Flight of the Phoenix (1)

The phoenix.

A firebird of breathtaking beauty and power. A beast of long-lost Terran myth. Undeterred by the touchstones of life and death, the phoenix was immortal. Always being reborn, rising from its own ashes to live again. No other animal could suitably embody the traits and essence of my family. The Visari family.

My grandfather, Scolar Visari, had lifted Helghan from the ashes. He reigned supreme as its first Autarch. A superbly gifted orator and visionary leader, he gave our people pride and purpose. The dawn of Helghast superiority seemed promising. For a long time, we were sure that nothing could possibly beat us down to the disgraced refugees we were before. Like the phoenix that graced our family's coat of arms, its wings spread in the shape of a V and its whole body forming the Y-shape of the Helghast triad, Visari seemed unquenchably fiery and invincible.

But like the sun that had to set, Visari's dream would not last. The ISA invasion penetrated the heart of Pyrrhus, leading to the death of my grandfather. Then it turned into all-out genocide on Helghan. Some say it was an accident. I couldn't say I knew myself. Helghan became ashes again, filled with death and disease from irradiated petrusite. Once again, not since the great exodus centuries ago, depression and despair gripped our people with a relentlessness that threatened to suffocate us.

Perhaps to soothe their guilty conscience, the Vektans offered us sanctuary. Half of their planet would be given to us. They let us live as we pleased, because we were no longer a threat.

From the ashes of old Helghan and my grandfather, all that was left of the Visari family assumed power over what little was left of the Helghast. That remnant of the family would be my mother, Hera Visari. Soon it would be me.

You might be more familiar with my codename: Echo. But before I even had the right to earn a place in the army, I was Maya Visari. This is a story of my long and hard journey.

Ever since I was little, I knew I was different.

I first found out when I was five. My mother made a mistake of letting me go to school with other kids. It wasn't so bad at first. But as the days went by, I found I couldn't get along with my classmates. I got into more fights. They came to its worst one day, when some grandson of the late Senator Kuisma said I was weird for not having a father. For not being a real Helghast.

I had a rotten temper back then, and I didn't do a good job controlling it. I blew a fuse and broke the kid's nose. I didn't care as he fell to the ground, wailing and bleeding all over. I flew into a rage. I screamed and cried, started breaking things. The teachers and caretakers couldn't get me to stop. They had to call in my mother.

Pulled out from a very important meeting, she would have none of my tantrums. She promptly walked in and struck me in the face, telling me to shut up.

I shut up. I was so stunned and hurt by what she did that I didn't speak until we got home.

"It was his fault!" I shouted. "He called me names behind my back! He said I wasn't a real Helghast!"

She silenced me with a raised hand, threatening to hit me again. "Be quiet! It was your fault. You've been a very bad girl today. Tomorrow you will say sorry to that Kuisma boy."

I never went to school again. From that time, until my training in New Helghan's special forces, I had a private tutor.

I was sent to bed without dinner. I curled up in the blankets, hungry and miserable. Pitru and Viglo, both ten years old at the time, snuck in food for me and kept me company as I cried through my punishment.

I would've been a very lonely child if it hadn't been for the twins. Their father was Colonel Mael Radec, one of the greatest soldiers of old Helghan. He lived and died with honor, dedicating himself to the protection of the Visari family. Even their mother, a Lieutenant of Radec's unit and a member of the Metrac family, extended her loyalty to the Visaris as well. And so their twin sons carried on their legacy.

Much too young to protect my mother, Pitru and Viglo have watched over me since I was a baby, being both my bodyguards and my playmates. They became the brothers I never had, and I became the little sister they adored. They helped me with my first words, my first steps. They laughed with me when I was happy. They were shoulders to cry on when I got upset. Like now.

"Pitru, Viglo...do you think I'm a real Helghast?" I asked.

Pitru patted my back. "You're a Visari. As real as any Helghast can get."

I sniffed. "But I'm only half Visari. I want to know who my father is."

The twins had nothing to say for that. Sometimes I envied them. They had a father to be proud of, while I had no idea who mine was.

A year later, I worked up the courage to ask Mother.

She didn't take it well. She paled, turning white as a ghost. I gasped as she gripped my wrist with a fierceness that frightened me.

"Don't ever ask about your father again!" she hissed. "Ever! Do you understand?"

"Y-yes, Mother. I'm sorry."

I heard fear in her voice, more so than anger. I was afraid too. I didn't want her to hit me, so I stayed quiet and didn't bring up my father again. I wanted to love my mother. I really did. But most of me was terrified of her. Our interests and ways rarely overlapped. I often felt torn between pleasing Mother and just being myself. I still had burning questions about my father, questions I was determined to get answers to. Eventually I got it the hard way.

A year later, I learned what the word "bastard" meant.

