Notes: Holy whoa, here we go! Have some more of last week, plus a few more resolutions and the beginning of the grand reveal. FYI darlins, my plotting is earnest but imperfect. As we begin to descend into denouement, please keep my imperfections in mind. I had to make some major revisions to motivation in this chapter as I suddenly realized that the way I was doing things made no freaking sense in the grander scheme of things. Arg! Go me.
PS, I submitted my first story to Riptide Publishing tonight—keep your fingers crossed for me;)
Title: The Academy
Part Thirty: Killing Me Softly
“You’re not focusing.”
Hmm? “No, I am,” Cody said automatically. “What? What was the question?”
“There was no question,” Grennson said, his voice a little amused. “You’re supposed to be telling me about Federation policy on trans-planetary migration during the Boleshi presidential regime.”
“Oh my god.” Cody rubbed his palms over his face. “I know, but it’s so boring. Who really cares how many millions of people left the Central System half a millennium ago?”
“I think it’s a very interesting time, actually,” Grennson replied, looking at the holoscreen projection on top of their kitchen table. The constellation of planets that made up the Central System spun before their eyes, and as the years passed on their accelerated timetable, more and more sparkling motes that represented ships flew away from them, each one accompanied by a gross number of occupants and a percentage of the overall planetary population. “It’s the greatest human migration on record after the abandonment of Earth. Much larger in terms of pure numbers, of course. Your scientists were not as accomplished at terraforming back then, and many of these ships were filled with people who had very little information to go on. I think it’s remarkable that humanity has done as well as it has with colonizing new planets.”
“We also did really badly in some places, though,” Cody pointed out. “Stupid moves with colony ships got over a million people killed on the Three Sisters, and over fifty other colonies died out within the first fifty years thanks to poor management and bad intelligence when it came to picking a planet. Like, what happened on Tombstone? When they landed and everything was beautiful for twenty years, and all of a sudden the solar cycles turned and the whole place froze? And don’t even get me started on the megalomania.” Cody swept his hand away from the Central planets and out toward the Fringe. “This one.” He poked at a small planet orbiting a red dwarf.
“The guy who founded the colony on Genesis was convinced that he’d found the Fountain of Youth when one of the local plants turned out to be a hallucinogen. He made all of his shipmates get high, proclaimed himself a god and then sacrificed them one by one so he could synthesize compounds out of their livers and adrenal glands to make something he said was even more potent. He killed over a hundred people before someone finally put a stop to it, but he also sabotaged the ship, so there was no way to leave and no one to come and save the survivors. All we have are old vids that document the colony’s collapse.”
“Harmony is always cyclical,” Grennson mused, watching the Genesis colony’s small light die out as the years rolled on. “No person and no place can exist in a state of perfect balance, not if it wants to stay vital. My people’s history is no different. Perel males were bred for war, you know, violent clan disputes that lasted for centuries. If the matriarchs hadn’t stepped in, my whole race might have killed itself off.”
Cody could scarcely credit it. Grennson was about the gentlest person he knew. “But now you’re pretty happy, right?”
“Some people are happy. Some are very unhappy that Perel is no longer an…an island unto itself, I think? Is that how you say it?”
Cody smiled. “Yeah, that’s good. What about—” A little chirping noise distracted him. “What’s that?”
“It’s coming from your room,” Grennson pointed out. “It might be an alarm on one of Ten’s experiments.”
“I guess I should check it before it blows us up then,” Cody said, pushing his chair back and heading into their room. He knew it wasn’t an experiment, actually—something had been distracting Ten for days, and Cody hadn’t thought it possible, but he was actually missing his friend’s test tubes and programming and constant muttering. And, well, more than that…but Ten and he still hadn’t talked about the kiss, and with Ten so uptight, Cody wasn’t about to broach it right now. Which was maybe cowardly, but exams were coming up and they were both busy as hell. They could hash it out afterward.
The beeping was coming from the corona, which Ten had left plugged into his tab. “Download and assessment complete,” he read aloud. He pressed to accept, and instantly a line of rolling data sprang up in front of him. “What the hell?” Cody looked closer at the headings. “Mental energy fields…Grennson, do you have any idea what Ten’s been doing with hir corona?” He waited a beat, then repeated, “Grennson?” Weird, he hadn’t heard Grennson leave the table, but maybe he went back to his room to get something.
Cody left the corona where it was and leaned back to look out his door, which gave him a good view of the table. Grennson was still sitting there, but his posture was wrong, back arched painfully and quills fully extended, hundreds of them piercing a translucent net that sparked and snapped with electricity. His face was bare, but the net covered the rest of his head, and after a moment Cody could hear a deep, pained groan emerge from his friend’s throat.
“Grennson!” Cody ran for the table, so focused on getting there that he didn’t even see the blow coming his way until it hit the back of his neck, knocking him forward onto his knees and jarring his shoulder painfully.
“I wanted to expect better,” a familiar voice said regretfully. The pointed toe of a boot kicked Cody in the ribs, driving him onto his back. The boot settled on top of his bad collarbone, and Cody’s eyes squeezed shut as he gritted his teeth against a scream. “I really did.” When the first rush of pain had cleared his system, Cody looked up and stared at Pamela with consternation.
