The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.1

This entry is part 29 of 35 in the series Current

“So what’s the verdict? Hour drive aside, wouldn’t you agree this is better than your usual workout?”

Desiree and Kareem had just topped a ridge somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains along Skyline Drive, arriving at a breathtaking vista. Beyond a yellow railing the ground fell away into a sheer drop overlooking verdant foothills dotted with the occasional remote house or farm and in the distance, the tiny town of Sperryville.

A deep breath drew in crisp, fresh mountain air laced with the heavy scents that gave White Oak Mountain its name as well as the subtle scent of oranges he’d come to associate with his girlfriend. Contentment eased the tension in his body from the hike and a smile spread slowly across his face. Wrapping one arm around Desiree’s waist, he took the last few steps to carry him right up to the edge.

“I’d say it was well worth it for the view alone.” He bent to gently kiss her lips before adding, “And the company of course.”

Putting her arms around him, Desiree pulled him closer to return the kiss. This one was longer and significantly more involved. When they parted she grinned, no longer afraid to reveal her rows of triangular teeth. “I was thinking the same thing. Especially since it’s been a while since we’ve had time to just be together. I like your friends—I really do—but they do tend to monopolize your time.”

Kareem scratched the back of his head, doing his best to look sheepish even though he couldn’t bring himself to feel genuinely bad about what he’d really been doing when he said he had obligations with his friends. Nonetheless, he had to agree that he’d been neglecting Desiree the past few weeks after Alloy, Renaissance and Occult disappeared and then dealing with the aftermath of their return and the Nightmare King’s attack.

He placed his hand on her shoulder. “I really am sorry. You know me: I simply cannot bring myself to say ‘no’ to anyone. But I promise to try and do better.” And he meant it—though in the back of his head he was even then regretting letting Desiree demand he leave his palmtop back in the car.

But then it was just one day—only a few hours. What could happen in that time?

***

A manhole at the corner of Third and Claremont exploded, sending a the heavy metal cover hurtling skyward just seconds ahead of a grapnel that snagged a traffic light and started to reel in. Hanging on to the end of it was Renaissance, who used the line to swing clear of the hole.

Hitting the ground in a roll, she came up brandishing her right gauntlet to fire three rapid-fire explosives into the hole. Three new explosions rocked the hastily-cleared street.

“Here they come!” she shouted, ejecting her now-empty cartridge of explosive rounds and replacing it with a fresh one. “That was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. I like bug but…”

Something skittered up through the fireball into daylight. Fifteen pairs of scuttling legs powered a writhing, yellow-gray body covered in chitin plates through smoke and flame. The plates on its back and belly were supplemented by lobstered ceramic armor featuring mounts for a pair of barreled weapons on top and a tank connected to a nozzle beneath. A pair of mandibles clacked hungrily as the monstrous centipede lunged at the kneeling heroine.

It’s attack was preempted by a column of black heat that swatted it aside and into the side of a parked panel truck. A split second later, a flickering ball of light came down from on high and exploded into a hellstorm of flames, blowing a number of legs off the thing.

All that might have remained would be to finish off the critically wounded arthropod—if three more of the monsters hadn’t rushed out of the crater that was once a manhole, followed by more still. One met nearly the same fate as the first as an armored figure cannoned into it, a pair of metallic tentacles cleaving into its body as the impact toppled it.

Another was struck by a beam of blue energy an driven back into the crater. Still another found all thirty of its legs knocked out from under it by a yellow and red blur before a golden tiger pounced on it, ripping legs off with its teeth and prying apart both metal and chitin plates with its claws.

One of the monsters newly risen from the crater lowered its head, bringing the weapons on its back to bear and fired twin bolts of purple plasma into the the tiger’s side, knocking it away from its prey yowling in pain from plasma burns.

The one that had been slammed by Alloy and stabbed by Isp and Osp rolled over and aimed the nozzle on its belly, spraying a stream of clear liquid that began corroding Alloy’s armor where it struck his arm and chest. The armored hero was quick to dodge for cover.

Other centipedes started firing skyward, harrying Chaos, Darkness, and Zero who were strafing them from above. Two others tried to chase down Facsimile and Vamanos with acid spray. Despite taking heavy damage, the creatures had the numbers and tactics to actually fend off Mayfield’s heroes.

Speakers mounted in the armor of one of the huge beasts crackled to life an a man’s voice began to rant. “Two years ago, I set out to demand from this city the respect and recognition I and my ideas deserve! Time after time I have demonstrated proof that giant arthropods have more to offer this world than a cheap source of chitin material and bio-metal. Rather, their body structures offer exceptional chassis for robotics and as you can well see, the creatures themselves have incredible military applications.

