Episode 15: Siblings

Authors note: I wrote all the poetry excerpts Jen is reciting in this particular chapter. For full versions of the poems, contact me.

The dinning hall they were taken to was a medium sized room with a single long rectangular table surrounded by low backed chairs. The large high backed chair at the end was empty. Chuuseki, dressed as he had been earlier, was seated in a chair to the left of the empty one, chatting amiably with Jason. Jason looked up as they entered. He waved happily at them before turning back to his conversation, toying with a strand of his short black hair. He was dressed in an all-black version of his usual clothes.

Tenshi was seated beside Chuuseki with Yumeko on her other side, and Okami was seated to Yumeko’s other side. They were wearing fancier versions of the dresses they’d worn when they’d revealed their alien natures to the crew of the Andromeda.

Chuuseki stood and looked at them. “Please be seated. We’re just waiting for StarFire to join us before we serve dinner.”

“I do hope you remembered what I told you about their palates, Honored Consort,” Jason told him. “They likely won’t be able to tolerate the spices we commonly use.”

Chuuseki shook his head. “How any species could thrive on such bland food is beyond me.”

“Well, Rhade might be able to handle it, but the others won’t.”

“Rhade?” Chuuseki searched their faces. “Ah! I assume that you are Terazed Kamen?” Rhade nodded. “Good to have a name to go with this face. I can’t always make the connection between a senshi’s civilian form and their senshi self.”

“I wasn’t really aware that there was a difference,” he said, sitting down beside Jason. Trance was careful to leave an empty seat between her and Rhade. Dylan took the other seat beside Trance and Beak sat beside Dylan. Harper sat on the other side of the table beside Okami.

“It’s how senshi keep their identities secret,” Tenshi explained. “The transformation sequence masks you in more ways than in just the change of clothes. The most drastic example of this that I’ve seen is with the senshi of the Sol system. For some odd reason, when we were there at least, they were all Japanese. When they transformed, their entire appearance changed. Their leader, Sailor Moon, went from having black hair and brown eyes to blond hair and blue eyes. It took some getting used to.”

“The two of you can discuss this later,” StarFire said, entering the room. “I’m starving!” The Andromeda crew stared at her. She’d abandoned her normal black uniform for one that was solid red. From the sound it made when she moved and how the light played across it, it was made of some kind of soft leather. Her boots had thinner heels than her normal ones. Her hair was tied back in a braid wrapped ponytail and her forearms were wrapped with red ribbons as had become usual ever since they’d left Callien.

“That’s what happens when you head out into the Kanehr Shovasea,” Okami scolded her teasingly. “You burn a lot of your energy just trying to move.”

StarFire slid into the chair between Trance and Rhade just as the servers brought in platters of food. At Chuseki’s instruction, they placed safe platters within reach of the guests. Once the servers had left, Chuuseki raised his glass. “Please, help yourselves.”

Jason and StarFire each took a slice of the round, steaming flat bread and set it on the small plate above their larger main plate before taking spoonfuls of food from the dishes. There were meats in varying spicy-smelling sauces, vegetables in cream sauces, as well as steamed vegetables, smoked meats, things that smelled vaguely like pickles, and thinly sliced roasted meat.

StarFire took some of the meats in spicy sauces and some of the roasted meat, ignoring the vegetables. She tore a chunk off the flat bread and used it to pick up some of the meat in sauce and ate it.

Rhade watched her carefully, doing his best to imitate her actions. He chewed the meat thoughtfully, enjoying the unusual flavor. StarFire watched him expectantly for any reaction to the spice in the sauce. It didn’t come immediately, but the more of it he ate, the redder his cheeks got until finally he coughed, reaching for his glass.

StarFire grabbed his wrist before he could get to it. “Much as I’d enjoy the show, that’s not a good idea. The caverra in the sauce is oily, so drinking only makes it worse. Eat some of the flat bread or vegetables to soak the oil up.”

