Notes: Nothing is sacred to some people. Especially Ten. That’s why we love hir, though! On a personal note, it’s been snowing here all night, should snow all day, and will probably snow all of tomorrow. Because Colorado can’t lose to New York when it comes to inches of snow, c’mon now. J
Title: The Academy
Part Nine: Constellations and Revelations
The first thing Cody heard when he woke up the next morning was an argument. It shouldn’t have surprised him; he shared a room with Ten, after all. Ten barely knew what to do with hirself if ze wasn’t arguing. Cody was still tired, and his whole midsection ached like he’d—oh yeah, like he’d been kneed in the stomach before falling into a wall. He decided to give himself a break and prolong his time in bed instead of forcing himself upright. He drifted for a bit, listening to words that didn’t really make sense until, quite suddenly, they did.
“—have an appointment with Cody this morning, one which he’s going to be late for if he doesn’t get up right now.” That sounded like Phil, which was strange. Phil never came by the quad, Cody always went to her when they had something to work on.
“What kind of appointment?” That was Ten, sounding suspicious.
“The imminent kind, so if you’d let Cody know I’m here I’d appreciate it.”
“He’s sleeping, and he never sleeps this late unless he really needs it, so I’m thinking you should just reschedule his appointment for a later time.” Only Ten could make that particular tone seem natural, somewhere between snide, supercilious and sincere.
Cody could practically hear Phil gritting her teeth. “Just tell him I’m here, Cadet St. Florian. Or maybe I should report you to the master sergeant for obstruction of a senior cadet?”
Ten just laughed. “If you think that anything you tattle on me to Jessup about is going to change things, think again. I’m on the admiral’s naughty list, you should go straight to him if you’ve got a problem with me. I can tell you how to find his office, if you want.”
“Tiennan, this is important!”
“Convince me of how important it is and I’ll let you in.”
“You’re not cleared to—”
Important…an important appointment. Cody rolled onto his back, stifling a groan, and stared at the ceiling for a moment before it all came flooding back to him. The fight, getting hit, Hermes, the medical office—shit! “I’m awake,” he called out. His voice sounded croaky, and Cody coughed and tried again. “I’m up, I’m awake! Sorry, Phil, I’ll be there in a second.” Cody swung his legs out of bed and grimaced.
Both Ten and Phil stared at Cody like he’d grown a second head. “What happened to you?” Phil demanded at the same time that Ten said, “Are you joking? Stay in bed!” Then they glared at each other.
“No, Phil’s right, I’ve got an appointment that I need to make,” Cody said. “Sorry, I should have let you know.” He looked Ten over, pleased to see that the bruise on hir cheek had faded to a shadow and hir black eye was yellow now instead. “You look better.”
“You look awful.” Ten frowned. “Is this because you’re a natural?”
“Fuck!” That was Phil, who barged past Ten and shut the bedroom door fast before turning on Cody. “You told your roommate?”
“I figured it out on my own last night, I’m not an idiot,” Ten sniffed. “Between the aftermath of the fight and a little research on your planet of origin, it wasn’t hard. Honestly, if you really wanted to keep it a secret you should have lied about your background.”
“No, that sort of manipulation throws up red flags to administrators,” Phil said automatically. “Shit. Cody, I told you to be careful!”
“I didn’t ask to get into a fight, it just happened, and once it did I couldn’t stand by and do nothing,” Cody protested.
“Yes, you could have! We’re supposed to be innocuous, Cody—utterly forgettable! That’s the reality of your situation, and the sooner you adapt to that expectation, the better. You shouldn’t have gotten involved!”
Oh, that…that was a step too far. Cody stood up, ignoring the strain in his abdomen, and stared straight at his sponsor. “If I have to let my friends get hurt just so I can look normal, then I’m fucked,” he said flatly. “Because I won’t do that. I just won’t.”
“You’re going to have to learn to let go at some point,” Phil argued, but at least she had the grace to look ashamed of herself. “Naturals are covert operatives, Cody. We have to play to expectations, not buck them, if we’re going to be effective. Do you honestly think your intervention did Tiennan any favors last night?”
“Ten isn’t just some person, Ten is my friend,” Cody argued. “Maybe I didn’t help in the fight, but ze wouldn’t have gotten into it in the first place if ze hadn’t been defending me, so unless you’re advocating that I give up all social interaction completely and turn myself into a hermit, it’s not going to happen.”
