Issue #62 – Poor Relations

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

Part 6
The stairs out of the unfinished hallway led to three landings, each with a locked set of double doors before they reached the top, which had no doors, just an open arch feeding into a room lit with dim, blue light.
With Zoe n the lead, they emerged from the stairs to find the arch flanked in either side by water tanks stacked three high behind glass, which formed the wall. Two shallow glass tanks with open tops stood in the middle of the long, hall-like room and the opposite wall was the twin of the one they just passed through, only the arch there ended in a walkway that curved upward; glass wall on either side revealing a vast expanse of water.
All the tanks teamed with sea life and proudly bore plaques explaining what was inside and flat screens which, during normal operating hours, would be playing short educational videos about each specimen.
“I think its safe to guess where we are now.” Zoe observed.
Warrick nodded, “And why our metal sense made us queasy.”
Zoe looked back at him mid-stalk across the room. “No it doesn’t. How do you even figure that?”
“You never read up on chemistry? I wouldn’t be anywhere near as good if I hadn’t.”
“You already admitted that it’s the tentacles that are good.”
“At fighting, yeah. Lock-picking, yeah. But hey; if need be, I can bust out with a flaming sword straight out of Death Gate or put up a heat proof shield, or—“
“Alright. I get it. Back to the reason the water messes with us?”
They were on the other side of the room now with no signs of anymore guards.
“Right. Sorry. It’s the salt. Like table salt, you normally can’t sense straight out because of all the other metal in the house drowning it out, but the sodium in sodium chloride is a metal, just… I don’t know, too weighed down by the chlorine to affect. Anyway, there’s a lot of different salts in the ocean: salts of zine, aluminum, iron—in a tank like the one through there, I figure there’s literally a ton of the stuff swirling around. We’d probably never notice if there was other metal nearby, but right now, it’s the only game in town and it’s too small and weighed down by other stuff for our brain to make sense of it. So we get sick.”
Zoe gave him a none-too-approving look. “Very enlightening, but how about we get the hell out of here now?”
Warrick shrugged. It was just a slightly more rude version of Cyn’s reactions to science in all its forms. “Sure… but which way?” He pointed to the end of the long room. There was yet another set of double doors at one end, these propped slightly open.
“No, if they leads to a way out, it’ll be one of the normal exits.” Zoe said, “They’ll guard those. We should go up, find a window and climb down.”
“You do remember we don’t have any powers, right?”
“And our lack of powers will save us from being overrun if a bunch of those guards charge us?”
They went up, following the winding path that wound its way up through the aquarium’s expansive central tank.
Warrick had taken similar tours before, but never after hours when most of the lights that illuminated the vast depths were shut off, rendering the animals on the other side of the glass into dark shapes that flitted and hovered just outside the range of sight and utterly surrounded them.
“I don’t know whether to promise to give up fish forever, or to eat nothing but fish forever.” he muttered.
Zoe ignored him just as she ignored the eerie atmosphere around them. All of her attention was focused on planning on how to deal with any resistance they met. Warrick might not allow her to kill anyone, but non-lethal warfare still left open the possibility of a few war crimes here and there.
At length, the ramp ended at the center of a clear floored platform set exactly at water level to the tank, giving the illusion that they were standing on the water’s surface looking down. This was attached to an escalator and elevator leading up to a second platform that afforded a panoramic view of the entire hanger sized main room of the aquarium, including the life-sized skeleton of a deer shark that hung over the entryway.
It was only when they reached that platform did the trap close.
There was a shout from below and three more men armed with batons came up the ramp, blocking the way they came in. But at the same time, five men emerged from their posts along the wide circular walkway that ringed the cylindrical room about five stories above the entrance and which connected to the viewing platform by a single railed walkway.
Instead of batons, these were armed with compact pistols. It only took a small effort with their metal sense to reveal their nature.
“Party poppers.” Warrick groaned. “Nothing but glass, plastic and carbon; not even a metal firing pin, it’s all electronic. Wannabe gangsters bring ’em to school and into clubs because they can pass the detectors. From what I hear, it’s the only thing they’ve got going for them gun wise.”
Zoe nodded, but still got into a combat stance. “Inaccurate over five yards, wears out fast and when a part breaks, it’s done.”
