Notes: The plot thickens! Secrets, deal-making, questionable science and muddy motivations…what the hell am I doing with this story again? Here’s hoping I can keep all my plot lines straight. Enjoy!
Title: The Academy
Part Twenty-Three: Step Into My Web
Darrell Parrish III was destined from an early age to strive to fill a lot of roles. He and so many of his extended family were raised to fill in the perceived gaps in the Parrish legacy, keeping the status of the family on an ever-increasing arc toward glory. Darrell’s father had done his duty, marrying well and serving honorably, and then had almost ruined everything by getting killed. The award of Legacy status to his son was the least the Federation could do, his parents felt, after such a grievous loss. That status, along with the roles of star athlete, future Federation officer and networker extraordinaire were all passed along to his son, with every expectation of his loyalty to the cause. After all, what lifted up the family lifted up Darrell, and influence was the coin of choice among those in the know in the Federation. Money was nothing by comparison to power, and knowledge was the nectar of the gods.
Darrell had never embraced his destiny as fully as his grandparents wanted, but getting him into the Academy was the first step in their endgame. All he had to do was make the right moves, follow the right plans, and he would be on the right path. After Darrell started avoiding his grandparents’ holocalls, they turned their attentions to messages, sending him an updated synopsis of their expectations every week. Darrell generally skimmed them and moved on, but this time there were a few points that particularly caught his eye.
Item #14-The True Patriot Scholarship. An exciting opportunity for any Academy cadet, the True Patriot Scholarship offers a tiered system of rewards based on the independent valuation of any information submitted to the True Patriot Scholarship Committee that directly relates to central system security. Any cadet who passes along valuable intelligence on potential threats to Federation sovereignty will be kept strictly confidential. The rewards include credits for extracurricular activities, monetary compensation, and even a guaranteed commission in the field of your choice upon graduation! **Available to Legacy students only. DNA verification required before contact with scholarship committee can be made.
Beneath it was a note from his grandmother, saying “This could be PERFECT for you! DO THIS!!!” It actually took Darrell a moment to realize that what made him special when it came to an opportunity like this were his quad mates. An alien, a Fringer and a Solaydorian nutcase. Naturally his grandmother thought they were a hotbed of revolutionary activity, given how tense things were getting on Liberty.
His family wanted him to spy on his quad mates, his friends, and report on them to some vague board of directors that he would probably never know anything about. Well, fuck that.
As far as Darrell was concerned that should have been the end of it, but it turned out that there were plenty of Legacy students who were more enthusiastic about following the guidelines, and apparently some of them thought that he could be used as a direct source of information about his quad mates. He turned away three curious, pushy Legacies before his first period was over, and in every class after that someone new found an excuse to sit next to him and start to pry. By the time he sat down for Tactics it was to the point where he wanted to start yelling at people. The only person to sit next to him, though, was—
She smiled briefly. “Darrell.”
“I’m not talking about them,” he told her. “So don’t even ask.”
“I wasn’t going to.”
He stared at her in disbelief. “You weren’t going to. Right.”
“I wasn’t!” she protested. “No one knows better than me how tight your little cabal is. I’m not here to question you, I’m here to keep other people from questioning you. No one will bother you while I’m sitting here.” Sure enough, a few other hopeful-looking Legacies had turned tail and run to their normal seats.
“Why are you helping me out?” Darrell asked. He and Valero hadn’t interacted at all since The Incident, and he hadn’t been too sad about that.
“Because,” she said, tossing her platinum hair over her shoulder. “Even though we’re not close anymore doesn’t mean we can’t still be friendly. Don’t tell me anything about any of your quad; don’t even mention their names. I don’t want to know. Besides,” she added with a smirk, “your grade in this class is probably low enough without having to work around people distracting you.”
“I’m not doing that badly,” Darrell protested, but she was right, Tactics wasn’t his strong suit, which wasn’t good in a cadet on Command track. She raised an eyebrow, and he caved. “Okay, so I’m not doing well.”
“All the more reason to accept my help. With studying, with notes…just as friends,” she said.
“What, am I absolutely not allowed to be your friend anymore because I made one mistake? For which I apologized?” she huffed. “Fine, be that way.” She hunched her shoulders and turned away.
“Wait.” Darrell reached out and touched her wrist. “Sorry. I do need help in this class, and if you’re offering...”
Valero’s tiny smile reappeared. “So, friends then?”
Darrell shrugged, but he was smiling too. “We can maybe work up to that.”
