________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #Y2K | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ YEAR 2000 SPECIAL!!!! [The cover is of most of a torn banner, lying on the ground, surrounded by fire. It reads "HAPPY NEW YE"] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Be Careful What You Wish For..." The man struggled on through the desert, trying to put one foot in front of the other, while the sun cooked his head and the sand ate his steps. He wavered for a moment, on the verge of collapsing face first, but then his foot came down, and he stumbled on another step. His mouth hung open, his brain having melted in the heat, and barely operating on the most basic primitive levels. His eyes were dull, no longer seeing the vast expanse of sandy nothingness around him, as there had been, and as there will be. How...? How...? The question resounded in what was left of his mind. He didn't even have enough energy to complete the thought, although it no longer mattered. He didn't have an answer before when he could think, and now there was no hope that anyone would ever say or explain anything to him ever again. One step. One step. That was all he was capable of. Just one step at a time. One step. One step. His body had long past its point of endurance and the only thing keeping him up was inevitability. Just one step more. Just one step more. One step. One step. His tracks had been wiped long ago, and now there was no sign of where he had come from, or where he was going to. Just as there was no sign of who he was. Did that matter? Not at the moment. Not to anyone. But it might have. One step. One step. ...gophers?... _-~-_ Missy brought the personal hover flier to a stop, just short of the main gates. As she looked for the right piece of paper, she glanced around at the building. Although fortress would be a better word. The tall grey wall stretched around the entire place, topped with security cameras, spikes and barbed wire. And probably electricity. The building rose out from behind the wall, sleek and gleaming in the sun. Darkened glass for windows stared around at the surroundings, and the sentry outpost on the top was just visible. Anything coming close to the place would be spotted long before it arrived. One advantage to being out in the middle of Death Valley. Missy found the piece of paper, and got out of the flier, sweat popping up on her brow immediately, her white cap affording no protect. Fortunately, she wasn't going far. A few steps later she was at the main gate, hard steel and by all expectations quite thick. She knocked on the door with her chubby blue hand, the small sound barely carrying to her, let alone to anyone inside. After a moment, nothing happened. Missy turned away, but quickly spun back as she heard a click and swish of moving metal. She saw a small screen and camera. A fuzzy image appeared on the screen. "Kto eta?" Missy had been told that Russian was used to further disencourage visitors. She had also been taught what to say. "Ya menya soobthshyenuye v Emanual Drake," Missy carefully read the line which should say that she had a message for Emanual Drake. "Shto?" "`Remember the Wishful Star.'" The shutter over the video screen snapped shut at once. Missy sweated more under the hot desert sun before the gate slowly trundled open. Missy studied the gate lock revealed, always interested in learning new things, but her attention was commanded by the man revealed, flanked by two other men. They wore standard military combat fatigues, and the two flanking men carried semi-automatic machine rifles. Their posture was rigid, and Missy might have mistaken them for normal human beings if it wasn't for their skin. It was a mottled grey, and didn't look at all healthy. It was more the colouring found on corpses. Missy peered closely at their skin. "I might be able do something for you," she said, reaching out to touch the man in the middle. "Follow me!" the man barked, then swiveled around and started striding away before Missy could even draw her hand back. The two guards, for that is what they obviously were, stared at her, and for once Missy decided that scientific interest should take second place, and moved after the man. They entered the building, and Missy breathed a small sigh of relief as the sun's force disappeared. She still had trouble keeping up with her escort, her short legs not suited to their longer paces. Soon, fortunately, they came across a cross between a jeep and a cart and boarded. Missy tried to keep track of where they were going, but the walls were a featureless uniform grey, and the driver took sudden turns that made her feel nauseous as well as nearly throwing her off. She wasn't sure how long they had been traveling, but she was pretty sure that they had gone up and down several inclines which made her wonder if she was either below or above ground level. There was no sign of anything to give her an indication either way. They stopped with another jerk, and the guards jumped off to attention, and the man barked again, "Ready!" He slapped a control that was flush with the wall, and part of it slid back. Missy realised belatedly that they must have passed many of these doors that meshed perfectly with the walls. She really didn't have a chance to get out of here by herself. The man motioned for Missy to enter the dark room beyond, and she hesitantly did so. For a moment she received the impression of hundreds of monitor screens, all with different images, when they suddenly blinked off and the room lights came on. Missy blinked a few times, but when her vision righted itself, she saw that there were hundreds of, now deactivated, monitor screens, all surrounding one chair, all meant for the person sitting in that chair. And that person was now looking straight at her. The man in the chair was distinguished looking enough, wearing an impeccably tailored dark grey suit, white shirt and tie. An intelligent face peered at Missy from beneath preternaturally grey hair, and his poise was one of a person in complete control of all before him. The only incongruous point were the metal arms and hands that extended before the sleeve cuffs. Currently those strange hands were steepled together, and his head was resting on them. "Tell me what you know about the Wishful Star," the man asked, in very cultured tones. Missy took a moment to study the man before her. The hair was different, and the hands of course, but otherwise this was the same man she had meet before in Phila.DEL.phia at the Wishful Star building. [See _The Alt.Riders_ #7-9. - Footnote Girl.] "Hello Emanual Drake," she said. Drake frowned. "I can't say that I remember you. Were you there?" Missy nodded. "You defeated." Drake's eyes narrowed, not pleased to be reminded about what happened there. "Yes," he said, biting out the word. "And now you are here. Why?" "Message for you." Missy held up a small device, and pushed the button. A hologram projected up from the base, forming the image of a man in a black outfit that covered all but his face, and a band around his eyes. The image spoke. "Greetings, Mandrake. