Issue #56 – Family Matters

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

Part 5

Maleficent barreled forward on all fours, wings tucked at her sides to streamline her form. Chaos used a burst of air to swiftly dodge to the side in flight, As he did, he twitched his arm activating the reservoir of water in his gauntlet to release a handful of water into his palm.

A Chaos Nova began to form, but he had underestimated his foe’s maneuverability. Between her tail and wings, Maleficent turned almost without losing any speed and pounced on him, dragging him out of the air. She seized the opportunity to rake at his chest with her claws, only to find that they could find no purchase on the tough, slick material of his uniform.

Delayed, but not defeated, she opened her mouth to blast him with her flames at point blank range. Turmoil caught her in the temple with a right cross that sent her tumbling off his brother.

“Dad’s going to be pretty mad that I hit a lady.” he cracked his knuckles before reaching down to help Chaos up.

“They stop counting as ladies when they try to murder someone.” said Chaos. “Even he’d have to agree with–”

A crackling sound was enough warning for him to push Turmoil to the side and dive in the opposite direction. Moments later, a blue glowing ball lightning struck the roof between them.

Maleficent looked up to see Beowulf, fully transformed, with faint sparks still in his mouth. He glared back. “When we’re done here; if we don’t end up in prison, you and I having a little talk, Mary Ann.”

She growled low in her throat. “You don’t understand.”

“I understand perfectly.” He shouted, more arcs or electricity racing around the inside of his mouth and in the spines that made up his hair in that form. “You gave in to them. You’re letting them win and pulling me down after you.”

The sibling quarrel was cut off by a Chaos Nova exploding in front of Beowulf, knocking him back against the water tower. Maleficent belched out another blast of green flame at him, only to have Turmoil extinguish it with a powerful downdraft.

“I really wish my costume had that water supply in it too.” He told Chaos. “Then I’ve be a lot more useful in this fight.”

Chaos took to the sky to avoid another blast from Beowulf. He only half heard his brother because he was using his comm. “That back-up would be very nice right now!”

***

Kareem closed the door to his room. Working out hadn’t been as relaxing or focusing as he’d hoped. Lily spent the entire time trying to get his attention and though he was certain in his feelings for Desiree, he was ashamed to admit that she’d succeeded quite a bit.

Not that he was tempted; he was made of sterner stuff than that, but he knew that this was only the beginning. If he didn’t find a way to dissuade her, things would get messy when he had Desiree over. He knew from high school that Lily was tenacious with what she wanted. Why she suddenly wanted him was beyond him; so much so, he had been tempted to read her mind for the cause.

He shook his head to clear it. There were more important things to do now. Ian and his brother needed him.

Lying down, he checked his palmtop to make certain that the transponder signal was steady and strong before closing his eyes and astrally projecting. Almost instantly, he manifested an astral image of Ephemeral in his red and gold costume. At the transceiver nearest Ian’s location.

Except he wasn’t anywhere near Ian. Or even the Brighton-Leer complex. A quick look around spotted the building he’d been aiming at, ten blocks away. How could he have missed? Projecting himself via the transceiver network was something intuitive: he picked out the node he wanted on the astral and moved there along the connections between them. He couldn’t miss unless…

He forced himself to relax and the astral manifestation dissolved into the rose colored ether. Now he was on the astral plane, connected to his body via the transceiver. There, Mayfield’s towers were little more than transparent outlines, invisible unless he concentrated on them. The glowing astral bodies of people floated in space, occasionally enclosed in a box where enough emotional resonance caused a room or apartment to have a stronger presence on the astral.

The transceivers were pink beacons in the haze, all accounted for in his sight. But when he reached out to them through the web of signals, three were missing from the network: all near the Brighton-Leer building. This wasn’t an astral problem and fixing it wasn’t within his area of expertise.

Kareem withdrew back to his body, gasping as he returned to wakefulness. Even as he came back to himself, the was dialing Laurel. She answered promptly, accompanied by the dull murmur of voices in the back ground. “Miss Brant, there is a problem.” He said as soon as he heard her voice. “There is a dead zone in the transceiver network around their location.”

“Does that mean that the people they’re confronting might have astral abilities?”

“Technological, I believe.” Kareem corrected. It felt odd correcting the certified super-genius, but she could only operate on the information she had and depended on him as her eyes into the workings of the astral plane. “The affected nodes are still functioning, still affecting the astral. It’s the network itself: they are out of communication. I believe there might be interference.”

