Ironically, he did know a bar on “Mars” where spaceships were driven instead of cars, but he didn’t think his knowledge of a spaceship would ever match the thought that had passed through Kanye’s head when he wrote those lyrics. He laughed a little and wondered if his brothers were somewhere laughing too. They probably were if they weren’t either spending time with their ostemalu or basking in her mental field. Upon entering the party, he scanned the room, met eyes with his second eldest brother who was as drunk on Earth alcohol as he could be and seemed to be enjoying acting a fool in the center of the oppressively hot commons. It was their senior year now; they’d been on Earth about four years and preparing for the end of the fight.
While their father led the battalions across the stars to chase after their cousin in his conquering, they were sent to make treaties and learn the ways of the final Space Sector on their cousin’s map before their cousin had the chance to make it. He was due on what Earth called “Mars” on the day of Earth’s winter solstice, his brothers had appointments with Venus and Mercury. It was odd that he was assigned to Mars considering he could resist the most amount of heat, but he figured that it was a matter of diplomacy. It was just another crazy party night which he would pretend to know how to dance, proceed to make a fool of himself, and search the crowd for that same feeling he got every time but never pinpointed it. It was something like a rush of fire and ice through him that wasn’t exactly unpleasant but strange. He walked in a near circle to try and feel it again in waves. It was sometimes too intense to withstand for long but not unpleasant enough to cause him pain. If only he could pinpoint the location—there.
He stood still for a moment as it gripped him, like a junkie getting his fix he only came back for more enough to sustain him. This time he spun around in time to stop a body forced towards him before taking them both to the ground. He twitched at the impact of sensation rather than the person as he caught their balance and kept his hands on her shoulders until she could steady herself.
“Oh, damn. I’m sorry,” she said standing on her legs to lean closer so he could hear her over the music. “Are you okay?”
He gazed down at her through the lights and darkness unable to place the face, but he nodded and licked his lips nervously. He wondered how she would react if he said he wasn’t okay– if he pulled her across the dance floor and pushed her against the wall– if he kissed her and made sure she left with him before her friends noticed she was missing…
What the hell am I thinking?
“Are you alright?” She asked again and he nodded.
Forcing himself to let go, he stepped back already regretting his decision to release her. The feeling was already fading and pulsing and there was something about the entire experience that he feared more than anything: what the hell did it mean?
She smiled, he supposed, and flitted past him to force her way around the crowd to a group that he vaguely recognized. The curly-haired one set off too many alarms for him to be comfortable with, instead of investigating; he turned and made sure to head off into the crowd as another song he was somewhat fond of played. He remembered it from his sophomore year, “Party Rock Anthem.” For the rest of the night, he steered clear of that side of the room, lest his suspicions be confirmed. Around one o’clock the group headed towards the exit and he couldn’t help but get a closer look.
He knew there was some merit to his suspicion. The curly-haired girl was the one he flirted with shamelessly on April Fool’s Day his freshman year. That meant that the girl that had nearly been thrown onto him by the undulating bodies of the crowd was none other than.
No fucking way…
Of course, he was right in his first assumption and when he told his brothers about it, they laughed at him and the ridiculousness of their situation. They wouldn’t tell him what to expect but demanded to be kept abreast of the situation. He could only pout and roll his eyes as he headed back to his room and closed the door. The non-descript medical bracelet lit up with and he tapped at the metallic surface to answer the call.
“Hello?” He asked as the light shot from his wrist, projecting onto the wall the image of his father.
The eyes he wished he had, and a face much like his own smiled at him and hummed with joy to see him. Their father, Zaher, looked much younger than his age. They always joked that their father had found the fountain of youth during his expeditions across the stars, he always said that he never had to go far and looked at their mother with loving eyes. It would have been sickening if they weren’t used to their parents always acting like newlyweds no matter how many years they’d been together.
“I’m glad to see you well…what is that on your head?” His father asked.
He chuckled and pulled the crown of glowing tubes off his head with a smile, “Glow-sticks, is there something wrong father?”
