Issue #51 – Amore Detestabilis

This entry is part 3 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 4

Tink hadn’t been able to get any further work done since Warrick had left. It just didn’t feel right. Keeping her special project with Laurel a secret was already uncomfortable enough, even with the older woman’s encouragement and promises that it was more like hiding a surprise than a dark secret.

But did she really need to snap at him like that? Splitting her attention between work and talking had never been an issue before, even this bit of work, so why had doing it now been so frustrating? Now that she thought of it, she hadn’t even come to Freeland House with the intention of working at all. She’d come to… to talk with Warrick about exactly what he’d been trying to talk about.

What the hell happened?

The doors to the workshop opened, allowing her to hear the tail end of the conversation was Kareem and Cyn entered with Warrick trialing behind.

“…not entirely certain I retain any passive astral sensitivity while not projected and in any event, I wouldn’t have been able to detect the warping effect I saw until it was too late.” Kareem was saying. He nodded to Tink in greeting and took a seat at Laurel’s main console, jiggling the mouse to rouse it from hibernation.

Cyn didn’t even seem to notice her. “Okay, but you still saw how it’s all crazy when you tried, why are we playing with the computer instead of heading for what’s causing it?”

“Because this isn’t an astral disturbance.” Kareem said. “This is a warping of the astral plane, much akin to how a gravitational field warps space-time. Attempting to move too far from my body while that warping is in place would be dangerous, so we need to use the astral transceivers to map the disturbance and hopefully find its source.”

As he spoke, he called up the command interface for said devices and started running their diagnostics. A map of Mayfield and the surrounding areas appeared in a separate window.

Tink rolled her chair over to Warrick, who was keeping himself separate from the others and felt a sting of guilt when he flinched. “What’s going on?” That wasn’t what she’d meant to say, but again, her mind seemed to prefer getting down to business instead of doing the right thing.

He kept his eyes down and his voice hesitant, while Isp and Osp ‘looked’ at him with worry. “There’s something messing with people’s minds out there. Cyn noticed it and Kareem figured out that it’s affecting emotions, which means it affects the local astral. So we’re trying to track it and stop it.”

Working to absorb this, Tink tried again to formulate an apology but the technical aspects eluded her. What was her excuse? Was there an excuse? Until she could establish exactly what she was apologizing for, an apology meant nothing, even if she didn’t mean to make him feel this way, right? Was that right?

Cyn’s voice took her mind off task. “Why is there a transceiver on Skyline Drive? And in Warrenton?” She was looking at the pink, glowing dots on the map that denoted where each of the devices were located.

“They are not.” Kareem made a selection with the mouse and a series of blue dot appeared. “The pink dots are the ping returns from the astral side, the blue global positioning coordinates. I believe that my gravity analogy is correct: the astral pings are spread further out on the northern and western sides of town because of an effect much like gravitational lensing.”

“I’m going to pretend I understand.” Cyn said. “Can you figure out the source from that?”

Kareem shook his head. “That would be like finding the location of a prism based on where the scattered light falls. Perhaps Ms. Brant can, but we might no have time to call her back from DC with Juniper and her parents before whoever or whatever is behind this makes their move.”

“Please tell me there’s another way then.” Cyn didn’t take her eyes off the map.

A small smile came to his face. “There is another way. Not all of the transceivers are returning warp-affected data. By using those reference points…” He keyed in a few commands and made a few more selections with the mouse. A translucent red circle appeared over the city. “We can see the area of effect.”

“Wow, we got unlucky.” Cyn noticed. “We’ve got it here, but it doesn’t cross Lake Standish. Good to know they at least didn’t know where to aim, I guess.”

Tink had stopped paying attention and was forcing herself to concentrate on Warrick. It made no sense to her why this was so hard to do. But she had to. And she had to apologize to. She grabbed his hand to get his attention. Again, he looked like he was fully prepared to be yelled at again. “Warrick… I’m…”

“Under the effects of the same brain thing that’s making him into a punk… among other things to other people.” Cyn said, cutting off quickly. “Have you not been paying attention?”

“I have.” Tink replied, “And that’s the problem… I think… I don’t know. But check that map: the thing you’re talking about doesn’t extend to Twin Timbers. Plus, I’m not acting emotional, I’m acting the opposite. All I’ve cared about today was work.”

“Well you’re here now.” Cyn shot back, crossing her arms. “And workaholic bitch is probably an emotion.”

“I don’t think that was helpful, Cynthia.” Kareem chided. He was still working to narrow down the center of the area of effect. “But you do have a point: focus is and emotion. And I believe that’s another part of the problem that’s been bothering me?”

“What’s that?” Tink asked, feeling guilty, especially since Warrick still hadn’t said anything.

“’Why are your exaggerated emotions different?’” He replied, glancing back at them. “Both Melissa and I can alter people’s emotions, but always one emotion at a time. Ignoring the incredible range and number of targets, that in and of itself is amazing.”

