Issue #26: Ace Agenda

This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Part 5

The sun was a red sliver on the horizon and the automatic floodlights along Mercy Memorial Hospital’s roof were coming on when Facsimile exited the front doors and winged her way over to a nearby rooftop where Occult, Ephemeral and Kay were waiting patiently as per her rather brusque orders.

Kay was sitting on the stairs leading from the roof up to a platform holding that building’s satellite dishes, clutching a large, paper bag and looking fretfully on as Occult and Ephemeral sat on the concrete below her, talking. She was the first to look up in response to her landing.

Before she could ask what was on the tip of her tongue, Facsimile told her. “He’ll be fine.” She said, wanting to be reassuring, but sounding positively haggard. “Well, healthy. He won’t walk for a few weeks; nasty break and all—but when the cops and the layers upon layers of other guys whose laws he was breaking show up, he’ll wish he were kibble.”

“I almost got him killed.” Kay said in a small voice.

Occult sighed. “Kay, we’ve been over this; he was trying to get me killed. You saved me.”

“Yeah, in my book, that makes you a hero.” Facsimile pointed out. “Especially since you feel bad about it.”

“And you as well.” Ephemeral added. “That man would have done many horrible things to you, myself—any psionic he could—if given the chance. Yet you still dropped everything to get him to a doctor.”

“Don’t remind me.” Facsimile groaned. “Anyway, I called the General and the ROCIC is on its way. I just hope saving that guy didn’t give all the Tome guys time to get away.” She heaved a heavy sigh and dropped into a sitting position. “So, all the loose ends are still lose ends.”

“Sorry…” Occult offered.

“Except…” Facsimile interrupted. “You two.” She nodded to Ephemeral. “Actually you three. How long has this whole thing been going on behind my back?”

Occult feigned ignorance. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“There is only one person in the world Kay would call her best friend, super-magic powers or not.” She folded her arms across her chest. “In fact, I feel pretty dumb not to have figured it out after the whole ‘Morganna and the demons’ thing. I mean Morganna was the only one that had magic, and suddenly there you are with magic. Connecting the dots should not have been that hard. The only thing I can’t figure out right now is how long you’ve known who we are.”

“Since the uh… first Morganna thing.” Kay admitted. “You thought you got me out the door in time, but I saw War… Alloy do the tentacle thing.”

“And I pretty much remember everything that happened that day.” Lisa admitted. “I pretended not to remember the next day because I didn’t know why you were keeping it secret.”

“And didn’t want her prelate status to affect your friendship.” Ephemeral chimed in.

“I’d actually really appreciate it if you kept this from everyone but Ephemeral and Codex, actually.” Occult added, “As a prelate, I think I should stay solo for now. Especially since I don’t want Chaos to hate me as me as well as Occult.”

Facsimile got to her feet haltingly. “No argument from me. As much as I love being a prelate, it’s not exactly good for your social life.” She smirked. “But I’ve just got to gush about how awesome it is that my friends are prelates too—“

“I’m just the sidekick.” Kay interjected.

“You still count.” Facsimile smiled through her aches, “Anyway, I would give you a demonstration of what I can do, but I feel like crap on fire right now and I’m not entirely sure I’ve even got enough in me to shift back to Cyn mode at this point.”

“Oh!” Kay thrust the bag into her hands. “Ephemeral told us about that, so being the only one among us not wearing slick costume, I went down the street to the sub place and got you a couple of cheese steaks.”

For the first time, Facsimile noticed the tantalizing scent reaching her nostrils and tore hungrily into the bag. “For this…” she said between great mouthfuls, “I will build a temple to you. If the whole sidekicking for Occult doesn’t work out, you can come work for me.” She didn’t stop until one of the sandwiches was entirely gone.

The edge taken off her hunger and her strength returning, Facsimile reached out to the two people nearest her, Occult and Kay, and put her hands on their shoulders. “You know, I’m glad to have you guys. You too, Kareem. I’ve been so pissy lately over what I don’t have that I didn’t really think about what I did have until Tome and those Ace guys nearly took it away.” She sniffed and in extending her arms, caught all three of her companions up in a group hug.

