Issue #80 – Bitter Work

This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 7: The New World

Bitter Work (Part 3)

“No, Mr. Akagi, I don’t think you understand.” Warrick said, trying to talk and keep an eye on Kura at the same time. Any other kid might be trusted to browse the airport’s duty-free shop without incident, but Kura, as a general rule, was and incident.

“I understand perfectly.” replied Mr. Akagi. “Really, this is more responsible than can usually be expected of my daughter: she has sought out someone older and more knowledgeable rather than rushing off on her own to help her friend.”

Warrick frowned. Had all the parents gone crazy with the over-permissiveness? Though, if he remembered correctly, this was par for the course of the Akagis, explaining why Kura was the way she was—or the other way ’round. “I’m pretty sure she needs me to buy the tickets, sir.”

“She would have found someone else. She is very resourceful.” replied Mr. Akagi.

Inhaling deeply through his nose, Warrick tried again. “Look, Mr. Akagi, I’m actually calling so you can, y’know, tell her ‘no’. I can’t fly across country with her to wage war on some weird descendant boot camp.

Mr. Akagi made a disappointed sound. “I don’t see why not. My wife and I speak often with your parents—Talia is, after all Kura’s best friend. You and I both know that your mother and father would never send your sister to such a place as this…”

Unless it was for some complicated sting operation, Warrick thought bitterly.

“…and as such, there is something very wrong going on. I know that you do not possess powers, Warrick, but from everything I have heard, you have courage and a great love for your sister. I trust that you will be able to use this opportunity to draw the attention of the proper authorities to what is going on and save your sister while keeping my daughter from doing something drastic.”

Oh if he only knew… Warrick sighed. “You’re seriously telling me to do this then?”

“Kura will go whether you go or not. I would be far more comfortable if you were with her.”

“I guess I don’t really have a choice barring tying Kura up and dragging her back to the Institute.”

“I believe you would find that such an action would only result in you being turned a variety of colors, and possibly bitten before she found a way to escape.” said Mr. Akagi. “In fact, if someone wanted to destroy this camp from within, sending my daughter would be the most efficient method.”



“Nothing, sir. I… I guess I’ll call you when we land.”

“You do that. My wife and I would be most grateful—and believe me, I will make all of this worth your while.”

After getting off the line with Mr. Akagi, Warrick dialed Laurel. “You can call off the search, Ms. Brant.”

“You found her?” It wasn’t hard to hear the weariness and relief in her voice. “Where?”

Warrick groaned. “She found me actually. Came right to the dorm offering me a fat wad of cash to take her to Montana.”

He heard Laurel emit the exact groan he had. “Of course, I should have guessed. How did you get her to stay?”

“Ms. Brant, you and I both know I wouldn’t be able to do that short of knocking that kid out. I played along and got us a commuter pod out to the airport to buy time to call her parents and get them to talk her down.” He looked up to make sure Kura was still in sight. She was browsing the candy rack. “So yeah, Joykiller notwithstanding, I’m still the dumb one.”

“That’s not true and you know it.” said Laurel, “But I’m guessing the Akagis were as permissive as ever. After two years of teaching Kura though? I’m starting to understand why: there’s very little you can do to contain a girl like Kura. I just wish they would cut her allowance to something that can’t be used for multiple bribes a week.”

Warrick leaned against the counter he’d been standing next to. “So Mr. Akagi wants me to take Kura out there and keep her from going rainbow ballistic on Black Oak. Seeing as she has just as little idea of where this place is, I’m thinking you’ve finally gotten me out of the way: this weekend is going to be about keeping Kura chasing her tail until Tammy is safe.”

“And that is why you should never say you’re the dumb one.” said Laurel. “That’s as good an idea as we have at the moment when it comes to our little wild-card. Are you sure you’re okay with it?”

“Keeping my sister’s best friend out of danger? I got this.”

“Thanks. Let me know if you need anything and call if there’s trouble.”

