Issue #29: Little Girl Lost

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Part 4

“I can’t begin to tell you how much your help has meant to us.” Susan Abernathy said for probably the thirtieth time since the victorious prelates had returned their daughter to them. Rose had been sent upstairs to be kept occupied by the younger Descendants while her parents discussed her future downstairs in the living room. Codex had to stay with the carrier to arrange for the disposal of the scorpion jar with the ROCIC. Outside, they could hear the low murmur of a media caravan just waiting for the prelates and jubilant parents to emerge.

“We were more than happy to help, Mrs. Abernathy.” Majestrix said. Her full bodied hair had wilted in the oppressive humidity of the Queen’s Gambit’s cockpit and hung over her goggles and into her face as she contemplated the glass of lemonade she’d been served. “And thank you for inviting us into your lovely home.”

Darkness glanced around the home. It was so far from ‘lovely’ that the light from ‘lovely’ would only reach it a millennium after its sun had burned out. It looked more like an uncharacteristically homey pillbox. The walls were cinderblock, the floor bare concrete, and the furniture all low and robust; no doubt reinforced so Rose wouldn’t damage it.

“So you say you can help us with Rose?” Michael Abernathy asked, tipping back his own glass. Like his wife and half the city, he’d spent most of the day climbing rocks and combing desert in search of his only child. “N-not that we’re having trouble with her, it’ just that…”

“We know she’s unhappy here.” Susan finished for him. “We’ve tried everything to help. We reinforced everything in the house so she wouldn’t be embarrassed by breaking things.”

“Then we thought maybe it was a teenaged girl issue.” Michael added, “You know, worried about her looks and about boys. So we bought her all sorts of makeup and wigs. We even bought liquid latex to make a kind of skin for her. But it only seemed to make her more frustrated.”

“She’d complain about he reinforced bed, for example.” Susan picked it up. “She’d say ‘it’s not like I sleep anyway, why do I need a bed?’, and she’d complain about the cost of all the things we tried to help her change her look. The only things she seems to enjoy are reading and kendo and climbing.” The young mother smiled at a memory, “She loved climbing even before her accident.”

“She didn’t tell me anything about her accident.” Darkness said content to let the Abernathys make themselves comfortable by talking before starting her pitch.

Susan’s eyes fell to the floor and Michael put his hand on her knee to comfort her. “It’s all right, honey, I’ll tell them.” He looked back to the assembled prelates and began. “It was how we learned about Rose’s powers. We were too busy to take notice of the earlier clues; how she had more and more trouble sleeping, how she was eating less and less. The people at the Academy said those were the early signs that she was becoming what they call a silicon-based lifeform.

“But we didn’t notice until May of last year. It was a weekend and Rose took some of her friends climbing near the Mittens—uh, those are rock formations—and… she lost her footing and fell. By the time we got to the hospital, the doctors said she died on the table, only to turn into… the way she is now.”

“That was before the whole mess with what happened at the Academy.” Susan said. “Rose was so eager to go there and it crushed her when everything came to light.”

“Actually, Mr. And Mrs. Abernathy,” Darkness said, seeing her opening, “I talked to Rose earlier and it seems that her largest concern is that you’re spending so much money on her that she’s become a financial burden.”

“Of course we spend money on her.” Michael said, sounding a bit offended, “We’re her parents and she’s our only child; it’s our job. Frankly, anyone who would consider that a financial burden would make a poor parent.”

“Those aren’t her words, Mr. Abernathy.” Chaos came to Darkness’s defense, “Rose said that. I think you’re fit to be the patron saints of parenting based on what the news reports said. Is it true that both of you’ve taken second jobs and a third mortgage to pay for household upgrades?”

“That’s true.” Michael calmed visibly, “But it was worth every penny for our little girl.”

“I can’t fault you for that.” Zero Point piped up. “I’d make the same sacrifices in your place. But these people are offering to help and there’s no shame in accepting help in these matters. You have to put what’s best for Rose first.”

“Yes, the school.” Susan said, “General Pratt mentioned it when he contacted us about your involvement in the search. But how can we trust this Liedecker Institute when we couldn’t trust the Academy? The government recommended them as well.”

Darkness was ready for that question. It was the first and most obvious question for any parent of a child that had been at the Academy to ask. She could make a dozen excuses and assurances, possibly even appeal to her own authority as a nationally known prelate, but the truth was what the Abernathys and parents like them deserved.

“All I can give you is my word.” She said quietly. “I know that there are dozens of schools popping up all over the place, and some of them are probably just new faces for Project Tome and the Academy. But I’m telling you—promising you that we aren’t them. We aren’t even affiliated with the government if that’s a concern. While General Pratt is vouching for us, neither the Descendants, nor the Liedecker Institute are beholden to the government.”

“And I’ll vouch for her.” Majestrix cut in. “Both ZP and I will. We can tell good people from bad; we even forbade our own daughter from joining the Academy because we smelled a rat.”

The Abernathys glanced at each other, silently sharing the same apprehension and concerns.

“How about this then;” Chaos asked, leaning forward conspiratorially. “From what I remember, the Academy made a big deal about discouraging parental visits. On reflection, that was a giant warning flag, but it was easy to buy the ‘we don’t want our students to be distracted’ song and dance back then. How about we do the opposite; not only will we guarantee that you’ll always have unfettered access to Rose, but if you so choose, we’ll move you to Mayfield?”

