Issue #64 – Stormfall

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

Part 4
They marched across a narrow spar connecting the gondola’s upper section to the control center in single file. The magnetic boot attachments forced them to walk in a halting lockstep, like prisoners on a chain gang. The wind of the ship’s passage tore at their heavy jackets and threatened to tear the weapons from their grasps.
Wil Fielding was taking up the rear, following behind two of the company’s older combat vets: Thel Keenan and Fred Wilkes. Both were twice his age and didn’t think much of him and his ‘mere’ one tour of duty in Pakistan or his less than complete faith in Mertama’s plans.
Something moved nearby and he pivoted to put it into his field of fire. The thing was built into the side of the spar; a knob of dull, gray metal and plastic that looked like a mechanical wart sitting there. Now that he was looking, he saw them all over the place; lined up along the rings encircling the gondola and along the beams between the ship’s structures.
And as he watched, it rotated, slowly extending several more inches out into space. The hum intensified.
“Hold up!” Wil shouted. “Something weird’s going on here.”
“What now?” Thel was the one immediately in front of him and just looked over her shoulder at him rather than waste time and effort turning around. “Something new to complain about?”
Wil ignored the barb. “There’s stuff moving on the side of the beam. Look.” He gestured with his gun. Two neighboring knobs had also extended.
Just as Thel looked down, a fat, blue spark leapt from one to the next. She cursed and faced forward. “Fred! Move! It’s going hot!”
“What?” Fred shouted over the wind and noise.
“The ship! The weather thing! It’s going hot!”
That time, Fred heard. “Shit! Turn back! We can’t be out here when it charges! Move, move, move!” It was easier said than done with the narrow beam and magnetic boots. The best they could do was an awkward shuffle to get turned in the right direction, and by then, more knobs were extending.
A whirring noise overcame the wind, and as it did, a shadow came over them.
“Contact left!” Thel warned, training her gun on the black jet that suddenly rounded Gondola Two and checked its speed to come right at them. All three prepared to fire, but by then, the jet was passing over. The bottom rear cargo door was sliding open.
Electricity arced from one side of the beam to the other and caught Fred in its path. He let out a short cry as he spasmed and started to fall. Worse, the shock degaussed the magnets in his boots, allowing him to go all the way over and slip off the beam.
Thel lunged for him, trying to catch him before he went over, but she was too late.
Something fell from the jet as it started to pick up speed again and went right past them after Fred.
“Shit.” murmured Wil and he put his hand on Thel’s shoulder. The two had been war buddies for several years, he knew that much, and no matter how they treated him, that shouldn’t have been the way Fred went out.
A terrible, sharp noise made them both jump and look to the jet, which was banking to fly beneath Gondola One. But that wasn’t where the noise came from. Thel searched and found a barbed harpoon of strange, gold-sheaned metal jutting out of the beam.
She didn’t get a chance to investigate as suddenly, a man in medieval armor rose into view. Before she could fire off any rounds, he strained and a writhing tendril of the same strange metal snaked up beside him—and wrapped in its coils was Fred.
The armored man was set down on the beam between them and the command center by another metal tendril. Fred was set down as well and the harpoon withdrew to reveal itself to be a second metal tentacle attached to the man at the shoulder. Both suddenly whipped around and extended into ten foot blades that slashed past the pair. Angry bursts of sparks revealed that they had severed the electrical knobs.
“On the one hand: your hostage taking plan? Very much over.” Alloy informed them. Isp retracted to pick Fred up once more while Osp snapped up and cut both mercenaries’ weapons apart. “On the other,” He pointed a palm at the command section and the side of it pealed open like an orange. With one hand, he gestured to the safety of the command center, and the slowly emerging knobs all over the exterior of the ship. “Follow me and everything will be alright.”
Alexis was furiously texting to Childress while Ian dealt with Karen, who had regained consciousness in a downpour of expletives and empty threats.
“Let me go or I’ll break your goddamn neck!” She growled, straining against her restraints and at the same time slamming Lucas, who was tied up beside her now, against the wall without noticing.
Ian gave her a dull look. “You can’t break my neck because you’re tied up. Letting you go would actually increase the chances my neck gets broken.”
She snarled. “I don’t even care if Mertama wants you and the old man alive. I’ll put a bullet in both your heads! I don’t know how you took me and Lucas down before, but you’d need an army to beat me if you took me head on.”
There was a groan of metal from the wall.
“Ian.” Alexis stopped what she was doing to look warily at were the wall was deforming. “Good or bad?”
“Mertama had gear set aside to cut into anywhere someone tried to lock us out.” Karen crowed, practically swelling with pride and hateful glee. “You’re gonna die when they get through.”
