Issue #40 – Interfacers

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

Part 3

When the year was new, she had been part of something she believed in. To some, what she and her friends practiced was a hobby; An interesting pursuit they bookmarked online and idly considered. But to her, it hadn’t been just a hobby; it had been a movement, no matter how questionable some of the rhetoric had been.

Then came the night where they decided to stop just practicing and discussing and actually do something about it. Though intellectually, she and probably everyone involved knew it was wrong, it felt right. Like they might finally stop being seen as loners and freaks and be seen as something real.

But it was still wrong and with the help of the Descendants, they had been punished for it. Admittedly, the fault lay with the Interfacers and instead of proving themselves; they were just seen as petty crooks with a gimmick.

The movement was she knew it was gone, likely for the better.

She wasn’t an Interfacer anymore. She was just Clara Getchall, an ad programmer for Madsten-Temo Advertising Unlimited. The only proof of her alternate lifestyle were scars on her knuckles, up each arm and across her back that gave anyone that saw her on the rare occasion she wore something short sleeved the wrong idea.

Madsten-Temo was the east coast’s second largest advertising agency with clientele that included Burger Builders restaurants, Koshiki Products Worldwide, and Sanctum Comics, publisher of the Prelates of… comic series.

It was a big company where the only way to truly get ahead was to bring in more clients and work more hours than the other guy. No one was surprised to find a programmer working late or noticed when one nipped off to sneak onto the roof.

Ignoring her unfortunate nest of unkempt, brown hair and the scars, she was unmistakably attractive. Her face was delicately featured, her tan flawless even in November, and she managed to avoid both extreme geek stereotypes of stick thinness and cetacean obesity.

Atop the seventy story building, she stood in an open space between rows of relay stations and other roof adornment, bracing against the lashing, high altitude winds. Resolutely, she remained there in determination not to try and shelter in the lee some rooftop structure. That would make the Descendants, if they answered her call for help at all, suspicious.

The wind stilled uncharacteristically and Clara became aware of noise behind her. Glancing around, she saw them backlit in one of the air traffic beacons lining the roof’s edge. The Descendants. Or at least four of them; Alloy, Facsimile, Chaos and Zero.

“We’re here.” Chaos said and Clara got the distinct feeling she wasn’t the one being addressed. Likely, he was talking to his team. Just as likely, he wanted to make her very aware that the other Descendants lay in wait should the distress call turn out to be a trap.

He had every right to suspect that, she understood. The last time she had met the Descendants, she had spent the bulk of it wielding a deadly weapon in the commission of a robbery.

Though it would probably help not at all, she held out her hands to show them the steel talons that once sprang from the second knuckle of each finger were gone. “I’m unarmed.” She declared. In retrospect, she wouldn’t have believed herself in their place. After all, they had already encountered several other Interfacers that used embedded chips to enhance their strength and agility. Not having any visible weapons made her more potentially dangerous, not less.

Heedless of any danger she might pose, Zero stepped forward. Clara had called her after all, making the situation at hand her responsibility. “CornerCut?” She asked. The last time she had seen Clara, her hair had been tied, back, a mask had covered her face and the three inch razors on her fingers drew more attention than her face.

Clara nodded. “But you can call me Clara. Just Clara now.” She could have explained that her cybernetics had been forfeit as part of her parole, but they had been over that online before. Zero, through Lester Mendel of ConquesTech, had even vouched for her at the hearing.

“What’s this all about?” Zero got right to the point, but her voice was full of concern. “You didn’t say a lot in your message.”

“I didn’t have time to type more before going on break.” Clara admitted. “Before I tell you everything, you have to understand; all most of us wanted was to be part of a group. To be able to trade ideas and resources. You can’t implant most internal modifications on your own, after all. Belle is the one that made the message boards. And the one that started suggesting we meet in person as a group.”

“And the one that suggested that you knock over a security firm.” Chaos interrupted. Even though his eyes were obscured by his visor, Clara could tell he was giving her a skeptical appraisal.

