________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #15 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [Cover shows the Queen Bee Towers, covered in a glowing force shield. Maybe, just maybe, it might be possible to make out an Alt.Rider called Morph beating against a window, trying to get out.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "...You Just Might Get It." I didn't want to be here. Not my choice at all. Although I did offer to help, I didn't exactly have going this far in mind. There might be worse places to be, but right now I can't think of one. It wasn't so much that there was danger around me, it was the imminent possibility of danger that got to me. At the moment it was quiet. Too quiet, as they say. I sat down behind the main reception/information desk in the foyer of Queen Bee Towers. Yep, that's where I am. Queen Bee Towers. Many crazy people avoided this place. Then again, there were more than many crazy people in Sin.ci.net.ty. Which is, again, where I am. Sin.ci.net.ty. Queen Bee Towers. Sure know how to pick 'em, eh? It has started innocently enough. Dva wanted to break into the towers and have a look around. Okay, not that innocent, then. But considering some of her history...or was it his history...their history?...whatever, it's not surprising that she - he - they would feel that way. So sh...Dva, Netty and myself tried to get in. It wasn't easy. Should have been a good sign to stop right there, but noooo, I had to be clever. I had to find a way to break in. And after I broke in, that's when the force shield slammed down around the outside, trapping me in here. I thought that if I could just find the main power control, I could shut the force field down and be out of here. If I could just...if I could just go back and whap myself upside the head for thinking of coming in here! No. Can't think like that. Have to be positive. I activated the bank of screens in front of me, and start flicking through the images. Empty rooms. Empty corridors. If I didn't know better, I'd say everyone was on holiday. Except why the hell were the guards on holiday? Someone as powerful, and as paranoid, as the Queen Bee would be wouldn't just send everyone home and leave the place empty. Would she? Giving up on the screens, I looked for some kind of map. Find a tourist brochure. Fifty floors straight up. Twenty floors straight down. Oh yeah, this is going to be easy. You'd think life would be sweet for someone who could turn themselves into anything they wanted to. Uhuh, not for me, baby. Instead I get to spend my Christmas looking for some way to break out of a place more secure than Fort Knox. So, up or down? Power systems would probably be down. It would also mean trapping myself underground. Not that that would normally mean anything, but right now I needed no trouble to raise the hairs on the back of my head, and that thought did it. But if it's a choice of lion one or lion two with no pretty ladies, the door to death you take doesn't really matter does it? So, gathering up my courage and a couple of maps and a handy torch, I make my way down to the bowels of doom. I wish I hadn't thought that. _-~-_ The power was still running in the building, so the lights were working, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that any moment I was going to plunge into darkness, and then something was going to plunge into me. The bottom ten floors were sealed off to those poor souls who have to survive without security passes. Fortunately, a boot made of concrete is a damn fine security pass. As I poked around, the most amazing thing was how clean everything is. No dust anywhere. No little spots of coffee dropped from people hurrying around. Not oil marks from machinery. Nothing. And no power control rooms either. The bottom floors seemed mostly to be large storage areas. In some places there are large tubes, full of dark liquid. There might be something inside, perhaps I might be able to discern some movement, but on the whole I didn't really want to know. But something I did want to know about was a laboratory. Swing doors give way to a large room lined with consoles. In the center is a raised dais, the top clear. I peered in. Black fluid again. I tapped the glass. Nothing. Feeling more bored than curious, I was in no hurry to continue my search, and so walked around the rest of the room, poking things as they striked my fancy. One of my switch flickings does have a result. With a small whirr of machinery, the top of the dais lifted like a hatch, giving access to whatever is inside. Carefully, I stepped over and peered inside. Empty and awaiting something? You hear strange things about what goes on at Queen Bee Enterprises, and experiments on warped monsters is just one small part. But staring down into the goo I can't see anything of interest at all. Which is when, of