Issue #68 – One Week

This entry is part 9 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures

Part 6 – Sunday
A hairy fist pounded the ornamental wrought iron fence along the ‘Rainforest: Life Beneath the Canopy’ exhibit at the GM Logan Zoo’s main thoroughfare. It would have dislocated Zero’s shoulder if she hadn’t dove into a roll ahead of it. The silverback lowland gorilla the fist was attached to grunted and flared his nostrils as he turned to track the heroine. There was a sigil burning a sinister dark orange over his heart: an upside down omega with a dot over the upper ends and in the center as well as three lines intersecting the bottom.
“I really don’t want to hurt you.” Zero muttered, knowing full well that the ape wouldn’t have understood even if he wasn’t being controlled.
Overhead, the PA system, normally used to relay announcements in the large, enclosed habitat, squawked. “Oh, but you do hurt him. Every time you visit one of these animal prisons and give money to those who make money on keeping these beautiful creatures captive.”
That was the voice of Shepherdess; a mage by the look of things, with a vocal animal rights agenda. According to the police report Zero had been relayed through the Vimes computer back at Freeland House, she’d infiltrated the zoo as a new veterinarian to get access to the animals. She’d already sent two zoo employees to the hospital, along with two paramedics using controlled animals.
Zero didn’t bother to respond. Single motive super-villains tended to rant on automatic the same way they would on an internet forum. Besides, a low growl nearby warned her that at least one of the two leopards under the woman’s control had found their way around the ice barrier she’d used to hem them in.
“Why is it always the zoo?” She wondered aloud, instead of trying to argue with Shepherdess. “Morganna wanted to use the animals for reagents, Zoo-Man wanted to use them to commit crimes… Why does no one ever rob banks anymore?” Before the gorilla could attack again, she took to the air, out of it and the leopards’ reach.
The rhetorical question drew an outraged shout from the PA. “This isn’t a petty crime about money! This is a liberation and deliverance of retribution!”
Zero, whose share of that retribution came to around a hundred dollars in entrance fees and souvenirs over the past year, looked back at the gorilla and wondered to herself if that really justified her being pounded into paste by a primate.
“Um… okay?” She offered.
“No it’s not okay!” Shepherdess shouted. “None of this is okay! Did you know that the police pepper sprayed my precious little macaques to get them off Dr. Arranox? Does that seem okay to you?”
Zero looked around from her elevated position, trying to spy the sensors Shepherdess was using to watch and listen to her. If she could find them, she could use her palmtop to locate the control room. “Maybe you shouldn’t have sent them to attack him in the first place? I mean,” She checked her palmtop for the relevant information, “he’s part of the Great Apes Recovery Project. That seems like a good thing to me.”
Better than pitting an endangered gorilla against a superhero at any rate.
“He’s part of the system and therefore part of the problem.” said Shepherdess. “And so are you. How fitting that you can fly, because I know exactly how to deal with an unnatural human like you: an animal destroyed and then resurrected by human meddling.”
“A mammoth?” Zero asked hopefully. The only living mammoths she knew of were in San Diego, but she really hoped to see one up close one day—even if she might have to fight it.
A rough shrill came from above, hidden in the canopy. “No.” said Shepherdess.
The foliage of the canopy exploded as a Haast’s eagle, one of the largest predatory birds to ever fly, dove at her, claws raised to strike.
If it wasn’t for the humid atmosphere of the exhibit, Zero wouldn’t have been able to create an ice shield in time to defend herself. Even so, some thirty pounds of vicious raptor moving at fifty miles an hour still managed to shatter the shield in her hands and drive her backward until her back slammed into a tree trunk.
Struck temporarily senseless, she tumbled down through the branches to land back on the path. Through the haze of confusion, she wondered how many tree frogs and insects got hurt from that. Those thoughts didn’t last long because in the next moment, the leopard leapt upon her.
The big cat’s claws squeaked against the ballistics cloth girding her midsection, but it’s jaws would have closed over her face if she hadn’t jammed her forearm between them and blasted an unpleasant chill into its mouth and nose.
In the split second the leopard was occupied with that, she rolled away, coming up on her knees. The cat lunged, only to find that the walkway had turned to ice beneath it. Zero leapt over its head as it slid uncontrollably beneath her.
“You sound like you’re having trouble. Are you sure you don’t want me to teleport in to back you up?” Lisa asked in her comm.
“N-no.” Zero grunted before taking off again, this time flying low in hopes of avoiding the eagle. “You’ve got a ten page paper to write and this Shepherdess woman really shouldn’t be so hard for me to deal with.” She turned a slow circle, looking both for sensors or controlled animals.
“It’s just that I’m sort of in a jungle and it’s hard to spot things, and she’s in the control booth somewhere and I just can’t find her.” Crashing in the foliage to her right alerted her to the gorilla long before she saw him, and she shot straight up to evade.
No sooner had she done that, however, than the Haast’s eagle keyed in on her and swooped by, its talons passing within inches of her head as she rolled to escape it.
