Issue #52 – Scenes From a Changing World

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

Part 4

An Arsenal of Truth

There were more expensive, more ostentatious, and more exclusive restaurants in Mayfield than Artista e Artigiano, but it had a history and reputation that was unmatched. Anyone who knew anything about business in Mayfield knew that was the place to take their clients and perspective partners.

When John Liedecker himself first came to Mayfield, city lore said that his first meal out with his family was at the original location and he was so impressed by the then struggling pair of chef-owners that he never conducted a business luncheon anywhere else for the rest of his life. And just as his savvy put Mayfield on the map, so too did his patronage turn Artista e Artigiano into an institution.

For the story alone, it didn’t surprise Laurel at all that her dinner appointment on behalf of Descendants Rights Worldwide chose it. It was well known that he was the kind the enjoyed interesting anecdotes on top of being extremely well read. And he was very important to DRW; representing a change to make the ‘Worldwide’ part of the name into something more than just a signal to their ambition.

Normally, Laurel never dressed the part of her father’s fifty-seven billion dollars; she was much more comfortable in jeans and a nice blouse. Tonight, she wasn’t taking any chances. Her dress was Raoul Ankh; a backless, form hugging number in white with a risque neckline partly camouflaged by a gossamer shawl. Her shoes were Gourdi stilettos that required the majority of her superhuman concentration to walk in. Her purse, also Gourdi, the oversized kind that was all the rage at the moment, done in silver with white enamel embellishments. And her hair and make-up were a four hour professional job that she imagined would take specialized chemicals to remove afterward.

The hostess recognized her from several previous engagements with Vincent Liedecker regarding the school, and directed her to her dinner companion for the evening.

In the first instant of seeing him, he both confirmed half the things she’d heard about him, and made her feel dangerously under-dressed.

Stephan Archeneaux had obviously requested the sole table that sat upon the small balcony between the twin set of stairs and ramps leading into the dining room proper. It was surrounded by greenery and was meant to give a measure of privacy, along with a beautiful view to a couple dining there.

A beautiful view would also describe the man himself, Laurel couldn’t help by think.

Even seated, it was plain to see he was very tall and broad shouldered. His naturally golden hair was cut close on the sides and back, but stuck up in roguish angles at the top of his head. A pair of amber tinted, round glasses rested on the bridge of his nose, and his face beard was cut close enough to deliberately give the impression of a rugged five o’clock shadow.

That was just the man himself. His impeccable white suit was tailored, as was the burgundy silk shirt beneath it. At first, Laurel thought that the shirt had a partial cape collar, but when he stood at her approach, she could clearly see that he in fact wore a velvet half-mantle of the same color as his shirt, but edged in gold filigree that formed a maze pattern. It swirled around him as he stood, making him look like a prince from a story book.

“At last, I am allowed to meet the lovely Laurel Brant in person.” His English was perfect, and she could tell that he was enhancing his accent for her benefit.

“Mr. Arceneaux. It’s my pleasure to finally meet you as well.

She offered her hand and he took it bending gracefully to kiss it. “Enchante. Please though, call me Stephan.” He moved away to pull out her seat for her.

“Thank you.” She accepted graciously. They said he was charming, a lady-killer. Part of her expected that t was part of the reason why Arceneaux requested the meeting with her and not one of the other board members. But she had to keep her wits about her, and especially, she had to remember the other things she knew about him and reason she wanted to meet with him.

She waited patiently for him to seat himself again and then took the offensive. First order of business; make sure things start on the subject of said business. “I’d like to thank you for making the long flight all the way to Mayfield for this meeting, first and foremost. I’m glad that other members of the international community understand how important our goals are.”

Stephan didn’t seem phased by her bluntness. Instead, he smiled and nodded. “Indeed. With the disaster at Greenview Ridge, and escaped from Braddock Island, I and my associates see the United States at a tipping point when it comes to descendants. And if the United States falls into darkness, all of Europe will backslide from the meager advances we have made in these few years. It is in our best interest to bolster you and your group in any way we can.”

He took a quick sip from his water glass, and continued. “And though I wouldn’t call myself a member of the international community, it is my hope that your organization can help the terrible situation descendants face in France.”

Laurel nodded. “We’ll do our best. Although obviously, you have a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground there than we do.” That wasn’t true, as far as she knew. After all, she’d done her research as thoroughly as possible.

“What is happening there is a microcosm of what is happening in all of Europe.” He said with a dramatic and weary sigh. “Drafts are common everywhere in the Union. The English and Germans; they merely want to hide the issue. In my own country, it seems to have been decided that being a descendant is not in keeping with French culture. They use the draft to drive the most obvious away, and to study others like laboratory animals.”

