Issue #68 – One Week

This entry is part 9 of 16 in the series The Descendants Vol 6: Returns and Departures

Part 2 – Wednesday
Nothing important happened today ~ King George III, diary entry of July 4, 1776
The quote popped into Laurel’s head for no particular reason as she stepped out of her shower and started wrapping her sopping hair in a towel. It was all the more random because she hated that quote. People brought it up as if it illustrated some kind of point and made them look the clever one for coming up with it.
She threw on her favorite fluffy, white bathrobe and headed upstairs to her workshop, a rant forming in her head, directed at the hackneyed saying that had popped up in her head. By the time she entered her cozy little domain and grabbed her first cup from the automatic coffee machine, she’d outlined a dozen faults inherent in using that quote, up to and including the fact that King George never kept a diary.
But the number one reason was staring out at her from the ranks of running monitors mounted on the walls. Throughout the night, her Vimes server had been crawling the web, returning information from as many information sources as she could find based on an ever-growing number of search criteria. There was so much, compiled in just the ten hours since she’d last checked, that the twenty-one monitors in the room couldn’t display it all at once.
The truth was that something important happened every day, whether people knew they were important or not. Small things became big, single voices started movements, and if someone wasn’t on top of them, most of them went unseen until they had snowballed into unstoppable juggernauts.
Being on top of them was part of her job, her morning routine, just like a shower and at least two cups of coffee. Slipping into her chair, Laurel Brant swept her gave over the dozens of important things that happened the night before.
Another strange creature had been captured in Nevada, near the California border; a four and a half-foot long rodent with armor on its back like an armadillo and claws that had proven capable of piercing asphalt. Local authorities were baffled and at a loss at how to even keep it in captivity.
“And yet,” Laurel said, bringing that story and its attendant data from Vimes to her center monitor, “That’s not the most interesting part, is it?” Her eyes traveled to where one of her many, many tracking programs had red-flagged a number of IP addresses used by government agencies. Many people in high and secret places were becoming interested in the cross-over events, and not just the ones that would be interested in them scientifically or as matters of national security.
She cross referenced the description of the latest creature with the Book of Reason and it came back as a destructive pest (that was apparently good eating) called a grundler. As long as there wasn’t a colony of them taking up shop in a city, they were harmless enough, so she dragged the file to her folder on Faerie crossovers and moved on to the next item.
A flame-war in, of all things, a bodybuilding forum had spilled over into the internet at large, with several dozen bloggers weighing in. At the heart of it all were the terms ‘psionic’ and ‘descendant’ and the insistence from some descendants members on the forum that ‘psionic’ was a slur.
“Oh lord.” she muttered. “As if there weren’t enough real slurs and real instances of discrimination in the world, we have to make new ones.” It got worse as she scrawled down the page. Eventually, a protomorph joined the discussion on the ‘slur’ side of things and added the term ‘protomorph’ itself was insulting and wanted people to start using the term ‘transfigured’. Another jumped in, saying they didn’t like the name, but did like the idea, and within one hundred posts, there were four factions on that subject, split between ‘protomorph’ being fine and new options in the form of ‘transfigured’, ‘morphic’, ‘alter’ and some people suggesting the reclaim ‘freak’.
“Alexis, this is your baby.” Laurel said, shaking her head as she sent the thread and the Vimes notes to Alexis’s account. “Your idea to go on TV about how ‘descendant’ is the right word, your responsibility to get involved if you want.” For her part, she left it alone. As silly as it was getting, it was how culture worked, thought she hopped the ‘slur’ bit didn’t stick around because the only thing it could accomplish was generate more hurt feelings for everyone.
Next was a compilation of police blotters from around the country. Vimes had flagged elements based on the weapons logged. Weapons had been showing up in major metropolitan areas that weren’t like anything the local PD’s had ever seen. At first, they had flown under the radar, taken as jury-rigged contraptions, but as the months passed, and the numbers grew, it was clear that they were manufactured.
The most troubling aspect was that no one was clear on how they worked. They first pinged on Vimes when image recognition identified symbols in some of the pictures of the weapons from the Books of Reason and Passion. Unfortunately, the sequences used weren’t found in either Book. That meant that there was another Book out there, one of the 4, as Augustus had explained from what Warpstar told him.
Neither Passions, nor Reason referenced the other two books, but then again, Reason never referenced Passions until Laurel and Lisa became aware of it. The apparent sapience of the Books was unnerving, but Laurel couldn’t even begin to conceive of a way to deal with it. That they were actively hiding other secrets was even more of an issue now that a third Book was being used to manufacture fusions of magic and technology.
Laurel leaned back in her chair, clutching her cup with a look of annoyance furrowing her brow. “And I can’t tell the government or any of these police departments what’s really going on, because the answer is ‘it’s magic’. Perfect. Same reason were can’t really do much about the faerie animals.”
Fingers glided across her holographic keyboard, bringing up the statistics on the magitech weapons. With a raid in Chicago the night before, that brought the number of known magitech arms to three-hundred and twelve, ranging from light PSM emitters to military-grade plasma lances.
That many of those weapons on the streets at all was already a nightmare, but the conventional versions were energy hogs, requiring proprietary power cells. That limited their usefulness and their value to run of the mill criminals. With the magical components tapping local leylines for their energy, they had no need for power cells, making the powerful arms much, much more attractive to common hoods.
“I’ve been wasting time trying to find a solution to this.” Laurel said to herself. “There’s really only one way to start things moving in the right direction for this and the crossovers: we need to start getting the truth out there.”