“Will do. Night.” said Warrick, ending the call. He pushed off from the counter to retrieve Kura, but in the process, he spotted someone standing at a vending machine for tiny bottles of alcohol. They were trouble alright: a more dangerous kind of trouble than Kura and the kind of trouble he couldn’t call Laurel about.

In five long strides, he closed with the woman who despite the shoulder-length blonde wig and make-up she was wearing was still recognizable because she was family. Despite the danger it might pause to anyone else, he leaned over to her and hissed, “Zoe, what the hell are you doing here?”

She glared down at him—nearly everyone had to glare down at him, he realized with annoyance. Kura was about two inches away from doing so herself. “Hopefully the same thing you’re doing here. What the hell are Uncle Tommy and Aunt Sandra thinking?”

“It’s not what you think.” Warrick said, feeling a headache coming on. “But you’re going to need to disguise yourself better because Kura’s here too and she’s going to see right through that.”

“What?” She actually blinked in surprise. “Kura?”

“I have enough long stories from tonight to fill the entire flight to Montana, trust me.”


At some point in the flight, the air started smelling funny and Tammy fell asleep. She came to with a thumping headache and some weird contraption made of plastic and rubber strapped to her upper right arm. Every time she flexed, several sharp points pricked her skin, which wasn’t an encouraging sign.

Not long after, she and Falcone were herded off the plane by a new Black Oak goon, a brick of a man with a stiff, bushy beard. He put them in the back of an SUV—no tethers this time– and drove them off the private airstrip and into a hilly, scrubby forest.

Ever since hearing about the Black Oak camp, Tammy expected them to be using ‘camp’ in the loosest possible terms. It did not disappoint in just how disappointing it was: just a bunch of ratty former FEMA trailers bought at some government auction decades earlier and resold laid out in not-terribly-neat rows for dorms and some brand new RVs serving as staff housing and administration buildings. All of this looked to have been simply dropped in the middle of a remote stretch of woods.

There was a fence, but it was a standard ten-foot model topped with razor wire. Any number of descendant powers could take it down or ignore it easily, so Tammy deduced that it was for keeping people in, not out. That was a worrisome thought.

The SUV pulled up to the largest RV with the most communications equipment on the roof and the bearded goon let them out. By the time both Tammy and Falcone were out of the vehicle and marched around to the front of it, a woman in sweats and sneakers had come out of the RV.

She was in her late twenties, maybe early thirties, with her brown hair tied back in a ponytail. The silhouette of a tree adorned her sweatshirt and she was carrying a tablet computer in one hand while the other was resting on some kind of pistol. From the looks of it, Tammy decided it was some kind of air gun instead of a firearm, but at lot of nasty things could be put into an air gun.

“Morning, campers. I’m Lisa G and I’ll be in charge of you until you get a permanent work schedule.” she said without looking up from the tablet. She was putting on a fake Minnesota accent to go with the fake, mocking cheerfulness. “Let’s see, we have Talia Kaine from New York who makes electricity from metal. Hmm, doesn’t say how powerful it is though. I think we’re going to keep you on ‘nature walks’ until we know more.”

‘Nature walks’ came out in such a way that anyone else would have done air quotes.

“And then we have Rupert Falcone, who… wall-crawls.” Lisa G took a moment to frown at him in a ‘I’m so sorry’ manner. Nature walks for you too with a few other errands.” Falcone folded his arms, wincing when the thing on his arm poked him.

Lisa G smirked. “Now I suppose you’re wondering what those things on your arms are. I like to call ’em out ‘choke chains’, but the company likes to call them negative reinforcement bracelets. They’re how we keep you from using your powers unless you’re allowed. Each one has an active theta wave scanner that triggers an injection if you use your powers when you’re not allowed. Everyone gets a different mix, but mostly it’ll put you in so much pain, you won’t be able to move for an hour—and if you try and power through, it’ll tie your bowels in knots that night too. It’ll also trigger if you go too far from camp without permission or try and open the case in any way.”

