Issue #52 – Scenes From a Changing World

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 2

For the Girl Who is Everyone Part 2

It had been a hit and run. The victim had a broken arm, some lacerations and a bruised rib, but it could have been much worse. At least the five and seven year olds in her backseat were okay, apart from some glass in their hair.

Facsimile considered the perpetrator to have gotten off easy too. After all, the many, many stitches he’d gotten from her pulling him out of his car with her claws were minor compared to what she wanted to do after hearing those kids crying and being afraid they’d lost their mom.

As luck would have it, the owner of the Mayfield Slices food truck had seen the whole thing, and when she flapped over to buy ice cream sandwiches to calm the kids, he not only gave those to her gratis, but threw in a slice for her.

Mayfield’s food trucks had a special relationship with Facsimile. She was a frequent customer for more than a few (in and out of her heroic persona), and there were at least five trucks with a fat sandwich, custom pizza, or hot dog named after her. There was also the Cardinal Cyn, the result of a long standing tradition of food truck eating challenges and a lark she’d had to concoct a fat sandwich primarily with red food (it was a cheese steak with chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, a tamale, marinara, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, Tabasco, three hot sauces, and a split red hot, incidentally. She ate it with a cup of maraschino cherries on the side to cut the heat.).

She’d thanked him kindly, posed for a picture to hang in the truck, and after making sure the kids were calmed, winged off to the top of a nearby office building to eat and try and get rid of some of her boiling anger at seeing what those kids were going through.

A bit of progress had been made too, when with a muffled thump of an explosion, she found herself covered in strong, flexible cords. They were covered with some kind of clear goo that thickened and stuck to her on contact, gluing the cables to her body and to the roof.

A dark clad figure, in a padded squirrel suit slipped quietly into view. “Aren’t you glad I used the glue bomb instead of the pepper ball this time?” Asked the man Facsimile knew only as the Sneak Thief. His face was covered, but she could tell her was smiling under the mask as he unbuckled the small backpack from his suit.

“You.” She snarled and tried to lunge forward. The glue held her fast.

“I’ve got a name you know?” He chided. “You gave it to me in your police reports; speaking of which I resent being called a sneak. Have I ever snuck? I’ve been very careful to get your attention very time we crossed paths and this is the thanks I get?”

“Just give me a second to get out of this crap and we can call you stubby.”

“Yeah… you’re probably not going to be able to get out of that for at least three more hours when it dries up.” the Sneak Thief said, almost sounding apologetic. “This is just another of the fun less-lethal arms the army comes out with and then abandons. It must seem like I’m testing this stuff on you.”

Facsimile tried again to escape, shifting her claws to razor sharpness, only to find them mired in goo as well. “If you’re not, I’d like to know what the big idea is. I wasn’t even after you this time!”

“Oh, I know.” he nodded. “I saw the thing with the hit and run; that’s how I found you. Very nice. You are the very model of the heroic individual; you stopped the bad guy and kept the kids from feeling miserable… Eh? Nothing? I thought that was pretty clever for something I made up on the spot.”

His only reward was an exasperated eye roll and another failed lunge. “So you don’t find that kind of thing cute or charming. Message received. But I do have a real reason for gluing you up, and if you promise to listen, you might learn something important. Aaand…”

Reaching into his pack, he produced a fist sized, army green box with irregular sides and rounded corners. There was a red toggle beneath a clear, plastic cap on one end. “If you’re nice to me, I’ll set off a solvent bomb when I leave to let you out of the glue. Deal?”

The last thing she wanted to do was be cooperative with the Sneak Thief. Mostly because the first thing she wanted to do was jam one of his pepper balls into a sensitive area. “How do I know that’s solvent and not just a grenade?”

“Please.” He rolled his own eyes this time. “We go way back, Fax. When was the last time I ever used something lethal? Plus, I carry like ten pounds of glues, stench chemicals and irritants on me. It’s just good sense to have counter-agents on me until Murphy’s Law stops being true.”

That made sense, and he was such a blatant fan when it came to her, she didn’t think he’d really kill her. So she gave in. “Fine. Let’s hear this thing that was so important that you had to hunt me down.”