General Pratt and the ROCIC had been stonewalling her on exactly what the government knew about the magical world, but that was only fair because they weren’t privy to the Descendants’ understanding of Occult, Morganna, Lucian or the Magi Club. Still, that ruled the military out as a vector for disseminating information about magic and Faerie. That left the Descendants themselves, and when the Descendants wanted to put a story out in the media, they had an ally at the Mayfield Scribe.
Calling up the full version of her holographic keyboard with a few gestures, Laurel fired off an email to Mary Northbrooke, the unofficial press liaison to Mayfield’s prelates. Then she added the story to her designated folder for high priority topics and moved on. She only had two hours at most before she had to get ready for work.
Next up was a development that triggered her general search for descendants-focused news. After a year on hiatus, ConquesTech had shuttered the Become More treatment for protomorphs and liquidated the inventory and assets, most of which were being sold to the Los Angeles-based corporation, Dynamic Innovations and Investments International, who had their own field of research into treating debilitating and life threatening forms of protomorphism.
Aces High had tried stealing similar equipment from Tome in the past, so Laurel sent a concerned email to Lester Mendel of ConquesTech asking to be notified as to what security precautions D3I would be taking with the shipment.
Laurel took a long drink of coffee and pressed on. Today was an average day. Most of the pings were minor stories that happened to mention descendants or new internet trends centered around descendants or prelates. She stopped cycling through when she came to a ping from image recognition.
A newspaper photo of an audience at a new show at the Sydney opera house had picked up two familiar faces: Madrigal Maddigan and Nikolia Petrov. With some enhancement, she could see that both seemed happy, and more importantly, the eye on the scepter Madrigal still carried remained closed.
She moved it to the caution folder. Both of them were dangerous and wanted criminals, but as long as they were peaceably going about their lives, Laurel didn’t see the value of subjecting the team or any innocent bystanders to the incredible power Mad-Mad Maddigan wielded.
There were more blogs and videos after that. A firebrand named Craig Howe, claiming to have suffered personally during the incident at Greenview Ridge was going to start cutting ads for pro-Braylocke Law politicians in Montana, Idaho, Arizona and Utah.
The internet had, surprisingly, done her job for her already; uncovering that Howe did indeed own property in Greenview Ridge, but it was a property he rented out during the off-season for the resort town, and the place had been empty during Braylocke’s attack. FEMA had paid off every cent he’d claimed on top of that. And it didn’t help his case that he was being paid for his impassioned pleas for ‘someone to control psionics’.
Grateful for the internet counter attack already in progress, Laurel just sent an email to Paul and Emily Chamberlain asking if they might be willing to cut ads of their own in their neighboring states. Being heavily conservative, there was a very good chance those states would pass or affirm the Braylocke laws regardless, but she wasn’t going to surrender so easily.
To that end, she had Vimes bring to the fore all the pings the server had gotten on the 76′ elections. Vice President Colin Wheaton, who shared his predecessor’s distinct hands-off approach to descendants was sitting on top of a cozy fifteen point lead with less than a month to go, so she wasn’t worried about the White House. All projections were showing a gain of two seats among professed pro-descendant politicians too.
The issue was with the House. Decade after decade of gerrymandering, voter intimidation and corruption left the House less a body of representation and more a commodities market. And among the lobbyists out there buying votes were several recognizable names from her list of Tome front operations, and the Interstate Psionic Bounty Agency.
Thanks possibly in part to the costs and political capital incurred in the Braddock Island breakout, the Tome shell companies only gave modest amounts, spread around all over the map to avoid anyone such as herself from figuring out which congress people were actively on the take, but the IPBA had gone all out with lobbying and contributions from various sources.
Unlike Tome, they weren’t just buying access and influence, they were paying for an agenda: every congressperson they were playing benefactor to wasn’t just supporting Braylocke Laws, but a slate of anti-psionic stances, from the ‘right’ of businesses to discriminate against people with powers in service practices and in hiring regardless of if those powers would interfere with their duties, to actively removing disabilities brought on as the result of manifesting powers from coverage in the National Healthcare Program under the guise of a cost-cutting measure.
“At least try to hide that you’re a public mask for the Deliverance Front for Clarity. The platform itself reads like a hate group’s website.” Laurel growled at the screen. Her mood did not improve when she actually looked at the list of house members getting money from the IPBA and found William Sinclair on the list.
She knew the name because not a week went by for her that she didn’t hear it bandied about as a badge of honor by one of the students at the Liedecker Institute, Betty ‘Rapunzel’ Sinclair.
“You dirty son of a bitch. You’re selling out your own niece?” She said, setting her coffee aside to better use the keyboard. In short order, she had all the publicly available information on William Sinclair, his politics and his campaign in front of her. IPBA had started giving his campaign cash infusions in August, and in September, Sinclair started renovating the east wing of his house in Colorado through a company called Supreme Home and Remodeling, which just happened to be, after some clandestine hacking to find the proof, owned by Julie Ann Ailswell through several shell companies in Wyoming.
Laurel stopped working and sat back from the keyboard to collect herself. It was only through controlled breathing that she kept herself from crying for Betty Sinclair. Even though the girl flaunted her uncle’s growing influence (If his party took the majority in the House as they were projected to, he was almost a shoo-in for Speaker of the House), it was clear at least to Laurel that she was both proud of him and loved him.
And judging by how he’d called the school numerous times when he felt concerned about his niece, the feeling as mutual. Just not mutual enough to say ‘no’ to a nicer house in exchange for closing off jobs, healthcare and basic dignity to her.
