Descendants Special #4 – Some Day In May

This entry is part 12 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

February 10

Isp wrapped securely around a piece of railing and tugged to judge its sturdiness. Once it was satisfied that the bar could be trusted not to shear, sending Warrick, Tink, and its sibling tentacle plummeting many, many stories to the ground, it flexed and hauled all three up.

About halfway through the operation Osp lent its own strength by slithering over the railing and securing itself around a stone bench. Isp waved irately at this, broadcasting its displeasure over this glory hog behavior through the connection the pair shared with Warrick. They understood the actual mechanism no better than their organic compatriot, but nothing in them was compelled to care.

At the moment, neither was Warrick. He was used to tuning out the sibling bickering and put that skill into full effect while he had his arms around his girlfriend. He kept them around her for a moment even after their feet touched solid ground.

Only a moment because that’s how long it took for self-consciousness to set in. “Um, here we are.” He declared as he slipped his arms from around her. She stayed near for a moment before likewise taking her arms from around his neck and stepping back half a pace. Her own embarrassment had been steadily off it’s game since Christmas, but was proving that it could still score small victories.

‘Here’ was a rooftop garden in the middle of the city. In addition to shaving dollars off the landlord’s carbon tax, the carefully manicured garden was also ostensibly provided for the tenants’ enjoyment.

Almost a year ago, Cyn discovered that aside from the gardener, who came once a week on the weekend, none of the tenants took advantage of the semiprivate park above their heads. Pairing this with the building being taller than the surrounding neighborhood and there being no cameras, she had rightly identified it as an ideal place to take a break, stash clothes, or change into and out of costumes during patrols.

Granted, during the winter the trees and flowerbeds were bare, but the view of the city was impressive. And it was perfect for discussing things not meant for ordinary human ears.

“Wow.” Tink said with a hint of mischief in her voice. “Nice rooftop hideaway. How come we’ve never been here on a date?”

Because the idea had only just occurred to him. Only he wasn’t eager to point that out. As she started exploring the dormant garden, he shoved his hands in his pockets and grinned sheepishly at her. “Give me a little slack; you’ve only known you were dating Alloy for a couple of months, and I’ve only just got used to hiding my powers from people.”

Tink turned and smiled at him. “Well that’s pretty much at an end. I want to know everything, you know? At least the kind of stuff you’re allowed to tell me. No ‘if I tell you I have to kill you’ stuff.” Without thinking, she rubbed the place on her abdomen where Metal X had stabbed her. The wound was barely even a scar, but whenever she thought about that day, it itched like crazy.

“Like…” She continued, coming back to grab his hand with the intention to drag him over to a stone bench. “You said you’d tell me what really happened at Greenview Ridge.”

Warrick didn’t fight her as she sat him down. After putting an arm around her, he told her about Ethan Braylocke and his grudge against Zero Point and Majestrix and how he came to nearly level his adopted home town.

The was the easy part. Beyond that lay a few complex issues the left him struggling even with permission from the involved parties to let Tink into the loop on. He decided to start with the one that didn’t feel like a massive betrayal of two of his biggest heroes.

“Kareem…he feels guilty over the whole thing.” He explained slowly.

Tink blinked at this. “How can he? It’s pretty obvious that everything was Groundswell’s fault.”

As if he himself hadn’t made that same argument. Warrick shrugged. “I know that. You know that. Hell, he knows that. But Kareem says that the earthquake happened because he disrupted the guy’s control over the local bedrock; how he was keeping that barrier growing.”

Reluctant to concede even that much, Tink frowned. “But can he really be sure Groundswell didn’t just do that in order to distract him? People can feel when he gets in their head, right?”

Warrick shrugged. Now that was a question. While his body was in a coma, Kareem’s minor intrusion into their minds had become a fact of daily life for the residents of Freeland House. It was possible there was some sort of accompanying sensation and they were just so used to it they tuned it out.

“I’m not sure.” he admitted. “But I can still see where Kareem might see part of the blame as his even then.” On a lark, he hugged her a bit closer as a philosophical expression painted his features.

