Issue #50 – Operation: All In

This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 2

The officer left outside the control room leaned on the wall with his arms crossed and an impassive look on his face.

Not far away, the guards were trading conversation, mostly about how they couldn’t wait until their rotation off island came up and how much they envied the squad whose turn had come and who would soon be leaving.

Throughout, they remained professional; always facing the hall, always with their weapons at the ready. Contrary to expectations, they also kept a stern eye on him.

It didn’t help them see through the spray-on makeup that hid his Mediterranean skin tone almost as well as it made him itchy and miserable, or detect the beard he’d shaved off only after securing an additional fifteen thousand dollars in his advance for that job.

In reality, he wasn’t a police officer at all, from Capitol Hill or otherwise. He was Josiah Colt, agent of Tome, also called Avatar. And he’d just gotten a confirmation tone on his earpiece that it was go time.

A cruel grin replaced the no nonsense expression the ‘cop’ had worn, and he pushed off the wall. When he slightly unfocused his gaze, the guards he had touched earlier remaining clear in his vision even as the others blurred.

Then it was just a matter of imagining them moving the way he wanted…

One of them, a well built man in his forties, raised his gun and trained it on the man across the way from him. There was a brief flash of shock on his face, but Colt visualized a hard set to his jaw and a glower in his eye. It was more difficult to force the smaller details, the touch that allowed him to establish his power over the man had been through cloth, but he managed anyway.

Almost instantly, three more guns were pointing back at him. Colt hadn’t even needed to exercise more control to make it happen.

“Fleischer.” The squad leader barked, keeping her own weapon trained on him. “Stand down.”

Colt didn’t let him reply.

“Stand down.” She repeated and waited only a beat before turning to a fellow guard, a woman a little older than herself who hadn’t raised their weapon yet. “Possible psi-defenses breech. Call it in.”

Nodding, the guard hit a panel on her wrist. And looked confused that nothing had happened. That meant Jack was fully at work now.

Before the guards could deal with this new development, Colt focused again, pulling a few more strings. The man being targeted by Fleischer turned his gun toward the woman trying to raise the alarm.

“Harrison! Stand down.” The leader’s formerly iron tone quavered just a little. She didn’t take her aim off Fleischer, but with a subtle nod of her head, had the remaining member who hadn’t raised their weapon take aim at Harrison. “Both of you: lower your weapons.”

No matter how much they wanted to, they couldn’t. Controlling two now, Colt let their expressions slip; stone cold stoicism giving way to brazen fear. He used the saved concentration to make the woman given alarm duty aim at the leader.

“Drop the weapon, Sawyer.” The leader ordered, forcing her voice back to steady.

“I… can’t.” replied the woman with her in her sights.

“Drop the weapon. Everyone drop your weapons.” The leader’s voice rose.

“Can’t.” Fleischer choked out. He was showing remarkable resistance to Colt’s control as the danger rose. The barrel of his gun as quivering.

“I said—“ The leader’s voice rose and Colt took that as a cue to have someone pull the trigger.

***

There was an eruption of unmistakable high velocity gunfire from the corridor outside, startling Warden Pettibone out of his exposition about the Island’s various nearly autonomous segments and how they could be separated from the main structure in the event of a major emergency.

His brief distraction was all the space Senator Betton needed to throw a knife-hand strike to his windpipe. In the same motion, she hit Laird with a spinning back-fist that sent him staggering backward, where Senator Keyser was waiting to tip him to the floor.

Betton followed up her attack on Pettibone by grabbing his tie and using it to pull his forehead into her knee. The Warden fell to the floor, senseless while Betton move on to Laird.

This didn’t go unnoticed by their the communications officer, or the workers in the pit area. All of them hit their alarms nearly simultaneously. No klaxons came to life, no lockdown protocols went into effect. Instead, the windows and text on their various screens shifted and ran until they formed into a malicious looking smilie face sporting a goatee.

The smilie leered out of the dozens of screens in the room and let out a shrill laugh made even worse by coming from so many speakers. “Sorry folks. Looks like you just got Jack’d!”

Betton slammed Laird’s head on the floor savagely, stopping only when he stopped struggling. Then she turned a baleful glare on Boris Schiff, aka Jack where he stood at the Warden’s computer. “Must you do that every time?”

“It helps me work.” He said in a deadpan, his voice nothing like the one coming from his onscreen persona. “Seventeen minutes until they need to check in.” He added.

Betton got to her feet and walked with an air of menace toward the communications officer. “Plenty of time.”

“N-no it isn’t.” The man in question said. “I don’t care if you torture me, or kill me, I’m not going to call in for you.” He wheeled his chair around and tried to scoot away from Betton. “Seventeen minutes until the call, eighteen before remote lockdown comes online.”

