- Descendants L.A. #1 – Debut pt.1
- Descendants L.A. #2 – Debut pt.2
- Descendants L.A. #3 – Debut pt.3
- Descendants L.A. #4 – Above the Line pt. 1
- Descendants L.A. #5 – Above the Line pt. 2
- Descendants L.A. #6 – Above the Line pt. 3
- Descendants L.A. #7 – Ensemble (Part 1)
- Descendants L.A. #8 – Ensemble (Part 2)
- Descendants L.A. #9 – Ensemble (Part 3)
- Descendants L.A. #10 – Ensemble (Part 4)
- Descendants L.A. #11 – Ensemble (Part 5)
- Descendants L.A. #12 – Gala Event (Part 1)
- Descendants L.A. Annual #1 – Gala Event (Part 2)
Ray spent most of his next History of Technology class thinking about how he was going to approach Ramona Getty. His entire plan to ‘bring her into the fold’ as it were, was fueled entirely by spite at this point and spite was rarely a helpful component in intelligent and successful plans. He knew he needed to focus on helping Ramona rather than getting back at or proving something to his father.
That was the heroic thing to do, as Felix would remind him. A real hero put aside their own wants and even needs for those of others. He wanted Ramona to not just come back to live at the apartments, but to join the team. But Ramona needed people who were there for her while she went through the complications that came with her powers.
Class ended before he came up with anything to say. Ramona gathered up her things and headed out, oblivious to the extra attention she was getting. Still without a plan, Ray shouldered his bag, picked up his tablet and followed her out.
Only once they were out of the building where History of Technology was taught did it occur to Ray how this looked. He was following her through the throng of students at a distance like a stalker. That could bring this whole thing to an end very badly if she noticed.
Luckily, Ramona never looked back. She headed straight to The Crown Jewel, the college’s equivalent to a student union that combined a snack bar, rec room, post office, information center and meeting rooms that could be reserved for free by students. There, she quickly found a table by the window in the snack bar and sat down with her tablet, flicking through a book on the screen.
Ray went first to the counter and got a plate of fries and a cafe aulait. Better, he decided, to just happen upon her instead of making it clear that he’d followed her directly from class. He took his time filling a couple of paper cups with ketchup and vinegar at the condiment island before wandering over.
“Ramona, right?” He asked when he was close enough.
She looked up. Ray might have missed it if he didn’t know about her condition, but the roots of her hair were discolored; hair dye didn’t stick will to what was now something close to glass wool growing out of her scalp. Her nails also looked strange, the polish failing to cover up the crystalline nature of them.
This was the first time he’d gotten a good look at her. The file photo provided by his father was a few years old. She hadn’t lost the little extra weight she carried, but she was carrying it better. Her makeup, however was more distracting than enhancing. She wore soft boots with two inch heels, a calf length, gray wool skirt and matching short sleeved jacket over a red blouse. Her hair was clipped on one side, pulling it away from her face there, and she had tiny studs in her ears.
All in all, Ray would call her cute, maybe pretty if she fixed or lost the makeup entirely.
And… that line of thought wasn’t helping at all. Ray cursed his guy’s train of thought. This wasn’t what he needed, and it certainly wasn’t what she needed.
“Yeah?” She asked, giving him an odd look as his inner monologue colored his expressions. “You’re in my Tech class, right?”
Ray cleared his throat and nodded. “Yeah, gives me a history credit. Though I was hoping we’d be learning about the Space Race, or early firearms instead of spending a day talking about a rock that’s smoother than another rock or ax handles.
“Psychology major?” She guessed.
“Close enough.” She smirked. “You just don’t appreciate the little steps that it takes to get to the Space Race. Without that flint ax, humanity might have never developed into us, much less reached our level of sophistication.”
Now Ray smirked. “Anthropology major?”
“I’m surprised a political science major even knows the word. Lord knows understanding other cultures isn’t in the job description.” Ramona said, clearly making it a challenge.
“Based on the professor I had last year, I’m in no place to argue with you.” Ray laughed. “Mind if I sit down?”
It was as if a switch was turned on. The off the cuff confidence faltered the second Ramona found herself no longer in the moment. For the first time, she really looked at him instead of just locking onto his eyes. She swallowed audibly. “You… want to?” As suddenly as she’d given him a visual once over, she looked back down at her tablet.
“Why not?” He asked, wishing he could get back to where they were a moment before. “I was enjoying the company.” He didn’t think he’d said it in a flirty way, but she blushed anyway. “By the way, was I right?”
“About what?” She glanced back up and he made sure to catch her gaze again.
“About you being an Anthropology major.”
She laughed. “English. I drive my professors crazy with it too. One Anthropology class and I think of everything in a whole different direction, I guess.”
