- Issue #73 – Give Thanks
- Issue #74 – Bit Part Bad Guys
- Issue #75 – Kaiju for Christmas
- Issue #76 – Silicon Soul, Adamantine Will
- Issue #77 – Date Night
- Issue #78 – Delved Too Deep (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 1)
- Issue #79 – Tome of Secrets (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 2)
- Descendants Special #7 – The Curtain Rises
- Issue #80 – Bitter Work
- Issue #81 – Kin, Speed and Ducks
- Issue #82 – What To Do With Your Downtime
- Issue #83 – Avalon Rises
- Issue #84 – Darkness Falling
- Descendants Annual #7 – First Frost
Delved Too Deep (Part 1)
“So is it okay for us to hang out in public like this?”
Kareem, sitting at the very top of the step-like concrete seating of the Wagner Park amphitheater with his legs crossed, looked around. Despite Callie’s phrasing, they weren’t exactly ‘in public’. There were only a handful of people lounging about and none of them were within throwing distance of them aside from Lisa and JC two tiers below them and Kay lying on her back playing with her palmtop not far away.
He suspected that Warrick had filled the newest full member of the team’s head full of the ‘sanctity’ of secret identities over the past week following Joykiller’s defeat and Callie’s introduction to the team, but couldn’t be sure. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
Callie continued to pace the edge of the top tier, arms splayed out for balance. She was bundled up against the relatively minor chill in a padded silver coat with a red and yellow scarf Juniper had given her as a welcome-to-the-team present. “Well, I mean people know I’m Vamanos. I’ve even been on regional TV and stuff. Wouldn’t people guess who you guys are because of that?”
“Did you?” Kay asked without looking away from her screen the internet was slow and showing weird glitches anyway.
“Kind of.” said Callie thoughtfully. “Not well, but kind of.”
Kareem chuckled softly, recalling some of the off guesses she’d made. “I doubt there’s any great danger. You can thank Lily for that: the public assumption is that The Descendants are a group of adult prelates that needed to be strong-armed into giving a young woman such as you a chance.”
Callie turned on her heel, still balancing on the edge, overbalanced, and had to use her powers to quickly correct herself. “I guess…”
“Don’t worry yourself overmuch. As I assume you can tell: we thought long and hard about these things before trusting you with all this. Speaking of which: any more questions?”
Over the past week, everyone had taken their turn schooling Callie in Descendants history from their own perspective. Today, she was learning the finer points of the magical world from Lisa and the astral plane from Kareem.
Ever the eager student, she had a question ready and paused in her pacing to ask it. “You talked about what different people and things look like, you know, from the other side… but why do they look like that?”
Kareem spread his hands expansively and shrugged. “I wish I could tell you. For some people, their astral form seems to signify something about who they are, thought it could be based on their interpretation or what others think of them. For others, there seems to be some sort of symbolism attached that I cannot fathom, often with oddly religious significance.
“My parents study the astral and even they have not found an explanation for this. The popular theory in the field is that practitioners of early religions were somehow capable of seeing the astral while in religious trances.”
Callie considered this while continuing her next turn. “Maybe they were using magic?”
Hearing her cue, Lisa cut off whatever she and JC were talking about and looked up at Callie. “It’s totally possible, seeing as there was way more magic back in the day before Morganna… I wouldn’t go around saying it too loudly. People wouldn’t be too happy with you suggesting some of their religious figures were wizards.”
“Why?” Callie asked, “That would be kind of cool, wouldn’t it?”
Kay sat her palmtop aside and sat up. Her hair that was was white with silver highlights. “Seriously, that would be cool. And it’d be way better if my ancestors were actually magic instead of dumbasses just deciding they were magic because they believed in spirits and stuff.”
She pouted, running a hand through here hair. “But nooo, the 4 Books don’t even have anything but European, Russian and African magic in them. Totally sucks, I wanted to learn like a literal Ghost Dance and joint the team as Coyote or something.”
