Black heat rolled up around Darkness, burning away the yarn around her. At the same time, Chaos pulled a utility knife out of his belt and severed the swath of cloth that was rapidly covering his face.
“Grams, what are you doing?!” Len rushed to his grandmother’s side, but could do nothing to stop her as she sent more lines to grab up the coffee table and swing it at Darkness.
A burst of wind caught the table and wrenched it off-course, dashing it against the wall and leaving a gaping hole in the drywall.
“They want to take you away.” said Helen, her voice strained by anger. “They think you’re some kind of criminal and they want to put you away just like those heartless people with the Homeowner’s Association.”
Chaos rolled up onto his knees. “Mrs. Chalmers, were aren’t here to take anyone away, or to arrest anyone. We’re concerned that Lenny—and you—might get hurt.” He didn’t move to attack; thing the air around the elderly woman would knock her out, but might aggravate other health problems, not to mention injuries she might suffer from a fall.
“It’s true, Mrs. Chalmers.” Darkness added, maintaining a cloud of black heat around her in cast the old woman tried to wrap her again. “This isn’t an issue of criminal offenses, but one of public health. Can you tell me where these powers came from?”
Helen’s eyes blazed. “You’re lying!” Yarn rose up, knotting in front of her into a fuzzy wrecking ball, which she swung at the pair. It didn’t make contact though, thanks to a bar of black heat annihilating it in-air. Chaos ducked under what was now a disintegrating fireball to toss a Chaos Nova into the yarn basket at Helen’s side. It exploded, flames spreading quickly to consume the colorful thread.
Disarmed, Helen let out an unholy screech and lunged for Chaos with her bare hands.
Len got to her first and wrapped his arms around her to hold her back. “Grams! Grams! You’ve gotta stop! Please!”
There wasn’t much choice left to them aside form letting Helen hurt herself, so Chaos raised a hand to her and a light breeze kicked up around her head. She struggled at first, but slowly, the light-headedness won over and she sagged in her grandson’s arms.
Very carefully, Len lowered his fainted grandmother into her chair, tears starting to stream down his face. “shit. Jesus, this is all my fault.”
“An ambulance will be on its way in a second.” Darkness reported, dispelling her black heat and taking out her palmtop to make the call. “In the meantime, you better explain what the hell just happened here.”
“I—didn’t even know she’d found the stuff ’til just now, I swear.” Len said, eyes locked on Helen’s still form, watching to make sure she was still breathing. “I just got it yesterday and I hadn’t got a chance to try it. She must have gotten it mixed up with her meds..”
As Darkness was speaking to the paramedics, Chaos took over the questioning. “What stuff, Len? Don’t screw around here because the doctors are going to need to know everything—and your grandma isn’t the only one that’s in danger from it.”
Len closed his eyes tightly and hiccuped. “It’s called ‘Gold’. I heard about it from a guy at the club a couple weeks ago. It’s like interfacin’, only you don’t have to get cut up or put stuff inside you. You just use the air injector and in a couple hours, you’ve got real superpowers for a while. There’s even different kinds. I got Gold TTK.”
“Tactile telekinesis.” Darkness supplied, ending her call with the paramedics. “The ability to exert telekinetic control over objects as long as you remain in physical contact with it.” She looked to Chaos, “Like Manriki of the Redeemers.”
Len wasn’t paying all that much attention to them. “You said it was dangerous. How? What’s gonna happen to my Grams?”
Darkness ventured to put her hand on shoulder. “We got to her before the negative effects could kick in. That should help. But it will help more if we knew exactly what we were dealing with and who it came from.”
“Yeah, yeah. Anything.” He said with a sniff. “There’s a guy—called himself Froak… or something like that—operates outta this club in City Central, Heavy. Don’t know how much it’ll help though; the guy’ll see you comin’ a mile away.”
“We’ll deal with that when the time comes.” Darkness assured him. “For now, I have a few more questions—and once the ambulance gets here, I’m going to need you to show me what this stuff came in so we know what to look for.”
Len looked down at his grandmother, held back another sob, and nodded.
Forty-five minutes later, after making sure Helen got to the hospital and Len have given them everything he could about Gold, Ian and Alexis were back at LSI, HQ with Laurel.
So far, the HQ only had one fully operational lab. Laurel had placed the inhaler-like ampoule containing the Gold TTK into quarantine; a stainless steel, carbon lattice lined cell with an array of sensor equipment and chemical detection devices while she called Detective Rodgers.
