- 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
Bitter Work (Part 1)
“I ripped this one off a disc from my grandma’s collection. I totally loved it as a kid.” Tammy Kaine announced as she selected a video file from her tablet’s entertainment menu. She was sprawled across half the large couch in one of the Liedecker Institute’s media rooms. “It’s a classic based on a story from Arabian Nights.”
Kura Akagi, who was hogging most of the other half and leaning on Maya Blumberg, groaned. “Aw man, we had to do a report on three stories out of that for lit class. Some of the stories were cool, but having to do it for school sucks all the fun out of it.”
“Are you kidding?” Olivia Boles had an arm chair all to herself. “You have no idea how many worse books they could have made us read.” She flicked a stray hair out of her face, “Besides, how can you not love the main story with Scheherazade?”
Maya squirmed a bit and busied herself playing with Soot, who was sitting on her lap. Soot was a fist-sized creature composed entirely of flames that managed to burn without a fuel source most of the time. He was a manifestation of Maya’s power, but no one was sure how.
“I don’t know… I liked a lot of the stories, but why would anyone want to marry someone who killed hundreds of women because someone cheated on him?”
“One thousand, one hundred and one wives.” said the last girl in the room. Alice Tatopoulos, more commonly known as Steampunk, had the other armchair as a necessity: while the black composite suit she wore kept others safe from her powers, she still exuded an uncomfortable amount of heat. “That is assuming he married and killed a wife every day, which is unlikely given that the king would need to perform other duties as well as plan between weddings. It is highly unlikely he killed more than eighty and one hundred in the three-year span depicted.”
Tammy resisted rolling her eyes. It wasn’t Steampunk’s fault she was the way she was. As near as any of them could tell, the girl had been raised in a lab. “Steamy, it’s fiction. It doesn’t have to make perfect sense.” She grinned as she started the file and sent her video feed to the room’s projector.
“Don’t worry about it though: we’re not watching the wife-killing stuff, we’re watching the best story out of the bunch. It’s got a genie and a monkey—and they’re both awesome.”
After a bit more trivial discussion, they settled in to watch. They didn’t get far—the first song had barely concluded—when there was a knock on the media room door.
“Pizza! Put it on pause!” Kura chirped. Leaping up from the couch, she floated over to the door about an inch off the ground. When she opened it, she found one of the Institute’s teachers, Ms. Brant standing there with two people in business suits; a man and a woman.
Her eyes narrowed. “Hey, these aren’t delivery guys. And why’re you here at like ten on a Friday, Ms. Brant?”
Ms. Brant’s expression was one of barely contained sorrow mixing to rage as her eyes flicked to the pair flanking her. “Sorry to interrupt, Kura, but we need to speak with Tammy for a second.”
Kura looked closer at the pair of suits. She’d never liked people who wore suits—didn’t even like it when he parents wore suits. People in suits tried to get on her good side to get on her parents’ good side and it was always so transparent. The two on either side of Ms. Brant looked somehow worse, like their fakery was somehow dangerous. Last time she had that kind of feeling, the suits in question turned out to be fake FBI agents hunting Maya.
They were both thin, but not skeletal. The man had his dark brown hair slicked back and had a perpetual smirk on his face—the kind of smirk people had when they really didn’t like kids, but had to work with them anyway. The woman had no expression at all. Her blonde hair was in a french braid slung over her shoulder and she wore orange-smoked sunglasses with tiny lenses.
Nothing about the picture in front of her appealed to Kura. Warning bells were going off in her head and she really wished she had something heavy to throw at them so she could rescue Ms. Brant from whatever was going on.
The female suit seemed to sense what was going on in Kura’s head and shoved Ms. Brant back, taking a step into the room. Kura wasn’t an expert, or even a novice beyond what she’d seen in movies, but she could have sworn that Ms. Brant briefly took a martial arts stance to steady herself.
“Step aside kid,” ordered the female suit, moving to bull her way past.
Nothing of the exchange had gotten past the other girls in the room. And all of them remembered the people after Maya clearly. They were all on their feet by then, even Maya, though Tammy swiftly put herself between her and potential danger.
“So now you’re looking for me, huh?” Tammy said, striking a cocky pose. “Who’re you pretending to be that got you in past this place’s security? Let’s see… did the NSA send you? Maybe HomeSec? Oh, I know: the same brain trusts that green-lit the Academy!”
The suited woman didn’t flinch at the united and powered front she was facing. “We’ll see if we can’t do something about that smart mouth later. But for now, you’re coming with us.”
“What the hell is going on here?” A new voice arrived from the corridor. Kura chanced taking her eyes off the suits to discover Stephanie Carroll, the Institute’s Director of Student Life standing there, three pizza boxes in her arms.
