Issue #40 – Interfacers

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

Part 5

Five a.m. had come and gone and Clara Getchall hadn’t been to sleep yet. She didn’t have to be; her work day was five to ten and that was how she liked it. For whatever reason, she found it easier to work on her real passion in the wee hours of the morning.

Cybernetic research was just the start of it; she dabbled in all sciences. In difficult times, she even did it out of nervous habit. That’s what was driving her to read about kinetic power plants on the internet. She wanted to get her mind off her friends and former colleagues.

It wasn’t working as well as she’d hoped, but at least the worries filling her brain were reduced to faint murmurs instead of shouts.

A schematic for a modern pendant style power plant drew itself on her screen. Hanging around the neck of a person that walked, ran, or even fidgeted as much as the national average, it was enough to power a simple cell phone or music player, provided they didn’t use backlit screens.

Someone whose name she couldn’t remember from her days with the Interfacers had put forth the idea of installing a number of such generators to make their gear self sufficient. That never came to pass because a few days later, they were all arrested.

Morosely, Clara looked away form the screen. Somehow, it all came back to the Interfacers, even when she was trying so hard to avoid it. Cathy in particular had been a great friend. Now who knew what sort of danger was stalking her at that very moment?

In reality, the danger was stalking her. And she might have noticed this fact if she hadn’t succumbed to her stupor of memory and concern. The window of her tiny apartment slid open silently, but there would have been no mistaking the chill November breeze.

There was a sound; metal sliding across metal as the segments of a collapsible aluminum staff telescoped outward. Clara did hear that, but it was too late. Something wrapped around her arms, pinning her to the back of her chair.

Before she could scream, a strange glove made of some sort a slick cloth intermixed with linked rings of cool metal covered her mouth. “Don’t scream.” A woman’s voice said. It was low and flat, almost bored. “If you scream, I might forget that I’m supposed to let you live. Understand?”

Without thinking, she tried to reply in the affirmative through a mouthful of glove.

“Just nod.” Her attacker commanded. Clara nodded. “Good girl. I’m going to let go now. And don’t you dare make me regret it.” That was the furthest thing from Clara’s mind. She wasn’t a fighter, no matter how much she’d once daydreamed of it. The encounter with the Descendants had expunged all of those thoughts.

The glove was removed and a gentle nudge turned her around to face her captor.

True to her voice, it was a woman. A woman dressed like the cover of one of the more fringe airport fantasy novels; with a dark bodysuit with built in padding along the ribs and stomach that resembled, from certain angles, a corset. Instead of normal seams, each panel of fabric was joined by a mesh of golden mail. Under normal circumstances, the head cover she wore probably evoked a ninja mask, but the slit for the eyes was obscured by a pair of light goggles with red, glowing lenses.

Clara held her tongue and tried hard to sink further back into her seat.

“So this is what a real life cyborg looks like?” Vorpal mused as she watched the other woman’s reaction. “I expected… well more. A lot more. Your average amputee has more hardware on them then you do.”

Taking this as permission to speak, and not wanting to upset the woman, Clara answered quickly. “I had to take most of it out. Court order.” Vaguely, she wondered how she knew she had any implants, but wouldn’t dare ask.

Vorpal made and amused sound. “They can do that? I suppose they can. Likely, there’s been a case where someone’s had to take out an artificial heart at this point in the Scare. Can’t let anyone go above human baseline, right?”

Assured that her captive wasn’t going anywhere, she leaned on Clara’s work desk. “So why do it? For the powers? Is that it? You weren’t lucky enough to be born a descendant, so you think ‘I’ll just do it myself’?”

Clara felt a lump form in her throat. She had a good idea what the other woman was talking about; rumor and speculation was all over the web that the Descendants were named after an old military code for ‘psionic’. “N-no.” She tried to shrug, but the metal bar that held her to the chair prevented it. “It’s not that…”

Vorpal leaned forward for the explanation.

Honesty would be the best policy, Clara decided. “Not entirely that.” There was a certain romance to the idea that one could give themselves superpowers and become something special. Battery and power plant limitations made certain that nothing truly world-shaking had come about just yet.

“It’s more of a…” Not knowing why she was being held made the words hard to choose. “A curiosity thing.” She settled on that. “It’s about finding out what we can do and how much we can improve our own bodies.”

