Descendants Special #10 – The Weight of Responsibility

This entry is part 31 of 39 in the series Current

So you say your dreams are getting worse? Have they become more frequent?”

Dr. Patricia Masters’ office had an open air to it. One entire curved wall was given over to windows overlooking the Potomac River and allowing natural light to flood in, highlighting the hardwood floors and cherry wood furniture from the low bookshelves on the far wall to the old-fashioned roll-top writer’s desk in the corner, to the coffee table in the center of the room.

On one side of that was a love seat; cherry again with royal blue upholstery and arms carved in fluted shapes. The good doctor, one of the worlds’ only superhuman psychologists, occupied this seat. On the other was a trio of singular seats; two matching armchair versions of the love seat and a rather less impressive paisley blue one with a rounded back and plush padding.

In this seat sat Laurel Brant, heir to Brant Industries, Headmistress of the Liedecker Institute, and Codex, leader of The Descendants. She was sunken into the seat as far as she would go, eyes closed ad she breathed slowly in and out.

Only once or twice a week. But they’re more… vivid. More intense. I see blood and viscera now sometimes. Hear crunching and squelching.”

Something you’re remembering from the incident?”

Laurel shook her head. “Nothing like that happened. It screamed in reality. Its body burned. In the dream, I don’t use use the taser, I crush it with my staff. Or my boot.” She blew a sharp exhale from her nose. “It’s guilt, I know; and it’s not uncommon for people who kill in self defense to feel this way. But knowing doesn’t help.”

Dr. Masters nodded, tapping on the tablet in her lap. “Hmm. That’s true. Just citing statistics and facts isn’t confronting or reconciling your thoughts and feelings on the matter. Now that you’re a few more weeks removed, have those changed?”

Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, Laurel shook her head. “It’s honestly still the same paradox: If I could go back, I’d still do it. There wasn’t a means of containing it, and I didn’t have enough information to incapacitate it if it was even possible to. If I didn’t act, it would have escaped and endangered more people, maybe even reproduced. There were too many unknowns and not enough time, but…”

She choked a little, but forced herself to continue. “I took a life. I killed a living, sapient being capable of rational thought, of speech, of… of… understanding it’s mortality and the moment of agony it felt at the end. I can’t just excuse that. I can’t rationalize that away.”

Another huff and she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “And it’s just one more thing on top of everything else: managing having our secret identities being outted, keeping DRW running and expanding internationally, running the team, running the school, dealing with Vicent Liedecker constantly asking my advice, planning my friends’ wedding—I’m used to multi-tasking, but the sheer volume and the stakes… it’s a lot.”

How much sleep do you get in a night?”

Laurel glanced up at Dr. Masters, realizing there had to be purpose to the question. “Four, maybe five hours a night.”

Hmm. And does being a hyper-cognitive allow you to function with less sleep?”

Coffee allows me to function with less sleep.” Laurel replied instnatly, then shook her head. “I get your point. IT’s not healthy. But if I don’t, I wouldn’t be able to keep all the plates spinning.”

Does it have to be you who keeps all of them spinning?”

Laurel frowned. “Probably not… but it might be more work getting someone else up to speed than it would be just keeping on keeping on.”

The doctor didn’t reply right away, only took time tapping into her tablet. Finally, she asked, “Is that the same for everything? Surely your friends can plan their own wedding.”

Well… I mean Alexis is pregnant. That’s why she’s out of the field for now. Stress could be bad. And Ian’s picking up the slack of having so many of the rest of the team out of town right now.”

Lots of people handle wedding planning while pregnant,” Dr. Masters noted. “Or while working high-stress jobs.”

But they don’t have to,” Laurel cut in, “They have me.”

At a fairly high cost,” noted the doctor. “Have you spoken to them about everything that’s going on? About how you feel?”

Laurel pursed her lips. “They know I can handle it.”

But can you?” The question made Laurel flick her gaze up to meet Dr. Masters’s, but the doctor wasn’t done. “Isn’t it possible that in addition to all the stress you’re undertaking, you also don’t have time to process the many real traumas that come with your careers up to and including the incident with that lifeform?”

At length, Laurel sighed. “You’re right, obviously. But there’s so much. And it feels like a betrayal to suddenly dump things on them when I’ve been able to handle it all this time.”

Silence fell over the room as Dr. Masters considered her words. “My thoughts on the matter is that you have a team for a reason. You trust them with your life. Maybe it’s time to trust them with shouldering some of your burden.”

***

The doors to the cafeteria level of the LSI HQ slide open to reveal the Whitecoat in full costume.

The room had once been designed to accommodate a few dozen employees of a clandestine agency and even if all the superheroes who were members of Lifesavers, Inc were in residence, it would still be far too large, so most of the tables remained in storage with a few arranged near the kitchen where the facilities were open for all and more importantly, a coffee machine had been installed.

Whitecoat made his way directly for said machine, tipping his hat to the only two other occupants of the room. “Morning.”

Issac Smythe, having had his back to the door and his focus on his tablet, jolted and turned ot see who had spoken. “Oh.” He said and reached for the D-icon serving as his cufflink. His identity was in a strange place where he wans’t actually public, but anyone who knew his brother could easily discern that he was likely Turmoil.

Wait,” Whitecoat held up a hand to stop him. “I’ve got no idea who you are. I mean, you could change and I’d know who you are in costume, but ya know I’m also a white guy with brown hair and glasses. Doesn’t put a name to you.”

