Issue #62 – Poor Relations

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

Part 3
“Well,” Hope paused to catch her breath. The only access to the roof of the building was fifteen stories worth of stairs thanks to an out of order elevator, and Renaissance’s ascender wasn’t powerful enough to haul them both up. In the interest of fairness, Renaissance had climbed up with her, but that didn’t put air in her lungs or the ache out of her knees. “Something crashed up here.”
Whatever it was, it had knocked down a clothesline, dented the thin, metal doors of the elevator maintenance shed, and kicked up divots of earth from the small garden planted at the roof’s edge.
“Unfortunately, it looks like it kept on crashing.”
The trail ended a the edge of the building with a scrape along the low brick barrier there.
Renaissance, for reasons Hope couldn’t comprehend, wasn’t out of breath at all and moved immediately to look over the edge. “It took out the awning of the deli across the way. It can’t be far.” She loaded another line cartridge into her gauntlet and took aim at a likely ledge.
Hope cleared her throat loudly, causing the other woman to look back, embarrassed. “Sorry. I forgot.”
Folding her arms, Hope gave a petulant look. “You know, I’m pretty much the only one on this entire team without at least some kind of transportation? Even Ephemeral can astral project. Everyone else flies or swings or teleports, and I’m stuck with walking or taking the stairs.”
“That’s not true, Codex…”
“She has a jet.” Hope cut her off.
“Maybe you can learn to fly the jet.” Renaissance offered. She reached the door to the stairs first and help the door open for Hope.
“Any chance you can make some kind of grappling hook thing for me like you have?”
“Yeah, I can do that.”
Another long climb later and the two heroines stepped through the door of the deli.
It was a cozy sort of place with red and white checked tablecloths on the freestanding tables and comfortable looking padded benches in the booths. A well lit, glass topped display counter stretched across the store to the left, all the way to the swinging metal door that led to the back. When they opened the door, an old fashioned ball on a hook announced them to the empty restaurant.
“Sorry, we’re closed.” Came a young, male voice from beyond the sliding door. After a pause, he added. “And I’m armed.”
“We aren’t here to rob you. We’re the Descendants and we’re here to ask you some questions.” Renaissance said loudly enough to be heard in the back.
There was movement in the glass window cut into the swinging door as someone peered out. Then a crash as that same someone dropped a stack of metal trays. Before they could do anything, a Chinese man in his mid-twenties pushed to door open, almost tripping over the trays.
“It’s really you. Hope and… um… the new… one.” He finished lamely. A look of horror came over his face as he realized he just said that out loud. “I mean—“
“Don’t worry about it.” Renaissance waved him off. “It’s Renaissance by the way.”
“That’s kind of a mouthful.”
“No more than Ephemeral or Majestrix.” pointed out Hope, who hadn’t picked her own name.
“Anyway.” Renaissance interrupted firmly. They had more important things to discuss then her name, after all. “Do you know what happened to your awning out that.”
The young man nodded. “Yeah. Some dumb-ass kid crashed his quad-rotor into it. I just know the owner is going to blame me for it too.” he brightened. “Hey, is that why you’re here? Are you going to arrest them? ‘Cause I don’t know who did it, but I’ll do anything to see the little snot put in jail. I just made manager and he better not get me fired over this.”
“What’s a quad-rotor?” Hope asked.
“I’m guessing what he’s talking about is like a remote control helicopter, only with four rotors for stability.” She looked that the manager. “Do you know what happened to it?”
“Hell yes, I do. I pulled it down from there and tossed it in the back. Those things are expensive; I figure the parent’s will show eventually.”
“Yeah… there’s no parents coming, but we need to see it all the same.” said Renaissance.
Confusion and concern painted the man’s features. “What’s going on? Is it dangerous?”
She wondered if it was. Alloy had been taken alive, but they didn’t know by who or for what purpose. Maybe it was because she’d been exposed to too many action movies and comic book everything over the past two years, but she couldn’t rule out that whoever was behind this might want to eliminate all witnesses.
