Issue #39: Descendants 2095

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

Part 4

Try as he might, Warrick couldn’t help but notice that the years had been very kind to his ex. He’d already known that, of course; the Union and the Guardians worked together closely and he’d had many opportunities for awkward meetings just like that one over the years.

That said, he’d never had to actually work with her in that time. Concerns over how Meg would take it; given how she still believed the Tink had almost stolen Warrick from her at their engagement party, had led to the administration, including Laurel and Kareem, to make sure of that. That kept their exposure to each other to one or two days out of every handful of months.

Whatever was happening with Paralus apparently obviated such niceties. The potential for awkward silences, or worse, actual discussion of what had happened made Warrick wish he could be anywhere else at the moment.

He didn’t want to think about that. Or any of the other things in his head. All the could-have-beens and scenarios of how he could have handled things better were already a recurring theme in quiet hours of reflection. He didn’t need them encroaching on mission time.

The feeling was more than mutual for Christina. She would have much preferred being back at her main lab in Dublin than facing old ghosts, but when all was said and done, no one else could have taken her place and had even the chance of a favorable result.

She looked to Kareem and gave him an apologetic look for interrupting. “Sorry, Kareem… couldn’t help myself.”

Ever affable, the Deputy Director waved away her apology. “Quite alright. The truth is you’re far more qualified to give this briefing than I am.”

Christina schooled her face and nodded. In the same action, she directed her thoughts in the much practiced way that awakened the circuitry hidden in the circlet around her head.

It warmed very slightly and sent a signal back to her optic nerve, presenting her with a visual representation of the neural interface. With incredible ease, she found and linked into to control schema for the holographic projector. Anton Paralus’s image was replaced by a crystal clear, static image of a mammoth barge anchored off the Scottish coast.

“This is the artificial island Damocles picked up.” She explained, keeping her eyes on the image, not her audience. “Some of you may recognize it as my mobile research platform, Necessity. Its purpose is to eventually provide laboratory support for the Guardians and all of our sister organizations around the world independent of any government oversight or interference.”

A wistful, almost mournful expression briefly fell over her face as she described the intent of her creation, but she quickly hid it. “Necessity was in the middle of final test phases; doing maneuvers in the mid-Atlantic six months ago when I was called away to the Guardians HQ in Luxembourg. Two days later, we lost contact with it.”

She heaved a short sigh. “The platform was fully operational and I had moved… everything into it. All of my prototypes, the hard copies of my design archive—everything. That’s why the Guardians sent me to assist in this; Necessity was found in American waters, but I’m the one who knows all the back doors and weaknesses in my tech.”

“Wait a minute.” Talia hunched forward in her chair. “This happened that long ago and we’re just hearing about it?” She looked to Kareem. “I thought we were friendly with the Guardians.”

“We are friendly.” Kareem replied. “But we’re still separate organizations. The Guardians wanted to keep news of the theft internal so as to not create a panic.” He glanced over to Christina. “And to protect Metal X’s reputation should the thief use her technology for nefarious purposes.”

“Yeah, about that.” Cyn looks like she couldn’t decide if she should be laughing or not. “Back up to the part where old Doc Powerless is suddenly worthy of putting together a group of heavy hitters. The guy’s a joke. Igor to Talbot’s Frankenstein.”

Christina took a deep breath. Cyn was the second to last person in the room she wanted to address directly, but her question got to the heart of the situation. “I don’t blame you for thinking that, Cyn.”

Using the neural interface, she changed the holographic image to an older file photo of Paralus from before he’d needed the headgear or neck brace. “Even after his apparent death, most of us think only about the humiliating string of defeats he’s wracked up over the years. But we tend to forget that this man is brilliant. He’s a multiple degree holder in Biology, Computer Science, and Robotics, and that’s not counting all the sciences he’s dabbled in. Despite the fact that half the people here made him look like a boob half a dozen times before they were twenty-one doesn’t change the fact that he’s a modern Renaissance Man.”

