Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Love's Landscape event...hits and misses.

Oh boy.

So the thing about an event like Goodread's M/M Romance Group's big yearly story event, this year called Love's Landscapes, is that they're a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to the stories. You can write the most amazing prompt in the world, but there's no telling the story you're going to get from it. It could be, to be succinct, crappy. There have already been the usual fights over bad stories, bad reviews, being gentle on newbie authors versus the right to review however you want, and the list goes on. Naturally, no one is going to like every story written for this event. Some of them, quite frankly, are just bad, and that's part of the learning process of writing. The prompter might not get what they wanted. They might not like their story. Whatever, that's fine, that happens.

Then we get stories that just kill me, kill me, with how amazing they are. Like, a few of these have seriously thrown me into conniptions. Some of them are so good, so satisfying, so atmospheric that I can smell the cigarette smoke, I can feel the edge of the blade, I can taste the cannoli. I want to share a few of my absolute favorites so far, in case you're interested in reading along and getting some awesome stories for free. Because, oh my god, some of these are so good they give me shivers. And we're not even a month in, so...yeah. Much more to come.

The links lead to the download page if downloads are available for a particular story, btw, not the Goodreads page. Also, there are going to be plenty of great stories I don't list, mainly because their theme didn't really appeal enough to read. GFY, college boys, lots of BDSM...meh. Take it or leave it.

The Dreams You Made in the Dirt: Lisa Henry, guys. Guaranteed to get good writing, and it is, it really is. Dark, creepy, the kind of thing that makes you want to shrivel up a little...yeah, Lisa Henry, but it's also really good.

Guarded: Kim Fielding, epic fantasy, amazing world building, some very uncomfortable moments in the midst of awesomeness, bodyguarding, cross-cultural...look, just check it out. My synopses suck.

The Lonely Drop: Vanessa North, a really sweet story about friends reuniting and becoming more than friends, just the sort of slow burn I can get behind, plus inclement weather and people with parent issues. Sign me up.

Better Than New: Charley Descoteaux, a short story that still packs a punch with a phenomenal prompt that I was a hairs-breadth away from trying to claim for myself, and a gorgeous picture of Sebastian Stan, who--yeah. More of that, please.

Broken Phoenix: Edmond Manning, and wow, this one was at a different level than a lot of the other stories. It doesn't do more than genuflect in the direction of contemporary, just drops you feet first into a whole new world. It felt very Patricia McKillip to me, actually.

The Last Cannoli: Tali Spencer's, a long contemporary story about baking, Italian-Americans, family feuds and how to market your business. Slow, steady and delicious.

And lest you think all of my recent favorites are by long-published authors, THING AGAIN! Perhaps the best thing I've read over this whole event just came out yesterday, from a never-before-published author who had better write more, because goddamn this was amazing...

The Case of the Insufferable Slave: Gillian St. Kevern, and I loved pretty much everything about it. It's a noir detective story in an alternate history where the South won the American Civil War, and takes the slave prompt and turns it completely on its head. Hot, well-written, atmospheric as hell. Read this.

And we still have so many to go, including stories by Kaje Harper and Alicia Nordwell and, oh yeah, myself. Be part of this!  Read these wonderful stories, and check the threads out to find the ones I didn't mention that you'll love anyway.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Academy Post #29


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.”

“Who’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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Academy Post #28


Notes:  So, this chapter is a bit of a long, hot mess. It’s not exactly how I wanted it but there’s so much to do that it’ll have to suffice for now. Just, holy crap. Lots of stuff in here.

Thanks again to all my prompters, I love you. You feed my muse, and I’m grateful for it. My birthday was extra wonderful thanks to your help J 

Title: The Academy

Part Twenty-Eight: Subtlety Is Overrated




It took Ten a week to orchestrate a scenario with Kyle that ze hoped would lead to the end result ze wanted, which was basically Kyle confessing to being a horrible human being. Once ze got face-to-face with Kyle, Ten was pretty sure ze could talk him into an outburst, when presented with the fact that they all knew he was a would-be murderer. The problem was in the “they” part of the equation, because there was no way that Ten was going to confront Kyle on anything by hirself, not when ze was perfectly aware that any scion of the Alexander family was undoubtedly full of combat mods, despite their illegality before formal graduation. Exceptions were made for high-profile students, and Ten knew ze wasn’t the only person who didn’t like Kyle.

So, ze needed muscle along for the ride, the kind that Kyle might think twice about messing with. That meant ze needed to convince—and this pained hir to no end—Darrell and Xenia to go along with this. Grennson would have been better, but honestly, Ten wasn’t sure why the Perel had decided to go into the military; he was decidedly pacifistic. Whatever, he could stay with Cody, who under no circumstances could know what Ten was planning out because he would throw another fit and leave Ten feeling inexplicably bad for being right again.

Not surprisingly, Pamela was Ten’s first ally when it came to hir plan. “You’re going to need a way to subdue him, not just intimidate him enough not to come after you,” she said earnestly, her face unnaturally pale. “He won’t just stand around and wait for security staff to catch him. He has to be immobilized.”

“But how?” Ten asked, feeling unusually slow. Ze had been musing over this all week, making plans and discarding them left and right; no doubt hir brain was tired. Plus, ze hadn’t slept for over forty hours, but that was what energy shakes were for.

“Well, I’d say sneak into the infirmary and grab a sedative shot, but they won’t let you in there anymore, will they?”

“So why don’t you do it?” Ten asked. “You’d be even better at sneaking in, wouldn’t you? You’re psychic, you’d know who was where and what was going on. Even better, just compel someone to give it to you so you don’t have to worry about being caught on the security footage.”

“Ten,” Pamela said, her expression pained, “there are some lines that I try not to cross, and compelling people to do my bidding is one of them. Besides, I’m really not that strong a psychic.”

“What constitutes ‘strength’ in a psychic, anyway? What can a really strong psychic do?”

“I’ll tell you later,” she said firmly. “Right now we have to think about how to take out Kyle. Maybe I can get Bartholomew to make something up for me.”

“Good idea,” Ten said instantly. “He’s got access to chemicals that they won’t give me anymore, otherwise I could do it myself.” Ten was sure ze could, if given enough time, at least. “Plus he likes you.” The last few times Ten had met up with Bartholomew at the lab, all he’d been able to talk about was Pamela. 

“Yeah, he’s got a bit of a crush.” Pamela smiled. “Now. We should go and talk to Darrell and Xenia. They’re getting out of paraball practice soon, right?”

