Notes: Aaand we’re back! RainbowCon was a lot of fun and I’ll tell you all about it soon, but first: the next installment of Academy. Things are getting serious now and this chapter didn’t turn out at all like I expected it to, but I’m pretty pleased with how things are going so far. I hope you all enjoy it, and thanks again for putting up with the disruption in our normal posting scheduleJ
Title: The Academy
Part Twenty: Catch Up
Cody would have liked nothing better than to spend the rest of his weekend lazing around in his quad, but there was a terse message from Phil waiting for him when he logged his implant into Hermes, informing him that he was getting behind on his independent study with her and he’d better put some time in in the lab today. Which, yes, he hadn’t been there in a while, but he’d been busy. It had nothing to do with her disapproval of his quad mates knowing about him, nothing at all. Nope, none. Nooope.
Don’t be a coward, Cody chided himself as he unlocked the door and headed in to his room to get a change of clothes. It was still early enough that no one else was up yet. If he was lucky he might be able to keep it that way, because talking shop with Phil was one thing but he was feeling a little bit fragile right now, and a more gentle touch might make him think too hard about his dads. Screw what was going on here on Olympus, his fathers were headed to Liberty. It was a huge planet, an old one, highly developed and heavily corrupted, and it didn’t matter how careful a planner you were, on a planet with that many people there was always something you wouldn’t see coming—
“Could you bang around a little harder, I don’t think you’ve woken up the rest of the floor yet,” Ten hissed from hir bed, one hand flung dramatically over hir eyes.
“Sorry,” Cody murmured, toeing his second shoe off a little more quietly as he stripped out of his pants and reached for a clean pair. Fresh undershirt, another dress shirt to go on top of that...wait, where did he put his spare—
“Second panel from the top,” Ten said, waving at Cody’s wall. “Thank fuck these are smart fabrics, the way you throw them around. Can you imagine having to get wrinkles out of those?”
“I do actually know how to press a shirt,” Cody said, closing the dress shirt’s fixture and turning away briefly to add the new false button. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to tell Ten about it, he just wanted to know a little more about it himself first.
“Ah, right. Some quaint chore that you had to learn during your idyllic childhood on far off Pandora.”
“Actually, my…I learned that on Paradise.” From Jack, his biological father, not that Cod had any intention of giving Ten the details on that any time soon. Drifters didn’t often have access to the kind of technology that made smart cloth a good choice—it was so tear-resistant that you couldn’t alter an outfit to work for someone else, and then when you did finally manage to break it, you didn’t have access to the nanites that it required for a solid fix. Some Drifters still wore cotton shirts, real Earth cotton, clothes that had been carefully cleaned and handed down for hundreds of years. Nothing went to waste on a Drifter ship.
“Hey,” Cody remembered, reaching for the things he’d thrown onto the bed in his haste. “I’ve got something for you. It’s from Garrett.”
“From Garrett?” Ten sat up, immediately interested. If Cody didn’t know better he’d feel jealous. “What is it?”
“I’m not sure.” Cody passed the package over to Ten and watched hir tear the cloth sack open. Ze reached inside and pulled out a—
Cody tilted his head. “What is that?”
“Oh.” Ten cradled the metallic semi-circle in hir hands, looking at it with wide eyes. “Oh. It’s a corona.”
“A coronet?” That would explain why it looked like a very slim, fragile crown.
“No, idiot, a corona. It’s a coronal transducer, it assimilates different inputs, everything from vibrations to sound waves to electric impulses and compiles and translates them when hooked into your implant jack.” Ten lifted it up and looked at it worshipfully. “The technology is amazing, it’s a great way to get all sorts of information about your surroundings that you wouldn’t otherwise get. They can be concealed by hair if you adjust the frequencies, but they’re also very stylish at full power.” Ten carefully set the shining circlet on top of hir head, tucking the ends of it around the very front of hir earlobes. An inch above the metal Cody could just barely make out the iridescent shimmer of some sort of field.
