A top Black and White comic ______ _ _ _ ____ _ ____ _____ ___ _ _____ _____ | | | | / \ | | | | | | |___| | |____ \___ |BLiP| | _ | | | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | | |--- | | | ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ | #5 | | | | | | |\ | | | (An ACROPHOBE Imprint) | | |/ \| \ / | \ | | | ~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~ FEATURING: Marsha Burgenstock [Cover is a black&white picture of a bus coming over a hill. In the distance is city, dirty and disgusting. A sign beside the road, on the opposite side of the cover to the bus, reads: "This way to hell".] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- **** The SoftCenter Saga **** **** Part 1 **** "It's what's inside that counts." The bus pottered along the road, leaving a trail of exhaust fumes behind it. On the bus sat passengers, bored and tired. One such passenger, Marsha Burgenstock by name, looked out of the window beside her with unseeing eyes, instead watching the thoughts in her head. She had left the Legion of Net.Heroes, which was almost unheard of. Some left due to retirement, or marriage. Some left because they were dead. She left because she was useless. She had only been in one proper fight. It was with an inflatable villain, a minor, second-rate villain, and she had lost. Oh, Guitar Man had taken care of him, but that was because she couldn't. Nothing she had done had even affected him. Just bounced right off him. And so, she had left. The Ultimate Ninja hadn't even tried to stop her. Sure, he had said that he'd be sorry to see her leave, but he hadn't actually stopped her. Marsha dragged her attention away from self-pity and tried to look down the aisle, and out the bus' front window. 'Finally,' she thought, 'we're nearly there.' The bus trundled on, past a sign reading: ------------------ | Sin.ci.net.ty | | Pop. 39,200 | | (and all scum) | ------------------ _-~-_ Marsha climbed down off the bus. Already she could feel the dirt of the city penetrating her outfit, which consisted of a white blouse, jeans, and sturdy sneakers. She carried with her a duffle bag, containing her LNH outfit (buried at the bottom), a few changes of clothes, and her baseball bat. Over her shoulder was slung a bomber jacket. As the chill of the street made an impression, she quickly slipped the jacket on. The street itself was not something that would grace Best Streets Weekly. It was dirty, littered, and basically yuck. Marsha hoisted her bag, and set off in no particular direction. She wasn't really sure what had brought her here. After leaving the LNH, she had drifted from city to city, just seeing sights and learning things the hard way. She had been mugged once, shot twice (for no reason she had been able to ascertain), and had been the victim of a hit and run. Now she was in a city where that was considered an uneventful morning. Marsha spotted a building that fancied itself a mall. She entered it and saw old shop fronts and worn floor. Against a wall was a row of phone booths, some still looking like they were in working condition. She felt the urge to call someone, but couldn't think of any worthy recipient. Some people might have called their parents, or some other relatives, but nobody like that rated high in Marsha's book. She realised that that was why she was drifting like this, just trying to put off the final moment when she would have to go home. Marsha found a worn-down coffee shop, and brought a cup of coffee. She sat down at a table on a chair that creaked complainingly underneath her. As she sipped, her thoughts turned towards home, her mother, and how much she hated her. That self-righteous bitch. Always thinking of herself, of her own pleasures. How dare she think she knows what's good for her daughter. She can't even think beyond the bedroom door. A ruckus pulled Marsha's head up. A gang had come into the mall, jostling each other in a comradely fashion. She watched them, her own frustration tugging at her as she did. She longed to be a part of a group, any group, but knew that that was denied her. She had denied it herself. The gang's attention was caught by something. Marsha turned to see a black kid enter the area. She felt her gorge rise. The gang crept slowly, quiet now, hunting. The kid spotted them, but by then it was too late. He tried to run, but one of the gang members was too close, and the kid was caught easily. Marsha could hear the conversations drifting over the air. "What have we here, eh? Some little piece of black shit has dared to come onto our turf." "We don't like blacks. We _kill_ blacks. Especially those that dare to come onto our turf. This is our ground, with our rules. You don't respect that, and we'll have to teach you a lesson." The kid twisted in the grasp, but was unable to get free. "Let me go. I didn't do nothing." "That don't matter to us, little black boy." The leader put his head down near the kid's face. "You see, we're quite simple here, ain't that right boys?" The leader looked around for conformation, and received it. "We see things only in black and white. For us, there is only two things: Good and Bad. White is good, and," the leader put his hand under the boy's head, forcing it up, "black is bad. Ain't that so?" "Yeah." "Sure is." "And bad is bad. We don't like bad. We take care