- 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
Dr. Kingsbury plugged his tablet into the desktop node in the suite the Project kept for him at the Covington Arms. As always, his secret laptop was also on and recording, adding to his ever-growing insurance policy against betrayal by his bosses.
The connection came on almost the moment the tablet connected to the internet. Voice only; he never got a look at any of his superiors.
“You have news?” The voice was female and with a coldness that want past a lack of inflection. Comparing it to some of the recordings he’d paid to have hacked from the Project’s databases, he now knew it was Tatopoulos. Sometimes he wondered which was more inhuman; her or her little science project.
“I had orders to get closer to the students.” he said, not bothering to hide his bitterness at that. “An opportunity’s come up. They want me to sponsor a science club. And take them on field trips. Some of the SD-108 candidates are involved.”
Tatopoulos made a ‘hmm’ sound as she considered. “What are the security protocols at the institute for outings like that?”
Lucky for Kingsbury, he’d already taken the time to look those up. “Field trips require three chaperones in addition to a standard three-person detachments of the Institute’s security staff for every five students. Security moves ahead of the group and secures the venue in the same way private security would. And the students have their trackers and panic buttons they normally carry. Attempting a grab wouldn’t be feasible I don’t think.”
“One of the candidates could burn down the building if she panicked, that was never a viable solution no matter how much my colleagues hoped. But that isn’t the only way to gain data. What students will be attending and where do you plan to go?”
“Blumberg, Argent, Richmond and–” he took special care not to pause and give away that he knew who it was he was talking to, “–Tatopoulos. They want to go to the Verdancy Biotech open house Saturday night.”
She ‘hmm’d’ again and with clear interest. “Two SD-108 candidates, a highly sought after protomorphic template… and one of the great unknowns. Tell me doctor, what do you know about Edward Argent?”
Despite himself, Kingsbury shrugged. “He’s a middling to poor student, but that wouldn’t concern any of you. His power… I’ve only heard talk, both among the teachers and in overhearing the students. They say his power is that he’s very… lucky. Which makes no sense. Descendant powers are largely biological or seated in energy and matter manipulation at some level. ‘Luck’ falls into none of those categories.”
“Neither does the non-Newtonian energy output of SD-108. We have no reason to believe the single example of cross-dimensional genetic admixture that we’ve discovered is the only one. Investigating and quantifying Edward Argent’s powers is a scientific endeavor that rivals uncovering how the SD-108 lines were originally created.”
Kingsbury nodded slowly. “The Institute staff tries to train the students in their powers, but as far as I know, they don’t study them—there’s no data on it that I can steal for the project.”
“We have other methods.” said Tatopoulos. “Just make sure Argent attends the event.”
That made him curious. “You have someone at Verdancy?”
“No,” she said as if that was a stupid question, “We have connections with people capable of corporate espionage. I’m sure a man of your reputation will know how to make yourself scarce when the wheels go into motion.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What wheels?”
“You’ll know when it happens. And that is all you need to know. Remember that you are an intelligence asset: you know what we need you to know.”
And you’re a glorified research assistant, not a spymaster, Kingsbury did not say. Really, why was she talking to him anyway? Was the project’s leadership so small that a ranking scientist had to collect reports? Aloud he said, “I should think it would be useful to know if this could put me in danger.”
“You will see it coming.” said Tatopoulos with no concern whatsoever. “Plus, your reaction will add plausible deniability. Best of luck, Doctor. Report back when the trip is confirmed.”
The line cut off, leaving Kingsbury to ponder what exactly they had planned to test Eddie Argent’s luck.
The following Saturday, Laurel Brant stood in Vincent Liedecker’s office at the Institute, watching as the man adjusted his bow tie in a full length mirror. “I have to say, I’m very happy to see you taking an interest in student activities, sir.”
Liedecker smiled at her—or rather at her reflection over his shoulder in the mirror; his best charming gentleman’s smile. “Miss Brant, I’ll admit that I don’t know most science from Adam, but I am a man who knows opportunities when he sees them: for himself and for others. Havin’ student’s so interested in science and willin’ to take the initiative to form a club for it is somethin’ that oughta be rewarded, don’t you agree?”
