Liedecker Institute #15 – January Heatwave Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 2: Student Life

Alvin checked his service weapon; an air pistol that delivered either taser or sonic ‘screamer’ rounds, both definitively proven to be the best when it came to less-lethal engagements with descendants. It was there for the very simple fact that anyone going after powered kids would probably use powered hirelings to do so.

He unsnapped the band securing it in his shoulder holster, but did not draw it. If the noise really was the youth in question, he needed to look as non-threatening as possible.

Treading softly, he approached. The dumpster. “Hello?” No answer. “My name is T. Alvin Warren. I’m the head of security at the Liedecker Institute. I’m here to help.” Still no answer. But he did see a wisp of smoke come from just around the corner of the garbage receptacle. That was never a good sign.

“Listen; I know you’re scared. I’ve heard all about the men after you. I know they’re fakes. If you come out, we can get you somewhere safe and get to the bottom of this.”

A soft sound, possibly a whimper, possibly a scoff, it was hard to tell. “N-no, sir.”

Alvin raised an eyebrow. That was a new one. A kid being polite to authority figures? Especially when they had actual reason not to be? He respected the sentiment though. He really could be anybody as far as she knew.

“Alright.” He said after some thought. “I see where you’re coming from: if those two FBI agents aren’t real, I could just as easily be playing you too. Is that it?”

“N-not all of it, s-sir.” She sounded less afraid this time, like she resented the idea that she had only the one reason not to trust him. The stammering hesitance remained though; less a speech impediment and more uncertainty as to whether or not she should continue speaking or not.

But she was talking, and that was something.

“Are you going to tell me then, or do I have to guess?”

“I… I’d really just l-like to leave now, please, s-sir.”

Alvin frowned at the voice. The stuff that had to happen to make a kid that paranoid so young… It made him wish he had powers of his own so he could take the fight to them. But he didn’t, so this was his battle; will against will versus the natural heavyweight champion of the format: a teenaged girl. Lucky for him, former marines were almost as naturally inclined and he had training on his side.

“There’s a problem with that, young lady.” He said in an official sounding drone. “Two individuals of unknown capabilities and resources are currently engaging in an op of unknown command, impersonating federal officers. Their objective appears to be your capture and extraction. I’m sorry, but I don’t intend to let you out of my sight until those two re apprehended and the extent of their operation is known.”

Silence. Ha. A good old sit-rep, laid out authoritatively really was a universal form of communication.

Maya was no inclined to agree. She used the time spent delivering it to peek around the dumpster with a hand mirror, and the silence thereafter formulating an escape.

She could easily see that Alvin was armed, he made no effort to conceal his shoulder holster. That meant that he needed time to draw, not just to aim. If she unbalanced him, she could buy a few more seconds, but it was easily ten yards to the mouth of the alley. Quick she might be, but she wasn’t confident she could make that before he drew a bead.

Maybe she could take the gun? There were no powder-based bullets in it, so she didn’t have to worry about accidents, and maybe she could use it to defend herself later. That idea quickly went out the window when she visualized herself pointing a gun at someone.

Take it and throw it. That would work. It would disarm him long enough for her to escape without the nasty side effect of putting a deadly weapon in her hands. The plan was settled. She took a deep breath and…

Further up the alley, back where Alvin had parked, the back door to Midnight Black opened. With the sound of it opening came the most wonderful scent: fresh baked bread and hot butter. For a second, her brilliant escape plan was forgotten as Maya basked in it.

Alvin looked up to see Lucy coming out of her shop with something wrapped in a paper towel. He hadn’t even noticed when she went back inside, but now she tossed a clever smirk at him and strode toward the dumpster.

Unlike Alvin, her approach wasn’t cautious in the least. She just walled right past the corner and into Maya’s full view.

Maya gasped, eyes widening and tried to wedge herself further into the corner than she already was. Lucy only smiled, the same big, open smile she used every day at the counter. It was warm, and genuine and said to the world in general ‘welcome’.

“Hi there, sweetie.” She said, dropping down into a crouch. The wrapped thing was held lightly in both hands. “I’m Lucy. I run the cafe over there. What’s your name?”

There really wasn’t any reason not to tell her, Maya reasoned. After all, everyone that wanted to hurt her knew exactly who she was, what she looked like, and at least a version of what happened. So she told her, all four syllables drawn out more by both her hesitance and an actual stammer from the shock of Lucy just looming out form around the corner like that.

“That’s a pretty name.” Lucy said. “Are you hungry, Maya? I went in and I got this just for you.” She unwrapped the paper to reveal a large croissant, split lengthwise and liberally buttered.

