A top Black and White comic ______ _ _ _ ____ _ ____ _____ ___ _ _____ _____ | | | | / \ | | | | | | |___| | |____ \___ |BLiP| | _ | | | | | | | | | | | | | \ |Annu| | | | | | |--- | | | ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ |al#1| | | | | | |\ | | | (An ACROPHOBE Imprint) | | |/ \| \ / | \ | | | ~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~~~~ FEATURING: Marsha Burgenstock ANNUAL - YEAR ONE "She was _something_ from the beginning." [Focus is on Marsha, strapped to a large chair. A woman and a man can be seen from behind on either side of her. From Marsha's head, but obscured by the title are thought bubbles, containing scenes from Marsha's past.] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- **** The SoftCenter Saga **** **** Part 3 **** "Don't make a pact with the Devil. It might be God in disguise." Marsha Burgenstock sat. She didn't have a choice about it. She was strapped firmly into a chair. She had been kidnapped and brought to Queen Enterprises in Sin.ci.net.ty. She had only come to the city for a holiday, just passing through on her way to wherever. Now, she was trapped and drugged, forced into her past to relive her memories, and reveal her life. However, she had been pushed back to far. Now she was a child, reliving all the horrors that went with it. And there was no-one to help her. _-~-_ "Mommy, why don't you love me?" This was Marsha, aged four. Her mother had come to her nursery on one of her rare visits, during one of her brief occurrences of "maternal instinct". Her mother was already regretting it. "Why do you think I don't love you, honey?" Lady Burgenstock was old, but, as they say, well preserved. Marsha had come at the end of her childbearing period. Lady Burgenstock had sure that it was the end. When one was fifty, one did not need children to inconvenience things. "You never come to see me," Marsha explained, that being all the proof she needed. "Your mother is a very busy woman," Lady Burgenstock said. "I can't be with you all the time, as much as I want to." "Why does Daddy never come?" Lady Burgenstock sighed inwardly. "Daddy is also very busy. He doesn't have very much time either. I miss Daddy very much as well." "Do we have a horse?" Lady Burgenstock was thrown by the question. Where did that come from? "Yes, we have many horses. Would you like to ride one?" "Nanny says that you spend all your time be," Marsha drew breath, obviously about to embark on a long and difficult sentence, "be-ing roger-ed by your black," another breath, "black stally-eon. Isn't that funny, Mommy? You have a horse called Roger." Marsha beamed at Lady Burgenstock, proud of her efforts. Lady Burgenstock stood up and glared at the nanny. Surprisingly, the nanny didn't wilt under her gaze. "I'll talk to you outside!" Lady Burgenstock commanded. "Mommy? Can I ride on your Roger horse?" Marsha asked. "Not now, dear. Maybe later. Go and play with your toys now, darling." Lady Burgenstock walked over to the door and held it open, commanding the nanny, with her eyes, to precede her outside. The nanny walked out, still unabashed, and Lady Burgenstock followed her. She nearly slammed the door shut, but checked herself in time. Marsha could still hear their voices, raised in magnitude by anger, but didn't pay any attention to them. She was having fun playing with her PULP dress-up dolls. "How dare you fill my daughter's head with those kind of malicious lies." "They're not lies and we both know it. You spend all day and night upstairs with him, just-" "That is enough! Get out of my house. I shall find someone else to be a mother for my child." "That's right, isn't it. Someone else to be a mother. You know you'll never be one!" Footsteps echoed away, but Marsha took no notice of them. She was surprised to suddenly find herself with a new nanny, but soon came to accept her. She was told that the other nanny had left for a long holiday. Late at night, she would hear someone whispering, outside her door, "You killed her. You killed her." She felt suitably guilty about this, although she wasn't exactly sure why, but only when she remembered to. She forgot all about the horse called Roger. _-~-_ "You've taken her back too far. Bring her forward." "Pleeze. These thinks are very hard to judge. Ve vill have to work slowly, go forward in stagez. That is the only vay we can remain in control. "Now, Marzha, I vant you to move forward in time. Feel yourself growink older, feel time passink you, let more memories come back. You are older now. Vhere are-" "You take that back!" _-~-_ "You take that back!" Marsha was now aged twelve. She stood in a school courtyard, somewhere in Sweden. She had been sent there to be educated when she was five, her mother finally tiring of her, and wanting Marsha out of her life for a while. The school was very 'posh', but the Burgenstock budget could easily afford in. That budget could have afforded to colonise the moon. Still, all kinds of girls came there. The spoiled rotten, the shy mouses, and the 'mentally well-adjusted'. School bullies were almost a prerequisite. Marsha had her fair share of friends, but even they couldn't stand up to 'Ten-ton' Tabitha 'Tabby' Vaughn. Unfortunately, all ten tons of her were muscle. She was the pet of the gym instructer, Ms Bartlew. Ten-ton was a believer in _force majeure_, and she proved it every day. "It's too late, Marshamallow," sneered Ten-ton. "Everyone already knows it's true. Right, girls?" Ten-ton had her hangers-on, and they all coursed their assent. "Yeah," one of them jeered. "Everyone knows that she only married him for his dick." "We got this letter, here, from Bingley's mother." Bingley proudly showed off the letter in question. "Bingley's mum told her all about the decrepitude of the Burgerstocks." "That's not true! You don't even know what 'decrepitude' means." This was true. It had been in the letter, and Ten-ton had been impressed by it. She always had a fondness for large words, making her sound more adult, or so she thought. No-one dared tell her otherwise. "Oh yeah," responded Ten-ton, not one to let a challenge escape her. "It means that she lies around all day having sex-sex-sexual intercourse with his dick." That was another new term she had picked up. The girls had recently learned about this in biology class, and, although fascinated by it, Ten-ton still had to sort some things out. "No, it's not true." Now tears were running down Marsha's face, and she turned away, her cheeks burning. This only served as further encouragement. "Marshamallow, Marshamallow, her heart is soft and her brain is hollow." This was one of Ten-ton's chants. She had made one up for everyone she tortured, and they were all flawed in some way or another, however good they might seem to sound. Again, no-one dared to tell her any differently. As the rest of the pack chanted in the background, Ten-ton