Battle Athletes Fan Fiction ❯ Pariah ❯ Family ( Chapter 3 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

by Vosburg

Part Three: Family (You really cannot go home again)

Disclaimer: No, still don't own Battle Athletes.

I wake to the buzzing of my alarm. Just as well I'd set it to go off at the same time every morning, as I forgot to check the setting last night.

I don't even make a pretense of doing my exercises. I pull myself across the bed to the small desk alongside. I pull out my laptop; with a combination of anticipation and fatalism, I read my mail.

I find what I anticipated.

I gaze at one e-mail after another. All with essentially the same message.

Budapest Primary Academy: "We have a great backlog of applicants at present, and will be unable to process new applicants for some time."

Riga National Academy: "You must think us either very forgiving or very dense, if you believe that we would seriously consider you as a student after what you have done."

Cologne Sports Group: "We ask that you do not call us again, as you are wasting your time and ours."

Three messages, varying in tone from polite lies to outright contempt. Why I expected anything different, why I *ought* to expect anything different, I do not know.

I begin to access the Worldscan on my computer, a network specifically for data searches on Earth, in an attempt to find more places to apply to. I'm now asking second, or more often third-tier campuses to give me at least a trial semester, probation, anything just to keep in condition.

My fingers stop before they hit the keyboard.

I ask myself: What's the point?

I've gotten enough frustration from the constant barrage of rejection letters. From the plain 'no', to the indignant 'you will enter our academy only over the decaying corpses of the faculty' - it wears one down after a while.

I close my computer case. Perhaps I'll do better at finding another hotel where I can remain for a few days. I again make myself exercise, pull myself into the shower, dress slowly, my body moving without hope or energy.

As I pull my cloak around me, I make a few changes to my appearance. I comb my hair to the right, securing it with a heavy clip. I also smudge my face slightly. This has become part of my routine, varying my appearance in an attempt to keep from being recognized too easily.

One more thing I never thought I'd be doing.

I briefly press my ear to the door. I do not hear anyone in the hall. I open it silently, casting furtive glances to right and left.

There is no one about. With a brief sigh of relief, I leave the room, lock the door, and walk noiselessly to the stairs.

Once in the main lobby, I slow my pace; I don't want to attract attention. As I pass the front desk, the manager briefly looks in my direction, then turns to other business. Everyone else in the area is preoccupied. Fortunate for me; I don't need a scene here.

As soon as I'm out of the hotel, I pull the hood of my cloak over my head. Since the wind is picking up, I expect that I won't look out of place with most of my head covered. In fact, it's more to protect me from recognition that anything else.

I walk as unobtrusively as I can, much different from the assured stride I used to affect, the one which virtually dared anyone to remain in my path. I glance discreetly at cafes and restaurants, trying to find one not too crowded, not too lively. The only goal I have now is a short breakfast, and after that I can go after today's prospects. If one of them works, merely one, that's all right with me.

I settle on a RapiDine, one of the fast food franchises in the city. I once thought I would cut my own throat before I would enter such a place. That was before I learned that the restaurants I preferred to eat at would not allow me in once I showed my identification, assuming someone hadn't already recognized me, in which case I would be told to leave on the spot.

Even at the smaller, less expensive places I had problems. There were always people glaring at me, making derisive comments just loud enough for me to hear. On occasion, they would be loud enough for everyone to hear.

I remember an outdoor café where I had just finished eating, when a couple, regular patrons from what I could see, began to sit at a table not far from me. As the headwaiter came for their order, the man suddenly stood up and looked at me.

The headwaiter was confused. "Is anything amiss, sir?"

The man turned to him, then back to me.

"We won't be requiring your services today," he said in a voice that carried across the cafe, "as your standards have obviously dropped. Perhaps we'll return another time, after you have removed the vermin from your premises."

As he spoke, his eyes never left me. The rest of the customers turned to look at me as well, some in confusion, some in contempt.

I sat for a moment, stunned, wondering how to respond.

After a few seconds, I realized there wasn't really a choice. I silently got up, paid, and took my leave.

There was another time, at a beach in Calais. I was looking out at the water when the waitress brought my order - some fruit salad, as far as I recollect - and stopped in front of me. I waited for her to place it on the table, when I noticed she had this odd expression on her face. For a few seconds, she just looked at me.

Then, she tipped the bowl, emptying the contents on my boots.

The chef came over, demanding to know what she thought she was doing. She said nothing, just stood there without the slightest trace of apology. Actually, her expression was one of self- satisfaction. The chef turned to me to apologize.

