Issue #25: Summer Session

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

Part2

The front of the manor had undergone the most extensive reworking. The stone façade that set off twin oaken doors had been replaced with an atrium enclosed with what appeared to be, but most assuredly wasn’t glass. That had been done since Vorpal had last visited.

Stephan Archeneaux was already there to open the door for her. “I didn’t know when to expect you.” He spoke in English for her benefit. “Otherwise, I would have sent Arnold to pick you up.”

“A free vacation in the south of France is doing more than enough, thank you.” She set down her bags and the two shared a quick hug. “Besides, all things considered, I figure Arnold has his hands full already with you converting the manor into a school. Your parents hired him to take care of one young psionic, not half a dozen.”

“It’s closer to a full dozen now.” Stephan said, matter-of-factly. “We had two new arrivals this week, a brother and sister. We’re letting them stay in their rooms until they’re comfortable.” He ran an analytical gaze over her. “I didn’t expect you to be in uniform. That’s new, isn’t it?”

“Courtesy of Vincent Liedecker.” Vorpal held out her arms and turned so he could see it all. “The metal is a new alloy they call ‘orihalcon’; probably because they failed Classics class. It’s supposedly indestructible once nano-assembled.”

“Then how…”

“Because it isn’t.” Vorpal cut him off smugly. “You of all people know, Stephan: Nothing’s indestructible when I’m determined.” That left an unsteady lull in the conversation. “In any event, don’t worry; I won’t be wearing it around here this week. I packed real person clothes; shorts, skirts, my bathing suit, sleeping clothes – the essentials.”

“I promised you that I wouldn’t give you trouble over the mask,” Stephan started, “but won’t it be uncomfortable? Especially if you’re swimming?”

“I bought a cowl.” Vorpal made a show of casually looking about the receiving hall. “It’s lightweight and still covers my hair and eyes.”

“Even on vacation?” Stephan asked.

“I have to take it off when I go to my apartment or shopping, or anywhere in my normal identity.” Vorpal explained. “But on vacation is where a person is allowed to be themselves. I’ve told you, Stephan; the girl under this mask isn’t me. She never was.”

“I can accept that for now.” Stephan agreed, trying to salvage the occasion. “I’m just happy to have you here again. It’s been years since we’ve met in person. I frankly don’t know where to start; showing you the renovations we’ve made to the place, introducing you to the students, asking—“He was cut off by a cacophony of mixed laughter and moans from a room just off the receiving hall.

“It sounds like the students have spoken.” Vorpal said with a smirk. Stephan only smiled and motioned for her to follow him to the door of the adjoining room.

The last time Vorpal had been to the Archeneaux family manor, the room had been a formal parlor with all the trappings gathering dust after its young master’s long absence. Formality had been replaced by joviality. One wall was populated by antique arcade games, the one opposite it by a large television monitor. The monitor was currently showing split screen images of two motorcycles racing through what Vorpal recognized to be Hong Kong.

Three sofas had been pulled into a rough semicircle in front of the television. The central most of the trio held two boys while the furthest one from the door was taken up entirely by a bulky figure with knobby, grey skin and a body that looked like an ox had been persuaded to stand on its hind legs then sit cross-legged on a sofa.

The commotion had obviously come as a reaction to one of the two cycles had taken a detour through along the sidewalk and suffered an ignoble end against the side of a fruit stall.

With clear annoyance at the heckling of his classmates, the oversized boy flipped the game controller underhand at the more stout of the two. He muttered something petulant that Vorpal couldn’t understand in a low voice as he did. The throw was off target enough that the intended recipient was forced to extend his arm out to half again its normal length to catch it.

So engrossed in the game were the three that they didn’t notice the two adults entering.

“Has your French improved?” Stephan asked Vorpal quietly.

“Not by much, I’m been busy getting settled in Mayfield.”

“Then this will be interesting; their English skills are just as poor for the most part. I guess you’ll have to learn from each other. Still, if we’re going to call ourselves a school, we really should offer lessons.”

