Issue #60 – Rust Buckets

This entry is part 13 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 2
“Alright, eyes-on. Tough, Mama, make sure you’ve got good, open shots on the front of the town center. Me, Handyman and…” Sean groaned under his breath, “David. We’ll be standing by in the alleys for the ambush. Everyone got that?”
Everyone did, or at least didn’t admit that they didn’t. “Good. Bad Boy, you’re up.”
Billy laughed over the comm as he approached the town center using his jets for flight. White smoke billowed out from the mecha’s legs and back as it followed the long arc of a jet assisted jump; over a neighboring building and angling directly for the open area in the middle.
He came down hard, one foot demolishing the corner of a fountain. The water and hot metal combined to form a cloud of steam that made the suddenly appearing piece of military hardware even more menacing.
It was the middle of the lunch hour, so there was a crowd there to see it happen and to fly into a panic.
“Yeah, that’s right, run! Ya pampered, prissy bastards!” Billy’s voice boomed out of the external speakers, made sinister by a voice changer. He made a mock charge at a small knot of gawkers who had stopped to film him with their palmtops, scattering them into the crowd.
Then he took a good look at his surroundings. “We’re s’pposed to get their attention right? Think I’ll do some shopping.” A designer sunglasses kiosk caught his eye. “Aw hell yeah, I best be lookin’ good while I do this.”
With the flip of a pair of switches, he opened the air vents on top of his canopy opened fully. Once that task was done, he stomped over to it, huge metal feet cracking the tile as he moves. Taking up the kiosk in both hands, he upended it over his mecha’s head, sending a cascade of sunglasses clattering over it; some channeling into the vents while most glanced off the machine and to the ground below.
Inside, Billy found himself under a deluge of high price plastic. With a whoop of joy, he picked one pair up from where it landed in his lap and put them on. “Ha ha ha! This is already my favorite day ever! What else should I take?”
“Oh, I see one of them stands with all the pretty crystal animals.” Said ‘Liza-Beth, centering said stand in her scope. “Get those.”
“Anything for you, mama.” Billy smashed more tiles underfoot on the way to that kiosk and repeated the same trick he used with the sunglasses.
The others were treated to a horrendous crash over the comms.
“Aw, damn it!” Billy shouted, thrashing in his seat to protect his head and face from shattering crystal ricocheting around in his cabin. Once the debris stopped falling, he struggled to brush the sharp bits off his shirt and out of his hair.
“Um… mama? I think you better pick something else.” He looked up to see an Esther Claude women’s apparel store on the second tier of the town center. “How ’bout a dress?”
“From that place?” ‘Liza-Beth asked, “That’s too expensive. Is there a Dress Shack in Mayfield?”
“He’s taking it Mrs… uh, Mama.” said Joe. “It don’t cost anything.”
‘Liza-Beth refused to be corrected, “Still too fussy to me. ‘Sides, place like that won’t let you return nothin’. What if it don’t fit and they won’t let me return it?”
“I hate to interrupt, but we’ve got a problem.” said Al.
Sean was just happy for the interruption. “What’ve you got, Handyman?”
“It’s just that… well nobody’s calling the cops.”
“Just what I said, no one’s calling the cops. They can’t. I’ve been monitoring the wireless networks and they’re down. They’re all down—everything! I didn’t know that could happen these days.” He scrolled through several screens, each more perplexing to him than the last.
“But…” Zeke said, “If the cops aren’t hearing about it…”
“Neither are the Descendants—and that makes this a waste.” Sean snarled and punched the side of his console. “Damn it, then how are we gonna draw ’em out?”
“I got an idea.” Joe laughed slyly and pulled the handles that opened the machine gun ports in his mecha’s arms. Without bothering to take aim, he opened fire on the second floor gallery. He was out of reliably lethal range for his non-energy based weaponry, but they still had enough velocity to shatter all the windows, sending glass sleeting down over everyone and everything on the lower levels.
“We split up and go hog wild on this city. First one that sees these ‘heroes’ calls the others, how ’bout that?” He was already spinning up his freelev.
“And if they gang up on us while we’re all alone?” Sean asked pointedly.
This drew another laugh from Joe. “well Boss Man, we’ve got fifteen ton iron monkey suits stuffed full of guns and flamethrowers—we’ll use our imagination.”
“So you said you were going to be starting classes at Carey Community College next week?”
Cyn tried not to sigh in a beleaguered fashion. Her schooling wasn’t a subject she liked to touch on with anyone, even Ollie. Despite him being a nice guy and a fun boyfriend, she wished he learned faster which subjects were her least favorites. It took him a month to realize that talking about her family could only end in bitter diatribes.
