The Weight of a Satellite
I must say I'm impressed with you, Aron, said the combat android Wren, observing his apprentice's work.
Most Orakians are rather ignorant of how robots work, and yet it seems to be second nature to you.
The fifteen-year old boy with neon green hair smiled and wiped the sweat from his brow. Saying nothing, he resumed his work of reassembling the roboman that he had dissected the previous week. It was a running project of Aron's, to design a robot that could fight with Layan weapons and not just swords. He had to get past a number of firmware and hardwired processors that limited the robot's combat capabilities, but with Wren's help, he was able to get past most of it and reprogram the machine to use some Layan staff techniques and throw a slasher, too.
We're almost done, Wren. I think a couple of more days and we'll have the first Layan combat 'droid.
As you yourself are both half Orakian and half Layan, that would only be appropriate, agreed his android mentor.
Aron's attention was soon called by a knock at the door of his "laboratory." He turned and saw the beautiful, long, lime green hair of Kara, his cousin and best friend. She was already dressed in a blue night gown with a white silk robe over it. She stood in the doorway in a position that made Aron think she had been standing there for several minutes, watching him work.
With a distinctly feminine giggle, the young girl said,
Come, genius boy. It's getting late.
Just a sec, Kara, replied the young prince of Dahlia. Aron set down his tools and begin putting them away.
Let me handle them, suggested Wren.
Lady Kara will not like to be kept waiting too long. He gave Aron a little smile.
Aron walked over to Kara and the two left the laboratory, arm in arm. She laid her head on his oil-stained shoulder as the two walked over to her room. It was a custom they had had for almost five years now, that every night they would go to her room and pray to Laya together before going to bed. It was also the time they had used to catch up on each other's day, since they often had to spend the day either in weapons training—Aron's father Nial taught him fencing and hand-to-hand combat while Kara's father Lune taught her how to use a slasher—or in classes with Mieu. And now that Aron had taken up the hobby of studying robotics, they saw each other less during the day.
As they turned the corridor into the one that led to Kara's living quarters, they were greeted by the staggering form of Lune. The long-haired giant stumbled from one wall to another, his person reeking of Divisian Brandy, a uniquely powerful alcohol found back on the Alisa III. They stopped and watched him stagger and mutter to himself and, when he looked up at both of them, Aron's heart started beating quite fast. He had never seen his uncle drunk before.
Lousy little Orakian spawn, Lune muttered at a volume that was just loud enough for Kara and Aron to hear.
You disdain your Layan heritage. You're a disgrace to your mother's lineage, learning swordplay and wasting your time fiddling with robots.
Father, you're drunk, said Kara boldly.
Go get some sleep.
And look at my daughter, Lune bellowed.
Aron clenched his fist in anger as he listened to his uncle address Kara.
Lune took a step forward and continued.
Betrothed to this half-breed. Laya would be ashamed to see her general's daughter marrying a boy who doesn't even honor his Layan background.
Father, that's enough! shouted Kara defensively.
Lune lunged at his daughter and, grabbing her by the elbows, began to shake her violently.
How dare you raise your voice to your father, you weak little witch.
Stop it! yelled Aron, throwing his body at Lune and slamming his shoulder into his uncle, causing him to loosen his grip on Kara and stumble sideways.
Aron reached over to help Kara back to her feet, but suddenly found his throat in the grip of Lune's powerful hand. The boy was lifted off the ground and pinned against the wall. Aron struggled and tried to punch Lune in the face, but each punch came across as a weak slap.
Insolent nephew! I'll teach you a lesson in how to fight.
Lune struck Aron so hard with his fist that the young boy immediately began spitting up blood. When the Dahlian general cocked his hand back, Kara rushed behind him and latched onto his arm, pulling it back.
Dad! she screamed.
Let him go! He's only a boy! Let him go!
Lune yanked his arm from her grip and backhanded her, sending her sprawling to the ground. Aron could see a huge purple bruise forming around her mouth.
You son of a—
His epithet of contempt was cut off by the loud sound of something striking the wall a few feet from his head. Aron looked over and saw a slasher embedded in the brick wall. Both he and Lune looked in the direction the slasher came from. Their eyes fell on Alair, Aron's mother and Lune's sister. The Layan Queen's sapphire-like eyes burned like twin blue flames, and her usual sensual demeanor transformed itself into a mass of maternal fury. She held a second slasher in her hand, which she raised in Lune's direction.
If that hand touches my son or your daughter again, she threatened fiercely,
it will never touch anything again.
Lune let go of his nephew and turned to face his sister. Before he could say a word, Alair barked another order at him.
Brother, as Queen of Dahlia, I hereby deprive you of any right to drink within the confines of this satellite. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, brother. Go to your quarters, now!
Aron and Kara looked at each other in amazement at how angry Alair had gotten. After all, she was such a patient, level-headed woman that such an outburst had been virtually unheard of from her ever since Aron could remember.
Lune stumbled away, still muttering to himself. Alair ran daintily over to her son and niece. Mumbling the words necessary to invoke the RES technique, she caressed their faces with a motherly affection. Soon the bruise on Kara's face began to disappear, and the pain in Aron's mouth also began to go away.
I'm sorry you two had to go through this. I guess my brother still has a few demons inside he needs to deal with. Now off to bed you, two. Turning to Aron, she whispered,
And not a word of this to your father, you hear?
Aron nodded and turned to help Kara stand up. Kara's large doe eyes were already glistening with tears, but she took a deep breath and walked arm-in-arm with Aron to her room. He led Kara to her bed and the two knelt to say a prayer to Laya. Suddenly Kara began to sob and buried her head into the Dahlian prince's chest, mixing the oil and machine lubricant in his shirt with her salty tears. Aron didn't know what to say to her, so he simply stroked her back until she stopped.
