Issue #73 – Give Thanks

This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 7: The New World
“Can you believe Blonsky gave us a reading assignment? Over Thanksgiving break!” JC ranted as he stuffed a few clean shirts and pairs of jeans into his suitcase. “Who has time to read over Thanksgiving? If you’re even conscious after all the turkey and football and Christmas shopping, you’re doing it wrong.”
Warrick had done his packing for the extra-long weekend the night before and was checking something online at his desk. “I told you that Philosophy wasn’t an easy A. You should have listened to me.”
“And taken that acting class where they make you do yoga?”
“Boy am I really sad to miss that this Thursday.” Warrick smirked. “But anyway, isn’t Professor Blonsky Russian or something? Maybe he thinks Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where we’re not really doing anything important, like Columbus Day or President’s Day.”
JC pouted at his palmtop, knowing that The Collected Thoughts of Jefferson Frederick Haake and the accursed five chapters he’d have to read over the next as many days were stored within. “Someone ought to tell him. This is a travesty, an… an anathema—it’s an abomination is what it is.”
“Word of the day app?” asked Warrick.
“October was surprisingly negative.” confirmed JC.
“It’s still working for you though. Maybe you should try Creative Writing next semester.”
JC snorted ruefully. “Are you kidding? It has ‘writing’ right there in the name. I’m not taking a class that’s guaranteed to give me way more work. I do enough keeping up with programming for my major.” He closed his suitcase and sat down on the bed next to it. “I figure I’ll do a summer session sometime to clear the two stupid Language requirements.”
“Dude, we should both take Japanese. That way, I can understand half of Jun’s video library and I’ll know what some of the old labels on the Karasu no Yūrei—also what Karasu no Yūrei means.”
The door to their bathroom flew open and in stepped Mike Cole, one of their suitemates, who shared the bathroom with them. “You two leaving this weekend?” He asked without preamble or greeting. As he was almost every time they saw him in the dorm, he was shirtless, a thick mass of red hair covering his chest so densely that it look like he was being attacked by a swarm of gypsy moth caterpillars.
“Dude, this is a shirts-required room.” JC averted his eyes, trying to un-see what he just saw.
“And knock!” Warrick added. “Jesus, isn’t walking in on me and Tink twice and JC and Lisa once enough of a hint for you? You know that lock doesn’t work!”
Mike rolled his eyes as if they were the ones inconveniencing him. “Whatever. So are you leaving?”
“Why do you want to know?” JC demanded, still refusing to look.
“Because Sully’s gone already and I’m thinking of having a party. I can’t very well keep beer in the communal fridge so…”
Both Warrick and JC answered as one, “Hell no!”
“Come on.” Mike said, crossing his arms. “It’s not a dry dorm.”
“But it is a bunch of drunk idiots stumbling over our stuff to get at more beer.” Warrick pointed out. “And probably going through our stuff, maybe stealing our stuff—most definitely vomiting on our stuff.”
Mike’s back stiffened defensively. “If this is about the mess I left in the bathroom a couple weeks ago, I already explained that: I was very, very drunk, had too many nachos and I thought the shower was the bowl. I cleaned it up—and I said I was sorry.”
“No you didn’t.” JC ventured to look up and wished he hadn’t. Mike had crossed his arms and it looked like they were being absorbed. “You told us to lighten up and offered us beer to clean it up for you. The RA made you clean it up.”
Mike rolled his eyes again. “By the way, thanks for filing that complaint against me.”
Warrick’s own eyes narrowed. “You filed one against me for complaining that you let your alarm run for an hour each morning.”
“Whatever.” Mike said again. “But you two are leaving for the weekend, right?” His eyes strayed down to the knob of the bathroom door. They were currently something like fifty-third on the maintenance list to have it fixed.
“Yeah…” Warrick said carefully. “But no, you can’t use my fridge. If I find out you’ve been using it, I’m not just calling the RA in on this, I’m calling the campus police about a break-in.”
“Pfft. Good luck.” said Mike, turning back toward his room and pulling the door closed behind him.
Warrick and JC shared a look and the former rolled up a sleeve to reveal an off-gold colored band in the shape of a snake wrapped around his upper arm. “Isp? Little help?” He asked.
A slight shiver than through the metal and the snake seemed to blink before melting into a tentacle of liquid metal. It turns its leading edge to look at Warrick for a moment, then stretched out toward JC’s dresser, which was set against the wall next to the bathroom door, throwing a coil around it. Then, careful to brace itself against the floor rather than putting the weight of the dresser on Warrick’s arm, it lifted the heavy piece of furniture with ease and set it down in front of the door, blocking it.
“Score one for superpowers.” JC grinned and gave Warrick a thumbs up. The tentacle, Isp uncoiled from around the dressed and flexed itself proudly until JC gave it a thumbs up too. Once it was satisfied, Warrick unsummoned it.
