Author's note: This story contains homosexual themes. I do my best not to beat the reader over the head with it, but one of the characters is gay, and there will be gay (as well as straight) romance down the line. If that bothers you, then this is not the fic for you...Happy Reading!
Three Years Ago...
The sullen, brown-haired girl sat motionless in the very last pew at the very back of the church, silently damning anyone and everyone to walk past. The logical part of her brain informed her how pointless and utterly misplaced her resentment was, but she didn't care. As far as she was concerned, she would hate the world if she so chose, because, at least at that moment, it certainly seemed to hate her back.
She had stuffed herself into a shapeless, conservative black dress for the occasion - the only garment she owned that was appropriate for a funeral - and she mused that it made her look something like a charred amoeba. Her typically unruly hair was no different today than it usually was - a voluminous mass of finger-sized curls that framed her face and cascaded halfway down her back. She hadn't bothered with cosmetics for days as she saw no point in catering to vanity during times of emotional distress. As a result, her face had taken on a particularly ashen pallor.
Stale air permeated her nostrils, and it was all she could do not to scrunch up her face. It had been quite a while since she had set foot in a church, but she made the quiet observation that they all seemed to smell the same. They also tended to look the same, with their neutral colored walls, wooden pews, and high ceilings. And, as always, there were the stained glass depictions and various artworks that, presumably, were supposed to provide a measure of comfort. But, to her, they were merely curiosities.
Of course, she had studied the Bible as a child, as many children had, but she considered it a purely intellectual endeavor. The idea of something that was ultimately unknowable was anathema to her. Sciences and mathematics had provided her with whatever spiritual sustenance she needed for as long as she could remember. Where others had embraced religion to fill their spiritual void, she had taken to algebra, calculus, physics, and the like. There was a universal connectedness that was open to her while working on an algebraic equation or considering a physics theory that was unmatched through any other experience.
She had indeed excelled. If symphonies were composed with mathematical formulae and theories, she would have been a virtuoso. In her early youth, teachers hailed her a prodigy, a genius, and other terms that ultimately served to widen the gap between her and her peers. Her parents' constant boasting of her accomplishments hadn't helped much either (She forgave them their pride, however. Any parent would have been pleased that their child had such a gift). Now, at the age of thirteen, she had won more recognition and awards than she could count, and she was so far removed from people her own age that she had all but isolated herself. When others spurned her attempts at friendship, she would retreat into a world of numbers, constants, and variables that would never rebuke her.
But now, not even her remarkable abilities granted her peace.
Now, she wished she were somewhere, anywhere else. She forced herself to attend because she would regret it otherwise, but solitude was what she wanted. The minister had urged her to seat herself in the front row, which was where immediate family would be seated, but she declined. She wanted to fade away, to blend in with her surroundings, and the best place for her to attempt that was the back row.
That was proving to be difficult even there. Another stranger had stopped to offer his sympathy. She saw nothing but pity in his eyes, and she truly despised being an object of pity. But rather than sully the memories of the deceased with an emotional outburst, she took it in stride. She shook his hand in a businesslike manner, then focused her attention to the front of the room.
Which was where the caskets were.
The caskets that contained the earthly remains of her parents.
The minister started the funeral service, but the girl paid him no mind. Nothing he said would be relevant in her mind, so she tuned him out. Instead, she allowed her eyes to drift over ornate gold carvings on her parents' caskets. Golden etching ran from the bottoms up the corners, until it disappeared under the American flag, which hung over both to symbolize their service in the United States military.
She damned the military and all who were a part of it.
In the days since her parents' deaths, her brain had not functioned properly. It was difficult to string together a coherent thought, let alone deal with the condolences of strangers and long-lost friends. It was as if she had been watching everything from outside herself - as if her life had turned into some horrible waking nightmare. And the more people tried to comfort her, the more reality tried to sink its ugly teeth into her head.
Not everyone there was a stranger, however. Seated near the front was Lieutenant Jon Hanover, whom she met two years ago when he moved to the military base where she had spent most of her life. He was a nice person, rather boisterous on occasion, but always seemed rather put off by the girl's intelligence. She was accustomed to the reaction. Then there was Rasheedah Jackson, their neighbor, who kept to herself, but was always genial when their paths happened to cross.
