1.6. Inertia and Mass
They sit in silence for a while. Crimson had invited her to take a seat and have another bubble tea while they talked. Luna thought about refusing until he explained himself, or loudly confronting and shaming him. She decided that wasn’t worth causing a scene.
So the two strangers stare at each other, then look away, then stare again until Crimson finally breaks the silence.
“I’m very sorry for following you,” he mumbles. He’s afraid to look at her, but he forces his eyes to meet hers. He’s a little disappointed to see she’s wearing color contacts. He looks away again.
“Yeah, why did you follow me?” In an attempt to hide her emotions, Luna’s voice comes out shrill.
“I think you know why,” He gestures at himself, waving his hand from his face down his body. He smiles weakly, “I imagine you haven’t seen many people like us?”
“Like us?” Luna cocks her head. She wants him to be the one to say it. She doesn’t know why, but she feels like she needs to be in control of this conversation.
“I get it,” she rolls her eyes.
“I was…excited to see you. I read your book—I’m a huge fan,” he puts his hand on his heart as if to demonstrate his sincerity, “and I recognized you from your story in the newspaper. So—“
“So you decided stalking me was the next step? What, you read Misery one too many times and thought it was a how-to guide?”
He looks genuinely hurt. “I have no intentions of hurting you in any way. I’m—I’m just an idiot. I made a boneheaded decision to follow you, to see if I could catch your attention and talk to you. I haven’t seen anyone like us in a long time.”
“So you’re not an agent, or a bounty hunter, or a serial killer who wants to make a suit out of the skin of strange colored women?”
“Of course not!”
“Hmm,” Luna leans back in her chair, “why should I believe you?”
“Because the simplest answer is usually correct, and in this situation, the story of a cowardly recluse is the simplest.” He pauses, waiting for her to respond but she just looks at him with doubt. “Ask me any question you want. I’m an open book,” Crimson hates how stupid he sounds right now. He wishes he could be smooth.
“What’s your name? I need it in case I decide to file a restraining order.”
“Crimson Byrd,” he grimaces, knowing what would come next.
“Crimson Byrd?” That’s an awful name.”
“Infinitely.” Truthfully, she has often thought about changing her name. She supposes she could take Quentin’s last name if they ever got married, but she doesn’t particularly like the sound of Luna Parker. She also thought about using her father’s surname when they moved to Aurora Skies, but Luna Loveday sounds like a comic book character. So Luna Bee it is.
“Well it’s the name my parents gave me. I didn’t really have a say.”
“Are both your parents Alcyonian?” She can’t tell by looking at him, so she thought she would just ask. She’s never met another Alcyonian outside a couple of family friends, so she sees no point in beating around the bush.
“My dad was Alcyonian, but my mom was only half. She didn’t look very human, though.”
“They’re dead. Have been for a while.”
“I’m sorry,” it’s a knee jerk response. She doesn’t actually care about his parents any more than he cares about hers.
“They were terrible people,” he shrugs, “my sister and I are probably better off without them.”
“You have a sister?”
“Yes, I have a twin sister.”
“What do you mean?” He looks down at his hands, trying to focus on the conversation instead of her.
“Breeding was really controlled, right? My stepfather said most babies were conceived with…” she hesitates, blushing a little, “male genetic material and female surrogates. He also said that he and my mom had to hide their relationship while they were on Alcyone because it was taboo. And my mom’s relationship with my dad was even more taboo since he was human.”
“The Collective is about your mother, isn’t it? I figured you had based it on someone’s experience, but I didn’t realize it was about your mother."
“Well…yeah,” the question obviously embarrasses Luna, “but I did write it myself. And I took some artistic liberties.” She shifts uncomfortably in her seat.
“It’s a wonderful novel. It really is. Using your mother’s story as inspiration isn’t anything to be ashamed of. And outside of someone like me, someone who has actually been to Alcyone, no one’s going to recognize it as derivative of anyone’s life,” he’s trying to reassure her, but it’s a weak attempt. She’s obviously very self-conscious about her work.
“So you didn’t answer my question,” Luna corrects the course of the conversation.
“About my parents? Well, my father was part of the Inertia.”
Luna gives him a quizzical look.
“Your mother never told you about the Inertia?”
Luna shakes her head, obviously intrigued and trying poorly to hide it. Crimson is delighted she is so enraptured. It feels good to have someone hanging over his every word. Perhaps this is why he’s sharing more about himself than he ever has before.
