LI: Sophomore Year #1 – Rags to Rags Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 13 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 4: The New Kids
In any other city, it might have been strange. In any other city, it might have triggered a wave of calls to the police. In any other city the less stable might have taken it as a sign of the Apocalypse (albeit a more modern one than the Book of Revelation).
 
In Mayfield, however, all that resulted were a few internet videos with titles like ‘The Grim Reaper Trade in His Pale Horse’ or some such. Only in Mayfield was seeing a figure swathed in a tattered black cloak with glowing white eyes weaving a scooter through traffic about as alarming as seeing a really good costume on the mascot of a local furniture store.
 
The figure on the scooter was not, in fact, the Grim Reaper. Rather it was sixteen year-old Zane Springfield. The scooter was a birthday present from his father, and the day was special for two reasons: One, he’d gotten his license the day before and this was his first day of driving. Two, he was on his way to move-in day at his new school, the Liedecker Institute.
 
August in Virginia was punishingly hot, especially compared to Minnesota, his former home up until the beginning of summer. But his powers left him running naturally cold to start with, so the ninety-eight degree heat wave was pleasantly warm to him. Even if it wasn’t, his mind was on school.
 
The prospect of school had never appealed to him before. He was a fair student, but there were much more interesting things in the world than reading, writing, or arithmetic; like games, television and exploring. From the moment his father told him about his new job with ConquesTech in Mayfield, however, nothing had held his imagination more than the Liedecker Institute.
 
The Academy closed down around the same time Zane was pestering his father to get his paperwork in, and even with the horrific revelations about what had been going on there, something in Zane still regretted missing his chance to go live, learn and make friends with other descendants. His last first year in normal high school had been less than fun. Not because he had powers, but due to the nature of those powers, and he was hoping that other people might have similar (or worse) powers than him so that it would take some of the pressure off him.
 
His father and doctor told him he was lucky in a way. That it was rare enough for a Y-chromosome descendant-altered gene to manifest, but almost unheard of for a child to inherit manifested powers from both parents. He could take or leave what he’d gotten from his mother—the least she could have done was stick around after he was born and help him deal with it.
 
Despite his dubious ‘luck’ though, Zane wasn’t even thinking about his powers and the problems that came with them as he made a turn in accordance to the GPS system’s voice speaking to him through an ear bud, and the Institute appeared at the end of the road ahead of him. There was so much to look forward to! New people, new friends, a chance to learn to use his powers instead of just cope with them (and resist the urge to use them for pranks), and a chance at getting the ‘college campus’ life experience he’d seen on multiple television shows three years early!
 
He found himself whistling a happy tune, heedless of the weird, echoing buzz that layered on top of the sound, as he pulled into the short drive before the gates. There were two people at the gate house, a tall white man with a shaved head and a thick black mustache that threatened to hide his mouth, and a Hispanic woman who might have been considered overweight if the sleeves of her uniform weren’t rolled up to reveal hard muscle.
 
It was the woman who leaned out of the gate house’s window as Zane pulled up on his scooter. He was talking before she could even open her mouth. “Hi there! I’m Zane. Zane Springfield. I’m here for move-in?”
 
The guard, whose ID badge identified her simply as Escobar and her station not as guard, but as ‘Security Team Station Leader’, offered an expression that wasn’t quite a smile, but which hinted that it was as close to one as professionalism would allow, and checked her tablet. “Do you have your student, ID?”
 
“Um… yeah, I think. Hold on.” The buzzing that accompanied his whistling was even worse when he spoke. It was as if a small swarm of cicadas were synching their calls with his every word. Zane patted his cloak, trying to feel the card through the thick padding beneath it. He had a bad habit of just stowing things wherever was convenient without thinking. “It’s here somewhere. I have the security app deal on my palmtop though—can I show you that instead?”
 
Escobar nodded. “That’s fine. We just need to make sure you are who you say you are.”
 
“Great.” Zane sighed with relief. He always knew where his palmtop was—it was his pride and joy; a ConquesTech 580ER Power User’s Edition with Trinity Core processing that wasn’t going to be on the market for another year; one of the perks of being the son of the man who designed said Trinity Core technology. He always knew where that was, at least: somewhere in the vicinity of his left hip.
 
“Open says Zane.” He said to the device once he extracted it from the mass of cloth surrounding it. Voice recognition was the only way to go for him; because he wore gloves at all times fingerprint recognition wouldn’t work, and his eyes produced too much light for retinal scans. There was no one who could reproduce his voice without heavy-duty recording equipment. Once the computer unlocked, he added, “LI Student ID, please.”
 
The palmtop let out a warbling sound and his ID photo, information, and the complex security bar code appeared onscreen. Zane presented this to Escobar, who used a scanner to verify the bar code. She nodded once and opened the gates. “Go right in. Sign-in and the welcome reception are in the main building.”
 
From within the shadows of his hood, Zane beamed at her, a fact that could only be divined by how the lights of his eyes subtly changed shape. “Thanks!” He gave a squeeze to his scooter’s accelerator and drove up the circle drive toward the main building.
 
