"Our society's success is not unlike a pendulum; we apex, but are always brought back down by the worst of us, by those who fail to uphold our ideals.
In that way, children are our gravity."
-Commander Eureka Avish
Chapter Nine - Heart of Stone
A tense silence enveloped the three Harmonics as they waited at the Tube Dome, a tension that Sans did his best to break.
"Do you have any plans for the rest of today, Eon?" he inquired, smiling awkwardly.
Eon stared at him blankly. "I assumed we would be training throughout the day."
Sans's smile faltered, and he averted his gaze. "Oh…yes, of course. My apologies."
She watched the nervous wreck of a man for a moment, then sighed, knowing her coldness was misdirected. "How about you? Where are you headed?"
The twin brightened, encouraged by Eon's initiative. "The sergeant and I were going to see my parents. I haven't been home in a while. Would you like to come along?"
Eon blinked at the unexpected invitation. "I suppose, if that's all right with you."
Sans nodded in a pleased manner as the Tube pod arrived. As the three of them stepped inside, Eon wondered why Kino was going to see the man's parents in the first place.
They sat in a loose circle, waiting as the pod rose slowly into the air. Eon actually wore her seatbelt this time, still too irritated by her previous encounter with Serif to deal with the chair's method of punishment.
"How long as it been since you last saw your family, Sans?" Eon asked, trying to make conversation.
The man smiled regretfully. "Several months, I'm afraid. My brother and I were both deployed after the last teleportation, and have been occupied ever since."
Eon nodded in understanding. She remembered that Libra-Prime had been caught in a brief altercation with a Sierram warship some time ago, though the city quickly managed to teleport a second time to safety.
Turning her head, Eon gazed at the horizontal rooftops sliding by beside her.
"Serif isn't visiting today, then?"
Sans sucked in his lower lip. "My brother's relationship with my parents is…strained, to say the least. He has distanced himself from them, and from me, since Cyrus's death."
"Serif used to be a model soldier," Kino said abruptly, cooly inserting herself into the conversation. "He was chosen more for his enthusiasm than his ability. But that all changed when Cyrus died. He believes that if justice truly did rule supreme, his brother would still live. You could say he has been disillusioned."
Eon narrowed her eyes at the city below, then turned to fix Sans with a serious gaze.
"If you don't mind me asking, Sans…how did Cyrus die?"
A look of supreme sorrow swallowed the man's face, and Eon instantly regretting asking. She expected for her question to go unanswered, and it almost did, until the moment their pod docked in the residential district.
"He sacrificed himself to save Serif's life," Kino said bluntly, stepping outside.
Most of Libra-Prime's living space consisted of towering, apartment style complexes, a method primarily chosen to preserve valuable space. But there was a small residential district, filled with quaint little homes built in the more standard two story style, and it was here that Sans's parents lived.
Eon felt somewhat out of place as she followed Sans down a long row of quiet houses, the roads lined with neatly trimmed displays of shrubbery to border equally immaculate lawns. It was such a clear departure from the gleaming, constantly bustling nature of the city that she felt like she was in another place, and only the shining chrome buildings jutting sideways overhead assured her otherwise.
"Most of those who live here were born before the Libra Project began," Kino said, walking beside her. "This is the only place in Libra-Prime that somewhat resembles their first home in Sierram, or so I've heard. The oldest Librans gather here."
Eon hummed softly as she observed the picturesque neighborhood. Some children were playing at the end of the street. A bird sang in a trimmed tree. Trees weren't even that common in Libra. Everything felt unnervingly peaceful.
It occurred to her then that she did not know Kino's exact age; the woman appeared to be in her late twenties, but Eon knew better than to assume off of that. There were numerous ways for Librans to appear both young or old, depending on personal preference.
All she knew was that the woman had been born in Libra, which meant she couldn't be any older than fifty five. The Project itself had taken place over the span of forty years, until the secession took place, after which fifteen years of sporadic war had raged on.
"My parents were also born before the Project," Sans mentioned offhandedly. "They are actually quite old, even older than Professor Ferrin. I believe they were in their thirties or forties when the Project began."
