Something someone suggested I should do: provide a list of chapter links. Given that I’ve actually run out of other things to put in here, let’s do that.
[Ch1&2]        
         
         
         
         
  
Had this been the day before, or even earlier on the day it was, I would’ve probably been content just to let Kopaka retreat into his practiced isolation again and to let him reveal his plan in due time. However, ‘due time’ was running out fast; with only a few hours left to work with, I had to figure how to present my case as to why he shouldn’t leave in a way that wouldn’t lead to him just shutting it down immediately, as was his automatic response. Past experience left me under no illusions that it would be easy, but on the other hand, if anyone had a shot at accomplishing this, it had to be me. After all, given that he’d waited for me before it was clear that Kopaka intended to involve me in this plan of his somehow, and that fact alone proved that he trusted me more than he did most. Also, he’d already taken my opinion into account and actually changed his plan because of it once… so I had to figure out a way to take the shot. Hey, maybe he’d even figured out a way to not have to leave but still satisfy that need for solitude of his. Of course, going in directly wouldn’t work, because in his current mood he’d just say “stop” and that would be it. True, I could circumvent that too, but I preferred to leave the psionic toolbox closed for now. That left figuring out a roundabout way to get into the Toa of Ice’s head as my only real option, which meant… getting him to talk about something else. True, he wasn’t prone to giving out more than he meant to in conversation, but there was a chance that maybe he’d say something that hinted at his plan if I asked the right questions, and it was a chance I decided to take. Besides, it wasn’t like the events of the day hadn’t already given me some topics to bring up.
“So, I visited with my teammates for a while,” I began, “and it looks like our team’s breaking up.” I waited a moment for a response; Kopaka glanced up, but didn’t say anything. No comment yet, apparently, so I pushed on. “I guess I should’ve known that it was going to happen sooner or later, but I never figured it’d be so sudden… it’s like Jahlpu pretty much decided to jump the ship the moment he got to Onu-Koro-Nuva, and Kirall was apparently doing her own thing all along; never would’ve thought she had a plan going through all this.” Again I paused to give him a chance to comment. It was a chance that he did not take, though I definitely had his attention to at least some degree. “Well, I learned something about all of them, to be honest.” I leant back, trying on purpose to appear to be rambling more absent-mindedly than I really was. “Just… the way we all responded to the team breaking up, like you all did. I think it says a lot about us. Like me; I figured I would’ve felt more, but then it’s not like I was really a part of the team anymore anyways. Maybe I didn’t really want to be. Also, Jahlpu actually was pretty happy about finally getting a chance to leave.”
“Unsurprising,” Kopaka commented dryly. Right, we were going with Jahlpu for a bit.
“Yeah, he’s going to work in the mines,” I elaborated. “He’s really trying to be like his hero, like Onua; devotion to duty and all. Honestly, I’m actually kind of worried that he’ll… well, you know.” Kopaka didn’t respond, but I had to keep this going. “We actually talked for a while about the whole heroes thing, though,” I recalled. “Specifically, how we remember them: making them legends. It’s weird, ‘cause he doesn’t know anything about what really happened at the end with Onua, or Lewa for that matter, but when we were talking about the specials they’re doing for Pohatu he went on this whole spiel about how we shouldn’t just remember what made him a hero. He said that we should remember the mistakes too, so we can learn from them.”
“Your brother was an archivist at one point, was he not?” Kopaka questioned.
“Yes, he was,” I acknowledged, wondering for a moment where exactly he’d gotten that information from, “so… I guess it’s not that surprising that he’d raise that point. It’s just… it was hard to listen to him, with him trying to be like the new Onua and all, because it sounds so hypocritical in a way. He’s talking about remembering and learning from the mistakes of those gone before us, and yet it he knows his own hero as nothing but that paragon of virtue that everyone’s elevated him to. And it’s not like Onua didn’t deserve that, and of course Jahlpu doesn’t know just how odd it sounds for him to talk about remembering people like that, but still… for a bit there, I really wanted to tell him that his hero wasn’t exactly flawless in the end either, you know?” Kopaka gave no indication of knowing, yet I didn’t doubt that he did. “I guess… I’d like to know what you think about it.” I decided to put the ball in his court, hoping that he’d bite. He did.