“I almost forgot that you work for the jackass that’s been putting them on the street.” Warrick made a face, then focused on the guns. “One good thing though: they’re metal detector proof, but you know that the difference between that and us? Lead bullets.”
He raised a hand, but stopped when he realized something was missing. The man whose gun he was aiming at fired once, sending a ball of white-purple sparks hissing past him and Zoe.
“What the hell?”
“You really think I’m that stupid?” Tony Malpighi came through a door tucked between two wall sized tanks on the circular walk. He was accompanied by two more pistol toting men. “I won’t allow anyone to bring anything that set off my metal sense within a hundred feet of you until you’re unconscious. That’s why they’re all packing homemade taser rounds. That’s the beauty of only hiring unrepentant ex-cons: they can get very creative when they need a weapon.”
He stepped up to the end of the walkway and drew his own party popper. “Now tell me what you did with Doctor Jones.”
“Who now?” Warrick asked.
“Doctor Allen Jones. The man I hired for my cure. I went to tell him about the issues with getting your blood and he’s gone. Now I find you two out of that office and it’s not hard to put two and two together.”
“Tony, unless he was dressed exactly like all your other mooks, were didn’t see him.” said Warrick.
“Don’t lie to me. I can’t kill you, but I promise you, these rounds hurt like hell.”
“So do these sticks.” Zoe shifted her stance to something more mobile. “And I won’t miss caving in your windpipe.”
“I said no killing.” Warrick warned.
“I don’t care.”
Now all barrels were aimed at Zoe. Even with the hopeless inaccuracy of the party poppers with their homebrew ammo, one was bound to hit her.
“Alright!” Warrick bellowed to get everyone’s attention. “You guys asked for it. Let’s do this.”
His eyes went unfocused and began to glow a dim white as he threw his power down into the tank and directed it at the salt. His powers could affect items at the basic level, changing one element into another, so why not strip the metals in salts and combine them into something usable?
Maybe not all the salts. Sodium chloride would break down into chlorine, a deadly gas, and sodium, which exploded on contact with water, so that was out. Except he couldn’t differentiate at that level, even focusing as hard as he could.
Around this time, his stomach had had enough and seemed to turn on its own accord to run away. The lurch and sway of the tiny molecules amounted to a heaving array of insanity in his extra sense and before long, he knees buckled and he found himself on hands and knees, dry heaving.
Confusion reigned among not only Tony and his men, but with Zoe too.
“What was that about?”
Warrick leaned forward and rested his forehead on the carpet. “Really… terrible idea.” he panted.
“You never really grew out of being a dumb kid, did you?” Tony asked. “I mean, I suspected with the whole prelate thing; it’s just you being as much of a geek now as you were then, isn’t it? What was that stupid name you called yourself when you were running around the house like a sugar hyped moron?”
“K-man.” Zoe supplied. She paid no attention to Warrick’s expression of surprise that she remembered and instead used the flatness in her voice to distract from her launching herself at the nearest thug.
Five pistols fired. She twisted mid-leap, avoiding two of the slow moving projectiles and knocking two more out of the air with her weapons. But the last hit her in the hip, sending a painful jolt through her that was enough to make her miss her landing and go tumbling hard into the railing.
Tony grimaced at her and pointed his own weapon at Warrick. “Let’s try this one more time: Where’s the doc?”
But Warrick wasn’t paying any attention. Something entered the range of his metal sense and it made him grin cruelly at his cousin. “Sorry Tony. But hey, we’re family: I’ll still see what we can do for your skin problem. Send you some aloe in prison—that kinda thing.”
“What are you talking about? You’ve got nothing. As soon as we find the doc…”
“He’ll be going down with you.” Warrick sat up on his knees. “See, Tony; you just fell for the classic dumb bad guy flaw: you took too long working through your overly complicated plan and now you’re about to get your ass handed to you.”
As if Zero had been waiting for her cue, the locked, glass doors at the entrance blew open, propelled by a wave of blue psychokinetic energy. She followed them in as they skidded along the tile floor to crash into the information desk and flew up to get a better view. Facsimile and Renaissance weren’t far behind them.
