The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.3

This entry is part 9 of 41 in the series Current

Cumberland, Maryland

The city of Cumberland was nestled in a mountain valley; an urban tangle in the midst of nature’s majesty. It wasn’t the kind of place that saw super-powered drama, sporting a descendant population of less than one percent.

Nonetheless, the ROCIC had rolled in four hours after the initial revelation with the goal of extracting Carla Alastair from her Queens Avenue apartment. To avoid attention, they came in two sedans; one white, one tan, and a dark blue SUV that was heavily armored without looking like it to an outside observer.

Sgt. Lana Shepard sat in back of the SUV with Carla was the SUV and its covert motorcade made its way through the streets of Cumberland. Luckily, there was an Army Reserve base in the city, so the first leg of the trip would be short and afterward, they would be flying under military escort to Mayfield.

“I don’t understand why anyone would want to hurt me because little Chrissie is a hero,” Carla was saying for the fifth time. She was in her sixties and wore a wig of dark red hair that might have been her natural color years ago. A small overnight bag was clutched in her hands as she fretted. “She’s going good work, right? She hasn’t hurt anyone.”

This wasn’t really part of Sgt. Shepard’s job description. Her job was to hunt down rogue psionics—or was they were being called now, ‘powered suspects’ seeing as ‘psionic’ was now considered a mild slur and there were other beings besides descendants with powers these days. Crime-fighting and paperwork were her specialties, not calming little old ladies. Of her team, Dr. Carvalo was the people person, but he and every other specialist had been recalled to DC, Mayfield and Norfolk to process the families after extraction.

So she was going to have to try.

“Ma’am,” she began, pulling off her dark sunglasses so as to make eye contact with Carla, “Undoubtedly your granddaughter has undoubtedly been a force of good: in defense of her city, this country, and this very world. However there are people in this world who profit from the threats that she’s put down; people who have gone to prison because of her, lost influence because of her, feel threatened by her, or just plain cannot stand the idea of good people doing good things.

“These people will want to stop your daughter and her associates or, if they can, gain leverage on them through their families—through you, Mrs. Alastair. We’re here to take you to a secure location until things… cool down.”

The old woman hung fidgeted with the straps of her bag. “A-and after that? Won’t there be a chance…” she left the rest off and Shepard took mercy on her, cutting her off before she could try and articulate the dark thoughts surfacing in her mind.

“We’ll make sure you’re protected, Mrs. Alastair. I promise.”

***

As the motorcade passed, four motorcycles joined traffic and started weaving between cars, slowly making their way up the line of vehicles. As one passed the white car of the motorcade, they tossed a brown paper-wrapped package at the rear bumper which stuck to the metal with a dull thunk.

Inside the car, alerts started going off in the comms of all ROCIC personnel present. “Alert,” said a soft, digitized female voice, “Explosive compound detected. Engaging local signal jamming on all non-encoded channels. Advising evacuation of follow car B.”

Before the voice could finish however, an explosion hurled the white sedan sideways, causing it to fishtail sideways into a truck passing on the left. The two cars skidded across the asphalt and into the next lane where cars swerved and honked, trying to avoid adding to the accident.

In the confusion, the motorcycles closed in.

***

When the explosion took out the follow car, the SUV driver immediately went to the fallback plan, accelerating and bulling his way through traffic to open up space between them and their assailants. He grabbed up his comm and started shouting. “Pelican Two to Base, we are under attack! Repeat we are under attack! Pick up our locator signal. We need back-up now!”

Carla was almost tearing her bag apart now, her head on a swivel as she looked for whoever was attacking them.

Beside her, Shepard was doing the same while drawing her service weapon. She could hear dispatch’s response over her own comm. “Back-up is inbound. ETA seven minutes.”

“You’re going to have to do better than that, dispatch!” Shepard demanded. Through the bulletproof glass of the rear window, she could see two of the motorcycles converging behind them. Each one had a rider on back wielding shoulder mounted weaponry.

“That’s the best we can manage, Pelican Two. Evade until back-up can arrive.”

The line then crackled and a new voice. “We can do better. Pelican Two, this is Codex of the Descendants. We are sending a team to you right now, but you’re going to have to meet them. There’s an intersection coming up in one thousand feet; Kepler and Newton. I’m clearing it now. Turn hard right in the middle of the street and hit the brakes.”

“Can we trust—” the driver started.

“Do it!” Shepard ordered.

The two riders on the back of the bikers opened fire, a pair of searing plasma lances striking the rear window and starting to burn through. They began to trace paths of molten glass along the edges of the window.

