Issue #46 – The Juniper Chronicles

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

“Well that’s it.” Lisa pushed her nearly finished latte aside. “I’ve got to tell him. That’s it. I have to.”

Kay ran her hands through her bright orange hair and looked to Cyn, eyes pleading. “This is what I’ve been putting up with for three the past weeks! Ever since the thing at the convention center, she’s been a wreck.” They were sitting in the Dungeon’s far booth, distant enough from any other patrons that they could speak somewhat freely.

“Cyn.” Lisa looked at her seriously. “He thinks all those times I have to leave early are his fault; that he’s making me angry.”

“And that you don’t like him when you’re angry.” Cyn guessed.

Lisa’s shoulders slumped. “It’s just that we’ve already broken up a couple of times.”

“A lot of times.” Kay added, the opposite of helpful.

“I had a temper.” Lisa admitted. “But after the whole… thing with my aunt, I think I’ve got better perspective on things. Problem is, now that’s been replaced with… my night job. I didn’t really get how bad it was until the convention.”

An irritated scowl came to Kay’s face. “Lisa, I’m telling you, we cannot tell JC. Ever. He’d blab to everybody; he’s too much of a dork boy not to!”

“Warrick doesn’t.” Lisa pointed out astutely.

“I’m entirely willing to bet that’s because he’s such a dork boy that he’s just really excited over the secret ID thing.” Cyn shrugged. “Plus, he did end up telling Tink.”

“And nothing bad happened.” Lisa jumped on that detail instantly.

“Yet.” Said Cyn. “I’m still keeping an eye on that.”

Lisa looked down at the table and sighed. “I don’t even really understand why I’m so worried about everyone finding out who I am. Most of the stuff I stop gets sent back to Faerie anyway.”

Cyn looked mortified at this. “Are you crazy? Look. Let’s see, we’ve got Warpstar running around, wherever you sent him. Do you really want him to know where your family lives? Where JC lives? Isn’t Morgana (assuming she’s still around) knowing who you are bad enough?”

Lisa ducked her head guiltily. “You’re right. I’m just at the end of my rope here, you know? I guess I just need to put some more work into my excuses and in making sure JC knows that I still like him a lot.”

“Hey, we’ll be right here to help you out.” Cyn assured. “Lying to boys is always a good cause.”

“And…” Kay paused to sip her peppermint and hazelnut infused espresso, “If you’ve still got the itch to tell someone your secret, you could always come clean with the folks you’ve been working with.” She directed a meaningful look at Cyn, more for Lisa’s benefit than the white-haired girl’s.

“Oh” Said Lisa, “Well, like I said, I wanted to wait until I know what really happened to my Aunt… What?”

She was looking at Cyn, who was in turn looking back at her. Actually, looking just over her shoulder, toward the entrance to the Dungeon. “I thought she broke that off last month!” Cyn hissed.

“Who broke what off?” Asked Lisa, starting to turn around.

“Don’t look!” Cyn reached across the table to stop her, nearly knocking over both their drinks in the process. In a lower voice, she added, “It’s Jun and Adel.”

“They’re supposed to break up?” Kay asked, panicked. “But what about Snackrifice? We need a drummer and a singer. We can’t afford to lose either one!”

Cyn raised an eyebrow at her. “Would you rather Jun be miserable going out with Count Boring-stein?”

“No.” Kay replied quickly and defensively. “I was just taken by surprise is all. I’ve been worried about the band all month.”

“I don’t think you have to worry, Kay.” Lisa offered. “January just isn’t a party month except for the first.”

“Anyway, back to Jun.” Cyn interrupted. “I don’t get her. She’s been going on and on about she’s not happy with him since like, November. Why can’t she just make a clean break?”

“She’s too nice.” Lisa said, taking up her latte again. “Maybe we should help her out.”

“You do have experience.” Kay teased.

Lisa wrinkled her nose and swatted her playfully. “You’re so mean!”

“Shh!” Cyn admonished. Juniper and Adel had parted company at the door with Adel heading back outside. “Here she comes, don’t say anything.”

The worried expression Juniper was wearing when she came in dissolved into a shy smile the moment she saw her friends were there. She didn’t want to burden them with her problems. For their parts, Lisa and Kay followed Cyn’s advice, greeting her warmly without any hint that they had seen her with Adel or knew how things were supposed to be going, according to Cyn.

Some people, however, never take their own advice and if they formed a nation, Cynthia McAllister would be their crown princess, an example held up for all her subjects to aspire to. “Jun, what the hell? I thought you were going to break up with Senior Snorefest forever ago. I don’t get it!”

Juniper started to reply, fighting to keep a smile on her face, but like a human tidal wave, Cyn pressed onward, demolishing all obstacles. “This isn’t good for you, Jun. Maybe there’s only a few more months of high school left, but do you really want to be miserable the whole time? Bored and miserable?”

“Cyn…” Lisa tried to interrupt to no avail. She could see Juniper’s smile fading by the word.

“We care about you, Jun and something has to give! If you’re not going to do it—”

“I broke up with him today.” Juniper blurted out, eyes fixed to the table.