“We have had this conversation before,” he pointed out, “and we came to a conclusion, did we not?”
“We did,” I recalled. “You told me to stick with what Nuparu was doing; not letting the story get out.”
“My position has not changed,” he said flatly.
“Okay, but we didn’t have a real example back then, did we?” I argued. “No one who really took after Onua’s legacy in this way, no one was actually running the risk of eventually working themselves to death like he did while thinking of it as a virtue.”
“Nothing has changed,” Kopaka replied with conviction.
“Nothing at all?” his outright dismissal of Jahlpu as an example kind of surprised me. Then again, was I trying to push that example a little further than my brother’s situation really warranted? “Yeah, I guess I could be overthinking the danger somewhat, but that doesn’t mean that absolutely nothing’s changed,” I decided.
“It does,” Kopaka maintained. “When we last spoke of this we were talking purely about the costs and benefits as they applied to the Matoran. Your brother is not a Matoran.”
“No, but that shouldn’t make that big a difference when they’re all taking after Onua so much, should it?” The difference didn’t immediately hit home to me.
“Even the most delusional Matoran cannot fool themselves into thinking that they can match what Onua did,” Kopaka explained in a lightly agitated monotone. “The best they can do is to try to live up to the virtues he represented, which is as it should be. Your brother, on the other hand, is a Toa. To him and to others, the notion that he can live up to Onua’s legacy is not an impossible one. His enthusiasm for Onua is no more or less than that of any Onu-Matoran; the only difference lies in the fact that he can reach for my brother’s star, while they can only admire it from afar. However, it is unlikely that he will be so blinded by its light that he cannot see the danger of pushing himself too far, and Nuparu is still making every effort to ensure that the mechanism by which Onua met his end is no longer available for others to abuse. Yes, you are overthinking the danger. Nothing has changed.” So, with what in person amounted to a borderline rant, he’d shut it down; he had a point, he’d made it, and to be honest my concern with Jahlpu probably hadn’t really been an objective one to begin with. Still, I didn’t think that that rendered said concern as invalid as Kopaka apparently considered it to be.
“I suppose it’s easier to be worried when someone you know’s involved,” I admitted, “but still, I’d feel a lot better if Jahlpu had some kind of warning… just, anything to tell him not to let that quest for duty consume him. Actually, I’ll probably bring it up to Nuparu at some point.” That sounded like a much better plan. Of course, it also meant that I’d just accidentally closed off the topic in pretty much exactly the way that Kopaka probably wanted me to, and he definitely hadn’t given me anything related to what I was actually looking for. So, I’d have to change the subject slightly and try again: “By the way, there was something off with Lerome as well. He’s… he’s behaving a bit differently.”
“Not as excitable, I take it,” Kopaka correctly if half-heartedly asserted. He clearly wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the plan of chatting about what my teammates were up to, but he hadn’t shut it down yet either. I started thinking that maybe a bit of frustration would lead him to reveal something by accident. In fact, given what choice words he’d said about Lerome in the past, the antics of the Toa of Air would probably drive his mood downwards more quickly than talking about Jahlpu’d done.
“Yeah, more like lost,” I noted. “Now that the team’s broken up and all, he’s not sure where to go, and given that he was the leader I think he feels like he’s responsible for it.”
“Is he not?” Kopaka questioned with a tone that indicated quite clearly that he believed he was.
“In a way, maybe, but it’s not like it was his intended outcome, you know?” It wasn’t often that I actually found myself defending Lerome’s intentions, and even here I wasn’t fully committed to it, but if that was what it took to get something more out of Kopaka, I’d play Makuta’s advocate all day. Okay, maybe not so much Makuta after earlier, but still.