of bad things in our own way, and people don't mess with us. When people see us, they don't say 'Look at them. They're bad.' No, they say 'They're good. They take care of their own messes, and they don't bother nothing that don't bother them.' Well, kid. You bother us." The kid tried to wriggle free, but the hand under his neck was a vise. "But I didn't do nothing!" The leader unfolded a large knife. "Well, ain't that just too bad. You're a virgin, then. Come on boys, we's got us a virgin to take care of." Chuckling, the gang moved off, taking the black kid with them, still protesting his innocence. Marsha watched them go with a smile twitching at her lips. _-~-_ Konrad Hayar put his weary head in his hands. He had been doing this for far too long. He knew he needed a vacation, but there was always something coming up. Fortunately, things had quietened down a little since the Net.York incident. Pleasant thoughts filled his head for a while. Bahamas, maybe, or Hawaii. Even Alt.laska would be a pleasant enough change from this drudgery. However, he doubted that the Heir would let him get away do easily. With the Queen away, the Heir tended to get over ambitious about her own pet projects, and wanted everyone on board to deal with them. At least, everyone important, and that included him. A beep from the computer on the desk beside him drew his attention. He sat up and pulled the keyboard towards him. A file had been sent to him, and he hit the appropriate buttons to open it. A picture appeared on the screen, not brilliant quality, but enough for him to make out an attractive young woman. The printer attached to the computer spat something onto the floor. Hayar grunted as he bent over to pick it up. It was a document stating the history of the woman in the photo. Hayar assumed that Lethbridge had also received something like this, as well as transcriptions of everything said since she arrived. The document had the usual details of early childhood and schooling years, which were rather impressive for someone coming to Sin.ci.net.ty of their own free will. What was more interesting was why the file had been sent to him in the first place. This woman used to be a member of the Legion of Net.Heroes. In fact, she was a new member, and her genetic structure had not yet been added to the data banks. This was enough to warrant picking her up for investigation, but other factors had to be taken into account. Such as: why was she here? Was she on a mission from the LNH? Was the Ultimate Ninja trying to get someone to infiltrate their organisation? (Which wasn't likely. Every candidate for Queen Enterprises underwent a thorough examination into their background. Soon, QE knew more about their employees' histories than even they probably remembered.) Hayar picked up a phone and got through to his number two. "I want full surveillance on Marsha Burgenstock. I want to know everything that she does, and every where she goes." _-~-_ Bryon Lethbridge had received the same documentation, and had issued similar orders. However, he had gone one step further. "I want our files on the parents pulled. I also want all recordings taken at the LNHQ, featuring either the keywords 'Marsha Burgenstock' or 'Marshmallow Lass', also brought to me. When the Heir calls for our profile, I want everything to be ready." _-~-_ The Heir did call. She sat in a large leather chair, facing a wall of monitors. On three screens were the people who were supposed to answer every question she had. It was rumoured that she already knew the answers and that she was just testing. No-one knew who started the rumour, but no-one wanted to check its validity either. Her name is Susan Adam. She has a unique relationship to Queen Enterprises. She was Second-In-Command, answerable only to the Queen herself, when the Queen was reigning. While the Queen was absent, for whatever reason, Adam had absolute authority, to do with as she wished. (There was one other, however, who had even more power than she did, but Adam did have superior authority.) Adam looked at the first monitor. On it was Hayar, in charge of the Retina. "The Retina will now report," she ordered. "A woman arrived in Sin.ci.net.ty on the morning bus. She was photographed as all new arrivals are. After her pictures were matched with those in our files, it was found that she used to be a member of the Legion of Net.Heroes, going by the name 'Marshmallow Lass'. Her powers manifest as having a body as supple as a marshmallow, and being able to wield a baseball bat." Hayar paused for a moment to glance at his notes. "She left the LNH three months ago, and has been travelling across the Loonited States. She has been recored in several major cities, although she has been in civilian clothing at all times. There are no records of her using her powers in any other manner than for defensive purposes." "Do you know why she left the LNH?" Adam asked, quietly, but still audible. Hayar glanced at his notes again. "She was seen fighting the Inflatable-Glow-In-The-Dark Hero. I sure you remember that, the prototype that went bad?" He received a nod, and continued. "She was unable to defeat it, but it was later dispatched by the being known as Guitar Man. Marshmallow Lass was taped being comforted by Guitar Man, but this was not helpful, as we have evidence later