course, the large spindly, and spiny arm reaches out and grabs me by the head, and tried to pull me inside. My head was plunged into the black stuff, giving me no opportunity for taking a nice deep breath before I'm submerged. Fortunately I can form a mouth elsewhere and breath, but that's really not the point at the moment. I sprouted my arms and legs out to stick to the floor and pushed. The thing just pulled harder. I shrunk my head and pulled it free. It punched into me, and thrust its claw deep. Now that hurt. Right then. I pulled myself in, bringing my arms and legs into my central mass. The creature drew me inside the liquid easily. Forming diamond spikes on my outer shell, I thrust them out, piercing the creature. There wasn't a scream, as such, but everything shook as the howl reverberated around the cylinder. The grip in me lessen, and I broke it easily. I hauled myself out of the liquid, and flopped onto the floor, my basic human shape reasserting itself. Monsters, eh? I managed to bring together enough energy to reach out across the room and flip the switch to shut the hatch. I didn't think that beast would be doing anything any time soon, if ever, but no sense in taking chances. At least, any more than I had already taken. A while later, I pulled myself up off the floor and reconsidered my options. I was no closer to shutting the force field off, and who knew what things were lurking around here? Decision time. By now the others would have gotten back to Agent, and they should be coming up with some plan to get me out. It was all Dva's fault I was in here, so they'd better be coming up with a plan to get me out. With that decision made, I then decided to haul myself back up to the foyer entrance and await rescue. _-~-_ The worst thing about having friends, or at least compatriots that you rely on, is it hurts so when they betray you. Three days. *Three* *bloody* *days*. Nothing. Not a flicker in the force field. Not a shout from outside. Nothing. Near to the entrance there was a guard room. Sans guards, of course. But it in was a well stocked larder, so I didn't go hungry. None of the phones worked, and neither did the TV set, why when there was supposed to be no-one here?, so I did go bored. The only thing to read was how great Queen Bee Enterprises was... and I finished all the pamphlets on the first day. Now I need a plan. A plan. A plan. Nope, not a sausage, beyond my original idea of searching for the source of the power and shutting it off. On the other hand, while the basement might be the typical place to hide the guts of the power system, the top of the building is where the offices usually are. Where the top brass are. And where they might keep their controls. Maybe, if I was lucky, an escape route too. Don't want the top executives, who sit around all day getting other people to do all the work, to possibly not be able to be around anymore to order people about. Not that I get bitter about that kind of thing or anything. The lift only took me up to the twentieth floor, and I had to walk from there. After breaking into the stair well that is. With my very useful security pass. The top floor, from the looks of it, is a penthouse suite/top executive office. I wondered if this is where the Queen Bee usually is. Quite a swanky place. Lounge room bigger than most cinema pits. Well stocked side bar. Bollinger '27. Very nice. But not, unfortunately, a housing for any escape routes or power controls. I examined the ventilation system. I can fit in there better than most, and maybe there's a vent to the roof. Shifting forms, I left the penthouse behind, and shimmied my way inside the ducting. Forming an eye so I could see, I found that the vent goes around. And down. Not up. Well, then lets find out what's hiding behind the walls. A spike into the roof of the vent enabled to get inside the crawl space. Tight, but not really a problem for me. Concrete. I tried punching through. Very solid. I could do it, but it's not going to be easy. There has to be a better way. If I must I can get out that way, but I think I'll try my options again. Dropping back into the suite, I brushed myself off, and looked around again. Unable to resist, I decided to check out some of the rooms. Hey, imagine the kitchen this place must have! What I find first is the bedroom. Again built on the principle that the more space used the better. I've seen less floor space in Wal-Mart. The centerpiece was of course the large four-poster bed. Wow. I didn't think those things even existed. I put my hand on the bed, the closest I'll ever get to such opulence, and feel something strange. Feeling the frown I'm wearing, I poked around the outside of the bed until I find a small control box for the heating blanket installed in the bed. It's on. Sure, doesn't mean anything. Whoever lives here is obviously forgetful, and didn't turn