Issue #3: Gather

This entry is part 4 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Part 2

One of the meeting rooms at the ConquesTech Convention Center had been transformed into a control room for the night’s festivities. A series of thin, flat LED screens had been unrolled and attached to the far wall and a folding table placed before them with two chairs facing that wall. A jumble of computer equipment and wireless transmitter/receivers sat on the table.

Rick Charlotte sat at that table, tapping out commands and checking the LED screens to see the results. By all accounts, he was homely at best. He stood only five feet, two inches tall, with an uneven, olive complexion, a crooked nose, and eyes that weren’t the same size by any stretch of the imagination.

The door swung open and a middle-aged man with a bald head, a once brown moustache and an obvious hearing aide jogged in, displaying more energy than even a man half his age rightfully should. “Good evening, Mr. Charlotte!” he smiled, stretching the word evening out. “How are we doing on tonight’s enterprise?”

“Hello, Mr. Wright.” Rick nodded. “Everything’s good to go on my end. I’ve hijacked the security feeds in the entire east wing and I’m standing by to blind them. Two birds with one stone was never so easy.”

“Please, Mr. Charlotte; you’ve worked for me for two years now. You’ve earned the right to call me by my first name.” Brother smiled at his associate. “Also, that’s three birds with one stone.”

“Three, Mist—Brother?” He ticked the two ‘friends in need’ he was aware of off on his fingers. “Jackson Harris of CitiWide Security wants Mayfield Security Systems to lose their contract with ConquesTech for the Convention Center. And Tatiana Farnsworth, AKA Lady Nightshade wants to make a name for herself as a thief. Solution: stage a robbery of the hidden vault here in the Convention Center.” He shook his head, “I don’t see where a third comes in.”

Brother pointed to the row of screens. “If you will, please bring up our file on Mary Northbrooke.”

Rick’s fingers flew over the keyboard and in a few seconds, the central screen displayed a dossier of a mousey brunette with glasses. “She’s a freelance journalist for the Scribe, also works at the Emery Hollow Nursery.” He leaned forward, reading the screen. “Under notes, we see that you actually got her placed in her current position and she’s just been used for public relations ever since.” He looked back up at Brother. “It’s the usual arrangement; you made her journalism aspirations happen and in return she makes nice to you. I’m not seeing the relation here.”

“That is why I am the kingpin of this operation, Mr. Charlotte.” Brother said. “You see, one of our ‘very good friends’ has a problem with the new prelate team that’s been running around lately. He wants them to start earning some bad press. But to do that, we need a ‘friend’ who is a regular columnist at the Scribe.”

“I see where you’re going, Mr. Wright, but I have no idea how you’re getting there.” Rick admitted.

“It came to me in a… simple rush of genius.” Brother smiled. “Lady Nightshade is going to need a very eye catching article if she’s to make it beyond being ‘just another cat burglar’. She’s also going to need a distraction.” He pointed to another screen. “Pull up the file for Los Lobos de la Noche.”

Rick entered the data and displayed the dossier for the minor street gang Brother kept supplied with free weapons in exchange for staging petty crimes. “You haven’t tapped these guys for months.” Rick commented.

“Mostly because they haven’t been successful in living up to their part of our arrangement lately.” Brother scowled; a frightening sight for Rick who was used to his light demeanor. “So now I’ll be calling in my last favor from them. Ms. Northbrooke will have her story, Lady Nightshade will have her reputation, and Mayfield Security Systems will lose their contract as Mr. Harris requested.”

“And the Lobos?”

“I have a feeling they won’t see the light of day for… I don’t know – how much time does one get for holding a large gathering of people hostage?” Brother laughed and turned to leave. “In any event, I have to get ready for my party. I have a feeling that it will be most eventful.”

***

Melissa took the proffered punch glass and resumed her chosen station against the wall of the annex. She was dressed in a simple white dress with a black satin sash around her midsection. The number of expensive suits and designer dresses on the dance floor made her feel that she was severely underdressed.

Now that she looked, however, that may not have been an accurate assumption. The participants at the Gather came from all walks of life and from all age groups. It was, however, strange to see so many obviously wealthy people in one place – especially when they were acting so… normal.

