A top Black and White comic ______ _ _ _ ____ _ ____ _____ ___ _ _____ _____ | | | | / \ | | | | | | |___| | |____ \___ |BLiP| | _ | | | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | | |--- | | | ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ | #6 | | | | | | |\ | | | (An ACROPHOBE Imprint) | | |/ \| \ / | \ | | | ~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~ FEATURING: Marsha Burgenstock [Cover features a sparse room. Marsha sits on a mattress lying on the floor, and the only other piece of furniture is a large wardrobe in the corner. Focus is on the window in the wall. An outline of someone looming can be seen.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- **** The SoftCenter Saga **** **** Part 2 **** "The beat goes on." "She what?" Susan Adams was not a happy woman. She had just found out that Marsha Burgenstock, aka ex-LNHer Marshmallow Lass, had been the direct cause of the death of a man. "I want this taken care of right now. Clear the details with Derrik in the Hand, and have this matter dispensed with. I want no connection of this with Marsha." She sat back violently in her chair, sending it tilting backwards. To herself, she said "She's ours." _-~-_ Marsha Burgenstock walked along Isbur Street, in something of a daze. She had killed a man. She had actually _killed_ a man. She searched herself for some feeling of regret or remorse, but could only find emptiness. She had killed a man and didn't even feel anything. What was she? She hadn't known that the wood had a nail in it. She didn't know that the nail would enter the man's head and kill him. She didn't know! It wasn't her fault! She found herself looking up at a sign. _The Catbox_ it read. This was a place to stay that had been recommended to her by a fruit seller. Right before... She shook her head. What she needed right now was a place to sit down and think about things. She entered the front door to _The Catbox_. Inside was a dingy, ordered, mess. There were a few boxes of some description decaying in a corner. A body was slumped in another corner, a brown bag being evidence of an alcoholic induced slumber. Marsha carefully stepped across the room, trying to avoid disturbing flies that were feeding on something she'd rather not know about. There was a man behind a cage, with a board behind him holding keys to the apartments upstairs. Beside him was a wire door, openable from the inside, leading into the building. The man looked disinterestedly up at her as she approached. "Room for one, please," Marsha said, feeling the awfulness of the place getting to her. She pulled her jacket tight, trying to keep imaginary germs out. "Hwnlng?" the man murmured. Marsha lent closer. "What?" "I said," the man said, in a slightly louder and clearer voice, "How long?" Marsha shrugged. "A few days," she replied. She really had no idea about what she was going to do. That's partly why she needed the room, to sort things like that out. The man grunted. He reached back and picked a key off the board. He pushed it through a hole in the cage. Marsha reached up and grasped the key, but the man wouldn't let go. "That'll be twenty dollars security money." With her free hand Marsha rummaged around in her jacket pocket for some money. As she did, the jacket fell open. The man's eyes widened. "Hey, is that blood? I don't want no trouble here." Marsha looked down. There were pink stains on her white blouse, remains from where bullets had hit her. She ran her hand over the holes. "Just an old top I have. It's been around a lot." "Sure." The man tugged on the key. "Get outa here. I don't want the cops calling here." "Please. I'll pay the full price for three days now," Marsha pleaded. The man caved in. "Okay. That'll be two hundred dollars. And I still want the security deposit." Marsha was outraged by the extortion, but didn't say anything. She really wanted to be by herself now. She found the money (she usually carried five hundred in cash with her), handed the money over, and was allowed to take the key. As the man opened the door to let her in, she asked him "Do you know where a mart is? I'll need to get some supplies later." "Yeah. There's one just two streets over. A big Wal.mart. Can't miss it." Marsha thanked him and hurried down along the corridor. She heard the man call after her "Yer room's on the second floor." _-~-_ The room was, basically, a dump. A dirty mattress lay on a rickety cot. A smudged window looked over a brick alleyway, a brick alleyway like the one where she... No, concentrate on the room. The was a wardrobe, a large one, with two doors. A rail went across the top, to hang things off. There were five coat hangers already in there, one with an old, faded, pink dress still hanging on it. Over, opposite the bed, was a small pot bellied stove. Marsha couldn't believe it. A real pot bellied stove. Oh wow, this was going to be fun. In a side room was the bathroom. A toilet bowl with a crack running down the side, and a sink with only one tap. Experimentation proved that it gave cold water for a minute before gushing steaming hot water out. When she had come