“I just hope Sully took his copy of our spare key with him to Jersey.” said Warrick. He tapped a few more keys on his keyboard, then removed his palmtop from the cradle connecting it to the monitor and keyboard on his desk. “And all my last-minute things are done.” He got up from his computer desk, grabbing his fall jacket off the back of it.
“Alright man,” JC said, standing up, “Hey, have a good holiday.”
“You too.” Warrick said, shrugging on his jacket before shouldering his duffel bag. “Have a safe drive down to Richmond. See if you can smuggle some of your aunt’s pie back up for me.”
JC smirked and the two slapped palms, turning it onto a handshake. “Yeah, in my belly maybe. Then again, if you bring me a couple cannollis, we’ll call it a fair trade.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Warrick laughed, heading out the door.
“Tell me about it,” the voice of Anita Keyes traveled down the hallway where the first floor rooms were located, “I’m sometimes shocked I haven’t gotten a call at three in the morning telling me they burned this whole place down I just can’t believe how much they’ve grown from the trouble-making teenagers I remember.”
There was laughter following that; from Maxwell Smythe and Alejandro Keyes.
“I never worried about that.” Maxwell admitted, “But only because mine only learned to set fire to things recently.”
More laughter. Standing out in the hall, a bundle of linens for one of the guest rooms in hand, Alexis suppressed a laugh of her own.
“What?” Ian asked, pausing at his task of stripping the decorative covers so they could replace them with clean, comfortable ones. Being inside the room that would be used by Alexis’s sister, Lydia, he couldn’t hear the voices from the downstairs commons.
“Nothing.” Alexis mused, stepping inside and away from the conversation between their parents. “Just something they never tell you about gaining powers: your parents have a whole different type of embarrassing story to tell about you.”
Ian folded a sheet and tossed it onto the couch on the other side of the room, giving it a little extra lift with a tiny gust of wind. “Let me guess: the times you set your kitchen back home on fire?”
“I don’t see what’s so funny about that.” She lied, the smile playing on her lips telling the true story, “I liked to cook, I had powers that generated heat—it seems like a pretty obvious avenue of exploration to me. It’s not my fault that my powers are hard to understand.” She set the pile of bed cloths on the nightstand and started with a fitted sheet, which Ian helped tuck in on the other side. “Still, it’s pretty ironic that I”m the person who teaches others to use their powers and yet, I still don’t fully understand mine.”
Letting out a small grunt as he lifted one corner of the mattress to put the sheet around, Ian gave her a half-shrug. “Laurel doesn’t even know exactly how your powers work completely. And if she can’t figure it out, no one is going to blame you for not doing so. Besides, considering how physics breaking they are, you do a heck of a job figuring them out. The invisibility thing, the fact that you can reduce something’s weight by surrounding it in black heat particles—that’s all stuff you figured out by yourself.”
He came around the bed to where she was readying another sheet, and put his arms around her from behind. “Face it: you’re a genius when it comes ti figuring out how to use powers. Those kids at the Academy are lucky to have you.” After planting a few kisses on her neck, he added, “And so am I.”
Alexis groaned and sank back against him. She was about to point out that they had work to do when…
“Okay, I just walked into an awkward moment.” One of Alexis’s other sisters, Kylie, was standing at the door with a look on her face that said she was anything but sorry to interrupt. Then again, trouble was always glinting in her eye.
The pair by the bed stepped away from each other, giving the young woman dirty looks. “Nothing was going on.” Alexis said, snapping the sheet.
Yet.” said Kylie with a lecherous grin. “It’s a good thing I came in her now instead of five minutes form now—otherwise Lydia wouldn’t be able to sleep in here after you defiled it.”
Ian crossed his arms. “Okay, even if we were doing something—which we weren’t—this place is a former bed and breakfast that dealt almost exclusively with honeymooners. Every square inch of this place has probably been ‘defiled’.” A malicious grin split his lips. “Even, or maybe especially your room.”
Seeing where this was going (a gross-out competition), Alexis stepped in. “You came in here for a reason, right?”
So concerned with coming up with a counter to what Ian said, Kylie had almost forgotten. “Oh. Right. Grandma wanted to know if you have any tea other than Earl Grey. She said you’re only supposed to drink Earl Grey hot and she wants to make iced tea.”
Alexis quirked a brow at this. “…Why is Grandma making iced tea?”
“We were watching King Cook in the upstairs commons and Remy Brown made this iced tea as his beverage that’s like iced tea with brown sugar and lime. She wants to try it.”
Putting the sheet down on the bed and leaving Ian to straighten it, she took a few steps toward Kylie. “Grandma has, to my knowledge, never cooked a day in her life if there wasn’t a microwave or a rehydration oven involved. So I’m wondering why she wants to start now.”
“Plus, I watch King Cook and it’s on Mondays. Wednesday is the night that Mix It Up comes on.”
“Maybe we were watching the online archive.” Kylie tried, knowing she’d been found out.
Alexis glared down at her. “Or… you’re teaching our grandmother to mix booze. How much of that ‘brown sugar’ is rum, Kylie?”
