Liedecker Institute #4: Meet the Class Part 4

This entry is part 4 of 13 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 1: Meet The Class

“Rita!” Betty’s voice carried across the common area that separated the boys’ wing from the girls’ wing. She was sitting on a sofa with Hightower. “Ready to go?”

Mindful of the discussion she’d just had with Joy, Rita stood there, waffling for a moment. “Er…” She managed. “Is it just going to be the three of us?”

“Might be.” Hightower shrugged. “I’ve seen a few other kids around here that might be able to hang with us. But you can never tell.”

Betty’s laugh started somewhere genuine and ended just south of vindictive. “I know, like that guy from this morning?” She turned to Rita to explain, her hair lightening as she remembered the altercation. “This guy came up to us at breakfast and tried to trick us into thinking he had a really shiny power, but it turns out it’s nothing but a psychic carry-all.”

When Rita didn’t laugh right away at such an obviously unfortunate power, she decided to continue. “So he’s not prelate material at all, he’s just a packrat.” This time, her laugh didn’t stop at vindictive, it went right on across the border to cruelty and set up camp.

With extreme effort that was completely lost on Betty, Rita forced herself to crack a smile and feign laughing. None of it touched her eyes, not that Betty noticed. Fancying herself a nice girl, Rita knew it was wrong, but being someone who would have liked to also fancy herself a popular girl, she decided to overlook it just this once.

“But you know all about lame powers.” Said Betty with sympathy in her eyes. Her hair even seemed to droop with the mood change. “I got a look at the room assignments and found out that you’re rooming with Cryptid.”

That wasn’t a name Rita knew. For that matter, it wasn’t a word she knew. It reminded her vaguely of the undead. “Who?”

“Your fuzz-freak roommate.” Betty replied without batting an eye. “It’s hard to believe that the same thing that gives people really great powers like ours can do that to a person. Tragic even.”

Rita forced herself to nod against the protests of her conscience. “I didn’t know she had a nickname. I just know her as Joy.”

Something in her congratulated her on that response; it moved the conversation, yet managed not to say anything mean about Joy. At least she hadn’t crossed that line yet.

“Yeah, that’s her code. It means freak-monster or something, so at least she knows, you know?”

Her conscience won part of a battle at this, causing her to speak up. “I don’t really see what’s wrong with her powers.”

Betty scoffed as if it was the most obvious thing ever. “Two reasons: One, she’s ugly. Not even ‘cute ugly’ like those Evil Ann key chains. She’s just ugly like if a monkey and a bat had a kid and the kid was more than friends with a chupacabra.”

Rita didn’t agree with any of that. Joy looked weird, but it was still a human kind of weird that ended up making her look kind of cute. Especially when she was doing something like hanging from the ceiling.

While Betty continued talking, she sent a lock of her hair to go into her purse and get out her lipstick. Another strand retrieved her compact. “And that’s bad enough but think about it. I mean animal powers? So done. Right, baby?” She squeezed the shoulder of her flying, super strong boyfriend, who nodded.

Satisfied, she plowed on, making all of her internalized thoughts external. “Speaking of Cryptid—the word, not the freak—we need to get you a code, girl.”

This blindsided Rita, who was still trying to figure out how not to defend Joy without explicitly betraying her. “A what? Sorry, I think I missed something…”

“Code name.” supplied Hightower. “Like how I’m Hightower and Betty’s Rapunzel. Think of it as picking your prelate name early.”

Rita blinked. “Oh. I hadn’t really thought about it. My power is nice and all, but I don’t think it’s really something you can fight crime with. I figured I’ll end up doing concerts or special effects.” This wasn’t just due to her powers, but because those were her passions. Not every kid wanted to grow up and be a prelate; certainly not Rita.

“Come on,” Hightower urged. “Everyone’s thought about it. At least everyone with powers and probably a lot of normals too. Just think of something cool sounding that says something about your powers.”

It didn’t help things that Betty was leaning forward, expecting the answer instantly. Quick thought was fortunately something Rita was no stranger to. And the fact was, her parents had taken pains to learn everything they could about her powers, shuttling her to and from doctors, psychologists and even the occasional ‘trailblazing’ researcher and all of them had filled her head with principles and theories related to her power.

