[This title has always been bordering on the Acraphobic, and I think now is as good a time as any to reinforce the "mature audience only" label. So, warning: mature images ahead.] Blue Light Productions presents: ________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #32 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [The cover is a photograph of Rick and his family. Only the rest of the family has been drawn on heavily with a marker, hiding their identities.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Future Lies" 20 years and one day later... Lady Burgenstock's jet raced through the air on a trajectory for the Pacifi.net Islands. Lady Burgenstock, aka Marsha Burgenstock, was currently on the video-phone, talking to Deja Dude II. "Have we got a clear path?" she asked. Deja Dude II nodded. "It's all been cleared with LNH Asia, and we'll keep out of this. We know all too well about how the Net.Elementalist feels." "Yes, well, we'll burn that bridge when we see it," Marsha replied wryly. "Wish I could offer more help, but the writer's only letting me have this small cameo," Deja Dude II said. "Over and out." The screen switched off, but Marsha remained in the cockpit to talk to the pilot. Behind them, Rick Mansfield was sitting in silence with his mother, Veronica Summers. "So, how was space?" Rick finally asked, more to break the awkward tension. Veronica shrugged. "Empty. Cold. I liked it." "Have you recalled anything about the person who did that to you?" Rick asked, pointing to the strange symbol that had been carved into Veronica's forehead. That same symbol that was now sending them to a particular Tongan island. Veronica shook her head. "That's all wrapped up in the memories this seal," she said, tapping the symbol, "is designed to keep hidden. But believe me when I say they'd better be good memories trapped there, or I'm going to have words." Rick nodded. Besides being his mother, Veronica Summers had also been known as the Queen Bee, ruler of the largest Earth-bound corporation during the twentieth century. She was used to getting her way. "But you said you had seen this symbol before," Veronica said. "When was that?" "I doubt it has anything to do with this," Rick said, not meeting her eyes. "Why don't you tell me?" Veronica said in a voice that invited discussion. Rick sighed. "It was about twelve years ago," he said, looking out the window. "Agent has disappeared about a year previously, we had no idea where. Then we got a call about something rotting away the middle of Louisiana." "Rotting?" "Something was corrupting the Earth. We found out what it was pretty quickly..." _-~-_ Twelve years earlier... "You couldn't leave well enough alone, could you?" Agent said, as he wielded the Hammer of Corruption. "You're insane!" Rick yelled, as he stood in the middle of a swamp. Only it wasn't a normal swamp, this one was diseased, eaten away. The water was green, foul, stinking. The trees grew in gnarled twists of pain, dessicated husks forced to exist beyond their natural span. Bushes clawed at the air, vines twitched and marsh reeds exploded in puffs of putrid gas at the slightest touch. "THIS IS MY RIGHT!" Agent roared. "This is what I came here for! You cannot hope to comprehend what I am!" Rick risked a glance to the right, making sure Marsha was still alive. She lay half-in, half-out of a pool of decaying water. He wasn't sure, but he feared she was slowly being sucked into it. "That Hammer has affected you!" Rick shouted. "It's eaten away at your mind." "That 'Hammer'," Agent spat, "is more powerful than anything your mind could conceive!" Agent swung the hammer, smashing it into a nearby tree. Green power pulsed sickly, and the tree exploded in a burst of unnatural growth, becoming larger, fiercer, branches reaching out, grasping through the air, striking out at everything around it. Rick jumped back, his hands becoming whirling blades that hacked at the branches as they neared him. He had to be careful not to move too far to the left, or else he might bring Agent's attention to the unconscious blue body over there. Agent grinned, the sight as unpleasant as everything else. "You're done. The Alt.Riders are finished. The world will soon be mine," he gloated. Taking a more offensive path, Rick changed his body into flames. Built up pockets of gas immediately caught fire, and the trees were soon alight. However, this also put Rick on a timer. End the fight quickly or watch his comrades get roasted. "HA HA HA!!" Agent cackled. "Not even fire can stop me now!" Agent swung the hammer again, and the flames burned green. A wind swept in from nowhere, somehow blowing infrom all directions at once, pushing the flames in towards