- Issue #37 – Of a Feather
- Descendants Giant Sized #1
- Issue #38: The Miracles of St Drausinus
- Issue #39: Descendants 2095
- Issue #40 – Interfacers
- Issue #41 – Machinations
- Issue #42 – Metal X
- Issue #43 – Love You Madly
- Issue #44 – It’s Official!
- Issue #45 – The Gremlin and The Game
- Issue #46 – The Juniper Chronicles
- Descendants Special #4 – Some Day In May
- Issue #47 – Everyday People
- Issue #48 – Inexorable
- Descendants Annual #4
Slices of Life
A pile of old auto parts, now more rust than steel after years if not decades in a Mayfield junkyard, crumpled together as if being squeezed by the fist of an invisible giant. Most were so heavily oxidized that the collapsed into flakes instead of being properly compressed.
Warrick whisked these stragglers back into the pile with a hand broom before directing his power into the collected rust once more. This time, there was a flash of white, before the whole thing burst into blue flame that seemed to burn the rust away, leaving only bare steel behind.
“I thought that you were turning the rust back into usable steel?” Kareem asked. They were in what had been Freeland House’s boathouse on Lake Standish and he was sitting on a bench seat that opened up to store boating supplies. Following some ‘power surges’ that damaged nearby wiring, Warrick’s newest hobby; ‘blacksmithing’ with his powers, had been moved there.
“I am.” Warrick said, watching the pile boil and expel the black, inert flecks characteristic to all his attempts to convert one metal to another. “But the oxygen’s gotta go somewhere and converting makes sparks so… fwoosh.” He gestured at the now dying blue flames. Even as he did, he reshaped the resultant lump of steel into a hollow cylinder.
He’d gotten the idea to make and sell replica arms and armor from the mission to the RenFaire to protect Faith Duvall, but hadn’t actually found time to start it until recently. Business was slow, but after only a hand full of commissions, he’d already earned more than he had the entire summer working at Dayspring College.
At his direction, Osp held the tube of steel down while Isp began cutting rings from it as if it were as soft as cookie dough. The ability of the tentacles to cut through nearly anything when he used the orihalcite bands to summon them unnerved him somewhat.
Kareem nodded his understanding. As Warrick started gathering another pile of scraps salvaged from the junkyard for another conversion, he studied the rest of the one room building. It had all the trappings of a real hobbyist blacksmith’s workshop; a small gas forge, an anvil, and the basic assortment of hammers, chisels, tongs and fullers. The metal controller occasionally tried to use them in the traditional way, but the fruits of those labors were better not mentioned.
The boathouse, however, was largely given over to junk. In his free time, Warrick picked over Mayfield’s junkyards for hopelessly oxidized or carelessly discarded scraps he didn’t feel guilty about making off with without paying for. Even in an age of increased efficiency of recycling, he managed to find a mountain that now formed drifts and stacks according to their metal content.
Most was rusted iron, but there were small stacks of computer equipment with gold plated connectors and various lead-free solders were represented as well.
Kareem found himself looking at the notebook computer situated on the work table. It displayed the specifications for the current custom request, a suit of wholly unrealistic chainmail with a wildcat motif on the chest and shoulders. The price Warrick was asking was just shy of a month’s rent in the city and still less than what anyone else would have charged.
For a moment, Kareem wondered if Warrick knew he was severely undercharging, but then he realized that he most certainly did. Not only was he likely to be doing so out of guilt for using his powers to make money (something most adult psionics did daily), but he would probably plow those funds into buying his next order of metals ‘honestly’. Kareem appreciated his friend’s morality, but even he knew there must be limits.
Today, he reasoned, was not the day to discuss those limits. So he instead asked a more practical question. “This website you have for your wares; Majestic-Iron.sell… Is it…?”
“Yup.” Warrick anticipated the question because it was the very first thing Laurel had thought of when he bought it up to her. “None of it traces back to us, thanks to Ms. Brant. She’s even got it set up so when I send stuff out, it comes from one of Brant Industries’ subsidiaries and the money does some computer… stuff and I get the money in an anonymous online cash account.”
He started assembling the chainmail, pushing the metal rings through one another as if they were made of putty without letting them deform. As he worked, he frowned until…
“Uh, speaking of which… how do you uh… deal with the whole secret identity thing with Desiree?” Even the distraction of broaching the subject made him fuse two rings together instead of leaving them linked. He quickly extruded them.
Kareem blinked at the question. He certainly hadn’t seen that one coming. “It hasn’t come up, to be honest. We have only been seeing each other for a few weeks, after all and things have been fairly quiet on the heroism front. Your situation at ConquesTech notwithstanding, of course.”