it off before leaving. But the other explanation nags at me anyway. "Hello?" I called out. "Anyone here?" There's no answer, but I still feel like someone's right behind me, about to tap me on the shoulder. Giving instinct a head for a moment, I whirled around to find emptiness behind me. Great. Next thing I'll be asking invisible sheep why the walls are blue. Smirking at this rather inane comment, I moved on, now trying to find some resolution to the concept that there's someone else here, reason saying there couldn't, or at least, shouldn't be, instinct/creepy paranoid feelings saying otherwise. I find the bathroom, and peer inside carefully before walking in. Wouldn't do to come across someone in here on business. Taking a minute to cross the parquet floor quickly, I carefully examined the bench top and sink. Aha! The soap is still a little slimy! So there is someone still here! Someone who lives here. Who uses the bathroom I'm in. Who could be back here any moment. Damn. "If you've quite finished going through my things, maybe you'd like to wash your hands before going into my lingerie drawer." The voice sounded like it should be whispering secrets that only lovers share, and indeed a thrill shivered down my spine. But that was completely unnoticable in the muscle-clenching terror I was captured by. My head shot up, and so my first view of her was her reflection in the mirror. Mirrors are odd. They not only switch left for right but they also invert perception, making you pick up details about things that would otherwise have passed you by. Try it some time. Take a poster, and look at it in the mirror, and see if your attention isn't drawn to the background instead of whatever the poster is of. It's an eerie thing. And so, what I noticed first wasn't immaculately coiffured hair, still perfect after three days of being locked inside, or her features which would have made the top super models cry because of their perfection, or her breasts welling up under her dress, which any normal man would have been immediately attracted to, and which I myself would later have trouble trying not to stare at. No, what I spotted first were the muscles in her forearms, as she crossed her arms over and lent again the door frame. Very tight, well defined muscles. Very powerful muscles. The muscles of someone who knew how to use their body in very deadly ways. Swallowing, I turned around, and then saw the rest of her. I admit it. I know it sounds corny, but my jaw dropped when I saw her. She was just that impactingly beautiful. Finally I managed to control myself enough to ask some very perceptive questions. "Who?" I gibbered. "What?" She sighed. Which did wonderful eye catching things with her upper body. "Since you seem a little overwhelmed by the simple task of explaining why you are trespassing in my building, allow me to introduce us. My name is Veronica Summers, called by some the Queen Bee...and some rather more unsavory names by others. And you are Rick Mansfield, aka Morph of the Alt.Riders. You came here with Dva and the Net.Elementalist seeking to break into my building, the Queen Bee Towers. A very ambitious undertaking, if I may say so, and so far that has proven beyond normal capabilities. But not yours. Somehow, and I must confess to not be exactly sure on the mechanics of it, you get inside. And find yourself trapped. Rather than just sit there like a good boy, you insist on poking in areas you are not allowed in, and end up in my bathroom. A brief and correct summary, yes?" "Mah," I agreed coherently. Realising that this was not the best impression to be giving the person who could probably unleash a pack of Lethal Lawyers with a wave of her hand, I struggled to engage my brain. "Er, yes. I got trapped in here. Er, do you know of a way out?" "No," the Queen responded quickly. "There isn't one. Because this wasn't supposed to happen, and I wasn't supposed to be in here if it did. I was supposed to be somewhere else, leaving the vic...the assailant to the mercies of the guards. But as you can see, that didn't exactly happen." "Where is everyone?" I ask. She turned away, abruptly, and I felt a momentary pang in my heart that she wasn't looking at me any more. Yeesh. Next thing I'll be drooling and whining and bringing her bones. "Let's sit down, shall we?" she said back over her shoulder. "I find bathrooms are not the best place to entertain in. At least, not and talk at the same time." Deciding to leave that image alone, I hurry out and find her sitting provocatively on one of the many couches. I'm not sure if she meant to be provocative, but that was her. "Sit," she said/commanded. "Perhaps you'd like a drink." Throwing a glance over to the bar, she continued. "I see you've already picked one out." I had the decency to look embarrassed. Sitting down, I tried to drape myself in a way that demonstrated I