A top Black and White comic ______ _ _ _ ____ _ ____ _____ ___ _ _____ _____ | | | | / \ | | | | | | |___| | |____ \___ |BLiP| | _ | | | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | | |--- | | | ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ | #7 | | | | | | |\ | | | (An ACROPHOBE Imprint) | | |/ \| \ / | \ | | | ~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~ FEATURING: Marsha Burgenstock [On one side is Marsha, looking at the Tank, which takes up most of the picture. In the Tank, a man floats.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- **** The SoftCenter Saga **** **** Part 4 **** "From the mouth of bars." Marsha Burgenstock awoke sandwiched between crisp white sheets. The pillow under her head was soft enough that she was lying in a valley formed by her own head. Marsha raised her right hand to rub her forehead in weariness, but stopped when she saw it swathed in bandages. What the...? What had she been doing? Memory flooded back. Sin.ci.net.ty. _The Catbox_. Being kidnapped. Lying under a metal hood while scans were taken of her head. She stared at her hand as she remembered pain that had come from there. Had they done something to her hand? Cut a part of it off? She tried to wiggle her fingers under the bandages. Everything felt all there, but she couldn't be certain. Marsha sat, and examined her surroundings. It looked like a hospital room. She was in a big bed, with white sheets and a grey blanket. Beside her was a small cabinet, with a single flower in a thin vase sitting on it. Beyond that was a window. It was set up high, and fairly small, but Marsha could see daylight and a bird fluttered by. Marsha looked around. Yep, it was a hospital room. A hospital room with one minor difference. Opposite her bed, instead of a wall, was a row of bars. Beyond them stood a guard, his back to the room. It was a jail dressed up as a hospital. The guard stood in a left-to-right running corridor, and Marsha could hear something moving across it. A tray appeared, followed by a nurse, or, at least, someone dressed up like a nurse. She took out a key, and unlocked the door in the bars. She went through, locked the door behind her, and handed the key through the bars to the guard. They weren't taking any chances, thought Marsha. Not that she felt like taking any either. The nurse noticed Marsha sitting up. "So, your finally awake, are ye?" The Scottish accent was faint, but still detectable. "Well, it was aboot time, anyway. Here's ye breakfast." The nurse put the tray on Marsha's lap, and Marsha steadied it as she moved herself into a more comfortable position to eat the food. Her stomach rumbled at her, as her nose picked up the scent of porridge and hot toast. "Where am I?" Marsha asked, taking a bit out of the toast, using her left hand awkwardly. "I cannae tell ye that," replied the nurse, fluffing Marsha's pillows. "But, I'll tell the others you're awake, and they'll come to talk to you." "Others?" said Marsha, around a piece of toast. "What others?" "You'll soon find out. Now, eat ye breakfast before it gets cold." The nurse walked back over to the gate, and the guard handed her the key before turning dismissively away. The nurse ignored Marsha's questions as she unlocked the gate and went through it. She left without ever looking back at Marsha. Marsha felt snubbed, and could feel her appetite draining away. She stuffed some porridge down until her stomach got the idea and opened up. She soon finished off the breakfast, and pushed the tray to the end of the bed. She sat back to think about things. Marsha lifted her damaged hand and inspected it the best she could. It seemed all right to her. She picked at the bandages a little, then decided to take them off, if only to spite them. _-~-_ Susan Adam and Erickka Finchley walked through the buildings of Queen Enterprises, heading towards the wing where Marsha Burgenstock was imprisoned. "How is the clone coming along?" Adam asked. "It's building itself quite nicely. As long as we provide organic material for it to use, it keeps growing." "It's using other organic material?" "As far as we can tell, it's adjusting the molecular structure in the meat we give it, changing it for its own internal programming scheme." "And we have no idea what that is," Adam said, bitterly. "Oh, we know what's happening right now. It's building itself a new body. But, when it's finished that... Theoretically, the brain should be a blank. I don't know though." Finchley paused for a moment, introspectively. "I think this is going to be something different." "Security is tight, I hope. I don't want