“Right.” Ten was faintly aware of the fact that ze was being chivvied into doing things Pamela’s way, which was a little disconcerting since generally ze stuck to hir own methods, but there was no need to fight about the little things when things were generally going the way ze wanted.

“Great. Let’s go meet them and we can tell them what we need from them.”

“I’m still trying to work out how to phrase ‘be the mute and imposing muscle and for fuck’s sake don’t screw things up’ in a polite way,” Ten said as they headed toward the field.

“Don’t worry, I’ll help you soften things,” Pamela promised him. “I was taught the art of diplomacy from a very early age, I know how to be inoffensive.”

“Maybe I should take lessons from you.” Because Ten didn’t care what people thought of hir, ze really didn’t, but maybe it would be nice if ze could have a conversation with Cody without ostracizing him these days. Ten felt like ze was walking on razor grass with hir roommate, casting around for neutral subjects and trying not to be overbearing about Cody’s pain management even though the schedule that ze had worked out was clearly better.

“Tell you what,” Pamela said as they neared the field. “Why don’t you stand back and let me do the talking with Darrell and Xenia? Think of it as your first lesson.”

“Sure, I can do that.”

Since when are you this agreeable? Ten had to admit, hir superego had a point. Ze wasn’t used to standing back and letting someone else take the lead. The answer was simple, though.

Since it’s Cody on the line. Ten could take second place if it meant making sure Cody was safe.

And ze had to admit, watching Pamela at work was like getting a master class in manipulation. They found Darrell and Xenia leaving the field together, sweaty and talking about some new move they were going to try out in the next game. Darrell looked suspicious to see them together, while Xenia was more curious.

“I’m not sure I even want to know,” Darrell said with a groan.

“You do want to know,” Pamela insisted, stepping forward immediately and taking both their hands. Ten shivered and clenched hir fist suddenly, looking down at it in surprise. Hir palm was sweaty. Had Pamela been holding hir hand? Strange, ze hadn’t even noticed it…

“What do you want?” Xenia asked, pulling back a little but not far enough to escape Pamela’s grip.

“We need for you two to help us talk to Kyle,” Pamela said. “Something is going on with him, and we need to get the truth out of him. He’d never speak just to me or Ten, he doesn’t like either of us, but if you two were with us I’m sure he’d be more willing to open up.”

Darrell frowned. “What is it that you want him to talk about? What’s he done?”

“Something he should be ashamed of,” Pamela said, her voice full of quiet conviction. “Something very dangerous, for Cody, Darrell.”

“You’re not referring to the bike thing? Because that was an accident.”

“No it wasn’t.” Ten opened hir mouth to explain, but Pamela plowed ahead before ze could, explaining the event much better than Ten ever could have. She knew just the right things to say, her turns of phrase perfect, her tones inviting confidence and trust. Darrell and Xenia leaned in closer to her the longer she spoke, and Ten found hirself swaying in Pamela’s direction even though ze already knew everything she was going to say.

“We don’t want to hurt him,” Pamela finished up. “We just want to talk to him, we want to get him some help. That’s why we need your help, to make sure nothing goes wrong tomorrow, that he doesn’t run or try to hurt anyone.”

Ten blinked. “Wait, tomorrow?” That wasn’t enough time. “Bartholomew will need longer to synthesize the kind of sedative we need for Kyle.”

“Actually, he won’t,” Pamela said with a little smile.  “It’s something he and I have been talking about for quite a while, and I’m sure by tomorrow morning it’ll be ready. Besides, we don’t want to give Kyle any longer to plan his next move. We have to strike first. For Cody’s sake.”

“Right,” Ten said, but ze was frowning.

“Ten.” Pamela let go of Xenia and took his hand again. “We’re doing this to save Cody. It’s the only way, I swear.”

“All right,” Ten agreed.

“I’m not sure about this,” Xenia said uncomfortably. “Kyle’s never done anything to make me think he’d be capable of killing someone. Not like this.”

“He’s an Alexander,” Pamela said sadly. “They’re the most powerful family in the Federation, do you really think they’d let any member of theirs go out without knowing how to protect themselves by getting rid of others? It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“You should get Grennson to come tomorrow, if that’s true,” Darrell said. “He’s an empath, he’ll be better able to tell if Kyle’s lying. Plus he’s way stronger than any of us.”

“I bet I could take him,” Xenia muttered.

“Of course you could,” Pamela agreed. “You two will do just fine. Ten will have the sedative standing by to make sure.”

Darrell still seemed frustrated. “Why don’t we ask for help, take this to the Admiral? I’m sure he’d help.”

“Really?” Ten asked acidly, unable to stay silent any longer. “You think Admiral Liang would believe us over his golden child, without absolutely incontrovertible proof to back it up? You think Admiral Liang would put Cody’s welfare before a Legacy’s? No offense meant,” ze added for their sakes, “but the Legacy program is what makes this branch of the Academy shine, and a lot of powerful people will be really offended if someone tries to tarnish their brightest star without making sure he’s guilty. Which he is,” ze added. “You know he is. There’s no other good explanation.”

“Listen to Ten,” Pamela pleaded. “Tell us you’ll help us talk to Kyle tomorrow. Ten will let you know when.”

“I…I guess,” Darrell said after a moment.

“Sure,” Xenia replied much easier. She turned to Darrell.  “Maybe we should stay together tonight, make it easier to coordinate tomorrow morning. You can come over to my quad.”

“Okay,” Darrell said.

Ten squinched hir eyes shut suddenly, feeling a sharp pain in the very front of hir head. This was…something was…why would Darrell staying with Xenia be easier? Ze didn’t think—

“Ten.” Ze opened hir eyes to look straight into Pamela’s grey ones, and the pain eased a little. “I know you’re worried, but it’s going to work out, I promise. You’re going to need to set up the meet with Kyle through Cody’s personal account, you know how to do that, right?”

“Yes.” Cody rarely used his implant to send messages, preferring to do it the old-fashioned way. It wouldn’t be hard for Ten to mimic Cody’s account and send a message to Kyle from their room.

“Perfect. You do that, and let all of us know when the meeting is going to be. We’ll go in Cody’s place and get Kyle to talk. Cody will be safe.”

“That’s what I need,” Ten said with complete honesty. Pamela smiled and cupped hir face in her hands.

“I know.”

The rest of the day felt…hazy. Ten was a planner, and ze knew that normally ze would be reviewing their course of action, making backup plans and coming up with alternatives and generally annoying the hell out of everyone around hir with hir zeal, but instead it felt like every time hir mind tried to wander beyond what they’d already worked out, it got hard to think.

