- 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
“And we’re back with more Late Night In America,” said Heather Wesley the after the director signaled the studio audience to applaud for the next segment. “My next guest raised eyebrows last year when he opened a state-of-the-art school for young descendants less than one year after the Psionics Training and Application Academy was outed as a front for an organization that was kidnapping children. Last week, he raised them again by announcing that his school will be offering a special defensive training program that some critics are saying is teaching teenagers to be prelates. Please welcome, Vincent T Liedecker.”
The audience applauded as, from stage right, Vincent Liedecker arrived, dressed as always in an impeccable suit. This time, it was cream-colored with a charcoal shirt and cream tie. He nodded to the audience, then shook Heather’s hand with both of his before taking his seat on the couch.
“Welcome to LNA, Mr. Liedecker, thank you for coming on.”
“Well thank you kindly for havin’ me, Miss Wesley, you and your people have been most kind.”
With the pleasantries out of the way, Heather went immediately for the meat of the issue. “So. Monday, the word started circulating that parents of students at the John C Liedecker Institute about an extracurricular program you intend to implement after the winter break. I think everyone in my audience has already heard what your critics have to say about it, but now we want to hear what you have to say.”
Liedecker gave her a genial smile. “I appreciate the change to clear the air as it were, Miss Wesley.”
“Heather it is then,” he said jovially, “Now, the honest truth is, the world is dangerous if you’re a young descendant. Just in the last year, the US government’s shut down seven operations masqueradin’ as school to replace the Academy as a safe place these kids can learn.”
“Are you saying that yours is the only safe school in the US?” Heather sked.
Liedecker held up a hand. “Nothin’ of the sort. I’ve heard nothin’ but good things from places like the Holmes school in Colorado for instance, but the lesson here is that you can never be too careful, you see? And it’s not just the fake schools. These days, you’ve got the Braylocke laws. in some states, it’s legal now for local law enforcement to send out some half-cocked bounty hunters to run down any descendants—children, the elderly, anyone—and shoot ’em up with electric nets and unregulated tranquilizers, then drag ’em off to private prisons to wait for their trial without bail.
“But that’s just the start of it, Miss… Heather. In the past year and a half of the Institute being open, we’ve seen a bit of everything. We had men posing as FBI agents try to take a young lady into custody under false pretenses, we’ve had direct attacks on the Institute—you might recall back last summer when we had folks pilotin’ giant robots into Mayfield; on of them went straight for the school. That’s just what’s been out in the open. My security teams have stopped twelve attempts to break in or assault our students. Several other attempts have been repelled by the student body itself.”
Heather cocked her head quizzically. “Some of your detractors, such as Congressman Sinclair, says that’s because the school itself invites violence.”
“The congressman is just understandably concerned. After all, he has a niece attending the school. But you’ll notice he hasn’t encouraged his family to pull her out and that’s because he knows that she would be facing the exact same dangers out there in the public as she would at the school, only without as much specialized security or the other students looking out for her.”
Nodding along, Heather took a sip of water from the cup on her desk before segueing, “The other students looking out for her. That’s what the programs you’re introducing are all about then?”
“Yes indeed. And thank you for making it clear these are two programs, not one.”
“My team does strive for accuracy.” Heather expertly faked humility.
Again, Liedecker nodded his acknowledgment. “I only wish everyone else took just half a second to actually look up the facts. As to the programs, first we have the introduction of Powered Defense class.”
“And what does that entail?” Heather did her part in keeping up her part of the interview.
“That’s the part where we teach these kids how to use their powers to keep themselves safe. It’s voluntary, requires their parent’s express written permission, and is an offshoot of the existing Powers class, which teaches these kids how to control and improve their natural abilities.”
Heather leaned forward a bit in her chair, tapping her finger on the desk for emphasis as she spoke. “Now, when you say ‘Powered Defense’, a lot of people are going to think ‘self defense’, and that brings to mind martial arts classes. Are you teaching these kids to fight with their powers; use them offensively?”
“Now that’s a loaded question. Keep in mind that we got all kinds of students at the Institute. I’d say sixty percent of them don’t have the kind of powers that even can be used offensively. You got a kid who can fly, or who has scales and a special diet… ain’t a lot you can teach them that you’d call offense beyond basic martial arts—which we will be teachin’.
