Notes: I had planned for this chapter to come from another perspective, but then I remembered that I’d kind of been neglecting the other POVs for a while. So instead of Cody or Ten, today you get Darrell. And he even gets some personal development thrown in there as well;) Next week will be EPIC, btw!
Title: The Academy
Part Sixteen: If You Can’t Be Happy, At Least Be Something
Darrell had known for a long time that no matter what he did with himself, it was never going to be quite enough for his family. More than once he’d wondered whether it wouldn’t have been easier to have failed massively as a child instead of striving for perfection. If he had disappointed them more early on, by now they might not care what he did with every second of his time. Instead—
“Honestly, Darry,” Nana sighed as she stared at him through the holoprojector. “You couldn’t find time for the Athenian Society, but you’ve got room in your schedule for this little…culture club?”
“Admiral Liang accredited it,” Darrell pointed out, yet again. “It’s not like I’m wasting my time.”
“But the Athenian Society is all about making connections! Those are the people who are going to be allies to you for the length of your entire career. The ones who will be in a position to help you, honey! I just don’t see why—”
“I did mention that it’s Grennson’s club, didn’t I?” Darrell demanded. His grandparents always called him on Saturday mornings, and while the conversations were supposed to be brief, lately they’d been dragging on and on. His mother usually poked her head in for a moment to say hello, but he never got to speak with her alone. “It’s an honor to be included.”
“If I were you, I’d be more careful about how much time of mine I let that alien monopolize,” Papa warned. “He may have a certain cachet because of his…uniqueness, but he isn’t going to do much for you in the long run, Darrell. You need human friends.”
“I have human friends,” Darrell said, stung by his grandparents dismissal of probably the most important person in his life right now. “They all want to know him too. Grennson is—”
“He’s a fad, honey,” his nana said. “Don’t worry, it’ll pass. At least President Alexander’s brother is in your little club, right?”
“Yes,” Darrell said numbly.
“Well then, that’s good! Try and cozy up to him. Knowing a boy like that will get you far once you have your own command.”
He tried to stop it, he tried gritting his teeth and clenching his jaw and holding back the words, but they wouldn’t be stayed. “What if I don’t want my own command?”
“Darry!” Nana looked shocked. “Of course you want your own command! Your father had his own command by the age of twenty-seven, don’t you want to follow in his footsteps?”
“My father started off by commanding a Gage-class ship with less than a hundred crew,” Darrell snapped. “He didn’t advance beyond that for almost a decade. And even when, even when he was finally promoted to captain a larger vessel, instead of giving him a Basilisk or a Firebird, the admiralty put him in charge of Space Station 17. A middle of nowhere, mining-support station with a skeleton crew and undersupplied defenses, and it didn’t seem to matter who he knew in school or how high up the chain of command his friends were, he still died in a raid, outgunned and outclassed and ignored.”
“Darrell!” Papa shouted, actually shouted. Nana was too paralyzed to shout, one hand covering her mouth. “You will not speak about your father that way! He was a hero! It’s his legacy that got you into the Academy, you should show him some respect!”
“I do respect him!” Darrell shouted back. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew this was a bad idea, but he didn’t care. It had been grating on him all week, Cody’s happiness about talking with his grandfather and the impending visit from his dads, Grennson’s frequent discussions with Ferran and Jason. Even Ten was surprisingly sanguine in hir own way, not bothering to talk about hir absent parents simply because ze really didn’t care about them. Whereas Darrell lived in a constant state of anxiety, under the shadow of his father and the voluntary absence of his mother from his life, all control handed over to his grandparents like they could orchestrate him into actually being their real son. Well, they couldn’t.
“I respect him,” Darrell repeated more slowly. “I respect his sacrifice, I respect that he was a great man. But I’m not a clone. I can’t do everything that he did, in exactly the way that he did it. I just can’t, and asking me to is only going to make you upset with me.”
“This isn’t you,” Nana spoke up firmly. “This isn’t you, Darry, you wouldn’t never say these sorts of things without being provoked. It’s that Perel, isn’t it? He put you up to this, he’s making you feel things you shouldn’t be feeling. They’re empaths, aren’t they? They can control a person’s emotions. I’m going to petition Admiral Liang immediately to get you removed from that quad, that alien is a destabilizing influence.”
“I won’t go,” Darrell said immediately. “I’m old enough to make these choices for myself, and I won’t leave my quad. Grennson is my friend, and being an empath just means you can sense another person’s emotions, not that you can influence them.”
“But we don’t know that!” Nana wailed. “We don’t know what they’re hiding from us, Darry! They’re aliens. And Captain Kim has lived with them for too long, he actually married one of them, we can’t take his word for anything either. No, I want you out of there.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“We’ll see about that,” Papa said. He glared so fiercely that Darrell was suddenly glad to be on another planet, well out of hitting range.
“I’m not leaving,” he repeated, and then turned off the projection, ending the call. Darrell leaned back against the wall and stared at the blank space in front of him for a while. He absently wondered why he was feeling…well, nothing, actually. It seemed like he should be upset at his grandparents, at their interference, at how they constantly tried to diminish who he was so that they could turn him into someone else. They hadn’t even asked about his studies, staunchly ignoring the fact that he was multi-track in command (naturally) and linguistics. They didn’t bother to find out that after three months of private lessons, Darrell was able to speak Perel with more fluency than any person at the Academy other than Grennson, and that his extra efforts had gotten him a commendation from the Dean of the Linguistics Department. They didn’t care that he was finally getting along with his quad mates, that he enjoyed Cody’s easy company and could actually stand to be in the same room as Ten now. All they cared about were his efforts as a social climber.
