Issue #62 – Poor Relations

This entry is part 2 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures
It was late afternoon. The sun was still a few hours from setting, but in the shadows of the largest apartment towers, night had already fallen.
 
Two figures ran across the roof of a small office building in the artificial twilight; one sprightly and quick, dressed in greens, and the other lagging slightly behind, garbed in rings of dull chain mail and black cloth.
 
The first reached the edge of the building first and from its extended arm sprang a silvery spike trailing a line that was rendered almost invisible in the gathering gloom. The spike bit home in the wall of the next building over and as soon as they tested its stability, the green clad figure leapt out into space.
 
Whirring, the cable began to wind in, adding distance to the jump. At the apex, the green figure pulled hard on the line using only mean strength. The added force added greatly, but not great enough: the figure landed on the ledge below the roof with incredible balance.
 
Behind, the armored party was still running up to the edge. A tendril of liquid metal of a brassy-gold hue struck out from it, forming a series of hooks that dug into the edge and gave leverage as the tendril flexed and catapulted the metal garbed figure across the expanse of the street.
 
It wasn’t quite enough to reach all the way across, but a second tendril launched out and speared deeply into an opposite building. Flexing just as its twin did, the appendage whipped its passenger onto the roof with all the grace of a trout being pulled into a boat.
 
With its payload safely on the other side, the first tendril detached and withdrew back to the armored figure, only to pause and coil down to the green figure as if offering its assistance.
 
“No thanks, Isp.” Said Renaissance. She looked up and saw the face of Alloy looking down at her. “I’m okay. Just need to find a stronger motor for my ascender if I’m going to be jumping major streets regularly.”
 
“That was still a hell of a jump.” said Alloy. “I figured you would swing down to the flagpole, then wench yourself up with the cable.”
 
“So did I, but at the last minute, I thought I might make it if I cranked the ascender.” She crooked a finger and the spike at the end of her line withdrew it’s spines and slipped out of the concrete. The ascender motor in Renaissance’s gauntlet quickly wound it in. “Back up a little so I can climb up.”
 
Alloy’s head disappeared, but Isp remained nearby in case she changed her mind about needing help.
 
She didn’t. After taking a deep breath, she performed a three foot vertical jump and caught on to the edge of the roof. From there, it was no problem pulling herself up.
 
“You’ve been working out.” Alloy noted. “I couldn’t pull myself up like that.”
 
“It’s all in the harness.” She lied smoothly and reached into one of her kilt’s expansive pockets to get her water bottle.
 
Alloy let her drink and didn’t question her explanation. “I’d say you’ve graduated from ‘street leveler’ to roof-topper’. A few more upgrades and you’ll be ready to go cosmic.”
 
Slipping the bottle back into its pocket, she came to stand next to him, a playful smile on her lips. “That’s really how it goes? Rooftops to fighting space aliens?”
 
A laugh echoed out of his helmet. “I think there’s something in between, but there’s no catchy names for it. Saving the world on a regular basis and all that?”
 
“Planetary?”
 
“Close enough. I guess that’s the top level in real life, seeing as there’s still no aliens or cross-dimensional conquerors.” He stretched and looked out over the city before him, mapping out his usual patrol route in his head.
 
“What about all those weird monster sitings?” Renaissance strolled over to the edge of the building.
 
“People think they’re aliens or something, but to be honest, I’ve seen too many spells that make stuff of scientists that grow stuff in their labs. Occam’s Razor says Tome or some other group out on the bad end of super-science are behind them.”
 
“You’ve been listening to Mr. Smythe again, I see.”
 
Alloy sputtered. “I just happen to agree with him on this.” Quickly, he changed the subject. “The next leg of the patrol’s Prosperity Heights. Not exactly the best neighborhood in the city. Dealers, pimps, crooked bookies, slumlords, fences, chop shops—it’s like the mall of bad guy-dom over here.”
 
“Shouldn’t be too hard to find some action then, huh?” Renaissance said eagerly.
 
“You would think so.” Alloy came over and set his foot on the edge. “But Mayfield’s kind of weird like that. In New York, you go into a bad neighborhood, you’d see a dealer on one corner, hookers on the other and bangers hanging out on the stoop. And chances are, all of them would answer to someone bigger.”
 
“So what’s different here?”
 
“Well let me ask you a question: you’ve lived in Mayfield all your life, right?”
 
“Right.” she nodded.
 
“Well have you ever seen a hooker out on the street? Or a drug deal going down?”
 
Renaissance paused, drawing a blink. “No… but I don’t hang out in seedy neighborhoods.”
 
