Issue #62 – Poor Relations

This entry is part 2 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures

Part 2
‘Stephanie Carrol’, or at least the woman Warrick thought he knew as Stephanie Carrol groaned softly and turned her head in his direction. Warrick was propped up on one arm looking at her and his confusion as to why she was sharing his cell was stoked at the look of worry that crossed her face when she got her first clear look at him.
The look was fleeting and she turned her attention to the room beyond the bars. “Do you know why you’re here? Why they took you?”
He shook his head. “None.”
“I was hoping you did. The more we know about the how and why, the better chance we’ll have getting away.” After seeming to steel herself, she looked him in the eye. “So let’s compare notes. What’s the last thing you remember?”
Warrick shrugged. He couldn’t tell her everything, but she had a point about learning everything they could. “Not a lot. It got a pretty awful headache—bad enough that I couldn’t think—then something hit me…” He paused, a grimace on his face. “In the back. And shocked me.”
That shouldn’t have happened. He’d been fully armored at the time. It took a lot of doing to go through his armor, and even with the number of people trying it, not many succeeded.
“I got a taser too.” Stephanie agreed and both lapsed into silence. It was she who broke it, scowling like she was tasting something bitter. “Alright, there’s no point in playing around it. If they took you and me, they know who you are and probably know who I am too.”
Suddenly wary, Warrick scooted back to rest his back against the bench. A raised welt at the base of his spine complained painfully when he did. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Stephanie groaned and closed her eyes tightly, resting the back of her head against the wall. “Zoe McNamara. Do you know that name?”
Warrick’s breath caught in his throat as several things clicked at once and yet, he had trouble believing it. “My cousin.” He admitted, “My parents said she died years ago. During that thing in Brazil.”
That thing.” there was acid in her voice. “Is that how you think of it? Millions died. Millions, Warrick.”
Feeling like he’d been slapped by his own name, he chewed his lip. “I was like… ten. I didn’t understand anything that was going on; it’s like the first nukes: I know it was something terrible that happened, but I never…” He had no idea how to finish that sentence.
The woman who had been Stephanie, who didn’t want to be Zoe bowed her head and spoke sharply. “Well I lived it. Don’t talk about it so lightly; it wasn’t just a thing. Out of all of my friends, most of their bodies were never found. They say it got so hot that even bone vaporized. My parents; your aunt and uncle? Yeah, they weren’t at the center of it. Didn’t do them any good. They died slowly of disease. I had to sit there and watch. Does that sound like a thing to you?”
“No,” He studied the floor. “It doesn’t. I’m sorry. Really sorry, for everything. But why didn’t you come back? To New York? Mom and dad would have taken care of you. You wouldn’t have had to—“
“Don’t say it.” She cut him off. “They might be listening.”
“They have to know already. There’s not an ounce of metal in this whole place. How often does that happen?”
Zoe squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated. It wasn’t long before she opened them again, looking like she was going to be sick. “That’s not entirely true: there’s something above us. But it makes me nauseous to focus on it.”
“Nauseous?” Warrick looked up and focused hard. Moments later, he was trying not to gag. “Gah! It’s like being inside a tumble drier.”
“I warned you.” Zoe slowly got to her feet, stretching out the kinks in her back before looking around. “So they know a lot about us. What do we know about them?”
Warrick gave her a wary look and stood as well. “They want us alive for one. And it’s not just one guy: you were coming to about the same time I was. That means it’s a team.”
Zoe crouched down to examine where the bars by running a finger around where it was set into the concrete. It came back caked with white dust. “These were just drilled. My guess? This place wasn’t always a prison. Meaning wherever we are, it wasn’t built with us in mind.”
“Can you cut through it like you did the walls and floor that time?” Warrick asked, arms folded.
She gave him a chiding look. “Think about it: We’re related,so we’ve got basically the same powers.”
“Yeah. And?”
“Then how do you think I cut through all that?”
He looked puzzled. “Good question. I know I can’t do that. I mean in theory, if I could focus hard enough, I could make a sword that sharp, but to do what you did, we’re talking something like a monomolecular wire and there’s no way someone could focus on something that small.”
“No way you can.” Zoe replied. “But I have to touch metal to control it. Nearly the same power, but not completely. Bottom line though is that I’ve got nothing to work with.”
“If you can do that, what about iron in blood?”
“Not enough even if I drained you.” She said in a way that didn’t discount the idea that it would have been an option if it could work.
Warrick once again frowned at her.
She frowned right back. “What?”
“How’d you get like this? You were my favorite cousin; the only one that was nice to me at least. I remember you being funny and happy and would never be… Vorpal.”