Again, it was like a switch and Ray had no idea why. Instead of asking again, he just took the seat across from her and put down his plate. “Same thing happened with me when I took first year Philosophy.” He laughed. “Every time my friends made a stupid argument, I just wanted to shout fallacies at them, like I was on the internet or something.” He pushed the plate slightly toward her. “Want some?”
Ramona looked surprised at the offer, but took a fry. “What’s that?” She pointed at the cup of vinegar.
“Just vinegar. I jump between that and the ketchup. If I’m at home, I sprinkle it all over so my friends won’t steal them.”
“Thanks for warning me.” Ramona made a face and ate the fry by itself. When Ray didn’t respond immediately, she fell silent again.
“Um…” Ray floundered. “It’s not that bad. I mean it’s actually good. Better than I expected. This is my first time eating in here since last year; they’re really improved.”
“I hardly eat.” said Ramona, then her eyes widened in terror. “Here. I mean I hardly eat here—when I’m here. It’s just a nice place to read.”
“Actually…” Ray started. It was as good a time as any. He could reveal that he knew what she actually mean; that he knew about her powers and explain that he wanted to help her. Not a perfect plan, or a necessarily good plan, but now that he had made contact, every minute that went by without him explaining everything was a minutes that she would feel was spent lying to her later.
“Dude! Is this her? She’s really cute.”
Ray’s whole body turned as he sought out the source of that all too familiar voice. It didn’t take him long as Felix and Josh came strolling toward him.
Felix had his public prosthetics on, the ones with full tactile sensation and nearly invisible mechanical joints. He was tearing a piece off the top of a huge chocolate muffin and stuffing it in his mouth. “Don’t you think she’s cute, Josh?” He asked through a full mouth.
Josh was wearing a baggy, green t-shirt with ‘Bring back Rhythm and Blues’ stenciled on it in black and light gray sweats. He also had sunglasses on to cover his eyes and a wool cap pulled down over his eyes. Nothing really hid his teeth when he talked, though the uninformed would think they were false or filed.
He had a plate of sashimi and was eating it with a fork. The teeth of daoine weren’t just for show; they were omnivores by necessity, carnivores by preference, and if they could get it raw, it made them happy.
“Indeed, she is attractive.” He nodded.
Ramona ducked her head and put all he concentration into her book.
“Um… excuse me.” said Ray, leaping to his feet. He put a hand on each of his friends’ chests and maneuvered them back away from the table and out of earshot from Ramona. “What the hell are you two doing?”
“Moral support.” Felix replied, tearing off another piece of muffin. “Want a piece? These things are huge.”
Ray shook his head. “Guys, this is not the right time for this. She’s shy… in a weird way… and you’re probably putting us on edge.”
“The whole ‘come away with me and live in my secret apartment’ didn’t do that already?”
“I…” Ray groaned. “… haven’t gotten to that yet.” Was that really how that was going to sound? “God, I have no idea how I’m going to do this.”
“Want me to do it?” Felix leaned past Ray to wave exuberantly at Ramona, who promptly tried to look like she hadn’t been watching them as they talked.
“God no.” Ray shook his head vigorously.
“Perhaps I should do it.” Josh said. “You’ve all said that I have a certain way with words. That might help me explain this in a way that won’t send her into suspicion or panic.”
Ray thought on it. His real reasons for doing this himself was to prove that he could. But was he the best person for the job? Delegating the job to Josh would be putting their best speaker forward and taking the awkwardness off himself. However, Josh had spent a sizable chunk of his life in the military and, warrior poet he might be, he was alien to the culture and the local way of thinking.
“As much as I’d love dumping this on you, I think I have to do it.” Ray said. “Look, you guys go over to the rec room, we’ll shoot some pool or play ping pong or something—I don’t think Ramona will want an audience for this, alright.”
Felix shrugged. “I just wanted to see her. Just so you know, I’m now one hundred percent in favor of her living with us now, by the by. Come on, Josh, I’ll teach you how to play air hockey.”
Ray rolled his eyes and made sure the other two were leaving before returning to the table. “Sorry about that. Tow of my roommates heard me talk about you and kind of wanted…” He stopped. That was probably the worst possible thing to say.
As if to confirm his concern, Ramona looked away again. “So… this wasn’t an accident? You coming by and sitting with me?”
“Wait, before you jump to any conclusion, I’m not some kind of stalker.” Correction: that was the worst thing to say because that’s exactly what some kind of stalker would say. “I mean… damn, this didn’t seem so hard when I was just thinking about it.”
Ramona glanced at him, curious.
