- The Descendants 96 – Kill Hope
- The Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius
- The Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy
- The Descendants 99 – Huddled Masses
- The Descendants 100 – Paradigm Shift
- The Descendants 101 – The Battle of Freeland House
- Descendants Special #9 – Outted
- The Descendants 102 – Tales of Consequence
- The Descendants 103 – VIRAL
- The Descendants 104 – Hardcore Fans
- Descendants #105 – Gal Gallium – Chapter 01
- Descendants #105 – Gal Gallium – Chapter 02
- Descendants #105 – Gal Gallium – Chapter 03
- Descendants #105 – Gal Gallium – Chapter 04
- Descendants #105 – Gal Gallium – Chapter 05
- Descendants #106 – Gal Gallium – Chapter 06
Like any big city, Mayfield had its municipalities that had been left behind in the ebb and flow of the economy. Victoria was one of such place; dotted with the hulks of defunct factories like so many shells on a beach after a storm.
There were tracks of residential housing, a few strip malls, and Greater Victoria Park, but most of the space was still taken up by the concrete behemoths too dedicated in design and too sturdy in their construction for anyone to buy and replace or remodel.
In the parking lot of one of these, still decorated with the fading livery of Demarcus Chemical Compounding, was seeing traffic for the first time in probably years as a handful of assorted sedans and SUVs were parked near to a tractor trailer. Their lights illuminated to plain US Cargo Unlimited branding along the trailer’s side.
Thanks to the sound wall surrounding both factory and parking lot, the gathering was concealed from any passers-by on ground level. In most cities, this would have provided an almost perfect expectation of privacy.
“Looks like someone’s not used to doing crime in Mayfield.”
From atop the roof of a neighboring building formerly Unified Labs, a pair of eyes watched figures emerge from the vehicles and come to meet in the glare of the headlights.
“Ooo, let’s see who. Looks like a job for the new toy.”
A pair of glasses was produced. Following a quick boot-up sequence, the lenses of the glasses revealed themselves to also be screens, overlaying augmented reality over the scene below. An automated program locked on the faces and began to run them against a number of databases.
One was kicked out immediately. The thick ski mask and silver-eyed goggles they wore completely concealed their face.
“Dime store super villain?”
“Or someone who knows city surveillance is a thing.”
The glasses started coming up with results, scrolling data alongside dossiers.
“Oh. My. God. Look at this one. ‘Cut’ Jim Partlowe. The guy who does the podcast for The American Strength Foundation. They’re all ASF guys.” The camera adjusted to focus on Partlowe’s belt buckle: An eagle holding a frame containing what looked like lightning bolts roughly shaped like S’s – the infamous symbol of the Nazi SS.
“Nazis. Actual Nazis in Mayfield.”
“I know right? Have we fought Nazis before?”
“Eh, we’ve fought a ton of anti-descendant assholes. A few white supremacists, which are almost but not the same…. No, I think these are the first Nazis.”
“Oh please let them be doing some shit. Getting to punch Nazis would make everything else in the past forty-eight hours worth it.”
As if to oblige the request, the person in the mask pointed a small remote at the truck and the side panel began to roll up into its roof. Inside, there were rows upon rows of weapons.
“Aaand there we go. Half an excuse.”
“Gentlemen,” The person approaching Partlowe and his associates from the truck was dressed just like he’d been warned to expect: some sort of mask with no mouth and goggles with silver lenses, a long, slate-colored wool coat over a bodysuit made of ribbed panels, heavy, black work boots and leather gloves. There was a symbol in orange on their chest: a stylized spider.
The ensemble was bulky and shapeless, making it impossible to tell if it was a man or a woman and the voice coming from under the mask was electronically modulated.
Partlowe’s contact had warned him that the Orb Weaver was strange, but also made it clear they delivered what they promised.
He inclined his head, stopping well out of arm’s length. “Orb Weaver.”
The masked figure stopped as well and shook their head. “No. Merely a Broker. I will be conducting the sale on the Orb Weaver’s behalf. Our organization is too large for one person to offer personal service.” The modulated voice was smooth, calm and genderless.
“Whatever,” Partlowe dismissed the comment. “The important thing is we’re getting a local supplier again. The Mayfield Underworld refuses to do business with us.”
His tone challenged the Broker to comment or speculate as to why that was. Instead, the Orb Weaver’s representative made a short, non-committal noise. “The Dirigi-Bill account you directed us to has sufficient funds to pay for our product. Our only purpose and responsibility it to deliver the product in exchange for a reasonable price given supply and demand. Shall I begin my demonstration?”
