________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #22 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [Cover shows Frank Bennington surrounded by glass caskets that contain the bodies of the Alt.Riders.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Are you now, or have you ever been, an Alt.Rider?" The desert stretched out before him, an endless vista of sand. The sun baked his head, making his vision swim, but he didn't move. He closed his eyes to the glare, but closed or open, the brightness penetrated. He breathed the hot air into his lungs, tried to hold his breath, one small act of defiance against the heat, but had to expel again. "Perhaps we can begin." The voice startled his eyes open, but he didn't turn around. The desert assaulted his senses anew, and he found himself to be panting slightly. "Just a few questions to start with." Finally turning, he saw a man standing nearby, looking at him casually. Surprisingly, for the environment, the man was in a business suit, neatly pressed jacket, ruler-straight tie, and perfectly ironed trousers. The heat clearly didn't bother the man, and it bothered him that the man wasn't discomforted. "We can start small, if you like. Maybe you could tell me what you would like right now?" Right now? A drink of water if nothing else. His tongue flicked over his lips, but there was no moisture there to alleviate the power of the sun. Failing that, shade of some kind. Perhaps even a fully air-conditioned restaurant and hotel? "That's perfectly understandable. Unfortunately, I can't provide those things just yet. We have a few details we'd like answered." He tried to wet his lips again with the same lack of success. What was this man talking about? "Don't worry about that. Plenty of time for that later. For now, what is your favourite colour?" Brown came instantly to mind, but that was easily explained by the desert around him. He couldn't even look up to see a blue sky, the sun directly overhead. But brown wasn't the right answer. Was it? "That's fine. Can you remember what you have for breakfast this morning?" This morning? Was it only this morning since he last had breakfast? Why did it seem like years ago? What did he have for breakfast? Did he even have breakfast? And what had happened then? Just how did he come to be here? And where was here? "Ah, I see. At this point, are there any questions you'd like to have answered?" Despite his thoughts whirling unordered through his mind, there was one overwhelming question in his mind, although he could barely bring himself to acknowledge it. Who was he? _-~-_ Frank Bennington stared into the glass casket, taking in every feature of the man inside. The man was of average height, with sandy-dark hair. He wouldn't have stood out in a crowd, although his attire would have been noticed. It was a dark one-piece body suit, the exact colour not quite clear. There was a wavy line, almost suggesting sound waves, traveling up the sides of the suit, and at the end of his arms were gauntlets. At the moment, his face was peaceful, due entirely to the fact that he was unconscious. Frank Bennington straightened. He glanced at the technician beside him. "You sure we've encountered him before?" "Oh yes sir," replied the technician. "He is one of the Alt.Riders after all, and we've come up against them many times." Bennington sighed. Indeed they had. Like the time he had been trying to acquire the technology from the now defunct Queen Towers in Sin.ci.net.ty. [See _The Alt.Riders #18_ for the details - Footnote Girl.] "Who is he again?" "Er, his real name is Peter Markham, but I'm not exactly sure what superhero name he goes by at the moment, but he did start out as Inacoustic Kid. He went missing a long time ago, we believe he was kidnaped by Queen Enterprises." [This was discovered in _World Tales #7-8_ - Footnote Girl] Bennington snorted. That would be the kind of thing she would do. "He returned in the presence of the woman, and they were both requested to join the Alt.Riders. At that point, we think he changed his name to Silence," the technician continued. [The formation of the Alt.Riders is in _The Alt.Riders #1_ - Footnote Girl.] "You then personally encountered him and had him locked in a particle accelerator. We're not sure how he survived." [See _The Alt.Riders #2-3_ for how. - Footnote Girl] "He continued in the Alt.Riders, but he and the woman have never been seen in the same place again, although we think he has adopted the name 'Dva'. However, the woman has also been referred to by that name. Then he, and the rest of the Alt.Riders, disappeared several years ago. Until now." "Until now," mused Bennington. He reached out and carefully tapped the casket. "This will hold, won't it?" "We believe so, sir." Bennington shook his head gently. "I don't like it. It's too untested for my liking." "No offense, sir, but we are here to test it now. You did agree," said the technician, before hurriedly adding "sir." "Quite," replied Bennington. He studied this Silence for a moment longer. "Do we have a full catalogue of his abilities?" "The most obvious power he has is over