“I’m not some sleaze trying to hit on you.” He clarified. Did she look… disappointed in that? Why couldn’t girls he was trying to hit on that enthusiastic. But no. That would be taking advantage of someone in a fragile state of mind. He was supposed to be there for her, for support and understanding.
Again, he cleared his throat. “Ramona… I know about your pills. The ones from D3I.”
Disappointment turned to shock, turned to a grimace as ifs he felt suddenly sick. She stopped glancing at him and focused on the table. “I need to go.”
“Wait.” He was surprised that she actually stopped. “Look, I know this is weird, but… well you’re not the only one in a D3I sponsored program.” That was a huge understatement, but demonstrably true at least. “Look, I heard what you’re going through, and I wanted you to know that you don’t hate to go through this alone.”
Ramona squeezed her hands into tight fists. “Yes I do.” Her voice was a low, urgent whisper. “Maybe you’re a descendant, but that doesn’t mean you’re anything like me.” Her thumb ran over her nails; nails that were too smooth and too hard to be considered natural. “Whatever your powers do, at the end of the day, you’re still human. When mine gets done with me, I won’t be. I won’t even be carbon based, I’ll just be a mobile glass sculpture.”
She started to get up and Ray grabbed her wrist to stop her. Their eyes locked again and he hoped he could draw her back out again. “I disagree.”
“What?” She shook her head. “Don’t you get it, or do you think that just because we share some chromosome damage I’ll sleep with you?”
“This isn’t about that.” He said firmly. “I don’t believe you won’t be human. That’s what I’m saying; all I’m saying. You know my friend? The short kid that was just in here with a face full of muffin?”
Ramona paused, curious where he was going with this in spite of herself.
“You check his prosthetics? He got hurt really badly as a kid; both arms, both legs, plus he needed a new kidney, cochlear implant, clones skin across half his back. He’s been like a brother to me since we were little and for most of that time, he’s had almost as much ceramic and plastic in him as flesh and blood. Would you call him inhuman?”
“And I said I disagree.” said Ray. “I think you’ll be just as human after this as you are now.” He wanted to mention how he’d recently been learning that humanity wasn’t the only sentient species anyway, but decided to take things one paradigm shift at a time.
All this time, Ramona hadn’t looked away. “Why are you even here?”
“I’m here for you.” He said honestly. “I won’t lie and say I know what you’re going through, but if you need someone to talk to, someone to be there for you so you’re not alone, someone to just yell at to vent you’re anger, I’m here. Hell, take a swing at me if you need it, you’ll find you’ll need a truck and sixty miles an hour to bruise me.”
That last remark brought back the Ramona he’d started the conversation with. Her smirk came back and he felt glad to see it.
“I wouldn’t have guessed you were the tough guy type.”
“Neither would I. The ‘chromosome damage’ is funny that way.” He took a drink of his previously forgotten coffee. “Look, this is your place, you were doing your reading pretty peacefully up until I showed up; I’ll go.” He got up and she didn’t stop him.
Before he could feel put out by this, he noticed she was deep in thought.
Walking over to the bulletin board on the wall and took a business card from it. After a bit of fishing for a pen, he jotted down his contact information and returned to her, slipping the car under the edge of the plate of fries.
“We’re not a support group, or a charity or any kind of people who are just going to feel sorry for you. It’s just me and my friends living in a pretty nice apartment building. I just hoped you’d like to hang out with us too. No pressure, just give me a call if and when you feel like it.”
To his moderate relief, she took the card and put it in the pocket of her jacket. But her actions were mechanical, automatic.
“I don’t even know your name.” She finally said.
Ray picked up a fry from the plate and dunked it generously in vinegar. “If we’re not going to become friends, you don’t have to know if you don’t want to.” He ate the fry. “You can have the rest if you’d like.”
“No thanks, you can take them to your friends.” She picked up the plate and lifted it up to him.
He took it. “Alright then. It really was nice talking to you. I’d hope to talk again sometime.”
All he got before he turned away was a nod.
It was past midnight and Ray still had a lot of reading to get through before he could sleep. Normally, he’d get back to the apartment by three on Tuesdays and be done by six. Even with his detour to meet Ramona, he wouldn’t have been that far off his schedule, but Felix and Josh had other ideas. Seeing his disappointment at how things went with her, his two friends distracted him with pool and air hockey.
After that, they called Lydia, tearing her away from scouring the city for what she hoped was a dress so beautiful that it would convince even Icthiani to go out in public, and went drinking. Then they went to a movie and made fun of the terrible lines and acting. Then a very late dinner at a sports bar. And finally, back to the apartment for a video game tournament.
One by one, the others made their way to bed, leaving Ray alone to finally buckle down and go to work. Almost alone.