Author Topic: Echo Trigger  (Read 2332 times)

sirbormun

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Echo Trigger
« on: July 25, 2022, 04:31:45 pm »
(After not being in fandom for a while and being restless during COVID, I started writing again and this Chrono Trigger semi-retelling project started coming out of my brain. Hoping to write more and curious what a community that's so steeped in the lore thinks of it.)

+One

When we walked together hand-in-hand down the slopes of the mountain, Janus forging on ten steps ahead of us and hissing his regrets to the parched, old wind—old, old, old as it’s ever going to get and thank whatever Entity there is in the sky for that—back then I think I hated you the most I’ve ever hated anyone.

I’m not proud of that. I know you’ve done and will continue to do all that you can.

But it’s like…it’s like when you’re watching a play in your hometown, and your friends in the cast let you come up on stage and mill about the prop tree branches. So you walk to the back of the set. Let your hands run over the dusty back wall, the coarse, splattered paint that passes for cerulean. It’s all so flat and dead when you’re touching but not looking up anymore.

And Crono, I feel your cold hands and look into your cold eyes, and I know you can’t save the world.

***

“I met a chick this morning at the fair.”

Oh.

That’s new. That’s a new one.

So categorically it isn’t out of character because Crono’s this big eat-your-greens himbo with a stonemason’s biceps and a head of hair like someone flambéed a broccoli crown, so there must be enough testosterone churning around. It’s just definitely not our kind of thing to talk about.

Also, he’s got one leg extended over my lap and his trousers hiked up to mid thigh, because he’s having me ice this yellow-purple bruise on his shin, and I’m not unaware that people might see this as a sex thing. I mean I don’t. I didn’t. I don’t! There’s a perfectly rational explanation. Fact is, I created a giant robot with a boxing glove in its stomach, and this darling idiot decided to take a flying leap and shish kebab its ass. Unsurprisingly, Gato knocked him out of the sky into a flagpole. So if my best friend thinks I’m responsible for nursing his bruised body a bit back to health, I guess he’s got a right.

Nope, that made it sound like a sex thing.

Anyway, the idiot’s never talked to me about a girl before. Not once. Since I am a girl, this means that either everything’s entirely platonic but our different bits make sex stuff too weird to talk about, or that a devastating great love is churning under the surface of both our stoic visages and is always only a moment from changing the nature of our best friendship forever.

I’m pretty sure it’s the first one.

“Yeah. Ah, fairs. Everybody’s looking for someone at those. Good, good looking out, kid. What’s she like?”

“Redhead.”

Sure, his type, I get it.

“Spunky on the surface, even icy. But there’s something in her too that–“

He’s thinking so hard.

“–like a tortoiseshell cat with those really intense eyes. The kind that curls up by the fireplace in precisely the spot and exactly the pose where the embers really warm her to the bone. Completely. So she’ll never have to worry about being cold and alone again. I don’t know, something like that. I don’t think I get her.”

Uh.

“That is an incredibly detailed metaphor, Crono.”

…Eck.

I shouldn’t have put it that way.

I can see him disengage in real time, there’s this way he arches up just one shoulder, and when he drops it down again he flushes the tension out, and he’s not mad anymore but he’s not really there either, you know? I love the guy. But for someone so quiet he’s not a great listener. I can be talking to him for ten minutes and all the words coming out of my lips just pinwheel off, swimming to the depths of a pool with no bottom, lost to the ages.

And any suggestion that it’s my choice of content or my still evolving techniques for explaining complex scientific paradigms to lay people that bears responsibility for Crono’s distance is… Well, rude doesn’t even begin to cover it. Honestly, my dear critical voice in the back of my head, I’m truly shocked and dismayed you’d sully our discourse with such accusations.

With all that in mind: last ditch salvage attempt! “Just saying, I think if you get that about her, you get her, right?”

He doesn’t respond to me, of course.

Earth to Crono. Mission control speaking, and the asteroid is still coming in hot. Come in, Crono!

He drives me nuts.

I keep trying. “So what’s she like, anyway? You said redhead. We looking at blue eyes, flowy dress, some kind of… hat, perhaps?”

“Blue eyes. Pouty sort of face. Wears a lot of white.”

“She’s spunky, pouty, and wears white.” I parrot back. “And not from Truce. All right. So she’s stupid rich. No one from our village can afford to be any brand of rough-and-tumble and wear white clothes.”