I made Mother mad. Really mad. Bored from staying cooped up in the estate, and feeling quite mischievous, I eluded the twins' watch and took a train to explore the slums of New Helghan. I had dressed in boy's clothes so no one would know I was the Chancellor's daughter, and no one would tell me it wasn't my place to climb, run around and explore. I got a good look at the high rises, feeling like a great explorer as I ventured through uncharted territory. A whole battalion of security guards was sent to look for me. I was good at hiding, but I couldn't elude highly trained officers forever. Eventually they found me, and brought me back to the estate. Maids, butlers and the twins suppressed grins and laughs as they saw me being towed by the soldiers, dressed in dirty rags and a large, floppy hat to cover my hair. My mother was absolutely furious.

"I swear, you will be the ruin of me!" she shouted. "All these years letting you live and raising you...and what do I get? A disobedient, unruly and ungrateful bastard girl!"

Everyone lost their amusement then. The atmosphere quickly became serious and tense. Mother's rage was not to be taken lightly. And I, of all people, often failed to take this to heart. Hurt by her words, the joy from my previous adventures suddenly went away as I broke down in front of everyone.

I was so depressed that I stayed in bed and didn't eat for days. Even the twins couldn't lift me from my misery.

Mother came in to apologize, which was something she didn't do too often. Usually she was justified in her words, and doesn't feel the need to apologize for them. But she knew she went too far. Mother cradled me in bed like she had done when I was a baby, reassured me that she didn't hate me and she didn't mean what she said. But the damage was done. I couldn't stop thinking about me being the source of all her blame and resentment.

I was a bastard child. Half and half. Unwanted. A mistake that never should've been made. I came to the terrible truth: I was a product of rape. My Vektan father forced himself on my mother against her will. I was conceived in the midst of all that pain, anger and fear. Anything but love, the way it was supposed to be. Because of me, my mother could never bear children again. I heard this from the doctors serving my family when I pressed them for answers. The pain she endured and internal bleeding she sustained during my birth had taken a huge toll. No hope for future heirs, she was stuck with me. Despite my little six year old self, I began to understand why Mother took out her anger on me. But she had hope too. Half Helghast or not, I was the sole heir of the Visari family.

The only thing saving me from extreme discrimination and total depravity in Helghast society was my Visari lineage. The mere fact that I happened to related to my grandfather, Helghan's greatest ruler of all time, exalted me to a sort of godlike status. Otherwise I'd be like all the other half-breeds out there: shunned, abused, living like beggars because neither side accepted them.

My half-breed heritage helped me develop an appreciation of what I had. I knew I led a life of wealth and luxury. But I never flaunted it in people's faces. Apart from my short temper, I wasn't a mean and spoiled child. I always tried to be nice to everyone who served the Visari estate, from the soldiers and bodyguards to the maids and butlers. "Little lady" or "princess" was everyone's nicknames of affection for me. But I was nothing like that. Learning how to be a lady bored me. Many times I wished I could be a boy like Pitru and Viglo...free to play rough, curse, get dirty, or do whatever the heck I wanted.

Sometimes I snuck into the kitchens so I could watch the chefs make food. I learned from them how hard it was to adapt to Vekta, since we were so used to food exclusively from Helghan, like Petrusite spiders and bursters. They even taught me a few recipes. I was very careful not to get my dress dirty, so Mother wouldn't know I snuck off again.

Unfortunately, those happy and carefree days soon came to an end.

When I turned eight, I started accompanying Mother for many of her meetings and negotiations with the Vektans. As usual, I was expected to be on my best behavior. Not that I had any reason to do otherwise. I had no intention of giving the Vektans a bad impression of my family and my people. I would politely introduce myself to ambassadors and other important figures when prompted. And that was that. I was to be a silent presence for the duration of such meetings, no matter how uncomfortable, tired or bored I might get. Usually I tried to understand what was going on. But most of it went over my head. I may be the Chancellor's daughter, but I was also just a child. On top of that, I didn't seem to inherit my family's keen interest and prowess in politics.

In all honesty, I'd rather hang out with Pitru and Viglo, and play endless rounds of hide and seek in my family's huge property.

There have been talks of constructing a wall, however, that piqued my interest. But not in a good way. I hated the idea of a wall. But the vast majority of the Helghast people had requested a separation from the Vektans. They didn't want anything to do with the people that destroyed our homeland, despite their great generosity to give half the planet to us. Mother was all for this plan, since the wall seemed like the best way to avoid all-out hostility. I listened to all this unhappily. I had no choice but to keep my mouth shut, balling the fabric of my dress in my fists until I couldn't feel my fingers anymore.

Sometimes Vektan politicians would bring their own sons or daughters over. I was surprised to find most of them close to my age. I hardly talked to them, though. We would exchange shy, quiet greetings before our parents had to commence the meetings. We'd sometimes stare at each other curiously, trying to see what was different about our respective races. They've probably never seen a Helghast face to face before. Technically I shared the same blood as these Vektan kids. But the Helghast side of me was pretty dominant. My black hair made my pale skin look even whiter. The Vektan kids couldn't keep eye contact with me for very long. Probably because they found me strange or intimidating. As far as I knew, green eyes were not normal.

