Issue #32: Ahead/Behind

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

 

Part 4

Alexis tried to meet her mother’s gaze and immediately lowered her head. Had she really expected to get through the night without explaining herself? She had indeed been gone too long if she thought her mother would just let it slide that easily.

Under the table, Ian offered her his hand. A brief flash of memory came to her of Ian doing the same when she’d had to explain getting her nose pierced the summer after she first entered the Academy. In fact, he’d done it countless times. Laurel gave her advice and counsel before and after she got in trouble, but Ian had always been there to weather the storms with her.

She patted the hand, but didn’t take it. The truth was that she had dug this hole all on her own and from her perspective; he had as much right to be upset with her as much as her parents for her disappearance.

“First.” She was amazed how small her voice was, “I’ve got to tell the truth. I didn’t disappear because of Darkness and the Descendants. That came later.”

The whole family had stopped eating, save Kylie who took advantage of the lull to add to her plate.

“Then what was so important that you’d cut us out of your life?” Her mother asked. It sounded like a question, but her face made it a demand. “No offense to you, Ian, but Lexy, we’re your family. We shouldn’t be pushed aside before your friends.”

Now Alexis couldn’t even look at Ian either. “I cut them out too.” She said quietly.

“What? Why?” Victoria studied her sister over her wine glass. “Did you have some kind of psychotic break or something? No friends, no family…”

“It was just me, okay.” Alexis finally found someone to set her gaze on and it was her older sister. She felt indebted to her parents and attached to Ian, but she was still an equal with Victoria, Kylie, Nicole and Lydia. “Just me. I didn’t go nuts. I just… I got the offer from the Academy to teach a few days after I got out of college.”

Absently, she picked up her fork and drew patterns in her gravy. “All through high school and college, I had you guys and when I couldn’t talk to you for advice, or to solve my problems, I had Laurel and Ian. I couldn’t even remember the first thing I did for myself alone. I had the most supportive parents possible, the valedictorian sister,” She nodded at Victoria, “my best friend was a multi-billionaire psionic genius, and my other best friend would go to bat for me at the drop of a hat.”

“What’s so bad about that?” Lydia wondered aloud. “By the way, what ever happened to Laurel?”

“She’s—“ Ian started, but Mrs. Keyes glared daggers at him. She wanted to hear the rest of what Alexis had to say. “Good.” He concluded and shut up.

“There’s nothing wrong about that.” Alexis waved her free hand. “But I didn’t think about it back then; how even with that much support, it was still me. I just saw me crutching on everyone around me.” Though she really didn’t want to, she looked at Ian who looked completely surprised at that, considering the reason she’d given before.

“But the Academy, they wanted me. Just me. It wasn’t just my degree they wanted; they liked how I dealt with kids; how I understood powers. So I thought to myself that it was my chance to prove I didn’t have to lean on anyone to do it.

“That’s why I cut everyone off. I expected to come back in five years having proved myself to everyone. Having shown everyone how independent I am.”

“But that wasn’t true.” Ian said, braving Mrs. Keyes’s warning glance. “Hell, I leaned on you and Laurel more than you did us.”

“No, that’s not true either.” Alexis put a hand on his shoulder. “Look,” She turned and looked her parents both in the eye in turn, “Mom and Dad, the truth about how I ended up being Darkness is that I found out all the things you’ve heard about the Academy and they found out I knew.”

“That’s where I turn up in this story.” Ian added before she could go on. He shrugged at the look she gave him. “What? What happened next was pretty much my fault.” He turned back to the Keyes parents.

“Long story short,” Alexis cut in before Ian could scare her family with tales of Prometheus blowing up his house, “We ended up saving some of those kids that got kidnapped. They’re the other Descendants you’ve read about. I’ve spent the last year trying to keep them away from the men behind the Academy and… pretty much against my will at first; we’ve become Mayfield’s prelates in the process.”

She let out a soft chuckle she fully realized the epiphany that had come to her when she’d started telling her story. “The funny thing is; for the past year, I’ve been thinking that they depend on me and Ian and Laurel. But the fact is that we’re not leaning on each other. The kids, they’re the ones that started this prelate business and honestly, that and starting the new school have been incredibly fulfilling. We’ve saved each other, helped each other grow…”

She looked at Ian as she finished. “We aren’t leaning on each other. We never were, Ian. We’re all helping one another. And we shouldn’t forget that.”

“Mom, Dad? Once we talk to the boy in Donaldsonville… do you think we could stay the weekend and catch up?”

***

It was after midnight and the only light in the guest room of the Forrester home was that of a streetlight filtering through the blinds.

As it turned out, Gwen and Eddie Forrester had kept their missing daughter’s room exactly as it was until they’d move to Angel’s Camp. In a way, Melissa was relieved. Relative to her memory, she’d only been gone for about a year, but being confronted with decade old relics of her old life would have been too much. She’d politely declined her mother’s offer to get her things out of storage.

The day had gone surprisingly well. After her mother had closed the store, Laurel had gone back to her hotel and left the Forresters to get reacquainted. Melissa had been treated to a tour of her new hometown and family home. The whole family had eaten out. She’d learned the truth of how her parents hadn’t been fooled by the Academy’s fake correspondence and tried to petition the government on the matter.

