Issue #81 – Kin, Speed and Ducks

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 7: The New World

Callie woke up to her palmtop’s music alarm playing Offensive Kitten’s Firework Girl and it took her a few minutes to figure out what day it was.

The day before, she went to Formal Writing, Political Science 101, and History of the Middle East during the day. That meant it had been Monday, Wednesday or Friday. But then she’d gone to Marketing Web Design at night, which was a Monday-only night class.

That meant it was Tuesday. She loaded all of her Tuesday-Thursday classes in the morning to have the evenings free. Today would be Bio-Chemistry, Art History 101, and Business 101. She was already questioning switching her major from History to Business, but given all the contracts and deals Lily had her signing to monetize her fame as Vamanos, she figured it was necessary just to understand what the heck was going on in her life these days.

Still tired, she crawled out of bed. The room was small; the smallest in the apartment she and her friends from high school shared, but it was also one of only two singles between the four girls. They actually ended up drawing straws (actually uncooked spaghetti strands); short straws had to take the double.

Callie won, so her room had all of her personality and none of anyone else’s. Her favorite band posters were on the wall: Offensive Kitten, Love Her Moxie, and Mandatory Karaoke; along with the theatrical poster from her all-time favorite movie, Two Rivers Met In Rome.

And then there were her ducks. Callie couldn’t remember when she first started collecting ducks, but she had dozens now; stuffed, ceramic, wooden, and of course rubber. None of them were realistic ducks—those weren’t cute to her; they had to be adorable cartoony ducks. Now that they were out of high school her friends were even indulging what they used to make fun of her for and now the three-foot, leopard print stuffed duck they gave her as a housewarming gift had a place of honor in her computer chair.

She knew it was childish, but waking up to her quacky collection made her smile—and wasn’t that really the point?

After checking her palmtop (which of course had a duck wearing a helmet like the one like the god Mercury wore as a wallpaper) for messages, she went about her morning routine and headed to the kitchen for breakfast.

Two of her three roommates, Lily and Kim, were at the kitchen table already. Alice didn’t have classes until eleven on Tuesdays and Thursdays and so slept in. “Morning girls.” Callie said, voice still heavy with sleep. Despite never getting the hang of waking up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, she still tried to sound upbeat about the day.

Kim was much the opposite… at least in being upbeat. The baby-faced brunette had her head down on folded arms as she contemplated her coffee cup. She might have said ‘good morning’, but it came out as an unintelligible grumble.

On the other hand, Lily was up and animated as always, if not exactly chipper. She was eating half a grapefruit while tapping away at her tablet, looking perturbed. “Morning,” she said in the clipped manner she used to reserve for when boys she deemed out of her league tried to approach her.

Callie shrugged it off and made her way to the freezer. “Something wrong?”

“Nothing that I didn’t bring on myself.” Lily said with a venomous glare at her tablet. “Remember how I decided to just use Freshman year to get all my required credits out of the way so I can focus on Business and Pre-Law?”

“Trouble in Chemistry again?” Callie found what she was looking for in the freezer; a microwaveable breakfast bowl; and popped it in the microwave.

Lily’s tapping turned into more of a jabbing motion. “I wish. It’s Creative Writing. I figured it would be an easy art credit. Writing doesn’t look hard after all, and I figured there was a reason only the really big name authors get paid much of anything… but it turns out that writing is like really, really hard! And the professor wants three thousand words a week! What kind of freak writer that much made up stuff?!”

“I told you it wasn’t going to be as easy as you thought.” Kim said from behind the shelter of her arms. “It’s not like writing a paper; you have to make up new things all the time for this stuff.”

Lily sighed and ate a spoonful of her grapefruit. “I wish I had believed you.” She looked over to Callie and put on a more pleasant expression. “But anyway. Callie, I got the numbers back from that accountant I hired you and we have an official date! March 17th!”

The squeal that came from Callie upon hearing that woke Kim the rest of the way up and forced her to clap her hands over her ears.

“Really? That soon? This is amazing!” Callie exclaimed, jumping up and down. “Thank you, Lily1 Thank you so much!”

Kim watched as her friend did a little dance all the way around the room, stopping only to glomp Lily in a hug that almost knocked the young woman out of her chair. “What’s this date for now?”

