Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"That's What Friends Are For"

By Christina Moore
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Malasa, Betazed – 2352


“Come on, Jenny—can’t you do anything other than play with your computer?”

Jennara Stadi cast a glance at her mirror image and frowned. “Ani, I’ve asked you not to call me that. A ‘jenny’ is an unmated female donkey, and I am not a donkey.”

Mirani Stadi groaned. “Maybe on Earth that’s what a ‘jenny’ is. Here in this house it’s my twin sister. And my Jenny said she would go to the park with me today—promised, even.”

Jennara rolled her eyes, sighing. “You’re really going to hold a fickle eleven-year-old’s promise against her? Kids change their minds all the time, you know.”

“But you promised, Jen!” Mirani whined, then grinned. “Besides, Mom and Dad said we could go by ourselves as long as we’re home for dinner.”

At this news, Jennara brightened. Although she and her sister were responsible and mature for 11-year-old twins, they were still so young that their parents didn’t often let them leave their neighborhood without one or the other being present—not that they didn’t trust their girls, of course. They were just concerned for their safety.

At least that’s what their mother and father always told them. Sometimes the twins thought they were just being nosy, overprotective parents.

“Really? Four whole hours all by ourselves?”

Mirani’s grin matched her own. “Yup—no Mom. No Dad. Just us and some real fun!”

“Awesome!” Jennara cheered, then quickly shut down her computer terminal and ran with her sister out of her room.

“Hold on a minute!” Their mother, Alisia, said as the two were about to burst out the front door.

Both girls groaned, shoulders slumped and exclaiming “Mom!” in unison.

Alisia stood with her hands on her hips, looking at the girls sternly. “I just want to go over the rules for going out by yourselves,” she said.

“Mom, you do this every time!” complained Mirani. “We’re not ignoramuses—we do have memories, you know.”

“Ani, shut up before she says we can’t go!” Jennara hissed, elbowing her sister in the ribs, eliciting an “Ow!” from her twin.

Ignoring the byplay, their mother went on. “You know dinner’s at seven, so be in the house by…?”

“Six-thirty,” replied Jennara.

“And you don’t talk to…?”

“Strange adults we don’t know,” muttered Mirani.

“If someone looks suspicious, makes you uncomfortable, or threatens someone else, what do you do?” their mother pressed.

“Find a comm station and call the authorities,” spoke up Jennara again.

Alisia Stadi smiled. “Very good. Do you need any credits for the vending machines or the food carts in the park?”

“All set, Mother,” Mirani said. “Can we go now?”

The older Betazoid raised her eyebrow, but she nodded. “All right, go. Have fun, girls.”

Looking at each other with wide, happy grins, Mirani and Jennara raced out of the house, heading for Pyram Park.

*****

Pyram Park


“Well, look who it is. Hey guys, you see who it is? Ol’ Pointy Ears!”

The gaggle of mostly Betazoid boys laughed and pointed. Dareth had hoped to avoid running into any of them, but his luck, such as it was, was already out for the day.

Figures, he thought sourly as he turned and tried to go around them.

“Whoa, hold on a minute, Pointy—we wanna talk to you,” said the first boy, stepping into Dareth’s path.

Dareth balled his fists in his pockets. “Just leave me alone, Crixus.”

The boy called Crixus frowned. “What’s the matter, Pointy Ears? Aren’t my friends and I good enough to talk to?”

Dareth looked up, feeling suddenly bold. “As a matter of fact, no. You guys are all jerks who like to beat up on anyone who isn’t just like you.”

“Jerks, huh?” Crixus said darkly, stepping closer. “Gee, why do you think you’re even here, Pointy Ears? Huh? ‘Cause your parents are jerks. You’re not like everyone else on that pathetic dustball you call a home planet—you’re not a good little emotionless Vulcan like all the other kids, so your parents sent you here where we all have emotions. They sent you here because you’re an embarrassment to them, such an embarrassment your own parents didn’t even want you!”

With a strangled cry, Dareth launched himself at the boy, knocking him to the ground. He raised up a fist to punch him as hard as he could, but it was caught by one of the other boys. He writhed wildly, kicking his legs as two of the five boys hauled him up and held him while Crixus got up, holding him between them as their leader came up and punched Dareth in the face. He punched him in the face again, then in the stomach, before shouting caught the attention of all of them.

