________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #10 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [Cover has Agent standing in the middle of a large crater in the midst of a desert. A crack opens the ground, and is heading towards him.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "When lands collide." The man pushed the trolley on which the nuclear bomb rested. His boss walked beside him, uncaring that he was next to one of the most destructive forces on earth. "How many times do you think we can get away with this, Mr. Bennington?" the man asked. "As many times as necessary," Bennington replied. "The LNH will get involved soon." "I hope so." _-~-_ Dva raised her hand, paused, then finally knocked on the Ultimate Ninja's door. A moment later, she opened the door and stepped in. The leader of the LNH waved her to a chair, and she gingerly sat, nodding hello to Doctor Stomper, seated beside her. "You're going to Utah," the ninja said without preamble. Dva blinked in surprise. "I am?" "I was contacted by a geophysicist from there," Doctor Stomper said. "He was getting extremely strange readings during their recent spate of earthquakes they've been afflicted with. Perhaps you've heard about it?" Dva, currently a dark-skinned woman, paused a moment, then meta-morphed into a white-skinned man, about the same age. Even the denim overalls the female Dva usually wore changed to a deep coloured body suit with what were almost gauntlets. Due to a freak accident involving a particle accelerator, a natural meta-morph, and a suspension of normal physics (but not comic book physics), two people had been merged into one. Now they could change bodies at will. [Read _The Alt.Riders #3_ for the details - Footnote Girl] The other Dva, Peter Gregory, still sometimes called Silence, due to his powers of silencing over flame wars and sound (previously called Inacoustic Kid when he was more involved in the LNH), nodded. The earthquakes were something he had been reading about. The other half of Dva, Marsha Burgenstock, aka Softcentre (previously Marshmallow Lass of the LNH), who had a body similar in makeup to a marshmallow, wasn't that interested. Ultimate Ninja blinked, but refused to show any surprise that Dva had just changed gender before him. "We want you, and the rest of the Alt.Riders, to go out to Utah to investigate." Dva thought about it, then asked "Why?" "Because you're supposed to be an investigating team," said the Ultimate Ninja. "And I want you away from here before you destroy any more flight.thingees." [Read _The Alt.Riders Christmas Special_ for what the Ultimate Ninja's referring to - Footnote Girl.] "That wasn't entirely their fault," said Doctor Stomper. "It was a very old flight.thingee." "They never asked me for it," said Ultimate Ninja, emphasizing each word. "How?" asked Dva. The ninja frowned. "How what? To get out there? Or how to investigate?" Dva looked at Doctor Stomper. "How to get out there," the explainer extraordinary said. Sometimes Dva's reticence with words led to confusion. "It's up to them as to how they investigate." "There're planes, aren't there? You can destroy public transport this time." Dva knew that it was just the ninja's annoyance about the flight.thingee that made him say that. Doctor Stomper held out a card. "This is the geophysicist that contacted me." "You're not coming?" Stomper shook his head. "I'm more useful here. I've taught Missy a lot about earthquakes and geology. She's a very bright person." Dva nodded. Missy was a brilliant scientist on her own world. There was a pause. "Well?" said Ultimate Ninja. Dva got the point and left quickly. _-~-_ The plane ride was quiet. Missy watched the in-flight entertainment (if it could be called that), and Agent failed to engage Dva in conversation, Dva preferring to just sit quietly. Morph had flown ahead under his own power to set up accommodation and meet their contact. Missy attracted a fair bit of attention due to the fact that she was an alien. A blue skinned being from a race called Chubs, from a planet the Alt.Riders had visited. She had come back with them, and was now a team member. [See _The Alt.Riders #5_ - Footnote Girl.] She resembled a very fat child, and wore her usual red outfit with small red hat perched on her head. Agent was dressed somewhat more normally. The leader of the Alt.Riders wore an old wrinkled jacket, but a pristine white shirt, and well tailored pants. His powers were largely unknown, but he seemed a mixture of the esoteric and pure knowledge. At the Salt Lake City airport, Morph waited patiently for them. His outfit was a