Issue #20: The Irrepressible Spark

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

Part 2

“It looks different without snow.” Cyn noted of Central Park as she and Warrick sat on a bench together, keeping an eye on what Laurel’s sources said was Johnny Qin’s headquarters on Fifth Avenue. She had a burrito in hand, the lone survivor of five she’d bought from a street vendor. She was dressed in a simple white dress, all the better to quickly shift into Facsimile if needed.

“Yeah.” Warrick nodded, stretching. “Too bad, it’d be cool to have a snowball fight after this mission like we had when we were here over Christmas.”

Cyn smiled at the memory, “Yeah that was fun. I can’t believe we kept going for two hours even after your sister went home.” She gave a little laugh and glanced at him sideways. “We need to do stuff like that more often. You know, just hanging out together.”

“We hang out together all the time.” Warrick said, keeping trying his best not to look directly at Qin’s hideout as per Laurel’s directions. “We went on patrol together yesterday and we’ve been playing Deathgate all week!”

“Patrol is patrol.” Cyn rolled her eyes, “And we aren’t even in the same room when we play computer games together. I mean just hanging out, wandering around town like we used to.”

“We don’t do that anymore?”

“No, we’re always hanging out with the guys or you’re out with Tink…” She caught herself, “Not that I don’t expect that, she is your girlfriend after all. What I meant was—“Mercifully, her phone rang, interrupting her.

Letting out a relieved breath and avoiding Warrick’s confused gaze, she snapped the phone open. “Hello?”

“Juniper saw two men go into the alley on the other side of the building.” Laurel’s voice came to her. “One was a big guy, possibly a protomorph.”

“Are you okay?” Warrick asked, noting the still frazzled state of his best friend. Cyn nodded absently and held up a finger to tell him to wait.

“They didn’t come back out.” Laurel continued. “Can you two check it out? Ian and Alexis are still watching Qin across town. I’ll have Juniper keep a lookout for you.”

“Sure.” Cyn said.

“Great. And Cyn, remember, we’re just watching. Don’t get into any fights, okay?”

“We’re not that hot headed.” Cyn pouted.

“Promise me, Cyn.”

“Oh come on!”

“Promise.”

“Fine. Promise.” Cyn sniffed and closed the phone. To Warrick, she said, “That was Laurel; Jun thinks she saw two guys that may be our bad guys sneaking down the side alley. Up for snooping on them?”

“Yeah.” Warrick nodded, “But when we’re done, maybe we ought to talk, you seemed a little tweaked just now.”

“Nah.” Cyn said, thankful for the ability to control her expressions, “I’m fine, really.” The pair headed toward the alley, walking side by side.

“You didn’t sound fine.” Warrick frowned. “Look, maybe we haven’t hung out as much as we used to – but I’ll make it up to you, okay? Next week… well, not next week, that’s prom. But the week after that, we can do anything you want, okay?”

Cyn let him see a smile a quarter of the size that she felt. “That’d be nice.” She nodded. They paused to wait for the light before crossing Fifth Avenue and walking along the side of the building Qin called home. Cyn noticed Juniper sitting on the stone wall that separated the building from the street, pretending to read.

“Hey, by the way, who are you going with?” Warrick asked as they meandered past the open alleyway. There was no one there. They stopped just past the mouth of the alley while Cyn answered.

“Well…” Cyn started slowly, “Jonas did ask me…”

“Wow, Griffin really likes you.” Warrick said, trying to concentrate on his metal sense to sense the assortment of zippers, eyelets and loose change that signified the presence of the person in the alley.

“Yeah, but I said no.” Cyn shrugged.

“Wha?” Warrick almost dropped his concentration all together. “Why? Griffin’s a good guy and he’s definitely into you. What gives?” he sensed what he was looking for, but it was more faint than he expected. Detecting presence was easy, detecting position was hard. He forced himself to concentrate harder.

“Because I don’t like him.” Cyn admitted, “I mean he’s a great guy from all I’ve heard, but he’s not my cuppa. He’s a jock, he hangs out with the track and football teams—what would we even talk about? I mean I’m not like Juniper where it’s all about the eye candy despite being basically mute.”

