- 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
July 14, 2049
Gamma Facility SL12 – Briefing Room C, S. M. Duvall
St. John Martinus Duvall stood at the end of the room before a projection screen, his cold eyes focused not on their people assembled at the table before him, but on the camera. Twenty years younger than his daughters knew him, his hair was dyed black and pulled back in a short tail.
“As you are no doubt aware, my name is St. John Duvall and I’ve been brought in to replace Dr. Warren on the SD-108 branch of the Project. Many of you may notice that there is no ‘doctor’ in front of my name; some of you might even recognize me as the inventor of the five-sides encryption method and wonder what a programmer knows about genetics or historical science.”
He leaned forward, palms flat on the table, making eye contact with each person there in turn. “Allow me to tell you: over ten years ago, when it first started to become clear that psionics were not a disparate group of charlatans, but an actual race of genetically altered human beings, I saw the potential they represented.
“To that end, I assembled a small team to track down, interview and study these individuals. It was my research that solved the first puzzle of psionics, tracing the bloodlines of every one of them to experimentation carried out by both the Axis Powers and the Allies during World War II as well as follow-up attempts during the Cold War. It was also my geneticist’s testing that discovered the damaged gene complex that is common to seventy-three percent of the subjects. So as you can see, it is my work that forms the basis for all of yours.”
He pushed off the desk and returned to an upright posture, clasping his hands in front of his face with the index fingers steepled and pressing against his bottom lip. “I’ve worked with the Russians and the French on developing detection systems, but all they want is to isolate psionics and make no use of them. I’ve tried to work with the Americans, but they just want to cover the entire thing up. Same with the Germans.
“And so I am here and happy to find one government willing to investigate this phenomenon further rather than try and turn these people into nothing more than super-powered worker bees; a government that wants to unlock the secrets of psionic abilities so that they might be applied to willing, skilled recipients instead of randomly assigned by genetic lottery.”
An avaricious look crossed his features and he made no attempt to hide it. “And allow me to unlock my own potential. For indeed, you see, I possess the same damaged gene complex but have yet to manifest. Luckily, I seem to be in the right place.”
Bending at his knees, he reached under the table and came up with a heavy aluminum case. As he worked the locks, he continued. “Canada worked with the Americans during the War to try and develop enhanced soldiers—including the San Diego Experiments. More importantly, however…” He opened the case and withdrew a glass and ceramic container. Through the clear port on the front, the faint outline of a hand was visible, though it gleamed bronze in the room’s light.
Not ‘bronze’ as a euphemism for ‘tan’, but ‘bronze’ as in the metal.
“…you retained possession of one of the specimens recovered in Germany. Lady and gentlemen: meet San Diego Subject 180-C, the left hand of the creature we’ve all seen in the Straang film. The Germans attempted to destroy the corpse in acid when the laboratory’s location was discovered, but allied soldiers were able to recover parts before all viable material was denatured.”
He say the container on the table, then put the container away, adding, “We don’t know if the Reich actually made any use of Sand Diego 180’s genetic code; the notes were all destroyed in the same barrel of acid. But we do know that a joint Canadian-American scientific endeavor did attempt to recreate the proteins and structures recovered and implant them into living subjects.”
With the case back under the table, he straightened and laid a hand atop the container with the hand in it. “The Straang film shows us why: infinite energy. San Diego 108 was capable of generating so much heat energy in the form of flames that it sustained flight. Imagine having just one human like that, channeling that energy into a boiler to drive a turbine. That’s clean, renewable energy with little to no footprint: enough to give whoever that altered human works for a clear advantage when it comes to powering clandestine facilities or vehicles. Imagine this ‘Firefly’ keeping an armed sub operational with zero radiation signature and a minimal one for heat.”
One of the people at the table; a man in a lab coat with dark brown, balding hair leaned forward. “Please, Mr. Duvall, we are well aware of the potential. That is why this project was formed in the first place. While I’m eager to examine this… artifact… I fail to see what you bring to this endeavor that Dr. Warren didn’t.”
Duvall turned a grim eye to the man. “Doctor… Frasier, correct?”
The other man nodded.
“Doctor, what you’ve been doing here so far has been attempting to assess and recreate the effects of SD-108. Up until this very moment, you didn’t have any first-hand materials, or even a lead on possible candidates. Nor did you have the vision that I have—the vision that will give you the leads on those candidates.”
Gaze still locked on Frasier, Duvall reached into his jacket’s inner pocket and retrieved the remote of the projector. “For example,” He clicked the remote and an image appeared on the screen behind him; a group of men in Canadian military gear, both army and air force, standing posed against the side of a concrete wall. “The San Diego experiments were all voluntary, the participants told that they were being given the prototype of a new performance-enhancing drug. These twenty-four men were Canada’s contribution to the trials.