continued her torment. "You weren't even wanted. Your mum only had you because she got preggynant, and she gave birth to you with all her intestines wrapped around you." Typically graphic. Typically wrong. "She had sex, then you came out. She didn't want any children. She didn't want you. You are not wanted, you are not wanted." This was picked up as well. Soon, it was ringing in Marsha's ears. "You are not wanted. You are not wanted." "Nobody loves you, everybody hates you." The rest joined in with this, recognising the rhyme. "Go down to the garden, and EAT SOME WORMS!" Marsha ran from the courtyard, tears streaming down her face, laughter hounding her. _-~-_ "No. It's still not far enough." "Ve will get there, Heir. It juzt takes time. "Now, Marzha, I vant you to go forvard again. Go forvard in time. Let ze memories come back. You're much older now, your school days are far behind you. Just relax and let time pazz." "Where the hell is Finchley with that report?" "Pleeze, Heir. Zis is very delicate. I need silence in vhich to vork." "Get on with it, man." "Now, Marzha-" "Look out!" _-~-_ "Look out!" This was Marsha, aged twenty-three. School was far behind her, but she wasn't thinking about that. Her thoughts were on the crane, the load it was dropping, and the man standing underneath it. This is Cal.net.fornia, land of sun, sea, and citrus fruit. It was also a place where new buildings were being erected. A place where cranes were used to hoist building materials into the air. A place where people wearing hard-hats would walk about, whistle at women passing by, and, occasionally, work. A place where cranes dropped their loads on the foremen beneath them. In this particular place, Marsha Burgenstock was there to see this happening. She gave a shout of warning, but could tell that something horrible was going to happen anyway. She ran towards the man, and he slowly turned around to see who was shouting at him. Other workers had also seen the accident in progress, and had also started running, but none of them would get there in time. Marsha took the foreman down with a flying tackle, and thumped onto the ground. The girders, what the crane had previously been lifting, crashed down. Not onto the foreman. Onto Marsha's legs. "This," she muttered, "is a definite 'owchie'." "Quick," someone yelled, "get some men over here." Someone knelt down beside her. "Don't worry, we'll get out of there soon." "The ambulance is on its way." Four men, two to each end, heaved, and the first girder, of six, was lifted away. Another four men bent to the next one. "Um, there really isn't need to hurry. It's quite all right really," said Marsha, although no-one was listening. "There's no pain. Well, not much. Okay, there *is* pain, but not as much as you'd think." The first of the bottom three girders was lifted away. The men reflexively winced when they lifted it, but surprise was more the order of the day when they saw what was actually underneath it. The ambulance pulled up, and orderlies sprang out, all ready to berate onlookers about inadequate medical attention. When they saw the condition of Marsha's legs, they also spluttered into silence. Instead of the mash of blood and bone they expected to see, Marsha's legs were a kind of pink goo. Onlookers finally heard Marsha's commentary. "My leg'll be just fine, once the other girder's are removed. Although I not fully used to this yet, I can stand this kind of thing. My whole body's like marshmallow, all soft and springy. Also, it has the added bonus of being able to reform itself, nothing any normal marshmallow could do, especially the ones we used to roast over an open fire. Boy, those one's _really_ melted. We kinda left them on too long, and they went just too gooey for words." Already, Marsha's legs, where they were now exposed, were beginning to take normal shape, filling out and roundening. Some of the workers hurriedly removed the rest of the girders, and watched amazed as Marsha's body slowly healed itself. The senses of the medical orderlies returned, and they bustled forwards, pushing others out of their way. "Clear the way, clear the path, sane people coming through." The moved the complaining Marsha onto a trolley, and pushed her back towards the ambulance. "Really, guys, I'll be all right. Just a few hours rest, that's all I need." She wasn't returned to the ground. "Or perhaps you could give me a lift home them. That'd be really nice of ya." The faces of those around failed to respond to anything she said. Marsha sighed. "All right then, perhaps you could take me to the hospital, probe me in ungodly ways, and treat me like a piece of meat." This they did. At the hospital, Marsha was assigned a bed to rest in, and told to stay there until a doctor was free to see her. "I don't need a doctor. I'll be all right. This has happened to me before. I was helping someone lift a piano up some stairs, when the whole things tumbled back towards me. I was back to normal within the week. Admittedly, I can't walk right now, but I should be able to leave in a few hours." The orderlies tucked her in without response, and vanished out of the room. "I'LL JUST STAY HERE THEN, SHALL I?" she yelled after them. She heard a voice from out in the hall. "Please, there really is no need to shout. If I come in, will you promise not to shout at me?" "And who are you?" Marsha asked, suspiciously. "I'm a doctor. I'm here to examine you." His voice sounded rich and deep. Marsha felt a thrill of anticipation rush through her, then berated herself for having feelings towards someone she hadn't even seen yet. "Yes. All right. I wont shout," she promised. In walked a hunk Marsha wouldn't expect to see outside of Bay.watch. He motioned to her legs, giving the visual equivalent of asking to see her legs, and Marsha hurriedly threw back the bed sheets. She blushed as she realised what kind of first impression that made, but the doctor only smiled. "They think they know best," said the doctor, amiably. "Who do?" Marsha wasn't paying much attention, lost in her own fantasies. "The orderlies. They're really only medical students trying to make their way through medical collage, but they try hard, get paid, and make a correct judgement three out of seven times." The doctor felt Marsha's legs, and a frown crept over his face. This she noticed. "Is there something wrong?" "Hmm? No, it's just unusual. We don't get superhero types in here." "Superheroes? What superheroes?" "Oh, they started coming out of the woodwork a few years ago. They call themselves things like 'The Tantalising Teens' and 'L.E.G.I.O.N.' and whatnot. They're all congregating in some place called Net.ropolis. Can't say I've heard of it before." Oh. Superheroes. With, presumedly, super powers. She wouldn't confess to her ability being a super power, but they might be something to look up sometime. "Do