He didn’t have any more time to waste. He had to investigate Carlisle. First things first, though, Joseph found himself striding the halls. And it was a weird damn experience.
The E Club was out in force.
And they felt… look, Joseph wasn’t a psychic. But over the years, he fancied he’d figured out how to read other people’s aggression. The E Club… they were on the warpath.
He didn’t get the kindest glances. A few people muttered at him that he was too close to Sally and that he should back the hell off if he knew what was good for him. If Joseph hadn’t had a mission to get to, he would’ve stopped and said something. He couldn’t afford a scene right now.
He took an elevator, and when the last person got off, immediately transported into the shaft. He fixed his mask in place then paused.
He could hear through the shaft to his side. There was a wall. Two cadets were there standing and discussing the exam. Still.
“Anna’s right. We can’t limit ourselves. We have to reach for excellence. Otherwise there’ll be nobody to save the Academy.”
He made a face. “Nobody to save the Academy?” For crying out loud, they were just cadets. And what did they mean Anna was right?
Joseph, despite the fact he didn’t want to, was starting to calm down.
Nobody… look, nobody had died during that simulation. It had been wrong, but… now he’d got some distance from it, he could see why they’d wanted to do it.
The Scarax Galaxy was coming. And they did utilize psychic sprites. If the students didn’t have any experience, they’d have absolutely no ability to fight them. He wasn’t talking about standard simulations. That wasn’t real experience. In order to actually cut your teeth on fighting a psychic sprite, it had to feel real. Because they fed off your fear.
Still… they should’ve told him, Joseph defaulted to thinking. But he wasted no more time.
He’d already figured out where Carlisle’s office was. And Forest had already called Carlisle out. “Here we go,” he muttered to himself. He ported without further ado.
He arrived in the middle of the room, floating a couple of meters up in the air.
The place was neat. Clinically so. He could tell Carlisle was an ex-soldier. Not a single thing was out of place.
Joseph caught himself looking at the view. It wasn’t spectacular, but it still drew the eye.
“But it’s irrelevant,” Joseph reminded himself with a harrumph at his own distractibility.
Time to get to work.
He didn’t need scanners. His senses would do fine.
He expected to find something big. That’s pretty much what Forest had said he’d find. But there was… nothing.
It was pretty easy to search through, considering how neat it was. There wasn’t even the faintest indication that Carlisle was a god. Joseph still searched for a good hour.
When he found nothing, he reluctantly transported away.
He quickly called Forest. “There wasn’t a thing in his office, Lara.”
“There must’ve been. You must’ve missed it.”
Joseph chuckled. He’d already transported back into the elevator shaft. He had to be careful not to be squashed, but that was pretty easy when you could actually morph right through matter. He stood on a lift right now, knowing his cloak would prevent his conversation from filtering down to the passengers beneath. “I searched everything. From the walls to the carpet to the ceiling and every single datapad. There was nothing, Lara. Nothing at all. Are we dead certain that he’s the god?”
There was a pause. “Yes,” she said, though her voice was hardly confident. “Anna is certain.”
Joseph opened his mouth to point out Anna could be wrong again, but considering she’d already been such a hot-button topic for them today, he ground his lips closed.
“Perhaps Carlisle is keeping the evidence elsewhere. Scan his personal quarters. Figure out his recent movements.”
“It’s going to be a long night then?” Joseph muttered.
“That it will be. You have a job to do, Lieutenant—”
Joseph snapped a mock salute. “Only I can do it.”
“I’m sure I can find somebody else to do it, but I don’t want anyone else. I trust you to get this done.”
His chest puffed out at the exact way Forest said that.
But pride can only get you so far.
He searched through everything Carlisle had touched in the past several weeks – as the Academy scanners could confirm where’d he been. There wasn’t a scrap of evidence.
When Joseph finally finished, he headed home to his accommodation block. He fully expected James to either be in bed or out, but Joseph walked in the door to see James right there, right in the middle of the room, his arms crossed.
Joseph doubled back. He put his hands up. “You angry at me for coming home late, mom?” he said playfully.
“No. I’m here to pick your brains. And see that you’re okay,” he said as he stared Joseph up and down as if he expected to find a hole in Joseph’s body somewhere.
Joseph frowned. “Okay?” To be honest, he’d had a pretty hard day. But he wasn’t about to admit the actual details to James.
“I heard about what happened.”
Considering Joseph had just spent the last several hours on a fruitless chase, he drew up a blank. He shrugged.
“The simulation, Joseph.”
Joseph snapped up a hand and scratched the back of his neck then shrugged smoothly again.
James ticked his head left and right. “I know that move,” he gestured to Joseph’s hand, “and you do that when you’re trying to fob someone off. Seriously, man. I’ve heard nonstop from the E Club all day that you are in trouble.”
Joseph wanted to play this coolly, get to his room, and think things through. Instead, he let his cheeks twitch.
James’s eyes widened. “What the hell happened?”
“Look, I don’t really want—”
“To talk about it? Apparently there was some kind of psychic simulation in class, and you screwed up or something? Or at least your partner did. What’s her name—”
“Sally,” Joseph said, and he found himself becoming defensive.
