"This is amazing!" Jayla-2 said, her hands pressed against the clear glass of the elevator. Her green nails clacked on the glass and the constant turning of her head caused her voluminous jet-black hair to slip from the hood of her cloak. As they descended it seemed the long line of city sprawls and streets were rising to meet them in an almost dreamlike sort of way.
"It's not that impressive," Kienan Ademetria replied grudgingly. "Actually it's a pretty standard colony structure -- 8 miles long, 3 sections, one for aliens, one for the people who own the colony and one for everyone else."
"I've never seen anything like it, and I think it's impressive," Jayla-2 said, the earnestness in her eyes almost comical.
Kienan sighed. He desperately wanted a cigarette, but there was no smoking allowed on the elevator. He felt uncomfortable enough returning here -- for the past two years now it had seemed like his home on Kuran colony was more of a prison. Or maybe just the maddening feeling of standing still, being trapped on this spinning tin can.
With her. He looked across to her on the other end of the elevator, her nose still pressed against the glass, watching as the elevator passed by the core trains, her green eyes glowing with enthusiasm.
Youd almost think she hadnt been here before, Kienan thought. But Kienan knew the truth. Jayla-2 hadnt been here but her previous self had.
In fact, this is where she died, Kienan thought. Two months later and I still havent really been able to get my head around it. How could someone be the same person ... and yet not?
He sighed and leaned against the wall as the elevator came to a stop. People came on and off, anonymous and faceless. Kienan looked out at the colony below, trying not to look at Jayla-2.
The past two months hadnt been easy for him. He'd spent most of the previous two years trying to restore the Jayla Kyren he'd known was within her. Whether it was own selfishness or because he felt a debt to his departed lover was something even Kienan wasn't clear on.
Of all the outcomes I anticipated, he thought, none of them included ending up with a six-foot tall grey ... woman.
He paused, and nearly turned his head to gaze at her before remembering he wasn't supposed to be looking at her.
That's the last time I make a bargain with any sorcerers, Kienan thought. Two years of work, and I end up with a woman with a handful of vague memories. All that, just to be disappointed.
But then, what did I really expect?
Murmurs from the other side of the car finally forced Kienan to look in her direction. She was talking with a small boy, who kept tugging on her cape and yammering to her while his parents looked on behind them, rustling with electric nervousness every time they caught a glimpse of Jayla's green claws.
They weren't used to seeing non-humans on this level. Usually, aliens kept to their own sector or the top tier.
Kienan sighed and looked out the window. They needn't worry, he thought. Jayla-2 wouldnt hurt a fly.
A Marionette, however ...
Kienan stared at the dent in the bulkhead in the cargo hold, more incredulous than angry. On the other side of the dent, Mirage helped her sister Vain to her feet as Vain stiffly gathered her mussed hair into a tight ponytail.
Behind Kienan, Jayla-2 was cringing like a child who'd been found out about breaking an expensive vase.
"It's my fault," Jayla-2 said, her voice tight with worry. "Vain was showing me some moves and ... well ... I think I got carried away."
"This is bonded-molecular lunarium," Kienan said, his red-gloved hands tracing the curve of the dent. "It's supposed to be damn near unbreakable. I'd say this was a little more than being carried away, Jayla-2. How could you possibly have thrown Vain into the wall that hard?"
"I just ... did?"
Kienan looked at Vain. "You OK?"
Vain nodded. "Just a little surprised by her strength," she said. "She's as strong as we are, I think."
Kienan looked over his shoulder at Jayla-2, who was biting her bottom lip, bracing herself for the inevitable scolding to follow. In the two months she'd been traveling on Kienan's ship, the Silhouette, she had tried hard to obey his only rule -- "Stay out of my way."
It was a big ship, and for about a month and a half of her stay she'd been successful. Now, unfortunately, it seemed she'd called down the thunder.
"Why'd you want to learn how to fight?" Kienan asked, the cigarette between his lips jittering like a telegraph key as he spoke.
"I thought if I were a bit more useful," Jayla-2 stammered, her vox collar flashing urgently as it translated her words. "I mean, if I was doing more than freeloading on your ship I could -- "
"Could what?" Kienan said, a little meaner than he'd meant to.
Jayla-2's face fell, her black hair falling around her face like a black shroud.
" ... It would be my way of making up for all you went through trying to bring me ... back," she managed.
"Hmph," Kienan said, still looking at the dent. He'd been so bitter about the way things had turned out with Jayla-2 he'd let the Marionettes deal with her day to day while he'd kept to himself.
He sighed, exhaling a thin stream of smoke as he looked back at Jayla-2, his cold emerald eyes meeting her warm green gaze.
