Liedecker Institute #17 – January Heatwave Part 5

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 2: Student Life
The curls of smoke rising from Maya didn’t go unnoticed by Buzz-cut. He gave Phineas one more warning glare before switching his aim back to Maya. “Blumberg. Power down and turn around.” Squeezing her hands into fists, Maya slowly turned, gaze to the floor, lips firmly pursed against fearful sobs. But it didn’t look like she was afraid of the gun pointed at her in the least.
 
“I said power down. You think I don’t see that smoke?” He commanded.
 
“I-I can’t.” Maya’s voice quavered. “You’re scaring me. I… I can’t turn it off.”
 
Buzz-cut was unmoved. “You better find a way right now, because they wanted you ‘alive’. They didn’t say how alive you’ve got to be.” It didn’t draw the response he was hoping for. If anything, even more smoke was rising up from her clothes, it looked like they were smoldering underneath all those layers.
 
A smarter man would have taken it as a warning. A less single-minded one would have switched tactics. He was neither of those things. “Power down!” He barked.
 
Maya cringed and her sleeve started to glow with embers. “I c-can’t!”
 
This wasn’t going to end well. Eddie knew it. He only hoped that he could do something to change that. For all he knew, a panicked Maya might explode and lucky or not, a fireball less than six inches from your face was not something you lucked out of. And even if he could, it wouldn’t help anyone else in the shop.
 
“Power down now!”
 
“I can’t” Maya wasn’t crying anymore, the words came out as more of a warning.
 
Eddie looked for a weapon. Even a butter knife would be nice; you could still stab a guy in the arm with a butter knife. Unfortunately, the only thing his eyes fell upon was the spoon still in Maya’s soup bowl.
 
A spoon? Could he attack an armed man with a spoon? Just how lucky was he? He’s never tested, but winning a gunfight with a spoon would be one hell of a test. Besides, maybe the spoon would hurt more.
 
Trying to be surreptitious, he picked up the spoon. Buzz-cut was so intent on screaming at Maya like a red-shirt police officer in a supernatural action movie that he didn’t even notice. Once it was in hand, the idea of trying to stab someone with it felt even more idiotic. But throwing it as a distraction… that had merit. His luck had to be good enough to let him dodge ate least one shot, right?
 
“Power down! Do it now!”
 
“Hey.” Eddie interrupted before Maya could reply in the negative again. Buzz-cut spared him a glance. “Catch.” He threw the spoon like he’d seen people throw daggers on TV, hoping that just for a second that the gunman would think that was what it was.
 
What happened next could, for all practical purposes, be considered a one-in-a-million shot. This would have been incorrect. There are one-in-a-million shots, of course; on a planet of almost ten billion people, many of whom shot, threw, or otherwise propelled one object toward another on a daily basis, they succeed quite often.
 
But genuine one-in-a-million shots are usually, from far greater distances, aimed past obstacles, and/or performed in adverse aiming conditions. The odds for what happened next are actually a much more obtainable 133,713 to 1.
 
Considering how non-aerodynamic a spoon is, Eddie managed a great throw, sending it on a straight path, handle first. At the same time, Buzz-cut twitched the gun in Eddie’s direction, which, as Eddie’s considerable luck would have it, lined it up perfectly with the trajectory of the spoon. The handle slid right into the barrel and, reacting to what he thought was an attack Buzz-cut squeezed the trigger.
 
Ionized air puffed out of it’s cartridge at high velocity. Ordinarily it would have created a straight, largely coherent stream toward the target, but normally, there wasn’t a spoon in the barrel. The air diverted around the handle and diffused off the bowl of the utensil, forming a cloud in the air around the weapon. Then the second stage kicked in, directing electricity into the ionized air. A ball of lightening leapt out around the gun, seeking ground and finding it via Buzz-cut’s arm.
 
