Title: The Academy: First Prologue
The full annual load of inoculations took about three hours for the doctors in Pandora’s medical center to administer to naturals. A regular person could just get them shot into his system all at once and leave, but so many different medications and antivirals sweeping through a natural’s system tended to make them faint, and so Doctor Reynaud did it the old-fashioned way, with an IV. It was the most boring part of the yearly physical, and Cody was grateful he wasn’t going through it alone this time. Lacey sat in the reclining chair next to him, logged into a game program that let them do battle with tiny holographic minions in the air in front of them. Lacey spent half her available points on a platoon of werebats that she sent screeching at Cody’s citadel, but his defensive spells triggered a few yards out and spit fire at the attackers, burning all but one of them up in a shower of glittery sparks that dissipated just above their toes.
“Shit,” Lacey muttered, punching at the controller in her hand. Her long, pale hair hung down over her face, obscuring what was undoubtedly a scowl as Cody hummed a victory tune.
“I hate to say I told you so, but…”
“It’s because the IV is in my good hand,” Lacey said. “I can’t maneuver them as well.”
“If we could have neural implants like everyone else, it wouldn’t matter.”
Cody had to admit that was true. Normal students got neural implants to help them interact with technology and make studying and learning new information easier. They made hand-held controllers obsolete in a lot of instances, and increased reaction times by up to a factor of three. The implants were more of a gamble with naturals, almost seventy-five percent of them unable to heal well enough around the site of the implant to make them worth the pain of surgery and recovery. Neural implants could also have a progressively-debilitating effect on the nervous system and brain, and had to be monitored carefully by doctors.
Cody was actually scheduled to get a neural implant once he reached Paradise; there was no way he could get through the Federation Academy without one. It was a little risky, but his dads were flying in one of the best surgeons in the Central System to do it, so he’d have plenty of time to heal before they got to Olympus. He wasn’t going to tell any of that to Lacey, though. His best friend was already upset enough about his impending departure.
Lacey tossed the controller down toward her feet, laid back against the headrest and sighed heavily. “Next year is going to be a total typhoon without you.” Which was the Pandoran way of saying it was going to be dark and cold and unhappy, given how brutal the typhoons that swept over The Box could be.
“I mean, it’s not like I didn’t expect someone to go, someone goes every year,” she continued, chewing on her lower lip. “David went to Mission last year, and Grady went to…where’s his grandma from?”
“Yeah, there. Although why you’d want to go to Lodestar after you graduated, ugh,” she said, and Cody thought she had a point. It was a tiny, dark place with next to no atmosphere, but after Grady’s mother had died he’d been desperate for some sort of family connection, and his grandma was all he had.
“You’re not even the first to go to the Academy, Tamara got in first,” with the help of a strong letter of recommendation from Garrett, “but I guess I always kind of thought that you’d be one of the ones to stay. I thought you liked it here.” I thought you liked me, was the subtext. Cody had gotten very good over the years at reading the subtext in a person’s speech and actions. His stepdad was excellent at it.
“I love it here,” Cody said, and he meant it. “It’s not that I don’t like being here, or that I want to leave my dads. I just…I want to do something different with my life. Something different, you know? Something big.”
“Yeah, I get that. And it’s totally far that you got into the Academy, really,” Lacey assured him. “I mean, like, far. Everyone’s proud of you. You’re all my dad can talk about sometimes.”
“That’s just ‘cause he went to the Academy too.”
“Yeah, but he dropped out before he finished the program,” Lacey pointed out. “Because I ended up being way more than he thought he’d have to deal with.” She said it with the air of someone who knew just what a burden she was, because she had been told. Her father was a good guy, mostly, but he wasn’t very patient, and he’d sacrificed a lot to deal with Lacey’s special needs as a baby. He had three normal children now with his new wife, and Lacey spent more time at Cody’s house than she did at her own.
