Serge sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the blinking image floating in midair before him. It showed the colors of House Mercury, and was awaiting his touch. Pushing it would contact Seol, who he very much doubted would want to speak to him right now. He’d pulled it up several minutes ago, and had been sitting ever since, staring blankly through the shining silver screen. With a sigh, he reached out, but touched a small tab in the corner of the screen instead, pulling up a larger interface. He tapped a few more icons, and a gallery of images appeared in miniature. It was very small, a picture of him standing with his full assortment of relatives, one of just his parents, four pictures of his younger sister she’d sent him since the start of the Games, to show him how much she’d grown. He wasn’t the sort who kept a lot of images like this, but there were a few more, ones taken during training, sent to him by Jayle who’d insisted he have a copy.
He enlarged one, taking in the sight of himself sitting between Jayle and Seol, each of them looking very small and childish.. According to the date, it had been taken three years ago, only a couple months before they’d learned they would be entering the Land Games together. He himself appeared to be glaring at the camera, eyes narrow beneath his long midnight blue bangs. Jayle looked as serene as ever, but Seol was all smiles, holding out the victory sign to the cameras. He remembered, they’d taken the picture shortly after a micromanagement examination, meant to test their reflexes and control. Seol had won it hands down, and she’d gloated the rest of the night. Her and Jayle chatted loudly for hours, laughing and distracting him as he’d tried to get some work done. When he finally convinced him to leave him be, Jayle had made him agree to an image capture before they left. Of course, they weren’t physically together, each of them broadcasting their holo-images from whole planets away, but it still made a convincing picture.
“What’s this all for?” he remembered Seol asking, giving Jayle a shrewd look. “My kicking your ass in a micro-test is hardly an unusual occasion.”
“Today’s a special day. I’ll tell you after we take the pictures,” Jayle had said. He’d wondered why she wouldn’t say it before. After it was done, Jayle made her announcement.
“My sister has just gotten through with negotiations with House Azure. Me and Ser are officially betrothed!” Serge was as shocked as Seol, his father having not yet given him the news. Seol had grinned, and given them congratulations, but then she had gotten very quiet, and stayed that way the rest of the night. He’d forgotten about that.
Feeling as though he were about to swallow some bad medicine, he reached out and put his finger to the silver image. As it switched to a loading screen, he pulled back his uniform coat from the bed behind him and put it back on. Best to show a dignified appearance.
The screen vanished, and the air in entire room shimmered, then Seol appeared, slightly blurry until the image clarified. She was standing ahead of him, dressed in those chains she loved so much. Her face was blank, no smiles now. He stood as well.
“Serge. You haven’t called for a long, long time,” she said, stating the facts without accusation.
“No. I wanted to offer you my condolences. I heard about your mother and brother. I’m sorry.”
“They were supposed to be going somewhere safe. A piece of debris, a chunk of rock no bigger than my fist, struck them while they were at max speed. Of course the ship’s shields should have made it a non-issue, but they were malfunctioning at the time. Don’t you think that’s strange Serge?” she asked.
“Yes. There still should have been a back up shield. It was a…very unfortunate accident,” he said. He could barely stand to say it. This was going about as well as he’d expected.
“No accident. Sabotage.”
“That’s possible. Likely, even.”
“Though I suppose we’ll never know. The ship was almost completely destroyed. Do you know how old my brother was, Serge?”
“I’m sorry, no,” he said.
“Eight. He had a birthday coming up. A little over six months from now. I promised him the Land Games would be over by then, that I’d be home in time for his birthday.”
“I’m sorry.” It was all he could say. Her words conjured up the image of his own little sister, 11 years old, sending him messages nearly every day, still excitedly waiting for the day he’d come back home.
“What do you have to be sorry for, Serge?” Her voice was as sharp as an executioner’s axe, now. “We both know who’s responsible.”
“That’s… not true. I don’t know anything.”
“Of course you don’t. No one knows anything. Half the contestants in this Game have contacted me, offering sympathy. But not a single one of them had so much as a theory as to why my family was murdered. Everyone just pretends like it doesn’t matter, like it can’t be helped. Everyone one of us has been trained for war since we were children, and yet no one has the guts to handle an uncomfortable subject. I understand you have to be loyal to your family, Serge. But don’t stand there and pretend like you don’t know who did this.”
“Alright. I won’t pretend.”
“And yet, just hours ago, you sent a fleet of airships to protect your dear wife-to-be. So the wedding’s still on then?’
“You know it is,” Serge said.
“Of course. Well you and miss perfect and everyone else may be happy to just let things go on and pretend nothing’s changed, but I won’t.” She stepped forward, until their images were only inches apart. He could feel the air moving against his face, the computer simulating her breath with tiny manipulations. “Let me tell you what I’m going to do. I am going to whip my fiancé into shape, and I’m going to get my army ready, and then we are going to march into Jayle’s castle and burn it to the ground. Then Jayle is going to come back to my castle, and we are going to have a long talk, together, with her sweet sister. This is not an idle threat. This is a thing that is going to happen.”
“You know I can’t let you do that. I will protect Jayle until my last breath,” he said.
“Of course. You’re welcome to try.” She vanished as she cut the communications, leaving him alone in the dim room. Sighing, he stood silently for awhile, composing himself. Then he walked towards the elevator. There was no time for sleep now. He had preparations to make.