Issue #3: Gather

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

Part 4

It was well past midnight when Melissa ascended the monumental set of stairs that led to Freeland House. It was a cool, crisp, June night and the crickets and tree frogs were singing their hymnals to the wonderful weather.

Melissa stopped at the top of the stairs to take in the natural chorus and take a long look at the beauty that was the newly restored Freeland House in the moonlight. Most of the patio had been completely restored, including the stone benches and planters that lined it. The only new addition was the giant flower bed that stood in the center of the round patio; it was standing in for the fountain that had taken up that space once upon a time.

“You’re late, young lady.” Alexis’s voice came from the shadow of a dogwood that grew near the edge of the patio. “You missed curfew.”

“I-I didn’t know we had one.” Melissa stammered.

There was a giggle and Cyn emerged from the shade. “That’s probably because we don’t have one.” She said. “But you know you’re still late. Enjoy the party?”

“I was tied up with the police—had to give them my eyewitness report.” She sat down on one of the benches.

“The police!” Cyn gave her best fake gasp. “Oh my god, ‘lissa, what happened?”

Melissa raised an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure you know the story already… Facsimile was it?”

Cyn frowned in mock confusion. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Cynthia, I have no life. I read the papers. Seriously, you’re a shapeshifter and all, but did you really think I wouldn’t recognize the same tentacle things that weird me out every single morning?”

Shrugging, Cyn came to sit next to Melissa. “There’s got to be like a dozen metal controlling Italians with aluminum tentacles in Mayfield.” She gave an innocent smile. “You’re not going to tell Alexis are you? She’d make us stop and we’ve been doing so—“

“Don’t worry, Cynthia.” Melissa said, gesturing for the white haired girl to stop panicking. “Your secret’s safe with me. I mean it’s the least I could do after you saved my life.”

Cyn smiled at her red headed housemate. “Thanks. And what’s Brother Wright going to do to pay you back for saving his life?”

“How did you know I did that?”

“Seriously, you’re a quiet, shy girl, but its pretty obvious to me when a crazy gang-banger goes all goofy and wide eyed in the presence of the girl that lives in the room next to mine whose power is mood elevation.” Cyn said in exactly the same tone Melissa previously used.

“I guess I deserved that.” Melissa said, nodding.

For a moment, they both sat there, saying nothing. Then Melissa leaned back and looked up at the stars. “So… how’d the date go?”

“It wasn’t a date.” Cyn snorted. “We went to the Darkcore concert with Kay and JC and the rest of the gang from the Dungeon.”

“It can be a date with friends there.” Melissa said.

“Well it wasn’t.” Cyn said. “Besides, Warrick’s all about Kay anyway.”

“And how does that make you feel?” Melissa asked.

“What business is it of yours?” Cyn asked, a bit more sharply than she had intended.

“Not one bit.” Melissa said. “I’m just wondering if you like how it feels to have someone always sticking her nose in your business is all.” There was not venom in her voice, just a simple question.

“Okay, I get it, I shouldn’t try so hard to make you do stuff with us.” Cyn finally said. “But you’ve got to give a little too, ‘lissa. We live under the same roof and I really don’t see why you hate us so much. Okay, I kind of understand why you hate me, but not Warrick; the guy’s a puffball—a really skinny one, but still a puffball.”

“I don’t hate you, Cynthia.” Melissa sighed. “I just… I don’t like having to talk to people when I don’t have to and having to put on a show for people.”

“No one’s making you put on a show.” Cyn said. “We want you to be you. But we want you to be you while hanging out with us.”

“I don’t like meeting new people…”

“Then don’t. Hey, Warrick’s been bugging me to watch that Malady Place show he loves so much. There’s no talking involved in watching TV, right? How about you suffer with me?” Cyn’s mischievous grin shone in the moonlight.

“Okay, deal.” Melissa said and went back to looking up at the sky. Some time later, she asked another question. “So, how does it feel?”

“How does what feel?”

“The whole Prelate thing. Saving lives, protecting the innocent—that sort of thing.”

“Amazing.” Cyn said, “When I’m Facsimile and I’m pulling some guy out of a smashed up car, or stopping some kid from falling off a bridge, I feel like I’m on fire. It’s like there’s this light in me that’s finally getting a chance to shine.” She shrugged. “Of course, you got a taste of it tonight. How did it feel to you?”

“Good, I guess. At the time I was just scared, I felt a little sick too. But after, I really felt good about myself. I understand why you don’t want Ms. Keyes to know about it.”

“Thanks for keeping Life Savers, Inc in business, ‘lissa.” Cyn chuckled.

“I’ve got a condition though.”

“Name it.”

“Stop calling me ‘’lissa’”

“Only if you start calling me Cyn like everyone else.”

“Deal.”

***

It is a well known fact; the kind of fact told as an anecdote at boring dinner parties, or at the beginning of a long, inevitably irrelevant rant on a web log; that on July 4, 1776, King George III of England’s journal entry read ‘nothing happened today’. Most people take from this as a parable about hubris being the reason the king was blissfully unaware that his empire was crumbling around him.

But the fact was that the king had no way of knowing what was happening a world away. He couldn’t simply switch on a news provider, state the name of a prominent politician (such as Jefferson, Thomas) and instantly know the man’s public itinerary for the day as anyone could in 2074.

Fortunately for Brother Wright, he did live in the latter half of the twenty-first century and in addition to the ability to receive information at the speed of light, he employed a network of informants that were able to alert him to his own empire’s swan song. In that respect, Brother had the advantage over King George.

Where King George excelled, however was the fact that his empire didn’t directly depend on keeping the top crime lord and arms dealer in Mayfield, Vincent Liedecker happy. Nor did George the Third face serious consequences for failing to do so.

