Issue #64 – Stormfall

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

Part 3
Ian took the stairs three at a time with the help of small boost from his powers and met the barrier between himself and Professor Kluge by battering on it mightily with the palm of his hand. “Professor!” He shouted, “We need to shut it down, or turn it around, or something!”
Kluge didn’t turn around. “You seem to be desperate to save these murdered und threats to the vorld at large. So desperate that you are no longer trying very hard to convince me at all.”
“No, listen!” Ian continued to slam his palm into the glass. “If we keep going now, it’s not just the bad guys that are going to die, it’s all of us. You, me, Alexis—everyone.”
This got Kluge’s attention. “Whatever are you talking about? I assure you that I have complete control of the system und would never harm anyone that is not a clear danger.”
“That’s not what’s going to kill is, Prof, the US Air Force is.”
Kluge waved him off. “Do not be foolish, young man. You are brighter than that. Why would the Air Force fire upon us? We have many representatives from the Pentagon aboard.”
“Because the GDF just sent a message that they’re in control and plan to use it to level major cities. Even if it wasn’t their own city under the gun, this ship is the US’s responsibility if it goes rogue, so we’re a fair target.”
Eyes flicking over the control panel before him, Kluge frowned. The evidence had been there before him the whole time, and he’d ignored it. “Can we not send that they are no longer in control?”
“Think they’re gonna take a chance if we’re still headed for a hurricane this ship can weaponize?”
Kluge finally swiveled the chair around. “You make a convincing case. There is, however, a problem: my console here does not control navigation, only the weather control system und the security system in order to protect that system. The navigation consoles are down there where you are.”
Ian breathed a sigh of relief. “Great. You can talk us through turning around.”
His relief was cut short when Kluge shook his head. “I do not know how to operate the navigation consoles. I am sorry.”
“Of course.” Ian groaned. “Thank you, Professor.”
By the time he got back down the stairs, Alexis, who had been listening, was already crouching in front of the three navigators he’d captured.
“Don’t you get it? You need to tell us how to turn around now, or you’re going to die too!” She was answered only with mocking laughter and insults. She looked to Ian. “I’m not getting anywhere.”
“You won’t.” Ian sighed, keeping his voice low so Kluge couldn’t hear. “They know that ship’s not actually going to get shut down.” He passed her and sat down in one of the chairs in front of a console, studying the controls.
“What?” Alexis got up and came to stand behind him, looking confused.
Ian nodded absently. None of the controls made even the smallest bit of sense. And he would be just as likely to crash the ship as turn it. “Mertama wants to sell this thing, not destroy it. We’re probably angling so that no interceptors will reach us before we hit the eye-wall and they’re firing blind. They he just need to fake a crash, or an accident and boom, the US thinks it has shootdown until Columbia or Pakistan suddenly has their own weather machine.”
“That couldn’t last long.” Alexis reasoned. “Unless they find a debris field, they’re still going to keep searching. The ship’s big and hollow, but things are still going to float, even if the whole thing fills with sea water.”
A shock of realization ran through Ian. “All that’d be left to see would be furniture. And bodies. Oh shit.” He turned in his seat and shouted, “Professor?”
“Yes” The old man called back.
“Your security panel, does it include the motion detectors?”
“Indeed it does.”
“Can you tell me if the hostages are okay?” He took Alexis’s hand as she shivered at the possibility that question conjured.
There was a pause as Kluge consulted them. “It seems that they are fine. I am detecting a large mass of people moving down service corridor C.”
Ian started to bob his head, but stopped. “Wait. What? Why are they moving them? What’s down that corridor?”
More time as Kluge checked. “The central cargo lift it leads to the primary cargo bay for that gondola.”
Alexis saw where this was going. “Are there bay doors down there?”
“Of course there are. Some of the heavier equipment could not be bought aboard with portable lifts.” said Kluge. “We had to use cranes.”
“That’s it.” Alexis said urgently. “He’s going to dump everyone out the cargo bay and any furniture too—that’ll make it look like a crash.” Then louder, she said, “Professor, I need you to shut down that elevator and the cargo doors.”