He managed to look affronted with only ten percent of his face showing. “I didn’t ‘hunt you down’. I’ve been carrying this around in hopes we’d run into each other again. Today, I lucked out.”

“Whatever. Stalker.”

“You’re very mean for a beloved heroine. No matter; Santa has a present for you.” From the pack, he brought out a flat format drive. “Ever hear of Eduardo Vorran?”

She schooled her face. “He’s some kind of gun runner. We’ve had an eye on him.”

“Kind of hard for a guy that doesn’t exist.” Her expression at that made Sneak Thief laugh. “So you didn’t know. Well my people know his people and it turns out that his people are also Johnny Qin’s boys from New York and Tyson Sims’s connections down in Atlanta. Not just the same people, but the same offshore accounts– and the fun part?”

Facsimile didn’t reply. He was going to tell her anyway.

“If you do some checking, Vorran, Qin and Sims, actually do exist. In fact, they all go to the same high school in St. Theresa, Iowa. They’re fifteen” He nodded along with her shocked expression. “Yeah, how’s that for a surprise twist?”

“Wait.” Cyn said as he set the data stick down on the roof. “Why even bother telling me this?”

He shrugged. “Maybe you’ve got me pegged wrong. You know, maybe not everyone with a house that’s been broken into, or gets mugged is an innocent. Maybe there’s a different kind of hero that plays by something besides the rule of law.”

Then he snorted. “Yeah, but not me. Boss wants Vorran screwed over but good and is using you guys to drive that screw nice and deep. And why you?” He flipped open the cover on the solvent bomb’s trigger. “Hmm.. A ten minute head start should be good enough… Oh. Right. Why you?”

Stepping back to the edge of the roof, he blew her a kiss. “Because you’re my favorite playmate. Stay golden, fax!” He back-flipped off the roof, leaving Facsimile’s rage to smolder for the next ten minutes.

A Battle Without Violence

The Rook would never win prizes for beauty of design. Outwardly, it was little more than a double-wide, double-height shipping container suspended in a ring of lift pods that allowed it to hang in the air in exactly the way that bricks don’t.

Aesthetic failings aside, it made the trip from Mayfield to New York in a time comparable to a commercial airliner. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as it was one of a long list of successful designs by engineering genius, Emily Chamberlain, better known as Majestrix.

The woman herself was in the control cabin, which looked remarkably similar to the cockpit of her mecha, the Queen’s Gambit. While she was inside, the only thing her two passengers could see of her were the occasional hand, extended to reach a stray toggle. Everything was toggles and levers. There were a few buttons, but only one touch screen; tactile controls were part of her aesthetic.

Just outside the control cabin was what the two heroes who spent the most time there called the passenger lounge. There was an actual couch bolted to the floor there with a few minimalist restraints. Next to it, built into the back wall of the lounge was a set of cabinets with a mini-fridge, re-hydration oven, and coffee machine.

Majestrix’s husband, Pete (AKA Zero Point) was lounging on one side of the couch, eating a bag of microwave popcorn. He was usually alone back there in the lounge, talking to his wife on the com while watching something on the television that folded down from the ceiling.

This time, however, he wasn’t alone. Ian Smythe, in the guise of the hero called Chaos, was on the other side of the couch, clearly deep in thought.

Never one to take silence well, Pete thrust the bag of popcorn in Ian’s direction. “It’s a wild guess, but considering how many helmets, masks and scarves are going to be at this meeting, I kind of doubt it’ll be catered. Better get something in your stomach while you can.”

Ian took a handful and nodded his thanks. “I wouldn’t be so sure; a bunch of triple-shifters pulled together so we can ask them favors? There’d better be food or they might riot.” He laughed, “Besides, if you can cater a masquerade ball, you can cater a super-summit.”

“Super Summit.” Pete mused. “Too bad you didn’t come up with that earlier, we could have used that. I like it. The alliteration sells it.”

The younger man chewed thoughtfully on some popcorn before speaking. “Maybe next time. Is it worrying that I’m sure there’ll be a next time?”