Crono shifts in his seat, so then naturally he winces after his leg kicks up and the bottom of my palm swats down onto his bruise.

“Luc, c’mon, please be careful.”

“Be careful yourself, chucklehead. There wouldn’t be anything to worry about if you hadn’t tried to bust up my robot to impress a girl.”

He’s far away tonight. Crono doesn’t punch but he does counterpunch, and nine nights out of ten my bro here wouldn’t have let me get five words into that spiel without giving me shit right back. So he’s treating me with kid gloves or he just isn’t sparing too many thoughts for me at the moment.

Super. I hate both options.

People want to experience life, experience actually living, in so many different ways. You’ve got emotional drones who think any feeling above baseline is an assault on their ideal eternal tranquility. Some banshees who want their basic everydays as rote as possible so that each exceptional moment of confrontation and intensity spikes even more. The emotional druggies, so to speak. And the drama ones where either everything’s getting better or everything’s getting worse and whichever way it is, everybody’s got to know about it.

I’m Lucca Ashtear. And the energy I want is the goosebumps running over your arms on loop like a good bass line, and the little hairs on the back of your neck sticking up twenty-four hours a day and eight days a week.

I think – um, I guess that I think Crono’s like that too. I need him to be. I need somebody else to get it or I don’t know what I’m doing here.

“How did you know she has money? I spent a whole day with her and never figured that out.”

He looks right at me, eyes boring through my coke-bottle glasses, facing up to the challenge as always and trying to decode another fragment of Madam Lucca’s processing power.

Good luck, kiddo.

“Hey, master sleuth over here,” I scoff. “As you well know.”

“I thought we were going with, uh, ‘pathbreaking inventor who sees into the very atoms of our feeble existence.’”

“A girl can contain multitudes, C.”

He’s too quick about it and he tousles my hair a little, before I can yell at him not to.

“Think you can handle adding dating coach to that list of titles?” His eye sparks as he says it. I don’t know, I don’t—maybe he’s invigorated, maybe he’s terrified, it’s all very strange.

But I’ve always been one to forge on. “Oh, absolutely not. Follow my advice and your redhead will ditch you before the weekend. But that doesn't mean you don’t owe me the story.”

Crono winces again. Maybe his other leg’s been getting stiff while he was sitting back getting pampered, the big baby. He lifts himself up and paces over to the counter. The idiot’s looking completely good as new, so I don’t know what all the fuss was about. Stronger than ever, really.

He fishes down one of the tall glasses I can’t ever reach that my dad keeps on the top shelf (why, by the way!!), and he starts telling me his story while he roots around for the water jug. The one he can absolutely never remember where it is, even though he’s over here more days of the week than he isn’t. I don’t even know how the boy feeds himself sometimes.

“I didn’t sleep that well. When the sun came up it woke me like always, but I could barely keep my eyes open and I figured I’d grab another bit of sleep before I got up to train. Next thing I knew, it was mid-morning and my mom was getting me up. Gosh, I feel like she hasn’t had to do that since I was a kid. I hate feeling lazy, Luc, you know that. It’s an awful way to start the morning.”

He’s found the water by now, and takes a couple of swigs. Crono’s voice gets hoarse so quickly sometimes. He was such a shy kid that I think he never told enough long stories to really toughen up those vocal cords. At least, that’s the bit of pseudoscience that I enjoy imagining and have mostly persuaded him and his mom to believe.

When he was ten or eleven, Crono’s mom forced him to take weekly singing lessons from the piano player down at the Snail Stop because I, er, may have convinced her that there was a danger he’d go mute by his twentieth birthday. Oh, he’s never hated anything more. Eventually he just started volunteering to do chores for the guy to get out of the trills and scale exercises. So the lanky kid Crono chops wood and gets tough and everybody admires him, and little Lucca stays scared and builds machines and people feel nervous about talking to her. Time marched on. Marches on.

“So I know it sounds selfish and stupid, but I was in a really bad mood when I got to the fair,” he continues. “I walked through the stands and the runners and the carnie games without anything catching my eye for a while. And then when I met this girl, I saw her long before she saw me.

She was scurrying around by Leene’s Bell. Worked up, I think, but not panicked yet. She told me later that she thought she’d dropped her pendant and was looking over the grass and the cobblestones to pick it up. It was obvious what was supposed to happen. I was sulky and in my head and she was preoccupied and in hers. We were supposed to bump into each other, and dust each other off, meet cute, and have our day together at the fair.