Grennson had never been around so many conflicting emotions in his entire life, and it was giving him a permanent headache. Perels could lie and hide their own emotions well enough, and when they felt they felt deeply and with an enduring intensity that most human emotions seemed to lack, but when humans felt something strongly, it was like a flame in Grennson’s mind. That much, he thought he’d been prepared for: humans were bright and complicated, but he had years of learning to manage his empathy to help him, and experience with humans that almost no Perel could match. He’d grown up with Jason, after all.
It turned out that Jason was almost more Perel than he was human, emotionally. He was calm and controlled and consistent, and what he said and what he felt were in sync more often than not. The average human flitted between emotions like bark beetles darting from tree to tree, eating a little here, a little there, but rarely committing to one for very long. It made Grennson feel like his mind was on fire sometimes, especially lately, with so many more people looking his way, feeling everything from tentative to anticipatory to hateful.
Those people Grennson could mostly block out. Darrell had told him about the scholarship offer, and the ridiculous reason for it. If that made a certain subset of the cadet population more vicious than normal, well, Grennson was very well prepared to deal with that. He could feel false friendship, and he had no problem turning people away. As far as he was concerned, it was a non-issue. The bigger issue this past week came from Cody.
Cody was fighting with himself about something concerning Grennson. He hadn’t come to a decision about it yet, and because of their closeness Cody’s unease affected Grennson, because he couldn’t close out the emotions of a friend as entirely as he could strangers. By the fifth evening Cody’s indecision was so strong that Grennson felt almost paralyzed by it, unable to draw a full breath. He sat down on his bed and did his best to clear his mind, running through the meditation exercises he’d learned as a child and trying not to give in to just asking what was going on. He wasn’t supposed to pry, he wasn’t supposed to push.
Fortunately, Cody rendered the point moot by finally making up his mind. It was Friday evening, Darrell was at paraball practice and Ten was in the lab. It was just Grennson and Cody, and Cody came and sat down with him at the table just as Grennson was finishing making tea.
“I need to talk to you,” Cody said quietly.
“Oh, good,” Grennson said, sighing with relief. When Cody looked curious, he added, “I’ve been waiting for you to speak to me for days, you’ve felt very unbalanced.”
Cody grimaced. “Sorry about that. I had some things I needed to…anyway. I want to give you something.” He opened his hand and set a small silver circle on the center of the table. “It’s an inertial dampener. It only works for five seconds, but for those five seconds everything coming into your space will slow way down. You have to hit it hard to activate it.”
Grennson reached out and touched the device, but didn’t pick it up. “Where did you get it?”
“My father made it for me, as a safety precaution. Just in case, you know?”
Ah, yes. “Your fathers are on Liberty by now.”
“Yes,” Cody said unhappily. His mind practically broadcasted danger, targets, danger! at Grennson. “They want me to be safe, and I want you to be safe, so…please take it. You can wear it on your uniform, it’s the same shape as our buttons.”
“Do you really think I’m in danger?” Grennson asked a bit nervously. Face to face confrontations he could handle, he was stronger and faster than almost any unmodified human, but if he were outnumbered or taken by surprise…
“I don’t know. I really, really hope not, but things are strange right now,” Cody said. “And the stupid scholarship thing means you’re getting a lot of attention, and I just…please take it.”
“If I take it, will it mean you go without?”
“No,” Cody assured him. “I’ve got one for myself too.”
Grennson smiled a little. “None for Darrell or Ten?”
Cody smiled back. “Nobody will mess with Darrell, and as for Ten, there’s nothing surprising about hir. Everyone ze ever meets knows exactly how ze feels about them as soon as ze opens hir mouth. Plus, Solaydor is very much a central planet, not exactly a hotbed of rebellion. So.” He looked at Grennson hopefully. “Will you take it?”
Grennson took the little disc and carefully fit it onto the front of his uniform. “Of course. You’re a good friend,” he said earnestly. “You ease my mind.” It was a Perel compliment, and Cody knew it.
“You ease my mind too.”
Ten was busy analyzing data in hir lab. Ze was analyzing data and compiling results and thinking about a dozen other experiments all at once, and also thinking about hir quad mates and Kyle, and stupid legislation and also Kyle, and fucking Kyle again because when had he gotten permission to act so sweet around Cody? Why was he doing it? What was he hoping to get out of it? How could Ten keep Cody from making a terrible mistake and giving in to the wiles of that emotionless, faux-smiling, long-legged, awful, charming, handsome, terrible idiot?