“That ‘situation’ is kind of the problem.” Warrick continued to mesh rings together, occasionally glancing at the specs on the screen. He had to do it this way because the armor he formed for himself not only varied based on his mood, but was only mobile because his powers kept the joints supple. “See, it’s not just feeling bad about lying anymore—I really scared her down there. She thought I was in danger. I don’t want to make her feel that way again.”
A pang of guilt hit Kareem. The truth was that Tink had found out Warrick’s secret the previous summer. But the manner had been abrupt and without Warrick’s knowledge or consent. Kareem had taken it upon himself to decide that both of them deserved better than the revelation coming in the heat of a battle by accident and had buried the memory in Tink’s subconscious.
Suddenly self conscious, he couldn’t bring himself to look at his friend. “You have heard my opinion on the matter, Warrick. I do not know how else to advise you.”
“I know.” Warrick held up the newly formed square of woven rings. His metal sense could tell him that the rings were in place and not malformed, but it couldn’t tell him it the creation was visually pleasing. “But, like, there’s still good reasons not to tell her. The main thing being that she’s smart. If she knows who I am, then she’ll pretty much instantly know who all of us are. And I don’t have a right to do that to you guys.”
Satisfied with the work he’d done thus far, he worked on extending it. “And not that I don’t trust her, but there’s always a chance that one of us might let something slip and she hasn’t had as much practice keeping secrets as we do. And then what? We don’t just have the Academy, who already knows who we are, as enemies anymore. What if Sky Tyrant or Morganna, or those guys that run with Shine find out where we live? I gotta admit, I don’t have a lot of trust that the defensive stuff General Pratt gave Ms. Brant can stop them.”
Kareem remained silent and let Warrick vent the bottled up emotion he could sense in his friend.
“And… man, you should probably say I’m a bad person for this, but… after the whole thing at ConquesTech, she spent a long time talking about how mad she was at Alloy for what happened; how she is thinks the bad things that have happened to me are his fault. So… what happens when she finds out that Alloy is me? What if… she doesn’t like me anymore?”
At this, Kareem clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I sincerely doubt that would happen.” He assured, “I can tell that she cares about you and from what you say, she is angry because of how she believes Alloy has treated you in the past. If she knows that all of those things Alloy has done to you have been excuses you have made to do what is right, she will understand. I am certain of this.”
It didn’t seem to make Warrick any more certain. “Maybe… maybe not. Look, let’s just table it. Forget I asked.” He deftly added another row of rings to what was swiftly becoming the front panel of a full sized chain shirt. “So, you ready for tonight? Guy’s night out; trying to intervene with Captain Bland?”
At the pressuring of Lisa and Cyn, Warrick and JC were being forced to give another go at trying to relate to Juniper’s introverted beau, Adel. Apparently Juniper had, under what amounted to feminine interrogation, intimated that she was starting to become bothered by Adel’s utter lack of passion for their relationship. It was their mission to try and fix that. Kareem had been added to their group mostly at his own insistence.
Kareem nodded, returning to his seat. “I am. In fact, I am most intrigued by this situation, having not formally met Adel. However, I must warn that I do not see a good end to this. While I was sequestered on the Astral Plane, I observed his astral form and his detachment is very much part of him.”
“People can change.” Warrick pointed out. “Take Ms. Keyes; Mr. Smythe says that she was pretty wild in high school.”
“Having seen her astral form as well, I would not call Ms. Keyes’s change in behavior part of her. It is largely a conscious act on her part to contain her normal self.”
Warrick gave him a questioning look at this, but got no further elaboration. “Hey, have you done that astral form viewing thing on Desiree? Seems like a handy anti-crazy girlfriend detection tool.”
“My friend,” Kareem shook his head ‘no’ and removed his hand from Warrick’s shoulder. “Just as you question the morality of your secret identity, so do I question almost ever facet of my powers.”
“Ah, hot dogs; the left over parts of nature’s perfect food.” Cyn didn’t try to hide her amusement. The hot dog vendor at the Bleaker Street entrance to Wagner Park openly goggled as she placed an eighth foil wrapped frankfurter with the works in her satchel. Those, plus the two she held in her hands constituted a light meal for her. “Is there anything better?”
Her companions; Lisa and Kay both knew better than to get her waxing philosophical on food. Instead, they both nodded, even though Kay had opted for a falafel instead. With lunch well in hand (or in purse), the trio headed into the park.
“Any news on the Connie Delmonico Halloween party?” Lisa asked to get the conversation started again after some full mouth induced silence.
“We’re still a go as far as I know.” Kay said. Her hair was pink with green tips for the day. “I’m kind of surprised that Connie ‘Straitlaces’ is even having a party, much less that she wants Snackrifice to play for it.”
“No kidding,” Cyn agreed. “And she actually offered you two-fifty for it without asking for a price? I saw her working at Muffin Bonanza this summer; where’d she get that kind of money? The lottery? Crime?”
