Interlude: An Odd Homecoming
Being back at the Academy felt, well, weird was the best way Cody could describe it as he stepped into his new room. It felt like he’d come back carrying two sets of contradictory expectations, and neither one of them were being met.
There were the expectations he got from the memory of arriving for the first time last year; his initial impressions and the excitement and fear and eagerness about being there that had all blended to leave him feeling adrenalized and energetic for days. This time around, there was definitely some of that, but it was tempered by the fact that it wasn’t his first time at the Academy anymore. The buildings were familiar, many of the faces were familiar, and actually way more people seemed interested in talking to him this time around. Apparently his notoriety hadn’t worn off yet.
Also, slightly dimming any potential excitement was the fact that, as far as first experiences went, Cody had just spent all school break on an actual alien planet. An alien planet. Olympus and the Academy were impressive, but they were nothing compared to Perelan. He’d spent months working on languages with Darrel and training with Jason and cooking with Grennson and doing science with Ten. Honestly, nothing the Academy could throw at him was going to be quite as intense.
The second set of expectations, a set that Cody hadn’t even been aware he was carrying around until he felt an odd sense of relief and chased it back into his brain to find out why, was the expectation of last year’s bad experiences tainting his arrival this year. It was the painful thought that the good might be outweighed by the bad, that all the fun he’d had and all the things he’d learned and done would be overshadowed by the events of very end of the year. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t, and Cody breathed a sigh of relief even as he settled onto his bunk.
It helped that they weren’t in Hebe Tower anymore, he had to admit that. Living in the same place where Pamela had wrought so much damage would have probably taken more of the shine off of their homecoming. But they were second-years now, and their quad was on the bottom floor of Apollo Tower. And speaking of gods…
“Welcome back to the Academy, Cadet Helms. If you would care to make contact, I’ll download your new schedule.”
“Thank you, Hermes.” Cody touched his hand to the wall and felt Hermes link to his implant. A moment later, a calendar sprang up before his eyes, class locations, topics and instructors listed by day and time. He scanned it, checking for any changes from what he’d expected. They’d managed to fit him into Advanced Tactics and War Games after Jason wrote him a recommendation, which was normally a third-year course, and there was a space for a martial club of some kind, which Jason had also recommended. His dads hadn’t said anything about it, but Cody had known that Jonah was distressed by the fact that Cody considered learning a martial art an indispensable skill now. Garrett, on the other hand, had been quietly approving.
They’d both looked tired, although they’d done their best to put on a good front when Cody had visited them on the way back from Perelan. It was ridiculous; they could use Regen, they weren’t supposed to look tired like that. Cody didn’t like it. He was counting down the months until he graduated and was able to do something really useful, something that would make his dads’ lives a little easier.
Oh, there was something new on his schedule. “Phil is still here?”
“Senior Cadet Philomela Tan was offered an extra year to complete her advanced structural engineering coursework. This will be her third certification.” Most cadets only managed one.
“And she’s still my sponsor?”
“If you would like her to be. You have the right to refuse, as it was she who requested you.”
Well, Cody wasn’t going to do that. “Message Phil, tell her I’ll be at the meeting she scheduled. We can talk about it then.” Although, in all honesty, he was going to say yes to her. She might be pedantic at times, but she could teach him interesting and kind-of-almost-illegal types of things, which Cody knew were going to be useful to him someday.
“Done. Is there any other way I can assist you, Cadet Helms?”
“Not right now, thanks.” Cody released the wall and took a closer look at his quad. It was the standard size for four, very similar to their last one, but the walls were a warm, calming blue-green, and the squishy cream-colored flooring smelled new. It was nice. Not surprising, like it had been the first year, but nice. With a little smile, Cody started unpacking. He’d undoubtedly have some time to himself: Ten was examining hir lab space allocation, which ze’d undoubtedly declare not big enough, Grennson was still saying goodbye to Jason and Ferran, and Darrel…well. His mother and grandparents had come to meet him here and take him out, for some “family bonding time.” Darrel hadn’t been looking forward to it.
“They’re just going to tell me, again, that I need to get back onto command track so I can be a captain like my father instead of a linguist with the potential to make groundbreaking discoveries,” he’d muttered to Cody in a quiet moment when Grennson and Ten had been elsewhere. Darrel didn’t like to talk about his parents in front of Grennson; Grennson’s empathic link to Darrel made him antsy when Darrel was discomfited. And Ten would undoubtedly butt in and say something like, “Tell them they don’t get to make your decisions for you and if they keep trying they can go fuck off to the Beyond.” It was a very Ten thing to say, easier for hir than most since ze didn’t have parents to disappoint. Grennson was categorically incapable of upsetting his parents, so that left Cody as Darrel’s outlet in this particular instance.
