Issue #60 – Rust Buckets

This entry is part 13 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes
Part 3
Glass from the front windows was everywhere and most of the mannequins that had been set up there were not trampled to pieces. Almost everyone that had been inside shopping had fled, though someone was crying hysterically back near the dressing rooms.
Billy frowned and looked around. There was almost nothing of value here, and yet…
His mother managed to flit from rack to rack despite being in a giant robot that shook the floor with every step. “Now, ya see here? These are dresses? They’ve got sizes a body can wear and real fabrics that’re stain proof and the like.”
She continued extolling the virtues of the place who sign just said ‘Women’s Wear’ as Billy looked on. There was no stopping her now. He could try and explain to her that they could be robbing a bank right now, and that with that kind of money, she could buy all the ugly, frumpy dresses her heart desired, but telling her she was wrong would just convince her of just how right she was.
“Don’t let me forget,” She continued, never noticing that he was trying to ignore her, “I saw a grocery store at the other end of the parking lot. We should get your daddy some orange juice. You know how he liked orange juice, ‘specially the kind with all the pulp? I figure we could set him up for life.”
That cinched it. Billy now knew that this entire trip was a waste. At least he could take the cash register…
“Stop right there!” Shouted a voice, half muffled by being encased in metal. Billy’s spirit soared. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a boring waste after all.
Cyn had never been technically minded, but she always thought of that as a plus when dealing with machines. Instead of wasting time considering things like stress points and power sources, she adopted a very effective tactic of ‘break whatever’s important’.
She put it to work alongside her pilfered orihalcite claws as she clamored across the robot’s back, slashing cables and hydraulics. The only problem was, it didn’t seem to be having the immediate effect she’d hoped for. All she seemed to be getting was a bigger and bigger reaction from the pilot.
“Get off!” Joe roared, sending his machine hurtling backward to slam its shoulder, along with its passenger, into the stone tablet that bore the Scribe‘s logo and tagline. He plowed through it like it was wet paper, coming out the other side covered in dust that ran off the shoulder in streams.
The surviving cameras and sensors showed nil. It looked like he managed to scrape her off. Left with a badly needed breather, he switched on his comm. “Tough to Bossman. I’ve got Goldilocks here. What do you want to do with her?”
Sean laughed cruelly on the other end of the line. “Come to me. She’ll follow and then I can blast her off you.”
“Great.” Joe moved to switch on the freelev when his damage rendering screen blinked. He was losing guns on his mecha’s left arm. Quickly, he turned a camera toward the disturbance, just in time to see a machine gun swiped in half.
“Hey tin woodsman,” Facsimile drew her orihalcite claws together overhead, making a very distinct sound before lopping off another jury-rigged shotgun. “I’m sending you back to Oz—in pieces.”
“Wrong story, freak.” Joe muttered and switched to freelev, then hit the rockets situated under his feet. It roared skyward. “This is the one where the knight in shinin’ armor kills the ugly monster and probably gets lots of ass because of it.”
He fired his foot mounted rockets and soared upward, taking care the smash his besieged arm through and overhang.
Facsimile didn’t miss a beat and climbed further up the arm, attacking the joint holding the arm to the body.
Joe tried his defensive spikes again, but still Facsimile ignored them. “Tough to Bossman, I’m comin’ at ya, but… but goddamn, I can’t get her off me! She’s tearin’ my rig apart!”
On the other end, Sean McAllister smiled with great pleasure and starting charging his Tesla arc. “Just bring her this way, Tough. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Laurel’s lips were pressed into a thin line as she added another data point to the map of Mayfield on her. She and Alexis were at the Liedecker Institute mostly to work out a few logistical issues for the coming second year at the Liedecker Institute, but after lunch, they were mostly concerned with monitoring Laurel’s police scanner and trying to contact the other Descendants.
“There doesn’t seem to be a pattern here, just random chaos.”
“A distraction?” Alexis suggested.
“Possible. Either that, or trying to get our attention; it wouldn’t be the first time. But the communications jamming is both new and prodigious. Do you know what it must take to shut down almost the entire spectrum of data communication?”
In another window, Laurel as trying every frequency in a cycle, hoping someone had managed to unjam something she could use. “And in a city like this, entire teams will have been working on it, plus every hacker in Mayfield and no one’s gotten anything but the hint of some bizarre carrier signal. Whoever these guys are, they’re professionals.”
