Issue #0 From There to Here

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Freeland House. The name was everywhere in the place; on the dry rotted welcome mats, the moldering towels, and on the once cheerful brass plates that named each of its rooms.

Once, it had been a comfortable bed and breakfast, nestled in a suburb of Mayfield, Virginia commonly called the Hills. For fifty years, it had passed from owner to owner, providing honeymooning couples with sweet memories to last a lifetime.

But it had been five years since it had seen any guests, let alone care or maintenance. Time, and the bipolar Virginia weather hadn’t been kind to it.

They hadn’t spared the room identified by a pair of those brass plates affixed to the thick, wooden double doors connecting it to the hall as the sun porch. Dust and mold had colonized, rendering the original padding on the two futons unsanitary. The wicker furniture was still serviceable, but frayed and worn all the same. A thick coat of grime on the bay windows made it almost impossible to see out of them.

What it had been in the past held no meaning to anyone there, for in the all too real present it was an infirmary.

On one futon lay a man in his mid twenties. His hair was matted with drying blood, his clothes soaked in the same. His wounds had been closed, but he had yet to regain consciousness from the beating he’d taken the previous night.

Across from him on the other futon, lay a young man of Iranian descent, between sixteen or seventeen. He was also unconscious, but his body showed no signs of violence. Whatever had befallen him had all but shut down his motor functions.

Between the two, a tall woman in her twenties with caramel skin sat hugging a weeping, redheaded teenaged girl tightly, cooing calming words to her while trying her hardest to keep from crying herself. Not all of the damage done was physical.

Alexis Keyes watched everything from the doorway, trying desperately to piece everything together, asking herself how they had come to be here and if things had to turn out this way. Most troubling in her mind was how everything happening to them was not because of something they had done, but something they were born with.

The government and general public called them ‘psionics’, though that name hardly described the variety and range of the powers that such people displayed. No one seemed to be able to agree on their origin, but the prevailing theory was that they were the descendants of test subjects in hundreds of different experiments conducted in the 1940’s and 50’s.

It took five generations for the first obvious effects of the experiments to be noticed and by then there were thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of people across the globe displaying supernatural powers and genetic deformities.

As a teen, Alexis had attended a school for psionics; the Psionics Training and Application Academy, along with Laurel Brant; the woman currently comforting the young girl, and Ian Smythe, the wounded man on the futon. They became best friends there. In fact, Alexis looked back on her time at the Academy as some of the happiest years of her life.

She had been so happy there that she later took job teaching there to help the next generation.

An involuntary shudder ran through her body. That was where the trouble started.

It seemed a lifetime ago that she’d received a call from a man named George. In a short, cryptic conversation, he led her to be in the right place at the right time to witness a student she’d been led to believe had left the school; locked in a stasis cell and being loaded into a truck.

A little digging revealed that the girl Alexis had seen was by far not the only one. Dozens, possibly hundreds were being taken and their disappearances hidden under labyrinthine policies, programs and red tape. Many families were somehow being duped into believing their child was being boarded at the Academy full time when they were really being, placed into stasis and shipped off.

Alexis allowed herself to slide down the door frame into a sitting position, her knees pulled up to her chest. Her straight, black hair fell in a curtain over her eyes. She’d believed in the Academy, in its promise to train gifted people like herself and help them use their abilities to make the world a better place. Now she just felt like a fool, taken in by honeyed words and grand promises.

She had been a student there – a teacher there. But what was she really? Bait, she realized, to lure in the next wave of applicants.

Fear had driven her to seek out her two friends in Washington State, where both were employed as researchers for Brant Industries, the company owned by Laurel’s billionaire father, after over two years of being incommunicado. Inadvertently, she also led an agent in the employ of the Academy called Prometheus directly to Ian’s home.

As Alexis struggled to explain what she had discovered, Prometheus attacked, burning Ian’s home to the ground in the process. Force to flee, the trio hatched a plan to rescue the captured students being held in stasis in the Academy.

Images of stasis cells flickered across Alexis’s memory. It made her dizzy with nausea. She knew stasis only as a medical term. Terminal patients and the gravely wounded were put into stasis as an emergency last measure. The process was traumatic and few were ever kept in stasis more than a day for fear of permanent physical damage to motor function. The Academy, had been putting people in stasis for its entire sixteen year history.

Alexis glanced up at the redhead in Laurel’s arms. Her name was Melissa Forrester and she was living proof of that. She had been Alexis’s roommate in freshman year. Now, over a decade later, Melissa was still physically and mentally sixteen. Recognizing Alexis, Laurel and Ian had shocked her bady and she hadn’t stopped crying since coming out of stasis.

