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Snippet #2821650

located in Father, a part of Impending Pursuit, one of the many universes on RPG.

Father

Not Daddy

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ljilja Character Portrait: Yeqon
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Yeqon's Office

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Tap-ta-ta-tap-tap, tap-tap. The sound of Jaden rapping upon the door to Yeqon's office disturbed the eerie silence between Ljilja and Zorana, whose hands stood nervously at their sides as they waited for a response from those on the other side. Ljilja brushed down her two-layered blue dress, which she had last worn at the interviews and had chosen again to wear for this occasion. A little shiver ran through her. This was going to be the first time she had spoken with anyone from Fort Kate since she arrived on Father two weeks ago, and she knew exactly who she was going to call.

The door slid open, fitting so flush with the doorframe that one could be forgiven for assuming it was never there. They were greeted by Eon, Yeqon's slave, who stepped to the side, gesturing openly to invite them in. "Welcome," he said. "Please head over to the chairs."

Within the well-decorated office, decked with pristine antiques and relics from bygone ages, were three leather chairs placed before a hand-carved wooden desk. Behind the desk was the stoic Yeqon, ready for their arrival, sitting before a massive holoscreen on which the call would be conducted.

Ljilja's eyes flitted from object to object as she and Zorana followed Jaden inside. She had seen old items before, but never in such fine condition. Jaden, meanwhile, remained focused as he proceeded to take a seat. After all, he had been here before. Zorana joined him, scooting her chair over to sit nearer by his side.

Finally, Ljilja stepped up to the desk. She clutched her hand closed for strength and addressed Yeqon directly. "Thank you for saving me," she said with the meekness of a mouse. "I-I wanted to say thanks in person. I am glad to be able to."

Yeqon, wearing his signature frown, answered, "Don't let it happen again."

Eon sighed wearily at his master's response, but otherwise remained silent. Though at first it seemed his dissatisfaction fell on deaf ears, Yeqon soon changed his tone. Rising from his seat, he said, "This moment is a reward...for your diligence. An excellent performance...thus far, Ljilja."

"Thank you very much," she bashfully replied.

"You are welcome," Yeqon said. Uncharacteristically, he then asked for permission from the little blue mutant. "May my servant stay...during your call?"

"Yes," Ljilja immediately replied, "of course. We are friends."

Eon's ears twitched in delight. Yeqon's did not, though to say he was displeased would be a lie.

At the touch of a button, Yeqon brought the holoscreen to life. Eon moved Yeqon's chair beside Jaden's, replacing it with one intended for Ljilja, that she might have a better view of the holoscreen. With Yeqon's approval, Ljilja sat down behind his desk and faced the display.

"It's voice-controlled. Say the destination...and the call will automatically be connected," Yeqon explained.

Ljilja nodded in acknowledgement. She shifted to get comfortable the chair she had been given, then took a deep breath. Inhale...exhale. With her hands in her lap, she called out her destination.

"Monarch Security, Mining Claim 4K-8."



Platform 7, Fort Kate

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Rising and falling like a majestic bird, a hand with its thumb and pinky performed swooping aerial swirls, dives, and climbs. Its owner, a scraggly-bearded young mutant, was leaning back in his chair, watching his hand soar through the air as his belt-mounted communicator buzzed with security chatter.

A chime from his desk forced him upright, and he cleared his throat to recompose himself. He checked his holoscreen, noting the caller: Yeqon Cryo, Overseer, Father.

He blinked a few times in confusion. What on earth did a Topside human want with a mining outpost in the middle of nowhere? But he didn't have time to ask questions; if he delayed too long, he might lose his job. So he tucked his shirt in and answered the call.

"Overseer! It is good to see you. How can I he—nemoj me jebat!" he cursed. He rubbed his eyes, then took a second look to confirm what he saw: on his display, instead of an Overseer, was a small blue mutant he knew well. He proclaimed, "It is Ljilja!" before leaping from his chair to call someone from offscreen.
"Valentin!"

Ljilja giggled on her side of the call, the levity helping to ease her nerves.

Bootsteps hailed the approach of a heavy-set man, who hauled himself into the seat and dropped with a thunk, a gesture that reminded her of her father. His vision failing, he dragged his chair closer to the screen and squinted to see more clearly. His graying hair and scarred face briefly filled the screen until he was able to confirm who he was speaking to. With a low growl, he fell back into the chair and smiled in satisfaction. "Ljiljica... you are okay. We are all so very proud of you."

At this, Ljilja grinned from ear to ear, but tears were welling up in her eyes. She did not know how to respond to his praise but with a shaky nod and a soft grunt. "Is...Sonja okay...?" she asked.

