- Issue #73 – Give Thanks
- Issue #74 – Bit Part Bad Guys
- Issue #75 – Kaiju for Christmas
- Issue #76 – Silicon Soul, Adamantine Will
- Issue #77 – Date Night
- Issue #78 – Delved Too Deep (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 1)
- Issue #79 – Tome of Secrets (Une Mascarade Brisée Part 2)
- Descendants Special #7 – The Curtain Rises
- Issue #80 – Bitter Work
- Issue #81 – Kin, Speed and Ducks
- Issue #82 – What To Do With Your Downtime
- Issue #83 – Avalon Rises
- Issue #84 – Darkness Falling
- Descendants Annual #7 – First Frost
Date Night (Part 1)
Alexis chewed on her lip as she worked through the her usual routine of email writing and answering that took the place of grading papers for her role of Power Control and Creativity instructor at the Liedecker Institute. Instead of seeing whether a student was retaining the information she was teaching, she had to evaluate varied measures of progress for each student and make arrangements accordingly.
Jada Devos’s next session required her to make special arrangements with the National Arboretum in DC. She’d finally gotten the green light from Method Rocket Laboratories to use one of their burn chambers to test how Maya Blumberg could get her fire. A deal was in the works with the Brüte Force Gym to let students like Jacob Richmond and Rose Abernathy use their equipment to work out. The one of the special hard rooms designed to allow the students to cut loose with their powers had all of its sensors blown out, so the contractor was going to have to go back to formula on their EM shielding.
Then there were all the communiques with the parents. Did their child have control yet? When would they have control? Why didn’t they have control? How could they ‘power proof’ their house? Would their other kids manifest? Did whatever the Descendants do that week have anything to do with the school?
The newest one was about whether or not any of the other students were actually robots. Alexis didn’t know if that was just about the whole ‘Adamantine’ thing in New York, or if Betty Sinclair’s nasty rumors about Alice Tatopoulos were spreading beyond the Institute’s walls.
And as always, there was Eddie Argent, the young man whose ‘luck’ power was so esoteric and fickle that his weekly powers class had devolved into a study hall while Alexis pondered over how to safely test it.
She loved her job; she really did. That didn’t mean that sometimes it wasn’t a lot of work. Few of the other teachers or staff member had to coordinate anything approaching what she handled on a daily basis and none of them patrolled the city as a superheroine three nights out of the week.
Luckily (to a certain value of lucky), the student who had their powers session right before lunch that day had taken a day of classes sick, giving her time to get caught up as well as do a bit more vetting for hiring on another powers teacher to serve the growing student body.
She was in the middle of reading the dossier of a former co-worker from the Academy, Cree DuMorné. Academy teachers already technically had government vetting, but then so had he Academy. Two people Alexis knew from her time there had already turned up in Laurel’s periodic sweeps of the payrolls of known Project Tome front businesses.
Cree, however was looking promising, having spent the past year in Columbia working as a trainer for one of the psionics fighting leagues that were so popular there. That might have been the opposite of promising to her if Laurel hadn’t assured her that the fights were ‘real, but scripted and choreographed’ like pro wrestling in America.
A knock at her office door tore Alexis’s attention from the dossier. As a rule, her door was always open unless she was with a student to encourage them to come in and talk with her if need be. It being near the lunch hour, she expected one of them. Instead, she looked up into the smiling face of her fiance.
“Ian.” She said, doing a double take, her own smile starting to spread across her face. “I thought you were at work.”
‘At work’ was their euphemism for Ian’s current day job of getting the Life Savers, Inc headquarters online and operational. The place was starting to come together now; from the humorously dubbed crime computer, to a forensics lab and an arrival/departure room that would eventually be filled with mirrors to establish a mirror gate network, as well as slightly more personal areas like a magic lab for Lisa, Warrick’s smithy and Laurel’s new workshop. Ian had also put together his own workshop to set about tinkering with powered armor once more.
“I was.” He said, sauntering into the room with both hand behind his back. “But I have some heavy-duty software installation that I can manage from my palmtop, so I figured I could knock off an hour to come see you.” From behind him, her produced a picnic basket, “And bring you lunch.”
An even fonder expression replaced Alexis’s pleasantly surprised one. “Aww, you’re so sweet.”
Ian returned the look. “You’re worth it. Now,” He came over to set the basket on the desk, “I know you tend to take working lunches, so I got us something quick so we can have lunch together and you can still get things done.”
