________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #14 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [Welcome to the city of grime and crime. Welcome to the home of wonder and imagination. Welcome to the place the damned all fear. Welcome to the site of future's glory. WELCOME TO SIN.CI.NET.TY!] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Moving Day." Marsha could feel it, even when it was out of sight. Like someone standing behind you, about to shove a knife into your back, but you never knew exactly when. She paused by a window, taking a firmer grip on the box she was carrying, and glanced outside. There it was. A permanent fixture of the city. And a sign of a time she didn't want to remember. Queen Bee Towers. Marsha shivered. There was a chill in her that no warmth could ever erase. Why the hell had she ever agreed to come back here? _-~-_ Two days ago: They had arranged another meeting in the run down room of an abandoned building they used as an office. Agent was, unusually, late. Marsha watched with interest as Missy demonstrated a new device she had made. It was a miniature microscope, not much more than a tube with lens and either end, but it could magnify up to ten thousand times. Currently, Missy was showing Marsha the intricate crystalline structure in a grain of sugar. "Where is he?" Rick asked. "I knew that it was going to be bad." Marsha tore her gaze away from the crystal to glare at Rick. "Stop pacing up and down like that. It's not like any of us can control him. Just why should this time be any worse than the others?" "Because he wouldn't tell me what it was he wanted us for. He always tells me." Marsha raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Are we so unimportant then?" Rick stopped pacing to give her a baleful look. "I have known him longer than any of you. I did help to set the Alt.Riders team up." "And much kudos to you," Marsha shot back. "He here now," Missy said. Indeed, when they stopped talking, they could hear sounds of someone coming up the stairs. Agent breezed into the room, carrying a folder under his arms. "Right then, we all set? Let's get down to business, I - Where's Barry? I said everyone had to be here." "He's with his family," replied Marsha. Agent's face turned sour for a moment. "We'll deal with that later. Fine, we'll move on. What we are-" "Hang on," interrupted Marsha. "You come in here late, after demanding that we be present, don't even apologize, and expect us to switch to business just like that?" Marsha spotted Rick giving her an annoyed glare out of the corner of her eye but didn't acknowledge it. He was left to settle with "Yeah." Agent frowned. "I'm here now, aren't I? What's the problem?" _Just that you would have taken any of us to task about it,_ Marsha thought. _Agent always plays by his own rules,_ came an answering thought. Peter. Marsha smiled at the thought of him. Agent blinked a few times, but got no real reply. "Fine. Whatever. Anyway, it should be obvious to us that we need a slightly better headquarters than here." This did receive a response, nods from all present. "And so I've got plans for a new place here." Agent threw the folder onto the desk, and papers slid out of it, gliding over the table. Marsha picked one up. It was a high rise, bristling with rooms, laboratories, storage facilities... Certainly looked impressive. "What's the catch?" she heard Rick ask. "Is this one of the places we scouted?" "Yes it was." Raising his voice to a tone more suited for announcements, Agent stated "As we all know, Net.ropolis is the home of the LNH. And we, as Alt.Riders, are supposed to be out there, finding out what's happening, and if it requires further LNH involvement. That means that we aren't here. And so, we're moving to a new city!" Marsha's eyes opened wide, but she could sense there was still more to come. And there was. "The best place would be a city of forward thinking, and one of despicable crime. Should stand us in good stead, eh?" A sense of nameless dread started to well up in Marsha. "Fortunately, we have such a city, almost tailor made. I believe some of you already know of Sin.ci.net.ty?" "NO!" the cry was ripped from Marsha's throat even before Agent finished the name. "There is no way in hell I am going back there, and certainly Peter is going no where near the place!" _He wants us to go to Sin.ci.net.ty!_ Marsha said in her mind. "Hrm." Marsha noticed Agent glance quickly at the other two. "Perhaps it would be best if I have a quick word with Dva alone." Marsha was barely aware of Rick helping Missy out, her gaze, and anger, focussed entirely on Agent. "I've already said all that has to be said," she stated. "I don't think you're looking at this objectively," Agent started, quietly. "Damn straight! They nearly killed me! And you have no idea what they did to Peter!" [Detailed in The SoftCenter Saga in _World Tales_ - Footnote Girl.] Agent suddenly moved, his face not an inch from her own, his eyes boring into hers. "I think you'll find I have a very good idea. I am somewhat acquainted with the head of that organization." Marsha had only just started the punch before Agent caught it in a vice-like grip. "You bastard," she spat. Agent paused. "Do you believe in facing your fears?" "Do you believe in life after death? Because that's the only way you're going to get to continue living." Agent sighed. "All right, how about this? Queen Bee Enterprises won't be operating when we go there." "What do you mean?" "They shut down over Christmas. A small...concession she makes. Everything gets shut down. No one there." "And what about afterwards?" "I can make arrangements." "Why are you so interested in going?" "Like I said, I'm acquainted with her. I'd like to be closer." "I still say no." "I say think it over." "Fine. But the answer won't be any different." _Peter?