Issue #42 – Metal X

This entry is part 7 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

Part 3

Metal X charged down the side of the building, propelled by a half dozen questing hooks that emerged from the ‘belt’ at his waist to grip whatever handholds presented themselves. Fist sized chunks of debris bounded off a turtle shell shaped carapace protecting him.

Risking a peek from beneath his own shield, Warrick saw him coming. “Tink, this is going to get real scary.” He warned.

Tink gave him an odd look. The giddiness she’d felt from finding out her boyfriend’s secret identity was fading as she remembered the danger they were in. “Scary compared to what?”

Warrick was already ordering the tentacles into movement. Osp unwrapped from Tink and speared into the wall slightly above them. The remainder of it’s length coiled and flexed into the space between. “Just trust me on this and hold on as tight as you can.”

Before she could say anything, Osp exploded into action, pushing off from the wall in a strong, unfurling motion that flung them out twenty feet. In the same instant Isp uncoupled from where it was anchored and whipped around at its full length to pinion itself into the corner of the building.

Pressed tightly together, Warrick and Tink swung out almost perpendicular from the wall on momentum from Osp’s push, turning the corner and picking up speed. Whatever Tink’s reply was going to be, it came out as strangled gasp.

Her disorientation didn’t last long once the tentacles established the rhythm of swinging she’d experienced once before when Alloy had offered to take her home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t replaced with comfort, but with dread. Behind them, she saw Metal X turn the corner.

The careful hooks and carapace had been replaced by around a dozen thorny tendrils that jutted roughly into whatever part of the wall presented itself to them, making the villain look like some enormous, metallic spider. Using his method, he was actually gaining on them.

“Warrick, he’s still—“ She started to inform him.

“I know.” Warrick said. “But I can’t do anything about him until you’re safe.” He took a moment to reshape the makeshift shield on his arm. It flowed and ran like warm wax, running up the side of his neck to form into a covered helm that hid his face from view.

Tink watched Metal X drawing closer. “Just drop me off.”

“What, no! I won’t abandon you.”

“It’s not abandoning me, you’re the one who knows what he wants… I think. Do you really know the Whitecoat?” She craned her neck to watch their forward progress. Isp had flung them away from the Gore Center and Osp had caught onto the ledge of one of the dorms.

“Yeah, but not the way he hopes.” Warrick replied. “Even if I was willing to tell him, I don’t actually know who ‘Coat is or where to find him.”

Tink nodded. “Then he’s after you, not me. Just drop me off so you can fight.” She scowled at her own sentence. “I wish there was something I can do to help.”

Detaching from the dorm, they swung out over the street and reached the first tower of the adjoining commercial complex. A few dozen midday shoppers stopped and stared at the spectacle approaching them.

Warrick asked Isp and Osp to lower them at the corner. “Just stay safe. It’ll help me more than you know.” He said. With great reluctance, he relinquished his grip on her and she him.

Tink nodded. “I will. Be careful.” She was suddenly tempted to kiss him again, but his helmet made it impossible, so she settled for a smile and a quick hug. “Go get ’em.” The brief contact covered her phone slipping into his coat.

Giving her a nod of his own, he turned to face his oncoming foe. Isp and Osp both reached up and seized a street light, flinging him into the air, this time heading toward Metal X.

In air, he found a recycling container loaded down with cans and other scrap metal. A geyser of aluminum and tin and iron erupted forth to wash up his body and solidify into the familiar plate and mail of Alloy, Mayfield’s armored protector. The sudden shift in mass didn’t slow the tentacles in the least. In fact, they redoubled their efforts, knowing that he was finally getting serious.

Their confidence was a comfort to Warrick because he was having trouble coming up with any on his own. Metal X was an unknown, save for the blaring alarm bells in his head whenever he thought the words ‘Metal X’. Whatever the silver stuff was that he used, Warrick knew only that he had only limited ability to control it and that it could exert some control of its own over metals.

He didn’t know the limits of the material or the man, nor did he know what else he had up his sleeve. All he had was enough information to know he shouldn’t let any of Metal X’s material come into contact with his armor for long if at all. That would prove very difficult to prevent in a fight.

That bridge would have to wait its turn. The first issue was getting Metal X away from large groups of civilians and more importantly, Tink.

