Issue #33: The Liedecker Institute: Freshman Class

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series The Descendants Vol 3: A Bright, Bright Summer

Part 2

“Kura Akagi, huh? What does your magical database tell you about her?” Glory Duvall sat in the passenger seat of a large, white town car, dressed in a dark red business suit, looking at a picture of Kura on what would have been the GPS and weather alert screen on a normal car.

“There’s nothing magical about it.” Beside her in the driver’s seat, Faith Duvall typed with alarming speed with one hand as she held a fast food cup in the other. She was her elder sister’s polar opposite; where Glory was an elegant and voluptuous blond, Faith was a slouching, emaciated woman with dark brown hair kept ruthlessly short. She was dressed in jeans, a plain white tee and a flannel shirt left open over top of that. “The Academy student records were public under the Awareness of Threatening Powers Act up until it was struck down a few years ago. And once anything becomes public, it stays there, not matter how much they try to scrub it.”

“I’m very impressed with your talents,” Glory tried to put it lightly, but it still came off as gloating that she manifested psionic powers and Faith didn’t. She distracted herself by watching Charity helping their youngest sister, Joy get her things out of the trunk. “But I’m more concerned about knowing the people our sister will be spending her time with.”

“You could just talk to them.” Faith chided, but continued calling up the requested info. She ignored the look Glory gave her. “Here we are; No juvenile record, terrible attendance record, Fantasy Club, Choir… Oh my…”

“’Oh my’ for the choir?” Glory asked.

“No,” Faith said, looking rather surprised, “I just called up the profile on her power evaluation—which has since been sealed by the Secretary of the Interior.”

“What.” Glory looked at the picture still in the corner of the screen. “That girl? What can she possibly do? We just heard—“

“Limited range, limited intensity, limited effect… but infinite applications. Glory, the things she’s been shown to do in her evaluation courses is a laundry list of pretty much every ability I’ve heard of people having.”

“Try and explain this in fewer words, Faith; you’re doing ‘it’ again.” Glory said. She loved her sister, but she hated when she got over excited and dumped words upon words with little clarification.

Faith sighed. “I’ll just read you some highlights: She can alter the light reflection/refraction rate of any item she touches within the visible spectrum; She has telekinetic ability out to six feet with a one pound weight limit, the ability to hover up to three inches off the ground; limited shapeshifting – hair, eye and skin color; object creation — up to four ounces of inert matter that can keep it’s shape for up to forty-five seconds before dissipating, control of her local environment’s ambient temperature up to three degrees centigrade—“

“Those are all adorable parlor tricks, I’m sure, Faith,” Glory dismissed her sister’s rambling. “but none of that sounds worth the Secretary of the Interior taking an interest.”

Taking a long pull of her soda, Faith tried to explain, “Think of it this way, Glory; powers are hereditary…” She considered her own heritage, “To a point. But how those powers manifest or how powerful they are is a biological crapshoot.”

Glory saw that Joy and Charity were ready to go and gestured for Faith to wrap it up.

“They’re not concerned about her, they’re concerned about any future kid she might have or someone outfitted with her DNA.”

Understanding grew on Glory’s face. “That fits with what we’ve heard from Chastity in New York. I’m willing to wager that this Akagi girl isn’t the only one that would have value to Tome.”

“Which explains Father’s interest in this school.” Faith said. “But I’m not so sure about using Joy as bait.”

Glory gave her an assuring smile. “That is why you’ll be there to look after her. You did manage to properly falsify the documents you gave to Liedecker’s people?”

Faith scoffed. “No problem. They may be rock solid with their physical security, but judging by how easy it was to link into the lobby cameras;“ She nodded to the live screen grab of Kura they’d been looking at, “We have nothing to worry about.”

***

Vincent Liedecker sat in the administrator’s office, watching the graphics Rick Charlotte was putting up on the screen. “Now, Mr. Charlotte, you are absolutely sure that’s the car our playful hacker is broadcasting from?”

“Yes sir, Mr. Liedecker.” Rick’s voice replied over the speakers. “The rerouting and encryption they’re using is pretty damn impressive, but the new magi-tech set-up is working shiny. Who would have through a universal translator would be a codebreaker too?”

“That’s what ‘universal’ translator means, Charlotte.” Liedecker said dryly. “Now, this name the car is registered to—Glory Duvall—can you do me a favor and find me the name of her daddy.”

There was a brief pause as Charlotte did so. The name and image of St. John Duvall appeared.

