Fandom: Toward the Terra
Character: Keith; appearances by Sam, Shiroe, Matsuka, and Jomy.
Notes: My first shot at this style of fanfiction.
Summary: The way Keith grows up and learns, in bits and pieces. They don't always add up to the best picture, but they make something in the end.
Anyone who knew Keith Anyan could tell you that the man was not incapable of smiling. It didn't matter if they only knew him from broadcasts of his triumphant returns, or if they'd served with him personally. Many of them had seen him make the gesture. Most gave it no more thought than that. A few, though...they noticed that even though he could smile, he didn't really. He just made the face, and the rest of the world took it at that value, because he'd gotten good at getting people to do that with him. Whatever it really was, it marked no joy or kindness in him.
Sam Houston could have told you, once, that Keith could smile for real, too. But Sam was gone now, and what was left no longer realized it was anything significant that Keith smiled at him.
There were many moments in his life when another person might have smiled, although fewer as time went on. But Keith was not another person. He had a fate for himself, and it did not include the expression of joy or kindness.
* * *
Sam came up behind him this time. Keith could tell it was Sam even then, because he did not feel the stirring of the training he had recently begun which instructed him to attack those who approached from behind. He only felt a hopeful acknowledgment: Sam was coming.
"Keith!" Sam came to a stop beside him. Suena, who had remembered the training Keith had started receiving, fell in from the side. She'd known better than to approach from the back.
"Tomorrow, we'll have been here at Station E-1077 for a year," Sam said. "Isn't that something?"
"It's something," Keith agreed, not sure how it could be nothing.
"Aren't you glad? I'm glad I've been here with you."
Keith thought about it. Another year passed only meant that he had another year less to spend here, with Sam and Suena and all the lessons he was learning. That wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. "Should I be?" he asked. He thought Sam would probably know the answer to that.
Suena said nothing; she cast her gaze down at the floor. But Sam said, "Huh? It's up to you."
In that case, Keith didn't know what to do. So he continued to his next class.
* * *
The way the training game finished was a foregone conclusion. Keith had been in training for four years, and in that time he had proven himself to be the best student Station E-1077 had. Seki Ray Shiroe was new, barely past his adult exam, and there was no reason to believe he could challenge Keith in any significant way.
Keith lowered the simulator's gun. For a moment, he felt a strange sense of something he hadn't quite before. It was similar to what he felt when he got high scores in a course--as he always did--but more intense, because this time, it involved another person. Satisfaction. It was something like that. If he let it, the feeling could spread to his face, change his expression in ways he didn't intend.
He quelled it. That would only encourage Shiroe. Any form of reaction would be giving him what he wanted. Instead, he turned to the boy and prepared to make sure he knew: they were finished, once and for all. Shiroe would have to stop trying to play this game of competition and provocation with him now. He had no other option.
It did not occur to Keith that Shiroe might take it far beyond the level of a game. He could not see how it was so significant.
* * *
"We're not gonna see each other for a while," Sam said as they made their way to the graduation ceremonies. "You're on a different path than me."
"It didn't need to be this way," Keith said.
"We're still friends," Sam said. "Right, Keith?"
There was no one else in sight. It wouldn't have mattered, anyway. Keith nodded. But he wasn't expecting what came next.
Sam stopped there, in the middle of the hallway, and grinned. Then he threw his arms around Keith in a hug. "We'll see each other again sometime! Maybe I'll even get to introduce you to Jomy."
Keith carefully hugged him back. "Maybe." He thought the second idea was unlikely, but he hoped the first was true.
* * *
The older officer who greeted Keith at his new posting spoke to him in too enthusiastic a voice: "Keith Anyan, the elite of Station E-1077. That makes you something special."
She smiled at him. "I wouldn't mind helping you get accustomed to this place," she said.
"Where should I start?" he asked. This seemed like an opportunity to get useful information.
"How about my quarters?" She winked at him.
He looked at her. "This is inappropriate behavior," he said.
Her smile faded. "I was just teasing you. You're a little young for me anyway."
"I see," he said. He had suspected she was teasing--she'd been too flippant, with that wink of hers--but that didn't make it any more appropriate. Later he reported her to the ship's Mother Computer all the same.
"Keith," the computer reassured him, "you're doing the right thing."
* * *
A new transfer from one of the educational stations made it his duty to sit with Keith in the cafeteria at lunch every day. At first, Keith ignored him, but after a few days, it became clear that he wasn't going to stop.
"Why do you keep following me at lunch?" he asked.
The newcomer started, shaken by the sudden question. "Because..." He looked around, for some reason embarrassed. "Because you're Keith Anyan. The elite of Station E-1077. The one who's been rising through the ranks faster than ever."
Keith looked at him blankly. Of course: it made sense now. This was an admirer.
"I just wanted to meet you," the young man confessed.