Grennson frowned when he learned of Darrell’s absence over dinner, and his quills ruffled even further when Ten didn’t explain beyond a shrug. “Are you sure you are well?” he asked, reaching one milk-pale hand toward Ten’s shoulder. Ten jerked violently out of reach, filled with a sudden repugnance at the very idea of Grennson touching him.

“I’m fine,” ze said automatically, buy that didn’t make Grennson stop staring.

“You don’t seem fine,” Cody said from hir other side, and when he reached out to touch Ten let him. It felt like a balm on hir frayed nerves, and ze leaned into it gratefully.

“Too much studying, not enough rest, maybe,” Ten offered. “I’m going to try to go to sleep early, I think.”

“Good idea,” Cody agreed.  “I’ll be in soon, okay? I’ll try not to wake you if you’re already asleep.”

“Okay.” Ten retreated to their room before Grennson could say anything else, shutting the door behind hir with a sigh. That was a close call. If Grennson knew what was going on he’d undoubtedly try and talk them out of it, and that was completely unacceptable at this point.

Sending a message to Kyle through Cody’s account was child’s play, accomplished in under a minute from Hermes’ tactile interface. When ze got a positive response about it a minute later, Ten sagged a little with relief, the forwarded the news to Pamela and Darrell. This was it, then. The perfect set-up.

Ten reached up to massage hir aching temples and started when hir fingers hit the edge of hir corona. Ze’d forgotten ze’d had it on. Ten slid it off and connected it to hir tab, letting the energy recordings from the day download into it. Ze’d have to remember to bring it tomorrow, it would be a good back-up in case Kyle put a blip into the security footage again.

Ze pretended to be unconscious a few hours later when Cody came into the room, but in truth Ten couldn’t calm down enough to fall asleep. Ze couldn’t quiet hir mind, hadn’t been able to for days—it was so odd, so uncharacteristic. Ten was no stranger to staying up for days on end, but never because of this strange anxiety that had a grip on hir now; ze had always had perfect control over hir mind, and could catnap hir way to victory until ze’d solved whatever problem had captured hir attention. Right now, though, everything was cloudy and indistinct, a vague air of unease that turned into a frenzy when hir thoughts drifted the wrong way. In the end, Ten spent hir last few hours before the meeting perched on the edge of Cody’s bed, fingertips just barely grazing his messy curls.

It was ridiculous, this dependence on Cody. Foolish, because everyone either left Ten or pushed hir away. Hir parents, Symone, countless caregivers and stupid, heartless children that Ten had eventually learned not to try with…none of them had ever stayed. And eventually ze hadn’t cared whether they stayed or not, because frankly they bored hir, but Cody was different. How long he’d stay that way Ten had no way of knowing, but he’d leave a lot sooner than anyone wanted if Kyle Alexander had his way. Ten couldn’t let that happen.

Ze left their quad just as the sky began to lighten, uniform jacket buttoned up tight against the chilly morning air. Ze met Pamela just outside the racing track, where she pressed a heavy metal syringe into hir clammy hands.

“Aim for his heart when you do the injection,” she said. “This is important, Ten. You need to get as close to the heart as possible.”

“Why don’t you do this part?” Ten asked, feeling a little queasy.

“Because I’ve got something else to take care of. Don’t worry,” she assured him. “It’ll be fine. Bartholomew made it, you trust him, don’t you?”

“I suppose…”

“He wouldn’t give you anything that wouldn’t do the job.” Pamela looked over her shoulder at—nothing. “Darrell and Xenia are coming, wait here. I’m going to meet them. When they come back, head into the track. Don’t leave until you get Kyle.” She headed away, out of sight, and left Ten staring at the auto-syringe in his hand. It reminded him of Cody’s, only instead of pain relief this one had…sedative…Ten really should have checked on that, it wasn’t that ze didn’t think Bartholomew was capable of making something effective but he wasn’t brilliant, and if this was too strong, or too weak…and sticking it close to the heart could do serious damage, even if it was a weak formulation, even to someone as modified as Kyle had to be.

All of a sudden Xenia and Darrell were there, and Ten knew exactly what ze had to do. Ze didn’t speak, just led them into the track. The lights were low, but the man they were there to meet wasn’t trying to hide. Kyle Alexander leaned against the far wall, and even in the dim light Ten could see his eyes widen slightly before he pushed forward to meet them.

“Well, you all aren’t exactly who I expected,” he said calmly.

“We’re here to talk to you,” Ten said, feeling anger start to flood hir system at the sight of him. Standing there so casual, like he had nothing to feel guilty about. Standing there like a liar. “You need to tell us why you tried to kill Cody. Why you’re being his friend, when you’re a Legacy, when you’re an Alexander and you hate him.”

“I don’t hate Cody, and I had nothing to do with Cody’s bike exploding.”

“You did,” Ten yelled. “You’re the only one who could have done it, it was you, just tell me why.”

Kyle shook his head. “I don’t have anything to say to you,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure that you’ve got something to tell me.”


Kyle sighed and moved a little closer, flexing his hands. “This isn’t how I wanted things to go, but it’ll have to do at this point.”

Before Ten could move, even to raise the syringe in hir hand, Kyle attacked them.

Monday, June 16, 2014


The prompts are in, my head is spinning, and I've picked my top 5. I couldn't even narrow it down any further, because so many of them were so freaking good!  Some of them were just a single line that worked brilliantly to capture my imagination, and others are almost a complete story in themselves.  Getting it down to 5 was hard enough work, any further...yikes. One stood out as particularly appealing for a serial story here on my blog, but I'm not going to ignore the others.  I have plans, so many plans...

To Wayne, who came up with a brilliant idea for #2--I love the holographic lover concept, I just want to steer away from sci-fi for a while, but I'll probably write that out into something within the next year, because it's awesome.

To Bluebird, who suggested an amazing post-apocalypse fic for #4--that sounds like just the dystopia I need!  And the bit with the apple as an artifact of better times, I love it. Way to work with the last minute panic :)

To Tiffany, who suggested combining #1 and #5 into a single prompt because she knew it would drive me CRAZY, I'm waiting for inspiration in the form of Half Life 3. I'll replay some BioShock Infinite to get me prepped, but basically this is me saying I love the video game angle.

To VC, who also combined #1 and #5, yours is probably, on a visceral level, my favorite prompt of the game. The only problem is that I know nothing about Brighton, very little about the '70s and am not a native British-English speaker, so I've got a lot of research to do before tackling this prompt that I'm incapable of at 9am Tuesday mornings when I do most of my serial writing. I loved it though, totally loved it and will not let it go. I hope you'll Brit-pick the final product for me.

