Issue #8: Objectivity

This entry is part 9 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 1: Welcome to Freeland House

Part 3

“I knew this was some kind of trap.” Ian snarled.

Alexis grabbed his arm, trying to pull him back. “This guy almost killed you last time, Ian.” She warned.

“That’s why I’m getting the first strike in.” Ian said, raising his hands. Twin vortexes were forming in his palms, air spiraling tightly inward.

“No one’s getting any first strikes in my damn building.” Pratt said. With speed the belied his age, he drew a long, heavy looking pistol from his jacket and leveled it at Prometheus. “Douse the flames, Tyler. These people are my guests and so help me if you scorch an inch of this room, I’ll kneecap you before you scorch the second.”

“These people are criminals.” Edward said haughtily as he shut down his powers. “They broke onto Academy property.”

Pratt ignored him, turning the weapon on Ian. “Power down, Smythe.” He ordered. “There’s not going to be any kind of brawl here.”

“Five minutes ago, we were the best of chums, sharing information.” Ian said, allowing the compressed air in his hands to dissipate. “Suddenly, I find myself under threat of a hot lead injection?”

“Ian…” Alexis said softly.

“Photosynthetic mass injection, actually.” Pratt said. “Think of it as the portable version of a laser. Advanced technology is one of the advantages for working black ops counterintelligence.” He returned the weapon to its holster. “Back to the matter at hand. Dr. Masters, I hope whatever Tyler has to say was worth that little outburst.”

“I won’t relate anything with those criminals around.” Edward said bluntly.

“We’re the criminals? You burn down my house, you help people who kidnap and experiment on kids – and I’m the criminal?!” Ian cried indignantly.

“You burned down his house?” the surprise and weariness was evident in Pratt’s tone.

“I followed Keyes to his residence in Seattle on intel that she’d broken black file protocols.” Edward explained. “When I demanded he turn her over, he tried to use his powers on me – so I responded in kind.”

“A destroyed home for an eye.” Ian chimed in.

“I wasn’t aiming to destroy the house. You’re the one who had welding equipment stored in your garage.”

“Mr. secret agent with a license to cauterize didn’t have time to read up on the fact that I work on powered armor – which necessarily involves metallurgy?”

“It isn’t my job to know your life story. You harbored a rogue psionic, then broke onto the Academy campus and removed red listed threats from containment.” Edward rumbled.

“Hold on a minute!” Alexis added her voice. “Haven’t you been listening to us? Those kids weren’t red listed whatevers and I’m no rogue. We were saving those kids from experimentation. Regardless of what you’ve been told, we’re not the bad guys here.”

“Do you have any proof that they were actually red listed?” Masters spoke up. “Or is this just from your briefing today?”

“Do they have any proof they aren’t?” Edward countered. “I trust the Corps mission files more than I trust a couple of rogues. Stevens said he could provide psych profiles…”

“That’s bad logic, Edward and you know it.” Masters said. “First, you’re asking them to prove a negative. And what’s more, the only reason they’re rogue is because the Corps said they were. The same Corps whose integrity is in question right now – even by you if I understand what you’ve told me thus far.”

Edward made an angry, non-committal sound as Masters steered him toward a chair near General Pratt.

“I believe we can safely discount the psych profiles as false anyway.” Pratt said. “Their conduct since regaining their freedom has been unquestioningly positive.”

“Arjun Ravi was ‘positive’ up until the moment he started his killing spree.” Edward snapped.

“Hey!” this time it was Alexis who stood up. “Don’t you ever accuse our kids of anything like that! They’re good kids.”

“I agree.” Pratt said, “And their impact on Mayfield is ample evidence of that.”

“Excuse me?” Alexis blinked. Ian felt a sickness rise in his stomach.

“Life Savers, Inc.” The General said. “Since they’ve taken a hand in assisting rescue operations in the city, accidental deaths there have dropped four percent. I… assumed this was due to your influence…” Ian stifled a groan as pride and shame warred inside him.

Alexis shook her head. “I’m sorry, General, as nice a fantasy as that is, I’ve told them not to use their powers in public. It’s too dangerous for their powers to be discovered by the Academy.”

“I knew it.” Edward rumbled. “So much for your proof, General.”