Darkness gave him a sidelong glance. Despite being vocally in favor of the school concept, Chaos hadn’t contributed much to it, citing not having any knowledge that could help. At most he had made coffee and kept the kids occupied. But she had to admit he’d hit upon an elegant solution there.

Susan Abernathy cocked her head to the side, considering the offer carefully. But it was Michael Abernathy that finally spoke. “I think that sort of arrangement is acceptable – as long as we get to check the school out first.”

“Of course.” Darkness agreed, “The school will be ready to open in August, so we can schedule a visit for you any time after that. And don’t worry; we’ll take care of any special accommodation your daughter will need.”

“We look forward to it.” Mrs. Abernathy said and finally allowed herself to smile.

***

Vorpal picked up a picture on the desk in Liedecker’s home office and examined it causally. It showed a much younger Vincent Liedecker at a carnival, leaning down to be fed cotton candy by an attractive brunette with vaguely Asian features.

“Does it meet your inspection?” Liedecker asked without humor as he entered the room.

Vorpal replaced the picture, remaining casual under Liedecker’s steely gaze. It wasn’t her place to delve into her employer’s personal life, even if she was curious. “This place looks nothing like your office. I found that curious.”

“Not as curious as I found your asking to meet me here.” The crime boss went to take a seat in his chair. “I keep my real work and my public work separate for a reason, Vorpal. I don’t want to explain to the media why a masked woman was visiting my home.”

“I didn’t want to be overheard by anyone else in the organization.” Vorpal explained, taking a seat herself. “I wanted to ask you about the Institute.”

Liedecker cracked a grin. “Let me guess; you’re worried that I’m gonna do those kids like the Academy did; kidnap ‘em; maybe have my scientists get to work on ‘em like I’ve got them on magitech and the Solomon Center.” He took a bit of pleasure upon seeing the femme fatale’s hackles rising, but knew better than to actually imply he was doing anything of the sort. Pushing her too far had separated men from their heads.

He schooled his expression and shook his head. “No, I ain’t some kind of monster. God’s sake, they’re children, Vorpal.” He steepled his fingers. “But they are powerful children that are going to grow up into powerful adults. Adults who could some day work for me.”

“How is that any different from harvesting them?” Vorpal demanded, though her tone betrayed her understanding of the situation.

“Because they’ll have a choice.” Liedecker shrugged. “All I plan to do is give the right ones a little influence in the right direction; no worse than any other educator in the world would give. And most importantly for what you’re asking, Vorpal; I want smart, resourceful employees like you, not like Samael or Sky Tyrant. So it’s in my best interests to give them kids the best goddamn education money can buy.”

He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Does that put your head at ease?”

Vorpal nodded slowly. “It does. And it leads me to the piece of business I came to discuss.”

“Oh?”

She nodded again. “It so happens that there’s a young descendant I know who is in need of an education…”

Liedecker made an enigmatic gesture. “That may be out of my hands. See, Ms. Brant and Ms. Keyes have insisted that they be in charge of admissions… However, I think I can convince them… if I want to.”

“What is it you want?” Vorpal grit her teeth.

“It’s not much of a thing, really, Ms. Vorpal; but I’m in need of someone competent to keep an eye on things at the school. Problem is, everyone’s going to suspect a woman in a mask…”

Vorpal sat bolt upright, unconsciously touching her mask as if to make sure it remained in place. She hated her face, who she was beneath the mask. But she had made a promise and it wasn’t as if she wore the mask in her day to day, non-professional life. She was just uncomfortable with people who knew her seeing what she was beneath the mask…

It was a hard decision, but it was one she had to make for the sake of another.

***

Alone in his penthouse, Simon Talbot glared at the hologram in front of him. It displayed the homepage of the Sedona Herald, dated that morning. The headline was ‘Local Girl Rescued By Prelate Coalition.’

Someone had sent it to him from a spoofed email address. Somehow, they had managed to block news of Rose Abernathy’s disappearance and the resultant search from Tome’s information gathering on the remaining priority targets.

Talbot snarled wordlessly. Someone knew about the Priority List. That meant that Tome’s organization had sprung its first leak in almost sixty years. And it had happened right under his nose.

It was the latest in a series of near crippling setbacks he’d been forced to endure; the destruction of the Quinn Bluff facility, the loss of the Academy and most of the Enforcer Corps, Brother Wright’s betrayal and the subsequent hemorrhaging of scientific talent, the catastrophic failure of the Virginia Beach operation that led to Impact and Dervish being incarcerated, and now completely missing a prime chance to capture Rose Abernathy and her unique physiology.

Times were changing. There were more prelates appearing almost daily and the Descendants and that damnedable General Pratt at the ROCIC were spreading the knowledge of Tome’s existence far and wide.

Psionic agents had failed. The inugami had failed. Scientific method had failed. He sneered. It was time to try something dramatic and untested.

Fingers flying across the holographic display, Talbot banished the news site and instead called up the console for his high priority files. The machine scanned his face and fingerprints and then provided him with floating objects to choose from. He chose one that resembled a hooded falcon.

The screen rotated and changed to reveal a screen headed by the words ‘Enhanced Agent Program’ beneath it was a listing for the heads of the project; Brandy Dillinger and Roland Powell. Beneath them was a column of project listings and links to progress reports.

Talbot smiled as he found two that were ready for human trials.

End Issue #29

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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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