Cody was saved from having to reply by Doctor Ricki Reynaud coming back into the treatment room. “You’re just about finished up,” she told Lacey with a smile, detaching the IV and sterilizing her arm before she sealed the tiny hole in her skin with a drop of specialized cream. “How do you feel?”
“Fine,” Lacey said, sitting upright. She immediately made a face and lay back down. “Actually…”
“I’ll get you something to eat,” Doctor Reynaud promised. “And you can keep Cody company a little longer, he’s got a few more vaccinations to deal with than you this time around, since he’s heading out. Your dads are taking you there, right?” she asked, turning to Cody and checking the level in his IV.
“Yeah. And then they’re going on vacation for a while.”
“It’s their second honeymoon,” Lacey corrected with a grin. “They’re going to celebrate their newfound independence with lots and lots of se—”
“Sightseeing,” Cody interjected, shooting Lacey a hard look. Because he didn’t need to be reminded of his parent’s sex life again, thank you very much. It was bad enough he had to put up with it at home. After walking in on them in the living room when he was twelve, for like the third time, he’d insisted they sent him a message to warn him before they got it on, because Dad, honestly! I don’t need to see that! They used the warning system far more than Cody was comfortable with, although it was kind of nice, in a way, to know that his parents still really loved each other. Cody just didn’t need to see them loving each other. “They’re going to be tourists for a couple of months, it’s no big deal.”
“Sounds like fun,” Doctor Reynaud said. “There’s a lot to see back in the Central System; some of the planets have the most amazing theme parks, and one’s made itself famous by engineering the tallest waterfall on any inhabited planet in the galaxy. It reaches almost all the way into the stratosphere, you can see it as you fly in. Or so I’ve been told,” she added. “I’ll go find a snack for you, Lacey. Cody, it’ll be another ten minutes or so on your IV.” She walked out with only a bit of a waddle, one hand pressed to her belly and the other to her back.
“It must be awful to be pregnant,” Lacey said a moment later. “To be all slow and heavy all the time. Dannile says she likes it, but she’s kind of a freak.” Dannile was Lacey’s stepmom, and as utterly even-keeled as a person could be. Seriously, nothing fazed her, not even when Cody and Lacey had managed to set her family’s fireproof oven on fire thanks to a little chemistry experiment gone wrong. Lacey’s dad had been incensed, but Dannile had just laughed it off, which was crazy. Not even Claudia had laughed it off the last time Cody had kind-of-maybe set part of the house on fire back on Paradise, but Cody still claimed that that was mostly Wyl’s fault.
“I’m glad I’ll never have to do it,” Cody said, just to have something to say. Lacey was in a weird mood today, and he knew if he put a foot wrong it would end with them having a fight, and he didn’t want to fight, not when he was so close to leaving.
“I’m never going to do it either,” Lacey agreed. There was something stony in her expression, petulance edging on something deeper and darker. “Families are too much work.”
“Yours is a pretty good one,” Cody pointed out, because it really was. Her dad was kind of a jerk, but he did love her. He just tended to express his love with worry and his worry with shouting, and he had shouted a lot at Cody too before Cody’s dad intervened. If Garrett was the fun parent, then Jonah was the scary one.
“Yeah, but I like yours better.”
“You know you can still come over once I’m gone, right? My dads like you, they won’t mind.”
“It won’t be the same,” Lacey insisted, her big brown eyes filling with tears. “Not without you. I know that you have to go but I hate that you’re leaving.”
Cody didn’t know what to do with that. He was sad about leaving too, in a way, but that sadness and anxiety was mostly drowned out beneath the tide of excitement he’d been riding ever since his dads had told him he could attend the Academy. “I’m going to call you,” he told Lacey, reaching out for her hand. After a second, she gave it to him. “I’m going to message you. I’m not going to forget you.”
“You promise?” Lacey sniffed, pushing her hair out of her face so she could look at him. She looked thin and tired and fragile, and Cody missed her already.