“It’s a self-contained hypospray,” She explained as she reviewed the information coming up on-screen. “Like diabetics and other people in need of regular injectable medication get their prescriptions in.”
“Is it a refab?” Rodgers asked over the line. “Sometimes the narc raids find the same kin of thing. The pushers drain out the real meds and fill it with their stuff.”
Laurel pulled up a three-dimensional scan of the injector. It was matte black and boxy in shape with rubberized plastic fittings painted gold running around the midpoint to make it easier to hold. The bottom was stamped ‘TTK’ in blue. “Unlikely. This looks like a custom job, which suggests a professional operation.”
“Any idea about what this stuff even is?”
“The analysis is still running. What I can tell you is that it’s a bio-chemical cocktail with the main component being a designer retrovirus in a veritable sea of the same drugs used to prevent organ rejection, immune-suppressants and hormones. To be honest, whoever is behind this is a genius to have gotten this to the point that it doesn’t killer the user immediately.”
Rodgers was quiet for a moment. “I’d appreciate it if you sent your findings to our lab and Dr. Chase. After learning what we were looking for,w e have our own ampoules to study, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t be sharing information.”
“I assure you we’re giving you everything we can without legally becoming state actors and bringing a lot of messy constitutional issues into it, Detective. In fact, expect to hear from Dr. Chase and a new witness in a few hours.”
After a bit more back-and-forth, Laurel promised to contact Rodgers the moment she knew more and hung up.
“Problems?” Alexis asked, stepping through the sliding doors. She set a cup of coffee down on the console at her friend’s side.
Laurel gladly took it and breathed in the aroma. “I just wish the mayor was a tiny bit more savvy about that the realities of our relationship with the city. It’s not that we’re being arrogant about this: we legally cannot operate the way we do and then act as consultants for the police. We can report what we find, make citizen’s arrests, and all that—but he’s trying to have us work hand-in-hand and that’s going to make it much more difficult legally to put the bastards behind this away.”
Her tone took Alexis aback. “L, are you okay? I know this is bad, but you’re taking it pretty personally. The mayor’s just a politician; he doesn’t know any better and it isn’t personal.”
The other woman sighed and set her cup down. “It’s not the mayor that’s made this personal. It’s whoever is pushing ‘Gold’.” She pulled up several windows on her screen, all featuring chemical analysis data Alexis couldn’t make her nor tails of.
“The name was the tip-off.” Laurel said, “But then I looked closer. Remember what Cyn told us about last year? How Shine’s been using something derived from Cyn’s blood to give herself regenerative abilities?”
“Oh god…” Alexis leaned against the table. It wasn’t hard to guess now what her friend had seen.
Laurel set her jaw. “It’s a retro-viral derivative: the same method they use to copy healthy genes from one person and use them to repair and replace damaged genes in another in modern gene therapies, but several unique markers from Cyn’s DNA remain. There are similarities here to the ‘Become More’ therapy ConquesTech used that accidentally turned Elizabeth con Stoker into Freaque.”
“I never liked the idea of that program; telling protomorphs that there’s something wrong with them that needs to be fixed.” Alexis folded her arms. “So we’re thinking Aces High is behind this? And that they somehow got access to the Become More tech?”
“That’s my best guess.” said Laurel. “It’s one of the reasons I wish the mayor and the police weren’t so involved in this: we might have a full-on super-battle brewing here and while the powered armor division might be ready to deal with regular powers, Aces High have a mentalist and that robot of theirs—not something the MPD have trained to deal with.”
She didn’t have to explain the other reason. Both of them knew that the involvement of Cyn’s DNA meant this was no longer just a regular mission for any of them, especially not Laurel. And the revelation that her genetic material could e turned into a superpower drug wouldn’t spell anything good for Cyn either. Some things would need to be kept secret.
“How are we going to explain the wonky metabolism?” Alexis asked. She knew from experience that giving Laurel a problem to solve was usually exactly the thing the other woman needed when she had to work through things.
Laurel ran her fingers through her hair. “Altered biology from the retrovirus. True enough. That they’re gained her energy consumption without gaining her hyper-efficient digestive system is a detail they won’t need to know. The retrovirus is tailored to be temporary, presumably to keep buyers coming back—the affected will recover given proper medical attention. The big problem is that the longer this stuff stays on the street, the greater the chance we’ll see people who don’t get to a hospital in time.”
“I’m hoping their organization isn’t too big.” said Alexis. “All we have to go on is some low level dealer operating out of a club. Even with a regular drug ring, he might be the tail end of dozens of bigger suppliers before we get to anyone of worth.”