“Well I’ll be damned.” Liedecker muttered. He didn’t know whether to be nostalgic or suspicious. Suspicious, however, was his natural state.

“The name rings a bell?” Vorpal was sitting across from him, unmasked in his sight for the first time. Somehow, some of the aura of danger she normally projected was blunted without the mask. Liedecker wondered if it was the loss of anonymity or the fact that she was without the mask in payment to him that was doing it.

“Indeed it does, and not because his first name is your girl’s last name either.” Liedecker said, leaning back in his chair. “I met him around the time I started working for my father; came around once every few months looking for venture capitol in all these start ups… all of them dealing with studying psionics.”

“The Academy.” Vorpal hissed, momentarily regaining her previous edge.

“No.” Liedecker shook his head, “No. He had the gene, you see? He wanted to turn it on in himself. Back then we didn’t know you couldn’t.”

“And now his daughter is spying on a school for psionics?” Vorpal asked, “That doesn’t sound like a coincidence to me.”

“Actually,” Rick said over the speakers, “I checked with the front gate. They’re not just here to jack into our lobby cameras; they’re dropping off a student. Patching you to the front drive camera now, sir.”

On the screen, Glory Duvall and an almost freakishly tall girl were carrying boxes alongside a young girl that seemed to be partly half a dozen animals at once.

“The woman in the suit is Glory.” Rick reported. “The tall one is Charity and the protomorph is Joy.”

Vorpal snorted.

“Hmm…” Rick said, “And cross referencing comes up with something else interesting, sir. It seems that their sister Faith has applied for the Computer Sciences position here. She’s even made it to Ms. Keyes’s short list because she’s had experience with her psionic sisters, Glory, Patience, and Joy.”

“Just how many children did Duvall have?” Vorpal asked, disgusted.

“Seven that he claims.” Rick replied. “All girls. Plus at least three paternity suits – all boys.”

Vorpal cocked her head to the side, her mind working overtime. “… because females have a higher chance to manifest psionic powers.” Liedecker gave her a look that asked her to continue. “About ninety percent of the mutations that result in psionic powers are on the X chromosome. Females have two X’s, so if both parents are carriers, they have two sets of psionics genes to express.”

“Whereas a boy can only have one.” Liedecker finished for her. “Duvall was just the kind of desperate man to try and live through his children.”

“Isn’t that what you’re doing?” Vorpal asked reproachfully. She was the only person in the organization that would even dare take that sort of tone with him. “Sponsoring this school? Taking in these kids? It’s not altruism, there’s a catch here.”

Neither one cared, but they could hear Rick Charlotte holding his breath on the other end of his datalink.

Liedecker chuckled, “You give me too little credit, Ms. Vorpal.” He stood up and came from behind his desk to pace the floor before her, looking for all the world to her like a lion in his pen. “You see, that’s where lowlife criminals, assassins, and terrorists fail; they shun altruism because they think it’ll get in the way of getting what they want. They don’t realize you can do both.”

He laid a hand thoughtfully on the bust of Hawking on its pedestal. “John Liedecker was my father. A great man. A powerful man. And in business, a ruthless man. If there was ever someone who made a dollar in Mayfield putting widows and orphans on the street, he paid my father ten cents for the opportunity. But with that money, he brought a reputation, which is better than money, and he used that reputation to help the community, which is good for business.”

Holding up a finger like a professor getting to his point after an hour lecture, he crossed the floor to stand in front of Vorpal. “And that’s exactly what this place is: good for business.” He leaned in with conspiracy in his gaze. “See, if these kids get picked up by those Academy goons, it’s bad for everyone. If they don’t get proper schooling because they’re on the run from the Academy, they end up in gangs as glass cannons, doing property damage and that’s good for my competition and bad for me. So I raise up some upstanding citizens, make the world a better place; and I keep my hold in this city.”

With a shrug, he returned to his chair. “And just maybe one or two of them show some talent I’ve got a use for. Then I’ll be there waiting to put them on my payroll. And that’s good for me.”

He reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved his written welcome speech, “So no, Ms. Vorpal, I’m not after the same thing Project Tome is—whatever it really is. And I’m damn certain I’m not after what ol’ Duvall and his girls are after. They lack something that every Liedecker man since my many times great granddaddy came over here after the first World War: a sliver of damn sense.”

That seemed to appease Vorpal and stun Rick Charlotte into silence.

Liedecker smiled a private smile at that. “As for Ms. Faith… Charlotte, clear her on everything. The old sayin’ is ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer. We’ll let her see everything there is to the institute. T’ain’t nothing here to hide. But while she looks into us – we look right back at her, her sisters and her father.”

