A/N: Inspired by the work of Cormac McCarthy. A rambling fic about time and place and what roles that I think Miorine has to play and what has happened Before and what she will always be.
A follow up to Existence - Historical (The Decapitation of Suletta Mercury).
Cover art by: MinuraNakatawa
(The Dance of Miorine Rembran)
She is her father's daughter. It is not what she wants but is what she is reminded of as people put her in a place, and they are much of the reason why she is trapped. Miorine Rembran is the daughter of Delling, and as she stands momentarily alone in Asticassia's receptionary and presentation halls, men who have known nothing but groveling and upward ascension to capital nothing try to act their graces in front of her, as if through her Delling would bless them.
Today, of all days, they need those blessings.
She does not give them.
To prospective groom or bride alike, to those looking for go-aheads or investments, she is no angel, even dressed as she is in diamond and glacial clothing, the blue of which is like Earth's distant oceans. She finds herself an out from one pair of executives, they offering plans for expansion that have rhymed with the last twenty she's heard personally, and moves away to the side of the room annoyed, but not surprised by it. She has always been brought to places like this and done these moves.
It was the first time however that she was the one awaiting her promised other, for all of them that she had gone through.
Miorine Rembran should not be surprised to see how Suletta appears before her in that conference called party, hosted by her father's organization. Above her like distant pavilions the shapes and shadows of mobile suits, avatars for the different corporations that make up the Benerit Group stand over her, and her eyes draw to them idly. It is a distraction for when Suletta Mercury appears before her in a red dress.
It is not the dress that catches her eye however, it is the color of black on her face. The shape of it spreads out like wings beyond her face, just past her temples, and in them they are her eyes and yet they hide her eyes in white shapes of mesh fabric.
It is a mask, like that of cabaret. In the designs of the mesh which are so dense and distinct there are patterns of butterflies that cloud her eyes and yet she can look from the inside out.
Suletta Mercury wears a mask over her eyes, and as she walks, she walks strongly.
The dress is from Miorine's own stock, from London on Earth. Expensive fabric that had been nostalgic for tailors in the distant past but now had mostly moved to Space. All her belongings, if she could help it, were of the Earth. If she could not go to Earth, then at the very least she could bring some of it to her. It was her only want in life. Miorine Rembran, in any other life, would be content to live in wealth, without need or want for existential yearning or material nuances. But this was not her life. The life she lived intertwined her with a young woman, like her, ditsy of the world, but her partner all the same.
Suletta Mercury was her groom, and her groom looked at her through a black mask.
Suletta Mercury is a woman out of place. Miorine knows this, from day one. She came from a country so far away that she had been the closest to an alien in that world she would, and all Asticassia, had known. She came from beyond the precipice of the known world bearing a machine that she spoke to as if family, and Miorine's own life had been sent upside down and all those untouchable institutions had wavered and shuddered with the idea that once again across the space and the Earth the name of a machine that had nearly ruined the world rose again at the service from a Witch from Mercury.
In Suletta Mercury, the idea of Gundam lived on as an open secret.
With Suletta Mercury, the colors of red and black screamed loud, but not as loud as what she was.
Miorine had forgotten she had been holding a flute of sparkling juice as Suletta found her in that crowd of people, away from the main hall, and the cold of it bit her nails as she approached, her shadow even seeming to tint red crimson. Whether Miorine was looking at her or the mask she did not know, but it annoyed her greatly for a moment.
"Where'd that come from?" Miorine gestured with her free finger around her face, and animated Suletta, so easy to read by her, cannot be read. She wore her heart on her sleeve, whether she wanted it or not, but as she arrived, she arrived a different woman, and the square in her shoulders made only emphasized her unusual height.
What Suletta does give is the tilt of her head, folding her bare arms in front of herself as in apology.
"No one." Her back is square and straight, yet she bows to her slightly. "I made it myself… from an old bag I had brought from Mercury…"
She knows when Suletta is comfortable in her own skin. It is when she is in the Aerial, it is when she is thinking of her mother, but this was a comfortable without those things. Suletta Mercury stands with her back straight and she is glad to be there behind her mask.
For Miorine, it was no matter to her. If it is what Suletta needed, then why not? "But why?"
She wishes she could see Suletta's eyes, but she cannot, and so the answer is hidden from her except for the one given. "It seemed like… a good idea."
"Well, whoever's telling you these things, they should know better." Who else would dare to talk to Suletta, she could only name them in her mind: Elan, Shaddiq, any number of rivals that all they needed to do was put ideas in her head was to be friendly to her. Miorine knows how Suletta operates.
"You look ridiculous."
And Suletta does not react.
One morning, Suletta Mercury woke up different. But no one seemed to care save for those that had gotten so used to their routines that it shaded the world an unusual color so imperceptible that it changed nothing but its very ferment in a world where people had hardly known of it. Her plants, her garden, her tomatoes kept her in touch with that ferment in a way that she hoped would give her a distinct perspective. She had cultivated creation more than a man working his entire life in this business world could've every harvest.
Suletta had wanted to come here, why, she did not say, but strangely when Suletta asked it was not an ask. It was a demand made by the Holder.
Confidence looked good on her, for that was the first trait that Miorine had noticed. Skittish as she once was, that had no longer been a factor as, somewhere, Suletta realized that she had been who she had been: a Holder, and for all the whispering that she had been a Witch, which had brought with it a certain realization that they were not baseless in their accusations.
If there was a hint of shame to the loss of a version of Suletta Mercury, a part of innocence, Miorine does not think of it.
This change was not something that Miorine had much of a mind to account for, but appearances, like all things in Asticassia, had been, in the end, for the sake of her father.
If Suletta finally cast off her awkward demeanor, that was fine by her.
Why was not something for her to discern or divine.
"So, you're here now." Miorine shrugged. "What, exactly, do you want to do?"
Suletta had always had a matter of perception about her that did not extend down to her day-to-day activities. It was a perception that was best when it was brought through the screens of Aerial's cameras and sensors; those being veils, masks. Her young life spent as Aerial's pilots in the wilds of Mercury have brought her ability there that could not translate to her alone, and yet as she looked out upon those crowds of people in those high halls, she scanned true and considerate.
"I think I'd like to dance." She said with such authority that it did not match the voice which said it, so sweet and young as it was. Were those hints of Guel and his strength, Miorine had wondered? Or was that Shaddiq's confidence? As long as she did not become just another executive-blooded woman, Suletta would be fine remaining by her side.
"We don't dance here." She answered, for she had never danced in her life, despite the insistence of grooms in the past. To dance was to be told that they were a doll to be controlled, and even before she wanted to go to Earth, she had never allowed it, never put herself in situations where she could dance.
"It's on my list though." Suletta turned to her with an efficient cant of her head, her personal phone put up and that list, her list which had held what she had wanted to do there in Asticassia bare.
"You can dance on your own, can't you?"
Suletta is silent for a few moments, her head stuck in that cant before she answers. "It doesn't mean as much without someone, Miss Miorine." Miorine had not noticed this, not with her mask drawing the attention away, but as she moved to offer one hand to her, that hand had been gloved in white. Her gaze followed her hand but did not recognize it was being offered, but eventually she did come to this knowledge and when it did, she squinted her eyes and turned away.
"Don't be such a child."
Suletta Mercury had changed, and if it were so easy to prescribe wearing a mask then she had been so brittle already that Suletta Mercury had never been a person as much as she had been a malleable vessel.
Elan of brooding stoic nature did not seem to exist anymore, as he had disappeared after their duel. It would have been easy to say that Suletta had turned into his place now, and assumed what he had been, but that was not the case. Suletta Mercury was not offended or, if she had any avarice, did not show it as she curled her hand back and looked out across that field to those in suits and dresses and the servants and the waiters that waded between them.
Everyone had phases, Miorine justified.
They are great camouflage for those who wish to come upon them, and they always come here with the same asks.
A man's voice calls her name as it approaches, and it is not anyone she recognizes.
It is always the same, an extended hand not taken, followed by a name, a position, a company, and then an idea. Asticassia's business management classes actually teaches this form, and it only goes to show how cookie cutter they all are, right down to this man in a black suit, eagerly talking about the next generation of Martian cured glass that would make, supposedly, a 15% increase in visual clarity with the current generation of mobile suit optics. A quaint idea, but not for her.
Instead, Miorine slides besides Suletta as the man ends his minute pitch, the taller woman easily grabbable by the arm to thread as if Miorine had done it all her life. "I'm afraid I'm not particularly interested at the moment in business."
Suletta's bare arm which she touches tightens for a moment but relaxes.
So, a part of her remains in there, Miorine believes.
Her coded language is translated fast enough in the black suited man's ears: Don't annoy me, or I will mention you to my father in such fashion.
"Right, sorry Miss Rembran. Have a good night." The man's eyes dart between her and Suletta's, but his gaze lasts on Suletta just the slightest longer, captivated by the blackness on her face. Suletta's skin is not pale, the blood of Egyptian stock makes her glow differently when contrasted with red and black. She is not a woman who belongs, but by right does, and there is pressure in her proof that sends the man away.
