Pariah

by Vosburg

Postscript: Distance Runner



Disclaimer: No, still don't own Battle Athletes.



A decent room.

While I've stayed at better motels, it's been some time since I've gotten a room this attractive. Mostly, I've been refused entry at any motel maintained this well.

I look at the alarm, an inexpensive type I got last night. In comparison to the motel's alarm, it looks rather shoddy, and has an irritating blatting sound, as opposed to the soft chime of the motel's.

However, I cannot do what I wanted to with the motel alarm, which is why I purchased this one.

I carefully set it on the nightstand.

I bring my fist up, then, with mischievous satisfaction, down in an arc that smashes the alarm to flotsam. I scoop the fragments into a bag, and throw it into the w...no, the dustbin. That's what they call it here. I have to remember that.

This is the last time I'll be able to treat an alarm in such a manner for a while, if all goes as it should.

Not to mention that that alarm *was* irritating.

I shower and dress. Appearance is of the utmost; there is a specific image I want.

I'm nearly done when my gaze settles on my face for a second. For the first time, I see my new face fully in the light.

My eyes are now a deep brown, thanks to some contact lenses I purchased in Paris. The lenses don't change the original crimson but deepen it, making it less likely for anyone to detect any alteration. The round-rimmed glasses make for a bookish appearance, even with the elastic strap that keeps them in place. Over all this is dark brown hair, combed, but still rather unkempt; there are some strands loose, but that's part of the image.

I hold some of the strands for a minute, running my fingers through them. I'm still not accustomed to having hair that goes only to my shoulders.

My 'disguise' is based on the logic of being uncomplicated and subtle. I've changed only what I had to so I won't have to worry that I've missed one of a dozen different items each time I leave the room. Changing eye color was a necessity; the crimson would have given me away in a second. My hair, though not an uncommon shade these days, could still be connected to my old identity.

Conversely, most disguises that are effective are not those which change the appearance entirely, but change it *enough (at least that's how I *hope* it works). Thus, if I tried to change my eye color to light blue, it would seem unnatural. The only effect of the lenses is to deepen the crimson, to make it appear brown. The same with my hair coloring - blonde would show up as soon as my roots grew out; dark brown won't be nearly as blatant.

I've kept the drab, loose fitting outfits I wore in Boulogne, now I straighten them as much as I'm able. The overall effect, though, remains the same.

I seem a...what is that word...a frump, exactly the sort of girl I once wouldn't have anything to do with.

The most effective aspect of my disguise, however, is that I have one at all. No one will look for Mylandah Walder to use a disguise because Mylandah Walder's reputation was as a woman who would never trouble to appear as anyone *but* herself.

I place a bandage pad on my cheek, and comb my hair over it. I don't really need a bandage any more, but for today it will serve a vital purpose. I then gather my possessions and go to the front desk. There I pay the attendant, and turn in my room keys.

The man briefly looks up at me.

"Hope you get to the Satellite, Ms. Snowdon."

"Thank you," I reply in English, presumably without accent, "I've been trying so long to get into a proper academy."

"I don't know if you'd rightly call the local one proper, but I suppose it passes. Anyway, best fortune to you."

I hide a smile. The academy where my trials will be is not known for sending many athletes to the Satellite. Thus, they are not as strict on their entry requirements - in short, a middling academy - which is the reason I chose them.

I nod to the attendant and head out.

While it's warmer than I thought, the clouds are a gray sheet over half the sky. From the looks of them, it'll rain soon.

Some of the local citizens mutter about the weather. I merely stride along, managing to keep a broad smile from my face. Wouldn't do to look too cheerful, as they might wonder why I'm happy with such ominous weather.



As I near the school, I survey the area. While most training academies are generally in the country, this is one of the exceptions.

Manchester Victory Academy, near the center of the city, almost seems an anachronism. With the majority of schools being massive structures of steel and steel-like glass, the stone and brick of this academy look...ancient. The vines on the walls don't do much to dispel the image.

I stand in front of the gates, more nervous than I have ever been. The intercom beeps once, and someone says that a faculty member is on the way to meet me. That is unsettling as well; I must make the right impression here.

The woman who greets me is in her early thirties, from the looks of it. Middling build; well toned, confident.

"You are Gabrielle Snowdon?"

So I'm not proficient with aliases. I 'stole' the first name of my friend (friend? When was the last time I used that to refer to *anyone*?), and the second is a name I saw on an inn in England once. It was a hasty decision, but a choice I'm able to live with.

The way she asks my identity, it is a statement, as if she expects that it would be no one else. From her voice, I'd wager that she's had some years in the military. "Yes," I reply, they told me I was to have my entrance tests today."

"Your Identicard?" Another statement, as if there is no other choice but for me to have it.

"One minute, please," I say before rooting in my bag for the card. It is for show only, as I know where the card is; however, the impression I make is vital to the success of my plan.

