LI: Generations Aflame #11

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series Lidecker Institute Volume 3: Generations Aflame
Maya didn’t know where she was going and what she thought she was doing; only that she needed to get away.
 
Away from what, she wasn’t so clear on either. Her friends certainly, and the building, because smoke was now billowing out of the collar and sleeves of her coat and everyone’s safety was at stake. But that wasn’t really what she needed to escape.
 
If it were possible, she wished she could escape herself. All of her: how she’d been such a brat to her parents in the days before the fire (She couldn’t even remember what she’d been upset with them about now.); how she’d thought she was responsible and hated herself and her powers for making it happen; how that had pushed her to isolate herself, saved only by the fact that Tammy and Kura ignored that completely; and how it had also caused her to treat Soot so badly, even though the fireling did nothing to justify it.
 
And in the past hour, she’d added to that list. She needed to get away from the terrifying fact that she was in the middle of a web of conspiracy and deception that had killed her parents, made her honorary uncle disappear, and might hinge on the fact that she wasn’t even fully human.
 
She took the stairs down instead of the elevator, and soon burst out into the lobby, drawing surprise and panic at the clouds of smoke that came with her. Ignoring them and those brave souls who rushed to render aide, she ran through the doors and into the chill air outside.
 
All the while, her mind reeled.
 
Yes, her days of being ‘normal’ ended the night she woke up to the sound of fire singing, only to look down and find that she’d transformed into fire. But being a descendant was something she understood. She’d read books and articles on it and even though it was unusual, it was a thing that happened and could be explained with honest, repeatable science.
 
She liked science. Back when she still thought she might one day go to the Olympics as a gymnast, her fallback plan was to be a biologist because she was fascinated with the subject. And when her life was irrevocably changed, it was the one thing she felt she could still put her faith in.
 
And now, if Steampunk and the news reports she’d heard about USEs, she was outside of its bounds. Outside of its protection.
 
Legs pumping, she ran across the parking lot, garnering more attention.
 
More people tried to come and help her. Silently, she wanted to scream at them to get away. Couldn’t they feel the heat? Couldn’t they see the smoke? Those were danger signs; a warning to run as far as they could from her, not come closer.
 
“Maya!” Someone behind her shouted.
 
She looked back to see her friends chasing after her. The more athletic Tammy was out ahead of the rest, waving her hands, trying to convince her to stop. Except that was the worst possible choice, in her mind. With the way she was feeling, it was only a matter of time.
 
The parking lot ended abruptly and Maya found herself slogging through snow, quickly losing the lead she’d built up on her friends.
 
There wasn’t any choice now. After a quick mental inventory, she started unzipping her coat. Kura had bought it for her and it wasn’t treated to be fireproof like her school-provided attire. The moment she opened it, smoke rolled out in a great cloud that blocked her vision and made her cough.
 
Shucking the jacket and gloves, she was left with her institute-issued hoodie and thick sweats. Too bad about the ski boots Kura got her, but there wasn’t time to untie them. Smoke was pouting off her from every inch of exposed skin, and in places, that skin had taken on the look of embers in a fireplace.
 
Maya snatched her hat off her head and almost dropped it before remembering that Soot was still in his globe attached to it. She couldn’t just leave him, so she took the time to undo the wire holding him on. The fireling broadcast the equivalent of ‘wheee!’ in her head as she held him close and ran on.
 
“Maya, what are you doing?” Tammy shouted.
 
“Why is she taking off her stuff in the middle of the winter?” Olivia asked.
 
“Maybe hearing all that stuff about being a Hitler monster made her go crazy.” said Kura, blithely ignoring the looks she got for that.
 
But Maya wasn’t listening. She trudged a few more yards, then, in a sudden bust of inspiration, leapt.
 
Because her transformation was already beginning, she was far lighter than normal, but just as strong. The jump took her ten feet forward and almost three feet in the air. When her boots hit the ground,as she took two more running steps and leapt again, this time gaining several more feet in both directions.
 
One more leap and she couldn’t hold on anymore. The heat filled her, the chill of the air and snow fled. And Maya Blumberg exploded into flame.
 
Tammy skidded to a stop in the snow, looking up at the ball of translucent, swirling flames centered on a floating set of clothes and Soot’s glass globe. Olivia ran into the back of her and both girls went tumbling into the snow. As they struggled to disentangle themselves, they both looked up to find the fireball collapsing into itself around a core of flame that looked vaguely girl-shaped.
 
“Whoa.” Said Kura, finally reaching them with Steampunk not far behind. “What the hell is that?”
 