"I can't stand these fools." Miorine drinks down her flute and as the next service person passes with an empty tray, she naturally deposits it. "All of them think they'd use me to get to my father's favor."
She unhooked her hand from Suletta, and the distance was back between them.
"And what did Guel see in you, then? Your father's favor as well?" Suletta asked, and the quiet of her voice had been less of volume but more in an inward conspiratorial.
Miorine almost laughs at it but beats it down, head tilted up at the ceiling, a roll of the eyes swooping and following as she answered. "A challenge."
Miorine has a class with Suletta, it is the only one they share. A general ed class required of her but, the first time around, she missed because of an unfortunate escape attempt that, at least temporarily, kept her away from the school and inside of Asticassia's vast, endless maze of structural catacombs. For the longest while, Suletta had always been one to raise her hand at the questions of human relations in professional settings, as was what the class was about, and precisely due to its nature she would always answer what had been obviously wrong and the class would chortle and stir and she would be embarrassed for it.
The last time, as a question was asked which the inactive class did not attempt to answer, Suletta did not volunteer. All she did was stare on at the dark dim of the room and the presentation put on.
They walk, idly, through those many halls and many presentation spaces as mobile suits that had been both workers and enemy stand idly like statues to modern deities, for even now as they stood on the floor they were polished and wiped down from any errant dust by workers as executives paid no mind to what their companies made and instead focused on each other.
"Everything here is just for show." Miorine says of the many things she detests about this place.
A man on a dining table to some seating beneath the shadow of one of Grassley Defense System's mobile suits, its great helmeted dome fluorescent in golden glow, cyclopean, frozen, looking down upon the man that does not notice as he shoves spinach in pastries into himself, golden flakes on red table covering.
"These people," Suletta stops at the center of the room, in between the many exhibits, the many stands of mobiles suits above her. "They built these things?"
Heingra, Heindree, Dilanza, and Zowort. Names that come not from creator's love, but all just generated idioms that fit in a serial line. None fall off the tongue as easy as Suletta's own: Aerial. That in sound alone is an individual, and every time Miorine sees it, it moves in motion more alive than the best of Benerit can offer. She knows it is because of its pilot, but in those moments of fire in duel and in calibration, it is hard not to speak the name of Aerial as if was an individual as Suletta regarded her- it.
"Yes." Miorine offered, looking up at the skirt of a Dilanza and seeing its joints. How Guel had been so proud of his own custom model that had been cut to pieces with, literally, no finger lifted from Suletta or Aerial.
On the night that followed Cathedra's birth, how did they all survive? Aerial, with tech that had been of Gundam heritage, how did Cathedra fight against those Gundams rumored to be out there in Space, and all those who had used its technologies in the wars of years prior? Unsung wars, hidden histories, all spooling out like roots from the idea of Gundam. Her father fought them all.
Every page from Delling Rembran's history had been a victory, and yet Gundam was his enemy.
Gundam was the enemy.
A servant girl, tall and lanky as if no had supervised her creation, her voluminous orange hair and dead stare betraying her youth, passes behind Suletta and stares through her. Lost in thought, Miorine tries to find her again in the crowd, but she is gone.
"That's the right answer in my engineering management class for our current subject." Suletta's voice draws Miorine out from unnoticed stupor. "But I don't think that's the truth."
Around them, as executives chatted, as they stood before enormity, men and women not allowed there but for service climbed aboard the metal giants and polished them still.
It was Suletta who led them through, despite Miorine otherwise knowing how these affairs were arranged. In their stride Suletta looked and saw upon supposed captains of industry, heard whispers of engineer ideas, and looked for examples of next generation mobile suits, either in 144/1 scale or 1/1 in examples themselves.
"You can't seriously be enjoying this? Neither of us have to be here." Miorine can only complain about the pressure on her heels and how she walks.
"It might be your last time, Miss Miorine." Suletta answers sweetly instead, and her teeth are white against her lips that seem to melt into the rest of her face, and memories of her, biting into a tomato, for the first time, return to Miorine.
Suletta's teeth are white and pure. Unnaturally so.
But it is confidence in her that chatters them, and it calms her, just for now.
"What if we fight our way out of here?" Suletta's boldness is welcome, but it is quiet, it is unassuming.
"Not with me."
What is a mask for?
It is a barrier. A measure of safety.
Miorine steps closer to Suletta. "How brutish."
She does not respond in words, just a very slight smirk.
The idea of tearing up that entire place, of leaving there nothing to be brought back to, is an intoxicating idea to Miorine, but the brew in her gut is not of alcohol and yet it toxifies the inside of her.
"Use me as you wish, Miss Miorine."
Suletta Mercury had changed, and Miorine could not say how. But useful people were useful, and that was the truth of her life.
Her mood is lightened, and the fact she is out today in these stuffy places, in a dress that shows too much of herself, is not so bothersome.
With Suletta, she can run away. For good. Finally.
"Move forward?" She whispers, and their proximity is perhaps due to her new black mask.
"You gain two." Suletta whispers back, and around them stand giants who have been brought to ground because of her and her power.
How easy, how given, how right. Inexpressible expressions conjure in conspiracy between them and the only ones that matter are her own. What was tonight but a dalliance.
"Aren't you interested in finding out where Elan is? I'm sure he would be here." Miorine backs off and Suletta's smirk remains, her eyes shadowed from God. "He stood you up, didn't he?"
A date unfulfilled, daylight to night, and a man gone missing.
"It is what it is." Suletta said shortly, unbothered, and she stood tall in light of mobile suit shadow.
Maybe it's from years of knowing parental supervision and how to avoid it, but Miorine feels it: the cold, pressing upon her back not in physical tense but rather, in a vibration, in warning that her mind can only give up to her by unexplained circumstance that always ended with her father confronting her. That is why she turns first and sees why she had taken to Suletta's mask so easily: The idea ran in the family.
"Suletta?" The voice of Prospera Mercury was a voice that Miorine knew, but not in intent, not in character, and not from origin. Miorine knew not what the sound of a mother's voice was for a long time, and here Suletta Mercury's mother finds her.
Without sound Suletta turns to her but stays by Miorine's side. Her expression is faceless, and together, the two of them are faceless as Prospera approaches, her shoes tapping coldly against polished floors as a black man whose stature was more like mobile suit than Human ghosted.
"Suletta," Prospera says again, a hint of concern. "You look… wonderful." She forces.
In this borrowed dress, with this new face, Suletta Mercury looks dazzling objectively, that much any can admit, especially Miorine, but there is concern from a mother who wore a mask, about her daughter wearing one as well. She reaches up as they close the distance, but as she does, Suletta pauses in response, and Prospera reaches up no longer.
"Thank you, Mom."
Prospera takes in her daughter, from toe to top to mask and within as only a mother could, but there is hang time in her look that she, who has worn a mask, has forgotten to hide. This was a woman that had not been accustomed to surprise.
It is one of Miorine's favorite motions of overconfidence, but one that cannot be reveled in now as Prospera shifts from daughter to her.
"It was… you who lent her this dress, right?" She asks, and her voice is between two pillars, resonating between each other, hardly held back but kept up for appearances. "Miorine Rembran?" Prospera Mercury says her name and she is remembered in Miorine's eyes as a face in the crowd in the dark, in a scene facing her father.
"Miss Mercury." Miorine bows respectfully, and perhaps the only respect she would show tonight. "And yes, I did."
"Hm." She murmurs, and it is her turn to be observed by another mask, this one metal and utilitarian. Red lipstick below it, the same color as Suletta's hair, bundled up in a hair band still that is her mother's. Suletta had inherited much from Prospera, height and mask, speech, and apparent connection to Gundams. "Suletta, I was able to leave work early to come here and, I haven't had time to get a drink, would you mind finding something for me?"
Miorine is more familiar than she would admit in what transpires before her as Prospera asks. It is a common maneuver, one that came of annoyance, and of pride. Suletta does not move, does not respond as she stands there unmoving, unhearing, as if Prospera had not said anything at all. The boiling tension of words being repeated realized and brought to a peak within seconds until left with no release:
"Of course, mother." Suletta says, crossing her arms in front of her, and pivoting off to places for drink, leaving her mother and Miorine alone, the man behind Prospera barely there at all.
"I thank you, for attending to her." Prospera extended her hand warmly, and Miorine thought nothing of it as she extended her own to take. But Suletta was gone, and none there would bear witness to how her hand was seized, not shaken, and suddenly Prospera Mercury was the one standing, not before mobile suits, but with them.
Pressure. Miorine knew what she was: She was Delling's daughter. No one dared disrespect her, and for that it gave her leeway and privilege as remised as she is to admit it. There was no disrespect levied to her from those who knew better, and, lesser still, the idea that anyone would lay a hand on her. The pressure of Prospera's hand, clenching hers, had been a reminder that not all existed within this system. "What did you do to Suletta?"
By her right as her mother she demanded, but by force she wanted it delivered.
The air is cold, coming through her nose in her lungs as she looks up at a woman who too is masked.
Prospera Mercury's mask, her ailment, and disabilities, it was impolite to ask, and impolite to know. Miorine never looked for what her face really appeared as but now as she was held in place by arm alone, she wondered and wished, even while surrounded by those in their business who would die for her for Delling's favor.