one-piece, all-over red, body suit, and sturdy shoes. Although there was something slightly odd about it, in that it fitted too well as a perfect second skin. As his named suggested, Morph (previously Amorphous Lad of the LNH) was a natural meta-morph, able to change his shape into anything, and gave a hint to those who knew about the reality of his clothes. "It's a pity the Net.Elementalist isn't here," said Agent. "He's on holiday," said Morph. "For as long as he wants." "I know, I know. Doesn't mean I can't wish for him here." The Net.Elementalist was the other member of the Alt.Riders. He had powers over the elements of the net; flame, net, thread and keystroke (related to fire, air, water and earth). He was also married, and had a child, although both were a surprise to him, [Check out _The Alt.Riders #6_ for why - Footnote Girl] and he had taken a holiday from the Alt.Riders to spend time with them. "Where geologist?" asked Missy, getting to the point of their current mission. "Geophysicist. More accurate," said Morph. "Doctor Franklin Von Brunann is back the University." Morph led the way out of the airport to the taxis. In the taxi van they caught to the University, Morph told them "An hour before you arrived there was another earthquake. Another in this strange series they're experiencing. Dr. Von Brunann is sure that this is not a part of the normal earthquakes for this area, and they're not on any fault line he can find. He has, however, no overt explanation for them." Dr. Von Brunann was an old man, a crown of white hair above a creased face that still glowed with inner liveliness. A pipe hung from his mouth, a habit from a period of smoking he had now given up. "These are some of the strangest readings I have ever come across," the geophysicist said, holding up a large sheaf of paper. "While they are consistent in themselves, and are fine examples of a very odd sort of earthquake, I can't commit myself to a reason for them." "You have examined their origin sites?" asked Agent. "Of course," the doctor sounded indignant. "There is evidence of the land having been shaken up, from the powerful, but brief, shockwave. But often we have found a large crater in the ground. It's not the center of a blast radius, but something formed afterwards." The old man stuck the pipe back in his mouth and sucked aggressively. "Is there any way we could see one of those sites for ourselves?" Dr. Von Brunann nodded. "We were just about to send out one of our helicopters, although the trip takes a few hours. When your man," the pipe was used to indicate Morph, "arrived, we delayed to allow you to arrive and join us. Unfortunately," the man looked around the large group, "we only have room for two." "I and Dva will accompany you." Dva raised his hands in a negatory fashion, and pointed to Missy. "I want Missy to study those readings. I'd like her to form her own opinions," Agent continued. Dva conceded the point. Morph sighed. "And I get out there under my own power again?" Agent shook his head, and informed the brown haired man. "I have another job in mind for you." _-~-_ Two hours later, the helicopter was circling a large crater in the ground. Dust flew up from the rotor blades as it weaved about, then landed on the rim. Agent and Dva emerged with the other geophysicists and overlooked the environmental damage. Agent laboured down the wall of the crater with the others, but Dva stayed by the helicopter. Although the crater was not incredibly deep, it was wide. Agent turned his head to and fro, trying to judge distances. He then estimated the depth, calculated figures in his head, and didn't like the answers. "You having trouble with something?" Dr. Van Brunann asking him, after watching Agent's facial contortions. "What's the density of this rock?" "Around here, very dense. But there used to be tunneling under here. It was thought that the compactness of the rock would help it stay in place." A smile eased the old man's features. "Unfortunately density and compactness wasn't the same thing. Just had harder rockfalls, was all. They abandoned the digging before too long." Agent nodded. He withdrew a device from his jacket that he wore, even out under the intense gaze of the sun. Extending an aerial, he pointed it towards the ground. He tapped a button a few times, then frowned at the results. The doctor dabbed at his brow with a handkerchief, his thin shirt and old shorts no escape from the hot sun. "What do you think?" "I would say that a bomb was exploded here, but there are things about this I don't like." "Ah, then you came to that conclusion too." "You considered