I'm sorry I let this happen to you, Aron finally said. He lifted the princess into his arms and laid her down on the bed.
Good night, Kara. He gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Good night, my prince.
Aron sat on his bed scribbling a note to Kara. She had probably already gone to sleep, unless she was still doing Mieu's lessons—she had a knack for studying after hours. He winced with each word he wrote, his cousin's sobs echoing menacingly in his ears, the image of her battered face showing up on the piece of paper he was writing on. It was quite clear to him that the pain she had suffered was nothing more than the result of his failure to protect her, as he once promised he would years before. The look of horror on her bruised visage caused his hands to tremble as he continued writing to her.
He had done his best, but it hadn't been good enough. Lune had bested him and because of that, his best friend had gotten hurt. Aron refused to forgive himself for what he had allowed to happen. Had he been a little faster, a little more agile, or a little stronger, he would've been able to beat his uncle down before he could lay a finger on Kara.
The boy's thoughts then returned to Lune's alcohol-induced accusations of the boy abandoning his Layan heritage. Was Lune right? Was he guilty of not being a model Layan, despite only being half-Layan by birth? Had Aron learned to fight with a slicer or a staff, would Lune have spared his daughter the humiliation and abuse that he had put her through that night?
All those thoughts ate away at the boy's soul as he wrote an elaborate apology to Kara:
I ask your sincerest forgiveness for what happened between you and your father the other night. I have nobody to blame but myself for having failed to protect you from his drunken rage. Had I been the friend and companion that I should have been, you wouldn't have suffered the physical humiliation that you did that evening. Please forgive me for not being the friend that I should have been. I hope that I can win back your favor.
A few days had passed since Aron had written the letter to his dear cousin. He had made sure that his point had gotten across by writing what was essentially the same note every night and slipping it under the door to her room after everybody had fallen asleep. It was his way of trying to atone for his being unable to help her when she most needed him.
That evening found Aron in his laboratory, where he had been for the past eight hours. Wren had asked him if he was okay, but he simply gestured that all was fine and the two went about putting the final touches on the firmware programming that functioned after the roboman was turned on.
Lord Aron, my energy battery is in a rather depleted state this evening. Let's test the roboman tomorrow afternoon.
Aron stretched his arms and yawned.
Yeah, I'm pretty exhausted myself. He turned and looked at the doorway. Kara wasn't there. Aron let out a low sigh.
Okay, Wren, thanks again. See you tomorrow.
Aron moped down the corridors of Dahlia until he reached his quarters. His greatest fears had been realized: Kara had not waited for him. He had lost the battle to earn her forgiveness. All of his notes and apologies had been in vain. As he pondered on how royally he had screwed up, he began to wonder if he shouldn't get permission from his dad to spend some months in Landen with Grandpa Rhys and Grandma Lena. That might help him to start over again, make new best friends, and even further his studies of Orakian robot technology.
When he opened the door to his room, he was surprised to see Kara sitting on his bed waiting for him. Her green hair was tied into a long ponytail complete with baby blue bows. She was still wearing the sleeveless blue dress she had worn earlier that day. There was a slight smile on her face, as if her lips were made of interwining strands of love and concern. Aron was about to turn and leave the room when Kara cleared her throat loudly.
Come back here right now, Aron! she scolded.
Aron turned around, staring at the floor, and entered the room, walking slowly to the bed and sitting next to Kara.
Good, she said spritefully.
Tonight we need to put some things in order.
Aron glanced at her quickly and nodded, trying to look in her eyes as little as possible. Every time he looked at her, he could only see the bruised face from back in the corridor several days before.
And we shall do this while establishing eye contact, she added.
Aron's eyes, now brimming with tears of fear and shame, met hers.
I'm so— he began, stopped by Kara's milky white finger touching his lip and beckoning him to remain silent.
Aron, there is nothing nor has there been anything that you should apologize to me for. I have never seen you as less of a friend because of a stupid decision my drunken father made. You stood up for me. You tried. I admire you deeply for that. You have always been my best friend and always will; it doesn't matter if you win the battle or not. I'll stick by your side always. That's friendship, Aron.
But what? Aron, try to think clearly. Have you ever tried to hurt me?
The young boy shook his head.
Have you ever tried to purposely offend me?
No, he peeped.
Have you ever tried to take advantage of me using our betrothal as a pretext?
Why? Because you're a good kid and an excellent friend. So what if you couldn't stop daddy from hitting me. At least you did something. Hell, Aron, I would've been content if all you had done was escort me back to my room and let me cry on your shoulder.
Of course, silly! Kara grinned at him and threw her arms around her stunned cousin.
You have always been my little prince and you always will be. You are the best friend I have in the world and I never want that to change.
Aron, who had refrained from returning Kara's embrace, wrapped his arms around her and squeezed hard. He felt her heart beating against his chest and was sure she felt his, too. He pulled her head against his chest and kissed her on the forehead.
Kara then looked up at him.
Aron, please forgive me for not responding to your notes before. I was just as shaken up about the whole episode as you were. But I want you to know that never at any moment did I even think of pinning any of the blame on you.
You-you really mean that?
Of course. Kara gave him a wet kiss on the cheek.
Now, my friend, tell me a little about how your work with Wren is.
Aron smiled and chuckled.
You sure you want to hear about it? It's been a few days since we've had our nightly conversation. It might take a while.
I'm all yours.