“Your ancestors didn’t even have Coyote stories. Or a ghost dance.” said Lisa, “Also, it feels weird that I’m the one that’s vaguely offended by that instead of you.”
“We totally have Coyote stories.” Kay defended. “And Bear Doctors. Holy crap, that would be a badass super-name: Bear Doctor. Did you know they were allowed to kill like four people a year?”
“Not exactly, ‘heroic’ there, Kay.” JC smirked.
Kay shrugged. “So I’d kill robots or something. Anyway, the astral isn’t what you need to be worried about anyway, Callie. The astral is like the street you cross to get into the bad neighborhood. The bad place is Faerie.”
“What about the place those evil yellow rocks came from?” JC asked.
Kay waved it off. “They’re pretty clearly form space… or something. ‘Warpstar’, he pretty much spells it out. Anyway, the books has a lot to say about Faerie and none if it’s good. I’ve been reading that part even more than Lisa has and geez are we lucky it’s just us and Morganna that know how to get there. The demons and evil elf dudes aren’t even close to the nasties that could follow someone home from there.”
Laurel highly suspected that Paridiso Skyline Cafe held workshops to teach their waiters how to affect that awful, stereotypically snooty accent. “Yes?”
“Your guest.” The waiter gestured for the man he was escorting and nodded as if giving him permission to approach her.
He very well might have needed it. Henry Gray looked, in Laurel’s opinion rather dapper in his suit, partly because of his boyishly chubby cheeks and slightly stocky figure rather than despite them. That said though, he clearly didn’t belong in a place like Paridiso Skyline Cafe. It wasn’t just because his suit wasn’t tailor-made, but because he was looking at the not entirely tasteful, expensive decorations and the river view from ninety stories up with open awe.
When his eyes met hers, however, he made an effort to reign it in. After giving a nod to the waiter to see him off, he gave her a smile. “Laurel, it’s great to see you again.” He took her hand in a brief, gentlemanly hold before seating himself across from her.”
“You too, Henry.” Laurel replied. It was her second real-life date with the game developer for Superior Imaging and Design after a few months of online courtship, and she was already thinking Paridiso was a bit much for him. “I hope my choice for lunch wasn’t to…”
Braggy? Not a word, but it was correct. Ostentatious? Well yes, but using that word made her sound more so. Ridiculously Privileged? God yes. Why the hell did she pick this place, their grilled salmon burger? Well yes, but that was a stupid reason. Seventh smartest person in the world, huh? She should get herself tested again.
Henry saved her from herself. “No, it’s nice. Really nice. I probably shouldn’t have picked a diner for out first date last month…”
“No, that was perfect.” said Laurel. “I’d never even had a malted milkshake before.” She smiled warmly. “Besides, it’s not where you are, it’s the company. How’s work? I heard you’re the lead on Bad History 3.”
That made him laugh. “I should have known you’d have access to industry leaks. But yeah, it’s going good. The script is insane though. I know you’re into gaming, so I’ll see if I can’t get you into the beta. Between you and me, if you’re going to do online competitive in it, pick the Scythians; they’re completely broken and the producers won’t let me balance them.”
“I know some college kids who are going to get their butts kicked then.” Laurel said with a grin.
“So how about you?” Henry asked. “How are things going with the adoption?” He’d impressed her with how naturally he’d taken to talking about it, especially since Cyn in her infinite enthusiasm, still had trouble articulating the concept.
A wistful look crossed her face. “Two days away. It finalizes on Monday and then I’ll be a mom.”
Henry nodded along with her bliss. “That’s great to here. I can’t wait to meet her after everything you’ve said about her.”
Before Laurel could reply, her palmtop rang—and not with a tone she could ignore.
She coughed uncomfortably. “I’m really sorry, I have to take this.”
Disappointment flashed over Henry’s face, but he recovered quickly. “Oh, of course. You’re a busy woman after all.”