this?" The geophysicist nodded. "Be stupid not to. But it wasn't something I wanted to think about. Don't like the idea of someone setting off bombs around here." The geophysicists had set up a bulky device that looked like a large gun, end pointed into the ground. There was a loud *crump*, and the gun jumped, only stopped from falling over by the two men who stood on it to keep it down. A woman tapped at a computer laptop, connected to a box-like construction. "What are they doing?" Agent asked, shading his eyes to watch them. "Radar sounding. Very effective way of examining the rock bed structure without having to dig anything up. If this was a bomb, then we should see a massive collapse of rock layers underneath us, and a shaken look, to speak loosely, to our surroundings." "And if it was a natural earthquake?" "Then there'll be a fissure where the landmasses bumped and jarred," explained the seismology expert. "I'm not holding out hope, though." There was a pause, while the doctor sucked reflectively on his pipe, then he asked, "What were the problems you noticed?" "This crater. If the bomb was planted directly into the ground, when the rock was vapourised, the land above would have fallen in, as it has done. In a perfect situation, the depth would be twice the diameter." "Events are never perfect. The density of the rock would have pushed a lot of the explosion through the tunnels, so it would be a more flattened ball of vapourisation, as we have. What's the other problem?" Agent held up his device, obviously a Geiger counter. "No radiation." The geophysicist shrugged. "So it was deep underground." Agent shook his head. "*No* radiation. Not even background radiation. For some reason, that scares me." Dr. Von Brunann grunted, then started walking to his fellows. "Shall we see what they make of this?" Agent walked beside him. "How many other earthquakes like this have there been?" "Recently, seven, counting this one. The government insists that they're all natural earthquakes, but I don't think they're that naive. Two of them were natural, but since they occurred after the bombs...we may as well call them bombs...I'm sure that they're caused by aftershocks proving too much for the landscape." Dr. Von Brunann stopped, and stared right into Agent's eyes. "If we get a bad enough reaction, especially near one of the main fault lines, this entire land could be subsumed by earthquakes." Agent set himself grimly against the idea. Dr. Brenda Harris, the woman working the computer, was staring at the screen, and one of the other men was peering over her shoulders, exchanging comments. She looked up as the other two approached. "The rock bed is completely chaotic. It was another bomb," she said tersely. "Who would do this? Who?" the elderly geophysicist asked. Agent's face was dark. "I have my suspicions." Back up by the helicopter, Dva motioned Agent to one side, where they could talk without being overheard. "Another helicopter," Dva reported. Agent quickly turned around, scanning the horizon. "Where?" "Gone now." With a nod to the helicopter. Dva continued, "Pilot spotted it. Tried to contact it. Nothing." "Damn. I hope Morph is fitting in better." _-~-_ The blonde man ducked, just avoiding the bullet that sprinkled brick dust above him. He weaved back and forth, keeping ahead of the police. But not losing them. Around the corner, he paused for a moment, breathing heavily, then took off again as he heard the rapid footsteps approaching. Without looking backwards, he fired wildly, missing the cop, but keeping him interested. With a burst of speed, the chased man saw his aim in sight. The officer cursed as he saw the robber duck into Tricks. If he had friends in there, that was the end of the chase. Salt Lake City didn't have a large crime rate, but that rate would drop to almost nothing if the patrons of that bar were put in jail. Just a small matter of evidence was the only thing keeping them on the streets. The officer pulled the bar door open, and raced inside, snapping his head around to catch any sight of the blonde man trying to get out the back, into the toilets, anywhere, just so he wouldn't have to deal with these people. No such luck. Of course. "How can I help you, officer?" The weedy voice belonged to a just as weedy man. The owner was thin and small, complete with a tiny mustache. He stood behind the bar, in shirt and pants, with a towel draped over his shoulder because he thought that's what bar owners dressed and acted like. "The man," panted the officer. "The man who just ran in here. Where is he?" "What man, officer? I don't remember any man." The owner