Issue #50 – Operation: All In

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

Part 4

Standard operating procedure on the landing decks was different from inside the prison proper. There, the guards working in full squads of twelve, one on each deck.

A standard three men group covered the entrances against any lucky escapee that made it that far, with three groups of two stationed at key points along the edge of the decks to sight any threat that might try coming on deck from the pillars supporting the structure. The last three covered the ships themselves, two at the boarding ramp extended down between the rear landing gear and one at the top.

One major flaw in this system came when the guard change and supply deliveries coincided, meaning that both decks were littered with crates and containers that had to be checked in and inspected one at a time before being brought into the prison. They turned the usual wide open space of the landing decks into a maze that killed line of sight.

Something dangerous moved within that maze. Behind it, a pair from the guard contingent were haphazardly stacked in the space between two crates labeled ‘powdered milk’ and ‘coffee’. But would have concussions when they were found; one had a shattered kneecap and lacerations on the arm he normally held his rifle with.

Two more guards stood on the western edge of the deck, the one furthest from the prison.

“…understand why we can’t carry drinks with us out here.” One was complaining. “I get that you can’t have it in the cell blocks; never know who can control water, but we’re out here surrounded by water—what difference does it make?”

His partner laughed. “If they let us carry drinks, just how long do you think it’d take for somebody to bring a thermos of whiskey? Hell, I know I could go for a slug of vodka out here most days. Keep me from getting bored off my ass.”

Plastic groaned on plastic. Both men snapped their attention to and aimed their rifles at the source, but Maleficent had already launched herself from atop the container nearest them. Stunner shots hit her in the shoulder and chest, but their barbed tips bounced off her unnaturally hard scales, becoming lodged instead in her clothes.

She hit the nearest one high, slamming her palm into his chest and sending him over the railing. The butt of his gun got caught though and the strap was the only thing separating hm from a five story plunge into the sea.

The other guard didn’t have a chance to react before finding himself tripped to the ground. A kick to the temple put him out of the fight. That was the last guard on her deck; she had taken care of those at the doors and guarding the actual transport first before moving around the perimeter.

Maleficent stood over him a moment, panting lightly and contemplating what she’d just done. Twelve armed men hadn’t been even a near match for her. The speed and strength of her new form were enormous even at the second lowest manifestation.

Nothing human could do what she’d just done and she knew it. But how much of the human was left, she wondered. If she ever got away from Tome, could she find a life somewhere and pretend to be a psionic?

“Maleficent.” a male voice, though thankfully not Talbot’s spoke into her ear. “What’s your status?”

“The guards are all down.” She reported back.

“Now take down the AA guns.”

She looked around. The Anti-Aircraft guns were situated in batteries atop towers that emerged from the water; two unmanned systems to the north of her and a manned one to the west. There was no direct access from the landing decks to them; connected to the main body of the prison as they were by underwater tunnels.

“I can’t reach them.” She said carefully, all too aware of what the solution would probably be.

“Roger that, Maleficent.” The operator at the other end of connection said. “Exercising control operator fiat to initialize third stage transition for the purposes of fulfilling your mission parameters. Transitioning to stage two…”

The pain came hot and sudden, as if her bones had turned to molten steel. There was a series of sickening pops as her vertebrae lengthened in both directions. Her neck grew longer and a long, scaly tail emerged though a specialized seam in her suit. As it did, two opposing blades of hornlike material grew from its tip.

Her ankles and feet contorted and her toes split her boots along more specialized seams as they became claws.

“… and now transitioning to stage three.”

If anything, it got worse. She could feel movement under the skin of her back and pressure building around her lungs. Her jaw ached and she suddenly tasted what seemed to be bile in her mouth.

Another major shift and the ‘things’ in her back erupted outward into huge, leathery wings.

A scream she had been suppressing turned into a low growl as new organs crowded around her larynx it cut off with a small puff of green fire from her throat.

When the transformation ended and the pain receded, she almost slumped over from relief. The world wasn’t just sharper now, it was different. There were colors she didn’t have names for and smells were given new contexts. Most pervasive of all, now she could tell where each guard she took down lay and the location of every electrical conduit in the area.

Tome had drilled them for weeks on how to deal with those new senses and use their new abilities. That didn’t make her hate it any less. But the fastest way to make it stop was to do as she was told and wait for a moment in which she and her brother could escape.

Or, like Abscondro said, they could go along with it. Maybe he wasn’t lying after all.

Self loathing rose in her newly formed craw alongside the rapidly stoking green flames. She took a deep breath, pulling in air longer and deeper than was humanly possible. The flames grew and somehow concentrated. The green fire was just as unearthly as the creature from whom her DNA grafts was.

