________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #21 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [The cover is the pyramid in the desert again, but this time with Faq Lord's eye.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Corruption to the next power." The warehouse clerk was slumped on the desk, one arm holding her head up, barely awake. Working here was one of the easiest paying jobs around. Not the highest paid, but she got by. A thump on the desk jerked her into full wakefulness, and she looked up to see a stern looking man in a bomber jacket looking at her. "I'd like to retrieve object #AB345," he said, indicating the pile of paperwork he had thrown onto the desk, the thump. Shaking her head, she pulled the papers to her and flipped through them. "Get a lot of sleep around here?" She looked sharply at him. She didn't recognise him, and he didn't look like the type that normally came around here, so she doubted he was anyone that could seriously cause her any trouble. "Id?" she asked, coolly. Frowning, the man took out his wallet and flipped through it, before finally showing her a card with his picture on it and a name. Agent. "In there," she said, tapping a slot in the desk. The frown changed to a scowl as Agent took the card out and slid it into the indicated hole. There was a brief whirring, then the card ejected with a small beep. Agent snatched the card back. "Happy?" The clerk didn't respond, just tried to stifle a yawn. The paperwork was in order, so she turned her attention to the Alto on her desk. After a few clicks, she entered the code. "AB123, was it?" "No," replied Agent sourly. "AB345." "Right." A few more clicks and the file was retrieved. "Oh, a triple Q coding." She flicked through the sheets of paper, and found the proper form. Nodding, she read further, then tapped the screen, even though Agent couldn't see it, and said "It's got here 'Special Requirement J34.' That's a super-heavy lifter. Have you got one of those?" "No, I just thought I'd carry it with me." "Really, sir. There's no need to be like that." "I'm not joking." "Right." Another click, and a card was ejected from below the computer. "Take this then," she said, handing it over. "Aisle 21, section B. It's the one on the bottom." "It would be," Agent replied, and took the card with barely disguised ill grace. The clerk watched him go, and turned back to the file. Joking or no, there was no way he could carry a J34 item. He'd be back. When she looked up a minute later, he was back. Carrying the crate between his hands. It wasn't much larger than the boxes used to carry reams of printer paper. "Issue this," he commanded. "Seals check," she returned. There was no way he could be carrying that. He must have already taken the item out first. Sighing, Agent held the box out. She raised a scanner, which scanned the box and beeped. Hmm, object secure. Very well, never let it be said she didn't do her job. She clicked the correct button on the computer file and it closed, marked "IN USE". "Done." With no reply of his own, Agent just turned and walked out. She watched him with a sense of curiosity, but not a lot of it. You didn't stay in this job if you were curious about the items you were in charge of. With the transaction done, she settled down to get back to sleep. _-~-_ What do you do when (and let's speak frankly here) you're faced with three enemies, two of which could kick your butt without even thinking about it? Barry didn't know the answer, but that was the situation he was in. He wished he did know the answer, or that the answer was known by someone and that they were here instead of him. Going from minor to major there was Missy, late of the Alt.Riders, and now turned, corrupted, into an evil green scientist. Then there was Acton Lord, the embodiment of the Corruption Force, and someone who gave the entirely of Dvandom Force pause. And finally there was Faq Lord. New on the scene, but already displaying as much power over Acton Lord as Acton Lord had over Missy. Which was rather strange, as Faq Lord was the embodiment of the Corruption Force from another dimension. That wouldn't be more than any other dimension, would it? Unless that other dimension happened to be fairly corrupt in the first place, and it was. It was Allen's home dimension, and the sort of place that made political backstabbing look like nursery tantrums. So, that might explain that, but it still didn't give him any insight into what to do about it. "You Alt.Riders defeated me before," Faq Lord said, in a hoarse voice, as if something had smashed his larynx. Actually, Barry