- Issue #0 From There to Here
- Issue #1: Life Savers, Inc
- Issue #2 The Kin
- Issue #3: Gather
- Issue #4: Juniper
- Issue #5 Legends of Chaos and Darkness
- Issue #6: Myths and Heroes
- Issue #7: Legacy of One
- Issue #8: Objectivity
- Issue #9 Ladies of Ragnarok
- Issue #10: All Saints and Spirits
- Descendants Special #1: Witches, Goblins and Superheroes
- Issue #11: We Will Be Villians
- Issue #12: Here and Now
- Descendants Annual #1
Siege Part 1
Cyn groaned and sank down to her haunches as she glared miserably at the grey dawn across the lake. She would have sprawled across the grass and tried to recoup precious minutes of lost sleep if it wasn’t for the mist rising from the grass promising that such an action would be most uncomfortable.
She looked over and saw Warrick was similarly unenthused by the current situation. Misery loved company, but misery would rather have company somewhere warm, preferably unconscious. It certainly did not want to be crouching in wet grass at the near the small grove of trees that grew around the edge of the Freeland property.
Juniper, of course, wasn’t showing any signs of fatigue, though she was hugging herself and shuffling back and forth in the age old ‘trying to keep warm’ dance. Melissa sat against a tree with a mask of complete indifference on her face.
It had been like this all week. Alexis had gotten it in her head to ‘train’ them in both basic combat and tactics as well as in their powers. But instead of holding this training after school or on weekends, both of which were socially awkward, but not inductive of sleep deprived madness, she had taken to waking them two hours before they’d normally need to get ready for school so she, Ian and Laurel could oversee their training.
“You’ll get used to it soon.” Alexis seemed to read Cyn’s mind. She had just finished draining her thermos of coffee, which indicated that she also needed to get used to it. She was standing opposite the teens with Ian and Laurel beside her. Laurel was holding her tablet computer like a clipboard while Ian was rolling a hand truck full of pie tins into place.
“In the meantime.” Alexis continued. “let’s see if we can kick your reflexes into gear.” She gestured for them to stand. As they did so, she explained the objective of the morning’s session. “You’ll see that not far back from the tree line here, we’ve hung up colored posters; yellow for Cyn, blue for Warrick, white for Juniper and red for Melissa. Each tree has three posters on it. If all three of your posters get torn down, you’re out. You can use any of your powers or anything you can find around here to protect your posters, but you can’t tear down other people’s posters.” She looked deeply satisfied with herself for coming up with this. “Any questions?”
“Yeah,” Warrick piped up. His eyes were still squinting with sleep. “What’s with the tin pie plates?”
“They’re what’s going to tear down your posters.” Ian laughed as he called up his powers and a light but steady breeze lifted the lightweight cookware into the air, wobbling unsteadily.
“Also, Warrick, no getting help from Isp and Osp.” Laurel added.
The young man looked back at the posters, which were spaced out over a decent running distance. “Aw man, but they’re part of my powers. They need to train too.” Osp uncoiled from his arm to give what passed for a nod from a being with no head.
“Not today.” Laurel said. “They’ve got minds of their own and you watching them take care of your problems isn’t going to teach you anything.”
“But I’m already stupidly powerful.” Warrick kvetched. “I can turn all the pie plates to…” he reached into his back pocket and took out a small stack of index cards. He flipped past the top one, which had a miniature version of the periodic table on it. “… Lithium…” he found the element he was looking for. “and make them burn up in the air.”
“And the explosion would catch your posters on fire and you’d lose.” Ian pointed out. He tried to make the pie plates orbit one another and only succeeded in clanging them together.
“That’s the point of the exercise.” Alexis nodded. “To learn the best method to use based on the situation.”
“Otherwise, you’ve only got two settings; gentle breeze–” Ian added. All the pie tins but one dropped. The last wobbled in air for a moment. Then it rocketed away from him, colliding with a tree with enough force to completely deform into a crescent. “… Or Hyper-death. And Hyper-death isn’t going to be an option for a hero, is it, Warrick?”
Warrick nodded his understanding. It was a basic conceit of most prelates; at least ones in comic books. Real heroes don’t kill. Anti-heroes killed when it was necessary, many villains killed with abandon and both would be stopped in the act by honest to goodness Good Guys. In any of the rescue missions that LSI undertook and against the occasional poorly armored sociopath they found themselves thrown up against, the ‘lithium bomb’ trick would be markedly unheroic to deploy.
“Any other questions?” Alexis asked. There were none. “Good. Let’s begin.” She nodded to Ian who levitated a handful of tins and directed them toward the poster covered trees. As soon as those were on their way, he sent another volley.
Cyn slipped out of her shoes and shifted her feet to a more pigeon-toed configuration – better for jumping. She was cold, wet and tired, but she’d be damned if she’d be the first out. She leapt at the first one that neared a yellow poster and batted it down.
