- LI: Generations Aflame #1
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“Kura, we need to tell your parents!” Olivia said as the knot of girls trudged back into their room.
Kura was in the lead, stomping the whole way. Arms folded tightly against her chest and face turning red, she stopped in the middle of the main room to round on the newest member of her circle of friends. “No. Way. That guy, Maya’s Uncle just straight up disappeared from the police station. I’ve watched enough movies like this to know that anyone besides the main people investigating get offed when they find out and I’m not going to let it happen to my mom and dad!”
Olivia let Maya, Tammy and Steampunk through and closed the door so she could lean back against it, sighing wearily. “He didn’t disappear, they said he was bailed out. And for the future: you can’t bribe police officers, even the ones working the desk. It’s illegal.”
“They’ve already been bribed.” Kura said darkly and pulled off her coat, letting it drop to the floor. She kicked off her boots shortly thereafter. “People don’t just get bailed out instantly. Think about it a second: Maya’s already been chased by fake FBI, now some guy she used to know shows up, talking about a ‘project’ and gives her a briefcase? He didn’t get bailed out, he got taken.”
The briefcase was in the process of being lugged out from under the sofa and set down heavily beside Maya. “Please don’t say that.” She said quietly.
After ridding herself of her own coat and scarf, Tammy wandered over and settle don the arm of the sofa so as to have a view over Maya’s shoulder as she fiddled with the locks. “Kura’s got a point though. Maybe if we were normal this would all be a big misunderstanding, but when a Canadian Air Force Captain shows up to a fire-bender’s vacation halfway across the country from where she lives, and hands her a prop from every mob movie ever… well we’re not in normal, now are we?”
This brought a groan from Olivia. They’d given her a crash course about Maya’s eventful arrival at the Institute, but it still seemed unbelievable that the shy, dissembling girl could be the center of intrigue of any sort beyond maybe some mysterious cookie disappearances. “Fine. Let’s at least see what’s in the case. But if it’s not a smoking gun pointing to a conspiracy, can we please tell MR. And Mrs. Akagi then?”
“Deal.” Tammy chirped in the still angry Kura’s stead. Then she started a bit, as Steampunk had ghosted up behind her to look on at Maya and the case as well.
The other two girls soon joined them and after more jangling with the levers meant to open it, Maya finally found that she needed to twist them first and the case came open. The first thing inside was a cherry wood box with a glass top. Inside, all her father’s medals and insignia were on display: from his wings, to his Meritorious Service Medal and Medal of Military Valor. There was also a Special Services medal she’d never seen before in all her times looking through the impressive decorations collected by Lt. Col. Daniel Blumberg.
Beside it was his palmtop, by now far out of date and showing signs of being disassembled, possibly in the course of being examined for declassification. There was a brown, leather folio beneath both, spilling forth with paper documents littered with black censor bars.
Kura reached past Maya to pull something that was sticking out from it. It turned out to be a picture, taken at the airfield where her father and his buddies kept their plane. They were all there; her father, Captain Gordon right next to each other, smiling and thumping each other on their shoulders. Maya couldn’t help noticing how young they both looked. The picture had to have been taken before she was even born.
“That patch isn’t in the box.” Olivia pointed. The others leaned closer. It was unmistakable: on each person’s flight jacket was a patch: something they couldn’t make out on a field of baby blue.
Hold on.” Kura took out her phone and flicked though a list of apps before coming to a magnifier. Armed with it, she put the photo underneath, focusing on the patch. Not it was more clear: a woman sitting cross-legged with a bundle of five spears in her arms so that they fanned out in front of her. And above, the words:’Test Five’.
“Test Five?” What the hell is that?” Tammy asked.
“Canadian Special Operations Transport Service.” Steampunk said as if on automatic. The others tuned to stare as the words continued to pour out if her. “Specialties listed as extracting or delivering hazardous or sensitive cargo. True objective: providing untraceable movement to Generations Project personnel and materiel. Founded July 7, 2057. Disbanded January 3, 2068 along with the first Generations Project.”
“Anyone else a little creeped out?” Tammy asked, raising a brow at Steampunk.
“I apologize for that.” said Steampunk, bowing her head. “I was merely disseminating the requested information.”
“Okay…” said Tammy, cocking her head curiously. “But how did you know that?”
Steampunk seemed to stare through her, which for her was a sure sign that she felt the answer was obvious. “Before I was brought to the Institute, one of my duties was to catalog and increase the efficiency of the integration between the Generations 1 knowledge base and that of Generations 2. This included all personnel and operational files.”