sound, sir. He is able to silence it. Hence probably his name." The technician tried a quick smile, but it wasn't well received. "There is some evidence he has the ability to damped other forms of energy as well, but he doesn't seem to be present all that often. More often his presence is replaced by the woman." "And just where is the woman?" The technician hesitated before answering. "We're not sure. She should be around, but her and the other one are currently missing." "We have details on the woman?" The technician nodded. "Marsha Burgenstock, daughter of the Lady Burgenstock. She joined the LNH some time ago under the name Marshmallow Lass, but left after a few battles." [See the too-brief series of _Guitar.Man_ for details - Footnote Girl] "She disappeared for a while, before returning with Inacoustic Kid," the technician continued. [Details about that, and her past life, can be found in the Softcentre Saga, a.k.a. _World Tales #5-8_ and the _World Tales Annual #1_ - Footnote Girl] "She joined the Alt.Riders with him, and took on the name Softcentre. Again, we thought she had died, but she is evidently still alive. As I said, she also seems to be referred to by the name 'Dva'. "As for her abilities, she, well...has the powers of a marshmallow, sir." Seeing the unamused look on Bennington's face, the technician hurriedly continued. "That is the easiest term for it, sir, suggested by her own name. When hit by anything, the blow just gets absorbed. Even bullets just pass through her, admittedly with a, er, gooey residue. She can even withstand falls from great heights without being hurt." The technician nodded at a nearby casket, currently empty. "We've got a place ready for her if she ever is located." "Good to hear," Bennington said, before turning and striding over to another casket. "Now, tell me about _that_." _-~-_ She had a hand over her eyes to try to shade out the sun, but it wasn't working. She could feel her skin peeling as the radiation etched into it, and it wasn't a pleasant feeling. She knew exactly what would happened under prolonged exposure, and knew she had no chance of getting through this without help. "This will be over soon. Just a few questions." The man stood before her, replete in suit and tie. She studied him, wondering how he could exist in this desert, but wasn't able to reach any definite conclusions. "Never mind about that now. Let's start with: what are you looking for, on this planet?" This planet? What planet is this? What was she doing here? An answer did bubble up in her mind. Knowledge. Information. The pursuit of data. And more than that, using that knowledge to help others, make life better. That's what she wanted to do. The man smiled. "That's admirable. And I think we can help you do that. But let's continue. Have you ever invented any weapons?" Weapons? Why would she want weapons? She wanted to help, not hurt. Make life better, not take it away. The man frowned for just a moment. "Well, I'm sure we can work around that. Do you recognize this?" He held up a device, L-shaped, with bands of rubber wrapped around certain parts. She studied it for a moment, parts of her mind recognizing components, other parts recognizing principles. As the rubber stretched there, tension would be applied over here. That would then build up to an explosion of kinetic energy along that axis... It was probably due to what the man said earlier, but thoughts of a weapon arose in her mind. It was a form of catapult, miniature in size, but still capable of lobbing objects over distances. "Quite right. However, the distances this can fire over aren't long enough for our purposes. Can you see any way of improving it? Preferably without using any detectable elements, such as metals." Also despite herself, ideas for improvements started ticking over in her mind. _-~-_ "This, er, alien is of race called the Chubs, as far as we have been able to make out," the technician explained. Bennington looked into the casket, which was rounder than the others. Inside was what would otherwise be described as a short fat woman in a sailor suit. However, unlike any woman Bennington had encountered, this... thing... had blue skin, all over. Bennington shuddered. This wasn't the first time he had encountered an alien, but it was the most disgusting. (That it reminded him of one of his earlier wives had nothing to do with it.) "It goes by the name of Missy, sir," the technician went on. "She is the scientist among them, showing an amazing ability to pick up new technology and information in an astoundingly short amount of time. She appeared with the Alt.Riders a while ago, but we don't know anything about her home planet, sir." [Details of that can be found in _The Alt.Riders #4-5_ - Footnote Girl] Bennington turned away slightly. "Do you really think we'll get anything out of her?" "Oh yes, sir," the technician affirmed. "In fact, she's the most responsive so far. There does seem to be a problem with this technology in that it causes a large degree of amnesia, but even that isn't stopping her mind from being of use." Bennington took a moment to take in the sight