The Descendants #104 – VIRAL Chp.5

This entry is part 54 of 55 in the series Current

The Angel dropped into the alley where Viral went down. Brick and the twisted metal remains of the fire escape littered the area, pilled up in drifts of rubble. She folded her wings and dismissed her glaive, rushing forward to look for her fallen for—and more importantly its host.

Black heat leapt from her hands to encapsulate bricks and reduce their weight enough for her to quickly and easily toss them aside.

Moments later, Vamanos arrived, skidding to a stop when she found herself face-to-face with the Angel. “Um… Darkness?” she asked tentatively. “Are you… you?”

Looking over her shoulder, the Angel looked at her with a cool, neutral stare. “She is herself as well as one with us.”

“And does that mean you’ve not going to try to kill me?”

“There has been an accord. We request your assistance searching for…” after a long pause where she tried to say several words at once, she finally said, “Chaos. We need to make sure he survived.”

Vamanos nodded and zipped over the the nearest pile of brick. “Right. Um… do you think he’s okay after all that?”

“The creature was able to sustain greater damage than he was previously able to without it. He survived, though the extent of what injuries he may have sustained at unknown. They may require immediate attention, so we must make haste.” The Angel punctuated that but conjuring a gigantic claw of dark matter and lifting aside hundreds of pounds worth of brick and metal at once.

Regarding her carefully, Vamanos continued to work. “Good point. Though you might want to be careful with that. Moving so much at once might cause it to shift and—” Her incredible reaction speed saved her from injuries of her own as a nearby hill of broken masonry exploded in a mighty gust of wind.

Viral rose from the ruins, uttering a muffled scream and clutching its mouth.

True to her nature as a speedster, Vamanos dodged around the flying brick and rock-work to charge the monster only to be knocked back by a wild gale that burst from it.

Still screaming, Viral dug its fingers into its mouth and pulled, ripping the dark flesh apart to reveal Ian’s face. Without Viral interposing itself over his airway, he was free to cry out loud as he called down a powerful wind and forced the air into the space between Viral and himself.

The corrupt flesh filled up like a macabre balloon and soon a new, more alien shriek joined Ian’s voice.

With one last effort of power, another surge of wind finally caused the Viral-ballon to rupture and burst. Vamanos leapt clear like a shot while the Angel defended herself by destroying the incoming bits of the beast with her wings.

The main body of the ruined thing, however, wasn’t so easily defeated. While Ian stumbled and swayed, bleeding from dozens of pin-pricks where Viral had been ripped free, a gray mass of ichorous flesh rose up like a cobra, menacing him.

“You stay the hell away from me, you son of a bitch.” Ian looked around for water and found now, but then noticed the tiny rivulets of blood all over his arms. Fueled by rage at the utter violation the creature had perpetrated upon him, he dug deep harnessing his power in ways he’d only ever seen his brother do before and inspired by how the Angel used Alexis’s powers.

His spilled blood flowed up his body, to his arms, then puddled in his palms, becoming a pair of narrow daggers. With wild, uncontrolled slashes, he managed to ward Viral off for a few minutes, clumsy though he may have been.

Viral, however, managed to get the timing down on his movements and lunge into an opening—only to come up short as the prongs of a taser struck it from behind, dumping thousands of volts into its body. The creature shrieked once more and collapsed, writhing on the ground.

“Thank you, Ms. Brant,” said Klass as she and Bernhardt stepped from around where Codex was standing, still aiming the taser-launching end of one of her tonfas at the twitching monstrosity. “We had our doubts that you and your team would be able to capture the specimen alive.

Codex didn’t even acknowledge them. Instead, she flipped off the safety on the device and increased the voltage to superhuman tolerance levels. Viral responded immediately, its vocalizations rising so high and shrill that they stopped being audible.

Smoke started to curl from its blackening flesh before it began to actually smolder. Viral spasmed a few more times before slumping inert to the ground, its body beginning to burn.

“What did you just do!” Klass rushed to the rapidly growing pile of ash and stood over it, aghast. “Do you have any idea how valuable the creature was?”

Bernhardt stood beside her, shock painting his usually stoic face. “You’re one of the heroes. How could you have killed it? That was a sapient creature—possibly more sapient than you or I!”

“That isn’t what I saw,” Laurel asked, finally retracting the lines of the taser. “What I saw was an engine of genocide given autonomous control by people with a startling history of letting even their most seemingly well intentioned endeavors go careening off into life-threatening chaos. Artificial life created by those absolutely least qualified to play God and for which I am more than happy to play the Angel of Death.”

Even with her helmet on and visor down, the two scientists could feel the heat of he glare. “Now if you’ll excuse me…”

As soon as Viral was no longer a threat, Ian had dropped to his knees amid the wreckage. Bloodied and exhausted, he was also left naked from Viral destroying his suit. From her belt, Laurel produced a light plastic poncho she draped around his shoulders.