“Speaking of…” Laurel finally turned around to face her friend. “You told me that the Chalmers guy said this guy would see you coming—I assume that means he has lookouts around the club and a way out. What’s your plan to get at him?”
Despite the other sobering facts surrounding the case, Alexis managed a small smile. “He’s expecting cops or capes. But he can’t be so paranoid that he’ll rabbit whenever someone comes into the club. It would be bad for business for one. So I was thinking… I wasn’t exactly a stranger to clubs not so long ago.”
Laurel raised and eyebrow. “Really? That’s your plan? But what about secret identities?”
The smile grew a fraction. “Oh, L. You really didn’t do the club scene much did you? Superheroes aren’t the only people with alter-egos.”
“People are starting to show up in the hospitals.” said the voice on the other end of the line.
Trey Phan sat upon a stool, hunching over a control panel and holographic screen. He was manipulating the panel to laser-engrave a nano-wafer of silicon and watching the results on the screen. “I figured as much. The Gold will break down in their bodies before any of the primitive quacks they call doctors detect it.
“The way I see it, those are good examples the distributors and myself can point to to stress the importance of following the goddamn instructions. They’re in the hospital because they’re stupid, not because of me. The dosages and dietary requirements are very clear.”
“They’re also showing up in the police blotters. I’m laying that one on your feet.”
“I can lay it right back on yours.” Trey spat. “The Gold is a glorious breakthrough, but its premature to try and use it to replicate active powers. Regeneration, enhanced strength, durability—those are simple because you don’t need to make changes to the mind to use them. It was either using the hormones and mood alteration drugs, have it not work… or give the user a massive stroke every time they used their powers. Maybe in five years…”
“You’re too full off yourself, Phan.” said the caller. “If it wasn’t for me, where would you have the money to do all your interfacing side jobs? Hell, where would you even recharge your batteries, considering how you were living when I first got in contact with you? I am the hand that feeds. Remember that before your constantly running mouth accidentally bites it.”
Trey sniffed dismissively, attention still mostly on his work. “At the same time, where would you be with this if it wasn’t for me? I’ve seen what your other science geeks managed; the stole bio-data, the freezers full of bangers who thought they were going to be the world’s first Super-thug. Mine might be in the hospital, but at least you didn’t have to stasis any of mine to keep them from freezing over the whole lab.”
A huff came through the speakers. “Enough of this. The heart of the matter is, we have goals and means that happen to be conducive to one another. Now we can either continue to further those goals, or we can sit here and measure ourselves for another ten minutes.”
“I’m not the one that called to scold me for flaws I already pointed out.” said Trey with a smirk.
Several seconds passed and Trey imagined his backer was composing himself. “Scolding isn’t the point. I’m emphasizing caution.”
Trey straightened up from what he was doing and stretched lazily like a humanoid cat. “Then why do this in Mayfield at all?”
“Because that’s where the competition is.” replied the caller. “The promise of the Gold is already starting to tip the minor gangs into my camp more than any amount of advanced tech can on his end. And if it works here, where there’s only one other major player, then I can expand into New York, Miami, Atlanta. But it all starts here.”
“Right.” Trey said skeptically. “But it’s also the place with the most organized group of prelates. I notice you’re not here to take the ass-kicking if they manage to backtrack all this to me.”
A cruel, short laugh made Trey wish he could punch the other man in the teeth. “Consider that another incentive to be cautious.” With that, the call ended.
As soon as he was sure the line was clear, Trey let out his own laugh. “Sure, asshole. And if I get taken down, you can take all my data and not have to pay me anymore. Yeah, I get it.”
His fingers flew over the touch screens on the control console and a specimen slide emerged from the machine doing the etching and he gingerly extracted the glass plate in which the nano-wafer was embedded until needed. Under the scope, it looked like a chip, but he knew better, having built himself up to be something of a wizard when it came to altering his own body with every available means: biomechanical and biochemical.
Gold, he’d been instructed, needed to be made and delivered in such a way that it was quick, painless and disposable like a street drug: perfect for gang soldiers or selling to bored idiots with more money than sense.
But after working with the initial form of the stuff, Potentia, Trey knew all of its nuances. As an injectable, it would take years to make it workable; but with a little elective surgery…
“I’m not going out like a bitch though.” said Trey, the implant in his eye switching to microscopic vision so he could admire his handiwork. “And I can be a hell of a lot scarier than you.”
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
Descendants Serial is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.