“Nothing, I’m just calling to check up on you, tell you that your mother is worried, and we’ll be arriving in a month.”
He coughed at the words, “A month? As in thirty days?!”
“Well, yes. Thirty-one actually. Is there a problem?”
“It’s a little soon don’t you think?”
“We’ve been sending signals since four years ago, you’ve been there for nearly four years, and your brothers tell us that you’ve started showing signs. How is that coming mind you?”
He grimaced at the thought of telling him what a failure he’d been since his freshman year. The icy flames that he was so addicted to and afraid of had started then in that silly room, Keck 100, and had not fully left since. It would ebb and roar at times and when it became too much to bear or not enough he would distance himself, moving in some non-descript pattern as if moving would stop it– as if ignoring it would keep it from being there– as if running from her would keep it at bay. He hoped and prayed to Thera upon realizing that this was what she meant by “not of Thera” that she would be of the highest, the most revered, the most powerful class so that he could come home and have something to show as the youngest…He’d failed at that quest too as he had so many others.
“It’s…not,” he replied nervously.
“What do you mean it’s not?” He asked, “It has started to happen hasn’t it?”
“And you know who it is?”
“Is it…a guy or something?”
He flushed at the idea, “No, father. I assure you that she’s a woman.”
His father shrugged with a playful expression, “Had to make sure, not that it would have mattered even though your mother has her heart set on lots of grandchildren.”
He flushed, “Don’t remind me.”
“What is the problem?”
He bit his lip, “I can’t—”
There was a squeal interrupting his words as his mother came into view and waved excitedly. Queen Katherina was a beautiful woman, a few years younger than his father, and lively with some inner light. Again, she had eyes that he wished for and that his second eldest brother possessed.
“There’s my Asar,” she said happily. “Why in the name of Thera haven’t you called us? A little busy are you?”
He shook his head, even though his work at Rice was not all that challenging, nor was anything else he did, he had not called for fear that he had nothing to say…or rather he was running from the fact that he had plenty of things to say yet could never say them.
“I’m sorry, mother. It’s been…a little hectic this last year.”
“Hectic? What do you mean?”
“He’s having some trouble with…” Zaher started hoping that Asar would finish the sentence without being prompted. He only hung his head in shame. Couldn’t his father let it go?
“What is it?” She asked.
“I…uhm…” he bit his lip looking more uncomfortable by the second.
His mother noticed the signs of evasiveness and worry in the way he held his head and wouldn’t meet their gaze. It was the same expression he had when his eyes first began to glow. He’d wanted so badly to be like his father and Thera just wouldn’t allow it. When he first went into school and tried to follow his brothers as closely as possible, yet didn’t have the strength to. When he’d tried to deny his powers and take on someone else’s nearly killing him. She knew that face better than he did: the look of not being able to live up to an expectation—disgrace and fear hiding behind the passage of time he always hoped would be enough to make them forget.
It never was enough.
“Whatever it is, you can tell us.” She nudged and he looked at them with a look so lost, afraid, and confused that it was hard not shrink back from asking.
He shook his head, “It’s nothing. I promise. I’m fine, just a little tired. Was there something else you needed to tell me?”
His father sighed and nodded, “Just that the plan has not changed and we’ll be expecting you to be at the correct place.”
He nodded, “I understand. I think I’ll head to sleep now.”
“We love you,” they told him and he didn’t bother to look at the screen as he told them that he loved them too and ended the call.
He fell back into bed with a sigh before his cellphone beeped with a message from his eldest brother telling him to come eat lunch at North Servery the next day. After a brief argument, which he lost epically at the hands of his two brothers, he agreed to see them both the next day. As if his world could get any worse.
Katherina looked at her husband with knowing eyes and he shook his head already knowing what she was going to say. He pulled her down and into his lap to cradle her against him.
“We can’t force him,” he told her. “He has to come into understanding it on his own.”
“It’s been like this since his rezzing,” she said. “Shouldn’t it be over now?”