“I’ve done some checking and I’ve come to realize something,” Christina continued, “Paralus’s problem wasn’t that he was stupid, it’s that he wasn’t very inventive. All of his own plots failed miserably. However, when he was working to improve other people’s tech: Talbot’s cyborgs, the inugami strains he worked on, Maven’s X-90 conversions the Guardians ran into in Budapest—he’s frighteningly competent.

“From what I’ve read,” Talia had as little to do with Metal X as her brother, largely as a show of sibling solidarity, “You’re one of the top gadgeteers in Europe. On Laurel’s level.”

That made Christina blush; Codex was someone she idolized in her work. “I-I suppose that’s true.” She said. “And that’s the problem. Imagine what Paralus can do with that capability.” She took the pause that created to gather her thoughts on that account. “The danger is too great for the Guardians to ignore. If we can’t regain control of Necessity… they’ve given us a directive to destroy it.”

***

“You saw the look in her eyes back there.” Lucian commented. The meeting had broken up following a crash course in the layout and defensive systems of the Necessity. He, Warrick and Brian were in the men’s changing area, gearing up for the mission.

Unlike the locker room attached to the HQ’s gym, the changing room was for heroes only and built like a high security vault. Gadgets, weaponry and other heroic paraphernalia a given hero decided to keep at the HQ was kept there in biometrically locked security boxes with changing stalls for up to ten men to change in relative privacy should the need arise.

Even though they weren’t alone, Warrick knew Lucian was talking to him. He paused in pulling on his black ballistic cloth undershirt to reply. “I did, Lucian.”

“And who could blame her.” The Ape Knight continued, buckling on his own armor. Long ago, he’d abandoned the magically enhanced metal breastplate Morganna had provided for a flexible ceramic model that was even more bombastically stylized and came with greaves and bracers.

“Everything she’s worked for over the last… decade? Perhaps longer. And it has now fallen into the hands of evil. And beyond that, she may be forced to annihilate it before this day is over.”

“I’m well aware of that, Lucian.” Warrick picked up one of a handful of metal blocks he’d taken out of his own security box. They were a complex alloy of titanium, aluminum, iron and copper as well as sundry other metals; a marriage of strength, durability, lightness and heat resistance that normally took expensive nano-assembly to create. It still didn’t rival orihalcon or orihalcite, but forming those into usable armor would take him days.

With barely a thought the block became a segmented torso plate in the usual style he wore when on missions. Somewhere along the way, the Union’s public relations people had expressed concern over the fact that Alloy’s armor was different based on his mood when he formed it. So he’s promised to take some care in forming a ‘standard’ armor when he had time before a mission.

“And?” Lucian prompted when Warrick had been silent too long.

Warrick picked up the snake shaped orihalcite arm bands he was so used to swapping for his usual steel ones and pulled them up to his biceps. The undershirt had extra padding where the bands looped to increase the comfort of prolonged swinging or other heavy uses of Isp and Osp’s services.

“I won’t let that happen.” He told Lucian. With a thought, the bands came to life, the metal serpents uncoiling and slithering out to their nominal length. “We won’t let that happen.” Isp and Osp retained the snake heads long enough to turn and nod their agreement at this.

His passionate response was met with a pleased grunt. “None of us will. But I was concerned about your discomfort affecting this mission. I know that you may feel guilt for her feelings, but—“

“That’s the thing, Lucian.” Warrick sighed. He was in the process of forming the rest of his armor and leaned forward to rest his head against the cool surface of the mirror. “Cyn knows it, even if I never told her, so I’m not sure how many of you can tell and are just too polite to say—unlike Cyn.”

“You mean that you were lying today at Wade’s?” Lucian asked.

“Is that coming from some special sense you have?” Warrick asked.