Across from him, Ian smirked. “Welcome to the generic guy club.”

Issac glared at his brother. “Shut up. I’ve still got a day job to look after. The senior partners at my firl figured it out, but they won’t be forgiving if I start making headlines.”

“No shame in that. I’ve got no plans to go public myself either,” Whitecoat said, tapping his order into the coffee machine. He paused, giving the device a quizzical look. “Speaking of privacy? Who’s stocking the vending machines in a secret base?”

“That’d be me,” Ian raised his hand. “It’s a weird moral trick I read about: a free vending machine make people happier than just a box full of snacks. Plus, I got addicted to crappy vending machine coffee working my old engineering job.”

“Working on my Masters is doing it for me, so I appreciate it.” Whitecoat took the steaming cup the machine produced and sidled over to the table.

Ian shrugged and gestured to a seat. “Thank you for stepping in for us while half the team is out of the city. Both of you.”

“No need,” said Whitecoat. He pulled down the mask covering his mouth to sip at the coffee. The brim of his hat did a good enough job concealing his eyes and nose. “Helping each other out is what LSI’s all about. And frankly? I couldn’t be happier. Or more proud, seeing our mutual sidekick turning into a mover and a shaker.”

“And you know I couldn’t say no,” Issac added, “I’m here as long as I can—two months of vacation isn’t going to last as long as you need it, but…”

Whitecoat nodded, “I’m actually surprised you didn’t call in more help. Granted, the world tour isn’t going to last that long, but Darkness is going to need at least a year, right? And every time I speak with Codex… I mean she needs a break, right?”

Ian’s expression fell. “You’ve noticed that too?”

“No offense to her, but she looks like shit, man. Worse than me during exams.” Whitecoat took another sip of his coffee. “And it’s not hard to see why; this job is hard just in general and with LSI, she’s practically taken over the logistics for half America’s big name heroes. Whenever I dial in for something, she’s around to talk or help—and I keep lousy hours.”

“Unfortunately, that’s nothing new. Laurel’s been playing team mom since we were in college. She’s even trying to plan our wedding in the middle of all this. We both pointed out we can handle it, but she insisted the wedding was her wedding gift to us.”

Issac tapped the table thoughtfully. “Well something has to give. This kind of burning the candle at both ends isn’t healthy; mentally or physically. We just had an all hands on deck meeting about this new plot someone’s hatched, maybe we should have one about taking some of the pressure off Codex: some of us lending their time to something other than patrols, maybe hiring a staff to run the day-to-day. This place is proof that there’s a workforce that can handle the kind of security LSI needs.”

“Couldn’t hurt to look into it,” Ian said. “Though the first real tangible thing I can personally do to help is man up and tell Laurel Alexis and I can handle our own arrangements.” He smirked, “And if she argues, I’ll tell her that it’s because the Whitecoat said she looks like shit.”

He timed it just right, so hot coffee boiled out of the New York hero’s nostrils.

***

Across the city, Laurel stepped through the mirror gate installed in her office at the Liedecker Institute.

Though she was the headmistress, the design of the room had a southern charm to it that made it clear Vincent Liedecker had a hand in it, from the wall paneling to the antique bookcases, matching desk and sideboard, all in cedar with high ceilings from which hung a small, tasteful chandelier.

There was something intimidating about the space as well; something she couldn’t quite put her finger on that gave it the unmistakable feel of being in the principal or dean’s office. Maybe it had something to do with the russet leather chair behind the desk confronting a pair of smaller, cheaper and decidedly less comfortable seats on the other side.

For all that she now knew about the man, she had to respect Liedecker’s flair of emotional manipulation, even when it came to room design. Even her personal touches, like the one-eyed alien stress toy, or the latest addition; a painted metal action figure of Codex Warrick had made for her; didn’t take away from the authority that permeated the room.

It was, admittedly, not the best room in which to ruminate on all of the stressors in her life. Liedecker represented about a dozen of those alone and the school itself accounted for a few itself.

On the other hand, it was the last place anyone would go looking for her, so as long as her comm and palmtop were off, she would have both privacy and time to think.

And so, she walked purposefully around the desk and sank into the chair, ignoring the squeak of the material against her clothing. She sat there a long while, thinking about Dr. Masters’s advice.

About all the responsibilities she’d taken on.

Of all her friends and family and colleagues who depended on her.

Of the secrets she held like Vincent Liedecker’s command of the criminal underworld.

About the guilt she still carried.

And of how even though she clearly knew and understood that she couldn’t carry that weight, things like Myriad’s attack and the threat she heralded prevented her from letting others shoulder that burden.

For most people, the situation might seem insurmountable.

Most people didn’t have her resources.

Reciting a spell she’d taken time to memorize, she unfolded a portion of space she kept tethered to her vicinity at all times. A shimmer appeared in the air in front of her and she withdrew a palmtop. This one was neither her day-to-day model, nor the one she used in hero work, but it was one she kept close at hand for emergencies.

And what could this be other than an emergency?

The current crisis and the suit cam footage of Myriad had provided a possible solution…

End Descendants Special #10

Series Navigation<< Descendants 107 – The Baroque Revival – Chapter 04<< Descendants 107 – The Baroque Revival – Chapter 05

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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One Comment

  1. Typos

    replied instnatly,
    replied instantly,

    closed ad she
    closed as she

    IT’s not healthy.
    It’s not healthy.

    at my firl
    at my firm

    a free vending machine make people happier
    a free vending machine makes people happier

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