“I’d be more worried if there wasn’t.” Pete admitted. “It’s kind of worrying that this is the first. All these heroes in this overgrown burg and they’ve only just started to collaborate? This was a long time coming.”

Ian shrugged. “They’re not banding together to stop an alien invasion, they’re signing up to do PR spots. We’re a long way from seeing another group like us back in Mayfield.”

Pete shook his head. “I disagree. Maybe there’s not little gray men in tripods, but this push against psionics… descendants… is damn sure a common enemy.” The statement hung in the air for a while and neither had anything to say about it that hadn’t already been said.

There was political blood in the water following Braddock Island and Greenview Ridge and the political sharks were circling because it was an election year. Reginald Haywood, the prospective ConFree candidate was already talking about resurrecting he Enforcer Corps as a branch of DHS, and the defacto ProgLib Andrea Robinson, was playing her position close to the vest.

Almost no one in elected office was willing to bat for descendants in the current climate. And both men knew it.

Ian nodded quietly. “You’re right, of course. We just need to make sure they know you’re right, and that is’ not just the threat to them. They’re thousands of descendants out there that don’t have the power or influence to stand up for themselves against this kind of thing. No one answering to a terrified and irrational constituency is going to do anything to jeopardize their own jobs for them. And when normal authorities can’t or won’t protect the innocent, heroes need to step in.”

Pete grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “If you go in there and give that speech, and they won’t even notice there’s no caterer.”

***

Not long thereafter, the Rook touched down lightly near an isolated hanger at JFK International Airport.

With a hum of hydraulics, the control cabin slid back from the control yoke, then rotated so that Emily was facing the passenger lounge.

“Whew. An absolutely beautiful landing. Bet you didn’t even feel a bump, did you, ZP?” As she spoke, she unstrapped herself from her harness and hopped down to the floor.

Pete beamed upon seeing his wife and went over to give her a quick kiss and help her adjust her goggles. “Not a jostle, hon. Right, Chaos?” During the entirety of their visit to Mayfield, they were on a real name basis. Apparently even though they were still in the privacy of the Rook, they were back to codenames once they touched New York soil.

“Didn’t even know we had landed.” Chaos agreed with a smile. Thereafter, he reached under the couch and pulled out the attache case his teammates liked to call his ‘travel bag’. Quickly unlatching the locked case, he opened it to reveal the latest versions of his visor (now equipped with an augmented reality HUD and night-vision), and ceramic gauntlets. The gauntlets now came in three parts, not counting the swappable water reservoirs.

While he geared up, Majestrix took the time to relays an observation to Zero Point. “I was kind of hoping for a bigger welcoming party though. There’s only the Whitecoat, someone in powered armor, and a woman in a business suit out there.”

Zero Point considered this with a shrug. “Sorry, Maj. Maybe we’re supposed to fly out to wherever we’re meeting. This whole thing has been kind of piecemeal. Organizing prelates seems to be like herding cats.”

“Powered armor?” Chaos asked, fitting his visor on over his cowl. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he was a lowly and frustrated engineer, but he still had an interest in his area of expertise: mechanize exoskeletons. “What’d it look like?”

“Kind of weird. It’s got an orange and black paint job and It’s got vents and jet intakes all up and down the arms and legs.” Seeing that the two men were ready to go, Majestrix went over to the door at the back of the lounge and hit the strike panel to open it.

Beyond the door was a platform overlooking the main body of the craft; a fully stocked mobile workshop housing the Queen’s Gambit, its various swappable components and the technology to make repairs and upgrades. A wide set of metal stairs led down into the workshop, and a canted ladder on either end of the platform led down into a separate section of the ship beneath the cabin and lounge.

Chaos stopped where he was, his teeth set to grind. “Was the paint job flame patterned?”

“Yes, I think so.” Maj replied sweetly, oblivious to his mounting anger.

“Son of a bitch.”

“Problem?” asked Zero Point.

“Prometheus.” Chaos replied darkly and followed Majestrix as she headed down into the workshop.

Zero Point was right behind. “I take it you have a history with this guy. I’ve heard that name before… wasn’t he the whistle-blower that brought down the Enforcer Corps?”