Ten looked over at Cody and grinned, and Cody stopped breathing for just a second. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Ten asked, fluttering hir eyelashes. The corona tamed hir hair, the shining metal framed hir face, and ze looked almost supernaturally ethereal to Cody.
“Yes,” Cody said, because ze really was. It was the first time he’d found Ten blatantly attractive, and it was…disconcerting. Ten was his friend, his roommate, not someone he needed to be thinking about like that. He was sure that Ten wouldn’t appreciate it. Cody stood up quickly. “I need to go meet Phil.”
“Sounds hideously boring. Have fun.”
“Yeah, you too.” Cody turned and left at a brisk pace, shaking his head a little bit. Stupid, trying anything with Ten would be so stupid, and he couldn’t afford to be that way with Ten. Not just because Cody was probably very inexperienced by comparison and Ten would certainly have no problem letting him know that, but also because Ten didn’t have many friends. If there was one thing Cody knew how to be, it was a friend, and both of them needed that. It was a good place for the two of them, a comfortable place, something he could live with. He didn’t need to shake things up for no good reason.
Besides, it wasn’t like other people didn’t turn his head as well.
Speaking of which…he was supposed to meet Kyle today for some racing, and Cody was pretty sure he wasn’t going to make it. He rolled his eyes, stopped to touch a wall and reached out with his implant. “Hermes.”
“I need to send a message to Senior Cadet Alexander.”
“You should be able to do that on your own through your personal account, Cadet Helms.”
“I know, but I’m not in my room and it’s hard for me to access outside of it.”
“You should have a higher level of familiarity with the system by this point, Cadet.”
Cody frowned. “It gives me the worst headaches,” he muttered. “Can you just help me out?”
“I will assist you this time, Cadet, but you must apply yourself to mastering this basic use of your implant in the near future. It will have an impact on your readiness for promotion within the Academy, and an eventual impact on your schoolwork as your courses become more complex.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Cody joked.
“I am not a parental figure, Cadet Helms.”
“That’s good, because I don’t need another parent,” Cody replied. “Please send this message to Cadet Alexander: It’s Cody, I’m sorry to cancel on you but I’ve got too much studying to do today. Maybe tomorrow or next week? Thanks.”
“Sent. Shall I inform you upon receipt of a reply?”
“If you want to. I can just pick it up when I get back to my room, too.”
“It shall be good practice for you to receive it somewhere else. I shall mark the message as urgent to encourage a hasty reply.”
“Um…thank you.” Cody let go of the wall and continued toward Hephaestus Tower.
Marcys was sitting outside again, making notations as people passed him by. He was clad in a metallic checkered pattern that seemed to shift a little in the early morning light.
“Good morning,” Cody said.
“Ah, perfect! Come here.” He came a little closer to Marcys, who spoke softly. “I wanted a natural’s perspective on this blend. How does it look to you?”
“Better than the last one,” he said encouragingly. “It’s sort of…fuzzier.”
Marcys sighed. “It works perfectly on everyone else who’s gone by. I wish camouflage had never started relying on the effects of Regen for mutability. Earthers were so much better at it, but very few of their original patterns are still on file.”
“I’m sure you’ll come up with something good,” Cody replied. “Have fun.”
“It’s research, of course it’s fun.”
Cody swept his hand over the lock and waited patiently for the door to open. All towers had controlled entrances, but Hephaestus was more controlled than most because of its labs and sensitive projects. A moment later the doors opened for him, and Cody stepped inside with a shiver. Hephaestus Tower was louder and colder than all the others, colder to help maintain delicate electronic components, and louder because of the work the building went to to keep things from overheating.
Cody made his way to Phil’s lab and knocked on the door. “Come in.”
“Hey,” Cody said as he closed the door behind him.
“You got here early,” Phil said, glancing up from the table where she was very carefully taking something apart.
