All's Fair, Part Three: Look Who's Back

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“Thinking of old times, Handyman?” Standing in the doorway, Dihan's voice was teasing. “I'm starting to think you don't like us.”

“You don't like my hat? It was thought to be quite nice in Patchwork City.” Handyman, sitting crosslegged on the floor in front of his cot, placed the hat in question rakishly on his head, then removed it with a sigh. “You know how I feel about family affairs.” The hat was placed back in its trunk, alongside the mask he had worn.

“Then why did you come back?” Walking forwards, Dihan looked up at his brother. “You could have stayed with the Champions. Mother might have preferred it, for your sake. She would never admit it, of course, but I think she would be happier if you were out of this mess.”

“No.” Shaking his head, he closed the trunk firmly. “How I feel doesn't matter. Our family has too few artificers for me to shirk my duties when they are needed the most.” He stood slowly, stretching his muscles. “Besides, when Father allowed me to leave I made a solemn vow, and I keep my promises. That part of my life is over, now. I'm not Handyman anymore. Jim Carpenter is gone, for good.”

“Very well then, Artificer Jhim.” Dihan bowed again. “It wasn't a great alias, anyway. I mean, Carpenter? Really?”

“I panicked when they first asked me for a name at the SEA.” Jhim replied. “Afterwards, it seemed like far too much trouble to try and get it changed.” He toyed with his old mask for a few moments. “Was there something important, or did Mother just send you to see if I was sulking?”

“We're preparing to go to the council chambers. Mother wants you to be one of our family's two bodyguards.” Dihan shrugged languidly. “She requests your presence in five minutes at the main doors.”

“Really? She's not taking a pair of vanguards?”

“Who has two vanguards free these days?” Dihan said. Then, relenting, he added “Actually, I think she just wants everyone to see that you're back. You're a minor celebrity right now. Of course, a lot of people are kind of annoyed, but… probably another reason Mother wants you, to show people you still remember your duties. Go full formal. No jumpsuit, no mask… and definitely no hat.” He smiled crookedly.

Jhim sat back against the bed, letting his mask fall into the case. He watched Dihan seriously. “The hat's an issue, isn't it.”

“Oh, yeah.” Reaching up, Dihan flicked one of the two pale antenna rising from his black hair. It wobbled for a moment, and he reached over to tap the matching one on Jhim. “You were never seen without it. Everyone on Earth thought you were a human, and the Loyalists are more or less calling you a traitor.”

“Because I was in disguise?”

“Because you became a hero, and didn't let anyone know you were Sayleen.” Dihan's face went solemn. “Ever since the Justicars, people have had a lot invested in the humans respecting us. You hid.” Shrugging again, he started for the door. “I'm not surprised. You always liked humans better. When Lady K'Lara told stories to the children of her days on Earth, you stayed a good two years after everyone else your age had grown bored. Sometimes I think you're more human than Sayleen.”

“In a bad way?” Jhim's voice was soft.

“Not bad. Just different. Probably if there weren't humans around to compare you to, I would have used a different example. It's not a surprise, really. Sayleen and human differences are mostly cultural, and these days half of Adari culture is just American Earther.” Reaching the door, Dihan started to walk through, pushing aside the heavy golden curtain that seperated Jhim's room from the rest of the manor, then paused. “But this is a big day, and appearances matter. We're not the royal family – we can't afford to be eccentrics. Go formal.”

“Don't worry. I will.” The curtain swished shut, and Jhim held in his sigh until he heard Dihan's steps fading down the corridor. Then he pushed his suitcase back into the wall cavity by his cot, walked over to the oak cabinet that his father had imported from Earth, and began to change.

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