Issue #45 – The Gremlin and The Game

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

Part 2

The elevator doors opened and a wall of sound hit the trio of Warrick, Tink, and JC just before the enormity of the Mayfield Convention and Trade Center hit them. Coming out of the elevators, situated in the middle of the fifty thousand square foot space, they couldn’t help but feel very small and very excited.

Booths formed an irregular grid, playing home to huge screens showing games movies, concept robots, toys, and wherever possible, plenty of promotional material for all the above.

Where there was space, it was filled with people. People of all shapes and sizes and all walks of life. Some came dressed for the occasion as their favorite characters in costumes ranging from lazily haphazard to those that required operators.

Tink was first off the elevator. Her fiery hair was done up in an elaborate flip that represented the most work she’d ever put into her hair in her life. To go with it, she wore a bright green, long-sleeved shirt and a black denim skirt that reached to her ankles. The shirt bore an image of Rupert, a teddy bear made of riveted metal plates who was the mascot of Iron Woobie Studios, makers of her current favorite show, Imago. The ensemble was completed by a red and black messenger bag stamped with the broken-glass SID logo of Superior Imaging and Design, makers of the Deathgate series of games.

She gawked at the sheer number of people and the size of the hall. “It’s like every nerd in the world is here!”

Warrick was next off the elevator. Like his girlfriend, he was similarly wearing his fandom on his sleeve. Iron Woobie’s Rupert had a home on his hat, a baseball cap featuring the bear holding his arms out for hugs. His white tee prominently featured the female leads of Malady Place; Renee Faust and Winter Capshaw in an extra-cute, childish art style. Both were sitting in a tree with Renee doing a cartwheel on a branch while Winter clung, weeping, to the trunk. He too had a messenger bag, though his was made from very fine chainmail and bore the name and hammer logo of his own blacksmith website, which JC wasn’t aware he ran.

“Isn’t it great?” He laughed from by her side. “If you can believe it, this is about half the size of the ones I used to go to back home.”

Tink couldn’t get the grin off of her face. “Really? Because this is the most people I’ve ever seen together.”

JC Slate slouched out of the elevator last, not knowing how close he should stand next to the happy couple, especially since he could tell Warrick was trying to work up the courage to slip his arm around her waist.

In defiance of the cool weather outside, he had on a white sleeveless shirt and jeans. His baseball cap bore the logo for Sanctum Press, the publishers of the Prelates of… family of comic books.

He was too deep in thought to take in the sights until Warrick swatted him on the shoulder. “Huh?”

“Tink says our tickets to try the new full immersion Deathgate are for noon-fifteen. So we’ve got about four hours to burn. We’re thinking of hitting the comic booths first, see if we can get some free downloads—or better yet, I hear Grandeur Comics is giving out actual paper comics!”

“You and paper, man.” JC shook his head. “Next think you know, you’ll get a gas powered car, and a giant alarm clock around your neck and you’ll be able to travel back in time to the oughts, man.”

“Hey, people pay like an hour’s pay to get a paper newspaper and that’s only good for one day.” Warrick defended. “A comic is good forever.”

“Until it falls apart because it’s made of paper instead of nice, durable data.” JC countered.

Tink sighed and waded into the battle to drag the pair out. “So, JC, where would you rather go? We’ve got all kinds of time. I hear Wallace Teal is signing copies of the Cooking with Awesome fifth season flat format.”

“Sounds good.” JC ducked his head. “But first, I guess I should give Lisa’s Deathgate ticket to someone…”

A slight frown interrupted Tink’s geek euphoria. “It’s still bothering you, isn’t it? But you said she told you she had family issues. It’s not like she blew you off on purpose.”

“Yeah,” Warrick added. “She was pretty excited about going last night, why would she wait until the last moment to ditch if that was the case?”

JC shrugged. “I don’t know. But it wouldn’t be the first time. I know we’ve been doing good since we’ve known you guys, but it wasn’t always like that. We’d break up over anything, even honest mistakes. Maybe she thinks I’m going to blow all my money here and won’t be able to afford anything for her for Valentines.”

“Lisa’s not like that.” Tink chided.

“Now, maybe. But this isn’t the first time this has happened.” JC said sullenly.