Thankfully, the University was in Brooklyn and if there was one place in the world he knew, it was where he was born and raised.

***

Tink watched Alloy take a sharp turn and disappear down a side street just before reaching Metal X. For a brief moment, she felt an irrational stab of guilt that she had no powers she could use to join the battle.

It was short lived. Instead, she pulled her tablet out of her coat. Luckily, the pocket it was in had protected it from damage during the fleeing and falling of a few minutes ago. She had an internet connection in less than a minute and quickly navigated to her Quintillion online storage account.

Her tablet wasn’t normally used for online activity. It was strictly for notes, schematics and digi-books while her phone and desktop did the heavy lifting. With her cellphone on Warrick’s person at the moment, she didn’t have much of a choice but to download all the files she’d need.

It took several long minutes, but when they were over, she was looking at a map of Brooklyn with an arrow icon pointing to exactly where her phone was. A contented smile crossed her face as she opened another window for voice over IP.

Maybe I don’t have powers, she thought, and maybe I can’t fight. But I’m not going to make you do this alone.

***

Years Earlier

Randolph Woo chewed his lip and fiddled with the tape that held together the broken stem of his glasses. He kept his eyes glued to the screen of his workstation.

His father was close at hand, watching the same monitor as he was. Usually, the old man was unsteady, putting so much weight on his cane that his arm trembled. But then there were days like today, when they might actually be making progress instead of just running numbers and devising theories, or worse, scratching off another failure. On those days, the elder Woo seemed to forget his frailty and captivity and become the man Randy remembered and respected.

On screen, a rough digital representation of a nanite assemblage was being drawn in overlaying cross sections. The internal construction was a complicated mesh of molecule wide fibers, the outer shell was a dull gray icosahedron with alternating concave and convex faces precisely measured to a fraction of a micron to fit into one another.

It was Caldwell’s design, taking advantage of the many docking points to allow the nanite colonies to form complex shapes. The new program the computer was simulating, however, was Randolph’s.

As they watched, more nanites were drawn until several dozen of the devices were populating the program. Each one of them was simulating the characteristics of the molecules that made them up; mass, magnetism, and conduction to name a few.

As they watched, the program notified them with a line of text along the bottom as to what commands were being simulated. As they watched, the nanites drifted together, configured into a number of complex shapes, and disassembled a nanite marked as defective, reconstituting it into a working assembler.

Most importantly, when the commands stopped, the nanites retained whatever shape they formed, but since they had no on-board programming, they didn’t carry on any dangerous extraneous actions.

Woo clapped his son on the shoulder. “It works. Caldwell’s design and your ingenuous programming, Randy. Zhang will be pleased.”

Randy kept quiet. Since his arrival, his father had become increasingly eager to appease Zhang’s wishes. He had no illusions that it wasn’t solely for his sake; to keep him alive and hopefully win his freedom. It weighed on him that he was a tool in Zhang’s attempts to break his father’s spirit.

It was a weight that he tried to lift with cynicism. “It’s slow.” he said.

“What does it matter? It only has to take shape and hold it to become a breakthrough in construction and fabrication.”

Eyes still on the screen, Randy frowned. “But it can be better. The nanites themselves transmit the signal at nerve conduction velocities, but that speed is wasted if it takes measurable fractions of a second for the signal to hit the network. Not to mention the security issues with wireless control; no commercially available wireless system perfectly secure. What if these were used to build a tower and someone managed to gain access?”

His father’s hand clapped him on the shoulder. “Randy, this is good enough. We’ve done what Zhang wanted, maybe he’ll let us go now. Don’t work on making things perfect for these bastards.”

“It’s not for them, Dad.” Randy shook his head. “The Tong exists to make money. They want this nanite strain so they can sell it, probably for construction. I can’t let something I designed get out there with this kind of public danger built in.”

Woo grunted. “You’re very noble, son.” It lacked any of the pride a father should normally have when saying those words. “But look around. You haven’t been here as long as I have, but we’re in Hell. And the only way out is through Zhang.”

“You taught me better than that.” Randy told him, opening the program again and working with some theoretical calculations.”