Laurel next checked the election numbers for him. Sinclair was running unopposed in his district for the second consecutive year. Even if she made what he was doing public, it couldn’t hurt him, but it would hurt Betty.
Eyes burning, Laurel moved the new Sinclair file to the priority folder. “This isn’t over, Congressman.”
With the Congressman out of reach at the moment, she turned her focus on the IPBA itself. She’d been keeping tabs on their activities very carefully over the past few months, looking for anything she could use against them and so far, she hadn’t come up with a magic bullet.
There had been one arrest by a bounty agent in Texas overnight and the suspect had to be remanded to the hospital for a few hours for stitches and observation. They were already lodging claims of brutality, but Laurel knew they wouldn’t get far; the Braylocke Law Texas’s state legislature passes, which was up for a referendum in November gave a great deal of leniency to bounty agents when it came to apprehending psionic suspects. There were six other such claims in Texas and none of them was going anywhere fast.
“At least Texas only lets them go after people with felony warrants.” Laurel sighed. Other states authorized the IPBA police powers over psionic suspects for misdemeanors or in one or two cases, just to bring them in for questioning.
And then there were the prisons. Four states were paying the IPBA to build ‘detention facilities’ for descendants; private prisons that were the equivalent of Braddock Island, but with next to no government oversight or security standards.
Laurel had set up several fake identities with jobs on those projects that only existed in cyberspace. They received internal memos and had security clearance: things she hoped she could later use to blow the whistle on the IPBA’s wrongdoing and involvement with the Deliverance Front for Clarity.
Already, she was seeing things that were of grave concern. One prison was slated to have a staff of seventy, but had ordered four hundred theta-scanners that could be used to detect a descendant with manifested powers. They had also put in for enough weaponry to turn every employee into a walking arsenal.
When she went to check in on one of her digital employees to see what employees were actually being issued, however, red flags popped up everywhere. Someone had mad changes to the employee’s file, adding two disciplinary actions, an arrest for narcotics possession and a questionable psych profile. Her security suite, Detritus, also detected and blocked five separate tracking routines that tried to run the moment she accessed the file.
“Clever. The front got themselves a hacker.” She said, keying up remote computers all over the country to check the other files. All of them came back altered and booby-trapped with tracking protocols. “A good one too. I guess ignorance doesn’t preclude intelligence.”
It took her twenty minutes to wipe the servers of her fake employees and any traces of her being there. And when she was done, she found herself reset back to the start with the IPBA: all of her digital spies burned and with the knowledge that a world class black-hat was on the other end defending the company from her.
Undaunted, she set Vimes to start compiling information on the heads of the prison projects as well as everyone involved in procurement. Bringing down the private psionic prisons wasn’t as important as keeping an eye on where the detectors and weapons were really going.
Brick walls and dead ends weren’t uncommon in her daily sessions monitoring the world at large. Though her friends and the kids seemed to view her intellect as a deus ex machina of sorts, she was just one woman and no matter how smart she was, she was still constrained by the bounds of reality. She couldn’t solve every problem, but she could prepare for and mitigate them as best she could.
That said, this particular set of dead ends wasn’t’ helping her mood, so she was glad to find that she had exhausted Vimes’s cache of bad news. There were heartening things going on in the world as well: Descendants in Japan were organizing a convention in Kyoto to showcase their powers; A French court was deliberating the legality of the government’s policies toward descendants; A Swiss company was sponsoring something they called the Psi Games, which would be a sporting event of some sort where every participant was powered and encouraged to use their powers.
And Vamanos had her picture on the front page of the Scribe’s website alongside Laurel herself as Codex and Urban Amazon.
Callie Kreiger’s situation was fairly complex. Lily, acting as her agent, insisted that she, as Vamanos, should try to join the Descendants. Unable to stand up to her friend, Callie had done her best to make a case for herself, but Laurel could tell that Callie wasn’t so sure she deserved the spot.
As far as Laurel was concerned, she did deserve it: she had the same drive to do good as any of the other Descendants and proved several times already that she had the powers and skill to back it up. Her problem was that she didn’t believe in herself and the only thing keeping her from shrinking away from the praise, accolades and attention she was getting was the iron will and desire for vicarious fame of Lily Goldenmeyer.
Lily was basically the mastermind behind Vamanos even if it was Callie’s actions that made her a hero. That made them a package deal. Sadly, Lily couldn’t be trusted with the secrets of the Descendants if some of the stunts she’d considered were to be judged.
It wasn’t fair to Callie, so Laurel had been giving the situation some thought. A provisional or reserve membership would be enough to sate Lily and let Callie know that she was valued as a member of Mayfield’s heroic community. In the future, once she got enough confidence to be able to keep things secret from Lily, she might become a full member.
All that took was agreement from the others, which Laurel didn’t think would be much of a problem because Callie was a genuinely nice kid.
But Vamanos becoming a member of the team was the tip of an ambitious iceberg Laurel had begun to form the day before when conceiving of a way for the various heroes to share information and resources. In her head, it had only grown, and now in the light of day, she understood what she was trying to put together.
She created a new folder on her system and added Callie’s file to it. After a moment’s thought, she labeled it ‘Union of Superheroes’.
Then, thinking it a bit too ostentatious and stodgy considering it would be an organization that included such people as The Whitecoat and Barn Owl, she changed it, noting with a hint of maternal satisfaction that it would make Cyn smile when she unveiled it.
Task complete, she picked up her coffee cup and began contemplating everything that needed to be done to make Lifesavers Incorporated a reality.