Taking a step away from the wall, Ian suddenly smiled. “One problem with that: that noise? That’s not cutting.”
True enough, the wall was suddenly and violently peeled open, causing a fierce wind to gust in, whipping papers and other detritus violently round the room. Thel and Wil tromped through the rift with the help of their magnetic boots, causing Karen to laugh with malevolent glee. That laugh died quickly when she realized that their weapons were missing and their hands were up.
Alloy followed them in, Isp and Osp trialing behind him with a moaning Fred in tow. “Friend or foe?” He asked Ian, already knowing the answer, but putting on a show for those watching. He casually forced the wall closed behind him.
“Friend.” Ian replied quickly, “But those three, that lump of German beefliness and the loudmouth here aren’t.”
“Nicely done.” Alloy said with a bit too much awe. It didn’t escape him that their captures had all been done in their civilian identities. “I’ve got zipcuffs for these two, but this guy needs first aid. Something out there shocked the bejesus out of him.”
“On it.” Ian said, looking around for the first aid kit he knew he’d seen somewhere in the room. “The zapping thing is the weather control system, or rather the priming sequence.”
“So it was just an accident?”
“No.” Alexis said, having gone back to her texting. “Professor Kluge sealed himself in the control center for that system and he’s trying to us it to get rid of the hostage takers with it.”
Alloy paused in retrieving his cuffs. “When you say ‘get rid of’…””
“In the mafia sense. He might have cracked under the pressure.”
“I have not!” Kluge shouted. “I am defending the Storm Cage und those within her! It seems that a fighter plane has been scrambled to shoot us down—would you rather I allow that?”
“Fighter plane?” Ian asked.
“The Raven.” Alloy said to avoid bungling the proper name. “Hey, Prof! They’re friendly!”
“I ask you to prove that!” Kluge shouted back.
“Pressure.” Alexis mouthed, still texting, then aloud said. “Don’t worry, I’m taking care of it.”
Childress cursed as he tried to juggle his tablet along with the heavy duty flashlight and keyring he’d taken from the maintenance office off of the bay. He was trying to read the texts he was receiving while at the same time trying to find both the key he needed and the electrical panel it went to.
It seemed so easy from Alexis’s instructions: find the keys, climb down from the maintenance bay to Gondola One’s electrical room, then shut off several key circuits.
Unfortunately, the maintenance office was locked, forcing him to break the glass to unlock it from the other side. Then it turned out that the keyring he was after was an old fashioned one with actual keys—more keys than a high school janitor’s. And as the final complication, the electrical room’s light switch seemed to be on the other side of the room from where the ladder form maintenance led, next to the main entrance from the concourse.
“Fourteen… D.” He finally breathed upon seeing the stenciled code next to a metal door in the wall. He put the key in the lock and opened it, revealing a rows of heavy duty circuit breakers.
“Shut down all power to engine room.” He read the next line. “That’s… not gonna stop us. The engines in Gondola Two will still be running…” After a brief moment of sending a message to that effect, he decided to just trust her.
Another moment of juggling occurred as he tugged on the heavy rubber glove Alexis suggested he bring and began to flip the breakers. Moments later, he a deep hum he hadn’t even noticed before ceased somewhere beneath his feet.
A relieved sigh escaped him and his eyes returned to the list. “Shut down all power to the cargo level,: It took but a moment to cross-reference that with the electrical diagram he’d taken from the maintenance office. “Seventeen B. And… the Storm Cage weather system.”
Once more, he checked the diagram, hoping that one was in the Fourteen row. It wasn’t. Because the breakers for the Storm Cage were distributed to nodes all over the outermost rooms in both gondolas.
“Well. Shit.”
Mertama looked around the cargo hold at the frightened hostages. A day ago, they were the power elite: confident, influential and set on a pedestal of their own making that they never thought would crumble. Now, they were huddling together in terror, their propriety and social personas dissolved by something as simple as staring down the barrel of a gun. And of all of them from the corporate titans to the genuine geniuses, the true leader had emerged from a poorly paid student who even now, when it was clear what was going to happen, was trying to keep them calm.
He checked his watch. Should be just about right now.
“Alright, boys and girls.” He said, not caring if the hostages heard—it was too late for thrilling heroics. “The military refers to a weapon of mass destruction being lost an Empty Quiver Scenario, or as many people know it: a Broken Arrow. When an Empty Quiver happens outside of US or allied borders… well there’s a standard operating procedure for that: Confirm and Destroy. Not attempts to regain control, the threat of whatever material or tech falling into unfriendly hands is too bad to leave up to chance.
