- Liedecker Institute #1: Meet the Class Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #2: Meet the Class Part 2
- Liedecker Institute #3: Meet the Class Part 3
- Liedecker Institute #4: Meet the Class Part 4
- Liedecker Institute #5: Meet the Class Part 5
- Liedecker Institute #6: Reflections in Steam Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #7: Reflections in Steam Part 2
- Liedecker Institute #8: Make Your Own Luck Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #9: Make Your Own Luck Part 2
- Liedecker Institute #10: Make Your Own Luck Part 3
- Liedecker Institute #11: A Very Kura Christmas Part 1
- Liedecker Institute #12: A Very Kura Christmas Part 2
- Liedecker Institute Annual #1
The main lobby had been transformed over the course of the day into an impressive stand in for a ball room or concert hall.
There were rows of tables along the walls, illuminated by strings of red, green and white lights as well as hanging lanterns that threw out snowflake patterns. In one corner, a small stage had been set up where a local cover band, Miracle Six, was taking requests, and off to the side, an impressive spread was being catered the owner of a nearby cafe that had become a popular hangout for the LI students and staff.
Everyone’s miniature trees served as living decorations, placed as centerpieces on the tables, or on makeshift pedestals along the edges of the room. Voting slips had appeared under everyone’s doors that morning so they could vote for the best one.
Central to everything was the ‘official’ tree, the enormous white pine donated by none other than Vincent Liedecker himself. It stood in the middle of the room with plastic bins altered by Kura to look like gift boxes beneath it. Those contained dozens of ornaments and garlands, plus multiple types of tinsel, all provided so the party-goers could all have a hand at decorating.
Oddly enough, it was Betty and her friends that were taking the largest advantage of this. Betty herself used her prehensile hair to root through the bins for ornaments that met her approval while Hightower and Jacob teamed up with their flight to wrap a length of foil, silver chain around the summit of the mighty evergreen.
Annette simply stood back and watch with her arms crossed, but without the look of contempt she wore as a general rule.
The others were so involved in decorating that Eddie felt confident enough to slip away from the group. He was surprised to see that Rita was apparently doing the same thing.
“So…” He asked once he noticed that they were both purposefully drifting away from the others, “Thinking of hang out outside the in-crowd too?”
Rita glanced back at the others, particularly Betty. “Maybe Betty and Hightower were the in-crowd at the Academy, but they’re not exactly popular here. We’re not the in-crowd… we’re just the mean kids.”
Eddie frowned. The problem was that she was absolutely right, if only in a ‘guilt-by-association’ sort of way. “They can do what they want.” He finally said. “I’ve got other friends.”
“I know. My roommate can’t stop talking about how much fun you have during free period.” Rita laughed.
At the same time, she absently engaged her powers. Miracle Six’s rendition of Life and the Hereafter’s Snow on the Ground manifested as a vague, glittering haze of violet and blue with flashed of pink in the air around her. She didn’t bother sculpting it, just let it hang around her in it’s natural form. Using her power like this always made her feel happy.
“Your roommate?” Eddie felt bad not knowing, but he and Rita seldom talked, mostly because whenever they were hanging out it was with Betty, who dominated any conversation she was part of.
“Joy.” said Rita, then a teasing smile crossed her features, “She told me she thinks you like Arkose.”
Eddie felt his face heat up. “Guh? Where did she get that idea?”
Rita shrugged. “She says you spend a lot of time trying to talk to her.”
“That doesn’t mean I like her.” They had drifted over to the refreshments at this point and he decided that he needed some punch to get rid of the dryness in his throat. “You’ve got to understand; if you want her to say anything, it’s a pretty uphill battle.”
He offered her the first cup he filled with the mysteriously blue punch. She accepted. “Yeah, I can see that. She’s always struck me as Tantrum without the bad English though.”
