Issue #64 – Stormfall

This entry is part 4 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures

Part 2
Ian and Alexis filled each other in on what had happened to them since the Front, or possibly Willis-Jackson Private Security Services, took over the ship, only referring to using their powers cryptically if at all for the benefit of the captured. It had been luck only that their view of the elevator was obscured by computers and desks, of Alexis’s secret would have been out, at least in that she could go invisible.
Alexis rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. “We have way too many problems to deal with.”
“But you did get an SOS out.” Ian pointed out, no mentioning who that SOS was sent to.
“Yeah, but that was when I thought there were only about twenty bad guys here. We need to update them with the real numbers, or they’ll be coming in with tactics that won’t work.”
Ian strode over to face the three subdued terrorists. “I don’t suppose you’d just tell us.” His only answer came in the form of an expletive from the bald man.
“Don’t worry.” Said Alexis, “I’ve got someone who has all the ship’s stats right in hand.” She pulled out her palmtop and started composing a text.
Ian looked back up at Professor Kluge. “So do I, but he’s gone a little crazy.”
Despite his age, Kluge had excellent hearing. “I have no gone mad, young man. Though harsh, my logic is impeccable: the Storm Cage represents a hope for humanity; to deliver us from the self inflicted wounds of climate change und ignorance as well as the vicious whims of Nature. If this group, whatever their motives, convince the vorld that it is a weapon capable of great devastation, progress with the technology can be set back by decades, just as it was with nuclear power.”
“You’re talking about killing people to cover up what’s happened here.” Ian argued. “Wouldn’t it be better, more honest, to tell people all of the benefits of this tech and opt for making sure strict regulation—and much, much better security guidelines are in place instead?”
At this, Kluge actually turned in his seat and looked down at Ian, a lost, disappointed look in his eye. “You are correct, of course. It would be the higher road, the road of better moral footing. But allow me to ask you this: when has that approach ever worked with the general public?”
Ian paused in thought, only to be interrupted by Alexis. “Got it! Employee rosters and personnel files.” she exclaimed.
Torn between continuing his plea and making sure that when help arrived, it would be effective, Ian hesitated. “We’re not done talking, Professor. Just… don’t kill anyone until we talk again.”
“You have no worries for the time being.” said Kluge. “The system must be primed und cleared. Also, the local humidity is far too low for operation at the moment. You have until we are close enough to the hurricane for that condition to improve at least. Until then, I am using my personal overrides to disable the lift—that should allow you ample time to attempt whatever means you feel necessary to bring this to a better end. I do wish you luck.”
Ian looked at him one last time, then went over to Alexis. “So we have less than an hour until things get exponentially worse.” he explained.
“If they didn’t already.” Alexis replied, eyes fixed on the screen. “The staff hired from Willis-Jackson PSS is thirty-three people strong.”
“That’s not so bad.” said Ian, “I got five here, three dead, and the three you got, that’s down to twenty-two.”
“I’m not finished.” she said flatly. “Part of their job was vetting the rest of the staff for the trip. They conveniently excluded some of Levinson Aeronautics’ staff and had them replaced from a temp agency they have contracts with: Quick Replace Inc. There’s one or two from every category: engineering, maintenance, catering, hospitality…”
A name jumped out at Ian as it flashed by. “Stop, go back. Hospitality. I know that name, Mertama. He’s the guy everyone here was treating like the boss.”
Alexis opened his file. “Brett Mertama. Five years with Quick Replace. Nothing else.”
“A real security screening would have caught a completely empty file like that.”
“A real temp agency wouldn’t have had a file that empty.” Alexis added. “Let’s search that name on the internet.” By ‘internet’, she meant she was sending a query to one of Laurel’s servers back at Freeland House. Within minutes, they got back a ream of information:
Alias: Bradley Amerigo. Alias: Silas Tam. Alias: Simon Rickman. Alias: Jeremy Gruber. No real name on file.
‘Mertama’ was a criminal of pedigree, reportedly the son of arms dealers during the Syria/Palestine conflict who had started as a much sought after soldier of fortune before taking up the family business during the three-way civil war in Columbia. And once the sides he’d sold guns to lost, he sold the new government arms and powered armor for their police force.
“What the hell is he doing running the show on a hostage situation?” Ian asked, directing his question at the tied up group. He got no answer.
Alexis looked toward the ceiling, feeling as if she could see the bodies if she tried hard enough, then to Kluge, remembering what the old man had said. “Isn’t it obvious, Ian? The Storm Cage is a weapon to him. He plans to sell it.”