thought gloomily, something had. The rest of his body smashing into it after having been thrown out of a flight.thingee far above ground. [See _World Tales Annual #2_ for the details... which would probably be a good idea to have read for this arc anyway... - Footnote Girl.] "And so I shall destroy you all." "What? Even Missy?" Barry asked. "Especially Missy," Faq Lord spat, before adding, "but especially you. You who are me in body. You and the other one. Allen." "You might find it a little tricky to get him," Barry said, smiling to himself. "He's a bit out of reach at the moment." "Bah, the barriers of hell do not worry me, just as the barriers of dimensions no longer concern me." Now that could be worrying. "Yes," said Acton Lord. "Let's destroy them. Destroy them all! All the superheroes must die!" Faq Lord raised a shattered hand, and Acton Lord was jerked upright, like a puppet on a string. "You are a mere reflection of me," Faq Lord rasped. "Do not irritate me, cur, or it will be you I destroy." "Destruction? Isn't that a bit cliched?" Barry put in. "It depends on how you see it," Faq Lord returned. "If I take you over and corrupt your soul, then I have destroyed all that you are." Faq Lord landed on the ground, having hovered above it before, and placed a hand on Missy's head. "That's rather cliched too," Barry said. "Query: test to destruction?" Missy asked. "I rather like her," Faq Lord said as an aside to Barry. "Such an inquiring mind." "Leave Missy alone," Barry growled. "Or what? We both know there's nothing you can do to me." "We'll see about that. Flame!" Barry's suit flashed red, and a jet of flame roared out towards Faq Lord. But it was blocked. Not by Faq Lord, but by a green blast from Acton Lord. When the flame hit the barrier, it withered and died, its essence eaten away from inside and out. "Just imagine what your corruption would be like. All that power, for use in ways that would abhor you." "Yeah, and I bet a part of me still remains, so that I may be horrified all the more." Please say yes. Otherwise... Barry looked at Missy with an almost pitying eye. "Of course not," replied Faq Lord, in his croaking voice. "No, the corruption is total. And irreversible." _-~-_ "Rick," Marsha said softly into the dark room. "Talk to me, Rick." The giggling had died away only moments after it had begun. After that there had been no more response. But at least they knew now. Rick was in here with them. Now if only he was on their side... _Anything more?_ Peter asked in her mind. _Nothing. Just like before._ Before. They had been arguing before. Now that was nothing too. _We could draw him out,_ Peter suggested. _How?_ _The tomb,_ he said, referring to the sarcophagus in the middle of the room. _He protected it before. If you try for it again, you'll get his attention._ _Sounds like something to do,_ thought Marsha, although her tone was such that it indicated she was willing to consider other options. None presented themselves. _Right then. Here I go._ Marsha stood, and snapped the torch light on, closed her eyes for a moment until they adjusted. She swung the torch around until the tomb was in sight. There was no point trying to locate Rick. They had tried that before. Many times before. Nothing. Marsha strode towards the coffin, but stopped short of actually touching it. Right now she knew that Rick was watching her. Before when she'd tried to open the lid, he had attacked her. "Rick. I want you to listen to me. You know me. Marsha." As she said her name, there was a faint kind of echo. Marsha, the room whispered. Marsha swallowed. "Yes. Marsha." She paused, but heard nothing this time. "I'm your friend. I want to open that lid, and I don't want you to attack me. Can you do that? Rick? Are you there? Can I touch the lid? Rick?" Straining her ears, Marsha listened as hard as she could. Was there a response? Was no response a response? _Marsha?_ Marsha jumped. Although it hadn't been said, it sounded suddenly loud in her mind. _Not now, Peter,_ she thought back. Aware of a sensation under her hand, Marsha looked down slowly to see her hand resting on the lid, where she must have placed it when Peter startled her. Marsha looked around quickly, expecting an attack to come at any moment. Even her heart stopped as she waited. Nothing. Always nothing. "Rick, I'm going to open the lid now. I take it as a good sign that you haven't attacked me yet." Again she paused. After a moment, she gripped the lid, and pulled. Marsha, the room whispered again. Marsha jumped again, but held onto the lid. Straining, Marsha lifted the lid. Just a fraction, but