May 14, 2016 by Lyn
If he don’t act right
Trade him in
If he breakin’ you down girl
Trade him in
Jamian thought about his conversation with Kailani all through eperu. He could have asked Professor Pelletier about the strange Word that he’d manifested, but something kept him quiet. Maybe it was the redhead’s indignant commentary on the professors that hadn’t helped her. Maybe it was the way Dr. Regine had just taken everything in hand, without ever telling them what was going on.
He managed not to accidentally spit the strange Word out during class, although he did once stammer out a “Jasfe Kailani” that had both Kendra – she didn’t seem very happy about the collar, or happy in general, now – and Professor Pelletier looking at him strangely.
“Well, somebody ought to,” he muttered defensively, before focusing on eperu. Earth, not Kai’s pale green bra and panties.
He was thinking about Kai again by the time he made it to dinner, and about Kendra, and Bowen. The teachers weren’t doing anything to help. The rules seemed stacked against the Fifth Cohort, and against Kept in bad situations. What could they do to help? What could he do, when he had to do whatever Ty said?
He didn’t realize he was fiddling with the necklace until Ty asked him “what’s up, Jame’?”
“Oh!” He jumped a little, and flushed when he realized he’d made the whole table look at him. “Just thinking about Kailani.”
Nikita sniggered. “I think she’s got her hands full with Conrad.”
That didn’t help the sudden displeasure rising from Ty; if anything, it spiked it higher. Jamian frowned. “Not like that!” She was awfully pretty… He shook his head. “No, we were just talking in the locker room.”
“Like that?” Shiva teased.
“No, I was Jaya then.” He shrugged. “And then I wasn’t, but no-one seemed to care.” Maybe they’d gotten so used to the Ty-and-Tya show that nothing he’d do would faze them. He turned back to Ty, who seemed to be recovering okay. “Just talking about the things we were talking about in the suite the other day.”
“Your funny magic word?” Ty didn’t seem to be getting happier about the whole thing. Jamian bit his lip.
“Nah, the other thing.” He didn’t know why he was being so vague. “Helping people out.”
“Don’t go starting up any trouble,” Ty warned. “Things can get out of hand pretty quickly with what you think is an innocent act.”
“I know.” He almost snapped it, but the frazzled, fried look on Conrad’s face yesterday haunted him. “I know, Ty. I heard what happened to Kailani.”
“What…?” Ty glanced at Shiva, and she nodded solemnly. “Oh, damn, that’s what she was talking about. She tried to interfere with Bowen?”
“She took him to the infirmary.” This time, he did snap. “And now she’s afraid to touch me, because she’s afraid you’ll call in a debt the way Agatha did.”
“She is kind of cute…” Phelen began. Shiva punched him in the arm before Jamian could get to it, seeming to phase through the table to do so. She sat back down primly in her seat as if nothing had happened and nodded thoughtfully at Jamian.
“I saw that, too, with Niki. She didn’t want to touch him to take care of him, after she was bright enough to figure out what was happening and save us all when the suite’s air went wonky.” Jamian was glad she didn’t say when Jamian fucked up the air in the suite, but it wasn’t enough to relax him. Why was Ty being so pissy, and why didn’t he seem to get it?
“Well, it’s a good thing not to randomly manhandle other people’s Kept.” Magnolia made it sound so reasonable. “Any more than you’d randomly graffiti their house or steal their radio.” And then she took it right off the deep end.
“Try not to be so eighteen-hundreds about the whole thing,” Shiva snapped. Jamian was glad he wasn’t the only angry one. “We’re not talking about her dragging Niki into a dark alley and raping him-”
“Hey!” Niki protested, and then, more thoughtfully, “But if she really wanted to…”
“If you wanted to be a whore, darling, you shouldn’t have gotten yourself Kept again.” Shiva shook her head, annoyed. “We’re talking about saving his life. That’s not tagging your house, if you want to stick with your triangle trade metaphor. That’s putting out the fire raging in your living room.”
“Or bedroom,” Niki offered.
