- Liedecker Institute #13 – January Heatwave Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #14 – January Heatwave Part 2
- Liedecker Institute #15 – January Heatwave Part 3
- Liedecker Institute #16 – January Heatwave Part 4
- Liedecker Institute #17 – January Heatwave Part 5
- Liedecker Institute #18 – Fun and Games Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #19 – Fun and Games Part 2
- Liedecker Institute #20 – Fun and Games Part 3
- Liedecker Institute #21 – Dryads Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #22 – Dryads Part 2
- Liedecker Institute #23 – Dryads Part 3
- Liedecker Institute #24: Dryads Part 4
- Liedecker Institute Annual #2
Between Dayspring College, Emerald University and UVA’s Mayfield campus, Mayfield was safely and comfortably withing the bounds of being a ‘college town’. This meant, among other things, that local businesses evolved slightly different approaches to priorities than they would in other places.
Delivery service was suddenly much more important, as were late hours and discounts for students. A relaxed, casual atmosphere helped, and being within walking distance of a campus was the crown jewel.
Not having the kind of money it took to rent floorspace in a prime location, Midnight Black’s owner, Lucy Black, had missed out on that crown jewel. Instead, she’d settled for being in a nice, visible spot on the edge of the Devonhurst business district. At time, she hadn’t paid any mind to the fact that she was three blocks down from the mothballed property that John T. Liedecker intended to become a school for psionics before he was spectacularly underbid by the Psionics Training and Application Academy.
Imagine her surprise when, as the result of the PTAA folding amid allegations of kidnapping and abuse, the formerly dead campus next door was suddenly reanimated as the John T. Liedecker Institute; not just as a high school for the super-powered youth, but as a high school for the super-powered youth with a partial open campus policy.
Students were expected to stay on the grounds between the start of classes and the last bell, but before and after that, they were given free reign as long as they carried measures for summoning the institute’s robust security force, or a member of the local hero team; the Descendants. Lunch was out of the question (except on the weekends, or for those that broke the rules), but breakfast and dinner were negotiable and Lucy had, by and large, won that negotiation.
By mid-September, she had a discount in place for students and staff if they showed their Ids, extended her hours to ten (the same hours the campus became ‘closed’ until morning), and had hired a couple of college students to work deliveries for lunch. By October, she’d gone from ‘surviving’ to ‘thriving’.
The son of John Liedecker himself, the town’s beloved son, Vincent Liedecker, had eaten there and so had the Descendants’ Facsimile, Zero and Alloy. The celebrities brought press, and the press brought curious diners in from all over the city. By December, she was branching out into catering (for the Institute no less!) and she suddenly found Midnight Black with its own blurb in the 2076 Chamber of Commerce visitor’s guide.
Lucy didn’t let it go to her head too much though. Sure, she was dressing better, maybe she was getting her hair done professionally now too… but she still knew who she had to thank for all of it. And, she had to admit that the kids from the Institute who were regulars had grown on her.
Unlike her business customers, the powered teens were usually friendly and talkative, the way she’d imagined all diner patrons were wen she’d first started. That assumption, gleaned from television and movies, was utterly wrong, and yet it had become true as far as her life was concerned. They never offered the most mature or well thought out conversation, granted, but they were good kids and she felt like she’d become sort of a den mother to them.
Life was good. Which was the first reason the sight of two FBI agents striding in through the glass doors of Midnight Black with a purpose etched on their stony mugs was so off putting.
It was the second weekend of January, the Saturday following the official day for students to return to their quarters in the Institute. They weren’t required to be back until the Monday, so many would continue to be AWOL until then. Of those who were back, however, more than few opted for lunch at Midnight Black.
As usual, Lucy observed, they came in a handful of cliques and, depending on who was missing, who was watching, and who was in a mood; shuffled themselves into entirely different cliques than they had at school.
Eddie and Rita had come with Annette, their group being short of Jacob, Rapunzel and Hightower, the later two of whom only went to Midnight Black under protest anyway. Annette ordered a latte in broken English and promptly sequestered herself at a table by herself.
Meanwhile, Eddie sat at the counter and talked with Joy (who arrived alone), and Phil, who had come in with a troupe consisting of himself Kura, Tammy, Phineas and Steampunk. The latter of that group was joined by Rita while the former were ogling the fresh pastries through the glass case.
Steampunk was, as per her usual, carefully analyzing the menu with input from Rita and Phineas when the two agents entered.
The man in front was tall and fair haired and it took a good hard look at his stern expression and sunglasses-obscured eyes to tell he meant business; his posture was relaxed and fluid, even as he rudely nudged Steampunk aside.
Coming up behind him was the intimidation factor. Shorter than his compatriot by half a head, he was dark haired, buzz cut, and built like a linebacker. He looked like he could square off against a tractor trailer and win and his chin looked like he shaved with a cliff face.
