________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #20 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [The cover is again of the pyramid in the desert, this time with an eye, Acton Lord's eye, taking up one side.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Power corrupts. Corruption powers." "So, somewhere, out there, Acton Lord is living large. And we have no idea where?" Barry summarised. "I already have an idea where," Agent muttered darkly. "Morph never reported in about that green pyramid in Egypt." They were sitting in their headquarters in Sin.ci.net.ty having returned from the Safe where Acton Lord had been housed. *Had* being the operative word. Barry jerked up. "You sent Dva and Missy out there!" he said. "I sent Dva out there," Agent returned. "Missy asked to go." "And yet, you still let them go," Barry pointed out. "Better them than us." "Just what is that supposed to mean?" "You know that Acton Lord can corrupt. It's his very essence. And if he should get a hold of us... us corrupted doesn't bear thinking about." "Shouldn't we get in touch with Dvandom Force? They've had plenty of experience dealing with him." "With the old Acton Lord, who isn't a threat anymore. This is the new Acton Lord, Charlie Risk. From what I have read of Dvandom Force's reports and psyche evaluations, he isn't in control, the Corruption Force is. That makes him something new and untested. Dvandom Force can't help us too much here. But I'll let them know what's going on. If we can't stop him, they'll be the next best chance." Barry frowned. "What makes you think he's in Egypt anyway? There could be other reasons for Rick not reporting?" "The pyramid. It's green." "...and?" Agent took out a news capture of Acton Lord firing an energy bolt in the fight in Onyx City. [See _Dvandom Force #75_...in fact, see #74-76 for the origin of the whole Charlie Risk/Acton Lord event. - Footnote Girl.] He tapped the picture. "It's *that* colour green." "If I didn't know better, I'd call that spurious reasoning." "Call it what you will. I know it's him." Barry stood up. "Then let's get out there." "Didn't you just hear me? He can't be given the chance to corrupt us." "If you are right, then it sounds like he's already gotten Rick. Not that I want to downplay the human side of this or anything, but that's pretty bad. We're going to have to go out there just to stop him. There's no way Dva or Missy could. And what if he gets them?" Agent didn't reply, or meet Barry's stare. "Oh my... you sent them out there!" Barry accused. "Like sacrificial lambs! You say that we're the ones to stop him, and we can't even get involved, and the ones who are involved can't do anything!" Several names and expressions flew through Barry's mind as he considered what Agent had done, but they went unsaid. Barry knew they wouldn't have any effect anyway. "I'm going out there," Barry said, turning away from Agent, disgusted. _-~-_ Missy finally noticed when the entire jeep turned green. She stared at the jeep around her for a moment before slowly reaching out a hand. She touched the metal and drew finger back. On the tip of her finger, contrasting with her skin's blue hue, was a small splotch of green. Missy sniffed her finger carefully, but there was no identifiable smell. Peering at it, she became aware of a tingling sensation in her fingertip. No, not tingling, flaring... biting... burning. Missy shook her finger, but the green stain remained. She rubbed it on her outfit, smearing green streaks on it, but still the discolouration affected her. Now the feeling was getting intense, painful. As she stared, the green spread out, covering her finger, engulfing it. And it didn't stop there. In a heartbeat, her entire hand was green. Missy looked at it. Now her hand felt like it was on fire, but most of her mind was caught up in trying to analyse it. A virus of some sort? Some kind of infection that spread more rapidly than could be combatted by any simple means of medical treatment. So what other alternatives were there? By now it was creeping up her arm, nearly at her elbow. Whatever she did, she would have to move quickly. Glancing down, she noticed that the stains on her outfit had also started spreading. Whatever this was, it didn't need organic matter to transmit itself. But then the fact that the jeep was green should be enough to support that theory. She had to get rid of it, there was no other choice. She could strip her clothes off, but