From his seat, Kluge looked over the console. “I can do this, but I don’t know how long that will give you. Both can also be controlled from the security office on the gondola. They could be reactivate with ease.” He spied something else on the monitor that drew his attention. “However, there is another concern: there are three people moving toward the maintenance bay in the same gondola. I suspect they are going to attempt to access the central command from the outside in order to eliminate us.”
“Oh no, Mr. Childress.” Alexis said.
“Mr. Who?” Ian looked at her. “You mean that was the other person loose with you all this time?”
Alexis hurriedly started texting. “I left him in the maintenance bay to keep safe. I’ve got to warn him.”
Ian was going to comment further, but then Kluge said something that was far more worrying: “They think they can come und murder me? I will not allow this. Initializing hydrostatic arrays.”
At first Childress was afraid. He was petrified.
This was, he felt, a perfectly justified reaction. After all, he was caught in the middle of a hostage situation, known to be one of the people eluding the hostage takers, and then abandoned by the one person he knew was capable of doing something about the former.
After Alexis left, he found a space between rows of equipment lockers that wasn’t visible from the rest of the room, and hunkered down under a tarp. He wasn’t a trained fighter and he’d just get in the way if he tried anything. The alternative was surrender and that would have been suicidal as far as he was concerned.
Then he got bored and started playing some games on his tablet, the sound on through his wireless headset.
Once, Alexis asked him for information on the crew and he obliged. It calmed him greatly, knowing that she was still on the case. Who was she, really? He wasn’t well versed in self defense, but he was sure they didn’t teach you to take down two grown men from ambush in you average ‘ protect yourself from unarmed muggers’ dojo.
Minutes passed without anything else, so he went back to playing games. His mind was racing too much to work on his story, and with how things were going, he didn’t know if there even was going to be a tech story now. Some men would twist the situation for Pulitzer bait, but until he knew his fellow passengers were safe, it would feel crass to even consider it.
So he kept himself occupied and hoped.
An icon at the bottom of his screen flashed, accompanied by a warble in his earpiece. There was a new message for him. He switched over to it, hoping Alexis was telling him it was safe now, or that help was on the way—at least that she needed another piece of information.
But he was sadly mistaken.
‘Mr. Childress,’ the message started, ‘Three are headed for the maintenance bay now. They are trying to get outside. Find someplace to hide.’ He fought down a shiver. It wasn’t over. It might just be beginning.
He didn’t dare move. The maintenance bay was mostly neat and efficient, which translated into having very few places where a grown man could slip unseen. Where he was right at that moment was the best he’d seen and probably the only cover he could hope for. His only hope was that he wasn’t being looked for.
Long moments passed and he held his breath. Every creak of the outer hull, every hum of unknown machinery switching on or off, they all sounded like death approaching. Even though he was covered with the tarp, he squeezed his eyes shut as if that would afford him more protection.
Then came the loud, definitive beep and ka-chunk of the lock on the bay disengaging. The door swung open and heavy footsteps tromped in.
“…up here himself instead of sitting on his ass eating.” ranted a male voice. “Did you look at how that’s attached there? It’s gonna be like walking a balance beam in a windstorm.”
“You talk a big game, but I don’t see you stepping the Mertama.” said another as the boots came closer. This one was older and more gruff. “Besides, you know why he’s the boss?” There was a loud, metallic thump on one of the equipment lockers not far from Childress and he almost jumped.
A zipper was unzipped and something thin and metallic rattled. “He thinks of everything.”
“What are those?” The first speaker asked.
He was answered by a new voice, female, just as gruff as the other, but young and uptight. “Tower builders’ friend, Fielding: magnetic boot clips. Slip em over your shoes, put the controls in your fist. Right button turns off power to the right, left to the left. And then you just walk right across the beam, wind r no wind.”
More rattling and the sound of Velcro ripping. “Got me a high energy plasma cutter too. We’ll got right through that wall after ’em.” That was the older guy. “Weapons check?”
There were various noises of safeties being flicked off and energy weapons being powered up. The older man made an approving noise. “Let’s go.”
Feet tromped on the metal ladder, followed by the screech and groan of the hatch being operated. Wind whirled down the ladder to lash the maintenance bay After more groans and clangs, the hatch was closed and silence reigned again.
Childress forced himself to open his eyes again. There was a new message for him: ‘Let me know you’re okay once they’re gone.’ He obliged and within moments, he got a reply.