you mind if I get some other doctors to look at this? You're quite fascinating." "Oh, no. Not at all." The doctor turned towards the door and called "Nurse. Nurse!" A nurse soon arrived. Marsha stared at one of the blackest men she had ever seen, and felt anger sweeping through her. "Get him away from me!" she screamed. The doctor turned back to her, puzzled. "What?" "Get him away from me!" she creamed again, reaching out blindly for something to throw. She found a pen on the table beside her, and chucked it at the nurse in the doorway, who battered it aside in surprise. She turned to look for something bigger, and the doctor moved into action. "Now calm down. You're becoming hysterical." As he struggled to hold Marsha down, he called for assistance. "Nurse, help me to restain this patient." When the nurse touched Marsha, she went berserk. She grabbed another pen from the doctor's coat pocket, and stabbed the nurse with it. She was thrown out ten minutes later. As she picked herself off the pavement, she considered her options. Perhaps the superheroes thing wasn't so bad. She might get the chance to take care of more black bastards. It would take her a while, but Net.ropolis, here comes Marsha. _-~-_ "Now you've gone too far forward. You've passed it." "Ve're narrowing it down. Ve're nearly there. Now, Marzha-" "Heir? This just arrived from the Snifter. It's a preliminary analysis." "What? Hand it here." "Now, Marzha, I vant you to go back. Back before that incident. Go back in time." "Doctor, this is amazing. It says here that her body contains the ability for morphic change. Every cell contains a full set of instructions to rebuild her entire body." "So? Zat's bazic DNA." "You don't get it, do you? Separate her arm from her body, and another Marsha would grow from it!" "I doubt zat ze new Marzha would have the same memory and behavioural patternz." "Perhaps. Are you finished yet?" "Nearly. Marzha, vere are you?" "Is anyone here?" _-~-_ "Is anyone here?" Marsha, aged 17. Freshly returned from Sweden, she arrived at her house in a taxi, and entered to find it deserted. She let her bags fall to the ground, and listened carefully. Apart from the dying echoes she had just created, there were no other sounds. She ascended the wide staircase in the middle of the large hall, up to the second floor, where the bedrooms were. Her heels clicked on the cold floor, sounding too loud in the quiet air. She stopped outside her old bedroom, and pushed the door open. The room was still decorated just as it was 13 years ago, with pink frills, bunny rabbits and bouncing balls. It had obviously been cleaned every day in her absence. Sunlight gleamed off the white dresser, casting a glare in her eyes. Marsha put up a hand to shield out the light and looked over her room. It was now cold place, the warmth draining out over the missing years. It was an old place, and the sparkle had left it. Marsha shut the door, letting it rest in peace. She continued along the balcony connecting the rooms, and overlooking the first floor. She came to the door opening into her mother's suite and paused. She placed a hand on the door, feeling its woodenness underneath her hand. She had been inside once before, when she was very young. All she could remember was how large the whole room was. It contained the whole world, and the bed had been the largest mountain she had ever seen. Looking back, she could tell that childish awe had overwhelmed her senses, and she knew that a special part had gone. She had lost her innocence over the years. The school had stripped all that away, had stripped all the livery and trappings that her mother had cast over their lives. Marsha wasn't sure why she came home. None of her letters had ever been answered. Towards the end, she wondered if her mother had even known that she had sent them. They probably went straight from the mail box to the incinerator. All her feelings, all her special moments which she had tried to share with her mother, all lost in ashes. Just like her life. Not being met at the airport clinched things. Her school had sent home warning of Marsha's graduation, and subsequent return, detailing her flight plans. Those had probably been burnt as well. She had waited two hours at the airport, hoping with every car that arrived that her mother would get out, run up to her and wrap her arms around her, and tell her that everything she had heard about home was lies. No car. No mother. No non lies. Marsha took a deep breath and pushed the door open. Now she heard sounds. Marsha recognised them, and responded with disgust. One of her friends had snuck videos into the school, and they had stolen down, in the middle of the night, to the lounge room to watch them, sound turned low, but still audible. They had been pornos, of course. The best, or the worst, depending on your viewpoint, that Sweden had to offer. That night, Marsha witnessed some of the most degraded acts the human race is capable of, all in the name of pleasure. Most of the girls felt aroused by it all. Marsha felt sick. In every video, for every woman, Marsha saw her mother's face. In every scene, Marsha could see her mother doing just what they were doing on the screen, only to a higher degree, enjoying it more. Marsha had wanted to get a large hammer and smash the television set into little pictures. But she hadn't. She watched all the tapes, all the combinations, and her life breaking with every gasp. It was similar gasps that Marsha was hearing now, bringing back all those memories, all that disgust, all that sickness. Marsha knew what her mother was doing. What her mother had been doing her whole life. Fucking it all away. Marsha entered the suite, trembling with every step. Inside was a large room, filled with furniture and paintings. A small kitchenette was off to one side, and on the other side was the bar. Just the sort of thing for entertaining those important guests. That is, if her mother had any time for guest. That was, if her mother had anytime for anything else. Like her. A door on the opposite side of the room lead into the master bedroom. It was from there that grunts and gasps, moans and exclamations escaped. Marsha walked through the room, taking note of every chair, every table, every object d'art, on her way to that bedroom door. She felt cold, distant, as if it was happening to someone else. It wasn't. It was happening to her, and it was happening now. She stopped just in front of the door. It was slightly open, letting the noises out. She peeked through the gap and looked inside. Inside was the bedroom, just as big as she remembered it. She could only see a part of it, just one wall. She could also see a corner of the bed. It was moving up and down, pounded by the forces pounding away above it. Over on the wall was her mother's dresser and makeup table. It was one of those large ones, like