- 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
Swallowing her mounting panic, Ramona focused on looking over the contents of the computer. The wolfwoman hadn’t logged out, so the entire system was open to her perusal.
There wasn’t a lot there: a video messaging program that sadly was set not to archive any calls, a web browser set to delete the browsing history, and a single folder where Ramona found her only useful information. The first few finds, however were the cause for much alarm.
It contained names, addresses, and truncated biographies of around fifty people in the Los Angeles County area. Just from skimming the first few, she could tell they were all descendants and all outspoken advocates for fair treatment and against Braylocke Laws. Alongside them, there was a digital map with markers that coincided with the bios.
When she clicked on the markers, they all came up with a list of times and GPS coordinates. It took a moment for her to realize she was looking at a list of targets and their daily schedules. The mines were a staging area for a major anti-descendant terror attack.
Then she found something that gave her at least a little hope. It was an old scan of a paper map—one of the mine itself. The labels were far out of date: designating the various shafts and supply areas. Having been operational in a time before unions, worker’s rights or even the very concept of mine safety, there were no break or living area listed, much less survival rooms in case of collapse. But there were supply closets hewn from the natural caverns the miners had broken into.
Someone had added pencils drawings to the original indicating where new rooms, elevators and staff areas had been added when the town and mine became a tourist spot. Ramona counted three rooms the could be the one she was standing in before plugging her ‘work’ palmtop, given to her by Felix just that morning into the laptop and copying everything useful.
Then she returned to the crack in the wall and gave Lydia the rundown of what she’d discovered.
“Any idea when they’re planning this?” the telekinetic asked once the data had been copied to her palmtop as well.
“None, but if we go by the time people started disappearing, they’ve been here a while, setting up and planning. I’d bet soon.”
Lydia was silent for a long moment. Then hesitantly, she said, “We need to make sure this gets to the authorities. All these people need to be put under protection or sent to safe-houses or something. Like, as soon as possible.”
“What about the others? These Purify Humanity guys are out there hunting them!” Ramona’s eyes would have flashed betrayal and desperation if they weren’t transparent. They managed to do a good enough job though, as Lydia flinched.
“I know that. Look, someone has to get that scrambler down and warn the others—but someone also has to get outside of scrambler range with this to tell… well everyone: FBI, State Troopers, LAPD—everyone. Thing is? I still can’t squeeze through this hole to go after the scrambler, but I can go back through the tunnel and fly out through the store.”
Even though she completely understood whats he was getting at, Ramona shook her head. “Yeah, but… but seriously? I’m going to have to do this alone? I don’t even know what I’m doing?”
To her surprise, a gloved hand poked out through the crevasse, offering itself to her. Bewildered, Ramona took Lydia’s hand and felt her friend and housemate give her a gentle, but firm squeeze. “Hey, don’t think for a second we know what we’re doing either. Yeah, maybe Zephyr because he was in the military back home, but the rest of us? We’re just playing it by ear and trying to do things as best we can.”
A little shuffling allows Lydia to maneuver her face into the light so she could offer Ramona a smile as well as her hand. “Plus, you’re bulletproof. I saw you pull that slug out of you earlier. Guys like this? They only think in guns and bullets anyway, so you’re invisible, right?”
‘Mixed feelings’ didn’t begin to factor into the Ramona had to that idea. Plus, they also had grenades, which she was pretty sure did more damage than bullets. “Um…”
“Right.” Lydia brooked no argument. “And they think we’re all top side. That means fewer guys down here guarding the scrambler. Maybe it sounds a lot more scary, but this is still a starter mission and you will be awesome.”
Ramona hemmed and hawed, unable to come up with a satisfactory reaction, only to feel another strong squeeze on her hand. In what little light filtered into the space she stood in, Lydia’s eyes still managed to glitter with warmth and sincerity.
“’Mona, you can do this. I believe in you completely and totally.”
“T-thanks.” Unconsciously, Ramona rubbed the back of her head, unaccustomed to such direct praise. “I’ll do my best.”
Lydia smiled one last time and let go. “Of course you will. You’re one of us.”
Green light briefly poured out of the crack in the wall as she accessed her powers, fading as she moved away. The Green Boarder had her mission and, Ramona realized reluctantly, Glass had hers. Checking the map, she decided that the scrambler must be closer to the surface, so her first order of business would be to find an elevator. Depending on where exactly she was, there was either one very close, or one a feet hundred feet and several junctions away.
