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Maya hugged herself as she watched the heavy door slide closed and seal. She was now all alone in the center of what looked like a salt dome. The ceiling was twenty feet over her head with the walls curving down from it until the room looked like the inside of an egg, cut width wise. There were no visible supports and the surface of both walls and floor was pocked with a dark gray honeycomb pattern.
“Alright, Maya,” Laurel Brant’s voice came from somewhere above. “This is the hard room. I’ll spare you the specifics, but it’s built to survive pretty much anything any of the students can throw at it. Based on some calculations I’ve run, it could last twenty minutes on the surface of the sun, so I can guarantee you won’t hurt anything or anyone while using your powers.”
A week after her reluctant admission to the Liedecker Institute, Maya had finally consented to using her powers – provided she could do so in some kind of vault or other sturdy structure that could keep her from hurting others.
She made that stipulation assuming it would take them time to find a suitable place. It turned out that they had and made regular use of three, located on the basement level of the same building that housed the gym and the art rooms.
Not that she’d mention it, but she wished that Laurel hadn’t spared her the specifics. Not just because it would delay the inevitable time when she’d be forced to use her powers, but because she was curious as to what could be done to a room to make it proof against the many and varied powers of young descendants.
The only furnishing in the room with her was a rack attached to the floor, containing various sensors as well as material samples that were to be monitored for their reaction to her.
She was also wearing part of her new wardrobe; incredibly baggy jeans tailored to remain in place even on her tiny frame, and a hooded sweatshirt with the cartoon cat protagonist of the Adventure of Toby show. Those plus the shirt and undergarments she wore underneath were specially treated by a company called Apparel Evolved to be fireproof with a melting point of one thousand degrees. The same company had been tapped to treat her new room as well.
Frowning up at the voice, she gestured shyly to the rack. “Those look expensive.” She said quietly. “M-maybe you don’t want them in here with me.”
As always, Laurel’s voice was full of gentleness and understanding. “We’re all about overkill when it comes this sort of thing, Maya. The tools in there are as fireproof as they come.”
Resigned, Maya nodded.
Another voice joined Laurel’s on the intercom. “Hi, Maya, this is Ms. Keyes. Do you remember me?”
Maya nodded again. While Ms Keyes was just a nice to her was Ms. Brant, the former, upon noticing how shy she was, started talking to her as if she were a toddler. It would be wrong to correct an adult, that’s what she’d been taught when she was little and now that her parents were gone, she wished she’d been a better daughter. Still, it took a force of will not to ask Ms Keyes to talk to her like that.
‘Alright.” said Ms. Keyes. “I’m just getting everything warmed up here, okay?” Nod. “Now can you tell me what you do to make your powers work, sweetie?”
Now there was a question, ignoring the mildly irritating ‘sweetie’. The closest she could come to describing it was giving in to the song in her head and singing along. But not only did that sound insane, but it was horribly inaccurate. There was no sound, so it wasn’t a song; that’s just how she experienced it in her extra senses; the same senses that told her what would burn and how well.
“I-I just think about it.” She said. But that wasn’t good enough. She’d read enough to know that was never the extend of how a descendant’s power worked. Most people had mnemonics or gestures; other little tics they required to set their powers off. “A-and scrunch up my nose?”
Asking it like a question was important somehow. That made it not a lie. Which meant she wasn’t disobeying her parents. She was well aware that this made a negative amount of sense, but it made her feel better all the same.
There was a pause, probably Ms. Keyes entering new data.
“Okay, sweetie,” There was that ‘sweetie’ again. Was it going to be this way things were during her entire stay at the institute? “We’re ready. Now just relax, close your eyes and try as hard as you can to make your power work.”
If her stomach wasn’t tying itself in knots with the dread of using the powers she tried to suppress for so long, Maya might have given a cynical laugh at that. She didn’t have to try to make it happen, she just had to stop ignoring and resisting.
But to appease her instructor, she closed her eyes and honestly tried.
Up in the control room, a small, equipment filled room positioned at the point where the entry tunnels to all three hard rooms met, Laurel hit the mute button the intercom.
“You don’t have to talk to her like that, she’s very intelligent.”
Alexis Keyes raised an eyebrow in confusion as she kept her eyes on the various windows surrounding the main video feed from Maya’s hard room. Some monitored Maya’s vitals while others displayed conditions in the room itself or displayed the feeds from the various sensors. “Talk like what?”