she moved it. And she wasn't attacked. However, the lid was too heavy to hold, and she had to release it. There was only a faint crump as the lid settled back down, as if it hadn't even noticed her effort. "Rick. That's good, Rick. See, we can still work together. Can I see you now, Rick? I'd like to see you again, Rick. We're friends, aren't we? We're friends now. Rick?" Marsha, the room breathed. Marsha. Marsha. "Rick? Are you there?" Marsha. Marsha became aware of a low vibration, which quickly grew into a large vibration. Marsha shone the torch around, seeing plaster and dirt fall from the walls and the ceiling as the room shook. The quake grew into a sizeable movement, and Marsha could barely stay standing up. Marsha. There was a creaking, a cracking, then Marsha felt more than saw the pillar next to her slowly start tumbling, falling, dropping on her. "Yaaah!" she screamed, as she threw herself out of the way. The pillar fell, crashing to the ground, cracking into large pieces, barely missing her foot. _What's going on?_ Peter asked. _Not now!_ Marsha responded, scrambling up. Another violent shock sent her tumbling, and the torch skittered across the floor out of her reach. That seemed to be some kind of signal, as the room calmed down again. Marsha just lay on the floor, getting her breath back. Was that Rick who did that? Was he... the whole room? Was that possible? There was still a sound of falling dirt somewhere in the far corner. For the first time it occurred to her that she could be buried alive. _Er... Peter... do you mind if we change over?_ _Why? What happened?_ _Noth... I'd just like to change over._ _Okay._ Peter looked around. There was some changes here. He spotted the torch lying some distance away, and crawled over to it. Picking the torch, Peter spotted something puzzling on the torch cover. Some kind of strange goo... Something splattered onto his head. Without looking up, but very aware of the blackness above him, Peter reached up and scraped some of it off with his fingers, and looked at it in the torch light. Goo. Green goo. Finally, knowing that whatever happened next would not be pleasant, Peter looked upwards. The torch light glinted off something bright, and pointy. A sense of dread crept over him as his imagination filled in the details the torch didn't pick up. Large jaws. A sleek head. A lithe slithery body. An Alien. It dropped. Peter threw up his hands to cover his head and- *flash of green* _-~-_ *flash of green* and yelled, screamed, but nothing descended upon him. Slowly, Peter became aware that he wasn't in darkness, wasn't lying on stone, but out in the desert, under the baking sun. He uncovered himself and looked around, squinting his eyes in the glare. "Peter? You okay?" A pair of hands helped him up, and Peter made out the form of Barry. He looked at Barry with one eye closed, the brightness almost painful after his incarceration. "What's happening?" Peter asked. "Oh, the usual. Mega-bad villains with enough power to destroy the earth want to kill us all..." "I saw Acton Lord here," Peter said. "Yeah, he is. But he isn't the one to be worried about." Barry must have seen his surprised expression as he added. "Yeah, it's this guy." Barry waved his hand towards something, and Peter turned, getting an impression of black and wrongness of shape. He blinked his eyes, finally getting them adjusted. "Remember Faq Boy from Allen's dimension? Well, when we killed the Roster King, the corruption force that was powering him jumped into Faq Boy. Or Faq Lord, as he's known now." "Oh." Well, that summed things up nicely. "What happened to Missy?" "She's been taken over," Barry said, in a forced light tone. "I guess the same happened to Rick?" Peter spotted Rick, sitting on his haunches by Faq Lord. Like Missy he was now green. However, he was very little like the man Peter knew. His form was shifting, from a dog, to the Alien, to a bear, to something with more blades than a kitchen knife set... The corruption was screwing his system up royally. "Well, isn't this a pleasant reunion," Faq Lord wheezed. "We are gathered here, ladies and gentlemen, to mourn the passing of the people once known as the Alt.Riders. Their stay on this mortal coil was brief, but in their time they did good. And this is their just desserts." Acton Lord snickered at this. "Yeah. Time for some superheroes to get exactly what's coming to them." "Query: sudden endurance test?" Missy asked. Rick agreed as well, although his expression of agreement was more of a howl than any recognisable speech. "Wake up," said Faq Lord, raising a hand. "Time to