Liedecker Institute #14 – January Heatwave Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 13 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 2: Student Life

In the interest of doing good business; the Mayfield Chamber of Commerce made it excessively easy for anyone who wanted to know anything about their city. Free information kiosks were on every bus and commuter pod as well as in every mall and included at every major attraction.

With a few taps of the screen, a person could find pretty much any store in the city (who paid the yearly fee for inclusion in the database), ordered by customer ratings, size, or distance from the kiosk. There were also segments on tourist attractions, apartment listings, and even an expansive trivia section.

It was the trivia section that told Maya, in no uncertain terms, that Mayfield’s design itself was working against her plans of finding safe shelter.

Apartments were packed into skyscrapers, with precious few smaller scale tenements that could become derelict and open to squatters. The underground was all new and fully operational; no lost or forgotten sections to hide in. Mayfield was also home to the central headquarters to Lending Hand, Inc; a non-profit specializing in providing clean, safe shelter for the homeless.

It was a godsend to most, but it was also the first place they’d look for her. And the people after her would have no trouble convincing even the most security conscious shelter to turn her over to them.

Unsurprisingly, the Chamber didn’t see the need to report on where the homeless who didn’t want Lending Hand’s lending hand went. Without a safe underground, she suspected alleys and back lots. Roofs were also a prime location, were it summer. In winter, the cold and the wind would be too much.

She was surveying the map, trying to pick out a place she could hole up in until she came up with a plan, when her stomach growled. It did that a lot. Even though she’d avoided using her powers, she still needed more food that normal and got far less than she needed.

It was time for a new search. Some place that served food and had a high turn over. She craved something hot; meat and vegetables; but even in the chill, those still ran a chance of spoiling and making her sick. Baked goods, however…

Search by product: muffins.

Muffins were a good choice because they were dense, she reasoned. Filling, nutritious, and portable. The perfect road food. And if there was some cake or cookies alongside them, well so much the better. Secretly, she prayed for chocolate.

The kiosk didn’t fail her. And as luck would have it, there was a cafe offering several kinds of fresh muffins and pastries baked daily only a few blocks from her.

***

“Just to be clear: we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.” Phineas pointed out to Eddie, who was taking a break from the search by sitting on a low concrete wall.

The two weren’t that familiar with one another apart from each being friends with the other’s roommate and they wouldn’t have been hanging out together at the moment if not for Kura’s decree that everyone needed to search with a buddy for safety.

She then proceeded to assign those buddies. Of course, she and her best friend, Tammy were buddied up, but she’d chosen the other groups at random; putting Phil together with Steampunk and Rita with Joy. No arguments or preferences were tolerated and by the strange charisma she and Tammy had when working in tandem, so it was.

“Listening to Akagi and Kaine kind of proves that.” Eddie sighed. He wasn’t in bad humor about the whole thing, but he did feel dumb. “We’ve got no plan.”

Phineas had to agree. “’Look around Devonhurst’: not a plan. Don’t get me wrong, I want to help this kid, but really; we’re in a haystack vs needle situation. Plus, she’s like us, except we don’t know what she does. What if she can turn invisible?”

“Those non-FBI guys says she’s a pyro.”

“Yeah, well they lied about who they are, so what’s that tell you?” The humanoid plant was quick to point out. “Besides, you can have more than one power.”

Eddie wrinkled his nose. “No you can’t. Well… you can, but they have to be related. Like controlling water and breathing water.”

Phineas managed a rude noise Eddie didn’t know was possible without lips. “Sure you can. Occult has those shields, light arrows, that crystal thing… she’s got a lot of stuff.”

“I don’t think she’s a psionic.”

“What is she then?” Phineas jumped up on the wall Eddie was sitting on and walked a short way down its length like a balance beam.

The other boy shrugged. “Some weird cyborg, maybe? She’s not a psionic.” He snorted. “Tammy thinks she’s magic.”

“She probably thinks everyone’s magic. Oh, hey! Kura breaks your ‘only one kind of power’ rule. I guess she’s not a psionic either.”

“Maybe she’s not.” Eddie shrugged. “But chances are, this girl can’t do a dozen different things like Kura. The problem is, even knowing that doesn’t help us find her. Let’s just try and put ourselves in her shoes: you’re new in town, bad guys are after you. What do you do?”

“Find a place to hide.” Phineas said, thinking. “And stuck the place up with enough food and water to just hide until they give up.”

Eddie nodded. “Okay, good. Water’s the easy part; there’s fountains in every park and mall. Where do you get food.”

“I’d lift a bunch of instant noodles and rice from a convenience store.”

