Legend – Chapter 13
“I can’t believe this!” Fireflux snapped in exasperation as she incinerated three more of the wood-and-brass automatons.
“Believe it,” Legend said. “Someone’s been boning up on our abilities and trying to take advantage of our obvious weaknesses but good.”
The automata moved startlingly quickly, far faster and more smoothly than anything that actually ran on clockwork, gears, levers, and pulleys could possibly have managed. It’s empowered work, that’s obvious. I’m not sensing much if any ki from them, which is of course part of the problem; no ki, I can only sense them the way anyone else does, and that’s how I got cut in two places.
Fireflux wasn’t in much better shape. The brass and wood weren’t subject to her magnetic manipulation, so she had to directly focus excited plasma onto each one, individually â€“ something she found a lot harder to do than simple magnetic stunts.
A major blast would probably clear the area of the insectile, strangely Victorian-looking monstrosities, but given that they were in the tunnels underneath the University at Albany, this would have other unfortunate consequences. Restructurization Encoding was supposed to have been done on the campus last year, Ben’s thoughts reminded him, but someone cut the funding, pointing out that there hadn’t been any major incidents on SUNY property.
Another three of the things bounded from a side tunnel, large enough to barely fit from the area, hammering him with twin-bladed strikes like a praying mantis. OUCH! They’re reinforced, too; ordinary weapons can’t even scratch me.
“You have any idea who?”
“Guesses, but nothing solid, Fireflux,” he answered. The girl zipped by him, mere feet away, and her smell of ozone and perfume mingled, distracting â€“ as did pretty much all of her. I have a real problem. The red hair streaming out behind her, the all-too-tight stereotypical leotard â€“ cut in ways that made it almost infinitely more eye-catching, the flash of her smile, the wink of a green eye even in the middle of battle . . .
This is why I went to Jennifer. If there are gods, boy, I need some help.
The frustration gave him something to use, though, and he grabbed hold of it, focused with the anger, channeled it into a strike that sent one of the clanking monstrosities cannonballing through a wall, shedding pieces as it went; his simultaneous kick in the other direction literally shattered the one that had tried to ambush him. “Admiral, you got anything?”
“The probability is,” Admiral Twilight replied, with his trademark phrase, “it is someone we have encountered before. They’re following attack patterns that take into account your teamwork. That’s why both of you have been injured already.”
“Should we pull out, bring in someone else?” He ignored his own reluctance and Fireflux’s protest.
“Might could,” he heard the Rat say, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if whoever it is has taken all us locals into account.”
“Bunraku?” Fireflux asked. “She uses puppet-things all the time.”
Legend focused, looking. “No. Definitely not her. She uses soul-strings to move her creations, and to my ki sense they look like neon tubing. There’s not a thing obviously controlling them.” He concentrated, boosting his speed to dodge a swarm of smaller automata, fired a quick energy burst from his hand that blasted them to fragments.
“Even though it’s only been a few years, there’s a lot of possibilities, especially since many of us have served across the globe at one point or another,” the Admiral said.
Legend felt a dozen pinpricks as more miniature attackers sank talons into him. There was a burning at the site of each puncture. “Fireflux! Some of these things are poisoned! Don’t let them cut you again!” He drove the effect of the poison back, burned the offending toxin out of his system. We need to figure out who’s behind this! “We’ll need reinforcements here. There’s a lot of these things.”
“The Steel Sentinel’s on his way. Traveller’s not available, so you’ll have to hold out for a few.”
He focused on the fight, sensing Fireflux’s ki reasonably steady and so not in danger right now. Who? Bunraku’s out. Autonomous makes his out of his own body â€“ they’re all built like him, not like these things at all. He couldn’t change that, and . . . he caught some pieces of the next one, took a moment to study closely . . . and these are definitely brass and wood, not just disguised.
Legend! the inner voice that had first summoned . . . or created? . . . him called out. Or was it his own voice? Look at it the other way around!
The thought crystallized. “It’s the school, not us!” he said, even as he found himself battling something like a steampunk centipede. “Focus on the university! It’s something that would interest one of our other enemies, someone who’d know how we fight enough to tailor these things to fight us and who’d know we’d be the ones to respond in this region!”