There was a pause as Laurel checked the network herself. “You’re right. Three down within a five block radius. That can’t be an accident. But no one knows about out network, not even the ROCIC. Let me check something.” Another pause and she was back within minutes. “They’re not targeting the network. Voice communication is still up, but I’m seeing a ton of calls coming in all over the board about super-high definition feeds, industrial data lines, and high energy transmissions being disrupted. If I were to venture a guess, I’d say they were being commandeered.”

“For what?” Kareem asked.

“No idea, but I have to warn Ian about this.”

***

“Warn Ian about what?” Alexis asked. Everyone else had fallen silent upon hearing the conversation. Things had just become serious.

Laurel was switching channels to call Ian back. “I’m not sure yet. Theoretically, high energy transmissions could be converted into some sort of electromagnetic weapon, but research into that dried up because it’s a waste of energy when you can just send a missile.”

“Except you’re talking about insane people in secret organizations and bucketfuls of insanity.” Victoria spoke up. “I wouldn’t put it past them.”

“Neither would we.” Alexis said, watching Laurel relayed what she knew to Ian. “I’m going to get suited up.”

“What” It was Nicole, who up until that moment had been idly texting her fiance. “She just said they might be blasting the place. What good will you be doing them by being there?”

Alexis stared her down. “We don’t know what’s going on. All I know is that they called for back-up and Kareem can’t reach them. That leave me as second fastest and I’m not going to abandon Ian and his brother out there just because I might get blown up. I face much better substantiated threats of death literally all the time with far less on the line.”

Nicole blanched. She hadn’t even thought about that last part. She wondered if she would run toward the threat of doom and destruction for her Dan. “You’re right.” Was all she could say.

Alexis nodded and turned to Laurel. “L, I need you up in your workshop ASAP. Be ready to call Melissa to mirror her in if someone gets hurt.”

“’Mirror her in’?” Victoria asked incredulous.

“Let’s just hope we don’t have to explain that.” Laurel said before nodding to Alexis. “Go on ahead. I’m going to see if I can sabotage whatever’s happening.”

***

Both brothers took temporary refuge behind one of the solar arrays, narrowly avoiding an explosive burst from Maleficent.

“What’d she say?” Turmoil asked.

“Back-up’s going to be late.” Said Chaos. “And that it’s possible that some sort of super-weapon might be pointed at the building.”

“Makes me wonder…”

“Wonder what?”

Turmoil shrugged. “They have what they came for, the building’s going to take a hit… why aren’t they running?”

Chaos peered past the mirror array, trying to keep tabs on the Cadmus twins. “That’s a very good question. There’s got to be a reason they’re staying here and I don’t think it’s good for us.” He looked up at the water tower. “You said you wish you had some water to be more effective?”

Turmoil kept a weary eye out for their attackers too. “Yeah.”

“I’m going to rush one, try and force them away from here. When I go, you’re going to have a lot of water to work with. Try and do the same against the other. Got it?”

“You’re the expert. Let’s do this.”

Taking a step back, Chaos focused his power on a spot in front of him. Alternating bands of low and high pressure acted to pull in air from behind him and focus it into a strong, directional burst, which he aimed at one of the curved mirrors in a solar array.

It gave out with a groan, the servos holding it in place failing under winds far in excess of hurricane force. When it tore free, it flew ten feet before crashing noisily to the ground.

Quick to take advantage of the ruckus, Chaos vaulted into the air, triggering both water reservoirs to form Chaos Novas. He dodged Beowulf’s ball lightning and threw the two self-made grenades at one of the seams in the water tower’s construction.

The first only caused it the buckle. The second split it open, allowing hundreds of gallons to flow out onto the roof. Turmoil took control of it as soon as it appeared and swept the high pressure stream back and forth, trying to hit the twins with it.

Beowulf took to the air to escape it while Maleficent braced against the torrent, using her claws to sink in and endure.

“Is that enough water for you?” Chaos shouted down to his brother.

“Plenty.” Was the only reply. A moment later, Turmoil rushed out from around the solar array, riding a swell of water like a surfboard. Maleficent let loose a blast of fire at him, but he caused a screen of liquid to rise up ahead of him, clashing with the fireball in a hissing cloud of steam, which he then directed back in her face. While she was blinded, he collided with her, knocking her back against an air conditioning unit with a shoulder check.

“Nice!” Chaos exclaimed at the display. At the same time, he was circling around Beowulf, hurling Chaos Novas that the draconic thief easily dodged. Finally, he decided to take a page out of his brother’s playbook, he waited to duck the next retaliatory salvo of ball lightning before diving to connect a punch across Beowulf’s temple.

