Issue #23: June 18 (Post Modern Prometheus)

This entry is part 13 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 4

It had started raining shortly after the group had left the restaurant. Sharing the back seat of Isaac’s sedan with Ian, Alexis frowned when she noticed the precipitation. “I don’t remember the forecast calling for rain today.”

“Probably just a freak downpour.” Isaac said from the driver’s seat. “It’ll probably be over before we reach the church.”

“Or maybe it won’t.” Alexis said, watching the dark clouds rolling in. “Do you have umbrellas?”

Mr. Smythe, in the passenger’s seat, scoffed. “Don’t worry, Alexis, my boys can deal with that. You’ll be perfectly dry.”

“We can?” Ian asked, “deal with the rain, I mean?”

Isaac snorted. “You mean you can’t? What, your job didn’t leave you time to exercise your power either?” He shook his head. “I told you that whole Academy business was useless. I’ve learned more on my own then he did in four years; and I’m still learning.”

“That’s not true.” Alexis said sternly, using her ‘angry teacher’ tone. “Ian’s developed his powers quite a bit, especially in the last year. He’s become very good at sustained updrafts and isolating his winds, for example.”

“All big and uncontrolled.” Isaac said, pulling into the church lot. “Listen, little bro, you need to work on fine tuning if you’re going to get anything done.”

Ian quietly fumed. He’d flown, he’d gone toe to toe with a demon and strengthened his ability greatly. Of course, he couldn’t explain all of that just yet, but that didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.

“Isaac, enough.” Mr. Smythe said sternly. “Leave your brother alone. Especially here. I’m not about to have you boys behaving like gibbons on holy ground. You two may have powers, but you’ll never be too big for me to put you both in your place, you understand.”

Isaac put the car in park. “Yes sir.” He said, deflated.

“Good.” The Smythe father declared. “I think maybe its best you not use that power at all if you’re just going to use it to put your brother down.” He turned around in the seat to Alexis. “If you don’t mind getting wet, of course.”

Alexis gave Ian a sidelong glance. He seemed to have enjoyed his brother’s upbraiding immensely. “No problem at all, Mr. Smythe. You remember my black heat? I’ve gotten pretty good at it; I can dry off with it when the time comes.”

“Great.” Mr. Smythe gave her a friendly smile. “Now, my dear, if you’ll be so kind as to escort this old man while his sons bring the flowers up?”

“I’d be happy to.” Alexis said, opening her door. It was raining rather hard and by the time she’d opened the front door to help Ian’s father, her hair was plastered to her head.

Ian and Isaac exited the car on the other side and watched Alexis help their father (who was clearly exaggerating his limp at that point) to the cemetery gates. “Looks like dad’s taking advantage of your girlfriend’s hospitality.” Isaac mused, popping the trunk.

“Manners, manners, manners with him all the time.” Ian chuckled, “at least until there’s a pretty woman around. Then it’s ‘dirty old man mode enabled’.” He lifted the trunk fully open.

“You know, I wasn’t really trying to put you down, right?” Isaac asked. He glared at Ian’s silence. “Goddamn it Ian, it’s just that… this… gift. It’s something mom gave us. You know that. And we should be making the most of it, you know?”

“Isaac, you won’t believe me, but I have been working on it. Everything Alexis said is true. My power just isn’t like yours is the thing. I can’t stop the rain; you can’t lift more than a few pounds. It’s a tradeoff.” Ian took one bundle of lilacs and handed Isaac the other. They had been their mother’s favorite.

“You’re probably right.” Isaac admitted. “I mean mom could just make water bead and little breezes.” He sighed at the thought as he pulled the trunk shut. “But our powers are close to the same right? Except you’re raw power and I’m fine control?”

“I wouldn’t put it that way, but yeah.”

“Then maybe you can do this too.” Shifting the flowers to one arm, Isaac collected rain in his palm. “First, you trap a bubble of air by upping both its density and the density of the water around it.” A globe of water formed in his palm with a tiny air bubble inside.

Ian leaned closer for a better look.

“Now, you increase the water’s density as far as you can…” a strain came into Isaac’s voice. “And at the same time, start pulsing the bubble’s density up and down—as fast as you can manage.” Beads of sweat mixed with the rain falling on Isaac. Inside the water-sphere, a tiny light awoke.

“Whoa.” Ian breathed.

“Yeah.” Isaac nodded, “Just remember to let it go really slowly or that little dot of light? It’ll burn the air into a fireball about as big as your head.”

“You lost your eyebrows when you found that out, didn’t you?” Ian asked.

“No, my kitchen table. I did it in a glass and the reaction melted the glass and turned the table to ash. My insurance adjuster was not amused.”

“I’ll have to remember to try that sometime.” Ian noted. The brothers began to walk toward the gates.

A few minutes later found them trudging up to Alexis and their father as they stood before the double headstone that would one day also hold their father’s name as well. “You two took your time getting here.” The man himself said.

“We had to have a talk.” Ian said. “Brother to brother.”

“A friendly talk I hope.” Mr. Smythe eyed the two of them.

“Definitely.” Isaac said as both brothers set down their flowers on the grave.

“Good.” Their father smiled. Then he gestured toward the headstone. “Ian, you’ve been gone longer than us. You have the most to say, I assume.” Ian nodded and silently started forward. Alexis took a step to come up beside him, but Mr. Smythe, moving away, gently took her arm. “I’m sure he’s very thankful for you being beside him through this, but this is private; between him and his mother, you see.”