knew what I was doing, and was in complete control of the situation. She allowed me to pretend that for the moment. "So," I say, trying to affect a casual air. "Just why are you in here? And why is this place so empty?" "It's safer this way," she replied. "But to the first question...it's an accident," she said, raising an eyebrow in an offhand way. "I was just taking care of some matters...shutting things down...when you barged in, switching the force field on." "Can't you simply switch it off?" "No. What would be the point of that? I was supposed to be outside if this ever happened. And the controls are outside. I'd switch the field off when the person was apprehended." "So, you have no contingency plan whatsoever for this situation?" I ask, somewhat incrediously. How could this woman, with this reputation, not have thought of this? "Couldn't someone else switch the field off?" "It's a rather unique set of circumstances. I'm...retiring." _-~-_ Well, that was a bombshell and a half. I'm no expert on Queen Bee Enterprises, nor the Queen Bee, but it didn't take ten years on Wall Street and a membership to MENSA to realise that this wasn't going to go down well. The Queen Bee ran Queen Bee Enterprises. It was hers. But only hers. Like Alexander and the Macedonians. When Alexander died nothing remained but petty squabbling over the broken pieces. "What? Why?" I managed to stutter out. "It just isn't fun anymore," the Queen replied, shrugging her shoulders in a carefree way that belied the chaos that was coming. "There was someone I was doing this for, someone who liked to see me do whatever I wanted to...and I won't ever see that person again." Although she looked away, I could hear the catch of emotion in her voice. Was that her eye glistening? From a tear? HER? But there was something I didn't get. "Agent? But he's probably over in the headquarters right now. Bastard," I quickly added, sotto voice. "You can go see him any time you wanted to. We all think that's why he came here, to be closer to you." She looked at me sharply then, and I knew that she was looking at more than just my physical body. That woman's eyes peeled back the layers of my soul and held in judgment what she saw there. "Is that who he says he is?" was all she said. "It's just not the same anymore," she added, looking down into her lap, as if too conscious of herself, all of a sudden. I was still having trouble accepting all this. "But...retiring? Do you have a replacement in mind?" She looked at me again, not as piercingly as before, but more superficially appraisingly. "Why? Do you want the job?" She smiled, amused, more so as I vehemently shook my head. "Very wise. There was someone, but she...didn't work out." Abruptly, she stood. "Enough of this. I have things to do." "Like getting a way out of here?" "I told you, that's impossible. And I should know." "So what could there be to do then?" "There are many things to keep an eye on. Even though the building is shut down for the Christmas/New Year break, there are still a lot of experiments that need to be monitored. To make sure they don't get out of hand." There was something not quite right about this. "The break? This place has been on a break ever since we arrived in Sin.ci.net.ty. Before even. That's a very generous period of time." "What can I say? I'm a generous woman." There would be plenty of people who would debate that, but instead I said, "You're not going to be opening again, are you? You've shut this place down, and you're retiring, and you've fired everyone although you haven't told them yet." Despite beauty that would drive men mad, or maybe because I had been driven mad, I said one more thing. "You bitch." I've been hit by snow that was hotter than the stare she gave me then. "Get out," she said, frostily. But I wasn't going to break down. Just as stonily as her, I turned about, and walked to the front door, making sure to slam it as I went out. Nyaah, to you too. _-~-_ And so more days passed, with me roaming around Queen Bee Towers, and avoiding the Queen Bee whenever possible. One thing that is unavoidable, at times like these when you're trapped in a tower by a force shield with your only company a powerful woman who wants to destroy her own company, is that you have to question the life decisions you made that resulted in you being trapped in a tower by a force shield with your only company a powerful woman who wants to destroy her own company. It's probably an omen when I have no idea who even my parents were. The first thing I remember is being a part of the LNH. Before that, nothing. And no-one even knows who created me! Instead wReam was blamed for me. Which is probably more right that anyone would want to admit. Even my name Rick Mansfield wasn't really my choice, but one made for me. Of such things are mice and men made. Or something like that. I was