Kay found herself with her head pressed against Ephemeral’s chest and looked up at him with a blush as Facsimile’s hunger got the better of her and the hug ended in favor of more tooth on cheese violence. “Hey, You’re pretty cute, how come I don’t see you when I come over to the house? You know, if I was dating…”

“That is probably for the best.” Ephemeral said apologetically. “You see, what you see and what you feel is actually an astral projection made real. I have only been able to maintain it so long because of our current proximity to an astral transponder device tied into the hospital’s transmitter. My real body is comatose and may not be well for many months, if at all.”

Kay nodded as if she understood any of that. “Well, for the best anyway, I’ve got a deal with my dad, see? I don’t date until college and thus don’t involve him in having to have any of those conversations he thinks I should have with mom when she’s ever home, and he pays my way through college and for my car. But you know, a lot can happen in a year, right?”

It was Ephemeral’s turn to nod in confusion.

“Aren’t they cute?” Occult asked, taking a seat on the stairs beside Facsimile.

“If that’s how she’s going to flirt, I don’t think her dad’s going to have a problem.” Facsimile shook her head.

***

Somewhere in rural Pennsylvania, the members of Ace High, including a newly resuscitated Thunderhead stood in the cavernous hanger the carrier had landed in. Wright had sent his workers there away for the day after offloading the cargo Fellgaze and Legion had procured and running the post flight diagnostics on the carrier.

They were gathered, some seated on crates, some standing, around a nondescript wooden crate innocuously stamped ‘supplies’. Legion was fitting a crowbar under the lid.

“We could have had this done ten minutes ago if you’d just levered the stupid thing open with that pig sticker of yours instead of stumbling around looking for a crowbar.” Shine drawled, sprawling across the crate she was seated on as well as Wright.

“My sword isn’t a pry bar.” Legion snapped, hauling on the lever. Wood groaned and snapped under his attention. “It is a tool, a precision tool with a specific purpose. I’m not going to randomly use it to chop firewood or open a can.”

Shine lazily raised one hand that still bore the orihalcite claws. “I use these for everything.” She remarked.

“I wouldn’t doubt it.” Thunderhead said offhanded, making it sound dirty.

Shine raised her middle talon in his direction just as the crate gave up its battle with Legion’s strength. The lid came free and without that for support, the sides collapsed outward, spilling straw and other packing material out from around its contents.

“I don’t get it.” Fellgaze said, gazing at the captured technology. “It’s a stasis cell, like every other stasis cell I’ve ever seen except for those funky tanks on the sides and the ConquesTech logo on it. Is the plan to beat them to market with this new model?”

There was an uneasy silence. None of the others wanted to admit that they too thought that this device wasn’t worth the trouble they’d gone through, but none wanted to admit it in case Wright’s explanation made them sound ignorant.

Wright merely shook his head like an understanding father seeing his son try and fail. “It may look like a stasis chamber, and in fact, it’s based on the same design. But it isn’t. I’ll spare you the technical details and just explain how I knew about it and why it is important to us.”

He settled into a more comfortable position with Shine still leaning against him, half dozing. “While I was working with Project Tome, I came upon a rather ingenious plan that involved leaking the basic conceptualizations of this device to ConquesTech in the hope that Lester Mendel’s more public connections and personal drive would succeed in making it a reality where Tome could not. ConquesTech did succeed… after a fashion. They branded it Become More and offered as a type of gene therapy cure for protomorphism.”

“I hope there’s more to this than fixing people’s aesthetic problems.” Legion frowned.

“Oh, it does.” Wright smiled. “You see, Become More doesn’t ‘cure’ protomorphism, it only retriggers the psionic manifestation; the shapeshifting power that changes a protomorph’s body. In at least one case, the process actually made a secondary psionic gene manifest.”

Wright gently moved away from Shine, laying her fully on the crates, and stood to pace among his team. “You see, the system uses retroviruses to force re-manifestation by stimulating new cell growth. The machine directs the viral spread and controls the new growth. The caveat is that a retrovirus can only act on structures that are already there. But what if we had something like a retrovirus…” He produced a vial from his pocket. “Something like Potentia.”

