- Issue #61 – Higher Education
- Issue #62 – Poor Relations
- Issue #63 – Storm Cage
- Issue #64 – Stormfall
- Issue #65: Fond Farewell
- Issue #66 – City by the Lake
- Issue #67 – Emet
- Descendants Special #6 – Things to Come
- Issue #68 – One Week
- Issue #69 – Crashers
- Descendants Giant-sized #2 – After-Party
- Issue #70: Gold and Glory
- Issue #71: Yellow
- CynQuest: Yellow Fallout
- Issue #72: Turmoil Returns
- Descendants Annual #6
Issue #68 – One Week
Part 3 – Thursday
The gray light of morning had just started filtering in through October overcast when Claude Roth came out of his house, ready to start another day on Finch Hill Farm, just a dozen miles outside of Mayfield.
The main body of the farm, where the profitable crop of soy beans, genetically engineered to produce the marker proteins that were increasingly necessary to DNA therapy and biomedical research was grown, was housed in a series of long, low buildings with gleaming white roofs down the hill from the farm house. The machinery that tended and monitored the crop could be observed from a console in the house, but Claude also kept animals to serve his family’s private needs whose care couldn’t be passed on to robots.
He was just coming out of the barn with a bucket of feed for the chickens when he saw two large, dark shapes detach themselves from the shadows around the big style. In the straining light, he made out the shape of a huge wolf.
At one time, that silhouette, and the looming horned creature that plodded along beside it, had sent him running for his great grandfather’s old shotgun. Now, however, they brought a smile to his face.
“We were starting to wonder if you two were coming back at all.” He called to the pair riding the monsters.
“Apologies for any worries we may have caused, Master Roth.” Lucian the Ape Knight swung down from his saddle and led Embarr by her reins the rest of the distance to the middle-aged farmer. Damsel, astride Shuck, ghosted past into the barn with a smile and nod. “I promised a friend that on this visit, I would not simply disappear without exchanging news and opinion.”
Claude and Lucian exchanged grips. “Don’t you worry about it, Lucian. We saw what happened on the news. Looked to me like that coulda been a disaster without you.”
“Still, I am sorry for depriving you and your family of my services on such short notice.” said Lucian, reaching up to stroke Embarr’s nose.
“Ain’t a thing, Lucian.” Claude almost laughed. “The way you work and as strong as you are, it’s hard finding things for you to do as it is. You’re entitled to as much vacation as you want.”
The Ape Knight waved a large hand dismissively at this. “As I have said: I prefer to work for my room and board, Master Roth. And in truth, I already take enough time training myself and my apprentice as well as hunting the those creatures not native to this world.” He then held that same hand out toward the bucket handle. “Please. Let me help.”
Claude shook his head and handed to bucket of feed over. He and Lucian started off toward the wired in enclosure near the house where the chickens were kept. “You act like that other stuff isn’t helping. I sure as hell know how important the last one, especially is. After all, you saved me and Rachel from one of those things. That’s worth more’n enough to give you what room and board you need.” At the gate, he had to undo the wire latch, as Lucian’s hands were too large and thick for the job.
About half the Roths’ flock of chickens were early risers, and they knew that the gate opening meant food, so both man and orangutan were swiftly surrounded by a whirl of fat hens who clucked and crooned up an unholy noise in their scrambled for the feed corn and supplements.
Lucian obliged them by scooping out a handful and scattering it liberally about the ground around him.
“But helping people is a pursuit I intended to follow. A person should hardly seek payment for performing tasks that they would set for themselves.”
“Nothin’ says you can’t love what you do for a living. I do.” Claude said, reaching into the bucket on his own and appeasing a few more hens. The noise of the feeding frenzy had awakened their rest of the flock, including the trio of roosters the Roths kept more to enter into shows than for breeding.
“You do?” asked Lucian. “I can scarcely believe that. Many times have I heard you complain about the level of maintenance required by the greenhouse machinery of the amount that you are compensated for your goods. That does not speak to job satisfaction.”
Claude tossed one last handful of feed to the chickens, then took the bucket from Lucian to take back to the barn. “Nothing’s perfect; not even the things you love. But I’ll tell you what: when I was growin’ up, farming wasn’t mostly home robot repair and filling out orders online. What we do in the garden and with the animals here? That was farming.”
A low rumble reverberated in Lucian’s chest as they closed up the gate and he looked toward the garden, now mostly given over to pumpkins, squash and other fall vegetables. “I do enjoy working in the garden. I can see how a man could appreciate that writ large.”
“You an’ me both.” said Claude. “But if you want to make money and don’t have a whole lot of land, you need greenhouses and robots—and to grow something more valuable than food, since most people here can’t beat the produce prices out of Mexico.”
He shook his head, “But we’re getting’ off topic. If saving lives is what you care about, I say find a way to use that. I bet the sheriff in Charlottesville would make you a deputy if you asked and showed him what you could do.”
