- 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)
Just Us Sidekicks (Part 2)
“So we go back to the owner to get paid and when the payment clears, Lisa checks her palmtop and it only came to like three hundred dollars. She gets in his face about it and he says the rest went to paying the band’s tab. She points out the drinks were supposed to be complementary. And he says ‘yeah, but the hot wings weren’t’, and we all turn to Cyn.”
Kay and JC burst out laughing as they walked along the stone path toward JC’s dorm.
The Dayspring campus took up several city blocks and was laid out more like a park than anything else in some places. The dorms formed roughly three clusters; one near the student union, one near the main dining hall, and one near the administration building while related academic buildings, the gym and sports fields and their respective parking areas were in their own little clusters.
Green, cultural and recreation areas filled up the remaining spaces with everything being connected by paths and walks of varying levels of openness, all branching off from the central Campus Walk that ran a slightly winding path from the administration building at the west end of campus, to the student union in the center, to the gym and sports facilities on the east end.
The two friends had entered through one of the north gates, and so had to take a less traveled path through a wooded area to get to the dorm. Night was just falling and the lights along the path were coming on. Both carried huge to-go cups from The Dungeon while JC had a bag from the local game store: yet another set of ten-sided dice, a new set of flat-format programming sticks for his holographic battle map, and a plushie of the Black Goat in the Woods With a Thousand Young.
“I know why she has the appetite,” JC said, “but I’ve gotta admit: I’m still impressed. One time, I saw here put an eighteen inch hoagie in her mouth and swallow it whole. Must save time when she’s got a class tarting in five minutes and almost missed lunch.”
Kay took a drink out of her cup. Today her hair was a cotton candy swirl of pink and light blue. “I’ll admit, Lisa may be my best friend, but if I had to pick powers, I’d pick Cyn’s.”
“Not Warrick’s? Dude is making more money than half of my parents’ friends and that’s not even getting started on his ‘I could totally turn soda cans to gold’ thing.”
“Speaking of which: you bought more dice why? War makes all the dice and models your RP group could ever need.”
JC looked shamefaced. “I can’t help it, okay? It’s a gamer thing. I was in the shop and… dice. Sweet transparent reds with day-glo green numbers! I’m only a man—I can’t resist that kind of temptation!” He paused for a beat,t hen attempted to justify himself further. “Also, Warrick can’t do day-glo green without, you know ,making something radioactive and deadly.”
“Does radioactive stuff actually glow green?” Kay blinked, realizing she actually didn’t know.
“We should look that up on Infotopia or something. Given who we hang out with, that might actually come up.”
JC laughed. “You really take this sidekick thing seriously, don’t you?”
That earned him a rude snort. “Duh. Don’t you?”
He squared his shoulders and sniffed in a faux-imperious manner. “Well I don’t see myself as a sidekick. I’m just a wise and learn’d council. Like a mentor.”
“Mentors get killed after act one. You so don’t want that,” Kay pointed out. “Be a sidekick like me: we stick around forever and occasionally get to graduate to a poor man’s substitute for the hero.” She gave him a wicked grin. “But the best ones stay sidies forever and are awesome.. You know you want to.”
“Pfft. I think I’ll just be a wing-man. Sure, you’ve got the magic thing and reading the creepy-ass Books,” He winced when he felt the capital ‘B’ leave his tongue. Even when the Books weren’t around, the idea of semi-sentient repositories of cheat codes tot he game of life made him feel all sort of wrong. He cleared his throat, “but what am I supposed to do? Take up blacksmithing? Carry around just an epic shitload of illegal fireworks like I did back at Dawson Bay?”
He hung his head. “No. Those fireworks cost me almost everything I saved up for the beach house.”
“Maybe you can learn martial arts?”
“I’m not gonna be a sidekick, Kay.”
“Oh come on, it’s lonely being the only real life sidekick ever.”
JC gave her a sidelong look. “What about Shade’s Apprentice?”
She looked at him like he was insane. “Really? It’s in the name: apprentice. As in ‘not sidekick’.”
“Isn’t that what a sidekick is?”
“Doesn’t count.” she tried to fold her arms, but the coffee cup was too big and made the pose awkward, so she gave up a second later.
