188 Zoey“s Conviction
Zoey stood there for a long time just looking at the other Zoey, pondering the words that the whispers had said. She had to decide if she was going to be ruthless and uncompromising, or if she would rather avoid conflict altogether.
When she had first come to Darren, she had been a stranger in a strange place, wandering about and stumbling into things that later blew up into this mess. She had avoided conflict and done what she could to avoid being noticed, but at the same time she had been ruthless when facing her enemies.
When Markus and the man in black had come after her, she had fled, escaping into the wilds and meeting Nito. Later on when they had found her again, she had killed the man in black and some of Markus's men without hesitation, yet had spared Markus in the aftermath.
Then again in Sand Pit when Cornelius had first appeared and chased after them, she had the chance to wound or even kill him with her FAMR, but had ended up only shooting down his flagship. She had no doubt killed hundreds of his crew, but had balked at killing him, an evil man with a black heart that knew only the suffering of others.
Most recently there was the battle in the sky, the Stella Tenebris against the Rellen armada. Thousands had been killed as her guns had shredded the fleet of Kreppelins, yet in the midst of battle she had felt no remorse. It was only afterwards when she had realized the implications of her actions did she regret and wonder if running would have been a better choice.
It was almost bipolar now that she thought about it, going from pacifist to ruthless and back again, constantly in a flux of decisions and emotions. It had not been obvious to her before, but Zoey was definitely conflicted about what she was doing. There had been a battle inside her from the very beginning and only now was it becoming apparent.
Part of her was the calculating, ruthless survivor that had survived on Gaia for over a quarter of a century, facing down an enemy that devoured galaxies and fighting back with no quarter given. That was the part of her that had decided to destroy the armada sent against her, even if only to make sure they could never threaten her again.
Also part of her was a girl that was tired of seeing people die, a girl that had seen an entire universe devoured and had no desire to see any more death. This was the part of her that celebrated life, that had chosen to spare the mercenaries when freeing Athena from Loxon, that had healed the Asurai clan and saved them from their fate.
Two mindsets, one conflict. All of it boiled down to this moment, this decision. To get out of this place and back to reality, she had to decide what mindset she would hold onto, and she had to make her choice with conviction. She had to completely and utterly believe in her choice, or she would be stuck in this prison until her death.
Zoey stood there for a long time, both mindsets rationalizing and counterarguing each other inside her head as she stared into the eyes of the other Zoey that faced her.
She had to be ruthless to survive in this world, but there were other ways to survive than just smashing through obstacles with force. There were plenty of non-lethal ways to resolve problems that she ran into, but crushing problems into dust was the only way to ensure that the problem would never bother her again.
Over and over the argument circled around inside her head. Zoey wished dearly that Athena was here so she could ask her opinion, or Max with his candid outlook, or Saigo and Ssaul with their wealth of experience. But she was alone, and she had to make this choice for herself.
It couldn't be as simple as deciding to chose one side, then changing her mind after she got out. No, if she did that, Zoey was certain that the Mind Prison would interpret that as lack of conviction. Trying to fool herself and the prison like that would only end up hurting herself in the long run. She had to be absolutely sure that her decision was properly made, or she might never make it out of here alive.
Zoey's thoughts whirled faster and faster, arguing, rationalizing, debating, calculating. Her mind became a mess of voices all trying to be heard, calling out their reasonings and presenting their methods while others did the same. It wasn't long before she could barely make sense out of what was going through her mind.
Finally, just as Zoey felt like her head was going to explode, a single beacon of light suddenly shone through the mess of thoughts in her mind. She had an epiphany, a realization that disintegrated all other arguments and helped her realize exactly who she was, and showed her the mindset that she truly believed in with all her soul.
Zoey could not believe that it had taken her this long to figure out! It was so simple, yet she had not seen the answer until now.
It was a riddle, this place. Not called a Mind Prison without reason, it was a place that pitted you against yourself and created conflict with whispers and riddles. Zoey knew now that it had intentionally seeded conflict by targeting her own worries and fears, amplifying her doubts and suppressing everything else.
However, it had helped her see that she had been doing it wrong until now. She had made some stupid decisions, and because of that, she was hounded and backed into a corner. She should have never let it get that far to begin with.
Now, Zoey had made her decision.
The answer was simple; Both sides were correct.
She did not have to be either ruthless or soft hearted, she could embody both aspects of the two different mindsets without compromising on who she was and who she wanted to be. It was never a choice between one or the other, it was simply a matter of whether she could find a balance between them, and believed that it was the right choice in the end.
Zoey smiled, and her white-eyed doppelganger smiled back. The imagery that this place showed her was all a trick to get her confused. A mirror image of herself that reinforced the narrative that she was in conflict, telling her that she had to choose between herself and herself when the choice was obviously never a choice, it was only a riddle. Quite clever.
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Now that her mind was set, Zoey closed her eyes and focused. She would be the one that was both benevolent and ruthless, kind, but uncompromising. She had done it backwards until now, but she understood it better after what she had gone through in this place. It was time to get out of here and back to her friends.
Suddenly, as if reacting to her thoughts, there was the sound of wind and machinery grinding as the space she was in started to change.
The Mind Prison was finally opening!
Hello! It is I, Enraged_Bear!
Thank you all for your thoughts and comments on the last chapter, I really enjoyed reading through them!
I wanted to talk a little bit about what happened in these last few chapters to give some context.
I was never intending on making Zoey a pacifist, or a ruthless machine that shows no mercy. I set this up to give her a clearer mindset for the future when in the past it was a little confusing, mostly due to the author's inexperience (>.<)
Many of you have discussed the choices that Zoey made in the past and wondered why she did things the way she did. Hopefully this chapter gives a better idea of what Zoey is thinking going forward, even when it is not explicitly noted in writing.
I hope it also explains her choices thus far a little better as she was a bit uncertain and undecided in a lot of ways, and has realized it herself.
In a way, all of you have helped me realize Zoey's character an little better through your comments and feedback, and I thank you all for that.
Please look forward to more of Zoey's adventure, and as always, thank you for reading!