Issue #15: Never Simple

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 2

“So,” Laurel switched the device; a very useful resource provided cheaply by the Chamber of Commerce in City Central, from city directory to the city guide, “What’s with all the pomp and circumstance? As long as I’ve known you, you’ve usually gone for the simple but sweet gestures.”

“Simple and sweet don’t cut it right now.” Ian shrugged. “I mean with other girls…”

“Before you put your foot in your mouth, I’m going to remind you that we dated for a couple of weeks back in Seattle.”

Ian averted his eyes. “Yeah… The thing is I felt pretty strongly about Alexis even back in school.” Laurel made a non-committal little noise that got his attention. “What?”

“Nothing, really.” Laurel responded. As she spoke, she was cycling through a section in the city guide about the ‘best views in the city’. “I’m just surprised that you noticed you were carrying a torch for her back then.

“How could I possibly not notice that I was in love with someone?!” Ian sat up straighter.

“Oh, my, someone’s using the ‘l’ word.” Laurel said playfully.

“I’m a little old to be playing around with the subtle nuances of ‘like’ and ‘like’, aren’t I? And you still haven’t answered the question. I’m not a super genius, but I’m not entirely brainless.”

“It’s got nothing to do with intelligence, Ian.” Laurel put a hand on his arm to calm him. “But you were fifteen. I really didn’t expect that kind of emotional maturity and or empathy to figure that out so soon. People our age still have trouble with this kind of thing. Self delusion is a powerful drug. People just don’t tend to understand their feelings, especially if those feelings are socially awkward.”

“Point.” Ian conceded. “So yeah, I liked her back then and… hell, I know you could tell how it tore me up when she dropped out of contact for like months at a time during college.” He didn’t have to see her nod to know she understood. She’d been there. “Then, that last two years… before this whole Academy thing—and we hadn’t heard from her at all.” He waved his hand in a generic fashion. “Then she was back. Granted, she brought the Apocalypse with her—“

“Hyperbole much?”

“I’m trying to wax poetic. That’s a good thing given the season.” Ian smirked. “Anyway, I’ve got another chance and she’s actually into me… I mean very—“

“My room is down the hall, skip it.” Laurel laughed.

“Sorry.” Ian ducked his head. “What I’m trying to say is I don’t want to screw up. Again, I mean. The whole thing with LSI and General Pratt… the only thing that saved everything then was Maven attacking—something is definitely wrong that the best things in my life are direct results of evil. I suppose I could blame that one on George though…”

“Who?”

“Oh, he was just this older guy I ran into right after Maven’s first attack. He’s the one that gave me the tickets I gave to Cyn. Come to think of it, we’ve got him to thank for all that. Poor old guy, I wish there was some way to let him know how much good he did.”

Downstairs, the front door closed. “I’m back!” Alexis shouted into the house. “Laurel? Ian?”

“Up here!” Laurel shouted down. She snatched up the Chamber of Commerce’s portable kiosk as Ian made a move to conceal it.

Moments later, Alexis topped the stairs. Her hair had been cut; from her previous long, straight style to an exotic cut with side-cut bangs that curled past her chin, a front fringe and the hair in back cut off just below her earlobes. She smiled at their approving (if shocked) stares. “You like?” She asked.

Ian could only nod. “Nice.” Laurel said, “Very trendy. Going for something special for a special day?” She elbowed Ian with a smirk.

“Yeah, I figured I don’t need to look like a teacher anymore, so I decided to try something new. So what are you two up to?”

Laurel foiled one last attempt by Ian to retrieve the kiosk and held it up for Alexis to see. “Planning that special day.” She explained. “As my gift to my friends, I’m planning something for you two. Ever hear of the Nye Building?” Alexis and Ian shook their heads.

“It’s the administration building for Dayspring College’s School of Science and Technology. It’s river adjacent and its position blocks enough light pollution that the roof is an excellent place to stargaze. The only problem is that the roof isn’t normally accessible. Unless, of course, one was capable of flight…”

Alexis smiled. “I think I get your hint, L.”

“Great. I’ll order you guys a picnic dinner for two before I head out on my own date.”

“Wait, you’ve got a date?” Ian asked. “When did this happen?”

