Issue #43 – Love You Madly

This entry is part 8 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

Part 3

Cursing, Facsimile executed a wing-over and dove in pursuit of her gliding quarry. “Stop right there, pal.” She ordered. “You can’t out-fly me!”

The thief glanced back at her, causing his flight to wobble a bit. Like the rest of him, his head was covered in black cloth and the rest of his face was obscured by a breath mask and tinted sports goggles.

Somehow though, Facsimile got a sense that he smirked at her shortly before doing a barrel roll of his own, directly into the updraft over the street. Throwing the flaps on his suit fully open, he was shunted upward, causing her pass harmlessly under him.

By the time she wheeled around, he was angling into the alley between the shorter buildings on the street. Facsimile grit her teeth and reflexively grew claws. “Get back here, you lousy flying squirrel.” She muttered to herself.

The robber didn’t seem concerned about losing her in the slightest. Banking, he caught enough air to brake and caught the rungs of a fire escape ladder. Without so much as looking back at her, he started to climb down.

“Got ya.” Facsimile folded her wings and dove for him.

Moments before impact, however, the thief kicked off from the ladder and performed a handstand on it. Before Facsimile could correct, he dropped his feet, along with the full weight of his body into her back, slamming her into the ladder.

For a second, pain was everything in her mind, bright flashes blocked her vision and her teeth rattled from the impact. Frustration was turning to anger now. Getting a grip on the ladder before she fell off, she turned her head to look for the man she’d just nominated to be on the business end of a painful pummeling.

Too late, she saw him, once again in a handstand above her. In a moment that seemed to last just long enough for her to see what was coming next, she saw that the ladder was the outdated and probably outlawed kind where one half of the ladder slid down the face of the other half when the stops were released, allowing fleeing residents to climb down, but preventing thieves or worse from climbing up.

Outdated because much safer and more reliable models were available. Outlawed because if someone was already on the ladder when it was in motion, their fingers and toes would be crushed when the rungs slid past one another.

From his handstand, the thief kicked those stops lose and let go, setting the whole thing in motion in exactly the way Facsimile feared. The rungs caught her hands with bone crunching force that made her scream out loud.

To add insult to injury, the thief used her moment of immobility to shinny down her body like a fire pole. “I’m honestly very sorry about that.” He said, in the midst of his climb.

Roaring her indignity, she tried to buffet him with her wings, hitting nothing but air. Surging her body mass into building muscles in her arms, she tore the rung cleanly off the ladder and dropped to the landing below. The thief had already made it to the one below that.

“Sorry? You crush my damn hands so you can get away with whatever crap you stole and all you can say is sorry?!” She swarmed down the next ladder after him. Briefly, she considered undoing the stops on that ladder and returning the favor, be he’d already jumped to the landing. “You’re going to be sorry, alright; in jail. Possibly the hospital ward.”

“Very sorry.” He corrected. There was an accent there that Cyn couldn’t place. Before she was halfway down the ladder, he’d leapt onto the rail surrounding the landing. Upon delivering his correction, he leapt across the alley to the facing fire escape.

The jump was a little short, forcing him to grab the rail and swing down to the landing below that.

Cyn squinted at the other fire escape. That was a long jump for a normal person. It was probably impossible for any of the other Descendants too, not that they didn’t have powers and gadgets that made the distance trivial. For the first time, she considered the idea that she wasn’t fighting a common, if unorthodox criminal.

She made the jump herself, easily clearing it and landing above him. “So. You’re a psionic?” She was already scrambling down the ladder.

“Not that I know of.” He grabbed either side of the next ladder and slid down it, swinging out and around in mid-drop so that he was on the other side of it. His feet landed on the railing. “This stuff? It’s all diet and exercise, Fax.”

“Fax? You know me then.” She replied coldly.

“Not personally. Well, not before we had this chat.” He jumped from the railing to land on the windowsill below. A second later, he purposefully dropped from it to the one below that as easily as a cat. “But I watch a lot of television.”