“Are you really trying to do this?” She asked, exasperated, “Here? Now? We’re stranded in a cell without our powers, without a clue as to why this is happening, or who’s doing it and you’re trying to give me a lecture on morals? Open your damn eyes, Warrick: if we don’t figure out a way our of here, we may die.”
Warrick didn’t flinch at her tirade. “You don’t think I know this is heavy? That I’m not thinking of how to get out just as much as you are? I do and I am respectively. But excuse me for being a little freaked and concerned Zoe. We’ve got to figure a way out, or at least a way to stall until my friends find us, but don’t you think this is kind of important? Maybe you’ve had a long time to get used to it, but I’ve only suspected a few months and just got it confirmed that my favorite cousin is a super-villain five minutes ago!”
“You’re such a child.” She rounded on hims savagely. “’Super-villain’? Really? Cut the simplistic bullshit and look at the reality of things. You think you’re the hero? I saw you protecting Stiles last year; a man who was doing everything in his power to bring people like us low. You’re just propping up the ‘bad guys’ that gamed their way into power.”
“I’ve saved lives.” Warrick returned bitterly. “How many people has ‘Vorpal’ killed?”
“Murderers.” she snarled.
“I did read up on you, you know? Now it makes sense; most of the people you went after. But not all of them.”
Zoe froze in mid-rant and looked away. Her voice went low and dangerous “Shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Any of it. Now help me think of a way out, because I promise you from experience: absolutely no one is coming for us.”
The gray dust that covered everything in the alley made the tire tracks from the truck Renaissance said was there before she and Alloy were attacked show up perfectly in the pictures Codex took with her palmtop. All it took was a bit of tweaking with the contrast settings to get a perfect image to compare to the MPD’s tire tread database. She had that done and sent to her computer back at Freeland House in a matter of minutes.
“Find anything?” She called out to the other two women even as she knelt to get a sample of the dust.
“Nothing.” Renaissance said, looking over the twisted wreckage of the dumpsters. “We’d need a power saw to cut into these things and even then, it would be impossible to tell what’s out of place. There were a lot of soda cans in here and the aluminum got into everything when he lost control of his powers.”
“I think I’ve got something!” The other two came quickly to see what Hope had found.
Not far from the void in the dust where the truck had been, there were gouges in the brickwork of the wall. And in one place, there was a hole punched in it with cracks radiating out from it and something dark and wet spreading over the thin coating of dust clinging to the wall.
“What is that?” Codex wondered aloud.
Renaissance paused a few steps behind them, staring. “Are you two seeing what I’m seeing?”
“No, what?” Codex asked, fixating on the hole.
“Look at the dust.”
Hope took a step back and gasped audibly. “Oh. Wow.” Codex did the same and had a nearly identical reaction.
The dust on the walls as thin, but it was thinner near the hole, mostly to the right of it. And it formed an outline that was unmistakably that of a human with the hole directly over where his left shoulder would be.
“Isp and Osp fought back when they tried to put Wa… Alloy in the truck.” Renaissance concluded. “That’s why the kidnappers had to use plasma lances: to cut them off him. That’s why there’s blast marks on the walls.”
“But why wouldn’t Alloy fight back too at that point?” Hope asked. “Why not melt the truck? Powers out of control or not, it’s a pretty hard target to miss.”
“Maybe he was unconscious.” Codex suggested, stepping closer to the wall. She took a cotton swab out of a compartment on her belt and dabbed it in the dark substance leaking out of the hole. It was definitely blood and there were bits of torn skin stuck to the ragged edge of the hole.
“That makes no sense.” Hope said. “How would the tentacles be doing anything if he was knocked out.”
Renaissance looked around at the alley, trying to find something she might have missed now that she knew more about what happened. At the same time she shrugged at Hope’s question. “I can’t tell you how it works, but he’s told me about how if he doesn’t unsummon them when he goes to bed, they go on the internet while he’s sleeping. They don’t need him to be awake to do their thing.”
She gestured to the hole in the wall. “And you’ve lived with him for almost three years; do you really believe he’d let them do that to a person?”
Hope took a second look and realized what a terrible injury that had to be. “You’ve got a point. Of all of us, he’s probably the one least likely to violate the ‘thou shalt not kill’ rule.” She shuddered at the violence that had to have happened there. The ‘twins’ had always struck her as playful creatures; curious and friendly to a fault and totally loyal to Warrick. She’d never seen such a graphic and definitive proof of their loyalty to him.
“Whoever that was, he had to go to the hospital for that. Or the morgue.”
“Not enough blood for it to have been fatal.” Codex concluded. “The boys know better. But I have serious doubts that whoever this was will ever have the full use of his arm again.”
