Issue #49 – George

This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 2

Laurel and Tink came out of the hall and into the upstairs commons to find Melissa on the couch reading while Juniper sat on the floor with her back against it, watching a Live Metal rerun.

Tink gave them a curious look. “You’re not going to the door?”

Juniper blinked at her in confusion. Melissa nudged the brown haired girl with her foot. “She’s never been here when someone new shows up.”

“Oh!” Juniper said, nodding with a happy smile on her face. “Well, you see, we can’t all be downstairs at the same time.”

“Doesn’t look natural.” Melissa explained. “So anyone that’s at home just gets somewhere where we can get to the downstairs commons quick without it looking like we’re all, you know, a bunch of prelates expecting a fight.”

Tink thought it over a second and nodded. It made a lot of sense once it was explained.

“Just one of those things we’ve had to plan for.” Laurel said from the top of the stairs. “Like how we don’t all immediately rush out when someone calls for help. If someone has suspicions, we don’t want to add to them.”

She and Tink went downstairs, where Warrick and Cyn were playing pool. Or at least making a show of it. Now that she was aware of what was going on, Tink noticed that the game was continuing despite the 8-ball being off the table.

Warrick tossed his cue to Laurel and came over to wrap Tink in an embrace. “Sorry this is interrupting you getting your techie engine roaring. Shouldn’t be more than a few minutes.” He glanced at the door, however, and said, “Maybe you should go in another room though, just in case. It’s usually no one, but…”

Tink leaned down and kissed him. “Not a chance. I like watching these things up close and personal. Besides, I know you wouldn’t let me get hurt.”

His eyes darted to her midsection, where he knew there was a scar beneath the fabric. “Yeah, but see, I already have.”

“Oh for god’s sake.” Cyn said crossly from where she stood observing the exchange.

Shaking her head, Tink couldn’t help but let out a soft laugh. “Unless you made me piss off Metal X like that…” The doorbell rang before she could finish.

Laurel hyperventilated on the spot so her voice sounded far off and breathless. “Coming!” A hand gesture told Warrick and Tink to take a place on one of the couches; it would be out of place if they were just standing in the middle of the floor for no reason.

While she walked to the door, the teen couple did as ordered. Warrick took out his palm-top and opened a web browser so it looked like they were checking something together. The last page opened came up and it was the Winter Capshaw fansite.

He turned red. She stuck her tongue out at him for being unequivocally a dork.

Meanwhile, Laurel shouldered the pool cue, really an expertly shaped piece of aluminum colored by finely tuned oxidation that she could use as a weapon, and opened the door.

George Chea stood there in a slate colored sport coat with no tie, with matching slacks and a wide brimmed hat. He was slightly stooped because of the cane, but it didn’t detract at all from the strong bearing he carried himself with.

A fond, familiar smile came to his face when he saw it was Laurel answering the door. “Young Miss Brant.” He said genially. “I’m not certain you remember me; the last time I spoke with your father in person, you were home from the Academy.”

It was a good enough reference to prove his identity at least sufficiently to continue the conversation. Laurel offered a warm expression of her own. “Of course, I remember you, Mr. Chea. It’s wonderful to see you again—to what do I owe this visit?”

“I’ve never been comfortable being given respect simply for my age. And I would say that everyone in this room is of equal esteem to myself, so please, call me George.” He gestured with the head of his cane. “May I come in?”

A wave of discomfort swept the room. He’d emphasized ‘everyone’ in that sentence and there was no reason for a powerful broker to consider himself on the same level as a bunch of teenagers and the daughter of a captain of industry. Unless he knew something more about them.

In particular, Warrick tried to get a better look at him out of the corner of his eye. There was something familiar about him.

Trying to be cautious without looking it, Laurel unshouldered the cue and stepped back. “Of course. Where are my manners? George Chea, these are…”

The moment the doors closed behind him, George interrupted. “They would be Cynthia McAllister, Warrick Kaine, and Christina Carlyle. Known to the world at large as Facsimile, Alloy, and… well Miss Carlyle has yet to make her debut if she’s so inclined.” He dipped his head in Laurel’s direction. “And you’ve become Codex.”

Cliché dictates that extreme tension can be cut with a knife. Any knife would have been dulled in that room.

“I’m… sorry?” Laurel blinked at him, mimicking genuine confusion. “Aren’t they the prelates?”

“Heh. Yeah.” Cyn said in the air-headed way she used to mock Lily Goldenmeyer at school. “As if we’d go out and get all bloody and dirty fighting freaks.”

George’s expression never shifted from knowing and grandfatherly. “I’m not mistaken. The fact of the matter is, I’ve had a hand in the events that led to the formation of the Descendants… and a few more personal things.”

Silence ruled the room. Then Laurel laughed nervously.

“Mr. Chea? George?” Are you feeling well?”

