Issue #56 – Family Matters

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

Part 4

Carla Maximoff was a plump, jovial old lady. Her raven locks had long ago turned to steel gray, but her green eyes were still vibrant and girlish as she laughed her way through her story.

“And so little Alexis, so looks up at me and she looks at me more serious than I think anyone has ever looked at me. And she holds up my finger, she kisses it and she informs me—she says, ‘grand-mama’– she always used to call me grand-mama. None of you other girls ever called me this, but Alexis always called me grand-mama– ‘Grand-mama, this isn’t a bad ouchie; but I think you need ice cream anyway.”

The combined Keyes and Smythe families (which included Laurel who was as much a sibling to Ian and Alexis as any of their blood relations) erupted into laughter.

Victoria sat back in her place on one of the downstairs commons couches. “Oh my god, she loved her ice cream. I remember one time when I was in high school and she was in middle school, I ate a pint of marshmallow-fudge she was saving and she knocked me down and pulled my hair until I promised to buy her a new one.”

“Were there a lot of fights?” Maxwell asked Alejandro Keyes, who was sitting across form his armchair on the arm of the couch his wife was sitting on.

Alejandro rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Like you wouldn’t believe. Food, clothes, chores… if it was a thing, they would turn it into a brawl.”

“Same thing in my house.” Maxwell laughed. “Issac stole Ian’s remote control helicopter, Ian decided he wanted the top bunk; neither one of them want to mow the lawn. And all of that was reason enough for a flying tackle. Only got worse when they got their powers. God rest her soul, Krista thought it was just the funniest thing she’d ever seen, watching them harass each other with every glass of water and stray breeze.”

Anita shook her head. “If more than one of the girls inherited Alejandro’s ability, I’m certain we would be in the poor house from the fire repairs alone.” She smiled brightly at Alexis. “I’ll definitely give you this, Lexy, even when you first got them, you were very responsible.”

“Oh, mother, I could have been responsible too if I had gotten them.” Victoria insisted.

“Didn’t you sprain an arm and an ankle all in the course of a year trying to sneak out your window to meet boys?” Kylie was sitting in a chair bought in from the kitchen to accommodate everyone.

Lydia was in a similar chest. “She tried to blame me for the second one too.”

Victoria blushed and laughed. “Well I can promise you that I would have flown out instead and not gotten hurt.”

“Very responsible.” Lydia and Kylie snarked as one, setting everyone back into a round of laughs.

“What’s so funny?” Nicole came back in from the kitchen, phone still in hand. Most of her visit had been spent using it.

“Just talking about how responsible and morally upstanding our sister is.” Kylie supplied.

“Oh, is this the thing about Alexis getting herself stranded in New York after a concert?”

Alexis turned to Laurel and glared. “How does she know about that?”

Laurel looked as surprised as anyone, but her defense was foreshortened by a grinding heavy metal riff from her palmtop. “Hold on a minute. I think duty calls.”

“Duty’s ringtone is Someone is Bleeding by Destroyer of Good Souls?” Nichole asked incredulously.

“Seems appropriate.” Kylie conceded.

“I’ve got a few different ones for different alarms.” the resident genius flipped open the device to check. “This one is for research labs. I’ve got a tap on maybe sixty percent of the alarms in labs considered high sensitivity.” After consulting the screen, she nodded. “Brighton-Leer.”

“Bad?” Alexis asked, starting to stand up.

Laurel motioned for her to stay seated. “Just a security breech. No mention of people made of fire or giant robots. Nothing the MPD can’t handle, but since our boys are already in the air…” She tapped the icon to call Ian’s comm. “Hey Chaos…?”

“Hey L, already on it.” Ian replied. “Issac and I’ll fly over, give whatever hood is doing the job the worst day of his life and be back in time for dinner.”

“Be careful.” Anita shouted.

“Thanks Mrs. Keyes. L… why am I on speaker phone?”

“Oh come on, Chaos, you know everyone is interested. Why not?”

“Yeah, we want to see you two clean house!” Kylie shouted.

“Votes of confidence all around.” Issac’s voice came on the line. “Did that go through?”

Maxwell laughed. “Loud and clear son. Never thought I’d see the day my boys managed to work together.”

“We’re not exactly fighting an arch nemesis, dad.” Issac said, sounding vaguely disappointed.

Ian snorted, which translated unattractively in the comm. “Baby steps, big brother. Who knows? You might want to take up the mantle fighting crime in Paradise.”

Laurel rolled her eyes at the banter. “Alright guys, do your best, but we’ve run into major problems in minor situations before. I’m sending a message to Ephemeral to let him know to keep his schedule open for about an hour. Of all of us, he’s the one that could get to you almost instantly.”