Prospera squeezes her hand tight and expects an answer for her daughter.
In that squeeze, however, reveals much. The hand which squeezed was cold, far colder just from someone whose blood ran thin. Of all the hands she had availed to shake with her own, war veterans are among them. She knows broken people, and she has felt lost hands, phantom limbs. The hand which Prospera took her with had not been her own, for the feel of bone was not bone but rather squared metal. The idea that Prospera had not been Human at all germinates within them both.
Knowing this now, the pressure is not so bad. "I don't know what you mean."
Miorine squared her shoulders, planted her heels in silent grind. She could deal with her own father; another parent executive was just another mark. But Prospera's face did not change, not that she could see. Her grip remained. "You're Suletta's promised wife. If you do not know, then who?"
"What are we talking about?" Miorine poses back, eyebrow raised, her pride at stake.
The pressure is gone all at once and if she was holding her breath Miorine does not know when the grip of her hand stops just short of actual pain, wisely.
"Suletta." She answers. "What she's going through. This isn't right."
"No. More than that." And who would know more about the nature of masks than her? "Something happened to her."
"Really? She's under curfew, you know, and surveillance."
Mentions of a nightmare, a fully eaten candy bar of dark chocolate, minute details further elaborated on that Miorine knew, and in this place, in this situation, she felt not inclined to tell Prospera about.
"Don't act coy. The difference between her now, and then when she first came here, it's not something normal. I know Suletta. This isn't who she's supposed to be."
Parents were always the same, it seemed; how they wanted to slot their children into places.
The lights dimmed, distantly, the main pitches of the night were being made in the main incubation chamber and distant echoes of an announcer reading them off had gone on and on. His words, his voice does not reach them in any understandable fashion. The panes of Prospera's mask glimmer, shimmer, with what light they catch.
"Perhaps it's a matter of perspective." Miorine tells her instead, for she has much experience talking to parents who expect certain trends of their children. "Perhaps this is who Suletta wants to be."
And what is that? She cannot answer, but it is not her place to know or to care about or to direct.
The lights dim further. The man behind Prospera fades into the dark.
"You know nothing of Suletta." How bold Miorine is to say to her mother, but she does not regret it.
"And do you? Daughter of Delling? Do you even know who you are?" Prospera steps forward, and her right hand is reached out, fingers pinched, as if to seize her face, but nothing happens in their plain view scene, where they only mattered, but not in actuality.
"Miss Miorine." A voice calls to her from behind her in the dark and they both stop. A voice she does not know. "I'm sorry to bother the both of you."
"Who are you?" Prospera is not as polite as the woman that has approached them, standing behind Miorine, still in her standing.
She was a short woman with dark skin, and she dressed very simply. She dressed as if she belonged to the distant flowers that decorated the room in the corners, with wide eyes that held the color of Earth itself in them. A yellow dress that seemed more for domestic life covered her form, polite and unassuming, with the collar of it a warm brown. On her forehead lay a dot, a Bindi, from an ancient religion that was so far away. She stood the same height, the same age, maybe older, as Miorine, and with her dress her form seemed larger, the winds taking her.
"My name is Layla." Her voice was that of an Indian class, so unlike the professionally managed and the well-toned in neutral that had defined all those that came to space that had been so much of a Western anglosphere . Layla wore no tag, and, as far as anyone could tell, belonged to no group, but if there were mysteries within her to discern there would be no time for Prospera to uncover. "Elnora, may I borrow her?"
A name, from somewhere else, wrapped up in itself as Miorine stands between this woman named Layla, and someone known as Prospera Mercury.
The give of Prospera's lips, uncoupling from each other, gives way to the question unspoken as she stands in the dark.
"That's not my name." The antimony on Prospera's tongue is in two parts in sound and meaning. A tension that had always been there shimmers through, and Miorine can feel it as it strands through her to this woman in yellow who seemed hardly phased in purposeful ignorance. All the stranger can do is smile.
"Sorry," she bowed once slightly. "I tend to address people by who they really are."
Silence between, the dark spreads. Prospera permeates the silence as if a long pause, her turn, the board left to her in a game that she has not played.
"A… business name?" Miorine offers back to Prospera as she stands, and her eyes are hidden and yet not. Her hand comes up to her hip, but they are indistinct in their movements before they hang at her sides.
"A family one." Prospera addresses, but her gaze, hidden as it is, remained on Layla who smiles up at her. "Who are you? Answer me, young lady."
All Layla can do is smile, the crinkling sound of glass breaking distant, but drawing the three of them to look away and see what has happened: A server has bumped into Suletta, and at the two of their feet broken glass remains. Suletta stands over her looking down, down.
"Oh, it's a shame she wears a mask." Layla turns back to Prospera. "Suletta has very pretty eyes."
She does, Miorine realizes. From whom does she get them?
On common ground Prospera and Layla talk, but it is a familiar feeling: adults talking over her on a base she does not know. That is why she had grown up faster than her peers in this world, cutthroat and cold.
Layla's hand is warm as she touches her forearm. "Come with me?"
Miorine looks back to Prospera, nameless and faceless, and then to distant Suletta, frozen still as a server apologizes for her mistake. "Don't worry," Layla tells her quietly. "She has a loving mother, doesn't she?"
Something that Miorine had long not had. Prospera, her shoulders lift, the slightest impression that she is moving back amplified as Layla leads her away. She would follow, she should've. But she was not spoken to in those moments past. Layla was not addressing Prospera Mercury, and neither was the whisper at her neck, burning hatred down her spine that she had only felt from the inside, not the out. She is frozen, and she is shown her place, as an invisible hand, from an invisible vessel, fingered her as if to gather her up, strand by strand. If she turned around, she knew what she would see, and the coiling fire inside of her that had been there for twenty-one years turns over to a cold, darker than space. The voice that breathed upon her back was the voice that was always there.
She knows now who has brought themselves now upon Suletta and shown her the way. It is a force that spoke to her, and all those like her, for they always must be.
"Masks distort so many things." The breath said, dripping red. "Have you become the mask?"
An eternal story. Sins of the forbearer, passed down to creation. No choice could be had from this voice that had been there at its formation, who had not been pleased with the world that had come from its consul. Here she had remembered she was not a progenitor of her trade.
Prospera Mercury turns, and no forgiveness could be conjured.
Miorine does not get far, but just far away to leave Prospera behind, through the crowd of people, of those who naturally make way for any who are attached to the daughter of Delling himself. These crowds form in and around her, above them, banners for mobile suits she can hardly know the name of or care for their function. All of them were obsolete, restricted by fear itself.
Around them were people who had worked within that fear, and because of that they were all cowards save for the woman that dared drag her away, as if Miorine were caught on her wings, the dress light around her form and easily catching the breeze of her flight.
She tore away, and where she found herself in that incubation event had been in the very heart of it: a room, dimly lit save for the giant screen the size of Aerial itself. It was a giant hall, and it hosted larger ambitions. What a force money was, for all those there were flued to that screen that spoke of figures of capital wealth that a million years of an Earth before their time could not conjure up.
"Stop this. Who are you?" Miorine asked of Layla, who had turned on her heels but had hidden her form from all with the bay and float of her dress, she walked with an even gait with hardly a sound, floating, floating.
An old love of hers came to mind, frail Yushura often walked with hardly a sound, and the impression that this woman before her walked with that same delicate gait is entrancing, if not for her mystery out of nowhere. Layla looks at her innocently. "I said I am Layla."
"Layla Rei. Let's say." She held her hands behind her back and leaned forward as if offering herself, quite amused at her own words, the two dark buns on either side of her head that had been of her hair much like Chuchu's. She was a cute woman, who exuded a grace that made her permeate above the tension of all those there. None, save for shy glances, looked at them. Surrounded by people they were alone before a digital god as ideas came up on the screen and a figure yet filled ran up and up, only to fall and fall. The pitch, and the downfall.
Less than 5% of all ideas who came here to be pitched to a wider investor base ever found their mark. So today, in a polite ceremony of that incubation event, it had been an annual massacre.
"What do you want with me?" It was always the case why people often called of her.
The young Layla, who had exuded that youth eternally so, spoke. "You seemed to be in a bad spot. I just wanted to take you away before you got initiated." It was an earnest word of someone speaking to her, not as Miorine Rembran, but rather, something else. A victim to be.
"I could've handled myself." Miorine cannot help but be annoyed, crossing her arms. One executive was as good as another in that world, and it had not been the first time an adult had tried to press themselves onto her for the sake of getting close to her father.
"I'm sure you can, Miorine, but sometimes it's nice to have some help from time to time, isn't it?"
To admit either way would be to hurt her pride, and that Miorine did not allow as she stood in silence. Another pitch had come up on the screen, another military application to crunch military efficiency numbers even higher, and yet those marginal increases were never enticing enough for the average investor. It rose and fell in less than a minute, and that had been about the standard fare for the night that had become routine, but, even then, the two of them watched on from their place on the floor at its very edge, drawn to the morbid curiosity of an something living and dying before them so simply, brutally, in the hail of numbers.
