Issue #49 – George

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

Part 5

Shine rolled away from Facsimile, opening up enough of a gap to get to her feet. The maneuver also gave her enough time to find that she’d lost two of her talons from her right hand to the golden woman’s rapidly regenerating flesh.

“Don’t think I’m not getting those back.” She spat, displaying her denuded claws to Facsimile.

“Do you really think that’s the take away here?” Facsimile mocked. “Face it: you’re too old and too slow to stand up to me. You guys didn’t have a prayer—“ She was cut off by a powerful karate chop to the throat. In shock and struggling to breath, she stumbled to the ground.

Leo watched her go down, and then turned to Shine. “Your exchange of threats and insults is inefficient in a mission with these parameters.”

Shine scowled at him. “One of these days, we’re going to have to program some fun into you.”

Unable to be affronted by her tone, Leo disregarded her comment. “The Descendants were not part of the mission briefing.”

“So just…” Legion teleported around the roof, avoiding blasts of black heat from Darkness, who wheeled about overhead. “How did they…” Another teleport got him to where his sword had fallen. He caught it with the end of his boot and kicked it up into his hand, just in time to block the next bolt headed his way. “Find out we were coming here?”

“This is a valid question.” Leo replied.

An orihalcite blade slashed open his knee just below the cap, causing it to buckle. As the machine man came down, Facsimile rose, one of Shine’s talons gleaming from where it emerged from between her toes. The other protruded from the knuckle of her middle finger and she used ti to slash the robot’s throat.

She retracted the indestructible claws into her body and kicked Leo in the chest, sending him tumbling away. “Let’s see how long it takes you to heal from that. Took me like twenty-three seconds.”

Her glare found Shine. “Before we were so rudely interrupted…”

Shine flexed her claws. “Round two.”

Meanwhile, Darkness’s barrage had Legion teleporting almost at random. Once he’d teleported into the air next to her only to find that the cloud of black heat that surrounded her seared his exposed chest like an oven door.

“Thunderhead!” He bellowed.

“What?” Came the tense, slightly annoyed response.

“In case you didn’t notice, none of us fly! Do something about her!”

“What do you think I’ve been doing?”

“Standing there.” Legion had a point; Thunderhead hadn’t moved since the fight started.

Thunderhead fumed silently. Of course he was just standing there; standing there, unleashing a fusillade of mental attacks on Darkness. But the same force that hid her from his mental probing before was now actively shielding her from it. What was more, it was trying to touch his own mind as well. And he knew who was doing it too.

Risking the slip in concentration, he put a telepathic communique in Legion’s head: The one who isn’t with them half the time. The Arab. He’s protecting them from my power and he’s not on the roof. Find him.

The Legion of One batted one bolt of black heat aside with his sword and sidestepped another before nodding and teleporting back away from the action to survey the roof for hiding places.

At the bottom of the stairs leading up to the roof, Ephemeral leaned heavily against the railing and tried mightily to keep his breathing under control. Beside him, Hope watched with concern.

“Are you hurt?” She asked. “You don’t sound so good. I could heal you…”

He shook his head and spoke so quietly that she had to lean in to hear. “They’ve sent someone to find us. I need you to try what we’ve practiced?”

Panic showed in her eyes. “I’m not sure…” She shook her head. “No. I mean, okay, which one?”

Ephemeral was too invested in his battle with Thunderhead to actively scan for personal weaknesses, but he was having enough trouble controlling his breathing as it was to explain that. “Can’t tell you.” He managed. “But I trust your judgment.”

Hope bit her lip beneath the cloth covering the lower half of her face, but in the end, she nodded. “Okay. I can do this.” Not believing a word of it, she took to the stairs. Unlike Ephemeral, her power needed line of sight.

As she climbed, she formed an image in her mind just as she’d been instructed to in their training. Around her, she drew a large room; an expansive hall with a vaulted ceiling and pillars. In the center of a black marble floor whose polish was so perfect as to reflect the ceiling above, there say a giant torch sconce wherein there burned a blue and white flame.

The fire represented the joy and happiness and every other feeling of lightness she had long ago locked away in reaction to the manifestation of her powers causing those around her to become artificially cheerful. At intervals, the flame sent a flare high up into the shadows that concealed the heights of the ceiling; representing her power transmitting those emotions to others.

As she reached the top of the stairs, she reached out with her mind’s eye toward the flame and grasped it. Elation flowed into her, making her head swim wit glee and excitement. And into the void, her darkness poured. She regulated that flow like a spigot.