She then offered them a wholly unpleasant smile. “And also, every staff member can hit a button and does you if you piss them off, so don’t get any idea, huh?”

There was a pause, but it was clear she didn’t want to hear anything from them. Lisa G nodded her satisfaction once she didn’t, and continued on with even more malicious cheerfulness. “Now, seeing as both of you are going straight to work with the nature hikes, I’ll explain what’s expected of you:

“I’m going to give you a laminated sheet with pictures of plants we want you to pick for us. They each have a point value per ounce. You need ten points to get a meal and more points for any kind of comfort you expect to have: blankets, toothbrush, canteen, a change of clothes, better sleeping arrangements—whatever. Three groups head out right after breakfast into the national park a few miles from camp. You pick the right plants, you get rewarded, pick the wrong ones, you get punished, it’s really simple.”

“So…” Falcone spoke up. “How many points do we start with?”

“None.” Lisa G rolled her eyes at the obvious question.

“Then we can’t afford breakfast, then we’re going out without a canteen, because we can’t afford that… no sunscreen, no hat, no better shoes than what we’ve got? Isn’t that dangerous?”

That unpleasant smile came back and Lisa G held up her tablet threateningly. “We like for new arrivals to be motivated to work hard. Have something to say about that?”

Falcone wisely turned his gaze to the ground.

“Good.” said Lisa G. “Thomas, take them down to trailer number five. Make them Ced’s responsibility—tell him there’s ten points a piece for each of them if they don’t have to be corrected today.”

Thomas, the bearded man, nodded. “Let’s go you two. Quick, or I’ll give you a taste of what those things on your arms can do before you’re even in the camp proper.” He directed them down a steep slope behind the RV Lisa G emerged from and through a locking gate into the camp.

There were few teens around the main body of trailers. Those who were appeared to be going around collecting blankets and clothes into rolling laundry carts or hurrying off to whatever they were supposed to be doing. None of them did more than glance at the newcomers and they all steered clear of Thomas.

Eventually, they reached a double-wide trailer. Thomas didn’t bother knocking, just threw the door open and stepped inside, directing Tammy and Falcone to follow.

There were six teens inside, seated around a large folding table. They each had an electronic scale and a box of plastic baggies. In the middle of the table there were bins full of roots and early leaves that the teens at the table were carefully separating, weighing and packaging. Whatever the plants were though, they weren’t any of the ones she’d been warned about in drug awareness assemblies.

“Ced.” said Thomas. “You got a knew job, knock off.”

A black guy a little older than Tammy looked up from his work and nodded sullenly before getting up from the table. He was just a bit taller than Tammy and looked like he had been in pretty good shape—though he was underweight in the present.

“What do you need?” He asked, carefully looking over Tammy and Falcone rather than making eye contact with Thomas.

“New arrivals.” said Thomas. “Both are going on the next nature walk, Lisa wants you to take responsibility—show ’em how we do things here. Ten points if no one has to put ’em down today. That’s ten each.”

The promise of a reward rolled right off Ced’s back though he nodded anyway. “Alright. I’ll keep ’em in line.”

“You do that.” Thomas was already turning to go. “”Get ’em some packs and backs for the walk; Tony and Rae ought to be ready to roll out in an hour.”

“Got it.” said Ced, keeping his eyes on the floor.

Thomas grunted once, then left. Ced seemed to listen for a bit to make sure he was gone, then groaned. “Shit.” he muttered.

“I get why we’d be saying that, but not you.” said Tammy.

Ced shook his head and motioned for them to follow him outside. Once they were away from the trailer and away from any possible eavesdroppers, he finally explained. “It’s not you guys. It’s just that they don’t give tour guide duty to just anyone. They saddle you with newbies to slow you down when they think you might be planning something.”

“And… were you?” asked Falcone.

“Not anymore.” Said Ced. “They’ll have an eye on me now. “Means they won’t allow me to use my powers anytime soon either.”

Tammy raised her hand as if she were in class. “Mind If we ask what you were planning?”