Arms still around Lily, Callie smiled widely. “It’s moving day for my mom; the day I’ll finally have enough money apart from savings to put down a full year’s rent for a much better apartment for my mom. It’ll still be a while before I can make it so she can quit her job, but this is step one—and she wont’ have to take a bus to the nearest commuter pod station anymore either!” She gave Lily another squeeze. “And it’s all thanks to Lily.”

For her part, Lily tried to play as if she was still all-business even with Callie clinging to her like a favorite plush toy. “It wasn’t much of anything. Sanctum made a contractual deal with each of the individual Descendants to pay a smaller licensing fee for their partial likeness rights in exchange for ad space in all the Prelates of Mayfield issues for Descendants Rights worldwide. I just negotiated a separate likeness deal for Callie on the grounds that they get to write about her real identity.”

With some difficulty, she craned her neck to look at Callie. “And the day you get your mother an early retirement might be closer than you think: rumor has it that they’re planning a Descendants movie. A good opening, plus merchandising equals a genuine windfall.”

Moments later, she could only gurgle as Callie half-lifted her out of the chair, powered by sheer joy. “This is unbelievable! Ohmigod, I have to tell the others… and I have to celebrate!” She let go of Lily and looked pensive. “Um… it wouldn’t push back the date if I took you all plus my mom and maybe my dad (if he’s in town) to dinner?”

Lily waved her off trying to retain some level of haughty decorum. “Callie, of course it won’t because if we’re going to be celebrating your success, which is in part my success, I will be paying. Or at least Daddy will. What do you say to Inque this evening?”

“Oh… um that sounds great, Lily, but…” Callie looked guilty, “I kind of have a mission.”

No longer able to get back to her half-sleep, Kim picked up her coffee cup. “Isn’t the whole superhero thing why you’re getting this money? Don’t apologize. Lily didn’t even make a reservation, yet.”

Meanwhile, Lily’s eyes were burning with the twin fired of pride and avarice. “What’s this mission? Another underground bunker lab? Some kind of monster like that dragon? Visiting royalty that needs protection—I always wanted to meet Princess Charlotte; I feel I could get along well with an heir to the throne…”

Callie blushed. “Actually, I’m helping some orphaned descendant kids move into their new home. You know; super-speed and phasing certainly make this kind of thing go faster.”

Lily’s eyebrow twitched. “That’s the mission they’ve got you going on?! You’re superheroes, not the neighborhood welcome wagon!”

Refusing to make eye contact, Callie crossed the room to check on her breakfast. “We do good. Whether that means saving the world… or making a couple of kids smile. That’s how Alloy puts it.”

Another eyebrow twitched. “Have you told him that I’m still not forgiving him for what he did to my car? Insurance or no, ‘public fund’ or no, I loved that car and put a lot of work into it.”

“It… just hasn’t come up.” Callie lied.

***

Everyone else had to use their D-icons to access the new Lifesavers, Inc HQ. As no one had figured out how to keep phasers out of anywhere, Callie simply made her way to the hidden entrance and ran through the fence and concrete wall, down into the hidden pod tunnel and up into the HQ’s entry bay.

Then and only then did she present her D-icon (disguised as a bangle she wore around her wrist) to the security system so it would announce her and stand down the defense system.

It took only a few more minutes to find Codex in the communications room.

Codex. Not Laurel. Because any of the heroes in the LSI network would eventually be able to come and go at will via the mirror gates, only Callie—whose identity was public, was able to walk around the HQ out of costume. She wondered how that would work in the building’s infirmary if (god forbid) it ever needed to be used.

Even though it was Codex in the comm room, she wasn’t using the slightly accented voice she used in the guise as she spoke on the phone. Callie almost left to give her privacy, but Codex waved her in and gestured for her to sit.

“No. It did not ‘work out fine in the end’. Don’t let him try and sell you on that. The truth of the matter is that it is a miracle nothing catastrophic happened. Plus, I had to call in a short-notice favor from the Descendants to pull out the save.”

Even with the helmet on, and even with her limited skill in the matter, Callie could read the other woman’s body language perfectly; the tensed muscles, the fist that rested atop the console’s counter-top. Whoever was on the other end of that phone was lucky for the distance.

