Issue #60 – Rust Buckets

This entry is part 13 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes
Part 4
Zeke’s mecha struck the wall of the station with great enough force to send fissures racing through the facade. Unbalanced, he dropped into the knuckle-walking stance the machine took at rest. Plaster dust and fiberglass from the signage tumbled down around his shoulders.
Before he could reorient, Zero slammed him against the wall again and held him there with her psychokinetic energy.
“Who are you?” She demanded. “And why did you attack the school?”
“But I haven’t attacked it yet.” It took a beat for him to realize that was a poor choice of words. “Wait! I mean I wasn’t sure anymore I was going to attack it. No! I mean… Oh, you might as well hit me again.”
Zero almost did so, but paused. “What do you mean you didn’t know if you were going to do it or not?” Then she cocked her head, confused. “And how is that thing even standing up? All those guns should be making you too forward heavy to stand up on two feet without tipping over. That, and you don’t have any heat sinks at all! How are you not boiling?”
“I got no idea how any of this works, Al… I mean Handyman—that’s the name he’s using today—he’s the big grease monkey. I just work the thing.”
That didn’t convince Zero the release him. “You still haven’t answered the first question.
“Oh that. Ya see, my pals, they told me how dangerous people like you are, and how you’re trying to get rid of normal people, and all about those guards that died on Braddock Island and… and, well this is the place with the most psionics.” Zeke strained against her hold, but only managed to grind his mecha’s shoulders into the wall behind him.
“That’s descendants now.” Zero pointed out.
“We—a lot of us—want to be called descendants instead. It makes more sense, because not all of our powers are mind powers. Also, we’re the descendants of… weren’t we fighting?”
“I was trying to say I didn’t want to fight. I mean I did, but then I got here and I mean Christ, they’re kids. One of ’em turned into fire, but still, a kid’s a kid.” He paused. “Hold on; so ‘descendants’ is what you are? I thought it was like a team name, like the Hornets.”
“It’s a team name and what we are. I know, it’s pretty confusing. So does this mean you’re conceding?” Zero asked, hopeful.
Zeke slumped in his harness. “I don’t rightly know. Sure don’t want to hurt no little kids, but damnit, my friends are countn’ on me.”
“But they’re counting on you to do something bad. Really bad. And racist.”
“Racist?! My friends ain’t racist… okay, Joe is, but I’m more friends with Al anyway. Joe’s just his big brother, ya know? Oh, and Mrs. Jolson is pretty hard on Brazilians. And Mexicans; she’s said some real mean things about them. But most of them ain’t racist. ‘sides, ya’ll ain’t a race. And if you were, it’s just fair, ’cause ya’ll were racist first.”
“Excuse me?” Zero put her fists on her hips and scowled behind her half mask. How have we ever been racist? In fact, I’m pretty sure every guy I’ve ever dated has been, well, normal. I don’t think you can be racist if you want to kiss people of that race. It’s probably a rule.”
“That stuff that happened on Braddock Island for one.”
Zero threw up her hands. “That is so unfair! Those were criminals! Do you hate everyone without powers because of all the regular murderers in jail? Plus, you know, the people that did that were mostly people we put in jail in the first place!”
“Huh.” said Zeke. “But, see, my friends…”
“Are seriously bad people. They sent you to attack kids at school.”
“They also made fun of my ideas for call-signs”
Zero hovered closer, peering at the closed front plate. “What call-signs did you want?”
“I wanted something biblical, so I first wanted to go with Sanballat.”
“Oh, the King of the Samaritans!” Zero said excitedly.
“Thank you!” said Zeke. “They didn’t get it, said it sounded funny. So I decided I’d go by David. Except they laughed at that too. I don’t even get why we needed call signs in the first place. Why couldn’t they just call me ‘Zeke’ like any other day?”
“It’s also the name of a class of giant robot in the favorite giant robot series! Plus, Zeke is biblical.” Zero agreed, delighted.
“Ain’t not.” he scoffed.
“It is so! It’s short of Ezekiel.” she wagged a finger are the mecha, no longer even bothering to hold it in place.
Zeke paused at that. “Hey, that’s true, ain’t it? Well damn. You know, you’re not so bad, you know that?”
Zero held out her arms, still glowing brilliantly with blue energy. “Powers and all?”