“We still legally get to keep the money if she gets busted right?” Kay asked hopefully.
Lisa laughed and shook her head. “You two are terrible. Anyway, she’s in our theater class, so I know the truth. See, her mom got a job with Imaginative Illusions—“
“I know them.” Cyn looks surprised by her own knowledge. “Warrick was all excited about it… they’re the effects house that does all the SFX for the movies and shows Teddy Drake produces. They just set up their new headquarters here.”
Lisa nodded. “Right and Mrs. Delmonico is one of their accountants, which is apparently a bit pay boost because Connie’s using her new allowance to bury Connie “Straitlaces” under tight shirts, leather pants, and a ton of make-up.”
“Seriously?” Kay said around a mouthful of pita bread. “I haven’t seen her at all this year.”
“You probably don’t recognize her.” Lisa meandered up the side of a hill flanking the trial while still keeping pace with the others. “It’s a brand new Connie. But between you and me? I think she went a little too far.”
With no one else watching, Cyn stuffed an entire hotdog in her mouth in one go, pausing only a moment before talking. “I don’t get these chicks that think changing themselves is gonna make them feel better.”
The heat of two sets of eyes fell on the young shapeshifter. She made a face in return. “You know what I mean. Have they learned nothing from Liz von Stoker’s brush with the Mr. Hyde side?” Both Lisa and Kay were in on Elizabeth’s secret by virtue of Occult being put on alert by Laurel.
“Uh… none of them know unless Lily really wants to piss off the local superheroes.” Kay points out.
“Okay, then have they learned nothing from the episode of Malady Place where Winter asks Renee to make her prettier and it all goes to, well, hell?” Cyn amended.
“Gee, Cyn,” Lisa gave her an amused look, “I think we all learned a valuable lesson about asking for demonic magic to be worked on our skin from that episode.”
This caused the white haired girl to make an even worse face. “Oh, ha-ha, you clever, clever girl. You know what I’m talking—“The rest of her retort was cut off by a softball hitting her squarely in the ribs.
With a squawk of outrage that was born more from the fact that the blow had caused her to drop her next hotdog than any physical harm, she snatched up the ball and gave it a good glare. “What is wrong with people?!” She demanded of her friends. “There’s batting cages for this! And it’s not even baseball season! Oh man, someone is going to get the claws for this, just let me…”
Once more, she cut off in mid speech. Only this time, it was because of who she saw rather than what hit her.
A young, light skinned black man about their age had crested the flanking hill. He wore baggy olive cargoes and a white tee with a baseball glove and was undeniably handsome with long hair he let hang free.
Cyn’s ranting cut out and was replaced by a broad smile. “Oh hi! Is this your ball?”
The young man made a show of thinking it over. “Not sure that the cost of the ball is worth ‘getting the claws’.” Cyn refused to let anyone see her blush, but she was struck speechless nonetheless. This gave him time to register Kay and Lisa. “Hey, I know your two; Snackrifice, right?”
“That we are.” Kay puffed out her chest in pride. “The best new band to ever come out of Mayfield. You a fan?”
“I tried out when you had your drummer auditions.” He shrugged. “Didn’t get in, had to find other hobbies; so I joined the baseball team, which is what got me a scholarship to Dayspring this year. Guess I should thank you. You know, for the rejection.”
Lisa tried to squint to get a better look at him against the bright sky behind him. “I don’t remember you from school last year.”
“Probably because I was a Senior and you were Juniors.” He pointed out. “The two don’t mix much. Does the name Ollie or Oliver Butler turn anything up?”
“Heh…” Kay grinned, “The Juniors are our inferiors now…”
“A little.” Lisa chose to ignore Kay’s line of thought.
“Not that it matters.” Cyn quickly reentered the conversation. “So you’re a college guy now, huh? Still playing baseball?” She tossed the ball to him.
“When spring comes.” Ollie replied. He caught the ball with little effort. “Today is softball. The guys from my part time job are playing the crew from the hairdressers across from us.” He smiled. “I don’t guess you girls would like to watch…?”
Cyn’s grin looked positively predatory. “You would be guessing wrong. Come on girls.”
“Pureed, diced, stewed, whole, whole and stewed, diced and stewed… Oh come on, stewed in puree? Now they’re just reaching. How am I supposed to know which one I need?” Ian’s eyes roamed the wall of canned fruit in search of one that clearly indicated that they were sauce tomatoes.
“Doesn’t the recipe tell you?” Laurel was manning the basket while reading a book on her palmtop.
Ian checked the photocopied recipe card again, as if hoping against hope that it had changed in the last minute. No such luck; it still read ‘two cans of tomatoes’. He shook his head.
