“Another beer, Thomas? How about you, Pete?” Ian took one out of the fridge for himself and looked up to see if Thomas Kaine or Pete Chamberlain, both sitting at the kitchen table, wanted one.
“Not for me, I should probably get back to helping load the truck.” Said Pete. He smirked at Thomas, “and some of us have a long day of assembling dorm furniture ahead of us.”
“I’ll take one.” said Thomas before grinning at Pete. “And don’t blame me for Warrick being able to make his own furniture. Read the latest studies—that’s his mother’s fault. I’m just enjoying the results. Besides, I’m not getting off entirely scot-free; my daughter’s got a move-in day coming up too in a couple of weeks.”
“Liedecker Institute, right?” Pete asked.
“Good; you wouldn’t believe how many schools popped up after the Academy. There’s no telling which ones are Tome fronts, or worse.”
Thomas accepted his beer from Ian and raised an eyebrow. “There’s worse?”
“Well, considering we still don’t know how bad Tome gets, I might be exaggerating or I might not be. The point is, since Emily and I have been active, we’ve run into some pretty terrible cases of exploitation, both on our own and in the ROCIC reports. We’re talking about kids being forced into a life of crime, used as thieves and assassins, or guinea pigs. There’s a lot of real animals out there.”
“Thank God none of our kids are tied up in that.” said Thomas.
“Amen.” Ian raised his bottle.
Nodding his approval of Ian’s sentiment, Thomas looked back at Pete. “You know, I must have seen clips about you and your wife on TV and I never thought of Zero Point as being a regular guy with a family.”
“I’m still pretty shocked you told the Kaines who you are.” said Ian.
Pete stood up and stretched a little. “It’s the covered face; very dehumanizing. And why wouldn’t I tell them? They’re in the same place as Emily and I: parents of prelates and all. If there’s anyone that’s safe to tell, it’s them.”
“Not all of them.” Ian frowned.
“I heard about that from Willow.” Pete shook his head. “Now that was something awful. That girl’s got a lot of good in her, seeing as she didn’t pound his face into the pavement. I know I wanted to, just hearing it first hand.”
All three men nodded at this.
“But no, you can definitely trust us.” said Thomas. “We’ve been getting more and more practice with the secret identities. You have no idea how complex it’s gotten. We can talk about Tammy’s powers, but we can’t talk about Warrick’s. And Warrick’s friend JC knows, but his parents don’t—and on and on like that. I’d make up a score card if it wasn’t a security risk.”
Pete scoffed. “Teenagers. Me and Emily got by with absolutely nobody else knowing for six years. And now we’ve got a program on our phones where we can call up a dozen prelates if we want.”
“Not that anyone calls.” said Ian.
“Tell me about it. The other day, the ROCIC asked us to help out with this… I don’t know, lizard bear that appeared in Yosemite, and we spent maybe five hours searching before we found out someone else was tracking it too. Lady from Kansas; what’s her name?”
Ian shrugged, “This is honestly the first I heard of a prelate in Kansas.”
“Microburst.” said Thomas. “She’s a wind controller—a lot of people compare her to you actually.” he nodded to Ian and then noticed the surprised looks on the others’ faces. “My son is big into the whole ‘scene’, I can probably rattle off names and power sets you’ve never even heard of.”
When the others seemed to accept that, he followed up with a question: “So these weird monsters that have been showing up? Still no idea what they are?”
Ian came back to the table and sat down. “Nothing but theory. This all started last year when Morganna tried to siphon power from some place she called Faerie. The ROCIC thinks that when we stopped her, we didn’t so much cut off that connection as force a bad one. They think these monsters are actually just what happens when it hits an animal or something.”
While Pete had been making to leave, he stopped at this. “You don’t sound convinced.”
“Yeah,” Said Thomas, “What do you believe?”
“It’s not just what we believe, it’s what we know. The ROCIC can’t possibly believe it either, because they know that when Morganna did that, she was getting help from astral creatures possessing humans. They called themselves ‘demons’ and it was clear that they’re; I don’t know, a race? A Civilization? Not from Earth.”
He took a drink and sat back, crossing his arms. “And they’re not the only ones. Laurel had a run-in with one that looked like a high elf from hell, and there’s another like him actually on that team based out of the LA—the one that stole our name?”
“Descendants LA.” Thomas nodded. “So are they for real? Because they’ve got so much press and official merchandise, it looks like a publicity stunt for D3I.”
Pete rolled his eyes. “I can see that actually. I mean stranger things have happened.”
Sandra Kaine shook her head disapprovingly at the job her son had done of packing. It wasn’t that it was any sloppier than what could be expected of a teenaged boy so much as it was what he’d packed. Namely everything.
