Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Academy Post #4



Notes:  Wow.  It’s the end of 2013.  It feels like the year has flown by.  It’s been an upsy-downsy one as far as writing goes, but even if I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to, at least I put some good stories out there, reached a few new people and finished the behemoth that is my darling Love Letters.  Today’s the last day to vote for the Goodreads M/M group’s awards, and I’ve got a few mentions in there, so if you want to check it out, here you go:   http://www.esurveyspro.com/Survey.aspx?id=31dc63a9-f374-40b9-a220-b3aad4f2ba0d

I’ve got a raft of ideas and goals for 2014, which I’ll talk about tomorrow, but for now, on with the story!

This part is a bit odd…I wanted to introduce some new characters, I didn’t quite know how to do it, this is how it came out.  Do I have a clear plan for this story?  Not yet.  I’m working on it, but I hope you enjoy this part regardless.  Some Darrel POV, at last.  And PS, I know next to nothing about chemistry, so when you get to Ten’s section, just roll with it plzJ

Title: The Academy

Part Four: Click It


***



Ostensibly, everyone entering the Academy was on equal footing.  It was a military organization, after all; the only thing anyone should be paying attention to was rank.  If you were a newcomer you were a plebe, a fourth year, the bottom of the heap.  Third years were only slightly better, and on and on until you rose through the ranks to graduate.  If you were a glutton for punishment or a specialist of some kind, you stayed on for advanced studies, and might earn another rank or two in the years you spend completing your education. 

Naturally, of course, there were a million different variations in status.  Officers who served, and even enlisted soldiers who were active duty, were socially well above any Academy students, and the instructors at the Academy were doubly held in esteem because they’d all been active duty before coming back to teach.  Among the students, the graduate studies department reigned supreme, but even there, it was generally those on either command track or engineering track who got the most credit.  Crazy, sleep-deprived engineers were a terrible thing to get on your bad side, after all.

Within the ranks themselves there were special clicks, groups of students who organically gravitated together because of a shared social status, planetary home or field of interest.  The largest group were the native Olympians, smug and superior with insider knowledge of the planet, the city and the workings of the Academy.  Every click wanted at least one Olympian in their crowd, if only so they could learn the best ways to spend their infrequent free time out on the town.  The chemical engineers tended to bond over novelty explosives, the linguists had their own language that one student had come up with about a decade ago, so they could talk freely amongst themselves.  The royalty (and there was some actual royalty in the Academy; it was a quaint habit on some of the more traditional planets) stuck together like glue, almost as exclusive a click as the Legacies.

The Legacies were the children of war heroes, military personnel who had died in the line of duty.  You couldn’t get Legacy status at the Academy unless your parent had done something truly sensational; many people died during war, after all.  The heroes were the ones whose actions were so above and beyond that they were recognized posthumously for their bravery, and their children—one of their children—could be grandfathered into the Academy without having to pass the usual tests or be on the waiting lists if they showed willingness and aptitude.

Legacies found each other.  There was a weight to them, a heaviness of spirit born of memory or cynicism or expectation, or some combination of all three.  They were darkly shining stars, expected to do great things, although almost none of them would come to equal the very legacies that had gotten them admitted to the Academy.  Who could live up to a legend’s feats, after all?

There was one other Legacy in Darrel’s class, and she found him two weeks into the semester.  She was a native of Griffin, and her skin was naturally bright pink thanks to absorbing excessive carotenoids, very common in Griffin’s seafood.  After a while without them her brilliance would begin to fade, but for now she was very noticeable, her skin set off by the platinum blonde of her long, straight hair.

She fell into step next to him one afternoon as he was headed to his Tactical Basics class.  He’d seen her, of course, but he hadn’t realized exactly what she was until she brushed up against his side and said, “So, Station Seventeen or Outpost?”

“What?” Darrel asked before he could stop himself.

“Which one was it?”  She tilted her head condescendingly at him.  “It had to be one of those two, to make you a Legacy.”

“How do you know I’m a Legacy?”

“Please,” she scoffed.  “How else would you have pulled the berth that you did?  Kid gloves, lad, kid gloves to put you in with the Alien, the Freak and the Darling.  They’ve got stories, or at least eccentricities, and you’re just a regular boy?  I think not.”  She paused, then added, “Mine was Outpost, by the way.  My mother was Commander Aldeena Balteran of the F.S. Gloriana.”