“…” JC smirked at her, and as she became aware of it, it expanded into a teasing grin. “You actually like being the only sidekick, don’t you?”
Kay was giving him a glare when a loud thump and a crack sounded from further up the path, followed by a familiar voice exclaiming, “Damnit!”
The pair exchanged glances before jogging up the path. A slight hill and a curve later, a bench appeared, bathed in the now-flickering light of one of the streetlights set up along the path. Sitting on the bench, staring in shock at the damage she’d done with her cybernetic fist (which was still lodged in the streetlight’s dented shaft), was Meghan.
She looked dressed for a night out: a black blouse with one long sleeve ending in a strip of fabric that stretched over the middle finger of her non-prosthetic arm, and no sleeve over her other arm, with a silver embroidered pattern, and a long, black ankle-length skirt that flared at the bottom along with high-heeled boots. Her make-up, however, was smudged and blotchy.
JC, however, noticed none of the warning signs and greeted her with, “Hey, Megs. Didn’t know you needed to recharge the arm—especially not this way.”
Often, the phrase ‘if looks could kill’ is a misapplied description. But when the person giving the look is going so while her fist is partially embedded in a piece of metal, it takes on a certain appropriateness. JC took a reflexive step back that didn’t save him from a sock in the arm from Kay.
“Ignore him.” she told Meghan, “What’s wrong?”
Meghan evaded her gaze to look back at her arm. “Guess I really don’t know my own strength. You know how they put limiters on these things so people don’t accidentally crush things when they’re just learning to control it?”
“And also because they’re scared of anyone just going spark jockey and getting super-strong?” JC added.
She nodded. “Right. Well, I kind of went all spark jockey and hacked my limiters. I haven’t really had any problems. Until like now.”
“I think the more important question is ‘why did you punch a light pole?” Kay asked.
Meghan jerked her hand free and slumped back against the bench. “Hank being… I’m not even sure what he’s being anymore. At first, he would say he was busy or go caught up, but five missed dates? And this one was supposed to be extra special because he missed the last one? What am I supposed to think?”
“Wow, that’s an asshole move.” JC looked to Kay to make sure he wasn’t saying anything punchable, and when she didn’t glare, he continued, “It is the end of the year, right? Maybe the guy’s got projects due and sucks at managing his time. Have you talked to him about it?”
“It’s always the same bullshit—and not a project. ‘I was playing SEAL: Extreme Measures and it totally slipped my mind’, or ‘I got caught off campus and couldn’t get a pod over’. Stuff like that. Then he swears he’ll make it up to me—and usually he half-asses it.” Meghan’s shoulders slumped. “I think I’m just a lower priority these days. Lower than a video game with his buddies at least.”
Kay winced at that, then looked to JC, who nodded. She returned the nod, “Sounds like you have some yelling at him to do at the very least. But for tonight, why not hang out with us? We’re gonna watch some movies, get some Thai delivered, and I can tell you all about the various boneheaded things this guy and his girlfriend have done to each other over the years. It’ll make you feel better.”
Meghan shook her head. “I don’t want to bring don your night or anything…”
“Who’s bringing what down? If anything, we’re going to bring your night up! So come on, we’re—“ The light overhead went out. So did every other light on the path. “Oh.”
“Do you think I did that?” Before the words were even out of her mouth, JC and Meghan’s palmtops started ringing.
JC got his out first. “It’s an emergency message from the campus police? ‘Attention students, due to a credible threat situation on campus, the campus is now on lock-down You are instructed to shelter in place. No one is allowed on or off campus until further notice. The campus communication hub will switch over the relay emergency communications only. You will be notified of any further updates.”
“I don’t remember ‘cutting the power’ being one of the emergency procedures,” Meghan said.
“Or cutting the internet,” added Kay, squinting at her own palmtop’s screen. She wasn’t even a student there and yet, she was cut off too. “What the hell? Who protects a place by cutting it off completely from the outside world?”
JC pocketed his palmtop and turned a slow circle. Except for the perpetual ‘city glow’ filling the night sky, there was complete darkness all around them. “There are emergency lights. I’ve seen those little blue emergency lights. Why aren’t they on? We should at least be able to see the ones at the back door to the Carpenter Building from here. Kay? You getting a wigged out feeling?”