“I don’t understand;” She complained as she sorted through the many, many boxes, “You’ve seen the room. It’s smaller than this one and you have to share it with JC. You absolutely know that not all of this can fit and you pack it anyway.”
Warrick hovered around the boxes, desperately trying to defend his possessions. “But mom, I told you: both me and JC are doing the loft thing, so we have more space than if we just had beds.”
“Not this much room.” Sandra gestured at the boxes, exasperated.
“Loft, huh? But bet Tink is thrilled at the idea of smacking her head into the ceiling whenever she visits.” Tammy was sitting on Warrick’s now empty desk, watching the same argument she’d had the first time she packed for the Institute unfolding.
Both Warrick and their mother shot her murderous glares at her. Warrick had no interest in discussing his love life with his mother and Sandra was happy to allow him that.
“What? It wasn’t dirty.” Tammy lied. “She’s just really tall.”
Warrick avoided eye contact with anyone in the room. “Laugh it up; you’re going to go through this again in a little while yourself.”
“That’s why I’m laughing now: It’s only funny when it’s not me.”
Sandra chose to ignore her kids’ bickering and instead pulled a metal and plastic gorilla out of a box. “This. Why do you need a toy gorilla at college?”
Warrick was quick to come to the toy’s defense. “That’s not just any toy gorilla mom; that’s a scale version of Kong Go 5 Point 0 from live metal. He’s signed by Brad Stanley, the producer, and it links with your palmtop so you can control it like they control the real bots on the show.”
“None of that explained why you need to take it with you.”
“Because it’s like a conversation piece, mom!”
“Uh-huh.” Sandra looked skeptical. “And is that why you’re taking three boxes of comics? And why do you have paper comics anyway? There’s no reason you can’t download them like everyone else.”
Warrick gently took the gorilla from her and after the glare that followed, put it on his desk beside Tammy, who immediately started fiddling with it. “No offense, mom, but you’re just saying that because you don’t know comics.”
“Please. I’ve lived with you and your father more than long enough to know a thing to two. And let’s not forget who bought you your first Sanctum For Everyone.” said Sandra.
“Number 219.” Warrick riffled through a box and came out with a comic whose cover showed a man in a silver cowl, red cape and a suit that combined both colors giving a thumbs up with one hand while holding a tiger by the scruff of the neck by the other. “Adventures of Seamus Silver, Explorer For Hire. I bought a hard copy of it.”
“No, mom, there’s a point. First, only paper comics have collector value. And second, no matter how good the screen is, and how big your tablet is, a comic is never going to be as comfortable to read, both on the eyes and in the hands. A regular book, sure; they’re bulky, but a comic is thin and flexible, more than even an OLED screen.”
“But do you have to take all of them?” Sandra asked. “I mean it isn’t as if Ms. Brant is going to clear your room out, and it’s isn’t that far from here to Dayspring.”
Warrick looked forlornly at his collection. “I guess you’re right, mom.”
“Of course I am. And now let’s talk about why you’re not taking that.” She pointed at his periodic table. It took up a good portion of the wall and it was hard to see any of the original, as over past months, it had grown thick with sticky notes and small baggies of substances taped to it.
“Mom!” Warrick sad, scandalized. “You can’t expect me to leave that behind. IF we’re not talking sentimental, that’s the most valuable thing in the room! That’s the secret that makes Alloy… Alloy.”
“Exactly.” Sandra countered. “it’s covered with your notes on how to turn one into the other and why that would be useful; not to mention the things that make no sense to anyone like you.” She plucked a note at random from the cluster near titanium.
“Minty,” She read. “Stresses to burning mint, but oxidizes into something like grandpa’s aftershave? Easy to liquify, but hard to bend.”
“I kind of doubt anyone will figure out I have metal sense from that.” Warrick shrugged.
“Only because they’ll think you’re insane first.” Tammy chimed in. “And titanium isn’t anything like grandpa’s aftershave.”
“Grandpa Mulligan.” Warrick said, “You were too young to know him.”
Tammy frowned and stopped playing with the toy. “I remember a little. I remember the funeral.”
This in turn cause Warrick to frown too and he gave his sister a one armed hug. “Sorry about that, squirt.”
“I heard arguing, can I help?”Cyn poked her head in.
Sandra pulled her eyes away from her kids to smile at Cyn. “Of course, Cynthia. You can be on my side.”
“Sweet! About what, Mrs. Warrick’s mom?” Cyn grinned and came into the room fully.
“I’m trying to convince my son that he doesn’t need to bring three huge boxes of comics with him to college when college is almost close enough for him to walk.”