“I do.” said Laurel, “Completely. That’s the kind of behavior I was hoping for when I set up the clubs and recreation system the way I did: if the students want something, they have to ask for it and do a bit of legwork. It builds independence and, of course, rewards initiative.”
Turning from the mirror, Liedecker gave her an approving nod. “I knew I was doin’ the right thing puttin’ this place in your hands, Miss Brant. But what you may not have considered is that the press will be there at Verdancy tonight. Always are: Mayfield is a might strange like that—god but strange: science and technology here are like celebrity and sports most other places. But oh yes, they’ll be there and the big story tomorrow mornin’ is gonna be how the Science Club from the John T Liedecker Institute were there with two inches of print all about the school’s focus on academics. Perfect thing to get the notice of parents all over the country.”
“Very true.” said Laurel, “I suppose you intend to be there to personally give them their juiciest quotes?”
That earned another approving nod. “If I had a daughter, Miss Brant, I’d want her to be just like you.” Something visibly pricked his memory and he added, “Speaking of which, how is your daughter? That was an interesting story, even if it was buried in the Scribe’s Lifestyle section on their site.”
“She’s fine. The near lack of age gap does cause the occasional issue where I feel more like ‘big sis’ instead of ‘mom’, but Cyn’s a good kid.”
“Good to hear.” said Liedecker, coming around his desk and ready to go. “I hear she’s taking classes at Mayfield Community College. If you wanted to get her into Dayspring, I can make a few phone calls.”
Laurel waved the offer off, but went to get the door for the man who was essentially her boss at the school. “No need for that sir. Even if she wouldn’t bristle at the idea of getting strigns pulled for her, Cyn chose to go to MCC. It’s a fine school and she likes it there—likes the schedule.”
Liedecker had no idea why a schedule would matter at all to a teenager, but he nodded anyway. “Say no more, Miss Brant. As long as she’s happy.” He gestured for her to go first. “Shall we?”
“Je promets de vous faire payer pour cela.” said Annette muttered, arms folded over her chest as she watched the black stretch SUV that was the Liedecker Institute field trip bus pull up in front of the main building. Two normal, black SUV’s had pulled up with it, front and back—the security details.
Standing beside and slightly behind her, the Institute’s Student Life Coordinator, Stephanie Carroll bumped her subtly with her shoulder. “Je ne voudrais pas vous faire faire cela si vous jamais montré un intérêt dans autre chose que vos amis et d’être en colère. Et parler anglais. Il est grossier quand personne ne peut vous comprendre.”
Annette rolled her eyes. “Fine. But I hate this language. I do not talk it very good and I know they make the fun of me behind my back.”
“If you listened to the way others talked and went from there, this wouldn’t be a problem. It shouldn’t be a problem—this is your second year of complete immersion.”
“How long did you take?”
Ms. Carroll shook her head. “It was different for me. I had to learn quickly to communicate.”
“Then how are you knowing how long it should be taking?” Annette asked, triumphant.
“Honestly? I don’t.” Ms. Carroll admitted. Annette immediately puffed up with pride at having scored a point against her caretaker. “But that doesn’t get you out of this trip. Me yelling at you about your grades isn’t going to cut it, so now we’re trying inspiration.”
Annette turned and squinted at her. “Inspiration? How is new fertilizer and latest hoes ‘inspiration’? Is there another definition I am not knowing?”
Not it was Ms. Carroll’s turn to roll her eyes. “I’m sure it isn’t all farming tools. From what I’ve read Verdancy started that way but they also have branches for medicine, cosmetics, and even military work. What I hope is that something will catch your interest and give you a reason to try harder in class.”
Behind them, they heard doors leading out of the lobby and into the school proper open, followed by the sounds of excited, if muted conversation. Ms. Carroll turned to see the freshly minted Liedecker Institute Science Club.
