- 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 5)
“Okay. Super-hungry now.” Falcone muttered. “I haven’t eaten since the night before last because these assholes.”
It was well past noon, at least as far as Tammy could tell, and they were on their way back after Ronnie C called them back due to spotting a Forestry Service drone in the air nearby. Evidently, without the drone, they would have been in the park much longer without food or water. Tammy made sure to point that out aloud to Ced and Falcone.
In fact, Falcone was starting to worry her. He’d been slowing down more and more on the walk back, stopping to lean against trees and even flopping down on the ground whenever he thought the staffers wouldn’t notice. Not that the whole group wasn’t starting to feel the effects; one or two of the other teens had canteens with them, but after drinking what they’d bought with them, hadn’t found a place to refill them, nor had the time to look while seeking out the demanded plants.
Both Ronnie C and Ashleigh W had backpack-mounted water bottles and energy bars, not to mention having sat on their asses the whole time the teens were off picking plants. They were both full of energy and properly hydrated on the way back.
“Hey, we’re almost back.” Tammy said, going back to Falcone, who was leaning against a tree again.
The boy flinched away from her. “Don’t touch me!” When she jumped back, he gave her an apologetic look. “Sorry. It’s just that I’m really tired right now and when I’m tired, I lose control of my stickiness.” He pulled his hand way from the tree, taking a chunk of bark with it and leaving a hand print that looked like it had been etched into the wood with acid. “See?”
Tammy shivered. “Yeah. But just… hang in there. We’ll be back to the camp in a little bit and I’ll throw my plants in with yours so you can get something to eat.”
Her stomach took that opportunity to rumble. She’d missed her pizza dinner the night before.
“I’ll be fine.” said Falcone, putting on a brave face that looked more like he was disgusted by something.
“At least you’ll be able to sit down once we get back.” offered Ced. “That’s the one good thing about the ‘nature walks’; you don’t have to do the heavier work they make other people do. Plus, the fights start around two and the staffers all like to watch.”
He said the last part with a scowl, casting an eye to the sky. “It’s probably past two now.”
“You don’t think they’re already making your friend fight, do you?” asked Tammy.
Ced shook his head. “Not this early. The less skilled and less powerful kids fight in the afternoon and the big, flashy fights are at night. Chris is pretty powerful, so…”
“Then we’ve got time.” said Tammy. “Do they let us watch the fights?”
“If someone wants to. Only the kids that actually need to be in a juvvie camp somewhere really stay around and watch. They like sizing up competition.”
Falcone pushed off the tree he’d been leaning on, feeling a little better. “Speaking of… why are you and your friend here anyway?”
That made Ced sigh. “I threw a big party while my parents were out. There was drinking, things got out of control… some people got into a fight. I called the cops because they weren’t even anyone I invited, but my parents decided I was getting into the wrong crowd anyway. I don’t think they knew how this place really was.”
“And Chris?” Tammy asked.
“I think Chris’s parent’s knew. Chris is a protomorph and not one of the kinds that can use stuff built for regular people easily. Chris’s parents didn’t take it well.”
Falcone made an unhappy noise. “I’ve heard that one before.”
Nodding in agreement, Ced shrugged. “That’s the thing: they say this place is some kind of correctional thing, and yeah, some kids got sentenced here, but anyone that wants to just dump their kid here for two months can do it, no questions asked.”
“Some of the ones that got sentenced here shouldn’t have either—even if this place wasn’t really a labor camp.” said Tammy. “I read up on this place before I came here and there are like three judges under investigation for taking bribes to sentence kids to Black Oak camps.”
Ced glared at the backs of the staffers far ahead of them. “The bullshit just gets worse and worse doesn’t it?”
Tammy reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “Yeah, but not for much longer. Listen guys, I’m going to come clean with you: I didn’t just get booted here by my parents. I’m actually here getting video proof of the illegal things they do here.”
She lifted her chin so they could get a better look at the choker she wore.
“I’m here to take this place down—how would you two like to help?”
On the opposite end of the Black Oak camp, from the RVs, there was a valley between hills where the action of a small stream had worn away all of the earth, leaving bare stone. More than two centuries ago, one of the hills had been cut away by miners and over the years, the mine itself had collapsed, but the uneven defile around the old shaft remained, bare except for a few stubborn trees.
There was little use for it now except as a secluded arena for under-aged descendant combat.
One of the combatants of the moment, a young woman of seventeen, just a few months shy of being legally free and clear of the Black Oak camp, backed slowly away from her opponent, a twelve year-old who nonetheless stood six feet tall with matted black fur and leathery, brown natural armor not unlike an armadillo’s plates ranging across his head, shoulders and back. She brushed her shoulder-length brown hair out of her face and made a ‘bring it on’ gesture to the protomorphic tween.
