Title: Faces

Rating: T

Reason for Writing: The plot monkeys wouldn't stop hollering at me, and I've always wanted to write this way. And I was curious about Ester's back story. We know next to nothing about her family life or about her role as the chief's daughter. So I improvised.

Words: 4,893

Summary: She closes her eyes and imagines. She sees Ben at eleven years old, arrogant and triumphant. She sees him at fifteen, mischievous and playful. She sees him a few months older, aged and resigned. She opens her eyes and wonders what face he will make this time.


Faces

by Winter Coma


The first time Ester thinks of him, she is ten years old.

She is sitting in the chief's room, trailing her finger along the portraits her father made. It is an ancient practice, this tribal wall painting, and one that is beginning to die out. Like so many other things, Ester's father is desperate to preserve every last bit of Kraaho tradition as he possibly can. Even at ten, Ester knows that is impossible. Yet she forces a smile every time her father attempts to restore the Kraaho way on this strange, cold planet. She is the chief's daughter and knows this is expected of her.

She trails her finger over a family picture-a crude thing, since her father was no artist- and she gives a weak smile. It is a simple drawing, one that she might have drawn herself if she hadn't seen her father labor over it, his hands covered in colorful paints as he slowly but surely put ink brush to wall. The picture itself was nothing special; it is a snapshot, a memory, something that Ester could hardly remember.

(But she does remember, in her dreams she goes over it before waking up with tears in her eyes.)

Ester is four or five in the painting. She is laughing with her cheeks red and eyes bright. She is wearing a purple dress her father got for her and she is displaying it to her happy mother. Her mother's thick black hair is tied in a ponytail and her beautiful Inuit features are displayed in a grin. Her father is behind her mother, an affectionate hand on her shoulder as he stares with pride at his daughter.

(In the picture, Ester is young, foolish, carefree. She doesn't know the sickness will take her mother from her, leaving her with only faint memories and crude drawings to remember her by.)

Now ten, Ester has learned. The world is cruel and unforgiving. It took her mother away as she wasted from disease and turned her father's heart to stone. He is no longer the loving man who used to tuck Ester in every night after reading her bedtime stories. No longer does he smile when Ester tells him about her day.

The world took her mother. It didn't have to take her father.

Footsteps echo down the corridor, making their way to the chief's room. Ester stands up from the ground quickly and begins to panic. As the chief's daughter, she is technically allowed in here if her father is, but because she is female she is barred from the meetings because only men could make rules.

(It is a foul tradition that boils Ester's blood every time. She hates how because she is female she must follow the traditional rules that have been laid out for her. She desires to fight, to call meetings to order, to do everything her father does and more.)

In the blind haze that follows panic, Ester makes her way to the drink cupboard hidden in the back. Dirt from the earthen floor flutters up as she sprints. She opens the door to reveal the few bottles of grain alcohol that is customary to drink after a meeting-a symbol of friendship, Ester has heard. She crams herself into the cupboard, tucking her knees to her chest and bending her neck to make her head fit. She closes the cupboard door and tries to calm herself, tries to ignore the smell of alcohol that permeates the air.

(If it is truly a meeting, then it is only a matter of time before she is found. She is young, so they will not make an example out of her. Her father will chastise her and punish her, but he will never lay a hand on her. That much Ester is certain.)

The door to the chief's room opens, and two sets of footsteps walk in. Ester knows the heavy, solid plod of her father. Calm and stoic is he; even his footsteps say so. The second set is small and timid, a shuffling walk. She hears the obligatory cold joke that can only come from Lackno. He is a foolish man, large yet meek. Ester knows he is hold in little regard by the other men, but still her father listens to him, if only out of politeness.

She aches inside the cupboard. Her knees are too close to her chest, the caps nearly hitting her neck. Her neck itself is bent at an unnatural angle and screams to he lifted, but her head is hitting the roof of the cramped space. She begs the powers that be to let this little talk blow over quickly and to let the two men leave the room.

Ester hears the little puffs of rapid talk; it is Lackno speaking. His voice is countered with her father's deep voice, his blunt words cutting off the rambling. Inside the cupboard she cannot hear what they are saying. Curiosity begs to be quenched-she opens the door just a crack. A sliver of light penetrates the darkness and a hint of cool air washes over her face. All she can hear are snippets of conversation, but Ester does not dare to open the door further.

"…Omnitrix…level twenty…greatest weapon in the universe," Lackno rambles, tripping over his own words.

"…in the hands…ten?" her father cuts in incredulously. His voice is beginning to rise. To Ester, this usually means he is preparing to yell, but he does not seem angry. In fact, he seems rather mystified.