“Yeah. But before that, he huffed and puffed and incinerated my house down.”

Majestrix stopped at the cargo door at the back of the workshop, or rather, the airlock built into the cargo door. It was a fully cycling, pressure matching airlock, which confused Ian because the Chamberlains were from Arizona and in any event, the Rook looked even less seaworthy than it looked air worthy.

“Are you going to be okay going through with the meeting?” She asked, “Because ZP and I could take over if you don’t want to deal with Prometheus.”

Chaos took a deep breath. “No, that’s okay. I’ve been preparing what I was going to say all week; Codex has been coaching me on it, even. Let’s just do this.”

She didn’t press him, just dialed in a code that cycled open both side of the airlock at once, and led the other two out onto the lonely tarmac.

Prometheus and a woman they didn’t recognize were standing next to each other while Whitecoat stood off to the side and a bit behind them, arms folded and occasionally glancing back at the hanger. Once the visiting heroes were out of their ride, the woman stepped forward with an extended hand.

“Welcome to New York.” She was a very light skinned black woman, her raven hair cut short, relaxed and feathered. Her suit was black with navy pinstripes and she’d managed to find a Descendants Rights Worldwide pin like the ones sold during Descendants Appreciation Day in Mayfield to stick in her lapel.

With a bright smile, she shook the first hand that came within reach, which happened to be Majestrix’s. To her credit, she gave no notice to the heavy and stained work glove she was clasping. “I’m Kim Berry. I’ve been retained as a Public Relations manager for the participating prelates.”

Majestrix blinked at her as the PR agent moved on to shake the hands of the other two heroes.

“Excuse me?” Chaos asked. “I haven’t heard anything about this.” For lack of anyone else present who wasn’t Prometheus, he directed the question at the Whitecoat.

“Search me.” replied the native hero. “Nermal checked her out and she’s clean at least. We took a vote and despite my better judgment, we’re keeping her on. Some of us think there’s an opportunity here beyond just making PSAs, and apparently Sister Sacred gets three votes.”

The Sister Sacred?” Majestrix was suddenly keenly interested. “She’s actually here? I’ve heard no one’s ever seen her in public before.”

“And that’s still true.” ‘coat sighed. “She sent representatives.”

“That’s a bit odd.” Majestrix replied.

“They’re nuns.” he added.

“Well, that does sort of fit…” she reasoned.

“They’ve all taken a vow of silence.”

“… Okay….”

“How does that even work?” Zero Point asked. “They have to talk to you to represent her.”

Whitecoat shook his head with a sigh. “Come on, everyone’s in the hanger; you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to separate this group from free food.” He turned to lead them to the hanger doors.

At the mention of food, Zero Point nudged Chaos in the ribs and chuckled before engaging Kim in some idle chat about what exactly she expected to do for the local heroes.

Chaos didn’t hear any of it. Following the Whitecoat necessitated him passing Prometheus, who felling to stride. Beside him. “I was hoping to God you weren’t going to be the one they sent.” said the former Enforcer.

“Likewise. Just what the hell are you doing here anyway?”

“Same party, who hired the spin doctor, who wishes not to be named, asked for a government liaison to be present as well. The General picked it up quick; he doesn’t trust any other agency anymore than you folks trust us right now.” Prometheus kept his eyes forward, just as his counterpart was doing.

Chaos grunted in affirmative and kept walking.

“Just to make sure: the score between us isn’t settled?” It was a simple question with no preference one way or the other betrayed in the older man’s voice.

“You blew up my house.”

“You resisted arrest.” Prometheus sniped, knowing full well now that it hadn’t been a legal or even remotely moral arrest. “Plus, I helped save your team’s asses.”

Chaos shook his head. “It’s not over between us, not by a long shot. You still think you’re somehow absolved because you bit the hand that feeds after the fact.” He went silent for a few steps, then. “Now’s not the time though. What’s happening right now is more important than my burned house or broken bones. Just like with the Redeemers; there’s a bigger bad than you, matchstick.”

Prometheus only grunted in agreement.

Series Navigation<< Issue #51 – Amore DetestabilisIssue #53 – The House on Dawson Bay >>

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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