Instead of replying, George held a hand out in Warrick’s direction. “Mr. Kaine here recognizes me at least a little. Let me help you out, son: last year, before the Valentine’s Day dance last year, you bought lilacs from me for a…” There was laughter in his eyes, “non-date?”

Warrick couldn’t stop himself from mouthing the words ‘holy shit’.

Laurel caught that and took a giant step out of the range of the older man’s cane in case he decided to use it and bought the fake pool cue on guard like a staff. “Ian? Alexis? I think the two of you should come out here.”

“Actually, it would do me a big favor if everyone readily available at least started listening.” George raised his voice. “That way, I don’t have to explain the entire situation more than once.”

Ian and Alexis emerged from where they’ve been monitoring the situation in the kitchen. “What’s going on in here?” Ian asked, holding on to the thin hope that their cover could yet be maintained. That hope dissolved when he saw who was standing in the downstairs commons.

Brief flashes of a conversation more than a year old came to mind. He didn’t have a chance to connect the dots, George did it for him.

“Ah, Mr. Smythe, it’s good to see you again. And that your relationship with Miss Keyes is healthy again.”

After that glancing mental blow, Ian’s words came out in a rush. “You’re the guy that gave me the Apocalypse Ladies tickets.”

“Ladies of Armageddon, yes.” George corrected. “And they had the intended effect all the way around: Maven was stopped and Miss Keyes was shown to value of heroes in this world, not incidentally encouraging the two of you to reconcile.”

Hearing all this, Alexis pressed past her fiance, suspicion and a will to act on it etched on her face. “What’s going on here? There’s no way you could have known any of that.”

Ever calm, George only bowed his head in greeting to her. “My name is George Chea, Miss Keyes. But we’re already acquainted. As I’ve said, I had a hand in moving some of the events that brought you all here. And your part was the first.”

She shook her head. “What are you talking about?”

George reached up and removed his hat, holding it over his heart as a sign of respect. “Because, Miss Keyes… Alexis; I’m the one that made the call to you about the Academy records and the medical facility on campus.”

That revelation bought her up short. Ian was quick to step in for her. “This has got to be some kind of trick. Maybe a spell or something to make us hallucinate.”

“Doubt it.” Cyn countered. “You remember him, Warrick remembers him. Unless you think it’s a hallucination with false memories…”

At the point, Kareem entered from the back hall where the downstairs guest rooms and the changing rooms for the pool were located. “He is hiding things.” He observed first and foremost. “But he isn’t lying. Everything he’s said is genuine.”

George gave the young man a small nod. “I’ll go you one better, Mr. Utt: I intend no harm to the Descendants, nor do I intend to expose their secrets. I do, however, intend to expose some of mine.”

For a long moment, Kareem nodded. “He’s telling the truth there was well.”

“You just said he’s hiding something.” Ian pointed out.

“I’ve had training.” George replied. “There are some things you don’t need to know.”

Laurel folded her arms, the cue still held tightly in one hand. “Then what do we need to know?”

“Hmm…” He tapped his index finger on the head of his cane. “I can’t explain the entire thing here, because I don’t have the expertise; but if you’ll all be patient, I can start at the beginning.”

He noticed Juniper and Melissa appear at the top of the stairs. The gang was all there, except Occult, but he was confident she’d hear about it later. No one replied to him, so he took it to be an invitation to speak.

“The very beginning.” He gestured to the empty couch. “Do you mind if I have a seat?”

Laurel nodded her consent and while he made his way over, Juniper and Melissa came down further to sit on the landing. Cyn sat on the pool table, rolling a billiard ball around in one hand.

Once eased into his seat, George began, as promised, from the beginning. “A long while back, my family was party of one of the first groups of free slaves that settled Liberia. The patch of land they ended up with wasn’t much for farming, but as it turned out, it was richer than that.

“One day, a plow struck stone and when they dug it up, it turned out to be a statue. The place was littered with them; statues, pieces of buildings… it wasn’t a village though. It was some kind of place of worship. And somewhere around there, my ancestor found the stone. Nothing special, it was just white and round, but he felt something in it. So when the land was stolen for the archeologists, he kept it hidden.

“Now, I can’t offer proof, but the stone was good luck for my family; at least that’s how they say. We made it though tyrants and civil wars and more dark times than history books tell. All the way down to me.”

He shifted in his seat, looking into the faces of the people around him and gauging how they were taking it. Juniper seemed to be listening with rapt attention. She was in the minority. The others were all still on edge, except Kareem, whose face was passive and unreadable. Possibly because he was scanning his mind for lies.

“When I was a boy, I got bundled off to come to America to stay with family. My papa, he gave me the stone because he didn’t trust air travel and he thought it would keep me safe. I had it with me on the plane when I fell asleep and had the first dream.”

“I’m… sorry.” Alexis interrupted. “But I don’t follow how this has anything to do with anything that’s happened today.”