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Net.Elementalist, Master of the Elements of the Net and a member of the Alt.Riders. I know that you have been gathering power, Drake, and that the nature of your power is not the most benevolent. I seek an audience with your worthy self to discuss the plans for your exercising of that power. With your intelligence, I'm sure we can work out an arrangement which will be mutually beneficial and enable us to avoid any unpleasant confrontation. As a token of my goodwill, my partner here has agreed to work with you and help you in any way needed. She is extremely capable and will aid you well." Missy visibly paled at this last statement. She shook the projector. "Device broken," she said. She glanced up to discover Drake's reaction. Drake stared at the image, which was now frozen on the Net.Elementalist holding out his hands in supplication. Finally, he snorted. "I do not think so," he said, finally, sitting back. "In that case, I go," said Missy, backing away quickly. "I do not think so about that, either. No, you definitely stay, my dear." Drake touched a control on the arm of his chair and the entrance to the room slid open again, revealing the guards. "Take her someplace...safe. Do not harm her, though. She may be needed." The guards took Missy by her arms, and pulled her away. Missy closed her eyes as they dragged her along. This wasn't what she was expecting. _-~-_ Drake swiveled the chair about to face the screen, activated again now that a foreign presence was no longer detected. But Drake's eyes weren't watching the activities before him, his gaze was focussed internally, on the past. "Master of the Elements of the Net? Rubbish," Drake scoffed quietly to himself. "But the Alt.Riders have been resourceful before. On the other hand if they think a mere light show would scare me..." The hologram projector fizzled, then, with a pop, a small line of smoke escaped it as Drake crushed it in a metal fist. _-~-_ The figure blazing across the sky was within firing range from the moment he was spotted. At least three targeting systems were tracking him as he approached. He didn't know any of this, but wouldn't have been able to do anything about it if he had. The Net.Elementalist, often now called Netty for 'Net.E', slowed down, and hovered on a jet of flame while he surveyed the building before him. This, fortunately, gave him time to see the missiles as they raced towards him. Netty frowned. Surely no-one thought that those would stop him. Drake, if indeed it was him in charge, should know better. Netty shrugged. No sense it wasting time thinking about it. Aiming carefully, he shot two flames from his arms that arced across the air, and contacted the missiles. Which blew up with an impressive blast. Grinning to himself, Netty roared across the sky, circling the building in a needless display of power, before coming to rest on the top of the building. Waiting to greet him was a contingent of guards, headed by a woman with mottled grey skin. She stood straight, with hands clasped behind her back. She was unarmed, but the firepower of those around her more than made up for that. "You will surrender to us!" she commanded. Netty shook his head. "No. I must see Drake now." "You will not!" she said, raising a hand in a halting gesture. In time with the motion the guards around her raised their guns and all drew beads on Netty. Uncaring, Netty grinned more, and raised a small round silver cylinder. He touched a control on the back, and a bright red light flashed out from the front. The pulse raced over those in front of him, and they jerked momentarily. "You will take me to see Drake now," Netty commanded. The woman nodded. "You will see Drake now!" she ordered. As Netty followed what was now no more than an escort, he squeezed the device triumphantly. It worked! Drake, however, was less accommodating when the troop marched Netty into a large lounge room, where he was sitting comfortably, studying a document. "Why have you brought him here?" Drake asked in a snarl. Netty raised the device again, and it emitted another pulse. "I must be allowed to speak." "He must be allowed to speak," the woman commander repeated. "You fools. That's just a tacky MiB mind trick he's using. Bah! Dismissed!" The woman spun around, and strode out of the room, taking the guards with her, leaving Netty alone with Drake. Netty raised the device, giving off another red blast. "You will take me to your control room now." Drake rubbed at his forehead. "Will you stop that? Those things don't work on me," he snapped. "You're just giving me a headache." Shrugged, Netty let his hand drop. "Fine. Then just take me to your control room anyway." Drake stared at Netty. "Are you insane? Why did you come here?" Netty sighed. "To stop you. We know what you are going to do, so you may as well give it up now." "Really," Drake sat back. "Please be so kind as to enlighten me. What am I doing?" "Trying to take over the world, of course. You're going to hold it to ransom. We know about the hydrogen bombs you picked up. And thermonuclear bombs. And neutron bombs." "Don't forget the plasma bombs, the light bombs and the obsoletum bombs," Drake said, ticking them off on his fingers. "Isn't it amazing that we live in an age when we can use anything to blow everything else up." Shrugging again, Netty replied, "Point is, we know, and we will stop you if you don't give this up." "But, of course, you are wrong. Always have been, always will be. I have no plans to hold the world to hostage. There wouldn't be much point. I have something far more...benevolent in mind." "Which is?" Drake waggled a finger. "It doesn't work like that. If you want to know, you have to work for it." Netty folded his arms. "And you've got some trap for me? I don't think so." "There is something I came across while gathering up those wonderful explosive devices. At first, I had no idea what do with it, but I think it's perfect for you." Netty snorted. "And you think you now have any chance to take me by surprise?" Now Drake shrugged. "Doesn't matter to me. I'm not a master of the net." Frowning, Netty looked around quickly, scanning for any source of attack. He spotted the small metal ball immediately as