“I taught you that before…” he waved his hand in a vague circle, “This.” Without warning, his head snapped to attention and he stared at the elevator. It seemed to Randy that he had become clairvoyant about the elevator’s arrival. That or more attuned to the noises it made when in operation.

The lights came on a handful of seconds later and Zhang stepped out with the guards. Without so much as looking at either man, he strode into the room and started issuing orders. “Pack up everything you need to work on Caldwell’s project: notes, equipment—everything. You’ve got twenty minutes.”

“Move?” Woo rocked back on his heels, eyes wide. He’d spent the better part of a year by his reckoning in the confines of the single large room or adjacent bathroom. Time and cabin fever had whittled his hopes and ambitions down to the simple ones of seeing his son go free and to take one step outside.

But he didn’t trust Zhang to do anything other than what benefited him the most. His eyes narrowed. “Why?”

Zhang gave him a sidelong look. Woo hadn’t given him any of his usual attitude since his son entered the equation and he’d become happily used to it. Part of him wanted to give him an excuse to revert to the meek, subservient man he’d become for his son’s sake, but there wasn’t time for that.

“Hugh Caldwell is dead.” He declared without ceremony. “My superiors felt he was having second thoughts about our arrangement.” Casually adjusting his shirtsleeves, he continued, “They were right. My men caught him and his assistant destroying the prototype batches.”

Randy’s heart sank. Without Caldwell’s nanites, Zhang no long had any use for them.

As if sensing his thoughts in the matter, the Tong under-boss cracked a cruel grin. “Don’t worry, Mitchell, Randy, there’s a sample left. That’s why we’re moving you. We’ve spent the last week putting together a full lab; everything you need to finish what he started.”

Father and son exchanged uneasy glances.

“I’d like to hear some joy here.” Zhang scolded. “Once this is done, both of you walk away free and clear.”

If Caldwell’s death had made Randy’s heart sink, seeing his father nod in agreement with Zhang made it break.

***

The Present, fifteen blocks from Whitman-Connors University

Winter break was going great. Finals were finally behind him, his holiday shopping was already done, and the city had been quiet. He knew it wouldn’t last, but he intended to enjoy every last bit of peaceful existence he could get until someone with either too much tech or a lucky spin on the genetic roulette wheel came along and ruined it all, possibly by kidnapping department store Santas.

To that end, he was in his favorite soft robe, sitting in front of a marathon of cheesy cartoon Christmas specials with an extra large mug of hot chocolate close at hand.

Halfway through The Spacecateers Meet Rudolph, his phone rang. After a frantic hunt through the pile of laundry he’d simply let collect at the foot of his bed, he checked the screen and smiled fondly: precisely the person he’d want to share a lazy day with.

“How ya’ doin’ shweetheart?” He asked in a terrible approximation of Humphrey Bogart.

On the other end, Janine Kazhdan couldn’t keep herself from laughing at the wholly non-sequitur answer. But she had evidently called with a less than playful purpose because she recovered quickly. “Alan, have you been out today?”

He didn’t catch on at first thanks to being so relaxed. “Nope. Isn’t it great?”

I think you should, sweetie.” She said nervously. “Kristin was just at the university and she says prelates are fighting down there.”

So much for relaxation. He sat up at this. “Did she tell you anything specific?”

Not a lot, just that both of the guys were covered in metal.”

Not him again.” He groaned, and then blinked in confusion. “Both? What did she mean, ‘both’?”

I’m just telling you what she told me, hon.” He could swear he heard her shrug. “But I think it’s enough for you to get dressed up and check it out.” Janine was fond of using euphemism to dance around his ‘night job’ as she called it. She seemed to feel included because of it and he just thought it was adorably quirky.

He was already up and padding over to his closet; not the one where he kept his shirts and shoes, the one in the hallway he’d spent a night carefully disguising with paper mache and wallpaper.

After years of practice, it slid open easily to reveal a long, white coat, matching armored boots and gauntlets and his trademark Stetson.

Yeah, hon,” Said Alan Roschard, also known as Brooklyn’s Defender, the Whitecoat, reaching for his namesake garment, “I agree completely.”

Series Navigation<< Issue #41 – MachinationsIssue #43 – Love You Madly >>

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

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed

  • Descendants Serial is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.