She set off down the short tunnel leading out of the room. Ceramic struts rather than metal or plastic told her this was a newer addition, so she mentally scratched the one original storage area from her list of places she could be. After less than ten feet, the drilled tunnel met a main shaft, the walls irregularly dug out in a quest for precious ore.
Modern battery-powered lamps had been hung from the ancient, wooden supports, which were themselves reinforced with steel beams. Their harsh light chased away almost all the shadows while small fans were placed in corners, circulating the air so it couldn’t settle and become stale.
She really hadn’t given Purify Humanity much thought aside from how they were bad people. It was clear now that they were organized to a concerning degree. That though put her in the right mindset to spot the first camera before she could blunder into its view.
It was an off-the-shelf wireless home security camera, the kind people used to monitor their yard in hopes of catching potential thieves on camera. Lucky for her, it was pointing in the opposite direction, apparently monitoring the approach from the surface and the three-way junction she’d come to.
Keeping beneath it, she checked the map and found an intersection like the one the camera was guarding. IF she was correct, going straight would get her to the elevator. Unfortunately, that would mean getting caught by whoever was watching the feed. She somehow doubted the person watching their security cameras would have been pulled off duty to fight the rest of the team.
For longer than she cared to admit, she looked from the camera to the tunnels, hoping to suss out a blind spot. There didn’t seem to be one, so she was left in a painful position: in order to carry on with her mission, she was going to have to let the bad guys know she was there.
Steeling her resolve, she reared back and lashed out with her fist, adding to the mass of it from elsewhere in her body such that her arm was not only able to reach the device perched at the highest point on the nine-foot ceiling, but crush it handily in doing so.
Just because they had to find out she was there didn’t mean they needed to know who she was or which way she was going.
Ramona hugged the wall and kept her eyes open as she made her way to the end of the shaft where the telltale open shaft and cables told her there was indeed an elevator to be found. But as she approached, a hum came from above and the cables started moving. Someone was on their way up or down.
A few minutes later, the cage elevator reached that level of the shaft, carrying three men in fatigues; one armed with a combat shotgun while the others carried semiautomatic rifles. The man with the shotgun existed first, sweeping the little alcove at the top of the tunnel with a trained eye.
“Clear.” he said, keeping his voice low so it wouldn’t echo. The other two disembarked at his proclamation, weapons at the ready.
“You really think one of them got in?” asked one, the tallest and most well-muscled of the group.
The shotgun-wielder shrugged. “Cam said two were missing. Who knows what those two can do. ‘Sides, it doesn’t matter what we think: the rule is if a camera malfunctions, we investigate with a three-man team immediately.”
The other rifleman huffed. “I don’t trust Cameron all that much myself. When she’s using that stuff and getting all cougared out, what’s the difference between her and one of them?”
“Easy,” replied the man with the shotgun. “She can stop takin’ that shit and she’s human as you and me after. ‘Sides: she’s fighting on the side of the humans.” He touched the headset he wore and spoke into it. “Hey Riley, we’re on level three of Shaft eight. Looks clear, but we’re gonna check the camera.”
After a moment, there was a burst of static and the reply came back. “Alright, but we’re about to switch frequencies. Changeover is in seven minutes.”
“Got it.” Shotgun man gestured to the others and they all moved further down the tunnel, eventually following a curve out of sight.
A few moments later, the elevator shifted to the side slightly as Ramona forced her way through the gap between it and the shaft going farther down, having dove under the descending lift as it arrived. As she reassembled herself into a more human shape, she digested what she’d just heard.
The bad guys had channels that weren’t effected by the scrambler and changed frequencies regularly. She should have guessed that before, seeing as she’d heard them communicating and that the camera was wireless. Wolfwoman (Or maybe cougarwoman? That sounded vaguely like an adult-themed superheroine.) was in charge and close to it and was pretty damn savvy to boot.
But it was a safe bet she hadn’t prepared for Ramona’s power set.
Looking to make sure there wasn’t a camera in the elevator, she proceeded to climb up on top of it and into the shaft above. Her reliable hands found holds with ridiculous ease and she found that without muscles to strain she was able to pull herself up far easier as well.