it rolled into the room, beeping. "It's called a killfile grenade. I'm most interesting in seeing it work," Drake said casually. Before Netty could move, something exploded from the ball, reaching out across the room in less than a split second, and wrapped itself around him, engulfing him completely. _-~-_ The Net.Elementalist floated in a blue nothingness. While he didn't know exactly what a killfile grenade was, he knew precisely what a killfile itself was. It was a small pocket of subspace, created by the Thread net.element, and things were put there. Usually because they were never wanted again. All in all it was quite fortunate that he was a master of the net.element Thread. On the negative side, he wasn't a very good master. Netty had always intended to put more practice in, but... Nevertheless, he was going to do something. "Thread!" he shouted, turning his suit to the same blue as his surroundings. Concentrating he tried to get a feel of the killfile he was trapped in, feel the flow of Thread underneath it, giving it shape, giving it power. This was what he had to disrupt, and thus nullify the killfile around him. Netty reached out with his powers. Slowly he spread his mind into the same pattern as the underlying ebb, feeling the eddies, feeling the wash. Feeling the large thing that was a hole. Snapping his eyes open, Netty turned about, now revolving in the ether. He squinted, trying to see something he knew to be there, although he didn't quite know what it was yet. Some thing. Some monster. Something that had been trapped in here with him. Netty shivered. Not very pleasant thoughts, but this wasn't exactly a pleasant situation. He spun around and around, trying to catch whatever it was before it caught him. There! Off in the distance, but coming every closer. Something much like a squid or octopus, a large body being propelled by long tentacles that pushed it through the surrounding fluid. Netty couldn't recognise it, but neither did he carry an encyclopedia of monsters of the Thready deep in his head. Pity, because that was the kind of information he needed right now. Netty eyed the beast as it came closer, but it darted back and forth, not quite sure what Netty was. Danger? Food? A mate? The thing darted closer, and Netty saw that what was its head was largely comprised of two eyes and many, many sets of teeth. Definitely not company on long lonely nights then. Raising his hand out, Netty let slip a small stream of pure Thread. Nothing much, just something to act as a feeler. The stream floated closer to the beast, which paused, and seemed to sniff at it. Then it lunged forwards, and clamped its teeth onto it, and began to somehow munch and suck it in at the same time. Netty felt the tug on his hand as the beast pulled more it, and let the Thread go. It quickly slipped down what passed for the creature's throat. The creature turned towards him, and Netty thought he saw a gleam of hunger in its eye. Great. So now he was associated with food. Nice going. The tentacles suddenly lashed forwards, and wrapped around Netty's arms. Netty opened his mouth and screamed as the beast started to suck the very essence out of him. For longer than an eternity, Netty writhed in pain, the beast drawing more and more from him until there would be no more than a husk. Barely operating on primitive instinct of fight or flight, Netty's body turned from blue to red, and fire ripped along his arms, and burned at the tentacles holding him. Now it was the creature's turn to scream as fire struck at it, burning away the two tentacles into little more than ashy nubs protruding from its body. There was a moment of silence as both Netty and the beast lay in their private worlds of pain. Finally, Netty's mind started functioning again, and he raised his head to look at the beast. The beast fed on Thread, that much was obvious. And killfile, despite being made from Thread, was the very antithesis of Thread. Might as well try to draw life from death. No wonder the creature was attracted to him, he was a veritable reservoir of food. So why...? Of course! Flame was the opposite of Thread! Nothing could destroy threads faster than flaming. Netty lit up like a beacon, throwing out beams of light and fire, consuming the Thread, the killfile, and the beast around him, until... ...he was free! He dropped to his knees, unable to support his own weight. He barely took in the carpet underneath him, or the room around him. Or Drake, looking very surprised, watching him. Drake reached over and picked up a phone, and spoke a few words into it. Immediately, guards entered, and picked Netty up. Netty was unable to do more than loll in their arms as they dragged him away. _-~-_ "Barry! Wake up! Barry! Wake up!" Missy was screaming now. Would he never wake up? What if there was something wrong with him? Missy couldn't see him properly, night not the best aid to eyesight. He looked very still. The hover craft flew on over the sand, the mechanism fused to stop any tampering. Not that she could tamper with the controls. They had tied her and Barry down into the seats using, of all things, steel cable. Now they were moving without any kind of controls, going at top possible speed until they hit something. "Barry! Wake up!" Finally Barry stirred. His head rose, and he looked from side to side, not really focussed. "Wha?" "We in trouble!" Missy yelled. "Get us out of here." "Huh?" Barry shook his head, and peered about with more intelligence. "What did they do to us?" "We in my hover craft. Out of control. Tied down," Missy explained as best she could. Barry tugged at the bonds, but the steel wasn't moving. "No problem," he boasted, then shouted, "Flame!" He started glowing red as he heated up. Missy looked on anxiously, but Barry collapsed, without anything happening to the bars around them. "What happen?" "Used up...too much power before..." Barry gasped. "Give me a while." Missy stared ahead. The moon was out, but that still didn't give much light for them to see what was head of them. But Missy thought she could make out something. "What that hole ahead?" Daisy was concentrating more on her knitting than on the road her husband, Herb, was driving along. "...and then Frank has to say 'Will the children be invited?' which was just rude. But then Frank was never the best of people..." Herb lent forward to try to get a better view. Driving through this part of Death Valley there was a sort of ditch they drove through, the walls at the side as high as the car. It helped keep the desert from blasting sand into people's cars as they drove along, but at night, even with the car headlights on full, it didn't help them see much. Daisy finally