Into The Wilderness
She sits at her desk, fiddling with the thick ledger resting upon it, tweaking with the ant-like figures that seem to be scrambling all about the place – a task as impossible, it seems to her, as actually getting ants back in line after they’ve been stricken by panic. The sounds of the children playing outside are slightly distracting – she wants to join them and Jessica, but apart from Papa she’s the only one versed with mathematics in the house and since he’s busy with other stuff, she’s got to be the one tabulating the accounts for the orphanage, stuck in the stuffy room while the rest bask in the glorious day that lies just beyond her reach, through the windows.
She squints as a particular entry catches her attention. Sale of Demon Artifact (PS). Photosphere. Her eyes soften visibly as her mind begins to wander, as it has been wont to do, and much to her annoyance, in that particular direction…
She is sprinting for the end of the corridor where the glittering artifact lies. The footsteps from around the corner are increasing rapidly in volume – there’s no chance of her getting it first… Strike the opponent first, then. She spins the corner- a brief scuffle- falling-
And at the end of the barrel pointing into her right eye is Rudy Roughnight.
“It’s you…” she says, somewhat amused as he jerks his ARM away frantically. This boy has killed Metal Demons, destroyed Golems and saved the world. And here he is fumbling over a little girl like her. She knows it means something, but chooses to ignore his proffered hand (There! That should teach him to knock a girl down!), dusting her clothes primly as she gets up.
“This reminds me of that time… where was it?” she asks airily, as if it doesn’t matter. But it does, and she knows that she’s hoping for…
“Volcannon Trap,” he answers almost immediately. She smiles and he scratches his head in that way, blushing in the weird blue-green light of the Demon ruins. She realises then how long it has been since they last met.
“How’ve you been?” she asks, peering at him.
“Okay…” he replies, looking away.
“Aren’t you going to ask me how I’ve been?”
“…How’ve you been?” he asks, upon her request.
“You make it sound so difficult, Rudy. I’ve been fine,” she replies, smiling again. And that’s more than she’s smiled back at the orphanage in two months.
She picks up the glittering circuit on the ground, recognising it for what it is – Demon technology. “Do you want this?”
“Well, too bad. I got here first, so you’ll have to make me an offer,” she tosses her head imperiously.
He drops his sack at her feet. Arching her eyebrow, she nudges the sack with her boots. The heavy clink of gella. Lots of it.
“How much?” she asks.
“All of it.”
Her instincts stop her from gaping. The circuit is worth something to him.
“What’s this to you?” she asks, waving the flimsy looking object.
“Dr. Maxwell-” and his mouth clamps shut. Both of them know he’s made a bad mistake. Understandable, for one so young and naïve – but unforgivable nonetheless. Punishment for the indiscretion is swift.
“Those packages Papa has been receiving – they’re from you, then? Those books, those gadgets.”
“Jane-” he pleads and she is tempted to forgive him there and then and return to their banter. But she thinks of the pining, the nights spent thinking about her blue-haired hero, and she utterly despises herself for her weakness. For if there is one thing she hates more than pity, it is the weakness that calls for it.
“A year, then. And not a single letter, Dream Chaser?” her voice is cold, cutting, like steel.
“I…” But there is nothing for him to say. She turns her back on him, even as the walls around her begin shivering, trembling, collapsing, like that time long ago. Only this time they aren’t actually collapsing though she feels like her world is.
At sixteen years of age, Jane Maxwell feels she understands what it means when they say Raftina is the Guardian of Hatred as well.
“Aunty Jane! Aunty Jane! Come quick!” The piping voice of young Alfred breaks her out of her reverie. Hastily, she puts the ledger aside and turns to the boy.
“What is it, Alfred?” she asks.
“Aunty Jessica said to come get you. Your boyfriend’s here!” he reports with the earnest seriousness that makes him her favorite amongst all the children.
“My boyfriend?” Jane thinks for awhile. Probably just another one of the idle suitors Jessica or Papa always try to fix her up with. “What boyfriend? You’re my darling boyfriend, Alfred,” she exclaims as she hugs him.
“Eew.” He makes a face. “Anyway, just come.” And with that he drags her away to the living room, eager to complete his mission.
“He’s real cool,” Alfred says. “And his ARM too.”
ARM? Wait a minute-
But it’s too late and this time it reminds her not of Volcannon but the Photosphere.
She’s changed since he last saw her, so much that it is almost shocking. But then it’s been a long time – three years, four months, twenty-two days and about two hours. The time in between has worn away the sharp edges of Calamity Jane, leaving behind a sad kind of beauty that carves a dull ache in his metallic heart.
Dr. Maxwell is explaining things to her, telling her why he’s here, but the truth is even he is not so sure. He told himself he was prepared to face her now, but upon actually seeing her, he knows he was lying to himself. He’ll never be prepared to see her.
