The Academy

Chapter 6

Simon POV

“Mother, we haven’t seen her since she left, isn’t that a bit odd?” She didn’t look away from the tea she was pouring.

“Government schools don’t allow visitors.” Father shrugged and moved to stand beside the table. “The standards keep the children in check and prepare them for careers in the field. We knew where we were sending her.”

“Something is happening at that school! It’s changing her.” I followed father angrily.

“Don’t be silly.” Father waved a hand turning back to me.

“Your sister is fine, Simon.” Mother added, standing.

“She’s not fine. Didn’t you look at the letters? Look at the letters.” Father took the letter looking over it.

“Uh, I’m looking at letters.”

“These phrases.” I shuffled through the rest of the letters. “They don’t sound anything like her. Some of these words-” I handed them the letters. “They’re misspelled.” I wanted to scream as they looked blankly at me. “She started correcting my spelling when she was three. She’s trying to tell us something. I think there’s a code.”

“A code?” Mother sounded surprised, while Father just laughed.

“Yes.” It had become more clear with every letter I’d received over the last three months.

“I always thought it was River who was lost without her big brother. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t the other way around.” Father continued to chuckle handing the letters back to me. I paused for a minute deciding on another approach.

“Did you have a good time at the D’arbanville’s ball this year?”

“What are you...?” Father looks at mother, and I held up the letter.

“River thought it was duller than last year. But since we don’t know anybody named D’arbanville, I’m having trouble judging. Did you even read these?” I asked angrily.

“Well, of course I did.”

“It’s one of her silly games. You two are always playing.” Mother smiled.

“She is trying to tell us something that somebody doesn’t want her to say.” I spoke slowly hoping to get through to them.

Mother stepped forward. “Simon, this is paranoid. It’s stress. If they heard you talking like this at the hospital, it could affect your entire future.” Mother spoke calmly, as if I was a small child afraid of the man in the closet I won’t be calmed down.

“Who cares about my future?”

“You should.” He was quietly angry, annoyed at the possible disruption.

“You’re a surgeon in one of the best hospitals in Capital City. On your way to a major position, possibly even the Medical Elect. You’re going to throw all of that away? Everything you’ve worked for your whole life?” Mother looked scared and sad for me.

“Being a doctor means more to you than just a position, I know that.” Father clapped me on the shoulder, all man to man like.

“A few months time, you’ll turn around and there she’ll be. Now, nothing is going to keep you two apart for long.” Mother pulled me into a hug.

“But,” I sputtered.

“It’s a government school, Simon. What could possibly go wrong?” Father interrupted as I pulled away from Mother.

Anger boiled in my chest. “Do you follow them that blindly?”

“Simon Tam,” Father glared. “You may be a man now, but you will still speak to your father with respect.”

“Parliament is run by power hungry bastards who likely don’t know one end from the other and…”

“Na xie gou-le! No more, you will not speak that way in my house. Regan, we’re going to be late.” He spun and walked out the front door. Mother looked between the door and me, stepping up to give me a kiss on the cheek.

“Try not to anger him; he’s been stressed from work lately. Your sister’s fine Simon.” She stepped out the door, disappearing to some social event or another.

I dropped to the couch; this was so like father lately. He expected so much from his children, but at the same time still believed he was the more intelligent one. He had been so distracted with work that he was hardly home anymore, traveling around the ‘Verse. If he was in capitol city it was for one party or another. I had moved home to keep mother company while he was away.

I sifted back through the letters, trying to figure if there was a pattern. The first letters seemed normal; she talked about her classes, and the usual teenage girl things. The last three were riddled with references to things I didn’t understand, and people we didn’t know. I stared and stared at the letters, and all of a sudden something became clear. I used one letter to cover all but the first letters of each line on another letter, and read the first word of every fifth line.

“Hello, effort, last, problem, H E L P.” The second letter from the bottom up spelled help as well. I looked at the second letter. Every fifth letter on the way down spelled ‘hurting’, every second on the way up spelled ‘us’. And the latest letter, blatantly on the left side, ‘get me out’.

I dropped the letters, head spinning. She really was in trouble, I wasn’t paranoid. I went to the book shelf, sorting through a pile of papers until I found the brochure for the school. I flipped through, kids slightly older than River, lounging on a grassy hill, listening intently in class, all the staples of school brochures. I remembered my own looking similar. I read over the letter at the front.

“River Tam, we are proud to extend an invitation to join our program. The Academy is a government funded school for the brightest and best students in the ‘Verse. Only a few students are admitted each semester, so please realize the honor thins opportunity brings to you and your family. Please review the offered programs and classes, and don’t forget to let us know what size your uniforms should be!”

