Issue #42 – Metal X

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

Part 4

Alloy felt like he was going to be sick. Metal X had givne up on trying to spear him with harppons and was sending silver ribbons flashing past him, trying to latch on. He could only manage two or three at once; whatever made them so hard to detect with his metal sense also made them resistant to his powers.

The only thing keeping him out of their grasp was the combined effort of Isp and Osp who juked, looped and, at times, threw him out of the path of those he couldn’t effectively halt or deflect. This kept him safe, but also felt distinctly like an hour in a tilt-a-whirl.

His first mistake, he now knew, was trying to move past Metal X instead of around him. The other man was fast enough with his extruded grapnels without relinquishing the lead his initial flight with Tink had afforded.

Another ribbon missed him by more than a yard. It’s blind course and the blind courses of dozens of others told him something important: the silver blob Metal X controlled wasn’t sentient like the twins were. X had to aim and ‘fire’ each one himself, the sheer number he sent out preventing him from fine tuning their course in flight.

There was comfort in that fact: Alloy, Isp and Osp had Metal X outnumbered.

That comfort didn’t amount to much. Another streamer missed him by the width of the street below, but it didn’t miss: With an edge sharper than steel, it plunged into the brick Osp was angling for as a handhold, denying the tentacle purchase. As Osp flailed for a new hold, Alloy’s weight dragged on Isp and they all three dipped far too low.

Another ribbon pulverized the windowsill Isp had hold of, severing the last obstacle between Alloy and gravity. Pinwheeling in air, the tentacles formed desperate, barbed anchors which they dug into the buildings on either side, ripping through brick and reinforced concrete in long gouges.

All the while, Metal X refused to relent, destroying sections of wall as quickly as Isp or Osp caught into them. While Alloy’s fall was slowed, he was still coming down with greater force than a parachutist. A parked car finally broke his fall.

He hit belly first, hard enough to force the air from his lungs and rattle his teeth in spite of the protection his armor provided. Struggling to breathe, he couldn’t get his wits about him in time to deflect the tendril he sensed wrapping his leg.

Without ceremony, he was flipped off the car and landed hard on his back. The static feeling in his metal sense pressed against his armored boot—and stopped. It was trying to spread as it had done with the railing earlier except this time, Alloy assumed, the power he used to form his armor, harden it and make it deform to absorb shock was preventing it in the same way that selfsame power couldn’t effect metal under the effects of magic.

At the same time, he had an epiphany about the strangeness the substance was causing with his metal sense. It wasn’t static at all, but something like watching sand flow in an hourglass: he wasn’t looking at a coherent whole, but thousands or millions of individual pieces.

Isp and Osp rarely made sounds on their own, but now they let loose with shrieks like a massive slab of sheet metal being continually and violently torn. With that as their war cry, they slashed the tendril holding Alloy to bits. The moment it was separated from the whole, the streamer became a solid band of ordinary iron.

The significance was lost as a fusillade of other silvery lashes slammed into the twins and drove them back. Metal X stepped forward. “You’re wasting your time and putting people in danger needlessly. Just tell me where I can find Whitecoat and you can get back to the girl.” A dangerous gleam came to his eye, “I’d hate for something to happen to her while she’s alone in the city.”

Beneath his closed helm, Alloy glared and started to force himself up. “You don’t want to go there.” Even breathing heavily, he put a dangerous edge on the warning.

I don’t want to, but I will.” Two rods extended from just under Metal X’s armpits and struck Alloy in the chest, pushing him back to the ground. “If I don’t find Whitecoat.”

Metal sense worked overtime; Alloy felt out what he had to work with around him; a fire escape, dumpster, two parcel boxes, three hydrants, a half dozen light posts and, of course, the cars themselves; at least those that still had metal frames. Traffic on the street was light, but getting thicker as drivers slammed on the brakes to avoid the confrontation.

A plan was forming, but he needed time. “Why do you want him so bad anyway?”

The onslaught of tendrils keeping Isp and Osp at bay eased and the sheath of material covering the man himself boiled slightly. His concentration was wavering. A dark look passed over his face. “He’s responsible for my father’s death and destroying his life’s work.”

Alloy wasn’t prepared for that. “That’s impossible! ‘Coat would never kill anyone!”

The rods working to keep Alloy from rising pressed into him harder, straining even the enhanced metal. “Did I say anything about killing him?”

***

Years ago.

The lab Zhang promised was built against the seaward wall of a warehouse on the Tong controlled Canterbury Docks. It was cramped and stank of fish, mildew and salt, but it was more than adequately outfitted for the work the Woo father and son team would be doing.

The problem came from Caldwell. The man was dead, but in death, he managed to present one last hindrance upon Zhang’s efforts with the nanites: the Type VII nanites themselves. While the data he fed Zhang was revolutionary by itself, Type VII was a step beyond what Randy had programmed for.