“Oh.”  Commander Balteran had famously led a company of marines in an intership, close-combat fighting mission that had destroyed three enemy cruisers and led to her recognition.  “Seventeen.  Captain Parrish.”

“Parrish the Pilot,” she murmured.  “Thought so.  You look like him.”

“I know,” Darrel said a little sourly.  The girl bumped his shoulder with hers.

“I’m Valero.”

“Darrel.”

“Ooh, you even got the name,” she said sympathetically.  “Sorry about that.  Command track?”

“Yeah.  You?”

Valero looked toward the sky and sighed.  “Command, naturally.  With a specialization in guerilla combat techniques, because of course the seas will run dry before I do anything different that dear old mum.”

Darrel had to smile.  “I know the feeling.”

“Of course you do.  That’s why we needed to meet.”  The headed into the lecture hall on the bottom floor of Zeus Tower, which was supposed to be all about leadership.  Centuries ago a feminist branch of Olympian politicians had argued for the name to be changed, citing Zeus’ godlike ability to fuck up defined him just as much as his role as king.  The traditionalists had won out, though, and the tower was left with the dubious appellation.

Valero sat down next to Darrel as they settled into Colonel Tell’s lecture.  None of them needed to take notes by hand, although they were encouraged to for improved retention and Darrel usually did.  He didn’t get a chance to this time, though; he barely had a chance to even listen to the man, because Valero somehow managed to occupy all his time.  She synced their tablets and thought out little notes to him all period.

Legacies have to stick together.  There are eleven underclassmen, seven graduate students.  Their specs:  she passed him a file that included all of their names, tracks, specializations and Legacy origins, along with some personal notes. 

Bree can get you anything—I do mean aaanything. 

Felipe’s father died so horribly that he can get dusted in the middle of the courtyard and none of the professors will say anything about it. 

Dinah’s fucking someone in the registrar’s office, she can get your grades changed or alter your record if you need.

It reminded Darrel of the ancient Earth mafias, kind of.  He read the last comment and stared over at Valero, more than a little stunned.  She grinned and held out a bag.  “Crisp?  They’re krill, my favorite flavor.”

“Keep your voice down,” Darrel hissed, but she just laughed.

“Cadet Balteran.”  Colonel Tell’s voice rang out from the lectern.  “Would you care to share whatever you find amusing with the rest of us?”

“No, sir,” she replied brightly.

“Then I suggest you restrain yourself.”  He turned back to his lecture.

That was it?  That was…it?  Professors didn’t take kindly to students interrupting; one of the cadets in Darrel’s last class had been given demerits for sneezing.  Admittedly, she’d sneezed a good dozen times, but still.  Darrel frowned and thought out a quick message.

If we can get away with stuff like that, why was I given demerits for my idiot quad mate setting up experiments in our apartment the first day?

Hmm, special circumstances, Valero replied.  I told you they were using kid gloves on you.  Guess that includes not setting you above your quad mates.  I mean, you’re bunking with the Alien, that’s even rarer than Legacy status.

Darrel frowned.  Are you sure you aren’t just angling for an introduction to Grennson?  Because a lot of people are, and I’m not the person to talk to.

I’ve got no interest in any of them.  I don’t care about aliens, and there are plenty of Darlings around, after all.  I can get one of those for myself.

Darlings?  What does that mean, exactly?

Darlings!  You know, Daddy’s darling, Mummy’s darling.  Parents are still in the military, highly ranked, want their little darling to follow in their footsteps and so they shoehorn them in with promises and boot licking.  Darlings.  So glad I’m not one, they’re overly-entitled little shits.  They do have their uses, though.

Darrel thought about Cody.  That didn’t seem to fit at all.  I don’t think that really applies to my quad mate.

Maybe he’s adopted.  Originally a charity case, still new enough to feel all grateful.  Doesn’t really matter, he’s not that important.  How have you been dealing with the Freak?  Do you want to kill him yet?

Only sometimes.  Darrel thought about it, then added, Ze spends most of hir time in hir bedroom or a lab, honestly.

Ze?  Hir?  What is this, the twenty-fifth century?  Hadn’t he settled yet?

Settled?

Picked a gender.  Solaydorians are so prissy and temperamental, I swear.  They’ve just got to be different.

Everyone wants to be different.

And some of us just are, Darrel.  Like you and me.  She smiled at him and shrugged.  We didn’t ask for it, but we’re still special, and that’s the best kind of special to be.

