2309: Last Call For Admitting Your Failures

Posted: March 16, 2013 by Kelly in league, stories, the world, Uncategorized

“Listen Dani,” Rao said, before he’d even properly entered the room. He just walked into the meeting room where I sat chained to a table with a maglock around my wrists. He came to sit across from me, facing me with a troubled look on his dark features.

I looked up at him from my chained hands and regarded him. I’d only met him once before. He was a man from Indian descent, with a caramel-coloured skin, a long face and sleepy dark brown eyes. There was silver threading through his hair and he looked to be in his mid-fourties, but he’d had so much work done on his face it was impossible to tell his exact age. “I’m all ears,” I said ironically. “Tell me what I need to hear. Did you accept the case? I heard it was accepted but not by who. You’re one of five lawyers I had intakes with.”

“I’m the stupid idiot that accepted your case, yes,” he said with a frown at his handheld and the information that was glowing upon it.

/Well, at least he’s honest./

“I think we have a case, if we approach this delicately and we blame the fact that you shot Berntsson on the poison they gave you. Go for the good old fit of drug-fueled insanity. There were enough monitors on your vitals to show that you were not thinking straight at the time.”

My throat immediately clogged up when I remember the desperation. That pure and utter desperation that I felt, the moment I just snapped at Berntsson to shut the fuck up and not take my only ally from me; that I really didn’t want to die and that I felt so intensely helpless… /Oh God, let’s not go there again…./ I breathed in deeply and tried to change the subject to get my mind into calmer waters. “You can’t build a case on the fact that I was fucking drunk when I signed the contract? Or even that I didn’t sign up for a Survival Game but the League?”

He shook his head and the overhead lights shimmered on the silver strands in his hair. “Contractually speaking it’s all completely legit. It’s all in there, your signature allows it all.”

“It was all in the fine print?”

He nodded. “And that information is readily available. The signup was just extremely stupid. Jorn Berntsson was completely in his right to select you as a contestant for the Survival Game.”

“Of course he fucking was,” I muttered darkly, balling my hands to fists. He had said as much at the beginning of the whole ordeal, but I had hoped it was a bluff. I should have known better. “So, poison insanity then?”

“It looks like our best bet. However, I took a first glance into your profiles and psych evals I need to know; do you have any history with assault or aggression? Is there anything they can dig up? Because if you do, we might as well give up completely right now.”

I could only stare at him for a moment. “Violence? Me?” I tried to think back but my mind came up blank. “I shout and curse a lot when things don’t go my way,” I admit sheepishly. “I may have tossed some motherboards and kicked some doors in my time when I fucked up my work. But don’t we all?”

His dark eyes glanced at me for a moment before he looked back at his screen. “Go on,” he said dispassionately.

I thought back to Stephan, and the arguments that we used to have. “I fought with my boyfriend. A lot, near the end. Shouting, throwing things. He did so too. The neighbours complained a couple of times.” He had been a passionate person, as was I. He could be insanely jealous at times, too. I never got why; I’d only ever loved him but he imagined me bedding pretty much his whole circle of friends. I never did, not until we broke it off upon which he proceeded to shack up with one of my colleagues and I promptly slept with his best friend Jai. I’m not particularly proud of that drunken night. The confrontation that followed when Steph found me had been ugly; but there had been no one around but Stephan and me. Jai had fled the apartment the moment Steph came barging in, what a fucking hero.

I’d carried the bruises on my arms where he had grabbed me for at least a week. I had kneed him in the groin to get loose from his grip and elbowed him in the stomach for good measure; those self-defense classes I’d taken in high school sure had come in handy at that point. After that night, I hadn’t seen Stephan nor his friend Jay anymore. That part of my life abruptly ended that night. It’s been six months. I missed the cameraderie and the friendship that I used to have with him and his friends. I didn’t miss the jealousy and the control issues.

Rao nodded slowly. “Anything else?”

I shrugged. “I’ve been in customer service when I just got out of University. Tech support. I got paid to get yelled at. Sometimes I yelled back. It got better once I got into networking and programming. No one to yell at anymore. Fuck, I don’t know.”

“So nothing out of the ordinary?”

“I don’t think so. Nothing beyond any other person in San Angeles, I suppose.”

“Let’s build our case on that, then. I’ll send out some sweeps into the public system to see if you’ve got any red flags on aggression, but I’ll mostly focus on the poison they gave you and its effects on the human body; especially on a female.”

