Issue #20: The Irrepressible Spark

This entry is part 8 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Brooklyn, New York

Jules Cheney was having a good night. Running through an alley, goods in hand, he reflected on his good luck. He’d expected to have to dodge the police after his smash and grab action at a watch shop a few blocks behind him, but it seemed that the shop keepers hadn’t paid up on their security.

No alarm had sounded and the only witness had been some dumb kid that no one would believe and probably wouldn’t tell for fear of getting in trouble for breaking curfew. He was home free and the watches would get him a couple of thousand dollars easily.

Coming to a stop in an alley behind a Chinese restaurant, he opened his bag to check his haul.

“Stop right there!” A strange feeling ran up his spine and all his hairs stood on end. Which was odd, as the voice was in no way intimidating.

He turned and did a double take at who he saw. “Hey, what are you—“ he cut himself off with a yelp of pain as a blue spark leapt from a nearby dumpster and struck the hand holding his ill gotten gains. “What the—“ He was cut off again as the entire lid of the dumpster suddenly swarmed with sparks that pelted into him.

Just before he lost consciousness, Jules thought about what a bad night he was having.

***

Vorpal closed the door to her apartment. She’d managed to negotiate a rather nice one out of Liedecker, though it wasn’t the opulent palace that assassins had in the movies.

The living room was sunken; separated from the alcove that held the entryway and a small closet by a pair of wide, carpeted steps. One could walk from the alcove to the open kitchen/dining area or ascend another pair of steps from the living room. On the far side of the living room was ostensibly a study, though she had converted it to a gym by hanging a heavy bag in the corner. A set of metal stairs led up to the loft, which made up half the ceiling of the living room.

Nothing matched. The television was only big enough to be viewable from the tacky plush orange couch positioned in front of it and the leather arm chair beside that. A vintage movie poster from the romantic classic A Midnight Walk hung prominently above the stairs.

It was less a classical assassin’s lair and more an apartment of a young woman with neither the skills, nor the care to decorate.

Vorpal smirked at the thought as she went to the refrigerator and retrieved a Satin Cream vanilla milkshake. She never lived up to expectations. The only thing that bothered her was that without the mask, she certainly looked like the kind of woman you’d find living in such a place. This was exactly why the mask was key.

Taking the first gulp of vanilla flavored sweetness she’d had in several days following a stint of staking out and eliminating a handful of Eduardo Vorran’s weapons shipments, the femme fatale ascended into her loft.

Her computer screen was on, a message window blinking and demanding attention. A quick glance made her smile as she recognized the screen name of the sender: Mr. Voice.

Stretching a bit, she sat down before the computer and clicked the ‘Open Dialogue’ icon. Voice confirmed the dialogue instantly and the connection was made.

“You’re right on time.” A smooth, melodious voice came over her speakers. Vorpal could understand how that voice would turn a person to jelly, even if she hadn’t seen it firsthand. Or the other things it could do. “I just got back in from a walk around the countryside. How are you today, Alice?”

“Don’t call me Alice.” Vorpal snapped, “It’s not my name.”

“I could call you by your real name.” Voice responded playfully. When she didn’t laugh, he added, “Come now, I would think you’d take to the name Alice, being a Carroll fan.”

Vorpal shook her head even though she knew he couldn’t see. “Alice is a regular girl’s name. An average girl. I don’t want to be tied down by that.”

“This is starting to be a bit of a mania with you.” A serious edge entered his voice, but softened instantly. “I’m worried about you.”

“I’m fine, Voice. I’m just more comfortable with Vorpal, that’s all.” She felt a bit guilty for snapping at him, but comforted herself with the knowledge that he almost always provoked it. “Now, did you call me as a friend, or for business?”

Voice sighed. “You know, they say this happens to prelates. They start to think of their alter ego as another personality, and then they start to favor it. Rumor says Arjun Ravi made up a new name for himself right before he went nuts.”

“Not business then.” Vorpal rolled her eyes in a manner that would have made the most sarcastic teenager fall to his knees and beg her to teach him.

“Actually, yes, business, but you know I’m not good at separating the two.”

“We both know you could just ‘fix’ me if you really wanted. I mean it works over the transmission, right?” An icy tone entered her voice. “After all, it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“I don’t understand how you can possibly be mad at me for that, it saved your life!” Voice countered. “But no, I’m not going to do that. I’ve told you, I panicked. I don’t generally do permanent alterations.”

