Issue #37 – Of a Feather

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

Part 5

Elizabeth screamed as her body cracked like a whip and in the motion, dropped to the ground at Geiger’s feet. Shivering all over, she curled into the fetal position.

None of this bought Geiger off his guard. Well aware that the enemy was too close for him to dodge, he sustained his power against her until a golden arm pushed his hands down.

“She’s done, bug-boy.” Facsimile said harshly. “Look at her.”

Indeed, the fight seemed to be gone from the girl entirely. Not only that, but her body was changing. Plates of bone slid back into their original places in her face, causing the ridge over her nose and thickened brow line to disappear. The claws on hands and feet as well as the bone spurs on her arms were receding, being re-metabolized by her protomorph physiology. Even her lean, hard muscles were seeming to soften. If her eyes were open, they may have also sent he red membranes recede.

Elizabeth von Stoker was herself again. And without the agonizing pain of Geiger’s power, the only thing she could do was roll onto her knees and be sick on the ground.

Only after seeing this, did Geiger relent. Ignoring Facsimile, he turned to Kronos. “What happened down there?”

The big man shook his head. “She was unconscious when I found her. Between the guards focusing fire on me and Alloy, I had to do my best just to get her topside. Then she woke up and, well, this happened.”

Just within earshot, Tink lay on her back with her eyes closed, trying to catch her breath. The rush of what had just happened had her shaking. She could see the talons coming down on her, feel what she imagined being hit by them would feel like. But the fact was, that wasn’t what she cared most about.

“Are you hurt?” The voice she heard echoed as if coming from the bottom of a soup can. That’s how she knew who it was before she even opened her eyes. Alloy knelt beside her, the tentacles that extended from beneath his armor at the shoulder seeming to watch her with just as much concern as he seemed to.

“No.” She said quickly. That was the partial truth. She hadn’t broken anything, though she had thoroughly scrapped an arm and a leg in her roll and she knew she’d bruise up nicely in several places.

Alloy nodded and stood, holding out a hand to help her up. She ignored it.

“Look, forget about me, you need to go back inside, my boyfriend’s still trapped down there!”

Right. Alloy thought. “Are you sure he didn’t find another way out?” He asked, wracking his brain as to how to deal with that situation.

At the main gate, the police had arrived and a contingent had come out of the administration building including a pair of two-man units carrying heavy pulse cannons. Evidently, they’d heard of Kronos’s resilience.

“N-no, I’m not sure, but he’s not here and… he should be.” Tink gave the armored hero a scowl that made guilt run through his blood as she got up on her own.

The Outliers noticed the authorities arriving too. Kali reared up on her tail, getting into a fighting stance that suggested she was ready to take on both sides. Anura quickly made her way to Geiger’s side. “What’s the plan now?” She asked.

The chitin encased man looked from one side to the other, and then at Facsimile and Zero who were presently occupied with Elizabeth, who was fading in and out of consciousness. That wouldn’t keep them from hindering the Outliers’ escape.

“No plan.” He said guiltily. “Not now. We give up, I take responsibility. Say we’re a cult or something and hope they let the rest of you off with some counseling.”

“Hell no.” Anura shook her head and put her hand in his. “’Freaks of a feather stay together’ that’s our motto – that’s why we did this.”

The two shared a long look, but Geiger shook his head and took his hand from hers. Instead, he put them behind his head and turned toward the approaching police. “We surrender.” He said in an even, but loud tone. Kronos followed his lead and went a step further by going down on his knees. Reluctantly, Anura and Kali raised their hands as well.

The group of responding officers approached. They were outfitted with the MPD’s standard tactical hardware to use against superhuman threats; flare proof visors, flame retardant, acid resistant and non-conductive vests, and high powered, non-fragmenting ammunition. Their guns were trained mostly on Kronos as they edged forward with magnetic cuffs at the ready.

“On the ground, all of you.” The ranking officer on the scene ordered. “You are under arrest. You have the right—“

“That won’t be necessary, officers.” All eyes but Geiger’s turned to the complement of guards that had come from the administration building. Among them was a man in a sport jacket and nice slacks who was obviously not a guard at all.

“Sir, we had a report of superhumans attacking the main gate of your campus.” The officer said, not lowering his gun. He obviously recognized the man.

“A surprise training operation.” Mr. Sportcoat explained. “My men have then noted in their contract. There will be no pressed charges.”

“We got a report—“

“Someone made a mistake. I’ll take personal responsibility if you wish to bring charges of filing a false report. I’ll certainly understand.”

The officer regarded everyone involved with a curious eye. He didn’t like it; there were too many questions. Why were the Descendants involved? Would the head of ConquesTech really trash so much of his own property for a training exercise after spending so much to repair after the last superpowered throwdown there?

In the end though, it wasn’t worth it to press so hard against the largest employer in Mayfield without evidence or testimony. A call to the mayor would become a call to the chief of police and suddenly he’d be on traffic detail. He’d file his report and recommend an investigation.

“If you say so sir.” He finally said, “But expect a phone call from my superiors.” He waved the other officers off.

“I expect to.” The man in the sport coat said with a smile.

Geiger waited until the officers were out of hearing range. “Who are you?” He asks, hands still raised, eyes still forward.

“You can put your arms down.” The man said in a friendly tone. “I’m Lester Mendel – the man you called out when you took over my guard house? I heard the whole thing – the fight, what happened here – everything.”