“The baby talk.” said Laurel.
“I’m not doing any baby talk.” Alexis defended. Her instruments reported a small dip in ambient heat and carbon dioxide.
“You’re doing baby talk. You get that way around little kids.”
Alexis refused to look up from the monitors. “She’s not a kid. She’s fifteen.”
“And she looks twelve and adorable.” Laurel teased before bringing up the results of Maya’s school-required physical on her tablet. “I wonder if that’s a result of her powers? Stunting her growth, I mean. She has a hyperactive metabolism; if that manifested before her other powers, her body chemistry would have been thrown–”
She didn’t get to finish that sentence, because Maya picked that moment to explode.
“What was that?!” She practically flew to the control panel beside her friend. Several of the sensor feeds had been knocked out by the force or accompanying interference. Several vital signs monitors were flat-lining and on the video feed, there was a swirling ball of flame.
“Not sure.” Alexis said, deeply concerned, “I’m rebooting the sensors. Get ready to vent the room and open the entry tunnel.” Her hands flew across the panel, toggling systems off and then on again.
Laurel pulled open the clear cover guarding the emergency override switches, but paused as something on the screen caught her eye. “Alex… look.”
As they watched, it became clear that the ribbons of fire weren’t just swirling, they were orbiting something at their center and slowly collapsing in toward it.
Alexis switched the video feed to sonic imaging mode and goggled at what she saw: the center of the firestorm was a dense, human shape. “Is that…”
“-orry.” a weak voice mewled as the audio came back. “I p-promise I’ve never exploded before!”
Reaching past Laurel, Alexis turned off the mute. “It’s alright S… Maya. “You just surprised us is all. Are you alright?”
The flames completed their collapse and when the video was returned to normal, a startling sight greeted the two instructors.
Apparel Evolved seemed to know what they were doing at least: the cloths had largely survived the explosion. The hood and the edges of her sleeves and sweats had been blown off, but as advertised none of it burned or melted. Which was surprising, as it was now clothing not flesh but flame.
Maya Blumberg stood in the middle of the room, bu not as they’d known her. It seemed as if she was formed out of liquid fire in human shape. Tongues of red and orange boiled around one another, lending her the same look and texture as the surface of the sun. Her eyes smouldered with a yellow and gold glow, and against all reason, her curly hair, a darker red flame than what made up her body, still hung down, obeying the laws of gravity.
“Y-yes?” Maya said. Again, making it a question hid the lie. She was not okay. This was not okay. For some many reasons. Being like this was how she woke up the night her parents died. Being like this defied everything she knew about biology. Being like this made her dangerous.
“Good.” Alexis said over the intercom. “We’re just going to take a few measurements and readings now, then you can turn back. Is that okay with you, sw…” She glared at Laurel, who was smirking. “Maya?”
Maya just nodded, the motion causing even more violent motion in the furnace of her body.
Alexis hit the mute. “I wasn’t expecting this.” she admitted.
Laurel was already looking over the information. “Neither was I. I’ve never heard of anything like this. Pyrokinetics sometimes light themselves on fire, but… look at this data: she’s at one sixth normal human density. The electron scans are just showing a very loose lattice of organic carbon chains; just enough to form simple structures and bear DNA. And yet, look at this,”
She indicated the vital signs monitor. “There’s still neural activity. In fact there’s more neural activity. But there’s no heartbeat, no digestive process. And just to slap science in the face a tiny bit more; her surface temperature if currently six hundred degrees; but the ambient room temperature is down three degrees; it’s not radiating heat, she’s attracting it.”
“That’s all just…”
“Alex, if you say impossible, I won’t talk to you for the rest of the week. Nothing is impossible. You know that now. What’s going on here is just unexplained.”
Frowning, Alexis stared at the image on the screen; a terrified, orphaned girl made of fire. “I think it does explain one thing though; why those fake agents were after her. Laurel, they want her—badly. We can’t let them take her.”
“Sending the data-pack to you now, Father.”
“Thank you, Faith.” St. John Duvall sat back and waited for his daughter’s work to reach his computer. “Did you have any trouble?”
“Hard room security is tight.” She admitted. “But they’re used for instruction, so I took the class on a little field trip to try what they’ve been learning on the holography programming suite there. Unfortunately, whoever they have writing the student files is a dyed in the wool coding savant: I can’t break the encryption on the electron scan or medical information.
