Issue #16: Psalm of a Soul

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

Part 2

“Of course, I saw it, you damned idiot.” Vincent Liedecker snarled into his phone. His chair was turned around toward his office window, which afforded him a magnificent view of the St. Anne River and Mayfield’s waterfront. “That would be why I called you—I want to know everything about it.”

His eye narrowed. “Why?! The river on which my office—and what may be your former place of work—sits explodes into a green lightshow and you ask me why I want to know what it was? Boy, I’ve got half a mind to send you skin diving for clues without a tank now get on it! This is my city and I’ll know what happens in my city even if it kills you, do you understand?”

A moment passed as he listened. “That’s better. Now get to work. But first, have Drew come up with those packages I had him prepare.” He turned the phone off and put it on the narrow table by the window.

“Now that that’s done, let’s start again.” He turned the chair to face the people waiting patiently for him to finish berating his scientist. Aside from the ever present and currently agitated Brill, two people sat in the cushy, but purposefully uncomfortable chairs on the other side of his desk.

The first was a tall, muscular black man. When people say ‘black’ in such a context, they often refer to one of a gamut of dark skin tone ranging from caramel to dark mocha and many other coffee comparable shades in between. This man’s skin however was black in the sense that it looked to have been carved from ebony and then animated. He was dressed in a light tan t-shirt and climber’s pants, their every pocket bulging. His head was shaved with light stubble indicating a few days passing since that event.

He was Remington Haut, formerly of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the criminal world, he was called Samael, a hitman of brutal reputation. Liedecker’s intelligence (gathered by Rick Charlotte) said that Haut’s skills had been learned from his father, a talented escape artist and illusionist.

Haut was contrasted by the petite form of the woman even Charlotte’s dragnet could only identify as Vorpal. She was short, several inches short of five feet and her manner of dress was uniquely bizarre. At first sight, her costume (and that was the only fitting term for it) superficially resembled stereotypical ninja garb. On closer inspection, it was nothing of the sort. The torso was girded in what seemed to be some sort of armored corset, the panels joined not by normal seams, but by extremely fine chain mail. This was joined to a gorget made of the same flexible material as the corset. Thin shoulder pads topped her shoulders with the seams of her sleeves and pants also being composed of chain mail. Instead of the usual jika-tabi, she wore a modified version with inexplicable bucket tops.

The only skin she showed was what was indirectly revealed through the slit cut for her eyes.

“You both heard my offer from our contact.” Liedecker said after he sized the two up once more. “Now, seeing as how both of you came all the way to my part of the world—that’d be an international flight for both of you, judging by where we found you—I’m thinking you’re both very interested. The only question is payroll.”

“I only do contracts, Mr. Liedecker,” Haut said, “Not payroll.” His voice was husky with a Caribbean accent.

“And I don’t pay contractors, Samael.” Liedecker replied smoothly. He leaned back in his chair, looking thoughtful. “I like to trust the people that work for me like they were family. A contractor—he’s cold. He has a job to do and he’ll do it. But there’s a problem with sell swords: they don’t have an interest in their clients past the job, see.”

He leaned forward, putting a finger down on the desk as if outlining his point. “See, I pay you for a hit; you fly all the way out to do it, deal with whoever you’re paid to deal with and if that don’t cut it for my needs, I’ve got to start all the way from the top with you.” He waved his hand dismissively. “That wastes my time, Samael. And you know just as well as anybody, time is money and the top reason to bring in a hitman is…”

“Money.” Haut replied.

“See? We’re on the same page here, Sammy.” Liedecker said. “That’s why I want you wholesale. No contracts. You do the work I ask and I pay you even when I don’t need you.” He shrugged, “Otherwise, there’s plenty of other hitters where you came from.”

“Perhaps I should take some time to think about it.” Haut said.

“Not too much time, Sammy,” Liedecker said. “Offer ends when you walk out this office.” He turned his attention to Vorpal. “And you?”

“You’re letting us name what we think is a fair price per week.” Vorpal observed, “Why?”

“I hate people questioning me.” Liedecker said, “I’m offering you new cutting edge hardware and a fair, steady wage. There are pros just lining up for this.”

“You didn’t call those pros.” Vorpal said. “You called us. Now, I don’t care what the Angel of Death here wants—and to be truthful, the fact that you called him based on reputation makes me queasy about this offer—“ She ignored Haut’s annoyed grunt, “But I’m not your average sell sword.”

“Oh, I know that, Ms. Vorpal, very well.” The master of the Mayfield underworld said, “You left the Falcone family to rot because they put too heavy a touch on how you do things.”

