All Decade's Fault
This segment was just so damn painful to write:
It was just approaching sunset when I arrived at the scene. From the response of the place's owner, the IS just floated down and sat there, watching the wild wallabies leaping around the underbrush.
Thanking her, I took strides to get through the surrounding fence--<Shenlong> was outside the property, so technically Linyin wasn't trespassing anywhere. I just need to carefully tread over some---GAH these stupid bushes hurt--hey, what are those things sticking to my pants? Argh.
I finally caught up to the figure of an IS hunched in a sitting-squatting position. Like a giant mechanical kid, sulking. I tried to keep silent, then gave up. An active IS could hear a mouse sneeze, assuming mice sneeze. Or if mice played poker with its buddies on friday nights--just throwing it out there.
<Shenlong> seemed to just sit there, and I noticed Linyin was eyeing a small pack of Wallabies just beyond the treeline. That was all I saw before the animals bolted at the sight of me.
Linyin didn't turn around, still staring at the clearing where the wallabies were just moments before. Didn't seem like she was ready to kill anything, so I took a cautious enough step forward, to look her in the eye.
Her cheeks were wet, and it hadn't been raining. Eyes red and worn.
I just folded my arms and looked back at her. The sane part of my brain reminded me not to say anything that would get me killed. The thinking part was suddenly free to analyze what happened--now that I'd found her and I could relatively stop panicking.
When I made that comment about her wanting to kill Orimura Ichika, I was referring to the one-on-one match they'd had less than a year prior. I expected to rile her feathers, but not nearly to this level. Linyin seemed almost shaken by the idea. A little too shaken for normal.
And nothing was going to happen if we kept standing out here staring at each other.
"Okay," I decided to talk first, clean up the already over the top mess later. The worst that could happen is she could kill me, right? Wait, that's not exactly a positive thing. "You want to talk about it?"
"No." she hissed in an accusing voice more childlike than before. "Why should I talk to a mean old man like you?"
"Precisely because I'm a mean old man." Wait, was that supposed to sound cool or something? "You can talk about things you wouldn't say to a friend."
Linyin just glared back, and I swear there were more tears in her eyes.
"Hey, it's not like I'm going to be sending reports back to your country or to IS Academy." Truthfully, it's not like I want the whole world to know that I'd just sent the Representative Candidate for China away crying. Losing my job would be the least of my worries. "Say anything you want."
<Shenlong> did not move, but Linyin turned her face away.
"I don't want to be in your country." She started to mumble angrily under her breath. "I want to go back."
Back? "To China?"
"IS Academy." Lin replied, face still avoiding me. "If I wasn't ordered to, I wouldn't even be here."
"Well, that's simple. Just do what needs to be done and go." Since when did this twin-tailed little devil start having a sensitive side?
"It's not just that! I don't like being here!" The underbrush rustled--lots of scared animals in there. Linyin still had her IS active, but didn't make any move outside of wailing. "I don't want to be here, where you shoot wallabies and yell at little girls and there's nothing but desert at the center!"
Desert? It's true that Australia's mostly desert, but---wait, just how far inland did you go, anyway? Hang on, that's REALLY not the problem here!
"You haven't been here long enough to complain," Not like me. I can complain because I live here! Hey, am I raising my voice? "Just because you don't like this place doesn't mean--"
"I don't want to be here! I want to be back there!"
"AAAARRRGGHHHH!!!" I failed to notice just how loudly Linyin was screaming. She must have started three half-sentences or so ago, in between 'wallabies' and yell. As a consequence, I was also elling back pretty loudly, my throat's getting hoarse and I was getting tired of the run-around: "If all you want is to leave, then finish your job and go, Representative Candidate!"
"I WANT TO BE WITH ICHIKA!!!"
Linyin's hands covered her face, I guess she was trying to just cover her mouth but the IS's mechanical hands were big enough to cover her entire head. Or my head, for that matter. Oh lord, please try not to think of what an angry kid could do with those hands, such as squashing my head like a pimple--argh, I thought it!
Again, cue the Great Silence of Awkward(TM) between us.
Linyin lowered her hands and looked at me with this odd, utterly suspicious, sad-little-girl look.
"...I want to be with Ichika."
Ichika? Orimura Ichika? Don't tell me she's already planning Japan's second attempt to invade Australia, we can't take it! There's a Kangaroo shortage in our defense grid! No wait, Linyin's Chinese, not Japanese. China will probably do something far worse to us, like...litigate. Why the hell is my brain going off on such retarded tangents when my life is at stake?
Okay, collect yourself. I'm fairly sure I haven't started looking like a roast pumpkin, as Linyin continued to have that completely untrustworthy and out of character serious look. It's more disturbing than the devilish kiddy attitude she had up until that incident in the city.