As it happened, artists had been using various methods to simulate her power of translating sound into visual illusions. The word for it and the naturally occurring medical condition with comparable symptoms sounded exotic enough to work. “How about… Synesthesia?”

“Doesn’t that mean fake?” Betty wrinkled her nose and decided that that was the proper interval to open her compact and touch up her makeup.

“No, it’s a medical condition that does to people what my powers do.” There was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that the idea wasn’t going to fly. “And there are artists that to do the same thing with machines. They call them synesthetic artists.”

Betty and Hightower glanced at one another. Betty’s mouth was occupied with receiving a new coat of lipstick, leaving Hightower to let Rita down easily. “Maybe we can hold of on the code for now.”

***

Annette St. John was not enjoying her time at the Liedecker Institute. Even though she had only been in residence less than twenty-four hours, she had been subjected to annoyance on top of annoyance.

First and foremost were Vorpal and her rules. The first of which were to call her ‘Ms. Carroll’ and pretend they didn’t know each other while around other students. As far as she was concerned, the entire charade was insipid, but it was fine by her to have less to do with Vorpal.

It was the threat that hung over her head. Like the sword of Damocles, it instilled a creeping sort of dread that even Annette didn’t want to push.

Before leaving France with the other woman, she had thought she understood how Vorpal worked; brute force mixed with a strange brand of self improvement philosophy. Surely the constant harping on powers and potential came from a superiority complex that Annette imagined was not out of place in psionic-ruled Columbia.

She has expected threats of death, likely creative and likely drawn out. Not that she would have listened; something in Vorpal’s dealings with her made Annette certain the older woman didn’t really wish her dead.

Further threats of sending her back to France were also a consideration, but again, Annette wouldn’t have cared. All that meant was that she was once again trapped in Arceneaux’s glorified halfway house. And while droll, it was still livable.

But Vorpal had proven to be far more insightful than she had ever anticipated in supplying a penalty for misbehavior: She had promised that if Annette caused the kind of damage to the Liedecker Institute the way she did to Arceneaux’s school, she would give up on her.

Annette had been indifferent to this until the older woman had explained in full. She would leave her in the city. Alone, without support, without family, and even without a country. Utterly abandoned.

From that moment, Annette St. John resolved to curb her temper.

That resolve started being tested on day one, starting with the hyperactive blur of mindless exuberance and zero forethought that shared her room: Kura Akagi. Not only did the girl not know when to shut up, but she used her powers to change Annette’s carefully chosen purple color scheme.

And when, in her mounting irritation, Annette had caused the bookshelf to shake, Kura had provided her with a new moniker: Tantrum. What was worse, she’d convinced one of their suitemates to use it too.

It had been a huge relief to wake up to find both Kura and her friend, Tammy, gone. Of course the carnival of irritation that was he life for the past few days had seen fit to give her a headache.

By the time she reached the nurse’s office, looking for relief, Annette managed to reach a depth of sourness even she didn’t think possible. It surprised her not at all that someone had beaten her there.

The nurse as nowhere in sight and Jacob, Joy and Arkose had arranged themselves sporadically among the hard, plastic benches in the way people tended to when they didn’t quite know how to talk to one another.

Of the three, Arkose was the only one Annette knew by name. She was her suitemate and the person Annette disliked the least; which was the same as saying that she was the one she liked the most when one got right down to it. That came solely from the fact that Arkose was quiet and kept to herself.

Jacob and Joy glanced up at her, dissuaded from uttering a greeting by the look on her face. Annette opted to sit on the other end of the bench occupied by Arkose, the furthest seat from the others.

The room resumed the awkward silence that had reigned before Annette’s arrival. The only movement, in fact, was Joy constantly trying to look at Jacob without looking at him.

“Nurse Riley could be a while.” Jacob broke both the silence and the stillness by shifting uncomfortably as he spoke. “She’s trying to make sure my friend’s nose isn’t broken.”

Jacob would have expected her to ask what happened, but with Annette, he mind had to fill in such things as basic human concern. He fidgeted uncomfortably upon realizing that she didn’t seem to care all that much. People were basically good, his father often told him, even if things like greed or pride got in the way. Therefore he assumed she wanted to know regardless of if she asked. “I punched him in the face. Accidentally.”

