A top Black and White comic ______ _ _ _ ____ _ ____ _____ ___ _ _____ _____ | | | | / \ | | | | | | |___| | |____ \___ |BLiP| | _ | | | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | | |--- | | | ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ | #8 | | | | | | |\ | | | (An ACROPHOBE Imprint) | | |/ \| \ / | \ | | | ~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~ FEATURING: Marsha Burgenstock and Inacoustic Kid [Mid shot of a glass high-raise. Flying out of a smashed centre window comes Marsha Burgenstock holding onto Inacoustic Kid.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- **** The SoftCenter Saga **** **** Part 5 **** "It's not what you do, it's the mess you make." "Friends. Brethren. Brothers." The speaker adopted a friendly tone. He didn't need it. All that had gathered here knew why they had come. They were now waiting expectantly for a tale to unfold. A tale of their future. "As you know, we are the downtrodden, the wastrel, the homeless. We are the scum left behind when the chaff is removed. We know our station in life, and it is not a happy one. "We are the ones that must suffer. The ones to always end up the butt of the joke. We have always been the worst. "But something has happened, brothers. I have seen a wonderful sight. A sight that inspired me. A sight that will inspire you all. I will tell you what happened. "I was in the town of Net.ropolis, that blighted city. Where one is not sure if whether your house will still be standing, or even your block. I was in Net.ropolis when it happened. "I was sleeping behind some cans when I heard something pounding the streets. I was awoken when two superheroes smashed down into the street beside me. Friends, I hear you mutter 'superheroes', but this is something different. There was one superhero in particular. He was dressed as we are, our garbage staining our clothes and lives. Yes, a superhero that was like us. "He was amazing. He flew. He fought with a giant robot. He was like us, yet he was a superhero. He called himself 'Homeless Man' and he wore this face to protect himself from identity." The speaker produced a piece of cloth that had reverently been held beside him. It was recognisable as a ski mask, but those around the speaker muttered 'the face, the face'. "Yes, this was his face. He was the Homeless Man. He was like us, and yet he fought. He fought for life. He fought because he could. He fought as a homeless, proud of what he was. "My friends, what can we do? Do we see this example before us? One man was brave enough to rise above our plight, and help others, though homeless he was. "We are homeless. We are no powerful, as he was, but we are strong. Together, we can make a stand. Together, we can something. Something different, something vital. We can make a difference, and we will. As he did." He brandished the ski mask again. "Together, we are the Homeless Ones." The homeless looked on, and they nodded. Yes, it was true. They were now the Homeless Ones. They could make a difference. Someone came scuttling into the alley. It was a small boy. "Everyone. Listen up. There's gonna be a break-out outa Queenie's place. There's gonna be a bust out. People're gonna escape from there." This was something new, something different. Queenie's place hung over their lives like a malevolent shadow, permanently shading them in darkness. The speaker was quick on the uptake. "Friends. This is what we've been waiting for. For too long has Queenie's place held us in its thrall. Now is our chance. We can fight back. We will help these people, when they escape. We can help them get away. We can help them get AWAY FROM QUEENIE'S!" This shout was taken up. As one, they cried out. "AWAY FROM QUEENIE'S!" _-~-_ "What is this incompetence?!" Susan Adam, Heir of Queen Enterprises, a place also known as 'Queenie's', yelled. "I am only reporting what I know, ma'am. I cannot judge the matter." "No, you cannot! It is not enough that you allowed Marsha Burgenstock to escape, but now you tell me Project Silence has also disappeared!" "The integrity alarms were activated, ma'am, informing us that the security of Project Silence had been breached. When we arrived, we found the Tank had been smashed. From the outside." "She must have freed him! That's what she was sent here to do! And we allowed her to do it!" "Yes, ma'am." "Get me a fix on them, mister, or you'll find yourself on the receiving end of a firing squad of your own men." "Yes, ma'am!" _-~-_ Marsha Burgenstock looked up and down the corridor carefully before entering it. She would have listened for footsteps, but there was one problem with that. She was escaping from Queen Enterprises, Sin.ci.net.ty, and was helping Inacoustic Kid do so as well. Due to being unable to not tinker in anything they didn't understand, the fools at