“Yeah, ISO Standard Mayfield Danger Sense.”
“I’ve got it too. Like when those ghost attacks were happening on campus last year…” Meghan murmured.
From his pocket, JC produced a small LED flashlight and turned it on, illuminating their path. “let’s get the hell out of here. My dorm isn’t that far away. At least we wont’ be caught outside.”
“Unless the lock-down seals the dorm doors too,” said Meghan, getting her own flashlight out of her purse and adding a little more precious light to the area.
“Let’s not even think of that one yet.” JC started down the path again, the girls falling in close behind.
Troy smiled grimly as his program did its work.
Shutting down and isolating the campus was more complicated than it looked. For one, every living or administrative building had its own dedicated solar battery for back-up power. He had to send those into maintenance mode so they’d be unable to kick in. Then he had to disable all the redundant alarms that usually sounded for a lock-down while still making sure the gates shut.
In theory, Dayspring was a closed campus: an eight-foot wall surrounded everything with heavy security gates that could close and lock if need be. In practice, the gates never all closed even during drills, so it wouldn’t go unnoticed for long that the campus really had closed.
Luckily, with power and emergency power out, all the doors on campus were now locked in place, including the campus police station. And thanks to resetting the emergency call identification on the campus communications relay and tying it into the internet carrier, his was the only computer that could reach the outside world.
By his estimate, he now had two hours before the MPD realized something was going on and days before the campus’s issues were all sorted out. Plenty of time to hit the main administration building (which he had left with emergency power), gain entry to the servers, then get back and pretend he was just as inconvenienced and worried as any other student.
In the harsh, blue light of a camp lantern, he dressed in his costume: black and blue camo pants, a long-sleeved, form-fitting shirt with a high collar that was black with a blue circuit pattern stenciled on it, gloves, soft boots, and a blue ninja-style hood that left only his eyes visible. Lightweight, padded ceramic inserts provided armor over his chest, knees and arms. Over the gloves, he pulled on a set of padded gauntlets with ceramic plates over the knuckles and attached katars. Finally, a set of lightweight, red-tinted nightvision goggles completed the look.
Thusly attired, he turned his attention to the last tools provided to him by the Orb Weaver: an inhaler alongside two bottles of pills; one labeled ‘Strength’, the other labeled ‘Reflexes’. Simple and to the point; he liked that.
The pills were standard capsules filled with powder. He had to insert them into the inhaler and turn it in order to break them open, allowing their contents to be inhaled. The bottles warned that they needed to be taken with a full meal, so he pounded down two Chow2Go liquid breakfast drinks to follow the two pills’ worth of power-granting drugs.
Not long after, his stomach started to growl, and he drank two more bottles before he finally felt full… and different.
A good different.
Near-instant muscles now strained his costume as heat seemed to roll off him. The new strength made his muscles twitch, eager to be used.
Time to get to work. Starting with his back-up distraction.
Leaving his room, he headed for the stairs, knowing the elevators would be out thanks to him. What he was sure of was that the authorities would start out looking for the reason someone needed to shut down the campus. Without something else to focus on, they would quickly think to check the administration building where all the important records and valuable information was kept.
But if something else caught their attention, like an attack on a student…
He quickly found himself on the floor where a student he really wanted to attack lived. Hell, the beauty of the whole thing was that he wasn’t even in the top three people who would want to attack Mike. Maybe not even the top twenty. The list of suspects would be a mile long and every one of them had motive.
“Hey Mike.” He said under his breath as he approached the door. “I decided you can keep the fifty bucks.”
The reinforced katars struck through the door around the knob in only a few hacks, and he kicked the door in.
Only to find an empty room.
All the commotion drew attention though, and soon he heard other doors on the hall opening.
His eyes narrowed. Where the hell was Mike? Casting his memory back, he recalled the jackass sneaking alcohol out in his gym bag. That meant he was headed out somewhere to drink.
Off campus? He hoped not.
There were possibilities though: the gym or one of his friends’ dorms. With the strength and speed granted to him by the Orb Weaver’s drugs, he had plenty of time to hunt Mike down before getting to work.
Jaw set, he headed back into the hall, heedless of the shocked reactions he drew from the gawking students.