- 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 5)
Laurel took off her glasses and cleaned them with the hem of her blouse, staring blearily at her screen. “This programming is thorough to the point of obsessive. Look at this: it didn’t just infect every system on the station, it left a full copy of itself that unpacks whenever it finds that computer’s been disinfected. How did this manage to infect everything so completely; you’re an expert in cybersecurity.”
Beside her, working at her own console. Rebecca made a rueful noise. “Let me tell you, Laurie: you had the right idea skipping this job.” Oblivious to Laurel’s scowl at the nickname, she plunged on ahead, “I love living up in space—especially telling people I live in space, but also being with my Sammy—but my hands have been tied every step of the way with the WSA. They wanted a security suite built from scratch instead of using my company’s software. Then they wanted everything to freely communicate—I had to fight tooth and nail to separate the internet-capable machines from the main systems, and even then, they insisted the be able to accept data from the station.”
She shook her head. “But to be honest, I wasn’t all that concerned once nothing from the internet could get into the station’s systems. I mean, who the hell would have expected someone to try and hack the Indus River specifically?”
Catching Laurel’s eye, she made a sour face. “Oh no. No you would not have.”
“I didn’t say anything.” Laurel said, replacing her glasses.
“But you’re thinking it. You’ve got that smug look you always get when you think you’re smarter than me. You have no idea how often I wanted to slap that look off your face back in the day!”
Laurel shrugged helplessly. “There are groups that don’t like the idea of a permanent colony in space, or having that colony under the control of an international agency. New World Order conspiracy nuts and all that.”
“As if one of them could muster the imagination to pull something off against me.” Rebecca huffed. “And even you wouldn’t have expected something like this: using the module integration routine as a carrier.” She glared at Laurel again, “No! No! I call bullshit. You would not have thought of that.”
“Maybe it’s hindsight, but if someone knew about the WSA’s insistence on full interoperability, and your firewall against threats from the internet propagating beyond the first infected machine, the question is how would one deliver malicious software? I didn’t know about the module integration routine, but if I did…”
Rebecca’s eyebrow twitched. “So you’re saying this is an inside job.”
With a noncommittal shake of her head, Laurel started typing again. “Not necessarily. That depends on how easy it would have been to learn about any of this. But we can’t rule it out. I have to imagine the WSA approached every hypercog they could reach to tap them for this project.”
“And imagine they got all the way down the number eight on the list before they found one with enough romance in her soul to take it on.” Rebecca sighed dramatically.
This time it was Laurel’s turn to twitch. “I was going to take the job… something just came up at the last minute.”
A scandalous light came to Rebecca’s eyes. “Oh yes.” She said lowering her voice. Something far more important… and dare I say exciting? That reminds me: who is that in your costume, Laurie?”
For Laurel, the air suddenly turned thick and she cursed herself for thinking she could pull such a simple trick on another hypercog that knew her personally. “So how’d you put it together? File footage of my fighting style, recognizing evolutions of Brant Industries patents?”
“Eidectic memory.” said Rebecca airily. “Your friends might not have used their codenames a lot back at the Academy, but they did it enough for two new prelates with similar powers appearing to jog my memory, especially when they exposed the Academy for what it was within a year of showing up—ohmigod, that was devastating to hear about; I knew kids that just seemed to disappear from back then, you know? But yeah, once you went public with the school and Descendants Rights Worldwide, no amount of altering our yearbook online was going to confuse me. Really, it hurts that you thought putting someone in your costume ws going to fool me. And that you think I would betray your secret. God, Laurie, we may not have been friends, but I never wanted to hurt you.”
“Look,” Laurel said, making a slashing motion with her hand to cut Rebecca off. “This has nothing to do with you personally. I didn’t immediately start plotting how to undermine you the second I got your message. This is something we’ve been doing for years now and it’s just a big deal in general. For one, we’ve made a number of enemies. For another, anyone who knows one of our identities can easily suss out the others and revelations are kind of personal.”
Rebecca leaned back in her seat, one hand still lazily mousing her way through a section of code. “And another being that there’s any number of opportunists waiting to litigate the presumably rich, powerful heroes—especially once they find out that one of them really is rich. Smart move, by the way, with the reparations fund, gets people off your back when it comes to necessary collateral damage.”
“It’s more to the fact that they deserve to be made whole despite how ‘necessary’ our collateral damage is.” said Laurel.
“Oh, I hear you. But all the serious, boring stuff aside, it must be a thrill a minute doing what you do. Think you might need some help on the front lines once my five years is up? Maybe we can switch!” Laurel swallowed, going over what she knew of Rebecca and her personality. Luckily (to a certain value of ‘lucky’), she was saved from having to reply by Ephemeral stepping in through the module’s airlock with Hope and Facsimile close behind.
“We have a problem.” he reported without a greeting. “Several problems.”
Rebecca stretched and groaned. “Seriously? More? Who the hell is this guy? These guys? Whatever.”