Moments later, the SUV took a hard turn, causing the lances to cut roughly across the back of the vehicle before missing entirely and scoring a nearby traffic pole. The turn however put the SUV in the path of the attackers’ plan B as a third bike drove up and pulled up flush next to the rear passenger door and stuck a black box to the side of it.

Whatever they were going to do next was interrupted when the driver braked hard, allowing the still-speeding bike to blow past and overshoot it. It drove past, its own wheels squealing as they tried to brake. Seconds later, a chirp sounded from the other side of the door where the box had attached, and the door next to Carla unlocked and opened.

Shepard thought quickly and grabbed the older woman, pulling her forcibly up and over her lap while scooting into her place. It proved to be the right choice when a segmented metal cable wrapped her upper body and pulled her forcibly out of the car and into a daylight oddly tinted pink.

The man on the other end of the cable was sitting astride his bike, body fully covered by black leather, his face concealed by a helmet with an opaque visor. All the same, he managed to look both puzzled and disappointed with his catch…

…For about three seconds before her drew and leveled a pistol at Shepard.

That didn’t last long either. A golden lion cannoned into him, slamming him off the side of his bike and pinning him to the asphalt. It roared in his face to cow him only to get an answering roar and a headbutt for its trouble. Driven back by the attack, the lion couldn’t stop the biker from regaining his feet with inhuman speed.

With that same speed, the attacker who had attached the box to the door bolted into view just as Carla was starting to recover her bearings. “You’re coming with us, old lady.” He snarled—an actual snarl, not just in the figurative sense. He reached into the SUV and made a grab for her arm before some sort of gold-colored vine wrapped his waist and he was violently hurled out of view.

He was replaced by a literal knight in shining armor. Carla’s eyes widened in surprise and awe… right up until he spoke.

“Sorry we had to meet like this Mrs, uh… Tink’s grandma, but we’re here to rescue you. If you’d just come with me, we’ll have you out of her and in the safety and comfort of the HQ in no time.” His thick Brooklyn accent echoed comically inside his helmet. While he looked the part of the gallant, he certainly didn’t sound like it. This was enough to give her a moment’s pause.

“Uh…” he said, sounding unsure, “No offense, but there’s just three of us and even though these guys are grunts, they’re grunts with explosives, so we need to scram.”

All he’d needed to say was ‘explosives’. She immediately scrambled toward him. Alloy backed up to let her out, playing a heavy gauntleted hand on her shoulder in a comforting gesture. “Don’t worry, ma’am; we’ve been through worse. This month. We’ve actually been through worse this month.”

Stepping outside was like emerging into a war zone. The golden lion was replaced now by a golden gorilla that was savagely pummeling two of the leather-clad bikers. The bikers had taken out tasers and were applying them to the beast, but they were only making it twitch a tiny bit. Likewise, the gorilla’s mighty blows didn’t seem to be doing nearly as much damage as they should have.

Carla wondered why this might be until one of them turned in her direction. A huge fist had smashed open the side of his helmet, leaving the top right corner of his head exposed. At first glance, he was just rough-looking with a protruding jaw, thick sideburns and odd eyes. Then she started to realize the extent of his features: The jaw was an apelike muzzle, the sideburns stuck out from a thin pelt, and those odd eyes were all-gold with no whites or pupil.

She really had no other choice but to start screaming bloody murder and rummage in her bag for her pepper spray.

Alloy hadn’t noticed the nature of the enemy and so called to the gorilla. “Hey Fax! We don’t need to beat them all, just get the Sargent and the twins will get the driver and we’re bugging out!”

The gorilla grabbed the one with the broken helmet and swung him into the other it was fighting before replying with a female voice. “They’re not normal goons! They’re Moreau Corps. Give me a hand here!”

Alloy stopped short and started at the two men struggling to get up. Now that he was looking closely, he noticed how they were moving differently, more smooth and agile than humans would in their situation. “Oh. Sorry.” He raised his hand and the motorcycle of the man who dragged Shepard out of the SUV melted. The slagged metal spread toward the two downed men and formed up around their feet, forming metallic spheres the effectively hobbled both.

At the same time, one of the gold vine things—which Carla could now see were growing out of Alloy’s armor just over the upper arms—extended out to the driver’s side door of the SUV and ripped it off, allowing the other to pull the driver out.

“We good?” Alloy asked.

The golden gorilla shifted and reformed into a woman with gold wings before stooping to help up a still-entangled Sgt. Shepard. Nodding her thanks, Shepard allowed herself to be lifted bridal style by Facsimile without complaints. “We need to find out how they pinpointed us so quickly,” she explained, “If we were compromised, the other extractions could be too.”