For what seems an agonizingly long time, she scans the card - when she finally seems satisfied, I must prevent myself from falling to the ground in relief. So much depended on whether she accepted what she saw on the card, and in my face. I hope this isn't a ruse, that I've been found out - not after I've gone through so much to get here.

Soon, I'm following her up the walk to the main campus.

"I'm Headmistress Ingersoll," she says, without turning, "and, if you pass your preliminaries, you'll be in one of the dorms in the Persistence Wing. Not my jurisdiction, but *that* headmaster is somewhat occupied right now."

"The...Persistence Wing, sir?"

"Both wings of the academy are named for the attributes that the founder thought most necessary for becoming a Battle Athlete. One wing is 'Focus', the other 'Persistence'," she says in an offhand manner, as if giving a tour.

"I see," I reply, merely to show that I'm listening.

I enter the main campus, and am greeted by the spectacle of about thirty girls on their way to and from class, discussing various subjects in small groups, or enthusing/fretting about their standings.

I breathe it in like mountain air. The prospect of being back in training is exciting. I never felt this way the first time I was in a training academy. At that time I was filled with confidence, and the thought of *not* getting to the Satellite was completely foreign to me.

I find myself in the admissions area, with Headmistress Ingersoll pointing me to Admissions. Suddenly, she stops, and calls to an older man who has just entered.

"Wycliffe, this is one of yours, I think," she says, indicating me.

"Is she now," the man says, in a voice that resounds through the room, vast as it is. The owner of the voice is in his mid-sixties, I think, with a minutely trimmed mustache. A senior faculty member, from his appearance - or it might be the way he carries himself that gives me that impression.

"So...you are Ms. Snowdon. Somewhat unusual to have someone coming in at this point in the semester."

"Yes, Headmaster, I'm sorry, but under the circumstances, it was unavoidable."

Headmaster Wycliffe waves his hand dismissively. "Irrelevant. After Admissions has gotten you through the preliminaries, you'll have a battery of trial runs. *Those* will determine if you'll join us here."

"Yes, sir, thank you."

If anyone who knew me from a year ago saw me now, their astonishment would be unparalleled. Before, the most I showed my instructors was tolerance, not deferential respect - and that included Grant Oldman.

Much has happened since then. I've gotten many painful lessons in humility, and I'm intimately aware of how insecure my position is, even after I pass the trials. (Yes, *after*, not *if*, I cannot even think of failing now.)

Headmaster Wycliffe says that he will oversee my trials personally. For a second I'm unsure of myself; his manner is intimidating. Presently, I steel myself - there is no other way but to pass.

However, there is one more item I must see to before the trials. After I finish my paperwork, I glance around the floor. Soon I find what I'm searching for: A case of supplies that someone neglected to put to the side. I file its position for reference.

When I'm called for my trials, I put on an expression that is both confused and meek, stepping forth as if unsure of myself (which is not entirely untrue).

My foot snags on the case. My arms flail wildly, but I cannot halt my fall, and wind up sprawled on the floor. As I begin to rise from the floor, I hear whispering around me, and muted snickering. My cheeks turn red, and I apologize several times to Headmaster Wycliffe.

"Compose yourself, Ms. Snowdon," he replies, "such events are natural during the first days at an academy." Drawing to his full height, he turns to the source of the snickering, his voice echoing through the room. "I would go so far as to say *everyone* goes through an experience such as this, so there is really no reason for feeling ourselves superior to the new student now, is there?"

Whether he's struck a nerve with some of the students, or if it is the resonance in his voice, the snickering stops as if a switch was thrown. So does most of the other conversation. Headmaster Ingersoll calls for whoever left the case on the floor, and it is hastily shifted out of the way.

As I regain my feet, nearly everyone's attention is on me. I hastily brush my palm against my hair to straighten it out, but my hand instead snags on my bandage and pulls it off. After a second of surprise, my hand flies back up to cover the scar - but not before some of the students have seen it. My gaze falls to the floor, my humiliation apparent to all.

"And what do you think you're doing?" Headmaster Wycliffe demands, his eyes solidly on me.

"Sir, I was hoping that...no one would see this, at least not for awhile."

"What nonsense is that?" The words ring through the room, obviously he is speaking to everyone. "Life wounds everyone, Ms. Snowdon. We cannot allow such wounds to distract us from our goals. You must know as much, or you could not have made the journey here."

My head comes up in astonishment. While the statement is made without knowing what I have gone through to get here, it is uncannily appropriate.

Swiftly, he pivots on his heel. "As I have much to do, it's time to see to your trials."

"Yes sir. Thank you, sir. I..."

But he is already on his way, so I have no choice but to follow.



Some time after, I'm in my dorm room.

*My* room. I revel in the phrase.

I've made the cutoff, which brings some astonishment; that everything has gone to plan is...unnerving, in a way.

