Issue #43 – Love You Madly

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

Part 5

Maven’s new tech-wing flying robots were considerably different from the iteration that attacked Capashen Arena, Ian noted.

The arena machines was simple affairs about the size of a large cat featuring a central ‘eye’ that did double duty as a sensor suite and a laser weapon. The ‘eye’ design remained, but it was now mounted inside an articulated set of three rings that allowed it 360 degree movement. The outer rings attached to twin mini-turbines that held the entire thing aloft and a pair of bottom mounted plasma lances flanking a storage compartment that doubled as a landing base.

Ian’s engineering mind was impressed even as Maven directed them to fan out around the restaurant.

“You’ve seen the movies, you know the drill.” she ordered, leaving Madigan’s side to strut confidently into the middle of the dining room. Manipulating some controls on her wrist, she caused the storage compartments on the machines to open. “Cash, cards, jewelry and any high end electronics you might have goes into the bays my assistants are presenting to you now.”

There was a shriek of terror from behind Ian. He glanced back to see a man dropping a smoking pile of slag while nursing a burn on his palm.

“Oh yes.” Maven added, “They can tell if you’re trying to call for help. So don’t try.” With a cruel smile, she laughed. “And even if you managed, the tech-wings are just the ‘bots I bought inside.”

Behind her, Madigan roughly pushed a man from his seat and sat down, staring that diners with dull interest.

“You don’t see her?” Maven asked over her shoulder.

“She’s here.” Madigan said dispassionately. His tone turned hateful as he added, “He is too. I just have to…” The whole of his demeanor changed. Subtly, he shifted from a casual slouch, to a predatory stance; as if he was ready to spring from the seat in an instant. Focus came to his eyes as they met Ian’s. “Remember.”

A barely perceptible shimmer of yellow sparks washed over Madigan and he simply stopped moving in accordance to the normal perception of time and causality. Without seeming to transition between the two, he was sitting, then he was standing, the head of the cane presented threateningly.

Ian threw himself to the floor. Just in time too, as a beam of amber light hit his seat and accelerated it backward at an incredibly rate. It hit the table behind him and exploded into splinters that raked the surrounding diners.

Panic started to sweep the room, held in check only by warning shots from the tech wings. Somewhere in the confusion, a woman was screaming that she couldn’t feel her arm.

Another bolt of power caused the table Ian was hiding behind to grow suddenly heavy and crash thorough the floor into the wine cellar below. Ian was left with nowhere to hide. “Madigan, wait!” He shouted, throwing his hands in the air.

He needed time to think; Madigan’s sudden surge into action had interrupted and basically blown out of the water his original plan of taking him by surprise. But the fact that several seconds had passed and he wasn’t dead suggested that he might have another option.

“Well?” Madigan demanded. He didn’t let the cane lower an inch. The eye inside it watched him like he was a bug in a jar.

“Well what?” Ian asked, trying to sound more confused than he actually was. “What do you want to know?”

“Where is she.” It wasn’t a question. It went past demand straight on into threat.

It took a herculean effort not to glance toward the alcove to see if Alexis was watching. “She… left me.” He said in breathlessly, shamefaced, and lowered his head in defeat. “She’s not here.”

A look of hatred smoldered in Madigan’s eyes. “You lie. I saw you—both of you!” He gestured with the cane.

So that was how he found them, Ian realized. A crystal ball. God, he hated magic.

He adjusted the story on the fly. “Right. We came here together, but she left.” Tears would have helped, but he couldn’t muster them. Instead, he decided to try for anger. “Think about it, Mad-Mad. God, she had you after her hand; how the hell am I supposed to compete with that? I always knew she was out of my league, but I always hoped you know?”

A glance at Madigan’s face showed a smugness Ian didn’t know was possible. It was working, but he didn’t want Mad-Mad to get too confident. “She’s probably out of your league too.”

Madigan’s eyes narrowed. “What did you say? Do you realize the power I wield?!”

“Yeah. You’re a god.” Ian concealed his disdain for the terminology. “But power or no, she’s like a goddess. And you don’t get… what’s that Greek god’s name? The ugly one that was the craftsman? Hephaestus?”

Madigan nodded.

“Right. You don’t see Hephaestus ending up with Aphrodite.”

Something happened to Madigan. The orb dimmed a little. The eye didn’t seem to open as widely. The feral, hunting cat look that Madigan wore became one of smug derision and arrogance. Human arrogance.

“You uneducated philistine, Hephaestus married Aphrodite.”

Ian blinked in silence for a moment. What had he done? Was it a turn for the good or for the bad? He looked at the eye again. It wasn’t just more heavily lidded, it was also unfocused. The revelation hit in like a blinding bolt of inspiration; he’d offended the archeology and mythology expert, Madrigal Madigan, so badly, that he was actively suppressing whatever intelligence resided in the orb.

Hopefully, that suppression also reduced his power levels.

“Is that a fact?” He asked, feigning deep interest.

“Of course.” Madigan folded his arms and gave him a stern look, one that wouldn’t have been out of place on a disappointed professor talking to a student he expected better of. “In most mythologies at least. The most notable deviation is Homer, who described the Charis “Grace” as being his wife. Which of course would still negate your point.”