“The real question is – are you off your nut?” Facsimile asked. “These guys just tore your place up! Why not arrest them?”

Kali growled and rounded on her, but the sound of a pulse weapon charging stayed all four of her hands.

Mendel waved for the gun to be lowered. “I’ve got a lot of reasons, Facsimile. Let’s start with the fact that prosecuting them would necessarily involve discussing their motives which would necessarily mean divulging Miss von Stoker’s secret.”

He frowned at the now fully unconscious young woman. “As you’re now painfully aware, she’s still very sick. The new powers she gained when she became ‘the Freaque’” He made air quotes, “are unstable and wreak havoc on her brain chemistry when she’s stressed. Our psychologists say that she’s coping with it by developing a form of Dissociative Identity Disorder. We’re making progress, but not a great deal.”

“Then why not have your men just kill us now?” Geiger eyed the heavy duty weapons.

“Because I’m not a monster?” Mendel asked. “And more to the point – neither are any of you. I heard the battle, remember? I know what you thought was going on and I heard you talk about avoiding casualties. By the by – where did you learn that version of this story?”

The other Outliers looked to Geiger. None of them had ever had contact with their source.

“It’ll take some time to tell you everything.” Geiger admitted. “But if he’s lying about this, he might be lying about a lot of things. I’ve been talking to him online for months – ever since the Reverend Stiles rally. He said he was worried about people exploiting people like us. His screen name is CloudedMind…”

***

An hour later, Warrick found himself walking into the administration building, accompanied by two guards. It had taken far too long to excuse himself, as Alloy, from the proceedings to go in search of, well, himself.

He hardly remembered the back and forth conversations as Mendel had bartered with the Outliers to keep Elizabeth’s secret. Even faced with prison time, though Mendel never put it on the table, Geiger and his crew had remained suspicious that he was trying to cover up the botched Become More treatment.

Warrick wasn’t so certain this wasn’t the case either. But in either case, that story not coming out hinged on Elizabeth’s well being, which should have been more than enough to keep ConquesTech honest.

In the end, Mendel had promised to back an outreach program for protomorphs and an anti-discrimination ad campaign on top of it. He’d even offered the Outliers positions in the program. Geiger had said he’d think about it before he and his friends had disappeared behind closed doors to iron out the details.

All the while, Tink had been yelling at Alloy to do something about finding Warrick. Her reasoning, given the information she had, was sound; Warrick wouldn’t be in the situation she thought he was in if not for the fact that he’d volunteered to help Alloy out a year prior.

She also hadn’t been shy in noting how the continued repercussions that event were having on her boyfriend was causing her opinion of Alloy to slip.

Warrick honestly didn’t know whether to be thrilled that she’d stood up for him against one of Mayfield’s idols, or hurt that she was chewing him out. Luckily, he’d finally found an opening to go on the hunt for himself soon after, letting him avoid the entire situation.

After that, it had just been a matter of stripping off the armor, letting Isp and Osp crush some rubble over him, and stumbling out of the destroyed corridor until he met up with the guards now escorting him up to the meeting room Tink was waiting in.

The guards directed him to the door of the room and took up posts on either side, leaving him to push it open on his own.

Warrick could only guess who normally used the meeting room. It certainly didn’t look like a boardroom with it’s round table, metal and fabric chairs, and projection screen. Tink say in one of the chairs facing the door, eyes locked on the grain of the desk’s wood before she heard the door open.

There were a lot of things going through his head that Warrick wanted to say, but none of them seemed really appropriate to say. After all, she had to have thought about the idea that he might not be coming back. He couldn’t just be casual about that.

It seemed that Tink felt the same way. She didn’t say a word as she rose from her chair and threw her arms around him. Before he could blurt anything out, she silenced both of them by leaning heavily into him and giving him a lingering kiss.

For a long time, they just stood there, holding each other, kissing, and occasionally pausing for breath. When the time for words finally came, it was Tink that said them.

“That’s another thing I love about you.” She said, refusing to relinquish the embrace. “You always keep your promises.”

***

Video surveillance tapped directly from ConquesTech’s own system played on a portable media player in the back of a private jet. The entire incident was less than three hours old, but nonetheless, the person that had forwarded it to the watcher found it was important that he see it.

“So… what’s your take on this?” The voice at the other end of an encrypted cell call purred.

“Bad intel can do terrible things to a plan.” Brother Wright replied. He took a sip of wine before continuing. “But I think you really want to know what I think of ‘CloudedMind’. You’re thinking Thunderhead?”

“You did send him out to recruit by any means necessary.” Shine pointed out.

“But he was supposed to let me know what he came up with. These four… extraordinary individuals… should have been on my desk within an hour of him hitting upon them.” Again, he anticipated Shine’s thoughts, “So if it is him, we have a leak problem in out organization.”

Shine laughed. There was little she could do to influence Wright’s thought processes; he was too far ahead of everyone for that. “Then what should we do about this?”

“Nothing. Yet.” Wright sat his wine class down. “I’ll make some calls to some of our friends in the IT sector after my meeting. See if we can find out who CloudedMind is and what his modus operandi is.” He sighed. “I wish you had come with me.”

“Sorry.” Shine purred again. “Television isn’t my thing.”

End Issue #37

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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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