The man who, for the moment, was called Mertama, was sitting at the head table in the VIP dining room, watching the frightened and murmuring hostages while he enjoyed a brisket sandwich and a glass of wine.
“We really should clean out their bank accounts on the way out.” He related to Darrell.
The programmer was enjoying fried fish and potatoes with a tall glass of cold water. Mertama didn’t go in for having a second in command, so at the moment he was the right hand man for his good work with the transmission. He knew that would be over as soon as someone else shone brighter, but at the moment it was a fun place to be.
“Just get me some IDs and I can move their money anywhere you want.” He said, carefully cutting off another piece of fish. There was the soft edge of relief in his voice as she saw the last of the Gaea Defense Front membership being dragged out through the big doors leading out of the dining room.
It hadn’t been a pretty picture when Mertama’s people turned on them. High powered tasers made the deaths less messy, but that didn’t keep the hostages from having a collective conniption fit. Only the promise of more violence for non-compliance and the tired looking young man who seemed to have become the defacto leader and representative for the hostages kept things from getting out of hand.
Mertama nodded. “This is why I like you, Darrell: you get things done.” He motioned for another of his people, a middle aged woman with the bearing and stern face of a traffic cop to come over.
“Alice, spread the word: take the identification of everyone here, plus any valuables. I want it done in under twenty minutes because we need to start moving them down to the cargo hold.”
“No problem.” She said with the kind of sly grin unique to people getting paid very well to do terrible things they thoroughly enjoy and headed off around the room to do just that.
She hadn’t been gone very long before another woman, this one with close cropped brown hair that curled in the back and wide, innocent eyes rushed up. If the others didn’t know about her marksmanship medals, they might have mistaken her for a member of the GDF instead.
“Mr. Mertama, there’s a problem.” Her accent was indescribable and indecipherable to most people who weren’t Mertama. “Navigation hasn’t checked in. I tried to send the central team up to check on them, but the elevator is down, ser.”
Even Mertama didn’t know what ‘ser’ was supposed to be, especially wen she pronounced it with too many syllables, but he didn’t have time to ask after it now. He rocked in his seat as if trying to find new balance and glared at her. “Central team is meant to keep people out of the navigation room. I was just up there! What about Lucas and Karen?”
“No word.” the woman whose name was Weinde said. “We found Martin though. Says he got jumped in the bathroom, ser. We knew we had rats loose on the ship, but didn’t think they’d be a problem.”
Mertama fumed. “They’re a goddamn problem now, aren’t they?” He stopped to take a deep breath. “As long as they haven’t interfered with what’s important, was can deal with them later. Are we still on course?”
“Near as we can tell.” Weinde said, “Some of the science stations are still tracking our approach.”
“Good.” he relaxed. “If UN policy holds and the US government follows their playbook, the USS Powell will probably be launching soon. We need to be inside the eye-wall before the drones get into visual range. Stay in contact with someone at the science station and alert me the second we move an inch off course. Until then, the plan continues just as I laid out.”
“ETA: twenty minutes.” Laurel reported to the others. It was just her, Tink and Cyn in the cockpit, so she broadcast it via the intercom to the passenger cabin.
Cyn draped herself over the back of Laurel’s pilot’s chair. “They left two days ago and it’s going to take us like an hour to catch up?” she asked, incredulous.
Laurel smiled at the girl taking a curiosity. “They’re in what’s basically a very advanced blimp going highway speeds. We’re in a hypersonic javelin built by ninjas. My only worry is overshooting them and having to turn around.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that Tink was fixating on the controls and fidgeting. Every once in a while, she licked dry lips and tapped her fingers on the armrests.
“Everything alright?”
Tink’s finger’s froze in mid-tap. Sheepishly, she replied, “I’ve never done a hostage situation before…”
“And you’re nervous.” Tink nodded.
“They’re mostly boring.” Cyn said. “I mean, they’re probably all tense and exciting to watch, but on our end? It’s all set-up. You can’t just jump in and start beating asses like proper superheroes because they might start shooting You’ve got to wait around and get them in the right places so you can take them all down in one move.”
“It’s more complicated than that.” Laurel chided, reaching up to pat Cyn on the side of the head in a motherly fashion. “But once we have some idea of what’s going on in there from Kareem, I’ll have a plan and you can just follow along. You’ll get the hang of it.”
She sat back a moment in thought. “Alexis already accounted for three, plus the three dead out of around twenty—it shouldn’t be that hard. Kareem can subdue a handful on his own if they’re weak willed enough. The structure of mostly metal instead of ceramic, so Warrick can account for quite a few and you have you immobilizing ammunition. As long as we can coordinate things, this should be a walk in the park. Then it’s just a matter of turning the ship around before it reaches Hurricane Julia.”