He took the bait easily and let out a challenging shout before charging, leading with his shoulder. He had no training for a fight, but he knew enough about his own powers to know that his armor would absorb and redirect the impact into a powerful blow.
Back up one of the hills, out of the sight-lines of the tiny quad-rotor cameras that captured the battle form all angles, and out of the way of the staffers operating both the cameras and the internet feed, a man with gray skin with a gaunt appearance readied himself to go down and tend to the girl after what was sure to be a disastrous impact. He was the only protomorph on staff—in fact, the only descendant.
As it happened though, his powers weren’t needed.
The girl thrust her hands out to either side of her and a blue flash seemed to emanate from underneath the black sweatshirt she wore and travel down her arms to her hands. From her hands, the flash erupted as three flares from each, zig-zagging out from her before expanding into identical facsimiles of the girl, only with a shade of blue replacing every color present on her, from skin to clothing.
As soon as they formed, the six copies sprang into action as the original dodged to the side. One met the oncoming protomorph head-on, bracing herself and extending her arms as if to catch him. At the same time, two others ran off to the sides and two more fell back behind the braced copy while the final copy stood right beside her ‘sister’.
It wasn’t surprising when the armored teen plowed into the braced copy. The impact struck her so hard that she shattered into a flurry of bluish motes. At the same time, the copy standing beside the doomed one stuck out her foot and caught the charging kid’s leg, tripping him.
He might have caught himself, but at that moment, the two who had broken off dove at his back to deliver a hard shove. The would-be juggernaut hit the hard ground hard enough to make his teeth clack together, and before he could get his wits back about him, all five surviving copies, plus the original had leapt on top of him, mobbing him back to the ground and holding him pinned.
Back up the hill, one of the staffers controlling the cameras growled. “That’s it?! No one’s going to feel like they got their thirty dollars a month worth if they keep getting fights that only last thirty seconds!” He turned back to the small knot of ‘campers’ sitting further up the hill, both watching and waiting their turns. “Alright, listen here. If you don’t give me at least two minutes, you get no points for the fight at all, you got me?”
Most of the group nodded, if reluctantly. Most of them were there because they were told they had to be.
The staffer, who also happened to be the producer for the fights, scowled at them and took note of who didn’t nod. Specifically, a slightly girl near the back. She was a protomorph, which always meant ratings, and from the moment she saw her brought into camp, he knew he needed to use her in the fights.
Standing at around six-five, her skin was white with gray streaks like marble and just as hard by all accounts (They’d needed a drill to install her control arm band). Her hair was stiff like the tines of a wire brush and grew like a foot-tall, green mohawk along the top of her head. Best off all, from the producer’s point of view, she had claws; four-inch, green claws that cut up anything and everything she tried to touch unless she wore a special set of gloves. Fights go higher views if blood got drawn and they could afford it with the protomorphic healer on staff.
He threw a cruel smirk in her direction. “Now who here can get down there and last more than a minute?”
What he’d planned was for no one to volunteer so he could pick. What he got was a lanky girl with red-brown hair hopping to her feet and shouting, “Yo! Right here! Give me a crowbar or something and I’ll give you a hell of a show, boss man.”
The producer looked down to consult his tablet to figure out who she was and found no one of her description listed for the fights that day. “Who are you?”
Tammy gave him a little wave, hamming it up as much as possible. “Tammy, but you guys keep calling me Talia and no one calls me Talia. Also, because it probably matters, my powers are awesome. I shoot lightning.”
“Hmm.” The producer looked her over. That could be a decent draw, but he doubted lightning could do anything to the marble-skinned girl. “Alright. You and…” He consulted his list, “C. McGinty. Both of you get down there.”
“D-do I have to?” A voice came from the other side of the group. It belonged to another protomorph, this one a short kid of maybe fourteen with sandy hair in a bowl cut and sharp, red-green scales growing all over his arms and neck. Said scales has already shredded the lower arms of the sweater he was wearing.
The producer gave him a baleful look. “Unless you want to see what happens when I get upset, then yes. Get your ass down there.”
The kid whimpered, but got to his feet. Tammy gave him an apologetic look, but started down the hill nonetheless.
As the pair headed down and the previous fighters made their way up, Falcone started to get up too, only for Ced to stop him. “Hey, don’t try and interrupt or he’ll turn your arm thing on.”
Falcone’s eyes seemed to blaze. “Yeah, but this? There’s no way in hell I’m going to let this happen.” He shrugged off Ced’s hand. “I wouldn’t be able to live it down.”