“I did get you the room video, audio and environmental sensor mods though.”
St. John watched the download progress eagerly. “Have you viewed it?”
“Yeah, I did. Pretty weird stuff. The girl exploded… but she was okay somehow.”
“And you say she was made of fire.”
Faith, sitting in her apartment in Mayfield, nodded even though he couldn’t see her. “That’s what it looked like. People on fire look like it. This looks different. You’ll see when you watch.”
The download completed and automatically began extracting. “That I will.” said St. John. I’ll let you know if there’s anything else I need you to do. Until then, see if you can get Joy to make friends wit this girl and the other one.”
“Yes sir. Goodnight, Father.”
“Goodnight, Faith dear.”
He watched the video with great interest, which became awe and then smug satisfaction. Then he reviewed the environmental information. None of it matched up with scientific wisdom. Perfect.
After going over everything at least three times, he made a call.
“Richard? St. John.” he said when the other party answered. “Yes, it has been a long time. Ha, yes, the girls are fine, thank you. But I didn’t call for pleasantries, Richard. It’s come to my attention that the project is still ongoing. Yes it is, don’t lie to me; I might have left, but my eyes never left your activities.”
He let that sink in, smiling darkly. “Good. Now what I want is back in. And the reason you’re going to do let me in is because not only do I know where two of your SD108 candidates went, but I have an in for reaching them.”
The next day found Laurel not at the institute, but in a now-familiar office on the Westinghall building’s top floor.
“Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice.”
On the other side of the desk, Vincent Liedecker reclined easily in his chair. As usual, his suit; this one flawless white over a pressed, white shirt and thin, black tie, was immaculate. “Think nothin’ of it, Ms. Brant.” He gestured expansively. “The school is one of my top priorities, so whenever you want to come up, have a good talk, the door’s open.”
Laurel smiled, sitting prim in her charcoal colored suit and skirt. “Thank you, Mr. Liedecker. It’s always good to hear that such a prominent partner in this undertaking is so dedicated.”
“Well, see, Ms. Brant, my daddy always told me that if I ain’t gonna give my all to a thing, I shouldn’t be doin’ it in the first place. So what brings ya here?”
“Maya Blumberg.” said Laurel. “I sent you the information of her situation last week, it’s very…”
“’Unique’ and ‘delicate’, I think were the words you used, yes.” Liedecker said. “Damn shame; not only losin’ her Momma and Daddy like that, but having everybody blame you? Wouldn’t wish that on a man I hated with all passion, much less a bitty little girl. How’s she doin’?”
Laurel licked her lips to stall, trying to fine the right way to phrase it. If she did it right, it would get her more help with what she was going to ask. “Physically, she’s fine, a little malnourished, but otherwise healthy. But she’s traumatized: complaining of nightmares, terrified of her powers. We’ve scheduled counseling for both problems and moved her to a private power use class.”
“I can see where she’ll need it.” Liedecker nodded. “Ain’t her fault what her powers did, but she ain’t going to see it that way.”
“Actually.” Laurel brought up and article on her tablet. “Can I send something to your desktop?” When Liedecker nodded his consent, the fire marshal’s report pertaining to the Blumberg home came up.
Liedecker read with interest, eyebrows furrowing. “Arson doesn’t seem right for this kind of thing. And accelerants? Do her powers…?”
“Maya’s powers don’t produce any chemical that is, or could be mistaken for a chemical accelerant.” Laurel confirmed.
“Then she didn’t do this. Someone burned her house down.”
“Exactly the conclusion I’ve come to. Which makes it seem odd to me that Lucy Black, the owner of the establishment we found Maya at, has gotten two calls from a Detective Ambrose from Toronto looking into Maya’s whereabouts as part of a criminal investigation.”
“Hmm.” Liedecker interlaced his fingers and brought him up under his chin. “What is it you need, Ms. Brant?”
“Access, connections. I need to stall any actions that might extradite Maya back to Canada or get the government involved until I can get a better look into what’s happening here.”
An amused look crossed Liedecker’s face. “Now, Ms. Brant, you know I’m nowhere near as connected or wealthy as your daddy.”
“I know.” She replied. “But you have defense contracts with Canada via Morton Defense Works while my father’s fingers in Canada don’t have quiet as firm a grip.”
Liedecker laughs. “Well played, Ms. Brant. I’ll see what I can do.”
To Be Continued…