Queen Enterprises had played with Inacoustic Kid's natural noiselessness powers until they went into effect some distance from his body, providing a permanent silence field. This was good when trying to hid from others looking for you, but useless when trying to hear those same people. What Marsha really wanted to do was leave the building, but, right now, she'd settle for finding some clothes for Inacoustic Kid to wear. He had been suspended in a tank of fluid for some time now, and the cold air was being to affect his system as he tried to adapt. In fact, he was shivering almost violently, and Marsha was having difficultly steering him down the corridor. She had considered leaving him while she went hunting for clothes, but didn't want to trust him being found before she got back. Marsha tried to open a door beside her, but it was locked. She continued down the corridor, trying doors, and finding each barred to her. Finally one opened, but bedding fell out of it. It was an overstuffed closet. Marsha gratefully pounced on the material, and grabbed a handful of sheets. The first thing she did was to dry Inacoustic Kid off. With the liquid removed, IK shivered less, but still felt the cold. Marsha delved through the mess on the floor, and found some blankets. She wrapped these around him, and he huddled in the middle of them, looking pitiful in his sorry state. Still, he was warmer now, and he nodded his thanks to her. Marsha kicked the overflow back into the closet, but was unable to shut the door. Leaving it as a bad deal, they continued on their way. The next problem was encountered around the next corner. Marsha spotted a guard standing in the middle of the next intersection of corridors. Fortunately, his back was turned to them. Marsha and IK walked up to the guard carefully. They didn't have to worry about the guard hearing them, but they didn't want to take any chances on the guard turning and seeing them. They got within arm's reach of him, when Marsha noticed something. The guard's skin was black. Marsha threw a surprised Inacoustic Kid at the guard, and they fell down in a silent tumble. IK managed to roll free first, but the guard was too stunned to move. Marsha leapt into the air, and came crashing down onto the guard's back with all her might. She grinned as she surely felt some of the guard's ribs crack. She then lashed out with her foot, and connected solidly with the guard's head, smashing it against the floor. A puddle of blood slowly grew, indicating a broken nose. The guard lay there, unconscious. Marsha turned to see an almost frightened Inacoustic Kid. He obviously didn't understand Marsha's motives, and she had no way of explaining them to him. Sighing to herself, Marsha reached down, turned the guard over, and started stripping him of his clothes. She passed the garments to Inacoustic Kid, who slowly put them on. They were a little long, but better to wear than the blankets. Now they would be able to move faster. Marsha kept the guard's walkie-talkie for herself, and motioned for Inacoustic Kid to stay put. She moved away from him, and walked almost twenty metres before the walkie-talkie came to lift in her hand. "*crik* Where are they now, over? *crik*" "*crik* Still on the same level, but over near the blue sector, over. *crik*" "*crik* Unit 221, they are heading your way, over. *crik*" Marsha waited, a dreadful realisation forming in her head. "*crik* I said, Unit 221, report in, over. *crik*" "*crik* Sir, new monitor reading. They are currently apart. One is inside blue sector, the other is at Unit 221's position. *crik*" "*crik* Alert all units, we have a man down. I repeat, we have a man down. All units, report position and bearing. Now! Over. *crik*" Marsha waved hurriedly to Inacoustic Kid for him to join her. That had some way of tracking them! They had to get out of their immediately, keep moving, hope that the tracker didn't find them again too quickly. IK joined her, and the started running, not in any particular direction though. Marsha now knew they were in the 'blue sector', but where everything else was in relation to that, she had no idea. What they really needed was a lift. Someone down to the first floor, where they had more chances to escape. And more chances to get caught, Marsha added, gloomily. Marsha hunted for a lift, but it was precious minutes before she actually found one. The doors were nearly fitted seamlessly into the wall, but Marsha spotted the familiar up and down buttons set into one side. Looking carefully, she located the outlines of the lift doors themselves. She thumped the down button and waited impatiently for the lift to arrive. She muttered 'come on, come on' silently under her breath, and glanced up and down the corridor, looking for pursuers, and noticed Inacoustic kid doing the same. Marsha