Notes: Okay, time to provide answers, backstory and character development! Plus I have a better grasp for how things are going to proceed in the future. Plus I wrote all this in one long shot and it only took me about 2 hours, so let me tell you, people, I am cruising. I love this story and these characters. Damn it, how am I supposed to be able to finish it when I just want to write more?
Part Thirteen: Decisions, Decisions
So, to be clear, Garrett was an adult. He was a goddamned adult, he had been making his own decisions for years, and he was perfectly self-sufficient. He absolutely was. But when his life got really confusing, when things looked like they were careening straight into the gravity well of a black hole and he didn’t have the energy to escape it, he tended to fall back on the lessons he’d learned in his childhood. The main one, the one that had stuck with him since he was fourteen, was this: when his back was to the wall, the one person he could always rely on was his father.
It didn’t matter how messed up Garrett was or what stupid thing he had done, Miles would always help him. He was an organizer, he was a planner, he thought things through. Miles could multitask with more efficiency than anyone Garrett had ever known outside of people with specialized implants, and he did it all with the kind of ruthless competency that made him an effective military officer and an invaluable politician to the Federation. He was calm and collected and good at synthesizing, and that was exactly the kind of perspective that Garrett needed right now. Garrett was never really calm and collected on his best days, and for some reason his brain had been a little…bouncy lately. Too much going on to focus, maybe.
It was early, too early for most Paradisians to be up, but that norm didn’t apply to the governor of the planet. Garrett found his father sitting on the living room couch in the First Family’s wing, documents and graphs pulled up on the table top and some of them projected into the air above it. He was moving them back and forth, quietly asking the computer for new comparisons and statistics, and Garrett’s heart warmed a little when he saw the antique spectacles perched on the end of his father’s nose. His eyes were Miles’ one point of personal vanity; he insisted they didn’t require any corrective surgery, even though it would only take a minute, and just put the glasses on “when his eyes were tired” for close-up work.
“Hey,” Garrett called softly as he stepped into the room. He was carrying two cups of coffee, made in his own apartment because he knew his father wouldn’t want to risk waking his wife and baby with the noise of their own machine.
“Hey, Gare.” Miles looked over at him and smiled, pulling the glasses off and putting them on the edge of the table. He scooted over a bit and made room for Garrett, accepting a cup of coffee with a sigh. “Thanks.”
“You’re up early.”
“Mmm.” Garrett stalled by taking a sip as he tried to pull his scattered thoughts together. Coherence. Coherence was important when you were trying to talk to someone. “I didn’t sleep, actually.”
“You do look pretty tired.” Miles’ expression was going from Friend to Concerned Dad, and Garrett didn’t want that, so he plowed ahead.
“I need your help.” He took a deep breath. “This has to do with Jonah and Cody and it’s kind of complicated, and before I start I need you to know that Jonah hasn’t done anything wrong or illegal.”
“Sounds serious,” Miles said, his tone mild and soothing.
“It…could be.” Garrett felt his hands try to tremble, and he tightened his grip on his mug. “I assume you’ve been getting reports from Corporal Kelly.”
“So you know, generally, where we’ve been going and what we’ve been doing.”
“I know you met with Drifters at the bazaar. I know Jonah’s met with them again since, but I don’t know any of the details and I didn’t ask for them. It’s not my place to pry into your life, son.”
Garrett forced a smile. God, that topic had been a hell of a fight when he was a teenager. Garrett had been fresh out of rehab, sent back home and newly confronted with the fact that his father, who had been absent for most of his young life, was not only going to be around, he was going to be involved. Garrett had accused him of prying, of forcing his presence where it wasn’t wanted, of being too little too late. His father had taken all that abuse calmly, then told Garrett that while he wasn’t going to pry, he wasn’t going to disappear either. He was going to be there every hour of every day whether his son liked it or not, and what Garrett got out of it was up to him.
It had taken a few months before Garrett had come around to the idea that his father actually did care, cared enough to take an indefinite leave of absence from the marines and stay at home with his damaged son and do everything he could to care for him, while still giving him the space to breathe. They started talking, just a little at first, but by the end of a year Garrett could barely remember a time when his father hadn’t been with him and interested in him. Miles had gone back to the marines afterward, but things between them had changed for good, and for the better.
“I know that,” Garrett assured him. “You never pry. This is something I need your advice on, Dad, because I honestly don’t know what to do and Jonah’s riding the edge of what he can take, especially with Cody in the infirmary now.”
Garrett marshaled his thoughts, then plunged into the story. He told Miles about the first meeting with Kilroy in the bazaar, then recounted Jonah’s story of what had passed between him, Kilroy and Jack in the second meet. He didn’t bother to mention how he had been listening in, because really, that had no real relevance to the situation at this point. He finished up by revealing Jonah and Cody’s situation with regards to Jack, Drifters and the law, which was just as tangled up as Jonah had promised (Garrett had looked into it before going to his father this morning, and…damn. The red tape was epic.).