anything running rampant through these halls without me knowing about it." "Of course, Heir. It doesn't make a twitch we don't know about." They were, by now, on the same level as Marsha. They were not expecting, though, a nurse to come running up to them. "Ah, there ye are. I've been trying to get to touch with ye. She's awake, now, and she's alert enoo'." "Thank you, nurse," said Adam. "Take us to her." The nurse bowed. "Certainly, Heir. Right this way." She led the way down through the winding corridors, with Adam and Finchley following in her footsteps. As they passed various rooms, Adam ticked them off in her head, recounting what each of them was for. Finchley noticed the Heir's interest, and took the opportunity to get her breath back. Although they were only going at walking pace, they had walked a fair way already, and her feet were starting to ache. She much be getting on a bit for a mere walk to rie her like this. They arrived outside Marsha's cell, and Finchley looked in to see Marsha unwrapping her hand. "Leave that alone!" she ordered, and looked impatiently at the nurse to open the door. While the nurse fumbled for the key, Marsha glanced up and gave them a brief examination. She then deliberately turned away from them, and removed more bandage. The nurse finally pushed the door open, and Finchley hurried in, almost pushing the Heir out of the way in her haste. "It's for your own good. Leave it alone," she called. Marsha responded without looking up. "I hardly doubt you have my best interests at heart." Finchley grabbed Marsha's arm, but only succeeded in jostling the rest of the bandage, causing it to fall to the floor. At the end of Marsha's arm was Marsha's hand, whole and untouched. It was slightly lighter than the brown below the wrist, but it was definitely all there. Adam looked at it admiringly. "Your powers of recuperation are certainly impressive." "Why?" asked Marsha, turning her hand over, now that Finchley had let it go, and inspecting it. "What did you do to it?" Adam replied coolly. "Nothing you need to worry about now." Marsha eyed her visitors suspiciously. "What do you want from me, anyway?" Adam sat on the bed beside her, but Finchley remained standing. Finchley moved about uncomfortably, looking as if she wanted to sit, but didn't dare to in the presence of the Heir without her permission. The nurse waited outside, having locked the door again, and talked to the guard. Their conversation was low enough not to drift to the bed. "We just want to talk to you," said Adam. "You have some information that I would like to possess." "Why? What's in it for me?" Marsha decided to remain unco-operative, an easy position to take in the face of the Heir's hauteur. Adam smiled gently, but Marsha didn't sense any warmth in it. "Ah, a bargaining woman. Someone after my own heart." "_That_ I could do without." "Oh." Adam raised an eyebrow at Finchley, as if showing off an impressive trick that Marsha just accomplished. "A woman with wit, as well." Marsha gave a sigh of exasperation. "Would you just get on with it? Or are you trying to butter me up for the slaughter?" Adam laughed, without humour, then her face became cold and serious as she got down to business. Somehow, Marsha preferred her this way. It suited her better. "We can offer you a great deal, Ms Burgenstock." Marsha winced at the name, but Adam didn't show any signs of noticing it. "If you tell us what we want, we can give you money, transport to wherever you want to go, and whatever else you need." "And once I fall for this deal, and tell you want you want to hear, you'll kill me," Marsha said. Adam drew back. "That's a rather unkind statement to make." "But, not unfair?" Marsha caught Finchley smiling out of the corner of her eye, but kept the focus of her attention on Adam. "Does this mean you're interested?" "How can I trust you?" "You can't. You have only my word." "In that case... no." Marsha sat back, arms folded in defiance. "You don't even know what we want. It might be something so simple, you'll laugh at our ignorance." Marsha had to agree with that. "All right. What is it you want to know?" "So, we have a deal?" Marsha shook her head. "No." Adam gave Marsha a calculating stare. "Fine. We want to know about the company that gave you your powers. What was their name? Where were they situated? What did they want from you?" "What? That was quite a few years ago." Marsha, her curiosity aroused, concentrated, trying to bring the information up in her brain. The memories refused to come, however. She could remember an incident in Cal.net.fornia. She saved someone. That