"I think you should go to your quarters for a bit, Jayla-2," he said, a little wearily. "Vain, Mirage and I have to talk."
"But -- "
"In private, Jayla-2."
"OK," she said, her heavy workboots thumping sullenly against the deck as she stalked away. The heavy door to the hold closed behind her and Kienan stood up, grinding the cigarette out on the deck.
He looked at the door. "She's getting on your nerves, isnt she?"
Mirage looked away. "Kienan, we dont have emotions," she said. "We dont get annoyed."
"That's not what you said when she nearly tore the wing off your fighter," Vain countered.
Kienan cocked an eyebrow. "She did what?"
Mirage grimaced. "Well, I working on the guidance system and I'd let the fighter unbalance itself on the catapult and it was leaning on my legs, and she was afraid Id be crushed."
"I thought it was sweet," Vain said. "The girl's heart is in the right place."
Mirage smiled thinly and cocked an eyebrow. "You know sister, suddenly I want to throw you into that bulkhead."
"Ladies," Kienan said, a look of worry crossing his face. "I think I've got the answer to my question. So, how long will it take to fix this?"
Vain looked at the dent. "At least a week, in spacedock."
Kienan suddenly wanted a cigarette.
"We're headed for Kuran, arent we?" Mirage said. "You could always keep her occupied for a week or so."
"I wish it were that simple, Vain," Kienan said, his expression starting to darken. "Kuran is the last place I want to take her to."
"Well, we're going to need the run of the ship for the repair job," Vain said. I cant balance a reinforcing gun and keep Jayla-2 entertained at the same time. "I'm designed to multi-task, but some things even exceed my parameters."
Kienan sighed. Now he definitely wanted the cigarette. He looked at Mirage.
Mirage slowly shook her head as Kienan nodded his, wearily.
"All right," Kienan sighed. "I suppose I can handle her for a week if I'm careful. But I know I'm going to regret this somehow."
The door opened to their stop, the sudden jolt reminding Kienan to get his head in the present. The young boy who'd been playing and laughing with Jayla-2 was led away by his parents. Jayla-2 waved to them, and seeing her face caused his parent's faces to go completely white.
"C'mon," Kienan said, collecting her like a lost child. They walked through the doors onto the streets of Lowtown, the unofficial name for the third tier of the colony.
It was, as always, teeming with life and activity. Street vendors lined the sidewalks selling any manner of things as they cried their wares in a dozen languages. Kienan walked slowly through the crowd, making sure to keep Jayla-2 in his line of sight no matter what. Letting someone who seemed to be looking at things as brand-new again for the very first time wouldnt be wise in Lowtown.
Far too many people would take advantage, Kienan thought.
Jayla-2's eyes wanted to glaze over at first, the activity, the sights and the all-encompassing noise of the place seemed overwhelming at first to her, especially considering the last two months of her new life had been on a quiet dark spaceship where people seldom talked.
Her eyes teared a little, but gradually she was able to adjust. The vox collar was starting to get a handle on the languages, filtering them into something she could understand, and that helped to lessen the impact of the white noise she felt herself wading into.
"Where are we going?" Jayla-2 asked.
"My place," Kienan said. "It's a few blocks down. Once we're there I'll call my friend and she can show you around the colony."
"She?" Jayla-2 raised a questioning eyebrow at him. "Do you have any friends who arent women?"
Kienan chuckled, then caught himself and tried harder to frown.
"You've met Toriares," he said. "He wasn't a woman."
"Oh yes," Jayla-2 said. "He was nice."
"I think so too," Kienan said. "Especially when he's not smacking with that cane of his."
"Oh? Did you break something too?"
Kienan opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it. As they walked down the streets he'd begun to notice something. Banners of red and green hanging from the street lamps in a way he found disturbingly familiar.
This week couldnt get any worse, could it? Kienan mused. Bad enough I'm babysitting Jayla-2 in the last place I ever wanted her to be, but now it's --
"Excuse me, ma'am," a glassy-eyed man said, walking up to Jayla-2. "Have you found Jesus?"
"I'm sorry," Jayla-2 said. "I didnt know he was missing. I thought he was everywhere."
Kienan waved him off. "The lady gave at the office," he sneered, giving the zealot a look nasty enough to persuade him to move on. Kienan sighed. "Damn Idyllists."
Kienan moved closer to her. "Religious nuts," he muttered. "There's always a lot of them about during this time of year."
"It's religious nuts season?"
"Er ... no," Kienan said. He looked at the banners hanging from the lampposts. "Nothing so easy to hide from. I must have lost track of time while we were in space. It's almost Heaven's Day."
"Heaven's Day," Jayla-2 repeated. "Sounds familiar."