eyed the gun that the officer was holding. "And do I really need to remind you of my policy about weapons?" The officer ignored that, and continued to look around. "A blonde haired man. Just entered here. I saw him." "We have a lot of blonde men here," said the owner, spreading his hands in a manner to show his willingness to help, but also his lack of anything that he could do. As the officer looked around, he saw plenty of men, some of which had, of course, blonde hair. But none were his man. And, by now, all the men were staring back at him. Angrily, defeated, the officer jammed his gun back in his holster. "Tell him that if I catch even a glimpse of him, he's mine." With these hollow, pointlessly macho words, the officer left. The owner looked down behind the bar, but didn't say anything. The blonde haired man who had just run in the door and jumped clean over the bar rose sheepishly. "You will pay for that," the owner said. "Here," said the man, and began emptying his pockets of cash. Hundred dollar bills spilled onto the counter. "Take it." The owner raised an eyebrow. "That simple?" The man shrugged. "I can get more." The owner held out his hand. "I want the gun, too. The only guns in here, I keep." Raising his empty hands, the man showed his gunlessness. "Must have dropped it." "What do you want here?" "A job, if there's one to be had," the man replied, looking around at the stares on him. "I hear there's some big things going down here." "Hearing things can be bad for yer health," a drinker rumbled, taking a loud slurp from his mug. "From the look of you, you must have heard a lot of things," said the man. The drinker placed his mug down, and started to rise from his chair. A hand slapped to his chest stopped him. A quite handsome man, owner of the hand, stepped into the robber's line of sight. "It takes more than that to impress us, but I can use labourers. And I don't think you want to be refusing jobs and maybe end up back on the street right now." The blonde man grinned and nodded. This was well worth the hour he had spent finding just such a place. _-~-_ Back at the University of Utah, Missy was surrounded by large piles of paper. "Something strange," she said Agent and Dva found her. "In what way?" asked Agent. "These seven earthquakes, but these," she indicated two piles, "different to these," the other five. "Very good," said Dr. Von Brunann, coming in. "Most people can't make sense of this kind of raw data." "Missy isn't most people," said Agent proudly. "I can see that," the doctor replied wryly. Putting her thick hands on the two piles, she said "These waves are like lines radiating from lines. Have sharp pulse." She shifted her hands to over the other piles. "These are like circles from point. Have smooth pulse." "Or proper earthquakes opposed to bombs," Agent whispered. Missy nodded. "These are like earthquakes I study. These are more like from exploding star." "But where are they coming from?" Missy was unable to answer that question, but Agent had another one for her. "Missy, we found no radiation out there. Not even background radiation." Missy shook her head. "Impossible. Light radiation. Heat radiation." Agent smiled. "But no alpha, beta, or gamma. Nothing to indicate that a bomb, especially one powerful enough to cause what we saw, denoted there, or anywhere nearby." Missy frowned. "None? Not natural." Agent agreed with her assessment quietly. "Other sites like that?" Agent turned to Dva. "Can you check that?" He took the device from his pocket that he had used before, and handed it to Dva. Dva looked at it momentarily, then turned to Dr. Von Brunann. "Where others?" "The origin points?" Dva nodded. "Come on, I'll show you. Can't say we looked for that sort of thing, so you'd have to check each site again. I'll arrange a helicopter, but it'll take a while..." The geophysicist's voice faded as they walked away. Agent was turning ideas over in his head. "The technology needed to remove all that radiation is quite high." "Common?" asked Missy. Agent shook his head. "Hardly available at all. Queen Enterprises might be able to produce it, but I don't see them using it in such a way. If I didn't know better, I would say it was KirbyTech." "KirbyTech?" "Kid Kirby?" The question was met with a blank look from Missy. "I would have thought you'd have met him. He's with the LNH. Something of a cosmic entity. Extremely high level of technology. I wonder if he's had anything stolen from his recently. Or Contraption Man, maybe..." Agent lapsed into deep thought. Missy waved her hand in front of his face a few times, but got no response. Giving