And then her father calls out, "The greatest weapon in the universe is in the hands of a child?"

It is the first coherent sentence Ester has been able to hear. She wants to slump back in her seat, but the cupboard is far too small. She is forced to absorb the information in her cramped position, but absorb it she does. She is first overcome in shock, but that soon gives way to curiosity. How could a child her own age hold such a weapon? Was the child human? Was it Kraaho? Or was it an entirely different species all together?

She tunes back to the conversation in the chief's room. Her father has calmed down, his stoic voice back to its normal volume. Lackno is glowing; the interest the chief is showing him making him bolder. He utters a name, his voice a conspiratorial whisper.

Ben Tennyson.

Ester's eyes widen in shock and the frustration begins to set in. Of course it is a boy who gets the most powerful weapon in the world. It is yet another cruel wrench the universe decided to throw, and it twists her heart until it begins to blacken.

(But Ester doesn't understand why she is so jealous. It was astronomical that a child could get the Omnitrix. It was simply a matter of chance.)

Ester calms down, her angry heart cooling. She rolls the name through her mind: Ben Tennyson. It is nothing special-his first name is a common one among the human population, a simple syllable. His last name is a full three syllables and decidedly more interesting. She doesn't know if there is meaning behind the two names, but she is surprised by how well they fit each other. She mouths his name and is pleasantly surprised by how nice it sounds.

Her imagination begins to take hold at that moment. She imagines a blonde boy with tan skin and perfect teeth. He is smiling in Ester's mind, a blinding smile. He has blue eyes that sparkle and a carefree attitude. For some reason, this version of Ben Tennyson does not seem to fit. It would be too normal, too cliché, for such a golden boy to have the most powerful weapon in the universe.

So instead Ester thinks up a sickly little boy with a twig like body. He has darker hair-not quite blonde, not quite brown-and dull blue eyes. His clothes are baggy and are too large for his small body. But that image doesn't fit either. Nothing seems to fit this enigmatic wonder boy.

So Ester meshes both ideals together and comes up with a perfectly average boy with average looks and average skills. Nothing is special about him. She is unsatisfied with this, so she puts a cocky smirk on his face. There. That seems to fit him.

Lackno begins to leave, his shuffling footsteps leaving the room. Her father stands up not a moment later and follows him out. Ester stays in her spot for a moment longer and opens the door. She tumbles onto the dirt floor, her body crying out in pain. She lies there, stretching her limbs despite their protests as her movements blissfully crack her bones.

As she makes her escape, only one thought haunts Ester: what face would Ben Tennyson make if they ever met.


The second time Ester thinks of Ben Tennyson, she is eleven years old.

She is angry and hurt as she sneaks away from the underground Kraaho camp. The sewer water splashes her stolen rain boots as she hurries down the drainage pipe. Tears blur her vision and she quickly wipes them away.

She curses her father as she escapes to the surface. All she had done was play the Earth game soccer with the other children. They had picked up the sport during the daytime raids, when the older kids and adults would sneak up to the surface to get supplies for the growing camp. The older kids taught the game to the young ones as best they could, since they themselves didn't understand it much.

It was supposed to be harmless fun, a simple way of passing the time between chores and school. But the second stupid, silly Lackno saw her kick the ball into the makeshift goal she was whisked away by her concerned father. In the privacy of their small home, her father forbade her from playing the ugly human game.

Naturally, Ester did not understand what was wrong, and in her young mind it has something to do with being the chief's daughter. She is the beacon of light for the other young girls-so her father told her-and she is supposed to set an example for them. She couldn't dirty her pilfered dresses and shoes like the others, she has to be presentable.

(But she wants to be a kid, to play with her friends and act silly. She doesn't want the responsibilities of being the chief's daughter to consume her life.)

Hushed, angry whispers became a raging torrent of emotions as Ester yelled at her father, telling him that he didn't want her to have any fun, to be a normal child for a few hours. Everything afterward was a fog of sorts, and now Ester finds herself in the drainage pipe. It stinks something awful, but Ester keeps going, determined not to be found by the tribe men anytime soon.

A light could be seen, something square hitting the murky water below. It has thin bars running through the light, so Ester knows it is a drain of some sort. Nothing is pouring down it, so she creeps toward it and looks through the shaft onto the street.

It is a simple street, black asphalt with yellow lines painted in the middle. Ester sees machines stuck to the sides-cars, she thinks- of all shapes and sizes. It is her first time seeing such machines, since she is not allowed to go on the night raids.

