Issue #49 – George

This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 4

The Legion of One twirled his baton in his hand as he fell into line with the others. “So what kind of defenses are we looking at?”

“According to records stored with the contractors of note responsible for the security of all Quintillion offices, the package is geared toward protecting against corporate espionage. It will not provide any meaningful resistance to a brute force incursion.” Leo, the Aces’ machine in disguise as a man, didn’t bother turning his head to address the question.

Legion grunted. “Not what I was concerned over.”

“What then?” Thunderhead laughed mockingly, sauntering along behind the other three with his hands in his coat pockets. “Are you scared of prelates?”

“I am not-”

“Because this isn’t New York. Or Mayfield. This is Baltimore, where the local prelates stick to street crime and the cops haven’t even considered budgeting for a superhuman division. They have never run into anything like us before.” He gestured grandly. “If it wasn’t for those anti-SH marines, we could probably rob this place blind without getting so much as scratched.”

“Then why aren’t we loading the plane with jewels and cash instead of this thing?” Shine sniffed petulantly.

“Because there are some things more important than money.”

“Like what?”

“Like power. Leverage over everyone, always knowing the weak spot to hit with a bribe or blackmail.” Thunderhead pointed to the door ahead of them. “Behind that door is the means… minus some R&D… of changing the world so no one will ever be incorruptible again.”

“There is a flaw in that logic.” said Leo. “We do not know where in the building this device is. In fact, we do not have credible confirmation that this machine exists.”

“Maybe not, but the research being done exists, I lifted it from the mind of someone who was performing it. That, plus the various pieces of hardware and components coming in… Believe me, this dream machine exists. And don’t worry about finding it: I took care of that.”

“Yeah, and I don’t trust your solution either.” Shine snapped. “I hate betting on an incompetent.”

Thunderhead ignored her. “Shine, the door, please.”

She glared at him sidelong and flexed her claws. Each one was tipped with her usual orihalcite razors. “Better not be a thick door, or we could be here a long time: these are for slashing, not digging.”

“Go for the bolt.” Thunderbolt stood back and waved his hand dismissively. “And once we’re done here, we should look into getting you some mole claws. Just in case.”

“Very funny.” Shine deadpanned. “Just stand back and watch.”

But before she could go to work on the door, the security panel beeped thrice in rapid succession and it opened on its own.

George started to step out, leaning heavily on his cane, his eyes widening with shock when he saw who was waiting for him.

Shine didn’t disappoint, leaping forward to grab his lapels. “Alright, old man,” She pulled him around and laid him out on the ground between the door and her partners. In seconds, she was straddling him, making sure he saw her wicked claws. “Let’s hear all about this dream machine. Where is it?!”

Thunderhead’s eyes went unfocused for a moment and then he blinked and shook his head. “Shine, wait! He’s not alone, someone’s clouding his mind… their minds! There’s more than—“

From the door, Darkness released the black heat particles making her invisible, sending them out in a cloud to engulf Shine. At the same time, she loosed a bolt of the stuff directly into the other woman’s back.

Unable to see the attack coming, Shine’s superior reflexes couldn’t help her dodge. The blast took her off her feet and cannoned her toward Legion. They would have collided, but Leo stepped into her path and caught her in mid-flight around the waist. Saved though she was, she nearly vomited from the impact.

Before Leo even set her down, Legion drew his sword and teleported to stand directly in front of Darkness.

He didn’t get a chance to use it, because George caught his legs with his own and twisted, throwing him off his feet. Cursing, the teleporter hit the roof back first and performed a defensive roll to avoid an ax kick from the surprisingly spry old man. He saved himself, but a sweep from George sent his sword spinning away across the ground.

Meanwhile, Darkness hurled another blast, this one at Leo, who bought up his forearms to block it. The best she managed was to drive him a few steps backward.

