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.”


“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?


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.”

Sunday, December 29, 2013

47 Ronin. Wtf...

So, my man and I went and saw 47 Ronin on Friday evening.  It was that or American Hustle, and he let me have my way and we went and saw Keanu Reeves.  And um...my bad.

At first glance it seems like the kind of movie I would love.  Action, fantasy, magic, good versus evil--all tropes but I like a good trope done right.  These were not done right.

Let's start with the incredibly obvious visual cliches.  I mean, yes you can use the environment you put your characters in to make a statement, but that doesn't mean you have to beat the metaphor into the ground.  They set the smirking bad guy's lair in a Japanese-ish version of Moria, for fuck's sake.

Impossible romance supported with actions and statements so ludicrous it bordered on just plain stupid?  Check.

Improbable, poorly-explained alliance between bad guys that used magic as a convenient explanation for everything while making us care absolutely nothing about the possible threat these people posed, because they were so obvious and two-dimensional that you just couldn't be bothered?  Check.

Hero figure set up for acceptance and redemption after harsh and unloving treatment his whole life--that is to say, in the life he lived after he fled from the Tengu Forest, the only part of the movie that actually could have been really interesting?  And oh, allow him to inexplicably hang on to a valuable golden ornament given to him by his forbidden flame despite a year spent enslaved?  Done and done.

And also, any sailors who put their ships that close together, with that many torches and lanterns in close proximity, deserve to have their fucking ships burnt down.  I mean really.

Was the movie completely intolerable?  No, although spoiler alert: almost every main character commits seppuku at the end, keeping with the historical legend of the 47 ronin, but still.  Damn.  I'm not necessarily sad that I saw it, but I am bummed that we spent the money to go out for that.  Better watched at home, where you can groan and roll your eyes in peace.

In other news, we went to a UFC party last night and watched Anderson Silva break his leg on Chris Weidman's knee.  Oh my god.  You could hear the bone break.  It was absolutely gnarly.  The party was fun, in a hipster, awkward-glasses-homemade-venison-chili-craft-beer-and-martinis-for-everyone kind of way.  I talked to almost no one.  Not exactly a social butterfly, me.

 Anyway, happy Sunday, darlins.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas! Have a vignette!

Notes: Yay, the holiday, presents, food, fun!  It's just me and my man this year, awesome, but we chatted all the family up earlier, made dinner, ate dinner, hung around in a food coma for a while, and then I figured I'd better give you guys your present.  This is a vignette in the Different Spheres universe (I say universe, it's only one story).  It was the first purely contemporary piece I ever wrote, and Dreamspinner published it a while back.  One of the characters featured has multiple sclerosis, they're both middle-aged, and it takes place in my own town.  My readerwife wanted a follow-up to their story, so here you go, darlin!  Merry Christmas, all:)

Title: D.S. Vignette: Tickets For Two


Gil slid out of bed at 7 am on Christmas morning, the same time he always woke up.  The floor was carpeted, soft under his feet, but Gil stepped into his slippers anyway before heading for the bathroom.  As he turned on the shower, he laid the odds at 50/50 on whether or not Warren would wake up now or not. 

Gil had been a little surprised to discover that his boyfriend of over a year actually wasn’t a morning person; he just got up early because he’d always done so, and forced himself awake by drinking positively noxious coffee.  One of the most pleasant changes Gil thought he’d brought to Warren’s life was, in essence, giving the man permission to sleep in late.  Warren lived in Gil’s house more than he did in his own these days, and so most of the time he got up with Gil, but today…today was Christmas.  The man deserved a lie-in, especially after Gil had kept him up late last night.

Gil tilted his head back and sighed, relaxing on the bench seat that Warren had installed in the shower earlier this year.  Putting it in had been a bit of a fight, because Gil didn’t like the ever-increasing reminders of his multiple sclerosis, but after a brief sulk he had to admit that, yes, it did make showering easier and was safer, god damn it you correct bastard.

Today, though, today was Gil’s turn to reign supreme as the king of gift-giving.  Last Christmas had been pretty simple, since they were still getting to know each other; he’d gotten Warren an espresso maker (because it could only improve on the man’s coffee, really) and Warren had bought him a Kindle.  Gil had resisted getting one for years, despite how his sister Tally raved about how wonderful they were, but he’d tried it for Warren’s sake, and then discovered that he actually enjoyed using it.  It wasn’t the same as a real book, but it wasn’t as heavy as most of the books Gil liked either, and it gave him something to entertain himself with between classes at Naropa.  As soon as Tally saw it, she’d given him a look that said “Oh, he can buy it for you and you smile, but I offer and you spend ten minutes lecturing me on the importance of real books?  Honestly.”

Gil finished cleaning up and dried off, put on a pair of flannel pajamas and his slippers again, then wiped the steamy mirror clean and inspected himself.  His chin was a little rough, but not bad.  He could go another day without shaving.  He stared at his reflection: pale blue eyes, wet, greying blond hair and a surprisingly boyish face, and said, “Well, you’re still here.  Merry Christmas.”

