Issue #13: Another Kind of Homecoming

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 2

“Stasis cells are only rated to be safe for a maximum of six days.” Laurel was explaining. The Utts listened to her with concern on their faces as she led them across the upstairs commons and into the wing containing Kareem’s room. “But some of the kids were kept in stasis for almost a decade. As far as we can tell, Kareem was in stasis for three years.”

Mr. Utt wrinkled his brow. “I do not understand why you speak as if our son is fine while your mind is filled with dread.”

“Because it’s complicated, Mr. Utt.” Laurel paused at Kareem’s door. “Your son’s powers – obviously inherited from your empathy—managed to protect his mind even after the stasis chamber damaged his body.” With shaking hands, she opened the door.

Kareem’s body lay on the crisp, white linen of his hospital bed, surrounded by all manner of medical technology put in place to preserve his life functions. A halo of metal and black rubber surrounded his head, taking constant measurements of his brainwave activity.

Mrs. Utt gasped sharply and spoke a short, exclamation in Iranian.

“The condition of his body is stable.” Laurel reported. “All the atrophy from the stasis is completely recovered. The problem, once again stems from Kareem’s powers.”

Mr. Utt squeezed his wife’s hand and coaxed her into the room after Laurel. His eyes didn’t leave his son’s prostrate form. “What do you mean by that?” he asked.

“At some point after we rescued him and the others from the stasis the Academy had him in, Kareem projected his consciousness into the Astral Plane… a sort of…”

“We know what the Astral Plane is, Ms. Brant.” Mr. Utt assured her. “With concentration, I myself can see into it.”

Laurel nodded and skipped over that bit. “He projected onto the Astral, but he isn’t able to re-enter his body anymore. We don’t know why. I thought it was because of his injuries or a possible psychic injury… but I’ve ruled out all of them.”

“You said we would be able to speak to him.” Mrs. Utt said. “But how can we when he is comatose and trapped on another plane?”

“You will be able to speak to him.” Laurel assured her. “With his telepathic assistance, I was able to design a machine that lets him communicate with the material plane via plasma screens like this.” She indicated a screen that was mounted to the wall. “He just needs to be present in the room.”

The moment she said this, the screen sprang to life, showing Kareem in the ever present rosy tint of the Astral Plane. “My apologies, Mother, Father, Ms. Brant. I was waiting for a proper explanation to be given for my condition before revealing my presence.”

“I understand Kareem.” Laurel nodded.

Mrs. Utt let out an excited shout. “Kareem! My son, I have waited to speak to you for so long! I knew the person mailing us was no you, but I had no proof.” She looked torn between rushing over to the screen or to the inert body. She chose to hold Kareem’s material hand while speaking to the Kareem on screen. “The person who said they were you was nothing like you.” Tears formed in her eyes.

“I did not know about anyone posing as me.” Kareem said apologetically, “But Ms. Brant told us all that it was a possibility. I am just very glad that I can finally speak to you again – even as I am.”

“Is there a way to cure you?” Mr. Utt asked. “I will do whatever it takes.”

“Ms. Brant has the full resources of Brant Industries at her back, Father.” Kareem assured him. “I am well taken care of. If there is a way to fix my situation, she will find it. I have faith in her.”

Laurel lowered her head. She wished that she had as much faith in herself as Kareem put in her.

Mrs. Utt’s joyful smile at the sight of her son faded at the idea that his condition might not be curable. Still, the look she directed toward Laurel was not unfriendly. In fact, it had a touch of reverence in it. “My son is like his father.” She began, “They have a gift of seeing the core of a person, beyond what they simply show people. If he has faith in you, I will also have faith in you.“

***

Ian sat at the head of the kitchen table, his gaze shifting between the inquisitive stares of Mr. Brant and the Kaines. He really wished that he’d at least finished his beer before this. The thin haze even such a small amount of alcohol was preferable to the relative clarity with which he felt the discomfort welling up in him.

“I honestly don’t know where to begin.” He let out a long breath. “Even after almost a year, we honestly don’t know a lot of solid, concrete facts about the Academy or Project Tome.”

“Can you are least tell use what this ‘Tome’ is?” Mr. Kaine asked, “I’ve never even heard of it.”