of the caskets around him. Although he didn't want this project, there wasn't much he could do about it. As part of his contract, he was required to test new technologies, and in return they would ignore his more... illicit dealings. The caskets were a new form of mental programming, able to access the mind of the person inside, bypassing their higher consciousness and go straight into their inner thoughts. The operator interfacing could then question them about their knowledge before giving them new 'facts' to influence their behaviour. It sounded a ridiculous length to go to, in Bennington's opinion, but he wasn't in any position to argue. One benefit of this was that it was looking to work on super-beings, and that's where most previous attempts had fallen over before. Not that the Alt.Riders were the most representative sample of super-beings there was, but they were the easiest to collect... Walking over to a fourth casket, Bennington took in the man inside. Tall, with black hair, he wore more casual clothes, slacks, an open necked shirt, and a jacket. Although just as innocuous looking when unconscious, he was probably the most dangerous one here. _-~-_ The man in the suit looked around in puzzlement. The desert was here, as expected, but there was no-one else. Where was the person he was supposed to talk to? "Looking for me?" The man didn't even have time to turn before he blacked out. _-~-_ "The leader of the Alt.Riders, sir," said the technician, looking at a new data sheet. "Previously known as the Phantom Walker, he now goes by the name of Agent." "Agent? Agent what? Agent of what?" The technician shrugged. "Not sure, sir. Just Agent." "And what does he do?" "Actually, sir, we don't know. Certainly, we've been unable to exactly ascribe any particular power to him, sir. He just seems to know a lot, and get in the way. It could be that he doesn't actually do anything." "Oh, he does things, all right. Been able to survive several contract hits I know have been called against him. This is probably the first time we've been able to catch him off guard." The Alt.Riders headquarters in Sin.ci.net.ty was empty when Bennington and his team had came calling. Following instructions, caskets had been placed in certain positions, then Bennington had activated a device he was told was a 'Limbo-nullifier'. He wasn't sure what that did, but moments later there was a ripple in the air, and then the caskets contained the unconscious bodies that were now around him. All except two of them, that was. One of them was for the woman, and the other- An alarm sounded, and red lights started flashing. "Turn those off!" Bennington barked, knowing that the noise wouldn't help anyone trying to sort out confusion. "What's happening?" "Sir, Agent's contact has..." The technician looked across to where other technicians had gathered around a prone body. "It looks like he's collapsed, sir. Maybe from some kind of feedback, but that shouldn't be possible." Bennington considered kicking the casket in front of him, but knew that wouldn't achieve anything. "Get him disconnected at once. And don't hook up anyone else. Isolate this casket, and make sure no-one comes near it. I want Agent as secure as possible." As the technician hurried away to carry out the orders, Bennington crossed over to the last occupied casket. From the most dangerous to the most continually annoying... _-~-_ He could feel himself melting under the power of the sun. Literally. Looking down at himself, he could see his feet starting to spread out, liquefying, mixing with the sand, turning him into a human-based puddle of mud. He lifted one leg in panic, but his leg stretched like chewing gum, becoming thinner, reaching breaking point. He hurriedly slammed his leg down again, but that just pushed him further into the sand. "We can help you. Answer some simple questions we have, and you can go." He didn't look around, too busy taking in the horror of his limbs. "Did you think you could get away with it?" This time, he did look around, quickly finding the man in the suit beside him. Get away with what? "We have full records of what you did. Why don't you just admit it? Make it a lot easier all around." What was this guy talking about? What things? Why wasn't this man helping him with his legs? Looking back down, he could see his knees starting to lose form. "I'm not sure how much time you have left, but I don't think you want to spend it like this. Why not confess? We can help you then." Confess? Confess what? Fine, whatever it was, he'd confess to it. Just help him! "Thank you." The man smiled widely. "Now we can continue. You need to make amends for what you did. And we can tell you how." The man held up a picture. "There's a small favour you can do for us." _-~-_ Bennington knew quite a bit about this last person. The man in the casket had a slight unfinished look to his features, as though the muscles and bones beneath the skin hadn't quite set yet. Even the clothes looked unrefined, just an attempt at material that wasn't quite distinct. The line between where the skin ended and clothing began was blurry, as though