Notes: Over 4k for your first official installment of The Academy. What can I say, the spice is flowing. Enjoy the ride, darlins!
Title: The Academy
Part One: New Arrivals
The Academy’s private spaceport was overflowing with incoming students and their families, some of them moving with the assurance of experience but most of them wide-eyed newbies, darting their gazes from the sky-soaring pillars of the Academy towers to the glittering shield of the spaceport to the other wide-eyed, breathless arrivals as they tumbled into each other. They desperately searched for porters to help parents deal with personal belongings and information officers to help the new fourth class cadets figure out where the hell they were supposed to go. Today was the official move-in day; orientation and classes didn’t start until tomorrow, but there were still schedules and timetables to adhere to. This was the Federation Military Academy, after all, not some whimsical civvy school where you could move at your own pace.
“I’ve never been so glad I gave this a pass in my entire life,” Garrett muttered, looking out over the press of slate-grey uniforms and tearful familial goodbyes with a grimace. “So. Glad. Formal education was bad enough, but this is ridiculous.”
“You just don’t like the crowds,” Jonah said, hoisting Cody’s duffel bag over his shoulder.
“On the contrary, I love crowds. Lots of folks pressed together having a good time, that I like very much. I just don’t like the hapless crush of hundreds of people all trying to accomplish the same thing and all getting nowhere together. I see, what, twenty porters? Nowhere near enough, this could take hours.” Garrett shook his head, his newly-platinum hair waving softly. He’d put a few “finishing touches” on himself now that they were back in the Central System, and even Cody could admit that his stepfather looked good. Not good good, ugh, no, but he looked…sleek. Like a catterpet that had just come back from the groomer’s. “I’ll go get us some help, this won’t take long.” He made his way into the crowd, people turning to follow his progress as they couldn’t help staring at him.
“Well,” Jonah said, perfectly deadpan. “I guess we’ll wait here, then.”
“I guess so,” Cody agreed. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the wall, touching just enough to be comforting. It wasn’t that Cody wasn’t ready to be on his own, he was; he was looking forward to life at the Academy. But he felt better having his dad close for as long as he could.
Cody glanced over at his dad, checking him surreptitiously for signs of sadness. Jonah had started the trip from Paradise well enough, able to crack jokes and make plans with Garrett for what they were going to do after they dropped Cody off here, but he’d gotten quieter and quieter the closer to Olympus they got. Garrett was worried, Cody knew, and had a long list of things to do to distract Jonah as soon as they were through here, at least half of which Cody was convinced he didn’t want to know anything about. It was nice that his parents still really liked each other, and Cody could barely remember when they hadn’t been together, but ugh…did they have to show it all the time? Even Robbie and Wyl thought it was cloying, and they were almost as bad.
His dad stared out at the crowd, brown hair pulled back at the nape of his neck, his stubble just barely there today. He looked the same as he always had, the same as he would for decades more. Cody was surprised to see that they were close to the same height; Jonah had a few inches on him, but he’d shot up last year and was even Garrett’s height now, although he was still skinny, not broad like his dad. Cody nudged Jonah, and when his dad looked over at him he grinned wide. Jonah shook his head and chuckled.
“Excited, huh bucko?”
“Yes!” Cody couldn’t pretend otherwise. He was here, on Olympus, in the Central System, getting ready to start at the best branch of the Academy there was. Tamara had gone here, and she’d loved it. Cody would be lying if he said that her stories hadn’t played a large part in his decision to attend, but it was the chance to do something special with his life. He might live a fraction of the time most humans did, but he’d go non-stop for the time that he had.
“Good,” Jonah said, nudging him back. “You better be, after this trip.”
“You act all put-upon, but you’re a liiiaaar,” Cody song-songed at his dad. “Garrett was going to get you back to the Central System for a weird, adults-only vacation full of creative licentiousness no matter what I did.”
Cody held his hands up. “Hey, his description, not mine,” he said. “I don’t want to know, seriously.”
“Hell, I barely want to know,” Jonah sighed, but he was smiling now, and that was the whole point of bothering him in the first place. “Garrett’s got way too many weird ideas for me to keep up with him.”
