Issue #9 Ladies of Ragnarok

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Alexis tensed fists as she caught sight of the cork board in the downstairs commons. She was no longer surprised at its presence; twice she had taken it down and twice Cyn had simply purchased a new one to hang in its place. Many things could be said about Cyn, but anything espousing her forgiving nature, or her lack of determination was an outright fabrication. The same could be said of anything suggesting that she wouldn’t stoop to emotional low blows.

Every morning it seemed, before the younger residents of Freeland House made their mad rush to the bus stop to get to school, Cyn would visit the newsstand a block away and purchase a copy of every local paper. Then she would take great pains to locate and cut out every story that mentioned injury of loss of life. And the following morning Alexis, being the early riser, would be greeted in the downstairs commons by those articles tacked to the cork board under a computer printed banner reading ‘WE COULD HAVE BEEN THERE’.

Alexis made an effort not to look at the actual headlines as she began what was becoming a morning ritual; un-tacking the clippings and disposing of them. Cyn could be upset with her as much as she wanted, Alexis though. That didn’t make her wrong and no amount of guilt was going to convince her to voluntarily expose her young charges to whatever horrors the Academy and Project Tome had in store for them.

“She doesn’t give up, does she?” Alexis looked up from her work to see Melissa on the stairs. “She’s still trying to force me to join a club at school.”

“Why can’t she just grow up and learn to let things go?” Alexis asked, sourly. “If she thinks she’s going to get her way by being manipulative and playing with people’s emotions, she’s got another thing coming.”

“Yes, why can’t people just talk things out instead of avoiding each other and giving the cold shoulder?” Melissa asked, sitting down on the stairs. The question had an edge to it.

“Isn’t it enough that I feel bad about not being there to help you?” Alexis asked. “Do I have to feel guilty about being the only responsible adult here too?” She froze the moment the words were out of her mouth. It hadn’t been her intention to highlight the fact that Melissa would be an adult by now if not for Tome’s intervention.

“I never blamed you for that.” Melissa said. “Unless you have a time machine, there isn’t anything you could do for me… anything anyone could have done for me,” she added sadly. “But what’s going on now is like poison. You’re always defensive about everything, Laurel stays in her workshop all the time, Cyn’s pissy to just about everyone – and have you even noticed that Ian hasn’t been at the house for two days?”

“He checked into the Westmoreland for a few days.” Alexis said. “I heard him telling Laurel.”

“Great, so he’s running away from everything that bothers him – just like back in school. Except now he’s not hiding in our room anymore because one of us is what’s bothering him.”

Alexis crumpled a piece of newsprint in her hand. “I didn’t do anything to him. He did it to himself by lying to me. So don’t try and blame this on me. He’s been acting plenty grown up since we came here… grown up enough to go—“She made a frustrated sound and threw a crumpled article to the ground. “If he really feels that way, he’d at least feel guilty about it!”

“I’d think holing up in a hotel out of shame and fear of pissing you off again would count as feeling guilty.” Melissa shrugged. “But really, I’m just sixteen. Clearly, I can’t think straight.”

“You were always too cynical.” Alexis scowled.

“You know, she does have a point though.” Melissa smoothly shifted gears, “As much as she annoys me, things were apparently going really well for Mayfield with LSI on the case.”

“Maybe someone else will take their place.” Alexis said coldly, “Someone who isn’t being hunted for what they are.”

Melissa shrugged and stood up. “I guess you’re right. It’s not like they were preventing some massive crime wave by pulling people out of burning buildings.”

***

Some believe that population, income and density per capita are the only indicators for the size and relative ‘busyness’ of a city. Others contend that a more colloquial approach is in order. The most famous of these is the simple question: ‘when does the community sleep?’ The mightiest city man has known; New York, NY is called ‘The City the Never Sleeps’. The most glamorous city on Earth, Paris, France, is the City of Lights for a very good reason.

Despite not having an evocative nickname, (Mayfield’s most popular nickname was ‘Machine Town’ after the booming electronics and robotics industry that had contributed to its existence), the streets of the commercial district were already well populated at a quarter to six on a Tuesday morning.