***

Phineas made a show of yawning. ‘Show’ in the sense that he pretended to yawn because his body didn’t breath in the normal sense and therefore didn’t yawn naturally. It wasn’t because he was bored either; not with so many interesting people to watch coming in and mingling. The truth was that he was pretending to yawn to show off the rows of thin, pointed ‘teeth’ in his maw.

He wasn’t the cherubic, chubby boy with the brown, curly hair he’d been in junior high, but the manifestation of his powers hadn’t taken away his love of spectacle. In fact, it gave him a whole new spectacle.

The upperclassman girl he had directed it at; a blonde with no visible signs of psionic manifestation, made a face and quickly turned away from him.

That was one downside to his powers: the terrifying visage. He’d only started really noticing girls after he’d manifested and his botanical look made typical boy-girl relations challenging. But then, if there was one thing Phineas liked more than spectacle, it was a challenge. He was already scanning the crowd for other girls when someone clapped him on the shoulder.

Much to Phineas’s displeasure, it was not a pretty girl. It was a guy. A guy that looked like he’d just stepped out of that summer’s latest teen heartthrob flick: broad chest, strong chin and a hair style that made the word ‘coif’ leap to mind. Even Phineas took a moment to register that he was also covered with thin, blue stripes.

“Hey.” The other teen said. “They said that you’re in room 321.”

Phineas checked the card he was carrying. “Yeah, why?”

The stranger flicked his card around so Phineas could see It read: Richmond, Jacob Alexander ‘Summit’ Room 321. “Looks like we’re roommates. My mom said I should come and say ‘hi’.”

“I’m avoiding my mom.” Phineas inclined his head to where his mother was no doubt berating one of the security detail on some minor infraction or other. He squinted at the card Jacob was holding up. “What’s ‘Summit’ mean?”

Jacob withdrew the card. “Oh… that. See, I was at the Academy last year, before it closed? And they gave me a codename instead of me choosing it.”

The embarrassment on his face was chum in the water for Phineas. “What was it?”

Most people would have put up some resistance. Most people weren’t raised like Jacob Richmond was. “It was…” He coughed, “Mr. Perfect.”

The sound of leaves fluttering in a violent gale was the best Phineas could do to approximate a proper snort of disbelief. “No, seriously. What was it?”

Jacob shifted his weight uncomfortably and realized belatedly that he was floating an inch off the ground. He concentrated and set himself back down on the ground. “No… no, that’s really the name they came up with. They heard about my powers, see and—“

“So your powers are what? Being strong yet sensitive and always remembering anniversaries?”

This got Jacob to laugh. “No, man. They mean perfect as in… I’m as strong as the strongest man, as fast as the fastest man… non-psionic of course. Oh, and I can fly.”

“That’s awesome.” Phineas said, with newfound interest. “So you’ve got the whole package: strength, speed, agility, intelligence.”

Jacob’s smile dropped. “Part of why my dad doesn’t think I should use the name.” he said more to himself than to Phineas. “I’m not very good in most of my classes. It’s like I have to study twice as hard to be a C student. My dad said I can’t call myself Mr. Perfect anymore until I earn it. And I think he’s right.”

Phineas made another leaf rustling sound. “That’s just not right. Dude, it’s the perfect line: ‘Hello, I’m Mr. Perfect. Oh, you have a friend? Well she can go with Xylem here.’ If your dad values grandkids, he will let you take that name!”

“Not everything’s about girls.” Jacob shrugged.

“You have to live with me.” Phineas held up one of his thick, tendril-fingers, “Never, ever disparage the ladies, my friend.”

Shrugging, Jacob skirted the subject. “Okay, okay. What’s a Xylem, anyway?”

“It’s a… biology thing. About plants.” Phineas said vaguely.

“Can I have your attention please?” Everyone in the lobby turned to see two women in their mid-twenties standing at the doors leading to the auditorium. The taller of the two, a fair skinned woman with black hair pulled up into a bun and glasses, spoke once she knew everyone was paying attention.

“Thank you. I’m Alexis Keyes, one of the Directors of Education here. This is Laurel Brant, my colleague. I’d like to welcome all of you to the John T. Liedecker Institute. I’m sure I’ll get to know everyone during orientation and I cannot wait to start working with all these wonderful young people we’ve gathered here today. But first, if you would all join us in the auditorium, the benefactor and administrator of the Institute, Mr. Vincent Liedecker would like to welcome you all here and introduce the staff that will be working with you for the rest of the school year.”

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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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