“So do you have a theory?” Cyn asked.

“I do.” He nodded. “This isn’t emotion altering. This is emotion intensification. If you account of when this all began is correct, then I believe that the effect harnessed whatever emotion you were experiencing at the time and magnified it; Cynthia, you were on a date, Warrick, you were watching an intense episode of your show which I’m certain made you worry vicariously, as Cyn said, and Christina…”

“I was working on Jun’s bike… and kind of scared I’d look like an amateur in front of Majestrix…”

Warrick offered her a cautious smile. “Which means you were putting your all into it. I know that.” Tink smiled back at him and squeezed the hand she hadn’t released.

“Warm fuzzies later guys.” Cyn said. “Do we have a ballpark yet, Kareem?”

Kareem scrubbed a hand through his hair. “As I’ve said, I am not Ms. Brant; there are variations I cannot isolate; movement over time, more passive artifacts of the lensing effect… I’ve narrowed it down to a ten block radius that includes Four Towers Center and the Dornez Hotel; both prime targets for a mental attack.”

“I might be able to get you closer.” Tink volunteered. “I’m not really familiar with the transceivers, but I do know something about tracking signal strength and triangulating.”

“Good, you’re mission control on this one.” Cyn was already heading for the door. “We’ll head for Four Towers while you work on narrowing things down. And see if you can find Ian. We might need both him and Alexis is these baddies are serious. And does anyone know where Melissa is?”

“Visiting her parents.” Kareem said, “You didn’t know that?”

“Hey, a lot of people live here. It’s hard to keep tabs, okay?” Cyn sniffed. “Now let’s get a move on; who knows what kind of scheme is going down.”

***

Dana came out of the hotel shower swathed in a fluffy, white robe, with a matching towel and slippers. There was nothing like a long, hot soak to get her into a good mood again. Briefly, she wondered how she ever coped in the centuries before indoor plumbing, or at least indoor tubs. Anyone that complained about modern life in a time with bubbles, scented oil and Flinder’s Liquid Massage had obviously did not remember living in a time when bathing meant a cold river if it meant anything at all.

Yes, she was in a great mood now…

Then she turned the corner to find Wayne on the suite’s couch, watching Live Metal.

Okay, just a good mood.

With a thirty dollar bottle of macadamia nuts in front of him, nearly empty. The macadamia nuts she’d been planning to plunder from the honor bar after her bath.

A mood.

“You jerk!” She shouted.

He jumped at the sound, having been too engrossed in watching a sixty-foot robotic gorilla hurling shot-puts the size of wrecking balls to demonstrate its dexterity. “What? I’ve just been sitting here.”

“Sitting there cramming my macadamia nuts into your craw.”

Your nuts? Strange, I didn’t know your name as ‘Dornez Hotel’. Heh, or are you ‘For Your Enjoyment’?”

Dana stomped over to the bed. The one bed. Jay, the Knight Inexorable thought it was a funny idea and for whatever inscrutable reason, the Manikin had gone along with it. If it wasn’t for the promise of finally being rid of the man who was currently Wayne and the press of memories that came with him, she would had walked out right there.

“You know how much I love them.” She snarled and sat heavily on the bed. They had drawn lots to see who got the bed. Wayne won the previous night, so it was her turn. “You did it on purpose.”

Wayne heaved a sigh. “Look, I’m bored. For someone all about magic and cryptically, whoever this boss is seriously lacking in the excitement and seeing the world parts of the pitch. So, I’m watching TV. And I can’t watch TV without a snack. And surprise, but I love macadamia nuts too.”

“You never would have done this before.”

“That was before!” He exploded. His voice echoed in the room, all anger and frustration and bitterness. “That’s gone now and it’s never coming back!” By degrees, he calmed, breathing heavily form his outburst. When he spoke again, his voice was low and weak, almost choking. “I don’t have to make you happy anymore.”

Silence reigned. Dana heard the strange note n those last words. It had been in her thoughts as well. But as much as she hated to agree with him on anything anymore, he was right. What had come before was past. Quietly, she got up and grabbed the bottle of nuts.

It wasn’t as empty as she’d first thought. In fact, seeing as the bottle widened near the bottom, it was probably half full. Only because she’d caught him before he ate more, of course.

Taking the bottle, she returned to the bed and ate a few pieces before finding the will to speak again. “Lets… just do this. Do what she asks, break the chain, then live out these lives we’ve got now. Dana and Wayne. I know I’m doing great and… being in a men’s soap opera isn’t as demeaning as some of the things you’ve been in the past.”

He puffed himself up in defense of his pride. “I’ll have you know that I’ve got a movie deal coming up. You’re looking at the next great action hero.”

