Past and Future Intertwined
Copyright © 2003 By Shannon Muir
Derrick Deathex and his wife Helen Annie Lynne (HAL) Mayne Deathex made it a point to spend a lot of time with Femme Fatale after the conclusion of Arena 366. The pressure certainly existed on HAL to go back out into combat after being made the first female General of the modern Arenas, but HAL and Derrick wanted some downtime after their still-secret elopement in addition to being sure that Femme -- as Derrick's sister, as well as HAL's friend and sister-in-law -- would be all right after her latest string of emotional crises.
This particular evening, they'd decided to watch the Arenas on the vidscreen. Though several contests were in progress featuring the Sisters, Femme expressed interest in following Arena 371. Currently, the contest was in a commercial break between Turns 5 and 6.
"I'm glad to see Crosse Check back in the Arenas," Femme said as Derrick brought drink refills for everyone. "A lot of stuff went down in her life that kept her out for a while."
"I bet these breaks between pre-programmed moves drive her nuts," HAL joked back. "She just wants to keep on fighting. But those advertisers need to get their time too. It's all part of the biz."
"Just as the inclusion of actual pilots, versus programming by remote, factors into the equation. Risking our lives is, in truth, a component of the ratings ploy. People are less likely to tune in without lives on the line. Or so the thought goes," Derrick added.
The commercials came to an end, returning the broadcast to Turn 6 of Arena 371.
"Looks like Crosse Check is still working on the Command Post on her own," HAL commented. "She's taken a lot of hits from it, as well as 10 and 12, including an injury from taking damage in the Head on Turn 2. I don't understand why one of her other two teammates hasn't come to help."
"Crosse Check likes doing things her own way," Femme commented. "Besides, look at that terrain. There's no clear shots, and either of them would lose a turn getting to her."
Derrick sat back absorbing the conversation as HAL responded.
"I've played those kind of risks, Femme, and I'm lucky I'm still alive. Don't know if I'd take the odds I'm seeing. That wet weather's no help either."
Femme turned to get into the debate with HAL, eyes away from the vidscreen.
"She knows what she's doing, and she's taken on some tough fights before. And some tough people. That's why I thought it might be good to match her with our new recruit La--"
Immediately, all three of them turned to look at the vidscreen as the remains of Crosse Check's Bot rained to the ground.
"It's the end of Turn 6," commentator Grumio Camaletti announced in an excited voice that seemed completely inappropriate, "ending with the incredible explosion of Pilot Crosse Check's Bot! The first female Pilot to crack the Top Three in Light Bot Victory Ratings ends her career with a bang, ladies and gentlemen!"
Femme buried her face in her hands and let the tears flow.
Femme Fatale stepped into the office of Dr. Lawrence Wright, the friendly, middle-aged doctor who still did follow-up on her physical therapy after a botched ejection from Arena 218. Right now a checkup was the last thing on her mind, but maybe she could get moral support from Lawrence.
She walked up to the office window.
"Francine Forsythe here to see Dr. Wright," she said, giving her real name. "Is he running on schedule today?"
Before she could get an answer, the doors to the office slid open and Kristi Wright, a tall young woman with long ebony black hair and lightly tanned skin marched out.
Lawrence shouted after Kristi, "Don't do this, sweetheart!"
Kristi turned on her heel and faced her father. A part of Femme felt like intervening, but in the end she remained simply a bystander.
"I told you, the Lion's Maw's got orders to go into Arena 375, and I'm going with them. You can't change my mind."
"Who else is in this Lion's Maw? Anyone who I can trust to look out for you?"
Kristi defiantly put her hands on her hips.
"I don't need looking after. You wanted me to go into the Sisters of Silicon so Mom and Femme Fatale could babysit me. Well, I'm grown up, Dad. K.S. 'Speedy' Wright will make her mark in the Arenas, just wait and see!"
Kristi turned and started to storm out of the office, but just began to absorb the fact Femme stood there the whole time.
"Oh look, it's my substitute mother. Guess what, your services are no longer required. Go back to watching over your own flock of wayward women."
With that, Kristi left her father's office, Lawrence standing stunned in the doorway. Femme went up to him.
"Lawrence, if I can help--"
"Some help you've been," he muttered back. "You help encourage my wife to stay in the Arenas and away from raising her daughter, and now look what happens!"
"Your ex-wife was in the Arenas before I met her! And she approached me about becoming part of the Sisters of the Silicon. I couldn't have done it without her as one of the first members."
"Point made. By accepting her and relying on her, you drew her farther away. I loved her too much to stop her, but don't believe a mother should put her life on the line like that. Look at the example she's become to Kristi. Now I might lose them both!"
