- 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
“…latest filing brings to ten the number of hikers reported missing in the Angeles National Forest in the past month. Rescue teams continue to comb the Sierra Pelona Mountains, but with the disappearance of Samuel Wilkins, a volunteer on one of the rescue teams searching for Hernando and Gabriel Torres, concerns are being raised for the safety of the teams themselves.”
Loshuia and Icthiani were staring at the screen as it showed views from a helicopter of the the grand expanse of the forest as it stretched over the lower reaches of the mountains and then man-on-the-ground views of searches climbing through, under and around thick undergrowth, fallen trees and mossy boulders.
For the rest of the team, it wasn’t an image that evoked any deeper emotions beyond the concern they were already feeling for the missing. For the daoine siblings, it was like staring into a vision of Hell. On their native Faerie, plants moved, plants hunted—plants laid traps and ambushes.. Plants killed as viciously as any other predator—and the least Faerie predators still stripped flesh from bone while the prey still lived.
“I understand if you guys want to sit this one out.” Felix turned off the TV and set the remote in his lap. “The park is more than six hundred thousand acres of green, not something you guys are all too taken with.”
“How is it that only ten people have succumbed to that?” Loshuia stared at the blank screen, doing his best to conceal the horror on his face.
Ray shook his head. “It’s like we’ve told you guys before: plants on Earth aren’t like those in Faerie. The only plants that eat animals only get as big as the palm of your hand and only eat bugs.”
This didn’t do much to convince the siblings. Loshuia’s brows knit in deep thought. “What you haven’t considered though is how crossovers from Faerie have been going on for almost two years. A dryad could have infected vast swathes of that forest or even had offspring by now. The seeds or spores of any number of species native to our world may have come across. These woods may not be as you know them any more.”
For a moment, the rest of the group fell silent, contemplating the grim scenario of native Faerie plants gaining a foothold on Earth.
Fortunately, Felix broke into their thoughts. “Not likely, thank god. We’ve fought a few Faerie plant things, and send more than a few samples around the country for analysis. As scary as man-eating plants are? Their energy requirements are insane—it’s why they eat animals to start, but most of them also need to eat other Faerie plants to survive. No thriving Faerie ecosystem and they’re dead of starvation in a couple weeks.”
“Unless they eat ten people in less than a month,” Icthiani pointed out.
Felix frowned, but nodded. “Yeah, I was talking about the idea of them taking over. As awful as it is… It’s entirely possible all these missing people have been… eaten.”
“But we’re not going to give up hope that there’s something else involved,” Lydia jumped in, seeing the mood in the room sinking even lower. “Or at the very least, we can stop whatever’s doing this before it kills again. That’s the whole point of being superheroes, right? Obviously this isn’t really something a normal search and rescue team can handle, so here’s where we step in.”
“Right.” Ray stood up and stepped in front of the television. “If ten people in twenty-five days wasn’t enough to make it clear something more than people getting lost is going on, the fact that a member of the rescue team has been targeted means it’s past time we do something.”
He looked to the siblings. “That said, anyone that doesn’t want to go is welcome to stay here and run mission control for the rest.”
Loshuia shook his head. “I would shame myself as a coward if I shied away from this. I was always going: I merely wanted to voice my concerns.”
Beside him on the couch, Icthiani rolled her eyes. “A gallant die young. But you would probably die if you didn’t have my help. I will go… but I will wisely keep to the air unless absolutely necessary.”
“Thanks.” Lydia gave both of them a wide grin.
Then all eyes went to the last person in the group; the one who hadn’t spoken yet.
Ramona stared back with wide eyes. She wasn’t using her holo-watch at the moment, so that action lost something in translation as her eyes were merely transparent spheres behind slightly less transparent eyelids. “What?”
“Just wondering if you were in or not,” said Lydia, trying not to sound pushy.
“It might be a good starter mission,” Felix added, “Search and rescue, small possibility of combat, remote area so the public won’t be involved.”