"Da," he answered, "she is okay. Worried, but okay. She hopes you are happy. And forgives you."

Nodding again, Ljilja clenched her shaking hands in her lap. On the verge of crying, she continued, saying, "U-um...the first Round is tomorrow...I might not...make it back."

Valentin rubbed at the lines of his forehead, gazing into Ljilja's eyes. He saw a desperate mutant facing certain death. It was a look he had seen before. "Then there is something you must know," he replied.

As if he had just noticed the others in the background of the call, his focus shifted to the lot of them—Jaden, Zorana, Yeqon, Eon—and his gaze narrowed. "What I say here, you will tell no one. Yes?"

His age and the graveness of his tone made a compelling argument. Much as Yeqon despised ultimatums, he sensed the importance of this one. "So long as silence...brings no adverse consequences to my servant and I...yes."

Jaden and Zorana both waved their assent in Finfolk sign.

Raising his chin, Valentin seemed to accept these responses. He held his fist up and roared to all in earshot: "Samoća!" After a few moments, when it was clear that no one in the security office remained to hear him, he said, "Aleksander was a great man. The sea took him."

Ljilja's curiosity stayed her tears. She sniffled, but acknowledged his words. "I-in the demolition, yes."

"Da," Valentin confirmed. "But this is not whole story. He had the ori."

She cocked her head to the side. "No...? He...I would have seen the marks," she answered, her brows furrowing.

"He painted them over. Hid his tiredness. Drank much."

Ljilja searched her memories of her father. Was anything off about him in his last moments? She could not say. Instead she asked, "Why are you telling me this?"

Valentin closed his eyes and swallowed. "Because you deserve to know: Demolition was not accident. He chose to die there."

"What?!" she exclaimed, narrowing her gaze. "How can you know this?"

"Because, he came to me the night before. Ask me to take care of you when he is gone. I said yes."

Her spine turned to ice. She sputtered for words, her breath staggering. "B-bu-but...why?" she wondered helplessly.

Growling under his breath, Valentin stated, "I can not explain a man's pride to you, Ljiljica. Aleks did not want you to see him turn slowly to sand. Ne. Better to keep his dignity; go on his terms."

Ljilja collapsed back into her seat, bringing her hands to her head. She tugged at her hair, struggling to make sense of things.

Finally, she asked, "W-what do I do...knowing this?"

"That is for you; I cannot say. I am sorry, Ljiljica. It was better for you to know."

For a few moments, all that could be heard was Ljilja's sniffling. Valentin, too, aged and weathered, felt his own eyes watering at the sight. She was not his daughter, but for the last year, she had been treated that way. He had no desire to see her suffer, but to keep a matter like this secret on the eve before a competition in which she might die was unthinkable. Neither of them could muster words. It was the computer which spoke first.

"Tunnel collapse detected, Sector Će. Personnel affected."

"Jebote!" he swore. "I must go now, Ljiljica." Security officers began to fill the screen, suiting and gearing up for a rescue effort. With only moments before he, too, would have to respond, Valentin gave the parting words, "Jako te volim. Come back safe."



Back at the Office

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Trembling and hugging her knees to herself, Ljilja broke down into soft sobs.

Yeqon frowned deeply. He knew, ultimately, that she did not belong in a competition like this, and instances like this of what he would term weakness only bolstered his position. To him she seemed a mere weeping child, unprepared for the realities of bloodsports, and she could not disprove him in this state.

But neither could he tell her to give up.

Yeqon fetched a handkerchief from his pocket, holding it out for Eon to snatch. He delivered it to her posthaste, and she took it in gratitude, blowing her nose into it.

Ljilja lowered her legs, sitting properly once more to say a congested "Thank you" to Eon and Yeqon. She coughed into the cloth, trying to recompose herself. She needed strength. With Valentin and Sonja taken care of, there was one last person she needed to call before she could accept the possibility of death. Swallowing mucus, she asked, "C-can I...make one more call?"

Eon turned to Yeqon. Yeqon shut his eyes and sighed, then looked away.

With a smile, Eon said, "My master will allow you to make another call."

Once again Ljilja thanked them. Then she shut her eyes, taking deep breaths in an attempt to to still her heart and stop her sobs. When she had calmed herself down enough to hold a conversation, she spoke the destination for her final call.

"Staša. The Dancing Onion."



