Notes: I keep intending to get to the meat of the plot, and then everyone keeps wanting to socialize and interact. Damn it, it’s just so easy to write conversation with these people. Next time, I swear, we’ll start moving things along. For now, enjoy the fireworks!
Title: The Academy
Part Thirteen: Low Blow
To say that their club got off to an inauspicious beginning would be a bit like saying, “Drifters make people nervous.” It was the truth, but it was only one, bland facet of the bigger issue, which was that some people were fundamentally incompatible. Couple that with unreasonable as well, and you had the start of Grennson’s culture club.
Actually, no, the very start of it was okay. Darrel requisitioned a few more chairs and expanded their table to fit eight, Grennson made lhosa tea, Cody cleaned up the kitchen and Ten actually brought someone with hir, which was honestly more than Cody expected.
“Bartholomew, this is everyone. Everyone, Bartholomew Applegate. Yes, he’s a Friend, no Grennson, that’s not what you think it is, yes he’s here to preach about where he comes from but no, he promises not to try and convert you,” Ten said after dragging the husky boy into the quad behind hir. “Now we’ve got what, ten minutes before this is supposed to start? Come with me, I want to talk to you about gene bundling.”
“Ten, you can’t take him away now!” Cody protested. “We didn’t even get to introduce ourselves.”
“I introduced you more efficiently, he already knows your names,” Ten said.
“That doesn’t even count.”
“How would you know what counts? You grew up on the Fringe.”
Bartholomew looked uncomfortable but Cody didn’t even blink at the rudeness. “Yeah, and my grandfather was the Federation-appointed governor of an entire planet out there, so trust me when I say I’m cultured enough to know when you’re being impolite. Hi.” Cody held out his hand. “I’m Cody Helms.”
“It’s pleasant to make your acquaintance,” Bartholomew replied.
“Oh, good grief.” Ten rolled hir eyes. “Hurry up.”
Grennson and Darrel actually got as far as giving Bartholomew their names in person before Ten managed to whisk him off to the bedroom, where hir computer modeling systems were running at full capacity. Cody watched them disappear and tried not to feel relieved. Maybe if he had time to ease everyone into meeting his guest, things would go better.
Pamela was the next person to show, and she was relentlessly cheerful. “Good morning!” she said as Grennson brought her in. “I brought muffins.”
“You didn’t have to bring food,” Grennson said fondly, taking the food and setting it on the counter. Darrel gave him a sharp look but didn’t say anything.
“I like to bake. Strong enough smells obscure my telepathic ability; did you know our sense of smells are very strongly correlated to our memories? When I bake, all I think about is learning to bake with my mother.”
“You’re a telepath?” Darrel asked, his caramel skin paling slightly.
“Oh, yes!” She came over and sat down next to him, and smiled understandingly. “But it’s very hard to get more than blurry surface thoughts, and I’m doing my best not to read any of you right now. I don’t want to violate your privacy, trust me.”
Well, that was…sort of reassuring, but not very. Cody did his best to think about anything other than himself: the muffins, which smelled delicious, Ten being hirself and just taking someone back into their room without bothering to ask Cody if it was all right, the taste of Grennson’s tea, the sound of the door chime…
“I’ll get it,” Darrel said before Cody could stop him, and he headed for the door with a little smile on his face. Apparently he liked who he’d invited along.
The smile fell away when Darrel found not one, but two people waiting in the hall. “Hi Dare,” the girl said. “I saw Kyle on the way over and he told me he was heading here too. Pretty convenient.” She paused, then asked, “So can we come in?”
“Yes,” Darrel said, but he didn’t move. “Yeah, but…”
“I invited him,” Cody said, trying desperately to keep from blushing. Of course, now that he was thinking about it he knew he was turning red, fuck. Well, at least being embarrassed would keep him from thinking about other things.
Darrel looked at Cody incredulously. “You did?”
“What’s the problem?” the girl asked. “And could you not just leave us standing in the hall while you talk about us?”
Grennson moved forward to play host. “Please come in.” He offered a human-style handshake to both of them. “I’m Grennson Kim. Thank you for your interest in this.”
“Xenia Mohr,” the girl said. “Thanks for keeping me out of seminar, I hate it when lecturers get mushy.”
“You must be studying a harder science.”
“I know nothing about it, you’ll have to explain it to me when we have a moment,” Grennson said, then turned to Kyle before Xenia could get started.
“Thank you for having me. I’m Kyle Alexander,” he said with a smooth smile.
“Why are my quad mates trepidatious about having you here, Kyle?”
“I assume it’s because Cody didn’t tell you I was coming.” He glanced at Cody and winked, and Cody felt his stomach do that stupid tightening thing again. Good thing he was already blushing.
“He’s Valero’s sponsor,” Darrel added, finally emerging from his stupor and shutting the door. “He’s the captain of the paraball team, too.”
“Oh. Oh,” Grennson said, understanding suffusing his voice.
“In Cody’s defense, he didn’t know who I was when he asked me to come,” Kyle continued, and okay, that was enough of that.
“It doesn’t matter,” Cody said firmly. “You didn’t have anything to do with the Valero thing, and you’re a great racer and you come from the most politically-important planet in the entire Federation. I’m not sorry I invited you. Thanks for coming.”
“You have the shiniest mind I’ve ever felt,” Pamela marveled. “It’s like glass, all I can see in you is a reflection of myself. But then, I guess you would be like this, since your brother is the President.”
“I was learning to repulse telepathic intrusions by the time I was four,” Kyle replied easily. “Don’t take it personally, it’s such a reflex at this point that I doubt I could let you in if I tried.”