I blinked at him. “Why is my gender an issue here?”

He shrugged uncomfortably. “We need any edge we can get. Are you on any hormone pills at the moment? Where in your hormone cycle were you at the time?”

“What?” I burst out laughing, I couldn’t help it. “Are you seriously asking me if I was PMSing?”

He said nothing, he just waited patiently. The bluish glow from his handheld reflected on his face. He looked almost kind.

I sighed. “I’ve got the five year pill. I’m not supposed to have much of a cycle at all, if you really need to know. I can’t believe I’m telling you this.”

Now his smile was really kind. “Oh, this won’t be the only personal thing that will become public knowledge before this trial is over, believe me. These weeks are probably going to be really difficult for you, Daniella. You killed a beloved Corporation announcer in an international broadcast. They are not going to make this easy for you.”

I thought about the upcoming trial and I just wanted to bury my face in my hands, but I couldn’t even properly lift them from the table. The maglock chained my hands firmly to the table. I had about an inch of room to move. Instead, I just laid my head on my arms. “I know. I almost wish they would have just let me die from the poison.”

Rao shook his head slowly. “No, you don’t. You’re a survivor, Daniella, it’s in all your psych evals. It’s what got you into this mess to begin with.” The smile on his face vanished. “There is a lot of stuff in your evals about being emotional. I need you to be calm during the trial. Stoic. Nothing can touch you. No responses, no curses, nothing. Let it all slide. Do you think you can do that?”

I nodded slowly. “I think so.” I could keep my temper if I needed to. If I couldn’t, I would have punched my rude customers in the nose a long time ago. How hard could it really be?

***

/Let it all slide,/ Rao had said. /Nothing can touch you./

I stared at my hands in my lap. The maglock chain around my wrists, chaining me to my chair. And my hands, pale against the orange jumpsuit. I couldn’t clench them. If I would make fists, cameras would register that and that would only add more fuel to the fire. /Nothing can touch you, let it all slide,/ I told myself over and over again, like a litany. /Keep your fucking temper./

It had gotten progressively harder, though. The whole case seemed to be built around my character and personality. It was the quickest way to circumvent the notion that the poison had made me act irrationally. So if I was a volatile and irrational person to begin with, then I couldn’t plead temporary drugged-up insanity. The things they presented about me and /how/ they presented it… it was like they were talking about a completely different person. One that wasn’t me. One I never thought was me. It was enough to make me start doubting myself; the information from my psych evals told volumes. My history with antidepressants (which I’d taken after my father left and my mother committed suicide), my report cards during my tech support days. And the footage. Oh sweet baby Jesus, there was so much footage. I never realised how much I’d been filmed during my life. And all of it was used against me. Their clever editing changed everything – sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically. It was horrifying to see.

I felt like they were twisting my history and my memories, creating some evil version of myself. One that would easily pull triggers on anyone that wronged me. One that could flip out and be a menace to the world. One that belonged in the Arena, not on the streets.

Kesaria was a fucking genius. That fucker just stood there, with his stupid charm and presence and calm voice, and made the world believe him when he presented me as a murderer and a violent bitch. I wanted to kill him for what he was doing to me, and that only made me doubt myself even more.

/Am I really this bad?/ I started wondering more and more often. Was I just so deluded that I thought some things were normal? I’d always thought I was just a nice girl. Yeah, one with a temper. But fuck, who wasn’t? And wasn’t what Berntsson did to me just psychological and physical torture? Was I wrong in not feeling sorry to have pumped lead into the son of a bitch? Was there really /no one/ in the world who would have done the same?

At the end of the third day I could feel Rao lay a hand on my arm. “You’re shaking,” he breathed at me, hopefully too quiet for the cameras and audio equipment to pick up. “Are you okay? Do we need a break?”

“If we take a break, we give them what we want,” I whispered back. I tasted bile in the back of my throat as I glanced over at the stand of the prosecutors. I watched Kesaria and Young confer quietly. The CEO of the Corporation caught my gaze and sent me a knowing smile back, like he could see right through me. Did he know how much I was seething? Did all the people watching this godforsaken trial know? Could they all see how much I was struggling with the odd combination of hate, revulsion and creeping self-doubt? Could anyone imagine what I was going through?