"So," I'm making sure I'm phrasing this the right way: "You basically took my throwaway comment seriously."
There was a glare, but no explosion this time. Phew.
"It's not like that at all. I don't want to kill Ichika," Linyin sniffled, a kid trying not to cry but failing entirely. "I sometimes want crack that thick head of his open, but I don't want to KILL him!"
Hey...doesn't cracking someone's head open constitute killing them anyway?
"Ichika's just stupid! He doesn't understand how I feel--" she continued, sounding more exasperated. "Huuu~~He just...he just...!!!"
"Girls talk about how their feelings are hurt, but nobody ever asks the guys." There, I saw that light flash of anger in her face. I took a breath, marvelling how I can keep a straight calm face when I'm two pigeons short of an execution by giant mecha.
"What if Ichika was here in front of you, right now?"
I've been known to be dense around some people. More often than not it was me being too angry to listen to common sense.
I was not dense enough to miss this.
There was this sudden little zap of surprise on Linyin's face when I mentioned Orimura's name. Her face had a blush like wildfire for all of three seconds before she managed to compose herself again. It was obvious; You'd have to have a blockhead made of depleted uranium to miss that look entirely--and I have a funny feeling such a blockhead really does exist.
Bingo. "I knew it. You'd rather be around Orimura Ichika than me."
"--Who wants to be around a nasty old man like you!?!"
That's not what I meant! But that's okay, I wouldn't want to be around me either--hey stop changing the subject! And hey, it's not natural to see an IS like <Shenlong> kneeling down like that. I know it's just a machine's legs not the real person's, but it still looks painful.
Wait, is she crying again?
Okay, this is where I admit I'm dense, because I have no idea why she's crying now. Goddammit, stop that. Stop crying, you stupid kid. I couldn't help myself. I didn't realize that <Shenlong> had knelt down like a child once more, putting its pilot down to her normal petite height.
I put a hand on her head. Linyin's only response was a sad whimper.
This is probably the real reason I can't really get along with Fan Lin Yin. She's just a kid, trying to act cool and tough. At the same time, I wodnered if most of the girls studying at IS Academy were like that, just young girls pretending to be strong, overwhelmingly confident women that they clearly weren't.
Or maybe that's just my old-fashioned male chauvanism at work.
Wait, why the hell is this suddenly turning into one of those dramatic cutscenes from a japanese dating simulation game?
I pulled my hand back.
"I don't like kids being made to pilot weapons--" No, I meant to say I don't approve of girls piloting weapons, but it came out wrong. Oh great, what now? "Being a pilot shouldn't be more important than being a kid."
Result: Perplexed Linyin. "Huh?"
Urgh. Make something up and fast!
"I mean, why the heck are you kids in such a hurry to grow up?" That sounded intelligent--NO IT'S NOT! I'm making things up as I go along here! "Kids have things to do that are more important than testing piloting exoskeletons and shooting things. For starters, being honest with each other."
<Shenlong> stood up, even as Linyin deactivated the armor of one arm, rubbing her eyes.
"Once you're an adult, you can't afford to be honest anymore." Okay, where did I steal that line from, anyway? "Especially not when you're in love. Adults play the nastiest games when it's love you're talking about."
Geh. GEH! How the hell did I lead the conversation in this direction?
There was more silence, but it didn't seem awkward this time around. I risked turning my back on Linyin. She'd either try to run away again or pummel me into the ground like a fencepost, but it wasn't like I had anything left to risk at this point.
That's when I saw it.
Above us was singing a starlight serenade of white streaks crossing the southeastern skies, a meteor shower coursing through the dark. I remember viewing the same scene ages ago, maybe when I was as old as Linyin herself. It brought back some odd memories.
"Back in my old country, I watched a meteor shower like this."
"What do you mean 'your old country'?" Linyin asked.
"Before I moved to Australia." I started talking without really thinking. Knocking back, I let myself fall to sit on the grassy grounds, still watching the spectacle overhead. "Back when it wasn't so polluted that you couldn't see the stars. I figured that if I couldn't change where I lived, I changed where I lived."
"You moved from your old country to Australia?" Linyin's look was that of utter surprise. Coming from China, she probably never knew you could migrate to another country if you chose to. "Why would you do that?"
"Oh, lots of reasons. I didn't like the heat, I didn't get along with the people, I hated the government, I hated my job, I couldn't get along with my family, and then there was this girl---" STOP RIGHT THERE, BUCKO. "--I just didn't want to live there anymore."
"So you left because of a girl?" Linyin sounded utterly disappointed, as if she was expecting a world-shaking explanation.
"She wasn't the ONLY reason," I started, then realized that there was no point skirting around the issue. "I told her I'm never coming back."
Linyin's ears seemed to pick this up, before I knew it she was listening to my story.