Mr. Relaxed drew a leather case out of his jacket and flashed Lucy a badge accompanied by and ID card, both with the FBI’s insignia. “Ma’am,” He started in a deadpan so flawless, it could have been parody. “May we speak to your manager a moment?”
Lucy stopped glaring at him for what he did to Steampunk the moment she saw the badge. “I’m the owner.” She replied after a moment of getting her thoughts together. Steampunk herself was staring at him in exactly the same way she did the menu.
Mr. Relaxed nodded while Mr. Buzz-cut sidestepped him and eyed the covered platter of day-old muffins. She gave them away to regulars for free with a coffee, or munched on them herself throughout the day before throwing them out at night. Buzz-cut must have just seen ‘free’ without reading further, because he helped himself to one without a word.
“Good. Then I hope that you can help us.” said Relaxed. He produced a pair of photographs from the same pocket his identification and placed them on the counter. “Have you seen this girl?”
Lucy looked. The photos were full color and taken from a distance, apparently from a street corner. At the center of both shots was a young girl. It was hard to tell how young, she was thin in an unhealthy way. Her curly red locks were cut short and uneven, and in the second picture, hidden completely in the oversized hoodie she was wearing in the shot. What drew Lucy’s attention most were the eyes; big, green eyes that held seemingly infinite worry and fear. Her heart instantly went out to her.
But she’d never seen her before.
“No… I can’t say I have. Is she in some sort of trouble?”
Buzz-cut snorted, causing an unpleasant spray of stolen muffin crumbs. “More like she is the trouble.”
Relaxed glanced at his partner and nodded slowly. “She’s a psionic; energy manipulator classified as pyrokinetic. Six months ago, her parents died in a fire and she disappeared. Naturally, she’s wanted for questioning.”
Lucy gaped at what she was hearing. That baby-faced little girl had killed her own parents? Surely, it was an accident, but she couldn’t even start to imagine what must be going through her mind.
“We were able to track her all the way to Mayfield, but we need better information to find her. We would appreciate if you would distribute those images among your employees, customers, anyone you know and contact us if you have any information at all.” Relaxed dipped into his outer jacket pocket this time to retrieve a spartan business card, which informed her that she was dealing with Agent Franks, not ‘Mr. Relaxed’.
Taking the card, Lucy tried to commit the number and email to memory. “I’ll do that. God, I hope someone finds her, it’s not good to be alone after something like that.”
Franks nodded curtly. “Thank you for your time, ma’am.” He made a quick hand signal to Buzz-cut and they both turned and walked out, Buzz-cut with a free muffin in his gut.
Still turning the card over in her hands, Lucy tried to lighten the tension but chuckling softly. “Well that was odd.” Everyone seemed to relax a fraction, except Steampunk, who continued to stare after the men, head cocked somewhat like a confused puppy.
Over the past few months, Lucy had tried and largely failed to understand where Steampunk was coming from. Usually, she left it to her friends to translate or explain. Luckily, the girl had plenty of friends.
“So… I guess we have to do our civic duty.” She said to the group closest to her, which meant Rita, Phineas, Kura and Tammy, with a nervous laugh. “I never expected to see the FBI in here.”
“You haven’t.” Steampunk said suddenly, turning so quickly from the door that Lucy feared she’d pull a muscle. “2357111317192329313741”
That was new. Sometimes Kura or Tammy would make a joke about Steampunk behaving like a robot, but spouting numbers took the cake. “Excuse me?” Lucy asked.
“That was the bar scan on his identification card. Twenty-two digits where the bar scans on Federal Bureau of Investigation identification cards use nineteen digits. The number used is also a string of prime numbers legally reserved for use on identification for fictional characters.”
Fortunately for Lucy, Kura was listening and translated via Kura-esque outburst. “Wait, so those weren’t real FBI guys?”
“To the best of my knowledge, there is little chance that they were actual members of that agency.” Steampunk nodded. “My observations can easily be confirmed with an internet search.”
“Way ahead of you.” Kura whipped out her palmtop, a bleeding edge, top of the line model that made even professional desktops look slow and pathetic. It projected a nine-inch holographic screen, which Kura swiftly navigated to an information page on how to identify various official badges.
It didn’t take her long to nod and shut it off. “Yup, nineteen digits, meaning these gobheads were bogus.”
“That’s… sort of terrifying.” Rita said. “Why would they do something like that?”
Phineas stretched his viney arm out and took up one of the photos. “Duh. For her. They wanna find this kid and think people’ll help more if a couple of G-men say she’s dangerous.”
Tammy snatched the picture from him and snorted. “Probably shouldn’t have used this pic then. I’ve seen more dangerous looking dust bunnies.”
“Do you think she did what they said she did?” Rita leaned over Tammy’s shoulder to see.
“Of course not.” Tammy said, “Look at her.”
“Yea, but look at me.” Kura countered. “And I’m the most powerful psionic ever!”