Remembering something else, she brought up her latest communiques with the ROCIC and typed: ‘Status on Powell?’.
A moment later, the screen flashed and the reply appeared. ‘Orders to prep for launch and move to alert status. No launch.’
Laurel let out a sigh or relief, while Cyn, catlike, leaned further over the seat to take a closer look. “What’s that about?”
“Remember when I said General Pratt is trying to keep the military from shooting the Storm Cage down? Well the Powell’s nearest ship with attack craft: a drone carrier with over three hundred unmanned assault fighters on board. The General must have gotten through to the Joint Chiefs—they haven’t launched yet, but they’re ready just in case.”
“Just in case… we fail?” Tink asked uncertainly.
Laurel didn’t sugarcoat it. “It’s only good planning to have a fallback solution ready. But we’re good at this and the numbers are in our favor.”
“He’s trying to steal the entire ship?” Ian asked.
“Why not?” Alexis was pacing behind the bank of navigation computers. “Josh said the companies and government officials were all invested in multiple technologies at use here. If Mertama takes the ship, he can sell it piecemeal—not just the weather control system.”
“Because it’s impossible.” Ian pointed out. “It’s huge and weird shaped: it’ll show up on every radar that’s pointed at it. There’s no hiding it.” As he turned to look at her, he saw the navigation screens. “Shit.”
“The Professor was talking about it, Laurel mentioned it—I just didn’t think too much about it: the Storm Cage works by going inside clouds and using standing field and hydrostatic manipulation to control them. And storm clouds show up on radar anyway. That’s why we’re headed for the hurricane. He’s going to use it as cover and pilot it to wherever he wants to land and start the biggest chop shop job in history.”
Alexis already had her palmtop out. Composing a message to send Laurel about the new information they had. “That makes sense… except…” she paused in her typing, “Except it wouldn’t work.”
“How wouldn’t it work? Once they’re in the hurricane, they’;; be invisible to radar and visual satellites.”
She came around and took a seat at one of the consoles, her face creased in thought. “Everyone knows what the Storm Cage does. If it flies into a hurricane and doesn’t come out, they’ll know it’s steering the hurricane. They’ll just use NOAA drones to watch the storm’s wake until they drop out of it. This plan was doomed from the start.”
Ian growled and gave a savage look to the backs of the three techs’ heads and another to Karen, who was mostly awake now, but trying to play off like she wasn’t. “Every second I’m in this, I hate it more. This went from environmental nut-jobs to mercenaries and I still feel like we’re not getting a complete picture.”
Rolling her seat over to him, Alexis caught his sleeve and then his eye. “Calm down. We can’t do anyone any good if we fly off the handle. Look: let’s just go over everything we do know—from the top this time—and maybe we can figure things out. Plus, it’ll make my message more coherent.”
Ian knew she was right and did his best to slow his breathing while taking a seat in front of her. He ran his fingers through his hair as he thought. “Okay. From the start. This Mertama guy finds out about the Storm Cage and wants to steal it to sell the tech.”
“At the same time, Vargas and the GDF decide to use it to hold the world hostage.” Alexis added. “At some point, the two groups meet and decide to work together.” She frowned. “Except that doesn’t fit. The GDF wouldn’t go in for selling anything like this to the highest bidder unless they were sure that bidder was eco-friendly to the extreme.”
Ian nodded. “And everyone at least pretended to be GDF before the broadcast.”
“So Mertama tricked Vargas and the GDF.” Alexis reasons. “By why bother? From what I could tell from my search, there’s only twelve GDF members aboard who aren’t also working for Willis-Jackson. It can’t be manpower, and no one with any apparent crucial expertise jumps out at me.”
“Maybe it was just for the broadcast.” Ian suggested. “Mertama seemed keen on that from where I stood. Maybe he needed a real, known terrorist group to make the threat.”
“But why send that out at all?” Alexis asked. “All that’s going to do is make world governments panic and probably start planning to shoot us down. If he’d stayed quiet, no one would have known what was happening until he disappeared into the hurricane.”
Ian blinked in disbelief. “I think I know what’s going on.” he said in a shocked tone. “Vargas was a distraction. The hostages are a distraction. This is all a con to take the ship and he needs that shoot-down order to do it.” He stood up so quickly, he got a head rush. “We have to stop the ship. We have to stop it, or turn it around right now.”
“What are you talking about?” Alexis stood as well.
“Call the others and tell them to get here as soon as possible. I need to talk to the Professor.”

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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