Steampunk watched the conflagration, and didn’t look surprised at all “SD-108, possible alpha manifestation.”
 
“Did you know she could do that?” Tammy asked the blond. She was getting to her feet with Olivia’s help.
 
“I was not certain. Maya Blumberg was merely a candidate; there was and still is a good chance that she is not actually part of the gene line. I did not expect this.” Steampunk’s vice was impassive, but that the same time, her face registered shock.
 
Kura waved her hands at them, then gestured to Maya, who had resolved her fiery form and was starting to fly off toward Walking Bear Mountain. “Guys, who cares? She’s getting away! We’re not going to let her go off alone like that, are we?”
 
“Hell no.” said Tammy.
 
Olivia straightened her back and looked off toward the mountain. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t go after her, but if she’s headed up the mountain… how are we going to follow her?”
 
Tammy looked at her remaining three friends and groaned. “Of course, Maya would be the only flier we know.”
 
“Hey!” Kura said indignantly.
 
“… fast flier.” Tammy corrected. “But yeah, how are we going to catch up to her?”
 
To everyone’s surprise, it was Steampunk that raised a hand and pointed, indicating a maintenance cabin at the bottom of one of the slopes. There was a man in flannel out in front of it—and he was getting a snowcat ready to head up the mountain and maintain the trails.
 
And just like that,they were off and running again, hoping to catch the man before he drove off.
 
“How are we going to convince him to take us along?” Olivia asked. “I doubt he’s going to believe we’re chasing our friend who turned into a comet.”
 
“Threats might work.” Tammy fished a bolt out of her jacket and caused an arc of purple electricity to march up and down its threads.
 
“Or, I could just bribe the guy.” Kura pointed out in a rare moment of being the voice of reason.
 
“That could work.” said Tammy.
 
But as they raced across the gravel lot in front of the maintenance cabin, passing a plow and several snowmobiles, someone else came running up to the snowcat operator from the other direction. Only this person was an older man, though still in good enough shape to be running flat out, his long, wool coat billowing around him.
 
He looked like a stern teacher from another century; long, thin nose, prodigious mutton chops, and a weak chin that made it look like he was disgusted as a general rule. Unlike most Nineteenth century proctors, however, this man was brandishing a badge.
 
Not noticing the girls, he lept onto the running board of the snowcat just as the operator was turning the engine. “This is a police emergency! I need you vehicle!” He shouted over the roar, slamming his badge against the window.
 
The operator squinted at the identification, then gave the man a suspicious look. “That’s no cop badge I’ve ever seen.”
 
The older man set his jaw. “It’s a Toronto PD badge. I’m Detective John Ambrose.”
 
“And this is Colorado, pal. That’s USA, not Canada.” said the operator.
 
“Did he just say Canada?” Kura asked. The girls slowed to watch what was going on.
 
Tammy scowled. “And ‘Ambrose’. That’s the guy that Gordon guy warned Maya about! He’s trying to get to her!”
 
Meanwhile, Ambrose had had just about enough, and drew his service weapon. “I tried it the easy way, but now I’m telling you to get out of the vehicle and leave the keys. I’m in pursuit of a dangerous fugitive from justice.” He pulled the door open himself while jumping down from the running board and held the weapon on the operator while he climbed out.
 
“See? Threats work.” said Tammy. Then her expression changed. “Come on.” She led them forward.
 
***
Ambrose climbed into the driver’s seat and looked around the cabin. He’d never driven a snowcat before, but it looked pretty straight forward. Setting his gun down on the seat beside him, he put a foot on the clutch and put the machine into gear. Just as he did, the door on the other side opened, allowing in a chill wind.
 
He looked up to find a girl with reddish brown hair climbing into the passenger side.
 
“No riders girl, get out.” He said hastily.
 
The girl responded by lunging forward and grabbing his pistol. “How about ‘no’, Detective?” She stared him down with hard eyes and scooted to the side to allow another girl, this one dark skinned, the climb in beside her.
 
“I see you don’t need me to go bulletproof, huh, Tammy?” The newcomer said.
 
“Nope, got it all in the bag.” said Tammy, turning the gun around in her hands to train on Ambrose. “Kura, Steampunk, pile in!” Two more girls climbed up on the running board after them, crowding the passenger compartment.
 
Still pointing the pistol, but looking unsure, Tammy licked her lips. “Okay, now drive, Detective. Up the mountain and follow the fireball.”
 
Ambrose’s eyes narrowed. “You’re helping the Blumberg girl.”
 
