Issue #25: Summer Session

This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

“So there it is.” Laurel looked to each of her friends and housemates in turn as she finished relating the basics of the data General Pratt had sent her. She hadn’t wanted to tell them over breakfast, but it didn’t seem right to keep it from them any longer than necessary. Regardless, she could tell by most of their faces that she’d added more than a little stress to their day.

“No more slick attempts at cover-ups, no more fronts. Without the Academy, Tome’s tactics have switched to outright kidnapping. Olivia White was even taken from her home.” Laurel continued, recounting what she’d already said as if to convince herself of the fact.

“Are we sure it’s Tome?” Alexis asked. Her voice came out in a croak thanks to a late night out with Ian compounded with this new element.

“Maybe I’m being hopeful.” Laurel said, “In all honestly, I’m praying that this isn’t some new danger to young psionics, but the evidence and motive is there. All of the kids on that list are around the same level of strength or versatility in their powers or have a rare power, just like the kids they’ve gone after before. And the document has been confirmed as coming from Tome by the ROCIC.”

“So, what are we going to do?” Cyn was the only one who was still eating. It was literally impossible to cause her to lose her appetite.

“We can’t ignore it.” Warrick said.

“Even if they aren’t Tome, we can’t ignore this list if it really is a kidnapper’s itinerary.” Juniper joined in shyly.

“I think we all understand that.” Laurel said. “The question I’m working on is that ‘what will we do about it?’.”

“We can’t take them in.” Melissa said dryly, staring dully at her pancakes. “This place isn’t big enough for thirteen more people; it’s a bed and breakfast, not a mansion.”

Cyn gave her a sidelong glance, but she was right, however nastily she’d put it. “And we can’t trust any of the new schools, can we?”

“Not at all.” Alexis said sadly. “We looked into it and of the two dozen schools out there now, all of them are owned, sponsored or controlled by a grand total of five corporations. None of whom were exactly known for their philanthropy before there were young psionic minds to influence. And any one of them could still be a front for Tome.”

“What about that place where you got all the stuff you use to train us?” Warrick asked.

“The Brunswick School?” Ian supplied.

“Didn’t you say that palace was run by British Special Services?” Warrick asked.

“MI-6 is Military Intelligence.” Ian corrected, “But pretty much. At least the man in charge is a company man.”

“Hugo Lansdale is former military intelligence.” Laurel corrected his correction. “In fact, I did some checking. MI-6 publicly only admits that Lansdale was employed as a clerical worker, when in fact he was a psionic operative codenamed Absolute Silence. He was forced out after allegedly failing to complete a mission involving a young mentalist they believed the French were conditioning to be an agent of their intelligence agency, the DRM.”

“’Allegedly’?” Cyn said around a mouthful of hash browns. “You couldn’t get anything more specific?”

“That’s all MI-6 got, apparently.” Laurel admitted. “The boy disappeared, the training facility was destroyed, but no one at the agency could confirm him dead and Lansdale’s powers fouled every lie detector they tried on him. The crown’s been grudgingly allowing him to operate his school without normal oversight for the past decade out of fear that he still has ties to this boy, whoever he was. And believe me; they’re so afraid of him that every database I can access has been scrubbed of any mention of his actual name or abilities.”

“So he could be a good guy or a bad guy.” Cyn concluded, attacking her heretofore unmolested sausages. “I mean we don’t know what it was he did to the kid. He could have eaten his brains to gain his powers or something.”

Juniper gave her oatmeal a horrified look as it changed to something wholly unappetizing in her mind’s eye thanks to Cyn’s colorful example and pushed the bowl away. “That’s just horrible. He can’t be like that, can he Ms. Brant?”

Laurel was in the process of giving Cyn an odd look and took a few seconds to respond by shaking her head. “Nothing that graphic, I imagine. Thank you for the mental image nonetheless, Cyn.”

“No problem.” Cyn replied. “Are you going to eat that grey matter, Jun?” She asked, pointing to the girl’s abandoned oatmeal. When Juniper indicated she didn’t, she stretched out an arm and snatched the bowl up.

“But you’re right, Cyn.” Laurel continued, “He may be dangerous. For all we know, Tome has gone global in the decades since they broke from the government. But the Brunswick School is our best solution if I can trust General Pratt’s theories about it.”