up the stairs, Marsha had seen a door, slightly open, with a bath inside. She guessed that that was the communal wash area. She would really prefer to stay elsewhere, but if this creep could charge two hundred for three nights of this, she didn't want to think about the kind of bills a half-way decent place might cost. Although she had money, god, she really did have money, had it coming out her ears, she didn't want to be that dependent. Marsha closed and locked the door. For further safety, she dragged a chair over, or rather, the chair, there was only one in the room, and wedged it under the handle. She didn't want any surprises tonight. She shrugged her duffle bag off her shoulders and threw it in a corner. There was nothing in there that she needed right now. She sat down on her bed and let the tears finally come. _-~-_ Susan Adam rose out of her chair. Now was the time for a more direct involvement. Too many things had happened recently. Too much lax security. A firm hand was needed before things fell apart completely. The first thing she did was check on the state of Project Marsh, as it was irrevocably called. The death in the alleyway had been dealt with by Arnold Derrik, a most capable man. The Hand was a really useful appendage at times. Now, Adam had found out that Marsha was staying at _The Catbox_. Really, the girl should be more careful. With her credit rating, she should have gone somewhere more respectable, more safer. If she wasn't careful, someone could just kidnap her in her bed. Someone like... well, lets just say that it was possible. But now, Adam wanted to tend to Project Silence. She really wondered sometimes about the mentality of people who came up with the project names. She left her office and walked calmly through the corridors. People stood to one side and bowed when she walked by. This was good, people should show respect. It was only proper. Adam stopped in front of a door, one like many others. She swiped her card through the reader beside the door and it slid open. She stepped into an ante-chamber, and the door slid shut behind her. Off the only shelf in the room, she picked up a small keyboard with built in screen and attached it to her wrist. She then put on something like glasses. Instead if actual glass, there was a thin band across the top of the frame. A computer screen. When something was entered into the computer on the wrist, and then transmitted, it appeared on the screen of all the glasses. This was the only way to communicate inside this area. Adam sent one word. READY. A door opposite the one she came in opened and she stepped inside. The guard on the other side saluted her as she passed. Another long corridor awaited her, and at the end of it, she passed through a thick door. Inside was a room that, by all rights, should have been deafening with noise. As it was, there was not even a whisper. Messages flashed across the screens, also across larger screens distributed around the room. TRY ONE DEGREE HIGHER. WHERE IS THE PENTOTHOL? DRECK - REPORT TO MAJOR KREELER. PENTOTHOL IS IN CABINET XV12. There were many cabinets around the exterior of the room. Some held medical supplies, some held scientific equipment. Others held reams of paper and forms, most of which were ignored unless new supplies of something were needed. People were endlessly opening and closing them as they carried out whatever tasks they had been sent for. There was scientific equipment everywhere. Wires were hanging from the roof, connecting this to that, and monitors flashed as they probed the secrets around them. Tests were carried out, and results were recorded. People in white coats bustled about, doing whatever it was that they did. Adam didn't have any idea what it was that actually did, but if they ever stopped, she would personally see their death. However, the main attraction of the room was the Tank. It was positioned in the exact centre of the room, dominating everything. It reached from the floor to the roof, and went beyond. All the important functioning parts were kept above, in a different room. There were other people up there whose job it was to regulate what was happening in the Tank. The Tank was about four metres in diameter, filled with a pale blue liquid. Bubbles streamed ceaselessly upwards, and sometimes odd flashes of light would sparkle inside momentarily. This all paled in significance when one noticed what the Tank's function was. Inside it, supported by the fluids, and various tubes that were connected to it, was a body, floating in the solution. It was a man's body, not in perfect physical condition, but good enough to do well in an Iron Man contest. Not that this man would be let out to do such a thing. Not that this man would ever be let out. ANY FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS? Adam asked. All other communication ceased as her presence registered. A SLIGHT INCREASE ON THE FIELD, BUT NOTHING PROBLEMATICAL. Adam gazed up at the man. This was one of the dangerous experiments they were doing. If certain organisations found out about it, they wouldn't stop before making sure that