James was far too astute not to notice. “Are we talking about that cadet from before? The one who aced that other exam? Everyone is saying she’s a cheat—”
“Sally isn’t a cheat. The E Club has just become bitter at the fact the only thing they can control in their lives right now is their exams.”
James frowned. He was nominally in E Club himself, though he didn’t really get involved in their activities. But he was dating Serena.
“Look, I don’t want to talk about it. There are a lot of other things going on in this world right now—”
“Yeah. But the thing most relevant to you right now is that E Club is angry. They’re saying Carlisle helped this Sally. They want heads to roll. I honest to God think Carlisle’s gonna be investigated soon if things keep going like this.”
That floored Joseph. “I’m sorry. What? They think Carlisle helped her? Carlisle hates her.”
“You sure? I mean, is it possible they cheated?”
Joseph just looked at him.
“I don’t want to suggest this, but what if they’re together?”
“Don’t suggest it then,” Joseph snapped. A tiny charge of subspace particles developed in one of his fists, shot down his leg, and pushed into the carpet. Fortunately it was out of sight. But it did burn the rug.
James slowly tilted his head back. “Did I just overstep the line? Okay, I’m sorry. I just want to know what’s going on.”
“E Club have lost their damn minds. They failed an exam. Fair and square. So what are they doing rather than accepting the truth? Attacking students and staff. This is nuts. We don’t need this right now,” he snapped. He meant that from the bottom of his soul.
James just watched him. “You mean you don’t need this right now?”
“I mean the entire freaking Academy doesn’t need this right now. At any moment, the Scarax gods could come back. Meanwhile, rather than actually preparing themselves for battle, the cadets are engaging in stupid, useless internal fights that only serve to divide us when we need to be connected the most.”
“Okay,” James conceded. That was it. No more fighting, just okay.
Joseph stared at him warily.
“I’m not an idiot, Joseph. I saw that interaction the other day. There’s a reason I don’t hang out with E Club that much. They’re too focused on being the best. As for Serena, I haven’t seen her like this before. She’s cold and distant…” he trailed off as he switched his gaze over to the window.
“When did this start?”
“Today really – no, yesterday. It’s hard to put my finger on it. Look, I just wanted to give you a heads-up. The cadets are on the warpath. So far, it only sounds as if they’re after Sally and Carlisle. If you keep hanging out with her, they’ll go after you, too. If I were you, I’d just keep my head down.”
Keep his head down? Why? So he could just kick back and watch Sally get thrown under the proverbial bus?
Joseph was aware of how wrong this thought was. Or if not wrong, completely opposite to what he’d thought only 24 hours ago. He would’ve personally thrown Sally under a bus then. Now the thought of it made his hackles rise.
James quickly saw. “Go take a shower and get rid of some of your stress. Tomorrow will be a new day.”
“Yeah, but it’ll be just as screwed.” Joseph turned. He had to do something, but what? Call Forest? Tell her E Club was going crazy? Tell her to go send some officers to protect Sally? Forest had told him specifically to keep an eye on Sally because she was suspicious of her.
This was so damn screwed.
Joseph went to punch the wall.
“Please don’t. We don’t need to redecorate,” James muttered from behind him. “Just take a shower.”
Joseph paused. It was only then he noted there was way too much tension in his fist. If he’d punched, he might’ve sent the wall shooting off through the side of the building.
He eased his shoulder down, nodded stiffly, and walked through his door.
He had a little en suite to the side, but he sure as heck didn’t walk in for a shower. He paused, settled his back against the door, and swiveled his head toward the view behind his bed. There wasn’t much to see. It was already dark – well past midnight, in fact.
He angled toward it. He looked down. That’s when he noted a cadet right at the edge of the grounds, hands in their pockets, staring up at the darkness.
It was Sally.
He didn’t think. He wasn’t meant to be porting around the Academy right now. He had to get some much-needed shut-eye. He just couldn’t.
He ported before even putting his cloak on.
He appeared in the air, several meters above her.
She stiffened slightly, almost as if she was going to turn around, but she didn’t.
Joseph was aware of her face, though – could feel the electrical potential of her muscles. Her lips curled into a smile as if she had something to be thankful for.
His heart pounded a little. He couldn’t believe Sally was suspicious, but what was she doing out this late? The answer was soon revealed to him. Sally just stood there, looking at the stars.
Joseph had done that himself over the years. So he knew her motivation. This was what you did when you were lonely. This is what you did when you had no one else to watch the stars with.
She kept her head tilted up. She never turned, and Joseph kept several meters back.
The whole while, as she watched the night sky, he watched her, and for the first time in a long while, he didn’t think of the oncoming war. Thoughts of sprites were chased from his psyche. They were replaced with Sally’s quiet calm as she stared at the Milky Way. It gave Joseph something he hadn’t enjoyed in a long time. A silent pause.
The thing about pausing is when you stop, everything begins again, and tomorrow would be a new day. It would bring with it heartache and loss.