“You did?” Kay asked. Concerns over who would be Snackrifice’s drummer were put aside for concern over her friend’s unhappiness. It wasn’t every day that any of them saw Juniper upset. “I’m sorry. How did it happen?”

Juniper tried unsuccessfully to regain her composure, finally opting to fuss with a stray lock of her own hair. “It was… Well today we went out; which was my idea, to a movie I picked, and we got snacks that I wanted, and sat in my favorite spot to sit… and then I realized it’s always like that. We never do anything Adel wants to do. I don’t even really know what he wants to do; he never talks about himself.”

“He never talked period.” Cyn observed.

“He’d talk around me.” Juniper said, completely missing the tone Cyn used. “But not about him; about school, or the band, or his brother, or me, but never about him.” She finally looked up with tearful eyes. “It’s fun, you know? Doing everything you want on a special day? But what’s a relationship if you’re not deciding what to do together?” A sniff and she was back to staring at the table. “I thought he was a good guy… but he’s not good, he’s just not bad. He’s…”

“Neutral?” tried Lisa.

“Null.” Kay corrected.

Juniper left it at that, heaving a huge sigh as she tried to wipe away tears. “And now I feel really stupid. It’s almost Valentine’s and I just broke up with my first and only boyfriend.”

Cyn patted the girl on the shoulder. “It’ll be okay, Jun. I haven’t had a boyfriend on Valentine’s ever and I’m doing okay. They just can’t deal with my real.”

“They’re scared of you.” Kay pointed out.

Ignoring that point, Cyn continued coaxing Juniper to calm down. “There’s a three day weekend for the teacher work day, I’ve got zero plans, so I am going to dedicate the whole thing to cheering you up.”

Kay nodded resolutely. “And we’ll help!”

“Sure.” Lisa agreed. “But one rule? Can we stop talking about boys? I think we’ve exhausted the subject.”

“Hey, okay.” Cyn nodded. “How about Social Studies? I think I need tutoring or I’m going to fail Ms. Bechdel’s test on an epic scale.”

“That can be arranged.” Said Kay. “But for this weekend, we’re going to make sure nothing can get Juniper down!”

***

“Jim? Danny Franks has been calling again.” The voice of Neena Betterman came from the radio mounted in Sheriff James Gaskin’s SUV.

James scratched his chin; he was regretting the decision not to shave that morning. “What’s the old drunk got for us now? Another Sasquatch? Maybe some old fashioned UFOs?”

“He says there was an earthquake.” Neena’s weary tone spoke for nearly the entire town when it came to opinions on Danny Franks and the figments of his drinking problem.

A guffaw came from James. “I know I didn’t feel any earthquake.”

“According to him, it kicked off a rock slide; sealed off his end of the valley.” Neena continued.

Now that one Jame knew was complete nonsense. The valley wasn’t exactly choked off by narrow passes. In fact, at it’s most narrow, the Cedar Slope Pass, out near Danny’s house which was ten miles out of town, was just under a quarter mile across. There just weren’t enough rocks in the mountains to ‘seal’ it.

He sighed. “What does he expect me to do?”

“Go take a look, I guess. Do you have anything better to do?”

She had a point. In the winter, the town’s population was reduced to a fraction of what it was during the tourist season. His other options for something to do for the rest of the day were limited to performing the winter maintenance around the sheriff’s office that he’d been putting off. Besides, he wasn’t more than a mile from a hilltop from which he could see Cedar Slope.

“Fine. I’m heading over that way. Just to save time, call and tell him I didn’t find anything.” He put his vehicle in gear and drove off at a casual speed. Neena laughed as she broke the connection.

Most sheriffs, James imagined, wouldn’t even humor Danny this way. But Danny and his crazy stories had become something of a tourist attraction in its own right. The mayor (who conveniently found dozens of conferences to attend out of state during the bland winter months) personally instructed James not to disabuse Daniel Franks of any of his notions.

It didn’t take long to gain the hilltop and take out his binoculars for a casual glance. Looking out over the southeastern end of the valley, however, he soon found that he didn’t need them. His fingers jabbed out, trying to find the call button on his radio, but Neena’s voice came over it unbidden.

“Jimmy, Lois Bundy just called. You’re not going to believe this…”

***

“The town is called Greenview Ridge, sir.” The aide that fell into step with General Lewis Pratt reported as he made his way to the command center. She was young, probably fresh out of school and so new at the ROCIC posting that Pratt didn’t know her name.

By her manner, she was a transfer from elsewhere in the service; still careful to use ‘sir’ and dressed to military standards. That wouldn’t last. Though publicly affiliated with the Marines, the ROCIC was a covert command with mandates that waived a great many military regulations and few kept with them when they didn’t have to.

What bothered him the most was that he wasn’t so bothered by it anymore.

“It’s located twenty-six miles off Skyline Drive in Virginia. A tourist town, population over eight hundred in the spring and summer; population currently: one hundred and twenty-seven.”

“I don’t need demographics…” He glanced at her security tag; Leah Marlowe, a civilian. “Ms. Marlowe. Tell me why it’s our concern.”

