[CONTINUITY NOTE: This takes place in February 1997, when the Century Pact was still going.] ________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #12 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [Cover shows a very familiar and chilling sight. The mushroom cloud of an exploding atom bomb.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "When atoms collide." The room was empty, just long tables that passed for beds, and doors at either end. One of them opened, and a head popped in. The room was surveyed, then the person crept in. He walked cautiously over to one of the beds, keeping an eye on the door he had come in by, but mainly on the other door. The bed had a large sheet draped over it, bulging to show something underneath it. Hands reached out and drew the sheet back, revealing a body underneath. Holes in the jumper gave evidence to the five bullets that had passed through it. The body's eyes opened, and hands shot out to grasp the person above by the neck and start throttling. Choking sounded for a moment, then the flesh of the neck flowed and remolded itself oddly, until the hands strangling it were free. "Marsha. Marsha, it's me, Morph." "I know," hissed Marsha. "You shot me, you bastard." "I didn't have a choice," said Morph, still keeping an eye on the door. "If I hadn't, there's no telling how many would have died. Bennington isn't the stablest when it comes to shapeshifters." "My death obviously didn't concern you," said Marsha, sitting up, and swinging her legs off the table. She paused for a few moments before getting up, allowing her body to get used to rising. "Like Mark Twain, your death has been grossly exaggerated," said Rick. "I'm just glad you played dead until I could get you from the medical room. But we will be facing both our deaths unless you get a move on. For a while I thought he knew about me." "I'm not stupid," Marsha said crossly. "So why didn't you shoot him?" Marsha asked as Rick helped her up. "You had a gun, and he was right there." "Because I don't want him dead. Just out of my life." Rick froze as he heard the doors behind him, which he had come through, crash open. "Mister Mansfield." Bennington's voice made Rick groan internally. "Allow me to grant your wish. I will be out of your lives soon enough. Or rather, both your lives will be out." Goons filled the room and grabbed the two heroes. "I admit, I could simply kill you where you stand. You've brought me enough trouble to justify it-" "You feel you have to justify our deaths?" said Marsha. Bennington continued as if she hadn't spoken. "But I have other uses for you. One more test to run. Boys?" Marsha and Rick felt something cool press against their necks, and there was a small *phhht* sound, then they both lost consciousness. _-~-_ "Missy?" Missy looked up. Standing in the doorway of her temporary office in the University of Utah was Doctor Stomper. "I'm been talking to Dr. Van Brunann. He said I should talk to you." "What you doing here?" "The Ultimate Ninja was wondering what happened to you. We haven't heard anything for over a month." Stomper didn't mention that he had been bugging the ninja about it, and so the LNH leader finally sent him out here. "Not much happening." "I was told you were burgled yesterday." Missy nodded. "Morph held us hostage so Bennington could get university equipment." "*Morph* did?" "He joined their gang. Dva also with him." "Sounds like I have a lot to catch up on." After a somewhat contorted conversation, Doctor Stomper had most of the salient details. "So where did Agent go?" "Check with sources. Try to find out who has technology like that." "Can't say I've heard of much like it," mused Doctor Stomper. "I know of many who can break things down and rewire them, but not componentised technology like that. But it could be related to Kirbian technology." "Not Kirbian," said Missy, shaking her head. "Agent said." "He didn't leave anything I could look at?" "No. Too dangerous, he said." "Well, what were you doing before I came in?" "Reading this." Missy held up a book, _Advanced positronic theory_. "Interesting." Doctor Stomper raised an eyebrow. "How about we do something a little more practical. I've got a flight.thingee, what say we go scouting?" _-~-_ Rick's attention was roused by someone gently slapping his cheek. "Wakey-wakey, shape boy." Rick tried to lunge for the hand, to bite it, but it was whipped away too quickly, and all he got was laughter. Rick looked up into the smirking face of Mr. Two-tone. Rick went to slap him, but was stopped by restraints on his hands, which were placed behind