Miorine had never seen Layla, or anyone like Layla on campus or among the executives there, so, perhaps, she was a newcomer, come from a place that had been overly friendly, overly concerned. She opened her mouth to explain what this was, but Layla shook her head before the sound:
"I know what this is. It's such a terrible thing, isn't it?" She gestured with her arms; hands hidden within her sleeves. "They bet with their wealth and their dreams for this idea that they can will their own futures into form." A circle unfulfilled. Layla speaks as if she knows the world, but Miorine does not know her face, her voice, her own standing in the world. She does not know who this person is who walks in those places with hardly a care. "But they rely on other people for it."
"I'll ask you again, and only once, who are you?" She sounds like her father like this. She knows this only so she can point it out and never do it again.
(She can never do so.)
Someone was always something. Names meant only so much in that place whose names often only followed titles such as "Chief Executive" or "Officer of Business." To what did Layla find herself attached to was the question and yet the answer was in how she walked, how she stood. She was attached to nothing. "I'm a visitor, you see, and I am told that you are the person to find if they want to see this time and place, truly."
"Me? No." Miorine scoffed, looking away at the crowd, the failed investor catching her eye as he turned away and downed his champagne flute and stormed off. Layla's accent made her odd words acceptable. "I want to leave this place."
"No, you don't." Layla had said so simply as if correcting a wrong.
"I don't think that's what you want. It's not what I want, after all." Layla had cupped her face, leaning in to Miorine.
Miorine leaned back, but not so far away. There was an unmalleable draw to her. She smelled like rain. (But Miorine has never experienced it before. She does not question why she knows it.)
"How would you even know that?"
"Because I know all about you, Miorine Rembran." As did all her grooms, all her marriages to be so proclaimed. But Layla says so not as right, but as fact. Not as a matter of boast or care, but simply as a matter of here, and now.
"Hm. Sure." Amusing, but a distraction nonetheless, this girl. "Ask one of the servants for help, I can't help you."
"I do not need help." Layla touched her cheek, but the cute face was not enough for Miorine to stay. "I just wanted to see you do what you are to do."
People pass them by to parts different to do business or in shame of a failed venture. In the dark they are shapes, and yet Layla's color persists. Miorine turns to move, but she cannot look away from her. Another business venture is pitched on normal suits, on an updated version of them that would allow the user to feel what the fingertips of the suit did for EVA based mechanical manipulations. It does not pass as predictable, and in that time all Miorine can do is look and stare at Layla as she smiles back at her. She knows the feeling of her father's men watching her constantly, to guard her or to make sure she stares on that station, but Layla's eyes peer sharper, peer deeper. They are eyes that demand to be looked back into for if they were not seen they would forever be lost.
"And… what am I to do then?" She asks, as if she would know, unknowing of the fact that perhaps she had an answer.
Layla nods, bridging the distance between them and taking her hands in her own. This close, this touch, she is soft. There is no danger in her.
"Why would you want to go back to Earth? Are you not called by something else?" A question answered by a question.
It is what she was known for in her escape attempts, and indeed anyone who dared ask would know.
"You're not one of Shaddiq's girls, are you?" How after she denied him, he seemed to surround himself with them. If there was envy or jealousy it never passed by her mind.
Questions, so many questions, but no answers that would quell the curiosities.
Layla had shaken her head once, closing her eyes. "In this world of conspiratorial thinking, I present myself, and only myself to you. A pleasant change, don't you think? From people who hide their intentions or wrap themselves in endless thought. I think so. It's all so tiring, not being able to understand people." She spoke straight, and yet in the rhythm of riddles. Her language was perfect yet imperfect.
"Oh, so you understand me then. Miss Rei?"
"Just Layla, is fine." Layla squeaked at the amusement of such formal addresses, speaking at a tone of politeness. "And yes, I do. I understand your place, beneath people in power. You alone are not the only one who ever sought freedom, especially from fathers."
If she were to run away, she would be divested of all that she came from, she believes. Even her name, and she had sought to get rid of that first, even if no replacement is readily available. Maybe Audrey, maybe Mirai, maybe a boy's name, even, a thousand different names that could feel right in that moment as she touches upon the Earth for the first time in her life and air of an eternal motherland baptizes her. That is when she would assume a new name and build from scratch a life unburdened by her origins star bound. Her heart would be her own clay, and she would shape it until it hardened into an image of her own creation if she could.
"You would run and leave everything behind?" Layla asks her, straight, short, and narrow.
"Yes." Miorine decides, and her fist curls.
"She wants me to."
"Is that so?'
"Why do you ask so many questions?"
"Is this not a school where people like us learn?"
Predictable. More questions, and more, wider discoveries and natures.
"It's taught me nothing."
"Then let me teach you."
"Teach me what?"
A doctor, a man, who insists on giving his own pitch, walks to the spotlight even as he bites the tip of his thumb in silent anxiety. He is dressed not in a suit, but in the clothes of his profession, and in light he shines brighter, like a star, as his pitch goes up on the screen and many oohs and ahhs follow the image of a computer and a double helix. Miorine is not paying attention. Not as the doctor speaks of a computer that can read minds and intention and potential. There was an old saying, one that espoused that technology past a point of advancement had been indiscernible from magic. An origin then for why they called those who rode Gundams witches. The potential of all those seen through Gundam had been of that arcane belief and, even today, even as only myths to her generation, it scared many.
He fails, he falls, but he seems unbothered as the circle barely reaches 12%. He had tried his best and melted back into the dark of the crowds watching.
"Is your father out there?" In those crowds unwashed and gummed up. Miorine asks her, but Layla shakes her head with a slow bow, she taking a moment to consider herself inward, crossing her arms with sleeves so wide they draped down from her arms like great yellow curtains.
"My father is back on Earth." She is from Earth. The realization of that hits Miorine hard and cold. Why would anyone want to come to this place? She regrets the thought when she remembers Suletta. "I don't know him well, but I know why he did what he did to me." Her contemplativeness never holds her, for, it seems, she has had much of that in her life. "Have you ever tried to understand your father?"
"What is there to understand? He is a man who treats people like tools. And when my mother died-" She catches herself, and snaps to Layla as if to blame for those final words, she looks on in her innocence, wide eyed greens staring into her patient and understanding. She never spoke about her mother, and her, with this woman, she had been compelled to speak of her for the first time in years.
Her mother dead those ten years since did carry her into the future and left her alone in a world where her father had ordained all but herself.
She did not love her father, and she only dreamed of her mother for mercy's sake: someone that could have stopped the life she lived and replaced it with something better. Miorine Rembran: a pale, thing child who grew up without want, but all needs went unanswered in the place of her that followed behind her like a shadow. In her dreams, Miorine hears a song, off her mother's lips, from creators lost to time and war. Before Asticassia, she can hardly remember her life: the smear of stars from ship to ship to station to station on a war effort and great campaign that culminated in end sieg so quieted that even the world seemed so fast to consecrate and put away back into its past, faster than time could put away.
"Haven't you ever been troubled, Miorine?" Layla asks so smally dropped pins had more permanence. "I'm sure your father suffers the same as you."
"He has the power to do something about it. I don't."
Layla is warm in her breath, and her gaze upon Miorine. "You really do misunderstand yourself, Miorine Rembran."
The pitches go back and forth, and they keep going and going, failing, and failing. Still, as they all go on the crowd shifts out and in until it remains as once as those looking on for their great chance at wealth and power beyond the likes of which any could Humanly accrue slides before them, through their fingers, because no one wanted to contribute to each other.
This slaughter the two of them are witness too, and any thought that Miorine has of leaving Layla's side to find Suletta, the feel of walking away from her as she stands before the screen on the floors far end, it is a thought that impedes and frightens her deep down.
She had felt this, one day before: left behind in a cathedral, the last company of a dead mother.
It would feel like leaving her again.
That is what Layla puts upon her.
They watch this massacre playout, and it is the same story as it had been this year as it had been in the last.
Layla, they talk idly, and she speaks of such pleasant things, unlike the words of any Miorine has heard in her life. Grandiose ideas of different cloth: not quarters or financials or technological advancements. She speaks of the rain, of the nature of space itself, the village which she grew up in and how she had been sold into servitude until a man, a man which she loved and he loved her back very much so, took her from that life and brought her to space and then the story was complete, or rather, she told that story no further.
"A man with a mask came to save you?" Miorine says, leaning against the wall, the cool of its surface against her bare back detracting from the pain in standing in heels for so long.
Layla connects her hands behind her back and nods. "I told you, Miorine, I know who you are, because I was once you."
The cold spreads throughout her back, and she shuts her eyes imagining herself as her, in that place. "Life cannot be like that for everyone."
"No," Layla tilts her head. "But it is for us."
"For us." Miorine repeats. "You speak like you know that for a fact."
"Perhaps." The word hangs between them like stale air.
"I wonder where Suletta is…" She looked over her shoulder, but she dared not move. People kept her difference, and that was enough for her as Layla joined her near shoulder to shoulder.
"She'll find her way."
