Issue #45 – The Gremlin and The Game

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

Picket Lane was the part of Mayfield that turned up in all the brochures; a suburban environment within walking distance of truly urban convenience. It was six square blocks of single and double level housing and the corner stores, fast food places and salons to support them.

A favorite image of hipsters was the view from Wilson Avenue; a row of quaint little homes, a service road, a wall, then the towering, sterile hulk of International Search and Rescue’s east coast headquarters.

That there were two hours every day that ISR’s building and all the other towers on the edge of their ‘haven’ cast their homes in darkness didn’t seem to occur to Picket Lane residents. To them, theirs was an idyllic neighborhood where crime happened to other people and urban sprawl (often due to space devouring vanity projects like Picket Lane) was just an ugly, hateful rumor.

Even under the slate gray sky of an early February morning, the Lane looked like something out of a magazine. The sudden chromatic shift over one particular service street could have been seen as the visual version of a record scratch if anyone had seen it.

One moment, the sky was a uniform, pre-rain gray. In the next, the uniformity was torn asunder by a ragged slash of hazy rose that painted the whole street in its luminescence. A faint breeze that was blowing down the street dissipated to nothing and all the small, nocturnal animals went silent.

Then the rose light was overtaken by green brilliance for a fraction of a second before the spontaneous Aurora Virginia just as abruptly ceased entirely. Darkness once more pressed in on the world of Picket Lane. Something fell from the sky.

It hit a plastic recycling container and bounced about as well as a limp and unsuspecting body could. It landed on and toppled a crate of aluminum cans. Crumpling the rapidly scattering cans in its path, it rolled into the street where it came to rest on it’s back.

It lay still with half a dozen stalks of sugar cane clutched in it’s too-long arms and another protruding from its mouth. After several long minutes, it chewed the stalk in its mouth.

Ears like mossy, green bat wings twitched. A nose that was long and thin as an awl sniffed the air. By fits and increments, the chewing slowed. These were not the sounds and smells it was accustomed to. But there was no sign of immediate danger. The chewing resumed its normal pace.

Glossy, black eyes fluttered open. They weren’t the eyes of anything approaching human. There were no whites or iris, just an intelligent, black void under each eyelid. This was not the sky it was accustomed to either.

It sniffed again. Something smelled inviting. It sat bolt upright and was instantly made aware that this was a poor choice of action. A cornucopia of aches and pains shuddered through its system. Pain enough to make it drop it’s cargo of cane to clutch its pained back.

The creature was dressed in leather that was meticulously stitched together from much smaller pieces and studded with bits of metal. Here and there, cloth pockets and pouches were sewn or strapped into place, clinking and rustling as their contents were disturbed.

Eventually though, the tantalizing odor outweighed the dull aches of its dynamic entry. It got to it’s feet, not even topping five feet in spite of its long limbs, and trundled toward the impacted recycling and trash bins with an exaggerated, sidling gait.

It sniffed and snuffled around the bins before finding a small box marked with the arrows and lightning bolt symbol for electronics recycling. Long, bifurcated nails easily tore open the box excitedly.

Inside was a tablet computer that had seen better days. A diagonal crack reached almost entirely across the screen, which puckered with blisters over the conductive gel inside. The battery case had similarly been cracked open and covered with tape.

The creature’s black eyes widened with delight as it extricated it’s prize from the box. Green sparks crackled and danced at the point of contact, cascading down the sides of the machine. The screen flickered with feeble light.

Making a satisfied noise and never taking its eyes from the screen, it ambled on bare feet back to where it dropped its sugar cane. There, it hunkered down with the computer in one hand and a piece of cane in the other.

More green sparks skittered over the broken device and more and more, the screen regained some of it’s life. The light from it reflected in the creature’s eyes as the start screen finally resolved fully, showing it a dozen or so icons, more than half of which were for games.

“Oooo.” It marveled. A grubby nail touched a skull and crossbones symbol with the title King of the Spanish Main.

As the program started, the green sparks swarmed more tightly, overtaking the entire machine. The creature’s eyes widened.

“Arr!” bellowed a bombastic voice. “What manner o’ landlubbin’ sea dog be ye?”

A strangled sound escaped the creature and it dropped the computer, scuttling backward. It took only as much time as it needed to grab an extra piece of sugar cane before turning and tearing off down the street as fast as its legs could carry it.

“Ye cowardly scalawag.” barked the voice from the computer. “Get back here!” With that exclamation, a hand, scarred by the life of a buccaneer and tanned by the sun emerged from the swirl of green sparks and grasped the side of the screen.

***

A much paler hand, soft and supple from never doing an honest day’s work, snatched a plate of fried potatoes as it passed too near.

“Cyn, ask before you take.” Alexis chided as the platter was jerked from her hands. “I was passing those to Kareem.”

“By way of me.” Cyn reasoned while heaping her plate with her ill gotten gains. “I’ll pass it on when I’m done.”

“If there’s any left.” Melissa observed Cyn’s generous portions. Snark wasn’t unusual for her, but the teasing, playful tone was and it caused a brief pause in the conversation around the table. Everyone took just a second to notice it, register it as strange, then move on. No one noticed Kareem frowning briefly at it.

“There’s plenty.” Cyn waved the comment off. “Everyone cooks with me in mind.” She passed the platter on. “Here ya go, Kareem.”

The young telepath blinked distractedly. “Hmm? Oh yes, thank you, Cynthia.” He accepted the platter and doled out a modest portion.

On the other side of the table, Laurel used one hand to carefully stack some strips of bacon along with some potatoes atop a piece of toast while reading off her tablet screen with the other. After taking a bite and chewing thoughtfully, she said, “There was an astral disturbance last night. Did you sense anything, Kareem?”

