- LI: Sophomore Year #13 – Steam Complex Chp. 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #14 – Steam Complex Chp. 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #15 – Steam Complex Chp. 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #16 – Out of the Past Chp. 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #17 – Out of the Past Chp. 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #18 – Operation: Fuzzy Cheer Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #19 – Operation: Fuzzy Cheer Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #20 – Operation: Fuzzy Cheer Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #21 – Student Union Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #22 – Student Union Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #22 – Student Union Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #23 – Student Union Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #24 – Student Union Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year Annual #5
It was past lights-out for most students at the Institute, but that was a rule that the girl called Steampunk had justified ignoring. Students that needed no or diminished sleep like Rose Abernathy or Zane Springfield weren’t required to stay in their rooms at night, just inside the main building. Because of that, Steampunk convinced herself that the lights-out times were actually guidelines, to be disregarded if something more important overruled it.
Besides, before tonight, she’d never actually left her room. What she did do was spend a few extra hours scouring her memories for scraps of information that meant nothing at the time, but now had a context given her rescue, the subsequent attempts to reacquire her, and the other attempts on students like Maya Blumberg.
A year ago, she never would have considered it—either gathering information independently or countermanding the guidelines set down by authority figures. But now her goal—her goal, one she’d formed without input from anyone—seemed too important to allow it to be limited by non-critical regulations. The other students didn’t. And while there were consequences for doing so, she could easily weigh the risk versus reward.
Tonight, she hadn’t stayed up. Proper rest was necessary for optimum performance and Steampunk didn’t know what tasks would be necessary. So she went to bed early with her palmtop’s earbud still in and the alarm set to two in the morning.
Her roommate for the second year running, Jada Devos, didn’t stir as Steampunk slipped out of bed and over to her dresser. If it was just for her own sake, she could have just put on her containment suit and been done with it. After all, it was sleek and dark—perfect for stealthily sneaking out of the Institute under te watchful eye of the security staff.
She wasn’t going alone though and she had months worth of evidence that wearing her suit alone made the others uncomfortable for reasons she couldn’t divine. As she was already going to be pushing at least one of them far from her comfort zone, Steampunk wanted to minimize all other sources of the emotion.
To that end, she threw on a navy turtleneck sweater and a pair of baggy black jeans. Laurel Brant had offered her a wide selection of clothing , which Steampunk usually wore on a rotation only because covering up her suit seemed to reduce the number of negative social interactions she faced in a given day.
The most heavy-duty pair of shoes she’d been given were a pair of snow boots, so she put those on as well. Last but not least, she pulled out her duffelbag from under her bed.
After the first appearance of agents in the employ of the Generations project in Mayfield, Steampunk put together a kit in order to be prepared in case she was forced to leave. Using the allowance the Institute gave her and items freely available to the students, she’d assembled an extensive first and emergency aid kit, three days worth of food and water, a filter and UV bottle to get more water, two multitools, a utility knife, a tarp, a barebones, unregistered palmtop computer, an assortment of useful chemicals she walked out of chemistry class with, and materials for the upkeep of her containment suit.
It weighed an unreasonable amount, but she hadn’t had time to audit the kit and reduce it to a more optimal size. Now wasn’t the time to try, so she hefted the bag and slipped out of her room.
The hall lights were dimmed in the late hours, but not so much that it was hard to see by them. Steampunk paused just long enough to listen for any security personnel who might be on the floor before heading to the first door she needed to visit.
All of the student locks were electronic and keyed to the palmtop programs they were all issued. All of two hours of decompiling and reconstructing the code rendered the one on Steampunk’s palmtop into a kind of skeleton key. The door to Maya Blumberg and Kura Akagi’s room opened without a sound.
Placing her bag on the floor just inside the door so as to make as little sound as possible, Steampunk slinked past Kura’s bed. As far as she was conerned, his was the most dangerous stage of her plan. If Kura Akagi woke up, things would become exponentially more complicated to the point that calculating a good utcome would be impossible.
Kura remained asleep. And floating a full foot above her bed with her covers wrapped tightly around her. Steampunk found it best not to analyze Kura Akagi—even her powers broke the traditional accepted patterns in how descendant powers worked.