They were sitting on a set of stone steps in Wagner Park, watching some high school guys play a pick-up game of basketball while waiting for the court to free up so they could play some one-on-one. Ollie had bought ice cream for the both of them and she was straining her underdeveloped sense of self control not to swallow the cool treat whole in hopes of relieving the heat of the day.
“Yeah,” She said after some deliberation. “Just a few. Laurel is really big on how important it is for me to get an education, so I’m taking some government and civics classes—you know, the make her happy.”
Ollie was being maddeningly methodical eating his own pistachio cone from where Cyn was sitting. He stopped to weigh his response before saying, “For what it’s worth, I agree with her. You’re a smart girl, Cyn, and from what you’ve told me, Miss Brant would help you out with tuition and everything—why not give it a chance.”
“Please.” She rolled her eyes. “I am not smart. Jun and Kareem got almost straight A’s, War graduated with just one C to his name and Melissa only did slightly worse than him because…” Of course she couldn’t reveal that her roommate’s grades suffered because she’d drugged herself into a stupor with her powers, “…she stopped trying for a few months there.”
Close enough for government work. Ironically, that could be said in a literal sense about her chose class load.
“I never even saw an A.” She finished airily. “If I asked, Laurel would find some way to get me in at Dayspring, or UVA, or Emerald within two years. And then I’d flunk or drop out in two more. I’m just saving her money and wasted influence.”
Ollie shook his head. “Cyn, listen to yourself. When you talk about school stuff, you don’t even sound like yourself. Anything else and you brag and boast and even if you’re not doing good at it, you go at it with your claws out and you don’t stop—you never stop. Yeah, you never got an A, but as far as I know, you only ever got one D and that was because Coach Bevelaqua didn’t like your ‘attitude’. I’m sure if you found a subject you like—“
“That’s what Laurel said too.” She sighed. “And that’s why I’m taking those classes. Lately, all the crazy stuff going on in the world… suddenly politics sounds interesting. I mean a senator just got outed as a shapeshifter.”
“Yeah, that was a weird news day.” Ollie suddenly put his arm around her. “So you want to get in the middle of all that?”
She shrugged. That hadn’t occurred to her. She just figured that if she was going to follow current events, and Laurel wanted her collecting course credit, she might as well combine the two. “Maybe?”
Ollie leaned in and kissed a drop of strawberry and caramel from the corner of her mouth. “Just don’t got and get yourself replaced by a shapeshifter.”
“Somehow, I don’t think that will be a problem.” Cyn quirked a smile, considering it a battle of wills between them to make the other the first to initiate make out sessions. Pretending to drop her cone, she instead absorbed it into her hand. With the other, she pulled him closer for a proper kiss, taking some smug satisfaction that she made him drop his own cone for real.
A commotion down on the court cut this session short however. Both looked up to find all the players staring and pointing at something in the sky over the south end of the park. It was hard to make out from that far, but it was leaving a definite exhaust trial.
“What is that, a missile?” Ollie asked. He stood and helped Cyn do the same.
Cyn shifted her eyes internally to improve her vision. Laurel had suggested some biology courses would improve her powers, but watching the Menagerie Network online worked just fine for her. With the visual acuity of a peregrine falcon, she could make out that it was a machine of some kind; vaguely humanoid in shape.
Groaning to herself, she mentally started constructing a revenge fantasy of what she’d do to the chump in the mecha when she cracked that thing open and pulled him out. Ruined dates weren’t as frequent as television and comics made them seem in the lives of heroic types, but she still wished for a special level of hell reserved for villains that caused them.
Glancing at Ollie, she thanked her lucky stars that he was one of the most risk averse people she’d ever met. “No, I think it’s a robot. And you know what that means—the Descendants will be there soon to fight it! Come on!”
Predictably, he hesitated and she paused as if just remembering his thoughts toward such things. “Sorry, I forgot.”
Ollie held up a hand. “No, you go. I know you love this stuff, but honestly, it’s too close to comfort for me the way they throw people and things around. I’d rather just watch it online.”
“Are you sure?” She knew he was.
“Yeah. Hey—maybe I’ll spot you while I’m watching, yeah? And don’t worry. I’ll be right here when it’s over and we can still get our game in, alright?”
Cyn gave him a sly grin and a quick but deep kiss. “Yeah, and after that, w can play basketball too.”
She left him leaning on the railing and dashed across the open meadow to the nearest jogging trail. Running was a pain; Cyn was of the mind that being able to sprout wings and fly should exempt her from running, but she had to keep up appearances at least until she was out of sight of the public.
As she pelted down the trail, cursing the joggers who seemed to appear on the trail with precise timing to keep her from having a window in which to shift into her default Facsimile form, she took out her palmtop. A red, flashing icon greeted her.
