Descendants 106 – The Away Team – Chapter 01

This entry is part 21 of 22 in the series Current

Kareem looked around the table and—not for the first time that day—wondered how he got there.

Earlier that morning, he’d met Lily at the gym in his building. She’d been joining him in his morning exercise routine for the past month or so, offering surprisingly amiable company considering how he remembered her from high school.

Today, when they normally would have gone their separate ways, she’d invited him to bunch and he’d accepted.

Simple, really, but he still felt distinctly out of place sitting in the dining room of Boar and Spear, an upscale restaurant in City Central with Lily, Callie and their two friends Alice and Kim. People were trying to be discreet, but he saw them taking pictures on their palmtops. Soon the internet would be abuzz about the local superhero spotted dining with four beautiful women, one of whom was his teammate in a high class establishment. And then the rumors would take flight.

Normally rumors and nocturnes didn’t bother Kareem. He’d been through high school, he’d seen fanfiction. People would think and make up what they would. Only recently he’d been feeling a lot more introspective, especially when it came to taking advantage of his powers and position. He certainly didn’t want to grow a reputation to worry about.

Ironically, he’d have to talk to the team’s PR expert about that. And the PR expert was Lily, the very reason he was in this position in the first place.

For now though, he committed himself to just enjoy the atmosphere and company and worry later. At least he hoped he could. More irony, he thought: the mentalist incapable from keeping his mind wandering. In an effort to distract himself, he focused on his meal: grilled shrimp with fried… croquets? Cakes? He didn’t know what to call the wedges of fried polenta, but they were drizzled with a lightly sweet sauce and tasted fantastic.”

“…not going to be able to do this with you all for a while,” Lily was saying. Distracted as he was, Kareem refused to be rude and tune out the conversation at the table. “The team has me on a big project.” She sipped her mimosa, artificially creating a dramatic pause for her friends to chew on.

The team had met online the evening before about the rough outline of a ‘Goodwill Tour’ as a cover for hunting the Avalon Artifacts (as Warrick had taken to calling them). Nothing had been fully hashed out, so it surprised him that Lily was already being tapped.

“Big project for you?” Alice asked, leaning forward, excited. “Press conference? Movie deal?”

Lily smiled a Cheshire smile. Alice, had of course provided exactly the set-up she needed. “Bigger. Much bigger.” She too leaned forward, though the size of their table would have made a conspiratorial whisper utterly useless. “We’re talking world tour. Six countries, eleven cities. Contacts with foreign officials.” She practically glowed with pride.

Immune to her friend’s flourishes, Kim’s brow furrowed thoughtfully. “Lil… are you sure about this? You haven’t even started your two hundred classes yet. Isn’t this a little much?”

Lily came just short of rolling her eyes. “It’s not as if I’m holding talks with the President of Korea or something. I’m contacting officials, getting permission for public events, lists of do’s and don’t’s—that sort of thing. And that’s the smallest part; like we’re very much not going to be allowed to fly the invisible jet into foreign airspace, so there’s chartering planes, hiring tour buses—not to mention booking hotels and convincing all of these people that having superheroes using their services is a good thing and not a guarantee that super villeins will attack.”

“Is that really a concern?” asked Kim, hiding her concern by nibbling on a slice of cantaloupe.

Callie, who had been quiet the whole time fidgeted a bit in her seat. “Well, given what happened when our identities were revealed, and when I went to meet my cousin, or the Appreciation Parade last year… I wouldn’t say it never happens. I’d kind of not want us staying in the same hotel as me.”

This Lily waved off imperiously. “You rarely even see supervillains outside the US. It’s like mass shootings or robot-assisted robbery—it doesn’t happen that often elsewhere.”

“That we know about,” Alice pointed out, “A lot of countries don’t talk a lot about descendants. Or like Columbia. Obsidiana is basically a supervillain after all.”

Kim’s eyes snapped to her friend. “That’s not true. People just say that because they’re scared of a pro-descendant government.”

“You mean an all-descendant government. Any of the important positions anyway,” said Alice. “Norm…” she stumbled over her wording, “I mean baseline? How do you say non-descendant and not sound awful? Whatever. People who aren’t descendants aren’t allowed to hold certain offices, can’t live in the same housing—did you know descendants and non-descendants can’t get married there?”

“That’s all rumors,” Kim dismissed. “Everyone knows our government hates them because they were pro-descendant before we were.”

“Anyway,” Lily’s voice cut through the argument like a clarion bell. “If I wanted to talk about Obsidiana, I’d have invited Tinkerb… Tink.” Kareem noticed the self-conscious look she shot both his and Callie’s way as she almost used the high school nickname she’d bestowed upon Christina Carlyle. As if to save face, she added, speaking directly to him, “She was a fangirl back in the day. Obsidiana was her Che Guevara.”