She didn’t pass up the opportunity to get closer, leaning her head against his. At the same time, she started to refute this.

“No really.” said Warrick before she could finish. “It’s just something people… like us do. When there’s a lot of damage or someone gets hurt, you always wonder if you could have prevented it if you were just better at this kind of thing…”

“I think you’re all amazing just for going out and doing what you do.” Tink gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Really, I just wish I had powers or, say, the money to be right out there with you?”

Warrick turned to face her with a blank expression. “Money?”

“Funding. You know for building things.” That mischief was back in her eyes. “Don’t laugh, but I’ve even drawn up some designs. But anything you can rely on to keep you safe while being a prelate isn’t exactly going to be lying around in a junkyard.”

“Tink…” Warrick really didn’t know what came next in that sentence. Thankfully, he didn’t have to.

“Yeah… maybe I should just leave that to the professionals. But tell Kareem I don’t think it was his fault and I hope he feels better.”

Smiling at her, he nodded his confirmation. “I think he’ll be fine. Especially since we’re going back this weekend to help with the relief and rebuild.” He leaned away from her so he could reach his pocket. “Which is why I brought you up here, actually. See… I won’t be able to go to the V-day dance with you.”

It was Tink’s turn with the blank expression. Not because they were going to miss Valentine’s Day, but because she’d totally forgotten it. “Oh, well that’s alright. We can have a special date when you get back.”

Warrick shook his head. “No… I don’t think it is alright. Okay, maybe if it was just V-day, but the dance was like our first date. You know, sort of. Because you only went to shut me up. But still, it’s like our first anniversary kind of deal and I wanted to give you something special.”

From the pocket, he produced a silver ring with a gold colored heart set off by two purple gems that seemed part of the ring’s own structure. Tink’s eyes widened and Warrick was suddenly well aware what it looked like.

“It’s not special in that way.” He said quickly. “It’s an anniversary ring, um…” He hemmed and hawed as he let her take the ring to look it over. “It’s silver with a steel core. And the stones are really a couple hundred really little rubies and sapphires.” He blushed a little at this. “I… don’t know what I need to oxidize to make purple yet. Oh! And the inscription; go ahead and read it.”

Beaming at him the whole time, she did as asked. “’As precious as silver, as enduring as steel’.” The gesture was the kind of thing that put an end run around all of her self-consciousness and before either of them knew what was happening, they were kissing, long and slow.

When the moment finally passed, they were panting softly, their foreheads touching. The nerves of both of them had battled back and they were all blushes and awkward glances. And in Warrick’s case, blurting the first thing that came to mind.

“I’m just really glad I didn’t tell you the news about Jun first, or that wouldn’t have happened.”

Tink leaned back a little and looked at him questioningly. “Juniper? What about her?”

***

February 26

Juniper fond herself caught between Zero and Willow Chamberlain. While it was true that she’d felt that way for almost two weeks, it was suddenly feeling way too literal.

On one side was the window display of a clothing store with strategically placed mirrors to show off all angles of the dresses draped over the weirdly life-like robotic mannequins. From where she was sitting, she also got a good view of herself, even through the clear visor of her helmet.

On the other side was a bus with a flat screen ad panel playing file footage of herself as Zero taken during some of the Descendants’ forays into battle in defense of the city. Everything was playing out behind superimposed text informing the world that Mayfield’s citizens could turn up to thank Zero and all the Descendants on May 6th when, as part of the city’s ongoing tricentennial celebrations, the city and Sanctum Press Comics presented Descendants Appreciation Day in City Central.

It was one of the older ads as the new ones went to lengths explaining that the Descendants took their name from the proper term for psionics and that the team asked that the people use the day to do something nice for all the descendants in their lives and to support causes promoting tolerance for them worldwide.

Juniper found that sort of funny, considering that the entire team hid their powers in their public lives. Not that she was one to talk about secrets.

