Issue #21: Come the Black Clouds

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

A Magitech Crisis Part 1

It was a moonlit and clear night; precisely the kind of night that literary clichés aren’t made of.

On the grounds of the ConquesTech business campus, Building Seven loomed large and pale in the moonlight. The small forest of tower antennas arrayed on its roof was dwarfed by the big parabolic antenna that served as one of the hubs of ConquesTech’s exabit data relay system that connected all of the company’s facilities, including four located in orbit.

The glow began inside the antenna’s reflector dish. There was no point of origin, just a tint of green illumination that danced around the feed antenna and threw weird shadows along the dish. It was barely brighter than starlight, but as it filled the bowl of the dish and spilled over it, it cast an eerie halo into the night sky.

For scant seconds, the glow clung and danced around the antenna and its base, coalescing in places to resemble patterns of lightning or washes of strangely colored water. Then it stopped, and the dish was gone. There was no grand explosion, not soft fading, no even a crescendo to the flickering of the nether light. One moment, the dish was there. The next it wasn’t.

For those same few seconds, all downstream nodes from the dish suddenly collected a dump of garbled, nonsensical code while upstream codes recorded transmissions simply ‘disappearing into thin air’. There was no way they could guess the truth.

Response time was immediate. Three members of the night maintenance crew were dispatched to check out the suddenly non-responsive antenna. Armed with shoulder mounted lights and diagnostic equipment, they took the service elevator to the roof.

Wesley McQueen cracked his neck as he and his two subordinates waited for the doors to open. “Truth be told,” he was saying, “I’m surprised that we haven’t had to come up here for Bulging Betty sooner. That damn dish is closing in on two decades old and retrofitted to hell since the jump from petabit to exabit transmissions. I warned them that we’d see a catastrophic failure. The thing’s pre-war, for crying out loud.”

“They were saying that since the year the war ended.” Darleen Summers replied while managing to sound respectful to her boss. “Bulging Betty isn’t any more of a liability than any of the smaller rigs we have up here.” Her colleague, Gary Richards nodded in agreement.

McQueen sneered. “There’s a reason you two work under me, you know?” The doors opened, letting the air of the warm summer night inside. “And that’s because, I know all about following… my…” the words died in his mouth. For nineteen years, he’d become accustomed to arriving at the roof and having the sky blotted out by the massive dish of Bulging Betty. And she had been massive; Building Seven had been designed specifically to support the antenna’s colossal mass at its precipice.

Tonight, that mass was gone and McQueen’s eyes saw only stars in the night sky. A collective gasp from his comrades confirmed that it wasn’t a hallucination. It was only then that his attention came to rest on the figures standing on the now vacant concrete block from which Bulging Betty’s haft had once risen.

All that was left of the multimillion dollar piece of equipment was a sparking stalk of ceramic, metal and sheered power conduits that vomited sparks into the air. Two women stood there, both Latina. The older one seemed to be exhausted, leaning on an ornate walking stick that was almost as tall as she was. She also wore a cape across her shoulders, the shifting colors of which made McQueen feel ill. The younger of the two stood regally and attentively at the older’s side. There was a readily apparent family resemblance between the two.

Around them, three colored lights; purple, blue and yellow, bobbed and winked unnaturally, making harmonic noises that sounded like both music and voices all at the same time.

Surprise and wonder only stayed McQueen for a moment. He was middle management through and through and even the most bizarre of phenomena wouldn’t stay him from getting answers when it concerned something he was responsible for.

“You!” he bellowed in a voice Darleen and Gary were far too used to, “Who are you? What the hell have you done?!” He led his crew out onto the roof, brandishing his flashlight as if he hoped the two women were complete mental defectives who would think it was a gun.

When the light hit her, the older woman winced and narrowed her eyes. One hand went to her forehead and the other made a slashing gesture. The flashlight came apart in a shower of plastic.

McQueen looked back to Gary pathetically. “Do something, Richards!” he ordered, distressed. He knew Gary was psionic, but had never bothered to find out what he could do. At the moment, he hopped for some sort of nuclear fireworks or at least some sort of anti-flashlight-exploder power.