Well, fuck that. Darrell knew what he was and wasn’t good at, and he’d done far better for himself getting to know people by being nice to his quad mates than trying to ingratiate himself with the other Legacies and members of the Athenian Society. Darrell would never have approached someone like Kyle Alexander even to ask the time of day, much less talked him into joining Grennson’s culture club. Yet Cody had not only managed it, but seemed to make Kyle glad to do it. And the whole idea of the club in the first place…that was all Grennson.
What was their problem with Grennson, anyway? They’d never been bothered by aliens before. In fact, they’d been pleased when he’d first told them who his roommate was.
The knock on the door pulled Darrell out of his reverie. “Yes?”
Grennson came inside, quietly shutting the door behind him. “General Caractacus is due to call in about five minutes,” he said. “Everyone is here.” His voice was a familiar, soothing rumble, and Darrell just stared for a moment before nodding jerkily. Right. The club, yes.
“I’ll be right out.”
“You should feel free to take your time,” Grennson said, his quills ruffling a bit. Darrell knew that expression; even though he felt comfortably distant from his emotions at the moment, that didn’t mean they weren’t there. Grennson probably knew better than he did what was going on inside his head right now. “No one will be upset if you’re a bit late.”
Darrell shook his head. “Xenia will make fun of me if I am.”
“Xenia likes to do that, for many reasons. That doesn’t mean it matters.” Grennson paused for a moment before saying, “Your grandparents…”
“I don’t want to talk about them right now, please.”
“All right,” Grennson said equably. “But I’ll be here to talk with when you do want to. If you do want to.” He wrinkled his milky nose. “Did that make sense? My Federation is more instinctual than practiced. Matriarch Jlinn despaired of teaching me proper grammar before my fathers and I left Perelan.”
“It was fine,” Darrell assured him. “I understood you. Thanks.”
After a little bit more quiet, Darrell got to his feet. “All right. We better get going, or we’ll miss out on some brilliant policy discussion.” He rolled his eyes and Grennson chuckled.
“Policy can be a very interesting topic,” he said as he opened the door. “It’s quite important.”
“I know it is, but—”
“Shut it!” Xenia whispered from her place in front of the couch. Cody already had his private holoprojector set up in the common room, and it was in the middle of connecting right now. “We’re starting already, what the hell were you doing in there?”
“Meditating,” Grennson said, at the same time that Darrell said, “Jerking off,” casually, like he didn’t care what any of them thought. Not even Kyle Alexander, in the center of their couch like the sun of their particular solar system. Cody and Ten were on his right, Pamela on his left, and Bartholomew and Xenai had the floor. That meant Darrell and Grennson would be standing behind the couch if they wanted to see. Not a problem.
“Is meditating while jerking off some kind of tantric sex?” Ten asked curiously, but then the holoprojector came on and a warm, weathered face filled the screen.
“Hi General Caractacus,” Cody said cheekily. “Thanks for being here today.”
“Hello, Cadets,” the general replied with a smile. “Sorry to rush this, but I’ve only got half a standard hour, so let’s get going.” They got through introductions fast, and then jumped into a discussion of FB-458-D9.
Policy had never interested Darrell. He thought it was boring, he just couldn’t help it. In that way, at least, he’d been well-suited for command track: command was all about quick thinking and action, less about figuring out the ever-expanding web of Federation rules and regulations. Listening to the general and Cody and Kyle made it interesting though, and even Ten and Bartholomew had some relevant questions that made Darrell stop and think.
The Drifter bill led to a discussion of other controversial bills, including one that made Grennson’s quills stand on end. “Closing the Mazzi embassies?” he said, utterly taken aback. “Why? They’ve been Federation allies for over a millennia!”
“Just the embassies on Hartford and Whynot,” General—no, Miles, he said they could call him that—said, but he didn’t look happy. “The only reasons cited in the actual bill are ‘security concerns’ but word is that the new local governments aren’t supportive of the idea of Mazzi in their cities. The Mazzi have never allowed us to examine them—”
“Nor should they!”
“And there were some questions about whether or not a Mazzi swarm could have infiltrated government buildings or used pieces of itself as listening devices in private offices,” Miles finished.
Darrell spoke up over Grennson’s stuttering. “Do they have reason to believe the Mazzi actually have any interest in spying on us? Like Grennson said, they’ve been allies for…since before we left the Home System. They’ve never acted with aggression against us.”
“They have when threatened by us,” Miles corrected, “but point taken. And most people think that these are very thinly veiled excuses for xenophobia. There’s growing support in a lot of local governments for this kind of action, though. I’m not sure where the groundswell started, but it’s a reality in the Central System.”
“But why is the Federation Parliament condoning it?” Cody asked.
“They haven’t, officially. Not yet. But they haven’t vetoed the measures either. It’s one of many things I’ll be looking into once I get there next week. Speaking of that, Cody, you should expect a call from your dads today or tomorrow. They should have all of one night’s layover on Olympus before they have to continue on.” Miles shook his head. “I’m sorry it couldn’t be for longer, but I really need their support.”
“I understand,” Cody said quickly. “It’s okay.”
“I have to sign off, I’m afraid. Good to meet you, Cadets.”
“And you, sir.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“An honor, sir.” They thanked him quickly and Miles’ end of the connection cut off a moment later.
“Wow,” Pamela said after a moment. “He’s handsome. I see where you get it from, Cody.”
Cody started to laugh.