"I think some places still call it Christmas," Kienan said, unconsciously taking her hand and weaving through a knot of people surrounding a street vendor selling paper pinwheels. "It's the worst time of the year."
Jayla-2's feet shuffled slightly clumsily behind him, like a sullen child dragging her feet. "But they seem so happy."
"Yes," Kienan said. "And that's fine. Unless you aren't happy. Then it's just really damn annoying."
Angela Anastazi walked into Kienan's apartment a few hours later. In short order her eyes went from Kienan, to Jayla-2, back to Kienan, back to Jayla-2, then down her shirt. Then, slowly she gave Kienan the dirtiest look she possibly could as she slowly shook her head.
It had taken a few hours to get hold of Angela, but she had dutifully shown up at Kienan's place, and Jayla-2, in her usual style, introduced herself with an almost comical overexuberance.
"Hi!" Jayla-2 said, embracing Angela like a long-lost friend. Angela stood immobile, her hands at her sides.
"Kienan," Angela said flatly. "Who is this woman?"
"Angela, this is Jayla-2," Kienan said. "Jayla-2, Angela. She's ... sort of my uh, guest for the week."
"Right," Angela said, slowly drawing out the word. She wasn't sure she wanted to know more. Kienan was her big brother, and she honestly never wanted to picture in quite that way. Ever.
"Well, uh ... hi," Angela said. "You certainly are uhm, nice."
"Thanks," Jayla-2 said, smiling. "Youre nice too."
"Jayla-2," Kienan said. "Could you give Angela and I a few minutes?"
Jayla-2's face fell. "OK," she said. "I'll be in the guest room."
Kienan frowned as she trudged into the room.
She can make the act of walking out of a room look like a mortal injury, he thought, sighing.
The door closed and Angela's brown eyes met Kienan's.
"I ... dont know what to say," Angela said. "She's ... not what I would have thought your type was."
"It's not like that," Kienan said, fumbling for the cigarette he'd craved for the past 15 minutes. "I kind of came across her in space."
Angela looked over her shoulder. "Was space as empty as her head?"
Kienan smiled around his cigarette. It was a mean thing to say, but it wasn't anything he hadnt thought himself.
"I know that's how it seems, but trust me, it's a lot more complicated than that," Kienan said, his voice a little lower and almost hurt.
"Well, we'll save that for later, then," Angela said, plopping down in the soft chair opposite him. She looked back at the door. "Kienan, why is it that nearly every woman you know has bosoms bigger than my head?"
Angela glared at him, shaking her head. "I worry about you sometimes."
"Well, that's why I called you here," Kienan said. "Gonna be in town for a week. I figured you could help me with Jayla-2."
"Help you what? Deflate her chest? Or maybe her head."
"Not exactly," Kienan said. "Just keep an eye on her. Despite all appearances, she's not as dumb as you think. And this isn't the first time she's been here."
Angela looked at him. "She used to live here?"
"Died here, actually."
Angela's brow furrowed. She looked over her shoulder at the door, then back to Kienan, waiting for the thin crack of a smile to let her know it was all a joke.
No smile. Not even a wink.
"Youre serious, arent you?"
"OK," Angela said, sitting forward in the chair, her elbows resting on her knees. "I think I'm ready for the long story now."
Jayla-2 leaned against the door, and sighed. She could hear them with perfect clarity. Kienan's voice droned softly through the door, but she'd stopped listening by this point.
He wasn't saying anything she didn't know already.
She walked over to the small bed and lay back against it, staring at the dull white ceiling. She wasn't angry with Angela for her jokes (even she found it quite funny) or Kienan's halting, awkward manner, as they'd walked through the streets. She could even forgive his unwillingness to explain her to other people.
She hadnt done such a good job herself to Kienan.
Jayla-2 was a clone of Jayla Kyren, a gestalt of herself and a multitude of other elements. Jaylas mother had created her as a weapon of retribution against Kienan.
Kienan had recognized some glint of his former lover within her and spent the next two years trying to bring her back. Finally, two months ago, he found the answer.
The final product of the quest, me, isnt really what he wanted though, Jayla-2 thought. Instead of Jayla, he's only got someone who vaguely remembers being her once upon a time.
Jayla Kyren's memories are in the back of my mind, like a dream I could remember with perfect clarity. It feels right, it feels right, but it also feels like it happened to someone else.
I dont think that's what he wanted.
She sighed, brushing a lock of her hair from her eyes.
Worse still, since everything she was experiencing was so new, apart from what Jayla's memories told her, that some things she wasn't really prepared to handle.
