- 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
City Central after midnight was quiet and haunting. The street lights turned the towers into looming ghosts that blocked out the night sky and reflected sound in odd ways. The odd passing car hummed like a large, angry hornet and was gone in a doppler second.
Most of the sounds were distant—so distant that even with Joy’s enhanced hearing, it felt like they were walking through some sort of aural void.
Given her fuzzy coat of fur, she should have been the warmest of the three, she couldn’t stop shivering, thought that was only half to blame on the weather.
For years, she had ignored the strangeness of her family. How her sister Charity babied her like a mother and gently but certainly insulated her from the others. How her other sisters would go away on business trips with no jobs to speak of. The reverence and obedience they all showed Father when everything she’d seen n TV and in movies showed there should have been at least a little friction.
But she ignored all that because… well they were her family. Every family had their quirks and traditions, so why not theirs?
It even made sense why they obeyed Father. After all, from what they’d been told, (grudgingly, when one of them wheedled it out of Father) their mothers hadn’t wanted them. That Father had fought to keep them. Which now that she thought about it, were two things that should have been mutually exclusive.
So yes, she could admit that there was something… strange about St John Duvall and his seven daughters. But mad science? Mad Nazi science? Hunting her school chums across the continent like animals? Creating (for lack of a better word) Steampunk? That was beyond the pale.
Joy stalked along a half-step behind the other two. She didn’t know and at this point, didn’t care why Maya was going along with the whole thing. The shy redhead seemed too smart and too enamored with science (fro what Joy knew of her) to go for wild tales of alien monsters and Thule sorcery.
The pod station let them out right in the heart of City Central within easy walking distance from the library, City Hall and the courthouse. Steampunk, however, was taking them away from the government buildings and into a district made up mostly of office towers and parking garages.
But they weren’t headed for any of those though. Instead, Steampunk was directing them to a hotel. Sort of a hotel; Joy knew the place: The Covington Arms. Her eldest sister’s company (or maybe it really was Father’s) kept a suite there. It was closer to an apartment building than a hotel: companies paid to keep rooms there for their consultants and other workers who might only need to stay in a given city a few months at a time.
When her family came to visit, they used the suite as well. Joy stopped herself from asking if that was where Steampunk was taking them. It felt like a given.
Steampunk didn’t break her stride as they approached the doors, only offered the doorman a blank stare that deterred him from asking questions. With no resistance, they passed into an open, tiled lobby where a pair of glass partitions separated them from a small convenient store on the left and a lounge on the right. Straight ahead was a tall, wood-paneled desk where a smartly-dressed woman stood sentinel. To get to the elevators, gym of business center, anyone entering the building would have to go past her.
The receptionist did nothing to deter Steampunk. The blonde took out her palmtop and thumbed the screen a few times as they made their way to the desk. Joy tried to see what she was doing, but she was too short to see over her shoulder.
“Hello.” Steampunk said before the receptionist could speak.
“Good morning.” The receptionist’s tone and expression were dubious at best. “Isn’t it a bit late for girls your age to be out?”
Steampunk just looked at her like a cow looks at an oncoming train… or its favorite thing in the world—cows only have the one expression, as did Steampunk most of the time. “My friends’ plane was delayed. I went to meet them as my father needs to be up early.”
The lie was smooth in her monotone and even Joy had a hard time believing she was listening to someone who was capable of lying.
“They’ll be here for the day tomorrow and need key apps. John Micheal Boxer, suite 1124, Luxan Microsystems.” Sure enough, when the receptionist checked the computer, there was such a person. In no time, Maya and Joy had temporary keys on their palmtops.
“Thank you…” Steampunk paused to check the name tag, Her stone expression wavered a split second as her brows twitched once in confusion before finishing with, “Sunny.”
“You’re welcome, Miss Boxer. I hope you and your friends enjoy your stay at the Covington Arms.”
Maya squeaked out a thank you of her own, but Steampunk was already on her way to the elevator. Once there, she lowered her voice, thought it couldn’t be called a whisper and said to Maya, “I need to make use of your palmtop.”
The redhead relinquished her device without question. Steampunk, showing, that she did know something of basic manners, nodded her thanks and waved the phone in front of the elevator’s panel. The key app beeped and the elevator hummed, signaling it was moving.
