Notes: Ah, forced interpersonal interactions, so much fun to write. Ten, what are you up to? Sneaky person, I barely know what ze’s doing and I write hir. In other news, my novella Camellia comes out tomorrow—I’ll post about it then, but just a heads up. Read on, darlins!
Title: The Academy
Part Twenty-Two: How Insulting!
By the time club rolled around the next day, Cody felt pretty in control of himself. A little distance from the incident, plus the news two hours after his meeting with Admiral Liang that Marcys was recovering well and would probably be conscious in another day, did a lot to revive his spirits. Sharing the news with his quad mates led to an evening of—Cody was reluctant to call it coddling, because the only one with any blatant urges toward mothering was Grennson, and he would have done that anyway, but… There was no other word for it. Grennson cooked all of Cody’s favorite Perel foods, Darrell sat on the couch and dissected a paraball game with him, and even Ten was mildly solicitous, when ze wasn’t crouched over hir equipment, muttering about timelines and vantage points.
A talk with his parents that evening was nice, but also provided a source of guilt. Cody wanted to tell his dads what had happened, but he also knew that if he did, warranted or not they’d be back here the next day. Cody couldn’t have that. They had other people, other things to worry about. He was fine, and he told them that and not much else, and listened to them bicker for a while, and finally relaxed enough that he could fall asleep.
Cody didn’t like keeping secrets from his dads, but he’d have to get used to it at some point. Now was as good a time as any to start.
When he woke up, it was to see Ten’s furrowed brow an inch above his face as ze attached something to Cody’s ear. “What are you—ow, ow!” Cody jerked his head, but the pinching didn’t stop. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Getting your vitals, now stop whining and hold still,” Ten snapped.
“What, you have to draw blood to get my vitals?” Cody demanded, but he stopped moving.
“The attachment point would be just fine if you weren’t wagging your head like a particularly excitable pet,” Ten said. “This will just take a moment.”
Cody opened his mouth to argue, then sighed and shut it. It wouldn’t do any good to debate Ten this early in the morning about what constituted his personal space; as far as Ten was concerned, Cody had no personal space. Everything was Ten’s space, and ze occasionally allowed Cody to occupy a part of it. Still… “You could ask first, you know.”
“I did ask,” Ten replied blithely. “When you and I spoke about your naturalism, you gave me permission to look for a way to help you, and this is part of it. I want to see how your body responds to stress, and there are hormone markers I need to test for at regular intervals. You didn’t mind last night.”
“You didn’t crush my earlobe last night,” Cody said. “You used my finger like a normal person.”
“I didn’t have all the equipment I needed last night to get all the data I wanted. Now I do.”
Cody took in the red tinge in Ten’s eyes and the way hir hand shook a little, and realized what had happened. “You stayed awake all night.”
“Inspiration waits for no one,” Ten said. “I needed to fabricate a prototype, I couldn’t go to sleep. Stop talking, please, I don’t want your voice to interfere with the readings.”
“You invented a new machine in a single night?”
“I didn’t invent this one, I just modified it and made it smaller and more simplistic so that I could make it out of readily available parts. Now shut. Up.”
“What does it do?” Cody asked once Ten finally removed the earpiece, wincing as he rubbed his tender lobe.
“It measures brainwaves.”
Cody gave Ten a half-smile. “Making sure my thoughts are still as slow and plodding as ever?”
“Something like that,” Ten replied, hir eyes a little wild as ze stared at Cody for a moment. Hir hands tightened around the tiny sensor. “I have to go get some things ready for the meeting. Go shower, you smell.”
“I don’t smell.”
“Your breath is so toxic I feel faint.”
“Don’t lean so close, then,” Cody said, rolling out of bed. Ten turned abruptly on hir heel and left, slamming the door behind hir.
“And good morning to you too!” Cody yelled after hir, then headed for the shower. Not because Ten told him to, definitely not. He just liked to be clean in the mornings, that was all. If he ran his mouth through the cleanser twice, well, that was his business.
An hour later club was starting, everyone snacking on the cookies Pamela had brought with her and drinking Grennson’s lhossa tea, and it could have been any other meeting except for the way Kyle sat a little closer than usual, and Cody let him.
“Are you okay?” he’d asked quietly when he first walked in.
“Yeah,” Cody had replied, equally quiet. “Thanks.” His hand had twitched a little, wanting to reach out, but he held back.
“What’s that?” Xenia asked around a mouthful of cookie, pointing to Ten’s corona.
“It’s a traditional Solaydorian circlet,” Ten replied, imbuing hir voice with all the hauteur ze could muster, which was quite a lot. “I felt like wearing a touch of home today.”
Bartholomew frowned. “Really? Because it looks like a—”
Ten held up a hand. “Don’t say it! Saying what you’re about to say is a terrible insult on Solaydor, and I’ll thank you not to go there with me.”
Bartholomew looked puzzled. “But…I don’t get…how could that be insulting?”
“It just is,” Ten sniffed.