Screaming, he dropped the weapon, the only thing keeping him from panicking being years of paramilitary training. He aimed Warren’s gun at Eddie. “You worthless son of a–”
 
Eddie hadn’t been the only one waiting for an opening. Lucy was known by her customers to have a mild mannered temperament. That was only because they didn’t know the right buttons to push. One of those buttons was seeing someone putting a child in danger. It there was a word for a proverbial ‘mama bear’ that didn’t have any children of her own, Lucy’s picture would be next to it in the dictionary.
 
At the moment of his distraction, she pulled the top off the cup of coffee she’d been in the process of serving Phineas when Buzz-cut came in and threw it on him. Her only regret was that it wasn’t boiling anymore. It did the job well enough. Buzz-cut howled and went to rub the painful liquid from his face. Now his gun wasn’t trained at anyone.
 
Before he could regain any semblance of control, a table slammed into his shoulder with the force of a linebacker, sending him sprawling to the ground. For good measure, it smashed down onto him from above before being lifted back into a threatening position by five fat vines that led back to Phineas’s now unraveled arm.
 
“What did I tell you?” He said smugly.
 
Buzz-cut didn’t get an answer, because in the next instant, Warren was on the phony FBI agent, knocking his guns away before cuffing his hands behind his back. Once that was done he looked up at the three kids and Lucy, who were all staring in disbelief at what they’d done.
 
“I’m required to point out how dangerous and stupid that was.” He said, specifically to Eddie and Phineas. “But I can’t argue with the results this time.”
 
“Whoa, hold up, let me get my palmtop, I wan to get that on video.” Phineas set the table down so he could do just that. The vines coiled in on themselves and retracted, once again conforming to the vague shape of a human arm and hand.
 
Warren shook his head, amused. “Hell no. I don’t want any evidence that I said that.”
 
At the counter, Maya slouched back, head bowed and breathing heavily. There was no longer any smoke coming form her, except for the edge of her sleeve, which still smoldered. She could hear it’s contentment to slowly gnaw on the material there, something wholly unnatural for a flame, but something she’d become used to hearing from fire around her.
 
She lacked the energy or concentration to extinguish it at the moment. Holding back her power, keeping the change from happening was thoroughly draining. So much so that she didn’t even start in any way but mentally when someone touched her shoulder.
 
“Are you alright?” Eddie asked softly.
 
There was no honest answer to that, at least not one she cared to give. So she just nodded. Telling people what they wanted to hear was easier.
 
“I don’t think you are.” He said at length. “But the teachers at the institute can help. I’m sure of it. I… I promise.”
 
Mustering as much energy as she dared, she looked over at him. She was the first to admit that she wasn’t the best judge of character, though she came from the opposite direction than most. It wasn’t that she trusted the wrong people, but that she endeavored not to trust anyone and was very good at finding half a reason to back it up.
 
For some reason, she couldn’t find that reason in Eddie Argent. The only impressions she got from him were concern and hopeful friendliness.
 
“Maybe I’ll stay—for a little while.” She said in spite of herself. The logic filled in afterward; she really did need time to figure out what to do next and at are minimum, the Institute was not affiliated with the people chasing her. She might be able to figure out what they wanted with her if she stuck around at least long enough to hear about any interrogation of the fake agents.
 
It still wouldn’t protect her from Ambrose, or prosecution for what happened to her parents, but a bit of relative safety for a week or two might still be worth her time.
 
The door being thrown open derailed her thoughts. Into the nervous energy and post-tension giddiness of Midnight Black stepped a spoiler: the man who called himself Franks.
 
Alerted by the noise of his partner’s defeat, Franks wasn’t going for subtlety and his armament demonstrated that. Where ‘Buzz-cut’ had gone in with a weapon that might be confused for a service arm, Franks was packing a pulse cannon so big that it was partially supported by hooking into a brace buckled around his shoulders and waist.
 
“No one move.” He said with the calm clarity of someone who would have no problem killing everyone in the room. He nodded to Warren. “Except you, un-cuff my partner, then back away.”
 
