LI: Sophomore Year #2 – Rags to Rags Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 13 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 4: The New Kids
Through the glass doors, there was a marble floored rotunda with a bronze statue of a handsome older gentleman given a place of honor in the center. Upon a pedestal before him was a bronze tablet that featured the name ‘John Liedecker’ and several columns of smaller writing Zane wasn’t close enough to read. The only real furniture were two long, curved leather couches flanking the glass entrance, a few plaques on the walls, and a baby grand piano nearly hidden in its place behind the statue.
 
At the rear of the rotunda, there was an archway that opened into a hall. There was a set of glass doors on the other side of the hall with the word ‘Library’ stenciled on them in classical lettering.
 
Most of Zane’s attention was on the two sweeping stairways that took up most of the rotunda’s wall-space and framed the arch leading into the back hall. He’s only seen those sorts of stairs in movies, usually while someone of royal birth was coming down them or two guys with rapiers were fighting their way up them.
 
Joy noticed he’d paused to take the place in and stopped at the foot of the left-hand stairs. “Um…” She said, ears twitching as she fought with her instinct to try and be a good tour guide. After a second, she swallowed and tried again, this time with more success.
 
“There’s not much here… sometimes someone plays the piano down here—mostly Miss Brant, or my sister; she’s the computer science teacher here. The only person our age that plays is The Gnome, but he stops the second he thinks someone’s listening.”
 
Zane let out a snort that sounded like an electric razor choking to death. “The Gnome? Is that his codename?”
 
Forcing herself not to flinch at the boy’s voice, Joy shrugged, “I don’t know his real name. He just calls himself ‘The Gnome’. In fact, he usually says ‘The Gnome’ instead of ‘I’.”
 
It was a struggle not to laugh at that, but Zane know his laugh was worse than his snort. “Hey, if that’s what he wants to do, right?” He fidgeted when there wasn’t an immediate answer and waved a hand in the direction of the piano. “I-I’ve had lessons. I mean, I’m not good, but I can sound… ya know… not awful? Hehe… unlike my singing voice.”
 
All sorts of tiny animal instincts made Joy’s muscles quiver, demanding she bolt for somewhere. Preferably somewhere with loose dirt to dig a nice, safe burrow in. While she fought them, she found she couldn’t ignore them.
 
“Yeah, maybe you can play sometime.” She said so quickly that it probably didn’t come out as more than one word. “Hey, let’s go up to your room.” Without waiting for her response, she started up the stairs.
 
Eyes flickering, Zane followed, floating along the stair railing. He remained silent until they reached the top landing, which stretched out into galleries overlooking the rotunda on either side. “We’re supposed to live here?” He asked, mostly to himself, as he eyed the plush red carpet, carved wooden benches, and huge windows taking up the left and right sizes of the level. “I feel like I’m lowering the property value just standing here.”
 
The fact that he was whispering reduced the pressure Joy was feeling to avoid him. “The front end stuff is mostly for visitors. All the office stuff and everything are through there and there.” She pointed to arches leading off the landing to the left and right. “We live through there.”
 
Zane followed the direction she was nodding in to find a set of wooden doubled doors (at this point, he was wondering if his room might have double doors) with shiny brass handles. Joy pushed them open to reveal a small atrium with an elevator directly in front of the door.
 
On either side of the elevator, the atrium opened up into a larger space. They went through the one on the left, which proved to be the intersection of a spacious hallway. Part of it branched off to the left with several doors off it and another intersection at the halfway point while the span that lay ahead of them had floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto a courtyard.
 
Before the windows started, however, there was another opening on the right that led into a room where Zane spotted two girls sitting at a table in what looked like a small kitchen attached to a larger room.
 
“That’s the common room.” Joy explained, “There’s a TV, kitchen, some game stuff. They also keep the foods and stuff stocked there in case you don’t want to eat in the cafeteria. If you need anything, you can send an email to Miss Carroll. But anything she buys for us is for everyone. If you want something yourself, you have to buy it.”
 
“So that’s where, like, everyone hangs out?”
 
