Issue #16: Psalm of a Soul

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

Part 3

Laurel answered her phone on the first ring. She was still in her workshop, pouring over the transponder data as it was reported back by the other Descendants’ upgraded cell phones. So far, she hadn’t been able to find anything helpful for Kareem’s situation, but a disturbing picture was beginning to come together. “Hello?” She said hoarsely into the receiver.

“Laurel?” Alexis asked over the phone. “I’m at the bridge now, sending you the transponder data. Anything new?”

“Not yet.” Laurel sighed. “This shouldn’t have happened, Alex. I didn’t think anything like this was possible when I built the network. I compensated for stronger astral storms, lightning strikes, stray energy blasts from psionics, EMP… but nothing like this.”

“No one could have predicted this, L.” Alexis said.

“I should have!” Laurel exclaimed, slamming a fist down on the arm of her chair. “What the hell is the point of being hypercognitive if you still make stupid mistakes?”

“Everyone makes mistakes, Laurel, you know that.” Alexis reprimanded her. “Look, this isn’t the time for this. You said Kareem had three hours to get back in range of his body – or at least part of the network that’s up. We can do that, we’re prelates, right? But you know more about the astral and the network than anyone besides Kareem. We need you right now.”

Laurel lowered her head and was silent for a moment. “This is my fault, Alexis. I shouldn’t have asked him to work the ROV. I shouldn’t have tried crossing the event horizon of the portal…”

“Kareem knows the astral.” Alexis said, “He sees things in it that we can’t. And that’s why he’s going to be fine, Laurel. He can move around, unlike us. If he can’t find a live transponder, he’ll head for home.”

“I may have killed him, Alexis. You can’t just sugarcoat that. Me. It’s my fault. I was responsible for him and I dragged him into these experiments.” Something in the new theoretical model on her screen caught her eye. “Alexis?” She asked.

“It’ll be okay, Laurel. We have time.”

“It’s not that.” Laurel replied. “The data you just sent me? It’s from the bridge, right?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s inverted.” The genius murmured. Quickly, she pulled up archived readings from earlier in the year.

“What’s inverted, L? Are you okay?”

“F-from your fight with Morganna and Sky Tyrant on the West Truman Bridge – The fluctuation in the astral’s composition when Morganna died—Kareem said it felt like the same as the fastral storm he sensed when Morganna first showed up.” A few clicks of the mouse, and Laurel had her answer.

“That was Morganna entering the Astral Plane physically. This is the exact opposite.”

“Morganna’s back?”

“No, I don’t think so. But if I take the measurement from your fight as an indicator of Morganna’s mass…” She typed furiously. “That opposite effect we witnessed today is only four kilograms off from the mass of Kareem’s body here.” Laurel’s eyes reflected the flickering computer screen. “We can’t contact Kareem because he isn’t in the astral at all anymore. Laurel said, “He’s here. On the material plane.”

Alexis unplugged her phone from the transponder planted atop one of the uprights of the West Truman Bridge. From that vantage point, she could see just how large Mayfield was, spreading out below her in all directions. “Great.” She said, “How do we find him now?”

“That’s the problem.” Laurel said gravely. “And worse, we don’t know if distance from his body applies to him anymore or not. I’ll search the MPD calls for anything about a teenaged boy appearing out of nowhere. Until then, keep searching the transponders. If he still has his astral senses, those will still be the places he seeks out.”

***

Hurrying to and from various pressing appointments and other pursuits with more celerity than normal thanks to the rain, Mayfield’s citizenry were likewise less aware of their surroundings than normal. So they could be forgiven if they failed to notice a young man sitting at a bus stop, doubled over, holding his head.

Those that did notice him probably just thought he was ill or a homeless person trying to get some sleep. It probably never occurred to them that his expression was one of frustration or that his clothing was not only too clean for someone living on the streets, but that it didn’t absorb the rain at all.

Actually, even he didn’t notice his clothes. He was too occupied by the source of his frustrations—the voices. They weren’t voices in the vein of those that led to straitjackets and axe murders. Instead, they were the voices that one hears when one is thinking to oneself. Except these voices weren’t his own.

“…hope the boss doesn’t blame them being out of roast beef on me…” came the voice of a young man walking down the street holding a bag from a local sandwich shop.