Kienan's disappointment in her being chief among them. Jayla had loved him, but Jayla-2 didn't. She didnt really know him or herself enough to love anyone. But she felt a great debt to him all the same. After all, what would she be without his mercy, his dedication to bringing her to herself?
How do you make up for letting someone down with the one thing they worked so hard for you to be? Jayla-2 wondered.
She sighed again. This was going to be a long week.
The next day, Kienan persuaded Angela to take Jayla-2 on a walking tour of the sector, a task Angela had grumbled about the entire time. Angela had finally agreed, but had taken her out with the intention to half-ass the job.
Jayla-2's apparent bubble headedness was grating in small doses, but even more annoying to Angela was the way Kienan had reacted to it. Every time Jayla-2 had responded in some vacant way to something Angela said, he got this faraway and very sad look in his eyes.
It made her blood boil. In the years since Kienan had befriended her she had adopted him in her heart as her big brother, and she didnt like seeing him hurt.
Especially not by someone who seemed too stupid to see what she was doing.
They had made their way to the playground just on the other side of the street from Angela's school. Angela at on the rail of the merry-go-round as Jayla-2 sat on an opposing rail, idly kicking the dirt to keep them spinning.
"So," Angela said, tired of the silence between them. "Kienan says you've been with him on the ship for two months now?"
Jayla-2 nodded. "Yes," she said gently. Longer than that, really, she thought.
"You should feel lucky," Angela said. "I've known him for almost three years now and I've never even seen it once. He doesnt let me go onto the Space Ring with him when he goes out."
"Youd probably be disappointed if you finally saw it," Jayla-2 said. "He says it's not anything special."
"He doesnt think anything of his, including himself, is anything special," Angela said. They spun in silence for a few seconds before she added, "Really makes me mad sometimes."
"I owe him a lot," Angela said. "He got me off the streets, insisted I go to school. I think he's determined to make an honest woman out of me. I guess I'd like him to see how valuable he is to me, you know?"
Jayla-2 pondered that, kicking the ground idly. Ironic. Jayla had exactly the opposite experience.
"Do you like it?"
"What, school?" Angela said. "It's a pain, but Kienan insists, and I couldnt say no to him. He's my big brother."
Jayla-2's black lips parted into a smile. "Your ... big brother?"
Angela nodded. "He hates it when I call him that, but it's the truth. He's the kind of guy who you never want to let down, I think. Because I dont think he does very much out of the kindness of his heart. So when he does, it's not a good idea to let him down."
Got that, lady? Angela added mentally.
"I know," Jayla-2 said. "He did a lot for me too. Unfortunately ... I'm not sure how I can pay him back. How do you pay someone back for giving you your life?"
Angela shrugged. "Beats me," she said. "I start philosophy in Grade 10, and that's next fall. What do you think he'd like in return?"
Jayla-2 sighed. Her hair fell into her eyes and seemed to cloak her face in shadows. "Something I'm not really sure I can give him. Not ... immediately anyhow."
"Oh," Angela said, pursing her lips. "So youre not ... "
"His girlfriend? No, not really," she said. "I ... don't know if he'd have me as one."
"Do you like him?"
Jayla-2 shrugged. The awkwardness with which she did it told Angela she was merely copying what she'd done, poorly. "I dont really know him enough to like him or love him or anything," she said.
"But I thought -- "
Jayla-2 put her feet out and stopped the merry-go-round. "He told you?"
Angela momentarily considered lying but nodded slowly. "I didnt understand a lot of it, though. I got the feeling he left some things out. All I really know is that you ... well, the other you ... and he were together. And then something happened to her and you were sorta ... made from her?"
"And you're kind of her ... but kinda not, right?"
"That's about as much sense as anyone makes out of it," Jayla-2 said. "I'm not really sure what I am just yet."
"Must be like being a kid all over again," Angela said, starting to kick the dirt and get the merry-go-round going again.
"That's it exactly," Jayla-2 replied. "Only youre expected to skip childhood and go straight to adulthood with a set of instructions you can remember just a little."
Angela nodded, kicking the dirt, as the sand beneath her feet became a whirling blur. "That sucks," she said.
Jayla-2 shook her head. "It's not Kienan's fault," she said. "He couldnt have known this is how it would work out. No one could. I'm not angry with him for how he reacts to me. Just disappointed I can't seem to make it up to him. I dont really know how yet, I guess."
"You could always give him a Heaven's Day present," Angela said, chuckling a little as she said it. Something, anything to break the suddenly heavy mood of the conversation and get her mind off how tough it was to stay mad at Jayla-2.
"Is that what they do during this time?" Jayla-2 asked. "Kienan didnt mention much about it. Apparently he doesnt like this time of year."
