The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.4

This entry is part 31 of 35 in the series Current

Earlier…

Desiree lazed against Kareem’s side, basking in the warmth of both the day and the man beside her. The pleasant tastes of their picnic meal still lingered on her tongue and she was coming very close to falling into a content sleep.

Contentment was a miracle she never would have even bothered praying for a year ago. So much had changed. So much had gone beyond her expectations from back then. Indeed, she was starting to wonder if taking those last steps was something she even needed to do.

Mayfield was different from the little town she grew up in. Machine City wasn’t just home for scientists and tech companies: The Descendants and Laurel Brant were making the place a haven for descendants of all kinds: even protomorphs like her.

Unconsciously, she curled closer to Kareem.

Protomorphs felt like an afterthought to most people; at least the ones who didn’t have powers above and beyond their abnormal appearances. Politicians liked to war over whether or not some powers were dangerous or how best to put them to use. It was rare that they talked about how hard it was to find work that wasn’t as an extra in horror or sci-fi shows when you didn’t look like a human.

A woman with shark skin and teeth wasn’t going to just land a waitressing or receptionist position. Hell, normally unattractive people were discriminated against—what chance did a walking ball of fur or a humanoid alligator have?

And that wasn’t even touching on their personal life. Forget making friends or finding love—she couldn’t even eat hard food that required grinding teeth like nuts or grains and fibrous fruit was hard to chew with a mouth full of steak knifes. Of course, nature hadn’t given her a shark’s carnivorous digestive system to compensate, so she had to take supplements just to keep from getting sick.

Being a descendant made some people heroes and some villains. It made a lot more pariahs in most places in the world.

Most places except Mayfield where a city ordinance prohibited discrimination ‘based on genetic disposition, biological anomalies, or mechanical prosthesis’. It never occurred to her that such a thing could exist when she first started on the path she was on now.

Her path.

Her choices.

She looped her arms around Kareem’s arm as if someone was going to try and separate them at any moment. Which they could. Try as she might, she had no illusions about the endgame for her side of this war and what that would mean for the man in her arms.

What they had done to him.

He thought it was a secret to her, but she’d read all the dossiers on him and his friends—at least the ones Project Tome knew about. Occult was a complete mystery to them and even as a public figure, Callie Kreiger was a huge question mark.

But she did know everything about what Tome had done to Kareem. They still didn’t know the a lot about the whys and wherefores of powers like his and had done everything short of scooping his brain out and putting it in a jar trying to glean just a tiny bit of new knowledge. In the process of figuring out how that power worked, they’d damaged it, sent his conscious mind fleeing to the astral plane to protect itself.

He’d spent years trapped on the astral, tethered to his body in a research facility.

And for all his desire to help his friends deal with their own problems, she was sure he never brought up the full extent of the isolation, the fear, the powerlessness he’d endured. That was just the kind of person he was.

Which was his downfall. He cared more about everyone else in the world but himself; tended their hurts instead of his own, sought to protect them but never considered protecting himself. If he had, all it would have taken would have been a simple mental probe to see that she had mental shielding training no civilian had access to. At his power, it wouldn’t take much to shatter those defenses and discover that the woman who he’d given his heart to, the woman he’d allowed to get closer than any other was…

A keen chirping interrupted her thoughts.

Speak of the very nearly literal devil.

There was a bone induction microphone and speaker implanted in her jaw, part of a suite of augmentations Tome had granted her; some at her request, some at their demand. After a handful of chirps in a sequence to warn her, another set of augmentations kicked in: a pair of projectors smaller than grains of rice implanted on the bridge of her nose began overlaying scrolling information over her vision.

Soon enough, she knew the full story of Renaissance’s identity being revealed and the mounting aftermath. Tome was mobilizing to try and collect possible assets that might no longer be accessible once the Descendants and the ROCIC finished securing them.

Her mission was simple: Allow herself to be brought in by virtue of her being Kareem’s girlfriend. If it was possible, she was to distract him from aiding in the extraction efforts. And if she saw an opportunity, it was time to implement her Endgame directive: capture Kareem and return him to Tome’s possession.

Marshaling her breathing, Desiree gently extracted herself from her own hold on Kareem and moved away from him before slowly getting to her feet.

Feeling the cool air filling the void she left, Kareem shifted in his sleep and muttered something. In doing so, he granted her a profile of his peacefully slumbering face. It made something tighten in her chest, but she pressed on. There were consequences if she didn’t follow orders; some expressly told to her, some merely insinuated.

She was going to hate herself for this.

