- Issue #85 – The Ballad of Bad Lass
- Issue #86 – Those Not Forgotten
- Issue #87 – Descendants… In Space
- Issue #88 – Tome of Battle
- Issue #89 – All That Glitters
- Issue #90 – Just Us Sidekicks
- Issue #91 – Rock and Roll Lifestyle
- Descendants Special #8 – The Heart of Rock ‘N Roll
- Issue #92 – Homage
- Issue #93 – Day of Recovery
- Issue #94 – The Knight, The Witch and the Gadgeteer (FaerieQuest Part 1)
- Issue #95 – Into The Woods (FaerieQuest Part 2)
Descendants… In Space (Part 4)
Even with time being of the essence, Kareem had to stop and marvel at how the astral looked while n space.
For one, it as clear. While on Earth, every area of the astral plane was awash with rose-colored mist that seemed to replace the air. While all the light was shifted rose now, there was a clarity he’d never encountered before, possibly because only a few people had ever been where he was now, and only for a relatively short time—assuming the astral mist had something to do with sapient emotions like all over matter did.
Speaking of which, the moon was colossal. Not just closer because they were nearer to it aboard the Indus River, but actually bigger. Hundreds of thousands of years of people looking up into the sky and wondering about it, imagining things about it, and attaching their own thoughts and emotions to it gave the moon an astral form that dwarfed even the Earth, which had been taken for granted as a whole for most of human history. In the background, the stars were similarly greater than what they seemed in real life.
By comparison, the space station itself was ethereal in his sight, a life-sized, three-dimensional schematic in incredible detail. He could see what was there, but also in fainted lines, he saw images of what the scientists and engineers living aboard wished for it to become: larger modules including a self-sustaining hydroponic garden, a domed, UV-safe observation deck, and wider, more airy corridors everywhere.
Beyond the overlapping plans and dreams, he could see the astral forms of people as blue figures. Most of them, presumably the crew, appeared separate, the attack and subsequent lockdown coming during the station’s ‘nighttime’ hours. That left the small clusters arranged at strategic points and in the newest (and almost invisible on the astral side) module.
Kareem drifted up from where his body and the forms of his friends (and their pilot, still camped out in the plane for his safety) waited and approached the nearest group, two levels above him. As her drew closer, and the details of their astral forms revealed themselves, he could make a few deductions.
First, they weren’t part of any mercenary company. He’d fought mercenaries on occasion for years now and he knew how to look for the telltale signs and the ‘band of brothers’ type bond: gossamer skeins of colored astral matter that ran between people with an emotional connection. They were strong and plentiful between his team and even present between Laurel and a figure he could make out vaguely in a module on the same level as the one he was targeting. Between the figures waiting by the ladders to the shaft, he saw nothing.
They were also not used to the weapons they carried. Weapons they maintained and used daily, that they had learned every little quirk to them, would have shown up as detailed on the astral. Instead, the ones they had were barely visible.
Interesting, and possibly useful later, but for now, he had a job to do. There were two at the ladder, leaning out to aim what he assumed were the rifles he learned about from Hooks’s mind, and three more standing back, ready to relieve them or back them up. That back-up couldn’t protect them from the astral side.
Moving even closer, Kareem instinctively shifted his vision and the nearest astral forms seemed to explode into clouds of surface thoughts surrounding the tight nucleus that constituted minds. Kareem had been listening to the ebb and flow of conversation on the plane every waking moment on the way up: he was sure the same things near to mind among the mercenaries too.
It was almost too easy to find some of those odd, fanciful thoughts, the ones no one in their right minds would have taken seriously… and pull them hard to the fore of all the other surface thoughts.
Chris Hendricks was almost asleep, sitting on the floor of the second level gravity wheel, listening to Portias and Farmer trade barbs about baseball. Portias was a die-hard for the Quinn Bluffs Jokers while Farmer was a Mets fan by default because that was the only franchise that stayed in New York the whole time. If Hendricks heard Farmer complain about those ‘traitors who came crawling back after the floodwalls were in place’, he would go try out one of the airlocks just to get away from it all.
He was actively willing himself to fall asleep when he heard it: a… scurrying sound coming from the air vent right beside him. At first, he didn’t move. Something in the back of his head, a little panicked voice told him he knew exactly what that sound was, but he fought it down.
This was real life. That was the movies. Though it hadn’t helped to find out that the real space station did have a very large and robust ventilation system to keep the air circulating and the temperature regulated… robust enough for something almost human sized to crawl through.
Very carefully, so his comrades wouldn’t see him checking, he looked over at the vent. It looked over-built: a bulky housing set in place around it to contain the shutters that would seal in the event of an emergency. Then something moved in the shadows behind it.
He jumped back, fiddling for his gun. Goddamn this Orb-Weaver guy, whoever it was. He’d disallowed real guns and given them high-tech bullshit to keep them from wrecking anything on the station. Of course, none of that included a handy flame-thrower.