"He doesnt," Angela said. "But I think that has more to do with him being so used to being alone."
"What about Vain and Mirage?"
Angela smirked. "The Boobs and Booty Brigade?"
"My name for them," Angela said. "Kienan's had them chaperone me a few times, and it was about as much fun as being driven around town by a pair of statues."
"Oh," Jayla-2 said. "I hope I'm more entertaining to be around than that."
"You're ... different, I'll say that much," Angela said. She put her feet out to stop the merry-go-round and nearly sent Jayla-2 flipping backwards over the rail she was sitting on. "C'mon let's walk up to the plaza. Maybe we can find something for Kienan on the way."
"Something like what?" Jayla-2 said, hopping off the merry-go-round.
"A big fluffy teddy bear," Angela said, walking with her. "Never know until we look, right?"
Kienan met them later that night in the plaza. Jayla-2 watched him, moving like a wraith through the crowds, his white suit and long braid swishing behind him giving him the look of a specter.
Jayla-2 followed behind Angela, wrapped tight in her cloak. Despite the stable temperature of the colony, she couldnt help but feel cold for some reason. She searched her memories for a way to encapsulate the feeling but all she could come up with was a vague half-remembered expression.
Like someone walked over my grave, she thought. Angela walked between them, as Kienan played his usual game of looking disinterested at the people around him and never once looking in Jayla-2's direction.
And he would have succeeded in ignoring her, had Angela not forced the issue.
"Jayla-2 was asking me what she might get you for Heaven's Day," Angela said. "I told her you already had cigarettes and hair bands."
"I dont need anything," Kienan said, looking at a display of bound books in a store window. Their covers were faded and musty, more a curious antique in this day and age.
"Well, Heaven's Day isnt about what you need, is it?" Jayla-2 volunteered nervously. "Is there anything you want?"
Kienan's eyes turned to her as he lit a cigarette. The answer in his eyes was as plain to Jayla-2 as the nose on her face.
You don't have anything I want to give, do you?
She sighed and made a silent determination to never say anything else, ever.
Kienan turned back to inspecting the wares from the store windows they passed. He maintained a look of cool detachment as he passed a window full of toys and ringed with a crowd of excited children, and took a drag from his cigarette as he looked at a featured item in the next window.
Jayla-2 watched him with curiosity as he looked at it. To her, it was nothing special. An old blue guitar, electric, from the looks of it. It looked well-used, the metal plating was worn, the electric blue finish was scratched in some places, but it looked as though it still worked. A crudely hand-lettered sign in Earth Basic extolled its great condition -- it had been well maintained despite near-constant use, a real steal at 500 credits.
As Kienan stopped and looked, a barely perceptible mood came over him. He looked in pain, as if looking at it had reopened an old wound. Gradually the initial look of stinging pain evaporated and gradually his hard emerald eyes softened into a kind of sad green.
"Hey," Angela said, poking Kienan in the ribs. "You OK?"
"Fine," Kienan said, in an empty, soft kind of way. "Let's ... let's get out of here. I thought we might eat out tonight. I know a place a couple blocks up from here."
"Anything but Chinese," Angela said.
"You like Chinese," Kienan said.
Angela tugged at her shirt. "I like this shirt, too," she said. "Doesnt mean I wear it every day. Sometimes I want something different, you know?"
"Different," Kienan repeated, lost in thought, his mind still on that guitar in the window. Jayla-2 couldnt take her eyes off him. It was a side of him she'd never seen before.
He really does look hurt, she thought.
Kienan stayed lost in thought the rest of the walk to the restaurant. His mind was on the guitar, on Heaven's Day, on the thousand grim memories the very name of the holiday seemed to dredge up.
Kienan had spent the past few years on the colony. In that time he'd gained and lost friends, but one thing stayed constant. He always spent Heaven's Day alone.
The first year he'd spent in a back room of a private clinic, recovering from a beating and unable to even get out of bed because both his legs were broken. The next year he spent building his ship. The year after, he waited all night for Jayla to come home.
She never did.
Every year, it was always something. Always something keeping him alone and isolated. He'd sometimes thought about calling Vain and Mirage down from the Space Ring just for the company but had decided against it.
It was important that he have as few people going back and forth from the Silhouette and the colony as possible. Someone who'd seen the ship could trace it back here. Or someone from the colony could trace him back there. It raised too much suspicion.
Besides, he reminded himself. You like being alone. You were meant to be.
Isnt that what you always say?
If that's the case, he thought. If I like being alone so much, then why do I always seem to find people?
He didn't have an answer. Even more maddeningly, there probably wasn't one to be had.
He looked at Jayla-2.
