LI: Generations Aflame #6

This entry is part 6 of 15 in the series Lidecker Institute Volume 3: Generations Aflame
Tammy sighed dramatically and made a show of shifting in her seat inside the airport shuttle van. “How long can it possibly take to find her lucky hair clips? I didn’t even know she had lucky hair clips. I don’t remember her ever wearing hair clips at all.”
 
Behind her, Maya, as usual, was trying to make herself as small as possible on the bench seat she shared with Steampunk. “Kura’s half of the room is really, really messy. We could be here a while.”
 
Tammy turned around in the seat to look at the other girl, wondering if this was just her usual level of quiet, or if she was missing her own ‘good luck charm’, in the form of her not-official boyfriend. It was hard to tell, especially given that Maya seemed to lower her general volume even more to compensate for Kura and Tammy herself. “Think I should go in and drag her out? I don’t want to miss out flight.”
 
Steampunk looked up at her, interrupting a long stint of seemingly staring at the back of the seat. “I was informed that the Akagis would be meeting us at the airport with their private jet.”
 
“So?”
 
“Then our flight will leave when we arrive. We cannot miss it.”
 
Tammy stared at her. Maya let out a small giggle. Neither knew if that was supposed to be a joke or not and Steampunk didn’t give any indication.
 
Finally Tammy just shrugged. “I just don’t want to sit out here wasting time. We could have been gone by now! We could have been skiing two hours from now instead of two hours and whenever the hell Kura feels like it from now.”
 
Maya shrugged. “None of us but Kura even know how to ski anyway. We don’t need to hurry.”
 
“Of course it means we need to hurry. Lessons are going to take up most of our time there as it is.” Tammy draped herself over the seat back. “Although… on TV all the ski instructors are always hot guys, so maybe it won’t be so bad.”
 
She stayed that way, imagining herself being tended to by hunky men in skin tight snow suits, for a little under a minute. At that point, she got bored again and aimed an annoyed look at the front of the school. “Where the hell are you, Kura?”
 
***
Olivia Grace Boles had her eyes on her palmtop as she stepped out of her room at the Liedecker Institute and started down the hall. Half black and half Afghan, she had her mother’s olive skin and the same tall, curvy figure that her paternal grandmother had at her age.
 
Normally, she dressed to emphasize both, but it was early on the first morning of Spring Break and the Institute was almost empty, so she was going lazy for the day with jean shorts, a pink tank top and a short sleeved black denim jacket. Her normally black hair had fresh blood colored highlights in and was tied up in a high ponytail, and a pair of wire rimmed glasses perched on the end of her nose. Around one arm, an overly large charm bracelet jangled and clicked with each step. She also wore fingerless gloves, the kind bicyclists wore, but she didn’t own a bike.
 
The whole day was ahead of her. Problem was, trying to think of something to do with it was easier said than done. Mayfield had a lot going on all the time, but those things usually involved science symposiums she wasn’t interested in or cost money she didn’t have.
 
Or rather she did have an allowance from the Institute because of her situation and preferred to spend it on eating nicer meals than the rehydration oven dinners and fruit in the student commons.
 
Either way, she wasn’t in the market for three hundred dollar event tickets or even the cost of a movie. She guessed that she could do some window shopping; maybe there was something out there that was worth neglecting her finicky taste buds after all.
 
Her palmtop was throwing up maps for her. Mayfield was all new to her. A lot of things were brand new to her as of the previous Christmas, from her powers to her family life.
 
The haze of thoughts that surrounded her caused her guard to be down. As she moved through the halls, passing from the girls’ wing into the common area, she was unaware that she was being observed by one of the most dangerous beings at the Liedecker Institute.
 
With rare silence, it crept up behind her, taking strides that were more gliding jumps than steps. Closer and closer it came before it finally overtook her, pushing off the counter of the common kitchen to gain an inside track on her so that as if by magic, it was suddenly directly in front of her, almost nose to nose before Olivia even knew she wasn’t alone.
 
“Hi!” Kura Akagi said at the top of her lungs. Olivia let out a short scream and jumped back, fumbling to keep her palmtop from falling to the floor. Kura took no notice of her shock and leaned forward, squinting at her curiously. “How come I’ve never seen you around here before?”
 
Olivia got her breathing under control and finally got a good look at who just ambushed her. “I’ve been here since the semester started. And I’ve seen you. Kura, right?” It was hard to miss Kura. Even if your weren’t looking others would point her out, often while giving friendly warnings.
 
“We got new people and nobody told me?” Kura pouted as if this was a serious faux pas on the part of the entire school.
 
The school had, in fact, gotten twenty new students with the new semester that Olivia knew of. They’d all taken orientation together. She just nodded.
 
