Metal and Mettle

Morning. I give up being in the interior of my comfy blanket burrito and stumble into the bathroom for a shower. I hate showers.

It’s not that I’m some kind of slob or something, it’s just that for me, it’s damn close to being blinded. Not exactly blinded, or deafened for that matter. The closest sense I can use to describe it is taste, but people can’t taste maple syrup fifty yards distant through a foot-thick slab of concrete. Most people anyway.

See, I’ve got this power…

A couple of powers all tied up in one package, but specifically I’m talking about my metal sense. It’s exactly how it sounds: I can sense metal: what kind it is, if it’s oxidized, what kinds of stresses it’s under. That’s the part that’s like taste. Most people can tell a slice of honey baked ham from a toasted marshmallow. My metal sense can tell a high tension copper cable carrying ten thousand volts from a carbonized steel girder on the verge of sheering. We’re all special in our own way.

Which brings us back to why I’m standing under a hot spray, going about my dailies and hating every second. It has to do with physics… or chemistry. Probably both. I’m getting an B-minus in one and an A-plus in the other for the last semester of senior year, but high school classes, even AP chemistry were never meant to cover advanced topics like whatever it is I do.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, my metal sense works by detecting electron flows unique to metallic bonds. Running water screws with that, makes things kind of fuzzy. Rain usually doesn’t come down hard enough to be too much of a problem, but the relentless pound of a shower head it like wrapping your head in a towel and trying to listen to whispers.

So I’m not the long, leisurely shower kind of guy. I do what I do and get the hell out of there.

I take in the familiar comfort of the chrome towel rack and fixtures while I brush my teeth and comb my hair. Afterward I squint at myself in the mirror. I look like a kid; short, with a face that’s a little too round and a few sparse hairs on my face and neck.

Used to be skinny too. I mostly still am, but you can’t do what I do for two years and not get into some kind of shape. There’s probably never going to be a six-pack on my frame, but at least I can tell I’ve got muscles now. Ropey ones like a sprinter. It’s funny because in game terms, I’m a tank.

A beard would be cool, at least I think so. At the very least, I wouldn’t look like a fresh faced geek anymore. I don’t mind being a geek, I just don’t like proving the stereotype. Yeah, but my girlfriend Tink likes the geek so geek I be.

It’s for the best. My friends would have too good a time mocking me in the valley between ‘two hairs on the chin’ and Beardsville anyway. I give them enough ammunition just being myself already. Still, a shave is needed. Luckily for me, I come ready equipped with my own live-in barbers.

I head back into my room and throw on boxers and a T-shirt before grabbing the golden snake armbands from my bedside table. They’re not really gold. To tell the truth, I’m not sure what the hell they’re made of. The molecule is so complex that trying to figure it out is like telling the ingredients of a soft drink by sipping it.

The stuff has a titanium backbone with hints of at least a dozen other elements. It’s reasonably light, but the main attraction here is hardness just this side of tantalum carbide… let’s just say ‘near diamond’ for everyone that hasn’t spent the last few years studying metals and alloys. The density is incredible as well.

Sucker holds an edge too. I’ve seen a knife made of it gouge an inch deep into a steel girder, grind down it fifty feet and stay sharp. It even resists my other powers.

Which is why I absolutely wanted my armbands made of them.

I slip the bands up to my upper arm on each side and make sure they’re secure before concentrating. It used to be a chore to do this, but it seems to get easier every week. Either I’m getting better at it, or they’re getting more eager. I just let them know it’s okay to come out and the golden snakes wriggle against my skin. All that density lets them unwrap and expand outward, letting the delicate details of the snake figures melt into smooth, tapering tentacles anchored up near my shoulders.

When I was around twelve, I found a stash of some really old comic anthologies at one of my uncles’ houses and blazed through them over a long winter break. They were a bit mature for me, but I loved them. I named the pair after a couple of minor characters; Isp and Osp. The one on the left is usually Isp. Usually. The others try and keep it straight and usually just call them ‘the twins’.

Annoyance buzzes in my head. They don’t like that I un-summoned them to take a shower. Of course, they’re the ones who are scared they’ll rust. They don’t get what a shower is for in the first place. After five years with me, the day to day habits of organisms still mystify and annoy them.

Outside of a very select few, no one knows that the twins are anything more than an extra set of really versatile arms I make with my powers. Some of my housemates don’t fully understand it either, but its true; they’re their own beings (Not ‘people’. They don’t like being called ‘people’. People are organisms, which means there’s something wrong with them.).