Acting as if this was all new to her, Laurel lowered her voice to hushed tones. “I had no idea that things were so bad in the rest of the free world.”

He nodded.” In some places, it is better. There is not choice but the join the Blizzard Guard, but the Russians hold their number in high regard. Italy and Spain ignore the issue almost entirely and the danger there comes from the private sector; places much like your PTAA; which is also a problem the British have; Brunswick is the only fully trustworthy of the lot.”

“You seem to have a firm handle on what’s going on in the whole of the EU.” She noted. “I would very much like to have something more comprehensive to show the rest of the board and perhaps other humanitarian groups as well. Someone needs to monitor international treatment of descendants.”

The conversation paused as the waiter came to take their orders and the wine steward to pour the wine Stephan ordered before her arrival. Once they were taken care of, he brought the conversation back to where they left off.

“On the subject of monitoring… is it possible to earmark my contribution toward this initiative?”

“Not at the moment, no. This is the first time the subject’s come up.” Laurel admitted. It was on her list, but hadn’t been brought up to the board of DRW as yet.

“A shame.” said Stephan. “But that really changed nothing. I am prepared to contribute seven million in American dollars and each of my six associates is prepared to match this. Our primary interests are education and investigations into these so-called schools that plague both continents. But if a monitoring arm is formed, I would like to back this as well.”

Forty-nine million dollars before the appetizers were even served. Laurel didn’t bother hiding her surprise, anyone would be surprised.

“That is… incredibly generous, Stephan. Amazingly so. Nothing I’ve heard of you indicated that you were this passionate about human rights, much less such a specific set of the population.”

He smiled wanly and raked a hand through his hair. “Yes, well you see, I am not being entirely altruistic in this matter.” He leaned forward conspiratorially, even though they were sitting at the most private table in the room. “May I tell you a secret?”

Laurel nodded, expecting a lie or sob story. She already knew his secret, but there was no way any person would ever admit it, even in a world where descendants were universally accepted. Some abilities were of the kind that the normal population would never be comfortable with.

The wealthy young man glanced around and decided the setting was private enough. “I have a gift of my own.” If she didn’t seem appropriately shocked by that, he didn’t seem to notice. Of course, he could admit to being a descendant without revealing everything…

“When I was seventeen, I discovered that if I put just the right inflection in my voice, I could command any person I addressed to do almost anything.” Now the surprise in Laurel’s eyes were genuine and he made no move to quell it. “At this very moment, with just a minor adjustment of pitch and tone, I could order you to lunge across this table and kiss me. And ninety-nine percent of the time, you would not so much as hesitate.”

There was a misconception in the general populace. They thought that hypercognition meant instantly knowing the answer to any situation, the correct response to any problem. They expected a hypercog to be exactly like the standard ‘smart guy’ on television.

It didn’t work that way. Hyper cognition meant, among other things, that the hypercog’s brain had a more efficient structure for memories and connecting them, along with a near perfect recall on demand. Some dealt with a problem of a lack of emotional filters, leading to a lifetime of bad memories that never faded, but Laurel did not. The problem was, that sometimes, there is not perfect response, or that response simply isn’t evident given the information the hypercog has.

So it wasn’t an earthshaking event that Laurel found herself speechless and confused. Hypercogniton or no, she was still only human.

Stephan resumed a normal posture and waited patiently as she gathered her thoughts. His wait lasted until after their salads arrived, because never had she even dreamed that he would tell her the truth.

Drawing in a deep breath, and taking time to move a lock o hair out of her face, she asked the single most pressing question on her mind. “Why did you just tell me all that? You have to know what the normal reaction would be.”

Replying with only a smile, he picked over his salad for a long minute. When he did speak, he failed to look her in the eye for the first time in the entire meeting. “Because I believe that you, above all others are genuine. You are not acting in the interest of public relations, or reputation, or supporting the cause of the day. Every day, you act on this; teaching the children and protecting the public.”

Laurel blinked at the odd phrasing. Why would he comment on Laurel Brant, trust fund baby and educator ‘protecting the public’? The obvious answer was right there of course, but there was always the chance that it wasn’t what it looked like. She would have to tread carefully.

“Well I’ve always felt that those two were one and the same, but that is an interesting way of putting it.” Trying to appear nonchalant, she started in on her own salad.

There was an amused glint in Stephan’s eyes as he sipped at his water. “Yes, not that you mention it, they are largely one and the same, especially when it comes to young descendants in need of training.” He glanced about to make sure no one was near, and found them to be sufficiently isolated. “But I was referring more to how you’ve protected so many from threat like Project Tome.”