his back. There was another set placed on his feet. "That's right." Rick looked around from Mr. Two-tone to see Frank Bennington standing over him. "No escape." Rick frowned, and pulled his hand from the restraint. Tried to pull his hand from the restraint. His shock grew as he found himself unable to free himself. "Special restraints. Designed to hold shape-shifters. Works quite well, don't you think?" "Rack off and die," Rick retorted. He coughed as he found his throat dry. "Charming." Bennington looked at something, and Rick turned his head to see Marsha sitting nearby, also slowly coming around. And also similarly shackled. "So glad your both awake. I would hate you you to miss this. The biggest blast of your life." Bennington lent over and patted something. To his horror, Rick recognised it as a large warhead. Glancing around he saw that they were in some kind of underground cavern, light provided by portable lighting units. "As I'm sure you know, for some time we've been testing out these devices." Bennington's foot tapped a large box-like construction. Unknown to Rick, it was the same thing Agent found. "They work quite well at extracting out the radiation from the local environment, but I want to know how well." Bennington crouched down, and looked Rick right in the eye. "And you're going to find out for me. This close, if there's any radiation, I'm sure to find out from your irradiated corpses afterwards. At least, I hope there's enough to test. This box does absorb the radiation, but you'll still feel the effects of the blast." "How?" Rick croaked out. "How what?" "How did you know who I was?" Bennington snorted, and stood up. "We always run background checks," supplied Mr. Two-tone. "*Extensive* background checks. Rick Bergman, no such fellar. But we knew the Alt.Riders had been seen at the University. You work it out." "How many times you think you can set bombs off?" said Marsha. "You're gonna slip up sometime." Bennington turned slightly towards Marsha. "My pretty young thing," said Bennington. Rick saw the anger sweep over Marsha. "I don't intend to keep setting bombs off. This will be the last one. But I don't think too many people will bother to look for a bomb. You see, we're around about the centre of the Wasatch Front. Somewhere around Brigand City and Levan." That meant nothing to Rick, but he saw that it registered with Marsha. "Exactly," Bennington sneered. "I think everyone will be busy with other matters. "Come." Snapping his fingers, Bennington walked away, Mr. Two-tone followed. "How long?" Marsha yelled out after him. "About half an hour," Bennington called back. "Goodbye." Rick stared at Marsha. "What's so bad about the Wasatch Front?" "I think we have other concerns than discussing geological fault lines." Marsha started squirming, testing the limits of the restraints. "It's a fault line? How do you know?" "I don't. Peter does," Marsha said, referring to her other half. "He's been reading about it." "And?" "And we'd better get out of here!" "What is going to happen?" asked Rick, forcefully. "All right, all right." Marsha slumped back. The limits of the restraint were higher than hers. "He was reading a report about the area they published when this mess began. As you know, if that bomb goes off here, it will trigger an earthquake. And..." She closed her eyes, concentrating on Peter's words as he recited the report. "If the earthquake were to occur on a central part of the Wasatch fault, Utah should expect damage to buildings to exceed $4.5 billion in Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber counties. This may only represent 20% of the total economic loss. "A 1976 study by the U.S. Geological Survey for a worst case earthquake on the central Wasatch fault estimated 2,300 casualties (assuming no dam failures), 9,000 injured and 30,000 homeless. The experience of the 1988 Armenian earthquake--and engineering judgment about the collapse potential of many Wasatch Front structures--suggests the 1976 fatality estimate is low." _-~-_ The flight.thingee soared over the streets of Salt Lake City. "Nothing," said Doctor Stomper. He was peering out the window, looking for anything suspicious that would give a hint as to where any of the other Alt.Riders were. "Try another city?" suggested Missy, looking at a map. Stomper sighed. "May as well. Nothing useful here. Where?" "To the north," said Missy, pointing to the map, although the doctor wasn't looking. "Plenty of cities that way." Doctor Stomper nodded, a gesture unseen by Missy in return, and pointed the flight.thingee northwards. _-~-_ The man