Issue #4: Juniper

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

Part 2

There was a confused silence in the living room of Freeland House that seemed to radiate off Warrick as he met the green gaze of Freeland House’s newest resident. He’d been at Freeland House for almost three months and had given up the possibility of seeing anyone he knew in the near future.

Then again, saying he ‘knew’ Juniper Taylor was stretching the definition of the word ‘know’ to it barest limits. They’d had all of one class together at the Academy; American Classics with the overly traditional and elitist Mrs. Feldman. Over the course of that class, Warrick didn’t recall having any more direct contact with Juniper than an occasional nod ‘hello’. The only noteworthy thing he remembered concerning her was that she had seemingly dropped the class near the end of the term. Of course, now he knew the truth behind her disappearance.

Still, he felt a bit cheated; the first person he’d run into from his life before Freeland House wasn’t a family member or a friend, but a girl he’d barely been aware of.

“It’s not that surprising.” Alexis stated as she entered the living room. “She’s been in stasis only a month longer than Warrick has and the Academy isn’t as huge a place as you’d think. I frankly would have been surprised if they hadn’t met one another.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘met’…” Warrick started. Until now, the tentacles had been wrapped tightly around his arms as if asleep. Now they unfurled themselves and extended, intent on examining the newcomer.

Juniper raised a wary hand toward the tentacles. “That’s your power?”

“Part of it.” Warrick said, painfully aware that he was the center of attention.

“You were in his class at the Academy and didn’t know his power?” Cyn piped up. “Yeah, you didn’t so much know each other as much as you just happened to exist in the same general area for a little bit, huh?”

Juniper shrugged shyly. “I didn’t say we were friends. I just recognized him.”

“I’m sure you’ll all get to know each other very well while you’re staying here.” Laurel said, putting on her most diplomatic airs. “Why don’t we at least introduce ourselves?” She gave Juniper a little nod. “I’m Laurel Brant; I’m the one who found the article about the accident that led us to you.” She glanced at Melissa and Cyn in a manner that demanded they follow suit.

“I’m Melissa.” The redhead said. “Forrester.”

“She doesn’t talk much.” Cyn said. “You’re lucky you got ‘I’m’, really.”

“I’m not that bad, Cyn.” Melissa chewed her lip. “I’m just not good with meeting new people…”

“That’s okay. I can do all the talking for all of us.” Cyn said, taking control of the situation. “I’m Cynthia McAllister, resident shapeshifter.” She extended her arm six feet to offer it to Juniper to shake. “Pleased to meet ya.”

Juniper chuckled and shook the hyper extended appendage.

“You already know Kaine, so we can skip him.” Cyn continued, reeling her hand back in. “Floating invisibly somewhere over there” she waved her hand in a vague direction, “Is Kareem. He’s a ghost or an astral thingy or something.”

“Astral projection, Cyn.” Kareem corrected affably via the speakers near the TV. “My body is currently in a coma, Juniper. I can only communicate with my telepathic ability or this device Ms. Brant was so kind as to develop for me.”

“We should be video capable in a few weeks.” Laurel added. “Give or take, of course – I’ve never tried working on an interface on another plane of existence before.”

Alexis released a long breath and looked at the assembled residents. “Great. While Ian and I get a room ready, why don’t you all show Juniper around the grounds?”

“I’m going to have to lay cable into that room.” Laurel noted. “Maybe you all should show her around Mayfield too.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Cyn shrugged. “Let me go get dressed.” Before she left, she grabbed Melissa by the wrist. “You’re coming too. This’ll be good for you.”

Laurel watched the other two girls leave with a smile. “Juniper, you should probably come with me. I’ve got some new ID’s and a phone for you, among other things.”

***

“Come on in.” Laurel said, switching on the lights to her lab. “Don’t mind the mess.” She weaved her way past piles of what seemed to be junk that had taken up residence on the work tables. Juniper followed cautiously.

The older woman took some keys off her desk and knelt to open a safe beneath it. “I just want to tell you that you made a good decision to come here instead of trying to make it on your own.”

“Alexis told me that there were others that decided not to come.” Juniper said, sliding into one of Laurel’s computer chairs.

“They call themselves the Kin.” Laurel said as she rummaged through the safe. “We keep in touch from time to time. I send them cash and find them safe places to stay while they move around.”

“Why didn’t they come here?”

“They didn’t think it was safe to trust anyone – even us.” Laurel frowned.

“Did they have reason not to trust you?” Juniper asked.

Laurel came up from the safe holding a plastic wrapped bundle. “It was more that they didn’t have any reason to trust anyone.” She sighed and sat in a chair across from Juniper. “Look, Juniper, I can’t make you trust us. All I can do is ask you to and give you every reason to.” She slid the bundle across the desk to the younger woman.

Juniper took the bundle but didn’t open it. Instead she turned her gaze to the racks of servers Laurel was running. “That’s how you found me?”

“My internet spiders turned up the article about your stasis cell in Raleigh.” Laurel nodded. “I try to keep tabs on everything going on with them. It’s a hard task, but it keeps me at least up to date on the world in general.”

“Could you use them to find everyone’s families?” Juniper queried, keeping her eyes on the computers instead of Laurel.

