Emerald Legion – Chapter 5
“Dysfunction” – Imra learns an uncomfortable truth about Garth
The reception at the Xanthu’un Embassy was fascinating to Sarya, full of exotic animals and fragrances and energetic performances. Certainly the colors were tiresome, black on black on black, with the occasional splash of yellow, but apparently the colors chosen were considered to be quite complimentary to those with visual ranges to see them.
She had artfully dodged the Winathian Ambasssadors thrice, but this time she was out-foxed, caught between a babbling pack of Athramites and the droning introduction of a Dryadan emissary who… would… not… shut… up! In a classic pincer movement, the twin Ambassador flanked her and appeared at each arm, and the while she had not sought out this encounter, she had to admit admiration for their tactical acumen, and gratitude for ‘rescuing’ her from the Dryad, who had spent the last several minutes reciting his family lineage.
Cutting them off as they began their legendary two-pronged verbal assault, “Yes, I *have* received your missives, and yes, indeed, one of my new Champions is from Winath. Garth Ranzz is a fine young man and does your world a great honor.”
“Be that as it may, Highness, his family has expressed some concerns. Apparently, he left homeworld unannounced and they simply wish to contact him, if he happens to be available…” the Ambassadors wore matching smiles, and Sarya had already forgotten which of the two identically clad twins was which. She pointedly looked in-between them, “Champion Ranzz has fulfilled the Ritual of Choice, and is a lawful adult, is that not true?”
“Be that as it may, Highness…” one began, while the other expounded, “reports of his injury raise concerns…”
“*Then* he is free to live on Winath, or Earth, as he chooses.” Sarya cut in, placing a hand on each Ambassadors chest and pushing them gently, but relentlessly apart, to clear a path between them, “*If* you have a message to pass on from his family, and I’m *sure* that it is merely an oversight that his communications have not yet reached them, I will be happy to pass that message on at our next meeting. Champion Ranzz is a hard-working and honest soul, and I have no doubt that even as we speak he has his hands quite full with the pressing duties of his station. Good day.” Giving the Winathians a spare moment to produce a message, Sarya summarily bulled through their carefully constructed barricade and walked away.
Garth Ranzz dozed intermittently, ring-hand flung over his bare chest while his other arm was currently entangled under the snuggling form of Imra Ardeen, who was idly toying with the fingers of his ring-hand. The regen-pack was gone from his shoulder, and only a bare patch of skin, slightly pinker than the surrounding tissue, gave any sign of the near-mortal wound so recently inflicted.
~Can I ask you a personal question?~
“I guess, s’not like I could keep anything from you anyway,” he replied with a sleepy half-grin.
~You know I’d never pry into your mind, I was just curious about something.~
“I trust you, I’m sorry, go ahead,” Garth’s eyes were open now, and his voice revealed his concern that he’d said something wrong.
~I’ve been reading up, and Winathians usually don’t leave home-world without their twins. I hate to ask, because I’m afraid to bring up something that might be bad…~
“No, no, I have a twin. Heck, I have two siblings, actually…”
~Two? How is that possible? I thought all Winathian births were identical twins?~
“I’ve got an older brother, Mekt. He was a singleton.”
~Did something happen? Was there an accident?~
“No, not unless it happened real early. By the time mom knew she was pregnant, the doctors could only find one baby in there. At first they thought it might be a false pregnancy or something, but it was real enough. He was just alone.”
~That’s a big deal on Winath, right? To be all alone?~
“Yeah, it’s like being born without any legs or something. Like someone being born on Titan without telepathy, I guess… Anyway, he was all messed up, because of that. And then me and Alayn were born, and it just kind of reinforced what a freak he was. He didn’t like us much, and we didn’t really understand why he was mean to us, and so angry all the time, so *solitary.*”
~Did something happen to Alayn?~
“Yes. Well, no. I don’t know. We were just normal twins, like any other. I’d get up in the morning, and he’d be stretching and I’d run my hand through my hair and he’d run his hand through his hair and we’d both nod and head off to school. We didn’t need a mirror, we could just look at each other and see what we looked like. I’ve read that twins on other worlds end up dressing different or getting different hair-cuts or act different, sometimes one becomes ‘the confident one’ and the other becomes ‘the shy one’ or something, but that’s not how it works on Winath. We don’t *want* to be individuals. If my twin looks like me, if I’m wearing the same shirt, if he finishes my sentence and I catch the book he drops before it hits the ground, that’s how it’s *supposed* to be. If an off-worlder can’t tell us apart, that just means that we share something that they lack, not that there is something wrong with *us.*”
“And then Alayn started keeping secrets from me. Well. One secret, anyway, but it was the biggest secret. I’d wake up, and he’d already be up, looking at himself in the mirror like he was staring at a stranger, and I couldn’t figure out why. I’d catch him looking at me, like something was wrong with my face and he wouldn’t tell me what. I never figured it out. I shouldn’t have *had* to figure it out, he was my twin. I should have *known.*”
~Known what, Garth?~
“When we reached the age of Choosing, he started taking Pro-Fem, and calling himself Ayla.”
“Yeah. Oh. I couldn’t understand. It’s the way we are, to be like each other, and here he was deliberately choosing to look different, to become a different person, as unlike me as could be. It was the worst kind of rejection, like something was awful and ugly about me, that he had to change himself so badly to get away from me. I was angry and we fought about it all the time, and as the months went by, his body kept changing and every day his face looked less like mine, and I felt a little more of myself slipping away.”
