- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.3
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 6
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 5
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp.1
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.2
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 1
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 5
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 1
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 2
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 3
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 4
- The Descendants #96 – Kill Hope Chp. 6
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 2
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 3
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 4
- Descendants 97 – Heir of Hyrilius Chp. 5
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.1
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.3
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.4
- Descendants 98 – The Precocious Prodigy Chp.5
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp.2
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 3
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 4
- Descendants #99 – Huddled Masses Chp. 7
- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.1
- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.2
- The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.4
“Any news?” JC Slate asked into his headset while toiling away at his summer job.
Where ‘toiling’ was a stretch and ‘job’ was dubious at best. He’d answered a want ad online and found himself pert of the wonderful world of posting fake reviews for money. For about a dime a post, he spent a handful of hours a day logging into curated ‘legitimate’ accounts and posting reviews—good ones for playing clients and bad ones for the competition of paying clients. It left him feeling like he was on the wrong side of all that is good, which his father said was exactly how most jobs felt.
“Since the mirror came online for a little while?” Cyn replied on the other end of the line, “No. And Mom went through all the video software she could find: Lisa and the girl from the tube aren’t in the room.” Quickly, as she knew this wasn’t what he wanted to hear, she added, “But they both looked okay and Mom says none of their ‘micro-expressions’ suggest they’re upset, so we’ve got every reason to believe they’re all okay, alright?”
JC checked the script on his screen and dutifully noted that the book he was ‘reviewing’ had a ‘really fresh and sexy take on werewolves and the chupacbra’, thankful he never had and never would read that book. “Yeah, well why didn’t they come through the mirror then?”
“No idea,” Cyn was forced to admit. “Copper-top probably wants to stay longer and dissect a pixie or something. Trust me though, it’s only a matter of time.”
“Hmm.” JC replied sullenly. “You talk to Tammy lately?”
Cyn made an unhappy sound. “Yeah, she still wants to come back down here to help in the search, but I totally get why the Kaines want to keep her home right now. Last I heard, she tried catching up to the Whitecoat as The Spark. Yeah, she’s sixteen now, but I still think that’s adorable.”
Her attempt at levity wasn’t hitting its mark though. JC just grunted as he moved on to the last review of his current batch: a hit piece on a USB-powered fan of all things. He was supposed to claim it gave his computer a virus.
“Have you talked about what to do about the Carlyles and the Ortegas yet? Everyone else’s families except Kay’s know all about the superhero deal, but they’re still in the dark.”
This time, the sound Cyn made was nervous and disgusted. “Have… you seen the Ortegas lately?”
“No…” he said cautiously.
“Yeah, so once she… or it—whatever–heard us talking about that problem, the Mankin went to visit them before we had a chance to do something about it. You know how it looks like Lisa?”
“Please don’t tell me it’s living with them pretending to be her.” JC froze, unable to type he was so tense.
“It stayed there a couple of days, but thank god, we finally figured out where it was and convinced the Ortegas that Lisa needed to go to LA again to do some business for Snackrifice. Speaking of which, between handling the business end of the band alone and wrangling the Magi Club, Kay isn’t doing too hot either.”
JC sighed. “Wish I could be there to take some of the pressure off. Not just for her, but for all of you. I feel so useless.”
“Just keep thinking happy thoughts, J. We’ve got this. If you want someone to hang out with, get you mind off things, I can be on the next train out of Massachusetts.”
He shook his head. “No, that’s okay. Actually, I’ve got a game to get to in a little while. Jamie, Ron and Meghan are supposed to meet me at the Dungeon.”
“Heh. Well have fun nerding. I’ll call the second we know something. And you know, if you wanna talk…”
“Thanks a lot, Cyn. Talk to you later.”
Summers in Virginia only had two modes: ‘Too damn hot’ and ‘currently raining’.
It was currently the former while dark, ominous clouds threatened the later as JC left his apartment tower and headed toward the nearest pod station. Not trusting the clouds, JC pulled up the hood of his Dayspring Academics hoodie (his mother was nothing if not an eternal optimist).
He wasn’t even sure he should be gaming and having fun while his girlfriend and his best friend were missing and possibly… Well that right there was why he was going: he needed something to keep his mind off it. Off the fact that there was nothing he could do to help. Usually he had Kay to commiserate with on the front, but given the magical nature of the problem, she was actually indispensable.