“Please.” She flicked her wrist dismissively at him. “You’ll do one or two good ones, maybe a few terrible videogame adaptations, then fade off the Earth into a haze of cameos and family fare.”

“Never happen.” He shot back. “Besides, that’s more fame and fortune than being a shark themed lawyer.”

“I don’t wear my sharks in the office or courtroom.” She contemplated the jar for a few moments. “This is the first time I’ve liked sharks. We’re a little different each time, have you noticed? Not just lately, but every time. I remember being Maka and loving telling stories. I don’t think I’d ever do that now.”

Wayne grunted. “I know. When I was Evindir, I loved nothing more than tearing into fresh meat. You know, something that’s just been killed. There was something about the hot blood… it couldn’t be matched. Cooking it ruined everything. Now, I wouldn’t dream of going pinker than medium rare and steak tartar makes me sick to my stomach.”

Once more, an amiable, awkward silence fell over them. They remembered these silences too. Sometimes, in the lifetimes where they met, but never acknowledged their feelings, those long moments of stillness encompassed the bulk of their times together.

It didn’t take long for Dana to get tired of that. A frustrated snarl escaped her and she leapt up from the bed. “I’m tired of feeling like this!” Fuming, she started pacing. “Sitting here doing nothing… it’s making me think and I’ve got five thousand years of bad memories and regrets to think on.”

She found herself at the window, looking out at the city. “If she wants to get rid of them, we could fight them. At least that would be doing something. This sit and wait thing is infuriating.” Unconsciously, her hand went to her chest and she made a fist.

Nebulous, red light streamed out of her clenched hand, casting sinister reflections on the glass.

Wayne noticed this and looked down at his own hands, flexing them experimentally. “Are we even sure they work the way we remember? Manikin did nothing but talk about how things are different now. What if something isn’t right?”

“This is exactly why we should be testing them instead of sitting around.” said Dana.

“Look, I’m restless too, but…” Wayne trailed off. They were both staring at the same spot in the middle of the room. There was nothing there, and yet… it held their attention for almost a minute.

***

The question of whether or not a headache translated onto the astral plane had been answered and Kareem wished he had remained ignorant. Not being an emotion, a headache remained a headache, except without the filters of a physical body’s endorphins. His temples felt like electrically charged spikes were being driven into them.

It was made all the worse because at the moment, he was in the perfect center of the astral warp, feeling the crushing, twisting force of it. Without his personal ability to manipulate the astral on his own, he was certain he’d be dead.

As far as he was concerned, however, the pain was well worth it; he was gathering valuable intelligence. With his body in the hotel lobby with Alloy and Facsimile, he projected upward until he found something that both intrigued and disturbed him.

There was no device or eldritch machine at the center of the chaos, but a couple in a hotel room. But what troubled him as the pair’s astral bodies.

Arcs of purple, the astral plane’s connotation of mutual, romantic devotion, swarmed between them so thickly that they formed curtains of energy he could barely see though. And at the mid-point between them, the ghostly forms of a man and woman, dark of skin and eye, struggled to hold on to one another in an embrace while the non-tactile wind of the astral sought to pull them apart.

There the pair actually stood, looking physically as they did on the physical plane, colored in the shimmering shades of frustration and desperation. But their bodies were wrapped in ghostly chains, with glowing pins thrust through them.

It was apparent that at one time, the chains had been wrapped gently around them and the pins carefully thrust into their Sahasrara, Anahata, and Muladhara chakras. But through some terrible agency, the pins not stabbed into the Ajna, Vishuddha, and Swadhisthana chakras instead, and the chains had become twisted gruesomely around their throats.

Knowing the astral symbolism behind it, Kareem was mortified at what had to be happening to their minds.

He was so stunned by the violence done to the pair that he almost missed a crucial fact: They were staring at him. They couldn’t see him, but those tortured eyes fell upon him and he felt the plane tighten around him. He couldn’t remain there any longer.

With a thought, he was back in his body.

There was a small crowd gathered in the Dornez’s lobby when he came too. Alloy and Facsimile had set his body, garbed as Ephemeral, in an arm chair once he projected, and were now standing guard over him.

“I’ve found them.” Ephemeral announced without and preamble. Returning from an astral projection wasn’t anything like waking up. He was simply instantly awake and that made Alloy flinch. “They’re human, but… what’s been done to them on an emotional level is horrific. This warp in the astral we’ve been tracking? It exists because they’re broadcasting their pain on a level I’ve never sensed before.”

“Then you can fix it, like you did with Mauler, right?” Alloy asked.

“I can try.” He agreed. “But to do it safely at all, they’ll need to be distracted. When I was up there, they became somewhat aware of my presence; and that alone almost killed me.”

Facsimile smirked. “Distraction? Oh, I think that can be arranged.”

Series Navigation<< Issue #50 – Operation: All InIssue #52 – Scenes From a Changing World >>

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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