_ It wasn't until then she realised that he hadn't said anything to her statement that they were moving. _Yes?_ _He thinks there's a chance we might want to go there. In what no uncertain terms do you want me to tell him?_ _...It might not be a bad idea._ _WHAT!?_ _'Keep your friends close...but your enemies closer.'_ _But after what..._ _And this way I can make sure she doesn't do it to anyone else. Besides, we always have the Homeless Ones we could call on._ _...I still don't think it's a good idea...but...for now..._ _For now._ "Fine. We'll go," Marsha said, not able to look directly at Agent. "Good. I'll get the others. We have a lot of work to do." _-~-_ Rick watched Marsha dump the box she was carrying into a corner of the room, and leave, all without speaking. He had been rather surprised that she had submitted so easily. He did have some idea of what happened, not a complete picture, but enough to think neither she nor Peter would be caught dead in this city again. Rick hadn't minded. He had never met the Queen Bee, nor had any contact with Queen Bee Enterprises. Opening the box, he whistled a tune softly to himself as he began unpacking, once again admiring what a great choice this place was. _-~-_ Two days ago: "Everything set up for us?" Rick had asked Agent, as the latter put away his cell phone. Rick observed Agent looking out the window at the dark evening sky as he replied. "Yep. We start moving in tomorrow. But we have to pick up the supplies ourselves. They don't deliver to Sin.ci.net.ty." A frown crossed Rick's place. "Are you really sure we should be moving there? It has been voted the worst place to live, including Ca.net.a. It does have a higher crime rate than Net.ropolis on Open Villain Day." "And it is the site of the edge of leading technology. If something's going to happen, that's the place. Besides, you've seen the building. It's exactly what we want." "Well, there were some other buildings that were exactly what we wanted in cities that where you don't need personal armour just to go to the dairy." Agent turned to stare at Rick. "You're not scared, are you?" "Certainly not," Rick retorted. "But there is the question of our safety, and our possessions. If we're popping in and out all the time, how exactly do we keep everyone else out?" "We'll have protection. The best kind." Rick looked inquiringly. Agent sighed. "I do have connections with the person who owns that town. If it's as bad as you're stressing about, how do you think all those who work there could get to work and back?" Agent leaned forwards. "I'll let you in on a little secret. It's all a front. She's doing it on purpose." Rick snorted. "You're kidding!" Agent spread his hands open. "So you see, we are perfectly safe." After a moment, Rick said "Did you tell Dva any of this?" "I...thought it best not. Let's just keep this to ourselves." Rick smirked. Some things never changed. Such as Agent and Rick knowing more than the rest. It was better that way. _-~-_ Barry landed the flight.thingee they had borrowed down gently on the landing pad on the top of the building. Opening the back door, he waited for Marsha to appear and help unpack yet another load. He sighed to himself. This was taking for ever. While not having the same level of hatred for this place that Dva had, he had encountered Queen Bee Enterprises before, during the investigation into It-Star. It hadn't ended well. [See _Fan.Boy #9_ - Footnote Girl.] He was aware that Agent and the Queen were an item, and they had been more before, when Agent was the Phantom Walker. There hadn't been any sign of their relationship since. Barry wasn't exactly sure how not-exactly-human relationships went, but this might be Agent's way of patching things up. One major down side was that it was a hell of a commute from Phila.DEL.phia to Sin.ci.net.ty, as the crow flies...as long as he continued to live with his family there. And he was going to be with his family. Nothing would ever stop that. Barry had had a very good idea, from his point of view, but Agent wasn't as enthusiastic about it as he was. _-~-_ One day ago: "Do you have any idea how far Sin.ci.net.ty is from Phila.DEL.phia?" Barry asked. He barely noticed Agent's affronted look, caught up as he was in his own indignancy. "Of course I do." "And you expect me to travel there and back every day?" "Of course not. They can come and live with us. Be a better way of keeping an eye on them." Agent said the last part quietly. Barry heard it, but decided to let that pass. For now. "We are