Her eyes wandered the room, trying to spot other faces she recognized, until they came to rest upon a tight, auburn bun belonging to the woman seated three rows in front of her. She knew it well. The bun belonged to one Sergeant Amelia Curtis. Somehow, her mother had considered this woman a close friend for as long as she could remember, although the woman never acted remotely friendly. In fact, she displayed the emotional range of a tree stump. She perpetually looked as if she were being assaulted by some noxious odor detectable only by her.
Sgt. Curtis had been the one to accompany her to the funeral since she had no surviving relatives, save for a Great Aunt she had never met, whose address was Twin Rivers Nursing Home, Boca Raton, Florida. Sgt. Curtis just happened to be in charge of St. John's Military Academy, which just happened to be where the girl attended school. The school itself had been built to accommodate the students of military personnel on active duty, which had included the girl's parents. Since their demise, Sgt. Curtis had allowed her to reside on campus until a more permanent arrangement could be made, but the girl was suspicious. Sgt. Curtis wasn't the type to do anything out of the kindness of her tiny, little heart.
Her thoughts drifted back to her parents. The possibility that one or both of them would never make it home had always existed. But it was something she, and likewise they, never discussed much. She had felt, as irrational as it may sound, that to speak of it would hasten its occurrence. But now, there was so much she wished she had said. So many things she wanted to apologize for.
At this moment, as she fixed her eyes upon the caskets holding the lifeless bodies of Travis and Melinda Knox, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would never have the opportunity. She would never again receive the praises of her father as he bragged about her accomplishments in school. Her mother's perfume would never again permeate their little house on the base.
She would never see them again.
It was then that she felt her resolve crack.
The emotional floodgates opened deep within, and it suddenly felt as if all eyes were upon her. The walls began closing in, and her breathing became more shallow and rapid. Her fingers absent-mindedly toyed with the silver cross dangling around her neck, as they often did when she was nervous. She had to get out of there; there was nothing else to it. The lone daughter of the deceased sprinting out of the church was bound to draw attention, but, piteous stares be damned, there was no way she could sit there another minute. It was too much. It was all too much.
So, she bolted.
Being in the last row of pews, she was in close proximity to the exit, which she flew through without bothering to close the door behind her. She didn't care much anymore how people reacted. Her eyes trained directly forward, her legs carried her outside into the sunlight as fast as they could. She didn't feel herself moving, although she knew she was; it seemed more like she was floating.
Once outside, she closed her eyes and drew a few deep breaths in order to steady herself. When she bothered to check her surroundings, she found herself in the church courtyard. It was lavishly planted with flowers and shrubs and was complete with intricate statues and carvings that seemed to mock her pain with their beauty. She made her way to a stone bench situated somewhere in the middle of it all and sat, with her face in her hands.
Tears that had been reluctant to come before flowed with a vengeance. She was sobbing audibly now, and crying so hard her tear ducts ached from the strain. The faces of her mother and father floated through her mind; faces that she would never see again. She had no one to turn to.
Simony Knox, daughter of the late Travis and Melinda Knox, was truly alone in the world.
A loud, choked shriek of anguish and frustration leapt from her throat.
She cursed her parents for leaving her.
She cursed the military for taking them away.
And as she looked up at the cloudless azure sky, she cursed a thousand different Simonys in a thousand different universes whose parents had come home to them in one piece.
Sergeant Amelia Curtis parked her car in front of the white, split-level house and hesitated. Entering the home formerly occupied by her deceased acquaintance was a bit ghoulish, even for her. Nevertheless, she pushed her feelings to the back of her mind, as she always did, and proceeded up the sidewalk to the front door.
She had known Melinda Knox since her cadet days. They had entered basic training together. Although 'friend' might have been too strong a word to describe their relationship, they did share a sort of camaraderie. Sgt. Curtis had always been extremely reserved; she considered it a strength of her character. She made it a point to never get too close to anyone, and never to let her guard down because, inevitably, someone would turn on her. Some would call it paranoia, but she called it life.
Melinda had been different, however. She always tried to include Curtis in her circle of friends, while others were content to leave well enough alone. She had always tried to draw her out of her shell, and had partly succeeded, although Sgt. Curtis would never have let her know that. She supposed she could have turned down Melinda's invitations and ignored her phone calls, but, deep down, a part of her craved the very closeness she denied herself.
