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 3

As the new students and their families filed quietly into the auditorium, Alloy, Darkness and Codex waited in the wings for their part in the orientation. More accurately, Alloy, a reasonable facsimile of Codex and a less than reasonable Facsimile portraying Darkness waited in the wings.

“I don’t see why I had to play Darkness.” Facsimile shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She was whispering because even using one of Codex’s scanners to ensure that the wings weren’t bugged, no technology could keep their voices from echoing.

“Because I fit Codex’s costume and I’m too short for Darkness’s?” Codex/Zero offered cheerfully. She was admiring herself in one of the back stage mirrors. “Do you think I should get rid of my cape? I think I look better without it.”

“But you’d lose the hood and that totally makes the whole outfit.” Facsimile temporarily forgot her previous protests. “Though I’m kind of considering losing the whole ‘golden woman’ thing. Or at least I could add some golden hair.”

“I think you look really cool like that.” Zero turned back to her friend. “Not as cool as when Darkness charges up her black heat to fly… Can you do that?”

“Not at all.” Facsimile admitted. “But I can make my hair do the thing hers does.” By way of illustration, her hair began to twist and whip as if in an invisible wind. “What do you think, Alloy?”

Alloy wasn’t paying attention to them. He was peaking through the curtains at the audience.

“Alloy?”

He almost jumped at Facsimile tapping him on the shoulder. “Huh?”

“Watching out for your sister?” Facsimile stretched her neck a few inches to peer out over his head. “Where is she?”

“Fifth row, three deep from the wall with my parents.” Alloy said, letting the curtain close.

Facsimile let him slide past her and then took his place. “Oh, I see. Hey, looks like she made a friend. Do we know the black haired chick with the color shifting T-shirt?”

“I don’t think so.” Alloy said. “See? That’s why I should be out there instead of here.”

“You heard what Darkness said;” Zero joined the conversation as they retreated from the curtain. “It’s to make sure no one connects the real us with our, uh… day jobs.”

“Night jobs.” Facsimile corrected.

“Sure, okay.” Zero shrugged. “But the point is that everyone would find it more odd for Alloy to be here instead of you than for you to be here instead of Alloy; if the question ever comes up.” The other two were stunned to silence as they tried to pick their way through the awkward wording of that sentence.

“Darkness would not have put it that way.” Facsimile concluded.

“I think it makes more sense the way I said it.” Zero considered self conciously.

Facsimile started to comment, but held her tongue on the subject. “So, how are you going to keep up the secret ID with your sister in town going to a psionics school anyway?”

“We’ve already talked about it.” Alloy shrugged. “Her powers are different enough that no one would think that she might be related to Alloy without help. I’ll just be her mildly jealous, but proud brother. It’s just a matter of acting like I don’t have powers on my own.”

Facsimile quirked a grin, “Maybe that’ll help in the Drama class you two signed up for this year.”

“You should have signed up too.” Zero chirped.

“Someone’s got to patrol while you two are rehearsing.” Facsimile reasoned. “Besides, my best acting talents are kind of a secret from the student body, no?” She winked, turning one eye brilliant blue in the instant between her eyelid going down and coming back up again.

Behind her, through the curtain, the assembled family and students applauded as if she’d timed it that way. On stage, Vincent Liedecker came to the podium to speak.

***

The applause washed over Liedecker like a warm, soothing bath. It was amazing what a difference context made; when he met with members of his extra-legal empire, you could hear a pin drop when he was about to speak. But when he spoke to the public, he had to wait for the adulation to die down.

Connoisseur of people that he was, he could tell there was something more than the typical respect and adoration that came with his well publicized charity work and support for arts. The people before him weren’t guilty socialites come to throw money at his feet so they could be seen doing good. They weren’t bright eyed activists who saw him as a gateway to Making A Difference. No, they were the desperate recipients of something only he could have given them; their last hope.

Without him saying so; without him formalizing it, Liedecker and those people in the auditorium knew that they owed him something. Possibly something they could never pay back. But they would try.

He smiled his best smile, the one he used when opening a new hospital wing. He didn’t need to take anything from them. But it was worth knowing that he could if he wanted to; that their faith was that strong. That was how he’d become so powerful. How he’d stayed on top.

Any fool could pay off the police and the media. But when you had the people’s hearts, you didn’t have to. They never looked in your direction when they should.

Holding up a hand, he bought them down to silence. Partial silence at least. Two teenage girls in the fifth row let out loud whoops as the crowd noise died down. Their respective parents instantly moved to admonish them. “Thank you darlin’s.” He nodded in their direction. A ripple of laughter played through the room.

“It’s kind of surprising hearing kids excited about going to school. I know I wouldn’t have been clapping when I was their age.” More laughter. He let his expression tell them it was okay to laugh harder and they did. Dealing with people, be it with wrath or with diplomacy had always been his element. He could play them like instruments.

He let the laughter die before speaking again. “I am… so touched to see this place up and running. It was the last big project my daddy undertook before he died. I know that he’s looking down on us right now; proud to see his name on this school, teaching these kids to become better people. To learn to take control of their special gifts and make them a gift for everyone around them.”

Pausing for the smattering of applause, he took a sip of water. “And that’s probably what the kids are most excited about. But let me make this promise to all the parents here; just because we aim to help your children with their gifts doesn’t mean we’re going to slack on the schooling part. We here are one hundred percent as committed to helping each and every student achieve academic excellence as we are to helping them develop their powers.”

