Issue #17: Freaque

This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

The Devil Came Down the Mayfield Part 1

“Good evening, General.” Laurel said, putting General Pratt’s call up on her speakers. All the while, she continued working on one of her other projects on the main screen.

“Evening, Codex.” Pratt acknowledged. “Hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.”

“Absolutely not, General.” Laurel said warmly. “I’m just going over some data from the latest training session.”

“The kids are coming along well, I take it?”

“Well enough. They’re amazingly creative with their powers, but their tactical thinking and hand to hand could use work.” She made a suspicious face even though Pratt couldn’t see her. “But you didn’t call me to touch base, General. You have some info to give me?”

“I believe in being polite, Codex.” Pratt informed her, “But you’re right, this isn’t a social call. SI Unit 2 just completed an operation in Philadelphia last week. They bought in a Dr. Susanne Aims, a scientist formerly in the employ of Project Tome. You probably know her by the false name she was supplied with by Tome; Melody Cartwright.”

“Cartwright.” Pratt now had Laurel’s undivided attention. “The ‘doctor’ on the recording we found in Quinn Bluffs.” A growl entered her voice, “The one responsible for the trepanning and for the death of the child they codenamed Thunderhead?!”

“Yes.” Pratt confirmed. “From her we know that Quinn Bluffs was designated Deep Seventeen and that Thunderhead was really nineteen year old Christopher Dodd.”

“Nice to know she learned their names before she killed them for experimentation.” Laurel spat venomously.

“She claims that she only recently found out that Dodd was dead.” The General said. “Apparently, Dodd hadn’t even been cut before the mudslide knocked out the power and Incubus broke free.”

“So she says.” Laurel muttered.

“I’m not disposed to believe anyone involved with Tome, but it is a fact that when SI-2 caught up with her, she was in a hotel room with a revolver and a written suicide note. It isn’t absolution, but it sounds like remorse.”

“She can cry as much as she wants, nothing can forgive what she’s done, what she participated in.”

“I agree.” Pratt said, “But that doesn’t make her less useful and she has given us information.”

“Such as?”

“Such as a credible reason why Deep Nineteen was empty and ransacked when Superhuman Intervention Unit 1 raided it last month.” The general began. “And why Tome has been so quiet following the Redeemer incident.”

Laurel sat back from her work.”Do tell. I’ve been trying to piece that together myself.”

“Aims says Tome experienced a schism following the loss of the Academy and the Enforcers. Someone on the inside shelled out a ludicrous amount of money for Tome’s top researchers to finance their own, private labs.”

Laurel smirked. “And of course, no self respecting scientist leaves his life’s work behind him. They used the money to bribe muscle…”

“In this case, members of Tome’s own private security firm.” Pratt supplied.

“And took their hard earned data and equipment by force. Crafty.” Laurel finished. “Who did it?”

“Aims doesn’t know; she wasn’t one of the ones that were bought. But that spells good news all around.” Pratt said. “Tome obviously lost a massive amount of resources if the extensive looting of Deep Nineteen is any indication. And now they have competition when they try and attract scientists.”

Laurel shook her head. “No, not good news at all.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a Hydra, General.” Laurel explained, quickly. “When you cut off one head, two more grow back if you don’t burn the stumps. Our instigator knew this. He made sure all the pieces of Tome survived breaking off. Now, instead of one organization seeking to exploit descendants, we have maybe a dozen.”

“How certain can you be of this, Codex?” the General asked.

“As certain as I can be.” Laurel said, bringing up a new screen on her main monitor. “Tome’s primary goal is to harvest data about descendants. We don’t know exactly what ends they have in mind, but so far their means have been despicable at best. And most, if not all of those scientists have spent probably their entire career doing it. They aren’t going to stop now that they’re self employed.”

A map of the United States appeared on the main screen, followed by a scrolling list in the corner.

“And the less practical among them will try the same collection method.” Laurel said. “General, do you know how many new schools for ‘psionics’ have applied for accreditation in the past six months following the Academy’s closure?”

“Thirty-eight.” Pratt responded correctly. “And don’t worry; the ROCIC is keeping a close eye on all of them.” He listened to her exasperated sigh. “If it concerns you so much, you could consider the solution I offered.”