showbiz stars have. It had three mirrors, pointing inward toward the chair that stood before it. In the main mirror, Marsha could see something moving. It reflected the bed, and Marsha was glad she couldn't make the shapes out. Marsha turned back around and walked back to the centre of the room. She glanced around, and spotted a large, overstuffed chair. She pulled it across the floor, not caring if anyone heard it scrape, but suspecting that no-one did anyway. She positioned it facing the door, and sat down. She would be the first thing anyone would see when they came out that door. And Marsha was determined to wait until someone did. Marsha sat through the heaving and humping, the groaning and grappling, and, finally, amazingly, the sounds stopped. Silence filled the air, then Marsha heard another grunt, this one of exertion. Footsteps crossed the bedroom floor, travelling from the bed to the door. Marsha's mother stepped out of the door, sweaty and naked from the activity. She saw Marsha sitting there, watching, and puzzlement crossed her features. Not embarrassment from her nudity, not outrage at this person daring to disturb her. Just puzzlement. Not even recognition. "You have no idea who I am, do you?" Marsha asked, more rhetorically than anything else. Her mother drew herself up, placing her hands on her hips. Her face took on the stately grace that only the high up can assume. "No, miss, I do not. And if you don't leave my house this instant, I shall have you thrown to the dogs." Marsha stood up and crossed over to her mother. She stared at her, and her mother stared back. "You would, wouldn't you?" Marsha said, almost amazed. "You don't know who I am and you don't even care. "I'M YOUR FUCKIN' DAUGHTER, YOU WHORE BITCH. THAT'S WHO I FUCKIN' AM!" Lady Burgenstock did not react in anger, not in outrage, not even in fear, but in surprise. "Marsha? You're home?" "You just don't care, do you _mother_? I have been away from thirteen goddamn years, and you didn't even notice." "Well, the house seemed quieter. Would you like a drink?" Lady Burgenstock walked casually over to the bar and unstopped a large whiskey dispenser. She poured a little into a glass, and drank it in a single gulp. Marsha threw her hands in the air. "Is that it? I come home, call you a 'whore bitch' and you ask me if I want a drink?" "A proper Lady must always think of her guests needs." "A guest? I am no guest, mother, I'm your daughter. As for my needs... when did they ever concern you?" "I made sure you had constant attention as a child. I provided the best education for you that money could buy. What more do you need?" "You sent me away, mother. Sent me away because I was stopping you from getting fucked every second of your life." "I will not having you questioning me lifestyle in this house! Either start acting grown up, or get out!" Lady Burgenstock, with a sharp motion, brought her arm out and pointed at the door leaving the suite. "What's going on out here? What's all da racket?" Marsha spun around and, for the first time in her life, saw her father. He stood in the doorway, naked. He was 7 feet tall, and black as coal. Marsha's shocked gaze travelled down his excellent physique until she reached his penis. She took in its eleven inch length and the last few tumblers clicked in her brain. Marsha spun back to her mother. "That's it, isn't it? That's why you spend your entire life in the bedroom, flat on your back. That's how come you ended up having me, and why I have this skin colour when your so milky white. That's why you brought some black shit in from some Jamacain paradise to be your husband. So you could spend every moment of your life getting shafted!" "Get out this instant! You have no idea of my needs and my drives. When you get older, and you feel your biological clock ticking away, you may understand. But until then, I want you out of this house!" Marsha was already walking towards the door. "Don't worry, I'm already leaving. Don't bother to show me out, I'm sure I can find some way out of this godforsaken hole." She opened the door, walked through, then turned around to face her mother, holding onto the doorknob. "And from now on, you are no longer my mother!" She slammed the door, felling satisfied in the way it caused the wall around it to shudder momentarily. She stormed along the balcony, pausing every now and then to kick either the wall or the railing. Tears were staring to fall when she descended the stairs, and they were flowing freely when she slammed the main door behind her as she left. She walked out of the mansion grounds, never looking behind her, never seeing her mother's face watching her walk away. _-~-_ "Well, that certainly explains something. But, it isn't what we want." "Ve must be zere. Zis next step vill give you vhat you vant to know." "It had better- Ah, Finchley, what an unexpected pleasure. What are you doing here?" "We just can't make do with the sample you provided us. We can stop it from replicating itself, but that's not the problem." "And what, pray, _is_ the problem?" "She's been programmed for something, programmed on the molecular level to replicate, sure, but there's got to be an overriding program, something that she's been designed to do. We can't tell what that is. We're gonna need something more that just a genetic sample to investigate this one." "Very well. Stay here. We should just be uncovering the source of her powers now. If that doesn't help, you can have her afterwards for a more in depth study." "Thank you." "Now, doctor. And get it right this time." "A moment, if you vill. Now, Marzha, move forward though time, juzt a little, no sudden leaps. Let yourself move to the next event in your life. Now, Vhere...?" "I hear you have an opening." _-~-_ "I hear you have an opening." Marsha, aged twenty. She hasn't been very successful in life since she left home. If it wasn't for the expense account her mother left open for her, Marsha would had starved to death two years ago. She had tried to make do, tried to make her own life, her own money, but nothing seemed to work. Nobody wanted to hire her, and she didn't know enough to start her own business. That account was her lifeline. She wasn't sure why her mother left it going, kept putting money into it. It was just possible that it was an automatic process, something that went on without her mother's intervention, but, after that event three years ago, she thought her mother would have thought of her enough to block her expenses. Still, Marsha still tried to make do with as little as possible, getting jobs where she could. That was why she was here, in Cal.net.fornia. She had heard of a possibility, but it was dangerous, and the success rate, if there was one, wasn't given out. "What opening _would_ that be?" the secretary peered over the top of her half-moon spectacles. She knew _full