“Huh. And you’re not going anywhere for spring break?”
 
That was pretty obvious, considering she was there on the morning after nearly everyone left to go home or on vacation. “No, not really.” There was a glitter in Kura’s eye that she didn’t like one bit, given Kura’s reputation.
 
Kura put a finger to her lips as if thinking. “So… do you like skiing?”
 
“I’ve never been, why?”
 
The glitter got worse. “Because we’re going to Walking Bear to ski. We’re leaving in like… now and it’s going to be awesome.”
 
Olivia’s eyes narrowed. Braggy little so-and-so. She thought that was what the other girl people warned her about, Rapunzel, was famous for. “Oh. Well good for you.” There was no washing the bitterness and sarcasm out of that ans she didn’t bother even trying.
 
Now the glitter was more like a strobe light. “So get packed, already!”
 
“Huh?” Olivia looked around to see who Kura was talking to. Had she missed part of the conversation along the way?
 
Kura sighed dramatically. “Go and get packed real quick so you can go too, duh.”
 
This had to be a joke. “What, me? You don’t even know me.”
 
“Do you really wanna stay here and be bored? Because it’s gonna suck here. Ms. Carol didn’t stock any good food and there’s nobody here to run the hard rooms, and the security guys are gonna be super extra strict with almost everyone gone!” Kura gestured wildly.
 
“But I… I don’t even.”
 
Kura blew a strand of hair out of her eyes that had come dislodged from its place behind her ear during her gesticulations. “Do you wanna come or not.”
 
“I do but—“
 
“Great! Let’s got get you packed!” Kura grabbed Olivia’s hand and took off for the girl’s wing.
 
Olivia dug in her heels and leaned back to keep from being pulled off her feet. “But I’m from Florida! I don’t have anything you can wear while skiing!”
 
That drew Kura up short, and for a moment, Olivia thought sanity would reign once again. She didn’t know Kura Akagi very well.
 
“Cool! That saves a lot of time; we’ll just buy everything you need when we get there. Come on!”
 
***
“Sorry it took so long!” Kura chirped with the air of someone who didn’t understand why they should be sorry about being late.
 
The side door to the shuttle van slid open to reveal a miffed Tammy. “It’s about time, lets get… huh?”
 
Even being Kura’s best friend the entire school year didn’t equip Tammy with the correct response to the other girl leaving to find hair decs and returning dragging a very confused looking fellow student behind her.
 
“Kura… who’s that?”
 
Drawing herself up, Kura looked insulted that she had to ask. “She was stuck here too, like Maya and Steampunk, so now she’s going skiing at Walking Bear with us.”
 
“Uh-huh. That doesn’t answer ‘who’.”
 
“Yeah well…” Kura fidgeted and rubbed the back of her head before looking at Olivia sidelong. “I actually have no idea what her name is. Have you seen her around before now? I haven’t?”
 
Tammy shrugged. “Nope.”
 
She turned to Maya and Steampunk for their answers but by then, Olivia finally got over the suddenness of the whole thing. “Um, hi there. I’m Olivia.”
 
Steampunk’s cold eyes lit on her. “Olivia Grace Boles. Age: 15. Last known address: Key Largo, Florida.”
 
Olivia’s forced smile faltered in confusion. “Yeah, that’s… that’s me…”
 
“Don’t worry about Steampunk, Gracie.” Kura grinned and gestured for the other girl to get in—right between Steampunk and Maya. “She can get all creepy and stuff like that sometimes, but she’s really pretty cool. Oh yeah, she’s Steampunk, by the way.”
 
“Alice.” Maya corrected quietly.
 
Kura, of course, ignored her. “And this is Tammy. I call her Thor-girl, ’cause she makes lightning.” Tammy nodded in turn. “And that’s Maya. She doesn’t talk about her powers, but if you get her upset, she smokes—like real smoke, not cigarettes—and she’s got this cute little fire critter she keeps in a jar.”
 
At the insistence of Kura, Olivia found herself settled into the seat beside Maya and decided to make the best of it. She offered the shy looking girl a smile. “So what’s a ‘fire critter’?”
 
“Show her, Maya!” Tammy encouraged as she pulled the door shut. Meanwhile, Kura was leaning over the front seat to press the screen of her phone to the command console in the front of the shuttle. It was a driverless vehicle and wouldn’t go anywhere until she input her method of payment.
 
Maya made a mewling sound and tried to withdraw into her hoodie. She’d only seen Olivia a few times in the halls. Despite knowing her better than apparently the one who invited her on the trip, she still had some trouble with strangers. “I…”
 
She was cut off by an electronic, male voice coming from the van’s speakers. “Hi there! I’m Vance, your friendly local transport between the City of Mayfield’s many air, rail and water options! I was last dispatched from Sanderson National Airport. Please select your location.”
 
