Issue #42 – Metal X

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

Part 6

Randolph Woo’s breath came in ragged gasps that suddenly turned into barking laughter. “I did it.” He managed. “I did it, father! I killed the Whitecoat!”

“No.” The word came out ragged and drawn out, but it still carried a weight that silenced Randolph as surely as a slap in the mouth. It was the voice of the Whitecoat.

Rumpled and bloodied, with the spike that should have killed him still protruding from where it struck his body and passed through, the defender of Brooklyn stood. And without taking his eyes off Metal X, he reached down and plied his superhuman strength to ripping the spear in half, allowing the spike to solidify in him.

With a grunt of discomfort, he then reached down, grasped the deadly weapon, and drew it from his body, throwing the bloody thing aside the moment it was completely out. Inside his body, an army of Type VII nanites went to work, staunching the blood flow, numbing the pain and starting the healing process.

They were the remnant of a faithful night when he helped Professor Caldwell in his attempt to destroy Type VII to keep it out of the hands of the Hip Sing Tong. The professor died, but the bullet meant for Alan Roschard passed through a container of the nanites before lodging in his spine.

The nanites, helped along with his psionically enhanced immune system, bonded with him, improving his body and making him stronger, faster, more agile and more durable than other men.

It hearkened back to Metal X’s boast that what he destroyed would kill him.

“No.” He said again. “What I destroyed? It protects me. And everyone around me.” Still without taking his eyes off Metal X, he reached with the hand not covered in his own blood and helped Tink to her feet. She had her own arm tight against her side, covering a slowly darkening patch of blood spreading out over the left side of her coat.

Metal X gaped. “But I—”

Isp hit him hard enough to lift him five feet and throw him twenty, sending him crashing into the remnants of a car he’d destroyed.

Alloy levered himself up. It was agony, but at the moment, he didn’t feel it. “You threatened to kill her.” He said flatly. The remaining cars and street lights and even the plates in Whitecoat’s discarded coat vibrated in time with his rage.

He held out a hand and the iron that sloughed off the mass Metal X had called for his attack on Whitecoat pooled together and formed a sword in his hand. He dragged it out to his left as he walked toward the enemy. “You tried to kill her.”

Metal X scrambled to order his nanites, using them to get to his feet, then hardening them into armor for the coming assault. Two barb-tipped harpoons of liquid silver snaked up from his shoulder blades in dim imitation of Isp and Osp.

“You could have beat me.” Alloy informed him. “Hell. You could have beat the Whitecoat even. When it was you and me, or you and him, it was simple: good guys against bad guys. Heroes and villains. It’s what we do. It’s a fight we can lose.”

Sparks sputtered along the length of the sword. All along the edge, a fantastic change was taking place. Electrons shifted in their valence levels, The forces that held protons and neutrons came uncoupled. Iron broke down into aluminum. Aluminum became Lithium and a wispy cloud of hydrogen. “But you changed that. You had to go after her, the one I love? That makes it different. That makes it personal. Now it’s a defense of the heart and that’s something I refuse to lose.”

A stray spark ignited the hydrogen cloud, which touched off the lithium as it formed. For a moment, the blade seemed to burn crimson before bursting into blue-white brilliance. Undeterred by the display, Metal X launched his harpoons at Alloy, hoping to strike home.

The burning sword swept up and intercepted the first. The nanite composite sparked and crackled as any of its composites that touched the sun-hot edge was destroyed. As it passed around the burning brand, the harpoon lost cohesion, its steely structure turning to something more flimsy than streamers.

Alloy dragged the remains of it into the path of the next harpoon, catching it in the violently spasming line that connected the first to X. That weapon too was reduced to little more than slag and sparks. Alloy grabbed the flailing tendrils in his free hand.

The third, with all of Metal X’s will behind it, writhed and whipped high, seeking the armor instead of the flesh within. It struck and dissolved into gossamer, hundreds of filaments fanning out and questing for metal to subvert.

“You’re a moron.” Randolph said, a look of dark triumph coming over his face. It was plainly visible now that he had committed so many of the nanites remaining after Tink’s magnetic interference to finishing Alloy. “I’ll crush you in your own armor.”

“Really?” Alloy grunted and pulled on the tendrils captured on his sword. Now that he knew he was facing a nanite colony, he recognized the ‘static’ was something akin to seeing the whole beach by staring at individual grains of sand. He’d get nowhere trying to move one grain or robot at a time. However, he could shovel it out of the way with brute force.

The surviving cars and other pieces of metal shivered and began to melt from the peripheral emanations of the power he called up. Blue and scarlet sparks leapt from nanites caught in the flux between his power and the magnetic signal that controlled them, racing down the tendrils n his hand to a section of Metal X’s armor.

With a final flurry of sparks, the section came free, reverting to inert and twisted iron before Alloy even cast it aside. Randolph’s eyes went wide, then narrowed as he poured his concentration into ordering the feeder line attached to his foe’s arm to assimilate his armor.

Alloy shook his head. “It’s not going to work, X. I’ve figured it all out: your nanites use a magnetic controller of some kind to manipulate ferromagnetic metal. My armor? Aluminum. The sword? Lithium. Not ferromagnetic.”

With almost callus casualness, he reached up and grabbed the feeder line. “I on the other hand, control all metal.” More sparks, more tearing, and Another million or so nanites went dead, clanging on the ground.

Disbelief mixed with fear on Randolph’s face. A dozen tendrils formed from his rapidly thinning nanite breast plate and streaked toward the young hero. The white-hot sword mowed them from the air as they came and what few it missed were sheared away by Isp.