“This is why I don’t cook anymore.” Laurel pointed out. “It’s too subjective; one person likes table salt, another swears by kosher and in the end, they can both be right. One of those things I can’t get my mind around.” She gave Ian a pointed look, “And you know this, which makes me wonder why you asked me to go shopping with you instead of Alexis—you know, your girlfriend who you cooked with all the time in high school and who is the daughter of a master chef?”
Giving a little laugh, Ian took down a can of hydroponically grown whole tomatoes and examined the label. “Because Alexis must never know that I’m trying to learn to cook on my own until I’m good at it on my own.”
“Please tell me this isn’t some machismo thing, Ian.” Laurel looked up from the book to let him know that she was serious. “The two of you have been going out for a year; I think you can stop trying to get her attention.”
“What?” Ian finally decided to just use the tomatoes he had in his hand and put them in the basket. The computer on the handle of the wire trolley warbled as it updated the projected total of the purchase. “Seriously, it’s not about that, L.”
Laurel kept her look up with intensity.
Ian flinched. “I admit that the prospect of making a nice, romantic meal as a surprise added some attraction to the idea.” He started down the aisle in search of spices. “But the core of the thing is that I think I need a hobby.”
“When did this start?” Laurel was surprised largely because she hadn’t noticed any restlessness in her friend. There was no small amount of discomfort at that thought; she had always been able to tell her friend’s moods.
“Pretty recently.” Ian replied. “Like the last week or so. I mean, you know how you and Alex have your day jobs at the Institute, and I’d got…” He cleared his throat, “My day job?” Of course, he was referring to his solo patrolling as Chaos. He’d been doing it often since classes had been in session.
“That’s not enough to keep you occupied between volunteering at Saint Drausinus?”
“Well, it is. Which is kind of the problem.” Ian stopped at the end cap to look at the rehydration oven meals there. They were even more tempting now that he was trying to make things from scratch. “See, I’m starting to think of it as my hobby… and I don’t think that’s good for anyone involved. Thus, I’m trying to cut back.”
Laurel grinned at him as she urged him away from the reconstituted treats. “That’s the first time I’ve heard that one. But I do see your point. So cooking is going to be the new thing?”
“It takes time, it’s creative, and once I’m actually good at it, we’ll all eat like kings… and queens, in our palace on the hill.” He ticked off the good points on his fingers.
“And Alexis can’t know about his why?” Laurel grabbed a bag of roasted coffee beans as soon as they turned down the correct aisle. “Seems like to me that it would be a fun and romantic thing you could do together.”
Ian paused in his perusal of the shelves of spices to return the look she’d given him earlier. “Have you ever cooked with Alexis?”
“Sure, in our first year of high school.”
“That would be before she spent the summer hanging out at her dad’s restaurant, right?” Ian didn’t let up on the evil eye.
“Well, no. I wasn’t needed to help in the kitchen once she learned her way around it. And believe me, I was glad of it.” Laurel smiled that the fond memories of good food and good company that dredged up.
Ian smiled and shook his head. “Then you haven’t met Alex the Hun. If she’s in the kitchen with you and you’re not there to help, you’re doing it wrong. Remember Junior year when we made a cake for you?” He waited for Laurel to nod. “Yeah, it started out as an out of the box, buy the mix, angel food cake that it was my job to do while she was decorating. It ended with me running down to the store with a list of ingredients so she could ‘improve’ it. I love her, Laurel, but there is no way in hell I’m letting her know I’m learning to cook until I’ve actually learned.”
He looked at the recipe and then at the wall of dried spices before him. “’Three grinds from a whole nutmeg’? How do you grind a powder?”
“The powder comes from an evergreen nut. Which they don’t sell in supermarkets.” Laurel clued him in. “Where did you get that recipe from anyway?”
“Had my dad scan it and send it to me.” Ian picked up a shaker of regular nutmeg. “He found a box with all my great grandma’s recipes in it and I asked for copies.” He squinted at the list again.
“Why didn’t you bring your palmtop so you could just zoom in on the print?” A package of marshmallows found its way into the basket courtesy of Laurel.
“Why bother? It’s just a ten line recipe, no lead to drag a computer around with me over that.”
“You know, except for the convenience or the fact that you could have looked ‘nutmeg’ up if you had it with you.”
Ian shrugged. “Meh. I don’t like carrying so much tech around. I’ve already got a phone that does more things than I ever use.”
“Palmtops come with built in phones.” Laurel pushed the basket up behind him and read the recipe over his shoulder. “Bay leaf… I think you’re going to have to break down and visit a place that actually deals in fresh herbs.”
“I’m starting to think the same.” Ian sighed and put the nutmeg back.
“So, if this doesn’t work out, have anymore hobbies in mind?” Laurel gave him a sympathetic smile.