He shook his head. “It is difficult to sense storms on the Astral while I am not projecting astrally, unless I am actively looking for them.”

Juniper paused in smothering her breakfast in hot sauce to frown. “Do you think something dangerous came through?”

“I’m not sure.” Laurel replied. “The transceivers pinpointed it to the Picket Lane neighborhood and there haven’t been any strange police calls from there. Or any at all for that matter. I’m going to head over there after breakfast to check it out. Any takers?”

Warrick gave her an apologetic look over his plate. “I would but today’s the Expo; Tink’s picking me up. I’ll keep my phone on in case things go south though.”

“I…” Juniper stared at her now entirely red covered meal, the frown still playing over her face. “I can’t. I really wish I could but Adel…”

“Ooo, Adel.” Cyn and Melissa said in concert. A look of confusion passed between them and Melissa looked away. No longer challenged for the right to tease Juniper, Cyn continued. “Haven’t heard much about Adel lately. Turnip boy’s back in action?”

Juniper turned red from embarrassment. “Well, no. We just haven’t been going out. A-and to tell the truth, I’m not really sure I want to… to keep doing it?” She trailed off as if asking Cyn if that’s what she wanted to say.

“Whoa! When did this happen?” Cyn’s eyes widened.

“I’ve mentioned it before.” stammered Juniper.

“You just weren’t paying attention.” Melissa put it bluntly.

Laurel could see where this would turn into an argument and moved quickly to stop it before it started. “Cyn, Melissa, what about you two? Any plans?”

“None.” Melissa admitted. “Though I don’t know how much help I’ll be against something out of Faerie.”

“No one’s fighting yet.” Laurel pointed out. “There are plenty of reports from other parts of the country of non-hostile Faerie creatures. Judging by the lack of chaos around Picket Lane, that might be the case here.”

“How boring.” Cyn folded her arms. “No giant scorpion? No bat-winged terror like in Huston last month?”

“Boring means people aren’t getting hurt.” Warrick offered between bites of toast. “Plus, a quiet one could still be cool. Maybe you’ll get a little Faerie sidekick out of the deal.”

Cyn snorted at the thought.

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” Laurel assured her. “As is, we’re just going to track down whatever crossed over. If it’s a fight, we can call for you.”

Taking time out for a massive mouthful of potatoes, Cyn thought it over. “Well, you remember that prowler that made me look like a chump a couple of weeks ago? Don’t answer that. Anyway, the Scribe says he hit another high rise Thursday. Same MO; safe cracked high-tech style, valuables looted, and the guy left through a fifty-third story window.”

“And you’re still looking to pay him back.” Ian said from the far counter where he was pouring orange juice. “Cyn, the revenge thing shouldn’t be our MO.”

Cyn huffed and folded her arms. “It’s not revenge, it’s for the public good. This guy throws himself off buildings with no net and no powers! How long until he misses one of his big, flashy, totally-showing-off jumps and lands on someone’s grandma?”

“And the fact that he dusted you with pepper spray, crushed your hands and made you look really stupid had nothing to do with it?” Melissa asked.

This time, it was Kareem that stepped in to stop a full blown shouting match.

“This thief, you’ve described his pattern before: does he not always commit his crimes at night?” This drew a nod from Cyn. “Then why not come along with us today and we will help you in your search tonight?”

Seeing the logic of this, Cyn relented. “Okay. Sounds good to me as long as you’re promising to help.”

“Nothing would make me happier.”

“So I guess that means you’re in on this little hunt.” Laurel smiled at him as he nodded. “Good. Now that just leaves the love birds.” She looked to Ian and Alexis. “Spending the day together?”

“I wish.” Alexis sighed. “But I have a meeting with the teachers, trying to hammer it into their skulls that teaching descendant kids is different from teaching other kids. Do you remember the sophomore, Marsha Connors?”

“Girligator.” Laurel nodded.

“Right. She has problems staying hydrated, and while she does drink prescription medicinal cocktails with meals, she still needs to have water with her at all times.” She sighed heavily. “School’s been in session for months now and I’ve still got teachers who institute a no food or drink policy giving her detention.”

“Seriously?” Cyn scowled. “There are still teachers who won’t let you eat in class?”

Ignoring the true thrust of her question, Alexis continued. “And just last week, I caught Mr. Tully, one of the math teachers yelling at Joy Duvall for running on the wall! Running on the wall! It’s part of her powers, she’s in a school to learn about her powers, and she gets yelled at for it!”

She made a sound that could have been mistaken as a snarl and sipped some coffee. “I just wish that we knew for sure that we could trust any other old Academy teachers. At least they knew how to interact with kids with powers.”

“Maybe the problem is a lack of teachers with powers.” Laurel reasoned. “Besides us, of course. Tell you what, I might know some people who can help; the second I get back home tonight, I’ll start making phone calls.”

“You’re a lifesaver, L.” Alexis smiled at her.

“That’s why I have a superhero costume.” She laughed in reply. “So Ian, how about you?”

Ian had taken his seat next to Alexis. He nodded after a second’s though. “Sure, I’m in. But I need to be over at St. Drausinus by five, okay? I’m giving the sisters some back-up chaperoning for a trip to the dinner theater. Tonight, the kids see Don Quixote.”

“Excellent.” Laurel smiled. “We can leave right after breakfast.” After another bite, she had a second thought. “And after I make a phone call.”

Series Navigation<< Issue #44 – It’s Official!Issue #46 – The Juniper Chronicles >>

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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