Queen Enterprises was run flat into the ground. There was one organisation in particular that should never find out, considering that it was one of their members that they had trapped in here. BRING HIM ONLINE, she ordered. Other orders were issued, mainly to those in the room above, the Tank controllers. A jolt ran through the man's body, and his eyes snapped open. He stared ahead of him, and Adam felt his gaze settle on her. He knew, she was sure of it. LOWER IN COMMUNICATIONS. Slowly, a waterproof keyboard and screen were lowered into the Tank. The man ignored them, concentrating only on Adam. She matched his gaze, but could not keep it for long. She broke away and looked at the floor, trying not to feel so ashamed. She turned to her wrist computer. DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS? The man only continued to look directly at her. He didn't even acknowledge the screen. Eventually, nerves got the better of her. She turned side on to the Tank, supposedly to look at the scientist beside her, but mainly to avoid the man's face. It was accusing, it was.. sorrowful. Damn him anyway! It was his own bloody fault! No, it was Her fault. SHUT HIM OFF, she typed angrily. When nothing happened, she realised that she hadn't pushed the transmit button. Trying to suppress a blush, she pressed the button. A few moments later and the man convulsed again, and his eyes closed. Adam breathed a silent sigh of relief. She looked at the scientist beside her. IS THE PROJECTOR READY? The scientist hesitated, then tapped. WE HAVE ONLY A SMALL FIELD. HOW MUCH LONGER? The scientist saw the flare of fire in her eyes, and hurriedly typed. NOT MUCH LONGER. WE STILL HAVE A FEW BUGS TO OVERCOME. Adam squeezed her eyes shut. Suddenly she felt too weary for this. She turned away and headed for the exit. When she reached it, she paused, and quickly looked towards the Tank. Was he still looking at her? No, impossible. He wasn't even conscious. Adam had no idea how She coped with it all. She opened the door and strode out. _-~-_ Marsha's eye snapped open, and she sat up. Fear invaded her system, and she struck out at the empty air, hitting non-existent attackers. Slowly, reason reasserted itself, and Marsha began to calm down. Her breathing slowed and her heart beat faded its panicked hammering. Gods, what had caused that. She ran her fingers through her hair, trying to remember what she was doing. She glanced around in fresh panic, not recognising where she was, then memory seeped back in. She was in Sin.ci.net.ty. She had arrived here... She glanced at her watch. TEN HOURS AGO? How long had she slept? She had laid on the bed, and cried, and had eventually fallen asleep. But why had she been crying? It hit her again. She had killed someone. But, it was distant now. Time had dulled the sense of it. Was she becoming inured to it? One death, and already it was passe? She hoped not, but she didn't want to put it to the test. Marsha's stomach growled, reminding her she hadn't eaten since breakfast. She stood up, and dizziness assailed her. She put out a hand, but nothing was in reach to steady her, so she was forced to sit down. She bent down, head close to her knees, and breathed deeply. That's when she noticed the stains still on her blouse. God, she must look like a wreck, She pulled some clothes from her duffle bag and lay them on the bed. They were creased from when she had stuffed them in last, but they were clean. She peered around, attempting to find a mirror. She eventually located half a one in the bathroom. She stared at herself, and combed her hair with her fingers again. Not bad. Not good, but not too bad. Good enough to go get some food. She changed tops, put the dirty one in the sink to soak, and hurried downstairs, first making sure to firmly lock her door. As she passed the communal bath, she heard singing from inside the room. She smiled. At least someone was enjoying it. When she reached the ground, she found the man to be reading a trashy novel of some kind. He didn't look happy at to be disturbed. "I shut the place up in an hour. Be here by then, or you'll be spending the night on the street." "Is the Wal.mart still open?" she asked. "Yeah. Should be." She left _The Catbox_ and stepped into the cold night air. She shivered and zipped her jacket up. This was not a good night to be out. She set off in the direction the man had indicated earlier. As she passed one intersection, she heard an explosion from somewhere down the crossing street. Marsha pulled her collar up and didn't look. The bright lights of the Wal.mart called to Marsha, and she quickened her paced until she reached it. She gratefully entered it and cruised the shelves for food. Remembering the stove in her apartment, she avoided getting anything she would have to cook. She concentrated on junk food and opposed it by getting fruit as well. Looking up one of the aisles, she saw a bored clerk sitting by the only desk still open. The store wasn't very busy. In fact, Marsha was the only customer. "Hey," she called up. The clerk looked up in surprise. "You got a microwave