“Not to me.” Vorpal shot back. “I’m your friend, not your student. You’re the linguist; translate for me.”

“I like my way better.” Stephan mused. Before Vorpal could retort, he cleared his throat loudly enough to get the attention of the three boys. “Gentlemen,” he addressed them in French. “This is a dear friend of mine from the states. You’ll know her as Vorpal. She will be staying with us for the week and I expect the best behavior. Additionally, to practice your languages, you will address her in either English or Mandarin for the week.”

“I recognized ‘Mandarin’ in that.” Vorpal groused. “I don’t know—“

Stephan didn’t deviate a bit from his script. “Ms. Vorpal, these are Charles Humbert,” He indicated the young man with the stretching ability, “Jules Krantz,“ The second boy was small and sharp featured, not unlike some kind of weasel, “and this is one of our newer students, Zeke… he doesn’t have a last name.” the giant simply shrugged at this, giving no indication that he knew or cared what Voice was saying about him.

“They don’t have other names?” Vorpal asked, almost automatically.

“What? Like at America’s Academy or British Gifted Education?” Stephan asked. “You saw how that turned out. No, I’m not trying to train prelates or militants here, Vorpal, only give these kids a safe place to stay and learn to use their powers safely. That’s all.” He frowned. “That’s enough, really.” He paused to collect himself, straightening up to his full height before addressing the boys in English. “That will be all for now, boys, you can go back to your game now. Zeke, I’m glad to see you’re spending time with your fellows.”

Zeke gave a half nod and heaved his massive shoulders. Stephan returned with a nod of his own and led Vorpal out of the room. Along the way, he regained some of his cheer. “Come on, I’ll show you your room. I’ve had the new maid prepare the old guest chambers on the third floor for you. There’s a wonderful view.”

Vorpal glanced back at the door to the parlor as they began to ascend the stairs. “Is that the boy you were detoxing last time we talked about the school?”

“We had to use a high powered rifle to administer the treatments, but he’s clean now. Not exactly happy about it, but he’s better off not going berserk on stimulants.”

“If you ask me, a few uppers might do the sullen boy some good.” Vorpal said dryly. “How did he manage to take any kind of drug if you needed to shoot him to give him an injection?”

“Zeke’s skin is nigh invulnerable, but he’s just as susceptible to toxins as anyone—more so in fact. He’d take inhalants or pills and they’d drive him crazy. If we hadn’t gotten to him, the army was going to put him in an isolation cell for the rest of his life.”

“So what’s this about not letting them have nicknames?” Vorpal changed the subject swiftly.

“I haven’t forbidden it, only discouraged it.” Stephan said. “Vorpal, this isn’t America. The EU hasn’t engaged in a twenty year propaganda campaign to make psionics celebrities and ‘productive citizens’ in the peoples’ eyes. When people see a psionic here, they don’t see John Harding or Sonja Remington. They see a potential Arjun Ravi in the making.”

They reached the second floor landing and Stephan held the door to the stairs leading to the third floor open for Vorpal.

“Raising the next generation to make people think of them as those celebrities and productive citizens without the propaganda would help.” Vorpal said, accepting his courtesy.

“Maybe so, maybe not.” Stephan charitably ignored the fact that an international assassin was advocating teaching heroics. Vorpal lived and died by the mantra ‘do as I say, not as I do’. “But this isn’t the place. These kids need a home and a family. Most of them haven’t had either one in a long time. Ever since International Bio-Security introduced those damned tests, there’ve been more and more psionic orphans. People don’t seem to care that the things can’t identify eighty percent of power inducing genes as long as they have an excuse.”

Vorpal started to ask about those tests. They weren’t well known outside of western Europe, but she felt they were a cause for concern. The question would have to wait, as a cascade of mist steeped out of the ceiling, solidifying into a blonde, teenaged girl directly in front of Stephan.