well_ what jobs were open, and what this scuffy young woman _would_ be applying for, but there was no need to make this easy. "The..." Marsha waved her hand about, trying to imbue knowledge. "The experiments..." "Oh, those. Well, they _would_ take _any_ kind of person." Marsha didn't think much of the look the secretary gave her, but she didn't much care either. The secretary tore a piece of paper off a pile, and handed it to Marsha. "Go through _that_ door, past _three_ doors on your _left_, and then go into the door on your _right_. Fill in _that_ piece of paper and _hand_ it in. Good day." The secretary turned back to her work, dismissing Marsha. Marsha watched the secretary for any signs of further interest in her, but spotted none. She shrugged and went through _that_ door. Inside was a colour maelstrom. The walls were painted in bright vivid patterns, the floor and ceiling in much darker shades of blue, and the doors themselves would have scared even Joseph. She walked past three doors, always with the feeling that something was going to jump out of this craziness and yank her off to fit her with new bell-bottoms and spray-paint daisies in her hair. She reached the door on the right without anything like this happening to her, but she did receive some very warped views into the painter's mind. She pulled open the door to reveal a perfectly normal waiting room, such as can be found in many dentists' buildings, or outside doctor's offices. Marsha sank gratefully down into a chair, grabbed a pen from a well of them on the table, and examined the questioner form in her hand. She handled her name easily enough, as well as the simpler questions, but she had trouble with remembering her blood type (O positive), and she actually had to get the receptionist at the desk to tell her her eye colour (green). She handed the form in, and sat back down to wait. Someone else entered the room, almost running. He was clutching a piece of paper similar to her one. He flopped into a chair, and Marsha heard him mutter "I never want to go through that again." He then picked up a pen and started filling in the form. Marsha gave him a quick once over, as it was obvious that he was going to be a fellow experimentee. He looked about 5 ft 10 while sitting down, but as he slouched, it was hard to be definite. He had brown hair, and a freckled face. His clothes consisted of a brown leather jacket, a white striped shirt, black pants and white sneakers. He ran a hand through his long hair as he concentrated on the sheet before him. "Name... parents... bank account number?... eyes." He looked up, meeting Marsha's eyes immediately. He didn't realise this, intent on the questions. "What colour are my eyes?" Marsha stared into his eyes, but didn't actually see them. She shook herself slightly, and looked carefully at the iris. "Brown," she replied. The boy smiled. "Thanks." He wrote it down. "It's amazing, innit? We can go through life looking at others so much, yet we don't even know what we really look like." "I had the same trouble with my form," Marsha admitted. "What? You're here for the experiment as well?" Marsha nodded. "I didn't think they'd accept... well, it is dangerous, not that I'm saying..." The boy trailed off, embarrassed. "That's very sweet of you." Marsha saw the boy wince. She had called him 'sweet'. She smiled inwardly. "But, I am more than capable of looking after myself." "Yeah. Um, after this is over, you wanna go and get a coffee, or something?" "Big words from someone who hasn't even handed their form in yet," Marsha pointed out. The boy looked down at the form in his hand. "Oh, yeah. Hang on." He went over to the reception desk, spotted a last question he hadn't answered, and bent over to fill it in. A side door opened, and a man came out. "Marsha Burgenstock?" he asked generally. "That's me," Marsha called back. She stood up and walked over to him. "Wait," the boy called. "How will we get together?" Marsha went over to the boy. "Don't worry. I'm sure we will." She lent over and gave him a peck on the cheek. He brought his hand up to cover the spot in surprise. "See you on the other side," said Marsha, as she followed the man through the door. _-~-_ "Well, why had she stopped?" "I'm not shure. Zere may be blocks zere. Ve vill have to go deeper." "What was the name of the place she went?" "She didn't say." "Well, I want to know anyway. Get onto Hayar and Lethbridge about it. They should have _something_. Tell them to concentrate in the Cal.net.fornia area." "Yes, Heir." "And if we can't find anything out this way, then you can have her." "Thank you, Heir." "Now, doctor." "Yes, I'm onto it. Marzha. Listen to me, Marzha. I want you to go deeper. Deeper. Past any restriktions. Past any pain. Deeper, deeper. Continue and tell us vhat happened." _-~-_ Marsha followed the man down the corridor. It was plain, white and totally featureless. The man opened a door that had fitted seamlessly with the wall, and showed Marsha through. The room inside was also white, but Marsha could just make out a white dentist chair in the middle of the room. The man indicated the Marsha should sit down. She did so, and the man disappeared while she settled herself. She lay there, feeling quite comfortable, and wondered what was going to happen next. She stared up at the ceiling and let her eyes relax, unfocus. The whiteness blurred, and grey crept in where parts of the room overlapped. Marsha smiled to herself at this, and refocused her eyes. Was anything going to happen? Her attention was drawn to the wall in front of her. Was there something there? Marsha strained her eyes trying to make something, anything out. After a while, she was sure that a dot had appeared in the middle of the wall. The dot slowly expanded, increasing in size and changing in colour. It was blue originally, or was it black? Anyway, it shaded through blue to green, then to yellow, orange and red. By this time, it had taken up half the wall. As it continued to grow, spreading out onto the ceiling, it shaded back towards blue again. Something else was happening in the middle of the circle. Another dot was growing inside it. It was also changing colour, sometimes to match the parent circle, sometimes to contrast against it. Marsha watched this and felt her mind beginning to drift. Other circles grew elsewhere, causing ripples and conflicting colours where they crossed. Soon, other, more complex patterns, were emerging. Everything around Marsha was now coloured, shifting and changing. Even the chair she sat on had patterns moving through it. Marsha felt her eyes closing, her mind falling asleep. A voice sounded in her ear, soft and alluring. "Relax. Relax. Relax..." The voice continued in the manner for a while, and soon Marsha was fast asleep. Three men entered the room where Marsha slumbered. The room's colour chase had been paused, and