“It’s getting really frustrating.” She added. “If you want to help though: how do I break the spell controlling the animals… assuming it’s a spell.”
Zero heard Lisa tapping away at the digi-book of reason and took cover from the eagle while she waited. Finally, Lisa groaned and spoke into the comm again. “The Book is being unhelpful today. I’m not really an expert, but Feral Elle mentioned last weekend that it’s hard to ask her animal friends to do anything that would normally be dangerous or painful, even when she’s made sure it wouldn’t be.”
The eagle dipped below the treeline in search of Zero, while below she heard the leopards on the prowl. “Painful, huh?” Her hand strayed to her hip pouch. “Are you sure? I’d really rather not hurt them.”
“Just keep in mind that if the police don’t know about magic. If a controlled animal attacks them, they’ll use anything they can to stop them.”
Zero blew out an unhappy sigh. “I guess you’re right. I don’t even get why this is a fight: I love animals, she loves animals.”
“She’s also okay with forcing animals to maul innocent people to get her way.” Lisa said, “So there’s that.”
“I guess so.” Zero took the screamer out of her pouch and adjusted the yield down below the level they used against inugami. “Well here goes nothing…”
Shepherdess was in the monitoring station assigned to the rainforest exhibit. Normally, the room was staffed at all times by at least two biologists whose job was to study the animals in the exhibit, as well as a security officer during the day who kept an eye on the visitors.
Those people had been handily chased away by the two komodo dragons Shepherdess kept nearby her.
The woman herself had garbed herself to play the villain—specifically the villain from the age of go-go. She wore a green spandex bodysuit with an ‘S’ formed by a cartoon snake over a purple paw-print on her chest, a full-length purple cape, purple gloves, and purple platform heels. Her light brown hair reached just past her shoulders, and a purple domino mask completed the look.
Hunched in front of the monitoring systems, she switched frantically through the various screens. Moments prior, all of her animal partners had stopped responding to her requests and the horribly unnatural heroine had disappeared from her view. Her only clue as to what happened was a short, sharp whistling sound that sounded just before.
“Where did she go?” the villainess muttered, to herself. “This makes no sense: the cameras cover the entire enclosure—they have to in order to spy on all the animals!”
The two komodo dragons made irritated hissing sounds and started shuffling in agitation, snouts snapping toward the door. On their backs, the same sigil that rested on the gorilla’s heart throbbed in time with their hearts. The door was starting to become covered in a layer of frost and the temperature was starting to drop.
Every inch of the exhibit was included by the cameras, Shepherdess realized, except above the canopy, because the exhibit only featured ‘Life Beneath the Canopy’. And without the Haast’s eagle attacking her, the heroine was free to fly straight up and out.
The door shattered in a cloud of frozen debris and dry ice smoke. Behind it stood Zero, hood drawn up to cover her masked face, and one fist held in place where she’d punched the door. Slowly, she lowered the fist to her side and raised her head to glare at Shepherdess.
“It’s time to stop.” She said firmly. “You may think you’re helping, but you’re really hurting them—and if you don’t stop, I’ll make you.”
The nerve of her! Shepherdess snatched the rod, the source of her power off the seat beside her and turned sharply enough to make her cape flare dramatically. “You have no idea what you’re talking about! The only thing humans understand is violence, so the only way to make them respect animals is for the animals to fight back!”
Even with her mask and hood, the perplexed look on Zero’s face was evident. “I… is that really the thing you’re using to control them?” She pointed at the rod.
It was a foot and a half long shaft of bone made from some creature’s fibula. The skull of some small primate was lashed to the top with dried sinew and holes had been bored in it to allow various mismatched teeth to be passed through it. The whole thing was stained brown and yellow by ancient blood.
Shepherdess bit her lip. “Well I didn’t kill them! And besides, it’s better they be used this way than whatever the monster who made it probably used them for.”
“Where do you even find something like that?” asked Zero earnestly.
“I found it in an antique auction belonging to a notorious big game poacher.” said Shepherdess. “We were protesting with paint bombs and it fell into my coat while I was hiding from the police.” A look of disgust crossed her face, “No wonder he was so ‘successful’ at hunting—he probably hypnotized the animals to stand there while he shot them.”
Zero hugged herself and shivered at the idea. “That would be pretty horrible. But… it fell into your pocket? It probably has a mind of its own then. It might even be controlling you.”
A glare that went far past ‘insulted’ crossed Shepherdess’s face. “I am not being controlled! It helps me protect the animals from disgusting Mankinds!”
“Yeah,” Zero said. “I’m pretty sure you’re being controlled.”
“Enough!” Shepherdess leveled the rod at Zero and shouted to the komodo dragons. “She is your food! Devour her!”
The dragons hissed and hurled themselves at their new found prey, jaws wide and ready to tear flesh and crush bone.
Zero just shook her head, stood up straight, and brought her hands together as if in prayer. Normally, she only leached the warmth out of the air as a side effect of freezing other things. This time, she dropped the temperature around her to sub-zero on purpose, letting the suddenly freezing air waft out from her in a chill wave.
