Issue #29: Little Girl Lost

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Part 3

Rose Abernathy’s appearance would, in the most generous terms, be called unique. In basic terms, she looked almost completely alien. She lacked any hair at all atop her head and her eyes were opalescent orbs with no iris or pupil.

Standing just at the five foot tall mark, her body was composed mostly of what appeared to be smooth, red sandstone, interrupted by small extrusions of grey stone, which were equally smooth. The grey stone was most prominent around her eyes, chin and knuckles. The appearance of smoothness was interrupted whenever the girl spoke or moved as minute cracks formed and sealed to accommodate the movement.

Darkness only slightly registered the strangeness, having worked with protomorphs far stranger in her time as a teacher at the Academy. She also didn’t bat an eye about the idea of taking suggestions from the person she was supposed to be saving; she was just as used to that.

“It can only help at this point.” She said to the stone girl. “What’s your idea?”

“You’re Darkness, right? One of the Descendants?” Darkness nodded, “Well, you can’t kill them, it just makes them bigger. But maybe you could have the other woman, the ice woman… Zero? Maybe you could have her freeze them like they do blood and stuff.”

It did make sense; cryogenic suspension would stop the scorpions without killing them and hopefully without triggering whatever caused them to transform. It was worth a try, if not for one small caveat…

“Zero isn’t with us.” Darkness frowned. “She didn’t come.”

“Then what are we going to do?” Arkose asked in a worried voice.

The Queen’s Gambit caught the probing tail of a scorpion in both hands and used it to flip the creature on its back before pouring bullets into its exposed underside. Rounds ricocheted off the creature’s nearly impervious armor and again off a feebly flickering shield of blue force Zero Point erected as he flew in low to his wife’s side.

“Sorry, ZP.” Majestrix said when she noticed the shield. “These things are almost impossible to crack and I only loaded five shells. I mean I was expecting to look for a little girl, maybe fight psionic agents, not fight super bugs.”

“You load up five artillery shells when packing lightly?” Chaos asked over the com.

“I only have two rules.” Majestrix noted, sending a salvo of rockets into an approaching scorpion. They stunned it, but didn’t bring it down. “Number one; always show people the sunshine side of your personality. And Number two;” She ripped off another volley of rockets that managed to tear a hole in one of the monster’s pincers. “Always be prepared.”

“About venting, hun?” Zero Point asked, landing behind the Queen’s Gambit.

“Oh, right, ZP. Chaos, if you could distract them for a few minutes? I have to take my hands off the gunnery console to vent.”

“No problem.” Chaos threw his power into the water on the ground, compressing it all into a dense pillar in front of the Queen’s Gambit. The first scorpion to approach was on the receiving end of a blast of pressurized water that made the common fire hose look like a garden sprinkler. The second was hit with a gust of tornado force wind that span it around and threw it back onto one of its own.

“Darkness, Ephemeral just told me that these creatures don’t exist on the Astral side at all.” Codex’s voice came over Darkness’s com. “And it gets worse; I just found the symbols on their heads in the Book of Reason. You guys can’t kill those things.”

“We already know that, L.” Darkness returned, watching Chaos giving his all to slow the monsters. The winds he was kicking up buffeted the green fog around like a sirocco on desert sand. No new creatures emerged from it.

“No, I don’t mean you can’t physically kill them, I mean it’s a really bad idea. Every time you kill two or more, their essences will combine to create a stronger whole.”

“Already know that too, L.” Darkness frowned. “Rose found it out first hand.”

“Then let me tell you what she probably doesn’t.” Codex continued calmly. “The symbols are called the marks of Reteritas. It’s a magical punishment for powerful Faerie creatures; breaking their power up into multiple, weaker pieces that can’t recombine unless they’re killed.”

“What kept them from just killing their pieces?” Darkness asked.

“In Faerie, no native creature can die by the hand of another. It’s not just a rule; it’s more like a law of physics. But the point is that if you keep killing the pieces, those pieces will recombine into something incredibly powerful and dangerous.”

Darkness watched the green fog swirling in the winds created by Chaos as well as Facsimile’s beating wings. No new creatures had emerged from the billowing cloud since Chaos had started disturbing it.

