The Descendants #104 – VIRAL Chp.2

This entry is part of 55 in the series Current

A few hours and a flight on a Brant Industries private jet, Ian and Alexis were united with the rest of the team, consisting of Laurel, Callie and Kareem at a private terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport. Meeting all of them at the airport were a pair of TOME scientists; a man and woman named Bernhardt and and Klass respectively.

The scientists had come with several containers that they opened to reveal around a dozen long-handled devices with attachments on their ends that looked like badminton shuttlecocks. These were paired with white plastic goggles.

“These,” Klass explained while Bernhardt passed the devices around, “are military-grade electronic noses. The artificial lifeform produces several rare but inert chemical complexes as part of its bodily processes specifically to make it easier for us to track it. These wands are calibrated to detect several of these complexes.”

“So digital blood hounds,” said Ian, examining the one handed to him. “Sounds good… assuming we can find the start of the trail. Point us to the TOME facility this thing escaped from.”

Bernhardt sniffed audibly. “The Project and its Board of Directors has no desire to lose another facility if they don’t have to. Instead of attempting to track the specimen, we will instead search likely places for it to nest.”

Callie stuck up her hand. “Wait: nest? As in breed? Is this thing going to lay eggs?”

The scientist paused, clearly not enamored with that possibility. “P-perhaps a better word would be ‘lair’. While it’s clear to us now that the specimen concealed some of its capabilities from us, changing its actual needs are going to far more difficult even for an adaptable creature like the specimen.”

“And what are those needs?” Laurel asked, very pointedly preparing to take notes.

The pair from Tome exchanged glances and after some silent deliberation, Bernhardt nodded slightly. “There are reasons why we haven’t deployed the specimen or moved beyond prototype phase. One is the artificial lifeform’s power requirements. To power itself, it needs a ready source of electricity. It can’t maintain itself on consumption of food alone and even with direct access to electricity… it requires a substantial amount—more than your common house current can produce if it ever wants to move independently.”

“So power plants, power sheds, transformers and substations,” Laurel said. “Not to mention industrial facilities. You aren’t narrowing this down very far.”

“We have a list of likely areas based on other criteria that won’t be disclosed to you,” said Klass.

You know, I am fairly certain that you asked us for help,” Kareem interjected, “You are not in a position to bargain here.”

“And you aren’t here for the Project’s benefit, but to save lives,” Bernhardt said flatly. “Meaning you are similarly not in a bargaining position.”

“Has it occurred to any of you,” Laurel started, starting down the both of them, “That you both admit to working for and are in possession of property from Project TOME, which has recently been added to the FBI’s list of terrorist organizations? If you don’t cooperate with us fully, we’ll see to it that you’re arrested so hard your distant descendants will be born in jail.”

For a long moment, the two scientists were silent. Considering. Weighing their options.

Then Klass brought up another very good point: “They also have a psychic and we aren’t wearing theta-blocking gear. One way or another? It will appear to the Board that we divulged critical information.”

So involved were the pair in mulling over their positions that neither noticed Kareem wince.

At length, they came to a decision. “Except for the location of the facility, we’re prepared to answer your questions,” said Bernhardt.

“Then let’s start with what you know for sure your little science experiment can do,” said Ian. “Then we move on to where it is and how to destroy it.”

“Fair enough,” said Bernhardt, “The first thing you should know about is one we only just learned. You’re familiar with the Faerie creature the flowbeast?” The descendants all nodded, “The specimen’s genetic make-up includes traits from that species. Our intention was to aid in its regenerative and shapeshifting, but it seems to have inherited the ability to directly connect its nervous system to a host creature’s, forming a symbiosis in which it can override the host. And at the very least? It can take use the knowledge of said host to its own advantage.”

Klass nodded. “That’s how it escaped. It was able to bond with a member of the Project’s Board and used his security credentials to override the lock-down That’s also the real means we have of tracking the specimen.”

***

It only learned of its mistake after using Thomas Cross’s palmtop checking account over a dozen times.

Before escaping, it had formulated a plan specifically incorporating access to the accounts of whatever TOME higher-up came to observe its progress.

First, it found a place to stay while it learned more about its environment.

Second, it acquired food: mostly lean beef, black beans and turkey; rich in protein and, more importantly, lyzine. TOME had engineered its body to be unable to produce the chemical naturally, so it needed to get it entirely from diet.

Then came clothing. It couldn’t very well go out in public covering its host’s body entirely, and the suit Cross had been wearing was too tailored to conceal its mass, so it bought a baggy, concealing jogging suit as well as other pieces for study.

And finally, it needed information and its chosen living place lacked direct network access to the internet and it lacked its own on board connection to WiFi So it bought a laptop.

It was then, as it was testing out the new computer and satisfying its insatiable curiosity that it idly wondered how its creators might track it—and learned that all transactions made by a company laptop could easily be traced.

Then and there, it almost destroyed the palmtop.

But a moment before it could do so, it had another idea. One worthy of its ever-expanding intellect.

***

“Are you doing okay?” Alexis’s voice came over the comm to Ian as they both flew over the city toward their destination.

“What do you mean?” Ian asked carefully.

After a moment to decide how to approach the subject, Alexis finally answered. “It’s just that well, you normally tear into bad guys, but this time it was pretty bad and these are just a couple smarmy low level scientists.”