With a snarl of frustration, Randolph stepped back and called every last bit of his remaining material into his palms, save for a silvery thread that wrapped around to connect to the gold tracery on his head. A final, deadly spear started to form.

Isp moved with serpentine quickness and shaved the tendril away at the precise point where it connected to the skull cap. The stillborn spear became an inert hunk of metal that clattered to the ground.

For the first time, coherence appeared in the man’s face. “You don’t understand.” He managed. “I had to. My father…”

“Wouldn’t have wanted you to do this.” Alloy intoned. The adrenaline rush was wearing off and the pain was flooding back. With his last bit of concentration, he shaped the armor from his arm to wrap and pin Randolph’s arms to his sides.

Then the burning sword fell from his hands, guttering on the ground as no new lithium was transmuted to keep the flames going. He would have fallen if Isp hadn’t caught him.

***

The next time he had his senses about him, he was lying on his side. A warm hand was holding the hand uncovered when he wrapped Metal X and two more were touching his exposed side.

Isp and Osp were aware of his waking instantly and flooded him with a mishmash of thoughts. He only picked up a few. Too dazed to think back to them, he voiced his question out loud. “What? Melissa?” He slurred, “What is she doing here?”

“We got a call.” He recognized Melissa’s voice nearby. That explained by his rib wasn’t hurting anymore. And why he was starving.

The person holding his hand gave it a squeeze. “I called them.” said Tink.

Alloy opened his eyes. His helm was still on, but knocked askew from lying in that position. With a thought, the eye holes realigned and he saw Tink sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk beside him, pale but otherwise in one piece.

“Tink… Tink. God, I’m sorry.”

She squeezed his hand again. “Don’t be. This… well it’s pretty out of left field, and now I feel bad for starting to dislike Alloy for hitting on me whenever we met, but it’s nothing to be sorry about. In fact, it’s amazing!”

Her expression shifted subtly. “Especially with what you said to Metal X…”

“What I—“ Alloy felt his face heat up and was certain that she could see the blush through the eye holes. “Oh. Well it’s true; what I said.”

“I know.” She said softly. “I feel the same way.” Unable to remove his helm and figuring it to be a bad idea anyway, she bought his hand to her lips instead.

“Done.” Hope announced, completely derailing the mood. “Between healing you two I’m probably going to rival Facsimile that the buffet tonight.”

“Two?” Alloy worked himself into a sitting position, staying close to Tink. “What about the Whitecoat, he had a huge hole in him!”

“I told her not to waste her powers.” Said his mentor. He was sitting on the hood of a car, apparently in a conference with Codex, Chaos and Darkness over what happened. One arm was wrapped protectively over the wound, hiding the extent of the injury from view. He had reclaimed his coat and it rested lightly on his shoulders.

“Maybe I’m not as fast a healer as Facsimile over there,” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the heroine in question. She was helping the NYPD block traffic. “But I can get along on my own. Good job on taking X down.” He inclined his head to Tink. “How did you figure out the magnets?”

She shrugged. “I didn’t. It’s just that I used a magnet to stop Wa… Alloy when he got mind controlled once. I figured it might stop someone with similar powers.”

Whitecoat snorted. “She beat you, Alloy?”

Codex stepped up before Alloy could try and defend himself. “We’re all glad for your ingenuity, Tink. And for calling us. I just wish we could have gotten here sooner.”

“Yeah.” Chaos said, “The trains are never on time. We should get a jet or something.”

Alloy had to smile at the quip, but something was still bothering him. “’Coat…” He asked tentatively. “What he said about his father; did he…”

Whitecoat shrugged. “I remember telling them to get out of there, now. And the old man definitely panicked when he realized I was going to destroy the nanites. But the Tongs do this all the time; kidnapping experts, treating them like dirt until they get the job done. I’ve heard of a lot of victims that came out of all the mistreatment and malnutrition with a lot of problems, including weak hearts.”

He shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t think I caused his death. But I’m going to be way more careful with the Tong’s captured experts from now on.”

Codex frowned. “That’s reasonable, and it certainly gives Metal X his motive, justified or not, but it doesn’t answer one important question: how did he know who Alloy really was and where he’d be?”

***

One year ago.

By day, Randy Woo worked as a programmer at Annandale Softworks, a video game company with a string of modest hits thanks to his genius in creating efficient game engines. But by night, he spent all of his time trying to recreate his father’s work from memory.

He never told anyone about what happened while they were kidnapped except his mother and siblings. He didn’t want the Tongs coming after him again for being a leak in need of plugging. As much as he hated them though, he needed to make sure something of his father survived.

It was a late night and his family were out of town, leaving him on his own in their multi-generational brownstone. As ever, he was in the basement, pouring over virtual scenarios and mock-ups of nanites.

It was only a squeaking floorboard that made him take notice. He turned to find a man in a fine suit standing less than two feet behind him. “Who the hell are you?” He demanded. The icy chill of familiarity came over him. This was how he was kidnapped the first time.

But this time, he wasn’t to be taken. At least not physically.

“Me?” Asked Simon Talbot, head of Project Tome, “I’m someone who sympathizes with what happened to your father.”

“How do you know about that?” Randy asked, warily.

“Not important.” Talbot waved it off. “What is important is that the Whitecoat doesn’t get away with it. I can help you get him. Maybe not directly, but I can direct you to someone who does: his sidekick, Damascus. All I ask is that once you get the Whitecoat, you deliver the sidekick to me.”

Randy narrowed his eyes. “Even if I believed you, I can’t take on the Whitecoat. I’m just a mortal man.”

Talbot made a noncommittal sound and deliberately turned his eyes to Randy’s work on the screen. “I don’t know… given enough funding and material… I’m sure you can come up with something.”

End Issue #42

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.

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