“Jane! You do remember Rudy? I got him to come because I needed his help with some of the nifty little stuff Emma that wench has been devising recently. Rudy has proven himself to be quite the son of Dr. Roughnight- you should see some of the work he’s done,” the scientist smiles approvingly. Jane nods.
McDullen is giving him a look (how much does he know?), while Jessica implores her sister with her eyes to say something. Dr. Maxwell looks back and forth, wondering what he’s missed.
“Hi…” Rudy says finally. And in his mind he planned to ask “How’ve you been?” but he cannot now bring himself to – it is obvious how she’s been.
“…Hi,” she replies. “It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?”
Dinner goes as smoothly as can be, with Dr. Maxwell describing the theoretical basis for a proposed upgrade to the Emma Motor version three-point-two to a very distracted Rudy, McDullen heaping dish upon dish on them, Jane and Jessica trying to manage the boisterous orphans while helping out in the kitchen at the same time, and the children staring at Rudy (the girls, with their shy eyes) and his ARM (the boys, with awestruck expressions). Between Dr. Maxwell’s expositions, the cooking and the kids, neither of them have very much time to speak to each other save an uncomfortable “Could you?”, “Sure…” and “Thank you…” with the prerequisite brushing of fingers as he passes her the salt. Both their fingers jerk away, spilling some salt on the table, a scar of grains that haunts them through the meal.
Afterwards, he offers to help with the dishes. Jane says quickly, “Jessica, it’s your turn with the kitchen. I’ll bring the kids for their walk.”
He stares at her briefly, catches McDullen and Jessica staring at him and turns away. She never glances once at him, ushering the children out into the twilight.
“Do join me in the study after you’re done, Rudy. Jessica, don’t let him take too long,” says the clueless Dr. Maxwell.
“Jane is difficult,” Jessica remarks in an offhand manner. Rudy’s silence forces her to continue. “They say you faced the Metal Demons, Rudy. They say Zephyr chose you.”
And unspoken, “I find that very hard to believe.”
Rudy knows he’s acting the coward. But what do they expect of him? He is a machine, programmed for destruction, not for handling “difficult” people. And then Rudy, scrubbing the dishes, realises that this is the greatest thing he could have wished for – that they see him as a human, a person, and therefore expect of him what they would any other. He smiles and nods.
Jessica, seeing the change in demeanour, pats him on his back encouragingly. The contrast, he feels, is striking. Jane is a person of extremes, the lurching pendulum to her sister’s steady moderateness.
They say Jessica is the more beautiful of the two; he’s always found that very hard to believe.
The heat of the day has now been totally replaced by the chill of the desert night. The Maxwell house is quiet but for the occasional forlorn chirps of a cricket. Done with the equations he promised to help Dr. Maxwell with, Rudy feels himself drawn to the bridge by some invisible force and the irony that it is when he feels most human that he seems to have least control of his actions is not lost on him. Humans, then, are bound by their humanity – in that way, though Dan Dairam has no call on him and he answers to neither Odoryuk nor Ge Ramtos, he might yet become one.
She is not there, but half of him expected that. The other half is crushed, disappointed. And then another split – wait or leave? Rudy waits, because at this point in time – at this point in his life, there is nothing left to do.
The moon travels across the sky, shadows shortening then lengthening again.
Jane sits under the bridge, her knees tucked to her chest against the cold. She rests her chin on them, unsure of what to do. She knows Rudy is standing on the bridge, waiting for her to come. But she struggles with indecision and by the time he speaks up she knows it is too late. She wants to put her hands to her ears, but she cannot because, like that dark guitar of legends, his words draw the monster that is herself.
“Jane… I’m sorry about not writing. I never wanted to make you angry. But I was scared… because you must know I’m not human. And I didn’t know what a human was supposed to do, much less a machine. I didn’t- don’t know what to say, what to feel. But it seems I ended up making you angry with me, anyway.
“If this is what humans must go through all the time… they’re funny people. But that’s what living is about, isn’t it? It’s about doing these strange things so that you end up hurting each other, only if you didn’t-” And at this she hears him hesitate.
“Only, if you didn’t, then you’d know that you were all alone. And that’s the worst, I think,” he says, the last almost a whisper.
If she stands up and goes to him now, all will be okay. But she cannot, yet. She’s no Jack Van Burace, whose courage Justine acknowledges; nor is she Princess Cecilia of Adlehyde, whose selfless love touches Raftina; most of all, she is not Rudy Roughnight, who can wait against the cold and lonely darkness with nothing but the spark of Zephyr in his heart. She is Jane Maxwell, afraid of disappointment and so selfish she’d rather it be him than her who must face it.
“What do people do, then? What can they do?” The quiet, plaintive question slams into her with a force greater than his Arch Smash ever could. She bites her lip, clenches her fists so hard her fingernails draw blood.
But there is no answer to that question. Rudy falls silent and remains so for the rest of the night. Dawn comes.
Jane dreams. She is speaking to Rudy, on a night such as this, on a bridge. It is a younger, brasher her – Calamity Jane, the persona she adopted before he came along and smashed it to pieces, in the Photosphere.