And the winner and champion, for the prompt that suited my needs and captivated me with its possibilities...Lisa T!  Close enough to contemporary that I don't have to sweat bullets about accuracy, just my kind of urban fantasy twist, and I can't help it, I'm unnaturally biased toward this pic lately. It'll be just the thing to draw out for my readers here.  Let me combine her pic and prompt choice for you guys and see if you don't agree with me...

They've called me a soothsayer, a clairvoyant. Even a prophet. Hell, no! It is true though, I do see the future. Your future. Look me in the eyes. That's all it takes. I fucking hate it. Most hate me even more. 

You think you want to know, but trust me, you don't. That's not the way it's supposed to work.

And hell, if you're looking for advice, go the fuck on. I ain't no fucking shrink. If you come to me you better be willing to pay, play, and then stay the fuck away.

You'd think that last bit'd be the easy part. Why would they ever come back after the things I've done to their lives? But they always, always come back. Looking, seeking, needing. There was only one who ever left and stayed away, and I can't see his future anymore. It's just black. I guess I know what that means. Fucker went off and got himself snuffed. Dammit.

So yeah, I'll take your money, your fortunes, your fucking soul, if I could, because there's got to be something to balance the scales. Each one of you eats at my soul every time you "have to know". It's just never enough, though, for any of us.


 So much potential! I just had to grab it and start making plans with it immediately.  I've got another month or so of posting for The Academy planned, and then it's on to a brand new story.

I'm so grateful to everyone who sent me a prompt, you don't even know. You've made my birthday something really special, so thank you!  I wish I could have taken all of them, but I'm not as fast a writer as some incredible people (you know who you are) and have plenty of projects on my plate already, so...we'll just have to play this again next year, I think.

Hey top all get $5 Amazon giftcards or an e-book out of my backlist, your choice.  Email me at to work it out.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last Day to Prompt Me!

I've gotten some amazing prompts so far, here and on Goodreads and on my Facebook page...really, really good ones, choosing just one is impossible. But I'd love a few more before I grab my favorites and tell you all about what I'm going to be doing with them! Tomorrow is my birthday, and nothing makes me happier than gifts of creativity, so if you've thought about it but haven't prompted yet, or are inspired to offer up another, check my pics out here: From Pics to Prompts to Story.  

If you've already played and are waiting to see what happens next, thank you! I haven't responded to prompters yet because I don't want to inadvertently give anything away, but I am so, so happy with everything I've received. I appreciate your participation more than I can say.

Also, Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Academy Post #27

Notes:  The last chapter before the climax begins. It’ll be a long, drawn-out climax, with plenty of denouement J Also, huge thanks to everyone who’s sent me a prompt so far for one of my pics—I’m so excited to see what people come up with, on the blog and email and on Goodreads and even Facebook! I’ve read two prompts so far that I absolutely have to do something with, and I’d love to be tempted with more. Please, go look here and feed my muse! 

Title: The Academy

Part Twenty-Seven: Ten’s Guide to the Art of Non-Apology




“We can’t wait any longer.”

“We can’t afford to push the schedule up, Fledgling,” Admiral Liang said to his operative. “I don’t have all the pieces in place yet. Phase Three can’t start until all the players are where they need to be.”

“With respect, sir, if we don’t get a handle on the situation as it stands now, it could go beyond our ability to control.”

Admiral Liang shut his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face, knowing that Fledgling was right but disliking the situation so strongly that it bordered on hatred, which would be a dangerous wormhole to fly down. He didn’t have the luxury of emotional involvement with this, not if he was going to win his course. And that was the most important thing, in the end, not the things that went awry along the way, even if those things were people.

“You realize,” he said, opening his eyes and looking at Fledgling, “that no matter what course of action you take, without taking the time to put safeties up you’re going to be implicated in the results. And these implications will have very far-ranging consequences for you, consequences that I won’t be able to get you out of, not if this is going to work. I wanted this to be a bloodless transition, not a damaging one.”

“Blood’s already been spilled, sir,” Fledgling pointed out. Admiral Liang knew that, of course; he knew all the damage that had already been done, and beyond that, he knew the damage that had been narrowly avoided thanks to luck and circumstance.

“Then we move on to Phase Three,” he sighed. “For the record, I’m sorry to have to use you this way.”

Fledgling smiled suddenly, the expression surprisingly sweet. “It’s all right, sir. I’m used to it. At least this time I got to choose my involvement.”

“Be safe, then. Use your judgment on the timing, but get it done as quickly as you can. The situation on Liberty is volatile, and I want us to be out in front of it this time.”

“Yes, sir.”

A moment after Fledgling left the room, Admiral Liang said, “Mercury, report.”

One attempted incursion by Argus during lockdown. Reverting to Hermes mode.”

Argus Panoptes, the many-eyed watcher…Admiral Liang should have chosen a different myth for his foe, something with many limbs instead, each of them battering at his plan and knocking it off course. Well. Like an ancient Earth general once said, no battle plan survived contact with the enemy. He just had to make sure than everyone else did.




Ten was very rarely wrong.

It wasn’t bragging, it was true! Ten was almost never wrong, not in hir calculations, not in hir formulations, not in hir interpretations of science and, usually, not in hir interpretations of other people. Ten had learned what made people tick, and ticked off, very early, and applied hir knowledge with little compunction. Was ze always diplomatic? No, because that was usually a waste of time. If someone was going to be mad at you, they were going to be mad, end of story. Might as well not bother softening the blow if they were just going to be angry anyway.

Ten was starting to think that ze had miscalculated when it came to Cody, though.

Ze had presented the facts, and they were as close to incontrovertible as could be.  Cody was just being stubborn, and Ten was determined to make him see the truth. Unfortunately, it turned out that Cody could be just as stubborn as Ten when he wanted to be, and apparently this subject was a sticking point for him.

Ten tried over breakfast the first day, after not speaking with Cody for an entire evening and night, which had been…hard. He’d obviously been in pain, seemed worried about something that he didn’t want to talk about, at least not to Ten, and that hurt. What Ten really wanted to do was help him get into his uniform, because Cody was having a hard time getting it on with his broken collarbone, then brush his hair back for him so he wouldn’t have to twist his good arm around, get him some food and make sure he ate it. And maybe hold his hand.

What ze did instead was let Cody dress himself in painful silence, wrestle with his hair until he gave up, then followed him into the kitchen, where Grennson fed him before Ten could.