Maya’s eyes danced at the cite of it, but her common sense leapt in to protect her. It could be poison.

Her hunger was having one of that; she’d been half starved for weeks. It could be filling.

It could be drugged.

And it could be delicious. Also, buttery.

It’s better to starve than let them put you in prison forever and maybe experiment on you. Is butter worth that?

She had to admit, it wasn’t. Instead of leaping upon it, she shied back and shook her head.

Lucy instantly figured out why the girl’s expression changed so rapidly. “Ooh. I get it. How about this. I will treat this in half, you pick which half and I’ll eat it. That way, if I did something to it, you’ll be able to see that it’s okay. How does that sound?”

It was pretty reasonable, actually. But Maya’s paranoia wouldn’t quit. Maybe this woman spent years building up an immunity to whatever the flaky, tender treat was laced with. This time, common sense was not on its side. Who in the world would spend years immunizing themselves against a drug only so they could kidnap someone?

Someone very good at kidnapping.

But she was so, so hungry and at the moment, with the addition of Lucy to the situation, there was only one option available to escape and she refused to do that.

Maya sighed. “Okay. I… guess that would be alright.”

True to her word, Lucy split the croissant and held each piece up for Maya to choose. Then she obediently took a bite, handing the other to Maya, who watched her intently for signed of being drugged. None became apparent, so after a full minute, she crammed the entire croissant into her mouth and chewed vigorously.

Lucy laughed lightly at the display and took another bite of her piece. “Looks like you were hungry. You know, owning a cafe and all, I’ve got lots of food inside. It’s a lot warmer in there too.” She felt a pang of concern as the girl flinched at the very idea. “I know, it’s hard to trust anyone right now, but I promise we won’t do anything and won’t call anyone unless you’re okay with it.”

She sounded sincere, but Maya didn’t believe that for a minute. Even if Lucy didn’t mean Maya harm, adults always thought that the solution to her problems was to notify the authorities, which in turn meant Ambrose and anyone else looking for her suddenly knew where she was.

Her reaction must have been more extreme than she meant, because Lucy’s smile faltered.

“I know you’re scared, but we’re trying to help. And we definitely don’t want those men to find you. They were saying some terrible things about you.”

Maya knew exactly what they said: the truth. They didn’t have to make things up about her, because that was the absolute worst thing that could be said. A shiver ran through her and she bit her lip to keep the tears at bay.

Lucy was frowning now, concern written all over her face. “Oh no… you’ve heard it too haven’t you?”

That little push was all it took. Over the past few months, she’d been running from it, putting it at the back of her mind. The need to survive helped there, keeping her distracted. Now, she was cornered, forced to face those memories.

Tears flowed freely and her shoulders started to shake with silent sobs. “It’s… t-true.” She murmured, folding up on herself even further. In her mind, she could still hear the cheerful singing of the fire.

“Oh sweetie.” Lucy reached out and pulled the girl into a hug. Maya’s eyes popped open in shear terror. She really didn’t want to hurt this woman and she didn’t know how her powers would behave when she was this upset.

She hadn’t been hugged since that night. Her mother had hugged her goodnight, gave her a kiss on the forehead… and three hours later, she was gone in possibly the most horrific way imaginable. As far as Maya was concerned, she shouldn’t be allowed to hug anyone again; not only was it dangerous, but she didn’t deserve any.

But she did need it. Had needed it for months; the comfort, the compassion that were denied by the cold metal and concrete she surrounded herself with because it wouldn’t burn. So she didn’t pull away.

In that time, Lucy got an epiphany. “You’re right.” She said, rocking slightly to comfort the crying girl. “You can’t trust me. You don’t know anything about me. But I know… well know of some people who I’m pretty sure you know you can trust.”

“W-who?” Maya sniffled.

“The Descendants.” Lucy said, triumphant in her surety. “Everyone knows that they’re the ones that exposed the Academy, right? And maybe you didn’t know, but they’ve saved a number of kids just like you from bad people just like the ones after you. Some of those kids even go to the Institute. I’ve met them. Um… the kids I mean. They come to the cafe all the time.”

Alvin laughed, suddenly reminding both of them of his presence. During their exchange, he had come around the corner as well. “And I have it on good authority that some of them even took it upon themselves to try and find you to help you when they heard what happened.”

“Um… yeah.” Lucy said, having hoped to gloss over that. Things sounded too coincidental already, with Maya showing up at the cafe and all. “But you can call the Descendants, right Mr. Warren?”