After he finished, they sat in silence for a long moment. Garrett watched his father closely, and as soon as he drew his index finger down the center of his lips, he knew the man had had an idea. Garrett had observed him deep in thought for decades, and he knew all of Miles tells.
“It seems that there are two separate problems here,” Miles said at last. “Kilroy and Jack are only vaguely connected to each other. Split their issues up and we can take a leg out from under both of their cases. Each of them is just using the other for leverage, after all. So we need a different sort of leverage.” He glanced back at the table and slid his glasses back on, and peered at a few charts. “Hm. Interesting.”
“What’s interesting?” Garrett demanded.
“We’ve had an influx in both capital and local population since the arrival of the Gondola. It happens every time one of their big ships comes in. Drifters are a point of interest on a world as isolated as this one is, and since they’re seen as outside the normal Federation infrastructure, people are willing to do business with them who otherwise wouldn’t be interested. Even knowing that a big percentage of the money changing hands is happening on the black market, it’s still a significant boost to the economy. More income makes for happier citizens, and that’s the sort of thing I want to encourage coming out of a state of civil war.”
“But you know that a lot of what they’re dealing for is probably equipment that some people plan to use to fight you,” Garrett pointed out with a frown.
“True, but that’s not what the Drifters care about. They care about making the biggest profit they can in the time they have here. They steer clear of politics.” Miles laced his fingers together and stared at the charts. “What I need to do is figure out how to incentivize them into doing things legally, while still providing people with the opportunity to deal with them with an air of privacy.”
“You’re talking about creating a new layer of society?”
“More like providing the people of Paradise with a choice. It’ll start out as a fairly stark choice, them or us, but as time goes by those lines will blur. Here’s the thing, Gare.” Miles pulled off his glasses and looked over at him. “There are still people here who hate the Federation, hate us with everything they are. They don’t care that it was their government that originally petitioned us to come here and take them into the fold, all they see is the loss of their independence. There are a lot more people who are happy with us, but they’re afraid of rocking the boat because the rebels have proven themselves willing, over and over, to be indifferent to civilian casualties in the course of coming after us.
“It isn’t the rebels I care about, it’s the people who have to deal with them and are too afraid to come to us for help. Drifters provide them with a source of goods and information that can be seen as clean, in a sense. This Kilroy thinks I’m trying to make things harder for him, when in actuality I’d be more than happy to have more Drifters make Paradise a common harbor as long as they’re willing to obey our laws, but they trouble is that they don’t stay long. The new problem becomes persuading Drifters to do more than a transient business here, which is a challenge because transience is literally a part of their name.”
“So you provide them with, what…legal status?”
“Immigrant status. Giving them rights as transitory citizens of this planet. Offering them access to medical clinics, entrance into our education system and the rest of the benefits that come with being licensed and legitimized. If a particular ship wants to leave for any reason, they can. If they want to come back, they can. I’m talking about finding Drifters a place in this society. I think it’ll do more than enhance the economy, it’ll broaden the horizons of a populace that’s been left behind as the rest of the inhabited universe moves forward.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “And frankly, I have to do something, because there isn’t a lot of clout in the Senate right now for improving the lives of member planets on the Fringe, but the need is stark.”
“You’ve thought about this before,” Garrett said, putting the pieces together. His dad was good, but this was a lot to come up with on the fly. “You’ve been thinking about it for a while.”
“Ever since I woke up out of that coma,” Miles confessed. “Paradise is still sparking with rebellion just under the surface. I want to tamp that down, and I want to cut down on the percentage of illegal goods making it into circulation. One of the terms of any agreement with Drifters would be submitting their ship to a search before they can land. A thorough one, enough to detect skimmers and drugs and most weapons. It’ll be a delicate balance, but if I can get Kilroy Dechiara on my side and spreading the word to other Drifter ships, it will be a huge coup.”
“You’re kind of smart, you know that?”
Miles smiled. “I’m surprised you’re not calling it my ‘aged wisdom.’”
“I can’t insult you before I know what you think we can do about Jack.”
Miles shrugged. “He’s the easy half of this equation. I’ve got three lawyers in my corps here, and one of them specializes in family law. Even if Gunny can’t speak to all the issues, he’ll know someone who can. I’ll send for him as soon as his shift starts, and we’ll figure out what needs to be done to make sure Cody stays with you and Jonah.”
“You’re amazing.” Garrett finally let himself smile back. “I’m so impressed you’ve managed to avoid the dementia that plagues most of your generation.”
“And there is it,” Miles said sarcastically. “I almost didn’t recognize you without the snark, son.”
“I’m a fuckin’ chameleon,” Garrett agreed, feeling pretty perky in the wake of his father’s reassurance.
Miles looked at him a little strangely. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine!” Why did people keep asking him that? “Just tired from lack of sleep.”
“You aren’t acting tired, you’re acting…” Miles reached out and laid a hand on Garrett’s cheek, and frowned when Garrett jerked away. “Have you been checking your levels?”
