Issue #4: Juniper

This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Two men in sunglasses and blue coveralls bearing the grinning sun logo of Brilliant Frozen Foods loitered in front of a storefront in Raleigh, North Carolina, looking for all the world like two blue collar workers on break. The taller of the two, a blonde with a crooked nose and a few days of beard growth on his chin, turned to his counterpart, a deeply tanned man in his late forties and spoke in conversational tones.

“Ground three to Overseer one. We’re in position. Status on the target?”

“Ground three, this is Overseer one. Target tripped the theta scanners at four-eight-one and hasn’t tripped another since. Ground one and two are tracking on remote. Eye in the sky is coming into range for visual support. Hold positions until location is confirmed.”

“Copy Overseer one.” The man designated Ground three said.

“I don’t get it, Perkins;” Ground three’s partner sighed. “Four people on the ground, two spotters and a satellite for one girl? If she’s this bad, why didn’t they call in an Enforcer?”

“You read the brief, Evans? Drivers ran a red light, got hit, and dumped her and her cell right in the middle of the street.” Perkins shook his head. “This isn’t something you wait on Enforcers to come in for.”

Evans nodded slightly. “I still wish we had more than tranquilizers. What’s her power supposed to be anyway?”

“Nothing on the report.” Perkins frowned. At that moment, Overseer one’s voice came over their glasses mounted communicators.

“Location confirmed. Proceed to four-nine-zero and engage at will.”

From his roost on a roof, the spotter designated Overseer one sighted his quarry with his binoculars. Servos whirred as the lens focused on a girl of about sixteen with light brown, crimped hair. She was doing her best to stay hidden as she crept along an alley. Even after a full day on the run from her containment, she was still dressed in the hospital gown she had been wearing inside the stasis cell.

A transparent display registered basic vital signs in green. Her heart rate was up. So was her breathing rate. She knew the trap was closing and she was panicking.

“Its all right, little girl.” He smirked. “In a few minutes, You’re going back where you belong.” Before he could say more, the world went black. “What the hell?!”

“I’m really glad you’re such a prick;” A female voice said. “Because otherwise, I’d feel bad for this.” A sharp jab to his solar plexus doubled him over, followed by a blow to the back of the neck that put him down.

Alexis released her command over the black heat and landed on the rooftop next to the spotter’s prone form. She flipped open her cell phone. “Laurel’s triangulation is right, Ian. Stop the men on the ground; I’ll help the girl.”

“Gotcha.” Ian said quietly as he reached the top floor of the building he was in and stood at the door, waiting for the time to be right.

Below, the girl continued along, oblivious to the fact that she was no longer alone in her flight.

The last twenty-four hours were a blur to her. She had awakened in a partially shattered plastic coffin in the middle of an intersection. An overturned pick-up truck was to one side of her, spewing smoke. On her other side was an ice cream truck with a giant, smiling sun painted on the side. It had been smashed in on one side and its two rear doors thrown open.

Shaking memory away, she turned down another alley. She needed to get away. She didn’t know quite why, but she knew that if the men who were after her caught her, she would never see the light of day again. Scars up her arms and a persistent ache at the nape of her neck told her vaguely of terrible things that had already been perpetrated on her.

“Down here.” Someone said, trying to be covert, but failing to account for the echo in the alley. The girl looked up to see Evans and Perkins turn the corner at the other end of the alley. Heavy footsteps behind told her that doubling back was not an option.

“Got her!” Evans said, enthusiastically raising his weapon and firing. Red finned darts leapt from the pistol and through the space the girl had occupied before she dove for the cover of a dumpster.

Perkins slapped the muzzle of his partner’s gun down. “Don’t telegraph you’re shots, Evans. Some of these people had reflexes beyond anything you’re capable of. We’ve got enough trouble without you announcing us.”

“Don’t ride me on this.” Evans said, creeping up on the dumpster. “It’s just a kid.”

The pair swung around the dumpster just as the other two ground units arrived. “Shit.” Perkins said. Behind the dumpster, the concrete wall and the rebar within it had been shattered to powder; creating a hole in the building about two and a half feet in diameter. A thin rime of frost covered the area around the hole and in the heat of the warm July day, a few snowflakes melted in air.

“Yeah. Just a kid.” Perkins snarled. “Griggs, Farmington, secure the front. We’ll go in after her.”

“She just smashed through two feet of concrete.” Evans said. He watched the other two ground units go with a hint of fear in his eyes. “We need backup to handle her.”