“I thought I should get a jump on things,” Cody replied a little sheepishly. “Sorry I’ve been kind of AWOL this last week.”
Phil shrugged. “You had a lot to do, and I know your dads were visiting yesterday. You’ve still got to get the power source under microscope two up and running again by tomorrow, though.”
Ugh, power sources. Cody didn’t mind fabricating his own things, but power sources were so messy. “Fine,” he said. He paused, fingering the inertial dampener on his jacket for a moment. Maybe it would be a good idea to reverse engineer one of these, so he could make more. It would probably be a great distraction for Phil, too…
But it didn’t seem quite right to share them. Cody trusted Phil, of course he did, but Garrett had given him these with the idea that they were a last resort, something he had to keep secret. Maybe later, if things stayed calm, he could tell her about them. He’d probably need her help to make a new one anyway.
Cody settled in at the microscope, pulled on gloves and eye protection, and got to work on the power source. It was busy work, not difficult to do but painstaking, especially when dealing with the caustic chemicals that he’d probably have to use to synthesize something like this in the field. Cody stared down and moved tiny components around, soldered things together and added tiny amounts of fuel, and eventually he lost himself to the rhythm of building. It was a little boring, but it also felt normal, and distracted Cody from everything else that had disturbed him lately.
“What?” Cody looked up, then swore and pulled off his eye protection when the room remained dark. “What?” he repeated.
“Are you hungry?” Phil asked, a little smirk on her face. “The cafeteria closes in thirty minutes and you haven’t moved for the last four hours. How’s the work coming?”
“Ooookay,” Cody allowed. “It’s generating power, but not at the rate that I expected. I must have a short or a leak in there somewhere.”
“A leak could damage the rest of your equipment, you’ll have to find it and make sure the casing is solid.”
“I know,” Cody said. “But I’ve been looking for the last hour and I haven’t found the flaw yet.”
“Put the project in stasis, you can go back to it after we get some food,” Phil said. Cody turned on the stasis field and pulled off the gloves, then sat up straight with a grimace. “Yeah, remember to stretch at regular intervals,” Phil added, rolling her own shoulders. “Otherwise you’ll feel a long session in the lab for days. I’m going to let Marcys know we’re ready for lunch, he probably needs a break from being invisible for a while.” She reached out and put her hand on the wall, and Cody smiled a little. He wasn’t the only cadet who didn’t like working with Hermes’ systems with his mind only.
Phil frowned. “He’s not answering, and he hasn’t left me a message. Did you see him this morning?”
“Yeah, he was sitting outside,” Cody said, standing up. “I can check and see if he’s still there, if you want. Maybe he’s just distracted.”
“Maybe,” Phil said, but she was frowning. “I’ll check his room.”
Cody headed for the front door, nodding to a few other cadets in the hall. Meal times were pretty much the only times you ever saw people out and about in Hephaestus Tower, the rest of the time cadets were mostly sequestered in their labs. Cody waved his hand and waited for the front door to unlock—it checked you going in and out, a unique feature of Hephaestus, since its security risk was the highest of any tower.
People were walking around outside, but there was no sign of Marcys. Cody walked a little further, past the bench where the man liked to sit and observe and around behind it to the bright, multi-colored lawn beyond. Maybe he’d decided to take a break and fell asleep or something. There were a few people lazing off in the distance, but not sign of Marcys.
The lawn was scuffed up where Cody was standing, lavender grass crushed and mixed with the dirt beneath it. Cody frowned. Sports were forbidden on the lawns, the grass was too expensive to maintain for people to get away with pickup games. How had this happened? Two faint runnels led off toward the wall of Hephaestus, around the edge of the building.
Had someone been running? Or crawling? The marks didn’t seem quite right for that. Cody followed them around the corner, to a tree that grew right up against the wall. Propped up against that tree was a slumped shape covered in—
Cody ran over and smacked his hand against the wall. “HERMES!”