Laurel pursed her lips. She knew this question was coming and she was worried about the reaction to the answer. “I can, Juniper. And I have. But there are more problems with reuniting you kids with your families than just finding them.”

“Like what?” The question was loaded and accusatory.

“For example… none of the kids’ parents have filed a missing person’s report.”

“What does that matter?” Juniper sat up in her seat. “Just because their parents don’t want them—“

“That isn’t it, Juniper.” Laurel said, holding up a hand to silence the girl. Taking a calming breath, she tried to make her face as reassuring as possible, despite the news she was delivering making her want to cry. “There haven’t been any missing person’s reports because none of the families know they’re missing.”

Juniper’s confused expression spurred Laurel on.

“The Academy has been fabricating communications – letters, emails, sometimes even phone calls from those missing. They always make up some excuse and stonewall any family that try to visit. I don’t even know how they’re doing it because if they’re doing this for every person they’ve put in stasis for at least the last ten years, they’re sending hundreds of communications each day; personalized for each family.”

“That’s insane.” Juniper shook her head. “We’re not the only ones? I mean the eight or nine Alexis and Ian were talking about?”

Laurel swallowed to get rid of her rising bile. She’d had this conversation with the others before and it didn’t hurt her any less to explain it again. “Juniper, there are hundreds – maybe thousands stashed away all over the country. We’re doing our best to find them… but the Academy has a longer reach and deeper pockets than even my hacking can keep up with.”

The brunette was in tears now, shaking almost uncontrollably. Laurel steeled herself against the next, inevitable question. “W-why?” Juniper forced out.

“We’re not sure.” Laurel wheeled her chair over so she could hug the shaking youngster. “But it was bad. They’re working for a group called Project Tome – studying psionics and performing horrible procedures on them.”

“B-bio-mapping.” The word started as a stutter and ended as an angry hiss.

“How did you know that word?” Laurel asked, stroking the crying girl’s hair.

“That cage. The stasis thing. There was a chart on it, like one you’d see in a hospital? I couldn’t read most of it, but part of it said ‘bio-mapping complete’.”

“Oh my god…” Laurel murmured, hugging the girl even tighter. “I’m so sorry, Juniper. I wish we could have stopped it but—“

“I don’t remember anything.” Juniper said quietly. “Don’t be sorry. You’re doing everything you can for me.” She hugged the older woman tightly before releasing her. “I can tell that now.” She wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

“You bounced back a whole lot faster than I would have.” Laurel said, sitting back in her chair.

“Not yet.” Juniper said. “But I’m just really glad I’m here now.” Her hands found the bundle. A welcome distraction from what she had just learned. “So what is this?”

Laurel wiped away her own tears, which she had just realized had formed. ”I call it a care package. Cell phone, hacked ID cards, and a new bank account to draw funds from. At the very least, we can make you comfortable while we figure out how to get you back with your family where you belong.” Realizing she was drifting back to an emotional minefield, Laurel forced a smile. “There’s also a disk in there that’ll set your computer up on the house LAN – You play Death Gate?”

Taking Laurel’s cue, she smiled back. “Level fifty-four Spawn-hunter on the Orion server.”

“Warrick and Cyn are going to love having you around.” Laurel smiled broadly. “So will Melissa, since you’ll buy her some peace and quiet.”

***

“So, how long before the new girl replaces me as your pet project?” Melissa frowned into the mirror as Cyn stood behind her, attacking her hair with a styling bar.

“Oh, don’t worry, Melissa, I’ve got time enough for two pet projects.” Cyn cooed, curling a strand of Melissa’s hair with the electrostatic bar. “Besides, she actually talks and stuff, so she won’t take nearly as much work as you.” She teased.

“Oh joy.” Melissa rolled her eyes. “So, what do you think of her?”

“Eh, she’s okay.” Cyn shrugged. “But how much can you learn about someone in a two minute conversation?” She gave Melissa’s hair a few more passes with the bar. “You know, except her thing with Warrick.”

“What?” Melissa asked.

“You heard her. ‘Oh, it’s sooo nice to see a familiar face.’” She mocked. “Seriously, I think she had a crush on him back when they were at the Academy.”

“You do realize that she didn’t say that even remotely like the way you just did, right?” Melissa asked, flinching away as Cyn’s strokes with the bar became more erratic.

“I can tell it in her voice.” Cyn said. “She’s going to be all over him inside a week.”

“Why do you even care?” Melissa said, finally moving away from Cyn. “Didn’t you say that he wasn’t even your idea of a ‘guy’?”

Cyn put the bar down rather harder than she strictly intended. “I’m just worried about my friend is all. I mean this new chick is going to be all over him and he’s dumb and weak and she’ll have him wrapped around her little finger in no time. Then who’s going to play Death Gate with me and Laurel, or help me and Kay formulate obnoxiously long, yet entirely possible coffee orders at the Dungeon?”

Melissa shook her head and smoothed down her now electrically fried hair down. “He’s not going to ignore you if he gets a girlfriend, Cyn.” She said sympathetically. When Cyn didn’t return that with a smart-alecky quip, she sighed. “Fine. So what do you propose we do to keep Cupid from hitting the unsuspecting Mr. Kaine?”

“I’m not sure.” Cyn said. “But I’m certain something will come to me while we’re showing the new girl around the city.”

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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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