But when he saw who I was, his face suddenly contorted with distaste. His reprimand stopped mid-sentence; instead, he simply told her to go on to another table. I began to ask what he was going to do about the waitress, and my boots. He said with a sneer that I would not be charged for the salad, threw a towel on the table, and suggested that if I did not like the service, there were many other places to eat in the city.

I suppose that, if I had been some wit, I'd have made a cutting remark that would leave the chef speechless with embarrassment. However, I was not, and clever retorts would not have helped anyway.

If I had been the person I was a few months ago, the waitress would have been on the ground, spitting out her teeth. But that was a lifetime ago, or so it seemed.

Again, I walked out.

Anyone who knew me would be astonished. That I would tolerate anyone treating me in such a manner, that I would allow anyone to speak to me as others have done recently, would be unthinkable. The woman I was would never have brooked such indignity, not for a moment.

Today, however, no one recognizes me. I sit at a table that is out of the way, and look at a completely unremarkable entrée. The first couple of times I tried eating at places like this, I couldn't hold the food down. Nothing like what I was used to, being from a moderately well off family. I've grown accustomed to this type of food since then, not that I find that reassuring.

Anytime I eat in a place like this, I remember how much better it was at home, both in atmosphere and the quality. How I'd like to have one of those dinners again.

Reality steps in on my memories. For me, those days are past.

When I was expelled from the Satellite Academy, I thought they would send me to Earth on the next shuttle. Actually, I did not leave for over two weeks. Headmaster Oldman claimed that it was to give my leg fracture time to heal; from what I know now, it was more likely that he knew what would happen once I returned, and did not want me to face a maddened crowd upon my arrival.

I spent those weeks mainly in bed. I rarely spoke to anyone - not when they brought food, not when they asked how my leg felt. None of the students came to visit; I sort of expected that, as I've never really been close with any of them.

Lahrri did not visit, either. I expected that as well.

But I had hoped that perhaps she might. If only for a few minutes...

Most of the time, I sat staring at the wall. I was too shattered, not so much by losing (although I still wonder how I could lose to a girl who constantly falls over her own feet), but by the growing awareness that I would no longer be competing with Lahrri.

That hurt far more than any mere dismissal.

On the day I left the Satellite, I walked slowly to the shuttle bay, escorted by two headmistresses. I did not bother with them. I was constantly glancing about to see if *she* would come to see me off.

She never showed. I looked until I could no longer see the bay and she never showed.

The journey back to Earth seemed endless.

When I arrived, there were no mobs waiting to attack me. It wasn't that I was anticipating them, as my thoughts were still on the Satellite. Headmaster Oldman had certainly something to do with the lack of a reception committee. By not announcing the day of my arrival, he gave them no specific time to 'greet' me. The only other solution for them was to remain at the shuttle gates for days on end. By the time I actually got there, any crowds had long since grown tired of waiting.

That did not mean that they had forgotten. Not by any means.

There *was* someone waiting for me, however. A car was there to drive me to the nearby airfield. From there, a private plane flew me to my home city of Calais.

A few hours later, I was in another car, outside the gates of my house. I noticed at once that there were men in dark suits patrolling outside the walls, wary of anyone who appeared to come too close: A private security firm, I thought, but why?

I would find out soon enough.

I asked one of them what was going on. He said only that I was to go straight in, and that my mother was being notified that I was on my way. I looked at him briefly, waiting for an explanation, but it was clear that he would say no more. He had already turned his attention back to the street, and the driver was through the gates, which swung quickly closed as soon as the car had passed them.

About a minute later, I was standing in front of my house, duffel bag slung over my shoulder. Not that it took that long to reach the front door. I spent half a minute just sitting in the back of the car.

I climbed the stairs warily. There were a few more men inside the gates, eyes searching the walls for anything that might have evaded the men on the outside. A pair of them stood to either side of the door. I briefly wondered whether they would tell me any more than the one at the gate, then decided not to ask.

The door began to open smoothly, mechanically.

I've overheard that many people think I have a cold, merciless gaze. Perhaps I do; I've never thought much about it. It could be the crimson in my eyes. On the other hand, it could be my personality. But I've never thought of it as anything special, mostly because I have seen far colder expressions.

The majority of them from the person just inside the doorway. She stands uncompromisingly straight, thin, the always-icy stare on her face.

"Mylandah," my mother said, with no discernable emotion.

Was there anything that I could say? With everything that had happened in the past few weeks, any reply would have seemed banal.

"Might I enter?" The only response I can think of. Almost as if I can see where this is going.

"There are we must discuss."