Which was the reason why she was out riding in the first place. Most of the time, she just used the Genokaze’s flight function to get from place to place in the city. The only time she rode on the ground prior was around the Hills near Freeland House and where a lack of tall buildings with steel superstructures made the Genokaze’s means of magnetic levitation impossible.

But today was the first time she’d been truly alone with her thoughts for weeks. Her parents had, understandably, wanted to be with her every waking moment she wasn’t in school while they were still in state helping with the clean-up in Greenview Ridge. And her friends all seemed to be motivated by her revelation to invite her on every trip and excursion they went on.

She loved them all the more for it, but the rare moment of solitude afforded by riding around the old fashioned way after school was welcome.

The bus turned off on another street after not too long and she turned her attention back to her destination. The HUD in her helmet said it was on the next block and sure enough, when she turned the corner, a red and yellow sign proudly informed her that she had found Devil’s Own Chili.

A little over ten minutes of searching for a parking place later and she was walking through the door. The first thing she saw on entering was a life sized plaster statue of Devil’s Own Chili’s mascot, Louie; a cartoonish red devil dressed in a cowboy costume and wearing an smug smirk on his face as he tipped his hat down over his eyes.

The rest of the eatery ran with the western theme, but thankfully didn’t have anymore cartoon elements aside from ‘brands’ bearing Louie’s likeness here and there. On one wall was an arrangement of pictures around a poster bearing a smokey demonic visage and the legend ‘The Ghost Rustlers – These folk put away a Phantom Steak and Chili in 1 hour.’

Name and logo be damned, this was how she knew she was in the right place. Smiling to herself and then to the trio of middle aged men in suits that were her only fellow customers, she approached the counter.

“Excuse me.” She said to the back of the clerk. He was toweling off the food prep station and hadn’t noticed her entry. He turned and surprised her by being an attractive, if gawky young man about her age. Her order couldn’t seem to find a way out of her mouth for an instant.

“Yes?” Also surprising was his light British accent. Hardly the voice one expects in a chili bowl fronted by a cartoon Adversary. As if realizing this, he cleared his throat and with great effort to tone the accent down he said. “Sorry. I meant to say: Welcome to Devil’s Own Chili, home to twelve kinds of red on ten kinds of grub, what can I fix for you? …’ya’.”

The fact that he managed that without a hint of irony or apparent self awareness made her smile. After a few seconds, something in the back of her head told her she should probably speak at this point. “Oh! The Phantom Steak and Chili please.”

For a moment, confusion and shock played over his features, but were quickly dismissed. “Alright, and what kind of chili would you like on that?”

Juniper looked from him, to the menu, and back. “But your ad says it only comes with Phantom Chili.”

His fingers hovered uncertainly over the screen on his register. “Right… I should warn you beforehand though; the Phantom Chili contains ghost chiles and the steak has a—“

“Habanero rub.” Juniper finished for him with a smile. “Don’t worry, I know it’s going to be really spicy; I’m treating myself today and the ad said this is the hottest sandwich on the eastern seaboard.”

The clerk’s concerned look turned into a smile. “Oh, so you like spicy food then.” His accent was back. Juniper nodded as he entered her order and let her pay with a cash card. In passing, he saw her name. “Juniper… say, you’re the girl with the flying bike!”

She blinked. “How did—“

“We go to school together.” He replied. “I don’t think we have classes together, but we do have lunch at the same time; I recognize you now.”

“Oh.” She congratulated herself sarcastically on the sparkling wordplay. “I’ve… never seen you. I’m sorry.”

He waved it off. “Don’t worry yourself, I’ve only just started here last month. My da’ moved here to take a job with Stern Robotics. Oh, and before I forget, what would you like to drink?”

“A…” She scanned the menu, “Strawberry shake please.”

Deft fingers completed the order and sent it to the kitchen. “There we are. Should be fifteen minutes. I’m Malcolm, by the way. Bookman.”

“Juniper Taylor.” Even after what had happened, it didn’t feel like a lie. “But you already knew that.” She waved the cash card vaguely.