“I…guess so.”
She set down and extinguished her powers. Her cloak fell down around her to wrap her body. “So… how about you come out of your robot? I’m pretty sure you’re going to have to do some time, but I promise not to beat you up or anything taking you in.”
Sitting in his pilot’s cabin, hanging in the harness, Zeke wiped sweat from his eyes and frowned at himself. “We’re in the wrong of it, ain’t we?”
“Pretty much. But it’s a big step, just admitting it… and coming out of the big machine covered with guns.”
“Am I really gonna have ta go to prison?”
Behind her mask, Zero couldn’t help but look sympathetic. “Yeah, you kind of do. At the very least, there’s around ten different laws you’re breaking that I can see and I’m not really an expert. But there’s always plea bargains, states’ evidence—Oh! And good behavior.”
Zeke sighed. “Guess it’s my own damn fault going ahead with this. Alright, I’m coming out.” He grabbed the inset handle above him, pushed it in, and turned. A series of clicks and intermittent hissing signaled that the clamps keeping the cabin’s face plate on were disengaged and shortly thereafter, the front of the cabin rose, exposing the cabin and Zeke within.
Letting out a long breath, Zero flew up to help him disentangle himself from the harness. “Trust me, this was the best decision you could have made. And that’s not just because this thing’s so poorly built that I could have torn it apart.”
Alloy and Renaissance were gaining steadily on the flying mecha. As it turned out, rocket assisted freelev was no match in terms of cornering and acceleration out of a turn for locomotion via tentacle. There were no longer really swinging, rather Isp and Osp was catching windows, corners and anything else they could reach in passing and using those to throw the pair further down the line.
“Ready?” Asked Alloy as they drew nearer.
Renaissance was holding on to him, secured by the magnetic grapnels that were part of her grappling hook system. “This is it, huh? Trial by fire? My first official super fight?”
“You’ll do great.” Alloy assured her. “And hey, they’re tech based… mostly; I don’t know what’s blocking my powers, but the tech’s tailor made for you.”
“Thanks.” She smiled at him. “Alright then. Let’s do this.”
Alloy nodded. “Right. I’ll get you to the first, then move on to the second… now!”
Instead of seeking out another ledge to push off of, Isp formed a barbed harpoon and struck through the leg armor of Billy’s mecha. The moment it got itself set in the breech, it flexed, pulling its best friend and his girlfriend below the exhaust flame pouring from the rocket pack on the back of the leg and onto the safe space above the robot’s knee.
There, Renaissance transferred her magnetic grip to the robot instead of Alloy. The first thing she noticed made her pause.
“War… Alloy, look!”
Alloy looked and saw Isp extracting itself from the hole it punched by shifting to a semi-liquid state. “What am I looking at?”
She pointed. “Isp cut the fuel line!”
“Nice. Good job, buddy.”
Renaissance shook he head. “Yeah, but look—fuel line’s cut and it’s not leaking: it’s empty. But if there’s no fuel… why’s there still fire coming out of that jet? Where’s that thrust coming from?”
Now Alloy saw what she was talking about and more. In his metal sense, he could tell that the rocket pack was just bolted on, not welded or otherwise properly secured, and the most of the superstructure of the robot was so rusty and weak, it should have collapsed under its own weight when it landed.
“Okay. There’s some freaky shit going on here.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Said Renaissance. “So what does that mean for the plan?”
Alloy shook his head and let Isp and Osp coil around his arms. “Nothing. We’ve still got to take ’em down.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than twin blasts of deer shot hit him in the back. The lead pellets hit with enough force and with enough surprise to dent the armor over his left shoulder blade in enough to make one plate grind over the other.
He gave Renaissance a final salute. “And don’t worry about it being your first time. These guys obviously have no idea who they’re messing with.
With that, he turned and reached over his shoulder. First order of business, he smoothed the armor on his shoulder. And as the second, he tapped the extra thickness he’d taken to storing on his shoulders and over his spine, shaping them into an impressive long sword, which he bought on guard in the face of the second mecha, which was waiting for the reloading mechanism to get the shotguns ready again. On the other arm, the plasma lances whined as they tried to power up after the damage they received earlier.