"Now you have," Keith said. He returned his attention to his lunch. It occurred to him that situations like this would probably happen again, as he continued to gain rank and fame. He'd have to come up with some way of dealing with them that suited protocol appropriately.
* * *
"The Members Elite, is it," said his commander--no, his former commander, now. "Even with how young you are."
"My age doesn't matter," Keith said. "I've performed admirably in all areas."
"In all areas..." She looked thoughtful for a moment.
He knew enough to understand this meant that something was wrong. "Commander," he said, and he waited.
She shook her head. "It's nothing." He knew it wasn't nothing, but he had no reason to press her on the matter. She held out a hand. "Keith Anyan," she said, "it was a pleasure having you under my command. You've always been a model soldier."
He took her hand, applied just the right amount of pressure, and shook it for just the right amount of time. "Thank you. I'm honored." He thought maybe there was something else he should say or do, but he couldn't think of what it was. Perhaps if he received such a compliment in the future, he'd know then.
* * *
When the ship and its dutifully encouraged but terribly inexperienced crew were on their way to the Sylvester system, Keith called for Jonah Matsuka to come to his office.
Matsuka entered with his head slightly bowed, his hair almost covering his upper face. He walked the walk of the timid and wore the face of the fearful. All this was to be expected. He was easy to read. "You wanted to see me," he said. He didn't approach too close.
"I want to know what you're useful for," Keith said. This wasn't strictly true. He already had some idea of how useful a single obedient Mu could be in the journey that might unwind before him. But it was best to let Matsuka think his position was still in question.
"I'm not the best soldier," Matsuka said, "but I'm more experienced than the rest of this crew."
"That doesn't say much," Keith said. He waited.
After a moment, hesitantly, Matsuka supplied, "I've been told I make good coffee." He seemed so vulnerable, in that moment. A peculiar feeling stirred in Keith, and he supposed it was pity. He wondered if he should say or do something to comfort the younger man.
No, that wouldn't be a good idea, he decided. Instead, he simply nodded. "Then you'll make me coffee."
"Thank you...Keith," Matsuka said.
* * *
Keith felt like his nerves had been laid bare and all tugged in different directions. The Mu had not been gentle with him. In return, he had not been gentle with them. Nor did he intend to be in the future. He knew what his purpose was, now. For a few flickering moments, though, he was too exhausted to be completely sure he could accomplish it. He tried to reassure himself that he would be back at the Soleid system soon, and there he would be able to regroup and begin his new mission of eradicating the Mu where they had settled.
The door from the front of the ship opened, and Matsuka ducked in. He ducked often, even when he didn't need to. This time, he was carrying a cup of coffee. "I thought you might want this," he said.
"You brought coffee," Keith said, staring at him.
"I thought you might want it," Matsuka repeated.
Keith took the coffee, and he sipped it. It really was very good coffee. Something about it grounded him, in the middle of space, hurtling away from where the Mu had sought to strip him of information and then destroy him. He looked up to see Matsuka smiling tentatively.
Keith did not smile back. It would encourage all the wrong things.
* * *
The remains of Station E-1077 had just started to sink toward the atmosphere when Keith emerged from them and pushed up toward the ship that waited for him above. He had cut his exit rather too close. But there had been things he'd needed to do there, in the chaos of destruction. He had needed to say goodbye to his past.
As he moved away from what was left of it, he couldn't resist the sudden urge to look back down. The fragmenting station seemed so insignificant now, but a part of him knew that it wasn't. Its demise meant something. Did it mean that he was free from his past?
No, of course not. No one, human or Mu, could ever be free from their past. It dictated would their future would be, and it always would. Still, it had almost felt good to send the place where he was born down in flames. Only almost, though. Nothing really felt good anymore.
* * *
The elevator carrying Keith Anyan and Jomy Marcus Shin down to see Grandmother at the heart of Terra continued on its course, even though Keith had said everything he needed to say. He found himself unable to stop from looking into Jomy's steady eyes, even though he immediately regretted it. He was regretting many things, lately.
It occurred to him that there were other things he could tell this Soldier Shin. He could tell him what he'd once thought of his people, and how that was changing, had been changing since he'd heard Matsuka's voice in his head for the last time. He could speak to him as something other than an enemy.
No. He couldn't do that. Not yet.
* * *
It was dark now, at the heart of Terra, or perhaps Keith simply couldn't see anymore. That was fine with him. He'd found his own fate, and it was taking him where Sam and Matsuka had gone.
But the thought came to him that this time, for the first time, he wouldn't have minded surviving this encounter either. He wouldn't have minded seeing what became of humanity, including the Mu, now. But with or without him, it would change, and that was good.
There in the darkness, he thought he saw the outline of Sam's smile, the outstretched fingers of Matsuka's hand. Would he be alone much longer? It didn't matter anymore. Even alone, he'd finally done what he really needed to do.
Keith smiled into the darkness. It welcomed him home with a new light.