Issue #40 – Interfacers

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

Part 4

Half the week had come and gone with little to show in the way of helpful information on the Interfacers. Predictably, Dale McClelland had become a ghost since letting his apartment lease lapse a few weeks earlier. An investigation of his former home turned up nothing.

The same was true for the other remaining Interfacer members. Cathy Stein and her coworker, Patricia Fossey had both taken vacation time off from work and disappeared with every scrap of data and possible cybernetics equipment in their homes.

Trey Phan’s aunt filed a missing person’s report and a bit of investigation turned up that some of her heirloom jewelry had left with him.

Still on parole for his part in the February incident, Travis Bollinger’s absence for a meeting with his parole officer had earned him a warrant. His on record residence turned out to belong to a family who had never heard of him.

Joshua Dibney, a professor at Emerald College, a small, private college in the suburbs of Mayfield who had somehow managed to keep his job in the debacle, was on sabbatical and reportedly unreachable. Like the others, he was too smart to leave any digital clues.

For possibly the tenth time that night, Juniper read over everything the Descendants’ investigations had turned up on the six Interfacers. She was in Laurel’s workshop and it was pushing four in the morning on a school night.

The others were working as hard as they could on it, but there were other obligations: classes, friends, significant others, students to grade and the Descendants’ regular patrols. True, many of them were obligations Juniper also shared, including practicing for the play, but she had made a promise. And to keep it, she was up at four in the morning.

Laurel had set up a searchable database with some quick, hand-coded artificial intelligence to search for common links within, but so far it had come up with nothing new thus far and Juniper didn’t think it would without new information.

None of the missing had checked into any hotels, at least not by under their real names or using their personal accounts. Nor had they made contact with any of the other hobbyists Clara had told them about. But as far as Clara knew, they were still in the city and were at least plotting to steal from the arms dealer she was afraid of.

There was only one arms dealer she knew of: the one whose plot Melissa had foiled with the help of the enigmatic Vorpal. His name had been Eduardo Vorran and as far as Laurel’s investigations could turn up, he was a very clever fake name that occasionally hired small timers who were invariably caught by the police and quickly gave his name up.

There was no telling how dangerous the real person or persons behind Vorran were. But if he or they were the dealer Clara feared, they might find out if Juniper didn’t do something soon.

More grim thoughts than this floated in and out of Juniper’s head, mixing with the lines for Katherine, Daughter of the French King, and dancing visions of blue light and whirring servos.

She slumped at the desk, gazing lazily at the images of the Interfacers on her screen. Idly, she wondered how they had come to be the subject of a search by both heroes and a possibly murderous arms dealer. It didn’t make sense to her.

Cybernetics seemed to be sort of neat to her. Machines and the whole transhumanist concept fascinated her even if she lacked the aptitude for it. That, plus the combination of bravery, audacity and pure will it took to run wires through your muscles.

Vaguely, she was aware of the current counter-counter culture that deemed it Wrong and Dangerous in large, capital letters backed by only the haziest notions of what it actually involved. ‘Spark jockeys’ were loners and freaks that did all their scary rituals in their parent’s basement and more often than not killed themselves doing it, or so the media said.

In a country that had carefully side stepped a large part of anti-psionic fervor that gripped Eurasia, self-made cyborgs (as opposed to those who received their prosthetics and enhancements from professional doctors after horrific accidents), were the new thing to hate. Some localities and even states were scrambling to outlaw the practice entirely.

As she turned this over in her head, Juniper came to realize something: Dale McClelland was correct. The Interfacers really were on the fringe. It was quite possible that they were outlaws in a number of states in the Union. They hadn’t gone underground; they’d been buried there.

But Dale’s reaction would be what killed them. Even if Vorran didn’t find them, even if he didn’t even exist, there was only one reason for them to be integrating weapons: to strike back. Dale felt he was on the fringe and that meant that revenge required striking at the center.

Just because he was correct about his social status didn’t mean he was by any means right.

Thoughts about their social status drew her mind back to the problem at hand. The Interfacers basically felt like and in fact might actually be criminals. You couldn’t trust criminals to helpfully use their personal accounts or real names that told you were they were and what they were doing. And people on the fringe didn’t bother with trying to blend in; they went where no one was looking.

