- 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
“I’m not sure what the problem is…” Felix had his laptop out on the coffee table in the living room, leaning over it while typing furiously. The laptop had become a permanent fixture there, ever since said room had become Ramona’s makeshift physical therapy center, thanks to the fact that all the sensors Felix had running would have overwhelmed the processors of a palmtop or tablet.
From her place on the floor, shallow shag starting to melt into her pliable ‘flesh’ (Felix called it a silica matrix), Ramona was pretty sure she knew what the problem was: her new body as a klutz.
Over the past month, things had become a constant battle for her to learn how to get around. Walking, as she was currently demonstrating, was right out for a number of reasons. For one, she tended to sort of melt and stick to herself if she wasn’t concentrating. That meant that trying to walk in a skirt or shorts ended with her legs fusing together and tripping her. If her clothing was baggy at all, folds would get sucked into the silica matrix and slowly but surely start to ride down until her pants came off and—again–tripped her.
Luckily, Felix had spare wheelchairs, including an electric one. The only problem there was that she’d melt into the seat and start to slide off. That had been remedied by adding, of all things, a two metal roaster pans with a layer of ice between them to the seat. The cold was enough to solidify the silica matrix to the point that her melting’ was kept at a minimum.
The best she could do locomoting on her own was a kind of undignified slither.
Worse, just as the living room had become the spot for her therapy (because Felix insisted that the infirmary wasn’t set up to protect equipment from any falls she might experience), she’d somehow become the center of the team’s activities when they weren’t fighting monsters or criminals.
Unsurprisingly, Felix had thrown himself into researching and theory-crafting about her condition with Ray assisting when he wasn’t keeping her company. And when he wasn’t keeping her company, Lydia and Josh were. Icthiani… stared. Ramona didn’t know if she was just keeping an eye on her, was observing her for some purpose, or if she was just leery, but it was disconcerting.
Part of her liked the attention (Icthiani not withstanding), but part of her was ashamed that her stupid choice had put her in the position to monopolize their time.
“You should have full neural control of the matrix—you do have full control when we do your exercises with that.” Felix continued as Ramona literally peeled herself off the carpet. A pair of bars had been set up behind the sectional, meant for her to hold on to while she practiced walking. They were utterly useless, as whenever she failed to walk, her arms slipped off, not even slowing her descent.
Now sitting up, Ramona recalled those exercises and looked at her hand. With a little concentration, she retracted her fingers into the palm and formed it into a sphere set on the end of her arm. Then she made it a start, then a cylinder, then a hand again.
When she was concentrating, yes, she had complete control. But who concentrated on their body twenty-four hours a day? The second that concentration broke, her form slowly but surely molded itself to whatever container or lack thereof gravity pulled it into—the aforementioned ‘melting’.
“This is not a physical problem.”
It wouldn’t have surprised Ramona that Felix might be able to coincidentally answer her inner thoughts, but it wasn’t the teen genius who said it. Icthiani had ghosted over to crouch next to her, staring down with those alien yet intelligent eyes.
Felix made a questioning noise from the sectional.
“I have been watching her since her change. While she has control of this new form, it is merely conscious control. The moment she is not fully focused on maintaining complete solidity, she begins to lose it.” She tilted her head, scanning over Ramona’s body. “Further, she is moving incorrectly; attempting to move muscles and bones she no longer possesses.”
“She is right here.” Ramona said sourly.
“Indeed she is,” replied Icthiani without a hint of irony. “What you need is better focus and the ability to split that focus between maintaining your shape and accomplishing other tasks.” She turned to Felix. “There is only one person who is capable of giving her such training.”
“One thousand five hundred and three, one thousand five hundred and four, one thousand five hundred and f-f-f…”
Josh’s voice was infuriatingly calm. Ramona imagined that if she still perceived pain in the same way as before (instead of just pressure and strain on her new body—her sense of touch seemed to be intact, just not pain.), she might have decked him.
While he was urging her to count, she was in the middle of the team’s garage, her feet atop a pair of saw horses while she balanced a long metal pole across her shoulders. Hanging from either end of the pole was a bucket filled with water. They’d started with scrap iron from Felix’s workshop, but gathering the pieces when she dropped them had proven to be a pain.
Every time she started to melt, or the buckets started to shift, the ever-polite Josh would make a loud noise of disappointment. This, he’d explained, was a replacement for what his instructors at the Flying Raven school used to correct students: a flaming brand and a healing poultice that removed the wounds but not the pain. He only needed to point this out once out of hand to convince her to respond to the noises.
“F-five,” she managed while at the same time doing her best to keep her body solid. Two and a half months out from her transformation, she now knew intimately what her body felt like when it started melting and exactly what she needed to do to keep hat from happening. It was still a matter of focus, but that was steadily improving.
Josh made her count to two thousand before calling an end to their session and hefting the buckets off he shoulders. “Again you’re showing improvement,” he assured her, offering a hand down from the saw horses, “I notice it mostly in your feet. You kept your stance the entire time today. Don’t forget meditation tonight: Lydia’s room, nine-o’clock.”
“Right.” Two hours of meditation every night was Josh’s usual. Once he decided Ramona would benefit from it as well, Lydia had taken a sudden interest and joined in. It wasn’t hard to guess why, but Ramona wondered whether it was purely to spend more time with the daoine, or if she was genuinely jealous.