Beowulf reeled, leaving himself open for a blow to his midsection, and another to the jaw. But his draconic form was far more resistant to punishment than a normal man and on the fourth punch, he snapped his wings to fly backward, out of the way, then delivered a chop to Chaos’s back.

Not only was is a painful blow, but it drove Chaos to the roof where he landed on his belly, the air knocked out of him. He followed up by opening his mouth to fire off another ball lightning.

A column of water lifted off the roof like a piston and engulfed him, shorting out his electrical breath weapon. When it fell back down, it remained supernaturally viscus such that it pulled him down with it. Turmoil lifted both hands forcefully, extruding two more pillars on either side, each one becoming so dense that they were as solid as ice. Swiftly bringing his arms together, Turmoil caused the pillars to clap closed on Beowulf, crushing him painfully.

He didn’t get time for a second strike, because Maleficent rolled to a knee and hit him in the back with a fireball. His cape took most of it, the fire resistant material warping and discoloring instead of burning or conducting the heat to his back.

Turmoil turned and whipped his hand upward in a slicing motion. Part of the thick covering of water on the ground rose up in a crescent shape and flew at her, pushed along by a concentrated gust of wind. Maleficent dove and rolled to avoid it, allowing it to further dent the air conditioner behind her.

From his prone position, Chaos saw her getting ready to pounce and forced his own power into the water, rapidly and drastically lowering its density so that it converted into a cloud of mist. In the split second Maleficent couldn’t see, he summoned wind to lift and throw him into her. Riding a vortex, she tackled her off the roof.

***

Deep Twenty-two was the satellite operations command post for Project Tome. Previously, it had been an appendage of Deep Nineteen, but the need for expanded containment space at that facility coupled with the new technology they fielded necessitated their own facility. They counted themselves lucky, as Deep Nineteen was compromised and taken by the ROCIC shortly after the Academy was discovered.

The beam control center was still more of a laboratory than a practical workspace; compulsively clean and requiring everyone within to wear special uniforms inside. The technology at work there was still experimental, finicky and dangerous.

Normally, the experiments were conducted with calm and sobriety. This day, it was anything but. Alarm noises blared all over the place as technicians relayed readings to each other.

“LS3V Virtual Antenna is at ninety-seven and holding.”

“Target lock on Maleficent. Beginning first-past encoding.”

“Third-pass encoding on Beowulf. Isolating native matter from non-native.”

“Local satellite traffic interrupt one hundred and steady.”

The head of the project, a short, powerfully built black man with his graying hair tied back nodded and watched everything come together on his console. If they succeeded it would be a first. They still had a fifty-eight percent rate of serious to critical transcription errors in organic matter. And that was dealing with simple plants. It would be a miracle that something as complex as two vertebrates would even arrive, much less in a survivable state.

He had a crash cart and every doctor on site standing by if ‘survivable’ was on the thin side instead of on the nill side. He was certain they would be needed if everything went as smoothly as currently possible.

Then things stopped being smooth.

A shrill alert came from one of the consoles and the technician manning it turned to project head. “Network zombie program is losing some of the signals. Someone’s found the code and they’re rebooting every system with a cleaner program. Fifty seconds until we loose the data feeds.”

The project head swiveled in his seat and pointed to the two techs at the primary ignition panel. But before he could give the order, one of the men on monitor duty exclaimed.

“Lost Maleficent. Maleficent is out of contact range of the sat.”

“Damn it!” The project head snarled. “Activate on Beowulf now. No time for the other one.”

The ignition tech did as ordered and the project head turned to look through the three foot thick, tinted alum crystal window between the control center and the Arrival Room, where the beam normally delivered its targets. White light filled that room, and even through the tinted window, it was blinding.

***

Beowulf pivoted to fly to his sister’s defense, but was blocked by a wall of water that lifted off the roof and slammed into him. Reeling, he staggered back, only to slip on a sheet of water given the solidity of ice. Within moments, the water wrapped around him, binding his wings to his sides and immobilizing his arms and legs.

Turmoil stepped up to loom over him. “Alright, You’ve got ten seconds to explain why you didn’t run or I make a catapult and send you over to the next tower.” he ordered.

The draconic thief snorted. “I don’t even know. They told me to stay here and wait. Whatever it is, I’m sure I’m just as screwed as you. I’m not doing this voluntarily, you know?”

“You’re… who are they? Maybe we can help!”

Beowulf opened his mouth, but only a scream came out. His body blurred once and then with a sound like cannon fire, he was gone. Not killed, not attacked or knocked out. Simply gone. There was a rush of air as it filled the void left by his person.

Stunned, Turmoil staggered and fell on his back, not comprehending what just happened.

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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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