Settling herself with another sip of mimosa, she continued, “But back to the subject of convincing companies and nations that servicing and hosting the Descendants is a good idea…” Without warning, she reached over, placed her hand over Kareem’s locking eyes in an instant.

Caught off guard and transfixed by the unique near-purple blue of her eyes, Kareem could only blink.

“I have to be honest,” Lily said, smiling demurely, “I had an ulterior motive for inviting you today, Kareem. I wanted to ask you to volunteer to be part of the tour.”

Kareem blinked again. “I… Lily, I haven’t even made a decision about my position on the team—about how I use my powers.”

Lily kept her hand over his. “No powers necessary. This is a PR tour and frankly? Mental powers aren’t all that flashy. But do you know what is?” She didn’t give him time to answer, diving in immediately. “The number one rated sexiest male hero in the world according the PrelateWatch.”

Slipping his hand from hers, Kareem sat back in his seat, scrubbing the heel of his hand across his face. “Excuse me, what?”.

A snort came from the other side of Lily; Callie. “You didn’t know?”

“I do not exactly follow that sort of thing. Actually, I did not know there even was that sort of thing.”

Lily laughed musically, as did the other women at the table. “Oh, you sweet, sweet child. Kareem, people rank every public figure. There’s a stack ranking of members of the state senate based on looks. It was… inevitable… that there would be one for heroes.”

“Alright,” Kareem said slowly, “But I’m the one people think is most attractive? There have to be people far more deserving of the title.”

With another laugh, Lily started counting on his fingers. “Infinity? Chunky muscle man is not in anymore. Teen Machine? The machine part is a problem. Zephyrus? The elf cosplay is almost as sad as Warrick’s knight cosplay. Mr. Smythe is too old, let’s be brutally honest and so is his brother. Whitecoat, Barn Owl and Rebound? All wear masks and while the body can make up for a lot, you’ve got the looks, the body and that soft-spoken mystique. Face it, sweetie, you’re the full package.”

It didn’t help Kareem’s growing sense of confusion that every woman at the table nodded along.

“You really have no idea, do you?” laughed Kim. At his expression, she elaborated, “As in how…” she hesitated and stole a glance at Lily, “hot you are? I mean, you’re a psychic—didn’t you know how insanely jealous half the school was when you started dating Sharkgi…”

Unlike Lily, Kim didn’t silence herself. Rather, it was the shear weight fo glares that fell upon her from everyone but Kareem himself. “Uh… when you were off the market.”

A brief silence fell over the table. Kareem felt himself starting to squirm in his seat and put a stop to it. It was hard to tell if the mention of Desiree, his former girlfriend who turned out to have been a Tome spy was what bothered him or the fact that everyone seemed to know what happened even outside the team.

He marshaled himself, doing his best not to let the lingering hurt show. It was a rare moment in which he acted without thinking through the repercussions. And so he did what he had to in order to break the silence. “I’ll go. Lily, consider me part of the tour.”

***

“I feel like I’m missing something,” Warrick said, reclining in his chair in the Lifesavers, Inc war room, his feet up on the presentation desk. “Lily texts that Kareem’s in and suddenly Melissa’s in? Melissa’s never in. She couldn’t get back home for the summer fast enough. And why’s Lily the one telling us what Kareem says?”

Cyn, stationed at the one of the consoles lining the room, was idling tapping her way through the map showing the locations of the points that reacted to Avalon rising. She had a tablet in one hand, ticking off nearby cities to add to the tour. “Poor War; you really aren’t aware of the soap opera fanfic you live in.”

“What?”

She span her chair around, laying the table on the console. “Let me lay it out: So ‘lissa like Kareem.”

Warrick raised an eyebrow. “Since when?”

“Since like the start! You never noticed how much time they spent together even back when he was still in a coma?”

“People spend time together. That doesn’t mean they like each other. Like-like, I mean. And why would it mean Melissa liked him? Couldn’t it mean Kareem likes her? Assuming it even means that?”

Cyn rolled her eyes. “How are you in a relationship if you know nothing about them?”

Sliding his legs off the table, Warrick leaned forward, placing his chin in his palms. “I’m not convinced I’m the one who knows nothing about relationships based on what you’re saying right now.”

She stuck her tongue out. “Anyway, ‘lissa liked Kareem and Lily also likes him judging by how she keeps showing up to work out with him and watch him get all sweaty and exerted. And you know how Lily’s still a bad person even if she’s not the worst anymore?”

“I thought we were giving her the benefit of the doubt.”

Cyn waved the idea off. “Maybe, but I’m on Team Melissa in all this and getting Kareem to go on the tour so she can cozy up to him is really underhanded.”