“That is one of the problems.” said Ephemeral. “I have been progressively reading everyone on the station, and none of them know everything that the intruders know in aggregate—yet several of them is completely certain he is aboard.”
“How’s that possible?” Laurel asked. “Some of the people we captured had theta blockers, but that wouldn’t hide them from being visible on the astral plane, right?”
Ephemeral nodded. “That’s correct. I’ve investigated everyone on the upper levels, and none of them have enough information to be our mastermind. But that isn’t our biggest issue: the scientists in the new module seem to be nearly done with their work. From what I can understand, they will be ready to launch their rogue satellite within the hour.”
“That means we’ve gotta move, right?” Facsimile asked, making a show of cracking her knuckles.
Hunching at her console, Laurel chewed on the inside of her cheek. “We still really know nothing about what’s going on here—we don’t even know what this satellite is meant to do.” She looked to Ephemeral, “Have you learned anything new scanning the intruders?”
“None of them know what the main function of the satellite is.” he reported, “But it seems to be designed for mass broadcast. What I do know is that none of the mercenaries has any more traps in mind for us. They’re all guarding the residential areas I actually find that strange: why prepare three lines of defense surrounding our docking site, but have no fallbacks protecting their main objective?”
“Maybe the satellite isn’t what they’re actually trying to do.” Hope offered. “L…Miss Brant, everything you keep saying about this is about how smart whoever it is that’s behind it has to be, right? And they’ve been hiding information from their underlings: maybe they’re doing something else on the side—something their minions could be doing without realizing it. That’s something a super-genius might come up with, right?”
Laurel pursed her lips. “Possible. But in the absence of any real information on that front, we need to go with what we do know.” She sat up and looked toward Facsimile. “So yes, I think it’s time you moved. We need to put a stop to that satellite, and interrogate any mercenaries or scientists who might be wearing theta blockers or something similar. Who knows, our mystery guest may have developed some form of astral blocking.”
“Got it.” said Facsimile. “So what level are e headed to?”
“The new maintenance module is on level four.” said Rebecca. “We don’t have any control whatsoever over it, so I guess someone is going to have to hack the airlock to get you in.” An impish grin spread across her face. “Someone like…”
“Me.” Laurel said quickly. “You’re the security expert, we need you working on getting the station back to normal.” She stood up from her seat and picked up her tablet. “Ephemeral, I’m going to need positions on everyone up there. Facsimile, go down and tell Chaos it’s show time and to pull out the bin we discussed, then have everyone meet me at the ladder to the central shaft.”
As everyone but Rebecca filed out, Hope moved up beside Ephemeral. “Hey… did anyone seem distressed? Well, I mean more than anyone would be if you got locked in your room for twenty-four hours?”
“Mostly they were confused.” said Ephemeral. “The mercenaries and scientists were stressed, of course. Why?”
Hope shrugged. “I don’t know. Usually wen we deal with bad guys, especially whent hey have a bunch of hostages, they like to make a lot of noise about it. You know, try and threaten us with hurting civilians if we try anything. It kind of goes with what you said about them not setting any more traps… why aren’t they trying harder to stop us?”
Rolling her observations around in his head, Ephemeral frowned and shook his head. “I think perhaps we are playing a higher level game than normal. Whoever this is has two of the smartest people on Earth stumped. Whatever is going on here may be more complex than we can see.”
“That’s what the Joykiller said and Alloy beat him with a slide show.” Hope pointed out. “Maybe that’s the point. Maybe… it’s so simple they’re counting on the smart people to overlook it.” She started to lag behind him as they walked. “Hey, did you scan Mr. Beauchamp?”
“When we first arrived in Norfolk. I was not going to let myself and m friends fly into space with someone we didn’t know. Aside from thinking some very… intimate… things aobut Miss Brant, he seems to check out.”
Again, Hope frowned. “Hmm. But you didn’t scan the rest of the plane.”
“I didn’t detect any other minds.”
“But you didn’t check the astral plane… Just like no one checked the maintenance module for viruses. There’d be no point. Look, I’m going to go down and check it out. Can you keep a… um, mental ear out for me, please?”
Ephemeral nodded. “Of course. And I’ll relay your concerns to Miss Brant. Shouldn’t someone go with you?”
“If it comes down to it, I can break someone emotionally worse than you could and no theta blocker would stop it.” she pointed out, heading for the shaft ahead of him.
Within minutes, the entire team, sans Hope were assembled outside the central shaft, where Tink was standing by to deactivate the ADS and allow them access to the upper levels.
“Are you still in contact with Hope?” Laurel asked Ephemeral.
He nodded. “She is talking with Mr. Beauchamp and everything seems fine.”
“Good. Then we’ll proceed as planned. The mercenaries are mostly situated on the fivth level, guarding the living areas with two full squads of four each watching either side of the fourth level gravity wheel, guarding the maintenance module from attack. “Chaos and Facsimile will move straight up the main shaft to engage them while Occult and Codex move up to block entry from the levels above with webs and ADS cover. Ephemeral and I will follow up after and I’ll try to hack the airlock and Ephemeral tries to get one of the scientists inside to open it from the inside.
