Issue #64 – Stormfall

This entry is part 4 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures
Sky Hard Part 2
Laurel couldn’t help but smile when she saw them: Kareem, Juniper, Melissa, Warrick, Cyn, Lisa and Tink—all together in one place for the first time in weeks. She’d often heard Alexis talk about her classes as ‘her kids’, and she knew the feeling now. These were definitely her kids.
 
They were in the back lot that served as a delivery entrance for a strip mall and was separated by a chain-link fence from the back end of an office park. It had taken a week of searching to find that specific place that served their needs, and two more of work to get it up to her standards.
 
Kareem was the first to see her arrive and stood up from where he’d been sitting on a rail next to Melissa. “Good morning, Miss Brant. Obviously, we all got your message, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’re curious what it’s about.”
 
“Yeah, the link you sent us doesn’t make any sense.” Cyn held up her palmtop, which displayed the video site and comment Laurel linked to. “Some drunk chick hit some old video and tries to order a pizza?”
 
Tink standing with Warrick, had the same comment open on her tablet. “I think it’s in code. I mean, listen: ‘Around twenty pepperonis, but leave three on the side. Last time, the guy burned three of them and I don’t know why?’ why would anyone order something that specific even if they’re drunk?”
 
Laurel folded her hands in front of her and nodded. “You’re right, it is code. Look at the username.”
 
Warrick leaned over and checked off of Tink’s screen. “LexiDark?”
 
“Lex. Dark. Alexis. Darkness.” Melissa frowned. “Something happened on their cruise.”
 
“Something bad.” Cyn pocketed her palmtop.
 
“Otherwise, she would have called.” Juniper said with wide-eyed concern.
 
Laurel strode up to stand in the middle of the group and once there, looked each in the eyes as she spoke. “Very bad. I got that about twenty minutes ago. Alexis is using a code we made up in high school, except instead of talking about dates and parties, she’s telling me about the situation on board.
 
“The pepperonis are the hostage takers—around twenty in total. Three on the side, means she’s taken three down already. Three burned means someone killed three already and she doesn’t know who or why. When she talks about toppings, she says to check the menu because she doesn’t know. That lead me to check the passenger manifest to count and there’s over two hundred people aboard being held hostage. There’s more, but I’ll fill you in on the way to the plane.” She nodded to Warrick. “Take us down, please.”
 
Warrick closed his eyes to focus and the section of street, with its ramp, railing and part of the asphalt slowly began to sink into the ground as he manipulated a scaffold of steel bars beneath it.
 
With great care on his part, they were lowered into a tunnel made of crumbling concrete, reinforced by ribs of aluminum and steel. The ceiling was low and a dampness permeated everything. At one time, it had been part of the storm drain system for the city, but better routing and technology left it abandoned until Laurel and Warrick sealed it off and reinforced it.
 
Laurel stepped off the platform and took her palmtop from her pocket. The tap of an icon caused portable lamps clamped to the wall to come on, bathing the dank tunnel in light.
 
“This place never stops feeling creepy.” Cyn said, stepping off after Laurel with the others quickly following.
 
“I’ve never been down here before and I think I am forced to agree.” said Kareem.
 
When everyone was off, Warrick shaped the scaffold again, this time to raise the platform to once more sit flush with the surrounding wall. “It’s not so bad.” He said with a laugh, “Think of it as dungeon crawling.”
 
“One more reason I am never playing any of those games.” Melissa looked around at the surroundings with clear disdain. “Why couldn’t we just walk in off the street?”
 
Laurel led the way forward. “Because that’s fine with one or two people sneaking into an ‘abandoned’ building, but with a group this big? No, this is the best way to get there without drawing too much attention; the lot back there has no security cameras on it, isn’t visible from any surface streets, and the deliveries are on a predictable schedule.”
 
“Besides,” Juniper said in her usual, cheerful manner, “It isn’t that far.”
 
It was, in fact, a full city block and a half in a damp, close tunnel before the group reached the end. It wasn’t the original terminus of the tunnel, instead it was a room burrowed out of the foundation of the building that ran alongside it. Steel struts once again made up the reinforcement and also formed a set of stairs leading up to a door in the ceiling.
 
Laurel climbed the steps and worked the mechanical combination lock on the door without missing a beat. The door opened silently on hidden hydraulics once the lock was undone, allowing her to access to the yawning cavern of a room above. Once more, she used her palmtop to turn on the lights, revealing the concrete loading area of the long defunct Hermes Package Services building to the others as they emerged from the trapdoor.
 
Aside from the lights, the dock was covered with reaching tendrils of power and data cables, all leading to the Karasu no Yūrei. The spy plane stood in the midst of a number of high end avionics robots designed to monitor and perform routine maintenance on the plane between flights. The machines were in the process of disengaging in preparation for takeoff.
 