Luna is quiet for a moment. “That is…really, incredibly stupid.”
Crimson chuckles. It’s an odd laugh, unsettling in a way. “Most things on Alcyone were stupid.”
“So your father was part of that ‘upper crust’?”
“Yes, he was. Members of the Inertia were the only citizens permitted to have children naturally, and my mother was his consort. Really, though, he was expected to have children, so he could indoctrinate them with the principles of the Hegemony so those children—so I could become part of the next generation of the Inertia.”
Remember, son, that above all else, you serve the Hegemony. His father’s words keep running through his head. Crimson hates his nasally voice.
“We’re not human,” Crimson points out. His pedantic interruption annoys her, and she doubles down.
“And all because she had a family, a romantic relationship, and some amount of personal choice and independence people wanted to destroy us. But your dad gets to have fucked up kids and a whore just because he’s some hoity-toity bigwig.”
Crimson winces. Luna’s tirade doesn’t make her feel any better. Tears well up in her eyes, and curses herself. Why does she have to be like this? She used to be so mad when her sister would call her a crybaby, but she knows she’s earned the label.
“Sorry,” she mumbles, trying to hold back her tears. He wants to reach across the table and wipe her tears away, but clenches his fists instead, which she in turn takes as a sign of anger.
“Whore really isn’t the right term,” he mumbles in return, “consort really is more accurate since she wasn’t paid. But, yes, the Hegemony was brutal, and it was unfair. I understand why you’re angry.”
Luna quickly wipes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “You mentioned you’ve been to Alcyone?”
“Yes, I was born there.”
“What was it like? My mom never liked talking about it.”
“Smoggy. Lots of high rise buildings and people and waste on the streets. But I wasn’t allowed out of my father’s estate very often.”
“I wish I had my notebook,” Luna frowns. This whole conversation had been a goldmine for background material. She would like some inspiration for her next novel, but she needs to write it down while it’s still fresh, before it twists in her mind and her emotional state is imprinted on it.
“Hmmm,” Luna hums a little while she thinks about it, “okay, maybe we can meet again sometime, but only if you never promise to use honor as a verb again. It sounds creepy, and I’ve had enough of being creeped out by you.”
“As you wish.”
“Ugh, that’s even worse,” she cringes.
“I saw you were reading Fledgling,” Crimson changes the subject, desperate to salvage the conversation. “How are you enjoying it?”
Quentin clears his throat. He had walked straight to the café after the last show at the theatre. He’s worn out after a long day and a little alarmed to see his girlfriend speaking with who assumes to be yesterday’s antagonist. Surely he couldn’t have moved to the good guy column so quickly?
“No, actually. We were just talking. This is—“
“Quentin. Nice to meet you, man,” Quentin’s face doesn’t match the sentiment, but it’s better than what either Crimson or Luna were expecting, “So why were you following Luna?”
Shame flashes over Crimson’s face, “Because I’m a terribly awkward, intrinsically fucked up individual.” Luna feels second-hand embarrassment.
“Hey, I wasn’t going to say it,” Quentin shrugs. “Ready to go home, babe?” Another emphasis on her pet name, a calculated demonstration of his intimate connection to Luna.
“Sure thing,” Luna turns to Crimson before she leaves, “I’ll text you soon.” He gives her a wordless nod.
“Of course. Wait, what were you thinking of doing?”
“I dunno. I thought maybe you wanted me to punch him or something. You know, defend your honor and all that.”
“Why? Sure, he was creepy the other day but I don’t think that’s who he really is. He seems lonely, and he’s interesting. He might help me with my next book.”
“So have you made a new friend?” Quentin notices she is shivering, so he puts his arm around her, “Wait, should I be jealous?!”
“No,” Luna laughs, “I mean, yes I think I made a friend. A proto-friend, actually. He’s on probation for now. But you shouldn’t be jealous.”
“He’s not your type?” Quentin trusts Luna completely, but he still feels that nagging anxiety that she’ll find someone better. Not that Mr. Stalker is someone better.
“Nah, I have a thing for dumb men named Quentin.”
“Yes,” he pumps his fist, “everything’s coming up Quentin!”
He tries to shake off the bad feeling he has. Luna can take care of herself, right?
Author’s note: Holy cow, dialogue is hard.
Alternate titles for this chapter: “Some Exposition.”Or "Setting the Table."