It would take evidence. Evidence that Kyle was up to something, evidence that he was a symptom of the much larger disease that was the Federation in general, and Kyle’s brother in particular. Evidence that Ten was in the process of compiling, thanks to hir coronal transducer.
Garrett Caractacus-Helms had to be Ten’s favorite person right now next to Cody…well, and Jonah, but that wasn’t important! Garrett was smart, so smart, in some ways almost as smart as Ten, and he’d built this wonderful, beautiful machine and loaded it with special features and given it to Ten…it was clear that Garrett understood. He understood how hard it could be to take care of people who couldn’t be relied on to take care of themselves, and he’d given Ten the technology ze needed to step in and step up. Ten would take care of Cody, make sure nothing happened to him. Nothing felt as right as that. If Ten had ever believed in a deity, ze might have likened hir feelings about Cody to a divine sense of purpose, but religion was a ludicrous pastime for a logical mind. Ten was driven by the spirit of scientific inquiry. And, yes, friendship too, and maybe even something more than that, but that also wasn’t material to the question at hand.
The data Ten was analyzing had to do with brainwaves: specifically, psychic brainwaves. That Kyle was hiding something was evident to anyone with a sense of deductive reasoning. What he was hiding, now that was the question. And the answer lay with—
The program finished. Ten looked at the results generated by the coronal transducer’s energy sensors, amplified by the reflective nodes ze’s carefully hidden in the quad’s common room, and smiled. Perfect. Now to take this information straight to the source and get some answers.
Only, Ten didn’t go to see Kyle. Ze went to Pamela instead. She was sitting in one of the campus cafes, sipping a cup of tea while reading on her holotab. She didn’t look surprised to see hir when Ten sat down across from her. “I sensed you coming,” she said. Her expression was resigned. “You seem very satisfied.”
“I like working out puzzles,” Ten replied. “And I just did, and I thought I’d share my results with you, since they concern you so much.”
“And what results are those?”
“Can’t you read my mind and find out for yourself?” Ten asked, tapping hir temple.
Pamela frowned. “You know I won’t. It’s not allowed, and I wouldn’t break that rule.”
“But you’ve already broken it.”
All the color drained from Pamela’s face, her pallor even more pronounced within the darkness of her hair. “What…”
“Or at least, you’re trying to break it,” Ten clarified. “With Kyle Alexander.”
“Ten.” Pamela looked around uneasily. “I don’t think we should talk about this—”
“I set my transducer to interfere with Hermes’ monitoring,” Ten said. “It’s slight, but if we keep our voices down it should be okay.”
Pamela leaned in. “How did you know?”
“That’s my business,” Ten said. Ze didn’t give away hir secrets unless ze had to, or if ze needed to impress someone. “What matters is why you’re doing it. You know it’s illegal to batter away at another person’s psyche, but you tried over and over again to get past his shields the last time we were all together. Why? What are you looking for?”
Pamela’s lips pursed, and she leaned in a little closer. “You know about the patriot scholarship?”
“I’ve heard about it.” From Darrell, actually.
“Did you know that his family is behind it?”
“How is that a surprise? His family is behind everything.”
“There’s more happening than just that,” Pamela whispered. “There are things like this going out in every central system planet, new initiatives for information gathering on a tremendous scale. My home colony has practically been emptied of people, deployed all over on President Alexander’s orders. Even the kids! Even the under-tens, and they’re supposed to be sacred, they’re supposed to be left alone until they know enough to protect themselves, but they’re being sent into the field! Spying on people, breaking into their mind, getting their secrets…” Pamela shuddered.
“I hate it. I’ve always hated it. And now my little sisters are gone, their locations ‘classified,’ and I’ve been told to…told to…but I’m not going to do it!” she snapped. “If I’m going to get anyone’s secrets, it’s going to be Kyle’s. He’s the President’s brother, he’s got to know more about what’s going on. I need to know what he knows. That’s why I keep trying so hard to get into his mind.”
“Oh.” This…wasn’t exactly what Ten had expected. This was rather more than ze had expected, honestly. “Well then, I won’t get in your way. But I want you to share what you find, if you manage it.”
“Why should I?” Pamela asked, not meanly, but with genuine curiosity. “What can you do about any of this?”
Ten smiled. “The better you get to know me, the sooner you realize that there’s nothing I can’t do.” Especially if it meant making sure Cody was safe from a person as secretive, as powerful and as dangerous as Kyle Alexander.