Issue #17: Freaque

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

Part 3

“Would you turn down the wind a little bit!?” Facsimile shouted over the roaring vortex that forced her to back wing to avoid being blown halfway across the city. “You don’t kick up this much wind picking us up during training! And we don’t have a fancy cape to keep us in the air either!”

“I wasn’t trying to avoid falling to my death then!” Chaos shouted back, lightening the gale a tiny bit. The ‘fancy cape’ was a heavy mantle made from the same resistant material his normal costume was made from. Codex had specially tailored it with hidden flaps that caught and channeled the wind Chaos generated with his powers, providing lift. In action, it billowed and whipped around him in truly dramatic fashion.

In addition to the cape and his normal black and red jump suit, he wore a pair of wraparound red sunglasses that were embedded with circuitry that gave him limited night vision in place of his visor. He also wore what the others jokingly referred to as ‘the golden gloves’; a pair of heavy, ceramic gauntlets that extended up his forearms and gave the impression of streamlined sparring gloves. They each had hidden mercury channels inside that added force to his right hook.

Flying high above Mayfield, lit by the glow of the city, he cut an imposing figure – except for the look of utter horror on his face.

“You weren’t trying to avoid dropping us, then?” Facsimile accused, skirting the edge of the cyclone that continued to rage around her elder housemate.

“I’ll point out that I never lifted you guys sixty stories in the air.” Chaos gritted his teeth, eyes constantly on the streets and rooftops below him.

“Neither are we.” Facsimile said, matter-of-factly and pointed at a nearby roof that was quite some distance below them. “That right there is where Lisa lives, Kent Towers – it’s about… eighty stories tall.”

Instantly, the waning currents of air ramped up to hurricane force, sending Facsimile into peals of laughter. “No funny, Facsimile.” Chaos admonished sternly.

It took Facsimile a moment to contain herself and wipe the tears from her eyes. “Sorry, sorry. Look, relax. If you were going to fall—which is not likely from the little video game L put together to show how the cape works—“

“The simulation.” Chaos corrected.

“Sure.” Facsimile shrugged, “Anyway, you’d glide to the ground anyway. And if it failed, the golden girl of the Descendants is right here to catch you, boss.”

“Boss?”

“Well, aren’t you? Without Darkness here, I mean?”

“No one’s the boss. Wait, why am I only the boss if Darkness isn’t here?!”

“You want me to make the whip cracking sounds?” Facsimile did a wing over to hover as Chaos had suddenly done. “Because I totally will. I mean, what kind of fearless field general gets carried into battle by a girl, anyway?”

Chaos glared at her through his glasses. “Hey, it’s fast and comfortable. Better than throwing up a tornado and wrecking half the city which is what I’m going to do if you guys keep insisting I fly. Also, I am not whipped. I am the farthest thing from whipped. I am the anti—“

“I get it, I get it.” Facsimile rolled her eyes.

“Damn right you—hey!” Chaos suddenly noticed that he was only bobbing in a slight updraft, his cape buoying him on the pillar of air. He shot an accusatory glance at the winged girl. “You manipulative little sneak. You messed with me to get my mind off keeping the wind up to full blast!”

Facsimile blinked. “Uh… sure. Hey, come on, Queen Lil’s neighborhood is just ahead. With that, she executed another wingover and headed in that direction.

***

At the same time, across town, Isp looped around the railing and darted its forward edge back and forth a few times before being joined by Osp.

Darkness gave them an odd look as she landed on the balcony of Building Four on the north end of ConquesTech’s complex. “What are they doing?” She whispered over the edge of the balcony.

“Checking for traps.” Alloy explained as the twins lifted him up and over the railing. Zero held on to his back by a pair of handles extruded from his armor. “I mean if it is a trap, he could have had sentry guns on the balcony or something.”

“Couldn’t he have snipers on the other buildings shoot us while we were hanging from the building like that?” Zero asked. Coming from anyone but her, it would have sounded snarky. For some reason, she made it sound like an honest question.

“Well…” Alloy started.

“There’s still a chance that this isn’t a trap and the man actually needs our help.” Darkness calmly. She scanned the expansive balcony and found the sliding glass door leading into the building proper and headed for it.