Warren was still asleep when Gil stole quietly out of the bathroom, spread across the middle of the bed like the octopus he was.  For such a taciturn guy, Warren was surprisingly cuddly.  Gil smiled and left him alone as he grabbed his cane and headed down the hall.

There was a bar in the hallway now too, just in case he needed extra support, but Gil was feeling pretty good today.  No sudden aches or pains, his vision wasn’t blurry or indistinct, and he had decent balance.  An excellent day, as far as his disease was concerned.  Gil made his way into the kitchen and turned on the coffeemaker, then went to the Christmas tree and turned on the lights.  It was a little tree, potted actually, and just large enough to fit presents for two reasonable people beneath it.  Gil checked to make sure the envelope he’d left for Warren hadn’t run away during the night, then went back to get a start on breakfast.  He was no chef, especially now, but that was what toaster ovens were for.

Coffee, bagel and lox and the newspaper, which…oh, of course, wouldn’t be coming today.  He could go grab his laptop, but instead Gil contented himself with looking over their mess of holiday cards again.  Most of them were for Gil: cards from colleagues, a few from students and one, surprisingly, from his ex Victor.  In it was a picture of Victor, his husband Franz and their new baby, born last spring, with a big red bow on her mostly-bald head.  Season’s Greetings from the Winchester-Hauptman family! it read.  Beneath the caption was a short hand-written note: Hope you’re happy and healthy for the holidays, Gil.  We’ll be coming through Boulder on our way to California next year.  Perhaps we could meet up?  Merry Christmas!

Gil had taken a probably unhealthy amount of pleasure in being able to write back in the affirmative.  He was as healthy as he could expect to be, he had a wonderful partner, and he didn’t fear what his reaction would be to Victor and his perfect life, not anymore.  Travel, academia, the possibility of adopting or surrogacy…once upon a time, that had been Gil’s life.  Now his prospects were different, but not worse.  Warren made life so much better.

There was a postcard from Tally; she and her husband Peter were on another cruise this Christmas.  There was a letter from his niece Cynthia, who was studying in Alaska right now.  Even her handwriting looked cold.  Then there were a few cards for Warren: one from his old fire crew in South Dakota, another from a gallery where he’d exhibited some of his sculptures this past year, and the last one from his step-daughter Kimmy. 

Well, sort of his step-daughter; Warren and her father Nate had never had the chance to marry, and they’d been shunned by most of his family.  Kimmy was making overtures of peace, though.  If in his heart of hearts Gil thought it was because she needed money, he never said anything.  Warren could afford to help her and he loved hearing from her, getting pictures of her son, who was almost ten now, and news about the rest of Nate’s family.

Slow, shuffling steps alerted Gil to the fact that Warren was coming.  Gil got up and poured a cup of coffee, then readied the espresso maker for two shots.  Warm hands curled around his waist, and he smiled as Warren leaned against him, resting his forehead against Gil’s shoulder as he yawned.

“You could’ve slept longer,” he said, watching the espresso start to drip.

“Rather be up with you,” Warren said sleepily.  “And…and coffee.”

“You are adorably incomprehensible when you’re tired.”  Gil poured the shots into the coffee cup, turned in Warren’s lose grip and kissed his lover.  “Merry Christmas.”

“M’ry Christmas,” Warren agreed, kissing him back before reaching for the cup.  He took a sip and his eyes shut with pleasure, and Gil let his smile become a grin.  Warren was a man of simple pleasures, and Gil liked being able to provide some of them.  “So,” Warren said after a moment, once the cup was down to half-full, “presents?”

“You don’t want to have breakfast first?”

“It’s Christmas morning, presents always come first.”

“You have this on good authority?”

Warren shrugged.  “It was something Nate did.  I guess when his kids were younger he was lucky to eat anything before noon.”

“Well, far be it from me to break tradition.”  Besides, Gil was kind of wondering what was in his own envelope.  “Let’s open presents.”

They did everyone else’s first.  Tally bought them clothes—when his sister had designated herself his mother, Gil didn’t know.  He got socks and, oh wonderful, underwear.  At least Warren got a scarf.  There were a few gift cards, one for a pretty nice restaurant, and some movie tickets, and then it was down to their gifts for each other.

“Go on, open it,” Warren said, sitting back in his chair and savoring the dregs in his cup.  He looked smug, which was interesting because Warren hardly ever had that expression on his handsome, weathered face.  He must be feeling confident.

Gil lifted one eyebrow, but dutifully opened the envelope.  There was no card, just a sleeve with two tickets in it and a brief note: Merry Christmas, baby.  I love you.  Warren.  PS: you can dress me however you want for this.  The tickets were for—

“The ballet,” Gil breathed, holding them up.  Two tickets for the Colorado Ballet at the Denver Performing Arts Center, mezzanine level, right up front.  The Nutcracker, of course, but it had been years since Gil had been to the ballet.  He hadn’t even realized he’d missed it until seeing these tickets.  “Warren, this is…wonderful, it’s…how did you know?”

Warren shrugged, but he looked very pleased with himself.  “Thought it might be something you’d like.”

“It is, it’s fantastic.  Thank you.  And you’re going to look splendid in your grey suit.”