up on him, she left to find out what else went on in this place. _-~-_ Dva stood in the middle of another large crater, feeling self-conscious. Dutifully, he took a reading, and looked at the result. He frowned as he saw that it too showed no radiation present. He walked back to the helicopter slowly. He could think of one reason why someone would want a device that removed radiation from an area, and his thoughts darkened. Images of cities lying in ruins from holocaustic explosions, now safe to be entered by troops as devices sucked all poisonous radiation from the environment, filled his mind. On reaching the helicopter, he nodded to the pilot that they should continue to the next site. The pilot had been given a list of the sites to visit, and the list was marked as to which were thought to be the results of bombs, and which were natural. This one was a bomb site, confirming results so far, and the next one was a natural occurrence. As the helicopter took off, another helicopter also emerged, and began tailing it discreetly. _-~-_ The blonde man peered out through the car windows, watching as the houses lessened in number, but increased in value. This area of the city was obviously for the rich and famous. "Where're we going?" he asked. The handsome man who had offered him a job in the bar spoke up, "We'll get to where we're going quicker if you shut up." The blonde man took the hint and kept his mouth closed. The house they eventually stopped in front of was a veritable mansion. It was wide enough for three houses, and sprawled backwards over the property as far as the blonde man could see. They walked up to the front door, and the handsome man knocked. A panel slid open, and a pair of eyes regarded them. Then the panel shut again, and the door opened. "Inside," the handsome man ordered. The inside lived up to the expectations of the outside. Thick carpeting softened footfalls, and the pink pastel walls displayed fine prints and paintings. The pair walked into a lounge room where a sleazy man was paring his fingernails with a nail cutter. "Where's the boss?" the handsome man asked. "Out," replied the sleazy man. He nodded at the newcomer. "Who's this?" "Says his name's Rick Bergman. He's a grunt while the cop's forget about his other dealings." The sleazy man stood up and looked Rick over. "You know how to keep yer mouth shut, kid?" "Yeah," replied Rick easily. The sleazy man snorted. "Then why'd ya answer me?" Rick's expression became puzzled. "Yer can call me Mr. Two-tone. Has Harry introduced himself yet?" The handsome man threw Mr. Two-tone an irritated glance. "You call me Mr. Wereman." "You turn into a man at night?" Rick asked. Mr. Two-tone slammed his fist into Rick's stomach, causing him to double over in pain. "Don't mouth off, kid. It ain't nice." "Sorry," Rick wheezed. "That's better. Come on, I'll show you where you'll be sleeping. You don't mind sharing?" "I don't think you're my type." Rick quickly found his jaw in Mr. Two-tone's tight grasp. "Slow learners don't make it here. Don't be a slow learner, kid." The hand moved, pushing Rick through a nearby door. As Mr. Two-tone began to follow, he turned briefly to Mr. Wereman. "Run the checks." Mr. Wereman gave Mr. Two-tone another irritated glance. "I know already. Gimme a break." They left through different doors, one after Rick, and the other on business. _-~-_ Dva checked the reading. This time he had one to check. Background radiation. Not much, but then that was good. Still, it's presence spoke out for the theory. Next stop, another bomb site. After that, a diversion to refuel, but they had a good safety margin. Again, the other helicopter followed them. _-~-_ Agent came out of his reverie as the fire bells exploded into sound. He looked around, but couldn't see any cause for worry, but still followed the hurrying university staff out of the buildings. Wandering around the perimeter, he soon came across a large group of people, and, as it happened, the cause of the alarms. "She did it, I tell you! She did this!" "I'm not saying she didn't, I'm merely saying that it was an accident." "But I-" Agent recognised the voice, and pushed his way through. As he thought, he found Missy in the middle. "What is going on here?" he asked. "You see that?" said a man in a lab coat, pointing at a large plume of smoke that rose from a nearby building. "She did that!" "It was accident!" said Missy. "Apparently she knocked over a jar of potassium with one of the robot arms," said a much calmer female scientist. "Never used them before," said Missy. "Any damage?" asked Agent. "Any damage?" the excited