Issue #87 – Descendants… In Space

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series The Descendants Vol 8: The Weaver's Web

Descendants… In Space (Part 1)

[This issue takes place one day after Descendants #86]

It was way past her bedtime, even considering how late she usually headed to sleep. But Laurel was too fixated on her work to even think about sleep.

The day before, shed gotten the scare of her life when Alexis stopped responding to her comm and all she could do was listen to the fight with the kitsune. She couldn’t see what was going on, she had no way of knowing if her friend was injured, and without any information, her considerable imagination tormented her with scenarios the entire time.

And so, she spent the entire twenty-four hours since arriving home with Alexis working on finishing the prototype of a product she’d started long ago to remedy a very different problem.

While she’d long maintained that The Descendants was a group meant to protect people rather than simply fight crime, they still fought crime in the course of providing that protection. A lot of the criminals they turned in had warrants that kept them in prison, many ended up being let go after twenty-four hours due to lack of evidence. For obvious reasons, none of the team could testify in Mayfield (or anywhere in Virginia, the only state that accepted masked testimony being New York).

Detective Rodgers had suggested asking the mayor to assign cops to patrol with the team, but that was a bad idea from so many angles, not the least of which was the idea of police panicking while being swung or flown around the city at the speeds her team was capable of reaching.

But inspiration had come from the police in another form: body cameras. They’d been a national standard for almost fifty years for police, and were often admissible as evidence even when the officer they were attached to wasn’t for whatever reason.

Of course, Laurel had no intention of just buying off-the shelf body cams when she could design top of the line models for the team with as many features as she could fit in. But given all the other issues facing her and hers, the project had been on the back burner for six months. The incident with the kitsune and a wish never to be unable to see what was going on with her friends when they were on a mission convinced her to fast-track it.

She was writing a program to wirelessly link and encrypt the feeds from the micro-dot cameras and health-monitoring sensors and send them to a central server for real-time evaluation, or sending readings to other outputs such as the ones in Alexis’s new goggles when a chat window popped open.

Rebbelle: Laurie? Are you online? It would be really helpful if you were online right now.

Laurel’s fingers paused over her keyboard. ‘Rebbelle’ was the screen name of someone she, Alexis and Ian went to school at the Academy with, Rebecca Strong. The teen had been more friendly rival than friend, and they hadn’t really kept in touch, though she’d taken note of the other woman’s career. She decided to reply.

InABook: I’m here. I thought you were on the Indus River for the next year at least.

Rebecca didn’t reply at first. In fact, she didn’t see anything pop up for fiver minutes when finally…

Rebbelle: Still on the station. In fact, that’s the problem. Is your computer private?

That explained the delay between messages. The Indus River was in stationary orbit above the moon, meaning it took a noticeable amount of time for the message to reach the station from Earth and the reply to make the return trip.

InABook: As private as I can make it. What’s the problem and how can I help

No point in thinking about offering: someone she knew was in trouble for one, but for another, trouble for one person on a space station had the potential to become a problem for everyone aboard. A potentially lethal problem.

After another seven minutes, a brick of text appeared. Rebecca was evidently making up for the lag by laying everything out.

Rebbelle: We received the new maintenance module six hours ago. It should contain a docking bay with external repair and monitoring robots, storage with three new rapid fabrication units and recyclable materials to feed them.

Rebbelle: It came in five tons overweight and when we integrated the module with the station, it uploaded a virus that overrode our security and safety protocols. Everything is locked down. Personnel monitoring is down. My guess is that there were people aboard the module, people who are now on the station that I can’t follow and detect. The direct beam to the WSA and the general internet connection are also offline. The virus didn’t seem to take notice of my personal connection.

Rebbelle: No one foresaw any sort of attacker actually reaching that station, not even myself. There are no protocols for direct security or defense. Anyone with bullets would well kill everyone on board b accident.

Rebbelle: The reason I’m contacting you is because you work in Mayfield and are on the board of Descendants Rights Worldwide. It doesn’t take my hypercognition to figure out that you likely have a means of contacting The Descendants. They are the only ones I could think of that might be able to safely handle whatever is going on here. If you can contact them or anyone you believe can help, I’m sending instructions to Norfolk to have my personal space plane prepped and ready to launch on your order.

Rebbelle: I know we’ve competed with each other before, but I’m genuinely scared for my life and my fiance’s. Please help us and the whole station.

Laurel chewed her lip. She knew that the World Space Agency had tapped Rebecca instead of her after she turned them down. The eight smartest hypercog on Earth instead of the seventh. Being part of the team meant more to her now then even living on the first residential space station.