Warren rolled his eyes.  “It’s not the suit I mind, it’s the pink shirt.”

“Pale pink.  So pale it’s barely pink at all, and real men wear pink, sweetheart.  You’ll just have to grin and bear it.  Now you.”  He pushed his gift for Warren over, excitement fizzing in his blood.  It wasn’t his sort of thing, but this year seemed like the year…

Warren opened the envelope, took out the tickets and gaped.  Literally gaped.  It was delightful.  “These are for a playoffs game,” he said after a second.

“Yes, yes they are.”

“A Broncos playoff game.”

“Who else?”

“You don’t even watch football, Gil, how did you think of this?”

“I heard a story on NPR about Peyton Manning breaking some sort of record and thought it might be a nice time to grab some tickets, so we can go and check out this apparent phenomenon for ourselves.”  It would be cold and loud and probably uncomfortable, but Gil could bring his Kindle.  He’d be fine.

His breath caught as Warren leaned forward and tugged Gil out of his chair and over onto Warren’s.  Well, more like on Warren, who pulled him in close and pressed a coffee-flavored kiss to Gil’s mouth.  “You’re amazing,” Warren said, fervent and honest and he meant it, he really did, and it went straight to Gil’s heart.

“If you like it this much, we’ll get season tickets,” he said around his own kisses.

“Nah, better to savor it.  You wanna get me season tickets, make them for the Rockies.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer to watch a team that actually wins?”

“Oh, that’s it.”  Warren stood up and hoisted Gil over his shoulder.  It was completely caveman, and Gil loved it.  “You’re gonna regret those words, baby.”

“No,” Gil grinned.  “I don’t think I will.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Academy Post #3

Notes:  I think Grennson should have a say, don’t you?  Totally.  Because he has a unique perspective and may help crack the nut that is Darrel.  And he may be all that keeps Cody from going crazy, by providing Ten with distractions.

Also, Merry Christmas Eve! I hope that you, unlike me, aren’t working todayJ I got a request for a vignette from my readerwife, to whom I bow, so I will probably—not definitely, but probably—post a special Christmas vignette from an older story tomorrow.  Not a blog story, this one was published by Dreamspinner a while back.  I always wanted to write a follow-up to it, but the time was never quite right.  I still might, because they’re a lovely couple, but at the very least I’ll have a slice-of-life story for you guys.

Title: The Academy

Part Three: Deeper Meaning




Grennson’s fathers had given him a great deal of advice before he arrived at the Academy, and so had his adopted grandmother Giselle.  Most of their counsel was about how to deal with people who were interested in him, because there were sure to be a lot.  “Don’t let anyone pressure you into anything you don’t want,” Jason had said, simple and straightforward.

“Don’t accept their desire at first glance,” Ferran had told him.  “Desire has many hues, and not all of them are beautiful once you get close to them.”

“Don’t let them walk all over you.  Stick up for yourself, show them that you’re capable and don’t need looking after,” Giselle added.

All of this was good, but after a week at the Academy Grennson thought that perhaps the most useful advice he’d been given had come from his House Matriarch, Grenn.  She had taken him aside the day before he left, sat him down across from her, poured them both cups of hot, sweet lhossa tea and said, “Our house is greatly daring, letting so many of our youth educate themselves all across the universe.  I’m sure your performance will do your family proud.”

“I will strive to do so, Mother,” Grennson said.

“Of course,” she purred.  “Usually at this time I tell my departing children to guard themselves, to enjoy themselves, to take the pleasure that comes to them while they study, because soon enough they will be back here, sharing their information with the rest of our people.  But because you are the first of our race to be accepted into a human military institute, I feel I must give you a few additional words of caution.”  She nestled down into her backless chair and sipped her tea, clearly pensive.

“Our families, our clans, our society…we lack warriors.  This is a conscious decision, of course, after the last war almost destroyed us entirely.  We restrict our battles to fights between each house’s duelists, except for the insane who live in exile.  We have bred ourselves to value empathy more than ferocity, and because of that we are all aware of our emotions and how we project them at others.  This is the best way to be, of course, but most humans don’t have that sort of ability, or the necessary control of themselves.

“It’s different when you settle on a planet, you know, as opposed to a year of sight-seeing like our males do.  My children who have gone to learn in universities, they say the constant press of emotions can be dizzying in its intensity.  So many humans, almost none of them bothering to suppress their thoughts and feelings…I wondered at first if it wasn’t better than you were going to a military institution, where so much of your time will be regimented and accounted for.  People will be held to a different standard of behavior and more obedience shall be required, after all.  I thought, how could this harm you?

“Then I remembered when Jason came to live with us.”  Grenn stared straight at Grennson, her eyes communicating as much as her empathy in that moment, and it was all warning.  “He was good at suppressing, so good I could barely feel him at first.  But when he let loose…you were so young, I don’t know if you remember it.  But when Jason was in danger, his heart called out to Ferran’s so fiercely it made us quiver, even me, and I was far away at that time.  He had held back for so long that when he broke down at last, it was an event. 