“How can you eat this stuff so casually?” Harper asked her, more than a little red in the face himself. “It’s tasty, but I’ve never eaten anything this spicy before in my life!”

“It would be best for you to avoid the meats in sauce,” Okami suggested. “I have a high tolerance for spicy food, but I can’t handle that stuff. What’s it called again?”

Chacarry,” StarFire replied, tearing another piece of bread and scooping up some more of the food in question.

“It reminds me of that super spicy curry we had way back when. Remember? The one you had to specially order and took fifteen minutes to prepare?”

“You mean the one that killed your taste buds for a week?” StarFire asked, smirking. “I remember. It actually had a nice level of spice to it.”

“This stuff is plenty spicy,” Rhade commented.

“You think so? There’s not quite enough caverra in it for my taste. They must have toned it down just in case one of you made the mistake of trying to eat it.”

“It’s not good form to make one’s guests ill,” Chuuseki told her. “No matter how little you like them.”

StarFire stared down at her plate. “Yes, Honored Consort.”

“You really don’t need to call me that, StarFire. I’ve never understood why you insist on it.”

She set her piece of bread down. “That’s why I didn’t want to come home. Jason is the only person who knows what’s going on in my head.”

“Perhaps if you’d talk to people, this wouldn’t be a problem,” a new voice said, entering the room. It was a woman with skin the color of milk chocolate and blond hair that was so pale it was almost white. Her eyes were a solid amethyst color with no visible pupil or white. She was dressed in a deep golden gown that left her arms bare. The deep scoop of the neck exposed part of her average cleavage. Her thin lips were painted a deep red. Her long hair was pulled up into a braided bun with a single braid trailing down her back from the base of the bun. She wore no jewelry. “I see you’ve finally returned. I was beginning to wonder if you were ever coming home.”

“If I could have avoided it, I wouldn’t have returned at all,” StarFire said harshly.

The woman sniffed. “You would have been doing all of us a big favor but staying away.”

Chuuseki stood. “Stop it, you two. Hihana, be nice. StarFire, the same goes for you. I know you two don’t get a long, but could you two at least be civil in front of our guests?”

“Nice? To her? Why should I? She abandoned her family.”

“Abandoned? I went on a mission. I was doing my job!” StarFire shouted angrily, jumping up out of her chair.

Jason got up and placed himself in between the two women. “Much as I hate to be the peacekeeper between the two of you yet again, it looks like I have to. Honestly! You two are far more mature than this, yet you constantly stoop to this insane sibling rivalry thing. It’s getting old.”

Rhade looked between StarFire and Hihana. So that’s her sister? She’s beautiful! This explains a lot about her. They’re like day and night appearance-wise, but seem very similar in personality. Stubborn to the core.

“This wouldn’t be a problem if mother would just accept me as her Heir instead of the prodigal daughter.”

“You still think after all these years that I want any of this?” StarFire asked incredulously. “I don’t. If it were up to me, you could have it. I just don’t care.”

Hihana looked at her younger sister thoughtfully. “There’s something wrong with you. Why wouldn’t you want it? You would never want for anything so long as you lived.”

“My freedom,” StarFire said quietly. “As much of a pain in the ass being a senshi can be, it still gives me more freedom than anything else.” She moved away from the table and turned to Chuuseki, bowing formally. “My apologies, Honored Consort, but I must excuse myself. I find that I’ve lost my appetite.” She brushed past Hihana and out into the hallway.

Hihana watched her leave and shrugged. “She’s awfully temperamental today,” she observed, taking the seat StarFire had previously occupied beside Rhade. “And who might you be?” she asked flirtatiously. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like you.”

Tenshi snorted. “Seeing as how he’s from the Triangulum galaxy, that’s something of an understatement, Hihana.”

Hihana rolled her eyes. “Must you intrude on everyone else’s conversations, Tenshi? It’s quite rude you know.”