They had to move aside as another group came off the elevator. Once they had done so, Warrick clapped his friend on the back. “This also isn’t the first time she’s had things come up. Her family, stuff with Kay, projects for class. She’s always busy and she rarely plans very well. I don’t think you should read anything more in this than last week when she had to run out on your date, remember?”

“I guess…”

“Trust me. And if there is a problem, I’ve got your back-up: we sell Lisa’s Deathgate ticket, and you use that money to get her something amazing for V-day.”

The idea bought the light of hope to JC’s countenance. “Alright, that sounds doable. Thanks, man.”

“Anytime, brotha.” Warrick grinned at him.

“Hey,” Something occurred to JC and he motioned Warrick off to the side and hopefully out of Tink’s hearing. “How about we both break off and shop for the girls at some point while we’re here?”

“That’s not going to be necessary.” said Tink, who was not as out of earshot as JC hoped.

He snorted. “Yeah, right, like you’re going to let him get away with not doing something big for you on Valentines.”

The young couple exchanged a look and spoke at the same time. “Today is our Valentine’s Day.” They shared a smile and a blush at their synchronicity.

“Jinx.” Tink said automatically before shrugging at JC’s expression. “What can I say, we’re geeks.”

“And we’re probably going to ‘break off’ on our own after the Deathgate demo.” Warrick tried to sound apologetic, but his eagerness to spend some alone time with his girlfriend was evident.

“That’s cool.” JC said. “I’m not gonna be a third wheel. Besides, there’s plenty I can do without you guys.” To illustrate this, he pointed at one of the giant screens displaying the upcoming scheduled events around the convention. “Conference room three’s running a 10,000 Swords marathon. I think I’ll be fine.”

***

The arrival of the city’s native heroes in Picket Lane would have turned a few heads any day, but on a lazy Saturday morning in winter, with nothing else to do, the number of eyes peering at them from the slats of venetian blinds, barely cracked front doors and over fences was slightly unnerving.

“I feel strangely like I’m in the middle of a parade.” Said Chaos. “Maybe we should have bought candy to throw.”

Codex was intently watching the screen of her palmtop, but that line made her smile. “It’s not every day a troupe of costumed vigilantes walks down their sidewalks. Half of them are wondering what this will do to property values.”

“They could at least wave, say hello or something. This is just sort of creepy.”

Ephemeral briefly considered reaching out mentally and perusing some of the surrounding minds, but resisted. Now that he could control what thoughts he read, he needed to control his curiosity and habits. “Do you think that some of these people witnessed the Astral event we are tracking?”

“If they did, they didn’t recognize it was unusual.” Codex replied, taking a turn without warning. “Almost there.” She added almost to herself. “One more block.”

“How can you be so sure?” Hope asked. “In psych class, we’ve been talking about the bystander effect, and…”

“Oh I’m sure.” Codex said. “Picket Lane has the third lowest crime rate of any neighborhood in the city and the fourth highest per capita number of calls to the police per year. A half dozen people alone called the MPD four weeks ago over a stray dog that wandered into the neighborhood. They’re an example of neighborhood watch culture gone too far.”

“So if no one saw anything,” Facsimile pondered, “How are we going to track this thing? Maybe nothing came across at all.”

Led by Codex, they turned onto a service alley running behind a row of houses.

Chaos stopped walking the moment they round the corner, almost causing Facsimile to run into his back. “I think I know how.” He said in a growl.

Less than a block down the street, a middle-aged blond in a loose sweater and jacket, apparently, the homeowner, was arguing animatedly while trying to get at the overturned recycling and garbage bins littering her side of the alley.

She wasn’t the one Chaos was concerned about. It was who she was arguing with; a statuesque figure in dark robes with a hood obscuring her face and an ivory staff topped with an ankh in her hand.

“You’re still not holding the sins of Morganna against Occult are you?” sighed Codex. “I thought we were over this.”

“I’ve conceded that she’s got good intentions.” He replied. “But I still don’t trust magic, or those Books. How do either of you know they’re not manipulating you to their own ends?”

“They might have some sort of rudimentary magical programming that makes it look like they have intelligence. But to say they’re sentient is like saying a search engine is sentient because it adapts to the data you ask it for.”

“You can’t be sure of it though.” He shook his head. “Neither can she. And the fact remains that everything that’s come out of the Magical World so far has been hostile. I’m right to be on my guard.”

Codex just shook her head. They were close enough now to hear the conversation.