Sometimes I wondered if they saw my grandfather in me, the big bad man from their history textbooks.

Things took a turn for the worse when plans for the wall's construction called for a mass deportation of Vektans. The people who had made their home before we settled in were ordered to pack up and leave, no questions asked. The Helghast military, as it turned out, often took extremes to reinforce this process. Any Vektan who opposed met a violent end by our soldiers' guns. Vektan politicians brought up this unsettling matter, and even accused Mother of letting this happen. Meetings often reached a boiling point as fingers were pointed and politicians shouted each other down.

"Those are your men gunning down our citizens!" a Vektan Senator angrily exclaimed to my mother. "We gave you half of Vekta, and this is how you repay us? Don't you have the power to restrain them from this madness?"

Other politicians affirmed their dissent as they made similar remarks.

In all this she kept her calm, though I could tell she was upset too. "I am doing the best I can," she replied in a tight voice. "Like the rest of you, what is important to me is the peace and prosperity of my people. I do not want to fight. But I will have you know that my efforts to keep New Helghan together have made me unfavorable with most of the military. They talk of radical things like conquest and the slaughter of your people. The Helghast High Council and I are currently taking measures to change the very structure of our military. Screenings will be more stringent. We'll do our best to prevent dangerous minds and weapons from taking control."

Considering the strong, unflinching woman my mother was, it was awfully brave of her to admit weakness.

The senator wearily shook his head. "Well, you best get that done quickly, Lady Visari. It's only a matter of time before this ends badly for both sides. The sooner that wall is finished, the better."

During these arguments, the Vektan kids and I would exchange very worrying glances. I wanted to reach out and tell them everything would be all right. Maybe the adults would one day say we wouldn't need the wall, because it was only increasing hostilities instead of stopping them. But who was I to make the reassurance?

The Vektans practically saw Mother and me as criminals.

In the days that went on, I didn't see the kids anymore. Either they didn't want to come, or their parents kept them within the safety of their side. Mother continued to bring me to meetings, but I failed to see why she would do that. It only made me more anxious, more upset. The wall was well on its way to be finished, but problems wouldn't go away. Tensions between Vekta and New Helghan escalated. Vektan senators and ambassadors can hardly talk to Mother without accusing her of something. Anything.

After a meeting, I happened to overhear what the Vektans were muttering as they left.

"I don't like the looks of her. Same with her daughter."

"Are we really going to trust the Visari family?"

"I'm not taking any chances. I'm going straight to VSA headquarters and tell the higher-ups to amp security on our side."

"We better watch our backs. Hera Visari's power is waning. But wait for that girl to grow up. She's got a mean look to her. You watch...one day, she's going to be just like her grandfather and try to kill us all."

My eyes widened in horror.

How could they say that when I hardly said a word? Judging me based on my appearance...they were no better than the Helghast who hated the very sight of Vektans. We were all the same.

I stiffened in surprise as I felt my mother's hands over my ears. "Come along, Maya," she said briskly. "It won't do you good to hear any more harsh words."

I remained where I stood. Inside I was fuming, quivering with rage. I wish the wall was never built. I wish all of us could just get along since we share the same home. Vektans blamed the Helghast. The Helghast blamed the Vektans. But I, as a half-breed, blamed us all. It was all our fault.

"I hate this!"

My mother turned around, raising an eyebrow at my outburst.

I felt like my body blazed with fire. Like nothing could stop me. "When I grow up, I'm going to restore Helghan! We'll be together with the Vektans...no more wars and no more fighting!"

She made a light chuckle, half amused and half in disbelief. "How are you going to do that, child?"

Suddenly I felt vulnerable. She laughed at me...! Laughed! Does she take me for a joke? It was one thing for her to get mad. But for her to laugh at me...that hurt me even more than the hardest slap. Tears sprang unbidden to my eyes. My fists trembled at my sides. "I will make it happen! You'll see!"

True, it's hard for anyone to take an eight year old girl seriously. But I meant every word I said. As I watched my mother leave, I made a promise then. I'll do whatever it took to achieve my dream. Then no one would laugh at me anymore. I couldn't wait for the time I succeed my mother and take over as leader. I was never very patient. I needed to do something now. I said I would bring us and the Vektans together...just as the wall was being constructed. The wall clearly had more of an effect on our world than my words ever did. I must've looked like an idiot in front of my mother. I looked back at the wall, feeling my heart break and venting all my hatred at it.

At the tender age of eight, I found my purpose in life. I'll do whatever it takes to bring us all together, whether both sides liked it or not. I had no idea how early my grandfather had started his own dream. But I'd follow in his footsteps, all right. I'm going to change the world.

How is it so far? Let me know what you think! :)

The Visari crest/coat of arms being a phoenix was just something I made up. I thought it would be appropriate. I want to explore the phoenix motif more. Just as Echo is like a phoenix, Pitru and Viglo are like loyal dogs...a shoutout to Colonel Radec being the Hound of Visari.

Military stuff will come later, I promise! I find it just as important to explore the other side of Echo too.