Ced shrugged. “I’m a technopath. Sometimes they unlock me when they need something in the trailers fixed. I was going to get close enough to one of those tablets they’ve got to disable the thing that turns our arm things on and off. If I could manage that, the forty kids here wouldn’t have a problem getting past the ten staffers.”

“That’s not a bad idea.” said Tammy, “Too bad our parents told them all we could do before we got sent here. They were probably on to you this whole time.”

“It was the best idea I had—and desperate times call for desperate measures. I wanted to get people out before the show Sunday.”

“The show?” asked Falcone.

“It’s a webcast.” Tammy replied automatically. “A super-illegal webcast. They make the kids with combat powers fight—I guess for these points or to get less punished or something.”

Ced nodded. “That’s exactly it. They offer you points, but if you say ‘no’ and they think you’ll bring in ratings, they’ll threaten you. That’s how they got my best friend here to do it. And unless I do something, they’re going to get seriously hurt because they’d rather just stand there and take it instead of fighting.”

Now Tammy grinned like Lisa G had. “Oh really? And what if they had someone more exciting for the show?”

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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. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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  1. This… is going in a weird direction. Everyone says right off the bat that this doesn’t sound like something the Kaines would do, yet nobody actually makes a move to check up on them? Nor inform Warrick at that.

    • Well, we don’t know what Laurel has been doing after Tammy left. Ringing up the other Descendants is probably on the list.

      But I AM curious to know whether or not she called Tammy’s parents before letting the Black Oak folks in. Are they incommunicado for some reason?

    • Really doesn’t sound like Laurel, does it?

  2. Something is wrong here. There’s no way that they could possibly force their way to Tammy before Laurel could reach the Kaines/prove their forms are illegitimate. I say this whole thing is a set up and Tammy’s in on it.

    • “Surprise birthday party” did cross my mind as an explanation, but somehow I don’t think anyone in the cast would be so crass as to fake a kidnapping crisis. It’s kind of a sore point for descendants.

      Maybe they’re really elves and they’re going to tell Tammy that she’s their prophesied savior and she must accompany them to the green world to have a fantastic coming-of-age adventure! (Or not.)

  3. Okay well that makes somewhat more sense now, but still seems like a horrible plan that happily runs the risk of someone deciding to put up forceful resistance in a school full of kids. Which someone even did, it just didn’t happen to be anyone particularly destructive.

    In the last paragraph, Kura probably should be jamming those bills in his stomach rather than hers.

  4. *contacted the your parents
    “contacted the Kaines” or “contacted your parents”

  5. …does she just walk around with thousands of dollars in her pockets all the time, or did she withdraw all her money so she’d be ready to bribe people?

    • Kura likely has an even grand on her at all times, paper money, which is actually more unusual in the DU than in modern times. You’ll note that everyone else rarely uses paper money.

      • The rarity of paper money was the reason for my interrogation, actually. I wouldn’t blink at her having two thousand dollars in her bank account, but it being a wad of bills made it unusual.

        • And Kura just loves to do things the usual way, doesn’t she? I think her reasoning probably revolves around her not actually understanding the value of money, except to buy snacks, gifts, and to treat her friends to dinner. A wad of hundred-dollar bills is just the most convenient way to do it, and so what if she loses it or gets robbed? Anyway, she can just climb to a high place and fly off the edge if she gets in trouble.

  6. * knew job
    new job

    Oh man, this is awful. These places are just the worst.

  7. I’m curious as to why Ced was gender-neutral when talking about his friend.

    was and incident
    an incident

    Seeing as she has just as little idea of where this place is
    …as I do?

    so sorry’ manner. Nature

    call ‘em out ‘choke chains’

    and does you if

    don’t get any idea

    me now. “Means
    now. Means

    anymore.” Said Ced

    • I suspect that “best friend” was supose to be plural, so the theys
      would be colective instaed of singular gender neutral.