The legion of One spotted her the moment she appeared in the doorway and the look of concentration on her face was a dead give away for someone using psychic powers. “Gotcha.” He hefted his sword, and just as he teleported, he noticed her spot him in turn.

Teleportation happened instantaneously from the perspective of anyone outside it. But for years, Legion trained and conditioned himself to use it as part of his fighting style. He had time enough to think between jumps as If he were running. And this time, doubt permeated those thoughts.

Why had the Descendants only met them with two combatants and a psychic? Did they honestly believe that the power gap was that great? Was it? And where were the others? They had to be somewhere, right? He didn’t even see the ones he’d fought most directly before… This was supposed to be a simple burglary. The alarms were even supposed to be down and now…

He appeared in front of Hope, but his mind wasn’t on her until he heard her make a surprised sound. And by then, it was too late. The white and red clad heroine lashed out with a straight punch to his chest.

Later, he would realize that her stance was all wrong, as was the motion of the punch. Ideally, he should have just taken it and responded with a down-stroke from his sword. But ‘ideally’ didn’t take into account the fear and doubt she was pumping into his mind. The only thing in his head was the knowledge that a hard enough blow to the chest could send the heart fatally off its rhythm.

Legion staggered back from the blow more like a drunken frat pledge than a seasoned martial artist and then did so again to avoid a wild swing for his face. He followed this up by teleporting backward a few yards.

“What about the others?” He shouted to Thunderhead.

“What about them?” came the disgusted reply.

“Where are they? There’s like seven of them and I count three. It’s a trap. They knew we were coming. They knew we wouldn’t expect them.” He whirled his sword overhead to ward off black heat from above.

Thunderhead snarled as the probing attacks on his mind redoubled in effort. He was concentrating so hard now that he could barely see what was going on around him. “I don’t sense them. They’re not here.”

Legion faltered in his defenses and a blast of black heat scorched his shoulder, feeding the terror breeding in his mind. “You don’t know that! You told me that someone is hiding them from you! They could be anywhere!” As he spoke, he made his way over to the fallen Leo.

“Repair sequence is in progress. I will be able to rejoin battle in fifty-three seconds.” Leo informed him when he got close enough.

“And the damn robot’s down too?!” Legion bellowed. He slapped another blast of black heat sideways, but felt the heat from it. “We weren’t prepared for this. I’m calling it. We’re out of here, Plan B.”

“Plan… have you lost your mind?!” asked Thunderhead. But Legion had already grabbed Leo by the tac harness and teleported. Plan B was to evacuate as far as Legion’s line of sight could take them and blow the jet they came in.

“Son of a bitch!” The mental attack nearly won through with this slip and he shivered at it’s touch. Seconds later, he had to dodge a black heat bolt aimed at him while Legion appeared behind Shine.

“I’m not done yet!” The villainess protested when she felt his presence.

“Let’s face it, you were done the second you showed up.” Facsimile took the distraction as an opening to catch Shine above the waist and lift her. Shine yowled in rage, digging her claws into Facsimile’s back, both out of indignity and to prevent what she felt was coming.

But before Facsimile could smash her to the ground, Legion reached out and managed to touch Shine’s side. They were gone in a blur, leaving another orihalcite claw in Facsimile’s back.

Growling in frustration, she set her sights on the floundering Thunderhead. “Looks like the cool kids left you behind, head case.” She flexed her right hand and two orihalcite claws this time emerged from behind her knuckles. “Threatening enough for you to surrender, now?”

Thunderhead dodged Darkness’s attacks with surprising agility and put his hands in his pockets again. “Almost.” He produced a small remote control.

Darkness blasted it out of his hand with practiced easy, melting it to slag. Thunderhead only smiled.

“But… not as threatening as the thirty pounds of now armed cyclonite in the belly of our jet.” He said passively. “Not enough to take down the building, but just enough to endanger the employees.”

Legion appeared right behind him and grabbed his shoulder. It was none too soon because Facsimile launched herself at him.

“Have a nice day.” He smirked. And then he and Legion were gone.

Facsimile crashed to the ground through the space he’d occupied a fraction of a second later. “Dammit!” She looked toward the jet the Aces arrived in. “What do we do now? Do you think he was for real?”

“We’re going to treat it that way.” Darkness said, coming in low and hovering toward the plane. “Hope, find a fire alarm and pull it. Ephemeral, ask George if he had a plan for this. Codex, were you listening?”