This seemed to satisfy Vorpal. She nodded almost imperceptibly. “I can see that. Of course, there’s plenty of people out there that don’t want to see what comes after ‘human’. That don’t want people like you and your friends around.”

Clara froze. Something about how Vorpal said that last part broadcast alarms directly into her hindbrain. “My friends?”

Vorpal ignored her. “They don’t want people like me around either. But they can’t go that far just yet. They’ll practice on you and yours. We’ll be next.”

To hell with survival, Clara decided. “My friends.” Her voice was more firm and more direct than she had any right to be in her situation. “What about them? Where are they?”

“That’s what we’d like to know.” Came the reply with a dark edge in tone. Then, disturbingly, it lightened. “But don’t worry; this has nothing to do with you being transhumanists and everything to do with them stealing from my boss.” She paused for thought. “And I suspect he’s more than a little angry that they didn’t have the respect to learn his name.”

***

It was well past five and she didn’t look tired at all, Liedecker noted. That was no surprise; she used to always refer to herself as nocturnal. When he’d known her, her monthly bill for stimulants and other drugs to mitigate the side effects of said stimulants took the lion’s share of her meager pay as a student teacher.

The moment Belle Cummings saw who she’d been brought up from her personal lab beneath the room she’d been given to serve out her sentence in, her countenance turned stony. “Vinnie.” She said warily. “I’ve been expecting this. At first, I thought you arranging my insanity plea and an eighteen month sentence was just an old friend offering help.

“Then I saw the laboratory and saw someone drawing complex circuit diagrams in the cafeteria. I don’t know if you’ve put me in a think tank or a farm.”

For his part, Liedecker kept his face calm. “It’s better by a mile than even the best correctional facility Mayfield’s got to offer, Belle. You think they’d let you work?”

“You’re recording my work.” She snapped. “I know how you think, Vinnie; wheels within wheels. ‘Why kill two birds with a single stone when I can also knock an apple out of the tree too?’ You’ve probably got scientists working overtime trying to duplicate everything I do here.”

“Then why work? Ain’t nobody making you do it, Belle. You can sleep all night and spend the morning in the art room if you want and I’d get nothing” There was no point in denying her accusation. Not only was she telling the truth about how his mind worked, but she had probably traced the cameras in her room.

Belle shook her head. In spite of himself, Liedecker noticed how this made her hair, as disheveled and tangled as it was, bounce around her face. She had aged well. And that changed nothing.

“The work needs to be done.” She informed him as if only a moron couldn’t understand that. A healthy chunk of the population really were morons when compared to her. “I come up with new theories and designs in my head and I have to check them, run them, see if they’re right. You know that, Vinnie. What a stupid question.”

“I did know that. Just wanted to make sure you did.” He leaned back in his chair and gave her a contemplative look. “I’ve got another question to ask, Belle.”

“No.” The response was instantaneous. “No, Vinnie. The things you do… whatever the hell you’ve worked yourself up to doing to people now; it’s wrong. I won’t help.”

A shadow fell over Liedecker’s face. “I seem to recall just recently getting’ you an insanity plea for armed robbery.”

“Robbery’s saint’s work compared to what you and Callahan and Burke were into.” She stared him down through the screen. “And for what? Money and power? The same kind your father was going to leave to you anyway? At least I had noble intentions.”

“Something about pavers and hell.” Liedecker said crossly. “But this ain’t about me and you, Belle. It hasn’t been for a long time. This about your kids, Belle; they’re running wild in my neighborhood.”

That derailed the glare. Belle’s steely resolve disintegrated in a flutter of blinking and a look of disbelief. “My…”

“Well, I can’t say kids.” Liedecker admitted. “Some of ‘em are in their thirties after all. Like this one.” On cue, An image from Dale’s personnel file at the lab he and Belle used to work for came up. “Says you were research partners. Also says he was arrested with you—along with a bunch of people I’ve had my info guy looking up for me all night.”

“No. Vinnie, don’t do this. I—“

“I didn’t do this, Belle. They did.” Liedecker steepled his fingers and gave her a look she knew to mean that he was being completely honest with her. It was the same look he used when she first found out about his extracurricular activities.

“About a week ago, they stole from me. Not only did they piss a bunch of people a whole hell of a lot worse than me off, but then they made sure to mention me by name.” His jaw set. “I think you can see why I’m a little concerned.” He leaned forward. “Where are they, Belle?”