“You would know,” Yumeko said standing. “You wrote the book on that subject. My apologies. I should go and see if StarFire is alright.”

“By all means, Yumeko. Please see if you can talk some sense into her.”

“I don’t think that’s possible anymore, Honored Consort,” she said, smiling wistfully before she left.

Three hours later, Rhade found her sitting up on the wall above the entrance to the palace, leaning her back against the statue of Kanehjer Sherakasei. The sun was setting, making the roofs of the houses below appear to be on fire. The statue behind her refracted the light. She was still wearing the red outfit that she’d worn to dinner, but for some reason he couldn’t quite put his finger on, he knew that this was Jen and not StarFire. She looked up at him as he approached and then turned her head to look out over the city.

“Jason suggested that this might be a good place to hide,” he said, sitting down beside her.

“It used to be,” Jen said quietly. “Though somehow I figured that Okami would have been the one to point you in this direction.”

“She thought you’d probably be in the library, but you weren’t.”

“So she is giving you advice. Figures.”

“I didn’t ask for her help; she offered it. Also, I wasn’t looking for you. I need a place to hide.”

“Hide from what?”

“Not what. Who. Hihana.”

Jen looked at him. “Why are you trying to hide from her?”

Rhade shook his head. “She’s the complete opposite of you. No inhibitions whatsoever.”

“Throwing herself at you is she?” Jen sighed. “I suppose that means that you’re attractive.”

“You suppose? You don’t think so?”

“Not particularly. You’re not ugly, but not spectacular.”

“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, which isn’t saying much as you rarely speak to me.”

“Don’t get used to it.” She looked back out at the city. “So she’s set her sights on you. You should be glad. She’s quite wealthy, you know, and in case you were wondering, she’s an example of the ideal look for women here.”

“I’m not really much for blonds. She’s pretty, but she’s a little too dark for my taste. She looks like she’s been out in the sun too long.”

“Dare I ask what you prefer, even though something tells me I already know?”

“I prefer lighter skin and black hair. How about you?”

“I would prefer to not associate with men at all.”

Feeling that it wouldn’t be a good idea to press her any further on that subject, even though he really wanted, to, he instead said, “Jen, I have to ask. Why did you come to dinner as StarFire and not as yourself?”

“Because StarFire is as close to my real self as I’m willing to get. I want to keep a distance between my family and myself. It won’t last much longer. I want to cherish every last moment of freedom I have left before the Queen and my mother get here.”

“They’ll both be here?”

Jen nodded glumly. “Dealing with one or the other I could probably cope with, but both at the same time? I know I’ll be pressured into doing things I don’t want to do, but knowing that doesn’t help me out any.”

“What kinds of things?”

“The usual things that mothers want for their children. Retire from being a senshi, find a mate, have kids, settle down, stay close to home, take over when mother’s ready to retire. That sort of thing.”

“And your mother can pressure you into this? What about the Queen?”

“For once, she’s in agreement with mother. I’m just lucky that this mission came up or they would have won.” She snorted. “Lucky. Right. It’s funny in a sick sort of way. After everything that happened to me, it’s still better than the fate that awaits me.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in fate.”

“Not the fate we were discussing at the time. Really, I’m not sure what word fits better.”

“Future?” Rhade suggested.

“That’s better I suppose.” She sighed and curled her knees up under her chin. “Not that it helps me out any.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Nothing springs to mind. Besides, the last thing I need is more help from you.”

They sat in silence. Rhade watched the light reflect on Jen’s dark hair. In the dying sunlight, she appeared to be made of fire. The light added fiery red highlights to her normally pitch black hair and caressed her skin, giving her pale tone a glow that wasn’t normally present.

He stood suddenly. “I should probably go,” he said reluctantly. “I feel like I’m intruding on what little freedom you have left.”

“You can stay if you want,” Jen told him. “Despite the fact that I really don’t like you all that much, you’re the only person who seems to give to shakes of a sand rat’s tail about me.”