“Strange.” Pratt said, ignoring Edward’s drollery. “These prelates appeared in Mayfield only a month after your incident with Tyler in Langley. We were prepared to alter the news stories about them in the national media, but someone beat us to it—we assumed it was Ms. Brant.”

“I-it can’t be.” Alexis said with a stressed chuckle. “Sure, Warrick is really into the prelate thing, but so is every psi… descendant his age…”

“It’s funny you should mention young Mr. Kaine.” Masters said. “The prelate, Alloy, a member of this group is also a metal controller and also exhibits Kaine’s unique tendril manifestation.”

“Uh… just how unique is it?” Ian asked, avoiding looking directly at Alexis.

“There are twelve known metal controllers of various levels of ability.” Masters said as if this fact was common knowledge. “Warrick Kaine is the only one with that manifestation. In fact, he is only one of twenty known descendants in the history of the chronicling of descendant powers that has a manifestation that can operate independent of his mind.”

“Huh.” Ian breathed. He suddenly sensed Alexis staring at him and shivered.

“So as you can see,” Masters continued, oblivious to the non-verbal communication between the two old friends. “there is very little chance that Alloy is anyone other than Warrick Kaine.”

“Even if they are playing prelate, that certainly doesn’t prove they’re anything remotely like well adjusted.” Edward said. “Being sanctioned to keep the peace is one thing. Taking things into one’s own hands…”

“I’ve heard just about enough.” Ian said flatly. He glanced over at Alexis and gave her an apologetic look. “Those kids decided on their own to spend their own time and risk injury helping people – and you’re calling that maladjusted? You’d think someone who is so concerned about who is and isn’t a black hat like you could appreciate what they’re doing. I’m only sorry I haven’t done the same with my life.”

When he finished, the room had fallen silent save for his own heavy breathing. Then the wave of shame that had been building up finally broke free, finding no resistance now that his pride and indignation had been addressed. “A-Alexis… I’m sorry that—“

“You knew all this time.” She cut him off, her voice heavy. “You knew they were doing this all this time and you hid it from me.”

“Because you would have put a stop to it.” Ian defended himself before he could think better of it. “They’ve… they’ve been doing such a good job—you heard the General; accidental deaths are down four percent – that’s a lot of lives in a city the size of Mayfield.”

“Damn right, I would have put a stop to it!” Alexis found she was having trouble controlling the volume of her voice. “Ian, we have the Academy… people like him,” She pointed at Edward who gave her a less than grateful look. “hunting us down with the express purpose of putting them back in stasis until their body falls apart like Kareem’s or until they decide to cut on them like Juniper. We can’t afford to have them using their powers in public like that!”

Ian shook his head. “Unless we do something, we’ll always be hiding. We need to either fight back or at least try and lead normal lives.”

“You call playing hero for a day a normal life? That’s not a life anyone chooses.”

“Maybe some of us wish we had chosen it.” Ian hunched his shoulders. “Maybe then I would have had enough experience and skill to not get beaten to a pulp by the firebug over there.”

“You know, I’ve had it up to here with you two taking shots at me in your little lover’s spat.” Edward fumed.

“Stay out of this, matchstick.” Ian snapped.

“No, he can take my place.” Alexis said, rising from her seat. “And this time when he KO’s you, don’t expect me to save you.” She turned to Pratt, fire in her eyes. “General, I’ll show myself out and make my own way back home. I’ll let Laurel know you want to trade information – to help keep the kids safe.” she said the last part more to Ian than to the General. With that, she stormed out of the conference room.

“Wait, Alexis…” Ian stood up and started to follow her out. Edward intercepted him and blocked his way out. “Out of the way, hothead. You do not want to screw with me right now.”

Edward narrowed his eyes. “Look, you don’t like me and the feeling is more than mutual. In fact, I’d really like nothing more than to see you fail some more today. But the woman seems like she’s halfway decent – way too good for you I might add – and I really don’t want to see you piss her off anymore.”

“You don’t know us.” Ian said, resisting the urge to use his powers to clear the obstruction from his path.

“But I am old enough to know a few things. And the first rule is to let her cool off before you try and talk to her again. She just implied she’d be okay with me to hurting you –badly. No matter what you say, she’s not going to want to hear it right now.”