that she talked to the Ultimate Ninja not long before leaving. We also have a picture of Marshmallow Lass outside the Ultimate Ninja's office being surprised by the Inflatable-Glow-In-The-Dark Hero, which prompted her hurried departure." "I see. Continue." "At the moment, she is in the Lower Side Mall, having a cup of coffee. She has not been to any other buildings." "Very well." Adam turned to the next monitor, this one showing Lethbridge, responsible for the Tap. "I will now hear from the Tap." "Marshmallow Lass spoke of feelings of inadequacy. She didn't feel cut out for the 'hero business' and quit. She said that she was going home, but is taking her time about it. Voice analysis from here and other cities give no overtones of fear or despair." "And why might she be suffering from these?" "Her home life has not been stable. Her parents, Lady and Mister Burgenstock-" "She's related to the Burgenstock's?" If it wasn't impossible, Lethbridge would almost swear to hearing shock in the Heir's voice. "She is their daughter," Lethbridge confirmed. He wasn't sure, but he thought that Adam might actually have paled. However, she waved a hand and he continued. "There was a major fight over Lady Burgenstock's sexual behaviour. This was nine years ago, and Marsha left, swearing to make her own name for herself in the stock markets." "Interesting." Adam turned to the last monitor. This one contained the image of a woman in her fifties, her body looking quite strong, but hints of frailty still creeping in. This was Erickka Finchley, head of the Snifter. "Finally, the Snifter's report." "Marshmallow Lass is not contained in the Database. She joined the LNH after we constructed Project Concentrate. In fact, several new heroes have joined since hen, and we do not have any of their genetic samples yet." "This will be remedied soon." Not an order, a statement. "Of course. We can pick her up at any time. We have found no evidence in the LNHQ that she is here for any assignment, and she is not expected at her house, and is therefore free for us to take." "Later," said Adam. "Tell me about her history." "From the beginning of her childhood, she was kept apart from her mother. She was in the care of a governess at all times until the age of five, when she was sent to Sweden to a school for girls. She came back at the age of 15 and left two years later. She turned up in Cal.net.fornia seven years later, and this is the first time we have evidence of her having powers. She travelled across the States, heading for Net.ropolis, until she arrived early this year." "How did she get her powers?" Finchley squirmed uncomfortably. "We have not been able to find out. She disappears eight years ago, completely without trace, then shows up six years later, with powers. We can not find anything of her whereabouts over this period." "I do hope this will soon be rectified." "We are working on the problem now." "Good." Adam swivelled her chair around, away from the monitors. "I believe that is all." "Ah, Heir. What about the girl?" Adam recognised Finchley's voice. "Do we pick her up?" "No. Let go go about her way for now, but keep an eye on her. I want to know everything she does. If I want her brought in, I shall get in touch with the Hand about it. It will not be your concern." Adam reached out a hand and deactivated the monitors. the meeting was over. _-~-_ Marsha walked along Hayter Street, of the main streets in Sin.ci.net.ty, having left the mall five minutes ago to try to find a place to stay for a while. She just reached the intersection with Greel Avenue when she heard a commotion beside her. A door opened, the door to a fruit shop which occupied the corner, and a man came stumbling out, holding a bad fill of something and a gun. Marsha backed away hurriedly. She didn't want any part of this. This was what she had left behind, what she had given up. The man's exit drew the attention of other onlookers as well, but these were people prepared to intervene. Marsha's view of the man became obscured as people gathered around the man. She caught a quick glimpse of the man's face, frightened, before the mass of people grew too constricted. A muffled shot escaped. Another. The mob moved off as one, taking the man with them. Marsha saw the bag that the man had carried out of the store lay on the footrest outside the shop's door. A few moments later a black haired woman opened the door and picked up the bag. Marsha thought she noticed a fifty dollar note sticking out of the top of the bag before the woman reentered the store and the door closed. Marsha looked around, but the mob had totally vanished. The traffic had swallowed them completely. Marsha considered what happened. If bag had been full of money, then the man had just robbed that fruit shop. This was the most likely case, as Marsha doubted anyone would try an armed hold-up for fruit. But, instead of the usual disinterest associated with crime, the peoples of Sin.ci.net.ty had banded together to deal to the robber. Was this what they always did? Was this city, one with a reputation rats would kill to get, possessor of one of the better justice systems around? If not, then why had that just happened? Was there something special about the store? Marsha considered the store front. _The Produce Corner_ it was called. A fruit shop. A