Maven gave him a sidelong stare. “Madrigal, I’m very glad that you’re starting to sound like yourself again, but is this really the time and place?”

“Most certainly. What other time would I have to enlighten him before I… kill him for… what was I killing him for?”

Before Maven could answer, an alarm sounded from her wrist panel.

“What was that?” Madigan snapped.

“The X-91’s.” Maven frowned at the controls. “Someone has engaged them.”

Chewing his lip, Madigan looked back at the door. “It’s too early for the police. That could only mean…”

***

Facsimile cleared the last building standing between her and the address Codex had given her. In retrospect, she could have found it without directions; all she had to do was follow the sound of the traffic jam.

Traffic was snarled for five blocks in all directions with the drivers too far away to see what was causing the gridlock leaning on their horns and cursing at the top of their lungs. Except for a brave, or at least cognitively dissonant few, no one who could see it was trying anything like that.

In front of La Bergerie, the street had been cleared by force; cars brutally smashed and turned on their sides to form a street-spanning barricade.

Manning the barricade was a quartet of robots. Each identical to the others; vaguely humanoid in shape and standing nearly ten feet tall at the shoulder with disproportionately large forearms and lower legs and ‘heads’ that were nothing more than slightly convex discs sitting in the valley between their shoulders. Each arm ended in a plasma lance or a pneumatic hammer.

Facsimile was painfully familiar with that make of hammer. She recognized it from the less humanoid robots she’d fought more than a year earlier at Capashen Arena.

A grim smile came to her face as she recalled the humiliation she’d suffered earlier in the night. “This is going to make me feel so much better.” She snapped her wings closed and plummeted from twenty stories up, flexing her fingers into diamond-hard claws.

She came down like a golden meteorite, her full weight driving all ten claws straight through the metal paneling on a sensor disc. With a satisfied snarl, she kicked off from the machine’s back, taking the sensor array and the wiring within with her.

With sparks geysering from its fatal wound, the X-91 swung blindly at Facsimile’s last known location, smashing an already badly damaged car in the process.

One of the others opened fire with its plasma lance, but Facsimile blocked it with the sensor array from its fellow. The blazing beam made quick work of the impromptu shield, but it gave her enough time to dive for cover behind an overturned car.

She only took a second to catch her breath before absorbing her wings and transferring the mass to her upper body. Wielding her new-found strength, she ripped off a tire and stood with it ready to throw.

Two of the X-91’s converged on her location in that short time and their weapons were primed and ranging for her. She gave them an easy target by jumping up on the side of the car. Four plasma lances trained in on her.

They fired too late. Facsimile shifted some of the strength she’d just put into her upper body to her legs and leapt over the shots toward one of them. In midair, she hurled the tire at the other. It struck it on the barrel of one of its lances with enough force to buckle the housing.

Facsimile slammed into the other robot’s chest, overbalancing it and riding it to the ground where it cracked the pavement on impact.

***

Maven stared at the system reports on her wrist display in distress. “The X-91’s are under heavy assault. Unit 2’s lost its sensors, I’m linking it to the optic and GPS data from the others to get it back in the fight. Whatever you intend to do, Madrigal do it quickly.”

What?” Madigan blinked at her and shook his head before returning his attention to Ian. “Yes. As I was saying; tell me where she is and I won’t…” The eye twitched in its amber setting. “Probably won’t ki—destroy you.”

Ian took the ongoing distractions to get to his feet while keeping his hands in the air. Madigan didn’t seem to notice. “I told you, she left me. Why am I such a threat to you anyway? With your powers…”

Something suddenly occurred to him and he decided to risk testing it. “You see me as a rival. Maybe an equal.”

Madigan sniffed at the idea. “That’s preposterous.”

No.” Ian pressed, “I don’t think so. I mean why else do you think someone like her would see something in someone like me?” He feigned a look of inspiration. “Wait. If you have the power of a god, then if you think it, maybe you’ve made it true, unconsciously.”

He lowered his hands and picked up a glass of wine from a nearby table. A tiny pulse of power caused that liquid to drop low enough in pressure that it started boiling at room temperature. For a long second, he stared at it, made sure Madigan saw it happening. The look on Mad-Mad’s face told him everything he needed to know.

Giving a startled yell, he threw the glass to the floor. “Holy shit! What did you do to me?”

Madigan goggled and the eye narrowed nearly to a slit. “No. No, I couldn’t have done that… could I?” He started into the orb and it was clear he wasn’t getting an answer.

Yes you did!” Ian staggered dramatically, siting out likely opportunities to make his dramatics count. He saw it in a tech-wing hovering over a table set with water glasses. Still pretending to be well into a freak-out, he used his power to capture an air bubble in one of the glasses.

He’d been practicing with the Chaos Nova, really a sonoluminescent phenomena that normally required industrial equipment, and was experimenting with directing the energy released. This time, he directed it upward.

