LI: Generations Aflame #1

This entry is part 1 of 15 in the series Lidecker Institute Volume 3: Generations Aflame

[This series starts directly after LIEDECKER INSTITUTE #17]

The trip from Midnight Black to the Liedecker Institute was a confusing jumble for Maya. She sat in the middle row of Mr. Warren’s van, next to a window. Eddie sat beside her with Phineas on the other side. Both boys spent the entire ride over excitedly telling her about the school and what they did there. Veteran salesmen would have killed for the ability to deliver a sales pitch like they did.

They themselves were the biggest draw for Maya: kids like her. She’d never spent any time with other kids with powers, never got to talk with someone about how they dealt with being not just different, but maybe even dangerous.

There were so many questions to ask. Was it really possible to learn better control? If so, did that mean that she could lock her powers away once and for all? Even the senses that came with them? She had doubts about asking though; Phineas seemed to fully inhabit who and what he was to the point that he might take shutting it off as an insult, and there seemed to be literally no drawback to Eddie’s power.

So while they might understand what it was to be a descendant, that would never understand what it was to be Maya.

All too soon, they pulled into the cavernous garage beneath the Institute and she was forced to say goodbye to her two erstwhile rescuers. Apparently someone named ‘Ms. Brant’ was very eager to see her, so Mr. Warren ushered into an office where she waited for fifteen minutes.

Ms. Brant seemed nice enough. She was a woman of average height with a caramel complexion and long black hair she kept back in a long, thick ponytail. Smiling in a motherly way, she asked after Maya’s health, and offered her something to eat or drink before getting down to business.

“Maya, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but it’s very important that I ask you some questions, okay?”

It didn’t feel okay, especially given the questions that were bound to come up. But Maya’s father had put a lot of importance into respecting authority and it made her more uncomfortable to be rude or obstinate now that all she had left was a memory. Besides, Ms. Brant never said anything about answering or telling the truth. She gave the older woman a timid nod.

“Good.” said Ms. Brant. “Now, the men who were after you, they said your name was Maya Blumberg. Is that true.”

Nod. No eye contact, no words.

“Okay and…” Ms. Brant sighed and it seemed genuine as she tried to work up to asking after such a traumatic event. “Do you know what they said happened to your parents?”

Nod. Tears were stinging her eyes.

“And.” Ms. Brant paused again, getting a bit agitated herself. But she had to ask because it was her job. “… Is it true what they said?”

Even expecting it, the pain was sharp and twisting. The burgeoning tears rolled down her cheeks and stuck on automatic, her head bobbed and her guilty voice betrayed her. “I didn’t mean to.” She stammered through the words, oblivious to the smoke starting to waft from her body. “I… I don’t even remember. I woke up and the f-fire, it was everywhere. Everywhere a-and it was singing and…”

Ms. Brant got up from her desk and came around, looking to comfort Maya. But by now, the girl had noticed to smoke and panicked.

“N-no!” She screamed and dove away from her, out of her chair.

She was scared, she was crying, and thanks to both, her natural agility failed her. When she came down, she landed wrong on her hand. The crunch reached her ears before the blazing agony hit her brain. And when that happened, the surge of adrenaline pushed her over the edge.

Everyone had fight or flight responses. Maya’s were different. And they scared her.

It had happened a few times since, but it happened first on the night, when she woke up in a burning house and heard the fire singing as it formed a pyre for the two most important people in her life. Month had passed since the last time. She’d been doing so good and now that was over. The fire inside her spread and consumed her.

And unsatisfied, it took the carpet, and then the chair and the desk and then it found Ms. Brant. And still it was hungry. It sang a song more ancient than the concept of time, born in the first hot reaction of the void birthing the universe.

The office was gone and from there, the flames raced through the walls, devouring insulation, and down the halls, burning carpet and drywall. The students burned, the staff burned. Everything burned. And the fire sang.

***

Maya Blumberg didn’t catapult awake from her nightmare, but she did forcefully throw the comforter away from her. The outside was flame resistant, Ms. Brant promised, but her senses still picked up the flammable stuffing inside.

A frantic scramble for the lamp later, and she found it lying at the foot of her bed and came to the conclusion that it was probably to blame for that nightmare. She wasn’t used to sleeping surrounded in something flammable. Or sleeping someplace warm for that matter.