He wasn’t whispering this time and Joy felt her throat constrict a tiny bit. Zane couldn’t bear watching her anymore.
 
“Um, look. I can find my own way from here. Or I can ask those girls.” He nodded toward the two in the common room: a blonde who was systematically draining glass after glass of water, and a tiny redhead who seemed to be feeding french fries into a fire that was sitting on the table without burning the surface.
 
“Really?” Joy asked, forgetting not to sound hopeful.
 
Zane took a breath so as not to let the tiny bit of hurt come out in his tone. “Yeah. I can tell I kind of freak you out.”
 
Her ears dipped and she became suddenly interested in the carpet. “I’m really sorry. I don’t even know why I’m getting like this. It’s nothing you’re doing it’s just…”
 
“My voice.” he cut her off. “Believe me, I get it. You’ve got like… animal senses, right?”
 
She nodded.
 
“Yeah, animals kind of hate me. I used to have this cat, Barney. He was my best buddy until my powers kicked in. I had to give him away because he’d run and hide whenever I was around. His eyes flashed, then went dim. “And… I should probably stop talking since it’s my voice that bothers you.”
 
By that point, Joy was shivering with her ears flattened to the sides of her head. “Sorry. About that stuff happening to you too. A lot of kids have gone through that. I was lucky: some of my sisters have powers too—not like mine—we’re all pretty different—but…”
 
The shape of Zane’s eyes changed to give the impression of a quirked eyebrow. “How can ‘all’ your sisters be different?” He spoke quickly to reduce the amount of time she had to hear him.
 
“Oh, we’ve all got different moms—except the twins.” Joy said with another big shrug. “Look, I’m really sorry again that our powers are kind of working against each other here. I can introduce you to Maya and Steampunk if you want. They’re both kind of shy, but I’m pretty sure Maya would still give you the rest of the tour if you ask nicely.”
 
Zane started to say that was a good idea, but chose to nod instead. Joy gave him a grateful smile before heading into the room.
 
“Hi girls.” She greeted, heading for a bowl of fruit on the counter.
 
As she’d expected, Steampunk just turned in her direction and nodded; the best most people could hope for from her without hours, if not days of cajoling. Maya wasn’t much better, though her eyes did hold a friendly sparkle when she said hello. Zane couldn’t help but notice that the ‘flame’ on the table was actually holding a french fry in a pair of odd flippers. As he watched, it pressed the tip of the snack into what he could only assume was a mouth where it started smoking and burned away bit by bit.
 
“This is Zane Springfield.” Joy continued, selecting an orange from the bowl. “He’s in our class. Zane: Maya Blumberg and…uh… Steampunk.”
 
Maya turned her attention to him and started, eyes going wide. Unlike Joy, she recovered quickly. “Hi Zane.” She said in a small voice, then pointed to the girl called Steampunk. “Her name’s Alice Tatopoulos, by the way.”
 
Name or no name, Steampunk just stared at him as if she was taking him apart and putting him back together again. Considering she was wearing some sort of leather armor, he didn’t want to be on her bad side.
 
“That’s cool.” Zane said, giving both of them a small wave. “I’ve got a codename too: Ragamuffin.”
 
“Because you’re covered in layers of clothes?” Maya guessed immediately.
 
“Yeah but…” He paused, his eyes visibly narrowing under the hood. “Wait… how’d you know?” He looked down, trying to see where one of the outer seams of his outfit had come apart.
 
Maya blushed furiously and shrank back in her chair. “Just a guess.”
 
Some kind of super-senses, Zane guessed. If she didn’t want to talk about it, he wasn’t going to push her—after all, if she had something like X-ray vision and could see through people’s clothes, she’d never live it down. “Good guess.” He said to help her out.
 
“My powers control cloth and stuff; problem is, I can’t turn it off completely and when I’m not concentrating, it ravels and unravels stuff that’s close to me. So I wear a lot of layers so nothing embarrassing happens.”
 