“I think you’ll have fun,” Cody replied. “It’ll be good for you, you haven’t been anywhere but Pandora and Paradise since I was a kid.”
“You’re still a kid,” Jonah said, but his heart wasn’t in it. “You packed the private transmitter, right?”
“Of course I did, you guys spent enough on it.” The private transmitter would give Cody a way to call home without having to fight for the en-masse student transmitters. It was barely permissible by the rules, but Miles had cited medical necessity and gotten it included in Cody’s list of allowable devices.
Speaking of which, after weeks of getting used to it, Cody was finally starting to understand the neural implant doctors had put in in Paradise. Most of its functions were disabled, especially the ones that related to physical or mental enhancement; cadets didn’t get to use props to help them maintain the minimum standards of ability necessary to be in the Academy. Only once you got through the first four years and became a specialist could you get the implants fully reactivated. But it let Cody access the Academy’s computers and project information onto a special contact in his eye by just touching a terminal, and that was pretty amazing.
“How about—” Jonah began, but then Garrett was back with not one, but two porters in tow.
“All right! You.” He turned to the one on the left. “Our ship is in berth I-57. Code 39-plt-22 for the lowest storage compartment, where you’ll find a large and very heavy box that requires careful handling and needs to go to the cadet’s motor pool, into the space reserved for Cody Helms. I suggest using a sled to get it there.” He touched the woman’s tablet and typed in a ridiculous tip. “Thank you.”
Before the first one could leave he turned to the other porter. “You get the easy job. Here.” He hoisted Cody’s duffel bag off the ground and passed it over to the man. “Take this to Hebe Tower, level 1, quad 8, care of Cody Helms. Got it?”
“Oh no, please don’t ‘sir’ me,” Garrett said with a shudder. He tapped in another tip and then the porter was off. Garrett turned back to his family with a smile. “Voila.”
“You’re the best,” Cody said truthfully.
“I try,” Garrett replied, preening a bit. Three people turned their way when Garrett so much as moved, and Jonah rolled his eyes.
“I feel like I need to put a tase-field around you,” he said, pulling Garrett close against his side. Garrett molded to him like liquid glass, batting his overly-long eyelashes at his husband. Cody sighed and looked away as they started kissing. Couldn’t they leave off just for a little bit? Like until he was gone?
A murmur in the crowd drew Cody’s attention, and he looked toward the far end of the port. The ship sitting there was Federation, but it had a strange emblem on it, a long thorn piercing two interlocked circles. Three people were walking down the gangplank to meet—oh, wow, was that the admiral? It had to be, he was surrounded by an honor guard in full Federation regalia, and as Cody looked closer, he could see that two of the three people exiting the ship were—
“The Perelan delegation,” Garrett murmured by his side. “My father mentioned that the Academy was getting its first Perel cadet this year. It’s a big deal; he’ll be only the second alien ever admitted to the Academy, and the first graduated almost a century ago.”
“Why is there a human with them?” Cody asked, craning his neck to see better.
“That’s Captain Jason Kim. He’s a legend in diplomatic circles; he’s the first human to be allowed access to Perelan. He married one of them after they fell in love during the Perel’s year abroad.”
Cody wracked his brain for the little he knew about Perelan. “I thought they didn’t allow that kind of thing.”
“Generally they don’t,” Garrett agreed. “Captain Kim was a special case. Robbie’s actually met him, says he’s a nice man. Very calm and composed. Perels are empaths, so that must have been a nice change from the rest of us humans.”
The crowd was moving toward the delegation, clearing up the space around the three of them. “This is your chance to get to your quad unmolested,” Garrett decided. “You remember how to find it?”
“I’ve got the map in my head,” Cody said, tapping right next to his eye.
“Perfect. Come here.” Garrett pulled him in close for a hug, just as warm and soft as he always was, and for a second Cody hated the fact that he was tall enough to look Garrett in the eyes now. He felt loved and safe and protected, and when Jonah joined in and wrapped both of them up, it was all Cody could do to keep himself from tearing up.
It’s fine, you can do this, you want this, he told himself firmly. He pulled back just a little and Garrett kissed his cheek.
