Notes: Busy morning for me! My coauthor and I turned in our f/f novella, I set up initial appointments with a new client’s family, and I wrote this. I know it feels like baby steps, but I’m building a platform from which to leap. Bear with me, darlins.
Title: The Academy
Part Eleven: Not Exactly A Fight Club
“The first rule of humans,” Jason Kim had told his ward almost a decade ago, “is that humans are complicated.”
Grennson had been intrigued by humanity ever since he was a little pup. The tragedy of his youngest years had been transformed into opportunity by Matriarch Grenn when she took him in, and as he slowly got over his loss, Grennson had started to pay attention to his new circumstances.
He’d gone from living in a rural community with no one but his immediate family group for company to Berenze, the capital of Perel, surrounded by hundreds of people who claimed fealty to his matriarch, all of them living together in her extensive home. There had been dozens of other pups, many visitors from other Families and finally Jason Kim, a human, the real, live human who Ferran had married and brought to live with them.
Jason was Grennson’s first real exposure to humanity, and for a long time he’d assumed that most humans were like Jason: calm, poised, smart, kind. So kind, and so patient, and Grennson had fallen a little in love with him as a pup. With Ferran’s help Jason developed an empathic ability almost unheard of in humans, and with their guidance Grennson was slowly introduced to the larger universe.
And it was terrible.
Or at least, it was terrible at first. Perels who went abroad were warned before they left to guard themselves carefully, because they wouldn’t like a lot of what they felt out there. They learned how to shield their minds and hearts, to protect themselves from both the adulation and hatred that would be directed at them abroad. Grennson was significantly younger than most Perel when he was introduced to his first big group of humans, and he hadn’t been prepared for all of the—
So young—not as pretty—could be useful—looks like my daughter’s pet—sweet thing—turn him to—try to get—done here—alone, I might—want one—get in good now—introduction—
--rush of thoughts and emotions that flowed at him. He’d frozen up, and a moment later Ferran had taken him back into the ship, away from the party and the press of human minds, and spent the next few minutes projecting calm and love and warmth at him. Once Grennson had calmed down, Ferran explained. “Most of them mean well enough, but they aren’t raised to have the same control over themselves that Perel are. We mold our purpose to the greater good of our Family, while each human’s personal wellbeing is usually his or her own greatest motivation. It can be different for some, especially if they’re parents, but they are a naturally selfish species.”
“How do they manage to work together?” Grennson asked. “When each one wants something different?”
“They have very complex minds,” Ferran replied. “Very versatile minds. They are capable of learning great things, and even though they cannot feel each other’s hearts, they can still be swayed by circumstance or sympathy or explanation. Learning to manage humans is much harder in some ways than managing Perel, and it is something you’ll learn if you stay with Jason and I.”
“I do want to stay with you,” Grennson said immediately, and Ferran purred and pulled him close.
“Then you shall. And by the time you are grown, you shall be a master at understanding the ways of humans.”
Ferran had been right, and now, in his current living situation, Grennson had never been more grateful for his knowledge. After Cody’s revelation and the sudden lowering of everyone in their quad’s boundaries, Grennson had seen two things immediately: one, that this was an opportune time to build bonds between the four of them, and two, that if they restricted their company to just each other, they would be going for blood in a matter of hours. Their personalities simply didn’t mesh harmoniously, no matter the best of intentions, and until they had more time to really learn how to work together, sheer willpower wouldn’t be enough to force them to get along. The obvious answer was to introduce new variables into the mix.
Valero had been good for one thing when she hung out in here, and that was acting as a lightning rod. Grennson couldn’t think of a better person to receive Ten’s bountiful ire, but he also didn’t want to replace one poor companion with another. The best thing to do, he figured, was to spread out the challenge of integrating new companions into their group that would keep them from killing each other. Hence—
“You want to run a club out of our quad?” Ten demanded. “Are you insane? Does it look like we’ve got the space to accommodate dozens of Perel fankids all slavering to get their hands on you in here?”
“Not a fan club,” Grennson corrected. “A culture club. Educating humans about my home and learning about their homes in return is part of my mandate while living here, and I’ve been very remiss so far about doing it.”
“I thought you didn’t want to spread yourself too thin,” Darrel said, for once firmly siding with Ten. Grennson suppressed a smile. “Starting a culture club is just going to make it worse.”
“I promise to start small,” Grennson said. “If the meetings are going to be in our quad, then it would have to be small. I have no interest in letting just anyone in here. Perhaps you could each invite someone to attend?”
“What is this, the Midyear Ball? Should we come all painted up in our glitziest frocks? Do we need a secret handshake?” Ten asked. “And stop talking like a damn diplomat.”