Several theories still presented themselves, given some of the files she’d handled for the Generations Project. Likely, someone at the Institute had similar thoughts, seeing as how Kura was assigned a room with Maya in sophomore year.
This time, she ignored her wholesale and instead moved over to Maya.
The redheaded firebrand was curled up in a messy ball of blankets with only her face visible. A peaceful face, showing neither the fear it betrayed all too often when awake, or the awesome power she was capable of. That Generations at least thought she was capable of.
“Maya Blumberg.” Steampunk said, reaching out to nudge the girl.
Steampunk glanced behind her to confirm Kura wasn’t waking. She was, in fact, slowly rotating in the air like a chicken on a rotisserie. Somehow, that wasn’t all that surprising.
Turning back to Maya, Steampunk nudged her harder. “Maya Blumberg. You need to awaken.”
Maya didn’t stir, but from out from under the covers crawled Soot, Maya’s tiny fireling companion. The little flame seemed to gaze up at her. If she was better at reading body language, she might have recognized annoyance.
She stared at the fireling for a long moment. So man theories either vindicated or proven false in just that one little creature. Whatever the Generations Project knew about Soot, his presence no doubt increased their interest in Maya tenfold.
The third time, she more prodded the girl than nudged. “Maya Blumberg, it is of supreme importance that you awaken. You must awaken.”
“Mmmph?” The covers wriggled and one eye cracked grudgingly open. “Alice?”
“Shh.” Steampunk put her finger to her lips. The gesture was meaningless to her, but she’d seen the others do it when someone needed to be quiet and she hoped Maya would recognize it. “Please arise. We do not have much time and there is something you must see.”
“Wha?” Maya said with all the coherence of most people being awakened at two in the morning.
Steampunk prodded her again. “The Generations Project, Maya Blumberg. There is something you must see.”
“What time is it?”
“Two hours and six minutes past midnight?”
“…” Maya plopped her head back down on what Steampunk assumed was her pillow beneath all those blankets. “Too early.”
Steampunk blinked. “This is not true, Maya Blumberg. The hour is the optimal time. We cannot go during the day; we would be observed, and not solely by Institute personnel.”
This time, Maya didn’t bother trying to open her eyes. What are you talking about?”
“As I have said, Maya Blumberg: the Generations Project. I have found answers nearby. Answers about SD-108. About what we are.” When Maya didn’t answer to that, she considered what other information might entice the other young woman and recalled one thing that (in her mind) was tangentially connected to Maya. “There are also unredacted versions of your father’s service record.”
Maya struggled to pull a hoodie over her head and to do it quietly to boot. As much as she loved Kura as a friend, there were things she didn’t want her to find out. And if Kura woke up, there would be no stopping her until she found out exactly why Maya and Alice were sneaking out so late.
Speaking of, Maya wished she knew exactly why they were sneaking out. Students could come and go as they pleased during the day, so sneaking out seemed like too much of a necessary risk, especially for someone as exacting as Alice.
That said, Maya couldn’t deny that Alice knew more about what she was doing when it came to the Generations Project and everything surrounding it and her father’s connection to it than she did. Sometimes she worried about just how much the girl really knew and if that might play a part in her strange manners.
She couldn’t hide from herself how much what happened to her parents had changed her. Even when she tried, the therapist the Institute arranged for her drew it out in the open. Not that it changed anything; no matter what Mrs. Goodwyn said, she was certain the fight they had that night had something to do with the fire. She couldn’t risk making it happen again.
Lost in her thoughts, it barely registered to her that Alice wasn’t leading her to the stairs down to the main floor, but to another door in the sophomore girls’ wing. Her attention finally snapped back to the here and now when Alice raised her palmtop to the door, which unlocked immediately.
That… was disconcerting. Even if Alice could be trusted with that kind of access (and Maya hoped she could be), bad things could happen if a prankster like Phineas or Kura got their hands on it. Maya was about to say something, but Alice rounded on her.