“Right. Now the pizza gets here.” Kura muttered.
“You’re supposed to meet any deliveries at the front gate.” Ms. Carroll said, surveying the situation. “Now someone had better explain. Who are these people, and why are you here after hours on a weekend?” The last part was directed at Ms. Brant.
The other teacher shot a glare at the male suit, who hadn’t said anything, but was standing guard over the door. Kura couldn’t help but notice that said door was the only escape route. “I got a call about two hours ago, saying these two were going to show up… for Tammy.”
Ms. Carroll gave the suits a dangerous look. “Why hasn’t security wrapped them up yet?”
The female suit turned, exposing her back temptingly to Kura and the others. “Because that call came from Talia’s parents. Your security has already confirmed and cleared us. We’re from Black Oak Juvenile Reform Camp, and we’ve been given temporary custody of Talia C. Kaine. No one will be ‘wrapping us up’.”
“Reform camp?” Tammy called out, sounding affronted. “You can’t be serious. I’ve seen the news specials on those places—my parents would never send me to one! They actually like me!”
“Your opinion on the matter is irrelevant. It seems that your attitude has finally put your parents at their wits’ end and now they feel they need professional intervention.”
Tammy smirked and she really did take a fighting stance. “Then you’d better bring some professionals.”
“Yeah, I may not have met them, but everything I know about the Kaines tell me that this is wrong.” Olivia said, stepping up beside Tammy. She fiddled with the charm bracelet on her arm. Each charm was made of a different material and once in contact with it, she could assume the physical properties of one of those materials.
Kura floated back ward until she was on Tammy’s other side. “You’re gonna have to go through us, Shades.”
Steampunk said nothing, but moved automatically to complete the group.
From behind them, Maya’s small voice added, “You’re not really going to let them take here, are you, Ms. Brant?”
Ms. Brant took off her glasses and rubbed her face with her free hand. “Girls… I checked. I went over every legal option we have. As much as I am disgusted and hurt over this, Tammy’s parents signed the papers and if we don’t comply with these…” She glared, “…people, then the school could be in very big trouble. Tammy, I’m sorry, but you have to go with them.”
“What.” Ms. Carroll threw the pizzas aside and stepped directly into Ms. Brant’s personal space. “You can’t possibly be serious. We can’t trust these people. I’ve heard of this place they’re from—we cannot entrust any of the students to them.”
Ms. Brant looked her in the eye, her voice kept artificially level. “You probably heard about them from the Descendants Rights Worldwide newsletter. I drafted the story. I know exactly what these people are.” He shoulders slumped. “And the law is on their side.”
“Seriously?” demanded Tammy. “I don’t want to go, no one here wants me to go, but they get to take me anyway?”
The male suit finally stepped into the room, extracting a folded sheet of paper from inside his jacket. “In fact, we’re fully within out rights to restrain you if you don’t go quietly. And anyone who tries to stop us?” He stared down Kura, who seemed the most fierce of the girls coming to Tammy’s defense. “They’ll be brought up on assault charges. I’ve already alerted the police to what we’re doing and a pair of officers are waiting at the front gates just in case.”
Kura thought about it a second, glanced at Tammy, then blew a raspberry at him. “My daddy runs the biggest fish-stick company in the world. I can so afford bail.”
And then she drew back and kicked him between the legs.
Laurel Brant watched from her office as the black sedan from Black Oak pulled away from the front gates, followed close behind by an MPD squad car. Both had a student from the Institute in the back. All things considered, things could have gone much worse. They could have gone much, much better if the Black Oak goons had stayed at the front gate and let her go and explain things to Tammy, but she’d expected things to go down like that. Including…
“I’d like to take the weekend off.” the tight, cold voice of Stephanie Carroll came from the open door of the office. “I need time to rethink my place here if we’re going to be giving students over to people already under investigation for abusing descendant children.”
“Stephanie…” Laurel began slowly. “I agree with how you feel right now. God, I would have punched me in the face when I saw what went down over there, so let me just say that I admire your restraint.”
The other woman folded her arms; Laurel could see her do so by the reflection in the window. “I rarely practice it.” It wasn’t a joke. Really it felt like a threat.
“If you read the entire discussion of this ‘camp’, you would know that the contract the parents sign makes Black Oak the child’s temporary custodian—with all the legal powers thereof. Now I know that, despite your aloofness, you care deeply for these children. Consider for a moment what would have happened if we kept Tammy here. The police would have been obligated to storm the place.
“For the parents, seeing that on the news—no matter what the reason for that scene—would evoke memories of the Academy’s closing. They would pull their kids from here: out of the security we offer and out of the opportunities that Mr. Liedecker is offering them. Far more kids than Tammy and Kura would be hurt.”
