Notes: The last chapter before the climax begins. It’ll be a long, drawn-out climax, with plenty of denouement J Also, huge thanks to everyone who’s sent me a prompt so far for one of my pics—I’m so excited to see what people come up with, on the blog and email and on Goodreads and even Facebook! I’ve read two prompts so far that I absolutely have to do something with, and I’d love to be tempted with more. Please, go look here and feed my muse!
Title: The Academy
Part Twenty-Seven: Ten’s Guide to the Art of Non-Apology
“We can’t wait any longer.”
“We can’t afford to push the schedule up, Fledgling,” Admiral Liang said to his operative. “I don’t have all the pieces in place yet. Phase Three can’t start until all the players are where they need to be.”
“With respect, sir, if we don’t get a handle on the situation as it stands now, it could go beyond our ability to control.”
Admiral Liang shut his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face, knowing that Fledgling was right but disliking the situation so strongly that it bordered on hatred, which would be a dangerous wormhole to fly down. He didn’t have the luxury of emotional involvement with this, not if he was going to win his course. And that was the most important thing, in the end, not the things that went awry along the way, even if those things were people.
“You realize,” he said, opening his eyes and looking at Fledgling, “that no matter what course of action you take, without taking the time to put safeties up you’re going to be implicated in the results. And these implications will have very far-ranging consequences for you, consequences that I won’t be able to get you out of, not if this is going to work. I wanted this to be a bloodless transition, not a damaging one.”
“Blood’s already been spilled, sir,” Fledgling pointed out. Admiral Liang knew that, of course; he knew all the damage that had already been done, and beyond that, he knew the damage that had been narrowly avoided thanks to luck and circumstance.
“Then we move on to Phase Three,” he sighed. “For the record, I’m sorry to have to use you this way.”
Fledgling smiled suddenly, the expression surprisingly sweet. “It’s all right, sir. I’m used to it. At least this time I got to choose my involvement.”
“Be safe, then. Use your judgment on the timing, but get it done as quickly as you can. The situation on Liberty is volatile, and I want us to be out in front of it this time.”
A moment after Fledgling left the room, Admiral Liang said, “Mercury, report.”
“One attempted incursion by Argus during lockdown. Reverting to Hermes mode.”
Argus Panoptes, the many-eyed watcher…Admiral Liang should have chosen a different myth for his foe, something with many limbs instead, each of them battering at his plan and knocking it off course. Well. Like an ancient Earth general once said, no battle plan survived contact with the enemy. He just had to make sure than everyone else did.
Ten was very rarely wrong.
It wasn’t bragging, it was true! Ten was almost never wrong, not in hir calculations, not in hir formulations, not in hir interpretations of science and, usually, not in hir interpretations of other people. Ten had learned what made people tick, and ticked off, very early, and applied hir knowledge with little compunction. Was ze always diplomatic? No, because that was usually a waste of time. If someone was going to be mad at you, they were going to be mad, end of story. Might as well not bother softening the blow if they were just going to be angry anyway.
Ten was starting to think that ze had miscalculated when it came to Cody, though.
Ze had presented the facts, and they were as close to incontrovertible as could be. Cody was just being stubborn, and Ten was determined to make him see the truth. Unfortunately, it turned out that Cody could be just as stubborn as Ten when he wanted to be, and apparently this subject was a sticking point for him.
Ten tried over breakfast the first day, after not speaking with Cody for an entire evening and night, which had been…hard. He’d obviously been in pain, seemed worried about something that he didn’t want to talk about, at least not to Ten, and that hurt. What Ten really wanted to do was help him get into his uniform, because Cody was having a hard time getting it on with his broken collarbone, then brush his hair back for him so he wouldn’t have to twist his good arm around, get him some food and make sure he ate it. And maybe hold his hand.
What ze did instead was let Cody dress himself in painful silence, wrestle with his hair until he gave up, then followed him into the kitchen, where Grennson fed him before Ten could.