“Actually, I’m about ten minutes from done for this week.” said Alexis, “So you can have me for the hour.”
“Watch your wording, because you’re tempting me.” Ian leaned over her desk, bringing their faces dangerously close.
Alexis closed the distance, then surpassed it, bringing her mouth right up next to his ear and breathily whispered, “If I wasn’t worried about one of the kids barging in, it wouldn’t be just tempting.” She pulled back, pausing to kiss him once on the jaw before giving him a peck on the lips and withdrawing entirely. “But do you have plans for tonight?”
Ian cleared his throat and straightened up. “Plans for tomorrow night, actually.”
She raised an eyebrow at that.
“Hey, don’t look so surprised. I’m learning to get organized.” He gave her a haughty look. “And that is how I got us reservations of Bleu Bleu Chef at eight, which is perfect timing, because the VIP lounge at Club Deja opens at nine and I got us an in.”
Both eyebrows were raised now. “The new place that just opened? The one Sonja Remington is part owner of?”
“Knowing her songwriter helps.” Ian shrugged. “I now owe Lisa two favors.”
Ian sat down finally, making a show of adjusting his button down shirt and sport coat. “As you know, Bleu Bleu is pretty us scale. I don’t think those club clothes you were so excited about before are going to fly in there. So I arranged for Lisa to work a little of her ‘magic’,” he used air quotes in a wholly incorrect manner, “to set us up with some quick changes of clothes.”
“Nothing like abuse of special talents for completely mundane tasks. Are you sure you don’t want the teaching position I’m trying to fill?”
“I’ve got the wrong degree to be an educator.” he pointed out.
Alexis laughed lightly. “No worries; I love you anyway. And I love you plans. Are you sure you want to do the club though? You didn’t seem to be very comfortable the…” she searched for the proper way to frame her point, “…last time we went to a club.”
“I wasn’t really giving it a chance; there were other things on our minds, after all. But I’m willing to give it another shot. Like I said though: you’re worth it. Plus, I’ve also got something a little more my speed on tap for later this year—Laurel managed to shmooze Liedecker into a pair of tickets to the Mayor’s Red Ball on Valentine’s.”
Alexis leaned forward with a coy smile. “Oh my. We really have been busy recently haven’t we?”
“Yeah, well.” Ian opened the top of the basket and began to remove the containers and wrapped sandwiches within. “We’ve been so busy with so much this last year—so much that we haven’t even set a date yet. Getting more romantic? That’s my New Year’s Resolution.”
He placed a sandwich and two containers in front of her and two in front of him. “Here we all, m’lady: a BLT on toast for you: light mayo, shredded lettuce; and an Italian on sourdough with spicy mustard for me. We’ve also got potato salad from Gordon’s Deli, and for dessert, banana crème yogurt from that place all the kids here go to—Midnight?”
“Midnight Black.” Alexis supplied, picking up her BLT. “And you’re spoiling me. Expect some payback.”
“I’m not going to argue with that.” he grinned, taking out a thermos of iced tea (being in a school building, it wasn’t as if he could bring alcohol) and offering a mock toast with it. “To a wonderful date night.”
Eleven hours earlier.
The diner was open all night. It said so right in the name: Roxxy’s All-Nite Diner.
Poor spelling aside, it was at least true to its name and a few locals always took advantage of it. Some of them were so familiar with the staff of the tiny eatery that they were taking part in the send-off celebration for one of their own.
Brenda McMillan had won the lottery. Fifty-eight million dollars, lump sum after taxes.
It was a lot of money and none too soon, seeing as she was a month from her wedding day and now one hell of a honeymoon.
She wasn’t forgetting her friends either. Already, she was looking into what she could do to help get the night cook, Moses’s, family out of the Dominican and into America so they could all be together, and move her best friend and workmate, Jessica, out of her tiny apartment. After five years working the night shift, they weren’t just co-workers, they were like family—more so than the one she’d been born into.
So Moses baked her a cake and Darla, the elder stateswoman of Roxxy’s waitstaff, had gotten a bottle of wine. The music was turned up and everyone was telling stories. For the regulars, Brenda was picking up their meal for the night and every night the next week.
Not everyone there was a regular, however. And not all of them were celebrating.
One particular newcomer had taken up residence in a far corner booth with his laptop and ordered a steady flow of coffee. Tall and plain, the only remarkable thing about him was his mode of dress. An old, faded gray suit that probably started life black, a white poet’s shirt with a spill of lace down the front like a fictional pirate’s and dress shoes that were slightly newer than the suit.
