- 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 5)
Tink watched as Warrick worked his way around the long-range astral transceiver He wasn’t really paying attention, letting Isp and Osp cut the chains that kept the machine in place while in transit and only moving when the tentacles prompted him.
There was only a slight consolation to here that he didn’t look haunted or hurt, only… conflicted.
Even so, that was enough for her to toss a glare toward the cargo ramp where Darkness had exited the jet. “She shouldn’t have talked to you like that.” She finally said, coming around to his side so she could run a diagnostic with her palmtop.
Shaken out of his thoughts, he blinked at her a moment before processing what she’d said. “Sorry, just…”
“Upset for her upbraiding you in the field?”
She raised an eyebrow at him, forgetting he couldn’t see it under her goggles. “Really? Because I am. Maybe I wasn’t there, but both you and Cyn have told me enough to know that it was you guys who had to convince her of the value of saving lives. If you’ve got qualms, she should accept that it’s for a good reason.”
Warrick finally set himself in motion, unchocking the heavy-duty wheels mounted beneath the device and reaching up to unlatch the more delicate bindings on the smaller moving parts. “Yeah, but I’m not sure if she’s right or not. These people don’t know what’s coming and it’s not like we can scream ‘dragon’ and expect them to believe us. So are they really choosing to stay in the face of danger, or does it not count because they don’t know everything?”
“She wasn’t even considering that.” said Tink. She took out her multitool, flipped out a knife, and cut some plastic sheeting away from the large, executive office chair situated at the read of the machine, facing the console.
They worked in silence for a few minutes in which Juniper and Cyn flew out from the passenger cabin on their way to their assignments and Callie ran out with Melissa in tow, planning to drop her off on her way to her own duties.
Finally, the transceiver rig was unpacked and ready to roll out. Only then did Warrick finally catch Tink’s eye. “So what about you?”
“What about me what?”
“What do you think about the whole thing?”
Tink shrugged, “I don’t really know. They don’t know, but given their reaction, I don’t think they’d leave if they did know. Plus, I don’t see us busting into end-of-life clinics and ‘saving’ the patients. It sucks, but…” She could only just shrug again because she didn’t know what else to say.
When he only nodded, she took a breath and gestured to the rig. “But if this works? We won’t have to deal with it just yet. Let’s get this rolled out and online so Kareem can try and make this whole thing moot in the first place.”
Kay almost didn’t want to admit it, but with most of the others off on missions, Kareem mentally preparing himself to confront the dragon, and Lisa on the comm with Ian about something, she was starting to get bored.
In the field. With her superhero buddies. In a ninja jet.
The internet was still glitchy and moving even slower as whatever the dragon was doing started to have greater effect. Not only that, but her copy of the digi-Book of Reason had stopped showing her information on dragons and started showing simple tracking spells for no apparent reason. Knowing the Book, it might have thought such a thing would be important, but if it was, it wasn’t apparent yet.
With nothing better to do, she got up and ambled up to the flight deck.
Laurel was still there, manning about a dozen screens at once. One showed video feed that looked like someone chucked their camera into a tornado. Code along the bottom of the image looked military. That didn’t bode well for the attempted drone strike.
“How’s everything going up here?” She asked, unsure of is she should be distracting a hypercog at work.
The older woman shook her head. “The navy is about to try firing a rail gun at it. I’m not even sure the round is going to hit once it passes into that wind wall. The Atlantic fleet doesn’t have anything laser equipped to take the shot, so General Pratt is trying to get authorization for a Damocles drop.”
Sliding into the seat next to Laurel, Kay took in the other monitors. One was just a running scroll of a bunch of different synonyms for certain words being run in sequence, looking for any that made sense as sentences. “What’s Damocles?”
While her eyes never left her screens, Laurel still somehow managed a smile that Kay knew was meant for her. It was tired and less optimistic than usual, but it was certainly there to let her know she was welcome in her space. “Three satellites in orbit over the Earth loaded with tungsten rods.”
“I don’t get how they think that’s going to hurt a dragon.”
Laurel chuckled at the naivete. “Almost anything you drop from orbit is going to generate a lot of energy, but it’s likely to break up in the atmosphere. Tungsten can hold up to the friction and heat and deliver all that energy to whatever it hits. In terms of power… well there’s a reason they nicknamed it Rods From God. It’s meant to crack fortified bunkers, so they hope it’ll do damage to this thing.”
“Oh, good. Both of you are here.” Lisa appeared at the door to the flight deck, palmtop in hand. “We have a magic question. From Chaos.”