“Or bedroom.” She shook her head. “There’s taking care of what’s yours, and then there’s going insane with possessiveness. And, really, this is Aggie we’re talking about… which means she’s a slumlord to start with.”
“Exactly!” Jamian smiled gratefully at her. It was a creepy, creepy metaphor, but… “I mean, aside from the part where Niki and I are real estate. Or Conrad and Bowen, for that matter. Why is it okay to treat your Kept like shit and not okay for anyone to do anything about it?”
“Because that’s the Law, Jamian,” Ty answered impatiently. “If you agree to be Kept, you become the property and responsibility of your Keeper.”
“Agree?” Jamian was getting really angry now. “The way I agreed to be your Kept?”
“Or I did, last year?” Niki helped.
“Or I did, two years ago?” Shiva added. “Face it, Tya-mia, do you really think the Kept in bad situations knew what they were getting into?”
Ty held up both hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I’ll grant you that a lot of people get tricked into it. But that doesn’t stop the Law from being what it is. You can’t just go messing with other people’s Kept. Otherwise, what’s to stop someone like Barem from doing whatever he wants?”
“I dunno, the Administration?” Jamian muttered. He already knew the answer to that, though: the teachers weren’t going to do enough, if anything. “So you said,” he said, a bit louder, “people could challenge.” Melchior had said something similar, too. “So there’s a way to get a Kept free of their Owner.”
“Well, Kept can’t challenge, but yeah,” Ty agreed. “There’s ways. There’s challenging, which is always risky, because you have to have something to put up for stakes. And then there’s flat-out buying or trading.”
“Buying or trading?” Jamian blinked. “You can… just sell your Kept?” The idea was terrifying. What if Ty got angry with him? Ty was already angry with him. He barely resisted the urge to pull his knees up to his chest, or the urge to drop down to his knees in front of Ty and beg him to forgive him for being bitchy. “Or trade? Like baseball cards?”
“Yeah.” Ty didn’t seem to see the problem. “D.J. had a Kept once for three years. Traded him to an antiquities dealer after a while.” He smirked slightly.
“So… like a slave auction.” He felt cold, and more than a little scared. Across the table, he noted, Niki wasn’t looking too good either.
“No, no, nothing like that.” Ty actually seemed a little offended by the concept.
“Sometimes,” Shiva explained, “people around here get a Kept, say, on Hell Night, that isn’t quite what they want. So yes, sometimes they swap. Or ransom someone back to their friends. Favors, other Kept, that sort of thing. We don’t have any real currency down here except Kept and Oaths, after all.”
“Oh, good, either a baseball card or a pack of cigarettes.” But it meant that there were ways to get people out of bad situations, if he could find the right currency.
“Something like that, yeah.” She looked like she was going to say more, but Dr. Regine stepped up to the front of the Dining Hall just then, alone. She cleared her throat, and cleared it again. An uncomfortable moment later, the Dining Hall fell silent.
“I am happy to announce,” Dr. Regine began, not sounding all that happy, “the first field trip of the year. This will be to a series of historic sites, culminating with a visit to the Texas Renaissance Festival.”
Around the Dining Hall, people murmured in interest and amusement. Regine cleared her throat, clearly not used to have to work to get people’s attention. “This year, we have decided to go a different direction with the contests.”
“Rather than competing between crews, which is inherently unfair to those whose social networks are less established, this will be a competition between cy’rees. Those of you whose cy’ree numbers less than four will be grouped together to form a team. The competition will be a challenge of trivia and scholastic achievement, similar to the College Bowl events.”
Trivia and scholastic achievement. Jamian looked around the members of his cy’ree sitting at dinner with him. We are so screwed. From the smug look on Nikita’s face, everyone knew it, too.
Regine kept talking, delineating more rules, some warning about cheating, but everyone at the tables was talking already. Jamian looked around at the group, realizing that people were already splitting off, presumably to talk to their cy’rees. He turned to look at Ty.
“Do we have a chance?”
“Well, there are more of us than anyone else at least. I think she said most of the time we’d be pared down to a team of four, and we’re the only ones that could field that entirely of Second Cohort.”
“You, Magnolia, Agatha, and Ardell? Working as a team?”