From that point, I knew that that afternoon would not go well.

My father joined us in the dining room. He still has the build of a farmer, muscled and somewhat spare of frame, but he seems more.gaunt than usual, like someone under great stress. The servants brought tea, wordlessly, remaining only long enough to see that everything was in order, then leaving as if there was some business elsewhere in the house that demanded their presence. No asking how I was, no small talk at all. Not that this was unusual in our house, but the way they were acting was reserved even by our standards.

My mother just stared into her glass for a while, while my father glanced at me, his face alternating between worry and vexation.

I was about to begin drinking when Cadian, my younger brother, entered. Hair unkempt, almost sapling-thin; just as I always remembered him. As I looked up, he turned his head, as if embarrassed.

"Hi, Sis," he said without looking back at me.

"Cadian? What's wrong? What are you hiding."

I decided not to ask, but to see for myself. I was in no mood for drawn out inquiries or games. I pulled him around to face me.

That was when I saw the bruise under his right eye.

At first, I was confused. Since he's always been active in sports, but not particularly skilled *at* them, he's collected a number of fractures and bruises over the years. Why he was concealing this one mystified me.

"He was attacked a few days ago," my mother said, foreboding in her voice. "And you notice the security around the house. That's because refuse has been thrown at the walls. Some of the servants have been harassed as well. All this since the Great Competition - you understand."

My head came up slightly. The last two words hung in the air, a clear accusation. I knew that I was likely to suffer as a result of what I did on the Satellite, but not others. Apparently, in my absence, the indignation that would have been visited on me found another target.

"What caused you to do it, Mylandah? With all you had going for you.*why*?" That comes from my father. Even though his words are also sharp with accusation, the concern for me in his voice is obvious.

As is the detachment in my mother's. "The cause of her actions is not the problem at present. The results are. Still, I suppose I ought to have given her more moral guidance."

There is an uncomfortable silence. She was obviously finding the exact words for some speech.

"Mylandah, I'll be brief, as there is no point in prolonging this. A few days ago, your father and I came to the conclusion that given the current circumstances, some sort of drastic choice would be necessary to preserve the integrity of the family. It has been decided that, within two days of your return, you were to make a life of your own, with your own resources. All of the investments, bonds, and monies set aside for you have been gathered here; I can give them to you when you leave, or you can have them anytime before then."

My father and brother looked at her with varying expressions. By my father's face, I could see that he obviously has not 'decided' the issue as certainly as my mother says he has. My brother looked as though he has not even been told of this, which would not surprise me, as my mother has rarely consulted him on anything - whether it concerned him or not.

She did not meet either of their gazes, instead she continued to look at me, waiting for an answer.

I was trying to come to grips with what was happening to me, what was going to happen.

In desperation, I looked at her, my expression asking for assistance some kind of leniency. As much as I detest asking anyone for help, events were now beginning to swamp me. I had to have time to sort myself out, however brief. More than the time she was allowing.

I ought to have known better. Her face made it clear that there would be no more consideration of the matter on her part.

My head sagged in defeat. "I'll take them now. To make the best use of my assets, I ought to know precisely what I've got."

The words were without inflection, the monotone a mirror of my mood.

"Of course," she replied, gesturing to a servant, who disappeared through a doorway.

My father and brother were obviously displeased, merely waiting for the chance to speak to her in private, in my defense. Not that it would benefit me any. Events would happen as she wanted; they always did. She would bend them to her point of view, or at least she would make certain they did not openly oppose it.

And so it went.

A few days later, I was again at my front door with my duffel bag - except that this time I was leaving. My father and brother bid me farewell (my mother had, as expected, manipulated them into not opposing her plans), as did some of the servants, while my mother looked on from a distance - her only concern, as it seemed to me, was to make certain that I had actually left.

Another car was there, to drive me to the business district. From there, I would be on my own.

As I rode from the house, I didn't turn to see my family one more time. It occurred to me that I had said everything I wanted to a long time ago, one way or another.

Now that I think of it, it's amazing that I've never really understood my family for most of my life. I thought I did once, but that was really a skewed vision of a younger, arrogant self. Only in my current state of affairs have I finally been able to see them as they really were.

The prime example of this is when my mother lamented not devoting more time to my moral upbringing. As serious as my current dilemma is, I still have to keep from laughing at that.

My mother has never been big on ethical codes. About the only rules she has are: Don't embarrass the family - or if you do, don't get caught. Since I accompanied her on some of her business trips when I was younger, I've overheard her on a number of occasions. If some of her business practices weren't exactly against the law, they were well into the 'gray' area . I also remember a few times when I was alone in the hotel room while she was 'concluding a deal', which no doubt took place in the bedroom of the client.

