Notes: Sorry for the delay! This one is a little longer than normal, although possibly not any more comprehensible. What can I say, it’s late and I’m tired, but I keep my promises. I hope it makes sense. I’m doing much better, btw, thanks for the sweet comments.
Title: The Academy
Part Thirty-One: Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Kill ‘Em…Or...
An hour later, Cody was medicated into feeling no pain, his rebroken collarbone was set, and he still had almost no idea what the hell was going on. Getting out of their quad had been a trial, what with Grennson snarling at anyone who wasn’t Cody or Darrell, Ten stubbornly clinging to Cody’s neck like a young child, strange and silent, and special techs having to come in and transport Pamela’s body away. Her dead body. Her awful dead body that had been alive just a few minutes before, her living hands wrapped around Cody’s bones, her lungs powering words that Cody could scarcely believe he was hearing—could still barely believe, even now that he’d gotten some distance from the attack.
The strangest part, if such a classification even existed in the bizarre world that had taken over Cody’s life, was when the security forces came in, four people in full tac gear, stunners all pointed straight at Kyle. Cody had wanted to tell them they were wrong, but his throat hurt so bad he could barely force himself to swallow. And then Kyle just…surrendered. He went with them, a little smile playing on his face, and then the infirmary staff descended on them and when they went to pull Cody away from Ten, Ten’s arms had tightened so hard that Cody had blacked out for real. When he woke up he was—
Here. With Admiral Liang, who sat in a chair at the foot of his bed, working on a holopad. He looked up as soon as he heard Cody move, and a tired smile graced his face. Even disheveled, the admiral still looked elegant, black hair combed back along his head, his posture straight and strong. “Cadet Helms.” His voice was warm. “I’m glad to see you awake.”
“Mm…me too,” Cody said, surprised to find that his voice was only a little hoarse.
“I’m sorry you’re back in here. Please understand, I never meant for this situation to endanger your life. You have my sincere apologies.”
Well, that was nice, but… “What situation, exactly?” Cody asked.
Admiral Liang looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then back down. “I assume you know more than the average cadet about what’s going on on Liberty.”
“I know that my fathers and grandfather are negotiating on behalf of the Fringe with the Federation government,” Cody said carefully.
“So they are. They have been for months, and are having more of an impact than some factions would like. It’s entirely possible that they’ll gather the support needed to force a new election in the next few weeks, provided nothing gets in the way. A new election might not get rid of the people at the very top of the chain of command, but any shakeup to the establishment is enough to make certain people nervous, at this point. If after taking that step no real change is enacted, it’s entirely possible that the Federation will split into Central System and Fringe collectives, and at that point…” Admiral Liang spread his hands. “Chaos. Something that no ruler wants.”
“What does that have to do with me?” Cody demanded, or tried to demand—his voice broke on a cough with the last word. The admiral got up and passed him a glass of water, which he gulped down thirstily—wow, and it was amazing he could do that, his throat felt so much better.
“I just got finished speaking with your fathers,” Admiral Liang said, somewhat off-topic, as far as Cody was concerned. “I reassured them as to your health and our control over all parties involved here, but they aren’t taking anything I say at face value at this point. Jonah is headed here as we speak, and he’ll be staying until the end of the term in a month, at which point he’ll take you back to join the rest of your family for a time. Only for the mid-year break, unless you’ve decided you’ve had enough of the Academy, and I couldn’t blame you for that,” Admiral Liang added, reacting to the hurt in Cody’s face that he hadn’t been able to hide at the thought of being kicked out.
“What does this have to do with anything here?”
“Cadet, this is your fathers’ reaction to you being relatively unharmed. What do you think would have happened if you had been permanently injured or killed?”
“They would have lost it.” Lost it utterly and completely. Cody wasn’t vain, but he also wasn’t stupid—he knew his fathers loved him. He had seen them worry about each other in the past, and he vaguely remembered how they’d been when he got stung by a poisonous insect on Paradise, over ten years ago now. Losing it didn’t go far enough.
“It would have been the ultimate distraction. In politics, there’s more to winning than presenting the best argument; it’s all about persona. General Caractacus is highly respected, and his coalition is relying on him and your father Garrett to be their mouthpieces. They’re smart, they’re handsome, they have loving families and extensive interests and histories on both Central and Fringe planets…they’re a perfect foil to the insular Alexander clan. But such closeness is also a weakness, and losing you would mean the coalition would lose the focus of its most valued members. Do you see where I’m going with this?”
“Pamela was, what, an assassin?” Cody couldn’t quite believe it, even now, after she’d already tried to kill him.