“None that come to mind. Maybe I’ll take up videogames like you and the kids.” He laughed. “But really, I think this’ll work. You know, I cooked for myself all through college.”
“No one ever said it had to be good to count as cooking for myself.” He pointed out. “There’s a reason I managed to stay skinny sitting on my ass reading and running CAD all day long.”
“Maybe you should rethink letting Alexis take over from you.”
“Oh, you are so funny.” Ian rolled his eyes. “By the way, who’s the guy?”
“When I asked you to come shopping with me, you said that I had your undivided attention until seven. Now they’re two reasons someone needs to get gone at seven on a Saturday; a date, or if they’re me until last year; a TV show. And you don’t watch much TV. So is it that lieutenant that oversaw the installation of the defense system at the house?”
Laurel wrinkled her nose. “Oh no, that’s been over. I don’t even know what I was thinking with that.”
“Probably ‘oh, look how pretty he is in that uniform’.” Ian managed a scratchy falsetto and got a light punch in the shoulder for his troubles.
“It has nothing to do with that.” She chided. “Besides, he was ROCIC, that means plainclothes.” The last part trailed off as she imagined the lieutenant in uniform.
“So if it’s not a guy.” Ian refused to let the topic stray too far from his question, “Then what’s at seven?”
“Well… to tell the truth, it kind of is a guy.”
“I knew it!”
“Not like that.” Laurel laughed. “He’s just a friend I met online when we were first researching schools of psionics. We talk, we play games, but it’s nothing romantic. In fact, he’s most definitely in love with someone else—he denies it, but I can tell.”
“This dude have a name?”
“We don’t do names. As far as he’s concerned, I’m Brainchild and as far as I’m concerned, he’s just Mr. Voice.”
“You did great today, Melissa. You just need to tighten up your stances.” Alexis smiled and handed the younger girl and Juniper bottles of water as they walked off the mat they’d rolled out in the middle of the downstairs commons for martial arts practice.
It was largely for Melissa’s benefit, given her newfound desire to be part of and useful to the team, but it helped Alexis knock the rust off her own self defense skills. Laurel would have probably been a better teacher, but she hadn’t been around when Melissa had asked earlier in the day.
Melissa accepted the water with a nod. “Thank you. Both of you really.”
Juniper only nodded quietly. She looked green around the gills and knew that she hadn’t been much help at all in the training session. Her hand to hand skills were only basic to start with and she’d been abysmal in the session. Still, she accepted the proffered water with a smile. It was very important, her mother used to tell her, to spread her ‘sunshine’.
“Are you feeling okay, Jun?” Alexis asked, noticing the brown haired girl’s discomfort through the mask she was putting on.
Shaking her head, Juniper tried to make her smile brighter. “N-no, I’m fine.” Something in her stomach did a barrel roll. Shaking her head hadn’t been a good idea and it showed on her face. “My stomach’s a little upset is all. Probably because I missed lunch.”
Alexis gave her a motherly smile and nodded. “A little ginger ale before dinner should calm that down.” She rose from where she’d been sitting on the end of a couch. “I’ll go get you some and then we can talk about what we’re going to do for dinner; looks like we’re going to be on our own for that… unless you two have plans.”
The two younger girls shook their heads, so Alexis left in search of the ginger ale.
As soon as the door to the kitchen closed, Melissa turned a questioning eye on her housemate. “Is this about the boys’ intervention thing with Adel tonight?”
Juniper blanched. She didn’t like the idea of trying to change Adel, even if she was starting to resent his lack of outward excitement about anything up to and including herself. Enlisting her friends to do this made it even worse. Beyond that, she found herself hoping that Cyn’s exceedingly intrusive plan bore fruit—which made her feel even more ashamed.
“N-no! It’s not that.” Which was the truth, but the idea did seem to add to her nausea.
Melissa didn’t look like she believed her. “I don’t get you; you don’t like dating the guy anymore, everyone says he’s boring; just dump him.”
“Well everyone says that Terry’s a jerk and you still date him.” Juniper’s eyes went wider at the sharpness of her own reply and she quickly clapped a hand over her mouth.
If the observation bothered Melissa in the least, she didn’t show it. Instead, she shrugged. “So? I like jerks. People at school think I’m a jerk. We go together really well: we hate the same things about this time.”
“But you’re not a jerk…” Juniper tried to recover from her gaffe.
“It doesn’t matter Juniper.” Melissa said bluntly. “The point is that I like jerks, but you don’t like… whatever Adel counts as. So you should cut him loose and stop stressing yourself into stomach aches.”
Again, Juniper shook her head. And again, the nausea she’d been feeling sharpened with the movement. “It’s not about that.” She asserted softly. “It’s not about that at all.”
“Then what’s it about?”