“Harper cares about you,” Rhade reminded her.

“Harper is like a little brother. Your interest is different. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he tried when we first met, but he gave up after a while. We’ve been friends ever since.”

He sat back down. “I always enjoy spending time with you. It’s not always pleasant because of your attitude towards me and all other Nietzscheans, but just being around you…I’m sorry. You probably don’t want to hear any of this.”

Jen sighed. “Not really. I have a good idea what you’re trying to say. I’ve heard it before.”

“Really?”

“Twice. Ironically, the two people who said these kinds of things to me were identical in appearance: Seikou and Seiya Kou.” She shrugged. “It was a long time ago, though. If anyone else has said any of it to me since then, I can’t remember.”

“I imagine that Gaheris said similar things to Valkyrie.”

“You’re probably right. I wonder if she laughed at him for it.”

“Why would she have laughed?”

“If I wasn’t so angry and depressed, I’d be laughing. I laughed at Seikou.”

“But not Seiya?”

“I’d just lost Seikou when I met Seiya, so I was depressed and angry and trying very hard to loose myself in our mission at the time: destroy Kage Neko and return home to help rebuild everything destroyed in the war. Ultimately, we succeeded, but with unexpected consequences.”

“You’re talking about yourself. I don’t know if I should be happy or afraid.”

“Imagine that. A big tough Nietzschean afraid of a talking woman.”

“I’m serious! You never volunteer information about yourself. Why now? Are you that depressed?”

“Yes,” she replied bluntly. “Coming home was supposed to pull me together. As a senshi, I feel more together, but I feel worse otherwise. So bad, in fact, that I’m talking about myself.”

Rhade scooted closer to her and carefully placed a hand on one of hers. “For once, I’m at a loss. I always wanted to know more about you, but this feels strange.”

“You’ll get used to it. Strange is a part of what we do. Worry when things stop feeling that way.” She sighed, staring off into the distance. “I’d rather be anywhere but here/Far away from here/Come take a ride to the other side/Of life with me/Pack your bag, empty your pockets…/Anywhere but here.” Seeing Rhade’s puzzled look, her lip twitched in wistful amusement. “Seiya used to make a face like that when I was doing something odd. It’s a part of a poem I wrote when I was on Earth that first time. It’s the only part I can remember right now. To this day, I still don’t know what caused me to write that.”

“Tell me more about this Seiya guy,” Rhade suggested. “Seeing as you seem to be in a very rare talkative mood.”

“I’d rather not talk about Seiya right now. It’s not a painful memory, but it’s associated with Seikou and that’s still painful after who knows how many thousands of years.”

“Ok, then. You said you wrote poetry. Can you remember anything else you’ve written?”

“Most of what I write are song lyrics, but yes, I can. What subject are you looking for?”

“Something suiting your mood.”

Jen thought about it for a moment and then said, “I feel like a bird/In a windowless cage/Bound and gagged/Denied crying out my rage/The ropes tying me down/Are what you claim is love/What you feel is a smile, I see is a frown/All I can do is stare at the sky above.”

“That certainly seems to fit,” Rhade agreed. “I think I’m depressed now.”

Jen leaned forward and poked him in the forehead. “I doubt it.”

Rhade smiled teasingly. “You’re right. I’m not. I’m too busy enjoying being alone with you like this to be depressed.”

“I could fix that,” Jen said darkly. “There are things I could tell you that would depress even the ever cheerful Yumeko.”

“So tell me,” he suggested.

“And loose all of my last shreds of dignity? I don’t think so.”

“Don’t feel much like talking anymore?”

“I do,” she said standing up. “But if I stay here talking to you much longer, I won’t be able to stop. The last thing I need right now is to be that vulnerable. See you around, Rhade.”

Rhade watched her leave and then turned to watch the sun’s final decent below the horizon, wondering if he’d ever know what was going on.