Laughing, Betton took a moment to scratch her cheek, displaying sharp nails. “Oh, I see the problem. You’re under the impression that we need you to pass the check-in.” She moved with animal quickness, spinning him around in his chair and locking her arms around him.

Her victim outweighed her and probably out muscled her, but when he tried to break her hold, he found it to be like pressing against a solid bar of wood over he arms and chest. Desperate, he managed to sink his nails into her arm, drawing blood.

She hissed in pain and increased the pressure of her crushing embrace. “Do your worst. After all.” There was a series of sick pops and snaps and he could feel her bones deforming beneath the flesh. Her hair started to fall out in a cascade of black strands. As the transformation accelerated, he caught her reflection in his monitor: a face that was a twisted distortion of his own.

More cracks and pops, each sounding more painful than the last, and Betton had become the officer’s doppelganger. “… You’re only hurting yourself.” He said in the officer’s voice. He then promptly let go of the original, smashing the man’s face into his desk and letting him slide senseless to the floor.

Keyser cringed at the agonizing looking transformation and looked away. “Was Marsha Betton ever a real person?”

“Her first term.” Replied the shapeshifter. “Then she took the payoff for her seat, moved to Cuba to lie on the beach her whole life, and Proxy steps in for her. Proxy has had fun: arguing in the senate, galas, trips abroad.” He reached down and started to remove the officer’s clothes. “Proxy will miss being Betton.”

Jack didn’t let the opportunity go by. “Speaking of annoying quirks. Why do you refer to yourself in the third person?”

Proxy shrugged, pulling up the guards pants under Betton’s suit’s skirt. “Pronouns are pretty useless, considering and Proxy hasn’t been Maehara Tsukasa for some time. It’s better just to go by Proxy.”

The door from the corridor opened and the squad leader from the guards manning it stepped in haltingly. Blood spatter painted her armor and her face was a mask of rage and sorrow. One of the techs in the pit saw it as a chance to bolt, stopping cold when Colt sauntered in behind her, tapping her on the back of her head with his ungloved hand.

“Corridor is secure, boys and girl… huh. Just boys now.” He glanced into the pit. “What are we doing with them?”

“Have your new girlfriend shoot ’em.” Proxy shrugged.

“Do we really have to kill everyone?” Asked Keyser.

“I agree.” said Jack. “There’s no point in killing them. It isn’t as if we’re not already wanted by ever agency in the US. Besides, the cop costumes came with zip-cuffs.”

Colt shrugged. “Go ahead then. Me and…” He checked the guard’s name tag, “Guard Brockway will cover you.”

Meanwhile, Proxy finished switching clothes with the com officer and slipped into his chair. “Waste of time, but if Proxy’s outvoted, Proxy is outvoted.” He turned to Jack. “Call home and tell them we’re in. Proxy will let the others back on the plane know it’s their turn.”

***

Two of the plane’s occupants didn’t share the jovial mood of the team in the tower. They sat across from one another, the man with his head in his hands, staring at the floor, the woman with her arms folded as if hugging herself as she watched her brother’s depression matching her own.

Mary Anne and Phillip Gold weren’t Mary Anne and Philip anymore. They weren’t even human, by Mary’s reckoning. The DNA of some sort of strange alien monster (she refused to think of it as a dragon, because dragons didn’t exist. Neither did aliens, but that was at least scientific.) had been grafted to theirs, making them something… wrong. Now they were called Maleficent and Beowulf.

It wasn’t showing as much at the moment; it would take careful observation to notices that her hair, which looked dirty blonde, was tinged with green and a good deal more stiff than human hair should be. The same could be said for her brother’s blue-black hair, and they had both noticed that the pupils in their now yellow eyes were slightly oval instead of round; edging away from human and toward animal.

And there were chips under their skin. Several they knew about, and undoubtedly several they didn’t. They controlled the power the grafting had given them, and with the threat of the torture, injury and death of their sibling, they controlled them as well.

The door to the plane’s restroom opened and Abscondro, dressed in his muted gray body suit with artistically faded ‘A’ logo, stepped out, holding the clothes he’d worn in disguise as a capitol police officer.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day.” He decided out loud. “And an even more beautiful story on the news sites. ‘Abscondro steals prisoners from super-brig’.” He tossed his discarded clothes down in the seat beside Maleficent. “Time to stop moping and get your game faces on, you two. And try to have fun; this is a once in a lifetime opportunity! You two were thieves, right?”

Beowulf glared through his shaggy black hair. “You just don’t get it, do you? This is a job to you. You’re getting paid and tonight, when the work is done, you get to go home, or to your hotel, or just go buy shit. We get shackled and shipped back to Deep Nine and sleep in cells. We’re not your coworkers, we’re slaves.”

“Lab rats.” Maleficent added.