Any chance he and his men had to hide were blown by Tony himself. “How did they even find this place?! Take’em down hard!”
“With pistols? Good luck.” Facsimile smirked and beat her wings to surge up toward the platform.
Tony’s lackeys all opened fire on her as she came.
“They’re taser rounds!” Warrick shouted. Just in time, as it happened, because Facsimile, who was about to just take the hits, instead swooped low, avoiding them instead.
With another beat of her wings, she made the landing and planted a fist in the face of the first of Tony’s men she could reach.
Meanwhile, Renaissance used her gloves’ grappling line to swing up to the platform. Thanks to Facsimile’s dynamic entry, she landed unopposed beside Warrick and knelt beside him.
“Oh honey,” She said, using a rare term of endearment. They were both very awkward people and all the ‘sweeties’ and ‘sugar bears’ they heard from other couples sounded even more awkward coming out of their mouths. “You look sick, are you okay? What did they do to you?” All the while, she had one arm slung around him, rubbing his back.
Warrick smiled weakly at her. “I… kinda did that part to myself. I’ll explain later. Oh yeah, and the ‘mastermind’ behind all this is my asshole cousin. Weird night.”
“More than usual. Is… that the RA at your sister’s school?”
Her comment made him aware that Zoe was on her feet again, taking advantage of the havoc Facsimile was causing to cause some of her own.
As he watched, she drove one of her makeshift eskrima sticks into a man’s kneecap, then put him down hard with an elbow that shattered his nose as he started to fall. Without pausing, she knocked a party popper that was aimed at her aside, with one stick and used the other to strike his wrist hard enough to make him drop it.
Before the poor fool even knew that he was now fighting hand to hand, she stepped into his guard, caught one arm in her own armpit and turned as if she was dancing with him. Only with his arm trapped in such a way, the ‘dance step’ separated his shoulder with a painful sounding pop. Then she swept with her leg and sent him crashing to the ground.
“Also related to me.” Warrick said simply. He was just glad she wasn’t killing them. “Tony needed our DNA to fix his powers… and his face.”
“This is a weird night.” said Renaissance. “Can you fight?”
“In the sense that I can do anything useful? No. but I can throw punches.”
She reached into the numerous pockets in her kilt and came up with two thick bars of metal which he instantly identified as aluminum. “How about now?”
“You know exactly what to get the man that has everything.” He grinned, taking them.
“I would have brought you the metal you normally use for them; we found it in the trucks outside, but it’s pretty unwieldy.”
Warrick smiled and let her help him to his feet. The aluminum bar melted and flowed up his arms, forming into the familiar snake armbands he normally wore. “No worries; they spent their early years made out of old soda cans and whatever was handy. This’ll be just like old times. Kinda fits seeing as Tony’s here.
With a thought, the snake bands unwound into Isp and Osp, who let their rage at being severed by know by emitting a sound like a crowbar being fed into a wood chipper. They turned and struck out behind him and Renaissance, slamming into the trio of men with batons, who had been charging up the stairs to help their boss.
Instead of doing that,t hey ended up being hurled over the railing entirely and into the tank below.
“Guys!” Warrick forgot to only reprimand them mentally. “There’s sharks in that pool!”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got them!” Zero shouted, streaking past the platform to handle the floundering men before they became good chums with a shark.
Warrick let out a relieved sigh, then grimaced at the flippant attitude the twins were displaying about his admonishment. They really didn’t care what happened to Tony or his men after what they did to Warrick.
Pushing them to the back of his head, he turned back to the battle, or rather the end of it. Between Facsimile and Zoe, none of the armed goons lasted very long at all. Tony on the other hand, was showing at least some intelligence, because he was making a run for it toward the shut down escalator leading down to the entrance.
“Remind me to do something really special for you for coming to get me.” Warrick said to Renaissance as he moved over to the railing closest to the escalator.
“You do still owe me a movie night.” She replied with her best approximation of a coquettish smile.
He smiled back, then told the twins to get to work. They were more than happy to: Isp grabbed the railing and flung him over while Osp snaked out to wrap around the entire width of the escalator in order to pull him safely over.