“They wouldn’t want you to.” Ian replied. “We learned from General Pratt—“

“Excuse me,” Mr. Brant cut in. “You know General Pratt personally? My daughter didn’t tell me that.”

“Not ‘best friends’ personal.” Ian said. “We met, we exchanged information. He wants to bring Tome down just as much as we do. See, Tome was this Cold War era think tank that cannibalized all the World War II data from the experiments that are supposedly the origin of people like us; psionics. Or what Pratt calls us, descendants.”

“They were tasked with finding out what worked and what didn’t.” Alexis picked up the slack as she went around the table pouring glasses of water for everyone. “The original plan was to use the data to make super soldiers. The government didn’t want to give up on it even after they thought everything failed.” Her task complete, she headed for the stove to continue meal preparations. “Tome tried doing the same thing with animals and everyone thought those failed too.”

“Thought?” Mrs. Kaine asked.

“We ran into some nasty uber-dogs this past Halloween.” Ian said, “Courtesy, as we found out later, of Project Tome.”

Alexis nodded, inhaling the steam rising from her seafood stock. “Tome pretended their experiments didn’t work and went underground at the turn of the century. The next anyone heard of them, they were pulling the strings behind the Academy and the Enforcers.”

“How did you find all this out?” Mr. Kaine asked, “If this group is so super secret and evil, how did three average people put all the pieces together?”

“I’m a bit fuzzy on this as well, Ian.” Mr. Brant added. “Ever since what happened to you at Langley, I’ve had my staff scouring the globe for information on Tome and we haven’t found anything less than fifty years old.”

“Wait, what happened at Langley?” Mr. Kaine blinked, “Isn’t that where the Academy is?”

“Well, the headquarters at least.” Ian replied.

Alexis nodded. “I was a teacher there. Back in May, I went into the archives to get some enrollment information for this reporter; George something; anyway, I found a memo that talked about how they were placing students in stasis for something called data retrieval. I went to the Director, but before I got to him, an Enforcer stopped me and demanded I turn the file over.”

“What’s data retrieval?” Mrs. Kaine asked.

“We have no idea.” Ian answered truthfully. “But we couldn’t just leave kids trapped in glass coffins waiting for it either. When Alexis came to us – Laurel and I – in Seattle for help, we jumped to it – but not before the Enforcer Prometheus burned down my house.”

“They burned your house over a memo?” Mrs. Kaine’s eyes widened. “I suppose that really was all the proof you needed that they were evil.”

“That plus the beating Prometheus gave me after we rescued Warrick, Cyn, Melissa and Kareem.” Ian took a long drink of water.

“Wait,” Mr. Kaine said, “Prometheus is Jonathan Edward Tyler, the guy that testified before Congress, right? It looked like he was on your side?”

Alexis ignored Ian’s indignant snort. “He was, after he learned what was really going on. General Pratt contacted him personally after we told him about the facility in Florida we discovered. A place where Tome was performing experiments with something called bio-mapping on another group of psionic kids.” She tactfully left out the trepanning.

“That’s horrible.” Mrs. Kaine looked horrified. “Warrick always talked about bad guys and people being needed to fight them. I thought it was just prelate against criminal fantasies he read in comic books. I never imagined that there were people that… that vile in real life.”

“There’s plenty – too many.” Ian said. “That’s why I hope you’re not too upset with us over the whole ‘Alloy’ thing. He’s told us about his time as Damascus and your reaction to it, but these aren’t petty criminals, they’re people specifically targeting him and we figured they need to know how to defend themselves.”

It was Mrs. Kaine’s turn to sigh. “We weren’t upset with him for being Damascus. I was upset that he kept it hidden from us. And we were both very concerned with the Whitecoat telling us that his inexperience was doing more harm than good. That’s why…” her voice grew shaky. “That’s why we sent him to the Academy.”

Mr. Kaine placed his hand over his wife’s and they were both quiet for a moment. “We just wanted to make sure that he knew enough to be safe.” He said, allowing himself a bitter laugh. “I guess we were wrong in that.”

“You had no way of knowing.” Alexis said. “And he did end up somewhere where he is learning to control his powers and becoming the prelate he wanted to be. Even if I was initially against it, Life Savers, Inc was a godsend to this city.”

