Written by ErinRoach
This work was last updated February 5, 2018
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I read the beginning of this story at the hot chocolate & chill, and I wanted to get feedback on a couple scenes (rather than the whole story because I am currently missing some connective tissue lol). These are two of the three conversations in the story about philosophy/fate. My main character, Terona, is self-aware of the fact that she is the villain in a space opera, a fact that she doesn't deal with super well. Other characters of import include the requisite hero, Alexandra Albrecht, whose mother Terona killed ten years ago, and Moragh, an ally of Terona's who is an alien and uses ze/zir pronouns.
I'm mostly looking for feedback on how these two fairly-philosophical conversations read, and how much you buy the interactions between the characters.
When we returned to my quarters, I fetched a bottle of wine out of my personal stores. Alcohol technically wasn’t permitted on board, but I made the rules, and I at least attempted to use it sparingly. I also produced a wine glass for myself and a sturdier mug for Moragh; the Xeng-il people had little use for delicate things.
I poured the wine and carried it over, handing Moragh zir mug. Then, I dropped into my comfortable chair and downed my glass in one go. I felt the warm buzz of the alcohol spread through my blood. Moragh was silent, sipping from zir mug, seemingly aware of the fact that I needed to be the one to start this conversation.
I refilled my glass, and then asked, “Do you believe in fate?”
Moragh drank more, considering zir answer, and then said, “The Xeng-il believe that things happen for a reason. I suppose you could call that ‘fate’.”
“I didn’t ask what your people think,” I replied, my voice sharp. Something that might have been a flinch crossed Moragh’s face. “I want to know what you think.”
Moragh’s nails clinked ominously against the side of the ceramic mug as ze thought. “In some ways, I think it makes things easier,” ze said finally. “It’s…simpler to understand if people choose to do certain things because they are on a path that was laid out for them long ago, by something or someone that knows better than any of us. That it all has a point.”
“I think that’s terrifying,” I blurted out, and then hated myself for it. Moragh’s eyes surveyed me, and I felt like ze could see right through me. In a desperate attempt to regain control of the situation, I added, “I want to always be in control of my actions.” After it left my mouth, I realized it didn’t improve anything.
Moragh’s mouth quirked, but there was something sad about it. I watched zir as if maybe, if I looked long enough, the secrets of the universe would appear on zir face. “It makes sense you would think that,” ze said finally. “You have never needed an explanation for the terrible choices of those who should love you.” Ze thought for a moment longer, then added, “Or your own.”
Moragh’s tone was light, but zir words held such a raw openness that my body seemed to reject it. I crossed my legs and leaned back, tossing back the rest of the wine just for something to do. Moragh watched me, and then said, “Does this have to do with the Albrecht girl? Why you didn’t kill her?”
The resistance in my body coalesced into something akin to panic as I realized ze had seen right through me, to the question that I had no answer for. Why hadn’t I killed her? Because I’d been twenty-three and stupid? Because I was young and hadn’t wanted to kill a child? Because I was fresh out of a revelation about the nature of the universe that, thanks to her mother, had shaken me to my very core? None of these rang completely true.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said aggressively, slamming my wine glass onto the coffee table between us with more force than was strictly necessary. Moragh twitched slightly. “My arm was rotting from the inside-out — I wasn’t exactly in the best state of mind. She’s alive, and she poses a threat. It’s your job to neutralize her.”
Moragh’s expression had shuttered during my speech. Ze drained the rest of zir wine with tight, controlled movements. Some wild part of me wanted zir to snap back, to argue with me, to bring this conversation to some sort of a head. “As always, High Commander, I am at your service,” ze said stiffly, draining zir mug and then standing. “It’s late; I should retire.”
Ze stalked towards the door of my quarters. “Moragh —“ I began, then cut myself off. Ze stopped, looking at me expectantly. “Have a nice rest,” I finished. Moragh inclined zir head, then turned and departed without another word.
I finished the rest of the bottle by myself.
“Don’t move,” came a voice, and I looked up to see none other than Alexandra Albrecht, escaped from her cell and pointing a gun at me.
Fuck, I thought again.
She was standing just far enough back that I didn’t think I would be able to lunge for her before she could shoot, especially not with my malfunctioning arm. There was always the chance that she wouldn’t be morally able to shoot me, but I took in the steadiness of her hands, the intent in her face, and the pirate insignia on her jacket, and decided not to test my luck.