Rick. Even though he was flame himself, he could feel the inherent menace in the diseased fire, and knew that he couldn't let it touch him. Taking a chance, Rick leapt into the air, turning himself into a breeze, but couldn't fight against the winds Agent had conjured. Changing to a rocket, he managed to blast himself out of the air, but then had trouble directing himself. Finally managing to stabilize, he turned and targeted Agent. Agent just grinned at the rocket Rick. He waggled the hammer invitingly. "Come get some, fly boy," he taunted. Rick flew towards Agent, running through the options in his mind. Quickly he discarded several. Whatever form he chose would have to be something that the hammer couldn't corrupt. Because, he realized, he'd have to be something corrupted already... Agent swung as Rick came close, but failed to make contact. Because Rick disappeared. Or, at least, changed into something he couldn't see. Agent peered around, and growled. Wherever Rick had gone, it wouldn't last. Snarling, Agent turn and slammed the hammer into a nearby pool of stagnant water, causing a miniature tidal wave. The water put out the fires around him, allowing Agent to stalk through the swamp, looking for the last superhero. Then he coughed, trying to clear his throat. He coughed again, then heaved a huge breath, and created a coughing fit that left him dizzy. He fell to his knees, and spat. Something shot from his mouth, red and slimy, before oozing quickly into the mud around him. But even a small glimpse was enough to tell him it was a part of his internal organs. Suddenly Agent sneezed, and could feel red fluid ejecting from his mouth, eyes and nose. Blood poured out of him, and he collapsed, splashing into the mud. As his internal organs finished liquefying, particles of deadly diseases, ebola, hanta, motaba, flew away from his body, and coalesced into the grim form of Rick. Rick stared down at the dead body of Agent, but felt no pity. Didn't feel anything really. It was what he had had to do. Being careful not to touch it, Rick examined the Hammer of Corruption. It gleamed dully, with a hint of evil aura around it. On the top, Rick saw a design. It looked like a circle with two strokes through it. | / _-+-_ / / | /\ | |/ | | /| | \/_ | _ / / -+- / | _-~-_ "Good." "Huh?" Rick turned, startled, to see Veronica's eyes flashing in anger. "Death was too good for that bastard." "But...I...he..." "Don't feel any remorse over his death. Got more than what was coming to him. But you say the same symbol was on the hammer?" "Uh, yeah." Rick had to mentally scramble to keep up. Wasn't Agent Veronica's lover? He had thought so. Even thought that Agent was his father. But if she felt like that... "But, uh, I don't think that hammer has anything to do with what happened to you," Rick continued. "That was on Earth, but you were in space..." "On the other hand, as far as I can make out, twelve years ago was about when this happened," Veronica said, gesturing to her head. "I was unconscious for about five years after that, then had to spend the next seven years working out that I had to return to Earth to find out what the hell it was." "And destroy a major city on the way," Rick added. "Sin.ci.net.ty was *my* city," Veronica growled. "I created it, I can destroy it." "And everyone in it." Veronica waved her hand. "As I said, they don't matter." "I wish you would explain that," Rick said. "I can't remember!" Veronica snapped. "All I know is none of this matters, and I want to know why as much as you do." At that moment, the speaker system activated. "Lady and gentleman, we will be touching down at Fua'amotu International Airport on the island of Tongatapu in ten minutes. Please buckle your seat belts and return trays to the upright position. Please observe all safety procedures and remain in your seat until the plane has come to a complete stop and the pilot has deactivated the 'fasten seat belt' sign. Thank you for flying Burgenstock Airways." Rick and Veronica glared at each other as they got ready to land. As the plane banked for descent, Veronica said, "Perhaps now you can tell me what is going on here. Why won't the Net.Elementalist help?" "About three years ago, the Net.Elementalist left the Loonited States. There was a...conflict of differences. Arriving in the Pacifi.net Islands, the Net.Elementalist found a new home, and married the Tongan Princess, although they are admittedly, as far as I can tell, deeply in love so it wasn't just a marriage of convenience," Rick explained. "Since then, the Pacifi.net Islands have been under the Net.Elementalist's dominion, and even LNH Asia tread lightly in this area." Veronica considered this. "That was very