“That they’re the one’s smuggling kids out of the country.” Said Melissa. “But has it occurred to you that maybe they’re just competing with Tome? Pretty much everyone else on the planet wants to alternately kill or experiment on us; I don’t see how these people would be any different.”

“Everyone?” Cyn asked slyly. “So what does Terry want to do; kill you or experiment on you? And remember, playing doctor doesn’t count as experimenting.”

“I think it would.” Juniper said, completely missing the innuendo.

“Mind your own business.” Melissa snapped at both of them, sending Cyn into peels of laughter.

“Girls.” Alexis said firmly, causing everyone but Cyn to quiet down. She ignored her; trying to tell Cyn what to do was like telling a glacier to hurry up. “We’re getting away from the point. If you can’t get better information on him, Laurel, then no one can. That’s a big gamble we’d be taking with these kids.”

“Yeah,” Ian added. “One I don’t think any of us is willing to take. This isn’t like contacting the kids’ parents, this is literally taking a chance at handing them over to the enemy.”

Laurel took a sip of orange juice “I didn’t say I couldn’t get any more information on Lansdale and the school, only that I couldn’t access it digitally. The Brunswick School’s intra-net is entirely separate from the internet and even the normal internet access is strictly controlled. I’d be willing to bet that he’s got a technopath on staff just for this purpose.”

“How are you going to get information without the internet?” Warrick wondered.

Ian shook his head in mild disgust. “Okay, kids, next training assignment is to read a couple Sherlock Holmes adventures and watch some detective movies.” He sniffed at Warrick’s stunned reaction to this. “Come on. Do you not understand basic investigation skills; hunting for clues, interviewing witnesses?”

“My dad taught me a few things.” Juniper spoke up. “But… how is Ms. Brant going to do that from here, Mr. Smythe?”

Ian blinked. It hadn’t occurred to him in his righteous indignation over the kids not respecting the classics. “Well, she’d have to…” He looked over to Laurel. Obviously, she’d already come to the same conclusion, possibly within minutes of reviewing Pratt’s disk. “You’re not going to England, are you?”

“It’s the only way.” Said Laurel, starting in on her own sausage. “I’ve convinced General Pratt to arrange a tour for us using his own and my father’s World Affairs Council connections. I’ll be leaving tomorrow.”

“What?” Alexis was shocked. “You already arranged this without telling us? You’re going to visit a potential enemy on foreign soil alone? I can’t let you do that, L.”

“I’m just as dangerous as any of you in proper context.” Laurel returned. She couldn’t help but smile at the concern she engendered. “And if you’re really concerned about it, well, I anticipated someone would want to come along to keep me company, so I had Daddy get me a second ticket.”

“Why would you need your father to book airline tickets?” Ian asked.

“Because we’re not going to be taking a plane.” Laurel said, “I want to get this done as quickly as possible, so we’ll be taking a sub-orbital shot.”

Alexis blanched. Cyn finally found something to distract her completely from her meal. “Awesome.” She said with a seriousness and wonder that bordered on a religious declaration.

***

Later that day, the door to Laurel’s workshop opened as she oversaw a file transfer to her notebook computer. “Hey.” She said cheerfully. Glancing back, she saw that it was Ian. “I would have thought you’d be helping Alexis pack.”

“She kicked me out for being unhelpful.” Ian admitted. “Is it my fault I think everything she has looks good on her?”

“Pretty much, yes.”

She noticed him poking at a half finished piece of equipment on one of the work tables. “What’s this?” he asked.

Laurel left the computer to come over and look. “Oh, that’s something I’m helping Warrick work on. After Tina’s electromagnet immobilized him, he figured the bad guys may figure out the same thing. So this is a demagnetizer. Or it will be once he figures out how to get it to work.”

“He figures it out?” Ian asked, “But I know for a fact you know how. We used industrial demagnetizers in Seattle.”

“But he doesn’t.” Laurel supplied, “And I’d rather he figure that out by himself. He’s a pretty bright kid when he applies himself. Have you seen his chemistry grades?”

“Not hard to ace chemistry when you can actually check you watch battery to see how many electrons nickel has.” Ian quipped.

They both had a little laugh, which faded to uneasy silence. Laurel rushed to fill it. “So is Alexis still nervous about the sub-orbital shot?”