Thunderhead leaned forward, intrigued. “You could force new organs and cells to come into being.”

“You could make psionics.” Fellgaze completed Thunderhead’s line of thought. “But… how do you know what to make to get what powers?”

Wright smiled impishly. “Our good friends at Tome supplied that, Fellgaze. You see, while I was working my sabotage and making sure Tome would have their hands too full to trace us, I also uploaded their entire database of bio-maps to Dr. Ramsey, one of the Tome scientists I wooed away. Those maps can tell us exactly how to trace any power we want onto anyone we want.”

“My god.” Thunderhead intoned. “You could build your own army.”

“And have every government agent and prelate on Earth hunting me? No thank you.” Wright dismissed the idea instantly. “No, Thunderhead, I’ve got something more… interesting in mind. When you were a child, before your gifts made themselves known; what would you have given to have superpowers?”

“I wasn’t that kid.” Thunderhead shrugged, “But most kids, hell, even most adults would give their right arm for that.”

“Many adults would sell their soul to become a prelate like Infinity or Zero Point.” Brother nodded, “Not just the powers, but the fame and adulation. You face on cereal boxes and companies printing fake stories of real heroism all about you. It’s the American dream on steroids.” He tapped the machine with one finger. “And we have the means. Perhaps even a way to ensure that they depend on us to maintain those powers. Favors for power. That’s how my world has always worked.” His smile darkened, “And once they get a taste, they really will do anything to keep them.”

***

Simon Talbot stomped into the board room, casting dark glances at his subordinates. It was early morning and he was in no for apologies, only for action. Devon Matthews, head of the pharmaceutical section started to speak, but Talbot cut him off. “Situation report. Now.” He already knew the worst of it, but he needed to ensure that the board knew the weight of what was happening.

Matthews collected himself quickly and nodded to Brandy Dillinger, head of superhuman psychology. The mousy brunette balked, but started the rundown of the past day’s events. “Last night, the transfer facility in Mayfield, Code 13X4A, was breeched by an unidentified entity and an unidentified descendant.”

“Unidentified entity?” Talbot asked. This was the first time he’d heard the term, much less so in this context.

“Our term for a superhuman that fails to trip our theta sensors. Presumably, they’re descendants whose manifestation didn’t alter their theta pattern, but we can’t be sure.” Dillinger explained. Talbot nodded and motioned for her to continue. “At the time of the breech, the UE made a statement to the camera.”

“I saw that.” Talbot grimaced.

“Voiceprint confirms that it was Wright’s voice.” Thomas Cross supplied from Talbot’s right hand.

“Wright again.” Talbot snarled.

Dillinger nodded. “He’s living up to his reputation for using people.” She confirmed. “His agent led Facsimile right to the transfer station and the ensuing battle was the perfect cover for his sabotage and theft.”

“What’s the damage?” Talbot groaned.

“ROCIC arrived before we could clean.” Matthews fielded the question with great chivalry. “Gennero and most of our guardsmen escaped after initiating the cleaning program on the computers. McClane was injured and somehow ended up at Mercy Memorial with his own staff of ROCIC guards to prevent elimination. We have no idea what he’ll give up. Materially, we lost two inugami, the entire base and Wright got away with the resequencer.”

Talbot glowered wordlessly until Cross piped up. “That isn’t the worst part, sir.”

Talbot fixed him with a glare. “And what was the worst part? If losing the device that represents the singular goal of our entire existence as an organization isn’t the worst part, then what is?”

Cross swallowed, trying to give relief to his suddenly parched throat. “You see, Wright interrupted the cleaning program before he pulled out. While most data was destroyed, we never received confirmation of the transfer schedule being deleted. Sir, the transfer from tomorrow’s Virginia Beach operation was noted there and now the ROCIC has it.”

A mighty blow made the table shake. Talbot rained down another along with a few choice expletives. Finally getting control of himself, he hunched in his chair and rasped, “And if they know, the Descendants know.”

End Issue #26

Series Navigation<< Issue #25: Summer SessionIssue #27: Beyond Good And Medieval >>

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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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