“Gali’s intent was not to drive the Toa Nuva apart,” Kopaka coldly reminded me, hitting the exact same comparison that I’d realized earlier, “and yet that is exactly what she did. The intent differed, but actions, not intent, produce consequences.”
“I know, and that’s why I’m worried,” I continued. “Lerome’s not Gali, but this breakup thing is hitting him way harder than it should. It was like he suddenly didn’t care about anything anymore.”
“I am certain that it made him more tolerable company,” Kopaka made what for him probably passed as a joke, though the delivery was as deadpan as ever and it felt more like a sign of a continuously decaying mood than any joviality on his part.
“It did, but it’s not really like him,” I continued after a moment’s pause, “and I told him basically what you told Gali, that it wasn’t his fault and all. He perked up a little, but… I don’t know, I guess he still lacks direction, you know?”
“A Toa who lacks direction, who misuses his powers, and who has little knowledge or respect of the title,” Kopaka listed off some of Lerome’s apparent issues. “Does he remind you of anyone?”
“Who?” No one came to mind at first.
“Me?” That caught me by surprise. Yeah, I’d seen those issues in Lerome quite clearly, but I’d never really considered… myself.
“You, one week ago, when you chose to come with me,” he elaborated. “You said you had no place better to go than to follow me. You used your powers to merely satisfy curiosity and without regard for the consequences. You had heard of the virtues, yet knew not their meaning. You may not share your brother’s flamboyance, but you certainly shared his lack of direction.”
“If you put it like that, yeah…” I couldn’t really disagree, but I’d seen and learned a lot since then. “I’m not all like that anymore, though,” I argued. “I’ve got a place to go now, and I’ve barely done any mind reading since we left New Atero the first time, and then always with permission.”
“So you have,” Kopaka nodded. “However, you have seen much that your brother has not.”
“So, I should show him what I saw, then,” I concluded. “If I don’t want him to be as lost anymore, I guess… Show him what a Toa can do in a world that doesn’t need any.”
“Perhaps you should consider that,” Kopaka added, clearly intent on having that be the end of the conversation for the time being, but I couldn’t quite let that happen yet, not when he’d shut down this avenue of approach even faster than he had the last.
“I guess that’d mean taking him to meet Hewkii,” I interpreted. “I mean, he idolizes the guy, and Hewkii’s at least found a place for himself now, so he could probably advise Lerome better on how to do the same.” Again, Kopaka gave a nod in the affirmative, and again he was content to leave it at that. “And no doubt he’d be excited about it, too… probably more than I’d like to handle.” I trailed off as I tried to think of other things I’d seen over the journey that would be particularly useful in giving Lerome some direction to go. It took a while before I got back to what I’d been trying to do in the first place; getting something out of Kopaka regarding his future plans. Unfortunately, this time I couldn’t think of a great way to get back on track or proceed further. I didn’t see much point in bringing up Kirall, since my opinion of her definitely hadn’t improved, and Kopaka’d already answered the two main concerns I had to work with so readily that I could’ve sworn he had the answers prepared beforehand. While I’d started the conversation with the intent of eventually turning it towards the question of him leaving, hoping that the indirect approach would increase the chances of him actually providing an answer on it or at least something related to it, he’d instead maneuvered through it in such a way as to answer the questions he was willing to without providing any apparent springboard into ones that he didn’t. I’d tried to play him, but had gotten played as much in return…
Actually, given his usual disregard for how others felt and how little he’d seen of or cared for Lerome, I thought it kind of strange that Kopaka’d so quickly and accurately managed to paint a picture of just what lay beneath my brothers’ behavior… yet at the same time, had he not done the exact same thing to me from the moment I first approached him? I mean, even when I talked to him about things that he wasn’t present for, all too often it seemed like he had the right answer at hand the whole time, like he knew what I was going to ask long before I actually asked it. That idea, in turn, started me wondering just to what extent he’d psycho-analyzed me throughout the journey even as I’d been trying to decipher him in the exact same way, breaking my behavior down into causes and effects that he understood, even if he didn’t always approve of them. Was that… was that part of why he’d let me come along? Some kind of curiosity?