The giant reptiles ran headlong into the freezing air and balked at the sudden, dangerous change in temperature. They turned around, climbing over one another to escape the cold. And as they did, the sigils on their backs burned out and faded away to nothing.
For a brief moment, they paused. Their simple, reptile brains couldn’t process coming out from under mystical oppression. What they could comprehend, however, was a waiting meal before them in the form of Shepherdess. Everything but predatory hunger forgotten, they plunged forward, jaws agape once more.
The spark of madness that had entered Shepherdess fled entirely when she saw the closest thing to the dragons of yore that Earth’s biosphere ever spawned bearing down on her full of hunger. “What? No! Turn around! Attack her. Her!” She waved the rod wildly in hopes that something helpful would happen.
Something did, but it had nothing to do with the rod.
Wreathed in blue energy, Zero flew over the animals’ heads and executed a flip in midair to land between them and the hapless villainess. With a wave of her hand, she formed a ball of psychokinetic force in each beast’s lolling mouth.
This slowed the pair down, but as she watched, the mighty crushing force of the komodo dragons’ jaws overcame even the strength of her constructs. The balls burst apart under the power of the dragons’ bites in flashes of blue sparks.
Seeing this, Zero frowned. “I really didn’t want to have to do this…” She raised both hands and the room temperature plummeted. In the space between her and the dragons, the air coalesced into a wall of clear ice that wept clouds of subliming gas.
The cold rolling off it had an immediate effect on the dragons, who stopped short and started to back away. In the terrible cold blowing off the wall, however, they didn’t get far before collapsing into torpor.
Zero let out a breath she’d been holding and released her powers form the wall, causing it to instantly sublime into a rolling, cold mist in the ambient temperature of the room. “Sorry.” She said quietly to the dragons. “Hopefully, the vets can get to you quickly and—“
“How dare you!” Shepherdess shrieked. The madness was back and in full effect. “Do you have any idea what cold does to reptiles?!” She lunged at the heroine, swinging the rod for the heroine’s exposed back.
In a single, smooth motion, Zero whirled around and caught the rod with a forearm block. In the next instant, she buried her fist in Shepherdess’s solar plexus. The other woman’s eyes widened as all the air flew from her lungs and she collapsed against Zero’s shoulder.
“I do.” Zero said flatly, letting the villainess slip senseless and gasping to the floor. “And I wouldn’t have had to do that if it wasn’t for you.”
She kicked the rod out of Shepherdess’s hands and encased it in ice before pulling out her palmtop and making a call, first to the zoo staff standing by to round up the escaped animals, then to the police who were doing the same for Shepherdess.
It was eight-thirty when Lisa heard someone unlocking the door to the dorm room she shared with Juniper.
She’d only just finished her paper and sent it off and was catching up on some reading for her Literature class, but her mind had been straying to how her friend and roommate was faring with the aftermath of her zoo adventure.
From the sound if it, the other girl had gone toe to toe with some of the animal kingdom’s biggest badasses, plus an evil artifact without calling for more backup than advice on defeating the control spell. That was more than anyone on the team was expected to handle in a given night, so Lisa was contemplating making plans to go out so as to give Juniper some peace, quiet and a well-deserved nap.
The door opened and without looking up, Lisa asked, “You okay, Jun?”
“Oh fine.” Juniper said with her usual breeziness. Lisa looked up to see her bustle into the room, bike helmet under one arm, keys in hand. “How about you? Did you finish your paper?”
Lisa put her palmtop with her Lit book on it aside, giving Juniper a curious look. “Yeah. You know I would have come and helped you if you asked, right? Did everything go okay?”
“Yeah.” Juniper nodded, which was a feat all its own because she was in the process of pulling her sweat soaked shirt over her head. “The artifact might have accidentally been shattered before the Superhuman Intervention Unit showed up, but other than that, it wasn’t that bad.”
“Didn’t I hear you getting attacked by leopards?”
Juniper sniffed her shed shirt and quickly conveyed it to the hamper in her closet. “Also komodo dragons, a giant eagle and a gorilla. Luckily, the zoo says the dragons will recover.”
Lisa sat up, trying not to let her jaw gape. “You beat up a komodo dragon?”
“Not really beat up.” said Juniper, coming back from her closet with and outfit that included a denim skirt, red leggings, and a white blouse. “But I did have to sort of freeze them into hibernation to stop Shepherdess—oh! But I did beat her up; if you count one punch as beating someone up.”
“And you’re not tired at all?” Lisa asked, sitting on the edge of her bed.
“Maybe a little.” said Juniper as she grabbed up her shower supplies. “But not too tired, and that’s a good thing—you know that Library of Congress archive in Culpeper? They’re playing classic horror movies leading up to Halloween. Tonight is Frankenstein and Nosferatu. Malcolm’s coming to pick me up at nine.”
With a silly smile, she disappeared into the bathroom.
Lisa chuckled and picked up her book again. Juniper was quiet, seemed shy, and was always sweet, but that didn’t mean that she was incapable of throwing a curve-ball every now and again.