“Jason was in terrible danger for much of his military career, and he learned to put his feelings away in order to survive.  And now we are sending you to a place full of young, emotional humans who will be expected to put their own feelings away so that they, too, may learn how to survive.  It will be a perilous place for you, my son.  Guard yourself well.”

Grennson swallowed.  “I will, Mother.”  He’d guard himself as best he could, at least.

Truly, there was plenty to make him uncomfortable despite the fact that he hadn’t experienced any maelstroms of emotional upheaval yet.  It turned out everybody wanted to get to know Grennson.  Everybody.  They came up to him between classes, whispered at him during classes, even followed him back to his quad at night and tried to cajole their way inside.  Grennson’s sponsor was little help; she was nice enough, but she was also specializing in linguistics and had fought hard to get him as her plebe so she could practice her Perel with a native.

The strange thing was, everyone had heard that he was an empath but clearly most of them didn’t understand what that meant, because they broadcasted their intents with ludicrous clarity.  Over half of the cadets who approached Grennson did it because they wanted to befriend him in order to get an invitation to Perelan, which was the most coveted anthropological and sociological research site in the entire Federation universe currently. 

Perelan wasn’t constrained by Federation laws, and guarded its autonomy jealously.  The only humans who got onto the planet’s surface were either directly recommended by Ambassador Howards or Jason and Ferran, who traveled extensively.  Grennson had about as much say as who got to visit his home as a tree had a say in its place in the forest.  Not that any of these people cared.

Many of them also wanted to have sex with him.  Grennson knew to anticipate that; it was what his kind were popularly known for, thanks to the matriarchs sending their young, unmarried and infertile sons abroad for a year in order to better resign them to lives of service once they returned.  Cadets four years his senior, even those doing their graduate studies, propositioned him.  Some were forthright, some tried to be sly but Grennson always knew what they were getting at, and as appealing as the idea had been when he was on Perelan, now that he was here, practically bathed in their want, it just…wasn’t so compelling.

There were plenty of humans that were in awe of him and a few who hated him, but the most disturbing of all were those that seemed to simmer like a cauldron, always ready to boil over and yet keeping it within somehow.  It was strange to see and feel such a dichotomy, and Grennson did his best to avoid those people.  Really, he was very lucky in the humans who had been chosen for his quad.

It wasn’t that they were uninterested in him.  They were just differently interested.  Tiennan—Grennson had quickly adopted the nickname “Ten” for hir—had been the only person to not only acknowledge Grennson’s empathic ability, but to ask questions like “What’s the range of your empathy?  What emotions are the easiest to feel?  What do you mean, you don’t know?”  Ze’d shaken hir bright blue head.  “We’ll have to experiment to figure it out.”

 With that non-request, Grennson and Ten started to do a few simple experiments on his empathy, with Ten volunteering hirself as the subject.  “Can you tell what I’m feeling now?” ze asked, sitting on the couch next to Grennson in the common area.


“Yes, primarily.” Ze stood up and moved across the room.  “Okay, what about now?”

“Still curiosity.”

“Yes.”  Ten backed into hir bedroom and shut the door.  “Now?”

“Still the same.”

“What?” Ten called out.

“The same!


“Irritation!” Cody called out from the kitchen table, where he was using the big table screen for physics homework.  He glanced over at Grennson and grinned.  “Ten always gets irritated when ze has to repeat hirself.”

“I heard that!” Ten snapped through the door.

Cody was probably the easiest person for Grennson to get along with.  They were alike in a lot of ways—they had loving families they both spoke to every day, while Ten never called anyone and Darrel seemed to make it a point to miss most of his family’s calls.  They both had peacekeeping personalities, while their quad mates were more confrontational, especially with each other.  Cody’s emotional state was pleasantly even-keeled, not the roiling storm of Ten or the brittle worry and anger of Darrel.

There was something about him though, something deep inside that Grennson couldn’t quite identify.  It carried a flavor of anxiety mixed with resignation and acceptance, and it was one of the oldest and most intrinsic parts of Cody’s emotional makeup.  Grennson didn’t know what it could be, but it made him want to give Cody a hug.  Cody, at least, would accept one from him, which was more than Grennson could say for the other two.

Darrel was the hardest for Grennson to figure out, which was unfortunate because he was Grennson’s roommate, and the one he most wanted to get along with.  Their first week in each other’s company had been marked mostly by silence, the only words offered by Darrel simple ones like, “Excuse me,” on his way to the bathroom.  He had refused all invitations to eat with them, even Grennson’s offer to cook a traditional Perel meal, which Grennson knew had interested him.  Darrel and Ten still maintained a mutual antipathy after setting the quad on fire got them both demerits, and he was polite but distant to Cody.

“Every person is a riddle to be understood,” Jason had told Grennson numerous times.  “You can’t solve them, and they’re not yours to fix, but you can do your best to understand where they’re coming from and what you can do to make a connection with them.  You’ve got an advantage, so don’t be afraid to use it.”

