Notes: I had a damn eye appointment this morning that lasted almost two hours and left me with dilated pupils. My near vision is shot to hell, but I’ve got to write! Forgive me if this part is less coherent than usual, I’m all blurry-brained.
Title: The Academy
Part Fifteen: Ghost Pirates…Maybe
The first sign that something was wrong was when Cody couldn’t get in touch with Miles. It wasn’t that his calls didn’t get through to Paradise, it was that no one was picking up on the other side. Cody tried not to let the silence get to him, but it was…strange. Miles was never out of touch, and at the very least, Claudia should have been picking up. Cody called three evenings in a row before finally resorting to using his grandfather’s official number instead of the private one. He’s probably get diverted to autoreply, but it was better than—
“Governor Caractacus’ office, this is Thérèse Tousaint.”
“Thérèse!” Wow, that was lucky. Cody hadn’t talked to the former soldier-turned-nanny-turned-attaché in a long time, but her voice was associated with comfort in his brain, and his shoulders relaxed just having her on the other end of the signal. “It’s Cody, I’ve been trying to get in touch with Miles for the past few days but the calls never went through on his personal comm.”
“There have been some routing problems,” Thérèse acknowledged. “Miles and Claudia and the girls left Paradise very quickly, and it’s just been safer to have every comm signal routed through his official unit since then. You still should have gotten forwarded, though, you’re on the list. I’ll take care of it.”
“Why did Miles and Claudia leave Paradise?” Cody asked with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“It’s nothing dire,” Thérèse promised Cody. “There have been a series of incidents in the past standard month on the Fringe that have Miles concerned, and last week he decided to take his concerns direct to Parliament, since they’ve been slow to respond. We’ll be at Federation headquarters in another ten days.”
“What kind of incidents?”
“I’ll let Miles explain, if you really want to know. He should be free, let me get you to him.” A moment later the blank display of Cody’s holoscreen was filled with a pair of big, staring grey eyes.
“Boo!” the image shrieked.
“Aaahhhh!” Cody yelled, throwing his arms up dramatically. The eyes pulled back to reveal a small, childish face. Its owner laughed hysterically.
“I scared you!” Yvaine crowed. “I scared you, I scared you!”
“Oh my gosh,” Cody breathed, setting a hand over his heart. This was the third time Yvaine had answered the comm like this, and he knew the drill by now. “You were so scary. Whoa. Ghost in the machine.”
“I’m the best ghost!”
“You’re the scariest of all time,” Cody agreed. Ten had crept into the room and watched the exchange with a raised blue eyebrow, but Cody ignore hir for the moment. “So scary. Does your daddy know how scary you are?”
“Her mommy does,” Claudia said exasperatedly, pulling her daughter back from the projector a bit. “Hi, Cody! I’m so sorry we didn’t get your calls earlier, Thérèse is doing her best to figure out why the signal isn’t being forwarded.”
“It’s okay, it isn’t desperate or anything. I just had a question for Miles.”
“He’ll be in in just a minute, he’s saying goodnight to Renee. And you,” Claudia looked at her youngest daughter, “should be in bed too!”
“I had to be a ghost first, Mommy,” Yvaine said with all the self-assurance of a five-year-old. “It’s impotent!”
“Important,” Claudia corrected. “And you can be a ghost tomorrow. Right now you’re a little girl, and little girls have bedtimes.”
“Yeeeees,” Claudia replied, standing up. “Miles will be right in, Cody. How’s school?”
“Fine. It’s good,” he said. Claudia smiled.
“I’m glad to hear it. Oh, here he comes. We can chat later, okay?”
“Okay.” Claudia and Yvaine disappeared from the sitting room—there was a Federation logo on the wall behind the couch, so it had to be Miles’ official ship. He didn’t use that unless he had to, it was way slower than his personal ship after Wyl had made some custom modifications to the engines. Something was going on.
When Miles sat down a few seconds later, Cody was taken aback at first. The grooves next to his grandfather’s mouth were deeper than he was used to seeing, and he seemed somber. He smiled when he looked up, though. “Cody! I’m sorry we weren’t able to pick up your transmissions, hopefully that’s being fixed right now.”
“It’s okay,” Cody said. “I’m not used to calling your official line or I would have done it sooner.”
“Not your fault. What did you want to talk about?”
“First, why did you guys leave Paradise?” Cody countered. “Thérèse said there was an incident.”
Miles sighed. “There was, but it’s nothing you need to concern yourself with right now, son. You’ve got plenty to deal with at the Academy.”
“I’d really like to know, though,” Cody said earnestly, letting his eyes widen just slightly. Ten snickered from the corner, and Cody hoped his roommate kept quiet and didn’t give the game away. Cody loved his family, but he wasn’t above using his supposed “cuteness” to help get the truth out of them. That was something he’d definitely learned from Garrett.
Miles snorted. “Seen it a hundred times, son.” Damn it, right. Garrett had honed his skills on Miles, no wonder it didn’t work on the man anymore. “But I guess it doesn’t hurt for you to know. There’ve been five different attacks on Federation-aligned Fringe planets in the past month. They’re being called acts of piracy, possibly from unaffiliated Drifters.”
Cody knew he was gaping, but he couldn’t help it. “Which planets?”
“The Spectrum cluster, plenty far from Pandora,” Miles soothed. “There’s been a fairly substantial loss of life, though.”
“From pirates?” Cody wasn’t an expert on interstellar piracy, but this just didn’t seem right. “But pirates don’t…I mean, don’t they generally go after ships in transit? Or a star base, if they’re a really big group, but on the actual planet surface? That just seems strange.”