Storeowners or managerial proxies thereof were preparing to open shop, delivery trucks pulled in and out of alleys, office workers made use of those venues that opened early specifically to cater to their early morning errands. The weekday ritual swiftly clicked into its clockwork rhythm. Perhaps the mundanity of it all was the contributing factor in the chaos that was to ensue being so complete.

At precisely five-fifty, the twelve hundredth block of Narrows St was engulfed in billowing, white plumes of smoke.

Instantly, Joe Stalling, the morning security guard for the Farrell Bank drew his weapon and took up a defensive position. “Better get down.” The aging man said to the two tellers, who hadn’t even finished opening their stations for business.

Outside, there were a few frightened screams, the blaring of car horns and other sounds of general confusion. But beneath them all, coming from dozens of directions at once, was a keening buzz, like the sound a bumble bee would make if it were the size of a cantaloupe. Some of those overlapping buzzes seemed to be drawing nearer.

Joe Summoned his courage and took a shooter’s stance and aimed for the bank door. Shortly thereafter, the entire glass facade of the bank shattered.

Shouting in surprise, Joe shielded his face from the flying glass and leapt back.

The first of the intruders arrived, trailing smoke from the plumes outside into the enclosed space. They were metallic and their forms invoked the image of the bees they sounded like. A round central body, the size of a softball with an orange, glass optic element embedded in the center, was held aloft within a simple metal harness connected to two curved blades that greatly resembled forward swept wings as well as four blue glowing ports that seemed to be the their means of propulsion. Ten such devices fanned out into the bank, floating as easily on air as doves.

Behind them, a rotund machine on tracks crunched its way over the broken glass in the doorway. Its oblong body was segmented like an armadillo’s but it had no discernable front or back. A constant blast of air gushed from red glowing vents in its tracks, removing debris that might get caught in them.

Two of the flying machines broke off from their search pattern to hover near the newcomer. Two more took up positions near the tellers while the bulk of the swarm homed in on the vault.

From where he’d fallen in his effort to escape the flying glass, Joe heard more shattering glass and buzzing outside. There were dozens of the tiny fliers about. He glanced over to the six observing the vault and allowed himself a satisfied smile. Whatever those things were, they wouldn’t get into the vault.

Farrell Bank was bad on rates, but top notch in security. The vault door and the wall it was set into were constructed from layered steel, reinforced with carbon lattices and magnetically sealed. Only biometric codes could open the seal and no plasma lance or other cutting device could hope to penetrate it in less than a day.

One of the flying robots floated down to the biometric keypad. Its optic element changed from orange to green and the little mechanism made warbling sounds. Within moments, there was a thump from within the vault as the magnetic seal broke. The fliers drifted backward to allow the door to swing fully open. The tracked machine rolled forward under the protection of it’s escort.

“I’ll be damned…” Joe murmured and lifted his gun. One of the fliers covering the tellers made a warbling sound and a stubby cylinder lowered from its round body. Joe swung his weapon up toward it, and fired. The shot knocked the machine off balance, causing the crimson bolt of light it fired at Joe to instead burn a thumb sized hole in the floor.

Regaining its equilibrium, the flier reconfigured its wings. One continued to face forward, one flipped over to face backward and then the entire mechanism oriented with its wings on the vertical, and pin wheeled toward Joe.

He wasn’t fast enough to dodge and the flier slammed into his gun arm with bruising force, causing him to lose his grip on the gun, which clattered to the ground. He barely regained his wits before the thing was coming around for another attack. This time, it dropped low, level with his shins and sent him sprawling.

Inside the vault, the six invading robots used their own plasma lances to burn open cashier drawers and safety deposit boxes. Though tiny, each machine magnetically adhered the freed boxes to their hulls and airlifted several times their own weight into the air to the waiting treaded vehicle. The armadillo like plates retraced to reveal a hollow cavity in the transport, which greedily accepted the smaller machines’ offerings.