Stephanie scowled. “And what about Tammy and Kura?”
“Alvin is already on the way to the police station with bail money for Kura—my dime.” said Laurel, “And I’m about to pick up the phone and do everything in my power to help Tammy.”
A tense moment followed. Laurel didn’t turn from the window and Stephanie stood stock still in the doorway, head down, arms folded. At length, the former spoke. “I’d still like the weekend off. As you said, I have an aloof mystique to maintain and I won’t be able to for a while after tonight.”
“Go ahead.” said Laurel. “I’ll cover for you as soon as my phone calls are done.” In the reflection, she saw the other woman start to leave. “Before you go: thank you.”
“For being this upset over this. Mr. Liedecker chose wisely.”
Stephanie nodded. “Thank you. I’ll be sure to tell him you said so when I see him next.”
Tammy tried to keep track of where they’d gone, but it was dark and once they left the city, the suburbs and towns were just blobs of light that flashed past.
The Black Oak people didn’t talk to her. After putting her hands in zip cuffs and attaching that to the car door by some kind of rubbery black cord, they’d just shoved her in the back and proceeded to ignore her. Or at least they were pretending to ignore her.
When Tammy peered over the back of the seat, she saw that the woman was driving while the guy was watching a camera feed on his tablet that showed her in the back seat. Just in case she tried to escape, she guessed. As if being able to create lightning from metal object would allow her to survive jumping out of a car doing seventy.
They hadn’t let her pack a bag or anything. Maybe they would have if Kura hadn’t caused a ruckus, but Tammy doubted it. So all she had was a Snackrifice t-shirt she’d stolen from her brother, a pair of pajama pants, and a cheap ribbon choke with a black glass stone. No shoes; she’d been barefoot in the media room.
Briefly, she toyed with the idea of mouthing off a bit. That was abandoned as she thought about where she was headed. Camps like Black Oak were basically private prisons and when it came down to it, they could do a lot to hurt her and make her life hell as long as it didn’t leave the kind of mark an inspector might notice—if inspectors ever got around to checking up on them.
So she stayed quiet and watched the scenery.
Eventually, she spotted sweeping lights and something that looked like a tower. An airport. Seeing as how they hadn’t entered another city, it was probably a small one. They pulled up to a security gate and after a few minutes of terse words from the driver, they were allowed to drive right onto the tarmac.
Definitely a small airport, Tammy decided as the sedan wheeled around to pull up close beside a small, private jet.
The man shut off and stowed his tablet before getting out and coming around to the back door. The hate in his eyes as he started undoing the cord keeping her in the car told Tammy he was still feeling Kura’s going away present.
Thinking about Kura kept her from considering pulling a stunt. Small airport or not, a lightning bolt bouncing off a car and around the tarmac would get some high-level attention in a hurry.
But she was feeling bad about her friend. They’d all stood by each other for a while now and she should have expected Kura to do something crazy and stopped it. Good thing that Virginia wasn’t a Braylocke state, or things would have gone very poorly.
Once this was all over, she would have to make it up to her friend.
“Come on.” the man grabbed her roughly by the shoulder and pulled her out of the car. After making sure she still had her cuffs on, he marched her toward the car that would take her to the camp.
Even though it was past midnight, Vincent Liedecker didn’t sound tired or even bothered by the late-night call.
“I was expecting you to break in through my window instead of just ringin’ me up.” He said as if reading her mind.
“You knew then?” Stephanie Carroll, really Zoe McNamara, AKA Vorpal said, voice full of reproach.
Liedecker grunted, even if it was somehow a polite grunt. “Laurel Brant called me the moment she heard from those Black Oak folks. Didn’t look like she had much of a choice.”
“There were choices. She just didn’t make them because she’d not one of us… she doesn’t understand.”
“I ain’t one of you either, an’ I understand.” said Liedecker. “And I woulda done the same as her. She protected the school and all the kids, even if she couldn’t protect the Kaine girl.”
There was a frustrated growl from the other end of the line. “And what about the Kaine girl?”
“Hmm.” said Liedecker. “Seems to me that these sumbitches got everyone tied up in law and order. They got the contract on their side.”
Another growl. “However they got it. The Kaines would never do something like this.”
“I’ve got doubts anyone who’d put their kid in the Institute would.” agreed Liedecker, “And I don’t want these Black Oak folks thinkin’ they can use the school named after m’ daddy as a huntin’ ground. That’s why there’s a ticket for Marla James at the airport for you. Red-eye to Chicago where there’s a ticket to Helena waiting for Gabrielle Hines. By the time you land, there’ll be a rental car in the same name. Take care of it.”
For a long moment, there was silence on the line. Then Vorpal genuinely surprised him. “Thank you, sir.”