This takes place in the near future, and subsequent to the tiff between Alycia and Daph.
“And then I was outside our hotel in Thera, the rest of the tour had just arrived back, and nobody noticed I had been missing.”
“Yeesh,” I say to Daph, unhelpfully. “And since then?”
She shrugs. She’s playing with her hair, which is down, twirling it absently around her right finger… “Occasional dreams where the Big P urges me to ‘accept my mantle,’ mostly. Occasional bolts of intuition about stuff – got a hell of a migraine during that whole Winter Thing last year. Oh, and people keep buying me gifts with butterflies on them.”
“No, though that did happen once. No, I’m talking about relatives, friends – ‘Oh, I found you the most lovely jacket, Daph.’ ‘Let me guess, it has a big butterfly on the back.’ ‘Well, I know how you love butterflies.’”
She makes a face. “In the fourth grade, I wrote an essay called ‘Butterflies are Twee,’ in which I made the case that butterflies were way overused for girls clothing, and that they are also kind of creepy. So, no, I didn’t. Until, yeah, I did.”
“Wow.” I take a sip of iced tea. “So this Palamedes character forces powers on you, intrudes on your dreams, and subtly controls minds so that you always have butterflies around you. Sounds like a real dick.”
“Most of the Greek gods were. Or just thought with them.” She snorts.
We’re celebrating completing a particularly nasty homework assignment with trip to Blintzkrieg. Daph’s drinking a large Cinnelatte, and apparently enjoying it more than any human should. I’m sticking with the iced tea – unsweetened thankyouverymuch. We’ve nabbed a couple of the easy chairs and are chatting at right angles to each other in the corner .
“Have you told him ‘Thanks no thanks’?”
“Only eleventy dozen times. He backs down – he’s never made me do anything – but he always comes back.”
“And a kick in the groin probably wouldn’t help in his case.”
Daph looks startled. “What?”
“It’s discouraged some guys who wouldn’t stop hitting on me.” “Hitting on” being a euphemism. Kind of the same thing, in some ways."
“Maybe I should try that.”
I frown. “Maybe. On the other hand, gods don’t take well to lèse majesté. Even ones that claim to be gods of ‘good’. Maybe save that idea for an extreme circumstance.”
“What, if he shows up looking like a swan?”
“Yeah, not sure that maneuver would work on a swan, either. In that case, I’d suggest a broom.” Swans are annoying little snots, a lot like geese. Aggressive and overly-proud of themselves. Maybe I should adopt a swan motif.
Daph giggles, which is something she does and always seems out of keeping with her large frame and the way she sounds when she actually laughs. “Shoo! Shoo!” She waves an imaginary broom around. “No mortal nookie for you!”
Okay, that draws a smile from me.
Then she “chucks” the broom away. “Dammit. He’s not like that, but almost as annoying. And then he gets this sad-but-patient face, like I’ll eventually come around, sooner or later, but there’s so much ‘good’ I could be doing in the meantime.” She slumps into her easy chair.
I reach over and give her a hesitant pat on the arm. I’m not good with the physical contact thing, and I’m never quite sure how to go about it, but it seems like the right gesture at the time. “Look, I know it’s … wearying. Like you’re being constantly watched, constantly judged, constantly weighed as to whether you are living up to another’s standards and expectations. It’s a pain in the ass, and it’s not fair, and it’s --” I shake my head a little. “But you seem to be holding up.”
Daph frowns. “I just don’t want to be a super-hero, let alone some sort of holy warrior high priestess. I mean, all that religion stuff … ugh. I just want to work for my doctorate, get a simple academic career at some small college somewhere, teach, research … maybe coach a local kids soccer team in my spare time. Something quiet and uneventful.”
I do something very difficult at that point. I try to keep my mouth shut. Because, first, such a life sounds dreadfully, mind-numblingly boring. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I have more short-term concerns at this point. But being locked down in an academic setting – that’s just not for me.
Second, while I totally reject that Daph has any obligation to go along with the unsolicited demands of some cryptic Greek god (or whatever this Palamedes character is), the fact is she does have powers, the wherewithal to help people in immediate need. She could save lives in a dozen different ways. That she chooses not to – makes me uncomfortable.
On the other hand, I’m not so confident in my moral high ground that I’m going to tell her that. And it’s exactly the sort of shit that Father would have said.
So I drop back to the first point. “What makes you want to be a college professor? I mean, that seems … dull.”
Daph shakes her head, vigorously. “But I love sociology. Gardner’s only got two classes, so I’ve been auditing a couple of courses over at MCC. And I grew up in a college town. Mom’s an anthropologist, with archaeology frosting. That’s what we were doing on Hykanos in the first place.” She sighs. “Maybe I’m just looking for something comfortable and familiar, like that will make all the weirdness go away.”
“You’ve got every right to chart your own course,” I say, holding onto the aspects of that statement I can agree with so that I sound convincing. After a moment, though, I add, “Believe me. My father was the sort who would tell me, ‘You’re not living up to your potential, child. I expect you to do this, this, and this, not just what you enjoy doing.’”
“Eek! Not enjoyment! What a dreadful fate!” She lays the back of one hand across her forehead in a melodramatic gesture. Then she looks over at me. “Your father sounds a lot like Palamedes, only more pushy.”
I feel that chill in my gut again. “‘Pushy’ is a word for it.” I sip my tea.
“And you told me – that’s why you got an emancipation order.”
I let my eyes drift from hers, out to the rest of the coffee shop. I don’t want this conversation. “Yes.”