“Nothing.” Juniper said miserably. “I just don’t feel very good is all. I really do think it’s because I skipped lunch.”
About that time, Alexis came back with a tall glass of ginger ale. “Sorry it took so long. It’s pretty hard to find anything in a pantry stocked for eight, especially when one of those eight is Cyn.” As she gave Juniper the glass, she passed her free hand over the girl’s forehead.
It didn’t tell her much; thanks to her powers, Juniper was usually only around room temperature and even now was only slightly warmer than that.
“Thank you Ms. Keyes.” Juniper said, taking a small sip.
“Of course.” Alexis resumed her seat on the arm of the couch opposite the other two women. “You know, if you don’t feel so hot, we don’t have to go out and eat; there’s plenty of stuff here I can fix.”
“Oh no, you shouldn’t go through the trouble. I’ll be fine.” Juniper assured, careful not to shake her head this time. “But… can we get curry? Extra spicy?”
“That doesn’t sound good for an upset stomach at all.” Melissa said.
“If you think it’ll be okay, we certainly can.” Alexis ignored Melissa’s usual negativity and shrugged.
“It will.” Juniper promised.
“Okay then.” Alexis said, “We should get dressed then; go someplace nice.”
A few minutes later, Juniper was standing in her bathroom, looking in the mirror. Private bathrooms were a definite perk to living in a former bed and breakfast, At the moment; however, she couldn’t really appreciate it. Her stomach was feeling even worse.
She’d known it would. She’d put it off too long this time.
Despite her naive seeming, she understood very well how her body and by extension, her powers worked. These weren’t the pains of an upset stomach or pangs of hunger. It was her power building up and causing cramps from lack of use.
Closing her eyes, she ran through a breathing exercise her father had taught her. At the same time, she ran one hand over the opposite arm and felt the scars there. The scars from her imprisonment by Project Tome and proof that her parents had been right.
Her power started to work, seeming to unknot from her stomach and suffuse her body with warmth and a kind of shivering thrill.
The ability to lower the temperature of objects wasn’t her real power; it was a symptom of her real power; the way in which she built up the energy. Her real power exerted itself now as an azure glow that originated between her eyes—her ajna chakra—and expanded to ensconce her. As it did, it gently lifted her off the floor.
She only kept it up for a few minutes, wary of what could happen if she lost control and satisfied to have worked out the cramp. Afterward, she quickly dressed and went to meet the others for dinner.
“I haven’t heard from you since classes started.” No ‘hello’, no ‘how are you’, he didn’t even tease her by calling her Alice. Mr. Voice got right to the point the moment he answered her call request online. “I can only assume the kids are running you ragged.”
There was tension in his voice. That was to be expected; the last time Vorpal had gone more than a month without talking to him, it was because she spent that time recuperating from eight broken bones, a punctured lung and a dislocated jaw.
In any event, he didn’t give her time to react or explain; he simply glossed over it. “Now you know how I feel, I suppose. What was that title; Student Life Coordinator?”
“How did you—“ Vorpal didn’t even finish the question before he answered it.
“I make it my business to keep an eye on all the new schools that are opening after America’s Academy debacle. And one name just jumped out at me. Stephanie Carroll? Really, I assumed you did that to get my attention.” He laughed until he sighed. “You know, I always dreamed you would take my name. I had hoped that it would be my surname, but baby steps.”
Vorpal fought to keep from smiling at this, even though he couldn’t see her. “I’m glad one of us is enjoying this.”
“You should enjoy it. After all, you’re doing a very good thing for Annette.” Voice’s tone was light, but it grew more serious with the next line. “I know it has to be difficult for you – the mask and all…”
“I’d have thought you would be calling this ‘therapy’ or something.” Vorpal leaned back in her chair. “A step to convincing me to give up the mask and Vorpal entirely?”
“It could be. It probably isn’t.” Voice admitted. “I have to admit that I’m a little jealous that Liedecker and the students get to see your face and I don’t.”
“You don’t want to see my face.” It wasn’t a statement so much as a warning. One with a clear edge in it.
As always when it came that issue, Voice gleefully ignored it. “Of course I do. When you’re ready of course.”
“How’s the school?” She quickly changed the subject away from her mask and what lay beneath.
Voice let her. He had no interest in alienating her. “Doing very well. We haven’t had any new students, but all of the kids are clean and chemical free now and with Annette on your side of the Atlantic, our discipline problems have largely evaporated. You know, it occurs to me that we can ask each other that exact same question now.”
“Don’t you already know everything there is to know about the school—considering you knew my alias?”
“I might… but not from your perspective.”
“What sort of perspective can I possibly give? I’m not really the Student Life Coordinator; I’m really just a face to go with the name on all the Student Life emails and bulletin board postings Liedecker’s people make. I have had exactly two meetings with the staff and I know less now than I did before they started!” She didn’t realize that she was shouting until she heard the echo from her own voice. Her jaw went on edge at her loss of control.
