Issue #40 – Interfacers

This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

War Machines Part 1

The air inside the Tenth Street Shipping warehouse reeked of greasy cigar smoke that made the six men gathered there try to breath as little as possible. Dressed in heavy coats and face concealing hats, they eyed the crates around them and made no secret of checking their concealed weapons. There was no illusion here that they might be there for anything legal.

Harlan Tibbedo, the source of the foul smoke, knew better than to keep them waiting. He took one more pull of the cigar before speaking, just to let them know he wasn’t intimidated by them.

“Another beautiful evening in Mayfield, gents. Hope you enjoyed the trip down to see it.” In a way, he looked like the personification of his cigar stench; stout with slicked back yet thinning hair and a thick, curly black beard.

A slim man of average height nodded. Clean shaven and less thuggish by miles, he was the obvious leader even if Tibbedo didn’t recognize him as James Staffhammer, one of the lieutenants of the Gainer Syndicate, an east coast criminal enterprise recently fallen on hard times. “Your boss is a fickle man.” Staffhammer noted. “He rejects the idea of partnership, but he still has us on his call list when it comes time to try and hawk merchandise.”

“My boss is happy with Mayfield.” Tibbedo had prepared for remarks like this. “He doesn’t want anything screwing up what he’s got here. But he’s more than happy spreading the wealth outside his city.”

“Maybe this meeting should have happened in New York then.” Staffhammer referred to the Syndicate’s base of operations out of Queens.

“Bad idea.” Tibbedo said slyly. “I hear you’ve got big problems in New York. Prelates is bad enough, but the Tongs are signing up freaks and spark jockeys. And Atlanta… hell, at least the Tongs are somebody. Down there, you’ve got street gangs cutting into your game.”

One of Staffhammer’s associates glanced up at the rafters at a noise and checked his weapon again. It would be out of character for Liedecker to ambush them, but that didn’t say he wouldn’t. Luckily everything seemed clear. His boss ignored him completely.

“I didn’t come here to be insulted.” Staffhammer cut Tibbedo off. “Let’s not forget who here is trying to sell.”

Tibbedo help up his hands as if to show he was unarmed, and then took a pull from his cigar, taking his time exhaling. “Right you are. Come with me.” Without waiting for a reply, he started down an aisle of crates.

Staffhammer directed his associates to fan out around him before following at a distance. “We were told you’ve got new merchandise for us. This better be good.”

“Better than you can imagine.” Tibbedo didn’t bother to take the cigar out of his mouth. “I can say with no ‘quivocation, that there’s nothing on the market like what we’ve got here.”

“More experimental tech pulled off some defense contractor’s truck? I haven’t been impressed by any of that yet. We’re not looking for cutting edge, we want reliable and efficient.”

They came to a large shipping container with a forklift parked in front of it. “You don’t have nothing to worry about there.” Tibbedo placed a callused hand against the side of the container and it receded into the container on whisper bearings. Its revealed a lit set of concrete stairs leading downward. “Step into the showroom, will you?”

“You first.” Staffhammer insisted. He’d seen the so called showroom before, but it didn’t hurt to keep Tibbedo in his place. He motioned for one of his men to keep a lookout up top while the rest went with him after Tibbedo.

Liedecker’s salesman ducked his head and led the way. At the bottom of the stairs was a concrete bunker with a dozen or so crates stacked atop one another. Some were opened up to display various weapons packed in straw.

“Gents, welcome to the future.” Tibbedo declared, gesturing to the crates. “You heard of the next gen weapons tech; maser, lasers, pulse weapons, even photo-synthetic mass emitters. All military grade, all expensive as hell, and all huge energy suckers.” He picked up a slim pistol from a crate. “And pretty damn bulky too.”

He tossed the weapon to Staffhammer who caught it, examined it, and passed it to one of his associates to examine further. Meanwhile, Tibbedo picked another one up from the crate.

“This is a PSM emitter; the smallest ever. It’s concealable, transparent to most security scanners, and is capable of penetrating the armor plating Used by police armored divisions.” He displayed the weapon like a game show host showing off a prize. “Charge time is point-two-three seconds, comparable to a maser of the same size and five times as fast as a pulse weapon.”

Staffhammer held his hand out and accepted the gun back from his crony. He gave it another once over and nodded. “How many shots per charge?” He asks. “And the charge time, what’s the charge time?”

“None.” Tibbedo’s eyes practically sparkled in a rat-like kind of way.

This earned an incredulous look from Staffhammer, but that look started to fade. There didn’t seem to be a port or receiver for charging at all on the gun. “What are you playing at?” He demanded. “Disposable guns?”