“You’ll do so well,” Garrett said, smiling gently. “You’ll see. I love you.” He kissed him again, then made room for Jonah.
Cody’s dad pressed a kiss to his forehead, then ruffled his curls, no longer the golden yellow they’d been when he was a kid, closer to brown now. “I’m proud of you,” Jonah said. He looked Cody up and down, like he was trying to memorize him in this moment. “You can call us whenever you want, we’ll always answer. Miles and Claudia too, they want to hear from you at least once a standard week. And don’t forget Lacey, okay? She’ll want to talk.”
“I won’t,” Cody promised. “Dad…”
Oh fuck, tears, damn it. “I’ll miss you. Love you guys.”
“Love you too.” They embraced again, and Cody really, really had to go now if he was going to get out of this with his pride intact. He wasn’t a baby, he didn’t cry just because he was leaving his parents for the first time.
“I should go.”
“I guess you should.” They separated and Jonah immediately put his arm around Garrett again, like he needed the contact with someone. He looked kind of lost, and Cody hated seeing that look on his father’s face. Garrett squeezed him and gave Cody a reassuring nod, though, and Cody steeled himself.
“Bye, guys. I’ll call you tonight, okay?”
“We’ll be waiting for it,” Garrett said.
“Okay. Good.” Cody turned around and started walking toward Hebe Tower, only barely aware of the map projected against his eye. Every step was like walking through a hurricane, so hard to move forward that he almost turned and ran back after the first few feet. But no, he had to do this. Cody forced himself to keep moving, not to even look back, because then he’d have to go back and hug them again and he wouldn’t make it to his quad for hours.
It took about fifteen minutes to reach Hebe Tower, where all the first and second-year cadets were housed. Usually the first-year cadets were put in the higher, less convenient rooms, but Cody’s quad was on the ground floor. He wondered a little uneasily if that was Miles’ influence. Then again, Cody didn’t know anything about his quad-mates; it could be because of one of them. Either way, he found the apartment easily enough, one of the coveted corner spaces. The door was shut, but it opened at a touch of Cody’s hand. He went inside, and his eyes went wide.
It was a relatively small space, smaller than his house back on Pandora but bigger than the inside of Garrett’s ship. The central room was split between the kitchen and a living area, there were two doors on either facing wall that Cody assumed led to the bedrooms—two people per bedroom, two bedrooms per quad. Each on had its own bathroom, so at least Cody would only be sharing that with one person. Although from the look of this place, sharing wasn’t exactly the watchword.
Every surface was covered with scientific equipment. Glassware, elaborate piping, a multi-microscope that Garrett would probably kill for, and what looked like a diffuser venting mist into the middle of the room. In the center of the chaos stood a slim young man wearing a violently-purple lab coat and a full face mask, holding an ion-torch over a glowing piece of metal. He looked up as Cody entered the room.
“Finally,” he muttered, shutting off the torch. He pushed his mask up, revealing a heart-shaped face and bright blue hair. He looked Cody over and sighed. “Oh, you’re hopelessly binary, aren’t you?”
“Binary?” Cody asked, not at all sure what was going on.
“Binary. Subscribing to one of the two prevailing genders. Straight, from the look of your hair and collar.” Cody touched his collar self-consciously. “Your girlfriend let you leave the planet looking like that?”
“I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Oh?” The boy looked mildly more interested. “Boyfriend?”
“Neither. I’m not…I haven’t dated anyone.”
“Then your parents dressed you like that. Father and…” The boy came over and picked Cody’s hand up, looking hard at his nails. “And another father, judging from the state of your cuticles. Am I right?”
“Yes,” Cody said, both taken-aback and interested. “How did you know?”
“You’re Cody, right?” Cody nodded, and the boy shrugged. “My guardian knew one of your fathers. I figured he couldn’t be utterly boring if she was interested, so two fathers made sense, but you still ooze conservativeness, so nothing more exciting than that. Your hair could be fabulous, with those curls, but you leave it uncolored and dull, so not showing off for anyone—I should have guessed about the dating thing. Still, your hands are in decent shape, manicured at least. Your collar is very traditionally done, but not crisp the way a military family or overbearing mother would make it. It all adds up to, well, you.” The boy didn’t look at all impressed.