“As you are well aware, this vessel, when operating inside of a sufficiently powerful weather system, is a force to be reckoned with. A hurricane is a natural disaster, but a hurricane with a human steering it is a WMD. Our friends in the GDF,” There was mocking laughter from Mertama’s mercenaries. “Helpfully tipped the world off that this has become an Empty Quiver scenario, and thanks to that, by my calculations, the USS Powell will have already launched a surveillance drone to scan us. That’s the Confirm part.
“For the next part, they’ll deploy assault drones to shoot us down—only by that time, we’ll be inside hurricane Julia and they’ll be flying blind. What we need to show them is a field of debris and bodies to make them think we went down in the storm. Luckily we’ve got plenty of bodies right here.”
At that, a panicked murmur went up from the hostages, but the many guns held on them kept them in line.
Mertama nodded to the woman standing at the podium style control panel that worked the cargo doors and various cranes and elevators. As it happened, it was Alice, the woman who previously led Mertama’s ‘collection’ efforts among the passengers.
“Let me get that for you, beautiful.” One of the other mercs suddenly stepped up beside her and seized control of the panel.
Alice gave him a quiet glare. “Beautiful? Last night when I asked if you wanted to sneak down to one of the bars and have a drink, you told me your were gay.”
He paused and cocked his head oddly, as if searching his own memories. Here seemed to be a glint of something red or pink in his eyes. “Huh. It seems that I have been telling all the women here that because I fear physically capable women and fear that becoming involved with one will expose my own physical shortcomings.”
“What?!” Alice demanded with a murderous glint in her eyes.
Mertama glared at both of them. “What are you two waiting for? Open the goddamn door!”
“Sorry sir.” The insecure man said. “I am opening the door now.” He worked the controls and the heavy doors set into the floor of the bay, where portable elevators would normally be raised through, began to grind open. Chilly wind began to blow in, but the doors only got a few feet apart when he shut them down.”
“All the way!” Mertama shouted.
“Actually, that’s as far open as they need to be for our purposes.” the man informed him before drawing the combat knife form his belt. Flipping the weapon over in his hand, he bought the hilt down hard onto the screen of the control panel, smashing it to uselessness.
A second later, and power to the hold cut out. The main lights went off and the emergency lighting came up.
There wasn’t time to turn on the traitor among them, or notice that the man was shaking his head and staring at the knife in clear confusion. There was no time for anything but panic because the mercenaries quickly discovered that they were not alone.
In the time between the lights going out and the emergency lighting kicking back in, something had come in through the opening in the bay doors.
It was bigger than a man and all covered with a black carapace that looked like it had been pitted with acid, leaving openings through which muscles like segmented, blackened cables showed through. It held itself off the ground in a quadrupedal stance, on legs with too many joints and clawed feet. A whip-like tail
tipped with a sickle blade lashed behind it.
Worst was its head; an eyeless horror which swept back in an elongated bulb with strange ribbing along the sides. A toothy maw oozed clear saliva, and in that first, terrible moment, its jaws parted and disgorged a second set of equally toothy and dripping jaws that extended forward.
It let out an unearthly scream, and suddenly not a single gun was pointed at the hostages.
The Mercenaries opened fire on full auto, but the monster just stood there and took it, most rounds bouncing off its exoskeletons, but those that won through seeming to have no effect on it at all.
Within seconds, magazines started to run dry and everyone was reaching for another clip.
That’s when a figure, ablaze with azure energies and swathed in a hooded cloak shot up through the open doors behind the alien beast.
“I told you that was the scariest thing you could turn into.” Zero told Facsimile before directing her powers at the mercenaries’ weapons. Breeches and slides began to ice over and clips, encased in ice, slipped from hands. Five mercenaries were disarmed in the first few seconds of her arrival.
Turning to target a new group of enemies, she paused when she noticed a hostage she knew. “Oh, hi, Professor Demetrius!”
The older man blinked in confusion, ripped from his terror at the incongruity of it all. “Do I… know you?”
Zero paused. Right. Secret identities. “Um… not exactly. But I love your work at the museum!”
“… Thank you?”
“Hello? Dudes reloading?” Facsimile shifted subtly, making her horror movie form bipedal with stronger legs and better articulated hands.
“Oh. Right.” Zero said, embarrassed. She ripped of a blast of psychokinetic energy that struck a man faster on the reload than his friends in the chest, throwing him off his feet.
Behind the line of hostages, there was a flash of rose light and Occult appeared with Renaissance, Ephemeral and Hope with her.
Alice drew a heavy pistol and looked to Mertama. “What now, sir?”
For his part, Mertama looked perfectly calm. “The game changes, and the only thing to do is adapt. Were you with me in Arauca?” She nodded. “Then you know what we do next.”

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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