The tentacles slithered ahead, tapping the concrete tiles that made up the floor all along the way. Darkness looked back at Alloy questioningly.

“They’re trying to trip pressure plates.” He explained sheepishly.

“Couldn’t that be dangerous for them?” Darkness asked.

“They don’t see how. They’re made of that super invincible inugami metal now.”

“They’ve got a point.” Zero noted. “But I still don’t think there’s anything to worry about. I mean Mr. Mendel seems like a good man…”

“I appreciate that.”

Reflexively, Darkness prepared a salvo of black heat while the tentacles swung up into attack positions. Only Zero remained calm and gave a small wave at the speaker.

Lester Mendel sat in a metal patio chair next to a glass and metal table. He had his hands raised as if to show he wasn’t holding any weapons. When the Descendants calmed down, he lowered them and rubbed his eyes blearily. He wore a suit that was clearly well tailored, but looked like he had slept in it. His all business haircut was mussed, and his eyes had bags under them.

“I’m sorry about that. I came out here to look at the stars while I waited for you… hoped you’d come. Please, come with me to my office.” He gestured toward the door and started toward it.

Darkness made a motion for the others to stay behind her as she followed. “It’s very unusual to be asked for help via press conference, Mr. Mendel. What could you possibly need our help with?”

Mendel led them into his office; a homey, comfortable affair with wood paneled walls, high backed leather chairs and a massive desk, which was conspicuously uncluttered. He walked around the desk to his own chair and motioned to the seat in front of him. “Please, sit. I’m sorry there are only two. I could call down to have another brought in…”

“That’s fine, Mr. Mendel.” Darkness said, resting a hand on the back of one of the chairs. “I’ll stand until I know if we’ll be staying or not.”

Mendel nodded. “Fair enough.” He touched the desktop with a light tap. A panel slid open and a keyboard rose up from it. “What I’m about to tell you and show you, I ask that you not reveal to anyone, especially not the media. This isn’t to protect ConquesTech, but to protect my client and her family.”

“Protect them from what, Mr. Mendel?” Zero asked, coming around and taking a seat.

“You’ll understand in a moment.” Mendel said, keying in a quick sequence on the keyboard. A five foot section of the wall to his right dissolved into static, revealing that it had actually been a monitor. Images of blueprints and schematics along with various complex notations appeared on screen.

“A few years ago, another corporation called Wellness Labs developed an advanced physiology scanning and diagnostic system, but for whatever reason, never applied for a patent. I won’t lie to you of all people; we engaged in corporate espionage to acquire these plans.”

“You mean you stole them.” Alloy said quietly.

Mendel ducked his head and avoided looking at the armored prelate. “This is business. We do things we aren’t proud of sometimes to stay ahead of the competition.”

“You don’t expect us to steal anything for you, do you?” Alloy asked.

“What? No, of course not. I’d never ask you to do anything like that, sir.” Mendel said, flustered.

“Continue, Mr. Mendel.” Darkness urged.

Nodding, Mendel did as asked. “Yes, well, the Biomap system wasn’t perfected, as it turned out. We spent two years in R&D to get it online.” The screen changed to show a remote surgical rig suspended over a stainless steal table onto which a lab rat in a cage had been placed.

“Excuse me?” Darkness suddenly snapped. “What did you call this thing?”

“The Biomap.” Mendel said warily. “That’s what Wellness Labs called it. Is something wrong?”

“We’ve seen this before.” Zero said, her voice just a murmur. She hadn’t personally seen it, but she bore the scars from it.

Igniting her black heat, Darkness stomped over to the desk and towered over Mendel, who cringed. “You built this thing? Did you use it on anyone? Did you trepan people with this thing?”

“T-trepan?” Mendel squeaked. “Of course not! The early trials on lab animals… they suggested we might get a better scan with invasive insertion of the scanning probes, but we overcame that problem before human trials.”

“Human trials?!” Alloy shouted. The tentacles rippled, spikes forming and melting away along their lengths.

“I don’t understand.” Mendel mewled. “They were all volunteers—they were all paid handsomely and there were no complications…”

Darkness regarded him with a critical eye for a moment. She was no empath, but Mendel at least looked genuinely scared and not in the way someone did when they had been found out. She released her black heat with a calming sigh. “Hold on.” She held up a hand to Alloy and the twins. “Mr. Mendel, we’ve encountered this device and this process before, though we never knew what it was supposed to do. The people who were using it were using it invasively.”

