Issue #18: A Tale of Two Churches

This entry is part 6 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 4

Aaron Crawford watched the local news coverage for the rally on a small palm device. “It’s looking good, sir.” He said, indicating the screen. “Just out of hand, I’d say there’s two maybe four hundred out there already and you haven’t arrived.

Across from him, sitting back in the seat of the limousine his people had rented, Douglas Stiles smiled. “The ones that really believe don’t have much of an excuse, do they, Aaron? The Lord’s blessed us with a beautiful day today.”

“That he did.” Aaron nodded. “Though I really wish you would reconsider relying purely on MPD to protect you. There are private security firms that have very robust countermeasures for rogue psionics.”

Stiles smiled a knowing smile. “And what if one of their… species… does kill me?” he asked. “Like Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, my death could only galvanize my point. If anything happens to me, it will just prove that psionics are a dangerous breed and need to be put under lock and key.”

“You believe strongly enough to martyr yourself?” Aaron asked.

The reverend nodded. “My friend, when my life came crashing down last year, I had a revelation. I always felt uncomfortable around them. Everyday, I had to ride the maglev into City Central with a woman with a prehensile tail and another that can levitate her briefcase. One of my former coworkers constantly surpassed those with twice his seniority because his brain was a perfect, high speed calculator. They’re dangerous—not just because some of them can level buildings, but on a socio-economic arena as well.”

He looked out the window at the buildings passing and the looming towers of City Central, his old place of employment. “And every day, I ignored it because my government told me they had a leash on them. The Academy was ‘here to help’. But then God let them show me how wrong that was. We must, as a species deal with this new threat and first and foremost, we need to deal with the ones that turn our city into their private battleground.”

“Excellent speech sir.” Aaron said, admiringly. “It’s sure to move everyone at the rally.”

***

“What a beautiful day in the neighborhood for casual discrimination.” Ian groused quietly over the com hidden in his sunglasses. From a hotdog stand near the housing commission building, he watched the crowd assembled to rally behind Stiles’ message of fear.

A few people with bullhorns were shouting at the crowd, mostly focusing on the anti-prelate propaganda Stiles was most famous for. None of it remotely resembled any religious context as one would expect from a group headed by a reverend. Crude poster boards bore such slogans as ‘powers don’t make you better’, ‘prelate = vigilante’ and ‘US Gov’t, Reclaim Your Property!’. The last one in particular raised Ian’s hackles until he reminded himself that no one in the crowd knew the truth, only conspiracy theories that happened to be right.

“On the bright side, turnout is lower than projected.” Laurel replied from her post in one of the Library’s private reading rooms overlooking City Hall. “And I’m pleased at the counter protest that’s forming, considering they only had a week of lead time to organize.”

“This would never happen in New York.” Warrick complained from the alley where he was stationed.

“Mostly because descendants are a big enough voting bloc there that no one wants to piss them off.” Ian said cynically.

“Pretty much.” Warrick confirmed. “The system works.”

“Yeah, if there’s enough of you.” Cyn said from her post high above on one of the ledges of City Hall.

“I really think that if someone just explained everything to these people, they’d understand how wrong this is.” Juniper was navigating among the attendees.

“Sometimes, that isn’t really enough.” Laurel said sadly.

“Well maybe they just haven’t heard it explained right…”

“You don’t explain away racism.” Melissa, who was also in the crowd countered, “You’ve got to kick and scream and make them stop and even then it’s a bitch.”

“Racism?” Warrick asked. “We’re not really a race… I mean we’re all like different races, aren’t we?”

“That’s a question no one has satisfactorily dealt with.” Alexis said, reciting from her old teaching guides. She was in a small café across the street from Ian.

“Limo alert.” Cyn interrupted, spying the black vehicle flying in from downtown. “It’s Stiles.”

“Everyone get ready.” Laurel said. “Keep an eye out for the Sineaters. Shutting the com link down so we don’t give each other away when things get quiet.”

***

It was a two story leap from the window she’d finally managed to reach unobserved to the ledge. Vorpal made it look easy as she dropped into a graceful crouch beside a gargoyle. Her goggles rendered everything on the ground with perfect clarity even ten stories up.

The limousine had just arrive and Stiles was approaching the platform.

Beneath her mask, her teeth ground. It was frustrating to watch him down there, condemning people he didn’t even know. It would be so easy to drop him from where she sat, ending his career of hatemongering. But it would just be the beginning of the anti-psionic movement. There were only a few hundred at best currently. If she followed her emotions, they would swell in ranks to thousands and kindle more violence and death. So all she could do was watch with morbid curiosity.

A heavy hand fell on her shoulder. “I don’t suggest you do what I’m pretty sure you’re here to do.”

A normal person would have flinched or given in to their fight or flight response. Vorpal just turned to see the gargoyle she had landed next to giving her a stern, angry look. The stony skin and horned head melted into golden flesh and feathered wings.

“You.” Vorpal spat. “So the mighty Descendants are doing security detail for the man that wants to destroy them?”

“It’s complicated, little Miss Corset.” Facsimile replied, tightening her grip on the other woman’s shoulder. “And even if he deserves a sound beating, very bad things could happen if some nut with powers offed him, get it?”

“Perfectly.” Vorpal nodded. “I’m not here to kill him. But really, would you miss him? If there wasn’t so much riding on him not being assassinated, would you really mind if I gave him a high speed lobotomy?”

“I won’t cry when the guy goes,” Facsimile admitted, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let someone kill someone else if I have a way of stopping it. And if they get away with it, I’ll do my best to bring them to justice.”

“Really? Your country still has capitol punishment and you don’t stop that.” Vorpal argued.

“That’s different.”

“Why? Because they’re all bad people? Fine. Then what about Brazil? Because of what you people did, people still die a death of torment every day there. What are you doing to avenge that?”