~That must have been hard, but wasn’t it Ayla’s choice to make? I’m sure she didn’t make this choice to hurt you…~
“Yeah, I get it now, but it was so hard to deal with. Mekt would laugh at us, say we were a family of freaks, first him, then Alayn, and now he was gonna stick around just to see what sort of freakshow I turned into… And then there was the accident, and the scientists were poking and prodding at us, and I just couldn’t take it. I left. Walked into town and caught a ride to the spaceport, and begged every ship-captain in port to just get me off of Winath.”
~And that’s how you ended up on the Quantus?~
“Yeah, Captain Frake said I looked like a ‘healthy specimen’ and ran me through my paces, but I got a working passage out of it…”
~Souls in repose! Oh Garth, I didn’t know…~
“What? Oh no, it wasn’t bad or anything. I would have done anything to get off-world, and all she wanted was to get off period. I guess the big dumb meatworlder look really draws in the sophisticated inner world sorts...” The bitterness creeps in, no matter how dismissive Garth attempts to sound.
~Don’t you dare! You’re not a dumb farm-boy, and Sarya would march right in here and smack you for thinking that! The Queen of Venegar says you’re destined to be a hero, are you going to tell her otherwise?~ Imra was sitting up now, holding Garth down with her hand as he tried to get up.
“Uh, no. I think she’d kick my butt.”
~Right, and she’d have to wait in line, because the line to ‘kick your butt’ would go around the building and I’d be in it twice! And don’t for an *instant* think that the big, dumb lunk thing is the only thing you have going on. You don’t think *I’m* attracted to that, do you?~
“Uh, there is no right answer here, is there?”
~Probably not.~ Visibly calming herself, Imra continued with less fervor, ~My turn. I grew up on Titan, a frozen chunk of hell where the people have to live inside pressurized arcologies, to protect them from the way-below-freezing temperatures and the too-thin-to-breath atmosphere. Everyone’s a telepath, and the concept of privacy? Non-existent. You wanted your brother to always be there, even drew comfort from that? I would put on a pressure suit and go stand on the methane glacier, just so I could be alone or five minutes out of the day…~
“I’d go crazy, if I didn’t have open skies…”
~Most of my people can’t stand open skies. They go crazy if they *aren’t* all lined up like vegetables all in neat orderly rows in their cozy little packages. At the age of Inclusion, when we are considered adults, we finally get to move out of the common rooms into our own private chambers, barely even big enough to stand up in. Our exercise routines consist of yoga and stretching exercises, because there isn’t enough room for us to be running around or playing any sorts of sports. Most of us are so wrapped up in ‘the life of the mind’ that they are only dimly aware of the physical world, creating works of art, or scientific theories, or doing remote work.~
Imra runs her hand over Garth’s chest,
~None of the males on Titan have muscles like this. None of them have *hair* on their bodies. None of them have skin this dark. Oh, sure, everyone’s in shape, because of the yoga and the biofeedback exercises, but nobody’s ever even seen meat, let alone eaten any. So when I say that I’m not one of those inner-world bimbos like Captain Frake, understand that you are as far from the Titanian standards of attractive as a man could get.~
“I didn’t mean…” Garth begins, but Imra puts her hand over his mouth,
~I know, I’m just making sure *you* know. If my mother saw you, she’d think I was completely insane, but it isn’t your muscles that I see, it’s your loyalty and your honesty and your longing for family and connection and stability. All these things are attractive to me.~
“Wow. Um, thanks. I’m going to sound really shallow if I say that I like your eyes, right?”
~No, just insincere. It wasn’t my eyes you spent the morning thinking about…~
“Hey, you said you wouldn’t read my mind!”
~I didn’t have to, I was there, remember…~
“Uh, no, actually, I’m forgetting. Help me remember?” Garth said with a grin, taking Imra’s hand in his own and leaning up to meet her.
Ah, a satisfying haul, Rokk thought as he balanced the tray of finger-sandwiches he’d managed to abscond from the reception going on upstairs. Time to see if the troops are…
A low sound from Imra’s quarters stops him in his tracks and he closes his eyes as he recognizes that it could only have come from Garth.
‘Well, that certainly didn’t take long.’
Having completely lost his appetite, Rokk sets the tray down on the floor and activates his Champion’s Ring, flying down the corridor at such speed that the pale green curtains whip about ferociously at his passage.
‘I *so* need to get laid.’
A decent interval later;
“Hey, do you smell food?”
~No. You’re insane.~
Bounding out of bed, Garth is at the doorway, poking his head out the curtain.
~Garth, put some clothes on before you leave my quarters!~
“I’m not leaving. See?” Proudly holding up a platter full of tiny sandwiches, “Food.”
~The valiant hunter returns. My hero. Close the curtain already.~
“Rokk must have brought us breakfast in bed. He’s so cool.”
~Uh, yeah. I’m sure that’s *exactly* what happened…~
“You don’t think he’s jealous, do you? And how do you manage to sound sarcastic in your head?” Garth mumbles around a sandwich containing unidentifiable meats and vegetables soaked in a pungent curry sauce.
~I’m not really sure. About either of those questions.~
“’Cause I talked to him about that earlier, about us just being friends and stuff, so I think we’re okay.”
“You know, the whole male/male thing.” Garth made some sort of complicated docking maneuvers with his hands, betraying his uncertainty about the matter, “I’m not really into that, and at first I thought I hurt his feelings, ‘cause he seemed kind of angry, but he’s been okay with me since, so I think he’s over that man-crush thing...”
“Imra, are you okay?”
“Okay, breathe or something, you’re freaking me out…”