The latest example, he thought. Just like Vain and Mirage I'll grumble and muse aloud that maybe she should leave, but never actually kick her out.
He stopped himself. But Jayla-2's her own person. Vain and Mirage swore to you they'd never leave your side.
What if she decides to leave?
She left once before, after all. Even when we were together, Jayla was always leaving. Or I was leaving her behind. Eventually we spent so much time walking out, I suppose we never thought of what would happen when we tried to walk back in.
She caught his stare. He looked away, distracted and annoyed.
He pondered her words to him. According to her, she was her own person, nothing like the direct copy of Jayla Kyren he'd expected.
And yet, Kienan held her to account for all Jayla did.
Was it fair? Kienan didnt know.
They stepped into the restaurant, still enveloped by the awkward silence they'd run afoul of at the pawnshop window. They were rushed inside to a quiet table, no one saying a thing.
Finally, Angela, as usual, broke the silence.
"So," she said. "Anyone heard any good jokes lately?"
Gradually, a slow, halting conversation started over dinner, punctuated by long stretches of silence whenever Kienan looked in Jayla-2's direction. He almost looked guilty for being caught looking at her.
Jayla-2 found it hard to contribute anything, suddenly acutely aware of the difficulty of matching one sixteen year old girl and one twenty year old man when all you had to offer was two months worth of life experience.
On and on they went. Kienan was listening to Angela's tales of schooling with an interest Jayla-2 couldnt believe.
After all, it's not as though he's cared much about what I have to say, she mused. She looked around the restaurant. Certain details began to strike her as strangely familiar. Something about it's cozy atmosphere reminded her of ...
Oh yes, she thought. One of Kienan and Jayla's first dates. Jayla hated the food, hated the ambience, and hated everything but his company. That whole night she spent lost in his eyes.
She caught Kienan's glance.
I dont have her luck. All I am is shut out.
Kienan read her expression, frowned, and a look of guilt crossed his face. He hadnt expected her to remember this place with such detail.
"You don't like it here, do you?" Kienan asked her.
"I like it here fine, Kienan," Jayla-2 replied. "I guess I just feel ... sort of ... unnecessary."
"I dont understand," Kienan said. He looked down at the glass of wine in front of him.
"She means you're ignoring her," Angela said. She sighed and tried to take the initiative. "So, how'd you like your first day on the colony, Jayla-2?"
"I ... liked it," Jayla-2 said," "My first day on any colony. There's so much to see. It must be so nice living here."
"My classmates don't think so," Angela said. "There's this one boy in my grade who I think comes from Proxima 9 colony. He swears up and down that a free-floating colony is nothing like living on a planetary colony, no matter how much they try to fool you into thinking it is."
"It is different," Kienan said. Jayla-2 and Angela looked at him. He took a sip of wine as if he hadnt said anything.
"Were you born on a planetary colony, Kienan?" Jaya-2 asked innocently.
Kienan looked away and nodded. Imperceptibly the knuckles of his left hand went white as he clutched his napkin.
"Was it different?"
Kienan's eyes began to narrow.
"Yes," he said, any warmth dropped out of his voice. "It was a long time ago."
"I'm sorry. I'm prying arent you?"
"Yes." Kienan said. Now stop talking, he thought.
"The term is "being nosy,"Jayla-2," Angela said. "And youre entitled to a free one. Anyway, how would you like to stay here?"
"Stay -- ?"
"Yeah," Angela said. She spared Kienan a look. She knew that expression well. Every now and again she hit a wall with Kienan, when she was nosing about in things she wasn't supposed to be asking. Usually, he glared. Then he stonewalled. Then he'd either leave or make you go.
Sometimes even I wonder what he holds back, she thought. Cant blame her for wondering too, can I?
"What would I do?"
"Well, that's an interesting question," Angela said. "What can you do?"
"I ... can lift heavy things," Jayla-2 said. "I dont know anything else yet."
"She's not staying here," Kienan said. He said it quietly enough but it sounded like an explosion and sucked the conversation out after it.
"Why not?" Jayla-2 asked.
"They'll never accept you," Kienan said, his eyes locking on hers with a look suspiciously like malice. She was going to pay for prying. "You look alien -- "
"I'm not -- "
"It doesnt matter," Kienan said. "They see the grey skin and the spots and as far as they're concerned -- " He hiked a thumb over his shoulder to a group of humans sitting at a table in the far corner. " -- youre an alien. Just because humans went into space didnt make them any less tolerant."
"But -- "
"How would you like to put up with that every day?" Kienan said, the beginnings of a smile crossing his lips. Both Angela and Jayla-2 began to feel extremely uncomfortable. This wasn't a rebuke for asking about his past anymore. "And I promise you, the insults, the slights, bad as they are they're nowhere near as bad as the one's you don't hear."