“It does.” George assured her. “It’s the dreams, you see. They’re not dreams in the conventional sense. True, I enter the rapid eye movement phase of sleep, but I don’t see flights of fancy, or images from my subconscious.”

He looked around to make sure they were receptive or at least close to it. Strange dreams shouldn’t be all that out of the ordinary to people who had fought demons and a sorceress. “When I slept, I dreamed that I was on the plane. And I looked out of the window and saw the largest, most grand city I had ever laid eyes on. One that I had never seen before.

“I woke up one hour out from New York, when the plane turned for final approach. And I saw the exact same city I’d seen in my dream. From the same angle I’d seen it in the dream.”

Silence. And then Warrick raised his hand, looking slightly shaken instead of the cautious consideration the others wore.

“You’re saying that you can see the future.”

George shook his head and leaned forward with the cane grasped in his hands. “No. The theory now is that true precognition is actually impossible thanks to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. By observing something, you change it and this goes extra for viewing the future, as you are viewing a future in which you never had that insight.”

Warrick looked mildly relieved at this. George let it pass without question. If the others didn’t notice, there was no need to bring it to their attention. Instead, he continued with his explanation:

“I didn’t make the connection at the time, but it wasn’t long until I noticed that my dreams tracked very closely with future events. By the time I was a teenager, I was reading everything I could get my hands on about dreams, trying to make sense of it.

“With study and practice, I learned the art of lucid dreaming and that allowed me to observe the world I dreamed in greater detail. I was even able to read news feeds to learn even more about the events surrounding them. That’s when I started seeing divergences: Near miss collisions where in the real world there was a horrific accident, sporting events decided on a single play, the rise and fall of financial giants based purely on if they caught mistakes in time or not.”

He looked a bit ashamed as he continued. “I was still young and selfish, but smart enough not to draw too much attention. I used the power to win a few thousand in the lottery here and there once I was old enough to play, and started putting it into stocks. It wasn’t one hundred percent, but I was high above the curve. Made enough money to buy my way through business school and become an investment banker, then made my name as a financial adviser.”

Laurel frowned at this and said quietly, “My father has always been suspicious of how you ran your business. I never imagined…”

“Actually, he told me that to my face a few times.” George laughed. “He also lectured me about doing something more with what was given to me than taking expensive trips and buying useless things. He said nothing good came of using money purely to buy more wealth.”

“But you did stop your work.” Tink recalled the dossier Laurel had shown her. “So what happened?”

George spread both hands across the top of his cane in a sort of abbreviated shrug. “I found out the hard way he was right.” He huffed out a long breath and sat back on the couch. “A small defense contractor approached me looking for capitol to build a prototype self defense weapon: one designed to obliterate the enemy communications and technological infrastructure.

“I gave them the money, then spent even more giving them an excuse to test it in the field. They might have finally gotten around to campaign finance reform in my lifetime, but future sight let me figure out scandals before they happened and snuff them. They owed me. And so they authorized Operation: Jabberwock.”

“Son of a bitch, that was you?” Ian blurted out what the portion of the household old enough to remember the war with Brazil were thinking. Operation: Jabberwock was the most infamous day in recent history. The war had ended, but at a cost that the American people couldn’t stomach.

George nodded. “It was a terrible wake-up call. I’d grown so tunnel-visioned in scanning financial news and news pertinent to my needs, that I never even attempted to learn the consequences of my actions. I resigned from my firm the next morning and joined the aid teams, funneling money into relief and reconstruction.”

“So.” Cyn said, looking at the billiard ball in her hand rather than him, “You’re like… one of those high class bad guys they don’t teach us about in history. What’s the deal then? Come to turn yourself in?”

“No.” Laurel sent a venomous look in George’s direction. “It’s about forgiveness. He thinks that by helping us, he can earn forgiveness for all the terrible things he’s done.”

George shook his head and, with some effort and the help of the cane, stood. “Not exactly, Miss Brant. I don’t believe the game is zero sum. Nothing can reverse or pay for what I’ve done and I accept that. I was a very bad man then. I wish to become a force for good now.”

He looked around the room with an unreadable expression and noticed Kareem was staring intently at him with his eyebrows raised. “As for why I’m here: As I said, I haven’t told you the whole story. Come with me to Baltimore. I have a private jet waiting with no staff aboard to protect your identities. Once there, I can explain exactly what I’ve done and why.”

No one made a move.

“Please.” He said. “Don’t think if it as manipulation. My actions, nudging your own, has already saved the world twice. I just think I owe it to you show you how. And, as I’ve already told you this much, I feel the need to assure you of some the places where I have not had a hand.”

Alexis looked to Laurel, then to Ian. They were both looking to her for some reason. It occurred to her that she really did want to make sure her entire life hadn’t been a lie at least.

“Fine.” She said. “Some of us will go with you and record your explanation. We’re still not ruling out the possibility that this is a con.”

George actually laughed at this. “From the heroes of Mayfield? I would expect nothing less.”

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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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