If it wasn’t for the whole secret identity issue, this was one of those moments he would definitely want to post to his Quintessence blog: Standing on the back of one giant robot while facing down the other with a sword, fighting in tandem with his equally heroic girlfriend.
It was the part of his brain that focused on how cool such things were that kept him from panicking at the other half of that equation: He was fifty stories in the air, moving incredibly fast, and face to face with a machine his powers couldn’t shut down, which had weaponry that could burn right through his armor, to say nothing of the flesh and blood inside. Oh yeah, and he’d dragged the woman he loved into it too.
Luckily, none of the later was prominent in his thoughts, so he was free to do what came next.
“Let’s go, boys.” He told the tentacles. Not even he really understood how he and the twins communicated and by now, he’d stopped questioning it. Somehow, they just knew what he had in mind, and he knew what he had to do to make the job easier on them.
Osp extended to wrap the arm of ‘Liza-Beth’s mecha near the shoulder and pulled Alloy after. In the meantime, Isp swept up to parry as the other arm raised to block. Thanks to their efforts, Alloy slipped past the robot’s defenses and planted his sword in the seam were the plasma lance rose out of the gun port.
Working the blade like a lever, he was rewarded with a cascade of sparks and gurgling hydraulic fluid as the weapon came partly free, dangling off its moorings. The other lance was more or less out of commission already, leaving the mecha without it’s scariest weapons.
It took him a moment to find a sensor panel, and when he did, he motioned sharply downward. “Set it down. Now! It’s over!”
‘Liza-Beth laughed over the speakers. “Nothing’s over ’til Mama says it’s over!” To prove her point, she veered off course, directly into the side of the glass facade building. Her heavily armored machine plowed through the windows with ease and then through walls as well until she crushed Alloy hard against a load bearing beam on a corner.
When she pulled back, Alloy was no longer on her arm. Jubilant, she switched comm channels. “Mama ta Bossman. I got that one ya’ll was so scared of. The ‘Alloy’? Nothin’ but roadkill now.”
Maneuvering her jets, she prepared to back out of the building.
Except she couldn’t. The fifteen feet of window frames and rebar she’d slammed Alloy through had woven together into a tight net that held her mecha firmly in place.
Before she could even react, a silvery blade stabbed through the front of the cabin, missing her arm by a scant foot. Then a second punched through on the other side, even closer. Both blade then transformed into serrated nightmares that began to saw through metal armor, circuitry, and everything in between in a painful litany of agonized squeals and crunches.
After a minutes of sawing, the ruined control panel and the front plate it was attached to were ripped away, revealing Alloy, standing behind a fringe of her stolen dresses, now torn and dusty and scorched from the fight.
“It’s not over until you say it’s over?” He asked in a dangerous tone.
‘Liza-Beth swallowed hard that the display and the tone. “I… s’ppose it’s about over now.”
“No…” Laurel said to her tablet, incredulous.
Alexis, watching with equal incredulity as Zero helped her captive out of his mecha. “I agree, Only she would even think of trying to talk guys like that down.
Laurel was typing furiously now. “No, not that. It’s the interference. I’ve been analyzing it. It’s heavily distorted, bouncing back and forth between… it looks like five relays—but I’ve figured it out before the whole of the internet did. You will never believe this.”
“I won’t get a chance to if you don’t tell me what it is.” Alexis sat on the table next to her friend and folded her arms.
“It’s not a datacom signal, or a scrambler, or anything mechanical at all. Think less technology and more biology.”
“Laurel.” Alexis warned.
Pouting at having her flair for the dramatic suppressed Laurel continued typing. “It’s a theta wave.”
“Theta wave?” Alexis shifted around so she could peer at the screen upside down. Even if it was right side up, she wouldn’t have been able to figure out what she was seeing. “As in ‘human thought’ theta waves?”
Laurel nodded. “As in the so called ‘psionic variance’ type of theta wave. One or maybe all of our robot jocks is a psionic.”
Alexis shook her head. “That’s unbelievable. Does this mean you can stop the jamming?”
“It’s not really jamming,” said Laurel, “It’s a feedback loop. As for if I can block it, I’d need…” She paused to look out the window. Across the street, Zero was zip cuffing the pilot of the mecha that nearly attacked the institute. “…access to one of their comm systems.”

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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