“Armed with the original DNA of San Diego 180-C, we can focus on the descendants of these men, starting with those who carried on their military tradition, who I’m told we will have full access to. We’ll be able to test for the presence of the psionic gene complex and the abnormalities of SD-108. If my hypothesis is correct, there will be descendants now expressing SD-108 related abilities. If not, we will… how shall we say ‘guide’ the reproduction of these families to increase the chances of one being born?”
At this, the blonde woman—in her twenties at best—alone among the otherwise all-male all-older group, cleared her throat. “Yes. About that. I think the Project heads might object to you subjecting Canadian soldiers to the same ‘how shall we say ‘methods” you’ve been known to use in guiding your own reproduction.”
Duvall scoffed. “Miss Tatopoulos, I believe you’re wrong. My methods have already been approved.”
The playback stopped. A fur-covered finger hovered over the keyboard to ward off any attempts to start it again.
Joy Duvall watched Steampunk and Maya watch her back with concern in their eyes (or at least Maya’s eyes). She was trying to keep tears out of her own. “T-those are just stupid rumors.” She muttered. “F-father would never do something that horrible. He’s the one that wanted us when our mothers wouldn’t even visit or call… or—or send a card for our birthdays. Father’s the one that does that for us! He loves us!”
“The evidence does not preclude that St. John Duvall has an emotional connection to his daughters.” Steampunk said evenly, though her eyes continued to scrutinize the other girl.
Maya’s eyes were straying back to the screen. Specifically, to the image of the Canadian military men still visible behind Duvall. One of them might be her ancestor. She knew little about her great grandparents, let alone the great-great ones. She still managed to tear her eyes away though, and tend to the suffering evident in Joy.
“What she means is… well, none of this says your father doesn’t still love you. I’m sure he does! It’s just that…” …and she drew a blank. What did it ‘just’ say? That Joy’s father was a mad scientist right out of a TV show, complete with multiple scientific disciplines (though she never saw ‘computer programmer’ and ‘geneticist’ as a combination before) under his belt? That he was still clearly evil because he was willing to experiment on the families of innocent soldiers? That he was terrifying in his youth?
“Just that he maybe he’s been lying about my mom?” Joy sniffed. “Or that he wanted me because I might have powers?” She’d started shivering somewhere along the way. The man she knew wasn’t like the one on the screen, but even with almost thirty years stripped from him, she still recognized something that was unmistakably her father.
She took a step back and almost fell, head sinking between her shoulders. “W-what am I supposed to do? Why did you show that to me?!”
With a calm only someone who didn’t fully understand the emotions they’d stirred up could present, Steampunk turned to fully face Joy. “You needed to see. Regardless of love, you and your sisters have been indoctrinated and used by St John Duvall.”
A wordless, animal snarl escaped from Joy just before she leapt upon the other girl. They collided and went right over Steampunk’s chair, ending up on the floor. Joy’s fingers struggled to get a grip on Steampunk’s suit as she screamed in the blonde’s face. “Stop lying! You don’t know us! You don’t know our family! Father couldn’t be responsible for everything you’re saying he is!”
Even while being attacked, Steampunk remained cool and analytical. “Neither you nor your father know the whole of it. Your father was relieved of his memories regarding SD-108. And you…” She didn’t hesitate, only stopped to get her breath. “You do not know about your brothers.”
Joy froze, still atop Steampunk, the fury draining into confusion, then shock. “What?!”
At the same time, Maya muttered quietly, “Relieved of his memories?”
“Thank you for coming to this meeting, Mr. Duvall.”
“Please, call me St. John.” A few years older than when he first joined the project, St. John Duvall still had his hair dyed, but nor more to hide the premature gray than to make himself look more sharp. Instead, he looked angry; the simmering kind of anger that could fly into actual rage if not closely watched.
He took a seat at the end of a long board table. The camera was focused on only him, leaving the other participants unseen.
“We want you to know that you’ve done good work here, St. John. No one is going to deny that.”
Duvall scowled. “With all due respect, Mr. Colby, if you weren’t going to deny that, you wouldn’t be discontinuing Generations.”
“That has nothing to do with this.” said a female voice, hardened by age. “Politics change. Government priorities change. This one is queasy about Generations being found out. You have no one to blame but yourself for how distasteful the project is to people who aren’t willing to do everything it takes to follow through with our mission.”
Cold and hollow, Duvall’s voice rose up to oppose the woman, Mrs. Platte’s, words. “I have only myself to blame for results! There are children being born right now who will manifest the SD-108 abilities! How the devil do you plan to keep that quiet? How are you going to contain these… these Fireflies?!”
“That would be our responsibility, St. John. Not yours. Not anymore.”
The look Duvall gave them was that of an animal ready to leap upon and kill an intruder into its territory. “Is this where I’m to be given my gold watch?”
A chill silence held sway over the room for a ten-count before the voices unseen by the camera spoke again.
“In a way, Mr. Duvall.” said Mrs. Platte.
“You did do great work.” added Mr. Mathey.
