Descendants #105 – A Sound Like Thunder Chp 1

This entry is part 54 of 54 in the series Current

There was a balcony outside the food court on the tenth floor of the Nichole Farmer Avenue Mall that gave a commanding view of the city clear to the St Anne River that cut it in half. On a bright summer day like the one during which Kareem Utt sat an watched a cargo ship pass beneath the West Truman Bridge, the sun turned many of the glass-faced buildings along that view into columns of brilliant light, completely opposite the mood filling his heart.

He looked away from said view and down at the Styrofoam container from Heroes and Gyros, wondering what—besides a general craving for tzatziki sauce—had possessed him to order from there. Heroes and Gyros was a local chain that had until recently been exploiting the team’s existence as public figures to use their likenesses and names in their marketing.

In addition to having menu items like the Golden Facsimile Rice and Occult’s Mystic Stuffed Grape Leaves, now they had a merchandising deal with the team that allowed them to use the D-icon logo created by Analiza Purcell on things like their boxes. So he found himself staring at the team’s official logo for far longer than he intended.

“Would it be insensitive to say ‘penny for your thoughts’?” Lily Goldenmeyer stepped into his view. She was dressed in a blood-colored flowing blouse, cream skirt with an artfully uneven hem, black leggings, and knee high leather boots.

Dropping into the chair across from him, she immediately adopted a posture that he could only consider ‘lounging’ and sipped at whatever caffeinated ice concoction she had in the plastic Java Haus cup she was holding. After a few short moments wherein he couldn’t think of a reply of greeting, she took the task of starting the conversation upon herself.

“How did I find you? Well I have access to the HQ, and the communications hub. And, well, the hub had your GPS locations logged in for tactical purposes.”

“You don’t consider this a misuse of your privileges?” He winced at how harsh that sounded, but he blamed the stress and uncertainty he’d been living with recently.

Lily shrugged and took another sip of her drink. “As your public relations liaison, it’s my job to make sure you look good. Laurel didn’t exactly give me many instructions there, so I’m interpreting looking out of your well-being as part of that. A nervous breakdown would definitely look bad.”

A tiny, lost smirk adorned his lips, mostly obscured by the barely tamed beard he’d been growing for the past few weeks. “Warrick is probably worried I might become a villain then. That’s what happens in the comics.”

“In the comics, I probably would have vowed revenge on McAllister for destroying my car an become a villain too, so you’re not in bad company.” She took another sip from her drink, then raised a curious eyebrow. “This isn’t about you missing the fight yesterday is it? Because you’re not the only one who wasn’t there. The Big Three being off on their own mission, Lisa with her aunt… you and Melissa weren’t even in town.”

Kareem inclined his head. Indeed, he’d been on a plane at the time, coming back from visiting family friends in Illinois with his parents. “That is not the issue,” he admitted, “But when I got back and heard what happened, I was disappointed I was not there to help… but there was also relief.”

Prompted by another eyebrow raise and sip of coffee, he added, “What kind of man is relieved that he wasn’t there to help when his friends faced death?”

“A normal one,” Lily said bluntly. At his scandalized expression, she scoffed. “You all don’t get that it’s not the powers that make you not normal. Anyone can be born with powers, or learn magic apparently. Or whatever Tinkerbell’s deal is. But they’d still be normal people with normal self-preservation instincts. If something happened today at, say… Liedecker’s campaign rally? My reaction would not be to run toward it and fight whoever did it even if I had all the powers.

“Do I want anyone there to get hurt? Of course not. But I’m not going to take their place and risk getting myself hurt. Maybe for Callie and my family, but not just some rando. That’s the difference between normal people and uh… hero people.”

Kareem looked back down that the team logo on the box holding his food. “I am… not so sure I am one of those people any more. Nor am I sure it’s that simple.”

Again, Lily shrugged, pulling out her palmtop and playing with it. “That’s just the way I see it. Being the hero? It’s a hard job that’s not for everyone. No one’s going to blame you if you quit. What’ll you do instead?”