"Kienan, stop it," Angela said.
"I'm just being realistic."
"Youre being mean!" Jayla-2 said, louder than she meant to.
"Maybe," Kienan said. "Then again, maybe youre overdue to have your expectations dashed, too. I can promise you that that innocence of yours wont last long against a world like this."
Another pause, the tension so thick between them that it seemed to Angela that lightning would strike one of them soon.
"Kienan," Jayla-2 said.
Kienan blinked, his gaze suddenly softening. Maybe it was the tide of anger receding, maybe it was the momentary sense that he was looking into Jayla's eyes again and hurting her just the same way he'd done before, but he saw something and recoiled.
He'd gone too far.
"Why are you so angry?" Jayla-2 said. "You've been that way ever since you saw that guitar in the window."
Kienan's teeth grit, but the rage didnt return to his eyes. Angela watched this carefully and saw that the momentum of the argument had shifted in Jayla-2's favor.
"Did you want it?" Jayla-2 asked. "I would have gotten it for you. I could maybe have found a way to -- "
"No," Kienan said. "Look, I didnt want. It just ... I just ... "
"What?" Jayla-2 asked. She looked at Angela "Please. I'm not being ... nosy?"
Kienan sighed. "It just reminded me of someone."
Kienan shifted nervously in his seat. "Look, can we not -- "
Jayla-2's face fell. "Oh," she said. "Oh ... I'm ... really sorry, now."
Kienan sighed and looked out the window. He looked very far away and very sad.
I guess I shouldnt be surprised, should I? Jayla-2 wondered. I mean, its only natural he'd have other girlfriends besides Jayla.
The guitar must have belonged to one of them.
Kienan pushed his chair away from the table, reaching into his jacket for his wallet and tossing some credits on the table. His eyes looked at the table, the floor, anything but Angela and Jayla-2.
"I have to go," he said, standing up so fast he nearly knocked his chair over. "That'll take care of the bill."
"Kienan I -- "
"Damn it, leave me alone!" Kienan shouted. "Just ... stop."
Kienan turned on his heel and walked out of the restaurant. Everyone was staring in the direction of their table. Angela stuck her tongue out at them as Jayla-2 pushed her plate away and leaned her head on the table.
Angela took Kienan's glass of wine. "Oh well," she said, taking a sip. "He's not here to tell me not to."
She grimaced. It was a little too bitter for her. She looked at Jayla-2, her body rising and falling gently, once, twice, three times, until the soft, hissing sobs took over.
"Ohhh," Angela said, putting her hand on Jayla-2's shoulder.
"He hates me," Jayla-2 managed between sobs.
"He doesnt hate you," Angela said. "He's just ... ohh ... hell, I cant cover for him this time. He's just being an asshole."
"A what?" Jayla-2 said, raising her head up from the table.
Angela smiled. "Uhm, a bad person, dear. A very bad person."
Jayla-2 sat up, still crying. Angela dabbed at Jayla-2's eyes with her napkin until Jayla-2 got the message and did it for herself.
"He hates me," she repeated. "Just like he grew to hate Jayla."
"I dont think so," Angela said, taking another sip of wine. She put the glass down, frowned and went back to her water glass.
"Honestly? I think that ... he just doesnt know how to feel right now."
Hours later, Kienan found himself on a lonely street in the middle of the bad section of town. Even on streets this tough, on the eve of Heaven's Day, they were pretty deserted.
Just as well, Kienan thought, tossing his cigarette away. I dont want company. Not on this street, not on this colony, not in my life.
He looked up. To his left was a run-down building, three stories. It sat on its own, looking like it had died where it had been built. A small diamond-shaped cross had been haphazardly nailed to one of its main doors.
A church, Kienan thought. In what used to be a brothel.
He would have laughed if he could. This building was where Jayla -- his Jayla -- had ended up in after she left him. Where he had tried to appeal to her to return, only to find out that the Jayla he'd loved was as lost to him as she was in Jayla-2.
He grimaced at the irony, cruel enough to make him feel pain.
He turned away, walking across the deserted streets to the tenement opposite the building. He wanted off the street. He wanted to be alone, to think, to try to figure out what had brought him to this point.
He walked around to the fire escape and jumped high enough to grab the fire stairs and swing himself up to the first floor landing. He slowly mounted the rusting steps, his mind going over it all.
He'd lost Jayla, and taken Angela into his life, allowed her to think of him as his big brother, he'd let Vain and Mirage stay on the ship. Even Jayla-2 had been beginning to grow on him.