“Hey, what the hell do you think you’re doing?! Leave him alone, you jerks!”

Over Crixus’ shoulder, Dareth could see two identical girls about his age running toward them. They had dark brown, almost black hair and the tell-tale black eyes of Betazoids.

“Shit, Crix, them’s the Stadi twins!” said Aaron Partee, the one Human boy in the group.

“I know who they are!” Crixus snapped. “I don’t care who their dad is.”

“Crixus Berrin, wait ‘til I tell your mother what you’ve been doing out here!” shouted the girl on the left, the one who’d spoken before.

Crixus grinned. “Tell her! See if I care!” he called back, then turned and punched Dareth again. This time he felt his lip split, his green blood welling from the small wound. Looking suddenly like he was disgusted, Crixus backed away from him, and fearing he was about to be kicked, he tried to brace himself.

“Let him go, boys. Pointy Ears ain’t worth our time,” he said, spitting on the ground as Dareth was unceremoniously dropped. The boys all chuckled as the five of them walked away.

Dareth was feeling his swelling, bleeding lip as the twin girls came up to him. “Hey, you alright?” asked the one on the right.

He looked up at her sourly. “I just got beat down by a bunch of fracking morons, what the frell do you think?”

“Look, we just saved your butt from an even worse beating than they could have given you—you could at least be grateful!” the girl said hotly, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Ani! Leave him alone, he doesn’t need to be bullied by you too,” said the other girl, the one on the left, as she knelt down to look him in the eye.

“Are you alright?” she asked softly.

Dareth looked at her, and seeing her gentle, concerned expression, bit his tongue so he wouldn’t fling out the scathing reply he’d thought of. “Yeah, I’m alright,” he said. “Only reason they got the best of me was ‘cause there was five of ‘em. One or two I coulda taken on my own. Vulcans are stronger than Betazoids, even as kids. Crixus is a flakking jerkoff who’s too chicken-shit to face me on his own.”

The girl still standing raised an eyebrow at him. “You’ve sure got a dirty mouth for a Vulcan. What happened to all the logic and discipline you guys are supposed to practice?”

The dark look he sent her way had her not only silencing her tongue, but taking a step back. Dareth stood slowly, speaking as he faced her. “None of your business,” he said, his voice cold and mean. Then he turned around and started back the way he’d come.

“Hey, wait a minute!” called out one of the girls.

“Jennara, let him go,” said the other. “He obviously wants to be left alone.”

Apparently, Jennara was ignoring her sister, as she was beside him in a second or two. “Where are you going?” she asked, walking quickly to keep up with his longer stride.

“What do you care?” Dareth retorted.

“Because I do,” she replied. “I’m Jennara, by the way. Jennara Stadi. Is your house close by? Will your parents be mad if you come home with a split lip? Oh, wait, sorry—I guess as Vulcans they wouldn’t be mad, huh?”

“My parents will probably never know,” he replied bitterly. “They’re not even here on this stinking planet.”

“Then… you’re by yourself? How is that possible?” Jennara pressed.

Dareth shrugged, feeling suddenly self-conscious. “Doesn’t matter, I’m here.”

“You didn’t… you didn’t run away from home, did you?” his companion asked tentatively.

With an exasperated sigh, Dareth stopped and looked at her. “Look, what do you care?” he repeated. “You’ve done your good deed for the day, go feel good about yourself somewhere else.”

He tried not to feel anything as her cheeks flamed red and her eyes filled with tears. With her lower lip trembling, she whispered. “Sorry. I…I just thought maybe you might want a friend or something. I didn’t mean to pry.”

Jennara turned away from him as she sniffled—he could tell she was trying not to let the tears fall. Feeling suddenly like a jerkoff himself, he reached out and touched her arm before she got too far away.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Dareth said slowly. He wasn’t used to apologizing, wasn’t sure he was doing it right. “It’s just that… Well, I ain’t had anybody be too nice to me since I got here. I mean actual nice, not fake nice like all the adults around here who just feel sorry for me.”