It was his turn to shrug. “I don’t know. I chose my college courses mostly to enhance my use of my abilities: Psychology, Astral Physics. Though I do enjoy those in their own right.” He sighed and finally opened the container to start in on his food. “I don’t expect to find that answer immediately either.”

They sat there in silence, one eating, one drinking and playing around on her palmtop.

That silence was broken by Kareem’s palmtop chirping out an alarm.

Confused, Lily looked down at her own device. “That’s not the team alarm.”

Kareem quickly read through the alert and stood from the table. “That would be because aside from Lisa, there’s nothing the rest of the team can do about it. This is an astral anomaly alarm-specifically, the transponders are detecting ripples in the astral plane consistent with an object being physically inserted into the plane.”

“That’s… a thing?” asked Lily. She got up as well, picking up the container he seemed to be leaving behind.

Still focused on the palmtop, he nodded. “As far as we know, only magic can do it—that is how Lisa teleports in fact. But besides her, the only other person we know who does this is Morganna.”

Upon hearing the name, Lily almost tripped over her own feet. “That…” she caught herself and lowered her voice, moving close to Kareem. “You mean that Morganna? The sorceress?”

Kareem switched to the Mayfield Transit Authority’s commuter pod app to summon a ride, still walking. “The very same. Though I can’t be sure if it is her or not. I would wager ‘not’ seeing as the epicenter of the astral anomaly is inside MayComm Technologies.”

“Why does that name ring a bell?” Lily asked, hurrying to stay by his side.

“The Special Corporate Partner List,” Kareem replied, “MayComm has a government grant and permission to perform research on using the Astral Plane as a communications platform. They are supposed to alert us when they actually make contact with the plane so we know about it. Since we didn’t get any forewarning…”

Lily pursed her lips in thought. “Then either someone broke the rules… or someone is using their tech that’s not supposed to.”

“Indeed.”

“But I thought you didn’t want to be part of the team anymore.”

Kareem gave her a sidelong glance as he pulled up the phone app on his palmtop. “It was never a question of ‘want’. I’m questioning if I should use my powers to intrude on the minds of others.”

Nodding thoughtfully, Lily quickly came up with another question. “What kind of danger are we talking about here?”

Kareem explained as he selected from his contacts. “From the other side, almost no wall or locked door is a barrier. A person can move without opposition anywhere they want. And if they are able to do harm to an astral body… they could kill that person instantly.”

“Instantly?”

“When an astral body is destroyed, every electrical impulse in the physical body ceases immediately. No impulses, no life.” Kareem pressed the call button, but Lily kept talking.

“So we’re talking… an assassination?”

As the call was ringing, Kareem gave a half shrug and continued on his way to the commuter pad terminal in the mall. “There are other uses for Astral travel. Creating a breech to reach Faerie, perhaps an attempt to capture astral predators… Perhaps something we could not possibly guess.”

Lily might have said more, but he held up a finger as the party at the other end of the line answered. “Hello, Callie. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” He paused, listening. “Ah. Good. Then I need your help. I’m on my way to MayComm technologies. There’s been an Astral disturbance.”

He shook his head at what was said next. “At the moment speed is of the essence. Until we know more, I only require you as backup. Will you meet me there? Yes, of course. Notify everyone, but let them know that for now, I am only investigating—this could simply be an unscheduled test or accidental activation.” He smiled,” Excellent. See you there.”

He hung up and returned his palmtop to his pocket. Then, he looked to Lily. “I am afraid that I’ll have to leave you now.”

For a second, Lily just nodded, but then suddenly, her hand reached out and gripped his sleeve. “Wait.”

“Hmm?”

She looked startled by her own actions, but recovered admirably. “Well… the fighting is all going to basically going to be in another world, right? If this person already jumped into the Astral Plane? Maybe I could come with you?”

Kareem came to an abrupt halt, turning to face her. Dark brown eyes studied her countenance intently. “There is no real guarantee you would be safe. There may be guards, or crossover predators or faeries.” Finally, he asked what he felt was the question that cut to the heart of it all. “And why would you want to come in the first place. Didn’t you just say a normal person would want to get far away from conflict?”