realised that a display had lit up above the lift doors, and watched as the numbers grew higher and higher. She placed her hand on the doors, and felt vibrations slowly growing as the lift neared. Finally they ceased, and Marsha breathed a sigh of relief. However, they didn't open. Marsha looked around in panic, and a blinking red light attracted her attention. Peering at it, she found that the red light was part of a card swipe system, and groaned as she realised the amount of security built into just taking a lift. Inacoustic Kid had also noticed the problem, and he was searching through various pockets of his stolen guard's uniform. He held up something with a flourish, and Marsha recognised the design as a security card. Inacoustic Kid swiped it through the sensor, and the red light flicked off, and a green light came on. The lift doors opened, and Marsha and Inacoustic Kid tumbled gratefully inside. Spinning around, Marsha stabbed at the button marked 'First Floor'. _-~-_ Susan Adam waited on the first floor, surrounded by the leaders of her security teams. They were supposed to organise the capture of Marsha and Project Silence (actually, they were supposed to never let Marsha and Project Silence escape in the first place), but she thought they were just acting busy to avoid her. Her thoughts were interrupted by the loud speakers. "Alert! Non-authorised passengers in Lift 27. Fingerprint check has failed. Alert! Shut down in five seconds." "Belay that!" Adam shouted. Some people looked at her in surprise, but, luckily, some leapt to telephones to relay the instructions to let the lift continue. "When they get down here, we can capture them," Adam explained, silently cursing her team for having to explain anything to them. After this botch up, there was going to be a sever shakedown of the security teams and their procedures. Guards quickly jogged to the entrance to Lift 27, and waited for it to arrive. The lift clicked into place, and the doors opened. The guards looked into an empty lift. They looked helplessly back at an angry Adam. She motioned them forward impatiently, and some stomped into the lift. One turned to report that the lift still failed to carry passengers, but Adam couldn't hear a reply. Strange, considering she wasn't that far away. Stranger still was the puzzled looks from those beside the reporting guard. The obvious answer came to Adam, and she quickly realised where they were. She gestured upwards, and the guards obediently looked up, at the roof of the lift. _-~-_ Marsha wondered what movies Inacoustic Kid had watched in his time. When the lift got underway, he insisted, through urgent arm movements, that they climb through the hatch in the roof on the lift, and lay on top. When the lift stopped, Marsha felt the roof vibrate as booted feet entered it. Knowing they didn't have much time, Marsha looked for other methods of escape. IK already had an idea, presumedly gotten from the same place as the get-on-top-of-the-lift idea. He climbed a ladder set into the side of the lift shaft, and clambered up to the second floor doors. He reached across, and half leapt to a position where he could pull the doors apart from. IK strained, but the doors didn't move. He glanced back down at Marsha, and gestured up to the top of the doors. Wondering what he was referring to, Marsha ascended the ladder, climbing to be level with the top of the doors. She saw the door control mechanism, and realised what IK wanted her to do. Marsha reached over, and jiggled a likely looking component. IK strained again, and this time something moved in the machinery above and the doors opened. At the same time, the lift hatch was raised, and a pair of cautious eyes met Marsha's, as she looked down in panic. The eyes turned down to relay something to those below him, and Marsha took the opportunity to leap through the gap between the doors that IK had just vacated. The lift doors shut behind them, leaving them stranded one floor above escape. Now Marsha knew what to do, and hurried down the corridor, with Inacoustic Kid dogging her heels. She moved from side to side down the corridor, trying every door she could, and peering into the rooms beyond if they opened. So far, no room satisfied her. IK was reaching the point of banging his head on a wall when Marsha finally completed her search. IK looked in to see what was so special about the room she chose. It looked like many a bureaucratic office, with desks filling space, and paper piled high. Large windows gave views of the street below, inviting in its promise of freedom. Marsha picked up a chair and threw it against one of the windows, and watched in unsurprised disappointment as it expectedly bounced off. Greater force was needed, but she knew just where she might get some. First, she grabbed a pad, and