“He’s right, you know.” Masters said. “She seems to be taking her responsibility to the children very seriously. Even if you think you were doing the right thing, you threatened that.”

Ian felt himself slump. “And how exactly do I fix it?”

“I would venture that completing the briefing that may give some aid in her goal of protecting the children would be a start.” Masters reasoned. “Please, sit down. There is still a great deal that we can tell you that can help you and your charges.”

“Like what?” Ian sighed, defeated.

“For starters,” Masters said, “Edward was just telling me that there has been a changing of the guard in the Enforcer Corps. Young agents, lacking in the self control and ethics of most of the older rank and file are being promoted ahead of more… stable candidates. I think this may be the influence of Project Tome in response to your – and others’ actions in removing descendants from their custody in the past few months.”

Ian blinked. He really wanted to try and catch up with Alexis, but Masters was right, he needed to hear this. If the Academy was massing a new generation of more brutal Enforcers, it was far more important than making himself look like less of a clod. “Alright.” He said, collapsing back in his seat, “I’m listening.”

***

It was gone past eight at night when the door to Laurel’s workshop opened.

“Laurel, have you seen…” Ian began.

“She doesn’t want to talk to you right now.” Laurel said softy. “Doesn’t want to talk to me, either.”

With a heavy sigh, Ian closed the door and took a seat. “You too?”

“She got back two hours ago with the groceries – apparently she flew all the way back to Mayfield from Norfolk.” Laurel said, allowing a bit of her awe at her friends’ feat of stamina to spill over into her tone. “Anyway, she told me a little about your meeting with General Pratt and a lot about your fight. Then Cyn came into the kitchen and all hell broke loose…”

“That bad?”

“Worse. Cyn puts a lot more importance into being Facsimile than any of us really knew. She was understandably not happy and in her typical fashion, she didn’t mince words expressing it.” She leaned her head back tiredly, holding the bridge of her nose just below her glasses. “And at some point, Alexis realized that there’s only one person around that could have altered those Life Savers, Inc stories and… well the rest was just a lot of yelling and slamming doors.”

“I’m assuming that the entirety of the Future Prelates of America is grounded?” Ian groaned.

“Plus Melissa because she happened to be in the room.” Laurel said.

“I screwed up big time.” Ian sighed. “But I don’t even know where I screwed up; letting them do their thing and lying to Alexis, or getting my back up and letting the cat out of the bag.”

Laurel wheeled over to him. “I’m not blaming you for this. I had my hand in it too and I’m still personally certain that what they were up to was not only positive, but beneficial to the cause of getting them back where they belong.”

“How do you figure that part?” Ian inquired.

“I just put myself into the shoes of a clandestine organization trying to protect it’s own hide while recapturing the people that escaped.” The genius shrugged. “The first step is to demonize them – make the public as well as my minions want to get these kids put away as fast as possible. That’d be kind of hard to do if it turned out those kids were the modern version of the Peers of Charlemagne, no?”

“Actually, that’s exactly how this started. That spark headed Enforcer said the Academy had them listed as some kind of super-criminals and the General pointed out Life Savers, Inc as proof that they weren’t. Wait, does that mean we’re the ones in the right?”

Laurel gave him a sad look. “No, it doesn’t.” She gave his shoulder a squeeze before standing to move over to her coffee maker. “My friend, the world is way too complicated for it to be that easy. We had the right idea and the best intentions at heart. But that doesn’t make us right – we still betrayed Alexis’s trust.”

“I know.” Ian lowered his head. “Grasping at straws is pretty much all I have left in my bag of tricks right now.” He shook his head. “Goddamn, things were going so well. We were really connecting… you know, that way… I think. And then Pratt shows up and…and…” He sat up sharply, bumping his head on the shelf behind him. “Does everything he can to help. Damn it, I can’t even get angry at him!”

“Taking blame; one of the fifty-elven dozen things that make growing up so not worth it.” Laurel said, coming back over with two cups of coffee. “Speaking of which, I only heard the part of this meeting that happened before the falling out. Let’s hear the rest – at least it’ll take your mind off it.”

Ian ran his hands through his hair before accepting an offered cup of coffee. “Sure, but it’ll only raise more questions.”

“More questions will also help keep our minds off things.”

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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