Ray held up both hands. “But again, everyone is entitled to skip this one if they’re uncomfortable with it, or don’t feel like they’re ready…”
It had only been a couple of days since Ramona had gotten her holo-watch and the idea of joining the team. She hadn’t trained with the team at all. In fact, she hadn’t discussed the idea at all with anyone but Ray and Felix—which was just as good as telling Lydia.
“Well I under—huh?” Ray stopped, staring at the wide-eyed.
Ramona sat up straight and wished she could take a deep breath. “I want to try. If I’ve going to be like… this, then I might as well put it to use. And like Felix said, this will be out of the public eye, so if I’m no good, I won’t reflect poorly on the rest of you.” Fidgeting uncertainly, she added, “And I doubt anything on Faerie or Earth can digest me.”
She yelped involuntarily when Lydia caught her in a quick, tight hug that pinched her semi-solid form at the shoulders. “Sweet! I knew you would give it a try. Welcome aboard. Have you thought up a codename yet?”
“Nothing really cool of special, no. But you can call me Glass for now.”
A few hours later, Ramona was already wondering what the hell she was thinking. She was sitting cross-legged atop of platform of green telekinetic energy as Lydia pulled her across the sky like a child with a toy wagon. The platform was almost even more transparent than she was, so it was easy to see the ocean of greenery stretching out beneath them.
On either side of her were Felix and Ray, sitting stride Waltzing Matilda and Galloping Gertie respectively. It was hard not to wonder how the two half-ton machines (and the nearly-half-ton Teen Machine) weren’t breaking through the seemingly wafer-thin platform and harder still not to be terrified by the prospect of what would happen to her if they did.
She was wearing a highly expensive black and silver sports bra and skin-tight training pants and sneakers that Felix promised her wouldn’t allow her to melt into them. Not much of a superhero uniform, but it was what she got when deciding to take up the cause on the spur of the moment.
“Coming up on the last known GPS coordinates of Sam Wilkins’s palmtop.” Felix’s voice came in over her commlink. “The Forest Service drones have already done flybys with infrared here and there are rescue teams on the ground. I’ve compiled hacked GPS data, locations mentioned on Quintessence accounts and map searches all of the missing hikers looked up prior to disappearing, and I’ve come up with a search area twenty-eight miles north of the main search.”
“Why there?” Loshuia asked. He was some ten or fifteen feet distant, being carried along in a miniature whirlwind conjured by his sister.
“Because while everyone disappeared or last been seen in this area, seven of our hikers were headed there, to a place in the valley called Chamber’s Mill Creek. It’s an old mining town that used to be one of those touristy ‘ghost’ towns until about ten years back.”
“I have a question.”
“A ‘tourist’ is a person who travels for pleasure, yes?” Felix hummed in the affirmative. “What pleasure would someone gain from encountering the tormented spirits of the dead? Are there humans that gain pleasure from the agony of those trapped on the mortal plane?”
There was a pause while Felix digested the question. “Wait. Ghosts are real too?”
“Why would you have towns dedicated to them if you didn’t know this?”
“Because they aren’t… okay, this is a thing I’ll explain later. The point is, lot of people like to head out there and mess around with the falling apart old west stuff and post about it online.”
Ramona pressed her lips into a thin line—which in her case was more literal than most. “Another question?” She asked.
She fretted over sounding foolish, but considering the previous exchange, that didn’t seem like such a problem anymore. “Faerie creatures… and plants… don’t generally understand Earth technology, right?”
“Okay. So how would it know to disable people’s GPS? Sure, one or two might be destroyed in an attack, but everyone’s devices all stopped transmitting in the same general area? That sounds like someone knows exactly what to look for and how to disable them. I mean, I’m had shoes with GPS tracking: there’s a lot to look for and I’d imagine hikers carry even more than a normal person.”
Ray’s voice came in just then. “That’s a very good point. That means we’re dealing with humans—which can be good or bad.” on the one hand, there’s probably fewer evil trees.”
