Notes: Way longer chapter this time around, from a POV we haven’t heard from in quite a while. Fun, political, mostly-introspective chapter. The next one will bring more closure, I promise.
Title: The Academy
Part Thirty-Four: Obfuscate, Prevaricate and Other Words Jonah Hates
There was something familiar, almost nostalgic, about being led through side passages and darkened corridors as Jonah was brought into the Academy, as opposed to the fanfare and front entrances that he’d become accustomed to in Garrett’s company. Admittedly, Garrett wasn’t here, and given how completely fucked up life had become lately, Jonah couldn’t say that he minded being more discreet than his husband was used to. Discretion was a Drifter’s watchword, their entrance and exit into the business of the glittering elite—discretion with a job, a guarantee not to expose or embarrass, a silent promise that they would disappear and no one would be the wiser. It was odd, to be relearning those lessons after Jonah had been sure he’d never have to go back to that life. Pandora was supposed to be a new beginning, everything else left behind. Instead he was back at the Academy on the very same night his son had survived an assassination attempt, solely because he’d already been in the system, doing business that only he had the contacts to do for his side in the battle on Liberty.
His side. Jonah snorted quietly to himself as he followed Master Sergeant Jessup into a private underground elevator, which swiftly began taking them not up, but sideways. Jonah had to admit, a lot of what Miles and Garrett and their allies were arguing for seemed pretty arcane to him, tiny things in the grand scheme, right of way and issues of protocol and…it just seemed like so much bullshit. He and Garrett had argued about it, right before he left on his side mission. At last, finally, Jonah was doing something palpable, and frankly his job felt a lot more useful that political wrangling.
Not fair, he reminded himself as the elevator cruised to a stop, then shifted gears and went up. Jonah’s husband had a surprising amount of patience, and a vision of the future that encompassed more for the Fringe than Jonah could even follow. Garrett and Miles were geniuses in their own way. It just sucked that they were also politicians, and had to couch everything they wanted in so much fluffy language that it was practically incomprehensible by the time you actually heard it. For someone who had grown up in a society where the biggest decisions revolved around day-to-day survival, anything more esoteric tended to get relegated to the back of the brain, inconsequential in the moment.
The elevator finally opened, and the master sergeant led Jonah down a small, tight corridor that eventually ended in what looked like a medical bay. The large central room was currently empty, and a minute later they entered a side room, where Admiral Liang sat in a chair, a dozen different holograms filling the air around him, each one tracking some sort of information. He shut them all down as the door closed behind them and looked up at Jonah. “Captain Helms. I’m surprised you could be here so quickly.”
“I had other business in these parts,” Jonah said, his voice hard. “Where’s my son?”
“Cody is fine, he’s sleeping.”
“I want to see him.”
“Of course.” The admiral stood and strode over to the door, gesturing for Jonah to follow him. They walked a few doors down, and Liang activated the viewport for one of the rooms, enlarging the picture inside. Jonah stared at the image and felt the fist around his heart unclench a little, at last. It was so…they looked so…
“Like baby catterpets,” he murmured. Cody and Ten were on the bed together, curled so tightly into each other that it was hard to tell where one began and the other ended. The blanket had been pushed mostly off the bed, the pillow was gone, and the mattress had expanded to conform to both of their bodies as best it could, leaving them partially obscured by its straining. Jonah could see Cody’s sling, and Ten’s vivid hair, but their legs were a complete tangle. Jonah could also hear them both snoring, a ragged point-counterpoint, and he sighed. “He’s really okay?”
“Apart from refracturing his collarbone, Cody has suffered no damage. His quad mates…” The admiral shrugged his shoulders. “It’s less clear, but things are looking better now. Grennson suffered contact burns and some mental trauma, but he appears to be past the worst of it. Ten was treated with Regen, and I believe that the hardest thing for hir is going to be getting over the guilt ze feels about being manipulated by a psychic. Cody is already helping with that, though.”
They both stared in silence for another second until Jonah asked, “Speaking of that, uh…is there somethin’ going on with those two that I need to know about?”
Admiral Liang arched a dark eyebrow. “If Cody hasn’t shared anything with you, then I sincerely doubt it. He’s quite attached to Ten, of course, but I’ve always thought his relationship with you was a very open one.”
“So did I. Then I found out he was on the verge of being assassinated by a goddamn psychic, and my perspective shifted a little,” Jonah said sourly. “How much of this did he know about before that girl came after him?”
“He had hints, a few suppositions, but nothing really substantial to report,” Admiral Liang said. “Your son and his quad mates are a force unto themselves when it came to attracting attention, and trouble, I’m afraid.”
“And how much did you know in advance of this?” Jonah snapped. “And I’m just warnin’ you now, don’t lie to me. I’ve learned a lot about spotting a liar in the past standard year, and I’m not in the mood to listen to the ‘state secrets’ excuse from anyone in charge of my son’s safety.”