      • It seems mildly unlikely that Ced would just happen to be friends with more than one pacifist. Not impossible, mind you, but still unlikely.

  8. According to National Highway Safety Administration, the ‘small’ chance of surviving a rolling crash is over 95%. So not something you can use to murder someone unless car safety has seriously plummeted by the seventies.

    • When it comes to that stuff, the rolling is probably being used as cover as much as the method of death, which in “Zoe’s” case is still a risk.

  9. Typos

    meet here then!
    meet her then!

    nature hike it
    nature hike is

    all the finality as
    all the finality of

    Which seems less typos than usual. Maybe the deliberate typos in the txting are supposed to even out the score?

    • We’re lucky There’s one even

      and Tammy antics

      Warrick’s friend’

      for points whether or not
      points on?

      ‘keep someone from being beaten to death.

      to message the space

      be sabotaged and people in lots
      by people?

      she had or knew someone
      had known

      to his sister.”
      superfluous quotation mark

  10. A new group enters the game, but that man with the orange TK sounds familiar. And who’re his friends with the dimensional pocket and awesome spikes? Tune in next week for more nailbiting action and suspense!

    Which 50’s is the lounge from? How many viewers do these fights actually have that the 30 a month keeps them profitable enough to offset the danger of confining powered teenagers? Or does the real funding come from those mysterious plants? So many questions make waiting both hard and fun. I’m going to guess Vorpal makes the connection between The Orangecoat and Arjun fairly quickly. She’s seen a lot of Annette’s TK and almost certainly knows her history well enough to know that Arjun was a telekinet with orange fields.

    Anyone want to start a betting pool on Kura finding out Warrick’s secret before they leave the camp? I’m in for 6oz of gold pressed latinum on Kura seeing something but not working it all the way out then pretending she didn’t see anything so she can investigate it later.

    • You’re saying things that were running through my head as I was writing it :p

      • But, what about the electrocution/fern-shaped signature of his TK?
        And Kura would totally, innocently, blackmail Alloy/Warrick by threatening to reveal his identity. Her price? She gets to sidekick with Alloy. She’d get a high-end water gun with a pressure chamber, do the insta-pepperspray trick, and go hosing down criminals with rainbow-coloured water.
        Her matter-creation ability could be pretty terrifying, if she used it more often. An ounce of neurotoxin, so long as you live longer than the expiry date, is entirely non-lethal in her hands… giving her justification to use it.

        • Luckily for everyone, there’s a lot Kura doesn’t know about her powers.

          As for Ravi’s TK signature, he’s a master with his powers, having had the better part of three decades with nothing but them and an internet connection. He can alter his signature and use TK in ways no one has seen before. Dude is crazy powerful.

          • Can he change the colour? I need a confirmation for my theory that the Green Surfer’s brother from DLA is actually Ravi.
            Ok, not really. That would be ridiculous.
            Given that TK in your world is everything from “pick things up and shake them” to “Create forcefield constructs” to “tear the room into shreds of concrete a speck at a time”, extremely creative application is pretty terrifying.

  11. Hah! I knew it was Ravi. My guess he’s a hero now, but his means aren’t exactly…gentle.

  12. So the question is, who is this impostor that has replaced Cyn and where’s the real her?

    • If you’re going by her slip between Laurel and ‘Mom’, I’m just going to go ahead and Joss it right now. She’s just still getting used to calling her that.

      • Oh, no. That part is well in character for her.
        No, I’m talking about her being sneaky with her powers for so long without messing it up. That’s not something she’s known to do.

        • She lost control of the auto-digestion, remember? And being allowed to use one aspect of her power openly probably helped. There are plenty of things that can be explained away as “I stick myself to things REALLY creatively”

        • Haha. That’s a good point. Mostly my fault. I was trying to include some bad acting tells in there, but they probably didn’t come out that well. We’ll just say she was trying super-hard because it was Tammy.

          • Seriously, forget biology, she needs some acting classes. And not the bs Warrick did. An actual tutor or something.

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