Still shaking from still vivid remnant of the dream, Maya pushed the fully fire resistant sheet off her to and sat up on the edge of the bed. For the past three nights, she’d been bunking in one of the Institute’s guest rooms, meant for visiting parents and siblings that were too worried about security to get a hotel off-site. It was in the main building, just like the dorms and administrative offices.

She wasn’t officially enrolled, in truth hadn’t been offered that yet, but they let her have her run of the place, attending classes as her wont and basically living the normal student life aside from sleeping arrangements. But she didn’t need to be told how dangerous leaving campus was, and she stayed put, at least until she figured out what to do.

The dream was still too fresh. Sleep wouldn’t be on the menu again for a while yet, so she slipped off the bed and put her feet into the hospital style plastic slippers the school provided for her. They’d given her a lot of clothes, and even let her pick things out. She picked hoodies and pants with as many pockets as possible at the very least, she would be ready in case she had to hit the road again.

At the moment, she was in her school issued pajamas, picked out by Laurel. They were a little childish (in accordance with the fact that she looked younger than she was), but she liked them: they had little penguins on them, each on using an abacus, protractor, slide rule, or calculator.

Thusly attired, she padded over to the door and peeked out.

The guest hall was dark and lonely; there were no other visitors other than herself. A single visible security camera watched from the end of the hall, it’s blinking red light making it obvious, possibly to distract from the two on the other end, which Maya wouldn’t have noticed but for her senses picking up the flammable insulation in their interior wiring.

Ms. Brant had told her all about the surveillance, and explained that the students knew that the halls, common areas and grounds were all monitored. Because every one of them was potentially hunted. Maya, it seemed, was just more keenly desired by the many organizations clamoring to manipulate or experiment on descendants, especially young ones.

In a strange way, that gave Maya comfort. The school was acknowledging that it and every place like it was automatically suspect and as a result, were completely transparent with the students and their families. Unlike the Academy, they welcomed parental visitation and communication. They were trustworthy if only because they left themselves little room not to be.

But that still left the one thing Maya couldn’t allow herself to trust: herself.

The incident from her dream might not have killed everyone in the main building, but it did leave a huge scorch mark on the carpet in Ms. Brant’s office. It took the better part of a half hour for Maya to calm down enough to shut her power off completely, and the rest of the day for her to stop shaking. And she still hadn’t recovered; not really.

She’d held it in for over a month this time, far longer than she ever had before and after she managed to keep it at bay at Midnight Black gave her hope that she had things well in hand. But she didn’t. There was power in side her; something nothing of her research into other descendants found a similar case for– and she couldn’t tackle it alone.

Somehow, Ms. Brant didn’t even seem particularly concerned beyond what Maya felt about I. She even promised that none of the other students had to know if Maya didn’t want them to. That, however, was only on the condition that Maya volunteer for power training with another teacher at the school: Ms. Keyes.

Maya accepted the terms, however reluctant she might be. The first session was scheduled for that very morning. Another possible source of her nightmare.

Moving silently was second nature to her, thanks to months on the run, and Maya didn’t even think about it as she slipped out of her room and down the hall. She’d be the first to admit that staying at the institute was tempting. She missed going to school and learning, especially biology, which was an interest dating from even before she needed to learn more about her condition. The comfort was nice too, as was being around other kids again, shy as she was.

But the biggest draw for her was born of a combination of living life on the streets and the hungry furnace of her powers: food. And Ms. Brant told her that all students had free access to the kitchen in the dorm common room.

That’s where she headed now; out to the reception area of the guest hall, through the glass doors, down a semi-circular set of stairs, and across to the dorms. In no time, she found herself in the common room; a large area between the boys’ and girls’ wings divided roughly into two-thirds lounge and one third kitchen. It surprised her to find that she wasn’t the only one up at 3am.

The other girl was a student there who Maya had seen in passing a few times. It seemed the other kids called her ‘Steampunk’. She was tall, blonde and angular with a permanent expression on her face that made Maya feel like she was on the wrong side of a microscope lens. Normally, she dressed in a strange, shiny looking black body suit with metal valves in it. Tonight she was in a charcoal gray version of the same, this one without valves, but with some sort of ceramic eyelets that hissed quietly but steadily.