“Being alone is safer,” Phil said.
“You’re an idiot.”
Both of them turned to look at Ten, who stood there, arms crossed, staring back and forth between them like ze didn’t know who was stupider. “Seriously, idiots, both of you. Have either of you even met Admiral Liang?”
Phil frowned. “Of course. What does the admiral have to do with this?”
Ten rolled hir eyes. “Wow, you’ve been here for what, eight years now, and you still haven’t caught on? You really are an idiot. At least Cody has the excuse of being new.” Ten heaved a sigh. “When you started at the Academy, did you have quad mates?” ze asked Philomena.
“Yes,” she replied, a bit defensively.
“And were they naturals like you?”
She started to respond, then hesitated. When she began again, her voice was more measured. “One of them was.”
“Uh-huh. Out of the thousands of students at this school, you, a natural, got paired with another natural for a roommate. There probably aren’t more than a dozen of you in this entire place, so we can reasonably assume that your pairing was deliberate.” Ten spoke in a sing-songy, this-is-so-obvious tone. “So you had someone like you that you could be friends with and confide in.”
“My other two quad mates weren’t naturals, and they never found out that we were,” Phil protested, but her insistence was starting to weaken.
“Yeah, fine, you were working on being covert together, you learned how to keep a secret, wah wah.” Ten waved hir hand dismissively. “Cody is probably ten times more sociable than you, though, and he was put in a quad with—count them—no other naturals. On the contrary, he was put in with, like, the farthest people there are from naturals, and one of us is an empath. An empath, someone who reads emotions, do you not see where I’m going with this?”
“You think he did it deliberately,” Cody said, finally putting together what Ten was saying.
“Of course he did it deliberately,” Ten exclaimed. “Admiral Liang is a genius when it comes to figuring out people’s strengths and weaknesses. Trust me, I know.” Ten’s eyes lingered on Cody for a moment before ze plowed ahead. “You,” ze said to Phil, “might do just fine all by your lonesome, or with very few confidants, being all naturally and secretive, but Admiral Liang knew that Cody wasn’t going to be able to hack it alone.”
“It’s not an insult, it’s a statement of fact! You’re a shitty liar but you’re a good person, and so the admiral put you with a group of people who were bound to figure out you were a natural, then ensured that we liked you enough that we wouldn’t care. That we, in fact, would help cover for you when things went wrong, like they so obviously did yesterday.” Ten frowned vociferously at Cody. “You should have told me you were really hurt instead of lying there hoping it would go away, you moron!”
Ten was so indignant, so angry, so worried even as ze was tossing insults around like they were sweets…Cody couldn’t help it, he fell back onto his bed with a pained grunt and started to laugh. Phil and Ten both looked at him like he was crazy.
“Sorry,” he gasped, “I’m sorry, but Ten…you are so smart, and you are so bad at telling people you like them!” Cody covered his eyes with his hands, his breath hitching as he fought to get his laughter under control, because damn it hurt his diaphragm. “I like you too,” he said around a giggle, “so you know.”
“Of course I knew that, didn’t I just say you couldn’t lie?” Ten grumped, but ze sat down next to Cody and patted his knee. “Now stop laughing before you injure yourself, honestly, you have no sense.”
“I can’t believe it,” Phil said, still standing against the wall with a dumbstruck expression on her face. “I can’t believe the admiral would intend for all of you to know. The more people who know the harder it is to keep it a secret.”
Ten scoffed. “Oh please. I have no other friends, Darrel is the embodiment of ‘strong and silent asshole,’ and everyone is too in awe of Grennson to ask impertinent questions about him, much less to him about us. We’re the perfect secret keepers, although honestly,” Ten added, “I think the admiral could have done better than Darrel.”
“He’s not a bad guy,” Cody protested. “Considering all the crap he has to deal with because of his dad, I think he’s doing pretty well.”
“You would think that,” Ten said with a sniff, but ze didn’t stop petting Cody’s knee. “Frankly, I just think he’s here because of his connec—hmm.” Ten’s eyes narrowed. “Now that’s an interesting thought.”
“What is?” Phil asked.
“What? Oh, nothing, nothing,” Ten said, not even pretending ze wasn’t lying. Phil looked highly offended, and Cody started laughing again. This was one of the most ridiculous starts to a day he’d ever had, and he and Wyl had once “borrowed” a tank before dawn to test out its max speeds over uncertain terrain. Robbie and Grandpa had not been pleased.