“Grennson is a diplomat,” Cody spoke up from his spot on the couch. Since his revelation the day before everyone had been stepping a little softly around him, bringing him drinks so he didn’t have to get up, cooking him meals, giving him the couch all for himself. He’d accepted their largesse with grins and increasingly ridiculous demands until Ten had gotten tired of it and thrown a pillow at his head. Now Cody still got the couch, but he had to share it. “So’s the rest of his family.”
“That doesn’t mean he has to talk like one, it makes me feel like he’s coddling me.”
“Poor baby,” Cody crooned, then laughed as he took another pillow to the face. “Feeling emotional?” he asked, lobbing the pillow back at Ten, then grimacing as it pulled the muscles in his ribcage.
“Idiot,” Ten snapped, snatching up the pillow and gently placing it behind Cody’s back. “Moron, how can you not remember that you aren’t supposed to do stupid things?”
“Why do you provoke me to them?” Cody asked, but he graciously let Ten adjust his posture and soften the tension setting on the couch until he was almost swallowed by the cushions. “Thanks. And I think a culture club is a good idea.”
“I think it’s an abysmal idea,” Ten said. “If you think I’m going to waste valuable time that could be spent on my experiments, think again.”
“I bet we could do it for credit,” Darrel said.
Everyone turned to stare at him. “They offer credit for private clubs?” Cody asked. “I didn’t think that was allowed.”
“Every cadet needs to have at least three credits per year in—they call it Diversity Options, but that really just means doing something beyond the required classes for your specialty,” Darrel explained. “Most clubs aren’t eligible because they’re connected to their member’s specialties, just like a lot of sports aren’t, but they make exceptions for activities with a heavy cross-cultural emphasis. Most cadets just do the Many People, Many Worlds workshop at the end of the year, but that eats your weekends for a standard month and they’re run by the counselors, which means there’s a lot of group exercises and guest lectures.”
Ten couldn’t have looked more horrified if ze’d tried. “I am not doing that,” ze said carefully. “Not. Absolutely not. I would rather excise my own kidneys with a hatchet.”
“Then you’d better sign on to Grennson’s club idea,” Cody said.
“But I don’t have anyone to bring!” Ten whined.
“Well, you have a week to figure it out. Make a friend.”
“Do you know me at all?” Ten asked. “I don’t just make friends.” And Ten didn’t really want to, Grennson could tell; hir reticence simmered at the front of hir mind, making hir feel unhappy. Ze wanted to focus on chemistry, Cody and naturalism, in that order.
“I’m sure you’ll find someone that doesn’t bore you to tears,” Cody said. “Try a medical student. You might learn something from them.”
“Oh, haha. Your situation is off limits, remember?”
“I’m not saying tell them about me,” Cody clarified. “I’m just saying that they might know something you don’t, and it would be nice to have a source for information that doesn’t log every search you do on Hermes. You know they’re monitoring you ever since the fire.”
“Maybe,” Ten said sulkily, then took on a considering expression. “Do you think they could get me into the med labs? Because I need a pint of Regen to experiment on and it’s not available through the chemistry department.”
“You should find out,” Grennson encouraged. “I will set up a meeting with the educational directors and ask for their approval and guidelines. If they agree, shall we start next week? Only for a few hours,” he said placatingly to Ten.
“I suppose that’s acceptable,” Ten said at last. “But it better not interfere with going for a joyride in the morning, because you,” ze said to Cody, “still owe me fuel samples and proof that you aren’t a wicked liar, since we had to push everything back thanks to you having bad judgment.”
Cody rolled his eyes. “Yeah, how dare I interfere in your beatdown?” He held out an arm. “Help me up?”
“You’re not an invalid,” Ten said, but ze came over and helped Cody up anyway. “Where are you going?”
“To change. I’ve been wearing these clothes for the past two days, they’re starting to smell.”
“You can barely raise your arms over your head, how are you going to get your shirt off by yourself?” Ten huffed. “Come on.” Ze led Cody into their bedroom and shut the door.
“You’re pleased with yourself.”
“Hmm?” Grennson asked Darrel.
“I can tell you’re pleased with yourself. You’re purring.”
Oh, he was purring. He’d done it unconsciously all the time as a pup, but Grennson had thought he’d kicked the habit. He cleared his throat and stopped. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t mind,” Darrel said. “Are you really this excited about a culture club, though?”
“I’m excited about it as a solution,” Grennson said, deciding to be honest with his friend. “I think we need to expand our circle a bit. We’re bound together with a secret, but that won’t help us to appreciate each other, and I fear if Cody is the sole reason we try to get along he will effectively be used by us as a lever for good behavior, which might make him resentful. So, a small club seems like just the thing. Making it for credit was an excellent idea,” he added.
“Thanks.” Darrel hesitated, then said, “But we can still work on languages alone, right? Just the two of us?”
Grennson patted Darrel’s hand. “Of course. I wouldn’t give it up.” No one here regarded him with quite the same mix of affection, attention and ability that Darrel did, and it was nice to be around someone whose mood lifted whenever they were together. “Not for anything.”