scribbled down some instructions for Inacoustic Kid. He looked at them puzzledly, but she didn't have time to explain every step. She left the office at a run, going hunting. The guard stood at an intersection of corridors, looking around nervously, and awaiting further orders. As far as he knew, the escapee were on a completely different level to his. That was until his walkie-talkie squawked. "*crik* They left the lift through the roof. They are now on level two, blue sector. I repeat, level two, blue sector. All units on that level... SMARTEN UP! *crik*" The guard jumped at the shout. That was typical, he thought. Vent yer anger on us. Ya mangy bastard. "Hey! Hey, you! Over here." The guard turned in surprise to see a black woman in a nurses uniform waving at him. "Hoy! I'm one of the escapees! Don'tcha want me?" What the hell was this? The guard grabbed his walkie-talkie, reporting as he ran after the disappearing figure. Damn these bending corridors! "Unit 331, reporting in. I have spotted one of the prisoners, the black one. Am now in pursuit. Request backup. Repeat, request immediate backup." He rounded the corner just in time to see the figure vanish around another corner. If he had been more observant, he might have wondered why she was still there to be seen, having plenty of time to make her escape. He rounded the second corner and saw the woman standing in one of the doorways. She waved at him again. "In here, matey." She ducked inside. The guard slowed. He knew that the rooms here had only one exit, the one he now had in sight. She wasn't going anywhere. The guard grinned slightly. No need to hurry. They were trapped! The guard noticed another figure coming towards him form the other end of the corridor. He breathed a sigh of relief as he recognised the uniform as another guard. The other nodded to him. The first guard pulled out his gun, a mini-automatic, and cocked it. He indicated the door through which Marsha had gone, and the other guard took out his gun, looking in the same direction. Together, they sprang into the doorway, opening fire. Although plenty of furniture was torn up by bullets, the impact made surprisingly little noise. The guard slowly noticed the arrangement of the room. Many of the desks had been turned over, forming barricades. If they were in here, thought the guard, they had some damn good shelter. Both guards stepped inside, having sated their initial lust for shooting things. They scanned the room carefully, jumping over the desk to reveal potential victims. None showed. The first guard saw something from the corner of his eye. A desk moved! He turned and fired, surprising the other guard, on the other side of the room, who quickly recovered and fired at the same place. The desk was right before a window, which, due to the guard's inaccurate aim, was pelted with fast-moving bullets. As Marsha had hoped, it shattered outward under the force. People out in the street received a very nasty shock. Those that were looking up had some warning, but those directly underneath had none. Glass from one of the windows on the second floor of Queen Enterprises exploded silently outwards. Something else came flying out of the same shape, a large complex object, the kind formed by two people holding onto one another. The bodies fell onto the pavement, which was now strewn with glass shards. One body had been underneath on impact. The body of a black woman. Inacoustic Kid stirred and unsteadily clambered to his feet. He knelt down by Marsha, but she was already sitting up. IK could see little pink splotches were glass had penetrated her back. He had been taken by surprise upstairs. He and Marsha had been hiding behind the desk in front of the window, holding each other for comfort. They had moved the desk slightly from time to time to get the guards' attention, and they finally shot the window out for them. That's when Marsha had hauled Inacoustic Kid out through the window, making sure she went first. He wasn't sure what should have happened next, but Marsha calmly getting to her feet wouldn't have been an early choice. Marsha smiled at IK, showing she was unhurt, and indicated that, as they were right outside Queen Enterprises still, and that they were escapees, perhaps, just perhaps, they should run for their lives? IK grabbed Marsha's hand and together they ran off, to the increasing anger of Susan Adam who came out a moment later, surrounded by men with machine guns. Adam brought her hand up to stop any firing. It wouldn't do. Not out here. "Get me Arnold Derrik. The Hand shall take care of this," she said. "And have Robert Discumby sent to me afterwards. The Teeth shall have their work to do as well." _-~-_ Marsha soon took the lead from Inacoustic Kid, mainly because she had some idea of where she was going. They ran down Cassius Boulevard, and turned into Hayter Street. Marsha spotted her target, and pulled a flagging Inacoustic Kid after her. Marsha threw open the door to _The Produce Corner_, and stumbled inside. The store keeper looked up, not without a little surprise. The keeper quickly recovered, and fetched a pad and pen out from below the desk. 