“…wasting my time going to the library. This is supposed to be spring break, damn it. Mrs. Johansson must be out of her…” an unhappy looking girl in her early teens groused as she passed the man with the sandwiches.

“…should run for mayor. Then we’ll see some changes. Yeah, I should. At least then I wouldn’t have gone though that for nothing…” a thin, middle aged man with an expensive haircut rambled as he ambled up to what was presumably his car with the help of a cane.

He had spent the last twenty minutes on the bench, trying to figure it all out. If he concentrated hard enough, he could hear only one person. Harder still and he could pick out one line of thought from the hundreds in the average person’s head.

Without concentration, however, he was deluged with the same sea of murmurs that had surrounded him when he had awakened. None of it, however, was helping with his own thoughts. It was hard to pay attention to himself when the surface thoughts of everyone around him were overpowering them. As such, recalling even his most basic memories was a Herculean task.

Pieces managed to surface. He knew that what he saw when he allowed his eyes to flare with the odd, pink light, was what was normal for him. Moreover, he had a faint understanding that the river was important for some reason. A place even further north, in the suburbs, was more important still.

The river was closer. He hoped that he would find some answers there. Involuntarily, he let his mind extend in that direction. Instantly, he sensed a familiar voice. For a moment, he contemplated delving deeper into the mind, which seemed to be peppered with confusion and apprehension. Could he contact that mind? Thus far, he had just been listening, but something told him he could do much more.

He didn’t have time to do any of it. The mind dropped its confusion in a flurry as terror sprang up in its stead. There was no thought, only action. He leapt up from the bench, startling an old woman who had taken a seat nearby, and tore off toward the docks.

***

Several Minutes Earlier

Melissa, now disguised as Hope, watched Facsimile disappear over the buildings surrounding the marina. She let out a relieved breath to have her feet on the ground again; flying courtesy of Facsimile was by no stretch of the imagination smooth. She had a hard enough time playing prelate when she wasn’t considering that the only thing separating her from a forty story drop was Facsimile’s bear hug.

Her relief was short lived. A shiver ran up her spine when she turned her eyes toward the marina buildings and the marina itself. The last time she’d been on docks had been on the trip to New York to help the Kin and though she hadn’t actually fought, she had nightmares about the Legion of One.

This was Mayfield, not New York, she reminded herself. Legion and the Tongs wouldn’t be here – had no reason to. The worst things she would encounter on her mission to check the astral transponders were heights and possibly a security guard. Besides, this was important. If she screwed up, Kareem may be….

She refused to let herself finish that thought. Kareem was her friend. Her closest friend, in fact. Not, she reminded herself, in the way that Cyn and Warrick were close friends. Even she recognized Cyn’s behavior around Warrick—it was very much the same way Ian had acted around Alexis a decade earlier and everyone saw how that turned out.

No, she didn’t have romantic feelings toward Kareem. She knew he was handsome, found him attractive even, but that wasn’t the point of their friendship. They had bonded over their isolation from the world—war buddies in a war with their own powers; his keeping him on another plane, hers keeping her distrustful. He kept her honest with herself, pointing out thoughts she hardly realized were in her mind. He wasn’t her story book Prince Charming, but damn it, he was important to her and she was going to help him.

Thus girded, she all but marched toward the first transponder. It was located on the roof of a two story building that had once been the private dry dock of a wealthy investor which was now a burned out husk. Rumor had it that the fire was for insurance, but nothing ever stuck.

Laurel had chosen the place as a prime candidate to plant a transponder because her calculations suggested that it would be years before anyone bought it. The newly lain chain link fence Melissa found surrounding it suggested otherwise.

It was an odd thing to see, really; a brand new fence set into freshly poured concrete surrounding… a boarded up, burnt out building. Melissa frowned and took out her cell phone. The mini-map appeared on screen, an animated compass indicating that the transponder was still in place. The construction was the likely reason for the interference Laurel had said was affecting the transponders at the waterfront.