“What are you going to tell people if they ask about that?” Darrell said, gesturing at Cody’s arm. “If you don’t want everyone to know about the natural thing.”
“Oh, shit.” Cody went paler than he already was. “I don’t know. It’s not like I can hide the sling like I did the bruises, I don’t know!”
“Perhaps you could stay out of class until it heals?” Grennson suggested.
“No, I’d have to miss way too much before then.”
“Easy,” Ten said, finally sensing a way to get back into Cody’s good graces. “Tell anyone who asks that you had an allergic reaction this time around and they had to pull you out of the tank.”
Darrell frowned. “Do those even happen with Regen?”
“Point-oh-five percent of all immersive Regen treatments result in a moderate to severe allergic reaction in the patient, regardless of prior exposures,” Ten said, settling the coronal transducer around hir head and tucking it behind hir ears. Ze had taken to wearing it constantly, setting it to record the energies around hir for later analysis. “I can show you the statistics if you want them.”
Darrell made a face. “No, that’s fine.”
“So that’s a reasonable excuse?” Cody asked, looking more relieved already. Ten felt a warm feeling well up in hir belly, knowing that ze had put that expression there. “People won’t think I’m lying?”
“Some people might not believe you, but you can’t do anything about idiots,” Ten said philosophically, biting into a soft, squishy thing that might have been a muffin or might have been a mushroom, it was hard to tell with Grennson’s foods sometimes. Whatever, it tasted delicious.
“Thank you.” Cody exhaled heavily, then bit into his own muffroom. “Mmm…this is really good,” he said to Grennson after he swallowed. The Perel’s quills fluffed with pleasure.
“They’re one of my father’s favorites,” he confided. “For when he felt uneasy. They have calming properties.”
Ten blinked, then looked with more interest at hir food. “Did you lace these with sedatives? Will they make us high?”
“No!” Grennson affected a shocked look. “I wouldn’t drug you without your permission.”
“Unlike some people here,” Darrell muttered. Ten ignored him.
“They just contain a few herbs from home that my father discovered helped to quiet his mind when he was upset. They’re not addictive, and they won’t make you fall asleep or turn you manic.”
“Because some people don’t need the help.”
“Aww, is our little Legacy feeling catty today?” Ten asked sweetly, taking a big bite of the muffroom, then grinning at Darrell with hir mouth open.
“You guys are disgusting,” Cody said, but he was smiling. He finished his food fast, then stood up. “I’ve got to run, I need to see Phil before my first class.”
“Hang on,” Ten mumbled, stuffing the rest of the food into hir mouth and running for their room. Ze grabbed hir tablet, then joined Cody at the door. “I have to go out too, I’ll walk with you.”
“Oookay.” They left together, and made it all of five steps before Ten couldn’t stand the silence anymore.
“Did you use your pain pen this morning?”
Cody nodded. “And I’ve got it with me if I really need it during the day.”
“I don’t think she calculated the dosage right.”
Cody smiled at hir. “Of course you don’t.”
“No, I’m being serious, you have a line between your eyebrows that indicates a feeling of pain, and if she had done her job right, you wouldn’t have that line. You should lodge a complaint.”
“I’m not going to do that, and I’m not in pain.” Ten couldn’t hold back a scoff, and Cody relented. “Okay, a little bit, but it’s not in my collarbone. I’ve got a headache, and my back kind of hurts from not being able to roll around last night. I’m usually an active sleeper, and just lying there is…it’s hard to stay asleep for long.”
“Plus you didn’t sleep well because you had an upsetting conversation with your parents yesterday.”
Cody’s mouth fell open; Ten tried not to preen. “How did you know that?”
Ten was about to reply, but stopped when they passed Pamela, along with a few of her quadmates, at the door of Hebe Tower before heading out into the sun. They exchanged a little wave but nothing more, and once they were out of earshot Ten picked up where ze’d left off.