popular for a while. Amorphous Lad, the boy who could change into anything. Impressive, no? But, as they say, those who can take on any shape, do they have a shape of their own? Or do they say that? Anyway, I didn't really belong there. After a while, I was used less and less. Finally, I left. And that's when the Phantom Walker found me. I'm still not sure if that was a good thing or not. I've seen some weird things at his side, and even helped to form a new team out of those that also don't belong in the LNH. Much good that's done me now. Hah! ...where the hell is everyone? After all that, I'm here, in this building, trapped for who knows how long, and I've managed to alienate Agent's girlfriend. Nice going me. Then again, it doesn't look he's exactly in her best books either. What's the deal with that? Sally Jesse Raphael moments aside, there is such a thing as too much introspection, and after my wanderings and wonderings, I found myself again in the basement levels, this time in front of an even bigger lab than before. Upon entering I found a weird black and white motif going on. The walls are white, and the consoles, of which there are many, are jet black, with white switches and buttons underlined with white words on raised black backgrounds. The centerpiece isn't some tub in the middle of the room. This time it was what was obviously a large window, but there was a black shield covering it at the moment. Curious, and with not much else to do right now, I tried to see if I could get the window open, as much for something to do as to see what was behind it. But, try as I might, none of the controls seemed to do anything. Rather than give up, which would have been sensible, I just became irritated. For some reason (although if the truth be known, it was probably largely to piss off her royal majesty), I picked a nearby black chair with white legs, and started bashing the consoles as hard as I could with it. Rage and frustration, which had been in me for days, came flooding out, and I barely saw anything as I raved and smashed like a madman. Dials I punched, cupboards I kicked, and, when that failed, the trusty chair gashed wide holes in everything. As I crashed my chair into one of those old tape banks that all laboratories seem to have, I discovered there was power here after all, as sparks flew out, and electricity flowed through the chair, pushing me away like a sledge hammer to the stomach, and sending me tumbling against the other side of the room. I lay there as the sparking calmed down, and I did to. Sitting up, I felt better, cleansed. Say what you will, brute force is still good for relieving tension. A hum caught my attention, and I turned to see the window shield slowly rising. The power must have flowed into the right places to short the circuitry and raise it. Beyond was a large enclosure of jungle. I stood and moved to the window, which I barely noted as being two inches thick, and peered in. All appeared still, but something flashed deep inside, and I leaned closer. There was something in there, something sleek, animal like. The shield had been wider than the window, and at one side were two large buttons. Mesmerically, one eye still caught by the unseen presence inside, I raised a hand to touch one of the controls. A hand caught mine. "Don't!" I turned, the spell broken, to see the Queen there. I'm still not sure, but I think I saw something in her eye. It wasn't fear exactly, but...anxiety...concern. It said that whatever was inside that jungle it was best left in there. Whether there was actually something in her eye or not, there was nothing there a moment later. "It's better not to touch the exhibits. Not yet. Especially not that one." She moved past me, and pressed her hand to the window. If I didn't know better, I'd say she was communing with whatever it was inside. If I didn't know better. She turned away, and focused on me. "Have you quite finished?" she asked, taking the room in with her gaze before refocusing on me. "Yes," I replied, trying to meet her gaze and look unabashed. But not entirely succeeding. "If you are going to destroy everything when left alone, then I shall just have to insist you join me again upstairs." She swept past me, and lead the way out. I was caught up by her again, but managed to regain my senses before we reached the lifts. She obviously knew some trick to get them to go to all the floors that I didn't. "Hang on a minute," I said, stopping. "No. Why should I go with you? It's not like you have some hold over me," I lied. "Really? Well, this is my building still, and you are trespassing, so I am well within my rights to shoot you to defend myself." Just like that she was aiming a gun at me. It was bulkier than normal guns, the barrel enlargened for either some serious kickass artillery, or something else. "Something else," she said, reading my