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A call icon appeared in the lower right corner of the holographic display hovering above St John Duvall’s desk, accompanied by a gentle warbling.
Duvall waved his hand through it. “Speak.”
“Your conference call is ready, Father.” said the voice of one of his daughters, Serenity.
“Good girl. Put them through, voice only.”
St John leaned back in his seat and waited for the call to be patched through. Twenty years ago, he would have insisted on making it a video call for the pure drama of it. The years and experience accumulated since then had taught him that there was a time for drama and a time for guile. Being a faceless voice from the past served him better now, and hiding his expressions did the same.
A moment later, Serenity patched the conference call through. Always willing to go that extra mile, she also threw up images of the people involved in the call with mouseover links that displayed pertinent information about them in a frame to the right.
“Good morning.” said St John as soon as the call connected. “Doctors Angier, Tatopoulos and Weber; Mr. Mathey, Mr. Colby, and Mrs. Platte.”
The image of Rudolph Colby lightened. He was in his sixties with what remained of his black hair now gray and thinning. Since the time he’d known St John, he’d lost a considerable amount of weight, but was still be no means thin. Even in a still picture, his bulldog-like jowls seemed to quiver.
“You interfered with our operation, Duvall. Why?”
St John chuckled throatily. Oh why do you think, Mr. Colby? Imagine my shock and surprise to find that Generations—a project my money helped keep afloat after the Canadian government ceased supplemental funding—had resurfaced and started anew without even saying word one to me?”
“And that was worth sabotaging us by sending Captain Gordon to warn Maya Blumberg about us?” Unlike Mr. Colby, Mrs. Platte hadn’t changed, though that was only because to St John, she’d always looked to be in her seventies and carved from stone. Her face in the picture was stern and disapproving, presumably her only expression.
“Your operation was doomed from the start.” said St John. “You already made Blumberg aware with those false FBI agents a few months back. By the way, from what my intelligence tells me, they were identified by yet another Generations boondoggle. In fact, my intelligence tells me her name is Alice Tatopoulos. This confuses me because Alice Tatopoulos is a thirty year-old geneticist specializing in the gene sequences that comprise the psionic spectrum. She was last officially known to work for Synth-Biotics Unlimited, and unofficially, she’s part of Generations 2… and part of this conference call. Care to explain, Dr. Tatopoulos?”
Alice Tatopoulos, the senior Alice Tatopoulos was a thin woman with wild, dirt-blonde hair tamed into a messy bun atop her head in her picture. Her complexion was freckly ad made her look younger than she was. “I don’t answer to you, Mr. Duvall. You aren’t even part of the project.”
“You should answer to someone.” St John Duvall said, leaning forward as if to menace the woman who couldn’t see him. “Not only for loosing your little science project, and then letting her find out and use your name, but for that codename. Do you even know what ‘steampunk’ means?”
“That girl is a living water reactor.” Dr. Tatopoulos replied haughtily. “She produces a significant amount of energy from her diet and the waste product is steam, which can itself by harnessed to produce even more energy. She is a marvel of scientific achievement. And, I might add the result of your own—“
“Doctor!” shouted Mrs. Platte. “He doesn’t need to hear this.”
But she was too late. St John had already had his suspicions and only needed a tiny bit of information to confirm it. “The result of my… ha… talent search. Her genetic mother would be Anne Hardy then. That would make her Charity’s half-sister.”
His eyes narrowed. “Only Charity was conceived several years after Generations became defunct. You stole my algorithm.”
The image of Mr. Mathey, a man in his seventies who still looked younger and in better shape than Mr. Colby, lightened when the man harrumphed. “Don’t act so affronted, St John. The algorithm to identify likely carriers of the psionic spectrum genomes wouldn’t have been possible without the work Generations did.”
“And in any event,” Dr. Angier looked even younger than Dr. Tatopoulos, possibly fresh out of graduate school with the ink still wet on his doctorate. He was dark skinned with his hair cut close. The set of his eyes made them look too wide, like an owl’s. “Your use of that information was a scientific disgrace. I was sick to my stomach when I came on board and read about how you used the data to select sexual conquests.”
St John laughed. “That’s what you think it was? Believe me, those woman weren’t conquests, they were a breeding program: I’m a carrier of a rare psionic genome and I my intention was to produce children with the active version that could then be transferred to me via gene therapy.”
“You think that makes it any better?” said Angier. “Fifty-six women, seventeen children…”
“And only seven daughters.” St John said. “None of whom carry an active version of my psionic genome. I would be disappointed if the girls weren’t almost all uniquely talented and loyal. Worth the child support I pay on the boys and the lawyers needed to take custody of the girls.”