And she says she ought to have taught me morals.

In a way, she did. I've always patterned myself after her, consciously or not, in many aspects of my personality. She never troubled herself with the feelings of others (unless those others were of interest to her); neither did I. She did not lose sleep over how others might have been hurt by her actions; I have rarely given the consequences of my actions a second thought.

Conversely, I've always seen my father as ineffectual and sentimental; in short, weak. As long as I can remember, almost anytime he has had a difference of opinion with her, her view prevailed.

For a long time, I thought it was because of his naivety, his origins in the farmland; that he was far too dull to compete with someone as well- heeled as his wife. Only recently did I come to understand that he knew of intrigue and manipulation just as well as she did; she was merely much more skilled, as well as accustomed to using them. He wasn't dull, just vastly outclassed. For him, manipulation was used only when necessary; for her, it was second nature, reflexive.

Now, as I think of my parents, I have finally come to know one aspect of their lives, one that was not obvious for a long time.

For most of my life, I had always thought of my mother as being the one in control of her life, while my father was little more than a primary servant to her.

But, for all the disagreements he has lost, all the times he has wound up agreeing to do as she wants, he has at least attempted to follow what was his own code.

As opposed to my mother, who has simply been following a script.

Despite the wealth, the reputation as an uncompromising, merciless woman, the truth is that few of her actions have been her own concept. Most of her life has been spent doing what her parents and her peers said that a woman of her stature ought to do. She engages in 'gray' business dealings not so much for wealth, but because that is how she was taught to do. She has extramarital affairs because her peers told her that women of her rank are 'expected' to have them. There was no passion in them; I've noticed that her past lovers have shown no great excitement when they had occasion to meet her again.

And it went on into marriage. My father was chosen for no other reason but his genetic potential, with no more emotion than one would select a race horse (I've often had an image of her walking down a line of suitors - stopping only to check each one's teeth). Since she was expected to have heirs, I and my brother were born - and I have no doubt that that was the only reason, since the only aspect of childbirth that she has mentioned concerns how much discomfort it caused her (never about the happiness of seeing her children for the first time, of holding the newborns in her arms). Like everything else, it was just what she was 'supposed' to do.

The truth is that her coldness did not come from suppressing her emotions. There is nothing for her to suppress. Her expression is not a mask over seething emotions, as there is nothing under the mask. For all the money, the businesses, the servants she controls, she lives by rote; able to set hundreds of people into action, yet without the will to divert her own fate one degree.

That was the true basis of her moral code: Whatever allowed her to remain on the path she was 'supposed' to take was an asset, and whatever diverted her from it was a liability.

And that was the real reason I was thrown out. Not because of some disgrace to the nation or my family, but because I had knocked askew her carefully planned life. In her script, heirs were for having, so you could show you had someone to carry on the lineage; if they distinguished themselves so much the better. In the end, however, they were just another group of assets. However, once I had brought shame on the family, I was no longer an asset - I was a liability; more accurately, I was a liability that upset the script that my mother was following.

The solution, to her, was clear: The liability must be gotten rid of.

I doubt she had any reservations about her choice. Losing a daughter? Unfortunate, but no more than that. She would no doubt summon a press conference, saying that she had 'with a heavy heart' decided to cut ties with her daughter, and that as a result of my actions I was no longer welcome there (read: Mylandah is no longer at this residence, so there is no longer any point in harassing us).

Once again, I return after dark, with nothing to show for my efforts. I throw myself on the bed and look, for no real reason, at the door. My thoughts wander randomly, aimlessly - much as I have been doing for most of the day.

Yet, after a time, my thoughts turn to what was my home, to my family.

Since I've left, oddly enough, I've been increasingly thinking of my father. For years, I tried not to emulate any of his traits. Yet, he never really gave up on his wife, even when he knew that she had chosen him for no other reason than to sire her offspring, he tried to make theirs a real marriage, to win her love, get her to feel genuine respect for him.

And she never did. Either she ignored his efforts completely or dismissed them as pointless every time.

I think about all those endeavors now.

And I think about Lahrri, and all the efforts I've made to get her to take me seriously, or just to look at me.

Perhaps I have more in common with him than I thought.

Notes: This chapter was mainly an exercise in background - an attempt to come up with a viable origin for Mylandah. However, I began to realize that with her wandering the continent (England and France, mostly), that I ought to have some explanation of the why she didn't just go home. That explanation became the subplot that she *did* go home, but wasn't allowed to stay.