- 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
Bitter Work (Part 4)
Six Hours Earlier
“This sucks.” Kura pouted, folding her arms and throwing herself down on the soft airport lounge couch beside Warrick. “Two hours until the next flight to Montana? Who knows what might happen to Tammy while we’re waiting for this stupid plane? Or the next three hour layover in Chicago?”
Warrick watched her carefully over his palmtop as he texted. “We’re lucky There’s one even this soon. I don’t think Mayfield to Helena is one of their money-maker routes.”
“Still,” Kura said, leaning her head back until it hit the back of the couch, “You’d think I’d be able to get a charter plane.”
“Cross-country at two in the morning at the last minute?”
Kura looked at him as if he’d asked the dumbest question ever. “Yeah.”
He rolled his eyes and sent another text. “Look, I know you’re getting twitchy over this and I’m kind of afraid to mention it, but a friend of mine from college is actually from Montana and she was going home for the weekend…”
While he couldn’t swear to it, Warrick was sure he saw an actual avaricious light enter Kura’s eyes. “Did her parents charter a plane for her?”
“Um… no. She’s not, you know, rich…” Seeing Kura’s expression fade to frustrated confusion made him wonder if Laurel ever went through a phase where she didn’t know that not everyone had the kind of money someone could swim in. “But she does know Montana. I figured she might be willing to help since we have no idea where we’re going once we land.”
Kura made a sour face, but shrugged. “Okay. So where is she now?”
“Let me check.” said Warrick. On his palmtop, he texted, ‘where r u now?’
The reply came in a few moments, ‘I just got back. took a while to find somewhere to change.’
‘no ldys rm?’ Warrick asked, wondering if there were more people in the airport than he was seeing.
‘couldn’t change here. security would notice someone putting on a disguise. took a pod off site.’
‘on my way.’
Warrick nodded to himself and looked back up at Kura. “She’s on her way over here. Best behavior okay?”
That got a rude noise in reply. “Best behavior? Who is this, your girlfriend? I thought you were dating that redhead—the other one, not the mean one.”
“Believe me, this girl is not my girlfriend.” Warrick said, suppressing a shudder. “But she is my friend and doing us a favor, so no pranks.”
“Why would you think I’d prank…”
“I hear about it when my sister gets in trouble enough to get a call home. I know all about what you two get up to.” Before Kura could mount a defense of her and Tammy antics, they were interrupted by the arrival of Warrick’s friend’.
The word ‘goth’ seemed to both fit and yet fail to capture the true extent to which it applied. She wore a wig of straight, black hair, her face was stark white with heavy make-up, and while she was wearing just a black t-shirt and black jeans with soft boots, she’d accessorized with at least twelve belts wound ’round her waist, arms and legs and eight studs in her ears, brow and nose.
She slouched up to the pair while rummaging through an oversized leather purse. “Sorry I’m late, War.” she drawled, pulling out a pair of round, purple-tinted sunglasses. “Oh, is this the kid sister I’ve heard about?” She held out a hand to Kura, “Nice ta meet ya, I’m Zoe.”
Kura shook her hand, but scoffed. “He’s so not my brother. But we are going to find his sister. You can meet here then!”
Behind the girl’s back, Warrick could only gape.
By the time they got off their second flight, the sun was up, and a whole night’s sleep was gone for Warrick. With Kura in the restroom, he was alone with ‘Zoe’–who he supposed really was Zoe, no scare-quotes necessary—for the first time since Mayfield.
Low on both sleep and patience, he leaned over to her as they stood at the rental car counter and grumbled. “Okay, how the hell?”
Zoe shrugged as if it didn’t really matter. “I only came to the airport expecting to foil facial recognition, not hide in plain sight from a girl who sees me five days a week. I had to improvise and there was an A Darker Me store on the same block as the pod station.”
“The piercings…” Warrick couldn’t help but look at them. He didn’t remember his cousin having anything but a few ear piercings even when he’d seen her as ‘Ms Carroll’.
She gave him the same ‘you are so stupid’ look as Kura had. “Metal control?”