After pouring his own drink, he shook his head. “You don’t know her though. Sure she’s snarky and moody, but she’s actually cool to talk to about stuff like movies. And did you know she’s like a black belt… or whatever they’re called, with that wooden sword she’s got in her room?”
“Are you sure you don’t like her?” Rita snickered.
“Pretty sure. The moody thing isn’t for me.” He shrugged. “I don’t know if there’s even a point in crushing on any girl here with Jacob around anyway.” Realizing how that sounded, he swiftly backpedaled, “Nothing against him, you know. He’s still like my best friend, it’s pretty hard to try and compare.”
Rita sipped her punch, which despite looking like it should be blueberry or the ever bizarre ‘blue raspberry’, tasted mostly of pineapple and cherry. She suspected Kura at play. “You realize girls have types, right?”
“You mean buff, awesome and basically being an all around great guy isn’t everyone’s type?”
“Well I certainly don’t have a thing for him.”The look this drew from Eddie made her want to laugh out loud. “Sorry, no. You’re not really my type either. But you’re a pretty shiny guy. I wouldn’t worry too much if I were you. Even if all the other girls want him, they can’t all have him, now can they?”
“So… I’m second best?” He asked.
“I am so bad at this, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, kind of.” They both laughed.
“Hey, while I’ve got the chance, I wanted to say thank you.” That earned her a confused look. “I mean for being so nice to Joy. She’s a good roommate and I wish I could be a better friend to her. But you know..”
“Betty.” Eddie said.
“Yeah. Betty.” sighed Rita. In the Middle of it all, Miracle Six started in on Bells Toll the New Year by Hot Shave and her nimbus of color changed to yellow with swirls of vermillion and indigo. She grinned. “But, anyway, let’s say you and I mingle. I want to get a chance to actually get to know the rest of this group Joy keeps going on about.”
Eddie’s contribution to the arm of tiny trees was decked out in bright foil in primary colors in the branches and various keychains from Las Vega casinos and hotels serving as ornaments. Strategically placed white LEDs made it glow like the Strip.
It shared a table with a little tree that had been meticulously clipped and tied and arranged before hung with small, traditional ball ornaments (which, at Kura and Tammy’s insistence, had tiny cogs carefully painted on) and an origami star made of gold foil.
There wasn’t much remarkable about it unless one took the time to look closely and see that in order to keep the tree symmetrical, it had been fitted with painstakingly crafted artificial limbs that looked nearly indistinguishable from the real ones save for the fact that they carried power that lit the ornaments hanging form them from within where the balls on the real branches remained unlit.
It’s creator never left is side. Steampunk sat at the table it was placed on with a half dozen cups of punch at the ready and observed the rest of the party.
Everything going on was fascinating to her. People were dancing, both as couples or alone. Others were standing or sitting in groups talking and laughing about matters she couldn’t guess at. A few, like her, were alone, watching from the sidelines, sometimes only until someone else arrived to pull them into a group or form a couple.
There were things happening in that room she felt she would never understand. How did they know who to group with? Or the acceptable way to dance? And why were the legal adults all keeping to the perimeter of everything, almost trying not to be seen – were they not welcome?
Kura and Tammy had tried to prepare her for the party by showing her television and film reenactments of such gatherings, but they seemed inaccurate at best.
Besides the parts Ms. Brant told her to disregard; apparently it was not expected that someone should be doused in animal blood and go on a telekinetic killing spree, or for the festivities to end when men on motorcycles rode through the buffet table; there were clear differences.
For one, most of the teens featured in those programs had powers, at least not overt ones, or if they did have them, they didn’t use them. Here, there were at least five people in the air at any one time, often actually dancing in midair, and flight was the least of it. Obviously, none of those programs took place in a school for psionics.
A long, drawn out exhalation of breath came from nearby and Steampunk looked up to see Phil Sims sitting down across the table with a plate of food from the buffet. Joy Duvall hopped up and crouched in the seat beside him with a plate of her own, heaped with grapes, oranges, and melon cubes.