(It makes more sense for her to go than the others, since she is more tolerable to the cold. But her age speaks differently.)

But some of these cars are funny. Some are strewn over the street and flipped over. Some have a giant dent in their hood. Others had been flattened into pancakes. She does not understand what is wrong. All she sees is the angry red message her brain sends her: DANGER.

She hears air speeding towards the ground which is followed by a crash. The street splinters apart, the wind thrown around like a hail of bullets. Ester is thrown backwards, her back hitting the drainage pipe. She cowers in fear, but only for a moment. Gathering strength she goes back to the drain and looks out.

A red creature is pummeling a purple monster into the pavement. The monster is metallic, its purple shell revealing multitudes of laser weapons. It hisses in a strange language as the four-armed creature gives it one last punch. With an obvious loathing the monster flies away on a jetpack, leaving the red creature-Tetramand-on the ground.

Suddenly there is a great green flash and Ester is forced to blink. For a second she merely stares, bemused, as the Tetramand turns into a little boy. She blinks again, rubs her eyes, but she knows her sight is not playing tricks on her.

The boy is her age, and while he is smaller than she is, he stands there with a proud swagger. His smile is triumphant. He looks as if he can take on the world.

In an instant, Ester knows who he is. Ben Tennyson.

She blinks again, frowns incredulously. This was the legendary Ben Tennyson? This little boy with a bigger ego than Seebik? This average, unassuming child wielded the greatest weapon in the entire universe?

(She recalls the image she conjured of him a year ago, the meshing of the golden boy and the sickly child. She is shocked by how accurate she was.)

Ester turns away, disgust etched into her mind. She has always imagined the great Ben Tennyson to be somewhat noble; arrogant, but occasionally humble. There is nothing of that dream person in real life.

She slowly walks down the drainage pipe, disappointed.


The third time she thinks of Ben Tennyson, she is fifteen years old.

Four years has passed, and Ester has blossomed into a young woman. She is calm, confident, and great at sneaking out of camp. Her father's watchers are desperate to catch her, but they dare not venture out of Undertown, lest they get frostbite.

She climbs out of the manhole cover, tungsten limbs stretching to impossible limits as she drags herself out of the sewers. She breathes in the early morning air, stretching as her arms return to normal. She sees the indigo hues of the sky quickly change from violet to blood red to a dark orange color.

It is extremely rare for any one of the Kraaho to see the sunrise. They cannot see how the colors change from dark to light, how they all blend together like paints on a canvas. It is far too cold out for any of them, but Ester can just tolerate the chill, and for that she is thankful.

(She is the chief's daughter, the example for all future Kraaho children. She is not a rule breaker, can never be rebellious. Only in the face of the rising sun can she truly be herself.)

She walks down the alley towards the street. There will be few people out. Only joggers and shopkeepers would push themselves out of bed and into the brisk morning air. Ester grins and walks out into the street, not bothering to check if anyone will see her. No one pays attention to her, not even when she is wearing five layers of clothing and an overstuffed winter coat.

She takes a moment to savor the emptiness of the street before she hears a belligerent hissing noise. She whirls around to see the ugliest thing running at her: a stooped alien with an octopus for a face and an uncovered cranium. She feels the sudden urge to vomit and runs back to the alley.

She leans over, hand pressed to the wall as she holds her stomach with the other. The bile rising in her throat gets choked down and her stomach settles. But the image haunts her mind, is burned into her retinas.

And then Ester curses herself-she is nearing her black belt in martial arts, she should have been able to take that thing on! Shame is beginning to overtake her when she hears yelling on the street. Curiosity leads her to the mouth of the alley and she looks out.

A portly man in a pink apron is yelling at a teenage boy. The boy is cowering as he looks sheepishly at the frozen car.

Ester blinks. She rubs her eyes. The car is still encased in ice.

There is something oddly familiar about the boy. She doesn't know why. He is fairly average; a twig in a green jacket-she can tell he has muscle though. He has curly brown hair that looks almost shaggy and mischievous green eyes. He is smiling weakly, any traces of arrogance wiped off.

Ester can't believe it. She has heard in dark whispers that Ben Tennyson had disappeared, taking the infamous Omnitrix with him. Yet here he is, accidentally using his alien powers to freeze some poor man's car.

Ben Tennyson takes the coffee the portly man was holding and dumps it on the car. The steamy black liquid spills over the ice and a crack appears in the middle of it. For a second they all think that the ice will crumble and the luxurious car will be saved.

With a loud crack the car splits in two, right down the middle.