Abscondro clucked his tongue. “You haven’t been paying attention, man. You know why they keep you locked up? Because you won’t play ball. They think you’ll go off the reservation and maybe to the cops if they let you off the leash.”

“So what?” Maleficent spat, “You want us to just accept this? Like it’s perfectly normal and fine with us?”

“I’m just saying what Id be thinking. And since you’re thieves, I’m a thief, I think we might think along the same lines. You’ve just got an upgrade in what you can do, and steady work with the possibility of good pay if you just shut up and let it happen.”

Both of the twins growled at him.

“But now’s not the time.” He added. “They’ve got the tower. Now it’s out turn to get to work. Like I said: game faces.”

Still growling, the siblings submitted to their fate. First Beowulf stood, then Maleficent. There was a tiny, resigned nod between them and Beowulf touched the com in his ear. “Control.” He waited for the tone of confirmation. “Beowulf and Maleficent requesting…” He struggled with that word. It felt too much as if he was implicating himself, “permission for first stage transition for the purpose of fulfilling mission parameters.”

There was another, higher and more sustained tone and both of them cringed as their muscles started to cramp. That was one of the less Orwellian reasons behind the chips: their bodies wanted to transform and without the chips, neither one of them knew how to stave it off for long before the sheer agony of working against it made them relent.

Neither fought this time and the cramping was immediately followed by a feeling of release. Their skins darkened, becoming tinged with blue for Beowulf and green for Maleficent, and their limbs bulked up with mass that simply had not been there before. Their nails dissolved and were replaced by black claws and their hair thickened and hardened into thickets of spines atop their heads. The whites of their eyes tinged yellow while their pupils narrowed to catlike slits.

They were also just plain taller and heavier in their new form, but luckily, their guard costumes covered specially designed Kevlar battle suits with expanding ribbing to allow for the entire range of their transformation.

Abscondro nodded, satisfied. “That’ll do. You know, I envy you just a little bit.”

“Why’s that?” Maleficent’s voice was more rough in this form and she bared her more defined fangs at him.

The phasing thief clapped a hand on each of their shoulders. “Because if I do my job right, I won’t get to break anything.” And then all three sank through the plane’s floor.

***

Back in Deep Fourteen, black, blue and green dots moved steadily down a holographic wireframe of the landing tower while white, yellow, red and gray dots clustered in the representation of the control tower.

“Oh, this is just beautiful.” Talbot leaned forward in his seat to watch. “How are we on the timeline?”

“Three minutes ahead of schedule.” replied the tech whose job it was to keep track of that.

“I’m better than I hoped.” mused Talbot. He sat up straight and clapped his hands dramatically. “Alright. Phase two in underway, congratulations to everyone on phase one that got them through the security screenings in Texas. Now let’s set up Phase three. Patch me in to Jack.”

After a few minutes, Jack’s voice came in over the com Talbot had in his ear. “Yes?”

“You’re doing great.” Talbot said. “Before you start the broadcast though, I need you to look for a beacon broadcasting a recycling junk code from somewhere near…” He consulted the location of a purple dot in the wireframe, “Sector 7… Blocks E through G.”

After a few moments, Jack said, “It wasn’t hard now that the scrambler’s down. It’s in 7G.”

“Excellent.” replied Talbot. “Now switch it to receive…”

***

Sleep, eat, read. Sleep, eat, read.

Lying in her bunk, Gina Sheldon, known in her role of Enforcer as Impact, wished she was introspective enough to get more out of prison than a lesson in repetition and an expanding knowledge of gardening.

That last was thanks in part to all the other prisoners consistently beating her to signing up to check out all the law, entertainment, religious, scientific and craftsman’s books. Surprisingly few had any desire to read about gardens while imprisoned on an overgrown derrick in the middle of the ocean.

Of course, there were exercise yards, but with her powers in mind, they were out of the question. As was taking up any of the various inmate-performed duties from working the laundry room to janitorial work. Plus there was always clerical and call center work that could be done from consoles inside her cell. But with her general aversion to work (a force nearly as formidable as her powers), those too were out of the question.

There was only one kind of work worth doing and that was delivering jackhammer-force punches to chump psionics for… justice or science or something. The reasons had changed over the years, but the punches hadn’t.

Now, her room was designed to catch and sap the force of those punches and kicks. So there had been no fun to be had since that stupid Ren Faire the previous summer wherein the Descendants got her arrested (also all the crime she was committing, but mostly the Descendants).

Bored out of her skull and unwilling to move than she absolutely had to, she felts around blindly with one hand off the side of her bed, questing for the hardbound copy of The Flora of Central America: Proper Landscaping and Arrangement. Her questing hand didn’t find it, so she was forced to roll over so she could look for it.

That’s when she saw Simon Talbot standing in her cell.

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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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