“Remind me to avoid Kura whenever there’s dancing involved from now on.” He said to Joy. He looked utterly worn down, but still managed a friendly expression when he saw Steampunk. “Hey Steampunk.” Phil offered her a small wave which she stiffly returned in kind. “What do you think if Tammy and Kura’s party?”
She returned her gaze to the goings on of her fellow students. “The dynamics are too complex to extract any reliable data in such a small time.” She said. The moment she said it, she knew it wasn’t a socially productive way of putting it, so she amended. “It is confusing.”
“I guess it is a lot to take in if you didn’t grow up with parties and stuff.” He picked up a skewer of meatballs and gave one a tentative nibble.
“I was given a cross section of popular culture involving parties and dances.”
Joy, who had until this point been watching Jacob flying ornaments up the tree with a dreamy glint in her eye now shot a look at Steampunk. “From Kura!”
“Yes.” Steampunk said, not understanding the implications.
“Kura…” Phil had to think quickly to produce a diplomatic explanation. “…likes to think the real world works like it does in the movies.” Steampunk gave him an askance look and he added, “It doesn’t. Not most of the time.”
“Fiction, yes. Then the clips I was shown were fabrications.” She picked up a cup of punch and contemplated it a moment before downing it in two gulps. Despite herself, she rolled the taste around in her mouth; it wasn’t like water at all. When she picked up her next cup, she decided to drink it slowly. “How am I to learn about these things then?”
“Like everyone else.” Joy said brightly. “Just try stuff and see what you like. Want an orange?” She held the fruit out and smiled sweetly.
Steampunk accepted the fruit, considering it quietly. She knew how Joy ate them, biting through skin and all, but she was sure that wasn’t the traditional way. “Observe through interaction and self-experimentation?” She looked at the punch glasses and realized that she was already doing that. Without any other input from the others, she nodded and turned the orange over in her hands. “Try stuff…”
Phineas’s arrival was heralded by the rustle of leaves. “What are we trying?” He plopped into the seat next to Steampunk. He was in a suit that by all rights should have been too small. Lucky for him, he was made of leaves and vines, which were easy to fit into just about anything.
Now fully interested in the conversation, Joy giggled. “Steampunk wanted to know more about dances and parties. I said to just try stuff.”
“Like eating an orange… apparently.” Phil supplied to explain Steampunk’s sudden interest in the piece of fruit.
The orange embers that served as Phineas’s eyes flickered with amusement. “You don’t know how to peel an orange?”
“I don’t.” She said, completely missing his incredulity.
“Here.” He took the orange from her and, making sure she could see what he was doing, carefully and expertly peeled half of it before handing it back. “See?”
She aped his actions, separating the fruit from the rest of the skin. “Yes. Thank you for that.”
“Not problem.” he said. “By the way, have any of you guys seen The Gnome around here? Speaking of trying stuff, I wanted to tell him how it went asking Betty for a dance?”
“Haven’t seen him.” said Phil, “though that’s not saying much if he’s using his powers.” He smirked at his friend. “But I can guess the results involved the phrase ‘hair-slapped’.”
“Oh, absolutely.” Phineas said with the opposite of shame.
“Why do you keep doing stuff like that?” Joy asked. “It’s just… It’s worse than if I asked… um… someone out of my league to dance.”
Phineas didn’t have to follow her gaze. “Just like you said, you’ve gotta try stuff. And I think that nothing’s worth it if it’s easy to do. Challenges are what it’s all about; try or fail, baby.” From her expression he could see that Joy didn’t share the philosophy.
“Look, why not try? You can give her advice and not take it yourself?” He gestured to Steampunk who was taking experimental bites of the orange.
“Well…” Joy said.
“Great. Let’s all try stuff. You go ask Jacob to dance and… ah! Hey Steampunk, you want to learn about dances?” The blonde looked up from eating and nodded. “Good. You know the best way to learn? Take part.” He extended his leafy hand. “Come on, let’s dance.”