Juniper froze in place and focused on the incoming projectiles. Thin crusts of frost formed on them and the added weight made them too heavy for the meager zephyrs Ian had summoned to keep them aloft. They clattered into the grass.
Melissa looked on in frustration as a tin flew overhead, out of her reach, and missed a red poster only by grace of Ian’s poor aim. “What am I supposed to do?” She complained. “I can’t jump that high and my powers are useless!”
“This is about creativity, Melissa!” Alexis shouted encouragement. “If your powers won’t help, use something else!”
Grimacing, the redhead looked around and found the tin that had just missed hitting her poster. She retrieved it just in time to see another tin hurtling toward one of her posters on the other side of the course. With a mustering of effort, she threw the tin in her hand like a discus. It hit the incoming plate and knocked it off course – directly into a blue poster.
“Hey!” Warrick shouted as he turned a pie plate to slag with his power. It was harder to target with so many plates in the air, but there weren’t so many as to make it impossible. “Does that count?”
“She didn’t aim to knock it down.” Ian shrugged. “You’re down by one.”
“Damnit!” Warrick groaned.
Laurel’s tablet computer warbled. “Uh… doorbell.” She said, checking the icon that had popped up. “I’m running the evaluation, would you mind getting it, Alex?”
“Sure.” Alexis said. “Back in a minute.” She summoned her black heat and flew off back toward the house.
Flying, the trip across the sprawling Freeland grounds only took a few minutes. She landed, dismissed the black heat and hurried to the door. As she did, she mused that she had chosen to fly completely on instinct. Since the revelation of Life Savers, Inc and the fallout thereof, she had relaxed the ‘no powers’ rule more than Laurel had already and the younger residents’ enthusiasm about their powers had rekindled her own fondness for hers.
Not for the first time, she wondered what her life would be like if she hadn’t had her powers. Before discovering the Academy’s dark secret, she had used them casually to the point that she didn’t remember the last time she’d used a stove or microwave.
It gave her a great sense of relief to be comfortable using them freely (though not openly) again. Even with the Damocles Swords of the Academy and whoever had sent the strange dog-beasts to Mayfield hanging over her head, she had to admit she was feeling better about her place in the world.
At least she was before she opened the door.
He stood with the stoic granduer she remembered him exuding a month before when she and Ian had met him at General Pratt’s ROCIC headquarters. It was the same feeling she’d gotten from him six months prior when he burned down Ian’s house in his search for her.
Jonathan Edward Tyler stood on her doorstep, dressed in an overcoat and dark suit. He held a briefcase in a vice-like grip – as if it contained the mysteries of the universe.
Her instincts won out against her logical thought as she drew out her black heat. She knew that the last time they had met, he had been a reluctant ally, but the image of Ian lying prone, badly beaten at that man’s hands had burned itself into her mind’s eye with greater meaning over the past month.
“Ms. Keyes.” He said evenly, despite the evident hostility. Regarding her through the smoky black lenses of his sunglasses, he continued “I apologize for showing up so early and unannounced. But I had something here you need to see and I couldn’t trust sending it online.”
The insistent tone of his mobile phone drew Simon Talbot from a pleasant dream whose details faded even as his hand emerged from his imported quilts to feel for the earpiece. Locating the errant receiver, he placed it in his ear and sat up. “Talbot.”
The room’s sensors detected him sitting up and began to gradually raise the lights.
“Understood.” The director of Project Tome slipped out of bed and stretched. Without his suit, which was tailored specifically to conceal it, he cut an impressive figure. The words ‘Greek god’ would not have been out of place when describing him. Even if he didn’t show it off, he prided himself on his physical fitness and strength.
“No. That won’t be necessary. I’ll handle the rest personally.” He touched the ear bud to disconnect the call, and then strode over to the glass doors leading to the balcony. As he reached to open them, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the glass. Smiling an avaricious smile at his own visage, he threw the doors open.
The cold November air was bracing on his skin. If it made him uncomfortable to stand in the cold clad only in boxers, he gave no outward indication of it. He could feel the reigns of destiny sliding into his grasp and that feeling infused him with enough energy to brave the most brutal of arctic storms.
He hadn’t imagined things would come together so quickly. Less than year ago, Project Tome had looked to be foundering; the bio-mapping process had been a distant dream, efforts to ‘disappear’ the dozens of descendants the project had ‘archived’ out of desire to explore their powers had reached critical mass, foreign agencies were undermining the Academy’s usefulness, and to top it all off, four of the most highly valued descendants the Project had managed to archive had been stolen while they were awaiting transit to the newly built processing facility. The most bitter pill about that debacle was that by all accounts, Alexis Keyes’s discovery of the A14 group had been accidental!