Laurel shook her head. “As much as I’d love to and as much as Darkness needs it, we can’t General. Opening up an academy of our own here would involve revealing our identities.”

“I don’t understand,” Pratt responded, “Project Tome already knows you’re in Mayfield—and they may be defunct now—you already have a state of the art security grid—why do you need to maintain secret identities at all anymore?”

“Because the Descendants have made enemies who aren’t Tome.” Laurel said truthfully. “And no matter what help you offer, it’s too big of a risk.”

After a pause, the General spoke again. “Speaking of our help, I’m prepared to mobilize an SI unit to help you with the Mauler problem I’ve been hearing about on the news.

Laurel thought on it. For the past two weeks, Mayfield had been in the grip of fear over a rogue psionic in the form of a serial killer dubbed ‘the Mauler’ by the media. Reports said he struck at dawn or at dusk, always with the victim in view of others. He was a metamorph of some type or other, with leathery wings, a horned head, and teeth strong enough to crack his victim’s bones.

Five people had died. Witness accounts were hysterical messes. And worst of all, in the last two days, the Mauler had changed his MO, at least partially. While there had been a killing on the docks, the Mauler had stalked four students from the same high school the Freeland House kids attended. This time, he had come for them while they were alone, harrying them from the shadows. In those four cases, the victims had escaped – the only victims know to have survived.

The slayings had served as a rallying point for a fringe group led by the Reverend Douglas Stiles to spread their culture of paranoia about psionics in general and prelates in particular. He was all too happy to stump on the fact that the Descendants had yet to stop the rogue psionic. Of course, it wasn’t as if the Descendants could go on TV and announce that their resident empath couldn’t find the villain in the Astral.

It all added up to something bad. But having to call in a military strike force would only make it worse. It might make the Mauler desperate. And it might embolden Stiles and his flock.

“No.” Laurel said firmly. “Thank you, no. we can get a handle on this, sir.”

“Good luck then.” The general said, “And good hunting.”

***

“Remember when our girl’s night out was actually a girl’s night out?” Kay asked, running a hand over her green and yellow dyed locks. “You know, movies, popcorn, maybe bitching about JC depending on your relationship status with him at the time—the good old days.”

Lisa sat across from her in the neon purple beanbag chair that took up that corner of Kay’s room, carefully double checking her pouches to make sure she had her spell components in order. “Uh, Kay? Who suggested I fight crime with the magic mojo I gained from that crazy witch?”

“Me, but—“Kay started.

“And who came up with the idea of using girl’s night out as a cover?”

“Me again, but—“Kay tried futilely.

“And who just spent the whole afternoon, when I suggested mall crawling, drilling me on my new tracking spell?”

“It was fun chasing stray cats…” Kay admitted. “Okay, yeah, I kind of bought this on myself… and on JC, I guess. But that was when I thought I was going to be your sidekick.”

“You are my sidekick.” Lisa shrugged.

“No, I mean, I thought I was going to get a cool magic bubble costume and kick ass too. I didn’t expect I’d be sitting in the library study room, watching police bulletins online and texting you.”

“Kay…” Lisa said softly. “I’d love to have you right there in the mix with me. You’re my best friend ever.”

“But…”

“But… it’s too dangerous. I can barely keep wards on myself from collapsing; I can’t keep them on you too. Plus, I mean, your powers aren’t exactly combat ready. And we’ve tried the teaching thing—I suck at explaining this.”

“This blows.” Kay pouted. “I’m the one born with powers. How is it that you get a witch to the head and suddenly you’re ten times more awesome than me?”

“Luck?” Lisa asked. “Bad luck. This is all just practice for me, remember? So I can get strong enough to get Aunt Tay back.”

Kay nodded sadly. “I know. I just don’t like the idea of my best friend out there without someone to watch her back. Are you sure about not joining the Descendants?”

“Yeah.” Lisa said, standing up and looping on her belt. “I mean, they’d definitely demand to know who I was then and I’m not ready for that.”

“You can taste the fresh baked irony.” Kay said dryly. “Well, let’s get this show on the road.” She reached into Lisa’s backpack, which was lying on the floor and pulled out a glowing, translucent pink orb about the size of a marble. “Someday, you are least have to make me one of these.”