'You must leave her immediately,' she wrote. Marsha looked at the note, panting too hard to respond in any way. Taking a deep breath to get her heart under control, she took the pen and wrote simply 'How?' The store keeper went to the back door, and opened it. She looked outside, and beckoned to someone. As Marsha and Inacoustic Kid made their way through the shop, the keeper wrote 'These people can help you get away.' She practically pushed Marsha and IK outside. Outside, Marsha found herself face to face with rags. They were fixed into the shape of a person, and they smelled. Marsha wrinkled her nose as the odour made its way into her senses. It gestured for them to follow it, and moved off into the back streets. Marsha looked back as she followed it, but the back door to _The Produce Corner_ was already closed. _-~-_ Marsha wandered through the back streets of Sin.ci.net.ty, followed by a weary Inacoustic Kid, and following a person wrapped in rags and bad smells. She wondered where she was going, and turned yet another corner. The street seemed to open up into a square of some kind, packed with people. Marsha gasped, partly from seeing almost every kind of needy person imaginable in the host, but also from the attack on her nose. One of them came forward. He was ready for them, and he opened his arms wide. He said a few words, some kind of welcome, but Marsha couldn't hear him. The figure frowned, seeing his words weren't getting though, but looked lost as to any solution. Marsha looked at Inacoustic Kid who blushed. He moved off a side alley way, and joined some kids who learnt the joys of playing without sound. As he left, Marsha was nearly deafened by the noises around her. It wasn't that they were loud, but that it came so suddenly after IK's sound deprivation that they became a roar for a few moments. Her ears adjusted, and the rustling murmur dropped to normal levels. The spokesmen tried again. "Welcome, welcome, my friend in need. We have been told of your coming, and we have prepared. Fear not, for when Queenie sends her forces after you, we shall be here to protect you." Marsha was surprised at the quality of words from this begger's mouth. What kind of education had the man received in the gutters? Other questions also came into her mind, the first being "Who are you people?" The man spread his arms wide. "We are the Homeless Ones, banded together to honour a vision." Marsha took a second look around her, really seeing for the first time the people gathered here. There were people from all cultures, all races. Marsha spotted blacks among them, and felt her anger rise, but not much. These people weren't trying to kill her, they were trying to help her. This she could understand, and so accepted their presence as necessary. For now. All ages were represented here as well. Young kids played in the streets, old people huddled on the ground, trying to keep warm, and muttering their insanities to one another. In between, Marsha saw teenagers thin and hardened, and saw couples together, more from necessity than love. But one thing she really found, one thing that made her trust that these people were her friends, was solidarity. Rock hardness that had stood up to all the unpleasantness that nature could throw, as was ready to still try to make a stand. It wasn't directed at Marsha, fortunately, or she wouldn't still be standing here. It was directed at those who had forced them here. At those who hadn't even shown pity for them. And at Queen Enterprises which symbolised all their hate. "How ready are you?" Marsha asked. Hate was all very well, but it didn't stand up to rapid gunfire. "What have you done so far?" "We have isolated this place," the man, the leader, replied. "We have removed Queenie's eyes and ears from here. We have chased all her spies who have tried to infiltrate us. They will not find us so soft to bow down to them when they come." Marsha wondered how long it would be before those ideals would be tested. _-~-_ Arnold Derrik checked the men he could see over carefully. He loved this part of the job. The hunt. When he was given free reign to do what had to be done. He motioned for the next batch to go, and men and women ran off. He had the place totally surrounded. He knew exactly where they were. Where the eyes couldn't see. that's where they were. Where the ears couldn't hear. That's where they were. Where the nose couldn't smell. That's where they were. And when the Retina, the Tap and the Snifter