“Keep your damn head, Evans.” Perkins said, moving closer to the hole. He slammed the butt of his pistol into the edge of the hole. It shattered like glass. “If she was capable – or willing – to kill us, she would have done it already.” He peered into the hole he had widened and nodded to his partner. “Careful not to let your skin touch this shit. Its still probably hundreds of degrees below zero.”

Evans gritted his teeth but followed.

The hole, as it turned out, provided access to the building’s basement/boiler room after a five foot drop from near the ceiling. The only light was from the government mandated safety lighting along the edges of the ceiling and the dull red of the furnace along the back wall.

The room itself had become an auxiliary storage room over the years, receiving all the junk the landlord deemed too useless to keep, but too valuable to throw away. In any other circumstance, it would be a spacious room, but as it stood, the only clear space was the vicinity of the boiler and a pathway clear to reach the same from the stairs.

Perkins and Evans flicked hidden switches in their sunglasses and the room was suddenly awash with the green hues of night vision for them.

“Come on, kid.” Perkins said. “Don’t make this harder on yourself than it already is.”

“What did you people do to me?!” a surprisingly defiant voice asked from behind a pile of chairs atop an old table.

“Not my place to ask questions.” Perkins answered, giving Evans a hand signal to loop around.

“The plate on the cage you had me in had a medical chart on it. It was cracked, but I saw the words ‘bio-mapping complete’ on it. What does that mean?!” the girl demanded.

“Again, don’t know, don’t care, not my job. Maybe if we get you back, you can ask the people who know.” Perkins said. All he needed to do was keep her talking so Evans could get a clean shot.

“No.” the girl said forcefully. The temperature in the room plummeted. Snow began to fall from a frigid cloud that suddenly formed near the ceiling. “I’m never going back. You can’t take me and neither can your partner.” There was a cracking sound. A chest of drawers toppled over as its base became too brittle to support it. Perkins heard Evans shout as it landed on him, knocking him out.

“How did—“

“I can feel your body heat.” The girl said sharply.

Above them, the door was forced open.

“Then I guess you can feel my reinforcements arriving.” Perkins smiled. “And look – they’re going to have a clean shot.”

The girl looked up and burst from cover, tearing down the rows of junk searching for a new hiding place as the door opened fully. Perkins leveled his weapon and ripped off three shots.

The sudden snowfall was just as suddenly buffeted by a gale of wind that rushed into the intervening space between the darts and the psionic girl. The darts struck an invisible wall and hung there, slowly falling as if through water.

Mouth agape, Perkins looked up to the landing. There was a man there, hands outstretched toward the darts. But his attention was totally on the other figure on the stairs. The outline was feminine, but it was as if some divine hand had cut a female shape out of the universe and left the void to wander on its own volition. She was definitely a psionic and she was most certainly NOT an Enforcer.

“Where are…” He stammered dumbly into his com.

“Your reinforcements won’t be arriving.” The shade said.

Reflexively, Perkins raised his pistol, but he never fired. At that very moment, he saw the darts he had fired drifting toward him with supernatural quickness. What was more was the ‘bubble’ of near solid air that traveled with them. He tried to dodge, to dive for cover or hide – but the bubble was upon him before his brain could pass the ‘flee’ message on to his body. Then it exploded and everything went dark.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you do a ‘blast bubble’. Alexis smiled at Ian.

“I figured this was a special occasion.” Ian returned the smile. “Now let’s make sure she’s okay.” He headed down the stairs and toward the place the young woman had disappeared. “Juniper?” he called. “Juniper Taylor?”

“Who are you?” a youthful voice demanded from behind a pile of boxes. “How do you know my name?”

“My name’s Ian. This is Alexis. We’re here to help you.”

“Like those men were here to ‘help’ me?” the question had a decidedly acid tone.

“No.” Alexis said, dropping her black heat and coming to Ian’s side. “We aren’t exactly sure what the Academy wants with you, but we’re here to try and make sure they never get a chance to do this to you kids again.”

“Kids? There are more like me?” Juniper slowly emerged from her hiding place. The snow stopped falling.

Ian nodded. “You’d be around the ninth we’ve met.” He gave her a reassuring grin. “We live with four of them.”

“And what happened to the other four?” Juniper suddenly withdrew.

“They decided they didn’t want to come back with us.” Ian said. “We just want to help you; not control you. If you want, we can just get you out of Raleigh, fix you up with some money and contacts and you’ll never have to bother with us again.”

The brunette pursed her lips. “And the other option?”

“You can come with us.” Alexis said. “You’ll have your own room, some spending money and friends – you’ll just have to live by a few rules of the household.”

The girl’s green eyes glittered. “What are these rules?”