noticed that Herb wasn't paying full attention to her. She lent over and nudged him. "What are you doing, Herb?" "There's been a coupla' weird sightings out here of strange goings on." "Don't be ridiculous. Next you'll be complaining about seeing flying saucers." Something shot over the edge of the ditch, a black mass against the moon, and it hit the top of their car. Skimming on, it took off over the other side and barely managed to get enough lift to clear the other edge of the ditch and continue on. Herb let the car slow down as he and Daisy stared at where the thing disappeared. "You were sayin'?" said Herb. Missy tried to look back but the canopy over the craft prevented her. "What that?" "Best not to question it," said Barry. "Got any ideas how we can get out of this?" "You one with power." "Not at the moment." Missy sighed, and studied the craft carefully. "Could you give me any flame?" Barry shrugged as best he could. "Depends on what you want. Possibly, but not for long." "There," said Missy, indicating with her head where she meant. "If you put small hole in air bag, we slow down." Barry eyed the material. It was tough, it had to be to not be ripped to shreds as the hover craft rushed over land. Still, it might be possible. Summoning up as much power as he could, Barry breathed out a jet of flame that played over the material for a moment, before flickering out. But the canvas didn't burst. "That's it," Barry said. "Best I can do." "Rest," said Missy. "Then try again." While the material wasn't broken, it was weakened. The air pressure pushed at the weakened area, then BLAM! The scorched patch, and a lot more beside, exploded outwards. Immediately the craft was jerked to the side as the escaping air fought their current velocity. Slowly they started to turn as the craft rushed ahead. "I said small hole!" Missy yelled. "Mend it then!" Barry returned. Sliding over a large rock, the hover craft lifted off the ground, sailed through the air, still revolving, then crashed down on the hard earth. Missy and Barry just sat there, feeling pain and unconsciousness creeping up on them. "Not fun," Missy said quietly. "Are you going to just sit there?" a voice asked. They snapped their heads around, and regretted it. As nausea swept over them they saw by the moonlight a man in the same combat fatigues as the ones they knew so well, and with the same grey mottled skin. Beyond him was an armoured car that could pass for a tank. "Don't suppose you have a blow torch on you?" Barry asked. Agent, in full costume, held one up. "Come on. We've got to get back. I'll sneak you in when it's dark. Did you find out anything?" Barry lent back as far as he could, as best he could, as Agent lit up the torch and started burning through his bonds. "No," he said, in a slightly strangled voice as the flame played near his skin. "The year 2000 hits tomorrow night, and that's the deadline. And we still don't have any idea what the hell he's up to." _-~-_ Drake kept one eye on the time as he swiveled back and forth gently in his chair. The moment was fast approaching that he was waiting for, and nothing was going to change that. There were many reasons as to why he had picked Death Valley as the site of choice, and, surprisingly, the first one wasn't because it was difficult to get to. There was always the threat of someone, mainly, of course, the LNH, finding out what he was doing. He had tried to be discrete about it, but obviously not enough. The Alt.Riders weren't the LNH, but that counted for, as well as against, them. But either way, attack or not, in this place there was always the hope that someone would try for the dramatic approach, and try to take him out at midnight. Always leave things to the last second. Never a good idea. Preferable to get whatever you had to do out of the way as soon as possible. Not that he could. His plans were timed to forces outside his own control. Stupid forces, yes, but they were important forces. Drake glanced over at the clock again. Not long now. He didn't reach for any controls, but just continued to watch the time pass. He gave it an extra five minutes, just to be on the safe side, and then sat back, relaxed. It had started. And he didn't have to do anything. _-~-_ It was just after dawn when Agent neared the base. He slowed down just before it came in sight, and aimed for a large rock. Just before he hit it, he touched a control and the rock slid open, revealing a ramp leading down to a long tunnel. The change in angles as the car leveled out off the ramp woke Missy from sleep. "We there?" "Nearly. Wake the Net.Elementalist." Netty was harder to wake, but he felt a lot more refreshed. "Where are we?" "Tunnel under the desert. Only those favoured enough to belong to Drake can use it." "So why didn't we use it earlier?" "The direct approach was worth trying." Agent shrugged. "There was a chance it could have worked." "And how can we use it now?" Agent flickered his eyes over to Netty. "We've got men on the inside." He raised his hand momentarily to show off the odd skin pattern. "I don't think all of us can get away with that," Netty said, finger the band around his eyes and glancing over at Missy's deep blue skin. "Enough of games. We've got to move." "And just what have you found out in the week you've been here?" "That here isn't the place to be. All those bombs we know he brought...they're not here. Only thing here is food and other supplies. What ever it is he has planned, it may be executed from here, but it won't affect here." "He said he wasn't holding the world to hostage," Netty said. "Why would he need to?" Agent asked. "He has his own world here, with his own troops completely loyal to him." "That device worked well on them," Netty said. "Er...do you have another one?" "Nope. Lucky to get that one. Drake may not be able to transform people into monsters anymore, but he has enough power to change their brains...and their skin. Makes them very susceptible to suggestions if you can just push the right button." Agent swerved suddenly, making Missy and Netty grab onto whatever they could, and parked neatly in the space he had taken the car from. "Everyone out," he ordered. "This is it." They exited, and Agent led them to a door, and rapped quietly. It opened to reveal another man in the same dress and skin discolouration. And it was another disguise. Missy and Netty nodded hello to Dva as they walked in behind Agent. "Where to first?" Netty asked. "There's an auxiliary control room," Agent said, glancing around and making sure no-one spotted them. "Purely as a back-up. Unguarded, of course, because who would want to go in there. If we can get in their and override Drake's