“Always looking out for us. Thanks L. Oh, and sorry you couldn’t come with, sweetie!”

Alexis copied Laurel’s early rolling of eyes. “Far be it for me to get in the middle of your competition.”

***

The Cadmus twins barely made it through the lab doors before that sealed. Out in the hall, the lights strobed red and the voice of the alarm system continued to announce the breech in an infuriatingly calm manner. The stint was locked in Maleficent’s briefcase and they had four minutes to get to the roof.

“Tome doesn’t know anything about thievery.” Beowulf complained, fully aware that the operator and Jack could hear him. “The first rule, Mary Ann. The very first rule. You don’t create extra time constraints for yourself. Never, ever rush a job you don’t have to. There’s no reason to have a window of time for pick-up. If we did this right, we could have walked out the front door.”

Maleficent winced a little at the use of her real name. How long had it been since anyone called her that? “The first rule would have been to steal it while it was out in the open.” She said offhandedly. A security guard ruched past them, armed with a pulse rifle. He didn’t pat any attention to the two suits walking past him; a thief would be running, after all, and not dressed to stand out.

“Also a massive failure.” Beowulf pointed out. “And I don’t know a lot about neutroscience, but I don’t think this thing does what they want it to.”

The operator made his presence known then. “It’s called neuroscience, and you don’t get to make that call. Bring the stint in. your window’s down to two and change.”

“The elevator better be waiting for us.” Beowulf ground his teeth at the way the operator talked to him.

Now it was Jack intruding. “Once I get in a system, it’s infected for life. Of course it’s waiting. With the bonus of pretty much bottle-necking security into the west corridor.” Sure enough, that the reached the central elevator for the RnD tower, it dinged and opened cheerfully.

Once they were in, Jack took over and the elevator started to rise slightly faster than safety parameters allowed.

On the way up, Maleficent exchanged briefcases with Beowulf. His briefcase contained a complex jumble of tubing and canisters as well as a lot of metal cord. She’d spent almost a week training on how the field-assemble the thing and it took her under a minute to construct a shoulder mounted, gas powered grapple launcher from the disparate parts. It was the kin used by mountain rescue, but with a single difference: the grapple she loaded had a head that burst into a powerful adhesive.

She fitted the curved shoulder rest over her own shoulder as the elevator reached the top floor. It opened onto a bad day. The rain was coming down harder and as blowing in their faces on a strong wind.

“Now do you believe that this was a terrible plan?” Beowulf shielded his eyes from the driving rain as they stepped out of the debatable shelter of the elevator and onto the gravel topped roof.

It was a crowed roof, like many in Mayfield; a massive water tank, used both to keep pressure in the tower and as a heat sink, dominated the view in front of them. This was flanked by two parabolic solar stations, and between those and the roof access was a large concrete slab housing the central ducted fan that provided circulation for the entire building.

As soon as Beowulf shouted his question, the wind he was shouting over ceased.

“Hmm. Two executives taking a stroll up where only the maintenance men go.” A voice said from above. “Right after reports of a security breech?” None other than Chaos dropped down to stand on the duct housing, arms crossed, cape billowing even was the rain came down on him.

“Shit!” the Cadmus twins heard their operator exclaim.

“That is in no way suspicious.” A new, but similar voice came form behind and above. The siblings looked back to find… Chaos standing on top of the elevator shed, hands on hips in a heroic pose.

“Have there always been two of them?” Maleficent asked.

“As far as you’re concerned? No.” The first Chaos said. “This is all a bad dream.” Bringing a gauntleted first up, he flexed it deliberately. “Whether you’ll need to wake up after we’re done here depends a lot on whether you drop that weapon right now or not.”

In the Tome control center, in the heart of an installation called Deep Nine, the operator muted his mic and turned to look up at his supervisor. “What now? Recall the airship? Let them get picked up?” As they currently showed no connection to Tome, it was possible that they could be bailed out and retrieved in short order.

His supervisor was a middle aged woman who was aging before her time thanks to her job. But she was in charge for a reason, and that was because she was former CIA and knew how to handle assets. After a moment’s thought, she shook her head.

“These are conscripted agents. They had no loyalty to the Project should they be questioned. Kill or retrieve and we do not want anyone getting a good look at their DNA.” She pointed to a technician at a nearby monitoring station. “Jenkins, call in satellite ops. Tell them we’re going to attempt an extraction via beam.”