“You were in bed pretending to sleep when I got into the room, which was two hours before you usually fall asleep. You left your transmitter out next to your bed, and the only people you ever talk to with that are family members, I assume because of all sorts of security measures built into the device. If it had been really bad news you probably would have been crying—”
“Shut up!” Cody looked back at the girls, who were loitering at the door chatting, but they were too far distant to hear them now.
“Oh, don’t be embarrassed, it’s a normal physiological response to stress and anxiety, among other things, and no indicator of masculinity or adulthood or whatever stupid thing you’re thinking right now,” Ten said, brushing off Cody’s discomfort. “Anyway, you weren’t crying and didn’t show any signs of having been, so I assume everyone is all right, but you were still upset, so…oh right. They found out you’d been injured.” Ten bit hir lower lip before ze could stop hirself. “Were they really mad?”
“Yeah,” Cody said with a sigh. “They got into a fight over whether to pull me out of the Academy or not.”
“What?!” Ten felt like Cody had reached into hir chest and squeezed hir heart, it was fluttering so hard. “They can’t take you out of the Academy, you’re a cadet here, you won’t be able to continue in the military if you don’t stay, especially because of your…” Ten looked around suspiciously, then said, “unique circumstances. They can’t take you out!” What would I do here without you?
“Garrett managed to persuade my dad not to, but I really hate it when they’re arguing,” Cody confessed. “They get along so well most of the time that it’s really disconcerting when they don’t.”
“Thanks, I’m not a total idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot at all,” Ten said, and the warm smile ze got from Cody almost took hir breath away. “Except about Kyle,” Ten added, and the smile dropped away.
“Why won’t you believe the evidence?”
“Because I know better!” Cody insisted, walking faster toward Hephaestus Tower, which loomed in the distance. “Because I know him better, and he hasn’t hurt me or taken advantage of me, not even when it would have been easy, Ten. Kyle’s done nothing except be a good friend to me, and I am really sick of fighting about him with you.”
“So am I!” Ten said. “It’s not my fault you won’t believe me!”
“Maybe you could try believing me for once,” Cody said, hurt still filtering in through his terse words. “You haven’t liked Kyle from the moment you met him, and I think that’s coloring your impressions of him and your interpretations of everything he does. So no, I don’t believe you.” They got to the front door of Hephaestus Tower and Cody put his hand up to swipe in, but Ten grabbed his wrist before it got there.
“I don’t want to fight with you,” ze said, not even surprised anymore at how true that was. Nothing made hir feel as bad as being ignored by Cody.
“So don’t fight with me, then,” Cody said, as if it was that easy. “Just accept when I tell you that I’m sure it wasn’t Kyle who tried to kill me, if it actually wasn’t an accident, which I’m still not completely sure of.”
Because you’re being willfully ignorant! Ten wanted to scream, but ze knew that would get hir absolutely nowhere with Cody, just deepen the crack that had sprung up between them since their kiss. That kiss…
There was no time to think about it right now. “Okay,” Ten said, surprising hirself a little bit. “I’ll stop. I won’t bring it up anymore, I won’t talk about Kyle at all. I do still think that someone sabotaged your bike, but I’ll shut up about it unless I have something completely solid to show you. Something undeniable, which I haven’t done so far. And in the meantime, you keep talking to me. Don’t shut me out.”
“I won’t,” Cody said, perfectly genuine. “I hate it when we don’t talk.”
“So do I.” More than anything.
“Okay.” His smile was back now, sweet and relieved. “I’ve really got to go in and meet with Phil, but I’ll see you later.”
“Good.” Ten let go of Cody’s arm and watched him head into Hephaestus, hir mind already spinning with possibilities.
Ze needed something completely solid to make hir case, not only to Cody but to administrators, that Kyle was a would-be murderer and all around menace. That he probably had backing from his brother, and wanted Cody dead because of his parent’s work on Liberty. That he needed to go to prison, or jail or penitentiary or whatever the military equivalent was. And nothing was as solid as evidence backed up by a confession.
This…would take some thought.