mind. "A dart. Should prove quite effective on a shape-shifter. I haven't had the opportunity to test it yet, so I shall be very interested to see the results." I put up my hands quickly. "Hey, just checking." She put the gun away from wherever she had got it from, I'm still not sure where and there wasn't a lot of places she could have hidden it, and opened the lift. On the trip up I asked, "How did you know I was a shapeshifter?" The Queen was watching the floor indicator. "I know a lot about all the LNHers, including the Alt.Riders." She looked quickly at me, then back to the indicator. "And I have a special interest in you." Before I could follow up on that we were at the top, and she was sweeping ahead of me again. "What's that mean?" I tried asking anyway as I trailed after her. Inside she crossed over to a different door than the ones I had found before, and I followed her inside to find a room consisting of a control bank, several small monitors, and one large one above it. The large screen was showing the lab I had trashed. "So that's how...er...rather obvious I suppose," I concluded lamely. "Quite," she said, flashing me a glance. "Now be quiet, there's some things I have to finish." She sat down and began typing into a keyboard as a rapid pace. Despite her order I asked, "Doing what?" Concentrating on her work, she replied, "Do you know what the day is? The time?" I shrugged. "Not really. You don't exactly have a lot of clocks in this place." "It's December 31st. Half past eleven." "Hey, New Years Eve! Can we watch the ball dropping later? I suppose there's going to be hours of lead in..." "At night." "What? Only half an hour to go? Does this mean we've already missed midnight in Net.York?" "We're one of the most advanced research facilities here," she said, sensibly ignoring my prattling. "We have advanced computer systems controlling everything. Tell me, you heard of the millennium bug?" "Yeah. Computer chips thinking that 00 means 1900. What...is this place going to crash?" "We are fully Y2K compliant. Which is more than can be said for the LNH at the moment." I gave her a puzzled expression, but she ignored it. "If we weren't everything in this building would stop operating. Including containment fields. Just imagine if all those experiments we have got loose." "They might finally have a taste of freedom," I was unable to stop myself from saying. The Queen finally returned my look, but I didn't want it back the way she gave it. "On the other hand, that force field around this place would also stop functioning," she continued finally. "We could get out if the system wasn't up to scratch." "Yeah. Too bad about that," I agreed, eager to stay on her good side now. But there was some undercurrent I wasn't quite getting. "So what exactly are you doing?" "Just making sure everything is as I want to be," she said. "Now quiet." Obeying her, I shut up, and spotted a clock. 11:45. Ten minutes later, she sat back. "Perfect," she said quietly, more to herself than me. "All set then?" "Certainly. Come, let's have a celebratory toast." Back in the main lounge, she poured us a drink, and we clinked glasses. "To the new year!" we cheered. Reality seemed to blink for a moment. I saw the Queen with a strange look on her face, then suddenly the lights went out. "Guess you didn't get all the bugs out," I said. Then something else caught my attention. "What's that sou-" _-~-_ I jerked upright, going from unconsciousness to waking in less than a heartbeat. The room was still black, but there was a strange sensation, like a remaining taste in the mouth that was bugging me. I turned my hand into a torch and shone it around. The beam caught the Queen sitting down on a couch, looking disturbed. Although she couldn't have seen my face, the only source of light shining into her eyes, she looked into my eyes and mouthed a word. "Gophers?" I shrugged, but now had a name to the sensation. Although knowing that the feeling was something to do with gophers didn't exactly make me feel better. "So much for your Y2K compliant systems," I said, to break the silence. "Oh, no," the Queen replied, getting back into gear. "It was." "Not much of a system generally, then." "That's what happens when the millennium bug hits." That did it. "What are you talking about? You said that all your systems were protected from that." The Queen just gave me a smile that curdled terror in my stomach. "You are a bitch," I gasped as I realised what she had done. She had switched off the Y2K compliancy. Everything had crashed. Which meant that every experiment Queen Bee Enterprises had done, if it could be, was running amok in the building. And that meant that every nightmare mankind ever had was loose. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: Sin.ci.net.ty. No Man's Land. (Or Woman's either.) Credits: All owned by me.Back to the Index.