glanced warily around the office, but there was no-one other than him and Agent in the room. "You realise you're taking a grave risk bringing this to me?" he said. "Someone is behind this, and I have to find out who. You can help me do that." The man looked at the large box again. "Is it safe in there?" "As long as no-one tampers with it, yes." Agent frowned. "Senator Rattier, you will look into this, wont you? I know how these things can disappear." "Trust me, I have an utmost concern for this matter to be resolved. Alien technology being used by criminals, a cover-up that goes to the highest levels, these matters must be addressed." "Or turned into a profitable show for Fox," Agent muttered. "But your involvement in this cannot be revealed. The Alt.Riders already have serious allegations leveled at them over that matter in Phila.DEL.phia. Superheroes in general are being frowned upon. You must let me handle this, and not further matters yourself." Agent nodded. "Agreed." The senator held out his hand. Agent hesitated, then shook it. _-~-_ Rick was bent awkwardly over the bomb, trying to see if there was anything he could do to stop it. "Anything?" Rick continued to look, trying to see something, anything helpful. He slipped backwards, and thumped to the floor. "Nothing." "Then help me get free." "How? You can't change shape." "So?" "So, you can't become a marshmallow." "And I can't become Silence either and freeze these things off. Does that make me totally useless?" Rick considered something. "Silence can freeze things?" "Never mind. Come over here." Shuffling around, Rick and Marsha got back to back. "Now grab my restraints." Rick did so. "Now hold tight." "What are you going to do?" "Just hold on." Rick could feel Marsha's hands while he held the restraints. They wiggled a bit, then slowly slid through the restraints. A worried look passed over Rick's face as he felt not all of the hands go through. "Are you all right?" Rick turned around as best he could and saw Marsha holding up...he turned away, sickened. "What's wrong?" Marsha asked. "Never seen someone with torn hands before? This damn field is stopping my body from regenerating. At least I can't feel it. But we're not finished yet." Marsha turned around, and held her feet out to Rick. "Grab those restraints." "But-" "Just do it!" Marsha snapped. Rick did so. "Now pull." Rick pulled on the restraints, and Marsha pulled backwards. Rick turned away, unable to look at Marsha's feet were squashed as they were pulled through the holes only large enough for her ankles. Rick fell back as the restraint finally popped free. Now that she was free of the field, her own natural bodily powers kicked in, and her hands and feet filled out to normal. "Right," she said a few moments later, and stood up. She reached down and picked up her shoes that had popped off. "Hey, how about me?" "I can't undo those things. But Silence can. And I don't want to lose my boots." "We're sitting beside a thermonuclear weapon, and you're worried about clothing?" Marsha flashed an angry look at Rick. "You shot me. Just be lucky I don't consider something worse for you." Rick flinched. He didn't say anything, while Marsha tided herself up, then changed. Silence put his hands on the restraints, and silenced the kinetic energy. "Aaah!" Cold bit into Rick's arms, but he bore it until Silence nodded. Rick smashed the restraint into the ground, and it shattered. A minute later, and Rick was standing free as well, the remains of the feet restraint lying about him. Silence and Morph studied the bomb. "How much time?" Silence asked. "About fifteen minutes." "Have to get it away." "Use me to get it to the surface." Morph oozed down and under the bomb, lifting it up onto himself, now an antigravity pad. Silence grabbed the radiation absorbing device and loaded it on also. Silence pushed the bomb along, hoping he picked the right way to the exit. _-~-_ Silence placed a hand over his eyes, shielding them from the glare of the sun. They had spent five minutes getting out, emerging from a hill, and Silence looked around. Nearby was a main road, going north-south, but nothing else within sight. "I'll take it away," said a mouth, forming on the antigrav pad. "How?" A large fan grew from the back of the pad, turning into something like a hovercraft. "Just point," said Morph. Not being able to come up with a better idea, Silence pointed westwards. The fan turned faster, and Morph hovered off, taking the bomb and the device with him. _-~-_ The flight.thingee follow the main road north, passing over Bountiful, Kaysville, Clearfield, Ogden, North