I was looking at her for a few minutes from the staircase as the bell rang over her head. Thinking about what to say, and what she’d even listen to from a big dummy like me. I finally spotted the glint from that pendant she was looking for, and she was so hopelessly off in the other direction that I wondered if she’d ever find it. Seemed possible she wouldn’t, honestly.

So I picked the pendant up and brought it to Marle.”

“Marle, huh?”

“Don’t wear it out, Luc.”

“Just saying, rich girl name right there.” I’d walked over to stand across the counter from Crono while he was telling his tale. Interesting use of characterization and foreshadowing on the boy’s part, clear sense of place established, totally felt like I was standing in the bushes in Leene Square watching the whole saga play out. The indecisiveness isn’t new, though.

“Done with that glass?” I ask. He shrugs, passes it over.

“So now that you’ve had your meet cute,” I continue, still trying to keep the edge out of my voice the way I’ve been so successful in doing so far, “what are you and the Lady Marle up to tomorrow? Going to meet up again?”

Crono slouches back, folding his arms over his torso. I’m not sure if he’s conscious about it but he’s definitely pulling away again… maybe he gets that I’m a little pissed? Maybe if I’m extra lucky, he remembers why I’m a little pissed?

“Uh, you know. Since the Millennial Fair’s a weeklong event, I said I’d be around the campgrounds again tomorrow. She said she would be too. I said I’d catch up with her then.”

“Beautiful. It’s like a poem.”

“Ha.” He’s scratchy, jumpy all of a sudden and not meeting my eyes. Probably because he wants something to do, Crono turns back to one of the shelves to grab a rag to wipe off his drinking glass, and extends a hand to reclaim it from me.

“Ah, I’ve talked way too much,” he continues, wiping the cup clean and placing it back in its customary place, just out of my reach. “Luc, what’d you get up to today? Will I see you at the fair tomorrow too?”

“Do I have any plans?” I’ve always been terrible at keeping my voice sounding innocent and nonchalant.

“Yeah, what’re you up to?”

“No, Crono, you don’t understand me. I’m asking you. Do I have any plans?”

He exhales. “Well, I suppose you’ll be showing your new invention, the Telepod. The first matter transference device ever and the fulfillment of humanity’s… Yeah. I didn’t forget.”

“You just didn’t come.”

“Luc, have you really thought this through?”

What a stupid question. “Yes.”

“Teleportation isn’t harmless. It isn’t some lark. Once you prove to people that you can zap human beings from point to point and not just like, pencils or funny hats or whatever, there are going to be crazy things that happen afterwards. I wish you’d reconsider this.”

“Yeah, I get that. And you know, speaking of reconsideration, I wish my best friend would reconsider coming to its first public demonstration like he promised he would. So we’ve both got cool wishes.”

Crono’s right arm does this strange thing, then, where it tenses up at the elbow and all the muscles that I’m used to seeing swim across the bay or haul a bundle of firewood are rapidly engaged for some other purpose. His eyes lock, not looking at me and not around the room, instead looking forward but not ahead. His knees bend just a quiver of an instant, almost ready to spring. His lip curls.

What it looks like for a moment is that he’s going to hit me.

And then the arm goes limp, and so does the rest of him, and that must have just been me seeing things, because Crono’s sobbing on the floor.

“What the—dude, you’re going to scare my mom half to death,” I say, words tumbling out without ever passing through my brain. Clearly both my body and my mouth are on autopilot here, because rather than being terrified or concerned, the feelings that would make sense and the ones I want to feel for my best friend, I’m apparently managing embarrassment and contempt. I don’t—

I don’t recognize this.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, fine,” he chokes out, starting to approach a facsimile of calm by the third repetition even as the tears stream and his breathing hacksaws between the words. He leans back and lets the wooden counter catch his head, and it feels like that’s just enough weight relieved for the panic to kind of collapse and let his lungs start to steady. It’s disconcerting. I’ve obviously heard him cry before, because I grew up with this kid and nobody gets through adolescence without a tantrum on some particularly bad afternoon. But these aren’t sounds I knew Crono could make. There’s something primally unrecognizable in the moment. And my fight and flight instincts are just lighting up every alarm.