controls, then we can at least stop whatever it is he has planned." "Sounds good," Netty replied. "Lead the way." _-~-_ The man staggered further along. His gaze, if such a word could be used without implying a guiding intelligent behind it, was stuck firmly on the image before him, which grew larger and larger. Each step jolted his head, but he didn't have the energy to keep his head steady. Nor to even feel pain from the movement. All such feelings, any feeling in fact, was far beyond him now. Finally his feet hit something that could be called a road, if only because it was a common route for cattle. He walked on, limply, barely registering as he passed a house, then another. A town, if that wasn't too grandiose a word. By some miracle of creation, he had actually reached a town. His eyes could barely focus on a building, and its hope for shade, before he completed his collapse, and fell bonelessly to the ground. Someone picked him up, his mind, on some level, still registering the outside world. Something touched his parched and cracked lips, and it took his body a while before it recognised the feel, the taste, of water. And then, before his mind could catch up, a drop of water fell the wrong way inside, and his body was wracked with heaving coughs that caused lights to dance in front of his eyes, lights with helpings of darkness, the sweet temptation of unconsciousness. Whoever was around him helped him to sit down, and passed more water over his lips and into his mouth. The water just sat there, pooling in his mouth, until someone finally stroked his throat, making him swallow involunteerily. Like some dream that clung to the mind even after it woke and fought to pass, he finally managed to gain some impression of what was around him. Someone was holding him in a sitting position on wood, his legs splayed out in front of him telling him he wasn't far off the ground. A porch or something. And someone was in front of him, pouring more water into his mouth. He managed to gulp it down of his own accord, although he was sloppy and some of it spilled out. But it was an action he took on his own. "Hey there, mister. You've had a rough time there. Careful now." "Don't know how he made it this far. Some kinda miracle." "Hey, mister. Can you talk?" The man looked up, a smile forming on his mouth at the delirious thought of actually being able to tell someone what had happened to him. He opened his mouth and got a word out. "Gophers." _-~-_ "It's here," Agent said, indicating a blank wall. "Where?" asked Netty, looking around. "Right there," replied Agent. "I can't see anything!" Dva, deciding that enough of Agent's teasing was enough, reached past them and touched a control, which looked like any other part of the wall. A section of wall slid away, revealing a room beyond. "Thanks, Agent. Thanks heaps," Netty said causticly, then entered. The others followed and found themselves in a replica of the room Drake used, although only Missy had seen the original. Agent sat down in the chair, and reached out towards the controls. And paused. Standing up, he offered the chair to Missy. "Perhaps you should take over." Missy slid into place and activated the monitors with a flick of a switch on the chair's arm. The monitors flickered into life, warming up, and finally showed displays of what was happening in the building. They contemplated the images for a while, watching the activity of the main occupants of the building going around storing things in place and general administration. "Nothing!" disclaimed Agent, throwing up his hands in disgust. "They're doing nothing!" "Shouldn't they be preparing bombs, or something?" Netty asked. "There are none here, remember," said Agent. "At least none that Dva or I could find." "They should be stored someplace for easy deployment, though, right?" "Perhaps a missile silo or someplace?" suggested Dva. "Can't find any place," said Missy, who was changing camera views continually. "Can't see Drake." "What do you mean?" asked Agent sharply. "No Drake," Missy indicated the monitors with a wave of her hand. "No image." They watched the screens for a while, but it was true. Wherever Drake was, there wasn't a camera pointed at him. "This is a secondary control room, right?" asked Netty. "Then he's probably in the main control room. I can't see any place like that either." "Makes sense that he doesn't want to be observed," mused Agent. "And why would he need to monitor himself?" "Er, are we monitored?" put in Dva. They all peered around shiftily, as if expecting someone to pop out and yell "Surprise, you're on Candid Camera!" But no-one did. "If we are, no-one is watching us. There should have been a reaction by now," Agent said. "Unless they just haven't come yet," put in Dva, darkly. "What else can we control from here?" asked Netty. "If someone does find us, let's see what we can do about it." Missy studied the buttons. "Internal environment controls. Shock stabilizers. Deployment readout." "Deployment readout? What's that?" Missy pointed. "Has time and percentage. Seventeen percent." "Seventeen percent of what?" Dva asked, sharing looks with the others. Agent spoke up. "We could be here a while trying to figure this out. It doesn't look like whatever's going to happen is going to happen soon. Drake's probably a dramatic bugger who insists on doing whatever it is at midnight. It gives us time to find out what and stop him. Dva and I will scout around, see if we can find anything, and bring back some supplies. They might be doing something else interesting that we can't see, this close to the deadline. Missy, you see what else you can get out of this thing. Netty...you watch over Missy." "Oh, big help," Netty muttered. "I'm sure you'll get a chance to blow something up later. Right now, we need information. We'll be back." _-~-_ By midday they were no closer to solving whatever it was Drake was planning, but at least they were full from lunch. Missy was now certain that she could do anything with the controls that Drake could do. Strangely that didn't seem to involve any outgoing signals, radio or otherwise. The deployment readout was up to 40%, but they still didn't know what was being deployed. "Just how the hell is he going to contact the world?" asked Netty. "You don't hold the world to ransom in silence." "He's not holding the world to ransom," Agent replied. "You said so yourself." "That's what he told me. You want to take his word on that?" "He may not be the type to brag about things, but he also doesn't seem the type to give out misinformation. A veiled perspective, possibly, but not outright lying," Dva said. "That doesn't really help us," said Netty. "It looks like