“I wasn’t even in grade school when that happened.” Facsimile said. The exchange was frustrating her and it showed in her ever tightening grip.

“Very young, aren’t you?” Vorpal asked, “You don’t have the answers. Hell, I don’t have the answers and I’ve seen the bodies piling up. But maybe you think you can change things as a prelate. Stop a mugging, maybe a banks job and make yourself feel better.”

“Who the hell are you?” Facsimile demanded, finally.

“I’m you without the blinders, hero. I’m going to find a more peaceful place to watch this macabre event.” Vorpal kicked her legs back and let herself fall off the ledge and out of Facsimile’s grip. “Think about that next time you’re trying to save someone that wishes you didn’t exist.”

Facsimile spread her wings and prepared to drop after the other woman, but when she looked over the side, there was no sign of a falling body or of Vorpal holding on to the wall.

She was about to call Laurel about it when the crowd below started screaming.

***

“This is positively depressing.” Walter said, standing next to Daria in the sea of people listening to Stiles speak. “All of these people held in thrall by a being of darkness speaking falsehoods in the Lord’s name.”

“Aye,” the redhead nodded. “a bunch o’ wee lambs followin’ a Judas goat ta’ tha’ slaughter they are. But tha’ is no’ as depressin’ as thinkin’ maybe we could save this one ‘stead o’ killin’ ‘im.”

“We can’t afford to think like that.” Walter admonished her, glancing ahead of him to where Richter and Cristoff were standing, watching the speech. “That’s what happens to most Sineaters, you know? They can’t forget the faces of the corrupted they had to destroy in the Lord’s name. Eventually, they can’t keep up the holy fight.”

“You ever worry it’ll happen ta’ you?” Daria asked.

“All the time.” Walter admitted. “But I try to think it through analytically. If there was a way to reverse possession, surely the Lord would provide it in some shape or form by now rather than allow the Devil to destroy so many of His people.”

“Maybe we arena’ lookin’ hard enough.” Daria said quietly. Both were silent for a long moment. They were shocked out of their funks by the crowd around them flying into frenzied panic.

***

“I’m thinking your role is about as marginalized as it could possibly be.” Kay complained. Her hair was a very conservative black so as not to stand out in the crowd.

“If Codex thinks it will help, I’ll do it.” Lisa said as they sat down on one of the planters out in front of the library. She dropped one hand down to the bag at her waist, subconsciously making sure her components were still in place through the material. “And trust me, you didn’t see the aftermath of that last fight, they need whatever little bit can help.”

“Couldn’t you just fishbowl this demon priest guy and be done with it? You said you’ve made the globe things stronger, right?”

“And if they don’t hold? No, Kay, this is a good plan. I’ll save the Force Globes for the demon hunters.” Lisa said. “Also… I want you to get inside the second anything starts happening.”

“Oh, come on!” Kay whined. “There’s like a hundred people here, what could he possibly do to me personally?”

“Kay, this is the Mauler; the guy whose MO is killing people in public? Not to mention crossfire from these Sineater guys…”

“I’ll be fine! Kay protested. “More than fine, the Scribe has a bounty on quality photos of our native prelates; with all of you here together, I’ll have the cash to get some recording sessions for the band…”

“Kay!” Lisa interrupted her. “You are my best friend and I don’t want you getting hurt, so will you please, please promise me that you won’t put yourself in harm’s way?” She looked the shorter girl in the eye to convey the gravity of her request.

“Is this about that weird vision thing that happened with you and JC yesterday?” Kay asked.

“I don’t… no, Kay. This is for your own good. Just get inside, okay?!”

“It could be nothing, you know.” Kay pressed, “like a hallucination from all the glammer practice, or maybe it’s something from the past… or like a decade in the future. You don’t know how these things work.”

“It doesn’t matter, Kay, we don’t know what this Mauler thing really is… maybe he really is a demon and all Hell’s about to break lo—“

“Holy shit!” Kay shouted, looking over Lisa’s shoulder at the platform. Lisa heard the screaming even before she turned around.

***

“I’m not saying that psionics aren’t all still God’s children.” Stiles said, his voice carrying out over the assembled crowd. “But like the gift of free will He also gave to us, the gifts these beings are born with are a double edged sword. They can be used to either create or destroy.”

“What we want to do is ensure that psionics in this great nation all put their powers to constructive purposes. But they can’t do with when their most visible role models solve their problems in destructive battles and in open acts of defiance against the government!”

“That is why the government needs to step in and deal with these people. Otherwise, Descendants today will lead to more Arjun Ravis and eventually Columbian style radicalism tomorrow!”

It was the same basic speech he gave at his community meetings; heavier on urging government regulation, but still hammering home the dangers of prelates. The difference was that he had the local and possibly national media focused on him. Being that kind of center of attention was intoxicating.

But every great showman knew his audience’s attention span and so, when he finished, he gladly abdicated the podium for another speaker.

Aaron met him as he walked back to his seat. “Good speech, sir, you really drove your message home…”

“But?” Stiles asked, sensing an unspoken addendum.

“It’s missing something, sir.” Aaron said in a whisper as the other speaker began. “Something that would cement your message in the world for decades…” his voice dropped to a low growl. “Something that would turn thousands against the psionics…”

Stiles quirked and eyebrow. “What’s that?”

Aaron’s open palm struck his chest, sending the reverend flying backward into the other speaker and almost sending both of them toppling off the platform.

Grinning, a too wide grin, Aaron laughed, a rough, barking laugh. His body contorted and changed shape, sprouting wide, sweeping wings and terrible horns.

The Mauler stretched to his full height where Aaron had once been. “You don’t know, Reverend?” He brayed with laughter. “You taught me after all. You need a martyr.”

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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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