My thoughts went round and round in circles, until Kesaria stood and asked to present the next piece of evidence. He gestured towards the large plasma screen that came to life with the image of someone very familiar to me.

“Stephan O’Reilley,” Kesaria said with his warm voice. “Glad you could join us.” The sound of it effortlessly carried through the court room. He was a trained speaker, that much was obvious. I hardly heard it. My eyes were fixed on the screen, on the face of my ex-boyfriend. I hadn’t seen him in more than half a year. He looked good. Just as pretty as ever, with his chocolate brown curls and his baby blue eyes. He let his hair grow out; the curls were nearly touching his shoulders.

“Good evening,” Stephan said on the screen. He smiled a little uncertainly; the way he did when he was nervous. I saw his eyes harden when his gaze shifted to me. Steeling himself.

“I have a few questions for you if that is okay with you.”

He nodded. I didn’t look at Kesaria, I just looked at the young man that I once thought I would marry and have adorable little babies with. Half a year and finger-shaped bruises further, this is how it now stood between us. He was about to sell me out to the Corporation and the rotten San Angeles legal system. I wonder how much money they’d offered him for this. “I’m more than happy to help,” he said with that nervous half-smile and I wanted to punch it right off.

“He’s going to tell us about how we fought. That I shout and curse and that I get irrational during fights,” I murmured to Rao next to me. “Maybe even that we got physical during our last fight. He grabbed me and I kicked and punched him to get away. There’s no footage of that, though. It was in my apartment.”

Rao gave me a sharp look. “Are you sure?”

I nodded quietly. “Will his story be enough?”

It turned out that they had more than a story. They didn’t have footage, but they did have the next best thing. For some reason Stephan had taken pictures of the bruise in his stomach, where I had elbowed him to get out of his grip. The bruise had been dark and purple; the timestamp on it coinciding with a week after the date of our breakup. A week after he’d moved his stuff out of my apartment. “This was during our breakup fight,” he explained to Kesaria, the judges, and all the people watching at home. “She went completely mental because I slept with her colleague.”

“That’s a lie,” I hissed under my breath, clenching my jaw and my fists in my lap. “I didn’t start that fight, /you/ did because I slept with Jai and /you/ went mental.”

“Hold your tongue,” Rao whispered furiously. “I hardly think that this will help your case, Daniella. Even if he lies, the truth is ugly enough. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because it never fucking mattered. How the hell was I supposed to know he was going to lie about it?”

Around us, the court room had to be called to order because people were murmuring among themselves, discussing the material presented. Stephan glanced uncertainly at Kesaria, who gave him a charming grin and thanked him for his help.

/How much money did they offer you, Steph? Enough to pay off you study loans? To buy a house? How much did they need to give you before you decided to sell me out as a murderer and a psycho bitch for the whole world to see?/ Tears of anger and betrayal blurred my vision. Of course we hadn’t parted on amicable terms, but fuck, this was what four years of a relationship came down to for him? I felt so betrayed.

“I think I would like to take a break now,” I said hoarsely to Rao, but the moment he rose from the bench to call for a break, Kesaria already had terminated the connection with Stephan and turned to the judges.

“One last piece of evidence, your Honour,” he said oh so pleasantly. “It will be a quick one and then we can all go home for the day. Do I have your permission?”

The judge nodded impassively. “Just make it quick.”

Kesaria smiled his perfect toothpaste smile and flicked on the screen again, where suddenly another very familiar face showed.

I could feel the blood drain from my face. “Dad, no,” I whispered over bloodless lips. I hadn’t seen my father in years. Three years, maybe four? His new baby must be in preschool by now. He had cut his blond hair short to a mere inch and he was wearing a beard these days. Despite that, I saw my own face reflected in his. It should be obvious to everyone that he was my father, with that jaw line and those green eyes. And he smiled. For some reason it made my heart ache.

“The gentleman we see here on this recording is Timothy Summers, Daniella’s father. He couldn’t be here today, but he kindly agreed to a vidcall to answer some questions. Good evening, mister Summers,” Kesaria said to the screen. “Although, it’s morning over there in Europe, isn’t it?”

“That’s correct,” my father said, and he sounded just like I remembered him. He didn’t look at me. He looked straight at Kesaria. “It’s about nine hours earlier here, so it’s ten in the morning. What can I do for you?”

