Issue #62 – Poor Relations

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

Part 4
Tink jumped at a touch on her shoulder. For a moment, she reeled in confusion, trying to figure out where she was and who it was that woke her up. Slowly, her brain engaged and sifted through her surroundings. She was in the downstairs common room at Freeland House, still in her costume, sans cowl and gauntlets. Alexis was hovering over her, face a picture of carefully cultivated calm.
“God. Can’t believe I fell asleep.” She chastised herself while rubbing sleep out of her eyes with the heels of her hands. She remembered bringing the quad-rotor back for Laurel to study, then helping sift through customer data from the manufacturer. At some point, Laurel suggested going downstairs to lie on the couch and…
She frowned at the false calm on the other woman’s face. “Is there any news? Have we found anything else out?”
“Very little. That’s why we didn’t wake you up.” said Alexis, sitting down next to her. “The trace contaminant L found in the iron powder was a combination some kind of artificial salt mix and diatoms.”
“Diatoms?” Tink asked. Biology wasn’t her strong suit, but she’d heard of that word. “Like little sea animals?”
Alexis shrugged, “According to L, they can come from any body of water, from the river, to the lobster tank at a seafood restaurant. She thinks the key is the salt. She’s trying to run down exactly what kind of artificial salt mix it is. Apparently that’s a thing you can narrow down.”
“I should go help her.” Tink started, but the older woman grabbed her arm.
“She does alright for herself. Besides, I fixed breakfast. You want to hurry and get your share, because in about five minutes, Cyn’s going to smell it and wake up.”
Allowing herself to be guided, Tink stood. “I’m… breakfast? Oh my god, what time is it?”
“Early breakfast.” Alexis assured. “It’s four in the morning, but every time I came in here, I heard your stomach growling.”
Tink blushed. “But isn’t there something else we should be doing?”
They entered the kitchen, where a sizable breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and fresh fruit was laid out. Breakfast at Freeland House had to be big thanks to Cyn alone, not to mention anyone recovering from injuries healed by Melissa. That hadn’t changed even with most of the tenants off to college.
“Grab a plate.” Alexis commanded. “And believe me when I say we are doing what we can. Everyone is taking shifts scouring the city for that truck or anyone that might know something. After we eat, I’m switching off with Juniper.”
Tink did as directed and fixed herself a plate while Alexis did the same. Soon, they were eating in personable silence at the kitchen table.
Eventually, Alexis broke that silence. “We’ll find him, don’t worry. Lisa is devising a scrying spell that can point us to him if he’s anywhere in the city.”
“What if he’s not in the city?” Tink poked her eggs with her fork. It was a distinct possibility that she’d been worried about from the moment she saw that Warrick had been taken by a truck.
“That’s why we do the detective work.” Alexis assured her. “Look; these things happen. I was captured by a godlike stalker, Ian was taken by ninjas—we were both held hostage by the first guy and his girlfriend… the kind of lives we lead have complexities that normal people are never going to face.”
Tink looked up at her, chewing her lowers lip .”So do you get used to it?”
Alexis paused over her coffee cup. “The truth?”
“No. It’s always exactly as scary as the first time. At least one of the students I had when I was teaching at the Academy still hasn’t been found and freed and neither have dozens of other kids that were taken. Every time something like this happens, I keep seeing her: Dana, the one I never saved; and wonder if this time is going to turn out like that.”
She took a sip of coffee. “But I want you to remember this, Christina: most other people have to wait for someone to come along and help them wen these things happen to them. Us? We’re the ones that help them, so we’re perfectly equipped to help our own.
The door opened and they both jerked their head in that direction, hoping it was Laurel with a breakthrough. Instead, Cyn sauntered into the room and mechanically started loading up a plate.
“Anything?” She asked as she worked to stack as much food as possible onto one plate.
“Not yet.” Both other woman chorused.
“Damn,” Cyn spat and slumped into a seat next to Tink. “You know, I went over that alley with my sense of smell cranked to ‘vulture’ and I got nothing. Which is a good thing, I guess, because I didn’t smell any of those stasis cell things.”
Before the others could comment, their comms warbled. Tink was first to get hers out and switched it to speaker mode.
“Chaos has something thought you all might like to hear.” There was a collective sigh of relief in the kitchen and from the others on the frequency. “Go ahead Chaos.”
“Yeah, I decided to double check the hospitals in person. Avery Memorial is having computer problems. And it turns out that they have a John Doe who got dumped on their doorstep earlier tonight. Bad shape: dislocated shoulder, a major artery severed… he’s unconscious from blood loss. The doctor on call says it was like someone threw a javelin through his shoulder.”
