Issue #28: The Beach Episode

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Part 2

Following the incident with Thunderhead, Laurel had asked General Pratt to arrange for the Descendants to acquire the neural stimulant chips used to protect the guards at the Braddock Island correctional facility from inmates with mentalist powers.

As it turned out, the chips were only one half of a regimen of mental training and conditioning. The other half was conducted by government employed mentalists and without it, the chips were useless. Luckily, Kareem was more than willing to assist in recreating the regimen, which doubled as a way of learning more about his own capabilities.

The day after collaborating with the others on taking their own beach trip, Cyn found herself having more trouble than usual blocking the scripted mental intrusions from Kareem.

“Is something wrong?” Kareem asked. They were sitting on cushions laid out on the floor of the upstairs commons. As was usual for the start of these sessions, Kareem had projected himself onto the physical plane to take advantage of the boost he gained in his abilities in that state. After only a month of sessions, he was able to remain physical for as long as four minutes. “Am I intruding in places I shouldn’t? I cannot always control what parts of a mind I touch.”

Cyn shifted from a kneeling position to a more comfortable cross-legged one. “You’re a bad liar, Kareem.” She continued trying to concentrate on the faint feelings and recognitions Kareem’s presence in her subconscious dredged up so she could concentrate on them and in turn lock Kareem away from them, as was the point of the training. “You know what I was thinking about.” Her tone wasn’t accusing; in fact it was more teasing than anything.

“The beach trip?” Kareem asked innocently. “It sounds like you will all have an enjoyable time. I’m to understand you’ll be standing in for Adel Miller as Snackrifice’s drummer? I should like to hear that.”

“If I was playing, you wouldn’t.” Cyn smirked. “But Kay’s going to be my Cyrano for that. I’m just space filler at the drums.”

“Still, I think it’s exciting. Why haven’t you told Warrick at least where you’re going? I think he’d like to see the show.” He was very careful not to include Tink in his statement.

“Oh no.” Cyn put up her hands and at the same time displayed incredibly mental acuity in pushing Kareem’s mind away. “We’re not doing that. I don’t want to know where he and copper top are going and I don’t want him to know where we’re going. It’s better this way.”

“I’m not sure I follow.” Kareem admitted, resuming his mental assault. “How could your best friend not knowing where you are be better?”

Physically flinching under the force of the renewed mental assault, Cyn knitted her brows and set to work trying to close off the mental breeches that were being opened. “Not him, me. I know myself and if I knew where they’d be, I wouldn’t be able to resist dropping by. And you know Warrick, he wouldn’t object and he’d let me totally ruin his date.”

“You wouldn’t—“ Kareem began.

“Oh yeah, I would.” Cyn confirmed. “I don’t think I’d mean to, but I would. Just like back when Liz asked him to the LoA concert.” She put out a hand to steady herself as a wave of dizziness hit her. The combination of having a largely distributed nervous system as well as incredibly fine control of her cells on both a conscious and unconscious level proved to be problematic when she trained with Kareem. Consciously trying to isolate areas of her mind often caused her body to physically isolate the cells where that area currently resided, resulting in dizzy spells until the problem corrected itself.

She waved Kareem off as he moved to help her and sat up. “Anyway, I’m not going to let myself do that again. If Warrick likes Christina Carlyle, it’s not my place to interfere. I’m his friend and I’ll stand by him. Even if it means, you know… not standing by him.” She smiled one of her patented mischievous smiles. “Frankly, it’s the only way I’ll learn. And this way, maybe I’ll meet a hot guy at the beach to take my mind off him.”

“I know you’re resisting, Cyn, but I don’t feel as much jealousy as you’re proscribing to yourself.” Kareem said.

“I’ve had time to think about it.” She shrugged. “Anyway, speaking of jealous, what about you?”

The mental intrusion faltered. “Me?”

“As in how Melissa’s been going out with Terry pretty much every other night since the start of summer? Don’t tell me that doesn’t bother you.”

“I could not tell you otherwise, Cyn.” Said Kareem, resuming the attack with slightly less intensity. “I am happy for Melissa. She is finally adjusting to the consequences of her being suspended.”

“I know I’m not.” Cyn said playfully to avoid pointing out Kareem’s own circumstances. “I’d be nineteen and allowed to buy beer if it wasn’t for Tome’s monkeying with us.”

“I was under the impression…”

“I know. I can’t. But I’d still be able to buy it, and it’s the principle of the thing.” Cyn shrugged. “Anyway, I wouldn’t bet too much on Melissa getting over anything. I guess you haven’t had a chance to learn anything about him, but Terry is Captain Retro; if it’s from the fifties or sixties, he’s into it. It’s as close to dating someone from back before she was put in stasis without raiding grad schools.”