die!" "Barry, any ideas?" Peter asked Barry out the side of his mouth. "No, you." "One. Killfile." "What?" "Killfile. Trap him." "He'll corrupt it." "Killfile is already corruption of thread. Can't hurt." Faq Lord hadn't moved during this, but rather seemed to be listening. And smiling. "Can't hurt," he whispered quietly. Barry raised his hand, then paused. "My dream..." "What?" Peter hissed. "My dream. Allen said to kill him." "He's right in this case." "But I-" "You don't have a choice," Peter snapped. How much longer would Faq Lord wait? Barry nodded finally. "THREAD!" he yelled, his suit turning blue. There was a flash of blue and then- Everyone stood still, unsure how to react. Where the Net.Elementalist stood there was now only a patch of empty ground. Peter put his hand out, and waved in the newly vacated space, as if Barry had just turned himself invisible. "Nooo!" Faq Lord howled. "He was supposed to kill me!" Everyone turned to him. "All that effort wasted," Faq Lord hissed, more to himself. "Placing those dreams in his mind. So that he would kill me, and torture himself over it. He most of all deserved to suffer." "You were going to let him live?" Acton Lord asked, getting to the point most concerning him. "You said he would die! All superheroes would die!" "Oh shut up," snapped Faq Lord. "I am beginning to regret releasing you." Turning back to Peter, he continued. "I guess this one will have to do." Looking at Missy, he said, "Since you have been most patient, I shall let you have your chance to test him." Faq Lord raised his hand, and a ball of black energy formed, writhing and squiring, as if alive. "Pure corruption," Faq Lord breathed, looking lovingly at it. "Beautiful." The ball bulged and twisting, shapes forming half-seen, then with a definite purpose. The thing finally formed into a black, evil-looking gun, slick and shiny. "The gun, one of the most potent symbols of corruption," Faq Lord said. "With it, one feels invincible, one has the power to do anything. And yet it is only with the gun that one has that power. In the end, it is the gun, not the person, who is in control." Carefully, he placed the gun into Missy's hands. "Be careful with that, my dear. Distilled corruption. That has the power to corrupt even cells themselves. I believe that it will eat up a body, destroy it from the inside out. But I've never really seen it in action before. Shall we give it a trial run?" Missy barely gave the gun a glance. It was a tool, something to be used to gather more knowledge, and that countered more than anything else. Any ends, and any means justifying them. Wasn't that what science really was? She raised the gun in her pudgy green hands, sighting along the barrel, until it was centered on Peter's chest. Peter raised his hands placatingly. "Missy. Don't," was all he said. Despite her ability to survive being shot, this wasn't a time for Marsha to be around. Whereas he might be able to quieten the corruption down, like he did before with Acton Lord's powers. Hmm... perhaps they did have a bond after all... on the other hand, this wasn't the time to be thinking about that... on the other hand, he might not have that much time left to think anythi- "I hope no-one was going to start without me." The voice cut threw them all, immediately drawing everyone's attention. "The final piece," said Faq Lord. "I was so hoping you were coming." "Oh, I just hate to disappoint. Peter, nice to see you. Missy, please put that down, you don't know where it's been. Rick... uhhh... nice doggy." "Agent," said Faq Lord. "This I have been looking forward to immensely. You corrupted. It should be most interesting. Although some might wonder if there'd be any difference at all." "Yeah, keep those laughs coming," Agent replied. "Although watch out, or you might just crack up." Peter winced. That was about as funny as the hat convention joke in _Hudson Hawk_. "Is he mine to take out?" Acton Lord asked, anticipation obvious in his voice. "Wait just a moment. I'm sure he has a last ditch save-the-world trick he has to pull first." "One moment," Agent said. "Peter, where's Barry." "Uhh-" "Never mind, tell me later. Batter up." Taking advantage of his own created distraction, Agent pulled something out from the folds of his jacket, which he wore, even in this heat, and bowled it at Faq Lord. Peter got the impression of something silver, and very unspottable, but it was too fast to see. A blast of green energy, then black energy, washed over it, but to no effect. Despite the speed, the next moments were in slow motion for Peter. The silver something struck Faq Lord, directly on the forehead. Faq Lord's head snapped back, the silver object spinning off the side, out of sight. Faq Lord slowly tumbled backwards, collapsing onto the sand. Time snapped back into normal speed as Acton Lord screamed, and put his hands to his head, and sank onto his knees. Agent and Peter ignored him, racing instead to the side of Faq Lord. He was unconscious, but still breathing. "What?" Peter asked. "The sphere of density." "*What?