Carefully, she reached down to her belt and shifted the buckle aside. Inside the hollow behind the buckle’s face was a tiny syringe filled with clear liquid. She took it out and bent over Kareem, swiftly injecting him and sending him into deeper slumber.

***

‘Compromised. ROCIC Bringing Dad In. Tome Coming For You’.

Issac Smythe looked down at the text from his brother as every muscle in his body started to tense.

He was at the office now and hours from going home. Assuming Tome knew his schedule—and that was a safe bet—the attack on him would come at the office, endangering everyone else on the floor if not the building. Rising from his desk, he moved to the door of his office and took a brief glance out into the hallway.

He was just a junior partner still in Mackere and Associates so his office was off the main corridor, not far from the restrooms and, farther down, the water cooler. From down the hall he heard Shelly, the firm’s receptionist, talking on the phone and footfalls coming from the other side, the T-intersection adjoining the hall where Mackere and his associates had their offices.

The corridor itself was empty, so he was free to head across the hall to the men’s room. Once there, he got to work stuffing paper towels into the drains and turning on all the sinks. Halfway through one of his fellow junior partners, albeit on twenty years his senior, Ed Washington walked in to find him feverishly sabotaging the plumbing.

“Smythe?” The older man demanded, gazing dumbfounded at the rapidly-filling sinks. “What the hell is going on?”

Issac looked at him, but didn’t pause in his mission. “You remember how I explained about my powers when I first started here?” Ed nodded. “Yeah, well I’m stocking ammo right now, Ed. We’re all in danger.” Admittedly, he knew that didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to his co-worker, but his mind was going a mile a minute as he tried to think of what to do.

Trying to evacuate might just give Tome more targets. Trying to hide everyone or stand and fight might result in collateral damage. Doing nothing, however was not an option.

Before Ed could say anything else, Issac stopped him in his tracks with a look. “Listen very carefully: very soon some very dangerous people are going to be here. Here as in the building. Here as in on this floor. They want me and they’re not the kind of people to let innocent bystanders get in their way.” Ed tried to interrupt with a question, but a dangerous look from Issac silenced him.

“No questions. There’s no time. What I need you to do is to go get everyone on this floor, tell them to get out right now—take the stairs, not the elevators or they might be trapped. Then pull every fire alarm on the way down. If someone demands to know where I am, tell them the truth and don’t argue. Got that?”

Ed’s jaw worked, but he nodded anyway. Still, he couldn’t help but try and satisfy his curiosity. “Issac, what’s all this about?”

“Things are changing in the world, men. Paradigms are shifting without a clutch. If I had time to explain, I’d have made a better plan than ‘run’, Ed. Just get going.” To add emphasis, he threw his left hand out to the side and caused the water in one of the now-over-flowing sinks the rise up into his hand, then reform into a spiked mace.

That was all Ed needed to see to convince him he didn’t want to be in the building anymore. He and the whole office knew about Issac’s powers in general terms, but he’d never seen that kind of display from his colleague. The older man backed out of the door and started hurrying off in the direction of the senior partners’ offices, leaving Issac alone in the bathroom trying to calm his mind from the frantic worry filling it.

With his free hand, he took out his palmtop and touched a name from his contacts.

After a few moments, a bored male voice answered, “Stone Fish Pizza, will this be pick-up or delivery?”

“Hi, I need to speak to Paul please.”

“I’m sorry, personal calls aren’t allowed.”

“He’s your goddamn boss and this is an emergency. Put him on the phone.”

“It’s corporate policy.”

Issac’s grip started to make the structure of his created mace waver. “He owns all three locations. He is the corporate policy. Put him on the phone right now. Tell him it’s Issac.”

He head the other person on the other end mutter ‘oh shit’ before stuttering, “Oh. Um, I’m sorry. Just a minute.”

A few minutes later, a new voice answered: Paul Isely. “Issac? Is everything okay?”

“No.” Issac replied with all due bluntness. “Look, I may not have a lot of time, so you have to trust me on this. Once you’re safe keep the news on and I’m pretty sure it’ll all be made clear.” He talked right over whatever Paul started to say because he really had no idea how long he had.

“Bad things are going down. You need to leave work right now. Don’t go home go… go to a hotel—get cash out and go to a hotel. Pay in cash, use a fake name and stay there until I contact you. Me and only me, okay?”

Paul was silent for a long moment before: “What? No. Not okay. Bad things are going down? IS this about a case? Is someone you’re working a case against coming after you?”

Issac could have explained—assuming he had time. Many were the times he wanted to explain to Paul or even his coworkers and superiors about what his brother did for a living. In his opinion—which was being borne out at the moment—it would have made them a lot safer and conversations like these much easier. But he didn’t out of respect for Ian.