Malcolm nodded and realized all the best niceties were used up. Vaguely, he gestured in the direction of the Ghost Rustler’s wall. “So are you trying for the contest? If you finish in an hour, you get it free and your picture on the wall.”

“Oh no, I don’t really do competition.” She replied. “Plus,I’m supposed to meet my friends, so this is to go.” There was apology in her voice.

Another nod. “I’ll box it up for you then. Um, you know, I’m not quite brave enough for ghost chiles but maybe you’d like to stop in sometime when I’m almost off shift, and split an order of chili fries?” He frowned hesitantly, “I’ll buy it on employee discount.”

Juniper laughed. “Oh, sure. That sounds really nice. I’ll just have to see what night I have free.”

***

March 13

Friday night. Date night.

Facsimile winged above the urban nightscape like a massive bird of prey. Date night didn’t apply to her, it seemed. And she would be complaining about it bitterly under her breath if she hadn’t finally worked up the nerve to ask Ollie to go see Snackrifice at the Dungeon on Saturday.

So she was only complaining about it in a more general sense. Juniper had already bounced back from Adel (not that there was much to bounce back from) and somehow, Laurel had managed to make a date with one of the SID programmers she met at the Electronics Expo without the guy getting wise to her being Codex.

It seemed wrong to her that the literal ice queen and super-nerd had so much of an easier time with the guys than a shapeshifter. Before she could get around to justifying away the fact that none of them actually used their powers in their personal lives (much), something landed right between her shoulder blades.

That something proceeded to rub her head vigorously with its knuckles. “Excellent timing, Goldilocks, I was just wondering if I was going to get a chance to say congrats on having a day named after you!”

Facsimile knew that voice. The damned thief that had been alluding her for a month. She didn’t even say anything in response, only snarled in rage before extruding a row of spikes from her spine.

But her least favorite person in the city had already flung himself off her, catching the air with the arm flaps of his suit for a short time before landing on a nearby rooftop in a roll.

Winging over, she dove for him fists first. “What did you steal this time?”

At the last second, he dropped to all fours, allowing her to sail harmlessly over him, her fists connecting only with air. “What? A guy can’t go free running in his burglar suit in the middle of the night anymore? Not in my America, Missy.” Even as he mocked her, he was off and running again, easily hopping atop a slightly higher adjacent building.

Facsimile tackled him just as he reached the edge of that roof, catching him around the center and carrying him out into space. “I just want you to know,” She turned him around to face her even as she flared her wings out to slow their momentum. “You annoy the hell out of me.”

They were close enough to see him smile under his mask. “Yeah, I’m a real stinker.” Almost casually, he got his arm between the two of them, presenting his wrist. Twisting said wrist, he revealed a slip of moist paper between sleeve and glove.

This unleashed an unholy funk that instantly brought tears to Facsimile’s eyes. It was like skunks rutting in raw sewage and it wasn’t content to just assault her nose; it felt like she could taste it as well.

Her reflexive action gave the thief all the room he needed to wriggle free. “Tell me about it, Fax; first time I smelled that, I kind of wondered if it wasn’t too cruel of me to be using non-lethals.” He slipped free of her and gave a little wave as he started to fall. “Ta.”

After a short fall, he opened the underarm ‘wings’ of his glide suit and rocketed away down the street. He’d had his fun, now he had an appointment to keep. With skill earned by long practice and more than a few broken bones, he took a sharp corner and then another. The timing had to be just right.

Meanwhile, Facsimile finally recovered enough from the olfactory assault to remember that she could cut off her senses of smell and taste. It helped in a big way, but that kind of stench left a boot print on the brain.

“Now I know how Ian feels about magic.” She said to herself, all the while trying to spit out a cloying feeling on her tongue she knew wasn’t actually there. There was no time to waste though, if she wanted to finally bring him down. She tucked her wings and dove to build speed, performing a series of bone cracking contortions to make turns at twice the speed he had moments before.

Facsimile caught up to the thief five blocks away in front of a high rise that featured turtle shaped glass elevators that ‘crawled’ up it’s front.