“What are you going to tell people if they ask about that?” Darrell said, gesturing at Cody’s arm. “If you don’t want everyone to know about the natural thing.”

“Oh, shit.” Cody went paler than he already was. “I don’t know. It’s not like I can hide the sling like I did the bruises, I don’t know!”

“Perhaps you could stay out of class until it heals?” Grennson suggested.

“No, I’d have to miss way too much before then.”

“Easy,” Ten said, finally sensing a way to get back into Cody’s good graces. “Tell anyone who asks that you had an allergic reaction this time around and they had to pull you out of the tank.”

Darrell frowned. “Do those even happen with Regen?”

“Point-oh-five percent of all immersive Regen treatments result in a moderate to severe allergic reaction in the patient, regardless of prior exposures,” Ten said, settling the coronal transducer around hir head and tucking it behind hir ears. Ze had taken to wearing it constantly, setting it to record the energies around hir for later analysis. “I can show you the statistics if you want them.”

Darrell made a face. “No, that’s fine.”

“So that’s a reasonable excuse?” Cody asked, looking more relieved already. Ten felt a warm feeling well up in hir belly, knowing that ze had put that expression there. “People won’t think I’m lying?”

“Some people might not believe you, but you can’t do anything about idiots,” Ten said philosophically, biting into a soft, squishy thing that might have been a muffin or might have been a mushroom, it was hard to tell with Grennson’s foods sometimes. Whatever, it tasted delicious.

“Thank you.” Cody exhaled heavily, then bit into his own muffroom.  “Mmm…this is really good,” he said to Grennson after he swallowed. The Perel’s quills fluffed with pleasure.

“They’re one of my father’s favorites,” he confided. “For when he felt uneasy. They have calming properties.”

Ten blinked, then looked with more interest at hir food. “Did you lace these with sedatives? Will they make us high?”

“No!” Grennson affected a shocked look. “I wouldn’t drug you without your permission.”

“Unlike some people here,” Darrell muttered. Ten ignored him.

“They just contain a few herbs from home that my father discovered helped to quiet his mind when he was upset. They’re not addictive, and they won’t make you fall asleep or turn you manic.”

“Because some people don’t need the help.”

“Aww, is our little Legacy feeling catty today?” Ten asked sweetly, taking a big bite of the muffroom, then grinning at Darrell with hir mouth open.

“You guys are disgusting,” Cody said, but he was smiling. He finished his food fast, then stood up. “I’ve got to run, I need to see Phil before my first class.”

“Hang on,” Ten mumbled, stuffing the rest of the food into hir mouth and running for their room. Ze grabbed hir tablet, then joined Cody at the door. “I have to go out too, I’ll walk with you.”

“Oookay.” They left together, and made it all of five steps before Ten couldn’t stand the silence anymore.

“Did you use your pain pen this morning?”

Cody nodded. “And I’ve got it with me if I really need it during the day.”

“I don’t think she calculated the dosage right.”

Cody smiled at hir. “Of course you don’t.”

“No, I’m being serious, you have a line between your eyebrows that indicates a feeling of pain, and if she had done her job right, you wouldn’t have that line. You should lodge a complaint.”

“I’m not going to do that, and I’m not in pain.” Ten couldn’t hold back a scoff, and Cody relented. “Okay, a little bit, but it’s not in my collarbone. I’ve got a headache, and my back kind of hurts from not being able to roll around last night. I’m usually an active sleeper, and just lying there is…it’s hard to stay asleep for long.”

“Plus you didn’t sleep well because you had an upsetting conversation with your parents yesterday.”

Cody’s mouth fell open; Ten tried not to preen. “How did you know that?”

Ten was about to reply, but stopped when they passed Pamela, along with a few of her quadmates, at the door of Hebe Tower before heading out into the sun. They exchanged a little wave but nothing more, and once they were out of earshot Ten picked up where ze’d left off.

“You were in bed pretending to sleep when I got into the room, which was two hours before you usually fall asleep. You left your transmitter out next to your bed, and the only people you ever talk to with that are family members, I assume because of all sorts of security measures built into the device. If it had been really bad news you probably would have been crying—”

“Shut up!” Cody looked back at the girls, who were loitering at the door chatting, but they were too far distant to hear them now.

“Oh, don’t be embarrassed, it’s a normal physiological response to stress and anxiety, among other things, and no indicator of masculinity or adulthood or whatever stupid thing you’re thinking right now,” Ten said, brushing off Cody’s discomfort. “Anyway, you weren’t crying and didn’t show any signs of having been, so I assume everyone is all right, but you were still upset, so…oh right. They found out you’d been injured.” Ten bit hir lower lip before ze could stop hirself. “Were they really mad?”

“Yeah,” Cody said with a sigh. “They got into a fight over whether to pull me out of the Academy or not.”

“What?!” Ten felt like Cody had reached into hir chest and squeezed hir heart, it was fluttering so hard. “They can’t take you out of the Academy, you’re a cadet here, you won’t be able to continue in the military if you don’t stay, especially because of your…” Ten looked around suspiciously, then said, “unique circumstances. They can’t take you out!” What would I do here without you?

“Garrett managed to persuade my dad not to, but I really hate it when they’re arguing,” Cody confessed. “They get along so well most of the time that it’s really disconcerting when they don’t.”

“Nice word.”

“Thanks, I’m not a total idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot at all,” Ten said, and the warm smile ze got from Cody almost took hir breath away. “Except about Kyle,” Ten added, and the smile dropped away.


“Why won’t you believe the evidence?”

“Because I know better!” Cody insisted, walking faster toward Hephaestus Tower, which loomed in the distance. “Because I know him better, and he hasn’t hurt me or taken advantage of me, not even when it would have been easy, Ten. Kyle’s done nothing except be a good friend to me, and I am really sick of fighting about him with you.”

“So am I!” Ten said. “It’s not my fault you won’t believe me!”

“Maybe you could try believing me for once,” Cody said, hurt still filtering in through his terse words. “You haven’t liked Kyle from the moment you met him, and I think that’s coloring your impressions of him and your interpretations of everything he does. So no, I don’t believe you.”  They got to the front door of Hephaestus Tower and Cody put his hand up to swipe in, but Ten grabbed his wrist before it got there.

“I don’t want to fight with you,” ze said, not even surprised anymore at how true that was. Nothing made hir feel as bad as being ignored by Cody.