“And for the fliers, we’ll be teachin’ evasive flight, for the wallcrawlers, three-dimensional maneuvers, for the super-strong, we teach ’em how not to kill no one if they’re forced to fight. And yeah, if there’s a boy or a gal who can put a hurtin’ on someone tryin’ to hurt em, well hell yeah, we’ll teach ’em to do it effectively and safely.”
Heather’s eyebrows rose. “So you are going to teach some of them to fight with their powers.”
“We’re teachin’ them to defend themselves. You know full well that if someone has powers and they get attacked, they’re gonna use ’em. This way, they know how to do it right, without causin’ more harm than they need.”
The adamant nature of his tone made it clear that Heather wasn’t going to be able to milk that angle for any more controversy.
“Right, of course. But what about this ‘Self Defense Force’ program that so many people are up in arms about? What’s the official mission statement there.”
Instead of getting upset with more fishing for controversy, Liedecker gave a light chuckle. “’Self Defense Force’; that’s a new one. Well we don’t have a name set in stone yet. I did use ‘Self Defense Team, but that sounds much too proactive for what we’re talkin’ about here. Not as proactive as ‘Force’, but too far, that’s for damn sure.”
“Then what exactly are we talking about then, Mr. Liedecker?” asked Heather.
Liedecker took a moment to consider how best to respond before coming back with, “Back in my daddy’s day, the schools had somethin’ called Safety Patrol, or the Hall Monitors. They’d be students who had special permission to watch out and report when somethin’ dangerous or against the rules was happenin’, or kids were out in the halls when they should be in class. Things like that.”
He took a breath and sat up even more straight than before, conscious that this part was what everyone would fixate on. “Our program here—and again, this is all voluntary with parental consent and in this case personally vetted by myself and a panel formed by members of the staff—would see some students take a more active role in the school’s security.
“They won’t be takin’ shifts or anything, but they will be trained in CPR, first aid, and crisis response through a partnership with Mayfield’s first responder community. The purpose here is for these students to both be the last line of defense in case an attack breeches security, and to fill in the gaps you get when you have an open campus.”
Heather’s mouth formed a thin line of concern. “That’s something else your critics have asked: why is the Liedecker Institute an open campus? Doesn’t that just create huge holes in your security?”
It was a question that had been around since the school opened, but Liedecker was ready for it. “When I was comin’ up in Mayfield, my daddy sent me to a public high school. It wasn’t a boarding school or nothin’ but it was a closed campus: no leavin’ during the day, doors were locked except if an alarm went off, and there was a fence with a gate. I had lunch at the diner down the street at lease three times a week and I can’t fly, Heather. What the hell chance do you think we have enforcin’ a closed campus given our student body?”
“That would sound like a discipline problem to some people.”
He scoffed, “People who try an’ forget they were teenagers once. Even the best kid gets bored, Heather. They wanna get lunch somewhere, go to the arcade, a convenience store, meet a sweetheart from another school—they’re gonna try and get off campus no matter what and it’s better to plan around it and let them go out a secure front gate so we know they’re in town than have ’em jump a fence and disappear.”
The fact that that made sense to her put Heather off for a moment, but not long. “So how do you go about protecting them once they’re off campus?”
Liedecker waved a semi-dismissive hand. “Now there, Miss Heather, we can’t give the whole thing away in case some unscrupulous folk are watchin’. What I will say is that were have rolling security teams out in the city and the students all have the means to call for help at a moment’s notice. What we want to do is have it so they also have peers—friends—who might be right there with them when somethin’ happens that’s trained to get ’em safely out of it.”
He almost smiled as he saw the disappointed look on Heather’s face.
“So this isn’t a prelate training program at all?”
Now he laughed. And smiled.
“No, Miss Heather. But I can see how folk get the impression. What is a prelate—well now let’s be honest with our words here—what is a superhero but someone who has the skills and ability to save lives and does so? I won’t lie: what we plant to teach as part of this course would be a fine foundation for the makin’s of a fine hero. That’s not the aim though.”
Then his expression turned sober. “The other night, I saw my students under attack—enemy unknown—and while my security performed admirably, they just weren’t equipped to stop a swarm of robot wasps (as an aside, they will be next time). Just when it looked like we were gonna have a tragedy, one of our students stepped up and saved the day. And the only thing that ran through my head right then is ‘what woulda happened if she hadn’t?’.