The only time Grennson felt a truly positive emotion from Darrel was when Grennson spoke with his family in Perel.  If Darrel was in the room his curiosity would rise, and he would listen intently even as he pretended to focus on something else.  If he happened to walk into their room while Grennson was talking, he would find a reason to stay.  He was obviously interested in the language, which wasn’t surprising.  Most human languages could be input into a person’s neural implant, and after a brief period of acclimatization they could speak everything from Chinese to Hindi to Esperanto, all old, rural languages since Common had come into existence, but culturally significant.  Perel, though, hadn’t been mapped out or added to the human digital lexicon yet, and the matriarchs had no intention for it to be.  There were rough translation devices allowed to the foreign service officials who worked on Perelan, but that was it.

One evening a week into their acquaintance with each other, as Grennson prepared to call his parents and Darrel fiddled with his tablet’s holographic interface, Grennson said, “You know, you have a Perel name.”

Darrel looked up in surprise.  “What?”

“Your name, it is what some cubs are called on Perel.  Of course, we say it with a more guttural ‘R’ sound, but still, it isn’t uncommon.  I like it.  Living with you is a pleasant reminder of my home.”

Darrel put his tablet down.  “How do you say it?  My name, in Perel?”

Grennson demonstrated, purring and rolling the r’s.  “Now you try.”

Darrel did, and it was surprisingly intelligible.  “Very good,” Grennson said encouragingly.  “When my adopted father first began learning our language, he couldn’t make the proper sounds for many months.  Our language mistress had to be very harsh with him.”

“You’re talking about Captain Jason Kim, right?”

“Yes.”  Grennson could feel Darrel’s curiosity and eagerness, a very strange combination for him.  “Do you know him?”

“Not me personally.  But he served for a while with my father, a long time ago.”  The darkness began creeping into Darrel’s mind again, and Grennson moved to head it off.

“He is an exceptional man, and of course now he speaks our language very well, even without the assistance of a translation device.  But you already sound better than he used to.”

Darrel shifted on his bed so he could cross his legs.  It made him look younger.  “Does it mean anything?”

“Your name?”

“Yes.  It’s just, human names usually have ancient meanings, even though most people have forgotten them.”

Grennson considered it.  “Not precisely.  Our kind has many words that have been designated as names for so long, they have lost any other significance, just like yours.  But,” he continued when Darrel’s face fell, “the sounds of your name, first the darrrr and then the brief el, they have meaning.  Darrrr is a word for sudden light, very rare, like a lightning strike.  Such a thing was fearful for my ancestors, who lived mostly beneath the ground.  El is a gentle sound, soft, like a father would say to his cub, or a lover would whisper to his beloved.  So your name would mean something like ‘tender lightning.’”

Darrel grinned, obviously pleased at the translation, and Grennson felt a bit of relief.  He was trying to form a connection, after all, and he didn’t want to make Darrel upset.  “Would you like to learn how to say hello?” he asked.  “Then when I call my parents, you can demonstrate how clever you are.”

The joy faded away.  “I don’t want to interfere…”  Grennson could tell there was plenty his roommate was worried about, but there was still that eagerness underneath his distant veneer.

“It would not be an interference,” Grennson declared.  “I think they would be pleased to know I have finally found someone I care to speak my own language with.  Many here are interested, but they are very greedy for it.”

“You aren’t teaching anyone else?”  Was that a feeling of pleasure, at being so distinguished?

“Only my sponsor, and only because I have to.  Your participation would be very gratifying to me.”

“I…thank you.  Yes.  That would be great.”

“Good!”  Grennson waved him over with his pale, long fingers.  “Come sit over here.  It will be easier for me to assist you if I can feel your diaphragm.”

“Should I be worried?” Darrel asked, but it was mostly a joke, and he did come over and sit down next to Grennson.

“No, not worried,” Grennson said.  “Just be prepared to try very, very hard.  Now.”  He smiled.  “Here is how you say hello.”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Winnaaahhhh!!! + flash fiction

The Colorado MM Authors Group blog hop turned out to be a lot of fun!  Thanks to those who followed along, commented and shared their own stories with us.  The overall winner of the $50 gift card will be announced here on Christmas Eve: http://outincoloradofiction.com/2013/12/22/colorado-christmas-wrap-up/

Or, y'know, on the post after that.  Meanwhile, I'm not so cruel as to make you all wait, so the winner of my own personal post's giveaway is...ShirleyAnn!  I've got your email, hon, I'll contact you.  $10 Amazon gift card or a vignette for the story of your choice.

Man, short post.  Let me make it a little longer.  In the Goodreads M/M Romance Group, one of the little literary games that gets played is all about writing flash fiction based off of a photo prompt.  You get 100 words with which to make your mark.  I've just recently joined in and some of the writers there are absolutely amazing, but I did like my last little sliver of story, so I'm going to share it and the photo that inspired it below.  Click the link to read more lovely flash fiction:  https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1620527-flash-fiction-photo-inspiration-sat-12-21-13---new

I only make it down the first step before his grip on me shifts away from my elbow. He leans in against my shoulder, his hand tugging roughly at his hair. He puts a good face on it, but I know he’s anxious.

This is the twenty-first day since he lost his sight, and the first time we’ve been alone in our own house since then. 

“I just…I need a second.”

“No problem, the hot tub can wait,” I say lightly.

“I’m sorry.”