The admiral winced. “Let’s go back to the other room, and I’ll tell you what I can.”
The master sergeant had made himself scarce, so when Jonah and Liang sat across from each other in the little infirmary bedroom, it was just the two of them. Admiral Liang steepled his fingers and took a deep breath. “First, to address my culpability. I take the safety of all my cadets very seriously, and when any of them are injured there is an official investigation into the cause. In the case of Cody’s first ‘accident,’ the investigation wasn’t yet complete before the second attack. I did, however, realize that he was being targeted by another cadet, one who I was unable to prove directly responsible for her actions thanks to collusion with an instructor here, who has as of this evening been removed from his position. I had already assigned a…watcher, of sorts, to Cody and his quad mates, but I instructed that watcher to feel free to take action if he felt any of his charges were in immediate danger.
“The cadet in question, a psychic, made liberal use of her abilities and managed to use both Ten and Darrell to her own ends, but fortunately was stopped before she could do any permanent damage. She’s dead, by the way. Killed by a toxin that she had intended to be used on my watcher, but her mind was already gone at that point. Grennson destroyed it.”
“You knew she was a psychic, you knew she was up to something, why didn’t you just kick her out?” Jonah demanded. “Get rid of the bitch before she could do any damage! And don’t think I don’t know that the only reason Cody survived his fall off the bike is because of a device my husband gave him, it’s got nothin’ to do with you and your ‘watcher.’”
Admiral Liang pursed his lips. “It’s times like this that I wish your husband were with you. He would have grasped the implications of what I’ve told you instantly.”
“What, that you’re a bad leader with no clue how to take care of kids?” Jonah snapped.
“No, the political implications.” Jonah huffed in exasperation and Admiral Liang leaned forward, his dark eyes intent. “You scoff, but let me remind you that my position here is an appointed one, not something due to me because of my rank. It is as much a political role as it is a military one, and it is subject to the whims of both parties. You think I could have done better? I agree, but take a moment to contemplate what the situation might have been like had the ruling party seen fit to replace me with someone else, someone whose personal beliefs fall firmly in the camp of the Central System Libertarians. You think they would be so quick to investigate an accident when the cadet in question was from the Fringe? You think they would do more than pay lip service to the rules, instead of doing all they could to protect their charges?
“The Academy has been a Federation institution for almost five hundred years. It’s the feeding ground for the Federation’s officer corps, and over forty percent of Federation diplomats are also graduates of the Academy. The Federation relies on the Academy to keep its military strong, and therefore it cannot afford to let its hold on this institution slip. I’ve been in command of the Academy for over twenty years, and I have a solid record of success here which makes it harder for them to dismiss me and put someone new, and less inclined to preserve the balance of political power here, in my place. Right now the Academy is functionally neutral in inter-Federation conflicts, but let me assure you that any excuse to change that will be leapt on. If that happens before I have a chance to put my plan in motion, then it’s the Fringe contingent who will lose out. No formal military force, no formal diplomatic service…your people would be scrabbling, and the Federation would be free to either retake you at their leisure, or ignore you and continue to allow you to be harassed by ‘pirate’ attacks until your planets are harassed right out of existence.”
“And you have a plan that could prevent that?” Jonah asked, more than a little skeptical. “’Cause I gotta say, I’ve seen the masters at work and they’re not makin’ a lot of headway, much less with something this big.”
“My plan doesn’t necessarily prevent a sundering of the ranks,” Admiral Liang admitted. “It does, however, put in place a system that allows for cadets to choose their own path upon graduation. If that’s disallowed, then we go with my second plan, which is to effectively steal this institution right out from under the Federation.”
“How…you’ve gotta be kidding me.”
Admiral Liang smiled thinly. “Not at all. I need time, though, time to prepare things here in order to allow for this transition. Losing my command would put a stop to my plan, and therefore to any hope the Fringe has of amassing its own fleet of war.”
“They might manage something without you,” Jonah said, but without conviction.
“Possibly…but over my lifetime, I’ve found that action by committee is very rarely as effective as a unilateral strike. Perhaps that makes me a dictator, but if so I am a benevolent one. I’ve seen far too many conflicts, some that destroy entire worlds, to wish the same for my children.”
“How old are you?” Jonah asked suddenly.
Admiral Liang chuckled. “Older than anyone knows. You are well-acquainted with naturalism, of course.” Jonah nodded. “There is a perpetual balance to the order of the universe. Everything has its opposite. In the case of naturalism, the body cannot accept Regen. In my case, I am naturalism’s converse. A rare genetic phenotype that not only rejuvenates with the help of Regen, but can replace itself completely. Every time I enter the tank, I emerge not only rejuvenated, but completely renewed, every single cell replaced so fast the machine could do nothing but let it happen, or risk killing me partway through the transformation. The first few times it happened I lost most of my memories to the process. I keep my past on file now.”
Jonah was dumbfounded. “You’re…immortal.”