“If you can laugh like that, you can’t be too badly off,” Phil muttered, coming over and helping sit Cody up. “Lean against the wall.” Cody complied, and a moment later he felt the familiar thrum of the scan. Phil was having a rapid-fire conversation with Hermes, if the twitching behind her closed eyelids was anything to go by, and a few moments later she pulled back. “Hermes notes nothing but improvements in your condition since last night, so I’m canceling the trip to the medical office. I’m also canceling your time on the hoverbike course, since you’re not that healthy yet,” she added firmly.
“Thanks, Phil,” Cody said.
Phil snorted. “Don’t thank me. I can’t believe…Cody, this…this…” She shrugged helplessly. “This just isn’t how it’s done. Not for us.”
“Your own status should be safe enough,” Cody assured her.
“It’s not that. It’s…”
“It’s that you’re weird,” Ten said, not without a tiny bit of compassion as ze looked at how Phil was struggling. “You’re a well-adjusted freak of nature who was raised to be comfortable with yourself, surrounded by people who love you despite the fact that you’re not going to live even a quarter as long as most of them will. I think it would be hard for a lot of families to really bond with a child they knew had such a limited life expectancy. Right?” ze asked Phil.
Cody wanted to protest, to say that he really wasn’t all that exceptional, but his own memory betrayed him. The strain between Tamara and her father, the way Lacey fought with her own family, how her dad wouldn’t let her near the new baby, as though being a natural was contagious. Cody had always been the one to have people over to his house on Pandora, never the other way around. He’d been the most popular kid in school, and maybe more of that was due to the fact that his dads never looking like they’d measured and found you wanting than because Cody was just that awesome. His folks weren’t perfect, but Cody was pretty sure no parent was.
“I’ll be careful,” was all he said once it was clear that Phil wasn’t going to speak. “I know I have to prepare for the future, I’m going to have to get used to fitting expectations, but this is my home now. I should be able to be honest here.”
Phil sighed. “If you say so.” She stood up and brushed off her uniform. “I’ve got things to do. Study up on those schematics before our next session, I want you able to rebuild three different types of listening devices out of an abandoned neural implant in two hours.”
“Got it,” Cody told her. “Thank you for coming to help me.”
“You’re welcome, but it looks like you didn’t really need my help.” She caught Cody’s gaze and held it for a long moment. “Just be careful, all right?”
“I will be.”
Phil shut their bedroom door behind herself, and Cody shut his eyes and relaxed against the wall for a moment, counting the seconds before Ten started to—
“I want to look at your medical records.”
—Demand things. “Why?” Cody asked, standing up and pulling a fresh shirt out of his storage compartment. If he was going to have the morning to lounge around, at least he was going to do it in clothes that weren’t sweat-soaked and smelling like pain. Getting the old one off was rough, Cody could barely lift his arms as high as his shoulders, and he had a dark bruise spreading across his ribcage like an negative constellation, black on white. Getting the new shirt on was going to be a bitch.
“Good fucking grief,” Ten snapped, standing up and taking the shirt from him. “Arms in, I’ll get it over your head. I want to look at your records so I can start figuring out how to cure you, obviously.”
Cody chuckled for a moment before breaking it off with a hiss of pain as Ten tugged the shirt a little too hard over his shoulders. “Naturalism doesn’t have a cure,” Cody said once he had his breath back. “Just ways to manage the symptoms, and that doesn’t include a way to prolong life beyond about a hundred, yet.”
“Yet,” Ten emphasized. “Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it never can be, that’s what science is all about.”
“You’re a chemist,” Cody pointed out.
Ten crossed hir arms. “Medicine is chemistry,” ze said stubbornly.
There was no use fighting it. “I’ll send you a copy later,” Cody said. “After breakfast.” He was a little surprised to find he was hungry, but his stomach’s growling was too loud to ignore.
“You’re going to tell them, aren’t you?” Ten asked as Cody moved toward the door. “Tell Grennson and Darrel about you.”
“Yeah, of course I am.” There wasn’t much of a point in hiding it, as far as Cody was concerned. He already felt better at the thought of the veil of secrecy lifting.
It would be. At least, it had to be better than lying, Cody rationalized as he headed out into the common room to explain his…complication…to his quad mates.