Issue #56 – Family Matters

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 5: How the World Changes

A light rain beaded on the wide, angled windows inside the terminal at Sanderson National Airport, running down in thin rivulets. The passengers just getting off their flight from California didn’t pay it any attention; they just wanted to get past security and grab their bags.

Maxwell Smythe glared ruefully over his shoulder at the security kiosk. The security agent had taken his cane while he went through the machine and then had the audacity to admonish him for leaning on the scanner’s walls.

“If it can detect dangerous chemicals through clothes and air tight packages, why can’t it detect through a wooden cane?” He posed the question to his eldest son, Issac, who was walking along beside him, trying to find baggage claim.

Issac shrugged. “Maybe someone twenty years ago smashed the scanning eye with their cane. So now every cane is a dangerous weapon for anarchy and terror. I know you don’t fly much dad, but I’ve got a better question to roll around in her head: we got scanned getting on the plane at Chico Municipal, then again when we changed planes in Minneapolis.”

His father gave him a considering look and gestured for him to go on.

“I’ve always wondered where they think we’re getting all of these weapons from thirty-thousand feet in the air inside a pressurized tube.”

A huff of amusement escaped Maxwell. “I think I told you mother that same joke when we went first took your brother to the Academy.”

“What joke?” Issac asked honestly. “It’s a terrible waste of manpower. The scanners are sunk cost, but there’s no reason to compound the mistake of filtering after the fact by putting trained agents here when they can be checking people as they board. Am I wrong here?”

“All those years of law school and somehow you came out of it a bureaucrat.”

“I do deal mostly with business law.” Issac held his head high. “It helps.”

They reached the luggage carousel, only to find no sign of their bags.

“Great.” Issac sighed. “What are the chances they lost our luggage?”

“Or maybe we just have to be patient.” Maxwell chided. “They’re still sending bags down the conveyor.”

“Option three is that some helpful soul already collected them for you.” A hand was laid on each of their shoulders and Ian leaned in between them with a smile. “Just a guess.” He stepped back beside their neatly stacked suitcases before they could react.

“So there you are,” Issac folded his arms as he regarded his brother. “Mr engaged. Does he look different since he told us the good news, dad?”

“I agree. He looks taller.” Maxwell played along.

“Nah, not taller per se. definitely different.”

“More muscle tone?”

“Yeah, actually.” Issac raised an eyebrow. Where did a bookworm engineer like Ian find time to keep that fit? “But that’s not what I’m talking about…”

“I just saw you last month on mom’s day.” Ian deadpanned.

“He’s gotten an attitude too.” Issac smirked. “But that’s still not it. Wait. Hold on a second, let me grab my luggage.” He stepped forward and in doing so, slammed his shoulder into Ian’s. He’d made it a traditional greeting when they were kids and he outweighed his younger brother enough that it sent him staggering.

This time, Ian stood his ground and returned the gesture.

Issac laughed. “That’s it. He’s a man now. Alexis has turned my little brother into a man. About time, really.” He thumped Ian on the back and bent to pick up his bags.

Maxwell rolled his eyes. “You both grew up to be good and decent men.” Both sons smiled proudly. “But put your together and it’s like I raised you to be the perfect bastards.” As their faces fell, he went to get his own bags.

“Don’t worry about it, dad. I’ve got yours. You are my guest after all.” Ian grabbed both suitcases before his father could reach them and they were off, headed for the commuter pod terminal.

Ian paid for a pod with a luggage compartment and they were off to the lot where his car was parked.

“I’m still mad at you, you know.” Issac told him as the pod skimmed along its rail and out of the airport.

“Mad at me for what?”

Maxwell only sighed and tried to focus on the landscape.

“The ‘family only’ rule for this weekend. I wanted you to meet Paul.”

Now Ian crossed his arms. “I wanted to meet him when I was in Paradise last month, but you didn’t seem to think he was important enough to bring to mom’s day then.”

“We’d only been going out for a week then.” Issac settled back in his seat, getting into better position to shoot glares from.

Ian aped his action. “And now you’ve only been going out a month.”

“A lot can change in a month.”

“Not enough that he’s considered family. Hell, Alexis’s sisters didn’t even bring their husbands to this.” He left out how vehemently they complained even after Alexis explained to them.

“Now if you’d just settled down and married Vince…” Maxwell muttered.