“…is nothing in my garbage.” The homeowner was protesting. “Now please, the truck comes to pick these up at noon and I have to get these resorted.”

Occult was trying in vain to focus on an unseen spell while dealing with the irate faux suburbanite. “You can’t tell that, ma’am. If you give me a few minutes to focus, I can, but until then, you have no idea what could happen if you disturb anything here.”

“I know what’s going to happen if I don’t sort everything out again: I will be fined, the fact that I was fined will be marked down on my homeowner’s record, and my chances at winning a second term as president of the homeowner’s association will be ruined!”

A savage sound left Occult’s mouth as the spell collapsed for the third time at the concentration shattering shrillness of the woman. “Ma’am.” She sharply warned. “If I don’t sense this area for lingering magic effects, you might become infected with a…a… vampiric spore that will turn you into a creature of the night who preys on the blood of everyone you love. So. Back. Off.”

The scary part to her was that she wasn’t making that up off the top of her head. Not entirely at least; the effect was that of a powerful curse described, but thankfully not taught in the Book of Reason. A counter-spell, was also proscribed, but the homeowner didn’t need to know that.

Evidently,it didn’t convince the other woman, who drew herself up, put her hands on her hips, and demanded. “Just who do you think you are?”

“Her name’s Occult.” Facsimile made it a point to land hard just beside the troublesome woman, fluffing her wings for effect. “She’s a hero like us, except we have more face time.” Rocking forwards on the balls of her feet, she towered over and leaned uncomfortably close. “And she kind of knows what she’s talking about.”

With a tiny shriek, the woman backpedaled and almost fell. But her sense of indignation quickly reasserted itself. “The Descendants!” She said the words like they were an appeal to a higher power. “Thank God you’re here. This woman won’t let me sort my recycling!”

“It’s for your own protection, Miss…” Codex stepped in as the rest of the team approached.

Sensing a moment for her own self importance, the woman reached out to shake Codex’s gloved hand. “Tate. And it’s Mrs. My husband usually does this, but he’s away on business.”

Codex nodded amiably. “Mrs. Tate. What Occult is telling you is true, this area might be very dangerous to you. I promise you that we will deal with any inconvenience this causes you.”

“But nothing happened here.” The woman said obstinately. “The wind knocked over my trash. That’s all.”

Chaos gave her a measuring look from where he stooped in the middle of the street. “The wind also toss your freshly cut and… ugh… chewed bamboo around too?”

Ephemeral saw what he was looking at and knelt down for a closer look. “Not bamboo… sugar cane.”

“Sugar?” Mrs. Tate spat. “Don’t be ridiculous, I’d never keep real sugar in the house. It’s so unhealthy! We only use SweetClear Crystals.”

Neither of the men were listening to her. Ephemeral had his physical eyes closed and his mind’s eye open, observing the fallen stalks. On the astral side, they gave off a florescent emerald color no plant on earth could replicate. “These are not of this world.”

Mrs. Tate scoffed. “This is ridiculous. Alien bamboo? There is nothing wrong with my garbage. Now if you’ll excuse me—“ Before anyone could stop her, she reached down and grabbed the edge of her plastics bin…

And just as quickly dropped it with a howl of pain. Sanguine droplets formed form a slice across her knuckles.

“What happened?!” Hope was quickly at the woman’s hand, moving to examine the wound.

Meanwhile, Codex leaned over to peer into the bin. “You won’t believe this…”

Inside the box, a three-inch tall man, shirtless except for a bright red sash and heavily scarred, clutched a bloodied cutlass at the ready. “Come on, ye giants!” Snarled the tiny pirate. “Come ‘an taste yer end against Cap’m Triple Beard.”

***

Wherever he was, it was wonderful. There were machines everywhere and almost every single one of them was a hundred times more complex than anything at home. After all, why build a machine to do what magic can do better?

Because it was fun. And this world was full of fun. Already, he was weighed down with cables and boxes and all manner of things pulled out of strange smelling devices and either stuffed in his pockets or wrapped around his person.

That’s when he caught the scent. It was something different from all the other machines he’d run into. It was overwhelming, almost narcotic. He had to see it. To touch it. To take it apart and try to put it back together.

With a gurgle of glee, he scampered off in that direction. If he could read the alien language all around him, he’d know it was in the vicinity of the Mayfield Convention and Trade Center.

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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