She’d stopped, and he could see her sister down the path, still waiting for her. Jennara sniffled but didn’t look at him. “Well I wasn’t being fake at all. I just saw someone who looked lonely, and I thought I’d be nice.”

“Am I that pathetically obvious? Or did you read my emotions?”

She turned to him then. “Neither. First, I don’t think you’re pathetic, and it’s not obvious, but I am smart enough to recognize someone who doesn’t have any friends. And second, I can’t read emotions or do telepathy or anything like that yet. I’m not old enough. Maybe in another year or so.”

Dareth shrugged. “Oh, I didn’t know that. I just figured you guys—Betazoids I mean—could do that stuff all the time. I didn’t know you had to be a certain age or anything.”

“It’s another one of the joys to look forward to during puberty, along with hormones and body changes like armpit hair,” Jennara said with a roll of her eyes.

Unable to help himself, Dareth chuckled. “Yeah, fun times ahead.”

An awkward silence fell and Jennara looked down at her feet. “So, um… can I ask you something?” she queried.

He raised one of his slanted eyebrows. “What?” he countered warily.

“Where are your parents?”

Dareth scoffed. “Vulcan,” he said, the bitter edge returning to his tone.

“But why aren’t they here with you? Are you here by yourself?” she wondered.

He nodded. “Yeah, I’m by myself. My mom and dad dumped me here because they’re too embarrassed to be seen with me. I hate them.”

“Oh, come on—every kid says they hate their parents, but they don’t really mean it,” Jennara pointed out.

“I do,” Dareth replied. “My mom and dad didn’t want me, so they sent me here to a stupid boarding school.”

“What makes you think your parents are embarrassed to be seen with you and don’t want you?”

Dareth struggled not to get angry, but it still really burned that they’d done this to him. It wasn’t fair, though, to take his anger at his mom and dad out on Jennara, who was just curious and trying to be nice. She really was the first kid his age who had been nice to him in the last few weeks. Most of the other kids just avoided him because he was “weird”—except for Crixus Berrin and his cronies, who liked to pick on him because he was different.

“I have a condition,” he said, all but spitting the last word. “The healers called it Partial Psionary Absentia. Apparently, there’s a gland in the Vulcan brain, the psionary gland, that secretes this hormone that helps a Vulcan control their emotions, even though most of how they do it is based on a mastery of self. But this hormone apparently helps somehow—I’m not really sure how, but it does. Anyway, my gland that is supposed to make it doesn’t make enough or some such crap, and that means I will probably never be able to fully purge my emotions. I’ll never achieve kolinahr, the state of pure logic—and my parents are embarrassed that they produced a son who will never be like the great Surak. I’m worse an embarrassment than if I was v’tosh’ ka’tur. At least they have a choice, but I don’t.”

“Well that don’t make no sense!” Jennara exclaimed. “How can your mom and dad hold it against you for it being a biological thing? You don’t have any control over that.”

“That’s exactly what I think!” Dareth replied. “Not my fault I have a birth defect, but what did they do instead of take care of me like parents should? Just ‘cause they didn’t know what to do with me, they shipped their forever emotional son off to a boarding school on a planet filled with the most emotional beings in the entire fracking galaxy. Guess they figured I’d fit right in, and boy were they wrong. Emotional Vulcans stick out like a sore thumb anywhere you go.”

“I’m really sorry that you think your parents don’t want you, whether it’s true or not,” Jennara said then. “But look on the bright side.”

“What bright side?” he said with a bitter laugh.

Jennara grinned. “You get me for a friend.”

He eyed her with one eyebrow raised. “Awfully full of yourself, aren’t you? Thinking you’re so great and all that? How do I know you’re the kind of friend I want?”

Her grin faltered, and he felt like a jerk again. “Well, I don’t think I’m all that great or anything,” she said slowly. “But I know I’m a nice person. I don’t play mean tricks or gossip or anything.”

“Hey, I’m sorry, alright?” Dareth said. “I just… I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. I don’t have friends—I’ve never had friends, so I don’t know how to be one. Maybe you’d be better off just forgetting about a loser like me.”