“No. It’s just that no one would hold on to guilt for not loving someone for almost twenty years.” The Ape Knight pushed the door open to his dressing stall and knuckled out into the room. “But there are other things a man would feel guilty for… remorseful. But I’m afraid I don’t fully understand. Why would you tell her that you didn’t love her?”

The last block formed a sleek, shuttered helm with eyeholes covered in a thin mesh. Warrick let Isp and Osp stretch and rippled their liquid forms for a moment while he regarded himself in the mirror.

“She had just gone thought hell, Lucian. Because of me. My power. My problems. And… she still wanted to be with me. Not just that, but she was talking about us being like… like a super couple. You know, fighting villains together. I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Warrick, you are my friend.” Lucian rumbled as the other man exited his stall, “But that wasn’t your choice to make; as is especially evidenced by the fact that despite your deceit, Metal X has become one of us and has excelled impressively.”

Isp and Osp turned and looked accusingly at their partner. He knew very well what their take on the whole things was. Being privy to his emotional state, they’d known before anyone else, and weren’t shy about expressing it.

“I know. I was stupid.” Warrick took a seat on the bench running the length of the room. “Everything I did back then was stupid; the proposal, the break-up… I should have left well enough alone. I should have trusted her. She always was smarter than me after all; I don’t get how I thought I could decide something like that for her.”

He put his head in his gauntleted hands. “And by the time I figured that out… I’d met Meg and got engaged. Then the mess with the engagement party… It was way too late.”

A huge and heavy hand landed on his shoulder. “It is not too late to give both of you closure.” He squeezed Warrick’s shoulder when he started to protest, making the gesture evident even through the armor. “I’m not saying that you have to betray the woman you love now, or your wonderful family. But you can’t keep this secret. You guilt and uncertainty and Metal X’s own issues with working with you could endanger the mission.”

Warrick was about to respond when they heard the door to another stall open. Brian stood there, looking like a he wanted to run away under their gaze. He was dressed in a padded suit of red ballistic cloth with segmented panels of dark blue over the joints and ribs for enhanced mobility. There was a stylized, silver eye on his chest, the symbol that also appeared on the Aegis Shard of Entropy that was the source of his powers.

“I-I wasn’t supposed to hear any of that, was I, sirs?” He squeaked.

The two elder heroes regarded the younger for a moment. Usually part of the night shift made up of the junior members of the union, Brian was enthusiastic and eager to please. He had also grown up enamored with what had then been called prelates, leaving him with a rosy colored view of what they were like.

Both Lucian and Warrick knew that this wasn’t just about violating their privacy for him. Lucian gave Warrick a meaningful aside glance.

Warrick wondered if Lucian had done this on purpose, knowing how much he endeavored to make a good example for the younger heroes. Somehow, he managed not to sigh. “No, you probably weren’t, Brian. But it’s fine. Like I said, I’m not going to let this mission fail. “

“Does that mean you—“Brian started, but Warrick swiftly cut him off.

“Yes. It does.” He rose from the bench and checked the joints of his armor. “Mission time, Brian. Let’s go: transform.”

“C-could you call me Entropy, sir?” Brian asked. He was actually blushing with nervousness at addressing the Alloy.

“Are you still using that name?” Warrick asked.

He got a quick nod in return. “I-is there something wrong, sir?”

Warrick shrugged. “I don’t know… I mean it’s your name, Brian, don’t let me make you change it, but I just don’t get those names some of you night-shifters give yourselves. Flay and Blood-monger come instantly to mind. What’s the public supposed to think when Blood-monger comes to save the day? She sounds worse than most of the baddies with codenames—and it has nothing to do with her telekinesis except the effect field is red.”

“There was Darkness, sir.” The younger hero offered.

“Her powers were shooting darkness at people.” Warrick pointed out. “Though I guess for you, Entropy makes sense, that’s your shard and all…”

Lucian gave him another look.

“Rambling to get my head on straight.” Warrick explained to him. “Let’s go, Entropy, transform.”

