- Descendants: LA #25 – Merchandise Driven Part 1
- Descendants: LA #26 – Merchandise Driven Part 2
- Descendants: LA #27 – Merchandise Driven Part 3
- Descendants: LA #28 – Troubled Production Part 1
- Descendants: LA #29 – Troubled Production Part 2
- Descendants: LA #30 – Troubled Production Part 3
- Descendants: LA #31 – Troubled Production Part 4
- Descendants: LA #32 – Troubled Production Part 5
- Descendants: LA #33 – The Sixth Ranger Part 1
- Descendants: LA #34 – The Sixth Ranger Part 2
- Descendants: LA #35 – The Sixth Ranger Part 3
- Descendants: LA #37 – The Sixth Ranger Part 5
Felix really wished he had more time to think about what he was going to say. That he could have made some excuse like getting a set of legs on or running more tests to buy just a few more minutes to think. Really, he was so desperate for it, he half-imagined a cartoon devil complete with goat legs and pitchfork would show up and offer him twenty minutes in exchange for his soul.
It would have been mighty tempting.
Barring diabolic intervention though, he was still facing Loshuia and Lydia, having to explain what was going on with Ramona. They’d been waiting in the living room for the better part of two hours already with no news other than the knowledge that there’d been an alert in the infirmary followed by a lockdown that eventually ended.
He couldn’t leave them wondering any longer.
The elevator doors opened, putting an end to the meager time he’d had remaining.
Lydia and Loshuia both looked up from where they’d been talking quietly on one of the curved couches. They were within line of sight of the elevator, so Felix didn’t even have the luxury of taking his time exiting. Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself out, the going getting a little bit more difficult transitioning from the tiled floor of the elevator to the carpet.
Icthiani shadowed him out. Her presence wasn’t comforting even if perhaps she meant it to be. Something small, fuzzy and tree-dwelling in the back of the human mind still screamed ‘predator’ when a daoine was nearby.
“What’s going on?” Lydia’s voice was shaking.
Looking from her round frightened eyes to Loshuia’s tense expression made Felix’s mouth dry. “Uh,” was all he managed to get out. He took a second to rub his eyes with the heals of his hands—which wasn’t too comfortable because those particular prosthetics were built purely to be functional and operate with as little power as possible.
Finally, he managed to work out how to start.
“There’s been an accident in the infirmary. It’s Ramona.” Quickly, so they couldn’t jump to the wrong conclusion, he continued. “She’s stable. She’s alive.”
“Is she alright?” Lydia blurted out.
Felix cleared his throat. “I… don’t know yet.” Trying not to get too technical, he explained the whole thing: the treatments, Ramona taking a new combination early, and her transformation. By the time he was done, his friends weren’t looking any less worried.
Clasping his hands in front of him on his lap, as if he didn’t know what to do with them, Loshuia leaned forward. “Then how is she? You said alive and stable, but that covers a lot.”
He didn’t know whether he was or not, Felix felt like squirming. “That’s because there’s a lot of things I don’t know. I’ve taken scans, gotten a biopsy… but I don’t know how to interpret them yet and time will tell. Ray’s down there with her now, and she appears responsive and alert. Not sure how well she’ll be able to communicate… or even hold her shape. The old story about glass being a liquid and flowing in old windows is all cap, but Ramona’s new make-up is basically some form of silicate polymer with a lot of non-Newtonian fluid properties.”
“I… didn’t really get that last part,” admitted Lydia.
Felix frowned, thought a moment, then said, “It’s like she can be a solid or a liquid in overlapping temperature ranges. The problem is, right now we have no idea whether she can consciously control that. She might be a permanent puddle.”
He heaved a sigh and lowered his head. “There’s just so much I don’t know that she’s gonna need me to figure out. Like if she needs to eat anymore—and what.” His voice cracked a little at that. It felt so useless talking when he should be down in the lab running every test and calling every internet friend he thought even had a chance of helping.
“Isn’t there something we can do to help?” Loshuia was eyeing the elevator.
Felix nodded, working up the will to elaborate in fits and starts. “Y-yeah. Look, I get that it was pretty much just me and Ray that spent the most time with her. And I get that she does the mission control thing while we’re in the field and some people might not feel like that’s being part of the team. B-but we’ve gotta pull together for her now.
