Notes: So, not the longest chapter here, but one that I found really satisfying to write, and that I hope you enjoy too. I’m in such a great mood, I got a call from a publisher I’ve been dying to get in with this morning who said that they loved my work and wanted to see anything else I had, so…hooray for professional development! I needed that boost. Really winding down now, darlins. I’ve still got some explaining to do, but…
Actually, speaking of explaining, I have a confession to make: I’m not actually sure what I’ve done to Valero. I’ve got a few options but no strong feelings about it. If anyone cares to give me their thoughts about Valero’s fate, and doesn’t mind if I write it up if I like it, please feel free to share. Otherwise I may just consign her to the pile of “lost plot threads” that shamefully exists, and that would suck.
Title: The Academy
Part Thirty-Three: Use The Force, Darrell
It was five hours since the attack, and Darrell was exhausted.
Well, okay, he was more than exhausted. He’d been exhausted after finding everyone on the floor of their quad. He’d been emotionally wrung out at the sight of Cody and Ten and Grennson, especially Grennson, lying there with smoke still rising from his quills, clutching Pamela’s dead body and making that horrible noise. Just stepping into the room had given Darrell an instant headache, something in the air maybe, something that made his temples pound and his whole spine prickle. And then, impossibly, it had gotten worse.
Darrell had almost blacked out when the medics got Grennson onto the stretcher and took him away. They’d had to sedate him first, because the Perel had still been growling, snapping when they got close. No one was entirely sure how to properly sedate a Perel, though, and whatever they’d given Grennson, it had worn off in minutes.
Darrell had stayed close, unable to tear himself away even when the nurse wanted to put him out to treat the headache and his bruises from the fight with Kyle. He’d insisted on staying close, and so he got to watch them put Grennson in a room that was almost more prison cell than living suite, and then listen to them argue about what to do next. Regen was the human treatment of choice, but there were no settings in Regen for any aliens, much less the newest species to be known to the Federation. Meanwhile, Darrell watched Grennson become more and more aggravated, tearing at his own quills in between growls, thrashing his head from side to side like something was stuck inside and he was trying to shake it out. The longer Darrell watched the projection, the sicker he felt, until finally he pushed past the medical staff and let himself into the room.
They had tried to follow him, but as soon as Darrell stepped inside Grennson’s eyes were on him, and his hands stilled. Darrell started speaking in Perel—stupid, simple things, basic shit that he could barely remember thanks to the pain in his head. Grennson was—not calming down, exactly, but at least not actively hurting himself anymore.
“Whatever you’re doing,” one of the doctors said lowly, “keep it up. We’re going to try and get in touch with his parents. If you feel unsafe at any time, the door will open for you.”
The mere fact that they were willing to let Darrell stay spoke volumes. It was irregular—no, it was crazy—to let them interact like this, with Grennson unpredictable and Darrell not even sure he was having much of an effect, but the medical staff had even less of a clue than Darrell did. The last thing they wanted was for their one alien cadet to go insane on their watch though, and frankly that was the last thing Darrell wanted too. He was more than willing to be the guinea pig in this experiment.
Even do, after hours of the same thing, he hadn’t made any progress. Grennson wouldn’t let him come close, certainly not close enough to touch, and whenever Darrell stopped talking he started growling again. Darrell’s throat ached from so many glottals, and he was starting to feel dizzy from lack of water. He’d have to give up sooner or later, and then he had no idea what would happen to Grennson.
“All right,” a soft voice suddenly said through the comm. Both Darrell and Grennson started in surprise. “We’re in contact with one of Grennson’s parents, and we’re going to try something new.” A moment later the blue-white light of a hologram projected down from the ceiling, adding color and depth and finally resolving into the shape of another Perel. It was Ferran, Grennson’s Perel guardian. He immediately looked straight at Grennson and crouched down on one knee, speaking their language smoothly and melodically. Grennson still wasn’t growling, but he didn’t look any more relaxed either, just more confused.
“Hmm.” When Ferran looked over at Darrell, Darrell froze, feeling like he’d been caught doing something wrong. “Hello, Darrell.”
“Hi,” he said hoarsely. “Look…um…”
“The staff explained to me what happened,” Ferran said softly, his huge, luminescent eyes going back to his son. “I know that you’re helping as best you can.”
“Can’t you do more?” Darrell asked. “Do you know what’s wrong with him, can you fix it?”