here?" "Yeah," the clerk called back. "Over by the frozen food section." Marsha sped to that area, and soon had a pizza and two pies in heating. After the ding, she fished the food out, and juggling them around, finally got them into her basket. The clerk gave her a good looking over when Marsha came up to the checkout counter. "What's a girl like you doing in this town?" "What kind of pick-up line is that?" Marsha returned. "Don't worry," said the clerk. "I'm not trying to pick you up. My girl-friend would kill me if she even suspected I was seeing anyone else." Marsha got the impression that he was telling the literal truth. What kind of town was this? On her way back to her apartment, Marsha was sure that she heard footsteps behind her. Whenever she looked back, the street seemed deserted enough. She picked up her pace, and she thought the footsteps did as well. She was nearly running when she arrived back at _The Catbox_, and she entered without looking back. The man let her inside, sniffing at the air as she passed. She remembered her pizza and sprinted upstairs. Inside her room, she switched on the naked bulb hanging down from the ceiling and rebarricaded the door. Still not feeling safe, she dug into her dinner nevertheless. _-~-_ The woman looked at the entrance Marsha had disappeared through, and cursed her luck. She needed to find a hit and find one soon. She was getting desperate for any cash whatsoever. Her supplier wouldn't take promises, and she could feel the cramps starting. She turned away from _The Catbox_ and prowled for easier prey. The back streets of Sin.ci.net.ty were not the safest place to go, unless one was seriously armed, but she felt she was running out of choices. She knew that no-one would be out and about this time of night with out some kind of protection, but there was one kind of people who had no choice about being out, and no protection either. She was going to hit on the homeless. She could feel her pride draining as the pains grew. She couldn't afford to be picky. She just hoped that these would provide enough pickings to get through another night. Just one more night, then she would go for something better, something juicier. Just one more night. Just one more niiiiiiiiight. She stopped and bent over, falling against a wall. Shit, the pains were getting worse. Any morality about her decision was soon overridden as the survival instinct came out. They deserved what they got. If they wanted to be homeless, fine. Just don't come screaming to her if people started stealing from them. She crawled along the wall, trying to find some balance, something to help her stand, something to help her do what she wanted to. The pain abated slightly. Finally, she stood on her own feet, unaided. Screwing up your courage, she headed deeper into the dead side of town. The first one she spotted, as she rounded a corner, was an old man, muttering unintelligibly into a bottle. His hair was white, what there was of it, and his overcoat was splattered from his previous meals. He looked like shit and she felt no sympathy for him. One. Knife out, head towards him. Two. Man looks up, hopefully to see someone who'll give him something, bring knife up and back. Three. Man spots knife, starts to fear, grab head and tilt it backwards. Four. Man starts to scream, bring knife in down and across. Blood squirts across her outfit, but she doesn't notice. There. She's done it. Killed a homeless. She feels more violated than from anything she had done before. She rummages through the body, now limp and lifeless in her hands. Finds one dollar twenty in change. Pathetic. Looks like she'll have to try again. She continues into the street, looking for another possibility. She spots two, an old man and an old woman, huddled together for warmth. She nears, but is going quietly this time, not wanting to give any warning. She strikes at the man first, knife directly into the heart. It's not a clean kill, but the man will die in a few moments anyway. She turns her attention to the woman. The old woman's face is a mask of terror. "No, no, no," is all she can mutter. She brings the kill back for the kill, ready to plunge it into the woman... her hand is caught. What's this? She turns. Fear, not hidden very far below, welling up, taking over. Before her are more homeless, but there do not look pitiful. They look deadly, as any force, when pushed to far, can be become deadly when it finally strikes back. "We are the Homeless Ones. We will no longer wait." The killer's life is ended, but for some this has come far, far too late. The old woman cradles her dead husband in her arms and cries. _-~-_ "What?" "She was nearly killed by a druggie," Hayar reported. "She managed to get into _The Catbox_ in time, though. The druggie then went into the back of the city. She killed a homeless-" "I don't care her. Have her disposed of. I don't want anything to get in my way," Adam said. "She has been taken care of. Her body was dumped outside the _Potemkin_. There's something happening in there. The homeless are up to something. Our surveillance has been curtailed in that