She shrugged and leaned back against the wall, sampling the punch. The flier had promised ‘likeminded people’. These people were not of like minds with her at all. If they were, they wouldn’t be out on the dance floor; dancing, laughing –“

“Enjoying yourself?”

Melissa nodded. Exactly, they wouldn’t be enjoying themselves, she thought. Then she realized that that question wasn’t in response to her thoughts. She looked to her left and saw a bald, middle-aged man with a moustache. He was in an expensive tuxedo with a white carnation tucked in his lapel. “Oh… uh…” she stammered, caught off guard. She never knew what to say in social situations and this man was twice her age even considering her time in stasis.

“I certainly hope so.” Brother Wright said with a warm smile. “I don’t throw these for my own health you know, young lady?”

“You throw…” Melissa said dumbly. “Oh, you must be Brother Wright!”

“Alive and well.” Brother said. “So, what do you think of my Gather so far?”

“Oh, you don’t want to talk to me.” Melissa shrugged. “There are lots of important people here. Way more important than me.”

A look of concern crossed Brother’s eyes. It was the same look of concern that appeared on the dust jackets of his books. “On the contrary, young lady, this is exactly why I throw this party – to make people happy. That means that you are just as important as anyone here.” Mentally, he patted himself on the back. His usual talk show psychologist spiel was usually enough get his hooks in a perspective mark. After that, it would be child’s play to discern if the girl would be useful or not. “Tell me, would being ‘important’ make you happy?”

“I don’t know.” Melissa shrugged. “I’ve never thought about it, really.”

“You’ve never thought about what would make you happy? Dear child, that’s the majority of what most people think about.” Brother pressed.

Melissa took a sip of her punch. The irony of having one of the most famous psychologists in the country at her disposal, yet being unable to tell him her problems on pain of whatever horrid fate the Academy held over her and the others was not lost on her. “I just… don’t think too much about it is all.” She said, shifting he weight from foot to foot.

The girl was clearly lying. Brother hadn’t spent the last two decades studying people and their behavior without learning how to spot a lie. His interest was piqued. What could a teenager have to hide form a pop icon such as himself? Perhaps it was something he could use as blackmail material.

“Are you sure about that, young lady? I mean, if you tell me, it is very possible that I can make it happen. You’ve seen me on The Miranda Elliot Show – you’ve seen the ‘true to life stories’ of people I’ve helped make their lives better.”

Somewhere in Melissa’s mind, she wondered if this was her chance. Maybe Brother was so influential that she could tell him everything about the Academy and he could let the world know. If the secret was out, the Academy couldn’t touch anyone at Freeland House without exposing itself even worse. All she had to do was trust…

A television psychologist who despite all of his altruism was still just a mortal man. A mortal man that Prometheus or Impact or any other Academy Enforcer would have little difficulty utterly destroying. The Academy was trepanning kids; it was certainly not above assassinating celebrities. Telling him, Melissa realized, would be the death of him.

“Erm… excuse me, Mr. Wright. It was wonderful meeting you, but I really need to… powder my nose.” She said quickly. She sat her drink down and rushed off through the crowd toward the restrooms.

Brother frowned after her. Too bad, he thought. He checked his watch. It was 10:56 – four minutes until the fireworks started.

***

Melissa’s forehead came to rest against the bathroom mirror with a quiet thump. She had almost killed a man because she wasn’t strong enough to shoulder her own burden. Not only him but possibly everyone at Freeland House.

She couldn’t live with herself if she ended up being the cause of pain or death to the people who had tried so hard to be her friends, both past and present. The fact was, she wouldn’t even be at the Gather is Cyn hadn’t been trying to help her. As annoying as she could be; Cyn, like everyone else, was just trying to help her.

And the truth was she didn’t resent the people, or the help, but herself for making all of their efforts for naught. The fact was that she just wasn’t a social person, no matter how much the others wanted to pull her out into the world.

Maybe she wasn’t a happy person either. That would explain why she never was, surely. Some people are born destined for certain things. Some were born for greatness, some were born for certain jobs – maybe she was born for unhappiness.