Aching all over and bleeding slightly from landing on glass, Joe watched dumbstruck as the carrier rolled out the destroyed door, escorted by its swarm of smaller cohorts. It had only taken ten minutes…

***

“So…” Warrick said matter-of-factly as the quartet of young descendants waited for their bus. “Ladies of Armageddon are starting their Lilith’s Children World Tour right in town this Saturday.” He grinned a little as he spoke.

“You don’t think I know?” Cyn said sourly. “Kay and I have tried every scalper in town trying to get a hold of some of those tickets, but they were sold out back in June. I’m seriously considering finding someone with tickets, shifting into them, and taking their place.”

“Well if it makes you feel better, I can bring you back a souvenir.” Warrick offered.

The three girls stopped moving entirely. Melissa and Juniper more from anticipation of the eminent tantrum than from anything else.

“You have a ticket?” Cyn asked, her voice taking a dangerous tone. “You managed to get a ticket… and didn’t get one for me? The biggest show by the biggest band at the start of their biggest tour – and you’re going, but I’m not? Are we suddenly not a team anymore now that LSI is dead?!”

Warrick shrank back as she was advancing on him. “C-calm down, Cyn. You know if it were just me, I’d just give up the ticket rather than leave a friend behind like that. It’s the whole ‘too nice’ thing you tease me about, right?”

“Go on.” Cyn said through clenched teeth. She was fighting the urge to shift into something just to scare him.

“But it’s not my ticket to give, see?” He said. “In fact, it’s like a reward for the ‘too nice’ thing.” He was actually very proud of that, but not proud enough to risk Cyn’s wrath with that pride.

“You’re getting to go see Ladies of Armageddon because you’re a good guy?” Now Cyn was more confused than angry.

“Remember when he defended Elizabeth von Stoker?” Juniper piped up. Cyn directed her glare at her, causing the brown haired girl to shrink back. “Well, Elizabeth’s uncle had the tickets, but he had to go out of town this weekend. So he offered them to her dad and Elizabeth knew Warrick liked the band—“

“Because Juniper told her.” Melissa interjected.

Juniper nodded, “Because I told her. So she offered to take him to the concert as thanks for being so nice to her.”

Cyn froze up once more. Somewhere in her mind, there was a loud snapping sound.

“See? It paid to be the nice guy.” Warrick said, risking a bit of pride. “And you always tease me about it.”

Pursing her lips, Cyn avoided the torrent of obscenities she wanted to unleash. “Warrick…” She said slowly. “She’s not giving you a reward because you’re a good guy. She’s saying that to get you to go out with her because she likes you.”

Warrick blinked for a few seconds before a grin split his face. “Really?! Score! But you do know that she also likes me and wants to date me because I’m such a good guy, right?”

“Also, modest.” Melissa snarked.

Cyn rolled her eyes. “It’s just a damsel in distress thing. If Melissa had scared Lilly off from her, she’d be all over her too.”

“Let’s leave me out of this.” Melissa said, moving away.

“Hmm…” Warrick said, thoughtfully. “If that’s the case, I’m going to have to make a really good impression so she’ll like me for me. Cyn, you’ve got to help me out on this one – I’m not so good with impressions. Well, not impressions of the date kind anyway.”

“Warrick…” Cyn started pensively.

“Come on, Cyn. Like you said; just because LSI is gone doesn’t mean we’re not still a team.”

“That means I’ll help too.” Juniper offered with an overly stalwart air.

Cyn’s mouth opened, and then closed. “Fine. But you owe me for this. Anything I want, understand? This is like taking a bite of the shiny apple, you get me?” Warrick nodded, confident that Cyn wouldn’t demand anything overtly bad in return. Cyn frowned and nodded back as the bus arrived.

As Warrick and Juniper climbed the bus stairs, Melissa looked over at her. “So… you’re totally going to sabotage this, aren’t you?”

“I’ll give him good advice.” Cyn said, “I’m his friend after all. But there’s no way in hell this is going to be more than a friendly trip to a concert.”

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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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