LI: Sophomore Year #14 – Steam Complex Chp. 2

This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 5: Worst Subjects

It was hard trusting Alice.

Maya would never say that out loud. Never in a thousand years, even under threat of torture. But it was true.

The odd girl called Steampunk was a closed book to everyone she met, even—or maybe especially to the people it seemed she was friendly with. Or as friendly as she was capable of. More worrying, it always felt like no one was a closed book to her. Even when it came to Kura, who was the anti-Alice if there ever was such a person, only seemed to baffle Alice on the same level as videogames or having a favorite food.

That put Maya on edge if only because she didn’t want anyone to know everything about herself—not Alice, not Ms Brant or Ms. Keyes; not even Eddie. She was dangerous and as much as she didn’t want to hurt anyone, she also didn’t want to be shunned.

But there were other things too. Like how she led them at a brisk walking pace right out of the Institute, only stopping once or twice for little rhyme or reason. It was like Alice had everything timed perfectly to pass through the holes in Institute security as if they weren’t there at all.

If she could do it, what was stopping anyone else? What was stopping he from being forced to help someone else?

Maya refused to even think about the other possibility: that Alice might help someone—most likely the Generations Project people—come after her of her own volition. She knew way too much about their operations and held way too little (if any) of a grudge over what they’d done to her.

After a trip off the institute grounds that Maya was sure would eventually give many parents panic attacks, Alice led them across the street to the pod station there. A four person pod was waiting at the premium service stop under the name ‘Kinney’.

Whether that was an alias, or Alice just decided to steal it, Maya didn’t know, but the boarded and it soon whisked them off into the night.

“Can… you explain this a little better now that we’re on our way?” Joy had clamored into the back of the pod and was now sitting with her legs up to her chest, shivering. “The more I think about this, the weirder it is.”

“You would not believe me if I told you. I need to show you proof.” Alice was sitting ramrod straight as usual. Her eyes were fixed ahead of them; on the cluster of exceptionally tall buildings Maya knew as City Central.

Joy pulled her wing-arms tighter around herself, but the confusion on her face was starting to give way to annoyance. “And if you had evidence, why didn’t you show it to me before dragging us out here?”

“Because I do not have it. I merely know of its existence. Attempting to retrieve it remotely would result in detection. Your father would change tactics, leading to unknown variables.”

Calculating or not, able to read people or not… that was the wrong thing to say. Maya winced as a very feline hiss sounded from the seat behind her.

“My father? My father? I don’t know who you think Father is, but he’s not the crazy master planner you’re talking about. He’s a retired researcher. Sure it looks like we have money, but that’s all Glory; she’s the one that bought into that AetherSynch company her friend in college started. She’s the one that made all the money—she gave Father his job!”

Alice finally turned around, making Maya wonder why she hadn’t before. With Alice, there was always a reason for the things she did, even if they didn’t seem to make sense. Even the little things. Especially the little things.

“Incorrect. Allow me to present this query: if Glory Duvall made her fortune investing in AetherSynch, from where did the initial investment capital originate?”

Unlike Maya, Joy wasn’t used to Alice. The question was met by thirty seconds of silence.

“Um…” Maya ventured, turning around in her seat. She tried to give the other girl a reassuring smile (and not think about how much like a plush toy Joy looked) before saying, “She asked where the money came from. The money your sister put into the company I mean.”

Joy blinked and her face screwed up (albeit cutely) as she came to a realization. “I… don’t know.”

This made Alice nod for whatever inscrutable ‘Alice’ reason. “Since 2054, St John Duvall has received covert payments that amount to an annual salary of ninety-three thousand dollars through various shell companies ultimately linked to the Generations Project and its successor.”

Maya shivered. She already guessed that was what their trek was about given what Alice said earlier. But if Joy’s father was mixed up with them… parents were allowed on the grounds anytime they wanted to be. That meant someone on the Project payroll had continual access to her and Alice and anyone else they wanted.

Something in Maya’s expression killed the retort forming on Joy’s lips. Maya guessed what was going through her head: Alice was weird and might be crazy, but Maya had a reputation of ‘shy but normal’. If she was taking things seriously, then it might well be serious.”

“Generations Project.” Joy said slowly as if trying the words out. “What does that mean? One of this research projects?”