Shine’s face contorted with rage as she saw George fighting Legion. “That’s no old man…”

“Wait.” Thunderhead put his hand on her shoulder. “There’s more here. Someone’s protecting their minds from me. I need you to—“

“Bullshit!” Shine roared, shaking his hand off. “I don’t care who else is here. I don’t even care how they knew what we were up to.” Streaking forward, she tackled George from behind,knocking Legion aside in the process.

Before George hit the ground, Shine flipped him on his back, raking his chest with her claws. “I should have smelled you a mile away. You and me, let’s go. Get gold, bitch!”

‘George’ slammed her in the nose with his cane, which suddenly transformed into a squid-like tentacle that immediately wrapped around her face, blocking her airway. “And yet you thought I was some old guy. Hey! I’m getting better at acting, huh Baldy?”

***

In the observation room, George was taking the name literally; following the action going on outside on the holographic display.

“No matter how many times I see you folks in action, it never ceases to strike me how good at this you are. For a bunch of kids, a pair of engineers and a schoolmarm.” He glanced up at Alloy, who was at this point trying to look like he wasn’t watching George and amended, “Not really kids anymore though, I suppose.”

“How many times…” Alloy said quietly, “So, what? You do this all the time? Just watch us?”

“On the news, sometimes from a security tape that gets leaked. I don’t have hidden cameras on you 24/7 if that’s what you’re getting at.” The old man replied.

“I’m not ruling anything out after what you’ve already told us. And… I’m sure as hell not using my Quintessence blog anymore.”

George shrugged. “I don’t see the problem there; you haven’t set yours to private anyway and smart boy like you, you never talked shop on it.”

“It’s the principle of the thing.” He sounded unsure of himself. “But look, I wanted to ask you something… privately.” With that, he reached up and switched off the pinhole camera attached to his shoulder.

“I can’t confirm or deny what you saw when Rachel Cho used her power on you.” George answered instantly. The stunned silence that met this reply gave him time to formulate an explanation. “That’s her real name. Madame Myss-tery is her stage name, obviously. We’ve been aware of her for a few months as an X-factor in Insight’s calculations.”

“So what she shows you is real.” Alloy said, not surprised in the least that Chea’s company knew her if she was legitimate.

“Like I said, I can’t confirm it because we’ve never been able to study someone under the effects of her powers. But whatever they see, it’s convincing enough that many of her clients try and avert or ensure what they saw. So which is your problem: stopping a bad future or making sure a good one comes true?”

“What’s yours?” Alloy asked automatically. It was quickly evident that George either thought that was self-evident, or that he wasn’t telling, so Alloy decided to answer the question himself. “No… it’s not really like that. My problem is: I can’t remember the future. Not enough for it to matter. All I get is like a vague dread when Metal X comes up… or I see Mr. Sm… Chaos and Darkness together as a couple… or think about Tink going to school this fall.”

George’s mouth turned up in a small smirk. “A boy your age, I’d think that last one would be a given, future sight or not.”

“I…no!” Alloy put a hand to his head, which had the unfortunate side effect of causing his helmet to ring like a bell. “That… see that’s part of the problem. Cambridge is her dream, okay? A dream she’s had longer than she’s known me. And I feel like a big enough gobhead already for wishing she wasn’t going so far away and, you know, already getting jealous of all those British guys over there that are going to be way smarter and probably a lot more… better than me.”

“Better?” George asked. “I would assume they might have better grammar, true, but just better in general?”

“I know, superhero… Fax reminds me of that all the time—“

“I seem to recall you and Ms Carlyle were together almost a year before she discovered the truth about you and Alloy.”

“Except today, I found out it’s because of you.” Alloy was pacing the length of the room now. “Because you gave me the flower.”

George couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Son, I always thought you were more about hero books than fairy tales, but listen to me when I tell you that no one’s ever won anybody’s heart with just a lilac. Besides, you already had the date when you bought the flower: it was Warrick Kaine that got her to say ‘yes’.”