Lawrence retreated into his office. Femme started to follow, then resisted the urge. Instead, she went back to the office desk.
"I think perhaps it might be best to reschedule," she said nervously.
Femme nervously approached the memorial wall that encased generations of Deathex family ashes. As one of those members was Derrick and Femme's shared biological mother, Callenda Deathex, he'd given her complete access to the grounds. Though Femme barely got to know Callenda before her death, Derrick wanted to ensure the avenue open to her should the desire arise.
Right now, she just needed somewhere to think quietly, somewhere she wouldn't be disturbed.
She soon discovered that wish would not be fulfilled when she saw an elderly woman already at the wall, her brown hair with streaks of gray tied back into a ponytail. Femme began to turn and leave, until she realized who the woman was, and broke into an eager run.
"Mom," she called out, recognizing Aria Forsythe to be the woman at the wall. "I didn't know Derrick gave you access too."
Aria nodded as Femme approached.
"I'm still his Aunt Aria, after all. He is such a wonderful fellow. Felt that I might want to visit my sister's resting place. Callenda and I may have been out of touch, but we sacrificed for the greater good of your safety, Francine. I missed out on so much with her, but I am so grateful for every moment I did get."
"Like Dad and I. Frank, I mean. I hate to keep clarifying myself."
"When you say 'Dad,' sweetie, Frank is the only person my mind sees. If you must mention the other, just use his name. He will never be your Dad."
"You talk like he's still alive."
"We don't know if he's dead," Aria said ominously. "And I can't sleep in total peace until we know he is. My baby could still be in danger."
Femme broke down into tears and told her mother about the death of her friend Crosse Check.
"I worry about you and your kind heart, sweetie. I'm so afraid sometimes you'll break. You treat all of the Sisters just like family, which is as it should be. And when things happen to any of them, it hurts you just as if you've lost someone you're related to."
Femme swallowed hard and spent a long moment in silence, contemplating what her mother said. Then she shifted gears, not knowing how to reply to the earlier statement.
"Speaking of family, Mom, what happened to Dad's relatives?"
"They deserted me after he was framed as a traitor. I don't know what happened to any of them. Mine still won't speak to me, despite the truth being known."
"But before all that happened, did Dad have strong ties to them?"
"Very, in fact. A strong military family, proud of all Frank had done. That's why the scandal broke their hearts."
"When you have a chance, can you send me any mementos Dad might have left? Maybe Derrick can use that information to help me locate Dad's relatives and rebuild relationships."
"I'll see if I have anything, sweetie, but I really don't know," Aria replied tenderly. "I don't know when, if ever, but I promise I'll share anything I have."
Femme Fatale gave her mother a strong hug.
" My life feels so empty with people dying or deserting me. I need to work on building my future," Femme whispered to her mother.
Femme, in the dressing chambers of her Sisters of Silicon headquarters office, began to change into the formal dress uniform worn on such occasions versus their battle uniforms. She'd put on this outfit too often lately, for her tastes. The death of her friend Feral Feline, then her father's old friend Darian Blackheart, followed by his own daughter Dorian, then even the requisite ceremonies for Vienna 'Alias' Cartwright. As much as the facts argued she should disown the traitor, she could sympathize how much Vienna hurt over the loss of her father and ultimately had to forgive her. Besides, after her own adoptive father Frank Forsythe had been misrepresented in history, she could not bend the truth to her own liking.
She picked up a holo-locket given to her soon after Frank Forsythe passed away. He'd left it behind as a final message to his daughter, knowing the Arena life could take him at any time. Femme often wondered if he imagined it would happen when she was young -- his Bot exploded in an Arena while she watched him on television, at the age of four -- or if he tried not to think about it.
She opened the piece of jewelry, and its recorded message began to play, showing the face of a young brown-haired, blue-eyed Frank Forsythe.
"Fran, I wish there was something I could say to make things easier, but I know that's just not possible. Right now, it may be hard for you to understand why this has happened. I'm not sure if I ever could. The only thing I'm sure of is that I am in the service to fight toward eventual peace through the system. Maybe someday, if we all work hard and long enough, these mercenary wars will end, and then it will be possible. Forgive me, sweetheart, and know that I'll always love you."
"That sounded like your Dad," HAL said upon entering the room.
Femme closed the holo-locket.
"I just wanted to hear his voice, think of how he'd handle this when he was a team leader. I'm telling you, this is the part of the job I hate most."
HAL walked over and picked up Femme's dress uniform shirt, with its highbacked collar, draped over a chair.
"Guess I'll have to help you get dressed to spur you along," HAL said. "Though truthfully, I'd be in no hurry either."