we're going to have to reply on a frontal assault and hope we can turn things around at the appropriate moment. It might be best to wait until closer to midnight before striking. More chance of tension to give us a chance to ruin things," Agent said, watching the monitors for any clues. "I think you said something like that when Jesus Christ was about to be born," said Netty pointedly. [See _The Alt.Riders Christmas Special_ - Footnote Girl] "No, that was a case of them trying to make it look like the right religion until-" Agent was interrupted as a shudder ran through the building. "The shock stabilizers just came online!" Missy exclaimed. "Was that an earthquake?" asked Netty. "Felt like one," Agent replied. "What are those shock stabilizers doing?" "Stabilizing," Missy replied, playing her chubby hands over the controls. "Already stopped. Weren't really used." "Why would Drake put in stabilizers? Was he expecting earthquakes? Are they common for this area?" Netty quizzed. "No idea," said Agent. "But this is definitely expected. Look." He pointed at the monitors where everyone was moving about normally. "What?" asked Dva. "No reaction. Either they are really out of it, or they were expecting something like this." "Is he trying to blow a hole through the planet?" asked Netty. "How many bombs does he have?" "A lot. A lot of a lot. And that's just what we found out about. He hid things well," Agent explained. "But if those bombs we know he does have were positioned properly, then he could easily crack open the continents. Just imagine what would happen if he, say, broke Africa away from Asia. It wouldn't float away, but the stress he would put on the tectonic plates would be incredible." "So is that what he's doing? Or something else entirely? Or is this all just coincidental, and Drake has a good earthquake policy?" "Are we too late?" Dva added. "I don't think we should wait anymore," Netty said. "We should get in there now!" Dva nodded. "Agreed." "All right," said Agent. "But lets try to even things up. Even tilt them in our advantage. Missy, can you take over complete control? Leave Drake with nothing?" "Give moment," said Missy. "Lose element surprise though." "Okay, not just yet, then. Give us time to get outside Drake's main control, then do it. Blink the lights once, so we know. Can you do that? Good. Oh, are there shutters or anything in the corridors?" Missy nodded. "Then be ready to shut those as well. We don't want to be interrupted." As Agent, Dva and Netty left, the deployment counter was on 42%. _-~-_ Shortly, they were outside Drake's control room, staring at a blank wall and awaiting Missy's signal. One thing that had surprised them on the way was that they didn't come across anyone. "There is a lot of people, yes?" "Everyone he stole from the Wishful Star building, I suppose," replied Agent. "That wasn't a huge number, but neither was it a mere drop. Where is everyone?" "We weren't expected, were we?" Dva asked. Agent shook his head. "Impossible. Just Missy being efficient and keeping our way clear, I'd say." The wall to the control room slid open, and Drake's cultured tones wafted out to them. "Gentlemen, do come in. You've come such a long way, it would be a pity to see your trip wasted." "Busted," whispered Netty. Agent strode forward, confidently, followed by Netty and Dva. He found Drake seated in the same place Missy was in her control room. Drake watched them with a barely disguised sneer, the room behind him lit by static of monitors displaying nothing. "Welcome to the spider's parlour. Or lion's den. Or whatever metaphorical animal's place you prefer." "What do you want?" hissed Netty. Drake laughed, short and sharp. "Ever after all this time, you still don't get it. It's not about what I want. It's never been about what I want. That isn't the point." Agent took a step forwards, but Drake raised a cautioning hand. "Uh, careful there." He reached out and touched one switch, which activated a lone monitor. On it, they could see the secondary control room, which they had just come from. They saw Missy, surrounded by a group of Drake's men. She was slumped. "What have you done to her?" Netty cried out. "Nothing. Yet. And I suggest you keep your place if you wish it to remain that way." Another shudder, slightly bigger this time, ran through the floor. Drake smiled. "So nice to see one's plans come to fruition." "So this is your doing," Dva snarled. "It's always been my doing. I am the mastermind, and this is my plan. I have always been in control." Drake spotted Netty's glance to the monitor and nodded. "Even then. That control room wasn't just a back up, it was a trap. If anyone somehow managed to infiltrate this place, as you so, I must admit, magnificently did, they'd go there. And the moment they stepped in that door, I'd know about it. I am not the fool you seem to continuously take me for. I was waiting for you to try something. Admittedly, I had hoped you'd take longer to get around to it, but no matter." "Just gives us more time to stop you," said Agent. "Now there I must correct you. It is already too late. Deployment is already," Drake swung around a little so he could see the readout, "at 46%. Not that you have any idea what that means." "Why don't you tell us?" challenged Netty. Drake smiled unpleasantly. "I don't think so." "Then there's no reason we shouldn't try to stop you," Agent said. The other two positioned themselves more prominently. "I think you're forgetting someone," said Drake, pointing to the monitor. On it, Missy was being lifted up and taken off screen. "Where are you taking her?" Netty cried out. "I don't think you need to know that either. And before you try anything, just think what would be done to her before you found her. If you could find her." "He's right," said Agent, putting up a restraining hand. Dva and Netty didn't look all that comfortable with the decision, but they understood it. "Good puppies," smirked Drake. "Don't push me!" Agent interjected. "All bark but no bite," Drake continued. "Take them away." They spun about to see Drake's people behind them. Agent put up his hand again to stop Dva and Netty from trying anything. "We go with them." "For now," Netty shot over his shoulder. "I'm counting on it," Drake replied, as they were lead away. _-~-_ Netty paced the small cell. They had been locked away for hours. Agent and Dva had patiently meditated in silence, but Netty wasn't finding the wait so easy. Periodically they had been rocked by earthquakes that were getting stronger, but the base showed no sign of weakening. "How can we just let time go by like this?" he raved, finally. "He'd getting away with whatever he wants, and we're letting him!" "What would you have us do?" asked Agent, calmly. "We don't know where Missy is." "How big could this place be?" "You'd be surprised." "And so we do nothing?" "I'm sure Drake will succumb to the normal needs of villains and invite us for the big finale." "Still counting on the last minute save?" Agent shrugged. "It standed us in good stead so far." Netty lashed out, hitting the wall of the cell, but leaving no mark. "You'd better be right." _-~-_ Finally they were brought before Drake. "I thought you might like to be here. It isn't quite midnight yet. I thought you might like to ring in the new year with me." Netty stretched his head out and looked at the indicator. 