Issac switched targets with his baleful glare. “Really, dad? Again?”

“What? I liked Vince. He was polite, he was reliable, he cared a lot about you…”

“Also a workaholic, boring as hell and didn’t like football. Who the hell doesn’t like football.”

“That was a major flaw n his part.” Ian pointed out. “Especially in this family. Remember how you forbid me from seeing Julie Ramone because she came to the house in a Portland Sasquatches jersey?”

Maxwell chuckled. “Yeah…” Then he cleared his throat. “But I was only half joking.”

“Sure dad.” Ian snickered.

“Back to Paul though…” Issac said sharply.

“Look, there’s more going on this weekend than letting you two meet the future in-laws. Things Alexis and I plan to tell you.”

“What, like how you’re Chaos and Darkness?” Issac blurted out.

“Exactly. We… Wait. What?! How did you know? How long have you known?”

“For a while. I mean, come on, there’s a guy with powers just like mine based out of the city my little brother lives in? And then, that guy just happens to always fight hand in hand with someone with the same powers that cooked about a thousand smores in our backyard while you were at the Academy? Don’t even pretend to be surprised I figured it out.”

Ian held his hand to his head. “Um… dad, you don’t look that surprised either.”

Maxwell looked as if he’d been caught swiping an extra desert. “Actually, son, I… I overheard you tell your mother last year at her grave.”

“Oh… I guess there goes three wasted hours of coaching the Keyeses on keeping the secret until the time was right—they found out too. But why didn’t you say something?”

“I wanted to. I really did. After all, what father doesn’t want to tell his boy how proud his is of what he’s made of himself? But you kept it secret for a reason, and it would have been rude to make you think you gave it up accidentally.”

Issac shrugged. “My plan was to torment you all weekend by coming ‘close’ to finding out, forcing you to make crazy excuses. It’s a big brother’s dream come true.”

***

Even with its normal eight occupants, Freeland House was never used to its full potential. It might have been called a bed and breakfast, but it was really a small hotel with a total of fourteen bedrooms when the former honeymoon and presidential suites were taken into account. Then there was the solarium, which hadn’t seen real use since that first night when Ian and Kareem convalesced there; two meeting rooms, currently being used for storage, and the well used up and downstairs commons, kitchen and pantry.

The Keyes family managed to fill it in short order with just Alexis’s four sisters, her parents and her maternal grandmother.

The previous day, they all gathered around to bombard Alexis with news of what was going on in their lives since her last call home, embarrassing questions about her relationship with Ian, and talk of Nicole’s plans for her upcoming wedding.

Her mother, Anita, plus older sisters Nicole and Victoria hounded her to set a firm date herself while the babies of the family, Kylie and Lydia wanted her to put off as long as possible because they were already dreading the bridesmaids’ dresses Nicole picked out.

The point was made along the way that Grandma Maximoff was getting old and deserved to see Alexis married off, but the old lady was having none of it, insisting that she was in better health at eighty than most sixty year-olds and shame on all of them for trying to take the choice away from Alexis.

Always on the side of the daughter that bore his name, Alejandro Keyes did his best to steer the conversation away, but he was trying to stop an avalanche with a cigarette lighter. The conversation snapped back to that topic over and over.

Now it was almost midday and the family had settled in and spread out more. Kylie was still in bed as evidenced by the snoring that could be heard through her door. Nicole was delivering a good morning wake-up call to her fiance, Dan, and made it a point of wandering room to room with the phone so as to put her relationship on display.

Alexis had seen Grandma Maximoff in the solarium, watching old sitcoms on her tablet, but didn’t know where any of the others were when she found Laurel and Victoria on the couches in the downstairs commons.

Victoria was reading something off of Laurel’s computer and primly stifling a laugh when she noticed her sister coming down the stairs. “Lexy! Why didn’t you tell me how big a star you are?”

Alexis froze on the stairs and snapped her gaze toward Laurel. “Oh my god, what did you show her?”

A Cheshire grin came to genius’s face. She was laying on the couch, leafing through a folder of documents from the Liedecker Institute that needed her signature. “Oh, nothing much. Victoria asked what the public thought of us, so I linked her to your fan site.”

“You didn’t.”

“She did.” Victoria said, delighted. “Did you know they’ve named your attacks? Black bolts is uncreative, but I love ‘negative rain’.”