“Officially, she wasn’t,” Admiral Liang said, and now he looked troubled, and tired. “Officially she was just a friend of yours, a friend who actually stopped an assassination attempt on you.”
The pieces clicked together in Cody’s head. Oh no. “You can’t arrest Kyle,” he said, his heart aching with a sudden sharp intensity. “You can’t, it wasn’t his fault! He didn’t do anything wrong, he—you can’t!”
“He’s already signed a confession, stating that he tried to kill you in order to help secure his brother’s position on Liberty. His confession has been sent back to his brother, as well as several major news agencies on Liberty, at his insistence. I didn’t make him do this, he had legal telling him not to do it, but he insisted. He says he isn’t afraid of his patriotism and fraternal loyalty.”
“That’s fucking stupid,” Cody snapped, forgetting who he was talking to in the heat of his anger. “Why would he do that? It’s nothing but a huge lie!”
Admiral Liang sighed. “I can’t talk to you about that, Cadet. However, if you want, I can let you see Senior Cadet Alexander in private for a brief period of time. He’s being shipped back to Liberty within the day, but he specifically asked to speak with you if you wished it.”
Cody swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up, a little shaky on his feet from the painkillers, but determined. “Where is he?”
“In a private cell in the brig. Which, coincidentally, is in this very building. We don’t get much call for incarcerating cadets, so we included a small cellblock next to the radiation bunkers in the basement of the infirmary.” Admiral Liang opened the door to Cody’s room, only to be confronted by Cody’s nurse, the same one as before—he felt bad for forgetting her name.
“Sir,” she said, and Cody had never heard so much disapproval poured into a single word. “Cadet Helms is supposed to be resting.”
“Cadet Helms is sufficiently rested for the task at hand, which is quite time sensitive, Sergeant,” Admiral Liang replied.
“Are you going to be dragging Cadet St. Florian out of hir Regen tank next?” she asked acidly.
“What’s wrong with Ten?” Cody cut in, because last he’d seen hir Ten had seemed all right, physically.
“Ze just needs to get hir hormones and neurochemicals back under control, and Regen is the best method for doing that safely,” the nurse assured him. “I’ll take you to sit with hir right now, if you want.”
It was tempting; now that she’d mentioned Ten, Cody literally itched to see hir. But… “When I’m done with this,” he said. The nurse scowled but let them by.
There was an elevator at the end of the main hall that only went down when Admiral Liang scanned his implant, offered a verbal password and let the control pad verify his DNA as well. They descended into the basement, and as the doors opened Cody was surprised at how much colder it was down there. He shivered, and Admiral Liang placed a warm hand on his good shoulder and steered him forward and down the hall, to a door on the left that had two guards standing outside it.
“Open it up,” the admiral said, and the nearest guard complied. He gently pushed Cody forward. “Half an hour, no more,” he warned. “There’s visual but not audio surveillance, so you can speak freely if you need to.”
“Good.” Because Cody wanted to yell at Kyle, but he didn’t necessarily want it all recorded for his dad to look at later. He went into the cell, which had a bunk on the far wall, a retractable sink and toilet, plain gray walls and leaning against one of them like he didn’t have a fucking care in the world—Kyle Alexander.
He looked up when Cody entered the room, his handsome face wreathed in a bright, sudden smile. “Cody!”
Cody saw red.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he demanded, marching over and burying his fingers in Kyle’s lapel, and shaking him as hard as he could. It wasn’t very hard, all things considered, but it made him feel better. “Why would you…I don’t…you’re doing something idiotic, I know it, that’s the only excuse and you just…I know you would never hurt me.” His voice trailed off at the end, losing all its strength, because Kyle had his hands on Cody’s waist, and was looking at him with so much compassion that Cody couldn’t stand it. “Why would you do this? And if you say it has anything to do with, with fucking saving me, then I’m going to kill you.”
“No you won’t,” Kyle said. “Come here, let’s sit down, you’re shaking.”
Maybe he was, a little. They sat down on the bunk and Kyle put his arm carefully around Cody’s shoulders, so close that Cody could feel Kyle’s chest rise and fall with each breath. “It isn’t just to save you,” Kyle said, and it was shameful, how much better that made Cody feel. For fuck’s sake, he wasn’t worth this much aggravation. “Although that would still be a worthwhile result for it all.”
“Shut up,” Cody sniffed. “Why didn’t you just tell them it was Pamela? She’s the one who sabotaged my bike, isn’t she? Did she…is she behind what happened to Valero? And Marcys?”