“No connection? But I’m in the city.” She tired to force a new connection a few times with no success. No wonder no one told her about the giant robot before she and Ollie spotted it. A chilling thought hit her—the others might not even know what was going on yet.
Seeing no end in sight to the suspiciously spaced joggers, she veered into the woods and shifted into the form of a huge albino boa constrictor, surging through the underbrush and cutting across paths no normal human could have reached.
Once certain she was out of sight, she slithered up a tree and became Facsimile, winging toward where the robot was headed when she saw it. If she was the only Descendant who knew what was going on, she’d have to be the only Descendant needed for the job.
“The Mayfield Scribe. Truth. Reality. Journalism.” Joe’s voice was disdainful as he read the marble sign out front of the Scribe’s headquarters. He’d been suspicious of the ‘Newspaper Renaissance’ since the day his then-current, now ex-wife started getting a web subscription to the South Carolina Teller and started criticizing everything he said and did as if she suddenly knew better than him.
It only grew when he had car trouble after going to a basketball game in Mayfield and actually got to read a print edition of the Scribe and saw for himself all the terrible opinions that paper had on everything, especially when it came to ‘descendants’.
He even hated that word. He was a descendant, the latest in a proud line of mechanics, though not as good at it as his brother. That’s what a descendant was, not some monster accident left over from some old experiments. Those were psionics, or mutants, or just plain freaks of nature, And everyone would be a lot better off once they were all wiped out, locked up, or put on a leash.
It occurred to him that in simply landing and taking time out to read the sign in the small plaza out front of the building, he’d attracted a crowd of confused and curious office drones.
“That a good look.” He said after switching on the external speakers. “I hear that’s a reporter here by the name of Mary Northbrooke. Seems she’s pretty sweet on these ‘heroes’ of yours, the Descendants.”
He activated his gun-ports, extending almost a dozen firearms, from rifles and machine guns to small arms on his mecha’s arms, shoulders and torso. “I’m here to give her an interview on how I disagree. Also bring me that fella that thinks the government needs to hike the ammo tax. This shit’s expensive enough as it is.”
The revelation of that much weaponry turned confusion into terror in short order and the gathered crowd nearly trampled one another trying to get away.
“Sorry.” someone said loudly. Joe searched in vain for the person who said it, but found nothing until a golden face appeared, smiling into the camera serving as his rearview. “Serious overcompensation with guns or not, how can anyone be scared of this thing when it looks like you built it out of rust and kindergarteners’ daydreams.”
Joe checked the control instructions taped below his forward view screen and grabbed a handle behind his head. “How about like this?”
When he pulled, a number of spikes, formerly the legs of folding chairs, filed to points, jutted out in twin rows along the mecha’s spine, impaling the would be heroine through the thigh and ribs.
She reacted with an impassive glare into the camera. “Honestly? Why does no bad guy ever read up on us? I have been shot and stabbed hundreds of times and every single one of you knuckle-draggers thinks the problem is that they haven’t stabbed me just right.
“Well champ, this porridge is still too hot for you. And now mama bear’s going to wreck you so hard that you and this heap will match.” Facsimile held her fist in front of the camera and allowed a crescent of sharp, golden metal to emerge from the space between her knuckles—one of the orihalcite blades she took from Shine months ago.
“When I get an apartment, I’m holding out for one that comes fully furnished.” Warrick resolved as he and Tink rearranged bags in the trunk of her car to accommodate the last set of bags.
Tink gave him an amused look and wandered over to lean on the barrier between their deck of the parking garage and a fifty foot drop. “I still don’t see what bothers you so much about shopping for this stuff. There weren’t even any lines. Is this some macho thing?”
Warrick shrugged and closed the trunk. “It’s nothing like that. It’s just that if I’m getting a computer part, or a new jacket or something, I get what’s best for the job, you know? But when it’s plates, or towels or something, they’re all pretty much as good at what they do as the next and it’s just nothing but style between them.”
“And you don’t like picking a style?”
He came over to her side and leaned forward on the barrier, looking out. “More or less. I feel like this stuff is supposed to say something about me, but I don’t know what any of it means, And I don’t want to get dishes that say… there’s a pair of giant robots attacking a strip mall.”
“Huh?” Tink turned to look to.
“Right there.” Warrick pushed off the barrier. “One of them just smashed n the front of Dress Shack. Looks like it’s time to go to work.”
“I guess it is.” Tink said absently. “Good luck.”
“You mean you’re not coming?”
Tink did a double take. “Oh. Oh! Wow, it’s just like that? I’ve never, you know been in this situation before where it’s time to go and I’m part of the ones going.” She smiled widely. “Just give me a second to grab my gauntlets. Oh my god, this is so exciting!”

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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