Descendants Special #5 – Women in Free-fall

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Some choices are predators. They stalk for hours, undetected before they are upon you and there’s only a brief instant to make a decision.

Some are like trains. The arrive on schedule and one knows precisely when an answer is needed and can plan accordingly.

And some are like free-fall. They arrive and it seems like it could take forever to touch the ground and be required to face the moment of truth and its consequences. For a satellite, free-fall can last years, even decades. With a meteor, it lasts only minutes.

The problem is that we never know which we are.

***

My name is Melissa Forrester.

Some other people call me Hope. It’s a stupid name that my… roommates? I can’t call them friends, I hardly treat them that way no matter how hard they tried to be. Anyway, the people I live with gave me the name because they’ve got some kind of mad-on about being prelates and dragged me into it.

They expected me to do it because I have powers and they think it’s the right thing to do. For the longest time, I only did it because I didn’t want them to die without me. Thanks to that, I’ve seen some horrific injuries; most people will luckily never see an arm that’s been broken from throwing a punch at sixty miles an hour into what turns out to be a face like a steel beam, or ribs crushed by compacting armor.

I’m far away from that now, with my family, playing cards. Every night while I’m home has been family night. We play games, watch movies, or go out somewhere. I used to hate when my parents wanted to spend time with me, but now it’s wonderful.

Part of that was because I couldn’t tell if they were being honest; my powers, aside from healing, screw with emotions and it hurts to realize that someone is so happy being around you because you’re making them happy. It never occurred to me that someone might have been happy on their own before me being around may them high. Maybe you can blame teenage angst, but I was genuinely scared that I none of my relationships were real. And that’s just with a power that makes people happy. I can’t imagine what true telepaths go through; the one I know is too calm and in control for me to even consider he’s had these problems.

I’m in control now too. My power doesn’t go off anymore unless I direct it and now, I can manipulate more than just happiness. I would never tell anyone else besides Kareem, but I’m happy to be useful for more than a heal bot. At the same time though, it scares me.

Because before I didn’t have a choice when it came to forcing people to be happy. But now, I have to watch myself because sometimes a little emotion manipulation seems like the expedient thing to do. Someone feeling bad? I can make them feel good without them ever addressing their problem. A guy I like in a relationship? I could weaken their affection, or just directly dose him with lust for me. I’ve given way too much thought to this not to be worried that I might be a sociopath.

It’s probably even more for the best that I’m spending the summer with the family. I need to accept reality and move on before I get impulsive and do something everyone will regret.

The others would never suspect that’s what goes on in my head. They still see me as the complainer.

I still sort of resent that how I felt is construed as whiny. They just don’t get how big what happened to me is; they lack the sense of scale and all the little things that are uncomfortable and isolating.

No one at school understood why I was nostalgic about movies, TV and websites from the fifties instead of the sixties; they just thought I was trying to be contrary when I didn’t understand what was so great about Bloom and instead talked about finding flat formats for ‘Hi, Meg!’ instead.

Recent history and normal, everyday technology seem like science fiction to me, and politics might as well be gibberish; a major political part is missing and there’s a fifty-third star on the flag. I didn’t even know Guam as a territory.

And then there’s the age issue. Technically, and even legally, I’m twenty-seven, but I’m really seventeen, mind, body and soul. On paper, making out with any boy my age is just about the most vile crime you can imagine. Sure, no one would prosecute it, no one would even think to check, but it’s in the back of my head all the time.

Above all, I just feel cheated. All the drama and mistakes of both high school and college should behind me by now, a bright future in front. I see the people I once knew and I can’t help but be jealous. Laurel has become even more of a mother to everyone, and more capable than ever. Ian isn’t the spineless geek chasing after Alexis’s every want anymore either. He’s handsome and confident and actually deserves her now. And I barely recognize Alexis. What happened to my excitable, flighty roommate who I was fairly sure would end up in jail? She’s a schoolmarm, the leader of the team, and engaged.

As much as I love them, I hate them for leaving me behind.

This is a new life though. In this life, I’m a big sister when I barely had a brother on the way before. Tim’s a great kid; smarter than I was at his age. He still hasn’t quite wrapped his mind around the idea that Hope of the Descendants is his sister, maybe because he’s less interested in prelates than most young boys. Good for him.

As for me, I can’t turn away. God, how I’ve considered it. But I realize now that maybe the ‘it’s the right thing’ reasoning doesn’t push me forward, but at the same time, I care too much about the others to abandon them, especially one in particular.