“Stay here.” the blonde said. There wasn’t any real inflection in her words—there so rarely was—but Maya almost pouted at the distinct ‘good doggie’ vibe she got off the expression and how Alice simply stepped into the room without even making sure Maya would obey.
Mostly because Maya would obey, she realized haplessly. Slouching against the wall, she frowned at the thought. Two years ago, no one would tell her what to do like that without hearing about it. Her father even called her ‘a little spitfire, just like her mother’ more than once. It had been cute before, now it just felt cruel.
Sensing her unhappiness, Soot hopped out of his place in her hair and down to her shoulder. He spread his little arms/flippers as far as he could and hugged her cheek. Colors and warmth flickered n a part of her mind just the other side of normal perception.
There wasn’t anything to do when it came to fireling affection, but smile. Maya did while reaching up to pet his fiery head. “I love you too Soot.” She said soothingly.
With her faculties back about her, Maya looked back at the door Alice disappeared into. She didn’t really know the girls who lived n that room. Once was the fuzzy girl Maya had a few classes with, the other was a girl called Rita, who talked to Alice sometimes.
It was a surprise then when Alice returned with the former, who didn’t seem the least bit tired, but more than a little confused.
Joy Duvall lazily tapped away on her projected keyboard. Even with the infinite space of the internet, she was bored. She was sure that the kids who didn’t need sleep or needed less of it were in the same boat as her, but it was worse for her because classes still happened during the day, her circadian rhythms be damned.
Ms. Brant in particular had tried to accommodate her, but most of the solutions boiled down to night tutoring and sleeping during the day, which would have meant basically never getting to spend time with any of her classmates.
She may or may not have been daydreaming about him confessing that he thought her fuzziness made her look extra cute when a noise drew her out of her thoughts and her eyes toward the door.
Joy blinked at the other girl. Her roommate, Rita knew Steampunk better than she did, but not well enough for visits in the middle of the night. The shushing was a little off-putting as well. Instead of looking stern or concerned or… anything that normally went with the gesture, Steampunk took a moment to study her as if she wasn’t sure what her reaction would be.
Once satisfied with that, Steampunk glanced at Rita’s bed to make sure the other girl in the room as asleep before crossing the room to Joy’s desk.
“What do you–”
Joy glared at her indignantly. It had about as much of an effect as if she’d done it to the wall.
“You need to come with me.” Steampunk didn’t exactly whisper, she just lowered her voice to a low, dull drone. “Off campus. There is something you need to see, Joy Duvall.”
“Look.” Joy whispered in hopes she wouldn’t be shushed this time. “I hardly even know you. Why should I sneak off campus with you? Do you know how much trouble we could get into?”
Steampunk gave her the same kind of dull stare a cow might give to a rancher, a fencepost or an oncoming train. “It is important that you see this for yourself along with Maya Blumberg.”
But Steampunk wasn’t listening. No, she was thinking. As little information as her face normally showed, it was easy to see when she was calculating. Finally, she asked. “You are aware that you do not share a mother with your sisters.”
“What that a question? Um… yes? It’s kind of obvious.”
Steampunk nodded slowly as if trying the gesture on for size. “Have you ever wondered why?”
“What?” Joy stammered, shying back from the dispassionate gaze the other girl was giving her. “I guess he just never really got along with our moms?”
“It is unlikely he cared for any of them. But there is more to it. You won’t believe the truth if I tell you: you need to see it for yourself. Maya Blumberg needs to see as well.”
Joy shook her head. This was too strange. None of it made sense, especially not at two in the morning. “Maya? Maya doesn’t have anything to do with my father.”
“No. She does not.” said Steampunk. “But you father has a great deal to do with her. And you need to learn the truth before you hear his or your sisters’ versions of it.”
Reaching up, Joy massaged her temples. “Why are you saying and doing all this?”
Steampunk’s expression remained neutral, but when she spoke, there was a certain chilling seriousness to it. “Because if you believe what he intends to tell you, do what he wants you to do: people here will come to harm. You have heard about what happened to me and the others during the spring holiday. It will only get worse unless we discover a means of defending ourselves—and you are the key to that, Joy Duvall. I need your help to find the answers.”
To Be Continued…