He bowed his head a bit and lowered his voice. “And as happy as this day is and should be; I know that we cannot forget the scandal that continues to embroil the last major school for psionics, the PTAA.”

Leaning over the podium, he gave the impression of looking each and every person in the audience in the eye. “I am going to promise you–swear on my father’s name, swear on my reputation that nothing like that will happen here. Not while I’m in charge.

“I’m sure that by now, all of you have met with and have been given our primer on security by our head of security;” He gestured to the man seated behind him and to his right, “T. Alvin Warren. And I just want to let you know that we intend to work very closely with all possible organizations to help keep your loved ones safe; from the MPD to Mayfield’s own prelates, the Descendants.”

There was a cacophony of small, excited sounds from the audience as Liedecker gestured off stage. “In fact, here today to confirm their commitment to keeping this school safe are Darkness, Alloy and Codex of the Descendants.”

The applause that erupted from the crowd when the three prelates appeared on stage was markedly different than what Liedecker had received. He was familiar with that kind too: Celebrity applause. It didn’t sit well with him.

In only a year, the prelates had ingratiated themselves to the public. Their popularity had only skyrocketed faster with the help of adoring articles in the Scribe from reporters like Mary Northbrooke.

Codex reached him first and extended her hand to shake his. Liedecker smiled warmly and gave the hand a gentlemanly kiss instead. If the good people of Mayfield loved the Descendants, so too did the public face of Vincent Liedecker.

But privately, he knew that something had to be done before the Descendants complicated things. The school might prove useful in that respect; he hadn’t considered it, but when Keyes and Brant had approached them, they had been adamant that they had the backing of the prelates and that they would help however they could. The wheels in his mind were already turning as to how to play that to his advantage.

Alloy shook his hand next, and then two more times with the strange tendrils that snaked from his forearms disconcertingly. “Pleasure to finally meet you sir.” The armored prelate ducked his head respectfully.

“The feeling is more than mutual.” Liedecker said, “Though we’ve already met: last Fall when you and yours put down that overgrown hound dog.” There was no harm admitting when you’d been helped, Liedecker reasoned, and he always paid his debts, even if it pained him.

“All in a day’s work.” Alloy said, moving aside for Darkness.

The woman displayed her hand to be kissed as he’d done with Codex. That was a marked shift in behavior from when he’d first met her in a conference arranged by Keyes. Then she’d been all business. Now she seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the theatrics.

“Good to see you again, Vincent.” Darkness said warmly.

“And you too, Miss.” Liedecker gestured to her that the podium was hers. Alloy and Codex had taken up posts on either side leaving him hemmed in beside her. It was a serious boost to even Liedecker’s pride how perfect his reputation was that he was standing shoulder to shoulder with the city’s good Samaritans and blending in perfectly.

The tentacles on Alloy’s arms waved at the crowd in the energetic way children would, eliciting chuckles from the crowd. Darkness waited for the murmurs to die down before she spoke.

Wearing Darkness’s likeness, Facsimile repeated verbatim the speech she’d spent all night memorizing. “Thank you all so much for this warm welcome.” She wondered what she would have said if the welcome hadn’t been warm. “And thank you to Vincent Liedecker for giving us a chance to be part of this momentous occasion. Let’s give him another hand.”

The audience applauded again. Liedecker bowed his head in gratitude. He reminded Facsimile of a ringmaster or a maestro; perfectly at home in the spotlight.

“We’re here today to give our personal guarantee that the Descendants, in concert with the MPD and the security team here at the Institute will be working hard to make sure nothing happens to the students; whether within these walls or in the city of Mayfield. The panic button devices and emergency number provided to everyone at orientation are linked in to both our headquarters, the security office in this building and the Mayfield PD switchboard. If anything happens, we’ll be on top of it almost instantly.”

The crowd was quiet, but hearing what T. Warren had already said from the leader of a group credited with making Mayfield drastically safer in only a year buoyed even the most nervous parent’s sense of security. Which was the point of having her say it.

“But today isn’t about us. It’s about this school and the first students in its halls. I believe Mr. Liedecker would now like to introduce the preliminary staff that will be working to make sure the Institute provides the best possible education. Mr. Liedecker?”

She stepped aside, taking her place beside Alloy so the Liedecker could once more take charge.

“Thank you, Darkness. Alloy, Codex. The Descendants, everyone.” More applause. “In fact, I do have some people I’d like you to meet. First of all, our Powers Training and Creativity Coordinator, Alexis Keyes, who was instrumental in bringing this place out of mothballs and into reality.”

The applause was light and appreciative. Alexis smiled and gave a small wave.

“Also instrumental in this process,” Liedecker continued, “Our Academic Director, Laurel Brant.”

The response was louder this time. People knew and respected the Brant name.

“Our Student Life Coordinator, Stephanie Carroll.” Seated next to Laurel was a lightly tanned woman with short, black hair. She had a stoic look about her that was cause for some worried murmuring among the prospective students. Liedecker himself only wondered where that name had come from. But he did know why she’d chosen Student Life despite being the last person he’d have wanted there.

“I’ve already introduced T Alvin Warren, Head of Security.” Liedecker said. The man still got another round of applause. It was only fair; their safety was in his hands.

“Some of our teaching staff will also be available later today to discuss any questions you have with your syllabus and class schedule. Once again, I welcome you to the John T. Liedecker Institute. Ms. Carroll will be taking those of you eager to get started moving in up to the dormitories. Myself, Ms. Keyes, Ms. Brant, and the Descendants will be in the lobby prepared to offer personal tours of the grounds.”

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About Vaal

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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