The Kitchen

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The call was automatically connected, evidently configured to do so as a matter of convenience. Multitasking appeared to be the order of the day for the white-haired woman on-screen, who, with the help of her many tentacles, chopped and diced, sauced and spiced, salted and dipped, stirred and sipped. She was turned away from the screen to tend to her line, and as she toiled she hummed a sailor's serenade.

Ljilja's heart melted. "Mati," she murmured wistfully, at once recognizing her from the stories her father used to tell.

The tentacles ceased immediately. They began disengaging from their tasks, setting down cutlery and ladles, allowing the woman to turn around without making a mess of things. Placing her hands on her hips, the cook swiveled round and bent forward to take a closer look. Her glimmering sapphire eyes were the clear origin of Ljilja's own, and she locked eyes with Ljilja on the other side, sizing her up and comparing her to her memories.

Once assured of her identity, the woman's tentacles relaxed, and her lips curled into a smile that could warm the coldest of hearts. "So it is you! I saw you on the screens, but I had no way to reach...ah, lijepa moja đevojko...how pretty you are. Thank you, Overseer. Send for it, I will give you the best. Crni rižot, fritule, rakija, whatever you like."

Tearfully giggling, Ljilja spoke up. "Mama! The first we meet in however-many-years, and all you can think about is cooking food!"

Her mother softly tutted. "Ne, Ljiljica, it is more than food! It is...hospitality! Kasuns show their thanks. You know this from Aleks, yes? Now who are all these friends? Hello! Say hello!"

Jaden and Zorana greeted her in Finfolk sign, to which she cheerfully applauded, returning their introduction in kind.

Yeqon and Eon took a more human approach. "Hello, ma'am," Yeqon said, his words coated with warmth and respect despite his unchanging tone, "Thank you for your time... My name is Yeqon Cryo, and this is Eon. We are associates of Ms. Ljilja."

Touching her hand to her heart, her face softened with delight, won over in spades. "So very polite! You are not all human, are you?" she remarked of Yeqon. She could not have known how accurate her statement was. "I am Anamarija," she said with a curtsy, "Ljilja's mother. I see she is in good hands!"

Gesturing to Jaden, Yeqon was quick to correct her. "This is Jaden Kumar... Caring for Ms. Ljilja is his responsibility. My duty is to oversee this competition..."

Jaden gave a pleasant wave as he was introduced.

"Of course, Eon here is her friend...so his position is vastly different from mine." Yeqon concluded in consolation, gesturing to Eon, who grinned with exceptional warmth knowing that he had his master's approval.

"I'll watch out for her whenever possible," Eon assured her.

Anamarija lightly covered her lips with her fingertips, raising her brows and grinning. "Eon! So tall and handsome! You are courting moja Ljiljica? I approve."

"Ma!" Ljilja protested, "He is a friend! You are embarrassing me!"

Holding her hands behind her back and swaying playfully, Anamarija replied, "I know, I know. But when otherwise do I get to tease you? This is only chance to try!"

"If I win this round, I will be able to move in with you," Ljilja answered.

Anamarija's wide smile disappeared in a flash, replaced with a flat, serious expression. She had gone from bubbly to motherly in an instant. "Mm. You are like Aleks in this way."

"Is that a bad thing?" Ljilja asked. "Don't you want me with you there in Staša?

Her mother sighed. "Da, I want you here. But if I choose between maybe-dead Ljiljica and sure-to-live Ljiljica..." She tilted her head to one side, resting it against her palm, gazing longingly at her daughter's visage on the holoscreen. "I am your mother. I only want you to alive and to happy. But it is your choice. Aleks would say, 'Without choice, you are not really alive.' But you know this already, I am sure."

"But, Ma...Aleksander is..."

"I know," she said, cutting Ljilja off, "I know. It is okay. He was a sailor. He always knew the sea would take him."

Ljilja clutched the handkerchief in her hands. She was not yet ready to admit to herself how much she missed her father, and in the face of such strength, she was even more reluctant. Instead, she asked, "Aren't you sad...?"

Seeing right through her, Anamarija reached forth in a motion to pat the holocam before her. "Of course I am sad, Ljiljica... But we must to treasure what we have, not to focus on what is lost."

A little chime from Jaden's commlink indicated important news. As Jaden pulled up the message, he groaned. "Scout's in the medbay again. Aries says it's serious."

Ljilja glanced back at Jaden, then at her mother.

Anamarija smiled fondly. "Just like Aleks...you wish to help. Such a good girl. Help your wolf friend and prepare. I will watch you on the feeds tomorrow, if you choose to play the Games."

"Jako te volim, Mati... I hope to see you soon."

"Fališ mi - jako te volim. I love you with all of my heart."