“…Right. And you picked ‘Zoe’ because…”
“It’s easier for you to remember, right?”
Warrick frowned and looked down at the desk. For a minute, he tried to mentally will the clerk to return from wherever he’d disappeared to, but then a question that had been gnawing at him came to the fore. “So… you’re here for Tammy, right? Nothing else.”
“My little cousin is in trouble and a bunch of innocent children are being exploited. If you can find a villainous angle to putting a stop to that, let me know.” She said, tone flat.
“I’m still trying to figure out what you’re doing just chilling out at the Institute.” Warrick admitted. “But right now, I guess we both know where out priorities lie, right?”
Zoe nodded. “Right. Tammy. But with Kura here, doesn’t that mean…”
“It pretty much goes for you too.” Warrick said, “Unless Kura somehow knows about what you do by moonlight, neither one of us can let on to her that we’re anything more than ordinary college students on a mission. Unless it’s a matter of life and death… we’re powerless.”
“Alright campers, for the duration of the nature hike, you will be allowed to use your powers to fill your quotas!” There were two staffers leading the ‘hike’. The one talking was a slight woman with plain looks and lank, brown hair named Ashleigh W. Her partner, Ronnie C was a taller woman with her black hair tied back in a ponytail. Both had the same kind of dart gun as Lisa G in addition to palmtops linked to the arm devices.
Ronnie C took over from there, giving the assembled group of eight teens a critical eye. Aside from Tammy, Falcone and Ced, there were a set of female twins with no visible powers, a young man covered in shaggy, brown fur with oversized hands ending in thick claws like a mole, another young man who had plates of what looked like blue plastic or metal growing out of random points on this skin, and a stocky Korean girl whose only visible manifestation was a two-inch fang poking out of the corner of her mouth.
“For those of you who are new at this, the nature hike it where you work on your plant identification badge. You’ve all got a pack with bags and a sheet on what plants you need to pick up and identify. Now, you can use your powers for this, but if you attract the rangers, we will dose you and you will regret it once your ass gets dragged back here. Got it?”
Neither Tammy nor Falcone bothered doing anything but nodding. The group set off immediately thereafter, following what wasn’t so much a trail as a narrow strip of trampled grass leading away from camp and into the national park.
The lack of trail carried them over rough, steep terrain and both staffers were athletic enough that they didn’t feel the need to pace themselves overly much.
Tammy, ever a city kid who took commuter pods wherever she needed to go, ended up winded and straggling quickly. Falcone and Ced stayed in the back of the group with her to keep either staffer from singling her out.
“What the hell are we doing out here anyway?” Tammy asked. “I saw the leaves you were packing up and those weren’t drugs, so what gives?”
Ced shook his head. “I don’t know exactly. I’ve heard them say they’ve got buyers at drug companies out of the country, so maybe they’re the other kind of drugs. Seein’ as how they need us to pick ’em and want to hide from the rangers, I figure you’re not supposed to pick ’em—you’re probably not supposed to use ’em either.”
“Great.” drawled Tammy, “’What’d you do your first day at camp, sweety?’ ‘I committed some felonies!’. Humph. I guess we don’t have a choice but to go along right now, but let’s get back to my original plan.”
“The one where you get yourself killed on the internet?” asked Falcone.
“The one where I harmlessly knock out all the other fighters so no one else gets killed on the internet.” corrected Tammy.
“Can you really control your lightning so it won’t kill someone?” asked Ced.
Tammy shook her head. “It’s more like my lightning’s not strong enough to hurt anyone too bad unless they’ve got artificial organs or something.”
Falcone gave her a sidelong look. “’Or something’. What if their powers don’t go well with being shocked?”
That made Tammy pull up short, recalling that she knew someone just like that. “Shit. You’re right. Um… maybe we can ask people?”
“Ask the people you’re fighting for points whether or not your powers are their secret weakness?” He gave her a dubious look.