Jenkins cringed. “Are we authorized to use that on… people?” He’d heard the rumors; transcription errors and worse that plagued using the technology on anything complex. For a while, he’d even worked in that section of satellite ops. Before, he’d assumed it was classic sci-fi ‘destroy and copy’ teleportation. The reality was far worse.

“No.” replied the supervisor. “But you’re forgetting. They’re not people.” She turned back to the operator. “Burns, tell them to stall. But do not grant them any transition permissions. We can still keep this partially covert.”

“That’s a problem.” said the operator, Burns.

“And why is that?”

“I only have permission access for Beowulf. Maleficent was given personal control permissions two weeks ago. I can’t revoke them or disable her transitions from here, ma’am. And I’d need high clearance than yours to make it happen.”

She cursed under her breath and picked up the phone at her own console, hitting the button for her immediate superior’s office. It rang and was answered instantly. “This is Rachel Cottle, ops command. Get me Brandy Dillinger right now. We have a situation.”

***

They were caught. Beowulf knew that much. Tome was trying to stay under the Descendants’ radar and so wouldn’t risk sending a transport for them. Nor would they let them transform and fight their way out. That part he was glad of. In fact, he had hope that maybe, just maybe, being caught by the Descendants would lead them to be taken into government custody, maybe even cured of what had been done to them.

Maleficent had other ideas. She squeezed the trigger on the grapple launcher. There was a solid thump sound as three gas canisters dumped their charges into the barrel, ejecting the grapple head at high velocity.

Chaos turned it aside with a hurricane force wind and she took advantage of his temporary distraction.

“Maleficent transition protocol five. Engage.” She said, much to her brother’s horror.

She’d been practicing. Exercising the new, bizarre muscle groups the process left in her body. It no longer hurt, but it did sent a tremor through her body. The transition happened faster as well, a burst and flurry of emerging scales, unfolding claws and jerking wings.

As they weren’t meant to transform on this mission, their suits weren’t designed to handle it. The expert tailoring shredded along her back and at her sleeves and the calves of her pants. What was left formed a tattered tunic hanging from her neck and arms, and pants that tailed torn bits at the thighs and around the point where her tail had pushed free of the cloth.

The spines that made up her hair stood up with her agitation, and her now yellow, catlike eyes narrowed a split second before she leapt at Chaos, using her wings to give her speed.

Chaos barely flew back in time, narrowly avoiding a clawed kick aimed at his midsection. In the next moment, he surged forward, slamming his fist into her midsection. “Of course you’re some sort of lizard woman.” He said, mildly jaded. “It’s like Mayfield doesn’t even had baseline criminals anymore.”

But Maleficent was too resilient for his gut punch to slow her down for long. She pushed off the duct housing and lowered her shoulder as she pressed past his defenses. Her reward was knocking him down, out of the air. Her punishment was a tornadic burst from behind that caught her wings and sent her flying over Chaos’s head, careening into the wide of the water tower.

Chaos was on his feet directly after. “Nice shot, umm what do I call you?”

“If you’re Chaos, then I’ll be Turmoil.” The other man in the Chaos costume decided.

“Copycat.” Chaos muttered before turning his attention to Maleficent, who rolled to her feet. “okay, I’ll take Scales here, you take the accomplice. Sound good?”

“Perfect.” the newly minted Turmoil floated down to Beowulf’s level and looked at the other man, who hadn’t moved. “So… what do I do, punch him?”

Before Chaos could answer, Maleficent, still crouched what she’d fallen, opened her mouth and expelled a slow motion explosion of green fire. It was too big to dodge, so Chaos poured his power into a powerful downdraft between it and him, effectively cutting the blast in half. The two dissipating blasts scorched the duct housing behind him and made the metal fitting glow.

“Alright. Things are serious now.” said Chaos. “Turmoil, just slap some zip cuff on him and get out of here.”

“And leave you alone to fight that?”

“Not alone. I just sent the signal to Ephemeral. This is above your training level and I don’t need you getting hurt.” Chaos formed and threw a Chaos Nova at Maleficent, but the woman scrambled forward on all fours moving like water to dodge the blasts.

“To hell with that.” Turmoil fumbled a pair of zip cuffs out of his belt and forced the still not resisting Beowulf to put his hands together behind him.

In Beowulf’s ear the operator’s voice returned. “Beowulf, alternate extraction method is coming online. Window is in eight minutes and you cannot move off that rooftop.”

Easier said then done. Beowulf thought. Whatever Tome planned, it wasn’t going to work.

“To that effect, “The operator interrupted his line of thought, “I now have executive permission to exercise control operator fiat to initialize third stage transition for the purposes of fulfilling your mission parameters. Transitioning to stage two…”

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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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