“What’s up with you?” asked Portias. In the wall, just above the vent, something scurried.
Farmer put his hand on his sidearm. “I think he heard whatever that was.”
“Whatever what was?” asked Portias.
From the ladder, Richards turned around and asked, “What the hell are you guys doing back there?” The scurrying stopped, but shortly resumed in the form of a few slow, deliberate clicks—as if something had heard them notice and was now trying to sneak.
“Something’s in the vents.” Portias concluded aloud. He drew his sidearm. The rifle with the foam ammo was out of the question as far as he was concerned.
Richards frowned, unsure.
One the astral, Kareem, playing short term memories like instruments, kept bringing the shared memories of movie sound effects into focus, directing them where he needed. Then he reached out to one of the men at the ladder and pulled upon a memory from his briefing to cut through his mounting fear.
Richards shook his head. “Wasn’t one of the heroes we’re supposed to be expecting a shapeshifter?”
Portias cursed in Italian. “That’s right. Facsimile. The gold bitch is trying to make us look like idiots and sneak past us!” How do we open the damn vent?”
“I don’t know if it opens at all.” said Chris.
“Of course it does. They have to clean the filters and things, right?” asked Portias, his face going red. He shoved his gun back in its holster. “Help my pry it off.” Chris did as he asked and together, they started examining around the vent for a means of removing the cover.
“Hey!” said Richards. “If you two have your guns away, she could just reach out and attack both of you. Levell, let’s cover them.” The other man watching the shaft glanced back down to make sure all was clear, then joined him in letting their rifles drop to the side so they could draw sidearms.
As soon as they were away from the main shaft, Kareem hurled himself back to his body at the speed of thought.
Ephemeral opened his eyes and sat up. “Go. Now.” he said tot he pair waiting by their ladder up to the shaft.
A wolfish grin split Facsimile’s face as she nodded to Laurel. “Oh, I was hoping I’d get to do this. Actually, I was hoping I’d get to do both of these things!” Bounding up the ladder, she pushed herself into the central shaft, grabbed the rung of one of the ladders lining the inner wall, and pushed off with all her considerable strength. With almost no gravity, she found herself rocketing up the shaft toward the level the snipers were hiding on. As she did, she began to change…
At the same time, Laurel slipped carefully out behind her, keeping one hand on a ladder rung as she carefully maneuvered up to the maintenance panel. She hastily clipped herself to a rung with one of the safety lines hanging from it and took out her multitool to unscrew the panel.
Back on the level above, Portias and Chris were having no luck opening the vent. Richards sighed aloud. “Y’know, if we can’t open the grate, she can’t open the grate. Maybe we should just leave it alone.”
Chris gave up for the time being and sat back on his heels, rubbing his aching knees. “Yeah, but can’t shapeshifters turn into liquid or something? She could pour out of the grate. Maybe we can find a way to seal it?”
“The grates are where the air we’re breathing come from.” said Levell. “We close that, we suffocate.”
Still working at the grate, Portias grunted. “There’s other grates on this level, we wouldn’t suffocate.”
“But then what’s the point of closing this grate? She could come out o–”Levell’s voice cut off in a yelp followed by a heavy thud that made the wall shake. All four remaining men turned to see their worst nightmares about the job realized.
It was the combination of all primal fears the insect and reptile worlds had to offer; a black, eyeless thing bigger than a man that skittered forward on six chitinous legs ending in claws. Its segmented tail swung back away from where it slammed Levell aside, its meathook barb having thankfully missed him. Raising its curved, conical head, it opened a pair of drooling jaws, revealing a second set that extended out like an eel’s, which hissed.
Richards swung his gun up first and started squeezing the trigger. Every shot filled the gravity wheel with solid sound. But the cartridges were low-yield and the bullets were hollow-tipped to avoid piercing fragile station equipment. The alien beast itself seemed almost surprised when the bullets shattered on its carapace.
Then it turned its eyeless gaze on him and leapt.
Screams from the second level echoed up and down the central shaft.
Tink, dragging one of the boxes they’d brought into the shaft where Laurel was still working, looked up. “She enjoys this part way too much.” She and the box floated as she entered the shaft.
Eyes fixed on what she was doing, Laurel nodded. “She is the best at what she does.”
“Let’s hope er chaos buys us enough time to set up our shaft defenses.” said Tink, strapping the box to the bottom of the shaft before opening the lid. Inside were a number of tooled, black metal components packed in soft foam. Most prominent was a folding metal dish.
“Speaking of Chaos…”
“Until I tell them, they and the rest of you, they are Chaos. You did see the wind powers, didn’t you?”
Tink clipped herself down and started assembling the weapon. “I also know a lot about powers, magic and science. And I saw ‘wind powers’, not ‘fluid density control’. A lot of things can make wind: convection currents, say from black heat, super-fast finger movements, maybe even The Whitecoat’s repulsion.”