It was getting harder and harder to like being alone, he thought, climbing onto the roof. He walked over to the ledge, looking across to the third floor window of the church.
He'd come here many times, when Jayla had been working there. Come to watch over her, to spy on her, to make sure she was safe. Kienan knew what kind of people went there, he knew how brutal they could be.
He WAS that brutal.
But only when the job called for it. It had been so easy for so long to pull the trigger on people, but when it bled over into his life here -- the people he loved, the people looked after ...
No, he thought. Then it's not so easy anymore.
The guitar had reminded him of it in a most painful acute way. A year ago, he'd met a gentle, wonderful girl his own age. For a few seconds here and there when they were together he'd wondered what it would be like to be with her.
But she had secrets, Kienan thought. And just like mine do, they tore us apart. Killed her. Seeing that guitar made me think. No matter what I do, some things I can never get back.
No matter how hard I try, he thought, forlornly looking at the now-empty window where he'd watched over Jayla like some twisted combination of a voyeur and a guardian angel.
Only there weren't any angels on these streets, and none that look out for people like me, he thought. I dont apologize for what I do. But sometimes, the costs are more than I thought Id have to pay.
He sighed and lit a cigarette. The darkness was starting to give way to daylight. In a few hours what passed for sunrise would dawn over their slice of the colony.
Heaven's Day, he thought bitterly. The day you get the things you want. They never seem to say anything about getting what you need.
He closed his eyes and took a drag on the cigarette. He sighed, opening his eyes with something like irritation.
"How long have you been there?"
"Not long," Jayla-2 said, walking to the opposite side of where he was sitting. She glanced over at the building that loomed over them. "Something in how you looked at me at the restaurant told me you might come here."
"You remember that too?" Kienan asked. Just what I need right now, he thought. More salt in my wounds.
Jayla-2 looked over at the window and nodded. "I remember what Jayla saw," she said. "How she used to see your shadow outside and wonder why you kept coming back but never came in."
"I did once," he said. "You told me to go,"
"I didnt tell you, Kienan. She did."
"Youre the same person, Jayla-2," Kienan said.
"I'm not," Jayla-2 said. "I'm what was made in her, but that's as far as it goes. I remember her life, but her life is over. My life is different."
"Yeah," Kienan said. "You can say that again."
"My life is ... " Jayla began, then she caught herself. "Kienan, you cant hold me responsible for what Jayla did to you any more than you could expect me to love you."
Kienan looked down. He tried to catch his breath. I knew how she felt, he thought. But I didnt think I'd hear it ...
"Cant you accept me as my own person?" Jayla-2 asked. "I see it in your eyes every time you look at me. You're always looking for some sign of Jayla, comparing me to her in a thousand silent ways. You talked about how cruel people were in their hearts, where you cant hear them.
"Were you counting yourself there?"
"Besides," Jayla-2 continued. "You and Jayla were so miserable together. You grew to hate each other. Is that really what you want again? Kienan, I don't want to learn to hate you."
Kienan didnt say a word. He knew she was right.
They looked at each other in silence for a long time.
Finally, Kienan broke the silence.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Jayla-2 took a step closer. "It's OK," she said. "I guess ... it's a hard situation for you. And since I'm pretty much learning everything for the first time, I havent been quite as helpful as I should have. I'm sorry too."
Kienan looked from her to the window. "I dont know what's going to happen with us."
Jayla-2 nodded. Are you that afraid of history repeating itself?
"Would it be easier if I ... left?" Jayla-2 asked.
"It might," Kienan said. "But I ... dont think I want you to go."
Jayla-2 looked into his eyes. "I dont want to go either, Kienan," she said. "But it means a lot to me that you want me to stay."
Kienan stood up, brushing the dirt off his suit. "Enjoy it, then," he said. "Call it your Heaven's Day present."
"I thought you didnt believe in Heaven's Day," Jayla-2 said.
"I like to do things to surprise people," he said.
"You've done it a lot with me."
"Jayla-2, when everything's new to you, youre easy to surprise."
"I know," Jayla-2 said. "But it won't always be like that."
Kienan walked towards her, but Jayla-2 turned her back to him. Kienan didnt see the sly smile play on her lips, nor was he prepared for what happened next.
She turned to him and swept him into a tight, warm embrace. Once Kienan got over the shock of the action, he returned it. Gradually the fear and tension of being this close subsided and he returned the embrace.
It doesnt feel like Jayla, he thought sadly. No, she's really gone for good. I'll never feel that again.
But this ... feels good.
They held each other for a long time as daylight broke over the colony, obliterating the looming shadow of the church and its third window. Jayla-2 looked into his eyes and smiled.
"See?" Jayla-2 said. "I can surprise you, too."