Issue #16: Psalm of a Soul

This entry is part 4 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

The Devil Came Down to Mayfield Prelude

The gray skies of early April brought a light but steady rain that, while not drenching, managed to find a seam in Cyn’s rain slicker and through that breech sent an icy finger down her spine.

The white haired girl shivered and cursed under her breath. At the moment she was two of her least favorite things: cold and wet. Worse, a new contender for that list had made a late entry: seasick. Somehow, her tendency to look before she leapt (or read the local weather forecast) had landed her in a boat on the St. Anne River with Laurel and Melissa.

The former frowned sympathetically at her shiver from within the hood of her own rain slicker. “Are you sure you want to be out here, Cyn?” She asked, “If there’s something else you’d rather do, We can take you ashore before we start.”

Cyn shook her head. There really wasn’t anything to do. Spring Break hadn’t turned out to be the exciting, carefree time television had promised. True, television focused on college Spring Break, but she had been sure there would be something to do. Instead, Lisa and her family had left for Nag’s Head, Kay and her father had taken their annual father daughter trip to the mountains, and JC was MIA entirely.

That left her housemates to entertain her and that particular day, Warrick was off with Tina at some Rube Goldberg device competition… thing and Juniper had decided to go see one of her artsy, non-violent animated movies. Cyn felt she was girly as the next girl when it came to movies, but she expected action or humor in her cel shaded fare and Tragedy of the Beacon House promised neither of those.

That left Cyn with the choice between going with Ian to paint eggs for the egg hunt at Our Lady of Hope, helping Alexis prepare the next training session, or helping Laurel study a weird astral disturbance Kareem had found.

She’d made her choice and she would stick with it, damn it. Trying to stay out of the way, she watched Melissa drag a heavy aluminum case up on deck. Smugly, she remembered being able to lift it easily with a little tweaking of her musculature.

Laurel opened it to reveal a set of silver pontoons with a glass egg suspended between them. A complex jumble of circuit boards and wires hung suspended in the egg, and what looked like a black, plastic antenna jutted out of the contraption toward the front of the egg.

“What is that thing?” Cyn asked, coming over for a closer look. She could make out a video camera at the end of the antenna.

“A remotely operated underwater vehicle.” Laurel explained, kneeling to inspect the machine. “ROV for short. It’s on loan from the Oceanic Institute by way of General Pratt. We’ve modified it for Astral input.”

“You mean like Kareem’s TV screens?” Cyn raised an eyebrow and looked at Melissa. “We?”

“I mostly just handed her the tools.” Melissa supplied.

“Thought so.” Cyn replied. “So Kareem can drive this thing?” Laurel nodded, still engrossed in her diagnostics. “Can I ask why? I mean this hole thing can be seen on this side too. Why can’t you just run it by remote?”

“Kareem can see more than we can.” Melissa gave her a stern look. “He says it’s growing and that it’s different from the normal Astral Plane, so maybe he can point the camera at something we can’t see on this side.”

Cyn stood a while in thought on this, then shrugged. “I don’t get it.”

“Of course you don’t.” Melissa said. “You haven’t paid any attention to all the things Kareem has done since we got here!”

“Hey, I knew about the soul stabbing thing!” Cyn retorted. “But that’s not what I don’t get.”

“And what is it you don’t get?” Melissa asked.

“Well, first, I’m not getting your attitude all of a sudden.” Cyn counted it off on her hand, “But more importantly, shouldn’t a hole go somewhere?”

“I’m just tired of no one paying Kareem any attention around here except Laurel and me.” Melissa snapped.

“Fine, whatever, but what about the hole?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Melissa sighed.

“I admit I’m not the best student and I don’t go to all the free seminars and competitions in town like Tink Carlyle,” Cyn sniffed, “But I’m pretty sure that when you poke a hole in something, it goes through and through and you can see the other side, right?”

“Right…”

“Well, I’ve seen the pictures. It’s a hole with a crazy green light on the other side.”

“I still don’t get what you’re trying to say.” Melissa glared with irritation.

“It looks like that on both sides.” Cyn said. “If it was a hole through reality, shouldn’t we see the day-glo pink from the Astral on this side and river mud from the Astral?”