“L, how do they recombine?”

“Let’s see…” Codex recalled the pages regarding that from memory. “The fog they give off at death congeals into the new creature.”

“Does it work in reverse?”

Codex chewed her lip in thought. “I see what you’re getting at. I think it just might…”

“Beginning vent procedure.” Majestrix said over her com. Zero Point stood at the back of the Queen’s Gambit, just under the heat vents. Nearby, Alloy and Facsimile had joined in the effort to keep the monsters back from the vulnerable heroes.

The shoulder blades of the Queen’s Gambit hissed and opened up from behind, revealing the hot, glowing radial fins they concealed. “Venting now, ZP.” Majestrix chirped. Twin blasts of superheated steam rolled out of the exposed vents and onto Zero Point, who raised his head and closed his eyes.

The blast of steam struck Zero Point and became frost on his chest and head. A small drift of snow began to pile up at his feet. The once feeble aura of blue that surrounded him in flight brightened and intensified. Less than thirty seconds later, the vents on the Queen’s Gambit closed and Zero Point rose over the mecha in a blue corona.

“That was… novel.” Chaos commented.

“Teamwork.” Facsimile observed. “He gains power and she bleeds off heat.”

“I can draw on the ambient free energy.” Zero Point explained over the com, “Hence ‘Zero Point’ as in zero point energy, but it’s a lot slower than taking a steam bath.”

“And I’ve got just the way to put it to use.” Darkness rejoined the conversation. “Stay here.” She told Arkose simply before rising into the air.

“Just tell me what the plan is.” Zero Point sounded significantly more animated.

“These creatures recombine from this green fog.” Darkness explained. “If we only let that fog settle in small amounts, we’ll get a lot of small, mostly harmless scorpions. Otherwise, they’ll just get bigger and more dangerous.”

“Controlling a big ball of gas?” Chaos said, taking to the air, “sounds like I’m your man.”

“You keep the fog cloud stirred up and I’ll section pieces off?” Zero Point suggested.

“And Alloy and I are on bug catching duty.” Facsimile indicated the carpet of shell casings cast off from the Queen’s Gambit’s guns.

“I know what we’ll be doing then.” Majestrix said, indicating the still active scorpions with her mecha’s actuators. “We make more smoke. And seeing as I’m out of tank shells…” A heavy blade extended from the mecha’s right wrist while The actuators on the left arm folded back to allow a pneumatic hammer to fold out into place. “We’ll have to do this manually.”

“Now that we have a plan,” Chaos called up a hurricane force above the rock bowl. “Let’s see how prelates do at pest control.”

It was over swiftly, with Majestrix and Darkness focusing firepower to create openings in the scorpions’ shells large enough for Majestrix to target with rocket propelled grenades, Chaos and Zero Point working in tandem to force the green fog back into the form of two inch long scorpions, and Alloy and Facsimile working to catch said creatures and seal them in an urn formed from spent shell casings.

The sun was perched on the lip of the rock formation by the time Facsimile flicked the last tiny scorpion in sight into the impromptu urn. Alloy quickly slapped the lid closed and fused it closed. “That’s all of them.” He declared, shaking the makeshift prison lightly. They they’ll build a special scorpion pit at Braddock Island?”

Facsimile pouted as she looked around the site of the battle. All that was left to indicate anything had happened were some bullet holes in the rock and craters from the shells. “It sucks that they dissolve. I could have made a kick ass helmet out of one of those stingers.”

“If you want a helmet, I can make you a helmet.” Alloy shrugged.

“A helmet made out of that critchon stuff?”

“Chitin? No… but you could couldn’t you?”

Facsimile shrugged. “Never tried. Never tried ivory either… hmm, people pay lots of money for clone ivory and scientists keep making all those giant monster bugs trying to harvest that chitin stuff. It must be worth a ton.” She gave him her ‘I have a plan smile. “Remind me to talk to Codex once this is done.”

Darkness scaled a short slope to reach the place Arkose had retreated to during the final push against the Faerie insects. She had left Chaos to talk shop with Zero Point and Majestrix while they were waiting for Codex and Hope to arrive in the carrier to bring Arkose back home.