Ben Tennyson stares at the man in horror before flinging the empty cup away and running for his life. The old man shakes his fist and hollers after his retreating form, screaming bloody murder. Ester sees him turning blue in the face, his mouth stretched to exaggerated proportions.

She leans against the alley wall and sags downward, laughing. Tears spring to her eyes and her lungs beg for air. She hiccups, laughs again, and coughs until all the laughter dies down in her throat. Even then she cannot stop the smile that has plastered itself to her face.

She can vaguely remember Ben Tennyson at eleven years old. Same curly brown hair, same acidic green eyes, same smile. But the young boy that had been so triumphant had been replaced by a meek fellow who ran away from angry old men. What had changed in the past four years? Was the arrogant little boy still there? Was he hiding, waiting for the right moment to appear?

For the first time, Ester is intrigued.


The fourth time she thinks of him, she is still fifteen years old.

Since the last time she saw him, Ester has turned her ears to gossip. She hears snippets of whispers of the surface, things of universal threats and evil octopus creatures attacking humans and aliens alike. And always, always Ben Tennyson is somehow involved, whether defeating some monster or befriending an alien-human hybrid.

Ester looks for fan-sites on the Xtranet, scouring any information about the young hero. There is very little to tell; very few have seen his human form, but there are many who have seen the kinds of aliens he turns into. It is an eclectic bunch, but Ester hardly spares them any thought. Instead she leans back in her chair triumphantly, glowing, the only one of the Kraaho-perhaps even all of Undertown- who knows Ben Tennyson's human identity.

More than once she imagines sneaking up to the surface and finding him, befriending him, helping him in his quest to rid the world of those DNAlien creatures. She wonders if he will be suspicious but will gradually warm up to her, or if it will be an instantaneous friendship. In her more giddy moments she wonders if they will become more than just friends.

(Ester knows it is unlikely. He is an Up-Worlder, her Down-Worlder. It is extremely unlikely, but she cannot help but think.)

Everything changes when her father dies.

It was an accident, the men said. They were on one of their many raids when they were caught by the Up-World police. There had been shouting and running and gunshots. The chief was the only casualty. The other men had carried him to safety, slogging through the sewers through the many underground tunnels. They didn't see where the wound was, but they didn't stop to check. Safety had been more important.

A single gunshot wound to the chest. The slogging through filthy sewer water. Her father didn't last the night, sweating through fevered nightmares but never showing fear, not truly. The traditional healers could only do so much. In the end they could only numb the pain and clean up the blood. They refused to let his daughter see him like this-too traumatic, they said-and she was thankful.

(Ester stays up all night praying to the forgotten gods, shamelessly crying and begging. It doesn't work.)

It wasn't until daybreak did the healers and elders allow her to see her father. They are dark figures shadowing her father's bed, like evil Grim Reapers. They look sadly on as Ester walks into the room, shoulders hunched and face stained with tears. Her father pleads to see her and he holds her hand in a lethal grip.

"Be strong, Ester," he rasps. "Live." His grip on her hand loosens, his eyes close. His face, once chaotic from the nightmares softens to peace. Ester gives a shuddering gasp before breaking down. She sinks to the floor, clutching her father's hand like a little girl.

Her father, her stone cold loving father, is now truly dead.

No one complains when her sobs escalate, becoming wails of sorrow. No one blames her, the orphan child who lost both of her parents so young. Today is the day of mourning and the young girl is not the only one in tears.

No one stops her when she finally bolts out of the room.

She runs through the tunnels, runs through the same water that infected her father, runs blindly until she finds herself outside. She doesn't know how she got to the surface. She doesn't care to remember. All she can focus on is the bursting of her lungs, her painfully dry eyes, and the resonating fact that her father was dead, dead, dead-

Ester hears screaming. Her breath hitches in her throat and she waits for the fear to enter the noise. But it is angry yelling, a battle cry begging for blood. For the moment she forgets her father and she creeps toward the noise. She hides in the trees, dodging broken branches and stumps as she hovers near the battlefield.

It is inside a force field, the battle. Ester has a great view of it. It was another monster, this one nearly ten feet tall with bulging muscles and a green squid-like face. It is facing a diamond beast, its emerald arms sharpened into lethal points.

Ester blinks painfully, for her eyes are still so dry. She allows the pain to wash over her before fading. Through newly watered eyes she sees Ben Tennyson take on his archenemy Vilgax with ease, the overlord's lasers hitting pure diamond before bouncing right back at him.