not moving to Sin.ci.net.ty!" "It works for me." "It doesn't work for me," Barry replied. After a moment of silence, he said, "I do have one idea. Ever heard of the concept of a branch office?" "What? I'm not splitting us up like that!" "If you insist on doing this, we will be splitting up!" Silence descended on them, anger in Barry and disbelief in Agent being their communication now. They eyed each other dangerously. Agent finally broke the hush by sighing. "Fine. How about a compromise?" He paused and Barry indicated with his hand that Agent should continue. "We install a teleporter node in your house." "What?...We have teleporters?" "Of course. How else do you think we'd be able to get around. This is one of the many reasons why we need our own place." Barry rolled his eyes. "And you just couldn't come up with this in the first place?" "I didn't realise that it was such a problem." "Well, don't even think about putting it in the bathroom. How about a nice gazebo out the back?" "This isn't _Firth Ground Force_." "Hey, you want to keep us together? Fine, then you give me this. I just don't know what Alice will say." "Yes, I'd like to know what she'd say about a few things." Barry shot Agent a look, and Agent wisely shut up. _-~-_ Missy was happy. She picked up another test tube, and decanted a bubbling liquid from a flask. She had recently heard about something called alchemy, part of the process involving turning lead into gold. It sounded like an easy thing to start with. _-~-_ Two weeks later: "...about those flying books of Montezuma?" Doctor Stomper asked via the vid-link. Barry shrugged. "They're flying books. That's about it." Doctor Stomper nodded. "Fine, fine. Well, if there's anything else, we'll be in touch." Barry turned away as the vid-link with the LNH switched off. So far, it was pretty much business as usual. Investigating weird things. Some interesting. Some not. There hadn't been anything too major for a while. Unfortunately, it couldn't last. Marsha entered the cafeteria, spotted Barry and headed his way. "Hiya, Netty." 'Netty,' aka 'Net.E,' may have been easier to say that 'the Net.Elementalist,' but something about it still didn't settle right with Barry. "What's up?" "I've decided enough is enough." "Huh?" "Queen Bee Enterprises. I can't take it anymore. It's like being under a sentence of execution that could be...er...executed any day!" Barry glanced out the window at the easily visible Queen Bee Towers. "Seems pretty quiet to me." "Yeah. Too quiet. Agent says they're on a break at the moment, but I don't trust her. She'd do anything to get us back." "She hasn't done anything so far," Barry pointed out. "And I'm not going to wait. Carpe Jugulum. Seize the day." "Actually, I think that's-" "Never mind. I read it somewhere. The point is we're going to take the battle to her." "We are?" Barry felt completely lost in the conversation. There were a couple of conclusions somewhere which had passed him by. "Exactly. We're going to invade the Towers!" Marsha paused, obviously expecting some kind of reaction from Barry. All she got was puzzlement. "...and?" Barry prompted. "And...I want your help. Yes, it's supposed to be quiet at the moment, but it'd be good to have a Net.Elementalist on our side." Marsha placed a chummy hand on Barry's arm. "Does Agent know anything about this?" Barry asked, sure he'd put his finger on the one gaping hole in Marsha's plan. "Hey, we're supposed to be investigators, out on the edge, discovering things before they happen to anyone else. Investigating the Towers fits that bill exactly." "So, you and me...against the towers..." "I'm going to get Morph's help as well." Barry looked at Marsha incrediously. "Tell you what. You get him on board to help, and I'm in." Agent chose that moment to enter, a folder tucked under his arm. Marsha snapped him a brief glance, then with a quick "Later," to Barry, she left by another door. "What was that about?" asked Agent, putting the folder on the table. "Nothing much," Barry replied. _Yet,_ he added mentally. Agent gave Barry a knowing look. "Just make sure I know what's going on around here." "What's in the folder?" Barry asked quickly. Agent put his hand on the folder, as if to stop Barry from looking inside, not that he had tried to. "I'm not sure. I'll know soon. Something that we may have to look into. A very important job. Make sure you're around." With that, Agent got up and left, taking the folder with him. Not for the first time, Barry thought _Just what am I doing here?