That’s why my heart started to pound when Laurel called and told me about the attack at Dawson Bay. The others had it wrapped up before we managed to get there, but I got there in time to see the stasis cells. Those were the things that took my life away. And three people I know and care deeply for almost got theirs taken from them the same way.

I won’t let them get taken, I won’t let them die, and I don’t want to let them down. Maybe I didn’t start out as Hope, but I think I’m starting to become her.

***

“So what do you think happens when you burn a magic book?” Kay asked.

Lisa looked up, alarmed. “Excuse me?”

They were in the Dawson Bay Public Library to get away from the hub-bub going on at the beach house. First a ROCIC team had to remove the remains of the two inugami and secure the building, then Ian and Alexis were airing the place out with heavy duty fans and cleaning, and finally workmen were scheduled to repair the doors, replace the burnt carpet, and repaint Warrick and Tink’s room. The chase through the house lasted less than ten minutes, but the clean-up was going to take two days, all told.

Ian was checking into a hotel in town for the last week and a half Warrick had the beach house for, and Melissa and Juniper were staying in the basement bedroom for that time. The Descendants were circling the wagons, but remaining defiant in staying after the attack.

The question remained that none of them knew how Tome located them. Outside of the team and their actual guests at the beach house, that left Sonia Remington, Cyn’s ‘totally-not-my-boyfriend’, Ollie, Kareem’s girlfriend, Desiree, Callie Kreiger, who was invited to the last party, and the eighty-five year old man Warrick rented the place from. So the list was nothing but loved ones, people who already proved themselves, and the geriatric. Everyone had it on their minds, but none of them discussed it.

That was another reason Lisa and Kay were at the library. Lisa claimed it was to make some use of the time they were spending exiled from the house, but both of them knew it was mostly distraction; Dawson Bay’s library was too new to have anything useful on magic. In fact,t hey were chasing books and concepts mentioned in books they’d already found online instead of even bothering with the stacks.

Kay was sitting on the floor, balancing her tablet on her knees, this after an irate librarian had sternly reprimanded her for doing the same on top of the table.

“They burn the books after they digitize them.” She said, scrolling through a search queue.

“Who does?” Asked Lisa. Her chair was leaned back against the wall while she did much the same.

“The libraries.”

“Libraries don’t burn books. That’s the opposite of what a library is for.”

Kay shook her head. “I looked it up after we started to find some with spells that worked; old books that people don’t check out often enough get decommissioned and burned because people won’t pay to store them. They even do it in secret so people won’t try to save them.”

“Why wouldn’t they want people to save them?”

The currently blue haired girl shrugged. “I don’t remember. Something about them being marked as library property or something.”

Lisa made a face. “That’s incredibly messed up.”

“The scary thing is, it’s better now than before. They didn’t always digitize them before.”

Fingers moving over her search bar, Lisa chewed her lip. “I hope there wasn’t a spell we’ll need to save the world in one of those. It’d be an embarrassment to the species if we get wiped out because of budget cuts.”

But Kay wasn’t done with disturbing revelations yet. “You know what else is scary? Some of these books have been downloaded before. That means if someone knew what they were doing, they could figure out how to cast the spells in them.”

“Maybe a few spells,” Lisa assured her. “But I’m pretty sure that the Books of Reason and Passions are the master instruction books.” She frowned immediately after. “Of course, there are supposed to be two more; Tranquility and Madness.”

“’The Book of Madness’ That’s comforting.”

Lisa couldn’t argue with that. “Say, could you…”

“Already searching, boss lady.” Kay tapped in a few search terms. “Not to Tranquility and unless Madness is a whole bunch of horror novels published through the years, no on that too.”

“At least that’s on our side.” said Lisa. “I shudder to think…”

“Uh-oh.”

“What?” Lisa sprang from her chair and was quick to kneel beside her best friend. “What’s uh-oh?”

Kay held the tablet up for her to see. “No on those two, no on Reason. But take a look at this: The Book of Passions, digitized and translated from Slavic last summer at Dayspring College. Downloaded fifty-three times.”

Lisa leaned over her shoulder to see for herself. “Fifty three people have a digital copy of the Book of Passions?”

“Probably more.” said Kay. “It’s not copy protected; everyone that got it from Dayspring could have made copies of their own.”

A long, nervous breath escaped Lisa. “Then like it or not, magic is loose in the world right now and not all of it’s from Faerie.”

***

“Sorry to drag you all the way out here, but it’s about as private as I can offer without going all the way back home.” said Laurel.

Tink was still distracted by her surroundings. The Karasu no Yūrei was a stealth plane on the outside, but was more like a corporate jet on the inside. There was a kitchen and full bathroom as well as a small room for dressing and the multipurpose cargo bay. She was seated across from Laurel, both on the posh seats in the passenger cabin.