“Okay, cut the crap.” She shouted over the wind of her passage. “if you haven’t stolen yet, what are you going to steal?”

“Besides the show, the spotlight and some lucky girl’s heart?” He executed a tumble in midair, spilling airspeed and at the same time causing himself to plummet inches ahead of Facsimile’s grasping claws. “Don’t worry, this time it’s from a very bad man. From his personal assistant, actually, but you get the picture.” Snapping his wings open again, he angled toward the hotel, specifically a turtle-vator going down.

Facsimile was forced to actually reshape her own feathered wings to follow. “Oh, like I’m supposed to believe that? What, you think that’s going to convince me to team up with you or something?”

At the last moment before crashing into the glass turtle, the thief leaned back, catching the wind and slowing dramatically. Just as Facsimile went to grab him, however, he grabbed her forearms and used them as leverage to throw his legs over his head, somersaulting over her and body-surfing her directly into the top of the elevator hard enough to make her head ring.

“Probably not after that.” He admitted, kipping up. “But an attaboy might be in order.” Not waiting for her to collect herself from that last impact, he ran to the edge of the elevator and leapt. Another elevator was coming up not six feet below. He landed on the edge with his feet, then hopped backward off the side, sliding down the turtle’s rounded shell on his belly until he could catch the roof with his hand.

The whole business caught the fat businessman inside completely by surprise.

The thief used he free hand to wave at him before slipping a circuit board attached to a clear suction cup from his belt. After fastening the device to the shell, there was a hum and the shell swung open on well hidden hinges, an emergency exit required by law for that type of elevator.

“Mr. Cedric.” He said jovially while deftly flipping up and over the now open emergency door and into the elevator itself. “Hi.”

Above him, Facsimile screamed her frustration before taking flight to reach her erstwhile quarry.

“One second.” He told the terrified personal assistant before grabbing the railing running along the inside of the emergency door and pulling it closed. The golden heroine’s claws squealed on the glass as she latched on and tried to tear her way in after him.

Warner Cedric tried to wedge his considerable bulk even further into the corner and raised his briefcase in front of him in the feeble hope that it would protect him. He didn’t fully grasp his mistake until the other man had snatched it from his hands.

“Thanks, that was very convenient of you, Ced.”

The already dark man’s face darkened in frustrated splotches as it dawned on him exactly what was going on. “That belongs to Mr. Staveletti!” He bellowed. Fear of the strange invader evaporated in the face of greater fear of his employer, compelling him to trundle forward with a fist raised at the thief.

He didn’t stand a chance at actually connecting. The nimble thief took a step to his right and flattened against the wall, letting the glorified secretary go right past, giving the man a gentle shove in the process that caused him to stumble into the emergency door.

For a second, his field of view was taken up by Facsimile and the long cracks she had already clawed into the door. Then he felt a hand grab his belt. “W-what are you doing?” Despite trying to sound intimidating, there was a whimper in his voice.

“Don’t worry.” The thief reached past him to use his circuit board device to open the door once again. “I don’t use lethal methods.” In the same motion as he shoved the door open, he exposed the stench infused panel under his glove right in front of the man’s face.

Gagging, Cedric tried to press back against the door and away from the foul odor, but found that it wasn’t there anymore. Instead, he fell screaming from the elevator.

Shock and horror painted Facsimile’s features as she saw the whole thing from behind the door. Disgust joined them as all the thief did was wave coyly while hefting the stolen briefcase.

“God help you if I can’t reach him.” She said even as she dropped from the door and dove, wings tucked like a gilded missile.

“Shouldn’t be a problem.” The thief whistled a little tune as he slapped a dull gray disc on the wall of the elevator and hit the stop button.

Facsimile, of course, couldn’t hear him as she struggled to catch up with the falling man. If she had, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise when Cedric’s decent slowed, then rebounded, causing him to nearly collide with her as he was jerked back skyward by a cord running from his belt back up to the elevator.