Now things were coming full circle. Her mind raced, wondering what anyone would want with the Indus River. The station housed scientists of a dozen stripes, engineers who shuttled to and from the mines on the lunar surface and the captured asteroid, Apophis; and rescue services on call for space-based emergencies. There wasn’t anything of enough value to recoup the cost of whatever getaway method the attackers might use.

…Unless they weren’t planning on getting away. Part of the Indus River’s numerous delays in opening were thanks to protests and terrorists attacks against either its mission to serve as a stepping stone for humanity living among the stars, or the mere existence of the World Space Agency—never mind that the WSA had authority over the Indus River, and two space platforms in total. Destroying the station would feather the caps of a number of organizations.

Her mind was already ablaze with tactics as she typed her response on the keyboard.

InABook: Whether or not I can get The Descendants, I’m on my way.

Immediately afterward, she reluctantly went to wake Ian in the middle of the night.

***

At five in the morning, there was no one in the underground parking lot of the Descendants Rights Worldwide offices and no one to see a pool of rose-colored light irising into existence in the floor in a dark corner. From it emerged Occult, Codex and Hope.

“I hate being… what did Warrick call it? The ‘healstick’?” Hope asked groggily, rubbing her eyes. “Every emergency calls for me. Especially the ones at terrible hours, apparently.”

“You could just say ‘no’.” Codex pointed out. “I doubt anyone would blame you.”

Hope groaned and rubbed her eyes. “True, but then with my luck, someone would get hurt and I wouldn’t be able to deal with that hanging over my head.” She squinted at Codex. “Also, will someone please explain to me why you’re playing Halloween?”

This drew a shrug from Codex, who was actually Tink in Codex’s costume. “I don’t know. There was a note when I came through the boathouse mirror that said I needed to wear Ms. Brant’s gear for this mission. Trust me, this wasn’t my choice.”

“How did you even make it fit?” asked Occult, “You’re a foot taller than her and a good twenty pounds lighter.”

“Considering how prepared Ms. Brant is sometimes, she might actually have all our costumes in each others’ sizes just in case.”

Hope made a face. “It’s terrifying that I wouldn’t be shocked at that. The question is: why? And why did we have to pick you up at the boathouse when Laurel should still be at home?”

Across the lot, headlights illuminated the back wall, heralding the arrival of a dark purple panel van with the words ‘Piedmont Area Rent-a-Van’ stenciled in white on the side. The vehicle made it’s way around the bottom of the ramp and came to park with its side cargo doors facing the three heroines.

Just as the van stopped, the doors opened to reveal a grinning Facsimile. Behind her, in the compartment, sat Chaos, who was reading something on a tablet. “Hey chicas, need a ride?” Facsimile said, moving aside to let them pile in.

“You can’t possibly be this awake.” Hope drawled, climbing in past her. There were no seats in the back, and she saw that Ephemeral was asleep next to a plastic bin stacked near the rear doors, so she sat herself down next to him.

Once Tink and Occult got in, Facsimile pulled the doors closed. “Hello to you too, Kid Dour. You and Cap’n Surly Pants over there to fight the forces of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. But come on, this is awesome! You guys did here what the mission is, right? We’re going to space!”

“Be nice to Chaos, Fax.” Laurel said from the front of the van. She was in the driver’s seat, but the self-driving system was enabled, leaving her able to work with her tablet. “He strained his voice last night and he got all of two hours of sleep on top of it.”

Facsimile shrugged. “Yes, but space!”

Tink took a seat next to the side doors and across from Chaos. “Any other time, I would be just as excited at you—on a certain level, I still am…. but I’m really very confused right now. And is this all of us?”

Looking back at the young woman with a sympathetic eye, Laurel didn’t have to guess who she was referring to. “It takes 18 hours for a space plane to catch up to and dock with the Indus River and a return trip that’s almost as long—longer if the weather planet-side doesn’t agree. That’s at least a day where we’ll be away right after Alexis ran into a new Faerie threat. We need to leave some heavy hitters here in case someone or something decides to cause trouble.”

“Not to mention it would be very dangerous for Callie to run through walls blind up there. And having physically heavy hitters on board a space station, blasting and hurling psychokinetic force, and shredding metal would be a bad idea.” Tink said quietly, “I understand. It’s just kind of sad; Warrick would have lost his mind over getting to go into space like Taskforce: Earth.”

“Too true.” said Facsimile, “That’s why I’m taking a ton of pictures for him!”

Tink nodded to her since Codex’s helmet prevented her from smiling her thanks. “So… can I ask why I’m dressed like you?”