“We don’t know how he’s taking it, darling,” he told her, breathing in her scent. “It’s been hard on all of us, whether we say it out loud or not. His brothers are there if he needs help.”
She didn’t want to admit that she feared that it was more than just help that their youngest boy needed, but guidance and understanding. She knew how much it hurt him that their father had so much in common with his two brothers and he was the odd child out of the family. It wasn’t that they loved him any less or treated him any different, it was the little things. Like trips to the forge, the engineering district and the like that he could not draw the same amount of enjoyment and wonder that his brothers and fathers did. Even the bond she had with the two eldest was different than with Asar, she was much like them though on a different level. He could not naturally aid her in designing a new information system as his eldest brother could, or rebuild the council hall. It just wasn’t in his nature and the things that were in his nature was not in theirs.
He was lonely in his exemption from the family line and spent the majority of his time hiding in the hidden crevices of the central district trying to shift his talents elsewhere and trying to understand it all. He’d fought so hard, even going so far as to run away and hide in another city for a month not to go to the temple where there were others that could probably help him understand and come to terms with it all. He was carried back into the palace, kicking and screaming for them not to send him to the temple. They’d been so glad that he was back and unharmed that they’d agreed in their attempt to soothe him. Katherina realized as he got older and it became more and more apparent that he was nothing like any of them, and more like her father who was a temple man with the same eyes, that it had been a bad decision on her part. But there was nothing she could do about it now except hope that he would come into himself before it was too late and he realized that he had no idea of who the real Asar was.
Saturday morning came without any interruptions, nothing special, and nothing out of the ordinary. The three brothers got ready in their separate colleges, pulling on their belts for battle, arming themselves in their clothing. The eldest would be a defender, the second eldest a contestant, and the youngest would probably be somewhere in between a captive and a warrior.
“It’s the Dylan!” Marina greeted.
He couldn’t help but shake his head and wave to them on his way into the servery, by then his brother had already found his way to their table, separated from his Archi friends. It was an important day as plates were set up as barriers, forks, and knives used as spears against the encroaching enemy of speech. All that was left was the final combatant. Dylan took a seat between Meagan and Lex with an air of expectation as Elle introduced him to his brother as if they’d never met and their eyes met with a notion of understanding.
This is it.
Meagan’s soft squealing alerted them to the entrance of the final combatant. Dylan almost laughed at how tense and near war like he was dressed. There was nothing relaxed or Saturday morning-esque about his attire. His jeans were straight over his cowboy boots like shin guards. If he’d had one, a saber would have been lodged in his Texas-size belt that bore the emblem of the state. The seemingly innocent green t-shirt with “Duncan” in golden-rod ink stretched across his shoulders like a breastplate and his shades covered his eyes as if to shield them from damage, but it didn’t work. His brothers saw him and gave him the expectant look for them to come sit with them. He looked their way and kept marching forward to collect his weapons before returning to the battleground.
“Oh great,” Marina started. “Just what we need this morning…Elle, we really have to talk about you bringing people home.”
Elle frowned and raised an eyebrow, “Why on Earth would you think that I invited anyone to breakfast? And what on earth do you mean by bringing people home?”
Marina and Meagan gave her pointed looks as Valon and Dylan hid a grin, “Don’t tell me Elle is dating that guy?”
Elle scoffed at Valon’s question and replied in a tone of fact, “No.”
“I’m surprised Elle hasn’t told you about the running joke,” Marina said. “I mean she brings you cake and all that.”
Elle rolled her eyes, “Well what else am I supposed to do with it other than give it away and eat it?”
“Could we not do this? It’s Saturday.”
“Yeah,” Valon agreed. “And I have to get back to the studio soon. If you’re baking anything else, let me know alright? I’ll come get it from you.”
Valon stood to leave as Asar came to join them at the table. There was a pointed look of “don’t do anything stupid” shared for a moment before Valon turned his attention back between the two roommates. Elle laughed and agreed as he headed out and Asar gazed at her for a moment before speaking.