Brian nodded sharply and held up his left fist, the back of the hand facing away from him. Closing his eyes and letting out a long breath, he opened his mind to the power that was always just below his waking mind.

Red lightning crackled around his fist and flowed down his arm, bringing into being a bracer of dull, red metal covered with alien markings. Along the back of the bracer, an irregular piece of jagged crystal grew until it took up a third of the device.

The moment the crystal was full grown, Brian snapped his eyes opened. They too were covered over with red lightning. “For I was transformed by the power of the Aegis…” He started to intone the words that fueled his transformation. An invisible shock ran through the room.

***

Warrick almost fell off the couch, stopped only by a pair of hands that suddenly clamped to his temples and kept him upright. The world whirled with strangeness and incongruity for a moment. How bright everything suddenly seemed wasn’t helping.

“It’s alright, it’s alright.” A voice he only barely recognized said. Overly dilated eyes fixed on the person holding his head. She wore a calming expression as if this happened all the time. Maybe it did for her, whoever she was, but not for him.

Who was she anyway? For that matter, who was he?

Warrick Kaine. He answered his own question. And the woman was… a fortuneteller? That was somewhere between an understatement and an outright lie, but he couldn’t quite place where it fell. He couldn’t quite place where any of what had just gone on just fell.

“When are you starting?” That was JC. “He’s just a little freaked out form you holding his head like that. He’ll relax once you start.”

“It has already been done.” Madame Myss-tery informed him. “In the time it took fro him to blink, at the speed of thought, he’s had his vision.”

“What seriously?” JC asked.

“Yes. Seriously.” She managed to remain in character even as Warrick wobbled between her hands.

“Are you okay, Warrick?” A hand touched his arm and it took him entirely too long to follow the arm with his eyes all the way up to Tink’s face. She looked like she wasn’t sure if she should be worried yet or not.

He moved the fake gypsy’s hands away from his head and shook it to clear the cobwebs. It was like waking up from a particularly vivid dream; everything was fading except for a vague unsettled feeling. Still, he offered her a smile. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

So what’d you see?” JC asked, evidently trying to decide if he’d got his money’s worth.

“Uhh…” Warrick shuffled through what remained in his head, bits and pieces, none of which made much sense. It was fading like a vivid dream. “I… had kids.” He said dumbly. “And worked in a skyscraper…” He glanced up to Tink, who had raised any eyebrow at the ‘kids’ comment. “You were there.” He managed to drawl. It was enough to set her mind at ease, but did nothing for his. Why weren’t his memories of his kids connected to Tink? Maybe it was part that had faded already.

“What about me?” Kay muscled her way past Madame Myss-tery to bring herself to his attention.

Again, he wracked his brain and came up with an answer he clearly couldn’t say in the middle of the party, or even to Kay. “You… were a teacher. Out West.”

This completely blindsided Kay. “Wait. What? What can I teach anyone? I don’t even like kids.” She turned to the fortuneteller for answers.

“Many things may change between now and the time of the vision.” The answer was quickly at hand; this wasn’t the first time someone wasn’t happy with what a vision had revealed. “And there is always free will. No fate is set.”

“I just wish I could remember it. It’s all kind of fuzzy.” Warrick put his hand on Tink and smiled up at her. The smile faltered a bit as shadowy fingers of guilt played in the back of his mind, but he recovered. It couldn’t have been all the bad. After all, she had been there.

***

No fate is set.

But the motion of the future continues to rush onward. Some things change. Some things remain constant. And free will is the deciding factor.

None of the residents of Freeland House, or the guests at the party paid much attention to a certain article in the paper that morning. Even Ian, who read the Scribe every morning, lacked the necessary knowledge to understand what it truly meant in the grand scheme of things.

On page six, beside an ad for home improvement supplies and above the police blotter, there was a headline: Dayspring Freshman Loses Arm In Car Crash.

End Descendants #39

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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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