In the nights of Asticassia when Miorine cannot sleep, she looks out from her office turned bedroom out on the great lawns of the land. When she first came to this school first as a resident, there had still been flesh and blood groundskeepers, doing their best to trim greenery that had come from Earth itself to try and liven and make natural this place, built into the hull of an asteroid that was among some of the oldest resource projects in that Lagrange point. The trees, the grass, they were all carved from the Earth and brought with haste to Asticassia, and here, they were forced to grow. An army of groundskeeper and cultivated the green onto the steel, and, for a while, the plants had been okay, beautiful even, and all of the students and faculty had often gone to those trees to lay in their shade to remember, or to see for those of them that had never been to Earth, what it was like to interact with nature as Humans were intended to feel.
One day, however, the groundskeepers were gone.
They tried to unionize, Miorine remembered, and for that they were sent away, and replaced.
They were replaced by automated drones, offshoots of Haros. They were programmed with the exacting measurements and schedules as needed according to scientists who make far more money in their field than those who actually go to the dirt. They were designed to maintain a perfect schedule, to make perfect examples of growth, and for a while, the Haros did, justifying the automation of the groundskeepers. They would float in their chassis and deposit their seed, their water upon the land and that would be it, no more no less than what was required of them by specification.
It is this and why she remembers why she is so insistent on growing tomatoes on her own, because of this. It is not as if she particularly favors vegetables of her own over those that the dining halls of Asticassia stock. The act she finds herself drawn to is in the cultivation itself, the rearing and raising of something.
It was the grass that started to lose its bluegrass sheen first, how hard it became, away from its lush surface that many students had been content to spend days on. They had looked perfect still, inoffensive, but unaccommodating.
Then it was the trees, less full in their bush, less colorful in their eternal spring that they looked like scribbles upon the image of Asticassia than fully realized, living things.
The trees, the grass, the flowers, they became exacting in their image, as was designed, and made for, but they lost their lives to become scenery, not a part of the world.
With Human touch alone were they made imperfect, and in imperfect care they became the best of themselves in space.
She had missed when Asticassia truly bloomed, and in part that is why she wanted to leave.
Asticassia, and all its sister stations and all the colonies in every Lagrange point across Sol, they were worlds that had been created perfectly, ideal, for those who were at liberty to create those worlds. She was born of them, and yet wanted nothing of it.
This pitch is an inspired but fantastical one in its nature. A woman takes the stage, the jazz band that is there to provide inoffensive ambience dims, and if they had been there the entire time no one noticed and that was the purpose. She was a doctor too, in burgundy wear and dark gold hair, and she held in her hands a cross of white metal.
"This," she started. "Is how we can improve the ability of our mobile suit pilots to communicate instantaneously."
She went on, but Miorine did not listen. Communication was never easy, and it lingered in her mind as the woman's voice echoed and Layla too seemed not particularly interested as if she had already heard this once before, a deft knowledge in her eye as her words ghosted the woman's speech before she even uttered.
"I've never been good at understanding people." Miorine remembers Layla's words. An explanation and excuse. How else could she understand herself even?
There is sympathy in the older girl's eye, genuine, and simple, her head tilting back and forth in consideration as Miorine looks away. "Don't look away." Layla says.
Layla looks across to the people in front of them, their backs to them. Maybe some listen, maybe not, but they all look upon that screen of numbers and dreams which crushes them and is bright all the same. "Look to them, any of them. That man there, see him?" Layla points to a man up in the upper seating, dressed formal all the same, his arms crossed over as he looks down upon the main floor. He is an older man, who, he too, has since this incubation event happen again and again.
Miorine nods, squinting that distance, but she sees him. "Can you tell his opinion? His presence here?"
"Look at her." Layla points to a woman in the jazz band, a blonde who wails rueful lyrics through a voice that is controlled to not be heard. "Or him." A servant, who is not accounted for by any as he tries to maneuver through the crowds ferrying more drink, for what is required of him for the night. These servants, they live away from the population of Asticassia, in put away buildings and below the surface and they arrive out of that ground like ghouls to serve, and only serve, in that world that has limit.
The woman, giving her pitch, holding her cross out, it is her that Miorine again lays her eyes on instead through the crowd.
She is a beautiful woman, swaying with authority in what she says yet it is not enough as the circle behind her back barely fills. The empty circle instead then, is an empty figure in its hollow radiancy.
Layla sees her, Miorine, look upon her between the crowds. Her lips were moving, mumbling to herself, her hands curling and holding against herself.
"This," the woman cries out. "Contains the Human spirit!"
Miorine mumbles wordless sounds, as if trying, as if knowing, finding an answer to a question she does not know. Her eyes drift, to people, to their forms, to their faces. She is suddenly looking for something, something in them, around them, having caught her eye like a mirage.
"Do you know who they are? Do you know why they are all here?"
Miorine cannot answer, not as she looks upon people, and people more, wondering if Suletta is there among them all, but Suletta is not. There are no friends here for her. The people of that crowd move and shuffle like a constantly moving function of waves on Earth's vast waters, the shape of people there, but no pure example exists as each and every have their opportunity upon the stage, only to be failed by each other.
There is something in her mind, looking at all these people. It fizzles, and she can hear the sound.
"Power." She blurts.
"Power." Layla nods. "Do you know that Gundams represented power?"
"Huh- what?" Miorine is spooked where she stands, called upon. People keep their distance, but they surround her. They surround her, and yet none regards her. Dozens. Hundreds. The lights above are dim.
"They all seek power, but they have all already found it." Layla tells her, looking back to the exhibitions, the figures there that tower over all, and the red that now colors the floor beneath them. Miorine does not notice that so. "You have found it."
You have power.
A finger of Miorine curls in front of her mouth, her concern on her face not hidden. "Aerial isn't…" How much she sounds like Suletta then.
Layla opens her mouth, as if impressed, and then amused. "So, you know which I refer to? Or are you like your father in that he alone can account for what a Gundam is?" A secret, hidden by no one, that should be kept from God. A horrible thing, and she has come much too close to it. "Aerial is very much like a Gundam, and because of that, you have that power now. You, who says you do not have power."
She is in that crowd all the same, who know power, but do not have it because of their own design. In a perfect world, no Gundams would be, and her father strives for it. Yet this was not a perfect world. Far from it. Can't she change it then if she has this power?
The thought arises in her, and it burns in her throat. It is quite easy to think of her, with her hands, directing Suletta… her Witch. All the power, none of the trouble herself of piloting it, from a groom that was happy to be beneath her. She looks at her hand and it feels like it burns, as voices of the crowd consummate into white noise.
The voices speak of temptation.
And Layla points with her hands to people and people, and each time Miorine's eyes follow. Can't you understand them, she asks her in all but word, and she sees people she knows and people she doesn't in the smear of the life of business. She knows why they are here, she just knows, to explain otherwise is to out herself.
In private sermon, Layla speaks to her. "Here you are, in their skin, even if you want to leave, this will remain in you." Is it accusation or observation, Miorine cannot tell, and she wants to leave now, here, in that moment, but as is all, she cannot, for Layla is talking to her.
"You said you wanted to watch me… do. Do what?"
"Your destiny," Layla answers calmly as if not the word she said, weighed down by its meaning. "Your promised course."
"You don't know my destiny."
"Of course, I do. It was mine. Victim to those who use Gundam." Her dress is the color of the brightest sunrise, and even the dim of the lights could not beat it down. "You are its subject, and you are its holder. You are given its privilege and at hazard of its consequences as it always has been."
"I don't appreciate someone speaking nonsense."
"Life is nonsense, Miorine Rembran. And this is less nonsense than where we find ourselves." She says cutely. "In fact, I quite think it's your turn now if you wish to understand more."
Before Miorine can protest, to know what she means, her hand is seized, and she is taken, dragged by heels, by this woman who does as Suletta says: move forward. The crowd parts, and in such a setting her instincts tell her not to struggle so as to make a scene. She is dragged, and then, before her heels break, she follows, Layla's grip on her still but not tight. As she wades through that crowd before her of adults, Miorine does not want her to let go.
She wants Suletta to be there, but Suletta cannot be called for, not as, surrounded by all, she is more alone than anything in an infinite sea of individuals.
And she is led, and she does not know why she follows, as Layla takes her through a crowd of people who all regard her, in quiet whispers, in warm smiles, in hands held out for her to touch with her palm softly, and then to Miorine. They all look upon her in welcoming. The crowd is different, the crowd has changed. The crowd is deep, and it goes on for long that the center of the room they are approaching never seems to get there. Miorine is not tall enough to know better, but it is not distance, but people she is shuffling through:
Fathers and sons and holy ghosts. These are not the men and women who fought among themselves for capital, dressed in linens so expensive their names are ancient on Earthen balance sheets. The names that surrounded her now were put into a different book of different accounting, written in a different tongue. She sees them all, in the places of those that were supposed to be there.
How do I know?
There are two queens there, alike in look but not in origin, they stand like a reflection gone awry standing before her, a single knight before them both who stands like Suletta in infinite innocence and the purity of his mission.
How do I know?
A princeling, a lock of his hair twirled, and an eyebrow raised to her, his father looking at her from beyond, great, and ugly and beleaguered.