When she let it go, it wasn’t so much spitting or belching flame as sneezing it; a single great explosion that sent a rapidly expanding sphere of flame out of her mouth in a ballistic fashion. It hit the side of the AA battery and exploded, cracking the walls and turning the nearest gun barrel to slag. A chambered shell exploded, setting off a chain of explosions that tore the top off the tower itself.

She blasted the second automated turret before the other finished exploding and turned for the manned emplacement.

None of the guards she put down had died. She made sure of that, even when dealing out brutal injuries. But the people that pulled the strings didn’t care one way or the other and now they wanted the guns taken out.

“One more, Maleficent.” urged the operator in her ear. Briefly, she fixated on what kind of person could take any amount of money to be on the other end of that communication, willfully tormenting her.

Biting her lip and noticing how even her newly knife-sharp fangs couldn’t pierce it, she made a decision. She sighed and started to draw in breath.

Only to see a rolling sphere of brilliant blue arc into view from the far side of the deck. Unlike her green fire, it crackled and danced and floated like ball lightening, only a thousand times more intense. It hit the turrets and discharged its massive energy into it. The barrels smoked and melted and there were echoing pops and crackles as every circuit in the tower died.

Maleficent didn’t have to turn to see her brother, also transitioned to stage three, land heavily on the deck. He was breathing hard and had his hand to the com in his ear. “Decks are clear.” He said harshly.

Then he stepped up beside her. His transitioned form was shorter and stockier than hers and his tail ended in a heavy club instead of blades. Beyond those differences and color, there wasn’t much deviation in the two.

“Guess we’re even less like twins now.” He said quietly, his eyes not leaving the tower he struck. There was a weak, but still viable electrical signature that was the life of the tower gunner. Beowulf stared at it and tried to will it to go stronger.

Maleficent saw it too and stared just as hard.

“Remember when I said maybe we should listen to Abscondro?” She asked.

Beowulf nodded.

“Forget it.” She said at the signature guttered and faded away.

***

She wasn’t in the prison sectors any longer. That much Impact knew.

Following Talbot’s instructions from her cell led her to a hidden access panel in what appeared to be a solid bulkhead conveniently placed in a blind spot for the cameras. Then she was forced to climb so far down an iron ladder that she knew she was now several stories underwater.

There was a crawlspace down there that existed on no schematics for Braddock Island. On one side, she could hear the hum of the tidal generators that powered the place. Beyond the other was the machinery that controlled the hidden, secret mechanisms necessary to jettison high risk prisoners if they broke free.

The access panel and crawlspace were for the crews that maintained those without inspectors knowing they were there. But Impact pressed on. What she was headed toward was kept secret even from those laborers.

It was beneath an ordinary panel of floor grating. According to Talbot (at least the parts she heard when she was listening), one of the scheduled maintenance shifts for the mechanisms weren’t engineers at all. They were special contractors checking up on a very special prisoner.

She broke the hidden lock with one punch. Evidently being shrouded in mystery obviated the need for a strong external defense. The floor grate peeled away to reveal a second ladder, this one much shorter. She hopped down rather than climb.

Past the ladder was a well lit room, ending in a heavy steel door. On the left wall was a glass-doored cabinet that opened into a space that extended beyond the wall the door was set in. Evidently, it was how this ‘special contractor’ delivered supplies to the prisoner.

Feeling mildly insulted that this much security hadn’t been placed on her, she strode to the door and touched the screen beside it.

A moment later, the little screen hummed to life and displayed the prisoner’s name, vitals, and the fact that the subsonic scramblers in the room were active. Two more taps brought her to a prompt for entering the door code. Impact glanced at what she’d written into her palm and tapped it in, submitting to a fingerprint scan thereafter. The last contractor down here had seen to it that her print worked.

Air hissed as the inner and outer doors opened, sending a small breeze her way. When it had fully opened, she cursed out loud.

It took a moment to collect herself enough to say something that wasn’t a curse word. “They give you a cell like this and I’m stuck in a nine-by-nine cube and a toilet?”

Not only was the cell twice the size, but it was much better furnished with a writing desk, wardrobe and bookcase as well as a real queen-sized bed. There were thick rugs on the floor and prints of Warhol paintings on the walls.

And most enraging of all, from Impact’s perspective, they had given him a goddamn tub when all she’d had was a shower with one setting and rare hot water.

“This is why I’ve always admired you.” She said, stepping carefully into the room. Crossing the threshold was accompanied by a slightly unbalanced and drunk feeling. The work of the scramblers, no doubt. “You kill that many people and even the jailers respect you. Of course, I was pretty sure you were dead until a few minutes ago…”

“Yes, yes, yes.” The voice was dismissive, as if the speaker already expected to hear all this. It belonged to an Indian man at the far end of middle age. His head was balding and he had a long, but well groomed graying beard.