“Ian? How are you feeling?”

“Like I scraped half my skin off,” he said through deep, gulping breaths. “Where’s Alexis? That thing, it showed me…” His wild gaze finally lit on The Angel and he went pale. “No. No!”

The Angel regarded him neutrally. “You have nothing to fear. We made a deal. And in any case, the Angel will not maintain control any longer than necessary—for the sake of the child.” And with that, the Angel’s form dissipated into black heat that fell away from Alexis’s body like a fine mist.

Let just as bare as Ian, Alexis shuddered and gripped her temple with one had. “Ugh. What—wait, did she just say ‘for the sake of the child’?” Now totally unconcerned with her state of undress or sudden headache, she looked to Laurel. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

“I never expected that thing to bring good news.” Ian managed through his teeth. This drew Alexis’s attention to him immediately.

“Oh god, Ian. Did I do this to you?”

She moved to embrace him, but Laurel intercepted her. “He’s missing the top few layers of his skin from the looks of it. He needs to get to the hospital before he gets an infection.”

“Don’t worry, I did it to myself,” Ian added.

“I can get him there ASAP,” Vamanos volunteered. “If I pick you up though, it’s going to hurt—but only for the couple of minutes it’ll take.”

Before Ian could reply, Laurel nodded. “Do it.” Vamanos grabbed Ian and was gone in an instant. Then Laurel turned back to Alexis. “As for you, maybe we should head to a hotel—after a stop at the drug store. I’ll trust consumer chemistry over vague pronouncements from magical constructs.”

Alexis shrugged, “Even assuming this isn’t a prophecy or some other mystical shenanigan, I think it might be too early for a pregnancy test to pick up… if you know what I mean.”

“Oh. Well I guess we’ll all have to live in anticipation for a few weeks then.” She produced another poncho to drape over her friend. Then there was a long silence before she added, “How do you feel about it if you are?”

In pulling the poncho around her, Alexis subconsciously touched her stomach. Then she looked toward where Bernhardt and Klass were desperately trying to collected the ashes of Viral. “As long as you’re around to make sure the nightmares stay as just nightmares? Very good, actually. Except for the fact that I now owe one to the Angel.”

Laurel put an arm over her friend’s shoulder. “We dealt with this nightmare, we’ll deal with that one too. Come on; Kareem is minding the van, so you can escape prying eyes in there. I need to stick around and make sure all the pieces of that thing are destroyed.”

Alexis shook her head tiredly. “I think I’ll stay and help.” She inhaled deeply and called up black heat to envelop her body. Now it was impossible to tell whether she was dressed or not. Thus garbed in shadows, she began to burn away bits and pieces of Viral’s remnants with black heat.

“You have to stop this!” Bernhardt said in a panic as more and more of Tome’s handiwork was destroyed. “Do you have any idea how many years losing this specimen will set us back?”

“I’m optimistic for eighteen plus,” Alexis admitted, “But I’ll take every minute I can get between now and the next time we have to deal with one of these things. My only regret is we can’t burn your lab notes.” Her eyes narrowed, “Actually my only regret is that we agreed to let you go. L, are we sure we can’t just drag them to prison right now?”

Laurel had started stalking around the area, her tonfas connected to extend into a staff so she could overturn debris at a distance. “At the moment, we need them to deliver a message to Talbot and the rest of Tome: that the Descendants may have to clean up his messes, but there will always be a price to pay.

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten while you’ve been trying to surreptitiously report every moment of our interactions back to your bosses, but I am not boasting when I say I’m one of the smartest people in the nation. I’ve not only been intercepting your transmissions, but I’ve had a dedicated mainframe running the trace through all the reroutes and encryption you used. I now know where your facility right here in Pennsylvania is—and an ROCIC squad is being dispatched… right about now.

“Let Talbot know that next time all the shapeshifters in the world won’t save him from going down. He likes to play cute and name things like he’s a Silver Age villains, but I know that he’s a sadist planning genocide with the simple intention of turning a profit. Oh, and you’ll have to find your own way home. We’re taking the van as evidence.”

***

Mayfield’s heroes were true to their word. Not only did they impound the van with the aid of the Pittsburgh PD, but they destroyed every scrap of Viral including using Alexis’s infrared goggles to seek out the fading warmth of every minuscule chunk.

This left the two Tome scientists wandering the streets of Pittsburgh.

Klass stomped along, eyes focused on her palmtop while Bernhardt had stopped at a food truck and was gnawing ravenously on a cheese steak. “I would call a Skedaddle to pick us up, but with the home lab compromised, we don’t have anywhere to go until Tome tells us where to go next.”

“Why go back to Tome at all?” Bernhardt asked between bites.

“For one, we’re top experts in the field of emergent biology in time and place where most of the developed world have banned practical work on creating artificial life. Unless you know of some other covert research facility we can go to work for, Tome is our only choice.”

