Issue #64 – Stormfall

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

Part 5
The Willis-Jackson mercenaries were not carrying the day as they’d so eagerly anticipated a few minutes earlier when their opponents were unarmed civilians. Their worse case scenario, so far out of international waters was a possible UN strike team tasked for a rescue.
What they didn’t expect was a monster from the depths of space, a blue glowing girl who threw daggers made of ice, a sorceress, two people who seemed to be able to drop their people at a glance, and a woman in partial powered armor to come storming in.
Even decades after Arjun Raavi, there really was no standard operating procedure against super powers in close quarters.
Facsimile charged into two, catching their flak vests in her claws and clapping them together like a pair of cymbals until they dropped their guns. Task, done, she threw the disoriented pair aside and went to find another target. One of them recovered quickly and proved just how little self preservation he had by pulling a knife out of his boot.
Ephemeral stepped into his path before he could stand. His eyes flared with rose light. “You do not wish to do that.” He intoned forcefully. “You wish to sit quietly and wait for your arrest.”
The knife clattered from fingers that had forgotten why they were holding it in the first place and the mercenary fell back onto his rump and did just as he was told.
Another mercenary stepped up behind the hero, a pistol trained on his head. Ephemeral’s eyes flashed once more as he registered the threat. The man’s eyes suddenly rolled in his head and he let loose with an unsavory sort of moan before his knees betrayed him and he keeled over, senseless.
Ephemeral winced and his features contorted with disgust. “I appreciate you saving my life, but I wish you hadn’t done that while I was inside his head.” He didn’t need to turn to know that Hope was behind him, staring down at the man she’d incapacitated in such an unorthodox fashion.
She looked sheepish. “I read about it in my Biochemistry book the other night and wondered if I could do it. Sorry.”
Elsewhere in the cargo bay, a trio of mercenaries saw which way the tide was turning and decided to fall back on something tried and true: hostage taking. They move quickly to grab up Professor Demetrius and a middle aged woman in a business suit to fill said need and started backing toward exit with hostages in tow.
Renaissance was the first to spot them and rush to put a stop to their escape. “Stop right there!” She ordered, aiming a gauntlet in their direction and tapping on the palmtop linked into it.
One of the mercenaries, a woman with black hair in a crew cut pressed her pistol to the professor’s temple. “No. You stop. And lower your weapons.”
Reluctantly, Renaissance pointed the gauntlet way from them, but she continued tapping away. “I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish: we’re in the middle of the ocean. Where do you think you’re going to go?”
“First priority is making sure we’re free to go.” the woman pointed out. “We’ll figure the rest out after we’ve secured that.”
Renaissance smirked and tapped her palmtop one last time. “Yeah, not gonna happen.”
The mercenaries looked confused for a second, especially when the sound of a small motor came from above. Before they could figure it out, the overhead cargo crane’s electromagnet activated, pulling their guns and every other piece of ferrous metal on their persons straight up.
“Duck!” She shouted to the hostages in the instant of confusion she’d created. Both the professor and the businesswoman hit the deck with perfect obedience as she fired off a trio of expanding foam rounds to capture the aggressors.
In the cockpit of the Karasu no Yūrei, Laurel finally let out a sigh of relief as she watched through the pinhole cameras the team wore on their costumes.
She was tailing the Storm Cage, which was starting to become a challenge. The colossal airship had started to turn, thanks to the engines in Gondola One suddenly becoming dead weight while Gondola Two continued at full power. The problem came in the fact that the Karasu no Yūrei was a fast, agile plane commissioned by a ninja clan , but it was meant to be both of those things at once, not one at a time.
With the larger ship traveling only a bit over highway speeds, she had to coast the jet on free-lev and taxiing propulsion, neither of which was designed for easy, controlled turns. It had become an annoying routine of doing all the calculations for controlled thrusts in her head to keep near the other ship.
And genius though she was, it didn’t make tedious calculations suddenly something other than mind numbing.
Suddenly, excitement came from an unexpected and unwanted source: the real-time scans of the ship’s weather steering system started registering build ups of electrical charges along a nearby electrostatic array. The energy was being relayed and propagated toward two extended nodes…
Laurel figured it out almost too late. A brilliant spark arced between the two nodes and in response, a wreath of St. Elmo’s fire flickered along the nosecone of the jet.
If it had been a natural lightning bolt, there wouldn’t have been any time at all, but this one needed time to establish a bridge of ionized air and in that time, She dropped the nose and engaged thrust, rocketing away beneath the ship and out of range of the array, which threw a bolt of blue lightning into the air she’d only recently occupied.
She started to come around again, but the scanner started to blink with more and more warnings. Someone was charging all the Storm Cage’s hydrostatic arrays.
In the command center, Alloy, Ian and Alexis watched in horror was Professor Kluge tracked the jet with Laurel inside via the ship’s external cameras.
“You are a most formidable opponent.” He murmured to himself, completely lost in the fantasy that he was protecting both his work and the hostages through the judicious application of judicious violence. “You clearly have some knowledge of the science involved to have escaped, und your transportation is a scientific marvel to have responded with such agility und speed.”
