________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #11 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [Cover has Rick standing with two guns, in the Desperado pose, arms up and crossed in front of him.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "When people collide." Frank Bennington growled, and slid the shutter closed. He turned away from the cell, his face showing his displeasure. "Too well named," he muttered, then stomped away, his personal guards following him. Inside the cell, Silence sat on the bed, as comfortable as he could be. He stared ahead, not speaking, not acknowledging anyone or anything. Fortunately he wasn't alone. _Okay then...what sandwich did Rimmer have on his death day celebration?_ _Easy. A triple fried egg butty with chili sauce and chutney._ _How many times have seen Red Dwarf?_ _Not that many, but it's easy to notice details when you're not the one making noise._ _Are you saying I talk too much?_ _I'm saying that the Legionnaires I used to watch TV with talked too much._ _That's all right then...you don't still blame me, do you?_ _Still? I never did._ _If I had stayed in my form after we crashed, I would have been able to get away._ _You couldn't know they were following so closely behind. It was nice that you gave me time to heal. But if you hadn't been there for us to survive the crash in the first place...._ _So how much longer, do you think?_ _It's been a week. He hasn't tried anything too drastic, but I'm not the one he wants. Perhaps he's hoping that Morph will come after me._ _What was Morph up to when you left, anyway?_ _Not sure. If he's lucky, he's far away from here._ _-~-_ Rick ran a hand through his blond hair, before dropping his hand nervously back onto the table. "Ya nervous, kid? Don't blame ya. This is the big moment." On the other side of the table, Mr. Two-tone grinned at Rick. Over the past two weeks, Rick had grown to really loathe that grin, and the sleazy man the grin belong to, but there wasn't much he could do about it without revealing himself. The door opened, and Frank Bennington stepped through. He glanced over at the table, looking irritating by their presence. Rick held his breath unconsciously, and forced himself to breath normally when he noticed. Bennington's eyes flickered over Rick. "Is this him?" Mr. Two-tone nodded his head. "There wasn't much I could do with 'im. But there wasn't much to start with either." Rick felt like a piece of meat, but guessed that this was the intention. "What's he been doing?" "Small time robbery. Nearly killed a coupla' cops. But he managed to keep himself out of jail. He's looking for a place to hide, right now." Bennington nodded, and turned to look Rick right in the eye. Rick could feel a drop of sweat crawl down his back. "Rick Bergman. You want in with us?" "I'm here, aren't I?" Rick replied. Bennington continued to stare at him, and Rick realised what he was waiting for. "Sir." Bennington finally broke eye-contact and turned back to Mr. Two-tone. "You have a job for him?" "The raid on the University." Bennington nodded. "Do this right, kid," he said to Rick. "And maybe we wont turn you over to the cops." Rick kept his eyes downwards. Mainly so he could avoid rolling them in derision. _-~-_ Missy sat in a small office in the University of Utah. She had been allocated it in an effort to cover up the fire that her presence had caused. [See #10 for the details - Footnote Girl.] She played with a simple electronic circuit, trying to understand more of the principles of this thing called electricity. There was nothing like it on her world, steam and mechanical appliances providing all that was needed. She flicked the switch on and off, and watched as the light bulb went on and off in sync. A knock on her door drew her attention, and Dr. Von Brunann, the geophysicist the Alt.Riders were working with, stepped inside. "I have that textbook on elementary electronics," he said, passing it to her. "And Dr. Anderson would like to talk to you again." "No," said Missy, her brow furrowing. Over the past week, Doctor Bethany Anderson had been trying to take her apart to see how she worked. Due to her somewhat forceful methods (Missy nearly had her arm cut off), Missy hadn't been that keen to suffer scientific curiosity. Dr. Von Brunann turned to leave, but paused. "Are you sure you should be here? Three weeks ago Silence goes missing, and all we find is the...the pilot," the doctor said, stumbling a little over the memory of finding the body. "And the helicopter wreckage. Then Agent took off last week, and has been missing as well. And we haven't had any earthquakes in this past week. Perhaps you should take the time to...?" "Agent said stay here, so I stay here," said Missy. "He said Morph will find Silence. And earthquakes sometimes month apart." She tapped the reams of earthquake data that had been collected over months. "I was...ah...more thinking of reinforcements," the geophysicist said carefully. "Your team seems to be rapidly disappearing." "If I go missing, then you call reinforcements. But