Notes: This one is a bit on the short side, but I ended up splitting what I thought would be one scene in two. You get some action, some answers, and a set-up for the next chapter, which is going to be…well, you’ll see when you read this one. I swear I’m not dragging this out on purpose, it’s just how things have ended up flowing, narratively speaking. We’re still on trajectory to finish this before the end of July, and I am going to wrap things up very nicely before we dive into Soothsayer.
Title: The Academy
Part Twenty-Nine: Cognitive Recalibration
When Kyle hit, he hit hard.
Darrell blocked the first punch, and the second, but he wasn’t expecting the knee to the side of his thigh, striking him hard just above the knee and making his leg buckle. He grunted with pain and staggered, barely staying on his feet, but luckily Xenia was there to distract Kyle before he could finish it, giving Darrell some breathing space.
Or he would have had some breathing space, if he didn’t see Ten race forward, the syringe in hir hand leading the way, scarily intent on Kyle. Which, no. Ten was going to get hirself killed, and there was no way Darrell was going to watch that.
Darrell reached with one hand and caught the back of Ten’s tunic, jerking hir almost off hir feet as he pulled hir back. “Stay out of it!”
“I have to get his heart,” Ten said, not even looking at Darrell. “I have to get his heart!”
“We have to stop him first,” Darrell snapped. “Stay back here!” He pushed Ten behind him and threw himself back into the fight, which was going…not well.
Xenia was a good fighter, better than Darrell, and Darrell had been practicing Akumu-ru bujitsu since he was old enough to walk. Xenia was tall and strong, with a solid stance and a linear style that gave her immensely powerful kicks and punches, and she attacked Kyle without reservation, giving everything to the fight. Xenia was an Amazon, with a superiority complex a kilometer wide, and she didn’t give quarter anywhere, not on the field and not off of it. She was giving this fight her best, giving it her all.
It wasn’t enough.
Kyle was trained as a fighter, of course he was; he was an Alexander, every Alexander had to excel at personal defense due to their status. These days fighting mods could be programmed into your implant, and a few hours of mental and physical review could result in a smooth, effective fighting style. The Alexanders were probably implanted with the best money had to offer.
This, though, was not the easy efficiency of an implant, the straightforwardness of Xenia or the flare of Modo-savate, the most popular fighting art on Liberty. Kyle moved in circles, slipping and sliding, dodging and weaving around Xenia’s long reach and wrapping her up like ribbons, immobilizing each limb that came at him just long enough to strike at a major nerve center before disengaging again. Which was…odd, there was no reason for him to be disengaging, if he held on he could finish it faster instead of letting Xenia pull back and regroup, but he was. It was almost like he wasn’t paying all that much attention to her, he kept looking beyond them, looking at—
It didn’t matter. Darrell would show Kyle that it was a mistake to underestimate them. He and Xenia had never fought together, but on the field they were a good team. Darrell was better at grappling than doing this standing bullshit anyway. He lunged at Kyle from behind just as Xenia snapped a kick forward, narrowly dodged a back kick to the chest, grabbed Kyle’s foot and pulled. Kyle’s weight shifted back, he started to lose his balance, and Darrell adjusted his grip higher while Xenia closed the distance again from the front, and this was it, they were going to get him down and then—
Kyle leapt straight up, high, way higher than a normal person would be able to. Mods, Darrell thought faintly as he struggled to keep his hold on Kyle’s leg, but Kyle wasn’t trying to escape him. He thrust the ball of his foot into Xenia’s throat, sending her to her knees, coughing, then bent double in mid-air and tucked before he could hit the ground, rolled right between Darrell’s legs and used a complicated ankle lock to send Darrell sprawling forward onto his front, just barely getting his arms up in time to prevent his chin from hitting the paving.
Kyle was wrapped around Darrell’s legs and he felt a moment of fear, because he was so vulnerable right now. Kyle could destroy his ankles, his knees—shit, if he had an edged weapon on him that he’d been holding back he could end things right now, a quick slit to the femoral artery and Darrell would be gone before help could come—and where was the fucking help? Why were they doing this alone again? What was going on?
Kyle rolled them before Darrell could try to wriggle away, so that Darrell was on his back and Kyle was somehow on his feet again. “I’m sorry about this,” Kyle said, and he actually did sound a little sorry before he snapped the palm of his hand hard against the very top of Darrell’s forehead, making sparks fly across his darkening vision. Darrell didn’t even feel himself being let go, barely noticed Xenia’s yells and the renewed sounds of combat, because all of a sudden he found himself thinking that everything, everything happening right now, was completely wrong.