“Then you know,” Facsimile changed, an extra set of arms with barbed claws emerging from her sides, chitinous, black armor covering her body. “That I always catch the bad guy.” She glared at him with pure, black eyes and snarled at him with a toothsome maw as she clamored out onto the wall in pursuit.

“Yes, actually.” the thief nodded. Then he launched himself into a twisting back-flip off the windowsill. “Until now!” The leap took him across the alley again, to the next lower landing. He didn’t stop when he caught the railing either. Flexing his back, he swung down to the next railing, then hopped two windowsills and grabbed a drain spout, rapidly descending to the street.

Surging down the wall after him, Facsimile growled. “You haven’t gotten away yet!”

“Think not?” The thief stooped and pulled something out of his ankle pouch.

Facsimile prepared herself to dodge if it was a taser.

It wasn’t. After squeezing it forcefully, the man threw a soft, black bag at her. In the air, it expanded until it exploded into a tangle of thin cords that fell over her. They twisted and caused her to lose her balance in mid stride along the wall.

Only quick thinking and diamond hard claws in the brick kept her from slamming into the ground. Instead, she tore a four story long gouge in the wall before falling the last two, landing hard on her back.

“A net? You think a little net’s going to…” That’s when the pain hit her. It wasn’t just irritation on her skin; the cords were coated in pepper spray and the fumes were already getting in her eyes and nose, even in her mouth. Coughing started to wrack her body. “You son of a—” she started, but he was already gone.

***

She was in the trunk of the car.

Nikolia kept reminding herself of that because most car trunks weren’t the size of single deck parking garages. Nor were they furnished with computer desks or comfortable chairs, but there she was, tapping away on a holographic computer screen purchased with hundred dollar bills that started their lives as gas receipts and the owner’s manual taken from the car’s glove box.

Madrigal was keeping himself busy reading the This Week In Archeology blog on the palmtop he’d bought himself, leaving her to work in peace.

The actual design wasn’t the issue for Nikolia; she knew most of her design specs by heart and the computer aided design software she’d bought was perfectly up to the task, but she had trouble staying on task in an atmosphere so saturated with weirdness.

Recovering the amber eye had led to a sharp change in attitude for Madrigal Madigan. She’d known a man who was sophisticated and focused, if self centered and pompous at times. This new Madigan bounced between having the attention span of a small child in a toy store and almost obsessive focus on seemingly random things that crossed his path.

It was really a miracle that the archeology blog had held his attention as long as it had, but his silence worried her almost as much as his disjointed conversation and now far overblown ego. ‘Power of a god’ indeed.

And always there was the eye. It terrified her and intrigued her at the same time. Sometimes she wanted to take it and keep it for her own, and other times, she wanted to take it and throw it down a well. And always, she felt it staring at her. Wherever Madrigal’s friend had found the thing, Nikolia imagined it was a very hot place, possibly with brimstone.

To keep her mind off of it, she threw herself into her design work. A year ago, when she was restrained by a budget and the parameters of her immediate goal, she had only built three types of robots: the small, flight capable tech-wings, the humanoid combat droids called X-71 and the transport units she simply called rollers.

But in that intervening year, she found herself with far more time on her hands and had built on those designs, created new ones. If she was uneasy with Madrigal and the Eye, she still believed that what he’d told her was true; that he could bring her creations to life.

“Question:” the man himself asked.

Nikolia felt a shiver down her spine, wondering if he had added mind reading to his god powers. “Yes?”

“How much longer do you need to design before I can… get some use out of your fabulous machines?”

“I could keep designing for days, months even.” She admitted, “But I’ve already finalized a few of th things I was working on at the Center.”

“At the Center?” Madrigal asked in an airy tone. “So that was real, was it? What you said about there being a lab under there and you still doing your work while on the inside?”

Nikolia nodded. “I assumed you were part of it too; just that you were putting on an act so you wouldn’t be found out?”

Madrigal laughed. Mercifully, it wasn’t the insane cackle he’d been favoring over the past day, but his usual, rich laugh. “What would they need an archaeologist for?”