“You okay, Rose?” She asked as she reached the stone girl. “Ready to go home?”

“I told you, call me Arkose.” Arkose said flatly, tossing a pebble down the slope. “And no, I really don’t want to go home.”

“Okay…” Darkness said, coming to sit down alongside her. “Arkose. Are there problems at home that we shouldn’t be sending you back to? Because if there is, we can call Child Protective—“

“No.” Arkose stopped her. One thing she credited her upbringing with; she hardly ever lied, even when it furthered her goals. “No. My parents, they’re good to me. They don’t… mind. But they just don’t get it.”

“Don’t get it how?” Darkness tried to sound soothing.

“They think they can fix it for me. They… they’ve bought me wigs, contacts, tried liquid latex to cover up the rock… And I wish it worked, I really do—I don’t want to be like this.” She shook her head, “But I know it doesn’t work. They should stop trying, they can’t afford it, but they keep trying.”

“It’s because they love you.” Darkness said softly.

“I know that.” Arkose lowered her head between her arms. “They shouldn’t.”

“You can’t mean that. Your parents love you and that’s a very special thing, especially for a young protomorph. I mean in—“

“In some countries, they kill protomorphs. Or they experiment on them to try and cure them, end up killing them.” Arkose stole the words from Darkness’s mouth. “I know that. But, my parents, they’re going to lose the house because they love me. It’s not just trying to make me look better either.” The tone of Arkose’s voice suggested crying, but no tears came, presumably because no tears could come.

“I weight a lot more than anyone else my age—probably any age because I’m solid rock. They’ve spent so much getting, you know, reinforced furniture, things that are scratch resistant because I scratch things up just passing by.” She grasped her shirt and held it out so it caught the light and called attention to its synthetic, almost plastic nature. “My clothes… these clothes cost like three hundred dollars. They’re made special because I tear everything else up.” She glared darkly down the slope. “Everything I do or need is like that.”

Gingerly, Darkness put her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Arkose, listen. It’s very grown up of you to be concerned about your parent’s finances, but running away isn’t the answer to that. We… we can help with that.”

“And what about those people?”

“What people?”

“The army told my parents about these people… I can’t remember what they called them, but they said they were after me, that I was on some kind of list.” Arkose shook her head, “You don’t have the army watching you if the people after you aren’t dangerous.” She looked up at Darkness’s masked face. “Tell me the truth; if those people; if they come for me, they’d hurt my parents to get me, wouldn’t they?”

A lump formed in Darkness’s throat and she had to force it down to speak. “I’ll tell you the truth, Arkose.” She whispered. “They would. They’re very dangerous people, and… well, they want you and a lot of other kids.”

“Then tell me why I shouldn’t run away.” Arkose demanded harshly. “I should run away and never come back. Maybe even let them take me.” She rapped on her chest with her stony knuckles, making a loud, hollow noise. “It’s not like they can hurt me.”

Darkness shook her head. “No, they’d find a way. Arkose, you don’t know these people.” She felt the girl’s glare and averted her eyes out of shame and pity. “But there’s another way. Another school. A safe school. I just have to convince your parents to trust us with you.”

The carrier arrived with the thrum of engines and buffeting wind. Codex was standing at the top of the embarkation ramp when it finally came to a stop.

Facsimile and Alloy took Arkose to the front of the plane to try and cheer her up while Darkness, Hope and Chaos stayed in back with Zero Point. Majestrix would be flying the Queen’s Gambit back to the Abernathy House.

“Something on your mind?” Codex asked in the semi-privacy of the rear of the carrier.

“I think I just found the perfect student to make our first pitch for enrollment at the Institute.” Darkness said, leaning against a wall, head pressed against an arm.

“That’s good news.” Laurel noted, “But you don’t seem to think so.”

“It is good, but I just keep coming back to one thing, L; in a perfect world, she wouldn’t need us.”

“My grandfather once told me;” Codex said, putting a hand across her friend’s shoulders, “There is not perfect world; but we can build it every day, step by step.”

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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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