And now all that was gone.
She reminded herself that mourning was a luxury she would not indulge in, and retrieved the front door key. It had been left in her possession to allow the daughter of the deceased access to her belongings. She cast a quick glance over her shoulder. If anyone questioned her presence, she could always claim she needed to collect something for the daughter, but she hoped to avoid such a confrontation. Her goal was to acquire what she came for, and leave as quickly as possible.
When she entered the house she intended to move swiftly, but she was stricken by how everything looked just the same as she had last encountered it. She didn't know why, but she expected it to be…different, somehow. How many times had she drank coffee in that very kitchen while Melinda rattled on about something or another? How many times had she and Melinda sat in that very living room discussing the finer points of their careers? She shook it off. Dwelling on the past served no purpose.
From there, she headed straight to the girl's bedroom. It was surprisingly stark for a girl of only thirteen. Where there should have been various posters and hangings, the walls were bare. In fact, there were no signs that a child lived there at all. But Sgt. Curtis knew better, and so began methodically searching the room.
It didn't take her long to determine that what she was looking for wasn't there. She rummaged through every drawer, every shelf, and the entire closet. She had even gotten on her hands and knees and searched beneath the bed, to no avail. It was obvious she was in the wrong place, but she didn't know where to go from there.
She thought back through all the times Melinda had boasted about her daughter's 'gift.' At first, Sgt. Curtis had dismissed her bragging out of hand simply as normal parental pride. But when she had shared some of the girl's endeavors in more detail, it had piqued her interest. Certainly there were children that were well ahead of their peers in their studies, but the things Melinda had spoken about…they were beyond anything she had ever heard of.
Which had prompted Sgt. Curtis to do some discreet checking.
It turns out that Simony Knox was accomplishing things that even celebrated physicists had failed to do.
By this time, Sgt. Curtis had been through almost every room in the house. The only room left to search was the basement. Giving up had crossed her mind, but she pushed the thought away almost as soon as it came. She had gone this far, and she wasn't about to quit until she knew what she came for was not here.
She threw open the door to the basement and proceeded down the wooden steps. Light from the kitchen partly illuminated the way, but beyond that only inky darkness remained. Once at the bottom of the stairs, she felt around the wall for a light switch, but none was forthcoming. She stumbled around, and nearly fell once, until she found a chain hanging from the ceiling. Impatiently, she grabbed it and pulled.
If ever there was a doubt in her mind as to the intelligence of the girl, it was quickly washed away when the light filled the room. Before her was confirmation of everything Melinda had shared with her. Computers and various machinery that looked like it had been cobbled together from spare parts filled the room. Papers littered desks and filing cabinets. Directly in front of her was a dry-erase board containing complex numbers and variables she didn't pretend to understand. Sgt. Curtis allowed herself a little smile. Bingo.
Wasting no time, she began hunting through the mess of papers and notebooks. Everything was in such a state of disarray that she wondered how the girl could achieve anything down there. She herself had to have everything arranged perfectly in order to get any work done. But, she did persevere.
After pillaging through almost every scrap of paper there, she came upon a commonplace looking binder. There was nothing about it that set it apart from any other binder or notebook down there, which was why it took her so long to find it. But this particular binder had, in bold black letters on the cover, the phrase 'ERP Bridge' written on it. To any other person, it would probably have meant nothing. To Curtis, however, it was the holy grail.
A year ago, she had had no idea what Melinda was talking about when she had mentioned it to her. But, after availing herself of a bit of her own research, she realized the implications a discovery like this could have for the world, the military, and most importantly…herself.
Now, all she had to do was verify that the girl's research was valid, but at this point, that was only a formality. A plan had already begun to form in the back of her mind. There was still much work to be done - the research, however brilliant, was still incomplete. Now that the girl's parents weren't there to support her, certainly she could use a…guiding hand. Someone of her intellectual capacity still needed direction…encouragement…to be molded into something valuable. And, if Sgt. Curtis happened to benefit from the girl's efforts…well, who's to say that she shouldn't?
As she left the basement with the binder tucked safely under her arm, she thought about the situation with some amusement. Answers to so many of the mysteries top scientists have contemplated for years may lie with a girl who had barely begun puberty.
Oh, the irony.