“That’s…complicated, and we don’t have a lot of time,” Kyle said. “Ask the admiral, he’ll explain it all to you. I knew that you were one of her targets, I just wasn’t sure how she was going to come at you. We’re lucky, actually, that she tried to use Ten. Ze’s apparently very resistant to psychic attacks, it took Pamela so long to get hir pliable that I was able to take countermeasures. It was still too close, but…” Kyle shrugged. “It worked out in the end. Pamela’s dead, you’re alive and I’m going on trial.”
“Why do you want that?”
Kyle smiled, and it wasn’t a nice smile this time. “Because it’s going to make my brother look incompetent at best, and abusive at worst. And anything I can do that makes him look bad is good for both of us.”
Cody got why it was good for him, but… “Why is that good for you?”
“Because,” Kyle said simply, “my brother killed our father. And I want to hurt him for that, and he knows it. This is one way I can do it, a very public way I can shame him that he won’t be able to subvert. Not with my very public confession that I did it all for him and his ideals in the media’s eye.”
There were too many questions, Cody hardly knew how to get his mouth working. He went with the first one that sprang up. “I thought…wasn’t it pirates?”
Kyle chuckled darkly. “Yes, it was pirates. Or rather, personal privateers in the pay of my brother. My father embarrassed Raymond, he was a hedonist living out a second youth with a new wife and a new child. He certainly wasn’t helping my brother’s political career, and so my brother worked out a plan to get rid of him. Pirates, in that part of space, knowing exactly where our ship was…my father knew who was behind it, he told me not to trust Ray when he put me in the escape pod. It took me less than a minute with my brother before I knew my father was right. Raymond is…he’s smart, but he’s not good at hiding how he’s feeling from people he doesn’t respect.
“Anyway, his plan worked. He got to take me in and look caring, and he figured out a way of getting rid of his enemies that’s persisted to this day.”
“You mean the attacks on Fringe colonies?”
“By phantom pirates who are way too well armed and don’t take any goods, just kill and leave? Yes,” Kyle affirmed. “Although there’s no proving it yet.”
Cody shook his head. It didn’t make sense. “Why not just disassociate from the Fringe if he doesn’t like it so much?”
“Because he doesn’t want the reputation of the man who split apart the Federation. He wants other people to ‘force’ him to it, and sowing fear and discord in distant colonies is a way of making them afraid while making his allies think that all Fringers are incompetents who can’t defend their own worlds.”
It was almost too much. Cody had to move on. “But why get arrested? There has to be a better way to mess with your brother.”
Kyle shook his head. “Pamela should never have been at the Academy. She was right about psychics being insular, and that’s how the rulers of the Federation like it. The registered psychics are trained to be spies and assassins, and at first I thought she was here for me. It took a while before I realized that her actual target was you, and that if she could pin the blame on me for it, so much the better.”
“But you’re giving your brother what he wanted,” Cody insisted. “By taking the blame anyway. Don’t you see that? He can put you in prison and forget about you.”
“He could if I went quietly,” Kyle agreed. “But with the amount of press I’m getting, there’s going to have to be a public trial. I’ll draw it out as long as I can, and that will give Raymond’s detractors—your dads, other politicians from the Fringe—more time to convince people to send actual investigators and additional troops to the colonies that have been hit, among other things.”
“I, no, I still don’t see why you had to go this far,” Cody said. His head was starting to ache, right behind his eyes, a dull, grinding pain. “Why the arrest? There has to be vid evidence that—”
“None,” Kyle said. “My brother has allies on the staff here, how else would Pamela have gone unseen on the security feeds for so long? And this isn’t the first time he’s tried to sideline me. I’ve been dodging one attack or another since I was eleven. Once I graduate, he’d make sure I was sent too far away to be a danger. This way, I’m going to be right in his face.” Kyle squeezed Cody a little tighter. “I really don’t mind. I’ve got some very good lawyers, and my brother’s going to have to be very careful with his testimony at my trial. Who knows what will happen next?”
“I still think you’re an idiot,” Cody whispered, his throat tight. He shut his eyes and leaned his head against Kyle’s shoulder. “A total idiot.”
“A sentiment you and Ten share, I’m sure,” Kyle said. “I know it’s strange. Talk to Liang, okay? He can clear things up.”
“He hasn’t done a great job so far,” Cody replied. “I just…fuck. I hate this.”
“I know. I’m sorry it turned out this way, but I’m not sorry you’re going to be all right. You’re a good person, Cody.” Soft lips pressed a tender kiss to the shallow bowl of his temple. “Thank you for being my friend.”
Cody couldn’t have spoken if his life depended on it, he could barely breathe around the fluttering agony beating at his chest, demanding he express it. He bit his lower lip, and turned his face into Kyle’s neck, where the darkness made bearing it easier.