Tammy giggled and flicked her ear, giving her a little static shock at the same time. “Second most. And it’s ‘descendant’.”
“Guys.” Lucy interrupted with the voice of reason. “This fake fed issue is a little over the heads of everyone here, I think. I’m just going to call the real FBI branch and report them.”
That tripped something in Tammy’s head and she rounded so quickly on Lucy that she almost fell over. “Whoa. Wait a minute, Lucy, that might not be the best idea.” Everyone was staring at her now and she was forced to think quickly to put her thoughts into coherent words. “No, really, think about it: creepy fake fibbies looking for a kid with powers? Am I the only one who thinks this seems a little familiar?”
“The Academy.” Phineas said, his windy, rustling voice lowering to an angry buzz like a bumble bee caught in a bush.
“And those dudes that tried to kidnap me.” Kura added.
“Sort of the same guys.” Tammy said. “But anyway, they’re not the kind of guys that just depend on you to call them, especially if they saw all of us hanging out here. Lucy, your phone is probably bugged.”
“What?” She asked incredulously. “But why even bother?”
“Because you’re our friend.” Tammy pointed out. “And if you ever met that kid, you’d be her friend too. If they know anything about Midnight Black, they wouldn’t even think you’d actually call them. They’d be waiting for you to call her. And then BAM! Kidnapping.”
Lucy only knew bits and pieces of the circumstances around the end of the Academy and the founding of the Institute. None of it was the kind of thing she appreciated happening on the same planet she was living on. But in point of fact, the kids did know better than her the risks in this one case.
“Alright,” She sighed, “What should we do then?”
“We could tell security about it.” Rita suggested. “Mr. Warren would know what to do about those guys.”
Everyone but Kura and Steampunk nodded. Kura held up a hand in protest. “Yeah, that’s great, but the bad guys might find that girl before they’re done with all their dumb paperwork. I say we look for her!”
Phineas’s orange ember eyes flared. “I am so in on this.”
“You were all just talking about how dangerous this stuff is.” Lucy objected.
Tammy frowned. Her own plan had been to call her brother and get the Descendants on the case. But Kura’s idea of doing it themselves appealed to her on so many levels. Plus, there was the fact that time very well could be of the essence. The two imposters could already be on the picture girl’s trail while they discussed.
“Yeah, it’s dangerous.” She finally said, brandishing the picture. “But it’s even more dangerous for her because they want her.” She pointed across the room to what Joy was still oblivious to what was going on, engrossed in discussion. “Have you guys heard what happened when these guys came for Joy at Virginia Beach? It wasn’t pretty.”
Her pointing caught Eddie’s notice, who in turn directed Joy and Phil’s attention. “What?” He asked.
Tammy held up the picture. “This kid’s in trouble. The same kind you were in when the Descendants found you, Joy. And we need to find her.”
A quick, unspoken conversation went through the trio as they tried to figure out how the others felt about it. It turned out they all felt the same way.
Joy nodded. “Okay. How do we help?”
The counter soon became the site of a brief, simplistic war room meeting, as Kura and Tammy quickly issued assignment of places to search, with occasional tactical corrections from Steampunk.
After that, and settling their bills, the teens crowded out with enthusiasm, leaving Annette as the only LI student still in the place. Lucy had tried to secure a promise from them to call the Institute’s security detail, but wasn’t sure if her requests found any real listeners or not.
She sighed as she poured a refill for one of her regular customers not from LI. The man looked utterly amused at what had just happened, obviously used to typical Kura/Tammy exuberant plotting. Lucy wished she shared the amusement instead of the cold worry in her gut.
Once no one was in any clear need of anything further, she went over to the register and reached into the small cabinet beneath it where she kept, among other things, the first aid kit and the button for the silent alarm and pulled out a slim, disposable phone.
She would never tell the kids about it because she wanted them to always think of her as someone to confide in. But sometimes, like a priest at confessional, or a bartender at a local club, there came a time where the sacred trust must be broken for everyone’s own good.
Laurel Brant had given it to her shortly after noticing how much time some of the student body spent there. Ostensibly, every proprietor who did a lot of business with the LI kids had one. And its programming only connected to one person: T. Alvin Warren, head of the Institute’s security.
Feeling slightly guilty, but completely justified, she hit the button and made the call. Even as she did though, she hopped the kids really did find the girl in the picture before something happened to her.
Maya Blumberg hugged herself as she walked, really skulked, through D. Way Park in the Twin Timbers neighborhood. She was dressed in layer upon layer; at least three shirts, topped with a hoodie, leggings under two pairs of sweat pants, and three pairs of socks, none of which really fit her, and yet she still couldn’t stop shivering.
The park wasn’t much; a playground, a blacktop for basketball, a little duck pond, half frozen over, and just enough green space and trees to make it difficult to see the houses on one side of the park from the other.