“No, you don’t have to recharge it.” Tibbedo replied with a grin that made the other men feel unclean. “It’ll last up to five years with regular use without a damn thing you’ve got to do to it. No maintenance, either; the only moving part’s the trigger.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“You’ve done business with the boss for years, has he sold you a single goddamn bad gun?” Tibbedo challenged.

He had a point, though the Syndicate buyer wouldn’t admit it. Liedecker did business fairly and cleanly, unlike other dealers he’s dealt with. Before he was able to voice this without conceding anything, Tibbedo was already on his sale’s pitch again.

“The way I see it, you come out ahead against the Tongs and the ‘bangers this way. See, a man, no matter what kind of freak he is or turned himself into still has gotta be paid. He may even have family he’s gotta feed. These guns? The equalizer. They can give any man the power to stand up against a psionic punk, maybe even a prelate. And they don’t gotta eat, follow?”

“What’s he asking for these?” Staffhammer weighed the gun in his hand.

“That one, this one… gratis.” The last word was horribly mispronounced. “Others… three thousand a piece.”

“Three thousand?! Are you insane?!” Staffhammer exploded. “For a pistol? I can buy thirty regular pistols for that.”

“Regular pistols that you’ve got to get non-registered ammo for.” Tibbedo countered. “And it’s getting harder and harder to find shops building ‘em without biometric triggers and remotes.” He gave the Syndicate man a smug grin. “Face it, pal, the days of the firearm are numbered. Men like us; we’ve got to be ready for it with something better.”

“Give us the two to test and we’ll see.” Staffhammer’s mouth made an angry line. “But I won’t pay more than two regardless.”

“I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Tibbedo grinned and took another hit off his cigar. “But we’re not done. I’ve got rifles, body armor and personal HUD’s still to show.”

If Staffhammer was interested, he didn’t have time to say so before the meeting was interrupted by a truncated shout followed by the man left as a lookout tumbling down the stairs. “What’s going on here?” Staffhammer snapped at Tibbedo. Liedecker’s man didn’t have an answer.

Before the lookout even came to rest, nursing a broken arm, two glass jars shattered on the bottom stairs. A pungent stench of alcohol filled the air before a pair of bright flashes filled the room, blinding the syndicate men even as they readied their guns.

Though blinded, two of them opened fire, only to hear their bullets ping off some sort of metal. The next thing the two shooters knew, they were lifted and thrown hard into opposite walls with jaw rattling force.

In the chaos, a blur cannonballed down the stairwell and tackled another of Staffhammer’s men while another sidestepped a clumsily aimed pistol before grabbing its assailant’s gun arm and judo throwing him upward into the ceiling.

Staffhammer blinked the spots from his eyes. Before him was who or what had just hurled his men around like bags of flour. It was man-shaped and just a big shorter than himself, but with a much less fit build. His face was covered by a ski mask with a bright green capital ‘i’ dividing his face into quadrants and he wore a modified flak jacket that allowed a pair of mechanical arms situated below his normal arms a full range of motion.

This wasn’t Liedecker’s doing, he quickly ascertained. It was the Tongs that hired spark jockeys and it was the Tongs that had the most to lose if the Gainer Syndicate acquired better weaponry. He pointed the strange weapon he’d been handed and hoped it still worked like a normal gun. “Your bosses better pay you medical, you piece of shit.”

He squeezed the trigger, but the cyborg was already moving, dodging sideways even as the red flash of photo-synthetic mass sizzled through the space he’d been standing in. Before Staffhammer got another shot, his assailant angled past both himself and Tibbedo to grab up four of the pistols from the crate.

“Drop the weapon.” The cyborg ordered. The criminals still on their feet did as ordered. “Good boys.” His voice was smug and somewhat nasal. “I’m going to let you live for that. Well… that and to take my message to your bosses.”

Staffhammer wanted to tell the spark jockey exactly what he thought of him, to brave a hail of PSM fire and punch this impudent punk in the face. But his survival instinct was stronger than his bravado.

“First of all, I’m my boss. And I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty like yours.” The cyborg’s allies that had incapacitated the syndicate men came over and collected the guns that were dropped, putting them back in the crate and starting to seal it up. They were normal looking; a portly young man and tiny young woman in masks and vests, but the way they moved betrayed that they too had enhancements.

“Second of all, as you can guess from us taking them, we’re claiming your new weapons.” The leader informed them. “Oh, and finally, I never want to hear ‘spark jockey’ ever again. We’re Interfacers. And we’re above and beyond anything you’ll ever be.”