Kareem gazed admiringly at the high end technology, but was distracted by a sense of familiarity despite the fact that the building’s original furnishings had been gutted down to the wiring. “I feel as if I’ve been here before.”
 
“That’s because you have.” Lisa supplied. “Remember when Kay got kidnapped by that robot guy?”
 
“I hate that guy.” Cyn said, sidling up to walk beside Laurel, “I should have taken out his processor when we fought him at Quintillion.”
 
Kareem shook his head at Cyn’s words, but then caught himself and nodded to Lisa. “I remember that. This is the same place? It looks so different.”
 
Laurel let down the boarding stairs on the Karasu no Yūrei. “That’s what happens when the government sends in a cleaner team. They took absolutely everything out of this place: toilets, the break room microwave, even the tile on the floors. The ROCIC is serious about being thorough.”
 
“Yeah, about ten years too late to actually prevent Tome from hurting people.” said Melissa.
 
“I’m just glad they’re doing something now.” Laurel couldn’t exactly disagree with Melissa’s feelings, given how much Tome had been able to get away with over the years. “But they’re not the mission this time. We need to be in the air as soon as possible.”
 
“Yeah, who knows how long we’ve got until the hostage takers start trying to prove they’re serious?” Warrick said.
 
“Or whoever killed those three people kills some more.” added Juniper.
 
“We’ve got outside problems too.” Laurel admitted. “See, just before I got the message from Alexis, I was already getting ready to call you all. The people holding the ship are eco-terrorists called the Gaea Defense Front. They don’t want money; they want the weather machine so they can either force policies on the world’s governments, or destroy cities until nature ‘wins’. They’re already headed toward a hurricane.”
 
Tink’s stride faltered. “I’ve read up on the Storm Cage, it can steer storm systems. If they take over a hurricane, the whole thing becomes a weapon of mass destruction as far as any coastal towns are concerned.”
 
“Exactly.” said Laurel, growing unnaturally dour. “And it’s US government policy as of 2059 to use all necessary force to prevent the deployment of WMDs on US soil, up to and including firing on hostages with zero negotiation.”
 
She paused to compose herself. “General Pratt is trying to stall on our behalf, but unless Alexis manages t get the ship on a non-threatening heading, drones will be scrambled and they’ll be shot down.”
 
“If that’s they’re reaction, why even let it be built in the first place?” Cyn asked.
 
“Because it’s not meant to be a weapon at all,” said Laurel. “It’s meant to aid agriculture and prevent the very same disasters the GDF is trying to cause. The more important question is why they didn’t seem to see fit to have a proper security force aboard.”
 
***
Ian finished trussing up the last of the trio of Front members left in the command center and sat back against the side of a desk, one of the captured guns still trained on them. He was out of breath now, but not from the effort of tying up the three terrorists, who had very obviously been picked for the mission based on them having spent most of their lives perfecting computer skills instead of any kind of physical fitness.
 
No, he was being drained from the effort of keeping the chamber of the gun in his hand ensconced in a relative vacuum. While he knew how to disable more types of weapons than most people knew existed as a consequence of being a superhero who got those weapons pointed at him or his friends at least once a week, he had no idea how to handle one safely, and so wasn’t taking any risks of accidentally shooting anyone while keeping the three at bay with the threat of shooting them.
 
Not far from where he sat, here was a groan. Karen was starting to wake up, if only by fits and starts.
 
Ian sighed, cheating with his powers to get more air into his lungs than he should have, and started to get to his feet again. His job wasn’t done yet, and there probably would be no rest for a long while.
 
He made his way over to where he’d cleverly bound her hands behind her by looping the still plugged in computer cables around them, then passing them back through the cable ties. It was probably best to search her and Lucas before they woke up.
 
Before he did, he popped the magazine out of the gun, ejected the chambered round, and pocketed both before tossing the weapon aside. He was disarming himself, but then he was the only one in the room without superpowers.
 
Along the way, he stole another glance at Professor Kluge. He was too far away to see clearly, but the screens the old man was working at were changing rapidly, meaning it was likely that he was through whatever security measures he’d been waiting on and would be working on whatever terrible vengeance he might be plotting against the GDF.
 
“Last chance you three.” He warned the conscious and bound members while patting Karen down for concealed objects, “That man up there is… well he’s pretty much gone full mad scientist and if someone doesn’t stop him, you and your friends are going to be in a lot of trouble. So might everyone else on this boat. If you help me stop your friends, I might be able to convince him to stop too.”
 
One of them, a young man who couldn’t have been that long out of college started to speak, only o be cut off by an older man, in his thirties with his head shaved. “Don’t say anything, it’s a bluff. Him and the old man just cooked this up to trick us into calling off the plan.”
 