After thanking him for being understanding, Laurel made her way over to one of the privacy cubicles located just off the coat check. It wasn’t much one of a handful of small rooms with locking frosted glass doors that were soundproof and had little ledges that could serve as workspace for a professional doing some impromptu business.
One quick bug sweep later, she returned the call, tapping in the security codes as necessary. “General.” she said when Lewis Pratt finally came on the line.
“Codex.” replied the General. “No pleasantries today because what we have here is anything but pleasant. Doesn’t pass the smell test either if you know what I mean, but since it concerns you and your group, you ought to be kept informed.”
“I thought we weren’t going to use pleasantries, General.” She was already preparing herself for whatever crisis was brewing.
The General grunted. It might have been a sardonic laugh or just discomfort over the situation. “Someone called us.” He waited a beat to let that sink in. They didn’t call the police or the FBI or anyone else that would escalate it to the ROCIC: they called the top secret division directly. “It’s Simon Talbot.”
Laurel’s free hand clenched into a fist. Talbot was the former administrator of the Psionics Training and Application Academy. It was he who oversaw the kidnappings and putting innocent children in stasis. It was he who was ultimately responsible for indirectly implicating Alexis in the monstrous dealings the school undertook. There was a subroutine in her Vimes web-crawler dedicated to searching for him and hm alone after he went to ground after the Academy was exposed.
“He wants immunity, doesn’t he?” She guessed, numbly.
“In return, he’s willing to lead us to a Tome facility that’s currently in operation: Deep Twenty-three. He says it has a full staff of scientists and mercenaries as well as a self-contained mainframe. There could be a lot of information.” General Pratt’s voice was grave. “And it could be a massive trap. He wants to talk to you.”
It took a minute for Laurel to tamp down the rage she felt at the idea of Talbot getting away with what he’d done. Finally, she went over everything and considered relevant questions. “If he told you all this, what’s the point of talking to me? How does he even know we’re connected?”
“I get the feeling the slimy little bastard knows a lot of things. My superiors are advising we take him up on it, then haul his ass in for questioning the next time he so much as gets a parking ticket.”
He wouldn’t get a parking ticket, of course, Laurel thought. He’d use the borrowed time to disappear more completely, beyond the reach of both Tome and the ROCIC. But then, there were things she could do to track him that the government couldn’t. Not legal things, but them Tome operated outside of the legal realm, they all knew that now, following the Braddock Island breakout and the revelation that Tome had control of at least two members of Congress.
“Put him on. I doubt you’ll be able to track him, but do your best.”
“Alright. Just a second.”
There was a click, followed by a persistent electronic hiss that sounded like interference. “Codex, I presume?”
“Talbot.” Laurel said in monotone. “It sounds like you’ve decided to flip on your bosses in exchange for immunity—what does that have to do with me?”
Talbot’s voice as smooth and cultured, not the voice of a traitor worried about being found out. There was worry there, but the kind of worry of a practiced first responder going through the motions to being an emergency under control. “Because I’ve been watching the actions of the Descendants ever since the day our mutual friend ‘Darkness’ knocked Prometheus on his ass to save the man who would be named ‘Chaos’. Yes, your database wipe of the old Academy files didn’t get my offline archive—amusing that they used the same codenames they entered into the online yearbook.”
It was a line intended to shock, but Laurel didn’t react. Tome knew who they were. That was a given from day one. “Yes, you have information you haven’t used in two years. Congratulations, Mr. Talbot. Do please get to the point.”
“I saw footage of you and Occult against the daoine and his flowbeast.”
That shocked. Not that he’d seen it, but that he was using the correct names. She remained silent and regulated her breathing.
“I know about Faerie. Tome. Tome knows about Faerie. They know how to get there too. I was against it until we knew more, but the Board saw great potential in plundering a whole other world of its resources.”