“Nowhere else to go but jail, Tony.” Warrick intoned just before landing on the steps before his cousin. He found himself staring down the barrel of a gun, but he didn’t even blink—possibly because he was forgetting that he wasn’t in his armor. “Put the gun down, give up and just like I promised, we’ll find a way to deal with your problem.”
Tony made no move to follow either command. “Yeah right. Just you remember, I’ve got my ace in the hole: I know who you are. These guys just know what you look like, but I know name, address and social. So maybe you better back off and let me go.”
“Can’t do that. And I’m one hundred percent serious.” said Warrick. “Unlike you, I know how to treat my fam. And let’s not forget which of us spent the last two years being the good Samaritan and which of us turned an executive bathroom into a prison cell.”
Tony’s trigger finger twitched. The tentacles only needed half an excuse. Osp shifted into an impossibly sharp blade and cut the gun in half. Isp’s leading edge transformed into a remarkable likeness of a fist and hit him so hard in the jaw that he was lifted off his feet and came crashing down on the landing at the top of the escalator.
Warrick winced. Being hit with an aluminum fist couldn’t have been good for his allergies either.
After fifteen minutes of searching the grounds for more of Tony Malpighi’s henchmen and retrieving the trio Warrick and Zoe knocked out down below, the whole gang was in zip cuffs and awaiting the loving attention of the Richmond PD.
All except one.
“The doctor got away.” Zoe hissed, ghosting up to Alloy, now fully armored off the contents of some recycling bins outside and keeping watch over the prisoners while the others continued their sweeps and Renaissance was relaying what happened back to Freeland House.
“I thought you would have skipped out of here.”
“I wanted that doctor.” She admitted. “In case you haven’t noticed, our cheek swabs aren’t accounted for either. Besides, the others saw me; it would leave more questions open if ‘Stephanie Carol’ just disappeared and showed up for school on Monday.”
Alloy frowned beneath his faceplate. “You’re going to show up Monday?”
“I still have commitments there. Annette St. John, remember?” She folded her arms defiantly. “Unless you’re willing to put the Institute, Tammy’s future, and your own identity on the chopping block for justice. And good luck getting any charges to stick even then.”
The air before them turned deathly still as they eyes each other.
“I keep expecting… or, I guess, wanting to see something of my favorite cousin in you. The one that played with me, taught me stupid songs, and was… not you.
Her gaze wavered. “You’re not the only one.” She muttered, then lifted her chin. “But both of you need to learn to deal with it. Zoe McNamarra, Stephanie Carol—those are the fake ones. Maybe Vorpal isn’t real, but I can handle things better with the mask on than without.”
“Except Annette.” Alloy pointed out.
She remained defiant. “Someone that means a lot to me asked me to make sure she actually got an education. That’s why I’m at the school. You and I both know that place is a target and god help anyone that tries to hurt that girl while I’m there.”
Alloy nodded, knowing the feeling from having his sister there. “Alright then. Second chance. One. If Alloy and Vorpal cross one another again, Vorpal goes to jail and we’ll both know it wasn’t from some kind of blind justice. That and… keep an eye on Tammy. After the insanity her and her friends went through on spring break, I’ll feel better with someone on the inside.”
“Agreed.” said Zoe and Alloy wondered if things started this way in the other timeline.
The line rang twice and in his hiding place behind the low wall around the entrance of Branch House, the Virginia Center for Architecture, just a few blocks from the aquarium, the man calling himself Dr. Allen Jones dialed in the extra security code on his printed, disposable phone.
“Collections and Repossession.” answered a bland female voice.
“The house call is over.” He replied. “As of noon and three hours, ten minutes.”
The operator paused to check her list of code, then, “One minute please.”
There was a series of clicks and then, “Talbot here. I wanted to hear how it went personally, ‘Doctor’.”
“Brilliantly. You were absolutely right, sir. Malpighi was just as resourceful and unstable as you suspected. I now have two new DNA samples to compare to Kaine’s genome: Malpighi and an unknown female who also has metal sense.”
Talbot chuckled approvingly. “Brilliant is right. Wait for the Descendants to leave, then proceed to the extraction point. I’ll make sure you get a raise for this.”
End Issue #62
Series Navigation<< Issue #61 – Higher EducationIssue #63 – Storm Cage >>

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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