Partlowe looked around to the other ASF members who had come with him. He’d brought with him just over a dozen loyal and proven members. He was technically the ranking official in the ASF, but only among the public face. Many of the men there led cells or chapters from around Virginia; brought together and out into the relative open by the promise of better weaponry.
The police and the government were gaining powered armor and even psionics in their ranks. So-called superheroes were popping up in cities all over the country. The ASF and groups like them had long talked about the storm coming; the war they expected to wage against their many and sundry enemies. Only now they were starting to worry they might be outgunned.
Instead of letting any of this show, Partlowe grunted and gave a nod.
“Excellent.” the Broker gestured with one hand to the truck. A hidden remote activated a panel along the side, which rolled upward into the trailer’s roof, revealing racks of brand new, gleaming hardware which extended to display the Orb Weaver’s various wares.
Approaching the display, the Broker began their sales pitch. “We offer the usual for our clients interested in being part of the modern arms race: top of the line repurposed plasma lances with a twenty meter range; PSM emitters with extended batteries good for sixty shots per charge; force projection canons with a two meter spread capable of generating over fifty thousand newtons at optimum range. All standard issue for any foot soldier operating in an area patrolled by a powered armor police force or prelates.”
They didn’t bother to even touch any of these. “But for our more discerning clients looking to actively engage any enemy above street level on our unofficial power scale…”
One of the other ASF members, an officer in charge of a militia near Luray named Jensen raised a thick, callused finger. “what’s the scale?”
Without missing a beat, the Broker nodded. “We rank potential clients and their potential opposition by durability, damage output, effective combat range, and over fifty other factors. The lowers level is bar brawler, which is normal unarmed human level. Then street level; capable of out putting damage equal to or effectively ignoring the equivalent of small arms for. Then there are roof-toppers, so-called because many of these possess the speed or strength to easily maneuver and fight rooftop to rooftop unarmed. Their damage output or resilience can reach that of explosive ordnance. “Then we have city scale, at which point most combatants can fly, leap or run fast and far enough to cover city blocks and the damage output and endurance approaches those of tanks and small war ships.”
When the Broker stopped talking, Jensen pressed, “What’s above that?”
“We don’t give a name for the classification about city scale, sir.”
Jensen grimaced. “Why not?”
“Because providing a classification would encourage clients to attempt to engage,” said the Broker, “And there is no future profit to be gained in assisting suicide.” They let this settle in before continuing, “But for roof-toppers and city scale threats, we do have an array of options.”
They plucked a pair of items off the rack: an elongated metal tube about a foot and a half long with the bottom half wrapped in textured rubber. A short cord connected it to a short black box which the Broker strapped to their arm. With a flick of a switch, the tube telescoped out to a meter in length.
“A stick?” scoffed a tall, wiry man in a cowboy hat. Partlowe knew him as leader of a chapter in Richmond named Daniels.
“A melee-range personal defense system. Please take note of the dual plasma channels long the shaft.” Another flick of the switch and orange plasma climbed to the tip of the device, flaring brilliantly with a loud buzz.
Another man, Temple from Buena Vista, gave the weapon a level look. “I’m more’n happy to take the guns, but what the hell are my boys supposed to do with that? You want us to start taking sword fighting lessons?”
Undaunted, the Broker extinguished the weapon and retracted it. “As I understand it, one of the ‘heroes’ in this city is a man in armor that has deflected most conventional weapons and is fast enough to close on wielders of conventional plasma lances before more than a few shots can be taken. Our tactical analysts suggest that the plasma ignition sword may be an effective back-up weapon when engaging.”
When none of their customers expressed further interest, the Broker nodded. “I see. Then might I draw you’re attention to—”
“Nah. I think we’ve heard enough.”
Both the Broker and the ASF members turned to face the source of the voice. Hands went straight to weapons concealed on their persons.
Partially concealed in shadow and crouched on top of one of the SUVs the ASF had parked nearby was a figure. The lack of light made it difficult to make out features aside from a vaguely feminine silhouette and voluminous hair.
Partlowe noticed a slight metallic glint and put that together with what city he was in. “It’s the shapeshifter!”
A smirk appeared on the interloper’s face as more than a dozen handguns, submachine guns and a pair of sawed-off shotguns were leveled at her. “Not quite,: she muttered. Then, louder, she added “And if It was Facsimile, you think a bunch of guns are going to stop her? That they’d matter to her?”
She burst out laughing even as several of their number cocked weapons in an attempt at intimidation. “Man, that, plus hanging on to the stupid ‘Aryan Superman’ bullshit like a hundred and fifty years after you failed so hard your leader crawled into a bunker and offer himself, you guys are a just as dumb as I expected. Looks like we found the losers of the master race.”