“At the very least, it will allow you to vent.” Voice said casually.
“I think I needed that.” Vorpal was forced to admit. “There’s no reason for this; Liedecker has hundreds of employees, both legal and illegal and yet he ropes me in to do this? I’m an assassin. I am paid to kill. There is no reason that he should trust me with these kids. There has to be something better he could have me doing.”
“Don’t underestimate Vincent Liedecker’s savvy.” Voice warned. “He’s his father’s son and what he didn’t inherit in natural talent, he’s earned through experience. If he’s doing something, it’s for a reason, I can assure you.”
“You’re the man with all the information. Care to venture a guess?”
“Sorry, Alice, I don’t actually have all the information yet. There are some strange players involved in this; security that to a man are US Marine Corps until the start of this year; a teacher from the Academy in Langley, and this old ghost showing up everywhere—St. John Duvall. To borrow from one of your favorites; ‘curiouser and curiouser’”
“I want to go on record as saying that I recommended against this.” Brandy Dillinger, head of Project Tome’s Superhuman Psychology division walked beside a determined and focused Simon Talbot through the corridors of the facility known as Deep Nine.
Even by Tome’s standards, Deep Nine was a secret; concealed deep beneath the snowy peaks of the Colorado Rockies. It had the distinction of being the old factory floor of the project, the place where the first inugami had been born and raised over half a century prior.
More secretive construction and expansion had gone on since that day, but one thing had not changed; Deep Nine was where they made the monsters. Only in the present, more and more of those monsters walked on two legs.
“That sort of softness is why I forced you to partner with Powell.” Talbot pointed out. His eyes were fixed ahead of him, a cruel look of satisfaction on his face. “Your job is to make certain that they know how to utilize their abilities, and that they don’t go insane before hand.”
“Coming here and taunting them very well might drive them insane.” Dillinger was having a hard time keeping up. It was a long walk from the hanger Talbot had arrived at and she was tiring. Talbot seemed to lack that handicap. “The fact is, sir, that it adds a whole new level of complexity when the subjects are unwilling and at the moment, unaware of their new capabilities. Give me some more time—“
“There will be plenty of time later.” Talbot stopped at a security door and submitted to the biometric scanning. There were no guards on this level of Deep Nine, only deadly automated turrets that could be relied on not to gossip to families or people in the media.
“Besides,” He pointed out as the door opened for him, “I’m not here to taunt them; I’m here to make an offer. They’re mercenaries of a sort; I’m certain they’ll be receptive.” The room they stepped into was a remote observation suite; sized for three at the most and packed with equal or greater monitoring technology to that of the Global Space Agency’s mission control.
Talbot took a seat and Dillinger did the same. From those seats, they could monitor, communicate with, and even control any of the experimentation suites, holding cells or living quarters in Deep Nine. It was because of this that the suite was located as far from the main base as possible while still being within walking distance should the need for physical presence come up.
Dillinger turned the main monitor on to find it focused on one of the operating suites where two scientists, aided by another remotely attending via an operating rig, attended to a vivisected, yet still living subject. One of the rig’s robotic arms was splicing micro-circuitry into the exposed nerves.
“Who is that?” Talbot tried to see a face past the scientists.
“A volunteer for the enhancement; Joel Kowalski.” Dillinger explained as she navigated to the camera in the room they were there to see. “He’s a psionic, but a weak one. We’ve started him on gene therapy to see if we can increase his capabilities and installing neural interface nodes to integrate him with a set of powered armor that will let him take full advantage of his abilities.”
“Excellent.” Talbot smiled grimly. “But with the loss of so many Enforcers, we still need to increase our numbers. Give me an audio feed to Maleficent’s cell.”
“Malefi—sir, I know my prior objections to the content of this visit have been overruled, but referring to her by another name may further fray her connection with reality if the process or her reaction to it leaves her unstable.”
“If she breaks, we’ll build her back up again. You’ll build her back up again; that’s your job, Mrs. Dillinger. Don’t forget that. In fact, I expect you to build her up as even more useful to us.”
Dillinger pursed her lips and didn’t reply. Morals and ethics weren’t of any concern to her, true, but the field of superhuman psychology, young though it was, stressed the dangers of such a person becoming mentally unstable while retaining the use of their powers. The results could be catastrophic; especially to those nearby when such a person finally went over the edge.
Hoping that she wouldn’t be nearby when a being like those Talbot had codenamed Maleficent and Beowulf did so, she brought up the monitor in Maleficent’s holding cell.
The young woman had been defeated by the constant silence days ago. No answers to her questions, no replies to her demands, not rescuers summoned by her screams; only food and water delivered through a slot in the wall and always silence.