“Why I’ve got the hotline, Ms. Black.” He said with a relieved smile. Then he directed his gaze at Maya. “But only if you say it’s okay. I’ll even put it on speaker.”

There was definitely something wrong, in Maya’s eyes, with how reasonable these adults were being with a teenager. Not once had they told her what to do, or that she didn’t understand the situation. Even Alvin’s sit-rep exposition was just stating the facts and the parts the she’d listened to reminded her of her father.

This could all be part of their MO, but if it wasn’t they were leaps and bounds better at acting than any she’d run into before. She couldn’t trust them, but she could afford to let the scheme play out until either they proved themselves, or she found an opening. She nodded slowly.

Alvin nodded in turn. “Hands free. Speaker on. Dial external: double-ought.”

The tone from the com was audible to all three there n the alley as the call made its way though various forwarding systems until it was finally picked up. At first, all that could be heard was a roaring in the background, like whoever was on the other end was standing in the middle of a whirlwind, which he actually was.

“Chaos. Go.” A male voice replied, strained slightly by concentration.

“This is T. Alvin Warren. From the Institute.”

“Is something wrong at the school?”

“Not exactly. We’ve got an external situation; at least two men impersonating FBI agents. They seem to be after a girl, Maya Blumberg, they say she’s a descendants; pyrokinetic.”

Maya winced at that description, causing Lucy to pat her arm in an attempt to comfort her.

“Tome?” Chaos asked. Maya wondered what that meant.

“No idea. Might be them, might be any of a dozen outfits that’ve been identified, might be a new player.”

“This game doesn’t need new players.” said Chaos. “Any idea where to start? We need to make sure these slugs don’t find this little firefly.”

“We’ve already found her, actually.” Alvin said. “But she’s scared stiff, doesn’t trust us. We were hoping…”

“That I could drop by and give you my celebrity endorsement?”

“I was trying to find a better way to say it, but yes. We’re at Midnight Black, pretty sure you’ve got coordinates.”

There was a long pause. “How big of an emergency is this? It’s important, for true, but there was a boating accident on the river and I’m helping keep the water taxi afloat for evacuation.”

Alvin looked at Maya.

She greeted him with a shocked expression. Of course she wasn’t more important than however many people were on that water taxi. How could he even consider?

Evidently, he didn’t because he didn’t bother consulting her on the matter. “Situation is stable at the moment. I’ve got rollers canvasing for the two perps we know of, and Ms. Black seems to have the girl calmed down for the moment.”

“I can be there in half an hour.”

“We’ll stay put until them. Warren out.” With that, he cut the connection.

“I was hoping he’d be here sooner.” Lucy frowned. “It’s pretty cold out here and I’m dressed for indoor, oven running weather.”

Guilt crept up on Maya. She hadn’t even noticed. It would be rather cruel to make Lucy stay out there with her if she really did want to help; she might even get sick because of it. Besides, she justified, being inside the cafe meant being in front of witnesses in case they tried something.

It was just good sense. And it had nothing to do with wanting to get warm. Absolutely not.

“W-we…” She said quietly, “…we can go inside.”

***

“We are never gonna hear the end of it if Kura or Tammy finds out that we ended up coming right back to Lucy’s place.” Eddie pointed out as he and Phineas trudged up the sidewalk toward the cafe in question.

“Hey.” Phineas defended, “We’re back in the neighborhood because of your idea. So sue me if I want a caffeinated pick-me-up to keep up my ‘hunt for bad guys’ energy.”

Eddie gave him a sidelong glance. “I don’t even get how you… I mean, I’ve seen when you go all-out stretching, you definitely don’t have a stomach. So how…”

“Root system.” Phineas opened his mouth wide, revealing pale filaments lining the roof and back of his maw. None of which Eddie could even bring himself to think about because the needle-like thorns that were the plant-boy’s teeth were enough to inspire primal fear.

Phineas closed his mouth and laughed. He never got tired of seeing the expression in people. They passed the first window and he spied Annette, reading on her palmtop; she hadn’t moved the entire time. “Besides, who’s gonna rat on us? Tantrum?”

He pushed open the door and immediately saw a red-haired girl sitting at the counter, attacking a bowl of soup and a croissant sandwich with gusto. The very same girl they were supposed to be looking for.

“Dude! Ed, your powers are the best!”

It was then that he saw T Alvin Warren, LI’s security chief. He did not look happy with them and it didn’t take a spectacular intellect to guess why.

“Wait, no. Ed, your powers fail forever!”

The Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< Liedecker Institute #14 – January Heatwave Part 2Liedecker Institute #16 – January Heatwave Part 4 >>

About Vaal

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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