“While I was collaborating with the ROCIC and their marine contingent over our shiny new point defenses.” Laurel said smoothly.

***

“Is it possible,” Alloy asked, swinging to land on the top of a building as Facsimile landed with Zero, “That the whole Redeemer thing scared off all the high powered baddies?” He leaned against an air conditioning unit. “I mean think about it; The Brothers Steel were probably more dangerous than they look to a guy that could and did melt their armor by thinking, and Zoo Man’s tigers were scary, but not much of a threat to us…”

“When the press asked for his handle,” Facsimile reminisced, “He chose poorly.”

“What about Jack?” Zero asked, “Being chased by remote controlled police cruisers was not fun.”

“Yeah, but Ms. Brant did… things to his brain while he was connected to the ‘net.”

“Plus, what the hell kind of handle is ‘Jack’ anyway?” Facsimile reasoned. “It wasn’t even his real name.”

“I think it was supposed to be like ‘jack in’.” Zero said.

“His real name was Boris.” Facsimile continued. “He could have worked with that. He could have controlled guns and called himself ‘Full Bore’. Or, you know, maybe built a giant robot pig he controlled with his power and called himself ‘Razorback Boar’.”

“We’re kinda getting away from my point.” Alloy interrupted. “Which is, the city doesn’t need us to kick the crap out of super-crime that doesn’t exist. We should go back to doing what we did in LSI and using the scanner to find people in trouble.”

“We still do that.” Zero reminded him. “Except Ms. Keyes… uh, Darkness, is so much faster than us that we never get there on time.”

“We could kick the crap out of normal crime.” Facsimile offered.

“Not tonight thought.” Zero said, “I really want to get home so I can call Adel and ask him to the dance.” She suddenly lowered her head as if remembering that she was supposed to be shy.

“Speaking of the dance…” Alloy started.

Facsimile felt that odd stab of guilt she’d felt before. “I’m sorry, I—“ she started.

“—Did Zero already tell you that I’m going with Tink?” Alloy finished.

“someone already – wait, what?” Facsimile’s eyes widened in shock. It wasn’t that she thought him incapable of getting a date, she was just so used to the general routine they had fallen into regarding school functions.

Zero cringed behind her half mask. “I didn’t, actually.” She said defensively. “See, we were having our study group and…”

“I’m here to tell it now.” Alloy held up a hand to silence her panicked chatter.

“Seriously, Tink? I always pictured her as one of those monks, meditating on whatever contraption she’s working on like it was Enlightenment. I don’t think she’s ever had a date—or wanted one.” Facsimile took a seat on the roof. “So yeah, I have to hear this story.”

“It’s not like I danced with her up a staircase while a brass band played.” Alloy was suddenly thankful that his faceplate hid his expression. “She said she didn’t have a date, so I asked her out. Then she said ‘yes’.”

“Actually, she said ‘sure, why not?’” Zero chimed in.

“Thanks, Z.” Alloy sighed.

“You’re welcome.” She beamed.

“Basically, she agreed to go out with me so we’d shut up about the dance and get to work building the electromagnetic thing she wants us to build for our physics project.”

“A directed electromagnetic force engine.” Zero recited the name of the device.

“That thing.” Alloy confirmed. He had somewhat of a knack with machines, but he never bothered naming them.

“You should be getting dates on you own merit, not like this.” Facsimile frowned. “You’re a pretty cool guy, maybe if you kept asking around – and stopped asking the superficial bitches.”

“It’s high school.” Alloy interrupted, “Where am I going to find non-superficial people? I’m superficial, you’re superficial… even J… Zero’s superficial.”

“If know you’re superficial, doesn’t it make it not true?” Zero asked, looking distressed at the possibility.

“He’s got a point.” Facsimile deadpanned. “I mean I’m going to the dance with Jonas Griffin, after all.” She savored the surprised noises that escaped her friends. “Oh yeah, he asked me out this evening. I’m mostly going with him to screw with Lilly’s head, but I have to admit he’s pretty hot.”

“See, my point? Hold on, Jonas, Griffin, the football player?” Alloy asked.

“Also baseball.” Facsimile confirmed.

“Good… then.” Alloy said slowly. “Good. Yes. I’m sure you two will have a great time.”