And Caldwell and his assistant had destroyed all the data and control programming related to Type VII. All they had left to go on was a single suspension unit of one thousand twenty-four nanites to try and reverse engineer.

They’d been at it for weeks now and the lab was growing the same sense-dulling familiarity as the room they’d been held in previously for Randy. His patience was growing thin with his repeated failures to even establish a coherent command signal to the nanites.

Meanwhile, his father was growing more and more distant, focusing always on trying to fabricate new nanites and speaking less and less. It seemed to Randy that he was forgetting about the goal of eventual escape.

There was a brief uproar near the front of the warehouse, out of sight of the lab and moments later, a small contingent of armed men came into view, fanning out here and there among the crates and lifts. Each carried an automatic rifle and was dressed for nothing less than war.

“Something’s happening, father.” Randy said in English as more and more men took up positions.

“Something is always happening.” Woo said sourly, refusing to look up from his work. “Maybe it’s a police raid.”

“If that’s so, we’re saved.” Randy said hopefully.

“Or brought in as accomplices.” was the flat reply.

“Anything’s better than this.” Said his son. “But I don’t think it’s the police. They look like they’re searching for something.” His father didn’t answer and Randy was left to wonder what they could be searching for with machine guns in their own warehouse.

Two of the Tong guards made their way to the lab proper, weapons up and at the ready as they scanned the area with hard eyes, taking care to look under the tables. One of them touched the com on his shoulder. “Lab’s secure.” He reported, “As are the prisoners.”

Randy noted that not only did the man speak English, but he was also Caucasian. The Tongs didn’t like hiring non-Chinese, so the man was likely a mercenary hired in desperation. Desperation for what, Randy couldn’t tell.

“What’s going on?” Randy asked them.

They ignored him, taking positions on either end of the lab space, facing the rows that led to them.

Something creaked above. The guards didn’t hear it, but Randy did. He looked up into the darkness that swallowed the warehouse ceiling.

He saw him there; crouched on a rafter, swathed in a duster made of light tan colored leather with a Stetson pushed down over his eyes and a bandanna covering his mouth and nose. The man looked like a cowboy of legend until he shifted and Randy could see hands encased in heavy duty worker’s gloves lined with wires that fed a blue glowing disc in the palm.

The man on the rafters saw Randy see him and with a glance toward the rest of the warehouse, leapt to the seaward wall and started running down it.

“It’s him!” A shout went up from another part of the warehouse and a bright light was shone on the intruder. “The Whitecoat!” Machine gun fire came from two directions, punching holes in the cheap, wooden wall around him.

“I really hate that name.” Still ten feet off the floor, Whitecoat leapt at one of the guards in the lab, catching him in the hollow of his shoulder with a kick that had all his weight behind it. The unfortunate guard staggered forward and couldn’t keep his head from slamming into a table laden with tools.

The other guard span and tried to draw a bead with his weapon, but the Whitecoat was already rushing him. Halfway through the charge, he slammed his hands against the wall where they adhered, and used the leverage and momentum to swing both legs around into a kick that would have been impossible for a normal human. The kick hit the guard in the chin and chest, sending him to the floor.

There was a creaking complaint from the wall as the Whitecoat followed through and before he could land, it gave way. A three foot section broke off, causing the hero to stumble. Salt air and filtered moonlight intruded on the dank of the warehouse.

After a second spent shaking the planks free of his hands, Whitecoat turned to the two scientists. Randy didn’t move, too shocked by the entrance to formulate words. They weren’t needed as he was passed by in favor of the glove-box containing the suspension unit housing the nanites.

A telescoping baton was produced from beneath the duster and with a blow no normal man could muster, he smashed clear top of the box open.

“What are you doing?” Woo hobbled up to him, favoring the cane now more than ever. His other hand reached out to arrest Whitecoat’s hand as it pulled the suspension unit out. It looked like it was made of glass capped with brushed chrome, but in reality, it was a cylinder of transparent aluminum with platinum end caps. Inside was a mercurial liquid suspended in another liquid that resembled hazy water.

“Finishing the job.” Whitecoat answered. “This thing they’ve got you working on; it’s dangerous. You two get out of here; I guarantee the guards have better things to do than chase you right now.”

He gently tugged his hand free from the older man’s grasp and positioned the vial directly over the blue disc in his hand. There was a surging sound and inside the suspension, the silvery liquid sparked and went black.

A howl of rage escaped Woo. “No!” He shoved the hero with all his might and raised his cane to strike him.

Whitecoat didn’t pay any attention to the shove, but he did see another guard coming with his automatic ready to fire. “Watch out!” He grabbed the unsteady old man’s arm and pulled him around, putting his back between him and the barrage of bullets.

Randy threw himself on the floor as bullets tore through the air. He was shocked to find the Whitecoat simply standing there, head bowed, shielding his father as round after round ricocheted off his back.