It was a massive weight lifted off her shoulders that she hadn’t been forgotten, that her passing, in whatever form, had been mourned.

The evening brought them back home, where Melissa tried, in as many detail-light terms as possible, to recount her experiences at Freeland House. Tim had teased her, saying her thought she had a crush on Kareem, and then teased her again about her real boyfriend Terry. Life with Cyn had prepared her well for having a younger sibling.

After much oohing and ahhing over events that in truth, Melissa was only tangently part of at best, her father had suggested playing some games as part of the family bonding theme of the day. It embarrassed Melissa a bit that she wasn’t familiar with most of the games, played on a flat, OLED screen, but she found that she really enjoyed them once she learned how to play.

Four hours of Question Bombard, Bridges and Battlements, and Pioneers later, Tim had gone to bed and she’d faced more questioning about Freeland House and the Descendants from her parents.

Ten years ago, Melissa would have hated it. A day ago, she would have frayed her nerves about it. But as quickly as she’d been ripped away form them, Melissa once more found safety and comfort in their presence, more than she had when she’d never lost them.

Lying in the strange bedroom, listening to the content silence that only forms around a house full of loved ones, Melissa smiled. She was finally home.

But she knew she couldn’t stay. Project Tome would find her and the others again, there wasn’t a doubt. And when they did, they would send all they had in the way of Enforcers and other agents. They would send Inugami and who knew whatever horrors science twisted by greed and evil could conjure.

Melissa knew she couldn’t stay because she couldn’t lead Tome to her family. Because she loved them.

The epiphany hit before she realized it. She loved them enough to fight. Just like the mysterious Vorpal had told her to fight before in the boathouse in Mayfield when she was searching for Kareem. Now she had a reason and a will. She would do whatever it took to protect what she’d finally regained.

***

Somewhere in Nevada, deep beneath the Earth, something was breathing and dreaming. And it was being watched by people who didn’t know about the dreams.

“Where did they find it?” Simon Talbot asked, looking down at the massive form through reinforced, field backed glass from a height of three stories.

“Montana.” Ronald Powell was as gruff in voice as his age worn face suggested. He looked like a grey haired bulldog and the matching attitude had gotten him to where he was in the organization even when technical know-how failed. “Outriders found it living in the rocks, preying on livestock.”

“It’s a miracle we found it first.” Talbot marveled at the bulk of the restrained thing they were watching. Scientists were still fitting it with additional restrains in addition to the various monitoring systems. It was slow going as the creature was entirely alien and thus they didn’t know how it reacted to the drug cocktail. “How big is it?”

“Something around eighty feet, nose to tail.” Powell supplied, reading from his palmtop. “Wings are little over a hundred feet, which means it shouldn’t have been able to fly.”

“It shouldn’t be a hexapodal vertebrate either.” Talbot pointed out. “But you run Freak Central here. You know that the rules we know don’t apply to any of the Outsiders. Biology, Physics, The Law of Conservation of Energy even. They break more rules than descendants even dream of breaking. How are the scans going?”

“Primary data-scan is pretty garbled, as you’d expect.” Powell said. “Damn thing’s got about twelve times the hot spots the other Outsiders have; six in the brain alone, two in the mouth, the nose… the list goes on. It’s like a living generator; we could hook her up to the grid and power the place.”

“Her?”

“Hmm?”

Talbot frowned. “You called the creature ‘her’. There are no solid rules for sexual dimorphism in these things. It took us a week and extensive scans and dissection to figure out that Species 3841 and Species 3891 were the males and females of the same species. What makes you so sure that this is a she?”

“The scan was garbled, Simon, but not incomplete.” Powell sent an image to Talbot’s own palm top. “See that structure there? Ovary. And you want to know something else we know?”

Talbot looked down on the sleeping hulk far below him, avarice in his eyes. “I want to know everything.”

“The ovum in the ovary isn’t mature yet.” Powell didn’t have to explain that. Talbot was a businessman first, but he knew his biology well enough.

“It’s a juvenile.” Talbot said, just to get the feel for the words. “An eighty foot, fourteen ton, juvenile. It’s not even full grown and it’s double the size of Tyrannosaurus Rex, the largest land predator in history.” He tore his gaze away from his prize to do what he loved most: give orders.

“Fast track this. Samples from all tissues but keep her alive and keep her asleep. I want an entire lab level converted to work only on options on dealing with this sample and only this sample. I know we haven’t had any success with the other Outsiders, but try as hard as you can to clone this. I want a bull fitted with Inugami control suites.”

“A bull?” Powell asked. “Can you even imagine how large an adult male of this species would be?”

“Enormous.” Talbot replied. “And powerful enough that whoever controls it wouldn’t need descendants ever again.

He looked down at the juvenile again. The resemblance to the legends was unmistakable. The horned head, the reptilian hide, the vast, membranous wings… “Powell… answer me honestly, do you think it would be too cutesy to designate this initiative as Cadmus?”

End Issue #32

Series Navigation<< Issue #31: It Came From a Warped StarDescendants Special #3: A Brilliant Twilight >>

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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