The other girls shifted around so that Steampunk was now the center of attention, all except Maya, who was still fixated on the rest of the case. There was more beneath the folio; more personal items like some of her drawings from when she was five that he’d promised to hang up in his locker at base. They were in there because he had…
Tammy glanced at her, but curiosity drove her to continue on with Steampunk and the pieces that were coming together in her head. “So you worked for those guys—that’s how you knew that the FBI guys in the diner way back when Maya first arrived were fake.”
“… so you knew the whole time and you didn’t tell us!? You knew why Maya was being chased and… I thought Maya was your friend! I thought we were all your friends!” Tammy as close to tears and shouting at the implacable girl.
Not flinching from the onslaught, Steampunk blinked once. “I would like to continue being friends with all of you.” She said the words as if they were somehow alien. “I do not see how this effects that.”
Kura put her hand on Tammy’s shoulder to calm her down but it wasn’t working. The girl lunged forward, jabbing a finger into Steampunk’s chest as she spoke. “It damn well does effect that! You knew all about why these guys were after Maya and you never told?! A real friend would have told!”
“You are hurting me.” Suddenly, so fast that none of them saw it happen, Tammy’s wrist was firmly, but carefully caught in Steampunk’s grasp. “I am allowed to prevent injury to myself. Please stop.”
Tammy snatched her wrist back, wary of the heat that still managed to bleed through Steampunk’s suit. Before she could say anything though, the other girl continued.
“I was unaware that this was something friends did. Before, I was only to dispense information when asked. Am I to infer that this is incorrect?”
“We keep forgetting she’s like a robot or something.” Kura said, pulling Tammy back physically. “But yeah, Steamy, that’s totally wrong. If you know something that can help your friends, you tell them. That’s a stupid rule those guys taught you and you should forget it.”
Steampunk nodded slowly. “I do see the logic of this. I am sorry that I have done badly at being a friend. These were not concepts or protocols the Project required me to learn.”
An uncomfortable silence, then Tammy tentatively shrugged out of Kura’s grasp. She eyes Steampunk curiously. “Okay, so maybe it’s not really your fault. The people that raised you sucked out loud… Alright, I’ll forgive you if you start telling us what we need to know.”
“Agreed, Talia Kaine.” Steampunk managed a stiff and very weak smile. “What do you need to know?”
Tammy looked at Kura and Olivia, because Maya was still in her own little world with the case. “Never call me Talia, okay? My dad named me after an old comic book or something. If I wasn’t Tammy, I’d even use my middle name—and I don’t even know what a ‘Coulmni’ is.”
“Okay, Talia. “Kura patted her on the head, then directed her attention at Steampunk. “Okay, so the biggest thing we need to know is why they’re after Maya.”
Steampunk’s mouth formed a hard line and all heads turned to follow her gaze to Maya, who, upon hearing her name, was peeking over the back of the couch. “Maya Blumberg, you should know that the Generations Project has an interest in you. You are an SD-108 candidate, which means that acquiring your genetic code and anatomical scans are priority alpha.”
Maya drew back from the blond girl’s gaze. “W-what do you mean? What’s an SD-108?”
“A filing code.” Steampunk answered, “San Diego experiment 108; a series of trials attempting to recreate phenomena reported by spies within the Thule Society. The operation was conducted as a joint operation between British, Canadian and American agencies, and by 1972, all records were destroyed.”
The tension in the room shattered with Olivia’s laughter. She went on for almost a minute before realizing that now everyone was staring at her. “What?” She asked, leaning against the couch, “She’s kidding right?”
Maya shook her head. She was getting a look in her eyes not all that dissimilar to a wild animal caught in a corner. “I don’t think Alice knows how to kid.” Her voice quavered.
“She’s got to be.” Olivia insisted. “Come on, the Thule Society? That’s the ‘Hitler was secretly a warlock trying to rule the world with dark magic’ thing that’s been in a dozen movies. It’s not real.”
“It was so.” Tammy challenged. “I read it on Factopia.”
Olivia crossed her arms and cocked her hip. “Tammy, anyone can edit Factopia. It was probably some sort of crazy conspiracy theorist.”
“So?” Kura was quick to defend her friend. “We’re in a crazy conspiracy! We’ve got a disappeared military guy, and a case full of clues, and also, Steampunk.”
“Alice?” Maya avoided the argument and addressed Steampunk quietly. She wasn’t sure if she really wanted an answer to the question rolling around in her head, but her curiosity was tearing at her to know, to try and understand. “… what’s so special about SD-108?”
“I only know the reasons the Project has for seeking it out.” Steampunk warned. “Their goals may differ from the original aim.” She waited for Maya nod to continue and did so with her head bowed and her eyes focused on the nozzles built in around her wrists.