Grennson looked intrigued. “Do you mind if I try? I’d love to see if your training shields against empaths as well.”
“Feel free,” Kyle said. “Is it easier if you’re touching me?”
“I should be able to get an understanding from here.” Grennson’s quills fluttered a bit as he focused on Kyle. A minute later he exhaled noisily. “Pamela is right. It’s like a…it’s like looking into a pool of water. I can sense that there are things below the surface, but all I can see is myself. How wonderful.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Kyle said, and Xenia went after a muffin and for a moment Cody dared to hope that this would all turn out okay.
Then Ten came back in, Bartholomew trailing behind. “Hey, who brought the—what?” Ze looked astonished, which quickly morphed into fury. “What are you doing here?”
“Ah, answering questions?” Kyle said with a disarming smile. It didn’t do anything for Ten, whose hands were flexing like ze had claws at the tips, eager to disembowel someone.
“What idiot invited you?”
“That would be me,” Cody said with a wince. Ten didn’t disappoint.
“Why? Why would you invite the sponsor of the girl who was verbally abusive to you, who smashed up our quad and used Darrel like a door scanner and broke a table with me?”
“I’m not proud of what Valero did, and she’s paying for it already,” Kyle said. Ten rounded on him furiously.
“You can shut up, I’m not talking to you right now. Cody, seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
It took Cody a long time to get angry, but when he did it tended to come on fast and hard. He stood up, walked over to Ten and said, “Get in here,” then headed into their room.
After a moment Ten followed, and just before ze slammed the door shut Cody heard someone say, “Ooh, lover’s quarrel?”
Cody rounded on Ten as soon as the door was shut. “You need to stop it.”
“Stop what?” Ten demanded. “Stop trying to protect you from assholes who would as soon spit on you as look at you if they knew the truth? Stop trying to learn everything I can about you so that I can fix you? Stop trying to be—”
“Okay, right there, that’s the perfect example,” Cody interrupted. “You say you’re trying to fix me. Here’s the thing: I’m not broken. I’m not like almost everyone else, but that doesn’t make me a, a toy that you have to fix in order to be worth anything.”
“I know you don’t see it that way, but that’s what it sounds like, Ten. And you’ve got to let the thing with Valero go. Kyle is a nice person—”
“How would you know? You don’t have any classes with him, he’s a senior cadet! Where did you even—oh, the track, it had to be the track, that’s the only thing you’ve done apart from class and studying that I haven’t been there for.” Ten scowled. “And what, you saw him and decided ‘Oh, this pretty person looks like he’d be a lovely addition to our dumb little club!’ How is one meeting enough to feel comfortable bringing him here?” Ten’s eyes narrowed. “Do you want to sleep with him? Are you two fucking?”
“Would you listen to yourself?” Cody demanded. “Now you’re just making shit up! Yes, I met him at the track, where he was the only person around who was available to race, and yes, he was good at it, and yeah, he’s pretty too, but no, I’m not sleeping with him. The only place I’ve been sleeping is here, which you’d know if you ever bothered to come back from the lab and spend any time in your own quad, which you haven’t for the past week because you’ve got a new fucking puzzle you want to solve.” Cody held up a hand before Ten could interject.
“And I’m grateful, okay, I’m really fucking grateful that you want to figure me out because I’d love to be normal like everyone else, I don’t want to die before everyone else in my family, but people have been working on this problem for generations, Ten. And you’re a genius, you’re brilliant and I know you’ll make progress on whatever you set your mind to, but I’d rather you be my friend first and my savior after. I miss you.”
Ten looked dumbfounded. “Shut the fuck up.”
“No, you shut up, I’m being serious. I slept awfully last night, I’ve got a headache from worrying about this exact thing happening today, Grennson went and brought a telepath here which has me worrying even more, and I really wish you’d give Kyle a chance. Because when you’re not happy I’m miserable, and you’re making me miserable right now.”
Ten sat down on hir bed. “This is emotional manipulation,” ze said, but it was quiet, not angry.
“This is truth,” Cody said, sitting down next to hir. “It’s the same thing sometimes, but right now it’s mostly just truth. I know you’re upset, and I’m sorry about that. But I can’t bend over to make everyone happy all the time, Ten.”
“You could probably make Kyle Alexander very happy by bending over,” Ten snapped, but there was no heat in it. “Almost everyone in this stupid Academy would love to bend over for that man, including most of the instructors. You know his brother is the president of the entire Federation, don’t you? Kyle’s even more of a social catch than Grennson.”
“I didn’t know who he was when I asked him to come,” Cody admitted. “I’m actually kind of surprised he said yes, to be honest.”
“Probably for Grennson’s sake,” Ten said.
“Not that you’re not interesting too,” Ten added. “For your own sake, I mean. You are, you’re…great.”
“I feel damned with faint praise,” Cody teased, but Ten looked serious.
“No, I mean it. You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met in my life, and that should make me want to walk all over you, but somehow it doesn’t. You’re not a sycophant, you’re not a shy little moose, you’re just…you. I liked you from the moment I met you, and that never happens to me.”
“Thanks.” They sat in silence for a moment before Cody asked, “What’s a moose?”
“It’s a tiny little Earth animal.”
“Are you talking about a mouse, maybe?”
Ten furrowed hir brow. “Maybe. I don’t know, it’s just an old expression.”
“Huh. I like it both ways. Now, can we go join everyone else? And be nice? Please?”
“Don’t beg, it makes you sound weak,” Ten said, but ze stood up and smoothed down hir coat. “I’ll go. I can’t promise to be nice, but I won’t deliberately taunt him, either.”
“That’s all I ask,” Cody said.