90%. Not good, but not the worst. Yet. Drake caught Netty's gaze. "Yes. Maybe, just maybe, you're thinking to yourselves, there's still time to do something. Let me ask you a question. Is there anything significant about the year we're coming to." Agent, Netty and Dva were wary about this. They could tell they were being baited, but they weren't sure for what. Finally Dva spoke, "It's the new millennium." "'It's the new millennium,'" Drake repeated. "Quite. Some random point in time and space that human beings have decided to hang so much emotional baggage onto. And yet it's not. Ask the people who really know, and they'll say the new millennium isn't until the beginning of 2001. So why does everyone get it wrong?" "It's 2000, a nice round number," replied Netty, carefully. "Again, it's human thing," agreed Drake. "2000 is a nice round number, and so it means more than the actual new millennium. Although I dare say people will suddenly announce that they knew 2001 was really the new millennium, and shouldn't we have a party for that?" Drake grinned cynically, but no-one joined him. "Aside from all that, as far as most people are concerned, this is, as you say, the new millennium. And just what is the big event this new millennium is known for? What has every street preacher been claiming for about...oh, the last ten years or so?" Finally it started to dawn on them. "The end of the world!" Netty gasped. "Exactly." "You're going to destroy the world!?" Drake spread his hands helplessly. "It's want the people want," he said. "I'm just helping out. People expect the world to be destroyed, who am I to disappoint them?" "And destroy yourself as well?" asked Dva. "Don't be stupid. We all know that's not going to happen." "All those bombs," breathed Netty. "You're going to blow up the world." Agent suddenly piped up. "Ask him about the earthquakes," he said. "Ask him why we're getting earthquakes now and before." Dva and Netty gave him sidelong glances. "What do you know?" Netty asked. "Just...ask him." "Well?" Netty directed this at Drake. Drake studied Agent. "You've guessed it already, haven't you?" Agent didn't meet Dva nor Netty's eyes. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I wasn't expecting that." "Sorry about what?" asked Dva, exasperated. "Very soon it will be the new millennium here, yes?" Neither Netty nor Dva rose to the jibe, but Drake continued on anyway. "But in Net.Zealand, it's been the new year for about 20 or so hours." Looks of horror descended on Dva and Netty, their faces paling. "What have you done?" Netty gasped out. "I think it should be obvious by now, but for those of you who haven't being paying attention...as the new millennium hit each time zone, I blew it up," Drake said, simply. "You murdering scum!" Netty yelled. "Not now," said Agent sharply. "What?! How could you?" "We don't have the time." Agent looked over at the counter. "Already ninety-" The sound of an explosion resounded throughout the building, a far off explosion, but a powerful one. The building rocked, making them all stagger, trying to retain their footing. The room barely settled before another earthquake hit, the most powerful yet. Lights behind Drake flashed as the shock stabilizers were stressed to their limit to stop the building from breaking to pieces around them. Although Drake was fine, being seated, Agent and Dva only stayed up because they braced themselves against the wall. Netty wasn't so lucky and was sent sprawling. "-four percent," Agent finished, straightening himself up. Then he stopped. "Did anyone else feel that?" At the puzzled looks, he added, "Like the entire structure of time and space was patched?" There were just stares, so he shook his head and continued. "We have to act now before it's 100 percent." "How?" "I was so hoping you'd feel heroic. I decided to give you a helping hand." The door opened, and Missy entered, escorted by more guards. "Missy!" Netty exclaimed, standing up and trying not to appear too foolish. "Are you all right?" Missy nodded. "Yes. What going on?" "No time to explain," Agent said. "Netty, burn a hole out of this place, then take Missy and try to find those bombs and disarm them. You've only got three hours before the entire world is destroyed!" "I miss a lot," Missy said. "Right," said Netty. "FLAME!" The others had to take a step back as a column of intense fire burst up from Netty, melting a path directly through the intervening floors, and out the top of the building. "Net!" As the flame died down, Netty gave Drake an evil eye. "What about him?" "We'll take care of him," Agent said. "Just save what you can of the world." Netty nodded, and beckoned Missy to stand by him. Then they took off through the hole at the speed of lag. "And now there were two," Drake said. "More than enough," replied Dva. "Oh...I don't think so." Drake pointed, and they turned slightly to see the guards still there. All armed with automatic weapons. Pointed at them. _-~-_ As they took to the air, Missy and Netty got a chance to see just what had happened outside. The land as far as they could see was an image straight from the pits of hell. Fire burned across the land, in some places volcanic lava, pushed up by the force of the bombs, spread out, ruining all it touched. They were silent as they flew across the land. They passed over cities, now mostly no more than tumbled piles of rubble. In some of the larger cities, they could see people still moving about, but the wreckage that surrounded them didn't inspire hope. "We have to help...stop this from happening elsewhere," said Netty, trying to believe the words and continue on his way. And not try to help down below. The good of the many... "Yes," was all Missy said. _-~-_ "Just what is it you plan to do?" Drake asked. "This," replied Agent simply, and brought out a small device with a button on the end. And pushed the button. A sonic pulse bleeped from the device. Dva winced in the flash of pain, but that was nothing compared with what happened