Thirties or forties. That would place Sans's parents at anywhere between eighty five and a hundred years old. Even Ferrin, at seventy seven, wasn't that advanced.
Eventually Sans stopped at one of the identical houses, using his finger chip to ring electronically.
Not a moment later the door was thrown open, and a woman who appeared to be in her late fifties sprang through the opening, wrapping Sans in a tight hug.
"Oh, my boy! It's been so long! How have you been?"
"Hello, mother," Sans said, smiling warmly and blushing despite himself. His mother simply laughed and hugged him again, seemingly overjoyed at his return.
Eon appraised the woman discreetly. Sans's mother was a short, well rounded creature, the wrinkles in her face worn in a way that suggested she had done much smiling in her life. Her skin was strangely tanned for a Libran, since they usually didn't get much sun. When the woman laughed Eon saw her eyes were a wild amber color, distinctive of the Sierram bloodline.
Once mother and son were finished reveling in each other's presence, the woman turned her attention to Kino.
"Sergeant," she said warmly, offering a hand. Kino took it and they shook, the blonde offering a friendly smile of her own.
"It has been too long, Mrs. T'nof," she said. "I apologize for not dropping by sooner."
"Oh, don't you worry about it," Mrs. T'nof said sternly, patting the sergeant firmly on the arm. "I'm sure you had your reasons. But I see you've brought a new face with you."
Eon blinked when all eyes turned to her, bowing her head briefly in greeting. "It is very nice to meet you. I am Private Eon Motus. I was just recently assigned to Kino's team."
"The pleasure is all mine," Mrs. T'nof assured her. "Well, please come in! We have a lot of catching up to do."
With that the roundish woman bustled down the hall, prompting the rest of them to follow. Eon retracted the soles of her shoes as they stepped inside, absorbing the interior of the house.
The building itself was modern, but the decor was not; the furniture was largely wooden, for one, which Eon had literally never seen before. Warm orange lights hung from the ceiling, reflecting off the wood and giving the home a gently throbbing feel, like a strong fire roaring in a hearth.
She heard Mrs. T'nof fussing about in the kitchen, and a moment later they emerged into the main room.
It was quite a standard sitting room, minus the odd furnishing. One fourth of the wide floor space had been sectioned off by a set of walls so that it may serve as a bedroom. The walls themselves were made out of some sort of smart glass, and were set to be transparent at the moment, allowing Eon to see what was inside.
There, sitting motionlessly in the room with his back turned to them, was a small boy.
Eon paused in the middle of the room, stopping Sans.
"I thought you started off as a triplet group?"
"We did," Sans agreed, tilting his head. "I am not related by blood to that boy."
"Who is he, then?"
She switched her gaze to Kino, who stared impassively back, a blank look on her face.
"That," she said simply, "Is my son."
At Mrs. T'nof's insistence, Eon and Kino both took a seat at the large wooden dining table at the center of the room while the woman served them steaming tea.
"My husband is out at work at the moment," the woman said apologetically as she set the mugs before them. "Sans is planning to stay until he returns, but I'm sorry he wasn't here to greet you."
"That's fine," Kino said calmly, accepting the tea.
As she downed the drink, Eon carefully lifted her own mug, watching the sergeant over the lip. The blonde seemed remarkably calm, considering what she had just revealed the Eon.
Sipping her tea, she glanced at the glass room.
The boy was still sitting with his back to them, playing some sort of video game on a holographic screen. As common as floating screens were, it looked bizarrely out of place amongst the homely decor.
Sans was sitting next to him, leaning back on his hands as he sat cross legged on the floor. The two seemed to be conversing, but the room was soundproofed, so she had no idea what they were saying.
Mrs. T'nof watched the scene affectionately, a steaming mug of her own in hand. "I'm so glad that those two get along so well. Serif didn't take to the idea of his adoption as quickly."
The woman didn't seem the least bit surprised at her other son's absence, much less questioning it. Eon felt a flash of pity for her.
"Serif is being difficult, per usual," Kino sighed, setting her mug down. "He didn't like the idea of Cyrus being replaced."