With that, she threw the orb at Lisa. It popped against her like a soap bubble. Changes took place, first at the point of impact and expanding outward. The first time Kay had seen it happen, she had been amazed. Now it felt familiar to see Lisa’s clothes and face replaced by Occult’s thanks to the power of the glammer bubble.

“If you want to hang out and watch a movie instead of hitting the library tonight, it’s fine with me.” Occult said, double checking her pouches.

“Nah.” Kay shook her head. “I’ve got my sidekick duties. But once we or the Descendants or someone takes out this Mauler guy, we’re having a real girl’s night, got it?”

“Got it.” Occult smiled. “Hopefully tonight we’ll get lucky. For once, I hope he’s out hunting tonight.”

***

“Are you sure we’re allowed to be here?” Warrick swung his flashlight over the sign for the Glasgow Scrap Yard. It was dark already and the light of the half moon shining on the hills of refuse metal made the place look like an alien wasteland or even South Dakota.

“I have the key, don’t I?” Tina asked, patting the pocket where the aforementioned object was stowed. She had a small flashlight clipped to her belt which kept a steady beam on the ground in front of her. “You worry too much. Come on, I promise this will be fun.”

“It’s just kind of hard to believe that they just let people come and go as the please.” Warrick said. “It certainly feels like breaking and entering.”

Tina fell into step beside him and grabbed his arm, compelling him forward gently. “I do maintenance on their machinery free of charge and I get the key in return. It’s a good working relationship for a hobbyist mechanist.”

Warrick nodded. “Yeah seems like. Though I think we may be the first people ever to go on a date to a junkyard… this isn’t symbolism is it?” The vast hills a scrap metal in all its forms were better than a symphony to his metal sense.

“Not now at least.” Tina shrugged. “But if we ever get serious, my cousin is a jeweler and he has the perfect slogan to make this gooey and romantic.”

“Really, what’s that?”

“More precious as silver,” she pointed to the moon for lack of actual silver, “Stronger than steel.” She pointed to the still intact body of an old muscle car.

“Nice.” Warrick gave a low whistle.

“Yeah.” Tina smiled at him. “He’s got it super imposed over two lovebirds staring dreamily into each other’s eyes.” She looked up to meet his eyes. They only locked a moment before both looked away, blushing in the dark. “Anyway, we need to go this way.” Tina recovered smoothly.

“Uh… yeah.” Warrick nodded. “What exactly are we after anyway, Tink?”

“Special project of mine.” Tina replied. “Glasgow has what’s left of one of the early flying police cars. I’ve been cannibalizing the parts for months now.”

“Cannibalizing them for what?”

“You know how we had to take a cab here?” Not waiting to hear him replied, she continued, “That’s because I don’t have a car.”

“Also because I don’t have a car.” Warrick supplied. Laurel had offered to buy him one, but he didn’t want to beg off her that much. He’d probably get a summer job to afford one on his own. Juniper had had the same idea. Cyn, however, had spent the last month pouring over car magazines and websites looking for something to suit her ‘style’.

“That too.” Tina laughed. “But anyway, I figured since I’m pretty knackful with machines, I’d build something myself?”

“A flying car?!” Warrick asked, excitedly. Civilian vehicles equipped with VTOL propulsion systems went for about four million dollars used and required special licensing.

“We’ll see.” She said. “The VTOL system is pretty trashed, so it might be more of just a hovering car.”

“That’s still really cool.” Warrick said, “Not was cool as a flying car, but…” He smirked as Tina punched him in the shoulder. Mostly, he smirked to avoid wincing as she *just* missed the metal band that was Osp’s dormant form. He had yet to come up with an excuse for wearing them and given Tina’s affectionate little punches, he really needed to come up with a reason.

“You won’t even think of a Muse or Talon when I’m done with this thing. Modern flying cars will be a thing of the past.”

Warrick stopped listening and stopped walking. His metal sense had caught some stress from something heavy moving on a nearby hill of scrap. He concentrated to feel out the exact location.

“Warrick, are you okay?” Tina asked him.

Before he could either pinpoint what was moving, or reply, a snarl came from above.

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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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