Issue #41 – Machinations

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

Part 4

Facsimile ran her hand along the ragged hole cut into the wall, causing a tiny cascade of dust to fall from it. “I didn’t know she could do something like this.”

“Neither did I.” Said Alloy, allowing Isp and Osp to lower him down to the next floor through the hole and onto the street outside.

“My question is, ‘How?’.” Facsimile leapt down after him. “I always figured she was just highly trained. Like a ninja or something.”

“She probably is.” Alloy swept the area with his metal sense. The tang of her orihalcon laced suit eluded him, lost in the tangle of underground utilities below him. “But she’s also a descendant. You yourself mentioned how fixated she is about psionic rights. She just hasn’t used her powers this blatantly before.”

“So she’s got a wall crumbling power?” Facsimile glanced back up tot he circular rupture in the side of the building. From where she stood, she could see up the last five stories of their fifty story vertical chase.

“No.” Alloy frowned. “She’s got metal powers. Like me.”

“What?”

“Yeah. I felt them working this time, when she punched through my armor, but it’s not the first time. I just wasn’t paying attention before.” He grunted and savagely kicked the access hatch leading down into the network of maintenance tunnels under the city. “I should have known. Should have noticed it before. She told me as much.”

Isp and Osp snaked out to open the hatch for him.

“Have you ever been down in those tunnels?” Asked Facsimile with an incredulous tone. “It’s chaos down there. The guys whose job it is to go down there use positioning systems and homers. There’s no way you can track her.”

Alloy tapped the side of his head. “They don’t have metal sense. The tunnels block a lot, but that outfit of hers is made of something like what the boys are made of.” He didn’t need to indicate Isp and Osp, who were quick to squirm and flex, trying to show off their exotic composition.

“The stuff from Manriki’s chains?” Facsimile rolled this around her head for a bit. “The same stuff inugami armor is made from. Hey! You don’t think–”

“No.” Alloy shook his head. “She’s way too pro-descendant to work with them. Besides, the stuff in her armor is like that, but different; alloyed with titanium and really heavily oxidized. It’s the difference between iron and steel.”

“Vorran is an arm’s dealer.” Facsimile pointed out. “He’s probably got teams working on building everything bad to be badder.”

One foot on the top rung of the ladder down, Alloy nodded before opening his com. “Chaos, Darkness; We’re following Vorpal down the utility tunnels.”

“Too risky.” Chaos returned. “We don’t want her catching you in those tunnels with those new powers of hers.”

“What?” Alloy replied. “But–”

“But.” Chaos cut him off. “Zero has a good idea where she’s going. We’re going to meet up with her there and hopefully cut off Vorpal and Samael at the pass.

“Samael too?” Facsimile was already taking to the air.

“Yeah. Apparently they both work for Vorran. He’s been blackmailing Vincent Liedecker and tried to dissolve their arrangement this morning when Liedecker tried to call us for help.”

Alloy gave the maintenance hatch one last look before closing it and asking the tentacles to start the long climb back up the side of the apartment building. “I hoped that guy was gone after the last time we met.” He shivered at the memory of steel and pain.

“It doesn’t make sense that they work for the same guy.” Facsimile said. “I mean, Vorpal saved you after he nearly…” She refused to finish that sentence.

“Just because they work together doesn’t mean they agree.” Darkness’s voice came over the com. “But that’s for us to figure out later. At the moment, what’s important is finding the Interfacers before those two do. Facsimile, you and Chaos will stay here with Clara in case Vorpal comes back or Samael shows up. Alloy; you and I will be taking Ephemeral and Hope to meet up with the others.

“You got it, boss lady.” Alloy replied after a cleansing breath. “I just hope that the Interfacers appreciate what the danger. None of them could survive Vorpal getting a hold of their circuitry.”

***

“Where’s Phan?” Dale glared around the makeshift table they’d made from one of the stolen crates. “Belle’s note says that we all need to see it.”

Joshua made a non-committal noise. “Probably still in his room. I already went to fetch him and he said he’d be here in a second.” A disapproving look crossed his face. “But you know him; belligerent to the core. I wouldn’t expect to see him.”

A frustrated growl escaped Dale’s throat. “I hate that kid. If he wasn’t so brilliant, I never would have pulled him in on this.” He cast a glance over to the door Phan would need to come through the arrive. “Forget him. If he needs to know this, we can tell him later.”

With a sweeping gesture, he directed everyone’s attention to the flat screen laid out on the table. It was a generic OLED that unrolled from a trapezoidal housing about a foot and a half long. It was the cheap, recordable kind people used for video greeting cards, far below the usual level of tech Belle involved.

Even lower on that scale was the handwritten paper note she’s sent with it instructing Dale that all of the remaining Interfacers need to see it.

“This arrived by messenger around sun-up. I haven’t looked at it. Belle says she wants us all to watch together.” He glared at the door again. “And I guess this is all of us.” With that, he hit play.

Belle’s face appeared onscreen, looking gaunt and weary from a sleepless night and long soul searching. “Hello again, my friends.” She kept her voice even and her chin up. “No doubt, many of you don’t think of me that way anymore after my plea, but you have to believe me that it was for the best. I won’t apologize for it, or ask forgiveness because that’s not why I sought you out.”