Now that was all moot, the secrets were all crumbling apart and he was free to be as honest and forthcoming as he wanted.

“Yes. Now please get going, okay? They might be coming your way this very second.”

But he didn’t have time for honesty.

“O… okay.” Paul said, his concern showing through his tone even in a single word. “Be careful.”

“Paul? One more thing.” Issac said, still working to keep his breathing steady. “I love you.”

No time for honesty except the one part that mattered at least. He hung up before Pal could reply. There was going to be a fight coming up and he needed to keep himself focused for it.

Pocketing the palmtop, he call on the water again, creating an arming sword. Then he stood facing the restroom door, his powers dancing over the water now covering the floor. “Alright you dirty sons of bitches,” muttering action hero dialog was his way of psyching himself up, “Mess with me and my family? Your life is about to be filled with turmoil.”

***

It was a long trek back down the trail, but Desiree made it to retrieve her palmtop. She decided it was worth doing no matter how much her lungs burned and her legs ached.

When she returned to the spot they’d picked for what turned out to be their last date, Kareem was where she’d left him: lying in the shadiest part area under the tree with his head propped up on a rolled up picnic blanket, his arms crossed over his chest. She’d put a Tome neuro-scrambler on his head; a device that looked like a simple silver circlet with a round black node that rested on his forehead. There was a locking strap that could keep the machine locked in place, but she hadn’t used it. The tranquilizer she’d dosed him with would keep him out as long as she needed.

Taking one last look at him, she flicked on the palmtop, easily disabling the manufacturer’s security features, and opened a sound recording application.

Licking her lips, she reluctantly began speaking into the palmtop.

“There’s no way to explain this to you in a way that will make things right, Kareem. It would be selfish of me to try and I don’t deserve things to be right. But you deserve to understand why—to know what was real and what was false.”

She swallowed before continuing, “To start, I guess you should know my first name really is Desiree, but it’s Desiree Franks from Williamstown Georgia. I’m not eighteen either. I’m twenty-three now. That’s why I kept things from getting… physical. That and the deception thing.”

A bitter laugh almost choked her making its way out of her throat. “Yeah, that’s where I drew the line. It wouldn’t have just been deception either. I…” she paused, unable to look at him for this part, “I’m a protomorph. Just a protomorph. But Tome, they give me surgery. Most of it was to get rid of my fins, make my body more voluptuous… but most of all, they gave me an artificial gland. It constantly adds an engineered pheromone. None of the attraction you ever felt for me was real. Nothing you felt for me was real. How could it have been?”

Pursing her lips, she had to compose herself before she went on. “I was inserted into your high school. Actually, I was meant to attract Warrick; Tome’s psychoanalysts figured he was likely to be predisposed to xenophilia considering how much of a sci-fi geek he is. But it was you who I met first and when things went well, they switched targets.

“That was a lucky break for me because…” A sob threatened to break loose, “…because I really enjoyed our time together. And, over time, I think I started to really like you.” Another laugh. “’Like’. I’m talking like a high school kid. I really and genuinely started to love you.

“I wish that things could be different; that it could be enough just to cut my contacts and be with you, but like I said, this isn’t real. It’s the pheromones that make you reciprocate and I can’t do that. Not any more. And I can’t just end things because I need what they promised me. You have no idea what it’s like to go through life looking like a monster. Even if we could be together, there’d be no life for us. We’d have problems getting a place to live, a place to work… god, everything.

“The truth is, even if I could fix things, I can’t live like that anymore and Tome are the only people who can fix me.”

She tentatively took a few steps toward where Kareem lay. “So this is goodbye and… and I’m sorry. I just hope that when you wake up with the worst headache of your life, your communicator and palmtop destroyed, and—” she reached into her pocket and jangled his keyfob, “your car stolen… you’ll maybe understand?”

A few taps stopped the recording and she knelt down next to the man she really and truly loved—loved enough to leave him to protect him from a life with her—and gently placed it on his chest. Then she leaned in and pressed one last kiss upon his lips…

And walked away.

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.2The Descendants #100 – Paradigm Shift pt.5 >>

About Vaal

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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One Comment

  1. Typos

    a content sleep
    a contented sleep

    now-over-flowing
    now-overflowing

    Pal could
    Paul could

    he call on
    he called on

    shadiest part area
    (‘shadiest area’ or ‘shadiest part’)

    Most of it (…) most of all
    (Rather than repeat ‘most’, maybe make the first one ‘Part’ ?)

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