There is so much wrong with him saying that to me. “Don’t be,” I manage. “It’s fine.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Academy Post #2

Notes:  And our first day, part two!  Wherein nothing goes quite according to plan.  Oh boys…
PS-check out the Christmas Blog Hop post if you haven't already, it's the one right below this.  Possible presents, darlins:)

Title: The Academy

Part Two: Smoke and Mirrors





Cody had gotten better at managing the flow of information that the neural implant brought through his brain, but it was still dizzying while in motion.  He’d started his walk to Hephaestus Tower with the route clearly mapped out in his mind, but the way the mental pathway overlaid the actual walk made him so nauseous after a few minutes that he had to stop and lean against a wall.  His head hurt, but Cody gritted his teeth and managed to shut the directions down after a few moments.

“Do you require assistance?”

“Shit!” Cody opened his eyes and flailed for a moment.  There was no one there, though; the walkway he was on was momentarily empty, probably because so many people were converging on the fourth class quads.  “Who is this?”

“This is Hermes, the Academy’s virtual concierge and messaging system.”  The words seemed to pop into existence in Cody’s ears.

“Oh.”  Right, the AI.  Cody had been told about it, but he hadn’t expected it to talk to him.  The Hermes system was overarching database for the entire Academy, linking everything from each student’s personal schedule to planetary weather patterns that might affect classes.  It was both highly individualized and blandly homogenized depending on the moment’s need.  “I’m fine, thank you.”

“Your biometrics indicated distress.  I can have a medical team to your location in two-point-four standard minutes.”

“It’s all right, I just got a little disoriented,” Cody assured the AI.  “Do you monitor everyone like this?”

“Only those unfortunate enough to collapse against my walls, Cadet Helms.”

“Right.”  Well, that was the last collapsing Cody would be doing for a while.  It was one thing to be coddled by his dads; when even an AI thought you needed help, you might as well resign yourself to a life wrapped in a cocoon.  “I’m fine now.”

“Confirmed.  Do be more careful at how you access information, Cadet.  It would be unwise to provoke your brain in this way consistently.”  Cody rolled his eyes.  “Your cheek is not appreciated.  Continue straight down this path for another five hundred meters, then turn right.  Hephaestus Tower is noticeable thanks to its perfusion of ventilation ducts.”

Holy shit, this thing could tell when he rolled his eyes?  Cody pushed away from the wall so he wasn’t touching it any longer.  The faint ringing in his ears went away immediately.  “Thanks,” he muttered, then continued along the path. 

Hephaestus Tower was shorter than all its neighbors, with a reinforced exterior and, as the AI had said, plenty of ventilation.  Older cadets were going in and out of it, but Cody was stopped at the door by a husky man with orange and green striped skin.  “No fourth class cadets allowed inside,” he said.

“I’ve got a meeting with my sponsor,” Cody told the man, trying his best not to stare at his coloration.  Could it possibly be natural?  Didn’t the Academy have rules about how a cadet was supposed to dress?

“And who’s that?”

“It’s me,” a woman called out, walking quickly up to the door.  “Good grief, Marcys, stripes?  Really?  How is sitting out here in that getup forwarding your cromatophore research?”

“You only say that because you can see them!” Marcys replied, lowering his voice and staring fixedly at her.  “This isn’t about coloration, this is about coupling light wavelengths and modern human biophysiology to open up a whole new type of disguise.  You can only see it because you lack the morphing effects of Regen in your ocular cones.  To everyone else  I look totally normal, I’ve gotten no reaction all day until you.  I’d call a .001 failure rate acceptable.”

“Well, please refrain from writing secret color messages on your ass and pretending you’re sunbathing, because I don’t need to see that,” she said, then turned to Cody.  “You must be Cody Helms.  I’m Philomela, but you can call me Phil.”  Phil was tall and strong, with a square jaw and beautiful dark almond eyes.  Her hair was brown and pulled back in a bun, and the hand she shook with was liberally scarred across the knuckles.

“Nice to meet you,” Cody replied.

“You too.  Here, come on in.”  She guided Cody through the front door and teeming lobby and down a side hall, where a long row of metal doors extended almost as far as he could see.  “The tower’s labs.  This one’s mine.”  It was the tenth door on the right, which opened at a touch of her hand.  “I’m here ninety percent of the time, so if you ever need to find me, check here first.  I tend not to hook into Hermes if I can help it, so don’t expect a lot of messages.”

“That’s no problem,” Cody assured her, glancing around the lab.  It was a lot of automated fabrication machinery; a few things he recognized from Wyl’s workshop, but most of it was completely new to him.

Phil smiled.  “Hermes can be kind of intrusive, but it means well.  Pull up a chair.”

The closest thing resembling a chair was a low robot with a flat top.  Cody sat down, and Phil sat across from him.  “First off, it’s great to meet you.  Tamara was my sponsor here, and she talked a lot about you and your dads.  Especially Garrett.”

“Garrett helped get her into the program,” Cody said.  “How is she?  She hasn’t been home in years, and the last message I got from her was months ago.”

