Issue #41 – Machinations

This entry is part 6 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

War Machines Part 2

It is often said that the great advances of our time arose from the dreams of geniuses. This is true in many cases. In other cases, the culprit was later found to be basic necessity, freak accident, slovenliness, and in several notable cases, hallucinogenic compounds.

The nugget of truth in that old saw fails to take into account the fact that not every dream of a genius amounts to anything greater than the incoherent madness the rest of humanity is subjected to on an often nightly basis.

Laurel Brant, one of the most intelligent people in the United States, was dreaming. Nestled deeply in a swathe of covers, she dreamed of wolves with thumbs following her around a public high school. It was not a dream that would lead to a new unifying theory of physics. It wasn’t even a dream that might lead to a blockbuster movie.

It was probably for the best that she was roused from her surreal dreamscape by a frantic cadence beat upon her door. At least it had the tempo to be frantic. Otherwise, it was only loud enough to be effective, while managing to be quiet enough to be polite. The identity of the knocker was instantly apparent.

Reluctantly emerging from her warm nook, Laurel stepped into her slippers, pulled on a soft, heavy robe, and padded to the door. Only after she opened the door did she realize that she’d forgotten her glasses. A vague blob of color was waiting for her attention.

“Juniper?” She asked, not bothering to stifle a yawn. “Is everything alright?”

Still wearing the clothes she’d worn to school, Juniper dithered. “Yes… I mean no. I don’t really know, but I thought I should tell you. CC isn’t answering my IM’s.”

Laurel knew what those abbreviations meant, but it was gone five o’clock in the morning, so it took her a moment, even with her exceptional cognition, to process it. “Juniper, it’s nearly six in the morning, she’s probably asleep.”

Juniper shook her head emphatically. “No, she always stays up late. She told me so. Something’s happened.”

Ever so slowly, the sleep and the slivers of remembered dream sloughed away from Laurel’s mind. “You’re right. With the situation as it is, we can’t chance it.” She glanced at the door across from her. Alexis’s room. Ian was likely in there as well and both were almost certainly asleep. “Just you and I though. We don’t need to wake the others jut yet.”

“I’ll go get dressed.” Juniper said with seriousness that Laurel wasn’t used to seeing in her. “We should take my bike to get there faster.”

Laurel ignored the change in attitude; Juniper was worried about her friend after all. “Right. Let me change too and we can go take a look.”

***

The first fingers of a yellow dawn touched the glass faces of Mayfield’s towering skyscrapers and transformed them into pillars of light. Between them, an early morning dusting of flurries had turned to a barely perceptible drizzle.

Many stories up, Juniper’s Genokaze sped through the air with Zero pushing it to its limits. Its nacelles sang in to morning air. Behind Zero, Codex held on and watched the buildings go by on either side.

The home of Clara Getchall was in Prosperity Heights, on the exact opposite side if the city from the suburban Hills where Freeland House was located. They had a long way to go even with the aid of the traffic light controlling program and Zero’s willingness to break the speed limit.

The direct route took them down Fifty-Eighth Street, past Westinghall Plaza. That’s when Codex saw it.

“Stop!” She called to Zero over the howling of the wind against the enclosing bubble of the bike.

Lost in her own concerns and questions about the task at hand, Zero barely registered that she had said anything before they’d already passed it. “Sorry, what?”

“Stop. Turn around!” Codex called, craning her neck to see behind them.

“What? Why?” She was already slowing down, but she was reluctant to divert from her course without a very good reason.

“There was something back there!” Codex shouted against the wind. “I think it needs our attention!”

CC needs our attention too, Zero wanted to say. She didn’t. As panicked as she was, as concerned as she was, she couldn’t bring herself to put it that brusquely. Besides that, she knew for a fact that Codex was smarter than her. So if she thought something was important, it likely was.

The bike banked sharply, hardly losing speed as Zero threw it into a hard U-turn. Within seconds, they were back at the plaza. Even knowing herself to be distracted, Zero was shocked that she had missed it.

Westinghall Plaza and the surrounding buildings were bathed in red light deeper than the dawn before a storm. The fountain and the currently barren planters that decorated the area had become worrisome phantoms in a hellscape.

The source however was not some infernal fire, or dust-filtered sun. It was a hologram atop the Westinghall Building some six stories high. A stylized red ‘D’, in the same font used for the Mayfield Destiny football team, formed the main body of the hologram. In smaller print, though each letter was still the size of a man, across the ‘D’ was a single word: ‘Descendants’.

“Someone’s trying to get our attention.” Zero stated the obvious.

Codex nodded. “That’s where Vincent Liedecker has his offices. It may be him.” A sudden fear gripped her. “It may be about the school.” Even without seeing her face, she could sense the trepidation running through Zero. “I know. Someone still needs to check on your friend. I’ll call the others right now.”

“Thank you.” The tenseness didn’t go out of the younger woman as she nosed the bike toward the roof from which the hologram was emanating. A hand gave her shoulder a caring squeeze. “I know you want to go to your friend yourself, but we have to see what this is—to be sure the school isn’t in danger.”

Zero didn’t say anything. She just drove.

***

While it towered over the businesses that surrounded the plaza, the roof of the Westinghall Building enjoyed some protection from the wind from two nearby apartment towers that topped it by fifteen stories at least.

Still, the November cold was seeping in through Brill’s gloves. He punched his palms to keep them warm and continued to man the projector as instructed. Only three hours of sleep had been allowed him before Liedecker’s call had him out of bed, away from the warmth at his wife’s side.

He hadn’t even bothered to shave. Now the black stubble made him look every bit the hired muscle he was instead of the executive assistant he was supposed to appear as.

