Interlude I: Boredom

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You have a problem. An intensely vexing, irritating sort of problem that is not going to resolve with a good night's sleep, or some aptly-applied anti-fungal cream.

Your protagonist is boring.

Protagonists cannot be boring. They must be interesting, tormented, full of rage or grief or existential angst, preferably after murdering someone, although watching their loved ones die also suffices. They have to have secrets, crippling ones, things that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, or your insides writhe with horror. They cannot have living parents – or if they do, their parents must have abandoned them, or tried to wound or murder them in some dreadful and terrible way.

You dig deeper, searching for some thread of spice, trying to dredge anything out of your main character to make her the slightest bit intriguing. Perhaps she is an orphan, struggling to prove herself to the parents who adopted her. Perhaps she and her siblings have a hidden rivalry, or she suffered horrible secret abuse, for which she still has nightmares that keep her awake at night, thrashing and screaming and retching about the blood on her face, blood in her hair, blood everywhere from the accident. What accident? A push down the stairs, a stabbing, a car accident? She looks just fine... but looks, as you know, can deceive.

No, you think, watching her go about her business with cool, sensible prudence, this one is hard, maybe impossible, to spice up. She is Just. So. Plain. Pretty... though nowhere near beautiful enough to launch a thousand ships – also, her nose is too large. Bookish, but the wrong sort of bookish, the kind of bookish that finds staring at numbers and equations and derivatives fun. (You shudder). Well-grounded, smart, with good grades in school. Horrible at athletics – no budding sword-maiden here!

You want to wring your sister's neck (although that's hardly something new). Clever Divna, Perfect Divna, Little Miss Always-Gets-Her-Way. What was she thinking, bringing this boring – BORING! – protagonist into your story? The only thing that makes this situation slightly better is the thought of what your brother will say – has already said – about her. His complaints rain stronger than yours.

But most of the time, he's too sulky to commiserate with you.

You are so, so lonely.

So you go to the place you go sometimes, which Divna will never find out about. You go to the Prison Under the Mountain, and you walk shuddering past the sudok and the Prazna and the Nameless Things With Too Many Eyes, until you reach the final cage, the very last prison cell, at the base of the mountain.

It's smaller than the others, neatly arranged.

Its sole inhabitant sits at a desk, reading. He's well-kempt, just like his cell, his blond hair smoothed against his forehead, his long robes carefully pressed and cleaned with magic. His eyes crinkle at the corners as they see you, like he's surprised, but not displeased, by your presence.

You don't know why you come to see him. Perhaps you relish seeing someone even lonelier than you are. Perhaps it's because you're both from the same place, the same race, the same stock. You want to believe he likes your visits, though you know technically he's bad, he's dangerous, and you probably shouldn't be here. Even so, something draws you closer. Surely, if he were so bad, so awful, he would have tried to manipulate you by now, but he's never once asked you to help him escape.

"I hate everything," you snarl. "I'm so bored of this place!"

He smiles, puts down his book. "There's an easy solution to that," he says lightly, and at first you wonder if he means kill yourself (you've thought about it, oh you've thought about it, not seriously, of course, you wouldn't really do it, but it has crossed your mind on bad days). But then you realize he's referring to the fact that you are technically free where he is not, and thus, you can leave.

But –

"I can't." Your eyes well with big, awful tears and you brush them away with your hand, but it's like a dam has shattered; the tears fall despite your attempts to staunch them, and you know your face must be big and ugly and red. "I can't leave Mir. I've tried. I've tried so many times. It always goes so wrong."

And Divna and Sidor don't understand why you want to go. Divna with her stupid superiority complex, traveling Mir doing good deeds to feed her superiority complex even further, and Sidor, who's been virtually useless since the fiasco with Eloise.

The man in the cell smiles at you kindly, and he shakes his head, as though you are a foolish child. "I didn't mean leave," he says, laughter in his voice, and this is why you come to visit him, because on days when he's not brooding and hostile and scary, he actually treats you like a real person, like somebody worth listening to. 

He reaches a hand toward you, out, through the bars. For a moment, you think he is trying to comfort you; then you realize he is holding something out. You take the thing he offers, puzzled.

It's oblong and smooth, shaped a bit like a pill, although you don't see any powder inside.

"If you're bored," he drawls, "then... blow stuff up."

You almost drop the thing he handed you.

He laughs again. "I meant figuratively."

Then he explains to you what it is, and you stare at the object in your hands, stare at it for a long, long time.

"Well?" he says, grinning.

You shrug, smoothe the front of your dress down, and turn the object in your hands, over and over, until you are not sure where your fingers end and it begins. Then you tuck it into your pocket.

"I'll consider it," you say.


A huge thanks to everyone who has read and left comments on this story so far, particularly Dawnashes, Domisotto, and Ravisthoughts! You guys rock! 

Questions and comments from you:

What the actual F was that?

*Ducks rotten tomatoes* - An experiment? A plot point? Heheheh. Next chapter is back to our regularly-scheduled Jane and Nikolay snarking...

Is Nikolay from Jane's world?

Nope. He is definitely from Mir. But his mom was from Earth.

Is there going to be a love triangle in this story?

O_O Dear lord, do I seem like the sort of person who would do that to you? ...Love triangles, unless done very, very well, usually make me want to punch the author in the face :)

I don't want Nikolay and Jane to have a toxic relationship.

Me neither. I am vehemently opposed to toxic relationships, and I agree Nikolay's treatment of Jane right now is inexcusable. I will supply a few general statements: 1) There is no romance tag on this story. This doesn't necessarily mean that there is *not* a romance, but it also doesn't mean that there *is* one. 2) As the story progresses, characters may evolve (I'm a big fan of both redemption arcs and characters spiraling into madness... so... there are several ways this thing can go).

I don't know if this answers the question entirely, but I want reassure you that I would never, ever set two characters up in a permanent toxic/disrespectful relationship and then frame it as a 'happily ever after' ending. Humanity deserves better.

...However, as an author, it is hella fun to stick the two of them in a room together and watch the chaos erupt.

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