the body underneath wasn't quite sure where it should be covered and where it should show skin. This was all part of the parcel of the man called Morph, previously Amorphous Lad. He was a shapeshifter, could become anything that could be imagined, even things that weren't even living, which quite surprised Bennington. But the aspect that annoyed Bennington the most was that this Morph was the perfect infiltrator, and had indeed infiltrated Bennington's own organization more than once. [See _The Alt.Riders #10-12,18_ for examples - Footnote Girl] Previously, Amorphous Lad was a member of the LNH, but left, and then became a major thorn in Bennington's side. [See _World Tales #9_ - Footnote Girl] And then when he joined up with the Alt.Riders, there was hardly a scheme Bennington had going that Morph didn't interfere in. At least until a few years ago. But even then, his life hadn't been completely superhero free. [See _Writer's Block Woman and Mouse #37-39_ - Footnote Girl] And now that Bennington had been the one to bring Morph into this project, he just knew that something else was bound to go wrong. If he had had his way, Bennington would have frozen them all in liquid nitrogen, then have had at them with a sledge hammer. _-~-_ He still couldn't remember who he was, but that wasn't as much a problem as the man talking to him. "Can you remember your favourite movie? Your favourite drink? Your favourite LNHer?" He wished the man would stop bugging him. None of those answers were coming to him, and his mind was buckling under the pressure. The man brought out a picture. "How about this person? Can you remember him? We'd like you to help us with him, but if you can't remember him, we'll have to fill in some of the details of what deeds he has done. Unfortunately, they aren't pleasant ones." It was just too much. He couldn't cope any more, the questions bounced around his head, and he started looking for a solution. Any way out. And then something told him that maybe his wasn't the only head that was available... _-~-_ The technician had rejoined Bennington in front of the last casket. This one looked different, and not just because it was empty. Bennington peered closer. Was the glass thicker? "Extra strength," the technician said proudly. "Built to withstand even those powers." "Do we know the extent of his powers?" "Not really, but we know he has at least flight and power over fire. There are whisperings that he can control the elements, but that might just be rumour." Bennington raised an eyebrow. "What else do we know about him?" The technician took a deep breath. "His real name is Barry Knewbee, and he went by the name of Fan.Boy when he was with the LNH. Not too amazing, could stun people, and knew a lot, but not much else. When he joined the Alt.Riders his powers changed, and he took on the name of the Net.Elementalist, although we're not exactly sure what 'net.elements' are." [Net.Elements are the net equivalent of natural elements, net for air, thread for water, flame for fire and keystroke for earth. - Footnote Girl] He flicked through more notes. "He has a family in Phila.DEL.phia, wife Alice, daughter Abby. We haven't kept our eye on them, although they could be potentially useful one day. He's been known to hang around with Retcon Lad. We have no idea why he didn't turn up in the casket." [The Net.Elementalist went missing at the end of _The Alt.Riders #21_ - Footnote Girl] Another alarm sounded, this time with blue lights. The technician spun around, checking the caskets. "Silence's casket, sir." They hurried over to the casket to find the contents had changed. Instead of the man, there was now a dark-skinned women, in a pair of denim overalls and a heavy top. This was the woman they had been speaking of earlier. "What is this?" Bennington demanded. "There's no way anyone in the casket could have been switched, sir," the technician said. "So what are you saying?" "The only answer is," the technician paused, gulping, "they are somehow the same person. We already have a shapeshifter," he went on quickly, "so this isn't entirely impossible. And, it would explain how they both have the name Dva." There was another change in the casket. Whilst the man had been unconscious, the woman was very conscious. Although she couldn't move about easily, she beat her hands against the sides (doing little damage due to her marshmallow nature). "Sir, we have to get her out of there!" "Why?" asked Bennington, incredulously, still trying to take in the evidence of his eyes. "The casket isn't designed for her body, sir. The drugs we used were tailored for the man. It could kill her." Already there was another change. The woman was gasping for air. This, however, didn't bother Bennington too much. He shrugged. "Leave her in there. Safer this way." The technician looked shocked. "We aren't doing this to kill anyone, sir!" Bennington rolled his eyes. He'd had enough. "Fine. Let her out then." As the technician moved towards the casket control panel, Bennington quietly slipped into the background. _-~-_ Marsha groggily became aware of her surroundings. What the hell had