Beating her wings furiously, she managed to right herself back into a hover before Cedric. By now, all pretense of bravery was gone and he was shivering in terror. “H-help me!” He begged her.

The golden prelate glared back up at the elevator before grabbing him around the middle and laboriously convey him to the ground. By the time she go back to the elevator, the mysterious thief had alluded her. Again.

Raging to herself, she hoped everyone else was having a good time tonight.

***

April 12

Sitting cross-legged on one of the couches in the downstairs commons, Laurel frowned into her coffee. She’d just had the sudden, uncomfortable realization that her offhand comment about General Pratt’s latest communique regarding his reservations about Descendants Appreciation Day had ruined a nice, quiet Sunday Morning with her best friends.

Both Alexis, who was sharing the couch with her, and Ian, who was lying on the couch across from her were silent for a long time.

It was Ian that broke the silence, swinging around to sit up as he did. “Okay. He does have a point. A big media event like this definitely presents Project Tome with another chance at staging another Redeemer’s style incident. But the fact is, he’s a little late in pointing that out; we’re less than a month and probably a few million dollars in promotions; the chamber of commerce would have our asses in a sling.”

Laurel nodded. “That’s part of the reason why we’re not promising a personal appearance. Something like that would make the whole grandstand a target. My actual biggest worry though is from anti-psionic/descendant groups.”

Alexis frowned. “Why’s that?” Making the event one celebrating all descendants was her pet contribution from day one. She’d even volunteered to be part of the planning board with Vincent Liedecker’s help.

“Think about it, Alex,” said Laurel. “You remember Douglas Stiles last year? He may have fallen off the public radar, but he wasn’t alone. There are thousands of people out there that think people like us are a public menace at best, some sort of abomination at worst. And making this event such an unabashed celebration of who we are… it’s just provoking them.”

This only made Alexis scowl. “Why should we be concerned about upsetting bigots? All things considered, the fact that that attitude exists in the US, the nation that appreciates us the most, only illustrates to me exactly why we need a day like this.”

Ian gave his fiance an apologetic look. “I’m with you, honey, but I see where Laurel’s going with this; we’re not going to be the only ones in the line of fire on this. Descendants Day comes around and descendants from all over the states show up and then the crazy and hateful have a whole new set of targets they think they might be able to take out, unlike us, who they just have to watch in impotent rage.”

After fixing her beau with an unhappy look, Alexis turned to Laurel. “Is it wrong of me to say that the rewards might be worth the risk? The country seems not to want to talk about how descendants are treated in most of the rest of the world. In this, we have a unique opportunity to start a dialog about it with national attention.”

Laurel smiled warmly over her coffee cup. “Don’t worry, Alex. I said it worried me, not that I didn’t agree. You’re right about this being a possibly once in a lifetime chance to use our status as heroes to right societal wrongs instead of just stopping criminals and magical world threats.”

Ian ducked his head in agreement. “And just because we won’t be promising a personal appearance doesn’t mean we can’t stay at the ready. Just in case Tome tries something or the hatemongers get ugly in ways other than their face.”

What he didn’t voice were his own doubts about whether it was worth it or not. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that it was a good thing Alexis wanted to do. But was it right of them to gamble with other peoples’ lives?

Bigotry was a near constant in human history, he knew, and there always seemed to be a segment of the population always on the look out for someone to deem as Other, the enemy. Race, religion, ideology or even nation or origin; it made no difference. There was power to be had in creating division and more than enough people to follow it blindly.

But anti-descendant hate was something different. The argument wasn’t simply painting them as being a threat to their way of life, but to literal life and limb. He’d read about it happening in other parts of the world, especially India after Arjun Ravi’s massacre. When tensions came to a head, it wouldn’t be in the form of slurs and nasty political cartoons. There would be blood and fire.

This wasn’t a crook or monster, they would be taking on an ideology. And with Ethan Braylocke and Greenview Ridge still in the news, he wondered if the answer to the plight of descendants really had to come in the form of confrontation.