what point in doing that if she herself remained infected? Looking around, she spotted her only other option. Missy picked up the laser gun, ignoring the pain of her arm that was trying to eat into her mind. This was no time for emotional involvement, this was science! Aiming the blaster carefully, Missy lined up on her own shoulder. One solid blast should destroy her upper arm, and with that any chance of the virus, whatever it was, of getting to her. Missy squeezed the trigger... but stopped just before the final pressure that would cause it to fire. The green was already at her shoulder, and then in a leap crossed over onto her upper torso. Any shot now to rid her body of her infection would be as likely to cut through her neck. Missy contemplated continuing, but the finesse of the gun fire needed was a bit beyond her at this point. Especially as her hand was shaking. The infection must have reached something vital, because before Missy could do anything else, her entire body spasmed. The hand holding the gun clenched, but the blast went harmlessly through the side of the jeep. Missy was unable to move anything below her neck. All she could see of her body was now green. She couldn't see her face, but there was a crawling sensation creeping up her neck and towards her mouth. Missy tried to scrunch her mouth around, as if that would ward off what was coming, but of course it didn't. At the same time, her hair was starting to feel as if it was standing on end. Panic finally made its way through the scientific detachment, but by this point all Missy could do was open her eyes in terror. Even that didn't last as a green haze grew over her vision. _-~-_ Marsha pinned Acton Lord in the torchlight. The rest of the room was in darkness, but she wasn't worried in the slightest about that. Though there was something else in the darkness that had already attacked her once, all that paled compared with the being before her. She had heard of Acton Lord, of course. One couldn't be in the LNH without knowing about one of the worst villains of all time. She had even faced a version of him from another dimension, and that hadn't been pleasant. [See _World Tales Annual #2_ - Footnote Girl.] While she knew him, what he said next surprised her. "I know you." This was new to Marsha. "We haven't met," Marsha hissed, wondering how he could see her when she had the only light source pointed at his eyes. "Oh, not like this," replied Acton Lord, sweeping a hand over himself. "You'll find out soon enough, though. But, for now, you stay here." At this, Marsha took a step forwards. "I don't think so," she started, then gasped. Slowly, she fell to her knees, then flat onto the ground. Couldn't... move... "You'll stay right where you are even if I have to corrupt the very gravity around you," Acton Lord snarled. Marsha couldn't see him now, her head was pinned to the floor, and the torch shone in a random direction, but she could hear him move off the pedestal he'd stood on. "Now I have two of you," he said, his voice much closer. "Or rather, three of you. In fact...," he paused. "Let's make it four. But such pathetic specimens. What kind of superheroes are you supposed to be? You have the body of marshmallow. Your other half has powers of silence. Big whoopie. The only worthwhile superhero among you so far was the shapeshifter. Not he was always a superhero. He has some potential, that one." Morph? So Acton Lord had Rick. That explained why he had never reported back. _That might also explain,_ put in Peter, in her mind, _just what else is in here with us. It's hard to track someone who can literally become anything._ "Of course," whispered Marsha. "Of course," agreed Acton Lord. "There are those among you for whom it will be sweet to take. I am hoping that they will put in an appearance. They're the ones I really want." At that point, Marsha would have given almost anything to be able to spit on him. "Not to say you won't do. You will for now. Something to amuse me until they turn up. And then you too shall join me or die. Or join me and die. We'll see." Marsha slowly became aware of an unpleasant sinking sensation. With a mental gasp of horror she realised that the gravity was very slowly pulling her softened body out of shape. There was only one way to stop that. Peter gasped as he felt the sudden effect of high gravity on his body. "And now the other one," Acton Lord said. "You know what would be interesting?" Without waiting