“It’s not a hole like a hole in a piece of paper!” Melissa exclaimed, “It’s… it’s…”

“You have no idea what it is, do you?” Cyn smirked.

“Actually, we really don’t.” Laurel interrupted, satisfied with the modifications on the ROV. “All of my readings indicate that electromagnetic radiation—light, radio waves, infrared—all fail to either pass through or reflect off the anomaly and some forms of other light are coming from it.

“I take this to mean that this is some sort of two way aperture, but it could be anything. The astral works on a metaphysical level that in many ways is incompatible with the physics of the material. That’s why a great many physicists secretly wish we had never discovered it.”

“Then it could be like some kind of alien—astralien?—energy crystal or something.” Cyn declared, “Are we sure it’s okay to poke it if we don’t know what it is?”

Laurel gave her a smile. “I may not know what it is, but none of my readings suggest that it’s dangerous. And science is all about poking things to see what happens.”

“I’d rather let other people do the poking in case whatever they’re poking responds by exploding, or mauling them in ways unkind.” Cyn made a face.

Laurel laughed. “A good point, but not one I subscribe to myself.” She turned to Melissa. “Melissa, go into the cabin and run through the startup routine like I showed you. We’ll be right in once we launch the ROV.”

Melissa nodded and headed to the cabin. Laurel watched her go and looked back at Cyn. “So why did you really come out here with us?”

“There was nothing else to do.” Cyn shrugged.

“You usually make your own fun if left to your own devices.” Laurel observed.

“Fine.” Cyn sniffed, “I just felt like having someone to talk to and you said after the thing with my dad that I could talk to you any time, right?”

“Right.” Laurel said, rolling the ROV across the deck to where she and Melissa had already set up the launch ramp. “So what do you want to talk about?”

Cyn shrugged. “Just talk.” She helped set the machine on the top of the ramp in silence. “So… anything new on Tome or the Kin?”

“I got a message from General Pratt yesterday saying that the Superhuman Intervention Units raided Deep Nineteen.” Laurel said matter-of-factly.

“And?” Cyn asked, “That’s pretty big news, why didn’t you tell us?”

“Nothing to tell.” Laurel said. “The place was stripped. They even took things that were bolted down. The General said he’d give me a more comprehensive report this evening, so maybe we’ll get a clue.”

“We should have gone in there instead of the Marines.” Cyn said sourly.

“And the sheep should go gallivanting into the wolves’ den.” Laurel replied sarcastically. “Remember, you kids are what they want and all accounts say that Deep Nineteen was constructed to hold you. I’m sorry; Cyn, but I couldn’t allow that.”

The ROV slid down the launch ramp and into the water with barely a ripple. “I guess you’re right.” Cyn said, slumping her shoulders. “I just feel like we should be doing something.”

“You are doing something.” Laurel pointed out. “The Descendants and Occult have helped the Kin, defeated at least s dozen rogue metas—of both the descendant and artificially enhanced variety—and saved over a hundred lives. We’ve made Mayfield a better place and it all has its roots in Life Savers Inc. You should be proud of yourself, Cyn.”

The white haired girl smiled. “Thanks, Laurel that does make me feel better. I’d still like to lay into Tome’s goons myself, but I feel better.”

***

Several minutes later, the three women were in the cabin looking at the four screens Laurel had set up there. Two displayed the various measurements the ROV’s instruments sent back, the central one showed the live feed from the camera and the one positioned above it showed the feed from the Astral Plane.

“Okay, Kareem,” Laurel said, sitting with her tablet computer in her lap. “I’m switching all controls over to you. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Miss Brant, I am.” Kareem’s voice came over the speakers. They couldn’t see his face because all the screens were devoted to monitoring the ROV’s progress.

“Good luck, Kareem.” Melissa said quietly.

“He’s playing with a remote control boat.” Cyn observed. “He doesn’t need luck.”

“It may require luck to find the actual source of the Astral rift.” Kareem corrected, “So I am most thankful for Melissa’s well wishes.”

“Oh.” Cyn shrugged. “Don’t suck then.”

Kareem laughed and the camera moved as the ROV began sinking. In a few minutes, the green anomaly came into view.

It was now the size of a softball and looked very much as if someone had thrown such an object so as to tear a hole in the water about two feet from the riverbed. Beyond the rippling aperture danced green light, like sunlight filtered through thin leaves.

