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Hinjo and Noriko Akagi were waiting on the steps of their private jet; a sleek, white, early model StyleTran, when the shuttle van arrived. As private jets went, it was a thrifty purchase; built for fuel economy instead of extra amenities or speed. Of course, once one was shopping for private jets at all, ‘thrift’ probably wasn’t really the right word.
“Yee!” Kura launched herself out of the side door of the van before it had even come to a full stop, gliding with the momentum of her powers to allow her to sail directly into her parents. She wrapped an arm around each of them and gave them an exuberant hug. As she was taller than her father and almost as tall has her mother even when not hovering, this ended up smooshing their heads into her arm pits.
“Hi, Mom! Hi Daddy!” Kura jabbered happily as her feet finally touched the ground. “Thanksfor letting me bring my friends on vacation with me! Except for Tammy, they would have been stuck at the school all break and that would have sucked, and I would have felt bad for having awesome adventures without them, and that would have made my vacation less awesome.” She hugged them again, a proper hug this time.
Noriko tucked long strands of her hair back behind her head from where they have been shaken loose in Kura’s initial charge, and stroked her daughter’s head. “We’re more than happy to have your friends along.”
“Anything to make you happy,” Added Hinjo, “And truly, I’m proud of you for being so generous to your friends. It shows us that your mother and I raised you right.”
Kura beamed under the praise, then broke from her parents to hop back down the stairs, turning to where her friends were gathering their luggage. ”I want you to meet everyone!” She announced, running over to them.
She reached Tammy first. “You know Tammy, ’cause she was there when I moved in and stuff. And this is Maya—she’s my new roommate because Tantrum is stupid and whiny and also ugly. Maya’s nice.” She pounced on Maya as the other girl was pulling out her small rolling suitcase, resulting in a surprised squeak and a wisp of smoke that went unnoticed. “Say hi, Maya!”
Flustered from the pounce, Maya hauled her bag around and looked up at the friendly Japanese couple on the stairs. They were Kura’s parents, but she’d never met them before. Her face heated up, but thankfully, it was just a shy blush. She dipped her head, letting her red curls fall over her face and said all in one breath: “Pleased-to-meet-you-thank-you-for-letting-me-come-on-your-trip.”
“You’re very welcome.” said Noriko, who couldn’t help by smile at the shy girl. Once long ago, she’d expected Kura to be meek. She’d been such a quiet baby and shy toddler. That lasted approximately ten minutes into her first day of preschool, after which ‘extrovert’ wasn’t a strong enough word.
Kura patted Maya on the head like a favorite puppy and pushed off the ground to glide over to Steampunk. The blonde girl had a military issue duffel bag with zippers all over and it was taking all of her strength to hold it off the ground. Apparently, it contained ‘supplies’, or at least that was her reply to inquiries about what was in there.
“And this is Steampunk. Or Steamy—ah!” No sooner had Kura put her hands on the other girl’s arms than she drew back with a yelp.
Tammy held back a snicker as she pulled on her bulging backpack and hefted her suitcase. “You probably want to not touch those silver things on her suit.” She supplied to the Akagis. “They’re super hot.”
Steampunk knelt down and unzipped a section of her pack. “You have been warned about contact with the nozzles, Kura Akagi. Please commit those warnings to memory.” She came up with a small tube of burn cream and passed it to the sulking Kura, who took it with a small, petulant nod of thanks.
With Kura tending to her reddened palms, Tammy took over introductions, sans the grabbiness Kura added to everything she did. “I’m sure she mentioned Steampunk to you before.”
“Her real name is Alice.” Maya added quietly, hoping she could prevent yet another person from referring to the other girl solely by her codename.
Tammy shrugged at that and pointed at Olivia. The newest member of the group was back in her normal form and unloading her hastily packed overnight bag. “And that’s Gracie.”
“Olivia.” Maya added again, still determined not to make too much eye contact.
The Akagis exchanged a confused look before Hinjo spoke. “I do not believe Kura mentioned any Olivia before.”
“Because she’s Gracie, not Olivia.” Kura sniffed, returning the burn cream to Steampunk.
“No, because we met her like twenty minutes ago.” corrected Tammy.
For her part, Olivia gave a nervous little wave. “Kura… kind of ambushed me into going. That is okay, isn’t it?” She would have understood completely if it wasn’t because the whole thing made zero sense to her.
To her surprise, both of Kura’s parents laughed.
“Oh, that’s our Kura.” said Hinjo. “Ever since she started school, she’s been very enthusiastic about making friends. No new children in any of her classes were without a friend for long.” Whether they wanted it or not, he recalled. Many were the irate phone calls he had fielded about his little girl inviting herself to birthday parties, camp outs and muffin scout trips.