***

“O fair Katherine, if you will love me soundly with your French heart, I will be glad to hear you confess it brokenly with your English tongue. Do you like me, Kate?” His eyes sought hers, desperate for an answer. An unconscious shiver ran down her spine and she fidgeted uncomfortably. She replied in a small voice. “Pardonnez-moi, I cannot tell what is ‘like me.’” He offered her a small, lightly amused smile. He leaned just a bit closer. “An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel.” A tiny noise, stemming from her nerves escaped her. She groped about in her brain for what to say next. “Que dit-il? Que je suis… suis…”

“Sem-blah-blay?” Tink looked up at the open window on her tablet computer and tried to cipher through the French Katherine’s speech was peppered with. In the main window, she was writing notes on her latest project with a stylus.

Juniper bobbed her head in a nod. “Oh, right. Thank you.” She turned back to Warrick, avoiding his eyes this time and continued the scene. “Que je suis semblable à un ange?”

“Alice’s line, Alice’s line, Alice’s line.” Tink waved the stylus like a wand. It was less disruptive than her trying to sound through the French when she was having a hard enough time with Spanish class.

Across the table from her, Warrick tried not to break character to laugh at Tink’s improvisation. This practice session at the Dungeon had been his idea and he was taking it seriously. “I said so, dear Katherine, and I must not blush to affirm it.” Juniper made the mistake of meeting his gaze again. “O…o bon Dieu! les langues des…. Um…”

“You did this scene perfectly in the auditions.” Tink pointed out. Good enough to land the part of Katherine handily while Warrick had settled for understudy for the King Henry role behind fellow senior Jason McMahon. Today, however, she had fed the brown haired girl her lines at least five times.

“Yeah, Jun, what’s wrong?” Warrick asked. Out of character, he was once again only looking at her in his usual easygoing way instead of ‘Henry’s’ soul searching gaze.

In spite of herself, Juniper blushed. “I’m just a little nervous.”

“Of running lines at the Dungeon?” Warrick couldn’t help but be amused at this. “We’ve seen spontaneous karaoke and improve nights start up here. I don’t think anyone has any problems with us doing Henry V

“It just kind of makes me nervous.” Juniper wrung her hands. “You know doing this scene with…” She glanced in Tink’s direction.

Tink’s attention was finally taken fully from her screen. “With me here? I hate to break it to you, but I’m going to be running the spots for the play—I’m going to be there too.”

“But when it’s the real play, it will be with Jason and not—“

“Unless he’s sick, or has a football game, or something else I swear I’m honestly not hoping will happen.” Warrick cut in quickly.

Somehow, that made Juniper feel even more uncomfortable. “I just think it’s…wrong… or something to do a romantic scene with a guy with his girlfriend sitting right there. And… there’s a kiss coming up and I’m not…”

Tink gave her a level look. “It’s a play, Juniper. You’re acting. Just because your character does it doesn’t mean you’re doing it. It’s like when Warrick and I come here on Fridays to roleplay—“

Juniper gave her a dimly scandalized look.

“It’s a game.” Tink tried to explain. “JC and Lisa’s brother plays too.”

That settled Juniper down. Nothing that Zach Ortega would involve himself with could be in any way scary or unsettling; his dearth of bravery precluded it.

“Anyway, it’s the difference between you and the person you’re playing. I mean, you don’t like Warrick, right?”

“Not like that, no.” Juniper shook her head.

“He’s not your type.” Tink reinforced the point.

Juniper took a look at Warrick. Over a year of being a hero had done a lot toward taking him from gangly to fit, but he was fit in a wiry way rather than truly built. She shook her head again. “No, I don’t find him attractive.”

Warrick wondered what was expected of him at that point. The obvious response would be to express disbelief or at least insult at the comment, but he fully understood what Juniper’s type was and it wasn’t him. He counted himself lucky on a level the Vatican probably considered a miracle that he was Tink’s type.

“Good.” Tink smiled at her and patted her on the shoulder. “So doing the scene with him, even kissing him won’t mean anything to you, so it won’t mean anything to me.” She glared at Warrick over her glasses in a manner honed by a thousand generations of librarians, but it was tempered by a teasing smile. “And you. Stop being such a good actor.”

As the young couple shared a giggle at this, Juniper’s palmtop computer let out the opening chords to SB’s Calling Out To You. “Oh. I’ve got mail.” She announced, taking the device out of her purse.

It greeted her the moment she opened the screen:

From: CornerCut

To: SternsG1rl.

Something bad is happening. The others need your help. Please meet me at 10 tonight on top of the Madsten-Terno Building. Bring help!

Juniper looked up apologetically to Warrick. “Ms. Brant needs us back at home. I’m sorry Tink. Thank you though.”

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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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