Laurel blinked. Ian still had been slowly adapting to the amount of magic they were now using, but he never called on it or suggested it himself. She suspected that even beyond the animosity he’d grown for it thank to Morganna, he felt like it was cheating in some way.
“Ian? Why is he asking about magic?”
“My guess?” Lisa said, discreetly putting her thumb over the mic, “It has to do with whatever Darkness was upset about because… it’s pretty crazy. So crazy, I’m not sure magic can even pull it off.”
That wasn’t something to be said lightly. While some spells had requirements that might involve architects and reagents that were no longer available on planet Earth in any reasonable form, there was a lot that magic could do. Conversely, there were some powerful but highly situational tricks that could be done with a piece of chalk and a flat surface the size of a deck of cards.
Laurel knew this just as well as Lisa and Kay. “What’s he asking?”
Removing her thumb from the mic so Chaos could hear her ask, Lisa relayed his reasoning. “He knows about how I use the astral to teleport, the astral gate I used at Dayspring College, and about that spell we found to shunt any object into the astral plane.”
Even a hyper-cognitive mind couldn’t figure out where this was going, so Laurel merely listened.
“So he wanted to know if it was possible to shunt the entire town into the astral.” Lisa finally said plainly.
That got Laurel to look up from her screens. “What? No. Seriously…”
She switched on her comm. “Chaos, that’s… you don’t know what you’re asking.”
On the comm, Chaos gawped at her suddenly coming on the line. “Look, it’s to solve the problem of the people who won’t leave. We only need to keep it up until the dragon’s passed. You did say it was moving super-fast.”
Even though she knew he couldn’t see, Laurel shook her head violently. “There’s no ‘just’, Chaos. First of all, we’re talking about an incredible amount of mass. It would set of astral storms more violent than the wind wall we’re facing here and we have no idea what happens when huge swathes of the astral get wiped out. Not only that, but we literally can’t do that. Morganna might have been that powerful with her tower…”
“I thought we had her tower… thing now.” said Chaos.
“And no idea how to make it work yet.” Laurel pointed out. “But even beyond that point, you forget what we ran into at Dayspring. There are things that live in the Astral. Predators that target magic and emotion. We can’t…”
Her eyes landed on the screen trying to make sense of the cuneiform phrase. “We can… “ Seed had been swapped out for ‘progeny’ in the latest permutation. “’Who has trouble my progeny?” Eidetic memory kicked in, recalling all the other words that might fit better instead of ‘trouble’. “’Who has been hurting my progeny?’ Oh god.”
“Codex?” Chaos asked.
Skilled fingers were tapping the screen, dismissing the translations and web reports of the glitch. Even though she knew her memory was perfect, she preferred to have something to show the others. From the file she kept on possible crossovers from Faerie, she pulled an article from April of 2075. It was about a ‘monster’ killing cattle in Montana. There were a few long-distance, off-center photographs of something reptilian with what might have been wings moving through heavy brush.
A later article was a blog post about a group of ranch owners banding together to go kill it—only to be interrupted by what they angrily described as ‘government types’.
Finally, she opened the files she kept on the enemies of the Descendants and pulled two known Tome agents: Maleficent and Beowulf.
“Talbot, you stupid, arrogant son of a bitch.” she breathed. “You didn’t ‘delve too deep’, you stepped between a mother bear the size of a skyscraper and her cub.”
“What now?” Kay asked, head spinning as she looked at the articles. “You’re saying this thing is a baby dragon? They caught a baby dragon and… and…” She knew a bit about what Tome had planned to do to her friends and the scars from what they had done to Juniper. “Oh shit. No wonder mama wants to hurricane humanity off the map.”
Laurel stood up. “We know what it… she (maybe) wants now. Ephemeral, get down to Alloy and Renaissance right now, I know what you need to say. I just don’t know if she’ll understand or care. This changes nothing yet: everyone stick to your assignments until we know more.”
With that, she switched off her comm and pulled out her palmtop.
“And what are you gonna do?” Kay asked.
Laurel brought up the number she needed and dialed. “Trying to stay the sword of Damocles.”
The transceiver rig was built on the back of a light earthmover with everything but the chassis ripped out and replaced. It was dominated by a communications antenna with eight radial spars curving out from behind it to focus incoming transmissions. This was wired to a computer designed to translate and record signals from the astral frequencies alongside some minor medical equipment on hand in case Ephemeral encountered complications.
There was no engine and only a modest power supply for the communications array itself, so Warrick and Tink, now fully garbed as Alloy and Renaissance, pushed it down the cargo ramp manually and chocked the wheels once they had it oriented in an easterly direction.