“It’s more than fine with us.” Added Noriko, “As long as it’s fine with your parents.”
Olivia looked sheepish. “Yeah… that’s not going to be a problem. I’m kind of just the school’s responsibility now.”
That stopped everyone (save Steampunk) in their tracks.
“Oh my god, they didn’t disown you because you have powers did they?” Tammy had been reading a lot of blogs about people’s attitudes toward descendants and was appalled to find out that such a thing happened.
Olivia shook her head and wondered if things would have been easier or harder on her if her parents were simply bad people instead of the truth. “No. They still love me. But… okay, do you guys know anything about a company called Suprema International?”
Of course the other girls didn’t but Noriko nodded. “I believe so. They recently went out of business. There was a rather large court case.”
“Yeah.” said Olivia. “The board and the CEOs were committing fraud right and left. My mom was one of their accountants and my dad was their corporate lawyer. A lot of documents got forged in their names and there’s no way to prove they’re innocent so…”
She swallowed hard and tightened her grip on the bag. “My powers showed up while they were taking me away from the house. I guess the school is a lot better than a group home, huh?”
Before the words were out of her mouth, Kura had her wrapped in a tight hug from behind. “Hey! Don’t worry! Things will get better! I promise! We’re gonna have fun this week, and make you feel better, okay?”
She hadn’t known Kura more than an hour, but already, Olivia could sense that Kura thought that fun could heal all wounds. It was a demented outlook, but kind of sweet. She patted the other girl’s arm. “Thanks. They’ve… you know, got appeals and things. I’m sure it will work out. Sorry to bring down the trip.”
What she didn’t notice was how Maya and Steampunk were watching her. The former with a sad kind of camaraderie. The later with a calculated interest, as if every bit of her story was being filed away for later use.
Vincent Liedecker hated Prosperity Heights. His father had done so much to make the city thrive and he himself had used his control of the city’s organized crime to stunt the growth of gang violence, the drug trade, and human trafficking, but where there were base human desires, there would always been a place to fulfill them.
Prosperity Heights held the greatest concentration of those places in Mayfield, full of small time pushers, pimps and wannabe gangsters, all banded together in loose confederation because they knew that if they stuck their necks out too far, the Mayfield Underworld would cut their heads clean off. If a grizzly crime scene showed up in the police blotter, the address would be somewhere in the Heights.
Which was precisely why Liedecker, as much as he hated the neighborhood, still found uses for it as a storage closet for the dirty business he didn’t want to soil the rest of his operations.
The entrance to the building, a dilapidated tenement that had been built back when the city had a different name and stricter height restrictions, was actually in Riverside, over a mile away and was connected by a narrow tunnel through which an electric cart could drive.
Its basement looked less like the boiler room of an ancient apartment building, and more like a disused slaughter house with a bare concrete floor interrupted only by grimy sluice grates and a bare bulb overhead. A wooden chair of reasonably good quality and a small card table had been set up across from a cheap, rickety folding chair.
Liedecker was seated in the better chair, keeping himself at ease with his bodyguard, Brill at his back. Opposite him, flanked by two men who were large of frame, and heavy of fist, was a fair haired man dressed in a prison jumper. His eyes were hollow from nights of little to no sleep and he slumped in the chair from the preliminary beating the heavies had given him.
“You’re a very expensive man to pull out of prison, Mr. John Doe of the FBI.” began Liedecker. “Cost me quite a bit in bribes to get this little meeting. But I’m guessin’ you’re used to bein’ in demand. Fingerprints, retinal scans and DNA all come up clean—no arrests, not even a citation. I should know: I pay a good piece of coin for men just like you to do my dirty work.”
‘John Doe’ remained silent, his lips pressed firmly together in defiance.
“And of course, you don’t say a word. Not for that kind of money. A few years in prison’s nothing to you, right? Soon as you’re out, you get to go back to your hidden life with all the money. Well worth it, I’d say. After this, I imagine you’d…”
Liedecker reached into his breast pocket and extracted a palmtop, which he read from. “Go back up to Montreal. Apartment 201, Tower 3 of the Havisham Luxury Apartments? Kiss your wife Phoebe, your children; Zachary age 12, Tanya, age 8 and little Gregory, age 2? My, well they’ll be what? 22, 18 and 12 by the time you’re out?” He let a small cruel smile play on his lips as he watched the man try to keep his face schooled.