“Actually,” Grennson said, stepping in like the perfect diplomat he was, “I would like to learn more about insults. About things your cultures find offensive that an outsider might not necessarily know. My human father was as well informed as any outsider could be when he came to Perelan, but he still made mistakes, some of them quite grave.”
“Like how grave?” Pamela asked curiously.
“He ended up getting into a death match with another House’s duelist,” Grennson said, his quills flattening with memory. “Both of them lived, thanks to Jason’s mercy, but he was grievously wounded.”
“Oh my.” Bartholomew’s dark complexion looked a little clammy. “There’s nothing anyone could do to a Friend that we wouldn’t forgive. We’re strictly nonviolent.”
“What if someone is violent to you?” Darrell asked. “You can’t just let that sort of thing go.”
“Violence is never the answer,” Bartholomew said seriously. “If the offender can be found, he or she is evicted from our colony. We pray that they find a better way to be, and give our compassion and love to whoever they afflicted.”
“That sounds like a surefire invitation to invasion,” Xenia said, frowning.
“Well, our colony is deep within Federation territory,” Bartholomew explained. “So we don’t really have to worry about an invasion or…piracy, or something like that.”
“What if there was a war within the Federation?” Xenia demanded. “What would you do then?”
“I’m sure our Elders would pick the side that appealed to their hearts,” Bartholomew said.
“How do you insult an Amazon?” Grennson interrupted. “Just so I know what to avoid.”
It was a bad joke, but it made her smile. “Well, we’re pretty easygoing. If you don’t want to insult us, just don’t say anything to us that could be considered insulting. Don’t offer a compliment unless it’s sincere, don’t expose a weakness and expect us to praise it—” Here she looked pointedly at Bartholomew, who just stared back. “Don’t ask us to marry you, and we’re good.”
“An offer of marriage is insulting?” Darrell asked, one eyebrow raised.
“We always do the asking. We won’t be railroaded into anything we’re not ready for.”
“Sounds like a lot of you don’t marry, then,” Ten said.
“What would you know about—”
“What about for you?” Cody asked Pamela, who was calmly eating a cookie and watching the back and forth with interest.
Pamela shrugged. “The whole psychic thing renders a lot of insults moot. I mean, we get used to people being suspicious around us, thinking bad thoughts, avoiding us or going after us for it. We’re all trained in self-defense at a very young age, to help us fend off kidnappers and the like. You’d be amazed at how much a child psychic goes for on the black market.”
“That’s awful,” Xenia said, her ire at Ten forgotten.
“It doesn’t happen very often anymore, we take a lot of care to stay out of the public eye.” Pamela sighed. “Honestly, the worst insult from one psychic to another is looking where you haven’t been invited. Insults within our own society are felt much harder than those from without.” She looked at Kyle. “What about for you?”
“For a Libertarian, or me specifically?” Kyle asked.
“Either,” Grennson said.
“Well.” Kyle sat still for a moment, elegant as ever, a faint smile on his lips. “Frankly, there isn’t anything you can do to insult me.”
“Obviously I haven’t tried hard enough,” Ten muttered.
“It doesn’t matter how hard you try,” Kyle said. “The ultimate shame for a Libertarian of my social standing would be to let on that anything someone said or did to me disconcerted me in any significant way. Abuse my mother’s past, relish my father’s death, describe how you’d like to kill my brother to my face…it doesn’t matter. My reaction isn’t something to be shared, whether I’m bothered or not. Anything else would be vulgar, and a failing.”
“So, you guys are really excellent liars then,” Ten prompted.
Kyle smiled at hir gently. “The best in the universe. Only appropriate, since we run most of it.”
“Cody!” Grennson’s cheer seemed a little forced. “What about for you?”
“Oh.” He had to pull himself away from the spectacle between Ten and Kyle and reboot his brain. “Well, coming from a Fringe planet, I guess it’s insulting to be considered lesser just because I’m not part of the Central System. Like we’re complete bumpkins just because we get everything a little later than everyone else.”
“You are bumpkins,” Ten said.
“Maybe,” Cody replied, not rising to the bait, “but we don’t like it when you point that out.”
“It’s sort of the same with us,” Darrell said suddenly. “Not exactly, but in my family, we’ve always been very focused on our personal histories. It’s like every life is a new chapter in the family book, and the subject is never allowed to change. We’re military through and through, and sometimes that means neglecting new things in favor of keeping up with all our armed services obligations.”
“What have you missed?” Grennson teased, poking Darrell in the shoulder. “Apart from not even knowing my planet existed until a year ago?”
Darrell frowned. “You have to bring that up here?”
“I do. I did. Have I grievously insulted you?”
“Maybe,” Darrell said, but he was smiling now. “What if I said your tea tastes bad, what then? Have I insulted you?”
“Not at all. If that’s the case, clearly your tastes are imperfect and unrefined,” Grennson sniffed, his quills fluffing up until they stood up from his body like a flag.
“I’ll give you unrefined—”
The rest of club was much more easy going, which Cody was glad for. Ten didn’t speak again though, and neither did Kyle, but what they didn’t say was almost as loud as what they did.
Someday, someday soon, Cody would have to get to the bottom of what was going on between the two of them.