“Oh that,” Laurel said, setting the van to head off on their way. “Sorry, I didn’t have time to leave a better note and I had a lot of things to take care of on top of making sure I got the version of my suit in your size out.”

“I knew it.” Hope muttered.

Laurel pretended not to hear her. “So here is the full mission briefing: Seven and a half hours ago, someone used a new module integration to infect the Indus River with a virus that took control of key safety and security functions. The system admin for the station suspects the module also contained personnel and possibly weapons—she wasn’t able to contact the WSA, so she called me, suspecting I have an in with The Descendants.

“This wouldn’t be the first time the station was the target of a terrorist act—if that’s what this is–, so time is of the essence… and we might be too late already.” She stopped to keep her voice level. “Now the extra complication here is that the sys admin is Rebecca Strong, someone I knew from the Academy and who is a hypercog like me. That’s why you’re dressed like me, Tink: if Codex wasn’t with the group or Facsimile was missing while Codex was there, she’s highly likely to put two-and two together. The fact that you have a measure of super strength will help sell that I can’t possibly be the same person.”

Occult tried to settle herself against another bin and yawned. “So what’s the plan?”

“I’ll keep in contact with Rebecca via the text link she managed to establish She arranged a space plane to take us up to the station, and provided nothing changes before we get there, We’ll dock at the emergency craft module. There, Ephemeral will be able to locate whoever doesn’t belong on the station and we’ll divide and conquer: drawing them off with shapeshifting and spells and taking them out with wind and super strength. While that’s going on, I hope to have a counter-virus written by the time we dock to let me regain control of the infected systems.”

She turned in her seat and pointed toward the bins in back. “If there are complications, I’ve brought equipment that should be able to help us plus some that will at least help us get in touch with the ROCIC. I’m not going to lie to you; we’re in uncharted territory here.”

Chaos coughed at this.

Laurel ignored him. “Fighting on the station is dangerous. Weight is a limitation on what can and will be sent into space, and the station wasn’t built for military use: nothing up there is particularly hardy and some of it is necessary for the survival of the inhabitants.

“If something breaks and alarms go off, get out of whatever module or connecting section you’re in before the bulkheads seal. The station—at least when it isn’t under cyber attack—operates on the cold calculation and won’t pause to save anyone while endangering the rest of the station. I brought extra oxygen for everyone: a few hours’ worth, but don’t rely on it when you could escape to safety instead.”

She turned her eyes back to the road and intoned, “Just stay safe everyone.”

***

Inside the new maintenance module, six men were hard at work assembling components they pulled from various crates, bolting them together or using powerful epoxy to fuse pieces where a seamless connection was necessary.

A separate component, a large, domed device made of light metal, sat on top of an empty crate with two more men pouring over it with palmtops and soldering irons. Four more were breaking down the launch bays for the repair drones and rebuilding three of them into a larger one big enough to accommodate something much bigger.

A comm unit clipped to the shirt pocket of one of the men working on the larger construction project and he stepped away to answer it. “Sir?”

“Situation report.”

“Everything is working on schedule, sir. We’ll be primed and ready hours before the launch window opens. None of the residents have given us any trouble; most of them were asleep when we docked and delivered the package to the computer system.” said the man, standing up straight even though his boss couldn’t see him.

“Expect resistance once they start waking up. And have Hodges keep monitoring the systems; the sys admin has an intellect to rival my own. If she regains control, she could turn the station, lock the launch bays, or any number of other things to hinder us. If she does, send men to the computer core and bring her to your module.”

The henchman frowned. “Couldn’t we just kill her?”

A low growl sounded over the comm link. “Only one of us is smart enough to plan this out and assure everyone profits, Mr. Regis. Know your place and don’t question me. People will only die if I say so. Am I clear?”

Again, even knowing his boss couldn’t see him, Mr. Regis nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Excellent. Stick with the plan and you will be generously rewarded.”

Series Navigation<< Issue #86 – Those Not ForgottenIssue #88 – Tome of Battle >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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36 Comments

  1. Seven minutes seems like a lot of lag, even considering it’s for round trip. The radio message delay between Earth and Moon is about 1.3 seconds. Maybe you were thinking of Mars?

    • You might be right. I’m trying to decide if I can no-prize it away by saing it has to be relayed by special exchanges or something due to the station. Not sure if I can salvage it because I mention it a couple of times.

      • A plaintext message can go all the way around the world fast enough that ordinary relays can’t be the issue. Bouncing between satellites might add another second or two but no more. Paranoid security and/or an email/messaging system on the verge of collapse might delay a message 5 minutes.

        ‘Rebbelle’ – someone’s nostalgic for the Confederacy.