Although they generally follow my directions, if left to their own devices, they’ll explore, or read, or doodle like any other sapient mind would. The only thing is, they’re bound to me; if the anchor point (which doesn’t have to be on my shoulders, but they prefer it) is broken, they un-summon. This neither troubles, nor confuses them. As far as they’re concerned, we’re conjoined siblings with the one in the middle having been struck with the tragic malady of being organic.

Yes, I can summon and un-summon them at will and exert motile control of any metal within either line of sight or range of my metal sense and I’m viewed as the weak one of we three. It helps that they can throw a minivan each and, when I use the weird new metal bands to summon them, cut them in half on the fly.

I promise them they’ve got free reign to be out and about for the rest of the morning, which delights them. I have a terrible habit of responding to their purely mental chatter out loud. For some reason, I can’t seem to shake it. Everyone else just thinks I’m weird. Which I am, so they’re right to do so, I guess.

Osp goes for my palmtop in its cradle on my desk and splits its leading edge into five pseudopods to work the keyboard. In seconds, it’s online and reading some celebrity gossip site. That’s better than logging into PrelateWatch and razzing me on how I’m doing in the popularity polls.

Odd how my shapeshifter teammate who usually shows up in public as a nearly naked gold woman with wings and my other teammate’s mom who pilots an awesome flying tank consistently beat me in those things. It kind of stings when Rapscallion does too though. I don’t even know the guy, but I do know that I’m in the news more. Maybe it’s because he’s got such a cool trickster image going. More power to him, I guess.

I ask Isp for a shave and hold very still. It never has better precision than when it risks cutting me, but it doesn’t hurt to make its job easier. Within minutes, I’m baby smooth and ready to head downstairs.

The palmtop comes with because Osp refuses to relinquish it and so does one of my Deathgate: Champions keychains because… I have no idea why Isp grabbed that and it won’t explain. I don’t press; they’re always careful with my stuff, plus, I did promise them free reign, which is more than fair since I’ll be spending the rest of the day with Tink, largely in public where they have to be un-summoned.

***

The Nicole Farmer Avenue Mall gets a lot of flak for the terrible, terrible name. It totally deserves it; the place is literally the mall on Nicole Farmer Avenue. People expect malls to be named like a suburban neighborhood or subdivision just like they do rest homes or mental hospitals. Some sort of nature-related word with another word that really doesn’t matter. Something Oaks, WhateverBoroke, You get the idea. You can also throw in ‘haven’ if you want to.

But what’s in a name? The Farmer Mall is a pretty cool place. The management puts as much effort into harassing ‘freeloading’ teenagers as it does in coming up with good names, but their security is competent enough to make the place unattractive to the gang kids and shoplifters. If my group’s favorite hang out, a cafe-slash-arcade called The Dungeon didn’t exist, I would spend a lot of time here.

As it is, I don’t except to buy new flat format releases. You can stream most stuff at will online, but my grandmother is a big proponent of the ownership movement and doesn’t like anyone in the family paying for streaming or fully digital purchases when there’s a physical media alternative. It’s part of the reason why I still buy paper comics despite the cost.

Today is special. My girlfriend, Christina “Tink” Carlyle, is picking up her prom dress. I’ve been excited and a little sick over it for weeks. It’s going to be perfect. I hope it’s perfect. It’s up to me to make it perfect. For her.

I’m not a big dance guy myself. My kind of party is a handful of friends and a pizza. Tink has the same attitude most of the time, as evidenced by her lack of enthusiasm for our very first date, the Valentine’s Dance junior year. But something happened at Junior Prom that I can’t really explain and she’s been nothing if not excited to go to every dance since then.

We missed the Valentine’s Dance this year though. Some bastard wrecked a town called Greenview Ridge trying to kill my friend Juniper’s mom and dad. They’re superheroes too and we went to bat for them. The guy, Something Braylocke, ended up setting off a huge earthquake and my friend Kareem felt responsible because he thinks he caused it by attacking Braylocke’s mind with his powers.

So when he went to help rebuild, we all went, because the Descendants are more than just a band of people with powers; we’re there for each other.

I can’t say I regret going; Kareem is a great guy who doesn’t deserve that kind of guilt on his head. I’m not even afraid to admit that he’s a better man than me. I’m a good person because I want to be like my heroes, but the real and the fictional. I want to live up to something. Kareem does it just because it’s the right thing. I don’t even know if he has any heroes besides his parents. Knowing him for the past couple of years, both when he was trapped in his own body, only able to talk with us through telepathy, and today, when he’s free to be up and about, he’s become one of my heroes too.

But still, it killed me to do that to Tink. She said she understood, and I believe her. After all, she knows why I was AWOL; she knows that I’m Alloy of the Descendants. I didn’t tell her by choice, but I’m glad she knows and is excited by the idea. Hero or no, understanding or no, I’ve known her too long not to know that she was disappointed.