Mrs. T'nof bowed her head. "I'm sorry he's giving you so much trouble. He should be ashamed, as am I."
The sergeant just raised a dubious eyebrow. "You always say that. It isn't your fault. Serif's mistakes are his own, and no one else's."
The older woman smiled wryly. "I know. But as his mother, I feel a certain measure of responsibility."
Kino blinked at that, then went back to her tea, saying nothing.
"And Eon, I would ask that you gift my son with a little leniency," Mrs. T'nof said. "He is a good person. Albeit a stubborn one as well."
Eon wanted to tell the woman she only agreed with the second half of her assessment, but thought better of it. She didn't particularly mind hurting someone's feelings, but Librans born before the Project tended to value delicacy a bit more.
"They must miss their brother," she said neutrally.
The woman smiled wanly. "Yes. He died a few years ago, during the Battle of Djinn. We didn't quite know what to do with ourselves. Sans was devastated, and Serif became cold. And I, as his mother, found myself feeling rather helpless."
The confusion must have been evident on Eon's face, as Mrs. T'nof chuckled, shaking her head at herself.
"I apologize. I know that the connection between parent and child has more or less become obsolete; but you must understand that I matured before entering Libra. You could say I still harbor a sense of motherly bias."
Eon merely nodded politely, turning to Kino, who kept her eyes fixed on the bottom of her mug.
"Regardless, on the topic of children," Mrs. T'nof continued, obviously trying to change the topic, "You'll be happy to hear that yours is doing well, sergeant. He is a very healthy young man."
Kino nodded impartially, folding her hands atop the table. "That's good to hear. I'm glad to see that the Scale's decision was correct."
Mrs. T'nof could only smile difficultly at that. "Yes, of course…why don't you go speak with him? I'm sure he misses his mother."
Kino visibly blanched at the suggestion, hands retracting beneath the table. "I believe that would be ill advised."
"Oh, none sense," Mrs. T'nof flapped, crossing her arms. "He is your own flesh and blood. What animosity could exist between you?"
The sergeant opened her mouth to protest a second time, but closed it a moment later, quelled by the fiery look in the other woman's eyes. Eon watched the confrontation in silence, observing the past and present, one an era of bias and the other of equality.
"Very well," Kino said at last, calmly, like she had just consented to taking out the garbage.
Rising from her seat, she approached the transparent wall of the bedroom. An invisible door slid aside, and Kino stepped forward to greet her son.
Mrs. T'nof sighed as soon as the door closed, taking a seat across from Eon.
"I profess to not understanding the sergeant at all," she said, massaging her temples. "To think that a mother could be so indifferent to her own child…it baffles me, it really does. I would go to the ends of the earth for my own children."
Eon remained silent, withholding judgement. She had read about the societies of ages past, in which the bond between parent and child was the core building block of the community. It was understood that this bond grew out of a need to survive, but that wasn't really necessary anymore. Theirs was a world without bias, and motherly affection was one of those things that had died out with the use of paper and pencil.
"If I may ask," Eon said carefully, "How did Kino's son come under your custody?"
Mrs. T'nof smiled wanly at an old memory. "It was a case of mutual needs, really. About ten years ago, before the sergeant became a Harmonic, the Scale suggested an optimal mate for her."
Eon nodded. She knew that much already.
"So she birthed a child with Ferrin, as she told me, out of 'a sense of duty.'" Mrs. T'nof shook her head at the notion. "But circumstances changed, and neither of them were able to properly raise the child."
"I don't know much about Ferrin's end of the equation. I suspect it had to do with his work. But soon after giving birth, Kino enlisted with the Harmonics," Mrs. T'nof explained. "The war was in its most volatile state back then. Battles taking place every week. As a soldier, she could not devote the necessary time to raise a son. And so she came to me."
"And the exchange?" Eon questioned, looking at the woman. "What did you receive in return for raising him?"
Mrs. T'nof fixed her with a gentle look, spreading her palms above the table.
"Nothing," the woman repeated. "Or at least, nothing tangible or measurable. All three of my boys were out of the house by then. But I was still a mother at heart. I missed the rigors of raising a son. So I volunteered to adopt Kino's."