She nodded. “To fund her plans for us. But Belle isn’t with the group anymore. She took all the blame and they put her in prison. Last I heard she’s in a mental hospital.” Her shoulders slumped. Belle had been a mentor to the Interfacers. Her research was the foundation of modern cybernetics and prosthesis. She shouldn’t have ended up that way.

“Not surprised.” Muttered Facsimile. It wasn’t a grudge, but she had no love lost for any of the Interfacers. Nothing they did made much sense to her.

Zero quickly stepped in for her friend’s callousness. “If Belle isn’t in charge, who is?”

“Dale McClelland.” Clara answered. “He worked with Belle before all of this happened. She taught him everything he knows, but he’s not Belle.”

“The way you say that isn’t giving me a very good feeling.” Chaos said.

“That’s why I called you.” She hugged herself against the cold wind. “Dale’s been trying to get the Interfacers back together. My friend Cathy decided to go and meet with him on a lark but…” She paused to compose herself. “I think she’s gotten in too deep. I haven’t heard from her in a week and the things she talked to me about before then… I’m really worried about her and the others.” Her voice broke just thinking about it.

Zero closed the distance between them and put a gloved hand on the other woman’s shoulder. “It’s going to be okay, CC.” Her so called sunshine was in full force as she offered an assuring smile. “We’ll stop whatever’s going on and keep them safe.”

“Uh… keep them safe from what?” Alloy spoke up. “Look, I’m all for helping, but this McClelland… forgive me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t he the guy that went hog wild even when your old boss told him to stop?”

Shame painted Clara’s face as she nodded.

“I think you better tell us what your friend was saying that got you so scared.” Chaos said.

Another nod and a moment to get her breath. Clara was thankful for Zero’s concern for her. “She said that Dale had the others with him researching the circuitry of weapons; pulse cannons, PSMs, things like that. Even though Cathy wasn’t in on it, she said he was planning to steal from some powerful crime lord her in Mayfield.”

“Mayfield has a crime lord?” Facsimile asked.

“Every city has a crime lord.” Chaos confirmed. “It’s just something that grows naturally, like a slime mold.” He looked back at Clara. “So your friend didn’t tell you who this crime lord they were ripping off was? Did she tell you where they were meeting?”

“Not really. She mentioned it was someplace abandoned with a loading dock, but that’s it. I’m sorry I’m not much help, but I thought maybe you would have more resources than me being the heroes and all.”

Chaos thought a while on it. “Do you believe this?” He asked into his com.

“It’s too vague to be an effective trap.” Codex replied. “We could ask her to consent to a psychic probe if you think it’s necessary, but I’d say she’s as genuine as we can expect.”

“I’m thinking the same thing.” He said back. He looked up to find Clara looking at him hopefully. He’d give her that much: if this was a trap: she was a good actress. “Up to you, Zero.” He finally said. “Your friend, your show.”

Zero worried her lip. It wasn’t a question of trying to help CornerCut; she had already committed herself to doing that even if the others refused. Instead, she was worried about failure. There honestly wasn’t a lot of information to go on, not even a time table. This endeavor had ‘failure’ written all over it and engraved on the back.

She gave Clara’s shoulder a squeeze. Who was she kidding? The chance of failure meant nothing if there was a chance of success and lives on the line.

“We’ll help you, CC.” She said brightly. “We’ll do whatever we can. Is there anything else you can tell us to help?”

“I know who else might be with them.” Clara offered.

“Good.” Chaos said. “Let’s hear them. Descendants, it looks like we have some old fashioned detective work to do.”

“Here’s hoping we find them before this crime lord guy does.” Alloy added.

***

Vincent Liedecker was not a happy man. He had been reading in his study when the call came in. Reading was one of those things he savored whether it was the newspaper, a book of history or a work of complete fiction. If it was written, be it on real paper or in digital ink, he devoured it. And the time he took off to sate his hunger was sacred. Someone had just desecrated hallowed ground.