“Nothin’? Then I guess you wouldn’t care if something terrible happened to Apartment 201… and in the meantime, I can arrange for you to get a beatin’ in prison every day ending in ‘y’ for the rest of your stay in our country—seein’ as how you don’t have any loved ones to protect… Look here ‘John’, whatever it is about them you fear, they ain’t got nothin’ on me now that you’re in my business.”
The man’s head dipped. His employers just payed very well, they weren’t a threat to home and hearth as far as he knew. “What do you want to know?”
“Tell me about Project ‘Tome’.” Liedecker said instantly. “And the work they hired you for.”
“I don’t work for Tome.”
A curiosity came to Liedecker’s eyes. “But you know of them.”
“Not a lot.” ‘John’ shrugged minimally thanks to his arms being bound behind him. “They were America’s attempt at collecting data on the old super-soldier programs. Now they’re independent, a lot like my employers.”
Liedecker clasped his fingers in front of him. “And your bosses?”
‘John’ frowned, but financial ruin was better than what was being threatened. “The Generations Project. The first one was Canada’s answer to Tome. The new one? They’re after something specific.”
“Specific in the person of Maya Blumberg.” Liedecker guessed.
“Possibly. I don’t know details, but back in World War II, There were rumors that the Allies took something out of occupied France and used it in the same kind of experiments. They called it San Diego-108. Whatever happened to it, Generations thinks it’s important and they want it back.”
Liedecker frowned. “Then you and your friend’s FBI rouse isn’t the only retrieval they’re likely to try. My people have gotten called from a Detective Ambrose: Is he in on this?”
“Hah. Ambrose? No. He’s just a cop that won’t take the evidence for an answer. Generations just wants to verify if she’s one of the SD-108 group. To Ambrose, she’s the white whale. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got her before us.”
Amid the bustling airport crowd, one man’s steps slowed as he received news that removed the urgency in his movements.
He was in his late fifties with most of his hair gone and his thick, gray mustache large enough to effectively hide his lips entirely. Dressed in a light blue button down shirt and nice slacks, he carried his jacket and a hard sided, black briefcase in one hand and pressed his palmtop to his ear with the other.
“So the flight took off five minutes ago?” He sighed. “I should have gotten here ahead of them, but the cabbie insisted on taking 29 at this time of day.”
A male voice spoke from the other end of the line. “Not to worry. We know where they’re headed: the Akagis have a booking at Walking Bear Mountain in Colorado. I’ll go ahead and have one of my girls book you a flight.”
The man in the airport stopped to look out over the runway through the huge windows. “Thank you, St. John. I’ll find a way to make it up to you.”
“Nothing of it. If something happened to me, I only hope someone would do what you’re doing on my behalf with such tenacity.”
Still watching the runway, the man put a hand on the glass and sighed. “I’m disappointed though. Beacon was always so proud of how smart his little girl was. But leaving the protection of the school? That sounds like a serious lapse of common sense.”
“Believe me when I say that teenagers aren’t known for it. But on the other hand, the school is almost empty right now, while that plane contains a girl that can boil the skin off your bones if properly motivated, another who can electrocute a man with a wave of her hand, and one more whose full file is classified as a matter of national security.”
Pushing off the window, the man shoved his hands in his pockets and started walking toward a ticket kiosk. “All of them are still teenagers. Don’t know if I’d trust them with my life if I were Maya.”
“You’re anticipating her life being in jeopardy?” St. John asked, sounding mildly amused.
“Both of us have seen the reports. The pictures. Looking at what happened to her house… her parents… Someone’s life is going to be in danger. Though I’m not entirely sure whose.” By the time he reached the kiosk and showed his ID, the ticket was already waiting for him and began printing immediately.
He watched the words being printed on the blank slip of stock paper and took a deep breath. “Thanks again.”
“Don’t mention it. Just find the girl and get to her as soon as possible.”
St. John Duvall ended the connection and set back in his seat. Directly in front of him, floating in air on his holographic display was a picture of the girls boarding the Akagis’ plane. He hunched forward and studied them. He knew about Kura Akagi, Tammy Kaine and Alice Tatopoulos. The latter was even an SD-108 candidate herself, but who was the fifth girl?
He frowned. Did it matter? His primary concern was finding and isolating SD-108 before his competitors did. After all, he had more claim to it than them; he’d been involved, however tenuously, with the original project, and he’d dedicated more time, wealth and personal commitment to the study of psionics in all aspects than any one man on Earth.
If there really was a Holy Grail left over from the projects that gave rise to psionics, it should rightfully be his. He just had to make sure to keep all of the other players from seizing the prize first.
Leaning forward, he pressed the button for his intercom. “Serenity?”
“Get me James Defoe on the line. I have some information that Generations might find useful.”
To Be Continued…