Even worse off than Melissa, however was Kareem Utt, the teen lying on the futon opposite Ian. The documentation on his stasis cell said that he’d been in stasis for four years, but that time seemed to have serious detrimental effects on him. He was effectively in a coma, but his telepathic powers and ability to project himself onto the Astral Plane remained active, allowing him to speak mentally to others.

At the moment, he remained silent.

There were two other teens rescued from stasis; Warrick Kaine and Cynthia McAllister. Neither seemed to be suffering any harm mentally or physically and were even now watching television down the hall from the makeshift infirmary.

The rescue had taken place only a few hours before. Ian had come face to face with Prometheus a second time, trying to stall and give Alexis and Laurel time to take the kids to safety. In the process, he took a brutal beating before Alexis could return for him.

After that, Laurel took over from the physically and emotionally drained Alexis and calmed Melissa down long enough to get her psionic ability of healing touch on Ian. Then she had driven everyone to this place: Freeland House. It belonged to her father, William Brant via a number of shell corporations and he directed her to it when he had learned of their plight.

Really, Alexis expected nothing less from Laurel. Though she was hyper-cognitive and thus capable of retaining any and all information she read or learned, making her one of the most intelligent people on the planet, she was also one of the most caring. Like her father, Laurel’s primary concern in life was that everyone around her was happy.

As if sensing Alexis was thinking about her, Laurel looked up from the now sleeping form of Melissa. “Are you doing any better now, Alex?” she asked like a concerned mother.

“It’s just a lot to take in, L.” She said dumbly, shaking her head. “I mean… a few days ago, I was so happy to be working for the Academy and now…” She choked back a sob.

Gently laying Melissa to the side, Laurel stood and walked over to kneel beside her friend. “There’s no way you could have known.” She said sympathetically. “And look at it this way; now that we know about this, we can do something about it.”

“How?” Alexis asked, holding back another sob. “Are we going to lobby Congress? The Academy is government funded, Laurel. Even with your father’s connections, I’m not sure people that send pyrokinetics to hunt down people who know too much are going to care much about politics.”

“There are other ways of doing things, you know?” Laurel moved to sit against the wall beside Alexis. “These kids were all there were at the Academy campus. That means they’re holding others elsewhere. We can find and save more kids from stasis at least. I’d wager that at least one of those places has some concrete evidence we can use to put this plot to bed for good.”

Blinking, Alexis looked over at Laurel. “Fight them again? You saw what happened to Ian.”

Laurel cut her off. “Ian will be fine. Remember, he’s the one that came up with the rescue idea in the first place.” She spared a glance toward where Ian lay. “You know he’ll be all for doing it again no matter how many hits he takes. It’s just his way.”

“Even if we are willing,” Alexis was seriously considering the notion now, “Can we seriously deal with the likes of Enforcers like Prometheus? He nearly killed Ian.”

“With the help of a Brant Industries powered armor suit.” Laurel pointed out. “A version a lot older than the kind Ian and I were working on when you came to us. I’m not one to brag, but between you and Ian’s powers and some new technology, we could even the playing field.”

Melissa made a sound in her sleep and drew both of their attention.

Alexis’s contemplation of Laurel’s plan stopped dead. “We can’t. The kids… we can’t just send them back home for the Academy to recapture at their leisure. We need to keep them here to protect them. And we need to fix this place up so they can live here comfortably. There’s no way we could do that if we’re running around the country breaking into research facilities.”

“I can stay here to hold down the fort.” Laurel said. “You know; make sure you two have a home to come back to, watch the kids, that sort of thing.”

“But fighting was your idea. Why would you bow out to play den mother?”

“Because I wouldn’t be very useful fighting.” Laurel shrugged. “Ian can control the density of any fluid mass; even back in school, he was able to do real damage with that. You have your ‘black heat’. Until today, I never saw you use it offensively, but you can fuse steel with those little bolts of darkness you throw.”

She shifted to a more comfortable position against the wall. “Me? I’m smart. And that’s about it as far as powers go. What am I going to do in a fight, engage the enemy in intellectual discussion?”

Alexis nodded. If Laurel said she wouldn’t be much use in a fight, she wouldn’t be. Still, the concept of using her powers offensively was a foreign concept to her. Back at the Academy, she only used her ability (generating a charged particle cloud her instructors called ‘black heat’) to fly, or render herself invisible.