“So don’t fight with me, then,” Cody said, as if it was that easy. “Just accept when I tell you that I’m sure it wasn’t Kyle who tried to kill me, if it actually wasn’t an accident, which I’m still not completely sure of.”

Because you’re being willfully ignorant! Ten wanted to scream, but ze knew that would get hir absolutely nowhere with Cody, just deepen the crack that had sprung up between them since their kiss. That kiss…

There was no time to think about it right now. “Okay,” Ten said, surprising hirself a little bit. “I’ll stop. I won’t bring it up anymore, I won’t talk about Kyle at all. I do still think that someone sabotaged your bike, but I’ll shut up about it unless I have something completely solid to show you. Something undeniable, which I haven’t done so far. And in the meantime, you keep talking to me. Don’t shut me out.”

“I won’t,” Cody said, perfectly genuine. “I hate it when we don’t talk.”

“So do I.” More than anything.

“Okay.” His smile was back now, sweet and relieved. “I’ve really got to go in and meet with Phil, but I’ll see you later.”

“Good.” Ten let go of Cody’s arm and watched him head into Hephaestus, hir mind already spinning with possibilities.

Ze needed something completely solid to make hir case, not only to Cody but to administrators, that Kyle was a would-be murderer and all around menace.  That he probably had backing from his brother, and wanted Cody dead because of his parent’s work on Liberty. That he needed to go to prison, or jail or penitentiary or whatever the military equivalent was. And nothing was as solid as evidence backed up by a confession.

This…would take some thought.

Friday, June 6, 2014

From Pics To Prompts To Story

Here we go! I'm so excited, thank you for playing along!

A few notes before getting into it: some of these pictures feature recognizable people, but I'm not in this to write fanfic (I love to read it, but I don't write it--I never feel comfortable trying to helm someone else's characters). You're welcome to combine pictures into a single prompt, skip around, provide more than one...go nuts! I may love more than one of the prompts provided, in which case I'll eventually write more than one story, but as it stands I'll pick one to start because I have so much to work on as is.  You can prompt any genre (be creative--just because it looks contemporary doesn't mean it has to be) and add in any stipulations you like, but keep in mind the kind of writer I am. If you want non-con, hmm, probably not going to be my first pick. Same goes with bodily-function kinks, super-heavy angst and YA (because I'm writing a YA right now, and one is more than enough to focus on for me). If I love almost all of your prompt but don't want to follow one particular part, I may chat you up about it.

All the pictures are numbered one to five, and you can leave prompts in the comments section or email me (or leave a comment on Goodreads or ping me on Twitter, whatever works for you, I'm versatile). None of the pics are mine or can be attributed to me, they're all from the wondrous morass that is Tumblr. I'm going to leave the prompting window open until the 16th, ten days from now, which is also my birthday--I'm fiction-gifting myself, yay! This story, whatever it ends up as, will be my follow-up on the blog after The Academy, so don't look for immediate posts.

Without further ado...

Because this guy screams something, I just don't know what...

Why yes, it is a manip of Richard Armitage and Lee Pace, I'm glad you noticed!

You think you've written enough about people with guns, but no...

I've had this on my dash for months and love it, but never figured out exactly why. You should tell me.

He looks like he's going somewhere. Plus, he looks like James McAvoy, so win-win!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Writing From Prompts: Help Wanted

The Goodreads M/M Romance group's major free story event is underway as of June 1st, posting three stories a day, all based on a picture and prompt provided by a member of the group. I love this event, it's what got me on to Goodreads at all thanks to my readerwife, and I always take a prompt. I love seeing what other people do with their inspiration, and I like to think about what I would have done with some of my favorites instead.

I love writing from prompts. Some of my best stuff has been inspired by a picture, or a poem, or a call for submissions from a press. In fact, the only thing I can think of off the top of my head that I started with no preconceptions was Bonded, which led to Pandora which led to Paradise which led to The Academy, so I really can't complain. The Academy is coming along well, and probably won't be completely wrapped up until closer to the end of the summer, but I'm already thinking about what to serialize next here. I'm in the process of turning these fics into self-published works, so it has to be something good that I'll be proud to offer to people later. Nothing's grabbed me yet, though (and don't say the sequel to The Academy, I need a break inbetween my sci-fi epics) and I don't want to post a story I plan on submitting to a press on my blog, because I'd have to take it down in order for a third party to publish it.

If I posted pictures here and asked for prompts for them, would anyone be interested in playing along?

***Update: okay, it looks like this will fly :) I've just got to go through my picture file and find some that I think could be awesome, and then we'll see what we get.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Academy Post #26