for an answer, he went on "Corrupting that bond between you. Seeing an amalgam of the two of you would be... fascinating..." The way Acton Lord said that last word sent a shiver up Peter's spine. However, he wasn't completely helpless. Fighting the pull of gravity, silencing the perversion of gravity, Peter managed to push himself up off the floor. With a heave, he rolled from the spot he was held in. As he had hoped, as soon as he had vacated the one area Acton Lord had affected, he was free to stand. "How did you do that?" Acton Lord hissed, sounding none too pleased. Peter grinned to himself. This darkness could work both ways. If he couldn't see Acton Lord, then Acton Lord couldn't see him either. In theory at least. And Peter had the advantage of moving silently. "Don't think you can escape me that easily. I have many a plan for you, and none of them involve you getting away. Or living, or that matter." A small green glow lit up on the opposite side of the room to Peter, revealing Acton Lord's presence as he powered up an energy blast. Walking quickly but carefully Peter made his way around the room. He knew there were the tomb and pillars in the center to avoid, as well as the large statue to the side. And the strange thing that was probably Morph, but he couldn't do anything about that now. After a few moments, he stood as close to Acton Lord as he dared. Concentrating hard, Peter gathered all of his silencing ability up, then slammed down on the power Acton Lord was holding. The green ball snuffed out, with a squawk from Acton Lord in surprise. A struggle started, between Peter holding Acton Lord's power in check, and Acton Lord having ever more power flowing to keep in check. The end wasn't really in doubt, Peter just didn't have the levels of power needed to match Acton Lord. With a gasp from Peter, the mental battle ended, with an explosion of green energy from Acton Lord briefly lighting the room, before it again plunged into darkness. "Bah. I have better things to take care off." There was the sound of walking, then a kind of whine. Peter caught the smell of something burning, then there was another flash of green power... then nothing but a lingering smell. Peter waited, his senses straining for any sound or movement, but there was nothing. Carefully, Peter moved across the room and picked up the torch. Returning to the spot where Acton Lord had been, Peter flashed the torch around, and saw something on the wall. Crossing over, he found a scorch mark on the wall, the approximate outline of Acton Lord. There was still wisps of smoke coming off the wall. Putting his hand out gingerly, Peter drew back hastily as his fingers felt the wall still burning. Well, it looked like Acton Lord was gone for now. Easy for some, not so easy for others. And somewhere in here was very probably Morph, somehow transformed by whatever it was Acton Lord did to people. This reminded him of the situation he had been in before Acton Lord turned up, only this time he had one more piece of information. "Morph? Can you hear me?" he called out. "Morph? ... Rick?" Nothing. Did he really expect an answer? _We have to try,_ Marsha replied. _He's the only chance we've got of getting out of here._ _Oh, I don't think Acton Lord plans to leave us in here forever. Whatever he does have planned involves us, and I doubt it'll take place in here._ _I don't know about that,_ Marsha returned. _There is a tomb here, after all. We never did see inside it. There might be nothing in it, with room for one._ _Have I said recently how glad I am to be stuck here with you?_ _No, not really._ Peter didn't reply, which was enough of a reply in itself. He scanned the room for Morph, but still didn't see anything. _Is it really like that?_ Marsha asked, her mental voice subdued. _Like what?_ _You really don't like being stuck with me, do you? That's how you see it, isn't it? *Stuck* with me._ _Marsha, it's not like that,_ replied Peter. _Then how is it?_ Peter sighed. _Well, it's not like we actually *choose* to be together. In other circumstances, we might not have been together like this._ [See _The Alt.Riders #2_ and _#3_ for that tale. - Footnote girl.] _And it's because of those other possibilities that you don't like being with me?_ _It's not that I don't like being with you, but this isn't a normal sort of relationship. We can't really see either other, and yet we have this permanent mental connection. That is a rather... unnatural relationship,_ Peter pointed out. _You really don't like this, do you?