“I think you should give her more credit than that.” Kareem’s projected form began to fade, though he didn’t allow that to interrupt his mental attack.

“Maybe, but mostly I think she’s using him to ditch the rest of us.” Cyn gave a dismissive wave at an imaginary Melissa, “To hell with her though. I’m going to thoroughly enjoy this weekend and she’s not going to bring me down.”

***

Fresh salt air blew in from the sea as Warrick stood on the beach, looking out over the waves. It was a nice spot, without far fewer tourists than one might expect but still hardly a hidden and private getaway spot.

“So,” Tink said airily “Here we are.” Warrick turned to look at her as she reclined under their beach umbrella, sporting a black bikini.

“Yup.” Warrick sat down on the blanket beside her. “Here we are.” He rummaged through the bag they’d bought and came up with a bottle of sunscreen. Pretending to read the instructions on the label, he cast a side long glance at Tink. Obvious and clichéd thoughts swam in his head. “Uh… do you think you need me to—“ The rest of his words were drowned out by the roar of the ocean increasing in volume to unreal levels.

They both looked toward the sea. The tide was coming in. Only it was coming in ahead of a massive swell of water that rose like a large hillock, pushing swimmers and wakeboarders aside. Soon, the water parted from the domed back of the creature it concealed.

A great crab, as big as a supermarket and easily four stories tall rose up on spindly legs. Its claws waved, throwing salt spray in clouds ahead of it as it waded ashore.

“Holy shit!” Exclaimed Warrick, the sunscreen forgotten.

“What is that thing?” Tink asked, craning her head to see the gargantuan crustacean fully.

“I don’t think we’ve got time to find out.” Warrick got to his feet and offered her his hand to help her up. Beachgoers were taking to their heels before the behemoth crab. “You’ve got to get out of here.”

“Me?” Tink said as Warrick pulled her to her feet. “What about you?”

“I’ll be right behind you.” he lied. Someone had to deal with the monster and make sure it didn’t hurt anyone.

“Oh no.” Tink said firmly. “I’m not leaving without you. I couldn’t stand it if you got hurt trying to look macho protecting me.”

“This isn’t about looking macho.” Warrick’s agitation showed in his voice. “This is for your own…” he trailed off as a shadow fell over the both of them. He looked up in time to see the claw swing down and bat him aside, sending him tumbling across the sand.

Spitting out grit, he came up to a knee in time to see the claw snatch Tink around the waist with unnatural care and nimbleness and lift her into the air. “No!” He shouted. All concern for the consequences of his actions fled before a single overwhelming need: he had to save her.

The act of will that drove his powers became instinct, reflex. The sleeves of his shirt shredded as Isp and Osp uncoiled from the orihalcite circlets her wore on his arms. They didn’t need to be told what needed to be done. Isp formed into a harpoon and projected itself into the more lightly armored joint where the two halves of the monstrous claw met and swung Warrick airborne. At the same time, Osp split down its center and lashed up between the pincers. Two opposite flanges powered outward to drive the claw open.

The maneuver worked and Tink fell free, falling directly into Warrick’s waiting arms. A quick tentacle-enabled swing later and they were on the ground.

“Get down!” Warrick ordered. This was one of those situations where it was perfectly acceptable not to be polite, he decided.

“Wha—how did—“ Tink managed before stumbling to her knees.

“Later.” Warrick said, his voice strained. His powers were in overdrive. The monster had singled Tink out specifically and just freeing her wouldn’t stop it. The sand boiled around him, flowing upward to form steel armor around him. This shouldn’t be working. A voice in his head muttered. A sword exploded from the sand before him, hilt first so he could draw it effortlessly.

Why aren’t the boys saying anything? Isp? Osp? The tentacles didn’t answer his mental prompting. The sand forged steel filled his hands as Alloy hefted the sword overhead. The crab raised its claw to smash him.

“Secret Art of the Divinity School: Shooting Star No Jutsu!” What the hell? What did I just—Before he could figure out what he was doing, Alloy leapt to meet the rapidly descending claw. I can’t jump like this. And why can’t I sense this sword? Or my armor… or any metal? The general wrongness of everything around him came crashing into the forefront of his mind even as his sword carved clearly through the offending claw.

He was suddenly flying freely through the air, arcing gracefully toward the head of the monster. The sword fell again, bisecting the creature’s face. There was a screaming sound; appropriately enough, like a crab being steamed, and then the entire thing dissolved into black smoke.