  2. Typos & all

    pop up for fiver
    pop up for five

    The Indus River was in stationary orbit above the moon
    Stationary relative to what? Is it at one of the Lagrange points – L4 & L5 are stable places to park a space station, in the moons’ orbit but 60 degrees ahead of the moon and 60 degrees behind the moon respectively.

    board b accident.
    board by accident.

    to establish She arranged
    to establish. She arranged

    operates on the cold calculation
    operates on cold calculation
    (or) operates by cold calculation

    • It’s at L5 because the asteroid Apophis is parked at L4 just like the RL asteroid cpature plans call for.

      Also, I finally realized why I made the 7 minute mistake: that’s for a point on the asteroid belt, IIRC (Circe?). Sciencing is hard.

      • Probably not. Anything in the asteroid belt is going to have a one-way delay of over 8 minutes, and of course it’d vary due to difference in orbits around the sun.

        • Then I have no idea where I got that number from.

          • The minimum distance Earth-Venus is 2.5 light minutes, so a 5 or 7 minute round trip signal could make sense there. There are some asteroids which get that close to Earth, they’re only mostly out beyond Mars.

          • I’m still guessing Mars since that’s the usual idea for where to go next in space and the minimum delay there is about 3 minutes so 7 for round trip would mean good, but not quite optimal range.

          • Need to figure out how to fix that…

  3. Aw yeah, space! This is going to be awesome, I’m sure.
    For “operates on the cold calculation” (nice reference, by the way) maybe “operates by/on the cold equations”?

  4. Glad to see the cameras.

    I look forward to them causing more problems than the group expects.

  5. >she couldn’t trust the Beauchamp was really >trustworthy.

    You said ‘the Beauchamp’ here, which is good. But you forgot to put in the word ‘the’ elsewhere. The Beauchamp is like the Fonz or the Batman or the Situation. As an aside, have those four ever been in the same sentence before?

    >the painted image of a wolf wearing old timey aviator goggles and a scarf.

    I would watch this cartoon.

    >the worlds most aerodynamic frog complete with cartoonish overbite.

    Especially if this was a major character.

  6. Given spells which have obvious, repeatable effects, scientists would be beating down the door to study magic. And a whole bunch of non-scientists … a secret identity for Occult could make sense for that alone, even in the absence of Tome.

    Typos

    introduction.”said
    introduction.” said

    shourded in mystery
    shrouded in mystery

    explicitly ad Kareem
    explicitly at Kareem

    costume for and
    costume for, and

    trust the Beauchamp
    trust that Beauchamp

    they have destroyed it
    they would have destroyed it

    no cruising at
    now cruising at

    braced an groaned
    braced and groaned

  7. Oh come on! You can’t give us Captain James Hook…s and then not have them be space pirates.

    Does Cyn pay royalties for the shapes she uses, or is superheroic shapeshifting considered fair use?

    • Wow. Would you believe I did that on accident?

      Also no royalties unless she does something more than a cameo. She’s very careful about that :p

  8. A bit of beard will do nasty things to the seal of a breathing mask. Hopefully Kareem won’t be needing one.

    The enemy hypercog seemes to have made more than enough mistakes to lose already – losing control of his explosives (to Rebecca?), hauling mooks all the way from Earth (wouldn’t drones/robots have made more sense in space?), and of course going in person to the space station in the first place. He’d better have a trick or two left up his sleeve to look like a worthwhile enemy.

    Typos

    flack jackets and BUDs
    flak jackets and BDUs

    cannoing him backward
    cannoning him backward

    jutting form its
    jutting from its

    those form Earth
    those from Earth

    • Using robots to do your villainy for you isn’t all that great a plan unless you can make actually smart ones that won’t screw up the moment they find something not covered by their programming. And in DU true AI isn’t something any hypercog can just make on whim.

      • That’s why Robin Atan is so special. She’s the only hypercog whose ability developed in such a way to allow her to think her way past the problem. And also someone smart enough to black box it so she can make $$$,$$$,$$$

    • Sending robots against a station adminned by a master hacker wouldn’t have been a good mood even if they were sure of what they were facing. You’ll see later why the explosives didn’t work too.

      And don’t worry, they do have a few more tricks. Including one more classic homage.

  9. People don’t think much about the Earth? Vaal, the land is a big deal in most cultures. Western urbanized populations might agree with you (though some subpopulations wouldn’t), but that’s about it.

    Kareem’s ability seems unusually high powered. Not just telepathy (has he done illusions before?) and general scouting, but the ability to see plans when no-one’s focusing on them and potentially even when the plan makers aren’t present. Is it different out here (the clarity mentioned) or could he get this much info back on Earth?