"But…" Eon frowned, struggling with the scenario laying out in her mind. "That doesn't make any sense. It isn't a fair exchange. Would the Scale even allow such a thing?"
"Erinyes exists to keep us happy by ensuring fairness," Mrs. T'nof agreed. "But I was already happy to raise a son. So it was allowed. Kino tries her best to even the scales, of course. She sends us money all the time. I tell her it isn't necessary, but she insists. We wouldn't be able to live in this district otherwise."
So Kino did play some role in her son's development, albeit indirectly. But Eon knew without having to ask that the sergeant sent money out of a need to respect the law, rather than ensure her son's success. A perfectly reasonable motivation in Eon's mind, but she knew already that Mrs. T'nof would disagree.
Inside the glass room, Kino was conversing with her son. Sans had sidled off to the corner to give them privacy, listening to music.
Eon observed the exchange with morbid interest. Not only was she fascinated by the impassive look on Kino's face, she was equally intrigued by the matching indifference on the boy's.
He was a small boy, about ten, with silky dark hair that didn't resemble Kino's at all; he must have gotten it from Ferrin. His eyes were a startling green though, and it was through this that Eon knew this was real, that this wasn't some facade, and that there had been a whole side to her friend she had been totally unaware of.
Kino stared down at her son, arms crossed as she asked a question. The boy responded calmly, maintaining eye contact. They looked, for all the world, like they were discussing business, like they were two grizzles entrepreneurs trading the harsh realities of life, and not a mother conversing with her son.
Eon felt a strange emotion as she watched them. It wasn't bad, per se; she did not feel that these circumstances were wrong. Just odd. Odd in a way she could not place.
Mrs. T'nof sighed to herself, surveying the stony exchange.
"I worry about him," she murmured. "Ten years we have lived together, yet I do not feel close to him at all. He treats me like a stranger. Sometimes I wonder if it's because I am not his real mother. But part of me says it doesn't matter."
It was then that Eon realized it was pity that she felt for the boy. Pity for a small soul born into insurmountable circumstances. She knew how that felt, in a way. She too had been thrust into a world not of her own choosing.
But she, at least, was in control of her own destiny. Eon felt intimately that Kino's son was not. He was a product of a sense of duty that he may not even identify with, raised by a woman he may not even like.
Again, she did not feel that it was wrong. Everything had been done for his benefit.
But had she been in his shoes, gratitude might not be the emotion she harbored.
As their visit came to a close, Mrs. T'nof invited Eon to meet Kino's son. The two of them entered the room, where Eon shook the emotionless boy's hand, learning that his name was Pit.
Pit was endlessly polite and accommodating. Eon was not once offended while speaking with him, which was significant in that she did not usually like small children.
But there was a distance, an underlying coldness to their conversation that disturbed her. Pit made small talk in the same way shell shocked soldiers socialized with their ignorant and sheltered friends. Benevolent, but held back by a mysterious darkness, one that could not be explained or even quantified, much less eradicated. It was a part of him.
"It must be nice knowing you have people looking out for you," Eon said at one point.
The boy merely gave her a glasslike smile, saying nothing.
As they said their goodbyes and prepared to leave, however, he answered her properly.
Eon was the last to leave the glass room, and was about to close the door when Pit spoke.
"Scars do not heal perfectly, private. Remember that."
Eon paused with her hand on the door, then shuddered, resisting the urge to run out of the building.
She dreamt again that night. This time a falcon came screaming down from the sky to tear out the mysterious girl's entrails, ripping through her delicate ribcage to get to the meat inside.
Eon leapt upon the bird and seized it, wringing it, trying to break its neck, but the animal turned to liquid and dripped through her fingers. Her mind was consumed by the singular need for vengeance, the vengeance in which she had placed all her faith, but in a way it didn't matter. The girl's corpse already lay before her.
She felt so profoundly empty. The anger she felt filled her entire body, but it still was not enough, there still remained a hollowness to her, a void that had existed since the day she awoke in Libra.
She felt that the mysterious girl could fill that void, but she was already dead, so it was all meaningless.
Is she the answer?