lurid light filled the room, from too many garish patterns. One of the men held up a syringe, tapped it to make sure that there was no air in it, then injected Marsha in the arm with it. The other two men picked up her body, and carried it away. Marsha was unceremoniously dumped on a surgeon's table, and quickly stripped of clothing. A surgeon (presuming that's what he was), examined her for a moment before turning to a table containing painful-looking tools. He picked one up, but discarded it in favour of another. He waved the instrument over Marsha's body. A thin blue line traced its way down, taking readings all the while. The surgeon studied the readings, and gave a grunt. "The specimen seems to be of below average constitution. She has suffered from malnutrition and too much cholesterol, probably in the form of 'junk food'." He replaced the scanner, and took up another instrument. It resembled nothing more than a saw. "I saw now examine the reproductive centre." He activated the saw, and brought it whirring down onto Marsha's stomach. It bit into her skin, shredding nerve and tissue. The surgeon cut down to Marsha's womb, exposing her ovaries and Fallopian tubes. The surgeon examined this area for quite a while. He retrieved a probe from the table, touched it to Marsha's insides, then prepared a slide. He slipped it under a microscope, and muttered to himself. He straightened and looked back at Marsha's exposed uterus before giving his final judgement. "The specimen had contracted an early form of salpingitis. She would be unsuitable for childbirth, and any clones of her will also be prey to such a disease, and therefore useless to Project Prodigy." He discarded the used probe and slide, and continued his examination. "I would not recommend enrolment in the Achilles Project, nor the Nuremburg Tests. The patient's wasted condition would not stand up to those rigours. I shall now examine the brain." He took a shaver from the table, and soon Marsha's long black locks were lying on the floor. The surgeon picked up a marker and drew a circle around the top of Marsha's freshly exposed head. He made criss-cross marks at the best places to cut. He traded the marker for a fine knife. He cut into the cranium at the marks he made, making sure to keep each cut clean. The surgeon selected a saw with a tiny circular blade, and started it. He placed goggles over his eyes, and cut into the brain pan, wincing slightly every time a piece of bone chipped off and hit his face. He carefully cut the top off, and deftly pulled at the top with one hand, while switching the saw off with the other. He placed the top in a dish, and the saw back on the table. The surgeon focused light on the glistening brain. "The synaptic passages look clean. Could be good material here." He turned and picked up a different scanner, this one similar to a cat scan, but slightly more enhanced. "I'm getting good patterns. It looks very favourable. I will now test reflexes required for the BioBot Project." The surgeon connected pads to various parts of Marsha's brain, making sure that the pads were clean, and the contact was secure. He attached wires to the pads, and plugged all the wires into a device, which looked like a keyboard with LED lights. He pushed some buttons, then flicked a switch. Marsha's arm rose and pointed straight upwards. The surgeon entered more instructions, and Marsha's hand rotated around her wrist a few times, before the arm was brought down to perform a salute. The surgeon chuckled to himself, then remembered his purpose. "Brain is reprogrammable. Send a collection team it, with full life support. I will now take a body sample for the cloning process." Casually, the surgeon took up a large knife and lopped off Marsha's right hand. He held it up proudly. _-~-_ "She hasn't said anything, doctor." "I know zat. I have been here." "You are bordering on insubordination, doctor." "My apologies, Heir. Zis patient is unlike those I had handled before." "Very well. You can go. We'll get no more out of her this way. Send Finchley in." "Yes, Heir." _-~-_ This was an operating room, a different one. The surgeons here were not disectors, they were programmers. On the table before them lay a large container, full of fluids and bubbles, all controlled by the life support on top. It also contained Marsha's brain, her eyes, and other upper organs. "When can you begin?" This was from a man, dressed incongruously in a full formal business suit, out of place with the other people, all dressed in lab coats. "The brain is nearly ready. We are just making sure that we have a full copy of her memories before we begin. If anything disastrous should happen this time, we can erase the brain and start again." "You have blocked the most recent memories, haven't you?" "From when she left the waiting room outside. She met a boy out there. I believe he entered the Transpolymorphic program. I am not sure how they deal with security there. If they should met, and he remembers her, but she doesn't remember him, things could become suspicious." "Good. Her body is nearing completion. Each cell has been fed a copy of the full program, and integral cell structure has been strengthened. When we are finished here, her brain must undergo the same treatment." "Well, we are now ready, I believe. Yes? Yes. Right, if you could hand over the tape?" "Right." The man reached into his suit and extracted a small DAT tape from an inside pocket. He handed it to the doctor, who inserted it into a slot beside him. "It will take a few moments to boot, then we can begin the transfer." "I hope you're clear on final procedure." "Yes. Although most don't make it to that stage, I am well versed in the isolation procedure. We remove a potion of her brain from the rest of her mind, and lock it off so that information can come out of it, but nothing goes in. Then, I check to make sure no other brain patterns have been disturbed. Then, it is ready to be transfered into her new body." "Very good." The man checked his watch, comparing the time with a schedule he kept in his head. "If you are busy, you could come back later. This will take some time." "No," the man replied coldly. "I must make sure that company security is not endangered at any point. After I input the code to unlock the program, I will stay here until it is finished, then take the tape back. You must not come near me at any stage. I am authorised to shoot to protect our secrets, if necessary." "Really, your former was so much more friendly." "He was lax, and that is why he is no longer with the company, and why I am here to make sure that sort of thing does not happen again." "Ah. Well. Good, good." The doctor checked the monitor by the tape-reader. "Ah, it is done. If you would?" He stepped out of the way, and gestured towards the small panel on the computer face. The man stepped up to the