A last minute mandate from Vincent Liedecker himself had been for the students and staff members taking part in the trip to ‘dress nicely’, and, Ms. Carroll had to admit, they at least tried. None of them really had a chance of surpassing Annette’s fashion sense (Annette having dressed in a white blouse under a fancy black jacket with a black, layered skirt and her hair done up in an elegant up-do), but they had all at least put in an effort.
Eddie was the least well-dressed, just a nice dress shirt, slacks and tie with black sneakers. At least he’d taken time to clean up the sneakers really well. Jacob had gone a bit overboard with the full suit and tie like he’d wear before a home game like he did at his old school pre-manifestation.
Someone had obviously dressed Steampunk, as Ms. Carroll was sure the girl wouldn’t have figured it out herself. While she wore her protective suit under it, she had on a nice dress that was cut for a girl who was a bit shorted and weighted a bit more than her (probably Tammy). It was a middling shade of red with ruffles at the hem and an angular spider web pattern across one hip. Someone had done her hair in a French braid and slung it over her shoulder where she couldn’t seem to keep her hands off it, fingering and tugging at it absently.
The biggest surprise was Maya. Ms. Carroll hadn’t been sure it was possible for Maya to wear anything that wasn’t a hoodie. She suspected, however, Alexis Keyes at work here, as she knew for a fact that Maya refused to even touch clothes that weren’t fireproof. Tonight, she was wearing a powder blue pencil skirt and a matching zip-up knit jacket she was surprisingly wearing open over a black sweater.
None of them was going to win awards for their fashion sense, but it was good enough for high school kids.
She herself had gone out of her way to cultivate a very specific look: an expensive, tailored black suit, black shirt, black ties and black shoes. If the occasion ever presented itself, she also had a pair of black shades tucked in the inner pocket of the suit jacket. She kept her hair short enough that it was easy to slick back.
It was more a look for someone looking to hide the existence of aliens from the general public, but it made her look intimidating to say the least—just in case someone tried something at the open house.
“You’re coming with us to this, Annette?” Jacob asked once he was close enough.
Annette gave Ms. Carroll a sidelong look. “I am to come as the… make up assignment?” She asked more than she stated. “But it is good to see someone worth talking to going as well. I feel it will be very boring elsewise.” Of the other three Science Club students, only Eddie looked offended at the offhand insult.
Jacob himself was oblivious to it as well and shrugged. “I’m kind of hoping to get extra credit too. This Verdancy thing is supposed to be a big deal though, so it’s got to be interesting somehow, right?”
It was like someone flipped a switch in Maya. At the mention of the open house being interesting, she stopped studying the floor and actually looked up at the others. “Oh, it’s going to be really exciting.” her voice was soft, but nowhere near as nervous as she usually sounded. “There’s going to be a display of their new dry-weather vegetables, an entire wing dedicated to the potential of gene therapy for food animals, and Bobby, an android built out of eighty percent prosthetic limbs and organs.”
“Organs?” Annette wrinkled her nose. “Disgusting. At least it is not fertilizer, however.”
“Oh, there are going to be over twenty-five different biologically-enriched fertilizer mixes—and that’s not including the additives for compost piles.”
Annette immediately rounded on Ms. Carroll and gave her a death glare.
Ms. Carroll only folded her arms. “You’re still going.” she said flatly.
Eddie laughed, “Aw, come on, Tantrum—”
“Stop calling me that!”
“–I’m sure it’ll be a good time.” he finished, ignoring her annoyance.
The Verdancy open house was set to take place in less than an hour in the central building of their compound. Security was high, but the additional caterers, janitorial staff and other additional personnel meant there were serious holes in that could be exploited by an infiltrator.
Chastity Duvall was just such an infiltrator. She’d gotten in by replacing the driver for one of the decorators and then it was simply a matter of slipping on a lab coat, a name tag, and picking up a clip board and she had free run of the displays.
Taking her time to establish herself as just another intern tasked with making sure everything was running smoothly, she carefully made her way toward her target.
No one noticed her manipulations at all.
When the doors opened and the visitors started streaming in, she made her way out through a side entrance.
After all, she didn’t want to be around when things stated happening.
To Be Continued…