Steampunk was at the table in the kitchen, ten inexplicably monogrammed glasses of water arrayed close at hand, hunched over a tablet computer with a keyboard plugged into it. The clacking of keys in rapid succession filled the air until Maya quietly edged her way into the kitchen and suddenly found herself caught by those eyes.

She froze, unable to even bring herself to move the tousled red hair out of her eyes. The floor suddenly become a very interesting alternative to meeting that gaze, so she stared at that. It wasn’t just Steampunk. Following her revelation of just how dangerous she was to everyone around her, it was hard to look anyone in the eye and address them.

Most people broke first and introduced themselves when Maya locked up. Steampunk didn’t. She was more than comfortable just sitting and observing. In fact, despite the efforts of her well meaning peers, she still preferred it. Learning about other people was so much easier when she wasn’t being tested on the fly about what she knew about interacting with people.

The silence stretched on for more than a minute. Maya eyed the refrigerator. It was all she came for, all she wanted. Why did she just have to stumble upon someone else at this time of night with no one to rescue her from her own anxieties?

After a while, Steampunk realized that it was her observation that was interfering with Maya and returned to looking at her tablet screen, though she didn’t start typing again.

Maya let out a relieved sigh and went to the refrigerator. Minutes later, she’d constructed two sandwiches from hoagie rolls, cold cuts and cheese that each required both her small hands to handle. Not wanting to disturb Steampunk, who periodically interrupted her reading to shotgun a glass of water, Maya took the sandwiches over to the counter and perched on a bar stool to eat.

Less than a minute later, Steampunk finally revoked the silence she’d been allowing. “You are Maya Blumberg.”

Not knowing where this was going, Maya nodded while she finished chewing. “Y-yes? And you’re… well the other kids call you Steampunk?”

“I am officially documented as Alice Tatopoulos.”

“Then Steampunk is a c-codename?” Maya was just trying not to be rude. Of course it was a codename.

“Project designation.” replied Steampunk. Though as of late, it was more of a codename, and less of a reference to her as to the projects she was working on with Laurel Brant to put the energy she produced to good use. The most obvious were a small portable generator/charging system for her electronics, and an exoskeletal glove that used the steam she generated for hydraulic power.

Maya had no idea what she meant by project designation, but went with it. “T-that’s nice.”

A long silence followed before Steampunk said, “The men who were after you were part of the Generations Project; GPII, actually.”

Ms. Brant had told Maya that. Maya reluctantly told her about Ambrose too, though his vendetta had nothing to do with her being a psionic beyond what her powers had done. She only answered with a hasty nod.

“You aren’t in their primary database.” Steampunk observed. She tried to contort her face into a puzzled expression, but Maya didn’t seem to get the conveyed message.

“Are they a-after you too? Is that how you know?”

“I know because I was their primary database. You are not in it. Your father was.”

Maya nearly fell off the stool. What was that supposed to mean? What was any of that supposed to mean? How was a girl supposed to be a database? The other part was obviously a lie… wasn’t it?

She was sure it was and shook her head violently. “No. My father was in the air force.”

“Yes. He was. They called him Beacon.”

That was too much. This strange girl shouldn’t know that. Maya hadn’t even told Ms. Brant about it. Her heart sped up. Smoke wafted off the side of her nose, past her eyes.

No!

“I… I have to go.” Maya grabbed the remaining sandwich and hastily folded it into a napkin. Steampunk didn’t protect. She also didn’t apologize for upsetting her or offer any explanation for what she’d said and how she knew it.

No, Steampunk just watched as Maya hopped off the stool and soundlessly fled the room, hoping this was all just another bad dream.

From her seat, Steampunk watched the door long after Maya had gone.

She’d done the wrong thing again, she knew that much. Gathering information and filling gaps in that information was a delicate process with when ones sources could think and feel. Empirically, she knew this; she just didn’t know the proper technique for not getting those kinds of reaction.

And this was something she felt she had to know. She’d been told the the Generations Project was immoral; that taking children, experimenting on them and conditioning them to task was wrong. Now there was a Generation child whose name wasn’t n her memory as more than a footnote for a pilot during the original project.

There was more to know there. More she needed to know if she was ever to understand what Generations did to her– and how she should feel about that.

To Be Continued…

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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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