Instead, maybe because it’s something I know I ought to do or hopefully because this is someone I love and I want to soothe him from whatever he’s going through, I kneel down and I wrap my arms around him.

Crono steadies. He doesn’t move forward to rest his head on my shoulder, but that big right arm stops shaking and wraps itself around me. And I feel that final resolving exhalation of breath coming up from his core to wash away the stress and danger of the moment. After a few moments, he softly thumps my shoulder blade with his right hand.

He’s turned it into a bro hug.

So he’s okay.

It’s a little hard to let go. There’s something… I helped him, right? He needed to be held and I was there for him and I can keep being there for him better than anybody else. Maybe I…

“I’m getting you more water,” I hear myself say. “And also bread, oranges. Calories generally. You just wore yourself out today, man.”

“Yeah.”

Like the perfectly dutiful mechanical automaton I am.

The bread is stale, but I don’t feel bad about it. For one thing, I know Crono is utterly fastidious about flossing and so the golden boy over here has teeth that can deal. And the below average bread definitely gets outweighed by the abundant, scrumptious oranges. After my mom’s accident, one of my dad’s coping mechanisms, and by that I mean one of the utterly romantic and thoughtful things he did that had no relationship with anything that my mom actually cares about, was to plant an elaborate garden beyond our house. He wanted her to be surrounded by green and nature every day even on the days when her condition made it too much to leave the house.

My mom grew up on a farm and she hated it. Seeing fruit and flowering plants just makes her remember harvest time, and the backbreaking work it always took to load enough into the wagons before market days. The sweat and the blisters and the luck it took every year just to get by. Until the year they didn’t.

She does love oranges, I guess. And because my dad never does what he can overdo instead, we have enough orange trees that she can always eat one whenever she wants one. Since I installed the sprinklers during middle school, those trees actually bear fruit.

“Just give the peels to me when you’re done, asshole. I don’t want you chucking them across the room, missing the bin, and leaving me to pick it up when I remember tomorrow.”

Crono smirks. He digs his fingers into the top of the orange, unravels the skin in one big continuous gouge, and flings it in a perfect arc across the room, landing neatly in the rubbish.

“You know, I should be mad. But since you didn’t miss, I’m not complaining.” He’s still sprawled out on the ground, leaning against the counter in the back corner of our living room, and I drop down to join him. I watch him eat the food that the work of my hands has brought into the world. It’s all very domestic except for the part where most of what I did involved robot middlemen.

“Luc, I meant to ask you something today.” There’s just the one orange wedge remaining in his big left paw. Think he just wants to delay eating it so he’s got something to do with his hands.

“Fire away.”

“Not next Saturday or the Saturday after that but the Saturday after that, Fritz and Elaine are getting married. You want to come with me?”

“Shit. I need to fix my dress.”

“My mom can help you if you wan–”

“Kiddo you do not want to open up that can of worms.”

Crono sighs. “Buddy, you know my mom. The can is open and the worms have crawled halfway to the bridge already.”

“Oof. Just tell me there have never been any pleas to hurry up and give her grandkids?”

“Not yet.”

I’m avoiding answering the question and that’s a nasty habit. “Yeah. Of course, I’ve always got your back. Can’t let the big strong and silent type show up without a plus-one.” I lean over and give him a quick hug… And quickly pivoting from tenderness to mischief, I clap his shoulder blades, repeatedly, pummeling him with the relentless metronome of “bro-bro-bro-bro-bro” for about ten seconds until he grimaces and nudges me off.

“Ow. Still sore from your robot.”

“He tried to warn you! He has metal joints! What kind of slag are your joints made of?”

Uh oh. It’s the you’re-so-weird-you’re-uncomfortable-to-be-around look. Not a Crono specialty, although definitely a look I get from Elaine at least every hour in the classroom. Yeah, wouldn’t she be thrilled to see me on her wedding day?

“Wait, slag, Luc?”

“Slag. For the smelting of the iron ore that was used to make your fancy new stabbing stick, Melchior heated the ore up to a blazingly hot temperature to remove the impurities from the metal. Since he’s a really good smith, he probably added some state-of-the-art oxides to the material too. And then you wound up with a sword of strong iron, since the impurities were removed as slag.”

“Oh. That’s cool. Yeah, I think he said something about that.” He’s walking on eggshells to spare my feelings. He’s just the most transparent people pleaser sometimes. “But also,” Crono hazards to continue, “I guess I’ve just heard that word before with a different meaning. From the guys.”