“Why are you doing this? For money? For fame? To save a princess like in the fairy tales? Any of those reasons is fine. Just don’t tell me it’s for something stupid like saving the world. People are weak, Rudy. No one’s strong. That’s why I hate it when people throw kindness around, calling it duty. It means they think they’re strong. They’re not. Kindness should be valued and expressed only to those you care about – because that’s what makes weak people strong.
“Otherwise,” and she giggles, “Otherwise I’d be hurt that you saved me just because you felt obligated to… Because it’d mean you saved me because of duty, and not because…
“Sometime I think a day will come when dawn will no longer appear. That’s when people stop caring, so they can no longer protect each other. But promise me, Rudy. Promise me that you’re risking your life because you care for the Princess, for the swordsman, for Filgaia… That’s the reason you can sacrifice so much right? If not, I’ll never be able to like you do-gooder types… so full of yourselves thinking you’re ‘strong’.”
Then it is old-and-now-Jane again and suddenly she knows now why she wants very much to believe that Rudy is strong because he cares. Because while they are very much alike, he is by far the stronger. And she hopes that she is a part of that strength – that he cares for her too. Then, almost by logical necessity, it means he will protect her. Deep in her heart, Jane, having protected the orphanage for as long as she can ever remember, wants to be protected too.
She is afraid of being the weaker, but she cares for Rudy – and so she knows she will try
“My lady… My lady…”
Jane awakes to bright sunshine and McDullen’s gentle tap on her shoulder.
“McDullen!” She springs to her feet, clutching his hand. “He- Where’s he?”
“Master Roughnight left this morning, my lady. We were looking for you but we couldn’t find you… I’m truly sorry…” McDullen said, sighing sadly.
“Don’t be, McDullen! Don’t be at all. Dawn does come, you know? And you need to try and wake people like me up so we’ll know it – and sometimes we’ll miss it, but if the sun is shining bright and warm – then, then we’ll know that it does!” Jane exclaims exuberantly, bubbling with passion and excitement. McDullen sees it for what it is – his young lady has rediscovered her love for life. And in the image of the girl he has seen grow up running off into the distance like she is young once again, he sees something else – calamity in the foreseeable future of a young man.
A breeze picks up and he turns his face away from the rising sun, to feel it caress his wizened cheek.
It is night in the Filgaian prairie and the west wind, laden with moisture, blows strong. Jane makes her way up the rough edges of the cliff slowly but surely. She is dressed once again in the comfortable clothes of her treasure-hunting days, and she feels the rush she gets when she knows this chest is going to be the one, the lucky shot of the day.
Up and up she goes, weary in body but not soul. Fireflies flit around her, guiding her ascent and illuminating the craggy path for her. She curses and swears, but they are the vents of physical exertion, not due to any feeling of malice at all. She is perturbed that she only remembered this place after a long search across both Inner and Outer Oceans, but it is never too late. She knows he is waiting for her.
And sure he is, his face looming over the cliff’s edge with surprise and some horror. Scrambling, grains of rock raining down on her, and he lowers a rope which she grabs onto. A few quick knots and he begins hauling her up, careful to avoid bouncing her against the abrasive cliff-face. And finally she is up and over the edge and she leaps into his arms, both of them tumbling onto the rock.
“What do people do, Rudy? What do they do?”
Rudy understands the implications of that question and blushes furiously, scratching his head. “You heard everything?”
“Everything except the answer,” she replies.
Looking up at her begrimed, beautiful face against the backdrop of the starry Filgaian night, wind-tossed locks framing those wonderful blue eyes, Rudy wonders if perhaps Rigdobrite, Denogenos, Solus Emsu and all the rest didn’t have something to do with tonight. And maybe they did. Rudy knows now why the Guardians have chosen to bestow their strength upon humans, weak and fallible as they are. Because-
“They try, Jane. They try.”
The wind whistles a tune into the wilderness.
Disclaimer: I don’t own Wild Arms though I’m looking forward to owning a copy of Alter Code F as soon as I can.
Thanks for reading till the end. Would like to say a little about this little fic. Wild Arms is one of my favorite games. Even though I think the plot is a little trite and even clichéd at times, I think the strong characterisation more than makes up for it. There’s just so much potential in the character interactions that I’m surprised not many fanfic writers have rushed to explore those possibilities and fill those gaps yet. Jane and Rudy were my fav characters in the game (I remember flying around in the Protowing trying to find her, after she disappears near the end), so this is one interpretation of how their relationship might turn out. I think it’s a bit too angsty at the start, and the fluff at the end is suffocating, but I do like how the final version turned out.
ILastly, I’d like to acknowledge Tamerine for her fic In Court Seim which I felt captured that particular scene really well and proved to be the inspiration for my own take. Basically what I tried to do with the bridge scene was piece her idea (strength and protecting) with the original gamescript. Hope it turned out fine.