Already weighing the options of how to make the remaining days of whoever it was as unpleasant and hopefully agonizing as possible, he switched from his digital reader program to the communications net.

Rick Charlotte’s face appeared. He didn’t even need to issue threats to Charlotte anymore; the man lived in obvious fear that one day his employer would get sick of him. The first words out of the man’s mouth weren’t an apology, but an explanation for the interruption. “There’s been a problem with the Syndicate sale, sir.”

Liedecker directed a baleful look at his screen. “It better be a big damn problem if it can’t be handled by someone else while I’m at home.”

“I wouldn’t call if it was a matter of negotiation.” Charlotte said quickly. “The warehouse was hit. During the sale.”

Steely eyes narrowed. “What do you mean. ‘hit’?”

“Spark jockeys. Tibbedo says maybe a dozen of ‘em. They took down Staffhammer’s security, snuck past our own and made off with the whole shipment.” The words came out in a flood because Charlotte knew better than to try and hide anything from his boss. “Tibbedo says they told him to tell you it was a message. They mentioned you by name.”

Usually, this was where Charlotte would be subject to dismissal, insults or a lecture on how things were done. The silence that followed unnerved him more than living more than a year under Liedecker’s thumb ever had.

“My name.” Liedecker said, emphasizing each syllable as if he was sifting them for hidden meaning. “They called me by my name. They used my name?” His voice practically smoldered with his slow burning rage. “These dime a dozen pissants know my goddamn name?”

“That’s what Tibbedo says.” Charlotte replied. “I’ve been trying to get a line to Staffhammer, but the Syndicate is furious over this. Some of their guys are in the hospital.”

“I don’t give a good god damn what the Syndicate thinks, Charlotte. There is a more serious matter to attend. I have spent years becoming the man I am. I have scratched and fought and bled for this and I will not let some tin brained…” He trailed off, something clicking in his head. “You said they were cyborgs.”

“That’s what Tibbedo said, sir, not me. I’ve got no confirmation on that.”

Liedecker opened a new window next to Rick Charlotte’s image. In it, he called up a linked list of his holdings. “Never mind confirmation.” He declared.

“Sir, I’m not sure we can trust Tibbedo. He’s… he’s excitable, he’s… well from the file on him, he’s an idiot at everything but sales.”

“I said never mind confirmation.” The tone he said that in declared the discussion over. “I’ve got something more important for you to do, Charlotte.”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Now call Vorpal to the office and put in a call to the Merriweather Rest Home.”

“Merriweather…” Charlotte muttered without thinking. “But that’s… oh no.”

“Don’t give me that, Charlotte, ‘less you’ve got a mind for me to remind me of who is in charge and who holds your life in his hands.” In private, there was no subtly to Liedecker’s brand of loyalty enforcement.

Charlotte took a deep breath. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “Yes sir, making the call now.”

***

Almost six months had come and gone and life had never returned to normal for him. He still had phantom pains that ravaged his right arm and side one a weekly basis. The feeling of pins and needles in his hands never really went away.

And of course, the flexible ceramic brace that supported his spine and prevented him from sleeping on his back was a constant reminder.

Physically, he had been broken. And yet, for whatever reason, the pay checks kept coming, his quarters at the rest home were constantly being upgraded in one way or another, and there had been no talk of punishment or retribution since the night after the incident.

He hated Liedecker and his entire organization and yet he had not only kept him alive, but comfortable when there was a collective thirty million dollar bounty on his head in ten countries. The man had called him a dog, and yet, he’d been treated like a king.

Somehow, life had become a paradox where the thing he hated most sustained him.

Remington Haut could appreciate the philosophical implications of all this, but the comfortable life bought with bloody money he’d been accustomed to was only a side effect of the thrills he got dealing out death.

A soft bed and all the amenities were nothing. The high quality medical care that kept the phantom pains to a dull roar was a minor nicety at best. He wanted action. He wanted violence.

He was meditating on that very thought when the phone rang. It was Rick Charlotte. And he was calling to answer his prayers.

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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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