June 21, 2016 by Lyn
But that’s okay
‘Cause the balance of power’s maintained that way
No one seemed likely to stop them, so he led her to a nook he’d found away from most people, but still, technically, public space. “Everything okay?”
“What do you mean?” she answered quickly. Too quickly, he thought. “I’m fine.”
He tugged the ring necklace where she could see it clearly. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, one hand slowly going to her own collar. “Fine.”
“How long do you have?” he asked gently, “to help me with History stuff?”
“As long as it takes? I mean, I have to come back this evening of course,” she added quickly.
“Me, too,” he shrugged, and, for a little bit, distracted her with History questions. It would give her something to tell Uberto, if he asked.
She didn’t seem to mind, but eventually she asked, “Is this really why we’re out here?”
“Not at all,” he answered easily enough, “but it’s generally better if the lie isn’t a lie, right?”
“It is,” she agreed. She didn’t even seem concerned that he had apparently lured her out for some unknown purpose; he wasn’t sure what to make of that.
He tested her emotions curiously, wondering what was going on, even as he began going through his little spiel again. Initially, she had been vaguely worried about something, but it didn’t seem directed at him; curiosity and, actually, relief, were more dominant. As he continued with his explanation, the anxiety slowly became more pronounced.
He stopped. “Orders?” he asked gently.
“I do have some?” she replied carefully. “Not about this, specifically. But I don’t want to get in trouble, either.”
“We all have some,” he said, a little fatalistically. “Even Conrad. But I’ll shut up about it if it’s going to worry you.”
“I just… don’t think I can help you, really. But it’s nice that someone wants to do something.”
“Okay,” he nodded. “Is… um. Is there anything we can do to help you?”
“Distract my roommates?” Shera replied wistfully. “I mean, I like Uber,” she hastened to add.
“Of course you do,” Jamian nodded. “But yeah… I can guess. I know how Ardell is in cy’ree meetings.”
“And Delaney,” she murmured.
“I don’t really know her…?”
“Let’s just say she’s not as polite as Ardell.”
“Ack.” He frowned. The others they wanted to help would be hard enough. With Ardell’s whole crew backing Uberto… “Ack.”
“Yeah,” Shera nodded. “So, what are you going to do, then?”
Ack? “Um? About…?”
“This… thing you’re doing? Collecting information?”
“Oh.” He relaxed. “Put it all together and disseminate it back to all the Fifths. Find a way around the geasa to leave it for the Sixth Cohort.”
She blinked once, then again, nodding more slowly. “Then… what will we do, next year?”
“What will we do?” He blinked back at her. “Not be Owned? Or do you mean about the graduation requirements?” Kai and I will already have our two each, and Shahin has Emrys. Not everyone is that … “lucky.”
“Well, that too. But who will we own?”
“Um.” Personally, he’d never thought about owning anyone – it caused Kai so much frustration, and how would he know if he could do a good job at it? “Fourth Cohorts who haven’t learned to watch what they say? People like Joff and Wren who want to be Owned?”
“Well, that hardly seems fair, don’t you think?”
“Um.” He was saying that a lot, wasn’t he? “I don’t know why not. I mean, Niki walked himself right back into being Owned. Why not Keep the people who want it?”
“We didn’t have that choice. Why should the next class? Shouldn’t we have the same opportunities as the people before us?”
“You mean the part where we get to trick them and torture them and starve them?” he snapped.
She shrank back as if stung. “Well, I don’t mean to torture anyone…”
“I wonder if Aggie did?”
“I don’t know or care what she does! “ Shera exclaimed, shifting from one foot to the other. “Y’know, this would’ve been a nice thought two months ago. Now, I should get back to my suite.”
He winced, and reached out with his power to calm her. He’d worry about the ethics of it later. “I’m sorry,” he said, sincerely. “I wish I’d known it all then, too.”
She paused as she began to walk away, and turned back towards him. “Well, you didn’t. None of us did. We can’t change that now, and no gesture we make is going to make up for it.”
“You’re right,” he sighed. “Thank you for your help with my homework, Shera.”
She was just about to speak again when another voice cut into their conversation.
“And what have we here? Meddling again?”
Jamian tensed, and moved to put himself between the speaker and Shera. “Ofir.”
“Does Uberto know you’re out here, with him?”
“Well, no,” she began.
Jamian flinched. Damnit, she was making it sound worse than it was! “His crew knows.”
“I’m sure other people knowing really helps,” Ofir sneered. “Why are you still bothering other people’s property? Didn’t we talk about this once?” He stepped forward, folding his arms.
Jamian sneered back at him, full of bravado he didn’t really feel. He’d picked an isolated spot on purpose. No-one was going to step in this time. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“Maybe I should just tell Uber what you’re up to, eh? Trying to poach his girl?”
“Because doing homework is poaching now?” Crap, Ty would not be happy if he thought Jamian was going after another girl. Jamian threw his manliness under the bus. “You may have noticed, I don’t go for girls.”
“Homework, is it? In an intentionally secluded little nook?” Crap, Jamian hadn’t given the bully credit for being that observant. “Biology homework, maybe.”
“History, actually,” Shera put in. “Really, it’s not my type.”
“Maybe so,” Ofir mused, raising a hand to stroke his chin thoughtfully. “Still, you’re up to something, Daeva. I may not know what it is, but rest assured I’ll find out.” He pointed a finger accusingly at Jamian.
“God forbid I try to have friends,” Jamian muttered, stung by Shera’s easy “it,” however true it was.
“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” Ofir said with a frown. Shera, for her part, was inching away from Jamian, and looked ready to bolt. Her nervousness was understandable, but it didn’t do a lot for the image of innocence. Jamian reached out with his power and calmed her again, stopping just short of “doped” this time, and rolled his eyes at Ofir.
“You do that.” God, don’t. The teachers will kill us.
“I will,” he nodded, waggling the finger in an accusatory manner. “Just you watch. I will.” Ofir gave the pair of them one more disdainful look, shook his head, and turned away.
“I’ll see you in class,” Jamian told Shera, resisting the urge to mutter and your little dog too. She nodded slowly, slightly dazed from how hard he’d influenced her, and sauntered off down the hall, disappearing from sight in the opposite direction from Ofir.
What now? It seemed like a bad idea to go talk to Bowen. He could go back to his room and dump the notes there, or at Kai’s, in case he got jumped. He could go hide somewhere. He could hit Ofir over the head with a rock or three.
What could Ofir really do, anyway? Well, he had threatened to tell people. What could he possibly know? Possibly more importantly, what damage could what he thought he knew do? Was Kai going to get in trouble over this? Was Ty?
We’re just talking. Telling the Sixth Cohort might go against the rules, but talking, as far as he could tell, didn’t. After all, Keepers could tell their Kept things.
On the other side, what about Shera? He certainly had some misgivings about the attitude she was displaying, but he didn’t want her to be punished for talking to him, either. That could only make things worse.
How many of his fellow Fifthies were harboring thoughts like hers? Were they going to watch the same cycle over and over again, because people wanted their turn on top?
Was he going to end up like that, next year?