“Xenia,” he called out hoarsely, but that was as far as he got before Ten literally tripped over him on hir way toward Kyle. Darrell reached out and grabbed Ten’s legs, bringing hir down as gently as he could manage while his ears were still ringing. Ten didn’t even seem to notice, ze was completely intent on Kyle, even trying to crawl forward once ze realized ze wasn’t standing up anymore. “Let go,” Ten said, not looking back at Darrell, never letting hir gaze waver. “Let go! I need to get his heart!”
“You need to calm down,” Darrell said, and narrowly missed getting one of Ten’s heels in the teeth. “Ten! Calm down!”
“I can’t!” Ten screamed, finally looking back at Darrell, and that was when Darrell noticed how wide hir eyes were, how dark hir pupils and how much ze was sweating, a clammy, cold sweat. “I can’t I can’t I CAN’T!”
“Ten!” Darrell dodged hir flailing limbs and straddled Ten’s waist, immobilizing hir head with his hands and looking straight into hir eyes. “It’s okay, look at me. Just look at me, don’t think about anything else, just me, okay? Look. Look. It’s okay.”
To Darrell’s shock, tears welled up in Ten’s eyes. He’d never seen hir cry before, not even after the fight with Valero. “But I have to get him!” Ten whined, hir voice breaking pitifully. “Or he’ll hurt Cody. I have to get his heart, I have to get him in the heart.”
“You don’t,” Darrell promised. “I swear, it’s all right. Kyle isn’t your enemy.”
The scene playing out behind them begged to differ, but a moment later Kyle hit Xenia with his elbow right in the center of her forehead, and she went down like a falling star. Kyle bent over her and felt her pulse, then sighed. “She’ll be all right when she wakes up, but I had to knock her out. I couldn’t count on her fighting through the compulsion as well as you have.” He looked over at Darrell and raised an eyebrow. “You are thinking straight again now, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Darrell affirmed. “We were…honestly I don’t know why we were fighting, we were just supposed to ask you about Cody.”
“We were fighting because a direct blow to the frontal lobe is a crude but reliable way of breaking mild psychic compulsions, and because you would have fought me anyway before I had a chance to explain anything.”
What the hell… “Psychic compulsions?”
“Obviously.” Kyle gestured to Ten, who was struggling weakly, hir eyes fixed unerringly on Kyle. “Can you think of any other reason for Ten to be acting like this? Completely irrational, switching from scientist to assassin in the space of a single morning? Ze’s under a strong psychic compulsion. It’s not legal, but nothing about the Psy program is strictly legal.” Kyle came over and laid a hand on Ten’s forehead, ignoring the way Ten snapped hir teeth at him even though it shocked Darrell.
“So can you hit hir on the head and break it?” Darrell asked. He was deeply uncomfortable with Ten’s behavior, so different from what he was used to now that he knew what he was looking at.
“Not safely. You and Xenia were under light control; it’s much deeper with Ten. Pamela must have been working on him for weeks.” Kyle’s expression suddenly seemed to sharpen, and he looked out at the expanse of the arena behind them like a predator, thrumming with unexplained tension. “She’s gone.”
”Pamela.” Kyle got to his feet and reached a hand out to Darrell, jerking him to his feet. They picked Ten up between them, Kyle deftly relieving Ten of the syringe and ignoring hir inarticulate cries of rage. “She must have gone to your quad. She could be there already, shit.” This was the most agitated Kyle had been since their confrontation had started, even during the fight. “Is Cody alone?”
“No, Grennson is with him,” Darrell said, still feeling inexplicably slow. Maybe it was the headache. Kyle had been precise, but he certainly hadn’t been gentle with him.
Kyle’s shoulders lost a little of their tension. “That’s good. I think, I have no idea what happens when a psychic and an empath go after each other, the Perel have never let any human scientists study them and Captain Kim refuses to let himself be examined as well.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. We have to get to your quad. You handle hir, I’m going ahead. We have to stop Pamela before she finishes the job.” Kyle started to run, and Ten whimpered, hir hands curling into claws as ze pushed against Darrell’s enclosing forearms.
“Finishes what job?” Darrell yelled after Kyle.
“Killing Cody,” Kyle yelled back, and then he was gone, leaving Darrell to handle a struggling Ten and listening to Xenia groan as she started to come around. He wanted nothing more than to run after Kyle, but he had responsibilities, and those included making sure the people he was with were all right before he went charging off after a psychic who’d already whammied him once. But still…
“Why does everyone want to kill Cody?” Darrell muttered, then cursed under his breath as Ten suddenly scraped a foot down his shin, lunged forward out of the circle of his arms and stumbled off after Kyle.
“Wha th’ hell…” Xenia muttered, looking up blearily. Darrell glanced at her and grimaced.
“I’ll tell you later,” he said before taking off after Ten.