“Just to trust that we’re doing what we think Is best to protect you; warn us when company’s coming and not use your powers in public.”

“At the Academy, they taught us not to be ashamed of our powers…” Juniper started.

“It’s not a matter of shame, Juniper.” Alexis’s voice was sympathetic. “It’s about not letting the Academy know where we are. No one checks for names in the days of National Identification, but reports of someone matching your description using your powers would get back to them really quickly. Do you understand?”

Juniper nodded slowly. “I’m still not sure I can trust you though.”

Ian smirked. “You’re sixteen, right? Know how to drive?” Juniper nodded. “Then how about this – you drive us back home.”

“Ian…” Alexis gave him one of her newly patented looks that questioned his sanity.

“Its fine, Alexis. She knows she can trust us because we’re trusting her.” He produced the keys and tossed them to Juniper who goggled at them in disbelief. “You’re in complete control of the situation now, Juniper. In the driver’s seat to be literal.”

“Are you serious?” Juniper asked.

“Completely.” Ian assured her. “So, have any more questions before we head up?”

“Just one. How did you find me so quickly?”

“Online news is a blessing sometimes.” Alexis said. “Our friend has a computer dedicated to combing news sites for things the Academy is up to, psionic related news, and most importantly in this case; any news involving anything resembling a stasis cell. The other kids were also kept in them, so we just figured…”

“A stasis cell.” Juniper said thoughtfully. “My aunt was in one for a while after a car accident. How long was I out? Two… three days?”

“It may be far longer than that.” Ian said gravely. “From your point of view, what year is it?”

Juniper rolled her eyes and scoffed. “It’s 2073 – November.”

“It’s a little hot to be November, isn’t it?” Ian asked. He felt a pang of sympathy for what the girl would soon be going through.

“Yeah…” Juniper started. “So how long have I really been out?”

“It’s July of ’74 now.” Ian said with as gentle a tone as possible. “You’ve been ‘out’ for eight to nine months and we have no idea what they’ve done in that time.”

“But it’s over now.” Alexis said quickly. Thoughts of Melissa’s near decade sealed away still haunted her. “We promise.”

***

“I don’t see why you’re being so secretive about this new guy.” Cyn said to Laurel as the two of them plus Warrick lounged on the couches in the living room.

“I just think that it’s fairer to them that they get to make their own first impression.” Laurel said with her usual cheer. “Besides, it’s not like you have to wait for weeks to meet them. Alexis said they’d be here in a few hours and that was… well a few hours ago.”

“Hey, I’m all for the new guy.” Warrick said. “A wingman to scam on girls with that knows about my powers is infinitely valuable.” Cyn smacked him in the face with a pillow for that.

“You couldn’t even scam on chicks if that was you power.” The white haired girl said. “Seriously, you’re just going to end up playing videogames and watching baseball with this guy the same as you do with me every night we don’t hang out at the Dungeon.”

Warrick grinned at her. “Hey, I could be a lady’s man. I’ve had tons of girlfriends.”

“Didn’t you tell me your nickname used to be ‘three and out’ because that’s the maximum number of dates you’ve every managed to get from any one girl?” Cyn accused.

He stammered. “Oh, that’s low, Cyn. Anyway, that’s why I need the new guy’s help, see? JC’s in the same boat as me. And Zack… well he’s Zack. I need someone to show me how to get a girl and keep her.”

There was a knock at the door and Laurel stood to get it, shaking her head at the youngsters’ antics.

Cyn scoffed. “You seriously watch too much TV, you know that?”

Laurel opened the door to see Ian, whose hands were full of bags. He made a face at what he heard. “The bosom buddies having a fight?” he asked, stepping in and putting the bags on the floor. “Where’s everyone else?”

“I’m here, Ian.” Melissa said hurrying down the stairs. “I was just reading in my room while we waited for you to get back.”

There was a static sound from near the television and Kareem’s voice emerged. “I am here as well, Ian.”

The older man smiled at his young charges. “Great to see our whole little family all in one place. There’s someone here I’d like you all the meet.” He motioned to the door and Juniper entered, dressed in black jeans, white blouse and a jean vest. “Say hi to Juniper, the newest resident of Freeland House.”

Juniper smiled as she looked around at those in the room. Then her eyes went wide with surprise. “I… I think I know you. American Classics class, right? Mrs. Feldman was the teacher? You’re the one who tried to convince her that twentieth century comic books were legitimate literature. I don’t remember your name, but it’s good to see a familiar face.”

All eyes followed Juniper’s gaze to Warrick who was suddenly very confused.

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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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