Back at Freeland House, Laurel was bringing a number of databases online on a secondary computer while Tink was using the secure internet to make a call to the Baltimore PD’s bomb squad.

“We both heard.” Laurel replied.

“Please tell me there’s some sort of bomb sniffer built into our costumes.” Darkness said.

“Ironically, I do have one on my suit’s gear.” Laurel frowned. “Not that it can help you now. Sorry, but we’ve never had to deal with bombs before; I didn’t think they were worth the extra weight.”

“Can you detect this, Alloy?” Darkness asked.

“He’s turned off his comm for some reason.” Laurel informed her.

“What?!”

“He needed to talk to George in private. I didn’t see he danger, since Ephemeral is with you.” Laurel said calmly.

“And he can’t detect it, not cyclonite.” added Tink. “There’s nothing metallic in it.”

“I could slag the plane though.” Alloy’s voice cut in. “Melt it down to a dense ball… maybe direct the charge upward?”

“Nice to have you back online.” said Laurel.

“Sorry about that.”

“But I’m going to have to say ‘no’ to that plan.” Laurel continued. “We don’t know the detonation trigger. Melting down the wrong thing might just set the whole thing off.”

Facsimile scowled. “Times like this, I wish I could go even stronger. I could just toss the thing out into the harbor.”

“Huh.” said Darkness.

“What?” Facsimile asked.

“There’s too much chance of it going off in air over the city, or hitting someone out on the water that way.” She noticed the shapeshifter’s forlorn expression. “But you might have given me an idea. I just hope my powers can manage it. Hey Codex, can this stuff stand up to heat?”

“That’s its main selling point: it’s stable at room temperature and burns instead of exploding without a detonator.” Laurel replied.

Black heat emerged from Darkness’s pores and rolled out over her until she was a living shadow in the center of a dark mist. “Alright then. I’ve got an idea. But just in case, how is it coming with the fire alarm, Hope.”

“Just found one.” Came the reply. A second later, she spoke again. “That’s… guys, there’s a problem. I’m pulling the alarm and nothing’s happening!”

“That makes no sense.” said Ephemeral, “This building is nearly new. What could disrupt the alarm system so badly?”

***

The five men who monitored and maintained the Quintillion HQ’s central security and safety systems were cowering; one in his chair, three in two different corners of their command center, and the final one curled up under his console, whimpering.

At that same console sat Fellgaze, the formerly missing member of Ace’s High. He bobbed his head to the beat coming from his headphones as he pulled out the dongle connecting his palm-top to the security mainframe. All of the screens flashed warning messages about how this safety system was offline, or this security system was no longer interlocked and those normally displaying footage from the security cameras were blank.

Whatever program loaded into the palm-top that overrode the building’s security had failed to ferret out wherever Thunderhead’s dream machine was being kept. He should probably call that in to the others.

Stealing one of the guards’ coffee cups, he took one earbud from his ear. Instantly, the incessant beeps of his comm were made evident. The others had been trying to contact him. Probably for something stupid. As far as he was concerned, he was the most powerful member of the team, and yet they treated him like a second stringer. They could wait.

He took a big swallow of coffee, stood up from the chair, turned, and nearly choked on the hot liquid.

Unbeknownst to him, someone had stolen into the command center and had been standing there, silently and patiently for god knew how long.

Tall and very dark skinned, the man was swathed in a shapeless and tattered gray cloak with fresh, white bandages haphazardly wrapping his hands and feet. He cocked his head at Fellgaze as if trying to figure out a new puzzle and the gesture caused beads and coins and shells braided into his hair to jingle.

Fellgaze dropped his coffee and touched the control panel on his hand that worked the shutters of his glasses. “Whoever the hell you are, you’re in for a bad day.” Behind the shutters, electric blue eyes stared out, carrying with them strange mental signals that instilled crippling hallucination.

The man in the cloak laughed a rich, jovial laugh. “If I were a man, you would be correct, Peter Hughes. However…”

It wasn’t so much what Fellgaze saw, as what he got a sense of: a massive spider with its eight eyes seeing and understanding a billion things at once and its eight legs standing astride an infinite world; a library that knew every word within and opened its pages to eagerly be read; hundreds of men, women and children, each with hundreds of stories to share; everything he didn’t know or understand staring him in the eye, making him fully aware how little he would ever truly know or understand.

When Fellgaze passed out, just as his victims did, it wasn’t from fear. It was from the opposite of its source: Fear came from the unkknown. Certainty came from knowledge.

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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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