After what seemed like hours, but were probably only a few dozen seconds, the Whitecoat lowered the livid form of Woo to the floor beside Randy. Still taking bullets to the back, he tipped up his hat to look Randy in the eye. “When I say move, you get him out of here, you got that?” Randy nodded dumbly. A shotgun blast mad him flinch and then curse. “These bastards are going to ruin my favorite coat.”

“You can’t.” Woo pleaded. “It’s too valuable.”

“Sorry.” Whitecoat frowned. “It’s gotta end here.” He glanced at Randy. “Move!”

In a single, smooth motion, he grabbed the stool Randy usually sat at, turned and threw it one handed into a trio of men with guns that had been advancing on him.

For Randy, the rest was just noise and thunder. He remembered diving through the hole in the wall with his father and the desperate swim to dry land. He remembered and explosion inside the warehouse and a long, shivering walk to get off the Canterbury Docks. He remembered feeling safe, telling his father that the nightmare was over.

And then he remembered realizing his father was having trouble breathing, grasping his arm and then his chest. He remembered three days in the hospital. He remembered saying goodbye.

***

The harrying blows against Isp and Osp were coming slower now. In relating the story to Alloy, Randolph Woo, Metal X had taking his concentration off his weapon and put it onto himself.

Alloy felt bad about using that kind of vulnerability against the man, but realized he wouldn’t get another shot. “That’s why you want to kill the Whitecoat? But he tried to save your father, not hurt him. He couldn’t have known any of this.”

“Shut up.” Randolph snapped. “I don’t care what you think. You’re just a means to an end. As Damascus, you worked with him. Tell me where he is.” His tone was cold and threatening.

For the brief moment, the attacks on Isp and Osp faltered completely as his focus zeroed in on his anger and loss.

In his mind’s eye, Warrick worked in sequence: liquefy the screws in the base of a street light, crush and bend the threads in a hydrant cap in an exacting manner, do the same for the hydrant across the street, and finally, finish it off but putting his full power into the traffic light in the intersection behind him.

It came together in the space of a heartbeat. Isp snagged the lamppost as it fell and swung it laterally at Metal X like a major-leaguer. Predictably, he formed the silvered stuff up into a tower shield with spikes that rooted into the ground against the mighty blow. The street light bent and twisted around the defense.

But in protecting himself on that front, he’d left himself open elsewhere. Without threads to hold them in place against the incredible pressure they contained, the fire hydrant caps burst off like champagne corks, One caught X in his lightly armored hip while the other slammed into his knee.

He cried out in pain and, for a moment, the tower shield and even his armor dulled and solidified into an amalgam of iron and steel. There’s when the last wave of Alloy’s attack hit.

The traffic signal didn’t bend or liquefy, it simply transformed into a monsoon of whirling metal with a solid striking head at its fore. It stormed down the street with an undulating, screw-drive motion, picking up speed as it went.

A trio of silver lashes whipped out and grabbed a nearby building, pulling Metal X out of the path of the powerful attack. Rage burned in his eyes. He shifted the tower shield into a maelstrom of liquid metal as he watched Alloy regain his feet.

With a wordless cry of anger and frustration, the whirlwind turned into a huge hammer on the end of an unfathomably long chain. Before Isp and Osp could move to block, it came in horizontally with the speed of a cracking whip.

The hammer head rang against Alloy’s armor and resounded down the street. The armor buckled. White-hot pain flashed through Alloy’s mind, radiating out from his ribs and he found himself flying through the air. He clipped the corner of a building, taking a small cloud of concrete with him as he did, and slammed into the back of a parked car.

More than a dozen segmented legs spidered out from Metal X and carried him to his fallen foe. “Tell me where the Whitecoat is!” He screamed. “I didn’t want to have to do that, but so help me—”

He never saw the blow coming. Two feet in white ceramic boots with glowing blue discs on the soles impacted him on the rib cage and upper shoulder and the force smashed him through the window of the store Alloy had clipped.

The Whitecoat rebounded and landed in a neat three point stance in the middle of the street, maintaining it through judicious application of his boots and gauntlets. “Lay off him. He really doesn’t know how to find The Whitecoat.” He rose into a combat stance. “Now me on the other hand? I think I can arrange an introduction.”

***

Tink watched the blocks go past from the back of a cab. She was sharing it with a bag from an electronics store and another from the sporting goods store down the street from it.

She had not idea what she was thinking: she didn’t have any powers and she would more than likely just get in the way. But there was no helping it; she’d been inspired and if she was right, she might be able to help.

If he needed her help that was. In spite of herself, she blushed. If he didn’t need any help, Warrick wouldn’t be happy about her phone call. Then again, if he did need help, he’d be glad she did it. Either way, she could chalk it up to worry.

Her eyes turned back to the passing streets. And hoped that she was worrying over nothing.

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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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