“Yeah.” Ian said, “A lot of people that didn’t even know him will miss him when he goes home.”

***

“Silver!” Tammy laughed as a handful of paper clips flared as Warrick’s power entered them. Blue sparks and black motes of detritus swarmed over the deforming fasteners as they became a lump of silver which then flattened into a blank coin.

“Oh, you make money for your little sister, sure.” Cyn said sarcastically from where she sprawled across his bed. “But your best friend asks for a couple of thousand dollars…”

“This is for demonstration purposes only.” Warrick smirked. “What next, Tammy?”

“Rubber!”

“Uh… not a metal, but thanks for playing.” Warrick said, “you haven’t had chemistry in school yet, have you?”

There was a soft knock at the open door and all three looked up to see Juniper standing there with Melissa in tow. “Guys, did you hear people going into Kareem’s – oh my…” Juniper caught sight of Tammy who waved enthusiastically.

“Those would be Kareem’s parents.” Cyn informed her, not bothering to get up. “And this,” She indicated Tammy. “is Warrick’s little sister.”

“Are you two prelates too?” Tammy asked, her analysis of her brother’s new powers forgotten. She had completely new psionics to investigate.

“Parents?” Melissa asked, looking back out into the hallway. “Our parents are here?”

“You could say that.” Juniper addressed Tammy’s question as she came to sit on a corner of the bed not occupied by Cyn. “I’m Juniper.”

“Just Warrick’s and Kareem’s.” Cyn said to Melissa. “Mine are in town too, but luckily, they didn’t want to see me.”

“Oh, we don’t know that.” Juniper tried to offer comfort where none was asked.

“Yes we do.” Cyn nodded, “And it’s good because I don’t want to see their ignorant gobs either.”

“Language in front of the little sister…” Warrick chided.

“’Gobs’ isn’t a bad word.” Cyn shot back.

“Bad enough.”

“I don’t even know what a gob is.” Tammy rolled her eyes, “Why would I use it?”

“The kid’s smart.” Melissa commented, sitting in the window box. “How old is she?”

“I’m thirteen.” Tammy smiled broadly. “I’m going to get my powers soon and then, I’ll be a prelate like you, Warrick!” She snatched the silver coin from her brother’s hand and examined it. “Maybe I already have them and just need to try them out…” She started concentrating on the coin as hard as she could.

“Not so fast, squirt.” Warrick laughed. “You heard what the Whitecoat said; I needed to learn more about my power. Otherwise, I’d be doing more harm than good. Same goes for you, got that? You’ll need training just as much as I did.”

“Do.” Cyn corrected, playfully, causing everyone to snicker.

Tammy’s face fell. “But… the Academy is all bad guys, right?”

“Afraid so, kiddo.” Melissa groused, bitterly.

“So…” Tammy reasoned, “I can’t go to them to learn when or if I get my powers. Where do I go?”

The others looked at each other in puzzlement for a few moments. They never thought about it. By the time they had gotten over the initial shock, Laurel had helped them learn more about their powers and then Alexis had started training them. That wasn’t an option to hundreds, possibly thousands of psionic kids in the US anymore. The Academy had been the end all and be all of psionic training. Now it was gone.

Warrick frowned and chewed his lip. “I don’t know, Tammy. We’ll figure something out though.”

Cyn sighed and once more sprawled out on the bed, getting ready to return to relaxation. But Melissa’s next comment guaranteed that she’d find none.

“You’ll have to find something for yourself too.” The red head said, looking out the window. “After all, Warrick, once you leave here there’s no other trustworthy training program in the country.”

Cyn’s eyes fluttered open. That was the thing she’d been afraid to hear since she had landed literally ass first among the Kaines. They weren’t going to leave their son in the company of strangers while he was being hunted by a dangerous organization. They would go underground. He and Kareem would be gone. And soon after them Melissa and Juniper.

Without thinking, she was on her feet. “I almost forgot… something.” She said lamely. “I’ll be right back.” She was out the door before anyone could reply; leaving the others to shoot askance looks to one another and Tammy to continue her attempts to transmute the coin.

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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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