“Indeed.” said Alice. “The project that resulted in me. The project that is seeking Maya Blumberg.”

“I… what? How can a research project ‘result’ in you. You’re a person, not a robot… right?”

Maya was glad someone else asked that question. It was one of those kinds of things that seemed absurd, but was just on the edge of possibility given modern technology.

Either Alice didn’t know to take offense at that, or genuinely didn’t, because she replied without inflection. “I am human, yes. But I was born as part of an attempt to recreate the properties of the SD-108 strain. The experiment was contaminated because the female donor was an unexpressed and undocumented psionic, resulting in me having both her Type II hypercognition in addition to my poorly expressed energy generation.”

This time Joy actively looked to Maya for a translation.

She found no help there, was not only had Maya’s train of thought derailed, but it was currently rolling down a vast mountainside of questions, confusion and disbelief.

Betty sometimes joked about Alice being born in a lab. The reality of the taunt was horrible beyond her imagination. It was even worse to hear the nonchalance with which Alice approached it. That the little corner of her mind that was excited about the biology behind everything about descendant powers actually wanted to ask questions made her stomach churn.

Trooper that she was, Joy tried to go it alone. “Is she saying she’s… some kind of science project?”

“A proof-of -concept.” said Alice. “One that was only partially successful.”

Joy stared at her. “And you’re saying my dad had something to do with that?”

“Yes. And it would not be the first time. St John Duvall first came to the attention of the Generations Project when his name appeared in the legal records of several persons of interest to them: all female, all either psionics or the siblings of such.”

Alice apparently decided eye contact wasn’t necessary any longer, because she turned back around at this point. “His methodology was swiftly discerned: He would approach and seduce these women, impregnate them, then if the child was female, he would sue for custody.”

Joy almost climbed over Maya’s seat. “Wait. What?! What are you suggesting? That wasn’t methodology, that was just Father never really finding the woman he loved! He got custody of us because it was what was best!”

“As far as records indicate, he had no children from women who did not carry a psionic gene formation. He also never sued for custody of the male children—who were less likely to carry or express a descendant gene.” Alice glanced at Joy, a gesture that piqued Maya’s curiosity. It almost looked like, despite her bluntness, the girl wasn’t happy to deliver the news.

Eyes wide, Joy fell back into her seat. “Male… children?”

Maya’s mind was racing too. She’d seen Charity and Faith Duvall at the school. It never occurred to her that they looked nothing like Joy because… well no one looked like Joy. She’d heard some about her other sisters, but had never met them. Did that mean they all had powers? Why would Mr. Duvall want a bunch of daughters with superpowers? After all, that hadn’t ended up well for her parents.

“Yes. He made no attempt to gain custody of them. He also lost several custody disputes.”

Joy sank into her seat with her eyes wide and shimmering with tears that went unshed mostly because she didn’t know whether this was great, terrible or scary news. “I have other brothers and sisters? But this doesn’t make sense—why did Father never tell us?”

The answer came as bluntly as anything else Alice had said, but Maya noticed the hesitation in the blonde before she delivered it. “To control you.” When Joy’s response was stunned silence, she added, “If his patterns hold, he will soon begin indoctrinating you into advancing his goals as he has all of your sisters.”

Now the tears started flowing. Maya wished she’d taken a back seat so she could have comforted the other girl. Wished she knew what to say about all this.

The pod started to decelerate as it entered the thicket of tall buildings at City Central. Alice grew quiet for a time before finally staring straight ahead and saying, “I am sorry. This is… traumatic for you.”

“Traumatic?” Joy screeched. “You woke me up in the middle of the night and now you’re telling me all these lies about Father. Why are you doing this?” She looked at Maya with narrowed eyes. “Is this one of your friend Kura’s pranks? Because it isn’t funny!”

Maya shrank from the excoriation. “No! Kura’s not that mean and… and Alice wouldn’t go along with something like that either. If she’s saying it… I think it might be true, or it’s something she thinks is true.”

“Well it’s not!” Joy shouted, her voice amplified by the close quarters of the pod. “It’s not true! Father loves us! We’re not some kind of project or experiment to him.!”

Alice didn’t seem moved by Joy’s shouting, :I cannot speculate on his emotions. I can only report what he has done.”

“I don’t believe you.” Joy said acidly and threw herself down in her seat. “So if that’s what you brought me out here for, then we can just turn around right now because I’m not going along with it.”