“You bake?” He asked after a moment.
“Not really, I just started baking sophomore year to test the waters and make a few simple things.”
He nodded in understanding, “How come I didn’t get any?”
Marina and Meagan glanced at each other before Elle looked at him pointedly. There was a moment where he was going to continue and hope that a little spark of emotion would appear on her face but it didn’t happen. What looked like the beginnings of disbelief turned into indifference as she spoke.
“I guess you just slipped my mind when I was cutting things up,” she said and stacked her dishes.
Marina made an expression that may have been loosely translated into damn with at least two syllables. Dylan shook his head and turned back to his homework unable to help his silly little brother in this regard. Elle shrugged and stretched a bit.
“I’m gonna head up, I’ve got a cake in the oven on the third floor and you know how fickle it is. See you guys later.”
She left then and they sat awkwardly waiting for him to say something when instead he got up with his dishes and followed her into the servery. Meagan was the first to hiss.
“Well….that wasn’t awkward.”
“I thought she was going to deck him,” Marina said and Dylan nodded in agreement.
“I’m sure she thought about it,” Dylan replied with something of a smirk.
This was not how Elle had planned that Sunday morning. On the contrary, she’d planned to be completely at ease: bake a cake, maybe go to the gym, do a bit of homework….maybe take a drive but that was it. When she set her plate down and turned, she didn’t expect to have a pair of bright orbs staring at her with an intensity that she was sure was impossible. She didn’t say anything as their eyes met, hers with indifference and his in probing. A twinge of pressure swept through her mind and then it was gone as she waited for him to say something. She’d given up that creed of speaking first in relation to him, it had never done her much good.
“Asar~!!!” Ja’Lisa called coming into the servery to hug him.
He greeted her with his full attention as Ja’Lisa hugged him and greeted Elle in a similar fashion.
“I’m gonna grab food, wait for me alright?”She said.
Asar nodded and Ja’Lisa left into the servery.
She waited for a half a breath for him to swallow and turn to move around her to put his dishes away. Elle could only glance at the imaginary wall that was crushing him in her imagination and walk out of the servery, out of the commons, and to the elevator. She really didn’t have time for this in the least bit. Nothing had changed since sophomore year, and she supposed it would never change, not that it really mattered.
“How come I didn’t get any?” Valon repeated with a mocking smirk. “You’re lucky she didn’t punch you.”
“Or worse,” Dylan commented. “She would have probably punched you freshman year, you know that week or so after the CAAM sessions?”
“Or sophomore year she would have caved your face in probably with the hell she was still catching…You are so lucky this isn’t then.”
Asar glowered at the mention of those moments. He really wished he hadn’t told his brothers about that, or in so much detail. But seeing as how Dylan knew most of the story from Meagan’s retelling and teasing about it, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway.
“Congratulations you have stepped into the stage of indifference…the worst possible place to be in for your intentions.”
Asar huffed into the quiet of the Fondren. It was really the only time that they really had any face time together, in that small room on the third floor which they always seemed to get. Dylan was laughing now at his youngest brother’s folly.
“In the words of Elle, you fuckin’ up.”
He glared, “I don’t need you to tell me that. What about you two? I say Valon’s fucking up pretty badly.”
He shook his head, “Not even in the slightest. You and I both know that we are not in the same position. At least when I see her I greet her, what the fuck was that anyway?”
He huffed, “Goddamnit, leave me alone. What am I supposed to say?”
“Fuck, something better than How come I didn’t get any?” Dylan said flipping through his Computer Science textbook to start his Senior Design.
They were all supposed to be working on their own separate projects that night but it kind of fell by the wayside until a knock came on the door and upon opening it Meagan appeared. She glanced around the room with indifference, a glare, and an expression of attention.
“Hello Valon, Dylan have you done the second part yet?”
Valon hissed as Asar opened his textbook and stood to leave. He didn’t need the sickening vibe of his brother, Meagan, and the guilt weighing on him. There was always the sixth floor to go to and he quickly resolved himself to escape rather than be destroyed by this.