Ogden and Brigham City with no sign of overt suspicious activity. "Nothing strange detected?" "No," said Missy, studying the sensors. "Wait. Now something. Some kind of energy field." "Where?" Missy gave directions, and the flight.thingee homed in onto a stretch of road between Brigham City and Levan. "There's someone there," said Stomper, slowing the flight.thingee down. "Who?" Missy looked out. "Dva!" she cried out. "It's Dva." "It's Silence," specified the doctor. "What's he doing here?" He brought the flight.thingee into land, and opened the door. _-~-_ 83 kilotonnes of thermonuclear power exploded. The surrounding landscape was instantly vapourised by the heat and force. The device clicked on, sucking the nearby radiation out before it could spread and burn anything. The force of the explosion continued, pushed debris out and up. In the sky a mushroom cloud formed. _-~-_ The field agent snapped the rifle up to his eye, sighting on the target, his view passing over the target's jacket before sighting on the black hair. One squeeze, and the job was done. His finger tightened. Damn. Someone got in the way. The agent looked up. His target had paused, preparing to cross the street. He looked through the eye piece again, taking a moment to resight. And stared at the target looking directly back at him. The agent frowned, jerking away. There was no way the target could know he was here. He blinked, and looked again. Damn. Target lost. The agent peered out again normally, but there was no sign of the target in sight. Have to call in target lost. Damn. Always looks bad. His ears pricked up as he heard someone clearing their throat behind him. He swung around quickly, bringing the gun up to bear on the new target. Too slow. Far too slow. The gun was caught and torn from his grip. "And may I ask your name?" The agent looked up in shear surprise. How could the target be standing right in front of him? "Shame. I'll tell you mine, though. Call me..." the target grinned tightly, quickly, "Agent." _-~-_ Doctor Stomper stumbled as the ground underneath him shuddered. "What the...?" He glanced at Silence to see him looking westward. Exonerably, his eyes were drawn in the same direction. The mushroom cloud loomed like a specter of doom on the horizon. "Into the flight.thingee," Stomper said, and pushed Silence into Missy, who was just coming out, and pushed both of them inside. He followed and shut the door. The flight.thingee lifted off. Doctor Stomper grimly set a course for the centre of the blast. "Silence, keep an eye on that dial," he said, pointing to a sensor. "If it twitches, I want to know about it." "What is it?" "Geiger counter." "Where Morph?" Missy asked. Silence said nothing, but pointed straight towards the cloud. No-one said anything for a short trip. Silence kept an eye on the dial, but nothing happened. "It's the Great Salt Lake," announced Stomper, as their destination drew near. "That would have shielded a lot of the blast. Well done." Although the damage had been lessened, a large quantity of water had still been thrown onto the surrounding area, as well as small cracks appearing in the ground. Stomper looked to Silence for a final confirmation, and Silence shook his head. Still no radiation. The flight.thingee landed by the lake, in a large pool of water that was slowly draining back into the lake. Silence led the way out, Missy following him. Doctor Stomper held back. "What destructive force has man unleashed this day?" Stomper muttered to himself. Silence looked at Missy in encouragement. "If someone could survive, it would be-" "Morph!" Missy cried out. Silence turned and looked where she was pointing. Lying on the ground just a little way from the water's edge was Morph, on his back and panting. Silence and Missy raced to him. Silence just grinned while Missy hugged him. "What happened?" asked Missy. Morph coughed a little. "I managed to kick up to Mach 3 or 4 or so." He waved a hand. "Found this lake. Thought it would be a good place to dump the missile. Got myself as far out as I could, then dropped the missile and the device in the water. There's no radiation, is there?" "If there was, you've know about it," said Stomper, from the flight.thingee door, his voice faint. "But, no." "Good. Right before the missile went off, I changed myself into a block of lead. Very shock resistant. After the blast, I became a bubble of air to get to the surface, then floated over here." "And Bennington was responsible for all this?" asked Silence. "Yeah. Although thanks to Dva and myself, it didn't destroy most of Utah." "We'd