A bread maker, a fighter, a child, they come into vision ahead of those who practice empty businesses, dressed in their skin. The announcer's calls become quiet and suddenly all the world is still, a hundred eyes look to her and are her witness in ways different than she had known in all her life. If vision alone could capture then she was enraptured in all of them, held as singular subject before the floor at the behest of Layla. She is not her father's daughter now. She is something else in the eyes of all those there. She twists and turns and sees those eyes look upon her, and there is expectation as she follows through to center of the stage.
How do I recognize you?
Pilots, so many pilots and soldiers and fighters. Winds of history flow through their arms and legs and they are still as it whips her and dries and colds her skin and bones. Surely, she had seen their names, seen their faces on reports and in the presence of those who wished her father's attention, and yet they are unfamiliar still.
These were those that had lived lives not catered to an infinite game of numbers going up as she thought she among like kind.
A mother, whose small pupils beset a plain face holds her husband at arm's reach with their children between them, and a master of martial arts lay dead and dying and frail but still there. Great innovators and meisters stand together in their plans but all pivot toward her, and they are all marked, marked by a familiar aura. She knows this aura well for it came in the form from a Witch from Mercury.
Captains of ships whose names are lost and rhyming with ancient parables stand with arms crossed and judge her, but they stand in shadowed darkness as their crew await the main festivities of which they were called to witness and participate in.
Who are you people?
They know her.
"We are here for the Agama," Layla says in a word that floats perfectly in her accented language. "It is yours, after all, for which we are concerned."
An orchestration beset her there, just as all the world had been orchestrated against her it felt since her time alive. As if arranging themselves for a ceremony the onlookers, the witnesses, had fallen into place in a spectating circle around her kept back by the spotlight down. Symbols and signage foreign were posted on their breasts, and in all of them Miorine recognizes none. Eagles and angels, golden crosses and giant Vs.
"I'm only here because of Suletta." She grinds and grits as if the attention of the night, if there was any, was to be toward her and not herself.
"Exactly." Layla turns to her as she moves forward, walking backward, her dress covering her legs and feet, the impression that she is floating more real than any zero-gravity section she has known.
The band plays on, but no pitches are made. The room seemed all turned to her, but it is not the first time that this has been the case.
She was Delling Rembran's daughter, after all.
She is Miorine Rembran.
She has her place.
Layla brings her to it.
"I'm sorry." She finally pulls away from Layla before they find themselves at one end of the crowd, a barrier from the opening politeness that had separated the main stage from all those who pitched and witnessed. Their many faces look down upon her expectantly, and Layla remains. "I don't belong up there. You're making a scene."
"Am I?" Layla tilts her head, looking to man and woman alike in their proximity, and they do not seem to notice her or be bothered at all. "I am confused. Is this not your place?"
Asticassia. Incubation. Where those are born.
"You may leave if it's not." Layla tells her, but Miorine turns.
Many eyes, many faces. They look upon her and there is no space between them. They seem at ease, and liable to move for her, but further than their place is Beyond. She cannot see it. Too much trouble to go back, she tells herself. She looks around to faces by her shoulder, and they are not strangers. No one there is strangers. She wants to ask them who they are, but she does not ask questions to those for which she had answers.
In all her life, she had only herself to rely on. In a place where she was alone it would remain still.
Her hand does not let move to her phone, to dial Suletta, to know if she is out there.
The call would not connect anyway.
On her shoulders are the blonde, holding the cross, and the doctor from before, still existent despite their failures as they look upon her, and they are solid. Their backs are to the crowd at large so as for her not to be subsumed, but as she lay between, Suletta's truth remains: there was only ever one place to go.
Behind Layla is the stage of the Incubator, where the lights from above signal down to. The announcer has left, the band remains in silent trepidation. There is a schedule for these events and, apparently, without her knowledge, she is accounted for her.
"It's your time, Miorine." Layla tells her.
"To do what?"
"I cannot say, but I know. We know."
"I- there's." Miorine cannot hold herself. The room is so quiet. "Who are you people? How do I know all of you?" She twists and turns, to the doctor and the blonde. They look at each other in silent confidential talk. "Answer me!" Miorine demands. "Nanai! Kamille!" She demands, and she speaks their names, and they are the first time she has ever spoken them and the force of it shocks her and echoes in those halls, and she steps back from that recoil, slapping hand over mouth far too late.
The dictionary and appendix in her mind of people and places and names and companies had been large and vast before tonight, and she had always assumed it so by the life she lived and damnable knowledge inherited by the world she grew up in. She would trade all that knowledge for the world for the world and what it gave her had no right to put it upon her. If in its case of being useful she used it. She had conferred those businessmen with Earth, promising or implying marriage to either them or their sons in exchange for arrival on Earth (for she had no intent on remaining chained to them when she got there). Many refused, but there was a long list of her head for coincidental meetings, and it remained there still. An intuitive list of names, taken from long lists, ranging from one down to the hundreds because of the Benerit Group. The list of names in her mind is the closest thing she knows to a Bible, for, she once believed, salvation had been in there and her savior's name was written.
But Doctor Bidan's name was not of that list.
But Nanai Miguel's name was not of that list.
He looks down on her, a man who had found his life full of years beyond time could account for, and he looks at her as if she had known him from that life. "Go." He motioned, tipping his chin from her to Layla. "It's going to be alright."
Behind her, Miss Miguel touches upon her back with a gentleness reserved for those who were reserved. "You'll be safe." She tells her, and Miorine's mind swirls still further.
In her mind, history fills over her mind like ice over glass panes, those angular lines crossing over, and over, downward, and downward. They strike down, and then up, those lines, and she feels as if they may sprout from her head and extend out from her.
She knows them.
"You drugged me. By touching me. I-" Miorine whips her gaze upon Layla, and even in her accusation she knows its false. Layla would not do that to her. Layla loves her, she knows. Somehow. The light behind her is bright, and the darkness that seems to hover over, dim light going dimmer, is a force far more present than Miss Miguel's touch. "A nightmare. This is a nightmare. Like what Suletta went through."
Suletta spoke of it, very early on, and then no longer: details of a man, and a woman, who had held her into place and put her to History.
"Not a nightmare." Layla tells her. "A stage."
"I'm not going out there." She shakes her head.
"If you don't, you won't understand."
"Understand what?!" She screams, she yells at Layla, and she is unphased.
"All of us. Him. Her. Me. Suletta."
Out there, Miorine sees, is where everyone in that place wants to be but she is not accord to. That is what she tells herself. The numbers on the stage above roll and it is a number never enough.
"I have nothing." She protested.
"You have everything within yourself." Layla's lips are soft, and her eyes are kind. "We are all here for a dance."
Is Suletta among the crowd? Has she willed, as she had in the turmoils of that school, the dance that she wants? Miorine looks for her, but she is not there.
"A dance." Layla nods, and the irony is thick, but the position is true. "We are here for the dance. Or more specifically, your role in the dance. To witness it, as all of us do."
"I'm not a dancer."
"But you must dance. As we all have." She gestured and her arms were like wings to encompass all. She is warm in the wind she conjures, and as Miorine breaths it burns within her. "A dance is an arrangement that is complete within itself, and it is in the act that the dancers take it on because it contains us. The dance is long, but it is written, and it is perfect because it is a dance that requires us for our purpose, written for our measure. In this dance, we find not only who we are, but why we are there in relation to our patterned places and forebearers. We understand each other as part of the condition between dancer and the dance.
"You're crazy. You're insane." Miorine sees her words and they speak in tangles to her. She speaks it true. Without stutter, without regret.
"You're the one who says that they would run away from themselves."
"This place isn't me!" She shrieks.
"Yet it contains you."
"It was never my choice!"
"Yet the one you make always has you return here. The dance calls to you, and yet you try to run away from it."
"They stop me! Each and every time! I am due for something better than this!"
Bidan and Miguel seem to cringe, looking up and away from Miorine as if to avoid those words.
"You do not understand. You belong here." Layla says to her, so obvious in color.
"Why! Can you answer me that at least, whoever you really are!?"
"You have said it yourself, Miorine Rembran. You are here, because Suletta is." Contained within herself, as Layla said, was that dance, that line, that she followed. "Because that is how it always is." Layla's thin fingers gesture to her face, her palm covering it, eyes through the gaps between her fingers. "Especially for those like us."
She is the impression of white, and she is black, dark. They are the same somehow in reflection of each other because the steps they take are in coordination with each other, regarding each other.
"Which is what?"
"Those who bear the curse of Gundam."
"I don't pilot Aerial! That's Suletta!"
"Are you sure about that? Suletta?"
Suletta Mercury, she is (she was) a meek girl, optimistic, but unable to properly express it. She was a girl who came to Asticassia for the hope of herself, and the hope of all those in her homeland. She knew from day one here right from wrong and acted on it in ways far simpler than the world that they had made led them believe to be actionable. She knew what she was doing when piloting Aerial because she was vindicated in her convictions in simple belief, because she was a simple person. Suletta Mercury had no secrets to Miorine.
Is there offense that rises in Miorine on behalf of her groom? Is there malice in her fist as she curls?