He parked himself in the booth and faded into the background, absorbed in whatever he was working on. The only time anyone noticed him was during his frequent trips to the bathroom. Moses whispered a joke to Jessica about the man either having a tiny bladder or a huge drug problem.
On any other night, one of them would have called the police, but tonight there were more important things to tend to than some junkie poet getting stoned in the toilet.
At midnight, they cut the cake. No one noticed the man with the laptop toss a few dollars on his table and slip out, his route taking him past Jessica as she put slices of the dark chocolate confection on paper plates. By the time they started eating, he was almost completely forgotten.
“I think,” said Moses, beaming at the others’ enjoyment of the cake he baked special for Brenda’s last day, “It’s time we hear a speech. I know you got something to say, Jessica—you always do.”
Jessica blushed. Every the chatterbox, she did, in fact, have a little speech prepared. Swallowing the bite of rich chocolatey goodness in her mouth, she moved to the middle of the diner so everyone could hear. “Well Brenda, I know we’re always gonna be friends, but…” She stopped to swallow. It felt like the cake had gone down wrong and got stuck in her throat.
“…but it still feels.” She swallowed again. The lump in her throat wasn’t going down. Another swallow and she knew it was getting worse—and that it wasn’t because she’d swallowed the cake wrong. Her hand went to her throat and she tried to force a breath into her lungs.
“Jess?” Brenda looked to her friend, worried. “Jess?” The only reply was a strangled gasp as her best friend worked to breathe. Her eyes flew to Moses. “Are there nuts in the cake?”
“Nut. In the cake. Jess is allergic to nuts.” Brenda leapt from her seat and ran over to Jess.
Moses shook his head, watching the scene unfold in horror. “’course not. I know she’s allergic.”
“Maybe something got in on accident.” Brenda said. She steered Jess to a seat while going through her pockets. “Jess, where’s your epi-pen?”
Unable to speak, Jess reached for the front of her apron pocket, but failed to find the shot of epinephrine she always kept on her.
“There’s a couple in the first aid kit, I’ll get ’em.” Darla said, dashing for the office, which was down the same halls as the bathrooms.
A block away, the ‘poet’ tossed three epinephrine shots into the garbage and turned retrieved a palmtop from the inside of his now-black and new suit. He aimed the camera at the diner and narrated as indistinct figures rushed to and fro in the windows.
“Congratulations on the lotto win, Brenda McMillan.” He said with a voice dripping contempt. “What a nice story it made in the Scribe: waitress, working her way through school and trying to pay for her wedding hits the Pick Seven and plans to use it to help her friends who helped her through the loss of her parents. Touching. Really.”
The last part was said with a bored tone, as if the whole thing were playing out on a screen before him.
“That hack Romero who wrote it up even used the words ‘heart-warming’. He said it was proof that good things happen to good people.”
His voice turned steely. “Bull. Shit.”
Touching a dial on his cufflink, he triggered a hologram generator concealed in his collar. A theater mask with a blank expression was mapped over his facial features and tinted a sickly green. Once it was in place, he turned switched the cameras in the palmtop from the forward-facing view, to one facing him. “You are an aberration. A stain on the natural order. That damn ray of hope Romero drew flaring off of you is a stream of urine in the face of reality.”
He slowly tilted his head as if discovering the camera for the first time. “Luckily, I’m here. I… correct things. I make the things that happen more realistic. And even though I am the agent through which this change flows, I want you to know one thing about all of this:”
Staring straight at the camera, he intoned with all the seriousness he could put into his speech, “This is happening because of you. If you had acted like a human and just quit and abandoned your urchin friends or your worthless fiance, none of this would have been necessary.
“Just remember that every time you spend your money, every time Kaande Moses looks at his family: your best friend died because you just had to go against the way things ought to be. I didn’t do this randomly; I’m here because of you. I’m here in Mayfield because of you. Really, everything that happens next is all your fault.”
Abruptly he turned off the camera, leaving just the mic recording. Somewhere, an ambulance’s sirens cut the chill of the night as it raced toward the diner. “Joykiller, out.”
Deactivating the hologram, Joykiller turned and strode away from the scene of his crime, grimly satisfied that in his worldview, all was right. He never even noticed a flash of gold in the darkness overhead, or the figure in red and white being carried aloft, following the ambulance’s path.