“What’s your name?’ Cody asked.
“Tiennan St. Florian. And before you start, I don’t care to be put in a box, so don’t assume you know anything about me. I don’t identify as a boy or a girl, I’m just Tiennan.”
Oh. Well, Cody had some experience with that, thanks to long talks with Tamara about some of the people she’d worked with. “That’s fine, but I’m gonna have problems pronouncing your name,” Cody said.
Tiennan looked a little surprised, but covered it quickly. “It’s easy. Tiennan. Ti-enn-an.”
“Still not feeling it. How about I just call you Ten?”
“A number? You want to turn me from a person into a number?”
Cody had to smile at the kid’s affront. “I’m just trying to avoid annoying you every time I get your name wrong. Ten’s just a nickname. You could give me one too, if my name wasn’t already about as short as it can go.”
“Why do you want to give me a nickname?” Tiennan demanded. “You just met me.”
Cody shrugged. “That’s why. Did you see where the porter took my stuff?”
“Into the room on the right. You’re my roommate.”
“Great. I should probably go unpack, so…” Cody moved over and held out his hand. “I’m Cody Helms. Nice to meet you.”
“I already know your name,’ Tiennan said, but ze shook anyway.
“Just being polite.”
“Oh. Well, nice to meet you, I suppose.” Ze let go and pulled hir face mask back down. “I cleaned your bed off this morning, but try not to disrupt anything, all right? I’ve got a system.”
“How long have you been here?’ Cody asked, heading for the door.
“Almost a week. I was the first plebe to arrive.” The ion-torch started up again, and Cody knew their conversation was over.
Cody opened the door to their room and just…stared for a moment. If anything, it was worse in here that it was in the common area. Trunks full of clothes lay haphazardly on the floor, bits and pieces flung about like Ten had been searching for something but hadn’t bothered to clean up once ze’d found it. There was more scientific equipment, a high end holographic projector hanging from the ceiling, and on top of all of that were pictures of molecules cycling through the air, complex chemical equations racing after each other across the walls and floor. It made Cody a little dizzy to look at it.
His bed had his duffel bag on it. That was all the room there was.
“Can I shut this off?” he called through the open door.
“No! I’m running a virtual experiment to its end, if you shut it off the whole program will restart. Don’t touch it.”
Cody shut his eyes tight, then opened them again. Nope, no better. “Ten, seriously, at least turn off the visual component, because I’m getting ill.”
“If I turn off the visual component I won’t be able to watch the progress!”
“You’re not watching it anyway,” Cody pointed out.
“Oh, fine.” Ten didn’t even have to come into the room to make the adjustment. He must be a lot better with his neural implant that Cody was.
Cody looked around at the mess, then touched the wall above his bed. The storage system came online, and he triggered the openings for his drawers and closet. They were recessed, thankfully; there was no way they’d be able to project into the room the way the floor was right now. He hung up his uniforms and the nice suit Claudia had bought him for his last birthday, then put away the casual clothes and underwear. A space above the head of his bed was for personal items, and Cody laid his personal projector, loaded with all his books and shows and pictures, in it, along with the actual framed one of him and his dads. The good luck charm from Jack went in there too.
Jack was Cody’s other biological father, but he and Jonah had split up when Cody was just a baby. Jack was a Drifter, traveling the universe in a huge ship that housed thousands of people, all of them without a planet to call home. Whenever Jack and Cody were on Paradise at the same time, they got together. It was awkward, but Cody appreciated that Jack never tried to act like his parent. The good luck charm was a strand of wire strung with bits of rock and crystal from dozens of different planets. “It’ll keep you safe on a long voyage,” Jack had said when he gave it to Cody. Drifters were superstitious, something Cody really wasn’t, but he’d appreciated it all the same.
The other thing he had to lay in there was the private transmitter, which was bigger than the rest but still, even with all those things in the drawer, it looked kind of barren. Cody sighed and resolutely did not think of his Space Ranger action figures back at home. He was way too old for those…although he kind of regretted not bringing the red one with him, just the one. He missed her monkey.