Levels? Levels, levels…what, hormone levels? His drug levels? His mood stabilizers? “Of course.” Of course he was. He had used the med gauntlet, what, last week? Or maybe the week before? That was plenty recent. Somehow Garrett didn’t think that his father would see it that way though, since technically he was supposed to be using it every day when he traveled due to the additional stresses on his system. But he wasn’t some delicate little child any longer, and he was doing fine. Wasn’t he doing fine? He had known enough to bring his problems to Miles, that wasn’t the mark of an off-balanced person. “I might have forgotten yesterday,” he added, seeing that his dad wasn’t buying it. The frown line stayed, but Miles looked a little more relaxed.
“You should go and take care of that, Gare. It’s important to stay up to date.”
“I know,” he said, and tried not to fidget as Miles kept staring at him. He opened his mouth, probably in preparation for inserting his foot, but a high, thin cry interrupted the moment. Miles pushed off the couch and disappeared into the master bedroom, and Garrett took a second to school his expression back into imperturbability. When Miles came back with a fussy Renee in his arms, Garrett stood up.
“I should go. I’ll talk to Robbie and bring him in after we see Cody. He’ll be a good resource for you when it comes to dealing with Drifters.”
“Go and get yourself checked out first.”
Garrett rolled his eyes. “Yes sir.” He put their empty coffee cups in the kitchen and watched his father cradle his sister, rocking her gently in his arms and not minding when her chubby fists smacked his chest or chin. “Can I get you something for her?”
“There’s a bottle of juice for her in the preservator.”
Garrett opened it up and saw the bright purple bottle. “Oh god, Claudia has her drinking bissap already?”
“Apparently it’s the first thing they wean babies with on Kalmia. It’s full of essential nutrients, or something like that.” Miles took the bottle that Garrett passed him and offered it to Renee, who latched onto it and started drinking voraciously. Miles smiled down at his baby and Garrett felt a pang of…not jealousy…maybe nostalgia? Could he be nostalgic for something that had never happened? He knew enough about his own childhood to know that Miles had been deployed when he’d been born and hadn’t actually seen him until he was six months old, and his mother had been way too much of a diva to bother with feeding her own child. Anyone who had cared for Garrett as a baby had been an employee.
Garrett came over and kissed his little sister’s fluffy black head, then squeezed his father’s shoulder. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Sounds good.” He left the two of them bonding over juice and headed for the infirmary.
Garrett bypassed the nurse at the front desk by telling her he was just going in to check on Cody, but stopped one room short and ducked into the automated medical suite. There was a med gauntlet there that had his specs loaded into it, and after turning it on, he gingerly placed his hand inside. There was a tiny prick, and then…
“Doctor Caractacus,” the holographic doctor began seriously as he appeared. Garrett immediately turned the volume down to low. “Your blood work shows pronounced signs of hormonal instability. I recommend a full dose of your normal medications as well as a time-release dose over a period of two to four days. I recommend that you place yourself in stasis for the duration of the transition.”
The program wanted him to sleep for four days? Hell with that, Garrett didn’t have time. “Can you give me a stabilizing dose now in order to delay the need for stasis?”
“A stabilizing dose would still merit stasis at this point,” the doctor said, sounding rather chiding. “You’ve gone too long without any medication whatsoever.”
“Then I refuse treatment for now.”
The doctor looked unhappy. “Sir—”
“As soon as my current affairs are put in order, I’ll submit to treatment.” And oh, wouldn’t knocking himself unconscious for a while irritate Claudia, with him not able to help plan his own wedding. “No more than a day or two.”
“Sir, the longer you wait, the more imbalanced your mental state will become. The need for stasis will only become more vital with every passing hour.”
“I’ll take it under advisement. Seal this record unless specifically asked by my medical proxy.”
“Yes sir,” the doctor said unhappily. Garrett shut the program off and withdrew his hand.
Well, shit. How could he have forgotten for so long? He needed the meds, Garrett knew he needed them, but really he was handling things fine so far. He could handle them a little longer, long enough to take care of the Jack situation and not leave Jonah alone to deal with it. Then he’d be able to afford going into stasis until his blood work was back to normal.
Garrett left the automed suite and went on to Cody’s room. The boy had kicked his blanket onto the floor and was now curled up in a ball at the very bottom of the bed. Garrett bent down and grabbed the blanket, then slid his arms under Cody and shifted him up the bed until his head was back on his pillow. Cody stirred as Garrett was tucking the blanket in around him.
“M’too hot,” he said with a sniffle.
“I’m sorry, buddy. You’ll feel better soon.”
Cody reached up and patted his face in a strange echo of Miles. “You feel good.”
How nice that cold and clammy translated as “good” to Cody. “Do you want me to stay with you for a while?”
“All right.” Garrett got into the same position he’d had yesterday afternoon, with Cody’s head on his lap, and ran his chilly hands through Cody’s hair and across the back of his neck. Garrett was wired, he wasn’t going to sleep, but at least he could do something for Cody for a little while. Before he went and got Jonah, before they talked to Miles again, before they met with a lawyer, before they had to deal with Jack…this was definitely going to be the least complicated part of Garrett’s day.
He shut his eyes and tried to enjoy it.