Shying away from the question, Lily gave him a shrug of her own. “Call it curiosity. Ever since I started working for you guys, I’ve always wondered how you… people my age, that went to my school even… manage to do this. I haven’t figured it out from staying in the HQ and doing press releases so…”

“Justice and compassion are not as strong as motivators as curiosity?” Kareem asked, amused despite himself. She nodded, this time not bothering to hide her embarrassment. “Very well. But this situation might not be as safe as you assume. You must promise me that you will follow my instructions without question. I do not want you ending up in harm’s way.”

“Agreed,” said Lily, feeling the word in the context of doing what anyone told her to feel foreign in her mouth.

***

Even aboard a high-speed commuter pod during a light-traffic time of day, the trip to MayComm Technologies took almost twenty minutes. This was because MayComm was some distance away from downtown, in a neighborhood called Fall Meadows.

The building itself was eight stories of shining glass at unusual angles with balconies protected by geodesic domes jutting out at regular intervals. While removed from the rest of the neighborhood, it sported a pod station adjacent to the entrance, so Kareem—not in his Ephemeral guise—and Lily didn’t have to walk very far to arrive.

A security guard in a crisp blue uniform came to the main doors as they arrived to unlock them an allow them access.

“Mister Ephemeral,” he was just entering an age that might be called ‘elderly’ with gray hair, but a reasonably strong body. “I had the boys check the secure lab area as soon as you called. The system hasn’t reported any breeches, but the lights were on and some of the equipment is running. No idea if it’s supposed to be like that.”

He gestured past the security desk situated between the doors and the rest of the atrium. “Vamanos is already here and we already told her what we found. She’s going through the security tapes.”

Lily frowned, listening to the echo of their footsteps—especially her heels—and piped up despite having not been addressed. “Where is everyone?”

The guard blinked and looked as if he just noticed her. “Oh. Sorry uh Miss…”

“Lily Goldenmeyer,” She reached out and took his hand from where it hang from its side, shaking it. “The Descendants’s public relations liaison.”

“Uh… yes. Well Most of the staff’s off for the weekend. Mostly just us, the cleaning crew and the researchers here over the weekend.”

“It’s Friday,” Lily observed.

He blinked dumbly. “Hmm?”

“It’s Friday. Not a holiday Friday either.”

Taking off his cap, the guard scratched his head. “Huh. So it is. I got no idea then. None of the office folks or the suits have been in all day.”

As the strangeness of the situation was setting in, there was a rush of wind accompanying the arrival of Vamanos. She stopped right next to the security guard, holding a tablet computer. “Ephemeral! Good thing you’re here. Some—Lily?”

“Hey Callie. It’s sort of a ‘police ride-along’ sort of thing,” Lily explained.

Meanwhile, Kareem had gotten a glimpse of what was on the tablet’s screen and interrupted the two friends. “Is that what you found on the security footage, Vamanos?”

Realizing she’d gotten sidetracked, Vamanos offered him the tablet, explaining as he watched the footage she’d cued up. “Just like Mr. Vadu here said, pretty much none of the office came in to work today. I was going to call the the Head of R&D about that when I saw you arrived, but the interesting thing is that someone did come in.”

Kareem watched on the footage as a man in a suit and sunglasses carrying an attache case was let in by another member of the security staff. The two talked for a bit before the guard escorted the other man to the security desk, said something to Vadu, and then walked him into one of the elevators.

“That was the only person not on the security or maintenance team to some in in the last two hours,” supplied Vamanos.

Looking to the security guard, Mr. Vadu, Kareem asked, “Do you remember them?”

Vadu nodded, “Of course. That was Dr. Boseman. She forgot her keycard again, so I had Winston escort her up to her lab in the nano-assembled materials lab.”

“Excuse me, but… she?” Kareem showed him the video. He was well aware that the person in question might prefer feminine pronouns, but he was starting to have a sinking feeling about why the security guards didn’t realize it wasn’t the weekend.