_ Again a silence, one that Peter felt as very uncomfortable. _What happened to us? We went through a lot together when we were separate. I thought there was something building between us, something that I thought would become stronger when we became united. Am I so wrong?_ _Well... to be honest..._ Peter trailed off. _Yes, by all means, lets be honest._ _Well, it's not exactly like you are my type, as it were._ Peter sensed Marsha being mentally floored by that comment, and he winced. This really wasn't a conversation he wished was happening right now. In fact, he'd rather tried to avoid it when possible. But all of a sudden it had crept up on him. _Not your type._ Marsha's voice was frosty, to say the least. _What is your type?_ _I don't really know,_ admitted Peter, suddenly seeing, fatalistically, what his next line was. _But when I pictured myself with a partner, I never pictured anyone like you._ _So now I'm someone you don't even want to be pictured with._ _It's not like that,_ Peter insisted. _That was then, now..._ _Now?_ _Now... I don't know... I've never really thought about it._ _Tell me something. Straight. Honestly. What are your feelings for me?_ _I... I don't really have feelings..._ _I see. I... you know..._ Peter could feel Marsha struggling for words, unsure of what to say, if she should say. _I love you!_ All Peter could reply was _I know._ There was silence in his head again. And then, after a very long pause, Marsha finally said _Perhaps I should try. Rick might respond to me better._ _...all right..._ Marsha slid down, with her back to the wall, the torch falling from her hand to clatter onto the floor. She cradled her head in her hands. And cried. _-~-_ Barry opened his eyes in darkness. He blinked, but still nothing appeared. His mind went back over what had just happened. He had teleported, and then... oh gods, what if the transporter...? Suddenly, like a billboard sign, the following message appeared in the air before him: YOU HAVE BEEN DIVERTED Barry gaped at the sign, then it disappeared. Something very strange was going on here, he could tell. Next came this: ..., Barry frowned. There was something nagging at the back of his mind. A sense of familiarity. That sign also disappeared, and was replaced by: BARRY KNEWBEE. Well, at least this was personal. Someone out there was looking out for him. He wasn't sure if this was a good thing. Another message: WELCOME, And then it added I DON'T THINK. Yes. Something definitely familiar was happened. But from where? If his sense was working properly, next up should be some kind of threat. As if obeying his mental wish, the sign changed to: DO NOT BE ALARMED. Ah, right, thought Barry. He waited a moment, and the sign added: BE VERY, VERY FRIGHTENED, BARRY KNEWBEE. Yes, that was it. "Hello, yes," said Barry into the darkness. "I don't mean to criticize, but I have read _Life, the Universe, and Everything_, and if we could just skip to the bit where you tell me what I've done to you and how you plan to torture me over it, I would appreciate it. I have somewhere else I'd rather be." "Don't we all." Bright light burst into Barry's eyes, making him squint. When his eyes adjusted, he found himself standing on a vast white plain. Turning slightly, he saw Allen standing before him, surrounded by some kind of white robots, although it was hard to make them out against the white background. "This isn't _Matrix_?" Barry asked. "Please, I have some sense of style," Allen replied. "_The Mind Robber_." "Oh. Yes. Of course. Sorry." "Anyway, if we could get on with it," Allen said, rolling his eyes. "I have come here to give you an important message," he intoned. "If you're still wanting me to kill you, I'm still going to have to say no," Barry interjected. "So you say now," Allen said. He suddenly grinned. Or, at least, bared his teeth. "Wait until you meet me before you make up your mind. I don't suggest you retire the jury just yet." "What are you talking about?" "There shall be a reckoning," Allen said. "Very soon. But right now I suggest you duck because Missy's about to shoot a hole in you." "Huh?" And then Barry was standing in the middle of the desert. Hearing a whine, he turned to see what looked like Missy aiming a laser pistol at him. Throwing himself to the ground, he barely managed to avoid the beam that flashed past overhead. "Hey! Stop that, I'm on your side!" Raising his head