Alloy looked to his older teammates. “Okay. Weather machine? Check. German accent? Check. Crazy monologue while firing on the good guys with a giant lightning gun? Check.”
“His nickname is Doctor Atmosphere.” Alexis added, most unhappy that their audience of assorted villains wouldn’t allow her to use her powers to solve the problem.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a mad scientist.” said Alloy. “And we know how to deal with those, don’t we, boys.” Isp and Osp coiled up around him and replied in the affirmative through the connection that existed between him and they.
He lumbered forward up the stairs and pointed. “Take out the glass.”
The tentacles didn’t need to be told twice. They loved breaking things. Forming twin sledgehammers, they whipped around and struck the shield separating Kluge from the rest of the room with mammoth force. A network of glowing, blue cracks expanded from the points of impact, crackled like frying bacon, then faded to nothing, leaving unmarred glass behind.
Alloy paused awkwardly, as he’d expected to barge right through the shattering glass and snatch the old man way from his console. Now, not only hadn’t the glass broken, but he realized that his metal sense didn’t extend through it.
“… break it again, boys.” he managed.
This time Isp formed a harpoon while Osp became a pickaxe. Osp actually forced its point a quarter inch into the plane of the glass before a shower of sparks forced it to retreat with only a small dent left in the surface. Isp had even worse luck.
Seeing the device in action a second time, Alloy suddenly recalled where he’d seen it before. “Graham’s Force-field”
“What?” Ian asked.
“Kyle Graham.” Alloy didn’t turn away. “He’s a grad student at UVA. Last year, we went to see their Innovations exhibit of the technologies their best students came up with. Graham is probably a bigger sci-fi geek than me because he pretty much took offense to the fact that a Standing Field Generator doesn’t actually make a force-field as much as a programmable plane of electromagnetic energy. So he took it and made a real one”
He rapped on the barrier with his armored knuckles. “This isn’t glass, it’s a non-Newtonian fluid that changes it’s sheer strength based on the strength of the current going through it. There’s two sheets with a standing field between them, controlled by a computer that senses impacts and changes the output on the fly. Net effect: an unbreakable barrier.”
“Indeed, my young friend.” Kluge said happily. “I was so impressed by the young man that I purchased his prototype to add to the security measure of the Storm Cage.”
“And yet you didn’t make sure your private security wasn’t headed up by a war criminal.” Ian pointed out.
“Not my fault!” Kluge turned from the console. “If I was in charge of the personnel, I would not have gone with the lowest bidder on something so important!”
Alloy wasn’t listening. “Hey, Renaissance?” She said over the comms?”
“Yeah?” She replied, out of breath from the fighting.
“Remember the Graham Force-field? We’ve got one up here with a mad scientist behind it shooting at Codex and the Raven. Any idea how to disable it? Because it’s blocking my metal sense.”
There came the sound of a gauntleted fist meeting an unprotected face, and a grunt of pain before she replied. “I’m not sure. An EMP, obviously, but the whole point of it is to not be knocked out from the outside.”
Alloy stepped back and looked at the barrier. It looked like a massive, seamless pane of glass that had dropped from the ceiling and fit into grooves in the walls and ceiling. There was a beat and he slapped his forehead, causing a bell tone of noise that made him feel even more foolish.
“I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before.”
“What?” Renaissance and Kluge both asked at the same time.
“You know how sometimes you see these places built out of plywood and hope, but they’ve got a steel door?” He asked, prompting Isp and Osp the sharpen their leading edges into incredibly sharp implements. He smirked at the puzzled expression on the old man’s face as the tentacles plunged into the floor, sheering easily through the tile and metal.
Moments later, they pierced through the floor beside Kluge, on his side of the glass, and ripped open a hole between the two points large enough for someone to climb through.
“No one ever thinks of just breaking down the wall instead.” Alloy pointed out. Isp swept out and bound the professor to his chair, trapping his arms. “Ready to give up, Doctor?”
Within three hours, the Storm Cage was back on course for the US, due for Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, the nearest facility with the capacity to securely moor it. Smaller transports were inbound to pick up the passengers and drop off marines to secure the craft from top to bottom.
In the meantime, the mercenaries from Willis-Jackson were being held in a smaller storage room with a certain HR Geiger inspired horror to keep an eye on them and the passengers were allowed to either return to their rooms, or the VIP dining room. All other areas of the ship were locked down, because Mertama and one of his cronies had escaped the battle in the cargo hold.
To keep up apprentices, Alloy escorted Ian, Alexis, and a finally retrieved Childress back down to the dining room where those not too shaken by recent events roundly applauded them once the bonafide superhero told them what they’d done to keep them safe.
“Professor!” Alexis said brightly upon seeing Demetrius sitting alone at a table, a glass of water clutched in his fingers. “I’m glad to see you didn’t get hurt.”