simple fruit shop. What was so special about that? Well, there was only one way to find out, and she needed some foodstuffs anyway. The prices advertised on the front were certainly cheap enough, almost ridiculously so. Marsha pushed the door opened slowly and entered. The woman caught sight of her, but returned her gaze to a newspaper she held. Marsha realised that she was the operator of the store. The fact that she sat behind the counter helped. She glanced around the shop and saw trays of fruit and vegetables, many of them out of season, and even some from out of the country. A sharp smell invaded her nose and her eyes started to water involuntarily. She traced the noisome smell to a tray of spiky fruit. Durian. Ugh. A hand reached past her and flipped a cover over the tray. The word "Durian" was stitched on it. Marsha followed the hand, the arm, and met the gaze of the shopkeeper. "It tends to be a bit overpowering to those not used to it. To me," she shrugged, "I'm used to it. It's rather... pleasant, almost." The woman smiled. She had a nice smile, Marsha thought. The woman returned to the counter. "You don't look like you belong here. Come far, have you?" "I've travelled a bit," said Marsha, not wanting to give to much away. "Just passing through, really. I'll stay here for a while, though." Marsha extracted a plastic bag from a roll of them, and opened it. Her hand stuck to the side of the bag, and Marsha shook the bag to free it. She picked up an apple and inspected it carefully. "Nothing but fresh produce here," the woman said. "I get fresh stock every other day." "Oh yes?" said Marsha, as she gradually filled the bag. "What happens to the old stock?" Marsha couldn't see the woman, but she got the impression that some body movement occurred. Perhaps a shrug. "I put it out the back of the shop. It's usually gone by morning. I don't ask." Marsha finished her shopping and took her bag to the counter. As the woman totalled up the price, Marsha asked "Do you know of any hostels around here? Any place where a person can stay over a few nights?" The woman gave this due consideration. "There's _The Catbox_ over on Isbur Street, that's not too bad." She pointed eastwards, presumedly towards Isbur Street. "Or, there's the _Street Sanctuary_ over on Hyksos Terrace. There's come very interesting people that live there." Again, she pointed Terrace-wards. Marsha handed over the money for the goods. She thanked the women and left. _-~-_ Veronica watched the woman in the bomber jacket leave. There was something faintly familiar about her. Veronica shook her head. Most likely others would deal with it if it was. She entered her back office and found a printout lying on the floor, underneath the fax machine. Veronica sighed as she realised that she really needed to get a catch tray for the cursed thing. She scanned the fax. Hmmm. DeFacto was joining up with the Little Man. Had provided him with robotic enhancement. Had used _her_ in order to get the Little Man to side with him. Really. As if she would ever deal with the likes of DeFacto. Far too unstable. All he wanted to do was crack reality. As if that hadn't all ready been tried before. She put the fax away. The Dvandom Force would be able to deal with it. Veronica doubted that Dvandom would let his characters suffer much more than Drama necessitated. Still, he had killed off Sig.Lad. But, this was much larger than that. There were some Comic conventions that were unbreakable, and the entire destruction of the Looniverse and other realities was not going to happen without other warning signs. If there was a cross-over, with many other titles, in the offering, then she'd be worried, but not for this. She heard the door open again, and sighed. Busy busy busy. "And from there?" Adam swivelled the chair from side to side, letting the gentle rocking motion lull her senses. Her physical senses. Her mental facility was still superb. "She went down Hayter Street..." "And?" "She witnessed an incident outside... Her shop." Adam stopped the chair and grasped the arms. She sat up straight as thoughts raced through her head. Interesting. Was She getting back into the game? She intended to kep out of sight until things cooled down. Several people had been looking for her. The police, but that was usual, and neither side was trying too hard. The LNH, now they had stepped up investigations, but mainly in Project Concentrate. The Little Man had also sent some people looking for the Queen, but they had been easily dealt with. A little confusion for a little man. She smiled at the joke. She rarely smiled these days. It put people on edge. She glanced at the intercom the update report was coming from. "And?" she prompted, more sternly. "She then entered Her shop. Brought some groceries. She is now heading eastwards along Greel Avenue." "That will be all." She flicked the connection off, then opened a different channel. "The Tap." She waited a few moments. "Talk to me." "Heir?" "What did she say? Inside?" There were a few sounds of bustle from the intercom, then something clicked, and a recording started up. Adam listened patiently while the conversation between Marsha and the Queen was played back to her. "So," was all she said to herself, once the tape had finished. She lent over the intercom. "I want _The Catbox_'s mikes