The lecture wrapped up, and cadets began to head for the exits.  Valero stood and shook out her hair.  “I’ve got combatives next, I’m on the stupid team…of course.  You?”

“I’m free for now,” Darrel said.  “But I’m trying out for paraball next week.”

“Enjoy kicking ass in it.  There are four other Legacies on the paraball team, they’ll make sure it goes well for you.  Look over the notes,” she advised, then smiled charmingly and left.

Darrel watched her go, feeling a little unnerved.  He had kind of been hoping to downplay his Legacy connection, and here was someone who seemed more than happy to exploit hers for all it was worth, and determined to drag him along for the ride. 

Well.  He’d see.  It couldn’t hurt to talk to the rest of them.  Darrel shut off his tablet and headed back to his quad.

The kitchen smelled utterly noxious.  Ten was standing in front of the burner, holding a beaker above it and watching the liquid inside change colors.  “Before you say anything,” ze announced, not even bothering to look over, “it’s perfectly nontoxic.”

“It smells like a dead body!”

“On the contrary, it smells like flowers.”  Ten grinned suddenly.  “Corpseflowers.”

“You’re not allowed to do experiments in the common rooms, you idiot!” Darrel said, braving a path to Ten’s side.  How the kid managed to hold onto that beaker without fainting was a mystery.

“This isn’t an experiment, it’s homework,” Ten replied.  “I need to have this formula figured out by tomorrow and they kicked all the plebes out of the labs early today, so I was left with this.  I’ll light some incense when I’m done.”

Darrel scowled at him and shut off the heat.  “Get rid of that shit before I call the Master Sergeant, freak.”  He retreated to his own room and slammed the door behind him.


***


Ten cocked hir head and looked down at the ground where Darrel had been standing.  Ze bent over and picked up a long blonde hair, turned the heat back on and wafted the hair above the flame.  It flared in a brief, bright orange burst, and Ten smiled to hirself.  Ze shut the heat off again, poured the neutralizer into the beaker to put an end to the smell, and cranked up the air recycling unit.  There.  Good deed done for the day.  Then ze went back to hir room, glanced over at Cody and said, “So, Darrel has just discovered how much better he is than the rest of us.”

“What?”  Cody looked up from his Chemistry homework—oh stars, basic chemistry, it hurt to watch him muddle his way through it but Cody had told Ten very firmly that if ze told him any more of the answers without him asking, he’d stop letting hir do experiments in their bedroom too.  “What’s that mean?”

“It means that his click has finally come calling,” Ten replied, setting hir beaker down on hir desk and thinking a few notes into hir tablet.  “He met another Legacy today.  It had to be Valero Balteran, judging by the color of the flame, not to mention the smell.”

“Wait.”  Cody put his homework aside.  “Who is Valero Balteran and did you actually set his hair on fire?”

“Her, and it was just one hair,” Ten soothed.  Cody was the only one ze went to the trouble of soothing.  Ze wasn’t entirely sure why.  “Darrel came back with a hair on his lapel.  It fell down on the floor while he was castigating me.  When I burned it, it turned bright orange.  You get orange colors from calcium chloride, certain highly soluble derivatives of which are rampant in some foods, particularly those favored by Griffins hankering for a taste of home, which I think in this case was krill chips.  They’re the easiest to get, anyway.  The calcium chloride derivative can affect the hair and nails of the habitual eater, making them burn very, very orange, like a little firework.  The only Griffin I know of is Valero Balteran, a Legacy cadet, and the only reason I know her is because we share a literature class.  Literature.”  Ten rolled hir eyes.  So applicable to our futures as Federation officers.  Anyway, she’s a bitch, and she’s a collector.  I knew she’d go after Darrel at some point.”

“You figured that out from a strand of hair?” Cody asked, smiling widely.

“Well, it was along strand of hair, most cadets keep their hair short, so that helped narrow the field,” Ten said.  And the freak part, ze’d already heard Valero refer to hir that way, but Cody didn’t need to know that.

“That’s still pretty impressive.”

Ten preened.  “Yes.”

“But you need to do a better job of airing out the kitchen,” Cody continued.  “Really, that smell is just wrong.  Why do so many of your experiments smell so bad?”

“It’s part of the process!  I insert nose plugs that block fifty percent of the scent molecules before I get started.”

“Just fifty percent?”

“I have to be able to smell some of it to know what I’m dealing with.”

Cody stared at him for a moment, then narrowed his eyes. “I want a pair.”

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