Brother had been awakened at four in the morning to learn from one of his informants at the Scribe that Mary Northbrooke had convinced her editor to stop the presses. It was too late to stop the bleeding. Northbrooke had the story of the week and nothing Brother could say would convince her to kill it. She didn’t need him anymore.

The Scribe would be delivered to Liedecker’s office by seven o’clock and the secret lord of the underworld would find the headline ‘Live Savers, Inc Triumph Over Terrorists’ instead of the public relations nightmare he had requested Brother arrange. The fact that the entire debacle had happened at his own event was just another nail in Brother’s coffin. He had to be out of Mayfield before Liedecker got his paper.

Carrying only a briefcase stuffed with as much cash as he could fit into it from his safe and his laptop computer, containing his soon to be crippled database of contacts and so called ‘very good friends’, Brother hailed a cab.

He hadn’t bothered calling Rick Charlotte. The young man would panic, try to rabbit and be gunned down in the street. Brother considered it a kindness to simply let him die in his sleep.

Settling into the cab, he looked once more up to the window of his penthouse apartment. Over a decade’s worth of work in Mayfield was lost. Liedecker would find all of Brother’s local contacts in Charlotte’s files and make them his own by the end of the day.

Opening his laptop, Brother brought up his back-up plan – what he called his parachute. It was a list of contacts he had established but hadn’t tapped in the greater metropolitan area. The laptop was the only place this list existed and it would be his means of rebuilding his empire.

Typing swiftly, he scanned over the list and found one that was promising. After the previous night’s occurrences, his interests in this man’s field of expertise was piqued. He opened an email window and began to compose his email to Simon Talbot, Director of the Psionics Training and Application Academy in Langley, VA.

***

Rick Charlotte stumbled into the intimidating study of Vincent Liedecker, propelled by the beefy hands of the large man who had come to pick him up that morning. His head still swam with sleep and his eyes hadn’t even had time to adjust.

“Mornin’, Rick.” Liedecker said from his leather office chair. His tone was that of a lion welcoming a gazelle to dinner.

Rick was forcibly placed in the chair across from the crime lord by the aforementioned large man. Another man, in his mid-forties, stood off to the side, trying to avoid being noticed. Rick could practically smell the fear on the man and the power exuded by Liedecker. “Er… good morning, Mr. Liedecker, sir.” Rick stammered.

“Not so good a mornin’, boy.” Liedecker said, pinning Rick with his gaze. “See, I thought I had an arrangement with your boss—Brother Wright. I supplied the muscle for all of his little fish scams, all of this ‘influence trading’ he goes on about… and in return he only had to carry out some very simple chores, Rick.”

Rick shivered, trying to tear his eyes away from the arms dealer’s.

“Yesterday, I gave him another one of these little chores, Rick. You know what that was?”

Rick swallowed. He didn’t want to answer. He had the feeling that talking at the wrong volume would earn him a bullet in the brainpan. But not talking would probably lead to worse. “H-he said you wanted some reporter to give the prelates bad press.”

Liedecker smiled, not a friendly smile, but a sadistic one. “That is EXACTLY what I told him to do, Rick. My, but you are a sharp one, you know that?”

“N-no sir, I di—“ Rick began but was interrupted by an avalanche of anger from Liedecker.

“Then how come, I open the paper this morning and see that very same reporter’s name above a FRONT PAGE story about how these prelates are the best thing since sliced bread and twice as useful!?”

The lump in Rick’s throat dropped to his stomach. Why was he getting yelled at for this? He was just the techie. “Sir.” He squeaked. “Mr. Wright is the one that usually meets with you and all…”

With that, Liedecker settled down. There was an uneasy silence in the room before he spoke. “You just asked the million dollar question, Rick. Seems that ‘Brother’ Wright got wind of that article and got out of Mayfield faster than a whipped dog. Left you to take the blame though. Wasn’t that right nice of him?”

Rick froze. He’d trusted Brother. He’d believed in all of his talk about trading influence and now all he had to show for being his disciple was a messy death.

“I see you’re not too happy about that, Rick.” Liedecker said. “Either that, or you think I’m going to kill ya.”

“You’re not?” Rick squeaked before he could stop himself. “Uh, I mean, please don’t!” He put his hands in front of his face to ward off a blow that never landed.

“Boy, if I had wanted you dead, you would’ve woke up dead.” Liedecker said, no trace of humor in his voice.

“Then… why am I here, sir?” Rick asked, lowering his arms.

“Because I still think there’s something to this whole ‘trading influence’ thing Wright was so wrapped up in, Rick” the crime lord said. “And you got both the experience and Wright’s database.” He picked up a knife from its stand on his desk and drew his thumb across the blade. “So, Rick—you want the job?”

“Of course, sir. You say the word and everything Brother had is yours.”

Liedecker laughed, actual mirth in the sound this time. “It was always mine, Rick. Everything in this city’s mine – it just doesn’t know it yet.” He replaced the knife on its stand. “First thing’s first though, Rick. Do you believe in coincidences?”

“No sir.”

“Good. Then I want you to look into one; I want to know how it is that these Prelates managed to save Lester Mendel AND hostages in his Convention Center within a month of each other without any calls to the local police being made.”

***

Across the city, someone else was just opening their morning edition of the Scribe. Not far from the reader, a cork board held various newspaper clippings, all mentioning burglaries whose only link was a sprig of belladonna marked with lipstick left in place of the stolen valuables. A nearby pot contained a plant of the same species.

“Page A-12!” A woman’s voice snarled as the tearing of newsprint could be heard. “I was promised front page! I’ve earned it! It’s mine!” The ruined paper landed in the trashcan. Then the corkboard split in half, as if cut by an unseen blade.

End Issue #3

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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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