Places where they could work on their cybernetics and receive stolen arms shipments.

The nagging cloak of weariness that had settled over her lifted. It was so classical, so basically cliché that even Laurel the resident genius had likely ignored it because no one would seriously consider it until last resort.

What you had to remember was that for Dale and his few loyal friends, last resorts were first choices and clichés felt natural and clever.

She went opened the search tab on a second database, the one that kept property records for the city. In the search dialogue, she typed: ‘warehouse, abandoned’.

***

It had been a frustrating week for Dale.

More so than ever, he was convinced that humans weren’t meant to live in groups larger than two or three. In fact, he had a feeling that bears got it right; living solitary lives, occasionally meeting one other to mate.

Supplies were low, they had to walk a block to a Burger Builders to use the bathroom, and there was absolutely no privacy. He wouldn’t have chosen the former service center for the now defunct Hermes Package Services if he’d known that it had been so… stripped.

‘Stripped’ wasn’t strictly the right word. When someone said ‘stripped’ when they talked about a building, they meant that the furniture and any valuable fixtures had been stolen. In comparison to what had happened to the HPS building, those buildings had been redecorated.

Thinking on what had been done there, ‘stripped’ could only be used in reference to what piranha were famous for doing to cattle. Everything was gone. Missing wiring and power conduits were par for the course, but the counters in the lobby had been ripped out, the insulation removed, the sinks and toilets gone along with the pipes that connected them.

A hole had been blown in the floor of the loading bay and below it, another room, larger than even the one above, had also been swarmed over by the locusts of civilization. There had been a lot of power and water going to that room at some point and it crackled in Dale’s brain what it had been for in a building that was nothing but a rest stop for parcels.

The mysteries of the building and the rising irritation and nervousness of those that dwelled within it were only buzzing gnats in his ear, however, next to the stolen goods themselves.

Science followed rules. Most of these rules could be described, often at length, with mathematical formula or theories that could then be expressed in a formula. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Matter could be neither created nor destroyed. The same applied to energy. Simple truths to explain complicated phenomena.

It might not be perfect, but at least to Dale, it was better than simple phenomena with no explanation. As it turned out, he’d stolen six crates full of those.

Three of the crates contained the PSMs. Another held carefully packed goggles with night, infrared, ultraviolet, and telescopic vision modes. The last two contained what were marked as arm mounted field generators.

Dale had been sure that wasn’t true. Standing electron resonance fields, commonly called standing or ‘force’ fields drew a great deal of power to the tune of needing dedicated industrial solar plants to generate a field large enough to be useful. They weren’t personal devices.

But they worked. The fields they put out were only the size of a serving platter, but they worked. Bullets, plasma lances, even PSM bursts were handily deflected by the devices.

And that was what was maddening. The field generators worked. The goggles worked. Everything worked. But that was all they did. Despite working, none of the stolen devices seemed to be capable of operating.

PSMs needed pressurized argon ions and a substantial power source to create the dangerous, energetic bursts they were prized for. Optic devices of any type needed specialized lenses, polarized plates, and advanced electronics to transform non-visible spectra into visible signals. Field generators required particle accelerators, reflectors and generators larger than the building he was standing in.

And yet when his Interfacers cracked a few open, there were only a few crystal prisms wrapped in wire with gibberish symbols scrawled on them with soldering irons. Pull the trigger, flick a switch and the crystals moved, somehow creating photosynthetic mass, allowed the goggle wearer to see in darkness, or generated a standing field.

There was no science Dale had ever heard of that could do that and to his mind, that wasn’t right. Things shouldn’t ‘just work’. There had to be reasons to them, calculations and formulae that made it repeatable. What was going on confused him and deep down, made him mad.

He’d left the study of them to Trey, who was more than a little enthusiastic at trying to solve the mysteries of the new technology. So far, the only thing even he had come up with was a homebrew casing that allowed the PSMs to be installed inside in-arm storage compartments or, in Dale’s case, worked into the palms of his own robotic arms.

So far, Trey, himself and Patty had been outfitted and everyone had gotten a field generator. These were simply worn for the moment, not installed.