The admiral shrugged. “Functionally immortal, I suppose, although not impervious to death. My genetic status is closely guarded, by the way. I’ve only shared it with you because I know that you, of all people, can understand how dangerous such information can be. I want to give you something on me, to balance the account between us. I value your child, Captain Helms. I value all of the children here, but Cody is something special. He brings people together like nothing I’ve ever seen before. He could be a great leader, if only he learned how to conceal how he feels and what he knows.”
“Then he wouldn’t be himself.”
“Agreed. Are you here to remove him from the Academy?”
Jonah sighed. “I was thinkin’ about it, honestly.”
Admiral Liang inclined his head. “As bad as the situation has been, the one good thing to come out of it is a certain freedom when it comes to my executive actions. That’s why I was able to get rid of the assassin’s collaborator so quickly, and how I will take new measures to ensure the increased safety of my cadets.”
“What happened to the collaborator?”
“He’s been dismissed and demoted, and is currently heading for the Fringe for what I hope will be a very uncomfortable stint on Raiden’s Rock.”
“There’s nothing of value on Raiden’s Rock,” Jonah argued.
“That depends on how you define value, Captain. Raiden’s Rock is used as a teaching tool by the Federation, and one a commander at a certain level can exercise at their discretion. Doing duty there imparts a certain…humility, let us say. The man’s career is over regardless, but at least this way I can give him two years service in the middle of nowhere before letting him go.” Admiral Liang smiled. “I do love an object lesson.
“And I understand if you decide you have to remove Cody from our stewardship, but I suggest that you speak with him about it before you do. Consider all the options.”
“I’ll do that,” Jonah said.
“Good.” Admiral Liang stood up. “In the meantime, consider this room yours for the night. I’ve set the comm to alert you as soon as Cody is awake, and naturally you’re coded to enter his room. He’ll be very happy to see you.” The admiral left, and Jonah stared at the door for a while, trying to let it all sink in.
What was the best thing for Cody? To be honest, when he’d gotten the call earlier telling him that Cody had been hurt, again, Jonah’s first instinct had been to grab his kid and run as far as he could, away from all the idiocy and conflict. Liberty was a cesspit but there was still Pandora, where they had friends and jobs and a home that Jonah felt like he hadn’t seen in ages. Then there was the other option, the one from Jack…
It had been Jack that Jonah was meeting with when he got the call. His new job was acting as an unofficial liaison between the Fringe politicians and the nearest Drifter ships, passing information back and forth about attacks and prospective new laws that would make things harder for the nomads. That meant a lot of travelling for Jonah, since Drifters tended not to trust any information that didn’t come face-to-face, and didn’t have the means to encrypt their communication channels anyway.
The call notification had put a swift end to Jonah and Jack’s meeting, Jonah pushing back from the table in the dingy back room of the pub they had rendezvoused in, just one planet away from the Academy.
“I have to go, Cody’s in the infirmary,” Jonah had said tersely. Jack’s hand on his wrist had stopped him in his tracks, though.
“He okay?” Jack asked, genuine concern in his face.
“Nothin’ permanent, at least,” Jonah allowed, knowing he sounded just as frustrated as he felt.
“I’m not tellin’ you what to do, Jonah, but from the sound of things that life ain’t the safest one our boy could be livin’.”
“It’s the one he wants to be in,” Jonah had said, but not as firmly as he’d wanted.
“It’s the one he knows, sure. There’s other ways to keep the kid safe, though. Includin’ one right here,” Jack had said. “You’d both be welcomed back to the fold. Could disappear with him, get him out of all of this, keep him safe with his own people.”
“And his other father?”
Jack had shrugged. “Your choice of course, but I don’t think Garrett’d come along, way he is.” They had stared at each other for a long, tense moment before Jack said, “Listen, just think about it. Here.” He handed over a piece of paper—real paper, no tabs or comm discs—with a number and a frequency on it. “That’s my encrypted line. Got it just for you. Call me if you need me, y’hear?” And Jonah knew he hadn’t imagined the heat in Jack’s eyes, or the intensity of his voice. Jonah had left, come to the Academy, and now he took out that piece of paper and stared at it, feeling his throat itch with the need to talk to someone. Someone who loved him, someone who would understand…
Jonah reached into his pack and pulled out his private comm unit, waited for a signal and then reached out for the connection he already knew by heart. A moment later, the image of a pale, poufy bed came into view, complete with a head of disheveled blond hair and a hand withdrawing from the screen, probably just finished turning it on.
“Hey,” Garrett said sleepily, coming more awake by the second. “Did you get there? Is he okay?”
“Yeah,” Jonah said, finally feeling the last of his tension loosen its claws and settle down. “He’s fine. He and Ten are piled up a few rooms over. I’ll talk to him when he wakes up.”
“Fuck, that’s a relief. And what about you? Are you okay?”
Jonah smiled softly at his husband. “Yeah, darlin’. I’m fine now.”