Prom is my shot to make it up to her. It’s the big show, the last dance of high school and it’s already expected for a guy to go all out. My plan’s been to go all out harder. I kind of regret that choice of words now, because on the drive over, she blushed herself cherry red shyly informing me that she planned to reserve a hotel room for that night.

Because there wasn’t enough pressure on me.

Not that I’m not excited, it’s just that… well it’d be our first time. Not for lack of trying, but her mom works from home and is always around, and I live with seven other people, one of whom is Cyn. Cyn’s my best friend, but her favorite way of showing she likes someone is making fun and with her powers, if we ever did anything at Freeland House, Cyn would find out and have a field day.

Privacy is a rare and beautiful thing for us and it seems that whenever things start to take a turn toward the romantic… Let me put it this way; you know how in comics and movies how bad guys or disasters always seem to ruin the hero’s date? They’re a little more patient than that in my experience. One time, we were making out on a deserted roof and the bank just across the street somehow managed to get itself robbed by guys with machine guns.

I’m so glad those things are still legal. The mandatory print-locks and police kill switches don’t tell these guys anything, not with two shady crime bosses in town selling hack kits. Luckily, when I’m involved, they wind up as pools of liquid metal instead of something that can go up for ‘collector’s auction’ later.

Speaking of which, as Tink stops to ogle a new brand of personal assistant robot in the window of one of those executive gadget stores, I distinctly sense that special combination of lead and copper. Bullets. I look around and find a couple of guys walking in a tight group. They’re a little younger than me and all of them are wearing navy blue hoodies with a piratey looking hook stenciled on the back.

Some gangs are more obvious than others. I didn’t recognize the symbol of colors, but gangs in Mayfield have some kind of identity crisis thing going. There are some constants, like the Lobos and Dark Nines, and then there are guys; flash in the pan gangers that don’t quite get that gangs are a criminal business and not just a club. Most of them just get guns and roll like they’re tough until they get someone’s attention and there’s shooting.

I do everyone a favor and concentrate on the clusters of bullets and then on the firing pin. I don’t try to shape them, I just put my power into breaking bonds and in moments, they melt into a slurry of metallic ooze. It followed gravity, fouling the pistols’ inner workings before dripping out of the barrels and into their owners’ pants.

The guys, who probably called themselves the Hooks or something, noticed one by one, that something was seeping into the front of their pants and stopped. I can only imagine what they thought it was.

Releasing the metal from my power, I let it re-solidify. From trial and error, I know that there’s no saving clothes soaked and hardened in metal slurry without metal powers. I don’t know if I feel worse about the ones who tucked the guns down the front of their pants, or just amused. They’ll probably think about that a few minutes before something clicks in their heads and they realize that it must be the Alloy who did it.

I casually turn back to the window, only to find Tink smiling at me and casting glances at the Hooks, who are trying to overcome their horror quietly and calmly. They’re not good at it.

But I’ve already forgot them. I’m looking at Tink and I can’t imagine wanting to look anywhere else.

She’s taller than me, but at 5’6”, even my kid sister will be taller than me in a year or so. I don’t mind at all, even though people seem to think I’m supposed to. Dancing close can be a little awkward, but that’s about it. Her eyes are this dark green, like I’ve never seen before, and the fact that she wears glasses just serves to make them prettier.

Today, her coppery hair is tied back in a short pony tail. It’s not very long to start with, mostly on account of her love of working with mechanical stuff and not wanting it caught in something. The pony tail give me a good view of her face. She’s really pale and freckled, which I think is very pretty. The same people that think I should have a problem with her height have problems there too. They can go screw.

For a bookworm who spends most of her free time drawing schematics on her tablet, she’s pretty fit. Tall but not a beanpole, if you follow. She doesn’t have a lot of curves, but she’s got all the right ones if you ask me. Today she’s wearing white canvas cargoes and a Malady Place logo T-shirt. Not fashion plate clothes, but she rocks them all the same.

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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3 Comments

  1. I’ve been reading your writing for quite a while. I gotta wonder: you’ve got a world where global warming scaremongers, environmental extremists and gun-grabbers damnear run the world, and yet somehow they have robot maids, flying cars, and miraculously low crime rates. Cognitive dissonance much?

    • I like the fancy words, and the political implications.

      This is a superhero story. Realism and impressively possible worldbuilding is not the goal.

  2. Aw, what a little cutie! Such a cute little troll, yes you are, yes you are! Coochi choochi coo! Don’t you look manly, using those big ol grownup words to tear down someone else’s creative efforts? Sooooooo cute!

    Does someone have a little weinerdog outfit to put on our cute wittle troll? He wants attention so bad!

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