"You'd think I'd have learned to do this by now," Femme said as she slid her arms through the raised sleeves HAL offered. "If anyone had told me this came with the job of being a Team Commander, I doubt I would have founded the Sisters of Silicon."
"And where would we have been then? The Arenas might never have had an all-Female team. I might not have been motivated to Eject from an Arena and been blown to bits myself. Which would mean we might still be without our first female General."
Femme buttoned up her dress outfit to just before the collar, looking at her and HAL's reflections in the mirror. She could clearly see her friend's look of concern, and felt good she was there, as she'd always been since Femme and HAL were neighbors since birth.
"You're right, HAL. I guess I've done a lot of good. But sometimes it just weighs me down, you know? Handling so much alone."
"You're not alone! You have me, and Derrick, and Rus--"
Femme turned to look at her friend.
"Do I have Rus? He ran off into another Arena again wanting to prove himself. Never feels he's enough. Maybe we were meant for each other. I feel that way a lot too. But it's so much easier for him to run away. No leadership responsibilities, still a Cadet."
Femme sat down in a chair near the mirror.
"Thanks for coming, HAL. Right now, I just need some time for me. I need to think of what I'm going to say."
"OK, Commander. Only because you say so, though. I'd rather not leave you there."
HAL reluctantly left the room. Femme picked up the holo-locket, snapped it around her neck, and hid it under her high collar before buttoning it up tight. Today, she wanted to keep Frank Forsythe close to her heart as she prayed to be half the leader he'd been before his untimely death at the hands of Ryker Lorne -- the man who, unfortunately, fathered her into this world during an affair with the sister of her adoptive mother.
Ryker Lorne. Even now, his name cropped up too many times. Femme looked forward to the day she never had to think of it again. It couldn't come soon enough.
"Crosse Check served as a shining example of the Sisters of Silicon at its best," Femme wrapped up her speech to a crowd made up of Sisters members, friends, Crosse Check's family, other Pilots who wanted to pay respects to a fellow fallen soldier, and a fair share of media since Crosse Check had been the first woman to get a Top Three all-time record in Light Bots. "She wasn't afraid to tackle a challenge head-on, despite the risks. And she left the Arenas the way she lived in them. That's much to admire, and much for all of us to miss. Thank you all for coming today."
Femme gazed about to see whom she could talk to. HAL and Derrick stood together. Damian Blackheart of the Line embraced a teary-eyed Lauraic Vileslayer; an awkward sight since Femme rarely saw the tough Vileslayer woman fazed by anything. His best friend and Line teammate Richard Shadowhand appeared to be counseling members of Crosse Check's family. She scanned the crowd for any other familiar face and saw no one.
Femme felt a battle-worn male hand lightly touch her shoulder.
"Derrick, I thought I just saw you were with HAL," Femme said, not turning around.
No response came.
Slowly, nervously, Femme turned around, and looked not into her brother's face but the compassionate blue eyes of Racubus Sterling.
"Rus," she breathed in surprise.
At that moment, Femme noticed the difference in the insignia on Rus' uniform. Where he'd previously worn a WASP patch, instead he sported an image of a Hornet, the WASP subteam founded by Sledge Hammer.
Femme reached out to touch the insignia as if she thought it a mirage. It wasn't until she brought her hand up close that she realized something else different.
"Lieutenant," she whispered, noticing the stripes on his uniform. "You made it."
"Just barely," Rus conceded. "But now's not the time for battle stories of how I barely survived Arena 369. Where is everybody?"
"HAL and Derrick are together, Damian's consoling Lauraic--"
"Actually, I was thinking of the doctor guy. I thought you and he had something going."
"Lawrence? He doesn't want to talk right now. With his daughter now in the Arenas, it's just too much of a minefield walking between him and I.M. Shirley Wright as to what's good for their daughter. He wanted me to try to be like a mother figure to Kristi since I.M. is always out and I'm in the office more. But I couldn't keep her from joining another team, and I don't want to take her mother's place. It tears me apart."
"I guess it was good I came then."
"Why did you come? You didn't know Crosse Check that well."
"True. But I know you, and how much you need support in the tough times. Heck, look at all we've been through. I didn't stop being your friend after finding out your father was a disgraced hero. And when we found out that he wasn't your birth Dad, and that the man who fathered you was bent on evil and destruction, I helped you take him on. It wasn't until Alias came along that we had problems."
Rus stopped a moment, looked over at Femme and noticed her reaction of stunned shock.
"Things were just so screwy then, we just couldn't see straight and didn't know how to handle it. The promotion, all of that, it doesn't fill the void I still feel. I miss you, Fran. Come back to me. Let's work this out. Please."
Overflowing with emotion, Femme allowed herself to collapse into Rus' embrace, and cried.
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