“Slag. With a g. The same word? What did it mean then?”

“Well, I guess, uh, woman of ill repute?”

“Oh. Tramp. Slut. Hooker.”

“Basically.”

“We take these words that have perfectly proper and necessary scientific meanings and we devolve them into schoolboy—” Like I know what I’m saying and it’s perfectly logical and wise but I know deep down the truth is that I’m a weird sheltered geek. And the self-esteem seesaws to make the shame bubble up. “Anyway. Fritz and Elaine’s thing. Won’t you feel self-conscious showing up to a wedding with me, though? Especially now that the breathtaking Marle has entered your life?”

“No way. People always go to weddings together as friends.”

“I don’t mean that people will think we’re together together. I mean, won’t they judge you for bringing the freak to a party?”

“You have to stop that.”

“Oh, stop noticing how people feel about me and how they treat me every second of every day?”

“Everything’s weird right now, and everyone’s worried and scared their lives are going to fall apart. And so they’re happy to bring you down. They take it out on the girl who’s got everything figured. But there is no level of goofball you can be that’ll ever make me ashamed of being your friend, Luc. I’m going to be on your side and that’s never going to change.”

I’m never going to get married. I’m never going to have children. For one thing, I’m never going to meet anyone in this dump of a town that’ll want to have that kind of a life with me. I’m just a walking pair of out-of-fashion glasses and ahead-of-my-time ideas. But it’s not just that. I’ve been such a source of pain and disappointment as a daughter. I ruined my mom and dad’s lives. It’s the surest thing in the world that I’d ruin a spouse and 2.5 kids even worse. So what would I be doing, going to a wedding? What’s the point of Lucca Ashtear showing up at the one event in the whole universe that’s the farthest away from her existence? So out of the realm of her eighty-odd years of spinning around the sun?

I guess it’d be cool to hang out with Crono and everybody to hear some good tunes, eat a nice meal, and sneak a couple beers. I guess that’s enough.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll go.” I’m trying to manage casual and forthright and not just sound like a mouse. I hope it sounds normal, at least. I don’t know. “Thank you for asking me, pal.”

“Awesome!” And he’s happy, and he’s not faking it I know he’s not faking it, it really seems like I’ve given him something to look forward to. That’s all I’m trying to give people, when it comes down to it, yeah? “We can take the ferry together, get you some sunshine and look for the flying fish. I’m really excited.”

I miss that grin when it’s not around.

“Where are they getting married?”

“Porre. Fritz has family there, and his dad has connects with the mayor, and so he reserved one of the converted warehouses on the waterfront for pennies an entire early autumn weekend,” Crono says. “It’s almost so effectively commercial that it circles back to being romantic.”

“I bet people will call it gorgeous,” I rejoin. 

“Inspired,” Crono counter-offers.

“Rustic but refined.”

“Perfect.”

“Just right.”

“Fairy tale.”

“Once-in-a-lifetime.” I let the snark sing out on every single syllable.

We both go quiet. A little awkward, a little preoccupied, mostly just buddies being okay.

“Welp.” He’s only favoring his banged up left leg a tiny bit now as he stands, and he adopts that forthright and more than a bit ridiculous pose of the guest charting his course to the front door. Of course he hasn’t brought a jacket despite the chill, and of course he’s going to politely-ish ignore my dad’s entreaty from a couple of hours ago to take an armful of our lab-grown tomatoes home to his mom. So he’s ready to go. Only lacking the words to obtain his leave and the movement of his feet out the exit.

He turns back toward me after a couple of steps, looking so earnest and intent.

“Lucca Ashtear, you’re the best. And you do so much to prove to the world that you’re the best, and I think that’s awesome. Just make sure you remind yourself that you’re the best sometimes too.”

I blush and I smile and I say, “Good night, Crono.”

There was a part of me that day that thought about getting really worried, just utterly terrified of it all. Not terrified of Crono necessarily but feeling certain the sky was falling and knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do. History—and I know, guffaw snort harrumph little miss self-important harrumph—yes, history will judge someday if I made the right choices and depended on the right people. I almost took the other fork in the road so many times, back then. But that night was always going to go the way that it did. He was my effing best friend. Is my best friend.

“I’ll see you at the fair tomorrow, Luc. I promise.” He flickers his hand goodbye and stalks off, over the hill back home.