we here to see if there is a problem. Beside, don't you trust Agent?" Dr. Von Brunann pursed his lips, but said nothing. _-~-_ Agent walked steadily in a straight line, arm before him. The constant low beeping told him the machine was active, but nothing else. Every now and then, he'd sweep it in an arc, but so far nothing. He looked at the map he held in his other hand. Should be soon. Replacing the map, he extracted his water canister, and took a small swig, the only concession he would make to the hot sun that beat down on him in. However, no sweat marked his brow, and despite the jacket he wore, he didn't perspire. Agent's mind was inactive. Some might say he was asleep if not for the fact that he continued to perform activities. But those activities didn't exactly require higher order functions, so he shut them down, mainly to stop himself from going completely insane. He set himself to rouse when a specific event happened. He had spent two weeks out walking the desert, but nothing since he started out. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep bleep bleep bleepbleepbleepblepblepblep. Agent shook himself. This was it. He examined the reading on the metal detector, and made some calculations. Dropping the backpack onto the ground, he brought out a laser cutter, and began to dig. _-~-_ _How long has it been?_ _Five weeks._ _FIVE WEEKS? They just left us here for five weeks??_ _I was left for far longer than that._ _Yeah...well...we weren't joined then. I'm for getting out of here._ _And how do you propose we do that?_ _Change to me and I'll use my marshmallow trick._ _They look far too paranoid to not lock the door while they checked for us._ _So we can get out the window._ _The only window is on the door and that's shuttered._ _*sigh* At least I'm trying to think of something. I know, hide behind the door. Simple trick._ _They check to make sure I'm in sight before entering._ _Well, *you* think of something then._ _I do believe I have._ _-~-_ Rick stared out of the window of the car. He thought it slightly ironic that he was here at the University of Utah, where this latest adventure had started for him. But he had had time to accept that fact while they had been planning the job here. And time to plan how to foil it. "Ready? Go." Grabbing the shades from his pocket, Rick followed Mr. Two-tone out of the car. Surrounded by five others, Rick entered the building housing the Department of Geology and Geophysics. They took the lift up, two getting out at the second floor, Rick and a man known as Peter getting out on the third, the other two, one of them Mr. Two-tone, getting out of the fourth. Rick took the left side of the corridor, and kicked a door open. The lecturer inside looked up, startled. And became even more so when she saw the gun in Rick's hand. "Out," ordered Rick. "Now." The lecturer hesitated, unsure what to do, so Rick grabbed her and shoved her out. He certainly didn't have time to explain things, and he knew that the others had even less patience than him. Gathering another two people from his side, Rick pushed them into the end room, which he knew from information he was told in the planning of this raid to be a tea room. Peter came in behind him with more people. Rick winced when he saw Missy being pushed in. "Got some kinda freak here," Peter said. "Are you some kind of alien, freak?" "I am Chub," replied Missy. "That's some kind of dog food product, isn't it?" said Peter, teasingly. "I think the boss would be interested in you." Pushing Missy into a seat, Peter looked at the rest of the hostages. "You gonna sit there quietly, and nothing will happen to ya," Peter said. Bringing a walkie-talkie to his lips, Peter said "Ready." "Right," a voice answered. "Let's go." Outside a truck backed up, and the rear door opened. Inside others waited with trolleys, and entered the building as soon as the ramp was down. Time to clear out the department. Rick glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes. No real trouble so far. One or two of the university staff had protested their treatment, but Peter had brutally shut them up. Rick ran the schedule through his head. They should be set into a routine by now. Clearing out the equipment from the lower floors. Mainly to stop the university from any more investigation than anything else. He looked at Peter, who was eying Missy. "Perhaps I should take her to the truck?" Rick suggested. "Better idea, I'll take her," said Peter. "Come on, let me," said Rick, letting a whine into his voice. "You've been here longer than me. It'll get me in good with the boss." Peter studied Missy for a moment, assessing how much he might miss out on. "All right," he finally conceded. "But you'd better share with me whatever you get." Rick nodded, and grabbed Missy's arm. "Come with me." It was only really due to Missy's incomprehension that she went submissively. Instead of the lift, Rick entered the stairwell. He looked down as best he could, and listened. He could hear noises from below, but no-one was near. "You've got to get out of here," he