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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  1. Kaine and A’belle, huh?

  2. No one said Wendy was creative. :p

  3. Rereading this one and…
    “and the Lily, short her usual summer tan”
    THE Lily? I mean, I know she’s a bit full of herself, even with her newfound epiphany, but… 😛

  4. and flares his nostrils

    How fitting you can fly
    fitting that you can fly?

    I know exactly how you deal with an unnatural human
    how to deal

    some thirty points of vicious raptor
    probably “pounds”

    and blasted sent an unpleasant chill
    one superfluous word, but I’m not sure which

    done that, however, then the Haast’s eagle

    of Zero while be low, she heard
    I’d put “of Zero while, below, she heard”

    her hip pouch. Are you sure?
    missing quotation mark

    “Just keep in mind that if the police don’t know about magic. If a controlled animal attacks them, they’ll use anything to can to stop them.”
    that the police […] anything they can

    the exhibit only feature

    We ere protesting

    No wonder her was so ‘successful’

    she dropped thing around her
    dropped… the temperature?

    Zero over the animals’ heads
    flew over?

    • Also the low-land gorilla transmogrifies to mountain variety at some point.

      30 points of raptor may not be a mistake though, could just be mechanics showing through. You can make a pretty swell bird with 30 points.

      (That last part was a joke.)

  5. Hmm… Do eagles and gorillas have superior hearing compared to humans? Or do the Descendants have ear protection in their standard kit? (Along with the bulletproof costumes and all the other goodies.)

    • Humans lack the ability to perceive a wide spectrum of sound frequencies. The screamers have a setting to target those frequencies when dealing with animals and another for humans, which links to a noise cancelling device in the comms.

  6. I am bad at this writering thing. Corrections should go up tonight along with the month’s posting schedule.

  7. Ah, Lifesavers Inc. is back! I wondered whatever happened to that! That’s a really great way to bring it back. I definitely approve.

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