He took a moment to let that sink in, then quickly shifted gears. “A hypercog like you probably reads a lot just to keep from getting bored. I’m no super-genius, but I read a lot too. Have you read Lord of the Rings?”
“The point, Talbot.” Laurel said through clenched teeth.
Talbot chuckled, or rather forced himself to make a sound a lot like chucking. “I’m talking about Moria, Codex.”
Too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear. Laurel’s eidetic memory supplied the line without prompting. She’d read what the Book of Reason let her see about Faerie. There were plenty of nameless fears out there.
Apparently more of a fan of the films, Talbot paraphrased, “Our team delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness: shadow and flame.”
Forcing her nerves to come to heel, Laurel demanded, “What is this about?”
“Vouch for my immunity and I’ll send coordinates as soon as I have the President’s e-sig on it. Do it fast enough, and the Descendants might be able to save the day. I await the General’s reply.” With that, the line disconnected back to the ROCIC. The hiss of interference got temporarily worse, a keening sound that sounded like whale song if the whale was being tasered.
“Anything?” Laurel asked automatically.
“He was bouncing the call off of one of our own satellites with a printed phone.” said General Pratt. “Nothing. What the hell was he talking about there? Another crossover?”
Laurel nodded in spite of herself. Not only did she have to keep it together in front of the General, but Henry too when she had to go out there and end their date. “A very bad one too, if he’s telling the truth. I’m sure the ROCIC has interrogated intelligent crossovers you haven’t told us about; is there any light you can shed?”
“I’ll have to get back to you on there. If that program exists, it isn’t under my command. You think it’s worth immunity?”
She thought on it. Saying ‘no’ would be satisfying, but wouldn’t be right for anyone. Talbot would get his, even if he won a battle or two along the way. “I do. If this base exists, finding out where it is and shutting down whatever method they’re using to access Faerie before something awful comes through is our top priority.”
“Then I’ll notify the Joint Chiefs and the President.”
In his office, Simon Talbot clicked his palmtop off. The thud of a cane and the unmistakable sound of respirators told him he was no longer alone before his all-too-expected guest spoke.
“I didn’t approve this.” Morgan Flint’s voice was a hateful rasp as always.
“The Board did.” said Talbot, not turning around. “When we got Deep Twenty-three’s final transmissions, plus the developments in Nevada, they called me and were most adamant that I fix it.”
Flint left the doorway where he stood and came toward Talbot. Thump. Thump. Thump. He was pounding the cane into the floor more forcefully than he needed to. “We cannot lose that facility. Do you know what we’ve found already just from that one island?”
Talbot went around his desk to where he kept his Scotch. Even if Flint wasn’t there, he would need a drink after the morning he’s had. “We’ve already lost Deep Twenty-three. Haven’t you seen the satellite images? I don’t even know how the damn thing even fit through the gate.”
“We can rebuild it. Or could rebuild it if you hadn’t just traded it for something as paltry as walking around without a warrant hanging over your head.”
Ignoring him, Talbot fixed his drink without offering any to unwanted guests. “Believe it or not, this isn’t just to save my own perfectly-sculpted glutes. The Board wouldn’t have let me supersede you if they thought it was. To put it bluntly, we don’t have the resources to stop this thing. Nothing we have or can do will do more than inconvenience it. This was the only solution.”
He gulped down the Scotch and waited for the burn to subside. “Otherwise? Best case scenario, we lose Deep Ten. Worse? It levels everything in its path between it and Deep Ten. And let me remind you: both of us are in this for money and power—and there’s no power in a nation in ruins.”
Flipping the tumbler upside down, he slammed it up on the table’s surface and prepared to leave. “So sit back and let the ‘heroes’ do their job, Mr. Flint. Board’s orders.”
He left Morgan standing in the middle of the office. It should have made the old man furious, but the various and sundry medical equipment hooked into and implanted in his body didn’t register a single sign of rage. He took a deep breath, aided by the machines attached to his lungs.
Interesting. And useful.