I kept thinking on that for a while, trying for the first time to really figure out just what exactly had led this most aggressively solitary of Toa to let me of all people accompany him for as long as he had, and even to answer my questions just as he had now. In particular, there was something about his reaction when I described how I’d changed my behavior from when we first met… It was slight, as everything emotional with him was on the outside when he wasn’t pushed too far, but still I was confident now that there really was something of an element of pride in there. Was he proud of me for something, or did he just feel pride about what he’d accomplished in me? I mean, maybe leading someone who he’d identified at first as lost and confused through a series of events to show them what being a Toa really meant held an element of satisfaction for him. And yes, in retrospect I’d learned a lot, though his instruction had been only part of it and often offered only grudgingly or when explicitly asked for. It was a combination of all the Toa that I’d seen, met, and what I’d discussed with them that had caused me to change my view about what it meant to be a Toa and how to be one in this world, Kopaka included… so how much did he credit himself? For that matter, how much of that was intended, especially when as all evidence indicated the return trip to New Atero hadn’t been planned beforehand at all? Suddenly, I had another topic to go off of.
“Was that the point of all this?” I spoke up. It took a moment before Kopaka looked up; it’d been a while since I’d last said anything, and he didn’t immediately reply. “For you, I mean,” I explained. “I mean, I’ve been thinking about it; when I first walked up to you, when I introduced myself and figured out who you were, did you decide then and there that while you were on this trip, you might as well… teach a lost Toa a thing or two about who they were?”
“Perhaps,” he answered unusually vaguely, another signal of his reluctance to actually do some teaching or any divulging of information at this hour.
“Perhaps? You don’t do ‘perhaps,’” I pushed on.
“The Matoran would benefit more from a Toa with some understanding of the history of her kind than they would have from one utterly lacking it,” he replied harshly. “Therefore, while I had intended to spend the journey alone, I saw fit to answer your questions in spite of your insolent behavior.”
“Insolent?” I hadn’t quite gone that far, had I?
“Well, newsflash, I can read minds,” Kopaka quoted me in response, adding a cocky edge to his voice to drive home just how brazen a declaration it was; to someone dead-set on being left alone those words and the attitude behind them had to be intensely frustrating to encounter.
“Oh right, that…” I hadn’t even thought at the time of what it sounded like.
“You were very persistent in your pursuit of answers,” Kopaka added, “and very disrespectful in your wanton use of your powers to get them.”
“I’ve learned since then, though,” I defended myself, “in part due to what you told me, like you said earlier. I don’t just do that anymore. I just… I want to know whether you saw how far this would go back then.” He waited a little while before replying, and for a moment I feared that he’d decided to shut me out again in response to a question whose answer he felt would reveal too much. No doubt the idea occurred to him, but thankfully he decided against it.
“No,” he eventually admitted. “Your curiosity was evident and infuriatingly insistent, but to your credit you did learn.” Coming from him, that had to be a high compliment, and it was a great feeling to get some credit, even approval, even if it didn’t exactly start like a glowing review of my behavior.
“Well, thanks bringing me along then, even if it took all of your patience.” I gave a slight smile in relief. In fact, I was pretty sure it’d taken all of his patience and more, considering that he had lost it several times along the way and even now he’d started with a pretty scathing comment on my behavior. It was also relief for a second thing, though: I’d spotted my opportunity, or rather I suddenly recalled something else I’d asked him earlier that presented an opportunity for a slightly more direct approach. “For all I’ve learned, though, there’s still something I’d like to know,” I continued. Kopaka gave no visual indication of approval or disapproval, so I went on: “Before we got back to Onu-Koro-Nuva, you promised me something. I asked you whether you’d at least consider not going back to the mountains, with everything that’s happened since the last time we had the argument. You said you would; did you?” If he was going to shut down the conversation anywhere, I figured it’d be here… but he didn’t.