“How are you going to cook ’em?”

The orange embers that served as Phineas’s eyes rolled. “Pyro, duh.”

Eddie blinked. “Oh. Good point.” His shoulders slumped. “We suck at finding people. How do the Descendants do it?”

“I don’t know if they do much finding people.” the plant-bot shrugged. “Mostly, they fight bad guys and save people from stuff like accidents and fires. I guess we could just find those fake FBI guys and pound them but…”

“We could find them.” Eddie replied, cocking his head in thought.

“Wait, seriously? Because I don’t think we can get away with randomly beating on dudes without a good reason.”

Eddie shook his head. “No, we’re not going to beat them up, but you’re right; they are going to be easier to find. If they were checking every place around here she might hide, they’re probably still here.”

“Okay, right.” said Phineas. He jumped down from the wall to land in a semi-crouch. “But she’s not going to some within ten blocks of them. Isn’t this the opposite of finding her before they do?”

“Not necessarily. Besides, if we use a little luck and make sure they don’t find her, all the better for the others to find her before they do.”

***

Before, gymnastics had been a fun thing to do. It had to be, because, being a military brat, Maya was never in one place long enough to make a team, much less take part in any competitions. She knew she was good at it though. Just before her world when to hell, she’d gone a step further and taken up free running too.

In the months after, she’d only gotten better, because both became staples of her survival. She was physically much smaller than anyone who might want to hurt her and after the first time, she worked hard not to use her power. To make up for it, she was faster, more maneuverable, and almost impossible to catch.

Without much thought at all, she used the corner formed by the building and the wall bisecting the alley to bound atop the same wall. From her vantage, she saw the backside of a strip of stores. The five shared a pair of dumpsters, spaced evenly between them.

They were new style dumpsters too; the kind that closed and seal automatically and were opened by ‘popping’ a latch on the front. They style was meant to cut down on the food sources of vermin, but they had the side effect of protecting their contents from the elements. Good news for someone hoping to forage in them.

If her luck and sense of direction were good, one of those would be full of day-old pastry and bread. Her belly grumbled yearningly at the thought. God, she was hungry.

First thing was first: getting down. The wall she was perched on was two stories high. She knew how to take a fall from that height, but it was never fun and one mistake could mean a sprain or break. And sprain or breaks were not an option.

Also not an option: climbing down the way she came and walking around. After all, she was being followed and that made surface streets dangerous.

Back in Pittsburgh, she once had a rope, which made things so much easier. Then some asshole tossed a lit cigarette out of their car. She woke up to find about six inches remaining and a fat, happy flame.

Flames never looked ‘fat’ except around her and she was sure no one could tell when they were happy. She could though, ever since that night. And ever since, she hated fire. Because it was always so happy and so beautiful when it didn’t deserve it. Not after what it did. Not after she realized something crucial about fire:

It needed to eat to live. If it ever stopped eating, it died. And while it was eating, it was happy, joyous even. It sang. But given free reign and enough intensity and it could and would eat anything. Or anyone.

Except for her. It sang to her. Crawled all over her without burning her. While it was near her, it didn’t need fuel. And that’s what tore her apart the most about that night. The fire sang as it did it’s damage, ruined her world; and it had been singing for her.

She wobbled on the wall and was forced to steady herself.

“Stop thinking about it. You shouldn’t be thinking about it.” She scolded herself aloud. The smell of smoke reached her nose and she realized it was her. Almost a year of repression had almost gone out the window.

Focus. Her pulse slowed as she forced herself to take stock of the alley and suss out a way down.

Good. Now think. Oh, how she wished that city fathers of Mayfield hard head of brick or cinderblock; something that formed finger-holds instead of flat, cold concrete.

There were light fixtures in the alley and they looked like they could hold her weight. The nearest one was about six feet away and ten feet below her. She gauged the length of the wall she was on. That was doable.

A deep breath and she stood up and the wall, pacing to the end farthest from the fixture she was aiming for. As easily as if she were standing on level ground, she turned.

Another deep breath. It wasn’t the jump that was the problem. The light might not support her, even for the short time she planned to hold on. It might be slick with condensation. She could miss it entirely and falling forward, she wasn’t confident that she could break the fall in time not to slam into the dumpster she planned on landing atop.

But what other choice did she have? That question seemed to be her chief motivation of late.

Depressing, yes, but it was still good motivation. She broke into a run down the top of the wall. The jump wasn’t her best, but the wall didn’t end in open air, but flush against the adjacent building, necessitating a last minute sideways twist to miss slamming her nose into concrete. This led to a split second correction in air that almost made her miss the light fixture.