“No children.” Vorpal said, “I said that up front. No children, no animals…” She glared at Haut, “And I’m adding ‘no clergy’ seeing as the illustrious Mr. Samael is here. I take my objective and I carry it out my way. I don’t take well to specific instructions.”

A smirk twitched at the side of Liedecker’s mouth. “Granted, Vorpal.” The door at the back of the office opened to admit Dr. Drew, the current coordinator of the think tank Liedecker ran out of the Solomon Psychiatric Center.

He smiled and motioned Drew forward. “Now, as Samael is still thinking things over, consider this first job a recruitment video. Someone has been moving heavy weapons in from the docks. I don’t know who they are and who they’re working for yet, so my…” He sneered, “Usual solution isn’t the right answer. I want you to find out who they’re with and deal with them.”

Beneath her mask, Vorpal smiled. “Sounds right up my alley, sir.”

“Good.” Liedecker said, “And because I just hate getting one thing done when you can kill a whole nest of birds with a shotgun, Drew here is gonna outfit you with something special I’m thinking of putting on sale. Think of it as a live test.”

***

One by one, the screens in Laurel’s workshop flickered to life as she led the girls into her workshop. Cyn had to half help/half carry a distraught Melissa over to a chair.

“It’ll be okay, girls.” Laurel said, trying to sound soothing. She collapsed into her chair, one hand already grasping the mouse so as to start the applications she needed to get up and running. “I managed to reach everyone and they’ll be here soon.”

“We should be back out there.” Melissa said, hugging herself. “We should be looking for him, not coming back here.”

“He’s lost on the astral plane.” Laurel explained, “To look for him, we had to come back here. Her central screen displayed a map of Mayfield with colored dots representing the astral transponders positioned around the city to monitor the local astral and to extend the distance Kareem could move from his body. All the transponders within a seventeen block radius of the bridge were offline. She cursed.

“What is it?” Cyn said, rubbing Melissa’s back to comfort her like she’d seen mothers do for their daughters on TV.

“The network got knocked out by the astral storm. It’ll take ten minutes to reboot.” Laurel said, typing in the codes to do just that.

“That wasn’t just an astral storm.” Cyn said, “Everything went nuts on this side too. What was that?”

Laurel shook her head. “I don’t know. I won’t know anything until the network reboots and I can see data they picked up.

“How is that going to help Kareem?” Melissa asked. “That won’t help find him.”

“Melissa…” Laurel got up and came to kneel beside the redhead. “I know you and Kareem are close. But you’ve got to be brave right now, okay? We don’t know what happened or how it affected Kareem. It may take all of us to help him this time and that means you too, alright? Give me your cell phone.”

“What?” Melissa asked between stifled sobs.

“I’m going to upgrade the firmware in the camera with the program I used to let the ROV see the Astral Plane. It’ll let you see Kareem even if he can’t work his normal screens for some reason. Cyn, give me yours too.”

She took the phones and moved over to another computer, plugging them in. She was halfway through the upgrade when the computer monitoring the transponders made a series of cheery beeps. Leaving the phones be, she rolled her chair over and looked at the screen.

“Did they find him?” Melissa asked, worried.

“What the hell’s going on?” Ian asked, tromping into the room. His turtleneck was covered with various colored stains and he smelled slightly of vinegar. “Kareem is missing? How can he be missing, he’s everywhere!”

“Something in the astral breech knocked out my redundant fail safes on his signal amplifiers.” Laurel said quietly. “We lost contact and he hasn’t checked in on any of our remotes.”

“What do you mean ‘something in the breech?” Ian asked cautiously. “Something attacked him?”

“I don’t know.” Laurel said, sifting through the lines of data sent back from the rebooted transponders. “Whatever happened triggered a massive shift in energy here: heat, light, it even deep six-ed air pressure for about fifteen seconds.”

Ian looked over her shoulder. “Why are those transponders marked in yellow?”

“Astral side damage. It happens occasionally during storms. It means that they can only communicate material side. Their astral functionality is borked. This storm knocked thirty out when even one is fairly rare. Five by the docks were acting screwy this week anyway—some kind of interference I can’t isolate.”

“Would Kareem know that those transponders aren’t working?” Melissa asked, no longer shaking, but still breathing hard. “Could he be trying to use one to contact us?”

“It’s possible, I’ve always fixed damaged transponders as soon as they happen, and he’s never had to encounter a damaged one. He may think his range is still miles if he can still sense the broken ones in the Astral.”

“Why is this range thing so important?” Cyn asked, drawing a blank.

