Issue #56 – Family Matters

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 3

“Aren’t you worried that people are going to wonder why there’s two of you?” Issac asked. He was wearing one of Ian’s spare Chaos uniforms. Their builds were similar, but the ballistic cloth was stretched along the shoulders and he was forced to wear gloves instead of Ian’s specialized gauntlets.

They were in Providence Park, on the edge of the neighborhood Freeland House resided in. In fact,t hey were on the very edge of the park too. Issac was looking through the tall, chain-link fence separating the park property from a strip of earth about five feet wide followed by a huge concrete drainage ditch. The steady rain turned the normally dry ditch into a small stream.

“There’ll be questions, maybe some internet chatter, but as long as you don’t make a habit of this, they’ll forget faster than you think.” said Ian, performing his usual equipment check on both their uniforms. Loose items falling from dozens of stories up were a constant worry.

“So, you ready to try?”

“Ready to succeed.” Issac replied. “So how do you get airborne?”

Ian stepped back and folded his arms. “It’s all about the uniform. The cape, pants and boots are all designed to catch air, hold it, and redirect it a certain way. It’ll actually work like a parachute or hang glider once you’re in the air, but the trick is getting there.”

The wind around him started to stir, becoming an updraft that caught his cape and made it billow out. Iit also played with the contours of his boots and pants, catching in concealed folds designs specifically for the task. As The small whirlwind he was conjuring began to lift him, Ian began to explain.

“You need a constant updraft to get into the air. Actually, it’s more up and backward. That’s why the cape is fastened into the under-harness across your chest instead of your neck: you’re going to let it drag you.”

Issac squeezed his eyes shut and a blast of wind caught his cape, throwing it over his head. Ian laughed as he struggled to untangle himself. When he finally did, he sent a murderous look toward his brother. “You were waiting for me to do that.”

“Pretty much. You keep telling people I’m all about brute force while you’re all about control and it kind of pisses me of. Especially since if I didn’t have the control to build the updraft slowly and keep it steady, I couldn’t fly at all.” Ian hovered a foot off the ground to illustrate.

“Now you tell me.” Issac rolled his eyes and tried again, this time following Ian’s advice. “Some might take that little bit of sabotage as fear that I’m going to whip your ass in this race in front of Alexis.” He rose into the air unsteadily, unused to balancing in air.

Ian scoffed. “What do I have to worry about? It’s not like you’re going to steal her. Ready for lesson two?”

In reply, Issac rocketed up into the air ten feet and turned in place. “Was it something like that?”

Flying up to join him, Ian flew a quick circle, keepin himself constantly facing his brother as he did. “Wise guy, eh? Let’s see if your wobbly kinda-flght is ready for some maneuvering lessons.” He flipped in air and flew over the fence before dropping low over the drainage ditch and skimming it toward the city.

Twenty feet along, the stream rose up suddenly in front of him, forcing him to veer wildly to avoid it. Quickly regaining control, he flew up and cast about looking for the source of the attack.

At which point he heard Issac laughing his ass off.

“What?” He asked, still shaking with mirth, “Did you forget we can do that? You know, whenever I happen to catch news footage of your… what do you call them, missions?”

“We don’t really call them anything.”

“Adventures. That sounds like more fun.” Issac decided. “Anyway, I notice you don’t use water all that often. Is it because of Mom?”

Their mother was the one that gave them their powers. Hers were never on par with theirs, but it was enough to entertain the two young boys with parlor tricks. The first one she ever taught them to do with their powers was catching a raindrop and keeping it perfectly tear shaped.

There were both silence in a moment of reverence before Ian finally spoke.

“It doesn’t come up… you know, as often as you’d think. It’s hard to find enough water to be useful and besides, water’s harder to control than air.”

Issac flew over to him, starting to learn proper balance for a smoother flight. “Only because you’ve got the raw power to herd it around. I find that I loose a lot of power over distance with air because it disperses. Water on the other hand has surface tension.”

He gestured to the stream with an upturned, open palm, then sharply raised that hand, tilting the hand toward him at the wrist as he did. A swell of water rose up about ten feet and held there.

“It likes to hold together; does most of your work for you. Once you’ve got that, you can do a hell of a lot messing with its density. Watch.”