“I didn’t either, but I saw it back home. See, in Mayfield, all of that stuff goes on inside. Want drugs? You’ve gotta hit a club where a dealer hangs out. All the Johns know they’ve got to hit the message parlors or the motels. And except for the young, dumb guys who just like to act the part, spotting a gangster is like spotting a rare bird.” He leaned nearer the edge, anchored by Isp and Osp. “So when we go in, you’ve got to keep a sharp eye and an ear out. There’s bad stuff happening in there, it’s just hiding.”
 
“Wow,” She laughed, “You guys did a good job scaring them then.”
 
“Not use.” he grudgingly admitted. “It was like that when me and Fax did our first patrol. It’s not the cops either. There’s a bigger fish out there scaring these guys, or giving orders. Codex says that Mayfield exports crime instead of importing it; drugs guns and everything else comes in on the river, and flows right out again in trucks. Hardly any of it actually stays here.”
 
“And this big fish would be that Vorran guy.”
 
Alloy nodded. “It might not even be ‘Vorran’. Guy’s got a name in every city. I think he might just be an urban legend at this point.” He gestured for her to follow and sent Osp to latch on to the next building. “Come on, let’s see if we can’t find something for you to get some practice on, shall we?”
 
After twenty minutes, they stopped to rest, having found nothing suspicious.
 
“Just so you’re warned.” Alloy said between gulps from his own water bottle. “Some nights it’s boring. That, or the cops beat you to everything.”
 
Renaissance put her back against a chimney stack and shrugged. “It’s okay. Even this has been really exciting. I mean I followed you guys with the cameras in the workshop before, but it’s nothing like this!”
 
Behind his visor, Alloy smiled. “Glad that the lack of glitz and glamor hasn’t scared you away. But still, we’ll do one more sweep and then we’re done.” He wandered over beside her and slipped his arm between her back and the wall. “What do you say? Movie night?” He leaned closer, a tender gesture if his face wasn’t encased in steel. “Movie night and more?”
 
She leaned into him, not minding the obstructive helm. “Maybe… are you sure JC will be out of the room?”
 
“We’ve got an understanding; you’re still at home and Lisa has her own dorm room. Therefore, if I need the room, he’ll take a pod over to Emerald.”
 
“I like that arrangement.” She grinned. “But dinner first. I haven’t eaten since lunch.”
 
“As you wish.” Alloy slipped away from her and motioned for her to do the same. They still had one more sweep to complete. “By the way, if you get hungry on patrol, two words: food trucks. Not only is the street meat here almost as good as back home, but Taco Emperor and the Amazing Sandwich Mobile will give you a free appetizer or regular sandwich. We saved their trucks from Ultra Berserk back in April.”
 
Renaissance followed him to the edge of the roof. “Good to know. But I’ve got a delivery coupon from the Regal Panda Buffet near your campus that expires next week.”
 
“You know I can’t say ‘no’ to General Tso.”
 
“Nicely rhymed.”
 
“I figure you’d like that.” He laughed as Isp snapped out to catch the leg of a nearby water tower. Just as it did, a shot rang out from a block south, followed by a scream. Alloy’s head snapped in that direction. “Except we might be late.”
 
“Let’s go.” Renaissance agreed. She ran to the south side of the building and fired a line into the scaffolding around a billboard. Once it secured, she waited just until she was sure Alloy was headed in the same direction before swinging down toward the screaming.
 
She got there first, descending on a line down to a fire escape in a wide alley between a laundromat and a bar. There was a panel truck parked below her, and dumpsters lining the back of the alley. But no shooter and no one to have made the screams.
 
With a touch to her computer screen, she cycled her goggles through a number of vision modes, but they all came up negative for warm bodies.
 
“Something’s no right.” She whispered into her comm.
 
“What’s wrong?” Even as he spoke, Alloy came swarming down the side of the building. The tentacles placed him gently atop the panel truck.
 
Renaissance looked about warily. “It think something’s messing with my goggles. This alley shouldn’t be all blue in infrared. There’s a steam grate over there, for one.”
 
“Ice villain maybe?” Alloy guessed. “Bad guy version of Zero.”
 
“I don’t feel cold. Do you?” Through her goggles, he was showing up as blue as well, meaning little ambient heat. As not only a person, but a person walking around in their own, personal oven, he should have stood out plainly.
 
Alloy started to turn toward her, started to ask what she meant. But it was at that moment that incredible pain raced through her head and the world stopped making sense.
 