The rental car pulled up in front of the admin’s RV. Before it had even come to a stop, Kura threw open the door and leapt out, floating to avoid getting hurt.
“Alright, so we’re here.” Zoe said, unbuckling her seat belt. “Has Mr. Hero come up with some kind of daring rescue plan without letting Kura know who we really are yet?”
“Not a one.” Warrick admitted. “But right now, I figure a couple of things. One, they’re set up to keep these kids from rebelling with power, not to deal with concerned family members. Two, if someone’s got a camera on them, feeding to, say, a Quintessence account, they’re not about to try anything against them. Put those together, and we can at least stall until we have a better plan.”
Zoe opened the driver’s door and got out before leaning back in to look him in the eye. “None of that gets Tammy out of here. And none of that gets any of the other kids they’re abusing out of here.”
Climbing out his own door, Warrick noticed Kura banging on the door of the RV. Lowering his voice, he said, “Yeah, but even without Kura here, I can’t exactly just storm this place as Alloy and set everyone free. That’s not how it works.”
“That’s not how it works on your side.” hissed Zoe. “That’s exactly how it works on mine. If it were just me, I would just grab one of these monsters by the neck, demand to know what they’re doing here to keep the kids in line, then smash what’s doing it.”
Warrick shook his head. “And then they might do something to the kids out of spite, or it might turn out the reports were false and we’re attacking an actually fair facility for kids with powers who need to learn how not to use them badly.”
As they argued, two things happened. First, Lisa G came to the door looking perplexed at the trio of visitors. Second, a jeep rolled up to park behind the rental car and a man got out.
The moment she saw him, Zoe leaned over and asked Warrick, “My side or yours?”
That was a very good question, as the man was undoubtedly in costume. A long, brown duster fell down over his brown leather est and white, button-down shirt. He wore leather chaps over his jeans, complete with tassels and cowboy boots with spurs on his feet. A shiny silver belt buckle was stamped with the name ‘DROVER’. Across his eyes, he wore a black domino mask, which seemed pointless given his huge, distinctive mutton chops and the white ten-gallon hat that mostly hid his eyes anyway.
“Well he’s got a white hat…” Warrick mused. “But I’m gonna stay on guard just in case.”
The man bent the brim of his hat in their direction before setting his sights on Lisa G. “Pardon me ma’am, but is this the Black Oak corrections camp?” His accent at least matched his get-up.
“This is private property.” Lisa G said immediately. “I’m going to have to ask all of you to leave.”
“Not without my friend!” Kura said, folding her arms. “Your dudes came and stole her and we all know her parents would never be okay with that, so the jig is up and you guys are going down, ’cause I texted the cops on our way over here.”
Zoe’s hands curled into fists. “You did what?!”
Kura shrugged. “Well you guys don’t have any powers. What did you expect me to do—I can’t kick everyone’s asses with just my powers alone?”
It was at that juncture that Lisa G did something everyone involved (except maybe the masked cowboy) regretted. “I said this is private property.” She repeated firmly as she drew her air pistol. “And I am going to have to demand you leave now.”
“That’d be about all the confirmation, I need.” The cowboy deadpanned. With practiced speed and dexterity, her drew a circle in the air, which hung there, sparking and silvery, before he slammed his palm against it. The circle leapt forward a few feet and expanded to about seven feet in diameter, and instead of the silver along its interior, it seemed to show a 50’s era family lounge– with two more costumed people inside.
As they stepped across the still-sparking threshold, Lisa G fired two shots at them. The male of the pair, dressed in a pure, white suit with an orange tie and an orange overcoat that billowed around him like a cape, stepped forward. The featureless, orange mask covering his face hid his expression as he took one hand off the white wooden cane he leaned on and raised it toward the shots.
An orange glow surrounded them, slowing them to a halt in midair and revealing them to be some sort of hypodermic darts. With barely a gesture, he caused the orange glow to crush the darts into unidentifiable parts.
In the same instance, the second person from the portal, a woman in a black, armored body suit with ports in it to allow the myriad metallic blue spikes jutting out of her body, lunged and launched a pair of spikes from her arm. The first knocked the pistol from Lisa G’s hands. The second went right through the weapon’s trigger guard and pinned it to the side of the RV.
The ma in orange shook his head slowly and sadly. “This place…. it exists because of my naivete and my sins. And so I must be the one to undo it. In the name of Peace, young lady, explain to me how it is your restrain the children here.”
Zoe glanced at Warrick. “Isn’t that what you said you couldn’t do?”
“Is there anyone on Earth who wasn’t planning on making a move on this place today?” Warrick whispered back to her.
Then Lisa G did a second thing they all later regretted.
End Issue #80