“But you’re also a rogue at heart.” Mr. Colby said. “Even as you worked for us, you continued your own little project. We turned a blind eye, but there’s no way in hell we can trust you.”
Duvall smirked. “So what? You think you can simply kill a man like me and he won’t be missed.”
“Of course not.” said Mr. Mathey. “You’re too smart and too valuable to kill or contain—not in any traditional way.”
Mrs. Platte spoke next. “So in a way, St. John, we are giving you your gold watch. We’re letting you keep your algorithm for finding psionic bloodlines. We’ll let you keep your daughters. We’ll even let you keep the bulk of your time with us.”
“But.” There was a cruel laugh in Colby’s voice, “You don’t get to keep SD-108. It wouldn’t do to have you getting in our way while doing your own thing.”
There was a noise off camera; a door opening. Duvall looked toward it, and for the first time, his expression was something other than contempt: shock. “You?! We’ve worked together for years! How could you have hidden—”
An electric blue flash of light filled the room and Duvall winced, putting his palms over his eyes. Grimacing, he shook his head and slowly looked back toward the people at the table. “I… I’m sorry, what were we talking about?”
“The fact that we’re being shut down, St. John.” said Mrs. Platte. “Damned, weak-willed politicians. Once we secure private backing, we’d still like to work with you if you’re so inclined.”
Duvall continued to wince at the beginnings of a headache. “Right. We’ll see. I’ve already got enough data to keep myself busy for years.”
The playback stopped and Vincent Liedecker picked up his bourbon, taking a quick drink as he gathered his thoughts. “Did the lab get any voiceprints off of this?”
Standing on the other side of his desk, Vorpal shook her head. “They usually do a thorough job when I’m personally breathing down their necks, but it’s been scrubbed; altered so the voices are just off enough to break voiceprinting. Nothing reflective in the shot either. No ambient noise to trace. All of these archives are like that: if they don’t want someone ID’d, it’s not possible.”
“But we do have the scientists.” Liedecker said, “As much good as that does us. I’ve got Rick Charlotte running everything on them, but they’ll be hard to touch outside the US. But you’re the one that knows descendants: anyone come to mind that could blank a man’s mind like that?”
“None that were alive or active back then.” said Vorpal.
“Damn. I was hopin’ to get the kind of power on my payrole.” He took another sip of bourbon and got up. Rolling things around in his head, he perused the books on his shelf. “Well, we know a few things we didn’t before. One bein’ that these are some sick sons of bitches. Makin’ kids—like they were cars or guns.”
‘Guns’ seemed apt. As the owner of an arms manufacturer, he knew that all things eventually got scrutiny for its defense applications. Even people.
“Thirty years, I’ve run this city and one of my most hard an’ fast rules has been ‘no kids’. No. God. Damn. Kids. I don’t let the gangs jump in anyone under sixteen, I don’t let pushers go near playgrounds or schools, and god help any pimp that thinks they can peddle a little girl or little boy.
“Now they’re trying to make ’em be born weapons. Tryin’ to kidnap ’em so they can cut ’em open and see how it happened. I ain’t no angel, Vorpal; you know that an’ neither are you… but this won’t stand. I don’t give a damn if they’re in Canada or all the way over in Palestine, I’m gonna come for ’em if they try and get at anyone from the Institute again. Come for ’em and put them in the ground.”
Vorpal cocked her head inquisitively. He didn’t respond to that because he knew she was thinking the same thing, only because they were descendants and not kids. ‘Even evil has standards’ was the phrase for it. And goddamn it, it was true.
The institute had his father’s name on it. He wasn’t going to let all the other corruption and blood that surrounded him leech onto its grounds.
“Just the Institute?” Vorpal finally asked.
Liedecker turned to give her a questioning look. “What’re you getting at?”
“I’ve heard rumors.” Vorpal said, “Seen construction. Someone’s looking to give us some competition. In Fredericksburg. Hard rooms, individually designed rooms—it looks like this one is actually serious: The Ellis Stone School for the Genetically Gifted.”
The new information made Liedecker set his jaw. “Serious. But serious about what? I’m going to keep a damn close eye on them. Maybe sic the Descendants on ’em if I catch wind of somethin’ not smellin’ right.”
Vorpal inclined her head. “I thought you might say that. There’s a reason why I keep this job and play ‘director of Student Life.”
Liedecker let it slide and didn’t react even though he felt more than a little insulted that she thought he hadn’t noticed that there was more than her affinity for descendants’ rights that kept her tied to the school.
It was five in the morning when, following Steampunk’s instruction, two shaken and weary girls finally made it back into their rooms.
Neither Maya, nor Joy managed to get back to sleep.
Steampunk slipped under her covers and was out almost immediately. Her last thoughts were about how the other two may be upset now… but she had accomplished her mission. The first mission she ever chose for herself. And they would thank her later.
She fell asleep almost immediately because there was a brief second where she noted how odd it was that she was fervently hoping that said time would be much later.
End Out of the Past
Next—Operation: Fuzzy Cheer