been going on? From what she could blearily make out, she was encased in a glass casket, figures outside of it peering in at her. Panic arose in her chest, and she beat at the glass case futilely, trying to break free. But all she did was use up the air around her, and she could feel her gasps becoming shorter in length. None too soon, air rushed in as the top of the casket lifted off. Marsha took grateful breaths as she attempted to work out where she was. People in overalls helped her up, and she began to take in the room around her. It was large, like a warehouse, and she could see other caskets around. At them there were people hooked up by wires, one man per casket. At the end of her one, the man was ripping connection pads from his head. One of the people talking to her said something about how amazing it was that she could change form. Her mind slowly started gearing up to speed, and she realized that whenever this had happen, her body had been in Peter's form at the time, and obviously they didn't know she and Peter could switch from one body to the other. [Due to the events in _The Alt.Riders #3_ - Footnote Girl] Taking in more around her, she could see that most of the other caskets contained her colleagues, and her anger started to rise at the thought of what had been going on around here. Giving the people holding her a shove, she made them release her and stagger back. Not pausing, she clambered up onto her casket, and took a flying leap. It wasn't graceful, nor well aimed, but she managed to clear two caskets before crashing onto a third. Fortunately, she wasn't hurt, but the casket was pushed enough to send it, and her, crashing to the floor. The occupant inside only needed a few moments to open his eyes and come to complete consciousness. And Agent was pissed. _-~-_ Bennington stood in the monitoring room, watching the catastrophe unfold. Agent took down several technicians, crashing into expensive equipment as he did so. Guards exploded into the room, but Agent didn't even pause before plowing into the nearest one, grabbing his weapon, and turning it on the other. Fortunately, it was only an electrical stun gun, explosive weapons forbidden in the main room for fear of destroying equipment, but it still delivered large amounts of pain, as the next guards in line found out. By this time, that Softcentre woman was evading more technicians, and sending the casket containing Morph crashing to the ground. Knowing that the fight wouldn't last much longer with the shapeshifter free, Bennington made his exit. _-~-_ Sometime later, Missy was picking through the pieces of equipment that had survived. She could already discern how the equipment worked, although she couldn't tell the exact nature of the experiment that had been performed on them. "Changes the brain," she explained as best she could. Despite her scientific brilliance, she still had trouble with the English language. "Enables interrogation. Influences thoughts." "Brainwashing," summed up Agent, looking around. "Any ideas what they were trying to do?" Dva and Morph shook their heads. Neither could remember anything of what happened to them. "Bet you Bennington was behind this," Morph said. "Just the sort of thing he'd try to do." "Probably," said Agent. "No doubt he got away for us to meet another day." The piece of equipment Missy was examining started sparking, making her jump. Dva reached out, and the electricity field died down. "Thanks," she replied. Morph had his head cocked to one side. "Something's different." "Is it? Seems to me we do this sort of thing all the time," Dva replied. "That's just it. It feels like it's been a while since we did this at all." His eyes widened. "Oh damn, we're being written again." "What are you talking about?" Morph sighed. "Don't worry. Just that I don't think our lives will quieten down again for a long time." "All right people," Agent announced. "Let's get out of here. It's out job to check out strange events, and this one is over. On to the next one!" Rolling their eyes at his sense of melodrama, the Alt.Riders followed Agent out of the building and on to their next adventure... _-~-_ Meanwhile, the man in the picture looked out upon the world he controlled. And, if he had anything to say about it, always would. --------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT TIME: "Everyone comes to the Freak Show, To laugh at the freaks, and the geeks. Everyone comes to the Freak Show, But nobody laughs, when they leave." CREDITS: Agent and Frank Bennington (and the Net.Elementalist) created by me. Marsha created by Campbell Marsh. Not sure who created Morph (nee Amorphous Lad) or Silence (nee Inacoustic Kid). All reserved by me. Footnote Girl (who is now claiming overtime pay) created by Saxon Brenton. NOTES: I'm back! I hope. This is (obviously) a heavily introductory issue to the Alt.Riders and some of their back story. One of the main changes I'll be making is that I've decided not to try for a particular length each issue, which hopefully means I'll be able to get more out as I won't spend time trying to pad them. We'll see....Back to the Index.