It wasn’t perfect. The blast blew a hole in the table and reduced the glasses to a fine, molten spray, but the bulk of the energy decimated one of the robot’s mini-turbines, causing it to flip end over end until it crashed into a wall.

Oh my god, did I do that?” Ian gasped, stumbling back from the wreck. He turned back to Madigan and gave him what he hoped for all the world was a pleading look. “Turn it off, damn it! Turn it off!”

He punctuated the plea by triggering another Chaos Nova in a wine glass to Madigan’s right. The explosion caused the mad man to stumble, but the same thin glaze of yellow energy that seemed to make him move outside of time flared up, protecting him from the flames and sizzling glass.

Maven looked up from her wrist display. “What are you waiting for, Madrigal? Take his powers away before he burns the place down!”

Staring in bewilderment at the flames left over from the explosion, Madigan responded in a shaken voice. “I don’t know if I can! I don’t know how I did it!”

***

Frustration was eating Alexis alive.

She could hear the commotion and the drama in the dining room and knew that Ian was holding his own in psychological warfare, but she saw nothing and she wanted nothing more than to go out there and help him.

Codex had been right though; seeing Alexis Keyes might set Mad-Mad off and that might go bad for everyone. She would just have to wait until Codex arrived with her costume and…

Her jet black costume. That looked exactly like she did when she fully ensconced herself in black heat to fly.

Oh my god…” She whispered to herself. A mere though stopped the particles around her from bending light and instead set them to absorbing. They settled around her, making her into the image of a vast and impenetrable blackness shaped like a woman. “I must have been really panicking. That’s the only explanation for not figuring this out earlier.”

With that said, Darkness flew to join the battle.

***

This is absurd.” Maven kept a wary eye on Ian, who was apparently having a nervous breakdown over everything that was happening to him. At the moment, he was hugging himself and shivering, eyes darting around the room, fearful of what he might cause to explode next.

So far, his apparent power incontinence had managed to catch five of her tech-wings in conflagrations with consequences ranging from severely compromised shell integrity to the complete destruction of the unit. It was raising her ire.

He’s obviously not in the right mind to give you any information and if we’re not careful, he’ll burn us all alive in here. Either put him down, or let’s go.”

The amber eye opened fully and swiveled beneath the surface of the orb to stare at her. At the same time, Madigan’s head turned toward her so fast she swore she heard vertebrae pop. “No!” He nearly shouted. “He’s my only lead—the only way I’ll find her!”

I still have no idea what’s so special about this woman, but why don’t you just use that…” She felt nauseas just making contact with the eye. “…thing to find her again?”

Madigan was silent for a second, looking stunned and sheepish. He hadn’t thought of that. And yet, he made no move to. Almost without his own notice, he found himself looking to the orb for answers.

No.” He finally said in monotone. “It’s the thrill of the hunt that’s the thing.”

Another explosion, this one from an expensive looking decanter of wine, blew out the turbines of two tech-wings, causing them to wheel into one another, becoming hopelessly locked together as they wobbled drunkenly to the ground.

No!” A middle aged woman, one of the staff by her uniform, the sommelier going by the brass pin on her vest, leapt to hear feet, looking distraught. She turned to her apparent captors. “Please, get him out of here!” She begged.

Maven blinked.

That was a specially ordered bottle of Petrus 2005 he just…” She couldn’t bring herself to say that it burned. Wine shouldn’t burn.

Petrus, you say?” Mad-Mad broke out of his fugue again. “I was fortunate enough to sample their 2031 when Dr. Carver invited us all to celebrate his discovery of the Sumerian Poet’s Tablet. That’s a very good wine.” He gave Ian a galled and disappointed look. “You destroyed a very good wine.”

This only served to cause the sommelier to fret even louder and demand even more stringently that Ian be removed.

Maven let out an exasperated breath. She enjoyed fine wine too, but more importantly, it was only a matter of time before he hit a gas main, or worse, her own flesh. Three tech-wings answered her direction and trained plasma lances on the nascent fire god.

If you’re not going to do something about him, Madrigal, then I will.”

Just a moment, Nikolia, I’m trying to understand how I did this. If I gave him powers, I could do the same for you.”

Me?” She blinked. Wouldn’t he rather make his figurative goddess into a literal one? That thought was immediately shouted down by her practical side. “Maven!” She shouted at him.

Excuse me?”

Call me Maven. There’re witnesses.”

Forgive me for pointing out, but there were sixty thousand witnesses when you were arrested.” He replied with a calm that had no place in conducting a hostage situation.

It’s a matter of… never mind.” She snapped. “You can experiment later. For now, we have to end this.”

Three precise bolts of blackness struck out and bore searing holes into the centers of the three tech-wings targeting Ian, felling them instantly. “On that, we’re in complete agreement.” Darkness hovered in the doorway ensconced in black heat and ready to rain down more of it. “Except in my version, he lives and the two of you go back to the institution.”

Ian raised his head and stifled a sigh of relief. Concentrating on that many explosions in succession was incredibly draining and his didn’t know how much longer her could have kept it going.

Between Darkness’s arrival and whoever was fighting outside, things were finally swinging back into their favor.

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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