“You don’t – talk about him much.”
He – his lessons, his indoctrination, his barbed-wire words – it’s all in my head all the time. Why do I need to talk about it? “No.”
I can see her frowning from the corner of my eye. She opens her mouth, and I tense, then she closes it again, before she suddenly blurts out, softly, “Did he abuse you?”
Well, there’s a hell of a question. In American society these days, discussion of abuse by parents seems fixated on sexual abuse. That, at least, was never present, except perhaps very indirectly, by how he controlled even that aspect of my life, or flip side, perhaps by throwing me into a snake pit like Zhukov. But he, himself? That’s one sin Achilles Chin was not guilty of.
But physical abuse? Emotional abuse? Mental abuse? Torture? Chemical mind manipulation? Turning his own daughter into a killer?
I’ve never thought of it in those precise terms before. It seems so much more than that in some ways, but also so much less.
Now it’s her turn to reach out and put a hand on my arm. “Hey, if he hurt you, physically I mean, or, I guess, any other way – if he did that, you can call the police, y’know?”
I snort lightly, look back over to her. So much you don’t know, can’t realize. “He’s dead.” That’s close enough to the truth. Hell, I even ran across his ghost, even though it wasn’t really him. It still makes me shudder.
She mistakes the movement, and smiles. “Good. Want to go take a dump on his grave or something?”
One eyebrow arches. “That’s – ah, no. No, but --” I shake my head. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” We sit in silence for a bit, sipping our drinks, thinking our thoughts. She breaks the quiet. “Hey, look, I’m sorry talking about my thing brought up, um, your thing.”
I shug. “No worries. I have plenty of ‘things.’ It’s hard not to bring one of them up.”
“Yeah, well, I just have an unknown god in my head telling me to put on a cape and fight for ‘freedom and joy.’ You had --” She gestures, vaguely, and sort of rumbles to a halt.
“I find,” I say, my own voice lowered, “getting into an debate over whose pain is worse, or whose isn’t as bad, rarely helps anyone.”
Daph nods. “Gotcha.” She takes another unconscionably large gulp of Cinnelatte. “Does that have anything to do with the suit you have?”
I blink. “Suit?” Did someone see me changing into my costume?
“The suit. The AEGIS handler / watchdog / babysitter lady. I mean, it’s not a secret – those guys stand out. And there’s maybe a dozen kids at Gardner that have them, so it’s not an exclusive thing, y’know. The Snow kid you hang out with has one, too.”
“Yeah, I know.” I guess I’ve never thought about it. I’ve seen other presumed AEGIS agents (the overt ones, plus a couple undercover) at the school – sometimes in the halls, sometimes at the car pickup line. I haven’t really considered why they are there, unless it’s to …
… watch me?
Vishnu on a Velocipede, ego much?
“So?” Daph asks. I can’t tell if she is actually curious, or just trying to distract me from my background of torture and betrayal and abuse. Good luck with that.
I take a considered sip of tea, getting down to mostly just ice cubes. I turn and look at her steadily in the eye. “I’m an international science terrorist, under parole from AEGIS, who are watching me to be sure I don’t leave school and conquer the world.”
She points at me, her eyes wide. “I knew it!”
Then she laughs, long and hard and hearty. It’s a great laugh, and it’s difficult, once I unfreeze my brain, to not join in, so I do.
“Oh, God, the look on your f-f-face,” she gasps out. There are people glancing at us, but she ignores them. “L-l-like I actually believed you!”
“Ha!” I guffaw. "As if!"
“Ha!” she echoes. “You deserve it for that – ha! – ‘international science criminal’ thing!” She says it in a dramatic newscaster voice, then She laughs some more.
Eventually we quiet down. While the laughter was contagious, mine had more than a hint of fear in it. For a moment, I really was afraid that Daph knew my background. And, that knowing it, she’d treat me as I could only expect.
I realize I really don’t want to lose this ‘friendship’ thing we have.
“No, no,” she says, dying down to occasional chuckles. “I get it. The AEGIS stuff is probably top secret. I shouldn’t have asked.” She laughs again, more softly. “B-but it was still funny.” She gives me a look. “And it’s good to hear you laugh.”
“Hey, I laugh.”
“No. You smirk. You snort with wry humor. You roll your eyes with amused disdain. You don’t laugh. And laughter can do a lot of good.”
“Careful,” I admonish her with a smirk – which I self-consciously shift to a less bemused smile. “Get enough people laughing and you might start spreading ‘freedom and joy’ despite yourself.”
“What, you think I should compromise with the Big P and become a stand-up comic?”
“No, but making others feel better – that’s no bad thing.”
“No. I guess not.” She starts all of a sudden, and glances at her vibrating phone, then takes a last drag off her expensive sugar drink. “Crap, I gotta jet. Taco Tuesday at home.”
“Of course,” I say, getting up as she does. When she straightens from grabbing her messenger bag, I put a hand on her shoulder without thinking. “And – thanks.”
“For helping me laugh.” And scaring the shit out of me, but that’s less important.
"De nada. It comes naturally," she says, walking to the door with me. “You know what they say.”
"No, dork, it’s a joke."
“I knew that.”
She rolls her eyes.
“Now you’re doing it,” I observe.
“Great, you’ve infected me.”
“Conquering the world, remember?”
“One pair of rolling eyeballs at a time?”
“Think globally, act locally.”
She laughs as she goes out the door. So do I.
author: *** Dave H.
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