Karen’s pockets unhelpfully yielded a Swiss army knife, a disposable cell phone, a pack of sugarless gum (green apple flavored), and a set of keys. Attached to her belt were two more clips for her gun, but that was it. She also had an earbud in her ear and a security keycard around her neck.
 
“Willis-Jackson Private Security Services.” Ian read aloud. “All of you guys have these. He turned the card over in his hands,
 
“Doesn’t look fake either.” And that’s when it hit him like the weight of the entire Storm Cage coming right down onto his shoulders. “… because they’re not. That’s why security was so shitty—they were in on it!”
 
“The best private security on the eastern seaboard.” Mr. Shaved head said with pride.
 
Ian laughed at that on his way to search Lucas, who was still out cold and trapped under a desk by the clever tick of unbolting a crossbar, threading his arms through, then bolting it back in lace. “Then how is it that an unarmed man just took five of your prisoner?”
 
Baldy snorted derisively. “Security these days’s not all about guns and ninja moves. It’s about knowing where to point the cameras, how to set up alarms, and countering anyone that tried to circumvent them.”
 
Ian pulled a butterfly knife whose handle could double as brass knuckles for the knife wielding maniac that felt the occasional need for punching from Lucas’s pocket. “Some of you were all about the violence though.” Along with the knife, there was the palmtop that precipitated Ian’s recent escape, a deck of cards, a condom and a pen light.
 
“Doesn’t mean all of us are.” This time it was the third member of the group, a sickly pale woman whose age Ian couldn’t ballpark beyond ‘older than thirty’. She had wispy brown hair that looked more like it should be growing on a cornstalk than a person. “Though for this kind of money, I think anyone would kill anyone else.”
 
Ian raised an eyebrow. Vargas hadn’t asked for any money. On a hunch, he took Lucas’s palmtop and opened his recent history.
 
“Shut up.” Baldy snapped. “He doesn’t have to hear all this!”
 
“Who cares?” she shrugged as best she could, “all the passengers are gonna die anyway.”
 
That stopped Ian in the middle of his sleuthing. “Wait. What?”
 
“Samantha, shut up!” repeated Baldy.
 
“No, Sam, say on.” Ian, still holding the palmtop, crouched down beside her. “Because the way I see it, if your boy Vargas wants to do his Gaea’s Vengeance World Tour, he needs hostages to keep some country from shoving a missile up his tailpipe up here. And beyond that, he doesn’t want money– except you and Lucas here, who bought, let’s see here… a month long Alpine ski trip and is house hunting for penthouses in New York; both seem to think there’s a ton of money to be had protecting mother Earth by obliterating large parts of her.”
 
“So tell me,” He tried to make his voice as threatening as possible and thinned the air slightly to make all three light headed, “What the hell ‘s going on here?”
 
This time Samantha kept her mouth shut and it was the young guy, apparently emboldened by the actions of his peers, who spoke up. “Any second now, the boss is going to come back up here, find you, and blow your freaking head off, so we don’t have anything to say to you.”
 
As if activated by sheer bravado, the elevator started humming at just the moment.
 
Ian cursed, but kept up his tough guy attitude as he straightened and moved quickly to get near the elevator while staying out of sight of the doors. “That’s where you’re wrong. See, that elevator’s only big enough for three people and that’s if they’re not big guys. And believe me, I can take three guys from ambush.”
And jut o make sure, he fitted hi fingers through the brass knuckle attachment of Lucas’s butterfly knife.
 
There was a tense moment as the elevator seemed go up, then down again before settling on that floor. The customary ‘ding’ sounded and the doors slid pen to reveal… nothing.
 
Waiting tensely to deliver a righteous ass-whipping to the first person out of those doors, Ian held his breath. And still no one emerged. Curious, he edged around the corner and risked a peek. Nothing. But as he stepped closer in, he felt intense warmth and then his arm brushed something.
 
There was a quiet gasp, then something too firm hold of his arm, applied pressure, and suddenly he was coming down hard on his back on the tiled floor.
 
A whoosh of warm air rushing over him, and the next thing he knew, he was looking up into the suddenly horrified and embarrassed face of the love of his life.
 
“Ian?”
 
“I… think. When did you learn judo?”
 
“Laurel just taught me a few basic throws, are you alright?”
 
“I was going to ask you the same thing. The Profs’ lost it and it sounds like he plans to kill all the bad guys—except I just found out that not only are there way more bad guys here than it looked like, but, sweeties, they’re not eco-terrorists like Vargas made them out to be.”
 
Alexis’s expression turned hard in a way he wasn’t familiar with. “I… know.”
 
“You do? How?”
 
“Because Vargas was.” She said in monotone. “So they killed him and two others.”
 
The look of horror on his face seemed to be what she need to show hers as well. “Lord give us strength…” Ian breathed absentmindedly. “What the hell did we just stumble into?”

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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