carefully phrased, and didn't tell me anything," she assessed. "You'll see," Rick said, then refused to be drawn further on the subject. _-~-_ The trio of Marsha, Rick and Veronica were met at the airport by a limousine. The chauffeur was a large Tongan, who refused to speak to them. "Well," said Marsha, as they drove out from the city over a rough road. "This is a pleasant welcoming." Veronica cocked her head. "You're not being sarcastic, are you?" Marsha shook her head. "Actually, I'm surprised we were even allowed to land." "*You* don't have anything to worry about," Rick muttered. "You didn't screw it all up." "Rick," Marsha said gently. "You can't keep blaming yourself." "I don't think I'm the only one blaming me," Rick replied. Veronica watched them carefully. "You're doing this deliberately, aren't you?" The limo drove over cobbled stones, then pulled off onto a side lane that wound up a hill. At the top was a large palace. It glistened whitely under the sun, almost blinding. The limo entered the first courtyard, and was waved through to the second by an armed guard. The guard was one of an army, positioned all over the sprawling construct of the palace, ready to protect those inside at a moment's notice (although it often worked out the other way around). The limo finally stopped in the third courtyard, and the trio exited. Veronica shaded her eyes as she took in the splendor around her. "And they said I was ostentatious." "From memory, they actually said you were a complete bitch," Marsha said, smiling winningly at Veronica. "So good to see someone else now has the mantle," Veronica returned, before turning to see a dark skinned woman sweeping out of the main doors. The dress was a simple affair in white, that wrapped around her body tightly enough to stay on, but loose enough to allow her a graceful motion. "Malo e laumalie," the woman said, bowing her head, letting her long dark hair brush past her head. "Malo e laumalie, Pilinsesi Tupou" replied Rick, bowing in return. "Malo e laumalie," Marsha said, bowing, and Veronica quickly followed suit. "Welcome," Princess Tupou said, in accented English. "Although I fear this may well be the only welcoming you receive." "How is the Net.Elementalist today?" Rick asked. "As well as could be expected, but impatient as ever. Please, come this way." The princess gestured, and Rick and the others followed her inside the palace. The inside was stark, no art or even carpets. Their shoes made slapping sounds on the concrete, the princess even more so due to the sandles she wore. Eventually, they came to a large room with a table in the middle surrounded by chairs. Windows in the walls allowed sunlight to light the room, and the lack of glass meant wind could easily pass through, keeping the room from becoming uncomfortablely warm. "Please wait here. The Net.Elementalist will be with you in but a moment." Smiling perfect white teeth, the princess bowed, Rick matching her, then left them alone. "Right," Veronica hissed. "Someone better start telling me what's going on right now!" "You'll shut up," Marsha hissed back, "and hope Rick can stop us from getting killed." "Don't count on it," Rick muttered, then they all turned as large wooden doors on the other side of the room slammed open. Revealed was the Net.Elementalist, the black body suit (so black that light fell into it) covering legs and torso, but leaving arms and head free. The glare fixed them all into statues, then the Net.Elementalist strode into the room to stand behind the chair at the top of the table. "Start talking, or get the hell out of my life," the Net.Elementalist snarled. Rick swallowed, then finally said. "Hello, Abby." _-~-_ Eighteen years earlier... Rick swallowed, then reached up and tentatively knocked on the door. He waited while he could hear footsteps approaching. There was silence, a breath drawn, then the door opened. Rick looked straight into the face of a woman hounded by death. Alice was unable to say anything, already seeing the answer on Rick's face. But Rick still had to speak. "There wasn't anything we could do. We tried, but..." Alice stood there, resolute, but Rick could that the the hand that gripped the door was white from pressure. "They won't let me see him?" she finally managed to ask. Rick shook his head. "They won't let any of us near him. 