Still frowning, Melissa looked up and down the fence line. The main gate was padlocked closed. The fence ran between one wall of the building itself and the side of the neighboring boathouse. No one seemed to be on guard…

She shook her head. That would be trespassing, wouldn’t it? Of course, in the name of helping people, prelates generally broke a lot of little laws. Big ones too, she mused, thinking about all the property damage Warrick alone had racked up when the Redeemers had attacked. And she was the Descendant Hope after all. Not the best known; the codename Laurel had saddled her with hadn’t even made the news—but that didn’t matter. What did matter was that this was a life or death matter.

Moving as stealthily as someone dressed in white and red can, she made her way around the side of the building and shinnied up the fence. Luckily, Alexis had drills for climbing, squeezing through tight spaces, breaking short falls and other ‘eventualities’ as she termed them as part of their training, or Melissa was sure that she would have either hung herself by her mask or broken an ankle traversing the fence.

Still, with a more effort than one would see in even completely out of shape, bone tired individuals in the Prelates of New York; she made it over and looked up at the roof. There was a lack of convenient ladders or fire escapes. She realized she was going to have to reach the second floor from inside.

Staying low and hoping not to be seen, she snuck along the side of the building. The boards over the windows had been haphazardly applied and she saw one that looked loose enough to allow her to squeeze inside.

After a harrowing lesson in trying to put a teenager sized peg in a toddler sized hole, she found herself standing behind a stack of plastic shipping boxes. To her surprise, the place was well lit. Moments later, she found out why.

A man’s gruff laugh came from somewhere on the other side of the crate. “Rich as pigs, boys, rich as pigs.” Melissa peeked past the crates and saw four men standing on the other side of the boat launch. One was a big, square man with muscles that bulged even under the sweater he was wearing. He was the speaker. The other three were younger than him, but also well built. One was carrying a pulse cannon.

“As long as we keep our mouths shut and don’t flash our money this time.” One of the other men said, glaring at the speaker. “Running this kind of thing without permission in Mayfield is going to draw a much bigger bead on us than New York.”

“Like the Tongs even need artillery now.” snorted another. “I hear they’ve got head hunters going out to put psionics on the pay now.”

“Worse?” the first man asked, ignoring the third speaker, “How? In NYC, you’ve got the Tongs, the maras, some of the old mob still rolling around—“

“The guy down here has a powered armor already. Not cop shit junkers either—military.” The second man said.

“They’re going to kill us all one day.” The one who hadn’t spoken yet. He took a pamphlet out of his jacket, “That’s what Reverend Stiles says.”

“The Tongs? Hell, they’ll try. They can keep New York though.”

“No, the psionics. You remember how much shit they tore up here in November? Or when Infinity punched that robot into that construction crane and tore down half of that construction site? There’s ones even stronger than them and it only takes one going nuts to take out a whole city.” The man with the pamphlet stammered.

“Are you still on this shit?” the first man grunted. “The government’s got ‘em choke chained. We don’t have to worry about ‘em.”

“Are they though?” The third man asked. “Tong seems to be pretty sure they’ll find some.”

“It just ‘happens’ that these Descendants show up and make the Academy bad guys overnight?” The pamphlet slinger asked, fanning the flames. He opened the flyer and put a finger down on a relevant passage. “Ever hear of a guy called Ravi? He killed like a hundred people before the cops in India stopped him.”

The first man whistled. “Damn, that’s pretty badass if you ask me.”

“Like I said there’s stronger ones that the government doesn’t want you to hear about. You all should go with me to one of the Reverend’s community meetings. He tells you all the stuff they don’t tell you.”

The man who had spoken second. “That’s all bullshit. Most of them are just weird looking or can push a pencil around with their mind. What are they going to do, erase you to death? Make you really uncomfortable?”

“They’re holding back.” The man with the pamphlet said in a serious tone.

Melissa blinked. She knew that some people worried that another incident like what happened in India would happen. That was why the Academy had been originally founded and that was why the government was scrambling to establish a new school for psionics—one that wasn’t a front for an evil organization. She had seen first hand that protomorphs still had an uphill battle socially due to their looks, even if those looks actually made them more attractive.

But she had never heard such paranoia directed at them. And she had certainly never heard it expressed by a man holding a gun. Part of her wanted to make a break for it and call Laurel for help. But part of her understood how long it would take and what it might mean for Kareem. She just had to be twice as careful now.

Taking a deep breath, she turned to skulk further down the line of crates. Instead, she turned to peer into a pair of horrible, red glowing eyes.

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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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