“Damn right!” one of the other girls, a lanky Japanese girl, said. “And we’re ‘cat jacking you. So mush!”
 
“You girls have no idea what kind of hole you’re digging for yourselves: assaul, brandishing a weapon, carjacking, aiding and abetting a known fugitive.”
 
The dark girl gave him a level look. “We just watched you do the first three yourself. And as for that last one, Maya’s not a fugitive.”
 
“She killed her parents!” Ambrose shouted, his voice filling the narrow space. “I know; I got the call! Rolling up about midnight with the FD putting out the flames—you have no idea what it smells like when a person burns to death; what it looks like. The whole house was burned to the ground, but the girl—Maya–didn’t have a single burn, not even on her clothes.”
 
“We know that story.” said Tammy.
 
“We don’t buy that story.” added Kura.”Because the first ones that told it to us were like fake FBI guys.
 
“This isn’t a lie, this is what happened.” Ambrose leaned forward and Tammy tied to cock the pistol in warning, only to realize she didn’t know how. “I talked to the girl. She acted confused, pretended she didn’t know anything, so I leaned on her and suddenly, her hands catch fire, she freaks out and she bolts. From there, the case was open and shut.”
 
Tammy bit her lip this time, but it didn’t make her feel better. “You idiot!”” Purple electricity arced around the barrel of the pistol. “This was all your fault! You’re the reason Maya thought she’d killed her parents. You just… just saw a descendant with fire powers and it’s case closed!? Maya didn’t freak out because you caught her, she freaked out because you convinced her it was her fault!”
 
“If she was innocent, she wouldn’t have run.” Ambrose said, his voice cold.
 
“And if you’re innocent, you won’t run from this.” Tammy intoned, pointing the gun. Instead of squeezing the trigger, she just let her powers run wild. The barrel, trigger and firing pin started to rapidly develop pits and other signed of degradation before a brilliant, purple spark leapt from the end of the barrel and into Ambrose’s chest.
 
The force of the bolt threw him out the driver’s side door, which he’d never closed, sending him rolling across the gravel lot. Without his foot on the brake, the snowcat lurched slowly but surely forward.
 
Olivia looked Tammy, who was looking at the swinging door in disbelief. “Um… who’s going to drive now?”
 
Tammy flung the gun out the door and looked back at her. “Do you have your learner’s permit?”
 
Before Olivia could reply in the negative, they were both politely, but firmly shoved out of the way as Steampunk crawled across the seat and into the driver’s position. “The Project uses these machines to reach remote facilities. I am familiar with their operation through observation.”
 
Pulling the driver’s door closed, she expertly shifted gears and aimed the machine in the direction Maya had flown.
 
“This is probably a bad time to ask,” Kura spoke up. “But… you don’t think you killed that guy, do you, Tammy?”
 
***
Meanwhile, back at the girls’ room, the fake maid who had broken in was getting frustrated. She’d been through each of the girls’ room and failed to find what she’d come for. Worse, she didn’t know how much time she actually had to find it before the girls came back.
 
Running her fingers through her wig, she returned to the main room, thinking perhaps that they had hidden it somewhere in the common area.
 
That’s when her eyes fell on the case sitting on the couch.
 
“It couldn’t be…” she muttered. “Out in the open and not even locked? These girls don’t know what they have, do they?”
 
Wasting no time, she made her way over to it and moved the medals and photos aside until she came up with the palmtop. A satisfied smile came to her face.
 
It left quickly enough when running footsteps approached the doors, followed by a knock. After a pause, the lock beeped and the door opened.
 
Stephanie Carroll entered to find an empty room. “Damn. It looks like all the girls left.” She called back to Calvin Singer, who was standing in the hall.
 
“Probably followed the fire girl up the mountain.” Calvin suggested. “Not a good place if all these dangerous folks are after them. Liedecker will go berserk if they get to the girls first. Students getting kidnapped? Bad for the school.”
 
“Right.” Stephanie gave the room a once over. Her trained senses told her something wasn’t right, but there wasn’t time. “Let’s go.”
 
The door closed behind them and the maid emerged from the incredibly tight space under the couch with the ease of a professional contortionist. Eager to leave now, she grabbed the palmtop and switched on her com.
 
“You were right: Put the Blumberg girl in danger and Gordon instantly brought all of this ‘Beacon’ person’s personal effects into the open. I have the palmtop, starting data transfer now.”
 
The voice on the other end chuckled. “Excellent job, Chastity.”
 
“Thank you Father.”
 
To Be Continued…
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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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