“Especially strange since they attacked the capitals, using modern weapons, and got away before they could be properly identified,” Miles agreed with a grimace. “If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Drifters don’t have access to the kind of weaponry that’s responsible for these attacks, not the way trade laws stand. Even on the black market, modern plasma projectile technology is rare and very expensive.”
“So you don’t think they were pirates?”
“I don’t think they were Drifters,” Miles corrected. “Whether or not they’re pirate attacks, well…the official word is that they have to be, because all of these planets are inhabited by small colonies with peaceful governments. This isn’t a case of civil war, like what happened on Paradise a decade ago. This is something else. Piracy, maybe, but apart from destruction of property and loss of life, the ‘pirates’ didn’t really gain anything. They didn’t take any ships, they didn’t take any slaves, and they apparently vanished directly after their attacks. Very atypical behavior.”
“What is the Federation going to do about it?”
Miles laughed, but it wasn’t a nice laugh. “Good question. So far, they’ve promised to send in the Federation Corps of Engineers to help upgrade the defensive capabilities of these colonies, and to temporarily station troops in orbit in case of another attack, but the actual response has been very slow. Aid was promised after the first two incidents and three more have happened since, but there isn’t one extra man or woman in orbit yet who can do a damn thing to help. Which is why I’m going to inquire on this state of affairs in person at Parliament. Jezria’s on her way as well.”
“Oh.” The drawn expression on Miles’ face, the tired circles under his eyes—Cody knew he was leaving out the worst of this report. People had died, a lot of people, and Miles was worried. If he felt so strongly about this that he left the beautiful home he and Claudia had made on Paradise, just so he could get face-to-face with his old comrades, well…Cody swallowed past the lump in his throat. “Be careful.”
Miles smiled. “I’m not in any danger, Cody, don’t worry about me. What was it you wanted to talk about?”
“FB-458-D9.” When Miles’ brow furrowed, Cody continued, “It’s a bill that was just recently passed in Parliament, and it allows ports to deny access to any ships without Federation and home-planet registration. It’s supposed to cut back on smuggling, apparently.”
“I had heard about that. Anti-smuggling my ass,” Miles said. “As if smugglers always use official ports. It’s anti-Drifter legislation.”
“That’s what I thought! How did it even get passed?”
“There’s…” Miles ran a hand over his face as he considered what to say next. “Humanity as a species isn’t very good at inclusion. There was a period in our history, when we hadn’t gone any further than our own solar system, when scientific curiosity overruled most of our most toxic differences, and as a species we were mostly peaceful. That’s when the Dorn and the Mazzi made contact with us.
“Once we got warp technology and started to branch out, things changed. There was no more common tie to Earth, groups began to newly differentiate themselves based on whatever traits they perceived to be the most important at the time. Planet of origin, religion, philosophy, skin color…honestly, the only thing that held us together for centuries was the fact that we were pretty bad at terraforming planets, and the home system had the resources that outer colonies needed to stay alive. Eventually the Federation was formed, things were formalized, and it’s been a fairly good system for keeping in touch ever since.
“There are still plenty of people who are more concerned with our differences than our similarities, though. There are zealots on both sides: those who want to completely break away from the Federation, and those in the Federation who want to exclude anyone who doesn’t fit a certain set of norms. Some of those voices have become a lot louder in recent years, and that bill is an example of their handiwork.”
“What does that mean for a place like Pandora?” Cody asked.
“Probably nothing,” Miles said calmly. “Pandora is a model colony, very happily part of the Federation. For Drifters, though, times are going to get worse before they get better, I’m afraid. I’ll be bringing that bill, among others, up when I have my day in Parliament, count on it. I’m not the governor of Paradise anymore but I do have a certain authority still, and Paradise is an important way station for Drifters in the Fringe. Closing Rapture to their ships would be destructive, to say the least.”
“Yeah.” Cody thought of Jack, who tried to be good to him even though he couldn’t be a father. “I…so there’s a group of us doing a special club on multiculturalism, and I was hoping you’d speak to us this weekend? Two days from now,” Cody clarified. “About the bill, about anything you want, really. It’s Grennson’s club, he’d love to hear from you. I understand if you’re too busy, though.”
“We’ll still be en route then, I’ll make the time for it,” Miles promised him. “Send me the specific time, Thérèse will make sure it’s on my schedule.”
“It’s my pleasure, son. You talk to your dads lately?”
“A few days ago.” Cody rolled his eyes. “They’re doing something involving hot springs, I didn’t want to know any more.”
“I sent them a message about meeting up in the Central System. I’d like Garrett’s perspective when I get down to dealing with Parliament, and I don’t think Jonah’s ever been to Federation headquarters, so if I’m lucky they’ll come join me in a week or two.” Miles smiles. “If you’re lucky, they’ll stop by and visit you on their way in.”
“That would be great!” Just the thought of seeing them in person made Cody grin. “I hope they do.”
“Me too.” A chime dinged on Miles’ side, and he sighed. “I’ve got to go, son. We’ll talk in a few days, all right?”
“All right. I love you. Tell Claudia and the girls too.”
“Love you, too.” The signal closed and Cody sat back, his brain spinning with new thoughts.
“That was your grandfather?” Ten asked, sitting down next to Cody on his bed.
“He seems to not be an idiot.”
Cody chuckled. “He’s really smart. He was a marine general, then a governor. Now I think he’s semi-retired, but he still does a lot of work for the Federation on outreach and stuff like that.”
“Do you think he’s right to be worried about the ‘pirates’?”
“I think…” Cody paused, then said, “I think if he’s worried, it’s a bad sign.”