Issue #88 – Tome of Battle

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series The Descendants Vol 8: The Weaver's Web

Tome of Battle (Part 1)

“Are you sure you don’t want to head home, get some sleep?” Laurel asked.

Alexis shook her head. “No, I’m good. It’s the least I can do to help you now seeing as how I wasn’t there to help you with this thing in the first place.”

The pair were working out of a storage locker in Norfolk laurel had set up to study the remains of the Orb Weaver robot in. On the trip back to Earth, she’d decided that taking a robot designed by a malicious hypercog back to Freeland House or the LSI headquarters was a bad idea, at least until she cleared it for bugs, bombs or any other means the Orb Weaver could use to strike at them.

Since they were there in secret, both were wearing glamours provided by Lisa to hide their identities. For the evening, they were both middle-aged, slightly overweight Hispanic women with enough similarities between them to look like sisters.

“I don’t think there was anything you could have done.” Laurel sighed. “This guy… he was prepared. The entire robot is constructed from ceramics with superconductor relays instead of traditional circuitry: Warrick couldn’t pick it up with his metal sense, it doesn’t have a mind or an Astral form so Kareem couldn’t detect it, and no one else had a reason to look. We might have caught it on camera if I hadn’t cut the hard line, but that probably wouldn’t have stopped it.”

Alexis pushed off the wall and came over to where Laurel was leaning over the completely deconstructed ‘corpse’ of the robot, paid out over three folding card tables. Her friend was currently examining a hydraulic actuator. “If he was so smart about that, why leave basic metal circuits in the bombs?”

“Because it was all show!” Laurel ground out between her teeth. “If he wanted to ‘make an example’, he could have killed Melissa. He could have blown a hole in the side of the station, or just shut down life support.”

She shook her head. “No, the whole thing was theater, just like the decoy satellite in the maintenance module. He makes a big show about out-smarting and trying to kill prelates, spews all of that Social Darwinist pablum, but it was all just a pitch for his VillainNet.

“Think about it: every arms dealer, drug pusher and low-level hood we and other heroes ever took down now has a clearing house to get weapons and resources to match us or go up against police powered armor divisions. Every maniac with powers we’ve fought can now find support and underlings to help them pull more complex tricks. All of the people who have been deterred by the far we’re out there? He emboldened them… and every one of them will be giving their money to him. His site takes every currency, from real money transfers to every half-baked crypto-currency out there and even credit in the form of a percentage of their takes.”

Dropping the actuator onto the table, she groaned. “He stands to make billions on encouraging crime and terror and we don’t even know who he is.”

Alexis leaned over the scattered pieces of the machine. “No clues from the autopsy here?”

Looking back down at the remains, Laurel blew out a tired breath. “Everything is off-the-shelf from kits freely available for homemade robotics, car mods, and consumer electronics. All kit-bashed together with pieces I’m willing to be were 3-D printed. Imagine if someone built a gun out of things you can buy in any hardware store and then you have to run ballistics on it. My only clue is what didn’t get left behind.”

“What’s that?”

“The CPU.” said Laurel, moving to the table where parts of the chest were laid out. At the center, in a nest of Kevlar with armor plates, was a ceramic box filled with ashes and a warped lump of metal and plastic. “The only real metal in the thing, and the only thing the Orb Weaver cared to set a charge up to destroy in the event his machine was captured.”

She poked at the charred mess with a glass probe. “Really though, there’s no operation on Earth that produces a CPU capable of running something approaching a true AI—and it had to be a real AI given that the machine reacted to us in real time—besides Lab 2700, the people behind Adamantine. Bought, borrowed or stolen, I would bet Freeland House that any clue we might find to who the Orb Weaver is, it’ll be there, in New York.”

“Sounds like I’ll be covering for you in class tomorrow morning.” said Alexis.

“Only if I can’t convince the lab’s owner to talk to me tonight. With everyone else crashing back at the hotel rather than going back to Mayfield right away, I’m free to take the Karasu no Yūrei up tonight and hopefully be back by morning.”

Alexis nodded slowly. “In that case, I’m coming with you. Just give me some time to call Ian and let him know what’s going on. He should have that ‘Chaos-emulation armor’ back in storage by now. Poor thing, he’s been doting on me all week.”

“I know. That’s why I hated getting him up in the middle of the night to go get the suit from Rick Guadalupe’s storage space. I hate it more thinking that the whole charade was pointless.”

Stepping around the table, Alexis put her hand on Laurel’s shoulder. “It wasn’t pointless, L. You just got… god, I was going to say ‘out-foxed, but all things considered, that would be awful.” The two laughed at that, breaking some of the maudlin atmosphere. “We have a lead.” Alexis said finally. “We’ll follow the lead and figure things out. And the first step to that is New York City.”

***

“…and the first step to that is the City of Mayfield.”

Standing in front of his man and the Enforcers Tome had loaned him, Saunders ‘Sandy’ Emmerich scanned the faces to pick out anyone being inattentive or not taking things seriously. Privately, he suspected that the string of failures the organization had suffered in past years were due to poor leadership and lax discipline on top of poor planning. His aim was to turn that around.

“Following the security failures at several of our facilities, the US government has seized a number of key technologies and artifacts. They then immediately farmed them out to private research institutions across the country.”

Behind him, a projector threw up a city map of Mayfield with three areas circled. “The greatest concentration in one geographical region is centered around Mayfield, Virginia. Presumably, the intent was for the presence of The Descendants to act as a deterrent. Until now, it did.”

Emmerich glanced at the Enforcers and immediately wished he’d been given a better selection. Wartorn, Wolf and Metal X. Except for that last one, he’d have rather devoted the flight weight to more inugami. He wasn’t sure if there was a difference there when it came to Wolf anyway.

He returned his attention to the briefing. “We’ve got a fortunate confluence of events: an unrelated accident at Vector Applied Research Dynamics means that they need to relocate their high priority research, including the orihalcite fabrication rig, to another facility. The easiest time to steal anything is when it is in transit, and this will be our priority.

“However, intel shows that The Descendants have not been observed in the city for more than thirty-six hours. Our hope is that this means their attention is elsewhere, giving us a prime opening to liberate all three objectives with only the MPD powered armor division and perhaps a few minor prelate wannabes to contend with.”

He inclined his head to his men. They were all in their new uniforms, a reverse-engineered suit made of the ballistic cloth material The Descendants had mixed with spandex expansion panels, worn under lightweight composite and orihalcite plates designed to reconfigure at need. Their helmets were complex devices rigged with servos to allow them to open and shut swiftly.

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is a chance to win one back. It’s no secret we’ve been taking an ass-kicking. But this time, we can take back what’s ours. And with a little luck, there will be no one to stop us.”

***

“I think it’s nice. It’s got personality.” Juniper Taylor was turning a lumpy, lopsided vase (to a certain definition of the word) over in her hands.

Walking at her elbow, Malcolm Bookman chuckled and shook his head. “’Personality’ being code for ‘well we certainly cannot speak to its looks’, obviously. I’m not quite sure why it came out so rubbish.”

The couple were walking to a commuter pod station from the little studio where they pottery class had been held.

“No, I’m serious.” said Juniper, still marveling at the vase. “A normal vase would be boring. This one actually looks interesting, you know?”

Malcolm leaned closer to her and slid his arm around her waist, planting a quick kiss on her cheek. “You know, sometimes, I’m not sure if you’re making fun or not. At least I wouldn’t be alone in the shame if you had made one too, you know?”

Blushing from the kiss, Juniper leaned into him. “Oh, but I mostly like watching things being made. Ever since I was a little kid and my mom showed me a video on the internet of a man making origami cranes.” She demurred and looked away. “I know it’s weird, but it’s like you can really see a different side of someone when they’re making something.” She looked back with a shy smile. “Even you?”

“You mean the frustration?” Malcolm joked.

“No…” She giggled. “The intensity. You get this look in the eye when you’re getting really focused. I really like that look. It’s like then Kay or Lisa of Jessica is writing or playing music.” Her eyes widened. “Oh, did I tell you? Jessica is gong to join Snackrifice!”

Malcolm separated enough from her enough to pull open the doors to the pod station for the both of them. “You didn’t. That’s great. Is she going to be the new permanent drummer?”

She shook her head. “No, electric guitar.”

Getting a guitar into the group had been on the table for the band for a long time. Kay’s keyboard could justify some of the extra instruments people heard as she used her powers to recreate the song, but as their small fandom grew, people were asking questions. Worse, they’re tried having Juniper ‘play’ the guitar during practice and it soon became clear that she didn’t even know how to pretend she was playing guitar.

Jessica wasn’t very good on the guitar, but it took only a little convincing to make her believe that Tink had created a special auto-tune to make her playing better. That special program merely muted her guitar, but she never noticed with Kay nearby producing the real sound.

“I bet that Kay and Lisa are falling all over themselves in joy writing new songs to add the new instrument.” said Malcolm.

“Oh they are. I think this is going to be a great move for the group.”

The pair strolled through the station’s lobby together until they reached a pod kiosk. “I’m sure it will be.” Malcolm reluctantly separated from her and cast his eyes to the touch screen for ordering a pod. “But sadly, this is where we part.”

Juniper gave him a small, sad smile. “Yeah. It sucks that we have to go in opposite directions, doesn’t it?” She offered him the vase.

“I think it would be much more appreciated with you, dear.” Malcolm said, waving it off politely. “And yes, it really does.” He keyed in his destination on the screen and ordered a single person pod. While he waited, he put his hands in his pockets and ducked his head genially. “Say… seeing as you enjoy watching people make things, my roommate has been volunteering to build homes for the homeless across from the Eastwind shopping center. Maybe you would like to go some time.”

A big grin spread across Juniper’s face and she skipped over to him to give him a proper goodnight kiss. When they parted, she said: “That sounds wonderful Malcolm! And tonight was great too. Call me tomorrow?”

Behind Malcolm, the automated system delivered the commuter pod to the doors set beside the kiosk. “Of course.” he said, stepping backward into the opening pod. “Until tomorrow then.”

“Until tomorrow.” Juniper smiled brilliantly as the doors closed. As Malcolm’s pod left the station, she looked down at the vase with fondness. She was going to have to find somewhere in her dorm room to put it.

No sooner had she thought that when her palmtop sounded, playing the tone she’d set for the general alert from the LSI HQ. Seeing as Laurel and the others were still out of time, that meant the police were trying to contact The Descendants. And right now, she was one of only three people who could respond.

***

Across town, one of the other three, Callie Kreiger, was curled up on the big, plush couch of the apartment she shared with her friends, dabbing her eyes with a tissue as the credits rolled on their big screen.

“But why did she leave with her husband if she obviously loves the other guy?” She sniffled.

Kim, sitting beside her, was rubbing her back. “Well it was to stop a war. Maybe after it was all over, she left the husband and came back to the one she loved.”

“She shouldn’t though.” Alice was sitting on the other side of Callie, arms folded, jaw set. “And you shouldn’t feel so bad, Callie. I mean he just let her go. What kind of man does that?”

Lily emerged from the kitchen with a fresh bowl of popcorn and rolled her eyes at the sight. “Movie night should not go this way—even if some of us are taking a classic film class for easy credit.” She dropped down onto the couch beside Alice and plucked the remote from the coffee table. “Ladies, it is time to remedy this.”

A few quick taps of the remove brought up her movie queue. “Something a little more modern. Say a 2076 film featuring Silvio Bartolini’s bare chest and a shot of his bare butt?” She grinned cheekily to the other young women. “And also there’s an art theft or something, but really, does it matter?”

Just at that moment, Callie’s palmtop went off, playing Get to Action by Sonja Remmington (written by Lisa Ortega).

Her tears stopped and surprise replaced it. “Oh. That’s… probably not good.”

“Didn’t you say most of the rest of your team was out of town?” Kim asked.

“That would be why we’re not having margaritas.” Lily confirmed for Callie’s sake as the other girl checked the message that came along with the alarm.

Finally coming out of her funk, Alice leaned over to her. “What’s the situation, Cals?”

If Callie had looked surprised before, she looked to be in utter shock now. Dropping her tissue, she scrambled to get to her feet and pull out her D-icon at the same time. “I-it’s bad guys. The MPD says two labs are being attacked at the same time—by armored soldiers and inugami.”

“Those giant dog things?” Kim asked.

Callie triggered her D-icon and the t-shirt and pajama bottom combo she’d been wearing was replaced by her Vamanos costume. “Yeah. But these labs… I can’t tell you what they do, but they handle dangerous things. Things Project Tome really shouldn’t get back. I want you all to stay in tonight. No matter what!”

And with that, she was gone, running right through the outer wall of her apartment, then down the side of the building at full speed.

***

Back at Freeland House, the alarm from a palmtop filled the air in one of the rooms on the first floor, the lit screen casting a little halo around it and bathing the room with dim, blue light.

It wasn’t long before a hand came up from under the pile of blankets on the bed and snatched it up, pulling it under the covers. Seconds later, a single curse could be heard, followed by a muttered, “Time to get to work.”

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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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16 Comments

  1. I hope they’ve planned for Jessica going ballistic when she finds out she’s just decoration/camouflage, as she surely will – at some point she’ll stop playing and the music will go on, or something like that.

    Typos

    deterred by the far
    deterred by the fact

    in front of his man
    in front of his men

    material The Descendants had
    material the Descendants had,

    Worse, they’re tried having
    Worse, they tried having

    • Oh, it’ll be much more dramatic than that by the time we get there 😉

    • Breaking a string is one easy way to notice. And yeah most people are going to be pretty miffed to find they’re doing their best for nothing.

  2. “…toggling off the auto-drive Once he was sure the truck was under his control…”
    Missing period after ‘auto-drive’.

    “The standing fields flared with the impact as the force of the impact broke them apart in a hail of concrete chunks that the truck bounced over with barely a hitch.”
    The ‘them’ seems to point to the fields, which makes the sentence somewhat confusing.

    “Lastly, stepping down the ramp formed by the lowered panels, was War-torn Supported by a new powered frame with light armor, he now also wore a visor running a heads-up display linked to a set of brand new shoulder-mounted plasma lances and wrist-mounted machine pistols.”
    Missing a period after ‘War-torn”. Also this is a run-on sentence, and I’d recommend a full stop after ‘light armour’.

  3. You’d have to hate being a werewolf in an organisation which uses some magical canines as disposable cannon fodder. The jokes alone would be unbearable.

    Typos

    shouted epitaphs
    shouted epithets (I’m almost certain)

    They driver
    The driver

    each weighted
    each weighed

  4. There’s something about exciting battle scenes which causes typos.

    are in route
    are en route

    He wasn’t usually in a position to be relaying orders,
    giving orders, surely? There’s no one above him giving orders which he’s relaying.

    we do out jobs
    we do our jobs

    set their sites
    set their sights

    and a yellow eyes
    either:
    and yellow eyes
    or:
    and a yellow eye

    by pulse as maser fire,
    by pulse and maser fire,

    could only stares in shock,
    could only stare in shock,

    at forty miles and hour.
    at forty miles an hour.

    hard into metal shutter
    either:
    hard into metal shutters
    or:
    hard into a metal shutter

    The shudder shook
    either:
    The shutter shook
    or:
    The shutters shook

    gave chaos time
    gave Chaos time

    quick punched to the
    quick punches to the

    The send a man
    They send a man

    private citizens of vigilantes—not matter
    private citizens or vigilantes—no matter

    lab spaces and Dr. Atan
    Not essential, but I’d break that up as:
    lab spaces. Dr. Atan

    my client lit
    my client list

  5. I hope Zero had enough control over that explosion to avoid putting an ice block through Vamanos. I’ve never been totally sure what the limits are on her power.

    Violence without a big increase in typos. Am I imagining the correlation?

    She streaker
    She streaked

    the Redeemer’s incident,
    the Redeemers incident,

    chaos had beat
    Chaos had beaten

    and started crumbling apart.
    and start crumbling apart.

    mush of a surprise
    much of a surprise

    it was and effort.
    it was an effort.

    all other alternative.
    all other alternatives.

  6. Question: why has Callie not rescued the third and final guard yet? Isn’t that guy bleeding out on the floor the priority?

  7. Typos

    solder’s armor.
    soldier’s armor.

    APC and infantry robot.
    maybe ‘APC or infantry robot.’

    No, a enraged
    No, as enraged

    cutting and runng?
    cutting and running?

    psychokintetic
    psychokinetic (though this may be Vamanos’ in-character mistake)

    and prayign she woldn’t
    and praying she wouldn’t

    into the frey.
    into the fray.

    th smell was
    the smell was

    Metal x’s mouth
    Metal X’s mouth

    just breath slowly.
    just breathe slowly.

    your robot’s could
    your robots could

  8. Poor security guard. At least he wasn’t in a more embarrassing pose when frozen.

    Typos

    and a of kite shields
    Not sure. This might be ‘and a kite shield’, or there might be a missing word between ‘a’ and ‘of’.

    she would ave
    she would have

    just above it’s
    just above its

    they’re take you too!”
    they’ll take you too!”

    was not and option.
    was not an option.

    If nto for
    If not for

    I barely fired his guns
    He barely fired his guns

    retrieve out orihalcite
    retrieve our orihalcite

    snake your away out
    snake your way out

    “That only matter to
    “That only matters to

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