Kylie grinned, trying to look innocent as she held her thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. “Just a jigger?”
“But she wants to learn!” Kylie complained.
“No.” repeated Alexis, pointing out of the room. “And besides, we only have Earl Grey and Chai Tea. Plus, no rum.”
“Fine.” Kylie huffed, and stomped out. “You’re no fun at all and Grandma’s gonna agree.”
Alexis rolled her eyes and turned back to Ian. “Can you believe her?”
“Can’t blame her for trying.” Ian laughed. They got back to fixing the beds up for their families. It wasn’t until fifteen minutes later that they heard the rental van the Keyes family arrived in starting up.
A plume of dust was forming up behind the Chamberlain family four-wheel drive as it sped down what could only generously be called a road some twenty miles outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Ahead of them, in the shadow of several rock formations not tall enough or majestic enough to make it into the tourist brochures, was Chamberlain Salvage Company.
Most people who got a look at it considered it an aircraft graveyard, but the Chamberlains bought and sold parts for everything from city buses to boats in addition to the ancient private and commercial airliners, most of which had come with the place when Pete and Emily bought the place fifteen years earlier.
The smell of dust, heat and engine oil that never quite left either of her parents no matter how many showers they took filled the SUV. It was the smell of home for Willow Chamberlain, known to the rest of the world as Juniper Taylor and known to scores of fans and a handful of enemies as Zero of the Descendants.
She had to keep reminding herself that for the next five days, she was Willow, not Juniper. It was harder than she thought: for all she swore to herself to integrate the two versions of herself, she was still afraid of either not being the daughter her parents wanted, or the one they remembered.
“So…” Emily, her mother suddenly piped up, “I wasn’t sure if you like this sort of thing anymore, but Sam from over in Greenlee brought in a rock-boring machine that’s past its prime—wants it stripped and whatever can be saved cleaned up and shipped back as spares for his other two. You always used to like helping take those old hulks apart, so we held him off a week just in case you wanted to…”
“But you don’t have to.” Pete, her father cut in quickly, taking his eyes off the virtual lack of road to look back at her. “We understand if you’d rather do something else. You can even borrow this rust bucket and drive into town, or you can even help us fight some crime… what little there is of it.”
Emily nodded, “Well we probably won’t find any in Phoenix. Since we’ve been operating again, what little gangs tried to put down roots pulled them up again. By we can fly over to Tuscon. Mara Salvaje is a big problem there and since Tuscon got a powered armor division for their police, they’ve started using heavier weapons, so it would be a challenge.”
Willow looked at them for long moment as home grew larger up ahead of them. The silence made her mother purse her lips, but Willow needed the time to process their offers. Pete and Emily had never been the most strict parents; she’d grown up practically feral, playing in fortresses of iron and rust. The one time they had put their foot down and said their word was final… well that ended with her in a stasis cell and with the scars to prove that it hadn’t been a pleasant experience.
Before she could think better of it, her mouth was already speaking. “Are… you guys worried I’ll get mad and leave if I can’t do what I want?” The resounding silence was all the answer she need. Her face heated with shame and she hung her head. Maybe the shadows of what happened would never leave them.
She rubbed the upper arm and groaned softly. “That’s not going to happen.” She said quietly.
There were several options available to her. ‘Willow’ would pick the furthest thing from what she thought they wanted just to see what they’d say. ‘Juniper’ would fold like a bad poker hand and refuse to pick in order to make sure everyone else got what they wanted. Neither choice felt right anymore. It didn’t even seem to be what he parents wanted. Mostly, they wanted to see her happy rather than obedient or the way she was before her humbling experience.
Casting a glance through the windshield, she could make out the old hangers and newer garage buildings. One of those hangers, through it looked so beaten by wind, rain and time that it should, by rights, have fallen in long ago, was really heavily reinforced. Inside it was the huge VTOL carrier ship called Rook and the incredible walking tank known as the Queen’s Gambit.
Willow remembered watching her mother working on that machine, handing tools up to her and even sitting in the cockpit as she tested out one thing or another. And she recalled playing in those garages; silly games her father made up just for her, or work-that was play, like helping take something apart. Her new life involved a lot of ice and ballistic cloth, but metal and grease were in her veins.
“I think it’ll be really nice to strip that rock-boring machine, actually.” Willow said thoughtfully, “It’s been too long.”
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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. …she could make out the old hangers and newer garage buildings. One of those hangers…
    You hang clothes on a hanger. You put secret superhero mechs in a hangar.