With a cursory glance, Vadu shrugged. “When was that taken? I don’t remember that gentleman at all.” His confusion grew as he read the timestamp. “Today at twelve-eighteen? That’s when Dr. Boseman came in… What’s going on?”

Kareem put a steadying hand on the man’s shoulder. “Mr. Vadu, I am afraid that you and your staff—if not the entire building—are being manipulated by someone with powerful mental abilities.” Before Vadu could react to that, he added, “We need access to the astral research department immediately.”

“Astral research? But Dr Boseman’s lab is Nano-Assembly,” the guard said, struggling to catch up to what was going on. “Winston…”

Kareem waved him off. “I’m afraid you don’t understand. Nothing you or anyone else in the building have seen or heard in person today can be trusted. Certain mental powers can alter what you see, your sense of direction, even your memories. What we can trust is the security footage and that we were able to detect an astral insertion centered on this building.”

Somewhere between confusion and fear, Vadu clearly had no idea how to proceed with this information. Lily stepped into that opening fluidly.

“So you need to get us up there as quickly as possible please. That way we can get all this straightened out and make sure you and your people are all alright… right?”

Vadu removed his cap and ran a hand through his hair. “Well I suppose you already do have clearance from the top to get into the astral lab. S-so yeah. Come with me.”

***

Following an awkward elevator ride, they arrived on the fourth floor and followed Vadu down a wide, well lit hallway to the north wing of the building. There, the head of security stopped at a set of steel sliding doors and presented his hand into the biometrics scanner.

The doors opened into a new corridor lined with more security doors, these with viewing portals made of thick, shatter-proof material.

Astral Research took up an entire suite on the fourth floor with eight separate laboratories plus a common server room and break area. Vadu led them to the third lab on the right side of the corridor. “I suppose this is the one you want,” he said, moving to key into the room, “It’s the only one with accesses listed in the security log.”

As the doors slid open, Kareem put up a hand to stop Vadu from entering. “Is there a record of anyone leaving?” Vadu shook his head. “Then please stay outside. There may be dangerous subjects inside.” He looked back at Lily. “You as well.”

With that, he nodded to Vamanos, who gave him a grin and became a blur that disappeared into the lab. Seconds later, her voice called out. “Ephemeral? You should get in here. I’m not sure if he’s dead, hurt or doing that astral projecting thing!”

Spurred on by the thought of someone in need of help, Kareem jogged into the lab. One hand was already reaching for the first aid pack on his belt. His eyes drank in the impressive layout of the lab. Having grown up with parents who were pioneers in Astral Research, he couldn’t help but be impressed at how MayComm had obtained devices that had only a few years ago been jury-rigged prototypes in their own lab.

But those paled in comparison to the crown jewel standing behind clear blast shields and powered-down standing field generators. It was a pipe—or tunnel—about two feet wide made of twisted ceramic conduits and nestled in a web of wires and smaller conduits.

Few people on Earth would know it for what it was, but Kareem did: an Astral gate. One small enough to allow for MayComm’s astral-based communications experiments without, hopefully, being large enough to allow astral predators into the material world.

As he stared at it, something about it didn’t seem quite right. He couldn’t quite figure it out and that was enough to put him on high alert. Thoughts flew into his head; ones he felt should have had earlier. Like how Vamanos was the newest member of the team and thus the one who had gone through the least anti-psychic training. Or how Vadu had never mentioned security access logs.

A sharp, indignant shriek made him turn in time to see Lily stumbling into the lab and the door closing behind her.

He looked to Vamanos, hoping to have her phase through said door, only to see her kneeling on the ground. She appeared to be trying to triage someone who wasn’t there.

Panic helped him power through the web of intruding thoughts, but by then it was too late. He caught sight of the astral gate—and saw that it was on just in time for it to disgorge a blast of rose-colored light.

To Be Continued…

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About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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One Comment

  1. Typos

    sat an watched
    sat and watched

    car an become
    car and become

    Creating a breech
    Creating a breach
    (unless archaic knee-length trousers are involved)

    There’s usually more than that so I’ll take another look tomorrow to try and pick up any I missed.

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