Warren glared. He knew what was going on here; the op was blown and so ‘Franks’ had been ordered to clean the situation. That meant either extracting Buzz-cut, or killing everyone in the place. Possibly both. Compliance was the best tact to use at the moment. He moved to do as told.
 
“Good.” Said Franks. “Now–” He stopped, not because he didn’t know what to say, or because he was interrupted, but because his cannon was suddenly ensconced in a shell of glittering, purple energy. He tried to move it only to find that it was held fast in the air.
 
J’en ai assez de ces perturbations.”* Everyone looked to find Annette, AKA Tantrum leveling her most hateful glare at Franks from her table. “Tout ce que je voulais, c’était du temps seul pour boire du café et lire un magazine.”**
 
The shell of telekinetic force shifted and the plastic, metal and ceramic casing of the pulse cannon groaned before cracking and splitting everywhere. With agonizing slowness, the gun was twisted apart until it was an unrecognizable heap.
 
But Annette wasn’t done. The energy around the remains of the gun winked out, allowing the pieces of the thing to clatter to the ground before it moved to the brace Franks was wearing.
 
Mais vous et votre ami ne pouviez simplement pas être tranquille!*** Without any visible effort from her, Franks was catapulted straight up into the ceiling panels. He hit head and shoulders first and came down in a heap amid a cloud of drywall dust.
 
Looking as if she’d just spilled a cup of coffee rather than beaten a man senseless with her mind, Annette calmly collected her computer and the remains of her drink. Making her way to the counter (by way of stepping on both fake agents), she came up to the counter and swiped her palmtop to pay for her purchases.
 
Before she left, she paused and gave a stunned Maya an imperious, yet considering look. She started to address the other girl in English, but thought better of it; she had no illusions how bad her English was. “Si tu as l’intention de rester, ne suis pas l’exemple des autres. Efforce-toi de ne pas voir mon mauvais côté.”****
 
Everyone watched in relative silence as she strode confidently out the door.
 
“What the hell was that about?” Phineas asked.
 
“I pretty good example of her nickname.” said Eddie.
 
Lucy chuckled, having picked up enough thanks to two years of high school French. “Or a reminder of how you really shouldn’t be insisting on calling her a nickname she hates.” Both boys winced.
 
Meanwhile, Maya was staring at the debris left from the gun, her mind whirring. The forces involved in deforming the kinds of materials put into military hardware were immense, and yet Tantrum hadn’t looked the least bit distracted or winded afterward. This was the result of the telekinetic’s casual strength, just her making a point.
 
When she first discovered her condition, before she figured out how to live on the streets, Maya had spent almost as much scrounged money on internet cafes as food, trying to find a way to deal with her condition. All that she’d learned was that she wasn’t a pyrokinetic; she couldn’t generate or command flame; fire liked her and did what she asked, a difference that made her wonder if she was insane. And then there was the transformation. It wasn’t uncommon for protomorphs to develop bodies of stone, crystal, or all matter of organic materials, but what she could do… it was a step past any of the case studies she’d read.
 
But in the process of learning about herself, she learned a lot about more common powers like telekinesis. Just like moving things with a muscle, using more telekinetic strength used more effort, while using a fraction or one’s strength used very little. Which meant that if Tantrum set her mind to it…
 
Maybe the others were right telling her she wasn’t as dangerous as she thought by comparison.
 
***
It was late in the day when the call came. He was in his study, going over the latest hires at the Los Angeles Branch of the latest little company he’d acquired. He had people whose job it was to deal with this, but for this tiny little biomedical with their sights set on a big breakthrough with a drug designed to accelerate stem cell based regenerative therapies, he took a personal interest in the hiring work.
 
After all, one of his HR people my make a mistake and turn away some of the moles various agencies and organizations were trying to plant when he was trying very hard to cultivate a flock of wolves in sheep’s clothing in the relatively unimportant company.
 
If not for the specific ring tone that announced the call, he would have let it go to voice mail. Because of that one little sound, St. John Duvall hit the answer button instead of ignore on his holographic screen.
 
“Faith. I’m not used to hearing from you in the middle of the week.”
 