“Which, by the way, was the course we should have followed. The Descendants would have been happy to help with the cause and with Facsimile, no untrained minors would have been placed in harm’s way. What Mike Scott did was reprehensible and seeing as he was using Descendants Rights Worldwide’s name to do it, it was dangerous, not only for us but everyone we represent.

“Do you have any idea how many lobbies would love to have something to use against us? Or how many fantastically good causes were destroyed by patently false claims that scared away their backers?”

She paused to listen, then said firmly, “Well I do.”

Another pause and this time, it left Codex shaking. “Well you can tell Mr. Scott that I don’t agree. Not only do I not agree, I will be bringing it up with the board of trustees that he should be removed. This isn’t the first time he’s overstepped his bounds, just the first time he endangered the life of one of my students. And he can’t justify it by saying it was for the good of descendants everywhere—he was just pushing through his methods without thinking about how it affects everyone else.”

With that, she killed the connection and let out a long, annoyed breath. Her hand came up to her helmet as if she was trying to massage the bridge of her nose through her helmet. “Idiot.” She muttered, “A destructive ally is worse than a regular bigot sometimes.”

It took her a moment more to collect herself before looking up at the younger woman. “I’m sorry you had to hear that.”

“You found out whose fault the thing with War… Al… Tammy Kaine, then?” Callie felt herself blushing at the flub.

Codex nodded. “Someone who wanted to turn this whole affair into a gotcha viral video instead of working carefully to get Black Oak shut down without putting yet another teenager in danger. But that’s being taken care of, and you and I have a job to do today”

“Right. So I know these kids are descendants, but is there anything special I should know about them?”

“There’s not a lot we know about them in general.” said Codex, shaking her head. “Tome got to them through the foster care system. The Kin won’t tell us where they were taken from, and Tome scrambled the records but good. I’m forced to assume at least the older three had bad experiences if they don’t want to let us even make contact for them.”

She sighed, “That’s something you can add to your lessons for the day: the child protective services in most places don’t legally have to tell foster families that the kids they’re taking in are descendants and sometimes… it causes problems. It’s not always about discrimination either: sometimes a family just isn’t set up to take are of a descendant child, especially if they have poor control, or like to use their powers irresponsibly.

“Anyway, Chaos and Darkness found these kids in Florida after they escaped from a Tome facility. They treat each other like family and for a long time had to move constantly because the youngest, Rain had experienced minor brain damage that kept her from shutting off her power to reduce barometric pressure over a large distance.”

Callie nodded along. “If they’re moving here to Mayfield, I’m guessing they’ve figured out how to stop that from happening?”

“Rain’s grown into her powers. Mostly, that means keeping them shut off through meditation. I’m hoping that once she starts taking classes at the Institute, she’ll learn how to control it completely.” Codex stood from her seat with an exaggerated grunt and cracked her back. “I just wish I could convince her to live there too. I feel like she’d be much safer there than at some apartment.”

Following her lead, Callie stood too, but didn’t have to crack her back because she hadn’t spent several hours in a chair making phone calls. “She probably doesn’t want to separate from her family. It sounds like they were all each other had for a long time.”

“That I can understand,” Codex agreed, “But I told Tillie that I could arrange for college-level courses for her and Noah as well but… well they’re bent on doing things their own way. It took me months to convince them to let me help them get jobs, and even then, they only let me write letters of recommendation instead of just giving them jobs at DRW or one of Brant Industries’ holdings.”

Callie shrugged. She hadn’t turned down any hand up she’d ever been offered. If people cared enough to help, she was happy for it. So shrugging was all she could thing to do. That and change the subject. “I know it’s cliché, but…”

“What are their powers?” Codex chuckled.

If she hadn’t been before, Callie was sure she was blushing after that.

“It’s fine.” said Codex, “I told you Rain’s, and Tillie… well actually, Tillie’s power is a lot like yours as far as I can tell. She has enhanced speed and at a certain speed, she can phase through solid objects. The only difference is that she can also go invisible.”

Callie blinked at this new information. “Wait, really?”