Tammy groaned. “I’m usually not trying to plan around stuff that kills people, okay? Back home, it’s all pranks and stuff, not ‘keep someone from being beaten to death.” She realized she’d gone too far when she saw Ced’s expression sour. “Sorry. That’s not going to happen, I promise. I just need to figure something else out.”
She looked to the sky for inspiration and it failed to give any. “What’s the range on your powers, anyway, Ced?”
“A couple hundred feet.” he said, “But they didn’t unlock me like everyone else—they know what I can do and that it can’t help pick plants.”
“But the do unlock you sometimes, right? You said they make you fix things back at the trailers?”
“Yeah, but they keep an eye on me and dart me when they’re done so I can’t screw with the arm thing.”
Tammy continued on, watching the sky. A smirk twitched its way onto her lips as a plan started to form. “With you around, they probably don’t keep tech support around.” She said matter-of-factly. “And tonight’s fight is going to be webcast… Ha! I know what we’re going to do and no one’s going to have to get hurt—except for the assholes on staff here.”
She fought to keep herself from laughing out loud. It was a great plan. She just wished her brother was around to hear about it.
“Maybe I should drive.” Warrick offered from the back seat of the little yellow sedan that had been waiting for Zoe at the rental car place. It didn’t make any sense to him: he was sure a supervillain would drive fast and reckless, especially on Montana’s famous straightaways without speed limits. From his vantage out the window though, he thought he saw a coyote out in the distance, easily outpacing them.
“Or me!” Kura said with a broad grin from her shotgun seat. “I got my learner’s permit last semester!”
Zoe briefly took one hand (previously at ten and two) off the wheel to message the space between her eyebrows. “Good for you, but neither one of you knows where we’re going and I at least have an idea, so I’m the one driving, okay?”
“But you’re driving so slow!” said Kura. “Tammy could be—Tammy is in trouble right now and we’re moving at granny speed! There aren’t even any other people on the road, give it the gas!”
From the back, Warrick added, “Hate to agree, but we are going super-slow. I mean, I’m a careful driver and even I’d be driving way faster than this.”
Zoe huffed. “Then you aren’t really a careful driver. Did you know that for every mile over sixty-five you go, the chances of an error in the car’s emergency driver override go up? Then suddenly, without warning, the sensors get a false positive, the override swerves to avoid something that isn’t there, and we go off-road, maybe into a ditch, maybe we hit just right and roll. Do either of you know how small the chance of survival is from a rolling crash?”
For a long minute, no one spoke.
Naturally, it fell to Kura to break the silence. “I think I was way better off not knowing that.”
“Agreeing with Kura again. That was kind of… intense, Zoe.” said Warrick.
Zoe’s knuckles had tightened on the wheel until they had gone white. Her gaze remained staunchly on the road. “So was I. In… some of my classes, we learned a lot about how infrastructure can fail or be sabotaged and people in lots of nasty ways.”
The codespeak didn’t get by Warrick. Evidently she had or knew someone who had used that information to kill someone. Given how many enemies a woman like her had, he couldn’t blame her for driving carefully. And here he thought it was all car bombs and cut brake lines.
“That’d be engineering class then?” He asked nervously.
“Criminal Law.” She said with all the finality as one of those rolling crashes.
Unaware and undaunted, Kura made a face. “Safety is fine most of the time, but Tammy’s still in big trouble! We don’t have time to worry about us maybe not being safe when she totally isn’t!”
Warrick couldn’t help but smile. Maybe it was just because he was bone tired, but Kura was growing on him. As weird and unruly as she could be, she was still good people and a good friend to his sister.”
“We won’t be any help to her at all if we get killed on the way.” Zoe defended.
“Kura’s right.” said Warrick, turning his attention out the window again. “The risk to us is small, but Tammy’s definitely in a bad place. Don’t you think facing a little danger is worth it in this case?”
Via the rearview mirror, he saw Zoe glance back at him and her expression soften then immediately harden again. When she spoke, her voice was low, but he clearly made out, “Yes. Yes I do.” right before she floored it.
If they had been going slow just a few miles longer, they would have been passed by a second rental car on its way to the same destination.