***

April 16

The confrontation had been a long time in coming, Kareem decided. The delicacy of the situation had stayed his hand until the breaking point, and then the incident at Greenview Ridge, both in the scale of the disaster and his role trying to help in the recovery, and in the personal toll of Juniper’s personal drama had blindsided him from his course.

For the past week or so, he’d been finding excuses to avoid it; accepting even the slightest overtures of a date with Desiree, patrolling with Cyn in the hopes of catching her elusive thief, even shooting pool with Ian when he had no talent at the game.

But the last straw had come earlier in the day shortly after coming back from yet another college placement exam, he’d seen her in the hall at school talking with Lily Goldenmeyer and her friends.

Normally, he held Lily and her clique to a more or less neutral regard. To him, their behavior was regrettable but expected and even when they gave Desiree trouble, he encouraged turning the other cheek rather than vengeance.

What he did find disturbing, however, was spotting Melissa among them, laughing deliriously along as the gaggle of girls mocked the clothing choice of a random freshman girl unlucky enough to catch their attention.

Lily didn’t know and likely wouldn’t care, but Kareem could tell; Melissa wasn’t really laughing at the verbal barbs or the discomfort of the victim. She was just laughing because her mind was so far doped by her own power that almost anything would have been funny.

It frightened him senseless. That was the worst he’d ever seen her and it occurred to him that she’d been increasing the effect over time. At first, she had been merely upbeat, then cheerful. At Greenview Ridge, even as their lives were put in danger, she had been almost bubbly. Now this.

Driven by this, he knocked on her door.

“Come in.” The sweetness in her voice was almost alien. Kareem opened the door and stepped into her room.

Melissa was sitting at her vanity, pulling her hair into a ponytail. She was dressed to go out. Spotting him in the mirror, she smiled brightly. “Kareem, hi! I’m so glad to see you!”

The greeting did nothing to raise his spirits. “Hello, Melissa. It is important that we talk.”

“Okay, but make it quick,” She finished tying off her ponytail and started rummaging through her make-up drawer. “I’m meeting Lily and the girls tonight to go to a club.”

“So you are now fiends with Lilly?” He asked.

The flatness in his voice didn’t register with her. “Mm-hmm. They’re a lot of fun once you get to know them. We started hanging out about a week ago; Kim says she can’t believe someone as cool as me lives with you losers.”

A pregnant pause and then. “She called you losers, not me. Oh, Kareem, I don’t think any of you are losers. Everyone’s a winner to me! Especially you.” A sweet, embarrassed smile followed the rush of words.

Kareem finally mustered the courage to look her in the eye. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes, this is important. We must speak about what you’ve been doing to yourself with your power.”

Her lashes fluttered as she struggled to come up with a counter to this. “What’s wrong with it, Kareem?” It was as if she was insisting on using his name whenever possible. “I’m happier than I ever remember being. I’m making friends. And the others like me better this way. It’s the best thing I ever did with my power!”

It didn’t take his powers to tell him that he’d get nowhere this way. She was too far under the influence.

“I’m sorry, Melissa.” He concentrated.

“Sorry for what, Kareem? You know… how about I not go out with the girls and we watch a movie or something?”

Kareem didn’t hear her. He was closer to her than physically possible, but a million miles away all the same. In the mental realm, he found her mind, now buried under a snowdrift of babbling white noise.

He’d never seen the mind of an addict before, but he knew it instinctively now. The cloud of anti-thought was the source of her unnatural happiness and he could sense the artificiality of it and how it encroached on every one of her other mental processes.

The important thing for his purposes, however, was that it also lowered her mind’s natural defenses. Most people had them in some form; self image, surety in core beliefs, even simple stubbornness or ignorance provided stumbling blocks to manipulation. And Melissa had worked with him to learn how to hold off the most basic manipulations. All of those were gone in the mind-fog.

That made it all the easier to shear it away like ivy upon a wall.

Melissa jerked as if struck and stumbled where she stood. Kareem was there to catch her, if only just. Even months of following a physical therapy regiment devised by Laurel had yet to restore his full strength and he was forced to lower her to the bed.