Lucian shook his head. “I’ve considered that, but police… they don’t just protect the people. They protect property and enforce laws that might not make sense, or which exist to enforce the will of a single group onto all. I do not doubt their value, but I do not wish to ply my abilities in that way.”
He gestured around at the farm. “Here, I may not be doing exactly what I want, but I can understand and appreciate everything I do in helping your farm run and putting food on your family’s table.” He pulled his lips back into a toothy, comical smile, “Plus, I rather enjoy the company of you and your family.”
“Believe me, we like having you here.” said Claude. “Both you and Wendy.” As he said that, Damsel, who he knew as Wendy A’belle, came out of the barn, now dressed in jeans, boots and a flannel shirt. She also had on a red wig to hide her partly shaved head, and glasses with small, round lenses. He also spotted someone watching her from the kitchen window.
“But I’ll admit that Jake’s probably more taken with Wendy than with you.”
Lucian reached up and massaged his brow, groaning the whole time. “You haven’t yet explained to him why this infatuation is a bad idea?”
Fidgeting with the bucket, Claude shrugged. “I did point out that she’s a few years older than him. When I was his age, that would’ve been a deal breaker. Not so much with him.”
“The problem is that she is actually that she is significantly younger than him.” Lucian pointed out.
“You told me.” said Claude, “But how ‘m I supposed to explain that to Jake?”
“The same way you explained to him and Rachel and Angela that a magically erudite ape with a pet rhinoceros would be living in the attic and helping out around the farm.” said Lucian, who slowed himself in mid-speech. “Ah. Perhaps being a creature of the bizarre myself, I overestimate the tolerance of others to it.”
Claude smirked. “That’d be about the long and short of it. Anyway, you talk to Wendy about it?”
“Talk to me about what?” asked Wendy, who had closed the distance between them while they talked.
“Oh!” Lucian exclaimed at her sudden proximity. “I…” he cleared his throat. “Master Roth and I were just discussing a variety of things.”
Wendy raised an eyebrow. “’Things’ meaning me?”
“In a way.” Lucian said evasively. “Did you remove all of Shuck and Embarr’s tack?”
The girl saluted dramatically. “Yes sir. I also gave them water, laid out hay for Embarr, and poured Shuck a nice bowl of kibble—though I don’t think he’s hungry right now.”
“Good. Then you should get some rest, seeing as we left late and rode long to avoid detection.”
Wendy shook her head. “No need. I slept most of the day. And I’m ready to help out, Mr. Roth.”
“Master Roth.” Lucian corrected.
Claude waved him off. “No, it’s alright. You don’t have to call me ‘Master’ either. It’s actually a little odd.”
Lucian scratched his head and laughed softly. “I am sorry about that, Master Roth, but you have to understand that the woman who made me as I am today was… hmm… I would charitably call he ‘unstable’.
“I am to understand that the spell that uplifted me allows the caster to lay in a personality. The one that Morganna chose for me was that of her vision of an honorable Knight of the Round Table, possibly some combination of Percival, Galahad and Gawain. As such, I am instilled with a stereotype of courtly manners. Because you are my employer and own land without being nobility, you are a ‘Master’ and need to be addressed as such.”
Shifting the bucket to his other hand, Claude just shook his head. “I really don’t understand any of that, but if it’s your way, I’ll respect that. But that doesn’t mean Wendy has to.” He handed her the bucket, “And you can start by puttin’ this back in the barn. Once you’re done, you can milk the goats.”
Wendy ducked her head in acknowledgment, unable to hide a small smirk. She and Jake had a private joke about how Lucian wasn’t allowed to milk the goats because of his giant hands. “Sure thing!” Taking the bucket, she trotted through the growing daylight back to the barn.
The Roth’s barn was spacious, but old fashioned. Instead of mechanical sluices to deal with the animal waste, there was straw on the floor and shovels and pitchforks to clean it up with. That the waste and used straw went into a processor that converted it to bio-diesel was beside the point when a person still had to do the mucking.
Fran, one of the two cows the Roths kept for milk, stuck her head out of her stall. Her nose quivered in anticipation of a treat or maybe just a good pat on the head. Wendy obliged her in passing, but went right to spigot to wash out the bucket otherwise.
“Do you have any idea what they were saying about me?” She asked the cow. Fran didn’t offer even a moo in reply, but the other cow, Wilma, snorted in her sleep and Embarr lowed in protest at the noise as she munched her hay. The transformed rhino had a stall that was originally for the Roth’s bull, Barney, all to herself. Barney was relegated to a smaller stall when he wasn’t out to pasture as he was that day.
Wendy rolled her eyes at the lack of attentiveness the animals were exhibiting. “See if I help when one of you has a pressing question.” From the overhead hayloft where he usually slept, Shuck let out a low bark of agreement. Wendy grinned up at him even though she couldn’t see him. “Thanks, Shuck!”
Once the bucket was clean, she went to one of the storage lockers beneath the hayloft and got out the milking pail they used for the goats plus the pasteurizing filter. The filter was a funnel that snapped on to the top of the lid, which led down into a foot-long cylinder shot through with holes. Wendy didn’t know how it worked, just that the cylinder got incredibly hot when switched on.