    Typos

    in fainted lines
    in faint lines

    Hooks’s mind
    Hooks’ mind

    same things near to mind
    same things were near to mind

    Sentence starting If Hendricks heard
    This sentence maybe should have ‘one more time’ added somewhere in it.

    One the astral
    On the astral

    sneak past us!”
    Lose the closing quote, Portias keeps talking.

    my pry it
    me pry it

    hope er chaos
    hope her chaos

    tot he pair
    to the pair

    o-“Levell’s
    o-” Levell’s

    moment,s he
    moment, she

    along.Where
    along. Where

    Facsimile process this
    Facsimile processed this

    laughed s the
    laughed as the

    “Oh course I came
    This might be ‘”Of course I came’ or ‘”Oh, of course I came’. The original isn’t impossible but seems wrong for Laurel, who seems to speak carefully.

    not askign
    not asking

    • People care about the land, but not the planet. That’s the big difference. Plus, they’ve noticed it a much shorter time than they’ve noticed the sun.

      As for Kareem, he can’t read everyone and he can only get what they know. The ‘illusion’ was also just pulling memories of movies tot he surface without contact. He has made people freak out before (back in the issue where Leo kidnapped Kay for one, Skyhard for another), but I think this is the first time we see how. It’s also helped that they’re out in space. There’s less interference.

  10. Always interesting to drop into the Astral.
    The idea of the smaller Earth worked for me- although lots of people/peoples think/feel a lot about the land, I can accept that they aren’t really thinking about the planet as a globe-in-space so it doesn’t influence its gross size in the Astral in the same way human consideration of the moon does.

    Plus it is a really cool image.

  11. FINALLY! It took long, but at last someone made the connection between a famous superhero and people they knew in school who had the same powers and same codename. That it took a super genius and came unexpected to another is probably due to whatever phenomenon it is in DU that makes domino masks work.

    • In my defense, Alexis never did the full-body shadow bit in school, and Ian couldn’t fly until the middle of Volume 1.

  12. Somebody’s read Watchmen!

    I’m glad Warrick got to go into space. It would have been a shame if he of all people would have missed it.

  13. Hah! I knew there had to be a robot somewhere in an adventure in space!

    Typos

    “Eidectic
    “Eidetic

    (to a certain
    (for a certain

    them is completely
    them are completely

    are e headed
    are we headed

    m friends fly
    my friends fly

    aobut
    about

    willb e
    will be

    torsoe
    torso

    snapped out the jam
    snapped out to jam

    mean force
    main force

  14. A villain market for trading gear and labour isn’t a new idea (after all once you have enough costumed villains in a setting it starts seeming like there has to be something like that in the background), and the hammy Ayn Rand villain ideology is standard issue, but I don’t think I’ve seen the two together before.
    Feels a bit odd. Usually the ones making the speeches about their evil ideology are the ones trying to take over the world or at least destroy a city or two with their giant robot chicken, and the ones looking to facilitate free entrepreneurship keep quiet and are only seen as steepled fingers and evil reflective glasses in a dark room.

    • Orb Weaver is a multi-tasker!

      I’ve wanted to do the supervillain since forever because I saw the Henchco stuff in Kim Possible and figured it could work in a much less comedic context. Then I considered what the best advertising pitch would be for the kinds of guys who become henchman-hiring classic supervillains and Ayn Rand came to mind instantly… mostly because her work IS an advertising pitch to henchman-hiring, classic supervillains. Half that speech is Frankensteined from actual political ‘discourse’.

      • Expanding on the idea of a villain support structure like Orb Weaver’s web here, I sometimes think that a classic superhero setting would need a bigger infrastructure that caters to both heroes and villains. After all everybody needs costumes, and you need a scheduling system to explain why there’s generally only one hero/team responding to a high-visibility crisis even in a city where there are many, and how a certain villain robbing a bank always brings out their usual hero and not someone else.

  15. That was lucky. The only way you’d get a sunrise at L4/5 is if the earth is eclipsing the sun, which happens 2-3 times a year in the moons’ orbit (see lunar eclipses.)

    Somewhere, some impovershed states which make some needed hard currency supporting villains are going to be quite annoyed with OW. I’ve read that the biggest US dollar counterfeiter in the world is run by the North Korean gov.

    Not a lot of typos this time.

    henchman.,
    henchman,

    hadn’t figure it out
    hadn’t figured it out

    • Huh. It seems I don’t know as much about space as I thought I did.

      Also, yes. A lot of very bad people are going to be pissed.

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