Belle frowned. “I haven’t talked to them for months. Half of them think I betrayed them by pleading insanity. If you don’t know where they are, I don’t know where they are either.”

A long moment passed. Liedecker kept his hands clasped, hiding his mouth and obscuring his expression while he thought. Finally, he put his hands on his desk. “I don’t believe you, Belle. And that’s not because I know you. But I know me and every other body that’s got half a brain and still goes against the law.”

Belle was never an actress and did nothing to school her face when the worry came over her. Liedecker carefully laid out how he knew she was lying. “You worked with this Dale McClelland seven years. Can’t really tell how long you worked with the others, but that one’s a long friendship—if it was just that. But on top of that, you decided to work with them to rob a place? That’s trust right there. Trust and communication. I’d bet the farm that you’ve got ways to contact this Dale at least.”

“Even if I could, I wouldn’t.” Belle reasoned. “If you can’t find them, they’re safe.”

“Gotta come up some time.” Liedecker reasoned. “Whether they come up to sell me out, or just to try another stupid stunt. Besides, I don’t need to find them; I just have to find one.” He keyed up the live feed from Vorpal’s goggles and sent it to Belle’s screen.

All of the color drained from Belle’s face. “Vincent, no… Everything you told me. The things you were doing for Wossniak—you would do this?”

Liedecker said nothing. He only watched her.

Tense silence followed, but there was really nothing Belle could do. “What do you want me to do?” She asked.

“Set up a meeting.” Before Belle could protest, Liedecker held up a hand. “I ain’t aiming to kill them. At least not if they act right. Just call ‘em and set up a meeting. Make sure they know that I’ve got all the cards in hand.” He watched her face for a moment. “I’ll give you an hour to think on it.”

He broke the connection. She could call back with her answer. Immediately, he connected to Rick Charlotte. “Plan A is in progress.” He said. “Now I want you to get Plan B rolling. Have Gear Callahan and Sky Tyrant go and pull the concert projector out of Capashen Arena’s storage and get it to the roof at my office. And wake Brill, have him get the car here within the hour.”

Charlotte tired to fight back a yawn. “Doing it now. What about Samael?”

“He’s got his time and target.” Liedecker noted. “There’s no other motivation needed. He’s been dying for a shot at the target he’s got.”

***

Clara tried straining against the bar that held her in place again. The result was the same: nothing. It was as if it were a solid piece bent around her. She glanced over at Vorpal.

The other woman had made herself at home, bringing a chair in from the kitchen/living room so she could sit while watching over her hostage.

“What are you going to do to me?” She asked in a small voice.

Vorpal replied with a non-committal shrug. “Not my job to say. For now, I’m going to keep an eye on you so you don’t try and call for help before things get done. And they are getting done, little spark jockey. You’ve already done your part.”

Having no idea what that meant, Clara instead latched on to the one part she did understand. “Don’t call us that.” Hastily, she added, “Please.”

“What? Spark jockey? That’s what everyone calls you. Can’t say ‘cyborg’ anymore that you can say superhero or superpowers. Hollywood might hear and then the news providers would get in trouble, you see.”

“Everyone hates us, remember? Everyone that counts. Think how you’d feel to be called a mutant… or psionic, I guess.”

Images of laboratory animals undergoing genetic splicing and other manipulations flashed in Vorpal’s eyes. Mutant had a very clear meaning those days. “Psionic is just wrong, not insulting.” She said coolly. “My powers aren’t psychic, I’ll say that much.”

“And the other?”

“I see what you mean.” There was a certain kinship, Vorpal reasoned, between descendants and cyborgs. A little respect was likely in order. “What do you call yourselves?”

“Interfacers.” Clara relaxed against her bonds. “Or transhumans if you want to get fancy.”

Vorpal was about to comment on that when Clara’s instant messaging alert sounded. Seconds later, the message Clara had been hoping for all night, the message she had been praying wouldn’t arrive since Vorpal appeared, blinked on screen.

From: SternsG1rl. To: CornerCut

Are you there, CC? I think we’ve found your friends! Meet us. Same place, noon tomorrow.

Even with the mask in the way, Clara could see Vorpal smile as she read it. “Wait until the boss hears this.”

End Issue #40

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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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