“The thing she’s most scared of about all this—the thing she’s been scared of this whole time, that caused all this—is that she thinks this is going to make her less human.”
He saw the unspoken question forming behind Loshuia’s eyes and then Lydia’s as well. Neither one of them was crass enough to give it voice, so he spared them the bother. “I know: ‘human’ is kind of fluid with this team. I mean Josh and ‘Ani aren’t human at all and I’m forty percent robot, but you do get what she means when she says that, right?”
There was a little nod from Lydia. After short hesitation, Loshuia gave one of his own.
Felix swallowed and took a breath. “So… yeah. I should get back downstairs and get to work on…” he waved a hand vaguely, “…everything.”
“Do you want any help down there?” Lydia was shifting from foot to foot. “An extra pair of hands, a gofer? Anything?”
The answer would be ‘no’ in most cases. Neither Lydia nor Loshuia had the scientific expertise to help with the mental heavy lifting he needed to do and they couldn’t talk to any of the friends he needed to contact. But just looking at their faces, he understood they needed to do something—anything–to feel involved, like they were helping.
So he nodded. “Yeah. I probably shouldn’t waste time putting on legs, so you guys can be my legs for me while I’m down there.”
Ray didn’t know how he was holding on.
The last few hours had been horrible. While he was sure Felix could explain just what the hell had just happened, no amount of technical knowledge in the world could have made what he’d seen and done alright.
Unlike what he’d been imagining, might happen eventually, Ramona didn’t just transform into glass in a quick, clear sequence like a Hollywood werewolf. No, she’d shed the upper layers of her skin—pores, fat, hair, nervous tissue and blood vessels included, then rejected whatever internal organs hadn’t made the transition.
With Felix trying to do everything else at once, it fell to Ray to clean all that up. By his count, twenty pounds of material, not counting the now-ruined clothes had gone into the biohazard containers to await whatever analysis Felix might need and either after or instead of that, the incinerator.
Thanks to the sanitation and bio-safety protocols the infirmary ran under, he also had to get Ramona cleaned up even as she lay nearly comatose and naked on the table, totally spent from the trauma of the change.
And that was just the start.
Ramona wasn’t out of it for nearly as long as they’re expected. Panic took hold, especially when her words came out slurred and with great difficulty. It only got worse when she got a good look at her arm. That’s when the crying started and he knew she couldn’t be left alone.
At some point, he’d gotten her off the table, but she refused to leave the infirmary, and so Ray found himself sitting in a separate section of the infirmary; the one where the convalescence beds were. He’d adjusted the top third all the way up so they were sitting almost vertical and sat with his back against it. Ramona had tucked herself under his arm, still shivering with sobs that came out sounding not quite the way a normal human’s would.
Staring down at her, he watched as what looked for all the world like a tear formed in the corner of Ramona’s eye, and started to run down the side of her face, only to be absorbed back into her glassy cheek. He tried to brush one away earlier and found it to be viscus, like molasses.
In his time holding her, he’d noticed other things too. For one, when she wasn’t concentrating, she sort of melted. Not in the sense that she turned runny and started to pour away, but her hip where it touched the bed would flatten, or her shoulder would mold itself into his arm pit. She’d also meld into herself; her fingers sticking together and forming a mitten, her legs fusing where one rested atop the other.
What was odd was that in some ways, she still felt like a regular person. While her glass flesh was smooth and had rapidly cooled to room temperature, it was as yielding as any other person’s skin and muscle.
How she compared to her previous self, he couldn’t tell as he’d never had the opportunity to have her in his arms For that, he presumed he largely had himself to blame. They got along well and spent a great deal of time together, but nothing had come of it beyond the strong bond that had her learning first aid from Felix to help patch everyone’s wounds, and him to stay with her now even though after what he’d seen earlier, his stomach was begging him to run to the toilet and throw up forever.
Not that he was staying there out of his attraction to Ramona. At some other time, maybe, but not now. Right now, she needed someone close; someone to show her that the transformation hadn’t changed anything—not when it came to the people closest to her.
Of course, as much as he cared, the hours were piling up in the dimly lit infirmary and all the altruism in the world couldn’t keep a bored mind from wandering.
Specifically, Ray’s mind wandered to the room itself. The convalescence beds were separated from the triage/operating room by a set of sliding glass doors with privacy curtains blocking the view between the rooms. Each bed could be blocked off by dividers that extended from the wall, making complete isolation for highly contagious cases possible. Said dividers were withdrawn now, leaving the area completely open.
