. "A returning villain. Great." "We're heading back to Net.ropolis. The Ultimate Ninja should hear about this," said Dva. "When do you think you'll be out?" asked Morph. "I'm not going back," said the Net.Elementalist. "Eh? Why not?" asked Agent. "I'm not going back," Barry repeated. "Not yet. I want a holiday. Spend some time with my family. The ones I love." Alice squeezed his hand, and they shared a fond look. "I don't know if I-" Agent started, but Missy accidentally stepped on his foot while getting Barry's chart. Agent glared at her, but then smiled. "Okay. Come back when you're ready. I'll find something else for us to do." Hustling the rest of the Alt.Riders before him like sheep, Agent left Barry and Alice to themselves. _-~-_ "I want new arms!" Drake demanded. "You've got your people, and I want my arms replaced! I know you can do that." Steelwind sighed. Drake became a lot more troublesome after his conversion. Still, if the unconscious bodies lying behind Drake were any indication of what he had achieved... "You gave up much to soon," said Steelwind, determined not to show too much interest. "The Alt.Riders were on to me. You know what they're like." "We will deal with them. Very well. We'll allow you your arms." After the communication closed, Drake grinned. The transporter had separated those with the madake mark, and those without. They could have their converts, their Centurions, but Drake now had his own army. And when his arms were renewed... -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: A new arc. Just what is up with this Utah thing? One hint: "Would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?" Find out all about it in _The Alt.Riders #10_. But first, read _LNH Comics Presents #34_ for the aftermath of this arc. Credits: -------- Mine, all mine. Notes: Just a break from the Century Pact. Drake will be back, but later. The Christmas Issue (you did ready that, didn't you?) happens after this issue.Back to the Index.