***
The return to consciousness came with a high pitched tone that drowned out everything else. Then there was the humid warmth of the summer night, cloying in her lungs. She was lying down on something hard and uneven and a small hand was pressed on either side of her head.
 
Trying to make sense of what was happening, Renaissance forced her eyes open. Codex was kneeling above her and by the way her helmeted head was bobbing, she was talking to whoever had their hands on her head.
 
Suddenly, it felt like her ears popped and the tone ceased, replaced by city noise and Codex talking.
 
“… don’t know how long it will be before she’s awake. She seems to have hit her head pretty hard.”
 
“No…” Renaissance said and it same out as a weak mewl. “I’m up. I’m… okay.” And she was. There was a tingle on the back of her head, which she assumed was from the head wound, but there was no dizziness or drowsy feeling. Sometimes having blood full of nanites came in handy.
 
Codex looked down at her. Evidently the same though crossed her mind, as she didn’t even bother testing for a concussion. “Thank god.”
 
Renaissance mustered a sheepish smile. “I’m actually pretty tough. Though I guess Alloy had to take out whoever it was on his own.”
 
The pause before Codex spoke made her spine straighten with concern. The older woman took her hand and helped her sit up without letting go. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
 
For the first time, Renaissance saw the alley. It was a curious mess. Gray powder that glittered when the light hit it had fallen in a fine coat over everything, and clearly outlined the tire tracks on the now absent truck. The dumpsters, steam grate and fixtures on the walls were all bent beyond recognition—one dumpster just flat out melted, and when she turned her head, she saw that the fire escape had also been shredded with her boyfriend’s errant power.
 
More frightening were the scorch marks traced her and there on the ground and across the walls. The brick and asphalt where they hit had melted and nearly boiled: the signature of plasma lances.
 
It wasn’t hard to see why they’d been used either: the walls were also gouged as if slashed with incredibly sharp blades and punched as if by lances. Isp and Osp had fought.
 
“Oh god.” A wave of terrified nausea hit her and she doubled over. “What happened?”
 
“That’s what we’re trying to find out.” Codex said gently. “You hit your emergency call button before you blacked out. Based on what transmitted, you got hit by a screamer, not unlike the ones I carry to use against the inugami.”
 
“It was a trap.” Renaissance murmured. “I noticed something was wrong right before—my goggles weren’t working right. It was too late though.”
 
“Hey.” Hope has been sitting on the street where Renaissance has been lying. She now got to her feet. “It’s not your fault. This kind of thing…” She let out a resigned sigh. “It just happens. To us.” Another sigh. “A lot.”
 
Codex stood up and held out her hand to help the younger woman to her feet. “That only means that we know how to make it right that much faster.”
 
When Renaissance was on her feet again, Codex gestured around them. “You’re good at improvising and that’s exactly what we need here. This is what we have to work with to find Alloy and bring him back safe.”
 
She regarded the alley with confusion, then looked at Codex. “You want me to build something?”
 
“No, we need to find and follow the clues. This is a crime scene, after all. For example: There’s no blood, despite all the gun-play that went down with the plasma lances. Do you know what that tells me?”
 
Renaissance considered. “They didn’t kill him. Which means they needed him for something.”
 
***
Warrick woke in confusion. It wasn’t that he was waking up in a cell, which was disconcerting as hell, but not top of mind, nor was it because he was missing his armor and Isp and Osp.
 
No, he was confused because one of his senses was completely deprived: there was no metal within this metal sense. It was like having a blindfold glued on, or cotton stuffed in his ears; the bizarre feeling that one should be getting some input somewhere, but it just wasn’t reaching you.
 
After shaking off some of the creepy feeling, he looked around. It was a largish cell; big enough that he could have laid down without touching either end. The bars in the open side were ceramic, as were the fixtures in the toilet and sink in the corner. There weren’t any bunks or cots, just a lot concrete bench jutting out of the back of the cell and running the length of it. A brown pair of brown, wool blankets had been tossed over it. Beneath where he’d been lying face down was a rubber mat that seemed to be glued to the floor.
 
Outside the cell was a wider room with a wooden desk with a chair, and beyond it was a wooden door with a window in it. There were no windows in the room, but recessed lights kept everything at a relatively dim level of lighting.
 
“What the hell did I get myself into?”
 
“That’s what I was just asking myself.”
 
Warrick jumped as it became apparent that he wasn’t alone. Someone else, a woman, was lying on the floor in the corner. When she raised up to she who she was talking to, he got a much more real shock.
 
“Hey.” He said, confusion plain on his face. “Aren’t you that lady from my sister’s school, Miss Carrol?”

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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