Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Days Yet to Pass: Part Six
Chloe inadvertently flinched at Inna's declaration that Veronica wanted to speak to her. The idea of talking to Veronica had never crossed her mind. She was her mortal enemy, and partially responsible for her eventual death.
“Why would Veronica want to speak to me?” Chloe demanded.
“I don't know. Maybe she wants to apologize? She is sorry for all the bad she did; she says so often,” Inna said.
“It might not be a bad thing to go talk to her,” Buzz said slowly. “Might as well get it over with now. If you choose to stay here, you'll hardly be able to avoid her. If you go back to the Darigan Citadel, you might find there are questions you will leave unanswered. You can always walk away at any time; she can hardly chase you.”
Chloe got to her feet, slowly due to her reluctance to go see the Acara who had been her nemesis in her own time. She followed Inna through the castle, though that was unnecessary as it was unchanged from when it had been her home. Inna stopped at the doors to the garden and reached out, taking Chloe's hand in her own tiny, trembling hands.
“I know she was responsible for your death, and she was your enemy, but... but don't be mean, please? She's... uh... she was a bad person then, but she was mostly just stupid enough to fall for Iniquitous' twisting of the truth. She's been sorry for a long time, really and truly sorry,” Inna said.
Chloe looked down at her sister. It was hard to see her begging her for compassion for the very person who had essentially murdered her.
“Did you not remember me enough to be mad that she killed me?” Chloe asked, and then was sorry for being so blunt with the child.
Inna shook her head. “I don't exactly remember you, as you were when I was a baby, but I love you. And, no, I was upset, too. I'm... I eavesdrop. I know I shouldn't, but I do. I knew her; I knew the way she treated Mom, how she rubbed what they had done to you in her face when she came here. I was mad that Mom brought her here at first, but she's gone through a lot, too. I can forgive or I can remain angry forever, and being angry didn't bring you back. It didn't bring anyone any happiness. Forgiving her did, just a little bit.”
Chloe put her hand on the top of Inna's head and smiled as tears slipped from her eyes. “It's not fair that you had to live in a world that could make you so wise so young.”
“No one ever promised that life would be fair,” Inna said with a shrug. “Mom says that a lot.”
“She didn't used to say it a lot, but she did say it, even in my time. Mostly after Buzz would assign her some awful assignment. It was her way of keeping grounded,” Chloe said.
She turned to the door and took a deep breath. She let it go as she turned the handle and pulled open the door. She walked out, Inna closing the door behind her. She walked down the path, counting the steps, forcing herself onwards. She saw Veronica, sitting in her wheelchair, hands folded in her lap. Now closer to her, she could see the scars on her face and the absolute stillness of her legs below the blanket that covered them. It was strange to see her face, which had always been that of a Mutant Acara. Now, the Pink Acara's face held so much of Vicki in it that it was startling.
Chloe slowly sat down on the bench across from Veronica and tried to look at her, but couldn't raise her eyes to her face. She settled for looking at her feet. Veronica stirred uncomfortably, blinking a few times and clearing her throat.
“So, Morphica, we meet again,” she said at last, a clear villain cliché ringing in her tone.
“Don't do that,” Chloe said.
“Sorry. Irony isn't exactly appropriate here, is it? We're hardly foes at each other's throats, making witty banter. Not that I ever actually enjoyed the banter. You were so snarky; I hated that about you,” Veronica confessed.
“You were so evil; I hated that about you,” Chloe replied.
“See? You can't even help it, can you?” Veronica pointed out.
“No, not really. I'm a good girl, but I've got my own set of flaws. One of them is that when people annoy me, I get verbally mean. You annoyed me like crazy. I mean, come on! Your uncle broke your mother's heart and got himself killed, and you thought it was a good idea to follow in his footsteps? Your IQ is too high for you to be that stupid,” Chloe cried.
Veronica nodded, smiling bitterly. “Yes, you're right. If it makes you feel any better, I got what was coming to me.”
“How is that supposed to make me feel better? You killed me and the people I respected and cared about. You tore my loved ones apart. You've destroyed all that was good in the world,” Chloe snapped. “In all of that, how should it make me feel better to see you like this? What would that make me?”
Veronica opened her mouth to speak but was stopped by a coughing fit. After she recovered, she began again. “You'll have to pardon me. I've not much of an immune system anymore. I'm always nursing some minor ailment. Honestly, Morphica, I didn't ask you to come out here so we could fight like the old days. I asked you to come so I could apologize. You won't forgive me; you probably won't even believe the sincerity of my apology, but no matter how repentant I am, it doesn't mean a thing if I did say it to your face, especially not after what Kristy has done for me. Your mother had all the right in the world to have kicked me while I lay dying, but she didn't.”
“And why she didn't I'll probably never understand. I can't help feeling a little peeved that she didn't,” Chloe retorted.
“I'll never know either. It was quite possibly the strangest moment of my life. I was lying in the wreckage of my fighter, I had been shot down by one of the Space Resistance and had tried to make a water landing but didn't have enough momentum left. I was broken and unable to move. I could still hear broken, static-filled chatter over my radio. Then, she climbed into the fighter, and reported to Iniquitous my condition. She seemed to think I was dead at first, that's how still I was. When she realized I was still alive, she assessed me and we both realized I had no feeling below my hips. Iniquitous told her to leave me, that I was useless to him and had run my course. Up to that point, I believed I was equal partners with him. In that moment, I realized I had never been anything more than a pawn.”