Luckily for her, she did manage to grab it and it did hold long enough for her to flex her meager frame around, adding enough momentum to swing to the dumpster. Only just. She hit the edge of the dumpster with both feet and then both hands. It lurched sideways a few inches, and in a moment of sheer terror, she realized she hadn’t checked to see if it was on casters.

It wasn’t. But it could have been. She couldn’t afford to be so careless.

A second later, she scolded herself again when she heard a car pull into the alley ahead of her. With a startled ‘eep’, she hopped backward off the dumpster and landed in a four-point crouch, praying that the driver hadn’t seen her.

The car stopped near the back door to the second store in the strip and killed the engine. Maya dared to peek.

It wasn’t a car, but a large van. The windows were tinted and the paint job was a Very Serious green, the dark, matte color that went in army uniforms. Not the white or black she was sued to looking out for. Whatever she could say for her pursuers, they were not creative.

The driver’s door opened and a tall, black man stepped out. Again, not someone she recognized either by face or dress. He had on heavy-duty army boots and BDUs the color of his van. When he turned to walk to the back door, speaking quietly into an earpiece, Maya could see white block letters on the back of his black winter coat: Liedecker Institute Security.

Fliers and cards for the school were everywhere if you knew where to look. The new school for monsters and freaks, even if they didn’t use that terminology. Of course, the fate of the old school for the same was still fresh on everyone’s mind, including Maya’s.

Besides, she reminded herself, she shouldn’t be around people. Probably less so than open flame. Let the other kids, the ones who weren’t quite as dangerous as she was, take their chances. As it was, she just watched and listened.

***

T. Alvin Warren (do not ask what the ‘T’ stands for) , head of security for the Liedecker Institute, check up and down the alley to make sure he was clear before closing the van door behind him.

Old habits were hard to give up, butt his time, he didn’t try to repress it. Part of his orientation for the job came with a crash course in project Tome and other known entities that might present security risks to the students. Even those without powers were sometimes equipped with chemical stimulants that made them formidable at hand-to-hand combat. And for a plain old human like him, even being equipped with a gun or well aimed knife from ambush was enough.

Ms Black’s report of FBI impersonators had him on edge. Confirmation from the actual FBI in Mayfield that there was no investigation for a pyrokinetic did likewise. They even hinted that a murder of that kind would be dealt with by Homeland Security these days.

There was apparently some confusion on that point, even two years after the end of the Enforcer Corps. This did not instill in him much confidence.

No time for that though: there was a little girl in the kind of danger he could only imagine in his nightmares and a number of his charges were likely to be taking it upon themselves to run screaming into its path to help.

Oddly enough, both Laurel Brant and Patricia Masters had predicted exactly that. There was a chapter in the training manual for his subordinates on it. Alvin wasn’t a fan; too much reverse psychology and too little boot leather to backside for his taste, considering the danger involved.

“Hands-free.” He said and waited for the tone in his ear. “Dial external: Zero-Nine.” The program directly linked him to the phone the Institute provided Lucy Black. Every the conscientious citizen, she answered on the first ring. “This is Warren, Ms. Black. I’m at your back door.”

“Okay.” She replied. “I’ll be right there. Thank you.”

“Of course.” He replied and stood at ease out front. That posture was a habit he’d broken already, but it looked official and, he’d heard, comforting to civilians when they saw it on their side.

Minute later, Lucy Black opened the back door, accompanied by a cloud of sweet aroma from the kitchen inside. “Thank you so much for coming.” She said in a rush. She’d left her cashier up front, but she was new and Lucy didn’t fully trust her on her own yet.

Alvin nodded professionally. “It’s my job, ma’am. Thank you for reporting it. I have two cars rolling right now, out to spot these two imposters, and tell the kids to back off. Do you have the photos they left?”

Lucy nodded and produced them from an apron pocket. “Yes, of course. You know, I wish I could do something more to help. She looks so scared and helpless. And what they’re accusing her of… it just breaks my heart.”

“I know the feeling.” Alvin said, genuinely. He knew for a fact that life with powers wasn’t a bed of roses for all of the students. But all he could do was try his best to keep other people from making it worse. He took the photos and glanced at them. Everything Lucy said about them were true; he could tell that in a glance.

Series Navigation<< Liedecker Institute #13 – January Heatwave Part 1Liedecker Institute #15 – January Heatwave Part 3 >>

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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2 Comments

  1. Okay, MAYBE she shouldn’t give them to shelter’s when it’s relevant to the plot. But the rest of the time, she totally should.

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