said to Missy. Missy looked up at the man with the blonde hair. "Who you?" She blinked as the hair became brown. But that wasn't the only change. "Morph?" Morph nodded. "Yeah. You've got to keep away from these guys and tell Agent that Frank Bennington *is* behind this, although I don't know any details yet. Where's Dva?" "Went missing after helicopter crash." "What?" Morph sighed. "Odds are he -- she -- Dva is being held by Bennington. He knows we're team mates, so there'll be an attempt to free h -- Dva." Guiding her down the stairs, Morph continued. "I'll look for him, but you talk to Agent. Tell him to get the authorities in on this. We can bust him up good this time." "Agent missing too." Morph paused. Today was not going to be a good day. "Fine. When he shows up, tell him." On the ground floor, he peeked out through the door.. No-one in sight at the moment. "I'll put you in the women's toilet. Stay there." Morph turned into Peter, and stepped out. If he was spotted, better he wasn't suspected. The corridor remained clear, so Morph escorted Missy to the toilet. "Remember. Stay there, and find Agent later." That done, Morph moved further along the corridor, and peeked into a room. It was a laboratory, but it had already been stripped. Good. Slipping inside, he searched for a moment, and found what he wanted. Smashing the glass with his gun, Morph activated the fire alarm. Peter jumped up in alarm as the bells went off. "Evacuate, now!" the walkie-talkie screeched. Leaving the hostages to realise they were free, Peter took off, raced down the stairs, and arrived at the truck to see the others quickly loading the last of the stolen equipment. He jumped aboard and the truck took off. As they left they passed a very dusty figure coming into onto the campus grounds, holding something in his arms. _-~-_ Silence drew his hand back from where the locking mechanism in the door was. He could feel the chill in the air, and hurried to the other side of the cell, mainly to get what little warmth the activity gave. He ran his eyes over his work, one last check. As the door swung outward, he couldn't tell where the hinges were, so he had frozen that entire side of the door. The lock was easier, so he only froze that small section. The ability to dampen kinetic energy, which, in this case, meant a reduction of heat, did has some useful applications. _Are you sure you don't want me to run?_ Marsha asked. _It wont hurt me._ _Wouldn't hurt the door either. And you couldn't silence the noise the door made if it did come crashing down._ _All right then. Go ahead. Showoff._ Silence drew a breath, paused, then threw himself at the door, putting full force into the door via his shoulder. The frozen sections shattered under the impact in eerie silence, and the door whumped onto the floor beyond, vibration knocking Silence, but thankfully no deafening, and no alarming, noise. Silence picked himself up, rubbed his shoulder, and looked around. Now only an entire fortress of heavily armed, trigger happy people between him and freedom. _-~-_ Agent entered a laboratory, dust and sand still falling off him. "Hello," he called out. "Anyone around?" The lab seemed rather empty, plenty of clean spaces indicating where equipment had been. He placed his backpack and the metal detector against a wall. Agent glanced up irritably. He wished someone would kill those fire bells. They were getting on his nerves. A door behind him opened. Agent turned and saw Missy, who beamed at him. "You back." "Indeed," replied Agent, raising his voice. "I back." "What you find?" Agent placed the device he had dug up on the table. He was about to answer when someone stuck their head in the door. "Out. Can't you hear the fire alarms? Out! Out!" Against his will, Agent was dragged outside. At least the bells were quieter out here. "What has been going on?" he asked generally. "Morph held us up." "Eh?" Eventually he pieced together what had happened, both from her remarks and from the chattering of the people about him. "But what is Frank Bennington doing with a device like that?" Agent mused, mostly to himself. "Build it?" "Not likely." "Maybe make another with equipment he stole." "Possible," admitted Agent. "But I suspect this theft was more to stop the university investigating any more earthquakes. Which means we're probably going to have a spate of them very soon." "Very bad." "I'm sure most people would agree." The alarms finally shut down, but a meeting was called to discuss what had happened. Police organised the staff, and prepared the long process of taking down statements. Agent and Missy slipped back inside, where there was now no-one else to disturb them. Missy looked at the device. It was basically a box, a foot in each dimension, but the surface was irregular. More like many small boxes stuck badly together. Small antenna and other attachments stuck out at various angles. Sand still clung to some parts in lumps. "What is it?" Agent knelt down to look at the box from eye level. "I'm not exactly sure. A collector of some kind. Presumably what's been