cautiously, Barry looked up to see Missy looking at him. At least, what looked like Missy. For some reason, she was green all over, including her clothes. Behind her was a green jeep, and behind that, reaching up into the sky, was a green pyramid. All the same green. Acton Lord green. Missy was holding a pistol, pointed directly at him, and her head was to one side, contemplating him. "Test: laser on human body," she announced, and fired again. "Net!" Barry yelled, his overall suit turning white. Using the power of lag, Barry easily ducked the laser bolt, and snatched the gun from Missy's grasp. Returning Missy to normal speed, he continued. "What happened to you?" Although the answer was pretty obvious, he had to admit to himself. Missy cocked her head the other way at him. "Subject exhibits effects not taken account. Must consider." "Missy, listen to me. You're under the spell of Acton Lord. It's me, Barry. The Net.Elementalist." "Query: net.elementals." Missy closed her eyes for a moment. "Flame, net, thread, keystroke. Possible net.element: time-index." "Er, yeah, that's right." "Query: limits of power?" "Er, not sure. Haven't really found out yet," replied Barry, not quite following Missy. "Query: can withstand explosion?" "Well, some, but-" "Test: nuclear detonation." Missy raised her now green hand, and pushed a button on a small remote. Barry froze. Whatever that meant, it could not be good. Sensing something warm in his hand, he looked down to see the gun he had taken. It was getting hotter. "Oh. Hell." _-~-_ Marsha sat on the floor, crosslegged. Deliberately not thinking of Peter. "Rick? Are you there? It's me, Marsha. You remember me, don't you?" she called out. "Rick? Remember Marsha? And..." she nearly faltered, but she took a breath and continued. "And Peter, he's here too. Remember him? Rick? Are you there?" Marsha didn't really know what to do. How to reach him. How to get through to tell, to get him back on side. How to get Pete-*Rick*, how to get Rick to respond to her. "Remember the Alt.Riders, Rick? Remember Missy? She's outside, waiting for us. Don't you want to go to her? Let her know everything's all right? Come on, Rick, we can go out and tell Missy everything's fine. You and me, Rick. You and me..." ...and Peter. Marsha closed her eyes. She wasn't going to think about him. She wasn't. So far, he hadn't said anything to her since they changed over, but then he already said enough, hadn't he? He didn't want them to be together. Should never have been together. But they had already gone through so much. She had fallen... No. "Rick? Remember Barry? He'll be worried about you too. Remember Agent? You have to remember him. You can't forget him. No matter how much you try," she added. Just like she couldn't forget... "Agent," she said, forcefully. "You must know Agent, Rick. He's your..." She faltered again, but for a different reason. She could hardly believe she was saying this. "He's your father. You must remember your father, Rick. Everyone remembers their father." Unfortunately, she added to herself. "Or how about your mother, Rick. Do you remember your mother, Rick? The Queen Bee?" Marsha wasn't sure if that was worse than Agent. "You remember your mother, Rick? We helped her leave. You and me, Rick. You and me. Me, Marsha. Rick? Are you there, Rick?" Are you there, Peter? No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't stop that thought. She missed him, missed his presence. In many ways they were one and the same person, and yet now it was like he wasn't there. Had never been there. And as far as he was concerned, that's what he preferred. Damn him, anyway. "Rick? Are you there Rick? Talk to me, Rick. Let me know you're there. Okay, Rick? Rick? Okay, Rick, I'm going to stop talking now. You say something now, Rick. Let me know you're there. Okay, Rick? ...Rick?" Marsha fell silent. She couldn't really think of anything to say at the moment, anyway. What else could she say? What could ever be said to take back what already had been said? _Marsha?