“That’s a thought,” Admiral Twilight said, and he could hear the increasing confidence in his voice. “. . . and the probability is we can make a connection now.”
“Got it!” the Rat said triumphantly. “New research under the Transformation Act on combined-mode systems for underwater exploration –“
“– of course.” Fireflux smacked herself in the head. “So combine interest in underwater technology with vicious poisoned Victorian gadgets and we get –“
“The Sea Wasp,” Legend finished. He sensed a familiar ki approaching. “Steel Sentinel, can you keep things under control here?”
“For a few minutes at least, no problem.” The whine of the Steel Sentinel’s turbines was audible â€“ he was here already.
“Then we’re going to the source.”
He reached out, grabbed Fireflux’s hand, sensed concentrations of life all around him, stitched a map of souls and distances and felt one he knew well, well enough to use as an anchor . . .
Offset by a hundred yards â€“ the most he could manage â€“ they appeared in midair above Albany, a quarter mile from the waterfront.
“He’s going to be disguised, shielded. Won’t sense his power unless he goes active,” he murmured to Fireflux.
“Yeah, sweetie, I know,” she said, grinning, “but he’s got to be in the channel, the deepest part of the channel, or we’d see him.”
From this vantage point he could see the State University grounds, and look across to the point of the river nearest the University. “There.”
She concentrated. “Nothing . . . no, wait . . . more than nothing. Or less. There’s really nothing. Like not a sign of anything metal. And since that’s not possible in a river that’s had that many people using it for that long . . .”
He could feel the pulse of magnetic force through the air that ripped out and down from Fireflux, and the water shuddered.
“I’ll keep his shields busy with me!”
“On my way!”
Legend streaked down into the brown waters of the Hudson. He couldn’t see, but he could sense, feel in flashes and flickers the location of the insane gadgeteer who called himself the Sea Wasp. Suddenly he felt a shift in the current and his hands struck metal. He grabbed, pulled. It’s heavy!
But now he was mad. This nutcase had sent vicious automata to steal a research project, not caring that they might kill uncounted students and teachers on the way, and this wasn’t the first time. The lawyers might let him out again, but . . .
“No more today.”
He pulled, lifted, straining with will and focus, and felt the immense weight lift with him, rising, light starting to become visible, brighter, and suddenly he broke free, water streaming down from him and then from the huge form of the Sea Wasp’s submersible, a Nemoesque submarine three hundred feet long. Legend growled and heaved upward, yanking the entire vessel clear of the water, up, up over his head, even as he heard the hatch opening, the escape capsule ejecting â€“ to be stopped in midair by Fireflux.
“Going nowhere, Waspie,” Fireflux said with satisfaction. “You’re sunk.”
He let the submarine drop on one of the cleared regions in the Port of Albany. I’ll move it as soon as the authorities tell me where to put it; I couldn’t leave it in the river, it’d be a navigation hazard.
He turned and punched through the capsule, yanking the Wasp out through the wall. The older man shook off the impact and returned Legend’s glare with a cool and calculated gaze of his own. “Enough of the rage, Legend,” he said after a moment. “You’ll do nothing about it, as I know well, and you have no purpose in just keeping me here above the landscape. Put me into the hands of the police and I’m sure we shall meet again anon.”
“Oh, let me give him a couple whacks!” Fireflux said. “Those things hurt people, and not just us!”
There are times I am very tempted. But that wasn’t really true, just a snippy little thought, one he beat down mercilessly. “No,” he said, and looked at the Sea Wasp, arrogant and yet cool and elegant in his old-fashioned Captain’s outfit. “We’re who we are as much because of what we won’t do as for what we will do.”
He repeated that to himself several times to hammer that thought home as he and Fireflux flew away from the holding station where they’d dropped off the Wasp.
“Hey,” Fireflux said, touching his arm. “That was pretty good all ’round, you know?”
“You . . . all right?”
“I think so. I didn’t get any of the poison stings â€“ thanks to you.” Her eyes shone up at him. “Hey, the evening’s still early and we’ve done our good deed for the week. Maybe we could . . . go somewhere together?”
As his heart beat faster, he realized that the most dangerous battle of the day was just beginning.