“I have a thought about the problem,” Ferran said, and his quills flattened in the same way Grennson’s did when he was feeling sad or uncertain. “I don’t know much about human psychics, but I believe that the mechanism works in much the same way a Perel’s empathy does. The pain of the neural net, the harsh way it stimulated his brain even if it didn’t make total contact, and then facing down your psychic attacker after that…I’m afraid Grennson’s empathy is stuck on a loop. It can happen when we’re confronted with intense violence or fear. If I were there, I would meditate with him. We’re connected in such a way that my empathy would influence and calm his own.
“I’m not there, though, and while there are human sedatives that would work on Grennson, they would not free his mind from its turmoil. His pain would follow him into sleep.”
Darrell rubbed his eyes on the heels of his hands. “There has to be something we can do.”
When he looked up Ferran was grinning at him. “I like how you said ‘we,’” Ferran told him, still smiling, but his voice was serious. “Because I think there’s a chance that you’ll be the one to calm Grennson down.”
“I’ve tried, I’ve been trying,” Darrell protested. “It’s barely done anything.”
“You’ve never seen a Perel in a frenzy before, Darrell. I know humans use medicine to regulate their darker moods, but Perels rely on meditation, family and the strong presence of our matriarchs to keep us level. With none of those at hand, Grennson should be utterly manic right now, hurting himself, needing to be restrained. He isn’t, and that is your doing.”
That was…wow. Good to hear, but… “So what else can I do?” Darrell asked.
“Sit down on the floor. Cross-legged, with your hands palm up on your knees,” Ferran instructed. “Perel usually kneel when we meditate, but human knees are less robust. This is how Jason prefers to sit.”
Darrell lowered himself to the floor, wincing a little he tilted his aching head forward. He crossed his legs, got his hands into the right position, then said, “Now what?”
“Now I’m going to sit as well, but within you. Grennson can’t sense me, but seeing you coupled with my silhouette might be comforting to him.”
Right, the spines. Darrell held still as Ferran’s hologram sat down inside of him. It wasn’t that he could feel it, exactly, more like he thought he should. Either way, it wasn’t entirely comfortable, but whatever helped Grennson he would do.
“Now you need to calm your breathing,” Ferran said softly. “Let it start in the belly, then up into the chest. In through your nose, but out through your mouth, nice and slow. Go with me.” He inhaled and Darrell copied him, feeling his stomach muscles object to being asked to unclench. Once they did unclench though, Darrell found that he was breathing a lot easier.
They just breathed, just that, for several minutes. Grennson watched them from across the room, almost completely still, his eyes glittering through the slits of his lids. “Good,” Ferran said. “Very good. As you calm down so is he. I thought he might have established an empathic connection with you, but I couldn’t be sure until now. It’s only happened between a very small number of humans and Perel, and then only after sharing close quarters for a significant amount of time. Now. Look at him, and think about him. Think thoughts of warmth and comfort and family.”
When Darrell thought of his family, he was very rarely comforted. But, he realized, that didn’t matter. He wasn’t thinking about them, he was thinking about the family he’d chosen to have, and that began right here, with Grennson. Darrell looked at his roommate, his best friend, and thought about staying up late to practice Perel, and how awful his accent had been, how patient Grennson was with him. He thought about the warm, sweet smell of lhosa tea, and the deliciousness of Grennson’s cooking. He thought about how finally, for the first time ever, he felt like someone had accepted him not for who his father was, but for who Darrell was, as his own person. Grennson was never malicious, never hurtful, sometimes teasing but never sharp. He made Darrell feel like there was more to life than the heaviness of other people’s expectations, and he had shared everything with Darrell: his culture, his language, even his own family. It was more than Darrell could ever repay, and he was so, so grateful.
Grennson crept across the floor, first fitfully, then with more confidence, until eventually he knelt directly in front of Darrell. Slowly, he leaned forward and touched their foreheads together.
It was like a window opened in Darrell’s mind. At first there was pain, and he could hear Pamela’s screams in his head, and feel her desperate, clawing attacks against his mind—no, no it was Grennson’s mind, but it felt like his own. That faded quickly though, until a minute later they were sharing the same emotions, a dizzying blend of gratitude and love and utter relief.
“Darrell,” Grennson said in a small voice, and that was it for meditating. Darrell pulled Grennson forward into his arms and hugged him tight to his chest. Grennson returned the embrace, slowly but tightly.
“My good boys,” Ferran said in Perel, and Darrell saw the Perel’s holographic arms emerge from his own body to stroke at Grennson’s head. Grennson purred, and Darrell kind of felt like purring himself, even though neither of them could feel it. “My good, dear boys. You’re all right now.”
Darrell thought they really might be.