***
The main lobby of Liedecker Institute’s main building had been set up to receive all the new and returning students who would be arriving that day. The front desk served as the sign-in area where students could get their room assignments (if they changed from the last year), class schedules, the updated student handbook and security manual, and register requests relating to thing they might need due to their powers or other special needs.
 
Another station, cordoned off with the same low portable walls used for office cubicles, had been set aside as a pick up point where students who had shipped their clothes, furniture, or other items to the school ahead of their arrival. Each package was clearly marked and had to be signed out with a member of the security team to make sure everyone got their things and only their things.
 
Questions not answered in the literature could be posed at another table where a handful of staff members waited to field them.
 
At the behest of the Mayfield Chamber of Commerce and with the blessing of Vincent Liedecker, a new permanent addition had been made alongside the vending machines already in the lobby; a Chamber of Commerce information kiosk, ready to dispense maps to local businesses, menus for take-out places, tourism destinations and, of course, coupons for all the above. Everything it offered could be pulled up on a palmtop, and if a student couldn’t afford one of those and a tablet, they were provided gratis in cooperation with ConquesTech, but the Chamber insisted.
 
Finally, one more table had been set up right in front of the doors leading further into the building and between the two elevators up to the dorm levels. This one was sponsored by a hastily formed LI Students Welcome Committee, which had only been approved that morning, and was marked only be a huge sheet of paper taped to it with the word ‘Tours’ emblazoned on it in psychedelic colors.
 
Zane missed all of this at first as he came through the door because his focus was on the people. While there weren’t a great many people in the lobby, there were enough to make him feel even more confident in his decision to attend school there.
 
The staff and teachers looked normal for the most part, except for one man standing by the staff table, and even he only had overly large hands with dark thick nails. Zane’s real interest was on the students.
 
Over by the package pick-up, there was a girl with hair more than twice as long as his entire body. The dark tresses were coiling around and lifting the many, many boxes and suitcases that were apparently hers while she talked animatedly with an otherwise normal-looking blonde girl.
 
At the sign-in desk, a young, muscular man with blue lines all over every inch of his exposed arms and head, was talking with a man and a woman, evidently his parents, about something coming up on his tablet. Behind them, someone who seemed composed entirely of vines and leaves slumped his shoulders as a large woman in a green muumuu decorated with tropical birds droned on and on at him while adjusting his clothing.
 
One of the soda machines was being used by an incredibly short kid wearing what Zane could swear was a red wizard’s hat, and at the table marked ‘Tours’ say a dark skinned girl with white wings with a span of more than twelve feet if she stretched them out, and a shorter girl who was red with irregular black splotches and who sported a pair of curved horns like those of a gazelle.
 
“This is going to be my best year ever.” Zane said to himself, floating further into the room.
 
He floated everywhere because he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. He couldn’t actually fly, only being able to rise about three feet into the air at best, though he could float ‘up’ walls or along ceilings if he stayed close enough to them. Nor could he land, being unable to lower himself to more than a quarter inch from the ground or other horizontal surface. As near as anyone could tell, his powers fought gravity constantly. It wasn’t as if there was a force keeping him from touching things, even the ground if he reached for it. His power only kept him from falling naturally. Just one more gift from his mom’s side of the family.
 
The two groups at the sign-in desk finished up and he floated over immediately to take their place. There was a woman with short cut blonde hair sitting at the desk, and her manner was much the same as Escobar’s: stoic professionalism, only without the underlying friendliness. Her name tag identified her as Stephanie Carroll, Director of Student Life.
 
Heedless of her own impassive expression, Zane greeted her in a friendly manner. “”Hi! I’m Zane. Zane Springfield.”
 
Ms. Carroll nodded and consulted the screen before her. “Welcome to the institute, Zane.” Her voice might as well have been a recording at a kiosk. After finding the information she needed, she finally made eye contact, though that didn’t give Zane the feeling that he was talking to an actual flesh and blood human instead of a machine. “Do you have your palmtop and tablet?”
 
“My tablet’s probably with my stuff.” said Zane with a shrug. He hardly used the thing because his palmtop was just that good. “I’ve got my palmtop though—that’s what I use the most anyway.”
 
Ms. Carroll typed in a few strings of numbers on her keyboard. “Synch to 3809108, please.” Zane did and the computer on the desk connected with his, uploading a document folder. “This contains your student information pack as well as your class schedule. You should compare the class schedule to the one posted online to make sure they’re the same. If you find any inconsistencies, you can take it up with the administration before classes start Monday. Your room is 239; a corner room and a single.”
 
Zane blinked. “Really?”
 
Even through the cicada buzz, Carroll detected the disappointment in his voice. For the first time, her mask of indifference slipped. “Most kids would be excited to have their own room.”
 
“Oh, I totally am.” Zane lied, “I just… is it because of my powers? Is that why they put me by myself?”
 
More of the mask slipped and Zane detected some sympathy in those formerly cool eyes. “Actually, it’s because several of the students who originally required private rooms due to lack of control are improved enough that they don’t need them. We held a lottery for the three free singles and you’re one of the winners.”
 