“No… this is fine.” She said. “Though it’s going to take some getting used to; you guys having a plane and all.”

“Ian’s joked about it more than once.” Laurel smiled. “I guess tempting fate can work out in a good way.”

Tink winced. “You said his name—aren’t you worried that the shinobi left bugs behind?”

“Oh, they did. They wouldn’t be good spies an information brokers if they didn’t at least try. I’ve swept, dropped false intel, and double checked. They’re good, but they don’t have access to NSA bug detection manuals via the ROCIC. OH, by the way, the ROCIC doesn’t need to know about this.” She winked.

Tink nodded and relaxed. “So…”

“Yeah, let’s get to what we came here for.” Laurel relented. “Afterward, I’ll give you the tour of the plane’s systems. Right now, I’m the only one that knows how to pilot and that’s inefficient for the team.”

“Where are you going to hide this thing?”

“No more going off topic.” Laurel chided. “We need to talk about the… irregularities you mentioned. The increased strength, the fast healing…”

Reluctantly Tink went along, head bowed like a woman headed for the gallows. “I’m… not a descendant, am I?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure how to classify what I found, Christina.” Laurel got up and moved to sit beside the girl. “The good news is that it doesn’t seem dangerous. The bad… I’m going to have to become your personal physician if you want to keep this a secret.”

“I’ve already been keeping so much a secret.” Tink groaned. “And as soon as the gauntlets get found out, suddenly this comes up.”

Laurel put her hand on the girl’s back for comfort. “I know. This isn’t fair. And I can’t make you keep this under wraps, especially something like this. I’m not even sure you should. All I’m saying is that it will come out in routine blood work and biopsy.”

“What exactly is it?” Tink answered after a long pause.

Ready with her tablet, Laurel called up a magnification of Tink’s blood. Along with the expected blood cells, platelets and other particulates, there were dark dots, far smaller than the natural cells. Laurel magnified again to reveal that the dots were actually elongated icosahedrons made of some dark metal with alternating convex and concave faces, some bearing globules of material or crystals.

Science was Tink’s passion; she devoured information from any and all fields and it didn’t take long for her to understand what it was she was looking at. “Nanomachines?” She asked, astounded.

“Not just one type either.” said Laurel. “I found evidence two distinct strains in your bloods, musculature and epidermis. One strain seems to be acting as a regulator for the other.”

“But they’re supposed to go inert without constant command signals.” Tink says, panic rising. “That’s one of the basic design rules to keep them from building out of control. Oh god, that means someone’s been keeping tabs on me; I’m the one that lead Tome here, aren’t I?”

A strong arm drew her into a sideways hug. “Christina, calm down. That’s definitely not what happened.”

“That’s the only thing that makes sense.” Tink murmured, eyes filling with tears.

“No. It isn’t.” Laurel said gently and moved the tablet so Tink could once again see. “The second type; the strain that controls the first; I ran a computer simulation: they respond to neuromuscular signals, passing them ‘upstream’ from one to another. My theory is that the main body of the machine colony resides in your spinal fluid. And that made me think: remember when Metal X stabbed you?”

Tink nodded, too deep in thought to speak.

“Melissa healed you and afterward, I did a scan just to be safe. I thought his attack missed your spine narrowly. Now I’m not so sure.”

The redhead shifted away, sitting up and removing her glasses to rub her eyes. “That can’t be it. I would have been paralyzed.”

“Not if the nanites replaced the damaged nerve cluster.” said Laurel. “Not if Melissa’s powers helped them do it.”

Tink slumped back in her chair, staring at her hands. “Then… I have two swarms of nanites inside me… giving my superpowers.” She shook her head. “I’m not sure I know what to do with this. It’s just amazing and creepy at the same time. And it’s a real game changer, isn’t it?”

“Only as much as you want it to be.” said Laurel. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but I also know that it’s been your dream to attend Cambridge n the fall. Just like the PSA’s say: having powers shouldn’t be a roadblock to achieving your dreams, just another stepping stone.”

She stood up and gestured for Tink to follow here to the cockpit. “I will tell you on thing: whatever you decide, all of us will support you. And just lie it was when you just had an idea for variable powered armor: there’s always going to be a place for you; whether it’s next week or five years down the road.”

A smile crept on Tink’s face through all the chaotic emotions in her head. “Thanks, Miss Brant. That means a lot.”

“Any time.” Said Laurel. “So how about that tour? We can talk as much or as little about this while we work.”

End Descendants Special #5

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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.

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