“That, Miss Heather, is why I’m doing this. These kids deserve the best protection they can and in this case even more than any other, that includes an education. We live in a world where they are—whether we wanna admit it or not—targets. All we at the John C Liedecker Institute want is to make ’em that much harder ta hit.”
Heather blinked at the power and soul in the statement, then put her smile back on. “Thank you for that impassioned defense of your position, Mr. Liedecker.”
“Thank you for lettin’ me make it, Miss Heather.”
With that, Heather turned back to face the camera. “We’ll be right back. When we return, Don Klaire will be with us to talk about his new movie Perdition’s Flame.”
“Well you don’t look happy for being the girl of the hour.” Lucy Black watched as Maya moped her way into Midnight Black. It was after the usual dinner rush where the diner saw most of its traffic from Liedecker Institute students. Maya, in fact, had been missing from that traffic all week. In body at least. When it came to the scuttlebutt among the students that ate there, she took her fair share of the topics; how she’d saved Eddie, how cool her powers were and especially theories on why she never showed them off before.
Maya climbed up onto the stool at the far end of the counter, next to the wall, looking like someone had just shot her dog. Then thrown it off a cliff. She looked around to make sure no one she cared about hearing her pour her heart out was around and found only a couple of elderly women enjoying coffee and pie on the other side of the room. “I really wish I wasn’t.”
Lucy nodded and moved over to the freezer. She was temporarily hidden from Maya’s sight as she said, “You know, most of your classmates would love to be where you are right now.”
“I would trade p-places with them if I could.” She cast her gaze down at the counter and was, a moment later, surprised to find a brownie on a place slid into her view. “Um… I didn’t order this.”
When she looked up, she found Lucy digging out a scoop of french vanilla ice cream to dollop on top of said brownie. “You didn’t. I just thought you might need a little pick-me-up. No charge—I needed to finish off this carton to make room in the freezer anyway.”
Maya stared at her wide-eyed for a long moment then her lips quirked into a shy smile. “T-thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.” Lucy put a spoon down next to the plate. While Maya started eating, she went to the deep-fryer and portioned out a small plate of fries, which she then slid into place next to the brownie. Within moments, Soot poked his (for lack of a better word) head out of Maya’s hair and spotted his favorite treat. The fireling emerged fully, waved his little flame-flipper arms in joyous exultation, then leap off Maya’s head, performing a perfect belly flop onto the fires, several of which began to singe and burn away as he started to consume them.
Lucy took a moment to reset the fryer, then came back to Maya. “So… do you want to talk about it?”
“Everyone else has,” Maya said after swallowing, “They think it’s really cool and t-they ask me questions all the time now… but they don’t understand.”
“Don’t understand what?”
Maya absently reached out and rubbed Soot’s back with a fingertip. “That my powers aren’t cool. They’re dangerous. I could have hurt someone the other night. I could have hurt Eddie. The only reason I did it was because I didn’t have any choice.”
“Well,” Lucy frowned at the girl’s emotional state and tried to think of something to say to make her feel better, “A lot of people’s powers can be dangerous, right? But—”
“No.” It was said with that rare, steely sense of conviction that seemed at odds with the shy, terrified little girl.
“They’re not dangerous like mine. Fire… fire is hunger. It wants to eat and it doesn’t understand the difference. Soot does now, but Soot is different. Different in ways I don’t understand and Ms. Keyes doesn’t understand and even Ms. Brant doesn’t understand. The others… other flames, they don’t know if what they’re eating is wood or paper or… or…”
There were tears forming in her eyes now, and with every word she said was smaller and quieter.
Lucy had to go the long away around, but she came around the counter and pulled Maya into a hug. The girl tried to shy away at first, but then she clung to her, tears staining her apron. “Mr. Liedecker wants me to be part of h-his student team. He thinks I can help protect everyone else, but how can I do that w-when all I can do is make fire, and all fire can do is… is…”
The rest was mostly lost in a sob against Lucy’s chest, but she got the broad strokes and finally understood what Maya’s problem was. Fire could kill people. And suddenly the terrible allegations the fake FBI agents had made about the girl that past January suddenly made sense.
Fire had killed people: Maya’s parents.
And Lucy found that she wanted to do whatever she could to help her overcome that guilt.
End Liedecker Institute Vol 5.