Cyn couldn’t keep from laughing. “War, come on. How often are you reading these things that you need them right on hand at any time? Looks, if you’re worried about ’em getting lonely, I promise to keep an eye on ’em. I’m right up the hall after all.”
“Why is everyone turning on me?” Warrick bemoaned.
“You’re not moving out?” Sandra asked, once more ignoring her son’s complaining.
Cyn shrugged. “No going to college. Not yet anyway. I’m taking some classes to make Laurel happy, but I think it’s kind of a waste of her money to send me when I don’t know what I want to do with myself yet.”
“A lot of people would say that freshman year is made for that. Maybe you should reconsider.”
“Too late for that, Mrs. K.” Cyn shook her head. “But maybe after I take these classes, I’ll be up to it next semester.”
Crossing the room, she threw and arm over Warrick’s shoulder. “And this way, I get to learn from the mistakes of all of my friends before I even start.”
Warrick put his arm around her in turn, then messed up her hair. “I’m not going to make any mistakes, Cyn. Honestly; do I look like the kind of guy that gets drunk and does stupid things.”
Cyn’s hair shifted back into place on its own. “Yeah, you’re kinda boring. Maybe Kay will turn out to be the fun party girl now that she’s out from under her father’s ‘no boyfriends’ rule. Oh, and speaking of boyfriends, I talked to Ollie and he’s willing to give you guys the nickel tour of campus when you get there.”
“Please don’t say he’s helping us move in.” Sandra said. “We’re already working on alibis for the Slates about why Warrick doesn’t have furniture.”
“No problem, Mrs. K,” Cyn waved the notion off. “I’m going to keep Ollie otherwise occupied until you’re ready for him.” She gave a predatory grin at how she intended to keep him occupied.
“You are awesome, Cyn.” Warrick said.
“I know. So are we still deciding what he should and shouldn’t take? Because I’m pretty sure I saw him packing his Captain Gable costume—the one he wore for Halloween last year?”
Sandra shook her head while Tammy laughed. “Warrick…”
“In my defense, Otaku International is being held in Baltimore in two weeks. That’s a nice costume. I could win a prize.”
After some digging and Cyn’s help, Sandra pulled the bulky costume out of its box. “And you can win the prize just as easily if you have to come back here to pick it up.”
Juniper had bought all of her college life necessities by the book two weeks early and had them all packed neatly away in a configuration that made unpacking as efficient as possible (at least according to the UltimatePackingGuide.know). She’d even taken special care to have extra dehydrates meals, instant noodles, bottles water and snacks just in case there was a run on such items at the supermarket just off campus.
Unfortunately, in the excitement of getting ready, checking and rechecking her class list, and going over the map of both the campus and her residence hall, she’d forgotten to pack a single stitch of clothing.
So she and her mother, Emily were folding clothes together as they talked.
“I forgot to ask before, but have you thought more about your major?” Emily laid a light jacket in the pile of clothes they were making so Juniper could easily pick them up when autumn brought cooler weather.
“A little.” Juniper laid a yellow sun dress in the suitcase. “But it’s pretty hard to decide. There’s so many, and I don’t know if I should take classes that help me with my powers, or classes that I like or classes that will help me get a better job, even if I don’t like them. And I love them, but my friends aren’t all that helpful. Warrick says he’s majoring in Inorganic Chemistry, which makes sense, but he’s sabotaging himself with all the art and theater classes he’s taking because he likes it. And Kay knows exactly what she wants and she’s even going to the Jackson school to do it.”
As she talked more,s he talked faster. “But then there’s Melissa, and she doesn’t know what she wants, just that she’s pretty good at literature, but aren’t English degrees just good for teaching English? I’m not sure what I’m good at that they give majors in, and Cyn is taking a time off to figure it out, but I don’t want to disappoint anyone and… and… I don’t really know what I’m going to do. I ended up just taking classes I think I’ll like and I’m getting scared that I might have ruined my life doing it.”
Emily say down the skirt she was folding and put her hand on her daughter’s arm. “Willow, relax, sweetie. Everything it going to be fine. You don’t have to decide right now, I was just curious. You know, your grandmother was undeclared her first year, and she ended up being the governor’s campaign coordinator. A little indecision won’t ruin anything.”
“You think?” Juniper squeaked.
“Of course.” Emily pulled her into a hug. “Never forget that you’re my little girl, and there’s nothing you can’t do.” To get Juniper’s mind off of things, she added, “I almost forgot, I wanted to make sure you have the number of Dry Cab.”
Confusion replaced panic. “Aren’t those the people that give you a ride if you’re too drunk to drive? Why would I need their number?”
Emily smiled brightly at her daughter. “On the drive over, I’ll tell you a few stories from my college days…”