“Take off your gun and toss it to the side,” Alexandra said, her voice firm, and I only hesitated a moment before following her command. She was the hero here — I wouldn’t be able to take her head on, not easily. When I had thrown my gun, Alexandra said, “The other one, too.”
This presented more of a problem; the second gun was strapped to my back, underneath my jacket, difficult to access with only one hand. However, I managed it, and I tossed that one aside as well. I tensed, waiting for her to mention the knife I had strapped to my side underneath my clothes, but she didn’t.
We stared at each other in silence for a moment before she said, less firmly, “You’re Cecily Terona.” I gave a brief nod of my head. “You knew my mother,” she added, and her voice hardened. “Why did you —“
She cut herself off, but she didn’t need to continue. “Why did I kill her?” I asked, finishing her thought. Alexandra’s face was stone cold. I shrugged. “Easy. She was dangerous.”
Unbridled fury crossed Alexandra’s face, and for a moment I genuinely feared for my life. She stepped towards me, but then reconsidered, and stepped back again, re-aiming the gun at my face. “Don’t lie to me,” she hissed. “I am not bluffing, I will shoot you.”
I couldn’t help it; I laughed, something short and joyless. Alexandra’s eyes narrowed even further, but I said, “Just because it’s not what you want to hear doesn’t make it a lie, kid.”
“My mom was a scientist,” Alexandra said, and her hand remained steady even as her voice shook slightly. “She was on your side — she posed no threat to you!”
“She built a machine that allowed a person to see beyond the reality of our universe,” I replied. “Her ideas threatened to overturn everything we know.”
Alexandra scowled at me. “Even if I believed you,” she said. “There were better ways to deal with that than murder.”
“On the contrary,” I said lightly, conversationally. “I found murder to be a very good way to deal with it.”
The blow across my face caught me by surprise, forcing my head to the side and splitting my lip open. I grinned despite myself, the reaction saying that I had forced her to become overly emotional. I had missed a chance to grab her as she moved it, but it almost seemed worth it. I wondered idly what had happened in the past decade to turn her from the shining child of my memory into this hard-eyed, gun-happy young woman.
Alexandra stared me down, the fury in her eyes tinged with something else I couldn’t quite describe. We watched each other, as if waiting for somebody to cave. Finally, Alexandra asked, “Why didn’t you kill me too?” with, for the first time, vulnerability written in the span of her brow and the curve of her mouth.
A hundred answers sprung to mind, ordered in a list of things I thought might convince her to drop her guard. And yet, I found myself disinclined to lie to her. “Do you believe in fate, Miss Albrecht?” I asked impulsively. Only after it had left my mouth did I realize how much it betrayed me.
Alexandra laughed, disbelieving; it wasn’t pleasant at all, and yet the sound of it twisted something in my chest, as if in a sad curiosity for who she might have grown up to be. “What the hell kind of answer is that?” she demanded. “You killed my mom because fate made you do it? No, to hell with that, I don’t accept it.”
I shrugged. “It makes things easier,” I said, echoing Moragh’s words from earlier. Alexandra looked like she wanted to hit me again. Maybe Moragh’s statement was bullshit after all. “When I used your mother’s machine, I saw what happened to people who walked the same path I do,” I said, not knowing completely why I felt compelled to explain things to her. “I saw, and yet I kept going. Was that not fate?”
“Bullshit,” Alexandra said. She cocked her gun at me, and once more I felt the flying drop that accompanied the certainty that she was going to shoot me. “If I kill you right now, will that be fate?”
“It would have a certain amount of poetry to it, don’t you think?” I replied, trying not to show any of my fear in my voice or face.
Again, Alexandra stared me down. Tension crackled between us. Underneath it, there was a sudden, strange calmness in me. This was how it was meant to be, I thought. Our paths were always leading us here.
“Bullshit,” she said finally. “I make my own choices, and so do you.”
“Somebody has to be the bad guy,” I told her, and my voice came out softer than I had intended.
Alexandra lowered her gun, just a fraction, and I took my chance. I leapt forwards from my seated position and swept her legs out from underneath her. She went crashing to the ground. A shot was fired as she fell, but too late; it went far wide of her target (me). Before she could fire again, I kicked the gun out of her hands. Then, I knelt, pinning her with a knee to her chest, and drew my knife from its hiding place.
“You won’t be the first hero I’ve killed to keep myself alive,” I told her, forcing myself to look into her wide brown eyes and smattering of freckles.