'For fear that justice will be perverted by superheroes taking laws into their own hands'," he quoted. "Bastards," Alice spat. "I'm his wife! Justice, hah! It's not even as if they could really do this without his permission." "He did kill her," Rick said, but wishing he didn't have to. The last thing he wanted to do was the once again remind Alice of what happened, but they had to face facts. "If he didn't take responsibility for this, how could any of us ever trust him again?" "But he'd be alive!" Alice cried out. "I don't care about justice, I just want Barry back!" There was a quick patter of footsteps, then suddenly there was another blond head at Alice's side. "Mommy?" "Oh, Abby, come here," Alice said, scooping her young daughter up. She buried Abby's head in her chest, then looked over her head to glare at Rick. "Did they say when?" Rick shook his head again. "They wouldn't tell us. We think it will be soon, but-" Alice gasped, and Rick took a sudden step back as Abby suddenly burst into light. The brightness was dazzling, but Alice refused to let go of her daughter. The light quickly faded away again, and Abby looked up at her mother, who's mouth was open in shock. "What?" Alice looked at Rick. "How?" Rick stared at the girl in Alice's arms, the girl who was now in a black body suit. "They...he..." Alice realized what he was trying to say. "Those murderers," she hissed. "Mommy?" Abby asked again. "Shush, honey," Alice said. "Everything will be all right." "Are you sure?" Rick asked. "Abby just...Barry's powers..." "I'll thank you to leave us alone now," Alice said coldly, turning to walk back inside, letting the door slam shut in Rick's face. _-~-_ "If you only came this way to say hi, you've come an awful long way to be told to get and get crukked," Abby said in return, folding her arms. "We didn't come just to see you," Rick started, but Abby interrupted again. "No, of course you didn't." "We've got a mission," Rick continued. "We're here for the Staff of Ha'ano." "What the hell is that to me?" "It's a staff," Veronica put in, "that will break the curse placed on me as represented by this symbol." She indicated the mark on her forehead. "And who are you that I should care about anything to do with you?" Abby stared at Veronica. "This is...um, a long story, but the short version is, say hello to my mother," Rick said. "Oh, it's a regular family reunion, isn't it? But why has Lady Burgenstock deigned to grace us with her presence?" Abby said, sarcasm dripping. "I'm just here as a favour to Rick," Marsha said, keeping calm and stately. "And you could do worse than to listen to him." "I did listen to him, and that hasn't exactly turned out too great now, has it?" "Abby, please," Rick said. "We just want to get the Staff, then we'll leave. We're not here to cause any trouble." "Well, too late for that," Abby replied. "You think you can waltz back in here, grab whatever you like, and just leave again? Just like that? Like hell. Unless you've got a better reason than that, as far as I'm concerned, you can stay in this room, locked away forever." "Excuse me, young woman," Veronica said, her voice icy cold. "I don't know who you are either, and nor do *I* care. But you are easily the most petty, selfish, cold-hearted, bitch I have ever met, and I've met me. Get off your high horse, and get over yourself. You have power? So what? So did I and it meant nothing. "I used to run a fruit shop. Did anyone ever tell you about that? And a global tyrannical company. Guess which was more fun?" Veronica stepped forward, one foot after the other. "It's the people that makes life worth living, you stupid cow, and alienating all around you is exactly the right way to spend the rest of your life as a pathetic shrew that no-one can love because you can't even love yourself." Another step. Another step. "Listen up. You're pissed off? Fine. But stop taking it out on everyone around you. Get over it. Get on with life. And stop pretending you are more important that anyone else." Now Veronica was face to face with Abby, staring right into her ungrateful eyes. *SLAP* Rick and Marsha took a step back. Whatever happened now was completely out of their control. Abby exploded in flame, melting the stone where she stood. Whiteness flared as time slowed all around her. Killfiles imploded in the room, swallowing sections of the table and chairs. Strange warped creations were twisted into the air. Then all the power faded away as Abby raised a hand to touch the fading hand-print on her cheek. The room dropped several degrees despite the hot sun. "You'll regret this, old woman," she hissed. Veronica never broke eye contact. "Been there, done that, flogged the t-shirt. Just when was the last time anyone dared to stand up to you?" Inadvertently, Abby's eyes shot over to Rick, and Veronica caught the gesture. She frowned. "Rick?" "That wasn't one of my proudest moments," she heard Rick mutter. Abby's gaze had returned to Veronica, and she suddenly snorted. "That's what you think I am?" Abby said. "A spoiled child?" "If the shoe fits," Veronica replied