Arkose, still not entirely sure why she even bothered waiting to hear about the nose of a boy she barely knew, decided to put an end to Jacob’s attempts. “She’s my suitemate.” She explained. “I don’t think she speaks English.”

An icy, blue-eyed glare bored into her at this. One that assured her that what semblance of peace that had previously inhabited the room wasn’t coming back anytime soon. “I can speak the English perfectly well, I thank you.” Annette informed her with an indignant sniff.

“But I think, ‘Why should I bother?’. There are no important things being said.”

Arkose shrugged, creating a sound like a panel truck coming up a country drive. “So you do know English.”

Joy was fascinated by her accent. “What language says the important things then? My sister got me a tutor for Italian, but I’m not very good.”

Annette grimaced and waved vaguely as if to dismiss both of them. “Leave me to my own self. My head is having the pain.”

“You have a headache.” Jacob provided much needed translation to absolutely no one. “That’s not problem, I’ve got stuff for headaches in my room. A whole medicine chest, really. I was in scouts, so I always try to be prepared. I can get some for you.”

Regarding him with one eye as the other was obscured by her hand clutching her head, Annette took swift stock of him and nodded slightly. “Yes, that would be good. I will go with you.”

Swift social calculations piled up in Joy’s head. Blonde, plus blue eyes, multiplied by a French accent was greater than the sum of fuzz and fangs. Where x was personality, she needed x times ten to break even.

“I have some stuff in my room too.” She blurted. She had no idea if that was the truth. Charity had put all her things away and stocked her side of the toiletries cabinet. It was probably true, and that was enough to prevent the new girl and Jacob being alone in his room together.

None of this even entered the airspace around Jacob’s head. Good Samaritan was stamped in his DNA with more surety than his psionic powers. He had ancestors who, in wars long past, were known for dragging enemy troops into medic tents. It was probable that one of his ancestors actually did hail from Samaria.

“That’s okay, Joy.” He said amiably. “We won’t be more’n a minute, but would you mind giving me a call if Nurse Riley gets done with Eddie before I get back?” He gave her his number before she was done bobbing her head.

A grin spread on her face; something she was usually mindful of as it meant something entirely different to people when you did it with a mouthful of fangs. Not that she cared; she had his number.

***

Betty was slinging her purse over her shoulder, ready to lead her proto-clique out into the world, when Jacob came out of the stairwell, and held the door open for Annette. Her hair turned completely black.

There a universal, organizational force that governs the formation and growth of social groups, much like the one that convinces proteins to fold into lifeforms and army ants to form black waves of meandering death.

It allows for generally anti-social personalities; shallow, judgmental teenaged girls, or self important insufferable smart-alecs, to find each other and stay together for the common commonality.

It acted now in making Betty extremely happy to see Annette and that assured her that they could be the best of poisonous friends.

“You.” She said with her customary lack of tact.

Annette didn’t stop walking, but arched and eyebrow. “Moi?”

Betty only knew the word from pop cultural osmosis, but at the moment, Annette could have spouted a string of nonsense and Betty would have neither noticed or cared. “We’re scrapping the losers here and going to check out the city. You want to come?”

At the very least, Annette reasoned, it was an excuse to get out of the school. And it was a definite plus that the long haired girl seemed to have the same problem she had with being there. It was worth a chance if only to go somewhere Vorpal’s gaze didn’t penetrate.

She nodded. “Oui. That would be very good. To leave this place.”

“But we need to get you something for your headache…” Jacob tried to catch up on the last thirty seconds with little success.

“We’ll pick something up while we’re out.” Said Betty.

Feeling the need to add something to the recruitment, Hightower folded his arms and nodded manfully to Jacob. “You can come too.”

Rita helped in her own way by looking properly excited at Jacob being included in the day’s activities. That was more than enough to excuse the things said about Joy for the moment.

“I would…” Jacob rubbed the back of his head. “But my friend’s down in the nurse’s office and I should really be—“

“Oh, just give him a call later and he can meet us.” Betty silenced him. “We’ll see from there if he’s okay to hang out with us.”

To be continued…

Series Navigation<< Liedecker Institute #3: Meet the Class Part 3Liedecker Institute #5: Meet the Class Part 5 >>

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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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