Thus armed, she went out the smaller rear door of the barn and out into the goat pen.
Most of the Roth’s neighbors kept large flocks of goats so small Wendy thought she could carry a few of them under each arm. The Roths on the other hand kept just five of an uncommon, larger variety that they kept as breeders, selling the kids while using the nannies as a cheap lawn service and a source of milk for cheese making and wool for Angela’s various crafts.
Only two of the shaggy, brown creatures were awake when Wendy came out to them; two nannies that looked too much alike for her to remember their names.
“Milking time, girls.” she declared, taking the folding stool from where it was hung over the fence. The goats paid her no heed. They never did, despite Wendy’s irrational expectation that they would. “Oh come on. Dumb, lazy goats.”
She stalked over to the nearest one, which obediently waited for her to set up the stool and turn on the filter before wandering away. Her glare could have converted the offender into mutton. “Oh, you… not to lazy for that, huh?”
Someone laughed back by the barn. “Need some help?”
“I’d love some. Got a barbecue pit and some charcoal?” Wendy muttered, Louder, she said, “Sure, but shouldn’t you be getting ready for school, Jake?”
Jake Roth hopped down from his perch on the fence into the goat pen. “Nah, the bus doesn’t come ’til seven-thirty.” He made his way over to Wendy and the goat, making clicking noises with his tongue to catch the latter’s attention.
Seeing her chance, Wendy set up the stool and slid the bucket under the distracted goat. “Thanks for that.”
“No problem.” said Jake, his smile wavering with his nerves.
Wendy set to work milking, eyes focused on her aiming the teats into the funnel. “Man, if I had to be on the bus by that time, I’d still be in bed right now.”
Jake shrugged and gave the goat a pet on the nose. “I’m used to being up early. That and… well I figured you might be coming in early and I didn’t want to miss you.”
An uncomfortable knot formed in her stomach. Since she arrived, Jake had taken the initiative of being the Roth family ambassador to her new life in the twenty-first century. At first, she thought he was spending so much time with her because he missed his sister, Rachel since she’d only recently headed off to college. But somewhere amid all the admittedly adorable adolescent awkwardness, she’d started to realize that he wasn’t looking at her as a surrogate big sister, but as a crush.
Being seventeen to his fifteen, she wasn’t interested, but at the same time, she still liked him personally and didn’t want to have to break his heart.
“I mean,” Jake said after too long a beat, “I did miss you. You know, when you were gone. I just didn’t want to…” He coughed and looked away. “So I saw the fight online. That was pretty cool… what I saw of you. The cameras were mostly on the Descendants and Mr. Lucian.”
“Thanks.” said Wendy, pretending that milking needed much, much more concentration than it actually did.
Jake cleared his throat a few times as if not trusting his voice. “I liked your costume too. It looked really cool. Um… speaking of costumes; my school has this Costume Ball thing the Weekend before Halloween. I was sort of wondering… maybe you’d like to go?”
Before she could answer or even think of an answer, he sputtered, “You know, as friends. Just friends. Regular… friends. Um. I was just thinking you might want to, since you already have a costume and everything…”
If not for the awkwardness that filled the air around Jake, Wendy might have laughed at his panicked back-peddling. Instead, she swallowed and shook her head. “Sorry, Jake. That’s probably not a good idea.”
“Why not?” He asked automatically, then looked properly horrified at the squeak in his voice.
Wendy shrugged to cover her own guilty body language and tried to affect the most nonchalant and ‘big sisterly’ tone possible. “The costume for one. I mean: dude, secret identity? I know you guys aren’t used to this kind of thing because it’s not like Uncle Lucian can hide who he is, but I’ve got all sorts of reasons to hide who I am.”
“The time thing?” Jake asked, looking hopeful for reasons Wendy couldn’t fathom.
She groaned. “He told you guys? What part of ‘I don’t actually know how the timestream works’ doesn’t he understand?”
“I know I don’t understand any of it.” said Jake, looking down at her as she sat on the stool.
“Right.” said Wendy. “Let me just put it this way: there’s a lot of ways time might work and some of them say that if you change the past, you change the future you came from. And the more you change things, the more the future changes. So by telling you…”
“Or by fighting in a huge prelate battle?” Jake asked helpfully.
Wendy felt her face heat up. “Yeah… I probably shouldn’t have done that. But I got to fight beside the Descendants. The whole original group of them! Maybe you don’t get how huge it is, but let’s say it’s like going back in time and playing with the first team your favorite baseball team ever fielded.”
“So why is it wrong for Mr. Lucian to have told us that you’re from the future? It was kind of obvious that you weren’t used to things around here this past month.”
Wendy groaned as she pulled too hard on the goat’s teats, causing the animal to twist and try and bite her. After jumping up from the stool and away from the goat’s teeth, she threw her hands up in despair. “I don’t even know anymore! Time travel’s confusing!”
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