“Or one pissed off tentacle.” added Cyn.
Alexis wasn’t as upbeat. “But he’s unconscious. No way of making him talk.”
“Oh, he doesn’t need to.” said Laurel. “Because Chaos got a picture of his fingertips with his palmtop. And an IAFIS search is much faster than DNA. Sending you his vitals now: Dick Landers, male Caucasian, age 39. He’s in IAFIS’s database because he’s had one conviction of domestic abuse, five for petty theft and a warrant out for his eleven hundred dollars in parking tickets. Works for Malpighi Construction in Richmond, lives in Richmond.”
“Kidnaps in Mayfield.” Tink frowned. “So maybe whoever he’s working for is in Richmond too.”
“Way ahead of you.” said Laurel. “Want to know who rented two panel trucks for a week starting yesterday?”
“Malpighi Construction.” Tink guessed.
“Precisely. Think you’re ready to pilot the Karasu no Yūrei solo? Because I still have analysis to do.”
Zoe lay flat on the mat on the cell floor, staring at the ceiling and occasionally trying to extend her metal sense up beyond it. Each time, she ran into the same swirling, disorienting confusion that turned her stomach.
From his seat on the concrete bench, Warrick was talking, but she wasn’t sure if he was just getting his thought in order, or trying to converse with her. Either way, it was making it harder for her to think up a way out.
“Well, we know it’s a guy, and someone who had the same great grandma as us. That rules out my number one most likely candidate for someone in our family who might turn out to be a super villain.”
“You mean it wasn’t me?” Zoe asked bitterly.
He shook his head. “I didn’t even have an idea that you might still be alive before earlier this year. I’m talking about Mallory. You remember her?”
Mallory Jain. Zoe did remember her; as one of the most self absorbed people in her family tree. She was a second cousin. “I remember her. I hated her.”
“Be glad you were the same age and in different countries. We got her as a babysitter. She’d leave us totally alone for hours, and if she got mad, she made up monsters she said would eat us if she kept doing whatever it was.” Warrick said disdainfully.
Zoe shook her head. “Even assuming a complete sex change, this guy’s too old. He’s only a little younger than my f… probably the same age as your parents.”
“So we’re thinking creepy uncle or older cousin.” Warrick said.
“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter who it is; we need to be concentrating on getting out.”
Warrick shook his head. “That’s what I’m doing. You think we always beat the bad guys… or you…” he added awkwardly, “because we’re stronger or just have the best plans? Sometimes, yeah. But sometimes it’s all because we figured out stuff about the baddie and screw him over with it. Like knowing what’ll get him talking to buy time, or make him so mad he’ll do something stupid and show a weakness.
“We don’t have our powers to help us here, and if you could get us out with your evil ninja lady skills, we wouldn’t be talking right now. Figuring this guy out is our best chance.”
Having no faith in that idea, Zoe considered brute force options. “How strong are your powers? Maybe if one of us bled, you could gather enough iron from it that I could make a mono-wire and cut through the bars.”
“Not that powerful. Plus, unless your power works way different from mine, you ought to know that just because there’s metal in something doesn’t mean we can use our powers on it. Granite’s fourteen percent aluminum oxide, but there’s enough silica in between that there’s nothing to… I don’t know, hold on to, I guess. Blood’s a lot like that; with all the water and oxygen and other crap in there, trying to focus on just the iron makes me kinda of dizzy.”
“Fine.” Zoe sat up and help up her hands to get hm to stop. “Whatever. I didn’t know I was going to get a chemistry lesson. Which, by the way, still isn’t helping.”
Warrick ignored the last part. “Of course I know chemistry; it helps me with my powers.” He sank back against the bench, only to sit up straight again a moment later. “Hey, dizzy! When they caught me, they used some kind of smoke bomb that filled the air with metal bits. Drove my metal sense crazy and made me dizzy.”
“So?” Asked Zoe. “They did the same to me. What’s your point?”
He was already up and pacing the cell, stopping every few feet to take a sounding with his metal sense, looking slightly more sick each time. “So where did it go? And how come there’s none still on us?”
“He knew not to leave any on us.” Zoe shrugged. “That just fits into him knowing about our powers… though he did an amazingly through job without putting us through a wash.”
“Maybe because he’s got metal sense too.” Warrick guessed.
“Then why take the mouth swabs if he’s already got our powers?”