Not that it was easy. The instructors and my headmaster gave me a list of areas that I must devote extra training to. After all that time 'off the field', I've got to retrain in the disciplines of a Battle Athlete again. Not to mention that my body was protesting much more than it should have during the trials. The weight I put on at Gabrielle's must come off. I sigh, somewhat loudly, at the prospect of the effort required to lose it. In the old days, I never would have gained it, or even if I had, I would have done what was necessary to lose it, without hesitation. Now, all I'm able to think of is how much I miss Gabrielle's cheesecake. I must not allow such desires to distract me now.

I draw the forged Identicard from my pocket. I wonder if it is safe to use. I'll continue to use cash whenever viable, as every use of my Identicard is a risk, however slight.

As I stand in front of the full-length mirror, the events of the past weeks come to memory. Even if I meant no malice, I've misled many of those around me, including Gabrielle, who was more of a mother to me than my *real* mother ever could be. I put a mild skin irritant on my wound to trick her doctor into thinking my scar would be more prominent than it was - where it once stood out like a vein, it is now only a raised line on my skin.

And in gaining acceptance to this academy, my deceptions have continued. The fall I had in the main hall was for the eyes of the other students. No doubt the word is circulating about the clumsy new student, even as I stand here. The same for the exposure of my scar; placing my palm over it made it appear as if I was trying to conceal it, when I was really calling attention to it. Now most of the students will focus on the scar, not on my face, which reduces the odds that they will connect me with Mylandah Walder. However, there is much for me to do in maintaining my new identity. I must accustom myself to responding to the name 'Gabrielle', and not when someone speaks of 'Mylandah', as there will certainly be some mention of the name in a training academy. I must also make a daily check of my disguise, from seeing that the contacts cover the crimson of my eyes, to constantly inspecting my hair to see if the roots have grown out enough to show the original color.

My training must reflect the new me, as well. I must not show myself strong in the events that Mylandah was, at least not at once. My martial arts must change, too. I've registered for classes that emphasize blocks and throws rather than kicks; rendering opponents impotent, not unconscious.

That's odd. I kept thinking about my name as if it referred to someone else. The realization strikes me that in a way, it does.

The more I think on it, the clearer it becomes.

Mylandah Arkar Walder cannot get to the Satellite. If the order for expulsion were reversed, that would not be for many years - likely past my useful career as an athlete.

While 'Gabrielle Snowdon' is not certain of reaching the Satellite either, at least there is the opportunity for her to make the attempt.

Yet, I wonder if I've really changed. There is still a remote part of me that cannot understand my loss to the clumsy daughter of Tomoe Midou, and that thinks of the Beginner girl as an inferior 'rural'.

However, that is the remote part of me. I've come to accept what happened in the past, even if they are unpleasant memories. I might not have changed completely, but I know that I differ from who I was.

I know as well that my disguise cannot last indefinitely. Reaching the Satellite is only the first goal. After that, I must face Grant Oldman again.

I do not know what I'll say when the time comes. While Oldman might be a pervert, and is surely a voyeur, he is no fool. Perhaps I ought to seize the initiative and reveal my identity before I'm recognized, as a sign of honesty. Most certainly, he will discern my identity at some point anyway. All I'll be able to do is explain why I've done what I've done, and hope that he will be generous.

Beyond that, I must face Lahrri again. My greatest hope and my greatest fear. While it would be wonderful if she accepts what I have to say, I know that if she refuses, I must go on with my life. Still, the thought that she might refuse, after I've gone through so much, scares me more than anything I've experienced in my life.

Yet, I won't find my answer here. My goal is the Satellite Academy.

I open the windows and ease myself through to where my shoulders are outside, giving me a wide view of the sky.

There are more clouds now, but I'm able to see patches of sky through them. The air is cold, slightly misty.

I gaze at the sky, sending a hopeful dream to the Satellite:

Wait for me, Lahrri.

I will return to you.



-00-

And to think this was only going to run 2-3000 words as I originally planned it.

I've been writing this sporadically (not that I thought it would be *this* long) for nearly a *year*? Even when I said in the first chapter that updates would come as I was able to post them, this was much longer than I'd conceived. Many times I came to an impasse in the story ('what follows from this point?'), not at all assisted by my typing (what? WPM doesn't stand for Words Per Month?), and various irritations combined to produce the gap between first and final chapter. (I did manage a much shorter and faster fanfic in the same time - have to remember how I did that.)

As for [M], while I've a general plan of what happens after this, I wanted to have 'Pariah' open-ended. While she might not know if she's changed much, there is really a lot that is different from the woman she was on the Satellite. She knows that her journey back is full of potential pitfalls, and could ultimately fail, yet she makes the journey anyway - and is all the more courageous for doing so.

For everyone who read/ reviewed, thank you.

Vosburg