Colby made a sound over the phone that only drove home the ‘bulldog’ image. “Why only the girls?”
Dr. Tatopoulos fielded that one. “Most psionic spectrum genomes, including presumably Mr. Duvall’s, occur in the X chromosome. Therefore, any sons Mr. Duvall produced couldn’t possibly have the genome he was hoping they might express.”
“Go ahead and call me cold hearted.” said Duvall, lifting his chin defiantly. “You’ve got no place to judge me with Generations 2 carrying out things like Project Steampunk and firebombing Beacon’s home with his wife and child inside. Tell me: did you expect his daughter to manifest, or was that just a bonus?”
“A serendipitous side effect.” said Mrs. Platte. “We never knew Beacon Blumberg was a carrier, much less of an SD-108 candidate.”
Now Duvall’s expression turned predatory. It was another reason he opted not to speak to them with video: he didn’t want them to see how eager he was.
“And that brings us to why I called you. SD-108: I remember rumors of it going around in all the research groups I queried while in search of datapoints to create my algorithm—the Impossible Gene, the Newtonian Anomaly. From what I heard, it was some biological reactor the Nazis experimented with in World War II; or at least that’s what Tome thought of it. The Rhys Group was a little more whimsical: something about extra-terrestrial DNA.
“So what is it really? I know for a fact—thanks to some new queries I’ve made into your new operation—that SD-108 is your new raison d’être, and I’d like to know just what it is that was worth Generations opening again and why you felt the need to kill Blumberg first as your first move.”
Colby grunted. “You are no longer part of the project, Duvall. Why should we tell you anything?”
“Because I’m lying about not knowing why Beacon had to die?” Duvall offered as if he were just commenting on the weather. That was met with dead silence as the people on the other end waited to see if he was bluffing.
He smiled, relishing the moment. After all these years, he still enjoyed a touch of drama. After a long enough pause, he said, “Would you like to know what I think happened?”
No response. Mr. Mathey coughed, but that was it. St John wondered if Dr. Weber was even listening. No one wanted to give him any more rope to hang them.
“I’ll tell you anyway. Lt. Col. Daniel ‘Beacon’ Blumberg spent a few exciting years flying clandestine missions in the service of his government for the benefit of the Generations Project. The government’s involvement in the project ends and Blumberg goes back to being a regular pilot. Except he’s heard things on his missions: talk of psionics, experiments, and all sort of things he didn’t really pay too much attention to because they were too technical.
“That’s not a problem for anyone until Tome’s Academy got exposed. Suddenly, every once of research about psionics comes into question. Blumberg recalls all the hinky things he heard about and goes digging. Unfortunately for him, that was a few years after Project Steampunk started to manifest her powers, drawing the attention of someone from the old Generations Project and reminds them of the crazy story of the Nazis discovering some incredibly powerful psionic gene back before we knew what they were.”
“So Generations reopens based around uncovering SD-108 and notice Blumberg nosing around with a brain full of details about them and decide to get rid of him.” St John’s eyes glittered. “How’m I doing so far?”
It was Mathey’s mellow voice that cut in before Colby could say something rash. “What makes you so certain about the sequence of events?”
St John went in for the kill. “Because Blumberg knew more than you think he did. And he hid it all on his old, outdated palmtop, in his locker on the air force base. Must have hoped his wing-mates would have some curiosity if he happened to get killed and find it. Luckily, Captain Gordon didn’t and instead brought it to Beacon’s daughter the moment I told him where to find her.”
“You used us!” Colby roared, “To get the palmtop out in the open!”
“Of course I did.” said St John. “And now I know what Beacon Blumberg knew. And if you want to know, you’ll have to cut me in on the SD-108 research.”
Mrs. Platte ‘hmm’d’ into her mic. “I doubt that Blumberg had useful scientific information. So you’ll have to offer more than that.”
“Oh, you want my money again.” said St John. “Done. And I’ll even sweeten the pot: Both Maya Blumberg and the Steampunk are now under the protection of the Liedecker Institute. I trust you already appreciate how formidable their security is even without factoring in Mayfield’s prelates?”
There was a slight murmur of grudging agreement.
“Good. Because I just so happen to already have two daughters already on the inside. I, more than anyone else you might name am now in a position to offer you that school and all of the students there on a platter.”
Maya flopped face first onto her bed and lay there motionless for a few minutes, enjoying the near-quiet. The only sound was Soot complaining in his own special way about the fire retardant bedspread, and even he petered out eventually and retreated into her hair to curl up.