failed, that's when the Hand was sent in, where the others couldn't tread. He had to be careful, though. He couldn't set up a cordon as tight as he liked. Not with Her shop there. They had infiltrated Her, somehow turned Her against Her own people. He wasn't sure how they did it, but they had some of the best protection possible. The rest of the area he could block off, and that area he could, at most, watch. If anything happened there, he would know about it. Derrik gave the signal, and they went it. Step by step, alleyway by alleyway, the Hand crept into unknown territory, claiming it for their own. As they went, the men and women saw others, innocents (as much as they were innocent), not their targets. They made their way through the back streets, checking, always checking, always making sure. Never let anyone behind you unless you are aware of their threat. These people were no threat. They were homeless, that was all. And then the Homeless Ones exploded in their faces. People rose from the streets, throwing off their rags as they joined in unanticipated battle. The Hand were taken by surprise, and that's when the casualties were made. not in terms of death, but in terms of moral. The Homeless came out of hiding, holding brick bats and knives. Fighting with their hands where they had to. And they had to. The Hand fought because of orders. The Homeless One fought because they had been pushed too far. Derrik fell back, hurried back through the streets he thought he now owned. Around him ruin was falling about his ears. The Hand did fight back, and fought hard, bringing their weapons to bear. Rifles, machine guns and laser pistols. All used. All used to bring death to those around them. But those that died were replaced. There was no end to those that had been ruined by fate. As the dead were replaced, they were replaced by those who had more to gain by fighting. This was their streets, their lives, and now their dead to avenge. The Hand was pushed back, repulsed. From the start, their moral had been shaken, and now their enemies fought harder, believed more in the fight than they did. Wood battled bullets. Belief fought orders. Need fought want. Right fought might. And all won. Derrik barely made it back alive, or so he thought. He thought that his life was in the balance, but he didn't understand the Homeless. It wasn't for the right to kill the Homeless fought for, it was the right to be left alone. Derrik didn't understand this. And so he was defeated. He knew the Heir would not be pleased. She had wanted those two back, whatever the cost, but he had found the cost too high to paid. Let her pay it with her own skin if she wanted to. He had others to think about, his Hand, and he wasn't about to get them killed over two escapees. Derrik also knew about the effectiveness of the Teeth. They could bite hard, and bite long. Once the Teeth had decided on something, they would stick with it until it wa excepted. Some version of this would remain, but now the truth. Two intruders had infiltrated Queen Enterprises, barely escaping with their lives. They hid among the dregs of the population, their kind. They had escaped justice, but they would be searched for. Something like that. Louis Prowtero, the Tongue, would speak, and he would be believed. The Homeless would become even more despised than they were now, but that was acceptable. The underdog had won. For now. _-~-_ Marsha Burgenstock came out of hiding. She felt some guilt, misgivings about not helping to fight, but she had been rejected in her offers. This was their battle, and it was time they fought it. "Where will you go now?" asked the Homeless One's leader. Marsha shrugged. "I suppose I'd better get Inacoustic Kid back to the LNHQ." She looked over to where IK stood, looking lost and alone. "Someone has to help him get back, explain what happened. I think they'll be able to help him recover." Marsha looked away, another question forming slowly on her tongue. "Could you help us?" she finally asked. "I don't know how we can get out of here without being spotted." "Of course," replied the leader. "We are the Homeless. We are unnoticed. A fact that which may seem repugnant to our remaining ego, it did help us to defeat our opponents. We can get you out of here." Marsha nodded, feeling a load lifting from her shoulders. It was over. Queen Enterprises might look for her, but they would look in vain. She wasn't sure what would happen now. She'd need some sort of protection. She might go back to the LNH. She go home. The thought did not seem so repulsive as it once did. Still, that decision could wait until later. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Credits: Marshmallow Lass was created by Campbell 'Sasquatch' March Inacoustic Kid is Public Domain Everyone else is mine.Back to the Index.