Laurel swallowed. “Kareem’s astral projection is limited to one mile from his body. Any further and he becomes unstable; subject to the ebb and flow of the astral itself. Based on our current understanding of the Astral, he could hold himself together for a maximum of three hours without being in proximity with his body’s natural resonance.”

“Best bet is to check the dead transponders then.” Ian observed. “There’s not a lot of time, so we’ll split up.”

“I can equip your phone to see Kareem on the Astral.” Laurel informed him. “It only takes a few minutes.”

“Ours are already done.” Melissa said, picking up her phone. “Can you carry me to the first ones, Cyn?”

Cyn nodded. “Yeah, but not as Melissa. Way too many questions about why Facsimile is flying you around. Better suit up.”

Melissa nodded. She had hoped never to have to become Hope again. But Cyn was right and this was important. Kareem wouldn’t hesitate to do the same for her.

***

There was a voice somewhere, speaking. It wasn’t saying anything in particular, at least nothing audible, but it droned on and on. Focusing, he could hear the voice overlapping itself, muttering this time, in this iteration. More focus alerted him that the same voice was overlapping many, many times over; sometimes whispering, sometimes reciting, even singing once in a while. It all happened simultaneously, the same voice speaking dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of times at once.

Slowly, he became aware of another such voice, distinct from the first, but also overlapping itself over and over. Then he heard another and another and soon he sensed them in numbers he couldn’t begin to count to. They were legion and they were all around him.

With concentration, he could tell how far away from him they were. One was within a handful of yards. More within a dozen—all the way out to a mile in either direction. They weren’t all at ground level either. Some soared in the air almost a hundred stories above him on occasion and on at times, just as deep.

There were too many. He tried to focus on one or two, but there were too many in the way, jostling here and there, interfering with one another. Some were brighter, some dimmer, some fluctuated.

His head pounded. He didn’t understand what was happening. He could sense them, everything about them. But he couldn’t see them. He couldn’t see at all. Nor could he truly hear. The world was nothing but floating voices.

It was unpleasant. He pushed it away. Slowly at first, starting from the edges of perception, he lost contact with the floating voices. As the last one faded, true sensation came. Cold, wet— he was being stung by the icy drizzle of rain and his cheek was scrapping asphalt.

“Are you okay, boy?” a woman’s voice asked. The voice was strong, but tinged with tentative worry.

He opened one eye. He was an alley. Luckily, it was one used as a shortcut for pedestrians instead of a back alley were shops disposed of their trash. Somehow, he was wearing a red dyed denim jacket, a white shirt and khakis. For a moment, he wondered why he found that odd, but pushed it away.

Slowly, he raised his head. A heavyset black woman stood at the end of the alley under an umbrella. “You don’t look homeless. You get mugged?” She crept toward him cautiously.

“I do not think so.” He said, sitting up. There was no pain or ache, but his body felt unusually restraining. “Where am I?”

“South Council.” The woman replied. A second later, after some thought, she added, “Mayfield. Virginia.”

“South Council…” the young man said aloud, getting to his feet unsteadily. “In Mayfield… I know the place. We are near City Central then?”

“Yeah, ten blocks up.” The woman said, her caution turning to concern. “You don’t look too good. Don’t sound like you’re all there either. My shop’s just around the corner, let’s get you there and call an ambulance. What’s your name?”

“I could not tell you.” The young man said. “You have not seen me around this neighborhood?”

“I know just about all the middle easterners in South Council.” The woman said, “Not that you can’t be a visiting cousin. Come on, the police can get this all straightened out. She put her hand on his shoulder to goad him forward.

The world exploded in rosy light.

A flood of thoughts and images filled his mind. Denise Banks was just on the way to lunch, and nervous about leaving her niece to work the counter at her antique store. She was really worried about him; didn’t want to see anyone hurt, even if he was a stranger. In the back of her mind, she was also concerned that she would miss lunch with her husband because of this.

Denise didn’t sense any of this, so when the bewildered young man threw himself back from her, she was genuinely surprised. Then his eyes flared with pinkish light for a moment and her surprise became fear. She’d never met a psionic aside from a man with a tail that frequented her shop, but she knew enough to be afraid of one that was injured and agitated.

“I am sorry.” The young man said, backing away. “Do not waste your time with me, Mrs. Banks. Go be with your husband.” He looked around him, repeating the mental actions that had flared his eyes before. Each time, it was like seeing the city in a new light – or rather a familiar one. “I will be fine.” He walked stiffly toward the opposite mouth of the alley.

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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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