What would Layla look like, crushed beneath Aerial's palm? What would she look like, eviscerated by a beam saber?
Very vividly, Miorine steeps into the image in her mind, of what that looks like.
"I hate you. I'm leaving."
"Do not look away, Miorine Rembran. You are always going to come back to a stage."
The lights above are down upon them.
This is a nightmare, Miorine rationalizes, but it is a nightmare not of fear, but of infinite frustration that her mind has given her such an abstract situation, before an impossible girl.
"I'll leave this place behind, and never think of it again."
Layla shakes her head. She turns, and she walks to that stage herself, onto it. She walks with an abundance of confidence, or perhaps the understanding of danger, of embarrassment, was not present as she wades into the white light of a floor where entire lives have led up to being, the stars sparkled down upon her in brilliant rays and her hair is the sheen of ink black blue, and her dress's color seems almost too bright to bear.
"I cannot tell you what you are to do, because if you knew, perhaps you would absent yourself, you would run away from what your fate, and in this dance, that cannot be. For it requires you, as it required me, entirely. I did not question the rightness of these events, not as much as I questioned those who I danced with. When I fulfilled my part, I finally understood, and I still observe this dance to this day."
"What are you?" Miorine speaks with hardly a word. She does not remember speaking at all.
"You know who I am."
"I do not wear a mask, Miorine Rembran. It is not I that wears the mask. And neither do you. Who you are is bare to see for all who have come. That is the way of things!" Layla raises her voice, for the first time, and in her shrill it echoes further. She follows her own sound, deeper to the stage, until she is upon rings put there by fanfare and design of the dramatic engineers that which for pomp of power. She stands there, at the center of it, away, but no less close to Miorine as she speaks. "All the world is a stage for you," And she spins among invisible rain as the lights dim out, one by one, as if deignited by God. "You, Miorine Rembran. You, who wishes to bare the curse of the White Devil. The Dark History of the Gundam is one written in blood, as all laws are of the world."
Who pens laws but the survivors, the rulers, the vindicated by history upon the world they live on.
"I don't bear this curse! Or anything like that! It is my father's work, not mine!" Her protests only vindicate other listeners, other watchers, but suddenly Miorine is not caring for them or the scene, the step she takes forward that which puts her in that long sea of emptiness out of the crowd. She does not notice.
"Is this your father's fault?" Layla says. "Your misfortune that as ordained by your birth?"
"Was it your father who killed your mother? Was it your father who created a the Gundams that have put upon your Time? Was it your father who created this system which you all live now?"
"He is a part of it!"
"As are you. As are you. In your very nature you are these things which you seek to run away from. Not toward, but away. You will never stop running if that is your plan to do so, and it is not your place to run." It was Suletta before who had come to Miorine and regarded her not as her father's daughter, but as Miorine. Here, Layla knows completely who she is without the connections that tied her to other perceptions. She is stunned, she is silenced, she does not know what to say, but this was not a place of saying. "Do you know why Suletta wears the mask?"
"I don't care." She did, and she lied to herself, and she has told herself many lies and given that many in return to those before her.
Layla's head tilts again, and her neck is exposed to the light. "It is because she too understands at some level that she is not who she claims to be, in her knowledge of what is. That is why those who wear the mask do: to disguise themselves from their own souls in the mirror, to other themselves. But we," Layla brings her hands in. "We see through those masks, whether we like it or not, and see who people really are."
"Then why can't I find Suletta now?!"
"Because Suletta is special in her place, as you are opposed to her. Suletta wears the mask because she is the mask."
"Then what am I?" Miorine is compelled to ask instead, for her own sake. If she was okay, then all would be fine.
"What I was." Layla reminds her. "Witness, and that which shows them the way."
A role to play. A person to be.
If she were to run, there would be nowhere to run to anymore. When she looks back, those many mobile suits on display are gone now, replaced with an unmistakable type of figure, and all of them, looking toward her. Defined by gold V-fins and in blazing white, distant mirages of white devils stand guard over the scene.
"What is there to see? Whatever it is, I'm not interested." A part of her heart, closed away, to people. It always had been. She lived in her own walled garden.
Layla chuckled once, twice, bringing her finger to her lips. It is a light laugh, but it is dark at its end as her green eyes look across the divide. Behind her, Miorine is, at this time, the one at the head of the crowd. Behind her are those many faces of different times, and she does not see them despite her oncoming entry to their number. She is on the edge of revelation, and as she has for generations, Layla Rei, as she is known for now, has no problem reaching out and showing her beyond a veil.
"You, Miorine Rembran, I let you see what you may be, for this Time." And Layla reaches out with the point of her finger, a single nail threading a line like a mirror between her Bindi, to where it would sit upon her head. When she does there is a snap resounding but from nowhere. Miorine does not know why she is wary of her finger as if it was a gun, a weapon, but as it points, she is hit. Not with a bullet, not with a force that sends her back as if she had been a mystic like in her language. What came came from inside as those icy veins in her mind boiled over, ears ringing slowly, and then up, all at once, in infinite vibrato.
It echoes, back and forth and back and forth in infinite reverberation that brings her to her knees as her vision goes hazy and multicolored as she tries to reach for Layla for balance, but Layla is not there: she is out of her reach, backpedaling, further, further out.
A familiar loss bubbles within her heart because of it.
Miorine closes her eyes, but inside of herself is blinding light.
"Don't look away, Miorine Rembran." Layla's voice is in her head. "There are no more mysteries for you."
There is ringing inside of her, and it shatters her sorrow down and replaces it with a burn. She feels like she might die, but even death was release that this grip on her would not abide by. She did not feel herself fall to her knees. She did not feel the crunch of her body against the floor. She did not know when she had started crawling forward toward her body's instinctual draw of silence. She crawls forward on her knees to the stage.
"What- What-?! What is happening?!" She speaks, but she does not speak as her tongue and mouth are useless. She speaks to the floor, but Layla hears her. Her voice is in her head.
[This is where you are going. This is what is promised to you. Do not look away.]
She cannot crawl anymore as her hands are brought to her head to hold still, as if releasing it would make it burst, and if she screams in splitting mind shattering cacophony she does not know. She wants to claw at her face, to dig beneath, to get to a very core place in herself where she can feel lightning and thunder that speak in the sounds of other people.
[You do not want to dance, and yet you know it. Because you are a dancer.]
"I'm not-! What have you done to me?!"
"I have done nothing but give you what is already promised to you. I do not put upon you what is unfair or what cannot be taken away. The only thing I ask of you, is to think about the meaning of meeting her: Suletta Mercury."
"She's changed. It is too late for me to know her as she was." Miorine claws at the ground for balance.
"That is no matter." When Layla rises, she rises with the floor itself, the platform beneath her feet raises her to a perch, and all those there look on in storied amazement of her. If nothing else, Layla would always be. Her arms go wide, as if preparing herself for an image, a picture, but it is the start of steps she has made before. And with her new knowledge Miorine sees her hour upon the stage written behind as Layla's feet move beneath her dress.
She looks forward, and backward.
She sees where she is going, and what has been.
She sees herself before bodies eviscerated in her name, and the tool which had done it is the same as those who look down upon all of them now. She knows where she is going, and she understands now what they are.
She sees what she will do, and she can never run away from it.
[Can you see? It is always this way for people.]
And the band goes on, and it goes on, in sound and fury signifying noise itself in those glassy halls. It rises in an orchestra which resonates with the world completely save for her, for she now, is the woman out of place, out of time, and yet finding where she fits into a story; a story grander than she knows and ever could know. The flash in her mind is her music, and she grasps her heads as thunder and lightnings from beyond time sparkle before her eyes and she can see and understand and know all those in the room with her, who look upon her as if she was a great beast, and great dancer.
And they are dancing. They dance to the walls, the music, the fact of being here with the angelic light above them all. Ceramic floors shake and crack beneath dress shoes and pointed heels and stilettos that move in unison and in chaos and in the unstoppable force of liquid function. Like water, they flow around each other because of each other, swirling, swirling. Their clothes, their beautiful clothes become disheveled, and hairs become undone. The women, with such thin lines at hazard come loose and they dance bare chested, and the men join them. A tangle of bodies, of men and women and people dancing, dancing around her, exposed, but exposed far deeper in her mind as the lights and the water and a distant paradise drives Miorine Rembran to her knees of a floor that has become infinitely dark and expansive.
Above her, she sees not people, but dancers. Those who came of a different cloth, who knew her, and she knew them and how they were and what they felt and looked into their mind's eye because of an unusual intelligence that was born beneath her.
A new type of understanding which had taken the breath from her lungs and the warmth from her blood as around her a circle of dancers rotated, rotated until they were in and out and the world itself. Without beginning or end, the circle remained, the flow rotated, and she, alone, at the center of it, was the focus as they all looked to her beneath the spotlight. Those rays, it came from above, and she looked up and saw Layla and she was crying old tears of time as again someone found her place.
There are children there, there are fathers and mothers and lovers. Each step they take in their endless waltz is rehearsed and known so intrinsically by them that their dance is a natural phenomenon like time itself and their faces are all drawn to her on her knees and her head held by her hands.