Alexis ran her fingers through her hair as she kept one ear on her friend and the other on the scanner. “It’s like they knew we wouldn’t be able to respond properly with comms down. Any luck finding a way to raise the others?”
“There’s a spell in the Book of Passions that lets you send a psychic missive. Unfortunately, I had to substitute oak dust for pencil shavings and animal brain with one of the preserved frog brains in the bio lab, so who knows if Kareem heard it.” As she said this, she made sure the scrambler she set up was still working. She would have hated for one the of the staff, or one of the summer session students to overhear her.
Alexis heard another squawk of police code come over the scanner and jotted it down to pass to Laurel. “Why don’t our comms use this emergency radio frequency?”
“The hardware would have made them bulkier.” Laurel admitted, taking the note. “That, and you have to understand; this isn’t an emergency band, this is an ‘Armageddon’ band, because no one thought knocking out every datacom node at once was possible. Once again, the impossible turns out to anything but..”
Alexis nodded and stood to walk to the window. “There’s one that’s been sighted coming in this direction. We should be out there.”
“I know how you feel, but raising the others is the top priority with them scattered like this. Lisa is in Luray with her aunt, but the others are here and they might get blindsided.”
At the window, Alexis’s concerned expression turned to one of pride. “Not all of them.”
Zeke checked his map. The place Joe told him to go was dead ahead. According to the other guys, the school was basically at breeding ground for monsters; psionics that wouldn’t just know how to control their powers, but how best to use them to subjugate ‘real’ people when they finally rose up.
They (Joe especially) conjured up images of menacing lizard creatures and sapient balls of slime, all plotting the destruction of the human race as they knew it., so Zeke imagined that’s what was in store for him once he arrived. Fully prepared to be met with the might of the super powered student body, he landed at the gates, just in time to see a pair of them exiting.
Only, they didn’t look like slavering monsters hellbent on exterminating everyone he cared about and all the values he held dear. Instead, they were two girls around the same age as his niece and nephew; one a redhead in an oversized hoodie in defiance of the ninety degree weather, and the other a blonde wearing a t-shirt and shorts over some sort of long sleeved, long legged undergarment made of a slick, black material.
Both frozen in place when they spied the giant robot that landed in front of them. The redhead whipped out a cell phone and hit a button, all the while stepping steadily backward and trying to drag the blonde back with her. “Mr. Warren? It’s Maya. There’s a really big robot out front. Is it supposed to be here?”
The blonde didn’t resist, but didn’t help her friend pull her away. She merely stared up at Zeke’s mecha. “The drive chassis is too far out of alignment to be operational.” She observed.
Zeke grabbed the controls. They might look like kids, but they were really monsters. Only monsters, right? And it was his job to do what the rest of humanity was too blind, too ignorant, and too…” He couldn’t do it. They were still kids, really no matter… Too late did he realize that he’d already hit the button to open his gun ports. Weaponry sprouted from the mecha’s arms and shoulders.
The redhead yipped in fear and burst into flames.
Startled by the transformation, Zeke hauled hard on the control stick and retreated a few steps, only to hear an ungodly crash followed by a long, drawn out car horn. Pivoting, he discovered that he’d stepped on the hood of a passing car.
“No!” He shouted, stricken, as he bent to check on the driver. “Is everyone in there okay?”
Only hearing the booming voice coming from the external speakers, the driver kicked open his car door and ran screaming from his vehicle.
“Sorry!” Zeke shouted after him to no avail. His mecha was immediately rocked by a series of fireballs striking it in quick succession. He turned back to find the laming girl hovering in the air defensively in front of her friend, inexplicably being orbited by what looked like a tiny, floating dragon made of flames.
“Alice, get back to the school! I’ll keep him back until Mr. Warren comes!” Maya shouted over her shoulder at the nonplussed blonde.
“Wait. No, I…” Zeke said before realizing that there wasn’t much he could say to explain himself.
Blue light tinted the world and the figure of Zero dropped down between Zeke and Maya. She was swathed in blue psychokinetic energy and clearly ready to fight. “Don’t worry. Both of you get back to the school. I’ll protect you.” Her voice was gentle, like an older sister quietly bundling her siblings to bed.
Then her half masked gaze returned to Zeke. “And you, mister, should be ashamed of yourself. Attacking children like that.” She then let him know exactly what she thought about that by blasting him across the road and into the wall of a commuter pod station.