evenly. "Well, I guess it runs in the family, like the rest of your such wonderful attributes." Finally Veronica swung around to face Rick. "What is she talking about?" "Yes, go on," Abby said. "Tell her all about it. Dad." _-~-_ Eight years ago... Abby slammed the door as she entered the house. She paused for a moment, waiting for any reaction, as she always did, but, as ever, got nothing. Disgusted, she knew what awaited her, but went into the kitchen anyway. Trying to ignore the chair, she opened the fridge and peered inside. She sighed in frustration, he hadn't been shopping again. She shut the fridge with as loud a bang as possible. "Muh?" The figure in the chair jerked awake. "Abby? That you?" "You expecting mom?" she replied, looking at the discarded pizza boxes, and shuddered. She seemed to spend a lot of her life recently shuddering. "Huh? What time iz it?" "Four o'clock." "Nah, she won't be back for 'nother few hours yet." Abby rolled her eyes. He never understood her. "Jus' enough time for another drink." Fumbling for a nearby bottle, Rick swished it a few times to make sure there was still liquid in it, then swilled it downed, upending the bottle until the last drops fell into his mouth. "Get another beer for daddy, will you honey?" he said, burping and peering blearily at her. Abby's eyes watered momentarily from the fumes. "Ugh, that's so gross." "Nah, come on. Use that wonnerful power of yours. Swish!" Rick tried to click his fingers, but couldn't make them work. "Bang, there's another bottle!" He paused for a moment. "And, hey, have one yerself." Abby couldn't believe him. "I told you, I never want to use my damn powers again. And certainly not for that." "Don't swear," Rick said as sharply as he could. "And, honey, when you get to be my age, you'll be grateful for whatever power you can get." "I hear mom say the same thing," Abby muttered. "What waz that? Nah, never mind. Come on, 'nother bottle." Groaning to herself, Abby reached out, her black outfit turning brown. ___ | | | | / \ | B | | E | | E | | R | ~~~~~ "Happy now?" "Couldn't make it a bit bigger, could you?" Rick asked, but immediately waved the question away. "Never mind. Cheers!" Turning his thumb into a bottle opener, Rick popped the top, and took a long guzzle. "Ah, thash the stuff." He burped again happily. Abby stood, finally unable to take anymore. "Ew. I'm going to my room." Rick finally managed to focus on Abby. "Whash the matter, honey?" "Nothing," she replied sullenly. "Come on, tell yer old dad whash wrong." "Do you have to drink so much?" Abby burst out. Rick straightened up. "Hey, nothing wrong with a little tipple." "Little? You've got the bloody liquor store on speed dial!" "Language. I warned you once." "What? You think that matters at all?" Abby said disbelievingly. "There's no need to show off a foul mouth." "Then you should keep yours closed." Abby hadn't meant to say that, but it came out anyway. She immediately saw the hurt look on Rick's face. "I'm sorry." "No, no, not at all," Rick said. "Ofviously, my mere presence affends you," he slurred. "Pray continue." "No, I didn't mean it like that." "Then how did you mean it? Come on, out with it, young lady!" "Dad, I'm not young! I'm eighteen now!" "And that means you can speak back to your father?" "And you're not my real father!" Now that was going too far. "You little smeg," Rick said, his voice becoming colder, harsher. "After all the things your mother and I do for you, you can't even be grateful that we took you in, fed you, clothed you, taught you how to use those powers of yours properly. And this is the way you treat us." "Dad, I'm sorry. I am grateful, really. It's just that..." "It's just that you're an ungrateful little smeg," said Rick, lurching to his feet now. "And it's about time I knocked some sense into you." "Dad, no. Don't do this." On one level, Abby wasn't frightened. She had enough power to take him on, more than enough, and she knew that only too well. But on another level, Rick was a father to her. Took her in. And now... "No, the little smeg of a daughter wants something better than her parents," Rick said. "Right then, she's going to be taught a lesson in what's right to want." Rick took a swing at her, which Abby easily dodged, but she took a step back. This couldn't be happening! Rick swayed on his feet, taking a moment to get his balance back, then lunged for Abby. "Come here, girl. It's time you got the thrashing you deserve." Disgusted, terrified and shocked, Abby caught hold of Rick, and shoved him to one side. He fell on the rubbish bin, tipping it over. Old garbage, fruit skins, decayed meat, discarded pizza bottles and empty bottles splashed, smashed and crashed