Gary looked at his open palm, then to the neatly bisected flashlight, and finally up to the woman who had made it happen. “Hell no!” he said after a moment’s calculation. “I’m not letting her cut my hand off.” He span on his heel to make a run back toward the elevator. His path was blocked.

A tall man with blue skin stood there, smiling maliciously. He was dressed in a fine shirt of purple silk with canvas breeches and a dark purple mantle with an extremely high collar. Red veins moved weirdly beneath his cobalt skin and stubby horns protruded from his forehead.

“Don’t worry.” Colos, lord of the Rae’sha demons of Sai’n’shree said, showing his rows of sharp teeth. “I’ve asked her not to harm you.” Gary froze in terror. Colos inhaled deeply. “Yes… this is the fabled scent of Mankind; of pheromones, of emotional wavelengths Faerie hasn’t seen in thousands of years.”

Darleen screamed and started to run, but a multi-tendriled horror in glowing green swooped down and slammed into her chest, burrowing in without leaving a wound. She let out a choking breath and collapsed, vibrating like a harp string.

Colos all but forgotten, Gary screamed Darleen’s name and rushed to her side. The demon lord sniffed again. “That was terror. Heady, but common. This… mmm…” he groaned with pleasure, “Love. Not strong, not even a close friendship, but even that small taste. Oh, if only we didn’t need you from a higher purpose.” He exclaimed with glee as another green, tentacled thing burrowed into Gary as well.

Something in McQueen snapped. The human fight or flight response is relatively weak in comparison to that of other animals and prone to misfiring when situations became too stressful. This was too stressful for Wesley’s poor mind and instead of flight; he suddenly chose to fight against odds that Vegas would never pay out on. Raising his screwdriver, which was the first thing his hand closed on, he rushed Colos.

Another green glowing horror dropped down on him, sending him sprawling to the ground as it merged with him.

Colos, for his part, laughed and took in the rampant emotions. “I don’t even know what that was, but it was exhilarating!” He declared, “If only we could have bought Rehenimaru, Edenkai and Aberak’s bodies across, we could have feasted before exploring this world.”

Still leaning on the Staff of Hyrilius, Morganna shook her head weakly. “Too much… much too much…” she said. Feebly, she gestured around her to indicate the missing satellite dish, “You… you have to send to Faerie exactly as much… as… as you send here. Their magic… your magic… it adds up to a lot of material. You’re very… very lucky you kept your own body.”

Darleen finally stopped shaking and rolled over, stretching languidly like a cat. She looked up at Colos with delight in her eyes. “We are here master. Mmm… I can feel my human host. She fights to stay awake. She’s feeding me with her rage even now.”

“How long until you can change?” Colos asked, giving her a hand in standing. She was a bit unsteady and unsure on her new legs.

Rehenimaru shrugged a gesture that came unbidden from her body’s memory. “She fights it, unlike a daemon, but her fighting makes me stronger. I would say an hour at most.”

“Good.” Colos reached into his cloak and pulled out a lantern that was much too large to have been concealed there. Green lights, like angry fireflies bobbed and span inside. “The Xolinar Queen,” He glanced at Morganna, “seemed to be drained from our transference. She will not be able to bring her army across any time soon, so we will need to build one here.”

The demon inside Darleen accepted to lantern and watched it with satisfaction. “Devil seeds.” She said. “You wish for me to sew them when I am able? But where?” She gestured out at the city. “These vast dwellings are for Mankind only, are they not?”

“Mankind has always kept beasts.” Colos noted. “there will be something; a farm, a menagerie, a kennel, where he keeps such those creatures. Find them and raise me an army with cunning and ferocity.”

“Aye, m’lord.” Rehenimaru ducked her head. “And what of you?”

“I will secure this place first of all. This ‘technology’ Mankind has developed in lieu of magic is dangerous and until we have seen more, we should limit their access to us until you and the Heir can defend yourselves.”

Colos suddenly spoke into her mind. And then, I will go and investigate this world on my own.

Is that wise, O Lord? Rehenimaru asked mentally. Should we not send others more expendable first?