“Tamara’s on assignment, which means her communication ability will be erratic at best.”  Phil smiled again, but it wasn’t a happy sort of smile, more resigned.  “And now’s the part where I ask you if you really know what you’re getting into, coming to the Academy.  The Federation military thrives on continuity and regulation, and naturals are like bits of sand in that machinery.  We can’t be part of the regular military because we impact its smooth functioning and effectiveness.  Naturals require special consideration, and normally the Federation has very little time for those who don’t go down the well-worn path.”

“I know,” Cody said.  Tamara had talked to him about this.  “I know I can’t be a soldier.”

“Not just a soldier, Cody.  You can’t be a military medic, you can’t be a military pilot, you can’t be anything that requires you to be part of a unit.  The only place for a natural within the Federation’s military sphere is in covert operations.  Working alone, or with a small team, but never more than that.  We’re not here to become shining standard bearers of the Federation, we’re here to be part of the shadowy network that supports it.  Do you understand what I’m getting at?”

“I think so.”  And it was strange, because Cody had known that this was what he was getting into, he’d known that this was going to be his path, but for almost all his life he’d been a part of something larger, openly valued and praised.  The colony on Pandora was designed to be welcoming and inclusive for all naturals, and everyone who lived there understood that.  His family was amazing, and had never made him feel like anything lesser or different; even when his dad was freaking out, Cody knew it was out of love, not out of lowered expectations.  And now here he was, exactly where he wanted so badly to be…but not quite.  The differences he’d always treated as minor suddenly seemed enormous.

“The only reason that naturals are accepted into the Academy is because we are an ideal choice for subterfuge.  We’re weaker than normal people, we’re more fragile, we live short, hard lives.  These aren’t my personal opinions,” Phil added, holding up a hand when she saw the objection growing on Cody’s face.  “I’m just repeating what I hear constantly.  Naturals are always underestimated because of all the things we don’t have.  It makes people thing we’re stupid, useless, ignorant.  Their perceptions of us are something we can use to our advantage in the field, and it’s vitally important that we do.  You see why?”

“But it’s not really true,” Cody said.  “People here don’t believe that, do they?”

Phil sighed.  “Oh, boy.  No, of course it isn’t really true, but the vast majority of people don’t know that.  Most people have never met a natural, they only know what they get shown, and the popular depiction of us in the media is exactly like I said.  We’re the throwaways.  We’re the pathetic figures on the sidelines, waiting for rescue or dying horribly or being irrepressibly tragic.  We’re not strong, smart and capable citizens with something to offer society.  Do you see what I’m getting at?”

“I’m not…are you saying that I shouldn’t tell people what I am?”  Not that Cody had been planning on introducing himself that way, but still, not at all?

“Yes, and not just because it would affect your social standing here.  Very few students know about the Academy’s special program for naturals, and those who do are actively involved in the program, or in research that directly affects us.  That’s how Marcys knows me; I was a test subject for his chromatophore research project.  He’s meant to keep quiet about it, and wouldn’t have mentioned anything concerning it in front of you if he didn’t already know that you had to be a natural, for me to be picked as your sponsor.  To almost everyone else, I’m just another engineer, and that’s good.  The fewer people who know, the fewer the ways it could come back to bite me once I go out into the field myself.

“So yes, I advise discretion.  Don’t tell anyone what you are unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, a case of life or death.  Convince your quad that you’re just like everyone else, just like they are.  Don’t do anything that could give you away.  That means no sports, Cody, no opportunities for you to be injured, and just enough work with your neural implant not to give you away.  Fortunately their use is circumscribed in cadets, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“I want to go out for bike racing,” Cody said, because if they were going to fight about it he was going to get it out of the way right now.

“I don’t think…”

“My bike is already here.  I’ve already listed it as an extracurricular, I’m already signed up for tryouts.  It would be strange for me to back out now.”  There was no way in hell Cody was backing out.  Sports: fine, whatever, he’d never played a lot of them.  But that bike was a gift from Wyl, it was amazing, it made him feel free, and he wasn’t going to give it up.

Phil didn’t look happy, but she nodded.  “Fine.  But nothing else, all right?”

Cody nodded.  “Nothing else.”

“Keep all your appointments with medical.  Your class load is pretty full, every plebe’s is, but your training as an operative starts immediately as well.  You and I have a meeting scheduled every Friday evening.  We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so try not to stand me up, okay?”

“How many of us are here?” Cody asked.  “Other naturals.”

“Honestly? I don’t know,” Phil admitted.  “The only person who knows for sure is the chief medical officer and Admiral Liang.  We’re kept apart even from each other, for security reasons.”

“That doesn’t seem right.”

Phil shrugged.  “If you wanted a support group, you should have stayed on Pandora.  The Academy is only for those who can function and perform on their own.”

“I didn’t say I couldn’t do it,” Cody snapped, responding to the implied criticism in her voice. 

“Good,” she said.  “Then it’s all going to be fine.  Look, I’m not trying to make you angry, I’m just trying to be honest with you,” Phil added.  “All right?”

“Fine.”  It wasn’t, but she didn’t need to know that.

“I’ll code my lab to open for you.  Our first meeting is this Friday at six.  Message me if you have any questions.  Otherwise I’ll see you then.”