Billy turned to find the exact last Descendant he wanted to cross paths with standing in the ruins of the front door. The others had warned him about this one; the entire plan was focused on taking him out at range before closing with the rest because they knew he could end their campaign in an instant. The metal controller. Alloy.
And beside him was one that wasn’t part of their briefing; a woman wearing oversized, green armored gloves with a green breastplate. Similarly armored boots buckled up to her knees, and she wore a black kilt festooned with many pockets over dark green leggings. Her face was covered up by a cowl and teched up goggles.
Alloy’s tentacles shifted their tips into harpoons and even with the helmet, Billy could tell he was smirking.
“Mama? Time to go.” He related over the com and started the priming process for the huge plasma cutters in his mecha’s arms. They wouldn’t be online at time, so he switched on the lawnmower blades on the backs of the hands and swung at the armored prelate in a desperation move.
Alloy just raised his hands and pressed his powers against the blades. Only nothing happened. The blades, stubbornly unaltered, threw sparks as they were tested against the legendary armor. Said armor held, but the force of the impact threw Alloy into a checkout counter.
A beat passed in the store in which everyone was frozen in shock, punctuated by the whine of the lawnmower blades.
“What happened?” The woman shouted.
Isp and Osp helped set Alloy on his feet. “They’re not just robots. There’s something blocking my powers.”
Billy had no idea what he meant, but all he needed to know was that the fearsome Alloy was no longer so fearsome. He raised the blades for another swing.
Pock. Pock. Pock.
Metal groaned, gears ground, and the spinning blades were suddenly smothered in a green, plastic-like blob that seemed to grow from nowhere.
“What the?” Billy checked his screens and found the woman pointing her gauntlet at his partially disabled arm. She smiled giddily at the success, then charged him. Before he could reorient, she was inside his reach, and laying into his exposed, right leg with a mammoth punch.
The armor housing cracked and his foot skidded underneath him. His undamaged arm came down automatically to keep him from falling.
Before she could finish the job, a burst of machine gun fire fell all around her, rebounding off her armor, and forcing her to dive for cover behind the mecha’s supporting arm.
“Get away from m’ boy, you hussy!” ‘Liza-Beth had finally stopped her looting to join the fray. Her mecha was adorned with garish dressed and blouses hastily stuffed into whatever crease of compartment she could find. She found it extremely shortsighted that Al hadn’t built in some sort of cargo bay for stolen goods. She had no idea where she was going to put the new television she planned to take.
The racks around her melted and ran together before extruding a strand that wrapped the two heaviest caliber guns on her shoulders and oozed into their mechanisms, fouling them. Without missing a beat, ‘Liza-Beth deployed the heavy plasma lances in her left arm and fired both at Alloy, who only dodged out of the way thanks to Isp and Osp pulling him up to the ceiling. The red beams bored through the counter and floor before raking across nearby racks of clothing, igniting them.
The comms in the mecha hissed to life, echoing faintly from Billy’s external speakers. “This is Bossman. We got a bite. Tough is en-route to me with the fish. I’ll gut and scale this one myself, but where this one goes, I’m willing to bet the whole school’ll show up. Everyone meet up on my location.”
“What fish?” Alloy dropped down from the ceiling, again narrowly missing being hit by ‘Liza-Beth’s plasma lances.
“Like I said, Mama: Time to go.” Billy got his mecha up on his feet and fired up his freelev.
The newest Descendant ducked his swinging arm and fired off a few blobs across ‘Liza-Beth’s shoulder, jamming the socket and keeping her from aiming her lances properly.
Snarling something much worse than the Lord’s name in vain, ‘Liza-Beth activated her own freelev and deployed rockets. “I s’pose you’re right. But he better give us time to get your daddy’s orange juice and one of them fancy hologram televisions before we leave.”
Billy didn’t try and argue. He had bigger problems, namely Isp and Osp trying to pull parts off his mecha. He barged forward through the remains of the door and into the open before firing jump jets and rocketing into the air.
Moments later, the roof of the store blew off as his mother followed suit.
Alloy and his companion rushed out onto the sidewalk to watch the departing mecha.
“What now?”
Alloy pointed in the direction the pair were flying. “They’re big and slow, we’re small and fast. We use those apartment towers to catch up to them and take’em down before they get to this ‘fish’. The lights in the parking lot should hold us up enough to swing there.”
He held out his arm so should could grab on and they could swing. She wrapped her arms around him, he had to ask, “So, think of a name yet?”
She told him, and then Alloy and Renaissance swung off to protect the city.

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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