“Mr. Archinaw!” she began in broken French and quickly switched to English in her panic. “She’s doing it again! And the wall’s cracking!”

Stephan’s jaw set. “Thank you for warning me, Wendy. Stay here and Ms. Vorpal and I will handle it.” Without a word to Vorpal, he sprinted up the stairs.

***

“We will be landing shortly at London Heathrow International Aerospaceport.” A digitized female voice said. “Please return to your seats and observe the landing instructions now being displayed on the panel in front of you. Sight Impaired passengers can now switch to channel three for audio instructions. Being properly secured is important as we transition from our glide path to vertical landing protocols. During this transition, some inertial shifting is normal.”

Alexis didn’t need to be told any of this. Her seatbelt had been buckled the entire way, though considering the grip she had on the seat, it may have been redundant.

“This isn’t any different than flying in a plane.” Laurel rationalized, looking up from her computer.

“’Inertial shifting’ is not normal on an airplane.” Alexis said through clenched teeth.

“Sure, not now, thanks to dampers; but back before we were born, when a plane encountered turbulence, everyone on the plane felt it.”

“Then flying back then was a nightmare too.” Alexis snapped.

“You’ve never gotten caught in a crosswind when you… you know…” Laurel led the question, conscious of the other dozen or so passengers strewn about the cabinet.

“I’m self correcting.” Alexis said. “So I never feel it then.”

“Interesting.” Laurel noted. “I never knew that.”

“It isn’t particularly—oh god!” She clenched her eyes closed as the plane suddenly slowed substantially, straining everyone against their seatbelts. Just as swiftly, it accelerated again, pressing everyone into the back of their seats.

Alexis glared over at her best friend as normality returned. “I bet they started serving alcohol on planes because of the turbulence. Why don’t they do that here?!”

“Because it’s only a half and hour. You wouldn’t have time to get properly drunk before you landed.”

“Then I should have gotten drunk before we got on this thing.” Alexis moaned. “People aren’t supposed to leave the atmosphere.”

“People will be living outside the atmosphere soon enough.” Laurel said, trying to get Alexis’s mind off the flight. “its eleven years behind schedule, but the Indus River should be going live sometime next year.”

Alexis quirked a half grin. “They’re more than a decade behind building the thing and people are still willing to live there?”

“You know, I considered taking the test to be part of the initial crew before everything happened.”

“’Everything’ got in the way of a lot of things. Are you sorry I got you involved?” Alexis asked.

“Are you kidding?” Laurel almost laughed. “The Indus River Project may be a scientific milestone, but it’s nowhere near as important as what we’ve been doing! Not just for us and the kids, but for the city and really, the world. Can you imagine what…” she paused, trying to find a way to phrase what she was saying covertly on the plane, “what this project would be like without our group working on it? That Arthurian Legend case alone would have gotten way out of hand.”

“I hear you.” Alexis nodded. “I would still be teaching… pretty much in the belly of the beast. This feels like what I’m supposed to do.” She let that hang in the air before continuing. “Just like this trip. L, I know you didn’t want me to come, but I think I should; not just tactically, but because… think of it as redemption, okay?”

“Redemption? Er… I mean, why would you think I didn’t want you along?”

“Laurel, we’ve been friends forever and I know that you’re way too smart to accidentally book a mode of transportation that terrifies me while going on a trip I might want to tag along on. Now I don’t know why, and I know you wouldn’t do it without reason…”

Laurel sank in her chair for reasons in no way related to inertia. “Why did you want to come so badly? There’s nothing you’ve done that I know of that you need redemption for.”

“Not really redemption, but… I don’t know, making me feel better? I worked for those guys. I was part of the bait in the trap. If I can help make it so these kids don’t get caught in that trap, I’m going to do anything I can, okay?”

Nodding, Laurel looked out the window at the famous London fog spread out far below. “I can definitely understand that, Alex. And listen, when we go home? We’ll take a regular plane.”

Series NavigationIssue #26: Ace Agenda >>

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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