He rotated his wrist and swiped his hand in front of him as if wiping off a curved wall of glass. The swell bulged and flattened into a concave wall about five feet high and four across. The he jabbed the heel of that same hand out in front of him. The swell obliged and a dense ball of water launched from its center, flying thirty feet downstream before loosing consistency and falling apart into a spray.

“I admit, that’s badass.” said Ian.

“I’ll take that as a complement, considering you’re the guy that taught me to fly. Think Laurel could make me one of these flight suits?”

Ian jokingly poked him in the chest. “Hey. Get your own nerdy best friend.” Then he snorted a laugh. “Alright, back to flying. On the way into town, I’ll see if I can manage any of this water ball stuff.”

Both brothers shot down to the stream, flying toward Mayfield’s center, blasting each other with water like they were eight again.

***

A private skywalk connected the private office levels of Brighton-Leer’s administrative tower to the higher security research and development tower. The executives wanted no part in being subjected to extra security themselves, and as their private offices were already accessible only via a code locked elevator, there were very few security measures on the sidewalk.

Nonetheless, Beowulf and Maleficent had shucked their coats and folded them over the briefcases they carried. Underneath, they wore tailored suits; navy with pinstripes for him, hunter green with metallic tints for her. Both chosen by their operator, apparently for maximum irony.

The skywalk was completely enclosed and looked like any other hallway, except that it ended in steel doors painted to look like oak. It took Jack no time to come up with the proper codes there and in the next moment, that were stepping down a short ramp into a stark hallway with a tile floor and exposed ceramic supports lining it, looking like the ribs of some animal.

That hall didn’t offer much, but it split off three times along its length before coming to an elevator. The stint was two floors below, so they walked briskly to the elevator, feigning the confidence and lack of care real visiting executives would show to the scientists and interns they passed.

Down two floors, and taking their first right, they passed three heavy doors with alum crystal portals to allow views in while resisting powered weapons fire before stopping at the last. It took Jack a full minute to get the door open there, and when he did, they discovered they were not alone.

The room was dominated by metal counters in the center and rapid fabricators specially designed for handling small components in the rear. There was a larger, round table in the very center, upon which an exploded view of some device or other was being displayed and rotated by a rotund man in a lab coat, scrubs, and full face helm as two similarly dressed people, a man and a woman, watched.

Upon their entrance, the rotund man, whose name tag identified him as Dr. Vance, stopped what he was doing and held up a warning hand. “Whoa. Not one more step! This room is Clean level 1. Scrubs and masks. You don’t have to go through decontamination, but I insist on that.”

Playing the part she was assigned, Maleficent drew herself up haughtily. “You have to be kidding me.”

“No kidding at all. We work with micro- and nanoscale components. We normally work in a glove box, but the boxes we have are too small to accommodate the magnetic control elements we’re working with today.” Dr. Vance said, pointing to a standalone cabinet at the end of the room. “So I insist.”

The siblings glanced to one another, and shrugged.

“If that’s what it takes to get the work done.” Said Beowulf.

“But I’m going to inform the head of your section about this.” Maleficent warned. They both went to the cabinet and covered their suits with the thin scrubs before pulling the helmets over their heads.

“So,” Beowulf took the lead as they returned to the central table. Now it was clear that the image’s components came together into a something shaped like a fat tuning fork with prongs that curved slightly outward. “Can we do our jobs now?”

Dr. Vance nodded. “I don’t suppose we had a choice. I’m Dr. Henry Vance. These are my colleagues, Drs. Josephine Kennesaw and Tyrone Malcolm.”

Beowulf nodded in a not-quite-polite way. “I’m Frances Brubaker and this is Dana Kirkman. We’re from marketing.” He couldn’t help but notice the flash of disdain that showed on what was visible of Dr. Vance’s face. That’s when he went in for the coup de grace. “Is this the thing?”

“Thing?” Dr. Vance asked flatly. “If by thing, you mean a near-universal treatment for seizures, then yes. This is the ‘thing’. The Theta Wave Control Stint.”

“Hmm…” Beowulf pretended to examine the hologram closely, clucking softly under his breath. “And controlling these data waves is a good thing?”

“Theta.” Dr. Vance said bluntly. “And it’s a misnomer that your department placed on this project. It doesn’t control theta waves, that would be meaningless. It monitors them as well as a number of other brain functions that act as potential precursors to the erratic brain activity–”

Maleficent stepped into the act now. “Can you explain it so the folk on their tractors in fly over country understand?”