So weird… Warrick thought, watching the plume of smoke dissipate. He seriously needed to figure out what was going on. Maybe if he called Laurel she could figure something out… The sound of someone clearing their throat made him turn around.

Tink was standing there. At some point in the confusion, she had found time to put on jeans, though she still wore the bikini top. She was looking at him like he was from another planet. “Y-you…”

Warrick sighed. “Yeah. I’m Alloy. I know it’s pretty shocking, and maybe you think I should have told you, but you’ve got to understand… look if we go back to Freeland House—“ He reached out to put a hand on her shoulder but she pulled away.

“No.” She said, more defiant than he’d ever seen her. “No, I’m not going anywhere with you. This…” She gestured between the two of them. “This is over.”

Breath caught in Warrick’s throat. “No, please. Tink, wait.”

“No!” She shouted. “I’m not going to stand by and watch you get yourself killed or worse. I’m not going to just grin and bear it because you need to break a date to save the city. It’s over, Warrick, Alloy, whichever you are.” Tears formed in her eyes, but they weren’t normal tears, they were liquid silver. As she backed up, the metal spread out, forming a second skin. In the space of a breath, she was completely ensconced. “All things considered,” She said, gesturing to her suddenly mercurial skin. “It probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway.”

***

“Gah!” Warrick’s eyes snapped open. It didn’t help matters that the first things he saw upon waking were the liquid metal forms of Isp and Osp watching him with apparent concern. A moment of utter panic gripped him before a pair of voices managed to cut through the fog. “Yes, I know I was dreaming.” He groaned in response to the tentacles.

He hauled himself up to sitting against the headboard and got his bearings by casting around the room with his metal sense. “Yeah, you guys would like her better all metal…y.” More silent jabbering from Isp. “No, there are no ‘nice metal girls’. No, I can’t make one.” The full ramifications of that last suggestion shocked him to full wakefulness. “No, just no. Even if I could, it’d be like a sister to you guys, who would be like a… Okay, I’m not talking about this with you guys anymore. You liked Tink until two minutes ago.”

His clock said it was a quarter to six, but there was no way he’d be able to get to sleep again after that nightmare, so he got up and went to his computer. The tentacles continued to mentally pester him. “No, you guys can’t meet her yet. Why? Because it’d give away the whole secret ID thing, don’t you think? Everyone knows Alloy was metal tentacles—Because you guys don’t need codenames, that’s why.”

Letting loose a long yawn, he logged onto his Deathgate account, selected his level forty Champion of Valor, Rock Steelfist, from the Character Bay, and set about hunting wyverns to collect the skins needed to earn his first tier stronghold.

“It’s not like this is the weirdest dream I’ve had.” He said to no one in particular. Isp and Osp were too distracted watching the action on the computer screen to continue badgering him, or listen to him at all for that matter. “Remember the one I keep having where I’m fighting giant robots with the electric guy, the flying chick with the shield and the psychotic little girl with claws? This dream was tame by comparison, right?”

On screen, a wyvern writhed under the effects of his Blazing Glory attack, too blinded to dodge the killing blow from Rock’s Hammer of Justice. With a final shriek and a death rattle, the creature’s ruin was smote upon the mountainside. Enamored with the graphics, the twins were in no condition to reassure him.

I said RIGHT? Warrick telegraphed the thought directly too them. Isp turned toward him and undulated in what was most certainly a shrug. “You guys are so helpful.” He sighed. “But hey, I’ve got nothing to worry about, right? Tink wouldn’t act like that. And it’s not like she’s going to find out… not yet at least. Going out for less than half a year isn’t enough to justify putting myself and Alloy on the line. Plus, there aren’t really giant crabs like that.”

Isp shrugged again and split into five finger like segments, each of which began hitting keys on the keyboard. A browser window opened in the upper right hand corner of the game window and quickly went to the Factopia.know website. A few more keystrokes brought up the page for Mutants_(phenomena). Osp got in on the act and worked the mouse to scroll down to an image of a six foot spider that had been killed in Atlanta by the prelate Rapscallion.

For a moment, Warrick sat and stared. He knew the article and had read it front and back in case any laboratory bred mutants attacked Mayfield. Back in the game, Rock turtled behind his shield to block attacks from a trio of wyverns he’d blundered into thanks to Warrick being distracted.

Shaking his head, he banished the Factopia page with a keystroke and set about introducing the monsters to the Hammer of Justice. “Seriously guys,” He settled back into the game. “Stop trying to freak me out. Today’s going to go off without a hitch. Nothing’s going to mess up this day.” Building his own confidence, he scoffed. “There’s not even any mention of crabs on that page.”

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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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