They were getting far off topic and Nikolia only just now noticed. “What do you need the robots so soon for, Madrigal?” She turned in her seat to look at him and immediately wished she hadn’t.

He had closed the palmtop and was now holding the cane up so that he was looking directly into the eye. Only the eye wasn’t visible. Instead, it showed a tiny panorama of a city street centered on an elegant woman in a dark brown dress and a man in a new suit.

“Ah.” He replied absently. “Because I’ve just found a use for them.”

***

Ian Smythe shifted in what he hoped was an inconspicuous manner, trying to convince his new suit to sit right. So far, he wasn’t having much luck; he couldn’t bring himself to spend money on tailoring and the off the rack jacket had been made for a man built like a capitol ‘T’, not one built like a sans serif ‘I’.

Across from him, Alexis smiled at him. She saw what he was trying to do and was trying not to laugh for the sake of his ego. They were seated next to the fireplace in La Bergerie, one of the best reviewed restaurants in the city.

You know, you didn’t have to get all dressed up.” She assured him, hoping it would at least stop him from trying to adjust the suit.

It didn’t. “I did if I wanted to take you here tonight.” Ian pointed out. That only raised other questions, but he was right on that point; jacket and tie were required.

Alexis sipped her water and raised an eyebrow at him. “So what’s the occasion? My birthday isn’t for two weeks and Valentine’s isn’t for nearly a month.”

Ian cleared his throat nervously and drank from his water glass as well. “There needs to be a reason? Let’s just call it insurance in case of a repeat of last year’s ‘no reservations’ Valentine’s debacle. I just want you to get to have a nice dinner out.”

“That’s sweet.” She gave him a fond look. “But you really didn’t have to. I like our regular dates. And I liked what we did last year.” A grin played on her lips. “But since we’re here…”

“Now there’s the spirit.” Ian said, relaxing and sighing contentedly. “You know, I still can’t believe it. Me and you, I mean. I still remember you bumming my car so you could go out with other guys.”

Alexis blushed. “Sorry. You were the only one of us to have a car that year and I never noticed…”

Ian waved the idea away. “It’s fine. I was hard to notice back then. Except for when I was hanging out with you and Laurel, I was buried in a book or down in the Armstrong Building, fiddling in the engineering lab.”

A shakes of her head and Alexis gave him a meaningful look. “You weren’t hard to notice, I just wasn’t looking in that direction.” She assured. “And I like that you’re smart. I was actually wondering why you haven’t taken back up with your engineering stuff now that we’ve got the time and money.”

“Not my money and I’m working the day shift.” He shrugged. “Besides, that’s just what I was good at, not really what I wanted to do.”

“What did you want to do?”

He knew immediately that he should have known that question was coming. Deep down, he wondered if he’d even told the truth there, or if he was just making excuses not to get back into his old habits. God knew that the ROCIC and even just regular police forces needed a good powered armor designer on their side.

Before he could come up with a response, Alexis’s cellphone started playing She Knows Too Much by The Overlong Names. “That’s Laurel.” She frowned. “It must be important if she’s calling during this. Sorry. I’ll be right back; it’s probably about the school.”

“Sure.” Ian nodded his understanding. He stood when she did and sat down once she was on her way to the alcove set up for people to take phone calls without disturbing the atmosphere. “Hope it’s good news.”

Once he was sure she was gone, he reached into his inner pocket and took out the source of all his nervous energy. It was a small, velvet box, and inside was the reason he’d taken Warrick aside earlier.

He didn’t have to look at it to know what it looked like; he’d designed it and watched it being made: a band of platinum and gold, twisted together and fused into a smooth band. At the top, there was a gem, sculpted into a crescent moon. It was clear, but it wasn’t a diamond because as Warrick put it ‘carbon isn’t a metal’. Instead it was a kind of transparent aluminum, which he’s been assured was like a sapphire.

It was, at least he hoped it was, perfect. The night was perfect. They had to be. Everything had to be right for this night.

Series Navigation<< Issue #42 – Metal XIssue #44 – It’s Official! >>

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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