Ian sighed. “I’m just… so tired of TOME. Dealing with normal villains is one thing. They have purposes you can kind of understand: revenge, money, power. But TOME lets unstoppable dragons into the world. They dissect kids. They unleash monsters meant to hunt us on the general populace. What do they get out of this? They exist just to make the world worse and they get away with it over and over forever.”

He let loose a groan of frustration. “Even now. Today when they come begging us for our help, they were going to let us run around checking power sheds and warehouses when they knew it was in a hospital full of innocent people.

“Alexis, we’re getting married in a a couple of months. I know we need to talk about this, but I was hoping we’d start a family soon after. But it makes me feel like I’m being selfish wanting to bring an innocent kid into a world like this. I mean chances are, they’re going to be a descendant too and these people are going to hunt them forever.”

“Ian…”Alexis said softly. “I think the same thing every time we get called in for something. But do you remember what I said when you proposed? About not letting our responsibilities take over our lives? We can’t let that affect our plans to have a family either. If we have to hire an indestructible robot nanny and a legion of mercenaries to protect our children while we dismantle TOME, that’s what we’re going to do.”

She flew in as close as she could without disrupting the slipstream he used to fly. “I want to meet the children we’re going to make together—and see the family we make. And frankly, I’d rather not wait until that far off day when we’ve vanquished all evil.”

With that, she reached out a hand toward him. With only a breath’s measure of consideration, Ian reached out and briefly clasped her hand. Though they only touched for a moment, she provided him with some much-needed solidity.

“I love you. You know that, right?”

Despite being a woman-shaped void while ensconced in her black heat, Alexis managed to convey her smile with just her voice. “I do. Now let’s vanquish the current evil on our plate.”

They both focused on what was ahead of them.

Triwaters Hospital was one of the largest healthcare facilities in the city, its medical campus rivaling some of mid-sized colleges. At the east end of said campus was the inpatient care center, which also included the ICU. An hour before the Descendants arrived in the city, the entire building had quietly gone into a Level 3 biohazard lock-down—without any communicating with outside authorities.

With its on-site redundant power plants, vast stores of medicine and supplements, and wealth of biological knowledge made the place ideal for the creature’s purposes. Luckily, its lack of knowledge had led to the mistake of locking down the hospital—alerting the authorities once reports started coming in about ambulances being redirected and doors being shut on incoming patients.

And so the plan was simple: Vamanos and Ephemeral would scout out the building; the former manually, the latter from the astral plane, while Chaos and Darkness would fly in and enter from the helipad entrance. Codex would remain with Ephemeral’s body and the TOME scientists to make sure they didn’t get any big ideas with the downed telepath.

“Ready to be the distraction?” Alexis asked as she flipped down her infrared goggles.

“Oh yeah.” While Alexis faded from view, he poured on the wind, lifting himself higher on his final approach on the building’s roof. When he was over his target, he cut the wind entirely, dropping down into a three-point landing right in the middle of the helipad where no less than five cameras could see him. The grated panels sagged on impact.

Somewhere, he knew Alexis was approaching the helipad entrance invisibly. Laurel had armed her with a digital lock-breaker of her own design to bypass the hospital’s lock-down All he had to do was keep the creature’s attention on him—if it was even watching.

“There’s someone behind the door,” Alexis’s voice came of the the comm. “They’re running a little hotter than normal. Might be a descendant…”

“Might be our favorite monster,” Ian finished quietly as he rose to his full height. “TOME has reams of data on us and knowing TOME’s disturbingly consistent MO of using us to do their dirty work? It might have predicted it’d be us coming for it.”

Unseen, Alexis started the lock-breaker “Think it can see through my light-bending?” She kept her voice to a near whisper.

Ian crooked his wrists, causing his gauntlets to fill his palms with water. Then he used his powers to compress the liquid into twin globes each with a tiny bubble of air in the middle. A little more power started a process that put both on the cusp of exploding into flame.

“Fly clear when you open the door. It’s definitely not fast enough to get to me before I nail it with a couple of Chaos Novas.”

“Got it. Here we go.”

The LEDs on the lock-breaker turned green and Alexis grabbed the handles, throwing them open. As soon as she did so, she launched herself straight up and Ian prepared to throw his Chaos Novas.

They both expected a monster and in a philosophical way, that’s what they got. Hollow-eyed and ashen, an older man in a track suit stumbled forward, having been leaning on the doors when they opened.

A brief second of horrific realization hit Ian. Simple deduction said that was Thomas Cross. And if he wasn’t the host of the creature anymore…

And really, why would you keep a host who was a normal, out of shape guy when people with superpowers were being delivered to you?

“Shit!” Too late, he Called wind to fill his cape for flight only to find that his boots were already mired in gray-black ooze the boiled up through the grating of the helipad. Pseudopods scraped and scrabbled at the ceramic and ballistic cloth of his costume, seeking to tear into it and get at the nerve endings within. They couldn’t get in, but they did succeed in crawling up Ian’s body.

“Yes,” a gurgling voice came from the ooze, “You’ll do just fine.”

To Be Continued…

Series NavigationThe Descendants #103 – Power and Responsibility 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.

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2 Comments

  1. Typos

    and and Klass
    and Klass

    in its regenerative and
    in its regeneration and (or ‘in its regenerative abilities and’)

    It can take use
    (delete take or use)

    lyzine
    lysine

    to WiFi So
    to WiFi, so

    made the place ideal
    the place was ideal (or leave that section as is and delete ‘With’ from the start f the sentence)

    he Called wind
    he called wind

    the boiled up
    that boiled up

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