“They already are!” A new voice joined the conversation. Carla looked toward where it was coming from and found a robed silhouette standing before a pillar of pink light erupting from the middle of the street. “That’s why we have to move fast—we only have so many teleporters and a lot of transports being attacked by Tome!”

“Right. Let’s hurry!” Alloy guided Carla forward toward the pillar of light, urging her to a run as the sound of more approaching motors reached them. They across the boundary of the light and suddenly they weren’t in the middle of Cumberland anymore. Instead, they found themselves in what appeared to be a commissary full of long tables with hardly anyone else present.

“Mrs. Alastair!” The group’s attention was drawn to a woman in a powder blue dress suit with a bright red ascot carrying a tablet computer and wearing an expression that suggested that while things were urgent, they were well within the norm. “Welcome to the Descendants HQ, Mrs. Alastair, I’m terribly sorry for the circumstances that brought you here, but we’re going to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible. Your granddaughter is currently in the field, but your daughter Allie, her husband and the rest of their children are here. I can take you to them directly. Sargent Shepard, Corporal Carvalo, if you’d care to wait here, I can take you to the debriefing room for your next orders.”

She reached out to take Carla’s hand, but by then Facsimile had set Sgt Shepard down and had fixed her with a glare. Wait just a damn minute: how did you even get in here, Lily?”

Lily Goldenmeyer ducked her head to Carla, then straightened her back and made a show of smoothing down her suit coat. “Codex brought me in. Apparently I’m now official public relations officer for the Descendants now and my first job is to keep the families calm and informed as they’re brought in.”

“Then…” Facsimile started slowly, “You know who we are.”

“I can guess now that I know who Renaissance is,” Lilly said, bowing her head. “I suppose I owe you all an even bigger apology now than I did in general.” Then she glared at Alloy. “except for the part where you destroyed my car.”

Facsimile laughed. “I really enjoyed that part, actually.”

“Look,” Alloy held up a hand to stop the brewing argument. “We can talk when everyone’s family is safe and there’s actually time for this. Lily, do you know where we’re headed next?”

The blonde PR rep nodded. “You’re going with Teen Machine and Lady D to Los Angeles to bring in a…” she checked her tablet, “Issac Smythe. The group sent to extract him reached the law office he works at just as Tome started the attack. There’s heavy fighting and we might have to send more than three for this one according to Codex. Unlike all the other extractions, there are actual descendants fighting there.”

“Not good. They must know he has powers,” Alloy muttered. “Where are they waiting?”

“Conference room three,” Lily informed him. “Facsimile, Codex wants to talk to you about something personal.”

The golden heroine scowled. “I think I know where this is going,” she said before heading off.

Occult leaned on her staff, taking slow, deep breaths. “And me?”

Lily pressed her lips together. “Um… I guess she doesn’t have a codename so… Kay is here and she’s calling in the ‘Magi Club’? Did I say that right?” Occult nodded, “They’re going to be supplementing the teleportation while you’re working on something more important.”

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know if I’m saying this right, but… scree-ing?”

“Scrying,” Occult corrected, “On who?”

Lily shifted uncomfortably in her shoes. “Codex says that Ephemeral hasn’t reported in and his locator in his comm is offline. She needs you to find him.” There was silence at that and even Carla, who hadn’t been following anything for the past five minutes, realized the weight of that statement.

It was Lily who broke that stillness. “O-occult? IS Ephemeral who I think it is?” Worry shone in her eyes.

The mage nodded. “I’m pretty sure it is. And for him to be out of contact? That’s a serious problem.”

***

Birds were singing, the sun was shining, and Kareem Utt was lying unconscious under a shade tree with a metal circlet covered in glowing circuitry locked around his forehead.

Not far away, a feminine form with gray skin was narrating into a palmtop. “…when you wake up with the worst headache of your life, your communicator and palmtop destroyed, and—” a set of keyfobs jangled, “your car stolen… you’ll maybe understand?”

Then Desiree tossed the palmtop into the grass next to Kareem and walked away.

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< Descendants #101 – The Battle of Freeland House Chp.2Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 6 >>

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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4 Comments

  1. Typos

    going good work,
    doing good work,

    before her drew
    before he drew

    out of her
    out of here

    They across
    They ran across

    the Sargent
    the Sergeant (or ‘the Sgt.’)

  2. Kneeeew it. (For future reference when this issue is collected, I mean the reveal on page 3.)

  3. IS Ephemeral
    Is Ephemeral

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