By the time all the diagnostics were done and the rig was fully operational, Kareem in his Ephemeral costume had arrived.
“I just wish we had time to test this.” Renaissance said, carefully applying sensor pads to his temples. “The prototype worked, but that was one test and you had the Mayfield transceiver network to fall back on. There’s nothing like that in the middle of the Atlantic.”
He smiled at her. “I have nothing but confidence in your and Codex’s abilities when it comes to technology. Besides, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that communication is our only hope: many lives depend on it, so I wouldn’t hesitate even if I didn’t have full faith in this design.”
Alloy looked off to the east. Meridian Beach’s actual beach and the ocean beyond was concealed by hills and trees a mile or so off. His imagination painted the image or a gigantic dragon, belching fire and fury coming over those hills.
“You got a speech prepared, man?”
“Right now, I am more concerned with my first impression while getting the dragon’s attention. I have never attempted to communicate with something larger than an inugami, so I’m not even certain it will notice me.”
Renaissance gestured to the rig. “We might be able to help with that. Using your parents’ research, I’ve designed an experimental astral amplifier. It’s part of why the array has such a long ranger, but I might be able to increase your ‘volume’… if that’s even the right word.”
Ephemeral nodded. “If I think we might need it, I will signal you. Let us hold of on that for now. Effectively screaming might convince the dragon we are trying to attack it.”
“You got it.” She said, getting out of the way so that he could climb up into the comfortable executive chair situated behind the dish. After making sure all the sensor pads were transmitting properly, she gave him a thumbs up. “We’re standing by to broadcast whenever you’re ready.”
Rather than answer, Ephemeral settled into the seat, closed his eyes, and cast his consciousness from his body.
On the astral plane, Kareem knew that he could move at the speed of though, limited only by the distance he could move from his body. That limit came in the form of an invisible tether he could only sense and the astral transceivers Laurel invented two years earlier were effectively extensions to that tether.
In the presence of the new, more powerful device, however, he barely felt that connection at all, as if there was so much slack in the chain that he was limited only by its weight. As that had never happened before, he moved with more caution, tentatively shifting himself to his natural limit and then slowly drifting farther.
His initial tether analogy seemed to be correct, as the tension of the thing seemed to gradually increase as he moved forward as the ‘slack’ played out.
Before he knew it, he was some fifty miles off shore and just now starting to feel the limits of the new transceiver. He barely noticed though because of the sight that appeared before him through the rosy haze of the astral plane.
Astral bodies were usually highly symbolic representations of beings capable of emotion. Mostly they were just color-shifted reflections with representations to major emotional anchors or mindsets. The dragon’s astral body… was its own body.
No color shifting, no symbolism. And yet it was still grandiose and awe-inspiring.
The satellite images failed to capture the scale, grace and fluidity of motion or the nearer details. White-green eyes with no apparent pupil or whites glowed softly, casting shadows across a face twice as wide as a semi truck and glistening off sinuous horns. Behind, the wings moved rapidly, more like an incest of hummingbird’s than he expected of a dragon. As it moved, the dragon’s body undulated as if it were swimming through the air, exhibiting serpentine adrenaline.
For a moment, Kareem was struck speechless, but that was soon trumped by the realization that he was directly in the beast’s path. Not only that, be he knew for a fact that he was the last obstacle between the dragon’s killing winds and innocent people.
Mustering every shred of will he had, he forced himself to calm and tapped his mental powers.
He expected something overwhelming, something alien. But the mind he found there was much the same as every conscious mind he’d ever come in contact with: an electron cloud of surface thoughts forming an atmosphere around a vast, tangled knot of learned responses, memory, and imagination. The only difference was the number of memories and the orderly nature of the tangle. This was a being who had existed thousands of years and somehow managed to keep its every thought and fancy in near-pristine order.
Emboldened by not finding an alien landscape he needed to decipher, Kareem tentatively reached out.
Hello. Can you hear me? I mean no harm. In fact, I believe I can help you.
The cloud of surface thoughts stirred, but the dragon never faltered in its forward momentum.
Please. He tried again. If you continue on your way, you will kill many innocents. There are other ways to find what you are looking for.
The looming head of the dragon was filling his vision now. It wasn’t turning, wasn’t making any move to avoid him. It had no need to, he soon realized, no more than a car needed to swerve to avoid an insect.
Whatever attempts to parley he had in mind, he didn’t see any of them working anymore. He had time for one more try and then he would have to withdraw. Maybe with amplification…
We know the man who has hurt your child! He mentally shouted for all he was worth. He is our enemy.