The mere thought of that unfortunate confluence of events made him glower. As well as the pharmaceutical, applied physics, and electronics divisions had been doing, they were, for the most part, there to make bank for the Project’s prime directive.
But in the past two months, the tides had changed in his favor. Bio-mapping protocols were now in place (though one of the subjects had been lost in transit), new facilities had come online, allowing for more creativity in duping the families of ‘archived’ descendants and fouling much of the foreign interference, and just now, a single phone call from one of his monitoring stations had placed the lost A14 group back within his reach. And the only resource he had to risk to retrieve them was Wright’s team of loose cannons and sociopaths.
Life was good. Talbot strode back into his posh suite, leaving the balcony door open. The lights were up to a normal level now, letting him take in the granduer of his domain as he crossed it. There was a painting of Sir Isaac Newton sitting under the infamous apple tree above a solid oak table whose only purpose was to support a decorative vase. He walked up to it and put his thumb on the rendering of a prominently displayed apple.
There was a tone to indicate that his thumbprint had been confirmed and the holographic painting faded from view. The glass plate it had been projected onto slid downward, granting access to the space within. Talbot reached into the air conditioned ingress, ignoring a rack of test tubes filled with red liquid, several ampoules filled with unknown agents, and a stack of keycards to extract a black box the size of a deck of cards.
Item in hand, he stroked a finger over the engraved plate at the bottom of the picture frame. The glass covering slipped back into place and Sir Isaac returned to his study of gravity.
Returning to his bedside, Talbot opened the drawer in his nightstand and took out a flat, silver machine whose top was dominated by a touch screen and a slot for data tabs— the home version of a corporate holographic projector. With a deft move, Talbot flipped open the box to reveal the data tabs, each matte grey with a silver tip and no larger in any dimension than a stick of gum. They had barcodes and a series of numbers printed on their labels. Talbot knew exactly which one he was looking for and slotted it into the projector.
The imaging device hummed to life and moments later, a pale, translucent globe of light formed in the air about two feet ahead of the projector. Black letters formed: ‘BLACK DATAFILES LEVEL 01 SECURITY – CONTINUE?’
Talbot tapped the touch screen and the letters disappeared, replaced by six thumbnail images with the header: ‘RESEARCH GROUP A14’. He moved a finger deftly over the touch pad and a cursor appeared within the globe of light. He moved it over the first and fourth images, shifting them down, out of the way. Then, with a new gesture, he selected the four remaining images and enlarged them. One more gesture moved the position of the globe until the dossiers were spread out in an arc around him.
He’d read them a thousand times. So much, in fact, that he could recite them if necessary. But right now, he just needed to see them: Melissa Forrester (A14-0009), Cynthia McAllister (A14-0013), Warrick Kaine (A14-0011) and Kareem Utt (A14-0010). They weren’t strictly speaking the most powerful of their kind. They weren’t even the most powerful that had been archived. But the alphanumeric designations of the research groups were about priority – value to the Project – instead of about sheer brute force. And Talbot could count the number that were higher priority on less than one hand.
Very soon, they would be back where they belonged. Or, in some cases, enough of them to work with would be where it belonged. Bio-mapping would be a waste of time on one in particular.
Satisfied with his glimpse at his quarry, Talbot switched off the projector and replaced the data tabs in his safe before moving to the closet to pick out a suit to wear for the beginning of his endgame.
Before getting dressed, however, he tapped the ear bud still in his ear. “Call. Brother Wright.” He instructed. Much to Talbot’s consternation it took three re-dials (he had no patience for voicemail) before he heard an annoyed ‘what?’ on the other end of the phone.
“I thought you were my people person, Brother.” Talbot said, full of good humor from his impending conquest.
“I’m sorry, but those techs call me at all hours whining about the requests I put in. It’s dulling the edge on even my personality.” He sighed. “Sorry to complain. What can I do for you sir.”
Talbot toyed with telling Wright the truth, but decided that cluing his little group of misfits into high level security files would be an unwise move. “I’ve decided that your team needs a test run – just as the inugami program did.”
“I only terminated them to keep their remnants out of the hands of civilian authorities—“ Wright began.
“I know.” Talbot cut him off. “And I both understand and appreciate that. But it still remains for your team to acquit themselves as a unit in more than combat simulations before they go for the targets I most intend to field them against.”
“Alright…” Wright said tentatively.
“Good. Get dressed and mobilize your team. I want them at the Bravo site by nine, ready to transport. I’m also sending you two inugami from strain CS-025 and a specimen collection kit. The objectives are simple: locate and capture Life Savers, Incorporated and anyone who associates with them. At all costs, I want a tissue sample from the one called Facsimile.”
Wright made a sound indicating that he understood. “And our cover?”
“Use the one we discussed.” Talbot smiled. It was his own little theatric flourish in the proceedings, considering that his little birds were calling themselves Prelates.
“Yes. Operation: Redeemer has been approved.”