She sat on her bunk, legs drawn up to her chest, and stared at the wall now. The Cadmus process had rendered her hair starkly straight and a slick, green color that bordered on black. It had also lent to her skin a disturbingly unreal smoothness and a deep tan. Her staring eyes had the white fog of cataracts in them, but observation had shown that they didn’t impair her sight.
After taking time to check on her vitals and new physiology being constantly monitored by the cell’s sensors, Talbot opened communication. “Maleficent.” He used an even, nearly singsong tone, not unlike a father waking a daughter.
The reaction was instantaneous. The transfigured woman flinched at the sound and looked around for its source. “Hello?” She asked, voice grown hoarse from disuse. “Hello?Can you tell me what’s going on? Where’s my brother? What did they do to me?”
Every question she’d asked earlier, plus those she’d come to think in her captivity tumbled out of her. Questions that Talbot didn’t feel like answering at the moment.
“Your name.” He insisted. “Is Maleficent.” As usual, there was a twisted kind of whimsy to Talbot’s tendency with names and he was well aware of it, often joking about it to bewildered employees. As names he chose went, ‘Maleficent’ was subtle by comparison to the alternatives.
“What? No! I don’t know anyone named that.”
“It’s you name now.” Talbot replied. “If you want to ever see the outside of your cell.”
Hot anger flared in the woman’s clouded eyes and she forced herself off the bed to stand in defiance of the voice. Her muscles cramped with inaction, causing her to gasp. It wasn’t the first time either; since the day she’d awakened in her cell, it felt like her muscles were trying to move in unfamiliar and uncomfortable directions. She ignored it now, spurred by the voice accosting her.
“Tell me what’s going on, right now. And tell me where my brother is!” She demanded to the empty room.
“In due time;” Talbot replied. “but I have conditions and provisos on those answers. The first is that Mary Anne Gold is no more. Her history and that of her brother will be expunged and you will be given a new identity: Maleficent.”
“What?” Mary Anne Gold made fists in the air and glared about.
“Accept the terms, or you can continue to rot in that box.” Talbot replied. “And don’t even think of reneging; you won’t even see that box you have now again.”
Chewing her lip, Mary Anne studied the door to her cell. It had no lock or catch on this side; it folded into the wall and was likely controlled electronically. Without tools, she’d never escape. Still, she had her own ’provisos’
“You have my brother?” she declared more than she asked. “If I agree, and you let him go, I’ll do anything you want.”
“What a good sister you are.” Talbot mocked her. “But I seem to recall the two of you working as a team. A very effective team. That’s beside the point; however, as he’ll soon have the same proposal I’m offering you in front of him.”
“I want to see him.” Came the next demand.
“I don’t think you understand the precariousness of your position, Maleficent. My people caught you trying to take what’s mine. I could kill you, I could torture you to find out who sent you to do the stealing… or I could have your brother tortured to death in front of you for kicks.” Talbot chuckled at this, which had the desired chilling effect on Mary Anne and a similar one on Dillinger.
“Or, as I’m not the kind of man to waste perfectly good talent when my organization is in desperate need of headcount, I can offer you a job.”
“You kept me down here all this time to offer me a job?” Her voice was much stronger now and as her voice rose, it was accompanied by a high pitched rasp from somewhere deep inside her throat. The rasp caused her to dissolve in a coughing fit and hack up thick, gray spittle.
“Yes. That and the antidote.” Talbot said with the same casualness as he’d use asking someone to pass the salt.
Worry for her brother had earlier made her forget her own predicament. Mention of an antidote made her look at her transfigured hands anew. “Wh—“
“It’s so cliche to demand to know what I did to you.” Talbot interrupted. “So we’ll get it out of the way: Mythology holds that a hero called Cadmus slew a dragon and at the behest of the Goddess Athena, he sowed the dragons’ teeth and was rewarded with mighty warriors, called Spartes, which aided him in founding Thebes.”
“That has nothing to do with what you’ve done!” Mary Anne choked out. The strain forced her to sit on the bed again.
“No, it has everything to do with it, Maleficent. You see, I have a dragon. And my scientists have found a way to use its natural properties to create a series of extraordinary retroviruses that can transform the recipient in a most remarkable way.”
Talbot chuckled again. “The catch, is that you and your brother have only received one half each of the series. As there really is no cure for this virus, the only cure is to finish the series before your body rejects your already altered body parts. That’s the deal, Maleficent; you work for me; use the abilities the full series of retrovirals can offer you, plus your talents at larceny, and both of you get to live a long and comfortable life.”
He gave Dillinger a wicked look. “But don’t give me your answer now, Maleficent. I still need to talk to your brother. You have plenty of time to decide, really: almost five days before you die.”
End Descendants Giant Sized #1