Vilgax stays on the ground this time, and the diamond alien turns back into human. It is the same Ben Tennyson that Ester met over six months ago. Only this time there is no mischievous glint in his eyes, no proud swagger in his posture. His shoulders are hunched, his face stony. His eyes are half-closed with exhaustion and his hands are balled into fists.

There is no arrogance. The childlike prankster is gone. Instead, he looks resigned.

For a second, Ester sees her father standing there with him, the same look on his face.


The fifth time happens when she is sixteen years old.

The months following the chief's death are tumultuous, with all the elders backstabbing one another for the job. Ester watches the fights with a fiery look on her face. She watches as the men her father called his friends immediately claw at his old position the day after the funeral. They disrespect his memory with their vile thoughts and cunning words.

(But Ester cannot do a thing about it. She is merely a child in the eyes of the tribe and no one listens to children, not really.)

She still lives in the chief's house, but it is only because she refuses to leave. She will not live with the other families with their disgusting pity and fake sympathy. Their gestures are careful when once they were loose, and their eyes are cruel in their sincerity. She cannot look any of them in the eye. If she does she knows she will snap.

She is in her room again, fuming. She does not come downstairs when an elder calls for her. A new leader has been chosen, he says. You must go meet him, he says. Ester knows who the new leader is. After months of changing hands, the new chief is Seebik, the upstart. She finds him far too radical for the tribe, with him talking about Kraaho supremacy and of them walking on the surface instead of scurrying like rats underground.

Ester does not like Seebik, but she must admit-she agrees with at least one thing he says. She wants the others to walk on the surface, not because they deserve to, but to see what she sees. She wants them to experience the beauty of a sunrise, watch how the colors blend into each other before becoming a beautiful cerulean. She wants them to experience the sounds and smells that only the surface has. She wants them to feel how she feels.

(But Seebik is too radical. Ester knows he will lead the Kraaho to ruin. It is only a matter of time.)

Eventually she becomes hungry and goes downstairs in search of food. She has not even left the bottom rung of the stairs before Seebik traps her. He is stiff and formal, different from the triumphant fool just half a day ago. His words are slow and deliberate, like he is speaking from a script. It is so unlike the normal Seebik Ester has grown to know that it takes a minute for his speech to take effect on her.

He says he has found a new way for the Kraaho to live. There is a hot spot outside Undertown, close to the tribe. If Ester could just get the fusion core from the surface, they could use it to power a drill to dig into the Earth's crust. Lava would flow and the Kraaho would never have to worry about freezing again.

All Ester hears is the word 'steal'.

"You want me to steal?" she says finally, incredulously. "The chief's daughter is not supposed to steal without just cause. Not from anyone."

Impatience rolls off of Seebik in waves. "You are no longer the chief's daughter. You will do as your new chief commands for the good of your people!"

"That's not how my father did things!" she yells. "He listened and was kind to everyone. He didn't yell and turn into a tyrant!"

Seebik seems to soften, his voice soft and gentle, almost sweet. "I'm sorry, Ester. I know this is hard for you to accept, but you must see reason. This is a way for our people to live without fearing the cold. It is good for our people. You are the only one who can walk among the surface dwellers and not freeze. You are the only one who can do this."

It is the same logic Ester had used against her father, when she wanted to go on the raids. She is half-Kraaho, she pointed out. She could stand the cold better than the rest of the tribe. Only this time Seebik is using it against her.

"All right," Ester says in defeat. "I'll do it tomorrow. I'm tired." There is the slightest flash of annoyance on Seebik's face, but it leaves swiftly. He has what he wants. He smiles as Ester goes up the stairs, her empty stomach forgotten.

Once safe in her room she stands in front of the salvaged mirror. She sees her gaunt form, the hollow eyes, the meek demeanor. It is not the stance of a thief, she decides. She straightens up and smiles confidently, hands on her hips. It is a vast improvement.

Ester does not like the idea of stealing something so precious. Pilfered food, clothing, and other necessities she can live with, but a fusion core? That is something else. That will require breaking into a lab full of security guards and an alarm system and running away from police and fighting Ben Tennyson-

Ester's smile becomes wider. She likes Seebik's idea more and more.

She searches her tiny, makeshift vanity for something that will hide her identity. Her heavy clothing will hide her body but will not cover her face. She finally grabs her old pink sunglasses and puts them on. She gazes at her reflection in the mirror, smiling. Ester is cool and confident, mysterious and-dare she say it-sexy.

She closes her eyes and imagines. She sees Ben at eleven years old, arrogant and triumphant. She sees him at fifteen, mischievous and playful. She sees him a few months older, aged and resigned.

She opens her eyes and wonders what face he will make this time.