“I was wondering if you could answer some questions about your daughter Daniella, and her demeanor and character.”

/Why aren’t you here, dad?/ my inner child raged at the screen. /Why aren’t you here, sitting with me. What could possibly more important than your daughter on trial for murder? Shouldn’t you support me?/

“Daniella is a lot like her mother,” my father begin, and I immediately knew where he would go with this. He would tell about my mother and how she wasn’t the same after she got robbed in the streets. How they had put her on medication, how she had suffered from anxiety attacks and couldn’t sleep. How they had increased the doses of her sleeping medication and how she had been so difficult to be around. My dad had coped with it by sleeping around with other women and eventually divorcing her. The divorce had been so hard on her that she’d taken an overdosis of her anxiety medication and just never woke up again. I’d been the one to find her.

They’d put me on meds too, for a while. And of course my father told them about this. He told me how I had blamed him for my mother’s death, how I had reviled his new wife. I had. I still didn’t regret anything about that. He had been a spineless bastard who left his wife to waste away on medication and neglect, leaning on her then-nineteen year old daughter for support. It would have destroyed me if I hadn’t had Stephan at the time.

“She was always a wild child, Daniella. Always fighting with her younger brother, before the drug addiction got the better of him. Beating him up, teasing him. Roughhousing with his friends. She always had a lot of male friends. Her mother told me she had been exactly the same when she was young.”

“How was she with boys?”

“Quick to make friends, quick to lose them,” he answered immediatley. “She’s very intense, some people can’t handle that. Also, she tends to lash out when provoked. She can be very emotional. She’s prone to outbursts. Again, pretty much like her mother. Her mother went out in a blaze of drama, I suppose Daniella will do the same.”

At this time I began seeing stars. They were swirling at the edge of my vision as I remembered the bitter tears my mother cried, every night after she found out dad was cheating on her. How alone she felt. How she felt like she was pulling us down, dad and me both. That we would be better off without them. I always told her no, that we were there for her. But he left, and for a while there, things seemed better. There was this one day where she suddenly got up from bed and cleaned the house, put some music on, opened the windows. We had a wonderful dinner and watched some the Game feeds and when I went to bed that night, she told me that she loved me. When I went to sleep that night, I’d been so hopeful that she was getting better.

The next morning she was dead.

And here he was. Reviling her memory, dragging her down and comparing me to her as if it was an insult. And I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. I had to say it. Before I knew it, I was standing up and my vision was spotty. My heartrate was going trough the roof, in an odd deja vu to the survival game. And, like then, I wanted to break something. Make it stop. Make them /all/ stop. “Mom wasn’t volatile. She was traumatised and heart broken,” I said. It rang loud and clear through the court room.

My dad looked at me. For the first time since the connection was opened, he looked at me and there was pity in his green eyes. “Dani, your mother was fucking crazy.”

/Let it all slide. Nothing can hurt you,/ Rao had said. Wrong. I was hurting so much right now.

I… just couldn’t. I couldn’t deal, I couldn’t do this anymore. Not after three days of straight up humiliation, lies and truth twisting. All of the insults. All of the ‘you’re a crazy bitch, Dani. You’re a menace to society, Dani. You shouldn’t be allowed to walk free, Dani.’ I had been shaking with anger for three days straight now and I lost it.

I just lost it, right there and then.

My hands clenched around the table and I just flipped it over as if the heavy oaken table didn’t weigh anything. “That’s a fucking lie and you know it. You fucking liar, how dare you! Tell one more lie like that and I am going to break your fucking legs!”

I stumbled forward because the maglock chain around my wrist dragged my chair with me. It hit me in my back and I stumbled against the toppled table, vision blurring with hot tears of rage and helplesness.

The next moment there were enforcers grabbing me and a night stick was pressed to my rib cage. It zapped me viciously and as I sank to my knees, I saw through a haze of tears the head of the Corporation look at me. And he was smiling, a lazy, triumphant smile full of menace. He cocked his head just a little, as if he wanted to say “gotcha” as they pulled me to the ground and the court was adjourned.

That was the moment I realised that I’d been played, that all of it was set up to /make/ me flip out like that in impotent rage. I had all but proved their point right now. I realised that now, and I could tell from the expression on Young’s face that he knew that I knew.

He shook Kesaria’s hand and left the courtroom with a bounce in his step. He considered his case all but won.

He was right.

—-

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