on him. Rick threw them off, staggering back to his feet, and grew bigger, larger, muscular. He towered over Abby. "You're gonna pay fer that!" he roared. Now frightened beyond comprehension, Abby scrambled around the table, and ran down the hallway. She barely made it to the front door, before a crash sounded right beside her head, and she jumped as beer bottle shards fell to the floor after the impact on the wall. "You'd better run, girl!" Rick yelled, still in the kitchen. "Never come back here again, you smeg!" Finally wrenching the door open, Abby made it through, and managed to shut it again. Her life collapsing around her, she got three steps before falling to her knees and throwing up. _-~-_ Rick was unable to look anyone in the eye. "Before you start telling anyone else how to behave," Abby said, "perhaps you'd better start with your own son." Veronica shook her head, then shrugged her shoulders. "I've heard worse." "What?" "Until about 24 years ago, Rick didn't even know who his parents were. How screwed up do you think he is?" "How about 'very'?" Abby offered. Still looking at Abby, Veronica asked. "How about your childhood, Marsha?" "Don't drag me into this!" "Why not?" Veronica countered. "We're all getting our sordid family secrets out in the open, come on, join in the fun." "Fun?!" Abby challenged. "My mother was a whore for any black guy with a dick bigger than her arm," Marsha said. "When she had me, I had a string of nannies before being fostered off to whatever snobby girls school would take her money. Can't stand the bitch, and glad she's dead. No idea who my father is, don't care." "You had a childhood, Abby. About as screwed up as anyone else's around here. Makes you just another normal person, not someone special with a snit. I saw your wife. Do you love her?" Abby was caught short by this sudden change of topic. "Yeah. Yes I do." "Then let your youth go and become a real woman. Take her and make the rest of your life what you want, not the wreckage of what you were given." "Hey, I did the best I could," Rick said. "You keep out of this," the three women chorused, and Rick raised his hands in defensive surrender. "Fine," said Abby, returning to Veronica and giving her a strange half-smile. "Get the stick and get out of here, and I'll pretend you never came. And if I never see you again, I might just be able to get by without hunting you all down and murdering you while you sleep." Veronica considered her options. "Deal." Walking back to the door she came through, Abby said, "My wife will show you the way out. Don't come back here again." And then she was gone. Veronica looked thoughtfully at her exit. "I've seen a fair few screwed up kids in my time, but she looks like she'd had more than her share." "Screwed up parents are one thing," Marsha said, not looking at Rick. "But what she had was far worse." _-~-_ Seventeen years ago... Rick stepped out of the flight.thingee, and looked around. The landscape was one flat plain, levelled by an incredible burst of power. There was literally nothing here now but barren land. Everything was gone, the buildings, the trees, the animals... The people... Except for one. In the middle of the devastation lay a small figure. As Rick grew close, he could make out a black body suit and blond hair. And that the figure was a child. Tenderly, Rick picked up Abby, who twisted in her unconsciousness. He held her close, tight against his body, as he once again surveyed the emptiness around her. "It's all right now," he murmured to her. "I'm here now. I'll protect you. I'll always be here for you." Turning his back on what remained on Phila.DEL.phia, Rick boarded the flight.thingee, and lifted off, all the while worrying only about Abby. _-~-_ Seventeen years and five hours ago... Alice looked up from her sandwich as there was a knocking at the door. She smiled at Abby who was getting out of her chair. "Oh, no, you don't get out of it that easily," she teased her daughter. "You stay here and finish all your crusts first." "But, mom, they're all hard!" "They wouldn't get that way if you left them on your plate so long," Alice said as she slipped from her chair. Stroking her daughter's hair as she passed, Alice continued up the hallway, and opened the front door. "Can I help you..." the offer died on her lips as she saw the man (although hulk would be a better term) beyond. "Mr Bennington isn't pleased about dat article wot you wrote about him," the hulk rumbled, words not obviously his first language. "He wants me to express his dis-ples-ure per-son-al-ly." The hulk brought one hand up and curled it into a fist. Alice slowly backed away from the sight. "No, no," she murmured. The hulk moved inside