“There is little information that survived the disbanding of the original experiment group, but the Project has made extrapolations based on information held by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and those remnants. SD-108 involved materials extracted from an Uncategorized Source Entity known to be capable of generating vast amounts of energy without an identifiable fuel source. The goal of the Project is to use emergent recombination techniques to re-extract that SD-108 gene sequence, repair it, implement it in new test subjects to observe for possible traits of the original Uncategorized Source Entity and replicate it.”
Olivia, Kura and Tammy had stopped their squabbling when the explanation started. Now they all looked more confused than anything.
“That might be a lot more useful if we knew what any of that meant.” Kura pointed out.
“I know.” Maya said in a small, far away voice.
Kura hopped over the couch to sit beside her. “So tell us!”
Maya studied her hands nervously and all but whispered. “I’ve heard USE before. On the news, whenever one of those weird monsters shows up.” She pushed the case full of her father’s things carefully aside and drew her knees up to her chest.
“They think you’re a monster?” Kura asked and, even for her, regretted it when she saw her friend wince.
“Not all USE entities are classified as non-human.” Steampunk supplied without inflection. “Since June of 2075, the number of humans with clear USE-based abilities has grown exponentially.”
But Maya wasn’t listening, she was only remembering. “Ms. Brant doesn’t know where my fire comes from. You said the monster broke the law of conservation of energy. That means…”
“No it doesn’t!” Tammy said quickly, but Maya was already sliding off the couch.
Steampunk watched her without moving. “Nothing has been confirmed. I am also an SD-108 candidate, beta-manifestation.”
“Please just…” Maya picked up her coat and started pulling it on. She lost that train of thought as she enveloped herself in it. “None of you have seen what I can do, and you won’t understand why I shouldn’t be able to.”
Kura took a running start and glided over to her, throwing her arms around the shorter girl and holding on. “So what? We all do stuff people aren’t supposed to.”
“No!” Maya raising her voice stunned everyone, and she used that moment of shock to slip out of Kura’s grasp and dart for the door. When she spoke again, her voice dropped back to normal. “T-there’s reasons for you. Tammy manipulates magnetic fields to strip ions from metal, a-and Kura, you probably produce chemicals that change how things affect the senses…”
Those were all really just her guesses, based on the science she knew. Every descendant was different, but once they were boiled down, they still made sense.
Her back hit the door and she shrunk back against it. “B-but I’m… my power doesn’t have a good explanation. I can get fire from nothing. And there’s no structure in fire that could let it think, but Soot does, and he moves and… and…” Wisps of smoke were coming off her and curling out from under her coat. She started to see them and whirled to throw the door open.
“I need to go!” She cried before bolting from the room.
A moment of confusion and shock left the others, save Steampunk, rooted to the ground. Then Kura dove for her own coat. “Hurry up!” She shouted to the others, “We can’t leave her alone like this, she’ll get kidnapped too!”
For once, no one questioned her logic, because with the story Steampunk, who never played pranks or joked around, just told, the threat was very real. They all scrambled to get back into the cold weather gear they’d shucked only a few minutes before.
Tammy paused suddenly and turned to Steampunk, who was quietly buttoning up her jacket. “I need to know something else.”
Steampunk nodded slightly and said nothing, waiting for the query.
“That old guy, Gordon: he said that the fi… what happened to Maya’s parents was ‘the Project’s’ fault. Was that this Generations Project thing?”
“It is most likely. I did not have access to communications and the most recent orders, but Test Five was being monitored before I was taken from the facility. Someone was making queries among tertiary personnel that suggested that they knew of the opening of Generations 2. The new Project’s existence is highly illegal and it is likely that they would order deaths to retain their secrecy.”
Tammy frowned and started to turn for the door, only to find Steampunk’s fingers closing on her arm.
“Yeah?” Tammy asked, more sourly than she meant it.
“Maya Blumberg is my friend. She is the only one that calls me by the name I chose who is not a teacher. I fear that I have damaged our friendship and my friendship with you and Kura Akagi as well. Your facial expressions and posture suggest that. Can this damage be repaired?”
It was the most that the strange girl had ever said that wasn’t a quote. Tammy started at this, and turned to look into the blond girl’s eyes.
Steampunk had never learned how to communicate effectively, only efficiently, and never emotionally. But there were some things that came naturally no matter how isolated one’s upbringing was. One was the look in her eyes at that moment: she was afraid.
The contrarian anger that had been bubbling inside Tammy subsided as she was forced to remember that it wasn’t Steampunk’s fault that she was different from the others. Still, she couldn’t help but lay some of the blame for the suddenness with which everything was happening on the her shoulders.
“Help us find her and make her feel better.” She said, “Then we’ll see.”
The four girls dashed from the room, keen on finding their friend as quickly as possible.
None of them spared a look back to notice the blonde maid pushing a trolly full of items to restock the minibars up the hall. And none of them noticed her take out a palmtop and hack the lock on their room.
To Be Continued…