Normally, being the powerless one in his group of friends didn’t bother JC. It kept him out of harms’ way and occasionally, he got to help out in a small way. Now, it was crushing him. Especially not knowing what had really happened.
More than anything, he missed them. Unsurprising, seeing as any time he wasn’t spending with Lisa, he spent with Warrick, but as the days went by with very little news beyond the mirror starting up, he was starting to fear he was never going to see them again.
Those thoughts were starting to dominate when he ran into something that let out a startled yelp.
Looking up (or rather down), he found a girl of about twelve on the floor where he’d knocked her down.
“Oh god I’m so sorry!” JC exclaimed, leaning down toward her. “Are you okay?”
The girl was a little lean for her age, with a freckled face and dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wearing purple jeans, a darker purple band shirt for Offensive Kitten complete with the logo featuring a fluffy gray and white kitten flipping the viewer the bird, and green light vest with lots of pockets.
Completely ignoring him, she struggled onto her hands and knees. “Shit!” After a moment, she spotted the tablet she’d dropped in the collision and pounced on it. “Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me…” Slim fingers flew over the screen, flicking through the pages of what JC, looking at it upside down, seemed to be some sort of auction site.
After giving the site a thorough looking over, the girl let out an anguished, “No! I can’t believe this. This is not possible! They have to have had a bot or something! My one…” she trailed off when her eyes fell on JC.
“You,” she growled, getting to her feet with the tablet clutched in her hands. “This is your fault, you lummox!”
For his part, JC could only freeze like a dear in the headlights. “I-I said I was sorry.”
“Sorry? You don’t even know what you did, do you?” The girl, a good two feet shorter than him, stomped right up to him face-to-chest and looked up so as to glare into his eyes, lips set into a fierce scowl. “Look at this!” The tablet was thrust up into his face.
What he saw didn’t make much sense. “It’s a… an auction for a medallion?”
“A drone medallion. Like the medallions they give out to regulate the number of self-driving taxis there are in the city.” The anger seemed to drain out of her face as she lost herself in explaining things. “Only fifteen thousand people are allowed to operate drones above fifty feet in Mayfield’s airspace and they never give them up.”
Then, just as quickly as it left, the anger flared up again. “Except today when someone who didn’t know what they had found on in a dead family member’s effects and put it up for a one-hour auction! These things go for tens of thousands of dollars and I was about to get it for maybe five hundred—Until you ran into me and made me lose my chance!”
JC only just barely grasped what she was talking about. Not that he was dumb, but this sort of thing in the context of a kid he was pretty sure wasn’t even a teenager made it so bizarre that his brain was having a hard time processing it.
All he could do in reply was to put his hands up. “L-look, I said I was sorry. I’m not sure what more I can really do.”
That obviously wasn’t the right thing to say because the girl pointed at him dramatically and shouted, “Reparations! I demand reparations!” With that chant on her lips, she started stomping and shouting at the top of her lungs. People on the street were starting to stop and stare. Some were also filming them on their palmtops.
Edging around her so he had a clearer shot to the pod station, JC kept his hands up. “I still don’t even get what I did. All I can do is say I’m sorry… and get the hell out of here.” He didn’t really care what it looked like. Standing around getting screamed at by some creepy kid was not on his agenda for the day.
So he took off running.
“Running won’t save you, you reprobate! You haven’t heard the last of me!” the girl’s shouts followed him down the street.
“Hey JC, haven’t seen you around in a while.” Jamie waved to him as he entered one of the private gaming rooms at The Dungeon. She was sitting at the head of the table, having decided to take a turn running a game. “You or Warrick, really.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t seem like anyone can get a hold of him.” Meghan was at the other end of the table, using her tablet to flick through the menus of nearby delivery places. “What’s going on?”
Covering for Warrick was so second nature to JC that he didn’t miss a step as he claimed a seat and set down his messenger bag. “Nothing big. Just went back to New York for a while. His folks kind of sprung the idea on him suddenly, so I get that he didn’t think to tell anyone. Left his palmtop too—I had to mail it to him a couple days ago.” As an afterthought, he added, “I can get a message to his sister if it’s important.”