  2. Shirt required?!? Sheesh, didn’t think they were such prudes… I can understand that some have too many hang-ups for a pants optional policy but mandating shirts is just too much.

  3. So without thinking twice he accepts a service charge amounting to two hours of work at federal minimum wage and a tip that notably exceeds the average hourly earnings of a person working in retail, altogether $35 for not needing to do his own shopping, and then thinks about taking his groceries to the needy (since that’s totally the efficient way to help) because there’s some sob stories on television…

    This just kind of drove home for me just how steeped in class privilege these people are. Like, wow.

    • Do we know if Vaal includes inflation to show this happens 60 years in the future? I can’t remember the last time a price was quoted.

      Though considering who he’s bringing the groceries to, I’m not going to begrudge him grasping at straws to try and convince himself not to do it.

    • I was chalking that up to inflation and the far future. Considering Warrick in particular worked to buy his car and pay for his schooling, that’s the last character I’d attribute that to.

      But yeah, we haven’t heard much in the way of prices, so you could be right.

    • Yeah, it’s inflation. I don’t mention prices a lot, but they’re all made on the assumption that the Future!Minimum Wage is $20 ($25 in Mayfield). Warrick does have some money thanks to the website, but he’s paying his way through college.

  4. But Stephan her, as much as anyone knew her (including herself).

    But Stephan knew her, as much as anyone could know her?

  5. Ahh… Thanksgiving episode, a staple of American media as mandatory as the beach episode in Japanese media. In many ways similar to Christmas episodes except without religious tones or any emotional connection to the traditions in play.

    I remember hearing an accusation that people who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving are thankless bastards. It gave me the idea to start Notjerkbeing, an annual celebration that you observe by eating cold pizza by yourself and not being a jerk.
    Thankfully I’m too lazy to actually pick a day for that so the world is spared from everybody but me being jerks for not celebrating Notjerkbeing.

    Why am I writing this here? No idea. Probably best to ignore.
    Happy Thanksgiving and any other holidays anyone might have around this time of year!

    • I celebrated Notjerkbeing last night!

      Amusingly, my stuff follows Anime/Manga conventions more than American comics ones in terms of what ‘special’ episodes I have. Beach Episode, Vignette episodes, etc. You’re all just lucky I haven’t come up with a villain for the Hot Springs episode. I am not kidding.

  6. “What are you drawing.”

    Should be a question, I believe.

  7. “shad” -> “had”

    The Brants’ tower is awesome. I want one.

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