“Yes, sir.” She nodded, “Virginia state police kicked it to the FBI after responding to a call from the local sheriff, one James Allen Gaskin. FBI kicked it to us as anything resembling possible NHE or large scale, criminal descendant activities is our jurisdiction.”

“What made them decide it was NHE?” asked Pratt.

They passed through a set of double doors that opened at their approach and entered the command center. It was a multi-tiered, semicircular room centered on a projection screen that stood almost three stories tall. Each tier held desks replete with their own holographic displays and communication systems.

The projection screen currently displayed an array of images, each labeled as originating as stills from state police car cameras; the full motion videos were playing on loops beneath them. They told Pratt all he needed to know about why the ROCIC was involved.

“What you’re looking at sir is a granite barrier, forty feet high as of the time these images were taken, thickness unknown. State police and the sheriff report that the barrier has encircled the town of Greenview Ridge at a distance of five miles. They estimate that it grew vertically out of the ground, disrupting soil and surface roads.”

Pratt nodded, his stare fixed on the screen. “Do we have aerial photos yet? Satellite imaging?”

Ms. Marlowe took a seat at the center-most desk on the tier they’d come in on, which happened to be the one assigned to her. The General’s was on the fourth and topmost tier, but he rarely used it. She replied only after she’s verified the information at her work station.

“The Park Service has a survey drone in the area; it should be above the site already, we’re just waiting for image transmission. But unfortunately, sir, the nearest Odinseye satellite installation we have access to won’t be overhead for another thirty-six minutes.”

“What about seismic activity?” Pratt asked, deigning to sit down. “Do we have a report from the Nation Seismology Lab?”

Before she could answer, Ms. Marlowe’s attention was caught by a different, more urgent turn of events. Sir, all communication just dropped from in and around Greenview Ridge. It’s not being jammed, it’s just… gone.”

Pratt’s mouth formed a tense line. He was starting to theorize about who was behind this. The scale was much larger than he would have expected, but barring another Non-Human Entity from Faerie, there was only one person he knew of that could manipulate stone.

His rumination was interrupted by a young, male communication technician calling to him from the tier below him. “General, Quantico just contacted us; someone called them via satellite phone. He demanded to speak to you.”

That alone came close to confirming his suspicions. “Run a trace, start recording and send the call up to me.” He instructed.

Moments later, the phone at Ms. Marlowe’s desk rang. Pratt picked it up. “This is General Lewis Armstrong Pratt of the United States Marine Corps. Who is this?”

There was a slight chuckle in the answering voice. “No you aren’t. I’ve done some studying these past five years. Your command isn’t really part of the military at all. Your funding comes out of the NSA budget.” The voice was young and brash.

And familiar. As was the reference to five years past.

“Ethan Braylocke” the General’s voice came out in the low tone of a man disappointed in his own instincts. Of course it would be Braylocke.

“The very same.” Replied the caller. “But I go by Groundswell now. I think it’s much better than ‘Burrower’ like the flatfoots in Phoenix called me.”

“You’re in Greenview Ridge.” Pratt interrupted.

“That I am, General. The folks here are starting to panic; a couple of guys tried to get out using the VFD’s ladder truck. I had to sink it like I did the cell towers.”

Pratt was having none of Braylocke’s attempts at conversation. “You’re calling to demand ransom.”

“Right again! I see how you earned your stars now. But it’s not what you think. I don’t want money this time, I want Zero Point and Majestrix. I’ve been working out with my powers the last five years, and well, I’d like to show them what the scrawny kid they manhandled can do to them now. Otherwise… I’ll show them what I can do to the good people of Greenview Ridge. You’ve got 48 hours.”

With that, the line went dead.

“Trace complete, General.” the tech announced.

“Inside the barrier.” Pratt guessed correctly. “I already knew that.”

“Orders, sir?” Ms. Marlowe asked, fingers poised over her keyboard.

“He wants Majestrix and Zero Point.” Pratt said. “Inform them of the situation and up-link us at this screen. Make it clear to them that they’re only to be involved in a consulting role. Braylocke obviously has a means of defeating them. And while you’re getting them linked to me, get me the Descendants.”

Series Navigation<< Issue #45 – The Gremlin and The GameDescendants Special #4 – Some Day In May >>

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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3 Comments

  1. Rebecca Thompson

    So I’ve been working my way through your stories for the past month, and now that I’m finally almost up to speed (on the main series, at least), I figured I should comment. Your series is absolutely incredible–your characterizations are fun, your characters actually grow, but beyond that, the world you’ve created for them is just phenomenal in its detail and scope. I’ve had so much fun reading it, and I look forward to more in the future!

    • Wow. Thank you so much for the kind words. It’s reactions like this that make the work I put into the series feel more than worthwhile. I hope you continue to enjoy the series and related pieces and that you continue to offer your thoughts, even if they aren’t all as positive.

      Thanks for reading, and commenting!

  2. Pingback: Descendants Serial » Vaal’s Top 20 Moments In Descendants Vols 1-5 (Part 3)

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