She rolled her eyes at herself in the mirror for that thought. It really wasn’t true to say that she was always unhappy. She had been, in her own way perfectly happy before the Academy betrayed her. Obviously, she still hadn’t been the kind of person who went to parties or hung out with friends, but she did find joy in simply listening to good music and reading a book. Even now, when she felt like she had lost everything, she wasn’t unhappy all the time. Talking to Kareem always helped her climb out of her moods and to be honest, she always found it comforting that despite her pushing them away, the other Freeland House residents still thought about her and did what they could to make her comfortable.

A lifetime ago, she had tried to explain to Laurel that she wasn’t going to be miserable just because other people were doing things and she wasn’t. This hadn’t really stopped the young genius from trying with her, but it had dulled her sense of urgency. It was entirely possible that given more time, they could have come to be friends.

Melissa stood up straight and adjusted her dress. Maybe she could explain things to Cyn and reach some kind of happy medium between reclusion and being pushed to be a part of everything. She forced herself to smile at herself in the mirror. Brother Wright would never know it, but he had helped her tonight.

Finishing up her self maintenance, Melissa walked to the bathroom door. The moment her hand touched the handle, the sound of gunfire tore the air above the din of the party.

***

They had infiltrated the party completely unnoticed. The Gather was an open party, so no one was particularly concerned to see the gang colors and small badges worn in the young men’s’ ears. There had never been violence at a Gather in all of its five year history—cutting edge weapon detection scanners made sure of this. No one suspected that those scanners would be disabled specifically for these men.

The clock struck ten and Jacob “Jay” Willis pulled the bandana around his neck up to cover his mouth and nose. It was an old fashioned disguise, but Jay was a fan of the ‘classics’. Pulling his automatic pistol from jean jacket, he ripped off a few shots into the air. “Everybody, get on the goddamn floor!” He bellowed as he saw his fellow Lobos drawing their own weapons. The doors all around the annex slammed shut, guarded by three heavily armed gang members.

Jay leveled his weapon at the sound system and blasted it to pieces in a hail of sparks. The music died abruptly. He quickly turned his weapon on a nearby partygoer who was too slow to comply. “I said get on the goddamn floor, right now. I will tear yo’ ass up if you don’t do what I say, you hear me?!”

With all of the partygoers on the ground, he nodded to the Lobos not charged with guard duty. Thirty years ago, the Lobos had been exclusively a Hispanic gang. Now, they came from all races, though it was still seen as an accomplishment in their ranks for a half-African, half-Irish man like Jay to have taken control of the gang. Crime, after all, was an equal opportunity employer. “Stick with the plan, ‘kay? Jewelry, watches, and cash money. Smalls, Train – check the coatroom, the bathrooms, and anywhere else somebody may be hiding.”

The gang members fanned out, snatching what valuables they could find from the terrified guests. Jay personally sought out Brother and made a show of stealing his watch.

“I better get that back.” Brother hissed at his co-conspirator. Jay only nodded slightly as he slipped the watch into his pocket.

His business completed, Jay turned to the hostages. It would be so simple just to make a break for it with their loot. But Brother had his own plan in mind. He’d promised a big payday – something Jay just couldn’t resist. Brother, after all, had always been right before.

“Okay, listen up!” He shouted. He got a rush of power from having all of those people at his mercy. “You all better get real comfortable, ‘cause nobody’s going nowhere until Lester Mendel pays us ten mil’ for your sorry asses.”

***

Rick watched the chaos unfold on the various security feeds. On another screen he saw the soon to be infamous Lady Nightshade entering the administrative wing via a window that was lacking its usual security sensors.

Everything was going as planned. Holding the Gather in the annex itself had helped. The annex was often used for live theatre and had cell phone jamming devices installed by default. No cell phones even registered signal inside the annex. Someone would have to fight past the guards on the doors and into the hall to even have hope of—

Something caught his eye on one of the upper monitors. Two gangsters Rick knew as Smalls and Train were dragging a young red head out of the bathroom and down the hall toward the annex. But it wasn’t the thugs or the girl that caught his eye. It was the little silver cell phone she’d just dropped.

“Oh, we’re so humped.” Rick pulled up a console connecting to the nearby cell towers. Maybe he could call back using her number and report a false alarm… A few keystrokes pulled up her last dialed number and Rick breathed a sigh of relief. “Huh. Guess she was talking to someone when the boys started their little hostage situation.” He mused.

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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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