She hadn’t been left alone by her friends for any longer than it took to shower or use the bathroom since the moment they returned to the resort. Even though none of them mentioned it, they were all doing their best to make sure no one else got a chance to kidnap their friend again.
Surprisingly, Maya found herself feeling happy about that. Her friends were still her friends even after learning the complex and dangerous truths, some of which she hadn’t even been aware of, that surrounded her. Not only that, but they were willing to go to the mat for her if need be.
She hoped they would never have to.
But back at the Institute, protected by the wall and the full strength of the security there, the others finally felt it safe to separate for a while. And that was nice too.
After a long while, Maya rolled over on her back and stared at the ceiling. As good as it felt to know her friends were there for her and that she was safe, some things were still bothering her.
Was she really connected to whatever SD-108 really was? Did that make her something other than human? And what about the people behind everything that had happened? They killed her parents; tried to kill, then capture her. Could she really just sit back and let them get away with that? And if not, what could she do about it? She was just a teenager.
She raised a hand in front of her face. She could feel the potential there and in the air around it for fire to burst into being. All she had to do was give it a nudge in the right direction and a flame would awaken and do exactly as she asked. It was all about will.
For the moment, she didn’t have the will. Her parent’s death was still a heavy dread in her stomach and it would probably never become a furious roar for vengeance in her heart. Even that wasn’t enough to make her want to make things or people burn.
The potential was there though. And she did know what that meant: she wasn’t ‘just’ a teenager and neither were her friends. If Generations wanted to take her or Alice, or any of her other friends, they would not find it an easy task.
That choice wasn’t simple for her and it made her nervous to even consider it in her head, but there it was.
“Maya!” Kura burst into the room wielding an ice cream scoop. “We’re making sundaes for everyone that’s back from vacation! Come on!”
Sitting up, Maya smiled. Kura was already dashing down the hall, just assuming Maya was in. And that was nice too.
Maya still missed her parents, and prayed to one day wake up and find out that they were still alive. But in the here and now, the Liedecker Institute was feeling more and more like home.
“The girls are all back, safe and sound.” Stephanie Caroll’s voice reported from the speaker on Vincent Liedecker’s desk, located in his primary office overlooking Westinghall Plaza. “I went ahead and checked: no other student had any trouble and will be back at the Institute before the start of classes.”
Liedecker was reviewing some information he’d gathered on Captain Gordon and Daniel Blumberg. “Good to know. So what do you make of this?”
“Another group trying to exploit descendants.” Stephanie said with disdain. “No more, no less.”
“Think so?” he asked. “’cause it seems to me that they could’ve got a lot better for all the money they spent on this if they switched targets once lil’ Maya wound up here. Ever see somethin’ hunt? They won’t go through brambles to get at one rabbit when there’s other rabbits just sittin’ out in the open.”
Stephanie thought a bit, then said. “You think it’s about her specifically.”
“I think it proves you’re getting’ a little too close to these kids that you don’t.” Liedecker replied. “This girl was on the run because someone burns her mama and daddy to death. They chased her clear outta Canada to Mayfield and impersonated the FBI to get at her. Then the very next time they think they’ve got a chance, they come at her on the other side of the country with about three million dollars worth of tech. Ain’t no way in hell this ain’t about her.”
The other side of the line had fallen silent. Stephanie was contemplating what he’d said about her getting too close. “If you think I can’t do this—“
“Ain’t nobody said that.” Liedecker cut her off. “Point of fact, I think it’s a good thing. Because they’re gonna need ‘Ms. Caroll’ by the time this all shakes out. Mark my word, this ain’t over with these Generations Projects folks. It’ll probably get bloody: and that’s exactly what you’re there for.”
“Hmm. Am I the only one getting too close?” Stephanie asked, “Because you sound much more involved than I would guess if you were just hoping to raise a few descendants who owe you something.”
Liedecker stood up from his desk and paced in front of his window. “You act like it’s a weakness, or somethin’ not in my character.” He half laughed. “But that’s a pig simple thing to think. Just cause a man is tough, got some blood on his hands, and maybe ain’t every bit the upright citizen people things he is don’t mean he’s the kind of man that’d sit back and let the sort of thing these sons of bitches wanna do to these kids go by.
“If they show up on my campus, I want you to send ’em to hell in pieces. Understand?”
Her reply was only two words, but they were words she’d never used with him before, and he could hear the proud smile behind it.
To Be Continued…