Within seconds, her disorientation turned to white hot anger. “What did you do?” She asked in a growl.

“I blinded you.” He said, stoic. “Emotionally. Your pleasure center will temporarily be unable to register stimulation.”

She stared up at him with growing horror. The next moment, she sat upright in a single, frantic movement. “You turned off my ability to be happy?!”

“I apologize, but it had to be done. You were using your power on yourself.”

She got to her feet, keeping the bed between the two of them. “Yes. Yes I was. My power, which everyone keeps reminding me is supposed to be a gift, is to make people happy. Am I not allowed that?”

Kareem couldn’t bring himself to look at her. “Of course you are allowed to be happy. But this went beyond that. It was changing you and long term, escalating exposure—“

“That’s exactly what I wanted it to do.” She said severely. “And things got better, didn’t they? Everyone liked me more that way, and I didn’t have to think about things anymore.”

“We are talking about your life.” Kareem tried and realized that he might be going about things the wrong way. “And.. not everyone likes you better this way. The others here at Freeland House? They can all tell that something is wrong, they just do not know what.”

Tears started to form in Melissa’s eyes and she crossed her arms. “So what? They didn’t like me then, and they don’t now. At least I was happy.”

“No.” Kareem said. “You weren’t. You only thought you were. Your powers were drowning you in endorphins, clouding your mind and your memory. And we did like you. Do not tell me we didn’t. We like you, Melissa and that is why we worried. This person we’ve lived with for these past months is not you.”

Silence. All she did was stare at him with green eyes that shouted betrayal.

Kareem chewed his lip. “I am sorry for what I was forced to do. But I wanted the Melissa I care about back.”

Her arms dropped to her sides and she made fists in the air while shaking her head. “She didn’t want to come back.”

“Then I wish to understand.” he said, spreading his hands in a welcoming gesture. “Please, tell me why you do not want to come back to us.

The tears rolled freely now. “You know all this!” She shouted angrily. “I’m the wrong age, or in the wrong time… I’m starting to forget even which way around it is. All of my friends are too old, and the people who are supposed to be my new friends love music I don’t like and shows I don’t understand. I don’t fit in.

“And then, when something good happens, like when I find my family again and meet my little brother… I never even knew he existed… but when I find them again, I realize that they’re in danger. Because of me. Because of the same people that took ten years from me!”

She didn’t know when he’s started moving, but Kareem was by her side now, patting her arm comfortingly. Even though she appreciated it, she ignored it.

“So it’s my responsibility now. I’ve got to keep them safe, but my stupid powers can’t do that! They’re useless to protect people with. Making the bad guys happy isn’t going to keep them from doing terrible things if they’re twisted enough, and healing is only good for when you’ve already failed at protecting them.”

Tentatively, Kareem laid a hand on her arm. At first, she flinched, but when he put his other hand on the opposite arm, she offered no resistance, lost in her own self loathing.

“And then, I find out that my wild, irresponsible roommate is getting married? It doesn’t matter that she’s changed over the years, it’s only been a year to me. I… I just feel like I’ve been left behind.”

She looked up and gave him a reproachful look. “And don’t tell me to just live the life I’ve got, or to forget about it, because that’s what I was trying to do and you stopped me!”

“You still do not understand.” Kareem said. His hands gripped her arms firmly, but gently. “I understand that your old life was taken from you. And perhaps the life you have here with us…” Sadness touched his voice, “Is not making you happy. But instead of harming yourself in this way with your powers, please speak to us; allow us to help you.”

He lowered his head slightly. “Allow me to help you.”

Melissa shivered, making no effort to either escape or to move closer. “I don’ know what more you can do.”

“I believe there is something.” Kareem said, chancing to look her in the eye. “In stemming the effect of your powers on your mind, I have seen how it works. And I believe I know how you can learn to use it to protect people.”

End Descendants Special #4

Series Navigation<< Issue #46 – The Juniper ChroniclesIssue #47 – Everyday People >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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