“The world might have already been enlightened to this fact if not for these ‘heroes’ constantly interrupting my demonstrations! Not only that but they insist on humiliating me at every turn: insulting my name, destroying my work—and even once sending children to sabotage me!”

As he shouted, the centipedes fanned out, now numbering twenty in all, thought several were swiftly taken out of action by counterattacks from the Descendants. Though Hope and Occult had evacuated bystanders for two blocks, people were starting to appear in upper story windows filming with palmtops and cameras. Just from context, many had figured out what was going on already and ‘Doctor Powerless Fails Again’ was already starting to trend online.

“Well no more! This ends today! After this night, Machine City—nay the entire world will know that my name is Anton Paralus. Or if you insist on a garish nom de guerre for the real heroes as well as the false ones, then I insist on Doctor Perilous!”

“Hey!” Facsimile, now in her winged form, emerged from behind a sedan, dodging another gush of acid as she spoke. “I’m pretty sure I named you that. And I’m also pretty sure you weren’t trying to prove jack when you tried to kill us all those times. Ungrateful jerk!”

A trio of centipedes focused their attention on her and swarmed toward her while the speaker sputtered for a moment before saying, “A preemptive strike. You people had already proven yourselves hindrances to anything that threatens the status quo.”

The panel truck damage earlier came down hard o one of the centipedes, smashing it flat with a sickening crunch. Isp and Osp brought the truck down again and again, grinding it down on any legs that continued to twitch.

“Is that the status quo of Mayfield being safe and not in need of hill giant exterminators?” Alloy challenged, forming the fender off a nearby car into a sword to fend off the lunge of another of the beasts.

“How very droll. Banter to distract from the fact that with very few components and a mere two years of observation I have been able to identify and exploit all your weaknesses. Weren’t you the one who told me to do research?”

Paralus’s words were punctuated by two centipedes trying to catch Alloy on the crossfire of two acid streams. They would have succeeded too if Isp and Osp hadn’t blocked the corrosives with the battered remains of the truck before throwing it at one of the monsters. A Chaos Nova blew the other apart shortly thereafter.

In the sky above, Chaos checked the water levels in his gauntlets before charging up another Chaos Nova. “How’s the trace on Doc’s frequency going, Codex? These things are more of a pain to take down than I care to admit.”

High above the city aboard the cloaked Karasu no Yūrei, Codex was diligently working at the jet’s main console. “Minutes away. Paralus is a genius in many fields, but he’s just as much a novice at encryption as the average layman. Occult is standing by to teleport herself, Zero and Vamanos to his location the moment I have a location. Just keep him focused on you and the safe zone we set up.”

“Got it.” Chaos gave a hand signal to Darkness and threw the Chaos Nova he’d charged into her path. She responded by hitting it with a blast of black heat that drove it into a crowd of the creatures below. The added over-pressure from her particulates created a Black Chaos Nova that hurled several centipedes into the air and crushed on into the side of a building.

Back down on the street, Zero had landed and was freezing centipedes to the asphalt, leaving them open to slashing attacks from Alloy and the twins, high speed punches from Vamanos, and jaws claws, horns and anything else Facsimile could come up with.

She was so focused on supporting the others, however, that she didn’t notice one of the monsters scuttling up behind her, mandibles and modified forelimbs that served as feeding claws at the ready.

Luckily for her, Renaissance leapt over a centipede she was fighting and landed in the attacker’s path, catching the feeding claws in her fists and holding the creature at bay with nanite-derived strength. The centipede gurgled and tried to surge forward with all its strength, managing to catch her head with its mandibles.

Nanites or no, Renaissance knew that a crushed head was a crushed head and with her enhanced reflexes, threw herself backward.

It saved her life, but in that same moment, she felt a pressure around her head that took her too long to recognize because something went over her eyes and then the next thing she saw was a fluttering piece of green fabric and a pair of goggles hanging off the creature’s mandible.

Stumbling back, it was all she could do to hold the feeding claws away from her as she stared dumbly at her mask.

Her mask which was no longer covering her face.

Or concealing her identity.

For a heart-rending fraction of a second, she faltered. All the possibilities and consequences flashed in her eyes and her stomach churned. In the next fraction of that same second, Isp and Osp streaked past her on either side of her shoulders, their leading edges formed into wickedly barbed harpoons. They pierced its multifaceted eyes, then twisted, ripping its head completely off.

The body went berserk without a head, twitching and convulsing. It crashed backward into one of its fellows, weapons firing out of control.

Renaissance let got of the modified limbs of the dying monster and staggered backward. Her back hit something that rang hollow like metal and Alloy was suddenly there, one hand steadying her by the shoulder while the other pulled part of his pauldron off and lifted it to her face. The metal shifted and reformed until it covered her face like a masquerade ball mask.