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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  1. Kaine and A’belle, huh?

  2. No one said Wendy was creative. :p

  3. Rereading this one and…
    “and the Lily, short her usual summer tan”
    THE Lily? I mean, I know she’s a bit full of herself, even with her newfound epiphany, but… 😛

  4. and flares his nostrils

    How fitting you can fly
    fitting that you can fly?

    I know exactly how you deal with an unnatural human
    how to deal

    some thirty points of vicious raptor
    probably “pounds”

    and blasted sent an unpleasant chill
    one superfluous word, but I’m not sure which

    done that, however, then the Haast’s eagle

    of Zero while be low, she heard
    I’d put “of Zero while, below, she heard”

    her hip pouch. Are you sure?
    missing quotation mark

    “Just keep in mind that if the police don’t know about magic. If a controlled animal attacks them, they’ll use anything to can to stop them.”
    that the police […] anything they can

    the exhibit only feature

    We ere protesting

    No wonder her was so ‘successful’

    she dropped thing around her
    dropped… the temperature?

    Zero over the animals’ heads
    flew over?

    • Also the low-land gorilla transmogrifies to mountain variety at some point.

      30 points of raptor may not be a mistake though, could just be mechanics showing through. You can make a pretty swell bird with 30 points.

      (That last part was a joke.)

  5. Hmm… Do eagles and gorillas have superior hearing compared to humans? Or do the Descendants have ear protection in their standard kit? (Along with the bulletproof costumes and all the other goodies.)

    • Humans lack the ability to perceive a wide spectrum of sound frequencies. The screamers have a setting to target those frequencies when dealing with animals and another for humans, which links to a noise cancelling device in the comms.

  6. I am bad at this writering thing. Corrections should go up tonight along with the month’s posting schedule.

  7. Ah, Lifesavers Inc. is back! I wondered whatever happened to that! That’s a really great way to bring it back. I definitely approve.

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