_ _-~-_ The question occurred to him again, later, when he, Morph and Dva were standing in an alley that lead from the street that contained the main entrance to Queen Bee Towers. "Just why the hell did you say yes?" Barry hissed the question at Morph, while Dva was focussed on the task. Morph shrugged. "I thought it sounded fun." "FUN?!" Barry shouted in a whisper. "Isn't this ever so slightly *illegal*?" Morph shrugged again. "I thought it sounded fun," he repeated. Barry rolled his eyes and groaned to himself. This wasn't going to be good. He just knew it. He looked back to see Dva waving at them. "Come on." Not exactly sure how one sneakily approaches the front door of a building in broad daylight along a main street, the trio nevertheless tried to keep to shadows where possible, and made faster than walking time when they couldn't keep to the shadows. And then they were in front of the place. "Big, isn't it?" Barry said. Dva flashed him a look. "Quiet. Right then, ready?" The other two nodded, and Dva stepped forwards to activate the sensor to open the door. The theory was that, if they snuck up, they could get inside before any defense could be mounted. They'd see what happened from then on. It wasn't much of a plan, as both Barry and Morph had pointed out. In fact, it wasn't even much of an idea. However, no-one could find a back door to the place, and breaking a window would definitely raise an alarm. And so, the front door was the only ground level option left. However, as Dva waited impatiently, the doors didn't open. There wasn't even a click as a sensor operated to indicate that anything was aware of her presence. Dva stepped back, wearing a frown. "Now what?" Morph asked. "Netty, front and center!" Dva ordered. "Burn us a hole in." "I thought you didn't want any alarms to go off," replied Barry. "I don't see that as the most security conscious move." Dva shrugged. "No choice. And besides, it really does look like no-one's home. So there shouldn't be a problem." "Even so, there are better ways of getting inside. Morph, perhaps you could do something?" "Certainly," Morph replied, and stepped up to the dark glass that was the front doors. Making his hand rock hard, he exclaimed an "Open Door Punch!" and smashed his fist against the door. "Someone's been watching too much anime," Barry muttered. The glass didn't shatter. Furthermore, it barely shook from the force of the blow. Morph took a step back, surprised. "What the...?" Then he took a step forwards, and put his hands on the doors. He closed his eyes and, to Barry, seemed to commune with the door. A moment later, Morph opened his eyes again. "Interesting." "What?" Dva snapped. "It's made of something between diamond and strongstuffium. This isn't going to break easily." "Can you break it, though?" "Yes. Not even that can stand against Unobtainium particles. I simply coat myself in that substance, and smash on through. Stand back." The others gave him room, and Morph paced back a little to give himself a run up. He concentrated for a moment, and then started glowing. Barry and Dva raised their arms, the light piercing into their eyes, but even their arms didn't block much. Then Morph was running, and he hit the doors. There was a second when the doors held against the attack, but then they shattered under the bombardment, and Morph was through. Dva and Barry barely had time to lower their arms and smile in triumph when there was a flicker, then a force field slammed down over the entire building. "What the...?" gasped Dva. Barry reached out a hand and touched the barely visible shield. It glowed under his touch, and he quickly drew his hand back. "Uh...Houston, I think we have a problem." Dva kicked the shield, but nothing useful resulted. "Damn! We've got to get in there!" "I could try a fire burst. Might take it down." Dva nodded. "I'll trying dampening the field." Barry waited a moment for Dva to stretch out his silencing field, and the energy force faded in a small area. "Now," Dva gasped. Silencing energy always took a lot out of him. "Flame!" Barry aimed a burst at the weakened area, but as he poured the flame on, the patch got brighter and brighter. But didn't give out. "Uh," Dva groaned, stepping back. He shook his head. "Now what?" "What that?" came a voice from behind them. Dva and Barry spun about quickly, guiltily, but both relaxed visibly when they saw Missy. "Missy, what are you doing here?" Dva asked. Missy didn't answer straight away. She peered at the force field, and put her blue hand on it. She studied the field as it slowly got brighter around her hand, then, with a small flash, she whipped her hand away. "Ow." "What?" "Electric charge." Barry eyed the field. "Impressive defensive techniques." Dva, on the other hand, was looking carefully at Missy. "Do you think you could get through it?" Missy considered the problem. "Possibly. Take time." "Well, let's get on it!" Missy stared at the field, but the shook herself. "Agent want you come back. Have job." Dva groaned. "Not now. We've got to get inside." "Wait." Barry put his hand on Dva's arm. "We might just need Agent's help here. He might be able to get us inside more easily." Dva considered this, then nodded. "How'd he know where we were, anyway?" "Not hard," replied Missy, indicating the force field, which shone like a beacon over the entire Queen Bee Towers. Barry raised an eyebrow in Dva's direction. "Got to give him that." As Missy lead the way back, Dva threw glances over her shoulder, as if expecting the shield to fall over at any point. Barry, however, noticed something about Missy's clothes. "Er...Missy...what's that stuff on your outfit?" "Platinum. Gold not so easy." "Uhhh...okay..." _-~-_ Inside, Rick was beginning to comprehend that this might not be so much fun after all. After lying still for a moment to get over the exertion of