“After all, you’re the grandson of a general. A powerful politician, the mouthpiece for an entire ideology. I’d hoped he’d prepare you better. But then I remembered, you’re only a natural.” Pamela knelt on top of Cody and replaced her foot with the base of her hand, settling her weight onto Cody’s hips. “And stupidly trusting. That’s a fatal combination, Cody.”
“Why are you…doing this?” he gasped around the pressure in his chest. He could smell Grennson’s quills smoking; he had to get the net off of him before it damaged him permanently. Cody was bigger than Pamela, but she was using her weight to great effect, and her fingers dug into his wound like knives. He could feel the bone creak under her grip.
“It’s nothing personal,” Pamela assured him. “Not especially. I have a very specialized job, like all my people, and you’re just the latest target that needs to be disposed of, that’s all. Perhaps the weakest target I’ve ever had to deal with, honestly. The best thing I can say about you is that you know how to pick your friends. I’ve been trying to get a safe, subtle shot at taking you out for months. I finally had to resort to forcing Ten to go along with me, which was exhausting. You even got close to Kyle, which—very inconvenient, Cody. Friendship removes some of the credibility of what I’m going for here, and I had to modify my plans after you survived the bike crash. Bad form, sweetheart.
“But I don’t really have to implicate Kyle in your death to accomplish my goal. That was just a bonus objective. So.” She smiled sweetly at him. “How about I crush your throat? It’s a painful but relatively quick death, and I’m stronger than I look.” She leaned forward, lifting her hips slightly as she reached for his neck, and Cody took the opportunity to kick out, as hard as fast as he could, knocking his legs hard into the table, the chairs and against the floor as he tried to shift away. Pamela rode out his convulsions and, as soon as he was flat again, dug her fingers into the space behind his collarbone and pulled. Fresh-healing bone cracked anew, and Cody clawed at her with his free hand as he cried out—it was agony, it was too much, he saw stars swimming before his eyes and knew that if he passed out that would be it, and maybe that might be it anyway, it hurt so much…
“So fragile,” Pamela whispered. “So breakable. Stop yelling, no one can hear you. Be quiet and it’ll be easier on you, I promise.” She leaned down close, laid her forearm over his throat and began to press. Cody coughed, and the spots that blurred his vision increased. Everything became bright, and the pain was dulling that that was a bad sign, and Cody could barely see Pamela’s face as she stared into his eyes, calmly killing him.
He did see the long white fingers that closed over Pamela’s head, jerking her backward with a shocked scream. Cody spent a few long moments recovering his breath and listening to his heartbeat rattling in his chest, faster than he’d ever felt it before. By the time he got into a sitting position, every movement sending crackling pain through his torso and neck, he was just in time to see Kyle burst through the door, then stop dumb at the sight of Grennson and Pamela.
Grennson’s chair was tipped on its side, the net that had bound him crumpled on the floor where he’d fallen after Cody had kicked his chair over. Grennson’s head was badly burned, half of his quills smoking nubs. His pupils were huge and shining uncannily, and his lips were curved into a feral snarl as he crouched over Pamela’s head, keeping her from moving as he stared into her eyes. She was sprawled awkwardly, twisting from side to side as she fought to escape. Cody could feel her psychic attacks now, not directed at him but at Grennson. There were echoes of pain and fear, enough to make Cody feel sick, and he turned his head to the side and threw up, helpless, his abused throat aching and his head ringing.
A moment later Pamela started screaming, and Cody watched in horror as the vessels in her eyes ruptured, streaming thin lines of red down her plump cheeks. Then Kyle was there, pressing something to Pamela’s breastbone, and a moment later she went completely limp. The mental pain eased off, then vanished completely, and for a moment Cody felt swamped with a feeling of pure, satisfying victory. That wasn’t his feeling. It had to be Grennson, who still looked wild, growling gutterally at Pamela’s corpse.
“Easy,” Kyle said, holding up his hands. “Easy, friend.” Grennson snapped his teeth at Kyle, who backed away and got down next to Cody. “Any ideas on how to calm him down?” he murmured.
“Um…” Cody didn’t feel clear-headed enough to answer questions, but this was important. “Maybe speaking in Perel?” Although just the thought of trying out the few words he knew of the language, with his throat throbbing as it was, made him wince, but he had to try. “Grennson…”
“Holy shit!” That was Darrell at the door, losing his grip on a writhing Ten. He went straight for Grennson while Ten came barreling at Cody. Ze barreled into Cody full speed and wrapped him up in a hug, which unfortunately jostled his re-broken collarbone hard enough that the spots were back, and closing in with a vengeance. He fought to stay lucid, wrapping his good arm around Ten’s back and easing hir to the side, so that the pressure on his broken collarbone eased. He looked out through pain-glazed eyes as Darrell started talking to Grennson in Perel, purring every other word. After a minute Grennson began to respond, and Cody let himself relax a little.
Students were beginning to congregate in the hall, peering through the door but not quite brave enough to enter with Grennson the way he was. Cody watched Kyle get up, walk over to the door and firmly shut it, then activate his com. “Sorry sir, there’s no time for secure channels,” he said aloud. “We need containment in Hebe Tower right away. Cody Helms’ quad. Yes, sir. Yes. Medical personnel too. Thank you, sir. Fledgling out.”