The full meaning behind the Smythes’ yearly ritual finally dawned on her. She simply nodded and stood back with the others. Standing with the others, she watched Ian kneel in the wet grass and was reminded of her own family.

The Keyes family was skittish about death at best. Any honoring of loved ones’ memories was done in private and at home. The only members one would catch in a cemetery were already dead. But the closeness of parents and siblings definitely struck a chord with her. She had her sister, both parents and her grandmother; all of whom she was as close to as Ian was to his brother and father.

Did she ever seriously consider the possibility of never seeing them again? Even if it was for their protection? As much as she tried to convince herself that she could make that sacrifice, she knew she couldn’t anymore than Ian could have stayed away from this place.

With the cool rain washing over her, she made a decision. The only question was when she’d ever manage to act on it.

Meanwhile, Ian closed his eyes tightly for a moment, trying to find the right words. Eyes still closed, he spoke. In the half decade he’d been coming to this place, he’d always kept his eyes closed. He didn’t know why, he just did.

“I-I’m sorry I wasn’t here last year.” He began. “But I know you’d understand if you knew why. Maybe you do. Maybe you’ve been watching this entire time and maybe you’ve kept me from getting killed. In fact, I hope you are; it’d make me feel a lot better.”

The cold rain made him shiver. “But I’m here now and… and I don’t know how you felt about me going into engineering. I hope it didn’t disappoint you, but I was good at it. I liked it. But not as much as I like what I do now. And it isn’t just for you. I know you’d hate to see either of us doing something just to make you happy.”

He shifted a little on his knee and got into a more comfortable position. “Maybe you saw it, maybe you didn’t, but the Enforcers didn’t turn out to be the heroes imagined. But… I have. And in doing it, I’ve gotten back together with Alexis, I’m helping these great kids use their powers the same way and… and well, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been before.”

“I swear to you, I’d tell you this even if you were still around, even if I’m not sure of telling dad or Isaac, I’ll tell you, mom. I’m Chaos and that’s who I want to be. For good.”

***

Two eyes opened. They didn’t switch on as they had in the past; rather, they had already been active, but were suddenly uncovered as the protective coverings were drawn away from them. Six seconds remained before those coverings would raise and lower again over the span of milliseconds.

It was oriented horizontally; face down following last minute maintenance on its relays. It used its arms to push off from the table and move to a sitting position.

The environment it found itself in was a familiar one, the factory floor of Lab 2700. It identified three humans standing in proximity to it, watching it. After a moment, it deduced that it was expected to report its status.

“This unit is operational and ready for deployment.” Its fist words came out in a rich bass. “This unit requires designation and mission parameters.”

“You are… designated, Leonardo or Leo for short.” One of the humans said.

Voice print and facial recognition confirmed the human to be Brother Wright, who was 0-tier in its operational hierarchy; someone who had total administrative control over all but its core functions. Further database queries identified Dr. Robin Atan and one of two facial structures designated for LaTonya Wilkins, also designated Shine.

“Dual designations confirmed.” Leonardo declared. “This unit is designated as both Leonardo and Leo.”

“Does he have to do the ‘this unit’ part each time?” Wright asked Dr. Atan. “I mean really, it’s unnerving.”

“Until we have more time to work on the programming, yes.” The technician said wearily.

“Leo.” Shine said quickly.

“This unit is awaiting your orders.” The machine replied.

“Whenever you would normally say ‘this unit’ out loud, say ‘I’ instead.”

“Affirmative.” Leonardo confirmed. “I will search/replace that string during all further audible communications.”

Shine leered at the scientist. “Was that so hard?”

“It’s inefficient.” Dr. Atan shot back. “He’ll be running a replace routine every time he speaks now.”

“And that takes, what, a nanosecond?”

“A picosecond, actually, but that isn’t the point.”

“Is that bigger or smaller?” Wright asked.

“Smaller.” Shine said, casting another mocking look at Dr. Atan.

“The point is that this machine is sensitive to such abuses of his code by you two. Other people can’t really order him to alter his routines like that, but you can and you can very easily cause damage to his programming.”

“Oh come on, we can’t really do that much damage.” She looked at Leonardo. “Can we, Leo.”

The pertinent information required logical processing, which looked for all the world like blank staring until the mechanoid spoke. “As administrative level priorities, you have verbal control of all of I’s programming, making damaging alterations possible and in the case of untrained users, likely.”

Wright and Shine exchanged glances. “I suppose we’ll need to train in his operation a bit then…” Wright said.

“Did he just say ‘I’s’?” Shine asked.

“He did.” Dr. Atan nodded. “You told him to replace ‘this unit’ with ‘I’. So he replaced that string when he was going to say ‘this unit’s’. Now do you understand just how syntax sensitive he is?”

“A literal genie.” Shine groaned. “We’re going to have to spend weeks training him not to screw up basic figures of speech now, aren’t we? That’s just great.”

“Come now, Shine.” Wright grinned. “You’re looking at this as a glass is half empty moment, but it isn’t. No, we have a powerful ally here, with a mind that is ours to mold in our image.” He gave her a sly smile. “Think of him as our first child.” His attention to Leonardo. “Happy Birthday, my boy.”

End Issue #23

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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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