after her, turning sideways to fit through the door. "Mr Bennington wants to make sure you never write a bad fing like that again." Alice turned to run, but the thug reached out and grabbed her waist length hair, and tugged. Alice's head was yanked backwards, and she felt the pain as several strands were pulled out. Then the thug pushed her forwards, and she fell sprawling down the hallway, the small coffee table catching her in the side. The thug reached down, picked her up effortlessly, then threw her the rest of the way through the hall to send her crashing into the settee in the lounge, cracking her head on the arm. "Mommy, who is it?" Alice could barely raise her head, the blood blinding her eyes, but she could see Abby standing in the kitchen doorway, a bread crust in her hand. "Abby, no, run away honey," Alice croaked, but couldn't even hear her own voice over the buzzing in her ears. She managed to turn her head enough to see that the thug had also spied her. "Mr Bennington said no witnesseses," he grumbled, and took a menacing step towards the little girl. Fear gave Alice strength, and she threw herself bodily at the hulk, battering her fists futilely against his chest. "Leave her alone!" she screamed. Without a second glance, the thug punched her to one side, sending her into the table in the middle of the room. A sharp pain, to join the rest of them, told her she now had a broken rib. "Mommy, I can help, mommy. I have power." An even stronger fear, that for what she knew her daughter capable of, shot through Alice. "Honey, no," she pleaded, but knew Abby couldn't hear her. "Abby, no-" The world went white. And red. And brown. And blue. _-~-_ As the boat pulled up to the island of Ha'ano, the three of them were silent, unable to think of anything else to say. As they pulled up onto the shore, they took in the green jungle that stretched out before them. "Any ideas where to look?" Rick asked. "How big is this island?" Marsha asked. "Big enough that we could search for a year and never find it," Veronica replied. However, her mind was on something else. "Did she really...?" "Yes," Rick replied. "Her own mother." "Poor kid." Again they stood silent. But this time a different sound broke the quiet. A distant thumping that slowly grew closer. All of them recognized the sounds, and as one they looked up and scanned the skies. All too soon, they spotted the helicopters they could hear. As they drew closer, the trio could make out the markings on the side. "Oh, smeg," said Marsha. "We're too late." It had been over twenty years since Veronica had seen that design, and it had changed a little, but was still recognizable. "Isn't that...?" Rick nodded. "Yep. They've caught up with us." They were forced to raise their hands to shield their eyes from the sand that was kicked up by the wash of the helicopter blades. The copters touched down on the beach, the rotors slowing down, stopping, then folding neatly away. Doors at the sides opened, and an army burst onto the beach, commandos in black quickly fanning out to take up positions around them, and one squad to particularly surround the three and hold them there at gun point. One other man disembarked from the copter, resplendent in a fine white suit that had not even a crease out of place. He walked through the armed figures like they weren't there (or rather, like they were beneath his notice). He took up a position directly in front of the three. "Greetings," he said, as his gaze swept over them. "You didn't think you could hide away here forever did you?" "We weren't hiding," Marsha replied. The man flicked a look over at Marsha. "For this, I could get the entire Burgenstock holdings handed over to the state, and you made penniless and destitute. You don't have any power here." "That's all this ever was to you, wasn't it?" Rick said. "Just something to get power." "Power is everything," the man replied. "And knowledge is power." Taking a more formal stance, he announced. "On behalf of the united forces of the Loonited States, under the universal powers of the Pro-Anti-Terrorist Act of 2011, I, Allan Knewbee, hereby arrest you for the crime of the destruction of Sin.ci.net.ty. The penalty is death. "Sentence is to be carried out immediately. "Fire." -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: They get shot. No, really. CREDITS: All mine, except Deja Dude II who belongs to Martin Phipps, used with permission. NOTES: Okay, I did want this arc to be a two-parter, but when I started writing I thought "I'll be happy if it's a one-parter." Part 1 came and went, and now here we are at the end of Part 2. Will Part 3 manage to finish this story off? (Note: the answer is 'yes'.)Back to the Index.