Whatever had frightened Maya at first abandoned her as he explained his powers, replaced by something that he found a little off-putting. Where Steampunk’s analytical gaze was passive and cold, Maya’s was a lot more active and may Zane want to look around for hunchback and rooftop laboratories built for harnessing lightning.
 
“Really?” She asked. “Is it really just cloth? How do your powers know what’s cloth and what isn’t?”
 
“I have no idea.” Zane answered honestly. Wasn’t that why they were at the Institute in the first place? To learn about their powers?
 
Maya wasn’t done yet. “And don’t you get hot under all that?”
 
“Not really.” He said, rubbing the back of his neck through his hood. “I’m actually pretty cold to the touch under all this. It actually feels better to bundle up.”
 
Curious eyes blinked as Maya processed this. Steampunk was leaning forward, but not toward them. She was watching Joy, who was nervously biting into her orange—peel and all. Finally Maya broke the awkward silence, though she seemed to be muttering to herself. “That sounds like the opposite of me…”
 
Out loud, she said, “You should make sure to tell Miss Keyes about that when you do your power training classes.”
 
To everyone’s surprise, Steampunk spoke next. “You should also ask her if there is a method for mitigating the effect of your voice.”
 
Zane did a double-take, having taken the blonde’s silence as a given. “Huh?”
 
“Your voice.” repeated Steampunk. “It has an adverse effect on Joy Duvall, most likely on the physiological level. It is likely that, as your voice seems to blend multiple frequencies, the one is identical to a predatory animal’s cry, which is known to trigger the fight or flight response in lower order mammals. The same phenomenon has been put forth as a reason for so-called ‘hauntings’.”
 
Even with the hood up, Maya could tell Zane was feeling overwhelmed by the blonde’s speech. She gave him an apologetic look. “Steampunk knows things. It’s a long story.”
 
“I was made to memorize the entire data archive at the Facility where I was located before being brought to the Institute.” Steampunk said as if that was all anyone might need to know.
 
Meanwhile, Zane had been parsing what she’d said and his mouth got to the (extraneous) conclusion before his brain as his eyes turned once more to Joy. “Wait, you mean she might have hit me because of my voice?”
 
“No I wouldn’t” Joy said, taking a step back from him. Inside, however, several small thing with sharp claws disagreed.
 
“Oh. Right.” Zane said as his brain finally caught up. “Um… hey, we’ve don’t nothing but talk about my powers. What about you guys?” He reached out to the fire creature, which had finished its french fry while they had been talking and was trying to pull another out of the box itself.
 
What happened next, Zane wasn’t entirely sure as it seemed like a few seconds of time collided with one another and by the time they disentangled themselves, Maya had grabbed his arm and, by virtue of him basically being a helium balloon in terms of weight, almost flung him against the fridge.
 
“No!” She said at the point of screaming. The scent of smoke tainted the air. Scooping the little fire creature up, she held it close. Every muscle was tense to the point of shaking. All the fear that had been discarded for the sake of curiosity earlier was firmly in place again. “I-it’s dangerous.”
 
‘Dangerous’ was a new one to Zane. Creepy, freaky and ugly were all par for the course. As long as they weren’t coming from a few select people, he let those roll off his back even if he made sure he kept his hood up at all times. Dangerous, though?
 
He guessed he could strangle someone with their collar or trip them downstairs, but he sincerely doubted that either of those would hurt the fireling even if he wanted to. Just what had she seen in him in those senses of hers.
 
Asking her couldn’t hurt, he reasoned—okay, it could and would hurt his feelings, but that probably wasn’t what that expression meant.
 
“Man, I never thought I’d be saying I’d be this happy being back at school.” someone interrupted Zane’s thoughts. From the opposite entrance than the one Joy and Zane used came two boys. One looked so ordinary as to be out of place given what Zane had already seen at the Institute while the other was the plant kid Zane had seen earlier.
 
It was the plant boy who was speaking, the orange points of light set in the shadowy recesses of his face burned merrily. “I love my mom and all, but you have no idea what it’s been like all summer: ‘Oh, it’s too dangerous for my precious baby to do this, I don’t think it’s proper for a young man to do that’. Ugh, and the food—she seriously does not get that ‘a balanced meal’ doesn’t do anything for me.” He cut off as he saw that the common room wasn’t empty.
 