The lights of Zane’s eyes visibly brightened. “Really? Awesome, thanks! Is there anything else I need to know?”
 
Ms. Carroll shook her head, carefully reapplying her air of impartiality. “You’ll learn your way around soon enough. There aren’t that many special rules. If you want someone to show you around, some of the returning students have volunteered to give tours. At the very least, they can show you to your room. If there’s anything you need in terms of medication or other necessities, you’ll want to contact me and I’ll see to it. The same goes for if you have any conflicts with other students that require mediation.”
 
“I’m sure I won’t need that.” said Zane, hoping it was true. “Thanks again.”
 
“You’re welcome.” Ms. Carroll said simply.
 
Smiling to himself, Zane considered going to pick up some of his things, but really, he was too excited about looking around, so he made his way over to the tour table. A third girl had joined the two previously there while he wasn’t looking; this one was covered in soft fur, had bat-like ears, and what looked to be a second set of arms with bat-like wings instead of normal fingers.
 
“Hi there!” He greeted, trying hard not to notice the newest girl cringing upon hearing his voice. “I’m Zane. Zane Springfield.”
 
The red girl waved casually at him. “Hi there, Zane. I’m Jada and these are Sheila and Joy.” She gestured to the winged girl then the fuzzy one in turn. “Or you can call me Dryad and Joy Cryptid if you want.”
 
“I’ve decided not to do the codename thing.” Sheila added.
 
Jada smirked at her friend’s comment. “Sheila and I are Juniors and Joy here is a Sophomore—what class are you?”
 
“Sophomore too.” offered Zane and this time he couldn’t miss the subtle discomfort playing over Joy’s face. “Um… and I guess you can call me Ragamuffin. I picked that so no one would call me boogieman or something.”
 
“Why would they call you that?” asked Sheila.
 
Zane looked down at himself, wondering if he’d suddenly shed the tatty cloak and hood in the last few minutes. “Well, I do kinda look the part… and sound it.” He was sure now that Joy would agree with the second. “My powers are kind of complicated. Also weird.”
 
“No one here is weird.” Sheila said with fervent passion. “We’re all unique, yeah, but if you stop and think about it, our powers are amazing. We can do things other people can only dream about or see in the movies. I mean, you can fly—how cool is that, am I right?” She lightly fanned her wings to suggest kinship among the airborne.
 
“Actually, no I can’t.” said Zane, rising up another few feet. “This is about as high as I go.”
 
“More than most people can do. I just talk to plants.” Jada pointed out. “And also I’m red.”
 
Zane chuckled nervously. “Trust me; red is a really good look on you.” He didn’t add that even with the horns, she got off much better in the looks department than he had. The hood was there for a reason.
 
“Aren’t you the charmer?” Sheila grinned, looking between him and Jada. “I think we’ll like having you around if that’s the case. So: you need someone to show you around?”
 
“Yeah, that’d be nice. Looking at it from the outside, this place is huge.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Joy’s ears dip a little, like a dog’s might when upset. His own eyes dimmed at the effect he seemed to be having on the girl. It usually took actually seeing his face or making skin-to-skin contact with him for someone to get that wigged out by his presence.
 
A moment later, the reason for her latest signs of dread were revealed as Jada explained, “Great. Lucky for you, Joy just got back from giving her latest tour (and really lucky for you that Kura and Tammy didn’t get back first). He’s all yours, Joy.”
 
“Um… right.” Joy’s ears flicked nervously and she shook her head as if to clear it, putting on a forced smile. Confusion was creeping over her fuzzy face and it dawned on Zane that she had no idea why his being there was bothering her. To her great credit, she tried to soldier on. “Would you like to go see your room first, or…”
 
“My room is fine.” Zane said quickly. He figured he could let her off easy; find his room, then send her away before she had some kind of nervous breakdown. “Room 239?”
 
Joy nodded and gestured toward the elevators, faltering just a moment as she realized she would be stuck in an elevator with him. “We could take the elevator, but since you float, we could take the stairs and that would get us closer to the rooms.”
 
Again, her meaning wasn’t lost on Zane. “The stairs are fine.” He assured her, trying to keep it casual and friendly.
 
With just a slight nod, Joy turned and hurried toward the glassed in doors behind the tours table. That finally got Jada’s notice and she frowned after Joy. “Huh.” She shook her head and waved to Zane, who was starting to float after Joy. “It was nice meeting you Zane.”
 
“Likewise.” Zane said, casting a concerned look of his own at his tour guide.
 
To Be Continued…
Series NavigationLI: Sophomore Year #2 – Rags to Rags Part 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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3 Comments

  1. For the record, you could go all glowy eyed and grim reaper in New York today and barely be glanced at.
    But why is Joy so uncomfortable?

    • My guess would be that his voice also ranges into frequencies normal humans can t hear but Joy can.

      A typo:
      at the table marked ‘Tours’ say a dark skinned girl
      I d guess it should be sat a dark skinned girl

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