Though he’d never voice it, he thought the task Liedecker had given him was a waste. The Descendants needed their sleep too, after all. Just like he did. Come to think of it, at the moment, he needed a drink more; the red glow of the giant beacon was getting on his nerves.

A low whine approached. Brill placed it as coming from across the plaza. It reminded him of a flight capable police cruiser, if only with a smaller engine. That would be exactly what he needed; Liedecker was already calling prelates, which was bad enough, but if the cops were involved…

Some bits of his past self wanted to take cover and wait the cops out. But that was a long time ago. He was respectable now, an upstanding citizen.

The whine came closer and he turned to face it. What rose up above the edge of the roof wasn’t a car at all, but one of the sleek bikes he only knew from the magazines his oldest son was so obsessed with.

Before the vehicle could touch down, the canopy opened and a woman in formfitting blue and white leapt down five feet to the roof. Brill knew her to be Codex and the pilot of the bike was Zero. He gave them a professional nod.

“Mr. Brill.” Codex adopted a much huskier voice than her own when working in costume. Behind her, the whirr of the bike’s nacelles wound down and Zero dismounted. “To what do we owe the honor of our own logo?” She kept things light until she could find out what was going on.

Brill gestured toward the roof access. “Mr. Liedecker didn’t know another way to get in touch with you besides through the teachers at the school.”

“Something happened at the school?” She tried to keep the knot in her throat from making itself known in her speech.

Shaking his head, Brill ran a hand through his hair. “I couldn’t tell you, miss.” He had no idea how he was supposed to address the masked woman and had little desire to learn. “But he didn’t want them involved. He’ll have to tell you himself.” Again he gestured to the access hatch. “He’s in route from his house and will be here shortly.”

***

‘Shortly’ was fifteen minutes spent in an office that compared favorably to a national guard armory in terms of quantity of weapons on display. Codex briefly mused at how Laurel Brant had never been shown this office while preparations were being made for the school, but her immediate attention was on Zero.

The other young woman fidgeted in her seat, worrying at the hem of her cloak. She practically radiated tension.

Codex placed her hand over Zero’s and bought it to the arm of her chair. “It’s alright.” She said quietly. “There others will be there any minute. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Worry stricken eyes peered at her through the slits of Zero’s half-mask. Before she could reply, the door to the office opened.

“My apologies for my lateness.” Vincent Liedecker said smoothly, treating the pair of heroes like any other business associates. “I had a devil of a time waking my driver.” That was a lie. He’d been five floors down in the archive room making arrangements with Rick Charlotte.

He nodded to the two women graciously and slipped behind his desk. “Forgive the décor, I’m a bit of a collector. That fact has given me some trouble recently.” He took his seat and gave them a genial smile. “Thank you both so much for coming.”

“Your method of getting our attention was something we couldn’t ignore.” Codex replied, surreptitiously letting Zero’s hand go.

“It was a mite too early to call a press conference like Mendel did in the summer.” Said Liedecker. “So I thought to myself; ‘how do you get a super-hero’s attention without breaking the law?’”

“Yes, it did the trick, certainly.” Codex agreed and leaned forward. “You have our attention, Mr. Liedecker, now what is this about? Has something gone wrong at the school?”

“Oh, no.” Liedecker feigned concern like an a-list actor. “No, everything is fine there. I’m afraid that the reason I need your help is a bit more… well personal.”

“We’re not for sale, Mr. Liedecker.” Codex said slowly. She honestly doubted that he had anything like that in mind, but it helped maintain the Codex guise to appear suspicious.

“Perish the thought.” Liedecker said amiably. “I would never, ever sully your esteemed positions as protectors of our fair city by offering you money.” He looked away. Appearing weak was against every fiber of his being, but it was necessary to play the part of philanthropist. “It’s like I said; my habit of collecting has put me in a heap of trouble. A man named Vorran.”

Behind her mask, Zero’s eyes widened. This was not a coincidence. “Eduardo Vorran?” She asked before she could think.

“You’ve dealt with him?” This time the growl of near outrage was entirely real. “I thought you were a better man than that, Liedecker.”

Fighting every instinct in his body, he shrank from them. “I didn’t know… who he was. I swear to Almighty God, I didn’t.” He looked on the verge of tears, but that was because he was pinching his thigh viciously behind the desk.

“I collect weapons ‘cause my daddy built ‘em.” He explained. “I’m fascinated with ‘em. Always in the market for something new or exotic.”

“Vorran is an arms dealer.” Zero supplied.

“But I thought he was just another collector. I set up a few buys online; thought they were innocent.” Liedecker continued miserably. “Wartime hardware out of Brazil—real collector’s pieces after the Jabberwock—“

Codex was miles ahead of him. “And now he’s blackmailing you.”

Looking pitiful, Liedecker nodded. “A few weeks ago, he told me he wanted a hundred million or he’d leak to the feds that I’ve been buying from a wanted arms dealer. Told me that the pieces I bought are really contraband.”

“Did you pay him?”

“Hell yes!” Liedecker said. “It ain’t just about me in this. If I get ruined, everything I’ve touched is tainted too. My foundations, my grants—the school! A hundred million is a drop in the bucket to protect all that my daddy and I worked on.”

He deflated after that speech. “It wasn’t enough it seems…” There was a haunted look in his eyes. “I got a call today. Vorran’s been dropping my name at his deals. Apparently one of ‘em went bad because there’s a group of young bucks out there trying to sell me ‘back’ weapons that ain’t mine.”

“The Interfacers…” Zero murmured.

“That’s the name they used.” Liedecker agreed. “They threatened me the same way he—“

He didn’t finish because the window behind him exploded. Along with the glass and the wind flew Samael on wings of steel. “Did you really think the boss would allow you to talk to the prelates, Liedecker?” He roared. “Time to silence you for good.”

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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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