“How did you get permission to bring that in here?” Ten said from the door. Ze had a light voice that would have sounded nice if ze wasn’t being so abrupt and demanding with it all the time.
“What?” Cody asked, jolted out of his memories. “Oh, the transmitter?” He shrugged. “Big family.”
Ten nimbly made hir way around the piles on the floor and sat down on Cody’s bed. Ze held hir hand out imperiously and Cody gave hir the transmitter to look at. “This is military grade,” ze murmured. “You could get a signal all the way out to the Fringe with this.”
“That makes sense, since that’s where I’m from.”
Ten looked up at Cody. “And you wanted to come here? The Federation presence in the Fringe is minimal at best, what do you owe them?”
Cody had to smile. Ten got worked up so fast, it was kind of hilarious. “I just wanted to do something with my life.”
“No no no, science is doing something with your life. Research is doing something with your life. Joining the monolith that is the Federation military is what you do when you’re boring and have no other choice. Even art school would be better.”
“Why’re you here, then?”
Ten looked down at the bed. “I didn’t have a choice. My guardian sent me here to keep me out of trouble. A few minor, very contained explosions and the next thing you know, none of the universities want you. I’m probably the youngest person in our class.”
“How old are you?”
Cody grinned. “Me too!”
Ten looked surprised. “How did you get in so early? I was in advanced curriculum and didn’t have anywhere else to go, but you don’t seem so advanced.”
Cody didn’t bother getting offended. He had the feeling that this was just how Ten was. “Special dispensation. Plus I passed the entrance exams.”
Ten huffed. “You mean your family has connections. I despise nepotism.”
No, it’s because I’m a natural, Cody wanted to say, but he’d been warned against letting a lot of people know his condition, and he’d just met Ten, after all. He shrugged instead.
Ten actually understood the social cue and changed the subject. “Have you met your sponsor yet?”
“Check your messages. There’s probably one waiting for you from whoever it is. They’re supposed to meet with us on our first day here to answer questions and help us get settled.” Ten frowned. “Not that mine was any use. He took one look at my luggage and asked to change plebes. I told him to go fuck himself.”
“Mmhmm.” Ten looked pleased with hirself. “He almost got me written up for that, but I convinced the monitor to go easy on me since it was my first day. Now we avoid each other, but I didn’t need his help in the first place, so it’s fine. Yours might be better, though.” Ten waited expectantly.
Cody felt like an idiot. “How do I check my messages?”
“Really? Oh my, you are from the Fringe, aren’t you? Hand on the wall.” Cody complied. “Now open the Academy program in your head.”
It pulled up reluctantly, still open to the Tower maps. “There’s an icon shaped like an arrow. Look at it.” After a bit of searching Cody found it in the corner, glowing red. He looked at it and suddenly a message screen appeared.
“Oh, got it.” He skimmed through them until he found the one labeled SPONSOR. “She wants to meet me in Hephaestus Tower.”
“What? How did you get a specialist as a sponsor? Hephaestus Tower is where the scientists and engineers live. I am so jealous of you right now,” Ten complained. “Think out a response to her message and send it. Don’t worry, the program stops spare thoughts from slipping in.”
It was hard, but Cody managed to spell out a simple note to let his sponsor know he was coming. “Got it,” he said with a sigh after a minute.
“Took you long enough,” Ten said, staring at the bed again. “You should probably get going now, Hephaestus Tower is on the other side of the Academy compound.”
“I will. Thanks for the help, Ten.” Cody slid off the bed and made his way back to the common room. “See you later!” he yelled, then left the quad with a little sigh of relief.
Tiennan sat silently for a moment, staring at where hir roommate had just been. That had gone much better than ze’d anticipated. Cody Helms might be on the dull side, but at least he didn’t seem to object to hir. That was…surprising.
So was his sponsor. Family connections or not, plebes just didn’t rate specialists as sponsors. Even Tiennan had only rated a second-class cadet, despite hir precocious history. So there had to be something about Cody that made him special. Tiennan was determined to find out what it was.
Later, though. Once hir experiment was done running.