Vorpal frowned and ducked her head. She really didn’t have much of a right to be angry with him over that. He did it because he was her friend and he had been worried about her – and he hadn’t known just how powerful it was at the time. Still, it was a serious breech of free will, even if it was beneficial. “So what’s the business?” she asked after a long silence.

Voice began hesitantly. “You asked me to have some people look into this Vorran character. It looks like someone else is connecting dots we wouldn’t have even seen.”

“How’s that?” Vorpal cocked an eyebrow at the monitor.

“It seems Mayfield isn’t the only city seeing a new unknown trying to make a push into the organized crime business. Someone’s organizing the street gangs in Atlanta and using them to challenge the mob and maras down there. And the Tongs in New York are having problems with a new organization; Aces High, snapping up the psionic talent they’ve been trying to amass.” As Voice spoke, snapshots of news provider stories appeared on the monitor.

Vorpal scanned over them all with a critical eye. “All pretty serious pushes, even if the MOs are different This doesn’t look like a coincidence, does it?”

“Not at all.” Voice replied.

“I’m going to tell Liedecker and check it out.” Vorpal said, getting up and walking to her closet. “He’d give you a huge finder’s fee if this turns out to give him a preemptive strike at Vorran.” She opened the closet and fished behind her street clothes to pull a handle hidden therein. The whole face of the closet rotated aside to reveal her new costume courtesy of the hidden labs at the Solomon Center.

“Don’t need it.” Voice said, “Nor do I work for those kinds of people, I work with you, V.”

“You won’t work with an arms dealer, but you’ll bend over backward to help an assassin?” she asked, pulling her T-shirt over her head.

“My best friend just happens to be an assassin.”

“Even though you’ve never seen her face, and don’t know her name?”

“All in due time, I hope.” Voice said smoothly. “And if not, I think I’ll guilt her by talking about how I listen every time the guilt catches up to her and how I’ve cleaned her wounds and given her a place to hide after jobs went south or employers turned on her. But I won’t. See how I’ve grown?”

Vorpal glared at the monitor as she sat down on the bed and started putting on her tabi. “You’re lucky you’re all the way across the sea or she’d belt you one.”

“Your antiquated way of speaking, however, hurts me not.” Voice laughed. “So, which one are you checking out first?”

“Guess.”

“Not everything’s about abilities, V.”

With a grunt, Vorpal cinched her corset over her body suit. In doing so, she took time to admire the gold colored orihalcon chain at the seams. The cowl came last, pulled over her face until only her eyes were visible. “Maybe it should be, Stephan. Maybe they’ll be the thing that keeps history from repeating itself.”

Voice sighed, but she could hear a chuckle in it. “I can tell you’re wearing it now, you know? You get so intense. Come back alive, Vorpal.”

“I always do.” She replied. Behind the mask, her expression softened. “You know, I don’t need to go right now. Let’s talk – how’s the school coming?”

Again, Voice sighed, “Still not a school, I’m afraid. I’m having trouble getting staff and until then, it’s more like a halfway house. Ever try to administer a detox treatment to a boy with hide like a rhino?”

Vorpal managed a small smile under the mask. “Can’t say that I have.”

“Well,” Voice said, “Convincing him to take it is just the tip of the iceberg…”

***

“Are you serious?” Juniper asked Laurel. Something like outright panic was in her voice. “But it’s the weekend before prom!”

“She’s right, you know?” Cyn said, “The girl’s got to lay some serious groundwork here.”

Laurel adjusted her glasses and smiled an enigmatic little smile. She’d expected this, just like she knew exactly how to swiftly turn the tide of teenage logic in her favor. “My, my; I wouldn’t have thought the former Lifesaver’s, Inc would complain about dealing with bad guys.”

For a beat, Warrick, Cyn and Juniper looked at each other. By silent agreement, the two girls made Warrick their spokesman. “It’s not that.” He defended, “we’re still totally dedicated to being prelates – but this doesn’t seem very…” he searched for the correct word, “Prelate…ish. I mean just going and looking around?”