“Fine,” Cody repeated.  He stood up and left before Phil could say anything else.

The walk back to Hebe Tower was brisk and angry.  It wasn’t that Cody didn’t know what was going on; he’d had a long talk with Miles, his grandfather, about it before he left.  He knew he was going to be going into covert operations, he knew it was the best use of his particular birth defect that the Federation could offer.  He knew that if he wanted safe, he could have stayed on Pandora and lived close to his dads and had as normal a life as possible.  But that wasn’t what Cody had wanted, and so he’d applied to the Academy.  He’d gotten in before they knew he was a natural, too; it wasn’t exactly a standard question on the entrance form.  And now he was here, and now what had been something to keep to himself was now morphing into something more secretive.  Something that would be perceived as shameful, something that would change him in the eyes of his peers.  Phil had been pretty fucking frank about that.

Not her fault, Cody reminded himself, but he was still upset.  The excitement and thrill was starting to wear off now, and all he wanted was to get back to his quad and call his dads.  He’d promised, after all.  They were probably waiting for it.

Cody wasn’t expecting to see green smoke wafting out the first floor windows of Hebe Tower.  A closer look make his walk become a run, as he realized that those windows were the ones attached to his quad.  It took some pushing, but he managed to get inside and make it back to his rooms, where a massive shouting match was already underway.

“You shouldn’t have touched it!” Ten was yelling at a young man with dark skin, broad shoulders and about five inches on hir.  “Heat and caustic chemicals in a delicate balance!  How much more obvious could it be?  Did you need a big bloody sign that said “Don’t touch!”?”

“You shouldn’t leave unauthorized chemical equipment on the common spaces in our quad!” the young man yelled back, completely undaunted.  “You shouldn’t be doing experiments outside of a lab, and you definitely shouldn’t be doing them with caustic chemicals!”

“What are you, my mother?”

“What are you, a fucking sociopath?”

A third person stood by the far wall in the room, watching the scene with wide eyes.  It took Cody a moment to realize that it was the Perel cadet.  He had milky white skin and long, sharp quills that ran from the crest of his head down to the small of his back, which his modified gray cadet uniform left open.  He turned his huge amber eyes toward Cody, and Cody gravitated over to stand beside him.  “Hi.”

“Hello,” the Perel said quietly.  “Are you our fourth member?”

“Yes.  I’m Cody Helms.”

“Grennson Kim Howards,” the Perel replied, holding his hand out to shake.  He did it perfectly naturally, and Cody shook without somehow focusing on the fact that he was shaking hands with an alien, oh my god.  “I’m to be Darrel’s roommate.”

“Right, sure.  I’m Ten’s.”


“Um, Tiennan’s.  Hirs.”

Grennson’s quills perked up.  “I thought the quads were assigned by sex.”

“Yeah, they are, but there’s a difference between sex and gender, and…you know what, ze’ll explain it to you.  Once ze stops yelling.”

“Once they both stop, perhaps.”

“Clean your shit up!” Darrel shouted, still going strong.

You’re the one that made the mess, you clean it up!”

“Cadets!  Attention!” 

All four of them looked at the door, and all four of them snapped to parade rest, although Ten’s posture was somehow still sullen.  When the Master Sergeant called you out, you responded.

He surveyed the room with a frown.  “What’s this all about?”

“Sir, this cadet—”

Sir, this idiot—”

Master Sergeant Jessup held up a hand.  “Actually, you know what?  Never mind.  Is the smoke poisonous?”

“Only in very high concentrations,” Ten said with a dismissive sniff. 

“Which probably only exist in our room,” Darrel added.


“Both of you, enough!  You’re coming with me to explain this in private, and I expect the truth from you, gentlemen.”  He glanced over at Cody and Grennson.  “Do either of you have anything to add?”

“No sir.”

“I just got here, sir,” Cody said.  The remnants of the smoke tickled his lungs, and he did his best to hold back the coughs lurking under the surface of his skin.  No one else was coughing though; it would seem strange if he did.

“Then you two can stay here and keep airing things out while I talk to the geniuses over here.”  The master sergeant  shook his head.  “This’ll be the easiest vacation I ever earned.  Fall in, cadets.”  He left, and Darrel and Ten followed behind him, backs straight with mortification and anger.  Multitudes of curious people walked past their door before Grennson finally shut it.

“Perhaps we should—”

But Cody couldn’t hold back the coughs any longer.  He doubled over, his lungs aching and itching, and coughed for a full minute before he finally got his breath back.

Grennson looked down at him, his expression concerned.  “Are you well?”

Oh fuck, weren’t these guys empathic?  Did Grennson know what Cody was, could he feel it somehow?  Had Cody given away his identity already?  Phil would be so pissed.  “I’m sorry, I need a minute,” Cody managed, then stumbled over to his room and shut the door.  The air was a little clearer in here, but his eyes were still watering and his throat ached.  He couldn’t go back out, not yet.  Not until he had control of himself.  Which meant Grennson probably thought he was rude, if nothing else.

“Great first day,” Cody muttered, heading for the bathroom to get a glass of water.  “Just great.”