She took a deep breath before continuing. “The reason I’m calling you now is that… this has to end now.”

“I was wrong when I formulated the plan to rob Mayfield Security Systems. I realize that now and I regret it. But what you’re doing now is suicide. If you don’t stop right now…” Her mouth formed a tight line as the next words were difficult in coming.

“You will die. I… I was wrong about who I thought we were dealing with. I let my past interactions with him color my perceptions. The man you’re really stealing from; he’s a murderer and he won’t stop until all of you are dead.”

Nervous glances flashed from face to face between the assembled Interfacers.

Her expression turned sour and she ran a hand over her hair. “Maybe some of you don’t care. It’s probably because I taught you how important our work is for all mankind. But you are the best and the brightest in the field and if you die, it will set everything we’ve worked for back decades. If you don’t want to survive for yourself, do it because you need to carry on our work.”

“This has to be a hack.” Patricia muttered, self consciously, fiddling with an access panel fitted into her forearm. “Someone made this because we were too close.”

“I know that many of you think I betrayed our cause, but none of you can deny that I’ve always tried to do what’s right for us.” Belle continued on the screen.

Dale scowled even as he shook his head. “No. It’s real. Look close at her. That’s not how she looked when she went to the asylum. There’s a lot you can do with editing, but you still need source and to get that, they’d have to be in there with her.”

“And this is what’s right for us at the moment. Forget about trying to steal funds. All it got any of us was punishment under the law. And trying to extort it, especially will get you killed.” For the first time, Belle looked directly into the camera, the old resolve still burning in her eyes. “If you want to keep fighting the good fight, you had to surrender this battle.”

The image distorted and there was a sharp buzzing sound as the screen shorted out. The five Interfacers fidgeted nervously in a silence none of them wanted to be the one to break.

At last, Dale drew a rueful breath. “Get Phan.” He ordered no one in particular. “We need to discuss this.”

Everyone started moving at once, but Cathy held up a hand. “Wait.” She turned her head to better catch stray noise from the bay doors. “Someone’s coming.”

Dale’s eyes narrowed and he flexed the hands of his second set of arms, engaging the PSMs embedded in the palms. “Liedecker’s men?”

“How sure are we that it is Liedecker?” Joshua asked, looking about carefully for whatever put Cathy on guard. “We took Belle’s word for it and now she says she’s mistaken.”

“Until I learn definitively otherwise, I’m going to stay–” Dale was interrupted by a basso groan that came from the steel shuttered bay doors themselves. Rippling like fine silk curtains, they lifted on their own accord.

As they did, they revealed figures lit from behind by some vehicle headlights. They knew some of the new arrivals only from images; Darkness, Codex, Ephemeral, Hope. But they knew Alloy and Zero from experience.

“So Liedecker’s sending vigilantes to do his dirty work for him!” Dale didn’t hesitate, unloading the full fury of both PSMs at the heroes.

Isp and Osp casually smashed the plasmatic orbs aside. “How can one guy be both so wrong and so right at the same time?” Alloy asked. “Back off, Forearm, or this will get unpleasant. I think you remember last time.”

Dale did remember the last time. He’s gotten carried away in the heat of the moment and paid for it in the form of Alloy stripping the neural network from his nerves. Or at least that’s how he saw it. He ground his teeth and raised his mechanical arm for another shot.

Cathy stopped him, gripping his arm with her prodigious cybernetic strength. “Maybe Belle’s right.” Letting go, she waited just long enough to make sure he was doing nothing but scowl at her before raising her hands. “We give up.”

“I’m going to get busted for parole violation on top of this.” Travis sighted, raising his hands and opening the ports in his wrists to eject his own PSMs.

“At least you don’t have a career at stake.” Joshua complied as well. “I highly doubt that the college will be as forgiving for a second apprehension by prelates.”

Zero breathed a sigh of relief and stepped forward, unable to keep the smile off her face. “This isn’t an arrest or anything.” Her cheerful tone was at once honest and highly incongruous. “This is a rescue.”

She took the confused looks on their faces in stride and explained. “Eduardo Vorran sent some really bad people to come kill you and Mr. Liedecker and to try and get your location out of CornerCut.”

“Clara?” Cathy asked. “Oh my god, is she alright?”

“She’s fine.” Zero nodded. “You’re all going to be fine.”

“But you need to get out of this place.” Codex came up beside the younger heroine, placing a hand on her shoulder to put a metaphorical leash on the girl’s newly rekindled optimism. “This has to be the end of it. Whatever your cause is, you can’t further it as criminals and you certainly can’t further it as the victims of criminals.”

“Wait one moment.” Joshua lowered one hand so he was politely raising the other like a student in class. “You’re letting us off?”

Codex inclined her head in deference to Darkness.

The black clad woman chewed her lip a few silent moments before nodding. “We aren’t police. It’s not our job to uphold the law; we just want to ensure public safety.” Her tone turned hard. “But this is a one time thing. If you do this again, we will stop you and bring you to the police, got that?”

“Crystal clear.” Joshua nodded. “One of you might want to go find Phan in the back and let him know this arrangement. Who knows? Maybe it’ll set him on the straight and narrow.”

“In the back?” Ephemeral asked. “But you are the only ones here.”

The cyborgs looked at one another, common understanding dawning on them. Dale cursed.

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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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