“You really hate being left out of a mystery, don’t you?” Above, the screams were accompanied by curses and pleas for mercy as well as inhuman screeches. “It’s one of the things we have in common.”
A smile tugging her lips, Laurel nodded. In the back of her head, she wondered what Facsimile’s reaction would be to hearing that. “Just trust me on this one. My little gambit here requires a certain degree of method acting. You were a light tech for the drama class in high school, right?”
“Would that be a ‘just trust me’?”
“Has that ever failed you?”
Tink shook her head and hefted the completed device. If she wasn’t inside the near-zero gravity of the shaft, the Active Denial System, AKA, the military grade ‘agony beam’ would have been unwieldy even with her strength. At the moment,s he held it awkwardly, but with little trouble, like some huge gun from a video game. “No, it hasn’t. So I’ll play along.Where am I setting this up?”
“Just above the level Facsimile is fighting on. Adjust the beam-width to fill the shaft and point it up. No one will want to come down the easy way after that, and I should have control of the system back by the time they try the maintenance access.”
“Aye-aye.” Tink said with a little salute before unclipping herself and carefully pulling herself upward.
“Took you long enough.” Facsimile, now in her golden form once more, sat cross-legged in front of the ventilation grate, lazily watching thas the rest of the team arrive, carrying plastic bins with them. Beside her were five mercenaries, all disarmed, trussed up in what looked like very strong vines, and looking deeply traumatized in their unconscious states.
“Want me to go up to the next level and see if anyone can hear them scream in space?”
Laurel sat down her bin and shook her head. “That won’t be necessary. The computer administration center is on this level,” She pointed, “right over there. With me and Rebecca working together, we should get this place under control in two or three hours. At the very least, your job is over until we get cameras and sensors on whatever is going on here.”
She produced her palmtop and moved to the locked airlock of the admin center’s module.
“Oooor we could just go kick all their asses now.” Facsimile offered, getting up to follow. Out of the corner of her eye, she say Chaos settle back against a wall to read from a tablet again. She didn’t remember anyone she knew having a tablet like that.
“None of them knows the whole plan, or even what all the other squads are assigned to do.” Laurel pointed out, using her multitool to pry off the casing around the electronic security panel. “And you saw that they already had one booby trap laid for us. Unless Ephemeral learns something more, or we learn something on the cameras, I don’t want to send anyone up alone right now.”
In the silence as Facsimile process this, Laurel soldered a chip into the panel’s circuitry, allowing her wireless access to it with her palmtop. From there, it was trivial for her to deactivate the lock.
“Can we explore what’s on the other levels?” Facsimile asked after discarding the idea of arguing. “After all, when am I ever going to be on a space station again?”
“We’ll see after we link up with Rebecca.” Laurel laughed s the airlock hissed open. The other end was open already, and as Laurel was standing to the side after hacking the door, she had a clear view of the person standing against the wall on the other side, a ceramic leg from a chair raised and ready to clobber whoever came through the door.
When she saw Laurel, however, she dropped the makeshift weapon and let out a squeal that might well have been heard on Earth if not for the protective layer of vacuum between it and the Indus River. Shortly after, she launched herself at Laurel and scooped her up in a hug.
Rebecca Strong was aptly named. She was strong and built by centuries of genetics for it. The word ‘Valkyrie’ came to mind, and if her blond hair was in braids instead of a bun, would have stuck. A good head taller than Laurel, she easily lifted the other woman off her feat. “Ohmigod, you came! You actually got here and got to me and…and this is amazing! Thank you so much, Laurel! I take back everything I ever said about you all these years!” She said with an overpowering exuberance.
“Oh course I came. I couldn’t let you get held hostage if I could help it.” Laurel said, generously not askign what things Rebecca had said about her.
The Indus River’s system admin looked past her to all the assembled team in the gravity wheel. “You actually brought them.” She said in a tone of hushed reverence. “We’re all saved… Oh! Did you already find Sam?”
“Sam?” Laurel asked.
“My fiance: Captain Samuel Chao. He’s amazing… but he was on safety patrol tonight: making sure all the unattended modules were buttoned up, every thing that needs to be clipped down in case of a wheel stoppage was—that kind of thing. He’d just come by to see me before the lockdown started—he would have been caught in the corridors when it started.”
“Unless he was a merc whose ass we kicked, we haven’t seen him.” said Facsimile.
Seeing the shock in her old not-quite-friend’s face, Laurel put a hand on her arm. “Don’t worry, Rebecca. We’ll save him. But the best way to do it is getting control of this station back.”
Rebecca school her expression and nodded. “You’re right. I’ve been working this whole time when I wasn’t asleep. We’re going to need a whole new clean system to work from.”
Laurel gestured toward the bin she’d bought. “Luckily, I brought a whole new clean system from home then. Among other things.”