The location just wasn’t coming to him. Warrick shut his eyes tightly and pushed his concentration harder. “So…” he strained, trying to still look casual. “Who are you going with?”

Cyn shrugged again. “Chick date with Kay. You know how her dad’s got that whole thing with his little girl dating? I figure that shouldn’t keep her from getting to go to junior prom. Plus, I’m going to see if I can convince him that we’re lesbians.”

Being an average, heterosexual teenage male, Warrick felt his concentration buckle at that comment. He managed to make a weak squeaking sound as he strained to keep on task. The extra push seemed to do the trick. His eyes flew open. “They’re below us.” He reported, “Underground.” As if that explained everything, he turned and headed down the alley.

Cyn was taken aback. For a split second, just as his eyes had opened, they had been covered over in what had looked to be silvery liquid. Writing it off as her imagination, she followed him down the alley.

By the time she caught up, he was standing off to the side halfway down the alley, looking down. In front of him, a steel grating covered a hole in the sidewalk. Through the metal lattice, concrete stairs and a nest of snaking pipes were visible.

“Why is there a door in the ground?” Cyn asked, honestly.

“They’re all over the city.” Warrick explained. “Back in the day, it was a way to have a delivery entrance if you didn’t have a back alley, or letting maintenance workers get to things without stopping traffic to pop a manhole.”

“That goes down into a sewer?” Cyn wrinkled her nose and considered shifting it away entirely. Gills were superior in such situations because they couldn’t smell.

“No, a basement.” Warrick said, “They may have a whole tunnel system down there – explains why the cops can’t connect Qin to Aces High.”

“So let’s go in there and check it out!” Cyn said with a feral grin.

Warrick shook his head. “Laurel said we were just going to watch.”

“Well we can’t very well watch if they’re in there and we’re out here, can we?”

“Point.” He conceded. “But turn on your phone’s webcam so Laurel can see what’s going on, okay? And remember, we’re just spying: we’ve got to keep quiet.”

“As a mouse.” Cyn said. “Lead he way, I’m going to shift and follow you.”

“Facsimile isn’t exactly the stealth type.” Warrick commented.

Cyn tugged at the hem of her dress. “You haven’t seen Facsimile in stealth mode yet.” She smiled coyly.

Warrick smiled back and nodded. With a thought, he summoned Isp and Osp, who pulled the grate open easily. The darkness below beckoned.

***

“Stealthy? Yes.” Warrick noted, by the red emergency lighting that lined the tunnel. “Creepy as hell? Also yes.”

Facsimile moved above him on the ceiling, supported by hooked claws on her transformed hands and feet. Her skin was a dull, mottled black and grey and her overall outline was flattened and emaciated. Occasionally, the light would catch her oversized eyes and make them glint with red fire. “Isn’t it awesome?” Facsimile asked in a hissing whisper, the hiss coming from having to reshape her tongue to avoid biting it with her shark-like teeth.

“There are a lot of words I’d use for it, but—hold on, I hear something.” They were both very still as they stood and listened. Sure enough, they heard voices not far ahead. Warrick motioned for Facsimile to follow him and stole farther up the tunnel.

“This is pathetic, Legion.” A low, surly voice was saying. The tunnel terminated in a wide space with a high ceiling made of pipes and beams, presumably, at one point; it had been the mechanical room for the building before integrated heating elements, air refresher technology and definitely before fire suppression units, judging by the faded stenciling identifying the sprinkler system.

At some point in the past, it had become a graveyard for all the other out of date technology of what had probably been a hotel and as such was now the mausoleum for a variety of refrigeration units, ranges, automated bed sets, and other formerly four star amenities. These provided perfect cover for Warrick and Facsimile.

From their vantage point, behind a state-or-a-previous-art range, the two could only see the speaker. This was mostly because he was so huge as to block their view of his audience as a he paced back and forth, impatiently.