“It blocks seizures.” Dr. Kennesaw tried to help her colleague out.

“How?”

“He was just explaining how!”

“He was committing the two biggest sins of marketing: he was explaining in a way I don’t understand, and two, he was boring while he did it.”

Now Dr. Malcolm entered into it. “This is a medical device. We don’t need to explain it to patients, we just need to explain it to doctors.”

“You’ve obviously never sold medicine.” Beowulf cut in. “Doctors are the complete wrong people to market to. Too many of them would only recommend it to people that absolutely need it. What you do is you make a commercial and make people wonder if they do need it and they demand their doc puts one in anyway, just in case.”

“What doctor in his right mind would put a nanomachine in a patient’s brain if they don’t need it?” Dr. Kennesaw asked, horrified.

“And isn’t this the same tactic that helped cause the helium scares in the twenties where everyone was getting scanned for absolutely no reason?” added Dr. Vance.

Beowulf put his hands on his hips triumphantly. “And look how much money helium extractors make today! That could be Brighton-Leer.”

When the scientists weren’t moved by this, he gave a defeated shrug. “Maybe the seizure angle is the wrong way to take this. Let’s talk alternate applications.” Now it was the operator’s words being related to him. He had orders to ascertain the truth about the stint and its abilities.

“It’s a treatment for seizures.” Dr. Vance said. “There’s no alternative.”

“No, I think he’s right.” Maleficent pretended to think on it. “I remember reading somewhere that the chips they use for that now like… counter the electrical things that go on in the brain when you have a seizure.”

“True, but the stint doesn’t work that way. Instead, it acts an artificial neuron cluster. It’s called a stint because like any other stint or stent, it opens pathways, only these are neural pathways. By several devices located in the typically affected regions working together, that can isolate and redirect that activity to ‘safe’ areas of the brain, allowing a user to remain fully functional during that event.”

“So it turns off part of the brain… basically.” Beowulf stepped closer to Dr. Vance.

“Not exactly, but it has a similar effect, yes.”

Maleficent went in for the killer question. “Can it be used to turn off other things? Say, hunger, or whatever it is that makes you addicted to something?”

“It would be incredibly dangerous to tinker around like that.” Dr. Malcolm said. “And besides, you would need to know the point of origin for the impulse and very exacting details for the precursor events to detect and redirect them.”

“But it can be done.” Beowulf circled around the group.

“With decades of research on the neurology surrounding each function, you want to target, yes, I suppose it can.” Dr. Vance slumped at the admission. He had a very clear vision of his project being used to let shallow people starve themselves to death.

“It’s a good thing we have that.” The operator said in the Cadmus twins’ ears, but neither repeated that.

“So where’s the finished product?” Maleficent asked.

“We keep the prototypes not currently implanted in test animals in suspensions there.” Dr. Kennesaw pointed to a brushed metal refrigerator in one corner, well away from the other equipment.

“We’re going to need to take one back down to the offices to let our idea folks get a good look at it.” Beowulf said.

“It’s only three hundred microns across. You need the equipments here in the lab to actually view them.” Dr. Vance looked at them oddly. “There’s no point to taking one out of this room.”

Maleficent picked up her briefcase and slammed it down on the desk. With one swift move, she had it open and drew from within two streamlined handguns. “Oh, I think there is.”

Before any of the scientists of her brother could react, she pulled the trigger. A red tufted dart poked through Dr. Vance’s scrubs and into his arm. He gasped once, stiffened, and fell to the ground. Two similar darts took care of the other two in the span of a few seconds.

“Five minutes to the roof.” She explained to her brother’s shocked expression.

“We’ve never had to resort to shooting people on the job before, even if it is just a paralytic.” He muttered.

“And we’ve never had the threat of Tome and its crazies hanging over us before.” She replied, rushing over to the fridge. When she threw it open, she found several trays of labeled test tubes filled with clear alcohol solution. There wasn’t time to search them, so she pulled the entire tray out.

“Warning: improper checkout procedure in nano-tech laboratory three. Sensor contact confirms security breech.” A digitized female voice announced as the alarm came on.

Maleficent cursed. Beowulf groaned. “This also would never have happened before.”

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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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