Renaissance was still looking at the alley. The destruction didn’t look so random anymore. She remembered where Alloy had been standing and now could see a pattern in what had melted: things higher up, starting to his left, which included the fire escape, then the drain spout along the same wall, and the dumpsters.
He hadn’t been shooting blind, at least not completely blind; he’d been tracking something. Something that had come from above.
Deep in thought, she looked around again and suddenly realized that something was missing.
“Guys.” She said quietly, interrupting a short lecture from Codex about what injuries they would have to inquire after to the local hospitals. When she had their attention, she pointed to their feet. “The only footprints in this alley, besides the ones right at the back of the truck, are ours.”
“What, you mean they hovered everywhere?” Asked Hope.
“No, but something did.” Renaissance said, “And it wasn’t maglev or free-lev. It kicked up the dust, whatever it is, and covered up the footprints, except over there. And Alloy was trying to slag something that started there,” She pointed to above the fire escape, “And went low over near the dumpsters.”
Codex looked thoughtfully at the prints near where the truck was. “And it didn’t make it back to the get away car.”
Hands on her hips, Hope traced that path of destruction Alloy had wrought. “Maybe he didn’t miss it as much as he thought? Maybe it crashed nearby.”
Renaissance nodded and looked around again. “The laundromat is only two stories tall. If Alloy’s power warped its guidance, or steering, whoever was controlling it might have been able to still make it climb.”
“It’s worth running down.” Codex agreed. “You two check the roof and the adjacent street. Also canvas the neighbors and find out if they saw something. I’ll see if we can identify this dust and track down either the truck, or the unlucky tentacle victim.”
Warrick and Zoe were sitting at opposite ends of their cell, avoiding looking at one another following the latter’s angered declaration that no one was coming for them. She was staring at the bars and the room beyond, trying to conjure a plan of escape.
For what felt like the fiftieth time, she looked over to find her cellmate looking instead at the toilet and sink.
“You’re going to have to hold it, because I’m not abiding by you whipping anything out in here with me.”
He gave her a haggard look. “No, I don’t need to use the bathroom. I’m just thinking that it’s a little weird, don’t you think? Having this stuff here if this place isn’t actually a prison cell like you said.”
“Then what do you think it was?” She asked with a roll of her eyes.
“Not sure yet. Now that I’ve had time to notice, this place smells like the beach too. Private cabana?”
“A concrete cabana with no windows.” She said flatly.
“At least I’m trying.” Warrick scowled and went back to contemplating the fixtures. They were very nice; too nice for a prison. The handles on the sink were silver and the toilet was one of those overcomplicated affairs he sometimes ran afoul of when visiting his father at recording studios; the kind with a keypad on a swivel off to the side that controlled seat temperature and height among dozens of other mystifying functions. It was more of an executive toy than a toilet.
His bitterness at how his ‘reunion’ was going got to him and he muttered, “Don’t know why future me would ever trust me with my kids…”
“What?” She snapped her head around so quickly he wondered how she didn’t get dizzy.
“No, you said something about kids? Who would have thought you’d be a teen father.”
He chaffed at the cruel pleasure in her voice. “Not now. In the future when—you know, forget about it. I’m not even sure how, but that future’s never gonna happen now and I’m very happy about that.”
“What the hell are you talking about.” She turned to fully face him.
Now it was his turn to roll his eyes and speak in an exasperated tone. “My last birthday, I got this… sneak peek at a possible future where, among a lot of weird stuff, I was going to drop the kids off with you while my future-wife and I went to work.”
Zoe raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
“Which reminds me: why the hell are you working at the Institute?! How did ‘international assassin’ get past the screening process?”
“Will you let that drop?” She hissed. “I haven’t even fought anybody in a long time. I was supposed to work there as a sleeper in case my boss ever needed to apply pressure to Liedecker, but I haven’t had any new orders in months.”
Lying was nothing to her, and she’d seen this eventuality coming for a long time. Except months out from the time she formulated it, it was starting to come true: Liedecker was focused on his magi-tech and whatever threat Vorran/Qin had posed seemed to be diminished. She really had been left with Stephanie Carrol’s job as Director Student Life as her only ‘job’ for a very long time. That made her feel suddenly very old.
“That’s gotta stop.” said Warrick. “Mr. Liedecker’s a stand-up guy, and Tammy goes to that school. I don’t care who your boss—that Vorran guy—is, you can’t let him hurt the school or anyone there.”
“Yeah? And what do you propose? Anything ‘moral’ you do, does the job just as quick. What are you going to do? Expose me? Tell everyone that an international assassin’s been working at the school from the beginning? They’ll close that place so fast, the doors will make a sonic boom.”
Alloy glared at her, but didn’t have a chance to respond.
Because the door to the outer room was opening.

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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