The older man smiled up at her. “I think I should be saying that to you, considering what we just heard.” His smile faltered. “Although I’m terribly sorry to hear what happened with Nikklas. This was his dream and if not for this whole terrible episode stressing him past the breaking point, I would think he would have gone down in history as a savior of mankind.”
Alexis smiled weekly and took her mentor’s hands. “It might still turn out okay. The government isn’t stupid enough to mothball a project this important if they can prove it works. Most likely, they’ll buy out all the private investments and develop it under the Department of Agriculture. And, after some therapy, I’m sure they’d welcome Professor Kluge back in some sort of advisory role.”
In truth, she’d been worried about that too, and the scenario she’d outlined was the one Laurel expected to come about when the dust settled. Weapon of Mass Destruction or not, the world had to eat and an honest to god rainmaker was just what was needed.
Allowing Alexis to have some privacy with Demetrius, Ian wandered over to where Childress was sitting. The reporter had been accepting kudos for his part in the adventure with an uneasy grace, while at the same time jotting down notes on his tablet.
“Looks like you’ve got one hell of a story for your readers, Mr. Childress.” Ian took a seat across from him.
Childress nodded and extended a hand. “We’ve just been through the most terrifying experience normal people can fathom, Mr. Smythe. You can call me Justin.”
“Ian. And as for my story, I’m not sure what I’m going to write just yet. I’m honestly happy reporting on technological breakthroughs, their consequences and the politics around them. This…” he laughed, “Is an adventure story. Like something you’d hear from an embedded reporter in a war.”
“Instant awards and fame though.” Ian tempted.
“At the cost of being a self serving hack.”
“Point of view.” Ian looked over at Alexis and couldn’t help but smile. “It’s what happened, It’s news. The people have the right to know. And if you do it well, isn’t that what the awards are supposed to be for anyway?” He laughed suddenly. “Look, truth be told, you stuck by my future wife in a situation where by rights, you could have curled up and cried without anyone anywhere judging you for it. You helped us out more than once when you could have stayed hidden and pretended you didn’t get her texts.”
Childress tapped away on his tablet. “So does this mean that you’re not upset about the powered armor article anymore?”
Ian nodded. “We’ll call it even if you just take the damn Pulitzer and make her look good doing it.”
“I think I can handle that. You’ve got a deal.”
Two hours later, the military transports rendezvoused with the Storm Cage and extended umbilicuses to lock in place where the portable elevators had before. Marines poured in, passengers poured out.
“Sorry you two didn’t get to London.” Laurel said over the comm as the couple made their way to their assigned transport. “Debriefing aboard the USS Gore isn’t really the same is it?”
“I’d trade never traveling abroad again to do this over as Darkness.” Alexis said quietly. “We’ve never had so many people die on our watch before. I know the GDF wasn’t any better than the mercenaries, but they didn’t deserve that.”
Ian put his arm around his shoulders and held her close. The reality of what had happened was also starting to solidify around him as well. For him, he knew he’d need some time alone to pray for the dead and the strength to not let something like that happen again. And for Alexis, he’d have to be there for her, in whatever capacity she required.
“It’s not your fault.” He said quietly. “We couldn’t have seen that coming, Mertama had a plan and… Mertama.”
“Hmm?” Alexis noticed the change in his tone and looked to see what he was looking at.
Ahead of them, being guided across to the transport by a pair of marines and Josh, who was still very much acting the host for the evacuating passengers, was a couple. The man was in an ill fitting suit, a thick beard and glasses. The woman had glasses as well, and a red, silk evening gown that she was practically swimming in.
When the man turned to nod to the marine on his right, at the same time strategically blocking Josh from seeing him clearly, Ian saw his eyes. The same calculating eyes he’d seen as the man cheerfully decided to go down and celebrate the deaths of three people with a light lunch.
Alexis hadn’t seen the man before, but when Ian started forward, she was right behind him.
Mertama saw him as well and in mid-stride, changed direction and slammed his shoulder into the unprepared marine. The man hit the wall and before he could respond, Mertama punched him in the temple and used a concealed blade to slice the strap on his rifle.
In the space of a second, Alice slammed a knife hand strike into the throat of the marine beside her and performed the same maneuver, stealing the man’s rifle. Both turned as one to train beads on Ian and Alexis.
A flare of black heat started to form in Alexis’s hand as the wind in the causeway started to pick up.
Two shots rang out. Alice and Mertama convulsed and dropped, shaking.
Shouts came from inside the transport as two more marines emerged to see what had gone wrong. Moments later, everyone stopped and stared at what they saw.
Josh was kneeling next to one of the downed marines, leaning one shoulder against the wall. In his hands was the backup revolver formerly stowed in the marine’s hip holster. The drum glowed with the telltale blue light of taser ammo.
The beleaguered lab assistant turned sky host, turned crisis leader, turned temporary action hero dropped the gun when he saw the two new marines coming down the umbilicus’s narrow hallway and let out a long, relieved sigh. “If you don’t mind.” He said with half lidded eyes, “I think I’m going to get some sleep before someone asks me to do something else.”
No one argued with him.
End Issue #64
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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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