Dressed in a blue and white stripped pajama ensemble, he snapped closed the book he was reading and swung his legs over to the side of the bed. Standing, he removed his reading glasses and stowed them in the breast pocket of the pajama shirt. “They call it fear and respect. But I am here to be used. Am I not?”

“They’re calling it hired now.” Impact said, leaning on the desk.

He walked over to a small refrigerator and removed a cold bottle of water, which he opened and sipped before gravitating to the wardrobe. “Tell me, is Morgan Flint still in charge?”

Impact tried to remain standing straight, but relied more and more on the desk. Her town, however, never changed. “Never heard of him.”

“Someone new then.” the man observed, opening his wardrobe and examining the few sets of clothing there. He’d only asked for the thing to see if they would give it to them.

Impact nodded.

For the first time, he took note of her plight. “Oh. Those are the subharmonic scramblers, meant to prevent me from concentrating enough to use my powers.” He held up his free hand and it was ensconced by a field of flickering orange light in strange fern patterns. Then he made a fist.

In the walls, a number of things cracked or groaned or surged with electricity as they were destroyed.

Suddenly, Impact felt a lot better. That feeling didn’t last long. “You could have done that at any time…”

“Not any time.” He said. “They did work when they put me in here. I’ve just become accustomed.”

“But why not break out and tear this place apart?” She asked. “I’ve seen the video, don’t tell me you couldn’t!”

He scowled and returned his attention to his clothes. When he spoke, his tone was off, no longer dismissive. “I ended a great number of lives that day. And I may never know why.”

“What do you mean you ‘may never know why’?” Impact protested. “It was because you thought that psionics were being ignored. That how amazing you were wasn’t being recognized. So you went and you showed them just what you could do. And damn it, no one. No. One. Has ignored us sense.”

Scratching his eyebrow, he decided to just throw on his robe, a fluffy and comfortable garment the same color as his pajamas. “Is that what they said? A vicious pack of lies. I didn’t even know there were other people like me at the time. And I told only one other person before my… breakdown.”

Impact folded her arms and scowled. “That doesn’t make any sense. Everything I’ve ever heard–”

“Was fabricated by Morgan Flint and his monster factory… his Project Tome.” the man said angrily. “Now the new headman, this…”

“Talbot.” Impact supplied.

“This Talbot wants to use me exactly the way Flint capitalized on what happened to me.” He turned to her with a dangerous glint in his eyes. “Tell me if I’m wrong. Tell me that Tome doesn’t want to start a large scale anti-psionic panic and use the chaos to prey on the weak. I’m no fool you know; I get the occasional paper: I know about the Academy.”

Impact had no choice but to nod. This was her idol. Someone who she’d been led to believe was the ultimate champion for forcing the world to acknowledge their superiority. She couldn’t very well be expected to lie to him.

But she wouldn’t be Impact if she didn’t continue to needle. “Fine. You don’t want to be ‘used’. But tell me one thing: if you could break out at any time, why wait until I came to break you out?”

He stepped past her and into the outer room. “They kept me alive in the lap of luxury just in case they had a use for me.” He explained. “I was comfortable. And… I felt that this was where I belonged. That the world was better off without Arjun Ravi.”

The man, Arjun Ravi himself, the psionic who slaughtered hundred in India decades prior, folded his arms and was surrounded by the fern patterned orange glow and he began to rise into the air. “But your presence and the fact that Flint’s legacy live on… it tells me that I am not the worst thing that threatens this world. Maybe it is time to find a way of making amends.”

He floated back toward the ladder and paused. “Can I ask you something? Do you think your powers are a gift?”

Impact scoffed. “Of course.”

“Flint told me, when he placed me in this prison, that our powers were meant for soldiers. That they are weapons and that as far as he was concerned, we’ll always be weapons. Those are the kind of people whose goals you use your gift to advance. Maybe they’re right.”

And with that, he flew up the ladder and disappeared down the crawlspace.

Impact snarled in frustration and turned to the camera Talbot had told her would be in the outer room. “I think you just made a big mistake.” Her gaze wandered to the ladder where she’d last seen the powerful telekinetic.

“On the contrary,” Talbot’s voice came from a hidden speaker. “Just by being him, being alive and being free, he’s still the greatest instrument of fear I could ask for. All it takes is this video feed with no sound sent to a major news outlet and all of America will fill their pants.”

He chuckled mirthfully. “You’ve done a good job, Impact. Get back up to the transport, we’re pulling out.”

Impact nodded. “I’ve gotta say boss, he did have a point. Powers are just a loaded gun for you and the Project.”

“Does that bother you?”

She laughed. “Hell no. I’m one of the ones you want to hand that loaded gun to. And I’m all about pulling the trigger.”

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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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