“Looks like a hole to me.” Cyn said.

“And it has increased in size.” Kareem noted. “This is most worrisome. I am preparing to direct the lights, Ms. Brant. On your signal.”

Laurel reached up and angled the screen containing that particular data cluster toward her. A few light touches of her fingertips bought the reflectivity readings to the forefront. “Go ahead, Kareem, I’m recording.”

“I am cycling through the wavelengths.” Kareem announced. The green lines that were supposed to spike when light was reflected by the anomaly remained flat.

“Nothing.” Laurel reported. “Change to the radio frequencies, please Kareem.”

Again, the meters read nothing. The electromagnetic spectrum wasn’t reflecting off the anomaly.

“Are those leaves?” Melissa pointed to the image from the Astral side as the electromagnetic tests ended.

“They look like them.” Cyn agreed. “Hey, another stupid question: why isn’t the water pouring into this hole? We know light goes through, why isn’t the St. Anne emptying out wherever the hell this thing goes?”

“It could be any of a thousand things.” Laurel admitted. “We have force field generators on earth that don’t allow matter though but allow energy though, so we may be seeing a natural—or preternatural, considering that the Astral storms started with Morganna—form of that phenomenon.”

“Maybe it only replies to active forces.” Cyn thought allowed. “Like the Press Bubble spell from Aquatic Spelunk IV.”

“This isn’t a video game.” Melissa chided.

“That doesn’t mean it can’t be true.” Laurel said. “Until the 2030’s, force fields were the stuff of science fiction. The ROV itself is an extension of something Jules Verne made up, so we can’t discount anything until we’ve proven it wrong.

“Kareem, how do you feel about trying to pass a manipulator into the breech to see if it will pass through?”

“I do not know, Ms. Brant, what if the ROV is damaged? Won’t General Pratt be angry?”

“I can worry about the General if you feel like trying.” Laurel said.

“Very well.” Kareem said. “Extending manipulator.” On the screen, the ROV’s mechanical arm extended out from one of its pontoons and inched toward the anomaly.

Cyn shivered, and then twitched. A minute spark danced in her hair for a moment. “Gah, it’s all static-y in here.”

Laurel was too concerned about the readouts to notice what she said. “The light intensity coming out of it is increasing…” she noted, “Water pressure is rising…”

“I am feeling a great deal of strange emotion here.” Kareem said, stopping the manipulator’s progress. “It is not like the Astral, not like Earth… They feel almost palpable, solid. I am curious if this is because of the ROV’s sensor proximity to the rift.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t go any further.” Melissa squeaked.

“I must. These new feelings are so exotic… I must learn more.” Kareem said. The manipulator arm moved again, becoming bathed in the light from the rift. “This is not the Astral, Ms. Brant.” He said with only a scant few inches to go.

An alarm on one of the sensors distracted Laurel. “What the…? Barometric pressure is dropping drastically—inverse to the rise in water pressure. Kareem, pull back before the pressure damages the ROV.”

Kareem didn’t seem to hear her. The manipulator neared the portal.

“Holy shit!” Cyn looked out the window to see a dark hump of churning water rising beneath the bridge. The wind whipped the boat and the waves tossed it.

“Kareem!” Laurel shouted, “Stop!” The manipulator crossed the event horizon, and both the Material Plane and Astral views went green. The sensors flat lined and then disconnected.

“Kareem!” Melissa screamed.

Outside, there was a green flash and the hump of water exploded around a lance of brilliant green light that flared some six hundred feet into the air.

There was a thunderous noise, and then the flare was gone. The wind died instantly, and the waves crashed into each other. The cabin fell deathly silent as all three women tried to collect themselves.

Melissa touched the screen that had been displaying the Astral side view and switched it to its normal communications mode with Kareem. The image didn’t change. Instead, an error message flashed up: ‘Warning: Critical Network Overload. Buffer Lost.”

“What does that mean?” Melissa asked, “Where’s Kareem?”

Laurel set her jaw, eyes fixed on the blinking error message. “It means we have to get to my workshop as quickly as possible.” She said her voice thick. “We have three hours to find Kareem and get him back within his normal range for his body.” She swallowed the lump forming in her throat. “Or we may lose him.”

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About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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