Turning down a fully funded government scholarship school was unheard of. Even though Father could afford to send her anywhere, he wanted her at The Academy. More than that, River was excited by the programs. The school offered the most advanced coursework of any school, and graduating from a government school practically guaranteed she would funnel directly into a high paying government job. And it was a new start, far from any of the people who didn’t understand her intelligence and ridiculed her for it. My mei mei just wanted to be with other people who enjoyed learning the way she did.

I logged into the cortex, then thought better of it. Logging off I grabbed my jacket and headed for the door. I walked briskly through the streets to the nearest public center. There I ordered tea and logged into the cortex. It was still risky, cameras everywhere, but less obvious than from home. I searched The Academy.

The first few pages of results were what I expected. The school’s homepage, reviews of the school, articles about the great works they did there bringing together the ‘Verse’s brightest children. I tapped on a page called ‘The AcaDAMNy’, the first not run by the government. The screen was black; I started to go back, but noticed a quote in miniscule letters at the bottom of the page. ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil…’ I tapped the quote and the page spun to white, I sat for a moment, then typed the rest of the quote, it scrolled across the screen as I finished it. ‘Is that good men do nothing.’

The words faded and were replaced. ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly.’ I inhaled, digging in my memory for the rest of the quote. Our grandmother had insisted both River and I read the bible. Finally I typed ‘but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.’ I glanced around the room, but no one paid me any heed. When I glanced again at the screen, red type appeared.

“Ni she shui?”

“Who am I?” I typed. “Who are you?”

“You are an AcaDAMNy child?”

“No.”

“Then you have no business here.” The screen went black again; I panicked making a split second decision.

“My sister is!” I typed, hoping they weren’t really gone. At first there was no response, then.

“You know where Turning and Brigg meet?”

“In the Shaiming district.”

“Be there in twenty minutes.”

“It’s across the city, and in a blackout zone!”

“You want answers about your sister? Twenty minutes.” The screen went blank and an error message appeared. I shoved out of the chair, running for the street.

*

I tossed the cab driver more than enough credits to cover bringing me so close to a blackout zone and jumped from the cab, running through the twisted side streets until I stopped panting at the sign post marking Turning and Brigg. I checked my watch; it had taken me twenty-two minutes. I prayed I wasn’t too late.

“An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.” I spun to the voice, a dark hooded figure stood at the mouth of the alley to the left of me. It’s the entire quote so after a moment’s hesitation I answered with the name of the man who made it famous.

“Elbert Hubbard.”

“Let’s hope you have the loyalty your cleverness conveys,” A man slightly younger than me stepped into the light, lowering his hood to reveal a long scar across the crown of his head below blond hair. He motioned me to him, and I stepped forward warily.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Doesn’t my knowledge make it apparent?” he asked, honestly looking surprised I hadn’t figured it out. “I was a student at The Academy.”

“Was?”

“I had the resources to reach out for help. The people who helped me were already suspicious of the school, much as you seem to be. Your sister, has she been there long?”

“Two years,” I whispered.

He rubbed the side of his head. “She’s made contact recently?”

“She’s been writing all along, but the letters have changed in the last month. I knew she was trying to tell me something, but tonight I figured out the code.” I couldn’t believe I’d missed it before.

“Then it’s not too late for her.” The man nodded. “A code you say? You are as smart as she, and lucky to be too old to have been drafted yourself.”

“My sister makes me look like an idiot,” I assured him.

“Still, you would have been of some use.”

“What are they doing there?”

“Playing God.” He motioned to his scar. “You see the fun they had with me.”

“Wahg-ba dan duh biao-tze,” I swore, he grinned at my language. “How can I help her?”

“You say she is intelligent. If she is indeed more brilliant then you, I assume she is in their elite program. We can help you get her out, but it will cost you.”

“Duoshao qiun?”

“You are direct,” he smiled again. “One million in cash, we don’t take credits.”

“You’re joking.”

He shrugged. “I’m afraid I’m not. Our group is small and runs with little help. Our site on the cortex is expensive enough to maintain. We would need to buy things to help remove her, and to help others who contact us. I can tell by your dress you’re not lacking in worth.”

“But cash.”

“They do brain experiments, I’m not sure how they are operating now, but I spent a month with the top of my skull removed as they poked around in there. I saw others die at that school.” He shrugged again. “If you would rather leave her to that.”

“I’ll find your money,” I spoke through grit teeth, angrier than ever that we had let her go to that school.

“And in exchange we will get her into cryo, and take you both to Persephone, from there you can go near anywhere in the ‘Verse.”

“How will I contact you?”

“We’ll meet here in one week. If you have the money we will proceed from there.”

“One week.” I nodded, mind spinning, trying to figure out if the bank would allow me my cash savings.

“Be safe.” He backed away into the shadows, “You’ll do well to remember ‘Deeds, not words shall speak me’.”

“Oh, my deeds shall speak,” I muttered, turning to hurry out of the blackout zone.


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