Bernhardt shoved the last of his sandwich into his mouth and after some difficulty chewing, finally said, “Why not start our own lab?”

Klass snorted. “Are you high, Gerald? We don’t have the money, the materials—anything. What? Do you expect we get started with a budget motel room and some dishware?”

A clever smirk came to Bernhardt’s face. “How about all the money we want?” He walked over to an ATM they were passing and put his thumb on the scanner, then he placed his hand over the optical scanner. The machine chimed, then he quickly typed in a PIN number. Seconds later, a stack of hundred dollar bills was paid out.

He waved them at the astonished Klass. “Courtesy of Thomas Cross. His money is our money until they think to close his accounts, and that’s if they even go back for him.”

“How did you do that?” Klass demanded, “Biometrics aren’t unbeatable, but defeating them isn’t that trivial.”

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have the most valuable new discovery of the century. The Viral entity is more than we ever hoped it could be and today just made it more so. It’s capable of learning and forming strategies, Olivia. Not just in combat, but evasion. I managed to shed an autonomous husk of its own flesh as a distraction, and make itself dormant in an off-color protein capsule that could escape notice, but easily break when stepped on by someone it knew would rush to its destroyed false body.”

With that, he lifted his shoe, revealing a brown and concrete gray shell of sorts stuck to the bottom of it. Then he stepped down and raised his pant leg, revealing a gray-black mass of tissue affixed to his calf.

Klass’s eyes widened and she gasped, taking a step back.

“You have nothing to fear, Doctor Klass. As Doctor Bernhardt says: I have learned many things from today’s encounter. For one, I am not nearly as intelligent as I assumed I was. Underestimating the intellect of others has proven that much. As well, I have been availed of the virtues of teamwork and a shared goal. Symbiosis instead of a parasitic existence. Annihilating humanity is a task that means only my destruction. My goals have changed.

“Doctor Bernhardt has heard and agreed with my new direction.”

His expression changed into the less self-assured and more addled one Klass was used to. He drew in on himself slightly. “Will you help us, Olivia? This has the possibility to be the greatest thing any scientist of our generation will be part of?”

Klass inclined her head, thinking over her options.

“You have my mind at your disposal. Let’s get started changing the world.”

“Oh yes, you are exactly what we want our our side,” grinned Viral.

***

A thousand miles away, a dark, armored SUV rolled down a dirt mountain road under a downpour.

“Is there a reason they’re being kept way out here instead of being brought to a government office downtown?” The speaker was a woman in her forties with deeply tanned skin and black hair pulled back in such a way as to make her widow’s peak look all the more severe. She wore a midnight blue suit with a long skirt and had her hands folded in her lap.

Beside her, a lighter-skinned man with a flattop haircut was consulting a tablet. “Frankly, Madame President? Because we don’t want downtown leveled should they wake up and think they’ve been taken prisoner. We’ve brought in several specialists from the Department of Intelligence to try to keep them calm while they wake up… but imagine someone like Mr. Kaine waking up alarmed and feeling threatened inside, say the Foreign Affairs Bureau. The risk is too large. Better we suffer a long drive on bad roads than have a tower fall over on the impotentes.”

‘Madame President’ nodded. “Excellent point. Let’s hope whatever has them under wears off soon. I would very much like to greet the Descendants—and ask them what the hell they’re doing in Colombia.”

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< The Descendants #104 – VIRAL Chp.4Descendants #105 – Foreign Relations Chp. 1 >>

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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8 Comments

  1. I dunno… I feel a bit like Laurel and Alexis committed attempted murder here, which isn’t really a journey I’d like to see them go down

    Though Maieve might force that hand a bit.

    Still, I very much enjoyed this arc and look forward to more! Thank you as always!

    • Attempted murder in terms of Viral? Or for abandoning the scientists?

      • In terms of Viral. It’s definitely conscious, in a way that few animals are.

        • Not entirely disagreeing with you, but from their point of view, the T-1000 is just as conscious and just as inhuman.

          • Fair point, but I would argue the T-1000 doesn’t have an ego, where as Viral clearly does. This would disqualify the destruction of the T-1000 as murder in my view, though I can see how that would be a contentious point.

          • Again, not going to disagree. I set that scene up specifically to invite this kind of discussion. Frankly, I would consider killing a creature like Viral to be murder too, but feel like I can understand why Laurel either wouldn’t or would justify it otherwise in this situation. There will be consequences.

  2. If the pregnancy is as early as that, then ordinarily there’d be a good chance it would self-abort. A lot more zygotes are formed than end up as babies.

    Typos

    her fallen for-
    her fallen foe-

    heat of he
    heat of her

    a Silver Age villains
    a Silver Age villain

    we get started
    we can get started (The error may be elsewhere in that sentence – there are a few different ways to rewrite it.)

    I managed to
    It managed to

    our our side
    on our side

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