“That’s the best we can do for now.” Laurel admitted, “If Vorran really is connected to this ‘Johnny Qin’, character that’s running Aces High, we can’t risk him getting his mental hooks into any of you again.” Anticipating the protests, she held up a hand to stop them. “I’m already talking to General Pratt about acquiring some of the neural stimulant chips the guards at Braddock Island use to protect themselves from mentalists, but its slow going.”

“Until then, consider this a recon training exercise; you go in and observe, but don’t interfere. If someone really is assembling another team of rogue psionics—“

“Can we just call them supervillains now?” Cyn asked. “Really, it’s not just psionics we’ve got to worry about anymore. Last time we were in New York on business, the Whitecoat was talking about the tongs using cyborgs and even Tome had those inu-mutant things, so we’re way past ‘rogue psionics’ here.”

Juniper nodded. “And don’t forget Zoo Man didn’t have any powers at all, just that tiger control box thingie. Same with Maven.”

Laurel nodded. “Good point; from what I’ve gathered, Aces High doesn’t care where you got your powers as long as they’re for rent.” She looked pointedly at Cyn, “But that won’t stop Shine if she’s really got it out for you, Cyn. Keep your head down, please?”

“No problem.” Cyn smirked, shifting her face to look like Laurel’s. “As if she’ll be able to recognize me.”

Laughing a bit, Laurel nodded. “Good point. Anyway, you three should start getting ready. Alexis is getting your train tickets now.”

As the young people filed out of the room, the genius sighed. She hadn’t been able to help them when they’d first encountered Vorran and while she was waiting for the General’s reply, she wouldn’t be able to help them if they ran into him again. She only hoped Alexis’s presence would be enough…

Pushing the thoughts out of her head, she turned back to her keyboard. Her hypothesis that the other emergent criminal enterprises were connected to Mayfield’s was just that; an educated guess. Even if she was right, she’d only touched the surface; there was much digging left to do.

***

The top floor office overlooking Central Park was a far cry better than the cramped back room of the dojo in Mayfield. That was because while Eduardo Vorran was an upstart with a few connections and not many resources, Johnny Qin was a moneyed hotshot finally making his move into the New York City criminal world.

The man who was both Qin and Vorran put his feet up on his walnut desk and admired his New York office’s leather seats, pine paneling and think luxurious carpet. He looked as different now as his offices did. He’d traded the formal business attire for a casual, cream colored sport jacket and silk shirt and his hair was dyed black and spiked up with gel.

He started to grin, but a twinge in his shoulder made him wince instead.

Nearby, in a leather chair of her own, the dark skinned woman who was ostensibly his assistant smirked and looked up from whatever she’d been doing on the computer in front of her. “Still hurting after a week? Seriously, Thunderhead,” She took a plastic ampoule affixed to a capped needle out of her handbag and tossed it. “You need to take your medicine.”

Vorran, now Qin caught the container with his good arm and grimaced at it. “Hell no. I tried it once, when your ‘partner’ didn’t trust my ability to use basic make-up. I’m not touching this shit again; it moves when you inject it – all the way up the vein. And the shifting… it feels like rolling in a vat of worms.”

“This isn’t what I use.” She replied, shaking her head. “It’s a lower concentration of the serum – it’ll only heal you before you metabolize it.”

Qin shook his head. “Still, no thanks.” He sat the ampoule down on the desk. “So, are we still looking for a guinea pig for the full shot of that stuff? I mean since Mayfield didn’t even get off the ground?”

“That wasn’t what Mayfield was about. We wanted to see what old man Liedecker’s done in response to here and Atlanta.”

“And?”

“We still don’t know. You failed, remember?” she huffed, “By the way, that’s really impressive, you know? Failing at killing a handful of teenage girls.”

“Thanks for telling me half of them were the goddamn Descendants, by the way.” Qin snapped.

“As if I knew until the last minute.” She rolled her eyes. “If I had, don’t you think I’d have taken the chance to finish off the gold bitch? But no, instead I had to jump down five stories and separate my shoulder saving your ass.”

A rueful grin spread over Qin’s face. “How much does it urk you that your shoulder only got healed because of her blood?”

A predatory grin came over Latonya Wilkins’s face and for a moment Qin almost saw her natural form leaking behind the mask that was the mocha beauty before him. It made him uneasy. “It just makes me want more of her blood, Thunderhead.”

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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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