“Rebecca will be monitoring chatter and whatever cams she can take control of and willb e relaying any news to us. Right now, she can see this level, most of four, and main power. She would be able to see the first level, but remember I had to cut the hardline between them. Is everyone clear on what we’re doing?”
Everyone indicated agreement.
“Then let’s move.”
On cue, Chaos and Facsimile lugged the bin the former had been told to bring along into the shaft and began ascending in the micro-gravity.
“So,” Chaos said, his voice muffled by the cloth, “What kind of monster are you going to take them out as this time? Landshark? Illithid?”
Facsimile paused in mid-pump of her wings, her eyes narrowing dangerously. “You son of a bitch. Wha—how?”
He lifted his visor and winked. “Just a spare costume, some tech rig designed to mimic wind powers some guy Chaos met last year made. Laurel and he made a special trip to the Solomon Center yesterday morning to ask him for permission to go into his storage unit. I’ve been reading the instructions the whole way up here.”
“…oh. That makes sense, but I was really asking…”
“Lifts.” the faux-Chaos growled. “Now can we get to the ass-kicking?”
With a laugh, Facsimile surged upward. “Heh. Yep, let’s do it.”
The two squads protecting the counterfeit maintenance module had been on high alert since the squads on the lower levels had gone out of contact, only to be replaced by something that made anyone who so much as peeked down the shaft recoil in pain.
Some of the more up-to-date members correctly identified it as an ADS, but its positioning meant they had no means of dealing with it. All they could do was fall back to the airlock and wait. What none of them expected was a plastic bin like anyone could buy at a megamart to come sailing out of the open shaft access and crash at their feet.
The top came off on impact, sending bricks of light-colored metal tumbling out everywhere. Caught by surprise, they aimed at the bricks, giving the real threat time to emerge. It was a thing of nightmares, over eight feet tall with a skeletal face, expansive, triangular crest, and a pair of scything blades at the end of its arms. Its torsoe terminated in a thick, muscular tail that propelled it into the gravity ring’s corridor.
It wasn’t long before the mercs noticed and opened fire on the monster slithering toward them. It was off-putting and terrifying enough to make them forget that they were in a gravity ring. A great wind hit them from behind like an oncoming van. Most of them were thrown to the floor while those who merely lost their footing were immediately pummeled into the wall by a sweep of the beast’s mighty tail.
Then the bricks of aluminum formed up into restraints to take all of them out of a fight.
“We need to fight people in confined spaces more often.” Chaos said, posting up for a high-five from the monster, which returned the gesture very carefully with its scythe arms before shifting back to Facsimile mode.
“I never cease being amazed at the teamwork you two manage.” Ephemeral said, climbing down from the shaft with Laurel right behind. He quickly started going from person to person, checking for theta blockers.
Meanwhile Laurel went to the airlock door and got to work trying to hack it. “Good work both of you. Though I was hoping to keep your secret a little longer, ‘Chaos’.”
“I figured speed was essential.” he said, “Seeing as the satellite is getting ready to launch and all.”
“That’s fine.” Laurel said, focusing on her tablet.
Ephemeral stiffened and dropped one of the mercenaries without bothering to search him. “Something’s wrong. Hope was just blindsided. A man in some sort of powered armor. Her… powers aren’t working on him.”
“How?” Facsimile asked.
“Not the question.” said Laurel, abandoning her work. “Now speed is essential.” She nodded to Chaos. “Get it open. Now. Occult, Codex, we have a situation on level one. Rebecca, can you… crap, I cut the hardline. That’s what he wanted all along.” She growled in the back of her throat.
She had barely even said the words to him before ‘Chaos’ flexed his arms and the sleeves over his costume shredded, revealing a pair of gold-ish tentacles that snapped out the jam themselves into the seam of the airlock. They flexed, forcing the outer doors apart by mean force before doing the same thing to the inner ones.
“Ha! Chaos powers were fun, by nothing beats the twins!–what the hell?” Facsimile’s exuberance was cut off as she got a look at what was inside the module. Ten people, presumably scientists, on their knees with their hands behind their heads in two neat rows. Between the rows was the finished satellite with an OLED screen scrolled open across it.
On the screen was the image of what was presumably a man in powered armor, though it might have been a mechanical spider. Black plated in golden yellow with four articulated extra arms, each ending in a complex tool sprouting from the back. The helmet was also styled in the shape of a spider, framing a yellow face plate. The chest was etched with a web pattern with a small, black spider painted at the center.
One of the extra arms was curving down and around to rest a blade across the throat of Hope, who was knelt on the floor at the figure’s feet in the same position at the scientists.
“Hello, Descendants.” the armored figure said, its voice deep and distorted. “An admirable effort, and you did manage to defeat several high-end mercenaries caught out of their element—if you can call that an achievement. Unfortunately for you, everything you’ve been reacting to was a ruse. I launched my real satellite from the rescue pod bay fifty-three minutes ago.”