Even then, using the particles to bend light around her left her blind and never seemed like much of a good idea. Of course, at the Academy, using one’s powers to do harm or property damage was a serious offense.

The Academy’s stated purpose was to groom gifted youths to use their powers in civil service capacities. It was generally assumed that those who entered the armed services received special training in offensive use of their powers.

There were, however, non-government affiliated individuals that acted as vigilantes; using their powers to fight for their own causes, usually breaking up criminal enterprises. These days, a few of these were widely known. Those most popular in the public eye had become known collectively as ‘prelates’ as, for some reason, the media wanted nothing to do with the idea of real life superheroes.

After a few moments of silent thought, Alexis put her head back against the wall. “I’m not exactly ready to be a prelate, Laurel. For one thing, it’d draw a lot of unneeded attention; something these kids don’t need.”

Laurel nodded, accepting her decision even if she didn’t agree.

“But I’ll tell you what; once Ian’s back on his feet and this place is fixed up, then we’ll see what we can do about all of this, okay?” Alexis managed to give her friend a small smile.

A long groan came from Ian. Both women looked up to see him starting to stir. Slowly, he swung his feet off the futon, and sat up. Coughing, he ran a hand through his blood encrusted hair.

“Oh, man… what happened?” He managed, looking at his now bloodied hand. He was still very unsteady and confusion, both from blood loss and Melissa’s healing touch, were taking their toll. “And why am I so dizzy?” He wondered aloud as his friends rose and came to his side.

“Melissa healed you.” Laurel said, reaching him slightly ahead of Alexis. “But all she really does is speed up your body’s natural healing process and your metabolism. You’re probably suffering from an abnormally low blood sugar…” She paused, noting Ian’s confused expression. “Her healing makes you hungry.” She said plainly, albeit with a bit of a dissatisfied smirk.

Ian looked around. “Where are the other two?” He asked, referring to the kids.

“Down the hall, watching television.” Laurel pointed vaguely.

“Uh-huh. And where exactly are we?” Ian asked, shaking his head to clear it as Alexis sat down beside him.

“Mayfield.” Alexis said. “Laurel bought us here. This place is her dad’s.”

“We’re safe here if that’s what you’re worried about.” Laurel said gently. “I’ve set up enough fake credit card uses to lead them to Atlanta.”

Ian nodded, swaying slightly. He cast another glance in Melissa’s direction. “Hey, is that girl really…”

Alexis nodded. “Melissa Forrester, my old roommate from the Academy.”

“How?” Ian asked, starting to stand, but the fatigue caused his knees to buckle. “She’s just a kid. Melissa would be our age now.”

“I’ll go get you something to eat.” Laurel started toward the door. “This isn’t going to be any easier to explain with your sugar low.”

“It’s just how stasis works.” Alexis tried to explain. “She doesn’t remember a thing after coming back to the school after spring break.” A sympathetic look went to the sleeping girl. “She’s going to need a lot of time to adjust to this. I don’t even know where to begin.”

From Alexis’s weary tone, Ian surmised that a subject change was in order and so gestured toward Kareem. “Has he woken up at all yet?”

“In a way. He’s a telepath, so he can talk to us mentally when he wants to. But Laurel doesn’t know how much damage the stasis did to his body. He may not wake up at all, physically speaking.” She trembled at the thought.

“Hey,” Ian looked over at Alexis. “That doesn’t sound like you. Back in school, you were pretty much the leader of our little group. Laurel’s the smart one, but you always found a way to get things done. You, me, and Laurel? I don’t think there’s anything the three of us can’t do.”

She couldn’t help but smile at him. “That was years ago. I’m not used to telling people what to do anymore. Honestly, I always thought I was kind of a bitch to you and Laurel in school.”

Ian nodded, most of his vertigo having receded. “That’s why you didn’t come to Washington with us, isn’t it? And why you stayed away for months at a time?”

That wasn’t the whole truth, but it was enough. Alexis couldn’t stop a few tears from escaping her eyes and trickling down her face as she nodded. Her first few months of teaching at the Academy had been an eye opener for her; seeing teens acting in much the same way she had with her friends and not really liking what she saw.

Ian put a hand on her shoulder, trying not to tip over in the process. “Look, we never did things we didn’t want to do and you never pushed us. You just happened to be really good at coming up with ideas.” He looked around the tumbledown room and made a resolute face. “How about we start small; how are we going to get this place fixed up without telling the world we’re here?”

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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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