“But if I just walked away and forgot about you, what kind of friend would that make me?” Jennara countered. “Not a very good one, and I ain’t never walked away from anybody. I’m not gonna start now. I can show you what it’s like having friends and being a friend—Mirani can too. She’s really not so bad once you get to know her, I promise. My sister only acted like she did because she’s really protective of me—which is totally crazy ‘cause I’m older than her by like, three whole minutes.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Why do you even want to bother with a freak like me?” Dareth asked. “Your other friends might not like me, and your sister might not like me. Your parents might not want you hanging around me.”

“Okay, first of all, you have to stop calling yourself names,” Jennara said with a firm nod, placing her hands on her hips in the same manner as her sister had done earlier. “You’re not pathetic, or a loser, or a freak. You’re just a kid who got a bad break. Second, I want my other friends to like you, sure, but if they don’t that’s their problem, and maybe that means they’re not such great friends to have after all. Third, I already told you Mirani will like you just fine once you guys get to know each other. I’m her twin sister—trust me, I know her better than she knows herself.”

“Okay, but what about your mom and dad?”

“My parents will like you too. They’ll feel the same way I do,” she told him.

“What, they’re gonna take pity on me?” he shot back sarcastically. “I don’t want anyone’s pity or charity, thanks. I’d rather be alone.”

Jennara groaned, and grabbing him by the arm, started to drag him back down the path toward her sister, who was now tapping a foot like she wanted her to hurry up. “Deities, I have so much work to do,” she grumbled.

Dareth hesitated only a moment, but curious in spite of himself, he allowed her to lead him away. “Where are you taking me?” he asked.

“I’m going to take you to my house so you can meet my mom,” Jennara said. “So you can see for yourself that she’s not going to pity you. I might even be able to convince her to use a dermal regenerator on your lip and give you something for the pain—if you can behave and at least pretend not to be an idiot.”

“Hey, I’m not in any pain. Crixus didn’t hurt me—he can’t hit worth shit,” Dareth retorted. “And what kind of person calls her friends ‘idiot’?”

“I only called you an idiot because you’re acting like one,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “And I know you’re in pain because you keep wincing every time you open your mouth too wide.”

Damn, he thought he’d been concealing that from her, but this girl was way more observant than he gave her credit for. “You gonna let go of my arm?”

“Nope.”

“Why not, afraid I’m gonna run away?”

“Yup.”

“Please, you’re girls—you don’t scare me,” Dareth said as they reached Mirani.

“Jennara, what are you doing?” the other girl asked.

“Mirani, this is… What is your name, anyway?” his captor asked, looking at him.

“Dareth.”

Jennara looked back at her sister. “Mirani, this is Dareth. Dareth, meet my twin sister, Mirani Stadi—future pilot extraordinaire.”

Despite being obviously annoyed, Mirani grinned. “Darn right,” she said confidently. “I’m gonna join Starfleet and be a pilot on the best ship they have when I get older.”

She looked Dareth up and down. “So I take it you want to be friends with this kid?” she asked.

“Dareth could use good friends like us, Ani,” Jennara said. “He doesn’t have any.”

Mirani studied him a moment longer, and right when he was about to get really annoyed with her staring, she suddenly turned to her sister and said brightly, “You know, you’re right—we are the good guys, aren’t we? Besides, he could do a heck of a lot worse—Crixus could have liked him.”

“No way,” Dareth replied. “Ain’t no way I’d be friends with a jerk like him.”

Mirani surprised him then by stepping over and taking his other arm—he was now stuck between the twins with nowhere to go unless he got violent, and he certainly wasn’t about to hurt them. They were girls, for goodness’ sake. If his dad had taught him anything useful in his almost-ten years, it’s that a real man never hit a woman.

“Then aren’t you glad we came to your rescue?” Mirani was saying as they started walking again.

“Oh yeah, I got rescued by a couple of girls—yet one more reason for Crixus Berrin to pick on me. Thanks for the reminder.”

The twins looked around him and grinned at each other. “That’s what friends are for,” Jennara said with a laugh. 

Although he groaned dramatically and rolled his eyes, inside Dareth was smiling. Friends, he thought. I really like the sound of that


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