“Covington Arms is a temporary corporate housing establishment and thus highly secure to prevent corporate espionage.” She informed them as they waited. “However, as a hotel, the guest registry, combined with privacy concerns are its weak point.”
The elevator dinged and the doors opened. As they climbed in, Joy saw a look of thoroughly impressed awe on Maya’s face.
“Then because you knew someone staying here and they wouldn’t ask too many questions about their kids…”
Steampunk nodded and pressed the button for the eleventh floor. “All that was required was to log in and add a daughter to the alias John Micheal Boxer’s registration. It would have been more difficult if the alias had not been a simplistic cypher.”
“Cypher?” Joy couldn’t help but ask.
“Boxer.” the blonde responded blandly. “Boxing was originally codified under the ‘Queensbury Rules’. Queensbury being a very simple replacement away from Kingsbury.”
To Joy’s surprise, Maya beat her to the obvious question with the loudest outburst she’d ever heard from the girl. “Professor Kingsbury? The biology teacher?”
“I was unaware we associated with any other people with that surname.” Steampunk replied, making it sound like a question.
Maya sputtered. “But… you mean he’s a spy working for those people?”
Steampunk shook her head, causing Maya to relax, but by now Joy knew what was coming next had a ninety percent chance of being worse. “A spy would have been rooted out by the extensive vetting process the Institute uses. Kingsbury was recruited and bribed after he had his position. I have reason to believe that through him the Project has gained an expanded interest in the student body.”
The elevator dinged again, the doors opening onto a wide, carpeted hallway with classical prints on the walls. Steampunk strode out, but Joy hung back as Maya was still standing there, mouth agape. “But that doesn’t make sense. He’s so… so… mean. Wouldn’t someone trying to get close to us and learn things be… nice?”
“Unpleasant people are less suspected of attempting to infiltrate.” Steampunk reasoned. “In addition, it is likely that Kingsbury is a naturally unpleasant person. A change in his attitude after his recruitment would have drawn attention.”
Finally, Maya stepped out of the elevator, Joy right behind her. “But still… my biology teacher is trying to help people kidnap and experiment on me?” She was back to squeaking and the little fire creature called Soot had climbed out of her hair and was hugging her cheek as if to console her.
Still carrying Maya’s palmtop, Steampunk struck off down the hall again. “My apologies, Maya Blumberg, but this will be the least of your concerns nice I display the video files to you.”
Maya shivered despite the tiny flame creature plastered to the side of her face. “I was worried you were going to say that.” She took a moment to swallow before asking, “But if you knew all this, why didn’t you turn him in?”
“To what end?” asked Steampunk. “He is not trained in covert operations and espionage. Accessing his communiques and predicting his actions are easily within my ability. If he is discovered, the Project will endeavor to insert someone more competent.”
She stopped before a door with ‘1124’ in brass letters just beneath the peephole and presented Maya’s palmtop again. The red light next to the door sensor turned green and, without any sense of hesitation, Steampunk pushed the door open.
The overhead light was already on in the living room of the suite. Joy watched as Steampunk paused to look up at it as if it were an insect under a microscope. “Something is wrong.” the blonde reported. With no other explanation, she hurried out of the foyer and into the living room proper with Maya and Joy right behind.
The place was nice, as Joy expected: plush couch facing a faux fireplace that doubled as a big screen television, a coffee table with a thin tablet computer laying on it that no doubt granted access to the hotel’s sentiments, a table in the corner with two chairs at opposite sides and a lamp…
There was a laptop computer sitting on the desk. Its carrying case was tossed casually on the floor next to one chair that had been pulled out. Other than that, there was no evidence that anyone was in residence.
Steampunk froze in the middle of the room when she spied the laptop.
“Alice, what—“ Maya started, only to have Steampunk round on her and clamp a hand over her mouth. Soot gave a little squeak of protest as her thumb squished him, but wriggled free.
“Shh.” Steampunk said the sound more than made it, as if she knew the gesture from reading about it. “Either someone is here, or they have been here recently.”
Since Maya couldn’t, Joy asked, “Professor Kingsbury?”
“No. He is not in Mayfield.” Steampunk said quietly. “He purchased a ticket to his hometown in Maine. The flight left three hours ago. He does not live here anyway; it is merely where he keeps his Project-related materials.”