A million million words for an infinite expanse of the Human soul. It is the music she hears, and it demands of her to dance.
She screams. She screams to the sky, to space itself, a white devil casts its shadow over her and she does not see her as angel voices eclipse her mind.
Unnatural forces bring her again to her feet, and they, as per divination that now knows, they want her to dance.
[This music has been here all your life; you just never heard it.]
Layla tells her, yet her mouth does not move. Her dress is the color of sunflowers on Earth, a color which Miorine has never seen but knows in her heart. Her soul, she knows, for all her belief of wanting to escape her father and this life, yearns for the Earth. She feels that yearning now as her body twists and forms into shape, into form, into what the music demanded and the star fields that existed behind her vision so desired.
Earth's gravity had her soul.
She would always be trapped.
She wants to sing instead, but it is no longer up to her as her feet, her heels, they move along a long infinite path that pirouettes her before the light of a woman beyond the time.
Miorine Rembran is a passable thespian, but it is required of her as she joins in but yet is alone, the rim of the light the barrier of all those that remained save for one:
A mask parts the sea, and a woman in red walks through, behind her, a man that is either a shadow or her ghost. In the path of the Witch from Mercury her footprints leave behind the markings of a trace crimson. The dancers move around her, and they are beholden to her because she is what she is.
"What is this?" Tears roll from Miorine's eyes down to her face as she looks up to a woman impossibly bright.
"It is the dance. Where we are all asked to be cast in our roles that are complete within themselves and their fulfillment, even if we do not know. We are the dancers, supplicant to the dance. We are what we are regardless of what we do. It is not an unusual thing, for those who witness to see us conduct this strand of events, from where we began to beyond."
She smiled; her eyes were the truest that Miorine had ever seen.
For her language that twisted like a dance itself she could not look away or deny herself the words which she spoke because there were no more mysteries that she could not solve, nothing that could not be understood from heart to heart. She could not deny herself.
"You, of all, are not unfamiliar with wanting to escape these lines that we have to cross, but that is your line all the same. And all lines lead somewhere." Miorine's mind thrums with impossible thoughts from impossible people that are not hers but become within her. Hopes and dreams, loss, and love. It bolts through her like white lightning. Layla goes on, and on, and on. "You, who were born of space, are heir to not your father's bearing. You are heir to the stars themselves and you cannot run away from this."
In all of time and space there are no devils, no gods, no monsters, or personification of evil. Yet she does not find solace in any of that. Because what remains were a parable of two: Man, and Gundam. It was just them, forever. Those unholiest are those who walk that line between:
The Witch from Mercury offers her hand, and it is a hand thick of burning red promise, dripping between her fingers, and dropping to the dance floor. The red it goes to the floor and in the footprints of the dancers tracks across, red circles made by their brush stroke in their movement, wet sounds, the patter of flesh, it surrounds them all. In horror, Miorine freezes, eyes wide taking in the image of a woman she knows completely now from unnatural intelligence.
A choice, she thinks. The music stops. The dance stops. The universe waits for an answer to an offered hand that drips promising salvation from a savior. All else is still, and Miorine's heartbeat slows. A smile, smile lays behind the hand and she knows that smile well. She does not want to move, but she must make a choice.
It is a choice she has already made, but she cannot complete it.
A woman with a mask stands before her, and behind her in shadow a man with sunglasses looks on. This other man she could never see in his entirety, but he seemed of a different skin than those all around him as if in their unbecoming in the dance that he stood still of it. He stays in shadow, and but in his grip, held by her shoulders, is someone else. Someone who very much is like Suletta. In two parts, two Sulettas exist in her vision, but before she can solidify the image in her head the man and the other fade.
She cannot bear to look at that black mask, so she looks up, and sees Layla from below.
From one caged bird to another. "Don't do something which you can never take back, Miorine."
There is no choosing here. Only accepting her part in the dance.
She crosses the divide with her hand to a waiting Witch, and again, a flash in her mind.
"Miss Miorine." The Witch from Mercury calls her name with love she has not heard in years: unconditional. She accepts it, she understands it, she knows it is true. Whatever the Witch would do for her was out of a pure love that had been rare in the universe, and all universes. Miorine joins the dance because she has a partner. How lucky she is, how wonderful it is, to bear a curse not alone.
"Dance with me." Miorine finally admits, and her fingers are offered, and they curl through the Witch's. To create perfect symmetry, the other rises, and the other clasps, and they hold onto each other by hand, even with the red between them.
Layla was wrong in this: She has heard this music all her life.
[I just never listened]
Footsteps, in the night sky, and the spotlight above goes dim and the Witch gently pulls her into the dark, the flow, the dance, subsumed by it but she is still herself. She cannot do any other. Though Mio looks back before she is dragged in, and sees, upon her platform, Layla looks to her and speaking in their shared tongue grace:
"In the end, it all returns to a quiet zero." The hands of time do not stop. "While you can, you should join the dance on your own accord."
The dance. It goes on forever upon the condition of Gundam. In all History the players on the stage follow their destiny because they are not historical in their existence until History makes them so. History comes in the shape of a Gundam, and its actors of agency are its pilots. But to the pilots they themselves have their own goals, their own people, their own line to chase. Miorine Rembran knows who she is in the dark of the dance as she closes her eyes but the darkness within her is more painful still than the storm around her. So, she opens her eyes and sees before her her hands held and the guide she has been given in life in the shape of a Witch from Mercury. That mask remains, but her grip on her, bloody still, is affirming.
"Dance with me, Miss Miorine." She asks, and she must abide by the selfsame reckoning promised to her as in her mind exists now an ocean of emotion from her to everyone that ever was and will be. If she would drown, it would not be from the outside rushing in, it would be from herself.
All she can do now is dance, dance, dance upon the bloody stars so, she believes, that this thing that she is now a part of does not become dishonored from someone who does not dance.
"Don't you understand now?" Layla's voice is now in her head. "That people will change, can change, and will always change."
And Layla is dancing upon her platform as if she had been at its origin with how she knows the steps on her own. They all look to her, the Witch from Mercury and Miorine Rembran among them, and they see her as she has always been seen: somewhere else, beyond all of them. The dance they do is a dance that is of her, and for her, because she knew the dance there at that moment more than any other. Towering over all of them is her in her lonely stand, her arms stretched out like wings of a great ancient beast, and her dress becomes thin in the light that dissolves it as she spins, and she spins, and she bows before them all again and again and again. She bows to the Gundams, to the pilots, to all those who died for her and because of her and for all those that would follow. She was a great favorite, and she was the blueprint, and she was who Miorine could be, will be, must be and will do. Her small feet are lively as she teeters on the edge and distant winds carry her for her litheness. Her feet are light and nimble, and she walks that infinite circle as if the danger of it did not exist.
It was if she would never die.
She would never die, Layla.
She is dancing.
And she would never die.
In that moment, Miorine loved her. For she understood her.
In that moment, Miorine is her.
Because Miorine Rembran danced the dance hand in hand with one who wore a mask. She dances with her in life and in death and forever now because this was a ceremony written in blood beneath her, and as the footsteps went on and on the blood became them from the floor up to their legs in the moves with their slamming feet before it returned to their forms and then came down again.
They are dancing, dancing.
Miorine swings one leg of hers back, leaning, letting her holder hold her.
The floor was cracking, cracking, and one day it would give out but for now Miorine did not care because she found her place with the Witch from Mercury. The madness that took her was not one she knew, for she sang, singing in laughter and in tears and in realization that she had asked for this.
Freezing cold shatters her sorrow, and scorching sands put her back together again.
Lightning before her eyes, and the storm inside her soul consumes her. The world comes flooding in, and all of them drown in themselves.
"The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom."
Born again in Incubation, Miorine opens her eyes and sees where she is. Same dress, same place, different Time. A world gone quiet.
Layla is gone, but she remains in her mind.
Miorine Rembran comes forth as if in a bow, and she finds a phone outstretched in her hand offered to someone. Miorine Rembran returns to herself, and she did not know that she left.
She looks up, and before her, her father. Always imposing, always there, standing over people. She had come to him to beg for a place in the world if she could not leave it, and the deed had been done. Out on the screen beyond them her plans, made in a flurry of emotion describing a plan made for Gundam after accusation unfair. The steps were taken, and she has gone along them with purpose she did not feel until this moment she decided to fight for the sake of a witch and her Gundam.
Whether she wants to or not, it is too late.
She drags back her phone and sees the seed of her father give to her life she would born.
Delling Rembran stares down upon his daughter and sees a certain confusion in her eye, and speaks these words that she has heard from all her life:
"The Gundam's curse is a heavier burden than you think."
She looks up at her father, and in his face, through his pupils, she sees his soul.
White, icy lightning cracks through her mind's eye.
Miorine Rembran understands her father now and realizes that now and forever: He is right. Oh so right.
Delling Rembran raises his eyebrow at his daughter, and she is on the verge of tears.
Distantly, upon the stage, Suletta Mercury looks on with a black mask as a ring above her fills to her own neon halo.
A/N 2: Not my best work, and this is probably my most incomprehensible story, but I think it is a fic that can only be released now and not after GWitch is done.