checked. I want nothing missed." The gulp from the other end was easily audible. "Y.. Yes." A click. Intercom off. She would issue similar orders to the Retina in a moment, but for now... she wiped a hand over her eyes, her very weary eyes. In the back streets of Sin.ci.net.ty, a dirty piece of paper carefully unwrapped. Much care and attention was spent making sure that the object inside was not in the slightest damaged. The paper was moved away to reveal a face. And it was worshipped, _-~-_ Marsha continued winding her way eastwards along Greel Avenue, trying to find her way to Isbur Street. She glanced down a side alleyway, and stopped in her tracks. What she saw caused her to lose her grip on the bag of fruit. It fell onto the footpath, splitting and rolling fruit over the ground. When she would return for it later, there will be no fruit to find anywhere. There'll just be a broken paper bag as the only testament to her expedition and expense. What she saw caused her blood to boil, and her sense of duty, such as it was, to come to the fore. She forgot her previous vows to remain aloof, and charged into battle. What she saw was a white man being beaten by black MFs. "Get away from him, you bastards!" she screamed, her rage getting the better of her. The blacks turned around. Marsha saw the man being held by two blacks. "Well, what have we here?" one of the blacks said. "Get away from him," Marsha repeated. She reached backwards but couldn't find her baseball bat. She didn't trust the niggers enough to take her eyes off them to properly look for it. "Cool, girl. Have you got the hots for him, or somethang?" the black smiled, showing off his white teeth. Right now, all Marsha wanted to do was smash those teeth in. "What's wrong, sister?" another black asked. "I'm not your sister," Marsha spat back. "You sure look like one of our sisters." This was true. It was the heritage of her father, and she cursed it and him every day she lived. Her skin was a lovely rich brown, and Marsha would have done anything to be rid of it. "Well, I'm not." Not the best of returns, but Marsha wasn't thinking clearly. "Y'know, I'm beginning to think she doesn't like us." "Yeah, man. I think youse right." The blacks moved towards her, revealing those behind. Several of them had guns. The ones holding the man threw him backwards where he crashed against some rubbish bins. Marsha began to suspect that something bad was about to happen. "What say we take care of the little bitch?" the first said, to the approval of the others. "And how shall we teach her, brothers?" "Death by fire!" one called. "Death by GUNfire!" the first proclaimed. Privately, Marsha smiled. The blacks gathered around her and some even... touched her. revulsion shivered through her system. They pushed her against the alley wall, and three blacks took up positions opposite her, holding their guns in front of them, all aimed at her. "Three.. two.. one.. FIRE!" Three gunshots rang out. Three bullet holes gaped in Marsha's chest. She collapsed sideways onto the ground. The blacks cheered. Very slowly, Marsha brought her head up and looked around for something to whack them with. She spotted the end of a plank sticking out of a pile of garbage. That would do. She tensed herself, and, while the niggers were high-fiving each other, she leaped. Several blacks saw this and fell back with a gasp of terror. Good. She grabbed the plank and turned to face the blacks. She gave the plank a heave, but it wouldn't come free, though it did shift. Fortunately, the others were still shocked, so she was able to give another tug, and this time pulled it out. Marsha positioned the plank on her shoulder, ready to swing it around. She didn't see something glint on the other end. The blacks stared at her body. Where the bullets had penetrated, pink stuff oozed out, slowly healing itself. One or two made signs to ward off evil. The first was not so easily shaken. "What the fuck is this? Are you some sort of demon?" Marsha grinned, and waggled the plank menacingly. "I wont have no demon messing around with me." With that, the black leapt towards her, and Marsha, with all evidence of actually enjoying herself, brought the plank around in an arc that connected the end of the plank with the black's right ear. The black's face twisted in pain. Red liquid squirted around the plank, and the black dropped to the ground. The plank tried to follow him, still staying with his ear, but, with a decent tug, Marsha pulled it free. On the end of the plank, covered in blood, was a nail, sharp and pointed, deadly. "She... she killed Jack," she heard several blacks whisper. They no longer held her attention, and she didn't notice as they ran off. Her attention was held by the vicious spike, the spike that had ruptured the black's ear drum, killing him instantly. This was her first death, this first time she had ever killed anyone. Fear, anger and adrenaline raced through her system, and her knees threatened to buckle from underneath her. She tipped backwards and fell against a wall, it being the only thing holding her up. She had killed. She had taken a life. And now she was alone. All alone. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Credits: Marshmallow Lass was created by Campbell 'Sasquatch' March Everyone else is mine.Back to the Index.