*" Peter asked again, slightly incredulous he had heard correctly. "The *sphere* of *density*. Later," Agent hissed, reaching out and taking Faq Lord's pulse. "He's still alive. Somehow we've got to keep him unconscious." "How? Hit him again?" "I don't know," said Agent through gritted teeth. "But-" Even later, Peter wasn't sure exactly how events went. There was a shot, Faq Lord's body twitched, then he saw a large hole in Faq Lord's head. He and Agent made eye contact, then they both swung around to see Missy, standing there, with the gun pointed at Faq Lord. "Query: Corruption effect corruption? Test." Peter and Agent shared a look again. "Get that gun off her," Agent said. Peter nodded, and reached up and pulled the gun from Missy's grasp. He dropped it immediately, it felt slimy in his hands. Agent was studying the hole. "Look," he said, pointing. Around the edges of the hole, there were signs of activity. Something moving about. A definite impression of consumption. "Back," Agent said, thrusting out an arm. But Peter had no inclination to go further. Faq Lord's head collapsed like a deflated balloon, his insides eaten out by his own manufactured corruption. There was probably irony in that, and in Missy using Faq Lord's own gun against him, but Peter decided that was best left to Irony Man to deal with. The rest of the body quickly followed, and soon there was nothing left but an empty skin, and then even that was gone. Peter felt distinctly ill. Peter turned away, and so saw Missy and Rick. They were both lying on the ground, collapsed. Slowly the green was draining away from them, leaving them their normal colour. And shape. "Look," Peter said. Agent glanced over. "Like vampirism, I suppose. Kill the main source of corruption, and the rest fades away." Peter frowned at Agent. Corruption didn't work like that in his experience. "Hey, you get a virus or something, your body over comes in," Agent said, somewhat defensively. "Just a different form of corruption, that's all. Anyway, that's three down, one-" "Gah!" A sound interrupted him, drawing their attention over to Acton Lord, who was getting to his feet. "No more," he growled. "I'm in control, and you all die!" Green energy burst from his hands, but suddenly Acton Lord went ramrod stiff. He breathed out something not far from a death rattle, then pitched forwards into the sand. "What?" "I don't know," replied Agent, scuttling to Acton Lord's side to turn him over. "Something happened to him. At least we don't have to deal with that. We'll just stick him back in the Safe, and let them take care of him." "Too easy." "Maybe. Maybe not," said Agent, chewing on a thumbnail absently. There was something... "All right?" Peter's question interrupted his thoughts, and he turned back to see Peter looking over Missy and Rick. "They'll be fine. Just like I said, just like getting over the flu." "Yet," Peter waved a hand, and Agent turned to see the pyramid melting and collapsing in on itself like an icecube under hot water. Further glances revealed the same thing happening to the jeep and the gun. "You can't compare!" said Agent. "They're inorganic! Just be glad the comics code mean those two get to keep their clothes." "He said..." Peter started, indicating the spot where Faq Lord had been. "Well, he would hardly say 'this is just a temporary measure, and they'll be fine once you kill me. Go on then, give it a shot. Kill me.' Pah. Now, what happened to Barry?" "Thread," Peter quoted. He threw up his hands "Poof!" "Thread, poof?" repeated Agent, throwing his hands up as well. Peter shrugged. Then he put forward a question of his own. "Sphere? Density?" "Oh that," said Agent, returning his attention back to the prone form of Acton Lord. "It's a very dense sphere. Hence 'sphere' of 'density'. Very useful for knocking people out. Generally can't be stopped." "Where from?" "A warehouse. Lots of stuff in there. Christ's crown of thorns. The Ark of the Covenant. Adam's draedle. Nostrodamus's other predictions." Agent looked around absently. "Did you see where it went? I have to give it back." Peter looked around, and pointed. Agent followed the finger and ground. There was a