Issue #62 – Poor Relations

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

Part 5
Richmond, Virginia was a lot different from Mayfield. Where the latter had grown and expanded upward, the former, being far older, grew outward to engulf its suburbs and some of the formerly rural areas around it. The big, eighty story towers common in Mayfield were rare, making it easy to pick out landmarks from anywhere in the city.
‘Anywhere’ in this case was a parking lot ten blocks south of the office building where Malpighi Construction kept it’s administrative arm.
Renaissance wanted nothing more than to be the one ransacking their offices and tearing through their digital files for clues that would advance their search. Her goggles were pushed up on her head so as not to obstruct her view of the various data feeds she had going on the plane’s view screen.
For the time being, most of the open windows onscreen were hijacked feeds from cameras in and around the building, as well as the central control panel for the security system. It have taken her less then fifteen minutes to have virtual control of the building once she’d been physically patched in.
While she waited for the next step, she was on eyes and ears duty, watching for security guard activity and standing ready to send word if they seemed to notice what was happening.
There was nothing else to do and no one to talk to. The other two members of the team she’d bought with her, Hope and Zero were asleep in the passenger section. If they ran into serious trouble, the healer and their one heavy hitter would do better well rested than they would tired from basic monitor duty.
Renaissance was feeling the insistent tug of sleep too, but she wasn’t about to give in to it. Luckily, the jet had the next best thing to sleep: an espresso maker.
After what seemed like far too long a time, the comm crackled and a trigger program replaced the central image on screen with a wireframe mock-up of the building.
“Look’s like security is gone. Am I clear?”
Renaissance checked the cameras inside the offices of Malpighi Construction. There wasn’t a soul visible. A few quick keystrokes and those images of empty halls and offices went into a loop on the feed going into the security station in the building. A few more and the elevator access to that floor was locked down and the electronic locks on the stairwells engaged, ensuring no one could reach it by normal means.
On the screens showing the actual video from the main hall, it looked as if someone had just dumped out a huge bucket of jet black sludge. It sluiced out of an overhead vent to form a puddle on the carpet. But no sooner than the last of it hit the ground did the stuff rise up, changing shape and texture until it became an unmistakably female form in stereotypical ninja garb.
“I’m in then.” said Facsimile, prowling down the hallway was if it could still be crawling with guards or possibly samurai. “Where do I need to go?”
Back in the jet, Renaissance traced her friends’ position to a blue glowing square she’d marked out earlier. “There should be a small office: second door on your right. It’s their lone tech guy’s apparently. As soon as you open the door, turn right and there’ll be the door to the server closet.”
On the various security feeds, Facsimile did as asked, pausing in the office when she saw all the small colony of plushies inhabiting the desk. “Hey, a gamer geek. These are all monsters from Deathgate. Ooo, they look homemade—lookit, a War Pig! I wonder if whoever this is has a website, because these would make kick-ass presents!”
“Yeah?” she was still grinning down at the toys.
“Not that I don’t agree, but we’ve to a job to do.”
Facsimile’s face fell as she remembered why she was there. “Sorry. What’s the play?”
Renaissance felt a pang of regret for even such a light admonishment of the other heroine. After all, it she her best friend they were talking about. Warrick wasn’t just special to her. She decided to apologize the next chance she got. But in the meantime, they did have a job to do.
“Open the door to the server closet and get a picture of the inside with your palmtop. I need to see what kind of hardware they’re using to tell you where to plug me in.”
After retrieving her palmtop from her arm, Facsimile did as asked. There wasn’t much to see in there; three retail servers side by side beneath a shelf holding the wireless router that connected the three in series to the office network. It took only five minutes to identify the router; a common, cheap model available everywhere. It took even less time to find out the factory defaults.
“Got it. Set you palmtop on top of the server in the center.”
“So you’re going to show off some geektacular hacking skills?”
Renaissance waited into the computer was in place and started uploading code. “Nope. I’m gonna show off my geektacular ‘finding blackhat apps online’ skills. I might know computers, but I’m not a programmer. Luckily, the internet is full of bad, bad people who wrap everything you need to steal document from a low security office network up in a neat little package.”