Ray counted eight beds. Certainly more than the team needed.
The explanation his father had given them was that the hidden apartments were for clients of his talent agency that needed to hide out. Too many celebrity watchers, both amateur and professional watched the airports and even private strips, so it was often easier to disappear inside the city than try and leave it.
As for the infirmary, Raymond Fayth Sr insisted that it was a place where clients could have cosmetic surgeries or detox in secret.
When they first moved in and started the team, Ray hadn’t thought about it much. The whole thing seemed just so perfect for superheroes that he was just happy to have it. But that was before they’d learned about the less than savory side of their benefactors, D3I.
Now he was questioning everything. For example, the main room was about as well equipped as a hospital ER, but it wasn’t set up for surgery. Felix had pointed that out before when he’d realized that they didn’t even have the basic tools to check up on the connection between his prosthetics and his nerves—tools necessary for thinks like face lifts and chin implants.
Thinking back, he wondered how long D3I had been looking to have a prelate team under its thumb. More than that, he tried to remember whether or not his father had push him, Felix and Lydia into being the ones to start it. That felt like it was all Felix, but Ray couldn’t be certain if he’d been influenced or not.
Which brought him back full circle to Ramona. How much of a coincidence was it that Ray had run into a student at the same college he went to who was a descendant being ‘helped’ by D3I? It wouldn’t have taken a genius to figure out that he would bring her to the apartments afterward, and after all, they had arranged for them to take in the daoine siblings.
Now there was a disturbing thought. What if D3I wanted Ramona on the team? She had no powers when they met, but according to Felix, the pills they had her on weren’t really helping and might have been altering her manifestations. If that were true, he wondered what would have happened if they hadn’t taken her off those drugs. Would the same thing that happened just a few hours ago have come to pass—or something worse?
Or was it all about forcing her into having powers so she would join the team?
Did that mean they’d won?
He counted again.
Himself, plus Felix, Lydia, Loshuia and Icthiani. And Ramona made six. Assuming any team would effectively be over if everyone was in the in a hospital bed, that meant there was a healthy chance that D3I had at least three more candidates they planned to put onto the team.
Assuming he was right about any of it, of course.
He lay there and imagined who those new members might be. A speedster would be nice. Tricked out motorcycles and psychokinetic surfboards aside, they were maneuverable, but not necessarily fast.
Of course, he would kill for someone with even the slightest amount of stealth or covert ops capability: a shapeshifter, a telepath, someone who could go invisible… The team was bad at that. None of them was more subtle than your standard PCP-addicted rhinoceros.
But that wouldn’t gel with D3I’s goals for the group. They wanted showy, colorful and ‘toyetic’. If they weren’t generating spectacular TV footage and selling merchandise, they wouldn’t be part of the plan. Not D3I’s plan at least, but someone who could get information without being detected would be invaluable in the team’s real plans to go up against the secret puppeteer behind D3I, the daoine prince-in-exile, Xales.
It could be worse though: Xales was known for his mental power: the mesmer. Anyone new he put on the team might be working as his mole and never know it.
Ray suppressed a shudder. It was entirely possible that he already had a mole in the group. It could even be him, given how they’d already seen how Xales could alter memories. It would be really nice to have a telepath of their own—and really unlikely that Xales would just hand them one.
As it turned out, he might not have suppressed that shudder as well as he thought. Ramona groaned and shifted against his side. He looked down in time to see he flex her fingers, separating them from the mitten-like mass they’d become, before placing it on his stomach. She gave a confused little grunt that had an odd musical sound to it and her fingers kneaded the flesh over his abdomen, trying to figure what she was feeling.
Her grip, was surprisingly strong.
“Ray?” It didn’t sound like hers at all. It was hollow and flute-like. The word ‘ocarina’ wandered through his head, trying to find something to connect to and failing.
“Yeah?” That was pretty much all he could think of to say.
She shifted, sitting up so she could look at him. Her eyes were glass just like the rest of her, but slightly more translucent, setting them apart from the rest of her face. They lacked iris or pupil however, making it impossible to tell exactly where she was looking.
All the same, her face showed surprise and awe as clear as day.
Ray gave her a lazy smile and a little squeeze with the arm he still had around her. “Always.”
To Be Continued…