Alloy stopped pacing and fidgeted. “Actually… Warrick Kaine got her to say ‘why not?’” He corrected with a nervous chuckle.

This earned a double take from George. “What, really? ‘Why not’?” He realized this was less than helpful and quickly added, “She couldn’t come up with a reason why not though. And it isn’t as if you coasted on a single lilac for ten months until she found out that you were a masked… helmeted vigilante.”

“Look, we’re getting off track here.” Alloy sat heavily in one of the chairs in front of the work station George was manning and stared through the view port into the bedroom/laboratory. “All I was saying was I feel bad enough about the normal stuff and having a mini panic attack over something that might happen that I can’t remember ain’t helping.”

Neither one of them found anything particularly exotic about the last part of his statement, which said a great deal about the lives they led.

“You know what? I think it does.” George said. Alloy started to protest, but was cut off with much tut-tutting from the old man. “Just hear me out, son. This has been my biggest worry when it comes to you: your confidence. You mitigate every victory and wallow in every failure. I’ve seen a dozen timelines where you just gave up. It was especially bad back then, with the fallout from the concert.

I figured that I was in part responsible for what happened; why everyone at school thought you were a coward. So I sold that flower to you as a kind of magic feather to see you through.”

Alloy was quiet for a second before tentatively raising his hand. “Um… magic feather?”

“Quite a bit before your time,” George chuckled, partly in fondness for the source of that particular bit of popular culture, and partly because it had never occurred to him that it could fall out of popular knowledge. “Before mine too, but back when movies still came on disc, my aunt loved that one. It was about this elephant… actually, that’s not important right now.

“A magic feather is something like a placebo; it makes you think you’re getting outside help when everything is really coming from within. Understand? The lilac just made you feel better. Everything else has been you.”

“Okay” Alloy sounded the word out slowly. “But that doesn’t fix all the future memory stuff. I was kind of hoping that you could either let me remember the whole thing, or… I don’t know, turn it off?”

“Sorry.” George said with sympathy in his voice. “But we only record. Believe me, if I could erase all of it from my own memory, I would.”

“There’s a lot of bad futures out there, aren’t there?”

The old man nodded, looking truly aged for the first time since Alloy had met him. “I’ve seen good people die dozens of different ways… innocents killed, enslaved… or worse. I’ve even seen my own death. Looking at all the myriad ways is an ugly business sometimes.”

“Oh.” Alloy’s voice was hollow.

“Don’t take it that hard, son.” George said. “I mention all of the bad I see, but there’s good too. The Descendants have stopped more instances of death and destruction than you can imagine. And there are good futures; the ones we hope to reach. In those, I’ve seen new eras of peace and prosperity, not just here in the states, or even just on Earth. There are golden ages out there where people like the Descendants aren’t alone: there are hundreds of heroes, all working for the good of all.”

Alloy turned and fixed him with a stare that was unreadable thanks to his visor. But there was cautious reverence when he spoke. “Do you think we can make that happen?”

“I can hope.”

“Then why didn’t you just tell us that in the first place?”

“A rich idealist working behind the scenes of a powerful company and skirting dangerously close to breaking the law, all in pursuit of some utopia?” George half laughed. “You’re not the only one who liked comics growing up, son. And I know that taken together, those kinds of folks are rarely the good guy.”

“Well it can work if you were going out and fighting crime yourself,” Alloy considered, forgetting that he was talking to a man of at least seventy. “But you sort of use us to do that… yeah, that’s not helping your case.”

“Which, Heisenberg aside, is another reason for me not to be directly involved.”

Alloy gave it a few more moments of thought, watching the battle on the holographic screen in the interim. “So… this whole thing really was about getting us out here to keep the Aces from taking your dream thing?”

“Essentially.” George rested his hands calmly atop his cane.

“That’s all kinds of wrong.” Alloy shook his head. “I just can’t figure out how right now.”

The old man laughed. “Give me a few minutes and I can print you out a list.”

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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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