She’d checked the map while she listened to the trio and figured out exactly where she was. Wherever the three gunmen had been dispatched from had to have been close to the elevator shaft and, she hoped, was near where whoever monitored the cameras was set up. There was a staff room from the mine’s resort days on the first level that seemed to fit the bill, so she made that her first priority.
Scaling the interior of the shaft wasn’t much of a problem, and before long, she was at the top, peering over the lip of the open space into the connecting tunnel.
One was, much like the others, a more or less straight shot from the elevator. However, there was a second, natural-looking opening on her right. According to the map, this was the main storage area for the original mine, taking advantage of a spacious natural cavern.
There was no doubt in Ramona’s mind that Purify Humanity, being as well-organized as they were—would leave that space unused. Curiosity got the best of her and before she could think better of it, she was creeping up the the rough opening in the cave wall and into the gaping cavern.
What she saw made her gorge rise.
No doubt, the group had previously been using the space as a kennel. Sections were separated off from one another by chicken wire and rebar fences and the place stank of animal waste. The majority of the cavern was still cavern space, for whatever reason a terrorist group felt the needed dogs. Maybe half a dozen German shepherds with curious chocolate-colored coats paced or lay in their pens.
However, now at least three of those pens contained not dogs but people; stripped to their underwear and left sitting on soiled blankets. Among them, she recognized one of the men reported missing on the news—the most recent disappearance, Samuel Wilkins.
She’s found the hostages! A quick count showed that all ten were accounted for, even if they all looked haggard and malnourished. The problem was, they and the dogs weren’t along in that stinking cave: Three armed figures stalked about the place: two women and one man. They all had shotguns in hand and pistols at their hips.
Ramona’s heart sank. The last thing she wanted to do was leave those people in a squalid hole any longer than absolutely necessary. But realistically? She couldn’t fight three armed and probably trained enemies out in the wide open.
The best thing she could do to help them was to carry out her original mission and get help.
Wishing she had Felix’s weapons, Icthiani’s versatility, or Ray’s skill with tactics to do more than that, she slunk back to the main tunnel and headed for her original destination.
Her mind was still on the hostages when she had her next unwelcome surprise: the staff room she’d been looking for actually had a door on it—a heavy steel security door. A keypad was situated next to the knob, a strip of red light indicating that it was locked. Someone had cut a pair of four-inch holes near the top to install a pair of fans for circulation.
Ramona briefly considered the fans as a way in, but they were both running and she didn’t want to see what happened if she tried putting her hand in the blades. So she turned her attention to the door itself, considering whether it was possible to pour herself through the space between the door and the frame or reach in and manually force the bolt of the lock.
She was so intent on finding a way in that she didn’t notice that the tunnel was no longer empty until someone spoke off to her right.
“And just what the hell are you?”
After coming to think of ‘Cameron’ as ‘wolfwoman’, Ramona was surprised by the appearance the woman’s voice was actually connected to.
First, she was maybe five-two and that was taking the boots she wore into account. Short though she might be though, the woman was ripped, almost as wide as she was tall thanks to sheer muscle mass that strained the fatigues she was wearing to the point that the buttons looked like they might pop off at supersonic speed.
The ‘wolf’ or even ‘cougar’ comments were a far cry from the truth. A light growth of hair, brown like that on her head covered her face, arms and what flesh was exposed by her new muscles straining her clothing, but it was hardly pelt-thick. The effect looked more like she’s been badly airbrushed than she was part beast.
The fangs and claw-like nails however…
Ramona froze up.
No doubt Felix would think up a witty retort—or utter something off the top of his head that he thought sounded cool. Lydia could have just thrown up a TK screen. The daoine siblings could have made short work of this foe, and Ray would have an idea on how to take her down immediately.
Ramona… could melt at her?
The wolfwoman, Cameron apparently, drew a pistol. “Hands up, freak. Where is the other one?”
Again, Ramona could only stare. And think.
‘Cameron’ was smart, had been smart enough to move her troops wisely, keep them in groups of three to watch each other’s backs, and scramble communications while keeping them open to her own. But here she was alone. With a gun.
And as Lydia had pointed out, Ramona was bulletproof.
Suddenly, she knew what she had to do.
To Be Continued…