“Thanks,” she said, trying to get a hold of her moment of shock. “Do you think…”

Alloy looked up at the windows of the office above him. He couldn’t see anyone at them from where they stood, but he’d seen them when he first swung into the battle. “God I hope not.”

***

A few hours later, crews were on hand to clean up the pits of dangerous weaponry, smashed vehicles, and disturbingly macabre and still-moving bug flesh. Not far away in a floor of an office building under renovation, the authorities were taking Doctor Paralus into custody with one hundred and thirty-eight fist-sized bruises to the torso, a lower half entirely encased in ice, and a glowing rune on his forehead that didn’t seem to do anything but itch.

None of the officers present blamed the heroes for being deeply unhappy with the man.

This had, in no small part to do with the fact that ‘Doctor Powerless Fails Again’ was no longer the top-trending subject online for Mayfield and no one was even a little concerned about a humongous creepy-crawlies that had boiled out of the sewers.

No, the local talk and news were focused on just one thing: the image of Renaissance sans mask.

Laurel had set about trying to remove every photo of Tink from the internet the moment Doctor Paralus was taking care of, but even a hypercognitive’s mind wasn’t faster than rumor and the lust to solve a mystery online. By the time she even got started, someone had found Tink’s Quintessence account and mined it for information.

Quintillion itself locked the account and deleted it along with several others within moments of the breech, but the full force of the internet was picking over every bit of knowledge they could find on Christina Carlyle. Within a few hours, they had hit upon a key connection that proved to be the linchpin of a number of conspiracy theories.

***

“As you can see from these leaked images which were later taken down by Quintillion Gallery, Christina Carlyle is romantically involved with this guy. We’ve learned since the leak that his name is Warrick Kaine. Now the interesting thing here is that Kaine might be unremarkable, but he once lived at Freeland House in the Hills, a place owned by Laurel Brant head of Descendants Rights Worldwide and Headmistress at the Liedecker Institute where—guess what? Kaine has a younger sister going there. Do I have to remind you that the Liedecker Institute is a school for descendants and that descendant…cy? IS that the right word? Being a descendant is genetic. I think it’s safe to say that Warrick Kaine is actually another member of the Descendants. Who? Well my money is on Chaos and here’s why…”

***

“Well think about this, Tim: Laurel Brant has said on numerous occasions that she attended the Academy and yet there’s no record of that. You know as well as I do that the feds have gone over the Academy rolls dozens of times now looking for more missing kids or witnesses and none of them have ever seen the name ‘Laurel Brant’ come up there.”

“But we do know of a number of former classmates who say they remember her.”

“Laurel Brant is a wealthy and powerful celebrity. If she said she went to clown college, they would say they saw here there too. Look, all I’m saying is if she’s lying about this—and she is—what else could she be lying about? Bankrolling the Descendants for one, obviously.

***

“It all makes sense now. Recall last year when the city was attacked by those giant robots? The ringleader there was Sean McAllister. His daughter is Laurel Brant’s adoptive daughter and lived at Freeland House with Renaissance’s boyfriend. Guess now we know both exactly what Facsimile was saying to him at the end of that fight, huh? Probably ‘I’ve got a new rich mommy now’.”

***

“So does that mean that teacher from the Liedecker Institute is Occult?”

“Which teacher?”

“The only blonde one, duh: Stephanie Carroll.”

***

“Is no one else going to ask whether or not it’s right for us to go to these lengths to reveal the identities of these heroes? They’ve done nothing but good for us and we’re repaying them by robbing them of their privacy? Robbing them of their safety—let’s not forget that secret identities exist for a reason.”

“The public has a right to know no matter how uncomfortable it makes these privileged neo-celebrities who get ahead purely because they were born with super powers.”

“We’re not talking about making them uncomfortable, this could get them and their loved ones killed.”

“… Are you trying to say dying isn’t uncomfortable?”

***

“I only want to find out who they are so I can thank them.”

***

“The second my sentence is up, I’m gonna ‘thank’ them with a slug between the eyes while they sleep. Let’s see their powers save ’em from that.”

***

“Kareem, this is Laurel. Call me back the second you get this message. We need everyone together. Something major is happening and it may not be safe for you out there. I’ve already called your parents. Code Götterdämmerung.

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 7The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.2 >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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2 Comments

  1. Typos

    I like bug
    I like bugs

    It’s attack was preempted
    Its attack was preempted

    an driven back
    and driven back

    truck damage earlier
    truck damaged earlier

    hard o one
    hard on one

    and crushed on into
    and crushed one into

    about a humongous
    about humongous

    was taking care of,
    was taken care of,

    for one, obviously.
    for one, obviously.”

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