extracting the radiation from each site." "You got this at earthquake site?" "At bomb site. Nothing like it at a normal site." "Looks strange." "Yes. The design does look familiar though. I don't think it's Kirbian though, which has been my primary guess. But how it got there could be more important than where it came from. What is technology like this doing in the grubby hands of Frank Bennington?" _-~-_ Silence crouched in a closet, the door open slightly to allow him to see out. He moved, and felt a broom slipping. Quickly silencing the noise, he grabbed it after it fell to the floor and put it back upright. Silence watched the corridor carefully. About every ten minutes someone went past. And when the next person went, he'd go after them. Not making any noise while following, of course. "Hey! That quiet guy got out of his cell!" "What? Oh man, the boss is gonna be pissed." Damn. "We'd better find him before the boss finds out. That raid went sour, so he's mighty ticked off already." Damn. Damn. Damn. Abandoning the ten minute waits, Silence threw open the door and ducked out. Someone must have seen him move, but his quiet passage would have thrown them. Which gave him vital seconds to open another door and go through. And on the other side was a full-blown production factory. Belts moved, people inspected items, components were put together. Silence quickly ran along one wall to hide behind some stacked crates. His pursuers entered after him, drawing attention that he hadn't. They startled the workers, but the team oversees looked used to this kind of activity. Silence crept further along the crates, not at all sure how far his cover would last. _Now would be a good time._ Softcentre peeked over the edge of the boxes. A group of people were coming this way as everyone fanned out. Hardly surprising, this was a natural hiding place. She stripped quickly. "Nothing behind here!" Mary called out. "You sure?" "There ain't much space behind here. It doesn't take forever to search. Nothing back here 'cept some rubbish." "All right, that's enough. Move on." Mary left, having not considered small marshmellow to be of any consequence. After some time had passed, Softcentre stretched herself out into her normal shape. Peering around to make sure she was unobserved, she pulled her clothes out of the gaps in the crates she had stuffed them into and hurriedly got dressed in the confined space, _Back to you._ Silence poked his head out, but didn't see anyone nearby. They must have given up and moved on elsewheres. He passed his eyes over the belts. Some things he didn't recognise, but there was something there he did. He shivered as saw the sleek shape of the missile. Or more accurately, the early stage of a nuclear bomb. Creeping out, Silence went back to the door he entered, and pulled it open. On the other side stood a now startled guard, but he reacted quickly enough. Silence barely had time to turn around before he heard the click of a gun being cocked. "I don't care if ya dead. Do you?" Silence stopped and put his hands in the air. _-~-_ Missy looked over the table, now covered with parts from the device. The box was made from smaller boxes, and those small cubes were strewn everywhere. Agent held one up, peering at it through a jeweller's eyepiece. "Most interesting. Each piece serves a specific function, and can be mated with any other piece to build up the required device." Missy picked a piece up. The sides were flush, and all a matt black. There was no visible way it could connect with anything, let alone another piece of the same kind. "Do you recognise it?" Missy asked. "Not off-hand," said Agent. "Definitely not Kirbian, though. Nor, surprisingly, is it RoboMAC tech. But whatever it is, it's definitely advanced. Far too advanced for Bennington to have, so he must have gotten it somewhere or someone else. Or even someones else." Missy looked confused. "What someones elses doing here?" "That's a very good point. They may have made a deal with Bennington, for something. And with a man like that I'm sure whatever was discussed was not environmentally sound. This whole country could be in jeapordy." Missy reached out to pick up the largest box that had been the centre of the device. "How?" Agent's hand snaked out and caught Missy's before she could touch it. "That's the collection box. It stores the radiation. Best not touch it," he said gently, drawing Missy's hand away. "Well, from whatever Bennington's giving them, for instance, but I have another thought in mind. We can't be the only ones noticing this. Someeone is going to great lengths to make sure no word of this gets out. And I doubt that someone would hesitate too long before making sure we can't get any word out either." _-~-_ Rick stood uncomfortably in the large room. This was the main headquarters for Frank Bennington, the man who wanted him dead. He swallowed down a lump in his throat as Bennington patted him on the back. "I am very disappointed. I hoped better of you people, but you just can't pull through." Mr. Two-tone was also standing there, his