“Later,” was all he said before vanishing into the hallway of books outside the door.
Valon left moments later with the excuse that he had to head back to the studio, leaving the two alone. Dylan almost smiled across the table at her and she frowned.
“What were you guys doing anyway?”
“Homework,” he replied. “Some consultation work. Wanna get started on debugging?”
Walking towards the stairs, he counted the steps until he reached the inside of the stairwell and breathed in a deep breath before sighing at the hopelessness. Each step up the stairs was a hope that he would be able to clear his mind on that refuge that he usually found on the Library’s sixth floor. Opening the door of the stairwell, the elevator dinged and opened with the voice he hoped not to hear for a very long time.
“Mom, is everything alright?” She asked into the receiver, leaning against the window.
Her posture, the way she leaned, her tone, she just seemed so… tired, exhausted even, ready to sink into the dust with the weight she was carrying. Though he had glimpses of her past, only the glimpses that were not blotted out by that deep dark black that pervaded and suppressed memories, he got the gist of why she was so tired in her young age. She was about a year and a half younger than he was and a few years younger than his older brothers and all of her friends. Her home life, from what he gathered, wasn’t the greatest or the happiest as she’d moved from Houston to Chicago and then back and intended to never have to return to the strangely, yellow, near-collapsing house in Avalon Park.
“Another accident? …What do you mean by that?”
He bit his lip running his gaze over her form before closing the door as quietly behind him. He didn’t have a choice as she was already turning her head to check the noise and the man in the elevator was stepping out and waving at her. She waved back with a smile before turning back to her conversation that he could only guess was her mother.
“You want me to come home for what?” She asked. “For the summer? Why? I have a job here….no. But–….mom he’s in high school now. Why on Earth—Mom. Mom. Mom, you’re doing it again…You know exactly what I mean. How long are you going to do this? How long are you going to let this happen?… Oh, I don’t understand? I’m not thinking?… What does me going to church have to do with anything?… You’re doing it again.—Turning the conversation back to me again. Why is that every time you call me about him, you end up talking about me? Why do you even call me about him, anyway?… What?”
He swallowed a bit and walked past her into the sixth floor behind the man coming from the elevator. Taking a seat near the back he forced himself to not hear her conversation through the psychic space that connected them, yet words still filtered through his attempts.
He didn’t want to think about what she was speaking to her mother about and why her thoughts were getting increasingly upset. There was a sudden cessation of it as she hung up the phone and headed inside to the table he occupied. He didn’t say anything, nor acknowledge her presence as she paid him the same courtesy with a turbulent look on her face—somewhere in between ruin and rage. Her nostrils flared but her eyes watered as she tore the plug of her laptop out of the socket and stuffed it fiercely into her bag. Her breathing came in choppy intakes, her shoulders heaved, but she bit her lip willing herself not to whimper, not to cry, not to betray the overwhelming pain welling up. Besides the pair, there were only two other people on the floor, the man that had entered looked up at her entrance with expectation though it faded as he watched her.
He was making his way over as she stopped herself for a moment to close her eyes, hang her head, and breathe. Asar wanted to stand and punch him in the face for approaching her but kept himself in his seat.
“Are you alright?” The man asked.
She shook her head without words and continued to pack up her books and papers quickly. Rather than pushing, the man helped her to pack and walked her to the staircase which she nearly flew down in an effort to get away from human contact. She found herself nearly running to her car to place her backpack and things inside and walking around campus for nearly half an hour trying not to argue with her mother. The conversation on a note that she wished it hadn’t but it wasn’t as if she hadn’t known it would end that way.
She waited until the tears stopped, her breathing evened out, and her mind to return to peace before getting in her car, turning on music and driving home. Just one more year and then she wouldn’t have to deal with any of it anymore. One more year and it would be over, she would be out of college, she’d have a good job, and she’d be able to go wherever the hell she wanted to.
Just one more year…