_ Marsha's heart stopped for a moment. Her mind whirled for a moment. What was this? _Marsha. I'm... sorry. I don't know what else to say, but... I can't...._ _Peter. I understand._ Marsha could feel the tears coming again, but held them back. This wasn't the time. _If you can't, then it's better that you tell me. Better if I know, rather than just me thinking that..._ _I wish I did feel that way. This would have been better if only I-_ _No. You should be you._ Marsha could hardly believe she was thinking this. Part of her wished she could grab him and shake him and kiss him and... _I've been thinking. We haven't ever really discussed it, but, maybe... we should be trying to find some way of splitting us back into ourselves._ _We can't,_ Marsha replied. _There isn't enough body matter for the both of us._ _But there must be some way we can do it. Perhaps Missy could come up with something. She's amazing with new technology._ _Yes,_ replied Marsha distantly. He really wants this. He really wants to be himself again. That this never happened. Despite herself, she could feel a small tear trickling down her cheek. "Marsha?" _Marsha?_ Marsha paused. _Wait._ _But you-_ _I think it's Rick._ "Rick? Is that you?" "Marsha," said the voice again. It sort of sounded like Rick. "Marsha. Marsha Marsha Marsha." Then the giggling started. _-~-_ Barry flew high into the atmosphere on a jet of flame, the gun red hot in his hands. Unfortunately, he couldn't leave the lower atmosphere without some kind of breathing apparatus, and he couldn't leave entirely without exploding from the pressure differential, but he had to get rid of the gun somehow. Perhaps he was going the wrong way about this. Barry stopped, paused, then turned and headed down. Straight down. And gathering as much speed as he could. The gun glowed white hot, the release imminent. With a fiery burst, Barry crashed into the ground, through the ground, borrowing as deep as he could, as fast as he could. Feeling he had gone as deep as he could, Barry dropped the gun, and headed up, melting the way closed behind him. He was still underground when the shock ran through him. He lost his flame for a moment, but gritted his teeth determinedly, and continued up. Breaching the surface, he gasped into the fresh air, and finally took stock of his position. He was close to where he had started, near the pyramid. He saw Missy, and made his way to her. But she wasn't alone. Even from this distance, he could make out another figure. In a blue outfit that he recognised. Acton Lord. This couldn't be good. They were both watching him as he touched down. Barry spared a brief glance for Missy, making sure she wasn't doing anything dangerous, then turned his full attention to Acton Lord. "Well," he said. Acton Lord curled a lip. "Well, yourself. Flashy entrances not withstanding, I can tell you're a real do-goody type of superhero." "I try." "I hate do-goody superheroes." "I'll try not to let that keep me awake at night." Acton Lord narrowed his eyes. "Do you have any idea of the power I have? Of the things I can do to you." Barry's eyes flickered to the pyramid, to Missy, then back to his opponent. "I have some idea." Acton Lord grinned. "Not really. You see, it's not really me doing this. I had a little help. I admit it." "What?" "From someone you know, in fact. Someone you left for dead." Barry frowned, and opened his mouth, but Acton Lord got in first. "Oh, not someone you killed. No, that was someone else, someone that we'll get onto soon enough. But you were there, and so you'll do to start with." "I really don't know what you're talking about." But a few suspicions were starting to come to him. A few clues clicking into place. "Oh, he was hurt. All his bones broken in fact. But something saved him. And now he's going to see a few debts repaid." A sound, what generously might be called a chuckle, made Barry look up, but he already knew what he would see. In the air hovered a figure in a black suit, with a stylised symbol of "No Questions" (a question mark in a crossed circle) on his chest. The face was one Barry knew intimately. He saw it whenever he looked at Allen. Whenever he looked in a mirror. Although there was something a little off about the figure's posture. As if all the bones had been broken, then pushed back into placed, but never healed, just held there. "Allow me to introduce," continued Acton Lord, "the new master of all, and my personal friend. Thanks to him, I have been able to achieve what I have done here. No mean achievement at all. Anyway, I give you, all the way from his own dimension, the new possessor of that dimension's Corruption Force after the Roster King died. "Say hello...and goodbye...to Faq Lord." -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: Faq Lord? Faq Lord?? FAQ LORD??? Credits: Acton Lord still belongs to Dvandom. The rest still belong to me.Back to the Index.