Liedecker Institute Annual #2

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

“’Lightning hit a pine’?” Betty managed to complain even as she fought against Jacob’s strength by wrapping her locks around the dogwood he’s slammed Arkose into earlier. “That doesn’t make any sense at all!”

“Shut up! It does too!” Yelled Tammy. “It means you just got a big break, a game changer—a shocker!”

She whirled the wrench over her head for effect and sent a blinding bolt of purple lightning into the mound and the plants protecting it. Leaves ignited, thunder rolled, and dozens of flowers were instantly annihilated. Through the acrid, white smoke, it was plain to see the vines twitching before going still for good.

Above, Jacob stopped struggling and allowed Betty to cocoon him in her hair. All the while, Betty was glaring at Tammy. “A pun? Really?”

Tammy started to retort, but her palmtop started playing Succumb to Vertigo by Downtime. “Hold on, that’s Kura.” She tossed the wrench, now covered with oxidation and streaks of carbon, aside and answered. “Hey Kura, I just lightning bolted the plant thing. They are? Great. I guess it’s safe to tell Mr. Warren about what went down now.”

She made a face at the phone when Kura replied to that. “Because the action-y part is done, that’s why. We need the old people to clean up the mess. Yeah, I know, it sucks, but next time, I promise you’ll get to fight the monster okay? Cool. Talk to you later.”

After hanging up, she took stock of the others. Phineas were sitting on the ground, partially propping Steampunk up as she cradled her arm, which was still partially wrapped in severed thorn vines. Betty had Jacob wrapped up tight with Arkose adding her muscle. And Jada was leaning against a tree looking tired.

“Guys, cheer up!” She beamed. “We won. Kura says everyone is coming around and very confused back at the school. Whatever this dryad thing was, I made it crispy. That’ll learn it for ruining something as great as getting free flowers.”

“So is she sending Mr. Warren?” Jada asked.

Tammy nodded.

“Good. Then once he gets here, I just want to get back to the school and try and forget this day ever happened.” Jada leaned more heavily against the tree.

***

Laurel Brant and Vincent Liedecker stood at the latter’s office window and watched the last military hazmat truck roll out of the gates of the Institute. It was well past midnight, two days after the incident.

“So tell me, Miss Brant, what’s the damage we’re looking at for that uppity snapdragon thinkin’ it could set down roots in my school?”

“Nowhere near as bad as I calculated.” Laurel didn’t look away from the window, not even to double check her tablet for the numbers. “I initially budgeted for a full week where we’d have to close and move the students to the Dornez. As it turns out, the military’s encountered creatures like this once before and have detection measures. So the bulk of the cost now is going to be integrating those detection measures her in case it another one pops up.”

Liedecker nodded. “I had a mind how much money it’d cost. I was asking reputation damage. I’m guessing you sent calls to the parents?”

“Right. I did, and we will have two students withdrawing; Milo Bowling and Patrice Dawes. I’m still hoping to talk their parents out of it, but it won’t be easy. I have about a dozen more that want to know exactly what we’re doing to keep this from ever happening again. No one seems to realize that this could have happened to any school—any apartment building even.”

In a way, if it had to happen, it’s lucky it was here.” said Liedecker.

“Pardon?”

“I heard you Miss Davos talkin’ about what happened, what she did, and how she was able to. You think any other school would have had even one that was immune to that stuff? It’s a damn lucky thing it tried to come here first, and that those kids had the gumption to get off their asses and fight the thing.”

Laurel agreed, but it wasn’t the responsible thing to say. “Except we’re not supposed to encourage risky behavior like this. They were brave, yes, but this could have ended with them being hurt far worse than they did.”

Turning from the window, Liedecker went over to his desk, where his own tablet lay, and flicked through a few incident reports. “How are the ones that got hurt anyway?”

“Phineas heals extremely quickly and both Rose and Jacob are resilient enough that they weren’t hurt too badly in the first place. Betty’s hair still needs treatments where Alice burned her, and as for Alice, she’ll be fine, but she’s been needing constant redressing of her lacerations because her powers water log the bandages too quickly.”

“Poor girl. We’ve got her taken care of then?”

Laurel shrugged. “Actually, we didn’t have to. For such an introvert, she has a lot of friends; Jada, Tammy, Kura and Maya are all helping her with keeping her wounds dry.”

Taking a seat, Liedecker ran fingers through his hair. “That’s a damn good thing to hear. Tell me the truth: just how big a damn bullet did we dodge?”

“I’d say significant.” Laurel didn’t sugar coat it. “If those kids hadn’t done what they did, from what I’ve heard from the kids whose minds it touched, this ‘dryad’ would have used the student body like a private army. And I don’t have to remind you sir, but we have what’s probably the largest gathering of descendants on the eastern seaboard here.

“Depending on how ambitions it was, it might have taken the city within a month and few if any people would have noticed until it was epidemic.”

Liedecker shook his head. “Christ.”

:”My sentiments exactly.” Laurel nodded. “And according to my sources, these strange creatures; not only dryads but others, appear somewhere on Earth at a rate of one every thirty-six hours. Humanity’s been dodging bullets like this for more than a year.”

Eyes on his tablet, Liedecker nodded absently. “And this ain’t the first time they’ve shown up in Mayfield neither. I’ve seen the pictures online; those freakish baboons for one thing.” He looked up at her with a contemplative expression.