"I'm not going to go into details," I grimaced. "She was a girl who played with other peoples' feelings but hated it when other people were insensitive to her. Don't ask me how we met. They all warned me. Told me not to lose my heart to her, she'll never give it back."
"She sounds like a nasty woman." Linyin commented.
"You know how they say two people in love have to be honest with each other? Honesty was something severely lacking in that relationship." I stood up and made a show of dusting off the--OW!--thistles from my pants. "We were both trying to act like adults when we were actually just kids. I should've known things would fall apart."
Linyin kept silent, attentive.
"I wanted a secure job and family, she wanted to be free to do whatever she wanted. Neither of us explained to each other what we wanted, we just assumed they should know." I drew in a breath, as the next part was pretty hard for me to live through again while telling the same tale. "It was during a meteor storm like this. I was going to propose to her when she suddenly said she was moving to America."
"Then why didn't you go with her?"
"Because she told me the night before she left." That come out a lot more bitter than I'd hoped. "I was planning to marry her. In response, she told me to my face she wanted to easily marry an American guy and get citizenship. We broke up, and she told me never to see her again."
"That would have been a long time ago, before the IS?" Linyin wanted to clarify that point, and I nodded.
In this day and age of the IS system, women had far more rights and privileges than men. Meaning that many roles were now reversed--it was more likely in this day and age for a man to try and marry upwards, instead of a woman. Hell, I think that was the case with those poms in the Alcott family, if I read the file right.
"Couldn't you just accept it?
"I did accept it. After a year, I finally got over it. And that would have been fine," Another breath, I was trying hard not to hyperventilate, since bringing up this old topic causes me to stress out like crazy. I hate revisiting my past like this. "Except that after that year, she called from America and said she missed me and wanted me back."
"What?!" There was this new look I hadn't seen before on Linyin's face, one that looked like the face was spelling out 'are you an idiot?' in all caps and bold font. "Then take her back!"
"...AFTER she'd married. And was STILL married."
"Geh." I could hear Linyin make a gasp of mild surprise.
"That was just around after the White Knight incident occurred, and women were now gaining rights. She said she'd changed her mind, that she forgave ME, and then told me to go to America to find her. By then I already realized that she wasn't the marrying kind, she just wanted to have me around just for old times' sake.
"She called me a coupole more times demanding I go to America for her. I reminded her of what she told me on that meteor night the year before, which she flatly denied. And then she went on about how I never considered her feelings and how I was being selfish and dense.
Once again I took a breath.
"I told her to shove it. And then I left for Australia where she can't find me. And that's how I ended up here."
Linyin looked strangely apologetic--for what reason I don't know. "Couldn't you forgive her?"
"She told me in no uncertain terms never to see her again. If she asks anyone, I know they'll tell her to her face that it's too late for her to fix this. And she'll never admit she was in the wrong."
"But what if she said something but meant something else?"
"Men don't work that way! I don't wanna know what she said. She can cry all she wants but it's not gonna bring me back."
"But don't you care how she feels?"
"What about how I felt? Is it because I'm male that my feelings don't matter?" I felt faint, my blood pressure was acting up while I was reliving that horrible experience from my past. "It's not just her. Neither of us were honest with each other. And it's compounded by the fact that as adults now we can't go back on what's been said."
The silence from Linyin, with the intent look on her face, showed how attentive she was to my story. I hadn't realized it was possible for the girl could actually be sensible for an extended amount of time.
"...it's stupid." she finally responded. "You ran away to another country because you and your girlfriend couldn't get along?"
"That's the short of it. Most adults regret not doing something as a kid. Either because they were scared, or proud, or trying so hard to be like an adult that they don't even try to be a kid. Don't be afraid to say your mind and don't be afraid to apologize when you realize you're wrong. It has to be both, otherwise you keep making mistakes you never fix, or you end up apologizing for things you didn't do."
The <Shenlong> stood silent.
"Kids think adults are more understanding and mature about relationships. That's not true. If anything, we're a lot worse at it, because we have to look dignified and never admit we're wrong," I'm fairly certain I'm ripping off this conversation from someone else, maybe some drunk workaholic mother somewhere. "And adults are always more concerned about how every other adult thinks. Doing the 'right thing' in the eyes of everyone is sure to kill off all your plans for a happy ending."
"Then, what should I do?"
"Do what you feel is worth doing. Make mistakes while it's still early enough in life for you to fix them if it goes wrong," I can't believe I'm encouraging her to do this--my career is doomed. "Hell, you wouldn't want to grow old and cranky like me, would you?"
The next thing I know, I'm being grabbed by a pair of very large metal arms. I only had a few seconds to ThiIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEE E----!!!!!!"
----Good thing I'm wearing dark pants!!!