“I hope I’m not interrupting, Daddy, but I think you would appreciate hearing this as soon as possible.” Faith Duvall’s voice was mildly bored, tempered by an attempt to sound professional for her father.
 
“Is it about Joy? Is she alright?”
 
“She’s fine. Not why I called.” She assured. “But we just got a new student at the Institute; Maya Blumberg.” she emphasized the last name, which he immediately recognized.
 
“Beacon had a daughter?” Suddenly he didn’t know where to focus his gaze. “More importantly, Beacon had a daughter with a psionic mutation?”
 
“It looks like. The higher ups; Laurel and Mr. Liedecker haven’t entered her powers into the database, but considering they’re rapid-prototyping heat resistant fabrics, I can make a guess. But the fact she exists isn’t why I called you. I did more digging and…”
 
Despite the fact that she couldn’t see him, St. John leaned forward. “Don’t hesitate, Faith, it’s unbecoming for one of my daughters; I raised you all to be more proud than that, more confident.”
 
“Yes sir.” She didn’t sound fully convinced, but she was trying. “Maya was tailed to Mayfield by a pair of operatives posing as FBI, poorly.”
 
“TOME wouldn’t be that sloppy.”
 
“That’s because they weren’t TOME. They were from the Generations Project. The police didn’t get them to talk, but I managed to coax evidence photos of their weapons; I’m sure of it.”
 
St. John frowned. “This is the second time that they’ve come up with regard to the Liedecker Institute, and the both times, it involved the names of former Test Five members. I don’t like this, Faith, not at all. If you can’t get close to Blumberg, or the girl who calls herself Alice Tatopoulos, we need another way.”
 
“I could give Joy a nudge in making friends with them. A small nudge; she doesn’t listen to me.”
 
“True. She only listens to Charity, and Charity doesn’t listen to me.” His face soured that the thought of the sole daughter of seven that wasn’t completely loyal, and in fact protested his methods and goals. “I think I’ll let her come to Mayfield for a visit soon. Maybe we’ll find a way to get her to do what we need for us.”
 
“As long as I don’t say it’s for you, Charity takes my advice sometimes.” Faith offered. “But there is one other thing…” She knew she wasn’t supposed to hesitate, but she did, but only for a moment. “Beacon is dead.”
 
“What?” St. John’s voice betrayed no emotion, but if Faith could have seen him, the warring shock and relief would have been clear to her.
 
“I managed to track Maya all the way back to the Canada side of Niagara Falls.” she confirmed. “The house burned to the ground in under ten minutes. The fire marshal ruled it an arson.”
 
“The girl?”
 
“Fire Marshall won’t comment, but it looks like the local police think so. I can’t say for sure; I don’t know anything about arson forensics.”
 
“Hmm. I want to make sure. Keep an eye on Beacon’s daughter. In the meantime, send everything you’ve found to Serenity.”
 
“Of course Daddy.”
 
The older man smiled. “I need to check into something on my own. Check in as usual this weekend and look out for your sister. I love you both.”
 
“We love you too.”
 
He killed the connection and sat back, his fatherly smile dissolving as his thoughts returned to Lt. Col. Daniel “Beacon” Blumberg and Test Five. Beacon was just the pilot; all he knew was locations and times. Still, him having a psionic daughter was a huge coincidence, as was the Generations Project noticing her.
 
It was imperative that he learn more. And the only place he now knew to look was the Liedecker Institute, where two children of interest to the Generations Project now resided. Maya Blumberg and ‘Alice Tatopoulos’; what did they know? And what about them had caused Generations to resurface after all these years?
 
Yes, he needed to find out. And to do so, he needed to depend on Faith. And Joy. And Charity.
 
End January Heatwave.
 
French Translations:
*“I am tired of these disturbances.”
**”All I wanted was time to myself to drink coffee and read a magazine.”
***”But you and your friend could not just be quiet!”
****”If you intend to stay, do not follow the lead of the others. Make sure you don’t see my bad side .”
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