And there it was. For a long time, they stared each other down. Archeneaux was unflinching and had a small smile on his lips. “I trust that the information I fed you aided in that pursuit?” He asked.

Laurel kept her voice low and her expression schooled. “I’ll remind you that were are in public, Mr. Voice.”

“In return, I inform you that my man outside is equipped with the latest active scanning system and has instructions to contact me the moment anything seems to be eavesdropping… Codex.” If anything, his smile grew. “And now we are each certain of what the other knows and my hope is that we will recall that we are allies instead of enemies.”

She considered him carefully before speaking. “Accepting information from you was never a problem. Sharing it with you just might. We’re currently being forced to reconsider the partners we have as it is.”

Stephan nodded, understanding completely. He wasn’t well versed in the concept, but he knew enough to know that a secret identity should not be taken lightly. His perspective partner would need more to work with him. “I want nothing on your… closer associates. But before you decide if I am trustworthy or not: Hugo Lansdale, who runs the Brunswick School, you know him, yes?”

Laurel nodded.

“He will vouch for me. If you wish to know where my information on Tome came from, it was Lansdale’s connections within MI-6 that allowed me to install my own backdoor into their system.” He picked up his wine glass and contemplated it.

“The British kept tabs on the PTAA from the day it opened its doors; fearing that the Americans were using it as a super soldier training program, especially once the Enforcer Corps debuted. In exchange, I helped him rescue a number of children from their facility in Langley.”

“That was you all along then.” She realized. “The group moving young psionics out of the country. We were briefed on that.”

“Does that mean I pass the test of character?”

“It means I’m not leaving at the moment. Now, is the donation to DRW genuine, or was it a pretense for meeting me?”

Stephan stroked his chin. “I expect some of it to go toward properly equipping and staffing my own school, of course. At the moment, we are little more than a halfway house for the gifted. I wish to teach these children control and how not to make the mistakes I did with my own.”

He shrugged, “But yes, the offer is real. All of them. Many people the world over wish to see things improve for people like us. Many because they see honest profit in it, but just as many because they no longer wish to hide.”

“None of us wants to throw lots in with people who want to exploit descendants.” She informed him and her eyes made it clear that there would be no negotiation on that point.

“Nor would I.” He assured her. “These are not ghouls in lab coats, however. They are ghouls in suits, with marketing departments that feel that the two hundred thousand descendants living outside the United States might represent an untapped marketing demographic.”

Laurel ignored the marketing talk and focused on the odd certainty he had in that number. “How can you be so sure of that figure? As far as I know, no one knows how many descendants there are in the world.”

“Tome at least believes that they do.” He was quick to explain. “You must remember, they were originally created to compile information from the original experiments. Based on number of surviving subjects in various locations, coupled with average birth rates, migration patterns, and rate of manifestation, they have estimated numbers for every major region.”

“That makes sense.” She conceded, “But even conservative estimates say there are forty-thousand in the US alone. Why do we have almost a quarter of all descendants in the world?”

He shrugged. “If I could hazard a guess, I would think that the fact that only the US and Columbia have truly embraced descendants on a cultural level and as accepting as they are, Columbia is a dictatorship, no matter hoe benevolent. Of course, Canada, Japan, Australia… to an extent Egypt, Sweden and Holland… and some others, all legally embrace them, but the law does not shape the people.”

“We’re a safe harbor…” She concluded.

“A safe harbor that is now under the threat of a terrible storm.” Stephan agreed. “And now you begin to see exactly how important your work is on an international level. A quarter of a million people living in oppression will utterly lose hope if their brothers and sisters here fall as well.”

Laurel let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and looked around the restaurant. It was half filled to capacity, but there were enough people there to make a second point to her. Short of a blood test legendary for false positives, no one knew if they were carrying any of the mutations on the genome responsible for making a person into a descendant.

Many thousands had the active version and yet never manifested. But they could, and at any moment. And in most countries on Earth, that moment would utterly ruin their life. And hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of others carried the inactive version; which could become active in their children.

Archeneaux was wrong with his quarter of a million figure. Millions now and millions in the future needed them to take a stand in the here and now. Descendants Rights Worldwide suddenly took on much more profound importance, and Project Tome took on an even more sinister role in the world.

In orchestrating the break out at Braddock Island, they set the world on a dangerous course that, if left to fester, could very well end in atrocity. A year before, Morganna had made an attempt to take the powers of all descendants on Earth. And now Tome was set on murdering them, however indirectly.

And once again, it came into her hands to direct the campaign to save them.

“Alright, Stephan.” She finally said. “You’ve convinced me. Let’s talk business.”

Series Navigation<< Issue #51 – Amore DetestabilisIssue #53 – The House on Dawson Bay >>

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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