“Incredibly. I’ve got to ask: Is there any particular reason you’ve suddenly decided it’s necessary to shave eight hours off your flight time when it just happened to involve a mode of transportation she hates more than anything.”

“I told her; g-force dampers are generations ahead of the ones they had went we took our senior trip.”

“Laurel…” Ian used the tone she herself used when people weren’t being completely straight with her.

“Alright. I was trying to convince her to stay here.” Laurel admitted. “For one the kids need her here training them. Especially Melissa. I swear, she’s become worse at using her healing under pressure, not better; and she never uses her emotion heightening.”

“The training’s in good hands.” Ian assured her, “Mine.”

“Speaking of which…” Laurel went over and lifted a notebook computer out of its charging cradle. “I’ve programmed in the training sessions for the three days we’ll be gone. Remember, Cyn needs practice mimicking inanimate objects and Warrick needs focus control. Don’t worry about Kareem aside from the usual medical care; he knows what the manifestation routine I planned for him by heart.”

“I know, I work on the lesson plans with Alexis.” Ian accepted the notebook. “And don’t think you’ve made me forget my question; why are you trying to convince Alexis to stay home?”

Laurel sighed and sat down in one of her computer chairs. “Because this is what I’m good at and staying here, watching the home front and leading the Descendants is what she’s good at. If we can’t let one another fulfill our roles, we’re going to have problems.”

She scrubbed her hand through her hair. “It isn’t even that I don’t want her on the trip. I’d love nothing more than to tool around Europe with you two, and I know she’s choosing to go because we’re best friends. I just think it’s more important to have her here.” Giving up, she looked at the ceiling. “This would be so much easier if I was all cold and logical like the hyper-cogs in the movies. At least I wouldn’t feel bad for thinking this way.”

Ian grabbed another chair and pulled it over to her. “I for one am happy you aren’t. You’d be pretty annoying if you were.” They both laughed at this. “But don’t worry so much; I’m on the case here and I’ll handle leading the kids if anything comes up. I’d say ‘it’s only three days, what could happen?’, but we both know that would summon a giant shrimp or something to attack the city, so I’ll shut up.”

Laurel laughed at the mental image of an immense shrimp rampaging through the city. “Thanks, Ian, I needed that.”

“It’s what I’m here for.” He smiled. “Listen, you’ve said more than once that Alexis is better at thinking on the fly than you because you have to analyze everything, right?” He let her nod before he continued. “I think this qualifies as on the fly. Day before yesterday, we were dealing with Mad-Mad warping reality. Now we’re suddenly back to thinking in terms of Tome? Not to mention you’re going to only have three days at the Brunswick School. Maybe it’ll be to your benefit to have Alexis along.”

“That’s true.” Laurel conceded. “But I’m still taking the sub-orbital shot. I find them fascinating.”

***

The cab had dropped her off down the road from the main entrance, affording her time to duck into the woods and shed her overcoat as well as don her mask. By the time she was properly attired and her coat securely packed in her suitcase, noon had slipped past her.

Those circumstances suited her fine. The dirt road was a comfortable walk and took a switchback route that offered a view of the French coast, gorgeous in the noonday sun. Soon enough, the path turned away from the coast and onto wooded hills.

Between two of those stood an ancient manor house that bore the patchwork effect of an owner desperate to renovate while at the same time suffering constant natural disasters. It and the grounds that belonged to it were surrounded by a concrete and steel wall. Incongruously, a set of old fashioned, wrought iron gates were set into the gap in the front, the words Arceneaux Academy pour les Arts Spéciaux were formed from the metal at the very tops of the bars.

There was also a camera, which she only noticed when she was close enough to have already been spotted. No worries, she wasn’t there to cause trouble.

“Do you have an appointment, Mademoiselle?” A deep, male voice asked in French from a speaker box set into the wall. It was a concerned, suspicious voice. The kind that called the police or reached for a firearm in a hurry if things didn’t go exactly the right way.

“Monsieur Arceneanux is expecting me.” She replied in her own, rather poor French. Of all the languages she’d learned, she’d neglected to learn the one she used most often aside from English until very late in life.

“For security, Madame, “the voice replied, “Please remove your face covering and submit to biometric recognition.”

“Non.” She said with sharp irritability.

There was a pause, and then the gates swung open before her. “Welcome to the Arceneaux Academy, Mademoiselle Vorpal.” The man on the intercom said cheerfully.

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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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