head hanging in shame. "I'm sorry, Mr. Bennington. But if we had waited any longer the fire brigade would have arrived, and then there'd be too much trouble." "I understand that, of course," said Bennington, his voice snarling. "But what I don't understand is why you let the fire alarm go off in the first place." "There...there must have been someone...." "You were supposed to sweep the building clear first!" Bennington nearly screamed. His hand tightened on Rick's shoulder, and Rick wondered if Bennington was going to kill him while angry at someone else. "Mr. Bennington-" "Enough." Bennington pushed Rick away. "Get your men out of here." Mr. Two-tone started ferrying people out, but when he got to Rick, Bennington held up his hand. "Wait. I want to talk to Rick. Our new member." Rick waited, resisting the urge to fidget while others left, leaving only him and Bennington. And all his guards and other hangers-on. "It looks like your first assignment did not go as smoothly as it should have," said Bennington conversationally. He walked over to a table on which was an impressive array of guns. He picked up a simple .44 Magnum. He inspected it as he continued. "I hope you do not think all of our operations are so shoddy." "Of course not, Mr. Bennington," said Rick politely. "We do many other things besides raids. Sometimes we plant bombs. Sometimes we kill people. Sometimes we just hunt people down. People that get in our way, and we want them out of our way. Just for a little while." Bennington snapped his fingers, and a side door opened. Rick's heart leapt up into his throat as two guards came through, holding Dva between them. Bennington cast a glance at Dva before returning his attention to the gun. "This person has been in our way for a while. We got him out of our way, but he put himself in our way yet again." Rick stared at Dva. He looked all right, but Rick didn't know what had been done to him. Had Dva been here all this time and he never knew? Rick turned back to Bennington, and froze as he saw Bennington watching him. And pointing a gun at him. "It's time. He's proven to not be as essential as we had hoped. As bait, he's been sadly lacking." Did Bennington know? Was he going to kill Rick now? Had Bennington known all along? Bennington suddenly reversed his hold on the gun, holding it by the barrel, now offering it to Rick. "On that operation you hardly had time to see any action. Let me offer you some now. Kill him." Rick gaped at Bennington for a moment, unable to take in what was being asked of him. Take the gun? And kill Dva? Aware he was pausing too long, Rick slowly brought his hand up, feeling like his movements were being directed by someone else. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Dva standing stoicly, prepared for any fate. Or, at least, not showing any fear at his appointed destiny. Rick's hand grasped the gun handle, his fingers sliding up to curve naturally on the trigger. His hand settled there. Time froze. Rick became aware that all he needed to do was pull the trigger and his problem of Frank Bennington would be ended. Yes, there were still guards around, but they were nothing. Just one slight tug of the trigger. Rick's eyes slid up from the gun, up the arm, and onto Bennington's face before making contact with the eyes there. He couldn't see any emotion, any sign that the action asked of him was right or wrong. No pity. No mercy. In that one moment, Rick had the power to end it all. And realised he couldn't. Rick didn't want Bennington dead. If he had, he would have killed him when they first met. There had to be a way other than death to get Bennington out of his life. The end didn't justify those means. As time suddenly continued, the rush of noise after the silence between moments nearly deafened him. His hand jerked reflexively, pulled the gun from Bennington's hand. Bennington's smile was amused, superior, and Rick suppressed an urge to smash it off his face. Rick turned towards Dva, the gun tracing an arc of death that ended pointing straight at him. Dva's eyes widened, Rick taking this as a sign he finally accepted his fate. A shiver ran down Rick's back as he tried to think of any way out of this. They were heroes, dammit. He could change into any shape, *any thing*, he wanted to. They didn't die! "Nooo!" yelled Dva, the scream drawn out as time treacled to Rick's senses. And then, before Rick's eyes, Dva changed. Bennington's eyes bugged. "Shapeshifter!" he screamed. "It's a damned shapeshifter. Kill it!" Bennington's hands plucked a machine gun from the table, bringing it up, finger already tightening on the trigger, unheeding of any result the spray of bullets would cause. Rick did the only thing he could. Taking aim, he shot Dva five times in the chest. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: Dva's dead? And from Agent's doom and gloom nature, the rest of them might not be so well off. Find out what's going on in _The Alt.Riders #12_. Credits: -------- All characters here were mine. Physics consultant Jameel al Khafiz.Back to the Index.