“And on the other,” Lydia continued for him, “More guns and people who expect superheroes to show up at some point or other.”
“Either way,” Ray said, “I’m liking Chamber’s Mill Creek better and better. Boarder, drop TM and myself at the edge of the town, Boarder, Lady D, you two can then do a flyover with Zephyr and Glass. Look for signs of recent habitation: tracks, vehicles, new appliances…”
“Something worth kidnapping or killing ten people over…” Felix muttered.
“That too,” Ray said without humor. “We’ll ride around on ground level then head for the mine. If you want to hide things in a mining town, the best place to do so is the mine.”
With that, the plan seemed to be set. Lydia followed Felix’s direction and dropped down beneath the forest canopy. Ten feet off the ground, she turned and manipulated her TK platform to extend a ramp to the mossy ground, allowing the two cycle-mounted heroes to roll off, leaving Ramona alone on the green slab.
“Have you guys done many missions like this before?” she asked, suddenly feeling alone and wanting to fill the silence.
“Through burning buildings a few times, but not in the wilderness,” the green-clad heroine replied, now flying above Ramona rather than ahead of her. “Actually, this is my first time in any forest at all. You know, real forest, not the kind that’s just a stand of trees at the edge of the beach. You?”
“Have I been on a search and rescue? No. Have I been out in the forest? A couple of times. My family tried to do the camping thing a few times, but never got into it.” They rose back above the forest and started in the direction of the town. “So… since neither of us know anything about search and rescue, what are we supposed to do?”
Lydia shrugged, “I guess keep our eyes peeled.” She maneuvered them swiftly out over the town.
Doing her best to overcome her uneasiness with riding the platform, Ramona crawled to the edge of it and looked down at the town.
Whether it originally looked like one, Chamber’s Mill Creek looked very much like the old west towns seen in very old movies and TV shows: mostly a straight line of buildings with a dirt ‘street’ between them. There was an obvious saloon with one swinging door remaining, hanging from a single hinge, and farther down, there was a stone blockhouse that was probably either the bank or the jail.
Being constructed at the edge of a mountain valley, the rest of the town—mostly fallen and ruined hulks by now—were built on hills and rocky outcroppings and connected by winding, overgrown paths. There wasn’t anything that immediately suggested someone new ha moved in: there wasn’t a shiny new car parked in front of the saloon, or natural gas tanks hooked up to one of the houses. They were too high up to spot any subtle tracks, so Ramona focused on trying to spy out litter or trash around.
If there was someone there, they were very careful, at least in as much as they’d concealed their presence from casual aerial searches.
“I’m not seeing anything,” She reported on the comm.
“Same here,” added Loshuia.
“Alright, converge on—“ Ramona didn’t hear what else Ray said because her entire body vibrated and convulsed. She’d thought she couldn’t feel pain, but apparently if it was bad enough, her silicon-based body was still capable of registering it.
Letting loose a strangled scream, she fell backward onto the TK platform.
“Glass? Ramona?” Lydia dropped down beside her just as something glanced off the platform, causing it to twist and ripple. “Whoa! Guys, we’re being shot at! Glass is hit!” The platform began to rapidly descend. Something like an angry hornet, but much more likely a bullet, tore the air above them.
The pain passed quickly, leaving Ramona feeling only an incredible pressure in the vicinity of her neck. Reaching up, she felt a deep indentation; so deep that her finger disappeared into it. Already, her body was reshaping and soon the bullet was pressing against her probing finger.
Someone had shot her in the neck with what felt like a very large bullet.
And she lived. The new form she’d been cursing since she’d gained it had saved her life.
There was a curse over the comms and a corresponding flash of red lighting overhead. That was unmistakably Icthiani’s work. She was under fire now too.
Someone had been waiting for them with a sniper rifle. From the sounds of it, multiple people. Had they fallen into a trap? Was anyone hurt… or worse? She had no idea. All she knew was that they’d landed in the middle of a former ghost town and they were now in the middle of a fire fight.
A starter mission indeed.
To Be Continued…