changing into Unobtainium particles, Rick stood and looked back to see the force shield over the doors. It crackled menacingly as he neared it, so Rick quickly gave up that idea of escape. Looking around himself, Rick got the impression of being in some kind of church. Although it was just a foyer/reception area, the roof was far above, covered by a painting that could have been done my Michelangelo. But Rick doubted that bee hives would have featured overly much in any painting by the great artist. The rest of the foyer was various desks, with one main one for information, several stands promoting the exciting and extremely varied products of Queen Bee Enterprises, doors leading off into the rest of the towers, and, most surprising of all, a souvenir kiosk. Rick could see a whole shelf full of wooden pull-along buzzy-bee toys and shuddered. Aiming for the main information desk, Rick walked over the highly polished floor, his feet nearly threatening to slip out from underneath him at moments, at least before he grew spikes on his shoes. There was one way to escape out the front door. If he could find the power control center of this place, he could shut the shield down. But as he walked something occurred to him. He had smashed his way into the building, had been here several moments, and yet there were no guards. Not even signs of guards. Or sounds of alarms. There was something very wrong here. Christmas holiday or not, this place shouldn't be so deserted. Although he didn't know it yet, he was right. It wasn't. There was someone else in the building, and right now they were watching Rick on a monitor. _-~-_ "What in the five hells of Net.York were you doing over there?!" Agent roared at them as soon as Dva, Netty and Missy walked in. "This was a great idea," muttered Dva. "We need your help," Netty started. "Oh, *now* you need my help? How about the help you needed checking your sanity before you decided to go over there?" "Hey!" barked Dva. "I'm not waiting around just to get kidnapped again! The best defense is a good offense, right?" "And trying to break into Queen Bee Towers is certainly offensive," returned Agent. "Hey, hey!" interjected Netty. "It's done, okay. But Morph is trapped inside, and we've got to get him out." "No," said Agent, sitting down. Dva and Netty gaped. "What do you mean 'no'?" they chorused. "He got himself into it, he can get himself out. Besides, we have other things to worry about." Agent opened the folder in front of him. "I've been cross checking reports, requisitions orders, and I think we should look into this." "I can't believe this," said Dva. "Morph is trapped inside Queen Bee Towers, with who the hell knows what's in there!" "There are other concerns. Larger concerns. He'll understand." Dva turned away. "You talk to him," she said to Netty. Netty approached Agent. "You told me I had to come, because we couldn't break up the team. And now you want us to leave Morph behind." Agent sighed. "There are *larger* concerns. Have you even looked at this?" He indicated the folder which Missy had appropriated. Netty looked at Missy, still not at all sure what was going on. "Patterns," Missy said, studying the reports. "So?" said Netty. Agent leaned forwards, resting his hands on the table. "Someone is gathering a lot of very dangerous material, and a lot of supplies. The words 'terrorist' and 'siege' should be resounding in your mind right now." "And that's something worse than the Queen Bee?" Dva said. "*Very*," said Agent, shortly, glaring at her. "And the closer we get to the end of the year, the more urgent these requests are getting." "End of the year millennial type self-destruction cult madness?" Agent shook his head. "Look at the age on these reports." Missy passed a paper to Netty, who glanced over it. "The date of this is February 1998." "Cults don't plan like that. They gather equipment over a shorter period. These plans are too well formulated, the orders too well ordered. And I've never heard of a cult that didn't promote itself, one way or another. This person is into privacy in a big way. Someone is trying to bring together means to wage war and the supplies to live through it." "What exactly are you saying here?" Dva asked. "What I'm talking about is the end of the world. As one person wants it to happen. Is that more important that getting Morph out? He can take care of himself, and we don't have time." "Is there a name to go with all this?" Netty asked. "It's not Frank Bennington again, is it?" asked Dva. Missy spread out a few sheaves of paper. On the bottom that all had the same signature. One they recognised. Emanual Drake. Aka, Mandrake. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- UPCOMING: The next issue is Rick in the lion's den. Alone and lost in Queen Bee Towers. Special posting to take place on New Year's Eve. But before that, be here on New Year's Eve for the Alt.Riders Year 2000 Special: The World Is Quite Enough. Credits: All mine. FYI, _Firth Ground Force_ is a programme here in New Zealand in which people get the Ground Force Team in to renovate their back yards to surprise their unsuspecting partners. It's a cultural reference thing.Back to the Index.