“I did,” he admitted, giving me hope only to immediately take it away: “but that part of the plan has not changed.”
“Why not?” I pressed on.
“As I said then, I have already made my reasons clear,” he repeated the same old refrain.
“Being a legend, doing your duty, I know,” I sighed, “but there’s something more than that. That thing, that part of you that I saw as Shadow Kopaka, it is part of it. It has to be. It still just doesn’t compute…”
“Enough… enough for now,” he decided. Even the momentary mention of Shadow Kopaka was now enough to shut him down, but there also was a small yet significant delay. Had my change in tactics or persistence in bringing up the issue again and again finally begun to plant doubts in his mind? If so, now really wasn’t the time to stop, was it?
“You considered it, though,” I reminded him, “you at least considered not going back. You know, I’m not the only one that’s changed over this week…”
“Lis, I said enough!” he suddenly cut me off in a much sterner tone, now in conjunction with that piercing gaze. Earlier in the day, that would’ve lost some of its impact, but after his description of how he saw me back when we first met, its unnerving edge had returned in the guise of something like an intent look of disapproval. Either way, it left me with no illusion that I was going to get anywhere beyond planting doubts at this point.
“Okay, fine… enough for now,” I reluctantly conceded, prompting Kopaka to return his eyes to the floor and pretty much immediately retreat back into his inner space. To most, he would have appeared to be merely sleeping, but even without trying I could tell that there was much activity going on below the surface. Still, out of respect for the discussion we’d just had, I refrained from attempting to tap into whatever he was thinking about. I was content enough just to bide my time for a while, even though he had now confirmed what I’d already feared: he was still planning on going back up there. On one hand, that definitely wasn’t good from my point of view, but on the other, it was nice to finally have some certainty. Perhaps I’d been foolish in wishing for Kopaka to change his plan on his own to begin with. Still, I didn’t give up hope that I’d be able to change it for him; at the very least, he’d have to admit that there was more reason to him going back there than just the logical, duty-inspired argument that he’d made before… and if he came to the point of recognizing that, I was certain he could overcome it, too.
I busied myself with some of the old magazines distributed in bins throughout the car for what I thought would be the rest of the trip; I expected Kopaka to remain in his meditative state all the way to Ko-Koro-Nuva to avoid further unwanted questions. However, with around an hour left to go, he suddenly woke up and took a moment to get his bearings. I was about to ask him about what was up when, to my surprise, he got up and made his way forward through the car. I followed behind him, only to find that he’d only moved forward to turn on the telescreen at the front of the car. This one was actually working for a change; having turned it on, Kopaka changed the channel a couple of times before he found the one he was looking for, after which he picked out and settled down in one of the seats directly facing the screen.
“The telescreen?” I questioned, baffled as to what exactly he was intent on watching and why, on this last leg of the journey, he was watching anything at all when his preferred way to kill time had always been the meditation. The channel he’d picked was running through a commercial at the time, so what exactly was in store wasn’t quite clear yet. Kopaka didn’t even acknowledge my question, apparently confident that the answer would imminently present itself, which of course it did. After the last couple of seconds of the ad had played out, I was shocked to see the Arena Magna’s logo appear on screen, followed soon thereafter by the appearance of a Glatorian and an Agori sitting behind a desk in a room overlooking the arena itself. That was the press box. These were the commentators for a fight… and then I remembered what the big fight of the night was.
#####author’s notes: Verbal chess matches like the one much of this chapter consists of, even if they are very one-sided, are probably the most difficult thing I’ve tried to write,if the amount of time I spent planning it out is anything to go by. Some of the dialogue ended up being a bit like meta commentary on the story as a whole, too: “. . . did you know how far this would go back then?” No, no I didn’t.
I’ll post more chapters as I finish them. As always, post any questions, comments, and/or observations below. Enjoy!