Instead of replying, Alice turned to Maya. “You understand the implications. Please explain them to her how the scope of this goes beyond her familial relations.”

Being put on the spot wasn’t Maya’s strong suit, especially not when it came to something like that. Joy didn’t understand everything was going on but then Alice didn’t know what it meant to Joy. Seeing as Alice had already made Joy hostile about the whole thing, Maya decided to fix the other problem.

“Alice…” She started in a small voice. It actually looked like the blonde girl was surprised to be addressed. “I guess you didn’t really grow up with your mom and dad…”

“Partially true. The female donor was and remains part of the project.”

Maya blinked at that. “You mean your mom did that to you?!” She wasn’t quiet about that. It was too terrible to be timid about.

“My birth mother. I am to understand ‘mom’ has a different connotation than the relationship between myself and Alice Tatopoulos.”

Once again, Maya felt her train of thought exploding into a twisted, fiery wreck. Before she could ask the obvious question, Joy beat her to it, drawn back into the conversation by the twisted intrigue.

“But… you’re Alice Tatopoulos.”

“Laurel Brant asked for a name and would not accept ‘Steampunk’. There was only one choice I could think of at the time.”

Maya could only stare. The pod was slowing down, descending a ramped rail leading into a pod station in the middle of City Central. She thought that ‘Steampunk’ was a codename, that the other girl’s insistence on using it was part of whatever awful conditioning she’d gone through. She thought she was being caring and helpful when she called her by Alice instead.

But it was the other way around. Steampunk was the victim. Alice was the monster that did this to… to her own daughter. Just like Ali… Steampunk was accusing Joy’s father of being.

At that thought, she looked back at Joy. The same look of horror she imagined was on her face had crossed Joy’s fuzzy features as well. Their eyes met and they both instantly averted them. Now they shared a secret they wished they didn’t.

All the while, Alice had been watching them. Her expression didn’t change, but her eyes darted away as if she too felt shame, even if for something else. “I am supposed to feel pain for this. Or betrayal. I do not. Alice Tatopoulos never ‘loved’ me and I did not love her. She was merely the primary donor and project head. She was completely objective when it came to the Project.”

“Still…” Joy said, sniffing, “She was your mom. You’re her kid. How could she do that?”

“There are very few females with high enough security clearance in the Project who met the biological parameters. She accelerated the project by at least the year it would have required to vet a new donor.”

“That’s…” Maya started, but paused. “Emotional appeals wouldn’t do much for Steampunk or Alice… maybe she could still be Alice; Steampunk was so impersonal… so she tried something else. “…not very scientific.”

Alice ducked her head. “It is a severe breech of protocol and she would never have been able to publish the results. The Project, however, does not concern itself with anything besides tracing and isolating SD-108.”

The pod came to a stop and the front of it slid open to let them out into a mostly empty pod station. As they piled out, Joy powered her voice and asked, “Okay… what’s SD-108?”

“A gene complex.” Alice replied, also speaking quietly. “Not of this Earth. Introduced into humanity by the Thule Society in hopes of generating infinite energy and creating a superior being. The Generations Project and its successor attempted to recreate it in me—and has reason to believe that goal has been realized in Maya Blumberg.”

Maya felt her face heat up. ‘Superior being’? Somehow that didn’t sound like such good thing when the people who thought it were Nazi wizards.

Joy drew her wings closely around her. “A-and you think Father has something to do with that?”

After hearing what Alice Tatopoulos, Sr. had done, she didn’t sound quite so incredulous about her father. “This all sound so… impossible. Not of this Earth? Are we talking about aliens? You’re trying t tell me you two are aliens? Part aliens?”

“’Alien’ implies the originating creature was from another planet in out universe. There is no proof that the Thule creature was from any known celestial body and if it was, their device is then capable of initiating faster than light travel.”

Joy looked to Maya for help.

“I-I think she’s saying it’s from another dimension.” Maya said, not fully believing what she was saying.

“Yes.” Alice said, cutting off the rest of their conversation. “And we are here in part because I have located recorded proof”

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< LI: Sophomore Year #13 – Steam Complex Chp. 1LI: Sophomore Year #15 – Steam Complex Chp. 3 >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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  1. I do not think it’s Wednesday.

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