The door swung open again with a suddenness that took them both off guard.
“Because not all powers are created equal.” Their captor entered, once again flanked by his body guards. This time, he was carrying two syringes. He tossed both through the bars. Zoe snatched them up and tore the caps off, only to be disappointed when she found that the needles were hardened plastic.
“While you two were happily using your abilities for fun and profit, all I got from the family genes was the ability to sense metal and what I thought for a long time was a severe allergy.” He reached up and with a gloved hand, flaked away some of the paste dried on his jaw. Underneath was angry, red skin shot through with glittering veins and something metallic.
“Whoa.” Warrick said in spite of himself.
“As it turns out,” the kidnapper stepped closer so they both got a good look. “that’s my power; absorbing small amounts of metal and then having it grow out of my skin. You can’t imagine how this feels; an itch you can’t scratch, a constant feeling of something pulling at your skin. I had a dermatologist make up a cream that leeches the metals out of my skin, but it’s getting worse and worse.”
He took a step closer “And then I was on TV that just down the road in Mayfield, a metal controlling hero showed up, even got his own holiday. And he’s got the same weird tentacle things as my obnoxious geek younger cousin.”
“Yeah. And which cousin would you be then?” Warrick asked, “I don’t remember anyone from Virginia; mostly New York and Florida…”
The man ignored him. “It got me thinking that maybe my ‘allergy’ was a psionic power. And we all know, those are inherited, so after a few grand dropped on a genealogist and a PI, I find out that another family member I thought died ten years ago had her DNA picked up at a crime scene in France. Turns out she’s a serial killer and that she’s also in Mayfield.”
He sneered, causing the paste on his face to crack. “You two won the goddamn super power lottery, while I get to pay a thousand dollars a month just to not be in pain all the time. So now you’re going to pay your good fortune forward: I’ve borrowed my firm into oblivion hiring a doctor who says he can find a way to fix my powers using your DNA.”
“And sometimes, you don’t have to do anything for them to spill the Evil Plan.” Warrick muttered. More loudly, he added, “And what exactly was wrong with calling up and being like ‘hey ‘cuz, I need some help curing my iron acne. Care to donate a blood sample to the cause?”
“Because if the blood samples aren’t enough, we move on to bone marrow and spinal fluid.”
Warrick hesitated for a second. “Okay, so she’s evil and wouldn’t do it, but you know I’m a superhero and you’re family.”
Zoe let the ‘evil’ comment pass but still glared at him. “Have you ever had bone marrow taken or a spinal tap?”
“I’ve had a metal feather shot through my lung.”
“I know. I was there. And that’s nowhere near the magnitude of pain we’re talking about here.”
“Still. Family.” Warrick concluded.
Their cousin cut off further conversation. “It doesn’t matter anyway. You’re here now and you both know the consequences if you don’t play ball. Now both of you, take a blood sample, cap the needle and toss it back.”
Zoe gave the needle a dubious look. “Except your problem here is, I don’t know how to draw blood.”
“Yeah, me neither.” Warrick added. “We took a course on administering shots; like insulin and epi pens, but there’s nothing in the first aid manual about taking blood except with a finger stick.”
Their captor glared. “Are you saying you’re not going to cooperate?”
“No,” Snapped Zoe. “We’re saying that this isn’t something you can just do just because we’re ordered to. You might as well ask us to cure you on our own while you’re at it.” She flipped the syringe back through the bars at him. It hit his chest and fell to the floor.
He glared at her long and hard. “You may be right. I’ll go have a talk with the doctor and see if there’s another way.” Nodding to his men, he turned and left the room with them in tow.
The cousins were left alone once again to ponder. Finally Vorpal spoke, keeping her voice to just above a whisper. “Did you notice that? How he came in at just the ‘right’ time? How he was careful not to tell us who he was?”
“Yeah.” Warrick whispered back. “He heard us taking. The place must be bugged. Didn’t do him any good though.”
“Why’s that?”
“’Obnoxious geek’? Pretty much all of our cousins pulled babysitting duty for us at one point or another; what with mom traveling all the time for her ad firm and Dad having to go to auditions in LA all the time. And only one of them made it a point to call me ‘obnoxious geek’ all the time: ‘Uncle’ Tony Malpighi. I remember him moving… now I know where to.”
“And that still gets us nowhere.” Zoe pointed out.
“Further than you’ve gotten us.”
“Oh?” She opened her hand to show him what she’d been holding since Tony came in. “Except for the fact that I palmed the second syringe.”

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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