scientist repeated. "We lost half the laboratory! The isolated work area was completely destroyed." "Anyone killed?" "No, fortunately." Agent tried a different approach. "Why did you let her play with the robot arms?" There was a pause, an embarrassed silence. Finally the woman spoke up. "Er, we were more studying her. Haven't seen anything like her." "Her name is Missy," said Agent. "And she's an extremely intelligent scientist in her own right." Missy, although confused at all the attention she was receiving, gave Agent a grateful look. "Which is more than what I could say for most of you. Letting personal curiosity get in the way of professional standards." "Some might say that's what being a scientist is all about," said the man petulantly. Before Agent could respond, another man pushed his way into the group. He held out his hand to Agent. "I am the Head of the Science College, and I would like to apologize for this." Agent took the hand unsurely. "My colleagues let their enthusiasm get the better of them. They shall certainly be receiving a memo about this." The staff groaned, showing their collective opinions of memos from this man. The Head ignored them. "We wont press any charges against you." "Just send the bill for the damages to the Ultimate Ninja," said Agent nonchalantly. "He likes to take care of those sorts of things." The Head opened his mouth to say that even he knew about the LNH leader's penchant for not being expected to pay bills, but closed it again. Agent hurried Missy away before anything else expensive could happen. _-~-_ The lack of reading at the next location followed the same pattern as the other bomb sites. But this leg of the journey wasn't going to be as smooth as the rest of the trip. "Sir, we're being tailed," the pilot said. "I think it's been following us for a while, but it's only now that they've actually shown themselves." The pilot handed Dva a pair of binoculars, and he looked in the direction the pilot indicated. Focussed at the edge of vision was a black helicopter. "Don't try to lose them," said Dva. "Just get back to base." "Yes, sir," the pilot said, then powered up and lifted off. Ten minutes later, the black helicopter showed it had other ideas. Bullets flew past as mounted machine guns fired. The pilot banked to the left, and Dva grabbed onto his seat as the helicopter tilted to the side. Only by quickly banking in the other direction did the pilot avoid the next stream of bullets. Dva pointed. "There!" The pilot swerved towards the indicated canyon, and soon the helicopter was flying between two faces of rock. The pilot concentrated all his skill to avoid connecting the rotor blades with the rock. The sound of the black helicopter overhead showed that the pursuers weren't to be shaken off so easily, and gunfire barked down from above. "Up!" Dva called out, and the helicopter rose straight upwards, the black helicopter veering off to one side to avoid the collision. The pilot took the advantage to swing in the opposite direction, and they managed to put some distance between them and the chasers. The deadly game of cat and mouse continued for another ten minutes, but the superiority of the black helicopter soon showed itself as it closed up behind them. The pilot tried banking to the right, but the lines of bullets punctured the side of the vehicle. Smoke hissed out. "We're hit!" the pilot yelled, as he struggled to keep the helicopter under control. "Get us down!" Dva yelled back. The helicopter dropped drunkenly, but the black helicopter didn't let up. Another round of bullets hit home. The helicopter tipped forward, and the nose pointed its path straight into the ground. "Get out!" the pilot yelled, still trying to get the helicopter under control, although that was obviously beyond possibility now. "You!" The pilot reached down and hit a control. The door beside Dva exploded and shot away, Dva's seat following. He watched helplessly as the helicopter sped on, the pilot still inside. Another round of bullets hit something important, and the helicopter exploded in a large fireball. The concussion hit Dva and he lost consciousness, 100 feet above the ground, and the seat parachute undeployed. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: Excitement continues as we meet the man behind it all, and Dva meets his maker. In _The Alt.Riders #11_. Credits: -------- Ultimate Ninja belongs, of course, to wReam. Doctor Stomper belongs, of course, to Public Domain. The rest belong, of course, to me. Physics consultant Jameel al Khafiz. Note: Just a little smidgeon of inspiration from _Broken Arrow_.Back to the Index.