was right before she left. She could also remember leaving her mother's house. That was hard to forget. But, in between, those events... Her mind remained clouded. A building floated up, and surfaced for a moment, but Marsha was unable to associate a name with it or a place. Another memory bobbed up, a boy, brown hair. Hadn't they promised to get together? What had happened to him? Marsha shook her head, clearing away from fogginess and bringing her back to now. "No, I can't remember anything. It.. it was too long ago." Adam stood up, face expressionless. "Very well. I shall just have to find out some other way." She walked towards the door, beckoning Finchley to her side. "Do I still get out of her?" Marsha asked. Adam turned back for a moment. "Oh yes. You'll definitely be going places. The people there will be most anxious to get a look at you. They want to know you.. _intimately_" Adam turned and walked out the now open door, and Finchley followed, throwing a worried look back towards Marsha. The door clanged shut, and a shiver ran down Marsha's spine. _-~-_ Adam stopped out of ear shot, and put up a hand to hold Finchley. She turned to the nurse. "Go and give our dear guest something to help her sleep. I fear she is in for a very trying time." The nurse nodded. "Yes, ma'am." She set off at a fast walk for a medical cabinet. Adam turned to Finchley. "Tell the surgeons to prep. I want you to go in and extract that piece of brain with all the answers." "But..." Finchley hesitated, unsure of what was exactly happening. "Are you questioning me?" "No, Heir." "Good. I want her brain picked clean." Adam walked away from a shocked Finchley. "Did you really expect her to remember?" she called after Adam. "No." Adam didn't stop walking, but Finchley heard her voice float back. "I only did it to appease you." The nurse held the syringe up to the light and tapped it gently. A carefully measured dose was inside, and she knew how careful she had to be around it. She capped the needle, and walked to Marsha's cell. She fetched her key out with one hand, and had the door open before she saw what was inside. Nothing. The bed was empty. The nurse dropped the syringe in surprise, and it shattered on the ground. Immediately, smoke rose from the exposed contents. As it reached the nurse's nostrils, she coughed, and came out of her shock. The guard hurried to her side to help her, and she lent on him as she regained her breath. She waved a hand towards the cell. The guard followed her motion and gasped. He pulled a walkie-walkie from a pouch on his belt and activated it. "Unit 719 here. We have a situation. Patient designated 'Marsha Burgenstock' has escaped. I repeat, patient has escaped." The guard kept an eye on the cell as the nurse recovered. Backup arrived in the form of more troops, and two were sent to completely investigate the room. No sign of escape was found. The window was still intact. It was a strong plexiglass material, almost unbreakable and unopenable. The rest of the room was completely empty, with no possible hiding places. The bed was stripped, and the bed was moved out from the wall. Behind it was revealed Marsha's clothing, a gown and underwear. "No sign of prisoner, sir!" they reported. "Right. Spread out and search. I don't know how she got out, but I want this placed turned upside down until we find her!" "Yes, sir!" The troops left, locking the cell door behind them. No-one was left in the corridor, ad no-one noticed a small confectionary-like substance that hid in a far corner of the cell. _-~-_ Pain. That was all Marsha could fell. Pain. Pain. _Pain_. Marsha hated doing this, but it was the only alternative she could think of to being killed. She couldn't tell what was happening around her, but was unable to stand any more _pain_. She stretched, and stretched, and s.. t.. r.. e.. t.. c.. h.. e.. d.. The pain decreased as she slowly expanded to her normal size. She stretched out her arms far above her head, and bent backwards, trying to get any kinks out, and luxuriating in the freedom of movement she now had. It was one more secret power, one she tried hard not to think about due the enormous tax it put onto her system. She could decrease her volume and increase her density, until she reached the size of.. of a marshmallow. That was the one power she _never_ told anyone about. She looked around for her clothes, but they had been taken by the guards. Probably for sniffer dogs, thought Marsha gloomily. Still, she had to get a move on. She was still trapped in the cell, and risked being found out. She grabbed some sheets to wrap around herself