Nature vs. Nurture
“Where is she?”
The Admiral’s voice thundered down the halls of the ship’s lower deck, stirring Aif from her daydreams. Hoping for a few more moments of peace, she tucked herself into a chair at the far end of the oval observation deck and pressed her face against the window. She took comfort in the thrum of the ship’s inner workings as she watched clouds shift across the surface of the blue planet below. For the hundredth time, she wondered what the inhabitants were really like.
“Aif!” The Admiral had arrived. And from the look on her face, she was pissed.
The observation deck emptied quickly. Aif watched the reflections of its occupants in the floor-to-ceiling windows as they filtered past the Admiral in hushed reverence. Or maybe that was fear. Either way, Aif was left alone with the Admiral. With a sigh, Aif pulled her gaze from the planet below and turned to face her mother.
Admiral Eris of Quoin towered in the entrance, her tall shape perfectly framed by the sleek metal lines of the ship. Her dark spiky hair was cropped to the military standard of one inch. And her pale skin really brought out the fury in her dark eyes. In that moment, Aif could see why the rest of the crew scurried out of her mother’s way. The Admiral was not someone you wanted to cross, even accidentally. Unless, of course, you happened to be her daughter.
The Admiral marched across the room, her boots clacking against the grey slate tiles, her red insignia the only splash of colour amid all the black and grey. Aif stood, preparing for battle. She was grateful she’d received her mother’s genetic propensity for height. Now that she was grown, at least she could fight with her mother eye to eye.
“Your tutor has requested shore leave.” The Admiral spat the words out. “I don’t know what you said to her, but she’s a simpering mess.”
Aif tried not to smile. She suspected her threat to jettison the poor woman into space might have something to do with it.
The Admiral drew a deep breath. “This is the third tutor to request leave since you arrived on this ship. In case you hadn’t noticed, we are at war.” She gestured at the blue planet.
“I’d hardly call it a war, mother.” Aif met her mother’s gaze. “More like an extended ambush.”
For a second, Aif was sure her mother was going to hit her. Instead, the Admiral gritted her teeth, then continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “And I don’t have time to deal with this nonsense.”
This time, Aif did smile. “So don’t,” she said. “I don’t need a tutor. I can entertain myself.”
Her mother’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t bring you here to be entertained. I brought you here because no one else would have you. And we’re going to finish your education. One way or another.”
By education, the Admiral really meant indoctrination. Ever since her father had died, Aif’s mother had been intent that she receive a proper military education. So, at the age of five, Aif had been shipped off to the first of many boarding schools, while her mother prepared for the Earth mission. Fifteen years later, after being kicked out of the last boarding school in the system, the Admiral had summoned Aif to join her on the ship, which was entering its tenth year of orbit around the blue planet. For six months, Aif had burned through tutors and lessons in combat and strategy. She wasn’t sure how her mother planned to succeed where so many had failed.
“Because you are so enamoured with this planet and its remaining inhabitants, I have decided that you will finish your education on the surface.” The Admiral spoke softly, each word delivered like a tiny poison dart. “You will assist the head of research at the main compound. This way, you can see the humans up close. Maybe that will knock some sense into you.” As the Admiral allowed her words to sink in, she called for a guard, then fixed her eyes on her daughter’s face.
Aif worked hard to keep her expression impassive. She met her mother’s gaze and shrugged. “I guess we’ll see,” she replied.
She kept her composure as the guard escorted her to her chambers to pack, and as she walked to the shuttle bay, where no one was waiting to say goodbye. But she knew her mother was watching, so she made a point of looking into the closest camera as she boarded the shuttle. Only then did she let a slow smile light up her face, as she wondered if her mother knew she’d given Aif the thing she had wanted since she was five years old.
This was inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge, which tasked us with writing a setting into a scene of our choice. This is also a character sketch for the novel I’m currently working on. You can find other character sketches for the book here, here, here, and here.
Thanks for reading!