She was stopped by another coughing fit. When she got her breath back, she started again. “Kristy asked for clarification of her orders, but she seemed unsurprised by it. It was pretty clear she had understood what the real state of affairs were; I was the only one who had been blind to it. She then told Iniquitous that she was assuming responsibility for me, and if he had a problem with that, he could come retrieve me from her estate here. Honestly, given her position, I was a little surprised she could be that audacious. As far as I know, Iniquitous chose to overlook it. Whether I live or die is of no concern to him, now that I've become useless and paid dearly for the audacity of my mother in turning on Captain Nefarious. Honestly, he may have even enjoyed the pain he figured caring for me would bring her. It still amuses him to watch her fight her better self to be his servant.”
“Your mother was a good person,” Chloe snapped. “Nefarious acknowledged that. He wouldn't fight for his own life because of how much pain he put her through. He chose where to end it. What happened wasn't her fault. She wanted him to stop terrorizing Neopia, nothing more.”
“I was supposed to be her good girl,” Veronica said, looking down, her face hidden from Chloe. “She always called me her 'good girl'.
Chloe noticed that the shaking was more pronounced and wondered if Veronica was having some kind of fit. She was about to go find one of her sisters to help when she saw a wet spot on the blanket covering her legs. It was then that she realized that Veronica was crying. She felt uncomfortable, unable to reconcile this show of emotion with the Veronica she had always known, a Veronica who had seemed to despise her own mother.
“Go ahead, mock me, call out my hypocrisy,” Veronica laughed from beneath her veil of hair, some of the old Veronica coming back to her voice.
“I don't know you, Veronica. I never did. I knew what you chose to show the world, I know details about the child you were, but I never knew you. Honestly, maybe you didn't know you either. I certainly don't know you in this world. You've had a long time to reflect on what you helped to cause. You've had someone who never should have forgiven you do it anyway; you're stuck in a chair. I'll withhold judgment on what is hypocrisy at this stage, lest I become the hypocrite.”
Veronica wiped her eyes with unsteady hands. “Now we've grown wise, or rather I have, and you always have been.”
“I'm not wise, Veronica. I'm not, and I want to hate you and be glad to see you like this. But, I made a promise I wouldn't be like that. I promised someone I respected, someone who never hated the person who went out of their way to try to destroy everything they stood for. I'm not wise, I'm just trying to follow the example of those who are.”
“And, therein lies the difference between us, Morphica. I rebelled simply for rebellion's sake. I had a good example, a wise example I could have followed, and I chose to believe I was better than that example. I chose bad examples to follow. You chose to follow the good examples. You stayed on the straight and narrow, embracing that you weren't wiser and better than those around you, no matter where you may have outmatched them.”
“We all have our strengths, Veronica. That's why the Defenders of Neopia existed. Where one person's strengths weren't enough, another's were. Even heroes don't do it alone. Just because you and Iniquitous were smarter than Vicki and much of the world didn't mean you were better. It just meant you were smarter. So was Marcus, and he failed in his aims. He lost the final battle, the one he didn't hold back on.”
“Morphica, you're only repeating things I already know. I've had seven years to think about this,” Veronica said, shaking her head.
“How did you guys do it?” Chloe asked. “How did you manage to destroy us so completely?”
“With help, planning, and a little betrayal. We were able to acquire blueprints of the lower levels and found structural weaknesses that could be exploited. Weaknesses that only exist if you can dig unnoticed through the layers of earth around the building, which we did. We worked in tandem with a scientist who created robots that did the work. We waited until a day when we could be certain every Defender was there, and then we threw the switch. The building fell in with everyone in it. All that was left was a crater. The reports said they found you, Lightning, and Loraine together near the top. It was thought he grabbed the two of you and tried to escape the collapse. He almost made it.”
Chloe folded her hands and rested her face against them, feeling sick as the scene unfolded in her mind. The floor caving in, everyone's brief moment of panic and confusion as their fall began, the faster superheroes attempting to escape but running out floor, those who could fly trying to fly up through the falling building but there just being too much debris coming down at them to make it through. She could see Lightning forcing himself faster on breaking ground. She knew how fast he was; if he had dropped her or Loraine, or both of them, he could have made it out alive. Of course he hadn't dropped them; of course he had tried to rescue those he could, even though it cost him his life.
Veronica was looking away, giving Chloe some measure of privacy to grieve. Chloe heard the door open and she turned to look. Yanli was walking out into the garden. She was walking purposefully, something that was so strange to Chloe. If Yanli had a purpose in her time, she ran as fast as she could so she accomplished it before she got distracted and went off to chase butterflies or give her Faellie a makeover.
“I hate to break up whatever heart to heart is going on here, but I need to borrow Veronica for a consultation,” Yanli said.
“That's an odd combination of words from you,” Veronica commented, echoing Chloe's inner-thoughts.
Yanli laughed. “I know it is, but I can be serious when I want to. I am almost an adult.”
Veronica chuckled and nodded, “Well then, pick my brain if you wish, Yanli.”
Chloe rose. “I won't get in your way, then. I should probably go back to Kristy and Buzz. We've got a lot of things to decide now.”
“Don't leave before I see you again,” Yanli said quickly, turning to look over shoulder at Chloe.
“I won't,” Chloe called back.
To be continued…