to the guards. They screamed piercingly, and clutched at their heads. Blood ran in small rivulets from their eyes and ears, and they collapsed to the floor. Drake stood, outraged at what Agent did. "How dare you!!" Agent raised an eyebrow. "Oh, I dare very easily. Your transformed monsters have a very weak brain structure. That pulse collapsed it. If you would be so kind..." Dva nodded, stepped forward, and dropped Drake with one punch. Agent stepped forward, over Drake's prone body, and studied the console. "Missy said this was an exact copy, but I doubt she had time to examine every detail of it. There might be something here to stop this." Dva waited a moment while Agent examined the controls in detail, but finally had to ask. "Is there?" Agent looked back at Dva despairingly. "No." _-~-_ "There's only really one area that we might have a chance at," said Netty as they flew. "Alt.aska and western Ca.net.a." "Still big area," Missy called over the wind. "Where bomb?" "I have no idea. We should try around the center of Alt.aska and hope." Aware of time running out, they hurried swooped over the frozen tundra, when Missy spotted something. "Ridge of mountains. Good place for bomb." On closer inspection there was indeed sign of activity which disturbed the local geographical continuity. A big hole cut out of a mountain is hard to hide. Landing, they spent twenty minutes searching for and finally finding the bomb. "It's an obsoletum bomb. It makes things obsolete," explained Netty. "Can you disarm it?" Missy examined the bomb carefully. "If can remove covering, perhaps make feedback loop in wiring. Obsolete itself only. Can you cut panel this big?" Missy indicated an area on the bomb covering. Switching to flame, Netty hurriedly cut the section away, but was still careful not to cut into the bomb itself. Peering into the innards, Missy muttered to herself, and finally reached inside. "Be careful. How much time we have?" _-~-_ Agent and Dva helplessly watched the time become 3:00am. The indicator clicked to 100%. "The world is gone," whispered Dva. "Missy? Netty?" Agent shook his head. "Too late. Not enough time." Dva looked at Agent. "What do we do now?" A sensation swept over them. They staggered a little, but managed to remain standing. "What was that?" Dva asked. Agent shrugged. "I have no idea. Shall we leave?" "Is there any point?" They left the control room anyway, leaving Drake unconscious on the floor. Having been in here for a week, they knew the way to the main door, but there wasn't any urgency. What was the point when the world was gone? It took time but they made it. The opening button still worked, Drake had built the place well to last this destruction. They strode outside...then stopped and gaped in astonishment. Around them was desert. Normal desert. There should have been huge cracks in the ground, fires burning on the horizon...but instead all was normal. "Hey!" called a voice, and they looked up, still unbelievingly, as Netty and Missy flew down to them. "You saved Alt.aska after all?" Dva asked. Netty shook his head. "Not enough time. It went off in our faces as we were tinkering with it." "Then...how...?" "This." Missy held something up. Agent took it, looked it over, then passed it to Dva. It was a small walnut, perfectly formed, and made entirely of glass. "Listen to it," said Netty. He made encouraging motions as Dva looked doubtful. Still unsure, Dva put it to his ear. _-~-_ The sound of rustling earth, moving, being pushed aside. Deep underground. The sound of movement, deep in the earth. And through it, voices calling, and yet not voices, squeaking chatterings, wordlings, the half-articulated mouthfuls of thought. Greetings, chirrups of greetings, sliding back down into the inarticulate, words colliding together. A crack of sorrow on the grounds of Earth. Chirrups of joy on - where? A world indescribably found, indescribably arrived at, indescribably earth, a squeak of dirt. A fugue of voices now, clamouring explanations, of a disaster unavertable, a world to be destroyed, a surge of helplessness, a spasm of despair, a dying fall, again the rustle of words. And then the fling of hope, a search by the gophers finding an Earth in the multinetwork, Y2K compliancy backups, the pull of copies, the deep pull, the spin of will, the hurl and spit of it, the flight. A new Earth remounted into replacement, the gophers gone. Then stunningly a single voice, quite clear. "This nut brought to you by the Campaign to Save the Humans From Themselves. We bid you farewell." And then the sound of small, hairy, perfectly brown bodies scampering away into an unknown endless ground, quietly giggling. _-~-_ People awoke, unable to remember anything since their respective midnights. But they all felt something, something that could only be summed up with the word "Gophers." And they found the gophers gone. _-~-_ "What do we do with him?" The Alt.Riders had gone back through the base, making sure there was nothing else that was a threat. They arrived back at the main control room and found Drake, still out. "I think there is something that we can do." "You can't be serious." "Start walking," Agent ordered. Drake looked at the others pleadingly, but there was no mercy in any of them. Resigned, but still angry, Drake turned away from his base, and set out across the desert, consigned to walking back to civilisation. It would be long, it would be hard, but he was determined to make it. Agent turned his back on the figure slowly moving out of sight. "Get rid of it," he commanded. Netty nodded. They stayed, watching the base burn down, a memorial to the lost Earth. Then they went home. _-~-_ "He's not well," someone said. The man could barely agree in his mind, the sun having burned it away. But no more, no more. He had made it! He had made it! "I wonder what 'e knows." "I doubt 'e'll ever be able to say." "Gophers," replied Drake, now quite mad. "Gophers." -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Credits: All mine. Notes: Yeah, I know. Deus ex machina and all, but I thought it was funny. The so called `Millennium' stories I've come across aren't really about the millennium at all. Most of them hook onto the year 2000 problem, which is just a coincidence with a computer glitch. Others choose the millennium just for dramatic reasons, and could happen any time. This story is truly a millennium story, about the psychology of the moment, and what people expect. In this respect, from the stories I have come across, it is unique. Something that really amazes me is the number of Y2K stories done for the LNH, and yet try to get any of us to deliberately collaborate on anything...Back to the Index.