“No ethics problems using bad guy methods for heroics?”
“Not a one.” said Renaissance as she watched the files downloading from the office network and being analyzed by Codex’s battery of search algorithms. Already, the first pass was generating hits.
Facsimile leaned on the door frame, bored. “Anything yet?”
“The truck rentals pop up n their financials, looks like it was company approved. And they just hired a dozen ex-cons and applied for state tax breaks for helping in their rehabilitation.”
“Hello hired goons.”
“But why would a construction firm in Richmond want to kidnap a superhero from Mayfield?”
“Maybe we took down his brother at some point?” Facsimile suggested, “Or one of those sites Alloy melted for armor or to catch some guy belonged to them and the rebuilding fund didn’t pay out fast enough. It’s always petty bullshit with these guys when it boils down to it.”
Renaissance was inclined to agree, but her attention was on more files being flagged by the search. “They’re contracted to renovate the Virginia State Aquarium…”
“Fake sea salt and a research drone.” Facsimile said, “But the plumbing for fifty million gallons of seawater? Alloy’s going to kick their asses when he wakes up.”
“But the State Aquarium doesn’t have any metal infrastructure.” Renaissance turned toward the cockpit entrance to find Juniper standing there. She was in her Zero costume, but didn’t have the half-mask on, leaving her looking like a palette swap of Little Red Riding Hood. She smiled a sleepy smile at Renaissance and came over to take a seat beside her.
“Sea water’s super corrosive to metal and fish store metal in them… or something. It makes them sick. So this new aquarium was built not to have any at all. It saves on maintenance too, because even salt air eats metal like crazy.”
Facsimile’s voice came in over the speakers. “How—“
“There’s a pamphlet for it in the little stand by my desk at the museum.” Juniper said innocently.
Renaissance only nodded. “I don’t think this was a happy coincidence either. The owner of the company seriously low-balled the bid for the renovation according to this. And right after that, he hired his extra staff from the state pen and rented the trucks.”
She sat back. “This is sounding less and less like Tome or anybody… I don’t know, professional? This guy had to wait for an opportunity to fall into his lap to do this.”
“But why?” Juniper asked.
“Here’s a question: Why two trucks?” That was Facsimile.
“A back-up maybe?” Juniper said, “Alloy isn’t really good for vehicles.”
Renaissance sighed. “This still feels… bugged. What does this random guy want with him in the first place and how did he know things like our patrol route, or that that trick with the powdered iron would mess with his metal sense?”
The others had no answers for her, so she pursed her lips and began the start-up sequence for the jet. “Nothing for it then. Fax, get ready for pick-up. Z, please call back to the house and tell Codex to have Occult standing by to teleport the others if we need them.”
“Should I look up where the aquarium is?” asked Juniper.
“Right down Broad Street from Science Museum of Virginia.” said Renaissance offhand.
On the comm, Facsimile snickered. “Nerds. You two totally went on a date there, didn’t you?”
The tech heroine blushed. “Our six month anniversary.”
Warrick had to admit; Zoe’s larcenous background came in handy. With just the syringe and working on a lock facing away from her, she made quick work of the lock on their cell.
“So what’s the plan?” He asked as she swung the door open.
She smirked at him. “Move fast. Strike hard. If he’s monitoring this room, we’ve only got second.” As she spoke, she moved tot he desk and grabbed the chair behind it. Both were cheaper than the fixtures in the cell would suggest; temporary furniture for a room that, now that Warrick had a chance to look around, was clearly unfinished.
Zoe lifted the chair. “Step one: arm ourselves.” She brought the chair down hard on the floor so that the back legs took all the force. They snapped off where they joined the bottom of the chair and skittered across the floor.
Warrick picked them up while Zoe repeated the procedure with the other two legs.
Sure enough, the shouts and the sound of tromping boots could be heard charging down the hall outside.
“Here come the bad guys. The… other… bad guys.” Warrick amended. And we’ve got chair legs.” He frowned at the lengths of wood as if their lack of metallic content were their fault.