Notes:  Okay, so this isn’t exactly a feel good chapter. It gets a lot of things out in the open, though, and gives me stuff to work with for next time. I’m setting up a very long game here, guys. Also, keep in mind that I am a firm HEA believer, and I won’t hurt you.  So now that I’ve sufficiently warned you, read on!
Title: The Academy
Part Twenty-Six: Imperfect Speakers
When Cody woke up, he was alone. There was no sign that Kyle had ever been there—the chair was back in its place in the corner, nothing left behind. It was almost as if he’d imagined him, but Cody held onto the comfort that Kyle had given him, and the new information—Valero was in Regen. She’d had an accident of some kind. Cody wondered what had happened to her.
“Awake at last.”
Cody glanced over at the nurse who appeared in his doorway, the same one who had thrown Ten out last night. “Did I oversleep?”
“You slept for as long as you needed to,” she said, coming over to his side and pressing a gloved hand to his forehead. The glove gave her his vitals, and she nodded. “No fever, and your endocrine system is back in balance.  I’m sure you want some painkillers, though.”
Now that she mentioned it… “Yeah,” Cody said, shifting a bit and feeling his collarbone grind unpleasantly. “That would be nice.”
“You got it.” She adjusted one of the settings on her glove, then touched her finger to his neck. A burst of cold spread from the point of contact down into his upper back and shoulder, and behind it came a blissful numbness. Cody sighed with relief. “This is a combination of a nerve paralytic and a muscle relaxant, it should take away all of your pain as long as your bones stay in place. We’re holding them together, of course, the doctor put jointures in immediately, but a little bit of flex is possible if you’re not careful. If we could put you in a tank, the Regen would have those ends knitted together in under an hour, but as it is, this is the best we can do.”  She let go of Cody and pulled a small, oblong tube out of the holster at her waist.
“This is a pain pen, calibrated to your physiology. When the painkillers start to wear off, press the round end here—” she tapped the side of his neck where she’d made her own injection, “and you’ll get another dose.  I’ve loaded it with twenty doses, and each one should last about half a day, which means I expect to see you in a week and a half for a refill. You can’t share it, it won’t activate for anyone else, so don’t even try. If you use it up too quickly, I’m going to assume you need something stronger that necessitates you remaining in the infirmary during its use.” She looked at him sternly. “Do we understand each other, Cadet?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“Glad to hear it.” She handed him the pain pen. “Leave the sling on at all times, even when you’re in the shower. Sleep on your back and don’t roll around, or you’re going to cause trouble for the bones. Absolutely no riding your bike until this injury is completely healed.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Cody said, a little bitterly.
“Glad to hear it. And if you’re going to have sexual relations, I suggest you let that boyfriend of yours do the heavy lifting.”
Cody blushed so hard he felt his heartbeat in his cheeks. “Ze’s not my boyfriend.”
The nurse raised one eyebrow. “You might want to talk to Cadet St. Florian about that,” she advised. “Now, do you want assistance back to your quad?”
“No, ma’am.” That was the last thing he wanted, to be escorted back to his rooms like a fragile little flower. Cody had no idea how many of his fellow cadets knew what was going on with him, but he didn’t want to give them ideas if they didn’t.
“Good. Then I’ll see you in ten days unless something goes wrong, and if something goes wrong, I expect you to shelve any ideas of toughing it out you might have and come to me immediately. Understood?”
Cody swallowed. “Yes ma’am.”
“Then have a nice day, Cadet Helms.”
Cody got a lot of looks on his way back to his quad—it wasn’t a day for classes, the weather was nice, of course people were milling around outside—but he did manage to avoid any conversations and get back to his room without stopping, which was good. He felt tired, a little nauseous, and more than ready to lie down again.
As soon as he opened his door he knew that wasn’t going to happen, though.
Ten and Phil were sitting on opposite ends of the couch, staring at each other as if each were trying to set the other on fire through willpower alone. The air was filled with the scent of lhossa tea, but Grennson and Darrell were nowhere to be seen. The combatants looked up as Cody entered the room, and naturally Ten spoke first, darting to hir feet.
“You should have messaged me and let me know that you were being released, I would have come and gotten you,” ze said, coming over to stand in front of him and look him over. “You look awful. Did they not feed you? Idiots.”
“I didn’t even think about messaging, I’m sorry,” Cody said. “Where is everyone?”
“I asked them to leave,” Phil said. “Since we have something to discuss in private. Your roommate refused to oblige, however.”
“Cody doesn’t keep secrets form me,” Ten snapped at her. “I’m just saving myself the aggravation of having to pry whatever you’re going to talk about out of him later, because I’m going to know.”
Phil stood up with a huff and crossed her arms. “You have got to be the most self-centered person I’ve ever met, you know that? Not everything is your business, Tiennan, and you’re not always right, no matter what kind of genius you are. You think you deserve to know everything by virtue of being indispensable, but you know what? Someday you’re going to get something wrong, and you’re going to hurt people. I just hope you don’t end up hurting your friends along with yourself.”
“Spoken like someone accustomed to failure,” Ten sneered, “which I am not.”
“I think I’d like some tea, please.”
Both of them looked at Cody, almost in surprise. “What?” Ten said.
“Tea. I know Grennson left some in the kitchen, and I really need to sit down.” Cody proved his own point by taking Ten’s place on the couch. “So I’d like some tea, and then I’ll tell you what I need, Phil. And you can stay,” he added when Ten opened hir mouth to object.
“Fine. Where do you keep your cups?”
“Oh, I’ll get it,” Ten muttered, heading into the kitchen before Phil could. “The last thing we need is you rummaging around in places where you don’t belong.”
“No, you’re the expert at that,” Phil agreed mildly. Ten hissed at her, literally hissed, and Cody covered his eyes for a moment. Was this what being a parent felt like?
“Tea.” Ten pushed a cup into Cody’s hand and sat back on the couch, close enough that if Phil had joined them, Ten would have completely blocked Cody’s view of her. She shifted to the side and kept standing instead, and Cody smiled at her, then took a sip of the tea.  So delicious, warm and smooth and spicy. It did more to calm his nerves than anything else could.
“I need your help fabricating something,” he said to Phil. He would have handed her the false button, but his only good hand was full.  “Grab the…on my jacket, the second button down, grab it and pull it off.” Phil did so, and her eyes widened a little as she took in the circuitry behind the smooth metal face.  “It’s an inertial dampener—a used up one, they’re only good for about five seconds after activation. I used it yesterday when Ten and I bailed from my bike before it crashed. I want us to make more of them, if we can.”
“Do you have a working one?” Phil asked as she looked the device over intently. “And what sort of dampening effect are we talking about here?”
“I don’t know the exact specs, but it was enough to keep us alive when we were going several hundred kilometers per hour,” Cody said, and Phil’s eyes lit up.
“That’s…how…that’s brilliant, how did the manufacturer make the component parts small enough to fit into a…astonishing!”
Ten also looked impressed, and annoyed at the same time. “You could have just given it to me and let me figure it out,” ze said.
“It needs an engineer, not a chemist.”
“I can do both!”
“Isn’t one special project enough for you at the moment?” Cody asked meaningfully, and after a moment Ten nodded. “And I do have another working one, but…” His hand tightened around the cup spasmodically. “I’d like to hold onto it, if possible.”
Phil seemed to understand. “I can start with this one,” she said. “I’ll expect your help with this when you’re back to normal, though.  This is exactly the kind of technology that suits our particular challenges in the field, and it could be extremely useful.”