panel and glared at the doctor suspiciously until the doctor got the idea and moved away. the man punched in the pass-code, making sure all the time that no-one else could see it. When he was finished, he straightened, and pushed the "Execute" button. The machine hummed, and information passed from the tape (whose contents were now in the machine's memory, but were wiped as they were processed), along wires, and directly into Marsha's brain. Everyone held their breath, but when the machine refused to back feed and explode, they let it go. The doctor shook his head in sadness. "If only they were all as co-operative as this one. The suicide rate was so high." He gave the man a sidelong look. "I don't suppose you could tell me how the body is being processed?" The man drew out a small gun, and levelled it at the doctor. "That would be a breach of security." "Ah. Then, I believe that I no longer wish to know." _-~-_ "Ah. Finchley, so glad you could make it this century." "Yes, Heir. We've been trying to track down whatever corporation it was that did this." "And?" "We can't find it. There doesn't seem to ba a corporation anyway that we found to be doing anything like this." "I see I shall have to make a personal involvement, again." "Yes, Heir." "Very well. Take Marsha and subject it to whatever tests it is you people do. I want a full report when I arrive." "Yes, Heir. Thank you, Heir." _-~-_ The doctor looked down fondly at her work. It was so gratifying when everything came together like this. She stared down at the new body of Marsha Burgenstock, new and improved, thanks to her and her fellow workers. She heard footsteps approaching and turned to find the director himself standing behind her. "When will she awaken?" he asked. She glanced at her watch. "In a few minutes. It really is amazing, you know." The director nodded. "The combination that a real brain in any body achieves. Even though we can easily create a new body, one with certain special abilities, the brain is a blank, useless. So, we take the original brain, reprogram it to suit our needs, and plug it into the new body. When the two meet, they form what philosophers so lamely call the soul." "Yes," said the director. "That has always been a problem. We never could program a blank brain, not good enough to fool anyone. And copying brain patterns caused certain other problems." The doctor had been studying Marsha intently, looking for the first signs of activity. She finally spotted some, and held a warning hand up. It wouldn't do to have the patient hear the background details. Marsha stirred in the bed, and slowly opened her eyes. "Muh.. wuh.." The doctor sat down beside Marsha. "Just rest. You've been through rather a lot. And, I'm glad to say it was all a success." Memories stirred in Marsha's mind, memories of signing up to be a test subject in some experiment for such-and-such a corporation. She realised what the doctor just said. "I.. it worked?" she whispered, her throat feeling quite dry. "Yes, it did. Can you feel your new abilities?" Marsha wondered what the doctor was talking about, then it came to her. She could do _that_. And _that_ would happen. And, if she really wanted to, she could even do _that_. It all seemed so wondrous to Marsha, a whole new world stretching out before her. "You can see it now, can't you?" said the doctor. "With these new abilities, you have a new life to live. You will be able to live how you want to, help people whenever you want to, or just be yourself..." "Yes," breathed Marsha. It was all there, in her mind's eye. "And, we'll help you. We wont forsake you. We'll teach you to use these abilities of yours with confidence, with precision. We can also teach you other skills, other adept ways of defending yourself." "I've never been very good at karate. We had to try it at school." Marsha considered that she might be babbling, but the doctor didn't look too concerned. "Don't worry, we can teach other things, like how to properly defend yourself with a baseball bat, perhaps." Yes. Marsha could imagine that. She could also imagine other things. At last, she might be able to leave her mother's shadow behind. Go out and live without her help. Over the next few months Marsha learnt about her new body, what it was capable of. She suffered bullets and being crushed. She learnt how to swing a baseball bat with deadly effectiveness, but she always backed down from terminal force. When she finally left, it was with the blessings of the company. She was rather surprised that they hadn't asked anything of her. No payments, no little favours for her to perform out in the real world. Just to go out and be her new self. She never saw the boy she met at the beginning of this around the place but then, she never thought to look. She was too busy learning how to live her new lifestyle. When she left, she went immediately for a vacation, somewhere out in the sun. Cal.net.fornia appealed to her, and she made her own way there, quietly, secretively. If she was going to be her new self, it would be in a definite place, not the back end of beyond. And so, it was in Cal.net.fornia that she finally introduced her new self to the world. One year later, the company behind the experiments quietly, and without any ripples spreading out, folded up and disappeared. No trace of it was ever found, and it left no tracks to show that ever had been formed. Marsha forgot all about it, and was never contacted by anyone associated with it. _-~-_ "Right, people, I want a full analysis. Give me blood readings, give me cell structure. Open up her damn brain and give a physical map of it if you have to. Just tell me what's going on in there. I want to know, and, more importantly, the Heir wants to know." "Yes, ma'am." "And I want it in one hour." "But.. but, we can't be ready by then." "You'll have to be." _-~-_ Marsha woke. In hell. She was strapped to a metal trolley, being pushed through some corridor or another. She could see light bulbs as they flashed by. Turning her head slightly, she could make out figures running on either side of her, guiding the trolley as it was pushed along. The trolley vibrated as it forced some doors in its path to part. The room she entered was large, and, from her point of view, barren. The trolley sunk towards the floor, and Marsha realised tha the legs had been collapsed. This gave her a better view of the white clothes those around her wore. "Mmpf. Mmm mmpfm." It was now that she noticed the gag in her mouth. No-one took any notice of her murmurings as they lifted the trolley up and onto some other surface. She could hear clicks as the trolley was locked into place. With a judder, Marsha was away, gliding on a conveyer belt. She became aware of a loud humming from some where in front of her, and she struggled to get a good look at what it was, to no avail. Her vision was obscured by