‘When I was up there, did I see a set of power boxes?’
What that had to do with the kill squad that just traipsed by him, he had no idea, but he replied in the affirmative.
‘Good. This is a matter of life and death: I need you to take the keycard I left with you and open them up. Let me know when you do this.’
“There it is.” Cyn declared. With her eyesight altered to rival a bird of prey’s she could make out the airship before it was much more than a smudge on the horizon. “That thing’s a weather machine?” She asked derisively.
Laurel throttled back and the Storm Cage began to grow steadily in their field of view, silhouetted in the not-s-far off dark feeder bands of Hurricane Julia. She toggled on the two-way between the cockpit and passenger cabin and called to the others. “Alright everyone, we’re here. There’s no cloud cover, so they’re going to know it sooner rather than later.
“Cyn, Jun, down to the cargo bay and get ready to deploy. Kareem, as soon as we’re close enough, I need you to start giving me a good idea of where everyone is. Hopefully you’ll find a weak mind among our bad guys to give us an inside man. Tink, Lisa and Warrick, up here with me. As soon as we know where to go, we’re teleporting in.”
She turned on the autopilot with a program to have the plane circle the airship at a distance, then started activating various sensor suites. What she saw made her face fall. “Gauss meter’s fluctuating like crazy…”
“That’s bad.” Cyn knew if only because of the way Laurel said it.
“The weather control system works on manipulating magnetic fields to shunt atmospheric moisture around, creating regions of very arid air that will attract moisture from further out. By varying the motion of the moist air and/or water droplets in clouds, it can make a cloud move in defiance of air currents.”
Cyn looked at her blankly. “So this Gauss thing says it’s on then?”
Laurel nodded. “On and already manipulating the air. There’s not enough humidity to make a storm, but…” A grim look fell over her face. “Cyn, you’re staying with us.”
“Um… why? We’ve only got two fliers, remember? You need me out there.”
By now, Tink had gotten it too and beat Laurel to the punch. “Cyn, no, wait a minute: you know how a lightning bolt happens? Water droplets in clouds rub against each other at high speed, shedding electrons until—Boom. In a few minutes, that ship will be able to launch dozens, maybe hundreds of them.”
Laurel nodded, looking at Cyn to make sure the girl was accepting this. As it was, Cyn was looking more affronted than rightly worried. “Cyn, she’s right. Its’ part of the design: there’ no other way for the ship to generate enough power to steer something the magnitude of a hurricane from inside the eye. It’s mean to generate lightning from its primary phase, and channel it into a bank of capacitors.”
Kareem’s voice cut in over any further discussion. “Ms. Brant, I’ve been searching minds aboard the ship and you should know: there are three people outside right now—they mean to kill Miss Keyes.”
“Outside?!” Laurel called back in shock. “Don’t they know that there’s about to be the mother of all lightning storms out there?”
“They do not seem to be aware.”
Laurel turned back to the bank of screens at the front of the plane. “Of course they wouldn’t.” She muttered to herself. “Alexis’s last message is that they took over the command center, but Professor Kluge hijacked the weather controls, thinking he was going to protect his project. He’s going to kill them. Kareem, can you make them go back?”
“I don’t believe so.” He replied. “I might be able to take control, and I can certainly communicate with them, but they’re crossing a very thin span—I might cause them to fall.”
The doors to the cockpit opened to reveal and armored figure. “I’ve got ’em.” Warrick said before the doors were full opened.”
“Are you off your nut?” Cyn asked, “Didn’t you just hear about the super-lightning?”
“Faraday Cage.” Warrick and Tink both said at once.
“Don’t ever do that.” Cyn warned. “And also, that’s fine for taser sand Tesla arcs, but this is lightning, a lot of it.”
“I’ll be fine.” Warrick waved her off. “Trust me, I did roof running in New York—I’ve been struck by lightning before. The armor protects me.” He switched his attention to Laurel “So are w on, Miss Brant?”
Laurel nodded, but hesitantly, and she put a claiming hand on Cyn’s arm. “We’re on. Get them out range of the hydrostatic arrays: either inside the ship, or underneath it. Lisa, can you teleport him there and get back?”
Lisa nodded.
“Good. New plan then:”

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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