Meghan waved him off. “Nah. Just wanted to see if he and Tink wanted tickets to next month’s Violence Museum concert in Richmond. The guy I do some tech support work for gave me a couple, but VM’s not my sound. Since you’re here though, you want them? I think you said you and Lisa were into Violence Museum.”
The mention of his missing girlfriend force JC to struggle to keep his expression from giving anything away. He faked a cough and cleared his throat, trying to play it off as excitement. “Really? That’s be really awesome of you, Megs, thanks!”
“No problem.” Meghan grinned.
Hoping to keep the subject off him, JC looked to Jamie. “Hey, where’s Ron?”
That led nowhere. JC tried not to sigh, “So what are we playing today?”
Jamie grinned widely and slid him a thin book with a glossy cover. “You know the Game-finite System, right?”
JC nodded and looked down at what he’d been given. The Game-finite System logo, an infinity symbol with a pair of ten-sided dice inside the loops, was in the top right corner above a scene from a school playground—only not the kind of playground activities he remembered from grade school. Kids were battling each other with cobbled together rubber band guns, riding around on what looked like suped-up bikes, and standing atop the jungle gym at the center of the cover was a kid dressed in an armor made of pie tins, wielding an electric mixer in one hand and what could only be called a battle spork in the other.
Across the top of the page was a bombastic title: Schoolyard Wars.
Now Jamie was grinning even wider. “I couldn’t resist when I saw it over at Critical Hits. It’s about the idea that recess is secretly a training ground for kid super-soldiers who make weapons out of everyday objects and do battle.”
JC had to laugh at that. “Wow. I think I ran into one of them on the way over here. I mean, it is my fault I walked into her and knocked her down, but this weirdly wordy little girl just went nuts on me!”
What JC didn’t know was that her hadn’t been accosted by just any inexplicably verbose twelve year-old.
No, he’d had a run in with Mayfield’s favorite child prodigy, Jennifer Edwina ‘Winnie’ Coope. If Tink had been around, she would have told him to get an autograph, because at age twelve, Winnie was already enrolled in Virginia Tech’s Mayfield Campus in their prestigious robotics program.
She’d been featured in the national news, held five patents, and already had several companies fighting over who would get to hire her once she graduated—and reached an age where she could legally work for them.
What no one knew, however, was that Winnie—as she liked to be called—had changed her aspirations in recent months. Publicly, she still told everyone she wanted to become a contestant on Live Metal, which was true. But ever since the news started talking about the Orb Weaver, she wanted to be one thing above all when she grew up: a supervillain.
She’d already started on it too. Unbeknownst to her parents or anyone else, she’d used scripts found online to hack the MPD and procure the schematics collected from computers owned by Nikolia Petrov, aka Maven. After adding some of her own improvements, she’d started recycling the materials and cast-offs from the rapid prototyping machines into parts for her own use which she hid in the miscellaneous storage room. All some of them needed was to receive the relevant programming.
That and, to avoid having every law enforcement agency in Virginia’s largest city after her for flying illegal drones that were actually multifunction combining robots, a drone medallion.
Winnie hadn’t planned to launch her fleet for several years, not until after she made enough money to legitimately buy a medallion, but the auction was just too good to pass up. Not only that, but the auction was likely to make the news, forewarning anyone who might have made the same mistake in the future and maybe even boosting the cost of medallions overall.
“It would have been mine if it wasn’t for that oaf,” Winnie muttered to herself as she stomped down the street. She pulled up her camera program and found the pictures she’d secretly taken of JC. “But he won’t get away with it. No one crosses a real villain and I am no exception.”
The other thing about Winnie Coope? Her father was FBI. He never realized that his daughter had pulled programs off his work laptop. Programs like facial recognition software, which she promptly set to work divining her new nemesis’s identity.
That done, she turned her attention back to the image, deciding to commit his face to memory so she knew exactly who to hate later.
One thing Winnie didn’t count on, for all her intellect, was the fact that she was growing up and her attitude vis-a-vis boys was changing. That’s why she didn’t really notice it when she found herself admiring his eyes and thinking they might be warm and friendly if it wasn’t for the confusion and annoyance in them. Or when she blushed a little when she caught himself staring at his lips.
What she did notice was that despite setting out planning to make his life a living hell and wound up making plans to make him her boyfriend.
He was, after all, he first crush.
And if he didn’t reciprocate, then he’d be the first to be crushed.
To Be Continued…