depression in the ground. "It sank!" "Heavy?" "Of course it's heavy. Needs a J34 to lift it. Oh, I'm not looking forward to the paperwork on that one." Agent sighed. "Come on. Let's go call for a pick-up team." Peter put out an arm as Agent crossed nearby. "What?" Agent asked, getting impatient. "Barry." Peter's face was pale. "Alice." "Oh." _-~-_ Abby looked over at the two grownups who were "friends". Not that they were very friendly at the moment. Whatever they were saying was upsetting mommy. Abby hugged her mother tightly, sharing the anxiety but not really understanding it. Alice hugged Abby to her, not noticing Abby's own tight grasp, not when she had other thoughts on her mind. "He's gone away before though, hasn't he," said Alice, trying to make her words light. "There was that time you went to Missy's planet. Never told me about that until afterwards." "But, well..." Marsha and Rick shared a look. This wasn't easy. "Well, then, you see... we were still together. Yes, we were split up on the planet, but we still knew that that the others were there. We... we have no idea where Barry is. We don't even know why he disappeared." "We're sure it's got something to do with his thread powers," Rick continued. "But he's tried using them before without this happening." "Yes, I know," Alice responded, somewhat distantly. "He's practiced here before. Caused a bit of a mess with his killfiles before the neighbours started complained." Alice tried to smile, but her heart wasn't in it. Her heart was some place very distant at this moment. "But we'll continue looking for him," put in Marsha quickly. "We wont give up, but it... it might take some time, that's all..." "We thought you should know," Rick said, a bit lamely. "Yes, thank you," said Alice, the words coming automatically. "Is there something I can get you? A cup of..." The words faded as the emotions started to rise in her. Marsha and Rick caught each other's eyes, and quickly rose. "No, that's okay," Marsha said. "We'd better be on our way. We just... we just." Rick led the way out, Alice staying behind. They hadn't reached the transporter yet when Marsha heard the first sob, her face wincing in sympathy. "We'll find him," said Rick, taking Marsha's arm companionably. "I know. I know." _-~-_ "Is he getting worse?" one of the doctors asked, observing Acton Lord's room on the closed circuit camera. "He's more violent now," another responded, her words evidenced by Acton Lord, restrained though he was in a heavy duty straight jacket, thumping himself time and again into a nearby wall. "And, conversely," put in another observer, "he isn't speaking at all." "And there's nothing in the report that says what caused this?" "No. Just 'he fell over'." "Pah. Typical. They ponce about in their spandex, posturing about how they save the world, and yet not one of them has any grounding in basic psychological training." "Doctor, I think something's happening." Acton Lord had quietened down, sitting with his back to one of the walls. He just sat there, quietly, unmoving. Statue like. "Oh, why couldn't someone have removed that visor. I'd love to see what his eyes are doing right at this moment." "Er, that is... unwise. The patient became extremely agitated the last time someone tried that. She became... well..." "Oh. Yes. Well. Never mind." The doctor moved closer to the screen, as if that would enable him to get deeper into the mind of the person on screen. "Still, it would be fascinating..." The last time its host was destroyed, it returned to its own dimension for a new host, but not this time. Here was one that was perfectly serviceable. There was only a problem of there already being an inhabiting power. Acton Lord barely twitched now. Whatever happened was beyond him. There was only three possible outcomes. Either one force defeated the other. Or they cancelled each other out. That one was tricky. He wasn't sure if that option meant his own destruction as well. Not that that was an entirely displeasing notion at the moment, but there were still so many superheroes to take care of... Or there was the third option. The two forces combined, channeled through one being. Him. Yes, that option would do very nicely, thank you... -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: Barry's gone! Lost and alone somewhere! Come with us on a journey and exploration into one man's soul and find out that... on the other hand, the circus is in town, and the Alt.Riders are the main attraction! Credits: Acton Lord still belongs to Dvandom, who may now be regretting lending him to me. The others are mine.Back to the Index.