One of the sawed-off shotguns roared and an area near where the woman’s ribs exploded into a blossom of splattering liquid the color of polished silver… then immediately resumed its form as if nothing happened.
The woman sighed as more shots rippled along her body. “I wish I hadn’t expected that.”
An arm rose, the hand reshaping into something like a climbing ax before being thrust forward over ten feet to stab into the cracked asphalt of the parking lot. “That’s it. Allow me to introduce myself, literal worst villains ever: my name’s Gal Gallium and I’m going to be your superhero for the evening!”
Three days earlier.
“I’m terribly sorry Miss Brant.”
The woman sitting front row center before the stage was smartly dressed; a dark blue suit jacket and matching dress that flared at the bottom with a pressed white blouse underneath. From her place on the stage, Cyn found herself distracted by her earrings; elaborate copper hoops with a half dozen feathers dangling from them. It didn’t seem like her attention was required when she started her response with ‘I’m sorry’ anyway.
“We would be absolutely thrilled to have you as part of our production,” the woman—the casting director for the Lakewood Community Players whose name Cyn couldn’t remember—was tapping rapidly on the tablet balanced on her crossed leg, “but the part of Elphaba is very… vocally intensive. It calls for a more trained singing voice I’m afraid. If you’re like to audition for another part…”
It was pretty clear that the casting director was trying to find a non-singing or minimally singing role. Having a local to national celebrity in the cast would be a huge get as long as she didn’t hamper the overall performance. “Perhaps Melena the witch’s mother?”
Cyn waved her off. “That’s alright.” Her skin tone faded from the emerald green she’d taken on for the audition to her natural fish-belly pale while long, wiry black hair shortened to ear length white locks. She kept the black witches’ robe and hat. “I… hadn’t realized this was a musical.”
She really hadn’t, which made her feel a little embarrassed given the casting director’s expression. To be fair, she’d grown up with the movie version and that had maybe two songs in the whole thing. Who would make a movie out of a musical and take all the music out of it? Hollywood apparently.
Both the casting director and her assistant—a young man a little older than Cyn sitting in a folding chair just off stage left where he’d been reading the lines for another character, Glynda, for Cyn’s audition—tried very hard to hide what might have been shock, disgust or horror from crossing their faces.
The director rebounded first. “Well if you aren’t looking for a different role in this production…”
Cyn waved her off. “It’s okay, seriously. I just decided to try out on a whim. Good luck with the show.” With that, she headed off stage, pulling her palmtop out of her pocket.
By the time she exited the theater, she’d located and bought the original sound track from the original Broadway production of the show in question, Wicked. Just a few tracks into Idina Menzel’s vocals had her laughing—the casting director had been absolutely right not to let her and her untrained voice take on the role.
Still, she really did want to find a play to put her one semester of acting classes to some fun use for the summer. Something that didn’t require her to sing preferably.
As she walked along to the nearest computer pod station, looking up local amateur acting troupes and improv classes, she noticed she had two texts waiting.
The first was from Laurel: ‘party is on. all guests coming 6 at the venue’.
Cyn grinned a little at first. While the plan the text alluded to wasn’t the most exciting thing she could be doing with her evening, she was glad the team was finally taking steps to deal with the whole ‘Maeve’ thing. ‘Team’ being the key word.
She knew Laurel had been working tirelessly on a strategy for dealing with the threatened invasion plan from the Faerie Queen of Air and Darkness on her own. The fact that the text she’d sent lacked proper spelling and capitalization (something that would normally inspire snark from Cyn) hinted at just how tired Cyn’s adopted mother really was.
The grin was soon quickly pressed into a thin, concerned line. She’d make sure that the day’s experiment would bare results or at least encourage Laurel to let the rest of the team take on some of the burden of dealing with not only Maeve but the team’s public unmasking.
The seriousness didn’t last long, this being Cynthia Brant, formerly McAllister. Mostly because thinking of the unmasking reminded her of how the casting director had squirmed while trying how not to offend the ‘celebrity’.
It was weird to think of herself as a celebrity. Sure her alter ego, Facsimile, had been well known and loved in Mayfield for years. There were toys of her. Posters. People wrote fan fiction. There was a licensed comic all about fictitious versions of their adventures.
But that was Facsimile. Cyn on her own, even having spent some time in the D-list gossip rags for being the adopted adult daughter of a billionaire, hadn’t really been the target of special attention. Mostly she was trying to figure out a way to use that to amuse herself without being an ass about it.
Then she scrolled to the next message.
She wasn’t smiling anymore.
To Be Continued…