“We don’t know.” She finally said. “But tell you what: lock up right now, give us the quad-rotor, and we’ll escort you to the nearest police substation. They’ll make sure you’re safe until we’re sure you’re in the clear.
It didn’t take him long to comply and soon, they had the device laid out on one of the tables atop the part of the awning it tore off in crashing. The manager was standing nervously near the back, careful to stay away from the windows in case of snipers.
Renaissance frowned at the broken pieces in front of them. “I think this is useless. All the serial numbers and other ID are filed off.”
“Maybe not.” Hope had her own palmtop out and was flipping through an image search. She turned the computer around so her partner could see what she’d turned up. “Does this look like what we’ve got?”
It did indeed. Same oval shaped forward sensor mount, same rounded body shape with faux rivets on the panels and pontoon-shaped landing skids. Renaissance confirmed that the picture was a match.
Hope turned the computer back to herself. “Then this isn’t a toy. It’s a research drone.”
Renaissance perked up. “Please tell me only a handful have been sold.”
“No such luck.” Hope frowned. “The site says it’s the most popular aquatic research drone on the market. Marine biologists all over have them.”
Deflated, Renaissance frowned at the pieces of the quad-rotor again. “Of course it wouldn’t be that easy. But its’ something.” She switched on her comm. “Codex, we have something. Can your computer check police logs to see if any schools or research centers are missing drones?”
After a moment, Codex came back. “Checking now. Since you’re there, I have something too. That power? It’s steel. Ground steel. A mix of mild steel with less than 0.1% iron and trace silicon, and harder steel in the 0.65% range.”
“That would do the trick.” Renaissance avoided saying what ‘the trick’ was with a civilian listening.
“That it would.” Said Codex. “And a quick search on the net says that those two steel compositions have one use in common: nails; wood nails and concrete nails. Nothing we can narrow it down to though; you can buy nails by the pound in any hardware store.”
Hope made a face. “To grind down into a fine powder. Couldn’t they have just gotten metal shavings from a machine shop?”
“Good question.” Said Codex. “Figuring that out might help put this together. In the meantime, I’m still waiting for an ID on another trace substance that was in the power, but wasn’t part of the ground metal.”
“What about the guy that got stabbed?” Hope asked.
Codex sighed. “No one’s showed up at the hospital of the morgue yet. I’ve got a friend with the Mayfield PD’s CSU doing DNA for me, but he says it won’t be done before sunrise.”
Renaissance tried to keep her composure, but it was difficult. “What if he doesn’t have that long?”
“We’re not going to be sitting on our duffs, I promise you that.” Said Codex firmly. “I’ve already contacted the others. We’re all hands on deck until we find him. Every lead, every hunch. Believe me, we’re going to do everything in our power for him.”
Both Warrick and Zoe tensed as they watched the opening door intently.
The man who stepped through didn’t look like that much of a threat, even with the two large men carrying heavy ceramic police batons at his back. He was short, but still an inch or two taller than Warrick, and stockily built with arm and upper body broad and muscular from a life of manual labor.
He was dressed in rugged jeans, a long-sleeved button down, black shirt of sturdy fabric, and black, leather gloves. Most striking was his face. It wasn’t his round, wireframe glasses that caught their attention, or his long, oft broken nose. Instead, their attention was on the white paste slathered and dried to the right half of his face, starting just under the eye and going down his jaw and across his chin, then continuing on to his neck and back to cover his ear.
Warrick had seen the women of Freeland House in mud masks before, but this was a step beyond and into something akin to plaster-of-paris. When his face moved, the dry mask didn’t.
“Ugly, huh?” the man’s voice was smoother and more even than his appearance suggested with a hint of a Midwestern accent. “You should see what’s under it. There but for the grace of God, you might say.”
“Just get on with it.” Zoe spat. “Who are you and what’s your plan?”
The masked man folded his arms and halted a respectable distance away. “Holly-Marie Petrillo.”
“You’re a very ugly woman there, Holly.” Zoe said flatly. “Now stop jerking us around and explain yourself.
“I don’t really have to, now do I? There’s no metal here and you have no tools to use any other skill you might have. You’re here either forever or until I say you can go.”