later, and pushed them threw the bars. Then, she took a deep breath, placed herself right against the bars, and _squeezed_. This was of obvious extension of her ability, and normally she would be able to perform it easily. But, having just "marshmallow"ed herself, it wasn't normal conditions to operate in. She shut off the flow of thoughts in her head, and concentrated on just squeezing her pliable body through the bars. She pushed her head through first, feeling the bars press her head into a very painful shape. With an audible 'pop' her head came out the other side, and slowly reformed its natural shape. With a complicated bit of gymnastics, Marsha managed to get an arm in between her head and the bottom of the cross bars. She could squeeze that through easily enough now, but that wasn't the hard part. Now her upper torso was squashed into a thin space, a bar running from her shoulder, between her breasts, and over her hips, and another one running parallel down her back. She reached back with her arm that was still inside the cell and grabbed a bar. With her other arm, she grabbed a bar in front of her. With a grunt of effort, Marsha simultaneously pushed with one hand and pulled with another. A nasty squelching sound accompanied her movement as her upper body was fully pushed through to the other side. Marsha paused, panting, half in, half out of her cell, lying awkwardly on her side. After getting her breath back, she embarked on the final effort. She pushed at the bars, and painfully her hips passed through the bars. She rested only a moment before pulling her legs through. She landed ungainly on the ground, and lent against the bars until her balance returned, She picked up the sheet she had pushed through before, and wrapped it around her body in a makeshift sari. Darting a look left and right, Marsha picked a random direction and moved off into the maze of Queen Enterprises. _-~-_ In a fruit shop on the corner of Hayter Street and Greel Avenue, the Queen was becoming irritated. "What do they think they're up to?" she muttered to herself as she scanned the document on the computer screen before her. She had been sent the information by her operatives in the Library of Infinite Stories. Due to the Library's unique book system, and the Looniverse's own fictional status, every comic published turned up in the Library, filed carefully under author and name. The Queen had operatives (some might say spies) in the Library, copying out the issues as they appeared onto computer, and e-mailing them to her. It was a very efficient way of keeping an eye on the goings on in this, and other realities, but it was a trick used only be the Queen herself. She had not passed that source of information onto Queen Enterprises, but made sure that her own, more personal company, Queen Bee Enterprises, did use it. Queen Bee Enterprises, despite the name, was overlooked by major companies as a wannabe, suck up, corporation, out to try to mimic Queen Enterprises own success. The Queen had carefully nurtured this impression until it was seen as more than just a cover. Now, the Queen was reading previous _World Tales_ issues, and learning what blunders her underlings had made. She had also made her own deductions about what else was happening. Now was the time to put events into action. Although it wouldn't cause the downfall of Queen Enterprises, it would make them look very foolish when the Queen's plan came to fruition. Then, her own company would hide the evidence of its mistakes, and the Queen would be sure that nothing escaped, especially anything that might bring the notice of the LNH to what had been going on. The Queen went to the back door of the fruit shop, and looked out. She spotted a face she recognised. It belonged to a street urchin, and he belonged to the very people she wanted alerted. "Come here, boy. Come on." The boy came willingly. He had been the beneficiary of several presents of food before, and trusted the Queen as a dog would trust its master. She passed a shiny red apple to him. "There's something I'd like you to tell your friends." _-~-_ "What do you mean she escaped?" roared Susan Adam. "We found her cell empty, Heir." The sergeant stood straight, eyes front, ignoring the pacing that Adam was doing. "And what have you done to recover her?" "We're searching the building, Heir." "And you hope to find her that way, do you? One woman, amongst a million." The sergeant didn't say anything. "I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to give everyone the day off." "Heir?" "As the people leave, I want to check them carefully. I don't want to