“Oh hey—anyone up for going over to Midnight Black? I haven’t had coffee in months.” he called, noticing neither the tense situation, nor the new kid.
 
Joy didn’t miss the opportunity to try and defuse the situation. “Hi Phinny, hi Eddie!” She waved, “This is Zane.”
 
The normal boy, Eddie, hadn’t missed what he and his friend had walked in on, and had his eyes on Maya up to the moment that Joy spoke. “Hey.” He said with slight hesitance and a nod to Zane. “What’s going—”
 
“New guy, eh?” Phineas cut in, hopping up to sit on the counter. “So you know the drill: what’re your powers? I mean mine are pretty obvious, but I’m gonna bet you’ve got more than floatiness and glowy eyes.”
 
“Actually,” said Joy, “Zane needs someone to show him to his room. Would you guys mind…”
 
“Sure.” said Phineas, “But after, we’re going to Midnight Black. Seriously. Coffee: I need it.” He looked over to his friend. “You coming, Eddie?”
 
Eddie’s eyes darted back over to Maya, who was giving him a shy look of her own. “Mind if I catch up to you later?” He asked, shuffling awkwardly in place. “I mean I just got in, and I’ve got some unpacking and stuff to do…”
 
Before his change, Zane considered himself a people person. Everyone in his school liked him; from the popular kids and bullies to the skaters, goths, and nerds. If there was a party, Zane was on the list somewhere. When he did change, everyone sent him Get Well cards until it became clear that his condition proved to be permanent.
 
Even when it was becoming clear to him that there weren’t a lot of people that considered themselves ‘Zane people’ anymore, he retained the excellent ability at personal calculus that made him everyone’s friend before. And what he saw now was two people that liked each other but hadn’t made anything official. That meant the Eddie was much more likely to be hard on Zane if he thought he’d scared Maya (however he’d done it) on purpose.
 
The course was clear: get away quick.
 
“Sure, we’ll see ya later then.” he said, well aware that he was talking faster than a used car salesman who was hoping the superglue on the fender would hold up long enough to get a lemon off the lot. Turning to Phineas, he continued, “Ya know, it’s been a while since I’ve had good coffee. In fact, let’s skip my room for now and check out this Midnight Black place—my treat even!”
 
Phineas gave him what might have been a toothy grin, but was more of a spiny one. “’My treat’. Those my friend are the magic words. Did I mention that Lucy makes kick-ass lemon chess tarts? You might want to treat us to some of those too.”
 
With that, the plant boy lead the teenaged boogieman out of the common room.
 
Sparing a moment to watch the two leave, Eddie crossed the kitchen to Maya, quirking a curious brow. “What was that all about?” Something wrong?”
 
Maya shivered a little at a thought that crossed her mind, but shook her head. “I just didn’t want him to get hurt.” She lowered her voice so only he could hear. “He’s very flammable.”
 
To Be Continued…
Series Navigation<< LI: Sophomore Year #1 – Rags to Rags Part 1LI: Sophomore Year #3 – Rags to Rags Part 3 >>

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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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5 Comments

  1. Hmm… He’s either a cloth elemental or something gas made. Either way… Wanna know what his powers are!

    Great suspense :p

  2. Ah… the art of miscommunication… in which (I’m assuming) Zane things Maya was talking about him being dangerous, whereas she actually meant it was dangerous for him. But I do have one question… how does she know anything about his powers?

    • Maya can sense the presence of flammable materials. Which seems to include all those layers of cloth in Zane.

    • I’m thinking she’s just really good at knowing how fast something will go up in flames if she’s not careful.

    • Kazorh has the right of it (sorry it took so long to approve the comment >_<) Maya senses how flammable stuff is and Zane has at least seven layers of cloth over him. I will say, because I never intended it to be a mystery, that he's not cloth all the way down. There is a body somewhere under there. I have Black Mage from Final Fantasy/8-Bit Theater in my head when thinking of him.

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