I know the risks. Colos assured her. This world Mankind has built is treacherous and the weapons he now wields are formidable. But he is not as treacherous or as formidable as the Heir of Hyrilius, the Xolinar Queen herself. When you regain your strength, you will feel it as well, but I can tell you now; the Heir is wrong. There is still magic. Here, in this very city. And I mean to make it the property of the Rae’sha.

***

The ringing phone interrupted Vincent Liedecker’s nightly reading. Fuming silently, as he recognized the ringing tone, he placed a bookmark between pages of The Tempest and hit the speaker button.

“Charlotte, I am a very, very busy man and I am lucky to find an hour each night that I can call my own without some damn fool interrupting me. What I’m trying to convey is that this is that hour and if you do not have a very good reason for being that damn fool, I will set aside another hour during which I think up a proper and very final punishment.”

“I’m very sorry sir.” Rick Charlotte stammered, “But it is very important—well, they. There are multiple issues of important coming down the pipeline, sir, It’s like a cascade effect or some—“

“If I wanted to listen to your brainless chatter, Charlotte, I’d have started this conversation with ‘how was your day’. I didn’t. Get to the point.”

If fidgeting in a chair made noise, Liedecker would have been deafened in the short pause before Charlotte spoke again. “Yes, sir. Uh… Well, first, there’s Scuff Singer, sir. Gear got a weird reading from the Sky Tyrant armor and went to his apartment. He’s…” Charlotte trailed off, trying to find the words.

“He’s what, Charlotte?” Liedecker demanded with a voice like a hammer blow.

“I don’t know how to say it, sir. He’s having some kind of episode inside the armor. It’s covered him completely, the shield and hologram generators come on and off sporadically, and he’s transmitting junk code on our private channel five, sir. And as far as Gear Callahan can tell, he’s in a coma or something.”

“Pull him in.” Liedecker ordered. “Bring him to the main lab under cover and put everyone not on Avra duty on getting him up and running again.”

“Uh… about the Avra…” Charlotte squeaked. “There’s no one not on them right now sir. About a half hour ago they… Drew says they started harmonizing.”

“What does he mean ‘harmonizing’?!” Liedecker exploded, “I’m paying him to make weapons, not musical instruments!”

“Well, it is magic, sir.” Charlotte handled the word like a dead fish, “it’s pretty unpredictable. Drew and his team don’t know what anything from that book is going to do until they actually do it.”

Liedecker’s hand traveled off the edge of his bed to find cool metal. “They aren’t all harmonizing.” He said.

“No sir.” Charlotte said, I’ve got the list right here; the loader, the personal shield generator, three ranged weapons and one of the stutter-step – those are the ones harmonizing sir – making sounds like a flight of locusts. And get this; they were all made using the same section of the book.”

“That being?”

“Drew says it translates to ‘a treatise on manipulation of the Astral Plane from the nether side’.”

Liedecker recognized that line. It was one of the early ones decoded and the technicians had drawn parallels between early experimentation with it and the strange energy spikes that had been recorded citywide the night he had come into possession of the book.

The same night Tatiana Farnsworth had bound the Sky Tyrant armor to Calvin ‘Scuff’ Singer, used the tormented Singer to goad him into capturing her lair, and then disappeared completely after a fight involving Darkness on the West Truman Bridge.

His eyes narrowed. “Charlotte, I want you to raise Vorpal and Samael right now. No questions. I’ll be there as soon as possible. Put everyone on high alert and lock everything that’s singin’ down. Right goddamn now, you hear me?”

“On it now sir. But you should hear the last issue we’ve got.”

“And what is that, Charlotte?” Liedecker was already up and getting dressed.

“ConquesTech’s data network just crashed. Catastrophic failure, they don’t know when it’ll be back up. I don’t have to remind you sir, that that’s the network contracted with CitiWide Security to carry their camera footage. The same cameras we use to keep an eye on the city. As of this moment, sir, we’re blind.”

Liedecker pound the doorframe of his closet so hard the room shook. “Clever bitch.” He snarled. “Change of plans, Charlotte; send Samael out—have him start wherever this communications failure started. Tell him not to leave a soul alive.”

***

Just outside the city in Freeland House, the residents were roused from their slumbers (or cramming for finals) by the sound of Kareem screaming.

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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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