Olivia made a face. “Ugh. You guys have the chipper self drivers. I hate those. They have those back home too.”
 
“In New York, we’ve got the creepy British lady for ours.” said Tammy. She got back in her seat, but turned around again to see everyone.
 
“They have her at LAX.” Kura was inputting the van’s instructions. “I hear her every time we go and visit Grandma.”
 
Maya remained silent. She didn’t remember the last time she was in a self driving vehicle, much less the recorded voice.
 
Olivia sighed, ice-breaker rejected, and started rummaging around for the seat belt that went with the middle of the bench seat. ‘Vance’ droned on about safety and other policies like no food or drink for a minute before getting underway. Kura and Tammy got into a fight over what to play on the radio. All the while, she was left to look to either side, finding an impassive stare on one side, and awkward shyness on the other.
 
It just wasn’t in her to leave the latter be.
 
“You don’t have to tell me about the ‘fire critter’ if you don’t want to. I was just curious.”
 
Maya peeked at her from under her hood. “I just… well he’s kind of hard to explain…” And she should know, as it was her power and she still didn’t fully understand.
 
“Powers can be like that. Believe me, mine are too.” Olivia jangled her charm bracelet as if it were proof.
 
“Mine are kind of really, really weird though. Even by power standards.”
 
Now there was an opening. Olivia sat up more straight and turned to face Maya. “I bet mine’s worse.”
 
“You’re gonna looooose.” Tammy teased from over the seat before going back to her spat over whether Hard Rock was better driving music than Kura’s beloved Top 40. The allegation made Maya blush with embarrassment.
 
“They hardly know my name, you think they know my powers?” Olivia was on a roll now. Back before she had to leave school, way before her powers manifested, she had a reputation of being ‘that nice girl’ even when everyone expected the opposite. A cheerleader and class parliamentarian, she was also the one who stood up to her friends when teasing got too mean and was always there to show the new kid around. She missed being ‘that nice girl’. And it provided her with a warm, familiar feeling to fill that role again.
 
Maya shook her head. “I guess not…”
 
“Great. So let’s compare: What’s so weird about fire critters?”
 
There was a flicker of resentment on Maya’s face as she realized that she’d been maneuvered into going first, but it didn’t last. Instead, it was replaced by a look of apprehension as she dug into the pocket of her hoodie and extracted the glass lantern containing Soot.
 
The fireling, had spent most of the day alternately sulking and cowering at the girls’ plans. He might not have understood a lot, but he did know that a) snow was something cold and wet, and b) the girls had dozens of activities in mind that were going to happen in or around snow. He was not happy with this concept. Why couldn’t they take him somewhere nice, like an old growth forest during a drought, or some kind of lake of gasoline?
 
All of these, he expressed as best he could, in a series of ‘meeps’ to anyone in range and a plaintive noooo whenever Maya talked about doing something snow related.
 
But for all his misgivings, his attention span wasn’t much longer than the time it took to protest. So when he caught sight of a brand new person, he was right back to happily waving and trying to get attention.
 
“Wow.” was about all that Olivia could say at first, staring at what could only be called a ridiculously cute fire. Finally, she leaned in closer and waved back. Soot replied with his newest trick: mimicking the shape of her waggling fingers.
 
“How are you doing that?”
 
“I’m… not.” Maya admitted. “It—he just happened. Fire gets weird when I’m around and the longer it’s near me, the weirder it gets until it’s like Soot here.”
 
“Soot? That’s so cute! Can I hold him?”
 
Maya pulled the lantern closer to her body. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. He seems to be able to pick what he burns, but I don’t want you getting hurt.”
 
Olivia blinked, then palmed her face into her hand. Oh, that’s right! You haven’t seen my power yet. Hold on a second and you’ll see that being hurt’s something you won’t have to worry about with me.”
 
She started to fumble with the charms on her bracelet, but then had an epiphany. “Oh. Right. Titanium glasses frames.” To illustrate, she punched one of the arms of the glasses with a thumb and forefinger and adjusted them. “Now watch this.”
 
Her eyes unfocused and for a moment, nothing happened. Then a change swept out from where her glasses touched her face, turning her chestnut skin tone to metallic silver. It didn’t stop with her skin either: the alteration turned her eyes to metallic orbs, the irises and pupils lost in the smooth, unbroken sheen and when she parted her lips to smile, her teeth, gums and tongue were much the same. Her hair likewise became fine, titanium strands, the likes of which could never be replicated by machines.
 
The transformation was barely over before Kura started laughing in the front seat. “Gracie, you just totally won that bet.”
 
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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