With caution Joy didn’t think Steampunk was capable of, the blonde released Maya and crept about the room, listening to each door and poking her head into the kitchen area. Finally, she turned back to them and spoke at her normal volume. “The balcony window from the kitchen and dining area is unlocked—which is not according to housekeeping guidelines. I believe whoever was here left that way.”
“But we’re eleven floors up!” Maya exclaimed.
“There are many ways to access the balcony at this height unnoticed both with technology or descendant powers.”
Joy eyed the kitchen arch and drew her wings in closer around her. Some of her fur was standing on edge with all the conspiracy and fear floating around. “So who was it?”
“Not someone in the Project. They could have entered with a key and would have other means of accessing Kingsbury’s information.”
“Then… someone else?” Maya looked thoughtful for a moment. While she pondered, she absently lifted on hand to her face so that Soot could leap aboard it. With him nestled in her palm, she finally said, “Maybe it’s the Canadian government.”
Steampunk took the seat that had been pulled out and switched on the laptop. “Possible. Thought we cannot assume this other intruder is friendly to us.” As she spoke, she made easy work of the computer’s password and bypassed the biometric scan, booting it up.
“Now. You need to see this.”
Maya and Joy exchanged looks and the little redhead nodded slowly. “Still… I wish we knew who else had been here…”
Vincent Liedecker didn’t bother to look up when the door to his Westinghall Building office opened. Anyone else would have announced themselves… to been announced by the concealed sensors watching the door. Silence meant only one person.
“So.” he said, finishing up a last bit of paperwork for one of his legitimate holdings, “Was I right?”
“Yes and no.” the woman he knew as Vorpal and the students knew as Miss Carroll stalked across the room without making a sound. She was out of costume, having changed into civvies on the way over to the Westinghall Building.
Liedecker raised an eyebrow, but remained focused on his work. “How so?” The words were only stained by a hint if anger at the idea of being wrong.
“The Tatopoulos girl isn’t working for our mystery organization. I watched her tonight, listened through bugs I planted on the girls—she’s going against the Generations Project, not acting as a mole.”
“Pinocchio ain’t quite as much of a puppet as I thought. Good on her.” Liedecker’s lips actually curled into a slight smile. “Still not good that she was able to walk two other students right out of the building without a thought. Remind me to change up the security routines night-to-night.”
He finished his work and closed out the computer, finally turning his attention fully on Vorpal. “So. What did you find?”
“Two moles” said Vorpal.
“Two? Goddamn it, how the hell did we miss that? Who are they?”
Vorpal reached the seats across from his desk and dropped into one. “Duvall and Kingsbury. Duvall we’d already assumed, knowing who her father was. Kingsbury was turned after he was hired. The corporate suite they visited tonight was his hidey hole.”
“I trust you dug somethin’ outta that hole?”
She smirked and produced a flat format stick. “I had to act quickly; got ahead of the girls and pulled all the files off his laptop. Generations made a big mistake hiring this guy: he’s paranoid and saved everything they ever sent him. He seems like the type of that thinks they can make their own insurance policy.”
“He’s gonna need more’n insurance if I catch him messin’ with these kids.” said Liedecker, reaching out to accept the stick. He didn’t miss that this protective remark made the smirk soften into something more like a smile. This time it wasn’t an act, but if it kept the dangerous woman before him loyal, he didn’t care if it sounded soft.
“There’s some strange stuff on there.” Vorpal commented, her tone going from casual to serious.
Liedecker slotted the stick into the port on his computer. “How strange?”
“You know what the Thule Society is?”
“I had high school history, yeah.” Liedecker said, stone faced.
Vorpal’s smile—if it could have been called that—vanished. “There are videos on there. The icons are Thule crests.”
One of Liedecker’s eyebrows rose. “That don’t sound good. Knowin’ what we know now ’bout magic and the like… I don’t right like the idea that the Nazis actually got somethin’ to work back then.”
“I suppose we’ll have to watch and find out if they did or not.” said Vorpal.
Liedecker scowled. “I suppose we will.” he said, navigating to the videos on the stick and clicked on the first video.
To Be Continued In… Out of the Past.