He didn’t mind lending an ear, but he didn’t know what advice, if any, he had to give on the subject. Cody generally got along really well with his dads, even if they frustrated him sometimes by not taking better care of themselves. “There’s nothing they can really do but disapprove, right?” he’d asked. “Not that that’s good, but…they can’t pull you out of the Academy.”
“No, they wouldn’t do that, there’s too much prestige in me being here,” Darrel had agreed. “But if they disapprove to the right people, then I might have friends of my dad’s, captains and admirals, messaging me to tell me how much my father would have wanted me to follow in his footsteps. It wouldn’t be the first time. And those are the same people I might have to work under someday, and I don’t want to get a reputation with them for being dismissive and insubordinate before I’ve even been assigned to their ship.”
Oh, wow. That sucked. “Shit.”
Darrel had sighed. “Yeah.”
Hopefully he’d come back tonight without being too upset. Cody would remind Grennson to make lhosa tea just in case, although Grennson was the type to make Darrel comfort food without being asked. Cody put his clothes away, some of them new but some of them leftover from last year. One of them jingled slightly as he picked it up. He turned out the pocket—
It was a key. Or rather, a keyring, a special antique-style keyring that Wyl had made for Cody to load his hover cycle’s startup codes onto. It had a digital interior but a stylized metal exterior, with a picture of a soaring bird raised on it. It was blue around the edges from high heat exposure, one of the only things to survive the cycle’s crash last year.
And here came the memories Cody had been doing so well at holding back, the hover cycle crashing and exploding, the fight with Pamela as she tried to kill him, her injuring Grennson, and Kyle taking responsibility for it all in the end. And Kyle, fuck, Kyle was in the worst prison in all of Federation space, he was at the mercy of killers and rapists and maniacs and Cody knew that Garrett was doing something about it but he wouldn’t tell Cody what that was, and for all he knew Kyle was—he was—
Cody only realized he was hyperventilating when he actually staggered on his feet. He went over to his bunk and sat down, leaning his head back against the wall and taking deep breaths. He wasn’t sure how long he sat there trying his best not to think, but it seemed like barely any time had passed before Ten whirled into the room like a hurricane.
“I leave you alone for an hour, just one hour, and you go and start acting like an idiot,” ze chided Cody as ze sat down next to him on the bunk.
“How did you…”
“Hermes, obviously, and the fact that I’ve set my corona to hone in on your most important biostatistics and update me in real time about them.” Ten smirked and tapped hir forehead, where the edge of the curling metal tiara touched hir skin. “I know more about you at any given minute than your own doctor does.”
“No it’s not,” Ten said blithely, and okay, no, it wasn’t. At least not for the two of them. Cody was used to having very few boundaries where Ten was concerned, at this point. It would have been worrying, if Ten hadn’t insisted on doing the same. “I need to have lots of data points to work off of when I start the trial phase for my serum.”
Oh, the serum. Cody was glad Ten was excited about it, he really was, but at the same time he just…wasn’t letting his own hopes get too high. Too many doctors had promised him results, and while Ten was smarter than most of those people, ze was also just one person. One person who wasn’t willing to explain all of hir serum sources to Cody, a boundary that he really wished would go away like so many others had.
“It’s not my secret to tell,” was all Ten had told him, unaccountably serious, and Cody had respected that and not pressed for more. Not like Ten was doing now.
“What made this happen? Your biostats correlate to having a panic attack, what is there to panic about? Everyone is fine.”
“Well, no, not Pamela but she’s dead and that’s perfect, so—oh. Kyle?” Ten made an incredulous face, hir scarlet red eyebrows almost touching the roots of hir matching hair. The red wasn’t Cody’s favorite. It made Ten looked like ze’d been dunked in blood, but knowing Ten ze’d get bored and change it in another week or so. “Kyle Alexander, really? Cody, honestly, the chances that he actually went to prison are pretty slim. I know that’s what they have to tell people, but he’s an Alexander, for fuck’s sake. He’s probably imprisoned on a beach somewhere, working on his tan.”
“That’s not the impression I get from Garrett.”
“Far be it from me to suggest that your father is less than omnipotent, but Cody, the man isn’t omnipotent. He doesn’t actually have eyes everywhere, and I’d be surprised if he knew the whole truth about the situation. And if he did?” Ten shrugged. “Then Garrett would take care of it. He’s the best there is when it comes to handling people.” That was honest admiration with just a hint of hero worship, and it made Cody smile to hear it.
“I know. I’m fine.”
“Good. So am I, even though I need at least twice the lab space I’ve been given, my independent study professor is an idiot.”
“Tell me more,” Cody encouraged, but instead Ten swung over onto his lap and wrapped hir arms around Cody’s neck.
“We’ve got the whole quad to ourselves for the next few hours,” ze purred. “How about we desecrate Grennson’s kitchen table instead?”
“You have the best ideas.”
“Well obviously, I’m a gen—mmph—” Cody cut the rest of Ten’s words off with a sweet, longing kiss and, sooner than he’d hoped, there was no thought of anything else in his head.