He was definitely the protomorph Juniper had seen; seven feet tall and change, he was nearly as wide with shoulders a normal man could stand on comfortably. A literal mane of reddish brown hair covered his head, the back and side of his neck and part of the vast, bare expanses of his shoulders. He wore a black, sleeveless T-shirt emblazoned with a steer horns design and buckskin pants over heavy hiking boots that were lacquered a shiny black. Every time he took a step, the two young prelates could feel a reverberation through the floor.

“You tell me we’re getting in on the ground floor of something big and these are the best Qin can find?” the mountain of a man grumbled. “I could have stayed out West. You know what Tri-World Mining’s paying for guys like me? The least he can do is be on time for these dumbass tryouts.”

“Mr. Qin will be here when he gets here.” A cool female voice said from beyond him. “Until then, you should watch your language, considering the company?”

“Are you telling me, he’s seriously considering this little pipsqueak?” the big man grunted. “What the hell kinda organization is he trying to run?!”

“Hey!” an indignant, youthful voice replied. “I have the card right here. It says Johnny Qin is looking for people with psionic talent. It doesn’t say how old they have to be. You should at least give me a chance!”

Warrick looked over at Facsimile. “That voice sounds familiar…” he whispered. Facsimile nodded, it sounded familiar to her too. She just couldn’t place it.

“Whether he cares or not, you should reconsider.” A new voice, male this time said. “This isn’t work for a kid. You shouldn’t—“

“If she wants in, we’ll give her a chance; same test as everyone else.” The older female said. “Until then, there’s no reason to let the new blood in on too much.”

Another male voice chuckled. “Kids today grow up so fast, don’t they?”

“I am not a kid!” the kid protested. “I’m thirteen. I’ll be fourteen soon. I’m a teenager!”

Wheels began to turn in Warrick’s head. It couldn’t be who he was thinking of. That could be chalked up to being an argument he’d heard time and time again over Christmas break. Certainly that was it. Because if it really was who he thought it was and they really were in a dank basement auditioning to be part of a psionic gang… well, madness would follow.

The left part of his brain promised to release some nice, relaxing endorphins if he promised not to contemplate such a thing again and he started to accept the offer. Then the big man stepped far enough to the side that he saw the teenager in question.

She was definitely fourteen; all lanky limbs and emergent acne beneath the makeshift mask. She wore purple tights under a powder blue, knee length skirt, a thin, long sleeved blue shirt under a second, sleeveless white shirt, which had a pair of crossed, purple lightning bolts drawn on it with fabric marker. The costume was topped off by a purple cape that was clearly a former bed sheet and a mask of the same material tied so as to cover the girl’s nose and forehead, but allow her coif of brown-red hair to run wild and free.

“Son of a b—“ Warrick was so mortified by what he was seeing, that he hadn’t noticed the figure drop from the pipes above, nor had he heard the quick, muted conversation with Facsimile. He had no choice, however, but to notice when a rigid, plastic gauntlet closed over his mouth.

“Shh….” The Whitecoat whispered through his bandanna. “Let’s not get stupid. Looks like I didn’t have to call your parents again after all.”

Warrick mumbled something against the glove.

Whitecoat pretended he knew what his former protégé was saying. “Yeah, I just noticed this last week. Sister Sacred noticed first, but who wouldn’t notice when she leaves these on the guys she catches.” His free hand held a light blue index card up for Warrick to see.

In purple ink, someone had drawn the crossed lightning bolt logo above a line of script: THIS BADDIE CAPTURED BY THE IRREPRESSIBLE SPARK.

Warrick made another sound into the silencing glove.

“Hey, it’s your little sister, man. Don’t use that kind of language about her.”

“Uh, what do we do now?” Facsimile whispered.

Something hit the range from the other side and it was only by the combined reflexes of Isp, Osp and the Whitecoat that they all managed to get out of the way in time.

The big man snarled, looking around for the interlopers. “You’re going to get run down by the Stampede for starters!” He challenged.

The Whitecoat interposed himself between the young man and the man called Stampede. “I told you about that language!”

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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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