“If you know who I am, then you know I’ll get out eventually.” Zoe stared at him hard through the bars. “And you know I’ll kill you.”
The man laughed and took two plastic wrapped packages out of his shirt pocket. He held them up so that they could see that each clear package contained a long handled medical swab and a plastic sheath before tossing them through the bars.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Here. Swab the inside of your cheeks.”
Warrick picked both swabs up and turned them over in his hands. “Why?”
“Because the man who controls how much you suffer in that cage told you to.”
“Man, you are lame.” said Warrick. “I mean the trap works, I guess. But now that you’ve got us, there’s not a lot you can threaten us with. I mean, you need us alive, right? So you can’t just shoot us through the bars—and that’s even assuming you’ve got something we can’t use against you—and you put us in a cage, so you can’t even reach us to torture us.”
Their captor sneered, a painful expression given the composition of his mask. “Maybe two more names will sway you two: Talia Kaine and Annette St. John.”
Zoe sprang at the cage door, slamming ti with her shoulder. It didn’t even budge. “You son of a bitch!”
Warrick just went cold. “You wouldn’t dare.” He clenched his jaw. “You can’t even pull it off. Tammy’s at the institute and that place is super secure.”
“It’s also an open campus.” the man pointed out, fixing them both with steely, brown eyes. “But if you both calm down and give your samples, it won’t come to that. You two might even get out of this alive.”
“You won’t.” Zoe snatched one of the swabs from Warrick and quickly swiped it across the inside of her cheek. Then she clicked the sheath over it with a finality that made it clear that she wanted to put it into their captor’s eye. Warrick did almost the same thing, then they both threw the swab back through the bars.
The masked man knelt and picked them up, idly scratching a portion of his face at the edge of his mask. “I knew you’d cooperate.” He straightened again and regarded Warrick.
“By the way: does your sister have metal sense too?”
“Get bent, asshole.”
“I suppose I’ll have to do more research on the family tree then. Just in case you two can’t help me.” With that, he turned and followed his men out, not bothering to lock the door behind them.
When he was gone, Zoe slammed the bars with the heel of her with a curse and stalked over to sit on the bench, head in her hands. “Still reluctant to work with an international assassin?” She asked, voice muffled.
“We’re not killing him.” Warrick said, not leaving the cell door. “We’re beating the hell out of him, but he’s gonna live to got to jail.” He leaned against the bars and looked over to her. “Who’s Annette St. John.”
“Your sister never mentioned a haughty little French girl?”
“Oh, you mean Tantrum!” He nodded, “But what’s she got to do with you?”
Zoe took a deep breath and sat up straight. “Let’s just say that I’m responsible for her. Someone important to me is trusting me with her well being.” She took notice of the look on his face. “Shut up.”
“I didn’t say anything.” He turned back to face the outer room. “Mouth swabs. He wanted to check our DNA most likely. But he’s not with Tome, that’s for damn sure. We’d be in stasis if that was it.”
“And it’s personal.” Zoe added to their list of things they knew. “He’s clearly not a scientist or a doctor; I can read that from how he dressed, how he talked to us. We’re not test subjects, we’re something to him. Something he wants.”
“Something he’s jealous of.” said Warrick. “’There but for the grace of ‘God’ and all that. But I don’t get the Holly-Marie thing. And why does that last name sound familiar?”
Zoe cracked her neck. “Great-Grandpa Frank. His name’s Petrillo.”
Warrick shook his head. “Nah, but I was at Great-Grandma Wanda’s funeral. She wasn’t ‘Holly-Marie’.”
Suddenly, he felt Zoe’s eyes on him and turned toward her.
“Except…” She said, “I was at their wedding. Great-Grandma Wanda wasn’t his first wife. And Grams—our grandmother was angry the whole time… because she thought he was disrespecting her mother.”
“Son of a bitch.” Warrick hissed, glaring at the door. “If Grams’s mom was Holly Marie, then…”
Zoe stood up, fists clenched. “This isn’t a kidnapping. This is some kind of twisted family reunion.”

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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