“I know nothing about dancing.” She said quietly.
“Well that’s good, because I suck at it.” He laughed. “Come on, at the very least, you’ll learn what not to do.”
Lucy Black ran Midnight Black, a cafe a short walk and a bridge away from the institute. Until it opened, her business had been barely getting by, being seen as too small and not impressive enough for the predominantly corporate clientele in the neighborhood.
That changed when some of the LI students crossed the bridge and found a place with great food, better coffee and an owner who didn’t hate teenagers on site. Word spread quickly and suddenly Midnight Black was a popular hang out spot not just for the students, but also the staff.
She parlayed the new-found profits into hiring an actual waitress and a clerk that didn’t short the register with enough left over to expand into a catering business for small engagements. The LI Holiday Tree Party was the largest she’d ever serviced. In fact, she wouldn’t have taken a job that big if it wasn’t for the school that gave her so much business. Plus, she genuinely liked most of the kids that came into her place.
Two of them, Tammy Kaine and Kura Akagi, made their way over to where she was standing after an hour of dancing with anyone willing, or failing that, by themselves.
Tammy’s red hair was plastered to her face with sweat and she eyed the punch with a look that said she meant to try to drink the whole thing. Meanwhile, Kura floated after her like a balloon on a string, looking fresh and bright eyed as if the party had just gotten started.
After two cups of punch to sate her thirst, Tammy noticed Lucy. “Hi, Lucy.” She chirped.
Lucy was in her early thirties, a tiny bit on the heavy side and had long, brown hair that tonight was pulled back into a professional looking bun to match the crispy and brand new chef’s uniform she wore with ‘Midnight Black @ Home’ written in elegant script on the breast. None of it did anything to undercut her general easy going posture and expressions, especially when she smiled at the girls.
“Hey.” She folded her arms and regarded the two of them with amusement in her eyes. “The word is, I have you two to thank for the job tonight.”
“That depends on if it makes you happy enough to give us free triple fudge brownies.” Tammy grinned.
“Ooo, or one of those cherry-mint tarts!” Kura said excitedly. “No, three of them!”
Lucy laughed. “Well I did aim to please when I put all this together…” She pointed lazily to the end of the buffet where the desserts, including the two she knew were the girls’ favorites were.
Kura’s eyes lit up. “Lucy, you’re so awesome!” And then she dropped to the floor to run over to grab her fill of tarts.
“Yeah!” Tammy agreed, giving Lucy another smile before scampering after her friend.
As Kura eagerly stuffed a tart into her mouth, she became aware of someone looming up behind her. She turned and instead of Tammy, she found the biology teacher, Dr. Kingsbury, or as Kura had dubbed him, He of the Scary Glasses.
Even in that moment, the lenses of his large, round spectacles seemed to catch the light in precisely such a way as to make them look like discs of pure, glowing white. His bald head and walrus mustache didn’t help matters.
“Miss Akagi.” He addressed her in a tone that would have been more appropriate if he’d just scrapped her off the bottom of his shoes. “Just why do you think running is acceptable at this function?”
“Becawf iff faffer dah phi-ig.” She spewed crumbs in his general direction, stopped to chew and swallow, and tried again. “Because it’s faster than flying and I didn’t want someone to beat me to them, because Lucy made them especially so I could have some.”
“That’s no excuse.” Dr. Kingsbury said sternly. “No more running. And do not let me hear you address an adult by their proper name again. It’s disrespectful.”
“But… Lucy told us to call her Lucy.”
“I don’t care.” He ignored her. “I don’t want to hear it in this building.” And with that, he walked away, giving her one last warning glare.
“Don’t you just love that guy and hope he teaches us every year?” Tammy stepped in from where she had been studiously remaining in the good Doctor’s blind spot with a shrimp cocktail in one hand and a punch glass in the other.