“No. We’ve got sticks.” Zoe corrected. “In the Philippines, they call ’em yantok and use them in eskrima. Very versatile weapon. I don’t guess you know eskrima, do you?
“I know a little boxing.”
“Are you serious? Little Mr. Superhero and all you know is boxing? Now Muay Thai? No Mantis Kung Fu? No Tai Xing Pek War? Tell me at least that it’s drunken boxing.”
Warrick glared at her. “Hey. Ninety percent of the time, I’ve got a pair of six foot long, shapeshifting pythons made of some kind of future metal attached to my arms, okay? So excuse me for not learning to kick things and hit them with sticks.”
Zoe grinned. “Didn’t expect that from you. Not having your powers must be getting to you—you’re starting to sound like me.”
He sorely wanted to reply to that, but at that moment, the door started to open. Zoe responded by throwing what was left of the chair at it, slamming the door backward into the face of the man behind. The move bought her time to pick up the other two chair legs and charge the door.
Dazed as he was, the hapless first responder never got a chance to raise his ceramic baton. Zoe’s first swing struck him on the crown of his head, the second hit his wrist and made him drop the baton. She followed through with a kick that drove him back into the man coming up behind him.
They both went down in a heap and Zoe was on top of them instantly. The jagged end of one of her weapons was raised and aimed straight for one of their throats.
It never fell, because the first man’s dropped baton hooked under her arm, holding her back. In her surprise, she almost impaled Warrick with her other stick. “What are you doing?!”
“You’re not killing these guys.” Warrick said firmly. As soon as he did, he was forced to duck a baton aimed for the back of his head. He disengaged the baton from his cousin’s arm, whirled, and clouted the man behind him across the jaw.
He lacked skill, but years of swinging from place to place with Isp and Osp’s help left him with more upper body strength than most people realized. The blow, combined with his assailant having just overextended himself with a missed swing sent the goon around in almost a half circle before his footing failed him and he tumbled face first into the door frame with a pop signifying a broken wrist..
After a second of staring dumbfounded at his own stunt, Warrick looked back at Zoe. “As I was saying: no killing.”
Zoe bared her teeth at him in a feral manner before dispatching the struggling pair with precise blows to the temple.
Except for the man Warrick had left moaning in pain over his wrist, The hallway was clear. Evidently their dear cousin thought that being powerless really had left them helpless. Only three guards had been dispatched in the first response; more were certainly coming, but they had a moment to get their bearings.
They were at the midpoint of a hallway that reminded Warrick of the times he’d been sent to the section of the museum where the offices and research department were secreted. Nothing but a tile and drywall box with doors every so often and no natural light to speak of.
This one was extra dank thanks to being unfinished: only half of the ceiling tiles were in place, leaving the lighting, ventilation and sprinkler systems exposed and the floor was bare concrete without tile to speak of. Unfortunately, everything in the ceiling was as metal-free as everything else in the building.
One direction cut off in an open stairway. Warrick pointed to it. “That way. It’s got to lead to a way—“ He looked down to see what Zoe was up to and wrinkled his nose in disgust. “What are you doing?”
Zoe had her hand on one of the men’s mouth, running her fingers along his back teeth. She came up with her fingertip coated in a thin layer of gold. “This one had fillings.”
“…And we’re now quickly approaching infinite nasty.” Warrick sighed to keep his stomach from turning. “Is that enough to do your ‘tunnel through the walls’ thing at least?”
“No even close.” She shook her head. “It’s mostly amalgam. The gold is just there for looks. Maybe if I got three of four more guys on the company dental plan, that might be an option. But as of right now, it’s not about powers, it’s about skill. So grab that other baton and back me up.”
She hefted the baton of the second man, discarding one of her chair legs in favor of it. “Let’s go show Tony how much we’ve enjoyed this little get together.”
Warrick grabbed the other baton and followed after her, but in the back of his mind, he was having doubts about what he should do in this situation. Any other time, he knew the clear choices. But now it was about family.
And that made things far more complicated.

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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