A bubble of bitterness surfaced at that. The very idea that any man—human or not—would prefer a liquid glass monster to a fun-loving and lovely girl like Lydia was laughable to the point of painful. Not that she wasn’t aware of Ray’s affection, but he was obviously still laboring in the memory of the her she used to be.
Accepting the hand, Ramona stepped down and thankfully released the deep focus she’d been giving to her legs. The end goal might have been to allow her to walk like a person again—even go out into the world beyond the apartment—but for the time being mobility trumped everything else. For that, she and Felix had managed to work out the best means of self-locomotion she was capable of.
Therefore, as was usual for her those days, Ramona was wearing form-fitting workout shorts that came down to just above her knees and no shoes. This allowed her the freedom to let her feet and legs below the knee fuse together into a thick ‘tail’ she could use to slither around while remaining upright. Felix made a joke that it was similar to something out of a video game his grandfather used to play at tournament level, but she had no idea what that meant—or even that they even had video game tournaments.
Balance had been a problem at first, but by now, it was just as fast as walking for her—faster on the rare occasion she needed to climb stairs.
Josh carried the buckets over to the bare sink at the other end of the garage to empty them. “There is something I wanted to talk with you about before you go.”
Once again, he interrupted her train of thought. “Hmm?” she asked, slithering along beside him. Talking was an issue, but not one involved in her physical recovery. Her voice had changed along with her body and she spoke as little as possible to avoid hearing it.
To his credit, Josh didn’t call her out on it. Instead he continued on to the sink and sat one bucket down while lifting the other over the drain. “You’re getting better every day, even in the sessions where I try and distract you or take you by surprise. Soon you’ll only need to train to hone your control, not to build it.” He paused long enough to confirm she wasn’t going to add anything, his eyes on the pouring water instead of her.
“One part of that means that you should be able to walk around bipedally without problems; to go through day to day life without issue… more than daily life.”
Silence reigned as he sat the now empty bucket on the floor and retrieved its twin. Ramona remained quiet, considering him carefully, trying to figure out what he was getting at. She had a good idea what it was, but she waited for him to say it.
“As your trainer,” he said, hefting the second bucket and sending water sloshing into the sink, “I keep an eye on your limits, the places you need work… your capabilities, both ones you’re aware of and ones you aren’t. Perhaps you don’t want to hear about this, but I feel you deserve to have all the information available. Your body is highly resilient and you are able to assume a myriad of shapes, both complex and versatile.”
The last of the water left the bucket and, as he set it down he finally looked her in the eye. “What I’m trying to say is, you would be an asset to us on the team—a different sort of asset than you were before.”
Ramona shied away from him as the words left his mouth, eyes widening. “You want me to… become a superhero like the rest of you?”
To her surprise, he shook his head. “What I want is unimportant. Ramona, I may not know exactly how you feel, but I do understand. My sister faced the very similar issues after she received her sangrelogos. It is part of why she behaves the way she does now—it is not an issue of being a stranger in a strange land, it is the feeling of being a stranger… everywhere.”
Hearing that, Ramona cast her eyes downward. That explained why Icthiani acted even stranger than normal around her.
Rescuing her from such thoughts, he continued, “Just like with my sister, no amount of what the rest of us say or do is going to make you change your mind any faster: you need to feel like you belong and that is an individual thing no one else can divine.
“It may be an odd way of thinking of it, but as heroes, we are beloved by the people and do work that gives us both a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie among ourselves. It may not be the traditional or excepted motivation for this line of work, but perhaps you should try—it may improve your moods and attitude to your new situation. I know that your new body seems like a curse to you now—but it might be a great boon to the people of Los Angeles.”
He sat the now-empty bucket on the floor with a hollow thump. “Of course, the choice is yours.”
Ramona shocked herself with her response: “Do you really think I would be useful out there?”
Folding his arms, Josh leaned back against the sink and set her with a keen eye that reminded Ramona of a softer version of one of his sister’s stares. “You think you wouldn’t? Of course you would need combat training, but as you are now, you are highly resistant to damage and incredibly malleable, capable of fitting into spaces no other can. Equal parts front line fighter and infiltrator—and the latter is not a role the rest of us are suited for.”
It wasn’t as if the others kept it a secret what it was Descendants LA was really planning to fight. Josh (or Loshuia, rather) and Icthiani not withstanding, there were monsters out there more terrifying than any descendant’s power. If she became the team’s ‘infiltrator’, she would be spying on those things. The things that ate what went bump in the night.
She hugged herself and went to sigh even though she couldn’t anymore. Being part of the action from behind the safety of an internet connection was a lot different from being in the thick of things. Questioning her own bravery was in order. But then again, could anything worse happen to her?
Reading her perfectly, Josh shook his head, understanding in his eyes. “I am not putting you on the spot now, only pointing out the opportunity before you. Take all the time you need.” After a pause, he added, “Though if you choose ‘no’, you might want to talk to Felix about that.”
“Oh?” Ramona’s brow raised, but now it was her actual brow ridge.
Josh spread his hands in a soothing gesture. “Yes. Despite all evidence tot he contrary, he still lives in a world where anyone who has powers will inevitably use them for the cause of good. He… has a few projects he’s working on for the occasion you make that choice.”
Once more, Ramona really wished she could sigh. “What’s he done? Made me a costume?”
At this, Josh looked thoughtful. “Something like that…”
To Be Continued…