“These sources, Miss Brant, they have a way of detecting these arrivals?”

“I have to assume.” Laurel raised any eyebrow, wondering where he was going with that.

“Do me a favor and look into it. We gt blindsided here this week. The whole goddamn city nearly got blindsided. And I don’t take kindly to sneak attacks. Next time one of these things shows up, I want to know about it before it tries to start something.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” said Laurel. And in point of fact, she’d already been looking into the tech herself. Disturbances on the Astral Plane could herald more than just a crossover from wherever these creatures were coming from, and the need to identify those was growing greater.

Liedecker stretched a bit, cracking his neck. “Then I think that’s all I’ve got left in me for the night. I’ll head on home now, and I think you ought to too, Miss Brant. Tomorrow’s a school day after all.”

“Right. I still have a lesson plan to finalize.” said Laurel. “Good night, Mr. Liedecker.”

“Night, Miss Brant.”

***

It took another half hour before Liedecker was actually in the back of his limo with a trusted driver up front and his bodyguard, Brill across from him.

As the car rolled out of the gates, he opened a call on his tablet. “You there, Charlotte?”

Rick Charlotte’s voice came over the speaker, far more fresh and relaxed than his boss thanks to the odd hours he kept. “Right here, sir. I’ve got those calls in like you asked, but nobody knows where they took that seed. The best I can do is tell you that those weren’t Army hazmat teams that took the thing away.”

“I ain’t exactly surprised at that.” Liedecker said.

“Figured you wouldn’t be, not with all the fake agencies cropping up, like those ‘FBI agents’ back in January. But I did some digging and they’re not so much fake as deep cover. Under the Army cover, they’re Marines, under the Marine cover is something called Rogue Operations Counterintelligence Command. Best I can tell, it’s a Homeland Security with less paperwork than my coffeemaker.”

Liedecker sat back and directed his gaze out the window. “They show up every time something that goes bump shows up?”

“Often enough.” Said Charlotte. “Some of these things end up in quarantine at the nearest wildlife rescue, but anything reported as doing worse than a wild animal could just disappears once someone comes to pick it up.”

“According to the ever resourceful Miss Brant, they have a method of tracking when these things appear.” Liedecker said.

“I wouldn’t doubt it. According to witness reports; the electronic distortions, the ‘green mist’ and strange noises… it shouldn’t be hard to figure out some way to do that.”

Liedecker smiled a small, thin smile. A dangerous smile. “Good. Get on it. Call up Callahan and put him up to it. I want to know next time one of these alien varmints comes into my city unannounced and I want to jam this agency from knowing at the same time.”

“I’m not…” Charlotte said hesitantly, knowing that his boss wasn’t one to appreciate being countermanded.

Liedecker didn’t even give him the chance. “And while you do that, I want you to put in a call to Dr. Odinga at the North American Zoological Society. I met her when I donated a new habitat for the penguins at the GM Logan Zoo. Tell her that I’m interested in seeking her expertise in building a private zoo.”

***

Across town, another conversation was going on.

In a small apartment not far from City Central, a man sat with a rum and coke and listened to someone far less intelligent than he was trying to explain to him what he’d just got done telling them.

“Yes, I understand that the materials I sent you aren’t the creature’s DNA. What I sent you was a sample that was augmented by the creature’s abilities. I never had any contact with the subject itself.” He tried to cut off the stream of ignorance.

The voice on the other end of the line would have none of this ‘well reasoned discussion’ however. “But what we wanted from you was a sample of the creature’s DNA. What use is this?”

He took a long swallow of his drink. “We aren’t even sure all of these things have DNA as we know it. Some of them aren’t even flesh and blood as we understand it. This behavior is consistent with others of the type; altering another organism to suit itself. This one uses plants instead of invertebrates.”

“Then you’re telling me that this was all a bust.”

A scowl formed on his lips. There wasn’t enough rum in the world for this conversation. “The sample I sent you was from a specially engineered biological chemical factory designed to bride the gap between plant communication and humans.”

“The men upstairs don’t care about lab oddities. They want applications. What in this is usable in our operations? What is marketable to our corporate faces?”

Always about the bottom line. He sighed. Science for science’s sake seemed to only exist in backyard labs with horrifically poor safety standards, or the rare lab inundated with funding from rich eccentrics. If he wanted to eat, he had to prove the immediate ‘worth’ of everything.

And people wondered why technological advances in everything but useless consumer electronics had been moving at a crawl over the past century.

“It controlled the minds of almost every person in the school, bypassing psychic defenses entirely. If you can’t find a use for that, I pity you.”

The voice on the other end snarled. “I’m starting to think you aren’t taking this seriously. In fact, I’m starting to think it was a mistake to give you other duties besides your primary mission.”

“I think it’s a mistake to waste my time with worthless questions. I sent you everything I discovered in my first communication, and you won’t get anything more: the ROCIC destroyed every sample except for the infant creature, which they took.” He drank some more, hoping it would keep his temper down.

“And you can rest assured that I still have eyes on with my other mission. If either of the candidates starts showing any clear signs that they’re the carrier of SD108, you’ll be the first to know. And I’ll be the first to deliver them to you.”

And Liedecker Institute Annual #2

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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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