SPOILERS AHEAD: RIGHTS OF USE
Words You Can’t Take Back
Sarah Anderson, 2002
When we got into the kaxan, that’s when Vinnet started to lose her cool. She set the destination then lay back, intending to sleep. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. She’d been excited about going home for weeks. She wanted to show me everything. She wanted me to meet everyone. She talked Maggie’s ears off and described even more to me.
But once we were on our way, it wasn’t just a celebration anymore. She owed the Council her own report, and while she assured me that she believed saving Maggie was “a” right thing to do, she didn’t think the Council would. She spent hours trying to figure out how to justify it to them.
I spared the girl, because she was innocent. Then what about the mission and billions of other innocent humans?
I scrubbed the mission, because Anjedet’s body double had recognized me. Then why not kill her and stay?
I scrubbed the mission, because I killed queens to save the girl. Evidence suggested the queens battled often. Surely, there were occasional accidents.
I started off trying to figure out how to help her, but nothing I came up with sounded good, either.
How do you expect us to be good guys if we’re killing people we’re supposed to save? I’d read about collateral damage before. Vinnet obviously thought the Council would find it acceptable.
Maggie was our friend. She trusted us. See above on collateral damage.
Vinnet came up with more bad ideas faster than I could. It was her report, after all.
Finally, she stared up at the ceiling, and a tear slid down my cheek. I should have kept to the mission. It was a miracle that opportunity came about and a miracle we made it in. No one has done that before. There was too much riding on it to not risk everything.
Something seemed off. I didn’t think she was talking about Maggie. But what was I supposed to do? Pat her back? She had control, and it was my back.
And I didn’t want her to regret saving Maggie. Whatever she thought or the Council thought, I thought it was the right thing to do.
Yeah, we could have maybe saved the galaxy, but I wasn’t the Council. I didn’t believe in collateral damage. There’s no circumstance in which you should have to kill your friend for a greater good. Then what kind of person would you be?
Vinnet rolled over and nestled her face in her elbow, letting the sleeve catch her tears. I’d just gotten you, and you were so scared. You didn’t know what we were doing or why or how. It was too soon to do any mission, let alone this one. You’re too young to understand.
Now, what a minute!
You’re not weighing this rationally. You can’t. It’s all so new and clear to you, and you’re missing the bigger picture. Somewhere out there, a girl just like you is getting taken to the queens or to the Empress herself, and we could have stopped it. Next year, it’ll be someone else. And the year after and the one after that. I am responsible for their deaths instead.
I could barely think through the haze of anger. Too young‽ Was her whole nurturing-friend demeanor just a way to manipulate me?
I failed you and the Council and the entire galaxy, all because I couldn’t bear to risk you getting hurt.
I had gotten hurt. Anjedet’s body double was decent with a sword. But that wasn’t the hurt Vinnet meant.
I don’t know why it surprised me that she thought the biggest impediment to her mission was her drive to protect me. I knew she missed her previous host (and the ones before her, too). I knew she’d gone half mad in the months without one. It made sense that I’d be extra special to her, especially in the first couple days.
But it was Vinnet.
For all I knew, if logic and wisdom were going to be embodied in a person, they’d choose to be her.
I still think that.
It was an extra shock, because everything during the mission and back on Earth had seemed so clear-cut to her. She had her objectives, and she worked toward them. And she had objectives now, too: report honestly and thoroughly and please the Council.
I didn’t get hurt, I tried to reassure her.
Exactly. She sat up and scrunched against the padded kaxan wall, like I had after first hearing about her. I was supposed to replace another king or queen with a Gertewet or die trying. I didn’t.
But now you know things no other Gertewet knew about being a queen: about the swords and the fighting and the wardrobes. When the next person tries, they’ll be better off because you lived.
You don’t understand. There will never be a next person. We will never have another chance that like. It was a fluke.
We sat in miserable silence until we got there.
Vinnet had shown me her true colors, I thought. Sure, she cared about me, but in hindsight, not as much as she cared about her mission. And somehow, I had to live with her.
When we arrived, she trudged straight to the Council chambers without showing me anything. We were in luck: the permanent Council was at another base, leaving just the Plains Base Adjunct, Hartwin.
We crossed paths with him outside the Council chambers before Vinnet pulled herself together to decide to talk to him. He was a big man, or his host was. About a foot taller than me and heavyset. He froze when he saw me, his face set in concern.
My symbiont had control, but she didn’t meet his eyes. “It’s Vinnet.”
His whole face lit in a smile, and he stepped closer. “And who is this?”
“Sarah Anderson.” Forcing her own smile, Vinnet pulled his right hand from his side and shook it. She told me later that while Hartwin wanted to greet each host appropriately and familiarly, the variety of human cultures within the Kemtewet Empire made it hard. Even if Hartwin knew which planet a host was from, he might not have encountered their customs before, or they could have changed. “From Earth.”
He nodded as if he already knew. If I’d been paying attention, I’d have realized that he did. Then he looked me straight in the eyes. “Welcome, Sarah Anderson. Thank you for hosting Vinnet. I hope you have a long and productive time with us.”
I couldn’t answer. I didn’t have control. But it was the nicest thing anyone ever said to me about my symbiont. Everyone at Black Book talked to one of us at a time, and for the most part, pretended the other didn’t exist.
Too bad she didn’t want me. I was too young.
I do want you.
But not the way I am.
“Come, sit down,” Hartwin insisted, brushing my shoulder to steer Vinnet into his study. “How are you two getting along so far? It’s been, what, a couple years? Nine months?”
My mind spun at his loose grasp of time.
The Sais year is four and a half months, and our months are similar to yours. Vinnet settled into a padded chair. “Eight months or so.”
Hartwin settled on a composite stool and politely glared. “And?”
“Bien dans sa peau.”
He nodded. “And the two of you?”
I kid you not. Vinnet squirmed. “Nothing time won’t heal.”
Because I’m not old enough yet?
Hartwin reached to a shelf behind him and passed her a plain glass bottle. Then he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “Tell me about it.”
Vinnet took the bottle, traced a thumb across its smooth surface over golden liquid inside. “Sarah doesn’t drink alcohol.” She set it on a side table. “Hartwin, it’s been a long process to get here. I’d prefer not to have this conversation right now. I came to report in.”
“What are you going to tell me that Katorin, Donn, and Teresh haven’t already pieced together? I know what happened.”
“What I want to know,” Hartwin insisted, “is what’s going on between you two.”
Previously in Vinnet Vignettes: