- Issue #85 – The Ballad of Bad Lass
- Issue #86 – Those Not Forgotten
- Issue #87 – Descendants… In Space
- Issue #88 – Tome of Battle
- Issue #89 – All That Glitters
- Issue #90 – Just Us Sidekicks
- Issue #91 – Rock and Roll Lifestyle
- Descendants Special #8 – The Heart of Rock ‘N Roll
- Issue #92 – Homage
- Issue #93 – Day of Recovery
- Issue #94 – The Knight, The Witch and the Gadgeteer (FaerieQuest Part 1)
- Issue #95 – Into The Woods (FaerieQuest Part 2)
Tome of Battle (Part 2)
At just before eleven at night, there wasn’t much traffic on the highway that looped around the bulk of Mayfield. What cars were there, however, found themselves contending with the last thing they wanted to encounter on their weary commutes home from working late: a matte black double-wide semi with no escort and its lights off, rumbling down the road, doing forty in a seventy mile-per-hour zone.
Angry honking and shouted epitaphs didn’t reach the driver sitting enclosed behind tinted, bulletproof windows. He was letting the auto-drive take him toward his destination while watching a GPS map for the moment when he’d have to take over. After all, auto-drive systems had fail-safes to ensure they obeyed private property rules and didn’t do things like the plan called for him to do.
Somewhere in the northern, more sparsely populated ranges of the city, he cleared the predetermined go position and grabbed the wheel, toggling off the auto-drive Once he was sure the truck was under his control, he reached up to a custom switch board bolted to the ceiling of the cab and started toggling systems on.
First, an on-board generator kicked on to power a custom standing field generator that threw up a pair of fields before the truck that angled ahead of it to form something not unlike a train’s cow-catcher. Second, a set of pistons along the sides of the trailer armed for firing.
Then he stomped on the gas and jerked the wheel to the right.
Frantic honking, squealing tires and flashing headlights were all he was aware of as a sedan coming in the opposite direction ran off the road. The semi crossed four lanes of highway and smashed through a jersey wall, slewing over twenty feet of grassy embankment before hitting the paved access road leading to the main gates of Helm Systematics’s Virginia research campus and accelerated.
To their credit, the guards at the guardhouse protecting the only access through the twelve-foot concrete wall hit the alarm and activated the emergency barriers before fleeing from what looked like an oncoming deadly collision. A series of three-foot diameter cylinders emerged from the ground, four feet tall to block access to the main entrance.
The semi did not slow at all. 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.
Inside the campus, floodlights came on, turning night into day and highlighting the semi as it rolled over the speed bumps in the parking lot.
Concealed hatches in the sidewalk out front of the main building opened, allowing turrets to rise upon hydraulics. They opened fire with fifty caliber bullets that ricocheted harmlessly off the force fields arrayed in front of the truck as it continued to speed forward. Behind the turrets, a new set of cylindrical barriers—these made of steel—rose into place before the main entrance.
The driver took note. Plan A had been to cross the parking lot and got through the main entrance before the barriers he couldn’t plow through raised. Plan B… He cut the wheel sharply to the left and slammed on the brakes. The truck slewed sideways along the asphalt, smoke boiling up from the tires, threatening to jackknife.
Despite having weights installed to prevent it, that trailer started to tip. This triggered an alarm in the cab, promoting the driver to press a button on the overhead console. With a hiss, the pistons deployed from the tilting side, striking the ground with a flurry of sparks. They kept the trailer upright and forced it back onto its wheels.
By now, guards were appearing at the main entrance. Accompanying them were German shepherds outfitted with canine tactical armor. They driver watched them on what had been his GPS screen via a camera mounted to the top of the semi and smirked.
Reaching up, her touched another button on his overhead console. A small window opened on his screen, proclaiming ‘Virtual Intelligence Relay (VIR) v3.1459 initialized. Remote commandlink to Barghest units B1-08, B1-09, B1-11.’
Onscreen, the driver watched, ignoring the 50 caliber bullets hammering the heavily armored sides of his rig, as red lenses slid down to cover the eyes of the three security dogs—who then promptly leapt upon their erstwhile partners from behind.
He watched as the guards, caught completely unawares, either fell or panicked, turning away from the doors to fire at the traitorous hounds. Then he picked up his walkie talkie. “Guards have something new to play with, boys. Move out.”
With that, he reached up and punched a final button on the console. With a rumble and a hiss, hydraulics lowered the side panels of the trailer. Before they were halfway down, a trio of huge, armored shapes threw themselves out of the truck and charged the turrets.
These were dogs too, but of a different breed entirely. Inugami strain 338 was characterized by jet black fur and being the size of a pony. Fully outfitted with heavy orihalcite battle armor and cybernetic implants, they each weighted close to two thousand pounds. The turret fire bounced off said armor like angry bees trying to sting someone on the other side of glass.
The fire didn’t last long as the first inugami reached the turret and pounced on it, catching the hot barrel in its mouth and letting its full weight rip it down. The others followed suit, making quick work of the emplaced weapons by the time the trailer panels were fully down.
From inside the trailer emerged a dozen men in heavy armored suits complete with enclosed helmets. Each carried what might seem to an outside observer to be over-large rifles. With military precision, they moved out, securing the front of the building.
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.
He opened a channel in his comm to Emmerich with a sour expression. The thought of a normal human being put ahead of him in the field made his teeth grind. “Alpha team, commencing entry.” he reported.
Vector Applied Research Dynamics didn’t have a sprawling, high-security campus. Its primary defense was the obscurity of its facility located at the base of one of Mayfield’s carbon scrubber towers. The tall, metallic structures were so ubiquitous and unassuming that few people even noticed that there was an access to an underground parking garage at its base.
Tonight, the top level of that garage was the staging area for a major undertaking. Five armored trucks, each with a pair of security vans and a half dozen motorcycle guards were preparing to move out. Only one was set to move to the Alexandria facility while the others were decoys.
None of the private security personnel that would be guarding the trucks knew which, as the vehicles had been loaded before they arrived; four with crates full of scrap metal, one with the orihalcite fabrication rig. After one more once-over by in-house security, they five trucks and their escorts moved out, rolling up the ramp of the access and onto Mayfield’s city streets.
What they didn’t know was that they were being watched from the park adjacent to the scrubber tower.
Randall Woo, AKA Metal X, observed them through a set of binoculars. “Which one?” He asked his contact over the comm.
“Intel from the guards’ new designer guard dogs shows that the contents of truck number 183 was loaded separately from the others.”
“That’s a place to start.” said Woo. “This is the last time though. Once I do this, I get what I want: all of Tome’s information on the New York Prelates and Alloy.”
“Only if you’re successful.” came the reply.
Flexing his arms, Woo mentally commanded his nanite colony. Tendrils of silvery metal emerged from his long, wool coat and lashed out at his surroundings: the bench he’d been sitting on earlier, a nearby streetlight, and the metal railing along the walkway. The metal objects all tinged to silver and warped, melting back toward him and forming up around him.
At first, the shapes were simple, spindly protrusions that affixed themselves to his back. But Woo had been training with and refining his nanites over the months following his escape from Braddock Island, working in hopes of being more capable when next he encountered The Whitecoat or his former protege. The shapes became more detailed, becoming six mechanical spider limbs that stabbed into the ground, flexed, and lifted Woo off the ground.
A feral grin spread over his face as he mentally commanded more metal, wrapping it around himself until it became a skin-tight armor with a cowl that framed his face and a mesh visor that looked reminiscent of a fencer’s mask. A pair of barbed claws each emerged from the back of his wrists.
“Believe me, I will.” he declared, now fully ensconced in his Metal X identity. The spider limbs began to move, making low scissoring noises as they carried him swiftly out of the parks and onto the streets. He paid no attention as the few cars still on the street slammed on brakes and swerved to avoid the sharp legs as the scuttled down the road, carrying Metal X aloft.
No doubt calls were going out to the police and palmtop-shot videos were going online.
Let them. He thought. The police only had powered armor—powered armor made largely of metal—with which to respond, and if the intel was wrong and The Descendants really were around to respond… well then he’d be getting part of what he wanted anyway.
Up ahead, the armored convoy presumably containing his quarry came into view: one van in front of the armored truck, one in back. The motorcycles rode in a loose perimeter, weaving in and out of whatever traffic they encountered.
Someone in the rearmost van must have spotted him, as suddenly, the entire convoy sped up, two of the cyclists breaking off and hanging back as a rear guard.
Metal X smirked. Even after years of seeing what people with powers could do, security still seemed to focus on two dimensions. Oh, there might be a drone spotter or two, but within city limits, they wouldn’t be very large and certainly wouldn’t be armed.
The spider limbs took three more bounding steps, then flexed and launched him forward and to the right. Their leading edges formed barbs which stabbed into the walls of the nearby building and held fast. Slower than they had carried down the street, but still at a good clip, they carried him up the wall, still gaining on the convoy.
Below, the two read guards wavered and he could pick them out reaching up to touch the comms in their ears. Oh, how he wished he could hear the confused chatter going on down there. How he wishes his father was still around to see what his nanite invention was capable of.
He decided to show the full potential of the technology to the private security contractors and anyone else who got in his way. Bounding on spidery legs, he went from a wall to a commuter pod rail, then leapt down the land between the two motorcycles.
The two blades behind his wrists transformed into a pair of actuated arms like those of an assembly line robot, and extended out to grasp one bike each. Their bodies were fiberglass, so he wasn’t able to add their metallic mass to that which he was already controlling. What he was able to do was lift them both up over his head, shaking their riders off before turning and hurling one at the retreating security van.
Whoever the driver was, they were a pro, juking out of the way of the flying projectile without losing any speed.
Bearing his teeth at his miss, Metal X tossed the other bike aside and turned toward the formerly mounted riders. Neither was in any shape to put up a fight. One had an obviously separated shoulder while the other’s suit have been torn open from skidding on their ground leaving him with a particularly gruesome road rash from mid-thigh all the way down to the bottom of his calf.
One robotic arm grabbed the one with the injured shoulder about the waste and lifted him up.
Metal X used his own hands to pull off the man’s helmet and pluck the comm from his ear. The men on the bikes wouldn’t know where they were going. But with some luck, some of the chatter would give him an edge. He pushed the earbud into his own ear and tossed the injured man aside and turned back to face the convoy.
It was steadily getting smaller in the distance.
The hunt was on.
Of the three assignments, the one handed to Trent Kinsey was the most simple.
There were no dogs, not turrets, not armored trucks.
It was an insult in his mind.
He’d trained his ass off since the day he graduated from the Academy to be an Enforcer. He’d had his sights set on bringing down rogue psionics. On doing the things the Academy needed doing that the public couldn’t know about.
Action wasn’t in the cards tonight.
He’s marched right up to the building unopposed and used an app the techs had installed on his mission palmtop to unlock the front door. Punching the rent-a-cop at the main desk out with two hits didn’t count as action. Nor did using the palmtop to connect to the security monitor the man had been assigned to watch.
As he waited for the palmtop to finish executing its various routines and programs, he rolled up one sleeve of his uniform and looked at the inhibitor on his arm. It was one of a set of four: one on each arm, on in his chest and one on his belt. Combined, they helped control his metamorphic powers.
He was the only Enforcer who had them. The only one who needed them. He was sure that was the primary reason that Prometheus recommended he be passed over for advancement. His powers had the potential to be a liability, and with the procedures Emmerich’s men had undergone… His place was nowhere near as stable as any other Enforcer’s.
Where others had failed in the past, most of them—even Jeremy Brown, Launch, who was a bigger liability than Wolf could ever dream to be—weren’t on such a short leash as he was.
Like you put on an animal. He sneered at the still flickering lines of code on his palmtop. They’d see who the animal was. He’d seen the other plans and assignments. War-torn and Emmerich were starting World War III while Metal X was planning on tear-assing across the city after armored cars. They were going to bring down something that would make the wrath of God look like a kiss on the nose.
He might be the one no one trusted, but he’d be the one not in jail or in the ground once the night was over.
The palmtop finished doing its work, and from down the corridor leading off from where the security desk sat, there came the ding of an elevator arriving.
Taking that as his cue, he stood and went to meet said elevator, pausing only to check on his palmtop to see where he was going. Sub-level two. Frankly, he was surprised they had any sub-levels at all there.
A quick elevator ride late, the doors opened, revealing a corridor of sterile-white tiles on both floor and walls. There was a bit more of a nod toward serious security down there, with each lab being protected by a sliding metal security door with a keypad.
Or at least it would have been better security if it wasn’t all running on the same network. One more operation from the palmtop unlocked the appropriate door, allowing him access. Cold air rolled out over him in an almost visible cloud.
If the hallway outside looked sterile, the room inside was something beyond sterile; an alien landscape where life wasn’t just absent, but forbidden by divine decree. The walls were panels of smooth, white ceramic, a black, rubberized mat covered the floor. Along all three interior walls stood alcoves where advanced stasis cells stood, their interiors throwing blue light as cold as the air.
Actually looking at the contents was a horror show.
Tome had been experimenting with a certain genetic sequence, splicing it into ‘volunteers’ from the homeless populations of a dozen major cities and the prison populations of handful of less than ethical countries. The results had to be preserved in stasis, as much for the safety of the people studying them as it was to preserve the specimens.
The facility here was the government’s attempt to save those they could without causing a general panic about how close some of their new-found powers were to being a real life Ice-9 situation.
Some were clearly caught in the throes of terror, rimes of frost partially covering limbs or torsos. Some were fully encased in blocks of ice even inside their stasis cells with holes bored to allow breathing and intravenous feeding. Others actually had ice (at least they looked like ice) crystals tearing out of their skin. The cold permeating the room had nothing to do with an kind of mechanical refrigeration: it was coming from the specimens themselves.
Trent was so distracted by the sight that the only thing that alerted him to the scientist caught in the room with him was when she gasped at the sudden intruder.
His eyes tracked in on her and he lowered the levels on his inhibitors, allowing his teeth to visibly extend into fangs and his nails to lengthen and thicken into claws. “You.” He said, his voice becoming a rough growl. “You’re going to show me the one of these I came for.