Mendel paled. “That’s horrible. The reason why that version never passed animal trial was that the invasive scans caused massive trauma. It interrupted the patient’s bio-electrical field and we decided it wasn’t worth it even for the most complete physiological scans. We wanted to use the Biomap to help people not hurt them.”

“How would something like that help people?” Zero asked with pain in her voice.

Mendel spared her a sympathetic look before speaking. “With a complete Biomap of a person, you get a complete, three dimensional recording and diagnostic of them. All of them; their organs, their body chemistry, even their genome—though a great deal of the genome is still a mystery to us. The software can then use the information to diagnose and even predict illness, dysfunction, genetic abnormalities, anything really. At least, that’s what the software is supposed to do. We haven’t managed to get it working in that capacity yet.”

“Just what have you gotten it to do then?” Darkness asked, looking at the image of the surgical rig again.

“That is the root of the problem I called you here concerning.” Mendel said, tapping keys again. The image changed to show a white plastic chair within a Plexiglas tank. It was surrounded by an amber colored mist.

“What is that?” Zero asked.

“That,” Mendel said, “Is the Becoming Chamber. You see, Wellness Lab’s version of the Biomap system was geared toward measuring variance from the human norm on all levels. We found that it was able to detect psionics and accurately predict their powers after one of our volunteers lied about his nature before being scanned. We thought he was running a fantastic fever, but it was just an enhanced metabolism.” He laughed fondly at the thought.

“After that, we split off a team to focus on the ramifications of this discovery. They determined that the Biomap can not only determine the nature of one’s powers, but also the genes and organs, if any, that control it.”

“Wouldn’t that always be the brain?” Darkness asked, “Thought activates and deactivates powers.”

“That’s what we assumed.” Mendel said, “But in reality, in most cases, the brain is actually triggering a different, unique organ. Most of these organs are undetectable without a biomap – replacing, or being augmented versions of preexisting organs, such as pores, tonsils or appendices.”

Subconsciously, Zero started studying the skin of her arm.

“Our most important discovery, however, was that protomorphs still retain their shapeshifting organs in most cases.” Mendel said. “And with the right treatment, we can reactivate them. I called the project ‘Become More’. I hoped it would give protomorphs the chance to truly develop their God given potential—hoped that maybe a few of them would go on to devote their powers to doing good works such as you had done.”

“Why thank you, Mr. Mendel.” Zero said politely.

“Become More…” Alloy wondered aloud. “Where have I heard that before?”

“Sadly, I find that I have to pull the plug on the project.” Mendel said. “You see, we began human trials in October of last year. We began with a sample of protomorphs from the Mayfield metropolitan area. We screened them for disease and mental illness and performed a biomapping of each of them. Five were chosen to receive treatments in the Becoming Chamber – attempting to reactivate their shapeshifting organs to either advance or regress their genetic potential as they desired.”

“Let me guess,” Darkness said, “Something went wrong.”

Mendel nodded gravely. He brought up another image. “Patient number 4, Elizabeth von Stoker. The treatments didn’t seem to work on her as we attempted to regress her protomorphism and keep her spurs from regenerating. A month ago, I found out that her parents had bribed our psychologist to cover up her severe depression and an emergent persecution complex. I ordered treatment terminated.”

Alloy swallowed. Her severe depression. Her persecution complex. Were they his fault?

“That was the worst call I could have made, it turns out.” Mendel continued. “After reviewing the notes, we’ve discovered that the first treatment had actually advanced her abilities. The following treatments had been keeping them dormant. When the last one wore off… Elizabeth transformed. Her brother saw it the last time it happened, two days ago. He gave a sketch artist the following.”

The screen showed a savage female with wings, thick, spiky forearms, clawed hands and feet, a pigeon toed gait and stringy hair.

Mendel gulped air. “A-as you can see, this form she’s taken is very close to that which has been reported of the Mauler.” He let out a shudder. “Which means we created the worst serial killer Mayfield has seen in a decade.”

Inside his armor, Alloy chewed his lip. So had he.

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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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