“I understand.” She patted him on his good shoulder, then left without another word. Ten watched her leave, then looked at Cody and sighed.
“Are you really all right?”
“The nurse said I was.”
“The nurse,” Ten groaned. “That awful nurse. I can’t believe she kicked me out right when things were getting good.”
“Yeah,” Cody agreed, because his memory of that kiss, and what happened because of it, was still very vivid in his mind. “Speaking of that…” He left it hanging suggestively, but Ten went a completely different direction with it.
“Oh, oh! I was going to share my information with you!”
“What?” No, that wasn’t what Cody had been thinking about at all. “What information?”
“On who sabotaged the bike, obviously, try to keep up,” Ten replied.  “I’ve thought and thought about this and there’s really only one person it could be, someone who knows you and your habits, someone who you wouldn’t suspect because of your friendship, someone who knows their way around a hoverbike…” Ten took a deep breath, then said, “It was Kyle Alexander.”
Cody had been following along until right up to that point. He immediately shook his head. “No, it wasn’t.”
Ten rolled hir eyes. “You’re being stubborn, stop it. The evidence is plain. He cancelled on you, didn’t he? He was supposed to go riding with you but he cancelled, so you brought me along instead. Don’t you see? He knew this was going to happen, he planned things so that you would die without casting any suspicion on him, since he’d be nowhere near the scene of the crash! He strung you along as his friend in order to get close to you, and once he was close enough and deemed the timing right, he went for it!” Ten’s voice got faster as ze spoke, trying to explain everything all at once.
“He’s a Legacy and the brother of the president of the Federation, and your fathers are doing their best to oppose the president on Liberty, so anything Kyle could do to disrupt negotiations is all to the good. He has no reason to like you, but he needed an excuse in order to spend time with you and learn your schedule. He’s probably got the connections to find a way to disrupt Hermes, which would explain why no one ever seems to record the bad things happening around you. And Marcys was a preliminary intimidation tactic, a show of force, a way to get you off balance. It all makes sense!”
“Kyle’s not trying to hurt me,” Cody insisted.
“You don’t know that, you just want it to be true because you want him,” Ten said viciously.
“I don’t want him, the last person I was in the process of wanting is you, and I know it’s not him because he visited me last night and sat with me while I fell asleep, and yet here I am still alive today!” Cody shouted.
Ten’s face went pale. “He…he came to you in the infirmary? He slept with you?
“No, I was the one sleeping, he sat in a chair beside me.”
“Why did they let him stay instead of me?” Ten asked, sounding strangely young, before shaking hir head.  “It doesn’t prove anything. Of course he didn’t try to kill you in the infirmary, that nurse whoever-she-is was watching you constantly. He just came to visit you to throw off suspicion.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You should believe me!”
“Why, because there’s really no way someone like Kyle Alexander wanted me as a friend? Thanks a lot for that,” Cody said, definitely bitter now.
“I’m not trying to insult you, I’m just telling you the truth! He’s a scion of the most important family in the entire Federation and you’re a Fringe charity case, and a natural, and nobody could—” Ten shut up, but it was already too late.
“Nobody could what? Give a fuck about me? Thanks a lot,” Cody said, putting his empty glass down on the table and standing up. “Good to know where I stand.”
Ten looked ashamed. “That isn’t what I was going to say,” ze said quietly. “It isn’t. I don’t think that about you, you know I don’t.”
“No, you think I’m a fascinating project,” Cody replied. Fuck, his shoulder hurt already. Weren’t these doses supposed to last for hours and hours? “I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”
“I’m done talking to you right now.”
“I’m sorry, all right?” Ten insisted. “I didn’t mean to be, I don’t know, insensitive. Not to you.”
“Maybe not, but you still were, and I don’t want to talk to you right now,” Cody said. “Just leave me alone.” He went into their room and shut the door, feeling the throb in his collarbone echo the throb in his heart. He was so done with this, so done, and he wasn’t supposed to use the pain pen so soon but he really wanted to because obviously something was wrong, and why was Ten so…so…like that? Why did everything ze said have to be barbed, why couldn’t ze just relax and be fucking nice sometimes? Any other day and Cody would have felt up to arguing with hir, but today wasn’t any other day. Today was the day after he’d almost died in a fiery crash, broken his collarbone, and gotten the best, most confusing kiss of his entire life, with no idea of what it meant. Yesterday had sucked, and today wasn’t looking any better.
The chime of his private transmitter jolted him out of his self-pity, and Cody realized that as bad as things were going so far, they were about to get worse.  He should have known that they’d find out.  He slumped over to his bed, pulled out the transmitter and answered the call.  “Hello?”
It was Garrett, and…wait…just Garrett. “Hey, Cody.”
“Hey. Where’s Dad?”
“Your dad and I had an argument, and he’s off cooling down in order to keep from saying something he’d regret,” Garrett said frankly. Cody felt a tendril of guilt start to creep up his spine.
“Was it an argument about me?” he asked.
“Yes. Specifically, about whether or not you should stay at the Academy, all things considered.”
“What?” Cody jolted upright, then winced. “No, I want to stay!”
“Despite the ‘accident’ with your bike?”
“I’m okay,” Cody insisted. “It’s just my collarbone, I’ve broken worse at home. The inertial dampener worked really well.”
Garrett sighed. “I wanted those to be a last resort, a failsafe, and here you are using one not two months after I gave it to you.”
“I know, and I’m glad I had it, but I really am okay.” Cody couldn’t quite articulate why, but he knew he didn’t want to leave. “I’m as safe here as I would be anywhere.”
“Now that, I agree with,” Garrett said. “And that’s what I told your dad, and that’s why he’s off being angry at me and not talking with you. I know that the Federation is limiting the newsfeeds that make it into the Academy, but we’re just one step above civil war here on Liberty, Cody. It’s dangerous here, and your dad is worried about that spilling over into the Academy, but I can’t see how it would be better having you with us. Paradise isn’t safe now that Miles is no longer in charge there, and there have been two attacks on Fringe colonies in the last week by ‘pirates,’ and they’ve been brutal. All in all, I think the Academy is the best of a bad lot for the moment.”
Cody swallowed uncomfortably. “Are you guys in a lot of danger?”
“No more than usual, I promise.”
“And you and dad…”
Garrett smiled gently. “It’s just a fight, Cody. We’ll be okay.”
“But you never fight.”
“We never fought in front of you, but that doesn’t mean we always got along perfectly, even back on Pandora,” Garrett said. “Don’t worry about us, okay? Keep yourself safe, keep your friends close.”
But I don’t even know who all my friends are. There was no way Cody was laying that on Garrett, though.  He just said, “I will. I promise.”
“Good. I have to go, but Jonah will probably call you later.”
“I love you.” It seemed important that Cody made sure Garrett knew that.
“I love you too,” Garrett said, and he sounded tired, but so sincere. “We’ll be fine here.”
“All right.”
“Get some rest, you look like you need it.”
“You too,” Cody said, and Garrett laughed.
“I know. We’ll call again later.”
“Okay.” Garrett ended the connection, and Cody stared at the transmitter for a long time and tried not to let his worry fly off with him. His parents were fine. They loved each other, they weren’t going to fight forever about him. He felt stupid, worrying about that part before everything else, but Cody could barely remember a time when he didn’t have Garrett in his life, and the very idea that things might change made him feel ten times worse than any broken bone could.
No, it was going to be okay.  It was all going to be okay.
He wondered how many times he’d be able to convince himself of that before his brain just stopped believing him.