Weaponizing to that extent had been a big step, Dale realized, but he had known that was his aim from the moment he’d been ordered to leave his life’s work in the gutter by a judge. It had been made clear that Interfacers were considered superhuman criminals, regardless of their actual enhancements by the Law and if the government had to come after them again, they would be armed for laser spewing bear.

True, on the night of his arrest, even Belle had homemade cannon built into her chair, but back then, most of the offensive devices had been curiosities and conversation pieces. The integrated PSMs however, were not. They were machines for a war Dale was serious about provoking.

He drowned out the noise coming from the makeshift living quarters below. Trey had evidently violated Cathy’s personal space again. Those arguments were normal. They were, after all, still human.

One of his mechanical arms came up at his whim, palm facing him. Just as if he had been born with it, he flexed it. Two ceramic shutters opened to reveal the dim, red eye that was the PSM’s emitter.

Dale’s thoughts turned to poetry. He now had the power over life and death in his hand. It wasn’t the PSM that was the war machine. It was Dale himself. And the first enemy in the war…

***

Vincent Liedecker glared at the monitor on his desk. He had adjusted the width of the holographic display to span the entire desk and still, it was full of open windows and programs.

The Syndicate was sending communiqués demanding an explanation and recompense for their men in the hospital. Rick Charlotte was keeping him updated on the ongoing refitting of Haut’s abused spine with his new wing frame. Contacts on the street were popping up from time to time to report their failure at hunting down the thieves. The surveillance feed from the warehouse, up until it was disabled, played.

And in the center of it all, a program was standing at the ready to show them all the public information that had been gleaned on his prime suspects. Six of them had disappeared, but he knew where one would most certainly be. The one he wouldn’t subject to Vorpal and especially not Samael. Luckily, there were others that could be readily located.

Speaking of Vorpal, the woman was also connected to him via comlink, speaking to him from somewhere over Mayfield as she moved from building to building, watching for more cyborg activity and waiting for his orders.

He had been mulling over his next move for the past few nights. His adversaries, if his guess was correct, were all either scientists, or really bright kids at the outside. What they weren’t were thugs.

Liedecker knew thugs and how to deal with them. Most of his business partners, no matter how refined and intelligent they appeared, were thugs deep down where it mattered. Usually, you could threaten one or outsmart them, show them who was in charge, and that was that. If it came right down to it, you could kill a thug. They were worthless, no matter how good at thuggery they were.

People with brains though, that was a different kettle of fish. You never knew if you could really outsmart them. You had to outmaneuver them instead; play chess. You couldn’t use a big display to cow them; that just let them see the chinks in your armor. You had to break them down, or beat them in a test of will.

The most efficient thing was to just kill them. Quickly and without preamble.

But Vincent Liedecker was a man of intelligence himself and when it came down to it, killing someone you could bring into the fold was a waste. ‘Waste not, want not’—His father’s motto and what made John Liedecker a man of untouchable wealth and reputation.

It was by following in his father’s footsteps that did the same for his son, minus the criminal enterprise. Acquiring the services of Vorpal, the many breakthroughs coming from the Solomon Center and from the captured Book from Lady Nightshade’s hideout a year ago all testified to that fact.

Rote demanded that he make the offer to these cyborgs as well. But then he remembered where they had learned everything they knew and reconsidered. Despite his record of victory, some people still said ‘no’.

But there were other options. Other ways to turn ‘no’ into ‘yes’. He keyed up a name and opened his connection with Vorpal. “I’ve got a job for you.” He said simply.

“Good.” Came the reply. “I was beginning to think this little ‘patrol’ was a waste of my time and talent.”

“I need you to grab someone for me. Need ‘em to get someone’s attention. Bring ‘em to the old safe house on Thirty-eight and Castle.”

“I hope this isn’t heroic attention.” She said. It wasn’t out of fear; she just felt that trying to grab attention from prelates was a stupid idea. The fact that this entire situation was based around maintaining Liedecker’s anonymity, something he had blackmailed her out of, didn’t help her attitude.

Liedecker shared that attitude. “Of course not.” He spat irritably. “The person whose attention I want can do nothing about what you’re going to do.”

“How can you be so sure?”

His fingers moved over the holographic screen, bringing up the image of a woman. His gaze locked and hardened on the image. “Because she’s in the asylum already.”

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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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