better get back to the University," said Doctor Stomper, disappearing inside. _-~-_ Sitting in the common room with a mug of tea, Rick felt a lot better. Also, he was much drier, but being able to turn into flame and vapourise the water made that easy. One thing he didn't like was the way Doctor Stomper kept looking at him. "What are our chances of catching Bennington?" asked Stomper. "Slim," Rick replied. "He most likely paid the cops off to leave him alone, and more than likely has skipped town by now. This isn't even his area. He usually works in Housto.net." "You two seem to meet up a lot," Stomper said. "I'm sure you'll be able to track him down." The tone in his voice set Rick off. "What is that supposed to mean? You think I'm a partner of his, or something?" "I know what you did," hissed Doctor Stomper. "Organic Lass still hasn't forgiven you." Rick sat back, stunned. "That was...." "Oh, how easy to forget. You only murdered someone! I would not recommend returning to the LNH any time soon." Rick turned away, unable to face Stomper's gaze. [See _Fan.Boy #12_ for the reason why - Footnote Girl] Dr. von Brunann watched this quietly, then turned to Silence. "Is there anything you can do about getting our equipment back?" "As of now," a voice interrupted. "It's not our problem." The group turned around to see Agent striding into the room. Agent looked steadily at Stomper. "We now officially hand the problem over to you. Do with it what you will." "But-" said Stomper. "But-" said Rick. Agent held up his hand. "No. We were sent in to find out what the problem was, and decide if further involvement from the LNH was required. That's our job description, and that's what we've done. The problem is Bennington, and you can come in and clean up after him." "Clean up after him?" repeated Stomper, incredulous. "Track down those other devices. Dr. von Brunann can tell you the bomb sites where they are." The geophysicist in question asked "Does this mean no more bombs?" Agent nodded. "But don't expect the clean up to be easy. You wont get your equipment back," he said to Dr. von Brunann, before turning to Stomper "and unless you hurry, you might not get those devices, either." "What? Why?" inquired Stomper. "Because Bennington was working for someone. Someone who could cover this up, who can control the elements involved. And who tried to have me killed." "You?" said Rick. "Who?" "Who else? The Loonited States Government." There were gasps of astonishment all round. "They're working with whoever supplied that technology, and they let Frank Bennington test it out for them. I gave the equipment I had to a certain senator, who would either see justice done...or try to get me out of the way. Either way I would find out who was behind this. And now I have." "Wild speculation is usually my field," commented the expositor extrodinare. Agent spared him a brief look before looking to the other Alt.Riders. "With this anti-superhero policy coming out, if we push anymore, they'll try harder to get rid of us. If we don't, we stay alive." "That's it?" said Rick. "We just bow out?" "We just bow out. There are plenty of other cases that need our attention. This one is closed." Agent turned on his heel, and left. Rick looked apologetically at Stomper. "I'll try to change his mind." "Don't bother," said Stomper, glaring at Rick, before slumping back. "He's right. Now is not the time to provoke the government. Although I think he's exaggerating their involvement in this a little." "But what about our equipment?" asked Dr. von Brunann. "Consider it lost," said Doctor Stomper, sighing. "There isn't much we can do, either. Excuse me, I have some calls to make." Doctor Stomper rose, and left the room. Silence, Missy and Morph all looked at each other, and wondered what was next for them. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT TIME: We look in on the Net.Elementalist and see what he's been doing over this time period. And be on the look out for some guest stars from other series. In the coming-this-year-if-I'm-lucky _Alt.Riders #13_. Credits: Mine. All mine. Physics consultant Jameel al Khafiz. Thanks go to the University of Utah for providing the information about earthquakes in their region on their web-pages. Notes: An unsatisfactory ending? Well, Agent's right. There is nothing else they can do at this time. Maybe later. And yes, I do know exactly what the alien technology is, and where it came from. And the deals involved in getting it. Be on the lookout, as the explanation may come from unexpected sources (ie. other series).Back to the Index.