Warrick continued to frown. “Are we sure that’s what it’s about? Kareem is pretty much the most popular member of the team. Lily’s our PR person. It makes a lot of sense to have him on the tour. You’re reading too much into this, Cyn.”

Snorting in derision, Cyn shook her head. “Oh yeah, then why is Melissa—queen of the anti-social—volunteer to go on an international good will tour. Not only that, but she’s cutting short her summer with her family to do it!”

For a moment, Warrick opened his mouth to offer an explanation, but paused, unable to come up with anything.

“Thought so.” Cyn nodded. “Now come on; we need to get this itinerary together. We’re totally not going to be able to hit every place that registered a hit, but we can get maybe… a dozen? We’ll need to go to non-Avalon sites too, just to keep anyone from figuring out what we’re up to.” She gave a Cheshire smile, “and maybe we can set things up to keep Lily away from Kareem and ‘lissa.”

Warrick shook his head. “Please no.”

“Oh yes.”

“No. Cyn, we are not playing matchmaker on this trip. It’s way too important.”

“If we don’t take control of it, the drama could rage totally out of control!” Cyn warned, waving her hands overhead as if to demonstrate the impending chaos. “War, Lily might be trying to be less awful, but she is not subtle and she does not know how to read people. She probably doesn’t know Melissa likes Kareem and she will not think twice to make a move on him—with Melissa there or not.”

The lack of her nickname for Melissa clued Warrick in on the fact that she was serious. “You really think Melissa’s got a thing for Kareem?”

“Not think,” Cyn wagged a finger at him. “Know. And be proud of me; I managed not to stick my nose in it for this long.”

“I’ll admit, I’m impressed by that. Still, I think we should let them handle this themselves. Kareem… I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be up for anyone ‘making a move’ on him right now. Desiree messed him up good. Honestly, I don’t think he’s ready for a trip like this—Avalon was a big fight; these hot spots are probably going to be too. He hasn’t even decided if he wants to stay on the team.”

Cyn remained remarkably straight-faced for her. “We can’t just abandon him. And who said he has to fight? Someone’s got to be the totally genuine face of the tour. He’s the sexiest superhero alive; we’ll get him set up with a lot of interviews that’ll keep people from wondering where the rest of us are.”

This gave Warrick pause until he finally nodded his approval. “Not bad. Though we should really let him know.”

“Know what?”

“About the whole ‘sexiest superhero alive’ bit. He doesn’t follow superhero news and stuff. He probably doesn’t know. And some creepo reporter springing it on him is not how he should learn.”

Cyn blinked, the kind of salacious questions or bits she’s seen pulled on celebrities in Kareem’s unique position flashed before her eyes. It was actually worse than anything she’d suspected Lily of. “Oh. Crap.”

“See?” Warrick smirked, glad that his friend was thinking things through.

She nodded. “Yeah, so maybe you should call him and talk to him about that. I… I need to call Jun up and see if she’s in.”

***

Chains rattled as they paid out, slowly lowering a motor into place. Heavy, yellow rubberized gloves gripped and steadied them, pausing only for their owner to wipe sweat from his deeply tanned brow. Dark eyes watched through safety goggles as the motor slid into place.

He moved to disconnect the chains only to be interrupted by the chirp of his palmtop, which had been serving as a radio blaring his old timey grunge rock.

Grunting, he pulled off his glove and picked it up.

There was a text with a link and the word ‘thoughts’ from a very familiar number.

A thick thumb tapped the link, pulling up an article.

It seemed that the Descendants were starting a worldwide good will tour. Twenty cities in sixty days promoting descendants rights.

Why yes, he certainly did have some thoughts about that. He tapped out a return message.

‘Find out where they’re going and when. We’ll show them they they crossed something bigger than they know.’

Satisfied, he put down the palmtop. It was hot, his work was nearly done, and he needed to do some thinking. He shucked off the top half of his jumpsuit, going bare-chested as he made his way out of the underground garage. The fused ‘JK’ emblem tattooed on his back glistened with his sweat.

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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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2 Comments

  1. JK, JK…Just Kidding? No, a quick search tells me it’s Joykiller. I can see why he’d have thoughts.

    Typos

    rumors and nocturnes
    (Nocturnes? I’m not sure what that’s supposed to be.)

    super villeins
    super villains

    like a clarion bell
    (A clarion’s a trumpet.)
    like a clarion call

    She span her chair
    She spun her chair

    why is Melissa—queen of the anti-social—volunteer
    (either) why did Melissa—queen of the anti-social—volunteer
    (or) why is Melissa—queen of the anti-social—volunteering

  2. Oh no, not Jason Kerulo!

    Also finally, I’ve been waiting for the soap opera payoff for 8+1 volumes now!

    One more typo:
    invited him to bunch -> brunch or lunch

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