a large metal hood, and the conveyer belt stopped. She could hardly move her head, and only banged it when she tried. "Calm down!" she heard some voice shout from afar. "This is just a cat scan! You won't be hurt!" Her right arm was grabbed, and wrenched away. Marsha "ow"ed, but was unable to resist. Her arm was fastened in some kind of holding clamp and something pricked her jest above her elbow. The humming increased, leading Marsha to the impression that the scans were commencing. She shut her eyes and waited in misery, hoping that this would be all over soon. In a processing room, Erickka Finchley was gathered with others around monitors that showed pictures of what was inside Marsha's head. Finchley was more aware of a dull pain in her back, than she was of what was on the screen anyway. Not that she would have understood it. That's what these people were for. She was really getting too old for this. Finchley moved away to fetch herself a cup of coffee from a machine. She always thought machine coffee was too bitter, but she could never be bothered to do anything about it, She sipped her coffee and waited for people to tell her things. Things she could understand. She could hear comments being thrown around in front of her, but let them wash over her without taking any of them in. She'll find out what she needed to know soon enough. She glanced at one technician that wasn't with the rest. He looked young. Too young. What sort of kids did this place employ? Fresh out of school and straight into a job where retirement was usually in the form of a bullet. Either from a rival corporation who thought you were too dangerous, or from Queen Enterprises itself, when you were too much of a liability. Finchley wondered how long it'd be before she fell into one of those categories. The technician noticed her gaze, and looked up. "Is there something you need, ma'am?" "No, no," she hastened to assume him. "Just waiting for the opinions to average out." She nodded towards the people clustered around the diagrams. The technician nodded his understanding, and turned back to his work. Finchley wasn't quite sure what it was, but it was most likely important. She wasn't sure what any of them were doing here, but it all contributed towards something. The Snifter, that's what she was. Behind her back, it was referred to as the 'nose hairs'. She knew that, just as she knew what the job description of the Snifter was. Privately, she thought that 'nose hairs' was a lot better term. Analysis. That's what it boiled down to. Once a situation had happened, she, in co-ordination with the Retina and the Tap, would try to piece together what had happened. That's what a nose did. Sniffed something and tried to work out what it was. They were more like nose hairs, though. Responding to something as it bushed past, barely having any clue what it was, just carrying on with the job of being sensitive to what was around them. Finchley hated her job, but she knew if she didn't do it, someone else would. And, if she wasn't doing it, she would most likely be dead. So, she kept at it, if only to prove to herself that she was still alive. "Come along, people," she warned, on general principles of keeping her people on their toes, while she sipped her coffee. "I haven't got all day." This caused a stir among them, and finally one was ejected with some paper attached to a clipboard. He was still feverishly writing as he walked towards her, and Finchley patiently waited while he sorted the last few details out. "Erm," he started. "The scanner found some interesting anomalies in her brain. There's, um, a section, a part of her brain, um, which is-" "Without hesitancy would be appreciated," Finchley admonished gently. The man froze like a frightened rabbit seeing the headlights bearing down on it, but recovered himself. "Right. Sorry ma'am. There's a part of her brain locked off from the rest of her. As far as we can tell, it is connected via what would be one-way paths, like. Although some think that the one-way path is into that section," he shot a quick look towards the others for confirmation, "most of us think that the one-way is out of that section." "Whose side are you on?" asked Finchley. "P..pardon?" "Which way do you think it is?" The man looked as if he'd been strangled, but swallowed and replied. "C.coming out. Ma'am" "Very well. And why do you think that would that be?" Finchley sipped more coffee. Instead of hesitancy, the man had now acquired a stutter. "To d..deliver instructions of some k..kind." "What instructions?" The man moved uncomfortably as he answered. "To.. fo.. so.. we don't know," he finally admitted. Finchley turned away. "Then find out, mister. That's why we employ you." "Ma'am?" Finchley stopped. She didn't turn back around, but she cocked her head. "It might be he..helpful if we make a clone. T.. to compare with, that is. M..ma'am." Finchley considered this. "So be it," she said, dropping her cup into a waste bin. Marsha breathed a sigh of relief. The humming had died down to bearable levels. The scans seemed to be over for now. The conveyer belt juddered as it started up, and Marsha was carried out of the hood. She blinked a few times as light levels increased. The conveyer belt She felt another prick in her arm, but she was unable to turn her head to see what caused it. She felt a numbness sweep though her arm, and soon she was unable to feel anything below her right shoulder. Marsha heard a thud, then pain shot through her arm. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound escaped the gag. Mercifully, the numbness took over, and the pain died. Marsha could sense something missing, but was unable to detect what it was. The conveyer belt started again, and figures in white shirts grew around her. The belt stopped, and Marsha felt her arm replaced by her side as the trolley was disconnected, and placed back on the floor. The legs were unfolded, and soon ceiling lights were whizzing past Marsha's vision again. Marsha felt yet another injection, and consciousness faded. _-~-_ "Well? What is she?" "She's been programmed for something. She had the source of the instructions in her head." "To do what? Who put them there?" "We can't tell yet. We'll have to perform some more tests." "How much longer, Finchley? How much longer to do intend for me to wait?" "As I said, there'll be a few more tests yet. It's all there in her head. We just have to get it out." "Well, get on with it. Cut it out if you have to." "But, that'll kill her!" "I want to know what's going on in her head, Finchley. I want to know who put that there, and what they wanted to achieve. And if Marsha Burgenstock has to die for me to find out, then SO BE IT!" -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Credits: Marshmallow Lass was created by Campbell 'Sasquatch' March Everyone else is mine.Back to the Index.