hear that you let Marsha go because she was disguised as someone else! And then, when the building's clear, we can do a sensor trace to find her." "Yes, Heir." "Well, then. Get on with it." _-~-_ Marsha walked down the corridor, keeping her cap low as people passed her. She had found a changing room, used by nurses, and had donned a suitable outfit. No-one seemed too bothered with her, they probably saw too many different people moving about to notice on more. She had a risky moment when a contingent of guards marched past, but they took similar disinterest in her. Perhaps it was the nurse's outfit that did it, thought Marsha. It was then that a whistle blew. It echoed all around her, and Marsha realised that it was some sort of speaker system starting up. A voice crackled into life. "Announcement. Due to security programs, the rest of the day will be considered a holiday. Pay will be unaffected." Marsha heard a ragged cheer from all around at this. "Secure projects on night status and report to assigned exits. You will be checked by security before leaving." Around Marsha the mood of the place became much lighter. People stopped hurrying about, and relaxed. She saw people flick a few switches at wherever it was they were working, then move away, whistling jauntily. Not having an 'assigned exit' Marsha continued to walk through the corridors, looking as if she had a purpose and wanted to dispense with it as soon as possible so she could get away. A large door opened in front of her, and Marsha turned away to keep from being recognised as she heard a group of people leave. As she heard them depart, she turned around quickly and was rewarded by seeing the door swinging shut. She quickly leapt forward, and grabbed the door before it fully closed. She opened it enough to slip through, then let it shut behind her. The room inside was pitch black, and she fumbled near the door side before her hand hit a panel and lights flickered into existence. What she saw took her breath away in surprise. In the middle of the room was a large mass of equipment sitting on a large funny pedestal. Wires and tubes left the machinery, and joined monitors and regulators situated around the edges of the room. Lights were blinking softly and the monitors were switched off, so Marsha assumed this was 'night status'. As she moved closer to the strange pedestal, she realised that it wasn't made of stone or metal or anything. It looked transparent, as if it was the top of a container of something. Must be a bloody large container, thought Marsha. The insides were too dark to make anything out, but Marsha could see the odd glowing bubble rise up though some fluid that the container must contain. It was then that Marsha realised something else. She couldn't hear anything. She could feel her heart beat, but she couldn't hear her own breathing. She tried to say something, but couldn't tell if nothing was coming out, or it she just couldn't hear it. She tapped the machinery with her knuckles, but that failed to produce sound. She rapped harder, trying to make any sound whatsoever. Marsha began to panic, fearing that this room had caused her to go deaf or something. She jumped up and started pounding on the control panels around her, the monitors and blank faces of metal, anything, just to prove to herself that she wasn't going nuts. Although she didn't make noise, she did feel an increase in the light levels behind her. Looking down at the panel she had just been hitting, she realised that she must have knocked some controls about, inevitably causing the reaction behind her. She slowly turned around. The tank was now glowing, enabling Marsha to see inside it. She crept slowly forwards, more of the tank becoming visible as she did so. Slowly, so slowly, a man came into view. He was looking up and seemed surprised to see Marsha. Marsha was definitely surprised to see him. She studied his face, anything to take her mind off the reasons why there should be a man floating in a tank. It wasn't an unkind face. It wasn't the sort of face you'd expect to see floating in a tank, but Marsha wasn't quite sure what sort of face she would expect to see. It wrinkled into a smile, and the man raised a hand, slowly through the liquid, and waved. Taken aback by this, Marsha hesitantly brought her own hand up and waved back. The man nodded at this. He then raised his hand and pointed towards something. He transfered his gaze from Marsha to whatever he was pointing at, and back again, until Marsha got the point and followed the direction of his hand. As far as she could tell, he seemed to be pointing at a