“I’m sure you and Tink will too.” Facsimile replied, “And on that note, we should make sure Zero actually does call Adel tonight. Let’s fly.”

Alloy nodded and swung off as Facsimile came over to grab Zero for lift off.

“You don’t seem mad.” Zero said as soon as Alloy was away.

“Why would I be mad? I’m kind of disappointed he didn’t get a real date, but…”

“But what about how jealous you were of me? And don’t forget Liz von Stoker…”

“I wasn’t jealous.” Facsimile snapped, sweeping them both into the air. “I was being protective of my best friend, thank you very much, snowball.”

“What’s different with Tina Carlyle?”

“He knows what he’s getting into this time.” Facsimile lied. “And Tink isn’t what I’d call a heartbreaker.” She meant that part, just not in the way she intended Zero to understand it.

***

The place could best be described as a makeshift auditorium. Half of the space had been given over to a set of risers constructed of cinderblocks and planks which provided adequate seating for the two dozen people occupying them. The risers faced a stack of pallets where a woman sat in a wheelchair.

Belle Cummings let a casual gaze sweep over her audience as they settled down. She knew each of them by name and had personally worked with more than half of them. Pride swelled in her breast just to know that so many had responded to her call for volunteers in the endeavor she was about to lay out. It was a big step for the movement. And a big step for the movement, she reasoned, was a big step for humanity.

With those thoughts fresh in her mind, she maneuvered the chair to the center of the pallets, into the light.

“My friends, welcome, once again. I’m sure you are all very busy with your own work improving yourselves and through yourselves, mankind’s hope for the new century.” There was a murmur of agreement, much of it apprehensive.

“I also understand,” she continued, “that many of you are concerned with the specifics of the notice I sent to all of you. This is completely understandable. But you’ve trusted me before and I assure you that as those other times, I have the good of our art in mind.”

She watched the nods of agreement from her pupils. As she expected, they trusted her judgment even if they didn’t understand it entirely. “Sixteen years ago, I developed the first nerve analog to digital interface in modern medicine—and opened the way for all of you to help push the boundaries of mankind’s fragile biology. The youthful subculture proved more understanding of the methods and philosophy of interfacing than the hallowed halls of medicine. You grew my seed when they wished to smother it in paperwork.”

The agreements were more and in greater volume now. “But there are limits to what we can achieve as we are. Modifications cost money, cost time that any well paying legal job simply won’t allow for. That is the problem that my solution addresses.”

“By the most conservative police estimates, organized crime in Mayfield alone is a six hundred billion dollar a year venture. And these organizations are run by ordinary people—men and women without our brilliance or capability. Imagine what we could do with even a segment of that market.”

The crowd was agitated now. “I know that this is a big step. But we all agree that interfacing is the best path mankind can follow. We are pioneers and sometimes, to be a pioneer, one must become a criminal. The founding fathers of this great country became traitors to become the great men they are today. By comparison, theft, trafficking and arms dealing are nothing. All it takes is some… venture capital.”

“What about the Descendants?” asked a young woman in the top row of the risers. “Alloy alone…”

“The vigilantes are a risk, I won’t lie to you.” Belle admitted. “But nothing ventured is nothing gained. Our first target will be Mayfield Security Systems. All of my research indicates that it is off the beaten path the vigilantes frequent, but just in case, I’ll ask that anyone with exposed metal parts to refrain from joining me—or temporarily downgrade to plastic or ceramic components.”

She rolled forward to the edge of the pallet. “Make no mistake, this is the vanishing point. Valentine’s Night will be the first test of the virtues of interfacing. Who is with me in facing it?”

Her surety swayed them. She had never led them astray before; she wasn’t likely to. They all cheered for the dawning of their new age.

***

On the south side, conveniently sitting adjacent to a number of frequent patrol routes for the Descendants, another store was getting no real notice at all. A. Aaronson’s Specialty Flowers had opened with little fanfare aside from a sign announcing that it was having a sale on last minute flower orders.

That probably would have earned it a large rush of customers—except the sign was angled in such a way that it was only easily read from above.

Those few that noticed the place, would assume that lack of advertising was responsible when it closed on February 15th.

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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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