“Duplicate powers aren’t that unusual.” said Codex, “Large numbers of people were subject to the same experiments and even with a single test subject, they might have hundreds of descendants by now. Just like one family can have multiple variations of a general power, occasionally distantly related people or people whose ancestors were in the same test group will have identical powers.”

“Maybe not so distant…” Callie said, rubbing the back of her neck.

Codex tilted her head, something Callie had only seen her do in costume, possibly because her face and eyes were hidden by the helmet. “Why would you say that?”

“Well I don’t know this girl… and maybe it’s just a huge coincidence…” Callie started, wondering if she should have bought it up at all. “But the thing is, my grandma on my dad’s side was named Tillie…”

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< Issue #80 – Bitter WorkIssue #82 – What To Do With Your Downtime >>

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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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19 Comments

  1. * Lily1
    Lily!

    Oooh, this is going to be interesting.

  2. This is a cool setup, and I’m interested to see where it goes. Also nice that it’s effectively foreshadowed by the way powers work in this setting.

    I have to say, I do like the Kin as characters a well. Should be nice to see them again. I have a feeling they won’t necessarily react all that well to having this topic broached, though.

  3. “Mandatory Karaoke” sounds like a great name for a band.

  4. “I’ll lone them…”
    Loan.

    So Martin here sees through Thunderhead’s illusion due to his eye colour? Since we’re discussing a story about magic and superheroes I’ll skip the fact eye colour has nothing to do with vision, but the very next sentence explicitly states it’s a mental illusion rather than a visual one so it shouldn’t have anything to do with eyes.

    • I read that as him having a perceptual power, which is focused through his eyes or that he associates with his eyes.

      • This would be it. Martin’s sight includes a level of sense Thunderhead can’t target.

        The fact that he has boatlights is just a nice visual.

        • I thought it might be a faerie thing. Supposedly that was one thing that could let people see through fairy illusions.

          Also, I still don’t trust Christopher.

  5. “might be his seventieth decade.” It may just be me, but this reads odd. Seventh decade adds to 70, seventieth decade adds to 700, or I may just be reading it wrong.

  6. Typos

    he esoteric
    the esoteric

    you haven’ read
    haven’t

    Not 100% sure about this – up town restaurant
    uptown

    hostages doesn’t seem
    don’t

    just enough the no one
    that no one

    form hormones
    from

    her and her friends
    she and her friends

    want the possibility
    Could be ‘any possibility’ or ‘a possibility’

  7. “The second she was out in the call..”
    Hall.

    “…sheer, encyclopedic knowledge…”
    No comma needed there.

  8. >“I’m going to get them to shoot at me.”

    In a dangerous situation, Callie’s first instinct is to help other people, at the risk of her own life.

    And she thinks she’s not a good person.

    Maybe she’s not yet the hero she wants to be, but she’s well on her way. What she really needs to learn is to be brave when there’s no immediate crisis. To be brave in her personal life.

    • That’s part of what I like about writing her. She has none of the bravado or genre savvy of the others. She’s just in this because she’s a good person even though she doesn’t believe she’s as good at it as she is.

  9. So I found this online years ago. I thought it might be appropriate here.

    “I keep hearing people talk about how Superman’s the best super hero or Batman’s better or how great Wonder Woman or Oracle is
    — and they compare their muscles or their powers or their smarts like it all came down to the stats printed on the back of the
    cards their action figures came on.”

    “But that’s not it?”

    “No. That’s not it. None of that’s it. None of those heroes are better or worse than each other, regardless of powers, because
    there’s only one measure that counts.”

    “And that is?”

    “When everyone else is running away, super heroes run toward.”

  10. Not sure if the “Excelsior!” is a reference to Stan Lee or the South Park depiction of Al Gore.

  11. >After all, Tillie had done all she could to keep Rain safe and >there was no way Vamanos was going to let that go to waste or >unrewarded. This, she thought, was the way of heroes. She’d >worried so much about fitting in with the group, and about how >different they all were, but this was what they all shared. >Ricking (sic) it all so other people were safe. Doing what was >right even when it hurt.

    >Because they could. Because something crazy that happened to >their ancestors made them better able to take it and give it >back. Because if they didn’t, they would have to live knowing >that they could have and failed.

    And she doesn’t think of herself as heroic???

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