lever. Reaching out slowly, looking at the man every now and then for confirmation, Marsha grasped the lever and pulled it. Some of the machinery moved, and a computer keyboard and a computer screen were lowered into the tank. The man nodded again, then turned his attention to the keyboard and began to type, his movements hampered by the fluid. Out of the corner of her eye, Marsha spotted something moving, and turned to see another computer screen, similar to the one in the tank. A message was printed on it. WHO ARE YOU? This was definitely a strange question, thought Marsha, considering he was the weirdo in the tank. But, she didn't see any reason why she shouldn't respond. She located a keyboard below the screen, and typed a reply. MARSHA BURGENSTOCK. She glanced in the tank to see the man reading the screen. He peered up at her for a moment then typed something else. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Well, that was certainly an appropriate question. She felt a wild urge to respond with 'talking to you,' but suppressed it, sure that that wouldn't help. She considered answers and finally gave: TRYING TO ESCAPE. The man's response was quick in coming. TAKE ME WITH YOU. PLEASE. That threw Marsha. Oh yeah. She was on the run from a building full of people trying to kill her, and now someone wanted her to pick up a tank and carry it with her. Marsha wanted to know more before committing herself either way. WHO ARE YOU? The reply was slow, and drawn out between words. I AM KNOWN AS Marsha waited for more, but nothing came. She looked down in the tank to see the man looking right at her, his face a thoughtful, sad expression. She blinked at him a few times, and he finally moved to the keyboard. INACOUSTIC KID. Marsha recognised the name. She, like every other LNHer, had flipped through the LNH Roster from time to time, and his name was one she had seen. But what was he doing here? And was she going to save him? She considered this for a while. She was no longer with the Legion on Net.Heroes. Had left because she couldn't cut it with a second rate villain. She was finished with the LNH, but this went way beyond her. She turned to the keyboard, her mind made up. HOW? This was a very good question. Although there must be some way of getting Inacoustic Kid out of the tank, she didn't want to play with the controls, hoping to hit the right sequence by sheer luck. It was more likely she'd kill him first. Inacoustic Kid already had an answer. SMASH THE TANK. Marsha considered this. Although it must be rather dangerous, IK must know what he's talking about, and there really wasn't any other option. She picked up a heavy piece of machinery, positioned herself carefully, then swung. The glass of the tank shattered under the blow. Shards and fluid sloshed out onto the floor and Marsha's feet were quickly soaked. IK tried to swim up to the hole, but didn't make much headway. Marsha knelt down, ignoring what the glass was doing to her legs, and reached in. Slowly, so slowly, they clasped hands. Marsha heaved and IK pulled. For a moment, Marsha was sure that she was going head first into the tank, but IK grabbed the side of the hole and hauled himself through. Marsha held him as he threw up on the floor, expunging the liquid from his lungs. She pulled the cords off him, and they came away as if they had only been stuck to him through suction. Red marks remained as the tubes were removed. Marsha helped Inacoustic Kid to his feet, ignoring his naked state, and he moved to the keyboard. I CAN'T CONTROL MY SILENCE ANYMORE. THEY HAVE PERMANENTLY EXTENDED IT BEYOND MY BODY. DO YOU KNOW OF ANYWAY OUT OF HERE? Marsha took her turn at the keyboard. YOU CAN'T TALK ANYMORE? NO, I DON'T KNOW HOW TO LEAVE. IK moved his mouth, but Marsha heard nothing. He reached out and typed. I CAN TALK. YOU CAN'T HEAR ME. LET'S GET OUT OF HERE. Marsha held onto IK as he stumbled with her over to the door. Marsha pushed the door open, easy to do from this side, and looked out. The corridor was completely empty. Everyone had gone home. They would now be completely exposed. _-~-_ "Right, sergeant. Everyone has left." "Yes, Heir." "And you're sure you didn't let her get past you?" The sergeant didn't react to the sarcasm in her voice. "Yes, Heir." "Then she is trapped in here." "Yes, Heir." "Sergeant, start the trackers. I want her found!" "Yes, Heir." "I want this finished with once and for all." -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Credits: Marshmallow Lass was created by Campbell 'Sasquatch' March Inacoustic Kid is Public Domain Everyone else is mine.Back to the Index.