“What the hell is negative rain?” Alexis asked, curious enough to come down and sit beside her big sister so she could see.

Victoria gave her a look. “You mean you don’t read your own fan sites? These people look up to you. They idolize you. It’s the least you could do.”

“It’s the internet. There’s a close to one hundred percent chance that there’s pron of me on there and I don’t need that. Not to mention the misconceptions. For example, from what little I know, they think I’m black and Laurel is Latina.”

“That’s only on Descendants4Lyfe.” Laurel corrected her, never looking up from the documents. “They’ve got their own special theories and they’re pretty adamant about it. Cyn wants me to take off a glove one of these days just to mess with them.”

“You shouldn’t know this much about these people.” Alexis scolded.

“How can I not?” Laurel laughed, “That’s literally my power.”

Alexis sighed and Victoria giggled a bit at her discomfort. “I meant to ask; I went and bought the comic. Did you really…”

“No.” Alexis cut her off. “The stuff in the comics is all made up by the writer. Otherwise, you would have heard about sea monsters on the news. It’s all just crazy stuff the writer dreams up and tosses us into, nothing more.”

“Speaking of news, why were you in Japan a couple of weeks ago?”

“Oh, Ian got kidnapped by ninjas who were baiting us into fighting another group of ninjas who were utilizing yakuza and coerced descendants to ransom the ninja master’s son in exchange for the spellcasting youth of Japan… and wow I should probably be institutionalized for saying that out loud.”

“We can always talk about work.” Laurel offered.

Alexis thought about how she spent the last week she’d been sending out emails with suggested power creativity exercises her students could do while at home or on vacation to increase their comfort and creativity with their powers. ‘Fly every day’ was one of the more mundane entries, but for every one of those, there was a ‘see if you can use the current you produce to run inexpensive household electronics’, and ‘attempt to recreate famous landmarks with your hair’.

She coughed politely. “Maybe we can just look at the pictures we took in Kyoto.”

Victoria once again couldn’t help but laugh. “That sounds great Lexy. I don’t see why you’re so embarrassed though; your life sounds so exciting. Then again, surgery sounds exciting when you don’t do so many a day that you don’t even notice the smell of dermal patches anymore.”

“It just sounds insane.” Alexis shrugged. “Normal people don’t deal with that sort of thing.”

“And normal people pull people’s lungs out on the daily and plug in cybernetic replacements?” Victoria pointed out. “When you get down to it, it’s all just an issue of jargon. You don’t understand when I talk about nerve conduction interfaces and the neural synching problem, and I smile and nod when you talk about… blasting a giant, evil dog. By the way, are…”

“Those are real.” Alexis cut her off with a shake of her head. “Honestly, sometimes, we run up against things straight out of fantasy.”

***

“Maleficent, Beowulf; listen up.” The voice of the Gold siblings’ latest support operative came through their earpieces, cutting through the engine noise. Cargo hauler airships weren’t designed with the comfort of the cargo in mind.

“You’re probably wondering why we put you on a blimp instead of a troop transport.”

“I was assuming budget cuts.” said Beowulf as he sullenly watched the floor. It was the first time he’d been out of containment in weeks, following yet another blow-up at a trainer sent to teach him how to exercise his new body in its various stages. A half-laugh came from across the hold from him where his sister was sitting cross-legged, reading something on the palmtop she was allowed to keep for good behavior. He didn’t look over. It hurt to see he complying like that.

“Your target is in Mayfield.” said the humorless voice. “And the higher-ups don’t want to antagonize the Descendants until they’re able to meet them with an advantage. This is a low visibility mission. You’ll be using your thieving skills instead of your abilities. The blimp is cover: the Descendants know what to look for in our stealth transports, but Mayfield sees dozens of airships a day floating in cross-country supplies.”

Airships were the in serious competition with long haul trucking when it came to heavy loads that didn’t need refrigeration. The support op was completely correct in his assumption that one would go unnoticed.

“So what exactly are we after?” Maleficent asked, a bit too eagerly for Beowulf’s liking.

“A new piece of tech from Brighton-Leer Neuro-technology.” replied the operative. “A little wonder device called the theta wave control stint. Designed for controlling seizures but the R&D boys think it might just be able to shut down the powers of sixty percent of all non-protomorph psionics.”

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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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