area. They've done something. Destroyed the monitors or something-" "Are you saying there's a problem you haven't taken care of?" Adam's voice was quiet. Very quiet. "I'm saying there's something out there. Something that isn't afraid of us anymore." "Very well." Adam switched the monitor off without giving Hayar a chance to say anything else. The man was getting weak. Perhaps it was time to replace him. But that could wait. "Get me the Hand!" Soon, another monitor changed to show Arnold Derrik, leader of the Hand. "Bring her in. This city is getting too dangerous. It might be safer for her to be with us. And then, while she's here, perhaps she could help us with a few matters." Derrik looked surprised. "Get who?" he asked, unwisely. "Marsha Burgenstock, of course!" Adam flicked the monitor off, angrily. Was she surrounded by fools? _-~-_ Marsha lay back on the mattress and let her mind drift. Although she had slept just two hours ago, her body was still running low, and her mind still suffered from shock. She stared at the light, hardly aware of what she was doing until her eyes started burning and she began to see spots when she turned away. She shook her head, but it was a few moments before the spots cleared. Marsha stood up, blinked her eyes a few more times, then walked over and switched off the light. She still saw the light bulb ghost imprinted on everything, and she wondered if she hadn't burned it permanently into her eyes. Carefully moving forward, she found the bed and flopped belly first onto it. She stuck her head into a pillow she made of her arms. Eventually, the light bulb faded from her vision. She rested her head sideways, but the light that came into the room from the window was too much for her. She considered getting something to wrap around her eyes, nightshade like, when she heard something crack. She only just turned her head towards the window when it shattered completely. Marsha quickly squeezed her eyes shut to protect them, and wondered what the hell was happening. She heard something land in the room, and when she opened her eyes, she saw something blocking the light of the window. It was hard to judge distances, which is why she was surprised by the hand clamping something over her mouth. She struggled, but that just made her suck up the chloroform faster. She was unconscious in moments. _-~-_ Susan Adam looked at the body in the chair. So, this was Lady Burgenstock's daughter. Not the the best specimen she had ever seen, but Adam had seen worse. Marsha was strapped into a large chair. Her wrists and legs were tied down, and a band circled her head, keeping it in place. Simple, but more than effective. Adam bent forward and patted Marsha lightly on the cheeks. "Wake up, dear. Time for your debriefing to being." Marsha moaned and came awake. "Wha?" Adam looked up at Doctor Hieronymous, who stood at Marsha's side. He pressed the hypo-gun he was holding to Marsha's neck and pulled the trigger. There was a slight hiss as the serum was injected into her bloodstream. The serum was designed to help relax the patient, as well as make their mind more susceptible to outside commands. However, this was not going to be the only method used. "Marzha," said the doctor, in a pleasant voice. "I vant you to look at ze screen in frunt of you." Marsha's eyes moved around without focus. "Marzha, willz you do zat for me? Look at ze screen? Pleeze?" Marsha's eyes came to rest on a large computer screen in front of her. A program was already running, putting symmetric shapes on the screen, and moving them about. Colours flashed and patterns were drawn. Doctor Hieronymous let the DRAZZLE(tm) screen saver do its work. He found that this put patients into a trance quicker than anything he ever did. And it was commercially available too! Amazing. He looked over to see the Heir also watching the screen, her face a blank expression. He briefly considered hypnotising her, but decided that he'd better not, for his health's sake. The doctor reached over and gave Adam a slight pushed, and watched amusedly as she rocked back and forth. "Heir?" he whispered. "Heir? Vake up." Adam blinked a few times, then shook her head. She glanced angrily at the screen before turning away. Doctor Hieronymous heard her mutter "That blasted screen saver," but gave no comment. The doctor turned his attention to Marsha. "I vant you to relax. Let your mind float free. Vatch the patterns and let your mind go. Don't try to resizt, let it take you. Relax. Relax." He studied her for a moment, then nodded to Adam. "She's ready." "Good. I want to find out how she got her powers. Derrik still hasn't uncovered this. Take her back." Doctor Hieronymous focused on Marsha again. "I want you go back, back in time, back in memoriez. Juzt let yourself flow into ze past. Feel the years fadink from your mind. Go back... go back. Now, tell us-" Marsha's voice cut him off. It was high and childlike. "Mommy, why don't you love me?" -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Credits: Marshmallow Lass was created by Campbell 'Sasquatch' March Everyone else is mine.Back to the Index.